By on December 13, 2012

As the year comes to a close and we choose our most reviled cars of the year, it’s also worth reflecting on the most compelling narratives of the year.

At TTAC, we pride ourselves on covering stories that other outlets overlook. Whether it’s territorial disputes in China, overcapacity in Europe, a manufacturing boom in Africa or implosion in Australia, we do our best to deliver compelling content to you, the readers, and we’re always amused and intrigued by your comments. But our news judgement and yours don’t always align.

The floor is open to what mattered most to you. We’re cognizant of the fact that not everyone likes low-cost cars or Chinese sub-brands, so let us know what kept you reading this year.

Personally, low-cost cars and the proliferation of modular platform kits are most interesting to me right now.

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34 Comments on “QOTD: The Year’s Most Important Stories...”

  • avatar

    The most important story for the long-term path of the industry is the continual momentum of Hyundai-Kia. It’s not particularly exciting to watch, but it’s the most disruptive thing to happen since the emergence of Toyota as a high volume producer, and, assuming that it continues, this will impact both North America and Europe.

    What I find to be personally more interesting from a business perspective is Chrysler’s return from the dead. The company is on the rise yet on the precipice of failure, simultaneously, and it could still ultimately go either way. This period will make for interesting case studies years from now, after we know whether Marchionne ultimately succeeded or not.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. I was just thinking today that the rise of Hyundai-Kia has been remarkable considering where they were just 10-15 years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      sunridge place

      Does Hyundai/Kia still have momentum in the US when their market share is flat or down slightly?

      2011 Hyundai/Kia US Market Share=9%
      2012 YTD Hyundai/Kia Market Share=8.8%

      I do agree…they are a boring but important story. They are also capacity constrained in US production to grow too much more unless they start adding some more plants.

      I think their dramatic growth here is about to stop as they are running out of new segments to jump into with improved product. And, they probably won’t have a tsunami to help out either.

      Hyundai by itself is trailing the total market in growth this year.

      • 0 avatar

        @sunridge place

        mostly spot on. I think that Hyundai/Kia is trailing because the market place has come to a point where the newest product wins. Hyundai/Kia came to prominence with their new product launches of the Sonata and Elantra. But once those got launched, what, the Camry came in, the Altima came in, the passat came in, and I’m too lazy to check the timeline, but didnt the new jetta come in after the new elantra? In the most competitive segments like the midsize seda, theres rarely a clear winner. The top few are all basically the same thing. There just arent many genuinely bad cars anymore, and the segment is infinitely more competitive than it was even five years ago. I think that these factors in addition to the ones that youve stated are the most important to why Hyundai/Kia, despite being feared, are underperforming the market.

      • 0 avatar

        Hyundai has been converting fleet sales in retail sales. Detroit talks a lot about doing that, but Hyundai actually does it.

        Their fleet sales used to run at about a quarter of total sales, which is similar to Nissan. Now, their fleet sales are about 10%, which puts them closer to Toyota. Their expressed goal is to reduce that further to about 5%; if successful, then they’ll more closely resemble Honda.

        Hyundai-Kia began by building capacity before they needed it. They fleeted large volumes of cars due to lack of demand. But now there’s plenty of demand, they’ve maxed out their capacity and they no longer need the fleet sales. At some point, they’ll need to add capacity if they want more growth in the US (which I’m sure that they will want soon enough.)

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        I agree…and Hyundai is pretty much tapped out with no stated plans for new production facilities in the US and factories running 24×7 in S Korea. I think Kia has some production growth available at their Georgia plant.

        Nothing wrong with controlled growth..but their growth here for the next 3-4 years is basically over.

  • avatar

    Anything by Baruth.

  • avatar

    TTAC, you do a fine job. Keep it up!
    The international auto industry news is interesting. I believe it’s important to know whats going on outside of you own back yard.
    Car reviews are very good but here is some small suggestions. I would like to know more about how cars reviewed stop. How long does it take from 60mph and how does the car react. I would like to see torque and power curve diagrams. How about a small diagram of data such as peak power @ revs, torque @ revs, power to mass ratio, frontal area, aerodynamic ratio, breaking times, EPA’s, estimated range and interior capacities at the end of the review.
    My only real gripe is the cheap shot political stuff… Sometimes politics is relevant to the auto industry but keep it balanced and neutral.

  • avatar

    I think PCH101 did a really good job of laying out the industry stories that will determine the near future of car-making. In terms of dramatic car news of the year, probably how China’s border dispute with Japan has materially affected car sales in China, which I would not have expected.

    I think that Tesla, TTAC’s beloved target, is a huge story because the Model S represents an electric car that is plausibly price and market competitive in its segment against gas cars (though for now that segment is limited to very pricey luxury sedans). We are starting to see a progression on the cost of EVs that gets them to be mainstream cars surprisingly soon. Maybe before the end of this decade.

    For best story at TTAC, I can’t pick out one, but I think Stephen Lang consistently makes the used-car business incredibly fascinating, thus doing the most with the least. I admire the writing of most of the other folks you have on the site, but Baruth and Martin are always must-reads. “Impala Hell Project” may be my favorite story series. Schmidt is delightlfully clear about how the car industry works, and what certain industry stories actually mean, and I love that.

    I think the big untold story is where we are on the self-driving car front. These things autonomously drive the roads of Nevada RIGHT NOW, and there are more and more safety systems in the market that take control to a greater or lesser degree (in one form or another, there are now cars that will accelerate, brake, and steer for you, in limited ways. What I want to know is when does the first autonomous car hit showrooms? It seems like the answer could’ve anywhere from 2 years to a decade, and the limitations may be largely regulatory now.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to say that I just love the Tesla story, since Musk really has completely rethought the car to create the Model S. That’s an amazing feat, and it looks like he’s really managed to pull it off, too.

      One thing that nobody seems to mention is that Tesla might have saved the performance car. I know there was a lot of talk here about massive, high horsepower cars being on the verge of being outlawed thanks to their piggish fuel consumption. Few are more Libertarian than I in terms of thinking that we should be able to buy whatever we want. But today’s regulatory regime is a reality, and there’s no question CAFE standards and other rules lead towards a point where a Ferrari-class car is simply impossible to produce legally.

      But intriguingly enough, the penalty box Nissan Leaf gets about 98 mpg equivalent, while the Model S gets 88. Not enough of a difference to excite a regulator, but what a huge difference in automotive character! The electric motor is simply so energy-efficient that it makes powerful luxury cars a viable proposition even with high electricity rates.

      So in a world where everything fun seems to be on the verge of being banned, Elon Musk has done a signal service to auto enthusiasts everywhere.

      Now if we could only do something about the highway patrols and speed cameras …


  • avatar

    @ Beerboy 12
    If TTAC had infinite pockets I am sure these tests would be viable.

    I enjoyed the inside look at the LFA. That series of articles was an incredible journalistic effort. I was very impressed, and I learned a lot of information I would have never got anywhere else.

    In general about your content: Leave the press releases to autoblog and other sold out automotive media.(Just my humble opinion, but I know these can generate decent click through #’s)

    The articles that teach me better driving (JB), vehicle maintenance (many of your contributors) and the consumer society we are all apart of (Murilee) are the articles I cannot get enough of from you.

    But overall the most important is the B&B sharing their stories of the cars they used to own. When I shop for cars I search here first and immediately begin scanning through the comments from the B&B.

  • avatar

    Anything related to engine swaps into a 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe.

  • avatar

    Ok Derek, we can’t settle for just stock images. I want PROOF that that brown wagon is a 6-speed TDI.

  • avatar
    George B

    I think the most important set of stories are Steve Lang’s reports on the high auction prices on high mileage used cars. It shows that car buyers are delaying their car purchases more than they have in the past. Does this mean that there is a huge pent up demand for new cars or does it mean that consumers have been permanently trained to keep cars well past 100,000 miles? It will be interesting to see how experience with high mileage cars affects future car buying decisions of consumers.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. It is mind boggling and does not bode well for the economy. Econ 101, reselling an existing item is not activity.

      Also-re the original question. I think we all like the inside baseball aspect of this site. Whether it is JB talking about racing or meta-reviewing or Lang and the auctions, it is really cool to see that side of the industry.

  • avatar

    first off, +50 points for making the banner pic a brown (probably)diesel (likely stickshift) station wagon. Well played, sir.
    -5 points for it being my mortal enemy; the Jetta Sportwagen TDI.

    the articles that have served me best resolve around the number crunching and behind the scenes market reporting. I love that stuff. I also love the junkyard nostalgia and Vellum Venom.

    where I think this site goes completely in the crapper is when used car dealers go off base and start talking about hypothetical free market towns and tax rates, when expereinced race car drivers write creative fiction, and when authors super impose their political party’s ‘articles of faith’ on current events like right-to-work legislation. Write what you know and stay out of the rest, or actually hire a writer who can actually speak to it competently.

  • avatar

    My favorites:
    Pretty much any long-form editorial by Jack.
    The Velum series by Sajeev.
    The auction insight by Steve.
    And Michael Karesh does some of the most insightful car reviews of anyone out there.

    All of the above provide something that I don’t get elsewhere.

    While not always the most interesting subject matter, I don’t mind the stories from China and Japan, I think they provide an interesting perspective. Plus, hey you’ve got Bertel there, so why not use it to your advantage.

    Would love to see:
    – Better pacing of stories….sometimes it seems like there are 2 stories per day, which makes the sight feel a little dead. And then the next day you get 15.
    – and end to the incessant need to poke fun at wagons. That horse is so beaten it hurts.
    – A more up to date design and feedback section. Would be nice to be able to place images into comments….not looking for Jalopnik style LOLs, but having to always copy and paste links feels kind of amateur.

  • avatar

    In no particular order:

    Cadillac ATS introduction.
    Continuing stagnant European market, Opel and Peugeot’s travails.
    Low cost cars moving from developing to developed world.
    The ongoing Volt story.
    Territorial dispute between China and Japan.
    VW Group’s continued success
    EPA gas mileage ratings scandals at Hyundai and now Ford
    The struggle of alternative energy cars and their support industry.
    Chrysler’s profitability and product strength.
    The adulation of Sergio Marchionne.
    GM’s botched Chevy Malibu launch.
    Interface issues – My Ford Touch,CUE
    GM’s personnel issues.

  • avatar

    Since I live in Argentina, I’m interested about low-cost cars from Brazil, India, China, etc. Also interested on whatever is going on in Europe and the usual weird stuff.

  • avatar
    Adrian Roman

    The main reason I (a Romanian) visit this site is to read about the problems the auto industry is facing here in Europe. Funny, no? Maybe being over the ocean gives you guys more objectivity – or maybe there is no accesible, independent auto journalism here in Europe anymore.

    Second, articles about BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China)

    Murilee’s Junkyard finds are always fascinating.

    And last but not least, it’s interesting to see how others look at Dacia’s explosive development.

  • avatar

    I like it all! What? So, I’m a gourmand, not a gourmet!

    I’m struck by the lack of appreciation for the reviews. Don’t you bunch like the honesty of all the reviews? The fact that most of the reviewers have been blacklisted by the manufacturers because they won’t toe the party line? I think that’s pretty admirable and I appreciate it.

    I also love the fact that TTAC is so int’l. Who else has Marcelo, Bertel and Tycho on staff to give us insights in places and on models most of you haven’t a clue about? It’s both interesting and informative.

    The best part? Everyone who submits something is accessible to comments and they respond! Bah! You guys don’t realize what you have, but would absolutely scream if it disappeared.

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