Posts By: Edward Niedermeyer

By on December 20, 2011

To be clear, we aren’t talking about the next brand to linger on long past its kill-by date, pitting the brand loyalty of its fans against common sense for an agonizing eternity. No, now that Saab is dead and its warranty coverage has been suspended [per Automotive News [sub]], Saabophiles need an alternative. TTAC commenter Pig_Iron writes:

Now that SAAB is gone, who is the new SAAB? By that I mean, who makes the best winter handling front driver in coupe, sedan and wagon avail with man trans?

Your pal,

Pig_Iron

My answer: Buick’s Regal. It’s a rebadged Opel, available in several states of turbo tune, it’s got a distinctively European feel inside (firm seats, dark cockpit), and a fine-handling front-drive chassis. What more could you want from a Saab? On the other hand, what Saabista is going to buy from GM now that The General has cruelly slain mercifully euthanized their beloved brand [PDF on the definitive causes of death here]? So, if GM is out… possibly some kind of Volvo? An Audi? What say you, Best And Brightest?

By on December 20, 2011

It’s been a fascinating year for the compact car, as all six of the segment’s leading competitors brought out new or updated models over the last 18 months. But as our Chart Of The Day shows, the competition has hardly sent the segment into overdrive, as after an early-year boom, compact car sales have slackened considerably. Intriguingly though, Honda and Toyota, which lost sales early this year due to supply interruptions in the wake of the Japanese Tsunami, seem to be the only brands with recovering compact sales. What’s especially interesting about this is the fact that Toyota’s modest refresh and Honda’s poorly-received new Civic were once widely considered by automotive pundits to be under threat from the resurgent competition. Indeed, Honda’s Civic has been especially hard-hit by media criticism, earning a harsh review from TTAC’s Michael Karesh, losing its coveted “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports, and engaging in some ugly media-bashing. But now that the Civic seems to be one of the only compacts to enjoy a late-year sales rebound, Honda’s announcing that it will be upgrading the Civic for the 2013 model-year, just one year after the new model was introduced.

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By on December 20, 2011


Ever since emerging from bankruptcy, the Chevrolet Cruze has been something of a symbol of GM’s rebound. Widely hailed by the automotive media as General Motors’ strongest effort to date in a compact segment that has become increasingly important in recent years, the Cruze seemed to show that the “new” GM was capable of selling smaller cars on their merits, rather than as afterthoughts to more profitable truck, SUV and large car offerings. And indeed, through the first half of this year, it seemed that the Cruze was something of a roaring success, regularly outselling its segment competitors. But then, in June, when production shifted from 2011 models to 2012 models, something changed: sales started to slow, and inventories started to rise. As Cruzes began piling up on dealer lots, GM trimmed production moderately, but still, inventories began to grow out of control. Clearly something was going wrong.

UPDATED: “Big Six” compact sedan monthly sales graph (Jan-Nov, 2011) added to gallery after the jump.

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By on December 20, 2011

My two weeks in Europe has drawn to a close, and I’m back at my familiar desk, in front of my familiar computer, catching up on all the automotive happenings I missed, contemplating my transition out of TTAC’s day-to-day leadership, and reflecting on all I saw over my whirlwind two weeks. And though you haven’t heard from me much in the last two weeks, rest assured that I have  not forgotten TTAC, nor have I missed any opportunities to accumulate impressions from the automotive landscape of modern Europe.

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By on December 15, 2011

When we last checked in on the low-level trade war between China and the US, which was sparked by President Obama’s 35% tariff on Chinese tires, the Chinese government had ruled that American large cars and SUVs were being “dumped” on the Chinese market, but wasn’t doing anything about it. Now, Reuters reports that China is doing something about it, namely saying that it plans to impose tariffs of up to 22% on imports of American-built large cars and SUVs. And the “up to” is key: GM and Chrysler are being hit hardest (unsurprisingly), while American-made BMW, Mercedes and Acuras are receiving considerably lower tariffs.

Still, China only imports $1.1b worth of vehicles in this category, whereas the US imported some $1.8b worth of Chinese tires prior to the Obama tariffs.  Like most of the news around Chinese-American relations, this is more saber-rattling than substance. But with economic conditions still shaky in the US, and a Presidential election getting into full swing, small spats can escalate into larger confrontations. And with China surpassing the US as the largest market for cars in the world, it’s probably no coincidence that this simmering conflict largely involves cars and car-related products.

By on December 15, 2011

My war on Christmas gift-themed car ads has scored something of a victory, as AdAge reports that “creative spots for new luxury model automobiles that hyped the holiday have failed to perform effectively in the fourth quarter of 2011 so far,” according to surveys by Ace Metrix. And the accompanying quotes by the ad evaluation firm’s CEO Peter Daboll really sum up a lot of the problems with these 30-second cliches:

It’s astounding that four of the ‘top 10′ luxury automobile ads were below norm… many automotive brands have stepped away from good creative and fallen back on “Buy it now, you idiot” messaging wrapped up in sales events and bows. When we started looking at cars with bows and yet another Toytathon, it was enough, already. To suggest that someone buy a Lexus for his spouse in these economic times…”

You’ve got to love that sinister ellipsis, especially when certain luxury brands are suggesting not only that you buy your spouse a car, but that you buy them a cell phone as well, with which to alert them that you’ve bought them a new car…

By on December 15, 2011

After enduring a rocky relationship with Saab’s management, Guy Lofalk is officially out as court-appointed administrator for the ailing Swedish brand. But although Saab boss Victor Muller had long hoped for Lofalk’s ouster, the news wasn’t all good for his slow-motion “rescue,” as Lofalk’s first replacement had to step down before he even began his duties. Reuters calls the abortive administratorship of Lars-Henrik Andersson  Saab’s “latest embarrassment,”  but TTELA reports that Andersson’s “defection [was] not based on a pessimistic assessment of Saab.” On the other hand, at least one of Andersson’s colleagues thinks he dropped out because Saab is “screwed.”

In any case Soderqvist seems to be the last remaining Saabtimist in Sweden, insisting he believes in the new plan to save the zombie brand, and he will serve as long as he continues to have faith… so what’s the new plan anyway?

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By on December 13, 2011

There I was, at the top of the Sella pass, enjoying a sandwich while taking in the breathtaking view of Italy’s Dolomite Alps. I was a week-and-a-half deep into a much-needed vacation from the rewarding but demanding challenges of running TTAC, and work was the last thing on my mind (besides gathering my thoughts on the vehicle I had just nursed up the snowy pass). Then, all of a sudden, I looked up from my ham-and-cheese and caught a glimpse of the notorious psychedelic swirls used by automakers to hide their forthcoming vehicles from, well, people like me.

In an instant, my sandwich went flying as I lunged for my DSLR and hopped out of the car. Being a writer, not a photographer, I fumbled with the lens cap, losing valuable seconds, and the element of surprise. The sharp-eyed test drivers saw my camera just as I started snapping, and like a flock of startled birds, the three cars sped off down the road. Not even knowing what I had just seen, I heard the blood roaring in my ears, as a great bucketload of adrenalin hit my system. I had just gone from lunching tourist to erlkönigjaeger in a matter of seconds. And like any hunter, I was flush with the thrill of the hunt.

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By on December 5, 2011

Rumors that the Bank of China would be taking a role in the “rescue” of Saab turn out to have been something of a miscommunication. Saab explains the situation as it currently exists.

Swedish Automobile N.V. (Swan) announces it is in discussion with Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co. Ltd. (Youngman) and a bank in China about an equity interest in Swan. The discussions include a short term solution to enable Saab Automobile to pay the November wages and continue reorganization. The outcome of the discussions is still uncertain. Any possible transaction would be subject to the approval of the relevant stakeholders. [emphasis added]

As always, you can read about the proposed new structure (which has PangDa out of the picture) and why it will solve all of Saab’s problems over at Saabsunited.com. But far more interesting is the English-language interview with Victor Muller, found here (skip ahead to the 38:40 mark), in which Muller explains that GM can block any deal in which an automaker takes a 20% or larger stake in Saab, and that he is essentially Vladimir Antonov’s front man. After all, trying to understand Muller is far more compelling than this latest deal, which can be approved by GM (because it keeps automakers below 20% ownership), but won’t actually solve Saab’s basic problems (for precisely the same reason).

By on December 1, 2011

This time tomorrow I will be on an airplane, and for the first time in quite a while I will not be on my to some auto-related destination on behalf of TTAC. That’s right, I’m actually taking a vacation, which I will spend introducing my lovely life partner to the European continent and visiting family in my ancestral homeland of Austria. Of course, TTAC has become such a big part of my life that even my vacation will have a work-related angle: I’ll be spending each week with a different not-available-in-America car that I think should be of some considerable interest to you, our readers. But this is also just the first of two breaks that I’ll be taking from TTAC: in January, I’ll be stepping down as TTAC’s Editor-in-Chief for the calendar year 2012, to pursue a one-year opportunity outside of the field of automotive journalism. Even as I write those words, I can scarcely believe them… I’ve lived and breathed TTAC for so long now, it’s almost impossible to imagine life without it. But do not fear: not only do I leave TTAC in incredibly capable hands, I’m also not gone for good. You won’t be rid of me that easily.

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By on December 1, 2011

In the comments section of yesterday’s post on the ongoing Chevy Volt fire investigation, I noted that GM might

retrofit Volts with crash protection that can maintain battery integrity in all crash conditions… Mary Barra has said that GM is

“continuing to work with NHTSA to investigate additional actions to reduce or eliminate the potential of a post-crash electrical fire.”

I think some kind of update on the battery integrity front is inevitable, but we shall see…

Sure enough, today Reuters is running an interview with GM CEO Dan Akerson, who says that European deliveries of Opel-branded Volts (called Ampera) would be delayed pending NHTSA’s investigation, and that maybe, just possibly, the Volt’s battery might have to be redesigned. Says Akerson:

We want to assure the safety of our customers, of our buyers, and so we’re just going to take a time out, if you will, in terms of redesigning the battery possibly

Unfortunately, Akerson’s mangled syntax makes it tough to know if GM is really going to redesign the Volt’s battery, or what the “time out” in question means. He does tell the AP [via The WSJ [sub]] that a recall or buyback are options as well. Though redesigning the Volt’s battery could be expensive and devastating for sales, GM’s current post-crash safety protocol is incredibly human resources-intensive, and likely very costly as well. And the fact that GM is even considering redesigning the Volt for safety a year after its release is going to create a huge sales and marketing challenge anyway. Volt production edged down by 199 units in November, and now GM’s sales boss Don Johnson tells the Detroit News that the Volt will miss its 10,000 unit 2011 sales goal. At this point, GM may just want to take a mulligan on the Volt’s first year, redesign the battery, and relaunch the thing.

By on December 1, 2011

It’s too early to tell exactly how much the market for new cars rose in November, but it’s looking like double digit growth going into the holiday season. And while some brands seem to have been naughty last month (Subaru, Porsche, Lincoln, Buick and Cadillac all saw sales drop year-over-year), November couldn’t have been nicer for the Volkswagen and Chrysler Groups, which grew their volumes by 40 and 45 percent respectively. The Chrysler brand alone improved its volume a whopping 92 percent over last November’s admittedly weak numbers… Fiat, on the other hand, is still on the train to Flopsville. GM, meanwhile, has run into some trouble, growing a mere 7 percent, as declines by Buick and Caddy were only barely offset by modest growth at Chevy and GMC. Lincoln continues to freefall towards oblivion, dropping 18 percent to a mere 6,305 units, but strong Ford brand growth brought the Blue Oval’s result up to  13 percent year-over-year gain. Hit the jump for our evolving sales chart. [UPDATE: Chart now complete]

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By on December 1, 2011

TTAC has long been bearish on the Scion brand, and in a lot of ways, Toyota’s global tri-branding strategy with its new “86″ sportscar (Toyota, Subaru and Scion versions are being sold) highlights how Toyota has lost its branding focus. On the other hand, the FR-S, Scion’s version of the 86, is by far the most compelling product that brand has offered… well, possibly ever (OK, since the Mk1 xB). If I were king of Toyota, I’d probably still kill off Scion and sell the 86 as a Celica in the US… after all, how much sense does it make to have two sporty coupes at Scion and none for the Toyota brand? But if Scion follows the FR-S up with a new truly compact pickup co-developed with Daihatsu, as has been rumored, I’d be willing to concede that Scion has a place in the market. After all, truly unique, funky vehicles justified Scion’s existence in the first place, before a watered-down second generation of products killed that positioning (and Scion’s sales). With the FR-S, Scion seems to be heading back towards focused and freaky niche confections… let’s hope it continues to return to those roots.

By on November 30, 2011

TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives a good picture of what GM currently does to ensure the safety of Volt driver and passengers as well as rescue workers, towing company workers and salvage yards. And, I have to say, it puts some of my fears about this safety scare to rest. It hadn’t occurred to me that GM’s Onstar system could provide opportunities to respond to crashes in real time, and apparently the system provides a wide variety of data with which GM’s “corporate SWAT team” can tailor its response to any Volt crash event. Hit the jump for the full procedure.

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By on November 30, 2011

We’ve been a bit critical of Honda’s advertising recently, and though I’m not a big fan of most of the latest David Puddy (OK, OK, Patrick Warburton) spots, I have to give it up for this one. I’ve wondered about the “cars with bows” ad meme for some time now, and though it was estimated that some 50,000+ vehicles were given as gifts last holiday season, I really can’t wait for the ad theme to die. We all love surprise gifts (especially expensive ones), but shouldn’t the person who will actually be driving the car have some say in what they get? I mean, I’d be grateful if someone bought me a new Lexus RX (a chief perpetrator of this ad meme) out of the blue… but mostly in the “it’s the thought that counts” way. Want to surprise someone with something expensive? Buy them jewelry or a watch. Want to buy someone a car? Make sure you really know exactly what car the giftee wants, and for goodness sake, make sure they drive it and the competition first. Surprises last a few seconds, the right car will delight for years to come.

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