Once upon a time, way back in 1959, a company called Datsun imported a funny-looking pickup truck with a small bed and tiny engine, giving birth to the compact pickup market in the U.S. After a slow start, the market grew, as did the competition. The 70’s brought onslaughts from Isuzu, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and even VW. After the dust settled, the small truck market in the U.S. belongs basically to the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Chevy/GMC Colorado/Canyon (for now, anyway) and Nissan Forester—the direct descendant of the Datsun that started it all. Fifty years later, what hath Nissan wrought?
Posts By: Frank Williams
First, engine sludge in the Camry. Then, rusty frame rails on the Tacoma. Advertising Age (of all people) reveals the latest problem to tarnish Toyota’s solid gold quality image: the Prius’ HID headlights. A number of owners of Toyota’s green machine weren’t well pleased happy their high intensity headlights died after a few years. No surprise there; replacing them runs up a $1000+ parts and labor bill. Owners claim HID death is a “a dangerous but undisclosed safety defect” and that Toyota has “long been aware of Prius’ HID headlight problem” and is “concealing the problems from owners.”
Will they or won’t they? First, the factory. GM’s announced they’re bailing on NUMMI. Bloomberg says Toyota may be considering the same thing. Once GM turns its door keys over to Toyota, the Fremont, California, plant becomes Toyota’s highest-cost factory and the only one manned by UAW workers. With other US plants’ excess capacity (including a mothballed Mississippi manufacturing facility) and lower operating costs, ToMoCo may well pull the plug on NUMMI. Problem: PR. Shutting down a plant in economically-challenged California (Toyota’s biggest market) and putting another 5K people out of work wouldn’t endear the Japanese automaker to the public or their politicians. (GM, of course, would get none of the blame.) Now about that GM – Toyota Synergy Drive deal . . .
Aston Martin is thinking small. In what has to be the ne plus ultra in brand dilution, they will offer the “Cygnet” in 2010. And what, you ask, is a Cygnet? It’s a rebadged Toyota iQ. No, I really didn’t make that up. According to Bloomberg, James Bond’s favorite autobuilder will sell a “luxury commuter” based on Toyota’s three-seater one-liter city car. It’ll be built in Japan and sell (somewhere) for a yet-undisclosed price. Let’s just hope the Cygnet doesn’t mark Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd.’s swan song.
Ever since Porsche debuted the Cayenne, Porschephiles have heatedly debated where it fits into Porsche’s branding strategy—or if it should even exist. When SPEEDtv.com Editor in Chief Tom Jensen reviewed the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, he declared that the four-wheel-drive trucklet is a “true Porsche.” He states that “the Cayenne Turbo is absolutely faithful to Porsche’s core values of performance, quality and competency” and is therefore worthy of Porsche-hood. Despite its ungainly exterior, early reviews of the heavyweight four-door Porsche Panamera make the same claim. (Autoblog: “Not only is it painstakingly engineered and truly enjoyable to drive… most importantly, the all-new Panamera has earned the right to wear the Porsche badge.”) So what say you? What makes a Porsche a Porsche? With the “independent” sports car maker on the brink of losing its independence, has the fabled Porsche brand finally lost the plot?
Forbes, number one on the top ten list of top ten list purveyors, has published their list of “Ten Cars That Changed the World.” It contains vehicles “that were the first of their kind and that influenced the design and performance elements of the entire industry” and that have “staying power.” Or so they say. While some are no-brainer picks as history-changers (Ford Model T and VW Beetle), some are kind of strange (c’mon . . . the AMC Eagle?). And I know a few million Corvette fans who will dispute their statement that the Porsche 911 “has the longest production run of any sports car sold in the U.S.” Forbes‘ complete list is after the jump. Alternative suggestions welcome.
Ford may “just say ‘no’” to TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) money that puts them under the control of the PTFOA (Presidential Task Force on Automobiles), but the other wise acronym-aversive automaker doesn’t mind bellying up to the DoE’s (Department of Energy) bailout buffet. Bloomberg‘s mysterious “people familiar with the plans” say Ford, Nissan and Tesla will all dine upon loans from the “original” bailout package: the $25 billion feast created by the 2007 energy bill. The loans were intended to “help automakers boost fleetwide fuel economy.” In February, the DoE said they’d received 75 applications, totaling $38 billion. According to Bloomies, Ford, Nissan and Tesla are the first to get the handouts loans.
TTAC’s not the only one wondering when Toyota will stop acting like GM. Last February, none other than 84-year-old honorary chairman Shoichiro Toyoda (grandson of the company founder) upbraided 400 Toyota executives by asking them the same thing. “A person familiar with the meeting” told Bloomberg that Toyoda started out by asking lame-duck president Katsuaki Watanabe, “How many times have you made a mistake?” Then he went on to accuse the group of chasing sales and profits and letting Toyota emulate GM and Chrysler by becoming “addicted” to big cars and trucks while ignoring “the customers’ need to save money.”
Toyota, the automaker of choice for the green movement, is under fire by the green movement. It seems that the company wants to turn 1600 acres of cedar forests and 17th century rice paddies into a research center that’ll include 10km of road courses. The problem—in addition to the historical value of the area—is that it’s the habitat of the endangered gray-faced buzzard and oriental honey buzzard. In total, Bloomberg reports, the project will deforest 691 acres, fill in rice paddies and raze mountains. Shigemi Oda, chairman of the “Society to Consider the Large-Scale Development Project of the 21st Century,” summed it up: “Most people think of Toyota as an environmentally friendly company. Crushing mountains is environmentally destructive.”