Posts By: Timothy Cain

By on July 27, 2016

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Exterior Front 3/4. Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

As recently as March 1, 2016 — on behalf of February 2016’s sales results — Fiat Chrysler US LLC touted a 71-month streak of year-over-year U.S. new vehicle sales improvements. Although FCA US stopped communicating the length of that streak by the beginning of the second-quarter, the company’s sales reports suggested that the streak through the end of June 2016 measured 75 months.

Figures released by FCA yesterday reveal that the streak of year-over-year improvements actually ended at 40 months in September 2013, when an originally reported 1-percent increase, it turns out, was actually a 3-percent decrease. On two other occasions during this 75-month span, FCA claimed sales had improved, year-over-year. August 2015’s 2-percent increase was actually a 1-percent decrease. Then, only two months ago, while FCA originally claimed a 1-percent increase, sales actually fell 7 percent.

The abbreviated streak, however, is only one side of the equation. (And it increasingly appears to be the least of FCA’s worries, as a grand jury has now been empaneled.) FCA’s sales reporting methods, highly questionable on both the retail and fleet side, frequently resulted in significant overstatements and, FCA claims, understatements, as well. (Read More…)

By on July 26, 2016

2015 Honda Odyssey EX potato field, Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Ten days ago, we were reaching the final stages of a basement semi-renovation that would see GoodCarBadCar’s headquarters moved from the top floor of GCBC Towers to the basement. The new office would make room for a new miniature inhabitant upstairs, create easier outside access for the dog, and carve out greater work/life balance. Ikea is more than a year from opening in our locale, however, so it fell to Mrs. Cain and me to install new shelving. We needed lumber. Lots of it.

Naturally, this calls for a pickup truck. That’s how it works, right? That’s what the marketers tell us. That’s what many of us tell ourselves. That’s what society has led us to believe.

We took our Honda Odyssey instead.

Thus began a 1,000-mile nine-day span in which our long-term 2015 Honda Odyssey would once again prove that minivans make the most sense most of the time. (Read More…)

By on July 25, 2016

Volkswagen Chattanooga CrossBlue

SUV sales are exploding in the United States. It doesn’t just seem as though the quality, origins, price, power, credibility, and style of a utility vehicle matter not one whit — it really doesn’t.

Critically panned and antiquated SUVs such as the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot are selling better than ever. The original Audi Q5, on sale since 2009, is on track for its seventh consecutive year of growth. Sports car builder Porsche now produces 60 percent of its U.S. sales with the Macan and Cayenne. The Buick Encore, a questionable Chevrolet Sonic-based subcompact crossover, is easily Buick’s best-selling model. Sales of the Ford Explorer are on track to rise to a 12-year high.

Easy peasy. Build it and they will come. Too small? No problem. Too big? Not an issue. Too ugly? More power to you. Impractical? Ignore the U in SUV; it won’t hold you back.

It’s therefore a great time for Volkswagen to finally release an SUV in the heart of the market.

(Read More…)

By on July 22, 2016

2013 Dodge Dart GT

“If you’re a serious carmaker and you can’t make it in this segment, you’re doomed.”
— Sergio Marchionne, September 2012

“There’s nothing wrong with the car.”
— Sergio Marchionne, January 2013

“We have decided to de-focus, from the manufacturing standpoint, to de-focus on the passenger car market.”
— Sergio Marchionne, January 2016

The launch was flubbed by an emphasis on manual transmissions. The brand lacked the reputation of a competitive builder of small cars after 15 years of Neons and Calibers. Trim and engine variants were, sometimes, poorly aligned. The market for passenger cars began to shrink even as the overall auto industry expanded. Demand for the Dart, limited even at its peak, dried up as most Dart competitors posted modest declines.

The reasons for the Dodge Dart’s demise are many. At the end of its run, however, the Dodge Dart’s production end in September 2016 represents a premature euthanization. After Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ boss said less than seven months ago that the Dart, along with the larger Chrysler 200, would be withdrawn from the marketplace “over a prolonged period of time,”

FCA has now clarified that “prolonged” equals only three-quarters of a year.

What’s the hurry? Jeep. (Read More…)

By on July 21, 2016

2016 Mazda 3 sedan red

Enthusiast praise for the Mazda3 began before the current-generation compact Mazda arrived in late 2013. Previous iterations benefited from hugely positive reviews. “We’re going to love the 3 once it arrives in America,” Automobile wrote in December 2003. Credit for dynamic excellence was the norm a generation later. “Steering is direct and the suspension is firm enough for spirited driving and equally competent at soaking up bumps,” said AutoGuide in early 2009. I haven’t hesitated to get in on the action, writing in my second review of the latest compact Mazda, “The Mazda3 is still the best compact car you can buy.”

It’s therefore not surprising to see that in a five-way compact car comparison for the magazine’s July edition, Car and Driver named the 2016 Mazda3 i Grand Touring the winner of the test. Car and Driver handed the Mazda 203 points, 44-percent more than the fifth-ranked 2016 Nissan Sentra SL achieved.

Industry observers also won’t be surprised to learn that Car and Driver’s fifth-ranked Nissan Sentra produced 139-percent more first-half sales than the Mazda, while the other three losers all roundly outsold the Mazda, as well. (Read More…)

By on July 20, 2016

Bonus. It’s the money you didn’t expect to receive from your employer at the end of the fiscal year, the mussel bar you didn’t know existed at the new Yelp-hyped strip mall restaurant your significant other convinced you to try, the extra hour of sleep you grabbed exiting daylight saving time last autumn. There are […]

By on July 19, 2016

2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

“Your word is your bond,” Melania Trump famously said. Or was it Michelle Obama?

We are pretty sure the current and potentially future First Ladies were not speaking about the words found in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ monthly U.S. sales reports. Yet questions have arisen — once again — regarding FCA’s sales practices and reporting methodologies. This time, rather than lawsuits from a Maserati dealer that operates stores in New York, New Jersey, and Florida, or an Illinois dealer of core FCA brands, the questions are being asked by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In March, Napleton Automotive’s lawsuit (filed by the same lawyer hired by Recovery Racing to sue FCA-owned Maserati last year) accused FCA of “‘strong arm’ tactics to get dealers to falsify sales reports that benefit the auto maker by creating ‘the appearance that [Fiat Chrysler’s] performance is better than, in reality, it actually is,’” according to The Wall Street Journal.

On July 11, reports Automotive News, “Investigators from the FBI and the SEC visited FCA field staff in their homes and offices on July 11 as part of the probe.” In FCA’s own statement, the automaker said yesterday that, “In its annual and quarterly financial statements, FCA records revenues based on shipments to dealers and customers and not on reported vehicle unit sales to end customers,” and confirmed cooperation with both the SEC and the Justice Department.

But what are the actual claims? As automakers report model-specific U.S. auto sales figures at the beginning of every month, FCA typically delves into great detail regarding the prior month’s performance and the year-to-date results. (Read More…)

By on July 18, 2016

BMW 2-Series Coupe red

Forget last year’s record sales achievements in BMW USA’s showrooms. Through the first six months of 2016, sales at the BMW Group’s BMW brand are down 9 percent in the United States, a first-half pace which suggests BMW sales will fall to a three-year low even as the overall new vehicle market continues to grow.

Not only is BMW’s car division off last year’s pace by more than 20,000 sales, or 18 percent, the brand’s three most costly utility vehicles — X4, X5, X6 — are down 22 percent. Yes, the overall car market is fading, but BMW’s 22-percent car decline is far worse than the U.S. auto industry’s 8-percent drop in car sales. And the 24-percent decrease in, for instance, sales of the BMW X5 stands in stark contrast to the 8-percent increase in the overall SUV/crossover market.

There are nevertheless bright lights in the BMW lineup.

Among passenger cars, the one car that most clearly exemplifies BMW’s old Ultimate Driving Machine credo, the 2 Series, is the BMW car that’s growing fastest. By far.

Among crossovers, the BMW which most flies in the face of everything the BMW cognoscenti value about BMW, the X1, is the BMW SAV division’s fastest-growing vehicle. By far. (Read More…)

By on July 15, 2016

Nissan Versa

Through the first-half of 2016, passenger car sales volume is down 8 percent in the United States.

It’s not quite that bad in the subcompact car category, but sharp declines from the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Toyota Prius C, Toyota Yaris, plus the disappearance of the Mazda2 pushed subcompact car volume down 6 percent.

Yet U.S. sales of the Nissan Versa are on the rise.

Not only are Nissan Versa sales on the rise, the Versa is consistently America’s top-selling subcompact car.

Not only are Versa sales rising now, Versa sales have been on the rise for the last seven years. (Read More…)

By on July 15, 2016

While it’s true that TTAC’s managing editor spent last week in an $11,595 2016 Chevrolet Spark, auto writers living on the east coast of Canada are rather more accustomed to receiving highly optioned cars from the press fleet. There was the 2016 Mazda CX-9 Platinum priced, in Mazda USA speak, at $45,215. A couple of […]

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