Category: Features

By on May 24, 2017

Mazda SUV lineup: CX-3, CX-4, CX-5, CX-8, CX-9 - Images: Mazda

Spotted recently on the streets of Chicago was a Japanese crossover that will never — not in final production form — actually make it to the streets of Chicago.

Nor to the streets of any other American city, for that matter. Wearing no camo and sitting in broad daylight, the diesel-powered Mazda CX-8 was photographed by Peter Lazar, albeit not from the front.

When the 2018 Mazda CX-8 is launched later this year, its primary market will be Mazda’s Japanese home base. “It will not be sold in the U.S., as CX-9 fills that role quite well,” Mazda spokesperson Jacob Brown told TTAC yesterday.

Mazda also re-confirmed that the CX-4, a more rakish take on the CX-5, is also still primarily a Chinese market crossover that will not make its way across the Pacific. In other words, 40 percent of Mazda’s global utility vehicle lineup stays outside the mighty SUV market that is America. Read More >

By on May 23, 2017

JM Lexus Margate Florida - Image: Lexus.com

Half an hour from Fort Lauderdale, in Margate, Florida, sits JM Lexus, the highest-volume Lexus dealership in the United States.

Even by Lexus standards, where throughput is the best of any premium automaker operating in America, JM Lexus’ 8,000-unit new vehicle sales tally in 2016 was striking. That’s more than 150 new luxury cars, crossovers, and SUVs sold each week. That’s roughly six times the volume achieved by the typical Lexus dealer.

And JM Lexus, perennially the top Lexus dealer in America, does so as part of the Lexus Plus strategy: no negotiating, a single representative per customer, fixed prices for new and used cars as well as service fees and accessories.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned by Lexus’ other dealers. For the time being, according to Automotive News, only 5 percent of Toyota’s premium brand stores operate under the Lexus Plus model. Read More >

By on May 22, 2017

2018 outback

With the exception of Mazda and — until its Outlander PHEV finally lands on U.S. shores — Mitsubishi, Subaru remains one of very few automakers to completely eschew electrified powertrains.

Despite lacking any fully electric, plug-in hybrid or hybrid model (the unloved Crosstrek Hybrid met a quiet death last year), Subaru’s U.S. customer base continues to expand at a rapid clip, but a gas-only strategy can’t survive forever. Environmental regulations the world over insist Subaru should follow the lead of its rivals and build something without pistons.

Well, Subaru plans to. However, unlike many of its rivals, the automaker has indicated it might take a different path towards this goal. Read More >

By on May 19, 2017

tom brady aston

The notion of American football being included in a non-pickup automotive advertisement is already ridiculous. I have nothing against the NFL personally. It has an exceptionally broad appeal, but it evokes a sort of blue-collar stars and stripes forever type of pride that makes it a superb platform to promote army recruitment and Ford’s F-150.

So, when I found out that Aston Martin — one of the most sophisticated brands in history — was making Tom Brady the face of its next advertising campaign, I was understandably upset. Not quite catching your girlfriend in the backseat of a Kia with your best friend upset, more like your dad telling you he’s starting an emo band upset. There’s an overwhelming sense of confusion and a pressing urge to do everything in your power to stop it from happening, because you know it’s all an egregious mistake and feel that — deep down — they must realize it, too.  Read More >

By on May 18, 2017

Android Auto in Volvo

Over spring break, my family went skiing in Breckenridge. We flew into Denver and drove the rest of the way to get there, saving a bunch of money and giving me the exciting chance to pilot a top-of-the-line Cadillac Escalade. The first thing I did after getting into the car was connect my phone so I could hijack the big touchscreen and have my own Google Maps for navigation.

Switching back and forth from Android Auto to the native Cadillac Cue experience could best be described as jarring. Two different worldviews of design, coexisting poorly. Different icons. Different visual styles. Different everything. You may enjoy my Strangelovian rant from 2014 when Google first introduced Android Auto.

With that in mind, Google I/O, Google’s annual developer conference at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, is in full swing.

So what’s new with respect to Android Auto? Customization.

Read More >

By on May 18, 2017

2017 Chevrolet Camaro vs 2017 Ford Mustang - Image: GM and Ford

It’s a question that goes back some 50 years.

Nixon or Humphrey.

No, wait. Camaro or Mustang.

Forget your Camry vs. Accord monotony, your F-150 vs. Silverado one-upmanship, and the Smart Fortwo vs. Scion iQ debate that routinely breaks the internet. This, this is the American automotive debate of the decade. And the decade before. And the decade before that.

It’s as though Ali and Frazier just kept on fighting. Annually. For decades. It’s the Yankees and Mets meeting in the World Series every year. It’s like — and I know you don’t want me to go there — Trump vs. Hillary in 2020, 2024, 2028, 2032, 2036…

If you could have just the one, which would it be? Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro? Read More >

By on May 18, 2017

2018 Subaru WRX STI, Image: Subaru

Earlier this week, I fielded a question regarding German hot hatches. A few commenters suggested that I had made a mistake by not recommending the Subaru WRX or STi as an alternative to the Golf R and Focus RS. After all, I’d been perfectly content to recommend a Subaru as an alternative to a Volkswagen just a week before. So why not suggest an STI in place of an RS? Was it the long-dormant Euro-snob in me surfacing unexpectedly, like a Kraken slouching up from dark water to terrify the innocents on shore with its repugnant and vicious countenance? Or had I simply forgotten about the mere existence of the twin turbo compacts?

With regards to the first of these two scenarios, I can only assure the readership I’ve repented of my youthful Euro-snobbery to a degree that would make a post-Room-101 Winston Smith weep over his Victory Gin. With regards to the second scenario, I will only say this: somebody has forgotten about the WRX and STi, and that somebody is the corporate person known as Subaru of America.

Read More >

By on May 18, 2017

2018 Acura TLX, Image: © 2017 Jack Baruth

Stop multi-tasking and listen to me for a minute, because I’m going to tell you the most important thing you’ll read this week.

Many years ago, when I was still in the pharmaceuticals game, I had a business mentor of sorts. He was a thick-set, bald, African-American fellow in his early 60s who dressed exclusively in velour tracksuits and, at the time of this story, had an custom-ordered pink S500, an SL500, and an aftermarket-droptop Lexus SC400 in his garage.

We were sitting at dinner one night and I was griping about a fellow we knew who had been given every chance possible by both of us to become remarkably wealthy. Yet every time one of us gave him a chance, he pissed it away through random acts of fiscal impropriety or domestic violence. I couldn’t understand why this dude could not get his act together and handle his business in an appropriate manner.

“Listen up, young blood,” my mentor said, stabbing me in the chest with a finger about the size of a Mag-Lite flashlight, “you cannot want something for someone they do not want for themselves.” I think I dropped my fork. He was right, of course. In the years since then, I’ve had occasion to remember those words again and again. You cannot want something for someone they do not want for themselves.

I need you to keep that in mind as you read this review. If you are like most automotive enthusiasts, you want Acura to return immediately to the glory days of the beautiful first-generation Legend and the sublime twin-cam Integra. But you cannot want something for Acura that it does not want for itself. Acura is perfectly content with being primarily known as the manufacturer of the RDX and MDX sport-utility vehicles. Those two products are market leaders and they’re more than enough to guarantee Acura’s continued existence. If you continue to hope that Acura will build razor’s-edge sporting compacts and M3 rivals, you will continue to be disappointed. Period, point blank. Got it?

Let’s continue.

Read More >

By on May 17, 2017

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF, Image: Mazda

Yesterday, Steph Willems asked in his Question of the Day what BMW should do with Mini and its lineup of identical-but-different vehicles almost nobody is buying. Since it seems like you’re quite eager to give brand strategy advice, let’s do it again today.

I want you to tell me what you’d do with Mazda, because its current PR line isn’t sitting well with me.

Read More >

By on May 15, 2017

2018 Honda Odyssey Silver Front Quarter

“Remember, you are in a minivan,” my better half commanded as I tapped the left-hand gearshift paddle, grabbing a lower gear to power out of the improbably banked corner on a mountain two-lane. The 19-inch Bridgestones squealed in protest as I pushed it a bit wide, just as the kid squealed from the third row over a funny movie.

What was I to do? It’s not like the roads Honda chose for this drive are the typical minivan haunts — namely suburban surface streets or long interstate slabs. There are no real suburbs on the big island of Hawai’i, and interstate drives would get quite wet after a couple of hours in any direction. So I pressed on, trailbraking as if I were hustling a much smaller car around an autocross course.

It’s indeed a minivan, but the new 2018 Honda Odyssey is surprisingly rewarding to drive. While the majority of miles racked up by any minivan undoubtedly result from a commute, either on city streets or the interstate, taking the long way home in this Odyssey won’t feel like punishment.

Read More >

By on May 15, 2017

2016 Mazda CX-9 - Image: Mazda“I am not comfortable with 2 percent. I’m comfortable with a good 2 percent.”
– Masahiro Moro, President and CEO, Mazda North American Operations

Mazda’s U.S. market share fell to a 10-year low in 2016 and hasn’t noticeably recovered in the first four months of 2017. A small lineup with no presence in key segments limits Mazda’s chances of becoming a major automaker.

But Mazda doesn’t want to be a major automaker. Mazda wants to be a small but profitable automaker with profitable dealers and loyal buyers.

Mazda also wants to carry greater sway in the U.S. market than it does at the moment. Only slightly. Fractionally more. Marginally, almost imperceptibly more. Only 1.7 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States are Mazdas. Mazda wants 2 percent, surely a reasonable and easily attainable goal.

But Mazda’s North American boss, Masahiro Moro, has no intention of jumping up to that 2-percent marker rashly or hastily. Read More >

By on May 15, 2017

2017 Chevy Colorado ZR2

In the first installment of the Jurassic Park franchise, we’re introduced to the vicious raptors — a breed of dinosaurs who tear, smash, and maul their way through the storyline (and more than a few characters). By the time we see them in the most recent installment of the series, Chris Pratt has managed to tame them to a certain degree, creating creatures that obey a few commands but will still rip his face off if given the opportunity.

Chevrolet had a 2017 F-150 Raptor on hand at its launch of the Colorado ZR2. Hammering its loud pedal, the beast ripped across the hot Colorado asphalt, its psychotic twin-turbo exhaust note sounding like Marilyn Manson screaming obscenities into a vacuum cleaner hose. Backing off to 7/10ths, it struck me that the Raptor and ZR2 bear more than a passing resemblance to those fictional silver-screen scoundrels.

Read More >

By on May 12, 2017

2018 Honda Odyssey - Image: Honda

U.S. minivan volume has decreased in nine consecutive months as the American minivan category lost 70,000 sales since August 2016, year-over-year.

As a result of the steady decline in a minivan segment that essentially features only five vans, 2017 is set to be the lowest-volume year for the category since 2009. At the rate achieved through the first one-third of 2017, Americans will purchase and lease only 452,000 minivans in 2017, just 2.6 percent of the overall market and only slightly more minivans than Americans purchased and leased when the overall industry collapsed to the lowest level in 27 years.

Or perhaps not. Fresh product is the carnauba wax bath balm for the soccer mom segment’s tired flesh. And a new 2018 Honda Odyssey is due at dealers in the coming weeks. (We’ll have a review of it next week.)

Is a new Odyssey the answer for America’s minivan woes?

Honda believes so. Read More >

By on May 12, 2017

Confident car dealer giving a handshake car showroom on the background, Image: stockasso/bigstock.com

I spent 33 years in the automobile business, the equivalent of 96 human years. Having worked for car dealerships, manufacturers, an auction house, and an auto finance company, I’m convinced there is no other industry that attracts such a diverse cast of characters. Many of them defied stereotypes: I met car sales people who were honest, ethical and hardworking. I also worked with senior executives of well-respected automobile companies who were total sleazebags.

Throughout the years, I kept meeting the same set of six people over and over. These are their stories. Their names have been changed to protect the guilty. Read More >

By on May 12, 2017

2017 Subaru Outback - Image: Subaru

Although Subaru is selling more new vehicles than ever before, particularly in North America, the automaker’s run of record profits came to end in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017. Subaru made money, no doubt, but Subaru’s operating profit was down 27 percent compared with the prior year.

Subaru’s revenue grew 3 percent while global volume rose 11 percent to more than 1 million vehicles, according to Automotive News. That’s the kind of information that matters to investors.

As for consumers, it’s the information from Subaru CEO Yasuyuki Yoshinaga that matters most. Saying the U.S. market has peaked, Yasuyuki Yoshinaga claims, “The market environment has increasingly become tougher.” In a tougher market, Subaru’s largest market, an automaker must either give way or make way.

Subaru’s decision? “We will carefully examine the situation and will take the necessary steps to maintain our sales, including incentives,” Yoshinaga says.

You heard right. Subaru, notorious for limited supply and limited scope for deal-making, might just offer you a bit of a discount on your next Outback or Forester. Read More >

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