If there’s one thing that enthusiasts and the general public can agree on, it’s that minivans are deeply uncool. The terms “swagger wagon” or “man van” may seem like oxymorons, but the minivan marking has seen slow growth this past year. Read More >
Category: Ask the Best and Brightest
I remember looking at the then brand new Ford Five Hundred and thinking to myself, “This would make one heck of a Volvo.”
Like the Volvos of yore this Ford offered a squarish conservative appearance. A high seating position which Volvo’s ‘safety oriented’ customers would have appreciated. Toss in a cavernous interior that had all the potential for a near-luxury family car, or even a wagon, and this car looked more ‘Volvo’ than ‘Ford’ to me with each passing day.
Something had to be done…
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?
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?
With the 2011 model-year ending, it’s time to eulogize the cars that have reached the end of the road and are being discontinued with the 2012 model-year. Some of them are well past their sell-by date (Hello, Lucerne, DTS!) whereas some are being euthanized in their prime due to regulatory issues (Goodbye, Elise and RX-8!). Some are slow-selling luxo-confections with nowhere to go (X6 ActiveHybrid), some are long-running workhorses which have simply run out of time (Ranger, Crown Vic), whereas others are simply mediocrities that the market has run out of patience with (Eclipse, Tribute). The New York Times‘ Sam Smith provides our list of expiring models, so hit the jump and tell us who you’ll miss and who you won’t. After all, unlike a real funeral, we don’t mind if you speak ill of the recently deceased…
On the way to TTAC’s Southern Tour, I filled some of the gaps in my automotive history by reading Car Wars by Robert Sobel. Written in the same year that Nissan opened its first US plant, a sprawling complex in Smyrna, Car Wars documents the early years of the Detroit-Import wars, starting with the Beetle and ending with the rise of the transplant factories. The book is full of lessons, but its most rattling reminders was that Nissan was the major Japanese automaker during the early days of the Japanese industry. Nearly thirty years after Car Wars was written, Nissan often gets lost in Honda and Toyota’s shadow when it comes to perceptions of the Japanese OEMs. And lately Nissan has fallen off more than a few radar screens for the simple fact that its key products are aging: Sentra, Maxima and Altima were introduced for the 2007 model-year, while Rogue is just a year younger. Together these four models account for over half of Nissan’s monthly volume… and yet despite this aged core lineup, Nissan’s sales (as a brand) are up over 17 percent year-to-date, maintaining the brand’s consistent growth.
Well, it’s Halloween…. the time of year when a young man’s thoughts turn towards death. Bertel gave us a double-shot of the macabre earlier today, but it was an unplanned spin-and-a-half (no, not on public roads) that most recently and viscerally reminded me just how deadly this whole driving a car business can be. And that particular bit of man-machine miscommunication didn’t even happen in the most scary car I’ve ever driven (thank goodness).
We’ve reviewed a lot of Korean designs here lately. The Soul. The Rio. The Veloster. The Sorrento. The Genesis. The Optima Hybrid. The Cayenne S. Actually, rumors that Porsche made a straight-up trade of engineering (the original Hyundai Santa Fe’s 2.7L V-6) for styling (the original Cayenne is clearly pretty much the same as said original Santa Fe) are completely unfounded. Some of these cars may not be quite up to the standard of their competition, but others are either the critic’s choice of the segment or the actual freaking segment sales volume leader.
Price has been a big part — for a long time, maybe the only part — of Korean-brand appeal in the United States since the very first Excel arrived with “$4995!” plastered on the windshield. In 2011, however, the Hyundai, Kia, and Daewoo vehicles aren’t always the cheapest choice. Which leads us to the question:
What’s the most powerful number in automotive marketing? No, not zero, as in “zero down, zero percent interest”… the answer we’re looking for is 40, as in “40 MPG hwy.” With the compact segment heating up, 40 MPG on the highway is very nearly a price of entry… if your base model doesn’t achieve the magic number, you’d better have a special edition that does. But even as “40 MPG” becomes more and more important as an industry benchmark, it inevitably raises a perennial question: do EPA numbers mean anything in the real world? Hyping the highest possible number rather than a “combined” figure is a classic marketing move, but one that risks exposing the EPA highway number as a meaningless metric. And if nobody actually gets the rated efficiency, it’s only a matter of time before the market begins to demand more accurate reporting.
According to Automotive News [sub]’s Product Editor Rick Kranz, GM execs “are debating” whether Chevrolet needs a subcompact crossover. Which is interesting, considering Buick’s next new vehicle after the Verano will likely be a subcompact crossover. But with GMC’s “Granite” moving to the Delta platform, and Buick doing a better job of differentiating itself (more on that soon, in an upcoming Verano review), that might work. Besides, the South American Chevrolet Agile (above) is based on the ancient 4200 platform which, as a “regional architecture,” is doomed to replacement with a Global Gamma-based vehicle. If you’re going to develop a global product, why not offer a version for the US market?
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Over at CNN Money, Alex Taylor III makes an astute observation about Bill Vlasic’s new book “Once Upon A Car,”
When Hollywood has tried capturing the auto industry on film, it aimed at realistic drama but wound up with suds… What filmmakers have lacked is believable characters and realistic dialogue. Until now, that is, thanks to a new book, Once upon a Car, by veteran Detroit newspaperman Bill Vlasic. Vlasic knows the industry in and out and enjoys near-universal access to its key figures. He recounts a tale filled with shrewd insights into their characters and conflicts told through verbatim accounts of their conversations. It’s the first nonfiction auto book that reads like a screenplay.
This, in a nutshell, is what I found so appealing about Vlasic’s book: it avoids the temptation to turn Detroit’s drama into a morality play, allowing the story to unfold in a personal, organic fashion. In my review of the book, to be published shortly by The Wall Street Journal, I argue that Vlasic’s approach holds a valuable lesson for automotive journalists of all stripes. Taylor, on the other hand, thinks Vlasic’s story is the perfect basis for a movie, and even goes so far as to make some casting suggestions (Al Pacino as Sergio Marchionne, Tom Hanks as Bill Ford, Tom Cruise as Alan Mulally, Sean Connery as Bob Lutz, Tom Wilkinson as Rick Wagoner). We already know there’s an auto industry video game simulation in the works, so I wonder, does the drama of the past few years make the auto industry a worthy subject for a great movie? At least worthier than, say, “The Prince Of Motor City“? If so, would you rather see a historically accurate film based directly on sources like Vlasic’s book, a fictionalized account with real-life characters, or a fictionalized film-à-clef interpretation? Also, wouldn’t Kyle McLaughlin make the better Rick Wagoner? Discuss…