“What happened to the podcasts?” has been an increasingly common refrain in the TTAC mailbox. To which we reply, “it’s freaking summer!” Messrs. Farago and Niedermeyer have been too busy chasing across the country a supermodel in a Ferrari 308 GTS to do any podcasting over the last month or so. But now that the Wagon Queen Family Truckster is broken down, it’s time to get back to the grind. You think you hate it now, but wait ’til you drive it!
After a week-long hiatus, the TTAC daily podcast returns to action. We’re still waiting on a shiny new microphone for Mr. Farago to complete our audio makeover, but please let us know if we’re making progress on the audio-level issues that we’ve been hearing about. Meanwhile, enjoy.
The second tranche of cash-for-clunker money could be approved as early as today, reports Automotive News [sub]. Not that there’s any suspense about how the vote will turn out. Whether it passes today or tomorrow, pass it will. The NHTSA’s program feels enough like a success to guarantee a re-up. And as psychologically motivated as markets are, sometimes feeling like a success is enough. But congress can’t be motivated by a mere uptick in overall dealer traffic alone. After all, our government is no longer a passive proponent of American industry as a whole: we’ve picked sides. And the teams we picked, namely GM and Chrysler, aren’t seeing any real benefit out of the CARS program. And remember, if the $3 billion worth of clunker culling doesn’t help our inept wards of the state, we’ll be looking at pouring at least that much directly into them. Again.
If the CARS program has proved anything, it’s that America loves a deal. Big surprise there. In fairness, it also proves that giving away a billion bucks takes more than 30 days of preparation. And that good news is always welcome, even if it isn’t exactly good news. In the short term, the “success” of CARS is almost certain to bring about a re-up in funding; Cash for Clunkers will probably keep rolling along. In the longer term, there are two major issues to worry about. First, is the pull-forward effect. Redlining the market with federal stimulus will probably only delay a sustained and sustainable recovery in car demand. The second issue is that when the economy starts showing signs of sustainable, organic recovery, taxes are most likely going to be increased thanks to short-term stimuli like C4C. As the second most expensive purchase in a consumer’s lifetime, cars are likely to be especially vulnerable to reductions in take-home income. Doubly so if demand has already been pulled forward by said stimulus. With Cash for Clunkers, we are once again mortgaging long-term market stability and recovery for an orgy of feel-good consumption. Let’s try to enjoy the buzz while it lasts.
Seriously? If Alfa and Fiat are going to be added to the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep mix, something has got to give. And why not Chrysler? Maybe it’s just that every time I hear the word Chrysler, my immediate association is Sebring. Which is more than enough motivation for me to wish the brand dead. Perhaps the Chrysler name could live on as an umbrella brand (i.e., GM). As a vehicle brand though, Chrysler is toast. Or am I missing something?
Unlike the Subaru Outback, which doesn’t do anything for Legacy wagon fans, today’s TTAC podcast really does have something for everyone. And coincidentally, the ability to be all things to all people also happens to be the major challenge for mass market brands. Which is why Messrs. Farago and Niedermeyer agree that Ford should embrace its “built Ford tough” tagline, and use it to build the Ford brand across every segment. The line is well-established, it is associated with one of Ford’s most successful products, and, most importantly, it conveys a powerful but versatile brand image. In the past, we’ve wondered aloud about what exactly a Ford is supposed to be. Built Ford Tough could apply to a cheap Fiesta as much as it could to an upmarket Taurus. It’s an all-encompassing value that anyone, if not everyone, can relate to.
The list of CAFE violators (in PDF form) reads like a valet’s to-do list: Mercedes, Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati. These firms pay CAFE fines because, well, they can. CAFE fines are calculated by multiplying each tenth of a mile per gallon of average non-compliance by $5.50, then multiplying that dollar amount by the number of vehicles sold. As a result, luxury firms pay the highest fines when they try to go mass market: Merecedes paid about $30 million for 2007. But if CAFE is already weighted to let small companies off the hook, why are we hearing about new rules which seem to relax standards for firms selling fewer than 400k vehicles per term? Aren’t the regular loopholes enough?
As promised in today’s podcast, here’s a teaser image of the forthcoming Audi A8 (courtesy of Top Gear‘s blog).
No, we’re not talking about stalking women of a certain age. To my summer flu-addled mind, this Focus-based softroader should be on the US market already, cashing in on one of the few successful segments left here. We hear it’s going to be built in Kentucky, but when?