My two weeks in Europe has drawn to a close, and I’m back at my familiar desk, in front of my familiar computer, catching up on all the automotive happenings I missed, contemplating my transition out of TTAC’s day-to-day leadership, and reflecting on all I saw over my whirlwind two weeks. And though you haven’t heard from me much in the last two weeks, rest assured that I have not forgotten TTAC, nor have I missed any opportunities to accumulate impressions from the automotive landscape of modern Europe.
Tag: city cars
Scion is quite sure of one thing: the new iQ is a much better car than the smart fortwo. What they’re much less sure of: how many of the targeted fine young North American urbanites will buy one rather than periodically use Zipcar. I’m neither young nor urban, but I’m going to do my best to pretend. Why might I buy this car—or not?
Under Penske management, the Smart minicar brand sold fewer than 6,000 vehicles last year, capping a sales decline that led Mercedes to take back management duties for the brand. And, according to the new folks in charge of Smart, there’s only one real problem with the brand: awareness. Or, more precisely, lack thereof. We’ve heard this song before from Smart’s new GM, but now Ernst Lieb, boss of Mercedes U.S.A., is picking up the tune, telling Automotive News [sub] that
With the marketing activities that we’re going to have, we’ll see some positive momentum. The biggest problem the car has right now: Nobody knows it.
Which, of course, is nonsense. Nonsense that allows you to appear aware of the sales problem without acknowledging a single problem with the product itself, but nonsense none the less. And Smart’s not the only micro-car brand that’s reaching for it either, as Fiat-Chrysler marketing boss Olivier Francois has the exact same excuse for Fiat’s weak start, telling AdAge
I don’t think we have a car problem; people love the car. I think we have an awareness problem.
Are Americans incapable of seeing, recognizing or being aware of anything that weighs less than 3,000 lbs? Or is it possible that there are a few things wrong with the Smart and 500?
For most Americans, the term “small car” typically refers to a C-segment sedan like the Honda Civic or Ford Focus, cars that now qualify as midsizers in many key metrics. Subcompact, or B-segment cars are generally considered the smallest of the small, as their name implies… but ask an American to describe a car smaller than a subcompact, and they’ll likely look at you quizzically before hesitantly suggesting “Smart car?” Yes, the A-Segment, known in Europe as the “City Car” or Microcar” class, is such a rarity in the US that it’s basically synonymous with the one car “competing” in it (Fiat’s 500 hasn’t quite broken into the public consciousness yet).
But, with Chevy execs confirming once and for all that the on-again-off-again (for the US) Chevy Spark (a.k.a. Daewoo Matiz Creative) will in fact be sold in the US (likely as a 2013 model) early next year, the American A-segment is about to get a whole lot of attention. But the question is this: does the fact that America’s first new A-segment car in a decade is a Chevy help or hurt the segment’s chances (consider that previous US A-segment cars like the 500 and Smart are positioned as premium offerings)? Is this car, with its 80 HP/82 lb-ft, 1.2 liter engine a pioneering game-changer that will introduce America to a whole new world of tiny cars, or is it just CAFE compliance fodder? One thing is for certain: everyone from Hyundai to Ford (which have the i10 and Ka waiting in the wings) is going to be watching the Spark with great interest.
VW’s biggest news from LA today is the Up! Lite, no doubt designed by some uptight Germans intent on bring a strange looking, Germanically efficient vehicle to the shores of America (or Poland). Obviously a result of VW’s development of a 100+MPG 1+1 seater car, the 70 mpg Up! Lite makes up for its homely looks with in-town efficiency. But then its main competition, the Toyota iQ and Smart FortTwo aren’t exactly lookers themselves. Under the hood lurks a 0.8L TDI engine and a 10kw electric motor making for leisurely acceleration despite the featherweight kerb figures.
I have driven a Spark around Michigan and have had some (GM executives) out for Saturday afternoon driving. We’ve cruised Woodward. North America has been an on-and-off thing for (the Spark). At the present time, though, it is very much on. Most of the world’s minicars were not designed for North America. The safety and repairability standards are different for side, rear, front crash and rollovers, as are emission standards and other things. They are difficult to meet if they weren’t planned for in the original engineering build. We can meet the U.S. standards. We can even package the Spark for Big Gulp cupholders
GM’s Jack Keaton [via Wards Auto] on the Chevrolet Spark (neé Daewoo Matiz Creative) and the many modifications needed to ready the 1.0/1.2-liter A-segment hatchback for the US market. Including making the cupholders large enough to hold a soft drink cup that’s nearly double the displacement of the Spark’s engine. The 6′ 4″ Keaton swears the Spark’s front seat is comfortable for him, and that he “didn’t mind” the back seat on a recent 35 mile drive.