Let’s face it; we Americans have rarely created a small car worth considering, we have also rarely built a small car in our own backyard. Case in point: the former Chevy Aveo. While I wouldn’t say the Aveo was abjectly horrible, there was nothing to excite a shopper and it wasn’t cheap enough to compensate. While the Aveo was born out of old-GM’s need to buy every ailing car company around the world (in this case Daewoo), it’s replacement, the new Chevy Sonic, is the only subcompact car currently sold in the United States that’s actually assembled here as well. The platform used by the Sonic is far better traveled than most Americans. GM’s “Gamma II” architecture was designed by GM Korea with considerable input from Opel (as the Opel Corsa will share the platform soon) and re-skinned by Chevrolet. To make the Sonic LTZ Turbo from this multi-national compact car, Chevy dropped a 1.4L turbocharged engine and six-speed manual tranny under the hood. Unlike the Hertz-ready Sonic hatchback Michael Karesh has last year, the Sonic LTZ Turbo is the top-of-the-line Sonic attempting to please those who want a hair more shove and, paradoxically, better fuel economy. Sound like a good start? Let’s see if GM got it right this time.
It’s been a fascinating year for the compact car, as all six of the segment’s leading competitors brought out new or updated models over the last 18 months. But as our Chart Of The Day shows, the competition has hardly sent the segment into overdrive, as after an early-year boom, compact car sales have slackened considerably. Intriguingly though, Honda and Toyota, which lost sales early this year due to supply interruptions in the wake of the Japanese Tsunami, seem to be the only brands with recovering compact sales. What’s especially interesting about this is the fact that Toyota’s modest refresh and Honda’s poorly-received new Civic were once widely considered by automotive pundits to be under threat from the resurgent competition. Indeed, Honda’s Civic has been especially hard-hit by media criticism, earning a harsh review from TTAC’s Michael Karesh, losing its coveted “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports, and engaging in some ugly media-bashing. But now that the Civic seems to be one of the only compacts to enjoy a late-year sales rebound, Honda’s announcing that it will be upgrading the Civic for the 2013 model-year, just one year after the new model was introduced.
“Hey Brendan,” runs the e-mail from our illustrious ed., Ed, “I was wondering if you wanted to take on the most challenging story I’m currently facing: making the new Honda CR-V interesting.”
“Don’t get taken in by the free bacon!”
Wait, what now? Free bacon? I’M THERE.
GM has made much of the fact that its Chevrolet Cruze compact has enjoyed strong sales this year, but volume alone isn’t enough to make it in today’s car industry. The key to profitability is keeping production in line with sales, so that plants don’t overproduce, in turn forcing profit-sapping incentives to move the metal. And, as these charts show, GM has been having success selling the Cruze, but not to the extent that it needs to keep production at its current levels. The graph above shows monthly production and sales levels for this year, and it shows that GM has already tried to adjust production once to keep it in line with slower-than-expected sales. But that wasn’t enough. With sales volume dropping the last four months in a row, and inventory jumping from 33 days to 43 days in the month of October alone, the UAW is reporting that the Lordstown plant where Cruze is built will be idled for the entire week of November 28. According to the announcement
The down week is necessary to align production with current market demand. The scheduling modification is attributed to traditional seasonal buying behavior coupled with competitors’ recovering inventories previously impacted by the March earthquake in Japan.
Like a lot of recent Detroit products, the Cruze has received a lot of positive press due to its giant improvement in quality and sales compared to its predecessor. But with demand softening, and GM’s brass fretting over profitability margins as the market shifts to smaller cars, it’s clear that the Cruze’s ultimate success has yet to be proven.
With October’s compact segment numbers reflecting Midsized segment’s return to the Toyota-Honda duopoly, the year-to-date graph shows that 2011 saw the rise of a new contender in the compact class: Chevy’s Cruze. With “virtually zero” 2012 Civics at Honda’s dealers (allegedly) due to Earthquake aftermath and Thai flooding, it’s beginning to look like Civic could be kicked out of the new triumvirate, leaving Cruze and Corolla to fight it out to the finish. To celebrate the drama, we’ve included a special bonus graph showing the “Big Six” compact horserace from January through October, to go along with the YTD graph. Enjoy!
In a luxury market that’s always looking for the next big thing, “Compact Luxury” has become something of a hot trend. And with GM’s Buick brand saved from the bailout-era brand cull, a compact Buick is a key test of whether The General has moved past its bad habits of cynical badge engineering. Thus the 2012 Buick Verano is a hugely important car to The General, not only serving as a bellweather for the health of the Buick brand, but also proving whether or not GM “gets” the tough-to-crack entry-luxury market. So, does the Verano measure up?
Recent Toyota ads introducing the “Prius Family” have featured the Prius C Concept to represent the forthcoming compact Prius, which will bear only the most passing resemblance to the slick showcar. But if deception was Toyota’s game, the jig is up. Der Prius wird geschrumpft (shrunk), chortles Autobild, which says these images come from a Japanese brochure that was leaked to the web. And the car pictured does look far more production-Toyota-like than the decidedly Scionesque C Concept. Is it the real thing? Will ad-attentive Toyota fans wonder where the C Concept went? Will a compact hybrid sell well in any case? These pictures are worth a thousand questions…
Thought the Midsized segment was heating up in September? A mere 633 units separate the Cruze and Corolla in their battle to become the best-selling Compact in America for 2011. And the way Elantra and Jetta are moving up the chart, this segment could could get a lot more interesting by the end of the year. In fact, the Focus’s weak performance this month makes it vulnerable to the Jetta in the Year-to-Date sweepstakes, despite appearing to be a strong entry in the segment. Back in July it was reported that Focus production was being slowed due to problems with a supplier of dashboard skins. At the time, a Ford dealer told the Associated Press
I know they’re working 24/7 trying to address whatever component issues they have. It’s a high-visibility issue with Ford Motor Co., and senior management is very concerned and very involved.
So, is there still a supply problem, or is the Focus just not selling? A quick look at inventory data shows that Focus started September with a 33 days supply and ended with a 74-day supply, which implies that any supply problems were solved last month. Going forward, the Focus should find its sales stride… or it will become another scalp on the Jetta’s belt.
With the Cruze, Chevrolet has pulled off a rare combination: segment-leading sales (up 31 percent from last year) at a higher transaction price (up 27 percent from two years ago to $20,465, according to TrueCar). But it hasn’t hurt that the Corolla, Civic, Focus, and Elantra have all been supply constrained. Once competitors get their factories running, does the Cruze have what it takes to maintain its current lead?
Remember the Cobalt? In many markets, Chevrolet’s much-maligned small-car nameplate is not a rolling reminder of the brand’s small-car struggles, so while the US gets a new Sonic and Cruze, other markets will get Aveo and Cobalt. Unlike the new Aveo, which is exactly the same as Sonic, this new Cobalt is probably an evolution of the previous Cobalt’s Global Compact platform, and offers engines ranging in size from 1.3 to 1.8 liters. The Cobalt is being shown at the Buenos Aires Auto Show, and will eventually be sold in South America, the Mideast, Africa and Europe. Meanwhile, GM has released no English-language presser on the debut [Spanish release here], possibly in hopes that Americans who remember the previous Cobalt’s weak reputation don’t clutter the internet with tales of their previous run-ins with the predecessor. Oops!
Honda and Toyota have been valiantly holding off an all-out assault on the compact segment thus far, and Civic and Corolla still lead the C-segment’s year-to-date sales race. FOr the month of May, however, the barbarians made it inside the gate, and turned the compact market on its head. Chevrolet’s Cruze, which was one of the first of new breed of compacts to launch, took advantage of its head-start in the marketplace to tear into first place, beating the new Focus by a mere 408 units. Elantra was about 2k units behind the Focus/Cruze leaders, but finished nearly 2k units ahead of Civic, which itself beat Corolla by nearly 1,500 units. Now that the Compact Wars are well and truly joined, we can expect more of this back-and-forth each month. In any given month this can be anyone’s segment… the question now is whether Honda and Toyota can possibly hang onto their YTD lead and finish 2011 with the volume win. It’s by no means a sure thing… hit the jump for a month-by-month breakdown of “big six” compact sales.
The previous day’s usage had left me in a pickle. With the 12 miles left and only nine-and-a-half hours charging time at 120V. Of course if I constantly had to remind myself, if I had a 240V charging station at home this would be a non-issue as the Leaf would have been completely full. However, my situation as it was, the Leaf was perhaps a hair over 40% charged when I left for work with the range indicator displaying 59 miles, hopefully enough for my 57 mile drive.
Since I needed all the juice I could get to make it to Burlingame I decided to forgo the pre-heating and let the Leaf charge to the very last second. Fortunately this morning was a hair warmer than the day previous being a brisk 40 degrees. Unfortunately the temperatures and humidity conspired to fog the windscreen. Without sufficient power to make it to work and use the defogger, I chose to defog the old-fashioned way: windows open.
Yes, this is a $27,340 Ford Focus. And nav would add another $795. How could a Ford Focus possibly be worth this much? Read on.
Honda has never paid too much attention to how other car makers do things. In the past this led to many highly successful innovations. Today…well today we have the ninth-generation Civic, recently launched as an early 2012 model.
The slide above shows Chrysler’s product plan for the 2010-2014 timeframe, and as it shows, after the new 300 and “refreshed” 200 and T&C, the next Chrysler was supposed to be a C-segment compact sedan. But, reports C&D’s Justin Berkowitz, the subcompact car (essentially a rebadged Lancia Ypsilon) has already been canceled for being positioned too close to the Fiat 500. Meanwhile, it seems that now only one of Chrysler Group’s brands will get a forthcoming compact sedan, and since Dodge has confirmed that it will get a Fiat-based Caliber replacement next year, it seems Chrysler won’t be getting any help in one of the most important segments in the market. So, without a subcompact or compact car coming down the pipe, what does Chrysler have to look forward to? Another crack at the D-segment, come 2013, and a crossover based on the same platform. Apparently the Chrysler brand, which is supposed to be a Lancia-style luxury brand in the Fiat empire, doesn’t need more than four products.