Tag: Editorials

By on May 21, 2012

Throughout the history of the automobile in America, one city has been synonymous with the industry and culture of cars. Booming with America’s great period of industrialization, Detroit became the Motor City, the hometown of an industry that created a blue-collar middle class and a culture based on personal mobility. But as America has entered the post-industrial age, as the focus of our economy has shifted from production to consumption, Detroit has been left behind. Long used to defining consumer tastes, Detroit was caught unawares by the changes wrought by globalization and the rise of information technology. And as America’s traditional auto industry struggles to redefine itself in the new economy, another Motor City is rising to meet the challenges of a new age.

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By on April 17, 2012

When government, media and industry agree that a trend exists, it’s generally taken as fait accompli. After all, these three institutions wield immense cultural power, and together they are more than capable of making any prophecy self-fulfilling. But there’s always a stumbling block: acceptance by the everyday folk who actually make up our society. And when a trend is taken for granted, the ensuing rush to be seen as being in touch with said trend often generates more heat than light. Such is the case with the trend towards “green cars.” Few would deny that they are “the future,” but at the same time, there’s been precious little examination of how this future is to be realized. And when such examination does take place, it tends to raise more questions than it answers.
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By on April 17, 2012

Derek Kreindler is pondering selling his lovely BRG Miata and using the funds as “a down payment on a home of my own.” *Sigh.* Here on the West Coast of Canada, I’d have had to sell my (imaginary) Aventador to pull off the same trick. Spend half-a-million bucks: get half-a-bunkbed in some split-level commune. Pot to piss in, not included.

But that’s not his point, it’s whether or not to let the First One go. The first car you paid for with your own money. That first taste of wheeled freedom. Be it ever so humble, you’ll never walk away from your first without a twinge of regret and many backwards glances.

I remember when I did it. (Read More…)

By on April 16, 2012

It’s just a car. That’s what I keep telling myself. It’s my first car. A 1997 Mazda Miata. British Racing Green with tan leather. A rip in one of the seats. Torsen LSD, Bilstein coilovers, a roll bar. Needs a new 02 sensor. Otherwise in great condition. In the last year, it’s needed a new alternator, new brakes. Body is good, paint is only so-so. Someone made me an offer I’d be stupid to refuse. I am usually responsible with my finances. No debt to my name. Rarely carry a balance on my credit card. Roughly a quarter of each paycheque goes into a dedicated savings account. I’d be an idiot not to sell it. My self-control is failing me.

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By on February 2, 2012

A 19 year old student in Halifax, Nova Scotia put up a classified ad looking for a vintage car. The make, model, year and body style are all irrelevant. What Spencer, the ad’s creator, is looking for is “…a classic car with a past that I can keep alive, and continue to keep alive through future generations, continuously adding to the history of a special car.” And he doesn’t want to pay a cent for it.

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By on January 13, 2012

2011 was a fascinating year to follow auto sales. With the overall market up over 10%, and hot new products hitting showrooms, there was definitely room to grow… and yet everyone seems to have an excuse for why growth wasn’t stronger. Japanese automakers, the biggest losers of 2011, had a strong of natural disasters to blame the bad year on. Detroit showed strong volume gains in terms of percentage growth, and earned respect in growing segments where they were previously weak, but couldn’t match the expectations of its perennially over-optimistic boosters. The Korean manufacturers showed strong market share growth but lack of capacity prevented them from bounding into the top tier of the US sales game. In fact, only the European luxury manufacturers could point to 2011’s sales performance with unalloyed satisfaction, as they grew some 29.5% as a group, from an already-strong volume position. So, given these mixed results, what was the lesson of 2011?

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By on January 10, 2012

Back in September, I attended the launch of the Chevrolet Sonic for another outlet. Despite GM’s insistence that the Sonic was being marketed at “millenials”, I was the sole member of the press that fit that demographic. Despite the cheesy, ham-handed attempt at being in touch with the demographic (a parking garage festooned with contrived, faux-urban graffiti, for example), the Sonic left a favorable impression. It is an honest, practical, fun to drive car that is affordable for young people – well, some of them.

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By on December 24, 2011

All told, this has been a successful holiday season for your humble editor. I have showered myself with gifts, avoided annoying family entanglements, kept my pimp hand weak strong, and made sure there’s a three-hour gap in my Christmas to re-watch Michael Mann’s Heat in its glorious entirety.

And yet… I’m dissatisfied. Perhaps because there are ten simple things the automotive industry and/or its various players could do to make this the best season ever, and as of yet, none of them have been done. So here’s my list, delivered nice and late. Warning: mixture of hatred, sarcasm, and foolish sincerity ahead.

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By on December 21, 2011

The rise of the internet has had myriad effects on everyday life, not the least of which has been its profound impact on consumer behavior. With ever more data being made available online, and with the rise of independent alternative media outlets like TTAC, car buyers in particular are fundamentally changing their relationship to the car buying process. Dealers have been noting for some time that the internet has created better-informed buyers who, armed with more information, are demanding the car they want at the best possible price, wreaking havoc on traditional car dealer tactics like upselling and opaque pricing policies.

But as the eternal dance between supply and demand shifts in favor of consumers, some dealers and OEMs are having a tough time adjusting to the new reality. At the same time, the need to make money off of online consumer education has created some tension for the new breed of consumer-oriented websites. This conflict has now broken out into the open, as the auto transaction data firm TrueCar has found itself locked in a battle with American Honda over the downward pricing pressure created by more widely accessible transaction data. And the outcome of this conflict could have profound impacts on the ever-changing face of the new car market.

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By on November 29, 2011

With NHTSA opening a formal defect investigation into the Chevy Volt, GM is moving to defend its rolling lightning rod (no pun intended) and allay consumer fears about its safety. Yesterday I briefly appeared on Fox Business’s Your World With Neil Cavuto show to talk about what the intro to my segment referred to as “the hybrid from hell” and the “killer in your garage.” I tried to explain that the danger to consumers was basically nil, and that the real concern is for rescue, towing and salvage workers. And I would have explained why NHTSA’s tests still leave some serious questions open, but my “fair and balanced” approach meant that my segment ended up being extremely short. So let’s take the opportunity now to look past the hysteria and pinpoint the real issues with NHTSA’s investigation into the Volt.

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By on August 29, 2011

Knowing that some of the top PR professionals in the business are regular readers of TTAC (they could be anyone…), I can imagine a number of them shaking their heads in disapproval at the headline of this post. “It’s happened,” they’re probably muttering to themselves, “TTAC has finally lost the plot.” But instead of dismissing out of hand the seemingly preposterous premise of this post, I ask the assembled anonymous masses of PR pros to bear with me for a moment. As laughable as it might seem to postulate that the industry’s spin doctors can learn something from the most infamously “off the reservation” auto exec ever, the urge to write off this post is part of the very problem I hope to tackle. Allow me to explain…
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By on August 16, 2011

No, I’m not talking about the cars and SUVs that Mercedes assembles in Alabama. Yesterday, Jack Baruth told us about the relationship between the American Steinway and German Daimler companies and the cars that Steinway started assembling under license from Mercedes in 1905.  When I read Jack’s article I remembered that I had something in my collection of press kits, sales brochures, images and and assorted swag (with apologies to Mr. Zimmerman) that I’ve been accumulating for the past decade or so of working the press previews for the Detroit, Chicago and Toronto auto shows. In 2006 Mercedes Benz distributed a reproduction of a reproduction. It’s actually a very cool little piece of automobilia and a nice facsimile of a historical artifact, in a couple of ways.

It’s a small booklet, less than 40 pages, called The American Mercedes. It was originally distributed in 1906 by the Daimler Mfg. Company, on Steinway Ave. in Long Island City, and promotes the 1906 45 horsepower “American Mercedes”. It was reproduced in the early 1960s, and the copy M-B gave out in 2006 had a 1961 afterword and an insert from 1964. The whole package is chock full of historically interesting aspects.

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By on August 10, 2011

Having been asked by a certain newspaper to review the new book “American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China [more info on that review coming soon], I’ve been spending my quiet moments over the last week or so looking into GM’s Chinese operations. The book’s author, Michael Dunne, documents GM’s rise in the Middle Kingdom from the perspective of a well-informed outsider, revealing just how delicate one of GM’s best-performing global maneuvers really was. But after following the rise of GM in China, Dunne notes the December 2009 announcement that GM was selling a 1% stake in its Shanghai-GM (SGM) joint venture to its Chinese partner SAIC (for the paltry sum of $85m no less), arguing that GM had made a dangerous leap of necessity. This sale, implies Dunne, could well have been the tipping point that leads to GM being surpassed by its erstwhile junior (in size, technology and global reach) partner, SAIC. And, in the words of “one GM executive who used to work in China,” GM would need

good luck getting that back.

But, back in June, GM CEO Dan Akerson told GM’s shareholder meeting that he wants to do just that, saying

We have an option to buy that 1 percent. It’s our intention to exercise that.

With Akerson’s announcement, the mystery of GM’s “golden share” sale deepened. At first the question was simply “why would GM sell its 1%?” but now there’s another mystery: why would GM want it back? After some digging, it seems that we are now able to resolve the first mystery, and report why GM sold its one percent. But the whole deal is still surrounded by several layers of mystery which conceal whether GM will in fact be able to regain its 50-50 partnership in SGM, why it would want to and whether its gambit was ultimately worthwhile. And given how important China has been (and continues to be) to GM’s global business, this is definitely an issue that GM- and industry-watchers will want to better understand.

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By on August 8, 2011

When should a redesigned car get a new name? Whenever the old one wasn’t a success? Or virtually never? Can car companies count on the excellence of a new car to reverse whatever damage was done to the public perception of the model name in the past?

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By on August 4, 2011

I am sitting in a parking garage in a throng of torpid auto-journalists, nearly all of whom are wearing the same glazed expression of terminal information overload. On-screen, molecules of fuel and air are doing a complicated little computer-animated dance, as narrated by Susumi Niinai, program manager at Mazda’s powertrain development division. His English, while Japanese-accented, is better than, y’know, mine, but the concepts he’s explaining approach the limit of comprehensibility to the lay-person. Mind you, it’s a pretty nice parking garage.

Some of you, like me, may have been hearing all the rumblings about Mazda’s new SKYACTIV technologies and been wondering whether it’s going to turn out to be a series of technological breakthroughs or, alternatively, a load of complete cobblers thought up by some Zoom-Zoom marketing guru.

Good news everyone! It’s the former. Bad news everyone! I have to try to explain it to you. And I borderline don’t understand it myself. Here goes…

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