The Truth About Cars » generation why The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » generation why Generation Why: How Citroen Is Disrupting The New Car Market By Selling Access, Not Ownership Fri, 21 Mar 2014 13:36:55 +0000 citroen-c4-cactus-30

The new Citroen C4 Cactus is delivering on its promise to offer a C-Segment car for a B-Segment prices, with base versions starting at just under 14,000 euros – by comparison, its sibling, the C4 hatchback (which is more like a Volkswagen Golf, as opposed to the quirky, pseudo-crossover Cactus) starts at 18,850 euros. But the low price of the Cactus isn’t even the big story here. Instead, Citroen appears to be aping the mobile phone industry with two new innovative pricing plans for the Cactus.

According to Automotive News Europe, Citroen will offer two payment plans that are similar to a mobile phone contract. The first is a flat-rate that costs 199 euros per month for 36 months, which includes the payment on a base C4 Cactus, maintenance, insurance and a 45,000 kilometer mileage allowance. Flat-rate plans will also be offered on higher-spec models, with higher monthly payments, and will function similar to a lease. At the end of the term, consumers can walk away from the car, buy it outright or enter into a new lease.

But the more innovative option is the “pay-per-use” scheme being rolled out in select markets like the UK, Spain and Italy. Pay-per-use customers will pay a lower monthly fee than the flat rate, as well as a fee based on mileage – customers could hypothetically pay nothing if the car for the use of the car if it is not driven at all during the monthly payment period, though the basic monthly payment would be billed.

According to Citroen, this plan is intended to capture buyers who favor access to a car rather than owning it outright. Citroen CEO Frederic Banzet explains it in the context of a car sharing service, stating

“There is a portion of the population that is not willing to buy a car, but willing to buy the use of a car…we are proposing a way to only pay for the use of the car, while still having it at your disposal whenever you want it,” 

With Citroen’s plan, users can have their own dedicated form of transportation, while mitigating some of the costs of car ownership that make it unattractive for those who don’t drive often. While car sharing takes care of hassles like parking and fuel costs, the Citroen pay-per-use plan offers a way to have dedicated transportation with minimal financial hassles. By emphasizing access to a car rather than the prospect of being tied to the car via ownership, Citroen is tapping into the heart of a demographic that would like to drive a car and have one at their disposal, but is still understandably wary about the financial commitment that car ownership entails.

According to AN, factors like country-specific legislation, partnering with insurance firms and market demand will be roadblocks for a wider roll-out of pay-per-use contracts. While the first two factors are understandable roadblocks, the pay-per-use plan could become a very popular financing plan for a generation of consumers raised on mobile phones and apprehensive about the automobile.

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Generation Why: Arrogance And Adolescence Tue, 11 Mar 2014 18:46:41 +0000 28732988

News of Audi’s marketing efforts for the upcoming A3 has been making the rounds on the auto blogosphere for all the wrong reasons. As Automotive News reports, the 60-odd page launch guide given to dealers is supposed to be a codex for appealing to Millenial buyers with “farm-to-table” food, craft beer and Spotify playlists. Since the goodwill towards my angry-young-millennial shtick has evaporated over the past two years, I’ll say that this whole thing sounds like Audi trying to copy GM’s ham-handed youth marketing efforts. For now, let’s bring it back to the product.

The A3, as we know, is a front-drive Audi 4-door that only comes with a two-pedal transmission and is based on the same MQB platform as the Golf. And I’m really looking forward to it.

To understand why, let’s rewind to 2006. High school was a charmed epoch for me: I was utterly unaware of my own awkwardness or abrasively brash humor. I confused shock and offense for being profound and witty. My grades were not great, but good enough to get into a good journalism school. My parents urged me to work harder, get better grades and leave doors open for the future. “I don’t plan on going back to school after undergrad,” was my reply. If you think I am arrogant, combative and hard headed now, I wish you could have seen me then.

My home life was equally comfortable. My father had just turned 50, made partner at his law firm a few years earlier and was enjoying unprecedented prosperity. My mother had fully recovered from a bad stomach bug that left her bed-ridden for months. One vacation a year turned into two, and in 2003, my father traded in his 1999 Acura TL for a 2003 BMW 530i, which was among the very last to come to Canada before the Bangle-tainted E60 debuted.

The 530i was his pride and joy. Having long admired the E38 740iL, he was now in a position to afford a top-tier sports sedan and determined not to let the chance pass him by. The 530i was, in his mind, the apex sedan: an adept tourer that could be pushed hard on the odd day when he felt like it.

Sadly, I barely got to drive it. While I had my license towards the end of our time with the car, my father opted not to renew the lease. Among its candidates for replacement was a car I regarded with some contempt: the Volkswagen Jetta. The GLI was not yet released in Canada, but there was a 2.0T model that offered the GLI’s suspension, two-piece alloys as well as leather and the premium stereo system – all equipment that my father valued over the tartan cloth, boy racer bodykit and red brake calipers that would arrive a year later on the Canadian GLI.

In hindsight, the petulant whining about my father’s car is mortifying – but what would adolescence be without obnoxious entitlement and the inability to empathize. In his characteristically polite but firm way, my father informed me that the BMW could not stay, unless I wanted to shoulder the burden of paying tuition myself. We took the BMW out for one final drive, and he convinced me to come collect the car with him later on that week. It was black on tan leather, just like the 530i, and on our maiden voyage home, we went against the dealer’s strict break-in instructions and cracked the throttle. It was, without a doubt, much quicker in a straight line. The VAG 2.0T and DSG gearbox were fairly advanced stuff for 2006, and feeling the wave of torque along with the DSG’s rapid downshifts proved to be addictive.

I spent most of my real driver’s education – getting comfortable in traffic, figuring out how to pass on the highway, parallel parking – in the Jetta. My initial distaste for its front-drive, two pedal configuration and its less prestigious image (which one tends to value at age 17) faded away. The 530i was graceful and poised, while the Jetta was more like a feisty puppy, diving into corners with the crappy Michelin all-seasons howling away, spinning the inside tire upon exit in a furious fit of torque steer and then rocketing the car forward when it calmed down.  It was a great car for a young man to learn to drive quickly, without the “look-at-me” factor of the sportier MKV cars.

Eventually, the Jetta left our driveway as well – the prospect of owning that car out of warranty was enough to prompt my father to get rid of it. At that point, we had the Miata as well, and with me paying for it, he could have all the thrills of sports car ownership, without the hassles. To this day, the Jetta, not the BMW, or his Prelude VTEC or his Integra GS-R, is the one car that receives the fondest tributes.

So what does this have to do with the A3? Well, it seems a hell of a lot like the old Jetta. The enthusiast community may have derided the current Jetta as an Americanized bastard-child for Volkswagen, but they weren’t buying anyways. My father, on the other hand, was a customer that Volkswagen really did lose. It may not be the dynamic equal of the BMW 320i, or as stylish as the Mercedes-Benz CLA, but if it can deliver a comfortable, fairly powerful driving experience with dynamic competence up to 7/10ths, it will be good enough for him, and plenty of other entry-level luxury buyers. But the A3, with its nicer interior, 2.0T powertrain and compact dimensions, is the kind of car that he’s looking for – even though he’s old enough to be the parents of the buyers Audi is targeting. I wouldn’t be surprised if other older customers are attracted towards this car as they look towards downsizing. It wouldn’t be the first time that a car is targeted at younger buyers, but purchased by older consumers.

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Generation Why: Forced Introduction Tue, 04 Mar 2014 23:47:59 +0000 Civic-Type-R-Concept-04

Back in September, I wrote a piece lamenting the death of Honda’s high-perofrmance hallmark, the twin-cam VTEC 4-cylinder engine. It was just the sort of article many of you are fed up with: a lengthy piece filled with flowery prose and Honda fanboy-ism sprinkled with a condescending explanation of the auto industry’s inner workings. Miraculously, it was fairly well-received. But I’ve had a change of heart.

November and December let me get behind the wheel of two fairly different cars: the Acura ILX 2.4 and the Ford Fiesta ST. Despite the bad rap it gets in the media, I was fairly excited to drive it. The Honda Civic Si sedan gets a lot of guff for being quantitatively underwhelming compared to the current crop of sport compacts, but it’s what I call a “Goldilocks” car: it just feels right, similar to how the Acura TSX does. How bad could a Civic Si be with a better interior and more grown-up looks?

ILX vs Verano 4

It turned out to be a bit of a letdown. The ILX is definitely a softer car than the Civic Si and lacks the composure and solidity of the Euro-Accord based TSX. The K24 motor was also less charming than I remembered it to be. The new, emissions-friendly, long-stroke VTEC motors work well in a CR-V or an Accord Sport, but don’t deliver the kind of excitement one would expect in a modern-day Integra GS-R sedan.FiestaSTExterior12-main_rdax_646x396 (1)

The Fiesta ST, on the other hand, was a revelation, one of the most thrilling drives I’ve had in a long time. Nothing else on the market brings such a hypomanic intensity and sheer driving thrills in an accessible and practical package except for, well, an older Civic or Integra with a VTEC swap and a dialed in chassis. In a larger car like an Escape or Fusion, the 1.6L Ecoboost feels overburdened, and delivers fairly poor fuel economy. In the Fiesta ST, it delivered a combined 26 mpg even though the throttle spent a lot of time getting hot and heavy with the floor mat. Whatever Ford’s powertrain group has done to squeeze some more power out of the tiny turbo mill has not only paid dividends on the spec sheet, but virtually eliminated turbo lag.


Driving the Fiesta ST made me a lot more optimistic about where the next generation of affordable performance car is going – especially with respect to the death of naturally aspirated engines in these types of applications. In all likelihood, Honda’s messaging will spin the new Civic Type-R (gallery below, since it was introduced in concept form today at Geneva) and the NSX’s turbo engines as congruent with the newest Formula 1 regulations, and as a link to Honda’s return to Grand Prix racing. Knowing what I know about The Big H, the adoption of forced induction was not so much voluntary, but an inevitable concession to emissions and fuel economy requirements around the world. But I’m no longer worried. Bring on the turbo VTEC era.

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Auto Sales Expected To Grow In 2014 Thanks To 100 Month Financing Tue, 28 Jan 2014 15:46:19 +0000 Insane People at the Stock Photo Dealership

Younger buyers and subprime consumers are expected to drive auto sales in 2014, though some banks are already stepping off the accelerator with auto loans due to heavier competition and a desire to protect their margins.

Sales in 2014 are predicted to hit 16.2 million according to J.D. Power & Associates, with millennial buyers and subprime buyers contributing 3.3 million and 2.1 million units, respectively. Both surges in these categories are welcome with automakers, especially younger consumers who would love to be in a car were it not for the Great Recession keeping their wallets at bay.

The growth in sales comes against rising auto prices, which are expected to average $29,700 in 2014. One result: long-term financing in the form financing options that can be amortized over 100 months.

Those seeking loans for their new or used vehicle may need to shop around for financing, however, as some banks — such as Huntington and BB&T — are more interested in protecting their margins than chasing after more market share.

Among the big winners in Q4 2013, Wells Fargo originated $6.8 billion in auto loans, followed by Chase with $6.4 billion, and Capital One with $4.3 billion. Wells Fargo is the industry leader in used-car financing, but does well with new-car loans, as well, particularly in their relationship with General Motors.

A lot of the success comes from tightened lending standards that came as a result of the Great Recession, bringing a number of banks into the low-risk lending party. As economic conditions return to the surface, however, some banks are opting out of expansion into murkier waters for the time being as others cast their nets into the unknown, bringing gradual increases in credit losses as underwriting standards are relaxed to attract more subprime customers and younger buyers.

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Generation Why: Panel Discusson With The Globe And Mail Mon, 27 Jan 2014 21:40:01 +0000 soul-hamsters-thisorthat-large-2

Just a quick note – tomorrow, Tuesday, January 28th at noon, I’ll be part of a panel discussion with the The Globe and Mail, a major newspaper in Canada, about the chief topic of Generation Why: the relationship between millennials and the automobile.  I’ll be joined by Chris Travell of Maritz Research, who should be able to provide an interesting, data-driven outlook on the issue. For those who prefer excellent automotive reporting to the rantings of a 20-something malcontent, Greg Keenan, the Globe’s auto industry reporter, is a must-read.

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Generation Why: Deloitte Study Shows That Money, Not Ideology Is The Biggest Obstacle To Car Ownership Fri, 17 Jan 2014 16:34:41 +0000 deloittestudy

One of the main criticisms of Generation Why is the lack of hard data to support this column’s ongoing thesis: that the lack of interest in car ownership among millenials is related to economics, rather than any sort of anti-car/pro-environment/pro-urban ideological shift among young people. Now, a key study from Deloitte confirms our initial hunch: young people want cars, but cannot afford them, and the notion of a car-free future, with walking, cycling and transit replacing the automobile (whether privately owned or shared via a service like Zipcar) is an unrealistic fantasy that somehow continues to have currency.

Deloitte’s annual Global Automotive Consumer Study surveyed 23,000 people across the globe, representing 19 different countries. The copy provided to TTAC focuses on the 2,000 Americans surveyed by Deloitte, with a subset of those (roughly 700) taken from “Generation Y”, born between 1977 and 1994.

The study’s findings largely confirm what Generation Why has maintained all along. According to the study, 80 percent of millennial surveyed say that affordability is the key factor keeping them out of a new vehicle, with maintenance costs coming in second place at 70 percent. On the other hand, 67 percent said that walking and other forms of transit were sufficient to meet their current lifestyle needs.

The current meme of new cars being homogenous, devoid of character and unappealing to younger buyers is at odds with Deloitte’s finding that 80 percent of consumers are interested in new models available on the market place. The study doesn’t say which models: many of us would love an Audi S4 or a Mustang 5.0, and find something like a Chevrolet Spark unappealing. Considering that Deloitte suggests cheaper, more fuel-efficient vehicles with more affordable payment options as a way of enticing younger buyers, it would appear that expectations may need to be tempered on the part of Gen Y buyers when looking for an affordable new car. The sense of wanting it all without having to pay for it is further reflected later in the study, with millennial buyers expressing a strong interest in advanced safety, infotainment and in-car connectivity features, but with only 27 percent willing to pay more than $2,500 for these features, while 21 percent are unwilling to pay anything extra to get them.

The cost of driving is a pervasive theme throughout. Gen Y drivers are three times as likely to give up their car if the cost of driving becomes too high, and would be willing to give it up if it conflicted with their lifestyle choice (like living in a walkable neighborhood where a car is a hassle or unnecessary). Even the desire for a hybrid powertrain (strong among Gen Y buyers) is motivated by cost savings rather than any sort of environmental consciousness, with 53 percent of young consumers telling Deloitte that saving money on fuel is their primary motivation for opting for alternative powertrains.

Even with affordability emerging as the key factor in getting younger buyers to purchase new cars, 92 percent of the those surveyed plan to buy a new car at some point, with 75 percent planning on purchasing one within 5 years. Based on Deloitte’s findings, it looks as if the mass abandonment of the automobile will continue to be a pipe dream for only the most radical anti-car types, but don’t look for it to disappear from public discourse any time soon.

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Generation Why: Macklemore Is Wack, And So Is Bloomberg’s Piece On Cadillac Thu, 16 Jan 2014 13:00:07 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Rivaling Jack’s tales of his harem in the “Most Unpopular Subject Matter on TTAC” Sweepstakes is my constant references to rap music. What I perceived to be a wink-and-a-nod to younger readers who enjoy hip-hop was succinctly summed up by one commenter who wrote “It wouldn’t be a Kreindler piece without a [deleted perjorative for white wannabe rappers] reference”. Although I resolved to tone down the “shout-outs”, an recent piece by Bloomberg demonstrates that there is a time and a place for a knowledge of hip-hop music.

Bloomberg, – a notorious peddlar of pro-Cadillac stories, even in the face of contradictory date – is committing yet another act of fellatio-in-print upon GM’s luxury brand, suggesting that a song by rapper Macklemore is indicative of Cadillac’s rising fortunes, along with a 22 percent bump in sales in 2013. There are, of course, a few issues at play here

1) Nobody who is a real fan of the genre regards Macklemore as anything but an interloping yuppie, adopting hip-hop modes of dress and language while preaching overly PC themes. This is neither the time nor the place for a discussion of hip-hop’s attitude towards gender relations, other sexual orientations or state and federal penal codes, but it’s safe to say that people from all walks of life, whether black, white, gay, straight male or female enjoy hip-hop music, including its darker sub-genres – and part of it is because the edgy, if not downright criminal themes, resonate within them the same way that any form of rebellious, anti-social music does. Macklemore is like the helicopter parent that wants Little League to abandon scorekeeping and make every game a tie, when everyone else is alright with the spirit of competition.

2) Cadillac has not been relevant in hip-hop, or with young people, for some time. Over time, rappers’ taste in cars has evolved, with imported luxury cars becoming the preferred vehicle of choice. Maybe the 2015 Escalade will make a resurgence, but it’s hard to see rappers backing away from the G-Wagen and Range Rover as the SUV of choice.

3) Even though a late model SRX is driven for 2 seconds in the video, the song is not singing the praises of the XTS, CTS or any modern Cadillac. The brand made its way into hip-hop culture via old body-on-frame sedans like the Fleetwood, which were both prestigious in hip-hops early days, and popular with the low rider crowd on the West Coast. Dr Dre may have been “King of the beats you ride to in your Fleetwood” but nobody is ever going to rap about the ATS. Speaking of which…

4) In a growing luxury market, Cadillac sold 182,543 units, including 38,319 ATS models. Subtract sales of the ATS from that total, and Cadillac’s 2013 performance is worse than any other year since 2009. So while adding a nameplate has been a help for Cadillac’s overall volume, the rest of the brand is down, and the ATS itself has been struggling, with residuals taking a beating due to incentive spending. Those $299/month lease deals are going to be very expensive for Cadillac once the term is up.

5) Bloomberg’s piece also sneaks in the inevitable mention of Cadillac as a global luxury brand. Can we please stop this? Mary Barra may be targeting 1 million units in a decade, but with diesel engines not arriving for another three years, Cadillac is, and will remain, an utter non-entity in Europe

The “White Walls” video isn’t so much an ad for new Cadillacs as it is an homage to the Broughams and B-Bodies of yesterday, the ones that cemented Cadillac’s reputation as a “pimp mobile”. They might still be writing songs about Fleetwoods, but in 20 years, nobody will ever be rapping about the XTS. Now, the Elmiraj on the other hand…


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Los Angeles 2013: Hyundai’s Veloster Turbo R-Spec “Reverses” Halo For Automaker Thu, 21 Nov 2013 05:13:11 +0000 Hyunda Veloster Turbo R Spec 01

Bowing at the LA Auto Show is the Veloster Turbo R-Spec, aimed at pulling in tuner-oriented shoppers through a halo inversion designed to, someday, have them drive away in a Genesis sedan.

The R-Spec is driven by a 1.6-liter turbo-4 pumping out 201 horses and 195 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels, and weighs just 2,800 lbs thanks to a severe dieting regimen that actually removed luxury amemities from the base Veloster Turbo. Not only does this diet keep the price down, but it also allows the R-Spec to do 24 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

In return, the R-Spec was given a B&M short shifter, higher spring rates all around, torque vectoring control to keep the turbo hamster from going off the road in a hard corner, and a healthy dose of red, from the front splitter to the leatherette seats.

The price of admission? Just $22,110, making the R-Spec the most affordable turbo Veloster around.

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Generation Why: 2013 Even Worse For Young Car Buyers, But The Dream Is Still Alive Fri, 08 Nov 2013 15:33:15 +0000 renault-duster-front-static-7_560x420

A study by Edmunds on the buying habits of millennials shows that 2013 was not a particularly good year for young car buyers. Despite making good headway in 2012, 2013 saw those gains practically eroded, as a weak job market and rising home prices helped stymie any growth in market share for automotive consumers aged 18-34.

The Edmunds study adds support to the two major points that Generation Why has been propagating from the start: that the lack of interest in cars among young people is largely rooted in poor economic prospects, and that their interest in the automobile goes beyond utilitarian considerations

Millennials’ car-buying patterns in 2012 and in 2013 both lend support to the theory that their weaker car-buying compared to previous generations stems from economic constraints rather than from a preference to not drive. Plus, what they bought in 2013 continues to suggest that Millennials do see cars as more than a means to get around. Even with their decreased share of overall sales in 2013, Millennials did not slack off on buying luxury and sports cars. The share of Millennial purchases from the luxury segment increased slightly. And, in every income group except the highest ($150,000 and over), aged 25-to-34 Millennials continued to buy luxury cars to a similar extent or more as older buyers with same income. Likewise, in nearly every income group, 18-to-24 year old Millennials continued to purchase a greater share of entry and midrange sports cars than the older buyers. These Millennial buying choices suggest an interest in cars that will translate into more purchases when economic conditions allow, just as in 2012.

Edmunds Chief Economist Lacey Plache raises an interesting point: new car sales among young people could continue to disappoint as the economic recovery passes them by. If this is the case, then OEMs should being to take notice. Not just that the oft-cited meme of “kids aren’t into cars” is false, but that a whole segment of the population is being systematically shut out of buying a new car. Rather than continuing to push high-content subcompact and compact cars at Generation Y, perhaps it might be time to shift gears to something simpler and more robust, but with the “cheap chic” appeal of a brand like H&M or Zara. Perhaps a brand like Mitsubishi could reinvent itself as the “frugalista” option, and borrow some product from that other fashionably cheap brand they are now in an alliance with…

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Generation Why: No Job, No Money, No Car Thu, 24 Oct 2013 17:27:09 +0000 Teen-graph

“Too Poor To Drive”. This is the gut level conclusion that’s been propagated in “Generation Why” since January, 2012, long before the theory gained currency in the broader automotive world. In the nearly two years since, the “kids aren’t interested in cars because of technology/the environment/urbanization” meme has held up tenaciously – and it’s not entirely false.


The main issue has been a lack of data to support our argument. Hard data costs lots of time and money, something that is precious in the world of automotive reporting. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who really want the alternate theory to be true, and they’re happy to help their cause with lots of alarming but inaccurate articles.

Juan Barnett of DC Auto Geek has analyzed a new study by the IIHS, which looks at unemployment figures, the number of insured teenage drivers and graduated licensing laws, shows that unemployment for both teens and their parents, is by far the biggest factor in preventing younger people from driving. Without the resources for a car, insurance and gas, young people don’t have much hope getting behind the wheel or any car, let alone their own car.




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Generation Why: The Skyline Fades From The Rear-View Mirror Mon, 14 Oct 2013 12:30:05 +0000 Nissan_Skyline_R33_GT-R_001

It’s not just oil, water and other precious resources that we’re running out of here on planet earth. Apparently, we’re a little short on automotive nameplates too. If you believe the reports in industry trade pubs, we’ll eventually be overrun by obscure alphanumerics as the number of trademark-ready monikers gradually thins out. Scarcity isn’t the only factor behind it either. Frequently, nameplates get retired, and an all-new version of the previous car is re-introduced with another combination of numbers and letters – just like Nissan is planning to do with the Skyline after 56 years of production.

Members of the Playstation Generation that still care about cars (yes, we exist, we are legion and we are too saddled with debt to even think about buying a new car, thank you very much) revere the “Skyline” name like a person of faith reveres the Tetragrammaton. It is an ineffable, unknowable bit of four-wheeled technology that we were never privy to, and therefore, it’s reached iconic status among North American car enthusiasts, who were only exposed to the car via Gran Turismo or the Fast and Furious franchise.

Like most instances where the grass is greener on the other side, it turned out the grass was a little less lustrous and colorful once you got over the fence. Canada’s flexible importation laws meant that older Skyline GT-Rs have been flooding the nation’s streets for some time. Driven today, they aren’t terribly remarkable cars, neither particularly fast or involving. I found my friend’s Toyota Celica GT-FOUR (another piece of all-wheel drive turbocharged forbidden fruit, albeit one closer to a rally special than a Grand Tourer) to be a much more compelling way to spend $10,000 and inconvenience oneself with right-hand drive. The breathless Ray Hutton and Don Schroeder reports telex’d from Japan are not congruent with our current reality. I am sure that in the early 1990′s, this car was certainly something compared to the C4 ‘Vette, but there’s a reason why Nissan never sold them here.

The idea of paying between $60,000-$100,000 for a car with the interior from a B13 Sentra and the sex appeal of Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a recipe for commercial ruin.  The 300ZX on the other hand, had the Z car heritage, as well as the rectum-puckering performance, plush interior and removable T-Tops demanded by mustachioed 1990′s sports car buyers. Besides, the Skyline name meant nothing to most consumers.

But it means something to me, and to most readers who got their licenses right around the time the Skyline ceased to exist as we knew it. The introduction of the V35 Skyline, aka our Infiniti G35, brought an end to the familiar Skyline formula, with its naturally aspirated and turbocharged straight-six engines and its rather anonymous salaryman packaging. The V6-powered V35 shared its underpinnings with the Z car – something true Skyline enthusiasts would regard as blasphemy.

The Skyline was originally a Prince product, and legend has it that when Nissan absorbed Prince in 1966, Prince’s products, Skyline included, were regarded as orphans. The Skyline’s racing pedigree was apparently considered both unremarkable and enough of a threat to the homegrown Fairlady Z that they were never imported to America. Within Nissan, the two cars were always regarded as distinct entities, with the Z being the sports car for Nissan. Only when the forces of industry economics were brought to bear on Nissan, in the form of Carlos Ghosn, did Nissan take advantage of any synergies between the two cars.

Now that Nissan is planning to sell the Infiniti brand in Japan, the assimilation is complete. The Skyline nameplate will die alongside the V36 Skyline/G sedan (no word on whether the current G Coupe will carry on the name), and the new Infiniti Q50 will carry that name in Japan as well.

The fatal blow to the Skyline nameplate was delivered when the R35 GT-R divorced itself from the Skyline range upon its 2009 introduction. Without the GT-R, the Skyline is just another anonymous commodity car in its home market, just as the Chevrolet Impala is a rather unremarkable car when the hot SS versions aren’t around. But the reality is that the conditions that helped foment the “golden age of Japanese sports cars” have been absent for a long time now, and we’re now feeling the hangover after years and years of non-stop good times. Combine that with the relentless pressure for greater profits derived via increasing economies of scale in a cutthroat global auto market, and the decision to axe the Skyline name in favor of promoting the “Infiniti Brand” and the Q50 shouldn’t surprise anyone. But it does leave me a little dewey-eyed.


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Generation Why: Honda PSIches Us Out With Turbo Type-R Thu, 19 Sep 2013 16:43:35 +0000

It is a sound that is familiar to anyone of my generation, the manic buzzsaw howl of a Honda 4-cylinder. Unfairly tarnished in the minds of the public by legions of single-cam D-Series breathing through a potmetal Pep Boys muffler, the Honda 4-cylinder produced a truly moving tune in its highest iterations, the twin cam VTEC B-Series models, as they growled their way to stratospheric redlines. That era is officially over.

As part of its online marketing campaign a teaser series released by Honda, a video has emerged showing the next generation Civic Type-R undergoing a shakedown at the Nurburgring. In a startling break from tradition, this Type-R will not be powered by a high strung naturally aspirated 4-cylinder. Instead, it will get its motivation from the ubiquitous two point oh tee powerplant that seems to pop up in everything from the Tiguan to the Taurus.

Honda appears to be going to great lengths to ensure that the newest Type-R is the top hot hatch in the segment, even going as far as to chase the nebulous Nurburgring lap time crown for bragging rights – something I can’t help but think the Honda of old would never condescend to. They would have been content to have made the most raw, engaging and brilliantly engineered car, with red Recaros and a redline north of 8000 RPM. But without a screaming engine and double wishbones, what does a Type-R have left to define itself by? Not a whole lot, I’d say. In a commodity car like the standard Civic, these things may not matter, but they sure do for an enthusiast product. Ergo, we have a whole bunch of amorphous hot hatches powered by 2.0T’s and DSGs chasing a rather meaningless metric of performance on some German race track.

On a gut level, this seems plain wrong. Honda has always adhered to an iconoclastic way of doing things that bordered on arrogance. Think about their steadfast refusal to build a rear-drive V8 luxury sedan, or a bigger motor for the NSX or put a V6 in the Accord for so many generations or even enter the light truck market. Their way was the only way, and they’d be damned if it cost them market share or profits.

Their resistance towards forced induction was a prime example of this. I have long suspected that they felt that forced induction was in some way “cheating”, an easy path to a sublime motor. In their eyes, VTEC was more efficient, more reliable and undeniably more thrilling. The RDX seemed like an odd anomaly at the time, and the fact that it wasn’t a great motor (while drinking vast amounts of fuel for such a small engine) didn’t help matters.

But when we view things through a dispassionate lens, it’s clear that Honda had to relent to increasingly onerous regulatory and market pressures for improved fuel economy and low emissions, especially in Europe, where the Civic Type-R is most important. The latest crop of turbo motors appear to be the only way to achieve these goals, which, unfortunately have ended the lineage of the B and K-Series VTEC motors in high performance applications. Understanding why this came to pass helps make it easier to swallow – but it does little to diminish the sense of loss.The Type-R could very well be brilliant, but it will also be a victim of the relentless regulation and market pressure that is driving performance cars to an unprecedented level of homogeneity. How sad.

In the mean time, turn up your speakers


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Is America’s Love Affair With The Car Over? Americans Driving Less Mon, 02 Sep 2013 16:39:45 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Is the American love affair with the automobile over? Total miles driven in the United States peaked in August of 2007, then dropped during the recession and has leveled off since then, though the economy is growing slightly and the population is increasing. According to the Detroit News, the Federal Highway Administration just reported that miles traveled during the first six months of 2013 continued the trend, being down slightly from 2012.

Individual miles traveled actually peaked in 2004, at about 900 miles per driver per month. By mid 2012, that had dropped to 820 miles per month. Per capita automobile use is now about where it was in the late 1990s. Until then, driving mileage generally tracked economic growth, according to U.S. Transportation Department economists Don Pickrell and David Pace (PDF presentation here). Since the late 1990s, though, the when the economy has grown, it has grown more rapidly than car use.


Meanwhile, the percentage of young people in their teens, 20s and 30s that don’t have driver’s licenses has been growing leading some to suggest that getting a driver’s license is no longer the American rite of passage it once was.

Researchers are divided on the reasons. One group blames the economy. Another group says that financial matters are a factor but that there are fundamental changes going on in how Americans see the personal automobile. In some urban areas a car is seen as more of a headache than fun.

Lifestyles are changing. People do more shopping online. Social networking is replacing in person visits with friends. Public transit, biking and walking to work are said to be on the increase. Pickerel and Pace say that these popular explanations do not necessarily match the data.

Demographics are also a factor. For all of the emphasis on younger drivers, baby boomers are exiting normal peak driving years between the ages of 45 and 55, also peak earning years. “They are still the dominant players, and they are moving toward a quieter transportation lifestyle,” Alan Pisarski, author of Commuting in America, said.

There is also a gender gap. Men generally drive more than women and now there are more women than men in the U.S. who have driver’s licenses. Also male employment was hard hit during the recession, and driving closely tracks to employment.

In any case, many economists say that a large number of Americans, especially teens and young adults, simply can’t afford to buy and insure a new car.

The driving decline has public policy implications. Less driving means less federal and state gas tax revenues, but it also means fewer resources need to be allocated to road building and maintenance.

We apologize for the shaky video. Unfortunately the DoT’s Volpe Center did not put it on YouTube or provide embedding code, so we had to do a screen capture and the results were not ideal. However, the information in the presentation is worthwhile so we put it up.

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Generation Why: Finally, Someone Gets It. That Someone Is General Motors Wed, 07 Aug 2013 16:22:59 +0000 2013-03-05_Geneva_Motor_Show_7862

The very first Generation Why column began after GM unveiled two concept cars aimed at millennial buyers, with the subsequent 18 months spent debunking numerous articles claiming that young people have abandoned the automobile in favor of electronic gadgets.

This author has long maintained that such talk was, in its most extreme form, the wishful thinking of people with a not-so-hidden desire to see cars disappear from the urban landscape.  At its most benign, it’s simply foolish. Finally, the rest of the world appears to be catching on to the notion that when it comes to falling rates of car ownership, “it’s the economy, stupid.” General Motors just happens to be one of the first to say it publicly.

Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing in Traverse City, Michigan, GM’s Chief Economist Mustafa Mohatarem said

“I don’t see any evidence that the young people are losing interest in cars,” says Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s longtime chief economist. “It’s really the economics doing what we’re seeing, and not a change in preferences.”

A lot of the talk surrounding the abandonment of cars driven by environmental concerns, a trend towards urbanization and increasing prioritization of technology over mobility seems to be derived from wishful thinking on the part of those who would like to see cars disappear from the road. This may sound like utter crackpot tinfoil-hat talk, but living on the leading edge of “radical” discourse (downtown Toronto, Canada, which prioritized banning plastic shopping bags over reigning in out of control spending, for example) has exposed a growing fringe that sees cars as Public Enemy Number 1. Some of it is environmentally rooted, while others take a more Marxist approach, viewing cars as an individualist, hierarchical form of transportation that is in opposition to collectivist, equitable solutions like public transportation, bicycles (or bike sharing) or good old-fashioned walking. All of these options are great for the small college towns or older metropolises where these people tend to congregate. But for the other 98 percent of the country, they are unfeasible to put it mildly.

These forces have seized on the current situation young people face – burdensome student loans, stagnant wages, increased cost of living, high gas prices and insurance premiums – to advance the “cars are dying” agenda. But I know this is false, and I always have. The overriding conviction that young people’s enthusiasm for cars has been the driving force behind the Generation Why columns. I know this because I see the reactions of my peeps when they ask me to identify the classic car parked on the street, or when they demand a ride in the press car I brought over to someone’s house – whether it’s a matte gray Veloster Turbo or a Grabber Blue Shelby GT500. Young people today view car ownership as similar to home ownership; something not currently attainable, but as a goal for a future time period where one’s financial stability is more assured.

Young people are not a monolithic group either. On one end of the spectrum you have people who might want a car simply to get groceries and get them to work. On the other hand, you have the typical broke enthusiast that we all mock as wanting a world-beating sports car but barely having the funds for a used Miata. But there is one constant among the two disparate groups; both will get their own set of wheels when they can afford them. Right now, it may not be an option. But debts decrease, insurance premiums get lower with age and people earn more over time. And when circumstances are appropriate they will buy cars. Whether it’s a new Corolla or something that costs as much as a used Corolla in upkeep.

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Generation Why: Honda Goes After Millennials On Two Wheels Rather Than Four Wed, 26 Jun 2013 15:32:54 +0000 GROM_2014_10


This is the Honda Grom. In the rest of the world, it’s called the MSX125. Squint really hard, and it almost looks like a Ducati Monster. I say almost because this thing is tiny – those are 12 inch wheels, you know. It packs a whopping 125 cc, much like a scooter, but it has a real 4-speed gearbox. It also gets 130 mpg.

In the post-recession period, motorcycling was a tough go for many young people. The OEMs focused largely on big cruisers and powerful sport bikes, leaving few options for those looking to start responsibly on small or middleweight machines. Ridership was down, especially among younger folks, as insurance costs on big-boy superbikes priced a number of would be riders out of the market.

Enter Honda, which took the bold step of going after the silent demographic that wanted fun middleweight bikes. In the span of two years, we’ve seen the CBR250R, the CBR500 range and now the Grom. The Grom is expected to cost $2999 and is basically a step up from a Ruckus scooter, the spiritual successor to Honda’s old monkey bikes. Glamorous and sexy? Not at all. It does have a certain cool factor, but most importantly, it is cheap and cheap to run. The tiny footprint means it can be parked anywhere.

I think it will do well with the “young urban dweller” demographic that auto makers are trying so hard to capture. All the concerns that they have about cars; parking, insurance, fuel costs, maintenance, they all go out the window with something like the Grom. It will be seen as a much safer alternative to a “big” motorcycle, but it’s also quicker than riding a bicycle. In fact, I can think of a lot of situations where something like a Grom makes a lot of sense, especially for those in between locations where it’s too far to walk but driving can be an equal waste of time since it will take longer to look for parking than it will to make the actual journey.

I’m really intrigued by the concept of the Grom, but outside of urban environments where speeds are low and space is tight, it’s hard to imagine many people getting real value out of a tiny 125cc motorcycle. Nevertheless, if more and more people start moving to these sorts of locales, then transportation options beyond the car will become increasingly viable. The Grom doesn’t seem to be a bad place to start.

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Generation Why: Spoiled Brat Drives Legendary Hot Hatch, Commits Blasphemy Fri, 21 Jun 2013 13:00:26 +0000 LosAngelesJune6th 083

My reference point for “old cars” is an old MGB, owned by my friend Paul. Passed down from his father, Paul’s MGB has less than 70,000 original miles and every conceivable part that needed replacing had been swapped out for new during its relatively easy lifetime. When Paul offered me a chance to drive it, it took me all of two seconds to agree on waking up at 6 AM on a weekend just to do so.

Predictably, the drive was a let down for me. I loved the noise of the carburetors…and that’s about it. The unassisted steering and brakes were nothing short of spooky and their vagueness and the gearshift felt like it was lifted from a Gran Turismo force feedback wheel. I drove it for about 10 minutes before I decided I’d had enough and politely thanked Paul. I won’t lie – part of me was scared that if I pushed the car even slightly, his heirloom would spontaneously destroy itself, as old cars are wont to do.

The MGB was never a hero car of mine, but I began to lie awake at night wondering what other old cars I lusted after were really crap to drive. The Alfa Romeo GTV? The Lotus Cortina? The Elan? Surely they couldn’t all be that bad could they? Did every old car need a resto-mod to be any good to drive?

During a recent tour of Honda’s Museum, I had the chance to drive a 1987 CRX Si, a car that has been canonized as one of the great performance cars of the past half-century, and a landmark car for Honda. This example, with about 52,000 miles, was donated to Honda some years ago by a gentleman who wanted a good home for it before he left for the Coast Guard.

This very well may be one of the last clean CRX Si’s in existence, and therefore it’s a great baseline to see how it performs. I’m a big fan of Honda cars as you all know, and I’m proud to say that I’ve driven may of the cars from the golden age, like the Prelude VTEC, the Integra GS-R and various Civics, with and without VTEC motors in them.

This one isn’t fit to lick their boots.

The things that other people may find charming and soulful about old cars simply didn’t sit well with me. The manual steering which I last enjoyed so much on a Lotus Elise felt primitive and didn’t exactly inspire confidence in any situation. Making a quick U-Turn on a side street, something I normally never think about, was nerve wracking. The 1.5L engine did its best impression of a Honda lawnmower and puttered down the street, while the brake pedal had more travel than George Clooney’s character in Up In The Air. For all the talk of “feedback” and “purity”, it just seemed like, well, a crappy old car. Again, I drove it for about 10 minutes, took a picture of it outside Toyota’s head office and flipped the keys to Blake Z. Rong of Autoweek, who ended up writing a piece that serves as a more tactful version of this one.

Of course, tell this to anybody and they’ll sputter and spit in an apoplectic fury. “This is exactly what Honda should be making!” they’ll cry, with all the indignation and disbelief of a Milli Vanilla fan who just found out about the whole lip-sync deal. Others will justify the CRX’s shortcomings by stating that we must judge these cars in the era they were introduced. Yes, it was a revelation compared to the unsophisticated barges of the time, but the Mazda Miata, which debuted three years later, it actually feels like a modern car when you drive one, whereas the CRX felt more closely related to Paul’s MGB. The two cars are of distinct generations of automotive technological progress, the same way a CRT television is antiquated but distinct from one where you have to turn a knob to change the channel.

There is a strong chance that I am biased towards modern cars, having been raised on them, but if someone offered me the choice between this CRX and a modern CR-Z, I’d take the CR-Z. It may be a slow hybrid but it also wouldn’t tear in half like tissue paper in a crash, and honestly, no car, no matter how cool, is worth losing your legs over. When I think back to all of the great Honda products from the 90′s that I’ve driven, it’s hard to find a common link between them and the CRX. Even the rattiest, most hack-job VTEC swapped Civic hatch still felt lithe and fiesty, like it was ready to attack the pavement with the kind of grip and balance you’d never expect from a front-drive car,  while making pseudo-superbike noises from under the hood. The CRX felt like the senile old relative to those cars, who got to come home from its assisted living facility for family occasions. Now, if you stuck a B16 with a 5-speed Y1 gearbox and an LSD, Integra 4-wheel discs and some Bilstein HDs, then we might have a fun car that steers like a shopping cart. In stock form though, I was not impressed.

Nevertheless, I am stuck with an even greater problem now. The curator of the Honda museum has offered to let me drive their 1991 NSX next time I visit. I have no real attachment to the CRX, but the NSX has been a car I have idolized since I was a sentient being. My childhood bedroom is filled with all kinds of NSX posters, brochures, trinkets and die-cast cars. I have never driven one, but now, I’m afraid. What if I’m let down by the now meager 270 horsepower? Will the superb-at-the-time handling dynamics seem mundane after years of driving R8s, Boss 302s and BMWs? You know what they say, don’t meet your heroes and all that. Then again I am a glutton for inflicting mental anguish on myself. Why else would I still be working here?

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Generation Why: Finally, Some Hard Data Shows That Young People Do Care About Cars Wed, 29 May 2013 12:00:49 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Something I’ve long maintained (and that has been backed up by many of the B&B) is that young people still like cars and do care about them. The issue of falling car ownership among young people is largely an economic one. The cost of living is going up while wages are stagnating. Gasoline is expensive. Student debt, smartphones and rent are more important obligations than car payments, insurance and fuel. All of that can be quantified with data.

What hasn’t been so easily demonstrable was that young people still like cars, despite the wishful thinking of many who cheer for the end to the automobile era. Now we finally have some good research that backs up my gut feeling.

A new study by Edmunds shows that not only are more Millennials buying new cars, but they aren’t opting for the usual old boring appliances either. Using data from Polk, Edmunds discovered that the number of 18-34 year-old buyers is rebounding – not quite to pre-recession levels, but improving steadily from 2011 to 2012. And it looks to be holding steady this year.

According to the Edmunds study, Millennial buyers tend to buy a greater share of luxury and sporty cars as well – segments that are traditionally the domain of older buyers with disposable income that can be spent on a car. This is another notion that has long suffered from an absence of hard data, but I can tell you that the rationale behind this is simple; if we’re going to shell out for a car, it’s going to be something that we really want, like a Scion tC (yes, lots of people want those, even if we don’t) or a Hyundai Genesis Coupe, rather than a more utilitarian car.

The study isn’t entirely rosy, and it highlights a number of roadblocks that could continue to derail car ownership for Generation Y

For starters, the job market remains very tough for under-25 crowd. Double digit unemployment rates persist for the youngest segment of the labor force despite that fact that its labor force participation rates have continued to fall and are at their lowest levels since at least 2003.

Meanwhile, the older Millennials — the 25 to 34 year olds — continue to struggle with slow income growth. From 2010 to 2011 (the most recent year available), their median household income grew 1.8 percent but as in the previous three years, failed to keep pace with inflation. This growth rate is particularly concerning since the older Millennials tend to be in the first ten years of their careers, the period during which 70 percent of raises typically occur.

The Millennials’ job and income issues are compounded by the fact that they are entering the workforce with significantly more student loan debt than previous generations. This higher debt burden impedes their ability to qualify for other loans, including car loans.

Not mentioned is the rapid expansion in credit and auto loan terms – are younger consumers with lower incomes taking on 72, 84 or 96 month term loans to help them afford that FR-S or 328i? It’s certainly plausible, but again, without hard data, it’s little more than a theory.

Over at Automotive News, Mark Rechtin wrote an equally insightful rebuttal to the latest study that posits that Generation Y are eager to reject cars and home ownership for an urban lifestyle of renting and Brooklyn Bohemianism. Rechtin delicately puts forward what we all know in the back of our minds; one day, we will turn into our parents and trade in the chic loft in a gentrified neighborhood for new digs that are more suitable for raising a family. These will likely be in the suburbs, and will necessitate a car.

But before that, they will grow up

Young people do care about cars. They just haven’t had to. Either unemployed or underemployed, many Gen Y college grads have moved back home with their helicopter parents who have resumed their role as their childrens’ personal taxi services. Gen Ys can’t afford cars, but they can afford iPhones.

If Edmunds is correct, then this is all set to change. The economy will recovery, good jobs will return for America’s youth and the dream of a middle class life will start to become a more realistic goal for the 70 million young people who constantly uncertain about their future. I certainly hope it happens. The alternative is extremely ugly.


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Generation Why: Well, At Least We’re Not Europe Thu, 09 May 2013 18:54:29 +0000 youthunemployment


Yet another bit of bleak data from Europe relating to new car sales. A popular school of thought holds that young people’s aversion to cars is largely rooted in economic factors. When everyone under 30 is broke, living at home and wallowing in student debt, the last thing on their mind is a car. But the hope is that once things turn around, it will be time for Generation Y to get motoring again. At least in North America. Over in Europe (or certain parts of it, at least) things are much more bleak.

Youth unemployment in countries like Greece and Spain are at staggering levels. 54.2 percent of Greek youth are unemployed according to the above chart from The Atlantic. Spain is a little behind – or slightly exceeding Spain, depending on your sources. The situation is less severe in other Eurozone countries, but still bad, as evidence by the figures for France, Ireland and the Eurozone as a whole. Germany remains a standout, as its youth unemployment rate of 8.2 percent is half of the United States’ rate and a third of the Eurozone’s.

As the Atlantic article states, the unemployment crisis has been dragging on for years now, and there appears to be little end in sight. A “lost generation” of workers will of course mean a lost generation of car buyers for Europe’s auto makers. If anyone is buying anything, it’s low cost cars, as evidenced by the astonishing success of brands like Dacia, which have cannibalized sales of Renault in France.

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Generation Why: “We Are Not Scion” Tue, 07 May 2013 17:43:44 +0000


As Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi rush to prepare new entry-level product to attract a younger crowd, Jaguar Land Rover is proudly calling “bollocks” on their efforts to attract younger buyers. Although much of the growth in the “near-luxury” segment is expected to come from vehicles with a transaction price in the $30,000-$40,000 range, JLR’s sole offering in that segment is the low-volume LR2. It’s the $50,000 Evoque that’s driving sales for the brand.  This interview from Automotive News with JLR’s North American CEO, Andy Goss, explains why:

Most of your competitors are working on vehicles for Gen Y buyers. Do you need to move in that direction?

You should not pigeonhole yourself so much. We conquest customers but we are selling cars that are $40,000 to $80,000. They are bought by people in their 30s and early 40s. Even the average Evoque buyer is 43 years old. The average [Evoque] transaction price is nearly $50,000. We are not Scion.

In my last Generation Why article, there were a lot of good arguments brought to the surface in support of cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLA. For one thing, Mercedes has a very old customer base, especially in Europe. They tend to be buying their last car rather than their first car. Clearly, this is not a sustainable growth path, and will lead to a Buick-like customer base. In that light, bringing in new buyers with a more affordable, more efficient compact vehicle seems like a good call.

In his column this week on the “Scion” remark made by Goss, Peter DeLorenzo strikes a chord that we’ve been playing for a while here at TTAC:

Young people aren’t stupid. They’re brand savvy too – much more so than any brand studies are actually quantifying…

I’ve said that before, perhaps more often than some of our readers have wanted to hear. Among Generation Why buyers, Mercedes and BMW are already sufferng from an image problem. While the parents of today’s college-age consumers still associate Mercedes-Benz and BMW with stratospheric price tags and unique dynamic qualities, the next generation seems them as cars that can be leased by any $30k millionaire becauses they’re too proud to drive a Honda Accord. When you grow up inundated with rap videos and paparazzi photographs showing your celebrity idols driving only the priciest variants of the model lineup, suddenly a four-cylinder small sedan isn’t good enough, even if it has the “right” badge. If you drive a BMW 320i, girls won’t think you’re rich; they’ll think you’re a try-hard.

With Land Rover, on the other hand, JLR has an image that has been so far untainted by associations with low-price leasing or four-cylinder loss-leaders. The Evoque, despite being little more than an Ecoboost Ford in a fancy wrapping, is on fire, with the Halewood plant literally pumping them out around the clock. The new Range Rover is also moving like crazy, simply by virture of it being a new Range Rover. I am positive that the reason people will continue to pay 30 percent more for this car over an X5 or Q7 is because unlike Mercedes, BMW and Audi, Land Rover is not chasing every niche and trying to make their cars accessible to credit criminals and $30k millionaires. Even a car like the Evoque has an older buyer and a much higher transaction price than other entry-level luxury cars. If the Germans are like Ralph Lauren in the T.J. Maxx discount bin, chasing volume and filling every possible niche, then Land Rover is like Richard James: unwilling to make any more product, and sell it any cheaper, than they please.

It’s not all good news for the Tata-held luxury conglomerate, however. Unlike Land Rover, Jaguar has not had the same resurgence. The F-Type should give the brand a solid halo car, and the new XJ is certainly striking enough, but like Audi, Jaguar will probably be an overnight success 20 years in the making. Jaguar is still associated in the public mind with consistent quality problems and misshapen failures of product planning like the X-Type and S-Type. Nor has the public reacted to the new look of Jaguar’s XF and XJ with the approbation it’s given the new look of the Evoque.

With the Range Rover brand, JLR was able to introduce a new, lower-priced model and reap immediate rewards, but that same avenue cannot and will not work for Jaguar; how could you do anything cheaper or less desirable than the old X-Type? Rather, Jaguar will have to build prestige with a long string of desirable, expensive vehicle before they can chase any additional volume. If it’s any consolation, Jaguar’s been in deeper trouble than this in the past and has recovered. There’s something about the Jaguar brand that just won’t quit — and it’s something you can’t get from a Mercedes CLA.

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Generation Why: Road & Track’s Model Youth Doesn’t Look Like America’s Young Drivers Fri, 12 Apr 2013 13:00:55 +0000

18 months after the first ever Generation Why column debuted on TTAC, one of the buff books has finally latched onto the whole “kids don’t drive anymore” meme. Road & Track’s feature on today’s youth and their lack of enthusiasm for the automobile is much grander than anything I’ve ever done. In an ideal world, I suppose I would fly a friend of mine to California on an all expenses paid trip where we’d sample a Rolls-Royce Ghost, a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Porsche 911, a Ford F-150 SVT Raptor and the talents of two race car drivers. In the real world, the best I can do is initiate a low-speed four-wheel drift in my Miata while asking them if they still think it’s a girl’s car. Such is the life of a blogger.

Despite an absence of Jack Baruth in Road & Track’s May issue, I eagerly purchased a copy, if only to read about how the mainstream media would treat the issue of young people’s supposed aversion to the automobile and car ownership. I recommend you do so as well. Don’t read it at the newsstand. It’s imperative that we support Larry Webster, Sam Smith and the rest of the gang in their attempts to create an American car magazine that we can all be proud of.

Unfortunately, R&T’s article stumbles out of the blocks and never recovers. Their test subject, Ellis Gibbard-Maioriano, appears ordinary enough, clad in a Nike t-shirt with a neon slogan and looking suitably disinterested in all photographs. But there’s something not quite ordinary about Ellis, and scribe Brett Berk does a good job of burying the crucial detail:

Raised in Manhattan’s East Village, his liberation from parental purview arrived early. “When I was 11,” he says, “I could take the subway everywhere by myself.” Ellis is attuned to grit and graffiti, but he has no driver education, no license, no vehicular mojo. “I don’t really pay attention to cars,” he says as we board our flight to Los Angeles.

This right here is what we can call selection bias. Berk didn’t pick somebody from Omaha or Birmingham or Buffalo, places where someone might conceivably want to own a car but might not be able to afford one, or where a car may in fact be an expense they’d rather not incur, but one that’s necessary to maintain employment or get to class. Instead he picks someone from Manhattan, where owning a car is not just unnecessary, but borderline idiotic. Why bother, when the mere act of walking around the island repeatedly exposes you to some of the most beautiful, history-laden geography in the United States? If there is one place in America where residents are correct to  not giva a shit about cars, it’s Manhattan.

Berk’s plan for instilling a love of the automobile in young Ellis  is equally fantastic – in the sense of fantasy, as in “Fantasy Island”. Working with what appears to be an unlimited budget, Berk constructs an automotive experience that IS as remote from reality as life in Manhattan is from life in the rest of America. Cruising in a $365,000 Rolls Royce (which costs as much as a luxury home in many culturally acceptable parts of flyover country, like Austin, Texas), driving Raptors on a private off-road course and enjoying  a track day in a Porsche 911 with Patrick Long might be the stuff of fantasy for car guys, but for someone not in tune with the significance of these events and how they relate to the automobile, they’re about as exciting as a modern interpretive dance recital would be to your average shade-tree mechanic.

The real way to do it would have been to find an interesting vehicle in the press fleet – something Berk is obviously capable of doing – and give Ellis the keys to the car. Of course, one of Ellis’ friends with a license would have to do the actual driving, but the exercise might be closer to the way we all experience cars. He might come to love cars the way we all love them. A love of cars and driving itself can only be created organically. A lot of it has to do with the memories that are created behind the wheel, things that unfold spontaneously, not in  contrived situations that have been planned and executed with a Hearst budget behind them.

Of course, Ellis isn’t entirely impervious to the charms of the automobile.

“ we waft westward in the Ghost en route to the airport, we notice Ellis taking stock of the vehicles around him. Suddenly, he points to an E46-chassis BMW 3-series.

“How much would something like that cost?”

“About $18,000,” we respond. “But that’s the high-performance M3. You don’t need all that.”

Ellis nods. “What about an older BMW . . . like, from the Eighties?”

Mental fist pump! He’s hit upon the modern gearhead’s quintessential first car, the BMW E30. We can barely contain our elation; we tell him he could get a decent runner for three grand, even offer to help him find a good one when he’s ready. So does this mean he’s one of us now? At the very least, will he get his license?

“It’s definitely more of a priority now,” he says. “Maybe this summer.” Then he turns back to the hazy Los Angeles afternoon, endless freeways stretching out before him.

“But I get lazy in the summer, so who knows?”

Ah yes, the vintage car. It’s cheaper to own, maintain and insure and it has the cool, authentic credibility of being retro. For Ellis, his primary concerns are both maintenance and parking. But he still has the subway, so he could afford the luxury of unreliability that also comes with standard with every cool, authentic, retro old car. Plenty of young Americans don’t have that option at all, and they must also deal with $4 gasoline, insurance premiums every month, repairs, inspection, vehicle taxes and the other costs associated with motoring.



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Generation Why: Demographics And The Insanity Of Japan’s Golden Bubble Tue, 02 Apr 2013 13:00:52 +0000

For anyone like myself – that is, a car fan who grew up in the 1990s and watched Japan’s sports cars disappear from the American market in one sudden swoop, news that Japan’s once mighty auto industry is being “hollowed out” might come as a shock. The cars that defined my youth – the RX-7s, Supras even the VTEC Honda compacts, are a distant memory. Most of what Japan offers on our shores are aimed at the mainstream, while at home, kei-cars and hybrids dominate the market.

A lot of the criticism leveled at Japan is that their focus on the mainstream market and alternative powertrains is what sparked their auto industry’s current malaise. But this is a superficial and fallacious assumption that supposes that the glut of superb Japanese cars in the 1990s is a baseline for our expectations of what a Japanese auto maker should be building and selling. In fact, it is an aberration that will never occur again.

Japan, early 1990s. It is a boom unlike even the MBS-fueled manic episode that tinted the last days of my adolescence. Everything is expensive, but who cares, because everyone is rich! Contrary to what Detroit tells you, the reason nobody in Japan buys foreign cars is because of conformity. There is a famous phrase in Japanese business culture; “the nail that sticks up, gets hammered down”. You, the salaryman with cash to burn, will support the home team. You will buy one of these fabulous cars created by our all-conquering auto industry, and you will replace it every few years due to the shakken inspection system and because it is uncouth to drive an old, used car.

If 1950s American cars are a reflection of the optimism and prosperity of that era, then let’s look was offered by a country that saw its stock market plunge by trillions of dollars. Gullwinged-Mazda kei cars. Honda Legends with four-figure gyroscopic navigation systems. 1.6L V6s engines in D-Segment Mitsubishis. Why? Because they could. It was pure, unabashed hubris that led auto makers to field umpteen variations of the same mid-size car or open different sales channels for each model, like the Honda Accord, which begot the Honda Vigor, Inspire, Ascot, Innova, Rafaga, Saber and Torneo. All of them were only slightly different from one another but they were sold across three separate sales channels dubbed Primo, Clio and Verno. It was a scenario that made General Motors pre-bankruptcy sales strategy look lean by comparison.

The competitive nature of the Japanese auto industry and the “gentlemens agreement” limiting cars to 276 horsepower meant that an arms race of technology was being waged. R&D budgets were limitless. No technology was too complex or too expensive to implement on any given product. Twin turbo rotary engines at Mazda, four-wheel steering and all-wheel drive at Nissan, active aerodynamics at Mitsubishi, and of course, the all-aluminum, F1-inspired NSX at Honda. Even at the lower end, there were countless high-performance variants of the lowliest econoboxes: Type-Rs and Spec-Rs and Cyborg Rs and 9000 RPM, 1600cc VZ-Rs and BZ-R’s (not to be confused with our current, boxer-blighted BRZs) which were Corollas with 5 valves per cylinder and individual throttle bodies. That was technology that Ferrari never even saw until long after the BZ-R was introduced.

It was utter insanity, but Japan was in a unique position to support these offerings. Aside from its economic growth, its demographic picture meant that those born just after WWII, when birth rates were still high, were hitting their earnings peak. And since everyone was flush with money, they could afford to buy these cars.

When the bottom fell out of the economy, the cars mentioned above were already too far along in the development cycle to be canceled. The OEMs had no choice but to release them after sinking so much money into their development. And while the higher end product was pulled from our market, they soldiered on in Japan. With no foreign competition, there wasn’t much to lose. Everything was so advanced and over-engineered that they still felt – and in some cases, even looked – fresh and modern despite being a decade old.

Now fast forward to 2013. Nearly a quarter of the population is over 65, and Japan’s population growth is negative. The bulk of consumers are likely buying their last car, and young people are famously not interested in the automobile.  Now that there is no domestic consumer base, the product development ethos has irrevocably changed. What were once solutions to local problems and tastes must now be targeted at a global audience, with all of the peculiarities and regulatory demands and business cases that come with it.

Instead of the three-rotor Mazda Cosmo or the gorgeous Nissan Silvia, we have the Toyota 86, a car that was apparently so risky that a corporate behemoth like Toyota had to partner with a relative bit player like Subaru just to bring it to production. The one upshot in the economics of the current economics of the auto industry is that to maximize the ROI for this car, there will inevitably be more variants. Definitely a convertible. Maybe a sedan. Just maybe, if we’re lucky, a shooting brake.

It is fashionable nowadays in the automotive press to stake out a position that brands oneself as the vanguard of automotive enthusiasm, defender of all that has “soul” and “character”, while admonishing the manufacturers for offering bland pablum instead of the exciting enthusiast machines that once existed. Ultimately these are just the ignorant ramblings of those who are unable or unwilling to understand the external forces that shape cars; macroeconomics, government regulations, demographics, geography, trade policies.  The auto industry is not a charity that produces widgets for driving enthusiasts. It is a business like anything else, and its output is directly related to the input.

Meanwhile, you can go to the dealer and buy an MX-5 that has barely risen in price, when taking inflation into account, since being introduced nearly 25 years ago. You can still buy an honest-to-god Made In Japan European-market Accord, or a sublime rally-derived Mitsubishi. You can finally buy a new Z car or a GT-R, two products we clamored for in the late 1990s. Now they’re here, along with the WRX , a product that we also cried out for not too long ago. Are things really that dire? Or are we so dissatisfied with our present that the only escape is to romanticize an era that should have never been?


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Generation Why: J.D. Power’s Top Ten Gen Y Vehicles For 2012 Thu, 21 Feb 2013 17:35:00 +0000

Until the research arm of TTAC gets more funding, we’ll have to rely on data from third-parties like J.D. Power. The venerable outfit recently compiled a list of the Top 10 cars with the highest percentage of Gen Y buyers. The results aren’t entirely surprising.

J.D. Power’s definition of Generation Y consists of buyers aged 16-35. Rather than the penniless youngsters mostly covered in this series, their study also takes into account older members of this cohort who are earning much more, with stable career prospects – maybe even families. No surprise then that four door cars, whether sedans or hatchbacks, tend to dominate the list. Of the 10 cars, only one was a domestic and only one came from a luxury brand. The rest were from mainstream imports, with 6 of the 10 from Japanese brands and 3 from the Germans. No Korean cars cracked the list, which at first glance seems surprising. But we’ve heard through the grapevine that Hyundai products, even the Veloster, tend to skew older.  Also missing was Honda, something that would have been unthinkable not too long ago, though Acura was well represented.

10. Acura TSX 

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y:  34.3

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: +0.7%

Comment: The bright spot of Acura’s car lineup. Just premium enough to look successful, but also sensible. Does not have the negative connotations that come with certain luxury brands.

9. Dodge Charger

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 34.7

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: 0.9%

Comment: The lone domestic. Notice there are no Ford hatches here. It looks like a brawny, masculine car…perfect for those who need a family sedan but can’t bear the thought of a CamCord.

8. VW Golf

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 34.7

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: 1.6%

Comment: The “premium” choice for C-segment cars. Not a surprise. The TDI is lumped in with the Golf.

7. VW Jetta

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 35.2

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: 33.9%

Comment: Not a surprise. VW badge has cachet, the price is right.

6. Subaru Impreza

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 37.4

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: -7.1%

Comment: Subaru is a bit of a quirky choice but a darling of the winter sports crowd and those who grew up on Gran Turismo.

5. Mazda3

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 40.2

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: -2.3%

Comment: A good sign for Mazda. The 3 is also seen as a bit of a step up from the usual choices, and Mazda can only benefit from a younger customer base.

4. Acura ILX

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 40.2

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: N/A

Comment: I was wrong here. I panned it for being a silly product with no appeal. These figures don’t tell the whole sales story, but they do tell something.


Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 44.5

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: -0.8%

Comment: Ask any car guy or girl what they’d buy for under $30k and there’s a good chance it’s a GTI. No surprise here.

2. Mitsubishi Lancer

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 48.6

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: 5%

Comment: The Ralliart and EVO are lumped in with Lancer, but it may also have something to do with Mitsubishi’s financing deals. This car is a dog.

1. Scion tC

Percent of 2012 buyers in Gen Y: 50.2

Year-over-year change in Gen Y buyers: -0.4%

Comment: The FR-S gets all the hype, but the tC is top dog. Maybe things will change next year?

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Generation Why: I Get The “Impression” That Ford Wants To Party Again Wed, 20 Feb 2013 18:19:21 +0000

As a first-rate cynic and an enthusiast of the English language, I reflexively cringe when I hear the latest “CBC buzzwords” (CBC is Canada’s version of NPR) that get thrown around by the sort of people who think that bicycles will eventually replace cars as our main mode of transportation in our future communitarian-utopia of urban living.

You may have heard them before; words like “vibrant”, “sustainable” or “diverse” inevitably always used as a positive adjective regarding one’s proximity to a farmer’s market or yoga studio. Describing oneself as a “storyteller” when one’s employment situation is murky at best. Describing any commodity good as “artisinal”. This is what I call “word torture”, and if George Carlin were still alive, he’d have a field day.

Imagine my horror when I logged on to the website for the latest installment of Ford’s Fiesta movement and saw it was chock-full of these nebulous descriptors. I nearly had to go back and read one of TTAC’s “Volts on Fire” stories just to calm my rapidly rising blood pressure.

For 2014, Ford is refreshing the new Fiesta, and adding a 1.0L 3-cylinder Ecoboost engine. They’re also dragging out the much touted Fiesta Movement social media campaign to help promote the car.

As we all know, Ford loves “social” – another nebulous word in our increasingly vapid 21st century lexicon. I am just old enough to remember when “social” had nothing to do with sitting in front of a computer screen, which was by definition, anti-social. Today it apparently means using a bunch of web tools to get people to create free marketing…err, “content” in the parlance of the internet.

Make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is. In exchange for a new Fiesta, gas, insurance and some camera gear, participants in the Fiesta movement are going to be creating free ads for Ford. Because after all, if you are not paying for a product or a service – especially online - you are the product. Well, your data is, but that’s another story altogether.

Previously, Generation Why has questioned the efficacy of campaigns like the Fiesta Movement. In addition to telling you how enthralled they are with “social”, Ford loves to tout how many impressions the Fiesta movement got; 3.5 million on Twitter and more than 6.5 million on Youtube.

Sounds impressive, right? Two problems here.

  1. 1) Those 6.5 million views are spread over 700 videos created by 100 participants. A friend of mine, with a Canon 5D, a rented Challenger and a B-List rapper, created a video with 41 million views and counting. Ford’s numbers look pathetic when more details come to light.
  2. 2) What the hell are “impressions” anyways? Frankly, I’m prepared to go out on a limb and label them a BS metric that doesn’t really tell us anything but sounds really good to people who nod their head out of fear of seeming irrelevant and out of touch.

Do the math and the average views per video is less than impressive. Think about it; we are all facing increasing demands for our attention, whether it’s TV, Netflix, video games, the internet, viral videos, past due bills, nagging spouses, recreational pursuits and in the case of Generation Why, making enough money just to move out of our parents basements and start a real life. Do we have time to watch some shitty amateur hack job of a video filmed on a GoPro about a car that will make us look poor (remember hatchback = poverty for everyone that doesn’t pray at the altar of European Auto Supremacy). Not a chance.

But Ford persists with the Fiesta Movement, the godawful Escape Routes reality TV show and the idiotic Jimmy Fallon Lincoln ad. It is astonishing that a company that creates such superb cars and manages to do a good job selling them (usually the two are mutually exclusive) is wedded to awful social media campaigns. Even Rihanna’s steadfast loyalty to Chris Brown is easier to decipher. It could be that Scott Monty and the rest of the “social” crew just need to justify their jobs and their lucrative compensation packages. The more likely answer is that nobody really knows which end is up, and everyone is afraid to say that the emperor is naked. At least that’s my impression.

 N.B At the end of 2012, sales of the Fiesta trailed the segment leader, the Nissan Versa, by a roughly 2:1 margin. The Fiesta ranks 4th in the segment, with the Chevrolet Sonic and Hyundai Accent ranking in 2nd and 3rd. The Honda Fit is nipping at the Fiesta’s heels. 




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Generation Why: Prom Night Fantasy Mon, 04 Feb 2013 13:00:58 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

By the time you read this, I’ll be under the knife, but I wanted to share with you my favorite Super Bowl ad. I don’t have any real profound insights, but I did get a real kick out of it, as I recalled my own prom night, an event that largely faded from memory.

My own Senior Prom was a bit of a slapdash affair; my suit was some ill-fitting navy pinstripe job I wouldn’t be caught dead in, my date was in a grade below me, and while she was very attractive, we had little in common. And my own underdeveloped social skills didn’t do much to help matters either. I thought that the typical “white Town Car” was an awful marker of prole status (and still maintain that) and suggested a car service and an A8L instead. She failed to see the appeal in what I thought was a very elegant and classy choice, so we took a taxi instead. I can’t say I was surprised when she left right after desert – though I still maintain that my mom did pick out a very nice corsage for her. Luckily, prom night was much more fun and eventful – but it would have been even better if someone tossed me the keys to an S6.

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Generation Why: BMW And Mercedes Ignore Coach At Their Peril, Part II Wed, 23 Jan 2013 20:15:05 +0000

After a long slog through NAIAS and getting TTAC’s house in order for the new year, I was delighted to see the response to my first big endeavor of the year, my Generation Why piece. But with 174 comments and multiple tangents, I wanted to open up the floor to clarify a few things.

1) I should have been more clear in my thesis. While I highlighted both the BMW 320i and the Mercedes-Benz CLA, due to having both of them debut at NAIAS, I do not think they can be weighted equally

2) The 320i is really not that drastic of a departure for BMW’s North American product range – or world product range for that matter. As I mentioned, Canada has had a 3-Series model below the 325/328i for over a decade. This model is actually fairly spartan in its options and features (at least the E46 and E390 variants were) and it’s not unusual to find stick shift models purchased by older guys who just want a fun sports sedan. We all know that the majority of these cars in the U.S. will not be equipped like this, but the point remains the same – it’s not such a departure from BMW’s past ethos. Unfortunately, a number of commenters seized upon the 320i example – to the point of turning it into a strawman – as a means of criticizing my thesis (that a premium auto maker’s quest for volume and short term profits will ultimately erode that brand equity over the long term).

3) I should have been more clear in my piece that the product that’s really in danger of doing damage is the Mercedes CLA. The 320i is ultimately a 3-Series, and part of BMW’s core range. The CLA on the other hand, is a strange bird for Americans. It is a stubby, compact car with odd proportions. For those in the know, it is a front-drive, four-cylinder Benz, something that those types will equate with a cheaper car. For those who don’t know, it’s a Mercedes, but it’s small – and small does not mean premium to many American car buyers. Yes, Mercedes and BMW are full-line car companies in Europe. But merely having a car in Europe is a privilege  Anything larger or more expensive than a Golf is a luxury, and that’s why the A/B-Class, 1-Series and A3 work over there. They are right-sized, but pricey enough to let everyone know you’re not clipping Carrefour coupons.

4) I still re-affirm my belief that allowing too many people to obtain a premium product harms its very nature. Let too many people into your exclusive nightclub and it suddenly becomes passe. If too many people can buy your premium clothing line at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls, its seen as a mass-market product, or worse, something for poor people. I’m fairly agnostic when it comes to “brand values” or “heritage” – that stuff is just pap cooked up by suits and sold to wide-eyed types as a marketing narrative. I find it conceivable that, in such a crowded, competitive marketplace, traditional Mercedes customers could abandon the brand if too many undesirables are seen as entering the brand via the CLA and other lower-end cars. In more affluent communities, there are already soccer moms driving AMG SUVs merely because they are more expensive than the more pedestrian GL550s and ML320 Bluetecs. If this is the trend, then how much more damage can a $30,000 compact do?


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