The big news this past week from Nissan: lots of old iron at Pebble Beach, concept car test drives for sympathetic journalists and a pledge to have autonomous cars ready (but not on sale) for 2020. More interesting than that is news of Nissan’s booming exports from America. Some say that this is the “new normal” – Japanese OEMs expanding their manufacturing base in America as they leave Japan en masse to both insulate themselves from a volatile yen, take advantage of America’s welcoming manufacturing climate and shed a reliance on Japan’s aging and declining population. And even more interesting than that is how it was presented.
Monday night at 5:43 PM, TTAC received this note from Chrysler PR
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Durango short-lead media drive program – originally scheduled for August 4-14 in Seattle – is being postponed. We deeply regret this late notice and apologize for disrupting your busy summer schedule. We will get back to you as soon as possible regarding information for the media drives of the Cherokee and Durango, which we expect will take place in the first half of September.
For those of you that have already booked your flights to the program, your reservation will automatically be canceled by our travel company, BCD Travel. Should you have questions related to this, please feel free to contact me and/or the individuals noted below:
The Shanghai Auto Show truly is a reflection of the Chinese car market: It is huge, and it is one big disorganized mess. This year, the media days were shrunk to one, with the effect that nearly 20 press conferences ran at the same time. If you went to Audi, you could not go to Fiat, Chery, Nissan, and a host of others. Getting admitted was a whole other matter. (Read More…)
We have a new car show season. With it come new car releases, and with them comes a contagion that is as tiring and headache-inducing as a Cobo Hall flu on top of an after party hangover. The disease goes by the name of embargo, and it comes with the embargo breach as a secondary infection.
In case you have studied Pol.Sci. instead of HTML, you might be thinking that we are talking about real embargoes, such as those of Iran or Cuba. We don’t. In our biz, an embargo is when an OEM sends a blog a picture or a story, and then asks not to “print” it until later. If you think that the outcome is both predictable and inevitable, then you are absolutely correct. We could put the matter right to sleep without wasting (ha!) precious HTML column inches, would the new car season not also be marked by an excited chattering, twittering, OMG+1000ering over busted embargoes in what goes as the automotive media these days.
So let’s do what we rarely do, let’s talk about embargoes.
The violent anti-Japanese demonstrations in China appear to be over, and intestinal complications aside, it seems to be safe again to eat sushi in Beijing or Shanghai. State-owned media however is trying its utmost to keep the matter on the front burner, so to speak, in a very insidious way. (Read More…)
A year ago nearly to the day, I was investigating the connection between Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and Fiat. With an American-led intervention in Libya underway, Reuters had reported that a Wikileaked State Department document revealed that the Libyan Government owned a two-percent stake in the automaker Fiat as recently as 2006. When I contacted Fiat’s international media relations department for comment, I received this response:
Dear Mr Niedermeyer,
Further to your email, I would mention that the Reuters report you refer to is incorrect. As too are other similar mentions that have appeared recently in the media concerning the LIA’s holdings in Fiat.
The LIA sold all of its 14% shareholding in Fiat SpA in 1986 – ten years after its initial stake was bought. It no longer has a stake in Fiat SpA.
I trust that this clarifies the matter.
It didn’t, actually. In fact the matter remained as clear as mud to me until just now, when I saw Reuters’ report that Italian police have seized $1.46 billion worth of Gaddafi assets, including “stakes in… carmaker Fiat,” under orders from the International Criminal Court.
”Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols
This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the proverbial blind spot. Having watched the Volt’s progress closely from gestation through each month’s sales results, it was no secret to me that the Volt was seriously underperforming to expectations. But in the current media environment, anything that happens three times is a trend, and the latest shutdown (and, even more ominously, the accompanying layoffs) was unmistakeable. Not since succumbing to government-organized bankruptcy and bailout has GM so publicly cried “uncle” to the forces of the market, and I genuinely expected The General to continue to signal optimism for the Volt’s long-term prospects. After all, sales in February were up dramatically, finally breaking the 1,000 unit per month barrier. With gasoline prices on the march, this latest shutdown was far from inevitable.
And yet, here we are. Now that GM is undeniably signaling that the Volt is a Corvette-style halo car, with similar production and sales levels, my long-standing skepticism about the Volt’s chances seems to be validated. But in the years since GM announced its intention to build the Volt, this singular car has become woven into the history and yes, the mythology of the bailout era. Now, at the apparent end of its mass-market ambitions, I am struck not with a sense of schadenfreude, but of bewilderment. If the five year voyage of Volt hype is over, we have a lot of baggage to unpack.
As a “glass-half-empty” kind of guy, I would need a minute to think about the most fascinating story I’ve ever written, but could easily tell you about the most infuriating. That dubious honor goes to the Facebook launch campaign for the 2012 Ford Explorer.
Are in-car CD players the mark of a vehicle aimed at geezers? According to an Automotive News report, the CD may be going the way of the cassette or 8-track player in certain cars – namely those aimed at younger, “Gen Y” buyers, who use smart phones as music devices.
I remember looking at the then brand new Ford Five Hundred and thinking to myself, “This would make one heck of a Volvo.”
Like the Volvos of yore this Ford offered a squarish conservative appearance. A high seating position which Volvo’s ‘safety oriented’ customers would have appreciated. Toss in a cavernous interior that had all the potential for a near-luxury family car, or even a wagon, and this car looked more ‘Volvo’ than ‘Ford’ to me with each passing day.
Something had to be done…
First it was Honda that had issues with TrueCar. Now, it is regulators in several states, along with dealer associations that claim that TrueCar’s business model is at odds with “long-standing state laws designed to protect the interests of car dealers and shoppers,” as Automotive News [sub] reports. Says AN:
“Regulators in Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia have issued bulletins to dealers or sent letters to TrueCar concluding that legal problems exist with TrueCar’s business model of charging dealers for leads that turn into a sale. And dealer associations in three more states — California, Kansas and Ohio — say members who use TrueCar may be violating state law.”
This looks like an opening volley of an all-out war. (Read More…)
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.
It’s been a fascinating year for the compact car, as all six of the segment’s leading competitors brought out new or updated models over the last 18 months. But as our Chart Of The Day shows, the competition has hardly sent the segment into overdrive, as after an early-year boom, compact car sales have slackened considerably. Intriguingly though, Honda and Toyota, which lost sales early this year due to supply interruptions in the wake of the Japanese Tsunami, seem to be the only brands with recovering compact sales. What’s especially interesting about this is the fact that Toyota’s modest refresh and Honda’s poorly-received new Civic were once widely considered by automotive pundits to be under threat from the resurgent competition. Indeed, Honda’s Civic has been especially hard-hit by media criticism, earning a harsh review from TTAC’s Michael Karesh, losing its coveted “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports, and engaging in some ugly media-bashing. But now that the Civic seems to be one of the only compacts to enjoy a late-year sales rebound, Honda’s announcing that it will be upgrading the Civic for the 2013 model-year, just one year after the new model was introduced.
Having read most of the latest raft of auto industry books, with titles like “Car Crash,” “Overhaul,” and “Sixty To Zero,” I have to say, Bill Vlasic’s “Once Upon A Car” is my favorite of the bunch. Not only does it lack the parochial form and voice that define too many of theses tomes, it populates its narrative with rich dialogue and intriguing character studies. In short, it’s got all of the lessons about industry, culture, and competition that you’d expect from a modern study of the auto industry, but it presents them in such a way that they never feel like a lecture or a business school study. Instead you get a well-spun yarn, still-newsworthy anecdotes and an unvarnished look at industry dynamics on their highest level. If ever there were to be a modern movie based on the auto industry, Vlasic’s book should be its basis. Read my full review over at The Wall Street Journal.
TTAC has long held that reviews of press cars made available by manufacturers at launches and press fleets must be complimented by reviews of vehicles acquired from dealer lots. It’s been a controversial position at times, and I’ve had to do battle with OEMs as recently as a few months ago to explain why dealer car impressions matter. Today, Consumer Reports is proving the point by revealing
When VW dropped off an early media car this summer, I remember looking at the trunk and saying to myself “well, at least both of the cheap hinges are dressed up with plastic covers, unlike the Jetta, which just has plastic on the side with the wiring.” As you can see in these two photos from Car & Driver and Edmunds it appears that the Passats in VW’s press fleet have covers on the hinges.
But not that Passat you just bought. No, your new Passat isn’t as nicely finished as the press version.
Like all the vehicles we put through testing, Consumer Reports buys retail samples at a car dealership. I personally purchased the Passat TDI we’re testing. (We also bought a 2.5 SE and a 3.6 SEL Premium.) As you can see in our images, none of the Passats have the two plastic covers found on the press cars. Consumers apparently only get a cover for the wiring loom hinge; the other one goes bare.
Interestingly, we had a somewhat similar issue with VW when a Passat press car proved to be equipped in a spec that is not actually available at dealerships (V6 with 17-inch wheels). When we noticed the discrepancy (and by we, I mean Michael Karesh, of course), we asked VW how we had received a non-representative model, to which they replied that press fleet vehicles were “early builds” from the new Nashville plant, and therefore not necessarily in market-ready spec. Which is a reason, but not an excuse: the media can only serve consumers well if we’re given representative cars to review. So, while these discrepancies are all relatively minor, details matter when you’re spending upwards of $20k on something. Hopefully VW and the rest of the industry will learn from this experience and make greater efforts to equip their media cars exactly to dealer spec. One also hopes that Motor Trend has driven at least one Passat that’s not from a press fleet…