Knowing that some of the top PR professionals in the business are regular readers of TTAC (they could be anyone…), I can imagine a number of them shaking their heads in disapproval at the headline of this post. “It’s happened,” they’re probably muttering to themselves, “TTAC has finally lost the plot.” But instead of dismissing out of hand the seemingly preposterous premise of this post, I ask the assembled anonymous masses of PR pros to bear with me for a moment. As laughable as it might seem to postulate that the industry’s spin doctors can learn something from the most infamously “off the reservation” auto exec ever, the urge to write off this post is part of the very problem I hope to tackle. Allow me to explain… (Read More…)
Swedish radio cites an unnamed source close to Saab as saying the troubled automaker was preparing to file for court-protected reorganization, as it struggles to pay workers and restart production. Under that scenario, Sweden would pay worker salaries while reorganization takes place. But at the company’s official mouthpiece, inside.saab.com, a press release refuses to deny or rule out that Saab has chosen this route. The release reads:
Swedish Automobile N.V. (Swan) is aware of certain reports in Swedish media related to a possible filing by Saab Automobile AB (Saab Automobile) for a voluntary reorganization under Swedish law.
Swan confirms its earlier announcements that it is in discussions with several parties to secure the short and medium term funding of Saab Automobile to restart and sustain production. In order to secure the continuity of Saab Automobile, Swan and Saab Automobile are evaluating all available options. Swan will update the market in case of new developments.
This non-denial might be read as a confirmation that Saab is considering filing for court protection, but hasn’t yet decided on that course of action. Meanwhile, Saab has delayed its latest financial report, and its online PR rep continues to blame the media for concluding that because Saab can’t sell cars, pay suppliers, restart production or even pay salaries on time it’s destined for bankruptcy court.
Well, you’ve already seen the OEM-approved press shots of the Lexus GS and Infiniti JX, but TTAC’s tame Californian, Alex Dykes, is on hand to bring us all the pomp and pagentry of Pebble Beach. Hit the jump for a full gallery and a few of Alex’s on-the-spot thoughts. (Read More…)
As promised yesterday, my review of Michael Dunne’s American Wheels Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China is now live at the Wall Street Journal website [sub] as well as today’s print edition. Be sure to pick up a copy and stay tuned for TTAC’s own review of this important book, by our man in China, Bertel Schmitt.
Believe it or not, dear readers, but every once in a while I’m able to take a break from my grueling routine here at TTAC and contribute to another publication. Not often, mind you, as I’ve written an average of four stories per day seven days per week in the three and a half years I’ve been writing for TTAC, but every now and then. Anyway, tomorrow is just such a time, as my review of American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China will be featured in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal.
You know it’s time to say “Toto, I don’t think we’re in traditional journalism any more” when fanboys get better access than industry rags. In a story picked up by Automotive News [sub], myfocuselectric.com commenter whitgallman showed the auto media what can be done if you just send a few emails… as long as you make it clear that you are only interested in buying a car, not embarrassing the program. Because then, instead of languishing in some disinterested inbox, your emails actually draw a response, like this from David Finnegan, Electrified Vehicles Marketing Manager at Ford:
For the first few months of production, we will be concentrating on California and New York. Our dealers in those areas will be the first to have their retail orders scheduled and receive the Focus electric. We will be rolling out to the remainder of our initial markets starting in spring 2012.
Well, that was news to Automotive News [sub], which had been told (along with everyone else) that the Focus Electric was supposed to launch in “late 2011″ in 19 US markets. So what happens to Focus EV intenders in Chicago, Detroit and Seattle (among others)? Per AN [sub]:
As for the rest of the country’s markets, no word yet from Ford, so the best advice is to be patient.
As far as manufacturer PR reps are concerned, there’s nothing worse than an automotive media outlet that’s willing to criticize a car. But when the unthinkable does happen and, say… I don’t know, Consumer Reports fails to recommend a new Civic, at least there will always be another publication that backs up your opinion. And, in the midst of unprecedented C-segment competition, Honda’s Executive VP for sales John Mendel trotted out this very approach recently. In an email to dealers that was obtained by the LA Times, Mendel wrote
Sometimes you disagree even with those for whom you have the greatest respect. And it seems as if that is what has occurred with the Consumer Reports review of the 2012 Honda Civic LX. We fundamentally disagree with their suggestion that Civic doesn’t rank among their recommended small cars…
Among many other very positive reviews of the Civic lineup, Motor Trend magazine recently tested eight compact cars, including Civic. The respected auto enthusiast magazine -– which knows a thing or two about ride and handling –- ranked Civic second among eight compact cars in the comparison drive. Many would be thrilled with this result. However, we disagree with Motor Trend as well –- we think there is no better compact car than Civic.
Luckily Motor Trend’s staff empathizes… they wish they could have given all the cars first place! And what about Car & Driver giving the Civic second place in its comparison… of two? In all seriousness though, Honda needs to check itself for signs of bunker mentality. Yes, Mendel’s responsibility is sales not product development, but creating an insular world where critical opinions are ignored and feedback is cherry-picked for the rosiest possible picture is bad for the long-term culture of an automaker.
Compare this approach to that taken by Honda Europe. It’s previous generation of Europe-only Civic (FK/FN) was widely criticized in the press for its poor-riding torsion beam rear suspension, lack of refinement and dynamic failings. With a new Civic coming to Frankfurt, Honda Europe is making it clear (by releasing the video shown above) that it is addressing those criticisms head-on, promising a “two-generation improvement” in ride quality. That’s the Honda that became a global player: responding to criticism, not burying its head in the sand.
The first time Top Gear “tested” an electric car, it depicted Tesla’s Roadster running out of electricity and being pushed from the track. Tesla immediately pointed out that the batteries “never fell below 20%” during the test, a charge the British motoring show addressed by claiming that its review
offers a fair representation of the Tesla’s performance on the day it was tested.
Today’s wild-ass rumor of the day really lives up to its wild-ass billing, combining equal parts conspiracy theory and ressentiment for a high-proof cocktail of crazy. In a blog (i.e. not very well thought-through) item at Automotive News [sub], Industry Editor James Treece primes the loco pump with an intriguing proposition:
Some commentators and bloggers assume that ownership explains what goes on in the auto industry. They argue that GM and Chrysler management have repeatedly bowed to the desires of their government and union owners over the last two years, and that government ownership has perverted the market in other ways as well.
Well, if that’s so, it’s fair to ask the same question about the latest fuel-economy rules — and the companies that oppose them.
Already the crazy is starting to show: the Detroit automakers are widely recognized to be the chief beneficiaries of the “compromise” modifications to Obama’s proposal. So if government-owned automakers didn’t actually roll over for regulators, why legitimize the crackpot theories of “some commentators and bloggers”? Because Treece has a crackpot theory of his own… (Read More…)
Jeff Glucker, a.k.a. jglucker, had his head handed to him by the Twitter mob. It must have been the little head. The emasculated editor of Autoblog caved in to the rabid rabble and sacrificed a supposedly sexist headline. What happened? (Read More…)
In addition to the recent tales (and sitcom gags) of GPS units leading hapless drivers into bodies of water, we have a new twist on the theme: GPS units leading hapless drivers astray in Death Valley. NPR reports
After a long day, [Donna] Cooper and her family asked “Nell,” the GPS, for the shortest route back to their home.
“Please proceed to the highlighted route,” Nell said.
But what came next did not compute. The GPS told them to go 550 feet, then turn right, Cooper says.
“Well, at 550 feet it was like a little path, and then it was like, go a quarter of a mile and turn left. There was nothing there. She had me running in circles for hours and hours and hours,” she says.
A park ranger explains that this happens “a couple times a year now,” including one incident two years ago in which a mother and her son were lost on an abandoned mining road for five days and the boy died. Rangers are now working with GPS firms to update their data on small and closed-down roads, but say no amount of work will ever replace common sense when it comes to navigating desert roads. Speaking of which, what happened to Cooper’s family? (Read More…)
WardsAuto is a great source for industry news, but it’s pretty clearly not the best source for enthusiast news. Take, for example, a recent interview with Dodge SRT boss Ralph Gilles about the forthcoming compact Dodge and its possible SRT version:
“The Neon put the whole street-tuning scene on its ear with the factory turbo. We have to figure out how to get an entry-level SRT product to capture the next generation.”
The car to which Gilles refers will be a Dodge C-segment sedan derived from the same platform that shoulders the highly acclaimed European-market Alfa Romeo Giulietta offered by alliance-partner Fiat…
While Gilles is adamant that a high-performance C-car would be a welcome addition for Chrysler, he stops short of saying it’s a done deal, noting internal plans still are being hammered out.
However, it’s unlikely the entry-level model would share the 470-hp 6.4L Hemi V-8 shared by its SRT brethren introduced at the event here. [emphasis added]
Say it aint so, Dodge! I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just not a true successor to the Neon SRT-4 unless it’s got a Hemi V8… damn Italians! Seriously though, how cool is it that Wards considers a V8-powered Fiat-based compact merely “unlikely” rather than “a surefire sign of the apocalypse”? Alternative video after the jump… (Read More…)
Earlier this year when it seemed that a price war could be brewing in the US market, one of TTAC’s industry sources noted that the problem wasn’t strictly a question of business competition. Speaking on background, the source told us that
when speaking with old friends at Ford and GM, the level of mutual distaste for each other is very high…it seems to be getting personal. Lots of egos involved, [which] increases potential for short-sighted decision-making
At the time, I was willing to chalk up this animosity to the usual industry hyper-competitiveness (or at least a return to form after the lockstep mutual support of the bailout era), but it seems I should have paid more attention to our source’s concerns. As it turns out, the bad feelings between Detroit’s cross-town rivals has apparently gotten worse…
What do we mean when we talk about assemblies of steel, carbon and plastic in terms of “emotion”? Every craft has a very narrow dividing line between mere technical proficiency and creating something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, but few crafts enjoy a cadre of critics that are as obsessed with constantly defining this line as auto journalists. I suppose that after spending enough time driving and trying to evaluate cost-no-object luxury items the line may become more obvious, as skills are sharpened and observational powers are honed. But more than increasing the ability to define the line between mere “excellence” and “greatness” or “proficiency” and “emotion,” a career of supercar driving largely seems to reinforce the importance of simply having that line. After all, what’s more important to the reviewer of supercars: preventing some poor soul from squandering a quarter of a million dollars on the wrong supercar, or establishing their own exquisite taste? Here’s a hint: only one of these things keeps the gravy train rolling. So when you’ve got two similarly-performing supercars competing directly for the attentions of the well-heeled, few will actually care which laps what the fastest… and when the going gets tough, the tough get wobbling.
This is all well and good… after all, everyone wants to drive a Ferrari 458 and a McLaren MP4-12c, but nobody wants to go through the motions of justifying why you think one is fundamentally better or worse than the other. Besides, consumers are free to understand that one man’s “lack of emotion” is another man’s everyday usability… or “waste” their money on the car the journalist says he prefers. But when McLaren comes out and gives the latest mid-engined Ferrari a run for its money with its first roadvcar in over a decade only to be met with accusations of a “lack of emotion,” there’s no way a self-respecting sportscar firm would make a change to their baby. But that’s exactly what’s happening…
If you asked an auto industry lobbyist, say, a month ago, what the big fights were over in CAFE negotiations, he probably wouldn’t have said “the number.” In the parlance of the Potomac valley, that means everyone at the table knows that at some point they’re all going to join hands and sing kumbaya over one highly symbolic number. Not surprisingly, the numbers that everyone in DC has been looking at fall right in the middle of these four scenarios… not coincidentally the tipping point where hybrids swing from a quarter to nearly half the market. But are these WSJ [sub] charts even accurate? John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America and the industry’s CAFE contrarian implies that it’s not for everyone, telling Automotive News [sub] that
Honestly, our focus isn’t on hybrid. Our focus is on optimizing internal combustion and getting as many fuel-efficient vehicles out there, across the lineup. That’s the way you do it. If you look at the math, if you look at how CAFE math works, volume trumps everything.
But then Krafcik oversees a brand that doesn’t just sell lots of high-efficiency cars, it sells very few pickups… resulting in a sales-weighted fleet fuel economy 35.7 MPG in the first half of this year (as calculated by Hyundai). Did we mention that the 2016 passenger car standard is 37.8 MPG, at which time it figures its non-hybrid Elantra will get 50 MPG combined on the CAFE test? And nobody can look at Hyundai’s six-month sales performance (up 26%) and argue that Americans don’t want to buy fuel-efficient cars. In short, Hyundai is proving that automakers who can make money selling appealing, fuel-efficient cars need not binge on hybrids Even, according to the EPA’s final rule on standards through 2016, for manufacturers trying to sell as many pickups as possible.