The Truth About Cars » platforms The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:00:18 +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 » platforms Ghosn Talks Platform Sharing, Cost Saving & Teamwork Aspects of Renault-Nissan Alliance Tue, 04 Feb 2014 10:00:13 +0000 Common Module Family (CMF): A New Approach to Engineering for th

Carlos Ghosn, head of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, told the Automotive News that the companies will jointly develop two vehicle platforms that, shared between the two companies, will each provide the basis for more than 3 million vehicles by 2016.


Ghosn predicts that by that year the entire industry will have only five platforms that support that large of a volume and that by 2020, about three quarters of the alliance’s output will be based on just four platforms. In part by sharing platforms the alliance now expects to save 4.3 billion euros ($5.8 billion) by 2016, about $900 million more in cost reductions than originally anticipated. The other part of that savings will come from joint operations in manufacturing, logistics, r&d, purchasing and human resources.

“We are going to be really leveraging better than most of our competitors in size and scale,” Ghosn said to Automotive News. “If you have the right strategy and product, size matters. Size will really protect you from your competition.”

The first of those two platforms is the Common Module Family platform for C and D segment sedans, crossovers and SUVs.

Commenting on why the tie-up between Nissan and Renault has lasted so long when other relationships between automakers have faltered, Ghosn stressed that they deliberately fostered teamwork as opposed to a takeover mentality.

“After 15 years of working together, we are capable today of envisioning things that were practically impossible to execute five years ago,” Ghosn said. “People would have spent their time resisting and explaining why they cannot do it, instead of making it happen.”

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The Kit Race: You Have To Be In It To Win It – And GM Ain’t Thu, 13 Jun 2013 14:16:50 +0000 gmkits

Most large automakers are working on a modular architecture of some sort. Farthest ahead appears to be Volkswagen, which already is rolling out new car after new car on one of four related kit architectures, and which is rumored to be working on one master kit. The other day, Toyota showed me glimpses of its new kit architecture, first cars to be expected in 2015. Today, GM showed us this chart. And there are no kits on it.

From Nissan to Volvo, everybody seems to be working on some kind of a kit architecture that dispenses with the old platform model and is working towards the holy grail of modern carmaking, a box of universal Legos that quickly snap together without having to redesign the blocks again and again.  One company appears to be horrifically far behind in that race, and the company is GM. GM isn’t even in the race.  GM is trying to reduce its huge number of platforms,  and it will be trying long into the next decade.

Last time we looked, two years ago, GM announced plans to slim down its obese portfolio of platforms, by shrinking the number of “Core Architectures” to 24, which will serve 62 percent of GM’s output. By comparison, more than 60 percent of Volkswagen Group’s output will be served by MQB alone, and the rest by MLB, MSB, and NFS. By 2018, GM wanted to shrink the number of global architectures to 14, serving 90 percent of the volume.

Yesterday,  during its Global Business Conference Call , GM gave a report on where it stands in terms of architectures. The plan (see above) appears to be largely intact, however, it is moving in the wrong direction. Instead of 24 architectures in 2014, there now are 25. Instead of 14 architectures by 2018, there now are 17.

There appears to be some relabeling going on. The “regional architectures” that were supposed to be gone by 2018, are back.

Whatever you call them, “core,” or “regional,” “platforms,” or “architectures,” the fact is that according to this plan, GM will enter the next decade on a mess of disparate platforms, while GM’s main competitors have been long building cars from kits, are faster to market, build faster and for less money, and are addressing small niches without reinventing all four wheels. By that time, the mess of platforms will emerge as the mother of all legacies at GM.

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Opel And PSA To Share Four Platforms. But Will They Share Plants? Wed, 24 Oct 2012 09:51:44 +0000

After a lot of he loves me, he loves me not, GM and Peugeot PSA finally took their fledgling 7 percent relationship a few concrete steps forward. At least on paper. GM and PSA will not just buy new parts together. They will share platforms, the key to make joint purchasing work. The timing of this announcement, coinciding with a bailout by the French government, however is a bit unfortunate.

According to a statement published today, PSA Peugeot Citroen and General Motors agreed on the following projects:

  • A joint program for a compact-class Multi-Purpose Van for Opel/Vauxhall and a compact-class Crossover Utility Vehicle for the Peugeot brand.
  • A joint Multi-Purpose Vehicle program for the small car segment for Opel/Vauxhall and the Citroen brand.
  • An upgraded low CO2 small car segment platform to feed Opel/Vauxhall’s and PSA’s next generation of cars in Europe and other regions.
  • A joint program for mid-size cars for Opel/Vauxhall and the Peugeot and Citroen brands.

The first vehicles on these common programs will be launched by the end of 2016.

Germany’s Automobilwoche [sub] snidely remarks that “basically, these four segments had been envisaged since the alliance was announced last spring.” True savings could be achieved if these joint models would be manufactured in joint plants, but Opel did not want to comment on that.

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Mercedes Will Cut Its Platforms In Half Thu, 29 Mar 2012 16:13:10 +0000

Carmakers all over the world strive to make more with less. All car companies that want to be around in a few years are on some kind of a standardization drive.  GM wants to cut its 30 platforms down to 14. Volkswagen wants to get rid of platforms altogether .

Mercedes will halve its vehicle architectures to two by 2015, and will double its number of model variants to 30, Automotive News [sub] reports.

Those 30 model variants will derive from a Mercedes Front Wheel Architecture (MFA) for compact cars (A class and B class) and a Mercedes Rear Wheel Architecture (MRA) for everything above. At the moment, Mercedes has four architectures: rear-, front- , all-wheel drive, and sports cars. (The G-Wagen does not count.) Standardization will shorten development time and will make for more efficient manufacturing. The time needed to make a Benz will sink from 43 hours in 2008 to 30 hours by 2015.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: I Believe I Asked For A Small Mokka Edition Thu, 22 Dec 2011 14:22:05 +0000

Editor’s Note: The image above is from Autobild (and is posted elsewhere in the German media), and is not labeled as a rendering, a spy shot or an official image. An anonymous tipster who has seen the upcoming Buick “Encore” (which GM has shown to select fans and journos under embargo for years now) says the vehicle shown here is “basically the same design” as the Encore. 

At first glance, it’s fairly obvious that there’s something not quite right with this picture. Better than most photoshops or renderings, but not quite convincing as a real picture, this car seems trapped in the Uncanny Valley, as if it were photographed undergoing winter testing on the set of the film The Polar Express. In any case, this little Corsa-based CUV (allegedly to be named “Mokka”) will debut at the Geneva Auto Show, and will take on such B-segment crossovers as the Nissan Juke, Suzuki SX4 and Ford’s forthcoming new Ecosport.

Meanwhile, GM’s American-market interpretation of a B-segment CUV is likely to be quite different from these little rough-and-ready softroaders [Ed: Or, not]. Buick is slow-strip-teasing its forthcoming Encore on Facebook, and it’s already looking like the Baby Enclave rumors were well-founded in terms of its exterior design. On the other hand, this isn’t a wildly detailed photo, so who knows? Either way, both the Mokka and the Encore are based on a jacked-up version of the Gamma II subcompact platform, and based on a video of what appears to be some relatively early chassis testing, the short-wheelbase and tall suspension took a little taming. Hit the jump to see for yourself…

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Cadillac XTS Debuts, Doesn’t “Blow The Doors Off” Wed, 16 Nov 2011 19:45:26 +0000

Throughout its history, Cadillac has fed the press some glorious concept cars dripping with opulence, snazzy features and WTF styling. This works when production cars live up to the concept’s hype, but a history of histrionics is less helpful when you’re launching a car that somehow defies hype  altogether [Ed: see AutoWeek's headline: "Cadillac aims its flagship XTS at imports and traditional buyers"].  Don’t get it wrong, the XTS is not intended as a true flagship for the brand (GM’s release calls it “the newest addition to the lineup” and “the most technologically advanced production car in the brand’s history”), but at the launch at the LA Auto Show the XTS’s FWD proportions, slab sides and generally predictable exterior dominated the first impressions. Put simply, the midsized sedan exudes none of the presence that makes the CTS-V coupe exciting, possibly due to the fact that it has what may be Cadillac’s shortest hood ever. No wonder GM CEO Dan Akerson warned us that the XTS “wouldn’t blow the doors off” the competition.

Inside, however, we found perhaps the best interior Cadillac has fashioned in decades. Cadillac spent a great deal of time telling the assembled press masses that this Caddy is different, this Cadillac is world class and this Cadillac will be at the top of the luxury food chain. And yet the competitive comparisons are all against the mid-line sedans from Europe. Which is really no surprise, considering the XTS is still motivated by the same 300HP V6 we see in other GM products, mated to the same 6-speed FWD transmission and AWD. New to the midsized party are Magnetic Ride Control shocks and and an eLSD in the rear which promises to improve handling when the going gets twisty. Not that anyone will take the XTS to the track mind you. Blue hairs will however love the new full-stop radar cruise control and the “virtual bumper” which will stop you automagically when you try to run over Joey on his trike. The new Cadillac infotainment system also appears to be a winner combining Apple-like multi-touch gestures with Android-like haptic feedback. All in all, it’s a strange beats, this XTS.

IMG_4901 IMG_4902 IMG_4903 IMG_4904 IMG_4905 IMG_4906 IMG_4907 IMG_4908 IMG_4909 IMG_4910 IMG_4911 IMG_4912 IMG_4913 Shortest. Caddy Hood. Ever? IMG_4915 IMG_4916 IMG_4917 IMG_4918 IMG_4919 IMG_4920 IMG_4921 IMG_4922 IMG_4923 IMG_4924 IMG_4925 IMG_4917 IMG_4918 IMG_4919 IMG_4920 IMG_4921 IMG_4922 IMG_4923 IMG_4924 IMG_4925 IMG_4926 IMG_4927 IMG_4928 IMG_4929 IMG_4930 IMG_4931 IMG_4932 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 48
Dodge Dakota Production Ends Next Week, As Small Pickups Show Few Signs Of Recovery Sun, 21 Aug 2011 19:29:07 +0000

Few will be surprised to hear that Chrysler Group will end production of its Dakota compact pickup truck next Tuesday, as sales of all small-to-midsized pickups have cratered over the last decade. Indeed, the Detroit News reports that the end of Dakota production will result in the layoffs of only 39 employees, although that number may climb as high as 150. In any case, the end of Dakota production is just the tip of the iceberg: Ford’s Ranger goes out of production in December of this year, and GM’s Colorado/Canyon twins will be discontinued sometime next year. Though Dodge plans to bring a minivan-platform-based AWD “lifestyle pickup” to market as a 2014 model, and Chevy is planning to build a North American variant of its new Global Colorado for the 2015 model-year, we’re looking at a several-year interlude in which no American OEM will offer a small pickup in the US. And looking at this chart, you almost can’t blame them…

Well, almost. The reality though, is that the OEMs are as much to blame for the weakness in this segment as consumers. The market for small pickups was born in the oil-crisis and CAFE-wracked 1970s, when tiny, efficient Japanese pickups flooded the market and created a booming segment that had long been filled by old, cheap-but-thirsty used trucks. Compact pickups sold well into the late 1990s, when a strange new dynamic hit the market: with gas cheap and SUV and full-sized truck sales booming, sales of compact truck trucks began to slide. And, strangest of all, when manufacturers replaced aging pickups with larger new (or at least new-ish) models, the sales declines only picked up speed.

First up was the Ranger, which received its last real redesign in 1998. Though it was redesigned with only a slightly longer wheelbase and an extra three inches of cabin length, Ranger sales peaked in 1999 and crashed precipitously thereafter. Of course, Ford was selling jillions of Ranger-platofrmed Explorers at the time, so the Ranger’s decline was not seen as a huge problem.

Though sales of most, though not all, compact/mid pickups were already in decline by the mid-1990s, the 2004 and 2005 model-years marked the real turning point in the market. Colorado replaced the aging S-10, larger, wider, and heavier than the S-10, the Colorado was also offered with a V8, an option that seemed out-of-touch with the compact pickup market brief. Strangely, sales of the S-10 had started to flatten off before the introduction of the Colorado sent Chevy’s small pickup sales into an even steeper tailspin after a slight bump in the Colorado’s first full year of sales. Over at GMC, which never sold many compact pickups, the pattern repeated itself (please note: Chevy/GMC sales combine new and outgoing models during overlap years). If anything, the contrast was even more marked for Dodge, which moved Dakota to a more Ram-related platform for its 2005 redesign. Again, after a one-year pick-up in sales, Dakota sank like a rock.

Nissan’s Frontier and Toyota’s Tacoma are more complicated studies, especially because they grew even more than the domestic counterparts when they were redesigned in the middle of the last decade. Both grew into what we now call the “midsized pickup” class, becoming considerably larger, heavier and more powerful. For the first half of the 200′s, Nissan and Toyota enjoyed largely flat sales in a crashing segment, but after 2006 they took a beating along with the domestic competition. Toyota enjoyed strong years in ’05 and ’06, replacing the Ranger as the top-selling “compact/mid” pickup, but by 2007 the declines were already beginning. Nissan’s sales were already growing when the new Frontier hit, and although its decline was one of the smallest and its 2010 recovery was one of the strongest in the segment, it’s clear that its bigger-heavier-more-powerful redesign did nothing to broaden its appeal.

It’s not surprising that manufacturers grew their once-compact pickup offerings during the cheap gas era of the late 90s and 2000s. After all, what consumer buys an entry-level product and without wishing for a little more of everything? But as gas has gone up, offering the customer more has eliminated the compact pickup’s raison d’etre: affordable, efficient utility. And now, rather than addressing that need anew, the American OEMs are abandoning the entire segment as a stagnant losing game. Perhaps the loopholes pushed into new CAFE laws will justify that approach, and the compact pickup market as it once existed is gone for good. But if you look beyond America, it’s clear that most of the world still appreciates smaller, more-efficient and ruggedly-utilitarian transport. Perhaps at some point, a manufacturer that offers such vehicles abroad will bring them to the US, re-kindling the smothered embers of compact pickup demand. Given the way the market has been abandoned, such a gamble seems worth the risk.

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GM Will Build Less To Make More Thu, 11 Aug 2011 15:43:15 +0000 “In attempts to boost profitability, GM wants to cut the number of vehicle platforms by half over the next decade and consolidate the number of engines,” reports the DetN. That’s the good news. The bad news is that “GM’s executives admit the automaker continues to have an inefficient manufacturing network, weak supplier relations and too many variations in the types of engines and vehicle underpinnings it uses to build cars and trucks globally.” If the DetN says it, then it must be true. Putting platforms and engines on a diet is seen as the cure.

Mary Barra, GM’s product chief, told the DetN and an assemblage of Wall Street analysts that by 2018, “GM hopes to build 90 percent of its vehicles on 14 platforms — half the number now — and boost manufacturing efficiency by 40 percent.” Not to nitpick, but if you build 90 percent of your vehicles on 14 platforms, then you can’t build the remaining 10 percent on thin air and you will need more platforms for low volume cars. So we talked a bit to GM to find out more about how they will go from zaftig to svelte.

The basic story is that GM is trying to streamline its “too many variations in the types of engines and vehicle underpinnings,” and this is a good thing.

Currently, only a third of GM’s volume comes from cars that share what GM calls “core architectures.”  The rest sits on a hodgepodge of what GM charitably calls “regional architectures.” Currently, there are 30 “Core Architectures” and an untold number of regional dishes.

In the future, GM’s local chefs will have to use a common cookbook.  By 2014, in the world of cars that is tomorrow, the number of “Core Architectures” will shrink to 24, but the global volume that uses these core architectures will grow to 62 percent. Four years later, by 2018, all regional architectures will have vanished. The number of global architectures will have shrunk to 14. Those 14 global architectures will serve 90 percent of the volume.

But again, what about the remaining 10 percent? “There are a few cars that have a unique architecture, which they share with nobody,” explains Klaus-Peter Martin, GM spokesman in Detroit. As examples, he names the Chevrolet Corvette and some vehicles produced with GM’s JV partners in China.

Likewise, the number of engine platforms will shrink from currently around 20 to less than 10 in 2018. Keep in mind theses are engine platforms, which allow a multitude of engines.

GM expects global efficiency gains between 35 and 40 percent from this, which is a tall order. But if you look at how little global commonality there is currently in the world of GM, those numbers should be doable. With a lot of screaming from the natives.

Michelle Krebs of Edmunds says “it’s the course a lot of manufacturers are taking. Everyone is trying to get to greater economies of scale.”

Volkswagen for instance is moving away from platform-think and goes to its new kit architecture. This allows a much higher number of different cars with different character, built from modules. Object-oriented car design, if you will.  On a smaller scale, BMW creates a number of engines, gasoline and diesel, from one building block, a single, standardized cylinder.

This industry takes huge investments, and spreading them across as many units as possible is the name of the game. If you make the most from the least, you win. Don’t think “badge engineering” when you hear this. If done right, the slimdown can make the offerings more attractive, and can help the brand(s) gain sex-appeal. That of course remains in the eye of the beholder. If you like the right lady, you’ll complain that the left one is the wrong one.

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Land Rover Mulls Defender Replacement, Pickup Version Fri, 05 Aug 2011 20:33:39 +0000

How do you replace a classic? That’s the question puzzling Tata-owned Land Rover, as it begins considering replacement strategies for its iconic Defender SUV. According to Autocar, a concept is coming to the Frankfurt Auto Show this fall which will point the direction for a new Defender, but all the details remain up in the air. One option is to redesign the whole thing from the ground up with a bespoke platform, for maximum off-road ability. The other option:

using a cost and complication-reduced Discovery chassis

According to Autocar’s reporting, a production version is expected in the 2015 timeframe, with 60k-80k annual unit volume targeted. The key issues are the ability to offer multiple body types and to be repairable even in remote locations, and dealing with the first issue will require a decision on whether or not to build a pickup version. Brand director John Edwards says

that Land Rover is keenly watching the progress of the Argentina-built VW Amarok pick-up – some inside JLR argue that VW may struggle to make money because the pick-up market is so competitive. He believes that whatever solution Land Rover finally picks, ‘it won’t please everyone’, because with so many fans and opinions it will be difficult to avoid disappointing some. The challenge is to please most of them and more importantly, attract new buyers to a vehicle of which only 18,000 were made last year.

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Mazda’s SKYACTIV Technology: The Comprehensible Bits Thu, 04 Aug 2011 20:57:00 +0000

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

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

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

First, let’s set aside Niinai-san’s well-illustrated presentation on the SKYACTIV engine series for a moment, and talk in generalities. As was repeatedly hammered into our heads throughout the day, Mazda is a small company with limited resources.

What’s more, they’re a small company in trouble. How much trouble? Well, previous posts have outlined current flagging sales and enough profit drops to alarm Mazda fans. This is not good. To be frank, if Saab goes the way of the 9-2x Dodo a few orthodontists may be mildly upset, but for the rest of us it’s a big ol, “Meh.” Mazda on the ropes though? For the enthusiast driver, that’s bad.

So how does a beleaguered company without the resources of a Toyota or Nissan take on the pressures of ever-increasing efficiency standards? More than that, how do you pull off competitive MPGs while still maintaining the apparently-conflicting mandate of maximizing driver involvement as a priority? Two choices: cut corners, or clip the apex.

Make no mistake, Mazda isn’t interested in broadening appeal by blurring their focus. I heard the concept of jinba-ittai repeated so many times during the various presentations I was on the point of climbing on a horse and shooting someone in the face with an arrow.

Additionally, partnerships don’t seem to be high on the priority list. While there is some sort of upcoming agreement with Toyota on the hybrid powertrain front, Mazda seems to have little enthusiasm for a percentage ownership by a larger company that might allow for an increased R&D budget. When asked if anything similar to the previous Ford arrangement might be sought going forward, Mazda’s gurus said something to the effect of, “the future is unpredictable, but we don’t expect so.” They were scrupulously polite, but one might as well been asking them if they were hoping a disfiguring skin disease might re-appear.

Without the bankroll, Mazda’s got to box clever. It’s all very well to identify brand values, and quite frankly, it’s heartening to hear a group of enthusiastic engineers reaffirm that the Japanese Lotus still puts “fun-to-drive” at the top of their to-do list, but how do to so on a shoestring? First, streamline.

“Monotsukuri Innovation” is Mazda’s way of bundling architecture together to reduce costs. The cutaway SKYACTIV platform on display clearly showed a transmission tunnel capable of supporting an AWD variant, but the chassis was intended for next-gen Mazda3 and Mazda6 cars. With minimal changes needed to build the CX-7 and upcoming CX-5 off the same platform, weight-savings and rigidity developments should echo throughout the entire Mazda range.

Much hay has been made of Mazda’s borderline-impossible weight target for the next MX-5. With a total weight reduction of just 100kg, the SKYACTIV body and chassis don’t seem as revolutionary – until you notice that no exotic materials are involved: the savings are realized purely though better design and a moderate (20%) increase in the use of high-tensile steel.

By removing curves and kinks from the underbody, Mazda’s prototypes boast increased safety ratings with less material used. However, evidence of budget limitations can be seen in the ring-structure connecting the upper and lower body. Rather than a full stamped piece requiring a very large and expensive piece of machinery, a section of the structure is attached using structural adhesive.

The importance of an 8% weight-loss is easily dismissed, until you drive a Fiesta and a Mazda2 back-to-back. Of the two, the Mazda has the dynamic edge, and despite meagre power output remains a joy to drive. Best of all, the optimist could choose to see Mazda’s weight goals as marking the point at which safety-driven model bloat hit its apogee and we began moving towards a lighter future where 160hp four-bangers were more than merely adequate.

More than that, the SKYACTIV-chassis’s focus on driving dynamics has resulted in further improvements to handing with a quickened steering rack combined and increased positive caster. The difference in the steering is readily evident; not heavy but much more direct.

However, the realist will note that weight-loss and chassis improvements aren’t enough. Only a minor fuel-savings will be realized by the SKYACTIV chassis and body. The major difference will come from drivetrain improvements.

Don’t look for anything radical in the transmission department. With great pragmatism, Mazda has noted and rejected the cost of developing a dual-clutch gearbox, spurned the non-involving fuel-savings of a continuously terrible – er – variable transmission and gone instead for refinements of the good old auto and manual transmissions.

The changes to the manual are clever, but slight. Minor adjustments to throw-length and some weight-savings realized by trickery such as a shared input gear for first and reverse show a general improvement, but Mazda’s stick-shifts are generally quite good anyway.

It’s with the automatic tranny that Mazda’s pulled a fast one. One need only look at the mixed reviews of Ford’s six-speed dual-clutch or check the recall list on the VAG DSG to see the pitfalls of pouring money into a completely new tech. Mazda has taken what seems to be the easy route here, re-jigging the venerable automatic gearbox with a more direct feel that’ll keep the enthusiast happy.

That’s perhaps an oversimplification, but with a greater lock-up range and a modular unit containing calibrated hydraulic controls, the new 6-speed auto feels much more in tune to what your right foot is doing, particularly on tip-in.

So we have bundled development and a focus on honing simpler technologies rather than chasing pie-in-the-sky tech. Time to get back to Niinai-san and the SKYACTIV engine suite, where both ideas combine for some real-world fuel savings.

SKYACTIV-G and -D engines have, respectively, both the highest compression ratio for a production gasoline engine and the lowest compression ratio for a diesel engine. For both, the concept is the same: hybrid vehicles are all well and good, but people keep buying cars equipped with nothing more than a trusty old internal combustion engine. Even with a market shift more towards electric and hybrid drivetrains, the bulk of the vehicles on the road are still going to be ICE-equipped.

Thus, improving the combustion cycle in both diesel and gasoline applications is going to affect passenger car sales right now, especially as Mazda doesn’t appear to intend a premium charge for their SKYACTIV technology. Rather, next year’s Mazda3 will bow with a SKYACTIV-G engine and the improved transmissions as the standard equipment on mid-range models starting sometime in October.

The availability of SKYACTIV-D remains nebulous, although it could appear in some Mazda products as soon as next year. This twin-turbocharged diesel boasts improved torque from a combustion cycle that ignites much closer to top dead centre, giving a longer power-stroke. Multi-hole injectors allow for a more homogenous fuel-air mixture and the low compression ratio allows for more precise timing control.

Why doesn’t everyone run their diesel engines this way? Among other issues not outlined, Mazda’s engineers needed to overcome cold-start problems with variable valve-lift. As much as I hate the phrase, it’s a paradigm shift: the low compression means thinner con-rods and a lighter rotating assembly that revs higher; this is a diesel that redlines at (and pulls to) 5200rpm.

However, it’s the SKYACTIV-G that you’re more likely to get a chance to drive in the near future. Want some good news on the efficiency front? How does 13:1 compression and a 4-2-1 header strike you?

That’s right, moving in a completely different direction than other manufacturers, Mazda has put together a hi-po four-banger that gains 15% torque across the rev range while still getting better fuel economy. It’s a sprightly little engine and noticeably more potent at low revs.

How do they get away with a compression ratio higher than a 458 Italia in a four-cylinder that runs on regular gas? Control the burn. That header is designed to maintain consistent temperature levels in the combustion chamber, and the SKYACTIV-G features special piston cavities which allow for rapid and even flame-front propagation. Those multi-hole direct injectors are at work here again, although there’s a limit to the tech. Overseas versions will be running 14:1 compression, but North American fuel requirements dictated a detune.

The next-gen Mazda3 will only be partially SKYACTIV, lacking the chassis and body upgrades that will first be fully available in the CX-5 crossover (which you’ll be glad to note will be available with manual transmission). With this partial first wave of improvements, Mazda is reporting attaining 40mpg on the highway.

Revolutionary? The numbers don’t seem so. But it’s competitive, and the comprehensive focus that Mazda is bringing to its entire lineup shows a different strategy than that behind a low-volume halo car like the Nissan Leaf.

Let’s face it, people are going to continue to buy Mazda products based on the way they drive. If Mazda can reduce consumption to the point at which a enthusiast looking for an engaging drive doesn’t end up paying a penalty at the pump, they’ll have a success story on their hands.

Maserati To Explore The Line Between Parts Sharing And Brand Engineering Fri, 29 Jul 2011 20:25:02 +0000

While Fiat-Chrysler revives its Lancia brand by rebadging new Chrysler models with few other modifications, it’s attacking Maserati’s aging product lineup with a similar but more subtle strategy. Automotive News [sub] reports that the current Quattroporte has a problem

The car is too big to be a compelling driver’s car, but too small – particularly in terms of rear legroom – to serve as a good chauffeur’s car.

Luckily, according to the report, there’s an easy solution:

The problem will be resolved by offering two cars – a “baby” Quattroporte, code-named M157 and a larger Quattroporte, code-named M156.

The new flagship model will continue to use a Ferrari-sourced V8, and presumably an evolution of the current model’s underpinnings, extended by 70 mm to 5170 mm, or 203 inches… about the length of the forthcoming Cadillac XTS. The smaller version, on the other hand, is going to be a case study in the ever-evolving art of balancing shared components and premium differentiation.

The baby Maserati, which we’ve already seen testing as a mule, was “was initially conceived as a flagship model for the Alfa Romeo brand,” meaning it’s an evolution of the strategy that would have seen an Alfa flagship on the LX platform, built alongside the Chrysler 300 at Brampton. But  the transformation from Chrysler to Maserati will be more complicated than slapping on a new grille and swapping out the “Hemi”-branded valve covers. The general strategy is explained by An [sub] thus:

Maserati officials say the new models will not be rebadged Chryslers. They will have different bodies and interiors, as well as new front and rear suspensions and dedicated powertrains. The parts is sharing will be where the customer does not see it, the same as in the Bentley Continental, which is a rebodied Volkswagen Phaeton.

VW is the king of under-the-skin component sharing between its giant stable of brands, but the Phaeton-Conti example is perhaps a bit flattering. After all, Maserati plays in the Bentley-comparable upper reaches of the luxury class, and though the Phaeton bore the humble VW brand, it was considerably more luxurious than a 300 or Charger. But there’s a hint at the lengths to which Maserati will go to differentiate itself from its mass-market relations in AN’s description of its engine:

The car will use a heavily revised, high performance version of the Chrysler V-6 Pentastar engine. With capacity reduced to 3.0-liter, the addition of Fiat’s fuel-saving MultiAir air management system, twin turbocharging and direct injection, this variant will deliver over 400-hp and good fuel economy.

But will a turbocharged Pentastar really be exclusive to Maserati? It’s hard to imagine it, especially as emissions standards put ever more pressure on Chrysler’s love affair with V8 powered large sedans and SUVs. If Maserati’s engine is truly unique, this strategy could pay off… if it’s simply a more highly-tuned version of an engine available in Chrysler and Dodge-branded vehicles, it could backfire. As always, differentiation is a delicate balancing act.

But the first differentiation challenge for Maserati will be a forthcoming version of the Grand Cherokee, which debuts this September at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Maser’s promising “specific body panels and a new interior,” as well as Ferrari power… so the only complaints will be from traditionalists who don’t see Maserati as an SUV brand. But, with the Grand Cherokee Hemi Overland starting at over €60k in Europe, the Maserati will have to be incredibly expensive, which in turn factors into the differentiation equation.

As Fiat consolidates its new empire, the name of the game will be leveraging Fiat platforms for Chrysler and Chrysler platforms for Fiat, Alfa, Lancia and Maserati. Volkswagen has shown that this kind of commonality between diverse brands is possible, but automotive history is riddled with examples of how not to execute such a strategy. We’ll be watching with interest to see if Fiat can set a new example for an industry that’s always balancing uniqueness and quality against cost and commonality.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Two Mules, One Market Edition Thu, 28 Jul 2011 23:29:10 +0000

As we’ve already seen, BMW is building a record number of variants of its next-generation 3 Series, including “GT” hatchback and X4 “Sport Activity Coupe.” But as this photo shows, there is at least one other Dreier bodystyle that we hadn’t heard about yet: the long wheelbase sedan (top). Given the brand’s post-Bangle swing towards extreme styling consistency, the decision between a LWB 3 series and a 5 series seems to have serious head-scratching potential… but it’s not something we’ll have to worry about. The LWB sports sedan will only be sold in China, according to Auto Motor und Sport, where upmarket buyers favor chauffeurs… even in the Ultimate Driving Machine.

f30mule4 f30mule Spot The Difference! (Photos courtesy: Auto Motor und Sport) f30mule3 f30mule5 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail f30mule1 Picture 360 f30mule2 ]]> 14
Ask The Best And Brightest: Is A New Dodge Magnum A No-Brainer Or A Flop Waiting To Happen? Wed, 27 Jul 2011 20:43:37 +0000

A few weeks back, SRT CEO and Chrysler Group Design boss Ralph Gilles hinted that a new LX-platform station wagon could be coming back, as the NYT reported:

“With the Magnum, we owned the station wagon segment,” Mr. Gilles said. “It was always a pleasure to go to car shows and trade fairs and see the number of Magnums that owners had personalized with such obvious loving care.”

Asked if a design for a second-generation Magnum might be found in one of his sketch pads, Mr. Gilles just smiled.

“Stay tuned,” he said. “Great things are coming. That’s all I can say.”

But now Gilles is changing his tune completely, telling the Fox Car Report that the rumor simply came about because the launch event was held in California (one of the Magnum’s biggest markets), and Gilles noted that he saw them “everywhere” and that every one of them was customized. While noting that the he “needs to get to the bottom of that” customized Magnum phenomenon, Gilles made it clear that the “rumor” was just him waxing nostalgic and that “we’re focusing on the products we have.”

But if Chrysler is desperate to make inroads in California, and the Magnum resonated there, might there be some sense in a neo-Magnum? After all, Sergio Marchionne has noted with disapproval how few variations are available for the LX platform, and said he would not have re-invested in an update if it were up to him (and really, putting an LX update ahead of a good C- or D-segment platform was a pretty shockingly poor business decision). On the other hand, the Magnum only ever had one year over 50k units… and that might not even be worth the cost of even a rebody. What say you? dodgemagnum4 dodgemagnum Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail dodgemagnum2 300ctouring3 300ctouring 300ctouring2 Worth another try? dodgemagnum1 300ctouring1


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GM Plans Opel Flagship As “Technological Spearhead” (Or XTS Rebadge?) Mon, 25 Jul 2011 14:54:31 +0000

With Opel planning to pull itself into the black within the year, the brand’s thoughts are turning from survival to “luxuries” like a flagship model planned for around 20k units starting in the 2016-2017 timeframe. Codenamed “TOL” for “Top Of Line,” the sedan will be designed to highlight one of GM’s many alt-drivetrain technologies, but according to Automotive News [sub], nobody yet seems sure which. Opel labor rep and recent champion of the brand’s forthcoming products Klaus Franz explains:

Already with the our Ampera electric vehicle, we have shown what we are able to do and enjoy an advantage of two to three years compared to the competition

But with the TOL is planned for 2016, Opel may have to dig deep to jump out ahead of the market, which is why a fuel cell-powered electric drivetrain is being considered (also, after decades of FCV research, GM has to build a production model someday). And if the eventual product has a truly ahead-of-its-time drivetrain, and looks as good as last year’s Flextreme Concept (above), this flagship could be an exclamation point on Opel’s turnaround. Unfortunately, neither of these things are a given…

Let’s start with the looks: according to AN [sub]:

In May, Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke said the company was mulling a new flagship model that would improve the brand’s image. He told a Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper that the car would be a crossover between SUV and station wagon, with an attractive design, high functionality and premium features.

Which means the flagship could come out looking like the 2007 Flextreme concept instead of the low, sleek, coupe-ish looks of the 2010 Flextreme.  Don’t the Opel boys remember what happened to Renault when it tried to build flagships in the shape of vans and station wagons? The Avantime and Vel Satis were wild and funky looking cars, but even the French understand that the luxury market is wildly conservative.

And speaking of wildly conservative, Franz’s comment that the TOL’s drivetrain would be “years” ahead of the competition should probably be taken with a grain of salt, especially in light of another comment he made:

The workers representatives will support this project to the fullest. A flagship like this can only be built on the Epsilon 2 architecture with long wheelbase. We will do everything to build this car at our headquarters in Ruesselsheim, rather than Mexico or elsewhere

An alt-drivetrain “flagship” based on a stretched version of the Epsilon II platform? Where have I heard of that before? Oh right, Cadillac’s XTS “phantom flagship,” a stretched Epsi-II sedan with a plug-in hybrid V6 drivetrain (at least eventually). But the XTS is going to market next year as a 2013 model… and if the Opel were just a re-skin of the Cadillac, there would be no reason to wait until 2016. Not only would an XTS derivative not be “years ahead of the competition” if it launched in 2016, it would be three years behind Cadillac, which (like Chevy) GM is pushing in Europe.

So, will the TOL end up an XTS rebadge or will the three extra years go into developing a legitimately unique drivetrain, possibly a fuel-cell job? It’s too early to tell yet, but one thing is certain: either way, Opel’s stretched Epsilon-II “flagship” won’t come to the US as a Buick for fear of cannibalizing the XTS. Which will just go to show that the XTS should have been born a Buick in the first place.

opelflextreme5 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail opelflextreme1 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail opelflextreme 2007 Flextreme Concept opelflextreme4 opelflextreme3 Flagship? (Opel Flextreme Concept) ]]> 9
Porsche: 22 911 Variants, LWB Panamera, “550 Spyder” Planned Fri, 22 Jul 2011 17:28:13 +0000

Every automaker is in this business to make money… there’s nothing surprising about that. But some are a little more focused on profits than others, and it should be equally unsurprising that Porsche is one of them. In an extensive interview with Automotive News Europe [sub], Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller gives a strong impression of how Porsche sees itself over the course of the first two questions:

What is your vision for Porsche in 2018?

Porsche is synonymous with sports cars – yesterday, today and doubtless tomorrow as well. In addition, in every other segment where we operate, such as with the Cayenne or Panamera, we always offer the sportiest vehicle. At the moment we are hard at work on our future strategy. And I promise you, it will contain a few exciting surprises.

What are your most important objectives?

We want to remain the world’s most profitable car manufacturer – and build on this position.

These are actually two separate goals altogether, and not two which necessarily go hand-in-hand. But if anyone can pull off the mix between performance and profit, it’s Porsche… and to understand how this strategy will play out in the near future, let’s take a look at Mueller’s product plans.

When asked about the greatest challenges facing Porsche’s product planning, Mueller notes

We will improve coordination between our model line product life cycles. Each year we want to celebrate a major event, namely bring a new Porsche to market. We are also revising and improving existing products and looking to see what would bolster Porsche’s image in terms of healthy growth.

By introducing a new “model” each year, Porsche keeps its hype-cycle rolling along without interruption from reliability studies, cynicism or challenges from competitors. The next big product to emerge from Zuffenhausen will be the next-generation 911 (991), and Porsche will make absolutely certain that this single model will sustain quite a few hype-cycles. How? Variants. Mueller explains:

With the 911, we are up to 22 derivatives. We use this as an example for the other models.

We’re already seeing this with the Boxster Spyder and Cayman R, which increase Porsche’s profitability immensely by charging a premium for relatively limited upgrades (and in some cases, equipment deletion in the name of “weight savings.” So, between increased profit and the PR and brand-awareness benefits of launching “new” models on a regular basis, expect Porsche to continue to slice-and-dice each nameplate into a plethora of mildly-varying “new” nameplates (think Speedster, GTS, Sport Classic, etcetera).

But when the flip side of this coin is that Porsche is actually looking at fewer derivatives of its Panamera platform for the simple reason that the sedan sells well, and the additional bodywork and development needed to turn a sedan into a coupe hurts the bottom line when compared with the low cost and high profit of mix-and-matching different 911 engines, transmissions and equipment (or the relatively low cost of adapting Audi’s Q5 CUV into the Porsche Cajun). When asked if a 928-style coupe or shooting brake could be based on the Panamera, Mueller answers

There are a lot of ideas out there. Our designers and engineers have fantastic ideas, like a two-door Panamera that makes even more of a coupe-like impression, and so on. We’re keeping all our options open. Currently, things are going so well with the Panamera that we’re not in any hurry…

I can as well very well imagine a long-wheelbase version, especially for growing markets such as China and Russia. We also think that a plug-in hybrid concept would fit well with the Panamera.

Stretching a sedan’s wheelbase and adding a larger battery and plug-in equipment is all relatively easy, and because such upgrades will play well in the not-especially-sports-car-friendly growth markets of China and Russia, that’s the priority. Further arguments for plug-in and hybrid developement: increasing emissions standards. Mueller notes

We are planning a hybrid concept in each model line. As already mentioned, we’re thinking about a plug-in hybrid variant of the Panamera. That would be the first of its kind in its premium sedan segment. With the 911, sportiness remains center stage. Thus we are planning a mild-hybrid variant (an automatic start-stop function) here at first.

Should it become apparent by 2020 that 20 percent of all new cars will already be electrically driven then you can take it that Porsche will also be challenging for 20 percent of its sales with electric vehicles. But I’m figuring on a total EV share closer to between 3 percent and 5 percent by 2020. We are now almost over the initial hype before the business has really got started. But we are not closing our minds to this development. If by 2050 a manufacturer’s average fuel consumption is not allowed to exceed 0.9 litres per 100 kilometers and the CO2 emissions per kilometer are at 20 grams then we have to prepare ourselves for this in good time.

Even when it comes to its highest-end supercar, Porsche thinks profit first. Mueller reveals that Porsche’s last hypercar, the Carrera GT, cost €120m to develop and implies that the forthcoming 918 Spyder will have a similar development cost, plus the additional cost of developing its hybrid drivetrain. And since the 918 will cost at least €600k and 918 models will be produced, Porsche’s looking at well over €550m in revenue from its range-topping hybrid hypercar (again, before hybrid drivetrain development).

But after the new 911, the LWB plug-in Panamera and the 918, Porsche may be facing its biggest profitability challenge yet in the form of “Project Mimo,” the long-rumored “baby Boxster.” That vehicle is said to be based on an architecture that could be shared with VW, but Mueller has more historical connotations to implant in the minds of consumers, calling it

a legitimate successor to the Porsche 550 – namely a small mid-engine sports car. Actually I couldn’t imagine a better name for a small roadster like that than the 550. But we’re just in the assessment phase.

And what are the competitors for this “modern 550″?

To be honest, very few. In another price bracket, there are models around such as the Mazda MX-5 with a segment share of just under 50 percent. We think that there is still a lot of room for Porsche and one VW sister model.

Competing at the Mazda Miata price point is going to be a huge challenge for Porsche, especially if there’s going to be a cheaper VW version keeping them honest. Of all the brand’s future plans, this is the one that seems most out of its current pattern of minimal development, maximum variation and premium pricing. It’s also the model that seems most intriguing. We’ll be curious to see if Porsche is able to add affordability to its values of sportiness and profitability.

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There’s A Hole In The Porsche Lineup… Really! Wed, 13 Jul 2011 15:48:56 +0000

It’s every manufacturer’s worst nightmare:

Between the top 911 model [the $245k GT2 RS] and the 918 Spyder [projected price point: $845k], there’s a price range that we’re not serving, but where other manufacturers are selling one or another product. We’re currently examining what options can be derived from this… [and] there already are initial ideas that look very promising on paper. It makes fundamental economic sense to serve demand that exists in the marketplace in a wise way

Poor Porsche sales boss Bernhard Maier. I mean, how does someone sleep at night knowing there’s demand in the $250k-$850k price range that you’re not exploiting? After all, Porsche currently offers nearly 30 “models” with base MSRPs between $80k and $200k. That, on average, comes to a different “model” every $4,000. So, according to the “fundamental economic sense” that Porsche applies to the $80k-$200k market, this new “hole” in the lineup should “be served in a wise way” by no fewer than 150 new vehicles. [via Automotive News Europe [sub]]

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Saab And Youngman To Spin Undisclosed Amount Of Cash Into 3 Cars Mon, 04 Jul 2011 23:25:37 +0000

[Editor's note: the initial draft of this piece misunderstood the structure of the deal. Youngman and PangDa have paid over $350m for a 51% of Swedish Automobile, Saab's parent company (which has a market cap of $68m). Funding for the New Product Joint Venture (50% owned by Youngman, 50% owned by Swedish Automobile) has not been disclosed. See comments for more background.]

Just when the lights seem to be going out all around Saab, with employees calling for bankruptcy, suppliers in revolt and even the Swedish government pretending like nothing was happening, Saab always seems to find away to prolong the agony. Selling, then leasing back the factory was one step that’s been approved by the EIB. Getting the suppliers to take ten percent down on deliveries? Well, it turns out that management has some time to sort that one out, as the factory’s annual vacation starts in a week, and Saab is letting its employees go a week early rather than starting up and then shutting down the line. And the company is certainly hoping that it won’t have to restart the line simply to restore confidence, as it’s announcing the “final agreement” with China’s Youngman Auto and the dealer group PangDa for  €245m (about $365m) which it hopes will clear up the perception that Saab is a sneeze away from death. Needless to say, this agreement fits squarely into the “stringing along” category rather than the “game changing” category…

For one thing, this is not a new deal, but simply a more detailed “final” version of the agreement it reached in principle with Youngman and PangDa nearly a month ago. For another, it still needs Chinese and Swedish government (not to mention GM) approval… the former of which is hardly likely, given that Saab will compete fairly directly with well-connected BAIC (motto: “From Saab, Better Than Saab”), and the government is looking to consolidate its auto industry, rather than duplicate efforts. And Sweden’s government? According to accounts in the Swedish press, the auto industry is now wondering aloud if Sweden cares whether it stays or goes. Saab’s plight seems to be the curiously unspoken subtext, although long-term problems like the “lack of Swedish engineers” are openly acknowledged. In any case, if the industry that has “lost” Saab and Volvo first to Americans and now to the Chinese has to be asking if the government cares about it, the answer isn’t going to be pleasant. Not knowing enough about Swedish politics to have an opinion on the matter (sorry car fans…), I can’t help but wonder if the Swedish government’s silence isn’t simply its most tactful option.

After all, like most of Saab’s eleventh-hour deals, the details of the most recent “rescue” are hardly encouraging. Like Sergio Marchionne angling for a stake in crippled Chrysler, Saab’s Victor Muller is playing with his sunk investments, Saab’s “know-how,” rather than actual cash. As a result, the Saab-Youngman joint venture seems to be a full-sized enterprise with a half-sized undisclosed budget. Consider the following, from Saab’s presser:

The NPJV will be 50 percent owned by Saab Automobile and 50 percent by Youngman Passenger Car, and forms the foundation for an expansion of the Saab product portfolio with three models which until now did not form part of Saab Automobile’s current and future product portfolio. As such the NPJV will focus on developing three completely new Saab vehicles: the Saab ’9-1′, Saab ’9-6′ and Saab ’9-7′.

Within the development process of these three new vehicle lines, Saab Automobile will be responsible for controlling and managing the design, the development and testing process to the start of production and providing other necessary technical and quality control support. For this, Saab Automobile will source existing capabilities and expertise from its state-of-the-art technical development department in Trollhättan. Youngman Passenger Car will be responsible for providing the necessary financial investments in the joint venture.

Now, to a “career blogger” like myself, $350 million and change is a lot of money. But best-case scenario, we’re talking about at least two new platforms here, possibly three. Industry rule of thumb states that a billion dollars must be spent on an all-new competitive platform. Building even one credible car that performs to Saab’s oft-touted “premium” standards for $350m would be quite the accomplishment, but it’s clearly even worse than that. After all, that $350m+ will have to be augmented by an actual development budget. And, according to Saab

The Saab ’9-6X’ and Saab ’9-7′ will be key to enhancing the prestige of the Saab brand to an even larger group of customers in China and the US, while the entry level Saab ’9-1′ will appeal to urban motorists around the globe.”

Thus, the 9-1 becomes a MINI-fighter, the 9-7 becomes some kind of large “prestigious” sedan, while the 9-6X is presumably a three-row SUV. The 9-7 and 9-6 clearly sound like modified platform-mates, while the 9-1 will require another new chassis… which means one full-size premium chassis (modifiable for passable CUV/SUV duty) and a premium-ish small car for an undisclosed sum. Designed, developed, tested and overseen by Saab’s not-cheap Swedish engineers (who are, in their defense, both well-vacationed and rare).

If this formula succeeds, it will prove that A) China is the land of industrial miracles, and B) Sweden is the land of auto marketing miracles. After all, Volvo has been trying very hard to monetize one large platform (P2, aka Ford D3) as “prestigious” sedans and crossovers for a while now, with little-to-moderate success (hampered, it must be added, by even-less usccessful smaller cars). And what has Saab got that Volvo didn’t, besides the raw motivation born of gnawing terror that comes with having a Chinese car dealer as your backer instead of a giant global automaker? Before you answer that, consider that Volvo spent $387m simply to update and retool its Ghent plant for production of the current S40… so the answer sure isn’t “money” (unless Youngman is willing to spend over ten times what it’s already dropped on Saab equity). Meanwhile, a “global” small car sounds marvy, especially in light of Muller’s obvious obsession with the ur-92, but the tiny budget, Chinese production and “global” description seem at odds with the “prestige” part of the story. Which basically sums up the entire problem with the Saab predicament.

What happens next? Who knows. Though the Chinese were willing to spend well over the market rate for Swedish Automobile equity, Saab has a money-losing short-term problem in the form of a shut-down factory and laughable (if they weren’t so sad) sales. This investment might help on that front, but it leaves the brand’s future very much in question. Meanwhile, the Swedish government clearly no longer sees its auto industry as a unique symbol of national pride, and won’t shell out krone one to save it. And the EIB has probably dug up new dirt on Vladimir Antonov, Saab’s somewhat dingy white knight in waiting, only approving the lease-back deal without Antonov’s involvement, and won’t give money to failing firms. Plus, Beijing has reasons to veto the deal. Which means the Chinese could get everything they want from Saab with fewer headaches when their Swedish paramour swoons, seemingly inevitably, into bankruptcy. Unless Victor Muller is able to pull just one more “rescue” out of his hat… otherwise, Saab seems doomed to become a low-cost Chinese brand hocking cars with tiny development budgets [see comments below].

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Is This The First Under-The Skin Look At The 2013 Cadillac ATS? Wed, 29 Jun 2011 16:07:15 +0000


Our sharp-eyed, GM-obsessed buddies over at captured this image from a video that appears to have disappeared from the website, and they’re pretty sure it shows a skin-off look at the forthcoming Cadillac ATS. Based on the troubled (think: 4,000 lbs)Alpha platform that will also underpin the next-gen CTS and Camaro, the ATS is likely to launch with four-cylinder engines in naturally-aspirated and turbocharged forms, with a possible twin-turbo V6 rumored for the “V” version. Unless, of course, GM has made the questionable decision to engineer the platform to take a small-block V8 (which actually would not be much harder to package than a twin-turbo V6). Meanwhile, the big news recently on the ATS front has been GM CEO Dan Akerson’s opinion that the ATS and XTS

are not going to blow the doors off, but they will be very competitive.

We can’t see any front or rear subframes, so rumors of a complex and “sub-optimal” multilink front suspension must remain rumors for now. Otherwise, the body seems to have some strong potential looks-wise. Let’s just hope the entire package is able to deliver something better than what the rumors are suggesting, otherwise GM will have squandered yet another opportunity to crack the lucrative 3-Series market.

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Quote Of The Weekend: The Platform-Sharing Future Edition Sat, 25 Jun 2011 14:18:35 +0000

In 2009, the world’s top 20 platforms accounted for 29 percent of global production, underpinning 18 million vehicles. This number is about to double to 35 million units in 2015, when the top 20 platforms will cover 38 percent of global output

Herbert Demel maps out the future of platform-sharing for Automotive News Europe [sub]. This Quote Of The Weekend has been brought to you by the word “differentiation”…

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The Curse Of The Theta Plug-In: Cadillac SRX PHEV Dies Fri, 27 May 2011 19:27:42 +0000

Three times now, GM has planned to build a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of its Theta-platform crossovers, once with the Saturn Vue, once with the Buick “Vuick” and now, according to Reuters

General Motors Co has canceled plans to develop a plug-in hybrid vehicle based on the current Cadillac SRX crossover platform, deciding the project was not financially viable, three people with direct knowledge of the project said.

While two of the sources said the plans could still be revived on a future platform, they and two others familiar with the matter said engineers involved had been reassigned to other projects.

Back in early days of the program, the plan was to bring a Vue PHEV to market as soon as 2010, but the death of Saturn (and other difficult-to-identify issues) forced a change of plans. The Buick version was literally laughed out of consideration in what was the first-ever Twitter-based future product killing. But given that hand-picked members of the public were driving mules nearly two years ago (see video), we figured enough development had been done that GM essentially had no choice but bring the troubled Theta PHEV to market. Today’s cancellation of the SRX version is therefore just a little confusing…

So, what’s the deal? According to Reuters:

The plug-in would have been based on the current SRX platform, which is two years old. In the auto industry, the life cycle of a platform, which dictates the size and body construction of a vehicle, is typically about five years.

By the time the Cadillac plug-in was ready for production, the platform would have been nearing the end of its life, adding to the costs of developing the vehicle, two sources said.

The costs of the program were already high, and the vehicle was expected to lose money, two people with direct knowledge of the program said.

GM has made engineering advances since the program was initiated, so it made more sense to focus on the next platform with the improved, more cost-efficient technologies, one source said.

Having torn through three brands and multiple launch date targets, the Theta plugin has lead a rich development life… which does make one wonder how much money was written off with this cancellation of a product GM has been hyping for at least three years now. And it’s also another black eye for GM’s hybrid development program, which, between the first-gen BAS “mild” hybrids, the Two-Mode V8 hybrid and this plug-in two-mode hybrid, has yet to record any significant successes (still). But with a Volt-based MPV likely planned, it’s time for The General to move onto the next big thing…

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Mission Creep, Weight Problems, Compromise Haunt GM Alpha Platform Tue, 17 May 2011 14:52:21 +0000

Yesterday we gave GM kudos for addressing its lingering vehicle weight issues by redesigning the head of its popular 3.6 liter V6, and shedding 13 lbs in the process. It was, we noted, the kind of news that showed GM is staying focused on the nitty-gritty of product development, sweating the details. But, according to a fascinating piece by GMInsideNews, new-product development at GM still has its issues. Specifically, Cadillac’s development of a new BMW 3-Series fighter, known as ATS after its “Alpha” Platform, has faced more than its fair share of what GMI calls “drama.”

Turf battles, unnecessary “wants” on checklists and ultimately a severe case of “Mission Creep” have created a vehicle that now needs a crash diet, according to GMI’s sources both within GM and at suppliers working on the Alpha/ATS program. For a vehicle that’s taking on an institution like the BMW Dreier (not to mention costing a billion dollars to develop), these are troubling signs indeed.

GMI starts with some history of the Apha program, it’s roots as “Kappa II” which Holden showed as the TT36 Torana Concept back in 2004, before development took a long hiatus. As originally intended, Alpha was to be lightweight and enthusiast-oriented, built only for four-cylinder engines. No wonder it went nowhere inside the RenCen until Cadillac adopted the platform as the basis of a forthcoming small sports sedan. But, as it turns out, Cadillac’s “wish list” for Alpha sowed the roots of its runaway complexity and bloat issues. Cadillac may have saved “Kappa II,” but it also killed off its original promise. Here’s how GMI tells the story:

…as Cadillac became involved with the Alpha program, a sense of deja vu came with it. Much like Cadillac’s initial involvement with the Sigma platform, Cadillac had a long wish-list for the new Alpha platform. This long list quickly turned a light, sporty platform on it’s head, including stops on development several times over the last few years.

Initially Alpha was going to be a four-cylinder only chassis for small premium cars, so naturally development focused on optimizing the Alpha platform for four-cylinder mills in a very light package. Well, Cadillac’s first condition was that Alpha be re-engineered to package a naturally aspirated V-6 engine – and that was non-negotiable. This about-face on engine selection would become the first of at least two engine requests that led to a re-engineering of the Alpha chassis to accommodate the new requirements. More changes (read: more mass and cost) were required for the addition of all-wheel drive.

What started out as a great handling, small RWD program, began it’s mission creep from being very focused to being all things to all people. And as it evolved, certain “hard-points” from previous development were locked in, even though the base program had transformed itself. For example, Alpha was designed with a very sophisticated multi-link front suspension with near perfect geometry for the car as it was developed at that point. That geometry was “locked in”. As the car grew and became heavier with more features and content, that original geometry was no longer optimal. Our sources tell us that GM is now attempting to mask this sub-optimal geometry with chassis tuning rather than doing the right thing and actually fix it.

Now, class, if you were developing a BMW 3-Series competitor, how important would the issues of weight and front suspension geometry be? Very important? Sort of important? Existentially important? Meanwhile, what about AWD? How important would that be? GMI may be reminded of the Sigma’s development, but GM’s history is rife with vehicles that started with a bold, simple vision, only to be re-engineered into mediocrity. A line of driver-oriented, four-cylinder-only, rear-drive small luxury cars is an intimidating step to make… but it could have been distinct, downright unique. And it would have easily handled the CAFE issue that Lutz worried about as ATS development was beginning in earnest in 2008. Heck, BMW is putting a three-banger in its next-gen Dreier… so why was Cadillac so worried about bigger engines and AWD, while glossing over the “locked-in” sub-optimal front suspension?

Regardless of why ATS development has taken the turn that it has, the effects are already clear.

According to sources familiar with the Alpha program both internally at GM and the supplier level, GM has made several other additions to the requirement list of Alpha beyond engines. Among the additions were: a new electronics system and aerodynamic shutters (similar to the Volt).

Each addition has caused another issue to engineer around, thus causing the Alpha program to exceed GM’s mass requirements for the car by nearly 500-pounds. It is unclear how heavy Alpha products will be, but every independent Alpha source GMI has communicated with has indicated that the final curb weight could push 4,000-pounds unless GM puts the program on a mass reduction plan before launch.

So, never mind about all that “GM is focused on weight gain” praise we were lavishing around yesterday. A BMW 335ix with AWD and an autobox only weighs 3,824 lbs… if Cadillac’s ATS comes in “pushing 4,000 lbs” it won’t be a Dreier-fighter, it will be a CTS with less interior room. Which, it turns out, is actually part of the problem.

Another issue the Alpha program has been strapped with is the addition of Alpha+ about halfway through development. The Alpha+ chassis is a larger variant of Alpha, intended for use with the next-generation Cadillac CTS. Naturally, Cadillac has another list of requirements for Alpha+, including the need to accommodate twin-turbo V-6 engines. This has added another layer of complexity to the Alpha program, driving up both costs and mass.

Maybe, just maybe, GM has worked some kind of magic with this Alpha platform that will yield equally exciting Camaros, ATS’s and CTS’s… but that’s a lot of work for one platform. Compromise is almost inevitable. As I wrote on the Alpha prorgam over a year ago now,

Weight and expense problems? Trying to develop a single platform that’s capable of competitively executing every RWD application across several brands? Compromising mainstream variants in order to justify the insane engine requirements of low-volume halo versions? Does any of this sound like a new day for GM’s RWD reputation to you?

Don’t get me wrong: a sub-Zeta RWD platform is a great idea (in Cadillac’s case, probably an existentially necessary one), and my inner enthusiast thrills at the idea of both budget RWD treats and tiny, loony supersedans. But the last thing I want to see is GM spending taxpayer money developing a platform that tries to fill too many niches, only to end up a dud of a compromised-to-death mess.

But it seems that the “all things to all enthusiasts” approach has ruled Alpha platform development, and as a result, well… we’ve got signs of “not good” everywhere. GMI concludes:

Recently GMI has spoken with sources–both internal and supplier–that are working on the Alpha program. According to those sources the Alpha program has been a near constant stream of drama and problems for GM, all of which were compounded by the company’s June 2009 bankruptcy. Even today, as the program nears its final stages of development, problems are still being worked out of the Alpha cars.

GM is now struggling to reduce Alpha’s mass by a quarter-ton. One source indicated that GM is willing to throw all sorts of new composite technologies at the body, structure and powertrain to achieve that goal. Those materials are being thrown at both the Cadillac Alpha cars and the sixth-generation Camaro.

At last report the Cadillac ATS is still slated to launch in mid to late 2012 as a 2013 model-year vehicle.

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Wild-Ass Rumor Of The Day: MG By GM Edition Tue, 10 May 2011 18:42:01 +0000

One of Bertel and my favorite Chinese car blogs, ChinaCarNews, has been reporting since October than the next-generation of MG/Roewe midsized sedans would be based on GM’s Global Midsized (Epsilon II) chassis (which underpins Buick LaCrosse/Regal and the new Chevy Malibu), and now the rest of the media appears to be catching up. From InsideLine to Autocar, everyone’s running with the story that MG/Roewe, which is owned by GM’s main Chinese partner SAIC, is working on an Epsi II-based MG7 for launch in the 2015 timeframe. According to InsideLine

[In 2015], the MG7/Roewe 750 sedan replacement appears some 15 years after the debut of the Rover 75 they’re based on. A coupelike four-door, it uses GM’s Epsilon platform and will be powered by 2.0 and 2.4 four-cylinder gasoline engines and a 1.9 diesel, all with dual-clutch transmissions.

GM and SAIC signed a Memorandum Of Understanding back in October [.DOC file here], which included the provision that, in addition to developing a next-gen electric architecture,

SAIC and GM anticipate sharing an additional vehicle architecture and powertrain application in an effort to help reduce development costs and benefit from economies of scale.

This could explain MG/Roewe’s rumored use of the Epsilon II chassis, but for the moment GM dismisses these rumors as “speculation.” And no wonder: even GM hasn’t announced when it will offer a dual-clutch transmission in its Global Midsized platform. Chances are, The General will want to offer that combination before its Chinese partners use it to beef up its MG/Roewe brands, which have been in product rehab for some time now.

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Buick GL8 Minivan: GM’s Proudly Non-Global Product Tue, 26 Apr 2011 00:47:33 +0000

Ever since Bertel showed us the newest version of the Buick GL8 minivan, with its “Business Concept”-inspired design and executive airport shuttle mission, we’ve been curious about the chances of it coming to the US. After all, GM hasn’t sold a minivan in the US since the Uplander died in 2009, a far cry from the 336,000-odd minivans The General sold in America just ten years before. But when we asked our Best and Brightest if Buick could use a minivan, the response was a fairly resounding “no.” One particularly uncharitable soul even suggested that we were trying to goad GM into making a mistake in order to have something to bash them for. But, as it turns out, GM’s US execs didn’t need to be goaded at all to consider bringing the GL8 to the US market. GM China boss Kevin Wales tells Reuters [via the Baltimore Sun] that

They’ve looked at it on and off as long as I’ve been out here. They’ve made a fundamental decision that says demand for that type of product’s not strong enough. We say that’s fine. We’ll just keep selling out here.”

So that’s it? It’s simply a question of demand? Of course not. After all, there’s probably not a marketing man in the business who wants to try to generate some positive market research on the blue-sky concept of a Buick minivan. I mean, are there too words in the automotive lexicon that inspire more visions of dull, aging, white-bread, anti-enthusiasm than “Buick” and “Minivan”? (GM defenders please note that I realize Buick is making strides, but consumer perceptions always lag such improvements by years). Building a successful Buick minivan would, like any other high-risk product, would come down to execution: executed well, a Buick minivan could be a brand-defining move away from the modern crossover design malaise. But again, it turns out that execution would be a bit of an issue, given the GL8′s aged basis, a development of the U-Body platform which debuted in 1990. Joseph Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting explains:

The vehicle, built at a plant GM operates under a joint venture with China’s SAIC Motor Corp , generates a “boatload of money” because it is based on an old U.S. minivan platform that does not require a lot of investment, Phillippi said. However, it would likely be costly to upgrade the GL8 to match current U.S. safety and feature requirements.

“I doubt whether the electrical or electronic architecture could handle the kind of hardware and technology you’d want to put into it to make it for the U.S.,” he said. “I love the car, but it may be impossible without massive investment.”

Even Susan Docherty makes an appearance (!) from her GM International Operations exile, to make a typically banal point on the topic (and make us miss her so!).

For instance, Susan Docherty, head of sales and marketing for GM’s international operations acknowledged the vehicle lacks the third-row, fold-flat seats U.S. car buyers prefer.

Meanwhile, rather than admit that GM is just making a boatload of profits off an ancient platform and the relatively low expectations of the Chinese market, GMIO Planning VP Lowell Paddock

emphasized no changes would be made that would disappoint the GL8′s core Chinese executive customers. GM even markets the GL8 in China as “business class on wheels.”

“We wouldn’t tamper with that to meet another market’s requirements,” he said. “It’s important that that be spot on in the China market.”

Because when the Chinese think “business class on wheels,” they are specifically not thinking of a product that lives up to American expectations. Even as more and more global firms develop vehicles specifically aimed at satisfying both US and Chinese customers. The reality: at 50k units a year (albeit at a $35k-$48k price point), the GL8 doesn’t even sell all that well in China. It sells well enough for Wale to brag about the “unbelievable” demand in China (while analysts rave about its unbelievable profits), but not well enough to ever make the GL8 more than merely the last gasp of a platform that’s now entering its third decade.

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Opel Crosses Over: Common Platforms In, Common Sense Out Mon, 28 Feb 2011 18:31:06 +0000

Since 2002 GM’s Compact Crossovers, like the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Chevrolet Captiva/Opel Antara have been built on a unique platform known internally as “Theta.” That platform, which debuted on Saturn’s Vue, was developed largely in Korea by GM-Daewoo, based roughly on GM’s Global Midsized (“Epsilon”) platform. Since 2002, Compact CUVs have become one of the fastest-growing segments in the US, and though GM’s Theta-based CUVs have sold well, the competition is moving towards mildly-modified C-segment platforms for Compact CUVs in order to use as many common components as possible, thereby lowering the cost of development and increasing manufacturing flexibility. Now, it seems that GM is following suit, dropping the Korean-developed Theta platform for a new generation of Compact CUVs developed by Opel on the Astra’s global Compact (Delta II) platform.

Opel Marketing boss Alain Visser tells Automotive News Europe that

The successor of the Antara, which we will bring to market in 2014-2015, will be based on our global compact architecture for the first time. The responsibility for this lies in our technical development center in Ruesselsheim. Thus we will insure that the Antara successor will be a very true Opel.

And it’s not just development that’s moving to Germany. Opel’s union boss Klaus Franz adds

The next-generation Antara could be built in Bochum, just like the Zafira, which uses the same architecture. We are mulling which investment would be necessary and how high the potential sales volume in Europe would be. At of 50,000 to 60,000 units a year, production in Bochum would be viable.

Given that the Captiva/Antara twins have lead the way for US-market Compact CUVs, expect the next generation of GM’s US C-CUVs to be similarly based on the global compact platform, just as Ford’s next-generation Escape will be for the Blue Oval.
And that’s not all: Opel is also planning a Gamma II (B-Segment)-based “SUV” in 2012, moving it into a segment characterized by Ford’s Fiesta-based Fusion (Europe)/Ecosport (South America). Between this B-segment SUV and the new Delta II-based Antara, Opel hopes to sell some 100k SUV/CUV models per year by 2015, and is considering a third CUV positioned above the Antara. According to Visser
We will start an SUV offensive
The only problem: Opel’s SUV/CUV offensive coincides with GM’s plan to boost Chevy sales in Europe. And based on sales of the very similar Chevy Captiva and Opel Antara last year, Opel will lose, as the Captiva scored 25,880 sales to the Antara’s 9,147. When Europeans want an SUV/CUV, they clearly shop Chevy before Opel. So how will GM’s stagnant European division move 100k+ CUVs each year? By taking Opel global.

To achieve the sales goals, Opel will extend its global reach. It aims to sell 100,000 units outside Europe in the long term.

“We’ve just started in Israel,” Visser said. “Step by step we will export more cars to Chile, Argentina and other attractive growth markets in Latin America or the Middle East.”

For every rational move, like moving Comppact CUVs onto a a common compact platform, GM seems to come up with at least one more totally inexplicable move. In this case, the mystery is why GM is attempting to make Opel into a global brand. Selling Opels in China, where Opels with Buick badges sell like hotcakes, should have been the first sign that GM’s global brand strategy lacks strategy. Even GM’s ousted CEO Fritz Henderson knew that

Opel is a regional brand and I don’t see that changing. That doesn’t mean I’m closed to ideas about how it can be used elsewhere; but the measure of the Opel brand’s success will be Europe, because if you don’t win here all the discussion of exports will be irrelevant

Though Opel would likely engineer a more desirable C-CUV than Daewoo, crossovers alone won’t achieve the success needed in Europe, especially if Chevy is launching its own European offensive at the same time. And keeping Opel alive on exports will only create conflict between it and Buick, a clash we saw coming years ago. One step forward, two steps back…

2011-Opel-Vauxhall-Antara-22 Opel's refreshed (still Theta-based) 2011 Opel Antara Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 2011-Opel-Vauxhall-Antara-15 2011-Opel-Vauxhall-Antara-30 2011-Opel-Vauxhall-Antara-17

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Italian Job Edition Mon, 31 Jan 2011 18:43:07 +0000

Via Autocar come these first pictures of a long-rumored entry-level Maserati sedan testing in Europe with Quattroporte-based bodywork. The British buff book reports

Despite looking similar to the Quattroporte at first glance, the mule’s identity is given away by its shorter wheelbase, smaller front brakes and ill-fitting windscreen. The mule also sports just one exhaust pipe on each side at the rear, instead of the brace that appear out of the bumper on each side of its bigger brother.

The €55k Maserati sedan is said to be based on the platform used for Alfa’s 166 replacement, which is widely rumored to be the same Chrysler LX platform that currently underpins the 300 and Dodge Charger. However, because the LX platform’s wheelbase is only .6 inches shorter than the Quattroporte’s 120.6 inch measurement, it’s perhaps more likely that this BMW M5-fighter is based on the shorter LY variant, which has a 116 inch wheelbase. In any case, the global success of the Quattroporte makes this entry-level model of special interest… especially if Maserati can spin a Chrysler-based platform into sales gold.

That thing gotta Hemi? Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Maserati-281111112359881600x1060 Maserati-2811111123584781600x1060 ]]> 15