“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. (Read More…)
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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]]
[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…