The Truth About Cars » small cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 15:23:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » small cars Nissan To Drop Versa Sedan In Canada As Micra Debuts Mon, 24 Feb 2014 18:45:40 +0000 450x298xMicra-14-450x298.jpg.pagespeed.ic.DYLxdk25LH

The Canada-only Nissan Micra debuts in April, with Nissan hoping to pick up overall market share in The Great White North. But Automotive News reports that one casualty of the Micra’s introduction will be the Versa Sedan – hardly a surprise when both compete at the absolute low end of the market.

While the Versa Note will still be sold in Canada, the Sedan will be dropped according to Nissan Canada spokesman Didier Marsaud. Citing Nissan’s three subcompact entries, Marsaud told TTAC

“The Nissan Micra has been extensively tailored for Canadians and specifically to complement the Versa Note in Nissan Canada’s product lineup.  We decided that it is best to focus Nissan Canada and our Dealers’ attention on Versa Note and Micra.  As a result, we made the decision to discontinue selling Versa Sedan in Canada after the 14 Model Year.”

Removing the Versa sedan also gives the Sentra some breathing room, with the Sentra outselling the entire Versa lineup by a couple thousand units in 2013.


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MINI Seeks Partner For Smaller MINI Wed, 04 Dec 2013 15:47:48 +0000 front_licht_ 005

Though MINI’s lineup hasn’t (literally) lived up to its name since its reboot by parent BMW, product boss Pat McKenna would like to see the Rocketman — a MINI that truly is mini — appear in showrooms all over the world.

For that scenario to play out, though, the Rocketman needs a flight partner.

The main issue is one of platform; while the newest MINI hardtop rides on the same platform that will make its way into BMW’s smallest offerings, it’s impossible to scale it down to the size of the Rocketman, and BMW doesn’t want to invest the money in an all-new front-drive architecture of that size, especially if its just for one model. Therefore, BMW is looking for a Toyota-Subaru arrangement where two companies would split the development costs.

Alas, McKenna still hasn’t found what he’s looking for in a suitable partner chassis, due to MINI’s focus on driving performance. That said, he does see potential in the Rocketman in markets near and (especially) far, and would love to sell the fun-size coupe in showrooms all over the world should the right partnership were to be forged.

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Mercedes-Benz Going After MINI Wed, 17 Apr 2013 11:00:46 +0000

Mercedes-Benz is apparently preparing for a new line of models to slot below the A-Class, to better compete with MINI.

Reuters quotes the German news magazine Focus in claiming that

“The offensive is due to kick off in 2015 with an SUV that is even smaller than the new GLA compact crossover, due to be unveiled at the Shanghai auto show later this month,…A three-door model to compete with BMW’s Mini will follow in 2016, with prices for all cars to range between 17,000 euros ($22,300) and 20,000 euros.”

 It’s unclear whether the cars will be branded as Mercedes-Benz products or not, but they will slot above the Smart range. With one of the highest average buyer ages in Europe, small cars like these will be the key to bringing in younger (and less affluent) buyers for Mercedes cars – rather than buyers looking for their last set of wheels.
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Mini John Cooper Works GP Absolves The Sins Of Brand Dilution Sun, 13 May 2012 13:00:43 +0000  

Has Mini’s over-propagation of vehicles gotten so bad that we’re actually cheering when a new special isn’t a silly two-seater or pseudo-crossover? The Mini John Cooper Works GP may be overpriced, but at least it’s got its heart in the right place.

It could do without the gauche aerokit, graphics and pizza-cutter wheels but the “race spec” suspension will only add to the Mini Cooper S JCW’s already fantastic chassis. Upgraded brakes, extra power (the new car will surely make more than the 214 horsepower than the last GP edition did) help enhance performance, and the GP also loses its back seat in the name of weight reduction.

Only 2,000 GP editions will be made, with sales going on across the globe. Expect prices to be astronomical for what this car is. But it will probably be a hoot to drive all the same.

Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Mini John Cooper Works GP. Photo courtesy MINI. Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 24
Editorial: With Fiat Sales Soaring In Canada, Is It Time For More European Small Cars? Wed, 02 May 2012 16:34:49 +0000

What do Buick, Volvo, Infiniti, Mini, Cadillac, Lincoln, Suzuki and Scion have in common? All were outsold by Fiat in Canada last month.

Sales analyst Tim Cain uncovered the data during his monthly sales research, and data shows gradual increases this year for the 500 in the United States. In Canada, the gains are even better, with Canadians taking to the small, stylish compact car, warts and all. The upcoming 500L should be an equally strong success, and the Punto replacement due at the end of 2013 should provide a strong challenge in the highly competitive compact segment.

A few years ago, while having lunch with a VW Canada sales executive, I was told that VW would have brought the Polo to Canada long ago, but the homologation process (practically identical to the United States) made it difficult to justify. The sales were there, but the added cost of bringing it up comply with various regulations wouldn’t make it feasible. On the other hand, the Polo was sold in Australia, which had a comparable population, more expensive cars and looser regulations.

We all know Canadians love small cars, hatchbacks and European brands (though, to be fair, the best-selling vehicle is the Ford F-Series). And the country’s higher gas prices add a further incentive to purchase small, fuel-efficient cars. Although journalists  and enthusiasts in both Canada and the United States have long asked for European compact cars (especially diesels) to make their way over to North America, there may finally be a business case for doing so in Canada.

With news that Mitsubishi will bring their stripped-down Mirage (meant for Thailand and other emerging markets) to Canada but not necessarily the U.S, it’s prudent to start looking around for other candidates. The new tie-up between General Motors and PSA yields the most enticing fruit. The Fiat 500′s success, in my opinion, comes from a perceived premium image versus, say, a Chevrolet Sonic or Toyota Yaris, and a comparable sticker price.

So why not something like the Citroen DS line or the Peugeot 208? The DS line, supposedly Citroen’s premium small car line, could take the fight to everything from the Hyundai Elantra to the VW Golf/Jetta. Citroen execs are even on record about bringing their cars to Canada as far back as 2006. Even SEAT was rumored to be coming in 1994, although such whisperings are now largely the stuff of legend. The 500s two-door body style and small size effectively limits it to a niche category. But the bigger, 4-door Citroens with their increased cargo and passenger room, more powerful engines and larger footprint would be able to attract a whole new type of buyer, while battling established players like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Accent and Volkswagen Golf.

The Francophone angle would play well in Quebec, which comprises a quarter of Canada’s auto market and loves compact, fuel-efficient cars (and stick shifts). In Canada as a whole, diesels are much more widely accepted than the United States, and the fuel is often a few cents cheaper than gasoline. Mercedes-Benz SUVs are widely purchased with BlueTec engines, suggesting that even in the premium segment, consumers are open to the idea of an alternative fuel that isn’t a hybrid.

There are undoubtedly a large number of issues that would prevent near-term sales of new European brands. But it may be something worth examining in the intermediate, especially with the return of Alfa Romeo – a brand that should do even better in Canada, given that it has a wider range of products than Fiat, and the requisite Italian cred. Alfa Romeo also has a distinctive advantage in that Fiat and Chrysler are already here on the ground. Having seen a small sliver of what it took just to establish Kia in Canada (my father acted as their legal representation during those years), it stands to reason that setting up Peugeot, Citroen or any other European brand from scratch would be similarly daunting.

Ironically, Renault, with the backing of Nissan may be best positioned to return here (at least on paper), having sold cars in Canada as late as the 1980′s. Nissan has a strong dealer network, and a full-range of Renault cars (a mix of Dacias and Renaults, which would suit Canada well) are already sold in Mexico. Alas, Carlos Ghosn is pretty adamant that Canada and the US won’t see these products. GM and PSA could very well come to the same conclusion, preferring to sell the Spark, Sonic and Cruze. Hopefully we’ll see a more diverse product mix in the future, even if the odds aren’t on our side.


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Generation Why: They Can Tell You Don’t Get It Fri, 23 Mar 2012 13:13:13 +0000

“We tried to teach dealers how to calibrate conversations,” Mr. Martin said. “Stop trying to be cool and give them the fist pump. They can tell you don’t get it.

Journalism profs would admonish us for “burying the lede”, or hiding the most important information way down in the story, rather than putting it at the front where it’s easily accessible. Amy Chozick of the New York Times put that gem at the very end of her article on how General Motors is hiring consultants from MTV, including Ross Martin, quoted above, to help their brand connect with young people. Mr. Martin, take your own advice.

Instead, the article opens like this

Ross Martin, 37, is a published poet and a former drummer in an alternative rock band. Wearing Nike high tops and loose-fitting jeans, he is the kind of figure who wouldn’t attract a second glance on the streets of Brooklyn, where he lives.

37 years old is hardly over the hill, but is a 37 year-old really in touch with what people born in 1996 really like? Do they even know what a cassette tape is. Martin, meanwhile, was a “drummer in an alternative rock band”. Nirvana is now played on my classic rock station, and GM wants him to sell cars to a generation that thinks “cooking” is a hip-hop dance, not a reason to go to the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market.

He and his team are trying to help General Motors solve one of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars.

False. The article’s commenters cite everything from expense, to the environment, to social media as reasons why youth have abandoned the automobile. The truth is, they never have.Young people care about cars. Yes, we are broke, gas is more expensive, we care about the environment even though we consume, consume, consume like never before. We still need cars. We still don’t like taking transit, if we can at all. If one of our friends has a car, we will ask them for a lift home, no matter how much pro-cycling-and-walkable-cities gospel we preach. If we’re going to buy a car, it better be worth it. Worth the expense of and hassle. A Sonic is a nice car. It’s not worth it.

Young people are buying used S2000s. Young people are awaiting the launch of the Scion FR-S like it’s The Second Coming. Young people would do terrible things for an Audi R8. Young people do terrible things, financially speaking, to lease a BMW 328i or Infiniti G37 or Mercedes C-Class. But, here’s the kicker. Young people do not want any part of what’s being sold to them as affordable transportation

Last summer, Mr. Martin and his team temporarily transformed part of the G.M. lobby into a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle, with graffiti on the walls and skateboards and throw pillows scattered around. As part of its “Millennial-Con,” Scratch brought in viral video stars like Sergio Flores, known as the Sexy Sax Man, a musician with a mullet and a denim jacket.

Do they know that a lot of young people like the Cruze precisely because it doesn’t look like it starts at $16,800? Don’t believe me? Look at the Cruze sales numbers. Even better than the Focus. Luxury goods have trickled so far down the social ladder that even a girl who works retail for minimum wage can buy a $900 Louis Vuitton purse. I said “can buy” not “afford” so don’t worry about a $12,000 Spark. Make something that looks like an Audi S5, base it on the Cruze platform (go ahead, it’s ok, most of them won’t know, and the ones that do will be go back to playing Gran Turismo anyways) and you’re half way there. The Code and Tru concepts were a step in the right direction. Don’t listen to the critics. They’re old men. They just want a Cruze diesel wagon with a 6-speed sitck.

They studied a collage loaded with images of hip products like headphones created by Dr. Dre, a tablet computer and a chunky watch. The board inspired new Chevrolet colors, like “techno pink,” “lemonade” and “denim,” aimed at “a 23-year-old who shops at H&M and Target and listens to Wale with Beats headphones,” said Rebecca Waldmeir, a color and trim designer for Chevrolet. This rainbow of youthful hues will be available on the Spark this summer.

Young people would rather get herpes than go to the “Sonic Lounge” at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. Ask Ford how their “Fiesta Movement” worked out, without Ford mentioning how many “social media impressions” the car got. Car companies that indulge in these silly campaigns are like an obese person trying to lose weight by switching from Coke to fruit juice when what’s really needed is hard physical exercise and most importantly, self-discipline.

If I had the secret to marketing to youth, I’d probably flying into Mustique right now. But I do. Ready for it? We want to buy cars marketed to older, more succesful people. We always have, we always will. Ask a young person,full of ambition and promise, trying to get ahead in the world with a crappy job that doesn’t pay much, what car they prefer – as in, what car suits their self-image better; a Hyundai Veloster, or a Hyundai Elantra. One looks like a child’s toy. The other looks like a Mercedes-Benz if you squint just a little. And yes, I’ve done this field test many times before. I know a few people with Elantras, Sonatas and even Rios. Nobody I know has bought a Veloster.

GM, it’s a good thing that young people don’t read newspapers and this article appeared in the New York Times. Your target demo is already making fun of this article, your marketing people and your lame efforts on Facebook. Vehicle lead times and social trends move at such different paces that they will never intersect and you will never be able to catch them. Stop this silly endeavor. Fire the marketers. Let the engineers and product types do their thing. We can tell you don’t get it.


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Fiat USA May Expand Lineup Beyond 500L Mon, 19 Mar 2012 17:25:53 +0000

The Fiat 500L may be joined by another Fiat product, but the brand’s North American head said that it won’t necessarily resemble the 500 vehicles.

Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, Fiat’s Tim Kuniskis said

“We won’t bring you a commodity car…”Style, for sure, will be No. 1,” Kuniskis said. “Any car we sell has got to be something different.”

Author Mark Phelan notes that while Mini has boxed itself into a corner because of its reliance on brand heritage (i.e. many different variants of the same shape), Fiat has produced a wide variety of vehicles over the years – how about a revived 124, 131 or X-19? Personally, I’d love to see the much praised Panda come over, complete with the TwinAir turbocharged two-cylinder engine. But it ain’t gonna happen.

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High Gas Prices Mean Happy Days For Honda Civic Tue, 13 Mar 2012 21:17:39 +0000

Pop quiz; what do increased production, lots of cash on the hood and high gas prices mean for Honda dealers? Lots of Civics moving out the door.

Civic sales are up 45 percent in the first two months of this year, and the model is outselling former top dogs like the Chevrolet Cruze and last year’s compact champion the Toyota Corolla. Honda’s supply chain woes are over (something they were stung by last year) and production is up by 69 percent.

High gas prices are helping the Civic, which is seen as a solid choice in a segment full of fuel-efficient cars. While gas prices may level out this summer, the Civic is set to get a very early refresh in time for the 2013 model year. Add to that strong incentives to help move the 2012 model (one source told us that there was as much as $1,900 per car in incentives for the Civic) and Honda is looking strong in the compact segment – maybe even regaining the small car sales crown, something it hasn’t held since 2002.

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Finally, Real Pictures Of The Volvo V40 Mon, 27 Feb 2012 17:21:26 +0000

Today is Wagon Day, a brand-new made up holiday when North Americans are tortured with photos of wagons that will not be available to us despite our endless pleas. First up, the Volvo V40.

Reports are stating that a 1.6L 4-cylinder will be present in the V40, but Volvo’s new modular engine family, with its 500cc per cylinder capacity, would suggest a 2.0L mill instead. We’ll find out for sure once the car is unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show. Since the C30 was such a spectacular sales flop in the United Sates, don’t look for this to make its way over here.

2013 Volvo V40. Photo courtesy Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 2013-volvo-v40-12 2013-volvo-v40-11 2013-volvo-v40-13 2013-volvo-v40-14 2013-volvo-v40-15 2013-volvo-v40-10 2013-volvo-v40-9 2013-volvo-v40-8 2013-volvo-v40-7 2013-volvo-v40-6 2013-volvo-v40-5 2013-volvo-v40-4 2013-volvo-v40-3 2013-volvo-v40-2 2013-volvo-v40-1 2013-volvo-v40-16 ]]> 21
Kia Procee’ds With New Cee’d. Puns Are Not Our Forte. Wed, 15 Feb 2012 22:04:28 +0000

The new Kia Cee’d may have a stupid name, but everything else about the car looks pretty attractive. Well, maybe not the grille. They also refrained from releasing any specs at all alongside these photos, so you’ll have to wait until March’s Auto Show to get the scoop. The Forte is a little dated by now, to the point where it’s hard to justify buying one over a Rio, let alone an Elantra – how about it, Kia?

Press release and gallery below


012012kiaceedoff Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 2013 Kia Cee'd. Photo courtesy Kia. 022012kiaceedoff 032012kiaceedoff 042012kiaceedoff




(15/02/12) — Kia’s all-European cee’d stunned audiences when it was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show just six years ago and at Geneva this year the all-new version is set to repeat that feat thanks to its elegant lines – heralding an even more successful future for the company’s bed-rock C-segment model.

Combining dynamic, sophisticated styling with maturity and prestige, the all-new cee’d five-door hatchback the new cee’d is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, with the same long wheelbase. The elegant simplicity of its coupe-like proportions is emphasised by a steeply raked A-pillar, a very low belt-line in the front and lengthened side windows.

The front of the new cee’d is dominated by the latest interpretation of Kia’s trademark ‘tiger-nose’ grille and aggressive, wraparound headlamp clusters housing signature LED daytime running lights.

Wide track and solid stance
In profile the pronounced front and rear wings emphasise the car’s wide track and solid stance whilst above the taut, strongly sculpted door surfaces, the steeply raked A-pillar, sweeping roofline and integral rear spoiler accentuate the sporting aesthetics of the new model’s generous glasshouse.

The entire exterior is accented by numerous small yet highly significant detail touches which add to the prestige and premium feel of the new cee’d without detracting from the purity and elegance of the overall design.

These include a new, bolder, more sophisticated Kia badge, the indicator blade protrusion in the front headlamps, the Kia-signature windscreen head castellations, the chrome side glazing surround and the cee’d-unique, aerodynamic shaping of the tail lamp which extends into the adjacent bodywork.

New premium interior
The new cee’d features a completely new interior hallmarked by a more premium look and feel, higher perceived quality, improved switchgear, touch-screen technology and enhanced driving position ergonomics.

The dashboard layout features a cockpit-like design with an aircraft-themed, driver-oriented fascia. The main control panel wraps around the steering wheel, placing all switchgear within easy reach of the driver, and the main control groups such as audio and air-conditioning have been segregated to bring a more premium, luxurious, big car feel to the interior.

Carefully considered precision detailing gives the cabin a more prestigious look and feel than that of the current generation model. Soft touch materials add a new tactility to the driving environment. Instruments and switchgear are picked out in very thin chrome, the door handles are built up in a layered sandwich of high quality materials and the door opener itself has a sculpted, one-piece, shell-like quality reflecting the premium values of the new interior design.


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A Prius c By Any Other Name Is A Yaris Hybrid Mon, 23 Jan 2012 16:49:30 +0000

Toyota is launching a hybrid version of the Yaris, and will likely be the European substitute for the Prius c/Aqua that Bertel drove just last week.

Previewed in concept form last year, the Yaris Hybrid will be built in France and have the exact same drivetrain as the Prius c. Fuel economy should be about the same as well. Since the Yaris Hybrid is far too close to the Prius c (without any of the brand equity), look for it to remain unavailable to American consumers.

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Fiat Outsells Mini, Scion In Canada Thu, 05 Jan 2012 18:09:44 +0000

Canadians already bought the Honda Civic in droves, so it would make sense that another unloved car, the Fiat 500, would do well in a country that favors smaller, more European vehicles, right? Sort of.

Fiat did outsell both MINI and Scion in Canada this past year, but not by much. Accordingly to analyst Timothy Cain, Fiat ranked 27th out of 34 brands on sale in Canada, selling 5392 units. MINI was 28th with 5155 units and Scion was 29th with 4720 units.

The Fiat 500 is a common sight on the streets of Toronto, where being chic goes a long way. Despite the 500 selling in small volumes, the Dodge/Ram brand had a great showing in Canada overall, finishing behind Ford in second place (though Ford outsold Dodge/Ram by 100,152 units). Chrysler and Jeep sales were counted separately.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: A Mini’s Progress Edition Tue, 20 Dec 2011 15:05:27 +0000 My two weeks in Europe has drawn to a close, and I’m back at my familiar desk, in front of my familiar computer, catching up on all the automotive happenings I missed, contemplating my transition out of TTAC’s day-to-day leadership, and reflecting on all I saw over my whirlwind two weeks. And though you haven’t heard from me much in the last two weeks, rest assured that I have  not forgotten TTAC, nor have I missed any opportunities to accumulate impressions from the automotive landscape of modern Europe.

This week I will publish two reviews of the automobiles I drove over the last two weeks, and though neither of these cars are available in the US, I believe they both hold fascinating lessons that are highly applicable and relevant to both the US market and the global auto business. But in the meantime I thought I’d share this picture, which would be near impossible to take in the US, and which speaks volumes about the evolution of small cars. Just blocks from Paris’s Place de la Concorde, in front of Chanel’s flagship Parisian boutique, I was able to capture a classic and modern Mini, with a Smart ForTwo sandwiched in between for scale.

I’ll leave commentary on this image to TTAC’s Best and Brightest, but I will say that the tableau stopped me in my tracks. Though I’ve always loved the classic Mini, and I have only the deepest admiration for those who keep these wonderful cars in daily use, this image confirms just how much our automotive expectations have changed. If you think a Smart makes undue compromises in the pursuit of its city-friendly size, imagine what an original Mini must be like in today’s traffic….


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Chart Of The Day: Subcompacts In July And Year To Date Mon, 15 Aug 2011 22:34:12 +0000 In contrast to rapid changes in the compact and midsized segments, the subcompact segment is moving along established trendlines. Kia’s Soul has completely overtaken this segment’s previous champ, but that’s been a long time coming. A new Accent is arriving at dealers, and that model’s starting to take off… in fact, if there’s news here, it’s that the Accent appears to be outselling the segment’s next-freshest offering, the Ford Fiesta. Otherwise, Aveo and Rio are dropping off ahead of their replacement by new models, the 500 is getting closer to MINI’s monthly volume, and Mazda2 can’t quite get past the Cube The YTD chart doesn’t show too many changes either… but watch this space as the A/B segment heats up with new models later this year.

graph (29) Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail No news is still news...


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Tata Gives Suzuki Headaches Tue, 31 Aug 2010 15:05:32 +0000

Suzuki has a little bit of a problem keeping up with the demand in the frisky Indian market. If you can’t deliver, you lose market share. Suzuki’s share of the Indian market already slipped below their usual 50 percent. And guess who’s giving Suzuki headaches? Tata.

When Suzuki CEO Osamu Suzuki returned to Japan from India in September 2009, he said the Nano is “one fine vehicle.” Thankfully, that wasn’t quite the case.

The Nano is a hot item in India. It has a tendency to go up in flames. On August 27, another Nano caught fire in New Delhi – “at least the sixth such incident involving the model,” says The Nikkei [sub]. But it doesn’t stop people from buying.

Between April and June, Tata sold 84,000 cars in India, up 49.4 percent from the same quarter of last year. They even bypassed Hyundai. Tata has lly finished their Nano factory, and they are cranking them out to meet with pent-up demand for an affordable car.

84,000 units from Tata are not anywhere close to the 384,181 cars Suzuki sold in the April to July period. But Suzuki is taking note. Tata has a car that costs half of the price of  Suzuki’s cheapest model, the Alto. Tata has a brand-new factory, Suzuki may have a new factory by 2012.

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TV Show Investor Rescues Peel, Makers Of The World’s Smallest Car Fri, 20 Aug 2010 16:25:40 +0000

Thanks to one of the most popular Top Gear segments ever, the Peel P50 is now well-established in the minds and imaginations of the world’s automotive cognoscenti. After all, how often does Clarkson say that “if [car X] had a reverse gear, I would describe it as the absolute ultimate in personal mobility”? But now there’s another reason to pay attention to Peel: having been bought a few years back by Gary Hillman and Faizal Khan, the British microcar maker is set for a comeback that’s being funded by Sonny Coreleone himself, actor some British investor named James Caan (born Nazim Khan… cheers to colin42 for the British pop culture lesson, and apologies for unwittingly making the story better than it is).

For about $125k, Caan has bought 30 percent of Peel (as well as one P50 and one Trident), as part of the BBC show “The Dragon’s Den,” in which entrepreneurs vie for startup money. Peel is building about 50 electric-powered cars per year, and is seeking to expand the brand into non-automotive merchandise. Why would Caan invest in the world’s smallest cars?

When investing I often look for things that are a little bit different. Rare opportunities can surprise you and add fun to the process. As a British made product, Peel encompasses traditional values and manufacturing.

Not only will there be plenty people who want to own a piece of history by having a Peel but the brand is ideally placed to expand into a larger product range.

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June Sales: Subcompacts And Small Hatches Thu, 08 Jul 2010 15:50:44 +0000

Kia’s Soul didn’t have the most electrifying launch sales-wise, but with the release of its second buzz-worthy ad, the funky little box is becoming a major player in our A/B/Small Hatch segment. The Nissan Versa is clearly the dominant player here, selling nearly twice as well as the Soul. Meanwhile, there’s a tight pack of offerings that have moved at least 20k units this year, that ranges from the aged HHR to the MINI Cooper. Look for a big shake-up in this segment once Ford’s Fiesta production hits high gear.

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Kawaii! Mitsubishi And PSA To Make Babies Sun, 06 Jun 2010 07:03:54 +0000

After on-again and off-again attempts at an Eurasian marriage (which I would unreservedly endorse,) Mitsubishi and PSA are doing the thing currently en vogue in Europe: Live happily in sin, and produce little ones. Very little ones.

Mitsubishi Motors and PSA Peugeot Citroen Group are chatting about small cars produced by Mitsubishi for the unmarried couple, says The Nikkei [sub]. Details should be hashed-out by the end of the year.

The cars would be 1.0-1.3 liter midgetmobiles, which Mitsubishi wants to unleash onto rapidly emerging markets. Mitsu will start making them in Thailand this year, then the idea is to expand mass production to the usual suspects: China, India and Brazil. Annual production target 400,000 to 500,000 units. Mitsubishi wants to keep the price below $10,000.

Of course, they are eyeing the Japanese and European market as well, and this is where PSA comes in. PSA would sell the motorized rug rats under the Peugeot and Citroen brands in Europe and elsewhere.

This deal expands on existing cohabitations with electric cars and SUVs

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India: Toyota Launches Small Car Into Huge Market Fri, 04 Jun 2010 13:41:00 +0000

Woken up by the Tata Nano warning shot (which so far seems to be a dud), everybody agrees that the key to making India “the next China” is to start small. Why does Suzuki own more than half of India’s market? Small cars.  And motorcycles. Another key to emerging markets is to give people an easy upgrade path from two wheels to four wheels. Remember how BMW got started? Remember that the initial business plan for the Volkswagen was to offer citizens of the Third Reich a car for the price of a motor cycle?

No wonder manufacturers are scouring their line-up for cars small enough for the huge Indian market. About 10 small cars are said to pour into the Indian market this year, and that’s just the advance guard. Toyota joins the fray, not just with a small car, but with a big factory in the southern state of Karnataka.

“We will start production of the small car once the second plant is completed,” said Hiroshi Nakagawa, managing director at Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd., told The Nikkei [sub].”The plant will be completed by December.”

Toyota has big plans for the Indian critter. The second plant will have an initial production capacity of 70,000 cars, which will be increased to 200,000 cars in phases.

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China Saves Bacon Of Luxury Car Makers Wed, 16 Dec 2009 15:20:14 +0000 Real Bentley, fake … Picture courtesy

It’s a strange world. Europeans are changing their already small cars for tiny ones. Manufacturers fall over themselves building ever smaller and cheaper cars. In the USA, small cars are suddenly big. Ford’s analyst George Pipas says that this year, small cars accounted for 21 percent of all U.S. vehicle sales. By 2013, Pipas predicts that compact cars, subcompact cars and crossover vehicles built off small car platforms will account for 36 percent of total new vehicle sales in the United States. Car executives that still have a job bemoan the times where big cars meant big profits.

A new frugality is rampant on the globe. Makers of luxo-barges, such as BMW and Mercedes are in big doo-doo.

They would be in much deeper excrement, would it not be for – China. For November, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW all reported huge increases in car sales to China. Mercedes-Benz said it posted record sales in China. China has become the fourth-largest market for Mercedes. A total of 8,700 passenger cars were delivered in China in November, nearly three times the number sold in the same month a year ago. Sales of Mercedes-Benz vehicles to other former poorhouses are up also: Up 81 percent in Brazil, up 25 percent in India.

Audi sales in China more than doubled to 16,503 cars in November. Audi thinks, China will pass Germany as its largest market within two or three years. In November, BMW sold 8,470 cars in the Middle Kingdom, up 40 percent.

BMW and Mercedes are moving more production to China. BMW is building a second plant with the Chinese joint venture partner Brilliance. Daimler also announced that they will triple their Chinese capacity.

Yale Zhang, a senior Shanghai-based analyst with U.S. consulting firm CSM Worldwide, said to the Wall Street Journal he expects China’s premium-car segment to grow 26 percent to 315,000 vehicles next year.

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Will CAFE Cause A Small Car Glut? Thu, 10 Dec 2009 19:15:40 +0000 The movement to nowhere?CSM Worldwide seems to think so, telling Automotive News [sub] that new compacts from Ford and Chevrolet are being pushed into the market to comply with increasing fuel-efficiency and CO2 emission standards. If gas prices stay steady, CSM’s VP for Forecasting, Michael Robinet says “extreme pressure to channel smaller vehicles in the market due to CAFE and emissions standards will raise incentives and lower profitability.” “It is very possible that U.S. automakers will not achieve their objectives of selling small cars at a profit,” adds CSM CEO Craig Cather. The crux of the argument is that CAFE ramp-ups to 35.5 MPG by 2016 create incentives for automakers to produce small cars without corresponding consumer demand. Luckily there’s a planned gas tax hike for that.

CSM admits that either an oil shock or a gas tax hike would increase demand for small cars, effectively nullifying their argument. And given the DOT’s rhetoric recently, that seems like a very plausible scenario… after all, even the most virulent anti-tax types would sign up for an indexed gas tax given that the alternative could be a pay-per-mile GPS tracking scheme.

But there’s more to CSM’s analysis than politics. AN [sub] explains:

Increasing competition in the subcompact and compact segments, which have long been dominated by Asian automakers, may also hamper Detroit automakers’ goal of making money on selling small cars, CSM said.

In short, CSM isn’t actually worried about a small car glut, it’s simply collecting excuses for the seemingly inevitable failure of Detroit’s compact offensive. After all, CAFE standards apply to the “Asian automakers” just as much as they apply to Ford and GM. The real problem is that the Detroit has a hard enough time getting consumers to consider its traditionally strong products like large cars and SUV/CUVs, and will be even harder pressed to drum up interest in its new compact offensive. The steady growth in the small-car segments that even CSM admits are occurring will simply go to the manufacturers who have maintained a stronger presence in those segments.

Will Detroit face an uphill battle selling the compact cars that are filling its future-product pipelines? You betcha. Is it CAFE’s fault? Of course not. CSM’s analysis is, at best an argument for a gas tax hike. Given the government’s 61 percent “exposure” to GM (and its heavy investment in small cars like Cruze, Volt, Spark, and Aveo), such a hike seems all the more likely.

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