It’s time to talk about Volkswagen. You know Volkswagen: they make the Jetta, which is possibly today’s most adept compact sedan at churning out lifelong Toyota customers.
With the government still waiting to see how much it will get out of its equity in General Motors, The General seems to be attracting more of the media commentary than Chrysler these days. And not without good reason: GM saw the greatest drop in market share last month of any Detroit automaker, its government-hyped Volt is flopping, Opel continues to be an open sore and it can’t help but flaunt its cluelessness about youth marketing. But interest in GM’s shortcomings seems to be driven by little more than election-year political implications, which Chrysler was able to avoid by borrowing cash and misleadingly claiming to have squared up with the American taxpayer. After all, Chrysler is facing just as many challenges as GM, if not more. And despite having formally closed the bailout chapter of its history, Chrysler’s performance still bears on the decision to rescue America’s weakest major automaker.
“Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols
This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the proverbial blind spot. Having watched the Volt’s progress closely from gestation through each month’s sales results, it was no secret to me that the Volt was seriously underperforming to expectations. But in the current media environment, anything that happens three times is a trend, and the latest shutdown (and, even more ominously, the accompanying layoffs) was unmistakeable. Not since succumbing to government-organized bankruptcy and bailout has GM so publicly cried “uncle” to the forces of the market, and I genuinely expected The General to continue to signal optimism for the Volt’s long-term prospects. After all, sales in February were up dramatically, finally breaking the 1,000 unit per month barrier. With gasoline prices on the march, this latest shutdown was far from inevitable.
And yet, here we are. Now that GM is undeniably signaling that the Volt is a Corvette-style halo car, with similar production and sales levels, my long-standing skepticism about the Volt’s chances seems to be validated. But in the years since GM announced its intention to build the Volt, this singular car has become woven into the history and yes, the mythology of the bailout era. Now, at the apparent end of its mass-market ambitions, I am struck not with a sense of schadenfreude, but of bewilderment. If the five year voyage of Volt hype is over, we have a lot of baggage to unpack.
Once upon a time, the Dodge brand was brimming with pride. In the mid-to-late 1990s, Dodge had it all: affordable compacts, big front-drive cruisers, the hottest trucks on the market, and of course, the Viper. And when the times were good, all of those part melded into one brash, exciting, quintessentially American brand. From Neons and Intrepids, from Rams to Vipers, Dodge could do it all, as long as “it all” included a healthy dash of in-your-face attitude. But over the years, as Dodge’s shining moment faded into memory, the brand has managed to become both less viscerally appealing and less well-rounded. And when Fiat’s leadership stripped Dodge of the Ram “brand,” shucked its designs of their truckish cues, and repositioned Dodge as a more “youthful” and “refined” sporting brand, it seemed as if Dodge as we knew it was dying. Since hearing of Fiat’s plans to bring Alfa stateside, and with Dodge appearing to have lost out in brand alignment product battles, we’ve been wondering for some time now if Dodge isn’t headed out to pasture. Now there’s even more evidence that Dodge is being hollowed out en route to replacement with Alfa, as Automotive News [sub] reports
Absent from the redesigned SRT Viper will be the name Dodge… Viper has been linked to Dodge since the Dodge Viper RT/10 concept debuted in 1989. The first Dodge Viper SRT-10 went on sale in 1992, and over the years 28,056 Vipers were produced, according to Chrysler.
Not any more. Essentially, SRT becomes a brand with its own vehicle, in this case the SRT Viper.
That’s right, Dodge won’t have a Viper or a Ram (or, more prosaically, an Avenger or Caravan). Some might argue that, absent these components, the Dodge name doesn’t mean much of anything anymore. Certainly it doesn’t seem that Dodge can have a particularly bright future without any links to its last moment of glory.
On Wednesday, March 9th, Toyota will announce its new long term strategy plan to the public. A core piece will be a push into emerging markets. TTAC has been following signs of this for a while. The signs range from a car, the Etios, designed exclusively for the emerging markets, to a factory up in the woods near Sendai, Japan, that looks very much like a prototype for Toyota’s latest export product: Low cost car factories.
The Nikkei [sub] agrees and says that “Toyota Motor Corp. is overhauling its strategy because it is now clear that emerging nations will replace industrialized ones as its most important markets.” Will replace? Wake up! (Read More…)
Volvo has come to the kind of conclusion we haven’t heard from an automaker in some time: it’s selling too many models. With nine models currently on the market, the Chinese-owned Swedish automaker has opted to cut that number by “five or six” nameplates, and will rebuild its US lineup around its XC60 and XC90 crossovers, and S60 sedan. As a Volvo spokesman explains to Bloomberg
We have to focus on the key segments with significant volume potential.
The first model to go from the lineup will be the V50 station wagon, but from there it’s anyone’s guess. To help kick off the speculation, we present the graph above, charting the recent sales fortunes of the nameplates that Volvo is considering for death. Since the one model on the chart that has already been marked for death (the V50) has the lowest volume, it might be safe to guess that the next model up the volume ladder (C30) will be the next to die. From there, it’s a lot more complicated. Last year the S40 moved 5,623 units, the C70 sold 5,263 units, the XC70 sold 6,626 units and the S80 sold 7,724. In terms of sheer volume, there’s reason to kill every one of these nameplates… but strategically there’s just as much of an argument for investing in any one of them. Too bad there’s only marketing resources for “five or six” nameplates. So, which models would you kill?
While the autoblogosphere frets bout whether BMW drivers can tell which wheels drive their cars, the real news in the BMW-goes-FWD storyline is the impact that the sea change in brand strategy is expected to have on volume. Automotive News [sub] reports that BMW is developing a new family of modular gas and diesel engines, which are intended “primarily for BMW’s new front-wheel-drive architecture, but the powerplants also will be used in the automaker’s rear-wheel-drive cars,” according to CEO Norbert Reithofer. And the volume at which this new family of three, four and six-cylinder engines will be produced is one of the early indications of where BMW is going with its FWD expansion. Today, BMW sells just under 1.3m vehicles worldwide. That’s fewer cars than will be powered by this new family of engines alone, which Reithofer says will motivate 1.5m vehicles worldwide. Considering BMW’s goal is to sell 2m vehicles of all its brands by 2020, it’s clear that much of that growth will be made possible by new FWD-inclusive drivetrain technology.