So, what’s your checklist? If you read this site regularly, you have one: the characteristics of your ideal next car. Perhaps more than one, if you have the need or desire for more than one type of car. One of my checklists concerns my ideal compact hatch. The latest contestant: the 2012 Hyundai Accent SE.
I like to tout myself as the youngest full-time auto writer in the industry, but sometimes it backfires – like when an Acura exec came up to me on my first press trip (at 19 years old) and warmly told a few assembled journalists and PR types that he hadn’t seen me since I was this big.
On the other hand, my youth gave me particular insight into two products that launched within the last month, and are aimed squarely at my demographic – the Hyundai Veloster and the Chevrolet Sonic. Both cars launched at the 2011 North American International Auto Show, though their reception couldn’t have been more different.
Under Penske management, the Smart minicar brand sold fewer than 6,000 vehicles last year, capping a sales decline that led Mercedes to take back management duties for the brand. And, according to the new folks in charge of Smart, there’s only one real problem with the brand: awareness. Or, more precisely, lack thereof. We’ve heard this song before from Smart’s new GM, but now Ernst Lieb, boss of Mercedes U.S.A., is picking up the tune, telling Automotive News [sub] that
With the marketing activities that we’re going to have, we’ll see some positive momentum. The biggest problem the car has right now: Nobody knows it.
Which, of course, is nonsense. Nonsense that allows you to appear aware of the sales problem without acknowledging a single problem with the product itself, but nonsense none the less. And Smart’s not the only micro-car brand that’s reaching for it either, as Fiat-Chrysler marketing boss Olivier Francois has the exact same excuse for Fiat’s weak start, telling AdAge
I don’t think we have a car problem; people love the car. I think we have an awareness problem.
Are Americans incapable of seeing, recognizing or being aware of anything that weighs less than 3,000 lbs? Or is it possible that there are a few things wrong with the Smart and 500?
When Toyota built the first generation of its Vitz subcompact in 1998, the firm had no plans to sell it in the US under the Yaris nameplate (as it was called in Europe). Instead it sold a four-door and two-door version of the Platz, which was mechanically identical but had unique sheetmetal (except for the front doors), as the Echo. The Echo fell into a pattern that seems to have repeated itself several times in Toyota’s recent subcompact past: a year of growth, and then a drop. Eventually, Toyota brought the Yaris nameplate to the US, with a hatchback option in tow, and found its strongest performer in this class since the Tercel.
Now, with the hatchback bodystyle back in vogue, Toyota’s dropping the Yaris sedan altogether for the new generation, debuting later this year. It’s not the JDM/Euro Yaris/Vitz which Bertel showed us back in December, but it is being built at the revolutionary Sendai plant he visited in Fbruary. And without a sedan counterpoint, it will definitely mark an entirely new approach for Toyota’s US-market subcompact strategy.
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.
For most Americans, the term “small car” typically refers to a C-segment sedan like the Honda Civic or Ford Focus, cars that now qualify as midsizers in many key metrics. Subcompact, or B-segment cars are generally considered the smallest of the small, as their name implies… but ask an American to describe a car smaller than a subcompact, and they’ll likely look at you quizzically before hesitantly suggesting “Smart car?” Yes, the A-Segment, known in Europe as the “City Car” or Microcar” class, is such a rarity in the US that it’s basically synonymous with the one car “competing” in it (Fiat’s 500 hasn’t quite broken into the public consciousness yet).
But, with Chevy execs confirming once and for all that the on-again-off-again (for the US) Chevy Spark (a.k.a. Daewoo Matiz Creative) will in fact be sold in the US (likely as a 2013 model) early next year, the American A-segment is about to get a whole lot of attention. But the question is this: does the fact that America’s first new A-segment car in a decade is a Chevy help or hurt the segment’s chances (consider that previous US A-segment cars like the 500 and Smart are positioned as premium offerings)? Is this car, with its 80 HP/82 lb-ft, 1.2 liter engine a pioneering game-changer that will introduce America to a whole new world of tiny cars, or is it just CAFE compliance fodder? One thing is for certain: everyone from Hyundai to Ford (which have the i10 and Ka waiting in the wings) is going to be watching the Spark with great interest.
For a while now we’ve figured that the long-rumored Buick “Baby Enclave” would be a rebadged version of Opel’s Meriva MPV, as the suicide-doored Euro-confection is currently GM’s newest Gamma-platform people-carrier. But according to GMInsideNews’s 2013 lineup forecast, the Buick “Encore” will actually be a
Gamma based crossover will be a five-seater, about the size of the Nissan Rogue.
Because the Meriva is considerably smaller than the Rogue, and because it is rumored to have distinctly Enclave-like styling, we’re starting to rule out the Meriva as the next Buick CUV. Instead, we now think that this forthcoming Opel Corsa-based (Gamma II platform) “SUV” will be the basis for the Encore, as it’s larger than the Meriva and offers the higher seating that American drivers crave. But, based on this video of the new CUV testing in Germany, the new Buick should still be fairly playful for a front-drive crossover. These are not perfect drifts by any stretch, but I challenge any of you to do better in a front-drive Buick…
I’m planning a purchase this summer. The two cars I’m looking at most closely are the Mazda2 and the Scion xD. I noticed that the 2011 Mazda2s are spending an average of 109 days on the lot, and the 2010 xD is even worse at 239 days. Your February sales charts and March charts paint a similar picture. They’re both selling terribly, but I’m so far unable to find good deals on either, for different reasons.
According to Auto Motor und Sport, this Opel “Junior” city car (A-Segment) could be sold in the US if Opel isn’t sold first and if union boss Klaus Franz gets his way. Though GM has ruled out selling the Opel brand in the US, Franz tells AM und S that
I can see strong demand for this car in the cities of the East and West coasts.
But if the Opel brand is off the table, what will this car be sold as? There’s been no rumor yet of a Buick-branded microcar, but Cadillac did recently show an A-Segment concept, called the ULC, that could tip the strategy for this car’s US-market design and branding. It’s just too bad TTAC’s Best and Brightest answered the question “Does Cadillac Need A MINI-Fighter?” with a resounding “NO”. But would a ULC-style micro-Caddy be any less appealing than a baby Buick? This car will be a tough sell coming from any of GM’s remaining brands, but with CAFE increases in the cards (and as prices rising anyway) this may an unavoidable conundrum.
The Hyundai Accent has never been a “gotta have it” sort of car. Instead, it’s been a “what’s the cheapest thing you got?” sort of car. The 2011 started at just $9,985 (plus shipping and handling). That’s “started,” as in past tense, because the 2011 is history. The 2012, now arriving at dealers, starts at $12,445 plus $760 for destination. Add an automatic transmission, A/C, the $1,300 Premium Package (fog lights, cruise, remote keyless, Bluetooth, upgraded interior trim, 16” alloy wheels in place of 14” steelies), and floor mats, and you’re looking at a $17,350 sticker. Clearly Hyundai thinks they’ve developed a much more desirable car. Have they?