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 thisbig.
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? (Read More…)
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.
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.
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…
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?
See that? Looks a bit like a first-generation Scion xB, doesn’t it? It’s actually a new Kia, codenamed “Tam,” built on its new A-segment Picanto Morning platform, but featuring first-gen xB-style tall-body MPV packaging. The Picanto’s wheelbase is actually slightly smaller than the xB’s, and there’s another key difference here as well: see that rear door? Look where the handle is placed. That’s right, it’s a slider! But that’s not all…
The king is dead! After years of dominating the subcompact charts, the Nissan Versa was toppled from its top spot by not one but three upstart nameplates. Kia’s Soul, the Versa’s most consistent competition since it launched, has finally arrived as a legitimate slow-wave hit, topping 10k units and running away with the segment even as an updated model was announced at the NY Auto Show. Fiesta finally came into its own as well, racking up a thoroughly legit 9,147 sales over the month, and the lagging Fit staged something of a comeback with sales rising to 8,116 units. Versa’s fourth place finish was enough to handily beat Chevy’s aged Aveo, which itself nearly slipped below the equally aged Hyundai Accent for the month. Meanwhile, Yaris held off a solid-ish performance by Mazda2 and creamed its Scion xD cousin. With the Versa’s fall from grace (and the Cube’s non-impact) we have what may be an interesting peek at what the segment could look like when Nissan replaces its roomy Versa with its underwhelming Versa (Sunny) sedan. Of course, with new Soul, Aveo (Sonic), Accent and Rio models coming soon, there’s no telling where this segment could end up by the end of this year.
The slide above shows Chrysler’s product plan for the 2010-2014 timeframe, and as it shows, after the new 300 and “refreshed” 200 and T&C, the next Chrysler was supposed to be a C-segment compact sedan. But, reports C&D’s Justin Berkowitz, the subcompact car (essentially a rebadged Lancia Ypsilon) has already been canceled for being positioned too close to the Fiat 500. Meanwhile, it seems that now only one of Chrysler Group’s brands will get a forthcoming compact sedan, and since Dodge has confirmed that it will get a Fiat-based Caliber replacement next year, it seems Chrysler won’t be getting any help in one of the most important segments in the market. So, without a subcompact or compact car coming down the pipe, what does Chrysler have to look forward to? Another crack at the D-segment, come 2013, and a crossover based on the same platform. Apparently the Chrysler brand, which is supposed to be a Lancia-style luxury brand in the Fiat empire, doesn’t need more than four products.
Despite being introduced to the US back in 2006, sales of Nissan’s Versa are hardly slacking with age. Sales of the Versa have increased every year since its introduction except for last year, when volume dropped by about 2,000 units, and this year the subcompact sedan/hatch has already set a new annual sales record. Even the newer, arguably better-looking Kia Soul hasn’t been able to unseat the Versa from its perch as king of the subcompacts, having sold only about 60k units this year to the Versa’s 89,500. But despite this continued success, Nissan is replacing the slightly geeky-looking Versa with this, the 2012 Nissan Sunny, which has just been unveiled at the Guangzhou Auto Show in Southern China.
Hyundai seems fearless. Its venture above $30,000 with the Genesis wasn’t a rousing success, yet two short years later they’re doubling down with a $65,000 flagship. But there is one car they dare not offer here, from the opposite end of the line: the diminutive i10. So, what are we missing?
Hyundai’s Sonata overhaul has been well-received by critics and customers, and the next-gen Elantra looks set to move the magic to the C-segment. But what of the Accent? If there’s a vehicle left in Hyundai’s lineup that recalls the bad old days of Hyundai’s bargain-basement past, it’s the current sub-$10k base price Accent. Of course, that’s all about to change, as a new Accent is hitting the roads in Korea… and like most of Hyundai’s new product, it looks like a huge step up from its predecessor. TTAC’s man in Korea, Walter Foreman, was kind enough to send in this mega-dump of over 80 images of the new Accent, noting
The car is 172 inches in length with a 101.2 inch wheelbase and a height of 57.3 inches. No news on the claimed curb weight yet.
The 1.4 liter engine is rated at 108 hp and 37.8 mpg with the 5-speed auto and 42.3 with the 6-speed manual [all mpg numbers on Korean test cycle].
The 1.6 liter engine is rated at 140 hp and 39.3 mpg with the 6-speed auto and 42.8 with the 6-speed manual.