The Truth About Cars » survey The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +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 » survey Industry: Optimism Is Back, But Only A Little At A Time Tue, 22 May 2012 16:28:15 +0000

Optimism sure ain’t what it used to be. Introducing its latest survey of auto industry executives [PDF], Booz & Co. proclaims that “optimism is skyrocketing,” and that “a new wave of optimism is overtaking the U.S. auto industry.” They’re not wrong, but for those used to the pre-bailout days of unabashed optimism dressed up as analysis, the “new optimism” is remarkably guarded. And it’s all relative to the pessimism that was beginning to set in when the industry began to realize that the “old optimism” was wildly at odds with the slow-motion market recovery.

So, just how optimistic is the “new optimism”? Which companies have the most reason for optimism? What do industry executives worry about most? When do they expect a Chinese invasion? The answers to these questions and more after the jump.

The “somewhat better” scenario that industry execs tell Booz is defining their business planning looks something like this graph. Overall, 86% of suppliers and OEMs expect auto sales growth to be consistent with GDP growth. This steady market growth outlook puts a premium on market share growth, and the execs polled certainly seem to have strong opinions on that front:

This chart is amazing to me. Clearly the US industry is terrified of two automakers: VW/Audi and Hyundai/Kia. More executives think VW will gain share than think Nissan, Honda, GM or Chrysler will gain or maintain their market share, and the optimism around Hyundai/Kia is straight-up out of control. It’s almost as if auto execs are haunted in their sleep every night by hipster hamsters and the disembodied voice of Jeff Bridges repeating the words “forty miles per gallon” over and over in a congenially bemused voice.

And where do executives think success comes from? Product, product, product. After all, market growth may be slow, but companies expect their revenue to rise. Cost, inventory and pricing discipline can deliver improved profit in a low sales growth environment, but only if the product sells itself.

Meanwhile, 55% of the OEM executives polled say their companies are “capacity constrained” and 36% say they are comfortable with current capacity. As sales rise slowly, higher capacity utilization will  help drive the revenue improvements the industry sees. Once again, as long as the product is good and discipline can be maintained.

And though 69% identified current product portfolio as a top-three driver of growth in 2012, only 17% expect their current portfolio to turn in a “strong performance” vis-a-vis the competition, with 44% expecting a “good performance.” Cost position and financial position are two factors that could always be better from an executive’s position, but the fact that 26% of execs say customer experience and relationship performance could be “poor” or “very poor” is worrying.

Meanwhile, all the talk of price and capacity discipline and improving profit rather than buying market share will only last as long as there’s no major effort to break into the US market. But by 2020, 32% of auto execs expect Chinese manufacturers to have broken into between four and eight percent of the market. By attacking the low end of the market and aggressively trying to buy a foothold in the US market, Chinese firms hold the potential to wreck the disciplined, realistic “new optimism” by putting severe pressure on pricing discipline.

For now, though, the automakers in the US market seems to be settling into a quiet phase of profit-taking rather than adventurous market share grabs. Clearly there’s a sense of having learned tough lessons from the auto bailout, and from the ongoing capacity issues in Europe. But rather than focusing on bailout-era lessons as they did last year, Booz’s 2012-specific questions now center on dealing with “black swan” events like last year’s tsunami and Thai floods. All of which adds to the overall perception that automakers are playing defense, concentrating on profits and hedging against uncertainty.

According to Booz & Co.: Two hundred and eight automotive executives from more than 75 automotive vehicle manufacturers and suppliers participated in the online survey. Thirty-two percent of the respondents were employees of OEMs, and 68 percent work for auto parts suppliers. Three-quarters of the executives were from U.S.-based firms. More than 50 percent of respondents were VP level or above.

We're back... but only a little bit at a time (all images courtesy: Booz & Co) Picture 726 Picture 725 Picture 724 Picture 723 Picture 722 Picture 721 Picture 720 Picture 719 Picture 717 ]]> 5
Survey Says: Old Folks Buy Domestic, Young Folks Buy Foreign Wed, 27 Jul 2011 15:37:04 +0000

Despite the domestic auto industry’s bailout-fueled turnaround, there are a few challenges that the Detroit-based firms have yet to overcome: sales on the West Coast for one, and sales to young people for another. TrueCar tackled the scope of this second issue, digging through millions of transactions to determine the favored cars of both Generation X (ages 28-45) and elderly buyers (65 and up). The results? Buick is still tops with the old folks, despite aiming for younger buyers with new, European-derived products. Lincoln, Cadillac, Chrysler and GMC and Chevrolet round out the top six before the first import brand, Porsche, arrives at number seven. There are few surprises by model choice as well, with the Town Car, Lucerne, DTS, CTS, STS, Azera, Impala, LaCrosse, MKZ and Avalon making the top ten old-folks cars. On the Gen X side of things, import brands still top the list, with VW, Land Rover, Audi, and Mazda taking the top spots, and Jeep taking the top domestic spot at number five. By model, the Routan, M3, Quest, Armada, and Oddyssey take the top five spots for Gen X buyers, with only the Chevy Aveo representing the domestic brands in the top ten. cars with Gen X buyers.

What does it all mean? The domestic manufacturers are still most attractive to traditional, older buyers… spelling long-term issues for the domestic brands. GM, Ford and Chrysler still face huge challenges in attracting younger buyers, and will need to address this problem aggressively  if they want to build on their short-term turnaround.

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Where Are Our Green Car Priorities? Fri, 15 Jul 2011 17:04:42 +0000

As a relatively pragmatic person who generally chooses the imperfect-yet-achievable path rather than agonizing over the perfect-but-unattainable goal, this chart [from a fascinating Boston Consulting report, in PDF here]  frustrates me. I understand why Americans choose hybrid-electric cars as their most favored “green car” technology, but from their it gets fairly crazy. EVs are fantastic on paper, but in the real world they’re still far too expensive, their batteries degrade, they have limited range, oh and did I mention that they’re freaking expensive? Biofuels, America’s third-favorite “green” transportation technology can be fantastic in certain limited applications, but the ongoing ethanol boondoggle proves that it will never be a true “gasoline alternative.” Finally, at the bottom of the list, Americans grudgingly accept only relatively slight interest in the two most promising short-term technologies: diesel and CNG. Neither of these choices is radically more expensive than, say, a hybrid drivetrain and both are considerably less expensive and compromised than EVs at this point. So why are we so dismissive of them?

And here’s how deep the irony goes: America is, apparently, far more sensitive to lifetime costs, and is particularly concerned with upfront costs. So if 56% of Americans are not willing to pay any extra upfront for a “green car,” and only 38% are willing to pay more upfront if it pays off over time, why do 64% claim to be interested in EVs? After all, the battery-powered cars that are currently on the market cost considerably more upfront (on average) than comparable hybrids, diesels and CNG cars. Even the most hard-core EV fans admit that buying an electric car now makes no financial sense, and even hybrids must be driven a huge number of miles to pay off its upfront premium compared to a comparable gasoline or CNG car. American consumers had some of the highest “don’t understand” response rates across the board, but when you break down the data you can’t help wondering if there should have been a few more.

But don’t blame Americans. After all, we’re so well-protected from our energy externalities (a topic I covered recently when I called for a serious push to increase gas taxes), that we couldn’t possibly be expected to know or care about fuel-efficient technologies as our $8/gallon-paying bretheren across the pond and around the world. As this chart shows, the US government lags other developed nations and regions in its fuel economy standard… but even this isn’t the real story. After all, the current argument being made by automakers is that they will be forced to put more cost into future CAFE-compliant cars which consumers will not find worthwhile if gas prices don’t rise. Which brings us back to the real issue:

The problem, it seems, is that America still sees “fuel efficient” cars and “green” cars as being fundamentally different. Just look at the rise of high-priced cars that are green for the sake of being green, and offer no chance paying back their additional costs compared to comparable cars that are simply “fuel efficient.” Fisker’s Karma is “green,” while a 335d is “fuel efficient.” Chevy’s Volt is “green” but the Cruze Eco is merely “efficient.” Tesla’s Roadster is “green” but a Lotus Elise is amazingly efficient. I could go on, but the point should be fairly clear: because “green” has become such an aspirational marketing trope, and because we are still so insulated from the price motivation that drives nearly everyone else on earth to save fuel, we can’t even evaluate the “green car” options out there in a way that makes any sense. In my mind, this is a troubling sign of the market failure that comes from hidden externalities… and as a believer in market solutions, I hope American consumers can start looking at alternative drivetrains with more objectivity in the near future.

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Survey Says: 57% Of Americans Won’t Buy EVs Regardless Of Gas Prices Wed, 25 May 2011 16:00:39 +0000

Gallup has just released a new poll asking Americans to rate their likelihood of making certain lifestyle changes based on different hypothetical gas prices. The result: 57 percent refuse to consider buying an “electric car that you could only drive for a limited number of miles at one time” no matter how high gas prices go. Only moving or changing jobs encountered more resistance. Clearly betting the farm on pure EVs is going to face some challenges…

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How Efficient Are Plug-In Cars? Survey Says… Wed, 04 May 2011 19:19:33 +0000

A number of plug-in hopeful firms have been testing their future products in fleets, keeping a close eye on the data coming back as they prepare for their consumer launches or wider availability. One such vehicle, Toyota’s plug-in Prius has been testing for some time now, and while the results of US and European testing hasn’t been publicized yet, Wards Auto reports that the company has disclosed the results of Japanese testing with some interesting conclusions. With BYD and Chevrolet releasing data from their own plug-in testing, we should have the basis for some interesting insights. Hit the jump for more on the lessons learned and the data gleaned from this testing of next-gen drivetrains.

Toyota has long taken a very conservative approach to both pure plug-in EVs and the lithium-ion battery technology that underpins the current generation of pure EVs. And as a result, their test data shows some interesting usage paterns that might not have been publicized by a firm with more skin in the EV gamble. To wit:

Some 45% of users in the Japan test drove less than 20 miles (32 km) a day, so their daily fuel use was zero, [Toyota Europe engineer Rody El Chammas] says. And because they had a 1.8L gasoline engine on board, they didn’t worry about driving further.

Most drivers of the 200 plug-in hybrids in the Japanese fleet trial used the car for business, and Toyota was able to track results of the daily drives on the same route.

It was no surprise the extremes of cold and hot weather reduced the range of the PHEVs. At 32° F (0º C), range is cut in half; above 77° F (25º C), when the air conditioning kicks in, the range sinks again. But in addition to the effects of weather on the draw of electricity, Toyota also found a “traffic jam” effect.

In good weather on the same route, when the drives averaged 19.4 mph (31.2 km/h), the EV range was about 4 miles (2.5 km) more than when speeds were averaging 13.7 mph (22 km/h).

Meanwhile, as TTAC has pointed out before, measuring plug-in hybrid efficiency is a huge challenge given that the vehicles are literally “as efficient as you want them to be.” Or, as the Toyota engineer puts it.

Actual fuel savings depends on how far people actually drive their PHEVs. El Chammas says 19 miles (30 km) a day saves 71% of fuel, compared with a hybrid Prius, and at 31 miles (50 km) a day, the savings is 41%.

In Europe, 75% of daily trips are less than 50 km, he says, while in the U.S. 66% are below that and in Japan it’s 90%.

El Chammas says European testing is beginning to show another new challenge, namely making charging infrastructure available and convenient to PHEV drivers. Problems ranging from vandalism of charging stations to non-EV squatting in charging station parking spots have been issues in European testing, he admits. In my own experience with the Prius Plug-In, which was undergoing US testing as part of ZipCar’s fleet, this is proved to be a real and not-inconsequential concern: my own test results were compromised as a result of the Prius not having been plugged in by the previous user.

Luckily for Toyota, it has found that Prius PHEV drivers don’t worry too much about charging, as efficiency is still pretty good without a full charge. But at BYD, which has released data on its Chinese pure-electric taxi tests to GreenCarCongress, they’ve found that rapid charging has yet to make a serious impact on battery life or power. This is significant in the sense that “normal” charging of a pure EV can be incredibly time-consuming, while rapid charging is widely considered to have a negative impact on battery life and power (for example, Nissan says slow-charging its Leaf EV takes 21 hours, while rapid charging will take 10% off of the battery’s life and power by the end of its life). But, reports GCC

BYD said that the most important finding in the e6 fleet testing was that there has been no noticeable energy drop—both driving range and battery performance has been stable in rapid-charging conditions over the 1.73M miles tested.

Of course, that’s based on 50 Shenzhen-based e6 taxis, so divide those total miles by 50 and you find that each has gone an average of 34,600 miles. It’s promising that BYD has not yet found any negative impacts from rapid charging the iron-phosphate batteries, but we’d want to see at least four times that mileage before we declare regular rapid charging to be free from battery degradation issues. Meanwhile,

According to collected data, the per-car-fuel-savings is more than $1,167 per Taxi per month (driving an average of 400 km per day). BYD’s all-electric Taxis are expected to help Shenzhen avoid about 133 lbs (or 60.4 kg) of carbon-dioxide emissions per day per taxi. This is an equivalent of 2,425,060 lbs (or 1.1M kg) of carbon-dioxide pollution saved by this fleet in the first year.

Unfortunately, BYD leaves a couple of key variables un-fixed, such as the carbon rating for electricity in Shenzhen, as well as an average kW-per-vehicle-mile-traveled number. As a result, the Shenzhen taxi data is less than entirely illuminating. If anything, the most interesting number is the nearly 250 miles per day that the fleet apparently averaged. On the other hand, that number is just a little bit suspicious as it’s exactly the manufacturer range rating BYD gives for its e6.

Luckily BYD redeems itself by releasing some far more revealing data from its Los Angeles-based test fleet of F3DM compact plug-in hybrid cars.

BYD also reported on its F3DM fleet which BYD launched in its first US tests at the Housing Authority of Los Angeles (HACLA). The F3DM can travel more than 40 miles (64 km) all-electric but can be engaged to act as a Hybrid-Electric (HEV) to extend its range up to 300 miles (483 km). The HACLA fleet has now accumulated ~10,430 miles (16,785 km) all-electric and 14,430 total miles (23,223 km); 4,000 fuel-driven miles when extended range was necessary.

The fleet is achieving an equivalent of 88 mpg (2.67 L/100km) and BYD estimates the per-car-savings—even netting out EV charging and electricity costs—is ~70%. BYD’s dual-mode cars are expected to save HACLA about 37 lbs (16.8 kg) of carbon-dioxide per-day-per-auto when driven to the EV range.

Given that Los Angeles represents one of the more extreme driving environments unique to the US market, this data is quite interesting. On the other hand, the fleet is relatively new and has not yet accumulated enough miles to truly test the long-term viability of the F3DM. Considering that driving impressions of the F3DM indicate that it is a relatively immature product by US market standards, we would want a good deal more data before we even thought about putting money down on a BYD.

Meanwhile, Chevy is carefully collecting data from its Volt customers, and spokesman Rob Peterson says he’s encouraged by upticks in the Volt’s efficiency which are showing up in both anecdotal and customer data. From the December launch of the Volt through February, GM says Volt consumers averaged 800 miles between visits to the gas station, and in March that number jumped to 1,000 miles. Peterson says Volt owners now fill up on gas an average of once every 30 days, and that GM will be sharing more data on the Volt’s usage data going forward.

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TrueDelta Updates Reliability Survey Mon, 16 Aug 2010 20:41:42 +0000

Thanks in part to help from TTAC readers, TrueDelta received a record number of responses to last month’s Car Reliability Survey—nearly 18,000. Updated car reliability stats have been posted to the site for 458 cars, up from 404 three month ago. There are partial results for another 351.

These stats cover through the end of June. Other sources of car reliability information will not cover the most recent months until the summer or even fall of next year.

Among the 2010s we have full results for, few are “worse than average.” Exceptions include the Ford Taurus, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Jaguar XF, and VW diesels.

The Taurus has had a common problem with chrome trim peeling off the tail lights. The VW diesels had a problem with O2 sensors that seems to have been resolved–the updated result is a big step in the right direction. So both of these are expected to improve to about average in future updates.

The Genesis Coupe continues to worsen, and is not expected to improve before the second model year. The Genesis sedan has improved in its second model year.

The Jaguar XF is already in its second model year, without evident improvement after some early issues with the 2009 were resolved.

We don’t yet have enough data on the 2011 Hyundai Sonata and Kia Sorento. The data we do have suggest that both are about average, with no obvious common problems. Full results for these with the next update, in November.

Despite the recent media circus, Toyotas continue to be most consistently better than average.

Additional participants are always helpful. The more owners participate, the better the information we can provide to everyone.

To view the updated results:

Car Reliability Survey results

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The Truth About JD Power’s 2010 Vehicle Dependability Survey Thu, 18 Mar 2010 19:46:08 +0000

I conduct a car reliability survey at Since we promptly update our results four times a year, we can report on new models ahead of anyone else. Last year, we announced that the 2009 Jaguar XF was faring poorly. This provoked a blistering backlash from owners at a particular Jaguar forum. In the end, threads on reliability were deleted and future ones all but banned in the interest of preserving what remained of the UK auto industry.

The outraged owners argued that TrueDelta’s results could not be correct, since Jaguar had just been declared the most dependable make by J.D. Power. I pointed out that the VDS covers the third year of ownership, 2006 in that case, and that Jaguar had discontinued, redesigned, or replaced every model in its line save the XJ in the interim. So the results did not apply to the XF, or the current XK for that matter.

Well, J.D. Power has now released the 2010 Vehicle Dependability Survey (VDS), which covers 2007s in their third year of ownership, and, as predicted, the redesigned XK has, all by its lonesome, sunk Jaguar’s ranking from 1st to 23rd. And it’ll only get uglier once the XF is reflected in these stats in another two years.

#1 this year: Porsche. Many people will wonder how Porsche fared so well. One likely factor: Porsches are often weekend cars that aren’t driven much. J.D. Power might consider doing what TrueDelta does, and post average odometer readings. A larger factor: THERE WAS NO 2007 CAYENNE—Porsche skipped straight from 2006 to 2008. The Cayenne is likely more troublesome than the sports cars, and is certainly driven more. So don’t expect a top VDS score for Porsche next year, when the Cayenne is again part of the mix.

“Long term” for J.D. Power continues to mean “the third year of ownership.” It used to mean the fifth year, but manufacturers have little use for fifth-year data, and this survey primarily exists to serve manufacturers willing to pay large sums for detailed results.

Many car buyers, though, are much more interested in how cars fare after the 3/36 warranty ends. J.D. Power has no information for them, hoping that car buyers will accept third-year problem frequencies as a sufficient indicator of how a car will perform over the long haul. Unfortunately, in many cases it is not. TrueDelta’s data suggest that all too often cars take a turn for the worse either soon after the warranty ends or after 100,000 miles.

As usual, the public gets brand-level scores rather than model-level scores from J.D. Power. Brand-level scores are of limited use for a car buyer, and can actually misinform as much as they inform. After all, people don’t buy the entire line. They buy a particular model. And the scores of models can vary widely within a brand.

Much is made of which brands did better this year (Porsche, Lincoln), and which did worse (Jaguar). Well, as noted above, the brand averages can be heavily influenced by the introduction of a single new design or the absence of a single old design.

For these and other reasons a focus on model-level scores would be much more valid and useful.

Also worth noting: as in the past most makes are tightly bunched around the average, 155 problems per 100 cars this year. Consumer Reports considers any score within 20 percent of the average in its own survey to be “about average.” Applying this metric to J.D. Power’s results, 21 of the 36 brands are “about average.”

J.D. Power notes that for Cadillac, Ford, Hyundai, Lincoln, and Mercury perceptions of reliability lag reality. No surprise, since (as I’ve found all too often) people often judge (and more often than not reject) data based on how these data fit their perceptions rather than judging their perceptions based on how they fit the data.

J.D. Power’s explicit solution: convince consumers of gains in reliability. The implicit solution: pay to include VDS results in your ads. But are perceptions based on the VDS any more likely to be correct? Or, as seen in the Porsche and Jaguar cases, are they just as often part of the problem?

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of vehicle pricing and reliability data

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Toyota Loses Face In Japan. Or Not Mon, 15 Mar 2010 09:12:40 +0000

Toyota sales back home in Japan have yet to show a sign of suffering (they were up 49.9 percent in February while the Japanese market rose 35.1 percent.) However, Toyota’s reputation is taking a hit in the Land of the Rising Sun, says The Nikkei [sub].  Depends on how you look at it: 40 percent of Japanese consumers in a recent survey said Toyota’s troubles have undermined their confidence. 58.4 percent said the issues have not changed their opinion of Toyota, 1.4 percent said they now hold the firm in higher regard.

The poll was conducted on March 1-2 by TNS-Infoplan Inc., a week after Akio Toyoda apologized on Capitol Hill and days after he bowed to the Chinese in  Beijing. I was in Japan at the time, and you could feel the embarrassment and loss of face.

Polls of that kind are generally useless, results change daily, depending on the news. What counts are the opinions of owners of the brand (and those of other brands) who are about to buy another vehicle. TNS should know that,  they have years of experience from the conduction of the (usually secret) European Customer Satisfaction study for European automakers. Another way of interpreting the data would be “majority of Japanese unfazed by Toyota’s troubles.” But that doesn’t sell expensive studies.

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