Daily Podcast: The Big Bang

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Henry Ford firmly established the economic benefits of leveraging large economies of scale– for both the automaker's profits and the customer's wallet. But time and technology have moved on. If you look closely enough, you can see we're heading for the end of corporate consolidation in the automotive industry, slowly heading towards the long-predicted era of mass customization. So-called "flexible manufacturing" allows carmakers to build various vehicles on the same line (e.g. Honda's Civic sedan, Ridgeline pickup and Acura MDX CUV). MINI has reinvigorated the idea of "have it your way." Uber-tuners and ride pimpers have graduated from bolt-on to bespoke. Tender shoots to be sure, but there's no reason to think mass customization shouldn't continue. Just have a look at the staggering number of vehicles for sale, and the consolidation of franchised dealers into multi-branded mega-dealerships. I'll go out on a limb here and say that we'll start to see MORE car brands, rather than less, as manufacturing hives-off from tied retail (a.k.a. franchised dealers). In short, motoring's golden age lies ahead, in a radically different form than we know it now. Put that in your UAW contract and smoke it.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Oct 23, 2007

    RF, sorry about your Boxster. Loved the comments about revving gas vs diesel engines. (This is why I don't want a hybrid, or an electric, although I think everyone else except certified pistonheads should be forced to drive petrolly penurious cars.)

  • Samir Syed Samir Syed on Oct 23, 2007

    Did anyone here watch the ALMS race at Laguna Seca this Saturday? If they gave me *that* R10 diesel, I don't think I'd mind.

  • Glenn126 Glenn126 on Oct 24, 2007

    Justin, the 69% increase in MPG you note is for a British spec vehicle - I have to wonder if once the diesel Honda engines come to the US, they'll be as efficient - for the simple reason that our emissions test is horrendously more stringient than is Euro 4/5. In fact, the 45-state-only VW diesels had to be discontinued after 2006, and only now are "clean" diesels coming back on the market (I have seen none at the dealer, yet). Plus, as Paul alluded to, diesel fuel costs 20% more than gasoline here in the USA. Add in the additional cost of the diesel car, AND the additional cost of yet more emission equipment for the diesel, AND bear in mind that with a turbocharger, intercooler, etc. etc. there is "more to go wrong" (not necessarily a problem for Toyota/Honda but decidely a problem for most other car mfr's) - well.... I'll take my Prius instead, thanks. My 2008 Prius (just replaced my 2005) is sitting down in the parking lot here at work, and on it's little "meter" it says 49.5 mpg (US) right now, for the past 80 miles of travel. On my last fill-up, the meter read 48.2 mpg, but we'd had a lot of high winds recently which affected it. (It's weird to note how rain, winds, colder temperatures than about 50 degrees F., hotter temperatures and AC use, etc. cut into MPG - but if you think this is "only" applicable to Prius, you'd be wrong!) I will say that diesels will still have a market in the US, and would consider a clean diesel for car #2 if the math added up right (for the simple and logical reason that I don't want an SUV; we need to be able to tow a small camper and hybrid cars cannot yet tow anything). We will continue to carpool in our Prius (car #1), and only put about 6000 to 8000 miles a year on our second car (2007 Hyundai Sonata 4 cyl). Just recently read that Prius is the MOST reliable new car sold in the US and the Sonata 4 cylinder is 3rd MOST reliable car sold in the US (with Accord in 2nd place). After 5 plus years of non-US branded cars, I feel a lot better about abandoning Detroit's craptastic stuff after being abused by them for 30 plus years. Feels just as if I've awakened to the possibilities of a different future and left an abusive spouse, in fact....

  • Justin Berkowitz Justin Berkowitz on Oct 24, 2007

    glenn, I completely agree with you about the Honda Accord example I used being British spec. It will be some time before we know what mileage a clean diesel can really offer in the states. Your average of 50 mpg in the Prius is fantastic of course, but what is the % improvement over a Corolla or Matrix? Maybe 50%, I'd venture. Does that sound right? My guess is that the new diesels coming to the U.S., especially the one from Honda, will be in that approximate range of improvement. And since they're going in totally different sized and category cars for now (excepting the anachronistic Lexus hybrids), I don't even think diesel and hybrid will be direct competitors for some time. It's great that both will be on the market. They drive completely differently, appeal to different buyers, and the powertrains tend to come wrapped in totally different cars. For me, I won't buy a hybrid that drives like the Prius and Civic currently on the market. I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with others buying them, but they just aren't my preference. A diesel on the other hand, I'd get in a second. And if we all drive more fuel efficient cars, I think that's a good thing.