By on January 5, 2018

2018 Toyota Camry Georgetown Kentucky assembly plant - Image: Toyota

While it’s definitely not the same doom and gloom vibe felt around the domestic auto industry as it was financially circling the drain in 2008, headlines in the new year seem to forecast storm clouds on the horizon.

After nearly a decade of sales growth, the American market for passenger cars and light trucks flattened out in 2017. Actually, sales didn’t just flatten in the U.S., they dropped 1.75 percent for the year. Not only has the overall U.S. market shrunk, we’re seeing predictions of the death of an entire segment of that market, the sedan — a segment that has pretty much defined the American automotive world for a century. It’s one thing for an iconoclastic website like TTAC to be talking about a sedan deathwatch, but when that prediction is on the front page of the Detroit News, with reports that Ford may very well stop building sedans in America and that Buick sedan sales have been cut in half over the past year, people will take notice.

I’m not here to depress you, though. Despite the gloomy cast to things, in reality the automotive industry as a whole is doing very well. (Read More…)

By on December 12, 2017

2016 Honda Civic Sedan - Image: Honda

We all have our perversions, and here’s mine: I will always have a soft spot for ugly-duckling products that were eclipsed by the competition or cannibalized by their own relatives. First example: the Apple 3 (properly yclept Apple ///). We don’t have time here to discuss how and why the “business-focused” 8-bit Apple failed, but I will forever cherish the fact that Apple put out a service bulletin for improperly seated microchips where the fix was to pick it up and drop it like it was hot — because it was, in fact, too hot.

I could go on… and I will! The Fender Jazzmaster, the Omega Seamaster, the Members Only jacket that cost slightly more because it had a zipper breast pocket instead of the elastic-clinch one, the F-111. Show me something that didn’t quite catch the imagination of the public, and you will have my complete attention. If the reason for that lack of public attention has to do with the product involved being just a little bit too complex, demanding, fussy, or eccentric — well then, my friend, we are really cooking.

One such example of that in the automotive world was the fifth-generation Maxima, sold here from 2000-2003, with particular emphasis on the 3.5-liter, six-speed, limited-slip bad boys produced in the second half of the run. Those were slick-looking, powerful, deeply satisfying automobiles… that had absolutely zero appeal for the credit criminals and shifty-eyed fast-food night managers who, by my scientific calculations, make up ninety-six-point-three percent of Nissan’s customer base. Those people didn’t see the reason to buy a Maxima when they could get an Altima for less.

As a consequence, the sixth-generation Maxima became a giant Altima, the seventh-generation Maxima became a rarity, and the eighth-generation Maxima became a rental car.

(Read More…)

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