By on September 19, 2019

Full disclosure time: For those who are new around here, I worked at Cox Automotive for a little over four years as a sales trainer in the Media Sales division. In that role, I was (very) peripherally aware of some of the company’s strategic decisions, as the Sales Strategy team was also part of my larger department, but I didn’t have any influence or advance knowledge of them. (This is a boilerplate statement for when my old friends at Cox decide I’m in violation of my employment termination agreement by writing this.)

When I first started at Cox (before they even called it “Cox Automotive,” it was just Autotrader.com then), the company was a fat cat, to say the least. I remember when one of our leadership team members declared that we had sold $1.2 billion of revenue in a year, and that over $700 million of it was pure profit. I remember when we drastically overpaid for Dealer.com and Dealertrack at a whopping $4 billion dollar pricetag, just because we had the cash laying around and we were going to get heavily taxed on it if we didn’t spend it on something.

Of course, everything has an expiration date, and the third-party automotive classified business was no exception. Around 2016 or so, consumers started using this new thing called “Google” to search for cars on the internet, dealers stopped writing five-figure checks for classified ads every month without even asking why, and sales reps learned that they aren’t actually worth $250,000 a year for just “checking in” on dealers. Their  strategy of diversification, with the purchases of companies like Kelley Blue Book, vAuto, and VinSolutions turned out to have been a smart move, as some of their competitors like Cars.com were stuck holding the note on a company that literally nobody wants. Ouch.

So when I read that Cox Automotive had invested $350 million into Rivian last week, my initial thoughts were, “Oh, there goes Cox burning some more cash,” and I mostly went about my day. However, a week later, I’m beginning to see that there are more wheels in motion than anybody on the outside realizes — and they will have a significant impact on the automotive marketplace in the years to come.

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By on January 25, 2019

Image: GM

It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.”

— Dr. Suess, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

2019 Chevrolet Blazers are available for purchase at dealership near you. No, really, they are. Like, right this second. You could buy one. Some people already have. This is interesting because it’s pretty much impossible to find a review of one anywhere on the internet. A search for “Chevrolet Blazer Reviews” brings you to some news of the initial auto show reveal, and that’s about it.

To you, the TTAC reader and automotive enthusiast, this news probably doesn’t rock you to your core. But there’s a group of people that are wringing their hands nervously about this product launch.

The journosaurs.

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By on December 31, 2018

Image: JRE/YouTube2018 was pretty lit, am I right? Let’s recap some highlights:

In fact, this has probably been the craziest post-bailout year yet. Since TTAC was one of the first blogs to predict the General Motors bankruptcy, I thought I might honor that tradition by taking this New Year’s Eve opportunity to predict how events that unfolded over the past 12 months will affect the way we buy and drive cars for the foreseeable future. Click the jump and see if you think I’m right.

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By on December 3, 2018

Image: 2017 Dodge Journey SE, via FCA

Automotive Twitter really is the worst Twitter, for many reasons. First of all, it’s not very “automotive.” With the exception of our dear friend, Bozi Tatarevic, who is a must-follow for his encyclopedic knowledge and Holmesian sleuthing skills, nearly every other autowriter on Twitter views the platform as an opportunity to share the wonkiest political views possible. When they aren’t doing that, they’re all sipping from the same “I am an expert on financial matters but I also dress like a flood victim” Kool-Aid, chanting the same mantra over and over.

Last week was particularly objectionable, what with the GM decision to mostly abandon passenger cars in favor of light and heavy trucks. “People are buying the wrong cars!” they shout to their literally dozens of followers. “Crossover bad! Car good!” they shriek, neglecting to share with you that nearly all of them are childless and nary a one of them has ever tried to fit a collapsing stroller, a diaper bag, and a breast pump into the trunk of a Miata. One particularly stupid individual compared the nation’s overwhelming preference for crossovers to its preference for superhero movies over art films. Sigh.

It takes roughly three functioning brain cells to understand that crossovers are a better fit for the majority of flyover country than small cars are. Of course, once you understand that the majority of the major digital automotive press in this country is based in New York, then it’s not hard to understand that they can’t see outside of their bubbles. You certainly don’t need something like a Chevy Traverse if you are a childless man with a domestic partner who lives in a third-floor Brooklyn walkup with no available parking. But when you live in suburban Indiana with your three kids, all of whom have multiple after school activities, well, crossovers make a little more sense. And since childless couples in NY don’t buy cars and soccer moms in Indiana do, well, it only makes sense that the General is gonna listen to Jennifer from Carmel.

I, however, tend to think that there is an even more sinister goal behind the switch from cars to crossovers. I think it’s to prepare people for the (possibly never) upcoming switch to self-driving cars. Allow me to elaborate.

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By on October 18, 2018

For those of you who haven’t been to the press days of one of the major American auto shows (Detroit, New York, Chicago, LA), I’ll briefly describe what they are like: many, many parties, a lot of free alcohol, and very little to do with cars. I mean, yeah, there are some cars present, but nobody really looks at them or talks about them. All the press materials are sent in advance so that websites (like this one) can publish their stories en masse as soon as whatever artificial embargo is in place expires. The cars don’t really even need to be there. I enjoy going to the New York International Auto Show for one reason — it’s in New York. If you put it in Peoria, Bark ain’t going.

Local auto shows, however, serve a completely different purpose. The idea of the local auto show in your town is that it allows you to see all of the cars you might be considering for purchase in one place. Or, if you’re a car geek, you can just go look at all of the stuff that you normally would have to have a lot more money to be allowed to look at in person. When I was growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I eagerly anticipated the auto show every year. I remember my dad begrudgingly taking me to the show, just so I could walk around Veterans Memorial Auditorium and see things like the Chevrolet Citation Coupe Concept and maybe even sit in a Trans Am for a few seconds before the Pontiac booth guy kicked me out.

So it was with that same sense of excitement that I went to the Miami International Auto Show last week. It was the first time in over a decade that I had the chance to go to a car show as a member of the general public — no name badge around my neck, no glad-handing PR reps, no hordes of automotive “journalists” obstructing my view of the cars with their ridiculous camera rigs. It was going to be an opportunity to see cars, man.

An hour later, I left the massive Miami Beach Convention Center feeling more sad than anything else. The local car show, as I knew it, appears to be dead.

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By on October 4, 2018

Somewhere along the way, somehow, the Sports Car Club of America lost the focus on fun. I know this, because a few years ago, after a particularly tedious conversation with some officials on the SCCA Solo Events Board about whether or not I had put the proper roll hoops on my car, I said, “Enough.” After about six years of national-level autocross, everything about dealing with the SCCA or participating in their events had become tedious, and nothing was fun.

The only way I ever had any fun at all was if I won, and since I had chosen to participate in the toughest and most highly subscribed class in autocross, the chances of that happening were becoming slimmer and slimmer all the time, and the costs were escalating to the point where road racing became a cheaper option. Think how crazy that is. So, I quit.

But three years ago, the SCCA began its Track Night program. Two years ago, Targa became a thing. And just like that, thanks primarily to the efforts of Heyward Wagner and his experiential team, the SCCA became fun again. It wasn’t all about spring rates and spoiler heights and tire width and thousandths of seconds — it was about having fun with cars.

So imagine how bummed I was when I started to hear rumors that Targa was dead, the victim of high costs and low ROI. Sure enough, the rumors were followed by an email that confirmed its untimely murder, but there was hope — Targa was being replaced by a new program called “Time Trials Nationals.” The idea was to have an event that Track Night participants could evolve into — maybe wheel-to-wheel racing is too intimidating or costly, but they’d still like to be able to compete against the clock on a track, not in a parking lot.

After running a couple of regional events as warm-ups, the SCCA held their first Time Trials Nationals event this past weekend at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. There was no way I was going to miss it. So I didn’t. I packed up my Focus RS with all the tools and driving gear I could fit in the hatch, pulled my son out of school on a Friday, and headed west to find out what this new program was all about. And what I found out was that running a bone stock car against the clock is a hell of a lot of fun.

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By on July 31, 2018

There are two things that all men think they’re good at: sex and driving. While I won’t make any comment on the former, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that most of you are really bad at driving. Sure, if you consider going back and forth to the grocery store and back without too much trouble, or putting the accelerator pedal to the floor and making very loud noises “driving,” then you’re probably okay. But any sort of combination of braking, turning, hitting apexes, tracking out, transferring weight, heel-toe shifting… yeah, you’re not good at that.

But before you get all mad at me and rush to the comments to make remarks about my mother — relax. Nobody is naturally great at performance driving. It’s a learned skill, just like anything in life. And while many of us might be hesitant to take a daily driver that’s currently on its 14th of 60 payments to the track, there is likely a place near you where you can learn some of the basics of enthusiastic piloting in a safe and friendly environment. Chances are that your local Sports Car Club of America region has an Autocross School with hotshoes who are ready to sit in your passenger seat to help you improve.

My local region, the Central Kentucky Region, hosted just such a school a few weeks ago, and I enthusiastically offered to be one of the coaches.

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By on May 11, 2018

Tony Horton, the creator and lead trainer for the P90X series, has a frequent saying about not letting your ego get in the way of your success. Don’t use 25-pound dumbbells for an exercise when you really need to use 15s, etc. It can be tough, especially at the beginning (when you’re not terribly strong yet), and you’re using weights that look more like they belong in a Richard Simmons workout than a P90X workout, but it’s the only way to build up enough strength and get the results you want.

About five weeks ago, I realized that I was terribly out of shape. Well, that’s not really true. I had known that I was out of shape for much longer than that, but I hadn’t actually done anything about it. With the traveling for business and the parenting and the soccer coaching and the socializing, I had taken my concerns about my physical fitness and placed them in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”

So it wasn’t until five weeks ago that I decided to take action and throw the old P90X3 discs back in the Blu-ray player and get my ass moving. Good news is that I’m down double digits in weight, my resting heart rate is down about 11 beats a minute, and I’m on the path back to being physically fit again. This is, of course, completely uninteresting to you, but there’s a point coming up here in a second.

I drove my loaner Lotus Evora 400 down to Atlanta Motorsports Park for an SCCA “Track Night in America” this week, and I’ll have a full write-up of whether or not it’s a good idea to drive 700 miles in one day for a track session next week, as well as the rest of my impressions of the car. However, today I want to talk about what I saw in the Intermediate session. It wasn’t good.

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By on April 27, 2018

ford focus rs

Unfortunately, I knew this whole Ford “kill all the cars” was coming a few weeks ago. While visiting a dealer, I had a conversation with a regional Ford rep who told me the company’s plan was “Mustang, Focus Active, and Trucks, Baby!” for 2020 and beyond. So it’s easy for me to say I saw it coming, but, more importantly, I can also say that I knew why it was coming.

It’s not Mark Fields’ fault. It’s not even Jim Hackett’s fault, really. Do I think he’s the second coming? No. Do I think he’s going to run the company into the ground? Of course not.

No, at the end of the day, the only person that can be held responsible for the death of Ford’s passenger cars is You. Not me. You.

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By on April 12, 2018

“See that sign over there?” The weathered, weary general manager of the dealer I was visiting that day pointed in the direction of a shiny, silver and red beacon with the word “FIAT” in bold capital letters. He spat the still-burning cigarette out of his mouth and stomped on it in disgust. “Cost me $27,000. They gave me the franchise for free, but they made me pay for that damn sign.”

“How many Fiats have you sold since you put it up?” The exasperated look he shot me after I asked that question told me that perhaps I shouldn’t have ventured into that territory.

One. One freaking car. I’d have to sell about 40 of the damn things just to pay for the sign, much less make any money.” He gestured toward the line of Fiat 500Xs that were crowding his lot. “You wanna take a couple with ya? I’ll make you a hell of a deal.”

Even though I’m actually rather fond of the little crossover, I’m not fond enough to actually buy one. Apparently, nobody else is either. And that’s a problem for FCA dealers.

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By on April 5, 2018

Earlier this week, I found myself behind the wheel of a Hyundai Kona SE, doing some test driving on behalf of a dear friend of mine who recently acquired her license and had yet to acquire the accompanying insurance.

“This car feels like despair,” I said to her as we rumbled harshly over some bumps in the urban streets of Miami. Everywhere I looked, I found reasons to be depressed. The steering wheel was of the most severe and slippery plastic material. When I pressed the accelerator, there was a ghastly noise accompanied by a complete lack of actual forward motion. The stereo was of such poor quality that I just turned it off. “No me gusta.”

The salesperson in the backseat was not pleased with my reaction to the car. “Well, you know, this is the base model. I could show you an Ultimate model if you want some more features. It has the better motor, a nicer steering wheel, more speakers. Of course, we only have one of those in stock.”

And therein lies the problem with most modern car reviews, including ones that I’ve personally written. The cars the OEMs have the automotive press reviewing are not the cars the dealers are stocking, and they definitely are not the cars people are buying.

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By on March 30, 2018

It seems like only last year that the star of the New York International Auto Show was an 840 horsepower, zero you-know-whats-given, single-seated rocketship that did a 9 second 1/4 mile and literally lit things on fire. That’s probably because it was last year. This year, I found myself enthralled by … an in-car audio system.

That’s right — the very best part of the 2018 NYIAS was enjoying Art Pepper and Bonnie Raitt on the ELS surround sound system in the Acura RDX A-Spec (no kidding, it’s freakin’ amazing and it’s worth buying the RDX just because of it).

Yes, there was a yellow Porsche thing and there was a very Lamborghini Orange Corvette, but there was little else for this journosaur to get excited about other than the fact Honda ordered some extra wine for their social hour (see pic at the top, featuring my security detail: our own Bozi Tatarevic), due in no small part to the fact that I drank six glasses of red wine all by myself in less than 60 minutes.

So rather than do what every other autoblog on the planet does, I’m not gonna give you my greatest hits of the auto show. Rather, I’m going to tell you what should have premiered on this year’s show circuit.

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By on March 15, 2018

honda s2000 cr

My friends, I spoke to you last week about the dangers of freedom-hating wackadoodles who want to take away your right to own and drive your own car. Some of you agreed with me, others didn’t. Such is the nature of an op-ed. I was pleased to see that only a couple of you tried to no-platform me — either I’m getting less offensive in my old age or you’re getting more tolerant, and both of those are good things.

But today I am here to warn you of a more subtle threat to your driving-related joy, and it’s coming from a rather unsuspected source — the very manufacturers of the cars we love so much. Well, no, that’s not exactly right. It’s actually coming from you. The economic factors presented by the buying behavior of the general public are eventually going to make it impossible for automakers to deliver the cars that enthusiasts want to buy.

I’m not just talking about silly “Save the Manuals” nonsense. I’m talking about being able to buy a lightweight car. I’m talking about buying a car that will allow you to get yourself into trouble without kicking in the traction control. They won’t be dead — at least, not yet. But there’s no denying that cheap, fun cars are very, very close to being a thing of the past.

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By on March 8, 2018

Oh, my friends. We knew this day was coming, didn’t we? In a society where all it takes for a cause to be popular is a tweetstorm, David Klion has decided that nobody should have the right to drive a car. Who’s David Klion, you may ask, and why should we care what he thinks? Well, he’s a freelance columnist (hey, so am I) and he lives in Brooklyn (I was born near there!) and he used to work for Al Jazeera America (okay, I would never do that) and he occasionally gets to write op-eds for the New York Times (like Ed Niedermeyer!). And, holy shit, I actually predicted this way back in 2016. 

So while I may not particularly care what Mr. Klion thinks, it’s important to realize he represents the opinion of a significant number of people just like himself — people who are scraping by to make a living in ever-growing urban centers, who probably can’t afford a car and probably don’t have a driver’s license, and have seen how the power of a few malcontents on social media can affect significant social change in these United States of America.

In other words, they’re very, very dangerous. And in order to show you how dangerous they are, I’m gonna have to talk about the third rail of American politics at the moment: The Bill of Rights.

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By on March 1, 2018

bark lecture

Over the years, every single time I’ve written about dealers and questionable business practices, the feedback from readers is invariably the same — kill the dealer model. Nuke it from orbit. We would all rather deal directly with the manufacturer than some slimeball franchisee. We want to order cars exactly the way we want them, down to the color and trim, and we want them delivered directly to us without the hassle of spending the day at the dealer saying “NO” to Tru-Coat.

Well, I should clarify — not all readers feel this way. Any reader who works for (or has previously worked for) a dealer will tell us all that we need the protection from OEMs that franchise agreements provide the customer. They tell us that competition in the marketplace is good for the consumer, and that it helps the local economy to have franchises around America.

But what would really happen if OEMs got their way and were able to sell directly to the consumer? What if all the dealers disappeared tomorrow? Would you be happy with the result? Or would it damage the customer? Who would benefit, and who would suffer under such a model? Let’s look at it objectively.

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