Can All New VW Tiguan Challenge Top Selling Small SUVs?

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2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium

The all new Volkswagen Tiguan was revealed at a low key media event driving out of Denver, CO up to 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.  While the VW Tiguan is classified as a Compact Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle (XSUV), it’s dimensions are close to that of an ideal mid-size car of a decade ago – wheelbase of about 110-inches and overall length of about 185-inches.  It is a nice size, has a comfortable interior with adequate room in the second row seat and even has a third row seat available.  Front wheel drive Tiguans have the third row seat standard.  In all wheel drive VW Tiguans, the third row is optional.

The 2018 VW Tiguan is the second generation of the smaller VW XSUV.  It is about 10-inches longer than its predecessor.  At-a-glance, the styling is clearly Volkswagen.  It is evolutionary but crisper and clearly more modern.  The VW Tiguan rides on Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform that also underpins the newly introduced Volkswagen Atlas crossover. The replacement for Volkswagen’s 4-door CC coupe – the Arteon – will be based on MQB when it is launched in 2018.  The present Golf is also an MQB platform mate.

Compact XSUV Competitive Landscape  Having been underrepresented in the SUV market before now, Volkswagen’s two SUV introductions this year show the automaker has clearly heeded the shift in the market away from cars and towards crossover SUVs.  Today the truck/car split is about 60% trucks/40% cars.  Who woulda thought?

While VW management will not talk about future products, there are whispers of a couple of more XSUVs.  Probably one a bit smaller than the VW Tiguan and maybe one larger than the Atlas.  Somewhere in the mix, the aging Touareg still is sold.

Through May 2017, the 1st generation Tiguan has sold about 15,000 units in the USA down from 17,500 in 2016 for the same time period.  Where Volkswagen has fully competitive products in the USA, they usually sell at about 50% of the segment leader.  So, with the May CYTD leader being the Nissan Rogue with over 161,000 units sold, Tiguan should sell about that many in a full calendar year.  While that would be great, VW’s Pueblo, Mexico plant probably doesn’t have capacity to pump out that many Tiguans.  And the compact XSUV battleground is vicious with Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox leading the pack.  Tough competition.

Tiguan Feature Laden, But Not Perfect  The VW Tiguan is in the sweet spot though.  Easy to get into and out of, the ergonomics are top-notch.  The center screen is big and bright, but the information is a bit confusing.  The road/street name does not show on the navigation screen like on most competing makes.  You can find that information in the instrument cluster where turn-by-turn arrows anticipate your next turn but the fonts are tiny and contrast is bad.  Having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard is the saving grace to save the VW navigation from itself.

There is a full complement of advanced driver assistance features available from adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert with braking, lane assist, area view.  There is even a 12.3-inch reconfigurable display for the instrument cluster.  Availability of these features is the price of entry in almost any class today.

Driving Tiguan, Adequate  The VW Tiguan is powered by a 184-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine (EA888).  In the front wheel drive model, the engine is responsive but a bit noisy.  The same engine in the AWD model seemed to resist responding quickly seeming to think about whether or not it wanted to go or not.  Perplexing.  All in all, the Tiguan engine is “adequate”.  Its power output is competitive for the segment, but somehow it doesn’t have the finesse of the Honda CR-V for instance.

The ride is firm and composed over most road surfaces.  The Tiguan evaluation route did have one stretch that was bumpy and had a washboard surface.  The front wheel drive Tiguan danced around dramatically even at moderate speeds.  Drivers of the AWD model reported similar dynamics over this particular piece of road.  The vehicle did not feel particularly under control.

Price Competitive  The base price for the front wheel drive 2018 VW Tiguan is $25,345.  The top price is $37,550 for an AWD SEL model.  Checking all the boxes can get its price up to about $40,000.  Following its lead with the Atlas, the Tiguan has a 6-year, 72,000 mile warranty.


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Mid-Year Review of Fuel Price Impact on American Drivers

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Fuel Price Impact on American Drivers Has Changed

Every two months, AutoPacific surveys drivers to determine the fuel price impact on their lives, their driving styles and their consideration for vehicle types in the future.  The fuel price impact today is dramatically different from the surprise price spike to $4.15 per gallon in June 2008.  Drivers reacted dramatically.  They abandoned large SUVs and bought high fuel economy small cars and hybrids instead.  Hybrid consideration peaked at 29% in September 2008.

Drivers took huge financial losses getting rid of their gas guzzlers, but they quickly rued that decision.  By December 2008 the price of gasoline had dropped to $1.67 per gallon.  (The value of $1.67 in 2008 is $1.94 in today’s dollars).  This began a roller coaster ride of gas prices.  By January 2011, gas prices had risen to over $3 per gallon and stayed there until December 2014.  Today, the national price of a gallon of gasoline is about $2.50.

American Driver Know Fuel Prices Will Change  The result is that American drivers do not trust the stability of gasoline prices.  In 2008, fuel price was among the top ten attributes people considered important when they bought a new car.  Now, fuel price is twentieth.  In fact, fuel price is considered less important now than power and acceleration and fun to drive.

At the last peak in 2011, almost 60% said gas prices had a (negative) impact on their standard of living.  Today, that number has halved to 30%.  More people are feeling they can afford a more expensive, less fuel efficient vehicle.  Of course, longer financing terms and increases in leasing also has stimulated their buying behavior.

Honda CR-V Top Selling Crossover SUV

Cars Losing, Crossover SUVs Winning  Consequently, trucks rule. Based on the results of the Fuel Price Impact Survey, consideration for cars has been steadily slipping since 2005. In December 2005, 67% of drivers would consider a car next time they bought.  In 2017, that number has fallen to  49%.  The vehicle segment with the strongest consideration is, surprise, SUVs and Crossover SUVs with 37% of drivers saying they would consider one next time they buy.  That is up from 21% in 2005.  Mid-Size Car consideration has dropped from 27% in 2005 to 12% today.  Hybrid, the fuel efficiency darling, has fallen from 29% consideration in 2008 to 13% today.

This change in vehicle type consideration has caught some automakers by surprise.  Hyundai is a notable example where sales are off substantially.  They simply don’t have enough SUVs to sell even though they have added extra capacity for the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport to their plant in Alabama.  Like Porsche when that German brand added the Cayenne SUV, Jaguar has seen its sales double after adding the F-Pace SUV to their lineup.

Regulations Forcing Automakers to Produce Vehicles That May Be Tough to Sell  Even though fuel price is lower on the importance list and buyers are flocking to Crossover SUVs, more and more hybrids and electric vehicles are being introduced every year.  The introduction of these new fuel efficient cars and trucks has been to meet the stringent government fuel economy regulations established by the Obama Administration.  As good and as fuel efficient as these new vehicles are, they will need a marketing push to sell them.  Automakers cannot expect “consumer pull” to get these vehicles on the road.  With the price of fuel staying relatively low, American new vehicle buyers are going to buy what they want.  This means continuing popularity for Crossover SUVs at the expense of Mid-Size Cars and Small Cars.

Potential changes to fuel economy regulations will impact how the auto industry reacts, but stopping or slowing the surge of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles is not in the cards.  Too many sunk costs and resources already.


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Genesis G90 Luxury Car Sets New Satisfaction Record

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Source:  George PetersonG90 Satisfies its Owners to the Max  Launching a new brand with an all new car is a huge challenge.  Launching in the luxury space is even more of a challenge.  Hyundai, the top Korean manufacturer,  launched its Genesis brand in late 2015.  The 2017 Genesis G90 Luxury Car followed in 2016.  Owners of the new Genesis G90 have rated their satisfaction with their car.  Their ratings have the G90 achieving the all-time highest score in AutoPacific’s 2017 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  Hyundai has established a new benchmark with the Genesis G90 in its first year out.

Most vehicles are well-made today.  The key is in the execution.  Is the vehicle intuitive to use?  Are the electronics easy to understand?  Is the powertrain smooth and seamless?  Is the interior quiet and comfortable?  Is the dealership experience special?  For the G90, the execution is excellent. Excellent car.  Excellent experience with the dealer.  This is from a Korean manufacturer that just began building its quality mojo in 1999.  Job well done.

Satisfaction Results Distributed Across Segments  The rest of the industry has not been standing still.  All major automakers have at least some design and engineering capabilities in the United States.  Winning vehicles show product design that caters to American tastes.  Winning vehicles also show that the sales organizations are listening to their customers to provide a satisfying sales experience.

The top brand in the satisfaction research is Lincoln closely followed by Cadillac and Genesis.  The top popular brand is General Motors’ GMC truck brand.

There are twenty-three segments in AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  Eight were won by American brands.  Seven were won by Japanese brands.  Four were won by Korean brands. Four were won by European brands.

Nissan is the top brand with five category wins.  Kia is second with three.

Only one American CAR won its class.  The Dodge Challenger is the top ranked in the Sporty Car category.  The other nine car categories were won by Japanese, Korean and European brands.  Seven of the eight awards won by the American brands are in truck and SUV categories.

One surprise is that the Nissan Titan won the light duty full size pickup truck award.  The new Titan was a dark horse in a race including the vaunted aluminum Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet, GMC and Ram half-ton pickups.  Another interesting result is in the Compact Pickup category.  The Honda Ridgeline handily won top spot.  While “real” truckers disdain the Ridgeline’s small pickup bed (that is integral with its body) and plush ride, Honda has provided a pickup that is luxurious and quiet like a SUV but with adequate pickup capability.  The “trunk” in its pickup bed is a great idea.


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AutoPacific Announces 2017 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

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AutoPacific Announces 2017 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

Lincoln Most Satisfying Premium Brand; GMC Most Satisfying Popular Brand

TUSTIN, Calif. (June 7, 2017)AutoPacific today announced its 21st annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSAs), identifying the most satisfying vehicles in the market. An industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new vehicle, VSAs are based on survey responses from over 54,000 owners of new 2016 and 2017 cars and light trucks.

“This is the 21st anniversary of AutoPacific identifying the most satisfying vehicles and providing consumers a way to streamline their search for their perfect vehicle,” says AutoPacific president George Peterson. AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Awards objectively measure owner satisfaction with 49 separate attributes ranging from interior comfort and styling to fuel economy and performance. “VSAs look at the big picture, which includes owners’ experiences with their vehicle’s quality and safety, but also goes deeper into the heart of the ownership experience.”

Lincoln is the most satisfying premium brand, regaining leadership from Tesla and nosing out domestic luxury competitor Cadillac. The newcomer Genesis brand from Hyundai ranks third – close behind Lincoln and Cadillac. GMC is the top ranked popular brand, retaking the lead from 2016’s top popular brand, Kia.

VSAs Globally Distributed Among Japanese, American, Korean and European Automakers

Eight VSAs are won by Japanese brands. Seven VSAs are won by American brands. Korean brands take home four VSA Awards. European brands also have four VSA Awards.

Overall for 2017, Nissan receives the most wins with 5, followed by Kia with 3. Porsche, Honda and Ford each have 2 wins. Genesis, Volvo, Mini, Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, GMC, Lexus, and Lincoln each take home 1 win.

In a market where vehicles continue to raise the bar for owner satisfaction, AutoPacific recognizes another President’s Award winner this year: the 2017 Genesis G90. This award is given only when the overall score tops the previous high score. The previous President’s Award winners were the 2016 Cadillac Escalade, 2015 Kia K900, 2014 Mercedes S-Class and the 2010 Hyundai Sonata.

Seven All-New or Redesigned Vehicles Top Their Segment

Of the twenty-three winning vehicles, seven were redesigned for the 2017 model year, including the Genesis G90, Kia Cadenza, Nissan Titan, Ford F-Series Super Duty, Honda Ridgeline, Kia Sportage and Chrysler Pacifica. “Product planners hold their breath after the release of a new, or redesigned, vehicle, hoping that all their research, designing and planning has successful results,” says Peterson who worked as a product planner prior to founding AutoPacific thirty-one years ago. “Six of the seven redesigned vehicles, the Genesis G90, Kia Cadenza, Ford Super Duty, Honda Ridgeline, Kia Sportage and Chrysler Pacifica, greatly exceed the scores of their nearest segment competitors – big wins in such a competitive industry.”


2017 VEHICLE SATISFACTION AWARD WINNERS

President’s Award (Highest VSA Score to Date): Genesis G90

Most Satisfying Vehicle Overall: Genesis G90

Highest Satisfaction Premium Brand: Lincoln

Highest Satisfaction Popular Brand: GMC

PASSENGER CARS:

Luxury Car

Aspirational Luxury Car

Luxury Mid-Size Car

Large Car

Mid-Size Car

Premium Compact Car

Compact Car

Economy Car

Sports Car

Sporty Car

Genesis G90

Volvo S60/V60

Nissan Maxima

Kia Cadenza

Kia Optima

MINI Clubman

Honda Civic

Nissan Versa

Porsche 911

Dodge Challenger

LIGHT TRUCKS:

Light Duty Pickup

Heavy Duty Pickup

Compact Pickup

Luxury SUV

Large SUV

Mid-Size SUV

Premium Luxury Crossover SUV

Luxury Crossover SUV

Large Crossover SUV

Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Compact Crossover SUV

Minivan

Nissan Titan

Ford F-Series Super Duty

Honda Ridgeline

Lincoln Navigator

GMC Yukon XL

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Porsche Cayenne

Lexus RX

Ford Flex

Nissan Murano

Nissan Rogue

Kia Sportage

Chrysler Pacifica

About AutoPacific

AutoPacific is a future-oriented automotive marketing research and product-consulting firm. Every year AutoPacific publishes a wide variety of syndicated studies on the automotive industry. The firm also conducts extensive proprietary research and consulting for auto manufacturers, distributors, marketers and suppliers worldwide. Company headquarters are in Tustin, California, with an affiliate office in the Detroit area. Additional information about AutoPacific and the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards can be found on AutoPacific’s websites: www.autopacific.com and www.vehiclevoice.com.

Contacts

Dan Hall dan.hall@autopacific.com 714.838.4234

George Peterson george.peterson@autopacific.com 714.838.4234

 

 

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Honda Civic Si Added to Lineup for Enthusiast Small Car Buyers

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2017 Honda Civic Si

Eighth Generation Honda Civic Si  There have been ten generations of the Honda Civic spanning about 40 years.  Generations three through nine have included the Honda Civic Si model to provide a sportier alternative for enthusiast small car buyers.  The tenth generation Honda Civic Si sedan and coupe went on sale at Honda dealers on May 13, 2017.

The tenth generation Civic is a platform development tour-de-force.  Honda lost its mojo with a generation of technically excellent, but unexciting products.  Honda is now back with a vengeance.  Their new generation stuff is outstanding.  Their truck platform products are very good – Honda Pilot XSUV, Honda Ridgeline pickup and Honda Odyssey minivan.  The Honda Accord is a very competitive premium mid-size car selling at high volumes.

The previous, ninth gen Civic was created during the lean years of the Great Recession.  Consequently, the car left a lot to be desired.  Realizing the ninth gen Civic had been a step backwards, Honda pulled out the stops on the tenth generation Civic.  They created a car with distinctive styling and a comfortable and functional interior.  The car is available with an impressive load of comfort, convenience and safety features.

2017 Honda Civic Si

The Honda Civic Si is not the end of the car line’s model extension.  The higher performance Type-R hatchback will be launched in a month or so.

Exterior Styling  The 2017 Honda Civic Si is special.  It has more aggressive front and rear fascias with prominent air ducts.  The grille texture has moved from chrome to gloss black for a sportier look.  A rear spoiler has been added.  Tires are upgraded to 235/40R18 to help more aggressive handling and enhance the car’s stance.  There is a center outlet exhaust with chrome surround.  All this clearly communicates the car’s more sporty nature.

Interior Styling  The black interior sports black and red accents for the instrumentation.  The Honda Civic Si has two driving modes – “Sport”and “Normal”.  In sport mode, the cluster accents are red.  In normal mode, the cluster accents are blue.  New front seats have a unique frame and bolstering to better support the driver and front seat passenger when pushing the limits.  The bolsters are firm, but not uncomfortable.

Powertrain and Chassis  Under the skin, the engine has been upgraded.  It is powered by a 205-horsepower 1.5L 4-cylinder turbo.  The turbo substantially improves mid-range torque which makes the car feel more flexible.  The already-excellent 6-speed manual transmission in the Civic is upgraded to provide an even more definite short stroke gear change.  Front brake discs grow 1.2-inches to a 12.3 inch diameter.  Rears add 0.9 inches for 11.1 inches.  As you might expect, the Si gets an exclusive suspension with unique springs, stabilizer bars and shocks.

Competition and Pricing  The Honda Civic Si competes with the Subaru Impreza WRX, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ and Hyundai Veloster Turbo.  In recent years the WRX and GTI have outsold the Si, but the new car may change that.  The Si is priced at $23,900 for either the coupe or 4-door sedan.  This gives it a $525 advantage over the Focus ST, $1,695 over the GTI and $2,795 over the WRX.   Si is a high value proposition in its class.  There are no options available on the Si.

What Honda Civic Si Lacks The Si is available only with a 6-speed manual transmission.  This is admittedly an excellent transmission, but American buyers have been abandoning manuals for years.  This limits the sales potential of the Si.  Honda engineers and planners seemed to dismiss the need for an automatic.  They cited the enthusiast’s desire for the active driving experience provided by a manual.  One admitted their Continuously Variable Transmission found in the rest of the Civic line would accommodate the horsepower and torque of the Si’s engine, but the CVT would surely sap the crispness of the engine.  Then there is a dual clutch automatic like Honda uses in the Acura ILX.  Maybe that could be fitted.  Anyway, if they want to increase Si sales at some point, an automatic would be in order.

The rest of the Civic line offers the excellent HondaSensing automatic driver assistance system.  This includes adaptive cruise control, lane watch and assist.  More and more drivers are expecting this system.  Just because Si is directed at sporty drivers, it does not mean they do not want HondaSensing.  Similarly, the Si is not available with a blind spot monitoring system.  It needs one available.

 


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Honda Odyssey Leapfrogs Minivan Competition

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Has the new 2018 Honda Odyssey leapfrogged its competition the way Chrysler’s second generation minivans did in the early ’90s?  After spending several days with the Odyssey on the Big Island of Hawaii, the case can be made that the Odyssey is the best minivan out there.  Up until now, the clear leader was the new-for-2016 Chrysler Pacifica.  Its advanced styling, stow-‘n-go seating and available plug-in hybrid make Pacifica a persuasive choice in the minivan category.  Only the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are real competitors.  Other minivans like the Nissan Quest and Kia Sedona don’t have the volume to be mainstream players.  Ford and General Motors abandoned the minivan market years ago to concentrate on SUVs – a good move.

Odyssey a Cornerstone of Honda Brand  Honda has a relatively narrow and focused lineup for a mainstream brand.  The Honda Odyssey is one of its cornerstones.  The new 2018 Honda Odyssey is the fifth generation of the minivan.  The fourth gen Odyssey was with us for seven model years which is long for a Honda product.  Based on Honda’s Global Light Truck platform, the new Odyssey shares major components with the Honda Pilot crossover SUV and the Honda Ridgeline pickup.  From AutoPacific’s assessment, all three of Honda’s new truck products are fully competitive and compelling.  The new Odyssey checks most of the boxes to make it the best minivan available today.

Still a Soccer Mom Image  Lets talk about minivans a minute.  Minivans are the perfect vehicle for a family.  They carry kids, their friends and their stuff.  They are seen as suburban taxis driven by a mom schlepping her little darlings from LaCrosse practice to Little League to band practice.  When we note in focus groups of suburban mothers that they should be driving a minivan, most women strongly disagree.  When compared with the active image of even the tamest crossover SUV, the SUV wins and the minivan loses.  The soccer mom image of the minivan cannot be avoided.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

Evolutionary Design With Bold Cues  The new 2018 Honda Odyssey comes pretty close to avoiding the minivan image as does the Chrysler Pacifica and the “swagger-wagon” Toyota Sienna.  The styling of the new Odyssey is evolutionary but more  interesting than before. Odyssey continues with the chrome “lightning bolt” window surround that has been a distinctive design cue since the previous generation.  Now, however, the bodysides get a few more curves to add more personality to the design.  The front end design is a swath of brightwork similar to the Pilot and Ridgeline.  This look is being adopted throughout the Honda lineup and adds interest to the Honda “face”.

Magic Slide Seats Compete with Chrysler’s Stow-‘n-Go  The interior is very comfortable and accommodating for any size family.  Gone is any pretense of a walk-through from the front seats to the rear.  There is now a very usable console including excellent cupholders and a deep console box.  Honda has made interior flexibility one of its hallmarks.  The very small Fit and HR-V crossover SUV have interior flexibility that can accept many different sizes of cargo.  The Odyssey “Magic-Slide” second row seat counters the Chrysler Pacifica’s stow-‘n-go rear seating design.

In the Honda design the individual second row seats can be moved from side to side and fore and aft.  The center position is good for children in child seats which can be fixed toward the center of the vehicle – a good location in a side impact.  One of the rear seats can be positioned in the center and pushed forward so the driver and/or front seat passenger can tend to a baby in a child seat.

2018 Honda Odyssey Center Stack w/Apple CarPlay

Ergonomics Top Notch, But Nav Screen Display Needs Work  Ergonomics are always a Honda forte and the 2018 Honda Odyssey does not disappoint.  The instrument cluster gauges are bright and easy to read.  The center screen is large and bright with navigation by Garmin.  I found the information display on the screen to be hard to read because the fonts were so small.  While Garmin provided the guts, Honda designed the display graphics and could have made the font size bigger, contrast better and included the city name in addition to the road name on the display.  (Why is it so hard to get the city name on the display?  Everyone should do it!).  I ended up using Apple CarPlay maps and streaming in lieu of the Honda system.

Loaded Odysseys Want for Nothing  95% of the 2018 Honda Odysseys (EX and above) will have the full suite of Honda’s safety features standard including Honda Sensing and blind spot monitoring with cross traffic monitor.  The top level Elite model includes acoustic windshield and side glass that Honda contends makes the vehicle the quietest minivan on the market.  In fact, when you opt for the Odyssey Elite, there is very little missing from its equipment list.

Engine Upgraded – 10-Speed Transmission  The 2018 Honda Odyssey is powered by a 280-horsepower 3.5L single overhead cam V6.  The additional 32 horsepower over its predecessor gives the new Odyssey the power to pass at will.  On a long stretch uphill climb on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway on the Big Island, the engine strained a bit.  On anything but steep grades the power is adequate.  The Elite model includes a 10-speed automatic transmission – all others have 9-speeds.  The shifting is transparent in the 10-speed model.

~$30,000 – $47,000 – Is There Room for a +$50,000 Model?  The base price of the 2018 Honda Odyssey is $29,990 with a $940 delivery charge.  The Elite model is $46,670.  Honda pays particular attention to vehicle price points as do all manufacturers.  As a high volume, mainstream brand keeping prices affordable is paramount.  However, some automakers are wrestling with ways to charge even more for their top of the line products because buyers want more stuff.  The Odyssey Elite is $46,670 – $3,230 below $50,000.  Could there be a place for a $50,000 entry in the very price-conscious minivan market?  While Honda competitors are moving mid-size SUVs into the low $50,000 range could there be a place for an even higher spec Odyssey?  It would be interesting to do the analysis.


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Pretty New Face for 2018 Acura TLX

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The Acura TLX has been kind of an automotive Jimmy Durante.  All you could do is stare at its proboscis.  It’s looks were hurt by its parrot beak grille.  Even though TLX was a good premium brand mid-size sedan, it was hard to love.  The 2018 Acura TLX gets a much needed mid-cycle facelift that transforms its presence.  (Acura began replacing its parrot nose grille texture in 2016 with the launch of the freshened 2017 Acura MDX).

Designer and now Acura Vice President and General Manager, Jon Ikeda, says that you can tell when a design team is having a good time they do great work.  Fun and inspiration have brought out the best in TLX looks.

Under the skin, the 2018 Acura TLX is basically carryover with tweaks made the engineers thought were necessary.  Base engine is a 2.4L 4-cylinder making 208 horsepower.  The upgrade engine is a 3.5L V6 with 290 horsepower.  But the story is not about the mechanicals.  The story is about the style.

Appearance Changes More Extensive Than for a Typical Mid-Cycle Freshening  This freshening is a classic front and rear six.  This means that the front and rear ends have been restyled, but roof, doors, glass are carryover.  Thankfully, the parrot’s beak grille texture is replaced by a pentagon grille with a mesh grille texture.  This relatively conservative approach yields a very attractive front end.  In addition to the new grille, the front fascia has large air inlets at the vehicle corners providing a distinctive and aggressive face.  Bright accents highlight the air inlets which also include driving lights.  The hood is all new and more curvaceous than previously.  LED headlamps are standard.

Depending on trim level, a tasteful chrome side sill garnish provides finesse fir the body side.

The rear appearance is upgraded with new tail lamps, bright exhaust tips and a rear diffuser.  Chrome accents are added balancing the accents in the front fascia.

2018 Acura TLX Gets the Latest Driver Assistance Safety Features  The interior is updated with new seat trim.  The instrument panel has been tweaked and all of the latest safety features are available   AcuraWatch is standard.  AcuraWatch includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation.  Unfortunately blind spot monitoring is not standard but included in a $3,700 Tech Package.  AutoPacific research finds blind spot is a feature wanted by over 75% of drivers and greatly helps in avoiding lane changing accidents.

Also standard are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which allow integration of many of your smartphone apps to the dual center screens of the TLX.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec Trim  Acura is particularly proud of its TLX A-Spec package that should appeal to younger, more enthusiastic drivers than will choose the more chrome-laden standard, Tech or Advanced packages.  The A-Spec an appearance package with a sport tuned suspension.  Believing that the target buyer wants differences defined as “sporty”, A-Spec includes a dark surround for the grille, exclusive front and rear fascias that lose the bright highlights, round bright exhaust tips, red accent piping for the seats, LED fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, wireless charging, and ventilated front seats.  The A-Spec does have a color combination available that should be striking – bright blue exterior with a red leather interior.  This is a bold combination that few carmakers allow these days.  Kudos to Acura for making this selection available.

Attitude Change at Acura  An aside on the story of Acura.  31 years ago Acura was launched as the first Japanese premium brand.  At first, Acura was very successful with the Legend mid-size near luxury car and Integra sporty hatchback – names that still resonate among American car buyers.  VP Ikeda says Acura is returning to its performance oriented roots – Precision Crafted Performance.  He hopes to instill the fun and passion in Acura’s design and engineering that was evident 31 years ago.  Maybe, they will bring names back – at least Legend and Integra.

 


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Atlas Crossover Hits Mark – or Doesn’t

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The all new Volkswagen Atlas crossover SUV (XSUV) launches in late May in the United States.  It is being dropped into the highly competitive mid-size crossover SUV market dominated by the Ford Explorer and the Honda Pilot.  Those two vehicles are Atlas’ strongest competitors.

Volkswagen, like Hyundai, can be criticized for being late to the American-style XSUV market.  Sure VW has had the Touareg and Tiguan crossovers in the market, but neither have the volume potential of the Atlas.  Atlas is produced at VW’s 300,000 unit assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN.  Atlas shares Chattanooga capacity with the Passat that sold 73,000 units in the USA in 2016.  Clearly, VW has room in Chattanooga for the Atlas and perhaps one or two additional entries. 

The Atlas is sized right for its competitive set.  It is almost exactly the size of the very successful Ford Explorer on the outside, but has a much longer wheelbase.  It makes great use of its interior space yielding much more cargo capacity than the vehicles compared above.  The front seat area is spacious and the cockpit is well laid out.  Ergonomics are first rate.  The second row can accommodate three large child seats and is adjustable for better legroom.  The third row seat is accessible, but only for small children or adults for short trips.

Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific

The Atlas is styled like you would expect a VW XSUV to be.  The front end styling is definitely a VW face with standard LED lighting and accent lights – distinguishable from afar.  The muscular bodysides communicate capability with a strong character line connecting the front and rear wheel openings.  The taillamps are connected by a chrome strip that highlights the rear styling and gives an upscale image.  The liftgate opens to the very large cargo area which is flat when all the rear seats are folded.

Driving the V6 Atlas crossover is pleasant, but not particularly exciting.  That is a good thing for a XSUV targeted at family car usage.  Ride quality is good, but there is a bit too much body lean on the twisty roads in Texas’ Hill Country around San Antonio.  Quiteness with its 20-inch tires is poor on many road surfaces.  When you find that elusive stretch of absolutely smooth asphalt, quietness is superb.  On rougher road surfaces you cannot carry on a conversation.

Source: George Peterson

In search of the Atlas’ unique selling proposition you conclude that the reconfigurable VW Digital Cockpit may be it.  The 12-inch wide instrument cluster can can change to provide several different information displays.  Unlike some reconfigurable systems, you cannot change the overall appearance, just the information shown.  The 8-inch center stack display is intuitive and turn by turn driving directions can be displayed on the instrument cluster at the swipe of a finger.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

The Atlas crossover has a complete suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems available.

Checking prices, the price for a FWD 4-cylinder Atlas S is $30,500.  An AWD V6

Atlas SEL Premium is $48,490.  So, the price is in line with competition.

Who will buy the Atlas?  The Atlas crossover is selling in a growing segment but there are two giants among its seven-passenger competition – Explorer and Pilot .  Both Explorer and Pilot have a loyal buyer base and they may be the superior products.  Volkswagen has a buyer base that loves the brand (let’s not discuss “Dieselgate”) and will likely consider the Atlas for their family hauler.  The question is can VW dealers position the Atlas as superior to its strong competitors or will they have to hope for VW loyalists coming in looking for aggressive prices?


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Mazda Premium Strategy to Surprise Competitors

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Mazda Premium is the objective for the Mazda brand in the future.  Mazda realizes it is a mainstream brand but wants to become premium.  In the minds of the car buyer, Mazda competes with Toyota, Honda and Nissan.  Mazda has limited resources and needs to husband them.  To achieve Mazda Premium positioning, its products must be executed to meet or beat premium brand competitors.  This requires targeted benchmarking against more expensive vehicles in the same product category.

CX-5 Latest Mazda Premium Vehicle  At the press launch of the 2017 Mazda CX-5 mid-size crossover SUV (XSUV) in San Diego, Mazda detailed its competitive strategy.  The Mazda product development team did not closely benchmark the usual suspects.  The CX-5 will be sold against Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.  To go against premium brands, the CX-5 team benchmarked luxury brand XSUVs like Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX, Mercedes GLA.  To show how deep they have benchmarked premium XSUVs, the Jaguar F-Pace was even included on one comparison chart.

The new Mazda CX-5 is a 5-passenger XSUV slotted below the 7-passenger CX-9 introduced last year.  The CX-5 completes Mazda’s evolution to its Kudo design theme that stresses the “soul of motion”.  The styling is striking and clearly differentiated from its German and Japanese competitors.  Mazda states that “every element has been designed to be in a class above”.

To demonstrate the superiority of the premium-designed CX-5 over its luxury competition, Mazda provided these premium vehicles as comparisons to drive through downtown San Diego.  While we cannot yet discuss the driving experience, we can reveal that the CX-5 arguably looks and drives better than premium brand XSUVs costing about $10,000 more.

In reality, it will take years for Mazda to achieve premium brand status.  Executed consistently and effectively, Mazda Premium will ultimately achieve a stronger image with Mazda dealers and customers.  Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to achieve higher per-unit profitability.  Ultimately, Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to be positioned at a premium brand like Acura or Buick if all goes as planned.  Competing against Audi, BMW, Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes is still a ways off.


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2 Million Jeeps – Global Sales Goal

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Jeep sold about 1.4 million SUVs in 2016 and has 2 million Jeeps in its sights.  It is going to take until 2020 or so to sell 2 million Jeeps per year.

At an event showcasing the all new 2017 Jeep Compass, Mike Manley, Head of Jeep, detailed the evolution of Jeep production that could achieve global sales objectives of 2 million Jeeps by 2020.  The Compass is a crossover SUV positioned above the B-Segment Renegade and below the D-Segment Cherokee. Actually, the Cherokee is more of a C/D Segment vehicle. Cherokee is not really big enough to be a full D-Segment vehicle.  At the top of the lineup is the Grand Cherokee which is the heart of Jeep DNA for now.

Jeep’s Capacity Story

There is a dance of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US (FCA) plants that is going to realize substantially more Jeep production.  The dance goes like this…

  • FCA kills Dodge Dart, Jeep Patriot and the old Jeep Compass produced at their huge 407,000 unit capacity plant in Belvidere, Illinois.  Cherokee moves from Toledo, Ohio to Belvidere in 2017.  Estimate a maximum production of Cherokee at 250,000 units.  This means there is room for another vehicle “not yet announced” at Belvidere, says Manley.
  • Toledo adds all new Wrangler off-road SUV during 2017.  Wrangler is selling so well it needs more capacity, but not as much as relieved by moving Cherokee to Belvidere.  Jeep adds a Wrangler-based pickup to Toledo to fill capacity.  This also satisfies demand from dealers and customers for a Jeep pickup.
  • The all-new 2017 Jeep Compass is launched with assembly plants in four countries:  Mexico, India, Brazil and China.  The Mexican plant will supply North America and left hand drive Europe.  The Indian plant will satisfy demand from right hand drive countries including the U.K, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  Jeep has high expectations for the new Compass as the assembly plant count confirms.
  • Jeep is adding a Jeep Wagoneer to the lineup.  Manley mentions that this could be a “line of Wagoneers” implying that there could be a Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer in Jeep’s future.  Wagoneer will be a body-on-frame SUV.  It will be based on the next-generation Ram pickup but with independent rear suspension.  Manley agrees that “Ford went the right way when they added independent rear suspension to their Expedition to get a great 3rd row seat”.  The speculation is that Wagoneer will be added to FCA’s Sterling Heights assembly plant.  Sterling Heights is being shifted to Ram pickup production after the Chrysler 200 sedan was killed.  The 200 was the only vehicle in Sterling Heights and never achieved anything like FCA’s hoped for volumes.
  • That leaves the “mystery vehicle” to take up the additional capacity at Belvidere.

Given all this attention to plants and plant capacity, 2 million Jeeps looks plausible by the next decade.

New Compass Key to selling 2 million Jeeps

Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific

2017 Jeep Compass in Brief

Based on driving and living with the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass for a short time, the Compass will attract robust sales.  Compass styling is very much traditional Jeep with the seven vertical slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches and a strong overall style.  Compass has a unique floating roof character that has been adopted from everybody from the Jaguar XJ, Lexus RX SUV, Nissan Murano to the GMC Acadia SUV.  The Compass is one of the only vehicles in white where this really looks cool.

The Compass interior is excellent in the mid-range Latitude model, the top-of-the-line Limited and the aggressive Trailhawk model.  Front seat comfort is outstanding for a vehicle in this class.  The seats are firm without being too stiff.  Visibility is excellent from the driver’s seat.  Everything is easy to reach and see.  Ergonomically, Jeep designers and engineers have done an excellent job.

Compass is powered by the 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque.  In North America there are three transmissions.  4×2 models get a 6-speed automatic.  4×4 models get a 9-speed automatic.  Both 4×2 and 4×4 models are available with manual transmissions.  Manual transmission availability is getting rarer and rarer these days.  Likely the wide global distribution of the Compass makes the 6-speed manual readily available.

Performance on-road is adequate.  A 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder with 230-250 horsepower would always be welcome in a vehicle like the Compass.  Off-road, navigating a very technical course, the Compass is very capable.  Clearly, retaining Jeep DNA for off-road fun was an important feature in the development of the Compass.


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