Ever since the Lexus RX300 first hit the streets thirteen (!) years ago, the sensibly-sized luxury crossover has been hugely desirable among the upwardly mobile. Over time, the segment has grown by leaps and bounds, not just in terms of sales but more recently in terms of the sheer number of players. Over the past couple years, the Europeans joined the fray with the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Audi Q5, and Volvo XC60. And last year, Cadillac ditched the slow-selling and somewhat cumbersome three-row SRX with the smaller and more pert SRX seen here. Wait a minute, don’t we Americans always want bigger? What’s the deal here?
You know the world has changed when Kia can price a normally aspirated 4-cylinder compact crossover at $30K. Buying a Kia Sportage used to mean that you needed the cargo capacity and/or wanted the image of an SUV but were prepared to settle for the lowest common denominator (read: Least expensive option). After explaining to your family, friends, neighbors and the occasional gas station patron why on earth you purchased a Kia another debate came up… What about resale? You could usually sit back and watch a Kia depreciate like gallon of unrefrigerated milk on a warm summer afternoon. But times have definitely changed… and Kia’s star is on the rise…
Yes…and no. Of course it would be nearly impossible for a minivan to score 100% on the mom test, but the Quest comes pretty close. I’m just happy that Nissan has decided to embrace the family side of the minivan rather than attempting to market it on sex appeal or driving fun. Try as you will to make it turn heads in a positive way, once someone has given in to having a minivan parked in their driveway their decision to purchase will be less on exterior appearance and more on comfort, convenience and features.
Buick is in the midst of an identity crisis. According to GM executives, the average age of a Buick buyer is 64 years old and they aren’t getting any younger. With Gen Y kids being the biggest group of consumers behind the Baby Boomers, how can Buick move from grandparents to grandchildren? The 2011 Buick Regal is the answer.
As little as a few years ago, a vehicle in this segment might sit the weekend at AutoPacific, with few takers interested in trading their personal rides for a weekend in an econo-box. But times have changed, and economy compact cars have changed with them. The 2011 Mazda 2 in AutoPacific’s fleet was signed out long before it arrived.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen drastic improvements in vehicles in general, and small cars have improved with the rest of the market. B-Segment cars in international markets have developed past the basic econo-box Americans remember. We are just beginning to see these improvements on vehicles here in the states and the 2011 Mazda is a great example.
Probably the most stylish exterior in the segment, the Mazda 2 has a rising beltline that gives the car a mildly aggressive look. Our Touring model included an upgraded seat fabric with red piping, alloy wheels, fog lights, rear roof spoiler, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, trip computer, and two extra speakers.
On the road the Mazda 2 rivals the Honda Fit for fun, and is certainly more fun to drive than others in this segment, including the Toyota Yaris. Mazda will get stiff competition from platform competition, the Ford Fiesta. In addition, the segment is exploding with activity, including the Chevrolet Spark and Aveo. For Mazda, however, this influx of players will likely increase consideration in the segment overall, which could help the Mazda 2.
The Future of US Motoring?
Unloading the Mazda over the weekend, a neighbor commented, “The future of US motoring, huh?” While we’re not forecasting a European embrace of the economy compact segment, AutoPacific sees cars like the Mazda 2 increasing in sales over the coming years. More offerings are coming from various players who are hedging that fuel price instability will continue to push consumers towards the segment. While common in Europe, we have yet to see a steady migration of US buyers to this segment. We generally see US consumers temporarily jump to this segment in a knee-jerk reaction to fuel price instability, only to retreat back to larger vehicles when the growth in fuel prices is less volatile.
While we see this reaction when studying consumer segment intention and vehicle sales, we have yet to see what converts to this segment will do over time. There is a lot to be said for the style, comfort, economy and yes, fun, that the Mazda 2 offers. Perhaps vehicles like the Mazda 2 will be more than a fad.
IntelliChoice and AutoPacific Announce Motorist’s Top Picks in both Popular and Premium Categories
Irvine, Calif. (September 21, 2010) – There is only one annual automotive award handpicked by active consumers in the marketplace that goes beyond the editorial and performance test data and provides a window into the wants and needs of motorists. This year’s Motorist Choice Awards highlight a collection of 15 unique buyer categories covering both market segments – Popular and Premium. Both reflect the purpose and perception of the consumer and illustrate the results of practical analysis, like total cost of ownership, fuel economy and resale value.
The fifth annual awards, announced today, are the result of exhaustive national value data and consumer lifestyle studies performed by the consumer-driven automotive analysis of IntelliChoice and automotive market research firm, AutoPacific. A first for this year, the awards were broken up into popular lifestyle categories that shoppers easily identify with, rather than the alternatives based on vehicle size, price and other such factors.
VehicleVoice got a sneak peek on Wednesday before the Thursday world debut of four Chevrolet Vehicles at the Paris Auto Show: the Cruze Hatchback, Orlando MPV, Captiva SUV, and Aveo compact. The Aveo captured most of our attention, since it is the only one of the foursome that we will see here on US roads. The new Aveo will be built in Orion Township, Michigan, utilizing the global Gamma platform.
The outside The Aveo RS show car was shown at Detroit and Geneva earlier this year. We like the fact that the production model shown here in Paris and due in US showrooms next summer carries a lot of the concept with it. Unlike historical Chevrolet small cars, the Aveo has a pretty bold stance with large headlamps that don’t look cute, a rising beltline and short overhands. While the c-pillar door handles aren’t novel, we like the way it cleans up the overall look of the vehicle.
The inside The new Aveo is longer and wider than the current model, giving it a fairly spacious interior. In recent years, General Motors has proven that it is more than capable of delivering nice interiors. We’ll give our final opinions when we get some seat time, but he overall look of the vehicle here is Paris was nice. Better materials, fit and finish than the current model, which is pretty nice in its segment. The interior of the Aveo incorporates a motorcycle-inspired instrument binnacle with an analogue tachometer and a digital speedometer. The interior includes blue backlighting, a nicely styled center stack with a symmetrical appearance and easy to read and understand controls. A dual cockpit setup gives it a sporty feel. The audio system incorporates USB, aux-in and Bluetooth functionality.
How will it drive? While we have yet to get behind the wheel, Chevrolet promises an improved experience, as the new Aveo has been engineered to provide better handling with improved torsional rigidity. Chevrolet claims the new Aveo will be among the stiffest in the small car segment. Electronic power steering (EPS), Electronic stability control (ESC) and ABS brakes will be standard.
Under the Hood We expect the U.S. Aveo to be offered (at least initially) with a 1.6L gasoline engine and most of those to be equipped with a six-speed automatic. A 138HP 1.4L turbo may be offered later as a performance model. Electronic power steering and stability control are expected to be standard.
The Challenge Chevrolet hopes the Aveo will appeal to younger customers with its sporty hot-hatch look. AutoPacific data show that the current model has median age of 58, which is 6 years older than Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Honda Civic. In addition, the current Aveo buyer has a median household income of $50,000, which is a full $20,0000 less than the Fit. Improving both of these key metrics will be an important role for the Aveo. We’d agree that a smartly priced Aveo could be compelling the US market. Now it’s up to Joel Ewanick and Chris Perry to get the word out.
Today’s car business is becoming more risky than ever. While the dizzying number of new car startups almost suggests we are in the midst of a wild frontier, it has become increasingly clear how vulnerable even the powerhouse manufacturers have become. The growth of any brand over the long term requires diligence, hard work and sometimes, luck. So it’s with only some surprise that Scion, despite its edgy, cutting-edge image, has taken a rather safe route for the 2011 tC.
The tC represents forty percent of Scions US sales, and is the sole reason for the brands youthful demographic. (According to Autopacific’s 2010 Research Suite® data, the tC has the youngest median age in the industry, at just 26 years of age.) Without a successful successor to the current tC, Scions sales and demographic success would be in serious jeopardy.
VehicleVoice Reviews the tC
Scion recently gave VehicleVoice the opportunity to evaluate prototypes of the second generation 2011 tC at a long lead press event in San Diego, California. Starting from a decidedly Scion hotel in San Diego’s hip gas lamp district, we reviewed the vehicle inside and out and drove several models over a few pre-selected courses in San Diego county.
Before hitting the road, we received briefings on the design and engineering of the 2011 tC which are many. It’s no doubt that Scion has made as many enhancements to the vehicle as the current economic environment would allow. The engine has increased in size from 2.4 to 2.5 liters. (Thanks to sharing with the Camry.) The new powertrain increases horsepower to 180 (+19) torque and torque by 11pound feet, while increasing highway fuel economy by two MPG for the automatic transmission and four MPG for the manual. The intake has been revised as has been the exhaust, in an attempt to give the vehicle a more aggressive note. Not surprisingly, new safety features abound this and every Toyota.
First shown at the New York Auto Show in March, the tC’s design was influenced by the Fuse concept, with it’s racing helmet design. Blacked out A pillars are intended to give the illusion of a floating roofline. While clear on the Fuse concept, were not so sure it has the same impact of the tC, especially in darker exterior colors. We had the opportunity to drive a tC in Scion’s new “cement” color, which has a very cool look. From the rear three-quarter view, the 2011 tC sports more stylized rear tail-lamps and has a more aggressive stance than it’s predecessor. In profile, however, the more aggressive stance the rear cannot overcome the conservative front end. From the A pillar forward, the vehicle is hard to distinguish from other coupes in today’s market. The front headlamps do not carry the aggressive style of the Fuse concept. With so much on the line, you get the feeling that protecting the sales volume targets of the tC played a key role in it’s design.
The interior layout clearly driver focused fashion with easy to read orange backlit gauges and large HVAC controls. While we were not in final production vehicles, the materials fit and finish seemed to have the quality we have come to expect from Scion. The front seats are wider and taller and were very comfortable in our 90 minute loop. Headroom is fairly good up front. Ingress to the rear seats, a typical coupe challenge, is enhanced by front seats that glide far back easily and return to their previously set positions. Rear seat headroom gets tight for those over 6 feet in height.
On noticeably smooth San Diego roads, the tC is well mannered and relatively quiet for a vehicle in its price point. We did not appreciate the changes to the tC’s exhaust, but suspect others might. The improved manual transmission is smooth and easy, with a very light clutch. Six speeds and more horsepower improve 0-60 times by almost .6 seconds on the manual,and .8 seconds on the automatics. Standard eighteen and optional nineteen inch wheels and tires and offer good cornering without sacrificing ride quality.
With desintation charges the 2011 tC comes in at under $19,000 for the 6 speed manual and under $20,000 for the 5 speed automatic. Given its content and refinement, the tC remains a great value.
With the 2011 tC, Scion has clearly sided with enhancing the value proposition rather then pushing the design image of its sales leader. Can you blame them? In the current economic situation, even the coolest learn about conservatism.
The 2011 Ford Explorer is the latest iteration of the Ford Explorer and arguably one of the most important. In many ways the Explorer launched the popular use sport utility vehicle market in the USA when it introduced the 4-door Explorer in 1991. Previously, 4-door SUVs had been either Jeep Cherokees, the occasional Japanese entry and Chevrolet/GMC Suburbans. With the introduction of the Explorer the growth in the SUV market skyrocketed until almost one in four vehicles sold in the USA was an SUV of one type or another. In its heyday, Explorer was counted among the top five best selling vehicles in the USA and in its top year sold almost 450,000 units.
Until the new Explorer, the Explorer had been very much a two box SUV designed to move five (and later seven) people comfortably. While Explorer was an “SUV” it was a pretty mild one. It was known for being easy to live with but not for its prowess off-road. Ford never pretended the Explorer had the off-road chops of a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
EcoBoost 4-Cylinder OPTIONAL Powertrain The base engine for the Explorer is the 3.5L V6 with 290-horsepower. This engine is expected to be in 75% of Explorers sold. The extra cost optional powertrain is the 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine with 237-horsepower. This is an unusual pricing strategy for any manufacturer – giving LESS FOR MORE. Of course, Ford will position the EcoBoost 4 as the high technology, high fuel economy alternative that is worth more. Well, we’ll be watching this one closely because Americans usually don’t buy less for more and many still believe the adage “There is no replacement for displacement.”
Each year AutoPacific surveys new car and light truck acquirers via mail and Internet about their new vehicle in order to learn more about their purchase experience, attribute importance and satisfaction, lifestyle, preferences, vehicle use, personal characteristics, desired features and more. The Ideal Vehicle Awards are based on scores developed using results from a part of this survey that focuses on the consumers desire to change their vehicle if given the opportunity. Respondents rate 15 attributes indicating whether they want them to be changed (larger, smaller, more or less) or not changed (stay the same) after having driven their vehicle for 90 days. The attributes all pertain directly to the product itself.
The Difference: IVAs quantitatively gauge how closely a vehicle matches an owner’s expectations. An IVA is earned by those automakers that best understand their customers and are able to create the vehicle these customers demand – their ideal vehicle.
The Ideal Vehicle Awards are just one of three awards given by AutoPacific throughout the year. Each year AutoPacific analyzes the results of our New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey and identifies the top performing vehicles. These are owners talking. And who better to evaluate a vehicle than the owners themselves?
An “ideal” is defined as conforming to an ultimate standard of perfection or excellence. In the 2010 Ideal Vehicle Awards, announced today by automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific, owners rate their new vehicles by how closely they come to their ideal. “After owning and operating a vehicle for some time, consumers often identity shortcomings, and ideas about what they would like to change about their vehicle,” says George Peterson, President of AutoPacific. “The IVAs are based on owners’ ratings of their new 2010 model year cars and trucks across 15 key vehicle attributes ranging from power and acceleration to interior storage. The cars or trucks that owners would change the least are the most ideal.”
“In today’s vehicle market, quality is expected, and car buyers take many factors into consideration – styling, safety features, fuel economy and more,” says Peterson. “IVA winners deliver the most of what consumers are really looking for in their vehicles. Shoppers can use the IVAs as a benchmark for vehicles that are designed and built with customers in mind.”