Category Archive:

American Wretched Excess in England – Costco and Cadillac CTS

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Had to visit the Costco in Derby just to see if it was different from the Costco stores in the USA. NO! While the merchandise is slightly different (not as much Kirkland private label merchandise), the layout is very much the same. Much larger liquor department with an emphasis on champagne and cases of wine. Still at a substantial value.
Years ago, I read an interview with a Costco exec working on the planning for Costco stores in the UK. He was rubbing his hands with glee thinking about how their strategy of merchandising could transform British retailing. The uniquely American approach to the mass market is something dramatically different than traditional British retailing.

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The parking lot was the surprise. Arriving at 10:45 AM (store opened at 10AM) the parking lot was only about a third full and many of the vehicles in the lot were saloon cars (sedans with trunks) rather than the Chelsea tractors (SUVs) that are found in the USA… at least in Orange County.
Note the parking spaces are relatively generous. Not the sub-compact spaces found in most other car parks in England.
Still, felt like a touch of home.


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Cadillac CTS in England – Not the Ugly American

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For the past few days, I have been driving a Cadillac CTS around England. This evaluation is special because the CTS is the winner of AutoPacific’s 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Entry Luxury Cars in the USA.
The evaluation started at Heathrow Airport, driving to the outskirts of London and then North to the East Midlands. This drive isn’t as unique as that of former-colleague Rex Parker’s when his father shipped the family 1964 Lincoln Continental convertible to the UK for an extensive driving vacation in the ’60s, but the reaction to American iron is interesting and instructive.

Cadillac CTS at Newstead Abbey – Lord Byron’s Family Home


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Cadillac CTS at Calke Abbey – Stately Home in Decline

CTS – D-Segment Luxury Entry in Europe

The CTS is an Entry Luxury Car in the USA, but is relatively large for the English driving environment. It dwarfs smaller Renault Clios, Ford Focus C-Max, smarts, Vauxhall Tigras, Ford Kas and the myriad of B and C-Class transportation available in Europe but not in the USA.

The CTS sold in the UK is built in Belgium and has right hand drive. While the CTS may be a bit large for the local car park of B and C-Class cars, there are fair number of BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class, Volvo S60, Audi A6, Peugeot 407, Renault Laguna and even the remaining Rover 75s and MG ZT saloons to compete with. With few CTS saloons sold in England, the car turns heads usually in the slow motion maneuvering through city centres. Young guys crane their heads to see what the Cadillac is.


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Ohmigod! Lincoln Does It Again! Flipflops on Naming!

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OK, I know I shouldn’t take this personally, but Lincoln’s latest chapter in its abortive new naming strategy is almost laughable.
Let’s Copy Them Nice Folks at Cadillac!
First, Ford decided that Lincoln should use an alphanumeric naming strategy just like Cadillac, the Europeans and Japanese luxury car brands. It doesn’t matter that case studies like Acura have proven that this strategy is fraught with peril. “Let’s go be exactly like Cadillac! They are real smart folks, so they must be doing it right – even down to Escalade not using alphanumerics. ” So Navigator is still Navigator instead of MKN.
Lets Pronounce it “Mark Z”!
Then, at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, Ford execs and PR folks couldn’t get how to pronounce the new names straight. Some were saying the new name for the year-old Zephyr should be pronounced “Mark Z” while others were spelling it out “EmKayZee”. Well if the folks internally couldn’t get it straight, who can?
Asking for clarification at a high level luncheon, we were told emphatically that it was “Mark Z”, “Mark X”, “Mark S”.
NO, Let’s Pronounce it LINCOLN EmKayZee!
But now Ford has flipflopped on the naming again. Now, we are to spell it out, but be sure to include the word LINCOLN before the alphanumerics. You see, this was to strengthen the LINCOLN name and not the vehicle line names.
Poor Lincoln.


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Let's Talk Cars: Exxon's Record Profits, Choosing Cars Based on Fuel Consumption, and Buy vs. Lease

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Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars”

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Let’s Talk Cars this week sees David Barrett sitting down with two of AutoPacific’s industry analysts, George Peterson and Jim Hossack, to take on the timely issues of fuel prices and slumping American car sales.
First up, Exxon’s extraordinary reported profits for the second quarter of 2006. At over $1,300 a second, yeah, that’s PER SECOND, Exxon is raking it in faster than most bean counters can count beans. And there’s plenty of people up in arms with the ethics of record-setting fuel prices creating misery for the consumer and record-setting profits for corporations.
But how is this effecting the average American car buyer? According to Jim Hossack, months of higher prices at the pump are beginning to have an effect on the sales floors of dealerships around the country as Americans start turning away from SUVs and trucks, and start looking at smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. And there’s an entirely new crop of very small, very efficient vehicles coming to the American market. David and Jim chat us up on all of these topics this week.
Plus, George Peterson went car shopping last week to see what deals were out there, and my, what a good time of the year to be getting into a new vehicle! The big question – should you buy or lease? George and David chew on that tidbit this week as well.
Show Rundown
00:58 Exxon’s Record Profits – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Vice President and Senior Consultant, Jim Hossack
04:45 Choosing New Vehicles Based on Fuel Consumption – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Vice President and Senior Consultant, Jim Hossack
06:25 Diesel as a Buying Choice – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Vice President and Senior Consultant, Jim Hossack
08:53 June Fuel Survey Results – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Vice President and Senior Consultant, Jim Hossack
11:04 Car Selling Slump in the U.S. – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Vice President and Senior Consultant, Jim Hossack
14:15 New Crop of Small, Fuel Efficient Cars – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Vice President and Senior Consultant, Jim Hossack
17:30 Buy vs. Lease and the Summer Deals to Be Had – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific President and Founder George Peterson


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Driver's Edge Team Creates Program Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Enthusiasm Breeds Successful, Quality Program
As I’ve described in a related VehicleVoice news story, I had the recent opportunity to see a Driver’s Edge teen driving education program in action. I attended with my nieces, Angel and Megan, and my sister-in-law Jane.
Watching from the sidelines as I was, neither parent nor student, a common element was easy to spot in the entire Driver’s Edge team. They all are dedicated and passionate about this program. The team is full of people leading rewarding careers doing what they love, and it shows in their overall approach and their optimism. This quality is just one of the reasons for the success of the overall program.
From support staff to leaders to in-car instructors, the team had the ability to connect with the students, to get them laughing while conveying serious information, and to keep them engaged through a four-hour program. Their heartfelt enthusiasm was catching, and the high quality of instruction reflected their dedication and interest. After each presentation, instructors were available for questions from students or parents, as were in-car instructors once they were out of the car.


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Mercedes E-Class – Luxury Taxi for the USA?

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I’ve just been wandering around in AutoPacific‘s Research Suite data and decided to take a look at the results for the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Mercedes E-Class owners completed AutoPacific’s Future Vehicle Survey either by mail or through the VehicleVoice website. This allows us to get a good look at them compared with the owners of competitive cars.

Mercedes E-Class SV Blog.jpg

Now, I know that E-Class is a popular car for use as a taxi-cab in Germany. The place is crawling with flesh-colored E-Classes with M-B Tex interiors, diesel engines and low feature loads. Of course, in the USA, the E-Class is positioned as a mid-level European Sport Sedan… or is it? Here is is a $50,000 luxury car… European, yes… Sport Sedan… maybe not.
Is E-Class the Anti-Sport Sedan?
Compared with other cars competing with the E-Class the differences are startling. Different from the Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series, the E-Class is bought by a person who tends to be substantially older, more likely to be married, much less affluent, less educated. They are much less likely to describe themselves as an auto enthusiast or to agree that a vehicle is a means of self-expression. They just aren’t into cars the way that Audi and BMW owners are.
Innovative technology is not particularly important. A navigation system or advanced audio system is not particularly important. Exterior styling? Who cares? Power and acceleration? Leave that to Audi and BMW. Fun to drive? Stodgy is OK.
AutoPacific Profiles Owners of Every Vehicle, But E-Class Profile is Surprising
Wow! I guess unless you track these things in detail all the time (which we do), results like these are very surprising. Mercedes’ product execution and communications strategy has brought a lower common denominator luxury car buyer into the franchise.
Where’s the excitement? Not with the E-Class!


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Cars – Pixar/Disney Movie Promises to be Car Guys Best

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Pixar Cars Logo Blog.jpg
Car enthusiasts may not know that they have been waiting for Cars, the movie released by Pixar and distributed by Disney on June 9. Cars promises to be a penultimate occassion for the car world. Populated with characters that are cars, but recognizable as people or race drivers, Cars popularizes the cars that we have all admired.

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Robert Blumhagen Original – AutoPacific’s Hudson
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Of course, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific likes Doc Hudson the best because AutoPacific’s long time image has been a 1951 Hudson parked in front of the AutoPacific building on a palm lined beach in Southern California. AutoPacific’s Hudson is an original painting by Southern Calfiornia artist Robert Blumhagen renowned for his California realism style of painting.


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Zoom Shop for iPod – Auto Integration a Must

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We decided to roll off the hill Saturday morning and drive overland the ten miles or so to Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. Wandered through the neighborhoods looking at nosebleed priced homes of the fabulously wealthy (where do they get all the $$$$$$?) and even rode the Balboa ferry from Balboa Peninsula to Balboa Island (truly funky in spots – for multi-jillion dollar postage stamp sized abodes).
On the way back, we stopped by a Von’s Pavilion (big supermarket) on Newport Coast Drive and lo and behold, she who must be obeyed saw a Zoom Shop for Apple iPods. Here, just by inserting your credit card, this machine will dispense iPod accessories, iPod nanos, video iPods. Interesting concept that just reinforces the contention that cars today need to have iPod integration available if not standard.
As AutoPacific and VehicleVoice research continues to confirm, iPods are one of the fastest rising personal technology items a person owns. The car company that is not planning on some integration path for iPods is failing in its planning function.

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Migod! If they are dispensing the things from vending machines now, what’s going to stop them?


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SUV Jihad Continues as SUV Segment Atomizes

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Back in November 2005, a VehicleVoice Blog commented on the existence of a periodic jihad on sport utility vehicles in the USA and worldwide. The introduction of General Motors’ GMT900 SUVs – the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, plus the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV have set the earth-is-flat crowd wailing again.

Audi Q7 Latest Target of SUV Jihad… This Time From British – Austrian Axis

But June 2006 intro of the Audi Q7 in the USA following its earlier introduction in Europe also will be watched closely. As Audi is about the last major brand to add an SUV to its lineup, it is a fresh target for the anti-SUV crowd. The March 2006 issue of CAR Magazine is a case in point. Georg Kacher, a 6-foot, 13-inch Austrian based in Germany, writes, “Big, heavy, chunky, aggressive, unwieldy – SUVs deplete our resources, tear up the countryside and flatten whatever they hit.

Audi Q7 SV Blog.jpg

So why does a company like Audi, renowned for advanced engineering enter this bad karma segment?”
Because the market is allegedly craving a mud-crawler made in Ingolstadt, and because Audi firmly believes it can add a new dimension to the SUV game.”
As with many non-USA automotive journalists and even American buff book scribes, Kacher’s loathing of SUVs is mis-directed.
SUVs respond more to customer pull than manufacturer push. After the demise of station wagons (or estates as the Europeans so lovingly call them) and the image black hole called Minivans, came sport utility vehicles. These jack-of-all-trades vehicles carry people and stuff with aplomb. Well… more aplomb today than at any time in the past when they were admittedly crude trucks with a closed in cargo area. They go anywhere, anytime, with anyone, carrying anything within reason. They come in all flavors from the late and not particularly lamented Ford Excursion to the Suzuki Vitara. Populated between the Excursion and Vitara are SUVs of every ilk. Some are suited for suburban streets only. Some are rock crawlers. Some are designed to tow horse trailers and boats.
The beauty of SUVs is the breadth of choice within the segment. The SUV buyer has the luxury of choosing between more brands and more models than ever before. Like the overall auto industry, the larger SUV segment is atomizing into smaller and smaller niche entries.
Choice is good and Audi is welcomed.


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Mercedes CLS – More on Naming

It just can’t be helped…

Mercedes CLS Blog.jpg

Has anybody thought about the name of the Mercedes-Benz 4-door coupe?
CLS = CiaLiS

Looks like one of the many pitfalls of alphanumeric naming schemes.


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