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.
Migod! If they are dispensing the things from vending machines now, what’s going to stop them?
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.
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.
It just can’t be helped…
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.
This is a blog about which I have been hesitant to write. You see, it has to do with accepting my own bad judgment and the requisite payment for the same. For twenty years I have lived where it snows quite regularly and accumulates on the ground. Until maybe ten years ago, I never gave snow tires a second thought. Primarily because I was usually driving in something with very good all-season tires and either front- or four-wheel drive. Mobility was rarely a problem. But about ten years ago, I bought a relatively powerful rear-drive sedan that was delivered with some very aggressive 18-inch Z-rated performance tires. To say the car was difficult to drive in the snow is misleading. The car was undrivable in the snow. The sticky summer tires turned hard as linoleum once the temperature got below 45°F, and the jumbo 27/35-18s at the rear were so wide they couldn’t bite down and get anything even remotely resembling grip in snow. Without snow tires, the car would be little more than an attractive driveway ornament for about a third of the year.
If you live where it snows and you drive something with performance tires. be it rear-drive, front-drive or even all-wheel-drive, you NEED snow tires.
Long a car-sick motor head, over the years I’ve cultivated a rather ecclectic (and quite strong) list of likes and dislikes in the vehicles I have owned. Lots of overpowered coupes and sedans, a couple of oddball oversteering rear engined cars with more power than their engineers had envisioned when first they set pencil to paper, and only a single vehicle that could be categorized as a truck. And a pretty poor excuse for a truck at that.
Recently, after discussing favorite “Guilty Pleasure” films with some journalist pals, the topic turned the concept of Guilty Pleasure vehicles. Vehicles you like (or would like) to drive but would never admit it to a friend. At the top of the list were those small, innocous, underpowered economy cars that can be driven at ten-tenths all the time without raising the ire of police or other drivers. Why precisely these came up first is of some small concern to me. Perhaps I need a new set of journalist friends, but I digress.
Next the subject of traditional big American Iron came up. As in large, V8 rear-drive cars with primitive solid axle rear suspension systems better suited to buggies or heavy duty pickups than 21st century land transport. Nothing of any collectible interest or classic in nature, we’re talking about post 1985-metal. At the risk of trading in my VehicleVoice correspondent credentials and my AutoPacific analyst pass, the first of my automotive Guilty Pleasures comes to light, the Lincoln Town Car.
The Madness at Lincoln Continues.
Over that last two and a half months, Ford Motor Company has been misrepresenting its new naming strategy for future Lincolns. At an early reveal of the Lincoln MKS, Ford’s North American Supremo Peter Horbury called the car the “Mark Ess.” Yet at the Detroit autoshow a couple of weeks later, the model was verbally referred to as the “Em-kay-ess” by Ford management and P.R. types. Concurrently the Aviator replacing crossover utility was called the “Em-kay-ecks.” That’s MKX in badgespeak.
At the Chicago show this week, Lincoln unveiled a lightly restyled and reengineered Zephyr that will be called the MKZ. In the press release materials for the successor to the Zephyr, the car is identified as the “Mark Zee.” C’mon guys, make up you minds.
The all new Dodge Caliber is a good example of global cooperation in automotive product development. Caliber overcomes daunting challenges of cross-continent and cross-cultural communications.
Major Participants – Chrysler Group – Mitsubishi – Hyundai – JATCO
The basic platform is from Mitsubishi. Called the GS Platform, the basic parameters were established years ago while DaimlerChrysler was still an equity holder in Mitsubishi Motors. After DCX divested itself of its MMC shares, the contractural relationship with Mitsubishi on the GS platform continued. Over time, Chrysler Group will get numerous GS spin-offs including the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus. Mitsubishi-based platforms will occupy two Chrysler Group plants – Belvidere, Illinois and Sterling Heights, Michigan.
While the basic platform is a Mitsubishi, everything from the floorplan up – meaning the sheetmetal and interior trim is unique to Chrysler.
Wondering if the relationship was cordial or strained after the break-up, Chrysler managers were very complimentary about working with Mitsubishi’s Japanese product development groups.
But that is not the end of the story. That only gets us the basic platform but not the powertrain. This is where the Global Engine Alliance comes in.
The January 2006 report issued by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) concludes that larger vehicles are safer than smaller ones. DUH! It took a six page pdf report written by a government contractor from URC Enterprises to summarize crash statistics from 1997 through 2004 to reconfirm the basic equation in physics – F=MA (force equals mass times acceleration).
In a time when more people may be considering smaller cars to offset the skyrocketing cost of fuel, new small B-Segment entries like the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Honda_Fit are being introduced. These cars meet the need for small, fuel efficient transportation and certainly carry impressive safety credentials like crush zones and air bags galore. Even our own VehicleVoice survey research shows that that there is increased consideration for small cars these days. So, what’s the right thing to do?
Well, as the government report confirms, F still equal MA.
We have all been following the press accounts of Toyota becoming the top producing vehicle manufacturer in the world in 2006 and we have heard statements by Toyota management that Toyota is going to become more aggressive in the future. Historically, Toyota has taken a relatively humble and mild stance to its growing presence worldwide and in the USA particularly, but in 2003 the gloves came off with Toyota Motor Sales USA taking a higher profile. Their pace of advance will quicken substantially in 2006.
VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific‘s President George Peterson takes a quick look at Toyota’s 2006 plans.
Toyota Has Guns Blazing in 2006
It looks like the 2007 model year is going to be the year when Toyota really comes in with all guns blazing. I guess that we can’t include the all new RAV4, now moving upmarket and sporting a 3.5L V6 engine as part of the onslaught. It was launched in late 2005 as a 2006 model. The new RAV4 is outstanding and is reported to be the fastest vehicle carrying a Toyota badge today.
During 2006, the 2007 models will be introduced starting with the all new Yaris, major change for the Camry, launch of an all new hybrid Toyota Camry, launch of the all new FJ Cruiser, launch of a truly competitive full size pickup, launch of a new Lexus ES330 and new Lexus LS460.
AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo sums it up well in his observations of Toyota, “We’re not only going to tell you what play we’re going to run, we’re going to ram the ball down your throats knowing that there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop us. What can you say about Toyota other than that they continue in their relentless pursuit of world domination, and there appears to be no one capable of standing in their way?”
Lets touch on each of these in order of launch…
Now that I have had a chance to digest the upcoming all new Lexus LS460 I have to conclude that it will be one formidable competitor. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific analysts concur.
In an auto show season when the USA audience has the chance to see an all new (to the USA) Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS460, there is an opportunity to do some deep soul searching about the group of flagship sedans that top the car market in the USA. We include the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Infiniti Q45, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS in this group of excellent cars. We might reach downmarket a bit to the Acura RL and upwards a lot to the Bentley Continentals, but the key competitors are Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus and Mercedes. By far, the best seller has been the Lexus capturing 27% of the class in its last full year of production.
So, why would a Japanese luxury car now be worthy of becoming the benchmark of the Premium Luxury Segment? The Lexus LS has had the corner on durability, quality and reliabiliity consistently rating higher than the German marques in AutoPacific quality and satisfaction research. In fact, in most years the Lexus LS wins AutoPacific’s prestigious Vehicle Satisfaction Award (in 2005, the Jaguar XJ won by a nose over the Lexus). So, now, the new Lexus LS may clearly establish its mainstream models as the cream of the Premium Luxury Car crop because now the car will have distinctive styling arguably on a par with the best coming from Europe. No longer can the LS be described as boring and bland.