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.
I just picked up a Hyundai Santa Fe from Hertz at DTW. My plane from Atlanta to Detroit was delayed by weather enough to have me picking up the Santa Fe in the dark. Well, Santa Fe did an outstanding job passing the rental car test. You know the one. This is where you pick up your car at the rental place, get in and you can find the ignition easily, adjust the steering wheel, mirrors, seats, climate control and radio without thinking hard about it. Oh yeah, and you can do it in the dark.
Keep it Simple, Stupid… Still Rings True
This is a challenge that many car stylists and designers fail to consider when they are designing their new products. But ease of use is a hugely important thing not only to rental car drivers but to everybody driving a car day-to-day. No-one wants a car that is difficult or confusing to drive and the rental car test helps guarantee ease of use.
Time for Periodic SUV Jihad – New Soft-Roaders Just Now Approaching
Every two to three years, the New York Times leads a jihad against SUVs. Keith Bradsher, a New York Times reporter, after all made a career bashing SUVs while on the quest for a Pulitzer he never got. In Bradsher’s book The High and the Mighty, he took SUVs to task. Albeit, he admitted his real target was truck-based SUVs, not the more efficient SUVs based on cars. To the layman, however, that argument was lost and Bradsher became known as the SUV Killer. The reason we call this the “jihad” against SUVs is that the media piles on without really thinking about the issue when a heavyweight like the New York Times takes a strong position.
[As an aside, during the last jihad, Paul Eisenstein editor of The Car Connection (http://www.thecarconnection.com), determined that only a few of the New York Times reporting staff owned or even drove a car and certainly even fewer had any hands-on experience with owning or driving an SUV].
While the New York Times has shown some restraint this year, SUVs have become an easy target as sales for Suburbans, Expeditions and Grand Cherokees soften in the face of soaring gasoline prices. Resorting to huge incentives to move the metal, SUV profitability has been gutted. The American automakers have been slow to respond to Japanese SUVs based on car platforms that are more fuel efficient than traditional truck-based SUVs. Ford has been competing with the Escape/Mariner and Freestyle, GM with the Chevrolet Equinox. But the wave of competitive American crossovers will come in 2006 and 2007. More on that later.
An article in the Saturday, November 19, 2005 Wall Street Journal projects that Toyota may overtake General Motors as the highest selling carmaker in 2006.
While Toyota (Toyota, Lexus, Scion) may not sell more than GM (Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC, Buick, Cadillac, Hummer, Saturn, Saab) in the United States, it may sell more worldwide. Toyota is concentrating much of its sales expansion in North America where it is pulling sales from General Motors and Ford. GM is bolstering production capacity in China and South America where it sees room for growth where Toyota is not yet strong.
The Wall Street Journal article is one of many recent media reports confirming the results of VehicleVoice research and forecasts by AutoPacific. VehicleVoice research shows a continuing deterioration in General Motors’ (and Ford and Chrysler traditional brands) market share in the United States under the concentrated onslaught of the Japanese Big Three. AutoPacific’s forecast of United States sales shows Toyota, Honda and Nissan increasing market share by adding new assembly capacity and models.
$1, $2, $3 for a gallon of gasoline. Is this a conspiracy on the part of the oil companies? VehicleVoice internet research shows American drivers pin much of the blame on high profits the major oil companies are getting.
It is not hard for conspiracy theorists to figure out that ever-increasing gas prices are part of a psychological ploy by the oil companies to get Americans accustomed to higher prices at the pump. Think about it. Just a few years ago, Americans were complaining that gasoline was a dollar a gallon. Then Americans complained and wrung their hands as prices rose to $2. Then they gasped as gasoline rose to $3 per gallon.
At each hurdle, gas prices temporarily fell back below the psychological even dollar threshhold. Is this planned to give Americans a sense of relief as they grow accustomed to $2.50 gasoline instead of $3.00? Is there any doubt that once gas prices have bottomed out again in the $2.00 to $2.50 range that they will again begin inching their way back up to $3.00?
Every month VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) panel members give their reactions to the styling of eight to ten newly introduced cars or trucks and interesting concept vehicles. The Internet panel is shown photos of the vehicles without identification. Their badges are Photoshopped out so only the cogniscenti might really know what the vehlcle really is. At the end of the Beauty Contest the vehicle names and manufacturers are revealed.
Over the months, we have become pretty good at predicting what will juice up the panel members. Usually a really hot sports car will do the trick. The Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice were tops for “great styling” ratings in the months they were shown. Some interesting recent results show the Ford Fusion and Lincoln Zephyr being strongly rated for having “great styling”. This is an impressive result for mainstream sedans.
Has anybody noticed that the styling of the new Honda Civic gives the car a look like it is powered by a Hybrid powertrain? A couple of Honda competitors have commented that the Civic sedan has styling cues that shout “Hybrid” much like the wildly popular Toyota Prius. Of course, Civic has a hybrid model available, but the plain-Jane 4-door sedan could be mistaken at-a-glance for a Hybrid.
In an interesting move, the new Civic is bigger on the outside than its predecessor, but smaller on the inside. Extremely aerodynamic styling with a low cowl and sloping hood give the car its Hybrid look, but compromise its interior spaciousness.
The new Civic goes back to its roots in providing a well-styled, distinctive compact car that its buyers can be proud to drive. It may return to the ranks of the “aspirational small car” that was abandoned by its immediate predecessor – an card-carrying blandmobile.