Every year, Car & Driver, one of the high circulation car enthusiast magazines in the United States, publishes the results of its 10Best awards. The 2006 10Best Cars awards were released in the January 2006 issue of Car & Driver and you can find them on the C&D website at (http://www.caranddriver.com/article.asp?section_id=33&article_id=10354)
Not having looked at the winners prior to writing this blog, VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff conjectured about what types of cars Car & Driver would select.
We knew that, being a buff book, they’d select cars that appealed to the enthusiast, maybe throw one or two mundane winners into the mix, be heavy on import marques and generally favor smaller cars. Lets see how accurate we were?
BEST SPORTS SEDAN – Acura TSX
BEST SPORT COMPACT- Audi A3
BEST LUXURY SPORTS SEDAN – BMW 3-Series
BEST PERFORMANCE CAR – Chevrolet Corvette
BEST FULL SIZE SEDAN – Chrysler 300
BEST MUSCLE CAR – Ford Mustang GT
BEST FAMILY SEDAN – Honda Accord
BEST ROADSTER – Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
BEST SPORTS COUPE – Mazda RX-8
BEST LUXURY SPORTS CAR – Porsche Boxster
So, lets see, seven are import brands, 3 of the imports are from Germany and four are from Japan. Mazda picks up two wins with its sports cars.
Crossover SUVs will outsell Traditional truck-based SUVs beginning in 2006. This forecast comes from George Pipas, Ford’s Manager of Sales Analysis and Reporting in a presentation in Long Beach, CA on December 12, 2005. Refer to the VehicleVoice Blog on December 8 citing a USA Today article on similar observations.
A Few Comments on What a Crossover SUV Is
Pipas’ analysis charts the meteoric rise of Traditional SUVs during the 1990s and the similarly meteoric rise of Crossover SUVs since 1996 when the first crossovers – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 – were introduced. Of course, defining SUV categories is getting murkier and murkier. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have used the “at-a-glance” rule to define SUVs. If you can, at-a-glance, tell that a vehicle is an SUV, then by golly it is an SUV. In this way you are not confused about whether it is car-based or truck-based. (Pipas contends that only about 70% of Crossover SUVs meet this at-a-glance requirement with 30% easily confused as cars, hatchbacks, or wagons.)
Traditional SUV 2007 Cadillac Escalade – Category Expected to Decline as a Percentage of Overall SUV Universe
The auto industry thinks differently and often gets caught up in definition problems. They have variously called car-based SUVs “hybrids” (a term since adopted by gasoline-electric ‘hybrid’ powerplants) or “crossovers”. In our research, we have found that folks really have not yet adopted the crossover term and still like to refer to SUVs as SUVs. But enough about splitting hairs about what is a crossover and what is not.
Among the 2006 North American International Auto Show introductions will be a new addition to Ford’s sport-utility lineup – the Ford Edge. The Edge uses a car platform, in this case that of the recently introduced Fusion, and adds a more powerful 250-horsepower V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Lincoln also gets a version that becomes the second-generation Aviator. Ahead of the official introduction, Ford has released an illustration that gives us an idea of what the truck will look like.
The National Insurance Institute of Highway Safety announced its rankings of the ten safest 2006 model year cars on Sunday December 4, 2005. To make the ratings game easier to understand, NIIHS has developed a gold silver rating scheme. Cars receiving a GOLD rating have “Good” ratings for frontal impact, side impact and head restraints. Cars receiving a SILVER rating have “Good” ratings for frontal impact and side impacts, “Acceptable” for head restraints.
One of the key objectives for this new combined rating scheme is to push manufacturers in a subtle way towards stronger performances in all aspects of the rating game.
The winners are:
Large Cars: Ford Five Hundred, Mercury Montego
Mid-Size Cars: Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy
Small Car: Honda Civic 4-door
Large Cars: Audi A6
Mid-Size Cars: Audi A3, Audi A4, Chevrolet Malibu with side airbags, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Passat
DETROIT’S MUSCLE-CAR REVIVAL: ALL ABOUT STREET CRED
The latest Mustang is a success in the image ranks and in the buff books. Its sales success has surprised even Ford and production capacity has been increased so they can sell even more. The other historic Detroit brands will revisit the rear-wheel-drive coupe idea at the 2006 North American International Motor Show in Detroit. The first announced concept is the Dodge Challenger shown below. Still under wraps is a new generation Chevrolet Camaro.
Though Ford has consistently offered a Mustang since 1964 and kept it alive (even if some iterations were less memorable than others), both GM and Chrysler Group abandoned the product formula. Mustang has the edge and success at GM, Chrysler Group, or for any other contenders requires that they establish modern-day credibility with the consumer.
In the heart of most car product planners at American car companies beats a rear-wheel-drive V8-powered coupe or convertible, going much further back than the muscle-car era that gets so much attention these days. As a result, whether timing is by design or by reaction, Dodge and Chevrolet are expected to show concepts on the muscle-car theme at the 2006 Detroit show this January.
Chrysler was the first manufacturer to launch a truly competitive Minivan in the US market. Of course, Volkswagen had been around for years with its Microbus and Toyota beat Chrysler to the market by a few months with its forward control Toyota Van, but Chrysler launched the first “real” Minivan. But Chrysler was not first with the concept.
Ford Minivan Concepts Were Precursors to Chrysler’s Extremely Successful Minivans
The concepts leading up to the Chrysler Minivan were done at Ford Motor Company. Two groups developed competing Minivan concepts. Hal Sperlich’s Advanced Vehicle Engineering Team developed a Minivan concept based on a front wheel drive platform. It was called the “MiniMax”. Hal Sperlich was later to take this basic concept to Chrysler where the K-Car based Minivans were developed and launched in early 1980s. The second Minivan concept… one that has never really seen the light of day, was the Carrousel. Carrousel was developed by Alex Galaniuk’s Light Truck Advanced Engineering team in 1974 running parallel with the MiniMax.
Carrousel was a relatively simple concept – take a short wheelbase Econoline Van and make an extremely luxurious wagon/family hauler out of it. The Carrousel had a 460 CID V8 (tucked under the instrument panel in the style of full size vans those days), Thunderbird interior, woodgrain sides, whitewall tires and full wheel covers. It was fully driveable and the prototype was produced by Carron & Company in Inkster, Michigan. The interior had a full flat rear load floor and folding second row seat developed by Lear for the concept. Carrousel was a 5-passenger van.
Inexpensive Program Killed Because it Threatened Country Squire
In those days, Carrousel was a $67 million dollar program. Petty cash to a big car company like GM or Ford or Chrysler. But Carrousel was never to see the light of day. It died when Ford’s research showed it would cannibalize heavily from the Country Squire station wagon then a Ford family jewel. Threatening the Country Squire was verboten and Carrousel (and MiniMax – not so much of a threat) was shelved only to be seen a decade later behind Ford’s Truck Engineering building resting on four flat tires with its paint peeling.
While Carrousel was based on a rear wheel drive platform that was not as package-efficient as a front wheel drive Minivan, its styling and utility would have establlished a quick and low investment program. Another nail in the coffin… General Motors had nothing like Carrousel. In the days when Ford followed GM’s lead in almost everything, that was a definite vote against the innovative new idea.
General Motors is getting ready to launch its new GMT900 SUVs. This lineup includes the Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV. The shorter versions will be launched in the 1st Quarter 2006 as 2007 model year vehicles. The long wheelbase Suburban, et. al. will be launched in March or April.
Early reviews of the GMT900 provided in Burbank, California (GM’s California Design Studio) and Warren, Michigan (GM’s Design HQ) prove that the GMT900s are an excellent piece of work. While they do not look too much different from their predecessors, they have wider front and rear track and larger tires and wheels. This gives the GM SUVs a very purposeful stance avoiding the undertired appearance some past GM vehicles have had. At the same time, the more prominent tires and wheels actually make the vehicles look slightly smaller even though they aren’t.
Lack of Fold Flat 3rd Row a Major Omission
To keep these comments focused on what we want to observe, lets change the order a bit.
The most glaring omission in the GMT900 SUVs is the lack of a 3rd row seat that folds flat into the floor like the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator and now the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. The key to the Ford system is the use of an independent rear suspension that allows the rear floor to be dropped several inches providing space for the seat to fold flat. GM’s GMT900 management said they “couldn’t break Ford’s code” and it appeared that they were thinking Ford adopted IRS more for ride and handling than for interior package. WRONG. The key all along was the rear seat package.
The resulting seating package is very similar to the GMT800 SUVs. The seats, when folded, rest on top of the floor obstructing the load area of the vehicle.
GM also claimed their research showed that SUV buyers wanted a power folding 2nd row seat more than they wanted a flat folding, power operated 3rd row seat. According to ex-GM researchers who shall remain anonymous, GM’s research actually showed a strong preference for “a seat like in the Expedition in a body like the Suburban”. The real reason, of course, is investment. The expenditures for the combination of IRS and fold flat 3rd row seat has variously been quoted as $165 million or $300 million. Either number would cause a product planner to pause and clearly these very important features were pipped – not easily.
Fusion Hot Out of the Blocks
Fusion is Ford’s new mid-size sedan and is a very respectable piece of work. It has distinctive styling, a good sized interior and a large trunk. This combination puts Fusion in the hunt to attract buyers of mid-size cars that have been unable to consider a Ford since the demise of the easily forgotten Ford Contour (and who can’t forget its predecessor – the Tempo). For the first time in years, Ford has a competitive mid-size entry worthy of consideration. The first full month of sales for the Ford Fusion was October, 2005. Fusion, right out of the blocks, looks like a surprise winner with slightly over 4,000 units sold.
In a departure from conventional mid-size car marketing, Ford says they are not going after buyers who would consider the high volume Japanese entries like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Instead, they think they can have a pretty healthy business selling to Mustang owners who are moving into a mid-size sedan after their fling with the most popular sporty coupe on the planet.