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Saturn and Hyundai Lead in Improvement in Opinion

The brand-by-brand results for the VehicleVoice Image and Consideration Tracking Study. Earlier we had released the results of the changing opinions for nine “manufacturers”. Now, the information for the 36 individual brands we measured have been analyzed.

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Saturn and Hyundai Tops in Positive Opinion Change
In a virtual tie, Saturn and Hyundai are tops in opinion improvement over the past year. With a net better-vs.-worse score of +29%-points Saturn nudges past Hyundai at +28%-pts. Cadillac posted a respectable showing with a 23%-point improvement.
Saturn’s positive results come from a respected and expanding lineup of new cars and trucks. Winning the Car of the Year Award with the Saturn Aura did not go unnoticed. Also, addition of the Saturn Outlook Crossover SUV to the lineup was a very positive move. And, we cannot forget the Sky sports car. While Sky may not sell in huge numbers or generate huge profits, it is having a substantial positive effect on the image of Saturn. As a pure “halo vehicle” Sky is doing its job.
Hyundai was the top manufacturer in image change (Hyundai + Kia), but came in second among individual brands when considering Hyundai alone. Hyundai gets strong credit for having a solid warranty, improving durability/quality/reliability, better styling, better products overall, and an outstanding value. Hyundai has done an excellent job communicating the basic values of the brand to VehicleVoice panelists.

HUMMER Trails List of Image Improvement

Any list with top to bottom ratings has to have a last place finisher. For this wave of the research HUMMER was tail end Charlie. While the opinions of most individual brands improved, HUMMER showed the most net loss. In an environment of high fuel prices spiraling upwards, HUMMER is seen as out of touch with what the country wants and needs. The large, fuel in-efficient, brutishly styled HUMMERS are the poster children for the eco-friendly.

Two Luxury Brands Dip Below the Line

VehicleVoice panelists indicate that their opinion of Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz are lower today than a year ago. Both of these brands are dinged for reliability problems especially with electronics systems.
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VehicleVoice panelists regularly get the opportunity to give their opinions on a wide range of automotive topics from the image of brands to what an ideal audio system would be like in their vehicle. VehicleVoice surveys give panelists the opportunity to explain why something may, or may not, be desirable. It is this level of commitment that makes the VehicleVoice panel different from all others.
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VehicleVoice Panelists' Opinion of Manufacturers

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During the last week of March 2007, 1,254 VehicleVoice panelists responded to an Internet survey concerning their opinion of major automakers in the USA. VehicleVoice asked these questions because the opinion of buyers and their attitudes towards various aspects of a manufacturer’s image are critically important. Managing image and opinion plus understanding what is driving that opinion can influence whether a person will positively consider or reject a brand next time they are in the market.
The key question in the VehicleVoice survey was whether the respondent’s opinion of a manufacturer had changed since this time last year. If their opinion had changed, the panel member was given the chance to explain why their opinion had changed. We received over 5,000 comments concerning these manufacturers. Some were as short one word. Some were as long as a page of 10-point type. Folks really had a lot to say and their comments were fascinating.

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Discussion for each of the brands is below the fold.


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Concept Hyundai Genesis: New York Auto Show

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Next, Hyundai Takes on Luxury Sport Sedans
As VehicleVoice reported earlier (click here), Hyundai revealed an upcoming rear-drive sedan as the Genesis concept at the New York Auto Show, and at what must have been one of the best-attended end-of-day press conferences ever. There was surprisingly little traffic around Genesis the next day during my walkaround. It was more difficult to get post-conference photos of the Infiniti EX or Ford Flex than the Hyundai, and we see the Genesis as one of the most significant introductions at this year’s show. (Click for our posting of Hyundai’s official Genesis photos.)

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Genesis, known internally at Hyundai as “BH”, telegraphs Hyundai’s intention to seriously go after rear-drive sports sedans. The exterior design builds on styling credibility Hyundai has been developing, but the interior and the driving dynamics that will make or break this car are still under wraps. A miss on the exterior styling would keep people away, but even with strong styling the car will not make it all the way to consumer driveways if the interior is a disappointment.
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Hyundai designers have created a smooth and elegant design, but Genesis does have one risk: It could blend in with the pack. Genesis takes styling cues from luxury brands all over the world (long, thin taillights much like the Lincoln Zephyr concept, though the MKZ production lights are taller; decklid bump from BMW; narrow headlights similar to Acura; lower LED fog lights along the lines of the Audi S6) and shown off on a silver car, created a credible look for their upcoming sports sedan. The wheels are sharp, as is the subtle character line running from front fender, over the door handles, and into the taillights. Though the grille is among the elements that may be revised before production, it is clearly a Hyundai grille and shares some relationship to the Azera.
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Hyundai gave no hints as to the interior, but the exterior design is ready to play. There’s a fine, fine line between hitting the mark and going too far. Genesis won’t be accused of moving the needle and does not offer new design elements. But Hyundai is working its way into relatively conservative segments, and Genesis takes the safe route. Luxury sedan buyers look for elegance, simplicity, and style and don’t seem to adapt quickly to dramatic style shifts; witness the brouhaha that surrounded the latest 7-Series introduction. Hyundai is wise to start off with something elegant but that does not push the envelope just yet.


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2007 Hyundai Veracruz – I Drive a $38,000 Hyundai

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Just a few years ago, I never thought I would drive a Hyundai priced over $38,000, but today I did. This was an all-wheel-drive Hyundai Veracruz Limited with the Ultimate package. The Veracruz is Hyundai’s new top-of-the-line Crossover SUV. Basically, it had all the boxes checked. Think of it this way… a 2008 Lexus RX350 base base base MSRP is $37,400. Think FWD, cloth seats and not much equipment. Begin adding equipment, like AWD and leather seats, and that will take it well above $38,000 and you quickly go above the top-priced Veracruz. Of course, Veracruz’ pricing starts at around $27,000 and that makes it seem more like the Hyundai value proposition we are accustomed to.
VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staffers were suitably impressed with the new Veracruz which is at dealers now.
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The Veracruz is based on the same platform as the lower-priced Hyundai Santa Fe that has been a winner for Hyundai since it was launched a generation ago. Santa Fe is the winner of six straight AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards – no small feat. If that is any indication, Veracruz will be a strong contender in the Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV category.
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Vehicle Configuration – Unitized Body, V6-powered, IRS

Based on the Santa Fe, Veracruz has a stiff unitized body with Macpherson strut front suspension and an independent rear suspension. Veracruz is powered by a version of Hyundai’s Lambda V6 engine family – 3.8L V6 with 260-horsepower and 257 foot pounds of torque. It has Hyundai’s 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic.
Driving the Veracruz – Perfectly Acceptable; Almost Lexus-like
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Driving the Veracruz showed a vehicle that is equal to or better than the RX350 and has a better package. In other words, the Veracruz is easier to get into and out of. Its cargo room seems more commodious. Visibility is excellent. The seats, for my porky body, may be a bit small. Cases in point. The cushion length seems short even for my 5th percentile legs. The seat back seems a bit too narrow and does not give much lateral support. This is just picking nits. Overall, the Veracruz is a winner. And, in some ways, seems to be more of a piece than the vaunted Lexus.
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Not All is Perfect – Nits to Pick

What were some other nits? Well, the interior door handles are black instead of the more traditional chrome or nickel plating. We’d prefer the nickel plating (which corresponds to the other brightwork on the Veracruz), but Hyundai stylists actually preferred the black. The digital clock was difficult to read in bright sunlight and needed some sort of lip to block the sunlight. The 3.8L V6 was a bit raspy under hard acceleration. Sounded more like a run-of-the-mill SUV than the top-of-the-line.
The Good Stuff – Almost Everything Else
But other than these small issues that are easily adjusted if Hyundai cares to, the vehicle was outstanding. Good ride quality. Good NVH – meaning it was relatively quiet under all situations except hard acceleration as noted above. Controls felt good and were easy to understand. Filips include side mirror turn signals with puddle lamps, projector (but not HID) headlamps, blue backlit instrumentation and blue lighted scuff plates in the upper models.
Seven Passenger Seating – 3rd Row is Usable for Smaller Folks
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Auto journalist and famed rally driver Sue Mead tries out the 3rd row of the Veracruz while John Krafcik and Gary Vashilash look on. Check out the seat trim on this Veracruz Limited Ultimate!

The thing that differentiates Veracruz most from its Santa Fe stablemate is that Veracruz is 100% 7-passenger. Only about a quarter of Santa Fe buyers select the 7-passenger version. Frankly, I’d like for Veracruz to be available in a 5-passenger version as well – more cargo room. The 3rd row seat is adequate as can be seen here with journalist Gary Vasilash and Hyundai Product Planning VP John Krafcik crammed in the rear. These are both smaller guys, so at least large children can be accommodated.
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Gary Vasilash, editor of Automotive Design and Production Magazine and John Krafcik, Vice President of Product Planning and Strategic Planning for Hyundai Motor America, check out the 3rd row seat.


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Hyundai Genesis – Just-Released Photographs

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Hyundai Motor America teased us recently with renderings of the concept of its upcoming BH rear wheel drive luxury car. The car will be shown at the 2007 New York Auto Show and HMA has released the following photographs of the concept…

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As expected, the photographs of the Genesis concept show a much less radical sedan than the artist’s renderings. Renderings, of course, are usually “cheated” to emphasize cues the stylist prefers. Gone is the radical CLS roofline. But other aspects of the concept – like the front end appearance, likely will be “adjusted” prior to introduction.
In profile, the Genesis looks very BMW-ish, yes?


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SUVs are NOT Dead

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SUVs are NOT DEAD – Sport Utility Vehicles Remain Top Considered Vehicle Segment
For as long as I can remember, the New York Times and eastern media have been taking SUVs to task. While many of the people writing these stories don’t own a vehicle or even drive a car or truck, they have decided that the Sport Utility Vehicle is the poster child for social irresponsibility. No matter what they say, folks continue to gravitate to SUVs. We have the data.
For the past thirteen years, Sport Utility Vehicles have been the product segment that is most considered by American driving public. 2006 was a traumatic year for SUVs. High fuel prices dampened demand for large truck-based SUVs, but in 2006 as for more than a decade, demand for SUVs was highest among AutoPacific’s seven macro product segments. When consideration for contemporary SUVs – Crossover Sport Utility Vehicles or XSUVs – is included, consideration goes even higher.

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Sales of Full Size SUVs Like Ford Expedition Have Fallen

Clearly America’s love affair for this Swiss Army Knife of vehicles has not waned, nor has demand by Americans for a vehicle type that can do many different things. We used to say that people bought SUVs because they can go anywhere, go anytime, go with anything, go with anybody… an SUV could do it all. Meeting these criteria – especially the go anywhere aspect of the equation yielded SUVs that were too capable. They could go off-road over rough terrain through tough climate conditions. Even though most buyers never used them for what they were capable of, they were designed to have off-road credibility.

Let it be XSUV:
Let’s officially coin our term for Crossover SUVs. These are not simply “crossovers”, after all, you could have a crossover of almost any two products. We don’t want to call them CUVs – Crossover Utility Vehicles – because that dilutes what they really are supposed to be. The right term is Crossover SUV. This clearly defines that this is an SUV based on a car platform – something not quite as capable as body-on-frame traditional SUVs. So, for now on, it’s XSUVs.
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2008 Buick Enclave – New Generation XSUV Responds to Buyers Demands

Carmakers Responded to Buyers with Crossover SUVs: By the end of the ‘90s, manufacturers began to respond to buyers’ demand for slightly softer product characteristics. For awhile terms like “soft-roaders”, “cute-utes” were used to describe vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and even the Lexus RX300. Inside the car companies engineers and designers were referring to these types of vehicles as Crossovers. And while the buyer rarely refers to his Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, or Honda Pilot as a Crossover SUV, that is what they are. They are not designed for off-roading, but they are designed to provide comfortable, maneuverable, efficient transportation in the suburbs and on vacation.
VehicleVoice internet survey panel members and respondents to AutoPacific’s annual Future Vehicle Survey have responded about what type of transportation they will consider next time they buy. Selected details are below the fold.


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Economy Compacts Fare Poorly in Crash Tests

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just released their first crash ratings for Economy Compact Cars. They call them “minicars”. The IIHS often releases results like this to pressure car makers to achieve higher safety results than are required by the Federal Government (NHTSA). Being part of the insurance industry, the IIHS charter is to provide information that consumers can use to select a safer car or light truck – and hence a car that might generate lower personal injury claims in an accident.
Force Still Equals Mass X Acceleration… F=MA
The first thing you learn in Physics 101 is F=MA. Basically, this equation means that something bigger is going to win if it hits something smaller. People have historically bought Lincoln Town Cars partly because they were so big that they were guaranteed a “win” in an accident. The same thinking goes with Large Sport Utility Vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban.
A very small car is going to lose in an accident with a much larger vehicle. There will be much more physical damage to the small car than to the big one. And all things being equal, people riding in the small car are more at risk. The IIHS and Federal Government have noted that as fuel economy goes up (through vehicles getting lighter and smaller), damage and injuries also go up. In this case, bigger and heavier is better. But with skyrocketing gas prices folks rightly want more fuel efficient cars and trucks.

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With that in mind, Economy Compacts have been introduced… Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa are the three that were launched in 2006 as 2007 model year cars. Only the larger Versa aced the crash tests… Versa includes side curtain air bags as standard equipment. Yaris, where side curtain air bags are optional, fails if it is not equipped with these safety enhancements.
The IIHS press release is included below the fold if you want to read the whole thing. But just remember, when it comes to safety, and all other things are equal, the bigger vehicle will win. F will always equal MA.


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IIHS Top Safety Picks for 2007 Model Year

IIHS released the results of its 2007 Safety Pick Awards on November 20. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific feel that these results are important to communicate to our readers. Along with other awards for quality, satisfaction and performance, safety awards can and should be among the information sources a buyer uses when deciding which new vehicle to buy. After all, the Internet gives us almost perfect information.
While we do appreciate the safety value of electronic stability control, it will take years for the entire fleet to be equipped with ESC. For IIHS to eliminate all vehicles lacking ESC eliminates many otherwise safe vehicles from their analysis. This is too simplistic an approach.
2007 TOP SAFETY PICK award winners: award criteria are tougher; SUVs eligible for first time
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announces 13 vehicles that earn TOP SAFETY PICK awards for 2007. Winners include 4 cars, 7 SUVs, and 2 minivans. This award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on ratings in Institute tests. Winners also have to be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC).
WINNERS
Large car
Audi A6 manufactured in Dec. 2006 and later
Midsize cars
Audi A4
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy equipped with optional electronic stability control
Minivans
Hyundai Entourage
Kia Sedona
Luxury SUVs
Mercedes M class
Volvo XC90
Midsize SUVs
Acura RDX
Honda Pilot
Subaru B9 Tribeca
Small SUVs
Honda CR-V
Subaru Forester equipped with optional electronic stability control


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Hyundai Veracruz: Soon to Arrive in the States

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Hyundai has developed a new SUV/crossover to go up against the likes of the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Mitsubishi Endeavor. In size terms, it falls neatly between the Pilot and Explorer, or between Mazda’s new CX-7 and upcoming CX-9. On sale in the States in December 2006 and being formally introduced to U.S. buyers at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in January, Veracruz has already arrived in the home market. Here are some photos of the Korean-specification model, from VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents, along with some speculation and fact about what we think we’ll see here in three month’s time.

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At first glance, the Veracruz styling is attractive and the expected equipment level looks to be competitive. We’re looking forward to seeing it in the tin, the real measure. As Hyundai product executions make solid strides in quality and overall look with each successive product, the Veracruz has potential to be one of the best Hyundai offerings yet.


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2007 Hyundai Elantra – All New – Continues Raising the Bar

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The Hyundai Elantra is one of a string of all new Compact Cars introduced recently (September 2006): 2007 Nissan Sentra, 2006 Honda Civic, Kia Spectra… and smaller entries: 2007 Hyundai Accent, 2007 Nissan Versa, 2007 Toyota Yaris, 2007 Honda Fit. So, the competitive set for Elantra is very busy with better and better cars. AutoPacific was on hand for the media launch of the Elantra that included a drive from Santa Monica to Ojai.
The Elantra meets its competition head on. Wider (+2.0-inches) and taller (+2.2-inches), Elantra is much larger than before with its interior volume rating now in the Mid-Size Class. Among its facing competitors, only Sentra also is rated as a Mid-Size Car in interior volume. Hyundai brags that Elantra has a larger interior than the Acura TL.

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More Expressive Styling
While Elantra’s size may be its major distinguishing attribute, its style is more expressive than before, but Elantra is still not a head-turner. Side surfacing is more distinctive using rising contours reminiscent of the first generation Santa Fe crossover SUV, but not so contrived. The hood has a slight power bulge flowing into an evolutionary Elantra grille. While its stance is more purposeful than before, the standard P195/65TR15 tires are too anemic looking. The P205/55HR16s on the SE and Limited models look better, but still don’t give the car the beefier appearance we prefer.
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