Editors NOTE: Since this was written, Dave Schembri has landed at Roger Penski’s smart operations in the USA. Schembri had been head of smart at Mercedes-Benz USA prior to joining MMNA. Wayne Killen joined Hyundai Motor America as Director of Product Planning in early 2007.
Mitsubishi Motors North America announced on Friday, February 17, that Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Schembri and Vice President of Marketing Wayne Killen had resigned from the Company. In a statement by Mitsubishi, “Both left to pursue other opportunities.”
The former Mitsubishi marketing duo joined Mitsubishi at a time when sales were off drastically from prior years and no rebound in sight. Just stabilizing losses and rebuilding from a lower base of sales may have been considered a success, but even after a year with Dave Schembri running Sales and Marketing the Titanic couldn’t be turned.
Schembri joined Mitsubishi Motors North America in February 2005 after serving as the chief of the Maybach brand at Mercedes-Benz USA and then head of its still-born smart division. With the demise of smart’s efforts in the USA shortly following the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Schembri moved westward to Mitsubishi headquarters in Cypress, California.
Wayne Killen, brand manager for the ill-advised Maybach brand at MBUSA joined Schembri at Mitsubishi in August 2005 as Vice President of Marketing. Working for Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America early in his career (1987 – 1989), Killen had most recently spent ten years at Mercedes-Benz USA. At MMNA, Killen was responsible for advertising, brand experience marketing, product and marketing public relations and product strategy.
During their tenure at MMNA, Schembri and Killen launched the 2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse and Mitsubishi Raider pickup and had just completed the public introduction of the soon-on-sale Eclipse Spyder.
The duties of Schembri and Killen are beeing handled by Hiroshi Harunari. Harunari has bee co-Chief Operating Officer of Mitsubishi Motors North America since January 2006. Rich Gilligan, former head of Mitsubishi’s manufacturing operations in Normal Illinois continues as the other co-COO.
These moves at Mitsubishi demonstrate the level of exposure senior managers take at some import-brand distributors. Last Fall, Peter Butterfield was ousted from his position as head of Kia Motors of America. In January, after a very confident presentation at the 2006 North American Auto Show in Detroit, Bob Cosmai fell at Hyundai Motor America. While Schembri and Killen had not yet been able to stabilize MMNA’s fortunes in the USA, Butterfield and Cosmai were managing companies that have healthy growth and prospects.
The Kia Connection Gives Hyundai a New Minivan
Hyundai‘s Entourage, the minivan that almost didn’t happen, was introduced at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, where AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents took a first look.
Hyundai also used the venue to introduce the latest Accent hatchback, and both entries get Internet marketing support with their own websites. Entourage continues Hyundai’s the company’s formula of value pricing and high levels of standard safety equipment. Though Hyundai is comparatively late to a mature but also highly competitive segment, the Entourage offers a competitive package and checks all the necessary boxes. Our first look at the Entourage reveals a minivan with a competitive package, though the fit and finish are not at best-in-class levels yet.
Hyundai‘s Latest Hatchback Introduced in Chicago
The latest hatchback Accent goes on sale in spring 2006, after being unveiled at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show. (The sedan went on sale in December 2005, as a 2006MY vehicle.) VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand for the first look. Hyundai launched the Accent hatchback with a rap-oriented song-and-dance routine reminiscent of the ragged-edge youth marketing at Mitsubishi. The only thing missing were boom-boxes and rollerskates. But we digress.
The Accent seems dead on for the segment. These are small cars with a reputation for being the cheapest transportation around, but over the years small cars have benefited from expanding features and options available in larger cars and the Accent is no exception. There is stiff competition this year in the entry-car segment, and the all-new Accent goes up against several other freshly updated entries.
Though air conditioning is still an option on the base Accent, typical of the segment, Hyundai has ensured even its least-expensive entry gets six standard airbags. Touches that help the owner of a base car not feel like they’re in driver’s purgatory include standard intermittent wipers, rear spoiler, center console and lots of storage cubbies, 60/40-split/fold rear seats, and a rear defroster. The base price, excluding destination charges, is $10,915. Though not surprising that this price undercuts the also-new Toyota Yaris, the difference at launch is only $35.
Motorweek, the PBS-oriented car show, announced the winners of its 2006 Driver’s Choice Awards at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show. It will be interesting to see how these winners correspond to the owner awards from VehicleVoice and AutoPacific. The surveys for the annual AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award are in the field during the 1st Quarter 2006 and winners will be announced in early May.
Their winners include:
Best of the Year: Honda Civic
Best Small Car: Honda Civic
Best Family Sedan: Hyundai Sonata
Best Minivan: Honda Odyssey
Best Convertible: Pontiac Solstice
Best Luxury Sedan: Infiniti M-Series
Best Sports Sedan: BMW 3-Series
Best Performance Car: Ford Mustang
Best Small Sport Utility Vehicle: Toyota RAV4 (guess they didn’t measure it… Mid-Size SUV now)
Best Family Sport Utility Vehicle: Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
Best Pickup Truck: Ford F-150
Best Eco-Friendly: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Best Dream Machine: Chevrolet Corvette ZO6, Dodge Viper SRT10 Coupe, Ferrari F430
Special Category: Most Jane Car: BMW 3-Series
Along with introducing the latest version of their Santa_Fe SUV, at the 2006 North American International Auto Show Hyundai showed off the HCD-9 Talus concept. Though the Talus was just one of the vehicles that Vehicle Voice and AutoPacific correspondents saw during the auto show’s media days, its design was among the more striking. The Talus explores what might happen by mixing a coupe with an SUV, though other concepts over the years have tested this water as well. Hyundai is looking to inspire buyers who are used to the benefits of an SUV but also are looking for sports car styling and performance.
Along with sharing an introduction, there is a similar theme to both the Talus and Santa Fe grilles and headlights, indicating this is the future direction for Hyundai styling and further emphasizing the concept’s relationship to SUVs. Hyundai called the HCD-9 Talus the future of the sports car segment, as it offers sporty car attributes along with space for four and SUV attributes.
It is a bit early to conclude they will build the Talus specifically, though styling cues from the concept and even the rear-wheel-drive platform could be seen on a replacement for the Tiburon due by the end of the decade.
Believe it or not, one of the most anticipated new vehicles introduced at the 2006 North American Auto Show in Detroit is the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe mid-size SUV. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) are watching this introduction very, very closely because it will demonstrate the strength of Hyundai’s research and development process and ability to produce quality products at its new assembly plant in Alabama.
This it the second generation Santa Fe. The first Santa Fe surprised pundits when it turned out to be a darn good vehicle and actually won four of the five AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards during its five years in production. The Santa Fe turned out to be a good value, good quality, highly warranted, if quirkily styled sport utlity vehicle what out-pointed products like the Ford Escape and Toyota Highlander in owner satisfaction.
Hyundai has high expectations for the new Santa Fe and hopes to fill half of its Montgomery, Alabama plant with Santa Fe volume. The other half of the capacity is devoted to the new Sonata sedan. Assuming quality is top-notch and Hyundai can maintain its value proposition and strong warranty coverage, the Santa Fe promises to be a winner.
The Hyundai press release for the Santa Fe is shown below.
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.
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.
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine (December 2005) selects the Best New Cars in several price classes. Their selections are as follows:
Best New Car under $18,000: 2006 Honda Civic. “With its sleek, aerodynamic look, the new Civic gets more power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. Six airbags are now standard equipment.” [Best in Class: Volkswagen New Beetle]
Best New Car – $18,000 – $23,000: 2006 Hyundai Sonata. “It has classy good looks and is surprisingly refined for around $20,000. It also has the most standard safety equipment in its class.”
Best New Car – $23,000 – $30,000: 2006 Dodge Charger R/T. “Under the hood it’s a whole lot like the Chrysler 300C. But it has a sportier suspension, a lower sticker price and the DNA of a Daytona winner.” [Best in Class: Mini Cooper S Convertible]
Best New Car – $30,000 – $45,000: 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS. “Buick’s large-sedan replacement for the LeSabre offers V6 and V8 power, heated and cooled seats, and remote start. Front bench seats are an option.” [Best in Class: Acura TL]
Best New Car – $45,000 and Over: 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG. “From the performance division of Mercedes-Benz comes a new class with style and luxury to spare. It smothly powers from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.” [Best in Class: Lexus LS430]
Best New Sports Car: 2006 Mazda (Miata) MX-5. “The best-selling roadster gets a thoughtful redesign. Now there is more zoom as well as more room – enough to fit a supermarket haul in the trunk.” [Best in Class: Chevrolet Corvette]
Best New SUV: 2006 Range Rover Sport. “Think of it as a rugged sport sedan, equally at home on city seats or on the savanna.” [Best in Class: Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland]
Best New Crossover Vehicle: 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. “This hybrid utility vehicle gets 33mpg in the city, but it’s no slouch when accelerating. The electric motors give it more power than the V6 gas model.” [Best in Class: Honda Pilot]