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Let's Talk Cars: The Lincoln Navigator and the Hyundai Azera, Winners of the 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards!

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This week on Let’s Talk Cars, exclusive, in depth looks at the Top Rated SUV and Top Rated Car in the 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards..

Yeah, we know. You’ve read all about AutoPacific’s coveted Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. But have you seen the award winners, inside and out? This is your chance. Let’s Talk Cars Host Cameron Barrett takes the Lincoln Navigator out for a spin and nearly gives up her card carrying status in the “Small Car Lovers Club.” And AutoPacific President and Founder George Peterson along with Analyst Dan Hall put the Hyundai Azera through its paces.

After all that fun, because we can’t get enough of cars and know you’re just like us, we sit down inside the 2006 Ford Fushion, get blinded with a little bling bling, and ask the question, What Were They Thinking?!

Show Rundown
01:15 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Best SUV – the Lincoln Navigator: Cameron Barrett, Let’s Talk Cars Host
9:20 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Best Car – the Hyundai Azera: George Peterson, founder and President of AutoPacific, and Dan Hall, AutoPacific Analyst
16:19 Ford Fusion Interior: George Peterson, founder and President of AutoPacific


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Hyundai Azera First Impression and Test Drive

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If you were to have ever told me that I would actually feel comfortable peering through Korean glass at the road ahead, I would have laughed and told you that it would only be on the off chance I took an unplanned road trip through Seoul.
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However, when the Hyundai Azera won AutoPacific‘s Vehicle Satisfaction Award as top rated car I broke down and decided to take one home for the night, just to take a closer look. My initial reaction was one of surprise as I walked over to a substantial vehicle with contemporary styling and opened the solid drivers door to a plush, high-grade leather interior. This is a Hyundai? I’m used to bland aesthetics and plastic wheel covers, this car actually had decent lines. I was about to realize how quickly a manufacturer could sneak up on my perceptions. The simple fact was that the Azera, Hyundai’s luxury flagship, was going to introduce me to the tenacity of the Hyundai Motor Company, and their fierce determination in this market segment.


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AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Results – Japanese Brands On Top

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The AutoPacific 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards honor products in nineteen categories or segments. Nine categories are cars and ten are trucks.
Overwhelming Win by Japanese Brands in Satisfaction by Vehicle Type
Overall, owners of Japanese brand vehicles rate their cars or trucks at the top of their category in ten of the nineteen categories. Owners of European brand vehicles rated their vehicle tops in two categories – Volkwagen Passat in the Premium Mid-Size Car Category and the MINI Cooper in the Image Compact Car class. The American Big Three had five wins… Lincoln Navigator won it all with the highest rating of any vehicle – car or truck; Cadillac CTS, Mercury Milan, Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty. OK, that leaves two winners unaccounted for… those are from Hyundai.
The Hyundai Azera is the top rated car, even beating top class luxury cars like the Lexus LS430, jaguar XJ, BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The Hyundai Santa Fe is the top rated Mid-Size SUV for the fifth time in its six year history… this win comes just months before it is replaced by an all new Santa Fe to be produced in America.
So…
Japanese Brands – 10 with Suzuki having its first ever win
American Brands – 5 with Chrysler Group having zero wins
European Brands – 2
Korean Brands – 2
Check http:/.vehiclevoice.com for the complete listings.


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Hyundai Chooses New York for Worldwide Elantra Sedan Reveal

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Elantra Owners Helped Introduce the New Car
Hyundai’s Elantra gets a major change for the 2007MY, with sales in fall 2006 after a worldwide introduction at the 2006 New York auto show in April. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were there to get a first look at the new car. Though this reveal was not as dramatic as the fashion show that surrounded the Audi TT’s introduction or the mud-covered Jeep Wrangler unveiling, Hyundai cleverly brought in real Elantra owners to help introduce the new car and gave the presentation a real-world touch.

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Wrangler and TT introductions no doubt ranked higher on enthusiasts’ interest scale in New York, but to put this into perspective, Hyundai sold about 109,900 Elantra sedans in 2005 compared with Jeep Wrangler sales of about 79,000 units and Audi TT sales of about 2,800 units (down in part as the Audi ramps up for the new model). The Elantra has been no slouch for Hyundai, and will be a strong contributor to the brand’s goal of breaking the 500,000-unit sales mark in 2006.
Hyundai owners are also satisfied enough to be repeat buyers, making the Elantra a winner by many yardsticks. Since the 2007MY change brings an improved and refined Elantra that the company wisely kept close in spirit to the outgoing product, there is no reason that the new-for-2007MY Elantra will not continue to win over more Hyundai owners.
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Hyundai also took the opportunity to remind us that, with Elantra sales, they will have fulfilled their promise of seven new models in twenty-four months. The promise was made in 2004, and the Elantra will be the seventh car. It follows Tucson, Sonata, Accent, Azera, Santa Fe, and Entourage.


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Schembri and Killen – American Marketing Management Out at Mitsubishi

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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.
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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.
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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.


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Hyundai’s New People Mover: Entourage

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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.


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Hyundai’s Accent Range Expands for 2007

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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.


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Motorweek 2006 Driver's Choice Awards

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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.
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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


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Hyundai HCD-9 Talus Explores Luxury Sport Coupe

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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.


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Hyundai Santa Fe All New for 2007

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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.


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