LRX Demonstrates Atomization of the SUV Market
Not all that long ago, we (and most other pundits) would have prescribed a pretty failsafe formula for how to create a successful SUV. Make it big, make it really upright, and give it plenty of power, OPEC be damned. Sure, everyone knows now that fuel prices are high, driving demand for more efficient means of transportation, but there are plenty of other factors driving the atomization of the once cookie-cutter SUV market.
Whatever you want to call them – body-on-frame utility vehicles, crossovers, car-based utilities, whatever – SUVs as a genre have matured to the point where there is plenty of space and demand for unique niches within the larger segment. In fact, consistent with the greater overall consumer demand we see nowadays for tailored, unique products that fit every taste (how many ways can you have your Starbucks?), the SUV segment is quickly becoming as diverse as the passenger car market. So is there a market for a sustainable, eco-friendly coupe-like Land Rover? Even five years ago, we probably would have given the notion a big thumbs down.
Seeking New Blood and New Concept Space
Land Rover’s LRX concept previews a niche luxury entry SUV product that we’re expecting to see within the next few years. This product would come in below the car-based Freelander, theoretically casting a wider net and providing a larger gateway to the Land Rover brand. We can see their logic here. Today’s oldest Gen Y buyers are coming of age and are starting to earn real money, and a huge number of them have grown up valuing prestige and premium branding. As a struggling brand (especially in Europe, where the traditional truck-based SUVs that Land Rover specializes in have become more irrelevant than ever), Land Rover has got to find some new blood – and the key hopefully lies in these young and open-minded buyers.
BMW Joins the Effort to Spread the Diesel Gospel
If there’s one company out there whose powertrain reputation is beyond reproach, it’s easily BMW. Some underwhelming 4-cylinders from the 80s and 90s aside, it’s hard to point out any BMW motors that weren’t powerful, engaging, soulful, and indestructible. Except for the indestructible part, those descriptors certainly don’t describe diesel, at least in the minds of North American drivers.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Europeans are firing their first volleys in their attempted diesel revolution in the US. They’ve actually tried for years to sell Americans on diesels, touting their economy and longevity as advantages. But thanks to some really notably awful diesels from the 70s and 80s (and consumers’ long memories), the only takers have been automotive eccentrics. Today though, in the days of rising fuel prices and international instability, there is a significant increase in interest in fuel-saving technologies.
You can’t blame the Europeans for using diesel to spearhead their efficiency strategies. After all, Europe has already embraced diesel as a mainstream fuel (67% of BMWs sold in Western Europe are diesels!), and as such they have made tremendous advances in diesel power, refinement, and cleanliness. And, if anyone can help erase that diesel stigma in America, it’s BMW.
Impressive Specs and Power
BMW’s Advanced Diesel strategy in the US starts with their internationally lauded 3.0L inline-6 diesel with twin turbos, pumping out 268 horsepower and a truly stump-pulling 425 lb-ft of torque. This is while delivering 25% better fuel economy than a comparable gasoline engine. The engine is 50-state legal, thanks to an SCR catalyst and AdBlue urea injection.
To start, this fire-breathing yet eco-friendly diesel will be available in the 3-Series and X5. You can expect to see other diesel variants in the coming years.
High Fuel Economy…But Likely High Cost
Despite these impressive specs, diesel’s got a real uphill battle to contend with. Even without considering diesel’s image in the US, there’s the cost – both in terms of hardware and the fuel itself. In Southern California, diesel’s running about 20¢ higher than gasoline, and these new diesel engines themselves are inherently very costly due to their beefy innards and all that expensive exhaust aftertreatment. BMW (and other diesel hopefuls) certainly won’t be able to play the “save money” card with their diesels; they’ll have to find some other unique way to position these powertrains.
There is a real and growing trend among leading edge affluent consumers to equate green with chic. BMW will need to work hard to market diesel’s benefits to these leading edge consumers – and convince them to pay more for the privilege of being green. If they can pull this off with these opinion-leading consumers, diesel just might have long-term hope in North America.
In past discussions with Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s product development czar, he has stressed that Ford would be making their cars and trucks much more efficient by reducing their weight and using higher technology engines. One of the first examples of that strategy was when Ford dropped the V8 engine from the powertrain plan for the upcoming Lincoln MKS sedan and will use a twin turbo V6 as its high performance powerplant.
While we can’t fathom a Lincoln flagship without a V8, the proof is in how it drives and what the durability and reliability of a turbo powertrain turns out to be. In AutoPacific and VehicleVoice Internet research car buyers generally opt for displacement (larger) and less engine technology (non-turbo, for instance). The old adage that “there is no replacement for displacement” generally holds true. But we can’t ignore the issues of Global Warming (if it exists) or higher gas prices or impending CAFE rules that force new technology.
Ford has laid out its powertrain philosophy in an early January press release shown below the fold…
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Giving us all a little break from the green car parade at the LA Auto show, Porsche gave North America it’s first look at the 2008 911 GT2. Based on the current 911 Turbo, the 911 GT2 is a beast, not designed for your average LA attorney. We had a few minutes with David Pryor Vice President of Marketing of Porsche Cars North America. David, a 911 driver, summed it up like this, “The GT2 is the perfect blend between the Porsche Turbo and the GT3.” The GT3, At 415 horsepower, is the most powerful naturally aspirated six cylinder engine in any production car.
Imagine you arrive for work, spend the morning at your desk, and when you head outside to drive yourself to lunch, your new Mercedes is gone. Stolen! Now, imagine you’re a guy who would like to drive a Mercedes and you don’t want to use the traditional baseball bat to smash the window in while attempting to snatch it from its rightful owner. What’s a poor thief to do?
Eli Biham, a professor of computer science at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, says his team has come up with a new method of hacking those electronic keys appearing in nearly every car these days. And, he blames it on outdated technology being sold “as new” today.
Disclaimer: VehicleVoice and AutoPacific exclusively use Macintosh computers. Beginning in 1986 and continuing through all the rough years, Mac has powered AutoPacific. Never a PC.
iPod, iPhone, SYNC Force Apple to React
FACT: Steve Jobs, Chairman of Apple, Inc. and Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of Volkswagen AG met last week apparently to finalize an Apple/Volkswagen initiative to bring Apple technology to Volkswagen vehicles in the future. The announcement came from Volkswagen with very-secretive Apple refusing to comment. So, we’ll have a Volkswagen “iCar” soon?
RUMOR: Several Apple-related announcements concerning Apple interfaces with cars will be made at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
We have heard vibrations about Apple beginning to move into the automotive space for years.
First, consumers have been screaming for better solutions to integrate their iPod with their car for years now. Some solutions have been successful. Some have been very crude. But this has forced Apple and the carmakers into a dialog about how to best integrate iPod with their vehicles.
Second, with the recent introduction of the iPhone, Apple has another device that makes the second step towards the holy grail of car-dom. More on that later.
Third, with Microsoft’s SYNC (see the VehicleVoice video podcast of the SYNC system
from the 2007 CES) system being launched on Fiats and Fords it is only logical to believe Apple will move into the same space, but probably do it better with more elegance and intuition.
Fourth, Apple’s sense of design would blend perfectly with the design language of several premium brands. Apple could become an icon in automotive entertainment like Bose, Nakamichi, Levinson, Infinity, Rockford Fosgate, but with even more style and elegance.
Fifth, using Apple TV-type interfaces, the car, home computer, iPhone, iPod could be inter-connected wirelessly every time the car pulls into the garage. Steve will own the world.
The Holy Grail – Full Automotive Integration with One Portable Device
Since AutoPacific began working in “Telematics” in the late 1990s, it was apparent that the holy grail for integrating with the automobile would be some sort of portable device that would wirelessly sync with the car. Imagine the car as a receptor and the monitor in the center stack as the display monitoring the interface. A person’s iPhone holding GPS data could immediately sync with the navigation system. The data would be continuously updated through the iPhone and to the car. A person’s address book, music files, etc would be on the iPhone and synced with the car continuously. Since these devices would be on the “human” and not hardwired into the car they could more easily and cheaply upgraded. And, it would all look great!
Can’t wait for CES. I wanna to see this stuff. Hope it’s true.
Just to show the iCar idea is not new, check out this link
from 1999. And, check out the 1998 story below the fold.
The newly announced MINI Clubman is more than an extension (literally) of the popular MINI Cooper REV 2. First presented to the public at Frankfurt nearly two years ago (as the Shooting Brake Concept), the Clubman incorporates a number of unique and interesting capabilities that may set it apart from the average vehicle in its class.
Overall, the vehicle is the same up front as the basic MINI hatch and remains so to the B-pillar. The large, bug-like headlights, hexagonal radiator grill, and hood design clue you in to the vehicle. From the B-pillar back, things change…
The Clubman’s body is now 9.45 inches longer than the standard MINI Cooper. The wheelbase is 3.15 inches longer. Color choices of the C-Pillar include silver, or black. The rest of the key data are very similar to that found on the standard MINI, except for some really neat new features, including:
During May 2007 VehicleVoice R&D Center conducted a survey of panel members concerning preferences for Navigation Systems.
One of the primary questions was whether the ideal navigation system should it have a touch screen or toggle buttons? Among automakers there is a split of opinion concerning whether touch screen or toggle buttons are preferred. Several makers simplistically conclude that a toggle button system is preferred because you don’t have to touch the screen and leave unsightly fingerprints on the screen. Most makers, however, have opted for a touch screen system because it is more intuitive and direct to use.
Strong Preference for Touch Screen
What do VehicleVoice panelists prefer? The question about preference was asked of vehicle owners (both navigation system owners and those interested in purchasing a navigation system). Overwhelmingly, the answer is Touch Screen – 83%. Less than a quarter of the respondents wanted a toggle/rotary/push button system – 22%.
How do you prefer to enter data in a Navigation System?
Touch screen = 83%
Toggle/rotary/push buttons = 22%
Other = 4%
As concern regarding fossil fuels and dependence on specific suppliers mounts worldwide, answers to alternative fuel solutions remain largely elusive for the mainstream. Ethanol, hydrogen, and other fuels are not as easily accepted as one might expect.
Audi Commits Racing Fortunes to Diesel
Even diesel power has not been widely accepted in the United States. And, while there are numerous reasons why diesel power has historically been viewed differently in the U.S., today, there are several reasons why many Americans are taking a second look at diesel power.
There are several key reasons to consider diesel power, including advantages of fuel consumption, emissions, and the overall performance of modern diesel engines. To underscore these benefits, Audi embarked on a challenging mission at the turn of the (21st) century. The German car maker decided to create a LeMans racer powered by a fuel-efficient diesel engine. The goal, to win over Ferrari, Porsche, Ford, and scores of other manufacturers. The result: win after win.