If you’ve read our review of the 2008 Smart ForTwo here, you’ll know that we like its chic design, spacious interior (but only for two), and its point and squirt ability in urban environs. And you’ll also know there was plenty we didn’t like about the Smart, including its limited usefulness (only two seats and tiny cargo area), lack of power, and perhaps most seriously, its frustrating and dim-witted transmission.
The Mitsubishi i expands on the basic Smart concept
As good fortune would have it, we were able to arrange for a brief drive of the Mitsubish i, an interesting extension of the basic Smart idea. The tiny Mitsubishi actually does share some DNA with the Smart. Its platform is related to the Smart’s, as is its 3-cylinder engine (but reduced in displacement to – get this – 0.7 liters in order to meet Japanese Kei-class parameters). That means it’s rear-engined and rear-wheel-drive, just like the Smart.
From there though, the little i seems to have it all over the ForTwo. Its still petite dimensions accommodate four doors, a real back seat, and – hallelujah – a real automatic transmission (no robotized manual tomfoolery here). It looks really neat too, especially in the white that we drove. It almost looks like an iPod on wheels.
Okay, let me run some names by you:
Pop quiz, hot shot: What decade is it?
Considering just how much Volkswagen is a part of our cultural lexicon, it’s somewhat surprising that there aren’t more of them on the road. Volkswagens have been an iconic part of our automotive landscape, and just about everyone has a Volkswagen memory – whether recent or from long, long ago.
Volkswagen enjoyed a tremendous resurgence in the late 1990s with the New Beetle and the fourth generation Jetta. Both appealed strongly to young and young-at-heart buyers, leading to incredible sales growth and an enviable owner base of youthful, hip, opinion-leading consumers. As of late, though, the brand has lost some of its luster. VW has lost some of its edge with those trend-setters that had flocked to the brand just a few years ago. Yet, losing that edginess hasn’t translated to massive sales gains to mainstream Middle America types.
Volkswagen is currently in a push to become a truly mainstream brand in the North America, as it is in many other parts of the world. They have ambitions to sell (combined with its sister Audi) one million units in the US by the middle of next decade. Those are some seriously lofty targets, making one wonder what steps Volkswagen is taking to achieve those goals.
One of the most significant launches at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show was the 2010 Ford Transit Connect. This relatively small van is made by Ford of Europe in Turkey and will be shipped into the USA from the Middle East. The Transit Connect re-opens a niche that Ford and General Motors abandoned when they shut down their Aerostar/Astro/Safari vans. Remember, those were mid-size “minivans” that had rear wheel drive and were powered by V6 engines. Selling briskly at first, these vans eventually faded away.
Ford positions the Transit Connect as a commercial van designed for plumbers, florists, audio visual companies, etc. While the dual sliding doors come standard “blind” with no glass, they can be had with glass. It does not appear that Ford is going to offer a version with windows in the rear quarter panels which would open the Transit Connect up to being a “passenger van/minivan” rather than a commercial van.
Powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission, the Transit Connect promises 19mpg in town and 24 on the highway. Certainly not earth shattering, but pretty good.
Having wondered for years why Ford did not import the Transit Connect to the USA, it took Ford Chairman Alan Mulally to break the roadblock created by Ford’s financial system to develop a strategy allowing Transit Connect to be positioned competitively in the USA. Transit Connect is a very good looking product that should do quite well once it hits the ground.
Now, Ford should introduce a passenger version with windows all around and two rows of seats (5-passenger only please).
Automotive News Europe is breathlessly reporting that Ford is to receive at least six bids for its Jaguar and Land Rover operations. AutoNews sources British press – Financial Times, Economic Times and the Daily Telegraph – in lining up the names of the bidders
The bidders include the usual suspects from the capital equity world including Cerberus Capital Management – the new owners of Chrysler Group and Tower Automotive in addition to Delphi and half of GMAC, Ripplewood Holdings and One Equity Partners.
Carmakers thought to be in the running include Hyundai Motors from Korea, Tata and Mahindra& Mahindra from India
Automotive News reports that “Ford said today that it has had contact with interested parties and is evaluating the level of interest, but declined to provide details on the potential bidders or give a timeline for any sale.”
Reports are that the sale price was expected to be on the order of $1.5 billion. Given the price Ford paid for Jaguar (about $2.5 billion i the late ’80s) and Land Rover, this seems to be petty cash. Land Rover is doing very well these days and a price as low as $1.5 billion has to be in recognition of a huge discount assigned to Jaguar. Recent speculation has been that the third brand in Ford’s Premier Automotive Group – Volvo – could bring $8-billion or more should it be sold.
has developed a little brother for the Touareg SUV, and as a VehicleVoice.com reader, you may have seen our previous Tiguan report
. Set to launch midway through 2008, the Tiguan is a small SUV of the crossover/modern style, based on the latest Golf (known as the Rabbit in U.S. dealerships). But like the Touareg above it, Tiguan has some rock-crawling capability (depending on equipment and market). With inspiration claimed in part from dune buggies, it is fitting that VW ensures the small SUV can get over some rocks and through some sand.
The formal reveal is scheduled for the 2007 Frankfurt auto show, but VW has been comparatively public about its development. The first hint of their intent was found in 2004’s outlandish Concept T, an odd cross between sports car, SUV, and dune buggy revealed the North American International Auto Show. Next the inspiration was applied to Concept A, a more rational development of ideas born in the Concept T shown in February 2006 at the Geneva auto show. In November 2006, the near-production Concept Tiguan was unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show. VW has released quite much about the European-market Tiguan and invited a group of international journalists to tag along for some development testing in Namibia. The first production photos were released in June 2007 and we’ve got a pretty clear picture of the car you can buy next summer.
(Click for more Concept T photos here
, another Concept A
photo, and another Concept Tiguan
I am not easily embracing the trend by U.S. auto manufacturers to use numbers and letters (alphanumerics) to name vehicles. And it seems to be getting more and more commonplace. In the not so distant past, few vehicle names solely involved alphanumerics. There have always been some, but not the barrage that exists in today’s U.S. market. These days it seems nearly every automaker is jumping on the bandwagon, but mostly the trend exists among the luxury brands. Who has decided that luxury cars can only be named with impersonal numbers and letters?
Who Decided Cars and Trucks Sold By Luxury Brands Must Have Alphanumeric Names?
By my count, 11 of the 14 “luxury” brands in the U.S. presently use alphanumeric nomenclature exclusively or nearly exclusively. Another, Lincoln is heading in this direction as indicated by a few of their recent auto show concepts. Porsche is a holdout. It has its venerable 911 model upon which its reputation has been made, but Porsche management has stated that Porsche will use names instead of alphanumerics for future Porsche designations.
Land Rover, on the other hand, is moving towards the dark side of alphanumerics… at least in the USA. Land Rover North America launched its LR3 in 2005 and it has been a good success for them, but in the rest of the world LR3 is the Discovery, a name also well-established in the USA. I don’t particularly like replacing Discovery with LR3. I guess LR3 signifies that it’s the third model in the Land Rover lineup? But it might not mean much to Mr. and Mrs. Average Consumer, and for me Discovery was a perfectly acceptable name for an off-road capable SUV. In an interesting aberration to its naming strategy, after the LR3 was launched, Land Rover launched the Range Rover Sport… a name, not alphanumeric. Weird. But who says naming has to be rational?
At some point, luxury brand A (along with advertising folks) figured that coming up with a string of three letters would be much better and maybe easier than coming up with a good name that actually meant something to consumers. And to keep up with the Jones’ the “name” apparently needs to involve an X (SRX, WRX, LX, RX, etc, etc..) to signify sporty or SUV or crossover or desirable product that consumer A will want to buy.
We at VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and the VehicleVoice Blog-o-Rama (http:/.vehiclevoice.com) often feel that we are fighting an uphill battle concerning the use of the word “Crossovers”. This is a term that has come to mean SUVs based on car platforms and mechanicals. That’s fine. However, it is industry jargon that has not been adopted by the public. The media, picking up on industry jargon is forcing the term where no-one needs it.
An SUV is an SUV or Its NOT
Based on our research, it’s simple. American vehicle buyers have categorized vehicles into several basic categories: cars and trucks further subdivided into luxury cars, mid-size cars, economy/compact cars, sports/sporty cars, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and vans/minivans.
The SUV category seems to be giving folks the most trouble. To a typical vehicle-buyer, an SUV is an SUV is an SUV. There are big ones and small ones, but an SUV is an SUV. Muddying the playing field, however, is the notion of a “crossover”. A Traditional SUV in this more complicated world is a truck-based SUV like Ford Explorer or Toyota Sequoia. A crossover SUV is an SUV based on a car platform, a “unit-body” platform. But people often forget that the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Mitsubishi Montero are all based on unit-body platforms but are not car-based. Does this make them a crossover? NO!
Chevrolet Trailblazer… a “real” Truck-Based SUV
Post-Modern SUV… Soft Roader… NOT Crossover
So, it’s pretty muddy. What crossovers need to be are at-a-glance SUVs. The basics of the SUV equation are well known so deviating is a risk. An SUV must have a basic two box bodystyle, relatively tall glass for good visibility, a relatively upright windshield that provides a stiff A-Pillar allowing easy ingress/egress, and a command seating position. At the same time interior roominess and the ability to carry cargo is very important. From our perspective, this most American of vehicle types is very easy to understand but easy for a foreign car company to get wrong.
Pontiac Torrent… Car-Based Post-Modern (Crossover) SUV
Let’s read on about how USA Today recently reacted to the issue of “crossovers”…
Ward’s AutoWorld announced the results of their latest 10 Best Engines awards. The venerable Nissan VQ soldiers on (Infiniti 3.5L V6), but VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff note some interesting results.
Does An Engine Have to Be High Performance to be Best?
Note the “Hemi”, “turbocharged”, “supercharged” nomenclature. Wow, most of these are high performance engines beyond what a typical buyer will find in their cars. Probably the most mainstream engine of the bunch is the 4.6L V8 in the Mustang GT.
How about the 4-cylinder engine in certain price classes? How about the best V6 between 225HP and 275HP?
Here is the Ward’s Release
The editors of Ward’s AutoWorld magazine have chosen the 10 Best Engines for 2006, the 12th year of the award.
The engines and tested vehicles are:
* DaimlerChrysler AG: 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8 (Charger R/T)
* Audi AG: 2L FSI turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Audi A3)
* Audi AG: 4.2L DOHC V-8 (Audi S4)
* BMW AG: 3L DOHC I-6 (330i)
* Ford Motor Co.: 4.6L SOHC V-8 (Mustang GT)
* General Motors Corp.: 2L supercharged DOHC I-4 (Chevrolet Cobalt SS)
* General Motors Corp.: 2.8L turbocharged DOHC V-6 (Saab 9-3 Aero)
* Mazda Motor Corp.: 2.3L DISI turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Mazdaspeed 6)
* Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.: 3.5L DOHC V-6 (Infiniti G35 6MT)
* Toyota Motor Corp.: 3.5L DOHC V-6 (Lexus IS 350)