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Exhaust Note #10 – Will VW’s Road to Mainstream Success be Smoothly Paved?

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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.

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Ford Transit Connect – Niche Busting Van

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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.
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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.
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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.
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Now, Ford should introduce a passenger version with windows all around and two rows of seats (5-passenger only please).


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Today's News – Ford Selling Jaguar/Land Rover

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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.


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2009 Volkswagen Tiguan: A Preview

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Volkswagen has developed a little brother for the Touareg SUV, and as a VehicleVoice.com reader, you may have seen our previous Tiguan report and podcast. 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.
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(Click for more Concept T photos here and here, another Concept A photo, and another Concept Tiguan photo.)


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2008 Dodge Avenger SXT: MyGig in Action

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One feature we were looking forward to experiencing on our own home turf is the Chrysler Group’s voice- or touch-screen-operated MyGig infotainment system. MyGig uses a 20GB hard-drive to manage music, navigation (including real-time traffic capability), space for storing photos, and operating UConnect and Sirius satellite radio. Chrysler Group offers MyGig with the latest Dodge Avenger and Nitro, Chrysler Sebring sedan and convertible, the upcoming minivans, and Jeep Wrangler and new Liberty. Though we first covered MyGig after seeing it in the Chrysler Sebring, we recently spent a few days with a MyGig-equipped 2008 Dodge Avenger SXT.

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Why so many alphanumeric model names?

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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?
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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.

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Crossovers… Media – Industry Forcing a Definition

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!
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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.
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Pontiac Torrent… Car-Based Post-Modern (Crossover) SUV
Let’s read on about how USA Today recently reacted to the issue of “crossovers”…


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Ward's Announces 10 Best Engines for 2006

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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?
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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)


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Hyundai Writes a Check… Hyundai Assembly Plant in Alabama

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Hyundai Launches New Alabama Assembly Plant

May 19, 2005, Montgomery, Alabama: AutoPacific attended the opening celebrations for the new Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama on May 19, 2005. This was a great, gala event, complete with a chartered Boeing 747 full of Hyundai executives, Korean press and government officials and featured remarks by no less than George H. W. “Big” Bush, 41st president of the United States! (And yes, the place was swarming with Secret Service, a SWAT Team and even a sniper team on the roof with a Barrett 50-caliber sniper rifle).

It is estimated that no less than 4,000 people were in attendance, including Hyundai and supplier employees. The 98-degree, 100-percent humidity day only dampened the event slightly.

The star of the show wasn’t the party, but rather the assembly plant itself and the commitment it represents.


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Lexus – Nissan Wins 2005 AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Top Brand – Most Wins

Lexus Wins AutoPacific 2005 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Top Brand – Nissan Has Most Wins Overall

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“Lexus’ win comes from an especially strong showing by its LS430 Premium Luxury Car and RX330 Luxury Sport Utility. Strong vehicle scores combined with real luxury-level customer handling at Lexus dealerships edges Lexus ahead of other luxury brands like Cadillac, Jaguar, Lincoln, BMW and Mercedes.”
While Lexus won the statistical battle, Nissan won the battle for the most entries winning Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. In an unprecedented performance, seven Nissan vehicles won VSAs. Often criticized in pure quality surveys where things like fit and finish, wind noise and squeaks and rattles are measured, Nissan products certainly satisfy their owners.
Nissan North America has seven winners this year, tops among the various corporations. Nissan sweeps the pickup categories with wins in both segments. The Nissan Titan takes the Full Size Pickup category and is the top-rated vehicle overall. Completing the pickup sweep is a win by the Frontier in the Compact Pickup category. Nissan Maxima is at the top of the Entry Luxury Car category and also the top-rated car, the Nissan Armada takes the Large SUV category for the second year in a row, Nissan Altima is the winner of the Premium Mid-Size Car category (tied with the new Buick LaCrosse), the Nissan Murano wins the Premium Mid-Size SUV category. The Nissan Quest is in a 3-way tie as the most satisfying Minivan.


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