DETROIT’S MUSCLE-CAR REVIVAL: ALL ABOUT STREET CRED
The latest Mustang is a success in the image ranks and in the buff books. Its sales success has surprised even Ford and production capacity has been increased so they can sell even more. The other historic Detroit brands will revisit the rear-wheel-drive coupe idea at the 2006 North American International Motor Show in Detroit. The first announced concept is the Dodge Challenger shown below. Still under wraps is a new generation Chevrolet Camaro.
Though Ford has consistently offered a Mustang since 1964 and kept it alive (even if some iterations were less memorable than others), both GM and Chrysler Group abandoned the product formula. Mustang has the edge and success at GM, Chrysler Group, or for any other contenders requires that they establish modern-day credibility with the consumer.
In the heart of most car product planners at American car companies beats a rear-wheel-drive V8-powered coupe or convertible, going much further back than the muscle-car era that gets so much attention these days. As a result, whether timing is by design or by reaction, Dodge and Chevrolet are expected to show concepts on the muscle-car theme at the 2006 Detroit show this January.
Detroit Show Car Hints at Potential Camaro Revival
Ever since the Chevrolet Camaro was dropped for 2002 model year, die-hard Camaro fans have insisted that it will return, regardless of the business case or lack of an approved programs. Many “Camaro” photosketches found their way from someone’s daydream post to other sites labeled as “the NEXT CAMARO.” There are certainly those within General Motors who would like to revive the nameplate, feeding the fire.
The 2006 concept is said by Automotive News to be based on the Kappa platform and due for production as a 2009MY vehicle. Other sources, however, indicate that the business plan has not been approved, and it remains to be seen if the project arrives on market. The Kappa platform is the basis for the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky sports cars. There was also a Chevrolet Nomad concept car a few years ago that was absolutely gorgeous.
Generation Y is the cohort of the population between 18 and 28 years of age. There is still half of the GenY generation cohort that has not yet reached driving age, but are strating to lust after their first car or truck. Because youth is sexy and desirable, automakers and their advertising companies concentrate great effort at attracting younger buyers to their brands. It is critically important Are Generation Y new vehicle buyers really different from the older generations? AutoPacific’s annual Generation Y Consultancy shows that Generation Y – the youngest vehicle buyers in the market – are very different when vehicle selection reasons are considered. The following chart shows how some key vehicle selection reasons stack up when Generation Y is compared to older generations:
The above data ring true for every vehicle segment. Basically, GenY buyers want a high value, high image vehicle that will last a long time.
What’s the next “new” concept for the Chrysler Group’s successful rear-wheel-drive platform? Back to the history books. Dodge cannot resist the temptation to revive a muscle car entry, given the available rear-wheel-drive platform and current powertrains. Though Dodge may have gone this direction without the success of the latest Mustang, consumer’s response to the latest Mustang is certainly cause for inspiration.
Where the Charger played on the heritage name and some cues in an unapologetic modern package and interpretation, the Challenger is instead all about reviving an icon. The Challenger will be the star of the Dodge stage at this year’s Detroit auto show and likely previews a production car. The concept was directly inspired by the 1970 Challenger, and mirrors that shape and look as best it can on the modern platform.
Chrysler was the first manufacturer to launch a truly competitive Minivan in the US market. Of course, Volkswagen had been around for years with its Microbus and Toyota beat Chrysler to the market by a few months with its forward control Toyota Van, but Chrysler launched the first “real” Minivan. But Chrysler was not first with the concept.
Ford Minivan Concepts Were Precursors to Chrysler’s Extremely Successful Minivans
The concepts leading up to the Chrysler Minivan were done at Ford Motor Company. Two groups developed competing Minivan concepts. Hal Sperlich’s Advanced Vehicle Engineering Team developed a Minivan concept based on a front wheel drive platform. It was called the “MiniMax”. Hal Sperlich was later to take this basic concept to Chrysler where the K-Car based Minivans were developed and launched in early 1980s. The second Minivan concept… one that has never really seen the light of day, was the Carrousel. Carrousel was developed by Alex Galaniuk’s Light Truck Advanced Engineering team in 1974 running parallel with the MiniMax.
Carrousel was a relatively simple concept – take a short wheelbase Econoline Van and make an extremely luxurious wagon/family hauler out of it. The Carrousel had a 460 CID V8 (tucked under the instrument panel in the style of full size vans those days), Thunderbird interior, woodgrain sides, whitewall tires and full wheel covers. It was fully driveable and the prototype was produced by Carron & Company in Inkster, Michigan. The interior had a full flat rear load floor and folding second row seat developed by Lear for the concept. Carrousel was a 5-passenger van.
Inexpensive Program Killed Because it Threatened Country Squire
In those days, Carrousel was a $67 million dollar program. Petty cash to a big car company like GM or Ford or Chrysler. But Carrousel was never to see the light of day. It died when Ford’s research showed it would cannibalize heavily from the Country Squire station wagon then a Ford family jewel. Threatening the Country Squire was verboten and Carrousel (and MiniMax – not so much of a threat) was shelved only to be seen a decade later behind Ford’s Truck Engineering building resting on four flat tires with its paint peeling.
While Carrousel was based on a rear wheel drive platform that was not as package-efficient as a front wheel drive Minivan, its styling and utility would have establlished a quick and low investment program. Another nail in the coffin… General Motors had nothing like Carrousel. In the days when Ford followed GM’s lead in almost everything, that was a definite vote against the innovative new idea.
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]
Well, the car of the year awards are now beginning to come in. Motor Trend just announced that the new 2006 Honda Civic won their award from a field of 28 new models for the 2006 model year. The Motor Trend Car of the Year article can be found at this link http://www.motortrend.com/features/112_news051112_car_of_the_year/index.html
The 2006 Motor Trend Car of the Year competition included the following models: Audi A3, BMW 3 Series, Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS, Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Fusion, Honda Civic, Hyundai Accent, Hyundai Azera, Hyundai Sonata, Infiniti M35/M45, Kia Rio, Lexus GS, Lexus IS, Lincoln Zephyr, Mazda 5, Mazda MX-5, Mercedes-Benz CLS, Mercedes-Benz R-Class, Mercury Milan, Mitsubishi Eclipse GT, Pontiac Solstice, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Jetta, and Volkswagen Passat.
Out of this list, our subjective COTY might have been one of the new Hyundai entries – Sonata or Azera. Both are very significant because of what they represent… Hyundai’s rebirth on the American auto scene.
The editorial staff of Motor Trend conducted tests on these 28 new models, “searching for the automobile that best represents exceptional value, superiority in its class, and the most significant development on the new-car scene for 2006.”
Unlike AutoPacific’s (http://www.autopacific.com) annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award winner is selected by editors. AutoPacific’s awards are generated based on responses from owners of new cars and light trucks to a national mail survey.
By the middle of 2007, Chrysler-Jeep showrooms will be populated by a befuddling number of quite traditional and Post-Modern SUVs (The Scribe refuses to use that vile “crosso___” term). While currently Chrysler-Jeep dealers have only the Wrangler, Liberty, Grand Cherokee and recently added Commander to worry about, their portfolio of SUVs will nearly double over the next eighteen months or so.
An article in the Saturday, November 19, 2005 Wall Street Journal projects that Toyota may overtake General Motors as the highest selling carmaker in 2006.
While Toyota (Toyota, Lexus, Scion) may not sell more than GM (Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC, Buick, Cadillac, Hummer, Saturn, Saab) in the United States, it may sell more worldwide. Toyota is concentrating much of its sales expansion in North America where it is pulling sales from General Motors and Ford. GM is bolstering production capacity in China and South America where it sees room for growth where Toyota is not yet strong.
The Wall Street Journal article is one of many recent media reports confirming the results of VehicleVoice research and forecasts by AutoPacific. VehicleVoice research shows a continuing deterioration in General Motors’ (and Ford and Chrysler traditional brands) market share in the United States under the concentrated onslaught of the Japanese Big Three. AutoPacific’s forecast of United States sales shows Toyota, Honda and Nissan increasing market share by adding new assembly capacity and models.
General Motors is getting ready to launch its new GMT900 SUVs. This lineup includes the Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV. The shorter versions will be launched in the 1st Quarter 2006 as 2007 model year vehicles. The long wheelbase Suburban, et. al. will be launched in March or April.
Early reviews of the GMT900 provided in Burbank, California (GM’s California Design Studio) and Warren, Michigan (GM’s Design HQ) prove that the GMT900s are an excellent piece of work. While they do not look too much different from their predecessors, they have wider front and rear track and larger tires and wheels. This gives the GM SUVs a very purposeful stance avoiding the undertired appearance some past GM vehicles have had. At the same time, the more prominent tires and wheels actually make the vehicles look slightly smaller even though they aren’t.
Lack of Fold Flat 3rd Row a Major Omission
To keep these comments focused on what we want to observe, lets change the order a bit.
The most glaring omission in the GMT900 SUVs is the lack of a 3rd row seat that folds flat into the floor like the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator and now the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. The key to the Ford system is the use of an independent rear suspension that allows the rear floor to be dropped several inches providing space for the seat to fold flat. GM’s GMT900 management said they “couldn’t break Ford’s code” and it appeared that they were thinking Ford adopted IRS more for ride and handling than for interior package. WRONG. The key all along was the rear seat package.
The resulting seating package is very similar to the GMT800 SUVs. The seats, when folded, rest on top of the floor obstructing the load area of the vehicle.
GM also claimed their research showed that SUV buyers wanted a power folding 2nd row seat more than they wanted a flat folding, power operated 3rd row seat. According to ex-GM researchers who shall remain anonymous, GM’s research actually showed a strong preference for “a seat like in the Expedition in a body like the Suburban”. The real reason, of course, is investment. The expenditures for the combination of IRS and fold flat 3rd row seat has variously been quoted as $165 million or $300 million. Either number would cause a product planner to pause and clearly these very important features were pipped – not easily.