AutoPacific:

Ford Fusion Surprises?

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Fusion Hot Out of the Blocks
Fusion is Ford’s new mid-size sedan and is a very respectable piece of work. It has distinctive styling, a good sized interior and a large trunk. This combination puts Fusion in the hunt to attract buyers of mid-size cars that have been unable to consider a Ford since the demise of the easily forgotten Ford Contour (and who can’t forget its predecessor – the Tempo). For the first time in years, Ford has a competitive mid-size entry worthy of consideration. The first full month of sales for the Ford Fusion was October, 2005. Fusion, right out of the blocks, looks like a surprise winner with slightly over 4,000 units sold.
In a departure from conventional mid-size car marketing, Ford says they are not going after buyers who would consider the high volume Japanese entries like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Instead, they think they can have a pretty healthy business selling to Mustang owners who are moving into a mid-size sedan after their fling with the most popular sporty coupe on the planet.


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Hyundai Azera Shines

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Azera Tackles The Best from Japanese Mainstream Brands at a Surprising Value
When Hyundai launches its new Azera (http://www.hyundaiazera.com) entry luxury sedan in Fall 2005 it could have a real winner on its hands. The Azera replaces the XG350 with a much more distinctively styled and believable car. Unlike its blandmobile predecessor, the Azera is distinctive. Maybe it’s not head-turning, but it is an excellent piece of work from a company that is now beginning to reach its stride.

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Value-Priced Luxury
Base priced at about $25,000 you can load an Azera up to about $30,000. That is well below cars that may be considered to be competitors (Hyundai thinks it will compete with the Toyota Avalon and the Nissan Maxima). Azera is fully equipped and features safety equipment usually optional on competitive models. Azera has eight airbags, ABS, active head restraints and electronic stability control standard.

Sales Volume Objective Ambitious

“OK, we have given you this very nice car at a very attractive price,” says Hyundai Motor Company management. “Now, Hyundai Motor America, you can sell twice as many.” This means that HMA is expected to sell well over 30,000 units of the Azera and HMC would not be disappointed if they hit 40,000 units. The value proposition is there, the car is pretty darn nice. They just may make 40,000 units.


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Chrysler Pacifica "Poor Thing"

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Riding with the spousette the other day, we were cruising in the blindspot of a Chrysler Pacifica. Even though the Pacifica has been on the road for a few years now, and AutoPacific has had a Pacifica in several research projects, it had never really registered with her.
She asked, “What’s that?” I said, “Well, that’s a Chrysler Pacifica.” “Poor thing,” she responded, “It doesn’t know what it wants to be. It looks like a station wagon, a minivan and maybe a little like an SUV.” “Well, Chrysler used to call it a Sports Tourer, but now they are trying to call it an SUV,” I observed. Showing her ability to cut to the chase, “Nice try, but it doesn’t appear to be anything special.”
These observations are not too much different from reactions to the Pacifica in research clinics, focus groups and individual interviews with consumers. Even Pacifica owners seem confused about what it is. That Chrysler has been able to sell a respectable number of them (many at a deep discount from its initial pricing) is a testament to Chrysler’s marketing and incentive programs.
Over the years, we have found that American consumers really want a product that they can quickly put into a category. Either it is a minivan or not. Either it is an SUV or not. Begs the question of what folks will think the Mercedes-Benz R-Class Grand Sports Tourer is?


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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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2005 Japanese Minivans Tie for AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Japanese Minivans Win AutoPacific 2005 Minivan Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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“In the first ever 3-way tie in AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award research, the three Japanese brand Minivans are in a dead heat. Owners of Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest and Toyota Sienna rate the three Minivans so equally it is difficult to tell them apart. The differences in ratings between the three are usually too close to call. Toyota and Honda owners rate their Minivans ahead on brand reputation, the Nissan is rated more fun to drive and easier to get into and out of. Nissan’s distinctive interior styling rates more strongly among its owners than the more conventional interiors of the Sienna and Odyssey.”
“It’s remarkable that these three Minivans are so close in their owner ratings. They have become similar to Premium Mid-Size Cars where many people feel they have to look at the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima when shopping for a Mid-Size Car. In minivans, many people think they have to at least look at the three Japanese-brand Minivans before making a decision. These are vehicles you don’t have to explain to your neighbors when they show up in your driveway.”
“For 2005, at least, American brands are not in the hunt for a Minivan category win.”


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2005 Equinox & Santa Fe Tie For AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Chevrolet Equinox and Hyundai Santa Fe Tie for AutoPacific 2005 Standard Mid-Size Sport Utility Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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“Owners of the all-new Equinox rate their vehicle at the top of its category. We knew Equinox was something special when it was first shown at the North American International Auto Show. These results confirm our initial impression. A truly international product, Equinox is assembled in Canada and uses a V6 engine made in China. Nothing wrong with that combination according to its owners.”
“The Hyundai Santa Fe continues its string of category-leading performances. Santa Fe has won or tied in its category for four of the five years it has been on the market. This is a testament to Santa Fe’s strong combination of product competence, value and warranty. Santa Fe satisfies its owners and continues to help Hyundai build its brand image in the United States.”


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2005 Volvo XC90 Top Luxury SUV Winning AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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Volvo XC90 Wins AutoPacific 2005 Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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“The widely acclaimed Volvo XC90 car-based sport utility rates highest among Luxury Sport Utility Vehicles for 2005. XC90 owners rate their Luxury SUV strongly in the reputation of the Volvo brand, feeling safe while driving (no surprise there… it’s a Volvo!), front seat room, cargo capacity, interior materials, anticipated resale value, quietness and controls. These combine to deliver a very balanced product from a respected brand.”
The Infiniti QX56 was a close second to the Volvo. XC90 nosed out the QX56 due to its perceived superior safety attributes.


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2005 Pontiac GTO Owners Give Car AutoPacific's Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Pontiac GTO Wins AutoPacific 2005 Sporty Car Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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“The owners of the Pontiac GTO rate their powerful coupe tops in the Sporty Car category. GTO owners are high in overall satisfaction and rate GTO’s vehicle dynamics very strongly. Where does GTO excel? GTO has strong scores in handling, braking, power/acceleration, ergonomics, and visibility. Owner ratings lead us to conclude that GTO is a very easy car to live with and to have loads of fun with.”
GTO was in close race with the all new Ford Mustang a popular favorite with car buffs and owners. Many folks thought that Mustang was the odds-on favorite to win the Sporty Car class. After all, it is the top selling Sporty Car and has been getting rave reviews by enthusiast magazines. GTO won primarily because it is so focused. Where Mustang has two engines – a V6 that satisfies but not to the extent of its V8 – and a very nice 300HP V8 – the GTO has only a very powerful V8. It was the singularity of purpose of the GTO with its powerful torquey engine that tipped the scales.


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2005 Porsche 911 Noses Out Corvette for AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Porsche 911 Wins AutoPacific 2005 Sports Car Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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“The owners of the Porsche 911 have among the strongest overall satisfaction ratings in the industry. Instantly identifiable as a Porsche, the 911 is first coveted because of its distinctive exterior styling and its brand image. But its quality and driving dynamics put the icing on the cake. The Porsche 911 is the embodiment of a traditional European sports car.”
The 911 was closely paced by the new C6 Chevrolet Corvette a relatively traditional American sports car. Both cars are excellent and provide their enthusiast owners a thrilling driving experience and satisfying ownership experience.


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