There are no bad cars. It’s been years since I’ve seen a really bad car to be sold as new in the USA. Maybe the not lamented Chrysler Sebring came close before it evolved into the Chrysler 200 for 2011. So, as the new V-Platform Nissan Versa is poised to be launched for the 2012 model year as the lowest price new car available in the USA you wonder if a new car priced so low is a bad car? The answer is a resounding no. But with the Versa and new Hyundai Accent arriving almost concurrently on the market it begs brief comparison.
2012 Nissan Versa Sedan
2012 Hyundai Accent Sedan
A stream of consciousness look at the auto industry in 2007. Whew, what a year it was!!!!!!!
Not the Trauma We Expected, but 2007 was Tough
We began the 2007 thinking the year was going to tank into the mid-15,000,000 unit range. That didn’t happen and the industry struggled to just over 16,000,000 units. This reasonably good year was in the face of negative media coverage, a severe housing downturn, a subprime mortgage crisis, soaring gasoline prices, etc.
Saying 2007 at just over 16 million units was a good year will be criticized as nuts, but we have been conditioned since 2000 to think that 17 million is good. It wasn’t too many years ago that 15 million was good. So, 16 million ain’t too bad. Just not what we have become accustomed to. And, by accustomed to, I mean we have plant capacity for many more units. We have dealers in place to sell many more units. We have built our business models and breakeven points on 17 million units and not 16 million.
We began the year with turmoil. Ford was in turmoil and embarking on an aggressive restructuring program with a new CEO at the helm. There were rumors of bankruptcy hovering over Detroit. DaimlerChrysler AG announced that it would off-load its American Chrysler Group and rely on upscale Mercedes-Benz cars, commercial trucks and, of course, Maybach and smart.
Ford Struggles Through 2007
By year end, Ford is still with us and there are some bright spots in its lineup – Fusion, Edge, MKX, MKZ. The Five Hundred, Montego and Freestyle were freshened, got new engines and renamed Taurus, Sable, Taurus X. Well, the upgrades took, but sales did not and Taurus, et.al have languished on dealer lots. I did see a ton of them on Kauai along with a very high number of Dodge Calibers. So, we know that retail sales for the Ford large cars and Crossover are not doing too well. Ford has retained top spot in big truck sales with F-Series remaining the sales leader even with Silverado and Tundra coming on strong and the Dodge Ram pickup offered at fire sale prices. Ford unloaded Aston Martin and spent the year doing due diligence on off-loading Jaguar and Land Rover (probably to India’s Tata Motors). Ford will keep Volvo, however.
To help Ford with sales and marketing, Ford lured Jim Farley to the Company. Formerly Group Vice President of Toyota’s Lexus Division, Farley was a rising star in the Toyota ranks. A friend of the Ford family, Farley appears positioned to challenge Ford’s other young star – Mark Fields – as the heir apparent to Alan Mulally in four or five years.
Now, It’s Chrysler LLC
DaimlerChrysler gave Chrysler Group to Cerberus Capital Management retaining a 19.9% stake. Cerberus promptly named Bob Nardelli – formerly hard charging CEO of Home Depot and General Electric – as CEO of Chrysler LLC. Nardelli’s lack of specific auto industry experience was offset by Cerberus adding highly respected Toyota executive Jim Press as co-COO. Press is working his way through Chrysler’s activities using the revered Toyota Five Whys approach (a question asking method used to explore the cause/effect relationships underlying a particular problem. Ultimately, the goal of applying the 5 Whys method is to determine a root cause of a defect or problem). Five Whys, understandably, has Chrysler vets on edge. They now have to justify everything. Nardelli, Press and Tom LaSorda are facing soft sales, high inventories, sub-par interiors in many cars and an image gap. With $10 billion in loans, Chrysler LLC has some time to prove itself or position itself for a takeover or a parceling out of components (like Jeep, Dodge Truck, Minivans, etc). Oh, yeah, DaimlerChrysler became Daimler AG in October.
General Motors Has Turned the Corner
General Motors appears to have turned the corner. GM has kept its head down during 2007 staying out of the feeding frenzy the media has directed at Ford and Chrysler. Not that there aren’t numerous stories written about GM, it’s just that there hasn’t been the bad news to whet the appetite of journalists.
GM’s products are improving now that the early efforts of Bob Lutz are being seen. While cars like the Saturn Aura and trucks like the Lambda Crossover SUVs and GMT900s have set the tone, Lutz’ real impact has been seen on the 2008 Cadillac CTS and 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. Both of these cars will serve to cement GM’s car lineup for years to come.
Couldn’t help but take this shot of the former Nissan Headquarters Building. The first time I saw it in 1982 it had both Nissan and DATSUN nomenclature on the fascia. So we’ll put this blurb under the “History, Heritage, and Yarns” section.
You remember way last year, Nissan North America moved its headquarters from Gardena, California to Nashville, Tennessee. They moved from a complex at the intersection of 190th Street and Figueroa. Not the best neighborhood, but withing shouting distance of the American headquarters of Toyota and Honda (both in adjacent Torrance). Nissan’s complex included the headquarters tower… a 1960s edifice that really is much smaller than it looks. The tower is visible from the 405 Freeway, 91 Freeway and the 110 Freeway. And as an added bonus, if your office was in right place you could stare the pilot of the Goodyear Blimp in the face as he jockeyed the blimp to its field just blocks away.
The NNA complex included not only the headquarters but also separate buildings for marketing, planning, engineering, vehicle storage and display… all things necessary to have a fully functioning automotive distributorship.
Well, NNA moved to Nashville into temporary digs in the Bell South Building. If you Google “Batman Building Nashville” you can find many images. While the Bell South Building is very distinctive, the Nissan folks are housed in typical cube farms with practically nothing to remind them that they are in the auto business. That comes next year when they finally get their own building in Franklin, Tennessee on the outskirts of Nashville.
No wonder they have been disoriented.
The Nissan Rogue is a small Crossover SUV derived from the Nissan/Renault global C-Class platform – i.e. Nissan Sentra, Nissan Qashqai, Renault Megane. VehicleVoice was given the chance to drive several Rogues in the desert East of San Diego. Here’s the scoop.
Justification for Rogue – It Was Easy to Do
The 4-cylinder-only Rogue begs the question, “Why?” Did Nissan feel they HAD TO add a small Crossover SUV to their lineup to compete with the Honda CR-V? Yes. Is there anything particularly intriguing about Rogue? No. It is another is a plethora of conveniently sized, pleasant to drive, reasonably priced small wagons available with all wheel drive. So, I guess it is OK to call it a “Crossover SUV” because definitions in the segment are very broad.
Rogue’s styling does not turn heads. Its target market is the same one as all the other small wagons – married male in early 30s just starting a family and needing more utility than his previous sporty coupe (or more likely Chevrolet Silverado or Dodge Ram full size pickup) gave him. Not that we are down on the Rogue. It’s just that it doesn’t answer questions much differently from any other small Crossover SUV.
Nissan North America Vice President of Product Planning, Larry Dominique, gives walkaround of new Rogue in San Diego
Conclusion: Nissan had a competent, flexible global platform that could be efficiently stretched from a sedan (Sentra) to a small Crossover. It couldn’t carry a V6, but that’s OK because the class leading Honda CR-V doesn’t have a V6 either. So here we have a low cost program, assembled in Kyushu, Japan that can fill a niche in the broad Nissan lineup.
During the last week of March 2007, 1,254 VehicleVoice panelists responded to an Internet survey concerning their opinion of major automakers in the USA. VehicleVoice asked these questions because the opinion of buyers and their attitudes towards various aspects of a manufacturer’s image are critically important. Managing image and opinion plus understanding what is driving that opinion can influence whether a person will positively consider or reject a brand next time they are in the market.
The key question in the VehicleVoice survey was whether the respondent’s opinion of a manufacturer had changed since this time last year. If their opinion had changed, the panel member was given the chance to explain why their opinion had changed. We received over 5,000 comments concerning these manufacturers. Some were as short one word. Some were as long as a page of 10-point type. Folks really had a lot to say and their comments were fascinating.
Discussion for each of the brands is below the fold.