Archive for the ‘Technology/Product’ Category

Deja vu all over again, here comes the VW Phaeton.

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Just yesterday Automotive News had an article that reported that amidst a cost cutting drive, Volkswagen has decided to re-introduce the uber expensive Phaeton model:

“…the “people’s car” maker plans to spend millions of euros upgrading a money-losing luxury sedan.”–Automotive News 1/28/15

The blogosphere has erupted with any number of industry observers pointing out the illogic of re-introducing an Mercedes-Benz S-Class competitor when you have announced that you’re cutting costs and, oh by the way, the Phaeton has been a huge money losing proposition ever since it was introduced at the 2002 Geneva auto show:

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I acknowledge the inconsistency of an austerity plan side by side with a re-jiggered luxo-barge but I admit to being a bit fascinated with the idea of the Phaeton.  The last time we went through the “we’re bringing the Phaeton back” phase was in 2009, right after the end of the great recession. At the time I wrote a post (“Has the VW Phaeton’s time come?“) and offered up the possibility that the Phaeton could be the luxury car for a new post recession sensibility.

I still think that possibility still exists, but the surging millennial generation adds a different twist to the idea.  After all, so many millennials grew up driving Volkswagens and we know for a fact that VW holds a special emotional place in American culture.  In five years millennials as a generation will be driving luxury segment sales. I think about a new generation of luxury car buyers, who are emotionally attached to the VW brand, who want to naturally separate themselves a bit from their parents and their parents’ luxury car choices (Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus) and I say to myself that’s an opportunity!

Boomers were never going to drop $65 large on a VW, they remember the original beetle, and VW as an economy brand.  The millennials don’t have that institutional memory, for them VW is Jettas, Golfs, and Passats that were actually premium priced relative to their competitive set. Is it really such a stretch to think that this new generation of luxury car buyers might consider and buy a large luxury entry from VW? (more…)

Americans becoming more “European” in our automotive tastes…will wagons make a comeback?

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Americans’ taste in automobiles is becoming a little more European. The fact that Ford and GM are marketing truly global cars like the Fiesta, Focus and Chevrolet Cruze with only minor modifications to reflect local tastes supports this view. Diesel, while still a tiny portion of the US market, is increasing in share of market, propelled by the efforts of VW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW.  GM has even announced that they will offer a diesel-powered Cruze in the US.

Even the hatchback, a configuration traditionally rejected by Americans is becoming more accepted:  “Five-door hatchbacks, popular among European families but long regarded as boring by Americans are catching on.  They now make up almost half the retail sales of Ford’s small Fiesta and Focus” (Financial Times).  Hot hatches like the Focus ST and Golf GTI make this segment even more appealing.

All this change is exciting and I hope that it signals a long-term adjustment in Americans’ view of automobiles.  Selfishly, I hope it will culminate in a re-appreciation of a body style seemingly lost to the sands of time…the full-size station wagon.

Europeans have a very different view of wagons, for one thing, they don’t call them “wagons,” they’re called “estates,” “Touring” or “Avants.” Just the language around the body style is better. It also helps that they have had some of the most beautiful well-designed wagons to choose from for years. For example, look at this Audi 5000 from the eighties, over 25 years old and it still looks great and feels very modern:

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For many Americans the idea of a station wagon became undesirable because of its connection to the newly suburban world of the post war years.  Most of our mothers drove a domestic version like the Ford LTD Country Squire, here’s a good example complete with faux wood, driveway and lawn: (more…)

Jeff Zwart will race a purpose built Porsche GT3 at Pikes Peak

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Here he is on a testing run:

Press release from Porsche: (more…)

“Old News” that’s worth hearing again, or maybe for the first time…

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

When I first saw this Acura commercial it got me thinking about what constitutes “old news” versus something relevant and important:

This Acura commercial is about crumple zones and their ability to absorb energy in a crash while directing it around the passengers ensconced in a safety cage.  It’s a nicely executed commercial that provides people with information that gives them confidence that Acuras are safe.

But it isn’t new and it certainly isn’t exclusive to Acura.  Many of us would say that crumple zones are “old news.”

In 1952, Mercedes-Benz received a patent for a crumple zone in an automobile.  Up until that point rigidity was regarded as the key to protecting passengers in an automobile accident.  The 1959 Mercedes-Benz W111 series included crumple zones and was actively crash tested by the company.

I can still vividly remember the first time I actually saw a crash test.  It was at the Mercedes Benz Safety Center in the Sindelfingen plant outside Stuttgart.  I was amazed at the devastation created by a thirty mile an hour off-set crash.  Right then and there I learned the value of a crumple zone.

Today, every automobile manufacturer uses crumple zones to make their cars safer.

Yet here is Acura, using their version of a crumple zone to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

If every car has crumple zones, then what’s differentiating about Acura’s? (more…)

Is Mini moving out of its niche? How to avoid the automotive equivalent of a comb-over.

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

An article in the April 2nd edition of the New York Times was headlined: “Despite Expansion, Mini Says It’s Still a Niche” and confirmed something that had occurred to me at the New York Auto Show.

In New York last week I saw the new Mini crossover, the Countryman, for the first time in person.  All the Mini design cues are present in the Countryman and I think you’d be hard pressed to say that it wasn’t part of the Mini family.  But I was struck by how “big” it seemed, it didn’t seem small and taut the way all the other models do.  Part of the difference was that the Countryman’s ground clearance is higher, so its stance is really quite different than the other Minis.

This got me thinking, at what point does a marque go too far and begin to lose its essential character?  Has Mini gone too far with the Countryman?

I suspect this is a little like losing your hair.  Little by little your hair recedes, almost imperceptibly, you make little adjustments as you go, thinking no one will notice, until one day you end up with comb-over and people are snickering behind your back. Little by little automotive brands seem to lose their way. (more…)

JD Power’s 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study–It’s tough to buy a bad car.

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

JD Power just released its 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study and there are some surprises.  Porsche is ranked 1st, Lincoln 2nd and Buick and Lexus are tied for 3rd. It wasn’t so many years ago that Lexus dominated the VDS study as the perennial number 1 and some may wonder what has happened?  Particularly in light of the well publicized Toyota quality issues.

The fact is that nothing has happened to Lexus, they design, engineer and build an extraordinary vehicle.  What’s happened is that the other manufacturers have improved to the point where every year it’s a genuine dogfight to get to the top spot.

There were some other surprises that weren’t so good….  (more…)

2010 NY Auto Show Press Conference Schedule

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
7:15am – 9:20am Opening Press Breakfast
Keynote Speaker: Alan Mulally, President & CEO of Ford Motor Co.
Special Events Hall, Level 1
9:30am – 9:55am Mercedes-Benz Level 3
10:00am – 10:25am Infiniti Level 3
10:30am – 10:55am Ford Level 3
11:00am – 11:25am Chevrolet Level 3
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Toyota, NHTSA, safety advocates and the need to address the real cause of accidents.

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Every single day there’s a new article citing an issue with Toyota.

There are certainly plenty of questions on all sides of the issue.  Are Toyotas safe? Are Toyota’s designs faulty?  Did Toyota hold back information?  Is Toyota evil? Is NHTSA just “a lap dog” for the auto manufacturers and simply trying to cover its you know what?  Were our elected officials just grand standing for their own benefit? Is the Federal Government going after Toyota because it owns a big chunk of GM and Chrysler. Are these allegations of Toyotas run amok the creation of lawyers and their clients who see the deep pockets of Toyota?

I’ve come to the opinion that we are worrying about the wrong things. (more…)

Can Cadillac succeed in Europe?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Amid all the drama surrounding GM, every so often I see something that strikes me a smart.  In Geneva, Cadillac announced it’s aspirations for Europe (WSJ 3/8/10 Sub required,  NYT 3/2/10).

After a number of high profile failures to enter the European market in a big way, the folks at Cadillac want to be a niche player and are willing to accept the lower volumes that go along with such a strategy.  By keeping volumes low, and presumably margins high, they expect that they can be profitable from year 1.

I think this strategy is sound and will succeed.  Cadillac’s current design language is unique and appealing.  There has always been a segment of the automotive market that is interested in something different and Europe is no different than the United States in this regard.  In Europe where Mercedes-Benzes, Audis and BMWs are common and cover a multitude of uses including taxis, rental cars, executive cars and the vehicles of choice for captains of industry, there is an opportunity for something “different.”

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Unintended acceleration and driver error.

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Below is a letter to the editor from today’s Wall Street Journal that I think provides an important perspective on unintended acceleration.

Allegations of  UA and the media furor around it virtually destroyed Audi in the United States.  Audi was vindicated eventually, with UA and the unfortunate accidents associated with it attributed to driver error.

Toyota is now “in the barrel”  with the politicians and media all intimating that there is some sinister plot at work.  There’s a lot at stake.  If there have been genuine misdeeds then let’s prove it beyond a question of a doubt and hold Toyota responsible. If indeed, driver error was the issue, I hope that the media and our politicians will be as quick to acknowledge the fact as they have been to hoist Toyota on its petard.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below and here’s the letter:

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