24 March 2007

The Ford Fusion 'Challenge'

When is a comparison a sham?

When is a comparison a joke?

When does advertising blur the line between honesty and dishonesty?

I present to you the latest of the 'Bold Moves'- the Fusion ad campaign which you may have seen on TV lately. The Ford Fusion Challenge. No longer content with just touting the features of their own vehicles, Ford has pulled a page out of 1985 and has decided to do the 'head to head to head' thing in a number of commercials.

The vehicles in question? A Ford Fusion SEL AWD. A Honda Accord EX-V6. A Toyota Camry V6. Hum the song to yourself- one of these things just doesn't belong here, one of these things just isn't the same...

Yes, the AWD Fusion is priced comparably to the Accord and Camry V6 models- but pitting an AWD model against FWD models is dishonest, sneaky, and suggests that the FWD model just isn't up to the task.

The most hilarious part of all the spots is the post-ad selling screen- $0 down, 0% financing, $0 due at signing... all for $249 a month. Great deal huh? Oh wait, what's that in the small print- it's for a Ford Fusion SE I4. So if someone WAS moved enough by this dungpiece of a commercial to actually visit a Ford dealership to check out this deal, they'll be quickly smacked upside their face when they realize that the Fusion that won the 'comparison' isn't even the one being advertised in the ads.

Par for the course when it comes to advertising? Probably. But still a Bold Deception.

23 March 2007

OnStar- Thankfully, GM Is So Kindhearted.

Original Article
About 500,000 General Motors vehicles will lose their OnStar service at the end of this year as cell phone companies end analog service and switch to all digital.

About another 1 million GM vehicles are able to get a retrofit of hardware that will enable them to continue getting OnStar, while the other roughly 3 million OnStar vehicles are not impacted by the change.


Ultimately, GM was able to develop a fix for about 1 million OnStar customers starting with some 2002 models. Those customers will pay a dealership just $15 for the fix, if they agree to add a year of OnStar service, Ball said. GM is covering the remainder of dealerships' cost.

I can completely understand that GM didn't know what digital signal was going to be the standard when they first came out with OnStar. I really can. But designing the analog OnStar systems so that there is absolutely ZERO possibility of upgrading it as the digital standards become, well, standard, is ridiculously stupid in ways that I can't even begin to imagine. GM has done exactly one thing incredibly in the last 10 years- promote OnStar. And in one fell swoop, they're screwing over 500,000 customers, plus however many more customers don't want to pay the 15 bucks, 45 minutes, and 1 year of prepaid service to continue their service.

Just amazing.

22 March 2007

Und Ze Coal Miners Rejoiced!

Lo and behold, yet another rental experience was upon me about two weeks ago. Due to some rookie type driving issues, I managed to mangle the passenger side rear quarter panel on my own vehicle and had to bring it in for a big of body work. The gods must have been smiling on me that day, as Enterprise was kind enough to send a not so traditional rental vehicle for me- a gleaming new VW Jetta, equipped with the base 2.5 I5 engine.

First things first- the new generation Jetta is the blandest looking vehicle on the entire planet. Spend a day or two looking at the Jetta, and a passing Corolla looks like a Testarossa. Spend a day in a Jetta, and you'll come away thinking that it would be a perfect vehicle for Greg Kinnear. It didn't help that this particular model was clad in standard issue cheapo VW plastic hubcaps, and its black exterior hid a lot of the subtle creasing that dominates the design mantra of this generation. VERY subtle creasing. About the only interesting thing on the outside of the new Jetta is the new corporate face- a genetically compromised version of what Audi brought to market a few years ago. Thankfully, VW has brought out a 'City Jetta' vehicle this year in Canada, which is more or less a previous generation Jetta with a tiny engine and a tiny price- now that's a good looking car.

Move on inside, and the black theme continues. Everything is black. Everything. The shapes are pleasing to the eye, and the materials feel top notch- but damn is it dark in here. Without a moonroof, the look is slightly oppressive actually. German design at its finest. The base model Jetta comes equipped with most of the obvious standard stuff, but throws in airbags for everyone, traction control, heated seats, side mirror turn signal indicators, and ABS. This particular rental also featured a 6 speed automatic transmission with a Tiptronic feature for when you're feeling frisky. The standard radio setup is to be avoided at all costs.

It is in its driving dynamics that the Jetta earns its keep. It exhibits a characteristic German suspension feel- much stiffer than anything else out there in the segment, with a beautifully weighted steering wheel that sends back the perfect amount of feedback from the road. I would imagine that buyers used to the floaty steering and suspension of the Corolla, Cobalt et al, will no doubt feel that the Jetta is a penalty box- and on that count they'll be wrong. The ride is never jarring, just very firm. Where the Jetta falls short is in its base 2.5 litre 5 cylinder engine and 6 speed automatic combination- it sounds great and it revs happily to the redline with a swoosh reminiscent of a turbo, but there is just too much heft and too little power to motivate the Jetta properly. Exacerbating the problem is the 6 speed auto, which apparently has a ridiculously short first and second gear that necessitates a lot of unnecessary gear shifting by the auto in stop and go traffic around the city.

Overall, the Jetta is a decent little car . In the past, one could say that and also add in 'unique', but the good people at VW have decided to erase that pro by anonymizing it to the point of English cuisine. Unfortunately, this decent little car comes with a not so decent little price- starting at 25k Canadian and quickly escalating in the mid-30's, the Jetta is simply overpriced in this segment, even with some industry exclusive features like the 6 speed auto and the 5 cylinder motor, which cannot overcome the austerity and paucity of features at the base levels. A comparable Mazda 3 or Honda Civic is more than up to the task of taking on this VW. Sure, you can get all the goodies at 33k, but at 33k, you can get a well equipped Altima, Accord, Camry, Aura, etc... all of which are bigger, more powerful, and just as well engineered in many respects. Chope 3-5k off the price and we're talking- until then, the Jetta will remain in the domain of perky college girls with a 2.5 GPA and rich parents, and people without enough money to buy an Audi A3.

Buick, Saab, and Cadillac- Why Can't GM Make A Real Luxury Car?

When you're a huge multinational corporation with multiple brands like GM, it enables you to really break things down into bite sized niches. Companies like BMW, which will live and die by its 'driver' mantra, or even Toyota, which has one brand name and depends on quality perceptions, either need to undertake huge marketing efforts to crash into a niche they weren't in before, or introduce/acquire new nameplates to achieve the same goal. Either way generally results in a lot of money spent, oftentimes with very little to show for it.

GM on the other hand, has a plethora of brands to choose from. Most with some sort of niche already attached. When you drive a Chevy, you're driving dependable American steel with a good value quotient. When you drive a Pontiac, you're driving dependable American steel with a good value quotient... and VERVE! When you drive a Hummer, you're driving a badass American icon with no respect for the sanctity of oil.

But when you drive a Buick, Saab or Cadillac, what are you driving?

Well, Buick is easy. You're driving a bad car. A bad car targeted at 75 year old blue haired individuals with a fondness for the past, but not enough wallet to shell out for a Cadillac DTS. And while Buick professes to be changing, 3800 Series engines mated to FWD 4 speed automatic flagships belies their true intentions. Quick, what's more laughable- Buick saying they're going to challenge Lexus, or a post by Admiral Viscen? Tough call. Even the appointed saviour of the brand, the effervescent and tangy Buick Enclave, is simply a rebadged Acadia/Outlook that looks like a Rendezvous if you squint hard enough.

The second on the list, Saab, is a bit harder to pin down. When you're driving a Saab, you're apparently driving-

a)a Pontiac G6/Saturn Aura/Cadillac BLS
b)a Subaru Impreza
c)a Chevrolet Trailblazer


d)a piece of dung

At least you get a turbo or two thrown into the mix. But somehow, Saab is even worse off than Buick. At least Buick has an image of some sort, even if it's laughable. Saab has settled nicely into the 'pretentious guy who can't afford a real European marque but still wants to look like he can because he lives in San Francisco' niche. Congrats on that Saab!

Last but not least, you've got the big grandpappy of the crew- Cadillac. What a revival huh? 6 years ago, left for dead, with a smoldering carcass of a Catera being presided over by the ghostly ashes of an Allante. And then Art & Science came around and everything was perfect again. Or was it? Your honour, I present to you Exhibit A, as portrayed in the picture leading off this column. Dear idiots- shut up, I know that interior has either a)been replaced or b)been phased out as of next year. But I'll go even one step further and colour myself unimpressed with the new CTS in almost every facet except for the new mug. Everything rear of the A-pillar is an uninspired mess. Everything inside is derivative of Infiniti/Lexus/Mercedes. Minus the nuance and subtlety one expects of those brands. Oh, I'm sure it will have soft touch materials and everything will click with a gentle softness. But hey Cadillac, why would I buy a fat pig CTS when I can get an Infiniti/Lexus/BMW/MB/Audi/et al that does everything it can do, but better? As if I'm supposed to be impressed by a 300 HP V6 engine. Or a lack of luxury features common in entry level Nissans. Don't even get me started on the abomination that is the STS (when not in V trim). Or the XLR with it's boy racer aspirations not befitting a luxury car. Or the hideous Escalade which somehow manages to mess up features that Hyundais were offering 5 years ago. The only Caddy of note is the SRX, and recent news indicates that's the one that's on the chopping block. Go figure. The problem with Caddy is, they're putting the cart in front of the horse- talk of the 'standard of the world' isn't just premature- it's a twinkle in the eye of a glory hole patron. When Cadillac figures out how NOT to follow everyone else, then perhaps they'll be the standard of the world again. Until then, they'll just be a 3rd rate Mercedes/BMW/Infiniti/Lexus/Audi knockoff.

No Virginia, GM can't make a luxury car... but the TOYOTA TUNDRA IS STILL TEH SUXXORS!

20 March 2007

Safety Snobbery

There was a Buick Century commercial way back in the 1990s that said something along the lines of “safety shouldn’t be just for the rich.”

Looking at several popular models in the 2007 model year, it would seem that certain auto executives would disagree with that ad.

First on the shaming block is the Dodge Charger. Dodge is happy to sell you one for $21,875 (MSRP for base SE). What’s that? You want side-impact protection? Slap an extra FIVE-THOUSAND SEVEN-HUNDRED dollars on your friendly salesman’s dented, grey metal desk. The cheapest Dodge Charger with side-impact airbags—and just for head, not torso, protection—will run $27,620. Good luck finding one so equipped on a dealer’s lot.

Next up is the 2007 North American Car of the Year (or the mellifluous “NACOTY”): the Saturn Aura. This is General Motors’ de facto star sedan. What crime against “safety for the masses” has this sharply dressed car committed? It thinks only those willing to pay for the $25,000 XR model deserve the “it” safety gizmo of the moment: Electronic Stability Control. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2004 study estimated that ESC reduced fatalities in single-vehicle crashes by 30 percent for passenger cars. Somehow, GM thinks buyers opting for the $21,000 XE model are not worthy of having such a dramatically lower chance of dying in such a collision. Saturn does not even offer it as an option for those that might just feel like self and family-preservation is as important as a universal garage door opener (which is on the XE’s option list).

Finally, we have the plucky and pudgy Nissan Versa. For $13,165, a buyer is rewarded with a 6-speed manual transmission, CD player, air-conditioning, and power mirrors. What they don’t get is anti-lock brakes. Fine, at least it seems like a cheap option: $250. Except that Nissan thinks people shouldn’t have ABS without also getting such hugely important features as a glove-compartment light bulb, door armrest pad, and rear door pockets. What does that mean? It means one must check off the “Power Package” before he or she is allowed to check off the much more important “ABS” box. So that $250 option balloons to nearly $1,000. For. no. good. reason. By what completely incompetent focus group did they run that brilliance?

Safety should not be an option. If the automakers reasonably have the ability to make a car less deadly, how can they justify not doing so? Why must they continue the concept that safety is for those that can pay for it? It seems the Buick copy-writers where well ahead of their employer with that concept.