11 August 2007

Alan Mulally Is So Wise- He's Like A Miniature Buddha, Covered With Hair

The Freep had this to report from Ford boss Alan Mulally-

Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally created a stir in Traverse City on Wednesday among auto industry leaders and the news media by expressing interest in a 50-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax proposed a day earlier by U.S. Rep. John Dingell.

He then went on to make some vague comments about $9 gas in Europe as a way to let the customer decide on what vehicles they wanted.

All of this is amusing on a number of levels, because it's quite obvious as to what is going on here- Ford is playing a public relations game. Mulally didn't just shoot off randomly here- he is priming the pump so to speak. Exactly what benefit would $9 gas or increased gas taxes have for Ford? About the same as the increased CAFE regulations they and others such as GM are so vehemently again- zero, zilch, nil, nada. The domestic manufacturers, who coincidentally are the sheep bleating the loudest in regards to the proposed CAFE regulations, would be hurt massively by either upgraded CAFE standards OR greatly increased gas taxes.

None of them have any serious pipeline to small cars on the way, and all of them rely on big profit but relatively bad fuel economy trucks for their continued existence.

So how is this a PR move? Well for one, Ford comes out looking like roses by trying to solve the problem- they aren't just shrieking uncontrollably, they're providing options! Furthermore, if there's one thing that Mulally and Ford know, it's that taxes aren't something that the majority of the American electorate are fond of. So they'll tout gas taxes all day long, secure in the fact that the number of politicians who would support $9 gas is about the same as the number of politicians who want to lose their jobs next election. All the while, they can go to the press with the news that Ford is very concerned about the environment and gas consumption, but they did their part and offered up the idea of gas taxes, because CAFE is a horrible idea.

And no one will call their bullshit.

The truth of the matter is, Ford/GM/Chrysler are going to feel the pain either way because either CAFE or high gas taxes are essentially the same thing for them- they don't have the cars necessary for good fleet fuel economy in their pipeline right now to compete with the Toyonissondas of the world if CAFE comes in soon, and consumers would shun their profit drivers (trucks) if gas went up to $9 a gallon. They're screwed either way.

A more realistic and truthful way of doing things would be admit that their product lineups are tilted too far towards the wrong kind of vehicles, and announce a REAL move towards smaller more fuel efficient rides. And then follow through on it within 2 years. If they worked with the government on the subject of CAFE, there would no doubt be leeway given towards their cause, with a stepped regulation probably being the best thing. Instead, by kicking and screaming every step of the way, some of them end up looking petulant and ignorant, while others look condescending and untrustworthy.

Looks like Detroit is going to have to pick their poison.

10 August 2007

The 10 Best Car Commercials Of All Time

Anyone can make a simple car commercial.

Car profile shot. Gentle voice explaining features. Maybe a few countryside driving shots. Interior pan. End on black screen with price, lease terms, and tiny tiny tiny tiny print that no one can read, nor would they ever want to.

These ads all go way beyond that.

Luckily, this ad, which could probably double as a reality film for many marriages, makes up for a lot of the crappiness of the vehicle.

Far and away my favorite car commercial of all time. What's funny is that I've never actually seen it on TV because it appears to be meant for the Euro market. Thank you interwebs. On a more serious note- could this commercial tell the story of Honda as a company any better?

She's just looking for change right?

If no torque equals no balls, don't you think a medieval castrato choir should have been used for this Honda commercial? Or at the very least, all females?

Ken obviously drives a Volvo. Or a station wagon of some sort.

How the hell did Nissan get better looking transforming robots in a commerical than the actual Transformers movie did in their 200 million dollar film?

Great for a number of reasons- continues the 'accident' campaign, references itself, and gives the finger to the critics of the commercials.

So I'm cheating a little because this is actually a Shell commercial. But can you blame me?

Basically THE commercial that launched Lexus in North America and one that almost everybody still remembers. In one fell swoop, tie yourself in with luxury and emphasize everything important about your brand. And of course, I can't find video of it anywhere.

Another one we've never gotten to see this side of the world, but still a good one- you've got an idea of what's going on, but it's all in the execution.

Toyota and Subaru to Jointly Develop Sports Car

Toyota, a company not famous for performance vehicles (in fact, the company no longer sells any sports cars, now that it has discontinued the MR-S sports car in Japan), is rumored to be co-developing a small sports car with Subaru for sale in Japan, according to the Japanese Asahi newspaper. The new car would be branded as a Toyota and will have an engine smaller than 2 liters. It will be priced at less than 2 million yen ($16,900) in Japan.

Details about the car are still cloudy at this point, including whether the car will feature Subaru-specific technology such as a horizontally-opposed engine and symmetrical all-wheel drive powertrain. While all-wheel drive seems to be a possibility, the boxer engine does not, as that might take away from Subaru's uniqueness and quirkiness.

Toyota and Fuji Heavy Industries (the parent company of Subaru) have been allied since GM sold its stake in Fuji Heavy Industries in 2005, and Toyota bought 8.7% of the company to gain access to additional US production capacity and jointly develop models. Subaru is building Toyota Camrys at its factory in Indiana and has already benefited from Toyota's manufacturing expertise through the venture. Let's hope that the jointly-developed sports car can combine the best of both companies.

The car is expected to hit the market in 2010, although both companies declined to comment on future product plans.

8 August 2007

Classic Car Crash Test- Mazda Protege

As you can see, some great occupant protection and very little cabin intrusion. 5 stars!

BMW And Nissan Fight Like School Children At Recess

So a few years ago when the new M35/35X/45 was about to hit dealerships, Infiniti came up with some advertising that said 'The New M Is Coming'.

Well, the folks over at the whirling propeller were none too pleased and filed suit.

Today, the hammer fell-

BMW has lost a court battle in Canada to prevent Nissan from using the letter ‘M’ for what BMW describes as its rival’s “inferior and more modestly priced” models. The latest announcement comes several months after BMW originally won an injunction to stop Nissan from using the letter. The original injunction was later overturned on appeal.
This is hilarious on a number of levels.

First is the description that BMW used for Infiniti. They're 'inferior and more modestly priced' according to ze Germans. I suppose they have a point- the M trim lines of BMW vehicles are pretty crazy performance vehicles, but doesn't the 'modestly priced' statement sort of damn BMW by faint praise? It's essentially an admission of their ripping off the consumer.

The second is that Infiniti and Nissan just went through this same sort of brouhaha with Audi concerning their Q7 SUV. Infiniti said it was an infringement on their currently defunct Q45 model designation, and inferred that the consumer was stupid enough to equate a 7 passenger SUV with a bloated and lethargic never-was flagship vehicle that is still trying to sell 2005 models in 2007.

What makes the suit from BMW even more curiouser is that they never had an issue with Infiniti and their M model for many years. The first Infiniti on North American shores was the M30 back in 1989. It died a quiet death after an extended period of the public ignoring it, only to resurface in the late 90's as a Japanese version of an overpowered American luxury sedan (the M45) that could go really fast in a straight line, yet still manage to put you to sleep with its looks. The ultimate sleeper indeed. So it would seem that BMW had no problem with Infiniti devaluing their M brand when the Infiniti M brand was actually a sore spot in the Infiniti lineup and could potentially really devalue their brand. Nope, they only had a problem with Infiniti devaluing their brand when the newest generation M from Infiniti came out and immediately started whupping the regular 5 Series in comparison tests.

And at the end of the day, that's the real lesson- the elephant doesn't care about the mosquito buzzing away at its head... until the single mosquito turns into a swarm of horseflies.

Or something like that.

Chery's Turn to Fail a Crash Test

We've covered the disasters that crash tests have proven to be for Chinese cars in the past (search Google for 'Landwind SUV' or click on Brilliance BS6 for information on those). Now, news out of Russia is that the Chery Amulet - the top-selling Chinese model in Russia - has failed a crash test conducted for auto magazine AvtoRevu in spectacular fashion. In its 17 year history, the well-regarded AvtoRevu magazine has conducted 39 crash tests; most of those were locally-built models, but it has also conducted tests on foreign models from the U.S., Italy, France, and South Korea. Many of the foreign models have earned top ratings, and in fact a Russian-built model built by Avtovaz earned the magazine's lowest score ever, 0 out of 16, in 2001, so there likely was no conspiracy against Chinese imports or Chery specifically. In fact, Chery officials were present during the Amulet crash test.

The test that the car failed was designed to replicate the often-cited EuroNCAP offset barrier test; the car is traveling 64 kilometers per hour (about 40 miles per hour) into a solid barrier, but only part of the front bumper hits the barrier (so the impact is concentrated on a smaller area). The result was nothing short of catastrophic and is surely making Chrysler and Fiat executives a bit nervous this morning (since both companies have entered into agreements to have Chery build cars for them in the coming years). The car continued deforming past the rear edge of the front fender and continued until the crash test dummy driver's face was as far forward as the barrier! Don't take my word for it - see it for yourself below.

The test dummy became so entwined in the wreckage that it had to be removed from the car in pieces; he basically became part of the dashboard and steering wheel. The results were so bad that AvtoRevu called on Chery to immediately withdraw the car from the market. Chery declined to do so.

For its part, Chrysler is well aware of the safety and quality concerns that Chinese cars bring to the table. Chrysler plans to send scores of engineers to China to help Chery improve the engineering of their vehicles, and the ones exported to North America in particular, and also plans to keep a close eye on the supply chain to ensure that no shortcuts are taken in terms of material quality (AvtoRevu magazine speculated that perhaps Chery used softer metal than it should have in the Amulet; Chery denies this).

Once again, as long as I continue to value the safety of myself and my loved ones, I do not plan to do more than sit in a stationary Chinese-built car until they have proven that they can build cars to the same safety standards that the rest of the world adheres to. The Chinese auto manufacturers really need to get their act together with regard to quality and safety - there's a reason their cars are so cheap, and it's not low labor costs. It's a lack of engineering talent, sub-par materials, and indifferent quality control.

7 August 2007

Chrysler Brings Back Old Logo... Fails To Bring Back Any Type Of Vehicle I'd Want To Own Outside Of A Viper

The 'new' Chrysler is here to save us all. And by 'new' Chrysler, I mean the same old Chrysler minus ze Germans. Apparently 10 years behind the times, it looks like Cerebus is going to take us down nostalgia lane, unveiling the old Pentastar logo again but dressed up and looking all Mac OSX-like with it's anodized aluminum style.

Up next? Renaming the Sebring the Reliant, and changing the Crossfire to the Laser. And let's not forget a full scale resurrection of the Eagle nameplate- but let's make it edgy and modern and call it Phoenix. Get it? Get it?

As more and more news filters out of the Cerebus camp in regards to their new toy, the more one thinks that Chrysler as company has about 3 years before all the bits and pieces start getting sold off, like what your mom did to your Voltron set 15 years ago. First, they hired former Home Depot head Robert Nardelli to run things, someone with no experience in the auto sector, but with a lot of experience at quick turnarounds. Then they released a report which indicated that China, Russia and Hyundai would all play pivotal roles in future production- a move that doesn't really seem like one geared towards quality. Finally, their director of design said interior design would play a more pivotal role going forward, which on its own sounds great, but then in the next sentence described the upcoming Caravan/Town & Country as the way they're headed.

Not exactly a reason to be optimistic.

Let's just get this over and done with now- Nissan, you can have Dodge, their trucks, their minivans, and their American capacity that you so desperately are horny for. Ford, feel free to pick up Jeep now that you're getting rid of Land Rover. As for Chrysler? If the price is right, maybe I'll put in a bid.

Using A Key To Gouge Expletives On Another's Vehicle Is A Sign Of Trust And Friendship

Absolutely all praises due to the mighty Jalopnik for the funny as hell picture above which caused me to LOL OMG!!!!111!!. Apparently there's a 1973 Datsun 610 with the above rust spot that looks like the beloved meat man from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Now I'm going to spend all afternoon wondering if that was my car... would I fix that rust spot?

6 August 2007

Nissan Develops Anti-Drunk Driving Technology

Nissan really wants to do something about drinking and driving, so it has come up with a system that integrates alcohol odor sensors in the front seats and gearshift, a facial recognition system that determines the driver's state of consciousness via eye blinking, and a driving behavior system that senses if the car is staying in its lane or not.

If the gearshift sensor (pictured) detects alcohol in the driver's perspiration, it automatically locks the gearshift and prevents the car from being driven. There are also visual and audio warnings on the navigation screen, and the seatbelts can be automatically tightened to get the driver's attention.

This might not be a bad idea; I'm sure many drunk driving accidents are caused when people think they're a little buzzed, but not drunk (but of course have no clue what their blood-alcohol level is, and how it impacts their reaction time and decision making abilities).

It's easy for me to see how this system could be a useful safety device. For example, I was at a wedding in June and was the designated driver. I was expecting to take seven people to the hotel from the reception, and many of my friends were really inebriated at one time or another during the night. Eventually, all but one drove themselves to the hotel (after several hours of not drinking, and assuring me that they were "fine,") and the one who rode with me only did so because I shamed him into it, as he was the one who had me unfolding seats, taking out the child seat, and going to the trouble of getting our SUV into maximum passenger carrying mode.

Once we were back at the hotel (thank God everyone made it there OK), one of the friends who was supposed to ride with me later said that he realized about halfway into his trip that he shouldn't have been driving. Lucky for him and everyone else on the road at the same time, he didn't have any problems, but obviously he could have at some point. He just didn't know objectively what his blood alcohol level was, but this system would have kept him in the passenger seat where he belonged.

Tundra Sales "Picking Up"

Much ink has been spilled over the past few months about the Toyota Tundra, which is Toyota's first true competitor to the full size pickup offerings from GM, Ford, and Chrysler in terms of size, capability, and power. (Previous Tundras were about 7/8 the size of the domestic trucks).

The initial launch of the truck did not go well. In fact, Toyota's problems began before a single truck rolled off the line, when construction costs for the new factory that Toyota built in San Antonio, Texas for the Tundra went significantly over budget. The product mix was not appropriate at launch - there were too many lightly-equipped regular cabs and not enough loaded CrewMax four doors. Next, there were a handful of highly publicized camshaft failures in the truck's new flagship 5.7 liter V8 engine, and Toyota had to resort to un-Toyota-like generous incentives to give the truck a sales boost.

Well, the incentives must have worked.

When comparing current Tundra sales against its former, smaller self, only the first two months of 2007 were lower than their comparable periods in 2006. Then, starting in March, Tundra sales exploded, and were up over 120% (i.e., more than double) in May, June, and July compared to the same period in 2006. In fact, if Toyota sells just 18,518 Tundras in August 2008 (it sold 23,150 in July), it will have already matched its total sales for 2006. Through the first seven months of 2007, Toyota has sold an average of 15,141 Tundras per month; extrapolating that through December 31, and Toyota is on pace to sell 181,692 trucks, which is almost 46% more than it did in 2006 (but short of its sales goal of 200,000 trucks in its first year). However, if Toyota can sell July's total of 23,150 trucks per month for the rest of 2007, it will have sold 221,740, and blown away its goal. I don't see any signs of the juggernaut slowing down; sales have increased in each month the truck has been on sale, so meeting their goals - which seemed laughable in the truck's first few months - seems almost inevitable now.

Against its competition, the Tundra's sales are even more impressive. The full size pickup segment is down 4.7% so far in 2007, and every competitor is showing negative sales year to date but Toyota, which is up 56.5%. It's a tough market in which to sell a full size V8 powered pickup with the housing market slowing down and high gas prices, which makes this feat even more impressive. So, whose lunch is the Tundra eating, if its sales are way up in a falling segment?

GM Vice Chairman of Global Product Development Bob Lutz, when asked about the Tundra's likely impact on the domestic pickup market several months ago, speculated that the Nissan Titan would bear the brunt of any sales increase from the Tundra. It turns out that so far, he was partially right; year to date Titan sales are down 12.9%, which is the worst drop among competitors. The Ford F-series is down 12.2%, while the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado cousins are down a combined 6.9% so far. The Dodge Ram, in spite of a truck about to be redesigned, is the only competitor whose sales dropped slower than the segment's sales.

Another angle to compare might be the market share that each truck has. The biggest gainer in market share (comparing 2007 market share through July 31 against 2006 market share through December 31) was Toyota, going from 5.6% to 8.5% (up 2.9 percentage points). The biggest loser in market share during the same period was Ford, going from 36.1% to 33.1% (down 3.0 percentage points). In other words, almost all of the Tundra's sales gain has come at the expense of the Ford F-series. Time will tell if this is only a temporary phenomenon, as an all-new F-150 is due for the 2009 model year, but half of the F-series lineup (the Super Duty F-250 and F-350) were recently re-done as early 2008 models, and the new Super Duties aren't propping up F-series sales enough to offset the Tundra's gains.

This all means that the Tundra is doing what it is supposed to do for Toyota - building market share, generating cash and profits, and further weakening the domestic competition - all in the face of a GM product that is superior in many ways. The Tundra's success makes the previous strategy of just ceding the car market to the imports in the 1980s and 1990s in favor of trucks look even more foolish than it already did. Now buyers who are satisfied with their Camry or Corolla who need a work truck are thinking, "well, my sedan has been a good car, so the Tundra will probably be a good truck."