17 August 2007

Cars That Should Be Buried for 50 Years

Now that the hype of Tulsa, Oklahoma's Plymouth Belvedere, which sat in an underground (and sometimes underwater) vault for half a century, has died down, I thought I'd take a look at which 2007 model year vehicles might be good to bury for 50 years.

Now, does "good to bury" mean that they are representative of the automotive landscape in 2007, or that they're vehicles we hate so much that our planet is better served by having at least one example underground away from human sight for 50 years? I decided on the former - the best representatives of what's popular with consumers in 2007. You may have a different list, and I'd love to hear any other suggestions or critiques of the list I came up with. Obviously, there's no "right" or "wrong" answer - it's just a fun exercise. I also have no delusions like the Tulsans did in 1957 that ANY of the vehicles in my list will be in style in "2,057," but I just want people 50 years from now to agree with some of my choices. So, let's get into the list!

2007 Honda Odyssey
The Honda Odyssey is arguably the best minivan on the market. Although Chrysler has two new vans ready for battle in this competitive-but-shrinking segment, Honda has set the benchmark with quality, comfort, family-friendly features, and decent handling and fuel economy for a vehicle of its size. They're also strong sellers and a strong profit driver for Honda.

2007 Chevrolet Silverado 1500
The full-size pickup truck market may be under attack from several angles - high gas prices, environmentalists, etc. - but the fact is, the two top-selling vehicles in the US are the Ford F-Series and Chevy Silverado. I was going to choose the Ford to bury, but since it's at the end of its life cycle and the Chevy was all-new for the 2007 model year, I'll give the nod to the Chevy. I chose a half ton because those are the most popular with personal use buyers who rarely need a pickup's carrying capacity.

2007 Toyota Camry
The Camry is the best selling car in the US, and has been for more or less the past decade. If any car defines what the public is driving in the US in 2007, it's the Camry. You see the darn things everywhere.

2007 Honda CR-V
The CR-V is all-new this year, and Honda came up with the right vehicle at the right time. While its competitors were shoehorning V6s into their "cute utes" (Toyota, Mitsubishi, Suzuki), Honda stuck with the four cylinder in a move that with the benefit of hindsight looks to be a master stroke. It gives much of the utility and elevated view of the road of larger SUVs with the fuel economy of a car. People love them - they're the #1 selling SUV in the country (even though they're not SUVs in the traditional sense).

2007 Toyota Prius
One of the founders of the "green" movement in cars, and far and away the most popular hybrid model, the Prius makes the list. I personally am tired of the way the car looks and would never drive something willingly with such an anemic powertrain, but people who have them seem to love them.

2007 GMC Acadia
The crossover segment is one of the few segments growing quickly right now - consumers really seem to take to vehicles that have much of the ground clearance, looks, and capabilities of truck-based SUVs, but with better fuel economy thanks to their unibody car-based platforms. The Acadia (along with its cousins the Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave) are the leaders in the large crossover segment, which also can count the Honda Pilot, 2008 Toyota Highlander, and Mazda CX-9 as members. These vehicles have been well-regarded so far by the press and by customers, so the Acadia makes the list.

2007 Chevrolet Corvette
If you hopped into a time machine in 1968 and showed the owner of a new Corvette a photo of a 2007 Corvette, I bet they'd be able to figure out what it was you're showing them. The C6 Corvette has modern, yet classic lines with nearly all of the important, classic styling cues that define a Corvette (long hood, arched fenders, gills on the front fenders, four round taillights). I may be biased (since the C6 is my favorite new car), but I believe that someone in 2057 would be as thrilled to open a vault with a pristine 2007 Corvette as they would to open a vault with a pristine 1957 Corvette today. The Corvette is an icon, and I expect it to remain one.

2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Another icon from a different era that survives, and even thrives, in 2007 is the Jeep Wrangler. Sales are up this year by huge percentages, thanks entirely to the introduction of the first four door Wrangler, called the Unlimited. The Wrangler Unlimited combines more than 90% of the two door's capabilities with much more passenger and luggage space (and more convenient access to the rear seat).

2006 Scion xB
The Scion xB is the vehicle most identified as a Scion by the general public, and Toyota's Scion division has gone from zero sales to a household name in just a few years, thanks to appropriately priced products, a new selling model (low prices, lots of standard equipment, and the only factory option is color and automatic or manual transmission), and Toyota's marketing dollars/acumen. Scions are generally customized by their owners (or by a dealer at the owner's behest), in a trend that many other manufacturers are trying to latch onto because of the healthy profit margins that accessories generate. I chose the 2006 model because there was no 2007 xB, and the 2008 is too wrong to make the list.

2007 BMW 335i Sedan
The 3-series BMW is the consummate sport sedan, and the new twin turbocharged 300 horsepower 3.0 liter I6 makes the current model the best non-M3 yet. The 3-series has also been its class benchmark for decades, and as hard as they try, the competition can't out-BMW the 3. The steering, handling, braking, shifting, and acceleration are simply out of this world, especially for less than $40,000.

So, which of the above ten cars should be buried? Or should it be something else? Comment below!

Aston Martin DBS Makes Its Official Debut

Tomorrow, Aston Martin will officially unveil its new DBS model, which was James Bond's mode of transportation in the film Casino Royale at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in California. The car is the newly-independent Aston Martin's flagship model, and is motivated by a 510 horsepower V12 (derived from Aston's V12 racing engines in the DBR9 and DBSR9) connected to a rear-mounted traditional six-speed manual transaxle. Other performance-related features include ceramic brakes, 20 inch alloy wheels, and an exhaust bypass valve that opens in the higher RPM ranges.

The DBS is a two seat car with a bonded aluminum structure. Befitting of the Aston Martin name, it has a gorgeous exterior and exquisitely detailed interior. The interior features Semi-aniline leather and Alcantara surfaces, Matrix alloy fascia trim, Iridium Silver centre console finish, and Carbon fiber door trims and door pulls. Navigation, of course, is standard, and the map data is stored on an integrated hard disk for quick access times.

Aston Martin has built itself into an impressive aspirational luxury brand. Although production volumes are substantially larger than they have been in past years, it's still basically a boutique company that produces beautiful, well-regarded automobiles. Without even sitting in the actual car, it's obvious that Aston Martin has given its flagship an incredible attention to detail - look at the interior photo above.

Meanwhile, keep saving your pennies. The car is expected to cost about £160,000 (€235,000 or $317,000) when it goes on sale in early 2008.

What's The Next 'Killer App' For Cars?

Short of cars that drive themselves (and really, who's looking forward to that?), it would seem that we're quickly approaching the limits of usable features and luxury in cars today. Even some of the cheapest economy sedans are now available with Bluetooth, navigation and push button starting, and it's become the bare minimum for midsize sedans to offer such things. That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the true luxury cars, which have literally run out of things to offer and are now moving into the aforementioned 'computer running everything for you' side of luxury (automatic parking, lane departure warning systems, etc.). Essentially, the divide between luxury cars and regular cars is no longer one of luxury- it's quickly becoming one of safety.

To further muddle the issue, even power is no longer the sole domain of the big rig flagship luxury models. Not when you've got midsize sedans creeping up to 300 HP, and entry level luxury cars approaching 500 and 600 HP.

So if you're an automaker in search of an identity, and you're facing an options list that is basically a list of commodities nowadays, what's the next step?

I'll focus on the the midsize segment simply because I think this is where the 'revolution' needs to happen, as opposed to other times in automotive history where advancements were made up top and trickled down, the time is ripe for the reverse- the mass market dictating to the upper crust.

Here's the idea- take your normal run of the mill midsize sedan. It will cost anywhere between 17k to 27k depending on options and engines. Now drop all the options and make them all standard. All of them. The only option available to the consumer would be to pick an engine. Do base prices go up in this scenario? Yes. Do they go up appreciably? Not if the automaker fights the urge to ride the gravy train. The fact is, there is a LOT of profit made on $1500 navigation units and $2000 sunroofs by car companies- so there is also a considerable amount of wiggle room to play with here. Bring that base price up by 3k to $20,000, and bring your top level down to $24,000, and you've got two vehicles with different engines/performance levels that are bristling with technology, all at a manageable price. And at that point, you don't even have to worry about fleet sales. Because if somebody is walking up to a rental counter and getting your 'base' $20k version, they're getting a hell of a vehicle.

What's most amusing is that there is a company out there with the available dealer volume, engine lineups, and production capacity to do this right now. The company? General Motors. Yup, you heard right.

Imagine the GM midsize segment right now, but with the above scenario played out. Engine options and suspension settings would differentiate Pontiac, Chevrolet and Saturn. That's it. And really, doing it that way would really force the brands out of the 'rebadge' mentality- just think- if you're a Pontiac designer/engineer and you don't make your car drive differently (more to the point, like a Pontiac), Customer A will just walk on down the street to Saturn or Chevy and take a look at another version.

Is this a 'killer app'? Some would say no. My contention is that it can be labelled as such because very few companies could operate this way- only automakers with large economies of scale would have a chance with this. And since that's the case, it would be a fairly hard thing for a smaller manufacturer to duplicate effectively.

Is it at all doable? Is it realistic? I have no idea. But this a blog. We don't deal in doable or realistic. We deal in utopia.

More 2008 Accord Goodness

Shaping up to be Accord Week the way things are going around here. The pics show a couple of more angles of the upcoming coupe, with a couple of different touches including some skirting and a fairly large wing. The cut lines in the front of the hood play a much smaller role this time as well. My thought, looking at the presence of one tailpipe and the uplevel appeareance, is that this is probably a 4 cylinder EX version sporting the engine from the TSX that was mentioned in an earlier post.

Pictures from GM Inside News-

I pulled into my apartment complex after work and saw a car that I didn't recognize sitting in the parking lot. I'm pretty sure it's the new Accord and I snagged a few shots to get verification. Of course the emblems were taped over and the dash was covered with a towel. Also, the center caps of the wheels were bare. I live about 25 mins from the Marysville, OH Honda plant.

16 August 2007

2008 Honda Accord Interior Unmasked

So up until now, all we've seen have been a couple of camo shots of the next Accord, a couple of clean shots of the next Accord (thanks to a leaky brochure picture shoot), and a pile of tarp covered interior shots with a glimpse here and there of what to expect.

Well behold. It is upon us- the 2008 Honda Accord interior.

First impressions? Thankfully, a lot of the hints that it would mimic the Civic have proven to be untrue. Going from the pictures alone, the interior looks to once again lead the segment. The Indiglo Camry theme is lackluster compared to this. The GM triplets all suffer from varying degrees of cheapness and rubbery looks and feels, not to mention plug and play radio and HVAC placements. The Altima looks plain next to this. Yup, Honda seems to have hit another homerun.

Infiniti EX Crossover Revealed

Infiniti has pulled the wraps off of its new EX crossover, which slots below the current FX in both size and price. Well, actually the wraps haven't really ever been on the EX since it was shown almost undisguised in concept form at the 2007 New York auto show.

The EX will (at least initially) come only with a 3.5 liter VQ V6, also found in the G35, and output will be "at least" 290 horsepower (a variant of this engine makes 306 horsepower in the G35 sedan).

From looking at photos of the EX, it appears to be in both concept and execution to be almost a wagon version of the G35 sedan. The front end strikes a very similar "face," the wheels look similar, and the interior seems to have many of the same themes. It probably drives similarly to the G35 sedan, though it's likely a little heavier and not as low to the ground. My only big complaint about the styling is that the wavy character line at the top of the doors is reminiscent of a current Hyundai Elantra. I'm sure that the EX's designers don't want to hear that.

Though Infiniti's press release pretends to have trouble acknowledging competition for the EX, it does list the BMW X3 3.0si and Audi A4 3.2FSI quattro avant. I'd also add the Acura RDX, as well as small crossovers coming from Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac in the next few years.

What most impresses me about the EX in a crowded field of near-luxury crossovers are some of the unique technologies that are making their way into this vehicle right at its US launch, sometime at the end of 2007. These include paint with a "Scratch Shield" that "fixes itself" from small scratches such as fingernail scratches beneath door handles over the course of a few hours or days for the first three years of the car's life. Another feature is called the Around View Monitor (AVM) system, which uses four small cameras to give the driver a "top down" view of the vehicle when parking. Other luxury/convenience touches that are standard or optional include all wheel drive (standard), a leather-wrapped instrument panel (standard), a power folding second row (optional), lane departure prevention system which actually prevents the EX from drifting out of its lane rather than just beeping (optional).

Infiniti has realized that if it's going to be a player in the near-luxury small crossover segment, it needs to come to the game with the latest gadgets and luxury features that the competition is offering, and raise the stakes with new touches such as self-repairing paint and a more practical and simple parking assist system than Lexus offers in its flagship LS 460.

The press release does not mention pricing, but I'd anticipate mid-$30,000s to low $40,000s, based on the pricing of the G35x sedan.