21 September 2007

It's Starting To Hit The Fan

Almost a month ago, I wrote an article commenting on the growing disparity between Canadian and American car pricing as the Canadian dollar continued its climb to near parity with the US buck.

What's funny to me in reading that article was this part-

Even more amazing is that no one is doing or saying anything in Canada right now. No consumer groups have made a peep and no one is writing into their local newspaper griping about it.
Well, one month later, and the Canadian dollar is no longer at 95 cents US, it's now at par. The day I never thought I'd see has arrived, and over the last couple of days, the Canadian dollar has been more or less trading 1 for 1 with the greenback. Incredible.

And now, finally, major media in Canada is starting to take notice.

The lease deals seem even more unbelievable: Boston's Kelly Nissan offers a new Altima for $139 per month (with $2,723 due at signing) and a Pathfinder 4x4 for $239 monthly.

While priced in American dollars, the gap between the two currencies is closing, making the U.S. stickers especially appealing.

Yet it begs the question: with the loonie's rise against the U.S. currency, why aren't Canadians seeing lower automobile prices here?

Source- The Toronto Star, Wheels

Think the issue is going to go away? Think again. Most automakers (and representatives from other industries) are either sticking their heads in the sand on the issue, or making absolutely ridiculous statements that will only serve to bite them in the ass as time goes on. Some have gone off the record stating that Canadians were getting great deals back when the dollar was valued at 65 cents, so now it's only right that automakers milk parity for as long as they can. Others have done stupid things like cite the higher cost of operations in Canada. A country I should remind you, that has an open border with the United States, is part of a huge free trade agreement, where the majority of peole live 100 kilometers from the US/Canada border, and whose inhabitants largely speak the same language as the people of the United States outside of one province (well, two if you count Newfoundland). The excuses simply don't make sense. At all. And it's only going to get more infuriating as the Canadian dollar continues to climb. Some analysts are predicting it to rise to $1.10.

What then?

So I'm left to repeat what I said before- the first automaker to bite the bullet and stop skimming profits off of the Canadian consumer will have a homerun on their hands. My pick? Chrysler. Excess inventory, new management, low brand perception at present time- they're the perfect company to do it. Now they (or someone else) has to pull the trigger.

20 September 2007

Dealers Still Advertising Higher 2007 Fuel Economy Ratings

A breathless, critical report has been issued by CNW Marketing research stating that Toyota dealers are still claiming that the Prius can achieve 60 miles per gallon.

It has been reasonably well known in the automotive world for years that EPA fuel economy ratings were generally higher than what people could expect to see "in the real world." Sure, it's theoretically possible to drive like a stereotypical septuagenarian and achieve those window sticker numbers, but more likely than not, we're accelerating more quickly, driving faster, and using accessories such as air conditioning and power steering that also require fuel to run. With gas prices near historic highs, consumers are more concerned about fuel economy than they have been in years, and were getting irritated when their own gas mileage didn't match the numbers on the window sticker, in spite of the famous disclaimer, "your actual mileage may vary." In response to this, the EPA has implemented a revised calculation to establish fuel economy for the window sticker for all 2008 and later models to better reflect "real world" experiences. The calculations are complex, but the end result is that most vehicles will see a 2-4 mile per gallon decrease in both city and highway fuel economy. The exception to that is hybrids, which took a disproportionate beating in their ratings. The Toyota Prius, previously rated at 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 miles per gallon on the highway, dropped to 48 miles per gallon in the city and 45 miles per gallon on the highway. My own theory on the reason for the larger drop is not that Toyota was cheating, but that the Prius' driving characteristics were very well suited to the conditions of the old test methodology (truth be told, I also am skeptical of the 21 miles per gallon highway rating of GM's Tahoe full size SUV, thanks to its active fuel management that shuts down four of its eight cylinders, but in reality, rarely has the chance to do so).

The point is, although there really are people who achieved 60 miles per gallon in the Prius, though you have to "know" how to drive a hybrid like the Prius to maximize its fuel efficiency. (From what I have heard, it's not the same thing as driving a conventional car for maximum economy). Most people achieve mileage in the mid-40s in the Prius, which is exactly what the EPA now says it should do.

Details left out of the report, however are:
  • Do dealers of other brands also talk about fuel economy in terms of 2007 numbers?
  • Are the Toyota dealers in question referring to 2008 Priuses or leftover 2007 models?
  • Is doing this illegal, or even unethical?
  • Who paid for this research?

Let's dive into the implications of each of these.

I don't know about other brands' dealers, but I can say for sure that if you go today to http://www.gm.com/shop and click on "30+ MPG highway," the only vehicles that come up in the search are 2007 models. Some of the models listed (Impala, Grand Prix, etc.) will not be over 30 miles per gallon in 2008, but GM is still advertising those models as being over 30 miles per gallon.

As far as whether the Priuses are 2007 or 2008 models (which would each have different economy figures on their window stickers), it's impossible to tell (and I doubt that CNW knows), but wouldn't the natural tendency of a salesperson be to cite the highest fuel economy figure he or she can for a given model? If the window sticker says 60/55 for a car they're selling, then they should feel free to show that to a customer. If the customer asks about real world economy, I'd hope that they'd either be more realistic about it or tell them to check a neutral website like http://www.fueleconomy.gov/.

If the dealers are representing that 2008 models get 60 miles per gallon in the city, then I think they are being unethical and misrepresenting the car's likely fuel economy. Actually, a better solution would have been for ALL new car window stickers on sale after a certain date (say, October 1, 2007) to show the new ratings, regardless of the model year. That way, it wouldn't look like an old model was getting better fuel economy than a new one, when in fact they're likely to be mechanically identical. Really, is it that expensive or difficult to reprint the window sticker for a new vehicle, in the interest of full disclosure and minimizing consumer confusion and angst? After all, the Fueleconomy.gov website has converted all past fuel economy ratings to the current 2008 equivalents to enable more fair comparisons between models and especially between different model years.

CNW's website does not list this report, only its infamous "Dust to Dust" report that grossly exaggerated the energy costs of a Prius versus a Hummer (see excellent rebuttals of the Dust to Dust report on TrueDelta.com here and here). However, the company states that it performs syndicated studies that "protect you from seeing information that is skewed toward a particular point of view or company or product." Yet, they seem to have a serious anti-Prius agenda after the Dust to Dust report and now this. Though it's possible that an anti-Toyota client underwrote this latest research project, it is possible that the company undertook it on its own for publicity reasons.

Furor Grows Over Dealership CSI Scores

Michael Karesh, owner of TrueDelta, an automotive research firm, conducted a survey of his reliability survey participants last spring to gauge whether dealers were pressuring their customers to rate their salesperson and dealership with top scores in all areas on the customer satisfaction surveys that come from the manufacturer. I hadn't seen the survey results until reading the August 27, 2007 issue of industry publication Automotive News last night (I'm a little behind!) and saw an article about Mr. Karesh's research.

I think Mr. Karesh was onto something by conducting a survey about this. Not only did a major auto industry publication pick up on his work, but also today's Autoextremist article was about what a failed system CSI scores have become.

In the past four years, I've bought two new vehicles, and while my buying experience was a positive one in both cases (I bought a Honda and a Nissan), it helps that I didn't have to negotiate price, as a family member had a close business relationship with both dealerships and was able to get a great price for me. But toward the end of the delivery process, both salesmen mentioned the CSI surveys and that they need perfect scores, and that they'd be happy to address any concerns I might have before completing the survey. Needless to say, I gave them top scores.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who has been pressured to do this. Dealerships' allocations of popular models, their employees' compensation, and even factory to dealer incentives are tied to CSI rankings. Even worse, manufacturers have set such ridiculously high standards (anything short of "excellent" is a black mark, when in fact, outside of Lake Wobegon, not everyone is above average, and certainly not excellent.) "Exceeds expectations" might be a difficult rating to achieve if the customer's expectations are too high. And even if that customer's expectations are exceeded once, would they not expect the same treatment when they buy their next car from that dealer, so the same level of service that exceeded expectations earlier might only meet the higher expectations the second time.

If every car buying experience was excellent or very good, then why are there so many horror stories out there? Hmmm...

TrueDelta's research (with admittedly small sample sizes) found that at least 75% of all dealerships at least mentioned the survey would be coming, and many others took further steps such as allowing to preliminarily address problems before the survey (36%), asking for perfect scores without begging (28%), saying they wouldn't get a bonus without perfect scores (9%), begging for perfect scores (9%), offering to watch the customer complete it (2%) or allow the dealer to complete it (2%), or offering a gift in exchange for a positive survey (2%). Note that these do not add to 100% because multiple responses were allowed. It also found that among respondents, Nissan, Hyundai, and BMW dealers pressured customers the most to complete their surveys with only the highest scores.

Further adding to the furor is that GM announced in the past week or two that some dealers had submitted "fraudulent" CSI surveys and those results would be ignored, and the dealer would likely be penalized in some way.

So let's see: customers don't like being pressured, dealers and salespeople don't like having their livelihood tied to the whim of someone completing a survey who marks "very good" instead of "excellent" (or "meets expectations" rather than "exceeds expectations), and the manufacturers are suspicious of the process.

Part of my "real job" is working with employee compensation, and designing incentive plans to motivate employees to perform a desired behavior. I'd say that the current CSI system should be thrown out, because clearly begging, lying, and fudging should not be the behaviors that are encouraged.

Are there any other stories of dealer or salesperson pressure to give perfect scores out there?

Link to TrueDelta's research on this subject: http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/survey_survey.php

18 September 2007

How Do You Say Overrated In German? (aka MF Drives The 2007 BMW Z4 Roadster)

Ubersch├Ątzt. In case you were wondering. At least that's what the computer spit out.

I had the opportunity to take a Z4 3.0 convertible out for an extended spin a couple of weeks ago, and came away unimpressed. To say the least.

Walking into a BMW dealership always hints at the surreal- at least it always has in my experience. The combination of smugness, holier than thou attitude, and Teutonic coolness has always made it seem like you're not buying a car as much as you're buying a high end piece of electronic equipment. Or furniture. Or checking into an expensive hotel. Which is ironic really, since BMW owners are generally the first people to spout such invective at owners of 'inferior' brands (read: Lexus, MB, etc.) that fall on the luxury side of the sport-luxury equation. Luckily on this particular trip into my local BMW, I encountered a salesperson who seemed to be a tad more civilized than most- genial even. Unfortunately, no M Roadster were available for a drive, so a 3.0 would suffice. A set of keys and a dealer plate later, and I was away in a black 3.0- on my own without the dealer.

The first thing you'll notice about the Z4 is that it looks like the retarded chromosonal combination of a catfish and a tadpole. Yes, Chris Bangle is an oft-imitated designer, and yes, his influence and ideas have made a mark on the world of automotive design, but to these eyes, the Z4 is unpalatable from nearly every angle. The long hood and short rear deck are pleasing to the eye, but the lidded headlights and excessive surfacing, especially on the sides, is not. Inside, things get simpler, but not much prettier. Although the interior doesn't scream 'cheap', it also doesn't seem like BMW spent much more than they had to in order to get the interior up to par. Meaning, it looks sparse, and it feels sparse, even in the fairly loaded configuration I was driving. Fortunately, the driving controls are everything that the rest of the interior is not- that is, substantial and placed in such a way that you now someone spent a lot of time figuring them out. The shifter is readily at hand, the thick steering wheel is grippy, and pedal placement is perfect.

Starting the engine unleashes a subdued growl that actually sounds a tad raspy- something I did not expect from the 3.0. With the top down, I found the stereo (heck, EVERYTHING) was overpowered by engine note- if that's your thing, you might be in heaven, however I found it distracting after 10 minutes of it. Luckily, the noise is backed up by copious amount of power- let it run up to redline through the gear box and you'll quickly reach highly illegal speeds in a highly illegal manner. Unlike the Boxster, which feels planted and balanced no matter what you're doing, punch the throttle in the Z4 and you can feel it hunker down on its haunches and spring forward. There is lots of grip in back end, but if you're not careful with your throttle modulation, this bad boy will oversteer like a true drifter. The gearbox is a pleasure to use- short throws, well defined , and smooth as silk- all amplified by the wonderful placement of the shifter. The clutch is surprisingly light at first, but quickly becomes second nature after 5 minutes.

Handling? As mentioned above, I found the Z4 was quite fond of oversteering. The steering itself was very heavy- especially on center- if you want to turn in the Z4, you're going to have to turn- not just nudge. However, it responded quickly to inputs, and despite the heaviness, felt very good in the twisties. The suspension handled most of the road imperfections with ease around town, but I found it a big wriggly at speed and in sweeping turns- again, it felt as though the back end wanted to swap places with the front end. Overall, the experience was fun, but not as reassuring as a Boxster, or even a Z Roadster- both vehicles that I also tested on the same route.

All in all, the Z4 3.0 Roadster is a fine little car. Since looks are subjective, I can't dock too many points for looking the way it does. At 45k Canadian, it would be quite the ride for somebody looking for a sporty convertible that has the flexibility to actually haul some stuff (the trunk space actually isn't that bad). However, it's nowhere near 45k. In fact, it's near 70k Canadian for a Z4 3.0 Roadster. That my friends, is grand larceny. What does that 70k buy you? Well, for one, it will buy you a Porsche Boxster. No, it won't be an S, but the base Boxster walks all over the BMW- it's more balanced, has similar power and speed, and just feels better. It will also buy you a Mercedes SLK with a 3.5 liter engine, much better looks, and a more solid feel. Move downmarket, and you can get a 350Z, which will lack the cachet of the Germans, but costs 55k Canadian, and although not as agile as the BMW, is a worthy contender while being 15k cheaper.

And that's why the Z4 is overrated. It is not worth 70k in any way, shape or form. It's a competent roadster with a nice engine. There are LOTS of those out there nowadays. But very few of them cost as much as this. And it will continue to sell because of badge. But such is life.

Even The Good Moves That Ford Makes Blow Up In Their Faces

Perhaps the salespeople are part of the problem. It seems that nearly twenty percent of Ford’s sales team is trying to sell Ford Five Hundreds to customers instead of the new-for-2008 Taurus. About 60 percent of Ford salespeople are using the correct name some of the time, but still slip in the Five Hundred moniker on occasion.
Source- Winding Road

One can sympathize with the dealers of course, since if you type 'Ford Taurus' into Google image search, you get about 1 picture of the 2008 Taurus for every 23417 pictures of the previous generation Tauri. I think the one major issue with the name change, which all in all I think was a great idea by Ford by the way, was that the refresh of the Taurus nee Five Hundred didn't go nearly far enough to differentiate the models. Yes, there's a slimmed down ass end, and the glitzy chrome front end- but only the legally blind won't look at the new Taurus and not see the Five Hundred with a grille kit. It's probably not helping that every Ford salesperson is probably referencing the Five Hundred in their sales pitch- 'It's just like the Five Hundred but BETTER'. You know, that sort of thing.

Someone needs to punch whoever came up with Five Hundred in the first place right in the balls. Then they need to undertake a more drastic reskinning of the Taurus to send the Five Hundred into the trashbin of history, and make it a rule that it's never to be discussed. Send current Five Hundred owners to Chevy to get their cars serviced.

Mind Not The Bleating Engine Noise At The Stoplight

The October issue of Motor Trend mentions that "GM insiders know they have a minor NVH problem with the new 3.6L DI V6 fitted to the new Cadillac CTS and the revised STS. And, frustratingly, they know it's a problem that can't be fixed; it's a design fault, admits one senior engineer. Wonder if they'll get a rebate from the folks who actually designed the engine for GM - British engineering company Ricardo."

Source- The Car Lounge

Things get even better as the day progresses though. The fanboys at GMI start bleating about the DI 3.6 not being as bad as the Lexus DI engine or the Audi DI engine. And now as the day ends, it's being waved off as essentially 'a characteristic of all DI engines'. Huh? Read the quoted section again- it's a DESIGN fault. The DESIGN in question is the 3.6 DI engine DESIGNED by GM. No other engines are mentioned.

Probably the most troubling part of all of this is that this wasn't caught earlier, and now it's too late to do anything about it. Since it's an issue inherent in the design, they'll just have to stuff more insulation in the CTS and STS and hope no one hears too much.

Frankfurt: Toyota IQ Concept

I've previously complained about Chinese companies making knockoffs of western-designed vehicles and basically stealing intellectual property. (For more on that, click here).

Now, it's Toyota's turn! The Toyota IQ concept that it revealed in Frankfurt not only appears to bear a more than coincidental similarity to the Smart city car, but even the car's NAME ITSELF - IQ - seems to want to imply intelligence (Get it? Smart - IQ...?)

However, other than the unoriginal name and basic shape (and the shape is actually more pleasing to the eyes than the Smart's, in my humble opinion), it's actually a pretty interesting little city car. It seems to have been better-received than the Volkswagen Up! concept, which is intended to fill a similar niche and debuted in concept form around th same time.

The Toyota IQ was designed in France by Toyota's Advanced European Design Studio, and is just a short 2.98 meters in length. For some perspective, it's 770 mm (0.77 meters) shorter than a Yaris, yet according to the press release, has a similarly-sized interior. The seating configuration is advertised as "3+1," meaning that other than the two front seats, there is one adult-sized seat behind the front passenger and one child-sized seat behind the driver, which can also be folded to increase luggage space. The dashboard is designed to sweep away from the front passenger so that when only two people are in the car, the passenger seat can be roughly aligned with the driver's seat, but when a passenger needs to ride in the back seat, the front passenger seat can be moved forward of the driver, still leaving adequate space for both passengers. Toyota calls it the smallest four seat passenger concept car.

Again, the concept is a fine one - it's arguably a more attractive car than the Smart ForTwo, plus it has more seats (as the Smart is only designed "for two" passengers), but couldn't Toyota come up with a more original shape and a better name? What's next - the Honda Intelligent? The Nissan Clever?

16 September 2007

A Magazine Time Machine

One of the last times I visited my parents this past summer, they gave me a large plastic bin full of old automotive-related magazines. Titles include Autoweek, Motor Trend, and Car and Driver, and they appear to be mostly of the 1996-1997 vintage. I don't know what possessed me to keep these magazines after reading them - I haven't ever referred to them in the ensuing decade, and after I read my current magazines, they are recycled or thrown away.

Nevertheless, over the past few days, I've been gradually making my way through these old magazines one more time before they hit the garbage can. It's been pretty interesting to have ten more years of automotive history, the seeming dominance of import brands, a horsepower war, high gas prices, and more happen to change my perspective on vehicles that I believed were at the top of their game in 1996 and 1997. Humorously, I wasn't the only one who believed this.

The September 16, 1996 Autoweek has an article about the then-new Chevy Venture, Pontiac Trans Sport, and Oldsmobile (remember them?) Silhouette. Even GM fans can't stand these vans in their current, completely uncompetitive iteration, but eleven years ago, Autoweek said things like, "despite the four-door configuration, the body-structure has tremendous integrity. There is a solidness that will be benchmarked by other minivan makers" and "these vehicles' handling is best among minivans, bar none." But my favorite line was, "a rear overhead console, with headphone jacks for the rearmost passengers, and separate climate controls, are other nice touches, though a tug on the headphone cord brought the whole thing down. A Chevy engineer promised that a fix has been made using metal fasteners."

The same issue has this story on the last page about Bob Lutz, current GM Vice Chairman, Global Product Development:
Erick Nacke, of the Great Lakes Road Racing Association, tells of a group of Chrysler execs, engineers, and suppliers riding Ninjas at a recent superbike racing school. Who won most improved? Bob Lutz, of course. "We didn't know who he was--some silver-haired guy who was ripping it up. He was the only one who followed instructions to a tee. If we'd said, 'ride with one hand on your helmet and both feet up in the air,' he'd have done it. And by the end, he was the only one who dragged his knee through a turn."
That's a funny visual, and in the photo of Mr. Lutz accompanying that snippet, he looks very much the same as he does today, eleven years later. The accompanying photo here is just an artist's conception of what Mr. Lutz would look like atop a Ninja.

The February 17, 1997 Autoweek has a first test of the Oldsmobile Intrigue, which to me was always the best-looking, most-capable of the GM W-body midsize cars built from 1988 to present. Again, the article's perspective was interesting: "The Intrigue is destined to be the division's volume leader and the true test of whether Olds has succeeded in recasting itself" and "GM expects to sell hundreds of thousands of Intrigues against the toughest competition going - imports." Well, it wasn't, and unfortunately it didn't. I don't have access to 1997 and 1998 calendar year sales results, but in 1999 and 2000, the Intrigue was not Oldsmobile's volume leader - that title fell to the smaller and less expensive Alero, which nearly doubled the Intrigue's sales figures in 2000 (122,722 versus 64,109). Intrigue sales only made up about 30% of Oldsmobile sales in 1999 and 2000, while Alero sales made up between 42% and 57%. While the division may have sold hundreds of thousands of Intrigues cumulatively (likely just barely; Olds sold only 209,365 Intrigues from 1999 through 2004; the car was sold for about 18 months that aren't included in that figure from summer 1997 through December 1998), it's safe to say that it didn't help to stem Oldsmobile's slide into oblivion, with the last Oldsmobile rolling off the line in 2004. Also, the plan to "make cars with an international flair to draw import intenders into Oldsmobile dealerships" sounds eerily similar to GM's current plan for Saturn.

The next issue of Autoweek, dated February 24, 1997, introduces BMW's "new navigation system," available as a $2,990 option in the 528 models and $2,800 option in V8 5-Series and all 7-Series models. The article basically introduces readers to the concept of the now-familiar in-dash navigation system (this was before BMWs had the iDrive interface for navigation; instead, a small rotary knob next to the screen is used to enter inputs. The worst part of this early navigation system is that the map data is stored on nine CD-ROMs rather than a single DVD, or even a hard disk, as modern systems use. BMW's system in 1997 could automatically dial 911 or BMW roadside assistance in the event of emergency; it's a shame such functionality seems to be available in few cars today except those equipped with OnStar.

The March 24, 1997 Autoweek said that the Jeep Dakar concept vehicle, which was a hardtop four-door Wrangler, was approved for production, according to supplier sources. It was intended as an upscale partner for the Wrangler in the Jeep lineup. As it turned out, of course, it took until 2007 for Jeep to actually introduce a four door Wrangler, and it's Chrysler's hottest product. Some of the Dakar concept's styling cues did make it to the production Jeep liberty a few years later, but given the success of the four door Wrangler today, imagine how well the Dakar might have sold even in the SUV-crazed late 1990s.

Speaking of Jeep-like vehicles, the November 4, 1996 Autoweek had two notable Toyota SUVs profiled. Most Jeep-like of these was a 1958 Toyota FJ25 Land Cruiser, which looks strikingly similar to a 1940s-vintage US military Jeep. Compared to a 1997 Land Cruiser, the 1958 FJ25 was 40 inches shorter and 8 inches narrower! Toyota only imported 61 vehicles to the US in 1958, but a California man (of course!) bought the one featured in Autoweek new to use for duck hunting trips, and traded it in decades later for a new Land Cruiser with 93,000 miles on the odometer. Toyota later acquired it, restored it, and kept it in its permanent collection.

The other Toyota off roader featured was a Japanese military vehicle called the Mega Cruiser, which bore a striking resemblance to the AM General Hummer favored by the US military. The Mega Cruiser was built to order; Toyota only sold 47 of them through the first seven months of 1996, for example. The truck had all the equipment needed for a credible (but large) off roader, except that its 6,283 pounds were moved solely by a 4.1 liter intercooled turbodiesel, rated for 155 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque. The seating arrangements were certainly peculiar; two front buckets separated by an enormous transmission tunnel (as in the Hummer H1), two outboard bucket seats in the second row, with a two person bench between them (meaning it had a seating capacity of six). The price in late 1996 was $87,454.

Several issues, including the March 17, 1997 Autoweek, mentioned Nissan's Z-car factory restoration program. During the Z's hiatus (Nissan stopped importing new 300ZXs to the US in the mid-1990s), Nissan contracted with Pierre'Z Service Center in Hawthorne, California to completely disassemble and refurbish 1970-1972 240Zs back to factory specifications. Literally every nut and bolt was removed, yet pricing was supposed to only start "above $20,000." That doesn't sound bad to me for a "new" classic car. If I was in the market for a collector car like an original Z-car a decade ago, it would have been really neat to get a Nissan-certified one like these, although I believe that the program was ended after only a few dozen cars were restored.

In the April 7, 1997 issue of Autoweek, the then-new (two generations ago as of today) 1997 Camry CE was featured in an Autofile. Thinking of current criticisms of the Camry - that it's too soft, too much of an appliance, that it is favored by an older demographic - made me chuckle at a few quotes: "The Camry is so smooth and seamless that it could be the ultimate automotive appliance" and "The five-speed [manual], now available with the optional V6, is Toyota's first step toward cultivating a crop of more youthful Camry buyers. There were also several mentions of Toyota's cost control efforts in that generation Camry; the Yen's relative strength to the dollar at the time made things very tricky for Japanese automakers in the US. It seems that, other than the Camry SE (and the SE, the sportiest Camry, is not available with a manual transmission), Toyota still hasn't really made much of an effort to cultivate a performance image around the Camry. That hasn't really slowed sales, though, as the car continues to shatter sales records even a decade later.

I hope you enjoyed this stroll through a slice of the automotive world as it was ten years ago. The lesson I've taken from reading these old magazines is that what was once considered good, might now considered bad if it's not regularly updated. Expectations are constantly being elevated, and automakers cannot rest on their laurels.

There are still more magazines in the bottom of my closet, so if others find this as interesting/amusing as me, I may do another article of this type.