Saturday, January 10, 2004
I finally got off my duff and went to the LA autoshow. I could have sworn the manufacturers camped out in the same places they did last year. As I walked around, I debated on what I could write about the show that would be different from what hundreds of writers have written already. I decided to go with the obvious: Write about the people attending.
Los Angeles is a wierd place. It's really different from the rest of America, and the rest of the world in the number of races, and interracial couples that live here. This isn't going to be a politically correct essay or anything on how the manufacturers can appeal to minorities. Rather this is an essay on how the manufacturers could monitor the different groups that go to different manufacturers, and then advertise towards them.
Another factor that is important, is how Angelenos view certain brands favorably, and view others negatively. The car buying habits of people in Los Angeles are VERY different from other parts of America. I'll show this by making a list of the brands that had very little traffic going through them:
Then there were the brands that had an okay amount of traffic, but not great:
Then there were the brands that were crowded:
Then there were the brands that were so crowded, you couldn't see the cars:
(Any super luxo brand)
What's the point of this? The auto industry should take a cue from the movie theater companies, and post watchers in their auto shows to take counts, and see what ethnic groups and what genders, and what parts of the country like which cars. Cadillac has had a total resurgence from five years ago. The new Mustang was not that popular, while the Ford GT was much more popular. That's probably different from other areas of the country. I honestly don't know what conclusions to draw, without sounding like a Klan member, I'd like to make guesses based on solid numbers. The LA autoshow, and any autoshow have all kinds of people, from all different ages visiting. This is the only chance many will get to sit in cars they want to sit in, without a car salesman breathing over their should pressuring them to buy. It's a huge attraction. The car I was crazy about before, the Ford Mustang, I'm not as crazy about, and a car I kinda liked, the Saab 9-3, is something I would buy if I had the money.
The car companies should try to make centers all across the country, where you can just sit in a car and not be pressured to buy. There would guards around, to make sure people didn't hurt the cars. Free brochures could be given out, and contests could be raffled off there. It would be a huge draw. You could charge money to allow people to have test drives too. I rarely sit in luxury cars, and the difference in the seats from what I currently drive (Nissan Sentra '01) is enormous. You find out things about cars you never would have otherwise. And you won't get forced into buying a car you're not satisfied with because a salesman pressured you, and you caved in. This happens a lot more than people will admit.
And one final note--Pontiac and Mercury are on their way out in So Cal. The Pontiac GTO was virtually ignored, and I think this is a great car. I'm going to talk in a future blog entry on how I think the American car can be changed, to be successful once again. At this current rate, Mercury and Pontiac are going to be contracted on in ten years, following Plymouth, and Oldsmobile. It's that bad.
Friday, January 09, 2004
Infiniti QX56--Yet another large luxury SUV. This one seems a little larger, and a little more luxurious than others, but does it break new ground? Though Infiniti has been around longer than Lexus, it languished for so many years before Carlos Ghosn took over, that it is the new kid on the block, and feels the need to prove itself. That means filling all the standard niches of a luxury line: small luxo SUV, large luxo SUV, BMW 3-series competitor, 5 series competitor, etc. From the pictures it looks competent, and not hideous, like their M45 sedan.
Nissan Actic--The Japanese had to have a crazy bizarre concept, and Nissan gave Detroit what it expected. Considering the fact that it costs millions of dollars to make these concepts, and considering the fact that in a month no one will remember them, what is the point again? They're fun to look at years from now, and laugh at, but wouldn't all that time and energy be better served by making concept cars that showcase what POSSIBLY could be in future vehicles, rather than IMPOSSIBLY showing up? Just a thought.
Mitsubishi truck and Eclipse concepts--I wanted to talk about these separately, but they are linked together on the MSN press releases page. The Mitsu truck is decent looking, but anytime you wander into a market niche that is as competitive as light pickups are, you're asking for trouble. I'm sure Daimler Chrysler will give Mitsubishi a Dodge pickup platform to play with, so that will keep costs down, but Mitsubishi has trouble selling cars in this country, let alone trucks, so a whole new area to invest money in might not be wise. As for the Eclipse concept, I can't tell if it is coming or going, I hope not too many design cues are taken here and put on the next generation Eclipse. I like the current Eclipse styling, it's quite a popular car in Los Angeles.
Pontiac G6--When the concept car was introduced at last year's autoshow, I thought it was one of the best looking mid size sedans I'd ever seen. The production version, I feel, falls short. As a young, yuppie-type guy, if I had to choose an inexpensive mid-size sedan I'd go with the Mazda 6, or the Honda Accord coupe. I wouldn't take this one. The interior is clearly the same interior on the Chevy Malibu, with few changes. I do think it is a major step forward from the Grand Am, but I wish GM was more daring in it's car line. Even the new Corvette, which I think is amazing, doesn't stretch the envelope enough. Just looking back at cars from the 50s and 60s from the Big 3, and you can see that they were over the top and stupendous. And they sold well. This is too ho-hum. Lutz should know better.
Nissan Pathfinder and Frontier--Well, they look competent. I guess the important lesson you can learn from the releases here, is the importance manufacturers have to place on timely refreshenings and updates of their product line. The Big 3 should take note here, at the promptness with which Ghosn replaced the Pathfinder, which from a design standpoint, was clearly the oldest in the Nissan line. These vehicles don't look earth shakingly different though, and won't be blockbusters.
Scion TC--For those of you who are reading this blog from outside of California, you might not be familiar with Scion, but you will be soon. Scion is of course, Toyota's attempt to grab at my age group, with cheap, well built cars, that are small. This will slot in, I would imagine, between the Xa and Xb. I had heard rumors that they were merely going to give us the Toyota Avensis, which is a great car sold in Europe and Japan. This looks more like a sporty Corolla, with brushed aluminum interior instead of faux wood. I'm sure it will sell well, but I hope it has more power than the current Scion line up, which is VERY underpowered.
Kia KCV III--I don't know what the KCV I and II were, perhaps North Korean missile trucks, but this is the third generation. They're taking the same route as their Hyundai overlord, and making a sports car, that will never see the light of day, except in styling cues. I would think it a good idea for Kia to make a very cheap sports car, but it might not be possible with bumper restrictions, and gas requirements. Has it been done before? An ultra cheap sports car? Not recently...
Mercedes-Benz SLK class--The ultimate girly car has been updated. They've taken the face of their SLR McClaren, but I don't like it. I think the current Mercedes are quite well styled, this is too squeezed in the front. Mercedes sales have been slipping as of late, so let's hope I'm wrong.
Mercedes Benz Grand Sport Tourer--Following in the footsteps of the Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix, it's a station wagon, pretending to be something else. Styling wise it's not too bad, but when you make something that looks like a station wagon, you risk alienating a certain segment of the population: Men.
Pontiac Solstice--This is the production version! The market for small roadsters has basically been dominated by Mazda since 1990. Sure there's the Toyota MR2, but it has an even smaller trunk than the Miata, and it really doesn't break new ground, except for its mid-engine design. Then there's the S-2000, which is a little too race car for most drivers, and it's hard to squeeze power out of it, when you have to rev to 9000 rpm. The Solstice could really make in-roads here, and since it is rumored to sell for less than 20k dollars, it'll probably make a splash. I think all small roadsters are a little effeminate, so GM would be wise not to make this a balls to the wall sports car with no frills like the S-2000, and risk alienating women, who will be the biggest purchaser of this car. The design is only slightly toned down from the concept, this is good work from Pontiac and GM.
Suzuki Reno--This car looks like the Ford Aspire; it is clearly dated, and does not break new ground. Suzuki should take the route of the old Honda CRX and make some kind of inexpensive coupe hatchback that kids can buy, and modify. Instead they come out with this, and attempt to make it cool, by making a heavily modified version. It just won't work.
Saturn Curve--This concept is well made. I like it. But if published reports are that Saturn will be rebadged Opels in a few years, what's the point? Saturn doesn't have any identity, other than the fact that they don't have salesmen, and you don't haggle for your car. I feel Saturn's biggest problem is one simple thing. Their cars are UGLY. This is not an ugly car. Build it, and people will buy it. Word on the street is that this will be made.
Volkswagen Concept T--I'm glad Volkswagen recognizes the fact that many people use the old Bugs as dune buggies for desert racing, and have built this car. Volkswagen seems hell bent on a suicidal route to luxury, but with this car they might realize that they were also once players in off road racing. I don't think this will make it to production, or anything like it, but perhaps Volkswagen should try to embrace this area and make sporty, off road cars. It's an area that no one really goes for, and Volkswagen already has experience in this area.
Well that's about all for the concepts. I may have missed a few, email me if I did, and I'll do a writeup. For some insane reason, there really isn't a website with a clear breakdown of all the cars on display. I think that's pretty stupid, especially when the manufacturers want as much media attention as possible. The MSN site breaks things down by press conferences, showing some cars that have been out for awhile, and are only showing their American premieres. They should make that clear.
The future of this site will be analyzing articles by various car news agencies, and whatever big thing is going on in the industry. And pretty much any ideas, or rants I have, I'll write up too. See you in a bit...
The auto industry is at it again, focusing on focus groups, and not cars. Here we have women being asked what they want in a vehicle. They want it to be safe, they want more storage bins, including a trash bin? Do you think any consumer would buy a car because it has a trash bin?
You might remember an episode of the Simpsons, where Homer, who is seen as your average joe, is asked to design a car. The future of the car company depends on it, and Homer creates a monstrosity that is a combination of all the features he wants. It has a revolving baby seat in the trunk, a horn that plays "La Cucaracha" and a Cadillac grill. It is hideous and ridiculous.
I guess my point is, people buy cars that dissatisfy them all the time. But they bought the car not because of its storage bins, but because it had something that spoke to them. If all women bought vehicles because they were interested in safety only, every woman in America would drive a Volvo. But they don't, because somewhere along the line to making their decision, the image got in the way little needs and wants. I'll update with the rest of the Detroit concepts later...
If you can call it analysis. Here is my look at some more of the various releases from Detroit, and LA:
Ford Shelby Cobra Concept--The original Shelby Cobra is one of my favorite vehicles. I've thought seriously about buying a replica, and just braving the weather if there is a rainstorm. To see this remake kind of bugs me. I've read on Autoextremist, that Carrol Shelby is an evil person in it only for the money, and this does seem to be a new way for him to make money. I have a feeling this concept will get made, and be slotted in the Corvette range, or a little more expensive. The design seems to have streamlined out the great British lines of the original Cobra, and I don't like that.
Hyundai HCD8--It certainly won't be a shock to people, or bring any new customers to Hyundai. I suppose the purpose might be to tell people that they have a new design studio capable of producing vehicles, or it might be to tell people that they are a fellow company, just like the other brands, in a bid for respectability. More and more people are buying Hyundais, especially in LA, but it hasn't quite shaken the reputation of being a cheap car, for a cheap price.
Jeep Rescue--The Jeep Rescue in pictures looks very small, but in fact is Hummer sized. And therein lies the problem; isn't Jeep already supposed to be known as the rugged brand? If they have to make concepts that showcase their "ruggedness" it means that the line has been compromised. Of course the gumball shaped, soccer mom Liberty has nothing to do with that. No no at all.
Kia Serato--Kia goes upscale. Very stupid.
Lexus RX 400h--Lexus' brings us the world's first hybrid luxury SUV. Smart move? Brilliant move. I don't want to sound like yet another auto industry analyst singing the praises of Toyota, but quite frankly this move is ground breaking. We have a fuel problem in the world, and no matter how many Middle Eastern countries we take over, eventually the fuel is going to run out. The only feasible technology on the market are hybrids. Period. If you want your luxury SUV 15 years from now, this might be the only alternative. Toyota went ahead and did it.
Lexus GS--The new Lexus GS is here. It's too conservative for me, and too almost-ran. As much as I laud Toyota for some things, I've always felt that Lexus is either too conservative, or too gaudy, like with their IS 300. At least they got rid of the wierd neon green fog lights that used to be on this car.
Lincoln Mark LT--I sat in the front passenger seat of the new Navigator a few weeks ago, and was totally impressed. When I saw the interior of this truck, I thought it was a concept, but evidentally this is the production version. You can see a lot of F-150 in this vehicle, and that has to be a good thing, considering the dismal failure the Blackwood was. The idea of a luxury pickup isn't that great of an idea, but if they can lower the costs down, and make the thing FUNCTIONAL, then it just might sell. But not in huge quantities.
Lincoln Aviator--This is too garish to be a production model, and must be a concept car. The design strategy of the grill is new and interesting, but I like the look better on a car than an SUV. I prefer the current Aviator look. Rounding edges here has made the entire vehicle look squat, and toylike. People buy SUVs for the presence they command, due in large part to their size. Comprising that, means a compromise of sales, especially in the luxury department, where size matters.
Lincoln Mark X--Like I said above, I love this grill look on a car. Ford is trying an approach with luxury that will either succeed brilliantly, or fail miserably, nothing in between. All the luxury car makers out there try to emulate BMW, and regularly advertise how close to a BMW they are. Certainly that is the case with Cadillac and its CTS. Here, we have something that is distinctly American, yet distinctly luxurious. I think people will be torn by the looks; it is something quite different then the Airport rental Lincolns we are used to seeing. I hope it succeeds, and I'm glad Lincoln isn't once again trying to emulate BMW (Lincoln LS anyone?), and going on alone.
Mazda MX Micro-sport--It's a concept but it sure looks like a production car. Is this Mazda's attempt to grab the youth market, like Scion/Toyota is trying? I've always felt Mazda has the best styling of the Japanese companies, and perhaps even of most of the American marques. Mazda is really making an effort to be inexpensive sport, with jazzy interiors, maybe pretty good handling, and sporty exteriors. It seems to do well in Japan and Europe, but not too well here. I like this concept.
I'll finish up with the rest of the concepts tomorrow...
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
There's another blog out there about cars. It is AMAZING. Motoblog is a great, highly graphical blog about cars. It is very well designed. Sigh, if only I knew HTML.
Just a note: These are all linked to the autoindex website, which has stored the press releases from the various companies. The links and the information therein are the property of that site, not mine.
BMW 6 series convertible--It's very Chris Bangle-esque, his influence is pretty strong here. Like most people I'm torn on how well he designed the BMW line, and I wonder if he may have hurt the company in the long term. I don't like the six series, I do like his five series, I like the Z4, and like most people can't stand the seven series. I don't know what the point of the six series is, I guess if you want a five series with two doors, but BMW might not want to run into Mercedes territory with too many series of cars, that are overlapping in price and confusing to the consumer.
Chrylser ME Four-Twelve--When they called this the ME car, I thought that made sense since the people who would buy it, are mostly concerned with themselves. Evidentally it stands for Mid-engined. Could have fooled me. Anyway, the car is good looking, but I really don't get the point. Would anyone buy a 100k dollar plus Chrysler? This is obviously Chrysler's attempt to one-up Ford, for their upcoming Ford GT. I don't think the Ford GT will sell well either, but it has racing history behind it, while the Chrysler has nothing. Once again, American car companies not concentrating on most of the market, and fighting each other while Japanese car companies gain in power.
Ford Bronco--I had a friend who owned a Bronco II, and my uncle still owns an old big Bronco from the mid-1980s. They're really cool cars, and this goes along with my previous article about bringing back an affordable, but not too bare-bones like Jeep Wrangler, SUV that can go offroad and is cheap. The Bronco is a step in the right direction. Just make sure this version doesn't roll over and kill anyone like the old ones did.
Ford 500 and Mercury Montego--These are the company savers. These have to do well for Ford to survive. J Mays interiors are present, which is a plus, and when these come out, Ford will have arguably the best affordable interiors in the American car biz. That is not an understatement. Unfortunately as talented as J Mays is, he is not a risk taker. The exteriors are dull, especially on the Ford 500. It's probably the right decision to make in this competitive market, and Ford has been badly burned by being adventurous, (remember the mid-90s Taurus). I wish they were a little more bolder, but they'll have to do. Ford wouldn't have to depend so much on successful launches, if it updated its products more often, instead of leaving them to rot. The current Taurus is too old, and no competition to Camry, or Accord.
Ford Mustang--I love it. I know the V6 version automatic is a girl car, and the whole car is seen as girly, but I would buy this version. Ford execs are bragging that this is a 30k dollar interior in a 20k dollar car, and they're right. This should be a shining beacon to the rest of the industry of what American car companies are capable of. One huge advantage that the Big 3 have over the Japanese is lineage. I don't know how long you can go on with the retro thing, but with efforts like this one, it's worth a shot. This thing is going to be a HUGE hit. Buy Ford stock. And no I don't work for Ford.
Honda SUT-- And in the shadows awaits Honda. Never one to excite with their concept cars, they have introduced the future of their company in the US, the Honda pickup truck. I think, if any women are into pickup trucks, they will go for this one. No man would touch a cutesy thing like this. It might be a niche big enough to sell well. I'm not sure. I think of most of the pickup truck market as a hotbed chauvanistic dudes, but maybe this will make it here. You don't see a chick in an F-150.
Ok that's all for now...more tomorrow...
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
One more note on the LA autoshow...ALL the cars have been released by the media before the show begins! If that's not a way to destroy the specialness of a show, I don't know what is. Once again more evidence that the LA autoshow is the worst run show on the planet.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited--This is the Wrangler with a longer wheelbase. Jeep has had the reputation as of late of making SUVs that are too small, and hence old fashioned. It's a reputation that seems to be deserved considering that the SUV market is filled with bloated, and bigger than ever behemoths. In Europe, there are many examples of luxury cars with longer wheelbase versions, such as those of Jaguar, and Rover. I don't know if American buyers are going to go for this though. They need to see the difference, and more length will need to be explained to them by the dealer salesman. They might be better off with making a whole new Wrangler, with a longer wheelbase, and avoid getting accused of merely freshening up something very, very old.
Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible--Call me optimistic, but I think this is going to be a huge hit. If I were a kid, I would want this as my family car. There is nothing else on the market that is this big, this strange looking, and a convertible. It's the ultimate toy car. It has zero practicality, but would make any weekend with the brats wonderful. It's the kind of car you write about decades later, when you're trying to remember the great moments you had with your parents. Of course, as a young single member of the yuppie scum class, I would never buy it.
Chrysler Crossfire Convertible--I suppose a convertible is justified of a coupe, if the coupe has been selling well. I believe allpar.com has sales figures for the Crossfire. Considering that the Crossfire is based largely on Mercedes mechanicals, making R&D costs ultra-low, so whatever sales there are, there is a chance for big profits. I think the Crossfire is a beautiful car, if a little foo-foo, and Convertible is selling to the same demographic. Should do well.
Chevrolet Nomad--This is simply the worst concept of all the American and European manufacturers. It is as ugly in the exterior as your average Japanese concept car. The front is a '53 Corvette, atop a jelly bean body, with a Nomad grafted rear end. In short, hideous. I like the interior though. Hopefully this is from the Zarella incompetence era of GM and not from Lutz. Looking at what Lutz did with the Corvette, I'm confident that this is dark leftovers from the past.
Dodge Slingshot--Maybe it's the Marxist in me, but can't everyone own a sports car? I kind of like this pocket rocket. I've heard the souped up Neon that is currently on sale is the fastest sub-compact, stock on the market, and if Dodge builds something like this, it would only continue the tradition. It's always cool to see a car company go after the SPEED market aggressively, and I'm glad to see it here.
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti--Named after Enzo's bookie, just kidding. I believe this is the replacement for the 456, the previous 2+2 Ferrari. I love the interior, the exterior will have to grow on me. Of course with this marque name, Ferrari could paint it purple, and put Homer Simpson "speed holes" in the hood, and it would still sell out. Who wouldn't want to own a Ferrari? Especially one you can put your kids in.
Hummer H3T--This concept was at the Detroit autoshow and the LA autoshow, so I'll see it this weekend. It's a concept, so whatever is produced from this, will be not as glamorous. It is well done. I'm always wary of "fad" trucks like the Hummer, and I think that vehicles like this one, the Porsche Cayenne, and the VW Touraeg, are just part of the SUV of the month club. Yuppies, after leasing them, will move onto the next "cool" car. It doesn't help that a military-type vehicle like this, is designed by Fifth Avenue, artist types, who really don't know how to make a long term, classic American car. Rather they make vehicles that appeal to seasonal tastes, like clothing. You can't do that with a vehicle that costs hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and market. Lay the Hummer to rest, and concentrate on the bread and butter: the car.
Hyundai Tucson--I can't find photos of this vehicle, only a painting. The Santa Fe is a bit strange looking of an SUV, but it sells well. This SUV is smaller. That's a good move. Hyundai would be very foolish to make anything larger than the Santa Fe and try to move upmarket, like the insane Kia Amanti. People buy luxury for the name brand, not just for the leather seats.
More tomorrow...by the way, all these links are to Auto Index, which I have linked in my link section as well. A fantastic site, it has every press release for every new car sold in the WORLD. All links, unless otherwise stated, are the property of the website they link to.
I plan on covering EVERY release from the Detroit show, so get ready....
Monday, January 05, 2004
Sorry for the delay, I was sick all weekend. Hence, my plan to take photos at the LA autoshow has been derailed, in fact I don't even know if I'm going to go now. Yeah, it sucks to be sick.
I figure, why would you want photos of the autoshows, when there are an abundance of them already on the internet. I'd rather give my opinions on them (of course the same could be said about opinions as well).
First, I'd like to talk a little about the LA autoshow, and how I think it is one of the most poorly run events in America. Here we live in Los Angeles, the car center of America, and possibly the world, and YET, the autoshow here plays second fiddle to the autoshow in Detroit. This completely ignores the fact that Los Angeles, and Angelenos were the first area of America to wholeheartedly abandon Detroit, for better or for worse, and the Japanese and American auto manufacturers still show all their big releases in Detroit. We get the new Saab/Subaru crossover. Yippee.
The people in charge of the LA autoshow need to make that show the centerpiece for European and Japanese releases in the US. All Japanese designed, but American market only cars should be shown in LA, not in Tokyo. All European manufacturers, should show their wares in LA. Midwesterners don't buy Jags, Beverly Hills/Hollywood types do! The LA autoshow could be the central venue for aftermarket modification as well, instead it is in the shadow of Vegas with SEMA. Part of that is that Vegas is THE place to hold a convention, but it's the general public that buys many of these things, not just manufacturers looking for new ideas. And finally, the LA autoshow has GOT to move it's showings at least a month away from Detroit. Instead, they're nearly at the same time. Totally insane.
I've talked about the Cobalt, which was an LA autoshow showing, so my opinion is already known. Here are the other showings, with my opinions:
Aston Martin DB-9--Well, add this to another of the cars I will never be able to afford. I can't find any shots of the interior, but if it's anything like the DB-7 or Vanquish, it'll probably blow everyone away. I'd never spend this much money on anything I couldn't live in, and considering that it really is a souped-up Jag underneath, I guess I'd really have to be into status symbols and getting nasty whispers about the size of my you know what behind my back as I pass by to buy it. Still looking good, but I think a bit of a let-down from the DB-7. When Aston brags that the DB-7 was the best selling Aston ever, it means nothing. Like most British car companies, this one hardly ever turned a profit, and has only sold well because Ford pumped billions into it. Still uncertain whether this car, or Aston as a whole makes money. Time will tell.
Buick Terraza/Saturn Relay--GM decided to grace the city of coolness, with the two most uncool future production releases. Thanks. I'm not sure whether this is Bob Lutz influenced, but if it is, he needs a doctor. Here is a nice write-up of them. The SUV craze has reached insane proportions, with an attempt to graft the head of an SUV on the body of a mini-van. It reminds me of those horror movies where they grafted a head onto a body, resulting in some twisted monster. It won't fool any consumers that they're driving a big-rig, instead they'll know it's just perfume on a pig. To win in the SUV market, GM needs to stop offering a mini-van from every division, and instead concentrate on merely an average mini-van, and a deluxe mini-van with DVD screens for the kids. Chrysler will continue to dominant this area with feeble competition like this.
Acura TL A-Spec--It's basically an Acura TL, but has been heavily modified. I like the angle the Japanese luxury makers are taking with changing their cars to be cool, rather than just blindly follow the Europeans. Audi, Mercedes, etc, would never do this with a concept, so Acura is going for a quintessential Los Angeles feel here, and blacking out the taillights, adding large exhaust pipes, and basically just making this look like a murderer's car. Worth a shot.