Tuesday, January 27, 2004

A Cadillac-size mistake

Autoweek is reporting that Cadillac will make an ultra luxury vehicle like the concept Sixteen a reality. I'm sure Cadillac fans everywhere are cheering, but they should think long and hard before they do.

Has Maybach helped Mercedes? Maybach sales have been dismal at best. As much as I like to harp about crowds at autoshows, there were plenty of people crowded around the Maybachs at the LA autoshow, but were any buyers? How many people can afford such an expensive vehicle? And how many of those people would be caught dead at an open to the public autoshow? I sure didn't see any Saudi Princes walking around sharing floor space with a guy from San Bernardino.

Cadillac will spend millions upon the development of a vehicle for the most fickle of audiences. That money could be better spent on the current lineup. Cadillac has a good car in the CTS, XLR, and the Escalade. The Deville, and the STS look incredibly dated, and the Deville is commonly found in rental fleets. The STS replacement is on its way, but where is the Deville's? And what about the interior on the Escalade? It is deplorable, and with the rectangle faux wood dashboard, it looks like something out of an 80s Ford Bronco. Spend the money on an upgrade there, who knows how many buyers were lost because of that to Lincoln and Lexus.

The MSRPs of the Cadillac lineup are also spread out ridiculously. The Deville and STS are similar in price, and the CTS takes up 3-series territory, but after that is a thousands of dollars jump to the XLR which starts at 72 thousand dollars. The Deville and STS start in the 40s. Where is the 50-80 dollar Cadillac sedan to compete against the seven series? It should be built.

I know there's an argument that this new super Cadillac will be a halo car. I'm not a believer in halo cars at all. Do you think anyone, when they buy a Mercedes bought it because Maybach was made by Mercedes? Or when they buy an Audi, because Audi owns Bentley? Or when they buy a Cavalier, because Chevy makes Corvette? If anything halo cars are dragged down by the lower priced cars they share their marque with.

And finally, the marketplace for super-luxury vehicles, is very crowded. This new Cadillac will face cars from Maserati, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Ford (the GT), Bentley, Rolls Royce, Maybach, Porsche, and some other kit manufacturers like Bristol in Europe. Anyone who knows anything about the super rich, is that they are very fickle and change their minds quickly. What is hot one day, is cold the next. Cadillac is following in the footsteps of Ford and even Chrysler on this one. Each of these companies wants to make a super vehicle that will highlight their company. Though Cadillac belongs in this territory more than anyone, as it is a luxury vehicle maker, it's been 70 some odd years since Cadillac catered to this segment with 12 cylinder, and 16 cylinder cars. Cadillac since then has become the vehicle of the wealthy, but not that wealthy. Leave that segment to bankrupt, bought out companies like Bentley and Rolls Royce. The fact that they are part of larger corporations, after years of failure should say something.

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Sunday, January 25, 2004

On Safety

Senator Mike Dewine of Ohio, a Republican, is the latest politician to advocate safety requirements for the automakers, see here. I'm always skeptical about political meddling with cars, due in large part to the added requirements that have made cars more similar to each other than ever, and have kept many manufacturers out of the US, due to the high costs of making compliant vehicles. But on the other hand, the results speak for themselves with continued declines in crashes nationwide. Anyone who has had a loved one die of a car crash (not that I have), knows as well that the safety concerns of vehicles, while making the advocate sound annoying, are of the utmost importance.

But I'd like to draw attention to one proposal in particular in that article. It is the proposal to have tire expiration dates. I think the proposal is brilliant. If the government can make then appear on the car, perhaps on the whitewalls and then have a nationwide campaign to get people to notice them, people will replace their tires more often, and not drive on bald, decaying tires which can result in injury. Finally, making some kind of safety report on the vehicle, perhaps near other labels where the door closes, is quite important as well. But the safety requirements should MAKE SENSE. They should rank the car in such a way as to show if the vehicle is truly safe, not just good at passing tests. Crash tests, especially the government's don't necessarily mimic real life crash situations. Car companies will gleefully put added protective material at the crash points the government tests for, not where it is really needed for general safety. The labels must express that the car is truly a safe one, and not one "safe" to just the government. And finally, the car shouldn't be unfairly maligned, the label should merely rate the car, not have excessive verbiage. People's jobs for both domestic and foreign manufacturers depend on their car selling; it won't sell if the car is seen as a death trap.

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