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Thursday, December 23, 2004

Subaru Upscale?

It's a longshot as far as I'm concerned, but evidentally Subaru wants to move upscale, according to an Autoweek interview with their CEO Kyoji Takenaka. They really should move with caution. The last sort of niche player to try to move upscale, Volkswagen, is now reaping the whirlwind with losses of over a billion dollars this year.

Before they move forward with this idea, they have to understand how people view Subaru. Subaru is a brand that is probably only common in blue state/foreign buying states, that have harsh winter weather. Massachusetts? You bet. Mississippi? No way. So they are sort of like the Japanese version of Saab. It's a small market. To move upscale would mean additional competition. I don't think it's a smart move. Subaru is best known for AWD, and there are a lot of people who want cheap AWD. I think there's a market downstream rather than upstream.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Autoguy's 2004 Cars that I Wished I Owned

Unlike most automotive publications, that list the best cars of every class, I decided to be a little different and list the cars that I would purchase if I had the money, and the need. Each car I'm going to list with the appropriate engine as well if applicable.

Favorite FWD Sedan--If I had to buy a FWD sedan, for whatever reason, it would have to be the Mazda 6, specifically the v6 version with five speed transmission. Aesthetically it's amazing looking with the sleekest lines, inside and out. The engine has a decent output, and it just looks like a high quality vehicle. Unlike most of the cars on this list I actually have been in this car, and in many of its competitors, like the Honda Accord. The fact that it is slightly off the mainstream, by being a Mazda, makes it less of a me-too car in my opinion, and that adds points. Coupled with the fact that some of these cars are assembled in the US, makes the purchase guilt free. If I had a family, or the money, this would be the FWD sedan to buy. Gas mileage isn't too bad either, for a v6.

Favorite Compact Car--Yes, I have a Mazda fetish. If I were in the market for a new small car, because my income isn't the greatest, but I still want the most bang for the buck, I would buy a Mazda 3. Why? Mazdas seems to be the company that puts the most effort into its vehicles, and the most sporting character. I'll never know which car handles the best in its class, because I doubt I'll ever take every car in a class on the track to know for sure, so the best I can do is read up on it in magazines, and see which one looks the sportiest. The Mazda family of vehicles definitely look more sporting then their competitors. Also the Mazda 3 is the only subcompact I know of, besides the Mini, that comes with DVD navigation, and leather seats. The Mini is too small and girly for me, so the Mazda 3 fits the bill. It's a bit uglier though than the Mazda 6, but this is a category that is lacking in the US. Most people still want SUVs and big cars. Also I would need to have the larger engine for this model. A runner up for this category would be the Honda Civic SI, which gets slightly better gas mileage than my 2001 Nissan Sentra, with 40 more horsepower. Impressive, but not enough.

Favorite Low End Sporty Car--If I had 30 thousand dollars to spend on a car, and had no children, and insurance costs are largely irrelevant, as well as fuel costs, I would buy a Mustang GT. That's a lot of ifs, but then again this is my list of dream cars basically, so it's on here. You can't argue with how good the new Mustang looks, and you can't argue with the cheap speed the V8 model entails. I fear that in a few years the Mustang will be back to being a girl's car, but the GT with five speed transmission is something most women would shy away from. The Mustang is a girl's car for the most part, but it's also a common man's sports car, and that is very American in a way. If I didn't think that we were running out of oil, I'd buy this car in a heartbeat.

Favorite Sports Car priced 30 to 100 thousand dollars--This was a tough one. My instinct is to go with the new Lotus Elise. Here's why:

1. It goes fast.
2. It looks cool.
3. It's not common.
4. It gets great mileage for a sports car.
5. It has a Toyota engine and transmission, so it's going to last a very long time, much longer than any other British sports car.
6. It's a Lotus.

There were runner ups. I love the new Corvette, and I sort of love the Dodge Viper. But, especially with the latter, they are a little too vulgar for my tastes. I'm not a fan of Porsche either, they're just too bland looking. I know some will argue for eternity as to how great in handling they are, but I'm sure that once you get to this price range, the handling on all these cars is pretty damn good. Then again, what do I know, I've never driven them.

Sports Car that if I could Afford, I could have even with a family--The Mazda RX-8. Yes, it really isn't a sports car, but it isn't really practical either. It burns oil, its mileage is terrible, but I think I could squeeze a baby seat in there if I had to, and if I had children. I really like this car.

Big Sedan I Wish I Owned--That would be the Mercedes Benz E-Class Diesel. Some have roundly criticized this car, for being expensive (50 thousand dollars), and for not being useful. It gets the same mileage as my Nissan, and it's a big full size sedan. If that's not a deal I don't know what is. I've always wanted to have a big Mercedes that I own for decades. Because this is a diesel, that's a reality. Mercedes made its name in diesels, especially in this country. It's not uncommon in So Cal to see a big old Mercedes diesel, and many times they're in terrible condition, but still running. This runs contrary to the new reputation European manufacturers have for making brittle cars. Germans at least, used to make cars that lasted forever. This is a throwback to that.

Sedan I would Own for Daily Driving--To some extent that would be the Mazda RX-8, but for a little extra legroom, and a little more pep, I would go with the Maserati Quattroporte. I loved the Biturbos of the 1980s, and thought about buying a used one, since they aren't worth anything. This is a car I will never own, barring a lottery win, but having what I consider basically the equivalent of a Ferrari sedan, since Maserati shares so many parts with Ferrari now, is something that makes this vehicle a must have if you can afford it. It's gorgeous.

Super Car that I Wish I Owned--Aston Martin Vanquish. I like Astons more than Ferraris. Some will argue that if you want to spend a quarter of a million on a car, you might as well buy something with more name recognition. The Aston Martin is not going to confuse anyone that it is anything but expensive. And if you buy a car this expensive for the sole purpose of impressing others, you're not crazy because that is a big part of buying a car like this, but you'll never fully enjoy it. The Aston Martin Vanquish probably isn't as nimble a car as the Ferraris, but I think it just looks better. And I don't buy that it looks like a Jaguar XK on steroids. Remember, Ferrari shares Fiat parts too. We all have humble beginnings.

So that's my list of cars I wish I had. It won't change much from year to year. I don't really like SUVs, so I didn't list one. This list comes about from having too much time on your hands. Hope you enjoy.

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Two Great Series

The Detroit Free Press is having two great series of articles right now, one on the automobile in India, and the other on the impact of China and the US domestic auto industry. Of the two papers that really cover the auto industry, the Detroit Free Press, and the Detroit News, I think I might have to give a slight edge to the Detroit Free Press, at least from a global standpoint. The Detroit News will every once in a while have a great series of articles on some enormous safety issue, that bashes the car companies from scimping, like their great series on the weak roofs that the car industry builds. Both are very well done sections, and both seem to pull no punches when dealing with the auto industry. Very nicely done.

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

If it Looks Nice, People Will Buy It

Add another article to the "duh" pile. The Big 3 need to start making better looking cars to sell. Of course.

I was talking to a friend last night, who had recently bought a Honda Accord coupe. I asked him why he bought it. It was slightly more expensive than rivals and had less features. Because it wasn't bad looking, and he knew he'd get great reliability. The Big 3 will never be able to win on the latter, so why not go for the former? Make a great looking car and it will sell. Chrysler and Mercedes are not known for reliability in the slightest. Yet customers are willing to take a chance, drop their Japanese nameplate and buy a 300c. Why? Because it looks nice.

GM could stop spending money upgrading reliability, stop incentives, stop stuffing options at a cut rate into cars, if they just made the cars good looking. The new Malibu, the Impala, the Monte Carlo, the Bonneville, etc. all these cars look terrible. The interiors on most of the lineup are old and dated.

It is beating a dead horse, but it's oh so simple. Why can't they do it?

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