Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Further Thoughts on the L.A. Autoshow

Buick--I wanted to see the new LaCrosse, and I wanted to see what the previous generation of Buicks felt like from the inside. The new LaCrosse is aesthetically pleasing from the outside, but once you get inside, you realize that the improvements are not dramatic as a whole. They, like most of GM's new lineup, represent only an incremental step forward in progress.

Then I sat in the Park Avenue, the flagship for Buick. Remember, the average buyer of a Buick remembers the glory days of President Harding, so you would think that the seats, which might be the very last bench seats left in the automotive world, would be comfortable. In fact they were the worst seats of any car I sat in. They weren't leather, but some sort of imitation mouse fur, and they felt like stiff pillows, that need years of heads laying upon them before they soften. As we age we get back problems, so to be given seats that are this tough to sit on, means injury as far as I'm concerned. Buick should embrace its elderly customers, and cater to them. They should offer things that make the car more comfortable, like shock dampeners, seats that heat and massage, and xenon headlights to see better. Instead they slap in bench seats, make the car big and clumsy, and hope it sells. It does, but only because of brand loyalty. I'm seeing more and more old people driving Camrys.

I also went to Mazda, and sat in cars that I'd already sat in a year ago, like the Mazda3 and the Mazda6, and of course the RX-8. They were the most comfortable seats at the show. The Mazda6 was head and shoulders more comfortable than any car I sat in as well. I know sales of this brand have improved, but I'm still amazed that Mazda has not become a conquering presence. It's probably their lack of a dealership network that is strong, like Nissan, Honda, or Toyota. You'd think their lack of a heavy truck lineup wouldn't matter much because of Honda's success, but that might be a reason as well. I wish Mazda would go ahead and redo its pickup, but I figure that Ford probably doesn't want Ranger sales cannibalized, so this is prevented. Mazda could make a "speedy" small pickup, that would do really well, especially since buyers would know that it was built on a rugged American platform.

I glanced at Jaguar because I was at the show with a woman, and that woman wanted to see said car company. It amazes me how certain brands are seen as largely for female buyers, rather than male buyers. Jaguar, VW, I would both consider for female drivers primarily. Volvo too. SUVs that aren't rugged seem to be mostly female purchases as well. Sports cars are totally the dominion of the elderly wealthy male, but small coupes seem to attract a large number of women as well. Especially the Mustang, which for the most part has ALWAYS been a woman's car. The higher end trims with v8 engines and manual transmissions belonged to men, but the Mustang does command a large female follwing. I wonder why? Why are women drawn to SUVs, and small sporty coupes. The former, when I ask women, seems to be because of their large size, and the image of power they give, plus their imagined utility. The latter seem to be because they fall into the cute range.

I'm sure the automobile companies have ton billions of dollars of analysis on why certain ethnic groups, genders, races, social classes, geographical areas buy the vehicles they buy. It treads close to stereotyping, but sales figures are sales figures. There are exceptions to every rule, I'm sure there is a tough guy driving a Jetta in Alabama, and a woman driving a Ford F350, but exceptions are just that, exceptions. Anyway, sorry for the digression.

That's all I can think about the autoshow right at this moment. I like people watching, and seeing what types of people go to which types of vehicles, and which companies attract the most people, and which do not. In the next few days I'll go over the various cars and trucks I found interesting from the LA and Detroit autoshows, either for their good elements, or their bad elements. And I'll grade the manufacturers. Later...

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Great News if True

According to this article, which unfortunately requires registration to read, GM is considering bringing over the Holden Ute as the El Camino, and the Holden Statesman as a high end Buick. Both are RWD, and can seat five. This is great news for GM. People are really going to cry for an El Camino, even though things like the Subaru Baja, and now the Honda RDX are around. I'm convinced the latter is going to fail like the Subaru, basically because I think Honda buyers hate pickups, and are more the urban type. Honda should have instead tried to emulate the Ford Ranger, but make it a much nicer vehicle. They probably were forced to make due with their SUV platform, which forced them to make this average bed pickup. The reason the El Camino will do well here, is that it will have a full length bed, it will seat five, and it will have heritage to draw from. It will fail if it is released as high end vehicle like the GTO or SSR, and if it uses a dated look, like the GTO, and if it has poor gas mileage. But basically I think it will do well.

I promise to finish my LA Autoshow stories, and thoughts on the Detroit show, but I'm having a real hectic week, and might not be able to type until the weekend. Sorry!

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Monday, January 10, 2005

Misguided G.M.

I really think G.M. is making inroads in terms of initial quality. The Cobalt, the 2006 Impala and Monte Carlo, are huge improvements over the cars they replace. But then I read stuff like this, and I wonder what Bob Lutz is thinking. In five years, the price per gallon of oil in the U.S. might be around three dollars. Unless we're doing fantastically economically, no one is going to be buying V8s. Yet that is what G.M. is bargaining on. I used to believe that if you gave people a RWD, V8 performance car for an okay amount of money, you would have a hot seller. But the sales of the GTO prove otherwise. Even the Mustang, which will be a great success for Ford, makes up less than 10 percent of its sales in the U.S. Most Mustangs sold are v6s, not v8s. All GTOs are v8s. G.M. should have released a v6 version, and concentrated more on the look rather than the "stats".

I think G.M. is taking an awful risk by betting on Americans love of big engines. Americans also love cheap gas prices, reliability, and great looks. Part of the reason for the success of the Chrysler 300, if not most of the reason, is that it's a great looking car. I think that it has a v8 within it is part of the reason, but honestly not a very large one. This isn't the early 60s anymore. And the trimming continues with layoffs continuing for G.M. I wonder how many jobs could have been saved if great looking products had been produced rather than big engined monsters.

G.M. needs to invest either in hybrids, or diesels. Chrysler has the advantage of Mercedes diesel engines, Ford is already well on its way with hybrids, G.M. is lagging. They've taken their fleet and made it comparable in looks to the auto industry average, now they've got to make it fuel efficient, and less dependent on the success of SUVs. The SUV ship has already sailed.

The next couple of years will make or break G.M. I don't think they will go bankrupt, because the government will bail them out, but the loss of prestige from going to the government doll will forever taint them, as it did Chrysler. Hopefully they see the light before it's too late.

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