Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Car Mags Get it Wrong

Virtually every car magazine stateside has done a comparo with the new Mazda MX-5 (Miata) and the Pontiac Solstice. And in virtually every comparo, the Mazda wins. The journalists will take the two cars out on tracks, accelerate them to their max, run them through slalom courses, basically all the things that most consumers will never do to their cars, but that their cars are capable of doing. And the Mazda almost always emerges the winner.

According to Automotive News (reg. required), the Solstice has outsold the new Miata by almost 100 percent. Almost twice as many Solstices have been sold than Mazda MX-5s.

Why? According to the Auto mags the MX-5 is a better car. In some cases by far. The answer is simple. The new MX-5 is ugly. The new Solstice is good looking.

99 percent of car buyers will never use their car on a track, even for sports car buyers.

99 percent of car buyers will never use the handling abilities of their car, except when to avoid an obstacle in a crash.

And 90 percent of car buyers will never redline their car, or take their vehicle to its maximum speed capability.

They just won't. The car magazines were probably right in deciding that the Mazda is a better handling car, and more fun to drive. But that's not why you buy a car. You buy a car because it looks good, and fulfills your needs. The needs of those who buy small convertibles are that their car should look good, and be able to have a convertible top that works. The Solstice fulfills these needs. The MX-5 does not, because it simply isn't good looking.

So GM has a rare winner on its hands. What does it do with this winner? Why it decides to build a competitor in the form of the new Saturn Sky. The Sky will undoubtedly cannibalize sales from the Solstice, because it too is a good looking car, and also because the small two seat convertible market is not large. The MX-5 will be the big loser in all of this, but GM hurts its full ability to win in this situation.

GM has to ask itself, will the new Saturn Sky bring us sales that would not have occurred if it weren't built? The answer is very likely no. There will be very few people who demand a roadster who won't be perfectly happy with the Solstice or MX-5. The fact that the Solstice is the mechanical twin of the Sky helps this argument.

The silver lining in all of this is that Bob Lutz and GM know how to make cool cars. Customers have forgotten completely Pontiac's last foray into the small sports car realm. The Pontiac Fiero was a death trap. Yet they flock to the Solstice. Why? It looks good, and it's a welcome change from the market being dominated by Mazda. GM could change it's predicament overnight, customer's memories are short. Build exciting gorgeous vehicles in every market segment, and GM will be turning a tremendous profit. But it seems as if there is only so much of Lutz to go around.

I must say though that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I personally like how the Mazda MX5 looks, and its performance matters to many who would buy a roadster, not just looks, though i will agree that more will buy based upon looks than performance.

This being said, the Saturn Sky looks nicer than the Pontiac variant, and closer to the Vauxhall VX220, which in my opinion is the hottest of them all, followed by the Lotus version.

Your headline is a bit misleading in that you seem to be arguing that although the
Car mags prefer the Miata to the Solstice based on performance and feel they are "wrong" since the Solstice is outselling the Mazda.

The Auto 'zines are entitled to their opinion and their preferences just as the consumers are. Time will tell who is right but you can't make any judgement purely on sales numbers.

I doubt that either car would be on the market if not for the long-standing preference of magazine journos for small light roadsters.
So people buy cars based on looks? Fascinating. Good to see you're still alive. How's the special lady? We replaced you with your brother before he went to china. We even started calling him Rick, he didn't mind. Have fun in london.
I agree with your point on the MX5; that car is ugly. The Pontiac is full of imagination - just what GM needs. Nicely said sir.
Very interesting post. And I like the comments too, I personaly love the Miata.

Concept Cars
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