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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.

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