Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What to Watch for in 2010!

Its been a lackluster year for the automotive industry. We've lost Pontiac, Saturn, and maybe Saab. Lets forget the misery of 2009 and look forward to whats in store for 2010. In not particular order, these are the cars to watch for in the next year.

1. 2011 Ford Fiesta
The Fiesta is the first introduction of Ford's kinetic design language to the United States, and the first new era global car from Ford. It's green and can outrun baddies in a Corvette in a shopping mall. Moreover, its an America version of the Golf/Jetta abet smaller. I imagine that this little car is going to become a prep classic like the 1999 Jetta, sleek Euro styling in an affordable package. It also has premium features to boot. I'm ready to place my order. Watch to gauge American's acceptance of the Fiesta, its success is likely indicative of Ford's future sucess.

2. 2010 Buick LaCrosse
Its big and bold and probably should have been a Cadillac. The interior is beautifully made and, if you can get over the "dog in flight" center stack, looks substantially better than anything else in its price range. With several engines, awd, and a spacious interior, its a midsize car that should appeal to anyone. Its the first time I could ever actually say I would want a Buick.

3. VW TDI range
Fuel economy without hybrid stigma. I loathe the self-sacrificing eco-nazi image that comes along with driving a hybrid. I care about the environment, but I think its incredibly frustrating that people are blindsided by hybrids. I also hate that hybrids suck the fun out of drive. The VW TDI range gives fun, torque, phenomenal range, in all shapes and sizes from a Golf to the Touareg.

4. 2010 Chevrolet Equinox
Shows that American cars can be better than their foreign competitors. Watch for it where your neighbors CR-V used to be parked, seriously.

5. 2011 Toyota Sienna
Minivans are cool again, especially ones with Maybach style reclining lounge chairs in the middle row. With a Lexus badge this would have sold like hotcakes. It should replace growing SUVs, whose owners growing families no longer can fit in the third row.

6. 2011 Buick Regal
Another Buick! Pigs are flying! The regal is essentially the new 9-5 that is likely never going to come to the United States. With turbo 4-cylinders and euro good looks, the Regal looks like it could be a hit. Buick just needs to get the marketed down and create some momentum!

7. Chevy Volt
Will people pay $35,000+ for an extended range electric vehicle. People are expecting great things from the Volt and hopefully this mundane sedan with economy roots can rise from the Detroit projects to become a force to be reckoned with.

Other Things to Watch Out For!

1. Buick's Bombardment
Without Saturn and Pontiac, Buick seems to be getting all the love these days. Prior to 2010, I never would have consider a Buick, however with the LaCrosse and Regal concept, Buick is looking good. Affordable Euro styling. I may be stretching, but if the marketing crew gets it right, Buick could be the next VW. High perceived quality, euro tuning, and affordable. Let's not let the dying customer base get in the way! (Apparently Bob Lutz agrees)

2. Ford's Failure (Maybe a little extreme)
Ford may be in better shape financially than GM, but every model is based on old platforms whereas GM has almost entirely new cars. It's clear where the money has been going. The Taurus, although good looking, is built on a platform that dates back to the mid-nineties. Its interior in also kind of like a Monet painting, looks good from far away yet looses integrity when you get closer. The same can be said about most of the other cars in the current Ford portfolio. Should we even talk about Mercury, its completely irrelevant. Ford has some great cars, the United States is just not getting them. How long before the EUCD and the C1 vehicles get here?

3. Chrysler/Fiat
Fiat might have stepped in to save Chrysler but many things still need to be sorted out. The 500 is going to be exciting, but its not going to save Chrysler in the US. Neither is the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. It's going to take a lot of work to fix Chrysler, and so far, there do not appear to be any on sale dates for any of the updated models. If Fiat can pull it off, I expect there will be great things in store. If not, its just like the Saab Fiasco.

4. The year of forced induction!
The displacement wars are over. Watch for forced induction on an increasing number of vehicles. Ford, VW, Audi, GM, and BMW have already started to switch over. Mercedes has indicated that future AMG models will now feature forced induction. I'm excited, I have always enjoyed the torque provided by a turbo engine!

5. Toyota
Toyota has yet to experience the full wrath of the unintended acceleration debacle. On top of that, they failed to adequately handle the situation by refusing to admit fault. Toyota's reputation is built on reliability and quality, the unintended acceleration goes against this. Additionally, recent model introduction have shown poor build quality. It can't be long before the rock solid image of Toyota is shattered.

6. Wagon/Coupe/Crossover/Hatchback Things
Watch out for these amalgamations that attempt to combine the looks of coupe, the space of a wagon, the height of a crossover, and the practicality of a hatchback. Right now the BMW 5-Series GT, Honda Accord Crosstour, Toyota Venza, Acura ZDX and future Audi A7 all seem to have the same mission. Have sat in the 5-Series GT, I was impressed with the rear legroom and it did seem to have a bit of a cool factor. Lets watch to see if this segment takes off.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New England Auto Show

After attending the New England Auto Show, I thought I would share a couple thoughts on the experience. Manufacturers do not reveal their latest concepts in Boston, in fact, Mercedes, Porsche, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and Smart chose not to show anything at all. While disappointing, most of the no-shows don't have new products to display.

GM had a large presence at the show and their new models glowed. GM appears to have made a huge investment in interior quality. I was particularly impressed by the new Buick LaCrosse and the GMC Terrain. Both of these cars had high perceived quality, with stitching on the dashboard. My favorite GM car would have to be the CTS-V, given its performance credentials, it seems like and incredible value. The Camaro looked great, but the steering wheel was terrible. I mean really awful, there it no way I could drive it comfortably, I would much prefer the new Mustang, especially with the 300+ HP v6 that is in the works.

The SAAB stand was pretty depressing. I have always liked SAABs and feel that they are just starting to really figure things out. They did have the new 9-5 and 9-3X on display however the doors were locked and all I could do was look in the windows. Both looked good, its too bad it took 5 years too long to get the new 9-5 into production. On the other hand, the Buick LaCrosse looks just as good as the 9-5, and being based on a the same platform, with proper tuning could probably drive similarly.

We then moved on to Mazda and Subaru. The new Mazda3 felt extremely small and cramped inside. My sister also commented on how ugly it was. We briefly stopped at a Mazda5... Bad mistake, the Representable said it was a great car, to which Melissa responded. "If you have no legs and are crazy." It really had no legroom for the three rows.

I was eager to sit in the new Subaru Legacy and Outback. I was impressed. They have terrific build quality and I am glad that Subaru has ditched the frameless doors. On the other hand, I was disappointed they Subaru not longer offers a large sunroof on the Outback; it seems like a step in the wrong direction. Additionally, despite being a larger car, the back seat still seemed short as if designed for smaller people. I wish Subaru would be a little more flexible in their option packages, it seems a little too restrictive to not be able to get a manual in the turbo Forrester. I also wish they they didn't have a CVT.

BMW and Audi were the only German representatives. The 5-Series GT was actually pretty cool yet also made me question why anyone would choose the X6 over it. (the X6 was interestingly absent from the show) The new Z4 looks great, definitely would be my choice over the TT or SLK. Audi didn't really have anything new to show. The R10 V10 was cool, but locked. The S5 looked great, but there is absolutely no room for rear seat passengers.

I pretty much skipped Acura, the new ZDX does look a lot better in person. The rest of the range was pretty boring. I headed to Lexus to check out the new RX and HS, both featuring the new Remote Touch. It seemed to work pretty well, but I'm not sure if its better than a touchscreen. It also it a little counter intuitive having to press an enter key on the side like a mouse rather than click. The RX was really boring, a complete evolution of the previous car. I had previously disliked the concept of the HS, thinking it a waste of money over a comparative Prius, but I think in the end it was pulled on pretty well. I tried to hold back the unintended acceleration jokes...

Nissan had the Cube, which in premium "Krom" trim actually seemed pretty nice. It was interesting contrast to the Kia Soul which really felt like a car from 10 years ago. I think that KIA are looking a lot better, but they still feel like economy cars on the inside.

Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury were next. The stand was definitely bustling. The new Lincolns look nice, and I can't wait to drive one with an ecoboost engine. I wish that Lincoln could build a RWD car off one of the Jaguar platforms. It seems like it would give their range a lot more credibility. I was really excited to see the new Taurus, it looks great! I gave the interior a hard time because while it looks good, it didn't seem as nice as and Audi or BMW. Then I realized that I was comparing the Taurus to cars that carry much more cachet, so Ford must being doing something right. The Fusion looked good as well, I can't wait for a Mondeo based Fusion to come to the United States though. Speaking of the Mondeo and Kinetic design, the new Fiesta looked awesome. I hope it drives as good as it looks. It looks infinitely better than the similarly small Mini and I appreciate how instead of going retro, the car had a thoroughly modern appearance. Too bad I couldn't sit in one.

Onto VW. The new Golf and GTI are great. Its hard to believe that this one is cheaper to make than the old one because just about every surface looks and feels great. I particularly liked the chrome accents on the window controls. The new touch screen stereo interface also works particularly well, it seemed a bit like an iPhone actually. Otherwise the rest of the models were pretty much the same as last year. I wish that VW would offer AWD on more models. Ford and GM are definitely pulling ahead of then in regards to the availability of AWD. I would love an AWD Jetta Sportwagen!

Chrysler was basically a carryover until the new Fiats start rolling in. I can't wait to see what American/Italian collaboration brings to Chrysler.

The final stops were Honda and Toyota. Everything was boring as would be expected. Toyota was particularly lacking. It seems like the quality of their cars has gone downhill in the past couple years. The new 4Runner did not seem nearly as nice as the old one was. The Accord CrossTour is also just weird.

Thats all.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fitting In

Image from Motortrend

The recent proliferation of crossovers (cuvs, softroaders or whatever the hell you want to call them) has left me wondering about what their respective markets are? Until recently, I would have pitted the 2010 RX350 against its previous foes, the ML350, X5, MDX, and FX35. Recently, however it seems that major magazine has been pitting new smaller models against the RX. This leaves an interesting dilemma where it appears that new cuvs are displacing their fatter older siblings, providing customers with better handling vehicles for less money.
Take Mercedes for example. When you walk into a dealer, you have the choice of a GLK or the ML. Both only can accommodate five people; with the GLK being 10 inches shorter than the ML. In both packages, Mercedes serves the same v6 engine. The GLK is smaller but subjectively offers much better road presence and doesn't initially scream suburban housewife. Interior room does suffer, with the GLK giving up about 5 inches of legroom to the ML. Cargo volume also suffers by about 5 cubic feet. However, the big question is who is the ML supposed to compete with? The ML seems to get lost in the shuffle, its closest competitor is the FX, which is also offered in v6/v8 trim levels. Essentially, the problem is that when Mercedes created the new GL, they created a model that provided more space and allowed the new model to usurp the ML in their lineup. Now with the GLK, the ML really doesn't seem to have a place anymore.

BMW managed to save the X5 from having a similar identity crisis by endowing it with a vestigial rear seat. They also axed their full-size X7. It will be interesting to see how large BMW manages to make the new X3 and whether or not, it will now be viewed as an RX350 competitor as well.

While this has mainly been a meandering though experiment, Lexus should be able to capitalize by selling a boat-load of RX's or look to make another model. Right now, they lack a real performance CUV. This could be based off of the RWD platform that underpins the IS/GS. They could also look towards making a smaller CUV that could really compete and base something off the RAV4. Either way, Lexus looks like it is going to be able to continue its relentless pursuit of global luxury domination.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Toyota Venza or RX350

If it were not for the badge discrepancy between the Venza and the RX350, I would have a hard time choosing the new RX350 over the Venza. Mechanically, in v6 trim both cars seem virtually identical. For the environmentally conscious, you can choose a 4-cylinder in the Toyota or a hybrid in the Lexus, and the money you save in the Toyota will more than offset the fuel savings potentially incurred into the hybrid.

For exterior styling, its a tossup. I think the Venza looks better overall whereas the Lexus looks kind of like a child going through through that middle school awkward phase. Certain areas are larger and more exaggerated that before yet the rest of the car has not quite grown enough for the more mature feature. The Venza on the other hand is more resolved, if it were not for the grill. I don't see why midsize crossover designers feel the need to channel Gehry when styling the grills. Look at the Murano, Edge, and now the Venza, its too much.

When in comes to interior design however, the Venza wins hands down. Toyota needs to be careful not to overclass Toyota models as they transition into separating Lexus and Toyota ranges worldwide. Previously Lexus models were badged as Toyotas, with the RX being the Harrier in Japan. Now that Lexus's are sold in Japan, they have the opportunity for more overlap. The Venza serves as a good example of the problem. Its interior is much more resolved compared the over-stylized cockpit of the RX350. I haven't tried out the new remote touch, but I think I touch screen will work better. The curved nature of the RX dash  presents the occupants with a large expanse of plastic whereas the Toyota seems to have a much more balanced appearance.

 If it weren't for the Lexus badge, I wouldn't ever consider purchasing the RX350, and I think thats exactly the point. Its kind of like these T-shirts I buy every summer. I wake up early to stand in line for a 20 dollar t-shirt that gets progressively uglier every year. I often feel like they try to make the shirt ugly just to laugh as people like up to buy dozens. Toyota is doing exactly the same with the RX350. The Venza is the same car without the premium badge, yet people would continue to pay for the swoopy "L" if they can.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Audi: I don't care if cocks buy them

Today I was driving back to my house when I saw a new A4 trailing me. All I can say is that Audi's new take on daytime running lights looks awesome. The strip of LED lights running along the heads are truly menacing in the rear view mirror.

I remember a couple years back when I thought that having the city lights on my Passat where cool, these new lights make my Passat look about as cool as ice cubes. I remember wanting a BMW with Angel-Eye headlamps as well. These Audi lights make all previous efforts look subpar (Saab also uses similar lights that look equally cool)

I want them. As daytime running lights are becoming increasing common (maybe required), I think it is great that Audi is using regulations to make their cars look even better. Unfortunately, something this cool is bound to be copied before I finish writing this blog. Remember how fender vents looked cool on the Range Rover back in 2003? Now we need them just about everywhere. Fortunately LED lights actually do serve some purpose opposed to non-functioning vents.

To Panamera and Beyond..

The recent stratification of the Porsche range into new territory has been controversial. This diversification started with the Cayenne and now includes a new four door sedan/hatchback/crossover(oops), the Panamera. While these latest additions have been engineering feats, stylistically they are about as appeal as genital warts. I recently went through the historical Porsche range, and believe I have found the root and potential solution to the unresolved aesthetic crisis currently afflicting these new striations in the Porsche range; The lack of a front engine design principal.

As Jeremy Clarkson attests, Porsche are the employees the laziest designers in the business. (Other companies have designers that just don't have the right eye) Looking at the 911, it has remained essentially the same since its initial inception in 1963. Even when fresh, this new model borrowed heavily from the 356. The Boxster also draws from the 356 and the Cayman barely deserves to be called anything other than the Boxster Couple. All of these models, have engines behind the driver. (I don't want to argue about the mid verse rear engine/Boxster verse 911 debate because it isn't relevant here). These designs do not call for the standard front engine archetype with a grill and higher hood but rather a low aerodynamic schnoz. 

I do remember the other front engine offerings of the 928/968 etc but these were still low slung sports cars that could "borrow" the predominant design language from the existing models.  I would argue that the 928 is as unresolved as the Panamera or Cayenne, having a rump only a mother could love.  I don't even want to get started on the rear of the Panamera.

Where does this leave these new front engine Porsches? Look at the Cayenne, across the model range, every iteration have a different front grill/intake/bumper assembly much like you see on the 911 range. Do you see BMW changing the shape of their trademark kidney grills between the 328i and 335i? They rely on a design heritage for the model and then tweak other aspects. However, while 911 has a distinct silhouette that can be easily recognized, Porsche has never created a Front Engine Design language. (Maybe because they're lazy) The differences in the bumper correspond to the increasing performance across the range. I think that on a Front Engine vehicle, Porsche needs to develop a standardized grill/bumper design language that can be applied to all models. They can still change aspects to indicator performance. The Lamborghini Estoque concept suffers from a similar problem, yet the angular audacious Lamborghini language seems to adapt better overall. Aston Martin doesn't suffer from this problem because their design language is based on front engine designs. 
Porsche is going to struggle with styling until they are able to successfully develop a coherent language for their front engine vehicles. They should look to signature elements in Porsche's history. I would start with the ovaloid grill the the engine cover for the 911, round headlamps, and the intakes from the turbo.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Acura! Are you guys crazy?

One time my brother and I decided to have a couple friends over to our house. While I had gone to bed, out little gathering, without gaining any new guests, had morphed our house into a dance club. I think everyone was having a great time but the music was too loud and carrying over to the neighbors. The racket only stopped when a friend came in uninvited and screamed, "Are you guys crazy."

Acura has lost its way and is desperately in need of the same savior we had that one night. The directors of product development must have developed amnesia (or suffer from a lack of creativity) because with news of v6 power for the TSX, their range has more overlap than a health car provider. Do the product planners really see a niche for a v6 TSX, when Acura already has their work cut out marketing the new cheese-grater TL. What Acura needs is someone to interrupt the party by screaming; Are you crazy? As we did, Acura will realize they most certainly are.

There is only room for so many similarly equipped front wheel drive cars in a model range. The RL was initially well received, yet has now been usurped by the imposing new TL. This v6 TSX will undoubtably serve as the cast cow, taking buyers from the base TL. This also begs another question, will the 280 estimated horsepower of this new engine be coupled will available AWD, further diminish the need to purchase a TL? I am willing to be so. When you only have three sedans, that all are nearly indistinguishable from on another in features, options, and style, no idiot is going to walk into the showroom and pick the most expensive on to take home. Its like saying here are three coffee machines, they all do the same thing, all are made by the same company, only that one of the left costs half as much as the one on the right. You don't even have to shop around to find a bargain at an Acura dealer now, because the product planners have already done that for you.

The current Acura slogan is "Advance." The million dollar question is where are they advancing? Without RWD, Acura can never be uttered in the same sentence as Lexus, Infiniti or BMW. (Even Cadillac) Right now, it appears the only company Acura appears to be advancing towards is Lincoln. Could Acura be becoming the Lincoln of Japanese automakers? I think so. Look at the similarities between their respective model ranges and their entire corporations. Lincoln has evolved into a Ford trim badge (and with the new Taurus adopting the Kinetic language I wonder if this badge even had any merit). The same much can be said for Acura if you ignore SH-AWD, all the models are based off of FWD platforms with roots in economy cars. Granted Hondas may have a better start to life than Lincolns.  The MDX is a Pilot with a serving plate for a grill and one less seat. The TSX is a Honda Accord (transplanted from Europe), and the TL and RL are both gussied up Accords. With news of the cancellation of the NSX replacement and the RWD RL, it appears that this advance is not going anywhere.