Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fiat and Chrysler: Road to redeption?

Fiat and Chrysler have just announced a strategic alliance. While some critics speculate that alliance is going to be about as successful as the TC by Maserati. I think this could be a perfect match, and any plan that may help bring Alfa and Fiat back more quickly is great and my book.

Let's remember that a couple years ago, Fiat was in a position that some might consider is as dire as Chrysler's. Fiat's sales were declining, production was below capacity, and the products lacked focus and imagination. With money gained from a breakage from GM, Fiat was able to turn around in record time. This sounds very similar to the current crisis at Chrysler. Creating a sequel to their previous success will be difficult, but Fiat does stand a chance to turn Chrysler around.

Looking at this more closely, the pieces of this puzzle appear as though they might fit together. Chrysler is exactly what Fiat needs in the United States in order to ensure a successful resurgence. Currently, Chrysler has an abundance of dealers looking for new products, Fiat and Alfa products fill two niches currently untapped by Chrysler. The entry level cars currently sold by Chrysler are crap. (There is not need to sugarcoat this unfortunate truth). Additionally, since the departure of Mercedes and the DaimlerChrysler breakup, the Chrysler corporation has lacked a premium brand. Alfa could fill the premium void left by Chrysler, and Fiat could provide economical city cars for the United States in addition to platforms for Chysler economy and midsize cars. Fiat could share distribution channels with Chrysler thus minimized the costs associated with creating a dealer network in the United States.

When you start thinking about the potential new models that could be created out of this synergy, it gets even more exciting. The Fiat Panda would serve as the perfect replacement for what the uninspired and undesired Jeep Patriot and Compass were supposed to be. The Chysler LX platform could provide the basic for a new RWD flagship Afla, with the potential for Awd to boot. The PT Crusier could find a replacement with the rebadged Bravo. The opportunities seen endless.

We need to embrace this allegiance and hope for the best or at least hope that in the near future, the Chrysler connection will allow for the reintroduction of affordable Italian cars in the United States.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cars I want in the United States... NOW!

We all know that in the United States we are not graced by some models or manufacturers. We can be happy we don't get some of them, such as the Perodua Kelisa, or anything from China (except for maybe the Ssangyong Chairman). The following list is several cars that I would seriously consider purchasing if they were sold in the United State. The list consist of several Fords, making me wonder why we have to put up with the crap they try to pass off here. Others are European models where the manufactures do not currently sell here. Finally, we also have the one Japanese model to be politically correct.

Alfa Romeo 159: I first saw this car studying abroad in Australia. With an Italian tuned 3.2 v6, awd, and stunning looks, the 159 makes all other entry-level luxury cars (except for maybe an A4) look dull and uninspired. I keep my fingers crossed for Alfa's return to the United States in hopes that I could purchase this car. We need alternatives to the stoic German offerings when it comes to entry level luxury cars in the United States.

Ford Kuga: Like all Ford's we don't get in the United States, the Kuga looks awesome. I have always though the European "Kinetic" design language looks on par with Jaguars, maybe even Aston Martin. Ok, thats a stretch, but they still look great. With 2 or 4 wheel drive, a diesel engine capable of over 4o mpg, and a manual transmission the Kuga would be a perfect competitor to the comparatively dull Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

Honda Odyssey: I'm not talking about the family version we get here but rather the Japanese version. This car is a minivan/wagon that looks cool. It a better adaptation of the of the Ford Freestyle. Its got a three rows of seats, a four cylinder engine, and urban good looks. I had to include one Asian offering that I thought we should also have the opportunity to purchase.

Fiat 500: With Smart Cars and Minis basically running off dealer lots, bringing the Fiat 500 to the United States with yet another sensible urban car. While the retro looks tag-team on the success of the Mini, the 500 eschews the Mini's overwrought interior with simple yet elegant controls. With a wide variety of engines available, the 500 would appeal to many consumers looking for a fuel efficient city car.

Fiat Panda: Like the Fiat 500 with which the Panda shares its platform, the Panda is a well sized city car. The Panda combines hatchback convenience with cute-ute versatility. Fiat claims that the Panda can hang with true off roaders (like a Range Rover). I appreciate its size, functionality, and features. The Panda proves that economy cars don't have to skimp.

Ford Mondeo: Most American got there first glimpse of the new Mondeo when it had a cameo as James Bond's new whip in Casino Royale. Like other European Fords, the Mondeo features "Kinetic" design language. Having sat in a Mondeo, I feel as though the quality of the interior is on par with modern Volkswagens. It's a shame Ford continues to push its "bold-American" design here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why bother with Buick?

As redesigned LaCrosse broke news earlier this week, it seems Detroit and the automotive press are heralding a Buick renaissance. This is not the cultural spark that should be nursed into fire. I want to see GM make a Britney Spears worthy comeback, but I also don't want to see further overlap across the lineup. Have you taken a look at what Buick has to offer recently? Heading over to their website (something I have never done), I discovered their are only three models in the Buick line-up; the LaCrosse, Lucerne (or is it LuCerne), and the Enclave. Thats three, lame duck Saab claims to have seven models! Yet, GM has handed out the lifeboat pass to Buick? Let look at the merits of the new LaCrosse.

Sure the LaCrosse looks great, has a nice interior, and a good feature set. I'm excited GM is following the trend of offering all-wheel-drive as an option to buyers. We are also finally seeing the end of the prehistoric OHV engine that essentially powered the industrial revolution and has embraced the not almost ubiquitous 3.6 liter direct injection engine. The LaCrosse will be good, and thats exactly GM's problem.

Take a look at every new model introduced by GM, it's like seeing a culinary student grow into an exquisite gourmet chef. Each new model shamefully out classes its previous incarnation. Remember the Saturn Aura, it was eclipsed by the new Malibu. RWD aside, I would say that the interior of the new LaCrosse also dethrowns the CTS. GM cars are improving, but the designers are not conscious of the placement of the models within their portfolio. The rest of Buick's lineup, all two other models, are now hopelessly outclassed. The Enclave is a first year architecture student's exercise in organic forms and the Lucerne is now the Acura RL of the Buick line-up.

What should GM do? Take a look a Lexus (or possibly Nissan/Infiniti). Toyota has been ripping off snowbirds and real estate agents for years selling them ES350s (Camrys with some chrome.) Why can't GM do the same? The new LaCrosse could be placed in the Cadillac Lineup as the perfect ES350 competitor (I like the name ELS), likely sold at a higher profit margin. Or following the Nissan model placed at the top of the chevy lineup (Have we just uncovered a Impala replacement, which could be named the Chevy Buick). This leaves Buick with the Lucerne (which also sees duty as the Cadillac DTS) and the Enclave. Rather than over-sharing or perscribing, the Lamdba platform, we can make the Enclave a Cadillac, and then send let Buick have the same fate is its customers.

GM needs to cut brands. If Hummer, Saab, Saturn, Pontiac, and GMC are all on the chopping block, why throw Buick a lifeline. Make GM a two car brand and reduce all redundancy, then we won't have to worry about our brand new, euro-style, Saturn Vue being eclipsed by the new Equinox.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Another Perspective

As a way to break into the field of automotive journalism, I decided to start a blog sharing my thoughts and opinions on the automotive industry. We'll provide opinions, reviews, the occasional rant, maybe even advice. Lets see how this goes.