Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Five Most Influential Cars of the Past Decade

A lot can happen in a decade in the world of sports, politics, art, technology and life in general. The same can also be said about the auto industry. Aside from the Volvo XC90, every surviving model has gone through at least one complete generation and some are on their third. With that in mind let's take a look at five models over the past decade that have had the greatest impact on the industry through their design or technology. The list is in chronological order to avoid picking favorites.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hardest Working Powertrains In the Business

As with sports teams, smartphones and cars in general, not all horsepower ratings are created equal. The more instrumented tests you see the clearer it becomes that 200 horsepower from one brand does not necessarily result in the same performance as 200 horsepower from another. There are certainly some serious underachievers in the industry but for now let's keep it positive and take a look at three of the hardest working powertrain combinations (in alphabetical order) that make a mockery of physics and their competition.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Predicting Tesla Model X Sales

With the recent news that Americans purchased more crossovers than sedans for the first in history it's not hard to fathom why the luxury crossover is all the rage these days. The joke is that Audi is planning to put a Q in front of every number, BMW an X and Mercedes is already almost there. Nevertheless the reality is that for the luxury brands formal sedans still outsell their crossover counterparts by a significant margin, especially at BMW and Mercedes. The gap is smaller at Audi and Lexus was perhaps ahead of the trend altogether. Still everyone sees opportunity there for the taking with crossovers and a new entrant altogether is coming next year with Tesla. The biggest question is if the Model X will become the brand's best seller for the foreseeable future. Overall I would lean towards a yes as the Model S is certainly more a long the lines of a Mercedes CLS, BMW 6 Series and an Audi A7 and those models come up short sales wise to their crossover counterparts. Yet, the Model S will still be the "sedan" option it's not reasonable to expect the model X to outsell the S by margin that the Q7 does the A7 for example. As a further confirmation the Cayenne outsells the Panamera at Porsche which until recently had one option in each category much like Tesla will.

Based on the best estimates the Model S has done around 1,350 units a month this year and considering the newness factor of the Model X when it comes out compared to a well known commodity in the Model S, it's not unreasonable to predict at least 2,000 units a month for the Model X in its first year along with a slight drop off for the model S.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Double Edged Sword of Profit

Raking in the profit for an automaker seems like the ultimate accomplishment, and when you sell millions of cars around the world the final tally can reach satisfying levels. For example, the Volkswagen Group recorded an after tax profit of 11.7 billion, Euros, last year. However, even such healthy profits are often times not enough in the eyes of investors as Volkswagen has recently targeted 5 billion Euro a year of cuts that it sees necessary to shore up its margins. Certainly some of the cuts will come from the usual places that make the most sense, smarter purchasing, cutting factory costs and even eliminating some of the least profitable models. Yet, cuts will be done to R&D as well as VW has seen its R&D spending surge by 80% in the last four years. In general R&D spending should lead to better products and the latest Passat is a good example, a family sedan (at least in Europe) will come with up to 240 horsepower from a 2.0 TDI diesel or 280 from a 2.0 gas turbo. Numbers never before seen from diesels and only on high strung gas turbos are now mainstream. Certainly these engine developments don't come cheaply and future improvements could be stymied with the cuts.

The cost-benefit analysis of additional R&D certainly creates some interesting questions about what a car company could do if given the chance to focus on its product and let the finances sort themselves out. Say if  your stock was closer related to your product, its public perception and future potential of the brand. In other words the life of start up gone public. This model has certainly worked well for years in Silicon Valley in tech and web. Would cars built with this mindset tend to maximize their performance or broaden their design? All the evidence so far points to a yes as the answer in the auto industry as well. How much, if any, of an effect will this have on the rest of the industry is something interesting to track over the next few years.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Aston Martin Lagonda

As predicted earlier in testing, the new Aston Martin Lagonda sedan had the potential to be the best looking vehicle in the already gorgeous Aston Martin lineup. It looked ready to break up the stagnant Aston Martin design with something new and unique. Potential is a great thing but means nothing if it isn't translated into reality. In this case the Lagonda is not only as good as Aston Martin gets but is likely to take the tittle of most beautiful sedan in the world. The profile is sleek like other Astons but is punctuated by a strong C pillar that gives the sedan an elegant and powerful look. The presence is not unlike that of a Bentley Mulsanne or a Rolls-Royce Ghost but the Aston trades the formal look of both for one much sportier. Aston Martin has not released any other specifications about the new Lagonda but the rumors turned out to be true that exclusivity will be paramount, the Lagonda will only be available in the Middle East. Regardless, it's game, set, match, championship.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Evolution of Door Handles

Everybody knows about the evolution of dance, but the less well-known evolution of the door handle is nearly as impressive. In the ever more competitive automotive industry design is playing a bigger and bigger role even in previously mundane segments. Likewise, it's not enough anymore to simply to have a great profile to have a striking design, individual design elements such as head lights, tail lights, grilles and even door handles play a role. Even as one of the most functional and simple parts on a car, it is surprising to see the evolution of door handle design over the past couple decades and the way the industry quickly switches from one design to another as it gains popularity. Once just an afterthought, handles have become quite stylish in the last couple of years.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Validation Through Performance

When Porsche first introduced the idea of the 918 Spyder I struggled to get properly excited for what would be Porsche's pinnacle achievement. It looked too simplistic and almost ordinary for a supercar to me, not much more than an overgrown Boxster. The impressive technical specs failed to impress, it seemed to be more of an exercise in what can be done rather than what might be necessary. Then I saw one on the street well before it went on sale and it was immediately clear that it is a proper super car and then some. Yet, I still wasn't sold on the 918. The EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/24 were released and I applauded the Porsche engineering team for the numbers. The first instrumented tests followed and only then was I truly impressed. I finally saw the 918 as a performance machine that eclipses the Veyron and the entire package became that much more appealing. In photos, the 918 now looks clean and purposeful to me and something worthy of a reblog alongside Lamborghinis and Ferraris. The 918 now has my respect and adoration much like a phenomenal athlete that you liked to watch play before but now hold in a much higher regard once they have won a championship. The McLaren P1 is much the same way. At first I disregarded it as much too similar looking to the MP4 12C, but now that I know of its performance it is a true F1 successor in my book that McLaren meant it to be. Winning cures all for athletes and the numbers are what cements super cars as such.