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.

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.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cars & Coffee: Symbolic Edition

Here are some visuals from this weekend's Cars & Coffee event from Symbolic. Symbolic is a Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce dealership in La Jolla. Symbolic brought over a few examples from each of their brands and together with cars from private owners there was a good selection of cool cars to check out. The highlight of the show was definitely the Bugatti EB110 in its signature light blue paint. It's not very often that you get to see a Bugatti, even more so one that's not a Veyron. The event was also the first time that I saw a Rolls-Royce Wraith in real life and I was pleasantly surprised about its design after absolutely hating its roofline in all the photos I have seen. Likewise I liked the design of the brand new M3, the M specific design elements looked pretty good in black. You can tell that it has the M treatment but they are not overdone.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Trend That (Thankfully) Never Fully Materialized

Clear headlights are one of those things that make you scratch your head and wonder what took so long. Immediately a huge style improvement even with standard halogen bulbs, the advent of projector and now LED lighting elements have given us headlights as critical styling elements. While clear lenses have done wonders upfront they have made only a minor impact at the back. However there was a time when clear and chrome tail lights were all the rage and it seemed like they would spread to every make and model following the like of the Lexus RX, Nissan Altima and the Toyota Prius. Thankfully, the shock value soon wore off and only a few other manufacturers joined the clear and chrome party and the latest iterations of the RX, Altima and the Prius have toned down their designs and we are all better off.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Audi Wins Wild 2014 24 Hour of Le Mans

The #2 Audi R18 of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer, and Benoit Treluyer are your winners of the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 82nd running of the famous endurance race. This win gives Audi its 13th overall 24 Hours of Le Mans victory and fifth in a row. The #1 Audi placed second with the # 8 Toyota TS 040 rounding out the podium of a wild race that saw each of the three manufacturers take the lead at one point or another. Brand new rules for 2014 saw Porsche enter as the third major manufacturer, each one with their own take on a hybrid powertrain. None of the top teams were able to run a clean race with multiple mechanical and electrical gremlins along the way. In the end, Audi once again proved to be the best combination of speed, reliability, fixability and teamwork to add another trophy to its collection.

Toyota started with the lead and pulled ahead clearly showing more pace than the Audi and Porsche. Only a few hours into the race heavy rain created chaos on the track with a multi car accident forcing the #3 Audi out of the race and causing heavy damage to the #8 Toyota. Eventually the track dried and saw the #7 Toyota build up a nearly 3 minute lead over the #1 Audi thanks to quick running and a couple of safety cars. The #7 would go on to dominate the race until the 15 hour mark when it stopped on track during the nighttime darkness giving the lead to the rebuilt from scratch #1 Audi and a potential 10th career win at Le Mans for Tom Kristensen. However, that would not be the case as Tom found his #1 Audi stopped on track a few hours later. The #1 crawled back into the pits in need of a turbocharger change much like the #2 Audi needed a little earlier. This latest mechanical breakdown gave the #20 Porsche 919 the lead of almost two minutes with four hours to go but Andre Lotterer was flying taking huge chunks of time from the Porsche lead. A little more than an hour later had Andre taking over the lead as the #20 was showing a serious lack of pace even compared to its sister car. The slow laps continued for Mark Webber until the #20 slowed to a crawl on the track and crawled into the pits giving the rebuilt #8 Toyota the final podium spot. Only a few moments later the #14 Porsche came into the pits for a lengthy stop as well. The Zytek Nissan Jota Sport team took the win in P2 while the AF Course Ferrari 458 Italia took the GT Pro honors. Aston Martin took the win in the GT AM category.