Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Sales Recap: Chrysler Coming Back

Overall auto industry sales were up once again in November, this time to the tune of 14% compared to a year ago. At the top was Chrysler benefiting greatly with the Chrysler 200 outselling its predecessor the Sebring by a significant margin, 456% to be exact. All in all Chrysler managed a 92% increase in sales. Chrysler group's Jeep and Dodge brands did well as well with improvements of 50 and 43% respectively. Coming in first in the luxury category with a surprise 47.2% improvement was Mercedes, the newly updated C class sedan and coupe along with the new M class propelled the brand to the number one spot in luxury sales for the month. Sales of the new Passat helped Volkswagen post an over 40% sales increase as well. Like in most other months of this year Honda along with its luxury division Acura saw its sales fall once again. On the other hand Toyota and Lexus were able to turn the tide and post a sales increase for the month.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Audi Looks To Fix Styling Faults

It’s hard for anyone to admit to their own faults. It is especially hard if you are one of the biggest luxury automobile manufacturers on the planet constantly setting styling trends and breaking sales records monthly. Nevertheless, much like a championship team looking to get even better in the off season Audi has acknowledged some of the criticism regarding its styling.While Audi is certainly not the only brand that uses styling to create a strong brand identity it agrees that some might view its models as same sausage-different length. In the future Audi plans to create more separation between one A model and the next. The brand also promises an even more significant differentiation between its sedans, SUVs and sports cars.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why People Say and Do Two Completely Different Things and How This Impacts CAFE

In a recent Consumer Reports survey, a whopping 93% of responders said that they would like to see higher fuel economy standards. In fact, 80% support CAFE's plan for a 55 mile per gallon average across all vehicles by 2025. In order to achieve CAFE's goals of 55mpg, 56% of those surveyed say they will  consider a hybrid or an electric vehicle for their next purchase. Even better, 80% said that they would pay more for a fuel efficient vehicle that would save them money in the long run. Such results paint a very rosy picture for the automotive industry as it appears that the public is certainly willing to adopt and pay for new technology to raise their MPG. Unfortunately, in reality the picture is completely different. According to the latest data available only a scant percentage of car buyers actually do buy hybrids, in fact hybrid market share of all cars sold in October was less than 2%. This means that only 4% of those considering a hybrid actually buy a one and everyone else was just pretending. Even accounting for the fact that not every model is available as a hybrid it is hard to explain the enormous discrepancy. Besides, wouldn't someone wanting to buy a hybrid make the sacrifice and buy a Camry hybrid versus an Accord? The fact of the matter is that talk is cheap and when real money comes into play people are reluctant to pony up the dough  to get a hybrid. While buying a hybrid or an electric versus a conventional internal combustion requires actual monetary and vehicular commitments, answering a phone poll does not.  In regards to CAFE, politicians and everyone else must remain skeptical regarding surveys of people's hopes about fuel economy and should instead take a good look at reality.

56% of people say they are considering hybrids for their next purchase

Yet Ford sold over 2.5 times more F series in October than all hybrids combined.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October 2011 Sales Recap

Featuring best monthly sales since February, October was another month showing that the auto industry in America is in recovery mode. Leading the pack was Volkswagen with a tremendous 39.6% increase in sales thanks to its new American built Passat. October Passat sales were the best of any month since 2005. Posting a surprise improvement was Mazda with a 37.4% improvement over last October. Doing well again was Chrysler with a 28% improvement while Dodge had a 23.2% improvement, just ahead of Hyundai at 22.8%. Leading the luxury category was Bentley with a 35% improvement, albeit that's only 42 extra sales. Aside from Bentley Audi and Mercedes-Benz had great months as well with improvement of 25.8 and 23.4% respectively. On the other side of the spectrum Honda and Toyota and their respective luxury divisions continued their sale slides while all GM brands save Chevrolet saw their sales drop compared to a year ago.

October marked only the second time in its existence that the Chevy Volt (1,108) outsold the Nissan LEAF (849).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011's Most Improved Awards

As seen in previous posts Kill It With Fire likes to reward improvement, so with that in mind lets reward some of 2011's most improved vehicles with some virtual awards. Keep in mid that this is not a list of 2011's best cars but rather a list of a few cars that have made great strides compared to their previous generation.

Most Improved Sales: Volkswagen Jetta

Even though the Jetta has been Volkswagen's best selling model for many years running its overall sales were just a fraction compared to its better known mainstream competition. In fact the Jetta often struggled to find true competition as it was too upscale to compete with most compacts but wasn't much of a premium product either (see Buick Verano). For the sixth generation Volkswagen created downmarket variants of the Jetta and priced them closer inline with the competition. The result has been a sales improvement of 70% on the year. While many have chided VW for taking a "step back" with the Jetta, the public has certainly rewarded VW. The cheaper base price has helped sales, the Jetta's new crisper styling has likely helped as well.

New Jetta sales are up 70%

Most Improved Design: Hyundai Accent (5 door)

Hyundai has been making some noise over the past few years with greatly improved products with better engines, interiors and styling. The Sonata and the Elantra are perhaps the most well known examples of Hyundai's new styling direction. However while these two models have certainly elevated Huyndai's design game, the new five door Accent is actually Hyundai's best design to to date. The hatchback Accent features excellent styling, rarely seen in the compact category, without the over-styled elements seen in the Sonata and Elantra. The new Accent simply blows the old one out of the water style-wise, even the not as good looking sedan is miles ahead of the previous generation.

The Accent went from this shapeless figure

To this stylish design

Most Improved Technology Update: Chrysler 300 8 speed Automatic

The second generation Chrysler 300 debuted to generally good automotive praise as it represented a good update on its groundbreaking design, new more powerful V6 and a significantly more luxurious interior. Perhaps the biggest complaint was the 5 speed automatic gearbox that was holding back the 300 when compared to competition with their 6 speed gearboxes. Enter the new 8 speed automatic that adds 4 additional mpg on the highway (31) and improves acceleration as well that makes the 300 a significantly more competitive product.

New 8 speed auto with new shifter

Saturday, October 15, 2011

DOHC vs. Pushrod vs. Diesel: Which Engine Technology Has Improved the Most

In a world with multiple competing engine technologies there are likewise multiple different metrics to statistically judge which engine technology is the best. Horsepower per liter, torque per liter, horsepower per pound of engine weight, brake specific fuel consumption, and other metrics are often brought up in discussions about various engine technologies. For now we will disregard most of those metrics and instead look to see which engine technologies have improved the most over the past decade by comparing the hp/liter and torque/liter of three different generations of DOHC, pushrod and diesel engines. Looking over the data* it is easy to see that turbo diesels have made the most significant leap in horsepower and torque output since the 2000 model year. While pushrod and DOHC engines improved engine output by approximately 10% with every new generation, diesel engines on average improved their horsepower output by 16% with very new generation. The discrepancy in torque improvement turned out to be even more visible as the gasoline engine only improved their torque output by 4-5% while diesels averaged 17%. While the numbers certainly stand out, the reasoning behind them makes sense as non high RPM naturally aspirated gasoline engines are experiencing diminishing returns on improvement as it becomes harder and harder for manufacturers to extract additional horsepower from the same displacement. On the other hand it wasn't long ago that passenger diesels delivered about half the horsepower per liter compared to gasoline competition. With new diesel technology this is no longer the case with several diesel engines delivering the same horsepower per liter (and significantly more torque) as their gasoline competition. A good example is the Audi A6 that features a 310 horsepower gasoline supercharged 3 liter V6 and a 313 horsepower 3 liter twin-turbo diesel V6.

*DOHC category (Audi V8, BMW I6, Porsche H6), pushrod category (Chevy 5.3 smallblock, Corvette smallblock, Chrysler pushrod engines) Diesel category (I4, V6 and V8 TDI engines)

Monday, October 3, 2011

September 2011 Sales Recap

Despite an uncertain economic outlook, September 2011 auto sales were about 10% better than a year ago and September turned out to be one of the best month of the year so far. As in previous months roughly two-thirds of the brands posted better sales than a year ago while Toyota and Honda continued to see their sales slide. Leading the pack was Maserati with an exceptional 46.3 percent improvement. In the mainstream category Chrysler and its truck division Ram posted improvements of 42 and 36% respectively. Powered by the debut of its much talked about American built Passat, Volkswagen was able to increase its sales by over 35% as well. Backing up its promise of great dealership availability Nissan posted a 28.2% sales increase, on the other hand its luxury division Infiniti only managed to better last year's results by 2.1%. Doing well in the luxury category Audi and BMW both posted 19.% sales improvements while Lexus continued to struggle with an 11.5% drop. Take a look at the chart below to see how all of your favorite automakers did in September.

As in previous months Nissan's LEAF outsold Chevy's Volt 1,031 to 723. While GM narrowed the gap in September the Nissan still enjoys a commendable 7,199 to 3,895 yearly sales lead which is easily confirmed on the street with the LEAF being a more common occurrence on the road than the Volt.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Old Concept Cars That Still Look Great Today

A life of a concept car has only two distinct possibilities, it could spawn a production version that resembles it or it can go the company museum and never make it to the dealership. Here is a pair of concept cars from the past that generated a lot of buzz back in their day for their excellent styling. While a lot of concept cars look tremendous when they debut these two famous concept cars still look great enough to make a 2013 model year production version for the streets.

Ford GT90

Unveiled at the 1995 North American International Auto Show the GT90 was the 1990s update on the classic Le Mans winning Ford GT40 of the late 1960s. Backing up its extreme supercar styling was a 720 horsepower twin-turbo V12. While the GT90 never made it into production its "Edge" styling with sharp triangular shapes influenced Ford design in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the last pre-retro Mustang and first generation Focus are good examples. It wasn't until 2005 and the Ford GT that a true Ford supercar was born. While the closest anyone got to driving the GT90 was Need For Speed II, its design still looks great today and with few modern touches and updates would make an excellent halo car for Ford even today.

Click on the photo to see the GT90 from all angles.

Volkswagen Microbus

Once again the North American International Auto Show was the place for the Microbus concept debut in 2001. Featuring styling twenty times more adventurous and exciting than any minivan before it was immediately a crowd favorite. Unlike Ford with the GT90, Volkswagen was actually considering making the retro inspired Microbus into a production version. Unfortunately Volkswagen scrapped the project in 2005 and instead started selling a rebadged Dodge Caravan as the Routan in the states. Fortunately it looks like Volkswagen might be regretting its decision as it showed a 7/10th version of an updated Microbus concept called the Bulli in Geneva this year. While the Bulli might make it to production as a Kia Soul size competitor it wouldn't be nearly as cool as a real full size Microbus. With the Routan experiencing only mild sales maybe the Microbus has a chance as a second generation Routan. One can only hope. Click the image below to see more.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Audi Wins 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans

In one of the closest and most competitive 24 Hours of Le Mans in recent history Audi won the 79th edition of the famous twice around the clock French endurance classic by only a mere 13.854 seconds after 355 laps of hard racing. The number 2 Audi R18 TDI driven by Andre Loterrer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer finished only seconds ahead of the number 9 Peugeot 908. Rounding out the podium was the number 8 Peugeot 908 that finished two laps behind. While the race ended with an Audi victory things looked bleak for Audi after two of its three brand new R18s were destroyed in horrific-looking accidents. Fortunately neither Allan McNish nor Mike Rockenfeller were seriously injured in their accidents. Contrary to the past few years when the Audi R15 and R10 were slower than their Peugeot competition the R18 proved to be just a bit quicker than the new 908. In the P2 category the Nissan Zytek of Greaves Motorsports took class honors with 326 laps completed. Corvette Racing number 73 ZR1 won the GTE Pro category ahead of the AF Corse Ferrari 458 and the BMW M3 GT while the number 50 Labre Competition ZR1 took top honors in GTE AM category.

Looking back at the race this one will be remembered for its incredible fight between Audi and Peugeot and the two heavy R18 impacts. With less than an hour of the race completed Audi had lost its most experienced team with 13 combined Le Mans victories. Things would get worse for the team as the defending champions would be out of the race early in the night. The Audi team must be commended for staying together after the hard impacts and persevering against the three Peugeots that were almost willing to trade one of their cars for the remaining Audi. In the end the little extra pace that Audi had over the pace along with the ability to run their drivers and tires for longer at a time allowed Audi to win even with a few extra stops for fuel .

In P2 the Greaves Motorsport team won by a comfortable margin in their Zytek Nissa that appeared to be the powerplant of choice in P2.Of note was the second place finish of the "Playstation Driver" Lucas Ordonez driving for the Singatech team, time to hit the couch and start racing. As always the competition in GT category was exciting if perhaps not as close as before. The #74 Corvette benefited from the first safety car period to get a significant lead on the class only to crash out later. It was the #73 Corvette that was eventually able to hunt down and pass the Af Corse 458 Italia that was suffering mechanical issues. Coming third in class was the #56 BMW M3 GT, BMW must be somewhat dissapointed by not being able to match their qualifying pace. Of note was the lack of a 911 on the podium in perhaps the last Le Mans for the 997. The Labre Competition team took first and second in GT AM. However, the biggest story in the class was the Robertson Racing Ford GT-Doran team of husband and wife Dave and Andrea Robertson (and pro driver David Murry )that won the race on their wedding anniversary. While this is a great story, not everyone feels that amateur drivers belong at such a fiercely competitive race such as Le Mans. Make your own decision on this one.

Le Mans 2011 was one of the best of all time thanks to Audi and Peugeot pushing each other to the limit and then some. Take a look at the final results here and relive the race through our hourly updates here.

The victorious number 2 Audi team of Andre Loterrer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

2011 24 Hours of Le Mans

First Hourly Update
The Audis were slightly quicker on the track than the Peugeots and were able to save some time while refueling from the looks of it as they were running 1-2-3 about 15 seconds ahead of the nearest Peugeot after the first stop. Nearly at the one hour mark the #3 Audi of McNish was involved in a serious accident bringing out the safety car. Retiring early was the #009 Aston. Corvette is first and second leading the GT category after a timely pre safety car pit stop.

Second Update
After over an hour of safety car period to fix the safety barrier we are back to green racing with the number 2 Audi leading four Peugeots and the number 1 Audi in fifth after a nose change. The Oreca Nissan leads P2 while the #74 Corvette leads GT after separating from other GTs because of the multiple safety cars.

Third Update
With four hours and 57 laps complete the number 2 Audi leads the three factory Peugeots. P2 and GTE Pro leaders remain unchanged while the #60 Aston Martin leads in GTE Am.

With five hours gone by, the action on the track has calmed somewhat as the number 7 Peugeot is leading the number 2 Audi by 15 seconds but the two cars are running on different pit strategies.

A quarter of the way through the race the competitors are doing a good job getting through the traffic and battling the dirty race track. Current leaders in the classes are Audi, Oreca, BMW and the Labre Corvette.

Seven Hour Update
The number 2 Audi has been able to increase its lead over the chasing Peugeot to make a pit stop and still come out ahead. Corvette is first and second in GT Pro. The track is getting darker now.

Eight Hour Update
Nearly eight hours into the race the #1 Audi had contact with a GT Ferrari and crashed heavily into a barrier at extremely high speed, Mike Rockenfeller got out of the car on his own.

Nine Hour Update
We should be going to green racing soon after nearly an hour and a half delay, Rocky is said to be ok but is undergoing checks. Just heard a McNish interview and he is also ok after his earlier accident as well.

Ten hour update
After nearly 2.5 hours of safety car period we are back to actual racing with the #2 Audi at the front of the field as the sole Audi remaining. Mike Rockenfeller has called his parents and appears to have escaped his accident with minimal injuries. The emotions for the Audi team and its drivers are hard to imagine.

After the restart Audi leads by over two minutes while Oreca is first in P2 and Corvette leads the AF Corse Ferrari in GT Pro.

One Hour Left to Halfway
Almost halfway done with the race and the #2 Audi continues to lead by around two minutes. The #41 Zytek Nisan has captured the P2 lead while the Corvette team continues to lead the Ferrari in Gt Pro.

12 Hours to Go
Audi continues to lead over Peugeot by almost two minutes while the Zytek Nissan and Corvette lead their classes receptively.

Almost Sunrise
Night time racing continues at Le Mans with all of the teams fighting fatigue and waiting for the sun to rise once again. Audi continues to lead (but it looks like the number #2 is taking things slightly slower now) as the leaders remain the same from the last update.

As the sun has risen over Le Mans, the Peugeot has caught up to Audi and is only 2 seconds behind the leading Audi.

8 Hours Left
With eight hours left to go Peugeot is first and second but the third place Audi is only 35 seconds back after its pit stop. Greaves Motorsport has a two lap lead in P2 while Corvette continues to lead Ferrari in Gt Pro.

With a little over 7 hours left in the race the GT leading Corvette lost control and hit a Porsche and then both hit the wall. Safety car is out once again after another big impact and debris on track. Before the safety cars numerous cars were posting their quickest times of the race thanks to better track conditions.

7 Hours Left
The number 2 Audi is less than a second behind the #9 Peugeot and we have a battle on the track after almost 18 hours of racing, brilliant.

6 Hours Left
Audi has passed for the overall lead and now has a lead of about 15 seconds over the Peugeots.

5 Hours Left
The number 2 Audi leads by about 30 seconds over the 9 Peugeot, the number 7 Peugeot has front end damage and is being fixed in the pits. Looks like it's a two horse race for the overall win. Zytek Nissan leads by two laps in P2 while the Af Corse has a lap lead over the #73 Corvette. The Labre competition Corvette leads in GT AM.

4 Hours Left
Audi leads by almost a minute but the Peugeot of Anthony Davidson is trying to slow it down and not get lapped again. The Treluyer piloted Audi is on its fifth sting. Greaves Motorsports continues to lead in P2 by four laps now. Top two GT Pro cars are now on the same lap making things more interesting in GT. There are reports of small showers on some parts of the race track with a chance for rain in the near future. Just another element to make the race even more challenging for the drivers.

3 Hours to Go
Andre Lotterer leads in his number 2 Audi by over a minute as he continues to be blocked by the other Peugeots as he laps them. Corvette has taken over the lead in GTE Pro. It appears the rain never picked up and has not forced any team to use anything but slicks yet.

2 Hours To Go
The rain has picked up now with some teams running intermediates. The Audi has a minute lead at the front while Corvette has caught up and passed the Ferrari for GT lead. The #16 Pescarolo running fifth has crashed and is out of the race. Tire choice will be become interesting very soon, very much like in the Audi documentary, "Truth in 24"

1.5 Hours Left
With and hour and thirty minutes left Audi continues to lead by over a minute but is continually blocked by every lapped Peugeot it approaches. The race track is drying out and lap times are now falling.

55 Minutes Left
The race leading Audi has pitted for fuel but will need a splash and go to finish up the race. It looks like the #9 Peugeot will need a pit stop as well. We are in for an extremely close finish to the 2011 edition of 24 Hours of Le Mans.

25 Minutes Left
Audi has a 10 second lead after both contenders are fueled and ready to go. It might be starting to rain harder now.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Audi Sweeps Front Row in Le Mans Qualifying

For a race in which pole position means practically nothing Thursday's qualifying sessions brought a great show for the fans. The #2 Audi R18 piloted by Benoît Tréluyer set the quickest time of 3 minutes and 25.738 seconds around the 8.469 mile long Circuit de la Sarthe. The #1 Audi of Romain Dumas was only 0.061 of a second behind to secure an all Audi front row. The quickest Peugeot was the #9 which was just 0.272 of a second behind pole position. In fact in one of the closest qualifying rounds in recent years the top six competitors were all separated by under six tenth of a second. This year the brand new Audi R18 and the equally brand new Peugeot 908 are running as close together as the two rivals ever have setting up an extremely competitive race tomorrow. With the ACO mandated slow refilling for the diesel cars fuel economy will likely play an important role along with running a clean race with no driver errors or mechanical problems.

First in the P2 category was the #26 Signatech Nissan with a time of 3 minutes and 41.458 seconds while the #55 BMW Motorsport M3 GT took the top spot in the GT Pro category with a time of 3:57.592. The #61 AF Corse F430 was the quickest in the GTE AM category with a time of 4:01.282.

The 79th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans starts at 3 PM local time or 9 AM Easter/6 AM Pacific. Stay tuned here for an hourly blog updates. Catch the race on Speed and on the Speed online stream here. Listen to the entire race with Radio Le Mans and stay up to date with live timing and scoring. Follow the race for the lead even closer with special access directly from Audi
and Peugeot.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May 2011 Sales Recap

May 2011 delivered a mixed bag for the auto industry with some brands continuing their exceptional sales pace while others experienced heavy loses. Overall combined sales by all automakers fell nearly four percent compared to last year because of limited supply, higher gas prices and lower discounts. May was the first time this year the auto industry could not improve upon last year's sales. Japanese manufacturers carried the burden with the most significant supply limitation and thus experienced the largest drops in May with Toyota seeing a 32% drop and Lexus falling nearly 45%. Honda and Acura also saw sales drops of over 20% while Subaru and Infiniti posted double digit declines as well. Continued higher gas prices saw domestic manufacturers post modest gains for the month, powered by exceptional Jeep sales the Chrysler group did outsell Toyota to regain the number three sales rank in the country. Continuing their surging sales Hyundai and Kia combined to outsell Honda and Nissan thanks to improvements of 20.7 and 53.4% over the past year. Doing well also were luxury automakers with Bentley, Porsche, Jaguar, BMW and Audi experiencing significant sales improvements. Take a look at the chart below to see how all of the brands did in May.

A couple of days ago a Nissan Leaf commercial mocking the Chevy Volt debuted on You Tube, while the commercial probably had little effect on Leaf sales just yet (set to run on TV starting June 10) the Leaf did fine on its own posting its best sales yet of 1,142. While the Leaf is still selling relatively low numbers overall (lower than the Porsche Cayenne) it nearly doubled its April sales while Chevy sold only 481 Volts, slightly fewer than in April. All in all Chevy has sold 2,184 Volts in 2011 to Nissan's 2,167 Leafs.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Audi Engine Downsizing and New EPA Fuel Economy Ratings

Engine downsizing has been an industry buzzword for the past few years. The idea behind downsizing is to replace a large naturally aspirated engine with a smaller turbocharged or supercharged engine. At first this concept only applied to mainstream cars but has recently appeared on luxury brands as well. Even Mercedes AMG models are replacing their 6.3 liter naturally aspirated V8s with slightly smaller 5.5 liter twin-turbo V8s. Audi has gone one further with its all new 2012 A6 as the previous V6 model has been replaced with a four cylinder turbo and the V8 option has been dropped in favor of a supercharged V6. These downsized engines have delivered for Audi. Paired with a CVT transmission the A6 2.0T delivers 25 city and 33 highway for 28 combined, numbers rarely seen in the luxury category. The quattro 3.0 TFSI does quite well as well rated at 19 city and 28 highway.

Here are some other notable new ratings. City/highway (combined)

Aston Martin Rapide: 13/19 (15)
Audi A8 W12: 14/21 (16)
Lamborghini Aventador Coupe: 11/17 (13)
Lamborghini Avenador Roadster: 11/17 (13)
Lexus LFA: 11/16 (12)
Volkswagen Passat TDI: 31/43 (35)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Endurance Racing Explained

Here is a nice video of Allan McNish explaining some of the physical and teamwork aspects of racing that are hard to understand when watching racing on TV. This certainly sheds some light on the effort reqired to compete at the top levels of motorsport such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Take a look below.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Volkswagen Passat Analysis

There has been a lot of online chatter about the new "Americanized" Volkswagen Passat over the past few days. Built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the designed for America (also sold in China) Passat is larger in all dimensions than the latest European Passat which itself is just a facelifted version of the 2006-2010 Passat. As with the latest Jetta that also underwent an "Americanization" process, Volkswagen and car fans in general are disappointed with VW abandoning the standard Passat and creating a new version for America. Feeling betrayed Volkswagen owners and fans in particular are the most vocal and feel that the new Passat lacks the features (styling, interior, engine, etc) that make Volkswagens German. While the omission of the 2.0T engine could be described as a step back the media consensus is that the Passat still has a nice interior and sharp handling for a family sedan. While the American Passat doesn't have the greatest styling the same could be said about the refreshed European Passat as well. Overall the new Passat appears to be a solid competitor in the midsize category while playing a different role than the previous Passats. With that in mind let's take a look at why Volkswagen has created a new Passat for America.

While the previous Passat was a near premium sedan (in Germany it's main competitor is the Opel Insignia which is sold in the US as the Buick Regal) with near midsize dimensions it struggled to gain solid sales traction. Stuck trying to compete with mainstream competition (Camry, Accord, Altima, Malibu, Fusion) the Passat's higher price tag had it doomed from the start. Unable to follow the success of the previous generation, the 06-10 Passat saw its sales nosedive over the years as Volkswagen decided to wind down the model and replace it with something more appropriate for the market. In order for VW to meet its ambitious goal of 800,000 yearly sales in the US by 2018 a major presence is required in the midsize segment that is the best selling car category in America. The latest Passat addresses the biggest shortcomings of the last Passat (smaller size and higher price than the competition) in order to increase yearly Passat sales to over 100,000 a year. While the new Passat is a departure from the previous ones, it is a necessary one for VW to become consistently profitable in the United States.

The last generation Passat (introduced in 2005) never broke 50,000 yearly sales as it was too expensive and small against its mainstream competition. Essentially the Passat's problems boiled down to the fact that Volkswagen was unable to convince consumers to pay the extra 5-8,000 for a more premium yet smaller product.

Volkswagen saw its sales drop after 2001 because of an aging lineup and a poor quality reputation.While Volkswagen hopes for 800,000 sales by 2018 a more reasonable goal of 500,000 is possible in that frame with its new American centered lineup. A crossover vehicle would be the next step for Volkswagen to achieve the half-million mark in America.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

2012 Audi A6 Avant

Having unveiled its fourth generation A6 sedan last year it was only a matter of time until Audi would show the Avant version. Unveiled in Berlin today the A6 Avant follows the sedan with a striking LED headlight design and the latest six point Audi shield grille upfront. Past the A pillar the designs diverge for obvious reasons as the Avant features a fast sloping roof line not commonly seen on wagons. The new A6 Avant is a large wagon measuring 194 inches in length and riding on a 114.5 inch wheelbase. With aluminum comprising around 20% of the A6 body Audi was able to drop as much as 150 pounds compared to the previous generation. The lighter curb weight is certainly one of the reasons for the 18% reduction in fuel economy when compared to the last A6 Avant. Powering the Avant are four diesel engines and two gasoline. Most of the engines carry over from the sedan except the new two stage twin-turbo V6 3.0 TDI that delivers a staggering 313 horsepower. Audi claims that the twin-turbo TDI will propel the Avant to 60 in only 5.4 seconds. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the latest A6 Avant will be sold in America. Nevertheless, take a look at over 70 photos of the new Avant below.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Best Green Car Designs

Over the past few years the number of green cars on sale has increased dramatically with new hybrids, mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars available for sale. While styling still remains form follows function the automakers are finally starting to spice up their green designs with additional details and styling elements. With that in mind let's take a look at the best hybrid/electric designs out for sale today. To keep out mainstream sedans we will only be looking at vehicles that are available only as hybrids, no Camry/Fusion/Altima hybrids here.

Sixth: Honda Insight

The car that invented "hybrid" hatchback styling (the first Prius was a sedan) is back but looks stale in comparison to its competition. Having grown in size compared to the original Insight the second generation model looks like a dead ringer for the second generation Prius. While both derive their shape from the aerodynamic kammback styling the newest Insight lacks the sharper styling of the newest Prius.

Fifth: Nissan Leaf

Using a more conventional hatchback/wagon shape than its Japanese competitors the Leaf looks more like a regular car. Nevertheless the big headlights upfront and swoopy design lines throughout give the Leaf distinct styling. Overall the design is interesting and lets people identify the Leaf as an electric car but it's also an electric car that does not look particularly great.

Fourth: Lexus HS 250h

If Toyota kept its second and third generation Prii as sedans the end result would have likely been very similar to the HS. Looking like a mix between the Japan only Toyota Allion and the Europe only Toyota Avensis the HS is by far the most ordinary looking pure hybrid available for sale in America. While the overall shape is fairly clean it lacks the overall design impact one would expect from a luxury oriented brand like Lexus.

Third: Lexus CT 200h

The first hatchback Lexus is clearly designed with Europe in mind as the Audi A3, BMW 1 series and the upcoming Mercedes A-class competitor would look more at home in Europe. Nevertheless the smallest Lexus hybrid has a nice design that does a good job combining an aggressive front end with curvy lines elsewhere.

Second: Toyota Prius

While the second generation Prius achieved instant recognizability as a hybrid and was the first (and essentially only) hybrid to achieve significant sales it is the third generation Prius that finally brought some styling to the table. The Prius gained sharp creases with the third generation and overall looks significantly better than the second generation blob.

First: Chevrolet Volt

Using a fairly conventional sedan styling the Volt looks like a smaller yet better designed Lexus HS250. Overall clean styling already puts the Volt ahead most of its competition but unique elements like the faux grille that looks real, sharp headlights and taillights give the Volt a unique design. The Volt takes first place by having the best combination of goods looks while still looking different enough to stand as an alternatively powered vehicle.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Vote on a Ford GT Sucessor

The original Ford GT40 was a four time Le Mans winning race car in the late 1960s and still stands as one of the most iconic Le Mans racers of all time. Naturally when Ford decided to build a super car in the twenty first century they went with a reborn GT40. Built in 2005 and 2006 the Ford GT arrived on the scene with a tremendous amount of hype from the general public and the automotive press, fortunately for Ford the GT was able to live up to the hype with its outstanding performance. As it's been over five years since the last GT rolled of the assembly line it appears that Ford is once again looking at producing a supercar* to compete with the world's best. Take a look at these three sketches and head on over to Road & Track to vote for you favorite. My vote goes to the silver Ford GT by Radovan Varicak.

*Road&Track thinks that Ford may build a GT successor in the next few years, but this is certainly not guaranteed. However a good positive public reaction should help so go ahead and vote!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pickup Sales Fall in April

About a month ago pickup sales were at their highest point in recent memory even with gas passing four dollars a gallon in some places. As expected the trend did not last long and every brand save Toyota saw sales of their full size pickups fall compared to last month. Spurred by high demand for its V6 engines Ford's F-150 led all with 45,435 sales in April, while this was an improvement over a year ago it could not match the previous month's sales. In second place the Chevy Silverado posted its second worst month of the year and was fractionally worse compared to a year ago. Much like the Sierra the Dodge Ram struggled when compared to March but was able to improve upon 2010 sales by around four thousand units. The biggest surprise of the month was certainly the Toyota Tundra that continued to improve its sales for the fourth month this year as it closed its gap to the GMC Sierra. Click the chart below to see pickup sales over the course of this year.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Looking at Luxury Brands Selling Prices

There is always a lot of talk about which luxury brand is the best, which luxury brand sells the most, and which brands even deserve to be called luxury altogether. To clear up some of these questions let's take a look at the average selling prices of the biggest eleven brands that claim to sell luxury cars in the United States. While the manufacturers do not release their average transaction prices in the way that they do with overall sales figures here is our best attempt to see who gets the most for their cars on average. At the top is Mercedes-Benz with an average asking price of around 55,000 per vehicle. Mercedes has by far the most models available for sale in the 75,000+ range. Second is BMW which is able to average a little over 50,000 per every vehicle sold. BMW falls behind Mercedes by offering fewer models over 100,000. Up third is Cadillac that benefits greatly by moving a significant amount of its pricey Escalades every month. Following Cadillac is Audi that sells its models for comparable prices as Mercedes and BMW but moves fewer A6 models compared to the competition. Up next is Infiniti that charges around 45,000 on average followed closely by Lexus that loses ground because of a significant amount of ES sales. Lincoln is able to average a little over 40,000 thanks to Town Car and Navigator sales. Right around the 40,000 dollar cutoff Acura suffers by not having a true flagship sedan or having a coupe or convertible version of the TSX. Opening up the premium category Volvo lacks serious firepower without a V8 in its lineup. Second to last Buick is a great example of selling vehicles at a premium but not luxury prices. Bringing up the rear is Chrysler with a majority of its sales comprised by the 200 and the Town&Country minivan.

*The data represented below is an attempt to find out the average selling prices of the luxury brands based on their product mix. The figures are averaged based on sales, thus a brand selling more flagship sedans versus entry level models has a higher average price than a brand selling mostly entry level models. Because of lack of sales figures BMW's M lineup and Mercedes's AMG models were not factored in, thus those brands likely have slightly higher transaction prices than indicated here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April 2011 Sales Recap

Car sales continued to surge in April with the industry up 18% overall with many brands once again posting some of their best sales ever and other brands regaining their former glory. Pacing the industry was the surprising Mitsubishi brand that more than doubled its sales thanks to its two Outlander crossovers. On the other side of the spectrum Porsche also showed an incredible 82% sales growth thanks to excellent sales of its Cayenne SUV. The new Grand Cherokee also powered Jeep sales on route to a 65% improvement. Among the largest automakers Chevrolet and Ford both posted sales increases of around 25% percent with both automakers experiencing stronger car sales than truck sales. Of note was the Chevy Cruze breaking past the 25,000 sales figure for the first time. Kia and Hyundai continued their blistering sales pace with improvements of 56.7 and 40% respectively. Japanese mainstream automakers on the other hand saw more subdued sales increases with Nissan registering a 12.2 increase, Honda a 10% improvement while Toyota only managed a a 2 percent improvement. Dwindling inventories are likely to play an even greater role in the coming months for the Japanese automakers.

April was the first month that saw the Nissan Leaf outsell the Chevrolet Volt 573 to 493. With about twice as many Volts on the streets currently it will be interesting to see how this plays out the rest of the year. Also it will be interesting to see how the mix between cars, crossovers and pickups continues throughout the year. Currently pickups and SUVs are losing market share but are not facing declining sales when compared to last year just yet. Stay tuned to see if the trend continues.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bottom Line: First Quarter Profits and Revenues

Like any other for profit businesses in the world auto companies are here to make money. With that in mind lets take a look at the automotive earnings released this past week. All of the brands releasing earnings this week showed positive profits and all but Honda had increased their profits from a year ago. Ford led all brands with a 2.55 billion first quarter profit thanks to its best first quarter since 1998. Percentage wise, Kia was at the top of the leader board as it increased its earnings by 91% while fellow South Korean Hyundai increased earnings 46.5%. Also doing well was Volkswagen which posted its best first quarter ever while Daimler AG nearly doubled its first quarter profit compared to last year. Effected by the March natural disasters at home Honda lost about half of its profit compared to last year. Click on the charts below to see the brands ranked by profits and revenues.

5/4/11 Update: More earnings have been released, BMW posted a 1.8 billion dollars profit, Chrysler posted a modest profit of 116 millions which is small compared to other automakers but is the first profit for the current Chrysler group (since 2009). General Motors is rumored to post a 1.74 billion profit when it reports tomorrow.

5/5 Update: General Motors reportd two billion dollars of adjusted earnings before taxes on 36.2 billion dollars of revenue. If you include GM's sale of its Delphi stake and a few other one time occurances its total first quarter net profit was 3.2 billion.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Plymouth Prowler Retrospective: Could Have Used a V8

There are some things in life that go so well together that they are famous for being together; peanut butter and jelly, mac & cheese, burgers and fries and so on. Hot Rods and V8s go together just as well, ever seen a Hot rod without one? As a modern take on the Hot rod the Plymouth (and later Chrysler) Prowler certainly had the styling to look like one, but lacked the horsepower and the requisite V8 to truly be one. For these and other reasons some saw the Prowler as a disappointment, Time magazine even rated it as one of its 50 worst cars of all time. With that in mind let's take a look at the Prowler's legacy and see what this unique vehicle was all about. We'll compare the Prowler to its contemporary competition in areas of styling, performance and value to see if it really deserves to be called one of the worst of all time.


Certainly the Prowler looked and still looks like nothing else on the road today. If you disagree, ask yourself when was the last time you saw Formula 1 style wheel and suspension combination? The Chip Foose inspired Prowler draws attention with classic Hot rod proportion, wider and higher at the rear than at the front. Looking sleek and wide the Prowler looked great with its 17 inch wheels upfront and 20 inch wheels at the rear at a time when no one else was even thinking of 20 inch wheels. The 20 inch wheels were not the only mechanical element ahead of its time; aluminum construction gave the Prowler a relatively light curb weight of around 2,800 pounds. Upfront inboard mounted shocks handled suspension duty. The Prowler also used a rear mounted transmission as seen on the Corvette. The 4 speed automatic transmission was connected to a 3.5 liter V6 upfront. Overall the Prowler certainly looked like a performance Hot Rod and had some trick technology to boot.


Before we begin this section it's important to consider that it's been over a decade now since the Prowler stopped production so the horsepower numbers of that time period will look tame all across the board. Chrysler's decision to adapt its LH sedan powertain components (of 300M/Dodge Intrepid fame) has certainly been questioned by many critics. The Prowler first used 3.5 liter V6 with 214 horsepower which was updated for the 1999 model year to 253 horsepower and 255 pound feet of torque. At the time the Chrysler V6 was around 30 horsepower more powerful than any other mainstream V6 from Acura, Lexus or even BMW's inline six in the 5 series. At the time the most powerful Porsche Boxster had a 250 horsepower 3.2 liter flat six while the non M BMW Z3 topped out at 230 horsepower. On the domestic front the C5 Chevrolet Corvette produced 345 horsepower from its then new LS1 V8. Chrysler on the other hand did not have a powerful V8 option to consider. Its most powerful V8 at the time, the 5.9 Magnum, produced 250 horsepower (torque was greater @ 345 lb-ft), essentially ruling it out as a performance improvement over the V6. The LS1 challenging Hemi would not go on sale until after the Prowler ceased production. Based on the lack of a powerful V8 available at the time Chrysler's decision to use a "parts bin" sedan V6 was reasonable and financially sound, but hindsight would indicate that something like a V8 version of the Viper V10 would have made the Prowler a true modern day hot rod.


While the Prowler lacked a V8 soundtrack (the V6 was quite loud though) and was limited by a four speed automatic gearbox its acceleration performance was not too bad for its day but slightly slower than its competitors. The Prowler accelerated to 60 in 6 seconds flat or about the same as the regular Boxster but around half a second slower than the BMW Z3. More expensive competition like the Corvette, BMW M Roadster, Mercedes SLK 320AMG all featured more power and were about a second and a half quicker to 60. Despite its light weight the Prowler was not known for great handling being more of a cruiser than a sports car.


By using "parts bin" components for the powertrain and the interior Chrysler was able to keep Prowler's price to a competative level between 40-45,000 dollars throughout its life cycle. Closest convertible competition such as the Corvette convertible, BMW Z3 Mercedes SLK320 and the Porsche Boxster were priced in a similar price range, between 38-45,000. While the Prowler enjoyed a competitive sticker price dealer markup of 10,000 or more was abundant during the first few model years indicating the public's interest in the Prowler.

The final tally of 11,702 Prowlers produced tells much about it as a vehicle. Featuring styling that turned heads like nothing else except a few Italian exotics it was not for everyone. A V8 would have made it that much more desirable but it's certainly can not qualify as one of the 50 worst cars of all time under any circumstances. Click on the photo below to view more of the Prowler.

Mercedes-Benz Prices 2012 SLK and CLS

Mercedes-Benz announced pricing today for its redesigned 2012 SLK roadster and the 2012 CLS coupe line. The SLK350 will start at 55,675 while the CLS model line begins at 72,175 for the CLS550 and rises to 95,775 for the CLS63 AMG, including destination charges. Both the SLK and the CLS feature complete redesigns and new powertrains. The SLK350 features a new 302 horsepower direct-injected 3.5 liter V6 while the CLS lineup will be powered entirely by direct-injected biturbo V8 engines. The CLS550 uses a 402 horsepower 4.6 liter V8, the AMG version ups the ante with a 518 horsepower 5.5 liter V8. Both models also feature new styling with the SLK ditching its SLR inspired front styling of the previous generation in favor for one inspired by the SLS. The CLS features a more significant styling departure from the trend-setting design of the last CLS. The four door coupe now has bolder front end styling along with more pronounced design elements as seen on the current E-class.