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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

New York Auto Show Wrap Up

While many believed that the New York Auto Show would end up being overshadowed by the Shanghai Auto Show occurring during the same week, New York did quite well for itself with many production debuts and concepts. While the overall trend was towards 40 mpg compacts and subcompacts the show also delivered on the performance side with several 400+ horsepower debuts. Subaru, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Honda and Kia unveiled new sedans while Jaguar and Ford showed face lifted versions of the XF and the Taurus. On the concept side Scion showed its own version of Toyota's FT-86 concept while Mercedes previewed its next A-class with a shiny concept. Let's take a look at the highlights from the 2011 New York Auto Show:

Best In Show: Volkswagen Beetle

The best in show competition came down to the Beetle, Scion FR-S concept and the Chrysler 300C SRT8. The Volkswagen wins for its excellent job of following up a retro design with one that is even more retro inspired yet still manages to look newer than the model it replaced, not an easy task. Volkswagen would do quite well for itself if the Beetle creates the same brand excitement as the previous New Beetle.

Best Concept: Scion FR-S Concept

Featuring a multitude of sharp creases and pronounced styling elements the FR-S concept looks the part as a modern interpretation of a compact coupe. Featuring a more than expected styling departure from the Toyota FT-86 concept leads to questions if both versions will make it to the states. Also interesting will be to see how the FR-S and the current TC mesh in the Scion lineup. Nevertheless if Scion can keep the concept styling into production the other questions may not matter much.

Best Performance Debut: Chrysler 300C SRT8

Looking exceptionally well in white with contrasting black painted grille and wheels the the high performance SRT8 finally makes the new 300C look great. The 465 horsepower Hemi V8 provides the performance necessary to back up the great styling.

Most Significant Production Debut: Chevrolet Malibu

The Malibu is vital for Chevy to continue improving its car sales at home and expanding oversees. Facing tough competition in the important mid size segment Chevy unveiled an interesting design that aims to blend a curvy front end with a sharper Camaro inspired rear. Perhaps Chevy's desire to expand Malibu sales abroad played a role in the design process. Time will tell if the Malibu finally captures the mid size category after the last generation was so close to the top, but not exactly there.

Best Paint Job: Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

Mercedes Benz takes the category with the SLS AMG in the traditional Gulf color combo that always looks spectacular. The A-class concept takes second place with a nice silver color that meshes well with its metal grille.

Monday, April 18, 2011

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Design Analysis

As the most anticipated New York Auto Show debut in our opinion, the VW Beetle had a lot of hype to live up to. After seeing the initial photos of the 21st century Beetle it appears that VW has lived up to the expectations by revealing a fresh take on its classic. The original air cooled Beetle sold over 22.5 million copies worldwide making it perhaps the most recognizable vehicle in the world. Following this type of success and such recognizable styling is no easy task. The 19998 New Beetle certainly used the original Beetle as a styling basis but featured a more angular design theme. The 2012 Beetle (the New moniker is now gone) actually returns closer to the original Beetle in styling. It now has a flatter roofline (but is only half an inch shorter overall) and new styling elements throughout. Upfront the changes are fairly small as the hood features sharper lines and the circular headlights receive LED daytime lights. A shorter windshield leads to an A pillar than can now actually be distinguished from the roof. The styling changes are most visible from the side as the windows get shorter and door lines are no longer completely linear. A nice touch is the 3-D effect right below the window line. The Beetle gained six inches in length that allowed the designers to give it a proper coupe shape, one that looks very much like a compact Porsche would. At the rear, the tail lights no longer mirror the headlights and rather follow a more rectangular shape, the turbo model features a spoiler. Inside, the Beetle receives a significantly more modern looking interior with modern necessities such as a navigation screen. Gone is the plastic flower vase of the New Beetle that generated so much conversation in the past. A nice touch is the twin glove box that pays homage to the original rear engined Beetle interior. In America, the Beetle will use the proven 170 horsepower 2.5 liter five cylinder as the base engine along with the efficient 2.0 TDI and the 200 2.0T horsepower turbo as options. A convertible version should debut next year after the coupe goes on sale this September. Further down the line is a 250+ horsepower R version that will give the Beetle additional performance credentials. Take a look at the gallery below to see the 21st century Beetle for yourself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Audi Q3 Design Analysis

While the Q3 is not confirmed be sold in America this doesn't mean that we can't analyze the design of Audi's smallest SUV. Looking a little more SUVish than the 2009 Shanghai auto show Cross Coupe Concept the 2012 Q3 to be unveiled at this year's Shanghai show stays true to the concept for the most part. The Tiguan based Q3 is Audi's latest interpretation of its Q lineup. Upfront the Q3 features the updated Audi shield grill with six distinct segments. The headlights use a thin wraparound LED element for the daytime running lights. Overall the Q3 profile is quite similar to the Q5 albeit with crisper lines and straighter design elements consistent with the new A6 and A7. A crisp A5esque character line runs the length of the Q3 just below the side windows. The doors on the Q3 are more concave on the bottom which gives the crossover more pronounced fenders compared to the Q5. Likewise the C pillar features a much straighter line than the more curved Q5 shape. Out back the tail lights follow the Q5 shape but stick out from the tailgate on the bottom much like on the A6. Perhaps somewhat disappointing the interior does not look as great as some of Audi's previous efforts, although the Q3's lower price point probably plays a role as well. Of note is the new four spoke steering wheel along with the pop up navigation.

The Q3 is an excellent addition to the Audi lineup but appears to not be North American bound at this point in time. Audi USA may make a business case for it if it decides to only bring the A3 sedan and not the A3 Sportback with the next generation.

Click on the photo to see more of the Q3

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lexus LF-Gh Concept Design Analysis

The Lexus LF-Gh made the list as one of the most anticipated New York Auto Show debuts a short time ago. At that point the decision to place the Lexus on the list was purely done because the GS is a significant vehicle in the industry and not because Lexus is known for creating the most exciting concepts. However, the LF-Gh might be the concept that changes that notion. Lexus claims that LF-Gh is a preview of design features that will eventually find themselves on production models. The concept is meant to show how a Lexus premium grand touring sedan will look like. The general profile of the concept should give a hint at what the production GS will look like, but the water cooler talk will certainly center around the massive grille at the front. The giant grille upfront is Lexus's interpretation of the Audi shield and the Mitsubishi grille taken to the extreme. It's tough to see the grille surviving production without losing the uppermost kink or being divided in half. The LED headlights ditch the four light nature of the previous two GS generation and are heavily inspired by the ones on the current LS flagship hybrid. The side profile dithces the sweptback roofline of the current GS for the more formal proportions of the current LS. Perhaps one of the weakest elements of the concept is the long rear overhang which indicates that the concept does show the true GS dimensions. The C pillar features a squiggly cutout as seen on the current IS. The rear trunk is one of the most tame elements of the design, aside from the bottommost extension the tail lights are almost production ready. Overall the LF-Gh concept is a lot more exciting than previously imagined but will also likely see some significant revisions before making production as the next generation GS.

Click on the image to view more LF-Gh concept photos

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Best SUV Designs On Sale Today

SUVs aren't particularly well known to be automotive design icons like coupes and sedans. Whether you blame it on the size or the need for functionality it's tough to see an SUV being remembered for its design along the lines of a classic E type Jaguar. Nevertheless this isn't to say that there aren't any well designed SUVs on sale today. As in any category to be the best requires you to stand out from the competition. In no particular order here are the best designed SUVs on sale today based on their visual impact, design cohesiveness and ability to convey their off-road capabilities.

Cadillac Escalade

The Escalade owns much of its sales success to its outstanding design. The large grille and chiseled traditional SUV styling give the Escalade a commanding presence that buyers want in this segment.

Dodge Durango

As the recent Dodge commercial points out the Durango did a lot during its two year absence, it transitioned from a pickup frame underpinnings to a Grand Cheeroke shared unibody platform. The Durango also returned with significant styling improvements and is now the best looking large crossover on the market today. A large grille upfront combined with sharp lines give the Durango presence while the rest of the design features softer lines yet still blends in surprisingly well.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

The Durango platformmate also makes the list as the latest generation combines traditional Jeep elements in a fresh new package. Looking more compact and tidier than before the latest Grand Cherokee still looks like a Jeep yet has exciting styling elements such as the character line in the doors, prominent wheel arches and chrome pieces throughout.

Lexus LX 570

The Lexus LX 570 features and incredibly clean design devoid of unnecessary elements that would mar its exterior. The grille, head and tail lights, and side creases result in a classy and elegant SUV fitting its price range.

Volkswagen Touareg

The second generation Touareg features sharper styling than its predecessor. Chiseled grille and headlights are a significant departure from the last model and give the Touareg a better first impression. Concave door design results in a 911 like Coke bottle shape that puts the sport in Sport Utility.

Honorable Mention: BMW X5, Range Rover

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Subaru Shows Profile Of Its Next Impreza

While the next generation Impreza didn't quite make our New York Auto Show top five list, Subaru nevertheless will be debuting the next Impreza in New York. When the previous generation Impreza was unveiled at the 2007 New York Auto Show the initial reaction was far from positive with the majority of the complaints centering around the sedan version. This time around Subaru has decided to give the Impreza a miniaturized Legacy design featuring more prominent wheel arches and a Hofmeister kink style C-pillar. From the teaser image it also appears that the Impreza will use Legacy inspired tail and headlights. Overall the new Impreza features a much better design than the squished look of the outgoing model. Though better overall it does gain an awkward A-pillar window reminiscent, but not nearly as bad, as the one on the Suzuki SX4. Subaru is promising that the Impreza will be the most fuel efficient all wheel drive car in America and will deliver 36 mpg on the highway. Subaru will likely introduce its new 2 liter boxer four to achieve that figure. Stay tuned for the New York Auto Show in two weeks to see the next Impreza from all sides and angles and a final verdict on its new styling.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pickup Sales Undeterred By Rising Gas Prices

Even with gas prices rising across America pickup sales appear to be immune for the time being. Since the first of the year gas prices have increased over 20% amid rising crude oil prices due to instability in the Middle East. Nevertheless, over the past three months pickup sales have been gradually increasing. Take a look below to see the first quarter sales trend for the sixth full size pickups available on the market today. Aside from the GMC Sierra all of the pickups have increased their sales successively every month in the quarter. Ford and Dodge have done particularly well increasing their sales by 49 and 79 percent respectively. At this point in time it appears that pent up demand and improving credit availability are more powerful motivators in the market than higher prices at the pump. Only time will tell if pickup sales take a dive with gas already over four dollars in some parts of the country and rising elsewhere.

Chart Source

Friday, April 1, 2011

March 2011 Sales Overview

While the overall sales pace slowed down slightly in March compared to February (13.1 million SAAR vs. 13.4 in February) numerous brands posted their strongest sales ever. Hyundai, Nissan and Kia all reported best monthly sales in history while Audi, Mercedes, and Porsche reported best March sales in recent history. Subaru recorded its second best month ever, powered by newly released models the Chrysler group saw best sales in three years while Volkswagen reported best sales in 7 years on a near two-fold increase in Jetta sales. March was also a special month for Ford (up 28.2%) as it outsold General Motors for the first time since February 2010. Among major manufacturers only Toyota posted a sales decline (-6.6) while its luxury division Lexus was nearly flat. On the luxury front Porsche, Land Rover, Audi, Infiniti, and BMW had double digit sales growth.

In the electric mobility front increased availability resulted in a sharp surge of Volt and Leaf sales. The Chevrolet Volt posted sales of 608 units while Nissan sold 298 Leafs.

For the time being it appears that neither high gas prices nor plant closures in Japan have affected US sales, stay tuned next month to see if the current trend continues.