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.