Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sizing up the proposed VW Mid Size SUV

Volkswagen has supposedly finally figured out how to compete in the American marketplace by building in America and adapting its cars to American tastes, essentially doing what other imports have done for decades. With this newfound wisdom come significantly higher sales expectations from management, perhaps too optimistic as judged by most critics. With the Jetta doing better than ever and with the Passat finally competing in the midsize segment VW has its sights set on entering new segments like crossovers.  As with the new Passat, VW would be far too late to join the segment to even pretend to be fashionably late, but as with the new Passat the final product should be more than competitive, see Passat's comparison record. With Volkswagen of America CEO officially confirming a midsize SUV many went ahead and placed it between the Tiguan and the Touareg sizewise. While the long rumored midsize Volkswagen SUV will definitely be priced between the Tiguan and the Touareg it is quite likely that it would actually be slightly bigger than the Touareg. Think the difference between the Passat and the CC. Just as the previous generation Passat was a few inches short of its competitors the Touareg is a couple of inches short of comfortably fitting a third row seat which is requisite for the class. In fact the yet unnamed, hopefully easily pronounceable , SUV  is likely to at least match the Passat lengthwise to compete with the GM Lambda triplets, Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot and others.  Here is a guide as how the VW competitor might look like.

Friday, June 1, 2012

May 2012 Sales Recap

With supplies issues essentially behind them Toyota and Honda were able to post incredible sales increases compared to their May 2011 figures and even surpassing 2010 figures by a significant margin as well. Elsewhere the Chrysler Group continued its strong sales increase of the past year with surging sales at Chrysler itself, Jeep, and Ram brand. On the luxury side Lexus and Acura followed their parent brands with sales returning to previous levels while Mercedes achieved a nearly 20% sales improvement over last year. Overall May 2012 versus May 2011 sales were robust whichever way you look at it with only a couple of brands declining over a year ago. Of note was the Chevy Volt's strong month of 1,680 sales compared to the LEAF's showing of 510.

Of course as good as May was some were clearly expecting a little more perhaps indicating a possible slowing down in June or perhaps just a desire run an article about missing expectations while nearly doubling your sales.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Commercial Review: Audi "Alien"

Audi scores a knockout with this funny and lighthearted A6 commercial which finds a young girl believing that her father is an alien. The dad in question talks like an alien, eats alien food, dresses like an alien and most incriminatingly pilots an alien space ship. This commercial works so well primarily because it is funny and would not be seen out of place during the Superbowl. On a more subconscious level it appears that Audi is subtly hinting that driving an A6 will make you one cool parent in the eyes of your kid. Not being in that demographic I am not sure if the commercial succeeds in that regard or if parents even care about being the cool parent. Overall, "Alien" does an excellent job of highlighting the A6's technological sophistication without a tedious adult voice-over as Audi has done in the past.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How 'Ring Lap Times Became Irrelevant

Once upon a time the famed Nürburgring was a great evaluator of vehicle performance as a quick internet search would easily settle an argument between fanboys over which supercar could lap "Green Hell" the quickest. Over the past decade a sizable internet database of 'Ring time developed with help from a few European publications with Sport Auto and its editor Horst von Saurma doing the heavy lifting. Not wanting to miss out on all of the fun a couple of manufacturers decided to begin publishing (and even providing video evidence) of their own lap times and in the process essentially destroying the Nürburgring's reputation as a performance benchmark.

Currently the times at the top of the time sheet for street legal mass* production cars are occupied by runs from Dodge, Lexus, Porsche and GM all without third party verification. The manufacturer supplied times are impressive and the videos are fun to watch but they make comparisons between other times completely useless. The time difference between some of the manufacturer times and their verified third party counterparts* are not insignificant and indicate at best a combination of a professional race car driver, perfect conditions, and lots of laps to ge tthe perfect time. A more cynical viewpoint would have one believing that a particularly healthy example was used which may or may not pass a smog check and so on.

In the perfect world there would be a group comparison test whenever a new supercar came out to challenge the top of the chart, and there have been a few*, but in reality we are forced to compare runs made in various weather conditions. Nevertheless it is much more believable comparing 'Ring times from the same magazine and the same driver with weather being the only unaccounted element rather than comparing highly polished manufacturer times to third party magazine times. So the next time you compare a manufacturer "sponsored" time compared to an Auto Sport 'Ring time remember that comparing the two is like comparing lemons and oranges, both are citrus but don't taste the same.

*The Gumpert Apollo and Donkervoort times are from Sport Auto but neither brand is mass production. The same could be said about the Lexus LFA though.
*A few of the official times are close to what the magazines were able to replicate, many are 20+ seconds apart.
*Auto Bild Sports Cars November 2010 is an excellent example with the 458 Italia, LFA, LP 570-4 Superleggera, Porsche 911 Turbo S, GT-R all tested by the same driver in the same conditions

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Acura Surprises With Great RDX Commercials

Fresh of its great Superbowl ad for the NSX, Acura is of to a good start with its initial marketing strategy for the RDX. Breaking away from its past doldrums of commercials which featured various Acuras in a hangar (looks like Hangar One) with your typical voice over touting Acura's standard Bluetooth or navigation. With the RDX Acura is venturing outside for some cloudy sunlight, waves, and sand in its Gulliver inspired "Chariot" commercial. The RDX is big and powerful like Guliver yet nimble and compact like the Lilliputians, and of course Luxurious. The funny and light tone of the commercial is a great change from the over the top technological approach of the "hangar ads" A second ad, "Car Wash" continues with Gulliver enjoying his time in Lilliput (nice touch is a map of Lilliput in the navigation) perhaps too much.

A third unrelated commercial finds the RDX dodging all sorts of road hazards as if on the set of the new Avengers movie. While not as cool of a concept as the other two ads, the RDX Avengers ad is much better than all of the other Avengers related ads combined.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The difference between HP and PS and why it doesn't really matter.

With Audi releasing the details on its updated Q5 many publications took the time to properly convert the horsepower figures given in the Audi press release from . The result is the 225 European horsepower that Audi quoted in its press release is technically only worth 221 American/British horsepower, likewise the 272 horsepower from the 3.0T is technically 268 in the US. This small discrepancy occurs as European manufacturers use metric horsepower while American and British manufacturers use a term called mechanical horsepower which is 1.4% more powerful. However every one that did the conversion could have saved some time crunching the numbers and everyone would have been better off. For many years Audi (and a few other German manufacturers) have officially quoted the same exact horsepower rating regardless of units in Europe and in the US. There are a couple of reasons why this discrepancy shouldn't bother you. To start, the 1.4% difference is small enough anyways that it's probably quite close to the variation between one engine from the assembly line and another. To further shrink the gap, under "SAE certified horsepower" rule manufactures can report horsepower 1%  higher than what is observed. Finally, with the recent trend of many new forced induction engines from Audi and others often delivering advertised crank horsepower at the wheels the 1.4% difference becomes silly altogether.

*Perhaps too busy crunching the numbers many missed out on a little tidbit hidden in the Q5 press release, the next generations of the 2.0T and 3.0 TDI. Far from a simple uptune from 211 to 225 horsepower the updated 2.0T receives a new electronic cooling system, direct and port fuel injection, an exhaust manifold integrated into the cylinder head, and further enhancements to Audi's Valvelift system. It's unknown how soon the new 2.0T will reach the Audi lineup in the US. Likewise Audi says the 3.0 TDI V6 is also of a new more advanced design wtih more torque (22 extra lb-ft) than before. Stay tuned to see what happens with the new engines.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

How The Urus Concept Is Lamborghini Going Back To Its Roots

The public reaction to the Lamborghini Urus has been mostly negative and much the same as when the Porsche Cayenne first came out. Many are calling out Lamborghini for selling out and diluting the brand in a search for more cash even though Lamborghini made an SUV back when they weren't even in. Many are lamenting the fact that the Urus is not like the Aventador. Ironically though, the Urus could be the closest Lamborghini in decades to what Mr. Lamborghini imagined for his brand to be when he founded it. At the start and throughout his tenure at the helm, Ferruccio Lamborghini wanted his brand to build comfortable yet extremely fast cars. In fact he started branched out to cars from his tractor business because the Ferraris he owned were too noisy and too spartan inside and just plain not roadworthy enough. While Lamborghini would go on to become famous for its no holds barred mid engined supercars it was front engined tourers like the Espada that were more in line with what the company was intended for. While the Estoque would certainly fit Mr. Lamborghini's desire for a comfortable grand tourer even better, the Urus is still the closest Lamborghini to his ideal in years.

The Espada is what Mr. Lamborghini envisioned his company to be. source

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three Gimmick Features That Actually Work

Much like coaches in football, automakers are always looking to one up the competition by any means possible. While offensive coordinators run gadget plays to catch the defense off guard, the auto industry has gimmick features. When they work in football (see 2007 Fiesta Bowl)gadget plays are great and memorable but most of the time defenses sniff them out early and the play fizzles out. Gimmick features are much the same as all but few prove to be pointless. However as in football there are a few features that actually prove useful and effective, here are three of the best.

Boise State Statue of Liberty Play: Fiesta Bowl 2007

Ford Mustang Sequential Turn Lights

The sequential turn lights give the Mustang some extra style and are an improvement over the one bulb stop/turn light setup.

Volkswagen/Lincoln Window Feature

This feature lets you close/open all of the windows and the sunroof after you have taken the key out of the ignition or before you have even opened the car. Useful when you want to cool down your car on a hot day before getting in.

LED Daytime Running Lights

 A feature so ubiquitous now that it is hard to even call it a gimmick anymore, it is the automotive equivalent of the option in college football. Once upon a time LED daytime running lights were rare enough to be called gimmicks, yet even then they served the DRL function with minimal energy consumption and without using up your mainlights.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Concept Cars Two Years Later

With Citroen about to show its next stunning concept, the Numero 9, to the public next week at the Beijing Auto Show it seems appropriate to revisit a similar Citroen concept from two years ago. The Numero 9 is essentially a shooting-brake version of the equally stunning Metropolis Concept. Back when the Metropolis first came out I called it a better concept than the BMW Gran Coupe concept mainly because the Metropolis was a more radical concept than the BMW. Nearly two years later the Gran Coupe Concept has evolved into the 6 series Gran Coupe losing very little of its styling in the process. My fears about the Gran Coupe concept being watered down into production turned out to be largely unfounded. As expected, the Metropolis concept has yet to materialize into a production version. However there is hope that the Numero 9 will eventually join the DS lineup as its flagship. Two years ago I was praising Citroen for creating a concept for the sake of creating a concept and nothing else, yet now I am left wishing for Citroen to finally give me a production version of one of their awesome concepts.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Retro Inspired Concepts Worth a Second Chance

Some say that the auto industry is churning out retro inspired designs almost as often as Hollywood is doing remakes. Even if you believe that there are already too many retro inspired cars on the road today here are four retro concept cars from the recent past that should have made production. All four were released to much fan fare and publicity during their debuts and it can be argued that all but the Lamborghini would fill an empty slot in their manufacturer's portfolio. One would also argue that by not making production versions two of the automakers lost a chance to create a potentially iconic product.

Ford Bronco Concept (2004)

With the Jeep Wrangler enjoying a great sales renaissance amid high gas prices Ford might want to reconsider its 2004 Bronco concept. Featuring sharp boxy styling and compact dimensions of the first generation (1966-1977) Bronco the latest version would be a great Wrangler competitor. A lack of a truly capable off-road platform likely made the Bronco a tough case for production. 

Ford Interceptor Concept (2007)

While the Ford Taurus SHO is a capable performer in its own right enthusiasts are still clamoring for a true rear wheel drive performance sedan from Ford. Several years back Ford showed a concept of such a vehicle, a retro inspired Crown Victoria sized Ford Interceptor powered by a "Cammer" 5.0 V8. The Interceptor concept still looks great today yet its upright styling theme would clash heavily with the other sedans in the Ford lineup such as the Focus and the Fusion. Chances for a production Interceptor are slim as Ford has created a Taurus based Police Interceptor to replace the Crown Victoria in that duty.

Lamborghini Miura Concept (2006)

The 2006 Miura Concept designed by Walter de'Silva was simply a way to mark the fortieth anniversary of the original. de'Silva did such a great job of re-imagining the iconic Miura that there were numerous calls for a production version. However, as a company that sees itself on the cutting edge of automotive design Lamborghini is as anti retro as it gets. One can't fault Lamborghini for looking forward with amazing designs such as the Aventador.

Current Lamborghini Design is much different than the retro Miura concept. Click for More photos + photo source

Volkswagen Microbus / Bulli (2001/2011)

The Microbus concept from 2001 is a personal favorite and one that Volkswagen reportedly scrapped very close to production because of the rising Euro. Volkswagen's success with the New Beetle, particularly in the US, means that a retro van is not dead yet. A recent concept from last year fuels the fire that a Microbus inspired Volkswagen is around the corner once again. The inability of the Routan to make a significant dent in the minivan market hopefully has VW thinking of a more stylish alternative. With VW's new extremely versatile and cost efficient MQB platform nearly ready for prime time there might be a better business case this time around.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is it really pain at the pump?

With nightly news continually telling us how painful every fill-up is, one would think that consumers would be quickly scared of vehicles with big fuel tanks and appetites. So far however higher gas prices have not slowed down light truck sales in the US with every full size pickup model in March outperforming its February results by a good margin even with gas up over half a dollar a gallon on average nationwide in that time period.

February in blue and March in Red

Click here for more Gas Price Data

Day Two at the New York Autoshow

Certainly the biggest news out of day two in New York was the debut of the 2013 Toyota Avalon. Much like Chevy with Impala the day before Toyota went with a more adventurous styling direction with the latest Avalon. Aiming to give the Avalon some "four door coupe" styling Toyota unwillingly made it look a bit like the last Hyundai Azera in the profile. Upfront a Camry grille is joined by a catfish/Ford Taurus SHO bumper. At the rear sharp lines and narrow taillights make it the best angle for the Avalon. All in all the latest Avalon receives a drastic new design breaking away from the familiar shape of the first three generations of Avalons. Inside the Avalon looks to feature a well appointed and ergonomic dashboard but the plastic around the navigation screen looks a bit out of place. Take a look below and see how the new Avalon looks for yourself. As always click on the photo to get a better look.

This angle reminds of the last generation Hyundai Azera

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

More from New York

This year's New York Autoshow is playing out quite well with a good amount of new introductions. Here are some highlights from day one including the new Viper, Acura RLX concept and the new Lexus ES.

The Dodge SRT Viper returns with a look reminiscent of the second generation and racy front end design that some are calling what the Ferrari F12 should have looked like. The 8.4 liter V10 is up to 640 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque while composite body panels shave weight. More power and less weight is always a great combination and best of all the Viper is returning to American Le Mans racing competition this year as well.

The Acura RLX foreshadows how a top of the line Acura sedan will look when it goes on sale later this year. The production version should look very similar as the recent ILX concept was an accurate depiction of the real ILX. The RL replacement doesn't address all of its predecessor's shortcomings but attempts to solve some. Design-wise the concept design gives a hint of the Subaru Legacy from the profile and the new Lexus GS in the roofline. The most exciting part of the concept is the all wheel drive hybrid setup (preview of what the NSX will have) that Acura says is good for 370 horsepower and 30 mpg in the city and highway. One electric motor is placed before the transmission while two electric motors provide torque vectoring of the rear wheels which promises some great handling prospects.

This angle reminds of a Subaru Legacy

And the roofline is a lot like on the new GS

The spy shots of the Lexus that circulated the web a while back didn't put the new ES in the best light but from the looks of things the ES is going to do alright with a design that aside from the forced new corporate grille is very pleasing to the eye.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New York Autoshow 2012: Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Impala

With less than a day until the New York Autoshow begins officially here are a couple more early photos of a pair of anticipated debuts, the new Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Impala. The newest Altima is certainly an evolution of the current one along with some new styling elements as seen on the Maxima and the Infiniti M. The overall design works quite well without any particular highlights or blemishes as on par for the segment. The biggest selling point for the new Altima is the promised 27/38 EPA fuel economy rating for the 2.5 four cylinder. On the other hand Chevrolet took a big leap forward with the Impala, giving the previous fleet queen some real styling. The jury is still out whether the new corporate Chevy front as seen on the Traverse is an improvement over what the new Malibu will wear.

Monday, April 2, 2012

2013 Lincoln MKZ Is Styled

With the latest Ford Fusion receiving unanimous praise for bringing high end styling to the mainstream sedan category, the upscale Lincoln MKZ sibling had big shoes to fill. The MKZ designers certainly dreamt big with the latest version resulting in a bold yet possibly polarizing design. Upfront small headlights are part of a restrained horizontal grille that is a step forward from recent baleen whale Lincoln designs. However, the new MKZ looks the best from the 3/4 angle rear as a thin full width LED bar  serves as the taillight while a compact trunk and a thick C-pillar gives the sedan great visual appeal. The rear fender design is excellent.  From the side the sedan has a set back design with a large rear window giving the impression of a hatchback such as the last generation Mazda 6 offered.

Smaller horizontal grille is a great improvement over recent Lincolns

From the profile the area around the C-pillar is a bit awkward

But the rear 3/4 design is excellent, the rear fender shape is amazing

Full width LED bar serves as the taillight
The large retractable glass roof is large

The interior is a huge upgrade over the current MKZ but looks much like the Fusion

Second Generation Mercedes-Benz GL Achieves Design Harmony

There are only a few categories of vehicles where boxy design is appreciated; full size SUVs, Japanese subcompacts like the Scion xB, and delivery trucks. The GL occupies the first transportation category and the second generation GL continues to be the modern interpretation of its Geländewagen fore bearer. Following the Scion xB route Mercedes has given its latest GL more curves to give it a fresh design which is a reasonable direction considering that you can't make a box any edgier. In fact the new GL appears to finds a perfect harmony between traditional boxy SUV styling of the G class and Range Rover and the smoother surfaces of the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne.

Upfront a prominent grille of the last generation remains while SL style headlights fit the SUV better than they do the roadster. At the back the taillights are a curvier version of the first generation. From the side the GL remains a familiar sight while gaining 3-D surfacing compared to the flat and vertical original version. Inside the new GL features an upgraded interior similar to the one on the new ML class. Figure the GL to be powered by the now familiar 4.6 turbo V8 in the GL550 configuration and by the BlueTec diesel in the GL350 BlueTec. A 500+ horsepower GL63 AMG version is likely as well. 

The Boxier First Generation For Reference

Acura tries its hand at a flagship once again

Acura is a unique brand in the luxury arena as it has never offered a V8 for sale in its cars even with Acura and Honda racing programs successfully running high performance V8s for years. For years Acura has attempted to create a true flagship without V8 power with mixed results. The Legend was wildly successful as the first Japanese luxury vehicle sold in America even with a V6 powering the front wheels. However its replacement the RL has never had the same success and the last generation RL spent the last few years having trouble clearing double digit monthly sales, in fact it was outsold by the Audi R8 last year. When the latest RL came out it was greeted with praise from the automotive precess that was not reciprocated by the consumer which found the RL offering little benefits against its cheaper TL sibling. The RL is negligibly larger than the TL and uses the same powertrain.

In two days Acura will once again attempt to challenge Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes with its new flagship rumored to be called the RLX. Acura promises that the RL replacement will have the interior space of the 7 series while having more nimble handling like that of the 5 series. Once again Acura will not offer a V6 option. However, this time around Acura's refusal to use a V8 shouldn't hurt as much as fuel economy concerns have forced its competition to offer V6 engines as well. Acura also believes that its trick hybrid all wheel drive system with two motors on the rear axle will give performance equivalent to a V8. Such a set up should be good for around 400 combined horsepower with claimed 4 cylinder fuel economy. Hopefully Acura delivers on this promise better than Lexus did with its V8 hybrid that promised V12 performance with V6 fuel economy while delivering V8 performance with V8 fuel economy.

It appears that the latest RLX should return some of the Legend's former glory in the luxury arena, some would prefer the name to make a comeback as well, but it is still tough to see the RLX matching up with the A8, 7 series, LS and S class. On the other hand the RLX should be a much better competitor to the A6, 5 series, GS and E class which are mostly sold with six cylinder engines as well nowadays.

V6 only for Acura's flagship