By Brendan Moore
I recently (last month) had a new Chevrolet Suburban full-size SUV in my driveway for a week, and in that week, I had a chance to reflect on just what made the SUV so appealing to Americans in the last fifteen years. The SUV has been somewhat demonized in the United States this year as the price of oil (and the price of gasoline right behind it) has spiked up, but there must have been something good about these vehicles to start with, because otherwise, how did so many millions and millions of them get sold?
The temptation is to line up the usual suspects when answering that question; the confluence of great marketing, ridiculously cheap gasoline, irresistible peer acceptance, tax benefits of ownership, etc. But, still, there must be more to it than these factors; there must have been a great deal of initial attraction and subsequent loyalty by their owners to SUVs for the market segment to thrive for so long. What endears the SUV to Americans?
Let me give it a shot.
By Brendan Moore
TATA says that continued violent protests at the East Indian factory that is scheduled to start churning out the $2500 Nano may force the company to move the plant elsewhere in India. The protests are not new as Tata has been bearing the brunt of the locals’ anger in the area for sometime now. The dispute centers around the farmland gobbled up by Tata for the production facility. India still has a tremendous population of rural poor people who make a meager living from the land, and these people are unhappy that private farmland was simply taken over by the government and then transferred to Tata for the plant. The government offered what was considered by most observers to be fair compensation, but the farmers displaced by the land grab are still very unhappy and some of them have refused the compensation offered by the government. Tata states that their primary concern is the safety of Tata personnel, and that opponents of the factory are sorely mistaken if they believe that Tata won’t abandon their investment in the factory in order to move the factory somewhere else where their employees would be safe. Of course, anything along that course of action would have to delay the launch of the Nano, which is extremely important to Tata, so it remains to be seen if Tata is bluffing in this regard.
Small car, big carrying capacity
By Brendan Moore
If we (the American car-buying public) continue to shun SUVS, the next logical step down in size are the crossovers. Almost everyone that bought an SUV didn’t need a vehicle that large, and now the question is whether buyers now believe they need something the size of a crossover. I am testing a crossover right now, and believe me, it’s still a very large vehicle.
For people who decide that a new crossover is still too much vehicle for them, there are cars like the Pontiac Vibe AWD, which I had on loan from GM last week. The Pontiac Vibe is the platform cousin of the Toyota Matrix, which itself is merely a station wagon version of the Toyota Corolla. Both the Vibe and the Corolla are built at the NUMMI plant Toyota and GM share in California. As you know, the Toyota Corolla from whence the Matrix and Vibe spring from is not a large car, in fact, it’s a small four-cylinder economy car.
But the Pontiac Vibe is not a small car inside.
The tall roof and large glass areas in the Pontiac Vibe give the occupants a feeling of spaciousness. There is ample interior room and the large hatch in the rear, combined with the rear seat folding down flat, gives the Vibe excellent cargo capacity (1399 cu ft). In fact, during my time with the Pontiac Vibe, I needed to take my big cruiser-style bike over to the bike shop for some regular maintenance, and I was able to fit the whole bike in the back of the Vibe without taking the front wheel of the bike off. And I didn’t have to push the driver’s seat up, either. I was surprised, to say the least. The cargo area just didn’t look that big.
By Chris Haak
For decades, Jaguars have been thought of by many as unreliable, old English, snooty vehicles that had bodies that had, shall we say, a traditional appearance. In spite of having high quality leather and other interior materials, Jaguar found itself stuck in a rut, and became a veritable money pit for Ford, as consumers moved onto competitors’ vehicles and Jaguars just didn’t sell.
Fortunately, the 2009 XF immediately takes the book containing everything that people think they know about Jaguar and drops it into an industrial paper shredder. The XF is, quite literally, like no Jaguar ever before it. The car’s designers bestowed it with a modern, elegant feline form, while at the same time managing to maintain a few styling nods to Jaguar’s past (namely, the mesh-look grille, hints of circles around the one-piece headlight units, and the vertical fender vents). The car’s proportions are no doubt modern; it has a fashionably high beltline and fairly tidy overhangs. My top of the line test vehicle had 20 inch wheels, which manage to very nicely fill the wheel openings, and visually add weight to the lower half of the car, giving observers the impression that the car is crouched and ready to pounce. Pounce on what, I’m not certain, but in the flesh, the XF is an object of beauty, particularly in darker colors.
By Andy Bannister
Cadillac, that quintessential all-American luxury marque, is having yet another attempt to conquer Europe…with a little help from the Swedes. GM’s luxury division is currently trying to tempt European station wagon buyers of out their Audis, BMWs, Volvos and Mercedes with a heavily-disguised Saab 9-3, the Cadillac BLS wagon.
A BLS sedan has been available for a couple of years already, but has so far been greeted with almost total indifference across the continent. The scale of Cadillac’s desperation can be seen by the company’s fortunes in the UK, despite the company expensively engineering right-hand-drive versions of some of its key products to suit the needs of buyers here.
In 2007, Cadillac’s UK sales – in a market of over 2 million cars a year – were just 345, though at least that was an advance on the 294 sold in 2006. So far in 2008, though, Caddy has sold only 94 units in its first seven months.