The Prius C? I could own one. And to think that I once disparaged the average Prius owner as a dork, or worse! Not entirely without reason, mind you. The original Prius was undeniably dorky in appearance, a kind of bizarre science project lacking in automotive virility or style. It was the kind of car you’d drive only if you didn’t like cars, and dorks don’t like cars. I’d have never owned a Prius back then. But now I would. Well, I might. What changed? The Prius itself, for one thing. The family has grown to four members: the original liftback Prius; the Prius V, a pleasant wagon version; the plug-in Prius; and now, the brand-new miniaturized version, the C. I’ve changed, too, having become something of an armchair expert on these cars after test-driving all iterations, close relatives in disguise. Like many others who initially disparaged the Prius, I’ve come, albeit grudgingly, to admire its efficiency, packaging, reliability, and, of course, fuel economy—real-world fuel economy, that is, not the vaporous fantasies of PR departments. Plus, the newer models just look better; there’s more design esthetic there.
Today, many smartphones have cameras that are as good as point-and-shoots were only a year or two ago. In the automotive world the same thing is going to become both a battle ground and an enormous problem. The battle is going to be to include more and more converged systems. Think about the concept of having a cellular internet connected car just a few years ago. The issue is going to become how to allow these systems to age gracefully. Think about it, the super advanced navigation system in your new car? Think about how it is going to feel in five years, let alone ten.
Fuel efficient compact cars are a hot segment right now. After having been largely neglected by domestic automakers for the last decade, cars like the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and upcoming Dodge Dart are now offering US consumers thoroughly modern small cars, with up-to-date in-vehicle technology and efficient powertrains delivering up to 40 MPG highway. The Ford Focus was all new for 2011 in the US, after having languished on an aging platform that was introduced in the late 1990s as a 2000 model year vehicle.
It took me a week of banging my head on the steering wheel, but I think I finally figured out how to express my feelings about a modern Honda. Hondas are like BlackBerry smartphones. They are reliable, sturdy, and feel a bit stuck in the past. If you really need to get your e-mail and you need the highest grade of security pick the Honda. If you’re interested in embracing the future? Lets hope that Honda has some rapid innovation up their sleeves. The 2012 Honda Fit Sport does everything a car needs to do. It does these essential car activities very well and I am convinced that it will keep doing them for years to come. My concern is that in the market today it seems like the competition is innovating faster and bringing more exciting products to market.
As an automaker, how do you take a good – but slow selling – car and improve its sales by two or threefold? Volkswagen faced this very question during the development of the new-for-2012 Passat. Some people – my father-in-law included – really liked the Passat. But many more other potential buyers were unwilling to pay a premium price for a car from a non-premium brand. That Volkswagens had a run of reliability issues over the past several years didn’t help either. The solution? Remove a significant amount of cost from the car to dramatically drop its price, while disguising as much of the cost cutting as possible.
By Kevin Miller
In previous writing here on Techshake, I’ve gone on record with the fact that I’m not really a truck person. I like vehicles that feel maneuverable, go fast efficiently, and have just the right amount of space for my family and the things I want to take with me. Last year our family finally had to upsize from my Volvo V70, and the Ford Flex we chose seemed like a huge vehicle, though its dynamics that are more car-like than truck-like.