By James Wong
The rising middle class in the world, particularly in Asia, can only mean one thing – the mid-size executive luxury saloon market will continue to balloon as aspiring newly wealthy people search for the best car for which to part their money with. They wouldn’t buy an S-Class or a 7 Series, because that is what their boss would drive, but they wouldn’t want to be seen in a C-Class or 3 Series either, which might imply that they are getting a paycheck that isn’t as big as they would want. They would go for the segment of the Audi A6, Jaguar XF, BMW 5 Series and the like, and the two frontrunners of this hotly contested group is undoubtedly the E-Class and the 5 Series, both of which are the biggest players in the Singaporean market.
Readers of Techshake from North America might be unfamiliar to the F10 523i and W212 E250 CGI, as the base models for the North American market are usually the bigger capacity 6-cylinder models. In Asia however (I cannot pinpoint exactly the reason for it to be so), the base models, which are also the volume sellers, are usually much smaller in displacement than what you might have in the US. For instance, the 523i mentioned in this article has a 2.5-litre inline-6 engine that is good for 204bhp and 250Nm of torque. This 523i is not be confused with the 523i offered in Europe, which actually has a detuned 3.0-litre engine that puts out roughly similar output levels as the smaller displacement I6. The E250 CGI on the other hand goes a step further in downsizing by being equipped with a 4-cylinder 1.8-litre turbocharged engine that is good for 204bhp and 310Nm of torque.
By Chris Haak
Even though Suzuki only sells a few thousand cars in the US each month and can’t seem to get the right product mix in the US, the Japanese purveyor of motorcycles and small cars has found incredible success in one of the world’s fastest-growing auto markets: India. The Suzuki Maruti joint venture is the largest automaker in the world’s second-most populous nation, with about 50 percent of India’s market share.
The Tata Nano, however, is the new kid on the block in India, and it’s been selling well, thanks to the car’s staggeringly low price point. A new Nano base model sells for 123,361 rupees ($2,645 USD), and is the cheapest new car in the world. Maruti’s cheapest car, meanwhile, the M800, sells for 192,936 rupees ($4,138 USD), or 56 percent more than the Nano. Just as bad, the M800 can no longer be sold in 13 of India’s major cities because the car does not meet new emission standards. Maruti’s volume model, the Alto, starts at 229,055 rupees ($4,912 USD). It’s no wonder that Maruti’s market share has dropped below 50 percent for the first time as the Nano eats its lunch. From April through July, sales of the Nano handily topped those of the M800, 23,779 to 8,586.
By Charles Krome
GM’s OnStar technology has been around for some 15 years now, and its impact on the auto industry is hard to overstate. OnStar essentially kicked off the whole automotive telematics industry in 1996, blazing the trail for today’s ubiquitous nav and hands-free calling systems, as well as more comprehensive offerings like Ford’s SYNC.
It’s not just an expensive toy, either. The current OnStar system offers functionality that can be legitimately called “life-saving.” If you’re in an accident, for example, the system can automatically send emergency medical services to your location in minutes, even if you’re unconscious or can’t otherwise respond. And it can come in pretty handy when dealing with a range of less serious annoyances, from getting yourself locked out of your car to having it stolen. In the latter case, OnStar can track down your ride and then shut down power to its engine in some situations.
By Chris Haak
I can hear the ticker-tape machines humming away in the background as I write this from the Techshake newsroom. Hot off the press comes word that 68 year old GM Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre is relinquishing his CEO title on September 1, 2010. Replacing him will be current GM board member, 61 year old Dan Akerson (pictured here). Whitacre will remain as GM Chairman through the end of 2010, at which point Akerson will assume those duties as well.
In a curious twist of fate, Dan Akerson in some ways shares his predecessor’s prior experience. Whitacre, of course, was CEO of AT&T until his retirement a few years ago, and Akerson is the former CEO of Nextel Communications. Currently, Akerson is serving as Managing Director of the Carlyle Group, a private-equity concern. Akerson was named to GM’s board in July 2009 as the company exited bankruptcy. His board membership was intended to represent the US Treasury’s interests in the automaker, which of course is majority-owned by the US government. Also on Akerson’s resume is the fact that he is a current member of the board of directors of American Express.
By Kevin Miller
Earlier this year, BMW made a major change in their marketing – from the Ultimate Driving Machine to Joy. Though it wasn’t evident at the time, now that I’ve driven the new 535i it is clear why the change had to be made. It’s because the 5 Series simply is not an Ultimate Driving Machine.
The sixth-generation of BMW’s 5 series is all-new for 2011. Historically, the design hallmarks of the German manufacturer’s mid-range sedan have included featured a tall greenhouse and great visibility, both of which are downplayed in the sixth-generation car. The new car has been developed based on BMW’s large 7 Series sedan, which is one of the reasons the 5 series car is not the Ultimate Driving Machine. The car is simply too heavy. BMW did a similar downsizing when they created the 1 Series from their mainstream 3 series, with the resulting 1 Series weighing too much. Unfortunately, history has repeated itself with the new 5 Series.
By Chris Haak
Hyundai’s rise to one of the world’s largest – and fastest-growing – automakers over the past several years has been nothing short of incredible to watch. If you’re reading this site, you’re probably already aware of how the Korean upstart only built its first car in 1968, and only entered the US market in 1986 with the Excel, just 24 years ago. Yet, thanks to a long warranty, a focus for the past several years on quality, and finally original, attractive designs, Hyundai has elbowed its way into the hearts of consumers.
This consumer consideration is proven not only by the fact that Hyundai was one of just two automakers to see sales increases during the auto industry meltdown of 2009 (the other was Subaru), but also that Kelley Blue Book has anointed the company as one of its five most-considered brands. Hyundai is now number five on the list, knocking Nissan off the top five altogether.
By George Straton
Is a Premium Compact Hatchback with the Three Pointed Star from Sindelfingen (via Hungary) coming to a U.S. Mercedes-Benz dealer near you in 2013?
Few Americans associate the luxury car builder or its Three Pointed Star emblem, with anything other than large, stately, robust and expensive luxury sedans and sporty cars and the lifestyle engendered by the same. Yet in markets outside the U.S., where gasoline retails for $7 U.S. per gallon and urban parking is space on the sidewalk that hasn’t been taken by a two perpendicular parked SMART cars, the company has found some decent success with a FF (Front Engine, Front Wheel Drive) compact layout.
We say there’s no way that Chrysler can get to 25 percent fleet by December 31.
By Chris Haak
The auto industry’s paper of record, Automotive News, did a nice piece of reporting in this week’s issue (link [sub], via ) on the explosion in fleet sales at Ford, GM, and Chrysler so far during 2010. Thanks to a thorough review of internal documents, conversation with s at the manufacturers, and its own estimates, AN has painted a less-than-rosy picture of the sales mix behind the overall sales gains we’re seeing in the industry so far during 2010. Basically, retail sales are nearly flat – if not shrinking – at GM and Chrysler, and both companies’ fleet/retail mix is more heavily skewed toward fleet than toward retail than is typical.
Generally, automakers try to keep sales that go to fleets at or below 25 percent of their total sales volume. There are three main types of fleet sales – commercial fleets, government fleets, and daily rental fleets. Sales to commercial and government fleet buyers aren’t as bad as sales to daily rental fleet buyers, because those first two types tend to hold onto the vehicles longer, maintain them well, and have a specific driver assigned to the vehicle. Sales to daily rental fleets are not good because, well, we all know how people treat rental cars. Worse still, rental cars are usually not well-equipped examples, and once their useful life has been exhausted, the rental companies dump them at auctions, which depresses the resale values of the same model everywhere. That tends to anger consumers, and also tends to make leasing those specific vehicles a more expensive endeavor. Finally, sales to daily rental fleet buyers are typically heavily discounted, meaning there’s little profit for automakers from the sales. But hey, they keep the factories running, right?