By Chris Haak
Although I already wrote about the furor that has been growing over dealership CSI scores a year and a half ago, this week I was reminded by just how annoying they can be to customers. I’m sure they are just as annoying and frustrating to the dealers as well, but the insane process of setting unreasonable expectations on dealership employees does nothing but encourage pestering customers at best, and encourage gaming the system at worst.
This week, I took one of our vehicles to a local dealership for a recall. As I handed the service writer my keys, I noticed a large sign under the cashier’s area that said something to the effect of, “Our goal is for you to be Completely Satisfied. If you receive a survey from General Motors, please tell them that you are Completely Satisfied with the service that you have received. If for any reason you are not Completely Satisfied, please let us know right away.”
When I got my car back, the repair wasn’t a complete success, meaning I’d have to return to the dealership for a follow-up visit. That also meant that I wasn’t “completely satisfied.” However, I also don’t want to cause harm to a local business, knowing that good CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) scores are obviously very important to them (a fact that was subsequently reinforced numerous times in the past few days).
By Chris Haak
Although as a rule I always take any research conducted by CNW Marketing Research with a grain of salt (after their that a Hummer costs less per mile in dust-to-dust energy costs than a Prius, refuted by Techshake friend Michael Karesh of TrueDelta.com and ), the same firm has conducted research that indicates that of about 40,000 new-car buyers surveyed in January and February 2009.
CNW’s survey found that the share of car shoppers who say their primary vehicle choice would be one from GM declined 12%, while those who said that their primary vehicle choice would be one from Chrysler declined 33%. The fact that the companies are in the news about asking for money from the government every few days, that the ‘bankruptcy’ word is bandied about constantly in reference to GM and Chrysler, and that both companies have reduced advertising expenditures (and therefore are less in the forefront of buyers’ minds) are all exacerbating the situation.
Meanwhile, across town, Ford is reaping the benefits of the way it has positioned itself as the [relatively] healthy domestic automaker, and the only one that has not [yet] accepted money from the Federal government. The share of car buyers who told researchers that their first choice was a Ford vehicle jumped 12%. While Ford had the foresight or luck to mortgage the entire company’s assets to secure funds to finance much-needed restructuring, the company’s sales are still in the tank, in spite of noise like this study and local news reports showing that Ford is snapping up all sorts of conquest buyers from other manufacturers, and in particular from GM and Chrysler. Ford’s year to date sales are down 45.9%, GM’s are down 51.1%, and Chrysler’s are down 49.1% – that is hardly an example of Ford kicking ass and taking names.
By Chris Haak
US Representative Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) has written a bill that gives consumers between $3,000 and $5,000 for buying a new vehicle that is more fuel efficient than their old one. Ms. Sutton’s bill also provides a $3,000 mass transit voucher to anyone who turns in an old car. Under the bill, cars that are scrapped have to be at least eight years old, and the new cars purchased have to be 2009 or newer model years. To be eligible for an incentive, the new car has to achieve at least 27 miles per gallon on the highway, and incentives are higher based on where the vehicle is assembled (more money for US-built cars) and how fuel efficient it is (more money for more fuel efficiency). The new vehicle must also cost less than $35,000.
Although the bill’s passage is far from assured, both the UAW and the Detroit Three are in favor of it. Many in the auto industry have been asking for some Congressional action that would help stimulate new-car demand for the past few months, and this proposal might do that trick. Amidst an environment that saw overall Western European sales fall by 17.7% in February 2009, Germany’s actually climbed by 21.6% during the same period. Germany’s sales bucked the trend because in February it instituted a voucher worth $3,260 for scrapping vehicles more than nine years old, and at least some folks are seeing inspiration from Germany’s (at least temporary) success with such a program.
By Kevin Miller
Cadillac has announced today that it will offer a wireless internet system in their CTS Sedan. The system, with the longish name “Cadillac Wi-Fi by Autonet Mobile”, will be demonstrated at the New York International Auto show next month, with the system available shortly thereafter. The system uses 3G technology to access the web, and will allow CTS passengers to be online whether the car is parked or underway.
The system will be a dealer-installed option with a $499 price tag, $29 monthly service fee. Passengers with WiFi enabled devices such as mobile phones, music players, portable game systems, and laptop computers can each connect to the internet using the system in the CTS. It is unlikely more than three devices would be sharing the 800 kbps connection, as that is the number of passengers who can comfortably fit in the CTS.
I’m unsure who will actually buy such a system for their CTS; perhaps business people who spend a lot of time on the road or in the field (who don’t already have 3G wireless cards for their laptop computers) will find it useful; otherwise I would see the system appealing to families with one or two teen-aged kids who spend a lot of time in the car. The $29 monthly service fee will be on top of the monthly OnStar subscription of approximately $19-$29 per month, those so together those fees would total around $50/month.
The press release is attached after the jump.
By Brendan Moore
Has the Earth stopped rotating on its axis?
Have pigs sprouted wings?
Has Hell frozen over?
No, but Jaguar, a brand long stained with the reputation of unreliability, has beaten out Lexus for the top spot in J.D. Power’s annual reliability study. Lexus has held that top spot for 14 consecutive years.
Not to give short shrift to Buick, who tied with Jaguar for the top spot and also dethroned Lexus this year, but Buick tied Lexus for first in 2007 and therefore didn’t have as far to go in terms of improvement. Buick beating Lexus is not surprising; Jaguar beating Lexus is about the same as the Detroit Lions winning the Super Bowl next year. Or Myanmar winning the World Cup.
I speak from experience. Back in the day, I owned four Jaguar sport coupes; two with six-cylinder engines and two with twelve-cylinder engines. I loved those Jaguars in an almost desperate way.
But things went wrong with the Jaguars frequently, things that would have been laughable if they hadn’t been happening to me. The electrics in the cars were constantly acting up; electric components wouldn’t work, or, bizarre things would happen, like the windshield wipers coming on when I went over railroad tracks. The carburetors were so temperamental as to defy description. The cars leaked just about every fluid that existed in the car – radiators, radiator hoses, engine oil, transmission oil, brake fluid, etc. I had large rubber mats on my garage floor for years.
The interior bits would loosen or break with regularity. The windows on two of the cars leaked. The paint on three of the cars had serious imperfections right from the factory.
By Brendan Moore
AutoNation, the largest dealer organization in the United States with 313 new vehicle dealerships in 15 states, has launched a new sales incentive program today that covers up to six months of payments for new and used vehicle loan contracts in the instance that the borrower loses his or her job.
The program is called “Payment Protection,” and will cover the payments as the borrower looks for a new job, said Mike Maroone, president of AutoNation, the country’s largest dealership chain, in an interview with Reuters.
“It is especially timely in this environment,” he said. “There are really two big issues in retailing, availability of credit and consumer confidence. This attacks the consumer confidence issue.”
The main caveats are that there is a 90-day waiting period for eligibility for the program, and, that the borrower must be suffer their job loss from no actions of their own. The incentive costs the borrower nothing.
AutoNation’s new program is very close in terms and conditions to the program Hyundai rolled out months ago, and which has been credited with their good sales performance so far in 2009. This while the rest of the auto industry is at decades-low volumes.
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By Chris Haak
Sometimes when I take a step back to think about all of the money I’ve spent over the years on foolish things – money that I would love to have in my bank account again – I wish I had a way to make better decisions at the appropriate time rather than retrospectively. Hindsight is 20/20, after all. Fortunately for me, I have a wife who doesn’t like to spend money, so she keeps me in check for the most part. Chrysler apparently had no such luxury.
Whoever at Chrysler (which was part of DaimlerChrysler at the time) made the choices of what to spend money on and not to spend money on in the development of the Dodge Caliber needs someone like my wife to tell them when they are spending money on foolish things. Meanwhile, as the car’s interior materials are in need of serious improvement, the Caliber’s creators were busy adding superfluous features that add very little to the experience of spending time with the Caliber daily. It’s sort of like the way I spent money on a new car that I didn’t need at the end of the summer in 2008 instead of spending money on fixing a few things around the house.
The Dodge Caliber has some really neat features, and sounds like a pretty slick car on paper. In the plastic, though, let’s just say that it’s too bad cars aren’t driven and lived with on paper. The Caliber that I tested included a 9-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system with Sirius Satellite Radio, “leather” wrapped steering wheel withredundant audio controls, 17 inch aluminum wheels, stain repellent cloth seats, cruise control, CVT transaxle with manual shifting capability, It also had Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat paint, which is a $225 option and a shade of red I happen to be a sucker for.
Odds and Ends about Cars and the Car Business
By Brendan Moore
JAY LENO, host of The Tonight Show, stand-up comedian, and, perhaps the most famous auto aficionado in the world, is going to bring his Las Vegas road act to the Detroit area, and he’s going to do it for free. The tickets are free to the people in the Detroit Metro Area that want to have a night out. Leno says he really feels for Detroit and he wants to do something for the city and its residents. But, of course, since this is Detroit, someone on the City Council is unhappy with the idea. Martha Reeves, the former lead singer of the Motown singing group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and now a Detroit councilwoman, was piqued by the fact that the two shows would be at the Palace of Auburn Hills (April 7 and April 8) outside of Detroit. She wanted the shows to be in the city of Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. Ms, Reeves seems to have been mollified by a promise from Leno’s people that a future show could be held in Detroit. Meanwhile, the free tickets have already shown up on eBay, being offered (scalped) for as much as $200 apiece, and this is making Leno himself pretty unhappy. Last night on The Tonight Show, he stated, “Here is something that annoys me. I look on eBay today and I see four tickets to my show for sale. … You’re out of your mind to pay $800 to see me. … I would like to ask the people on eBay to take the tickets down. There is nothing for sale here.” It appears today that the ticket sale offers have been removed from eBay.
MERCEDES-BENZ continues to poach good designers from other manufacturers. In January, they got Joel Piaskowski, Hyundai’s North American design chief, who had been with the company since 2003, and was with GM for 13 years before 2003. Piaskowski was credited with being the design force behind the new Hyundai Genesis sedan and coupe. He is now in charge of advanced design for Mercedes in North America. Now M-B has gained Karim Habib, the guy who designed the exterior of the new BMW 7-Series, from BMW. Habib will oversee the advanced design studio of Mercedes in Stuttgart. Gorden Wagener, the new head of design overall at M-B, is building quite a stable of design stars at his new place of employment.
SAAB is being considered as an acquisition by six to eight very large companies, according to Sweden’s Industry Minister Maud Olofsson. But, as she put it, “There are many who go to apartment viewings, but not everyone is there to buy.” Saab intends to find a new owner in the next 60 days.