By Chris Haak
As Autoextremist Peter DeLorenzo is fond to point out, Honda’s famous focus on engineering excellence is part of the reason that the company is called, “Honda Motor Company,” and not something like “Honda Transportation Appliance Company.” He never seems to mention, however, that Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, and GM all have “Motor” or “Motors” in their corporate names.
Having accounted for a large percentage of Honda’s sales over the past 39 years, the Civic is as close to a genuine franchise as there is in this industry. Screw up the Civic, and fans may abandon the brand for some of the many predators waiting in the wings, including the Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Volt, Ford Focus. A ruined Civic redesign would be akin to BMW messing up the 3 Series. It was OK when BMW flame-surfaced the 7 Series, Z4, and 5 Series. But had Chris Bangle done something like that to the 3 Series, he would have been run out of town. Honda knows that it can’t afford to screw up the Civic, which sold 260,218 units during 2010, making it the company’s second-best selling vehicle behind the Accord (311,381) and ahead of the CR-V (203,714).
By Charles Krome
Just before the North American International Auto Show opened, the New York Times, in previewing the all-new VW Passat, published a rather telling insight from Christian Klingler, “the Volkswagen executive board member responsible for sales.” Mr. Klingler was discussing the direction of VW’s future products and was quoted as saying: “Our cars have to have a language that is easily understood. We are really trying to get into the head of the American customer.”
You know, because U.S. customers were obviously too stupid to understand Volkswagen’s previous “language.”
But here’s the thing: While the automotive elite (and me, too) have been deriding VW’s decision to cater to U.S. buyers by making the Passat and Jetta bigger, cheaper and less-expensive than their predecessors, that might be the simplest way to quickly grow U.S. sales. And that’s Volkswagen’s priority here, remember, not building smallish-but-fun-to-drive German sedans.
By Kevin Miller
Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles virtually littered the floor of Cobo hall this year. It seems as though near as many vehicles have an SAE J1772 charging port as have a standard gasoline fuel filler. Show stands on the main floor and the basement of Cobo featured a variety of EV charging equipment. Into this environment, Volvo injected their focus on safety. In combination with the battery supplier ENER1, Volvo showed a C30 Electric which had been subjected to a 40 MPH frontal offset collision.
In C30 models with internal combustion engines, the engine forms a part of the crash-absorbing structure at the front of the car. Because the C30 Electric has a much smaller electric drive unit, with a relatively heavy load of batteries located farther back in the car, additional structural members were added to the front of the vehicle to provide occupant protection in a collision.
By Chris Haak
Purists and automotive writers alike love to complain about the damage that Porsche’s move into SUVs and large, heavy sedans has done to the company’s brand and its heritage. The company and its defenders typically counter those criticisms by noting that without the likes of the Cayenne and Panamera, amazing sports cars like the 911 GT3 would not be possible.
Also likely not possible without the help of the fat, high-margin cars: roadgoing race cars like the Porsche 918 RSR. Built as a fixed-roof version of the car that surprised and delighted many observers – the 918 Spyder hybrid, which Porsche later announced would go into series production – the 918 RSR actually goes in a very different direction than the 918 Spyder concept did.
By Kevin Miller
This year’s North American International Auto Show started early on Monday morning, with Porsche holding the first press conference of the day at 6:30 AM, with press events or ceremonies being held every 25 minutes all day long, concluding with a Chevrolet press conference ending at 6:40 PM. Needless to say, it was a long day in Detroit. Notably absent from the show floor (and the press schedule) was Saab, whose tenuous grip on existence at this time last year resulted in the Swedish brand not securing a stand at NAIAS.
Ever resourceful, Saab held a media reception across the street from Detroit’s COBO Center on Monday evening. In a venue they called the SNÖ HUS, Saab offered a chance to unwind from the rigors of the day over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, with a handful of Saab vehicles to look at.
By Chris Haak
Talk about anti-climactic news. The night before the NAIAS in Detroit, Volkswagen revealed its long-awaited New Midsize Sedan (NMS), and surprise – the car is to be called the Passat. Like the 2011 Jetta, the Passat’s price of entry will be cut, and like the Jetta, it will be larger than the current Passat. Unlike the Jetta, however, the Passat will be built in the United States, in VW’s newly-constructed plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The 2012 Passat is the largest car ever to carry the Passat name, and this appear to be a continuation of the trend that we discussed a few days ago, when we commented on Volkswagen of America’s CEO discussing his company’s consideration of a full-size SUV for the US market. That is, offering Americans more car (size-wise, but not content-wise) for less money.
Odds and ends about cars and the car business
By Chris Haak
On the eve of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, there are a few news items that may not necessarily warrant a full article. However, they’re probably still worth mentioning.
FORD’S new Focus Electric, slated to hit the market in late 2011, made its worldwide debut not at the Detroit show, but at Las Vegas’ CES show. In the keynote address in which he revealed the car, Ford CEO Alan Mulally called his company as much of a technology company as a car company, and he may be right. Ford has been on the leading edge of infotainment with its SYNC and MyFord Touch system, and has done a great job of pushing high tech features such as self-parking down from luxury cars into more mainstream offerings.
By Charles Krome
One of the themes of the Chrysler Group rebirth that really hasn’t gotten much attention is the new focus the automaker is putting on Mopar, its “service, parts and customer-care brand.” But it’s been an important part of how the company has stayed afloat and in the news, since one way that Chrysler has made up for its lack of truly all-new vehicles has been by launching special, Mopar-ized editions of its current ones. Thus, we’ve seen the Call of Duty Jeep Wrangler, the Ram Outdoorsman and a very tasty Mopar Challenger all break cover this year and all earn a fair amount of buzz along the way.
And we’re going to see a lot more of this at the coming North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where two new specially kitted-out models will debut: A Mopar-enhnaced Fiat 500 and Chrysler 200 Super S.