Archives for November 2013

CARicature News: German Autobahn toll will depend on your speed

German-Autobahn-tollThe famous German Autobahn will soon no longer be unlimited. Unlimited free kilometers, that is. Chancellor Angela Merkel has reached an agreement with the ruling parties to introduce a toll system in order to pay for the huge costs for maintenance of the high-speed motorways.

Rumor has it the toll pricing may depend on the speed a car drives on the Autobahn. Fast drivers will pay a higher price-per-kilometer than slower drivers, as the left-wing party Die Linke has requested. According to party-leader Gregor Gysi, “The rich are able to buy faster cars, so if they want to drive them at high speeds, they should pay more, it’s only fair”.

Angela-Merkel“Because of the poor state of our infrastructure, safety may be jeopardized if we do not invest in maintenance”, Merkel said. “But there is no money available in our current budget, so we had to choose: introduce a speed limit of 90 km/h (55 mph) or introduce a toll system, which should generate enough revenue to pay for road maintenance”.

 

Pricing is not yet announced, but expect the highest speed bracket, with an average speed >250 km/h (155 mph), to have a similar price-per-kilometer than a lap around the famous Nürburgring, which costs € 27,- for a 20,8 km lap, equal to € 1,30 per kilometer (US$ 1,10 per mile).… Continue Reading …

Will the DS premium brand succeed in China?

DS-dealership-ChinaCitroën is making a huge bet on its DS premium subbrand in China. With a projected 200.000 cars to be sold through 100 stand-alone DS dealerships by 2015, the investment is enormous and the stakes are high. Crucial to success in the Chinese market is local production, as heavy taxes keep imported models limited to just 10% of the Chinese car market in 2012. This year, Citroën has started production of DS5 in Shenzhen with its Joint Venture partner ChangAn, and two more models will follow.

Citroën dropped the ball in China

The French were one of the first foreign brands that were allowed to sell cars in China in the 1980s, together with VW. But from those early days, both brands have walked different paths, with different results.

Volkswagen has capitalized upon its first-mover advantage to build its brand into the market leader thanks to massive investments in production capacity and a wide range of products from low-end all the way up to premium with sister brand Audi.… Continue Reading …

Self-driving cars: also for driving enthusiasts?

Self-driving-car-BMW

There are many roads that are just too much fun not to drive yourself.

At first, I was skeptical of self-driving cars as well, because autonomous cars would take the fun out of driving. I might as well take the bus or train, if I can’t have control over my own steering wheel and throttle. I don’t have a rear-wheel drive roadster and a V6 Alfa Romeo just to sit back and let the car have all the fun, I want to enjoy every kilometer I drive.

Not everyone drives the Nürburgring on their daily commute

But in reality, I wasn’t enjoying every kilometer. Sure, there are many moments on secondary roads where I get my kicks out of some challenging corners or even roundabouts, or feeling that push in my back when I hit the throttle. But the majority of my commute on the highway is just numbingly following the car ahead of me who’s driving 2 km/h slower than I would like him to, but I can’t be bothered to overtake it. And that’s also due to the fact there might be a traffic cop hiding behind the bushes, ready to preach about road safety, and charging a hefty lecture fee as well.… Continue Reading …

CARicature News: The next step after self-driving cars: passengerless cars

nissan-leaf-autonomous-driveAfter Nissan announced their goal of having multiple self-driving vehicles on sale in 2020 last august, a press release dated yesterday announces the brand is already looking further into the future, and has started investigating the next step into the autonomous car.

 

“We have asked ourselves: ‘what comes next?’ As a technology leader, you need to have a vision for the future”, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn explained to left-lane.com. “We expect passengerless cars to be the mobility of the future. Imagine the benefits for road safety: when fully autonomous cars, without a driver or passenger, are involved in a crash, nobody will suffer serious injury of even fatality.”… Continue Reading …

Volkswagen US sales: down and out or just a taking a break?

Volkswagen-US-sales-2009-2013

Picture: Autonews.com

In an article published this week by Automotive News, Volkswagen’s sales slowdown in the United States this year is quite heavily overstated. And their graph showing 2013 sales plummeting even below the 2009 mark is vastly exaggerated, as VW sales are down slightly this year, -4% in a market that’s up 8%, after sales have doubled from 2009 through 2012. I can imagine, if Volkswagen wasn’t aiming for a bold 800.000 US sales by 2018, up from 230.500 in 2007 when the goal was set and still up from 438.000 in 2012, nobody would have taken a second look at sales flattening after three years of impressive growth. Still, the temporary flattening of sales shouldn’t come as a surprise when taking in consideration the reasons behind the sales surge.

Why Volkswagen sales have surged in the USA

Volkswagen have realized  that they would never make it to 800.000 sales trying to be a (semi-)premium brand, with prices of their core models 10-15% above comparable US and Japanese models, for vehicles that were developed for the European market instead of the US market. Also, currency fluctuations between Dollar and Euro have made it difficult to make a profit on European-built cars, unless you can charge a premium, like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. To deal with these issues, they have expanded their manufacturing capacity in Mexico opened a new production facility in the United States to build cars that are better suited to the North American market.

For example, when the new generation Jetta was introduced in 2010, prices were lowered to directly compete with segment leaders Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. As a result, sales surged from 108.427 in 2009 to 177.360 in 2011.… Continue Reading …

Tesla fires: the numbers don’t lie

Tesla-model-s-fire-tennesseeAs I mentioned in my article on Tesla vs. Fisker, Elon Musk takes great use of Twitter as a marketing machine. Some of his comments have had an immediate (positive) impact on the Tesla stock price, or on the Tesla brand perception. He (or is it his team?) also contributes to the blog on the teslamotors.com website.

With the recent media coverage of 3 Tesla Model S catching fire within 6 weeks time, all of them after impact that punctured the battery compartment, Tesla stock has taken a big hit, and yet again Musk was quick to respond. However, he is taking a very liberal approach to statistics and risking a kickback from a bold claim.

Tesla’s reaction to the fires

He has written a lengthy article in the Tesla blog, revealing 3 actions Tesla is taking:

  • An update to the air suspension, which is done wireless to the vehicle’s computer, to increase the ride height at highway speeds, reducing the chances of underbody impact damage.
  • Musk announced that any damage as a result of a Tesla Model S fire, even due to driver error, will be covered by the warranty. He is smart enough to make the reservation that a deliberate attempt to destroy the vehicle is not covered. He is talking to Americans after all, the same people who need a warning sticker to tell them their airbag may hurt them while saving their lives.
  • Tesla claims to have requested an investigation by the NHTSA, National Highway Safety Administration, not only to make sure there’s no safety defect to the cars and to prove Musk’s statement that the Model S is safe, but also to shut down any negative publicity of people parroting about the fires, without knowing what really happened. However, NHTSA denies this claim and says that they initiated the investigation after the third fire.

tesla-model-s-fire-thirdIf Musk’s claim about who initiated the safety investigation proves to be “a bit overstated”, it may hurt his credibility in the future. For someone who is known for his bold claims, credibility is key, or he will make a fool of himself.… Continue Reading …

How does GMs Global Brand Strategy fit in Europe?

Chevrolet-OrlandoI recently wrote about GMs strategy for Opel, and I received encouraging support from a few readers, asking for more details on my views of GMs Global Brand Strategy. In this strategy, General Motors wants to build Chevrolet and Cadillac into global brands that are present in every country of the world, “Chevy” as a mainstream brand, “Caddy” as a premium brand.

I personally believe that it’s a dead end to push a brand just for the sake of bragging rights; GM should let go of its focus on Chevrolet and Cadillac as global brands. They are American. Full stop.

Chevrolet’s image in Europe

Chevrolet is an historic American brand in the US and Canada, known for strong and durable pick-up trucks and large family cars. But in Europe, it’s a bargain-basement budget brand, selling cheap South-Korean small cars of lesser style and quality than competitors Hyundai and Kia. It has no heritage, no clear image and next-to-zero brand value. Compare that to cross-town rival Ford, which has had a presence in Europe since the beginning of the 20th century, selling cars that have been designed and built in Europe for Europeans. Ford is considered a European brand instead of an American brand, and it’s brand value is way above that of Chevrolet.… Continue Reading …

Why hydrogen fuel cells are NOT the future

In the past weeks, hydrogen fuel cell cars have been in the media again:

Why are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles being developed?

Hyundai-ix35-Fuel-Cell-EVThe idea for hydrogen fuel cell cars has been around for decades. Automobile manufacturers and universities all over the world have experimented with the technology, trying to figure out a way to make it work. But despite these years of research and the investment of billions of dollars, the simplest and most usable solution that is currently available for a reasonable price is the battery electric car.

Advocates of hydrogen mobility keep shouting the two main benefits of hydrogen from the rooftops:

  • Hey, it reduces our dependency on foreign oil, and it will never run out!

and

  • Hey, you can drink from the tailpipe, because there’s zero exhaust emissions, just water!

bush-shell-hydrogen-fuel-cellOf course, this will get populist and short-sighted politicians on the band wagon, using the promotion of hydrogen mobility and the promise of even more billions of subsidy into the further development of hydrogen cars. This should show how savvy and involved with the environment they are, but what they are eager to forget (conceal) is that hydrogen is a backwards and utterly superfluous technology for cars.… Continue Reading …

Retiring Ford designer J Mays: designs and quotes

Last week, Ford Chief designer J Mays announced his retirement after 33 years in the industry with positions at Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and the last 16 years at Ford. I’ve made a compilation of some of his quotes from the must-read book Ever Since I Was A Young Boy I’ve Been Drawing Cars – Masters of Modern Car Design by Bart Lenaerts and Lies de Mol and combined it with some of the most notable the cars he designed, worked on or which were designed under his supervision. Most have been successful, but some have been unsuccessful, either commercially or esthetically (or both). Let me know in the comment box below if you think the quote and the car match, or not at all.

 

BMW-8-series-1989-J-Mays-Klaus-Kapitza-design

1989 BMW 8-series designed by Klaus Kapitza with J Mays

 

 

“Something premium doesn’t have to scream. And by not doing so, it generates more confidence and longevity.”

 

Audi-Avus-Quattro-1991-J-Mays-Martin-Smith-design

1991 Audi Avus Quattro designed by J Mays & Martin Smith

 

 

“Nothing wrong with German automobiles: they’re still among the best in the world. But they’re so sober. A German vehicle that’s tongue-in-cheek? It just doesn’t happen.”… Continue Reading …

What should General Motors do with Opel and Vauxhall in Europe?

Opel-logoGeneral Motors has a problem in Europe. The world’s second largest automaker European Opel brand (named Vauxhall in the UK) is losing money faster than drunk guy in a strip club.

For decades, Opel has been GMs European bread-and-butter brand, competing with Ford, Peugeot, and Volkswagen for the likes of families looking for safe and comfortable, non-pretentious transportation. But the European car market has shifted away from the middle-of-the-road brands, and unless you’re a premium or low-cost brand, you’re in trouble, especially without any chance of growing your volume outside of Europe. Several competitors have come up with different strategies to cope with this reality.

Should Opel follow any of these strategies?

Volkswagen strategy

Volkswagen reacted to the rise of (mostly South-Korean) budget competition by moving its core VW brand more upmarket by introducing more advanced technology, better individualization options and more luxurious interiors, with some help from its premium Audi brand, meanwhile re-introducing Skoda as a budget competitor for price sensitive customers.

But it’s extremely difficult to move a mainstream brand like Opel upmarket into (semi)premium territory, and it will take huge investments into technology, design and marketing. Money that GM is not willing to spend on a “local brand” like Opel, especially one that has already lost an unimaginable $ 18 Billion in the past 12 years. And it will also take a lot of time, at least a few decades, to get the new, higher-end image into the minds of consumers. Time the brand doesn’t have, with stockholders breathing down GMs neck, looking for it to focus on high-growth markets and brands, offering a quick return on investment. Arguably, VW isn’t quite there yet either.… Continue Reading …