“Worthy but bland”. “Same sausage, different sizes”. “Jacked-up Avant models”. Audi’s crossovers have been called many things by their detractors over the years, though it never prevented them from selling very well. Eventually, though, Audi got fed up and said “Enough!”, promising that going forward it would develop a distinct design language for its Q-series models. The Q7 was the first test, and it’s pretty much universally agreed-upon that it was a test that Audi failed. So it was with mixture of anticipation and fear that everyone waited for the new, “adventeruous” Q2 to be revealed. Finally, the curtain fell, leading many to proclaim: [Read more…]
Archives for March 2016
Car sales in Europe continue their double digit growth in February, after a short interruption in January. Sales are up 13% to 1.077.352, the best February score since 2008 and the 30th consecutive month of growth for the European car market as it continues to slowly recover from the severe crisis. As in January, the gains are across almost all of Europe, with only Greece (-32,4%) and The Netherlands (-15%) contracting. The latter is due to a change in taxation of fuel efficient vehicles, which artificially boosted registrations in December, so the Dutch market should normalize as the year proceeds. The big winner is again Italy (+27,3%), once again larger than France (+13%) and now even the #2 market behind Germany (+12%) as the UK (+8.4%) traditionally has a weak first two months of the year as customers await the bi-annual license plate change in March, which usually pushes the UK to the #1 spot that month.
The love is also spread across all manufacturers, as all show growth in February, and the biggest volume loss at brand level is just 1.200 sales. As Italy is boosted, it’s not hard to guess which manufacturer is benefiting the most from this growth: FCA is the biggest winner, as it was in January, followed by Volkswagen Group and PSA Peugeot-Citroën. Skoda and especially Audi are boosting the VW Group, as Volkswagen and Seat are among the losers, albeit with small figures. In terms of relative growth, Lotus owner DRB-Hicom once again shoots up, followed by Mahindra&Mahindra thanks to their SsangYong brand, and Lada as its renewed distribution in Germany and Hungary marks the official starting point of a new mission to conquer Europe. [Read more…]
This is our third installment of our series on car models which continued to be produced under a new owner and a new name in China after having been retired from their original market. In part 1 we discussed the Seat Toledo, Seat Ibiza, MG ZT, MG TF, Rover Streetwise and LDV Maxus and in part 2 the Volkswagen Jetta, Audi 100, Daihatsu Move and Austin Maestro/Montego. In part 3 we’ll look at Zotye, a small auto maker based in the Zhejiang province in China that’s presently best known for blatantly copying foreign car designs. But Zotye hasn’t always taken illegal inspiration from Western designs, they started off large scale production by legally acquiring a number of obsolete platforms and designs from Western automakers, some of which never even made it into full production.
Suzuki Alto 2nd generation (1984-1988) -> Zotye Jiangnan Alto (1988-2013)
The second generation Suzuki Alto, produced in Japan between 1984 and 1988 has proven to be a true evergreen. After its short first life, production moved to no less than four different manufacturers, two of which still continue to sell the model today. The first one was Maruti, Suzuki’s own branch in India, which has sold the model as the Maruti 800 from 1986 to 2003. In neighboring Pakistan, Suzuki’s local branch Pak Suzuki started production of the Alto in 1988 and still continues to do so today as the Suzuki Mehran.
In China, Suzuki licensed production of the Alto to two manufacturers. Changan Auto, Suzuki’s manufacturing Joint Venture partner, produced the Alto from 1988 until 2008 as the Changan SC7080. Simultaneously, Jiangnan Auto produced their own version of the Alto, called the JN Auto. Jiagnan also exported CKD (Complete Knock Down) kits to PSA in Tunisia for local assembly as the Peugeot JN Mini (just over 7.500 assembled until 2003) and to Iran Khodro until 2000 for assembly as the Iran Khodro Alto, to compete with the Saipa Nasim, which was a locally assembled Kia Pride/Mazda 121. Jiangnan was taken over by Zotye in 2009 and the car was renamed Jiangnan Alto or Jiangnan TT. It was marketed at the end of 2010 as the cheapest new car in the world, with a price of 18.800 yuan, or US$ 2,830 at that moment’s exchange rates, close to the price of India’s Tata Nano. Production is said to have ended in 2013, but new registrations are still reported in 2016. Reportedly as a replacement to the TT, Zotye started production of the Z100 in 2013, which is “coincidentally” a carbon copy of the 7th generation Alto, the one produced from 2009. They’ve even made an all-electric version of the car: the Zotye Z100 EV. Zotye doesn’t have the license for this design, as it’s already produced by Changan-Suzuki, but so far they’ve gotten away with it, which unfortunately supports their decision to stop buying licenses and just copy existing designs. [Read more…]
The 2016 New York Auto Show has started, and while it’s not as important as the show in Detroit, nor as West-Coast flashy as the show in LA, a handful of automakers still picked it to reveal their new or updated models, or concepts of upcoming models. We’ve picked the 7 most significant ones and compared notes. Let us know what you think of them in the comments below.
Acura MDX facelift
I’m glad they finally ditched the chrome shield in the grille, but the downside is that the MDX has become even more anonymous than it was before. Acura’s design is apparently going the complete opposite of that of Lexus, who are getting more extreme with every launch. That probably makes the MDX the perfect minivan-that’s-not-a-minivan, so they’ll probably continue to sell a ton of them. They also have a hybrid now, with the same system as the NSX. The MDX surely has a lot of good things going for it, otherwise it wouldn’t be the #2 of its segment. And yes, the Q7 is shockingly awful and Mercedes hasn’t gotten the styling quite right in any of the ML/GLE generations, but I think the X5 beats the MDX in styling, even if for the simple fact that it actually gets noticed.
It’s funny, you say “Miss”, but I read a lot of good things: “ditched the chrome shield grille”, “perfect minivan-that’s-not-a-minivan”, “hybrid with the same system as the NSX”. I had a soft spot for the MDX Mk II, and while the new model is not quite as muscular-looking as that, I think the facelift makes it into a rather handsome car, better-looking than any of the German trio (Q7, X5 and ML). In my mind Acura would do best to emulate the inoffensive Audis of late 1990s/early 2000s, and this fits the bill perfectly.
After showing you that the first car built by Chery was a first-gen Seat Toledo for which the Wuhu government bought the rights and production line without knowledge of Volkswagen management and without a license to produce cars from the Chinese government, we’ll continue with part 2 of our series of cars which continued production in China under a new owner and new brand after they retired in their original market. We’ll start with one more SAIC product, one that had already been briefly mentioned in the first article. And that’s also one of the reasons why I included it here (also because I just liked the story), even though it doesn’t really belong here because it didn’t change owner after retirement in Europe and the US.
Volkswagen has been the most successful foreign car brand in China, thanks to being one of the first players in the market, as early as 1978. And in 1984, Volkswagen beat Peugeot-Citroën in to set up the first passenger-car production Joint Venture in China when it closed a deal with SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.) to assemble Santana sedans, a model that would continue uninterrupted production for 30 years. A few years later, in 1990, VW started a second Joint Venture in China, this time with the oldest local car maker FAW (First Auto Works). Because of plunging gasoline prices in North America in the 1980s, US demand for the Volkswagen Rabbit (Golf), Rabbit pick-up and Jetta had decreased sharply. As a result, Volkswagen’s Westmoreland Assembly Plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was operating way below capacity and a huge loss-maker for the company. The plant was shut down in 1988, and VW subsequently moved the production line to Changchun, China and started production of the Jetta at the end of 1991. The Jetta became famous in China for its bullet-proof durability, helped by the proven 1.6 liter 8-valve engine that would power every Chinese Jetta until 2013. After 21,5 years of Chinese production (29 years since its original launch) and three exterior facelifts the Jetta II was finally replaced by an all-new China-only version that year. [Read more…]
We recently wrote about how some Chinese car makers still can’t resist the temptation to simply copy existing car designs, a practice that may work in the short term, but won’t do their brand perception any favors in the long run. To build a brand beyond a certain threshold, and especially if you’re looking to export, you’ll need to develop a style of your own. And although foreign car makers are required to work with a local partner if they want to produce cars in China, they’ll be less likely to co-operate with a partner known for stealing intellectual property rights. Therefore, not all copying is done illegally. Some Chinese auto makers have bought the design license and sometimes even the entire production line from obsolete foreign models after those ended their original life cycle and production abroad. This practice has happened a lot in the past and continues today, not always with entire designs, but also with platforms, the most expensive part in the development of a car. I’ll try to make an as comprehensive list as possible, if you have any more input from platforms I may have forgotten, please let me know!
One of the most interesting stories involves Chery, now a 500.000 annual volume car maker, and Spanish brand Seat. Chery was founded in the mid-1990s by the government of Wuhu in the Chinese province of Anhui. At the time, the central Chinese government restricted the issue of licenses to produce cars to new players, but they would allow the production of engines. But the Wuhu government was determined and had acquired the production line of an outdated Ford engine and moved that from the UK to their province. However, they didn’t have any customers to purchase and use those engines, so they decided to contact Yin Tongyao, a former engineer at the FAW-Volkswagen Joint Venture who had worked on the FAW-Volkswagen Jetta. Tongyao struck a secret deal with Seat, whose first generation Toledo (Seat’s first model developed under VW ownership, built on the VW A2 platform of that same Jetta, the European Jetta II) was near the end of its life cycle. [Read more…]
To no one’s surprise our readers have named the Audi Q2 the most disappointing production car of Geneva 2016. Of course, this is not the same thing as calling the Q2 a “bad” car – Audi is probably incapable of making a car that’s outright bad right now – rather, it’s a car that could have, or even should have been so much better. With a styling that’s both conservative and seemingly under-resolved, a standard 5-door body and size that positions it alongside the older, but arguably more attractive Q3, and a complete lack of a “want it” factor, the Q2 seems like a giant missed opportunity for Audi to, for once, get ahead of their arch-rivals at BMW and Mercedes-Benz. [Read more…]
For a while us here at Left-lane.com have been in awe of the success of Dacia, the first true dedicated “value” brand (re)started by a major car manufacturer. Sure, Skoda was arguably the first attempt by a major manufacturer to buy a lowly brand and have it slot in at the bottom of its brand hierarchy, but it was never truly positioned as a “bargain” brand. Notwithstanding the Felicia, itself a re-skinned Favorit, all its models have been basically current VW models for some 20% less cash – that’s cheaper, but not really cheap. When Renault bought Dacia, on the other hand, it created a line-up of dedicated cars that were based on tried and tested platforms whose R&D costs have long been recovered, thus allowing the models to be sold at a very low price point. Add to that a simplified construction, long-travel suspension that was both sturdy and comfortable, minimal styling and a spartan interior and the first Dacia model, the Logan, was ready to do battle with both more expensive western, as well as long-obsolete homegrown models in the Eastern European markets. But what followed was a success story that exceeded all expectations Renault may have had for the brand – Dacia models became a mainstream hits in Western Europe as well, including in über-demanding markets such as Germany and England.
Car sales in China are up 3% in February to 1.348.856 units, after growing 11% in January. However, as the week-long Lunar new year holiday moves between January and February, it can influence car sales in those months. Therefore most analysts prefer to compare combined January and February sales to the year before, as it gives a more realistic picture of the direction of the market. And that direction is still up, helped by the continued tax cut on small vehicles (up to 1.6 liter engines). In the first two months of 2016, the Chinese car market has grown 7,75% to just over 3,5 million vehicles. The share of local brands continues to reach record levels, now at 44,84%, up from 39,14% in February 2015 and from the previous record of 43,29% last month. The other trend we’ve witnessed in the last year also continues: SUVs gain 55% to 1,27 million sales and MPVs add 14% to their volume to 436.000 sales, while sedans drop 13% to 1,78 million sales. If this trend continues, SUVs will outsell sedans sometime in the next year or so.
The Volkswagen Lavida (excluding Gran Lavida) is the only import brand model in the top-5 and trails the perennial leader Wuling Hongguang by a mere 338 units in February, but is still way behind in the first two months. The Haval H6 is under continued pressure from the Baojun 560 for the title of China’s best selling SUV, while the GAC Trumpchi GS4 moves into third place of that segment and 10th overall, making it 5 Chinese models in the top-10. The renewed Buick Excelle XT and GT are the fastest growing models in the top-10 and the Buick Envision is the fastest gainer in the top-20. [Read more…]
When we asked you what your top production cars of Geneva 2016 were we knew the Alfa Romeo Giulia would be somewhere close to the top, but given that the car had been shown a while back (albeit in Quadrifoglio form) we did not think it would top the list. So color us surprised when the Giulia not only took top spot, but was the only car to have figured in more than half of the respondents’ top-5 lists! Now, it will be fascinating to see whether all this anticipation translates into success in the marketplace. [Read more…]