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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Summer 2017, part 2 [w/ poll]

We’ve discussed a handful of new model introduction of this summer in part 1, and will continue with a few other newly launched cars that we think will either hit, miss or just don’t stir our senses at all. This is a series all about opinions on a site totally dedicated to facts, just to balance it off a bit. Here we’ll give our views on new cars and invite you to give yours, be it in the poll at the bottom or in the comment section below. Fortunately, every opinion is personal so even Kriss and I don’t always agree and we hope you don’t either.


BMW 6-Series Gran Turismo

Bart: hit

I get it, the 5-Series GT, which was actually based on the platform of the 7-Series, has been more of a commercial success than it was an aesthetic success. And by renaming it 6-Series they can make the new generation more expensive, because it has a higher number. Cynicism aside, this car should’ve been called the 6-Series GT since the first generation. And I get why that appealed to the people who’ve bought one: it was more spacious and almost as luxurious and comfortable as a 7-Series for less money, all while being less ostentatious than said 7-Series. And there are plenty of shoppers in this price range who couldn’t care less about the looks of their car, as long as it did best what it’s been bought for. With the new generation they’ve actually succeeded in designing a somewhat graceful car, thanks to stretching it by almost 9cm (3 inches) and lowering it by 2cm (almost an inch), which makes it a lot less bulky than the 5-Series GT. I’m actually starting to warm to this car the more I look at it. And it’s also a great alternative for those who’d love to drive a comfortable BMW and can do without the sportiness that BMW has to put into the 5-Series sedan (and wagon) in order to keep its reputation of maker of sports sedans.

Kriss: so-so

I have mixed feelings about this car. From a rational, sales-oriented perspective, BMW did exactly what it had to do to build on the moderate success of the first generation – it based it on the tour-the-tech new 5-series, made it better-looking (less ugly?), and gave it a posher name. But it remains, at its core, a fundamentally contrived and ungainly car, sort of a 5-series for people who will benefit from the extra space and the easier entry/exit that the higher driving position affords (so, basically, plus-sized and older people). And while the 6-series GT is less environmentally-unfriendly than SUVs, it makes for a much less attractive look on the roads.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Summer 2017 [w/ poll]

After each motor show Bart and I put together our thoughts on the latest debuts, looking at them from the perspective of someone who’s passionate about motoring, but also trying to peer into our crystal balls and see whether each model will be a market success or a dud. This time, though, we’re running the article off-season, following a period of a few weeks when a few crucial cars made their debut.

Audi A8

Kriss: so-so

To me the new Audi A8 is a very frustrating car, because there is so much here that is interesting and truly cutting-edge, and yet the end product is not that you would call a “slam dunk”. On the plus side, the new car will offer the possibility (key phrase, will come back to that latter) of Level 3 autonomous driving, it features a top-drawer mechanical setup with a fully-hybridized engine lineup, a new design direction and, as always, a stunning interior with a world-first feature… the foot massager for rear passengers. OK, so that last things is a bit of a joke, but you sort of have the feeling that they threw the kitchen sink at the A8 to make it stand out against the 7-series and S-Class. But it’s not whether they’ve done enough, it’s whether they did it well enough that has me worried for this model. And so, the much vaunted “new design direction” amounts to little else than, at the risk of oversimplification, some extra creases, a super-wide front grille and a car-wide LED strip at the back. The interior is also a mixed bag: it features some really bold shapes and touch-screen controls that appear to be as good as it gets, yet overall it’s hard to escape the feeling that it all feels like a Passat Plus Plus. And to top it off the claim of Level 3 autonomy is misleading – yes, the car has the capability to do it, but right now no country will allow it, so in effect you’re buying tech you can’t (yet) use. 

Bart: so-so

I have to agree with Kriss on this, the A8 has never reached the same status as its two German rivals, even though the Audi brand as a whole has moved up to par with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, and even though every generation has been up there from a technology perspective. As Kriss explained, this won’t change with the new generation, which will go further in autonomous technology than any other car has ever gone so far, although there is one way in which the new A8 appears to take a (small) step back: ever since the first generation, the A8 has prided itself on its Aluminium Space Frame which reduced weight in order to compensate for the A8’s standard all-wheel drive technology compared to the rear-wheel drive setup of its competitors. In the outgoing generation, 92% of the bodyshell was made of aluminium, but this will be reduced to just 58% in the new generation, increasing the weight of its body from 230kg (509 lb) to 281kg (621 lb), even despite the use of some carbon fiber for the rear seat back. This is the result of steel offering better crash protection for the batteries of the plug-in hybrid version. In terms of design, the A8 makes a larger step from its predecessor than Audi’s recent launches A4, A5 and Q5, but Audi remains very conservative in a segment where buyers are more open to daring design than you’d expect (p.e. BMW 7-Series E65, Porsche Panamera).

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MG to expand to mainland Europe, what does it need to become successful?

Auto-sales-statistics-China-MG_ZS-SUVAfter almost 10 years of UK-only sales, SAIC MG is ready to start exports of its cars from China to other countries in Europe as well. Recently, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) has successfully launched a few crossovers in the domestic market (Roewe RX5, MG ZS), which puts its two passenger car brands among the fastest growing brands in China at the moment. This would be a great moment to expand its footprint to new markets as it can launch there with fresh product, and more importantly: the right product. MG is the designated export brand for passenger cars from SAIC, whereas Roewe is and will remain a China-only brand and Maxus is the LCV brand of the company. MG is already available in a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific, South America and Africa regions, and since 2009 in the UK where it reached a peak of just under 4.200 sales last year. With its expansion into continental Europe, the brand is looking to become the first Chinese brand to successfully enter a mature market, but a number of other players have set similar goals, among others Geely with its newly launched Lynk & Co brand and the resurrected Borgward brand, which both also have concrete plans to enter the European car market.… Continue Reading …

Ford to switch US Focus production to China instead of Mexico

Donald_Trump-Mark_Fields-FordFord has announced that the next generation Focus sedan will be imported from China, now that other automakers have proven there’s little public backslash nor customer hesitation over quality from cars produced in China. Buick already imports the Enclave from China, Cadillac will follow with the CT6 PHEV and Volvo sells the Chinese made S60L in the US and S90 in Europe. So not a lot of breaking news there, except that the Focus will be the highest volume model so far that will be shipped from China to the US. The big story about this announcement is Ford’s decision to pick China instead of Mexico as the new production base for the Focus. Ford originally planned to move Focus production to a new $1.6 billion plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Those plans were canceled in January, less than a year after announcing them, under public pressure from then-president-elect Donald Trump. Trump singled out Ford for its decision to move production from Michigan to Mexico, which he claimed would cost US jobs. Then-Ford-CEO Mark Fields called Bullshit on Trump as the Focus would make room for production of the Bronco SUV and Ranger midsize pickup at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in 2018, and no US jobs would be lost as a result of this move, but it was too little too late against the media-savvy populist who never let truth get in the way of headline-grabbing claims.

Eager not to let Trump take any credit for the decision not to invest in extra capacity in Mexico, Ford cited cost savings of $500 million as the reason to change its mind and build the next gen Focus at its existing plant in Hermosillo, Mexico instead of investing in the new plant in San Luis Potosi. Now there’s a new CEO at the helm at Ford and plans have changed again: Mexican production is off the table altogether. Again, cost savings of another $500 million are quoted as the reason for the shift of production across the Pacific. These plans were already in the making under Mark Fields, but it was the new boss Jim Hackett who eventually pulled the trigger.… Continue Reading …

Smaller-engined versions of top-end cars [w /poll]

The past year has seen an interesting development in the arena of exotic and ultra-luxurious cars – the emergence of smaller-engined versions of cars that were previously available only with super-high-output 12-cylinder options. First was the facelifted Ferrari FF, now called the GTC4 Lusso, which in addition to the all-wheel-drive V12 version became available as an “entry level” model with rear-wheel-drive, powered by a turbocharged V8 engine taken from the 488 GTB and California T. Then Bentley released the oft-rumored Bentayga powered by, the sacrilege, a V8 turbodiesel seemingly taken straight out of the Audi SQ7. Are they a sign of things to come, smart decisions by the brands from a marketing perspective, or foolish endeavors to chase short-term profits at the expense of the brands’ long-term allure?

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PSA may buy Opel/Vauxhall, but does it make sense? [w/poll]

Peugeot-Opel-logoThis week it became apparent that PSA Peugeot-Citroën and General Motors are having talks about the possible takeover of GM’s European division by the French automaker. This includes the Opel and Vauxhall brands, which have been a decade-long money drain on General Motors. The two automakers have been working together closely on the development of a handful of models and are looking for opportunities to boost each company’s profitability, which includes a sale of the two brands. GM has had a stake in PSA until 2013 when it became apparent that projected savings from their cooperation and platform sharing would fall short of expectations. After this breakup, the French company had to be bailed out by the French government and its Chinese partner Dongfeng Motor, which each control 14% of the shares.

Would a new, more intense cooperation bring the promised synergies? And does this mark the start of a much-needed wave of consolidations in the European car market? Or will it only cause PSA to lose focus on its own financial recovery and resurrection of its brands? Let’s look a the pros and cons for both parties involved:

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Poll: how well will the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid do in the US?

Yesterday Hyundai announced that the Ioniq Hybrid will cost around $23,000 when it goes on sale in the US, which makes it some $2,000 cheaper than its main competitor, Toyota Prius. In addition, the Hyundai can claim to be considerably more efficient than the Toyota, at least on paper, promising 58 mpg combined to the latter’s 52 mpg. So far things look promising for the Hyundai, but can it really succeed where the likes of Honda Insight failed?

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Predictions for 2017: US

Looking ahead, even one year, can be very tricky. Last year we nominated two brands as potentially doing well in 2016, and ended up being only half right: we correctly predicted Volvo‘s growth, but thought that Buick would do better than barely out-performing the market. We did even less well when predicting the disappointments of 2016 – both Cadillac‘s and Mitsubishi‘s sales in 2016 were not great, but still better than for many of their competitors. Cadillac’s sales may have fallen by 1.9 percent compared to 2015, but the brand still did better than Lexus (down 3.9 percent), Acura (down 8.9 percent) or BMW (down 9.5 percent). Mitsubishi did even better, with sales actually rising by 1.0 percent compared to 2015, better than many more fancied brands such as Mazda (sales down 6.7 percent), Chevrolet (down 1.4 percent), Toyota (down 0.7 percent) or Ford (down 0.6 percent). Time will tell whether we do better this time around!

1. Honda: success

Honda had a very good 2016, with growth its growth of 4.8 percent handily out-pacing the decline in sales among the three brands ahead of it (FordChevrolet and Toyota). This performance came from the sales growth in two new mainstream models: the Civic (sales up 9.4 percent) and HR-V (sales up 95.5 percent). The reason we can expect the good times to continue at Honda is that for 2017 it has three new models: CR-V (revealed in the fall of 2016), Odyssey (revealed in Detroit this week) and Accord (to be revealed soon). Of the three, Civic and Accord regularly rank in the top 10 of model sales, with the Odyssey adding another 100k+ of sales each year – it should thus be reasonable for Honda’s sales to go up significantly once all of those models hit the market.

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Predictions for 2017: China

We’ve discussed the 2016 success stories and disappointments of the Chinese car market, now we’ll focus on our expectations for 2017, like we’ve done for Europe. Looking ahead, even one year, can be very tricky. Last year we predicted EVs and PHEVs in China to continue their boom. From January to November 2016 sales of New Energy vehicles increased 102% in a market up 18%, to 282.292 units, including 41.796 in November alone. Pure electric car sales were the bulk of that volume with 208.839 units, an increase of 145%, while plug-in hybrid sales increased 35% to 73.453 units. And the good news is that although electric minicars/citycars still make up the bulk of China’s pure EV sales (62,2%), the real growth comes from the compact EV segment with sales up almost 9-fold. We also predicted two disappointments for 2016: DS and Volkswagen. DS was a no-brainer and you can read in our disappointments article, and for Volkswagen we said it would have to get used to single digit growth but the brand has shown remarkable resilience and has managed to grow 12,7% through November. While that’s still slower than the overall market, keep in mind the brand has completely missed the crossover hype in the same way PSA has, but it sedan-heavy line-up has continued to sell well. VW has launched 3 new nameplates in 2016: the Sportsvan has outsold its rival BMW 2-Series by almost 3-to-1, the Phideon is more of an image booster than a volume model at 800 monthly sales, but the C-Trek is the most promising with 5.600 sales in its first month.

1. Jeep: success

Jeep_Compass-China-2017Like DS was last year, Jeep is a no-brainer here. The American SUV brand could easily have been mentioned among our success stories of 2016, as it has sold well over 100.000 units in its first year of local production in China, peaking at over 16.000 sales in November with its two models: Cherokee and Renegade. That puts the brand ahead of Cadillac, which did get a mention as one of the most successful brands in China last year.… Continue Reading …

Disappointments of 2016: China

A new year is always a nice opportunity to reflect on the past year and in our case, that means looking at which cars have sold disappointingly in 2016 in China. We’ve already covered the surprises and disappointments in Europe as well as the surprises and disappointments in the US and the Chinese success stories of 2016, now let’s take a look at the Chinese disappointments. We’ll make our predictions for 2017 in a separate article. In a market that has grown 18% in the first 11 months of the year, it should be hard to find true losers, but still there are a few. I won’t even mention the biggest loser of all: Fiat with sales down 58,6% because the Italian brand simply isn’t relevant in China, with just 0,06% market share.

1. PSA

Auto-sales-statistics-China-DS_4S-hatchbackLast year, we predicted Peugeot-Citroën’s luxury brand DS would be on this list. And even though it was already down in volume last year, DS managed to underwhelm even our lowest expectations for 2016. In its third full year of sales, it’s down for the second consecutive year, and not by a small margin: -22,5% through November. None of its models has improved on last year, and its latest launch DS 4S has failed miserably with just 1.435 sales in 9 months, peaking at 276 sales in September. Whoever thought launching a premium hatchback in China would be a great idea deserves to be fired on the spot. Then again, the DS6 crossover is also down 22,5% but still by far the brand’s best selling model.

Sadly for the French, DS is not their only brand to suffer from poor product planning, and a lack of new products: Peugeot‘s only new model has arrived too late to make a mark, the 4008 (also known as the new generation 3008 in Europe) started sales in the fourth quarter and couldn’t prevent the French brand from losing 17,1% through November in a market up 18,8%.… Continue Reading …