In this section of the blog, you can find opinions about all kinds of matters related to the automotive industry. Corporate strategies, future technologies, past, current and future models, you name it.
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Should Renault change the Samsung brand name?

Renault-Samsung-Motors-Market-share-South-KoreaRenault Samsung Motors, the South Korean subsidiary of the French carmaker, is the least successful of the South Korean domestic automakers, the brand has struggled in recent years because of bland and uninspiring products, but is going through a transition period, with the restructuring of its sales network and product offering.

Renault Samsung was once the number two brand in its home market, behind Hyundai-Kia, but has been passed in recent years by GM Korea (the former Daewoo now turned Chevrolet) and SUV maker SsangYong, owned by Mahindra & Mahindra of India, as sales of Samsung branded vehicles have fallen almost 60% in two years time, from 161.917 in 2010 to just 65.691 in 2012.

Its main competitor Hyundai-Kia, with a local market share of over 75%, exports to countries all over the world, and has economies of scale to undercut Samsung’s prices in its home market. And with a production of around 130.000 units in 2012 in a factory with a capacity of 300,000 units annually,  it’s hard to make a profit.

Bright future for Renault-Samsung?

But a change of fortune may be in the making.

renault-samsung-qm3The recent successful introduction of a Samsung branded version of the Renault Captur, named Samsung QM3, looks hope giving. The first 1.000 units of the small SUV were sold out in 7 minutes, with another 4.000 orders signed in the following two weeks. It is the first Samsung vehicle not built in South Korea, but that may change if sales remain strong, as shipping costs from Europe and import duties in South Korea make it hard to turn a profit on these sales.… Continue Reading …

GM to drop Chevrolet in Europe to focus on Opel

Chevrolet-EuropeGeneral Motors must be reading Left-Lane.com, as they have announced that Chevrolet will be pulled from the European car market, in order to focus on Opel (and Vauxhall in the UK), just two weeks after I wrote my article on What should General Motors do with Opel and Vauxhall in Europe?

Automotive News reported that “due to a challenging business model and the difficult economic situation in Europe” Chevrolet will no longer have a presence in Europe from 2016. “We have growing confidence in the Opel and Vauxhall brands in Europe. We are focusing our resources in mainstream Europe,” according to Stephen J. Girsky, Vice Chairman at General Motors.

Although that is exactly what I wrote in my article on Opel, that GM should focus on its local brands, in my article on How does GMs Global Brand Strategy fit in Europe? I said that they could keep Chevrolet in Europe, but make a bigger distinction between the brands. Chevrolet should be the budget brand, like Dacia, which is very successful and profitable for Renault. Daewoo was selling quite a bit of cars before it was renamed Chevrolet and raised its prices to mainstream levels for budget cars. For Dacia prices, Chevrolet would have been able to compete in Europe.… Continue Reading …

Man arrested for charging EV at son’s school. Disproportionate? Sure. But theft?

Nissan-Leaf-EV-ChargingWith new technology, there is always a period when regulations and good practices haven’t kept up with the new situations that this technology can put people into.

When automobiles were introduced over 100 years ago, it didn’t take long for speed limits to be introduced, as pedestrians at that time were only familiar with horses walking through the streets. So when they wanted to cross the road, they didn’t expect those motorized carriages to approach as quickly as they were.

Fast forward to 2013, when a Georgia owner of a Nissan Leaf Electric vehicle was arrested and charged with stealing about 5 cents worth of electricity when he plugged his car into a EV charging station at his son’s school while he was attending a tennis practice. He spent more than 15 hours in jail for charging his car for 20 minutes at the school’s expense.… Continue Reading …

BMW i3 crash test reminds of the A-class moose test

Remember the Moose Test that almost killed the Mercedes-Benz A-class?

Mercedes-Benz-A-class-moose-testIn 1997 Mercedes had introduced a revolutionary new car, the A-class, Mercedes’s first entry into the compact car segment. Mercedes proclaimed it would be the safest compact car on the market. Shortly after the car was officially introduced, it rolled-over during a test known as the “moose test“, conducted by a Swedish journalist. The A-class’s failed moose-test created extensive media coverage in Germany and other European countries, threatening the success of the A-class launch and hurting the safety image of parent Mercedes-Benz. They were forced to make an Electronic Stability Control system ESP as standard, and then it passed the test, but the damage to the A-class’s image had been done.

BMW-i3-EuroNCAP-crash-testFast forward to 2013: BMW introduces a revolutionary new car, the i3, BMW’s first entry into the electric car segment. BMW proclaimed it would be one of the safest electric cars on the market, thanks to its carbon fibre safety cell. Shortly after the car was officially introduced, it received only a four-star rating in the European safety test, conducted by Euro NCAP. The i3’s “failed” safety test created extensive media coverage all over the world, with BMW hoping it won’t threaten the success of the i3 launch and hurt the technology leader image of parent BMW. They probably will have to make a few safety systems as standard to get a five star rating, but the damage will have been done.

You see the similarities, right? Then why didn’t BMW see this coming?… 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 …

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 …