In a somewhat surprising move Ford has ousted CEO Mark Fields after only three years, a period in which he oversaw the company losing 40% of its market value and being overtaken by Tesla in market capitalization terms. His replacement, Jim Hackett, comes from within Ford and has recently headed Ford’s Smart Mobility division, in charge of developing the blue oval’s autonomous car technology and ride-sharing business models.
Months ago I wrote about China’s domestic OEMs fast evolving automotive design capabilities (see Chinese Cars: Just Copycats?).
This time I want to highlight another developing aspect of the Chinese market: foreign brands are now frequently designing cars exclusively for the China. This is an expensive practice, but one that is justified by the market size, particular tastes of (some) Chinese customers, and the business dynamics between these brands and their local joint-venture partners. As an example, the domestic Compact Car segment is so large, that by itself it would rank among the 5 largest car markets in the world. This means automakers have to cater to large and diverse customer groups; hence the opportunity for several models from individual brands to effectively compete in it.
One may start thinking of how some of the China-exclusive models might fare if exported or produced abroad, which is exactly the point I would like to open for debate today. Certainly it would be no hardship to export into Emerging Markets; China’s regulations, environmental and usage requirements are as strict ― or stricter ― than most, so changes would be few and small in scope (with the exception of right-hand drive conversions). For Developed Markets, some extra engineering might be required to comply with safety regulations and requirements, but since many of the China-unique models are based on global platforms, it should be quite feasible. I suspect the greatest challenge is that these models are Made-in-China, which is a pity as the design, development philosophy and practices, as well as the quality and sophistication of tools and equipment are far more important than the country of manufacture. Chinese plants, for example, are among the newest in the world, and well-equipped given the massive recent investment. It’s a pity potential international customers are still locked in the old paradigm, but perceptions do matter. I have no qualms about buying a Chinese-made BMW, Honda, etc. I would even seriously consider some of the latest domestic brand products from Geely, BYD, Haval, Roewe and others.
Moving on, here are some interesting foreign brand ― in alphabetical order, not importance ― models made exclusively (at least so far) in China and for China. Let us know, by commenting, if you believe any of them would have appeal outside of China. [Read more…]
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo has finally launched the long-awaited successor to the 159. The brand that has languished and seen plummeting sales over the last fifteen years aims to revive the glory of its heydays with the all-new Giulia. As of now, Alfa Romeo launched the Giulia Quadrifoglio only, the top-of-the-range version capable of some mind-blowing numbers: it features the 510 hp six-cylinder 2.9 turbo petrol engine developed by Ferrari engineers with a top speed of 307 km/h and capable of an acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds, a peak torque of 600 Nm, while it should brake from 100 km/h back to 0 in less than 32 metres. Alfa Romeo claims best in class emission levels, with 198 g/km of CO2, while its dry weight is just 1,524 kg. Sales of the Giulia Quadrifoglio will start during the last quarter of 2015, with prices starting at about 79,000 Euro in Italy.
The Bentayga is the fastest, most powerful, most luxurious and most exclusive SUV in the world according to Bentley, a statement which could very well be true. The production version of the EXP 9 F Concept is based on the platform of the new Audi Q7, but designed, engineered and handcrafted in Crewe. It sits on the 2,992 mm wheelbase of the Q7, while the overall car length is 5,141 mm, its width is 1,998 mm and height 1,742 mm. It can be selected with four- or five-seat configurations. The four-seat version features two individual rear seats that adjust in 18 different ways and include massage and ventilation functions as well as footrests. The storage space features a leather-trimmed folding seat that matches the style of the cabin seats, according to Bentley “Ideal for those wishing to stop for a moment and enjoy a spectacular outdoor environment or pursuit”. A 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged W12 engine with a power output of 608 hp and 900 Nm torque powers the SUV, with which it could achieve a top speed of 301 km/h and accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds. The engine is mated to an eight-speed transmission, while the CO2-emissions are 292 g/km. In the future Bentley will launch diesel and hybrid variants.
Let’s talk about automotive mergers again, because Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, keeps going on about them being necessary to achieve the economies of scale needed for automakers in the current, highly competitive marketplace, and in order to spread the cost of investments in fuel efficiency, connectivity, autonomous driving and electrification. Okay, in all honesty, Sergio isn’t the only one saying it’s becoming “too expensive to make cars”, but he is the most outspoken one on the subject and he keeps flirting with other automakers to merge, most notably General Motors, so he’s an easy target for my rants.
And to a certain degree I can relate with him. Like he says, it doesn’t make any sense at all for every single automaker to develop -for example- hydrogen fuel cell technology in-house, so each of them has to “invent the wheel” by all themselves. Of course it would save tons of money for the automakers, and therefore for new car buyers, if development costs of a new technology could be spread among a cooperation of automakers, but guess what? This already happens a lot without any of them having to actually merge. Besides that, a lot of technologies in vehicle safety or fuel efficiency already get developed by suppliers, like Bosch, Magna or Denso, who then sell a license to the technology to a number of automakers, and thus spreading the development costs. [Read more…]
The recent acquisition of Italy’s tire manufacturer Pirelli by the Chinese state-owned chemical company ChemChina is the latest in a string of Chinese and Indian investments in worldwide known European brands, not limited to the automotive industry. Do European countries and consumers have to worry about this phenomenon? Does this spell danger for our crown jewels and will the manufacturing jobs be moved to China or India, where labor is much cheaper? History proves us we should embrace the Asians as excellent caretakers of “our” brands, better than the Americans have been in the last few decades.
The Asians understand the value of a brand, because in their domestic markets there’s a huge difference in perception between local brands, which are considered low-value and can only compete on price, and foreign import brands, which are considered high-end and therefore are able to demand higher transaction prices, resulting in high profits.
The American way
As a result, when an Asian company takes over a Western brand, it will do anything to preserve the brand image, because that is what makes a brand valuable and leads to those higher profit margins. This view is contrasting with the way American companies used to handle their takeovers of European brands in the relatively near past. [Read more…]
The latest Ford Mondeo / Fusion has received a lot of praise ever since it was launched, mainly because of its looks. Customers and punters alike seem to be falling over themselves in praising the Aston-esque grille and aggressive headlight treatment at the front, many claiming it’s one of the best looking in its class. I am not one of those people…
The midsized crossover segment is still enjoying a healthy growth pace, increasing sales 11% in the first three quarters of 2014, as 14 models in the top-20 have sold more units than they did in the same period last year.
The first model to lose sales is the Nissan Qashqai which has suffered from a model change-over to its second generation. I had expected the new model to have picked up the pace by now and to have returned into positive territory by now, but it has fallen below 20% segment share instead. Considering the last quarter of the year is traditionally the slowest, the Qashqai may fall below the 200.000 annual sales mark for the first time since 2009. But even if it does so, it won’t be by more than 5.000 units. Perhaps the successful introduction of the 7-seater Nissan X-Trail as a replacement to both the outgoing X-Trail and the extended wheelbase Qashqai+2 is hurting sales of its smaller sibling. The X-Trail has already more than doubled its volume of last year and was up into 13th place in September, ready to move past the C4 Aircross and Forester by the end of the year. [Read more…]
Sales of large MPVs in Europe are up a modest 6% after the first 9 months of the year, which could make 2014 the first year since 2007 that the segment has grown year-on-year. After contracting 17% last year, with only 2 out of the 9 models in the segment increasing their sales, the trend seems to have reversed, with 6 out of 9 models gaining ground.
This means the growth of the segment isn’t due exclusively to the sell-out pricing of the Ford S-Max and Galaxy, which are to be replaced next year. The VW-group twins Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra are the two models that add the most sales, maybe a bit less surprising if you consider they are still the freshest models of the major players in the segment, at four years old.
The Lancia Voyager has been around since 2008, first under the Chrysler brand and since 2011 named Lancia, the Fords were introduced in 2006, the current generation Espace dates back as far as 2003, and the second generation PSA twins started their lifecycle as quadruplets with the Fiat Ulysse and Lancia Phedra in 2002, which have already been discontinued in 2010. [Read more…]
Sales of midsized MPVs in Europe are down less than 6.000 units, or 1% on the first three quarters of last year. Only three models increase their sales more than 2%, including one all-new model, while the rest either loses ground or stays virtually stable.
The Citroën C4 (Grand) Picasso continues its strong performance, now grabbing 15,6% of the segment and extending its lead over the traditional leader Renault (Grand) Scenic. If the Picasso holds on to its lead until the end of the year, it would be only the second time ever that the Scenic doesn’t lead the segment it invented in 1996. In 2008 it was also Citroën who kicked the Scenic down. However, the French may have a battle on their own turf next year, as the recently introduced Volkswagen Golf Sportsvan was the best selling midsized MPV in September. Despite having half as many selling days as the rest of the segment, the Sportsvan has already moved in to 7th place of the segment and doesn’t seem to take any prisoners. [Read more…]