After a long period of scoops, previews and teasers, Volvo finally revealed the new V60 wagon yesterday. And it’s a bit of a stunner – elegant, well-proportioned, with a great-looking interior and plenty of those little touches that make Volvo stand out from among the competitors. The model’s debut means that the brands quest to replace its entire [Read more…]
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.
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.
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).
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
Like 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. [Read more…]
Today Volvo unveiled two new concept cars that are, as US vice-president Joe Biden would put it, a “big f’ing deal” for the carmaker. Called the Concept 40.1 and Concept 40.2, the cars preview not only a new range of Volvo small cars, including its first compact crossover, but also a new platform that’s the result of collaboration with Chinese owner Geely.
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…]
Premium large SUVs continue to progress as the segment grows 17% on the first nine months of last year. Almost 90% of this growth can be attributed to a single model, the new leader of the segment: the new generation BMW X5. The X5 almost triples its sales of the outgoing model last year, shooting up from fourth place to the top with more than 20% share of the premium large SUV segment. In second place is another model that’s been renewed and making big gains. The Range Rover Sport comes from fifth place last year to almost double its sales of the previous generation, which started sales in the third quarter of 2013.
These two have bumped the Mercedes-Benz M-Class from its distant and unthreatened leadership of last year, now down into the bottom spot of the podium. In 2015 and onwards the M-Class will be under further intensified competition as two former podium contenders will be replaced after both serving a decade or more. [Read more…]
Sales of premium midsized SUVs are up 6% or more than 12.000 units on the first three quarters of 2013, thanks to the introduction of two all-new models from Porsche and BMW.
The Audi Q5 holds on to the first place it claimed in the second quarter, but the recently refreshed Volvo XC60 continues to stay close, even outselling its German rival in September. I don’t think the XC60 will be able to pull a rabbit out of its had and finish in the segment’s first place for the first time ever, but reclaiming the second place it already held in 2009 and 2010 would be almost just as impressive considering the increased competition since.
The Range Rover Evoque led the segment in the first quarter of the year, but has fallen behind since, being outsold by the recently updated BMW X3 in the second and third quarter, although it remains firmly in third place. 2014 is going to be the third year in a row where the Evoque finishes on the third step of the podium of the premium compact SUV segment.
The premium large car segment has lost some ground in the third quarter, as year-to-date sales are down by 1.500 units after being ahead by 12.000 units after the first half of 2014. The third quarter loss is almost entirely due to the slowdown of the two leaders of the segment Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-series.
The ranking has fluctuated this quarter with the 5-series down to third place in July before rebounding to the top spot in August, when the E-Class was down in third place. But an excellent month of September secured the top spot of the segment for the Benz year-to-date. With the Audi A6 outselling the 5-series for the quarter, the E-Class looks set to hold on to it until the end of the year. The model last finished on top of the ranking in 2009 and 2010 before the 5-series took over. It’s been even longer for the A6, as the Audi last topped the premium large car segment in 2007 and it doesn’t look like the current generation will repeat that excellent performance of its predecessor. [Read more…]
Sales of midsized premium cars stay on track to finish 2014 above the 600.000 unit mark after dipping below that level for the first time since more than a decade. In fact, the midsized premium segment peaked in 2002 at over a million units and has lost 40% of its volume as the midsized car segment has slumped as a whole.
The traditional leader of the segment, the BMW 3-series, is also the biggest loser of the segment at -15% as its coupe and convertible models have been renamed 4-series. This has created room for the new generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class to step up and outsell its competitor from Munich in September for the first time since February 2012. Year-to-date, the C-Class has come within 200 units of the Audi A4 and by the end of the year it will undoubtedly have taken back the second place of the segment the A4 took from it last year. [Read more…]
The compact premium segment in Europe is stabilizing despite several important models being replaced or renewed. Total segment sales are up just 3% after the first nine months of 2014, but you can see relatively large swings in model popularity. The Audi A3 increases its grip on the segment, improving its share to more than 27% and selling over 50.000 unit more than its nearest competitor, the BMW 1-series.
It’s increasingly more complicated to compare specific models with each other in this segment as some brands use different names for different body styles, while others combine them all in one model. For example, A3 sales include the 3- and 5-door hatchback, convertible and sedan body styles, while Mercedes-Benz separates its A-Class 3-door hatchback from the CLA sedan. BMW separates the 3- and 5-door hatchback versions of the 1-series from the coupe and convertible 2-series, but to complicate matters, sales of the 2-series also include the Active Tourer. This is a front-wheel drive MPV that competes with the Mercedes-Benz B-Class MPV and has almost no technical relationship with the rear-wheel drive coupe and convertible 2-series. [Read more…]