Check Your Mirrors

GERMAN environmentalists are trying to lobby the German government to institute speed limits, but it’s not going anywhere with the rest for the population, or for that matter, the government. The environmentalists figured they might be able to shame the government into adopting speed limits since Germany is in charge of the both the G8 and the EU at this moment and might want to set an example for the other nations. But the transport minister Wolfgang Tiefensee says that’s not going to happen. And the Financial Times Deutschland said in an editorial that asking Germans to give up high-speed driving is like asking Italians to give up pesto or asking the French to give up their baguette. The editorial went on to say that driving fast is a valuable cultural characteristic of Germany. That’s a point of view you have to like.

CHEVROLET is getting closer to rolling out a limited-production Corvette Z06 that will have around 650 horsepower. People inside the company call the car the Blue Devil, the Stingray, and some people just call it the new Z06. But there’s no way the car will be the new Z06 since Chevrolet intends to make only about 2000 of the engines per year, and that’s probably about right, since the car will cost approximately $100k. Rumors of this car have been circulating for three years now, but it looks like it might happen in 2008 sometime, which would make it a 2009 model-year car.

INDIA is increasingly a hotbed of high-quality inexpensive car design and engineering. Unlike the Chinese, who are copying everything in sight, and using OEM components from foreign manufacturers to assemble their cars, a few companies in the Indian auto industry are working on several fronts to develop the “one-lakh” car. One lakh is 100,000 rupees which is around $2100 USD. That would make the car in development roughly half of what a Renault Logan costs, the Logan being the lowest-cost car currently sold by a major manufacturer. Hard to say if it will happen, but very good progress has been made in the last 12 months, and without belaboring the obvious, if the efforts to build a one-lakh car are successful, it could have ramifications for all the other auto manufacturers as well as consumers in other countries beside India.

BMW 8-Series cars have such low drag coefficients that the cars typically exceed their EPA highway ratings considerably in real-world driving. It is not unusual for the BMW 840i (the V8 model) to get fuel mileage in the 35 mpg range as it lopes along at low rpm at a constant 65 mph. Even the 850 (the V12 model) will reach 30 mpg at the same speed, and of course, at an even lower rpm. But, aerodynamic efficiency counts for naught in the city – expect around 14 mpg on a good day.

CURRENT studies cited by the Insurance Information Institute reveal that driver distraction now accounts for approximately 80% of all traffic accidents in the United States. Additionally, around 65% of all “almost” collisions are also caused by driver distraction. The No. 1 cause of accidents caused by driver distraction is, of course, talking on a cell phone while driving, with the old standbys, talking, eating/drinking, loud music, personal grooming, reaching for an object, smoking, other drivers, road accidents, etc. all in the mix. The average time from moment of distraction to incident of accident is a little over three seconds. Just as a point of scientific reference, when you drive at 60 miles per hour, you are traveling at 88 feet per second. Per second, my friend. As you can probably conjecture, a lot can happen within 88 feet of distance out on the road and it’s all going to happen within 1 second. If you happen to be driving a 3-ton (that’s 6000 pounds) or over Lexus LX460 or Chevrolet Suburban, the mayhem and carnage you can inflict on those around you at 60 mph is stunning. And if you are the other motorist, the one in the new Honda Fit (about 2600 pounds) that gets hit by the tiny woman in the huge Lexus SUV that’s talking on the mobile phone while her sullen teenager has the Shins or Badly Drawn Boy cranked up on the iPod, well, basically, what you have there is a physics lesson. Your mangled car and equally mangled corpse are the results of that lesson. So, everyone pay attention out there.

TOYOTA announced that they will start building the Vitz (known as the Yaris in the United States and the EU) in China sometime in 2008. Toyota has a production facility it shares as part of a joint venture manufacturing agreement with Guangzhou Automobile Group where the Vitz/Yaris production will take place. Toyota is looking to increase their passenger car market share in China from 4% to 10% by 2010 and they figure the red-hot economy car sector is the place where they can have the greatest impact. Toyota is struggling to catch up to others in China, most notably market leaders General Motors and Volkswagen, both of whom have a huge head start by virtue of early investment and partnership. Toyota is forecasting production of 80,000 to 90,000 Vitz units in 2009. Toyota currently sells other models in China, with the bulk of those sales coming from the Toyota Camry, which is on track to sell 150,000 units in 2007.

VOLKSWAGEN AG is still in the middle of an agonizing restructuring effort but seems to be doing nothing to stop Wolfgang Bernhard, head of the primary Volkswagen brand, from leaving the company. Even though Bernhard is leading the restructuring efforts, which by all accounts are successful so far, Ferdinand Piech, Chairman of Volkswagen, wants him to go, and it appears that the board is going to acquiesce to his wishes. Bernhard now wakes up every day hating to go to work, and that’s no way to happiness, is it? Expect Bernhard to get the hook after the scheduled board meeting next month. The bidding for his services will be fast and furious in the auto industry, with most of the major players interested in adding someone of Bernhard’s caliber to their ranks of senior executives. If I’m Wagoner at General Motors, I make a very strong play for the candid, egotistical, extremely competent, always-blunt Bernhard. And if I’m Mulally at Ford, I do everything I can to outbid GM. Of course, Bernhard may just go back to Chrysler where he worked before, is well-thought of, and could be of considerable assistance while Chrysler tries to get back on track. Then again, why wouldn’t he just go further up the food chain and work for Daimler-Chrysler? Or, he could go to Fiat – the Fiat family of cars would be very attractive to a guy like Bernhard, and he gets to stay in Europe. But, I think he’ll go to Ford or GM, and if I had to bet on the outcome, I’d put my money on General Motors.

EVERY single 1965 Shelby Mustang was Wimbledon White and came with a black interior, 9-inch rear end, four-speed transmission and the 271 hp 289 small-block V8. 1965 was the first model year of Shelby Mustang production.

CHERY will be Chrysler’s new small-car partner, beating out other Chinese car manufacturers during Chrysler’s search for a supplier than can produce a Class B (think Honda Fit, Chevrolet Aveo, Toyota Yaris) cheap enough so that Chrysler can sell it world-wide and make a profit. Of course, the main emphasis on whether the car can make a profit is related to the U.S. market, which requires the highest amount of regulatory hurdles for any car model around safety, pollution, styling, quality, etc. Chrysler plans to use their Dodge brand name on the car, wherever they decide to sell it, and Chery is expected to sell the finished car under its own brand name in China.

SNOW tires make a huge difference over all-season tires if you live somewhere that actually gets a fair amount of snow. Say, for instance, Denver, Colorado, or perhaps Trollhatten, Sweden. Most people in areas that get some snowfall try to get by with some combination of all-season tires, traction control, and all-wheel drive, but if you’re in a place that gets a lot of snow all winter, you’re much better off getting a set of good snow tires mounted on extra steel wheels. Notice I said set of tires, meaning four. Yes, it’s twice as much money, but whether you have 2WD or AWD, having four snow tires all around will make an astounding difference in handling and braking ability in the snow. Having only two snow tires gives you enough traction to move forward, but leaves you short in the area of getting enough traction to turn effectively, and also does not provide all the traction you need to shorten stopping distances, something that is sometimes even more important in heavy snow conditions. This holds true whether you have all-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive. Trust me – I have driven all of those types of vehicles in heavy snow, with all-season tires, only two snow tires and with four snow tires. It is a much more secure feeling when you have four snow tires working on your side. You may also note that I mentioned having the snow tires mounted on an extra set of steel wheels. This is for two reasons; one, the ease with which you can switch to snow tires when the time comes, and two, the peace of mind that comes from not banging your nice (and expensive) alloy wheels into that curb that’s buried under a foot of snow when you’re trying to park. Good snow tires mounted on a set of steel wheels should last 3-5 seasons easily, and if you sell the car, you can always sell the steel wheels with it, or sell the wheels separately – someone else where you live will want a set of wheels for winter use, just like you did.

FIAT has announced that it will export the Grande Punto compact car to Brazil and China in late 2007 or early 2008. The Grande Punto has been a huge success for Fiat in Italy and the EU and is the key reason that Fiat has regained market share in Europe, and, at the same time, restored itself to financial good health. Unfortunately for the United States, the largest auto market in the world, there are no plans for Fiat to re-enter the American market.

MICROSOFT and Ford have gotten together on in-vehicle technology, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article by John Stoll. The system that will be supplied to Ford is called Synch, and will encompass an in-vehicle operating system with wireless links via Bluetooth. What this means is that Ford drivers will be able to use the system to make hands-free phone calls, send and receive emails, download and upload music files, run an electronic calendar and contact book, store data files, etc. According to the article, Sync will show up first on the Ford Focus and the Ford Five Hundred in 2007, and will be offered as an option on the entire Ford product line in 2008. Ford plans to formally announce Sync at the Detroit Auto Show in the first week of January, and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the week thereafter. So, all good, and we applaud Ford for improving their products in this way, but from a sales perspective, this is treating a bullet wound with a band-aid. What Ford needs to do with the Five Hundred is to give it more horsepower. No one walks out a Ford showroom after looking at a Five Hundred and then buys a Toyota Camry because they can’t get the Microsoft operating system with the Five Hundred. The Camry doesn’t have the MS operating system either, but what it does have is 65 more hp in its V6 engine. Regarding the Focus, it’s really more of the same for different reasons – it’s losing sales to the Nissan Versa, the Honda Fit, etc. not because it doesn’t have the latest stuff from Microsoft in the cockpit, but because the Focus still sold here in the U.S. was put out to pasture in Europe almost three years ago. The current Focus that is sold in Europe is a much-improved car and that’s what Ford needs to be selling here, along with it’s brethren like the Ford S-Max (Car of the Year in Europe this year) and the Ford ST (pocket rocket heaven). And that’s just two of Ford’s cars – this riff could go on and on.

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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