Check Your Mirrors

Odds and ends about cars and the car business

By Brendan Moore

12.21.2009

2010 Ford Taurus SHO blue

FORD says that they didn’t get the mix of Taurus models right in the first go-round of shipments to dealers, and as a result, Ford dealers nationwide are short on SEL and SHO models. Ford’s marketing department forecasted that more buyers would want the lower-priced models, but that has not been the case so far. Buyers are plumping for the most expensive Taurus models in greater numbers than Ford anticipated, so they are hurriedly adjusting the production mix. It’s the good news, bad news construct at work – it is a pleasant surprise the car is not priced too high as Ford worried, but they don’t have enough of the higher-priced models on the ground to satisfy customer demand. Ford started selling the new 2010 Taurus in August.

GM is accelerating development of future models that they previously slowed down duringGM logo small their bankruptcy. Several future model programs were slowed to a crawl during GM’s bankruptcy phase, and it looked as if GM would put itself at a serious competitive disadvantage as a result, but now it looks like GM is back in the game. Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice-Chairman, says the new, revised schedule still doesn’t make up all the ground lost by the previous slowdown, but it makes up most of the original timeline. One example of this new activity is GM’s statement that the new Malibu will debut in 2011, as opposed to 2012, which was the timeline GM offered up just as recently as August of this year.

QATAR now owns 17% of Volkswagen AG and will get a seat on Porsche’s board as a result. Qatar Holding LLC (the government’s legal proxy) owned only 6.8% of VW just a few months ago, but obviously intends to have a voice in how VW is managed in the future. “As a long-term strategic investor, we continue to believe that the investment in VW and the envisaged combination of Porsche SE and VW represents a unique investment asset for Qatar Holding,” Ahmad Al-Sayed, CEO of Qatar Holding, said in a statement. Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim Bin Abdulaziz Bin Jassim Al-Thani is the individual being considered for a place on the Porsche supervisory board.

THE 1960 CHEVROLET CORVAIR, Motor Trend’s Car Of The Year in the same year, sold over 250,000 copies in its award-winning year. The car had an average retail price of around $2300 USD, had an air-cooled flat-six engine that got fuel economy of around 21 mpg (good for 1960) according to Motor Trend’s testing, and weighed 2355 lbs. It seated six people and had four doors, and a heater, an AM radio and an automatic transmission were all options. The car was considered an engineering triumph at the time.

Saab emblem blue backgroundSAAB may live on as a Chinese company, according to sources in Sweden. Beijing Automotive Industries Holdings Company (BAIC), who bought tooling and technology for the old 9-5 models and the 9-3 models before GM nixed the sale of Saab to Spyker, is apparently interested in buying the Saab brand, now that GM has stated that Saab will be shuttered. GM is considering selling the assets of Saab, and if that happens, a scenario in which BAIC buys the Saab brand is quite plausible. Bizarre to many, but nonetheless, plausible. Of course, there may be some more twists and turns to this story before its all over, as Spyker has made another offer for Saab, and, GM is now stating that there is some other interest in the company from new, unidentified potential buyers. Humiliating for the once-proud Saab to be knocked around by the cruel winds of fate like this? You bet, but if a new, responsible owner steps forward, all of this Sturm und Drang will have been worth it, I suppose. Still, it’s tough to witness.

BAIC is wasting no time putting that former Saab technology to work; they announced to the press Friday that they plan to start integrating their newly-acquired technology into their production models immediately. According to Reuters news reports, Gu Lei, president of BAIC’s technology center, told reporters at a news conference, “We will start integrating right away.” He added that commercial production of the first BAIC vehicles with the newly-acquired technology could start as soon as mid-2011. BAIC President Wang Dazong said his company and Saab are also exploring other opportunities involving other technologies such as “new energy” vehicles. “We need to have our own brand cars, and we need to grow our competency,” he said. “We need to become a global company.” BAIC is China’s fifth-largest auto manufacturer currently, and most industry observers believe that the former Saab technology was purchased with the goal of producing a car that can be exported to other countries.

2010 Honda Accord Crosstour silver side

HONDA has high hopes for its new Accord Crosstour, but, my goodness, it is quite an awkward-looking car, and even more in the sheet metal than in the photos. It can’t be a bad car, because it is a Honda Accord, more or less, but someone should remind the Honda designers that “different” is not synonymous with “better”. But, although it cannot be a bad car, it has some difficulty being an attractive car. But, I wish to be fair and say that the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo looks just as ungainly to me as the Crosstour does, and it has BMW pricing in addition (albeit with BMW performance as well). Both vehicles are big, new fastbacks that people are supposed to flock to instead of the usual crossovers or SUVs. The plucky station wagon models in manufacturers’ lineups do more for less as they always have, but, to suggest that Americans might want to take a look at the indomitable wagon (or combi or estate in Europe) is just considered poor form (shock, horror) these days. Oh, the humanity.

VW now offers a Golf TDI (diesel) in the United States, and while I was driving one the other day, it was returning just a bit over 40 mpg at a steady 70 mph. Yeah, take that, all you hybrids. And the thing pulled like a little locomotive, too.

FIAT stated publicly last week that it has no intention of selling or shutting down Alfa Romeo,Alfa Romeo logo and in fact, seems to have some big plans in mind for Alfa in their new U.S. market. Fiat sees the American market as Alfa Romeo’s salvation, and just the tonic the brand needs to achieve some economies of scale. There is a lot of chatter about Alfa using some of Chrysler’s large car platforms in order to reach those economies of scale, but that begs the question of just what an Alfa would be with a Chrysler platform underneath it, and if American buyers would ever accept such a car as a “real” Alfa Romeo. That question is even more relevant for the small number of European fans Alfa can still count on – will Alfa lose most of them if future Alfa Romeos are based on Chryslers?

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

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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15 Comments

  1. Combis rule!

  2. When I first saw the Accord Crosstour in the flesh, I thought it was a new Ford Taurus. Like the Taurus, the Crosstour is gigantic, particularly in the front end. It’s almost a caricature of the current-generation Accord. Don’t get me started on the rear end design, either.

  3. A Ford Taurus SEL is at $40k in no time once you start with options.

    Kinda surprised there is more demand than forecast. I can see paying that much for the SHO, but the SEL has the standard powertrain.

  4. Also the SHO has minor appearance mods that make a more attractive car.

  5. Vernon8:

    Most local Chicago dealers have Taurus SELs with MSRPs in the $28K range, adding another $3K for AWD models. AWD Limiteds are stickering at about $37K and SHOs are in the low $40 range. In addition there are likely discounts to be had on these cars.

  6. Had no idea VW had so much investment from the Middle East. That’s just Qatar, I wonder if there are other Middle Eastern countries that are heavily invested in VW.

  7. GM is not just getting the schedule back on the Malibu, but many vehicles in development. It’s not just one car.

  8. Not surprising that the higher end Taurus is selling well, after all, old people have money, and like it or not that’s the general demographic that buys the Taurus. My 69 year old mother drives a Taurus.

    The SHO on the other hand, is NOT aimed at older folks, so it’s a bit surprising that it is selling better than expected. Because after all, it’s still a Tuarus, even if it is (somewhat) more fun to drive.

  9. The Taurus SHO is MUCH more fun to drive than the regular Taurus, I think the main question is whether it’s 40 grand worth of fun.

    And I still to this day think that the Chevrolet Corvair was an engineering masterpiece among it’s contemporaries.

  10. It was an impossibility after Nader’s book and the sales beating it took from the Ford Falcon and the Chrysler slant-six cars, but think what might have happened if GM had kept refining the Corvair platform, instead of abandoning it.

  11. Mark in AZ, I guess the Taurus image and the little SHO badge make the Taurus a perfect sleeper.

  12. Chrysler and Alfa together in bed.

    What is going on in this crazy world, anyway?

  13. Honda knows their customer well enough and they will do okay with the CrossTour. I’ll use myself as an example.

    I’ve owned four Accords in a row, and I’m thinking about getting one of these, not because it looks great (it doesn’t), but because it’s the kind of vehicles I need, I’ve loved all of my Accords, I trust Honda quality, and so forth. So what if it’s no beauty queen? It’s acceptable looks and I know what I’m getting. Average consumers are not gearheads. Average consumers want a good, dependable car that doesn’t break down and cost a lot of money in repairs AFTER the already too high purchase price. Honda knows what their customers want, and this will be a hit for them.

  14. I guess “love is blind” 😉 Lots of Honda fans critisized the Crosstour for the awkard styling, sure it isn’t like the 1962 “plucked chicken” Dodge and Plymouth (here a picture of how the 1962 Plymouth Belvedere/Fury should had look at http://www.1962to1965mopar.ornocar.com/62s.html ). Even if it’s reliable and a “plucked chicken”, I think we should boycott Honda until the designers got the message, I want reliability but with more “pizzazz” please (even Hyundai got the message with the next-gen Sonata and the new Genesis), the Crosstour is an “Insolent chariot”. If those 1962 Dodge and Plymouth had a different design then the one we knew (for example, a design close to the 1962 Ford Fairlane and 1963 Rambler Classic/Ambassador), things could had been different (maybe around the year 2035-2040, the magazine Collectible Automobile will publish an article about the 2008 Accord with pics of clay models of cars that wasn’t).

    On a off-topic side, I spotted a good text at http://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/luxury-and-personal-luxury-cars/113-packard-one-twenty.html about what BMW, Mercedes and Audi currently do and what Packard did once: “Packard is long gone now, but the managers of BMW, Mercedes, and Audi would do well to study its lessons. All three German “premium” brands have been invading the mid-price D-segment for several years. In Europe, in particular, sales of mid-size family sedans have slumped as buyers opt for the cachet of a minimally equipped, four-cylinder 3-series or A4 than a well-equipped but more plebian Ford or Opel. Meanwhile, models like the 1-series, A3, and A-class have gone after even the C-segment, compact market. These aggressive moves have done wonders for the German elite’s sales volume and profits, but how long can they maintain their snob appeal when every other family runabout on the road wears a roundel or a three-pointed star? If government regulations on average fuel economy and CO2 emissions make their big luxury sedans obsolete, the Germans may face the same harsh awakening that Packard did six decades ago.”

  15. Yeah, it’s hard to find an SHO here in Denver area.

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