Thursday, March 31, 2005
There are all kinds of great examples, but this one is my favorite so far:
UPDATE: Carpundit has announced himself the winner of the silliest car contest, with the Zimmer. I agree, Carpundit wins. (Yes, that is a Lincoln Towncar under there.)
Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo, b'olmo dee'vro chir'usay v'yamlich malchu'say, b'chayaychon uv'yomay'chon uv'chayay d'chol bais Yisroel, ba'agolou'viz'man koriv; v'imru Omein.
May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
In other 500 news, BlueOvalNews reports that Ford is going to increase the CVT build rate, and phase out the Aisin Warner 6 speed. Take that, you doubters who thought the Ford CVT would be a flash in the pan, like GM's ill-fated Vue program. The Ford CVT is a different design than GM's, and does not have the same reliability problems.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
What critics don't understand is that the best thing GM has is its dealer force. You kill the dealers if you kill such well-entrenched nameplates as Pontiac and Buick, and you kill GM. It's that's simple.Read the whole thing, it is a good analysis of GM's bad position. However, Flint does not have any advice for GM on what to do, other than to keep moving towards a rear wheel drive platform.
What will the dealers sell if GM keeps losing market share? Won't the dealers get hammered either way?
Ford just lost a $10 million lawsuit brought by a man whose wife was killed in a Explorer roll-over accident. The man claimed that the Explorer's roof crush strength was insufficient to protect his wife, and Ford knew that the design was weak.
The man's lawyers subpoenaed Ford documents which showed that some Ford engineers thought that the roof strength of the Explorer (circa 1995MY) had fallen too far below the company's own standard of a strength-to-weight ratio of 1.875. Ford decided against upgrading the roof strength, most likely to save money. Strike one.
However, Volvo (later purchased by Ford) had much more stringent roof standards. For the new XC90 SUV, Volvo engineered a very strong roof, and Ford has been advertising this as a selling point on how safe the XC90 is. Strike two.
Finally, Ford (along with GM and Chrysler) have fought proposals to increase the Federal standard for roof strength, FMVSS 216. Strike three.
In Ford's defense, injuries due to roll-over roof crush are a complicated problem, and there is no guarantee that a strong roof by itself would reduce injuries much. A simple model for this is to imagine a person loosely strapped into a chair inside a metal box. If you turn the rig upside down, and drop the box onto a hard surface, there are two ways the person's head could be hit: the person could slip towards the roof, or the roof could crush in. It may be better to have some roof crush, to absorb the vehicle energy slowly, with a restraint that keeps the dummy in place. Volvo's answer to this is for the S80 and XC90 included seatbelt pre-tensioners, to keep the passenger from moving too much.
NHTSA needs to update FMVSS 216 to require more protection. I don't know about you, I would pay an extra few hundred dollars for a vehicle that would give me a better chance of surviving a roll-over. And regulations such as these hit all automakers equally, so no automaker will have much of a competitive disadvantage.
Ford, for its part, needs to enforce its internal safety design specifications, even if it costs more money. This is a beautiful example of "penny-wise pound-foolish". Ford has been ordered to pay out about $200 million in damages over this issue so far, and the Explorer's safety record continues to be tarnished.
UPDATE: Ford has issued a statement regarding this issue, here.
Simply strengthening the roof won't improve the safety of SUVs and other passenger vehicles in rollovers. Years of testing show strengthening the roof will not affect the outcome of the crash for the simple reason that the injury mechanics are not related to how much the roof is deformed in a rollover crash. We've looked at injury and fatality rates in rollovers involving vehicles that just meet the Federal standard to vehicles that have roof strengths that are multiples of the Federal standard and there isn't a difference.
NHTSA data from its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) shows that 81 percent of rollover fatalities involved unrestrained occupants.
The last point is key. Some people do not wear seatbelts while riding in an SUV because of a sense of perceived invincibility. People who wear seatbelts increase their chances substantially of surviving roll-over accidents.
At the 2003 Detroit Auto Show, Ford showed a concept car called the Mercury Messenger, which looked to me like a variation on the 2005 Mustang (S197) platform. I would not be surprised if Ford developed a Cougar off of the Mustang platform, and perhaps even a Lincoln variation. They could call it the Mark IX.
The problem with this idea is that the Flat Rock, MI plant which builds the Mustang, AAI, is running full throttle building Mustangs. They may not have the capacity to build 3 variations of the Mustang.
Another possibility is that the Wixom assembly plant (Lincoln LS, Thunderbird, Towncar) could be re-tooled to produce the Mustang platform. Plans for Wixom have not been announced, and Ford people are concerned that the plant may be closed when LS and Towncar run out.
Monday, March 28, 2005
There is just too much auto capacity on the market. With Hyundai/Kia gaining, Chrysler gaining, BMW gaining, Toyota gaining, there has to be some big losers. And China is on the horizon. Unfortunately for us Detroiters, the market share has to come out of GM and Ford.
The goal for GM and Ford is not "how do we win back the market". The boat has sailed, Americans are buying foreign carmaker's products with abandon. The goal is "how do we stay profitable, and retain the market share we have now". The only way to do this is to figure out how to make money as a smaller company than you were 10 years ago. The way to do this is not to pile cash on the hood of sub-par products, you'll just high-volume yourself to death. GM needs to shrink. It will be painful and destructive. The company is getting rid of 2000 salaried heads, and it will need to close plants as well.
GM will lose dealers if they kill Pontiac. But GM will also lose dealers in some areas if its market share keeps dropping--they will just starve to death.
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Ford Motor Co. is preparing to inject 500 million pounds ($935 million) into Jaguar, the loss-making luxury car maker it acquired in 1989, the Sunday Times of London reported.Ford needs to have Jaguar self-sufficient, or make radical changes. If people don't want to buy Jags, but would rather buy BMWs, Mercedes, and Lexus, maybe a re-evaluation of Jaguar is necessary. Maybe Jaguar needs to be platform engineered with Ford of Europe's vehicles, like a European Lincoln? Or maybe Aston Martin, Land Rover and Jaguar should be spun off as an independent company, to pursue their British-ness.
Jaguar, maker of the XK, XJ, S-Type and X-Type, lost 601 million pounds ($1.1 billion) in 2003 amid spending on product development, worse-than-expected sales and a plunge in the U.S. dollar versus the British pound. That loss included a 533 million pound write-down in the value of its assets, the newspaper reported.
It could be called British Motor Works, or BMW for short.
Market analysts have been saying for some time that the luxury market will grow faster than the bottom end, so Ford definitely needs a player at the table. Maybe it isn't with Jaguar, maybe it will have to be Volvo.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY DECEMBER 2004 U.S. SALES
December CYTD %
2004 2003 Change
Sales By Brand
Ford ... 2,778,678 2,894,347 -4.0
Mercury ... 193,534 202,257 -4.3
Lincoln ... 139,016 158,839 -12.5
Jaguar ... 45,875 54,655 -16.1
Volvo ... 139,067 134,586 3.3
Land Rover ... 35,506 39,035 -9.0
Motor Company 3,331,676 3,483,719 -4.4
Sunday, March 27, 2005
GM's Buick and Pontiac are both "damaged brands'' due to lack of investment over the years, and GM is working to correct that with an array of new vehicles coming to market, Lutz told a Morgan Stanley automotive conference in New York.GM should kill Pontiac and keep Buick.
But if some of its brands fail to meet sales projections, "then we would have to take a look at a phase-out. I hope we don't have to do that. What we've got to do is keep the brands we've got.''
Pontiac has no real identity--it is the "driving excitement" brand, but the cars are just not that exciting. Until recently, they were just warmed over, plastic clad versions of GM's platforms. Barely disguised Chevys and Buicks. Consider the new G6, it is a nice car, with sharp design and a nice interior. But it has no real cohones. If you want something close to a performance G6, you have to wait for the G6 GTP, which promises a 240HP 3.9L-2V pushrod V6 and a manual transmission. But even a decidedly un-exciting Honda Accord V6 comes with a base 3.0L-4V SOHC V6, with variable valve timing. The 0-60 time on the Accord is 6.6s (Motortrend), the G6 GTP is estimated at 7.0s.
There are no Pontiac cars which are unique to Pontiac, which are iconic for Pontiac, and there apparently are no plans for any. The Solstice platform will be also used for the Saturn Sky. The GTO, which was a serious attempt at creating a halo car for Pontiac, is an unexciting (but fast) jelly bean, and a sales flop. Pontiac has no soul, and not much of a pulse.
What should GM do with the new G6 and the Solstice? I would re-badge them as Buicks, and instantly give Buick a younger side. The Vibe could become a Saturn. The SUV and Minivan I would kill. Buick would then fill the role that Mercury does at Ford--nicer than the main brand, but not yet luxury. Chevrolet would remain the mainstay.
Consumers are losing interest in pretenders. A sporty looking car that isn't all that sporty is doomed to poor sales, when faced with competition from the real thing. GM should either fix Pontiac, or kill it and save money.
UPDATED: Bob Lutz clarifies.
Many of you probably read something to the effect that "GM is considering
shedding a brand." Let me say it now, for the world to hear: No, we have no
plans to shed a brand. Period.
Mark LaNeve, our sales and marketing vice president for North America, had
it exactly right in an e-mail he sent to our dealers last week regarding this
matter. "We are not discussing or planning the elimination of any of our brands.
On the contrary, we're investing more heavily than ever on new products and
marketing programs – GM is investing in all of its brands."
In the same memo, LaNeve also cited our intentions to "reignite Pontiac's muscular design and street credibility" and build Buick as a brand with vehicles that are the
"quietest and highest-quality in their segment."
Friday, March 25, 2005
There is a detail that has caused howls from the Mustang fan network: Ford has decided to save money and not offer the Cobra with an IRS (independent rear suspension), unlike previous SVT Cobras.
Obviously, this was to save money, and weight, since an IRS weighs something like 180lbs more than the solid rear axle setup the 2005 Mustang uses.
This was a mistake. The automotive press is going to hammer on Ford for not offering an IRS, while claiming to use BMW as a benchmark. Solid rear axles are great for drag racing, which is what a lot of Mustang enthusiasts do, but they are inferior when it comes to road racing.
I expect that the Faithful will not mind, but Ford will lose potential conquest sales. What Ford should do is offer an IRS as an option. Maybe outsource the design to Roush Performance if the company doesn't have the resources availible in-house.
A little about myself: I am an engineer for an American automotive manufacturer, working out of the metro Detroit area. My focus will be the automotive industry. I will not, as a rule, give out priveledged insider information about my employer. I will, however, give lots of opinion, and comment on industry trends as I see them.
I reserve the right to post about non-automotive stuff, too, if I get fired up about something.
I can be reached at TheAutoProphet"at"gmail"dot"com.