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By 2g1c2 girls 1 cup

It has been nearly 2 years since we first saw the Chevy Volt at the Detroit auto show, and we have been subjected to a nearly non-stop media and marketing assault since.  Chevrolet and GM have taken every opportunity to tell us how wonderful the Volt is (or rather, “will be”).  They have used it in corporate advertising, it has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and at every auto show on the planet in the last 2 years.  What you might not know is that it is also AT LEAST another year or more until anybody will have the opportunity to buy one, and then in only small numbers and in select areas of the country at the beginning.

In the latest example of this sensory overload, Chevy commissioned a Volt jingle.  No kidding – you read that right.  Chevy released this jingle last week at the LA Auto Show.  I’ll admit, it is a bit catchy.  It has a pleasant melody and attempts to educate and get you excited about the Volt.  But seriously, do we really need a Volt jingle more than a year before we might have a chance to buy this thing?  GM should be more focused on delivering the Volt on time and on budget and less on selling it before they have a single one to sell!  That said, click on the image below to hear the jingle.  Note that the images in the video are not provided by GM.  The video portion is the work of Lyle Dennis, who created, launched, maintains and writes the website gm-volt.com.  He’s a bit of a Volt-nut, but his work has gotten him recognition from the media and from GM.  GM has even given him the opportunity to drive a Volt prototype recently.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Buick to Bring Back Regal

13th November 2009

2011 Buick Regal

2011 Buick Regal

Buick announced details of its upcoming Regal sedan, which will go on sale in the second quarter of next year. Regal, a name that carries a performance heritage of the Grand National from the 1980s, has not been used since 2004. This latest iteration is based on the new Opel Insignia, which has won many awards, including European Car of the Year. Before Saturn was cancelled, rumors were that the Insignia would be the new Saturn Aura in North America. Now Buick gets it.  And what it gets looks pretty good.  The Regal is not just “based on” the Insignia, it is the Insignia, with minor styling changes to make it a Buick.

The Regal will have a 182 horsepower 2.4L I4 engine as its base powerplant.  This engine is also the base engine in the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain.  It is expected to get 20 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.  Arriving later in the year will be the 2.0L turbo making 220 hp and getting 18/29 mpg.  No V6 or V8?  This is Buick, right?  Home of the land barges that come with their own ZIP code?  This ain’t your father’s Buick, kids (apologies to Oldsmobile).  In the land of the 35 MPG CAFE standards, the turbo 4 will have to do.  The standard, and only, tranny will be a 6-speed auto.

Buick’s intended targets are the Acura TSX, Volvo S60, Mazda6 and Volkswagen Passat and says that it has a longer wheelbase and greater trunk volume than those vehicles, along with standard features – including the six-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels and OnStar – that aren’t offered standard on either competitor.  If Buick really intends to compete with these great vehicles (and you can probably add the Audi A4), it should realize that a true sports sedan at least offers a manual transmission (the 6-speed auto isn’t standard on these vehicles because a manual is standard).  True, the take rate of a manual will be low, likely less than 10%, but a car that hopes to have street cred among the intended buyers in this segment needs to offer the stick.  That’s why Caddy offers it in the CTS.  And because the Regal is an Insignia, the engineering to offer a manual is already done (at least paired with the 2.0L turbo).  So except for stocking service parts and other indirect costs, offering the manual is FREE.

The Regal will only be offered in top-of-the-line CXL trim at first, with a CX model to follow.  Buick gave the following list of some of the equipment to be offered:

  • All-new Interactive Drive Control System (IDCS) available with the 2.0L turbo, offering driver-selectable suspension settings and automatic driver suspension setting adaptability
  • Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel anti-lock braking system, brake assist and electronic parking brake
  • Standard StabiliTrak stability control system and full-function traction control
  • Standard dual-stage frontal air bags, side-curtain air bags and pedal-release system; rear-seat thorax air bags available
  • Available navigation system, Harmon Kardon sound system, internal flash drive (1GB), hard drive with 10GB for music and USB port
  • Standard 18-inch wheels (19-inch wheels standard with IDCS)
  • Standard 12-way power, leather and heated driver seat; leather and heated passenger front seat; Bluetooth capability; XM Satellite Radio and OnStar.

In an effort to get the Regal to market quickly, it will be made in Russelsheim, Germany alongside the Insignia for the first 15 months.  After that, production will shift to a yet to be named North American plant.  A good bet would be the Fairfax, Kansas plant that makes the Chevy Malibu, as both products are based on the global Epsilon platform.

At the end of the day, the Regal will be a success if customers don’t mind that it is a Buick.  It is an attractive, well-equipped European sedan that will likely be priced very competitively.  The only thing getting in the way is the Buick’s image.  Personally, I don’t care about a brand’s so-called “baggage”.  A good-looking vehicle, with the right equipment at the right price is what I want.  I’ll leave the interpretation of what that means to my image to others.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

Thanksgiving Eve Update:
Autoweek magazine has reported that the 2.0L Turbo will also include a 6-speed manual transmission when it is introduced, making the Regal a legitimate competitor to the vehicles listed above.  Buick’s announcement 2 weeks ago said nothing about a manual.  Maybe they read The Slandy Report?  Also, GM announced this week that the Regal will be built in their Oshawa, Ontario plant in the first quarter of 2011.  Why Oshawa, which presently makes the Chevy Camaro and Impala, and not Fairfax, which already makes the Malibu and LaCrosse (made on the same Epsilon platform as the Regal)?  No idea – Oshawa will then have 3 vehicles all made on distinct platforms, pushing the envelope on complexity of the Oshawa plant.

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Today, Chevrolet announced a contest to name one of the colors of the upcoming Chevy Volt.  The color, which is to be the signature color of the car, is described as “silver exterior with an emerald hue”.  There will also be other colors for the Volt when it is introduced in a year, including Black, Silver Ice Metallic, Cyber Gray Metallic, Crystal Red Metallic and a premium White Diamond Tri-Coat.  The to-be-named color will be exclusive to the Volt.

“We want to invite consumers into the development process of the Chevy Volt and give people an opportunity to be part of our program,” said Maria Rohrer, director, global Volt and global marketing operations at Chevrolet. “We’re looking for a color name that captures the innovation and spirit of the Volt.”

The contest will award three finalists and a guest roundtrip airfare to Los Angeles, two nights standard hotel accommodations, a $400 gift card and admission to the LA Auto Show on December 2, 2009. The winner will be announced by Chevy on December 1 and be given the opportunity to test-drive the pre-production Volt.

Entrants can submit their color name at www.chevroletvoltage.com through 8:00 a.m. ET on November 4. Chevrolet will choose three finalists among all the entries, based equally on originality, creativity, and the ability to capture the innovation and spirit of the Volt. The finalists will advance to a second round, where consumers will vote for the entries on www.chevroletvoltage.com, starting 8:00 a.m. ET on November 16 and concluding at 8:00 a.m. ET on December 1. Consumers are limited to one vote per person and per internet protocol address during the voting period.

I am stating the obvious here, but this is a cheap publicity stunt.  There exists out there a group of people who are really geeked about the Volt.  Giving them the opportunity to “help” with the introduction of the car will really get them fired up.  In another group, there are some others who are interested in the Volt and its new technology and are looking forward to see how it does.  I place myself in this group.  The third group, by far the largest, doesn’t know what a Volt is and doesn’t care.  Many of them don’t even know or are barely aware of what a Chevy is or what they sell.  Anybody reading this is likely not in that 3rd group, but believe me, they exist and I’ve spoken to them.  It’s a humbling experience.

This contest seeks to fire up group #1, in the hopes that their enthusiasm will somehow rub off onto group #2 and maybe even to group #3 eventually.  Awareness is the holy grail of marketing – automotive and other.  If somebody is not aware of your product, they certainly are not going to buy it.  Most people couldn’t care less what the name of their car’s color is, much less want a say in that name.  However, if Chevy can continue to play this game of keeping the Volt in the public consciousness for ANOTHER year, they will have accomplished a PR feat.  The risk, of course, is that the public will be sick of hearing about the Volt before they can even buy one.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Chrysler Creates Ram Brand

5th October 2009

As rumored, Chrysler has split the Dodge brand into 2 parts – Dodge Car and Dodge RAM.  In an announcement today, Chrysler made official the rumor that started last week.  Dodge cars will continue to be marketed as Dodge, while the trucks will add the RAM name.

Some believe this is being done to isolate the valuable parts of Chrysler (Jeep and Dodge trucks) from the no so valuable parts (Chrysler and Dodge cars) for an eventual sale or discontinuation.  Assuming that FIAT plans to keep all of the parts, there are some pros and cons to this move.

Pro: Dodge trucks have enjoyed a positive position in the market, especially since they gave the RAM truck its own tough look and image with the Mack Truck redesign in the 1992 model year.  Like Ford and Chevrolet, Dodge’s image is confusing to the public.  They have a good tough truck image for the trucks, while their cars are seen as commodities.  Ford and Chevrolet have worked very hard over many years to shed this image.  Dodge doesn’t have many years. Separating the 2 will allow them to craft an entirely new image for Dodge cars.  Hopefully, they will develop some cars that fit that new image.  As stated here previously, Dodge needs to stand for sporty and affordable fun transportation.  The “Dodge Trucks are Ram Tough” doesn’t work with that.  Ford and Chevy are likely going to be very interested in how well this works.  Neither of them have a ready-made sub-brand like RAM, but this is a copycat business.  If the RAM brand is a success, look for Ford and/or Chevrolet to try something similar.

Con: the flip side of allowing the cars and trucks to have separate images to the customers is that the change will likely confuse those same customers.  With so many nameplates out there, the last thing you should do is confuse your customers.  However, with good communication, this will be lessened.  Dodge needs to make sure it doesn’t think that customers will make any effort to understand what they’re doing.  They may just go elsewhere.  Keeping the Dodge name, along with the RAM name, will help.  The plan is apparently to keep the Dodge name while adding the RAM moniker, so it will be Dodge RAM pickup, Dodge RAM Dakota, etc.  The other potential hurdle is that the RAM truck brand will be diluted to include (potentially) many other vehicles.  RAM is probably Chrysler’s strongest brand, behind Jeep, and the potential harm they could do to it (and therefore, to the company) by including other vehicle types cannot be ignored or overstated.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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GM announced today that it will save the G8 and start selling a Chevrolet Caprice.  This was widely reported, confirmed by GM and then denied by GM recently.  The catch here is that the Caprice will be a Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV) only – at least for now.  When GM publicly stated that they were not going to keep the G8 in the US market as a Chevrolet, it was because they couldn’t make a business case for it.  However, the Caprice that they are now going to sell in the US isn’t even the same car as the G8, though they both come from Holden – GM’s operation down under.

Among many other nameplates, Holden sells a model called the Commodore, which comes in many configurations.  It is the Commodore that spawned the G8 which Pontiac sells.  The Commodore/G8 is based on a platform that GM calls its global rear drive platform, otherwise known as Zeta.  This platform also underpins the new Chevrolet Camaro.  That platform also includes the Holden Caprice, which is a slightly larger version (the wheelbase is stretched 3.7″ and it is 10.4″ longer than the Commodore) of the Commodore/G8.  The Caprice is sold as a luxury car in Australia.

So GM can’t make a case for retail sales of the G8 as a Chevrolet, but they apparently can for the police-only Caprice?  The investment into making the Caprice a PPV has to be significantly more than giving the G8 a nose job to sell it as a Chevrolet.  Police cars require special equipment for their hard life chasing the bad guys that their more sedate retail cousins do not.  Specifically, GM has added the following equipment to the Caprice, in addition to a specially calibrated transmission:

  • High-output alternator
  • Engine oil, transmission and power steering coolers
  • Standard 18-inch steel wheels with bolt-on center caps
  • Large, four-wheel disc brakes with heavy-duty brake pads
  • Heavy-duty suspension components
  • Police-calibrated stability control system
  • Driver information center in the instrument cluster with selectable speed tracking feature

All this makes me think that GM still might sell the Commodore/G8 or the Caprice to the US retail market.  Why wouldn’t they?  Chevrolet dealerships will have to be trained and stocked to service the Caprice anyway; the incremental effort and investment of selling it to Joe the plumber is inconsequential.  Because the Commodore/G8 and Caprice are kissin’ cousins anyway, the Chevy nose job applied to the Caprice could likely be used to make the G8 into a Chevrolet for free.So will we see the Caprice in either version at your local Chevy dealer anytime soon?  Hard to say, but today’s announcement surely improves the chances.  For now, GM is using the fact that the Caprice is not available to retail customers to sell it to police departments, saying, “Unlike other police cars on the market, the Caprice PPV is not based on (an) existing “civilian” passenger-car model sold in North America.”  This wording was clearly designed by the legal and marketing staff to mislead, but not lie.  It is based on an existing civilian passenger-car model (but not sold in North America), and it is so closely related to the G8 that this borders on a lie, but doesn’t quite cross the line.  GM better hope that police departments don’t read The Slandy Report.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Showing that they care much more about ratings and sensationalism that about actual facts, Fox “News” came out strongly criticizing the recent Department of Energy (DOE) loans to Fisker and Tesla.  Fisker was awarded $528 million and Tesla $465 million.  It is difficult to enumerate all of the false and misleading statements in the following video clips, but here is a sampling of the junk that they try to pass off as news:

  • Many times, the loans are derided as a handout to “foreign” companies “creating jobs in Finland” and “going to build a car in Finland for $89,000”.  In fact, both companies are American, based in California.  The confusion on the part of Fox and its guests is from the fact that presently, Tesla only produces one model, which is made in Great Britain. Fisker doesn’t produce anything yet, but its first model, the Karma, will be assembled in Finland. However, the loans are for the development and eventual manufacture of lower-priced models from both companies that will be made in the US.
  • Stating and strongly implying that the only reason that Fisker received the loan is because Al Gore is involved and was pulling the strings behind the scenes.  In fact, Al Gore is a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a major investor in Fisker.  However, another partner is Colin Powell, who once considered running for president as a Republican.  Fox offers no evidence of tampering by Gore or KPCB.  It just throws out the implication.
  • They have David Williams of “Citizens Against Government Waste” to discuss.  He rails against the loans as wasteful.  Fine.  Disagree with the program if you want, but Fox also asks him about the cars and whether they are worthy of the loans.  This guy doesn’t know any more that the hosts when he says the money will not help the average American.  See first point.
  • At the end of the first segment, almost as an after thought, the host mentions that Fisker says the money will be used to fund another model, but it isn’t even designed yet.  Great job on doing your homework.  Even for the best car companies, it takes years and millions (sometimes billions) of dollars to design and develop a vehicle to sell.  Fisker (and Tesla) are going to use these low interest loans to fund that very development, so of course the new vehicles aren’t developed yet.
  • The 2nd segment includes a writer from the Wall Street Journal, who is no better.  Several times, he refers to Fisker as a “Finland company” and Tesla as a “British company”.  Then he says 3-4 times, “I don’t agree with this type of government largess, but if you’re going to do this, at least give the money to an American company.”  I almost expect this type of bluster from Fox, but not the Wall Street Journal.  They are supposed to at least be knowledgeable about business.  If they’re not, what value are they to anybody?  He even tries to equate this to the US contracting out the moon program of the 1960s to the Russians.  Unbelievable.
  • They conveniently leave out the fact that 1 truly foreign company has already received over $1 billion in DOE loans – Nissan.  Ford and Nissan received funds in the first installment of the DOE program earlier this year.  As a US taxpayer, I would much rather my tax $ go to Fisker and Tesla than Nissan.  Nissan’s profits and intellectual property are in Japan, where the good jobs truly are located.

By the way, Fisker has issued a press release disputing the reports about the loan and about the company. Tesla has also attempted to calm the storm and get the facts out.  You can read the Fisker release here, and the Tesla release here.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Chrysler’s “Plan”

29th September 2009

Automotive News reported last week that Chrysler-Fiat has a product strategy that includes the Chrysler brand moving way upscale, Dodge emphasizing driving dynamics and Jeep just staying Jeep, with a little fine-tuning.  Fiat, since taking control of Chrysler, has reorganized each of the brands under a CEO, who has total P&L responsibility for the brand.  That will work fine, as long as there is a referee who will decide which segments are appropriate and to make sure that overlap between the brands’ offerings are minimized.  As each of the brand CEOs report to Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, he seems to be the referee.

Chrysler brand CEO Peter “The Fongster” Fong says that the Chrysler brand needs to go upscale, but he is also considering a subcompact model.  That might work in Europe, where his boss works, but Americans generally equate luxury and status with size.  Bigger is better.  He adds that Chrysler will be “a notch above Lincoln, a notch above Cadillac.”  That is an admirable goal, but I sure hope he has a LONG time to accomplish this.  It takes YEARS and BILLIONS of dollars for new product programs to come to market and YEARS and HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars more to establish or change a brand identity – once you have the product.  The Fongster better hope Sergio doesn’t mind waiting a decade or 2 for results.

Dodge is going after the “driving dynamics” market, which sounds suspiciously like they’re going after BMW.  Good luck.  Everybody (Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Cadillac to name a few) has been going after BMW for many years, with only small degrees of success.  Now Dodge hopes to get in on this?  Please.  Dodge needs to be the affordable, sporty brand.  They must stay affordable because they don’t have another brand that can realistically sell affordable cars.  Maybe they should bring back Plymouth?

Jeep will stay Jeep.  At last, a good plan emerges from the rubble.  Jeep needs to cut back on its product lines and make darn sure it only sells products that are true to the Jeep brand.  That means no Compass or Patriot.  Jeep started calling its own products that still would meet the Jeep standard “Trail Rated” a few years ago, in anticipation of their slide into soft-utes.  Jeep should not produce anything that isn’t trail rated.

Also getting in the way is Fong’s point that the need to have “a broad array of products across every one of the segments.”  Wrong.  What each brand needs is a reasonable selection of products that are high quality, get good fuel economy for the segment and are true to the brand image they are trying to project.  Because all of the dealers will carry all of the brands going forward, each brand does not need to fill every segment or even many segments.  They only need to fill the segments that are true to the brands and enough of them to keep a viable, profitable dealer base.

That’s what I think – how about you?

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Mazda2 Coming to NA

21st September 2009

Mazda announced that they will bring the subcompact 2 to the US and Canada in late 2010.  “As consumers’ tastes and attitudes toward small vehicles have changed, we now believe strongly there is a place in our lineup for a car below our current least-expensive car, the Mazda 3,” Jim O’Sullivan, Mazda North American Operations president, said in a statement.  Mazda didn’t say where the 2 will be produced, but as it shares a platform with the upcoming Ford Fiesta, will they make it in Cuautitlán, where the Fiesta will be produced beginning next year?  It sure seems to make sense.  Mazda gets local production for the North American market, saving logistics costs of shipping from Japan.  Ford gets another vehicle for its plant, which helps ensure that the plant will be at a high utilization rate, which reduces the risk of discounting.  Customers get better choices and better prices, and North American workers get more jobs.  Everybody wins, right?  Maybe not.  Ford recently divested most of its stake in Mazda, which might make them hesitant to help Mazda sell cars.  They should ignore that kind of thinking and worry about making money for themselves, which producing the 2 at Cuautitlán will do.  However, if I know how Ford thinks, and I do, they probably have overly optimistic volume projections for the Fiesta and think they can’t spare the capacity for the Mazda2.  They should reconsider this (if I’m right) based on:

  • their spotty record of forecasting their own sales
  • the fact that the Mazda2 will likely be sold in VERY small numbers, even compared to the Fiesta, and
  • the lack of any coherent energy policy in the US means that gas prices will likely continue to fluctuate wildly, leading to further volatility in the sales of fuel-efficient vehicles -so they should hedge with this car and the Fiat 500 for the Cuautitlán plant.
That’s what I think – how about you?
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Toyota has told its dealers that it will use the Prius name on other hybrids in its lineup.  This was disclosed in a meeting of Toyota executives and its 60 largest US dealers last week.  They said Prius will not become a sub-brand like Scion, but the name will be attached to other hybrids in an undisclosed manner.  There are at least a couple of ways they could accomplish this, with varying degrees of intelligence.  It has been suggested that they might follow the lead of Oldsmobile in the 1980s, which seemed intent on badging every vehicle as a “Cutlass” – Cutlass, Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Calais, etc.  In this method, we would have Prius, Prius Highlander (or “Prius SUV”), Prius Camry (or “Prius Sedan”), etc.  This would defeat the whole point of using the Prius name, which Toyota dealer Earl Stewart said, ““The Highlander hybrid and Camry hybrid do OK, but calling it ‘Synergy Drive’ never resonated with consumers,” Stewart says. “But they can make hay on the Prius name. It’s a magic name. If somebody says ‘I drive a Prius,’ everybody knows what he means.”  If they use the Prius name as a separate group of vehicles in the showroom, like in the above examples, the name Prius will lose its cache and its meaning, killing the very advantage they hoped to leverage.

If, on the other hand, they use the name “Prius” as a branding of its hybrid system (which is presently called “Hybrid Synergy Drive”), that might work.  In this method, we would have a Camry Prius, Highlander Prius, etc.  It might sound like the same thing, after all, all I did was to switch the words around.  However, no matter how they brand these vehicles, customers will know that it’s a Highlander or a Camry.  Calling it anything else will only insult their intelligence.  Keeping the model name first and using “Prius” as a descriptive term which brands the hybrid system makes sense.

Which way will Toyota go?  No way to tell – they haven’t even confirmed this new direction publicly yet.  At times, it seems that Toyota is bent on becoming the 21st century’s GM – too big for its own good and making bad decisions.  You would think that Toyota’s management is too smart for that, but we also thought GM’s was too smart 40 years ago.

That’s what I think – how about you?

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GM Agrees to Sell Opel to Magna

10th September 2009

GM issued the following statement today:

Zurich. General Motors today announced that its Board of Directors supports a bid from the consortium of Magna International Inc. and Sberbank to buy a majority stake in its European Opel/Vauxhall operations.

Several key issues will be finalized over the next few weeks to secure the binding agreements, including the written support of the labor unions to support the deal with the necessary cost restructuring for viability and the finalization of a definitive financing package from the German government. The definitive agreements should be ready to sign within a few weeks, with closing to follow within the next few months. Under the deal, Magna/Sberbank will purchase a 55 percent stake in New Opel; GM will hold a 35 percent stake and employees will be provided a 10 percent stake.

“The hard work over the past two weeks to clarify open issues and resolve details in the German financial package brought GM and its Board of Directors to recommend Magna/Sberbank,” said Fritz Henderson, GM President and CEO. “We thank all parties involved in the intensive process of the last few months — especially the German government — for their continued support that enables this new venture. I’d also like to thank the Opel and Vauxhall customers for their continued loyalty. GM will continue to closely collaborate with Opel and Vauxhall to develop and produce more great cars, such as the new Insignia and the new Astra,” Henderson added.

The agreement will keep Opel/Vauxhall a fully integrated part of GM’s global product development organization, allowing all parties to benefit from the exchange of technology and engineering resources. The new ownership structure constitutes a new lean, efficient and independent organization for the Opel and Vauxhall brands. The current portfolio of Opel/Vauxhall cars and the models in the pipeline are a strong basis for future success.

Participating in GM’s global technology development and purchasing organizations secures important economies of scale for Opel/Vauxhall and other GM brands. For example, vehicles that represent new propulsion technologies, such as the Ampera extended-range electric vehicle, can only be brought to market in a joint effort.

“GM operates many joint ventures around the world and has proven in the past that this business model delivers the right balance of independence, innovation and synergies,” said John Smith, GM Group Vice President Business Development. “All parties will work hard to close the deal as soon as possible,” he added.

This deal baffles me, unless the agreement contains very strong assurances that GM will retain access to all of the engineers and systems that are so integral to GM’s worldwide product development system.  Several North American products have roots at Opel, including the highly acclaimed Chevy Malibu and Buick LaCrosse and the upcoming Chevy Cruze.  In other words, Opel is responsible for some of GM’s best new products, so they better not let that talent and expertise get away or worse, compete against them.


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