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By 2g1c2 girls 1 cup

By now, you’ve probably heard the term, “crossover.” You might even think you have a pretty good idea what a crossover is. Generally, a crossover is considered to be an SUV built like a car. George Pipas, Ford’s chief sales analyst, says that Ford defines a crossover as “a light truck built on a car platform (except for minivans)”. A “platform” is the under-body or structure upon which a vehicle is built. Most people neither know nor care anything about the platform of their vehicle. What does it mean to be a “car platform” vs. a “truck platform”? Generally, it means a unibody vs. a body-on-frame design. Wikipedia defines a unibody as a, “construction technique for automobiles in which the body is integrated into a single unit with the chassis rather than having a separate body-on-frame.” A Body-on-Frame mounts, “…a separate body to a rigid frame.” So crossovers are unibody and SUVs are body-on-frame, right? Not so fast. There are exceptions. The Jeep Grand Cherokee would never be considered a crossover, but it is, and always has been, built on a unibody platform. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class, perhaps the original luxury crossover, was originally a body-on-frame design (it’s now a unibody).

Why have crossovers suddenly become so popular? Well, certainly gas prices have been a big part, especially in the last 6 months, as fuel prices have skyrocketed. Crossovers tend to achieve better fuel economy that their SUV brothers because they are lighter so need smaller engines. SUVs get poor fuel economy, but crossovers get better. True, but they are playing the perception game. The OEMs are like a heard of buffalo scrambling to avoid the use of the term SUV – they all want to call their products crossovers instead – to give their products the image of a fuel-efficient product when it isn’t. The Ford Escape used to have a slogan that said, “100% SUV” because it really isn’t a traditional SUV, but wanted to be thought of as one. Now, it’s just the opposite. George Pipas told me that the Escape is a crossover.

The trend started several years ago, though, so there has to be more to it than fuel economy. SUVs became popular starting in the early 1980s, but really took off in the early 1990s with the popularity of the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Baby boomers are credited with driving SUV sales, much as they have with many other products. So are baby boomers now to “blame” for SUV sales falling? It’s a reasonable assumption, as one of the main advantages of a crossover is that it’s easier to get in and out vs. an SUV. We’ve all read ad nauseam about the “graying of America” as baby boomers get older. They are simply finding that they can’t get in and out of their giant SUVs any longer.

The other reason for the switch to crossovers is handling. A crossover, because of its unibody design, handles more like a car, because it is, well, a car. The whole Ford Explorer – Firestone debacle of 2000 increased awareness that SUVs are not cars, and cannot be driven like one. They are taller and heavier with a higher center of gravity (CG). What this means is that they have to be driven slower around corners and that, in extreme conditions, are more likely to roll over. Crossovers, on the other hand, are lower than SUVs, so have less chance to roll over (or fetch).

So for all these reasons, crossovers are a different kind of vehicle than an SUV, right? Maybe, but we here at The Slandy Report disagree. Most crossovers, to us, are the natural progression of the SUV segment. They can do just about anything an SUV can do (obvious exceptions are heavy towing and serious off-roading), but they do it better for most people because of the points made above (fuel economy, handling and ingress/egress). Just because a “crossover” is built differently doesn’t make it a different kind of vehicle. Case in point: when cars began to use unibody designs instead of frames, or when they began to use front-wheel drive, they weren’t deemed to be a new kind of vehicle. They were just different cars.

The same is true for some other ”crossovers”, which we believe are just the new way of designing station wagons. The Ford Taurus X (nee Freestyle), Chrysler Pacifica and the new Ford Flex and Dodge Journey are just new-fangled station wagons. I don’t think I need to prove this – just look at them. They don’t look like your grandfather’s station wagon, but neither does a 2009 F-150 look like your grandfather’s F-100. The automakers are just afraid of the term station wagon. When Ford was launching the Freestyle a few years ago and I suggested to the Freestyle marketing manager that it was a station wagon, she quickly corrected me.

So are the automakers going to see the light and deep-six the name crossover? Don’t bet on it. They have come across a new type of vehicle (even if it isn’t), and they are going to milk it as long as they can. My only hope is to shine the light on this, so you know what you’re getting. I remain your faithful servant.


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Driving School

13th July 2008

Follow the link for the video of the driving school I just attended. No, just kidding. This is a youtube video of some crazy, but very talented driving. The drivers really know what they’re doing. It goes to show you that the scariest drivers are not really the ones who drive fast – it’s the ones who drive worst. Speed doesn’t kill – it’s variance of speed that kills. What does that mean? It means that if every driver is driving 80 MPH (128 kph), there is less likelihood of a problem than if one driver is driving 70 MPH (112 kph) and another is driving 45 MPH (72 kph).

Pay special attention to learning to change your tire while the car is still moving!

Kids, don’t try this at home (or anywhere else):

http://youtube.com/watch?v=kv5d2mXy7dY

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A Chink in the Armor?

10th July 2008

Today, Toyota announced 2 (temporary) plant closures and some reshuffling of their vehicle manufacturing locations – all as a result of the shifting demand away from trucks. The hot-selling Prius, the best selling hybrid in the US and the world, will now be made in the new plant being built near Tupelo, Mississippi. The Highlander, presently built only in Japan, and scheduled to be added to the Tupelo plant, will now be added to the Princeton, IN plant, which presently builds Sequoia SUVs and Tundra full-size pickups. The Tundra, built in Princeton and San Antonio, will now be consolidated in San Antonio. While this giant game of checkers is being implemented, both Princeton and San Antonio will shut down, from early August to early November, due to…ahem…”the declining overall market for full size trucks and SUVs”. Got all that?

OK, I have 2 points to make of all this. First, when Toyota announced plans to sell a “real” truck, many (including a certain former boss of mine) assumed they would be able to sell as many as they could build (which was assumed to be ~225,000/year). 225,000 would have given them 10% of the full-size market in 2006. In 2005, their actual share was 5.0%, rising to 5.5% in 2006 and 8.9% in 2007 (the first full year of the redesigned new model). While the Tundra has done well in an extremely loyal segment, they haven’t exactly set the world on fire. To get the sales, they have had to put incentives on the Tundra, just like (gasp!) GM, Ford and Chrysler. They had as much as $3000 of incentives less than 3 months after launch in 2007. I call that mixed results. Sales have done well, but not as well as some predicted, and they have had to use incentives to do it, when many thought that Toyota would never need or use rebates to “move the metal.”
Second, Toyota has shown why they are about to become the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world (sorry, GM). They have identified a fundamental and maybe permanent shift in the market, and they have taken bold steps to adjust on the fly. These shifts in production will be costly, both to Toyota and their suppliers. But instead of arrogantly thinking, “The customers will come back; they always come back”, Toyota has acted in the best long-term interest of the dealers, suppliers and, of course, themselves. The Detroit 3 can and should take a lesson in corporate responsibility from Toyota. Then again, they should have 25 years ago, but didn’t. When will they learn?
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More Ford Layoffs

29th May 2008

Ford says that they will be laying off another 10%-12% of their salaried workforce with the goal of them being off the payroll by August 1. No fancy buyouts this time – there will be a (not so) lovely parting gift for those leaving, along with a swift kick in the butt (thanks for playing). As Ford has already cut about 1/3 of the salaried people, it makes you wonder either:

  1. Ford had WAY too many people a few years ago
  2. Ford is going to have trouble doing all of the work it needs to do to design, manufacture and sell its products, or
  3. Ford is going to eliminate all of the non-value-added work that its hard-working, smart employees are forced to to do daily (don’t hold your breath on this one)
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