Part 1: Driven to write fixes its gimlet eye towards Jean-Marc Gales and asks if he has what it takes to transform Lotus’ fortunes in a post-Bahar era.
Four years ago at the Paris Motor show, Lotus attached a rocket to its back and aimed for the stars showing five audacious concepts. Rocketman, Dany Bahar, Lotus’ shamanic leader attained perihelion before learning a valuable, if rather messy lesson in physics. Bahar told The Telegraph recently he in fact never intended making all five concepts, his intention merely being “to make a lot of noise”. It clearly escaped his notice that it’s a lot easier and ultimately less time-consuming to just set fire to huge wads of cash in public. Just ask the KLF. Continue reading “Can the Anti-Bahar Rescue Lotus?”
The coffin lid groans as the once lifeless corpse reanimates
It was revealed earlier this week that Borgward, the long-dead German quality auto marque will announce their first new vehicle in over 50-years at this year’s Geneva Motor show. Borgward, who last produced cars in 1961, join Saab and Bristol amongst deceased marques making belated and in Saab’s case, serial comebacks from the grave.
Opinions are fragile things, aren’t they? Left alone and sheltered from the cold gusts of fact, they thrive but a few small bits of data can destroy them in an instant, like hail shredding the most tender of blossoms.
The ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association) released data for car sales in 2014 recently. Automotive News made a bit of a meal of the matter of who would take next-to-top spot. Would it be Renault, Opel or Ford who will take the number two position in the future? At the moment Ford holds this honour, with just under a million cars sold. GM, perhaps because one or two models are below par, sold a bit less again. But that part of the story, the cars-as-sports story, didn’t really interest me so much as the way the numbers reset my expectation. Continue reading “Lovely, Lovely Numbers”
Automotive News reports that Ford’s EcoSport soft-roader/crossover has not been a success in the European market. Is it an example of world cars only selling in parts of the world?
The Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and the Opel Mokka all sold remarkably better than the EcoSport. How well? For every eco-sporty vehicle Ford sold, Renault sold 13 and a bit Capturs. Additionally, Peugeot sold 11 of their chrome-laden machines and even more additionally, Opel shifted 10 Mokkas for every Ford that drove off the dealer’s yard.
That means for each little Ford softroader sold, 34 of the competitors’ cars found happy customers. How this happened is put down to the EcoSport being designed for the Indian and Brazilian markets where more chunky-looking vehicles are preferred. The biggest sign of this chunkiness is the huge, externally mounted spare wheel. Continue reading “World Cars: Ford EcoSport”
Newspapers are interesting. You can pick up a sheaf of pulped wood and read articles about all sorts of fascinating topics. Just the other day I read a small piece about driverless cars. This made me wonder about two things.
The article I read (in the International New York Times) reported how last Monday at the International CES, a large trade show themed on technology, Dieter Zetsche showed off Mercedes Benz’s vision of a driverless car. Zetsche described the car as a sort of “luxury carriage” that could provide a peaceful and pleasant space for its passengers. Continue reading “Customerless Car Companies”
That’s the tabloid-style scare headline for this topic. The sensible, broadsheet-style headline would be “Fleet buyers to dominate in car market”.
According to Automotive News (who posted this story on Saturday, Jan 10th – do they never rest?) Renault are to bank on fleet sales as the proportion of private customers decreases relative to corporate ones: “Renault hopes its new Espace will appeal to business customers as family buyers increasingly shun minivans”. Furthermore, AN reports that “Jamel Taganza, an analyst for Inovev, said fleet customers now represent the majority of potential buyers of midsize vehicles in Europe: ‘With the exception of Italy, the shift to fleet sales is a European-wide trend,’ he said”. Continue reading “The Private Buyer Is Dying Off [Exclamation Point]”
Honda has launched a new H-RV, but where’s the joy?
Honda will shortly launch its new compact crossover contender to rival the likes of the Nissan Juke and its all-conquering Renault Captur sibling. It is, as one can reasonably expect, spectacularly unadventurous in appearance and technical specification. In fact, there is a very good chance that the HR-V (as Honda has named it) will prove to be a virtually invisible piece of street furniture when it lands in a town near you later this year. Continue reading “Renewed Joy for Honda?”
DTW takes a look back at the motoring year and boils it down to a manageable lump. It must be admitted a lot has happened in the US and Asian markets as well, but we’ll look mostly at European happenings.
Off the top of my head, this year’s big news events were related to Fiat Chrysler Automotive’s ongoing struggle to revive their business. Part of this has involved spinning off Ferrari and the departure of Luca di Montezemolo. Honda is grappling with a serious problem with failing airbags, a story which is still unfolding. GM has had a cross-brand PR disaster with its ignition switch problem that has been linked to 13 deaths. Continue reading “A Review of the Automotive Year 2014”
Mercedes’ new W222 S-Class is decimating its European and Asian rivals. A renaissance for a declining sector or the final gasp? Driven to write investigates.
The S-Class is the quintessential Mercedes and the centre of gravity around which the entire Stuttgart-Untertürkheim behemoth pivots. None more so than today’s W222 series; which if current sales are a reliable barometer, is shaping up to be the fastest selling iteration in the model’s history. Continue reading “Devourer Of Worlds – The Inexorable Rise Of The S-Class”
Despite well-publicised woes, Fiat is actually doing decent business in the lower reaches of the European market, with 2014 sales figures suggesting a recovery – well, of sorts…
European car sales figures from Jan-September 2014 illustrate an unexpected bright spot at FCA’s beleaguered Fiat division. It’s not much to write home about, but the former Torinese powerhouse is once again dominating the sub-compact car market. Between the top selling 500 and second placed Panda, Fiat have the mini-car sector sown up, with joint recorded sales of over 239,000 in the year to September. The 500 has performed well above expectations this year; especially so given the model’s age, with sales up 16% on 2013. The good news for Sergio continues with a small miracle occurring at Lancia. Continue reading “Fiat’s Nightmare Continues – Sales Are Up”
Renault’s November sales figures have been released. Good or bad or what?
Renault UK released their latest sales figures on Wednesday. The headline, as they present it, is that their sales are still increasing, a 20 month upward trend. They make the point that their percentage change is ahead of the general market trend too. They sold 61,172 vehicles in the year to date, which is almost a 50% improvement on last year. 5,586 of those were sold in November.
Automotive News has reported another turn of the swing door in Trollhattan. Those of you keen on re-gravedigging will have been following the death-rebirth-death-rebirth of Saab. At this point the cycle is akin to an automotive version of Buddhist re-incarnation except Saab keeps coming back as an about-to-die brand. The last news (May) was that some of Saab’s putative investors declined to throw more money into the open grave in Trollhattan and the stake was once again hammered into Saab’s turbo’d heart. Continue reading “Death’s Revolving Door is Now Spinning”
Today a certain homogeneity has swept over automotive design, both inside and out.
For a long time before this it was routine to mock the over-wrought interiors favoured by US luxury makers and here we have an example of what the target of this derision looked like. These days, while recognising that the 1991 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d’Elegance is most likeable as an ironic statement, it is true to say one could miss the diversity in automotive design that was available then. For some people this was precisely what they wanted. Continue reading “Theme : Dashboards – Be Careful What You Wish For”
DTW has often noted that the Koreans, in the form of Kia and Hyundai, have been selling very competitive products in Europe. But what is happening with European cars in the Korean market?
The New York Times reported that Koreans will soon be spending more on imported cars than they earn exporting vehicles. The situation is not symmetrical. While mainstream European brands have probably lost most to the Koreans’ competitive edge, in Korean it is the “prestige” brands that have thrived. The main reason for the change in the mix of cars sold in Korea is a trade agreement dating from 2011. Additionally, Koreans are less shy about buying foreign cars. In the past a major disincentive was that foreign cars were often vandalised. Continue reading “The Turning of Tables: European Car Sales Grow in Korea”
Now that even modest compact cars can be equipped with stitched leather look for almost every surface imaginable, the upper echelons have to up the cow skin ante – to, in some cases, dubious effect.
The recent troubles at Aston Martin have almost overshadowed an event that has become a bit of a rarity in recent times: the unveiling of a rather attractive car coming from Gaydon. The automobile in question, the Lagonda Taraf, is – despite its lavish grille – the most restrained and, it could be argued, tasteful design coming from Gaydon’s most prestigious car maker.
The Taraf’s surfacing is uncluttered, its detailing not overwhelming and the overall proportions are spot-on. An unexpected, yet welcome surprise, one might conclude – before setting sights on the Lagonda’s interior. Continue reading “Hideous Hides”
Sales of dropheads have halved. So is the convertible on the skids?
Nothing says ‘I’m living the dream’ like driving a convertible. There is no rational or practical reason behind it other than to demonstrate to the world you have reached a point of affluence, crisis or sheer devil-may-care indifference that can only be manifested by driving into a roseate sunset with a piece of inappropriate headwear wedged in place to prevent your hair being ruined. As pointless indulgences go then, convertibles are right up there with chocolate teapots. Continue reading “Has the Sky Fallen in on Convertibles?”
Having looked at the issues besetting the mighty Volkswagen AG (VAG) recently in Part 1 – which can be read here – we can now try and shed some light on the depth of the problems and likely solutions.
Today, the problem is that these cars are all on the verge of being replaced (or have already been replaced, in the Golf VI’s case). The new range taking their place will, even once the glitches related to MQB have been ironed out, not be as lucrative, with profit margins shrinking by as much as two thirds, compared with the Bernhard-era models. This should make future subsidising of models such as the Amarok pick-up (which is said to have a profit margin of -25%) with the Tiguan II’s yields considerably more difficult.Continue reading “Teutonic Displacement: Volkswagen Konzern (Part 2)”
How much can a brand be stretched? Should Alfa Romeos carry an ‘engineered by Ferrari’ badge? Or shouldn’t Alfa’s engineering speak for itself?
While trawling other news sites, I read at Autocar that Alfa Romeo’s forthcoming SUV will be based upon the Maserati Ghibli. That bit doesn’t surprise me so much as the remark that “….there have also been unconfirmed rumours that the top of the range Alfa engines will feature ‘developed by Ferrari’ sub-branding.” This has all the hall marks of an idea designed to appeal to Sergio Marchionne. It also reminds me of Silvio Berlusconi’s idea that Fiat could sell more cars by badging them as Maseratis. You might as well Continue reading “Fiat Punto 1.3 “Alfa Romeo”- Edition, Engineered By Ferrari”
The world’s least influential motoring blog we may be, but that doesn’t prevent Driven To Write being ahead of the curve every once in a while. Back in May, we took a detailed look at Sergio Marchionne’s plan for FCA’s turnaround, offering a hypothesis regarding its likely success – or otherwise.
Just a few days ago I noted that we at DTW had not treated BMW to some of our ire. Here is some ire. Or something passing itself off as such.
The car above is the 2015 BMW 2-series “active tourer” which is a five-door, front-drive hatchback with a great deal in common with the 2011 Ford C-Max which is five-door, front-drive five seater hatchback (below) that sells for a lot less. And looks better. Continue reading “BMW’s Front Wheel Drive Hatchback”
The limping cat: In this third part Driven to Write asks why Jaguar continues to under-perform in its most crucial market?
Despite the improvements that took place under Ford ownership and enhanced resources provided by Tata, Jaguar continues to seriously under-perform globally. According to JLR, Jaguar sales rose 13% year-on-year, retailing 49,656 vehicles in the calendar year to date and 6,069 in the month of July alone*. However these figures belie several more troubling factors. Jaguar sales in the once vital American market keep falling. Continue reading “JLR: The Challenges Facing a Challenger Brand – Part 3”
In the second part of our examination of JLR, we look at Land-Rover’s market stratification, Ford’s powertrain legacy and their less than stellar reliability record.
Land Rover’s confused offering
JLR’s strategy with Land Rover is to stratify the brand into three distinct levels. Land Rover at entry level, Discovery as median level and Range Rover as upper level. However, at the time of writing, this distinction remains insufficiently clear. The newly announced 2015 Discovery Sport is a good example of this – appearing a little too akin to its Range Rover derivative, and suggesting there is work to be done to put some discernible distance between the individual marques. Until a new generation Defender is available, this strategy will continue to confuse customers, with the added problem that JLR have nothing to offer buyers trading from the outgoing Freelander model – unless they are prepared to dig considerably deeper into their pockets. Continue reading “JLR: The Challenges Facing a Challenger Brand – Part 2”
I should really have resolved this pressing question a long time ago. I think I may have sorted it out so you don’t have to.
Not unlike Thompson and Thomson: Hyundai and Kia. The same corporation owns them, in a situation reminiscent of PSA who look after Peugeot and Citroen. Citroen had a long and interesting life up until Michelin sold the firm to Peugeot and in the intervening years it has been easy to tell one marque from the other despite common ownership (Saxo and 106 are exceptions). Continue reading “What’s the Difference Between Kia and Hyundai?”
In late August the students of the renowned Pforzheim Automotive MA degree course held their summer show…
…it all looked lovely. I meant to write about this a bit sooner but other subjects demanded my time. However, the main points I wanted to make are still valid. I could easily have selected another degree show but this one is the excuse to make them as they are general to all design courses, I feel. Continue reading “How to Shape the Future”
The sudden departure of Luca di Montezemolo as Ferrari MD has shocked tifosi and surprised analysts. But one key question remains unanswered – what happened?
Ever the truth-seekers, Drive to Write appear to have accidentally stumbled upon the answer, gleaned from (admittedly dubious) sources close to FCA itself, revealing the unspoken reason for his departure – the mysterious disappearance of Sergio’s favourite jumper – (A particularly fine blue angora number). Continue reading “Luca’s Woolly Nemesis”
A few months ago, I published a snippet from the autobiography of that legend of the British Motor Industry, the Chief Engineer of Victory Cars, Len Brik. Since then I have had a request for a further extract, but I must admit that a small amount of the late Len Brik’s odd grammar goes a long way. However, I can offer you some alternative Brik related information. Continue reading “Len & Now 2”
Richard’s fine introduction on this topic began with two quotes, both holding a high degree of truth to advertising in general, yet both I’d suggest are not always relevant to that branch of advertising that deals with cars.
Edwin Land, who brought us Polaroid, as well as other products of intelligent research, said “Marketing is what you do when your product is no good” but, although Edwin Land was a remarkable inventor, it was easy for him to say that since, for years, his instant film system was the best in a group of one. Car manufacturers don’t have that luxury – if only Karl Benz had employed patent lawyers as good as Land’s we’d all be peering through that silver star on the bonnet. Also the problem is that, essentially, all cars are good these days – it’s a fair time since VW could point to a Korean upstart and state, quantitatively and overtly, that it didn’t make the grade. So you can’t just sell on actual superiority. Continue reading “Theme : Advertising – Who The Fun Do They Think We Are?”
Okay Saab, we know this is a difficult time for you right now, especially with you being dead and everything. Obviously we’re sorry for your trouble, but if we can be completely candid, this whole thing is starting to get a little unnerving.
Daihatsu’s Japanese production declines for the first time in 8 months…
…but production overseas increased to compensate. And generally sales are down overall. Daihatsu gave up on Europe a few years back so the news that the Copen sportscar is to be revived may not do so very much to improve the sales picture. Still, it’s nice to imagine. What sort of a range does the Copen fit into?
Which cars are for today’s ophthalmologists, vets and professors of Medieval law?
About three decades ago certain makers sold cars for easily identifiable groups in society. Saabs were for well-paid university lecturers. Citroen could appeal to the Francophile and arty middle-class man. Lancia sold to intellectuals and business men who probably saw their work as a vocation. Humber appealed to bank managers of the bigger branches. But today, these brands are gone or unrecognisable
And What Is Wrong With Putting the Engine in Front of the Wheels?
Audi are in danger of becoming the Phil Collins of the petrolhead world, an act that even people who know little about music like to cite as being a bit off. Speaking as someone who can, hand on heart, swear that he has no murky Genesis related skeletons in his youthful musical vinyl rack and hopes he’ll never Continue reading “Audi – Always the Pretender?”
What’s it like to wander around the on-line show room of Ferrari?
Recently I´ve felt curious about the customer experience for prospective Ferrari owners. You don’t need to be out of your pyjamas to visit Ferrari’s website so I thought I’d see what happened and what I’d feel like if I did a little virtual tyre kicking. What I found is described below. Continue reading “Window Shopping For A Ferrari”
It is always useful to consider a counterfactual. For example, by asking what would have happened if Franz Ferdinand had survived his assassination attempt, we ask about how avoidable the first World War was. Another counterfactual might be to ask what if REM had disbanded after their drummer Bill Berry retired? That is to ask what was the importance of Bill Berry to the band. The answer to that second question is easier than the first. REM should have disbanded. Berry’s drumming was as integral as Michael Stipe’s vocals. Continue reading “If All the World Were Paper and All the Sea Were Ink…”
Whilst trying to find a download of a W211 Owners Manual for a friend’s ten year old E Class, I came across the above (full text below). Now, although the US website did finally provide the manual, Mercedes’ UK site appears to provide no such service. Despite the fact that it would only cost them a tiny sum to make electronic manuals for older cars available to owners, it’s telling that MB UK don’t see this as a priority.
Look, anyone and their dog can get on a plane and physically attend the Geneva Motor Show, but frankly that’s a little passé now. No, by far the more arduous, some might even say, daring approach is to stay at home, in pyjamas, eating toast and allowing someone else do all the legwork. Well that’s my justification anyway and no, you can’t have any more jam until you behave yourself. Continue reading “Geneva 2014 – The View from the Sofa”
I’ve just spent a few days and 2,500 km driving around Eastern France. In that time, I saw two Citroën CXs, a Renault Dauphine, a Renault 12, a Simca 1100 and a Peugeot 504. And I also saw an Onze Legere Traction, but that was UK registered. Those staple cliches for the location director setting an episode of a popular UK TV series in France, the DS and the 2CV, were nowhere to be seen, save for a battered Snail sitting on the roof of a scrapyard. Of course a French person visiting the UK would notice the dearth of Morris Minors and Rover 2000s but, somehow, the homogeneity of the modern French industry is so much more depressing. Even a Peugeot 406 and a Renault 21 were almost cheering sights, being pretty Gallic compared with today’s eurocars.
The Geneva motor show is usually the place for the major manufacturers to display their latest models and concept cars. I decided to see what was being presented by less well-known firms, some of which are tiny and new and some of which are massive but not much in the public eye. And there’s Giugiaro, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of VAG and, I would guess, eventually to share the same fate as Ghia, Ford’s one-time laboratory for innovation. Continue reading “Also Starring : Sideshows at the 2014 Geneva Salon”
A wise man once said that you can prove anything with facts. He was right – you can. However, float above the narrow prism of the factual and reality becomes a more nebulous concept. For it is within this white space the automotive press-release copywriter dwells. A land of fairies and elves, where steaming troughs of hyperbole appear as tureens of nourishing broth.
The upper-middle class coupé is almost extinct. We trace its demise.
Large upper-middle class coupés only made commercial sense if they could be produced to appeal to both domestic and US audiences. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the Japanese manufacturers alone seemed to understand this, ensuring they could export their offerings to the sector’s natural habitat. Success in automotive terms had traditionally been predicated on success in America and for that, a luxury coupé was highly desirable. Continue reading “Coupé de Grâce”
I don’t think I’m necessarily alone in finding Sergio Marchionne’s penchant for jumpers a little unsettling. Yes I concede it is lazy of me to expect an Italian captain of industry to cleave to national sartorial stereotype; why shouldn’t he buck the norm, even if the result is somewhat unedifying.
Fine tailoring might be what we expect, but in Marchionne’s case the knitwear appears a little too studied, just a tiny bit artful. The cosy jumpers appear to Continue reading “Ripping Yarns”
There have always been cases of re-skins creating ‘different’ vehicles; and indeed VW Group have become masters at doing this in-house. But between independent brands this has usually been discreet and car companies have remained proud of their ability to manufacture the oily bits, as in the example of the Vauxhall salesman who once vehemently denied to me that the diesel in an Omega was manufactured by BMW. You might have thought he’d Continue reading “What Lies Beneath?”
Sometimes it pays to be brave, sometimes it doesn’t. Better luck next time, Renault.
By the final decade of the 20th century, motor manufacturers, having established that engineering integrity would only take them so far in the quest for market leadership, began to realise that the answer to their prayers lay within the spreadsheets and focus groups of the product planning departments. In a mature market, largely populated by feckless new money garnered from illusory internet start-ups and awash with cheap credit, the differentiator between the automotive carnivores and their prey would be defined by one word: Segmentation. Entire departments sprang up in such demographically significant hotspots as Miami, London and Southern California, all tasked with seeking that elusive niche that would give the parent company a jump on their rivals.