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Old 08-12-2011, 04:52 PM
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The State of The Car

Last night Kitdy and I were talking and kvetching about the lack of commentary on new cars on UCP. This may be because we forumites are becoming old and lazy or because the majority of cars coming out these days don’t warrant it. So I’d like to leave this thread here for all of us who have some random car-related musings to get off our chests or those who are experiencing the Dog-days productivity slump and need something to do.

To say that automobiles are currently in flux is a bit misleading, because they always are, but I feel that we are approaching some sort of watershed moment after which cars will emerge a different breed than they currently are and people’s views of them will change as well.

Obviously the most visible trends in the automotive world are the varyingly-pathetic attempts at greenwashing and a few earnest attempts to allow Earth and car to healthily fraternize. I think that there may be other more subtle and perhaps more-interesting trends. People say that societies’ cultural tendencies cycle every 20 years or so; if this is actually true the value of a “premium” brand may have already reached its zenith. If the ‘00s were truly a mirror of the status and materially-obsessed ‘80s we may emerge into a new era of honest motoring aided by double-dip GFCs and all that fun. Alternatively, the monetary-status one-upmanship may be replaced by those flaunting their ecological-soundness. Over here that may mean the repopularization of sedans, wagons, and even hatches compared to SUVs, crossovers, and trucks.

While this new era of honest motoring may be refreshing in many ways, it requires shedding past pretensions and traditions; Mustangs now have four valves per cylinder and DOHC, Chryslancia makes the Themahundred-C, Mazda may axe their rotary etc... These may be hard pills for the gearhead to swallow but may well be necessary for the industry to move forward.

Diluting this honesty over here will be CAFE’s standards for the American automobile. Rather than force the consumer to make a hard choice by levying taxes on gas, the manufacturers are responsible for magically summoning up miles per gallon out of thin air. To do this they will no doubt resort to plug-in hybrid and Volt-like vaporware. This NIMBYistic and, frankly, stupid attitude towards increased efficiency will not actually move the industry forward as much. Gas will stay the same price, but new cars will get more expensive, so people will hold onto their used tank for much longer, hurting the environment and the car industry. If gasoline prices are brought up, not only do the Feds get a much-needed pile of shekels, but customers are incentivized to pick cars that in the real world will return reasonable mileage figures. This will create demand for genuinely frugal vehicles, not just ones that look like they are on the EPA’s dynos. There are definitely times when the market cannot be trusted to regulate itself, but I feel that higher gas prices would be a much less artificial push in the right direction than CAFE’s standards. I am not sure how Europe is handling it, but governments tend to be the same brand of stupid the world over.

So, as we proceed there will be two warring forces; the simple and light economical car and the ecobarge, struggling to overcome its mass with all sorts of technical wizardry. I should note that that doesn’t mean the simple car will be bereft of computer, on the contrary the ability for ECUs to adapt engine to their conditions is a boon to both economy and power, when I say simple I mean lacking in eco ancillaries like battery packs that do more harm than good. However, the CAFE standards are guaranteed, whereas the paring-down of car is not, but I’m trying to look for a silver lining. I’ll now look at a few cars that I think are what might lay ahead.

Mazda2 & 3 Skyactiv
This (the 2) represents exactly what I think is good; a small naturally-aspirated gasoline-powered car that, through novel use of existing tech and clever improvement upon the Otto cycle, gets incredible mileage. Its econobox status means that it need not be weighed down by gratuitous “luxury.” It is without pretension. (I also imagine a rotary swap would be hilarious.)

Ford Taurus
“Ooh, look what amazing mileage we can eek out of this 90-ton behemoth!”
It shouldn’t weigh that much, then. If you can make an oversized vehicle return passable mileage, why not make a normal-weighing vehicle that returns good mileage? (Though I suppose my love of B-bodies makes me a hypocrite.) I view cars like these as a waste of good engine technology.

Ford Mustang
Another Blue Oval; this one though has remained simple and has mostly stayed to its roots. Sure, it now has two or three cams too many and eight or sixteen valves to many, but it is still a very honest car. I can only hope that it continues to be and maybe even gets a lighter platform in the future.
Etc…

I know I have only covered USDM cars because as much as I read about other markets, it’s the only one I feel confident commenting on.

Other Trends

As for other trends, I think globalization of lineups may continue at its current rate or even accelerate if there is enough similitude in legislation that brings the previously-disparate needs of global markets closer together. This will have many drawbacks, with a decline in product diversity being the most ominous. If carmakers decide to force demand onto markets when they are dissimilar, the product may flop in one or the other, or even worse, like any good compromise, leave both parties dissatisfied. This is another inevitability, I think, that will probably not do any favors to the world of the gearhead, but at least it’ll shut up the “grass is always greener” types.
I also don’t think that large automotive groups are quite done killing off their problem children. Something has to give at Chrysler/Fiat; on the Chrysler side the Chrysler brand is the weakest, I’d say, and on the Fiat side all signs point to Lancia. These dead brand may receive a second lease of zombified life at the hands of the Chinese, which for you “death before dishonor” folks is even worse.
I also want to think VW will implode in the near future.

Styling

Style-wise I’m not really sure where things are going. LEDs will continue to make cars’ front ends chintzy. They will also probably migrate arears. There is hope, though, Audi who long pioneered advances in tacky styling, like LEDs, have visually slimmed down their range. They have significantly reduced the high (and rising) beltline and gunslit window phenomena. Audi’s work in the past has been emulated by the rest of the automotive industry, and for once, I hope they continue to do so minus the LEDs.

State of modified culture

The stance scene is near its end. Lowering a car will never go out of fashion, but I think people are beginning to realize that a lot of what was done in the name of stance and fitment is a little excessive. I think more functional mods, be they for drift or track will see a resurgence.
Hot rods will emerge simpler out of the horrible ‘90s custom-fabbed gaudy color things (whatever they’re called) and the more cluttered rat scene. I don’t think the rat scene will fade, I just think it will shed some of it stupider baggage.

I know that I am often disappointed by the lack of thought that I and others put into their posts here, so while this post may not be well thought out and organized, I did put thought into it and hope you guys can do the same in your responses.
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Old 08-12-2011, 08:07 PM
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I suppose if I were younger, the current/future state of the automobile would be more of an issue. At 51, I'm hoping for a good 20 years of car nirvana. That time span will allow me to enjoy some damn fine examples of internal combustion goodness. I'm currently in a stage 2 Legacy GT, and am looking to an Sti sedan. There's no doubt in my mind that the do-gooders will legislate my idea of a good time out of existence. I just hope I'm not around to see it.

I don't care one whit about MPG, CO2, or Mary Nichols. Life is too short to smoke bad cigars or to drive a Prius.
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Old 08-12-2011, 09:02 PM
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Read Lutz' book? The whole point on CAFE putting the burden on OEMs vs letting consumer actually go out and buy fuel efficient car through higher gas price was one of his point...The fact that EU does have higher gas price means people are buying more efficient cars that are more within their means.
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Old 08-13-2011, 02:17 AM
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I am going to leave what I have to say mostly in the realm of the North American market, as it is what I know, and what I read about online and in print.

North American car companies just went through a massive cluster disaster, with two of the big three going bankrupt. Just as they were getting back on their feet, we have the stock market collapse again. GM stock has been hit very hard, and the auto industry bore more heavily the wrath of the market than major indices such as the DOW, DJIA, etc. I worry for these fledgling new companies. So many jobs are tied to their existence, and they remain as some of the last great manufacturing titans of this continent, which used to be ruled by the working man and industrial production.

I grew up being indoctrinated into a dislike of American cars. Part of it was nationalistic; my family (and many Canadians) seemed and seem to take delight in the plight of our bigger brother. 10 years ago, America was flogging crap at dealerships. I have ridden in some circa 2000 era GM cars and they are utter garbage. Now though, when I see some of the things that America has made - Ford and GM in particular - I have hope.

I grew tired of Europeans shitting all over everything the US made (thanks to UCP for that) and I began to look at US cars in a new light. Detroit needed shaking up, but the product could compete. This is in jeopardy now though. The economy still seems to be broken, there are problems with sovereign debt, and the future is uncertain - something investors and consumers do not like. Something that could be disastrous for Detroit, which was just was brought back from the dead.

Ford is doing amazing things right now. Fiesta, Focus, Mustang; all great. The Fusion needs redone, and I suppose they do kinda lag behind in the green area but I don't care about that much.

GM is doing some things right, but other things, very, very wrong. GM is still leading in cash on the hood of cars, and this is something I am quite upset about. GM has some very competitive products out there right now, and they still need cash on the hood to move them. This is the old way of thinking at work - volume, not profit. GMC looks pretty useless in my eyes. There seems to be some old GM lurking in the new GM. 4 CEOs in 2 or 3 years is not a good thing. Whitacre struck me as a dick kinda guy from the moment he stepped in, and I don't care for Akerson at all. I think Fritz got a raw deal. Mind you, on the positive side, GM really led the DI charge, and has some interesting technological stuff going on (Volt, now small turbos in the Sonic and Cruze, and maybe even a diesel Cruze in NA).

Chrysler seems to have glossed over its problems by doing what I think are more of extensive facelifts than making all new models. The new 300 is very striking, and oozes class whenever I see it; it draws my eyes, but there are quality problems. The 200 got off to a good initial sales start thanks to Eminiem, but it is essentially the same POS Sebring but with an uprated interior. I wanted to like these two core cars, but the reality is that they are not that good. When I read reviews of them, I sensed the writers wanted to write nice things about these cars, and say they were near the top in class, but the reality was that they were not.

Chrysler has just attempted to tide things over before they can properly redesign their lineup with the aid of Fiat. I think that Fiat jumping into bed with Chrysler could prove to be a huge, huge disaster for both companies. The move Marchionne took was hugely risky, and his company seems saddled with uncompetitive brands already (Alfa? Lancia?). Chrysler selling cars as Lancia in Europe is just plain dumb. Dodge has a lineup of hugely uninspiring barges, and the Ram 1500 and HD are almost certainly worst in class.

Saab is a joke, and I think it remaining on life support is a goof soap opera. Maybe the Chinese will take it over. As hellcat said, for many enthusiasts, that is a fate worse than death. I would say odds are leaning more towards them simply folding.

Hellz also mentions 2 of the 3 cars I think are the best on the market today. The 2 is the car I would have if I could afford a new cheap car, and the Mustang - V6 or V8 - is a performance bargain the likes we have never seen.

A rarity that the two of us agree, but there you go.

The Koreans are going to keep gobbling up market share in the US. Since the launch of the Genesis Sedan and Coupe, Kia and Hyundai went from being the punchline of jokes to true contenders. The Sonata, Elantra, Genesi, Optima, and Forte have utterly transformed the landscape in North America, and my inkling is that the Japanese serve to lose the most. Japan had such a meteoric rise here, especially in the last few years when things went tits up for the big three, but now the Koreans could steal some of their thunder. The natural disaster in Japan is only going to help the Koreans gain more market share, which may be hard for the Japanese to gain back.

Troubling for me are the new CAFE standards. As much as I hate gas tax (and as much as my interest in saving the environment has faded in recent times), the current approach seems utterly moronic, and a totally political play. Raising the gas tax in the US as a politician would be suicidal, so one must instead obfuscate the price the consumer will ultimately pay by putting the onus on the manufacturer, not the consumer. I mentioned this to hellcat last night, and he and I agreed that it was not the right path to take (as he has written). The very high MPG standards could easily grind new sales to a halt, and give an advantage to automakers that place less an importance on the NADM (ie, all but the big three).

Ultimately though, the big monkey in the closet is gas prices. Gas pre-recession here was very expensive, and for other places, near unbearable. Will we start seeing cars become tame in the next 5-15 years? Will anodyne greenness via expensive gas keep anyone from driving tire shredding beasts? As someone that likes fast cars, this worries me, probably even more than model bloat. I know the performance car will survive, but I could see it be placed in an even less important supporting role that it already is.

The post bankruptcy era should be an interesting one. I hope that the economy picks up for the sake of everyone, and for the sake of these new companies. To be honest, GM is the one I fear for most. I don't care for Mopar anymore (though they were the bitchinest in the muscle car era), and it is GM that has the biggest potential to me to be redeemed.
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Old 08-13-2011, 05:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Wang Lung View Post
I suppose if I were younger, the current/future state of the automobile would be more of an issue. At 51, I'm hoping for a good 20 years of car nirvana. That time span will allow me to enjoy some damn fine examples of internal combustion goodness. I'm currently in a stage 2 Legacy GT, and am looking to an Sti sedan. There's no doubt in my mind that the do-gooders will legislate my idea of a good time out of existence. I just hope I'm not around to see it.

I don't care one whit about MPG, CO2, or Mary Nichols. Life is too short to smoke bad cigars or to drive a Prius.

Couldn't agree more...and we're the same age.

Hope I retain the urge for speed for as long as Paul Newman did.
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Old 08-13-2011, 06:27 AM
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Introducing world cars, in most cases is a receipe for disaster. That's because different geographical areas have different needs. And those needs do not arise from personal preferences, but rather from space, economic or cultural (amongst others) constraints which makes them rather difficult to change. As a result the cars present on those geographic areas will have to be necessarily different, not better or worse, but just different.

Traditionally european cars have been regarded as the best for the enthusiast and our continent is for the most part quite well shaped to enjoy driving. But let's brutally honest here, we do not all drive around in hot hatches and sports saloons terrorising the laws of physics and doing a million in the motorway. The reality for the average european is very different, even for those who like cars.

A very large proportion of cars here are diesel, with the aural problems this causes. We also drive around in small cars with low powered engines. In truth the average european car is a slow one. Fuel is very expensive, and there's an ever increasing amount of speed cameras and speed bumps pretty much everywhere.

So don't think it's all perfect here.
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Old 08-13-2011, 08:30 AM
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World cars just makes a lot more sense from a financial perspective though. In GM's case, all of their entities, from EU, Asia, S. America, and NA, all used to have their own accounting, their own budget, their own testing standard. By unifying much of the architecture, and as much of the "invisible components", you are getting the max benefit of economy of scale, and you will still let the local entity do their localization. A good car will sell regardless where its designed, and realistically today, the divide between what works where is rapidly shrinking. Its not like European only drives small cars, or American only drives land yacht....

FYI the new Lancia 300 is pretty sweet....aside from the pure badge engineered exterior, the interior is much more upscaled than the Chrysler version....

As an aside, the new Bob Lutz book as I've mentioned was a good read. There are alot of blaming the other and Lutz coolaid in it, but the insight he gives on the GM process and why it was not working, and some background in the whole bailout deal is pretty good info...
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Old 08-13-2011, 08:36 AM
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FYI the new Lancia 300 is pretty sweet
So a 10 year old M-B chassis gets another new badge ?

"World cars" make sense when moving forward and developing new features - Ford et al have done this with some success.

But the 300 if an example of a "world car" for cost reasons and I'd rather not see those continue at the middle/top of the market otherwise it drops down to cheapest component supplier and no innovation.
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Old 08-13-2011, 08:54 AM
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So a 10 year old M-B chassis gets another new badge ?

"World cars" make sense when moving forward and developing new features - Ford et al have done this with some success.

But the 300 if an example of a "world car" for cost reasons and I'd rather not see those continue at the middle/top of the market otherwise it drops down to cheapest component supplier and no innovation.
The 300 chassis was never used by MB. The chassis was under development at Chrysler when MB came in. MB wanted it (rightly or wrongly) redesigned to use existing MB hardware. So the car got a MB rear end and suspension that was a cost reduced version of what MB was using (cast iron vs alloy parts in some cases). The use of MB parts certainly delayed the project which was a real pity because the 300 and family were the only real hits of the MB era at Chrysler. Only 2 years or so after the 300 came out the US gas prices shot up and really cut into the sales of the car. Had they released the car a year or two earlier the added sales might have made up for not using MB parts. Either way the chassis was not just a left over E-class chassis.
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Old 08-13-2011, 09:06 AM
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Yeah, world cars make sense and all, but what happens if a particular variation of a world car doesn't make it to your market?

Something like Honda not getting the Stream to the US markets.

I would say it would sell great, but Honda of America thinks otherwise.

I was going over the figures the other day- the heaviest Crosstour is a full 400 lbs (200 kg or so) heavier than the heaviest Accord V6 sedan.

Why did Honda think another SUV-like crossover was going to be a good idea, I have no clue.

And I do not have high hopes for Chrysler. Their only product that should exist is the Viper.

Ford is doing an okay job.

GM is okay I guess too.

One problem I see is corn subsidies. We all know it doesn't work now, so why are we still siphoning off valuable tax dollars for something we know won't work?

The excuse is that to win Iowa in the elections is to appease all the hick corn growers. It's time to put politics aside and put the country first, a lot like a billion other problems the US has.

Other problems I see- Elon Musk. A company that hasn't turned a profit since its inception, I don't see why we should invest money in cars that won't be affordable in the first place. Besides, battery technology isn't there yet.

I never liked hybrids. It's a great stopgap, but it never will be the solution.

f6hellcat- I agree with your original statement- the current crop of cars are boring. That's why most commenting on the forum is mostly about cars made 10+ years ago.
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Old 08-13-2011, 09:47 AM
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The 300 chassis was never used by MB. The chassis was under development at Chrysler when MB came in. MB wanted it (rightly or wrongly) redesigned to use existing MB hardware. So the car got a MB rear end and suspension that was a cost reduced version of what MB was using (cast iron vs alloy parts in some cases). The use of MB parts certainly delayed the project which was a real pity because the 300 and family were the only real hits of the MB era at Chrysler. Only 2 years or so after the 300 came out the US gas prices shot up and really cut into the sales of the car. Had they released the car a year or two earlier the added sales might have made up for not using MB parts. Either way the chassis was not just a left over E-class chassis.
Similarly the next generation Viper chassis became the SLS chassis.
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Old 08-13-2011, 12:02 PM
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The 300 chassis was never used by MB.
My bad for not saying "DESIGN" regarding the chassis to take the components.
The MB used them back in the 90s.
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Old 08-13-2011, 12:15 PM
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Similarly the next generation Viper chassis became the SLS chassis.
I've wondered about the back story there. Certainly when the development was under way it was known the chassis would be used for both cars. Did Chrysler do some, none, most, etc of the work?
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Old 08-13-2011, 01:04 PM
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f6hellcat- I agree with your original statement- the current crop of cars are boring.
If by boring you mean they are more reliable, refined, safer, faster, then - yes.

Unlike many of you here, I'm a bit narrow minded person when it comes to judging new cars. I have only one criteria - do I want it? It doesn't matter why. If I want it, I want it. Period.

I can think of at least a dozen new car models I would like to own. With price tag up to, let's say, 30,000€. Thus, current automotive industry is doing quite well. At least for me.
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Old 08-13-2011, 01:09 PM
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If by boring you mean they are more reliable, refined, safer, faster, then - yes.

Unlike many of you here, I'm a bit narrow minded person when it comes to judging new cars. I have only one criteria - do I want it? It doesn't matter why. If I want it, I want it. Period.

I can think of at least a dozen new car models I would like to own. With price tag up to, let's say, 30,000€. Thus, current automotive industry is doing quite well. At least for me.
Which ones then? Are they European only?

There are a few I am interested around $30,000, but only a few.
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