Autofield Blog

“Earl Grey, Hot.”


By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. November 2014

Were Captain Picard to have the opportunity to visit a Lincoln store in Beijing, Shanghai or Hangzhou—all of which opened last week—he would have the ability to partake of a beverage in the store’s tea room. Presumably while musing over the vehicle of his choice.

Lincoln Opens First Three Stores in China: Tea House

Or perhaps he would simply spend his time in the “Personalization Studio,” where there is a 46-inch LCD touch screen that can be controlled to display a configured vehicle, inside and out.

It may not be the Holodeck, but it is certainly a far cry from what many people are familiar with when it comes to their “dealership experience.”

In China they’re operating under the label, the “Lincoln Way.”

Apparently, Lincoln discovered during three years of research into the Chinese luxury market that the Chinese buyer is no longer interested in luxury as “an overt statement of their personal net worth,” but as “a way to express their unique individuality.”

Individuality seems a bit odd in what is still a collectivist state.

Lincoln Opens First Three Stores in China: Store environment

Anyway, the Lincoln customer (it is not clear whether are tire-kickers in China, people who might roll into the dealership just to kill time, which in this case might include having a delicious hot drink) will have the opportunity to interface with the “Lincoln Team.”

This consists of the Host, who is the primary person working with the customer. If the Host needs to get some additional help (is this a variant of “I’ll have to run this by my manager”?), then the Master gets involved. The Master is said to be “the customer’s trusted resource during the sales process.” Then there is the Craftsman, who handles repair, which is quite a controversial thing in China, such that not only does the Lincoln Way have it that there are cameras in the service bays that the customer can access while sipping tea in the Star Lounge (a bit Big Brother), but once the repair is done, the Craftsman can return the used parts, “packaged in a Lincoln box and tagged with a label, extraction date and the name of a service technician.”  Presumably, this is to provide assurance to the customer that what was said to have been done was, indeed, done.

Lincoln Opens First Three Stores in China: Vehicle display

Lincoln plans to open five more stores before the end of the year, and have 60 stores in 50 cities by 2016.

According to a recent report by automotive data company Inovev, in June 2014 there were 23,348 dealerships in China, up from 21,756 in July 2013.

Here’s hoping the tea is good.


Taking a SWOT at Sales


By: Gary S. Vasilash 10. November 2014

Strengths. Weaknesses. Opportunities. Threats.

Those are the fundamental elements of a SWOT analysis, which is sometimes deployed in companies to figure out what they’re good at, not so good at, what they might do, and what they need to watch out for.

Last week, the OEMs reported how they were doing in terms of sales for October.

So on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” John McElroy, Joe White of the Wall Street Journal, Scott Burgess of Motor Trend and I take a SWOT at how some of the OEMs did.

2015 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

The Cherokee’s sales are going in one direction: Up.

Take Chrysler Group, for example:

  • Strength: Jeep. Up 46% for the year, with 571,585 units sold. (Cherokee is doing remarkably well, with 147,733 sold so far, and given that the other vehicles in the lineup are doing well, too, it isn’t like there is cannibalization.)
  • Weakness: Cars. The Chrysler 200 is -22% for year, the Chrysler 300 -9%, the Dodge Dart -5%, the Dodge Charger -3%, and the Dodge Challenger -3%
  • Opportunities: Cars.
  • Threat: The 2015 Ford F150. That is, Ram sales are up 23%, and total sales this year of the pickup are 359,702, which represents 63% of Jeep sales for the Ram pickup alone. The EcoDiesel version is widely hailed for its fuel efficiency. But what if the F-150 comes in at a lower price point with equal-to or better-than fuel efficiency?

So White addresses some of the key business considerations for Chrysler (and the other companies we talk about). Burgess knows cars and trucks exceedingly well, so he is able to address the sheet metal portion of the business. And McElroy has bridging knowledge that accommodates both positions. (E.g., he suggests, for example, that given the poor performance of the Dart, which he considers to be an outlier in a brand that is positioning itself as a “performance” brand, the Dart ought to be moved over to the Chrysler side of the house, and reconfigured to become the Chrysler 100.)

In addition to the SWOT, we take a look at the melee at the NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500, the economics of Formula One, and much more.

You can check it out here:


Hyundai & Art


By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. November 2014

Although we could take this opportunity to point out that earlier this week Hyundai and Kia (remember: Hyundai Motor Group owns Kia) received a $100-million penalty from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thanks to the U.S. Department of Justice—the largest penalty in the Clean Air Act’s history—for misstating/miscalculating the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted from several of the companies’ cars and SUVs, we won’t.

Rather, we’ll talk about something more uplifting.

Tate

Three Eggs (1975-82). A video installation. © Nam June Paik Studio

As in Hyundai Motor’s 11-year partnership with the Tate Modern museum in London, which is supporting a newly curated display of work by South Korean artist Nam June Paik, as well as the acquisition of nine of the late artist’s works for the museum on the Thames.

Among the work shown is Paik’s Can Car, a sculpture produced in 1963, consisting of a tin can, an electric motor and a pair of wheels.

Clearly, Paik was ahead of his time vis-à-vis electric vehicles.

(Hmm. . .presumably those aforementioned greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t have been a problem were those cars and SUVs EVs. . . .)


Toyota: Ah, Maybe They Didn’t Put It Quite Right


By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. November 2014

A news release from Toyota coming out of SEMA opens like this:

In drag racing terms, a “sleeper” is a car that   looks as innocuous as possible, but has the means to blow the doors off the competition.

And then it goes on to explain that the folks at Motorsports Technical Center created a 850-hp sleeper car that makes use of a 5.7-liter 3UR-FE V8 from a Tundra—blown with a TRD supercharger and equipped with a wet nitrous system—as well as a Tundra’s transmission, rear axle and electronics.

Camry

The sleeper in question is a 2015 Camry.

In fact, they call the car the “Sleeper Camry.”

Here’s the thing: While the Camry may not be the most exotic thing in the midsize sedan category, arguably the 2015 version is far more expressive than anything carrying the Camry name since. . .well, since the Camry has existed.

Toyota is positioning the Camry as having a design that is “bold,” that has styling that “excites from every angle.”

And at SEMA they’re saying it is a snooze?

Not clever.


2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe 2.0T AWD Premium


By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. November 2014

Solid. Stylish. Squinched.

Those are the characteristics of the Cadillac ATS Coupe.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Two out of three ain’t bad.

The last first.

The backseat of the car is pretty much useful as a shelf, not as a seat. A really nice leather-clad shelf, mind you, but a shelf nonetheless. Even though the car is ostensibly a four-passenger car—there is a cupholder separating the two places on the rear seat—children would have a difficult time getting their feet and calves through the space that exists when the front seats are positioned for someone well short of six-feet. While some might quibble about the headroom that is a consequence of a coupe roofline in the back, let’s be serious: no one is going to sit back there. Ever. In if they should for some reason, that is going to be the first and last time.

Solid.

One of the things that is characteristic of German cars, by and large, is that they are generally engineered for the Autobahn. No, this doesn’t mean that they’re all built so that they can operate at speeds in excess of 200 kph. What it does mean is that they’re structurally capable of going faster, which means that there is nothing wishy-washy about the steering or the suspension.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

You get behind the wheel of the ATS Coupe, grab the steering wheel—which has a nice diameter that means business—and when you start driving, particularly at a speed beyond 40 mph, you recognize that this car is engineered well, that there is substance there.

Don’t, however, confuse substance with ponderousness. This car is quick, not thick.

In fact, one of the things that the engineers did during development is to concentrate on mass efficiency. That means they used an engine with an aluminum block and head (well, it is worth noting that the car here has the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo; there is a 3.6-liter V6 available, as well, and it too is all-aluminum). They used lots of aluminum in the suspension. And there is even the use of really light magnesium for the engine mount brackets.

(With the concentration on using light materials in the front, where a car tends to be the heaviest given that there is the engine up there and a trunk full of air in the back, the engineers managed to get a weight distribution for the ATS Coupe of 51% front, 49% rear. No mean feat, that.)

Stylish

The ATS Sedan came first. Then the Coupe. They both have a great resemblance, for obvious reasons. On the exterior, there is only one thing that the two have in common, which is the hood. (Obviously, the roof is longer, as are the doors, seeing as how there are two, not four. And the decklid is comparatively truncated, as well.)

One of the most stylish aspects of the ATS Coupe is something that you are unlikely to see unless (1) you deliberately look for it or (2) drive a lot at night. The vertical front lamps are absolutely striking. What is notable, and certainly a luxury cue, is that the car is available with illuminated door handles, so as you approach the car, keyfob in hand or pocket, then the front lamps turn on and the door handles, too. Nice.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Inside, there is the Cadillac cut-and-sewn interior. The company has managed to come up with an interior approach that is as distinctive as the creased sheet metal on its exterior (although speaking of the exterior creases, it should be observed that they’re becoming somewhat softer or more supple or something: you won’t cut yourself waxing the bodyside).

While the use of leather and wood in 21st century conveyances that don’t have horses up front often seems somewhat anachronistic, the Kona brown leather and the open-pore wood actually work in the ATS Coupe. (However, a long-time owner of a Japanese-marque luxury car told me that she thought the wood was unappealing, but that probably has something to do with the lack of layers of lacquer, which is why I like it: If you’re going to use wood, then make it clear that it is wood.)

At this point there need be the now-obligatory criticism of the Cadillac CUE interface on the 8-inch color touch display. There are efforts underway among some people to save the manual transmission. The ATS has a six-speed automatic that you can tap through the gears via magnesium paddle shifters on either side of the steering wheel. I would suggest that there be an effort to save the knobs. (I was looking at Consumer Reports recent reliability listing and see that the Cadillac ATS with a turbo (probably the sedan version, but as these two cars are largely similar beneath the sheet metal skin, I’m going to extrapolate here) is on the “Least Reliable” list for luxury compacts, and I am going to guess that given CR points out that for all vehicles, “The area that largest growing number of complaints by far is infotainment systems and associated electronics” that the ATS may be dinged for CUE.)

Yes, I understand that the Apple iPad does not have knobs or buttons. I also understand that the iPad doesn’t have a 272-hp engine and all-wheel drive.

I didn’t drive the ATS Coupe on the Autobahn. I did drive it on Detroit’s I-696 which, as people in these parts know, is probably the closest thing to the Autobahn. Yes, there are speed limits on 696. There are also people behind the wheels of powerful cars who evidently can’t read numbers.

I think that were the car to be somewhere in southwest Germany it would do just fine.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged, direct-injected I4

Materials: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 272 @ 5,500 rpm

Torque: 295 @ 3,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: ZF rack-mounted electric, power-assisted

Wheelbase: 109.3 in.

Length: 183.6 in.

Width: 72.5 in.

Height: 54.8 in.

Curb weight: 3,571 lb.

Seating capacity: 4

Passenger volume: 83.9-cu-ft.

Cargo volume: 10.4 cu-ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 20/28/23 mpg




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