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The Gamification of the Auto Industry


By: Gary S. Vasilash 14. November 2014

One of the issues that is often raised among people who work in the auto industry is that young people are not as interested in cars as they once were—or as interested in cars as those who are talking about the present disinterest were when they were young.

As more than one person has put it, “Back in the day cruising drive-ins was the way to connect with friends; now it is a matter of touching a few virtual keys on the face of an iPhone.” When you hear designers and engineers saying something along these lines, you also see the wince in their faces.

One of the ways that car makers are trying to connect is through getting their cars into video games. Young people may not want to deal with the hassle of a physical car, but there is nothing like throwing a digital version around on tracks and streets that they will never see with little downside except, perhaps, a bruised ego.

Chevrolet to Show Chaparral Vision Gran Turismo Concept

Chaparral 2E

PlayStation is celebrating the 15th anniversary of Gran Turismo. As part of its festivities, it asked car makers to provide a look at the future of automotive design.

One of the cars that changed the face of racing was the Chaparral, which roared out of Texas in the 1960s. Chaparral Cars worked with Chevrolet Research and Development to develop awesome cars like the Chaparral 2E, which appeared in 1966.

It could be argued that racing is gaming in the real world.

Anyway, GM’s Advanced Design Studio, with input from Jim Hall, one of the cofounders of Chaparral Cars (back in 1962), designed the Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT concept that will be revealed next Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Chevrolet to Show Chaparral Vision Gran Turismo Concept

The Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT concept is under that cover.  It will be revealed November 19

Ed Welburn, head of GM Global Design, said of the Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT concept, “It will serve as an example of what our designers are capable of when they are cut loose, no holds barred.”

He described it as “A fantasy car in every sense of the word.”

And it will be part of an online update for Gran Turismo 6.

What’s interesting about this is the fact that concept cars of the “no holds barred” variety are becoming few and far between. Most “concepts” at shows are just a bit this side of near-production designs.

But it is just as well that Sony contacted OEMs like GM and asked for something that would show what the future of cars—at least of a racing variety—might look like.


Enjoy Italy


By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. November 2014

This gets a little complicated, but it deals with transportation in Italy, so hang on.

There is Enjoy. Enjoy is a service provided by Eni. Eni is an integrated energy company. Enjoy is a car-sharing service. So there’s gasoline and cars.

One of Eni’s partners in this service is Fiat. Gasoline and the provider of cars.

Fiat

Another is Trenitalia. Trenitalia is the primary train operator in Italy. So there’s travel by train, then travel post-train trip via a car that’s filled with gas.

Enjoy opened earlier this year in Milan and Rome with a fleet of Fiat 500s. It opened earlier this week in Florence. Again, with 500s.

There are some 185,000 members of Enjoy in Milan and Rome, who accounted for some 1.5-million rentals.

Those who have signed up for Enjoy can either reserve a car online or pick one up that happens to be available on the street. In Florence the Enjoy 500s can be driven in the limited traffic zone in the city center. What’s more, they can be parked in a variety of places, including those that are otherwise reserved for residents. Certainly that will make the Enjoy driver happy. Probably not the residents.

The fees are said to be highly competitive with alternatives, coming in at 25-cents a minute for the first 50 km that the vehicle is in motion, after which there is a 25-cent per kilometer fee added to the time fee. The cost of having a parked Enjoy 500 is 10 cents a minute.

Here’s the thing: Eni is going to sell gas to individuals who own or lease cars as well as to the Enjoy members (the aforementioned fees include insurance, fuel, parking, and maintenance costs). Trenitalia has Enjoy vehicles outside of the main train stations, which means that its customers can have more seamless mobility.

But what about Fiat? If people choose to join Enjoy and not buy a 500, then presumably there are going to be fewer 500s sold then there otherwise might be.

And with the proliferation of car-sharing services around the globe—and certainly not just in Italy—things are going to get a little complicated for all OEMs.


Motorcycles and Luxury


By: Gary S. Vasilash 12. November 2014

BMW Group, in addition to cars and utes and limos, builds motorcycles. Its BMW Motorrad operation is widely acknowledged for making high-quality, top-performance bikes. The blue and white roundel on a fuel tank is as respected as the one that is found on the hood of a 7 Series.

BMW S 1000 RR

Back in 2012, AUDI AG announced that it would acquire Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati Motor Holding. In making the announcement, Rupert Stadler, chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, explained: “Ducati is known worldwide as a premium brand among motorcycle manufacturers and has a long tradition of building sporty motorcycles. It has great expertise in high-performance engines and lightweight construction, and is one of the world’s most profitable motorcycle manufacturers. That makes Ducati an excellent fit for Audi.”

Audi Ducati

A good rationalization. Particularly that part about profitability.

Recently, Mercedes-AMG, the performance part of Mercedes-Benz Cars, announced that it would be acquiring a 25% stake in MV Agusta. It, too, is a motorcycle manufacturer.

Mercedes-AMG und MV Agusta geben Kooperation bekannt. Die neue Partnerschaft umfasst die Zusammenarbeit bei Marketing und Vertrieb. Hier die aktuellen Produkt-Highlights der beiden High-End Marken: Der Mercedes-AMG GT S und die MV Agusta F3 800 Ago. // Mercedes-AMG and MV Agusta announce cooperation. The new partnership covers the cooperation in the area of marketing and sales. The actual product highlights of the two high-end brands: The Mercedes-AMG GT S and the MV Agusta F3 800 Ago.

The explanation for this one comes from Wilko Stark, vice president Daimler Strategy & Mercedes-Benz Cars Product Strategy and Planning, and it goes like this:

“The positioning of Mercedes-AMG as the performance brand in the Mercedes-Benz product portfolio will be further strengthened through the strategic partnership with MV Agusta. The strategic cooperation with MV Agusta will allow us to address high-performance enthusiasts with automobiles and with motorcycles. Through the cooperation in the area of marketing and sales, we will be able to attract new target groups for both companies all over the world.”

Which sounds somewhat more nebulous than the Audi explanation (i.e., Ducati knows a lot about light structures, makes compact, high-performance engines, and is really, really profitable).

Somehow, the notion that a buyer of an S 63 AMG is going to say, “Hmm, maybe I ought to complement this ride with a Brutale 800 Dragster RR.”

Of course, as I don’t have $130K-plus for a car, this may be completely off base.

I asked a friend who rides motorcycles (and for full disclosure: he once owned a Ducati) about the relative status of the German companies vis-à-vis the related motorcycle brands.

And he responded that while BMW and Ducati have the same level of street cred as the car parts of the businesses, things are not so good, in his estimation regarding MV Agusta: “The brand is murky and their quality is so-so.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Mercedes-AMG.


Renault’s New Design for a. . .Pickup


By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. November 2014

While pickups may be big in the North American market, they are massive in South America, comparatively speaking.

So it is fitting that the Renault design center in Sao Paulo created a show car for the recent Sao Paulo Motor Show  that is a combination between an SUV and a pickup.

(Think the gone-and-lamented Ford Explorer Sport Trac).

Ford Explorer Sport Trac V8 LIMITED

2010 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

The Duster Oroch concept was designed by RDAL, the Renault design center for Latin America, based in Sao Paulo.

Renault Duster Oroch

Duster Oroch

Laurens van den Acker, Renault senior vice president, Corporate Design, said, “The Renault Duster Oroch show car boasts the energetic, robust stance that appeals to customers. It’s the work of our Sao Paulo design center and packs an emotional punch which is characteristic of design in Latin America. While it takes its inspiration from the Duster, itself a robust vehicle with an assertive personality, our local design team has delivered a fresh interpretation of the model in the form of this show car.”

This, incidentally, is the Duster, an SUV:

Renault Duster

Duster

Noted Denis Barbier, Renault senior vice president and chairman of the Americas Region, “The show car explores the world of pickups—a segment we’re absent from at the moment but which totals around 900,000 vehicles a year.”

In reporting its third-quarter performance, Renault Group’s overall registrations were stable, but down 20.6% in the Americas region, which as a market was down for automakers by 8.3%.

Seems like a piece of that 900,000-vehicle market would be helpful to Renault’s fortunes in the region.


“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.




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