This year McLaren Automotive will produce approximately 1,400 cars in its remarkable manufacturing facility, the McLaren Production Centre, in Woking, Surrey, England.
By any measure, that’s specialized production.
And the vehicles that they produce, like the 650S and the Asia-only 625C, are nothing if not special.
But there is special. And there is special.
Because McLaren Special Operations (MSO) has just launched a series of, well, ever-progressing specialness.
“There is a strong desire for drivers to personalize the cars and I’m convinced that the introduction of the MSO Defined line will prove popular among our customers.
“Every McLaren is unique but now, with more choice than ever before, we are enabling our customers to truly express themselves through their vehicles.”
That’s Paul Mackenzie, executive director of MSO.
MSO Defined allows the addition of things like aerodynamic exterior components and weight-saving elements like a full carbon fiber rear deck.
Prior to MSO Defined, McLaren has allowed its owners to partake of MSO Bespoke. This is uber specialness. Customers can specify things ranging from paint color and upholstery to body modifications.
According to the company, 20% of the 650S models produced in 2014 have had MSO Bespoke content.
And for the McLaren P1, a car that is by its very nature special, inasmuch as there were only 375 produced, the MSO Bespoke option was selected by 95% of the customers.
Trust me: even an ordinary McLaren isn’t.
Although BMW i3 electric vehicles have been on sale in the U.S. since May 2014, I must confess to never having seen one in the wild.
According to Autodata, through November 5,079 i3s were delivered, so the odds of seeing one are probably Big Foot-like.
Globally, BMW delivered, through November, 13,849 i3s.
Consequently, I don’t think about i3s all that often.
But the folks at Nokian Tyres, which is based in Nokia, Finland, do and have.
Nokian has introduced the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2, which was specially designed for the BMW i3. It is a winter tire.
Winter tires, of course, need to provide traction. But electric vehicles need to have tires that provide low rolling resistance so that the most can be made of the available power for propulsion.
Jarno Ahvenlammi, Nokian product development manager, says, “Our new, relentlessly tested technology concept makes the tire body firm and stiff, and this, together with several new material components, minimizes the tire’s heat generation and internal deformation. This allows for extremely low rolling resistance that is world record class.”
In the European tire rating classification related to rolling resistance, the Hakkapeliitta R2 scores an “A,” which the company says has never been achieved by a winter tire.
One aspect of the tire is a compound that they call “Nokian Intelligent eSilica.” This material is said to be strong yet flexible, and it provides grip on ice and snow while still providing wear resistance. Silica particles are in the compound, as is rapeseed oil.
In addition to which, there are “diamond-tough grip particles” in the compound (“Nokian Cryo Crystal Concept”), and the fundamental design of the tires (sipes and sipe activators, grip claws, and slush claws) contribute to the winter requirements.
The tires will become available next month, followed by winter tires for the BMW i8 hybrid in February-March.
According to Autodata, 397 i8s have been delivered in the U.S. so far. Globally, according to BMW, there have been 1,129 i8s delivered.
Here’s hoping the people at Nokian Tyres don’t have big hopes.
When you think of Fiat in the U.S. market, you probably think first of the diminutive 500 (139.6 in. long) and its variants such as its Abarth trim. You might think of the 500L, a bigger version (167.3 in. long) of the small car.
The thing that both of the cars share is distinctive Italian design. (Interestingly, the Fiat 500 for the U.S. market is assembled in a plant in Toluca, Mexico, and the 500L in Kragujevac, Serbia.) So the choice is whether one is interested in extreme maneuverability with one’s charm or reasonably robust capacity.
Questa non è la Fiat di tuo padre
But as Matt Davis, head of Marketing for Fiat Brand North America, explains, there is a third vehicle that they’re going to be bringing to the lineup in the second quarter of 2015, a 500 model that has notable capability.
It’s the Fiat 500X.
Davis references it as a “UV,” as in “utility vehicle.”
It is a B-segment crossover vehicle, one that is available with all-wheel-drive, a car that is bigger than the 500 and slightly smaller than the 500L (it is 167.2 in. long), but which provides a discernably higher H-point, the desirable attribute that many people are looking for.
According to Davis, speaking to Stephanie Brinley of IHS Automotive, Chris Paukert of Autoblog and me on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” (John McElroy was away, so I handled the helm, as it were), the 500X is the first model that is being offered in the U.S. market by Fiat that was developed with input from designers and engineers from the U.S. (Realize that the 500 and 500L are essentially European cars that were homologated for the U.S. market; Davis says people from Auburn Hills went to Italy to work on the development of the 500X. And it is worth pointing out that the 500X shares underpinnings and all-wheel-drive capability with the forthcoming Jeep Renegade, so this is certainly a car that was crafted with considerable attention for the American customer.)
Although this small crossover segment is going to become increasingly competitive—Honda will be bringing out the HR-V, Mazda the CX-3, and sales Buick Encore are up 57.4% this year over last—Davis is confident that because of the Italian pedigree of the 500X, they’ll have a hit on their hands.
The 500X, incidentally, not only has Italian design (penned at Centro Stile in Turin, Italy), but is also being manufactured in Italy, at a Fiat plant in Melfi.
In addition to the discussion of the Fiat 500X and Fiat in general, Brinley, Paukert and I also discuss the challenge that Uber is facing and its potential effect on mobility, why Tesla hasn’t scheduled a press conference at the 2015 North American International Auto Show, and whether the judges of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards (of which Paukert is a judge) got it right with the car finalists Hyundai Genesis, Ford Mustang, and Volkswagen Golf and truck finalists Lincoln MKC, Chevrolet Colorado, and Ford F-150.
And you can see it all here:
It wasn’t all that long ago that economists were rhapsodizing about the powerful potential of the BRIC countries—that’s Brazil, Russia, India, China—about how the BRICs were going to leave the Western countries in the dust.
Volkswagen Group announced this morning that it has had a record sales performance from January to November 2014, with deliveries of 9.08-million vehicles during that period.
“The ten-million mark is within reach in spite of all of the uncertainties in the global automotive sector,” said Christian Klinger, group board member for Sales.
Golf production in Wolfsburg, Germany
In Western Europe, sales were up 7.7%.
In Germany—which is calls out separately, given that it is, after all, the home base—sales were up 5.0%.
In Central and Eastern Europe, sales were up 1.3%.
In Russia—the R in BRIC—sales were down 12.9%.
In South America, Volkswagen Group sales were down 19.7% overall, with sales in Brazil—the B in BRIC—were down 15.8%.
So we have two of the four not performing well.
Things, admittedly, were better in the I and especially C.
In the Asia-Pacific region, sales were up 11.7%.
In China, deliveries increased 12.9%. China is now the Volkswagen Group’s single biggest market.
So there you have it. Half a BRIC.
Those economists are about on par with weather forecasters.
Bentley, according to Autodata, delivered 323 vehicles in the U.S. in November, which is precisely the number it delivered in November 2013. And year-to-date, its deliveries are 2,591, up from 2,522 for the same 11-month period in 2013.
Last year, on a global basis, Bentley sold 10,120 units, a record then, and one that it plans to break this year.
(Last month, Buick sold 19,143 vehicles in the U.S. Not exactly a fair comparison, but. . . .*)
Tease of forthcoming ultra-lux Bentley SUV
That said, either there must be plenty of upside in the luxury market, because this Volkswagen AG company has announced that it is making a £40-million investment on its HQ campus in Crewe, UK, for a 45,000-sq. meter research and development center that will house some 1,300 engineers.
This £40-million is on top of the £800-million that they are in the process of spending over a three-year period.
Bentley is also creating 300 additional jobs, in engineering, manufacturing, quality, sales, marketing, and product management.
One driver of Bentley’s bullishness is the ultra-luxury SUV that it plans to have available by 2016.
*A more-fair comparison would be with Rolls Royce, the BMW company. In November, according to Autodata, there were an estimated 62 Rolls delivered, which is one more than it delivered in November 2013. And year-to-date, its deliveries are 744, staunchly up from 404 for the same 11-month period in 2013.)