What’s in a Name?

At the recent New York Auto Show, I had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Smith, Executive Director of Global Design at Cadillac about the new CT6.

Andrew said the design was deliberately polarizing.  Not everyone will like it, but those that do, will embrace the new sheet metal language.  I complimented him on the illusion of the short front overhang of the vehicle, giving it a racing, almost snub nose appearance in profile.  It was a deliberate attempt at making the vehicle look larger than it is, with the added benefit of maximizing the wheelbase for a more comfortable ride.  It’s a skillful illusion, as the nose protrudes as much as any vehicle’s, and the effect is taut and lean for a very large car.  I commented on the homage to the late 1970s Seville with the suggestion of a bustle-back (which dates back to the 1930’s, and has been seen in a number of GM vehicles over the years) and it adds to the visual interest of the rear.  Andrew smiled at the reference, and we compared notes on the success of the BMW 750’s bustle back on sales (it was the biggest selling 7 series in BMW’s history at that time).

 

Like a number of luxury manufacturers, Cadillac is changing the formula for naming its vehicles.  In the past, this car would have been know as the XTS, the flagship of the line.  Its replacement, the CT6, borrows from its slightly smaller sibling, the CTS, with the S changing to a ‘6’.  When the CTS is replaced in a few years (it was pretty much all new last year), it will undergo a re-naming, and the ATS will come to a similar fate.  We’ll see if the naming scheme confuses buyers or positions the vehicles in their minds the way Cadillac intends.

 

YYZ_LGA

It’s that time of year, when the Toronto Maple Leafs have been eliminated once again from the playoffs; where we rapidly transition from 100cm of snow on the ground to sunny days and temperatures in the low teens within a week; and we shift from snow covered roads to construction clogged detours.

Sounds like it’s time for the New York Auto Show. Continue reading

Los Angeles 2013 Day 2

A calm settled over the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 21.  Much of the media had exited the building, and the vehicles and booth staff were far more accessible.  A few more vehicles from the hundreds on display:

IMG_2749

2015 Audi A3 Sedan

IMG_2766

2015 Audi A3 Convertible

IMG_2784

The oft-rumoured, but yet to be produced e-Tron, this time in A3 form.

IMG_2807

The revised 2014 Hyundai Elantra

IMG_2869

e-Golf EV

IMG_2872

2015 Chevrolet Colorado, due Fall 2014

IMG_2928

2015 Cadillac Escalade, debuting spring 2014

IMG_2962

2015 Porsche Macan, due Spring 2015

IMG_2969

2014 Kia Soul, arriving imminently.

IMG_3081

Fiat 500 1957 edition

IMG_3085

Nissan GT-R Nismo edition

IMG_3088

Nissan Sentra Nismo concept

IMG_2561

Infiniti Q30 crossover, due 2015

IMG_2503

And, just because, the Bentley Flying Spur

IMG_2504

Bentley Mulsanne

IMG_2505

Bentley Flying Spur

IMG_2506

Bentley Flying Spur

The press conferences were entertaining.  Audi is a brand on the move.  Their sales are increasing every month, for the past 35 consecutive months.  They’re targeting sales of 200,000 units by 2018, and the A3 will help them get there.  They can leverage technology and cost savings from the Volkswagen group, as does Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini and the other marques under the Wolfsburg umbrella. Audi took a shot at Infiniti for re-booting their brand.  BMW took a shot at the early reviews of the Mercedes-Benz CLA for its quality not being at a premium level.  Porsche acknowledged the hue and cry by existing owners over the introduction of the Cayenne and the Panamera, as not being true “Porsches”.  It’s a reality that the 911 will never sell in the volumes that Porsche needs to be viable, and the Cayenne is its most successful model.  That position will be supplanted by the Macan.

Despite demonstrating fuel cell vehicles by many manufacturers over the years, Hyundai is introducing a hydrogen-powered Tucson in the spring of 2014.  It’s already on sale in the UK.  It holds all the promise of an electric vehicle, but refilling the powerplant will only take about 10 minutes and the only emission is water.  One can argue that it takes more energy to produce hydrogen than you’ll get out at the drive wheels, but we’ll leave the arguments about the energy equation of hydrogen for another day.

All-in-all, the show demonstrated optimism, and delivered an upbeat message.  The manufacturers think that the future is bright, and if car sales are any indication, so does the consumer.  I think the battle in the days ahead will not be so much the vehicles themselves, but the entire ownership experience; from the first contact with the dealership to how the customer interacts with the car.  The manufacturers that can convince their dealerships that the entire purchase life cycle must be carefully managed will be the ones that survive.

 

Los Angeles 2013 Day 1

A number of world debuts by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and others were highlights of the first day of the Los Angeles Auto Show. Among them:

IMG_2493

Cadillac Elmiraj concept

IMG_2568

Lincoln MKC small crossover SUV

IMG_2619

Subaru WRX

IMG_2656

BMW 4 Series Cabriolet

IMG_2665

BMW i8 EV

IMG_2695

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Final Edition

IMG_2696

Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo concept

IMG_2710

Mercedes-Benz GLA small crossover SUV

IMG_2745

Volkswagen Cross Blue Coupe

There are more to come.  The Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Type Coupe, BMW X4 Crossover and Infiniti Q30 Crossover are on my list for photos today.

Note the emphasis on the small crossover, especially in the luxury segment.  Mercedes-Benz (GLA), BMW (X4), Lincoln (MKC), Infiniti (Q30) all have new vehicles coming.  With a new push for fuel efficient, low emission vehicles, and buyers who want to move down from their current behemoths without giving up any luxury features, the marketplace has spoken and the manufacturers are listening.  Audi has a Q3 coming, and Lexus teased a LF-NX compact crossover this past fall at the Frankfurt auto show.

I had a great conversation with a BMW designer.  We discussed the use of run-flat tires on much of the BMW line-up.  He said that they are now working with the third generation of run-flat tires, and that they are much improved and not worthy of their current reputation for a harsh ride.  He admitted that the ride is firm, and that the tires are not as compliant as regular tires.

However, he pointed out one fact that I hadn’t considered.  The safety factor.

If a run-flat tire loses air pressure on the highway, the vehicle can still be controlled and driven, albeit at a lower speed. I’m not talking about a catastrophic failure, where the tire has hit something and is badly damaged.  If you hit a sharp object and the tire is punctured, the tire will still function.  Not so with a normal tire.  He has put run-flat tires on his wife’s car.

Martin went on to tell me about the wind blocker used in the 4 Series Cabriolet.  This version of the Cabriolet has a fold-down rear seat, allowing for a much-needed pass-through from the very tiny trunk.  But, fold the rear seat forward, and you’ll find the wind blocker, neatly stowed.  It’s not in your garage or basement gathering dust. It’s kept in the car, where it’s needed.  It needs to be moved when you want to use the pass-through, but that’s a minor inconvenience.  The wind blocker is light, can be used at 200 km/h without being knocked down, and is easily installed by one person.

Martin also reiterated BMW’s commitment to quality. If the new 4 Series is any indication, this is holding true.  The last generation of 3 Series sedans and coupes seemed to suffer from hard plastics, and interiors that didn’t fit with the price paid.  BMW seems to be getting back on track.

Getting to the Los Angeles Auto Show

sm_photo

On the flight to Los Angeles, ahead of the LA Auto Show, I couldn’t help but think of the introduction to the lesson I presented to my young charges during Kid’s Worship at church last Sunday.  I have a terrible memory, (to which my eldest son will attest), but I will give you the gist of it.

“The desert is a strange and wonderous place.  During the day, it is very, very hot. There is almost no water at all.  At night, it is very, very cold.  The wind blows, and as it blows, it shifts and changes the sand, so that the desert is never the same.”

Thus goes the automotive industry.  It’s a strange and wonderous place.  Manufacturers need to constantly innovate, or risk obsolescence.  At the same time, reliability must be high and cost of ownership of their vehicles must remain low, otherwise, a competitor’s product will take their share.  The environment is always hot.  If you fail, it’s very, very cold.  And it constantly changes.  Next Gen buyers are more concerned with their smart phones rather than purchasing a vehicle, so how do you engage them?  Baby boomers are moving from large SUVs to smaller, but still luxurious vehicles as they head into retirement.   These opposite end-of-the-spectrum markets provide a conundrum for the manufacturers.  Load up the vehicle with connectivity, cell reception, local area networking (netwearking for Miley Cyrus), smart phone app integration, on-board apps and Google and other services to appeal to the Next Geners and risk alienating that Boomer market.  The former has little disposable income, but if the manufacturers don’t conquer that demographic, they may just get used to never owning a vehicle.  The latter has all the money, but as they move to retirement, they may be just a little more reluctant to spend it on a vehicle that confuses them.

So the landscape shifts and changes, and it’s never the same.

I have a number of vehicles of interest to review at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, consisting of either all-new world debuts, or having recently introduced to the marketplace.  Among them: BMW i3, BMW X5, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac Escalade, Ford Transit Connect, Infiniti Q30, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Soul, Mazda 3 Sedan and Sport, Mercedes-Benz CLA, Mercedes-Benz S Class, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Prius C, Toyota Prius V.  You’ll see these vehicles in upcoming posts.  Especially of interest in the Canadian market will be the Corolla and the Mazda 3, given that the compact segment comprises almost 25% of the total market.  These are extremely important vehicles that neither manufacturer can afford to get wrong.

This show has a sister event, called the Connected Car Expo.  The systems that are coming are nothing short of remarkable.  The key will be ease of use.  Can you connect the customers young and old, and keep the user experience simple but engaging?

Consider the Nest thermostat.  This is an innovative product that has tackled a seemingly mature, mundane appliance: the household thermostat.  Nest’s version is WiFi enabled, includes a motion sensor to turn down the heat when it deduces that no one is home, comes with a smart phone app that allows you to access the thermostat from anywhere in the world, allows you to control the mode (heating, cooling, off, fan speed, fan on/off interval) of the heating system all from your phone.  Forget to turn down the thermostat before going away? Nest lets you do it, and you’ve probably already programmed it during the setup process.

Their next product is a combination carbon monoxide detector and smoke detector.  How many times have you pulled a battery out of a smoke detector to turn it off? Nest’s version gives you a chance to cancel the alarm before it escalates.  Another smart home item, and this is the tip of the iceberg.

The home is ripe for connectedness and connectivity.  The auto manufacturers are rapidly introducing services and smart phone capabilities to our automobiles.  Intelligent keys already preset air conditioning, radio stations and seat positions.  The connected car will take this further, using the data network you have with your smart phone to open up the vehicle to the internet and beyond.

Have you switched smart phones lately?  You’re probably heavily invested in the ecosystem you’re currently running, and are reluctant to change.  The same should hold true for a vehicle.  If the manufacturers get it right, they’ll build a loyal following that is hesitant to change brands because of their user experience. Perhaps that desert will become a little less unforgiving.

Some other thoughts on the trip to Los Angeles:

Why, in an airport lounge, does a person sit in a clearly marked cellular telephone-free area, talk on his phone and use language that is more appropriate to a Rob Ford diatribe?  I believe it is better to have people think you are ignorant, rather than open your mouth and prove it.

How does Teresa, one of the flight crew on today’s Air Canada flight 799 keep that sincere smile on her face, and exude an energy that warms the whole cabin?

Why wouldn’t Air Canada confirm that the in-flight entertainment system is functional in the aircraft scheduled for a five hour and 35 minute flight?

Where else but in Los Angeles would you pull up beside a perfect cobalt blue 1968 Camaro SS with British Columbia licence plates?

Where else would you find a slammed Volkswagen Bus with a surf company’s bumper sticker?

The best way to shake off a 5:35 flight is to go for a run up Ocean Avenue for six kilometres.  A great way to clear one’s head.  For those of you curious about my result in the half marathon last month, I ran it in 1:58:34, a personal best.