Episode 467 – Global Car Sales Slow Down, Weird Styling Doesn’t Sell, Citroën DS4

August 30th, 2010 at 12:00pm

Runtime 8:19

Even though global sales hit just over 43 million units through July compared to 2009, they were down compared to June and analysts expect sales to continue to slide. We take a look at some vehicles that aren’t selling well because of their unusual designs. Citroën released details about its new vehicle, the DS4, ahead of its debut at the Paris Motor Show. All that and more, plus John shares his thoughts on who he thinks would be the perfect person to run GM.

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This is Autoline Daily for August 30, 2010. And now, the news.

GLOBAL CAR-SALES SLOW DOWN (subscription required)
Uh-oh. Car sales around the globe are starting to slow down. According to Ward’s, even though global sales hit just over 43 million units through July compared to a year ago, they were down compared to this June and analysts expect sales to continue their downward slope. In fact, if things keep going like they’re going, by October there could be no sales growth compared to 2009. And while Asia shows the most growth, sales have started to slow down there, too.

WEAK AUGUST SALES EXPECTED (subscription required)
And in related news, the AP reports that analysts expect weak August sales in the American market compared to 2009 because the cash-for-clunkers program inflated sales last year.

WEIRD STYLING DOESN’T SELL (subscription required)
Speaking of sales, does styling sell cars? You bet it does. And when designers don’t get it right, or when they come up with something that’s just a little too out there for the public, it’s hard to get people to buy it. Ward’s points out that so far this year, Honda has barely sold more than 15,000 of the controversial Crosstour. Did I say controversial? I meant to say ugly. The Acura ZDX, with that goofy grille, is doing even worse. They’ve sold fewer than 2,000 all year long. What was Acura thinking when it came up with that goofy, Jack-o-lantern grin that it’s slapping on the front-end of all its cars? Another new car with controversial styling that’s dead in the water? The Lincoln MKT. They’ve sold fewer than 5,000 this year. I should point out there is nothing wrong with the way these cars drive. It’s just about the way they look.

BMW DEALERS INCREASE REPAIR WORK (subscription required)
If you own a BMW and take it to the dealer, they are going to find something wrong with it, I promise you. That’s because BMW is getting its dealers to buy a diagnostic computer called MPi-EDGE/World Class Inspections. Ward’s reports that it does a more thorough inspection of a car and typically finds something that adds about $125 to a customer’s repair bill. With car sales down, dealers are surviving with their repair and service work, and a tool like this is going to make them more profitable.

Citroën released details about its new vehicle, the DS4, ahead of its debut at the Paris Motor Show. Even though it’s a four-door vehicle it has a coupe-like design thanks to hidden rear door-handles that are integrated into the body. But that’s not the only unique feature. It comes with a panoramic windshield, the ability to change the color of the instrument panel, and it features on-board ambient polyphonic sounds for alerts and reminders, allowing the driver to choose from four different sounds which include Classical, Crystal Symphony, Jungle Fantasy and Urban Rythmik. The DS4 comes with five engines, two diesel and three gas.  It goes on sale next year.

Things are heating up in East-Asia again, and no, Kim Jong Il isn’t the one ruffling feathers this time. According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned Japan that its automakers operating in China should pay workers more. This is the latest salvo in a spat between the two countries over business and manufacturing issues. It comes on the heels of those strikes a few months back that crippled Honda’s and Toyota’s production. The Premier’s comments came after a call from Japan’s foreign minister to improve the business conditions in China for Japanese companies. I’ve got a feeling this story is only just getting going.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all. If fart-can mufflers or testicle-shaped trailer-hitch covers aren’t tacky enough, a company called Carlashes has come up with an equally ridiculous yet somewhat less obnoxious automotive add-on. As their name suggests, they’ve introduced eyelashes . . . eyelashes that stick-on to a vehicle’s headlamps. If you’ve always wanted to live Cars the movie, now you can . . . I suppose. Autoblog reports that a set of these oversized lashes can be yours for just $24.95. For high-rollers you can get Crystal Eyeliner for another $19.95. Apparently other people are just as confused by this as I am because the company’s website has crashed from too much traffic.

Coming up next, GM needs someone in charge of the corporation who really knows what the car business is all about. I’ll tell you who I think they need to put in charge. Back right after this.

There are a lot of good things going on at General Motors these days. It’s solidly profitable, it’s holding onto market share, it has competitive products and superb technical capabilities. Even so, there are troubling signs at General Motors.

This is not a company that turned itself around. It is competitive only because the Obama Administration waived a magic wand, better known as a 363 bankruptcy, and made its legacy costs disappear overnight. The current board of directors can take little credit for the company’s impressive resurgence. You could put my dog in charge of that corporation right now and it would still be profitable.

So now it all falls to Daniel Akerson, an investment banker who spent most of his career in the telecommunications industry. Can he possibly be an effective CEO for GM?

Former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz who wrote that Akerson could be effective, but that he will “. . . need to temper his preconceived notions with a willingness to listen to those who have transformed GM from a product and marketing standpoint.” Doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, does it?

While Wall Street believes GM needs the fresh perspective of an outsider, I beg to differ. GM needs someone who knows design, engineering, manufacturing and marketing. Putting someone in charge of the company who has no experience in this is only inviting trouble. Akerson even questioned why the company needed to invest in a competitive four-cylinder engine.

Can you imagine the German or Japanese car companies selecting a CEO from the telecommunications industry? They would never do anything like that.

GM desperately needs a well-seasoned CEO who thoroughly understands the global automotive industry. So my advice to the board is bring back Fritz Henderson. He knows the company inside-out and backwards, knows the global automotive business and had an impressive track-record until he was unceremoniously dumped by the company. Don’t blame Fritz for the morass GM was mired in. That happened well before his watch.

So why go on a massive headhunting search to find someone who will take months to get up to speed? You could drop Fritz in there this afternoon and he would hit the ground running.

Hey, don’t forget to join us tonight for Open Line, the best automotive call-in show on the internet. To get in on the action dial (218) 936-6581 and enter the PIN 13942. The doors open at 8:00 P.M. Eastern Time and the party goes until whenever you’re done. Stop in for five minutes or stay all night – either way, it’s a lot of fun.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

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39 Comments to “Episode 467 – Global Car Sales Slow Down, Weird Styling Doesn’t Sell, Citroën DS4”

  1. Jeff Taylor Says:

    Are any of the cars in the Acura line doing well? The styling is pretty horrid on all of their cars.

  2. Everett Mish Says:

    I agree – Lincoln MKT is ugly. This oversize split-wing 39 Continental design queue must go. It will result in the 2011 MKX sales to go south as well. Ford please, please follow up and be consistent with the understated elegance of the 63 grill used on the original MKX – a great classic look.



  3. H. G. P. Says:

    John -Please leave the design of automobiles to the stylists. I’m sure you would have panned the styling of the Chrysler Airflow, but as you see the ugly duckling often turns out to be a swan. I do agree with you on the Lincoln, it looks more like a snow plow that an automobile.

  4. jesse Says:

    So apparently,GM still has it’s collective head up it’s ass!They are playing musical chairs with their ceo’s.Yea,that’s a way to gain the public’s confidence!!

  5. Tony Gray Says:

    Good comments John, as usual. The litany of vehicles doomed with questionable styling is long and continues today. The Acura one is most perplexing. Unlike the odd Bangle styling of the 5 and 7 series which had to wait until a redesign to be completely fixed, Acura could remedy their faux pas quickly and cheaply.

    Perhaps some corporate big wig’s kid designed the grille…..

  6. Mouhamad A. Naboulsi Says:

    Right on the money John. GM will not be operated by a Telecom wiz kid, Steve Job or Bill Gate. If the CEO does not understand the business model what will happen next? Use a different ring tone for horns as a new model feature?

    The country still looks at Michigan and the auto industry as someone to be told what to do. One WSJ reader I exchanged dialogue with called Michigan a “Failed State” and the auto industry a “Dinosaur”.

    Ford is helping in changing the image with good hits. But as for GM, Fritz maybe good, but I wish Lutz would come back and excite the company from top to bottom again and we will then all have something to cheer about.

  7. Len Simpson Says:

    Tweaked the styling on every personal wheels over the last 50 years. Usually bought em bent, like the Terrain I,m playing with now,which will have a 300C grill. I like the Crosstour and there are several more companies offering
    5dr fastbacks.

  8. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I seem to be a rare exception in that I like the looks of the CrossTour ok, maybe because I happen to like hatchback. Still, the CrossTour has other problems. It is too heavy, too expensive, and is a gas hog. It is probably just too big, at almost 200 inches long, and 5 inches taller than BMW’s overpriced and grossly obese hatchback.

  9. Chuck Grenci Says:

    John, you unofficial panel of experts (us) have been giving you the ‘skinny’ about unappealing styling for(ever); nice to see the automotive experts finally see the light we’ve known about all along. :D

  10. fensterlips Says:

    I have to admit I think the entire Honda stable – including Acura took a turn for the ugly about 10 years ago.
    They went from cute, appealing and sexy to curious and strange and finally to homely and puzzling.
    Did they have a major change in direction or management in the design area around the turn of the century?
    My money is on it.
    They need another change. Soon.

  11. Alex Carazan Says:

    Your “bad styling” excuse for some cars is a very poor analysis and not fact based. Most of Acura’s front ends look nearly the same. Ditto for Lincoln. As for the Crosstour…it’s CUV styling is little different than many CUV’s. Why don’t you call a few dealers, compares specs on competing vehicles, and talk to some real consumers before sharing an opinion that has little backing to the facts. Hind sight is 20-20 (by you looking at the poor sales figures), but your reasoning for the low sales is lacking any integrity. Please do your homework a little more so at least in hind sight you can have 20-20.

  12. pedro fernandez Says:

    If a car or SUV is “ugly’ to the general public then it will not do well, only appealing to those who want to be different or go against the establishment. I remember back in the 80′s Buick had a mid size model that looked like a hatch but it actually had a trunk, very controversial styling and it sold poorly to the point where it was yanked after only 2 years and now they’re almost impossible to find.

  13. martin Says:

    I dont know John, Im on the fence about your Who should lead GM editorial. Is a Tech whiz kid the right answer? Maybe, Maybe not. I seem to remember much ballyhoo about Mullaly taking over at Ford. “What does this guy know about cars? He’s SURE to fail” I didnt belive it for a second. I had seen how he had changed the corporate culture at Boeing, and told all the nay sayers he’d do the same at Ford. Glad he proved me right! LOL

    I agree wiht you that Fritz got handed the helm of the Titanic moments after it hit the iceberg. I also think a career GM man might be too old a dog to teach new tricks. Would you really want someone to bring “old way” thinking to the new GM? I think GM needs a Mullaly, someone that can ask all the dumb questions and turn the culture of the company around.

    But that’s just me….

  14. HtG Says:

    I think another dimension of styling is the difference between how a car looks in a photograph, and how it looks in the flesh, rolling down the road. That Lincoln MKT is seriously off in photos, but I rather liked it at the dealership. It just looked and felt so much better when you see it in stereo and in high detail, where the designers were allowed to add lots of visual information. If more of these cars were on the road maybe they would reinforce positive perception.

    The Acuras, well they just blow. (and I am a Honda person)

  15. HtG Says:

    I recall Lou Gerstner was brought in from Nabisco to turn IBM around. What did he know about bits? But then Scully was recruited by Jobs from fizzy water vendor Pepsi, and he really screwed the pooch. (sorry Ike)

    I wonder if a person’s lack of industry specific experience is decisive.

  16. Mike W Says:

    John – I agree with your pick to run GM. Fritz would do a great job, but the board doeesn’t know enough to know they need him! When the Board picks a guy like Jim Campbell to run marketing for Chevrolet, and he decides to dump the “Chevy” nickname, what does that tell you? They moved Campbell over to High Peformance Vehicles, but only after Ewanick told them to. By the time Akerson figures it out, it will be time for him to retire. The only problem with Fritz is he said they were going to save $2.4 billion a year by cutting all those dealers, but now it doesn’t look like it is going to happen. Well, you know, a billion here and a billion there. After all this is GM, you know?

  17. EFU Says:

    Fritz was the top man in Finance for quite some time. What problem did GM have…Finance.

  18. dcars Says:

    I’m on the outside of the car business. From this perspective it could be argued that the car guys had complete control of GM (and the rest of the big three) the business ended up costing the tax payers 80 billion dollars. Fritz and Bob Lutz were “helping” gm race to the bottom. I don’t think GM is ready for an IPO; they admit that they don’t know where their finances are yet. The car guys in Detroit will have to prove that they have what it takes to run a company before they’ll ever get control of the big three again. As it stands now not a single car guy from Detroit is running any of these car companies.
    I know this post sounds harsh, but maybe things need to run differently in the US car business.

  19. dcars Says:

    I agree with John on the styling of the Crosstour and the Acuras. I might also add that the styling of the element and pilot are also awful. I don’t think any of them are selling well. I seams almost impossible to me but we’ve not only witnessed the destruction of the big three but also major cracks in the armor of Toyota and Honda. are revealed.

  20. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    I dont know John, dont dismiss that Car Lash thing too quickly. We’ll see if this is a fad, but for chicks I think this has some promise.

    Women have done well in this economy with an unemployment rate below the national average, and in fact I argue that this Economy will make the Woman the primary bread winner and decision maker in the majority of homes.

    In that case, Women are a demographic many Struggling Aftermarket companies have to consider, or they will go out of business.

  21. M Campbell Says:

    LMAO @ comment 11. That’s gotta be the most briliant display of sarcasm ever.

    (clasps hands, closes eyes and silently repeats ‘please let that be sarcasm, please let that be sarcasm, please let….’)

  22. pedro fernandez Says:

    Another issue that does not get mentioned when referring to Crosstour and X6, rear and side rear visibility is terrible and dangerous, apparently these designers did not pay any attention to this detail.

  23. Dustin Says:

    The Acura design language definitly took a bad turn with the ugly bird beak look. The Acura TL is a world class car in everyway except it has such an ugly front and back design.

    The Acura MDX looks okay, but the cars just don’t wear that design well at all.

  24. Kit Gerhart Says:

    dcars Says:
    August 30th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    “I agree with John on the styling of the Crosstour and the Acuras. I might also add that the styling of the element and pilot are also awful.”

    To me, the brand with universally bad styling is Acura, hands down. I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t know why they don’t fix it. It’s just the nose that is so bad, so it wouldn’t be that difficult or expensive to fix.

    Element has been a niche vehicle from the start. It’s funky styling, and very utilitarian design appeal to a few people, but not everyone. Element never sold very well, but its sales have held up better than most cars that have been around as long, unchanged, as it has.

  25. Mohammad Rafi Says:


    Thanks for yet another great episode of Autoline Daily. You, as always, covered a lot of important and exciting news of the automotive world and for that we are all very thankful.

  26. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Acura’s problem is it’s styling is 5 years ahead of its time at least.

    It doesnt look good to most people’s eyes now, but in 2020 it will look ordinary compared to the other styling exercises that are coming with other makes.

    Not bad for a company that Used to make cars that looked like Glorified Accords, CR-Vs, etc…

    I maybe one of the only people in this country who loves Acura’s new styling, but who cares what you sheepole like anyway. Of course a
    Hyundai non-conformist like myself will disagree with the mainstream however.

  27. John V. Says:

    With respect to the GM CEO being a car guy or an insider: Dream on.

    1. Alan Mulally (yes, he knew about a manufacturing couple of hundred semi-custom planes for informed buyers, but that is as different from making and selling cars as is telecommunications).
    2. Fritz is gone because someone on the board would have to admit a mistake by allowing him to come back. Not gonna happen, now.

    They just need a real leader who listens well to customers (and can tell whether they are right or wrong), listens well to the managers, and makes good business decisions. Very few in the Detroit 3 have exhibited such traits in recent years. If Akerson fails to listen, I agree with Lutz, GM will have more difficult times ahead.

  28. XA351GT Says:

    Blame the ugly styling on the need for a corporate face(grille) car makers are willing to slap the same thing on everything they build so you know what is rolling down the road. Maybe here’s a thought have cars designed by people and not a damn cpu and maybe everything wont look like a jelly bean with a ugly grille. Anyone remember sitting on your porch watching cars go by and identifying the brand by it’s overall style not the stupid grille? Some companies react fast to a crap design example Subaru with the Tribeca had one of the ugliest grilles this side of the Edsel and it lasted one year and they put a much nicer grille on it. It was a great looking design except for the lousy grille which wrecked it’s looks. The Aztec was but ugly all the way but the same design with much nicer and pleasing look was the Buick version. Example of cars that bucked their fellow branded cars grille sharing is the Mustang, Challenger, Camaro and Corvette. Those are the best looking cars in all three brands line ups ,so why slap the same grille on everything?

  29. Kit Gerhart Says:

    “Acura’s problem is it’s styling is 5 years ahead of its time at least.”

    No, Acura’s problem is same as the problem with Aztek, the vehicles are UGLY.

  30. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Iam sorry but I find the Acura TL to be absolutely stunning looking, and I find it absolutely ridiculous that those who like it arent speaking up.

    This is the same land of fools who:

    -Think Chrysler’s overweight 300 is a styling masterpiece.
    -Still blindly think Hyundai is a 3rd world automaker.
    -Think that Chevrolet’s still too Conservative for their own good styling looks sweet.
    -Continue to buy Toyota overpriced cheap quality rattletraps that make New Hyundais look like Lexuses even the Accent, and Still REFUSE TO ADMIT THAT TOYOTA MAKES AN INFERIOR PRODUCT TO MANY OTHER CAR COMPANIES.
    -Continue to blindly buy VWs and MINIs despite their quality woes, and ignore the OBVIOUS.
    -Think that Nissans are even Purchase Worthy while dismissing a Chyrsler, BUT IN FACT CHRYSLER HAS A LONG TERM DURABILITY RATING BETTER THAN NISSAN, and if Chrysler doesnt start advertsiing this they are dumbasses.
    -Still think that a Civic looks good.
    -Still Buy Accords.
    -Still think that FU–ING UGLY CR-V IS EVEN PURCHASE WORTHY. THE DESIGNER SHOULD HAVE BEEN SHOT MUCH LESS FIRED ON THE SPOT. Let’s be real, if that thing had a Hyundai or Chrysler badge you’d say it was the worst designed CUV in the world.

    Yeah, like Americans are the authority on cars.
    Yeah, ok.:D LMAO!!!

  31. HtG Says:

    XA31GT, please don’t bring up the Tribeca. I still get sick seeing it in my mind’s eye…Oh, there it goes again. Gotta run….

  32. Kit Gerhart Says:

    “Think Chrysler’s overweight 300 is a styling masterpiece”

    Overweight? Not really. A V-8 powered 300C is about 4100 pounds. If anything, it’s light for a 120 inch wheelbase rear-drive V-8 powered car.

    As we all know, styling is subjective, but the 300′s styling has actually worn well for a car now entering its 7th model year with only minor changes.

  33. Kevin Corcorran Says:

    GM’s biggest problem has been planned obsolesence. Building cars that have cracking dashes and door panels and transmissions that last 70K miles took its toll on them. People finally wised up and started buying elsewhere. Their thinking was definitely stuck in the past.

  34. Nick Stevens Says:

    John is absolutely right about the styling comments, but he is about a year late. We ranted and raved in this forum (I especially!) about the god-awful styling of the Crosstour (despite that I really like hatchbacks), the X6, all Acuras, and above all the excremental cow-catcher whale baleen GRILLE of the Lincolns (but not their rear end, these look good). And of course most of these vehicles are utterly inefficient, obese etc.

    John waited until it was really safe to make these comments after they were universally accwepted. Still, he should be commended for criticizing the industry, unlike most auto journalists that only suck up to it (for decades).

    The 300 had conservative, but great styling, and presence. Most chryslers did well in styling except the awful, lame “hi” Neon, the neon-derived PT was far more intelligent and serious design.

    As for Subarus, I think they deliberately design them to be ugly (the butch lezbo special? Just a hypothesis, don’t shoot). And the TRribeca had a grille as bad as the edsel, and just as much reminding of female genitalia.

  35. Salvador G. Says:

    uhhhhmmmnn…. no

    Honda its just getting killed slowly, I’m just glad that Honda hasn’t have the same problem as Toyota’s media rampage – It would be the nail on the coffin.

  36. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Honda is still doing well in motorcycles, and is by far the largest manufacturer in the world if you include their joint ventures in India.

  37. dcars Says:

    Their quite a few cars to like in terms of styling in the US market today. The 300, Mustang, Malibu, Camaro, Corvette, Gensis and Challenger. Looks are subjective and these are the ones that I like.

  38. vrmchris Says:

    hello to all.

    as far as a ceo for general motors, he really should have been robert lutz years ago. he had a clear vision, and the persistence to get there. most of the ceos did not have that vision. nor did they like cars.

    the problem with acura/honda is not the corporate grill. the problem is that there is no coherence to any of their designs. which is why the grill seems tacked on. like it or not, coherent design sells. not just “different” or “daring”.

    honda/acura once had very good design. they took the advice of pininfarina and made their designs last for years. now honda/acura is just too faddish for their own good.

    as for examples of styling, many of you listed some very good ones on here. so i will leave it at that.

    as for americans being authorities on cars, the enthusiasts on here, after hours, and open line would give various automakers on planet earth an earful. and be absolutely correct in most every observation that we make.

    overall, a good discussion.


  39. Eric Soto Says:

    John,I agree with you 90% on bring Fritz back to GM…….but the Pontiac side of me (10%) say …Heck no! How would we know that he wont do it again in canceling another name brand? Now GM is bring back the Regal name plate which every one whos an auto enthusiast know is an Opel!And part of the reason that Pontiac was discontinued beacuse it was a Chevy clone!