Episode 864 – Full-Size Segment Heats Up, Chrysler Teases Beijing Reveals, Mazda Struggling

April 9th, 2012 at 11:45am

Runtime: 9:57

The full-size car segment is starting to heat up in the American market. Chrysler will unveil two new concept vehicles at the Beijing Auto Show in two weeks. Mazda is struggling financially, which is why the financial community wants to see the company dump some of its non-core assets. All that and more, plus John talks to Jessica LaFond from Chrysler about a program the company uses to develop future management.

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Welcome to a new week of Autoline Daily. It’s April 9th, I’m John McElroy and here’s the news.

The full-size car segment is starting to heat up in the American market. At the New York Auto Show last week Chevrolet showed off the new Impala, the best-selling car in the segment. And Toyota showed off the new Avalon. Ford recently tweaked the Taurus, and Nissan did the same for the Maxima. A year ago Chrysler redid the 300, which makes the Buick LaCrosse the oldest car in the segment. So far this year those six big sedans have racked up sales of 126,000 units, easily outselling the 36 hybrids and electrics that are in the market, which had sales of 110,000 units.

The new Avalon, by the way, is the first time Toyota has completely designed a passenger car in the U.S. The car was styled at Calty, which is Toyota’s design center in California. All the engineering was done at its sprawling tech center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the car itself will be built in Kentucky. This move is yet another example of how Japanese automakers are trying to cope with the high cost of the Japanese yen.

About five years ago Lincoln dumped longstanding nameplates in favor of MK-this and MK-that. Has the strategy actually worked? Well, according to a Detroit Free Press article, no. Town Car and Navigator are still the best-known Lincoln names. MKZ, which has received half a decade of advertising and marketing, is still not as well known. Six years after the name change and the old names still score better? Lincoln, I think the market is telling you something.

Chrysler will unveil two new concept vehicles at the Beijing Auto Show in about two weeks. One is a 300C created with the Chinese market in mind. Supposedly it features special Chinese-themed design elements. The other concept-in-question is a Jeep Wrangler inspired by the year of the dragon. Chrysler is practically nonexistent in China and the fact that it developed two concept vehicles for the show, shows it really wants to make an impact.


You know, maybe GM really is Government Motors. The U.S. Treasury Department just froze CEO Dan Akerson’s compensation at $9 million. Other executives will have their pay frozen as well but the government did agree to raises for a few executives. I think that the optics just weren’t very good, what with executives making millions in an election year, and with the UAW squawking that management is making too much.

Mazda is struggling financially, which is why the financial community wants to see the company dump some of its non-core assets, like the Hiroshima Carp, a professional baseball team and the Sanfrecce Hiroshima, a professional soccer team. Mazda also owns a hospital and $5 billion in land in its home city of Hiroshima. The company is forecasting it will rack up its largest loss in 11 years and dumping those non-core assets could sure pay a lot of bills.

Say, have you ever heard of the Chrysler Institute of Engineering? Me neither. It’s a program that Chrysler uses to develop future management and we’ll have more about that right after this.

Jessica LaFond is model responsible for minivans at Chrysler. That’s their internal way of saying she’s the chief engineer. I asked her to give me one of those “Ah-Ha Moments” that really helped her in her career, and to talk about the Chrysler Engineering Institute, a program within Chrysler to train technical people for the company. I want to thank the Automotive Next program at Inforum for helping to arrange this interview and to Chrysler for sponsoring it. Let’s go to that interview right now.

(The Ah-Ha Moment is only available in the video version of today’s program.)

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27 Comments to “Episode 864 – Full-Size Segment Heats Up, Chrysler Teases Beijing Reveals, Mazda Struggling”

  1. Lex Says:

    Hi John,

    Based upon your recommendation I when to Katz’s Deli before heading over to the NY Auto Show.
    We had a great time at the show, and were able to walk off the pastrami on rye we had at Katz’s.

    I think last years Transformers Theme at the GM exhibition was far better that the Hot wheels display this year. The GM Floor was quite boring. My wife kept saying is that all there is? I hope next year is better.

  2. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Maybe Lincoln is waking up? MK anything sux.Use the names the people know.Not sure it will help anymore,but at least the public will know what they’re NOT buying.

  3. MJB Says:

    Regarding Lincoln’s foray into alpha-numeric nomenclature (or in this case, just alpha): The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…Now wake-up and get your butt back over here!

    The same argument could have been made with Cadillac’s DT-this, ST-that, and SR-the-other earlier on. But now that they’ve paired the line-up down to mostly CTS’s, I think they’re in relatively safe territory.

    Still though, nothing works like a name. (Listen up, Acura, and bring back the “Legend”)

  4. cwolf Says:

    Yup,giving a car a real name is just so much easier to remember.Over the last few days,I’ve, read the MKZ hybrid had a quicker return rate than the Fusion hybrid! Rather hard to believe. The new models are quite handsome,but Lincoln needs to keep affordability in mind. As we all know,Ford is asking top dollar for all of its vehicles.

  5. Dave Kopitzke Says:


    You forget to mention my next car, the Dodge Charger. Have they cancelled it?

  6. Brett Says:

    I always considered the abandonment of time-honored model names at Lincoln for faux-European badges was pretentious and ill-considered.

    I was all for abandoning the Taurus nameplate after a couple of decades of indoctrinating the buying public that it was no more than rental fleet beater, but the Lincoln nameplates bordered on the near-iconic.

  7. cwolf Says:

    John Mac
    There is nothing wrong with keeping a rein on GM’s executive pay. GM’s sales have been nothing stellar and their products are more of a refresh than an innovation, I hope the new Impala proves itself a winner because I think the Malibu has reached its plateau. Since the UAW holds a good portion of GM shares,I wouldn’t call it squawking just because no one at the top is deserving of a raise at this time.

  8. cwolf Says:

    #7 follow-up
    If anyone believes GM exects are deserving of a,say 3%,raise,give the entire sum in their own stock! If they are not motivated over this,then it is clear they are not doing their job!

  9. Gary Paul Says:

    Funny, I was just talking to a Ford Power-train engineer on Saturday regarding the Lincoln nomenclature. My biggest beef is that OK, if they want to move in this direction that they have been following, what logic is used to evolve these names? And even if there is some logic to the application of the “Z” from the previous Lincoln Zephyr to the MKZ, wouldn’t this mean that the Lincoln MKS should be the Lincoln MKTC (as it appears to be taking the place of the massively neglected & retiring Town Car)? Then the sporty version of the MKTC could be the MKTCGT. Or should the MKS be the MKC–taking the place of the defunct Continental? Shouldn’t the Lincoln Navigator be the MKNOC (Old Class) since it was supposed to be replaced by the Lincoln MKT. Yes the alphabet & numbers soup nomenclature can work –if there is some logic too it– but otherwise, dump the system, and go back to calling cars by a sophisticated system called the “names nomenclature”. By the way…with so many other manufacturers using numbers and letters to describe their products, doesn’t this cause confusion by making your product LESS distinguishable from the crowd? John?–I would appreciate a discussion of this from the LINCOLN naming team…Why not ask them this question if you haven’t already? Granted it is the vehicle itself that sets the pace, but if I say I have a Lincoln MKT or an MKS almost no one knows what the heck it is!

  10. Dan Clemons Says:

    Very good interview!! I enjoyed that.

  11. Frank Nelson Says:

    I agree with the naming convention for Lincoln. To me, Honda/Acura’s demise and lose of their mojo started like this. The original Legend, Vigor, Integra were catchy names and cars. Legend was supposedly better known than the Acura brand. This was a problem? Since then, the RL/TL-CL/TSZ/MDX/RDX/ZDS have probably been mediocre to good cars, but the names just don’t have any pizazz.

  12. Lex Says:

    @ # 11 Frank Nelson,

    I agree with you Frank. Acura should go back to there old names. What does RL stand for: “Rolling Luxury”, and TL for “Total Luxury”? The Only Acura “X” car I want Acura to see make a come back is the RSX. The ILX looks like the Acura version of a Honda Civic.

  13. pedro fernandez Says:

    I just looked online, the auto 4 speed tranny on a Yaris costs $695, the auto 6speed on the Accent base model is $2600 and $900 on the top of the line, this is crazy pricing folks!

  14. XA351GT Says:

    I find myself still referring to the MKz as the Zepher and I think it was that for 1 year only. Model identification through a name is much easier for me than a number or letter .I know what a Impala is not a C70. Have auto makers become lazy? I know they risk problems when using old names for new models ,ie.Dart,Taurus,GTO. As people have their minds made up what that name should adorn. But they are still more meorable then a series of numbers or letters.Some vehicles are horribly misnamed though , the Nissan Juke definately should’ve been called the Nissan Fugly, because that is what everyone calls it anyway.

  15. carrib1 Says:

    Can anyone answer this ? where is tj havent seen him on here?

  16. jesse Says:

    Lincoln NAVIGATOR..STRONG NAME!LINCOLN TOWN CAR..What a classy name! LINCOLN CONTINENTAL…CLASSY!!ALAS…THE CONTINENTAL IS NO MORE.Instead we have the MKZ and the xyz to the rpg! (That’s a joke..-_-)What the hell are they thinking over there??They have what could be the most reliable,trouble free American car ever built in the form of the LINCOLN TOWN CAR and they choose to make ugly cars and SUV’s and give them some nonsensical letters and that is supposed to attract people?tHEY SHOULD ADVERTISE THE town car AND MODERNIZE IT with better gas mileage thruogh technology.They would have a winner on their hands.It’s better built,holds up at high mileage,and is more reliable then anything GM or Chrysler ever put out,period!

  17. jesse Says:

    Sorry for the misspelled word!Should be through…

  18. HtG Says:

    X, that name Juke can’t be so bad, since Nissan is selling it in Israel where that name means bug/cockroach in slang.

  19. C-Tech Says:

    Hi John, still can’t help but take a shot at those electric cars and hybrids, eh? Just a curious question, is the full size segment heating up from people moving out of suv’s? Maybe that nice lady from Edmund’s could tell us?

  20. C-Tech Says:

    Is the design of the new Avalon here in the U.S. a sign of cost cutting or is it because this is a car sold mostly in the North American market?

  21. C-Tech Says:

    If Lincoln does not understand this, perhaps Acura will. Cadillac only gets a pass because the CTS has been so successful, but I would bet if you showed most people a picture of a DTS and asked them whether it is a Deville or DTS, most people would still say “DeVille” (or some even Fleetwood). Cadillac should consider naming the new XTS the DeVille.

  22. C-Tech Says:

    Does anyone know the history of how Mazda came to own 2 sports teams?

  23. C-Tech Says:

    Can you imagine if Toyota bought the Dodgers?

  24. C-Tech Says:

    The Chrysler Engineering Institute actually makes sense, much like the old GMI. What schools do they work with now?

  25. Bill Zimmerman Says:

    At a recent new car show, I was looking at the Lincoln display when a very well dressed gentleman asked me where the new Town Car was. When I explained that the replacement is the MKS, he gave me a blank stare and said “I’ll buy a car I know instead.” What don’t you get, Lincoln? Give it a real name and start selling those things. The person who came up with the MK(whatever) idea should be put in stocks at Greenfield Village.

  26. ckernzie Says:

    Bottom line on the Lincoln MKBS is that if car guys & gals who live and breath this stuff can’t keep your models straight then you’ve got a marketing problem! Admit the mistake like the 500/Taurus stupidity and change things back or you’ll languish in MarKeting hell.

  27. MJB Says:

    Here’s the MJB version of why the automakers have dumped names in lieu of alpha-numerics. It’s cheaper.

    Think about it. I don’t know what it costs to name a car (with a “name”), but I do know that car companies hire agencies whos sole purpose is product naming. They spend gobs of time and resources vetting different names in different markets and making certain the names they have chosen do not ‘offend’ in some regional dialect. They brainstorm and fuss over all the tiniest nuances of what is in a name before they finally surface with something like “El Dorado”.

    Whereas, with alpha-numerics, all they need to do is make sure they’re not too closely overlaping BMW, Volvo, Audi or Mercedes and they’re good to go. No vetting needed. No prodct testing needed. No elaborate research of the meaning behind the letters MKX.

    Alpha-numerics cut the cost of naming a car dramatically! (at least, that’s what I figure).