Episode 954 – Chinese Executives Prefer Minivans, VW Opens New U.S. Test Center, 2013 Accord

August 21st, 2012 at 12:00pm

Runtime: 8:05

One of the most popular vehicles among executives in China is the Buick GL8 minivan. Volkswagen just opened a new product-development and emissions-test laboratory in California. Honda kicked off production of the redesigned 2013 Accord at its plant in Marysville, Ohio. All that and more, plus guest host Todd Lassa from Motor Trend shares some interesting analysis on whether the American love affair with cars is fading.

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Do not adjust your screen; your eyes are NOT playing tricks on you. I’m Todd Lassa from Motor Trend filling in for John who is still out of the office. Welcome to another episode of Autoline Daily. It’s Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 and here are the latest headlines.

Driving a minivan in the U.S. can come with a bit of a stigma, but that’s not the case in China. According to Bloomberg, one of the most popular vehicles among executives in the country is the Buick GL8 minivan. They like the extra room to seat several passengers, which allows them to conduct business. Sales of the GL8 were up close to 28 percent last year despite it selling for up to $61,000. Overall the minivan segment is expected to grow 13 percent in China this year.

Volkswagen just opened a new product-development and emissions-test laboratory in California. The $27 million facility will be fully operational this fall and employ about 50 people. The primary focus will be on powertrain and systems development, governmental compliance and field quality testing. The new test center will also support VW’s other brands including Audi, Porsche, Bentley and Bugatti.

Earlier in the year the remains of Saab were sold to a Chinese and Japanese consortium called the National Electric Vehicle Sweden. They plan on selling an electric vehicle based on the 9-3 in China. But they’re going to have to come up with a new logo. According to the AFP, truck maker Scania, which used to be affiliated with Saab, shares the iconic Saab logo of a red griffin wearing a gold crown. Unless a deal can be struck, the new owners will have to use a new logo because the truck maker refuses to give up the rights to the logo.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is putting 3,000 smart cars to the test. No, no, no, I’m not talking about that dreadful two-seater, but vehicles equipped with special technology that allows them to communicate with each other. The Detroit News reports the year-long test will take place in Ann Arbor, Michigan and will be conducted by UMTRI, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The goal is to reduce crashes and save lives. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication will be part of the study.

Yesterday Honda kicked off production of the redesigned 2013 Accord at its plant in Marysville, Ohio. This is the company’s 30th year manufacturing vehicles in the United States. They’re heralding the ninth-generation Accord as a big advancement in the sedan segment, calling it a total redesign of the vehicle. That MAY be the case but the styling screams low-cost refresh. That opinion is based on photos Honda has released of the car. We’ll know more about it within a couple of days. Challenging Mazda’s “Skyactiv” technology for the “most ridiculous name” award, the car will feature Honda’s new “Earth Dreams” powertrain series. What does that mean? Well, the base four-cylinder engine gets direct fuel injection and can be paired with a continuously variable transmission. The optional V-6 is offered with a new six-speed automatic gearbox. Let’s hope the car drives better than it looks. Competition in the midsize sedan segment is tougher than EVER.

In somewhat-related news the 1994 Honda Accord was THE most frequently stolen vehicle in the United States last year. That statistic comes from the National Insurance Crime Bureau. More than 75-hundred of these 17-year-old cars were stolen in 2011.

Are Americans as car crazy as everyone thinks? Find out after the break.

Americans love their cars. That’s our excuse for why we’re content to sit in traffic with our V-8s burning imported oil, getting us nowhere.

Reality is different. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently published a study that says the U.S. is behind Italy, Germany, France and even Spain in vehicle density – the number of passenger vehicles for every 1,000 people. Japan is roughly even with us.

We have higher vehicle density than Russia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, China and India.

Those countries are catching up. No surprise China scored the largest increase of cars in circulation between 2006 and 2010, adding about 23 million. Russia, with the second-biggest increase, added fewer than 8 million vehicles in the same period.

Even then, the report says it will take China 25 years and India 40 years of current growth rates to reach the auto ownership penetration of the leading countries.

The report says this measures the size of the middle class and the income disparities in each of these advanced and emerging countries. For example, it says Mexico and Romania both have the same per-capita income of about $14,500. Mexico’s income distribution is highly unequal and has about 107 cars per 1,000 people, while Romania, with its more equal income distribution, has 187 cars per 1,000 people.

So, is the American love affair with the automobile fading as the gap between rich and poor decimates the middle-class? Car prices are inching up, so you pay for a well equipped compact what was midsize-sedan money before the Lehman Brothers collapse.

Ford and Chevrolet regularly brag they’ve lowered incentives and sales to daily rental companies while inducing consumers to buy more and more high-tech and luxury options. Ford, the brand that put America on wheels, sells compact Focus Titaniums with stickers of $26,000 on up.

The study also says luxury cars have their biggest market share in Germany, of course, where Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus account for 26.6 percent of sales. They make up 21.5 percent of sales in South Africa. The U.S. is next at 9.6 percent, while in the BRIC countries, they’re 0.7 percent in Brazil, 3.8 percent in Russia, 0.8 percent in India and 2.8 percent in China.

Notice that Cadillac and Lincoln are missing among the list of luxury brands? Cadillac has the most aggressive product assault planned among GM’s brands for the next three years because luxury is where the consumers are.

What does this mean for our love affair with the automobile? It seems to me that while the middle class shrinks in America, automakers are using price and option creep to make brand-new cars luxury items again, like they were in the days before the Ford Model T.

And that’s the exciting conclusion of this installment of Autoline Daily. Again, I’m Todd Lassa from Motor Trend. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog and WardsAuto.com

38 Comments to “Episode 954 – Chinese Executives Prefer Minivans, VW Opens New U.S. Test Center, 2013 Accord”

  1. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Well, according to me (pun intended), Honda is still in hang-on mode with their new midsize; better get the next one right (or they won’t need to worry about future most-stolen-vehicles) as they won’t be a player.

  2. W L Simpson Says:

    John “out of the office” ? Must be from all those Woodward Ave exhaust fumes.

  3. Jon M Says:

    Good idea to leave the question of American’s love affair with the automobile open-ended, Todd. A study such as this one doesn’t exactly answer the question. The reason I don’t own an Audi A8L, Porsche 911 and a few other fun to drive four wheelers has absolutely nothing to do with a love for all things automotive; it really comes down to means. The make, model, and number of vehicles I own is as close to what I’d like to have as I can get, and it’s pretty far off!

  4. Jim H. Says:

    Hurry back John. I’ve never before fallen asleep during Autoline Daily. Mr. Lassa needs to kick it up a notch.

  5. pedro fernandez Says:

    If someone at the edge of committing suicide hears this report, they will surely proceed with it! Holy depressive report, Batman!

  6. Tony Gray Says:

    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace talking autos? Umm, OK.

    The only fault I have with the piece after the break is the bit about luxury cars having the higher market share in Germany. Let’s not forget that they have a much wider (read lower price point) product mix in their home country, while they only send their higher zoot versions overseas.

  7. Tony Gray Says:

    Pedro @4: There is NO truth to the rumor that Tony Scott read a preview of today’s piece.

  8. pedro fernandez Says:

    And there are still those who say we won the cold war, what exactly did we win? Based upon those charts, we won diddly squat! We are losing our middle class, the people who made this country what it was.

  9. pedro fernandez Says:

    Poor Tony had brain tumor (cancer) I’ve seen first hand how those people suffer, he did the correct thing, IMHO.

  10. HtG Says:

    I’d stop driving if it were possible. Just today, here’s what I saw. At a 4way stop a guy driving his little girls rolled right through the STOP sign while eating some fries. Yes, I had arrived at the intersection before his Audi. Then later I got to follow another Audi stop a whole car length beyond the white line at several red lights. Finally, the woman driving the car turned a right off the road, no signal. This crap happens every single time I’m on the road. But I’ll bet these two characters today really luv their cars a lot. That’s who is out there Mr Lassa.

  11. HtG Says:

    9 You must listen to ABCNews, Pedro. They’ve retracted the story, and should probably just jump off a bridge themselves, as their journalistic credibility is gone.

  12. C-tech Says:

    For all the stats thrown around about “vehicle density” what DOES that say about the “LOVE” of cars in the U.S.? It seems the conclusion is more about the NEED for cars in different countries to get around, or how AFFORDABLE are cars in different countries. Perhaps Carnegie researchers should measure the number of people who attend Car Shows in different countries if they are trying to determine the “LOVE” of cars in different countries. Maybe they just need to come out to the Dream Cruise and find a date?

  13. pedro fernandez Says:

    No actually I read it on the net but don’t know the source, you can’t believe anyone anymore, where is Cronkite when you need him? dead, like all the good ones. I also saw a guy with a Merc, blinkers on, left lane at a major street here, talking on the phone doing 15 MPH less than the posted speed. I wanted to crash into him so badly, I almost jumped out of my skin!

  14. C-tech Says:

    Its not just Chinese executives who like minivans. When my sons were “6th grade executives” they also seemed to enjoy “meeting in the minivan” and having their own personal drivers (Mom and Dad)!

  15. HtG Says:

    13 I forgot to mention the young gal that thrust the nose of her large Merc sedan into my lane as she prepared to make her left turn. Yes, I did aim at the corner of her bumper; no, it didn’t seem to phase her, if she noticed at all.

    Every day, multiple times

  16. pedro fernandez Says:

    With all the time I’m on the road for my work, I am truly shocked that I have not been involved but in 2 rear end collisions in over 20 yrs driving here with almost half a million miles under my belt, steel belts, that is!

  17. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Were scooters included in that vehicle count per person in Italy? That would increase their numbers a lot.

    As far as “need” for cars, Americans need them more than most Europeans, because in Europe, there is decent public tranportation. In the U.S., there is decent public transportation in a few large cities, but most places, you need a car if you want to go anywhere.

  18. HtG Says:

    LA used to have decent public transportation until GM conspired to kill the bus and trolley companies. Thanks, GM!

  19. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Sure Autoline is a little more special when John hosts, but to the fact that these other automotive associates fill in for John, I say, amen; thanks to all who fill the shoes. (Sure debate the editorial content, still respect the time required to do the job.)

    And as far as per capita care ownership, I rely more on quality than quantity (here, I’m referring to all the classics and racers out there).

    One more comment on Mini-vans; it’s just a matter of timing (not in vogue today in the U.S.) but wasn’t too long ago when it was a major segment (and other than some frumpy styling and stereotyping, they should still make a lot more sense than they currently do).

  20. pedro fernandez Says:

    question for you gear-heads out there, I noticed my dipstick is showing oil at about the halfway mark on my Corolla besides the normal oil you see at the end, it shows about 1 inch of oil right at the halfway point,any ideas? is this the end of my Crapola?

  21. Chuck Grenci Says:

    I would wipe the dipstick, insert again and then, pull and read. If you leave the dipstick in too long, you can get oil creep (the oil will try to climb the dipstick especially if there is a slight angle of the engine and the dipstick is close to another structure near the tube). It is caused by capillary action.

  22. HtG Says:

    Clean the stick, then insert only partially, gradually increasing insertion until you strike oil. (sorry if that sounded pornographic, Craig)

  23. Jim Thykeson Says:

    Well, it had to hit home sooner or later. You can’t afford those wonderful ‘hot-rod’ Camaros & Mustangs on those Walmart wages! There are many that contribute to this blog daily that think American workers are a bunch of over-paid ‘slugs’, but what they fail to realize is these ‘slugs’ set the wage pattern for the rest of the working class…or used to. I guess it’ll be used cars and a rented house from here on out. Enjoy!!

  24. shan Says:

    As Bill Maher constantly quips, “Americans are just dumb”. Though it’s taken a long time, more Americans are realizing that financing that 2013 Ford Fiesta at 22k decently equipped is a very poor financial decisions. A decision that leaves them with a car that is essentially worthless by the time they reach the pay off and one that leaves them struggling each month to pay that $350 plus payment. Lastly, buying a new car for American is a image thing and a status symbol, thankfully they are realizing no one gives a rat’s arse what you drive.

  25. HtG Says:

    24 Let’s not forget that it’s the state that was supporting the commercial credit sector so that the carcos could even offer that credit after Lehman went TU-kaboom!!!! I’m not sure if that particular program still exists, but it’s not like the smiling dicks that buy a car on credit because they have a credit score, which they proudly hang in their dining room, have even an inkling.

    OK, put away the cat, where’s that vodka hiding at?

  26. pedro fernandez Says:

    The good ole fashioned dipstick, I wonder how long before ti is also replaced by some electronic, over complicated, prone to break gadget on your array of idiot lights.

  27. HtG Says:

    ask and you shall receive…


  28. pedro fernandez Says:

    That’s it, when my Crapola dies, I’m getting another one, same gen. Are you kidding me? I suppose an electronic tire gauge is in the pipeline as well? not just a warning light but an actual meter for each wheel.

  29. HtG Says:

    New Jersey’s Got It


  30. Lex Says:

    @10 HTG

    I ask you what is the most important “Nut” in a vehicle?

    Answer: The One Behind the Wheel!!!

    There are alot of “Loose Nuts” behind the wheels now a days! I see what you see almost everyday.

  31. Zieke Says:

    John, Where do you find these monotoned unexciting bores to do your commentary? C’mon lets ramp up a bit!!!

  32. cwolf Says:

    Give the guy a break! At least he knows the auto industry. Whadda ya want, a 40DD blondie with a lisp?

  33. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I just read the transcripts most of the time. I do that because it’s quicker, but for people sensitive to the way people talk, that might be a good thing to do.

  34. HtG Says:

    Lex, don’t you live in Westchester? Maybe it’s just this area. Too many masters of their own universe in these parts.

  35. HtG Says:


    Though I do wonder if it’s just me being irritable.

  36. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I don’t think so. I see a lot of the same stuff, and I’m in areas less densely populated than where you are, so it’s probably less frequent.

  37. Josu Says:

    Sorry Tod, but this study about vehicle density is totally wrong, here in Spain NEVER EVER have been sold more vehicles in a percapita basis than in the US. The better year was the equivalent of 10 million in the US. And the average vehicle age is not older than in the US. So it´s impossible that Spain have a bigger density.

    Even more the study, as long as I know, said that the US have 433 vehicles per 1000 people what equals 134 230.000 and the DMV says there is 260 million. This is a very big difference to be true.

    anyway, I have read this kind of study, about the decline in vehicle ownership in the US and is very correlated with the surge in Truck and SUVs popularity because, that other studies said this is happening since de 90′s, the decde of bigger sales of cars in the US and the longest period of growth in US history.

    Guy, this study don´t includes truck based SUVs and Pick-ups.
    Even if it said that does.

  38. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Some cars have had oil level sensors for years, along with dip sticks. As the Autoblog article said, Americans don’t check things very well, and with a 15K mile oil change interval on BMW’s and some other cars, an oil level sensor is needed. I would certainly like to have the dip stick too, though. My MINI has a dip stick; don’t know if it has the electronic stuff.