August 21st, 2012 at 12:00pm
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.
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.
CHINESE EXECUTIVES PREFER MINIVANS
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.
VW OPENS NEW TECH CENTER IN U.S.
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.
FIGHT OVER SAAB’S LOGO
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.
V2V TESTS START IN MICHIGAN
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.
2013 HONDA ACCORD
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.
ACCORD MOST STOLEN VEHICLE
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.
IS LOVE FOR CARS FADING IN THE U.S.?
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.