Episode 536 – Ward’s Announces 10 Best Engines, Big Three Inventory Surplus, Autozone’s Profits Jump

December 8th, 2010 at 12:05pm

Runtime 7:57

Our friends at Ward’s just announced the winners of their 17th-annual 10-Best Engines competition and there was more turnover this year than ever before. The Big Three have surplus inventory; GM has a 95-day supply of vehicles! Autozone, the largest auto-parts retailer in the U.S., just posted a 20-percent jump in quarterly earnings. All that and more, plus Peter De Lorenzo gives us his opinion on Super Bowl car commercials.


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This is Autoline Daily for Wednesday, the 8th of December, 2010. Guess who’s back? That’s right; it’s me, Peter De Lorenzo, the Autoextremist, bringing you another intoxicating episode of Autoline Daily. We’ve got all kinds of great stories for you, including a look at vehicle inventory levels and an analysis of compact cars over the years. Plus, if you stick around I’ll tell you what I think about some of the automotive Super Bowl commercials we expect to see next year. But first up . . .

WARD’S 10-BEST ENGINES FOR 2011 (subscription required)
Our friends at WardsAuto.com have announced the winners of their 17th annual 10 Best Engines award. The 2011 list represents the most turnover in the history of the competition. Six completely new “engines” – and I’m making air quotes right now – took home gold.

Audi’s 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 is a repeat offender. It won the judges over with its 333 horsepower and fat torque curve. I LOVE it in my S4.

Mini’s 1.6-liter turbocharged four-banger was praised for its performance and high specific output.

Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter TDI diesel is a sweetheart and Ward’s thought so, too.

Chrysler took home a much-needed win with its brand-spankin’-new Pentastar V-6. This 3.6-liter engine is going in practically every vehicle the company makes.

It wouldn’t be a Ward’s 10-Best list without a BMW inline six. The company’s turbocharged N55 model took home gold this year.

Just like BMW, Volvo also won a spot on the list with a force-fed 3.0-liter straight six. The judges were impressed by this engine’s midrange power and lack of turbo lag.

Of course we can’t forget about the V-8s. Ward’s judges loved Hyundai’s new 5.0-liter Tau engine. It delivers a staggering 429 horsepower.

Ford also took home a win with its reborn 302, which gives the Mustang plenty of muscle.

Finally, Ward’s left two spots on the list for green cars. The Voltec drivetrain in the Chevy Volt won and so did the Nissan LEAF, which curiously doesn’t have an engine. Maybe it should be called the 10 Best Powertrains List going forward.

Automakers need to convince Americans to buy a lot more compact cars if they’re going to meet the government’s fuel economy standards. The good news for consumers is compact cars are not as cramped as they used to be. According to a study by Edmunds.com, today’s compacts weigh 549 pounds more, have 61 more horsepower and a 6.4-inch longer wheelbase than they did in 1990. And yet they get 2.5 more miles per gallon. Part of that growth in size has to do with customers wanting more room and luggage space. The other reason has to do with bulking up the structure to meet safety standards.

Old habits die hard. The Detroit News reports the Big Three have higher vehicle inventories than perhaps they should. GM is running at a 95-day supply! Chrysler is at 79 and Ford has enough stock on hand to last 71 days. Automakers should generally shoot for a 60-day’s supply of vehicles this time of year, and right now the industry average is 67. Jim Bunnell, general manager of GM’s dealer networks said the company forecasts STRONG demand next year and it doesn’t want to be caught short, hence the high inventory levels.

LUXURY INVENTORY TIGHT (subscription required)
On the flip side, some luxury automakers are tight on vehicles. According to the Wall Street Journal, BMW is running short of some crossovers, Porsche’s supply of Cayenne SUVs has all but dried up and Audi has just 11 day’s worth of Q5s. Mercedes has a little more inventory than some of its competitors, but it’s still low at just 46 days.

Is the economy really getting better? According to Reuters, Autozone, the largest auto parts retailer in the U.S., just posted a 20-percent jump in quarterly earnings. That means more people are fixing their cars and keeping them longer, which isn’t going to help GM with its inventory issues. Could this have something to do with the 10 percent unemployment in the U.S.?

After the “brief commercial interlude” I’ll share some of my thoughts on automotive advertising during the Super Bowl. Here’s a hint . . . Not so much…

As AdAge reported this week, eight automobile manufacturers – count ‘em, eight – have lined-up to buy advertising time on the Super Bowl. That means eight earnest and well-intentioned manufacturers – Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen in this case – along with their respective ad agencies actually believe in total seriousness and with absolute certainty that they can muster the creative energy that not only will send their fellow automotive advertisers cowering into the corner, but that they will serve-up spots that the Super Bowl viewing audience will actually care about.

And despite all of that optimism I’m here to tell you that there’s not a chance of it happening either. Yeah, sure, one or two of these manufacturers’ ad agencies will come up with a spot that may gain some instant –albeit brief – semi-notoriety, but it won’t move the needle for these car companies, at least not to the degree that they think it will, or that they’ll tell the media that it does.

And it’s not that people won’t be watching either, because they will, it’s because what sells on the Super Bowl usually falls into two distinct categories: emotionally involving/compelling/powerful, or, flat-out whacked-out humor.

First of all car companies take themselves far too seriously to go toe-to-toe with the kind of humor that’s found on the Super Bowl, and when it comes to doing emotionally compelling stuff they’re usually successful so infrequently it doesn’t even register.

After all, when you start bandying about the figure of $3 million in media buy costs for one spot on the big game, and as much as $1 million+ in production costs on top of that, automotive marketers get very, very nervous. And when auto marketers get nervous they tend to get ponderous, conservative, sober and boring. The result? They end up producing a spot for the Super Bowl broadcast that’s largely forgettable.

Memo to car advertisers: If the creative work isn’t good enough, or memorable enough, or “1984” Apple computer spot all-time great enough, then it’s not worth it. And given the history of car advertising on the Super Bowl, the odds are definitely stacked against these manufacturers from making that kind of an impact.

If it were up to me I’d rule the Super Bowl to be a car commercial-free zone in the interest of keeping these automotive marketers from throwing away good money after bad and making the kind of mistakes that yield – in my book – one of two of the most dreaded reactions to advertising that can be achieved:

One, total Indifference, as in, “Was there a car spot on the game?” Or two, the “Wince Factor,” as in, “That spot was too horrific for words.”

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week, and the end of today’s show. But before I sign off, watch Autoline After Hours. We webcast the whole thing LIVE every Thursday evening starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. To check it out, just swing by our website, AutolineDetroit.tv. It’s also available as an audio podcast via iTunes or you can listen on your smartphone (hold up Blackberry) through a nifty little application called Stitcher. Give it a try.

Once more, I’m Peter De Lorenzo, the Autoextremist, thanks for watching, I’ll catch you tomorrow.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog, WardsAuto.com and WWJ Newsradio 950

40 Comments to “Episode 536 – Ward’s Announces 10 Best Engines, Big Three Inventory Surplus, Autozone’s Profits Jump”

  1. tj Martin Says:

    Heck the NYTimes today has a story on that the EPA has all the current Rolls Royce models listed as Sub Compact cars . Seriously !

    So lets go USA and buy ourselves the Compact/Subcompact car of our dreams . The EPA says its OK and we’re not being Conspicuous Consumers .

    I know the EPA rates cars according to their interior volume … but isn’t this just a bit much ?

    Who makes these decisions anyway ?

  2. Ralph Kercheval Says:


    Please put some emotion and excitement in your presentation. “High Octane Truth” as your tag line states constitutes false advertising.

    Your monotone delivery style barely simmers let alone flames…

    Wake me when the show is over!!

  3. tj Martin Says:

    Peter D ;

    I have to ask ( even though you probably won’t answer )

    Hows the reliability in that SC Audi S4 ? The reason I ask is because my older model Twin Turbo V6 S4 Avant’s reliability was worse than abysmal .

    Fact is it had worse reliability than my 77 Alfetta GT did back in the day .

  4. pedro fernandez Says:

    True story re the Alfetta, took one out for a test drive, during which the radiator started leaking, this was a new demo model with barely 400 miles. Needless to say, I walked away.

  5. HtG Says:

    One word, Renzo. CLIO. Adguys want to win awards and they’ll persuade any company,not just automakers, that if you divide 4million dollars by 250million viewers, you get value. (that’s 1.6cents per pair of eyeballs/shot H/S. Now that’s a sales job!)

  6. Dale Leonard-Lakewood,Ohio Says:

    Once again,Great Job,Peter. I love your “shoot from the hip” type of journalism.

  7. pedro fernandez Says:

    Ward’s judges must never have to pay for automotive repairs since they don’t seem to take into consideration reliability.

  8. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I guess it’s difficult to put together a meaningful “10 best” list, but I found some on Wards’ latest list rather curious. The Nissan Leaf? All brushless electric motors are basically equal, so I really don’t get that one, and there’s no engine. Also, is the BMW/Peugeot MINI engine really the best 4 cylinder gas unit out there? I like my MINI and its engine, but I don’t see these engines as anything special. I suspect it’s the “application” that won the award.

    The VW TDI certainly belonged on the list, as did one version of the BMW six. I suppose the new Chrysler bent six is there to help the company out a little, but it’s way too soon to know if the engine is any good.

  9. Kit Gerhart Says:

    tj Martin Says:
    December 8th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    “Heck the NYTimes today has a story on that the EPA has all the current Rolls Royce models listed as Sub Compact cars . Seriously !”

    They were talking about the coupe and convertible. The Phantom sedan is a “midsize car,” and the Phantom EWB is “large car.”

  10. WL Simpson Says:

    Kit: Chrysler “bent” 6 any relation to the slant
    six w/the 8″ spark plug tubes?—A rhetorical question !

  11. tj Martin Says:

    @ pedro fernandez re; Your Alfetta comment . Too true . So just imagine how bad my S4 must of been for me to make that comparison..

    @ Kit Gerhart – My oops . But still ……..

  12. Tony Gray Says:


    That IS high octane for Mr. D. Embrace it. His style and substance are just perfect.

    And as for the engines…I think the jury is still out as to whether BMWs new single turbo N55 is an improvement over the much more tunable twin turbo N54 it replaced in most models.

  13. tj Martin Says:

    RE; BMW N55 T ;

    Didn’t I just read oh about a month ago that BMW was RECALLING each and every N55 T engine in EVERY model they’ve put it in ?

    Add that tid bit to Audi’s legendary unreliability and one has to ask whether WARD’s pockets are being lined by the manufactures : because they’re certainly not taking quality into effect when it come to their decisions/awards

  14. john Says:

    the chrysler v6 is one nice motor.
    Took a new Grand Cherokee for a test drive the other day with this motor.

    Blew away that piece of junk 3.8 v6 in my Wrangler Unlimited. I still think the 3.8 chevy v6 is smoother and more tractable, but Wards wants to rate new and not 30 years of refinement. Shame…

  15. Tom Tyson Says:


    Please consider *not* using Peter de Lorenzo as your guest host for future Autoline Daily shows. He’s knowledgeable, for sure, but extremely unfunny and boring.

  16. Kit Gerhart Says:

    …regarding the BMW N55 T and Audi engines:

    I think it is safe to assume that the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list is based on what it is like to drive cars with the engines in question, not own them.

    As far as the BMW six, I’d put the non-turbo version on my 10 best list. It is smooth, sweet sounding, makes good power, and gets good gas mileage for an engine its size. Also, unlike the turbo, it is generally reliable, though, as mentioned before, that isn’t a factor for some of these published lists.

  17. Kit Gerhart Says:

    For those who don’t like the on-camera persona of the guest hosts, try reading the transcript instead of watching the show. I do that because it’s quicker, but it would also remove points of irritation that some of the hosts may produce.

  18. tj Martin Says:

    Well when it comes to Hosts on this show , I’ll take knowledge over Personality any day . I may not always like what PD says but he says it well and knows his stuff .

    But like Kit many times i read the transcripts instead of watching the video as well . Only to save time .

    This aint supposed to be Top Gear USA you know ( oh that was a lousy analogy )

  19. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Good job Peter; for those not enamoured with Peter’s delivery, you couldn’t see the whole presentation. All of the hand gestures were out of frame and didn’t reflect the emotions Peter was trying to convey. (and I say this tongue in cheek from one Italian to another) Seriously though; good job, the messages you delivered were spot-on.

    And agree with some of the above (about Wards ten best engines); criteria must be for the engine (and powertrain for the electric motor mentioned) in its performance potential (and not total ownership experience). While certainly some of the award winners have track records for reliability in addition to outstanding performance, some of these engines just haven’t proven themselves in the long haul yet. I’d like to see a 10 best, historically modern engines, honored (say engines that have at least three years under their belt).

  20. HtG Says:

    The difference between the written Renzo and the onscreen one always gets me. More grappa, per favore!

  21. pedro fernandez Says:

    What do you prefer? BS spoken in a news type squeeky-clean presentation or the real nitty-gritty told in a no BS way? I’d take the latter any day.

  22. HtG Says:

    If it’s not Judy Woodruff, I just mostly put up with the shiny happy twerps.

    But you should see the crew on our local cable news. I only tune in for the local disaster du mois, and to be sure the carpets match the….

  23. pedro fernandez Says:

    There’s a local news station whose morning show I refer to as “Wake up to the AM silicone show”

  24. Alex Kovnat Says:

    >Automakers need to convince Americans
    >to buy a lot more compact cars if
    >they’re going to meet the government’s
    >fuel economy standards. According to
    >a study by Edmunds.com, today’s compacts
    >weigh 549 pounds more, have 61 more
    >horsepower and a 6.4-inch longer wheelbase >than they did in 1990.

    >Part of that growth in size has
    >to do with customers wanting more
    >room and luggage space. The other
    >reason has to do with bulking up
    >the structure to meet safety

    I believe there should be a moratorium on new safety standards. Let’s leave well enough alone already. If it weren’t for heavier cars to meet the needs of intellectuals for more and more safety for other people’s cars, we would already have 50 MPH cars for those interested, and without expensive hybrid technology.

  25. tj Martin Says:

    Genltemen ;

    It could get worse you know . ( online personality here ) Sara Palin’s already got her own TV show and could be bucking for Automotive Online Talking Head as well .

    Sorry . What a sick thought .

  26. HtG Says:

    Alex,let’s hope at some point there will be a cost benefit argument that improved gas mileage in cars cheap enough to be widely bought can outweigh lives saved from safety standards. Your friends in DC think this way. Don’t know how those guys in Cali cogitate.

  27. dcars Says:

    I love Peter’s delivery. It’s different and a nice change. I’m having someone do some VO work and I purposely picked a person with a different delivery to give it uniqueness. The Barry McQuire style voice drives me nuts.

  28. XA351GT Says:

    It’s funny to see the debate over engine or motor used to describe power delivery systems in vehicles. I’ve read that engines are fuel powered while motors are electrically powered which sounded good until someone pointed out that you need to change the MOTOR oil in your car every 3000 miles. LOL

  29. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Subcompacts like the Accent and Fiesta are the new Compacts, while Compacts like the Elantra and Focus are the new Midsized sedans. I predict A class city Cars like FIAT 500, Ford Ka, and Hyundai i10/KIA Picanto will become the new Subcompacts.

    There are different classes of B Segment Subcompacts.

    -Accent/Fiesta sized subcompacts are-Big Subcompacts (cars that are larger than many compacts from 10 years ago). I call them B/C cars, as they arent quite C cars, and just barely a B-Car. The Accent and Fiesta are larger than an Elantra from 20 years ago, and about the same size as an Elantra from 10 years ago.

    -MINI/Hyundai i20/Yaris sized subcompacts are-Small subcompacts (cars that are the size of a big subcompact from 10 years ago).

    Did you guys know what Hyundai is planning a 1.0L 3 Cyl engine that gets 110 HP for it’s Next Gen i10/KIA Picanto? Yes, 110 HP=just 2 less than the outgoing Current Gen Accent.

    Im trying to get them to bring it to America. At least one, Im thinking the KIA to test it out as a 500 fighter. Hyundai would most likely start with the i20 first before an i10 comes here.

  30. C-tech Says:

    Ward’s top ten list has now joined the Motor Trend car of the year award for being useless.

  31. Bob Says:

    I have been an avid reader of Autoextremist’s weekly rants and “on the table” items for 10 years before I heard him here, and even tho he did not sound as I imagined he would, I have absolutely NO problem with his delivery, as I focus on Substance and not so much on Theatrics and Rhetoric.

    I also find the most recent presentation by Seamus McELroy Excellent, thoughtful and unlike some sales pitch from a used car salesperson, or some deeply insulting fanatic like Christie Schweinhund in her first (and hopefully only) Appearance on AD.

    BAck to Peter, he comes from a marketing, not finance or engineering, viewpoint, and I take his views as that, and that’s OK with me too. He also has a soft spot for GM and 3esp. its muscle cars then and now, having grown up in a GM family, which is an understandable mild bias.

  32. Bob Says:

    I also view the selection of the LEaf’s engine in the top ten with contempt, let alone disbelief.

    The Outstanding DIESELS by BMW (the 3 liter performance diesel that gets 27 MPG Highway real mpg from the behemoth X5, and 36 -40 from the 335d) and M-B that easily and very efficiently powers the ML, GL, RL and the E class (close to 40 MPG for the E on the highway!), as well as the VW TDI engine, should ALL be in the top 10 instead.

  33. Bob Says:


    The CRUZE is doing great, but the overpriced and much-hyped FIESTA is NOT! Cruze sold almost 9000 copies in Nov, but the Fiesta barely 3,000!

    Ford should understand that not ALL consumers are damned fools, and even if their spoiled and auto illiterate daughters put on the pressure for them to buy them that $23k loaded new Fiesta subcompact, many parents have the wisdom to get them a far superior 3-series with low miles instead. OR A Cruze!

  34. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I agree that the BMW and MB diesels are great engines, but neither company will sell them to us in the right cars, like 5 series and E-Class wagon, and 7 and S sedans. Yes, ththey work well in the trucks they put them in, but they should sell us 3′s, and C and E sedans with 4 cyl. diesels like they do in the rest of the world.

  35. Tony Gray Says:

    Kit @16:

    Nobody will ever read this post since it is so late, but I just saw in my latest edition of Car and Driver where a base 328i sedan will run with, and in some cases beat, a 1988 M5. Amazing how our perceptions change with time, as I thought the 328 was a slug when I test drove it before I bought my 335i.

  36. Kit Gerhart Says:

    You are right about changing perceptions, and this holds true for all market segments. My ’89 turbo, 5-speed Dodge Caravan was quick for a minivan when new, but a current Honda or Toyota van would blow it away with ease.

    As for my recent car buying, while cars keep getting faster, I don’t seem to care, and have been buying slow cars which are “fast enough” for my tastes.

  37. dcars Says:

    As Jay Leno says: it can be just as much fun to drive a slow car at it’s limit.

  38. Bob Says:

    Yes, and especially the ridiculously low speed limits in the US (compared to out highways out west, which can take much higher speeds) make it even less worthy to buy a fast car…except for the acceleration and mountain climbing where applicable

  39. Bob Says:

    Kit-I don’t know if you will go back and read this, I also wish that the 3-lt BMW diesels and Merc diesels were avail in the S clas and the 7 series in the USA, and that the 4-cyl diesels were avail in the 3 and 5 series (the 520TD Wagon is an outstanding family car, was just voted Top Gear’s best family car for 2010),

    but the accursed US regulations impose such huge costs, BMW and Merc can only sell the bigger diesels at a profit here. Now if they make then IN their US plants, this might change.

  40. JT Lambert Says:

    Its hard to understand why Fords new 6.7 DI Diesel was not among the PICKs.Much less their twin turbo V6@365 hp for every day driving.This is coming from a CHEVY MAN.