April 10th, 2012 at 11:50am
While most of Europe is in an automotive meltdown, it looks like somebody forgot to tell the British there’s a financial crisis going on. Sales of new vehicles in the UK have gone up for the last three months! The private owner that holds the majority of Formula One stock, CVC Capital Partners, wants to issue an IPO to raise $2 billion. Hybrid buyers are not returning for second helpings. The loyalty rate for gasoline-electric vehicles is very low. All that and more, plus a review of the new Fiat 500 Abarth.
Welcome to Autoline Daily, the automotive information machine that never sleeps. It’s April 10th, I’m John McElroy and here’s what’s happening in the wonderful world of automobiles.
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I say, chaps, what’s up with this? While most of Europe is in an automotive meltdown, looks like somebody forgot to tell British car buyers that there’s a financial crisis going on. Ward’s reports that for the last three months, sales of new vehicles in the United Kingdom have gone up. Not by much, mind you, less than one percent, but that’s still much better than anyone expected. Maybe the same thing is happening in England that we see happening in the United States, the auto industry is leading the economy out of recession.
FORMULA ONE’S THREE-RING CIRCUS
Anyone who follows Formula One knows that it is a tangled web of political machinations, insider intrigue, Machiavellian plots, and mountains of money. And now the private owner that holds the majority of Formula One stock, CVC Capital Partners, wants to issue an IPO to raise $2 billion. That IPO represents 20 percent of all holdings in Formula One, which suggests the entire F1 circus is worth at least $10 billion. By comparison, the 32 teams in the National Football League in the U.S. are estimated to be worth about $32 billion.
HYBRID BUYERS SHUN SECOND HELPING
The best brands in the automotive business manage to keep about two-thirds of their customers, that is, about two out of three people buy another vehicle from the same brand the next time they need a new one. But not with hybrids. R.L. Polk says loyalty to gas-electric vehicles in the U.S. was just 35 percent last year. That figure drops to 25 percent if the Toyota Prius is pulled out of the equation. Hybrid buyers just aren’t coming back for seconds, but they are staying loyal to their brands. For instance, 60 percent of Toyota hybrid owners purchase another Toyota. Interestingly though, buyers in eco-conscious cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and Portland, Oregon are no more loyal to hybrids than drivers in other parts of the country.
HD = HIGHLY DISTRACTING
If you’re not aware that Honda is behind the eight ball please extricate yourself from the boulder you’ve been trapped under for the last five years. The company was once a technological leader but now it’s an also-ran. Sadly, the same is true of Acura. The luxury brand’s upcoming RLX flagship will come with HD radio, a feature other automakers have offered for years. Among other things it makes AM stations sound as good as or better than FM, but the trouble is it can drift in and out of HD. You’ll be driving along listening to crystal-clear audio and then out of the blue it’ll start sounding like something from the 1930s. In some cars, Volvos come to mind, HD seems to work fine, but in just about everything else I find HD to be very annoying.
Chrysler announced it will be the first automaker to offer in-vehicle wireless charging for smartphones or MP3 players. The feature will be offered through Mopar and will be first available on the new Dodge Dart. All you have to do is place your phone in a bin located just below the center stack and once the car is turned on it will start charging automatically. The wireless charger works with iPhones, Blackberries and Droid-based phones. It costs $200 plus installation and also includes a special case for the phone which is needed for it to charge.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Bloomberg reports that BMW just sold more cars in China than the U.S. for the first time. In the first quarter, the company sold just over 80,000 vehicles in China which is over 4,000 more than it sold in the U.S. The strong growth in China helped BMW post record global sales last year but as we reported recently the luxury market in China is slowing down which is forcing luxury makers to slash prices.
A quick correction here. Yesterday I identified Jessica LaFond as model responsible for the Ram trucks. I was wrong. She’s model responsible for Chrysler’s minivans. And model responsible is Chrysler’s internal way of saying she’s the chief engineer.
Back in the late 1950s auto designer and racing enthusiast Karl Abarth converted a Fiat 500 into a racecar that went on to break six international records in its first year of production. Eventually the Abarth brand became part of the Italian automaker but by the early part of this century it was rarely used. However five years ago Fiat resurrected Abarth in Europe and now the performance version of the cinquecento is heading to the U.S.
While the 500 Abarth doesn’t look much different than the base model, it’s what’s underneath the sheet metal that sets it apart.
Even though it was built for the track fuel economy wasn’t sacrificed. Its combined rating is 31 MPG.
The interior also features race-inspired cues including performance seats in the front, a steering wheel with a flat bottom and a turbo-boost gauge.
The 500 Abarth is a fun car to drive and has a cool, throaty-sounding exhaust. But even Fiat admits it won’t sell a whole lot of them. So why bother adding a performance car to its line-up?
Pricing for the 500 Abarth starts at $22,700 but that also includes a day at the track.
A day at the track? What a great idea! I hope other manufacturers jump onto that idea.
Say, don’t forget to join us Thursday night for Autoline After Hours, the irreverent show that takes you behind the scenes. We’ll have David Rand joining us. He was the executive director of advanced design at General Motors and just got back from a stint in China where he worked with the Chang’an car company. Join me and that outrageous Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo for the best insider information in the business.
And that wraps up today’s report. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.