Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mega post - what's been going on in the auto world?

Okay, Kevin...this one's for you...

What's been going on in auto-dom?

From a corporate stand-point, we've had Chrysler rumored to be for sale and companies as varied as Hyundai, GM, and supplier Magna all in the running to pick up the pieces. Strangely, it looks like only Dodge and Chrysler might be up for sale with Mercedes keeping the Jeep brand for itself (and making a purchase by GM of the rest even less likely).

Ford is still hurting badly. They are bleeding money at a rate that few companies could sustain and are in desperate need to get something other than the F-series and Mustang to market that customers and dealers will be passionate about.

To that end, new man in town Alan Mulally at Ford is quickly trying to turn things around by challenging the processes at Ford that got them in this mess in the first place. He, at least partly, is responsible for deciding to bring back names with equity and rebadge the Ford Five Hundred, Freestyle, and Montego to Taurus, Taurus X (which seems to be a mistake to me), and Sable. Given how little the average public knows about cars, this should help at least in the name recognition department.

Ford has also announced that the new Mazda2 (that debuted at Geneva) will get reworked to become a new small-car for Ford to pitch at the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Nissan Versa's of the world...but don't expect it until 2009.

Lincoln is still a mess (the new front-end is hideous and the brand has been allowed to become a shell of its former self due to Ford's unwillingness to spend the serious money to compete in the lux market).

Mercury is still not sufficently different than Ford - a problem they could fix by announcing a plan to bring Euro-Ford product over and badge them as Mercury (a la Opel and Saturn over at GM).

GM is still going gangbusters with their turn-around.

Pontiac has announced the replacement to the Grand Prix in the new G8. Available in 3.6l V-6 and 6.0l V-8 forms and based on new Zeta chassis developed by Holden - Pontiac is on its way to a transformation into a true enthusiasts brand...it will be interesting to see if the G6 replacement is a RWD car or if they use an AWD version of the Epsilon 2 platform to skirt having a front-driver in the line. It will also be interesting to see if Kappa (Solstice) spawns a small RWD coupe/sedan to replace the Cobalt-clone G5.

Saturn is close to completing their self-reinvention with the ION replacement that will come late this summer in the form of the, imported from Germany, Astra 3 and 5-door hatches. These are the 2nd most popular cars in Europe (after VW's Golf) and are available in sedan and wagon forms as well if the hatch body-style doesn't catch on. Also, an Astra Red Line would be easy to do as there is already a turbo, sports model of the Astra sold in Europe.

Saturn also has a new people mover in the Outlook crossover that will likely replace the Relay in the Saturn line.

Chevy has as much as confirmed a super-car version of the Corvette that should debut at next year's Detroit show. Expected to pack over 600hp and possibly carry the Corvette SS name - this $100k version of the Corvette should set the supercar establishment on its ear.

Speaking of the SS sub-brand, Chevy has all but announced that SS will now only apply to true sports machines...not just sporty versions of everything they make. The Equinox Sport was announced recently with a 3.6l V-6 but without the SS badge that had SS fans fuming. I'd expect SS to only appear on Corvette, Camaro, and a new Zeta-based Impala that is expected in a year or so. Trucks, SUVs and front-drive cars will likely make due with the 'Sport' badge.

Cadillac is still on a roll...the Chicago show brought the 2008 CTS with familiar, yet more elegant styling, a direct-injection 300+ hp version of the 3.6 V6 (the previous 3.6 becomes the base engine with the 2.8 V6 becoming an export-market only powertrain). Transmissions are now all 6-speed and rumors abound of a wagon and coupe version to come in a year or so. New interiors are all over the place, starting with the SRX, now coming in the new CTS and also in a mid-cycle refresh of the STS. Cadillac is even more of a legitimate player in the upper lux segment.

GMC has the new Acadia crossover and an upcoming Yukon hybrid. Buick has a V-8 version of the Lacrosse coming as well as the stunning Enclave crossover. Hummer has more powerful engines for the H3...but not much else exciting for these three brands.

Until next time...

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