Friday, February 11, 2005

Carver - A three wheeled General?

In hemi obsessed America, it's hard to imagine a 4 cylinder 65 hp sports car winning over the hearts and souls of driving enthusiasts. The American automotive fun barometer has long been dominated by the number of cylinders under one's hood. Sure there are some fun four cylinder cars, but if you ever want to have an extreme Moutain Dew, Dukes of Hazard-type experience, you need a V8, 300+ horses, and 3.0 liters. Yet, 65 hp is all that propels the amazingly entertaining three wheel Dutch Carver. Indeed, even though a 2-liter bottle of Dew has more volume then Carver's 660cc engine, it delivers more thrills and lead-foot fun than any muscle car. The secret to the Carver's success is the fact that it's a crossover vehicle, but not of the Freestyle verity. This is a totally unique crossover that combines the sporting benefits and motoring virtues of two wheel transportation with the practical nature and safety of traditional motorcars. At the heart of this package is Carver's unique steering and suspension system that allows the entire vehicle to bank like a motorcycle. With a standard automotive steering wheel, Carver drivers can literally turn into bends. The experience looks amazing, but where are the good old boys going to put their flag?

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Not so Smart

What started as a happy story with a joint venture between the world's most respected auto manufacturer and the world's most popular watch company, is beginning to look more like a everyone's worst nightmare. Morgan Stanley is now urging DaimlerChrysler to dump the Smart brand entirely. The whole enchilada. The advice mirrors that given to BMW in 2000, when investors demanded the sale of Rover, BMW's loss laden unit. For BMW, the move proved successful, and that's what probably spurred the recent recommendations that DC do the same. Smart has already delayed its U.S. premier indefinitely, so the writing is on the wall. I don't want to ruin the story for you, but the Smart days are over. Perhaps they could unload the operation on Mitsubishi? There is a winning combination.

Ugly face? Depends on the body...

Subaru's have always had a face only a mother could love. Unsurprisingly, the new, bloated Tribeca SUV is no exception. At the heart of Subaru's new look is Andreas Zapatinas' airplane inspired grill. Looking awkward on the Tribeca's large frame, the same grill looks great on the Japanese R1 compact. What I cant' figure out is why? Maybe its the Tribeca's size as compared to the tiny R1. Indeed, the Tribeca looks almost like a caricature of Zapatinas's work. While I appreciate what Subaru is trying to do with the Tribeca, which is expand its traditional market, move upmarket, and create a brand identity, may I suggest a different approach? How about bringing the R1 to the U.S. as Subaru's Mini fighter? Subies are loyal customers and Subaru has enjoyed impressive sales growth over the last decade with a lineup that lacked style and hipness. Sure the WRX was popular, but that was with the Playstation crowd. The R1 is overflowing with style but retains the quirkiness that Subaru loyalists love. It's sure to be a hit.

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Gen.2 - Lotus boogaloo

An interesting perspective from down-under on a car that will never see the light of day here. Proton's Gen.2 looks like a compelling package for budget-constrained motoring enthusiasts. For those who aren't up on their South East Asian automakers, Proton is a Malaysian automaker that started in 1985 as a state-owned entity. For most of the company's history, its cars were based on Mistusbishi technology and were considered basic transportation at best. In 1996, Proton attempted to establish itself as a major world player when it bought ailing Lotus. And that brings us to the Gen.2, Proton's first effort to build a car from the ground up. Lotus engineers, Proton proudly points out, assisted in the development, and from the early reviews that assistance has paid off. For its price, the Gen.2 appears to be a compelling package; Alfa Romeo meets Kia. The interior looks incredibly detailed for a small car and shows clear Lotus influence. Even the lack of a glove compartment can be excused as an homage to the Elise's sparten interior. I envy the Aussies and Brits, Lotus handling for just pennies, that's a sweet deal.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Fiat Panda, the little car that could

It is well established that Europeans have an affection for small cars that is unmatched here in the U.S. Well, now the love is spreading to SUVs, mini SUVs at that. The compact SUV market is one of the hottest automotive segments in Europe. Ford, Honda, and Suzuki all sell pint-sized SUVs in Europe that are significantly smaller than anything offered here. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, the troubled Italian automaker Fiat has recently introduced an all new version of its adorable Fiat Panda 4x4. The new Fiat Panda 4x4 is a little more rugged than its predecessor, but it still has those puppy dog eyes. Indeed, it might be the only diesel powered four wheel drive vehicle that one could describe as cute. Look at the little guy. Who's the cutest SUV, who's the cutest SUV. It looks like a compelling package off road too, but the lack of AC, as even an option, is inexcusable.

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Chevrolet Kalos? What you talking about!

Bet you've never heard of the Chevy Kalos? What about the Tacuma? Or the Lacetti? Nope. Well, neither has most of Europe, the new market for these vowel laden marquees. While the names Vectra and Astra, of GM's Opel division, are European staples, most old-world motorist will have as much trouble remembering these names as you or I. Well that is all about to change. With a flashy website and lots of marketing euros, Chevrolet is in the midst of a major European offensive. Over the last three weeks, GM has launched three new Chevys in Europe. Don't expect to see Monte Carlo's on the Autobahn, Chevy's European expansion will be fueled by a portfolio of cars from Daewoo's former inventory and is aimed almost excusively at those with a limited budget. Indeed, many of these new Chevys are the same cars leading Suzuki's expansion in the U.S. So what have we learned? Chevy is now the Geo of Europe. Hopefully things turn out better. But GM's track record of brand swapping is ... not so good.

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Monday, February 07, 2005

Revenge of the Weak Dollar

Mercedes unexpectedly decided today not to launch the new B-Class compact in the US because of the weak exchange rate between the dollar and the Euro. Interestingly, the company will continue with B-Class launches in both Canada and Mexico. While exchange rate concerns are certainly a factor in this decision, they are far from the only one. Mercedes has been increasingly uncertain about the small wagon's prospects in the U.S. market, and for good reason. The C-coupe was never a big seller and other European makes have had problems pushing their small cars. The truth is American's don't traditionally buy expensive small cars. That's why it will be interesting to see how the upcoming A3 sells. If it's well received, Mercedes and BMW might reconsider their decisions not to import the 1-Series and B-Class. Hopefully they do.

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OnStar for the entire EU

Taking an impressively progressive stance on safety, the European Union recently advised that all new cars sold in Europe should be equipped with technology similar to the OnStar service currently offered by GM. Dubbed eCall, the service will allow passengers to make emergency phone calls and will automatically contact emergency services in the event of an accident. Under a framework agreed to by the majority of Europe's automotive producers, eCall will become standard on all European cars, regardless of price, by 2009. Operators at EU emergency hotline number "112" will need to know more than 15 languages in order to effectively render services across the continent. Think the U.S. will follow?