30 December 2007

Ellesmere Port Vauxhall

Getting information on the above mentioned plant is not easy. However, car production started there in 1963 and is the only GMV plant making cars after the Luton plant ceased production in the year 2000.

Today the Ellesmere Port plant builds the Astra and Astra Van; in 2006 at the rate of 147,500. GM has put all it's European plants under pressure to meet efficiency targets or be closed. Recently Ellesmere Port was assured of a future by being granted as being one of the factories to make the next Astra. Of course, the UK market is very important to GM. In 2006, 350,000 Vauxhalls were sold and 40,000 other GM vehicles. Even the larger German market couldn't match that and the gap widened in 2007. So GM needs to make cars in such an important European market.
I guess I have an interest in that I spent the first years of my life there before our family emigrated. My father worked there for Castrol, which decided the place of my birth.

So it is good to see that Ellesmere Port Vauxhall has a future. it's made many vehicles in it's time. In fact, in 2005 a milestone was reached when the 4 millionth vehicle rolled off the production line.

What 2008 Will Bring

I'm no soothsayer but I will have a stab at what I think will be happening on the automotive landscape next year. Rather than evaluate by brand, I thought I would look at some countries.

USA: The big three look vulnerable. GM is fighting hard to stay #1 but Toyota will win that one, either in '07 or '08. Ford and Chrysler are not well. Expect falling sales as they strive to make money.

Japan: Getting stronger. It's hard to say something negative here. Toyota has hit a wall in Europe but they are winning everywhere else so it's hardly noticeable. Basically the success seems driven by a reputation for reliability and reasonable value for money. Expect more good news for Nipponese manufacturers in '08.

Germany: Much the same as Japan but being achieved for slightly different reasons. They don't offer value for money and VW struggles to be a big player outside Europe for that reason. However, the other brands, which are more upmarket, are not affected by that. What they all offer is a strong image, good driving dynamics and ever expanding model ranges.

France: They have been not proactive enough in recent years with product. The absence of SUVs testifies to that. PSA are buying a Mitsubishi 4wd to address that a little. Profitability has slipped as they failed to keep up with the play and profits were eroded as they tried to maintain market share in Europe. They seem to now be focusing on improved product and will take a hit on the sales chart to get profit up, Renault in particular.

China: Most Chinese vehicles are for local consumption for the time being so I don't know much about them. The local market is huge and with protection in place to limit imports, China will make cars aplenty. Despite this, they seem in an indecent hurry to establish a presence around the world. But they will do themselves no favours if they simply copy other designs which they have been doing at times, and if they crumple like tissue paper at the sign of an impact. The car market in western markets is far too sophisticated to buy on price alone. As my dad used to say: More haste, less speed.

Korea: Having established their reputation on price, they are now trying to prove themselves on quality. I must say that they are doing a good job on that front. It's hard to make money at the bottom end of the price market and the Chinese will be there soon enough so the timing is right. It takes awhile to gain a reputation. It won't happen overnight but it will happen, as long as they keep quality as their focus.

Italy: After a rough ride where the Italian (read Fiat Group) lost their way, things are looking better. Product is improving and reliability issues are being resolved. They mustn't take their eye off the ball though, as the car market of today is so competitive. An Italian style must be maintained to offer something different too.

UK: The death of MGR as the last locally owned volume maker could have made the UK's inclusion redundant. However, it still has local brands with a strong identity that is uniquely British.

Land Rover, Bentley and Aston Martin will consolidate but must get their average carbon emissions down, which they are all working on I'm sure. Jaguar will do well with the XF but chasing big volumes isn't where Jaguar ought to be. UK Japanese factories are all getting close to capacity with production so no problems there. I admire their sticking with a high cost country rather than 'doing a Peugeot' and going east. Overall a solid market but reaching a ceiling volume wise.

28 December 2007

Magna Steyr, A Real Stayer

Magna Steyr is an unusual company as although it is a vehicle manufacturer, it only assembles automobiles for other companies. It is not a car company itself. It is located in Oberwaltersdorf, Eastern Austria and is a subsidiary of Canadian company Magna International, which manufactures auto parts. Its current production involves all BMW X3 (soon to move to the US), Chrysler Voyager & 300, Jeep Commander & Grand Cherokee, Mercedes Benz E-Class 4wd & G-Class as well as the Saab 9-3 Cabrio. As the X3 is moving, BMW has decided to have the MINI 4wd model made there. There isn't anymore capacity in the UK at MINI Oxford, so the lost production at Magna Steyr will be ideal. I don’t agree with the decision but I can see why it has gone that way.

As for 2006 figures, they made 114,000 X3s for BMW, 90,000 Chrysler/Jeeps. I’m unsure of the others. One source said 25,000 Mercs and another 4,000 (slight difference). For Mercedes, it could be 4,000 E-Class cars and 25,000 if you include the G-Class. The same problem with Saab, 37,000 from two sources and 18,500 from another two. I wonder if half are made at GM Graz and the other half at Magna Oberwaltersdorf. As for the total production, I read that production is 200,000 per annum for the plant, but it could be closer to 250,000 looking at the figures individually, so take what you wish from all that.

Any manufacturer such as Magna Steyr surely must be even more vulnerable than other factories to keep production as manufacturers only contract the work out to them. However, if they develop a good record of quality and reasonable costs associated with the assembly, I guess work will always come.

26 December 2007

NedCar, Netherlands

NedCar, or Netherlands Car B.V. is owned by Mitsubishi Motors. It is the only major car maker in the Netherlands. It is situated in Born, in southeastern Netherlands somewhere near Maastricht. It has produced 4.5 million cars since 1967 and production peaked in 1999 at 260,000 vehicles. It started making DAF cars and did so until 1976, then Volvos from 1975 to 2004. Mitsubishi got involved and made cars from 1995 to the present and smart Forfour cars were made there from 2004 to '06.

Did you get all that? Complicated. The problem is it shouldn't exist and wouldn't but for government intervention in the early 90's. The government slipped out of the arrangement in 1999, Volvo too in 2001, leaving Mitsubishi the sole owner. In 2006 only about 70,000 Colts and the last of the smarts (15,000 or so) were made. With the Colt the only model being made in 2007 and nothing guaranteed beyond 2009, it seemed the end of the factory was nigh. However, the Outlander SUV has been confirmed from 2008, so it has had yet another reprieve. One wonders how much longer it can survive, but NedCar in Born has a future for the time being.

23 December 2007

Jaguar XF

Some say that Jaguar's future is dependant on the success of the new XF. Journalists & editors love a dramatic headline but the marque is strong enough to go on regardless. The XF won't bomb as it's just too good. But if it did, it would mean the brand was sufficiently damaged so that even a good car couldn't sell with the leaping cat attached. That would probably mean making it a niche brand and greatly reduced production volumes and trying to restore the image.

However, there is no point speculating about what won't happen. It will go well and volumes will climb after it's introduction in spring of 2008. It has up to date looks and features, oozing style from every pore. The interior hasn't been forgotten either, which is classy, with some novelty features like the round gear selector which rises from the centre console when you start the engine. If Jaguar can sell all they can make, they will be more than happy.

The 2.7 V6 diesel would be my pick but it also has a normally aspirated 3.0 V6 and a supercharged V8 as well, both petrol. With the excellent auto transmission of course.
So I'll take a stab at how many they will sell in '08. Bearing in mind it won't be a full years sales, I'm picking about 20,000. We will see.

21 December 2007

I Be Talking 'Bout Honda Swindon, Wiltshire

The Honda Swindon site was formerly an airfield and an aircraft production facility where, during World War II, Spitfire fighter aeroplanes were produced by Vickers. Honda uses one of the airfield’s former runways as the on-site test track.

Honda bought the site in 1985 and initially it was a pre-delivery inspection facility for cars built by Rover, then badged as Hondas. Honda then opened an engine assembly facility making units for Honda and Rover cars. Car Plant 1 came started in 1992 and in 2001 Car Plant 2 was added. Initially just over 100,000 cars were made annually, but in 2002, the numbers increased to about 185,000. However, an increase again will lift production to about 230,000 for '07, 135,000 Civics and 95,000 CRVs. Next year should see the maximum 250,000 reached with four shifts. Over 150,000 petrol and Diesel engines are also made there each year, but this figure isn't as up to date as the car production figures. Currently about 5,000 people are employed there.

Late 2007, Honda Swindon produced the millionth Civic. Civic production began on September, 1994 and in that first year just 6,652 Civics were produced. Cars are exported to over 60 countries and Honda has invested £1.38billion in Swindon.
This the only Honda plant in the world manufacturing the Civic 3 and 5 door models.

15 December 2007

Where They Sell. Case Study: France

Three brands considered: Renault, Peugeot Citroen.

Renault: It’s home market share from 2001 forward has dropped from up to 27% to 22% and West European (WE) share slumped from 10.5 to 7.5%. It’s home market / WE split is about 38/62. It’s home sales are about 25% of world sales, and sales outside WE are 36%. Sales are falling in WE and it needs to broaden it’s world sales, which it seems to be trying to do. For it’s long term benefit, the sooner the better.

Peugeot: It’s home market share from 2001 forward has dropped from nearly 21% in ’01 to 17% in ’07. WE share down from 9 to 7%. It’s home market / WE split is about 33/67. It’s home sales are about 20% of world sales, and sales outside WE are 39%. More balanced in worldwide sales than Renault but still could be broader .

Citroen: It’s home market share from 2001 forward has been about 13%. WE share 6%. It’s home market / WE split is about 30/70. It’s home sales are about 21.5% of world sales, and sales outside WE are a poor 27%. Far too reliant on WE.

Combined: The three brand’s home market share has dropped from about 60% to around 52% from ’01 to ‘0. WE share also dropped from about 26% in ’02 to 21% now. Their home market / WE split is about 35/65. Their home sales are about 22% of world sales, and sales outside WE are 35%. Renault, Peugeot & Citroen rely too much on WE.

Where They Sell. Case Study: Germany

Four brands considered: VW, Daimler (M Benz), BMW & Audi.

VW: It’s home market share from 2001 forward has been between 19 to 20% and West European (WE) share 10 to 11%. It’s home market / WE split is about 40/60. It’s home sales are about 20% of world sales, and sales outside WE are 55%. A well balanced sales mix which minimizes it’s risk. Presently it’s home market is in slump but it isn’t affecting it too badly. Much of it’s rest of world sales are in China, a market it got into before other brands, and profited accordingly.

Mercedes: It’s home market share from 2001 forward has dropped from 12% in ’01 to 10% in 06, but recovered a little in ’07. WE share 5%. It’s home market / WE split is about 50/50. It’s home sales are about 28% of world sales, and sales outside WE are 40%. A little too reliant on the German market.

BMW:It’s home market share from 2001 forward has climbed from 7% in ’01 to 8% in ’07. WE share 4.6%. It’s home market / WE split is about 40/60. It’s home sales are about 23% of world sales, and sales outside WE are 45%. A more balanced sales mix than Daimler.

Audi: Their home market share from 2001 forward has been around 7.5%, climbing to 8% in ’07. WE share 4.3%. Their home market / WE split is about 40/60. Their home sales are about 28% of world sales, and sales outside WE are 22.5%. Relies heavily on WE.

Combined: The four brand’s home market share is around 45%, WE share about 24%. Their home market / WE split is about 40/60. Their home sales are about 23% of world sales, and sales outside WE are 47%. VW, Daimler, BMW & Audi have strong sales spread across world markets.

28 November 2007

Way To Go Morgan

The Morgan Motor Company is was founded in 1909 by Mr Morgan (surprise, surprise). The factory is in Malvern, Worcestershire and all the cars are hand built. The waiting list used to be about four years but I mean who wants to wait four years for a car? The waiting list is now a year or less due to increased production. 650 were built in 2006, up from 600 the year before. Most I assume are destined for the UK market, but I don’t know how many. Germany takes about 80 per annum.

The standard model has been going since 1968, as sticking to the tradition is one of the trademarks of the company. There is a two seater 4/4 with a 1.8 motor, a Plus 4 with a 2 litre engine and a 3 litre V6 Roadster. There is also and a four seater model as a Plus 4 or V6 Roadster.

The other model is the Aero 8, with a V8 motor, which has been around only since 2000. It was face lifted in 2006.
Many can’t see the point in making what they see as outdated cars, and mock them as antiquated. I’d imagine for driving thrill, nothing comes close. Old style sports cars were raw and exciting, modern ones smooth yet sterile in comparison. I for one love their sticking with the traditional sports car. The fact they have survived so long and continue to prosper indicates I’m not alone in feeling such. Bravo Morgan.

24 November 2007

Was It Smart?

The original idea behind the smart car was that the vehicle would be easy to drive and park in congested cities. It is short enough to allow it to be parked facing the kerb. The car started selling in 1998 with initial sales encouraging. This led to an expanding of the smart car brand with the introduction of the Roadster and Roadster-Coupe in 2003 and the Forfour sedan in 2004.

Smarts were made in France exclusively up to 2004 but then the smart Forfour were produced in The Netherlands. There the car shared most of its components with the Mitsubishi Colt, which was made there also. However The Forfour and Roadster bombed, as consumers found them to be overpriced and not in keeping with the simplicity of the original idea.

The failure led to a dramatic downturn in smart's fortunes, which led DaimlerChrysler's to consider stopping production altogether. The cars were losing Mercedes Benz a bundle of money. However, it has been kept alive around the basic car only, renamed Fortwo which debuted in 2006. With only a slight increase in size, the look of the original city car remained, but the interior and often-criticized transmission received significant changes and safety was improved. So with the new smart fortwo, how does it rate?

What's good: A design classic; easy to park in crowded cities; quite safe, low carbon emissions.

What's not: Expensive, auto gearbox still jerky and no manual gearbox; cheap feel to the interior. You can get a decent, small four-seater for less.

Overall: It is so-so on the open road so it's really best used around town.

Sales: 2000 100,000 2001-3 120,000 per year 2004 170,000 2005 125,000 2006 85,000 2007 (10 mths) 80,000. The 2004 figure was helped by all three models, but 2005 saw only 45,000 ForFours and 3,000 Roadsters. Best countries: Germany 50,000 (2004) Italy 42,000 (2005).

Why didn’t MB bite the bullet years ago and kill the whole thing instead of stubbornly keeping on going? Maybe it wouldn’t be good for German/French relations. Were the executives too proud to admit their mistake? Pride can hurt you and this car has certainly done that for MB. When smart creators Swatch went to VW to make the car, they wouldn’t. That should have set alarm bells ringing. It didn’t for MB execs and that decision has cost them big time, billions of Euros in fact. It may be easy to park and frugal sipping fuel, but most want more than that and smart just cannot deliver. It proved not to be that smart an idea in the end.

23 November 2007


In the 1920’s Karl Maybach started making expensive limousines. During World War II, Maybach built tank and boat engines. After the war, the German economy could not support a premium automobile and production never resumed. Only 1,800 were made over 20 years which wasn’t too shabby for the time I’d imagine. The brand disappeared until the 21st century when Mercedes Benz resurrected it to be the ultimate luxury car. Has it worked?

As a car: Apparently it is fast considering it’s size. However, it’s Ride & handling is less composed than you would expect from a limousine at this price. It is very expensive to buy and own (no surprise there then). Each is hand made and be specified to your taste. They are so roomy, even the rear seats recline.

Sales: 2002: 900, 2003: 550, 2004: 250 2005/06: 300 each year, 2007 Jan-Oct 260. In comparison, Rolls Royce sold 800 last year and will nudge 1,000 this year. Bentley has in excess of 10,000 in it’s sights for ’07. (To be fair, Bentley sales include the ‘down market’ Continental range).

Now 29 of Maybach’s original 71 US dealers have given up their franchises; in turn, Mercedes has offered compensation to those dealers. Maybach dealers spent up to US$500,000 apiece to build dealerships. But US sales never approached the goal of 600 units per annum. In 2006, Mercedes sold 146 Maybachs in the US.

Why has it failed? It’s a limited market anyway, Bentley & RR have more established names and Maybachs are downright ugly to many including yours truly. To think that it could sell the numbers MB thought is amazing. It probably hasn’t cost MB too much as they do not appear to have put much money into it. Why don’t they just put it out to pasture and the old marque slip back into history and leave it in peace.

14 November 2007

Ugly Cars (In My Eyes Anyway)

They say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, meaning each individual sees beauty differently. What constitutes ugly is the same. When I look at a car, I immediately get a positive or negative impression. I find German cars tend to be ugly as the design brief seems to put too much emphasis on a practical aspect which over rides aesthetics. So here are some examples of German automotive ugliness:

Mecedes CLS. Look at its side profile. It may be aerodynamic and ride well but the lines toward the rear just look wrong. It's too flattened, the windows look poorly shaped and I'd imagine it would be pretty claustrophobic in the rear seat department. To me it is sooooo ugly.

Another ugly car from the Fatherland is the Porsche Cayenne. This car makes a bullfrog look gorgeous. The idea is to make an aerodynamically shaped SUV. While Porsche may have achieved their objective in that sense, ascetically it fails in my opinion. To manage both objectives would not be an easy design to do. Other SUV makers realise that 4wds just are not going to cut through the air like a low slung sports car so they just make them good looking. It's a pity that Porsche didn't understand that. Of course they sell, as some people go for the badge and a typical Cayenne buyer clearly have more dollars than sense. So in summary, while it tries hard, it fails in the looks area.

My final example of über ugly is the BMW 1 Series. Apparently it drives outstandingly. However, that apart, I can't see anything to recommend it. It's proboscis is long to say the least. The side profile looks contrived and the rear seat is a cramped place to be. The chopped off rear accentuates the long snout. That also equals a small boot. In other words, the driving experience is everything, practicalities = 0. It's proportions are all wrong, to the point of ugly.

So when engineering takes precedence over everything else, there is a price to pay. In many cases that means ugly and why cars from Deutchland seem to have a high percentage of ugly cars. British and Italian cars don't go for the ultimate in engineering, but they sure look nicer. In other words, a better balance.

08 November 2007

Lotus Cars

Lotus Cars is a manufacturer of sports cars known for their light weight and fine handling. It was founded by Colin Chapman in 1952 and is based in Hethel, Norfolk, UK. The site is a the former RAF base and the test track is the old runway. It entered Formula 1 in 1957 and took the world title seven times. It is now owned by Proton. Much of it’s business is in consultancy work, especially suspensions and powertrains for other manufacturers. It currently makes the Elise, Exige & recently Europa.

Getting production or sales figures is like trying to find water in the Sahara Desert. For example, I gleaned that 2006 production was 3,000. However, the US, it’s biggest market is a bit of a mystery. I was of the opinion about 2,500 were sold there, but if you add UK 820, Japan 450, France, Germany & Canada 130 odd each, Italy 80, Switzerland 75 etc, it’s gone well past 3k. I’m thinking the US figure is too high. Anyway, sales of sports cars is fickle, most sell in summer. Also, 5,000 were made in 2005, 2,000 more than '06. So that kind of fluctuation makes profit impossible.

Porsche is getting away from just sports cars as it nearly went broke not so long ago just relying on them. Lotus loses money but is a valuable contributor to the motor industry and adds character to the car market. Colin Chapman’s motto: "performance through light weight" has been faithfully adhered to and continues in the cars we see today.

30 October 2007

South Of The Border, Down Mexico Way

No I’m not breaking out into song, just looking at the Mexican market. In 2001, there were 16 car brands plying their trade. By 2006, there were 27. The big 5 of 2001 have naturally lost market share as the new arrivals took some for themselves. The head honcho in the market, GM, only lost .4 % share while # 4 VW lost 6% to just under 12%.



1 GM 200,000 21.9%
1 GM 250,000 21.5%
2 Nissan 190,000 21.1%
2 Nissan 230,000 20.0%
3 VW 160,000 17.7%
3 Ford 180,000 15.6%
4 Ford 158,000 17.3%
4 VW 135,000 11.8%
5 Chrysler 130,000 14.5%
5 Chrysler 130,000 11.3%
6 Honda 30,000 3.1%
6 Toyota 60,000 5.3%
7 Seat 13,000 1.4%
7 Honda 47,500 4.2%
8 Peugeot 6,500 0.7%
8 Seat 20,000 1.8%
9 BMW 6,400 0.7%
9 Renault 20,000 1.7%
10 Mercedes 3,800 0.4%
10 Mitsubishi 17,000 1.5%
11 Renault 3,600 0.4%
11 Peugeot 16,000 1.4%
12 Audi 3,000 0.3%
12 Mazda 7,500 0.7%
13 Volvo 2,300 0.3%
13 BMW 7,000 0.6%
14 Jaguar 1,200 0.1%
14 Mercedes 6,500 0.6%
15 Land Rover 850 0.1%
15 Lincoln 5,000 0.5%
16 Porsche 200 0.0%
16 Suzuki 4,500 0.4%

17 Audi 4,200 0.4%

18 Volvo 2,700 0.2%

19 MINI 1,800 0.2%

20 Acura 1,600 0.1%

21 Fiat 1,000 0.1%

22 Land Rover 750 0.1%

23 Porsche 650 0.1%

24 smart 600 0.1%

25 Jaguar 350 0.0%

26 Subaru 300 0.0%

27 Bentley 20 0.0%
Total 900,000

Total 1,150,000

So the market is expanding rapidly and rankings change faster than a model changing outfits in a fashion show. The new brands are a boon to the buyer but there will be winners & losers as the scrap unfolds. I say watch to see if VW rebounds & that Toyota will only go up from where it is. New boys Mazda, Suzuki, FIAT & Subaru will increase share until they reach their ceiling. GM has done well to hold it’s dominance, but I doubt they will keep it up.

...That's where I fell in love where stars above, came out to play...
And now as I wonder, my thoughts ever stray...South of the border, down Mexico way.

29 October 2007

Please, No Škoda Jokes

The history of the Škoda goes back to 1895 when they produced motorcycles & they were making cars by 1905. In 1925, it became part of the the biggest industrial enterprise in the land, Škoda Works. Thereafter it's cars bore that name. After world war 2, Škoda came under state control. They were sold in NZ & had a poor reputation but were cheap to buy. VW starting investing in Škoda and increasing their stake until eventually taking full ownership in 2000. Volkswagen has invested heavily in the company and it shows. In 2006, 550000 Škodas were made and while efforts have been made to sell to many markets, they remain heavily dependant on Europe. Individual models are listed below with 2006 manufacturing figures:

Octavia: 270000 manufactured. Made since 2004, it has good engineering and quality in a value package. It is roomy with a huge boot, economical to run, keen handling and an excellent ride. A drawback is that styling is conservative. This is in effect a lower price VW Golf with more room. The Octavia is a good car.

Fabia: 240000 produced The new 2007 model is a roomy, quality product, with a stylish appearance. It is a good fun to drive and a practical car with character. the Škoda Fabia is a great all round package with few niggles. If it didn't have a Škoda badge, you would think it was a VW.

Roomster: 25000 made and set to grow markedly. It hit the market in 2006 with a roomy, quirky yet likeable look. With versatile seating, good build quality, quiet, comfortable and even fun to drive. As with Škodas, good value too. You get the impression this sort of vehicle is a car of the future, very useful, highly individual-looking and great to live with.

Superb: 20000 made. Produced since 2002, it has more space than a Passat. It combines fit & finish, some clever design features and for the Scottish market, very good value. Those wanting a real quality car may find comfort and refinement a little disappointing. Buying a VW Passat or an Audi A4 never looked more pointless.

Škoda is going from strength to strength with it’s VW alliance and while efforts have been made to sell to more overseas markets, they remain heavily dependant on Europe. (In NZ for example, about 130 are sold each year from 2003 to 2006, but in 2007, Jan-Sep 140 were sold so an improvement). For Škoda to become truly successful as an international brand it will take much time & effort, as the Kiwi market is proving.

27 October 2007

SEAT, The Car Brand From Spain

SEAT stands for Spanish Society of Touring Cars. It was founded in 1950 I think as an initiative of Franco for a Spanish car. It ended up basically manufacturing rebadged FIAT cars. In 1900, VW took the reins but it remains a Spanish car company, situated near Barcellona. In 2006, 430000 came off the production lines. Sales have been around this figure for all the 21st Century. Production by model for 2006 are as follows:

Ibiza: 185000 made. It has been around since 2001 as a 3 or 5 Door hatch. It is well made, has a sporty interior, but doesn't deliver as much driving excitement as it promises. Nevertheless, it is still a good car.

Leon: 130000 produced. Introduced in 2005 as a 5 door hatch back, it is good looking, very spacious for occupants and very good value. Plenty of roar from this 'lion' it seems.

Altea: 60000 manufactured. Around since only 2004, it started as a hatchback, followed in '06 with an Estate model & '07 an MPV. It seems to mark a new era for Seat. Emphasis on a styled MPV, excellent to drive but not outstandingly versatile.

Cordoba: 30000 produced. Introduced in 2002, it is apparently a dull drive & not particularly well-equipped. A real weakness in the range, not doing the SEAT image much good.

Alhambra: 15000 made. Has been on the market since the year 2000 and is made in Portugal. A stylish vehicle, based on the same platform as the VW Sharan & Ford Galaxy, the Alhambra has proved to be highly popular as a result of its packaging, equipment levels, value for money & good build quality. Pity about the sales, it seems to deserve more.

Toledo: 9000 manufactured. This 5 door hatch has been around since 2004. It is reputed to be excellent to drive & good choice of engines, but similar to the Altea. Production numbers have steadily dwindled, which doesn't make sense.

Overall, an interesting brand that somehow doesn’t fit. It has a less expensive Alfa image which only works for some models. Then they throws in an MPV! It sales are flat and probably the most challenging marque of the VW stable. I can't see SEAT becoming big outside of Europe any time soon and it will have a fight keeping it's European share.

Jaguar, What Is Selling In 2007?

Top dog for Jag in 2007 is the X-Type, 16500 being made for the first 9 months. Sales down a third isn’t good on paper, but monetary loses on the model will have all but ended. The sales pain has been worth it. A freshen up of the car coming on line next year will help, but the fact that it is being pulled from the US market is disappointing.

The aging but better than ever S-Type comes in second with 11500 off the production line. Sales off 15% but with the replacement XF coming soon, that isn’t surprising.

Third comes the XK on 9000 units made. Mind you, I’m a bit surprised that production is down 10% on last year. The car is better than that. It has been rated as the best cruising car in the world. If you have to eat up miles with minimum tiredness. nothing does it better. So those in the know say anyway.

Lastly and expectly so, is the XJ. This is a seriously fine car, in fact best in it’s class by my reckoning. 8000 produced with only a 5% drop in sales despite Jag's walking away from volume sales in order to pursue more profitable ones. It looks conservative but that beats some of the trendy but ugly offerings from BMW/Merc.

What does 2008 portend for the brand? The X-Type will gain with the freshen up, but lose with no US market. So my pick is that it will probably do similar or slightly better sales. The new XF will easily swamp the S-Type numbers. XK will probably hold or slip slightly and the facelifted XJ may improve slightly. So production should be up but not enormously. This is where the marque wants to position itself. It no longer aspires to chase volume at any cost, but rather, to focus on modest sales and profitability. Good idea.

22 October 2007

Cars That Did Something Special (And One That Didn't)

Cars sometimes come along and do something special for one reason or another. I have selected a few of my picks of what some of those cars were.

Model T Ford.

Why I selected this car is that it was the first mass production car that brought personal transport to the masses. I don't see the car as anything special in itself but for bringing motoring to the people it has to be here. It's like what Charlie Chaplin did for movies.

The VW Beetle succeeded in a way that I still don't understand, but succeed it did. Rear engined, rear wheel drive, water cooled, nothing that we see today in smaller cars but all incorporated in the Bug. It had character, was reliable and the Germans are aggressive in marketing so maybe that all added up to the success it garnered.

The car that did change the way smaller cars were made is my next selection; the BMC Mini. It didn't sell in the numbers the Beetle did although it would have if the Germans had developed it. However, to mess up a winner like the Mini would be like not being able to sell a sunny holiday to a northern European in the middle of winter. You couldn't miss and neither did the Mini.

My personal favourite is the Range Rover. People drove 4wd vehicles to traverse rough terrain on farmland, not cruise down High St. It was the vehicle no one asked for, to do what no one had thought they wanted it to do. It had a level of refinement and therefore price that would surely send it into ignominy. That's what Land Rover's execs thought, but for whatever possessed them, they gave production the green light. It spawned a success that has seen the streets of every country in the world swarming with 4wd's and their popularity increases unabated. An amazing gamble that paid off handsomely. Land Rover itself hasn't capitalised as it should on started this genre, but that's the British for you.

I just had to add to this segment one car that was never going to cut it but was put on the market anyway. The Suzuki X-90, the most pointless vehicle I can think of. In a popularity contest with only itself entered, it would come last. It just goes to show sometimes the thing that looks like a ridiculous idea really is.