24 December 2010

Honda North American Production 1982-2009

Honda started making cars in North America in 1982, when 1,000 units were manufactured in Marysville, Ohio. The following year was the first full year and 55,000 Accord cars rolled off the production line. The Civic joined it in 1986 and by the end of that year, Accords started to be made in Ontario, Canada. All up, 240,000 cars were made in North America for that year. From there other notable dates:

1989: Ontario switched to Civic production, and the East Liberty Plant, Ohio was opened in the US for mainly Civic manufacture.
1990: The 500,000 mark was passed in production with 330,000 Accords and 210,000 Civics.
1996: Acura production commenced in East Liberty and Canada. Modest manufacturing volume of the Accord also started in El Salto, Mexico.
1998: Acura manufacture starts to switch from East Liberty to Maysville, Ohio and the Oddessy production is up and running in Ontario.
2000: One million cars are produced in North America for the first time.
2007: More models are added in the 21st century, as are new factories and production reaches a peak of 1,430,000 units.
2009: The year finished just over the million mark with the recession biting hard.

It’s amazing how things moved so quickly with production volumes for Honda Nth America. All Japanese brands have gone down the same road to avoid a consumer backlash against too many imported cars. Most of the 21 million cars that have been made up to now by Honda North America have been for their domestic markets, with exports amounting to only a few percent of that total.

What it means to me: The Japanese car manufacturing invasion was only possible due to the complacency of the ‘Big Three’ US car makers.

18 December 2010

Ariel Ltd

The Ariel car company was originally started in 1991 and called Solocrest Limited. It became Ariel Ltd in 2001 and can be found in the English county of Somerset. It is a very small car firm and makes less than 100 cars per year.

The vehicle it makes is the Ariel Atom, lightweight with blistering performance. The one sold in the UK uses a Honda Civic Type-R engine/gearbox for propulsion, while the US version is powered by a supercharged GM Ecotec engine. The Atom is a road car with no body panelling at all, not even a roof to keep you dry. In England's wet weather, a real problem at times I would imagine. The body therefore simply consists of tubular framing, the obvious advantage being lightness. This is a car that works within Lotus' founder Colin Chapman's mantra of speed achieved through light weight. It tips the scales at less than 500 kg (1,100 lb), so its power-to-weight ratio is impressive. The Ariel website describes it as: "Uniquely designed, beautifully made, astonishing performance. The essence of the Atom is no compromise, total driver involvement."

Ariel is about to embark on a V8 car, the Atom 500, to be made in a limited run of 25 units. I cannot see the point, but for some enough is never enough.

What it means to me: I would love to drive one, either on a race track or down a twisting back road. Oh well, dreams are free.

14 December 2010

UK Market: 1984 to 2010 Comparison

Back in 1984, things were different in the UK car market. The cars bought for example, comparing the top 10 from 1984 on the left and 2010 on the right (2010 est. – based on SMMT data):

1 Ford Escort 157350 - Ford Fiesta 105000
2 Vaux Cavalier 132150 - Vauxhall Astra 80000
3 Ford Fiesta 125850 - Vauxhall Corsa 79000
4 Aust/MG Metro 117450 - Ford Focus 77000
5 Ford Sierra 113000 - VW Golf 59000
6 Aust/MG Maestro 83000 - VW Polo 46000
7 Vauxhall Astra 56500 - Peugeot 207 44000
8 Vauxhall Nova 55450 - BMW 3 Series 43000
9 Ford Orion 51000 - BMW MINI 40000
10 340 Volvo 35000 - Nissan Qashqai 39500

Most of the 1984 cars were UK built, now only Astra, MINI and Qashqai (Fiesta and Focus have UK engines, as do some 3 Series). Another point of difference is that the top 10 in ’84 had 53% of the total market, whereas the 2010 top 10 has fewer than 30%. Why this has happened I can only speculate. One reason may be that in 1984, the company you worked for chose company cars, now the worker does the choosing. Also, there is more variety to select from and the public seem to be taking advantage of that. Brand loyalty may not be so strong either.

Whatever the reasons, in 1984 five models exceeded 100,000 sales out of a 1,750,000 total. This year total sales will exceed 2m but only one model will squeak in over the 100k figure. Ford and Vauxhall still dominate but the Austin Rover Group of ’84 now exists only as Jaguar/Land Rover.

What it means to me: It's a shame Austins are not still around.

13 October 2010

Who Choses The Car?

If you go to a house and find it not well cleaned, who do you blame? The wife. Then you notice the lawn is very long. Ah, the man is responsible for that. I know it's not fair, after all women can mow lawns too. But seriously, who gets the blame if the family car is dull and to put it bluntly, an uninspired choice? The man of course. He may have as much say as to which car adorns the drive as he would in deciding where, for example, the Marigolds are to be planted. Still, he will be credited with the decision. However, he may have taken the option to buy what suits others, not his preferred drive (such men do exist ladies). I think such a practical choice would be a good one. Why? Well, it is a sensible man who puts the needs of wife and offspring ahead of his own. I applaud that.

Now imagine seeing a sporty car with large racing stripes, pretending to be family transport. This is usually a male petrol head choice, a man that has never lost the urge to play with toys. The kind of man that needs a woman to remind him that a mature decision dictates putting the families' needs ahead of his own wants. If you have more than a one car family, then of course, personal choice comes into play. Otherwise, you buy what is required. That is the grown up, mature way.

What it means to me: A car is first and foremost transport.

10 October 2010

Cars And Councils

In the UK, whenever a council buys a new car for the Mayor, a section of the community insist it must be a green Prius or a low cost car to reflect fiscal responsibility.

BBC Leicester recently reported that a union criticised Leicestershire County Council for leasing a new Jaguar despite needing to make cuts of £94m. The council is apparently leasing a diesel Jaguar for £13,000 a year to transport the chairman to civic events.
On the one side, Josie Nicholls from Unison, said it was disgraceful at a time when the council was having to make job cuts. Ms Nicholls said: "It's arrogance. It's saying 'we're more important' than home carers who are looking after vulnerable people or teaching assistants, who are low-paid and don't need a 'Jag' to do their work. In this period, it's wrong having vehicles such as this when people are losing their jobs."
The other point of view is from Nick Rushton, deputy leader of the council, who said it was essential to have a prestigious car for civic events. The article noted the council was 'Conservative-run'. Mr Rushton said the car replaced a petrol Jaguar and would save £11,000 a year on fuel. He said: "We've always had a car for civic and official engagements. A diesel Jaguar is not meant to be super posh. We do need a civic car for the head of the civic services for the county council. I'm proud that the head of our civic duties is conveyed around in a car that carries prestige."

So should those who attend civic functions turn up in a nice car, or an everyday hack? Will a nice car mean that carers for the aged and teaching assistance be thrown out of a job because of it? Clearly, wasting money that could be better spent is bad. All the same, someone with an important post undermines their position if they turn up in a Skoda. That is why company CEOs drive prestige cars. It does make a perceptional difference whether we like it or not. Buying a cheaper car wouldn't actually save much at all.

What it means to me: While I'm all for restraint when spending public money, purchasing a good car may be necessary when image is important.

24 September 2010

Girls And Cars

Cars are beautiful and they are certainly all the more appealing with an attractive girl. Below are some examples.

Here is a very nicely dressed, classy model with an exotic car. She really makes the photo don't you think?

Likewise with this model. Sitting on the bonnet and looking most elegant.

This woman obviously enjoys the attention next to a car of this style and class.

Finally, a young woman enjoying the spotlight with a ...Yugo??? Hasn't she noticed what she is sitting on? I guess she is doing what she is paid to do. However, even she cannot make this car look good.

The bottom line: If someone thought a beautiful model can make any car look good needs to realise that the impossible is just that..

12 September 2010

TVR Sports Cars

In the 1950s, TreVoR Wilkinson started making TVR sports cars (his first name was used to create the name). They made light cars with big engines and developed a cult like following. The company was eventually bought by a Russian man, Nikolai Smolenski and shortly thereafter, the company closed in 2006. There has been much speculation since about its revival and it may now do so in Germany.

As to what went wrong, I think it was a case of too many eggs in one basket, ie the UK market. TVR from 2001 to 2006, averaged only 10% of production for export. As a comparison, in 2008 both Morgan and Caterham exceeded 50% of production exported and Lotus 75%. This was critical for Lotus, whose UK sales fell from 1,300 in 2002 to less than 500 in 2009. I cannot compare sales, but TVR production fell from nearly 1,700 in 1998 to 700 in 2005. It seems the sports car market in the UK was shrinking and TVR was left vulnerable. The fact is, even when things were better, making money out of relatively small runs of sports cars was difficult.

TVR was a fascinating part of UK car making, which collectively is a shadow of its former self. The British have great ideas and made some great cars, but lack of investment and aggressive sales marketing has led to its current position of a few makers in foreign hands. The Germans have shown that making unattractive, sterile cars is very profitable if you invest in R&D and plant, make them well and push hard in marketing.

The bottom line: TVR has gone but their cars must have brought grins to the faces of many an owner.

11 June 2010

Range Rover's 40th Anniversary

On June 17th of 1970, the Range Rover was released. It was the second vehicle in the range, joining the 4x4 Land Rover now known as the Defender (article below). This was the the 'car for all reasons', a mix of luxury, cross country, estate (wagon) and performance. Of course it is much more up market now than it was then. The fact is however, it was thought a crazy idea because it was answering the question no one was asking "Who wants an off road luxury car?" Well thousands did and it took off straight away. As to why Rover went ahead with the Range Rover was either typical British eccentric thinking or a stroke of genius.

The design was very good, even by todays standards. So good that it is the only car to be exhibited at the Louvre Museum as automotive art. The original was a relatively basic vehicle inside, with no wood, leather, or carpet. The seats and flooring were vinyl to make it easy to hose out. It's towing capabilities and high speed cruising speed were big pluses that were emphasised on its release. It took 11 years to get four doors and 26 years before it got its first facelift. Each new Range Rover model has got more upmarket, which reflects the increasing standards of luxury expected by buyers. To see a video of the 40th anniversary, use the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VskcvLU7eRU&feature=digest

The original shape is iconic and the latest follows in its footsteps as being peerless in style and execution. Many pretenders have come on the market since the original, but they merely follow the best 4x4 by far.

The bottom line: The Range Rover is big, strong and pure class.

22 May 2010

Bufori Geneva

Motoring has always had its eccentric brands and Bufori is no exception. It's a Malaysian firm making old style cars. The operations started over 20 years ago in Australia, until the headquarters and production were transferred to Malaysia in 1994. Bufori is specialised in building cars in the classic design of the 1930's, incorporating state-of-the-art technology.

The current model is the La Joya, something like a Morgan car but not as nice (I think). The new model is the Geneva (pictured). Each of the Geneva vehicles moves through 24 production stages and requires more than 6,000 man hours to create. So they are not cheap. The are only sold in a few countries but expanding slowly.

I'd have to say I would never own one, but I could see why some may be attracted to its olde worlde charm with a modern twist. It would look smart parked outside the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. A very unusual car.

The bottom line: It certainly adds variety to an all to often predictable motoring landscape.

25 April 2010

Car Styling

I am a believer that a car should be more than just well engineered, though that is very important. It also needs to have a 'wow' factor, or at least be pleasing on the eye.

I feel that Italian styling with cars is good. From Ferrari to Alfa, they look right and thankfully are better engineered than they used to be.

I also like the style of what is left of the British car industry; Aston Martin, Land Rover and Jaguars are examples of what I'm talking about.

The French can be stylish but they don't set the pace as they used to in the style department.

The USA is a mixed bag, from the 'box on wheels' Jeeps, to the iconic Corvettes and Mustangs. Japanese tastes are far too conservative and it shows in their cars. In a word boring.

The Germans are obsessed with engineering and style is secondary. I quite like where the Volkswagen brand is heading, whereas the German premium brands are losing their way. The styling direction of Daimler is shown below in this concept. Does it push the right buttons for you? Is this the shape to enhance Mercedes Benz cars?

The bottom line: Taste in styling is subjective, but this to my eyes is getting into the ugly zone.