30 December 2010

Car Sales Hungary: 2009

Sales fell in Hungary from 155,000 in '08 to 60,000 in '09, a drop of 62%! Ouch. Another big fall is occurring in 2010 but not to the same degree. However, it must be hurting dealers. Figures vary depending how they are compiled but this is one way:

08 09 Make Sales Share
3 1 Ford 7300 12.1
1 2 Suzuki 6900 11.4
2 3 Opel 6800 11.3
4 4 VW 4700 7.8
8 5 Renault 3700 6.2
6 6 Toyota 3600 6.1
5 7 Skoda 2900 4.8
10 8 Fiat 2250 3.7
12 9 Honda 2150 3.6
17 10 BMW 2100 3.5

Suzuki usually is first as it makes cars in the country but even that could not keep them top. They are overachieving to be anywhere near the top. Hungary isn't a strong market for Japanese makes anyway. Ford has battled its way up the sales chart all decade and slipped past perennial #2 GM Opel. BMW had a massive jump from 17th to 10th over 2008.

The bottom line: Hungary is the worst performing market in Europe.

Regional Car Sales Within A Country

Car sales are published as a total for a country but do not show the variances within. Some of those differences can be marked. For instance, I read that in the USA, Jaguar cars make a third of their sales in just three states, NY, California and Miami. In England, regional differences are striking as the examples below show:

Nissan have double the sales in the North East as the national average. No surprises as Nissan have a factory there.

BMW is the best selling brand in Yorkshire/Humberside. I thought that they had more nous than that!

In the East Midlands, they like Jaguars and Land Rovers, while avoiding BMWs.

Meanwhile, in the West Midlands, GM Vauxhall is king, selling almost at double the England average.

Ford sells massively in East England, although I'm not exactly sure why that would be.(One reader has since emailed me to say Ford's large engine plant is within this area so that would contribute quite a lot of sales to the brand).

Londoners like Porsches, Mercs, Lexus and smarts. A mixtures of the self indulgent and greenies it seems.

What that brief list shows is that for various reasons, cars sell quite variably even within a country. It could depend on affluence, lifestyle and how strong the dealers are in an area.

What it means to me: An interesting exercise, but one that depends on knowing a country before it can make much sense.

Source: www.dft.gov.uk

26 December 2010

The Winners And Losers of 2010

Every year some win while others lose. 2009 had mainly losers due to the overall economic picture but 2010 saw an improvement in most countries. Despite the vagaries of the financial world, a list of winners and losers can always be compiled, even if the up or down is relative to the overall market place. So here are my picks of the winning and losing nameplates of 2010

The Winners:

Volkswagen. They have a good range of vehicles and engines. They don’t seem to have dud models around, whilst the engines are technologically good. Sales of the brand have reflected these factors.

Hyundai/Kia. Admittedly they have a home market virtually gifted to them via protectionism, but the latest cars they are making are very competitive both in quality and value.

Jaguar/Land Rover. With a strong range of vehicles within both marques, sales have been good and profitability excellent. Ford struggled to make money with the brands, but new owner Tata seems to be doing very nicely thank you.

GM/Ford: I classified these together as they have both had a good year after some really bad ones. Ford & GM have reduced the number of brands and they regained much respect in their home market. Most importantly, profits are back for both of them.

The Losers:

Daihatsu. Has done alright in Asia, but elsewhere has spent 2010 retreating alarmingly. It’s a shame as the cars are well made. The reliance on small vehicles that are dynamically challenged means they may end up being an Asian exclusive brand.

Toyota. The world’s largest car maker has had poor press from safety issues and recalls. Sales have been hurt and profits have suffered too. There is nothing exciting on the product range either and especially in Europe people have been giving the brand a big thumbs down.

Ssangyong. A company with a poor last few years is still well and truly in the woods. Recently bought by Indian company Mahindra, it still struggles with a range of ugly vehicles that sold poorly in 2010.

Seat. The Spanish brand within the VW Group has sold OK but still seems to sit awkwardly within the company. It struggles to make any money and has little sales penetration outside of Europe.

Saab. Nearly closed down by GM but sold to Dutch company Spyker. Sales have been poor for 2010 but starting to recover now. The new owner has yet to prove if they can save the marque so the sale left me with little optimism. The cars themselves are also off the pace compared to the competition.

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.

21 December 2010

Car Sales 2009: Wales

We'll keep a welcome in the hillside.
We'll keep a welcome in the Vale
This land you knew will still be singing
When you come home again to Wales.

The Principality of Wales, known for fine singing, had 78,000 passenger vehicles sold within it for 2009. Quite good considering the population of just 3 million. The list below is of the rank, brands (top 10), sales, Welsh market share and the figure in brackets is the total UK market share as a comparison:

1 Ford 17,100 21.9% (15.9%)
2 GM Vauxhall 8,400 10.7% (11.9%)
3 Volkswagen 5,300 6.8% (8.1%)
4 Toyota 4.200 5.3% (5.1%)
5 Citroen 3.600 4.6% (3.6%)
6 Peugeot 3.600 4.5% (5.1%)
7 Renault 3.200 4.0% (3.2%)
8 Nissan 2.700 3.5% (3.9%)
9 Hyundai 2.700 3.5% (2.8%)
10 Fiat 2.600 3.3% (3.1%)

Ford is clearly very dominant, over double the sales of Vauxhall. Ford also has 6% more market share in Wales than the UK as a whole. The country does have a huge Ford engine plant and the workers there probably all buy the brand for a start. You may also have noticed luxury marques are absent from the list. It is very much a working class country and everyday cars are the most popular.

What it means to me: It is good to see that Wales rewards a company such as Ford for its investment in the Principality.

Source: www.dft.gov.uk

For other years, please click on the year: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015,

Car Sales 2009: Scotland

The population of Scotland is about 5.2 million and nearly 190,000 passenger cars were sold there in '09. Currently no cars are made in the country although Hillmans were from 1963 until 1981. The list below is of the rank, brands (top 10), sales, Scottish market share and the figure in brackets is the total UK market share as a comparison:

1 GM Vauxhall 28,900 15.5% (11.9%)
2 Ford 26,500 14.3% (15.9%)
3 Volkswagen 13,200 7.1 % (8.1%)
4 Renault 9.500 5.1% (3.2%)
5 Toyota 8,400 4.5% (5.1%)
6 Nissan 8.100 4.4 % (3.9%)
7 Peugeot 8.000 4.3% (5.1%)
8 Honda 7.600 4.1% (3.8%)
9 Fiat 7.500 4.0% (3.1%)
10 BMW 7.100 3.8% (4.9%)

Vauxhall is the top car brand and has 3.6% more share in Scotland than the UK as a whole (Ford is the best seller in the UK overall). Renault does well north of the border too, as does Nissan. One premium brand just made the list but generally not a market big on expensive vehicles. Land Rovers sell quite well for pricier vehicles, about 2,400 for the year and at 22nd place. The smart car is not at all popular with the canny Scots.

What you should know: Getting sales data for Scotland isn't easy.

For other Scotland sales posts just click on the years: 2010201120122013 2014 & 2015.

Source: www.dft.gov.uk

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.

15 December 2010

The Audi A1: A Flop?

Audi has been on a golden run. It has been closing the gap steadily between itself and the two main foes, BMW and Mercedes. It makes more profit per car than either of those two and plans to soon be outselling both of them numerically. Audi's success is based around the cost savings it makes by putting plush interiors inside VWs and Skodas. I'm not saying that cynically, but because it is true and it has worked.

However, Audi's decision to take on BMW's MINI brand may be about to backfire. MINI started off with a target of 100,000 but has since over doubled that figure. Audi has capacity to make 100,000 units per year of the comparable A1 model, but in the five months of 2010 it has been on sale, will only sell 30,000. Bearing in mind cars sell best when first released, this car has flop stamped all over it. Why?

Some say it is over priced. Others that it doesn't have the iconic status of the MINI. Still others say it is not up to the competition. After reviewing it The Telgraph call it "a wasted opportunity. The A1 is beautifully made and its cabin is the apogee of automotive design and assembly, but you would never consider driving this car for joy alone and the design is instantly forgettable. This is a supermini for bloodless accountants and one that you would buy with head rather than heart".
No wonder it's not selling that well.

The bottom line: The Audi A1 has taken on the BMW MINI, but not executed it nearly as well.

PS. Telegraph quote http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/carreviews/7838583/Audi-A1-review.html

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.

10 December 2010

The Cypriot Vehicle Market

Cyprus is the an island in the Mediterranean Sea with people of Greek and Turkish origins. In 1974, the island was divided when a separate Turkish Cypriot area was established in the north.

Car sales details are hard to come by and difficult to tabulate. By my method, vehicle sales were about 17,000 in 2001, slipping to the low teens before jumping to 23,000 in 2004. After remaining fairly level for two further years, they suddenly increased again to 30,000 for 07-08 years. They then slipped back to 19,000 in 2009 and should be similar in 2010.

Between the years of 2001 to 2004, Peugeot and Toyota battled for top spot, with sales of about 2,000 vehicles each. Ford took #1 in 2006, a place it has held since. Nissan has held second since 2008. Sales for 2009 were as follows:

1 Ford 2,600 13.3%
2 Nissan 2,400 12.3%
3 Toyota 1,600 8.3%
4 VW 1,400 7.3%
5 BMW 1,175 6%
6 Mercedes 1,050 5.4%
7 Audi 1,000 5.2%
8 Honda 1,000 5.2%
9 Mitsubishi 825 4.3%
10 Opel 725 3.7%

As you can see, premium brands are strong in Cyprus and French marques that were once strong are nowhere to be seen either. The latter hardly surprising. 2010 so far is much the same.

What it means to me: Despite its political upheavals, the car market looks healthy.

07 December 2010

The Best 4 x 4 In NZ For 2010

New Zealand 4WD magazine’s 4WD of the Year award has gone to the Land Rover Discovery, due to its all round abilities. In NZ, it comes with either a 3 litre turbo diesel V6 engine or five litre V8 petrol motor, both connected to a six speed automatic.

NZ 4WD editor, John Oxley said it was “a vehicle that we could shop with, take the kids to school in, tow with and even go to the theatre in. But most of all it had to be able to take us to the most extreme parts of New Zealand and in as comfortable a manner as possible.” Mr Oxley said the Discovery 4 combined all the attributes the magazine was looking for. “It’s stylish, comfy, has a great engine and gearbox, superb 4WD system and enough ground clearance to drive a bus under when the air suspension is all wound up.”

I think it is a deserved award as the LR Discovery 4 is simply better than its competitors due to its all round abilities. It also looks fabulous too as a bonus.

What it means to me. The LR4 (Discovery) is an outstanding vehicle with broad talents.

04 December 2010

Number Ones Americas: 2009

A bit slow off the mark on this one, but better late than never. Of the countries that I know car sales of in the Americas, most are led by one of two brands, GM or Toyota. GM is the main brand on the continent but it will need to work hard to maintain that. It lost Mexico and Paraguay in 2009 and will lose at least another in 2010.

GM (7)

Toyota (4)
Dominican Rep
Puerto Rico





Surprisingly Ford doesn't feature on the list but they will for 2010.

What it means to me: GM still has a strong following in the Americas.

Jeeps To Be Made In Italy

When Fiat took control of Chysler, they saw potential synergies between them. One of them it transpires involves plans to build a Jeep SUV at a plant in Turin, Italy. This will be of great benefit to Fiat as it has under utilised plants at home, although I cannot see any gain for Chrysler USA in this one. Fiat said it would produce a Maserati-brand SUV in Detroit, using the underpinnings of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. So the co operation cuts both ways.

As Fiat sales fall away badly in Europe and with plants they cannot close, getting a Jeep model will be a relief for the bottom line. Cost savings within the car industry - awash with so many brands - will be necessary for survival.

What it means to me: Jeeps made in Italy? It's a new world folks.

01 December 2010

German Brands Talk It Up

They say that it is all about perception. It is certainly true when it comes to the masses, who are prone to manipulation. Once people perceive that a car brand is respected, has status and not outrageously priced, then it will sell well. No one seems to understand this better than German car makers. Especially in the premium sector, they realise the need to nurture a marque, to promote it, to convince people that it is desired and sought after.

Take as an example India. German premium brands had this small but growing market all to themselves. Then an Indian car maker Tata bought Jaguar and Land Rover. Now Land Rovers were to sell above the trickle they had been and Jaguar was introduced into the market. The German premium trio must be concerned, but show it they do not. They go on the offensive instead. They have just released to the press their sales progress in India. Apparently BMW is planning to sell 5,000 units this year (2010), while Mercedes-Benz expect nearly that amount. How many sales have JLR achieved so far in 2010? Nothing has been said that I know of. I believe about 300 units were sold in in total for '09.

Therefore, if sales are good for JLR in 2010, why not tell the world? If they are steady, say it is a period of consolidation before an acceleration next year. JLR could learn much from watching how German car makers promote their achievements. Because, let's face it, it is all about perception.

What it means to me. It's time for JLR to stand tall.

27 November 2010

Lotus Into The Future With Gusto

For all of its existence, Lotus cars has been a relatively small, fringe sports car maker. Originator of the brand Colin Chapman was more interested in F1. Of recent times, the Elise got Lotus some decent sales numbers, but not profitability. The new plan is to have more models and go more upmarket, where the profits are to be made.

Current owner Proton has decided to go for broke with the marque. So the new range will be pricier, low on emissions, a new styling identity based around the front 'mouth area', better interiors, technically superior and bigger. They will retain lightness, good power to weight ratios, performance oriented and handle really well.
The current range is the Elise, Exige, Evora and 2-Eleven. (The Europa came and went quickly). The new models are as follows:

Esprit V8 (2013)

Elan (2013)

Elite (2014)

Elise (2015)

Eterne 4dr (2015)

I must say it all seems like they are trying to make up for lost time. The hectic schedule will make pulling it off all the harder. Going from just over 2,000 sales to 10,000 per annum is a big ask in a short time frame. Making sure the cars are designed and engineered well, production issues sorted and larger distribution networks in more markets.

How will they do it? Proton are looking at a tie up with Renault Nissan so whether they can assist with the distribution time will tell. It all seems a big risk to move so quickly but the cars look sharp and will drive well.

What it means to me: A big gamble because of the speed in which Lotus plan to execute five new models.

20 November 2010

Tata's Now Profitable JLR

Just after Tata bought Jaguar - Land Rover off Ford in 2008, a world economic crisis struck. Ford had sold largely unprofitable brands and with the downturn, just in time. Ford has gone on to do well so they are happy. How about Tata though? Mr Tata seemed unfazed by it all, saying he was looking to the long term benefits. Well he didn't have to wait long as JLR have quickly and consistently been getting more profitable. What has been the reasons:

1) Getting and implementing professional advice on liquidity management.
2) Pursuing necessary cost cutting measures with the agreement of Unions.
3) Favourable currency fluctuations.
4) A general sales rebound in luxury cars.
5) The new XJ and revamping of other JLR models.

Of course, keeping the momentum going will be a challenge but a clear vision forward and continued investment are being actively dealt with. There are still problems getting enough engines and currency fluctuations overall have gone the other way of late. Despite these factors, the 2wd Freelander will undoubtedly be a winner in the beginning of 2011, as will the new Evoque due mid year. Jaguar will remain profitable but sales will climb only when new models come on stream sometime later.

All in all a surprising success story achieved within a much shorter time frame than I ever imagined. Ford did a fine job of sorting out many basic issues with JLR, but Tata and its astute team will now take it to another level.

What it means to me: Do things well and success usually follows.

16 November 2010

Tata's New Electric Vehicle

A Tata Indica Vista EVX an electric vehicle from a team of engineers at the Tata Motors European Technical Centre based at Warwick University, UK. Apparently it will be produced in Coventry, a city known as the centre of UK car manufacturing in times past. Tata already make the car in India as a petrol powered vehicle. It goes on sale in the UK and Europe next year, in the first quarter of 2011.

It took part in the RAC’s Future Car Challenge, which it won. The car can seat four and of course luggage, should have a range up to 200km per charge and reasonable acceleration of 0-60 kmph in under 10 seconds. Full recharge will be possible in eight hours.

As for the cars, I assume they will be built in India and shipped to the UK where they will be prepared for electric propulsion*. The Vista EV will get a UK government subsidy of £5,000 and would cost the buyer £24,000. I believe the car will only be offered to the commercial sector initially in the UK.

What it means to me: A job well done for both Tata and Warwick University. The price does seem steep as is the case for all electric vehicles.

*Apparently the cars will come as kits shipped in from India for assembly. The batteries will from Norway and drivetrains from Canada.

12 November 2010

Ford's Struggle To Stay #1 In The UK

Ford has been number one in the UK for decades. It stopped making cars in England in 2001 but makes millions of engines and does extensive design and research there so supports the UK economy well.
The brand it has had to keep at bay for many years is GM's Vauxhall, which cannot quite do enough to dethrone it. Vauxhall makes the Astra and Astra van as well as the Vivaro/Trafic vans but that's about within Britain as design and engineering work is done in Germany.

So you may wonder about the struggle mentioned in the title. Well, a third brand is making steady moves toward the top two, Volkswagen. To show what I mean Ford held about 30% of the UK market in the 1980's, it fell to 20% in the 90's and the first decade of the 21st century, it averaged about 15%. In 2010, it is 14% and 12.5% for October of this year. Vauxhall has averaged about nearly 13% for the decade past, and is 12% for this year. VW has gone from 7% in 2001 to 8.5% in 2010 and nearly 10% in October.

From that we can see Ford is still soundly ensconced at the top, but the buffer is less and VW is now lurking in a clear third, having seen off both Renault and Peugeot. I am not saying anything will change anytime soon at the top of the UK market, but Ford will be mindful that if it stumbles for any reason, there are two brands well placed to capitalise. Frankly VW puts nothing of substance into the UK car market, so I for one hope it keeps well away from the top spot. The average car buyer in the UK would care nothing about that of course. I just hope that Ford and Vauxhall, who do put back into the economy are suitably rewarded.

What it means to me: Ford is sliding in UK car sales and a reversal of fortunes is needed about now.

08 November 2010

Honda’s Decline In New Zealand

In NZ private buyers pay top dollar and fleet buyers get generous discounts. When the private buyer comes to sell his car, its value had been seriously undermined by large numbers of fleet cars being returned to the used market. Private buyers have shunned the new market, but can be enticed by discounts which most brands offer from time to time.

Honda NZ had a plan. Have the same price for all sales - private or fleet - and set no haggle prices. To control this, Honda would own the cars and dealers would take a small commission per sale. Most of the dealer profit would come from servicing. I liked the idea. Honda NZ set its prices at full retail but they held their value well. Sales rose and by 2007, Honda had over 8% market share of the NZ passenger car market. The importer must have been doing well thank you very much.

However, the Yen went up and so did Hondas prices, more than other makes. Even good second hand value could not compensate for the skyrocketing new prices. Market share fell and by 2009 (only two short years) it had halved to 4.1% and Honda’s rank dropped from 4th to 9th. For Jan-Oct 2010 it has gone to 3.9%. The once popular Civic model fell from 11th best seller in ’07 to 33rd in two years.

Honda now needs to realign its pricing. The City model from Thailand is better priced as is the new Insight and these should help but neither will be big sellers. In the UK, they have a hatch back Civic that - with the current exchange rate - would sell well in NZ, as Kiwis love versatile 5 door models. Also the Jazz (Fit) is made in the UK now and could be sourced from there if the Yen remains high. If nothing changes, the likes of VW and or Subaru will knock Honda out of the top 10 and make Honda very much a marginal brand in this country.

What it means to me: Honda cars are good but in the mass car market, over price your cars and the customer looks elsewhere.

04 November 2010

Can Fiat Gain Concessions For Italian Production?

Fiat supremo Sergio Marchionne has criticised Italy's poor labour efficiency and industrial competitiveness. He says Fiat doesn't make money from making cars in its home country and it is the overseas factories that make its profit. However, others within Italy say that Fiat is what it is because of the loyal public toward its products. Indeed, in 2009 the Fiat brand had 25.5% of car the Italian car market and add a percentage point if you include light commercials, or over 600,000 cars/LCVs.

I see it as both points of view being correct. Fiat needs changes in how things are done within Italy, while it does need the volumes of sales it gets from its home market. Will laws change to make it easier to lay off workers and get greater efficiencies for making cars there? I think not. So such statements from Mr Marchionne will change nothing and risk alienating loyal local support. His frustrations may have got the better of him as he tries to improve Fiat's competitiveness.

What it means to me: Some things are better left unsaid, as it will change nothing anyway.

31 October 2010

Honda's Insight Hybrid

Honda has introduced a Prius competitor in the Insight. It looks like a Prius but does not have the same sophistication in hybrid technology. The advantage to that is that the Honda product is much more affordable. In NZ, the Prius is a third more expensive.

So is it worth buying a hybrid car such as the Honda Insight? For me, the jury is still out on that. It certainly is a way forward but in the case of the Insight, the electric motor only assists the petrol one rather than driving it exclusively. Therefore, it is called a mild hybrid. In other words, the move away from petroleum fueled cars is a slow one. In New Zealand where the car has just arrived, the Insight is well priced, not something you could say about any other Honda products in this country. I took it for a test drive and it is a good quality, well executed vehicle. I found that the headrests were set too far forward and were a nuisance. The boot is large but shallow to accommodate batteries underneath. It's not that exciting to drive, so I see it appealing to older people.

The Honda Insight has merit, but is more novelty than substance. It's fuel consumption is comparable to the latest petroleum eco models and therefore this type of car is not the eco warrior it is portrayed by some. Hybrid cars today are seen as at the cutting edge of the eco market, whereas I wonder why they are not already obsolete. Superior technologies should have moved the game on, but are nowhere to be seen.

What it means to me: It's a good effort Honda, but it emphasises how far behind car makers are on the alternative fuel front.

26 October 2010

Sales Figures That Embarrass

There are some sales figures that are embarrassing to certain manufacturers. They won't talk about them for obvious reasons, but I will. All the figures quoted are for the first nine months of 2010.

I'll start with Porsche, a brand recently crowing about sales successes which, considering the ever widening range of vehicles they make, are disappointing. In Denmark, where about 122,000 cars are sold, Porsche managed a measily 14. If that isn't bad enough, in Eire where 83,500 cars have found new homes, only 1 (that's right one) Porsche has. I have to say overpriced cars like this only deserve pitiful sales so full marks the the Danes and Irish for their insightfulness.

Now onto Jaguar - Land Rover. These are selling well around the world but I've found a few blots on the landscape. In Serbia, there have been 30,000 new car sales but not one Jag. There doesn't seem to be an importer in the country and hasn't for some time, if ever. Amazing. In Thailand, 550,000 vehicles have been sold so far this year, but only 17 Land Rovers and 9 Jaguars. Even Lotus has managed 9 sales. Mind you Audi only snared 37 new customers. However, you would have to wonder when JLR will demand answers from its importer, or indeed get a new one.

Finally Renault, a brand that relies mainly on Europe for sales. In New Zealand, 45,500 cars have been sold but only 13 Reggies. In the amittedly very small market of Iceland, of the 2,600 car sales, only 2 Renaults have enticed buyers. Surely they could have done better than that!

So there are markets where certain marques are not selling well or at all. It could be a slack importer, or no real demand for the product. Either way, they won't be publicising it. They leave that to me.

What it means to me: Brand perception varies greatly from market to market.

Belgium's GM Antwerp Plant To Close

When GM decided to reduce capacity in Europe, panic ensued. The German government aggressively acted to ensure it wouldn't be there. UK production is already small and perhaps fearing lost sales in GM Europe's largest market saved Ellesmere Port's plant. Poland seemed safe with lower wages, Spain felt vulnerable but it was Belgium where the axe fell (Astra cars are made there). After spending much of the year trying to find a suitable investor to take its place, GM has announced the plant will close by the end of 2010.

Plant closure is difficult in Europe with politics playing a major part. There is over capacity within Europe but most manufacturers accept this is a better situation than closing factories and the ensuing negativity. GM's dire financial situation meant it was unavoidable.

What it means to me: The Belgian workers have done a good job for GM at Antwerp, but it wasn't enough to save the plant.

21 October 2010

Toyota Retreats In Europe

Toyota has been in aggressive growth mode as it ruthlessly hunted down GM to be world number one. Europe was an area where it was weaker than most, so it set about changing that. Therefore, through the 21st century, it relentlessly gained market share in Europe, and by 2007, reached 5.6% share and nearly 900,000 sales (source ACEA; minus Russia). Since then, it has slipped. For the first nine months of 2010, share was only 4.3% and 450,000 units sold.
Why has this happened? I can think of three reasons:

1) Toyota was chasing sales, but reliability was doing down hill, which led to a drop in this core quality. This has hurt its image.
2) The opposition products are getting more reliable too.
3) European drivers generally like stylish and good handling cars while Toyota continues to make dull ones. As the other brands make ever more interesting cars, Toyota is falling behind.

So buyers look elsewhere. For example Nissan sold 310,000 cars in the Euro zone in 2007 and in nine months of 2010 305,000 and share has risen from 1.9% to 2.9%. Admittedly this came after some poor years for Nissan, but they have done so well due to interesting product such as the Qashqai (Dualis). The new Juke, which is now on the market as of now is following this different and exciting theme.

So Toyota has it all to do if it wishes to start winning back the European buyers it is steadily losing. The Auris (Corolla) hybrid is a start with its green credentials. However, a more exciting range of cars is a must if it ever hopes to succeed in this discerning car buying continent.

What it means to me: Toyota needs to make more exciting cars to conquer Europe or the retreat may well continue.

17 October 2010

Lincoln To Muscle Up

Ford has been remiss in not looking after the Lincoln - Mercury brands particularly well. Mercury is finished but Lincoln will now try to muscle in on other premium brand's sales. The problem Lincoln has it that it is only a slightly more posh Ford, nothing else. It doesn't have the cache of Euro - Japanese marques in that segment, in fact not even compared to GM's Cadillac.

Nevertheless this is the ambitious, and necessary, goal of Ford. In reality, it takes years to build the image to compete successfully in this premium segment. Brand loyalty exists in all areas of the market, but people buying basic cars cannot always afford to be too picky. However, the more you go up, the more image counts and buyers with more money can be choosy, and are. They will pay top dollar to get the marque they want. Lincoln sales are also basically confined to North America so there is much brand awareness to build around the world.

Therefore, Lincoln will start the long journey breaking down preconceived ideas as it tries to shake off it's negative image.

What it means to me: I doubt Ford can pull this one off in the already crowded and highly image conscious premium segment.

14 October 2010

Packhard Cars In Picton, NZ

I was in Picton, Marlborough, NZ, when these and many more cars turned up. I'm not really into vintage cars to own but i like their style. Modern cars are sometimes bland (Asian), other times ugly (German), but rarely have style (Italian, British).

The brand is Packhard and they certainly are eye catching. Well done to the owners.

What it means to me: I wouldn't be bothered with the effort and expense, but good on those who are.

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.

The MINI Countryman

The new MINI Countryman is a big car, considering it's called a MINI. The length is 4.1m and the width 1.8m. I am surprised 4wd is an option for it. All the other Minis ever built were all good looking, this is the ugly sibling but the most practical ever. It will be more popular than the better looking but poorly conceived Clubman.

As for the original Mini, a Dr Alex Moulton was responsible for the rubber suspension system which made it possible for the car to be one of the smallest ever built, whilst maximising interior space usage. His opinion of the direction the MINI has gone is: "The Mini brand has long since been disassociated from the product and is just a reflection of styling features. I am greatly disappointed that this precious thing we created has become a mere styling feature, simply a badge". He also felt the dimensions were not compact enough and they were now too high (the Countryman is 1.6m in height). There is now too much power - original performance emphasised good handling. He also wished making it more sustainable and should be made in the UK (Countryman is made in Austria).

Many feel the Countryman is not the way forward for the once little car. The direction BMW has gone with the MINI will ultimately be decided in car showrooms. If they sell well, who can argue with what was done? There are many others entering the premium small car segment to cash in on the success the MINI has so far achieved. The MINI must be kept interesting and stay ahead of the competition.

What it means to me: Another winner on the way for MINI.