23 June 2010

US Vehicle Production In 2009

Vehicle production in the US in 2009 saw changes aplenty. First, the car production, which saw GM go from being top since way back to falling behind Toyota. Honda moved into third and Ford was fourth for the first time ever. Light Truck production also had GM losing top spot, this time to Ford. Chrysler kept its third place, while Honda moved into fourth and leaving Toyota fifth:

Top Car Producers USA with rank 09/08/Brand/sales 09/08 and % change:

1 2 Toyota 608,100 692,700 –12
2 1 GM 413,750 1,019,200 –59
3 4 Honda 400,500 553,000 –28
4 3 Ford 306,500 411,000 –25

Top Light Trucks Producers:

1 2 Ford 1,075,000 1,134,000 –5
2 1 GM 771,900 1,272,000 –39
3 3 Chrysler 398,500 815,500 –51
4 5 Honda 320,100 434,100 –26


1 2 Ford 1,381,000 1,545,000 –11
2 1 GM 1,186,000 2,291,000 –48
3 3 Toyota 868,700 1,119,000 –22
4 4 Honda 691,900 987,200 –30
5 5 Chrysler 515,200 1,106,000 –53

GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, and then closed down Pontiac and Saturn. These factors hurt production greatly. Ford avoided going broke but has just now decided to close Mercury, not something that will be noticed by many people. Fo Mo Co are doing well now. Toyota has issues with recalls and Chrysler overall make poor quality vehicles. New owner Fiat are working on that. Honda refuse to buy market share so expect a flat period ahead.

2010 sees Ford making good market gains in sales with both cars and trucks. It hasn’t passed GM and probably won’t now that GM’s worst is behind them. As to why Ford now lead their arch rival GM in US production, yet are still behind in US sales is because GM make far more vehicles in Canada and Mexico than Ford does.

The bottom line: US vehicle production will not reach the heights of a few years ago any time soon but the downturn certainly has upset the traditional rankings of the makers.

Top 10 Worldwide Sales 2009 By Brand

They say there are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics. Of course, it’s all about what you count and what you don’t. This can alter things greatly. Take for example, world vehicle sales by brand. I have some figures here that surprise me. What was the biggest brand by sales for 2009? Below as listed rank/brand/09/08/% up or down:

1 GM 8,050,000 8,950,000 –10
2 Toyota 7,225,000 8,975,000 –19.5
3 VW 6,475,000 6,275,000 +3.5
4 Renault-Nissan 5,125,000 5.950,000 –14
5 Ford 4,825,000 5,400,000 –11
6 Hyundai-Kia 4,550,000 4,175,000 +9.5
7 Fiat-Chrysler 3,700,000 4,325,000 –14
8 Honda 3,325,000 3,800,000 –12.5
9 PSA 2,825,000 3,300,000 –14
10 Suzuki-Maruti 2,175,000 2,300,000 -6

GM makes cars in China in a joint venture and this varies the count, depending on how you credit sales to GM and the partner. This could partly explain GM being top again, plus other such anomalies.
Only two brands in the top 10 went up in a bad year. Expect them to keep doing well for 2010. Ford has now lost Volvo’s 300k sales for 2010 so will fall further this year. It's safe to say that in these somewhat volatile times, changes will occur in the rankings in 2010.

The bottom line: The reality is that profit counts rather than a rank on a chart, but I cannot help but be fascinated by it anyway.

Range Rover Sport

This is the first of a five part series about the Land Rover Range.

The latest vehicle to enter the Land Rover range is the Range Rover Sport. It was an unusual execution, names and designed as Range Rover but using a Discovery platform. Yet it was a masterstroke. Production soared to 60,000 units in 2007 and despite the financial downturn and some countries trying to legislate SUVs off the road, it continues to sell strongly. By my reckoning, 250,000 have been made in the five years of the cars existence.

Unlike other Land Rover products that tended to be leaders, the Sport definitely followed. The X5, Cayenne and Merc ML were all there before the LR product. Despite this, it has taken a real chunk of sales off the mentioned models and deservedly so. While it may not quite match them on the road, its vastly superior offroad abilities give it much broader capabilities. Plus let's face it, for 98% of motorists, the road abilities of the Sport are quite sufficient. The premium German brands are not used to others taking their sales so easily, but such is the appeal of the RR Sport over the somewhat dull Germanic offerings, it's hardly surprising to see why. Only the fact that Land Rover has fewer dealers than the competition has stopped more sales being taken.

The Range Rover Sport is a smash hit anyway you evaluate it. It looks stylish, drives well on or offroad, and is a real quality product. Compared to the opposition it is priced well too. Land Rover has a winner on its hands. To those who conceived it, well done.

The bottom line: If you want a SUV that can take you anywhere in style, your search stops with the Range Rover Sport.

17 June 2010

Land Rover Freelander / LR2

The premium compact SUV market was something Land Rover wanted to enter in the late 1980s. The fact that the Freelander actually hit the market in 1997 was because of the lack of money to get it into production. It allowed competition brands to establish themselves in that segment when LR could have been there. Honda had a 20% stake in Land Rover at that time and saw the design and technical specifications of the Freelander. It used that as a basis for its CRV model that even reached the market ahead of the Freelander. You can see the influence in the CRVs shape. Anyway, BMW came on board in 1994 and provided to funds to do it.

Despite reliability issues, the Freelander sold like hot cakes in the UK and Europe from the outset. It sold at a rate of 70,000 pa for many years and became the fastest selling LR ever. However, increased competition and the world economic downturn meant only about 35,000 were made in 2009. The Range Rover Sport now rivals the Freelander for top sales spot within the marque. While I personally really like the 'safe' design shape, it now needs to lift. The new LRX may offer a style direction for the next Freelander.

The bottom line: The Freelander has been a winner for Land Rover.

Land Rover Discovery / LR4

As the gap between the then soon to be called Defender and Range Rover widening (as the latter went more posh), a new model could now be added. Late 1989 saw the arrival of the Discovery and it slotted nicely in between the two existing models. It was to be a lifestyle, leisure vehicle and it hit the sweet spot sales wise. From the beginning, it was available with seven seats, was good for towing the horse float and of course was excellent off road too.

When Ford took control, work on the Discovery 3 commenced. To me that was when the Discovery/LR3 really came of age. In some respects it didn't sell quite as well as the improvements deserved, mainly because there is so much more competition for it to deal with. That said, it still has sold well, in the 50,000's initially but falling back somewhat with the recession. Now called the Discovery 4, about 21,000 were made in 2009.

The rugged, no nonsense look is spot on. Only its weight being against it, the price paid for its off road prowess. It has won more awards than I've had hot dinners so its quality is recognised by those who know their onions, so to speak. In my opinion, this is the best 4x4 and that feeling is confirmed in markets such as Australia and South Africa, where the Disco is consistently the best selling Landie. Conditions in these places can be rough and the Discovery really shines when the going gets tough.

I assume the Discovery 5 will be as light as it can be for a true off road vehicle. Fuel saving is important nowadays and there is room for improvement here. That said, it needs to maintain its core attributes to retain those loyal customers who love the Disco for the fine vehicle it is.

The bottom line: The 4x4 doesn't come any better than this.

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.

10 June 2010

Land Rover Defender

They say necessity is the mother of invention. That was true when I wanted to make a bedside cabinet. I went into the garage to use up some MDF offcuts but found none of the preferred rectangular sized pieces. All I had was triangular shapes of varying sizes and also some long strips of said material. I then thought about how to use what I had and the result is as pictured. I think it looks better than what I first planned.

How does that have bearing with the Land Rover Defender? Well, in the post war Britain of 1948 the Rover car company was having trouble acquiring enough steel to make its cars while aluminium was more readily available. Thus using the Willy Jeep as a template, and working with a metal that doesn't shape as well as steel, necessity created the boxy Land Rover. Style didn't matter for a utilitarian vehicle such as this. Besides, it was only supposed to be made for a few short years as a stop gap vehicle until steel became more plentiful. The initial production was 200 a week and in the first year 3,000 were made. The following year 8,000 and 16,000 pa by 1950. It had proven more popular than ever thought possible. The few years of production has continued down to now.

The Defender was named 'the greatest car of all time' in 2003 by Top Gear, the BBC's automotive TV programme. What Car? UK readers voted the Land Rover Defender (named such since 1990) as their favourite car in the 2009 Reader Awards. It's heritage and off road ability has given it a loyalty unsurpassed in the automotive field. To understand the vehicle if you don't already, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ8jOmolSac
If you don't understand after that, don't worry, you never will.

Today the vehicle still sells well at about 25,000 units pa, although 2009 fell somewhat lower. What will end this incredible run of over sixty years is legislation. Its needs to be updated to meet crash safety etc. so a new model is being designed. It will surely pay homage to the iconic design but in a modern way.

The bottom line: Out of necessity came an amazing vehicle, sixty two years young and counting.

05 June 2010

More Fuel Efficient Cars

The earth is not going to give us oil indefinitely at the rate man is using it. So cars need to reduce fuel consumption. Therefore, engines are getting smaller. Problem. People want to save fuel, but not at the expense of anything, certainly not vehicle performance. So some car makers have been coupling smaller engines with direct injection and turbo power. Others have added small electric engines to help boost acceleration for these engines with less displacement. The car is then called a mild hybrid. Either way, it adds up to similar performance with less cubic capacity. It also means less fuel use.

However, why the sudden rush to do so? They say necessity is the mother of invention. When fuel was 'inexhaustible' in every one's mind, there was no reason to be careful with this resource or to plan for an alternative. In this I see a bad trait in humanity. Petroleum was always a finite fuel source yet no one cared when it was the next generation that had to deal with running out. Now that ever increasing consumption has quickly diminished reserves, suddenly we are the generation that has to deal with the end of so called fossil fuel. Now the rush to conserve it.

The bottom line: If you don't plan ahead, you will eventually come unstuck.

PS. Pictured is BMWs new 3 cylinder engine.

04 June 2010

Our Dependance On Oil

People all over the world drive cars. People love what they give us. They are 1) freedom to travel wherever we want, whenever we want. They are also 2) easy to fuel up and travel a good distance on a tank. Other forms of vehicle propulsion cannot deliver those things to the same degree. Cars without petrol will be much less convenient than what we enjoy now.

Therefore, the hunt for more fuel pushes exploration to new places, often difficult to access. The oil spill that has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico is a reminder of the risks involved. Some of the outbusts have been baffling to me. I'm sure they would cap it if they could. It's in no ones interests for this to happen. The comments against the oil company involved are irrational and ignorant. If we want oil, drilling will be done in places that can lead to environmental disasters. Who gave the go ahead to drill, seeing as there are no contingency plans to stop a spill? Are we prepared to run out of oil while there is oil under the ground but too risky to extract? I have to say some public sentiments expressed show a level of childishness such as you see when a child throwing a tantrum when it can't have its cake and eat it too.

Many people in the 'spoilt west' need to grow up and face the fact that the risks to reaching new oil reserves will grow. Much will be learned from this terrible environmental disaster to mitigate future failures. However, whatever is learned, no one can guarantee safe drilling miles under the sea. Unfortunately this probably won't be the last disaster due to drilling or transporting oil.

The bottom line: People want petrol but spit the dummy if things go pear shaped.

PS. Picture is of the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez Spill.