30 March 2011

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta: 2010 Version

I must say that Alfa Romeo is a mere shadow of yesteryear. The brand has been hurt by poor reliability and substandard cars bearing the name. Now has arrived the 2010 Giulietta and I must say it is a looker. Does it have the precision of its Germanic competition? No. But where it wins hands down is in style. When a beautiful woman walks past a man, he has to notice. While one can hardly compare female beauty with a mere contrivance of a human designer, even a car can have that effect. Would you notice an Audi A3 pass you? No, I would not either. The Giulietta? Yes. It is the sort of car you would enjoy seeing parked outside your home so you could admire the appearance. It is distinctive, unique.

You would have to think that Alfa is getting back on track again. I read somewhere recently that VW wanted to buy the brand off Fiat. German marketing would certainly benefit the Alfa marque, as it barely exists outside of Europe. Fiat of course has its hands full knocking Chrysler into shape and the money would be handy. However, if it can make money for the Fiat Group, then surely it would be worth keeping. Profitability is the challenge.

Summary: One thing is for certain, the Italians do style very well. Hopefully the substance is there too.

28 March 2011

Vehicle Production France: 2010

French total vehicle production was consistently around the 3.6 million mark in the early to mid 21st century, including 3.2m cars. It then slid to 2 million by 2009 (1.8m cars). There was an 8.6% rebound in 2010, but still only 2.2 million (1.9m cars). Not surprisingly, it is a few French marques that contribute the bulk of those figures, as you can see below.

Car Production 2010 France:
Peugeot 720,000 +10%
Renault 475,000 +11%
Citroen 470,000 +16%
Toyota 160,000 -22%
smart 85,000 -24%
Total 1,910,000 +5%

Utility Production 2010 France:
Renault 190,000 +34%
Citroen 43,000 +30%
Peugeot 37,000 +46%
Fiat 20,000 +9%
Other 10,000 +50%
Total 300,000 +34%

Summary: France is not the force in car production it was, but it is still an important industry for the country.

26 March 2011

Automotive Conundrums

A definition of a conundrum includes an insoluble, or difficult problem. I have a few automotive ones I would like to air.

Audi styling: I find it confusing and bemusing that Audi can make cars that all look much the same and so boringly styled, yet people actually buy them. As an example, take the A1. You could have a fun MINI, a trendy Citroen DS3 or even a funky Fiat 500, but surely not the Audi offering. It makes me realise how banal, how dull many motorists are when they would happily hand over hard earned money for an Audi. I wouldn't. Style surely counts for something.

Jaguar SUV: Actually, there isn't one and that is the point. All premium competitors have them, but not Jaguar. True, Land Rover does SUVs and they are one company, so let's not risk sales being canabalised eh what? However, VW, Porsche, Audi and Skoda all do SUVs too, and they are all in the same company. Sure, they may take some sales off each other, but mainly from the opposition. Jaguar could have gone the soft SUV whilst LR stayed with the more rugged variety, which it is anyway. No, this is a massive blunder that is costing the company so much money because it is a profitable segment to be in. That is why everyone else is doing it. I think Jaguar has some smarter people running it now.

Hyundai's New Model Identification: I'm not against letters or numbers on cars, if they are logical and there are not too many models. Hyundai has ditched car model names for this system. It started out alright, but as the roll out continues, I'm starting to get a glazed look come across my eyes when I try to comprehend what an i30 or i45 is. If the range is too big, it gets complicated to me while names do not have the same effect. Same goes for Mercedes Cl, CLK, CLS, SK, SLK...I'm getting that glazed look again.

Dull Toyotas: How can a company with the wealth and resources of the largest car maker in the world turn out a range of refrigerators on wheels. Actually, why are they the biggest car company in the world? Do people want to drive dull and reliable cars? Well many do in most parts of the world. One area they do not want dreary cars is Europe. If Toyota ever wants to conquer that region, it had better start building something actually nice to look at and satisfies passion. Zzzzzzzz.

Same old Porsche Sports Cars: I believe Porsche sports cars are a good drive. Pretty reliable too maybe. Notwithstanding, they look very similar to designs produced around the 1930s. I really do not think any Porsche is good looking (the Cayenne is just plain ugly), but they persist with this aged style. Some imagination is called for I think.

22 March 2011

Toyota UK: Burnaston & Deeside

Back in 2007, one of my first posts was about Toyota Flintshire, Wales. Now for Toyota UK in total. Toyota's decision to establish a manufacturing operation in Europe was announced in 1989 and Toyota Manufacturing UK was established in December that year.

Why did Toyota build plants in Europe?: Toyota believes in a policy of localising its vehicles to meet the specific needs of Europe’s varied customers.

Why was the UK chosen for assembly?: 1) The strong tradition of vehicle manufacturing in Britain. 2) The large domestic market for our product. 3) The UK offered us solid industrial transport links. 4) The excellent workforce and favourable working practices. 5) A supportive, positive attitude to investment. 5) The English language made communication and integration so much easier.

The two manufacturing plants in the UK represent a total investment in excess of £1.85 billion and currently approximately 3,100 members are employed. The vehicle manufacturing plant is located at Burnaston in Derbyshire, the engine manufacturing plant is located at Deeside in North Wales (see http://tiny.cc/7d00j).

The first car, a Carina E, drove off the Burnaston production line on 16 December 1992.

The Avensis replaced the Carina E in 1997 and in 2008 the third generation Avensis was launched.

In 1998 a second model, the Corolla, was introduced and in 2001 the new generation Corolla was launched.

In 2007, production of Auris, the new Toyota hatchback, started replacing Corolla.

Production of the Auris Hybrid, the first full mass-produced hybrid in Europe, began in 2010.

The processes at Burnaston include stamping, welding, painting, plastic mouldings and assembly and at Deeside machining, assembly and aluminium casting.

Summary: Toyota has done well with its vehicle production in the UK.

18 March 2011

Longbridge Is Back

Once the largest manufacturing plant in the world, Longbridge in Birmingham, England is making cars again. Chinese firm SAIC bought the rights to MG Rover cars in 2005 and started making the cars in China as MGs and Roewes. Now they are going to make MGs there, starting with the 1.8L MG 6 hatch back (pictured).

Now I would suggest that if you are thinking of buying a Chinese branded car, don't. Unless it comes free with a packet of Corn Flakes. However, SAIC has a design studio in the UK and the car apparently is much better made than Chinese branded cars, which are cheaply made death traps as a rule. Those who have tested it say it is very roomy, has excellent driving dynamics, well priced for its size (between Focus and Mondeo) and a looker in the metal. The main negatives are some trim and switchgear are ordinary, there is only the 1.8 petrol motor until a 1.9L diesel engine arrives in 2012. Also, CO2 emissions at 184g/km are not ground breaking.

The MG 6 are partly built and painted in China before being shipped to the UK in containers and delivered to Longbridge. Only around 100 workers will be required at this stage to attach the engines, transmissions and suspension systems. Another 300 staff are employed in the design studio, technical centre, and sales department.

SAIC have a modest goal of up to 2,500 sales a year and prices will be from £15,495 drive away. I think the dealer network is the only thing holding the sales to that figure, as this car would sell in much greater numbers if sold though a successful, established brand.

Summary: It is nice to see car production back at Longbridge, and it looks a very good first up effort.

17 March 2011

JD Power Customer Service Index 2011

The JD Power & Associates 2011 US Customer Service Index Study delivered this list of thirty three car brands, Notice everyone of the top ten are premium brands. No surprise there really. The bottom thirteen are either US or Japanese brands that are generally large volume sellers in the US. Is it a case of the more cars you sell, the less satisfaction the customer feels? The list:

Lexus 846
Jaguar 837
Cadillac 830
Acura 828
Linclon 817
BMW 814
Porsche 814
Mercedes Benz 810
MINI 805
Infiniti 801

GMC 803
Buick 799
Audi 794
Chevrolet 792
Volvo 788
Land Rover 785
Kia 784
Hyundai 783
Smart 783
Volkswagen 779

Ford 773
Honda 765
Mitsubishi 754
Mazda 750
Chrysler 749
Subaru 744
Dodge 743
Scion 737
Toyota 735
Ram 733

Nissan 731
Jeep 728
Suzuki 724

Does customer satisfaction mean that much when it comes to buying again? This list suggests to me not that much, if at all. Certainly not at the bottom end, where price is more important factor. Maybe premium brands more so.

Summary: Lexus and Jaguar, take a bow. Suzuki and Jeep, start digging.

14 March 2011

Fuel Prices

(For this article I will use the term petrol to describe fuel used in cars).

Petrol is a finite substance and internationally humans are using it at an increasing rate. If things continue as they are, demand will cause shortage and that will put pressure on prices. We can do nothing about the reserves of petroleum, but a little about how much we need.

Personally, I drive a vehicle with low fuel consumption, go by push bike whenever I can and only drive when it is necessary. If everyone in the world took a view that petrol is a precious resource and modified driving habits accordingly, then consumption would drop. This would relieve pressure on production, prices would reduce and petrol will be around longer.

Is that realistic? Not really. In the US, when petrol prices go up, people buy more fuel efficient cars, the price goes down and they return to larger vehicles. In other words, most consumers only seem to react to price, not to any need to conserve. However, in one forum I visited, people talked of using false number plates on their cars and driving off without paying, if prices go much higher. Others thought rioting and vandalism would force the government to lower tax on fuel. I guess they would accept higher tax elsewhere to compensate. Yeah, right.

Petrol is running out. Prices will rise. The luxury of jumping in a car and driving around without much cost are numbered. We love personal transport, but it will surely be more costly and also less convenient to use cars in the future.

10 March 2011

Britain's Own Volume Brand

Italy has Fiat, Germany VW, Japan has several. What are they? A volume producer of cars that local people can identify as theirs. The UK used to have British Leyland, before BMW screwed things up with BL's outgrowth MG Rover (see the article by clicking here). So what volume brand does Britain have? Some could say Jaguar / Land Rover but they are rather pricey for the majority of UK citizens. MINI is a one model range only. Hmmm.

One brand that could be borrowed is Nissan. 85% of the 95,000 Nissans sold in Britain last year were made locally. About 340,000 were exported. The British designed Qashqai (Dualis) has hit one million sales in four years. While they are also made in Japan and China, 80% or 800,000 (obviously) were British built.

In 2010, 423,000 or 33% of all cars built in the UK were Nissans. Nissan does so much for British manufacturing, especially in Sunderland (a somewhat neglected area economically) that surely the people of the country could adopt Nissan as a defacto British brand. I know there isn't a nation on earth as cynical as the British, a group of people who love to put down anything remotely positive.

However, I say rather than masochistically go on about the lost car industry (a popular past time about all sorts of glories long since demised), support those who do you a favour. Nissan has done Britain a fine service by deciding to build cars there, and of such fine quality too. It's time to acknowledge the fact.

Summary: I give you Britain's volume brand in production......Nissan.

Car Production Italy/Spain: 2010

Italy: In 2001, nearly 1.3 million cars were built in Italy. It declined slowly until 2008, when it then dropped 28% to 660,000 and then held its own in '09 thanks to the scrappage scheme supporting small Fiats. Reality hit in 2010, when such schemes ran out and production sank to under 600k. Only the Fiat group make cars here.

Fiat 337,000 -22%
Alfa Romeo 120,000 +18%
Lancia 100,000 -14%
Others 18,000 +17%
Total 575,000 -13%

Summary of Italian car production: Alfa production in Italy should do OK in 2011, but Fiat and Lancia will drop further.

Spain: 2.4 million cars were made here in 2004, and have held up pretty well since despite difficult market conditions. A small increase was welcome in 2010, to partially offset 13% and 9% decreases the previous two years.
Despite only having one local brand Seat (VW owned), many car makers have plants here.

Renault 350,000 0%
GM 345,000 +11%
VW 335,000 +40%
Seat 335,000 +11%
Ford 255,000 -15%
Citroen 170,000 -10%
Peugeot 105,000 -2%
Nissan 40,000 +100%
Other 15,000 +50%
Total 1,950,000 +7%

Summary of Spanish car production: A wide variety of brands make up car making here. That helps to cushion against fluctuations within the industry. An important part of the economy in Spain.

08 March 2011

Ambitious Nissan Europe

Around the world, Nissan plays second fiddle to Toyota. In 2009 Toyota made 7,250,000 vehicles, while Nissan 2,750,000. Quite some difference. However, one thing Nissan is improving on is making more interesting cars. Look at the Qashqai (Dualis) - Juke and compare those with Auris/Corolla - Avensis. The Nissans are pushing boundaries, while Toyota models are solid but boring. So if there is one region where boring is eschewed, it is Europe. This is where Nissan has set it sights on in beating Toyota, because the exciting models it has will be appreciated more than dull Toyota models.

To do this, Nissan has been steadily increasing dealerships within Europe, chipping away at the lead Toyota has with its newer, more exciting cars. By looking at sales in Europe (the ones I have are without countries from the former Soviet Bloc), we see the gap is closing.

In 2007, Toyota sold 890,000 cars (5.6% share) and Nissan 310,000 (1.9%). In 2010, dreary Toyota sold only 580,000 (4.2%) and Nissan 400,000 (2.9). The gap has narrowed from 580k to 180k in three years!

What will count against Nissan is that Toyota surely cannot keep falling like it has. One would expect Toyota will now halt its European sales slide and may even claw some market share back. For Nissan to continue its upward march will get ever more challenging, with stiff competition from Korean and local brands.

Summary: Nissan's desire to surpass Toyota in Europe is ambitious and worthy. It may take some years yet, if ever, to pull this overtaking manoeuvre off. Nissan still has to be profitable, and that is more important than sales volume anyway.

05 March 2011

Car/Light Truck Production USA: 2010

First Car Production: 2010

US car production isn't as high as you may think. Imports of cars are quite high and Americans generally prefer light trucks anyway. GM has been the king of car making but Toyota took top spot in 2009. It didn't last long as GM is again the top of the tree for 2011. Otherwise the production ranking of car makers remained the same as the year before.

The overall market recovered some way from the 37% drop in 2009, to rise 26%. GM did well considering the end of Pontiac production during 2010. Toyota was the only brand to actually have lower production volume during the year.


1 GM 600,000 20.4% +36%
2 Toyota 525,000 17.8% -14%
3 Honda 460,000 14.5% +15%
4 Ford 375,00 12.8% +23%
5 Nissan 350,000 11.8% +34%
6 Hyundai 240,000 8.1% +130%
7 Chrysler 170,000 5.8% +103%
8 Subaru 150,000 5.2% +93%
9 Mazda 45,000 1.5% +40%
10 Mitsubishi 25,000 0.8% +60%
Total 2,900,000 26% increase.

Summary: Production of cars in the US bounced back well for the year.

Now Light Truck Production: 2010

US truck making bounced back from two years of 30% decreases with a 40% increase. It is still millions of units down on a few years ago but an improvement nevertheless.

In 2001, 85% of trucks were made by the US 'big three' but in 2010, less than 68% were. As an example, GM made over 2.5m trucks in 2003, so its 1.1m in 2010 is a long way off where it was. Ford also has fallen, but not by quite as much. Therefore, it has been the top maker for the past two years, replacing perennial top US truck maker GM. Foreign brands have been taking a larger share of the truck making as they open factories and try to access this lucrative segment of the US market.


1 Ford 1,3000,000 28.7% +21%
2 GM 1,100,000 24.4% +45%
3 Chrysler 660,000 14.5% +66%
4 Honda 500,000 10.8% +53%
5 Toyota 420,000 9.2% +61%
6 Nissan 160,000 3.6% +45%
7 BMW 155,000 3.4% +29%
8 M Benz 145,000 3.2% +60%
9 Kia 130,000 2.8% +770%
10 Hyundai 80,000 1.7% -15%
Others 26,000 0.6% +35%
Total 4,600,000 +39%

Summary: With fuel prices on the rise, it could hurt truck manufacturing in the US.

03 March 2011

Top Brands Worldwide By Country: 2010

These are the Asian, Pacific and African markets that various brands are top in. A number in brackets after the country indicates the position in 2009. No number means no change.

Toyota 13:
New Zealand
Saudi Arabia

Hyundai 2:

Suzuki 2:

Volkswagen 2:
South Africa (2)

One each:
New Caledonia

Summary: Toyota is strong in so many markets, it keeps it at #1 worldwide. Many markets do not appear here as data is hard to get for them. As it comes to hand, I will update the list.

02 March 2011

Top Brands In The Americas By Country: 2010

These are the Pan American markets that various brands are top in. A number in brackets after the country indicates the position in 2009. No number means no change.

GM - 7:

Paraguay (4)

Toyota - 5:

Dominican Rep
Puerto Rico

One each:

Canada (2)

Summary: The Americas are mainly dominated by two brands. Some markets are no listed here as I have no definite data. I believe that Guatemala, Honduras and Bolivia all have Toyota on top.

01 March 2011

New Nissan Juke A Hit In Europe

Nissan Europe have been singing about the success of its new Juke model. Its looks polarise people, but it is different and distinctive. In an automotive world of blandness, that is a plus for me. Some points of note from the press blurb:

From its European release in September 2010, 32,000 sales were quickly chalked up (44,000 were made in a partial year's production). It has now received a 5 star NCAP rating. The order books are looking very healthy. High end versions have sold particularly well and many sales are of the conquest variety.
The Juke is taking the place of the Micra at Sunderland's production line, the new Micra being sourced elsewhere. UK Nissan production 2010 below:

Qashqai 271,000 (+72,500)
Micra 54,500 (-34,000)
Note 53,000 (+2,000)
Juke 44,500 (+44,500)
Total 423,000 (+85,000)

Summary: Nissan Europe is going really well and the new Juke will play an important role is sustaining this success. Watch and learn Toyota.