27 September 2012

Where To For Mazda From Here?

Mazda has always been a relatively small player in the Japanese car industry. Most of its cars are made in Japan, beneficial with the Yen always cleverly undervalued. It has had to be a little different, even quirky, to get noticed. The rotary engine is a classic example of that. For the last three decades, Ford has owned up to a third of Mazda in a tie up beneficial for both car makers. However, a few years ago, Ford was hit by the economic meltdown and decided to sell its share of Mazda. While still cooperating together, no doubt not with the same benefits.

To make matters worse, the Yen rose after the US meltdown and making mass produced cars in Japan isn't profitable unless with very large production numbers. This has led to Mazda being the most unprofitable car maker of the main car makers in Japan. Mazda has now been losing money for four consecutive years. So where to from here? Moving some production out of Japan would help, but not likely for a company Mazda's size. I would have thought another tie up to get development / production costs down.

I have an idea, but not one I expect to happen. VW has a strained tie up with Suzuki. If VW severed that relationship, Mazda could be a good fit instead. The reason I say that is VW has a poorly performing brand in SEAT of Spain. It makes a slightly sporty car mainly for Europe, while Mazda has a similar ethos.
So if they did get together, there could be a link between SEAT and Mazda. If SEAT made cars both for itself and Mazda in Spain, it would make Mazda's European sales more profitable. Mazda could also make cars for SEAT as the two brands blended.

I see that Mazda needs such a collaboration to get back into the black, and it could be the making of troubled SEAT. As I said, I am not expecting it to happen but Mazda needs to do something. It is starting a joint venture in Malaysia, a move in the right direction.

PS. Below is car production for Mazda in 2010 (source OICA):

Japan 993,000 69.8%
China 229,000 17.5%
Thai 87,000 6.7%
USA 54,000 4.2%
Rest 24,000 1.8%
Total 1,307,000

25 September 2012

Jaguar vs Lexus

Here are two makers of quality vehicles. Both are at the top of reliability studies and Jaguar in particular top of customer satisfaction surveys. The ranges are similar, so in many ways appeal to similar customers.

Lexus (apparently meaning Luxury Export US) gives the idea of what the marque was all about, the USA. Indeed, it sells very well there; otherwise popularity is muted. Which is a shame as they are good cars, if somewhat bland and functional rather than exciting.

Jaguar (meaning a big, powerful cat) also gives a clue about the marque. These are elegant, stylish, powerful and - once upon a time - unreliable cars. Now the reliability is very good, so you can have it all. Which to choose? Where they go head to head in their model ranges, I would always take the Jag. Lexus was the choice for those who wanted class with a peerless reliability. Jaguar was for those who loved a good drive. Now that Jaguar make a car that visits the repair garage no more than even Lexus, well there really is no choice.

24 September 2012

Finding A JLR Dealer In NZ

I thought I would check out the Jaguar and Land Rover dealers in New Zealand.

I 'Googled' Jaguar and up came this at: http://tiny.cc/uxj4kw

There we see at a glance that there are eight dealers, seven in the North Island and one in the South Island. A person could decide which one was the best one for their location.

I did the same for Land Rover. I couldn't find anything, so I added the word 'dealer' to the search and this is where it led: http://tiny.cc/74j4kw

You have to enter a postcode or city. I entered mine and came up with a 'no results found'. I have to enter a city where there is a dealer to get a response. How crazy is that? If you don't know where the dealers are, you have to guess cities until you get one right.

Both of these brands are part of the same company. Jaguar lets you easily find where all the dealers are, while Land Rover prefers to take you on safari. Top points Jaguar, a big zero to Land Rover.

21 September 2012

Jaguar F-Type Photos Released

 Jaguar needs to expand its range of cars. It is doing just that with the new F-Type, bringing the range to four models. That is a minimal offering in today's market, but at least Jaguar is going in the right direction. It will slot below the current XK sports car. The F-Type will be relatively cheap, and bring new buyers to the Jaguar marque.

Some say it is the equivalent to the E-Type, but I do not consider that sort of comparison realistic nor helpful. The E-Type was a car for its time, a classic style that simply could not be done today, what with the myriad of regulations that car makers have to work within.

Others call it a car to take on Porsche. Again, not how I see it. Porsche make extreme handling cars, something that Jaguar are not aiming at. Rather, Jags are softer, more easy to cruise in. Of course, the F-Type will handle very well, but will also traverse large distances with consummate ease.

It will be available early in 2013 and will sell well, although I am unsure what sort of numbers JLR is expecting.

15 September 2012

Are You Confused By All The MINI Variants?

I have to say that German car makers know a thing or two about niche segments. They get models into every cranny they can find, then invent new ones to cram new variants into. It can get confusing. The original Mini had different models but the BMW MINI of the 21st century is getting so many different variations, perhaps a clarification is in order:

In 2001, the basic hatch model arrived, in One, Cooper and Cooper S options. I thought that was a good range in itself. Sales as follows (2012 6 months; % figure of total MINI sales):

2001 _42,395
2002 160,037
2003 176,366
2004 189,492
2005 ?
2006 147,239 (78%)
2007 182,853 (82%)
2008 162,135 (70%)
2009 150,043 (69%)
2010 155,841 (67%)
2011 137,155 (48%)
2012 _64,864 (43%)

The convertible came along in 2005 and was the same car sans lid. Not for everyone but a welcome addition as sales show:

2005 ?
2006 40,138 (21%)
2007 35,108 (16%)
2008 23,208 (10%)
2009 28,303 (13%)
2010 32,680 (14%)
2011 29,305 (10%)
2012 14,669 (10%)

The Clubman turned up in 07/08 and is a wagon (estate) version. It had a single rear side door, unchanged regardless of whether it was left or right hand drive.

Quite practical, but not overly so.

2007 _4,914 (_2%)
2008 47,082 (20%)
2009 38,192 (18%)
2010 31,317 (13%)
2011 25,745 (_9%)
2012 11,913 (_8%)

The Countryman arrived in 2010, made in Austria due to capacity restraints in the UK. The first unattractive MINI in my opinion, also the biggest MINI which is in fact not that mini at all.

Surely this pushes the envelop to the limit size-wise of the MINI genre. It is also available as a 4wd.

2010 14,377 (_6%)
2011 89,036 (31%)
2012 49,588 (33%)

In 2011 the Coupé came out, and this is the ugly ducking model. Drives really well but would have to looking like that.

2011 3,799 (1%)
2012 6,278 (4%)

The Roadster surfaced in 2012 and is a convertible version of the Coupé. Sales so far give little indicator of popularity, but minimal sales can be anticipated:

2012 4,563 (3%)

Next year (2013) will see the Paceman hit the road. It seems to be a sporty version of the Countryman. As BMW searches for yet another offerings to squeeze into the range, I wonder if it needs to be made. I guess it didn't cost that much to do, being a version of something existing.

I hope this summary helps to clarify the myriad of models the MINi has become. For me, I'd buy a hatch model, but none of the others would feature on my shopping list. It's a pity a 5 door model in the basic hatch model hasn't been done. OK, the Countryman could fill that gap, but I would sooner have a Focus or Civic hatch in that case.

PS. Hats off to BMW who understand that releasing such data above is good PR for them. That some car makers feel it is sensitive information is nonsense. In this day and age, competitors know this sort of thing already.

12 September 2012

Should PSA & Mitsubishi Cosy Up?

PSA (Peuget/Citroen) are not doing well. Factories underutilised, share prices crashing and sales well down. Meanwhile Mitsubishi sales are also quite weak, with the brand surely possessing the worst range of cars of any car maker in the developed world. I mean you wouldn't buy a new Mitsubishi car, would you? I didn't think so. The SUVs/Pick Up they make are better, but still outclassed.

Recently Peugeot took rebadged Outlanders and is now taking ASXs. Which got me wondering as to why they have gone no further than that. Surely Peugeot makes some cars that Mitsubishi could sell. Peugeot is not in North America, but they could be via Mitsubishi sporting a three diamond logo.

The Plan: Mitsubishi sales are in free fall in Europe so pull out of Europe and let PSA sell what models they want from the Japanese car maker. Mitsi could spice up its car range with some 'different' cars. They could either work together as 'friends' or they could buy shares in each other and really cosy up together.

The benefits: Both makers would have a wider range of cars without expensive development costs. Factories would be more fully used, saving jobs and improving profitability.

The problems: Mitsubishi has been involved with Chrysler and Mercedes before, neither of which went that well so they could be gun shy. Peugeot cars are stylish, but not that well made.

In summary: Mitsubishi is too small to totally go it alone, the quality of its cars reflect budget restraints. PSA is too reliant on Europe and in desperate need of downsizing. There are benefits of closer co-operation but as to whether they ever will is debatable.

08 September 2012

Ford Focus TDCi vs Hyundai i30 CRDi

I have in front of me the 09/12 copy of NZ Autocar. It did a comparison between the above mentioned hatchback diesel motored cars. Now I am not one to refer to magazine articles, but the result was striking. Before I read any 'head to head', I pick the likely winner, then see if it's as I thought. This time I decided on a narrow win to the Ford. However, while I was correct about the result, the margin was what I thought I would expand on.

People say that Hyundai is up with the best now, and indeed maybe some models are. A recent drive in a new i10 left me completely underwhelmed with the quality, and the price - in NZ at least - was extortionate. The i30 diesel was easily beaten by the Ford Focus equivalent in every category they were judged on, usually by some margin. It was a good old fashioned thrashing. It is rare today for any model car to comprehensively outdo another. The Ford was even the lower priced vehicle!

This has me wondering if the gap between Korean and Euro/Japanese offerings has really closed at all. There is a very slick advertising campaign on NZ television promoting not a car model, but how the Hyundai company is putting out quality cars. Frankly to me it smacks of PR spin, and my feeling is that Hyundai has some way to go to be able to claim it up with the competition.

05 September 2012

The Jaguar S-Type History

The S-Type was built between 1999 and 2007 (some say 2008). Was it successful? I don’t really know if it was, but I think production figures were modest. I liked the look of it, somewhat retro but classy. The only part I didn’t really like was the rear end treatment. In 2002, a supercharged R version was released, which gave it some needed power as it was quite a heavy car by all accounts. To find out how many were made:

1999 53,000
2000 53,500
2001 38,300
2002 36,100
2003 31,900
2004 26,100
2005 23,800
2006 16,800
2007 11,000

Total 290,500

S-Type production slipped with the release of the X-Type in 2001, although between the two of them they did take Jaguar to record sales figures.

Jaguar has and still is making great cars. However, the S-Type won’t be remembered in history as a great Jaguar. Good but not great. Of course most cars will at best be good, so in that sense it was a success. It was replaced by the XF.

PS. Some sales by markets. The UK figures are reasonable estimates:

Yr USA UK Germ Italy Jap Fra Can Spa Aus Ned
99 15550 ? 500 1300 ? 700 675 ? 650 625
00 24500 ? 4100 3000 ? 1500 1250 ? 725 975
01 19550 7200 2725 1700 ? 1075 1125 ? 525 525
02 15950 7300 2500 1700 ? 950 750 ? 575 450
03 14875 6600 1425 1075 1125 725 600 750 325 350
04 10975 7500 1425 1400 1075 975 425 975 ? 325
05 8900 6800 1475 1250 925 800 275 1025 225 275
06 5875 6025 1475 925 600 625 200 800 200 200
07 3525 4450 1350 500 425 675 125 650 125 125
Tot 119700 33300 16975 12850 4150 5825 5425 4200 3025 3850

02 September 2012

Car Workers Told To Stay At Home

In Europe, car workers have a vacation in August, and usually return to meet orders and bolster supply. For some workers not this year. They are being told to continue their break and expect production cuts for the foreseeable future as well. This affects Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Renault Ford and General Motors plants. All these brands make volume brands, not premium marques.

The problem(s): The protracted Eurozone crisis is dampening demand, although the large markets of Germany, the UK and Russia are holding up quite well. So the real problem is over capacity, so that as soon as demand is soft, inventories grow and profits evaporate.

Why some makes are coping: Premium brands are selling well still. Plants that export a sizable amount of cars to areas outside of Europe are partially buffered. For example the Nissan Qashqai and Juke, Honda Civic Hatch and Toyota Avensis come to countries like Australia and NZ from the UK.

Any solutions?: A few factories should close, without government intervention and meddling. Can some production be sent outside of the Eurozone? The low Euro would certainly help, although it takes time develop export markets.

The reality: Europe should be moving away from so much dependence on cars anyway, to improve quality of life. Added to that, the days of constant improvement of living standards are over. Car makers, politicians and the public at large must accept that. Car makers need to meet demand and this will cost jobs. If that rather obvious reality is accepted and car makers can rationalise their businesses as they see fit, then the sooner it is done the better. Dilly dallying will weaken these companies in the meantime.