Tag Archives: diesel

Saturn Dealers Don’t Want to Close

19 Feb

Some Saturn dealers, upon hearing that GM wants to kill the brand, want to spin the marque off from GM. Recall that Saturn dealerships are singular and free-standing.

I would tend to agree with this notion, because it’s become quite evident that the domestic automakers’ attempts to compete with Japanese, Korean, and European cars have almost uniformly become a game of catch-up. So, if Chevy, GMC, Pontiac, Buick, and Cadillac can’t compete effectively with Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Acura, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, or VW, it makes some sense to retain the Saturn dealership network and use it to try and compete.

Because Saturn was just getting interesting.

After a decade, give or take, of selling tinny crap with plastic doors that looked like it was designed in 1988, Saturn was starting to get good. The Aura, the new Vue, the Astra, the Outlook – these are not only good cars, a couple of them are cars I’ve actually considered buying because they’re well built and well designed.

Saturn is supposed to get the new Opel Insignia, which is about as close to BMW luxury as a domestic automaker would ever get for under $30,000. The Astra is built in Belgium. The Outlook is as good as the last-generation Honda Pilot.

So the Saturn dealers might be able to band together and keep the brand alive through a deal with Opel, GM’s European brand. Opel is the source of the Insignia (Vectra’s new name, and the 2011 Aura), the Astra, and could decide to bring the Meriva and the Zafira – its mini-MPVs – to the states to compete with the Mazda5 and the European Fords that are supposed to start being shipped over here soon. The Corsa could easily compete with the Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit. Opel offers an entire range of stylish and fuel-efficient vehicles. With some tweaking, its diesel engines could be adopted stateside.

On the other hand, if GM puts Saturn for sale, it might provide one of the Chinese automakers like Brilliance or BYD an entree into this market. On the other hand, there have been rumors that Renault might be looking to re-enter the US market, and a ready-made distribution and dealership network are just waiting to be gobbled up. (My personal preference would be to see Škoda come to the US. Their cars are more conservatively styled than VW’s, cheaper, and better-built.)

Even though the economy is in the tank right now, this is not going exist in perpetuity. Now is a good time for an ambitious company to strike on re-entering the US market to compete on the design and fuel-efficiency front.

GM & Chrysler Look for $35 bn Combined

17 Feb

I’m not a bank aficionado, so don’t ask me about the bailouts or the Swedish model for nationalization or anything else. I haven’t read the stimulus bill signed into law today, so don’t ask me about that, either.

I do know, however, that GM and Chrysler are in trouble after 3 or 4 decades of making cars and trucks that are/were, for the most part, a bunch of crap. The Dodge Charger I rented in Vegas was nice enough, but it was rough enough around the edges that I’d never consider buying one. The Dodge Caravan I rented in Florida last year was adequate, but seemed to be light-years behind the class-leading Honda Odyssey. GM has gotten better, but not across the board, not for every car.

So, GM needs $30 billion, will eliminate 20,000 jobs by 2012, and will put Saturn to death by 2011 and consider getting rid of Hummer, too.

Chrysler needs $5 billion, and will eliminate a few thousand jobs.

If I was GM, I’d throw out the Saturn name and just import or build Opels, and let the Germans run it. I’d sell Hummer, and I’d re-configure the entire operation to enable it to be quicker to market with new cars, and get plants to be as modern and efficient as those anywhere else in the world. If I was Chrysler, I’d hire some new designers right away and start an entire new line of vehicles across the board. Jeep should have 3 – 4 models, and Chrysler should focus on luxury while Dodge focuses on muscle cars like the Challenger, and mid-range passenger cars. The Fiat deal gives Chrysler access to small, fuel efficient cars, and luxurious stuff like Alfas.

Every SUV should be available with a common-rail diesel engine for economy. Every car should have a diesel or hybrid engine option. GM and Chrysler both need to innovate not just in terms of engine technology, but also with respect to interior design and perceived quality. It doesn’t take much – hell, just copy a new Hyundai and it’d be an improvement over all of what Chrysler shits out and half of what GM bothers to try and sell.

When the car market is in a slide, the most innovative and economical cars are going to do well. GM and Chrysler don’t have too many of those, but Honda is going to sell a $19,000 4-door Insight that gets close to 60 MPG. Honda’s sales may be down, but it doesn’t have its hand out. During the SUV boom, it chose to innovate with the Pilot and Ridgeline while still investing in the Insight and Civic hybrids. Toyota built 4Runners and Highlanders, but it also built Echos, Yarises, and Priuses.

GM? It built Silverados, Cobalts, and a decade’s worth of awful Trailblazers. Chrysler built fugly Sebrings and $40,000 Grand Cherokees with rental-car interiors. No wonder they’re in trouble.

Their paths to salvation don’t lie in staff reduction or bailouts or plant closings. They must innovate and build cars that can compete with the Germans, the Japanese, and most pathetically, the Koreans – the country that gave us a joke called a “Hyundai” in 1985, and now builds the Genesis, which puts most of GM’s cars to shame.

The Case for Clean Diesel

20 May

With the price of fuel creeping upward on an almost Zimbabwe-like daily basis, people are slowly starting to alter their routines. Driving less, taking the bus, unloading the SUV, etc.

I’m ok for now, but I am eagerly awaiting the release of the new 50-state legal clean diesel engines. Battery maintenance, safety, lack of stop-and-go traffic, and unsatisfying mileage figures make hybrids a poor fit for me. A diesel, on the other hand, provides mileage that bests overall that of a Toyota Prius, looks and behaves like a regular car, and enables me to fill the tank once every two weeks rather than once every week.

I’m currently very interested in replacing my 2.0T gas engine VW Passat with the 2009 Jetta SportWagen TDI, which is coming out in August or September. The estimated highway EPA mileage on that car is rumored to be 60 MPG highway. That means I could double my miles-per-tank from about 400 to about 800. That’s a huge difference, and one that makes economic sense even with diesel being more expensive than gas. I’ll take mine in red with the massive panoramic sunroof and a 6-speed manual transmission, please.

The problem is that Volkswagen’s reliability can be hit-or-miss. Some I’ve owned have had few problems, others have been downright lemons.

Enter Honda/Acura. The New York Times just got through test driving a Euro-spec Honda Accord (sold in the US as an Acura TSX) which sports a 4-cylinder 2.2 liter diesel which makes 140 HP, but an incredible 250 lb-ft of torque. So, it’s not slow. Better still, in real-world testing, that Honda engine returned 34 MPG in the city and 53 MPG on the highway. Oh, and it’s Honda reliable.

Those miles included a bumper-to-bumper crawl through Manhattan, the worst possible conditions for fuel efficiency.

But for people who enjoy driving, the diesel delivers over the hybrid in a big way:

The Accord covered the zero-to-60 run in just under 9 seconds in my testing, which doesn’t sound spectacular on paper. But its passing power from 30, 50 or even 70 miles an hour was terrific, as the Honda easily shot past slower cars.

And as more hybrid owners are discovering, their cars deliver little or no mileage gain on the highway. That’s because battery packs and electric motors add several hundred pounds, and the system also contributes negligible energy at freeway speeds.

Also unlike hybrids, which require drivers to go easy on the gas pedal, watch the speed limit and coast when possible to improve the mileage, the diesel Honda delivered brilliant economy with no special effort. Even spirited driving didn’t dent the mileage much. The Accord delivered 50 m.p.g. even during a 75-m.p.h. cruise and 40 m.p.g. when I flogged it like a Nascar yahoo.

All that with less CO2 emissions than a car, and with negligible NOx emissions through state of the art particulate filters, ammonia systems, and ultra low sulfur diesel.

Once these diesels come out, carmakers can pretty much stop the excuses and whining about increased CAFE standards.

How to Sell Diesel Cars to Environmentalists

5 Dec

These are British ads for Volkswagen’s Bluemotion Polo. It’s a diesel. It gets 62 miles per US gallon.

We have a long way to go.

Wake up, Ford USA

5 Dec

I always come back to the Ford Focus as being emblematic of what’s wrong with Ford USA. The domestic Focus is on its third re-design in its almost decadelong lifespan, and it looks like something my kid threw up. They got rid of the less offensive-looking wagon and hatchback versions, to boot. The European Focus is on the second redesign of the second version. It comes in sedan, hatch, wagon, and convertible versions.

Autoblog Green has the skinny on something else we don’t have here. A diesel engine.

…specifically a 2.0L turbo four with 134 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque. The Focus TDCi consumes miles at the rate of 42 for every US-sized gallon of diesel fuel. That’s quite a few more than a gas-engined U.S. Focus which only gets 28 mpg combined.

And that diesel engine is equipped to run on the ultra-low sulfur diesel that’s been mandated at US pumps since last September. After last year’s Detroit Auto Show, which was packed with VW and Mercedes diesels, I fully expected there to be 50-state legal cars available by now, but none are in showrooms just yet. Now that small cars are making a comeback in the US, this would be the perfect time to replace the drecktastic domestic Focus with the clearly superior European one. Wake up, Ford.