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Because you’re reading Wheels.ca, you probably want to know about the latest and greatest in the car world, right? Keep track of what’s not only new today, but what’s coming down the pipe as well. It’s the reason why publications will pay big money for so-called “spy shots” of yet-to-be-released models, usually nabbed in “secret” testing facilities or far-off, remote places on the globe. But some automakers have taken it upon themselves to turn the tables on the spies themselves. The latest is Mercedes-Benz, which recently released its own “spy shots” of a refreshed SLK being “tested” in Death Valley (above left), due in showrooms some time in 2011 as a 2012 model.
Why would Mercedes—and other automakers—do this? Doesn’t it want to keep its car under wraps until its debut, rumoured to be at next Spring's Geneva show? Well, that depends…
On a car like the SLK, that was really “all-new” four years ago, it’s a known entity. Slated for a mid-cycle refresh, with the usual exterior and interior upgrades, the new version isn't planned to be all that groundbreaking.
In fact, these most recent corporate “spy shots” were released primarily to promote the SLK’s only “new” feature (right), an all-glass insert in its retractable hardtop that can be made either transparent or darkened. In fact, media like myself were given a demo of the technology at the recent post-Paris auto show launch of the 2012 ‘Benz CLS.
My guess is, these first SLK “spy shots” are just the beginning of what will more than likely is a half-year striptease of the new raodster. Next will be images of the car wrapped in the obligatory camo-wrap, free of the fake body panels seen in this iteration. Then there will be the mysterious “spy video” of the two-seater (probably the AMG version) hurtling around Germany’s Nürburgring racetrack. Finally, we’ll see a so-called SLK Vision “concept” at an auto show, essentially the production car itself, save for some fancy wheels, paint and bodywork.
What do you think?
Do you see any value in these corporately contrived “spy” images?
Or do you snub your nose these types of corporate releases, knowing they are just another piece of the company’s marketing campaign?
Right now, Volvo, along with the likes of demi-luxury brands like Acura, Saab and Lincoln, is in that dreaded middle ground in the market—not really mainstream, but also not perceived in the same light as blue-chip luxury brands like BMW, Audi, ‘Benz and Lexus.
But not for long. Apparently, Volvo’s new Sino owners want to take the brand both up- and down-market, and ditch the automaker’s iconic station wagons.
"The luxury station wagon segment has been on the decline over the last decade, and we have adjusted our product lineup with the XC products," Doug Speck, CEO of Volvo Cars of North America told media at the 2011 S60’s recent launch event (seen above) I attended in Portland, Oregon.
As we already know, the just released S60-based sport wagon (the V60) won’t come to North America. And the V70 wagon won't be sold after the 2011 model year either. After that, the compact V50 wagon goes away in 2013, when Volvo also drops the S40 sedan. In their places, a new, even smaller sedan and compact crossover arrive to take on the BMW 1 Series and X1 crossover.
With a nod to China’s hunger for large, Western-branded luxury cars, Volvo will also create new platforms within the next two years for the geriatric XC90 crossover and slightly fresher S80 sedan.Zhejiang aims to double Volvo's 2008 sales of just over 450,000 worldwide by 2013. To help, a new Volvo factory in China will churn out about 300,000 cars per year for the Chinese market. But that doesn’t mean the automaker is abandoning Western markets. Speck said that the new S60’s sales will be evenly divided by three, between North America, Europe and Asia. And those extra Asian sales will apparently help fund all of the new products.
“Look, [Zhejiang] didn’t buy is to fail,” said Speck.
But will this strategy work?
By chasing the likes of BMW, while at the same time giving up its traditionally staid, soccer mom, safety-freak customers, do you think Volvo can fly with the big boys—and ultimately—survive?Or is separating itself from its mid-luxury rivals just the cure for the longstanding Swedish marque?
Do you want rear-, or all-wheel-drive? Naturally aspirated or turbocharged engine? Hard-, glass-, or ragtop? Sports, track, or all-out race car? If that’s not enough variety, just wait. There’s even more 911s on the way.
With the next generation due in late 2011 as a 2012 model, the German automaker is rolling out the 911 specials like wienerschnitzel during dinner time at the Weinstube Widmer-froehlich restaurant, in Porsche’s home town of Stuttgart, Germany.
The latest 911 is the Speedster, above left, a limited-production (356 examples worldwide, 15 for Canada) version of the new Carrera GTS, above right—itself a 911 special introduced just a week ago.
If you don’t already know, the GTS’s 3.8-litre flat-six develops 408 hp: 23 hp more than the “cooking” Carrera S. Top speed rises by four km/h to 306 km/h, while naught to 100 km/h improves by 0.1 seconds, to 4.2 seconds. You also get the wider Carrera 4 bodywork, and special wheels exterior/interior trim. All for a $15,300 premium over the $109,300 starting price of a Carrera S.
Oh, you can get a convertible GTS as well.
This week’s 911 special, the Speedster, takes the GTS convertible and adds a shortened windshield, even wider rear fenders, “chopped-down” manual soft top, and the iconic Fuchs-style Sport Classic wheels…and costs $245,900—almost double the asking price of the similarly-powerful GTS, or about a Carrera S-worth over a GTS convertible.
Now, at some point, the accountants back at Porsche HQ have crunched the numbers enough to sign off on these models with profits in mind. And, in truth, compared to most everyday cars, any 911 is special.
But do you think this plethora of 911s helps or hinders the iconic sports car’s image?
Do they make Porsche look like money-grubbing opportunists?
Or can the world simply not get enough 911s?
[Source: Porsche Canada]
So. It looks like the 12-cylinder Lamborghini, a configuration that’s been around since the first production car, the 1963 350GT, is history. And at the same time, Lamborghini has released a new “manifesto,” basically a How to Guide on what the automaker plans on doing to survive the new environmental regs. Get ready for it, but instead of displacement, Lambos will get lighter.
According to the release, Lamborghini still stands for “extreme and uncompromising super sports cars of the best Italian tradition.” Okay. And going forward, “design and performance” are the two main reasons to buy a Lambo.
Now, how you define performance is a tricky matter. If you own a Prius, it’s all about getting a smug L/100 km rating. But a Lambo? It’s all about going fast, right?
Well, er, maybe not so much in the future…
“Regarding performance, until a few years ago priorities were, in this order: top speed, acceleration and handling. In recent years this has been changing.”
“Speed is not as important anymore, because all super sports cars are exceeding 300km/h, and this is a speed that you cannot reach even on a racetrack, let alone normal roads. We think it is time to make a shift and talk more about handling and acceleration.”
If this sounds like a little bit of rationalization by Lamborghini in the midst of its capitulation to the bureaucrats, the line starts right behind Yours Truly. In my mind, Lamborghinis have always been about political incorrectness, a one-finger salute to arrogant Ferrari buyers, the type of car a contemporary Don Draper would drive.
But not going forward. Instead of heading to the gym, Lamborghinis will go on a salad diet. Essentially, in the Power versus Weight equation, Lambo has chosen on the side of weight, or the reduction thereof.
According to the Italian automaker, “The magic word for this is ‘carbon fibre’… Every new Lamborghini will make the best use of carbon fibre to reduce weight.”
So there you have it.
In your eyes, how important is it that the new top line Jota only comes with ten cylinders?
Or do you applaud the Italian super sports car makers’ strategy to go light versus might?
Not only is the MKZ Lincoln’s first hybrid, because its based on the excellent bones of the Ford Fusion Hybrid (but with some extra goodies for those with the means), the Lincoln hybrid ends up being the “most fuel efficient luxury hybrid” you can buy. Roomy, quiet, refined, it’s the type of car the smaller, louder, and thirstier (yet similarly priced) Lexus HS250 h hybrid should have been.
And the new MKX seriously challenges the class leading Lexus RX 350.
Trouble is, as good as the new Lincolns are—and they are—you probably have little or no idea what an MKZ or MKX is, or can distinguish them from any of the other MK-Whatever models in Lincoln showrooms these days
You see, for a few years now, Lincoln has tried to mimic the import brands’ naming conventions, eschewing such iconic names such as Continental. And the new letter jumble model names don’t exactly conjure up any kind of meaningful images or emotions.
Don’t worry. I’m sure some marketing guru convinced Lincoln that this was a great idea. I mean, our attention deficit society wants “KFC”, not Kentucky Fried Chicken. Right?
But it doesn't work at cementing Lincoln in the public eye. To cut cocktail party conversations short, I tend to call any Lincoln by its Ford name (i.e. the MKZ becomes the Lincoln Fusion—the MKX, the Lincoln Edge), and listeners nod knowingly.
As you may know, the current “MK” is meant to imply the legendary Mark series of luxobarge coupes Ford’s luxury brand trotted out for over four decades, beginning with the Lincoln 1956 Mark II (left) and ending with the 1998 Mark VIII (right).
So here’s an idea for free: Why doesn’t Lincoln simply spell out the MK and bring back the Mark badge?
Mercedes seems to do okay with its “Class” naming convention (i.e. C Class; E Class, etc.) And nothing says “Lincoln” like the word Mark.
Don’t you think a Mark Z, Mark X, or Mark T would be easier to remember? I sure do.
Lincolns are becoming world class. Maybe its time to become proud, and give the models the names they deserve.
Well that didn’t take too long. As soon as former Mazda design director Laurens van den Acker left last year to take over as head pen of France’s Renault, it seems the Japanese automaker can’t move fast enough away from its still-born Nagare design language, a look that was created by van den Acker (left), but only seen in production form in the next Mazda5 mini-minivan (right), of all things.
Anyway, Mazda has already previewed its so-called new design language, dubbed "Kodo," in the shape of the Shinari show car (left.) Like last year’s Infiniti Essence concept (right), the Shinari will be the design halo for all future Mazda production cars. And now with the release of a potential Kodo-based compact teaser video, we get a taste of the what the next Mazda3 could look like, due for an all-new platform around 2012-2013.
For me, a new Mazda3 can’t come soon enough. I know. The current car is pushing the Honda Civic as the best selling new car in Canada these days. But the looks? Meh… In fact, I tagged the 3 as one of my Top 10 Worst Redesigns earlier this year.
What do you think?
Do you like the caught-between-Nagare-and-a-hard-place looks of the current 3?
Or can the new Kodo-inspired 3 not come soon enough?
Reuters is saying Spyker Cars NV may have been too optimistic on Saab's earlier sales goals. Shocking, I know. The global sales goal for Saab has been reduced to 45,000 this year, down from a previous target of 50,000. Spyker is now forecasting 2011 Saab sales at 80,000, down from 100,000 before, but it kept a long-term sales goal of 120,000 a year.
Not that the Saabistas want to hear this, but Spyker has never made a profit. Just last year, they lost $25.81 million, on sales of only $8.85 million. I’m no Bernie Madoff. But that doesn’t look very good. And now a report coming from Automobilwoche says Spyker has until the end of this week to file for bankruptcy or find new investors. And that’s not good news for the new products Saab needs to get into showrooms sooner than later.
For instance, BMW wanted to deliver engines for the Mexican-made 9-4X crossover and maybe the 9-3 compact. But that deal is stone cold now. And Spyker has been talking about launching a premium subcompact 9-2 model, and then enter it in the World Rally Championship. But before that can happen, the 9-2 needs to move beyond speculative concept drawings.
The big problem is that the cost of the 9-2 wasn't included in the turnaround plan Saab presented to its current investors and the Swedish government. So Saab needs to find another automaker that will supply a platform it can rebody.
Spyker was going to hook up with BMW’s next-gen Mini platform for its new 9-2 premium subcompact, but now Automotive News is saying Spyker head Victor Muller is chatting with three automakers (BMW included) for help with the 9-2.
Of course, being able to pay another automaker for the 9-2 platform may be a bit of sticking issue as Muller takes his Saab cap in hand.
Do you think Saab will remerge as a real global player again?
Do you think enough Canadians even want the Swedish brand to return to our shores?
[Sources: Automobilwoche, Automotive News, Reuters]
Ho-hum. Another—the sixteenth this year—Toyota vehicle recall. This time for the bland-yet-popular, Canadian-made Corolla and Matrix models. If you happen to work for Toyota, at the corporate or dealership levels, this is yet another left-right jab to your company’s image. No doubt. And as Tony Alphen’s piece reads, “…the continuing negative publicity over the recalls and questions about the company’s longstanding reputation for quality and durability is a key reason why sales have slipped here this year while most rivals are recovering the recession.”
Historically, Toyota’s reputation for reliably (at the sake of styling, quality, and driving appeal) has kept its used car residual values at a higher-than-average value. But not any longer. The spate of recalls this past year has revealed what Toyota really is: Just another profits-first automaker, but with boring cars.
However this latest recall isn’t bad news for everyone. Especially if you’re in the market for a used compact car. If you’re in that group, and want to take advantage of a rare opportunity to get a leg up on a Toyota dealer, go in this weekend and shop for a used Corolla/Matrix in the 2005-2008 model years that fall under the latest recall. And make sure you bring in a copy of Alphen’s recall piece from today’s Star, just for added leverage.
Recalls aside, fundamentally, these cars are still good, basic pieces of transportation. Although they do drive like your dishwasher. And the interior plastics will remind you of your kid’s Lego. And their bland styling will make it difficult to find them in a crowded mall parking lot. But hey, at least they get descent gas mileage, there’s plenty of them on the used market, and the Matrix’s hatchback configuration means it can be a used as the sole ride for most one-car-only families.
And—most importantly for shoppers—the Corolla and Matrix will (or should) be on sale at a price that relates to their true value.
Honda Canada replied to the Civic Hybrid and Insight hullabalu: "There has been a rumour circulating this week about Honda Canada no longer selling the Honda Insight or Civic Hybrid. Please note that it is just that—a rumour. Honda Canada will listen to the voice of our customers and will bring the products they want. If there is market demand for Insight and Civic Hybrid, we will bring the appropriate supply. Honda dealers currently have more than 6 months supply of these models, so we will monitor demand and order more when demand is there. That said, Honda Canada is planning to offer both Insight and Civic Hybrid as 2011 model-year units, and we have no plans to discontinue either model."
So there you go. - JL
It’s taken a few years. But it looks like Canadian new car buyers are coming to their senses about the lack of value in gasoline-electric hybrids."
Montreal’s LaPresse is reporting that Honda Canada will be dropping two-thirds of its hybrid lineup. Not that anyone will notice, but allegedly, the Civic Hybrid and the much-hyped Insight will be leaving showrooms, just as its new CR-Zed sports coupe arrives.
"Our dealers do not keep any of these models [Insight and Civic hybrid] in stock and the customer who wants to buy one should place an order and wait for the car be delivered to him," Nadia Mereb, Honda’s Québec media relations person told the Montreal newspaper.
Officially, there wasn’t a 2010 model year for the hybrid Civic. It’s lack of popularity caused Honda Canada to continue to sell leftover 2009 models. Of the over 30,000 Civics sold in Canada in the fist half of 2010, only about 600 were hybrids. The Insight—Honda’s half-hearted response to Toyota’s Prius—has been even more of an unmitigated disaster. Only about 750 Canadians have bought an Insight this year. A little off the projected 10,000-per-year numbers Honda Canada had hoped for, eh?
Of course, Honda isn’t the only one finding out that hybrids aren’t fooling all of the people, all of the time. I expect Toyota premium brand Lexus’ HS 250h will soon suffer the same as the just-canned Honda hybrids.
Originally priced in the $40,000 and $50,000 range, rare is the buyer that has bought into the HS’s—er—interesting value proposition. And the market has spoken.
Last weekend in the Wheels print section, Lexus Canada was advertising $7,000 in discounts and incentives on the HS 250h, bringing it’s base price down to $34,980. Hey, don’t worry. There's no need to ruch down to your local Lexus dealer. The old, “Hurry! They’re going fast!” tagline doesn’t apply here.
So, obviously, Canadians have wisened up to the questionable value proposition of hybrids. And, obviously, they’re too many hybrids for the market. So which hybrid do you think should be the next to walk the plank?
[Sources: Lexus Canada, La Presse]
Wheels writer John LeBlanc was the owner of an advertising and marketing firm before indulging his lifelong passion for cars by becoming an automotive journalist. Join in the discussion as he provides expert critical analysis of the foibles of the auto industry.