I have found a unicorn. Why on earth would GM have made a Buick with a manual transmission???!! I am stunned. GM is a car company that truly does not understand its customer. Ha shows what an MBA gets you. I believe in Santa now. Link here for those who don’t believe me.
While the NAIAS is going on, there was a much more significant autoshow happening in Scottsdale, this being the Barrett Jackson auction. As someone who actually doesn’t care much for most classic cars (Packard’s are not pretty, nor is the Mercedes-Benz gullwing, sorry. Plus I like comfort, seatbelts and navigation), this is one of few enjoyable things to watch while football ceases to exist. Here we see automotive failures that are now successes and designs that can no longer exist because of safety and fuel standards. It also shows a bygone era of when it seemed that cars were built by trial, entrepreneurship and whimsy rather than by computers. It also proves just how important design is (i.e. the Mustang), in that all you need to do is get it right once, and then just modernize the style. There’s a reason why design is so important, once it works, it will last forever.
When I sold cars in college, I used to hear men of certain age complain that they don’t build cars like they used to. I always corrected them and said, “You’re right, they build them much better today”. This holds true when watching the Barrett Jackson auction; the way the doors thud, panels looking like they fit, vehicle safety, 5.0 liter V8’s putting out 3 times the horsepower, amazing accessories, comfortable interiors (try driving a Talbot more that 10 miles, boy does that look uncomfortable) etc.… It’s been amazing to see how far we’ve come when comparing the new Corvette to the many Corvettes from the past wheeled onto the stage. At least the modern ones will last 30,000 miles. But the hardest part of this all is knowing that economies of scale have essentially killed the classic car that we can all yearn for when we’re older. No more special models that aren’t just trim lines, no more race on Sunday, sell on Monday or dealer specials (Yenko Camaros). Can you even think of one modern car outside of an M version of a BMW that might be classic (although, for me, the last collectable M was the V8 M3)? You really want a M4 with a turbo? Boring. I dread those electrical and turbo issues in the future. Hyundai Velostar in 20 years? No thanks. I can’t think of any Honda Accords I would want in 30 years, but an old Ford, you bet.
Globalization of the auto industry has brought us amazing vehicles that will last a very long time and will rarely break down, yet to us, they are really just seem like an appliance. Everything looks the same. You can barely tell the difference between a Mercedes, a Kia and a Toyota. The Barrett Jackson is an auto show that gives us the opportunity to see a time when cars had personalities, unique designs and when companies took risks just to be different and competitive. Now I can just plug my car in like a microwave.
The one thing that amuses me about GM executives is that, with all their advanced degrees, they have done everything in their to screw up the Cadillac brand. Yet, if someone there had a clue, you could make it successful because the Cadillac name is ingrained in American and internationally as a brand the speaks for achievements. Think I’m wrong? Then why does a 16 year old girl from New Zealand have a line about Cadillacs “We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams”. Because of its history, people still associate a Cadillac with success, a good ride, quality and arrival in society. It is also quite possibly that Cadillac has one of the best branding slogans of all time, “The Standard of the World.” Sadly, they still can’t get it right.
However, this article isn’t meant to be about Cadillac’s screw-ups, but rather an attempt remind readers of the opportunities that Cadillac has and where it should be headed. There are many issues that Cadillac faces, yet the ability to rectify them will take a lot of time, investment and risk. However, such a large organization like GM might not be capable of doing the work, but it should nevertheless be tried. Still, the US car market, and even some around the globe, would love a Cadillac that harkens back to the days that you knew immediately when you saw a shiny new Cadillac, you knew that a wealthy and distinguished man was in that vehicle. This is just one area where Cadillac has lost its focus, and hopefully, one day, it might be able to salvage the image and turn the brand around.
First, we know that Cadillac has an giant image problem, one in which we all assume that most people who buy Cadillac’s are typically old guys and gals who live in Florida and are just waiting out their time. Still, all is not lost; at one point they hired a decent marketing executive that tried extremely hard to change this perception amongst those not in the 55+ crowd with prostate problems. It was working somewhat. It made the brand at least more interesting. The styling has improved, but it’s not as unique as it could be. The product itself feels like it’s chasing the competition and abandoning the brand for some volume sales and say it’s a 3 series fighter. I never thought that this really represented the Cadillac Brand very well. It’s trying to chase BMW, Audi and Mercedes and beat them at their own game. Long term, that’s almost impossible. But, what the Germans lack is soul. Their products are more appliances than emotive. Cadillac needs to embrace the emotion of the product to stand out and to become “cooler” in the eyes of the 30-40 crowd who have grown up on the German sedans and boring Lexii (plural for Lexus) and might be itching for something different. It all starts with the right product.
This means kissing goodbye to the similar looking line of vehicles that mimics the Germans in their brand strategy. This means that they should try to make their margin on price of the goods rather than volume. Very few brands can accomplish staying truly luxurious and exclusive, by building more and more of the same item or similar looking items. Look at Hermes and Kiton. How many people do you see walking around in Birkin bags and custom Kiton suits? Not many, and you’ll have to wait a long time if you wanted one. This brings me back to something like this:
It is brash, bold, ostentatious, and gorgeous all in the same breath. It is a true Cadillac. It is not some platform monkey and cynical marketing/product ploy to sell more vehicles like the Bentley Continental (VW platform) Rolls Royce (Just a 7 series). It is original, harks back to its heritage and had a honking 12-cylinder engine, everything someone wants in a car. It is excess and success because it flaunts all the mainstream crap and mpg BS that we all want out of a Toyota. You’re making high 6 figures and 7 figures so why would you care about gas mileage, and if you do, well then, you don’t deserve something like the car above. Instantly, you get rid of the ATS, CTS, XTS or whatever TS is out now and you become cooler and more interesting to the younger generations. You have a flagship. You have something that is aspirational. You have cars that young people desire and dad is sure to be jealous. You don’t build a lot, hell; you tell people that they can’t buy them because they aren’t pre-approved. It works for Ferrari; nothing pisses off a rich person more than telling them no and seeing their friend driving the only one in the area. Watch them come back in droves. They all want what they can’t have, especially if only one of them belongs to some banker in the Hamptons.
The residual of this of course is that it shows people that you can be cool and that you do make excellent vehicles, which will only improve the images for Chevrolet, Buick and GMC. People want to associate themselves with cool products and the age of your customer will drop without the fake marketing BS. After all, a car is a rolling advertisement. the brand and GM can only do itself favors by getting rid of its volume cars that dentists, lawyers and 30K millionaires can drive with some excellent lease deal and start making cars that tycoons would own again. GM has done everything in its power to kill the Cadillac brand and yet, true American Luxury never sounded so sweet. GM shouldn’t care about gas mileage, hell that’s what Chevy is for and I am sure you can twist the arm of politicians to exempt Cadillac from emissions standards; just threaten union jobs if they don’t change the rules and the Democratic leaders will change the laws faster than you can say job creation. We are tired of all the boring German products and are itching for $100,000+ cars from Cadillac again. There is a hole in the industry that only Cadillac can fulfill. Heck, if need be make an SUV, it’ll still work, and you just don’t need to be fast around the Nürburgring to prove it. Who wouldn’t be jealous of you if they saw you driving this?
It’s a concept from 2003 and it still looks amazing. Where are you Cadillac? Are you listening?
If you can get past the Englishman, you’ll see the all-new Alfa sports car. It’s a Cayman/Boxter (The Z4 isn’t a real sports car) fighter, which quite frankly, we all could use. The Jaguar F-Type is too expensive and doesn’t have the same sporting and driving cache that an Alfa does. I know, for those of who you remember the Alfa brand in the US, you’ll be worried about quality and rightfully so. But with their partnership with Chrysler, it should be easier to fix and you might be able to bring it to various dealers who will have a repair manual handy. Now all we need is the spyder (convertible) version. Too bad they fitted it with a turbo, it’d be pretty amazing with a V6. One day we’ll get a full Alfa line up. This is what an Alfa is supposed to be, an affordable and fun car that allows you to lose track of time because it’ll put a smile on your face. Too bad they’re only making 3,500 of these.
I was glancing through what has been one of my favorite websites for a long time now and came across this here at the The Truth About Cars. I am kind of shocked that Kia is trying to attempt something like this, considering their brand position and what people have come to expect from them. I think the MBA’s or whoever is running this company is a little delusional about how expensive their products should be and their brand strength. As someone who has sold Kias in my late teens, I know what the brand’s maximum reach is.
Creating a 7 series fighter for 5 series money sounds great until you realize that those who have that kind of money, don’t want to be driving around in Kia. While there is a small section of the country that likes understated luxury, this might be pushing it a little too far. Kia, as we all know is a low cost brand; cars for those who can’t afford that much or who have lousy credit. Trust me, many people buying Kias have crap credit*. So why would they be trying to build a luxury car? You’ve worked hard to be able to afford a car that costs 45-60k, and want to reward yourself by showing people that you’ve been successful, I doubt that last thing you want in your driveway is a Kia. It’s important for brands to remember who they are what they do well; Kia has done a great job of building low cost, quality transportation that gets you from point A to point B.
I understand why they want to do it, since cars like these can generate a higher profit margin and sharing platforms with the Hyundai Genesis certainly will help reduce the costs. Kia Hopes it will help create a stronger brand identity so that people do not associate it with cheap transportation. However, it is a crowded market and they are competing with Hyundai as well as themselves. They want to improve their brand image to show that they can build cars that can rival a 7 series for driving quality and build quality for a lot less. But most people are brand whores and going to the country club in a Kia, will ultimately be looked at as cheap or just not that wealthy. It would be wise for them to invest on improving their quality and reducing costs rather than trying to lose money building a luxury car that few people will find desirable. Kia needs to be who they are and let the Europeans buy the fake luxury/performance vehicles. We all remember the Volkswagen Phaeton right? It’s a great used car and the Kia K900 will be too.
*This reminds of a story of a guy who wanted to buy a Kia Rio from the dealership where I used to work. He had two repossessions and a bankruptcy. Nice guy, who was working his way back and definitely had the look of a man beat down and humbled by life. He ended getting financing at an 18%APR.
As we all do, I sometimes visit sites that I don’t like, not necessarily to get annoyed, but just to see what they’re writing. Usually this involves gawker media and their enthusiast car site, which has an abnormal and odd obsession with European diesel cars and wagons. Ironically they are a bunch of guys that live in a city in which owning a car is virtually impossible unless you live in an outer borough or in some section of Brooklyn that’s so cool, it doesn’t exist yet. Anyway, the problem that I have with them is that are they always complaining about how we never get these Euro wagons and somehow this country is missing out on something special. I hate to break it to them, but wagons are the fastest growing segment in the auto industry, we just need to redefine what a wagon is; a crossover or SUV.
Think about it for a second, what is the real difference between a wagon and an SUV? They both offer utility (an SUV more so), the same gas mileage (look up an Allroad and a Q5 or any Volvo, pretty much the same MPG) and often times greater visibility and ride height than a wagon. What do wagons do that’s different? We need to realize who are buying these vehicles and why they’re buying them. What the hipsters do not realize is that most purchasers of these vehicles are women and families. Why? It’s because these people feel (perception is reality in this case) safer than they do in a wagon. Since they’re up higher, they get the same feeling of ride height that any truck has to offer and feel that it will protect them in a crash. When you’re hauling kids in the back, the last thing someone wants to feel is smaller and that something could happen to your kids or yourself in the event of some kind crash. A wagon doesn’t accomplish this. Look at the Subaru outback, it’s popular because it was jacked up and not sitting so low to the ground, and they’ve made it taller since it’s introduction and probably the most popular “wagon”.
Even though Jalopnik is desperate for wagons to be in the US (Hey Volvo, enjoy less than 5,000 sales of those a year), they need to realize we have plenty of them, they’re just now called the Toyota Highlander, Mercedes ML320 and so on. The business case for the traditional wagon is dead. This is one of the reasons why manufacturers should never listen to “enthusiasts” when it comes to product decisions; they would never turn a prophet. Oh yeah, the manual transmission is sadly dead too, but that’s a discussion for another day.
* This article has been neutered since the launch of Jaguar’s announcement of it’s CUV, but it still applies.
Aside from the fact that there is no such thing as a “luxury” car anymore with Hyundai’s and Kias looking and driving better and maintaining a higher quality standard than many of the German companies; people still perceive “luxury” cars as a status symbol and symbol of success. This isn’t about where luxury cars are headed, but who could possibly replace BMW, Mercedes and Audi as the leaders in performance and luxury as they slowly continue to destroy their brands as they move down market and into Honda’s territory. There’s only one company that really can possibly take advantage of the big German 3 going all volume of this.
Before I get to the answer, ask yourself this: why, if you could afford a 7 series, S500, A8, etc… would you want to drive something that looks like a $30,000 car from the same company? The more you see something the less special it becomes; badging doesn’t separate you from the others. This is why Hermes, Kiton, Oxxford are still special, but Armani, Polo, Burberry, are still somewhat mass brands and not considered true luxury. I know what you’re thinking, I am writing about Porsche, and how they’ve essentially become the new Mercedes-Benz (think MB from the 60s-80s). You’d be wrong. Unlike most “enthusiasts”, I don’t think the company has killed their brand with an SUV, since it still performs, is still expensive and women are the biggest purchasers who don’t care about the 0-60 performance of these vehicles (think of SUV’s has wagons and not trucks). They make sense. They haven’t ruined their core product like BMW has or haven’t designed their product like a Korean car company like Mercedes. Nope, I am referring to Jaguar/Land Rover.
That’s right a British car company. I know you’re howling right now about build quality and contradicting my point above, however, this isn’t wholly about build quality. Under Ford’s and BMW’s ownership quality improved greatly (even though it’s still bad for Land Rovers), but they have a few things going for them that ze germans do not. I am not going to tell how they can do it, as I’d be giving to many billion-dollar ideas away. Jaguar has enough of a performance heritage and history to prove their consumers that they indeed have a history of making sporty and fun cars to drive and can compete with BMW (who don’t have a strong sporting history ironically) on the performance side of the business. Their cars definitely have style. The new XJ is graceful, looks dignified and is not ostentatious or loud. Everyone has copied the XF rear end and even though the front needs updating, it’s still a great looking car. The new F-Type is obviously one of the best looking cars on the road, even though the V8 can’t be ordered with a manual and is a bit overpriced. We as a society, (in fact all societies) judge appearances, and Jaguar is succeeding in this area. All of their cars look expensive, feel expensive, and are expensive and have yet to go down market. A $30,000 millionaire can’t afford a new one, only used and that’s a very important distinction.
Furthermore, they can just focus on making two sedans and two sports cars rather than trying to create a vehicle for every niche. Their brand doesn’t get diluted by X1’s, X3’s A5’s and all the SUV’s (key distinction for Porsche is that they make one SUV with multiple trim levels); Land Rover has that market and they don’t have to compete with them. There’s no common design between the two, so they can continue to remain distinctive. The same design for Porsche works, because Porsche was smart and haven’t really changed the design in since it was developed as a squashed VW beetle (similar to Coke or Chanel, Iconic brand design that only needs modernizing and never redoing). Everyone notices the design of Porsche, the other Germans and the Lexii all blend together. However, the most important aspect of this is the fact that they aren’t using the MQB or similar type of architecture. I think that these types of architectures will end up hurting the manufactures in the long run because Volkswagen/Audi/Bentley, Toyota/Lexus will all look the same; I find it hard to believe you can design something totally different from a common template. If you know you’re driving around with the same vehicle as something that costs significantly less and looks very similar to the cheaper version, as a customer, it would be hard to continue to purchase something that costs significantly more without the visual distinction. Sure, you’ll still sell to the brand whores, but the people who have the money that continually trade in and get new vehicles every 3 years, will walk away. Jaguar can still maintain this exclusivity because they only have 4 products (so far). Now, if they can take advantage of this via marketing and brand building, remains to be seen (I myself am dubious that they’ll pull it off). I won’t be giving them my amazing ideas. Now if only an intelligent person worked at GM, they’d know what to do with Cadillac.
I got somewhat lucky one day, in that my car was damaged by a giant hail storm, so I thought that this was good time to test drive a few vehicles considering a new car might be on offer. I finally I got to test drive some new cars and was excited to see how far cars had come since the last time I was in the market for a new automobile was in 2007. I stopped by the BMW dealership to see the new 3 series, since they always drove well have excellent residual value. My opinion forever changed 2 minutes into the test drive.
I was lucky to actually find a manual transmission 328i on a dealer lot, with some options I didn’t care for or need (no head up displays are not new, if you want one, go and get a Pontiac GXP), but I was excited to drive this car, as the last BMW manual I drove was a 2008 model. As soon as I get in, I notice the interior, well, is terrible. It’s boring, cheap and really uninspiring. But the drive, the drive! Oh wow was it terrible. I mean the transmission and clutch were excellent but that was about it. The only car as gutless as a 2013 BMW 328i are cheap 4 bangers from some Asian company (or Chevy). It took a while to spool up and generate that extra horsepower for passing and I just knew sitting there, that right when the car went out of warranty, the turbo would blow, kind of like old Audi’s. Guaranteed over-engineered garbage. OK, I thought maybe I am being unfair about the turbo, albeit a 3 series BMW having a 4 cylinder engine is beyond lame, but I took it to the highway and did a real world test; I slowed down to 50 to simulate a little traffic and forgetting to shift down; I tried to accelerate and got nothing. Foot down, still nothing. Looked at the RPM dial, nothing. Still nothing. Finally, after about what seemed like 4-6 seconds the car started accelerating. I laughed and turned to the salesman and said “It accelerates like my Civic SI”. I lied, it accelerated worse.
We pull back in and I asked to see if I could drive the 335, which of course they only had in was an automatic, but no bother, I just wanted to test drive it. So the salesman pulls out the “sport” model, with of course a ton of stupid extras on it, and I first notice the black side mirrors that do not match the paint of the car. I ask the salesman why this is, and he says, “Because it looks sporty and cool.” I was stunned. I told him it looked like the car got into an accident and forgot to paint the mirrors. It seems like they decided not to hide the cost cutting. I get in and there’s a red stripe that going across the dash. Uh what?! Who in their bright mind thought that this was “Sporty” or thought that it looked nice?! WTF? OK, how the car drives is all that matters; now I start to think that this is a nice driving car, it has a true 6 cylinder engine, power is very good and I enjoyed changing the suspension on the car to the different settings. In sport + mode it still felt like a BMW; then I accelerated to 7,000 RPM and waited for the transmission to shift, and waited, and chuckled when it finally did. Yes I know driving an automatic is different, but I have driven automatic BMW’s in the past, but none as clumsy as this one. The best worse part of this whole experience? The damn price.
I went to “talk numbers” with the salesman, not letting it slip, that I too once sold cars and actually worked for a car company, so I know a thing or two about what cars cost and the BS financing that goes on. I sit down with the man and we price out a BMW to my liking (their saving grace is their warranty program) and finally we arrive at the price of $48,000 for the 328i. I nearly fell off my chair laughing. At no point was this car better than a Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Genesis, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry etc… The engine on the 328i stinks, no sucks, and not that efficient. The 335i for almost 60K is way overpriced at best and borderline theft at worst. The saddest part of this is that the 5 series has the same 4cyl engine! Are you kidding me?! The old saying of “A fool and his money are quickly parted” with the 3 series BMW’s this holds true. And if you see someone 320i, 328i or 528i just let them know that they just built a bridge that connects Chicago to Michigan and tell them that you’re a toll collector and they have to pre-pay. I kept my (repaired) Civic Si that day.