Friday, July 25, 2003

China focus -- Seems that every issue of the Automotive News Daily Update has some item or items about auto manufacturers plans/expectations/hopes for sales to the Chinese. Makes sense. The very definition of an untapped market: Lots of people, not a lot of cars ... yet. (Sign up for the update here. It's often deeply inside baseball, but the product related information is generally fresh and interesting. Much of the product news also makes its way to the Car News section of the Autoweek home page).

Best China-related item yet: Hoping to sell cars in China, Toyota's bought the naming rights to a new indoor stadium ... in Houston. The new arena will be the home of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets' center is international marketing phenomenon and part-time NBA star Yao Ming. The road to Chinese car sales goes through Texas.
Scion Youth -- It's only based on a month's sales, but according to this Edward Lapham commentary, Toyota's claiming that the average age of Scion buyers is 36. That would make it the winner in the youth-movement sweepstakes, a year younger than the VW Golf GTI.

Downshift still thinks the Element is an old fogey's car argument overblown, but with a 41-year-old average buyer, the Element is markedly behind the Scion. And, the closing-in-on-40 Downshift would never consider the Scion. It's a kid's car.
The Meme that Swallowed the SUV -- Can coverage of the Honda Element escape the "missed-the-demographic" analysis? This Autoweek long-term test update adds a few more column inches. For more on the issue: Mickey Kaus (scroll down to the bottom of the June 4 Element entry), Automotive News's Mark Rechtin (very funny), and Business Week.

While interesting, the assumption's wrong -- Element buyers do skew young. As this other Rechtin story explains, the average age of the Element buyer is 41, which seems geriatric, but ranks the Element 15th youngest of 253 models measured. (The VW Golf GTI boasts the youngest average buyer: a not-exactly-youngster 37.)

Young drivers are rarely buyers of record, even of cars they drive regularly or exclusively. So, the average age figure is not a totally reliable indicator of how well the Element is doing among the flat-belly set. And, anecdotal evidence supports the conclusion that older folks like the Element just as much or more than young folk. For instance, Downshift's definitely outside the demographic, but the Element is on the short list of cars to add to the Downshift family fleet. (Downshift has a short list and likes to pester Mrs. Downshift to review the list whenever possible even though we're not buying a new car any time soon.)

But, in the end does it matter? Maybe Downshift's missing something profound, but isn't the primary measure of a car's success how many get sold? And, aren't a 40-year-old's dollars worth as much as a 22-year-old's?

Update: Mark Rechtin writes for Automotive News, a sister publication to Autoweek, and Autoweek links to some of the Atomotive News stories.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Rollover Update -- Interesting Autoweek article about a Continental-Neves road show of their stability control systems. Continental is the company that supplies Ford with the rollover prevention system in the Volvo XC90.

Downshift guesses it's not Bill Ford's technology to give away.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

New Golf -- VW Vortex has pictures and a description of the new Golf. Looks neat.

Update: Mrs. Downshift says, "It's looking a little less signature-Golfy." Make of that what you will.
Modu-car -- Honda is pondering a youth-oriented brand, like Toyota's Scion. An unsolicited game plan:
  • Build a relatively conservative looking car. (The 2002 Honda Civic Si comes to mind.)
  • Make all the exterior part that are popular to customize -- headlight clusters, taillight clusters, bumper, grill, sills, etc. -- simple and easy to replace. Make it easy for third-parties to manufacture modules to spec. Make it easy for owners to swap them.
  • Do the same for the interior.
  • Make the engine easy to customize. Publish the chip specs. Make room for mounting a turbo-charger and related plumbing.
  • Build it to be lowered.
In short, build a blank canvas.

The folks at Saturn designed a car, and asked themselves, "What could we make modular to make it more popular to tuners?" The best they could do was interchangeable roof-rail trim. Better to ask what customizing tuners already do and build a car to meet their clearly articulated priorities.
Really Useful Technology -- SUV deaths by rollover are up by 14% to 10,666, according to the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration. And, more than 60% of deaths in SUVs involve rollovers.

Makes the Volvo XC90's Roll Stability Control pretty significant. RSC notices when the XC90 is beginning to roll (sensors detect excessive yaw) and applies brakes as needed to make the thing understeer its way out of trouble (or at least a rollover). Even assuming that RSC won't prevent all rollovers and that preventing a rollover won't always prevent a fatal accident, you gotta figure that this is technology that should markedly decrease the number of deaths by SUV.

Note to Bill Ford: Give it away! (Ford owns Volvo). As a big centenary celebration gesture, give every carmaker a free or nearly free license to the RSC technology. Better yet, give them an open-source license so they have to share any improvements they make.

Note to Csabe Csere: How could technology that makes SUV parking (QuadraSteer) and loading (Mid-Gate) easier make your list of significant innovations, but RSC doesn't?