Thursday, June 30, 2016


Can this be the case? Yes, once you give it some thought.

My good friend, Paul Gover, Australia’s leading automotive writer, says the rot really began in 1975 with the launch of the first, and iconic Honda Civic in the USA.

Imagine this scenario. Father always buys the latest Chevy, Olds or Pontiac at the start of the new model year; and American society is beginning to get used to the idea that a two car family includes a full-size car for Dad, and a small, economical runabout for the lady of the house.

No point in splashing out on two full-size cars in the typical American middle-class family. After all, she just needs something small and fuel efficient to take the run to Wal-Mart, with a trunk big enough to accommodate supermarket shopping bags!

Honda Civic 3-door
Honda, like many Japanese carmakers got a toe hold in the lucrative and huge U.S. car market and from 1975 we saw an explosion occur in the volume of (relatively) small imported cars from Japan.

What happened next was the erosion of U.S. car buying habits long rooted in support for the home-grown American car.

Honda Civic 4-door
Also, growing children were champing at the bit to get that instant status symbol – the driving licence.

Invariably they learned on Mum’s little Honda Civic runabout.

I agree with Paul that that was the beginning of a youth culture which simply ‘got used to’ smaller Japanese cars, cars perfectly adequate for the task of transporting them from venue to venue, and eventually to college.

This was also just a few years after ‘The Fuel Crisis’ when soaring gas prices forced a market rethink on fuel economy.

It was also the youth culture which drifted away from ‘hotting up’ cars. A generation which broadly saw cars as utility machines, not something on which to lavish time and money.

As this generation grew up, got married and had a family they were already inculcated with the car as basic transport, and they could see no reason to buy bigger, flashier expanses of metal and chrome.

The ‘Yank Tank’ began to slowly die.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


My recent observations of Cadillac’s present dilemma of not only surviving the volatile and cutthroat American luxury car market, but growing the business, hit a nerve at Cadillac House in New York City.

Andrew Lipman
However, rather than admonish me for outspoken criticism, the Global PR Director, Andrew Lipman, pointed out that whilst there may be a foundation for some of my observations, the Cadillac management, and even GM itself, recognized the goldmine of history, innovation and potential that Cadillac represents today.

Obviously the company is not going to reveal its plans and future products to an outsider, but I am sufficiently encouraged to say that Johan de Nyschen and his young team in the building at the corner of Hudson Street and Charlton Street in New York, are making huge strides in their efforts to shift the paradigm, and public perception of what Cadillac is; what it's all about; and its potential.

Cadillac House is a bold step forward.
The iconic location in SoHo, it's elegant interior, plus space devoted to up and coming artists, and aspirational fashion designers, sets a tone of adventure for Cadillac's pursuit of a new demographic.

Click on the video link below, which celebrates the opening of Cadillac House, and you will understand that not only does the new Cadillac management, but GM, at Board level, understands that a new direction, a new approach and new energy must be focused exclusively on Cadillac.

Cadillac’s impressive heritage, history of innovation and daring deserves that.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Robert Lesnik (centre) & Gorden Waggoner (right)

Mercedes-Benz Design studio in Stuttgart has traditionally been the main driver of new models. Head of Design Gorden Waggoner, and Chief Exterior Designer Robert Lesnik developed the new C-Class, S-Class coupe and the new E-Class in Germany, however it’s clear that the company’s newly-opened design center in China, led by Olivier Boulay, will provide significant influence on future models.

The F800 concept (above) was completed in the Beijing studio, which boasts over 10 staff from different countries, including France, China, Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines.

Professor Boulay said, “With Beijing being a dynamic and vibrant megacity, it is progressively shaping future design trends, making the establishment of our Advanced Design Center here timely.

“As designers, we need to ‘live in the future’, thinking at least two or three vehicle generations ahead. For us, that means considering every aspect of future mobility, including things such as town planning and improvements in infrastructure.”

According to Boulay the new Beijing-based Advanced Design Centre will serve as a seismograph, recording and analyzing stylistic trends and incorporating them into the creative process. 

In particular, the design team will strongly draw on inspiration from their surroundings in China, such as road congestion and lack of parking.

Annual sales in China are anticipated to exceed 300,000 units by 2016, when it is expected to be Mercedes-Benz’ largest market globally.


Many car concepts begin as exaggerated sketches, weird proportions, frivolous flourishes and graphic embellishments.

When it comes to production usually just the essence of the theme survives. In the case of Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class coupe, the finished car seems to have successfully retained all the best bits of the sketches. 

It’s a beautifully-proportioned, sensuous shape with a cohesive blend of conservative and sporty. After this coupe hits the dealers, I suggest we’ll see two of the four-model range rise to the top of the sales charts. The C200 will sell its rocks off with an initial MRLP of AUD$64,900. 

This coupe has lots on offer – good performance, impeccable road manners and despite the option pricing giving your hip pocket a big hit – good equipment levels.

For the C200 power comes from a turbocharged 2.0L four cylinder, producing 135kW/300Nm. It's plenty quick enough. 

At the top end of the range is the AMG-tickled C63 version with a twin-turbo V8 and a pricetag of AUD$162,400!

With its performance focus I think this will be a big hit Down Under.

So, now to 'price packaging'. Whilst Mercedes-Benz Australia has tried to cover the market with the C200; then C250 diesel (AUD$74,900), and a C300 (AUD$83,400), I’m betting it will be the two cars that bracket the range that will move the numbers. If I was running the Down Under division, I’d tell Sindlefingen not to build too many of the mid-range cars.

The C-200 has so much going for it – good looks, good performance and good equipment, I think you’ll see a lot of ‘em around – especially as it undercuts its BMW rival.

Interior space? Rear seat room? It's a coupe, don't get over-excited!

However, there is one caveat to the appeal of the C200, and that comes when you add in what are virtually ‘mandatory’ options. The test car came with the COMAND package (AUD$2,300), the Vision package (AUD$3,454), Metallic paint (AUD$1,531) and Privacy Glass (AUD$377) – which bumps the MRLP up to a jaw-dropping AUD$73, 562!

There's no doubt in my mind that the C-Class coupe range will hit the profit targets in the business plan.

Here’s where the ‘packaging’ stings the buyer. I don’t think there’s any issue about value-for-money; but the fact that the options fitted to the test car are things you might naturally specify, it highlights the road to fat profit margins taken by manufacturers.

The days of ‘ordering’ options have gone. First, you’ll have to wait six months while they build it and ship it; next, the car already on the showroom floor has been initially ordered and built according to what M-B Australia deem the most popular options. So you’re left with: “Oh well, I might as well take it as it is.”

However, in this car I'm sure you’ll drive out in style, with the stinging sensation in your wallet barely noticeable!