May 23, 2012
Editor-in-Chief's Note: The other major hand-wringing event of the week was the decision by Joel Ewanick, GM's marketing chief, to not advertise in the 2013 Super Bowl. I have no idea why this caused such controversy, because the fact of the matter is that the Super Bowl falls in and out of favor almost by the month with these automobile companies. When they have new products to roll out or emphasize, the cry to be on the Super Bowl grows loud inside the halls of the auto companies, and they usually create the justification and more important find the money to be on the broadcast, just like GM did last year. Conversely, if a car company is trying to trim marketing costs wherever it can and the timing of product news doesn't correspond to the timing of the Super Bowl, then they may choose to sit out the Big Game, just like GM is doing. Beyond that, the jawboning and the hand-wringing about the GM marketing decision is just so much unnecessary blah-blah-blah. - PMD
Ford. Editor-in-Chief's Note: The Dearborn-based automaker has its mojo back, and its logos back. When Moody's Corp. upgraded Ford's debt from junk status on Tuesday, it was the final piece needed by Ford so it could get its iconic logo out of hock (and the Mustang and F-150 trademarks), as well as its plants, machinery, and the Glass House headquarters itself. Back in 2006, in the ballsiest move imaginable, Ford put it all on the line to secure a $23.5 billion loan so it could claw its way back to competitiveness in this business. “The Ford Blue Oval is back where it belongs with the Ford family of 166,000 employees around the world," executive chairman Bill Ford Jr. said." This is a great day for us and is the result of several years of hard work and progress by everyone associated with Ford. When we pledged the Ford Blue Oval as part of the loan package, we were not just pledging an asset. We pledged our heritage." President and CEO Alan Mulally added: “We are so proud of today’s decision by Moody’s and the resulting release of all collateral – particularly the Ford Blue Oval. This is an important milestone and further proof that, by staying laser-focused on our One Ford plan, the Ford team can deliver great products, build a strong business and contribute to a better world even through the most challenging external environment." Amen. Congratulations and well done to everyone at Ford. - PMD
Bill Ford, Jr. joined over 1000 Ford employees dressed in blue and white t-shirts outside of Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. on May 22, 2012, to form a human Blue Oval, celebrating the return of the Ford Blue Oval and Ford Motor Company being lifted to investment grade status.
BMW. According to an annual market research survey by Millward Brown, BMW has eclipsed Toyota as the world's most valuable automotive brand. Not hard to understand. It's about consistency, focus and great product. And when BMW is firing on all cylinders, they deliver, and then some.
Ferrari and Lamborghini drivers in Italy. What's bad for high-performance sports car drivers in Italy may just be good for the overall health of the country. ABC News reports that police are cracking down on Ferrari and Lamborghini drivers, "but not because they are driving too fast. Italy, like so much of southern Europe, is drowning in debt, so police are pursuing drivers to make sure they are declaring – and therefore paying taxes on – earnings that would allow them to afford cars worth as much as half a million dollars." The Italian government has declared war on tax cheats in an attempt to wrestle with the country's $2.5 trillion of public debt and alter a culture that has often prided itself on avoiding taxes. ABC News reports that the crackdown seems to be working and indications are that is slowly changing the tax culture. Italian officials say they have discovered more than $12 billion in unpaid taxes already this year, and have identified more than 2,000 luxury car owners who underpaid taxes. But in typical Italian fashion, the crackdown has triggered counterattacks, according to ABC's report. Tax collection branches of the national revenue agency have been targeted with letter-bombs and Molotov cocktails – more than 250 attacks in the last year, the agency says. One businessman held an employee of a tax office hostage for six hours at gunpoint, saying he was desperate because he couldn't afford to pay off a $1,250 debt. In a conversation with ABC News, one Ferrari owner who declined to give his name admitted many Ferrari owners have reason to be scared. "Those who declare their taxes correctly are not [scared], but many have the cars registered under other names and companies or do not declare enough earnings to be owning one," said the owner, who used to be president of a Ferrari owners club. "People are scared nowadays because of the more frequent tax checks and the cross referencing the tax agency can do with bank accounts, earnings and so on… They are worried they will be found out." That has led many owners to try to sell their treasured Ferraris in an attempt to lower their profile. Some have even traded in their beloved cars for – gulp – Fiats, according to the ABC News report. Another told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that he now drives around with his tax returns. The Ferrari owner interviewed by ABC News said so many were selling their used Ferraris, the demand to buy the cars back was dropping, and their value had decreased at least 20 percent. "Many are trying to sell their luxury cars but they can't get the cost they paid for them," he said.
Mazda, Fiat-Chrysler. The Fiat Group and Mazda plan to develop and build a new roadster for its Mazda and Alfa Romeo brands based on the next-generation MX-5 (Miata) architecture. The model will have distinct styling for each brand, according to the two companies (let's hope so). The vehicle will be an "iconic," lightweight, rear-drive roadster with differentiated design and identity for each brand, a joint statement said (of course it will). This vehicle will also be dependent on engineers from both companies being able to work with each other. The car will be built at Mazda's factory in Hiroshima and Alfa will launch its version of the roadster in global markets including Europe and the United States, starting in 2015. Given the accuracy of Sergio's previous statements - we'd be swimming in Alfas by 2014, remember? - we'll just have to classify this as another giant "we'll see."
A pair of Buick engineers – driver Bill Rietow and navigator John Townsend – piloted a stock Regal GS luxury sport sedan to a second-place finish in the 135-mph class of this month’s Nevada Open Road Challenge, finishing within 0.4 seconds of their 40-minute target time. The podium finish follows a first place title claimed by the same team in the 120-mph class last fall. Success was based on balancing low-speed sections of the course with running the Regal at top speed for a period of time, according to Buick. During that segment, a radar trap controlled by race operators verified a speed of 162 mph for the 270-horsepower Buick. “The Regal GS is an incredibly capable performance sedan,” said Rietow. “In addition to the strong acceleration from the engine, the chassis maintained its composure well while running across these closed public roads at high speeds. Likewise, the Brembo brakes were easy to trust coming hot into a corner.” The Nevada Open Road Challenge takes place on a remote, two-lane, 90-mile-long segment of Nevada State Highway 318. Rather than a test of who finishes a course the fastest, the goal is average speed consistency. Podium finishers often are separated by hundredths of a second. The Regal GS piloted by Rietow and Townsend was a stock 2012 model, with modifications limited to safety equipment such as a roll hoop and five-point harness seat belts, as well as data collection computers. Buick’s 2.0L turbocharged engine was named one of WardsAuto World’s 2012 “10 Best Engines” for North America.
Upon its debut in 1959, the Mini became one of the classic automotive icons, admired by generations of enthusiasts. To help celebrate the original Mini, the 36th edition of the International Mini Meeting (IMM) is about to get under way in Balatonfüred, Hungary, on May 24-28, on the northern shore of Lake Balaton.
Milanese coach builder Zagato has teamed-up with BMW in "a unique collaboration." The result? The BMW Zagato Coupé. The car will be unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, one of the most exclusive events in the world of classic cars and motorcycles, on the banks of Lake Como. According to BMW, the "... BMW Zagato Coupé embodies the unbridled fascination of cars and fuses the design DNA of the two companies into a fresh and distinctive whole. This one-off model is the product of many hours of skilled hand-craftsmanship and breathes new life into the tradition of coach building." Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice-President BMW Group Design, and Andrea Zagato, who represents the third generation of his family to sit at the helm of the company, are long-time appreciators of each other’s work. Zagato chief designer Norihiko Harada and van Hooydonk have been friends for many years, so when Andrea Zagato proposed a collaboration, it wasn’t long before the decision was made to build a car at Zagato that embodies the two companies’ passion for cars, according to BMW. Founded by Ugo Zagato in 1919, Zagato is the only automotive body manufacturer still in independent ownership.
Dr Andrea Zagato, President of Zagato, and Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design, at a meeting in Milan.
Letter from L.A.
By Tom Pease
Beverly Hills. This past weekend was the Beverly Hills Art Show (formerly known as The Affaire in the Gardens), where several blocks of Beverly Gardens Park are given over to artists to display and sell their wares. Again this year, Lincoln was there to display, if not actually to sell, theirs. They had the MKX and the other crossover, which were nice looking but frankly I personally just don't care about them - nothing against them or their competition, I just am still deluding myself that I am far too young and attractive to need such utility. Don't disillusion me. They also had the MKZ hybrid, which I drove last year and really liked.
In the mix was a silver 2013 MKS. It's a handsome beast; it's far more car than I would ever need or want. There is scads of room in its handsome interior, nav systems, cross traffic alert systems, lane-keeping systems, active parking systems - there were so many systems that I thought perhaps I should just curl up in the backseat with an Ice-Blended and look out the rear sunroof while the systems did the driving. For when I am doing the driving, should I be doing so poorly there are such systems as continuously controlled damping (CCD), Electric power-assisted steering (EPAS), Enhanced Braking Performance and something called "Curve Control" which will apparently temper my stupidity in handling off-ramps.
I cannot really comment much upon how it drove since I was on a course through the quiet streets of 90210 that lasted less than two miles and it would be unseemly to drive like I stole it. Not to mention that BHPD might not find the humor in that action. It handles very nicely, is quiet, and when faced with a narrow window of opportunity to dart through the six-way intersection of Lomitas, Canon and Beverly, which is "controlled" by stop signs and has a notorious combination of inept drivers who are either hyper-agressive or pathologically cautious, scooted across with alacrity. The styling is nice if a little generic in person. I'm not too sure about that grill and the rear looks like about three other cars. While the trunk opening isn't large, the capacity is enormous, even if it lacks even a power pull down. The all-wheel drive eco-boost model I drove was a hair under 50K and would return 20MPG combined. It's a contender.
I drove the hybrid MKZ again and have to wonder why, since it's the same price, anyone would buy the non-hybrid. It gets 41MPG city with no trade-off I can see in appointments or comfort. The only possible downside would be that unlike a Prius, you aren't advertising that you're saving the world with the penance of hard plastics and buckboard ride.
The only thing that would throw cold water on the 2012 MKZ is the 2013. I didn't think much of it in photos but in steel it's stunning, and the giant sunroof is something that every manufacturer is going to be stealing soon. If they can deliver the hybrid at the same price point as the gas powered one I can't see any reason it won't be a monster hit.
Maybe just give the hybrid a different grill or something, k? Because saving the planet anonymously is soooo not LA.