lunes, 10 de abril de 2017

GM in Europe

First things first, I am now working for a Renault dealership. Since it could affect my bias, consider yourselves warned.

A couple of decades ago, GM had Daewoo, Opel/Vauxhall and Saab dealerships across Europe. It made very good sense, since Daewoo was a cheap Korean manufacturer, Opel a mid range German car company and Saab was a premium Scandinavian nameplate.

Then, out of the blue, GM decided to rebadge Daewoo as Chevrolet. The company's lineup had improved, and it was considered easier to rename the company than changing people's minds that Daewoo had improved. And, since we had Chevrolet, we Catalans and most Europeans could buy the great  Camaro and the not so great HHR.

The decision had an undesired side effect. Who could have guessed Chevrolet would steal sales from Opel/Vauxhall? Pretty much everybody, but hey, no one thought about it at GM. So after millions spent to sell Daewoo in the first place and some more cash to rename the company as Chevrolet, GM spent some more money killing Chevrolet in Europe.

I have already written about Saab's death by GM before. It was a mistake, and a rather big one. Especially when you consider what goes next.

Just a few weeks ago, GM decided to sell Opel/Vauxhall to the PSA group (Peugeot an Citroën) Opel had been losing money for a few years in a row, and it was better to sell it than killing it.

Until you realize, that is, that GM has managed to get rid of all of its European presence. Because, Cadillac, you know, barely exists here. I have no doubt that, one by one, all these decisions made some sense. But there is a lack of strategy here. No long term plan. GM, you have a problem here. The European Union has roughly 500 million people in it. More than the USA, Canada and Mexico combined.

I think GM has forgotten it is a car company. Unless they rethink themselves, the company is doomed. 

miércoles, 7 de enero de 2015

Buying tips. A reasonable guide to get yourself a car.

Ok, so you are shopping for a car and need some advice. Here there are some FAQ's and a guideline. Let's start for the basics.

Should I buy brand-new or second hand?

It depends on your budget, of course, but you can get yourself an econobox for eight grand or so. And, surprisingly, a Seat Mii, for example, is a rather decent car. Sure, it ain't fast, but you get what you essentially need: air conditioning, a stereo, room for four and some luggage. It's also safe if you compare it with many second hand cars that won't have as many airbags, for example. Not to mention previous crashes.

There are some other reasons to buy brand new. Reliability, for instance. And no inspections for the first four years. If you really need your car to go to work, better bet on something that, at least, should work.

Second hand market is tough, but you could find yourself a bargain, especially with a petrol engine. Come to that, here's the second question

Should I buy diesel, petrol or hybrid?

If you are the kind of person who trades in the old car and gets a new one every three or four years, better get a diesel, even if you don't drive much. Devaluation is the key here, while both diesel and petrol cars lose value, the price gap between the two might double the difference when new.

A diesel is also recommended if you do lots of road or highway driving. Like, ten thousand miles a year is enough for you to compensate. If you drive a lot, but mostly around town and you get into traffic jams often, then a hybrid is a better option. You will get a great fuel economy and a very quiet interior. However, if you want a hybrid, you better like Toyota or Lexus. No other car maker has made a decent hybrid yet.

I still want a petrol car, is there anything I should know?

Yes. There are three or four different types of petrol engines. Turbo, supercharged, turbo AND supercharged and naturally aspired engines. Without going too technical, anything with a turbo will have a great fuel economy in good conditions, but a really, really poor fuel economy when pushed. That means if you like driving fast, any engine will drink a lot, but a turbo will skyrocket. You will be surprised how much gas a small turbo engine is able to use. Even if you don't drive fast, but must face a fair uphill when coming back home, that will put the turbo at work and will cost you money. Naturally aspired engines, on the other hand, may not be able to give you the torque of a turbo, but it will be less thirsty when floored. Supercharged engines will have torque, but poor fuel economy.  

Should I buy a minivan or a SUV?

A minivan will tell the world you have common sense, it is more practical and will have a better fuel economy. But minivans are dead ugly, and there is no way around that.  A SUV is more badass, it will have enough room for what you will really do and gives you a more alpha image. But, unless you have four kids and haul them around on a daily basis, go and get yourself a hatchback, because that is what you really need.

I have half a million bucks to spend on a car, should I buy a Bentley or a Rolls Royce?

I have a winged horse with a single horn in the forehead. And I call him Lucy, because why not. And if you really have half a million to spend on a car, let me tell you something. You are poor, you should have a million and get yourself a Bentley AND a Rolls Royce, use them both and then you will have all the info you need for your next car. Because I have yet to figure out if I prefer the Ghost or the Mulsanne. 

sábado, 25 de enero de 2014

New kid in town

So, we got a new baby around. In an unprecedented speed between releases (the Aventador is still a rather new model in their line-up), Lamborghini has presented the Huracán, the new sort-of base model.

Designed to replace the Gallardo, the Huracán pretty much checks all the boxes. It's a V10, it's more powerful, faster and meaner than its predecessor.

I have never been a fan of the Gallardo. It has never given me the sensations old Lambos used give me. Like, this is what you get when your ambition exceeds your abilities. When you grab your dreams and put them in car form. When you do things because you want to, not because you have to. Old Lambos were raw dreams, with all their flaws, but true to themselves. The Gallardo was much better at being a car than at being a raging bull.

The Huracán is also a rather civilized car when it comes to driving. Four wheel drive and witchcraft electronics ensure pleasure, and not drama, inside the cockpit. This is a modern requirement since having the wealth to own a supercar doesn't automatically give you the skills to tame such a beast. So, as standard, you get a tamed beast to begin with.

What I like about the Huracán, of course, is not its eagerness to be driven by anyone with lots of money. What I do like about it is the styling. They've nailed it. It looks like a futuristic batmobile, like Darth Vader's own car. The meanest, coolest, most badass thing on the road. Pure art in metal form. And, because the outside is so authentic, all the other features make sense. Like the V10 engine, for example. A V10 is a rather weird cylinder configuration, a bit out natural balance, not offering much more in performance than a V8 and way less refinement (and power) than a V12. A V10 is an odd choice, so odd, only just a few cars have used it this century. However, with the only exception of the Gallardo, every V10 car since 2000 has been amazing.  

The only thing that could make me stop dreaming for a Lamborghini is another Lamborghini. I think I'm in love again.

martes, 26 de febrero de 2013

Buying tips: petrol or Diesel?

Europe went Diesel-crazy in the late 90's. Four cylinder, turbocharged, two litre engines became the standard choice for most of us. Those engines produced around a hundred horsepower, but they felt much, much more powerful. We "discovered" torque.

Torque is what makes you feel an engine is powerful, because it's what you can find in the middle of the rpm range. Those early Diesel engines had lots of it, specially compared with the naturally aspired 1.6 most people were used to. Like twice as much.

Many people still buy Diesels today because they think they will last forever, consume no fuel whatsoever while delivering all the torque one can dream of. The truth, however, is quite different.

Modern Diesels are über-complicated engines. This means there are a lot of bits that can go wrong at any given moment. So, while they can still work for ages, they will need to be fixed on the way there. Fuel economy hasn't improved all that much for the last ten years for Diesel engines, while there has been a huge improvement for petrol engines on the meantime. Finally, modern Diesels still earn the torque trophy, but modern turbocharged Ottos aren't as weak as they used to be.

All things considered, is it still worth it to spend a couple of grands more to get the Diesel engine? Well, the answer depends on the car you are looking for, but a few general rules can help.

Rule #1: Do you use your car on a daily basis? Like commuting to work, school runs, shopping, etc? If the answer is yes, go for the Diesel. If the answer is no, go to the next rule.

Rule #2: Are you planning to sell it within the next 2 to 8 years? If the answer is yes, go for the Diesel, resale value will more than double the extra money you paid in the first place. Answer is no, follow the next rule

Rule #3: Do you tow or use all of your car's cargo? If the answer is yes, again, go for the Diesel. You need that torque, and if you were to buy a turbocharged petrol engine, you must have in mind that fuel consumption skyrockets under heavy loads.

Rule #4: Are you young? This is the trickiest rule. If you are young (and by that, I mean you have yet to settle down) you are probably better off with a diesel. Once you get married, have kids, and so on, your life will be rather predictable. However, if you are young enough, you might see yourself dating some who lives 50 miles away, while your new job is 40 miles away... in the opposite direction. Chances are you'll change your significant other, your job, you'll move, etc. This means you'll need your car as a tool to match your life bits.

sábado, 25 de agosto de 2012

Saab is gone

We live in a Saab-less world, and it makes mi sad. Saab has never been my favourite car maker, but it has been one of the most interesting ones for decades. A Saab was my second choice when I bought my first BMW.
It's the last victim of the current crisis and GM, that has never understood those Scandinavian folks.

Saab workers used to have a passion for excellence that made all but impossible joining other  mainstream car builders for shared projects. And for good reason: Saab has never been mainstream, no matter how popular have some of their models been.

Unwisely, GM never understood that passion for excellence and high quality and wanted Saab to stop that. They never realized they had a unique chance to improve their engineering and manufacturing. Cadillac could share Saab developments and sell a good product in USA and Canada, while selling the same car (albeit with a different style and maybe different suspension set-ups) in Europe as a Saab.

GM has thought that marketing is the key to sell cars. Well, it's true that good marketing will make you sell one car, but once you got it, it doesn't matter how fabulous and marvellous they tell you it is: If it's crap, no marketing is able to change your mind. And you know a car is crap because you can read about it, you can test it, you can challenge it. There is no way for a piece of junk to perform well in any survey.

I put the blame on GM for a several reasons: Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Hummer. Apparently, GM is having a great time this century killing nameplates. Saab is just another victim of a company that has gone nuts. And it's a pity, because Saab wasn't just another car maker.

sábado, 16 de junio de 2012

Renting a car in Catalonia

Enjoy freedom? Need some self transport around the country? A common option is car renting. We Catalans have some particularities that maybe you should know before you rent a car.

Most cars you'll find at a reasonable price fall into the compact or subcompact category. Although we all like full size sedans, smaller cars rule. Parking lots are scarce, parking spots are small, streets are narrow and corners are tight. If it's big enough to fit everybody in, look no further.

Another particularity is manual shifting. Automated cars are rare, and depending on the price target, even impossible to find. Get used to clutch shifting to prevent embarrassing stalling. It has happened to everybody, but it's only fun when it happens to someone else.

Rental cars are underpowered to prevent you from racing style driving. When I say underpowered, I mean anaemic. Prepare to drive a 1.4 litre engine with less than 100 hp. It barely moves. However, there is something  good about it: fuel economy.
Gas is sold in litres, not gallons, in Catalonia and most of Europe. A litre of regular gas is about 1.50€, that means a gallon is 5.69€, or more than 7 USD at current exchange rate. Yup, more than seven bucks a gallon. Consider gas costs before you plan your routes.

Speed limits, distances and so on are in kilometres, not miles. But so are speedometers, so just remember that when you see Barcelona 121 you are much closer than what you think.

Finally, if you get caught speeding, you don't have many chances to escape from the bill. You may get arrested by our local police (Mossos d'Esquadra) or the bill will be sent to the rental company, that will charge it to you. 

domingo, 22 de enero de 2012

An overview of a weak player: PSA, part I

Figures from last year car sales are horrid. I haven't seen any Catalan figures as of yet, but for the whole Spanish market have been so wrong, they've come back to 1993. And for those who can't remember, Spain suffered from a real state crisis back then.

Fortunately, other markets in Europe were not that bad. The German market, for instance, is quite healthy. Not strong, but healthy. I haven't heard anything about Italy or Greece, but I guess their situation is more similar to Spain than it is to Germany. France, on the other hand, has just lost its AAA status, meaning financial problems in the future. It might not be important for baker shops and calvados sales, but for the car industry, that relies a lot on financial structures to sell their vehicles, it may have a deep effect.

This rather long economic introduction comes handy to understand the situation of a major car company here in Europe: the PSA group, which basically means Citroën and Peugeot. Unlike many other carmakers, that have been joining to create huge industrial groups, PSA has just dealt with other manufacturers for specific projects. They created a 3.0 V6 petrol engine with Renault years ago. And the C1/107/Aygo with Toyota so they could be in the small car market. And they joined Mitsubishi to grab their share of the SUV market. Oh, and also joined BMW for their 1.6 litre petrol engine. And Ford for their diesel engines. And Fiat/Lancia for their people carrier. So, what do they do on their own? Front wheel drive platforms. Which is like a restaurant that says they are great at salads. No complaints about that, but it doesn't sound tempting, does it?

So, there is this small group that has refused to grow, and as a result of that, exports outside Europe are virtually non-existent.  And, as we have seen before, sales in Europe are far from great. What the PSA group needs now, more than ever, is a great success. A new car that hits the market like an H-bomb. And guess what? the last car that managed to do so is called the Nissan Qashqai. And it's Japanese. Except for one tiny little detail: it's got French engines. By Renault, obviously.

The last major success from PSA was the Peugeot 206 CC. About ten years ago, they set up the standard for small, coupe-cabriolet cars. Since then, they've sold the same old, lame cars anyone could build and sell. Renault created the Scénic before Citroën created the Picasso. Everybody has their own SUV except for PSA group. Now that Fiat has bought Chrysler, Renault is enjoying a great sex life with Nissan, and all the other mainstream European companies are under the Volkswagen AG or GM umbrella, PSA looks weak.