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.