March 11, 2013
LalalalaFerrari

What a silly name for LaFerrari. However, some seriously cool bits are going into this car, including a hybrid system that has had application in current F-1 racecars.

January 24, 2013

Here’s the chief engineer for the new generation of the Lexus IS. I think he completely responds to some of the points I make in my post a few days ago.

January 22, 2013

This is a pretty great commercial. Thanks Red Bull! The song is “Redford” by Sufjan Stevens. Doesn’t it sound like this song was in Inception, the movie? I guess not; Hans Zimmer made that soundtrack, but Sufjan and Hans are clearly cut from the same cloth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKA2fAkxAUk

January 22, 2013

Vampire Weekend’s as yet unnamed new album “LP3” dropping May 7th. In the mean time, here’s what ALL ivy league vacations look like “Holiday”

January 19, 2013
Another darling GM: 2014 Corvette Stingray

The new stingray—it’s a targa. And it will hopefully beat another car which professes to have a targa model—yes, boys and girls—the Porsche 911. 

Those of you who are wondering what kind of crack I am on when I compare the Corvette and 911, consider that both cars have had a long rivalry. Their history reaches back as far as the inception of each. They are still variations on the same theme: the Corvette first started in 1953 and ran till 1962; the 911’s first started in 1963 with roots in 1959. It’s like they were built to have this conversation between the Germans in Stuttgart and the Americans in Detroit; it was an argument between two engineering superpowers on the way things should be built.

As if, defiantly, Porsche said that we’ll build this ridiculous machine with a small engine overhanging the rear, and make it go faster around a corner than your Corvette’s brutish V8 and crude straight-line cruiser.

More recently, it appears that Porsche has won the last couple rounds, sticking with their original rear-engine config, though the Corvette team has been able to do monstrous things with their last gen C6 high-end models (largely due to the racing team’s prowess and learnings).

In the last couple 911 generations, Porsche has really stepped it up on the interior and exterior refinements, driveability, and everyday usability. The latest Porsche is no exception, and I think the first 911 to appeal to a much wider audience than before. Then again, there are so many versions of the darn thing that it better capture at least a pretty wide swath of the sports-car market.

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And go figure, a new version of the 911 is coming: German intel smelled that the C7 Corvette Stingray was coming, and perhaps it had a targa roof? Uh oh, better make my new 911 a Targa too—here’s a spy photo of the 2013 Porsche 911 “Targa” still under camouflage for testing. (Imagine a hole in the midsection of the roof.)

Well folks, here’s the C7 Corvette, in all its glory, as compared to the original Stingray version C2, released 1963-1967. What a coincidence, I believe these are the same years of the original Porsche production run. It seems we have an all-out fight brewing over these new models. While C6 and C5 generations of the Corvette were still teething, the new one has come back from the gym looking leaner and more toned:

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It’s beautifully designed; though it has a plethora of holes, Chevy says it’s all functional and has a reason, which I love. 

The view below has got some elements of Ferrari 599 in it particularly on the pillars surrounding the rear window, looking almost like those beautiful buttresses on the Italianate speedster. But everything on this car looks distinctly American, just the same way the new Dodge Viper is all-around Hillbilly. Although, I would say the Viper is more Defensive Lineman than the Corvette’s Quarterback or Wide Receiver persona.

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Finally, here’s that Targa view. It is in this profile where it is the most immediately obvious that this Corvette has the very same genes descendant from its heritage. Interestingly, I saw in an interview that only a paper lunchbag’s worth of parts are carryover from C6. 

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It’s clearly a stunning car, and I think it is something that now appeals to a much wider audience. Just as the last Porsche has done. Maybe, I think, this is because there are so many more stylistic comparisons to make; it definitely has a much more Global presence in the lexicon of design.

I do have a question to pose though, because the prize-fight is really what will propel this C7 into glory: What else was keeping the C6 from taking reign over the 911? 

Most would say the Base version interior was the weakest—attributes of the base version filtered up to the most expensive models, and this was just unacceptable to those paying over $100k. 

The base version had a terrible interior. Cheap plasticky bits, unweighted switchgear, loose panels, large gap tolerances, etc. It was not technologically adept—a tiny Navi could be fitted into the car, but honestly, you could get larger aftermarket items for cheaper and better. What have they done to address it?

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Though maybe it’s still not the interior of a Porsche Panamera, or Audi, this rocks. It appears to be a very functional, driver-based cockpit. There’s loads of leather and real materials. The designers say that if you see Carbon Fiber, it’s real. If you see Aluminum, it’s real. I think the best part of this interior is that it doesn’t aspire to be more than what it can deliver—it’s just as down to earth as that Receiver suiting up for game day along the 100 yds. This reminds me of perhaps a subtle jab towards the Acura commercial featuring Calvin Johnson about the 2012 TL. They undress him from gameday wear and put him in a suit. This corvette interior does the opposite, and it works—this one’s ready for the races.

Can I guess where the interior designer got inspiration? 

Well I mentioned Acura, and the center console vent kind of looks like the 2000-2004 Acura TL. 

People on blogs have noted that there’s an uncanny resemblance to Toyota’s Supra halo car from the 90’s. Not a bad car for comparison—in fact that car still has many fans, but that vehicle was no paragon for interior function. 

Perhaps most exciting is that huge screen, popularized by the most recent ChryslerFiat group vehicles with Uconnect; I suppose the screen size is just right, since you probably don’t want to fuss with a Tesla Model S sized screen in a road race.

The central tunnel around the shifter has some notes of Lexus or even Land Cruiser in the layout, contrasting aluminum/black panels, and leather armrest “swoop”. 

But then again there are a couple Chevy details in here: HVAC switchgear layout (borrowed from Camaro?), and driver-side vents. It appears that common GM parts are pretty hidden though. I’d be surprised if they went to such great lengths that they even swap out seatbelt design for something not in the GM part bin. 

Overall, I would say interior problem solved.

One other complaint people had against owning the Corvette would be overall prestige. Some of this is tied to the fact that the previous generation Vettes really needed to own up to performance levels at all ends of the spectrum. In some production guises, you could get a car that was fast, but didn’t beat the competition around the ring.

Of course there were those super fast and nimble high end gussied up versions, but at those levels of competition and pricing, you’d be laughed off the grocery run or at the fancy restaurant valet for trying to park it in the “special” spots—it still had too many pedestrian ties that linked the Vette to Benz E-Class pricing with a worse-than-Malibu interior. Pricing was not the problem; it was the aura that you had purchased “cheap” instead of “the best value”. 

The calculus in an owner’s thought process could even conclude: “I’ve purchased a fraud”. That is a great fear for owners who do take their car to the track, and a greater fear for owners who haven’t.

Additionally, when you buy a show car like the Vette, it better have the bragging rights against those pesky Euro-tuner owners; it’s fair to say that it’s difficult to win a fight when idealogues have picked moral superiority even over pieces of data. The color of your Vette might seem to shine less brightly in the driveway if you’ve got M’s, AMG’s, 911’s, GT-R’s, etc. on the same block. I think the Vette team has done wonders to amend this, much of this currently by design, but also—to be proven—performance. 

Waiting for the first numbers to come out before putting money where my mouth is, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a truly historical vehicle.

The newest C7 already belongs to the textbooks as a product of Government Motors, but I am confident that this car will ride the tide of American dignity into the racer’s hall of fame.

The loyal folks who vote with their pocketbooks have done so in droves for previous generations of Vettes even when they weren’t the fastest, most beautiful, or comfortable. They will turn out once again, and I believe a new generation will grow up with this car and continue a legacy that appears alive and well.

January 16, 2013
I hope it wins: Pricing the 2014 Cadillac ELR

Ladies and Gentlemen, rev your motors.

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This is the real car that belongs in every other sci-fi movie. It is the everyman’s Ironman car, Batmobile, American Bond car, Transformer, etc. Besides the fact that  the car is wrapped in a suit, there is something menacingly playful about it. I think the proportions of the hood and rear deck make it something of a hot wheels-meets-evil Pokemon car. That is not to say it’s inelegant. It’s bold and brash, and it has character. Congratulations for having a soul, GM!

This is totally true to the Cadillac brand in a way that the ATS betrays it by being copy-cat BMW. It is art and science melded together; electrons drive the car the same way electrons start a heart beat. It looks beautiful and is finally the appropriate package for GM’s high technology Voltec powertrain. But, who do you price it against? The ATS is easy because you price it at overlapping points against the 3-series based on content.

I don’t know what it’s going to be priced at, and we can for sure get in to an argument about how to optimally price a vehicle. Some will look at how capital costs, R&D, etc. and COGS played into the profit equation; I don’t have the data but I know Cadillac is going to lose some money on this car at the beginning, but if they do it right maybe it’ll hit gold in a couple years.

Regardless, the data is agnostic to what this car means to the future of GM; you should shove the sexiest marketing to the consumer to show everyone who’s got real brains—and screw the “word” innovation—GM does innovation. It is a platform and a car that is meant to change the automotive world, perhaps forever.

So, price it where it will be the most covetable and popular luxury good on the suburban McMansion block. Price it at business class. Price it like an entry level Louis Vuitton. Price it like Vegas-meets-Wall Street. Price it like the short sale mansion at the end of the block; get it while it’s hot. Finally, price it the way you would against Tesla (a newer, higher tech, more-utility vehicle). 

However, the value is intrinsic—and that is what buyers pay attention to at the end of the day. The ELR does not lie in the “money does not matter” spectrum, it is dead in the middle of the “I know what I’m doing and why I am paying for it; here’s an excel model to prove it” range. As such, bring the goods. Give me a nice opening price and standard kit, before you overwhelm me with the true luxury. 

Consider also that you are not selling the first gen iPhone, which had an egregiously high price. Apple gave first-in-liners a rebate when they introduced lower pricing some months later. How would it look if you LOWERED prices on your fancy ELR? If anything, you should introduce ever-more-expensive trims in the ELR range. So, I would take a loss leader approach, figuring in the tax rebate. 

Here’s your anchor price: BMW just released a 4-series coupe based off of the 3-series. It will for sure be more expensive than the 3-series. Your buyers will most likely cross shop the 4-series with the Tesla; they’ll look at the Leaf and your Volt. It’s definitely a jumble. Then, consider that your buyers probably would have bought a CTS or CTS-V if they wanted a pure performance or styling play; it’s got to be in between those points. So I’m guessing you’re looking at the $47.5-$65k range. If you add a $7.5k to that bottom range to account for the tax credit, I think you’d steal enough Z4 customers, 4-series, Tesla, Leaf, Prius, or about a number of the near lux hybrid buyers. 

Finally if you price it closer to the $47.5k mark ($7.5k rebate), you’d have enough customers to line up with a deposit out the door. Open up a line, and get deliveries to your customers at a promised date, when everything in the car is perfect and working the way it should. But, the car has got to have serious kit. It is, after all, supposed to be a luxury car. That means all the tech: CUE, Navi, great sound. When I can buy a $20k Mazda with zoom zoom and Navi/sound, that means Cadillac should give it to you free. And while I’m at is, why should the blind spot, radar, smart cruise control, or anything else be an option? Isn’t this car a high tech piece? And how much does it seriously take to install a few more sensors to run those gadgets? Open up the options book for those who want to load this vehicle to the gills. Just a caution: don’t introduce a base model ELR that looks like crap and has silly wheels/tires. It’s just unbecoming. If you don’t care about style, you move into a Volt; it’s got more doors. Your ELR should separate the Cadillac owners from the Chevy owners. 

Interestingly, I think you can make Leather an option, but it better have a convincing alcantara/fabric or leatherette. Other options you could make money on are your parts, cosmetics, treatments, combinations, paints, etc. Introduce a designer sound system option. Then offer aggressive wheel/tire combos, sport suspensions, body cladding. All of this can boost your profits the way Mopar boosts Chrysler or Mini Cooper parts boost the brand. 

I would personally love a kickin’ sound system (500+watts balanced please) with the tan leather and the shiniest deep sea blue. It should have CUE and other fancy tech that makes life easier. Thanks.

January 14, 2013
2014 M-B CLA class car vs. concept

The Detroit Auto Show is upon us! 

At this time COBO hall in Detroit is the most exciting place in the automotive world. For example, there’s the much awaited Corvette C7. I’m going to call it ahead of time: that car will be a commercial success. And because I think a lot of you are thinking the same thing, I’m going to talk about a car that I think was a little bit botched going into production as compared to the concept introduction a year ago. 

This car is the M-B CLA. 

I love the idea of it. Make an M-B pocket rocket and at the same time give it the same swagger its brother, the CLS, has. 

I had pretty high hopes because the concept car not only looked kind of realistic but also could be placed in to production pretty close to the form. Here it is:

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Wow, right?

Now here’s what’s going into production:

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It isn’t quite the same, and here are some reasons why I believe the production car doesn’t make me feel the same about the car.

1. The character lines on the doors between the wheel wells are not well executed. In the concept, the character lines build out the width of the car by giving an illusion of solidity. They build outwards towards the middle and provide a little surface texture that makes it look like muscle sinews. In production, these character lines shallow out the door and make the car look top heavy, and even worse, emaciated in the door panels. Also, I think the character lines are going the wrong direction. They should connect the front to the back; in the concept, the direction of the line works because the butt has the illusion of being haunched, lower, and wider than the front. The line dissipates into these larger haunches. In production, it just makes the rear tires look smaller.

2. The headlights are too close to the wheel wells. The concept uses a narrower lens and provides just a bit more fender between the tire and the headlight. In the production car, the headlights are too big; almost cartoonish. I wonder if this was a critique M-B thought was successfully implemented in the BMW 1-series, which has the most cartoonish headlights of all. Because the fender doesn’t have enough substance, the odd placement of the front wheels becomes more apparent; there is a lot of overhanging metal and chrome and plastic to be pushed around in front of the tires.

3. The wheelbase needs just a little bit more length between the A pillar and the front axle. This is what really defines this car as a compact. And maybe that’s the intention, but everything else on the car belies this intention. What I see is something more akin to the Suzuki Kizashi. 

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4. Speaking of Suzuki, a car company that has exited the North American market—they did manage to get a much nicer proportion of wheel/tires/wheel wells-to-body. The tires and wheels fill up the wheel housings and appear to bring the car additional purpose. While no doubt M-B will figure out a way to make the CLA drive with stability at high speeds, I think the size of the wheels/tires will give the impression the car is more darty than it will drive. The concept car had the right wheels for the car.

5. Is the CLA a front drive car? Yes. But, I’m not sure how it will translate into a CLA45 AMG—I’d like this car to have RWD and typically German handling. Will it be a drifting supercar? Will it be a rice-rocket racer? Or will it torque steer you into a ditch?

This being said, the front view and rear view of the car are relatively pretty. The rear quarter is the best executed. It has hints of CLS and VW CC, whose rear quarters are the best posteriors in the German stables. 

I have some hopes for the rumored 4 door shooting brake of this CLA, and I’m interested in seeing how that hatchback will treat the roofline, and whether it will change the proportions of the car in a more or less favorable way. 

If you have time to poke around the interior pics of the CLA, it may be worth it; The design philosophy looks like it should be applied in various scaled versions across the M-B range, in sporting applications like the SLK, CLK. It’s probably not an interior well suited to the traditional barges because it’s got a little bit of the SLS Gullwing flair; perhaps it’s not sumptuous enough for a SL or S-class. 

Anyways, looking forward to seeing what’s coming out of the M-B atelier!

January 10, 2013
An interesting direction for Lexus

Car fans are taking note of Lexus’ current design direction and sports-oriented vehicle offerings. Latest in this trend is the Lexus IS 350, to be unveiled at the Detroit North America International Auto Show.

Here is a glimpse of the vehicle:

Concurrent with Audi’s chrome-ensconced trapezoid, BMW’s kidneys, M-B’s tri-star on a slat, Lexus is quickly ramping out its new spindle grill. Unlike its German ilk, Lexus doesn’t have tradition on its side as a relatively new brand, so perhaps now is their time to try to cement an impression in consumers’ minds. 

Lexus may or may not be going through a crisis right now.

If you talk to a BMW driver, and you ask, “Well what do you value most about your car?” they might answer “It’s sporty and drives like you’re connected to the road”. 

If you talk to a Benz driver, they answer “It’s built like a vault and has very teutonic qualities like high speed cruising ability and a buttoned up design”. 

If you talk to an Audi driver, they answer “The interiors are first class and it’s a blend of sport, practicality, and minimalist design”. 

If you talk to a Lexus driver, the answers are conflicting. You see, owners used to value Lexus for quality, customer service, and a coddling luxury. Quality is one thing Lexus may have a temporary edge on, but everyone is improving, and offering free maintenance programs to increase resell value. Quality took a hit during unintended acceleration episodes, the same issue that nearly ruined Audi some years ago in the 90’s. Not many are willing to buy Audi as being a class leader in quality—they buy for other reasons. Customer service has taken a hit in America—Hyundai is eating Lexus’ lunch by offering Equus owners door to door service, online scheduling, and personal pickup (it’s like a personal assistant!). And finally, Lexus, known for boring, supremely fluffy-like-cashmere ride characteristics (also a Buick specialty), is totally turning on a dime and going after Bimmer. 

Can you agree that Lexus is in a crisis? What direction is management to take?

Clearly new Toyota CEO is a sporting fan, so we can expect better driving vehicles. But what makes Lexus design so distinct? What characteristics will you respond to when people ask why you drive a Lexus?

Management has identified that share into the BMW market is quite lucrative, but isn’t there VALUE in differentiation? We’re not ALL interested in BMW look-alike, drive-alikes. What is going to give that extra edge? 

On design:

This is probably the area Lexus is working hardest on getting right. Lexus has targeted its LFA halo car as a driver in design, but let’s face it, basing your flagship LS sedan on an LFA supercar may also have drawbacks.

The spindle grille makes people recognize familial resemblance; new L shape LED clusters give the Lexus nighttime presence just as the halo-ring headlights did for mid 2000’s BMWs. Are these compelling? LED lights are such a fashion statement right now (thanks Audi R8!), it’s hard to know what the outcome will be. It used be a very special feature, but we’re finding the darn LEDs in ever-lower priced offerings (such as in VWs). I remember when HID headlamps were the fancy option in late 90’s cars, and uniquely identified luxury at night when blazing blue illumination speeds down the autobahn. Now LEDs serve the same purpose, so perhaps, Lexus should re-up on it’s rear brakelights and tail lamps and invest in fancy gadgetry there. Are these compelling applications though?

I kind of like the LED underneath the whole lens covering, as it if were a bit of charcoal blackening or gameday undereye paint. It gives you the sense this car’s ready for a fight. When was the last time you sat in a Lexus ready to wage a war against the rice-rocket at the stoplight? How fun… You should note though it might not be the greatest application of show car headlights—these remind me of the LS-CC concept lights-gone-Acura RSX…

Front: 

LS-CC headlamps:

Acura RSX:

Their newest IS application of L  shaped kimono-like tail lamps don’t quite have proportion and sleekness many would suggest a finely tailored vehicle should. It’s a little broadsided, and swoops up as if the lights were an imaginary snow plow

Rear: 

I really just wish they put more of the LS-CC design characteristics into the car—true concept execution would be the trillest. I hate when manufacturers botch the look of a concept car. Maybe there’s hope for the coupe!

more LS-CC: 

Obviously the IS 350 F was targeting this concept design but TOO MUCH was lost in translation. Maybe it was the computer modelling and penny crunchers? The theme isn’t quite translated…

On driving characteristics:

Many say the GS sedan is the new halo 5-Series beater. But, until you can prove 25 years of excellence, the segment is still named after the Bimmer’s Cinque. Whereas BMW’s drive like teuton tanks, very solid and stable at speed, where’s the Japanese interpretation of agility? I think of Japanese sportiness in Ninja terms: Karate, Aikido, graceful disappearance… When Japanese cars try for heavy-fisted handling, you get something that lacks grace and substance: While Toyota’s Tundra is a Sumo wrestler than can tow a space shuttle, the current IS F rides like blasphemy and doesn’t do its job as well as the M3. Since I haven’t driven the new IS 350, I doubt I can say more, but point you to the MotorTrend 2014 model first drive.

GS (by the way, this looks like the Nissan Maxima, right?):

5: 

On features:

Japan’s Sony, Toshiba, Sharp, etc. brands have lost their lustre, much like their walkmans and futuristic screens. They lack good computer interfaces, partially because of a systematic investment scheme in Japan that values manufacturing and capital accretion. Perhaps most importantly, how can Lexus truly be a technology leader, much like the country of Japan was a leader in the 80’s and 90’s? 

Get the interfaces right. Talk to the car. Have it do magical things. Put massive touch screens in them (like Tesla!).

The Tesla Model S is everything I hoped an American car company would be: clean, novel, innovative… They have an interesting dealer-less supply chain, great customer interfaces, and the best technology—mechanical and entertainment-wise. Perhaps Lexus can learn a thing or two from them? 

In summary, Lexus has a lot to do. It stands the risk of becoming irrelevant since they are taking on a bold new outlook. They WILL alienate their current customers who value poshness. Let’s hope the value proposition doesn’t completely go to shambles as owners who flog their cars through turns will try to resell their crashed, dented, tortured vehicles second hand…

On the flip side, if Lexus doesn’t change, they will become irrelevant, the same way  Audi, Volvo may have without their decade-long transformation, or Saab has. 

Luxury carmakers are hard pressed to find design identity in their vehicles since consumer tastes are so fickle in the near luxury through ultra luxury segment. So it’s good Lexus is doing fun things with their swoopy LEDs, but they need a more convincing attention to surfacing and proportionality. Follow what your designers are pushing in Paris, Frankfurt, Geneva, Tokyo—that’s where the fashion is. You don’t buy Gucci, Prada, Lim, etc unless it looks just as good on the runway as it does on the streets. I’d like to think luxury car buyers are beyond homologous big-box styling. Lexus’ LS-CC is a wonderful design and should not be forgotten just as a faded image in your childhood shoebox. 

They should drive like Japanese sports cars. By turning everything German, Lexus, a Japanese brand, loses a memorable face, and worse, distinction. When I buy a foreign car, it should be noticably foreign. The way a car feels in your control is certainly the best way to differentiate; everything else is just plaster on top of the foundation. 

Finally Lexus technology has to beat Tesla to come to grips with being trendsetters. That touchscreen is magical the way you can control virtually everything in the car. 

Here’s to seeing more come out of the Lexus atelier!

January 10, 2013
Chicago Symphony Orchestra: rousing Wagner Prelude to Die Meistersinger

January 10, 2013

I haven’t heard NEARLY enough raves about Big Boi’s album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours. It’s clearly the coolest of 2012, HOW DID I MISS IT?

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