The Lincoln MKZ hybrid goes from back of the pack to center stage
Inside the GM-SAIC pavilion
I was met at the Expo by GM specialist Tina Qiu, who was kind enough to pull me from the incessant drizzle and give me a thorough rundown on what the GM-SAIC pavilion is all about. The concept of the pavilion is the "drive to 2030," a look at the possibilities of urban transport 20 years into the future. Given that some reports put the number of daily visitors at the several hundred thousand mark, long lines are the norm, and GM-SAIC pavilion guests who make it inside are treated to a pre-show video projected onto the walls of the waiting room. The pre-show was of course in Chinese, though it included English subtitles -- which, given the fact that the actual show was also in Chinese but without subtitles, meant it was the last bit of specific information I understood. (They do also run some shows in English, but I missed the boat on that one.) The pre-show was simple, tracing the life cycle of a man and woman's relationship over the years -- meeting, courtship, marriage, etc. -- as the narrative that also allowed viewers to see the progress of automotive design and technology over the same time frame.
Talking shop with execs at GM's headquarters in Shanghai
Paddock, a Massachusetts native like myself -- Albano is from not far away, in New York -- was raised with a love for cars from his mother, who had developed a passion for planes and vehicles from her time in the armed services. Paddock, in fact, first worked as an automotive journalist ("way back," he says) before moving into a position where he helps shape decisions, rather than simply reporting on them.
My first questions were about the success of Buick in the country. (From the moment I stepped into the city, that brand was to be seen everywhere on the city's twisting, soaring highways.) Paddock and Albano acknowledged the badge's visibility, but were also quick to point out that you can't generalize China based on Shanghai (something I heard repeatedly and in differing contexts throughout my trip). Buick is helped out in a large way by GM's partnership with Shanghai Automotive Corporation (SAIC), they said, and in other cities different brands (Toyota, say, or Audi) may be more visible thanks to their regional partnerships. However -- and this I did not know -- there's a historical significance to Buick's status in China. Namely, Sun Yat-Sen, Chinese revolutionary and considered the father of modern China, took his first car ride in a Buick, and later bought two of them in the early part of the 19th century.
Rodents are back, but Kia's not spinning its wheels
So is it the cars, or the hamsters? Kia, as you may have heard, is one of just three car brands (along with Hyundai and Subaru) that made hay from the recession in 2009: Kia sales jumped nearly 10 percent, even as the industry at large slumped by 21 percent. But as much as I’d love to credit those adorable, anthropomorphic hamsters from the Kia ads, it was the product -- with better designs, improved quality and recession-ready pricing and warranties -- that did the trick. Now, with momentum -- and yes, the return of the hip-hop hamsters, in one of the most irresistible car ads I’ve seen in some time -- on its side, Kia will look to sustain the flow with a slew of products designed to offer more than just a low, low price.
At a media lunch with Michael Sprague, now Kia’s marketing VP after a long career at Ford and Mazda, Sprague gave a frank summary of what people thought of the Kia brand not too many years ago: “We were poor quality, cheap, not here for the long haul.”
That kind of reputation doesn’t change overnight, but it is changing. Kia has captured 2.9 percent of the car market, outselling such venerable brands as Mazda and Volkswagen.
Now Kia is out to create a family resemblance for its once-scattershot lineup, led by Kia’s design chief Peter Schreyer (formerly of Audi). The brand also hopes to differentiate itself from Hyundai by aiming for a slightly younger, sportier buyer.
By Greg Migliore
Nissan's design chief Shiro Nakamura stopped by One AutoWeek Tower on Friday afternoon during his visit to Detroit to share some insight on current and future styling trends for his company.
Nakamura, who is best known to enthusiasts for his work on the GT-R, says the current state of design is relatively strong, and the business may be on the verge of another golden age.
Nissan is also pondering the look of a version of the Leaf for its luxury Infiniti brand.
Nakamura said the upscale version will feature more emotional and classic styling, with modern expression.
It's not Nissan brand loyalists pushing the Leaf's popularity
What's more, the initial interest has been driven largely by word-of-mouth and media buzz -- not by a focused marketing campaign. In fact, Nissan does not plan to start marketing the Leaf until September (the vehicle is expected in showrooms in select cities by December, and will be available nationwide by 2012).
Porsche won't take MINI's challenge... but Hyundai will
Two, it appears, can play that game.
Hyundai has released a video aimed at MINI saying, essentially, "you want a race, you've got a race," suggesting MINI pit their Cooper up against the fierce Genesis coupe. Not at Road Atlanta -- Hyundai will be a Pike's Peak -- but they're keeping July open. Let's see if MINI is willing to step up to the plate.
Check out the video after the jump.
Chrysler working on vehicle information apps
The new application will provide access to vehicle operation, maintenance and warranty information. It also offers video demonstration of product features, connections to the brand’s social media sites, and access to customer assistance and 24-hour road-side assistance.
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Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Raised in Volvos, he has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He is the senior news editor at MSN Autos and also reports for Car and Driver, Road & Track, The Boston Globe and other publications.
In the garage: 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (not his)
Doug Newcomb has covered car technology for over 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and technology.
In the garage: 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS, two 1984 Chevrolet Blazers, 2008 Honda CR-V
James Tate learned to drive stick at age 13 in a 1988 Land Cruiser - in La Paz, Bolivia. He's since been a mechanic, on a pit crew and has wrenched on every car he's owned since his first 1989 Honda CRX Si (and won't stop until the car is a 1973 Porsche 911 RS). His work has appeared in Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Automobile and others.
In the garage: 1995 Porsche 911 Carrera, 1988 BMW M5