The Good and Ugly Sides of Automotive Collaborations
More often than not, teamwork from some unlikely partnerships makes for great cars.
Think of the greatest and most awful collaborations you can. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg? Check one in the "greatest" category. Architect I.M. Pei and the famous Louvre Museum? Still open for interpretation. Celine Dion and Chrysler? Beautiful and short-lived -- and only one of them came out rich.
We all like to see collaborations, whether they flourish or flop. They can prove the impossible (bacon and chocolate) or the inevitable (Snooki and birth control). It’s a human need to see two sides work together (or try to), a humble admission that we can’t do everything alone, and the suspense of creating something awesome from very different parts. The automotive world, as Dion can attest, works the same way. Here are a few good and bad examples.
Toyota and BMW
This is quite the information exchange. After a handshake at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, the details are out. Toyota will share its exhaustive hybrid knowledge with BMW, notably to develop new lithium-ion batteries and possibly entire powertrains. As a performance-minded automaker, BMW has a poor understanding of hybrids, which is why the few models it hasn't discontinued sell in small numbers. Toyota is also sharing its hydrogen fuel-cell technology, which will probably undo decades of BMW’s own hydrogen research. BMW is the only automaker that has focused on liquid-hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines, which is a more expensive and even more unfeasible solution than using fuel cells that convert gaseous hydrogen to electricity. BMW will supply Toyota with diesel engines and access to its carbon-fiber technology, which the German automaker will use in its upcoming i3 electric vehicle. Both are engineering juggernauts, and both should come out victorious.
Alfa Romeo and Mazda
This one came out of nowhere, but again, it shouldn’t go wrong. Mazda wants to go back to the original Miata’s basic, ultralightweight design, and Alfa Romeo wants a superbly balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis to mimic the famous Spiders of old. Both have the capability to produce such a car. By sharing costs -- both cars will be produced in Japan -- Alfa is the one getting the better end of the deal by banking on Mazda’s quality and the Miata’s uninterrupted development since 1989 -- but a little Italian fashion injected into the Miata couldn’t hurt.
Jeep and Maserati
The last time these two came together, they made an embarrassing failure that neither of them would care to remember. The Chrysler TC by Maserati was a watered-down hack job -- a lowly LeBaron that attempted to look upscale, with its Italian leather and a trident covering the Pentastar logo. Now, it’s Maserati borrowing the tough bones from Chrysler’s Jeep brand, most notably the Grand Cherokee (itself based on the Mercedes M-Class). The Kubang -- or whatever it will be called -- will be built not in Italy but in Detroit, and will be priced to compete with Turbo Cayennes and the upcoming SUVs from Bentley and Lamborghini. Jeep has nothing to lose, and with the market’s seemingly bottomless appetite for six-figure, high-performance SUVs, neither should Maserati.
Subaru and Toyota
No one outside these two Japanese companies knows who was mostly responsible for the inexpensive, rear-wheel-drive sports cars known alternately as the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S. (Probably Subaru, since Toyota has mostly forgotten how to make cars with a pulse.) In any case, these cars are the hottest-selling models in the country, and there’s no question the aftermarket community will wrap their hands around them in short time. Aside from being identical twins with different badges, these cars are already successful and prop up both companies.
And the Ugly:
Chevrolet and Daewoo
Nowadays, Korean automaker Daewoo is otherwise known as GM Daewoo, the brainy division that created the well-received Chevrolet Cruze. Before this car, though, Daewoo tried entering the U.S. market on its own in the 1990s, failed miserably, and then began building subcompact cars and selling them here as Chevrolets. The Aveo had bad written all over it -- and not in the seductive Jaguar sense of the word. The collaboration taught both companies some harsh lessons. Daewoo won’t ever open another dealership again, and Chevy won’t accept substandard engineering for a subcompact car.
Suzuki and Nissan (and GM)
The Suzuki Equator is simply a rebadged Nissan Frontier. It’s a basic truck with little going for it in terms of amenities or stand-out features -- and that's putting it nicely. The Suzuki Grand Vitara is a compact SUV that doesn’t even try to compete; it’s old and produced under a joint venture with General Motors. The last great Suzuki collaboration was the Sidekick, shared with the Geo Tracker -- a popular early '90s 4-wheel-drive runabout -- and the Swift, a bad but extremely fuel-efficient hatchback sold alongside the Geo Metro that still has its fans.
Saab and Anyone
This is not so much a collaboration as open heart surgery without anesthesia. Saab has been ripped apart and gutted since its bankruptcy, only to have its wounds reopened multiple times. A dozen or so companies bid for Saab, while GM -- which forced two very bad decisions on Saab, the 9-2X “Saabaru” and the 9-7X Trailblazer -- twisted the knife at every turn during sale negotiations, citing intellectual property rights. Spyker had no long-term plans and involved money that was potentially sourced from the Russian mafia, while the current Chinese-Japanese investment group doesn’t have a plan besides making electrified 9-3s out of thin air. Saab’s pain continues even long after its death.
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