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Nov 242009
 

With SEMA a few weeks behind us and plenty of time to digest the show, a few deep thoughts remain:

  • Where will the Japanese manufacturers be in 2010 in making a serious bid for enthusiasts’ dollars as aftermarket support in this segment wanes? Some of the biggest names in the marketplace was absent from the show, challenged by dwindling sales and the weakness of the US dollar.
  • Can domestic aftermarket manufacturers answer the call? From what we saw, the answer is yes. As mentioned in a previous editorial, the Chevy Camaro seems to have singlehandedly revived the aftermarket industry. Even names that have been traditionally aligned with sport compact performance making positive inroads into supporting the domestic car market, the future looks bright for those who have had the foresight.
  • Will hybrids and electric cars damage the aftermarket? From our perspective, yes for the time being. People who purchase cars in this segment aren’t looking for excitement. In many respects, we feel these buyers are completely abandoning the notion of any behind-the-wheel fun. Gas mileage is what they are after, not vehicle dynamics. Nor acceleration. Nor braking. Nor handling. But companies like Tesla are making inroads in offering a package that still keeps in mind that driving should be fun. We keep our fingers crossed.
  • Fractured aftermarket presence in local communities will present a challenge for those car owners who deem that “stock” just isn’t good enough. Even in the car mecca that is Southern California, many “speed shops” have closed their doors due to a declining demand for services. And forget parts sales. Anything that can be purchased in the brick-and-mortar world can be purchased online. Specialized niche services, an excellent reputation and competitive pricing are the bare minimum a retail operation must offers its customers just to survive.
  • OE makes stand to gain from this downturn in the economy by offering those services and parts that a customer just can’t acquire from their local shop. Although this advantage in scale can tilt things in the dealer’s favor, they will have to work hard to change the opinions of car owners who deem them as “stealerships.”

Let us hope that 2010 will be a turnaround year for the OE and automotive industry.

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Nov 242009
 

Aside from the almost ubiquitous presence of the Chevy Camaro and supporting aftermarket companies at SEMA, it was hard to pinpoint any particular trend or direction the aftermarket is taking. We did notice a dearth of aftermarket body kit companies (thank goodness), but this alone doesn’t say much about where the industry is nor where it is headed. We hold our breath, hoping for some innovation in 2010. With that being said, there still was plenty of cool cars to admire from afar. Here’s our best pic(k)s of SEMA 2009.

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Nov 232009
 

Daniel Lewis

Mercedes F1

From Daimler – This week, Brawn GP was purchased by Mercedes-Benz, to compete in Formula One in 2010. The Principal for the team is still Ross Brawn. Brawn GP won the constructor’s title in Formula One in 2009. Will Mercedes-Benz be able to keep up with Ferrari in Formula One next season? I guess only time will tell. In other F1 news, Kimi Raikkonen “semi”-retires from F1 to race in WRC, and Jenson Button signed with McLaren. All of this F1 news show for a crazy and unpredictable 2010 season!

Toyota

From CNBC.com – After Toyota announced a major recall on the majority of thier late model passenger cars due to an issue with floor mats sliding around, and pressing the accelerator pedal down, they decided to put a “band-aid” over the wound, and use zip-ties to secure the floor mats to the floor of the car. Now there are reports that Toyota has decided on a permanent fix – make shorter gas pedals. Is this the best that Toyota can conjure up? Personally, I expected a better solution. Toyota, perhaps you should take this time to go back to the drawing board.

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Nov 152009
 

nissan_leaf_leadin

Touted as “the world’s first affordable, zero-emissions car,” the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle made its way Stateside with the kickoff of the Nissan Leaf Tour. This program will travel around the US, touting the advantages of the Yokohama, Japan- / Nashville, Tennessee-based car maker. We had a chance to check out the car up close and personal in a posh setting complete with an open bar and upscale setting in Santa Monica, CA.

nissan_leaf_01

Offering an effective range of 100 miles, the Leaf can be charged up to 80% of its full capacity in under 30 minutes with a quick charger (we have no idea what this charger looks like nor was it on display at the event). Charging at home through a 200V outlet (with which US homes aren’t equipped so a call to an electrician will be required) to full capacity will take approximately 8 hours.

nissan_leaf_04

Two immediate points come to mind. One, this vehicle certainly isn’t designed for rural areas where the distance between, say, home and work is longer than 100 miles. It’s definitely realistic for city dwellers who drive no more than 30 miles a day between home, work and play. Two, any vehicle that forces people to change their driving behavior, such as filling up with fuel at a gas station in 5 minutes, and adapting to an 8-hour charging cycle at home is going to be a tough task.

nissan_leaf_05

The longer term consideration is this – since only about 18% of electricity in the United States is generated through renewable resources, could this and other electrical vehicles truly be considered as “zero emissions”? The electricity has to come from somewhere and it’s not coming from wind, solar or hydroelectric sources for the most part. Sure, ongoing innovations and increases in renewable resources will surely help til the balance in nature’s favor but I believe “zero emissions” is a misnomer at best. At least for now.

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Nov 142009
 

Daniel Lewis

BMW M Tie

From BMW – BMW now offers a tie for its fanboys. Just in time for the holidays. Are BMW drivers turning into Ferrari drivers? Always sporting their car manufacturer’s logo on the clothes that they wear. I guess a lot of BMW salesmen would order this. (~$93 USD)

Adds a special note to any business meeting and to the entire M Collection: the BMW M Tie, finished to the highest standard and made of pure silk. With anthracite interior finish and woven coloured BMW M logo on the front and back. Material: 100% Italian silk

NY License Plate

From New York Times – New York has decided that to help them through these tough times, they will charge their drivers a mandatory $25 fee in order to replace their license plates for the new one pictured above. This fee will give the state $260 million dollars, as well as create over 100 jobs. By the way, those 100 jobs, they are for maximum security prison inmates. Good job, New York….yeah right.

From Las Vegas Sun – A strip club on wheels? Yep, Las Vegas has taken it to the next level with this Stripper-mobile! You don’t even have to tip! LOL

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Nov 072009
 

The 2009 SEMA Show in Las Vegas was officially sponsored by Ford. In an ironic twist of fate, however, it was not a Ford vehicle that took center stage at the show. Rather, it was the new Chevy Camaro that took the show by storm. It was Camaro overload. There were Camaros everywhere. It didn’t matter to which company the booth belonged. There was a Camaro in it.

sema_2009_vehicle024a

We won’t delve into every bow tie sports car that was at the show, but the one in BASF’s booth really caught our attention. Although it was a V6, this particular Camaro had some major surgery done under the hood. With a twin turbocharger set up – with really clean, purposeful plumbing – it was flawlessly executed, not to mention the BASF paint job that enveloped the car. 

Enough with the words. Here’s a short cross section of the Camaro phenomenon witnessed at SEMA.

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Nov 072009
 

“Some car companies sell cars so they can go racing, while others go racing so they can sell cars.”

Not too far in the distant past, I picked up on this rather relevant comment about car companies and motorsports. It’s all the more I bring this up now, as Panasonic Toyota F1 announced yesterday that they are withdrawing from Formula 1 with immediate effect. 500+ employees at the team factory in Cologne are going to be out of a job unless they find work elsewhere in racing. The team’s suppliers are losing out on revenue as there’s one less customer to sell to. And their 2009 drivers, Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock and Kamui Kobayash, will have to look elsewhere for a drive in 2010. But I digress. This isn’t about people losing their jobs. This is about how one car company perceives racing versus another.

The oldest team in Formula 1, Ferrari, has been there from the very beginning. You could even argue that even though the first F1 race was held in the UK, the spirit of it all really started at Maranello. Ferrari has always been about racing. And Enzo sold cars so that he could go racing. And racing helped create probably the most desired car brand in the world today, but racing was always at the center of it all. A successful car building operation was merely the instrument through which the expense of racing could be paid for.

You have the billionaires, wanna-be billionaires (the Grand Prix Autopolis immediately comes to mind) and / or racing fanatics who want to feed their ego and / or fulfill a lifelong dream of owning an F1 team. Eurobrun, Leyton House, March, Larousse, Tyrrell, Brabham, Spyker, Minardi and many others have come and gone. A few had some success. A few were dedicated and helped bring many good drivers into the sport (Minardi, for example, provided maiden drives to Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber) Others were permanent backmarkers who couldn’t buy a ticket out of pre-qualifying.

Then you have the behemoth car builders with billions to spend and figure Formula 1 would be a wise investment in building their brand on a global scale. Ford came and went with success (HB engines that powered one Michael Schumacher to a driver’s title in the Benetton); Jaguar was a leftover from the Ford days; Lamborghini powered the Larousse for a while, but they were backmarkers; Yamaha powered the Brabham, but yet again another backmarker; and so on.

Honda was a raving success entering the sport in the 60s, then with Piquet at the wheels of the Lotus-Honda, then with Senna & Prost at the wheels of the McLaren-Honda. Then they left the sport with multiple driver’s and constructor’s titles in their hands. Credit Soichiro Honda-san for that one. He was a racing fanatic. And their F1 efforts gave birth to VTEC, which everyone in their 20s and 30s knows about. Honda back then went racing because it wanted to, not because they wanted to sell cars.

Honda returned to F1 with BAT, which then became BAR Honda, then became Honda F1. This wasn’t the Honda we knew. This was a Honda focused on increasing market share. This was a Honda that went racing to sell cars. Honda-san must have turned in his grave.

Which brings us to Toyota. A company that became the #1 car brand in America, as US made brands quickly lost their luster. They were selling cars like there was no tomorrow. They had money to burn. So they entered Formula 1, spending what is reportely over $500 million on their F1 program. And they kept spending. But never won a race. Their driver choices were at times questionable. But they kept at it as long as the money was there. But when the recent global economic meltdown happened, they saw their compatriot Honda leave the sport because they couldn’t afford it anymore. So they questioned whether they should stay. And inevitably left the sport. Dwindling car sales couldn’t support the habit anymore.

This all begs a number of questions – did Toyota believe they could win races and championships by throwing money at it? Did they sell cars to go racing or was it the other way around? – I tend to believe it was the former. Was it just an ego play? No way to know for sure unless you’re deep within the industrial complex that is Toyota.

Whatever the reason may be, I’m still glad there are companies like Ferrari that stands by its tradition of racing to win. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be worth watching anymore.

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