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Archive for August, 2011

BMW Shakes Up the Ad World – Again

A special edition of Marty's Marketing Minutia.

by on Aug.29, 2011

BMW gets a new ad agency.

Once upon a time automotive advertisers were the most stable accounts on an agency’s client roster. Those were the halcyon Dan Draper days. Turbulence is now the norm. Longevity is passé. Performance — as in results and metrics – now drives the business.

BMW is just the latest to join the long list of auto brands who have switched agencies since the economic meltdown began. The headline A-list switchers include Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Saab, Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet, Mazda and Volkswagen.  The personal toll is and has been incalculable for modern Drapers, but, interestingly, lead creatives and strategists from a shop that was fired from a brand are now working for one of the new agencies new brands.

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It’s been a very long process for BMW to select their latest agency with the unwieldy name of Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners, of New York City. It’s better known by the initials KBS&P.  Early last fall BMW parted company with its international agency, Omnicom Group’s GSD&M Idea Shop.


GM Likely to Give Go-Ahead to Cadillac’s Flagship Omega Project

Encouraged by strong response to Ciel concept, Caddy will get new premium-luxury sedan, along with several hybrids and other new models.

by on Aug.29, 2011

Cadillac is expecting the go-ahead to build a new flagship based on the same platform as the Ciel concept car.

General Motors is expected to give the go-ahead to Cadillac’s flagship Omega project before year-end, according to senior sources, the maker’s top management encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive reaction of the luxury division’s new Ciel concept vehicle.

It’s unclear whether a convertible or sedan version based on the big Omega platform would be first to market, but there is a clear consensus that Caddy needs a super-premium model if it is to have a chance of regaining its position as “standard to the world,” as its long-time ad slogan declared.

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Omega would be just one in a wide range of new offerings that would be added to the Cadillac line-up, officials told, helping the once-dominant marque fill in the so-called “white space” between its current model mix.  That will include not only a new plug-in hybrid – but very likely some more conventional hybrid-electric models, as well.


Renesas Reboots

World’s largest auto chipmaker races to bring production back online months ahead of schedule.

by on Aug.29, 2011

Renesas is the single-largest supplier of automotive micro-controllers in the world.

In a matter of minutes, the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s northeast coast, last March, took tens of thousands of lives and created hundreds of billions of dollars in devastation.  Few industries felt the impact more directly than the automotive world – parts shortages still plaguing many of the industry’s major manufacturers.

While the March 11 disaster had a wide-ranging impact, causing shortages of a variety of parts, including plastic and rubber goods, perhaps the biggest problem was a shortage of electronic components.  Among the manufacturers hardest hit by the quake was Renesas Electronics, the world’s largest supplier of micro-controllers.

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Renesas provides 40% of the chips used by the automotive industry, and without those silicon circuits carmakers like Toyota and Honda saw many of their assembly lines come to a screeching halt.

Bringing its operations – which center around multi-billion-dollar “clean room” facilities in the region hardest hit by the March disaster – hasn’t been easy, but in recent weeks Renesas has been ramping operations back up and plans to be back to full capacity next month, learned during a discussion with senior executives from the chipmaker.


Lexus Teases GS 450h Hybrid and GS F-Sport

Targeting the extremes.

by on Aug.29, 2011

Lexus offers a hint of what's to come with the GS F-Sport and GS 450h hybrid models.

Less than two weeks after lifting the covers on its next-generation GS 350 sedan, Lexus is offering up a tease of what’s to come, later this year, when it formally unveils two other spin-offs from the midsize GS line: the performance-oriented F-Sport and gas-electric GS 450h.

The hybrid will make its debut at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show, an increasingly common backdrop for environmentally-friendly products.  The F-Sport, meanwhile, will be revealed at the annual SEMA show, an aftermarket extravaganza in Las Vegas.

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The GS has traditionally been the sportiest line in the Lexus model mix, other than the track-ready IS-F, (which was the first F-Sport model).  Curiously, the original GS 450h was intended to demonstrate the performance potential of gas-electric technology, though critics said it was neither fish nor fowl, neither sporty enough nor fuel-efficient enough.


Ford Adds 2.0-liter EcoBoost to Edge, Explorer

Fuel economy jumps as high as 30 mpg.

by on Aug.29, 2011

Ford adds the new 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine to the 2012 Explorer line-up.

Domestic makers often get slammed for the poor fuel economy of their sport-utility vehicles and crossovers, but Ford hopes to win kudos – and new buyers – as it expands the use of its new EcoBoost powertrains, a new 2.0-liter version of its high-mileage engine going under the hood of its most popular SUV and CUV offerings for 2012.

The promise of Ford’s EcoBoost system is that through the use of turbocharging, direct-injection, and other technologies, smaller-displacement engines with reduced cylinder counts can make as much power as their bigger counterparts while improving fuel-economy. Ford has already applied the EcoBoost concept across much of its lineup, and the latest application is in the 2012 Ford Edge and 2012 Ford Explorer.

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Both models are now available with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection engine that makes 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Available only in front-wheel drive models, the engine promises 28 highway mpg in the seven-seat Explorer and 30 mpg in the Edge – while still delivering 2,000 pounds of towing capability.

Ford says the Edge is 80 pounds lighter and the Explorer 50 pounds lighter with these engines under hood, but neither the Edge nor Explorer is known for being light on its feet. Still, during our brief drive of each vehicle, we could tell the difference from the larger V-6 (V-6s, with the Edge).


Saab Reportedly Seeking Court Protection

Maker hoping to buy time to line up new funds.

by on Aug.26, 2011

Image By: Len Katz

Saab Chairman Victor Muller may be forced to seek court protection to avoid the complete collapse of the Swedish company.

With another payroll likely to be missed and suppliers still refusing to provide the parts it needs to re-open its headquarters assembly plant, Saab is reportedly ready to seek court protection to buy time as it goes searching for more funding.

The news came hours after the maker said it would delay the release of its first-half 2011 financial report.  That report, now scheduled for next week, is expected to be grim.  The maker has produced only a small number of vehicles since it was struck by a supplier boycott, in late March, triggered by unpaid bills.  Despite lining up a series of potential alliances that management had hoped would resolve its financial problems those deals remain tied up in bureaucratic analysis leaving the maker struggling for its survival.

In a terse statement, parent company Swedish Automobile N.V., or SWAN, said it was “aware of certain reports in Swedish media related to a possible filing…for a voluntary reorganization under Swedish law.”

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The statement neither confirmed nor denied the reports, first aired on Swedish public radio but said only that the company is “evaluating all available options” and is “in discussions with several parties to secure the short-term and medium-term funding of Saab Automobile to restart and sustain production.”


Kia’s Hamsters Are Back

And this time they’re dancing to the Soul beat.

by on Aug.26, 2011

Kia's Hamstars are back -- and this time amateur video makers can get into the act.

Kia’s hip-hop hamsters are back and showing again that they’ve got soul.  Make that Soul, with the Korean maker ready to roll out an updated version of its boxy crossover.

The original, 2010 campaign for the Kia Soul introduced the animated stars and created perhaps more of a sensation for the commercial than for the car itself, though the crossover has proven itself a solid seller and a real halo product for the fast-growing brand.

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First shown driving amidst a wasteland of me-too automobiles, the “Hamstars,” as Kia calls them, returned to rap in a second campaign last year.  Now, they’re back and dancing to the sounds of “Party Rock,” the hit by electro-pop band LMFAO in a 60-second spot that somehow combines a music video with a setting that might have come from the popular videogame Halo.


Americans Continue Cutting Back the Miles

But more planning to hit the roads over Labor Day.

by on Aug.26, 2011

Americans are driving less than in years.

Pay more, drive less.  That seems to be the formula more and more American motorists are following these days.

Despite a bit of a reprieve as fuel prices slip slightly, it appears U.S. motorists are steadily trimming back on travel, whether for vacations or simply when running errands, according to the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration.

For the first half of this year, Americans drove 1.453 trillion miles, a 1.1% decline compared to the January – June period the year before.  It was also a 44 billion mile decline from the first half of 2009, when Americans set a motoring record of 1.497 trillion miles.

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But lower fuel prices could encourage more drivers to get back behind the wheel – the AAA projecting that the nation’s holiday travelers drive more and fly less during the long Labor Day weekend.

June brought the fourth straight month of declining traffic, according to the Highway Administration.  Overall travel was down 1.4%, with the biggest decline in South-Gulf region.


VW Will Export Beetles to China

Fiat also planning to export 500 from Mexico to China.

by on Aug.26, 2011

The latest-generation Beetle will soon be going on sale in China.

In an unusual turn, Volkswagen plans to export the new 2012 Beetle from Mexico to China.

Only the third generation of the iconic VW small car, the 2012 Beetle will go on sale in the U.S. in October, then follow in markets around the world. VW officials don’t expect the latest version of the “Bug” to come close to the sales levels of the ‘60s and ‘70s but hope it will serve as a halo vehicle to build demand for the rest of the line-up.

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That could prove especially important in China, where Volkswagen is locked into a fierce battle for market dominance with arch-rival General Motors.  VW has a large production base in China but has decided to rely on Mexico as its central source for the new Beetle rather than duplicate tooling.


Discipline for Air Turbulence

Retired auto designer has idea to improve tail-end auto aerodynamics.

by on Aug.26, 2011

Colin Neale has patented a novel device aimed at improving air flow over the back end of a car.

This is the second in a two-part series about retired auto designer Colin Neale. Click here to read part one, which looks back on Neale’s long career designing the cars we drive.

Automotive designers have gotten really good at designing cars that barely tickle the air as it slips past the front end and caresses the sides and greenhouse. But when that same air gets to the back end, well, there’s not a whole lot for a designer to do.

“Everything just goes to hell” at the back end of the car, said retired auto designer Colin Neale. “It’s called turbulence.”

Discipline in Turbulence!

Neale says for a car to have perfect tail-end aerodynamics, it would have to be a 100-long teardrop.

Since 100-foot long cars aren’t practical, Neale has come up with an idea that might work instead. Neale obtained a patent for what he calls S.C.O.T. – or Spin Control of Turbulence – that might offer a solution.