Saturday, July 4, 2015

Summer 2015 Product Launches Part III and Aston Martin's Woes

Alexander Carabitses

Part I: More New Products

In my last post I stated that more new product launches would be coming our way this summer, and here they are.  First up is the 2016 Kia Cee'd, a European rival to the Volkswagen Golf, which receives a light refresh for the 2016 model year.  Some updates include minor design revisions to the exterior and interior, as well as an improved chassis and a new 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder engine. It is important to note that the three-door version of the car, the 2016 Pro Cee'd gets the same updates.
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2016 Hyundai Creta:  This is Hyundai's new subcompact crossover that will rival the Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, and Jeep Renegade if and when it goes on sale in the U.S.  Seeing as how this is being marked a s a global vehicle, and also seeing as how the subcompact crossover segment is growing in North America it should make come, although the engines will differ between regions.  The car goes on sale in India later this year, with other markets soon to follow.
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2016 McLaren P1 Alain Prost Special Edition:  While not the car's official name, it honors non other than the famous McLaren Formula 1 driver Alain Prost.  The special paint scheme was meant to mimic his helmet design.
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2016 McLaren P1 Ayrton Senna Special Edition: This P1 is yet another helmet tribute to a famous McLaren Formula 1 driver, in this case Ayrton Senna.  According to Carbuzz, both this car and the Alain Prost P1 are one-offs, both of which are being sold to the same customer.
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Nissan Juke-R 2.0:  The original Juke R had a crap load of horsepower, but this one has even more because its powered by the same engine that powers the GT-R Nismo.  The 2.0 also receives some design upgrades to match the rest of the Juke line, on top of the new aero kit.  The way things stand now, this is only a concept, but Nissan built the Juke-R 1.0, so they may build this one too.
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2016/2017 Lotus 3-Eleven:  It is the fastest and most expensive Lotus built to date, partially because it has a 2,000 pound curb weight; its engine also makes more power than the Evora 400.  Although this may look like track only car there are two packages: a Road package and a Race Package.  Lotus currently plans to make 311 of these and it also plans to charge an arm and a leg for them.
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2016 Mercedes Benz A-Class/ A45 AMG:  The A45 AMG gets more power, which will allow it to reclaim its title as the fastest hot hatch currently produced.  The transmission gets shorter ratios as well, while the exterior receives a minor refresh.  This light design refresh is shared with the rest of the A-Class lineup both inside and out, although the A45 does still get some extra aerodynamic upgrades here and there.  (Pictured below from top to bottom are the 2016 A-Class, the 2016 A-Class AMG Sport Line, and the 2016 A45 AMG)
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2016 Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak: Mopar and Dodge made this Sportsman Class dragster quite fast, while improving the suspension at the same time.  The interior and exterior also receive some upgrades, and for those who are curious about the numbers, the car will do the quarter-mile in about 8 seconds.  While I'm at it I should mention that Dodge also announced a Scat Pack 2 and a Scat Pack 3, both of which add decent amounts of power (56 hp/30 lb.-ft and 75 hp/44 lb.-ft, respectively).  By the way, the only reason I included the Drag Pak in this post, is because you can actually buy one of these.
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2016 Chevrolet Low Cab Forward Trucks:  I've been putting this one off for a while now, but I might as well get it out of the way.  GM and Isuzu's old medium duty truck partnership is reborn and beginning in early 2016, you will be able to by a Chevy badged Isuzu NPR, only they will be called Low Cab Forward Trucks.  In a way, it is good to see that Chevrolet is back in this segment after being absent from it for several years, although I wish they had developed their own trucks to go head-to-head with the all-new Ford F-650 and F-750. 
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2016 Fiat 500: To celebrate the 58th anniversary of the original Fiat 500's launch, Fiat picked July 4, 2015 to showcase the refreshed Fiat 500.  The exterior doesn't change much, as it only receives a new front fascia and rear taillights.  However, the big changes are on the inside, as the car features a revised interior with an infotainment screen, a first for this car.

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2016 Audi A4/A4 Avant:  The Audi A4 is all-new for the 2016 model year, but you wouldn't know if you saw pictures of it without the accompanying headline.  The design is more plain than toast and doesn't look any different from the car that it replaces.  If anything, it looks more like a light mid-cycle refresh.  I will commend them on the interior, which looks very good, and its quality will surely be top notch; it's ashamed that the designers couldn't carry that over to the rest of the car.  Yes, there are new engines, yes it has lost weight, and no it isn't clear if the station wagon version of the car (the A4 Avant will come to the U.S..  All that's known is that salesmen and women will have their work cut out for them when the new car goes on sale this fall, that's not to say that they won't sell a lot of these.
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Part II: The producers of the James Bond Car and The Most Boring Supercars on the Market

It isn't harsh, it's the truth.  Let's have a quick look at the exotic car market for a minute, and what each brand is and wants to be.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley make lavish luxury cars for ultra rich clientele, who would rather be driven than drive on their own.  For those who prefer to drive, Bentley offers both a coupe and a convertible through the Continental, while Rolls offers a coupe through the Wraith and will eventually offer a convertible version as well.  Both brands are successful at what they do.  (On a side note, Maserati used to be in this group, but their recent dive downmarket has stripped them of this honor.)

Porsche, Lotus, and Caterham are the next brands that come to mind, as they offer a an entry into the high end sports car world.  Porsche is all about German engineering, while while Lotus and Caterham are all about making fun, lightweight cars.  Lotuses and Caterhams  are actually very affordable, although many Lotus models aren't sold in the U.S., while Caterhams are basically kit cars in the U.S. market.  Porsche's are in full supply in the U.S., but like all German cars, they are very expensive.  Despite this, all of the brands are good at what they do, although Lotus does struggle financially.                  

Meanwhile, you have Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren who are in an all out war to kill each other.  They are the "mainstream" supercar brands that fight one-another the way Toyota, GM, and Ford compete for marketshare back in the real world.  These three bands create spectacular cars in a constant effort to outdo one-another; they all do a great job at this.

You then have the mid-tier exotic brands like Weismann, Morgan, and Spyker.  Morgan is all about retro design with modern performance, while Weismann does a nice job providing a blend of modern and retro design with modern performance.  Spyker does its own thing by creating outlandish sports cars like the C8 Aileron.  These are typically the brands that you see struggling to make money, and overcoming bankruptcy, primarily because not many people know of the brands' existence.

Finally you have the most exclusive brands of all time: Pagani, Koenigsegg, and Bugatti.  These three brands make the most fast, exclusive, high-end exotic cars known to man.  Although Pagani and Koenigsegg are chasing after Bugatti, they are still making some great cars themselves, many of which are some of the fastest in the world.  And yes, all three brands are great at what they do.

Then there is Aston Martin.  Where does it fall on this list?  With the mainstream exotic car brands (i.e. McLaren, Lamborghini, and Ferrari).  However, the brand isn't out chasing after those brands, even though it should.  The question of why is beyond me at this point, but that is quite frankly the least of their problems.  Sales have begun to decline, while the products are boring compared to the competition.  I doubt I even know the names of every vehicle Aston makes right now, and I don't know if I can even tell them apart.  Whenever Aston Martin introduces a new model, I immediately get confused because I have no idea what other models the car is competing with.  It doesn't help that all of the cars look the same either, and that this one common design is boring as hell.  Yeah, they are saying that they will be making their vehicles more exciting, but that isn't saying much when the design  their current lineup is more conservative than Dick Chaney.  At this point anything can be considered more exciting than what they have now.

What makes things even worse is that Aston Martin is buying engines from Mercedes AMG.  While that may seem like a good thing because those are German engines after all, and it allows Aston to save some money as well because they aren't developing their own engines, it is also bad.  You see, when people buy supercars, they look at how powerful the car is, as well as design.  Unfortunately, Aston Martins look more conservative than German cars, so customers may choose to buy an actual, brand new AMG, over a used Aston Martin with an AMG engine, simply because the design.  Again, design is the problem here.

I stand by the fact that the James Bond movie franchise saved Aston Martin, and is the only reason people remember the brand exists.  The Beautiful DB5 is one of the most memorable things from the movie Goldfinger, and the car did make some appearances afterward, most recently in Skyfall.  When people think of Aston Martin, they think of Sean Connery and the DB5, or even Hollywood actors and actresses who want to feel like James Bond.  It is almost like a car for movie stars, rather than a car for enthusiasts.  Now, James Bond will drive the DB10, a car that Aston Martin doesn't plan to actually sell, at least not yet.  It will serve as a reminder to the mainstream world that the brand still exists today, and will help reinvigorate interest in the brand by today's kids.  For all we know DB10 wallpapers could replace Lamborghini Aventador wallpapers on laptops, phones, tablets, and iPods before we know it.  This is great news for Aston Martin, but how is it that it takes a movie franchise to invigorate interest in a brand from the mainstream consumer and gain a fanbase like the ones that Lamborghini, Bugatti, and Ferrari already have?  McLaren is a brand in the same boat as  Aston Martin, but McLaren has a lot of other things going for it, such as fresh new products, and it is my opinion that more people aspire to that brand, than they aspire to Aston Martin.  People may wonder why Aston would care what kids think of their brands, because maybe only two of those kids will ever be able to afford one of their cars one day.  Here's the deal, Ferrari and Lamborghini are in the same boat, yet they somehow manage to invigorate interest for their brands by today's kids.  And even though many of those kids will never buy their cars, it presents great marketing opportunities.  Posters, T-Shirst, handbags, coffee mugs, keychains, pens, golfballs, and diecast-cars are just a few items that those brands capitalize on.  Sure, Aston Martin participates in a movie franchise, but James Bond movies are released every few years, while the other merchandise and marketing exists year round for these other brands.  Plus, Ferrari even has its own amusement park.

Let me tell you something else, when people see the DB10 in the new movie, they may like it, but when they see the rest of the lineup that you can actually buy, they may be disappointed, especially if these people are fans of other supercar brands as it is.  The One-77, the Vulcan, and the Lagonda are all interesting and exciting products are, or were ultra limited.  Aston Martin has to invigorate that kind of excitement with the rest of its cars if it wants to be compared to McLaren, a brand that creates exciting products all the time.  Aston martin has the potential to fight with the big dogs in its segment.  Its special edition models prove that Aston Martin has the capability of designing exciting cars, while it has the benefit of being a part of a movie franchise since the 1960s, as well as having German engines in its next generation lineup.  It's so unfortunate that they aren't capitalizing on any of this.  Maybe if Daimler does buy the brand one day, like everyone (including myself) thinks it will, then Aston's problems will all disappear.  But that day may never come, and Aston will have to fight on its own, and to do that it has to reinvigorate excitement for its lineup and amongst its fanbase, while creating new fans through the James Bond movie franchise and other means of marketing as well.

I wish them the best, and I wish all of you, the readers, a very happy and safe Fourth of July Weekend!


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