Tesla Stock Offering Is Coming

2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

It looks as though Tesla Motors will file for an Initial Public Offering of its stock very soon. Some are excited by this news; others skeptical. In a way, it doesn’t make sense. As LeftLane said,

Flush with cash, it’s unclear why Tesla is pushing forward with an IPO at this time. The company has said it has more than enough funding to complete development of its Model S luxury sedan and construct a plant to build it. But given CEO Elon Musk’s ambitious tendencies (he’s also the founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and SolarCity), we wouldn’t be surprised if the company is considering other projects.

It also seems this may be the time to capitalize on the company’s cash position and the green car techno-boom, such as it is. The LA Times feels the “overall market for new stock offerings has been flourishing lately,” and a successful IPO would surely put Tesla on the map. It would be the first U.S. auto IPO since Ford went public in 1956. A Reuters piece suggests that the allure of such a company for venture funds is considerable, and Tesla has already attracted some high-profile investors, not to mention $465 million in low-cost government loans.

The big drawing card, I think, is not just the Model S (starting at $49,900, after a federal tax credit of $7,500). It’s the 2010 Roadster (above), whose incredible performance has enticed some 700 buyers to shell out $109,000 a copy. With add-ons that any fool would add on, the total can easily come to over $150 K. Scott Doggett of Edmunds.com gave one a good thrashing in the Marin (Calif.) hills. If you read his piece, you’ll want one, guaranteed.

So the IPO, if it comes, should appeal through Tesla’s ability to produce a mid-price, appealing luxo sedan and a state-of-the-art electric sports car for the well-heeled. The fact that the company claims great advances in battery technology will also help.

Tesla is going to have stiff competition from Nissan (the Leaf) and GM (the Volt), among others. Will its niche status enable it to survive and prosper? Give us your thoughts.


Buick Regal: Great Car or Marketing Failure?


Fellow blogger jgoods recently gave us a rundown of the new Buick Regal. A nice article, for sure, but I’m going to go a step further. I’m going to give General Motors a marketing lesson.

I know, I would think the people at GM should know a thing or two about marketing, but apparently they need some help. I base this assumption on the simple fact that the Buick Regal is back.

In all truth, the car looks like it has the right stuff. According to Autoweek:

The new Regal will arrive in the second quarter of 2010 with its sights set squarely on competitors such as the Acura TSX and the Volvo S60. The Regal was developed in Germany–it is essentially the Opel Insignia, a car we think looks terrific, drives well, and is the European Car of the Year. Buick says the Insignia has won more than 31 awards and is the best-selling midsize sedan in Europe.

So the new Regal really isn’t a Regal at all. It’s an Insignia. It’ll even have an available 220-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Pretty sweet. So why on earth call it a Regal? That’s where I think GM’s marketing folks failed.

I would never, ever, buy a Buick Regal simply because my mother-in-law, my kids’ grandma, owned one. The Regal name isn’t one I want to be associated with as a 30-something dad with a young family.

GM should have treated this as an all-new product and given it an all-new name that could have built an all-new image. Anything other than Regal would have been a good choice. GM wants to move the company forward and make us forget about the hard times of the past, yet it plasters a name that has a whole lot of negative equity associated with it onto a sweet new car. Does that make sense to anyone?

Heck, call it the Buick Insignia, and we’d be thrilled at the European association. Even make up an all-new word and tell us it’s the ancient Greek word for “awesome,” and we’d be all over it, excitedly telling our friends about the hot new Buick.

What GM has done, though, is place a haggard old name on a car that has real potential, possibly eliminating an entire demographic from even taking a test drive.

Would you shop for a Buick Regal instead of something like a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class? Did GM make a major marketing error here, or am I the one who’s fallen off the deep end?


Cadillac CTS and CTS-V Coupes Coming This Summer

Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept

Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept

The Detroit Auto Show will display the CTS and the CTS-V Coupes in May, and I’ll bet they will sell. They need to sell, as Cadillac is hurting. The cars establish the look of the Converj, Cadillac’s upscale Volt coupe, which has drawn praise, even from me. There are good photos of the 2008 concept car here, and the production version should not be much different.

Herr Lutz, GM marketing chief, promised that the Sport Wagon (right), also using the 556 hp Corvette ZR-1 engine that will power the CTS-V Coupe, will be available somewhat later on. These could be exciting cars for GM boosters, most of whom have been starving for a little zing from the company. What the new cars need to do is focus on what consumers want and produce real quality for a change. GM has been negligent for years in this regard, despite its claims to the contrary.

It’s really difficult for the company to claim quality superiority (or even parity) when a publication as widely-read as Consumer Reports is showing so many black marks (literally) on many GM products, [including] the Cadillac CTS and STS… .

The new GM board seems to have made a long-overdue commitment to quality and reliability, and there is evidence that the new Caddys are improving in this regard. That improvement would seem a prerequisite to the success of the new coupes.

The Volt team has also been stressing quality in a recent media update. Some of the highlights of Chief Engineer Andrew Farah’s presentation:

The Volt is meeting energy power requirements and is now balancing issues such as safety, regulations and customer satisfaction with other issues such as performance, durability, packaging and vehicle design. The team has completed the pre-production build process and is in the process of testing the vehicles. Some are being tested around the clock 24/7. The team has built all 300 packs for the Volt and the results have been excellent. There have been more than 250,000 miles of testing on the pre-production and mule vehicles. Some of the highlights of this testing include hot weather testing in Death Valley, mountain testing at Pikes Peak and a 65% calibration drive.

There, don’t you feel better about buying one? Now if we could all learn to grow flowers on top of our battery packs.

Tell us about your recent good or bad experience with GM quality. Are they on the right track?


Cars of the 2000s: Everything Gets Bigger, Then Explodes


Like it or not, the first decade of the 21st century is just about gone. Hard to believe the Y2K craze and cries about the end of the world were already 10 years ago. Maybe all those predictions of collapse were accurate, though… they just came nine years late.

Thinking about this decade and its cars, it’s easy to look back and say what could have been done to avoid the collapse of the auto industry. Take GM, for instance. In the months after 9/11/01, Americans were in a patriotic frenzy. Imagine if GM had stood up and said something to the effect of, “We want to lead American automakers in reducing our need for foreign oil.”

GM could have placed itself in a position of leadership to create smaller cars and drive America toward sustainability. What it did, of course, is ramp up production and marketing of the Hummer brand.

That essentially sums up the decade, as American love for SUVs kept growing along with our vehicles’ size. Even sedans kept growing. The Honda Accord grew from a compact sedan to a large sedan. The Toyota Camry did the same. The Honda Civic became as large as older Accords.

American excess was in prime form, all the way until the summer of 2008, when $4-per-gallon gasoline and $5-per-gallon diesel sucker-punched us in the wallets. Suddenly $125 fill ups sent us whining to the automakers, demanding small cars with great fuel economy. Of course, those didn’t exist here yet, save for the suddenly popular Toyota Prius hybrid.

High fuel prices were followed immediately by the near collapse of the world’s financial system, which sent GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. Other automakers have survived free-falling sales numbers as they scramble to introduce more fuel-efficient vehicles.

In short, the 2000s have seen transformation like never before in the auto industry. I’m betting these 10 years will go down in history as the years that changed the auto industry forever, from gas-guzzling excess to world-saving efficiency.

What are your favorite cars from the 2000s? As much of a symbol of excess as it is, I still love the 2002 Chevy Suburban 2500!


Betting on Failure: McCain on Chrysler, Hopkins on GM

John McCain

John McCain was never noted for being much of an economic analyst. During the 2008 election campaign he famously noted, to the delight of the press, that “the fundamentals of the American economy are strong.” Now the Senator predicts the demise of Chrysler.

“It was all about the unions. The unions didn’t want to have their very generous contracts renegotiated so we put $80 billion into both General Motors and Chrysler, and [if] anybody believes that Chrysler is going to survive, I’d like to meet them,” McCain told The Detroit News.

The Detroit News claims that McCain “clarified” his remark by saying that he meant “any objective observer.” Does he put himself in that category? Rep. Gary Peters, from Chrysler’s Auburn Hills district, has offered to meet with the Senator who, he said, was not only predicting the company’s failure but “rooting for it.”

Now, everyone knows that Chrysler is on the crux of success or failure, and nobody is happy that the government invested some $15 billion which may go down the tubes. But what is served here by another stupid McCain outburst of straight talk?

And then we have a piece today in AutoSpies which quotes the good ol’ boys at the National Taxpayers Union:

“Every time someone in your neighborhood drives home in a shiny new Chevy Silverado, remember that it cost American taxpayers more than $12,000,” said Pete Sepp, NTU Vice President for Policy and Communications. “Between this and GM’s plan to payback their bailout debt with other taxpayer funds, I wonder if all those Americans without work right now could think of any better ways to spend that money. This is a play out of the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme playbook, and would be the equivalent of paying your Master Card bill with your Visa.”

Thomas D. Hopkins, Rochester Institute of Technology

Mr. Sepp’s comments were made a propos an NTU publication, “The Auto Bailout—A Taxpayer Quagmire,” by Thomas D. Hopkins, which laments the enormous cost of the bailouts, in particular the GMAC subsidy. Like all such critics, Mr. Hopkins doesn’t offer much of an alternative for the government’s actions last spring. He is right, however, about the need for an exit plan and real transparency. The rest of his piece is politics masquerading as economic analysis.

Mr. Sepp seems to say that the $12,000 should go to unemployed Americans rather than purchasers of new GM vehicles. I guess that means he prefers the dole to revitalizing an industry. The auto industry bailout is nobody’s success story, but that doesn’t mean one should hope for its failure.

I really can’t find any justification for Senator McCain’s remark. Can you?


The Best of the 1990s: Some Highlights, Lots of Duds

1992 Dodge Viper: a bright spot in cars of the '90s

1992 Dodge Viper: a bright spot in cars of the '90s

Blah. Even researching cars of the 1990s is boring.

While the 1980s gave us everything we could ever want in cars, the ’90s took it all away and replaced it with the Chevy Impala, the generic brown bag of cars.

If the ’90s are known for one thing, though, it’s the beginning of excess. The Ford ExplorerExpedition, Excursion, and Lincoln Navigator were introduced, along with the Dodge Durango. There’s no denying the Explorer’s significance, as it is the SUV that popularized SUVs and led to many years of ever-growing road behemoths.

Want more examples of boring cars of the 1990s? Yeah, I really don’t, either, but I’m proving a point. I submit as evidence the Dodge Neon, Pontiac Trans Sport, Chevy Lumina, anything with an Oldsmobile logo (R.I.P.), as well as the Chrysler Sebring, Chrysler Concorde, and Dodge Intrepid. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you.

What I will do is mention the few bright spots of the 1990s:

1997 Plymouth Prowler

In 1992, the Dodge Viper was introduced, giving Chrysler a V10-powered challenger to the Chevy Corvette. Chrysler also went out on a limb and introduced the Plymouth Prowler before permanently shutting down the Plymouth brand. While I didn’t like the Prowler, I did like that Chrysler stepped out of the norm to build it.

The ’90s also saw the birth of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The little roadster was priced right and became an immediate hit for people who loved to drive.

GM introduced a radical new brand called Saturn in 1990. Promising a no-pressure sales environment, Saturn quickly grew and enjoyed a cult following before the General let the division wither on the vine in 2009.

Finally, in another example of forward thinking from GM, it introduced the EV1 in 1996. This could have been the groundbreaker for electric vehicles, but instead GM pulled the plug and focused on producing big, high-profit SUVs. And we all know how that turned out.

Do you have any favorite cars of the 1990s?


2010 Ford Fusion Takes COTY Award

2010 Ford Fusion SE Sport and Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion SE Sport and Hybrid

In the world of automotive publishing, Motor Trend magazine seems to have been around forever. It’s consistently influential, particularly in giving out its Car of the Year Awards, which it has done for 60 years. Ford won this year with the 2010 Fusion (both gas and hybrid versions), and that seems like a good choice.

Also competing were 22 other cars, including the Prius, Hyundai Genesis, various BMWs, and the MAZDA3. The Fusion won not because it was the “best car,” but because it was “the car that gets it right for its intended audience.” So said Jil McIntosh, and so said The Car Connection, which noted the car’s strong

appeal among the buying public. Over the past year, the Fusion has boosted sales and helped expand Ford’s U.S. market share by almost a full percentage point: the company now holds 15.8% of the American market.

Embedded video from CNNMoney.com Video Motor Trend’s editor-in-chief said he was impressed by the car’s attention to detail, its new (for 2010) engineering, and the fact that it could compete so well with benchmark cars like the Camry and Accord. Available in a variety of trim and performance options, the Fusion seems to have pulled off the considerable trick of pleasing just about everybody. The hybrid version is good (see video above), and the 3.5-liter Duratec V6 in the Sport version’s even better. Most all-things-to-all-people cars can’t begin to garner such praise. Even tough folks like Suzanne Denbow got on board with the selection.

Ford stock went up (to $8.98, its highest in over two years) earlier in the week as investor George Soros’s fund announced it had bought some 7.3 million shares over the past three months. And the company got another big and well-deserved boost with the COTY Award yesterday.

Why would you buy a Fusion over an Accord or a Camry? Or would you?


The Best of the 1980s: Cars Get Super (Again)

1985 Lamborghini Countach

1985 Lamborghini Countach

If I could pick one decade to be stuck in forever, it would be the 1980s.

The girls wore leg warmers and tube tops, the guys in metal bands used more hair product than the girls, and Michael J. Fox was a major movie star (“Teen Wolf”!).

The best part of the 1980s, though, was the cars. This was a decade that finally gave everyone ample choices for whatever kind of car they wanted. The supercars of the ’80s were the stuff of dreams. Those wedge-shaped, gull-winged, super-powered Ferraris and Lamborghinis fueled an obsession for cars that could have easily gotten lost in the ’70s. The 1987 Ferrari F40 could compete with supercars of today. The 1985 Lamborghini Countach epitomized ’80s style.

Then there were the trucks. Whether you wanted an American 4×4 or Japanese reliability, you had options. The Ford Bronco and Chevy Blazer ruled the streets and the trails. Toyota placed the incredible 22R engine into its Pickup, some of which are probably still running with no maintenance other than the occasional oil change.

Even the family car was exciting in the ’80s, as the all-new Ford Taurus (and SHO!) blew the segment wide open, while imports such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry were in the heyday of quality and fuel efficiency. The Japanese provided us with fun, fast pocket rockets such as the Honda CRX and Acura Integra. Chrysler invented the North American minivan category with its 1984 Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager.

Even among all this, American muscle managed to make a comeback. The 1985 Chevy Camaro Z28 and IROC, along with the 1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA satisfied the horsepower-crazed gearheads. Even the 1987 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 was a good car, if not up to the standards of, say, a 1967 Shelby GT500.

Car-wise, the 1980’s were an enthusiast’s heaven and fostered many fine memories as the excess and blah of the 1990s set in.

What are your favorite cars from the 1980s?


Green Update–>Mercedes, Nissan, GM, and the Electrification Coalition

Mercedes-Benz ML 450 HYBRID

We’ve got three Mercedes-Benz stories today:

1. The ML 450 Hybrid (shown here) is announced for sale in the U.S. with a 275-hp V6 and two electric motors. When both motors are needed, the system can generate some 335 hp and 381 lb-ft of torque, which ought to get you up to speed nicely. “During braking and coasting, one motor acts as a generator, slowing the SUV and recovering kinetic energy.” So says GlobalMotors. Mileage is reported to be 21 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.

M-B has decided to make the car available only for lease, not purchase—an interesting gambit, perhaps related to its battery technology (nickel-metal-hydride, not lithium-ion). Run down to your Benz dealer and fork over $659 a month for 36 months or $549 a month for 60 months if you want this baby.

2. Rent-a-smart: Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche has announced a pilot program called cars2go for renting smart cars in Austin, Texas. (smart is a separate brand owned by Mercedes-Benz.) Rent ‘em for a few hours or a day and return them whole to a designated location. When the company tried this in Ulm, Germany, users paid “19 euro cents per minute including taxes, insurance, mileage and fuel.” If it works in Austin, other cities may get the program.

Smart sales have been way down in the U.S. after an explosion in 2008 when the cars were first offered. Down 70.4 percent last month (compared to a year earlier), sales of 661 cars in October just ain’t going to cut it. Too bad, because the car is selling elsewhere; I’ve even seen a few here in Oaxaca, Mexico. Maybe the rental program will take off, and Autoweek says Daimler is considering a four-seat smart, to be built with Renault.

3. Daimler also debuted its “third-generation Mercedes-Benz Citaro fuel-cell-hybrid bus at the site in Hamburg, Germany, where 10 of the buses enter service next year.” While we don’t ordinarily review buses in this column, this big boy was said to “perform outstandingly” and represents a tremendous push forward in fuel-cell technology and infrastructure. The Citaro has been tested in the European Union since 2003 and uses some 50 percent less hydrogen than its predecessor. “Practically maintenance free,” the Citaro has a long operating life. Get on the bus.

The Nissan Leaf EV, which we have reported on, made its U.S. debut Friday at Dodger Stadium in L.A. Said the whimsical Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s Chief, “This is not a golf cart—it’s a real car.” We should hope so: At $25-33,000 per industry estimates, it should do more than carry two of you, your clubs, and liquid refreshment. We think the Leaf sounds like a winner, and it will get to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds (says Nissan), with a wide network of charging stations planned in the U.S.

GM, naturally, is going a different route. Bob Lutz, the company’s marketing chief, told The Car Connection that a big ‘ol front-drive Chevy Impala will be coming to compete with the Ford Taurus. “Lutz also hinted at a hybrid option for the new Impala, stating that the car will be compatible with GM’s hybrid technology.” You can all stand up and cheer, hybrid fans.

And finally, a Washington group of heavy-hitters called the Electrification Coalition has announced plans to raise more than $120 billon in federal funds over eight years to get 120 million EVs on the road and on the grid by 2030. Details are here. The idea is to combat the nation’s dependence on oil and bring serious leadership to bear.

The initial investment would be targeted at a handful of cities, or “electrification ecosystems,” designed to show the viability of both the plug-ins and the electric grid they would interact with. The first phase would last four years and invest in six to eight cities that would essentially serve as large-scale demonstration programs. The second phase would then extend to an additional 20 to 25 cities.

What do you think, folks? Can the Electrification Coalition succeed?


Best of the 1970s: There Has to Be Something Good from the ’70s, Right?


In the 1970s, excess and ugliness competed with lame attempts at fuel efficiency. The result? Lots of underpowered, hideous-looking cars that looked back toward the glory of the ’60s and extended a great big middle finger at them.

Very little good came out of the ’70s, but there were a couple of gems among the morbid Mustang IIs and miserable Mercury Bobcats.

First, though, we have to give a little credit to the ’70s for at least trying to deal with a triple blow to the auto industry. First, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed, which by itself wasn’t that big of a deal to the automakers. But then the stock market crashed in January 1973, followed by an OPEC oil embargo that raised the price of a barrel of oil by 70 percent.

A sinking economy, government regulations, and high gas prices are just as much to blame for the Pinto as Ford is. Even in those hard times, though, some cars shined and still have a lasting influence today.

Take Toyota, for example. It’s $1,700 Corolla came to the States in 1968, perfectly timed to take advantage of Americans looking for fuel efficiency and low prices, rather than big block V8s. Some early quality and safety issues were addressed, and here we are now 40 years later with a Toyota that arguably owes its U.S. success to the problems of the 1970s. For that, we are thankful. (Anyone care to make a modern-day Hyundai comparison?)

We’re also thankful for the 1978 Pontiac Trans Am. This was one of the last great cars from Pontiac before the brand dropped its large displacement engines in the face of tighter emissions restrictions. Savor those T-Tops and that 400-cubic-inch engine, friends, because once the 1980s arrived, we had a whole new ballgame.

Are any of your favorite cars from the 1970s?