Hubris or Competence? Herr Piëch and Volkswagen

Ferdinand Piëch

More than anyone else, Chairman Ferdinand Piëch is the person responsible for Volkswagen’s success in the last ten years. It’s a conglomerate of nine brands, the largest carmaker in Europe, second-largest in the world, and is now challenging Toyota to be number one in world sales.

“An aggressive and demanding manager,” as one bio has it, Piëch and his team have made no bones about their plans to be tops in 2018. They will need to sell 800,000 cars in the U.S. to do that, and the prospects for it aren’t too good.

A recent piece in Autoweek laid out some of the challenges, and there is another thoughtful critique here.

Here is mine, in shorter form, so you can penetrate the fog of corporate PR that will surely emerge in the coming years. The company is committing $71 billion over five years to achieve its goal, an enormous amount, and maybe they can do it.

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Cars Coming Soon->New BMW 4 Series and Competition for Ferrari 458, Mazda MX-5 Miata

2010 Ferrari 458 Italia

Can Porsche compete with the 458?

The Italy-versus-Germany supercar battle might get a lot more interesting.

The Ferrari 458 Italia could be the hottest car in production right now. It’s routinely compared against the McLaren MP4-12C and sometimes the Lamborghini Gallardo and even the Audi R8. There’s one famous nameplate missing from the comparos, though: Porsche.

If the folks at Autocar have their facts straight, that could change when Porsche introduces a new midengine exotic that would slot in between the 911 and the new, limited-production 918 Spyder. That’s smack in the middle of the territory firmly controlled by the 458.

If the rumors are true, the new Porsche would be a regular production model (not a limited edition) and priced in the $200,000-$250,000 range. A possible engine is the 550-horsepower 3.4-liter V8 developed especially for the 918 Spyder.

We’ll know in the coming months if Porsche decides to follow this idea through.

Now, if you’ll indulge me, think for a moment about an automaker that doesn’t have a sports car, but deserves one. Maybe something to take on the Mazda MX-5 Miata. What’s your guess? Honda? Toyota? Nope. Keep reading for the surprising answer!

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Minivans Should Die

Honda Odyssey crash test

I suppose there will always be a place for minivans, but that doesn’t mean I would want to own or drive one. There will always be a place for garbage trucks, too.

My case against minivans is simply that they are bulky, unsafe, expensive, poor-handling gas-guzzlers that cater to the American desire to: a) make living rooms out of their cars, and/or b) haul a lot of unnecessary junk, including people.

Maybe, with $4.00 gas a reality and higher prices coming, those long, impossibly cozy, cross-country family trips—you know, with grandma and the dog included—will become a thing of the past.

Maybe the idea of buying a car to haul 4’x8’ sheets of plywood (for the few times a year you may actually need to do that) will finally collapse, along with the ego trip of buying big-box store stuff and doing your own pickup and delivery.

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Range Rover Evoque Wins Car Design of the Year!?

I don’t mean to discredit a reputable organization, but in this case it seems Car Design News did it all by itself by awarding the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque its Car Design of the Year award.

The Evoque easily beat competition from the equally weird Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the brilliant Audi A7, the revived Kia Sportage and the sleek Hyundai Elantra to take top honors.

The Car Design of the Year Award represents the opinions of automotive designers, including a number of leading industry design directors who sit on the judging panel. But seriously, what do designers know?

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Green Update–>There’s No Fuel Like an Old Fuel, or Is There?

Mercedes-Benz F-Cell concept

Mercedes-Benz F-Cell Roadster Concept

We talk a lot about hybrids and EVs when discussing the Great Green Future, but we should really be talking about alternative fuels. The future of the automobile will depend on what powers it.

In a prior post today, our tgriffith remains skeptical about the proposed EU ban on fossil fuels in city cars by 2050. He mentions that batteries “aren’t exactly grown in greenhouses.” True enough, but every green solution involves a tradeoff, and air pollution is the big concern.

I think the EU ban is doomed for political reasons. Hybrid/EV technology faces innumerable problems, not least of which is public acceptance. And nobody can seem to agree on what government’s role should be.

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Will the European Union Ban Gas-Powered Cars?

European traffic jam

Those crazy Europeans.

Long known for having access to desirable and fuel-efficient cars not available in the United States, the European Union may be about to propose a drastic measure that would finally end its supremacy.

According to new reports, the EU will announce plans to ban all fossil-fuel-powered cars in European cities by 2050. The detailed plan, due out Monday, will be outlined in the European Union’s Roadmap on Transport. Within 20 years, the EU plans to reduce fossil fuel traffic in urban areas by half.

Is this just another crazy proposal by the liberal Europeans, or is it a forward-thinking trend that will spread to other parts of the world?

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More Quake Consequences: Car Production Could Drop 40 Percent

Japanese auto workers

In a nasty little nutshell, here are a few major effects from the disaster in Japan: shortages in electricity; parts scarcities and increasing supply chain disruptions; higher car prices; and a possible 40-percent drop in global auto production.

That last one is the big bomb to fall. As you surely know by now, the auto industry has been internationalized for years, and so most all the bigger carmakers will be affected. A good summary of the situation is here.

Japan is home to the world’s second-largest car industry, and many important second- and third-tier suppliers are located there. Quite a few of these are still down and may not come back until summer.

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Toyota FT-86 II Concept: Pictures from Every Angle

Toyota FT-86 II concept, front

Once upon a time, Toyota had a reputation for building sports cars. The 2000GT, MR2, Supra and even the Celica were fun to drive, speedy and affordable.

Putting aside the company’s recent recall troubles, slipping sales and earthquake-related production slowdowns, Toyota’s reputation for fast and sporty hasn’t exactly grown in the last decade.

That’s why we’ve been watching the development of the FT-86 (and FT-86 II) concept with such curiosity. We’ve wondered if it would turn into another all-show-and-no-go coupe or finally provide Toyota with a proper RWD sports car. While we have very little in the way of hard specs, Toyota has released more images of its FT-86 II concept. If these are any indication of the final production model, which is due for launch next year, we may finally be in for a genuine Toyota treat. Though the design could be a love-it-or-hate-it affair.

Keep reading to see the concept from every angle, and let us know what you think!

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Big-Shot Transport: the Brilliant Mercedes Sprinter

Mercedes-Brilliant Sprinter

My father liked the term “big shot” and sometimes fancied himself one. But he drove big Buicks and Lincolns and would have laughed at the idea of transporting VIPs and celebs in a conveyance like this.

After all, it’s really a delivery van, albeit a very fancy one, chauffeured and fitted out with every convenience and comfort (but apparently no toilet). According to its website, Brilliant Transport’s fleet operates on the East Coast, “with a focus on the Hamptons” (thank God!), and in Los Angeles, with side trips to Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Newport Beach and Malibu.

If you hired one to take you to Tijuana, would they do that, I wonder? I’m sorry, but nice as it is, this ain’t no limo, and if you took one to a high-level business meeting, what would your colleagues think as you parked next to their Lincoln Town Cars or sleek Maybachs? Is it the caterer pulling in? A SWAT team?

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The Most Fun Cars to Drive Under $30K

2011 MINI Cooper

There are cars that are “nice to drive,” and there are cars that are “fun to drive.”

Plenty of options exist for the people who prefer a smooth ride, luxurious cabin, numb steering and no real connection between driver and pavement. I won’t name names here, but feel free to make assumptions.

On the other hand, some cars simply beg to be driven hard, because doing so provides an overload of sensory excitement and pure joy. Yes, many of those cost upward of $100,000, but for mere plebeians like me, driving joy can be had for $30K and under.

Keep reading for seven examples of inexpensive greatness.

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