NAIAS 2018 | Episode 5 : VW

VW continues to struggle in the US.  Sales in 2017 were up about 5% versus 2016, but market share rose only slightly and remains below 2%.  The recently introduced Atlas SUV has yet to make a real impact on the numbers – hopefully they will see the effect of this key model in 2018.

The new Jetta announced at the show is bigger in almost every dimension compared with the outgoing model.  It fits below the Passat, but barely.  The all-new body is a dramatic improvement over the prior model, with sharp styling and bold feature lines – including 6 on the hood alone!  The grille and headlamps give the car a wide look and the decklid has an integrated spoiler.  The whole car is a big step up in perceived value and it will be priced just below the old car.  The rather simple and dare I say, “cheap-looking interior” was a bit of a disappointment, however.  Displayed alongside the new car was a nicely preserved, first generation Jetta.  It made for an interesting comparison.

The i.d. Crozz concept was featured on the stand for the second year running.  presumably to remind us that VW is still working hard on electric and autonomous vehicles.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 6 : VW

VW is still reeling from the diesel emissions scandal. Amazingly VW sells less cars in the US than Subaru, but there was at last some excitement on the show stand with production versions of the Atlas, 3-row SUV/Crossover and a fun Microbus concept.

At long last VW seems on track to providing a line up of 5 crossover vehicles tailored for the US market. The second generation Tiguan, introduced last year in Franfurt, will be joined in dealer showrooms this Spring by the US built, US centric Atlas. The Touareg carries over for now.

The Atlas was first previewed as the CrossBlue concept way back in January 2013, with several iterations since then. The design is masculine, with a broad front end featuring LED headlamps and running lights , flat top wheelarches and a strong bodyside feature line that rises over both front and rear wheelarches. The interior is classic VW and the third row of seats is accessed by a clever folding mechanism on the second row seats that allows a child seat to remain in place. There is reasonable luggage space when the third row of seats is occupied.

The VW Microbus or Vanagon returns (again). VW revealed a concept evoking the much loved VW Microbus that was closely associated with the 60’s hippie subculture. The ID Buzz concept as it is called for some reason, is a striking, all-electric (600km/360 mile range), autonomous vehicle. The driveless feature would be activated by pushing the rectangular steering wheel into the instrument panel. VW wants to sell over 1 million electric vehicles per year by 2025 and will make this a cornerstone of the brand.

NAIAS 2016 | Part II : The German brands

Naias 2016-2

The big introduction from Mercedes was the new E-Class. While the design was classic for the brand and instantly recognizable, it was somewhat disappointing and broke no new ground, although we did like the strong front end featuring large air intakes.  The interior is also classic Mercedes – but in a good way.  We were happy to see that they have gone away from the “iPad stuck on the instrument panel” look, moving to an integrated rectangular screen that spans from in front of the driver all the way to the central infotainment display.   This display is either two 12.3-inch screens made to look like one, or, on lower line models, a more conventional instrument cluster and a central 12.3-inch screen also integrated to look like one large display.  There are some well-executed wood inserts and LED accent lighting customizable in 64 different colours!
The S-Class Cabrio is a really beautiful car with a great interior….. and now we get the twin turbo V12 S65 AMG version. Lust at first sight!
The facelifted SLK, now called the SLC was also on display.
The Audi stand next door featured the Q8 h-Tron Quattro concept. This sharp looking crossover was first shown last fall in its battery powered e-Tron guise.  The h-Tron is powered by a fuel cell and uses a combination of three hydrogen tanks plus a 1.8 kW hour battery pack to store energy.  We do like the front-end look of this concept, as well as the “pop-out” rear view cameras on the front fenders. We can’t wait for these cameras to become viable for production so that we can get rid of the huge door mirrors we are obliged to use today.
The new A4 sedan and Allroad wagon also were on display. This model is typical Audi, with a nicely executed exterior and a finely detailed interior that remains the standard of the industry.  We just wish that the exterior had a little more “reach” and we are disappointed that the interior has the “iPad” look for the infotainment – especially considering the hi-tech cluster Audi introduced on the TT.
We do like the facelifted R8 without the big “spear” behind the doors, but the front grill texture is rather Japanese looking. We also love the belt driven Ducati that was on the stand!
BMW chose Detroit to introduce the M2 Coupe, harking back to the 1970’s when we first came to love BMWs. A 2002 turbo model was on the stand for comparison.  We are sure that the car will be a blast to drive and the front end is certainly a very dramatic combination of air intakes and aerodynamics, but the rear half of the car just doesn’t work.  The roofline/C-pillar is weak and the car is just too short to provide an aggressive stance.
A 650i Cabrio on the stand painted in an attractive matt bronze colour caught our eye and the i8 still generates awe in all of us – although the black and white colour scheme is not our favourite……..
The VW stand was a rather sad place to be during press days. The pall resulting from the emissions debacle hangs heavy in the air and the VW executives failed once again to move us, the dealers or the customers beyond this fiasco.  The VW goal of increasing US volumes to 1 million units is now just a dream.  Amazingly, Subaru’s volume in the US exceeds that of VW, Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini combined.
I am sure that the 2016 Passat is a decent cart , but it is rather dull and the only thing worthy of comment is the frameless interior rear view mirror.  No big volume opportunity here.
The Tiguan GTE Active Concept was yet another attempt by VW to convince us that they actually have some SUV/Crossover products in the pipeline. They certainly cannot come soon enough for the struggling dealer body.  Although execution of the vehicle is quite good, the choice of wheels and tyres seemed dated.  In a move to convey ruggedness they put big truck tyres on the concept.  We would have preferred a bigger wheel and a lower profile tyre.

GENEVA 2015 : Springtime, Showtime – PART II

Part II | After seeing earlier ideas and dreams, Volkswagen returns to the pragmatic with the presentation of the new GTE coupe. A slim profile, with a long roof line that is somehow elusive.  Is this also a hint of what we might expect from the new CC in 2016 ?  The Sport Coupe GTE is completely different from the conceptual design of VW sedans. With the addition of a tailgate, it moves closer to its Audi Sportback cousins (A5 and A7). The front is handled with an unusual and expressive aspect: you will notice the linear LED lights extending into a horizontal grill. The rear is designed with a rather muscular look.  This is new from VW and gets our attention. Apparently this style is a precursor for what will be a new Wolfsburg style direction. The cockpit is close to production level and includes a digital cluster like that on the high end Passat.  4 tactile screens are proposed, one centrally located for infotainment and air conditioning controls, one in the center console between the front seat passengers and two on the backs of the front seats. The trend is not only to take care of the driver, but also to provide as much distraction and enjoyment as possible for the rear seat passengers.
VW also revealed the Alltrack version of the Passat, a 4×4 explorer that uses the most powerful engines available in the new Passat.  Journalists chose this elegant, classic sedan as Car of the Year for 2015 from 7 finalists.  The interior, finished like the best VW production, also embraces the best technology of the mark. Pricing will determine if the new Passat can dominate the traditional middle class European market, but buyers may also see it as an alternative for more premium cars without losing quality and image.
Peugeot and Citroen did not show anything new during this show and for a good reason. It was necessary to leave pride of place for the introduction of the new mark: DS Automotive… On the booth as a first debut for the new brand, the DS5 raised its new grill complete with the new logo front and center.
A big surprise for us was the absence of any major news from BMW. The 1 Series does benefit from an important exterior restyling, with a finer front face similar to other BMW sedans.  The rear lights are now in two parts and less intrusive. In summary, the new Series 1 style will permit this entry to continue the fight at this end of the market.
BMW continues to penetrate the front wheel drive monospace market.  For some of us there was a big surprise, with the new Series 2 Grand Tourer, which offers either 7 seats or more space for 5 people and their luggage. BMW wants to cover the needs of every family.
OPEL has some problems on the European market and knows that it is under close observation from the now healthy General Motors headquarters in US. The flashy mark exposed a new entry-level vehicle (Less than 10,000€) the KARL. A small 5 door destined for the city or as a second car, the KARL is really in the Opel tradition with consensual shapes that should please as many people as possible. The interior is sober, but exudes quality with looking rich materials for this price range. Fit and finish is good and we think the KARL will help OPEL to rebuild the brand in Europe.
KIA pleased us by revealing the Sportspace Concept which is a precurser to its future D-class model. The concept was developed by a European styling department, based in Frankfort, Germany and managed by Frenchman Gregory Guillaume. The team, lead by Laurent Boulay, developed simple lines that are sober and elegant; there is no big flourish, no heavily sculptured approach to the design, just simplicity and elegance underlining the sporty yet functional style of the body. The long, long roof-line is underlined by an aluminum insert running from the base of the A-Pillar to the top of D-Pillar. A large integrated carbon surround panel emphasizes the exhaust outlets. The integrated grille and front lights stretch the apparent width of the car as the assembly wraps the front corners of the vehicle. It gives the car a larger look. So, the Sportspace name is really well suited to the vehicle… sporty and distinguished with an elegant simplicity that works perfectly.
To be continued…


In this Episode 4, let’s talk about the German manufacturers and ask this question :
Why is it that the Germans (Audi excepted) seem to have forgotten that the definition of coupe or coupé is:
    “A closed two-door car body style with a permanently attached fixed roof”
Mercedes call their new 4-door GLE ‘thing’ a coupe; BMW have 4 and 6 Series Gran Coupe 4-Door Sedans, as well as the X4 and X6 Sports Activity Coupe 4 doors; while VW has a new SUV called the Cross Coupé GTE!  What is this all about?  Mercedes just went through an elaborate retake on their nomenclature, but cannot tell the difference between a 2-door and a 4-door.  BMW’s Gran Coupe 4-doors are at least sleek looking, but what happened to the letter “d” on Grand – or is it Granny?  Well, I know…It certainly follow the Pininfarina concept Car called Gran Lusso…The Mercedes GLE and BMW X4/X6 are about as far removed from a coupe as one can get,  — except perhaps for the VW GTE!  To say that I am disappointed in these manufacturers would be a gross understatement.
Mercedes Benz had quite a few new products to show off.  The previously revealed AMG GT provided the main “eye-candy” in a bright pearl white paint job.  The car is striking from every angle and should become a force to be reckoned with the market.  Not nearly as attractive is the MB copycat version of the BMW X4/X6, the GLE.  There is no accounting for (bad) taste I suppose, but few market watchers would have predicted that the ugly duckling “Sports Activity Coupes” from BMW would achieve sufficient traction in their customer base to force MB to follow with a similar – also ugly — product.  I just can’t talk about these vehicles any more…….  Also on display was the Maybach version of the S-Class.  The interior is a bit overdone, with every conceivable feature and luxury detail, but it would be nice to stretch out in the back with a glass of wine while someone else drives you to the yacht.
The F015 autonomous vehicle concept attracted quite a bit of attention.  This beast is huge, with 26 inch wheels, four doors each of which has its own large screen TV, the rear doors are rear hinged and there is no B-Pillar, the front seats swivel 180 degrees, so you can have a meeting while being autonomously conveyed to your next destination.  What a total waste of time — and it is ugly too.  I typically like MB styling, but they seem to have lost their way with the F015 and the GLE.  I do still love the S-Class Coupe, however, and yes, it really is a coupe!
There was not much new on the BMW stand.  The i8 is still gorgeous, apart from the bright blue seat belts that is.  The interior of the i3 on display left me cold, however, Supposedly it is responsible, eco-friendly and in tune with the younger crowd, but the exposed, reconstituted trim boards on the IP and the doors left me crying for leather or vinyl.  The seats just left me crying.  But all is not lost, the 650i Gran Coupe is beautiful, even if they did get the name wrong.
Audi introduced the new Q7 to mixed reviews.  Somehow it is not as elegant as the previous model with sharper feature lines and a more station-wagon look.  The body is now graced with a “side spear” towards the bottom of the doors, presumably to disguise the element of slab-sidedness.  The grille on the Q7 (along with other models) is larger and more intimidating – good for autobahn driving.  Audi still maintains an envied position in the industry with respect to interiors and the Q7 is no exception.  To be the benchmark for as long as Audi has in this critical area is an astonishing achievement.
The VW display was brightly lit, as ever and prominently displayed were its Motor Trend Car of the Year and North American Car of the Year awards for the Golf range.  VW has struggled for share in the US market this year and continues to underperform. Missing from the VW product line up are the small and mid-sized SUV’s and CUV’s that are presently selling so well in the US.  As in previous years, VW again showed a concept for a potential competitor in this segment.  This year it was the Cross Coupé GTE.  You and I would probably call it an SUV.  Shown in a delicate shade of metallic blue, the GTE is a sharp and clean design with a solid “machined” look.  It features a low bodyside ‘A’ line that also embraces the unusually low door handles.  This low feature line, together with a broad spear on the lower edge of the doors, combine to improve the appearance of another slab-sided body.  All in all this is a competent design, they just can’t get it to the dealers soon enough.

GENEVA 2014 | VW T-Roc Concept

The T-ROC SUV concept car seems to be a car from another company.  Compared with the other Volkswagen products on the same booth we see a big difference – and we like it.  Let’s hope that we see this SUV, with its new front-end design, on the road very soon. Listening to VW the progressive design of the front end demonstrates a new approach to small SUVs.
From the interior, we can see that digital concepts are becoming more and more widely utilized by Volkswagen group. Digital technology certainly offers many new possibilities, but it also requires drivers to be capable computer users if they are to fully benefit from and appreciate the functionality.  Concerning all the available cameras that watch over our every move — we are not yet addicted.