The automotive business blog from Glenn Brooks
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Why the Mazda6 wagon is smaller than the sedan
20 May 2013 19:58
According to the configurator on Mazda.co.uk, the estate is 65mm shorter than the saloon (4,805 versus 4,870)
I've been wondering about this since Mazda launched the different body styles months apart last year: is the latest sedan a rebodying of the old car, while the wagon has the latest platform as introduced by the CX-5? If so, why?
Today saw me heading to Old Windsor to sample the Mazda6 and CX-5 at a turn-up-and-drive event organised by the company's PR team. The cars themselves were as good as the reviews I read a while back, and I was especially impressed by the high-revving diesel in both 150- and 175PS forms. Not normally a fan of diesels and manual gearboxes in the congested south of England, today I found not only clear roads but also a super-slick six-speed manual transmission which - suspend your disbelief - reminded me of the shift in the MX-5. Really, it was that good.
Chatting to the head of media relations, I pressed him on why the two different sized cars. Here's a facts to remember before we move on: at 2,750mm, the sedan's wheelbase is identical to that of the car it replaced, which would appear to be a coincidence.
This old Mazda6 used the Ford-Mazda EUCD architecture but the Hiroshima-based company insists that it now develops powertrains and platforms independently of its former shareholder. So why a 2,830mm wheelbase for the latest wagon but a 2,750mm wheelbase for the sedan? I sat in the back of both cars and found the difference in legroom isn't as great as you might think.
Mazda's man says the US market dictated the size of the sedan, while Europe demanded a less lengthy wagon. This, despite the fact that the US is unlikely to be the largest region for the latest model - it was largely the lower than expected sales of the second generation model which led the company to axe plans to build the new car at the AAI plant at Flat Rock in Michigan.
Remember that Russia is an increasingly important market for Mazda. Note too what Toyota takes the trouble to do - Russians can buy a locally made Camry but TME considers it too big for Europeans so we have the Avensis instead. There is another (big) reason why Mazda's largest sedan is super-sized.
As complicated and possibly strange as all this seems, it isn't a unique situation. The Honda Accord is the other obvious comparison, with the US-built sedan having different dimensions to the wagon sold elsewhere. Have a look at these numbers, which I have taken from PLDB:
- US-built Accord sedan: 2,775mm wheelbase
- Accord coupe: 2,740
- (Accord) Crosstour: 2,794
- Europe's Accord sedan and wagon: 2,705
In that context, what Mazda is doing isn't odd at all. In fact, it's possibly rather clever. If I worked in marketing, I'd probably now start talking about tailored solutions or something like that. The point is this: call it whatever you want, but for a small company, with no rich parent to fall back upon if deep financial trouble comes knocking again, Mazda has done something really gutsy. It has gambled on one platform with multiple permutations, not just for different bodystyles but for B, C, CD, SUV and MPV vehicles. You can read some more thoughts on that here.
What Shanghai Volkswagen's new Changsha plant will build
17 May 2013 09:19
The SVW joint venture has just announced its new 300,000/annum plant for Changsha in Hunan province. But what models will be made there?
I've just added some new information to PLDB, the global vehicle database that I created and maintain for just-auto. So far, it would appear that two vehicles will be manufactured at Changsha. I'll give you a hint about one of them - it will also be built in the US, and we saw it not so long ago as a concept.
If you're already a PLDB subscriber, just search by Changsha and you'll see the latest Volkswagen Group models to have been updated.
BMW 2 Series is revealed at last
16 May 2013 17:03
The US-based enthusiast magazine Motor Trend has just published the first pics of F22, the forthcoming 2 Series coupe. And not just any version either - the especially tasty M235i.
When will we see the first ever 2 Series BMW? There are no major motor shows until the Frankfurt IAA in September, but given where many of these coupes will be sold, perhaps BMW will wait until the LA show in November. That would make sense, given that the media day is the same as that of Tokyo - Japan is another decently sized market for BMW. But that would also mean we'll likely have to wait until 2014 for F23, the 2 Series convertible.
Kia's new Horki brand plugs in
15 May 2013 09:25
Some pics have emerged of a fleet of experimental Horki sedans being delivered to government officials in the Chinese city where the DYK joint venture is based.
Curiously, there is little information about the cars themselves, which look to me like the old-shape Cerato that Dongfeng and Kia build in Yancheng.
W222 Merc-Benz S-Class to be revealed tomorrow
14 May 2013 15:03
Daimler is set to pull the covers off the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class at the Airbus delivery centre in Hamburg on 15 May.
A new modular platform, 'MRA' is said to be the basis for this car, with multiple models to follow: standard and long-wheelbase sedans at first, a coupe to replace the CL-Class, a cabriolet, plus Pullman derivatives that are the effective successors for the Maybach 57 and 63.
Has the BTCC returned to its glory days?
07 May 2013 14:29
Matt Neal now leads the championship
For me, at least, the best years of the British Touring Car Championship was the era of the Volvo 850 estate. But after spectating at this past weekend's Thruxton round I reckon 2013 is turning out to be classic year.
Granted, it was sunny, the Hampshire circuit was simplicity itself to get in and out of, and I must declare I was the guest of Honda GB. Yet, the friend I took was as keen as me to spectate not in front of the TV in the VIP marquee, but instead from out in the fresh air. That meant elbowing our way into a couple of corners (we were polite and waited until some people moved, honest) and unlike, say, F1, you can get relatively close to the action.
The Honda people were obviously overjoyed with their three wins in as many races on the day, but I have to say, the racing was super-competitive. Imagine a formula where an obvious rear-wheel drive contender such as a BMW 125i can tackle an MG 6 or two, as well as Civics and assorted others such as a Volkswagen CC, an Insignia (you'd think that one would be too big, but no), an Avensis, a Leon, a Golf, an Audi A4 and even a Proton Gen.2 - with the first 15 cars separated by just five seconds after the first free practice session.
I had intended to get out and see more motor racing this year, so that's the BTCC ticked off my list. Next? I'm going to give the Goodwood Festival of Speed another chance after swearing off it after the sweaty crush of 2011, but before then, a new one for me, the Cholmondeley Pageant of Power (I'm practising both my spelling and pronunciation) in mid-June. Let's hope the gods of sunshine are looking down favourably on England for both of those.
The RR Sport at high speed and then, a McLaren 12C Spider
03 May 2013 12:08
Hidden cameras catch vegetarian gorging on Big Mac
Had thought until yesterday that driving the new Range Rover Sport at high speed around JLR's test track was the most memorable thing I would do this week. I was wrong.
Until Thursday, the RRS was easily the best-handling off-roader I had driven; then it was - just - topped by the Cayenne S Diesel. I'd been keen to see how the Volkswagen Group's 281kW/382hp 4,134cc V8 would compare to petrol Cayennes, especially with its 850Nm.
For those who can't get enough torque, this is now the engine to have if you're a fan of the Cayenne. And sorry to those in the US, we sympathise that all you get is the new-for-2013 V6 diesel but hang in there - the way Euro 6 and the next California emissions laws are just about aligned, the V8 might just be a product planning decision away some time in the near term.
The venue for attempting to push a two and a half tonne top-heaving 4x4 towards the lower end of its supremely high limits was GM's Millbrook proving ground north of London. This is an annual day where the UK's Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders invites automotive media teams to bring a selection of cars to the one place, the idea being that journalists get to try all manner of new-ish models for 15-30 minute bursts. A high-speed bowl (we were limited to 100mph) and an Alpine circuit are the best two of up to four available routes or tracks and no doubt Mister News Editor Roberts will also be writing more about the day in The Week That Was, out in a few hours' time.
- on the list of life's experiences that will see me die a happy man was getting to drive a McLaren 12C Spider on that hilly alpine track
- the Z4 sDrive18i was in an entirely different way similarly impressive and the facelift makes it look even better, to my eyes at least
- 3 Series GT is as impressive to drive as you would hope (320d)
- I am a long way from being the target buyer yet the Fiat 500L seduced me with its unusual and cleverly-arranged-for-maximum-space interior
- hadn't ever seen an electrically extending footrest in an MPV until yesterday (a pre-production next-gen C4 Picasso was on static display)
- F-TYPE interior is cosy and very Thunderbirds, the sound of its V6 addictive
- the new Carens is bigger than it looks in the pics and the final Kia you can say to the PR people when you hand the keys back "jeez what a leap over the old model" - there are now, at last, exactly zero rubbish Kias
- maybe I now want a Paceman after driving a Cooper S (still not sure about the looks)
- Dave Leggett is right to have been so impressed by the 208 GTi - they are going to sell a LOT of these in the UK - it feels like a smaller Golf GTI
- while EVs might be an acquired taste, the Zoe is an electric car you'd glance back at each time you locked it: I'm keen on its looks, inside and out, plus it's as silent and felt almost as refined as a Lexus hybrid at low speed
- regrets: I ran out of time and missed the Golf R Cabriolet, you couldn't get near the GT86, the Ghost I kept meaning to queue for but didn't, and there was an alluringly mud-spattered GL 350 BlueTEC which you could take off-road (few owners will ever do that, so it would have been a big novelty) but intention didn't evolve into action with that one either
- Simon Warburton seemed pretty handy behind the wheel, pressing on in a DS3 Cabrio I spied him soaking up some rays in [like Lord Leggett, claims he's not as pathetic a petrolhead as self and Graeme but I'm no longer convinced]
- The Kiwi was smiling yesterday [sunshine does odd things to Mr Roberts]
I got so excited remembering those drives just now that I almost forgot to mention being encouraged to push a Range Rover Sport hard by a development engineer sitting beside me on Wednesday morning. Maybe the Cayenne is better but there wouldn't be much in it and the Land Rover guys were full of respect for the Porsche's off-roading capabilities too, which some readers will be interested to know. The RRS is no doubt going to be a major seller for Land Rover, especially in the US, where the dealers at last have a model with third row seats. What I had wanted to know was is it now possible that there could be a better all-round vehicle than the Range Rover? My answer is yes.
So...It's been fun, but my masters at just-auto have me chained to my desk and MacBook here back at home today, and all of next week. Once the interviews with various execs I have spoken to in recent days are written up and published, and PLDB updated with additional future model news, I might just be allowed out again to see and feel and hear what's really going on in certain parts of the industry.
Land Rover engineers and marketing people nearly wore out the term 'dynamic' in their media presentations on Wednesday afternoon so I'm now reclaiming this word: it's the best way to remind us all that everything you think you know about this industry needs constant revision - a lesson that every car launch or driving day underlines.
Royal Navy delivers Land Rover's 65th birthday cake
01 May 2013 06:51
'Hue' touches down
It must be a special occasion when the Navy's Black Cats display team drops off your cake from a Lynx helicopter.
This event I witnessed yesterday from the driveway of the Packington Estate, a stately home near Solihull, the grounds of which were used in the 1940s for the development of the original Land Rover. The first Range Rover was also extensively tested here in the late 1960s.
I couldn't quite believe I was allowed, or rather encouraged to take one of the oldest Range Rover prototypes not only out for a drive but also off-road onto the slippery stuff within the Estate's grounds. A four-speed manual gearbox via a long lever, handbrake on the floor, no bodywork whatsoever, just the one seat, the thin-rimmed metal steering wheel from the production model, and the most fantastic noise from the V8. Heaven.
Land Rover had decided that 30 April 1948, the day its first vehicle was revealed to the public at the Amsterdam motor show, should be marked by what was claimed to be the largest yet assembly of models (over 130) from its collection. Scattered about the lawns or else parked on the rather grand driveway were all manner of vehicles. I saw a Range Rover from the Falkland Islands modified to be a fire engine, others from the Queen's visit to Australia and New Zealand in the 1950s, the millionth Discovery, one of a handful of electric Defender prototypes (I drove the latter two) and way too many others to list.
Yesterday's media event was reserved for UK-based journalists as well as a large number of writers from the PRC (the Germans and Russians had had a preview on Monday, and I'm not sure who's at Packington today, Wednesday). There seemed to be much genuine passion and fascination for Land Rover from the Chinese journalists - with the brand's vehicles having only been introduced there five years ago, even the BMW-era Range Rovers were a huge novelty for them and the cameras were a-clicking non-stop.
I hadn't ever been too big a fan of the Defender but will now admit to being won over by it at last, even if the lack of airbags still worries me. Driving the EV prototype off-road at another proving ground adjacent to the LR factory in Solihull made me realise what an extraordinarily capable vehicle this is. Then having a go on-road, and at high speeds in the newly launched LXV special edition made me realise this vehicle might be primitive in many ways - same loose-fitting door lock buttons as a 1982 Rover 3500 which I once owned - but yes, it did feel safe, and it did feel stable.
So much for the past, what about Land Rover's future? I sat next to John Edwards, the global brand director, at lunch, and asked him all sorts of questions, so look out for that interview to appear on just-auto.com soon.
Today, it's a three-hour technical briefing on the new Range Rover Sport which, incidentally, enters series production next week. We were taken through the spookily quiet and low-on-human-workers-but-buzzing-with-robots body shop at the Solihull works last night, so also keep an eye out for more from that whistle-stop tour too (post script: it's now published, here). Managed to jot down some facts and figures which flowed from the fast talking man (and ex-Honda of the UK Manufacturing 'associate') who manages it, Demos Hoursoglou. Here's a taster: there are claimed to be 161 metres of glue in every L405 (new Range Rover), as well as 3,722 rivets, while fully one third of his workers are maintenance people - yes, it really is that automated.
It was an early start and a long day yesterday and I hit the hay at 10pm too shattered to write up this blog, yet with a huge grin on my face from a fantastic day. Now, it's a sunny start to Wednesday here at a hotel in the Midlands and as 6am is an hour too early for breakfast I've just learned, maybe that means I should see about bashing out some more words to share what I learned at Body Shop No.1 last night.
Fiat 500XL papped inside its plant
29 Apr 2013 10:35
Pics of what is claimed to be the forthcoming 500XL, a rival for the VW Touran, have appeared on the web.
This model has been a long time coming, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne having told analysts in April 2010 that the Mirafiori plant in Italy would build the Multipla replacement.
Marchionne contradicted himself in July 2010, stating that both this model and the replacement for the smaller Idea minivan (since revealed as the 500L) would be made in Serbia. The image of the 500XL was reportedly taken inside Kragujevac a few days back. Expect an official announcement from Fiat very soon.
Volvo creates a high-priced model especially for....nope, not China
17 Apr 2013 13:22
Launch control is standard: yes, this really is a Volvo
We're used to hearing about cars such as the four-cylinder Jaguar XJ that is sold only in China. But this is a surprise: a high-priced model for a far smaller market, but one that has tellingly now had 22 years of uninterrupted expansion. Ka ching!
VCC is cleverly cashing in on the huge amounts of cash washing about down under, by announcing that Australia will be the only country where the forthcoming S60 Polestar will be available. Or rather, that this will be the test market for this 257kW (350bhp) & 500+Nm super-sedan, inspired by the touring car racer of the same name.
How much for this new flagship for the S60 range? VCC isn't saying, only that the launch is set for June. If ever we needed proof that the UK is now considered a submerging market when it comes to the sales potential for high-priced performance sedans with big petrol engines, here's the proof.