Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Small is ........ well not quite beautiful enough

The other day a customer came in who had been looking for a 4 wheel drive car. We had given them the standard list of bullet proof alternatives; Honda CRV, Toyota RAV 4 etc. They had driven the RAV 4 and it left them a bit cold. "It felt like a toy car." was the visceral response. There is a lot in that etc. that needs to be addressed.

Japanese manufacturers have done a lot of things right for a long time. We now have cars that last a long time, are very safe, require almost no maintenance for 100,000 miles and are very likely to go as far as you can drive them in 20 years. But when it comes to making a quality small car or even a comfortable big one they have pretty much missed the boat.

Another friend stopped by the same day with the news that he was feeling pretty much crippled after a 500 mile journey in his new Accord V6. He also has a company car, a two year old Volkswagen Passat. This is a car I wouldn't own outside of the warranty period for love or money. It has already spent many days at the dealership correcting problems with the automatic transmission and has less than 20,000 miles on the odometer. Yet the difference in driver comfort is undeniable. Honda's similarly priced product is distinctly inferior. And this is in their $30,000 dollar car.

Things get even worse when you look in the Civic/Corolla range. Quality shines in the European cars in this class. The BMW 1 and 3 series and especially the Audi A3 are examples of how to build a quality small car. With tongue only slightly in cheek I have suggested a Civic "Comfort" range that would have an interior subcontracted to Renault or Peugeot who know how to build comfortable seats in even their $15,000 cars.

But the Japanese have taken a bad turn on the way to the American market. Having bought into the domestic "small means cheap" mentality they are now stuck with an inventory of V6 powered large SUVs and family sedans that seem out of place in the current market. Civics are outselling Accords for the first time since the Accord was introduced some 32 years ago.

So my personal wish? How about a Civic based Audi A3 copycat in the Acura range. A four wheel drive wagon of compact dimensions built as a premium car from the ground up. Lots of sound deadening material. Quality plastics and attention to detail. Priced around $28,000. And while I'm dreaming, have Citroen design the seats.

1 comment:

Rose said...

If Honda could make a "comfort" motorcycle in the Goldwing, you'd think they could translate that to their car design, as well! Tom was surprised a few years ago when we test-drove a Mini to discover that he found it more comfortable (more legroom and headroom) than our Accord.

Maybe this is the way the American auto industry can make its comeback...I'd buy the Volt in a heartbeat when it comes out if it turns out to be remotely reliable, but making it comfortable would be a big plus, too!

BTW, what do you hear from your customers about the Fit? I'm guessing, since you didn't write about it here, that it's not an improvement in this regard, anyway.

(And an aside: I got a call from a friend recently who drives a Passat that can't be more than two years old--she was stranded in Kentucky because the engine had overheated and had to get a new thermostat installed.)