A new 86/BRZ is being launched. But this is about a different approach
By Gary S. Vasilash
Toyota and Subaru developed a car that is tailored for each brand’s character, the 86 for Toyota and the BRZ for Subaru. The collaborative vehicle, which was launched in 2012, is built by neither, but by Magna in a plant in Austria.
The companies have introduced the new version of the vehicle, the GR 86 for Toyota and still BRZ for Subaru.
What is interesting to note about this is that the companies have developed the rear-drive vehicle with a bigger engine—no surprise there—but they’ve gone from a 2.0-liter to a 2.4-liter that produces 232 hp.
Yes, bigger, but not in the least bit like the mill that would be likely installed in an American performance vehicle.
(Performance? According to Toyota, 0 to 100 km/h (this is a global intro, so km) in 6.3 seconds. This is an improvement from the previous car, which was 7.4 seconds.)
This is a lithe vehicle: it weighs just 2,800 lb.
If it is like the previous generation—and it probably is—then when you’re behind the wheel you feel like you’re wearing it, not just driving it.
This is a sentence from the press release that is worth pondering: “Going forward, Toyota and Subaru intend to further ally their respective strengths, deepen their relationship, and so pursue the possibilities of making ever-better cars.”
It isn’t often you hear car companies about creating “ever-better cars.”
Yes, customers are back. But some of what they’re buying is surprising.
By Gary S. Vasilash
Although it was April Fool’s Day when the first quarter 2021 numbers for U.S. sales were announced by OEMs, the smiles were real in offices across the land as the SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) rose to approximately 16.5-million units, or about a 12% sales increase compared to Q1 2020, which, of course, contained the first month of the pandemic in America.
This wasn’t supposed to happen
Plenty of people who seem to have a particular affection for liking the use of fossil fuel and has therefore been gloating over the fact that Toyota Prius sales have been dropping must have gotten a surprise. Despite that fact gasoline prices have been low for the past several months and still under $3.00 per gallon ($2.85 in the U.S. as of now, according to the Energy Information Agency), Prius sales rose 22.4% in Q1, to 14,050 units. (For a not apples-to-apples comparison: Chevy sold 7,089 Camaros during Q1.)
What is more striking is that all Toyota hybrids had a combined 152% increase, to 125,318 units. (“Thank you, RAV4,” they must be saying down in Plano.)
The Big Three?
Remember when that was General Motors, Ford and Chrysler?
GM is still big. Overall sales of 642,250 vehicles.
The other Two, however:
Ford, including Lincoln, had sales of 521,334.
FCA, including Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, had sales of 469,651.
Toyota, including Lexus, 603,066. That’s a lot more than either Ford or FCA.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, 2
Everyone knows that (1) sedans are nearly dead in the market and (2) economical vehicles are so 2010.
Nissan, including Infiniti, had a good first quarter, with overall sales of 285,553 vehicles, which is a 10.8% increase over Q1 2020.
But there are two absolute standout vehicles in the Nissan lineup:
Versa: 22,394 vehicles, or an 83.9% increase
Sentra: 37,238 vehicles, or a 55.9% increase
Admittedly, crossovers like the Kicks (24,421 units) and the Rogue (86,720) were big contributors, the fact that the Versa and the Sentra did so well ought to make some analysts reconsider that whole “Cars are on life support” position.
Observations about how vehicle are developed and more. . .
Genchi gembutsu is one of the principles of the Toyota Production System. It essentially means, “go and see for yourself.” Don’t depend on a report about something. Get to the source of the matter and discover what’s going on for yourself.
Mike O’Brien, who spent some 14 years at Toyota North America, with his final position there as corporate manager, Product Planning, before moving on to Hyundai Motor America, where he spent over a decade, with his last position there being vice president, Corporate Planning, Product Planning and Digital Business, uses the term genchi gembutsu in the context of how vehicles should be developed.
That is, those who are involved in the development program need to go out to where the potential customers live and work and play so as to get an up-close look at what their behaviors are vis-à-vis the vehicle that they are working on. By doing that they can obtain a grounded sense of what is missing or what could positively add to the overall experience.
But genchi gembutsu is also a good term in relation to O’Brien, as he has been there, at the places where it happens, so on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” you can get truly informed insights on the current state of the auto industry.
While you often hear people talking about creating “white space” vehicles, O’Brien says that that is the exception, not the rule, because appropriate addressing customer pain points may be solved by doing a simple thing: He notes, for example, that an issue that some older people have is loading things into the trunk of their cars, so perhaps that can be addressed by modifying the lift-over height.
He says that companies talk about benchmarking, but he suggests that it is a method that will help with the creation of something that is about five years behind the curve by the time it is launched.
One of the points that O’Brien makes in his conversation with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Jason Fogelson, freelance journalist, and me, is that coming out of the pandemic there is likely to be a decided market shift from “need” to “want.”
That is, he explains, take a typical two-car household. One of the spouses may now be working from home. Which means that the second vehicle may not be as necessary as it once was. Consequently, there may be a decision that the one vehicle that is in the household is something that does what needs to be done, but is something “special.” It could be a Bronco, Wrangler or something that doesn’t necessarily have off-road capabilities but aspects that the customers really don’t need, but want.
O’Brien discusses a number of other topics, ranging from traditional OEMs and EVs and why he thinks that hydrogen is a great solution for vehicle applications.
Americans are big. Really big. Which might explain the absence of small cars (or almost any cars) being offered by the major OEMs
The accepted wisdom seems to have it that one of the primary reasons why vehicle manufacturers are getting out of cars and pouring more resources into crossovers is because they can make better margins on the latter. Which may be true, but is likely only part of the story.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American adults are, well, large. The average male over 20 is 5-foot 9-inches, weighs 199.8 pounds and has a 40.5-inch waist. The average female is 5-foot 3.5-inches, tips the scales at 170.8 pounds, and has a 38.7-inch waist. According to the CDC, 73.6% of adult Americans are overweight.
Seems like a fairly compelling rationale for large vehicles.
So what’s someone who wants to buy a small car to do? Well, the answer to that is “Look for something that is not all that small.”
That is, of the U.S. Big 6 automakers—GM, Ford, Stellantis NA, Nissan, Toyota and Honda—only GM has a car that can be considered “small.”
Chevrolet still offers the Spark. This car has a 93.9-inch wheelbase, is 143.1-inches long, 62.8 inches wide, and 58.4 inches high. It has a passenger volume of 83 cubic feet, and a cargo volume behind the rear seat of 11.1 cubic feet.
The next smallest is the Fiat 500X, although the company positions it as being a crossover rather than a car, but for the sake of argument, let’s include it since it has a design that is very much like the now-departed (and tiny) 500. The 500X is gargantuan compared to the Spark, with a 101.2-inch wheelbase and length, width and height dimensions of 167.2, 73.2 and 63.7 inches, respectively. It has a passenger volume of 91.7 cubic feet and cargo area behind the rear seat of 14.1 cubic feet.
Then there’s the Nissan Versa. It has a wheelbase of 103.1 inches—9.2 inches more than the Spark—and an overall length of 177 inches, or almost three feet longer than a Spark. Its other dimensions are 68.5 inches width, 57.3 inches height, a passenger volume of 88.9 cubic feet and a cargo volume of 14.7 cubic feet.
Whereas people might associate “Honda” with “small cars,” with the Fits remaining on dealer lots the only ones left, the smallest car in the lineup is the Civic Hatch. Which isn’t all that small. It has a 106.3-inch wheelbase, is 177.9 inches long, 70.8 inches wide and 56.5 inches high. It has a passenger volume of 97.2 cubic feet and a cargo volume of 25.7 cubic feet.
The smallest Toyota car is now the Prius, which has a wheelbase of 106.3 inches and an overall length of 180 inches—or more than three feet longer than a Spark. It is 69.3 inches wide, 57.9 inches high, and offers 93.1 cubic feet of passenger volume and 27.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Finally, there’s Ford, the company that was the first mass producer of passenger cars, the company that is now shifting its offerings away from, well, passenger cars. It currently has two cars on offer, and production has stopped for the Fusion, so that leaves the Mustang. Which is a completely bizarre thing to have in the context of a Spark. But here it is. The Mustang has a 107.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 188.5 inches. It is 81.9 inches wide, 54.3 inches high, and has a passenger and cargo volume of 82.8 and 13.5 cubic feet, respectively.
But consider this: the Spark actually offers more passenger volume than the Mustang. Not much more (0.2 cubic feet, or about the size of a football). But more.
So it might be a reasonable choice for a big American looking for a small car.–gsv