Monday, January 30, 2006


American Fear of Small Cars

I was listening to the podcast today from The Car Buyer's Notebook and I came away disturbed. Frank Giovinazzi, host of the aforementioned podcast and owner of the related site claimed more or less that unless the price of petrol go so exorbitantly high, there's no way he ("any many other Americans") would ever be in a small car again.

First, I find this somewhat amusing because quite frankly, in America, there is no such thing as a small car (by world standards) barring say the Mini, the Scion xA and the Chevrolet Kalos/Aveo. I wouldn't call the Toyota Yaris a small car (given that they made it larger to come here and even then, it wasn't Aygo sized) yet I gather he might. This comes back to the American mentality of bigger is better, which by the way is a very flawed mindset.

Secondly, are all of the individuals which Frank mentions and includes himself amongst claustrophobic?

Thirdly, what do people need (in terms of consumer non-work vehicles) such a vast of expanse of space for, their obese frames (wait, this is America we're speaking of). No, you don't need to carry cases of paperwork, luggage and enough cans of food and drink around in your boot. Look at the joke which is the Ford Expedition. Do you really think it is necessary that ever occupant has that much space between them, enough that one would have to lean (to the point of laying down) on their side to reach the door handle on the opposing side of the vehicle? This is a joke, no wonder SUV's are laughed at round the world. Lets not even get into 4x4's as that's another issue in and of itself.

Wait, I just had a realisation.. it's more room for cup holders and folding trays so that people can hold their 2 litre sized fountain drinks from the local mini-mart/petrol station in any one of 12 locations in these behemoths. This applies to more than just SUV's. And before anyone says that other manufacturers (specifically European or Japanese) also make cars that are massive, realise that they are primarily made for the US Market, or conversely for heads of state and ambassadors globally (not to mention the local Prince and/or ruler of (name you Middle Eastern sovereign country here). Even companies like Volvo made larger versions of their cars, but they had a use. Limousines and Hearses. There's just no non-selfish/arrogant reason for consumers to have vehicles of this magnitude.

I think the real reason that Frank and others hold such a hatred of so called "Small Cars" is the fear in their own minds that they'll be somewhat less important if people cannot immediately see that they spent such-and-such amount of currency or are trying to allude to a parallel with their penis.

So sad, so American a mindset (though not exclusively lest I be chided for this posting). Maybe people like that will grow a set and allow themselves to experience non-yacht sized vehicles for once, there is something out there in terms of reasonably sized vehicles for everyone. But please, whatever you do, don't think that America has small cars available, because its just not the truth of the matter.


Friday, January 27, 2006


Quick Review: 2006 Chevrolet Epica (Chevrolet Evanda)

Today I had to drop off my 2005 Chevrolet Optra 5 for its 12,000km service and oil change, and as such, the dealer provides a loaner car. In this case, the car was a Chevrolet Epica (Chevrolet Evanda in Europe).

First things first: I do not care for large cars, and to me, anything over 4.5 metres long it too big for my liking. This car is a whopping 4.77 metres in length and yet it doesn't feel that way from the driver's seat, in fact it feels just the opposite. I'm not exactly average in height standing at 190cm, but my build is average (a.k.a. not fat/don't have the average American's girth). I honestly felt cramped to the point where I'm glad I'm not claustrophobic because it would've caused an episode if I were. The overall cabin does seem expansive except for having my head almost rubbing against the headliner and my kneels almost straddling the leather wrapped steering wheel. I guess were I average height it might be a better fit. This must be what the current Impala is like (in terms of size) inside.

The dash material and controls seemed a little on the cheap end, and mis-matched as well. I felt like I was in a Nissan A32 Maxima where everything was smooth plastic coloured I'm-going-to-fade-horribly-in-5-years-or-so black. The control stalks on the steering column were not much better having a fragile feel about them. Needless to say, I'm not impressed with the control bits either, even the leather wrapped wheel had a cheap feel about it. I'd give the Interior a 6 out of 10 were I judging it in that manner.

The exterior is quite beautiful for a large saloon as it were, with lines sculpted by Giugiaro of Italdesign in Turino, Italy. Nice flowing profile with a v-shaped hood. Pictures don't do it justice (which seems to be a theme with most of Giugiaro's designs sans the new Alfa Brera. I did notice I received quite a large number of glances and double takes while driving to the office today, so I think that does give some indication that while still a conservatively fashions form, it is different enough to warrant that second look by passersby.

This leads me to the last section of my mini-review, performance. The 2.5l 30v inline 6 feels more impressive than its numbers on paper would have one believe. For a car that just tips the scales at a little over 1500kg one would think that 115kw (155ps) @ 5,800rpm and 240nm (177 lbs ft) of torque would be somewhat lacking, but it isn't. The four speed adaptive automatic transmission seemed willing under acceleration to take the revs up past 6,000rpm for every shift without complaining. This engine should be available to other Chevrolet models as it really has the feel that only an inline 6 seems to have (how i miss the E30 BMW 323i's 2.3l inline 6). Acceleration feels solid and the brakes fairly strong with only a hint of fade after continuous stops.

The above remarks are based on a 39km drive over a limited length of A roads and an overwhelming majority of B roads. The handling for a car in this class are steady and sure footed and body roll was kept to a minimal without the ride ever feeling harsh, even on gravel.

I wouldn't buy one for myself, but I definitely think that with a little more work on the interior materials quality (not the fit and finish which seemed fairly bang on), this car could definitely be a viable option for those people I know who prefer a larger saloon as their mode of transport. Now if we could only get the SUV drivers to downsize to saloons (or better yet hatchbacks), things would be quite chipper in my book.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Correcting a Corporate Mistake (Badge Engineering Reversed)

As many of you know, I recently sold my 2003 Volkswagen Bora Sportline 1.8T (Jetta IV Turbo w/180ps) and took delivery of a 2005 "Suzuki Reno". I really enjoy the car, it reminds me of how I prefer my driving experiences; In touch with the car, receiving feedback when accelerating, braking, cornering, etc., as opposed to pure isolation. As cars (both models and manufacturers) have achieved popularity, they've become over-burdened with extra weight, electronics and plushness which only serve to isolate said driver from the very action that one is to do in an automobile. Drive.

Back to the issue at hand though, I have this "Suzuki Reno" listed in the aforementioned quotes because while technically it is sold as a Suzuki, the car is a General Motors product. It is sold in Europe as a Chevrolet Lacetti, China as a Buick Excelle HSV, Korea as a GM Daewoo Lacetti, Africa, Canada and Malasia as a Chevrolet Optra. Yes, Suzuki does parter with GM and is indeed part owner of the GM Daewoo manufacturing facilities, however that is only in part because GM has ownership in Suzuki as a whole, just as with Subaru, et al.

I recently (thanks to the wonderful help of GM of Canada and Tom Smith Chevrolet in Ontario in helping me to aquire the necessary tidbits (for a wonderful price I might add) of converting my car back to the way it should've been sold in the United States; As a Chevrolet.

If Chevrolet is going to put its name on this product all over the world, why can't they put it on its product in the US. People love the Aveo (Kalos). I'm sick of badge engineering and name changing from market to market. Personally, I'd've liked to have seen the Lacetti name used (afterall, they are Italian designed bodies (interior and exterior), so it isn't outlandish an idea).

I've taken matters into my own hands. Yes, I will be converting the Suzuki logo covered grille over to the factory Chevrolet badged grille, and yes, the rear logos will be coming off of the car and will be replaced with the factory Chevrolet parts. This is my own little protest against the stupidity of badge engineering. If Daewoo still existed as a sovereign corporate entity, they would be badged as such, but as it stands, they are Chevrolets, powered by GM Opel designed, GM Holden built Family II, 16v DOHC 2.0l motors (in North America as a whole (The rest of the world gets 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, Supercharged 1.8, and as of 2006 Diesel options)).

Aside from that, the chevy grille is nicer than the Suzuki grille. I also like how the badge placement is different for every other version of this car than the Suzuki. The Suzuki places the "Suzuki" nameplate on the lower left of the rear (under the tail light just above the bumper) and the "Reno" (stupid name) badge right above the bumper on the far right side of the rear). Everywhere else, the car name (Optra 5) is located on the thin strip above the hatch release handle right below the rear window and just to the left of the center of the car, with the Chevrolet plate being symmetrically placed on the right side. It looks nicer over all.

People may wonder, and I gather some Chevy V8 heads are going to feel annoyed that a Chevrolet name is on yet another small hatchbatck (a beautifully designed one I might add) as opposed to an obnoxiously oversized car and/or SUV (Stupid Unnecessary Vomitmobile). This is where we should be heading. A family hatchback with good looks, reasonable 4 cylinder motors and nice interior space. We need more of these than SUV's. Yes, yes, you can have your new Camaro and the venerable Corvette as well, but they are specialty cars, and quite impractical, but that's the buyers choice, but at least they are purpose built and used. Too many SUV's are still driven by one person, with no real need for the "utility" part of its 'function'. Back to topic.

Louis Chevrolet was not an American he was Swiss born and French raised for the first third of his life, and while he (along with his older brother Gaston) was a cracking good racecar driver, he was still a down to earth persons-person. His idea was affordable yet good cars with a sense of style, performance and reliability. General Motors has proven they can do this, more so in the rest of the world than here (much like Ford has (neither being particularly good when it came to the style and reliabilty portions, though that is changing), it is only fair that they stop the bullshit and knock off the badge engineering, pull up their socks, drop some lines, bring focus to those which remain and don't pretend that Saab makes a V8 SUV, or that the swedes as a whole for that matter would want one. Lets not pretend that there is such a thing as a Chevrolet Forester (as is sold in Asia), and finally, Holden designed the Monaro, not Pontiac, forgetting calling it a GTO and pissing fan boys off, sell it as a Holden Monaro at GM Dealerships if you chose, but enough is enough with calling a Rose a Tulip in one Country and something else in another, it is stupid and hopefully people will wise up enough to not buy it.

I apologise for the haphazard manner in which these ideas were strewn together, but I hope I was able to get my point across and that those who have read this, got the gist of what I was trying to convey.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Nissan and Renault

While I'm not a big fan of badge engineering, such as the way General Motors likes to operate on the global level, but I do see it as a means for parent companies to get their products into markets they aren't prominent in, while having child ventures entrenched.

What I'm talking about is Renault and Nissan. Renault is the parent company of Nissan motor cars, and while Renault doesn't sll cars in the United State due to image and costs, why not having Nissan (which does sell cars in the US, and does hold a decent image in the market) sell a badge engineered version of the Megane or Clio, or the Clio 182 Trophy?

These are vehicles that if sold here would sell, I don't think there is any doubt there. There is a dealer network, so parts and maintenance wouldn't be an issue. I think they have an opportunity to sell their developed products in the United States without said products having to carry the baggage of the stigma (in the US) of being a Renault, and some would say even worse, being French.

What do others think about this. I know I'd love to get my hands on a Clio here, but I just don't see it happening under the Renault name due to the pig headed mentality of the Red state 'Mericans. Your thoughts?


Sunday, January 08, 2006



I'm curious as to what other think regarding the reasons why the inhabitants of the United States of America as a whole generally cringe when they hear "hatchback". It has gotten so bad recently (the hatred of the word hatchback) in the US that the term crossover is being applied in its stead.

When I was younger and driving my first 'real' car (my second car actually, my first died after an engine fire, and two self-destructing gear boxes, it was a 1979 Datsun B210 wagon), which was a 1986 MkII Volkswagen Golf 3 door. This car was the epitomy (to me at the time) of what a car was all about. It had a wonderful soft touch dash, a nice solid headliner, precise shifter with a decent stock throw (both side to side and fore and aft), no to mention great fuel economy, an engine that was bulletproof and liked to be worked but was happy at a lower rpm'ed pace just the same.

I did have a few friends who never understood hatchbacks (even thought their rebadge mustangs (as Mercury Capris) were also hatchbacks. They never realised that hatchbacks around the world were used for racing, rallying, et al. Sure, in the US we had good reason for the negative reviews, we had some lemons here. The Yugo being the most memorable, it was just a really bad Fiat knockoff built in Yugoslavia. We had the Renault LeCar which, in its form back then, was not something that the average american driver would deal with on a day to day basis. The horrible pacer and gremlin were examples of how piss poor American designers were capable of being. Afterall, America isn't exaclty known for its beautiful designs in the automotive world. Just as a pre-emptive note: tail fins are not 'beautiful' if anyone decides to bring up the supposed 'glory days' of design.

But I digress. The hatchback has continued in the US to be seen as a tiny, economy based automobile relegated to those who cannot afford a "real" car, for the most part. There are exceptions, such as the Golf (which can now be had for as much as somewhere in the low 30's (for the .:R32 version), but for the most part, I think everyone follows me..

Hatchbacks are nice and big inside on the whole, their design tends to mean more headroom, and overall more utility as well than their saloon bretheren. They are family cars, as well as sporty runabouts (i.e. Hothatches).. Every major manufacturer offers high performance hatchbacks, and I'm not talking estate versions either (Station Wagons for those of you who are isolationists). Alfa Romeo, Renault, Peugeot, Citroen, Volkswagen/Audi/Seat, Vauxhall/Opel/Holden/Chevrolet/Daewoo, Honda, Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Nissan (I always wanted a Sunny GTI-R), Kia, Hyundai, etc. all make hatchbacks, and performance versions as well.

To a degree I'm happy about the views in America because it allowed me to pay less when I picked up my Chevrolet Lacetti/Optra5/Excelle/etc. However I'd still like to see people waking up and realising that SUV's are unnecessary, oversized fuel wasting jokes that shouldn't have come into existance, whereas a hatchback or an estate version would do just the same, while being safer, quicker, more nimble and more cost effective to run.

As a side note, I'm not on a limited budget when it comes to cars, the purchase of my recent hatchback (new) equates to less pay than two months wages for me, so it obiously is a choice (and this is the ONLY reason why I mention anything of my personal finances), just to stress the preference, no one will hear this mentioned again as it is immaterial.

Anyone else out there understand the lack of understanding regarding hatches?


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