Archive | February, 2010

AutoBird Podcast – Esp 16: “What’s In a Name?”

Episode 16 starts by introducing this weeks guest Nick Saporito joining us from GM Inside News.  Nick kicked us off by telling us a little about himself and how he came to be the managing editor.  I then for a moment, attempted to relive my experience driving the Corvette ZR1 which I had the opportunity to drive the day before.  We move along to the major news of the week segment.  This week included-

  • Honda and Ford gain retail market share from Toyota
  • Woman Gets $23.4M for a paralyzing crash in Ford Explorer
  • Former CEO Fritz Henderson now consults GM at $2,954 an hour
  • Mercedes-Benz F800 revealed

We then proceed to the clip of the week segment.  This week we featured Nissans newest commercial starring the Leaf at the end – We Make Them Better

Next came our main topics.  This week those topics included GM’s rear wheel drive program and the possibility of Mercury’s small car being named the Tracer.

Last but certainly not least, we discuss the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls.  The week in review included- my write up on dealerships and how the game has changed along with Colin’s first impressions of the 2011 Toyota Avalon.


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Interview with Hagen Durant from Classic Chevrolet

Classic Chevrolet was the number one volume Chevrolet dealership for the past four years.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to interview the general manger Hagen Durant about the key to their success.

Dealerships- The Game Has Changed

It is no secret most people do not like car shopping.  This stems from multiple things.  Sure everyone wants a new/newer car but it is the act of acquiring one that people dislike.  While the cost does set some people off, the nature of how it all comes together is more off putting.  The old “snake oil” sales person is the main reason that people are put off by car shopping.  It is without question intimidating to walk into a dealership to buy a vehicle.  How do you know you are getting the best deal?  How do you know what you really need?  These and a myriad of other questions run across your mind as the sales person approaches like you are a fresh piece of meat.

This is the problem with car sales.  The above fears and many others.  Not to mention the part about you being viewed usually as a piece of meat.  I want to discuss an experience I had in December 2008.  I was bored one day and started looking at cars online.  I stumbled upon a really nice condition 2006 Mazdaspeed6.  It had RX8 wheels on it and the body looked great in pictures.  It was near by at a local dealership.  After deciding I will not buy this car, the thought crossed my mind that a test drive might be needed.  That evening I went to the dealership and it was cold.  I mean frigid.  I located the car outside without even entering the building and within less then two minutes a sales person had spotted me and was on his way.  He approached me and introduced himself asking if I was interested in the car.  I quickly responded with asking if we could go for a test drive.  As he went to grab the keys I did a walk around finding really little to complain about.  The body and paint were in nice condition though it was dark and I was in no way going to purchase this car that night.  The sales person came back and we went for a test drive.  He obviously had no of idea the actual features of this car (engine size, that it was all wheel drive, etc) because this was at a Chevrolet dealership.  I am not saying that is an excuse it is more of a fact in the situation.  Nevertheless, the sales person and I had a great conversation about what I did for a living and whatever small talk questions he wanted to ask me.

We returned to the dealership and I asked if I could see the Carfax.  He ran and grabbed it.  Till this point it had been a pleasant experience.  No pressure, he was nice, it had been light and airy conversation.  As I am looking at the Carfax he sits back down at his desk and says “Joel, what do we need to do to put you in that car today”.  I almost threw up a little in my mouth.  They still say that!?  Is that still allowed?  I calmly explained in one word “nothing.”  I went on to say I was not purchasing the car tonight and would think about it, possibly calling him tomorrow.  Not liking this answer he said he would run and talk to his manager for me about the pricing.  Before he could get up I explained that was not necessary it was not happening tonight.  He then went on to inform me that there was a lot of interest in this car and I should move quick.  I was a little perplexed by this statement as in the beginning he informed me he forgot this car was on the lot it had been here almost two months.  So now he is out right possibly lying to my face to try and scrape a sale.  The more this guy talked, the less I liked him.  I left the dealership that night without the car (against his wishes).

While I did not like his style I knew if I wanted that exact car I would buy it from that dealership.  It had low miles, good paint, and really it was at the exact moment what I was looking for.  I thought about it for a few days and decided the price was not right, the time was not right, I would pass.  Looking back on the situation a little over a year later, I am happy I did not purchase the car.

The beginning of that experience was great.  The sales person was nice, he talked about nothing sales related and overall I enjoyed the conversation.  He then became pushy and the old sales tactics kicked in.  There is a reason people do not like car shopping and it is because of the second half of that experience.  Pushy sales tactics, lies and overall pressure are not an enjoyable way to buy something that is expensive and important.

Dealers need to realize this is not the same sales environment it used to be.  Things are now drastically different.  When someone walks into the dealership you need to genuinely care.  Do not treat them as if they are fresh red meat.  Do not look at them with a hungry eye.  Ask what they are looking for.  What is important to them in a vehicle.  Everything from characteristics to features.  What is their price range.  Offer solutions to what they are asking for.  Know your audience and make sure you are connecting with them with the right verbiage.  There is a reason some dealerships are successful and some are not.  The ones that are getting with the times and realize it is a new day, they are going to be successful.  If you want to see a successful dealership look no further than Classic Chevrolet.  I refer to them a lot and there is a reason.  They are the largest volume Chevrolet dealership in the U.S. and there is a reason for that too.  I encourage dealerships like the one in my experience to look to Classic Chevrolet and learn.  Look forward to more on this topic in the future.

AutoBird Podcast – Esp 15: “A better tomorrow?”

Episode 15 starts by introducing our first guest Chris Baccus.  We decided to move discussing the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls to the end of the show. The week in review included- the Minneapolis International Motorcycle Show, my Volvo XC60 Review, First impressions on the new Ford Edge and Colin’s Chicago Auto Show: Thumbs Up/Down.  We move along to the major news of the week segment.  This week included-

  • Chevrolet Malibu is a great car but sales disappoint?
  • American Top Gear still Lives?
  • Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring may get new names?

We then proceed to the clip of the week segment.  This week we featured the Super Bowl commercial from Dodge – Man’s Last Stand

Last but certainly not least, we discuss our main topics.  This week those topics included the Chicago Auto Show and Toyota’s a better tomorrow.

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The Batmobile – One Man’s Dream

At one point or another we all wanted to be Batman.  Not only that, we wanted to drive the batmobile.  One of my college friends has just such a dream.  Not because he wants to drive the batmobile (well sure don’t we all), but because he wants to use it to bring good to people.  My friend has this idea of building the original batmobile.

I know this sounds like a crazy pipe dream but let me tell you about this guy.  His name is Alexander Grgurich.  In college we joked we would own a Maybach (shhh I know I would never want to own one).  He is a leader and entrepreneur in the Des Moines, IA area.  In college he started a very successful party bus company.  Taking it from one old school bus into a company with a fleet of seven party buses during his sophomore year and just recently he sold it.  He then ran for office and was elected to the Norwalk City Council while cramming for finals in his senior year.  Alex currently sits as the director of Foundry Coworking which is a shared office space facility.  Alex dreamed of this and made the Foundry Coworking a reality.  He raised the capital and made it all happen.  All this at the young age of 23.

Alex approached me and told me his dream.  I could already see the wheels were set in motion.  Being like everyone else, I thought instantly what an awesome idea building the original batmobile would be.  Alex’s dream is to build the batmobile and it would be used to bring joy to kids, area charities, parades and really anything else where crime fighting is needed.  Of course Batman and Robin sold separately.

Now here comes the plug, Alex has done all the leg work.  He just needs the funds. Alex reached out to the original prop builder in Tampa who took custom molds off the original batmobile.  Alex will go down to Tampa and bring the custom fabricated parts back to Des Moines, Iowa.  A team of fabricators has already been assembled to finish the job once the parts are back in Des Moines.  Alex set a goal and if the money is not raised by April 21 at 12:59 am no money donated will exchange hands.  Not only that, but the dream and good intentions will never see fruition.  I say lets make this a reality.  If everyone donates just five dollars, a mere five dollars this could happen.  Spread the word.  Think about it, some you probably spend almost that much at a coffee shop multiple times a week.  Skip a coffee or even more and donate today.  Think of what this could do for charity events and other events.  Creativity deserves to be embraced and this is no different.  Alex is a true entrepreneur and I am glad to call him my friend.

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Review- 2010 Volvo XC60

Volvo has had an interesting run lately.  Just a few years ago sales were good and profits were actually being made.  Now sales are nothing to brag about and the revenues, well, what revenues?  With the pending sale to Geely, the future is really cloudy but they say that letting Volvo be Volvo will be their plan.  That is definitely a plan, but as that may be, every new Volvo launch better go off without a hitch.  The XC60 is off to a good start as Volvo’s new entrant to the entry level luxury crossover market.  This is a hotly contested arena in which large players are throwing their weight around.  The XC60 is a fresh and dare I say, Swedish approach to this category.

The XC60 slots right between the XC70 and the larger XC90.  The interior is nearly the size of the segment champion, the Lexus RX.  The front is spacious with plenty of head and leg room.  The seats were terrific and the tilt and telescoping steering wheel made finding a comfortable driving position a cinch.  The interior is filled with soft touch materials and the gauges are easy to read.  The button lay out is very similar to other Volvos which is a good thing.  Overall, the interior is easily in the top of its class.

The exterior is typical Volvo with styling that stays with the family but pushes the edges a little. With curvy hips in the rear in place, the front is slightly more aggressive than the current line up.  This front clip is an evolution of the current styling, and we will be seeing these design cues on the 2011 C70 and 2011 S60.  Personally, I am a big fan of the use of light pipes next to the grille.  The fog lights actually provide a good amount of light on the ground, making a noticeable difference when driving at night.

Two engines are available.  The vehicle I was testing was equipped with the base 3.2 liter inline six cylinder putting out 235 hp and 236 ft-lb through the optional all wheel drive.  The optional engine is a 3.0 liter inline six cylinder with a twin-scroll turbo (T6) putting out 281 hp and 295 ft-lb.  Both engines feed the power through a six speed Geartronic transmission.  Geartronic is Volvo’s speak for automatic with self shifting capabilities.  The 3.2 liter is rated at 18/27 mpg while the T6 drops down to a rated 16/22.  I observed an average of 18.2 mpg.  All wheel drive is optional on the 3.2 liter while standard on the 3.0 liter turbo.  The XC60 weighs barely over 4000 lbs which is certainly no light weight.  It is still light when compared to its competitors.  Getting that large mass moving is no small task and the 3.2 liter inline six I was equipped with did its best.  Its best was not good enough to satisfy my urge to get going.  Things were better once started, it was the act of getting underway that took a little longer than I would have liked.  Slamming the gas incurred the vehicle to say, “Oh you want to go now? Ok we will work on that.”  I think the optional T6 engine would be a better choice for me personally.

While the XC60 may not be a canyon carver, it handled itself quite well when it came to quick lane changes.  The mass was kept in check and overall handling was good with less body roll then expected.  This is probably one of the “sportier” handling vehicles in the class.  The steering was not as light as I expected at parking lot speeds but it did feel natural.  On center feel was great while on the highway.  Volvo says the steering is speed dependent.  While I can definitely notice a difference between highway speeds and parking lot speeds, the steering never felt over boosted.

The XC60 comes with some decent technology as standard equipment.  Both bluetooth handsfree for calling and HD radio are standard.  City Safety is the system that can help lessen or completely avoid an impact below 18 mph is standard.  The vehicle I had was by no means loaded but was nicely optioned.  Equipped with the premium package, climate package, convenience package, laminated panoramic sunroof, PCC (Personal Car Communicator), and integrated child booster seats.  Part of that climate package included both heated front and rear seats along with heated windshield washer nozzles.  A rain sensing system is also part of that package.  I did not get to test it due to the lack of rain and abundance of snow.  The convenience package gave me the power operated tail gate along with other niceties.  Oh, and that power tailgate might quite possibly be the loudest power tail gate in the history of power tail gates.  The panoramic sunroof is a crowd pleaser, though I could not test it due to frigid temps and the pile of snow sitting on top of the car.  PCC is pretty cool as a $550 dollar option.  PCC is essentially an advanced keyless remote that has two way communication with your XC60.  When you push the information button on the remote when within 200-300 feet of the car, the remote will “check in” with the car and inform you of the status, including whether the car is locked, unlocked, or a heartbeat is detected inside the car.  If you press the information button outside of the 200-300 foot range, the remote will report the last known status before you went outside of the range.  I have heard strong opinions on the optional navigation unit and will hopefully experience that when I test the T6 model.

Overall, the XC60 is a competent vehicle.  I would definitely rate this high in its class right next to the new Audi Q5.  Gas milage was acceptable with the 3.2 but from the ratings I know that the T6 is thirsty.  Truth be told, I am guessing that is the engine to have in this vehicle since 3.2 is a bit sluggish.  Though I am willing to bet that the general public will accept the 3.2 performance just fine.  In the end, I personally liked the XC60.  It is sportier than the Lexus RX while having almost as much room.  With a starting price of $32,995, the vehicle I was in had a sticker price of $40,645, and for that money you were getting a competent vehicle.  The XC60 is just a few tweaks away from a class leading vehicle.


Full Disclosure- Vehicle was provided for review by a local Volvo dealership.

AutoBird Podcast – Esp 14: “Say Your Goodbye”

Episode 14 starts by discussing the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls. The week in review included January’s numbers and Betting on the Little Guy.  We move along to the major news of the week segment.  This week included-

  • Latest Toyota recall recap
  • GM deciding to keep the Renaissance Center
  • Current Saab 9-5 ends production
  • All new Saab 9-5 hitting showrooms in Q2

We then proceed to the clip of the week segment.  This week we featured the preview from the documentary on closure of Ohio GM plant which earned an Oscar nomination.

Last but certainly not least, we discuss our main topics.  This week those topics included a goodbye to Saturn and Pontiac along with Colin making the argument that Kia might be in a crisis.


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Minneapolis International Motorcycle Show

This past weekend the International Motorcycle Show was in Minneapolis, presented by Cycle World.  Upon entering the show you are greeted immediately by a person handing out a Progressive Insurance bag for all the swag you might find at the show.  Throughout the show I noticed how much advertising Progressive was doing.  There were stickers on the floor featuring “Flo” everywhere you went along with the massive booth that they had with people talking about their motorcycle insurance.  Progressive was not alone as Allstate was there with a nice sized booth of their own.  Seems insurance companies are making a push for the motorcycle crowd.

Everyone at the show seemed to be an enthusiast  of some kind.  Some were adorning full leathers while others merely wearing a t-shirt with a companies logo on it.  Everybody seemed to be representing something.  Many families were at the show and the kids all seemed to be drawn to the sport bikes.  There was a member of the Ducati freestyle team at the show, and they had a whole section of the floor to perform a show every few hours.

Each manufacturer had specialists to answer questions and show off the latest features and bikes.  I over heard a specialist at the Yamaha booth asking a customer if they really needed the power of 1000 cc or if 600 cc might do it.  The Ducati booth had an espresso bar with laptops loaded with information on their current line up of bikes which was very cool.

IMG_1834

I met a group called ZeroGravity, a local Minnesota based group of sport bike riders.  There are plenty of forums and groups out there, so what made them stick out?  I held a conversation with the groups founder, Bjorn Iverson, about what exactly makes them different.  He explained to me he used to be part of quite a few forums and while they were informational, people did not interact offline.  Bjorn thought there was a better way and thus ZeroGravity was founded.  The group hits the open road together, “spank twisties” and tear up the back country roads.  While this all seems normal, what really got me was how much they all interact outside of motorcycles.  The ZeroGravity members are a tight knit group that always welcome new comers.  They hangout  outside of the motorcycle realm doing everything from dodgeball to bowling.  Nothing is out of the question, and they all just want to have fun together.  The motorcycle is just the common object that brings them all together.  They are nearly 700 members strong and growing quickly.  If you are a motorcyclist in the MN/WI area, I suggest you check them out for sure.

Overall, the whole show was a blast.  I am glad to have met the crew at ZeroGravity.  I saw a lot of innovation at the show.  Many manufacturers listen to what the customers are saying and try to implement just that.  There are a lot of different segments in the motorcycle industry from stunters, racers, hardcore riders and just the casual cruiser and yet there was something for everyone.

Betting on the Little Guy

Americans in general have never associated small cars with high price tags.  They are seen as regular transportation and not premium vehicles.  In Europe this is simply not the case rather small cars are very popular and the price tags are not cheap.  They are fully featured cars with options many small cars do not have in the U.S.  With the new CAFE standards coming soon automakers in the U.S. are starting to realize that maybe we need to be a little more like Europe.  Smaller cars with higher fuel efficiency and more options.

The Detroit Auto Show was all about downsizing.  Engines were being downsized using lower displacement and it is all about getting more from less.  Utilizing forced induction both in the way of turbo charging and super charging the automakers are doing what they can with the latest technologies.  It is going farther then that.

Americans are realizing they need less.  Not everyone technically needs a Suburban to haul the kids to soccer practice.  The reality of it is when you are taking two kids to soccer practice you are not towing a 25 foot boat.  In fact most people that have large vehicles do not need them at all.  It is a perception and comfort thing.  While I know some of you are readying your pitch forks, just hear me out.  Yes, some people do need their large vehicles.  Some people actually do need SUV’s.  I drive an SUV and do use it to tow boats up north.  If we weigh out how much I need an SUV it is probably more then some but still less then others.

Interior of the 2012 Ford Focus

The automotive manufacturers are starting to bet on the little guys.  Ford’s new small car line up will begin with the new Fiesta.  The Fiesta has a base price just above $13,000 but that price can get very close to $25,000 after customizing it with a myriad of options.  Next Ford debuted the next generation Focus as a 2012 model at NAIAS last month.  The new Focus will be more refined while offering more options and features.  While they have not talked pricing you can naturally assume it will cost more.  The current Focus pricing starts a little over $16,000 topping out around $22,000.  It is estimated by some that while the base price of the the new Focus will increase slightly, a fully optioned Focus might approach $30,000.  That is a lot of coin for a small car.  The question is, are Americans willing to pay a premium on these new small cars?  Some are probably scratching their heads saying how could they charge so much.  We as Americans have been asking for the same product that Europe has been getting for years.  Ford has finally listened and decided it would be cheaper to amortize costs, thus the “ONE Ford” strategy comes to play.  Cars will be developed by Ford to be sold globally with minor changes for safety regulations and such.

2011 Chevy Cruze

Chevrolet is betting on the new Cruze to carry its sales in the compact car market.  This new model will replace the lackluster Cobalt which itself replaced the Cavalier.  The new Cruze is said to be rated at 40 mpg on the highway which is an impressive number to be sure.  The car is said to be dynamic to drive and offer the premium feel of a larger car.  That is exactly what these smaller cars with larger price tags will have to do.

So will we Americans embrace these smaller cars with larger price tags?  I think it all depends on where the starting price tag is.  This all goes back to my post about why strippers are important.  The base price on a model is what seems to drive traffic to show rooms.  Maybe that will change with time and it will be features that drive customers to the showroom.  One thing is for sure, the pricing and options work in Europe where people are paying more for less.  Are you really getting less?  In the end it is all about how you look at it.  You are getting more miles per gallon, you are getting more technology and amenities all in a slightly smaller package.  So the question is, will people buy these small cars that all the auto manufactures are betting on?

AutoBird Podcast – Esp 13: “Toyota Recall Redux”

Episode 13 starts by discussing the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls. The week in review included Dodge’s three new Charger ads and GM to manufacture it’s own electric motors.  We move along to the major news of the week segment.  This week included-

  • Toyota recalls an additional 1.1 million vehicles
  • GM has appointed Ed Whitacre as permanent CEO (for now)
  • Opel confirms another 8,300 jobs to be cut
  • The upcoming new Ford Explorer
  • Ford earned $2.7 billion in 2009

We then proceed to the clip of the week segment.  This week we featured the later then it should have been Chrysler holiday ad.

Last but certaintly not least, we discuss our three main topics.  This week those included Chrysler’s future, the sale of Saab to Spyker and Toyota’s latest recall woes.


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