Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Good Cars, Bad Sales

Audi TT   @  A Is For Automobile – Cars, vehicles, and autos.Audi TT
It's a fine little coupe, sporty and neat and peppy. It has one of the most fabulous interiors in the business, even if only Mini Me can sit at the back. Okay, it's not a pure sports car, but heck, when did that ever make a difference? For heaven's sake, doesn't it look great? So, what's the problem? Some believe this lack of success is because Audi brought in the wrong model. However nice it may be in the real world, a 1.8-litre coupe with manual-adjust seats and a high price tag looks ghastly on paper; a 3.2 V6 with four-wheel drive and DSG transmission and hilariously useless toys like heated mirrors. And that's what most people want: they not only want to buy something exotic, they want to be seen doing so. And so, a hero bites the dust.

Fiat Petra   @  A Is For Automobile – Cars, vehicles, and autos.Fiat Petra
Ever since people turned their noses up at the fish-faced Siena and Fiat's dealers decided that a "treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen" policy would work wonders, Fiat's saloon has been a lost cause. It's a pleasant looker, solid, has a great chassis, decent space for people and luggage, and (in 1.6 form) plenty of punch. And now of course, it has both a shattering price and some steel in its service backbone. Yes, it has its flaws, not least of which is its much-talked fuel economy, but that's not enough of an excuse to ignore it so thoroughly. Nor are the seats any great, you’ve got to do a bit of fiddling around until you're truly comfy in them. So, again, why?

Suzuki Grand Vitara   @  A Is For Automobile – Cars, vehicles, and autos.Suzuki Grand Vitara
The Grand Vitara is a pretty odd car, to be perfectly frank. The CR-V has sold because it's so good on the road, and because it's a Honda; the Maruti was neither. The badge was probably the biggest problem. But it had some very big points in its favour: one was the cabin, which was plush, very well equipped and comfy for at least five passengers. It looked nice, felt nice and generally felt worth the price. And there was the wonderful V6 - which, of course, drank petrol and lots more petrol, but sang lustily and gave the Grand Vitara the sort of performance most SUVs don't even dare dream about. It wasn't great on tarmac, but it had genuine talent off-road, so it could have been a stunning weekend car. And (pre-facelift of course) it looked quite nice, very old-school and conservative, with a bluff handsomeness. But it just didn't click, which is a big shame.

Hyundai Sonata Embera   @  A Is For Automobile – Cars, vehicles, and autos.Hyundai Sonata Embera
The Sonata Embera is a genuinely handsome car, extremely comfortable and a quiet, fast cruiser, all at a damned good price. So why is it that you hardly see any on the road? It can't simply be image: the old Sonata sold really well, which means the badge didn't matter that much, nor can it be that the Accord is so much more talented, because it isn't. So what's wrong? Is it the looks, the switch from aping Jaguar to aping Audi that turned buyers off? Or have those clonky plastics made such a big impression on buyers? It’s a puzzling one, this. If anybody knows the correct answer, do let Hyundai know.

Hyundai Tucson   @  A Is For Automobile – Cars, vehicles, and autos.Hyundai Tucson
The CRDi engine giving you more than enough acceleration to get your backside ahead of stubborn trucks, its handling good enough to get nearly as much pleasure out of it in the ghats as you would in a saloon. No one can see just how right it would be to stock up that cubbyhole-lined cabin with sweets and a thermos of coffee, or to stick those annoying toll receipts and maps in the perfectly designed slots, or how it would feel so perfect when I do a bit of light off-roading and have a nice picnic on the grass, the part-time four-wheel-drive good enough to keep the car moving through the mud. No one? It's depressing.

Skoda Superb   @  A Is For Automobile – Cars, vehicles, and autos.Skoda Superb
You want luxury? You got it. You want a ballroom-sized cabin, with much legroom for the diamond-merchant owner? You got it. You want lots of glossy wood and supple leather and toys that you'll never figure out? You got it. You want diesel? You got it. It’s true that not many in other countries have taken to the car either. The whole world has gone mad.

Ford Mondeo   @  A Is For Automobile – Cars, vehicles, and autos.Ford Mondeo
The Ford Mondeo, winner of countless awards all over the world, generally recognised as one of the landmark cars of the last 10 years. Everyone recognised its combination of sharp looks, big interior, fantastic handling and build quality as something way beyond the ordinary. Worldwide, it's been a huge success. It's a press favourite, that's for sure, so it's not under-rated in that sense. Everyone loves its space, the performance from its small but feisty engines, the solidity of the cabin, the leech-like grip, the way this big car shrinkwraps itself around you through corners. Everyone conceded though, that it didn't feel luxury car plush, that it didn't cosset you like a Camry or Accord. Everyone knew that could be a problem, and sure enough, it was. Ford responded after a while, throwing bucketful of chrome and dark wood at it, but that had no effect either. And what can Ford do about it? What area can be improved, when everything is so good already? That's the damn problem: they have a fine car that doesn't sell, and when that happens, there's really nothing you can do except wail at the unfairness of life.

Reva   @  A Is For Automobile – Cars, vehicles, and autos.Reva
Reva is tiny, incredibly easy to drive and will never, ever require a visit to a petrol pump. Everybody should be getting themselves one, especially those who commute everyday. The flaws are: it's impractical in terms of person-carrying capacity and range. But well, so many of us can afford a second car - why not make it this one? And one secret: chicks dig the car. It has much the same effect on them as carrying a baby or fluffy little quadruped in your arms. As a means of getting women, it's as good as a Ferrari, and much cheaper. Perhaps it's the government's fault: maybe it should subsidise the car. But it has to do something: this car is important.

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