If you’ve ventured into a car showroom more than once, you’ve probably heard the line, “What will it take to get you to leave with a new car today?” Car dealers are more desperate than ever to make a sale, and the ranks of those who sign on the dotted line to buy a new car have thinned to the smallest numbers in years. Sales at the Big Three US automakers – GM, Ford, and Chrysler – have fallen off a cliff, simply because they are not offering the vehicles that Americans are willing to buy.
This chart of new car registrations in the State of Maryland sums things up fairly well …
Take a look at the monstrous gap between 2008 YTD and the five previous years. New car sales are down dramatically, overall. The automakers might not be able to sell their big trucks, but they could surely drive them through that gap.
While there are winners at this point in the game, they’re nearly all imports. Honda is holding its own. BMW is selling every Mini Cooper it brings across the pond. There’s a waiting line for the tiny Smart car and top-selling Toyota Prius. Volkswagen might be the biggest potential winner. VW’s operating profit is up more than 20 percent in the first half of the year, they’ve committed to build a new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the new Jetta TDI clean diesel is aiming to set sales records.
So what will it take to get you into a new car?
Are things that tight or are you waiting for the right product?
With the economy in the state it’s in, the task of reviewing new cars – with a nod to Jake and Elwood – is my mission.
When I initially set out to review cars, I did so with a clean slate, as I do each time a new car appears in my driveway. I’m not swayed by a publisher’s (or broadcaster’s) corporate ties and editorial influence. Furthermore, I do my best to avoid reading other reviews before taking delivery, so as not to ruin any surprises, be they good or bad.
After a couple of days with a Toyota Highlander Hybrid (the newest addition to the MPGomatic fleet), however, I became intrigued as to what owners had to say about their big hybrid SUVs, for this is a somewhat transformational vehicle … a seven passenger SUV capable of achieving 30 MPG.
I stumbled into Tom Evslin’s site. Tom is the co founder, and former chairman and CEO of ITXC and the owner of a new Highlander Hybrid. (He was also the State of Vermont’s Transportation Secretary for a short period of time.) Tom’s thoughts on his new car and the state of the state, spell it all out.
This OUGHT to be a great time to be in the car business. Almost everyone who can afford to wants to trade up (down?) to a car that gets better mileage.
We as a country need to turn things around. But take a look at that chart again. We seem paralyzed by fear.
I’ve spent a good part of the spring and summer documenting the clean diesel and plug-in hybrid revolution at my own expense. I have no corporate daddy to tell me what to cover.
Most Americans just don’t know what’s in the product pipeline, because mass media has been too focused on hyping high gasoline prices in order to justify the false hope of expanded offshore drilling (there’s that editorial sway, smacking us all in the back of the head with a big fat Louisville Slugger).
For the most part, the majority of Americans:
- Have no exposure to the fuel efficient clean diesel vehicles sold in Europe that are ready to come to these shores
- Have no idea that 100 MPG plug-in hybrid cars exist today.
- Only know what they tell us …
I’m not suggesting a government program other than a commitment to buy hybrids and plugin hybrids for its own fleet and provide recharge points at its own facilities. I’m suggesting that we act hungry and change fast, that huge companies act like small companies have to (that may be unrealistic). There is a huge market for fuel efficient cars – we don’t need hype to create that. We do need product to meet the demand. If the product isn’t made here, that’ll be a shame but we’re better off buying cars from Japan, India, and China than oil from Saudi Arabia.
Tom is spot on.
Thankfully, the revolution is well underway …