Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Honda’

Observations From an Auto Show

January 28th, 2011 Comments off

The Washington, DC Auto Show kicked off today.  And although it’s not the premiere event on most automakers’ calendars, it is an important occasion, given the vast intersection between the auto industry and policy makers.  It’s also the auto show that’s easiest for me to attend, given that it takes place in the city in which I work…

So, as I wandered through the automakers’ displays, taking note of the new models on the floor (…and I’m talking about the cars, not the barbie-esque spokespersons demonstrating how to recline the seats…), I made a few observations.  And here they are.

Fiat 500 Sport

Fiat is here. Yes, I’ve been excited about the arrival of the Cinquecento for some time.  And Chrysler … err, Fiat had quite a few on display in various colors and trim levels.  This is a nice car. ..It’s a small car.  (Grown people may not be able to fit in the back seat.)  But I think it will sell at least as well as the Mini Cooper (its only real competition) has done.  Molto bene!

Chrysler may be back from the brink, but its future isn’t certain. One of two automakers that the government saved from complete collapse (the other being GM), Chrysler finally has an updated line-up reaching the market.  It is much improved (the new Jeep Grand Cherokee is awesome, and the new Durango and Charger are impressive as well); but I get the feeling their first step post-rescue, while big, is still a little shaky.  I’m skeptical that any of these vehicles (other than the Cherokee) will sell in large numbers.  And it’s telling that their Fiat 500 display was the most crowded spot in the entire Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Fiat area while I was there.

Buick is relevant. GM started turning Buick around not long before the General found itself at the edge of the cliff.  Through their restructuring, the Buick brand was saved, and now has an expanded (and impressive) model line-up.  The Enclave is arguably the best looking vehicle in its class, the Regal GS is bad-ass (yes, I said a Buick is bad-ass), and the upcoming Verano is a small car for grown-ups.  Now, if only they could come up with better model names…

Acura isn’t. Honda’s premium brand, for some reason, has decided to make cars that nobody wants to buy.

Ford C-Max

Ford is on a tear. From where I stood, Ford had the biggest presence at the Washington Auto Show, and had the vehicles to back it up.  They’re making great cars lately – the new Taurus, Focus, Fiesta, and Explorer (not to mention the EcoBoost powertrains, as well as hybrids and pure electrics) are at the top of their class.  The new C-Max is impressive as well.  Ford was the only Detroit automaker that didn’t require government assistance – and now they’re flaunting it.

The Mercedes Benz SLS AMG isn’t nearly as attractive in person as it is in the pictures. Sad, but true.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Right now, I’d rather be Hyundai than Toyota or Honda.  It used to be that the Korean imports could only hope to match the quality, performance, styling, and reliability of the two biggest Japanese brands.  Now Toyota and Honda would do well to aim for Hyundai.  Hyundai claims that the Sonata hybrid is designed to be the first hybrid you want to buy.  They may be right.

Mini is a brand. Sure, the modern Cooper has been around for a few years now, but it’s basically been thought of a sub-brand of BMW.  Now with the (ugly) Clubman and the (still ugly but I want one anyway) Countryman, they’ve got a whole line-up. And they don’t have any competition.  (Well, scratch that, due to my first observation above!)

Nissan may be a one-trick pony. With all the (well-deserved) hype about the Leaf, people may have forgotten that Nissan makes other vehicles, too.  Apparently, so has Nissan.  They still make some good cars, but their design language – which had gotten just a little avant-garde in a desirable sort of way – has taken a wrong turn.

2011 Audi RS5

Audi makes the best interiors.  And exteriors. VW’s premium brand gained a reputation for making the inside of their vehicles one of the most eye-pleasing environments into which a person could deposit him (or her) self.  That’s still true.  And the exteriors have followed suit.  Add to that cutting edge technologies such as Quattro, TDI, TFSI, and the aluminum space frame, and it’s no wonder Audi saw sales increase last year more than rivals BMW or Mercedes.

And finally, people need to be informed by folks who understand. The official auto show guide, in describing the 10 most efficient vehicles (as rated by the EPA), said that if a (all-electric) Nissan Leaf had a 14-gallon gas tank, it could travel over 1300 miles… What?  How does that work?  What good is a gas tank on an electric vehicle?… (OK, it works by calculating the energy content of gasoline – approximately 33.7 kWh per gallon – and falsely assuming that, because the EPA fuel economy label says that the Leaf uses about 34 kWh to travel 100 miles, it could travel over 1300 miles on the energy content of 14 gallons of gasoline.  The EPA fuel economy label also says the Leaf gets 99 MPG.  Which is a nonsensical metric for an electric vehicle.)

Fake Hondas

August 23rd, 2010 Comments off

When Hyundai entered the North American auto market in the mid-late’80’s, my initial impression was, “Who are they fooling?!  Nobody’s going to mistake that piece of crap for a Honda!”  I assumed, given the similarities in their name – and their cars’ badging – that they were attempting to capture the segment of the car market made up of consumers who thought they were buying a Honda weren’t capable of thought.  Consumers quickly realized that Hyundais weren’t Hondas, however.  Honda had gained a reputation for well-built, reliable vehicles, while Hyundais were quickly discovered to be poorly built, unreliable, and basically not worth the low price in their window stickers.

That was twenty years ago. So, what’s changed since then?  Well, Hyundais have.  After a few faulty starts, they’ve successfully moved into the luxury market with the Genesis.  They’ve also legitimately moved into the performance market with the Genesis Coupe.  And now, they’ve created the 2011 Sonata – a high-feature car for the masses that’s actually quite attractive.  They hired IAV Automotive Engineering (whose clients also include Bentley) to help them trim weight from the Sonata.  Since the car is only available with a 4-cylinder, the engine cradle structure didn’t have to be designed to accommodate any optional V6 – allowing a reduction in mass that translates in weight reductions elsewhere (such as the braking system) without a performance compromise.  (I love whole-systems thinking!)  All of this results in a car that has a little more power than a similarly featured Honda Accord (its most direct competitor), gets slightly better highway fuel efficiency (35 vs. 34 mpg), weighs approximately 100 pounds less, and is arguably more attractive.  The fact that the Sonata combines the impressive 200 horsepower 2.4 liter 4-cylinder (with continuously variable valve timing) with a 6-speed automatic transmission, and an SE trim-level that actually comes with performance goodies like stiffer springs, better shocks, and larger anti-roll bars, makes the $2k discount relative to the Accord all the more impressive.

A 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warrantyInitial Quality Ratings at the top of their class? What’s not to like? …Well, there’s that whole “no available V6” point where Honda has the advantage.  Then again, the 274 horsepower 2.0 turbo due out later in the model year should fix that.  And still reach 34 mpg.  …A fake Honda indeed!

2011 Hyundai Sonata

The Sound of Silence

February 19th, 2010 Comments off

Seems I’m linking back to myself a lot lately…

Last year, I bored you with a description of a speaker embedded in a car’s exhaust system, used to help tune the exhaust note.  Well, it turns out Honda/Acura has been doing something similar for a while, only using the speakers that are already inside your car.

They call it Active Sound Control, and the system uses anti-phase sound waves (which I also previously talked about) to cancel the “unwanted” engine noises from the cabin, while allowing the more pleasing snarls to tickle your eardrums when the throttle is to the floor.  (The irony here is that I’ve yet to come across a Honda or Acura that actually produced any sound which could be described as aurally exciting.)  Honda is offering the technology on their new Crosstour (a car which I’m oddly intrigued by), and Acura on their TSX, RL, and ZDX.

This is cool technology.  But I can’t help but think it’s just technology for technology’s sake – sort of a Rube Goldberg device for correcting the deficiencies of their engine designers and exhaust system engineers.  (Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Honda employed an over-engineered solution for a simple taskbut that time I was impressed.)

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps using the stereo to cover up engine sounds is a more efficient solution to unwanted cabin noise than a well-designed engine, proper attention paid to exhaust tuning, a chassis developed with NVH in mind, and sufficient levels of sound-absorbing insulation.  (For what it’s worth, GM chose the insulation route with their Quiet Tuning technology in their Buick brand.)

In my opinion, a more holistic approach would be better than Active Sound Control.  As in most cases, it’s better to treat the source than to mask the symptom.

Green (Car) Building

July 8th, 2009 Comments off

As with many industries these days, auto manufacturers are working on “greening” themselves – both in terms of the products they build, as well as how they build them.  Ford has earned recognition for their use of soy-based foam in seat-padding, instead of the traditional petroleum-based (and VOC-emitting) polyurethane foam.  Subaru operates its manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Indiana, so that it produces zero landfill waste.  Honda has experiemented with bio-fabrics for its upholstery, and won this years EARTH ANGEL award as the most environmentally progressive automaker, while Toyota operates under a “Global Earth Charter” which takes into account the environmental impact of all if its activities.  These are wonderful efforts.

Earlier this year, I was able to visit a few businesses in the San Francisco Bay area that are housed in LEED-certified, “green” buildings.  Similar to the initiatives by the automakers mentioned above, the design and construction of these buildings take into consideration the environmental impact, using renewable, recycled, and sustainable materials in the construction, as well as innovative design techniques such as the efficient use of daylighting and natural ventilation.  The obvious benefits are a reduced environmental footprint, as well as energy savings that result in reduced operating costs.  Another, less obvious, benefit is that these spaces make people happy.  Sure, an office-cubicle-farm-without-windows would be just as functional, but (and I may be making this up) studies have shown that a person’s environment affects his/her mood, and spaces such as these can actually enhance productivity.

I’m going to take this one step further: Can the design principles that we often see in green buildings be applied to vehicles?  Now, a vehicle’s interior is the ultimate in function over form, but if automotive designers could create calming spaces within our cars (within the constraints of maintaining functionality and meeting the myriad other safety requirements), might we be less likely to give Joe Sixpack the finger when he cuts us off during our morning commute?  As it is, many automotive interiors aim to give the driver the feeling of being strapped into cockpit of a fighter jet, blasting off to do battle with whatever enemy dares creep into our lane.

This thought came when I saw the floating center console of the new Volvo XC60.  Now, I’m not sure what it’s made of, but if I find out it comes from a sustainably grown bamboo forest, I will go out now and buy one.

Volvo XC60 Panel

Volvo Floating Center Console

Categories: Automotive Design Tags: , , , ,