It is time now for our annual forecast of auto trends for 2010 and the intervening years. Yes, you guessed it: how can anyone predict what lies ahead given the tumultuous year that just ended? Frankly, we agree which is why this forecast is based just as much on speculation as it is on cold, raw data.
Focus On 2010
The first few months of 2010 will bring into sharp focus much of what is coming for the remainder of the year. Indeed, several new product introductions are just months away from making their debut, important cars which will help redefine their respective brands and boost sales. Those cars include that all electric Nissan Leaf, the subcompact European designed Ford Fiesta, and GM’s world car – the compact Chevrolet Cruze.
But those models will also find much competition in their respective categories, which means that these and other models must have defining characteristics which help set them apart from the pack. The Leaf, for instance, will beat Coda Automotive and the Chevy Volt to market, but it’ll soon be battling with similar cars from Toyota, Mitsubishi, BYD, and elsewhere within the next 12-18 months. Nissan will need that head start because by 2015, mostly every major car manufacturer will be selling pure electric cars or a slew of next generation hybrids. (see Business Week: Introducing the Nissan Leaf Electric Vehicle)
Next week’s NAIAS will unveil a bevy of new models and concepts including an all new Cadillac model. We believe that vehicle will be the code named XTS, the large sedan scheduled to replace both the STS and DTS. If not the XTS, look for an all new Escalade to debut, a close cousin of the Buick Enclave. Cadillac’s CTS line, by the way, will be completed this summer when the coupe and various V versions of the line hit the market, giving America’s top selling luxury brand much to crow about.
Lincoln C Concept
Lincoln has been on a roll lately, most recently introducing its stylish MKT crossover to the market while welcoming EcoBoost technology. But Lincoln will not be stopping there: the brand will likely drop several aged models including the Navigator and Town Car over the next few years while bringing to market a car that has already been shown on the auto show circuit: the Lincoln C.
Yes, it is small and it is underpinned by the same platform powering the Ford Focus, but that is where the similarity ends. The Lincoln C will help the brand bring to market a true competitor to the BMW 1-Series with the midsize MKZ also seeing improvements over the next few years to compete against the BMW 3-Series. Yes, it will likely be called the Lincoln MKC, furthering Lincoln’s naming convention adopted a few years earlier. (see USA Today: Lincoln Concept car makes entrance at Detroit auto show)
Redefining, Expanding Buick
But let’s get back to new models which we’ll see over the coming months. The Buick Regal will be here before you know it, a car based on the Opel Insignia. This model is important for a number of reasons: it helps fill out Buick’s limited line up and it gives Pontiac loyalists one more reason to return to Buick-GMC dealerships now that the Pontiac brand is dead. By the first quarter of next year, the German built Regal will be built in Canada, reducing the costs associated with importing that model.
Kia has been enjoying a surge in popularity much like its Korean cousin Hyundai. But the most significant change for the brand will be UVO, its hands-free entertainment system based on Microsoft technology. Yes, Ford SYNC will have some competition as the Hyundai-Kia juggernaut was one of the first automakers to jump in when Ford’s exclusive one-year contract with Microsoft ended last year. SYNC helped fuel Ford sales and will likely do the same for Kia. (see The Truth About Cars: Kia Uvo Syncs to Ford’s Level)
Honda is not exactly a design leader, but they continue to build high quality vehicles with some of the best resale values of all. Next year, an all new Odyssey minivan will hit the market, as Honda fights back against the all new Toyota Sienna. But it is the automaker’s green car technology which will really make a difference for the brand going forward, as a modified Insight hits the market in the near future with hybrid and pure electric technology following on many models across the Honda and Acura line.
Chrysler Makeover Pending
If Chrysler lasts long enough, the beleaguered automaker may be able to set the market on its side by what it has in the product planning pipeline. The all new Jeep Grand Cherokee will show up this year, helping its SUV brand remain relevant and offer the lone bright spot for the company. But by year’s end, the Fiat 500 will be built in Mexico for select Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge dealers, a car that will give customers reason to show consider Chrysler in the first place.
Yes, much of what will represent the three Chrysler brands in the years to come will be based on Fiat technology which means that come 2015, most Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge products will be underpinned by its Italian benefactor. That is, if Chrysler can make it through the next 12-18 months in one piece.
Asia Comes Calling
Things get a bit more murkier when it comes to cars from India and China, two countries whose combined population make up 40 percent of the world’s consumer market. Both markets are still relatively young, underfunded, and technology deficient, but that’s beginning to change. As China’s Geely Automotive purchases Volvo and Tengzhong closes on Hummer, they’ll follow on what India’s Tata Motors has already done through Jaguar and Land Rover: purchase Western technology.
Mahindra will become the first automaker from India or China to sell its vehicles here when turbo diesel pick up trucks arrive. Those trucks will be followed by an SUV next year, with Tata promising to get into the mix by selling a western spec version of its super cheap Tata Nano.
Other cars from Chinese makes will eventually hit our shores, including Berkshire Hathaway financed BYD, but those models might be delayed as long as the US car market remains depressed. Consumers will not embrace a new brand if tried and true models offer everything they want in a car with a history of top build quality. (see CNN Money: Why Warren Buffett is investing in electric car company BYD)
Less Is More
The most obvious trend over the next three to four years has nothing to do with new models from new manufacturers or even hybrid or electric cars. Rather, it will be the introduction of smaller, lighter motors into engine bays, including families of four cylinder powerplants. Yes, that two ton sedan once featured a V8 with V6 power the latest standard.
But, car manufacturers in a bid to meet new fuel economy quotas will stuff I4 engines with direct fuel injection and turbochargers in a whole host of vehicles beginning this year with the Buick LaCrosse.
While the V8 won’t completely disappear it will be offered in limited numbers, as will V6 engines that will no longer be offered on most midsize and smaller cars. And transmissions of at least six gears will become the norm, offering yet another way for automakers to squeeze additional mileage from their cars.
Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company