Friday, November 22, 2013

2014 Mazda3 Ride 'n Drive Event: The Highlights



Mazda continues to roll out it's re-designed fleet of vehicles with the full suite of SKYACTIV Technologies.  As each new vehicle arrives, we (dealership personnel) get the opportunity to drive the vehicles on a closed circuit against their direct competitors.   Over the past year and a half, I have been able to test the Mazda CX-5 (compact SUV), the new 2014 Mazda6 (mid-sized sedan), and, most recently, the new 2014 Mazda3 (sedan and hatchback).  All these vehicles have been built on the new SKYACTIV platform and are definitely the best engineered vehicles Mazda has ever produced

Earlier this month, the 2014 Mazda3 Ride 'n Drive Event was held in Toronto where we got a chance to put the new2014 Mazda3 up against the Ford FocusVW Jetta, Honda Civic, and Hyundai Elantra on a demanding slalom course at the Toronto Congress Centre.  Click on the video link (above) to share some of the experience and excitement.

Unfortunately, I have not figured out a way to replicate this experience for my customers (other than to share the above video).  However, even on a more traditional test drive on city streets, the outstanding driving dynamics of the vehicle, show themselves. Already, reviews of the vehicle have been pouring in and they are all giving the car top grades.  For example, Road and Track Magazine awarded the 2014 Mazda3 Best Economy Car and said "You can drive it all day with a grin on your face. And you'll want to."




Sunday, September 22, 2013

Should You Buy a Hybrid Vehicle?

One bias I will declare right up front and it is that I have always considered a one-motor vehicle to be a more elegant engineering solution than a vehicle with two (or more) motors.  So, when you consider that a hybrid vehicle is one that uses both a conventional internal combustion engine (fuelled by gas or diesel) and an electric motor powered by a battery, it is going to take some convincing that hybrids are a better overall solution.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's focus on fuel economy and total cost of ownership.  The other factor is overall driving dynamics for which the early hybrid vehicles have received some criticism, however, let's address the economic arguments for today.  The "elegant" solutions I mentioned above would include 100% electric vehicles, gasoline, and clean diesel.  If we consider only gasoline, diesel, and hybrid options, we have one car maker with all three.

The Volkswagen Comparison

How about the recent study done by the National Post comparing three Volkswagens:  
  1. 2013 Jetta GL powered by a conventional, naturally aspirated (as in no turbocharger) gasoline 2.5-litre in-line five-cylinder
  2. Jetta Turbo Hybrid, powered by a 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder mated to a 27-hp electric motor
  3. Jetta TDI, with the company’s evergreen 2.0L turbo-diesel four-cylinder.
The official Natural Resources Canada rating for the gasoline Jetta 2.5L is 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and a more miserly 6.2 L/100 km on the highway. The TDI’s (turbo diesel) corresponding numbers ring in at 6.7 city and 4.6 highway, VW’s 2.0L turbo-diesel showing decent around-town economy along with outstanding highway mileage.  Still, the Hybrid trumps all, its 4.5/4.2 L/100 km ratings showing the efficiency expected in city driving for a gas/electric combo, but also better highway economy than the TDI, which is a little surprising. A hybrid’s electric motor’s added boost is usually most effective at low speeds and generally less efficient at highways speeds. Could Volkswagen have finally unlocked the secret to diesel-beating highway fuel economy?

Unfortunately for the government ratings and Volkswagen’s engineers (who continue to profess that the hybrid is more thrifty than their lauded oil burner), the answer is quite simply no.  In all National Post tests at steady-state highway cruising, the diesel trumped the Hybrid (and, naturally, the 2.5L gas engine).  Please note that all three cars were driven at the same time, tail-to-front, their cruise controls set to identical speeds.  Even at the lowest speeds, when they thought the Hybrid’s turbocharged engine might be at its most frugal, the TDI (diesel) always triumphed, though by a smaller margin.

For the record, with a speedometer reading indicating 100 kilometres an hour the TDI sipped 4.2 L/100 km, while the Hybrid consumed a still-economical 4.8 L/100 km. The 2.5L GL, unsurprisingly, trailed at 5.9 L/100 km.   And the faster they went, the greater the diesel’s advantage became (though the Hybrid hung in there better than other gas/electrics tested).

In town, the results, as expected, reversed. The 2.5L was left even further behind during the stoplight circuit, averaging 10.8 L/100 km during the Port Hope, Ontario, test run. The TDI, meanwhile, posted a still-credible 7.9 L/100 km, while the Hybrid’s electrical assistance proved its worth by sipping just 5.9 L/100 km.

What about the eco impact of hybrids?  What happens to the batteries?

The conventional wisdom has been that hybrid batteries have a short lifespan and are expensive to replace?  While the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in the current generation of hybrid cars would indeed be expensive to replace, costing at least a few thousand dollars, the reality is that most car manufacturers warranty their batteries for 8-10 years or 160,000 km. Since there aren't yet many hybrids on the road that have hit those lengthy milestones, it's difficult to ascertain how long hybrid batteries will actually last. Anecdotally, however, a cab driver in Vancouver drove his Toyota Prius 320,000 km in 25 months, and his car's batteries remained strong.

Average Annual Vehicle Operating Costs 

TravelSmart.ca recently calculated the annual costs of operating an "average" motor vehicle in Canada by using CAA data and a Toyota Camry travelling 18,000 kilometres per year with gasoline costing $1.23 per litre.  Here's how the breakdown looked:

Depreciation      $3,634
Auto Insurance  $2,667
Fuel Cost           $1,822
Repairs              $1,180
Financing Cost  $1,025
License & Reg  $   124
Total                $10,452

It seems clear that a Hybrid will get you lower fuel costs but what about depreciation?  Michael Vaughan at the Globe & Mail noted recently that if you go back to the 2008 model year and compare the gas version and the hybrid version of the Honda Civic. You would have paid more for the Civic hybrid yet the hybrid is worth less today than the gasoline Civic. The gasoline engine Civic has held onto 43 per cent of its purchase price while the hybrid only gets 38 per cent of its original value. Same story for SUVs. The 2006 Lexus RX gasoline engine SUV holds 42 per cent of its value while the more expensive hybrid only hangs onto 38 per cent.

Now let's take a look at clean diesel versus gasoline. The 2008 Jetta with gasoline engine holds onto 38 per cent of its value while the Diesel Jetta holds 48 per cent.  Big difference.  Now to the SUVs; let's compare the gasoline and clean diesel versions of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz M Class. Again diesel is the winner, holding 55 per cent of its value over four years as opposed to the gasoline version that only hangs on to 49 per cent.

If you want to go "green" yet come out ahead in the Depreciation Derby then it looks like diesel is your choice over hybrid.  It doesn't mean that one technology is superior to the other, but it does demonstrate what the market thinks.  Diesels are perceived by consumers as economical and reliable so they retain more value.  Hybrids, and one would assume battery electric cars, are more problematic.

Parting Thoughts

It's interesting to me (because I sell Mazda vehicles) that Mazda decided not to offer hybrid versions of their vehicles at all and instead, dramatically re-worked the engines (both gasoline and diesel) along with weight reductions to the vehicles that is achieving hybrid-level fuel economy numbers without the added weight and expense of that second motor and its batteries.  Other manufacturers are also discovering that re-thinking the gasoline and/or diesel powerplant is proving to provide similar benefits to the hybrid without the drawbacks.  The other options that have appeared recently include SKYACTIV (Mazda), EcoBoost (Ford),  and CVT (Nissan and others).  Almost all car manufacturers have developed (or are working on) a 100% electric vehicle which is looking more like the true alternative to the internal combustion engine (gasoline or diesel).


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Did YOUR Mistake Cost ME the Sale?

Pardon me if this sounds like a rant!  The intention is for it to be helpful and educational.  Now, I can handle losing business to competitors if the customer is making an informed decision and perhaps they like the competitive offering better.  However, occasionally, people make ill-informed decisions based on a friend providing advice that is inaccurate or by getting confused about what a competitor is actually offering.  It's not hard to understand how this can happen.  Perhaps it has happened to you

The truth is that the proliferation of automotive brands, models, and packages and strangely structured incentive programs by car manufacturers adds up to a confusing landscape of choices.  Lots of sales people use this to their advantage in a number of ways.  Frequently, the bewildered car shopper who set out to make an apples-to-apples comparison, is not sure what is a fair deal or whether they are getting screwed.  By the time the shopper reaches me and gets a complete and accurate explanation of the alternatives, they don't know what to believe.  And, here are a few reasons:
  • Low Balling.  In Metropolitan areas where dealerships of the same brand are a short drive away, the temptation to give a customer a "low ball" quote, as they leave the dealership without buying, is very strong.  The consumer visits several other dealerships seeing if anyone will beat the low ball number they have received.  Since no dealer can beat the number, they return to the first dealer only to find that the car was "sold?", was a different trim level than was understood, or it was based on a "cash purchase, not finance".  In short, there are lots of ways the dealer can switch the vehicle because he was never in a position to sell the original car at the low ball quoted price.  It was only offered to insure that the customer would return.
  • Cash versus Finance.  Usually, near the end of the model year, manufacturers provide 0% financing deals for extended terms (often as high as 84 months).  Since it costs marketing dollars to buy down the lending rates to 0%, the manufacturer saves money if the buyer pays cash.  Most of this savings is normally provided in the form of a cash purchase discount.  So the customer has the alternative to finance at 0% OR pay cash and take advantage of a discount for paying cash (which can be several thousand dollars).  It is not difficult to image how an unscrupulous dealer can have the customer thinking that they are financing the vehicle at the cash price.
  • Value of the Trade-in.  This is often an area of confusion because the amount that the dealer tells you he is giving for your trade-in may include a few things such as a discount on the new car (that the dealer would probably have given you anyway, i.e., without a trade), or a rebate or allowance from the manufacturer that the dealer is getting but not disclosing, or including the taxable savings on the trade, i.e., the government sales tax saved by combining the transactions.
  • Over Estimating Dealer Margins.  Most consumers (according to a recent JD Power study) over-estimate how much margin car dealers are making on a vehicle.  This sets up expectations of large potential discounts which cannot be realized.  I have seen customers leave the dealership because they believed the deal in front of them still had a couple thousand dollars available to negotiate when it was only a couple hundred dollars.  If you are determined to squeeze every last dollar out of the deal, you should subscribe to a dealer invoice service and offer to pay a fair amount above the dealer invoice.  The transaction will go smoother and you will get better service from the dealer.  In Canada, the most common services are CarCostCanada and UnHaggle.
  • Model/Trim Switch.  Models, trim levels, and sub-trim levels can be confusing  and each brand configures their packages differently so an apples-to-apples comparison is difficult.  I often meet with customers who have been shopping and are "sure" that a certain model/trim comes with heated seats when I know it does not.  Unfortunately, car sales people frequently misrepresent (knowingly or unknowingly) what equipment is standard and optional on a specific vehicle.  If you are confused, you are easy to switch.
Fortunately, the research is showing that more car shoppers are doing the bulk of their research online and visiting fewer dealerships before they buy.  This means they arrive at the dealership better informed and ready to do business.

Let me know if any of the above scenarios were part of your car buying process.  How did you handle it?

Monday, April 22, 2013

2014 Mazda6 Ride & Drive: What I Learned

One of the great perks about selling cars, especially a brand that you really believe in, is the opportunity to drive the vehicles every day and when new models come out, you're the first to experience them.  I have always advocated on this blog that you must drive the vehicle before you can make an informed buying decision.  And, more importantly, before I can sell a vehicle, I need to drive it (I mean really drive it) under more challenging conditions that my customers will encounter.  I need to become a believer and there is no better way to find out what is the true personality of the vehicle than to really put it through its paces.

As part of the training provided by Mazda Canada, I recently participated in the Mazda6 Ride & Drive training in Toronto which gave dealership personnel the opportunity to test drive the new 2014 Mazda6 on a challenging slalom course against its major competitors.  Unfortunately, I have not figured out a way to replicate this experience for my customers (other than to share the above video).  So, from here to the end of this blog post, please excuse my enthusiasm for Mazda's latest new product, the 2014 Mazda6.

Wow!   The Mazda6 Ride & Drive held in Toronto recently put the new 2014 Mazda6 with SKYACTIV-G (gasoline) engine and new SKYACTIV-D (diesel) engine up against the 2013 Ford Fusion, 2013 VW Passat, 2013 Honda Accord, and 2013 Kia Optima on a demanding slalom course at Ontario Place.  Click on the video link (above) to share some of the experience and excitement.

The new Mazda6 was awesome and the diesel version is definitely going to shake up the market (and a certain German competitor I'll leave nameless).  The Ford Fusion came closest to being a viable competitor (if you can handle the ultra techie interior).  The Honda Accord was a big disappointment on on all dimensions (I expected more from Honda).  The VW Passat was consistent but lacked any enthusiasm (that I expected from a German sedan).  The Kia Optima was a powerful handful to drive (when the traction control was turned off) but with TCS turned on (the normal condition), the car was unpredictable in emergency maneuvers.

One of the benefits of this kind of head-to-head comparison is discovering than not all safety systems are created equal.  For example, all vehicles now have an electronic stability control system, however, try each on a hard turn at speed and see how well (or how poorly) it keeps the car tracking true.  The level of sophistication of these systems is something that is hard to demonstrate on a normal test drive but some vehicles and brands spend the money for systems that work seamlessly (and some don't).  I can report that the Mazda6 worked so well that I always felt in control under all situations.

Driving a cross-section of the market's best mid-sized sedans on a test track was great fun and great education into how the various vehicles perform in emergency manoeuvres.  The fact that Mazda has the confidence in their product to put it up against the other competitors in such a venue gives me a great deal of confidence that no one is selling a better product in this class than I am.

Friday, February 15, 2013

2013 Toronto International AutoShow

Some may consider Groundhog Day as the first event signaling the approach of Spring but I see the Toronto International AutoShow (www.AutoShow.ca) at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre as the real indication that Winter is on its last legs.  The AutoShow opened today and runs until Sunday, Feb. 24th.  I spent some time there today and here are a few of the things that caught my eye:


  • HOT ROD - Canadian Builders Showcase.  For nostalgia buffs, there is always a great showcase on the 700 Level of the show.  This year, it celebrates that enthusiasm with a feature exhibiting original customized cars and trucks and the Canadians who built them. This exhibit is located on the 700 level South Building.  Every one of these pieces is an exquisite masterpiece of restoration and customization.
  • SPORT COMPACT EVOLUTION.  North American automotive enthusiasts have always been behind the movement of the Sport Compact car. It began in the 80’s where these little cars were tuned with chest thumping sub woofers and an array of accessories. You were cool if you had one and envious of your friends if you didn’t. With an exciting 30 year history, the AutoShow is presenting a rich and exciting automotive showcase that recognizes the transformation of the Sport Compact car from Revolution to Evolution. If you are (or were) one of those "tuner duds", you're going to love this showcase.
  • ECO-DRIVE SHOWCASE.  Because car companies in Canada and the US are mandated to get their fleet-average fuel consumption to 4.3L per 100 Km by 2025, every conceivable fuel economy technology is being  explored and implemented.  Electric and hybrids are only part of the solution.  It is nice to see that the showcase includes developments in conventional technologies because there's still plenty of life left in gasoline engine development as automakers rethink even basic principles.  The result is that every manufacturer at the show has one or more solutions to the fuel consumption and emissions challenge.  This showcase is on Level 800 and features the vehicles and the supporting technologies in this segment.
  • AUTO EXOTICA.  Exotics have always been a major attraction at the AutoShow and this year is no different. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, Aston Martin, Bentley, Fisker, Bugatti and Rolls Royce-- they're all at the AutoShow on the 100 Level along with the Cruise Nationals finalists. 
  • MAZDA SKYACTIV and iACTIVSENSE Technologies.  The Mazda stand was buzzing on Day One as everyone got a look at the new 2014 Mazda6 with the  full range of SKYACTIV Technologies as well as a range of available electronic safety features marketed as iACTIVSENSE Technologies,  There were also some cool interactive displays using holographs and "x-ray" representations of the various SKYACTIV Technologies.  Models being shown for the first  time included the 2014 Mazda6, 2013 MX-5, 2013 CX-9, and 2013 MazdaSpeed3.  The other big news at the Mazda booth was the 2014 Mazda6 SKYACTIV-D (Clean Diesel) (arriving this Fall) that Jim Kenzie said "might be the most significant car on display at the show".  He commented that "it might finally move diesel into the mainstream where it belongs".

There is lots more to see at the show including interactive displays and presentations as well as more vehicles in every category than you can imagine.  Every manufacturer has at least one jaw-dropping concept vehicle to show plus several innovations to feature.  It's a great opportunity to learn about the new technologies that are changing how the automobile impacts your life.  If you are in the market for a new car, the choices are virtually endless.  The Toronto International AutoShow is on until Sunday, February 24th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  I will be on duty at the Mazda stand (Level 3) on Saturday, February 23rd from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm so come by and say hello.

Check out the short video I did earlier today for a sneak preview: http://youtu.be/XQghpynXo9U

Monday, February 20, 2012

2012 Toronto AutoShow Highlights

The Toronto International AutoShow (www.AutoShow.ca) at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre opened on Friday and runs until Sunday, Feb. 26th.  I spent some time there on yesterday and here are a few of the things that caught my eye:

  • Triumph Classics.  For nostalgia buffs, there is always a great showcase on the 700 Level of the show.  This year, you can see 40 classic Triumph sports cars that cover the complete history of the Triumph Motor Car Company from the elegant 1935 Triumph Gloria Southern Cross to the Triumph Spitfire to the TR2, TR3, and TR4 "bug eye" roadsters that really launched the brand in North America during the 1950's and 1960's to the "wedge" version TR7 and TR8 of the 1970's and 1980's that corresponded to the takeover by British Leyland.   A number of car companies are trying to bring cars to market that capture the spirit of these British roadsters but it can probably never be fully realized.  Mazda has probably come closest with their Miata (now MX-5) launched in 1989 which brings Japanese reliability and workmanship that eluded the British sports cars despite their fun-to-drive character. 
  • Eco-Drive ShowcaseThe theme of the 2012 AutoShow is "The Next Dimension" and a new display area that explores what that might be is the Eco-Drive Showcase on the 700 Level.  Because car companies in Canada and the US are mandated to get their fleet-average fuel consumption to 6.9L/100 Km by model year 2016 (and down to 4.3 by 2025), every conceivable fuel economy technology is being  explored and implemented.  Electric and hybrids are only part of the solution.  It was nice to see that the showcase included developments in conventional technologies because there's still still plenty of life left in gasoline engine development as automakers rethink even basic principles.  The result is that every manufacturer at the show has one or more solutions to the fuel consumption and emissions challenge.  Last year, it seemed like the only solution being offered was electric-only vehicles or hybrid-electric.  Now it is clear that there are a number of other ways to get to the government mandated standards and some do not involve electric power at all.  Again, I'll mention that Mazda is defying convention by implementing a series of technologies they are calling SKYACTIV to achieve the mandated standards by rethinking how to design the gasoline and diesel engine.  It all makes things a bit more complicated for consumers.
  •  Auto$mart.  The Canadian Government's Natural Resources Ministry (which administers the fuel consumption guide) has a website that provides fuel consumption figures for all vehicles sold in Canada as well as a lot of great information on the various technologies and their advantages and disadvantages.  Check out the site at http://vehicles.nrcan.gc.ca.
There is lots more to see at the show including interactive displays and presentations as well as more vehicles in every category than you can imagine.  It's a great opportunity to learn about the new technologies that are changing how the automobile impacts your life.  If you are in the market for a new car, the choices are virtually endless.  The Toronto International AutoShow is on until Sunday, February 26th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  I will be on duty at the Mazda stand on Thursday, February 23rd so come by and say hello.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

SKYACTIV Technologies

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I work at a Mazda dealership.  Up until recently, when people came into the dealership and asked what Hybrid vehicles were available from Mazda, all I could say was we were working on Hydrogen using a rotary engine but nothing close to production-ready.  However, the set of technologies that Mazda is introducing this Fall under the SKYACTIV badge is something worth talking about and provides a viable alternative to the array of hybrid technologies now being offered by competitors.

In fact, almost every major car company now has a hybrid, full electric, or a fuel efficiency story regardless of the brand's positioning.  The Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are already arriving in showrooms now.  But Mazda has taken a different approach with its new SKYACTIV advanced engine technologies.   Mazda is positioning itself to be in the same category as the hybrids in fuel economy but with improved driving dynamics (and without many of the negatives that still plague hybrids).  Mazda was showing its next-generation highly-efficient direct-injection gasoline engine with the world’s highest compression ratio of 14.0:1 at the 2011 Frankfurt AutoShow last month as part of the launch of the 2013 CX-5.  

The SKYACTIV Technologies deal with improvements to all aspects of the vehicle to make it eco-friendly while improving on the fun-to-drive element of the ownership experience.  The three core areas targeted by SKYACTIV are:
  1. Engines.  Mazda has found that a lot of the wasted energy in a litre of gasoline (or diesel) can be put to use propelling the car by using direct-to-cylinder fuel injection, innovative piston head designs, an increased compression ratio, continuously-variable sequential valve timing, and a new 4-2-1 exhaust system to improve performance, reduce emissions, and reduce fuel consumption.  Mazda has decided it's too early to give up on the internal combustion engine!
  2. Transmissions.  For the SKYACTIV automatic transmission, Mazda developed a torque converter with a lock-up clutch that improves on competitive designs (including dual clutch, CVT, and conventional transmissions).  The result is a quick shifting, low friction transmission that minimizes noise, harshness, and vibration.  For manual transmissions, the objective was to produce a compact gearbox for front wheel drive drive applications that delivers the exceptional feel of the MX-5 (Miata) but with reduced internal friction and improved efficiency.
  3. Vehicle Structure/Chassis.  Through the use of high tensile steels, Mazda has been able to build an extremely rigid body while reducing the weight of the vehicle.  Reducing vehicle weight improves handling and efficiency.  The chassis bolted to this structure features new suspension geometry, shorter steering gear ratio, and new trailing arm positioning to provide greater high speed stability, excellent ride comfort, and improved braking.
 An important point to mention with regards to Mazda's SKYACTIV initiative is that this represents not only an eco-friendly project but a re-thinking of every aspect of the automobile.  While many manufacturers have introduced one or two special models such as hybrids and electric vehicles, the rest of their respective line-ups have remained relatively unchanged.  To its credit, Mazda has decided to take on the challenge of re-working its entire product line to deliver outstanding eco-friendly and safety performance to every customer without sacrificing driving pleasure.

The first of these SKYACTIV Technology vehicles begin arriving on dealership lots in late October 2011 in the form of the 2012 Mazda3 (sedan) and Mazda3 Sport (hatchback).  Other models will be transformed over the next couple of years.