This year, 2010, has become the year of the comeback and the bold promise, and these trends surely will continue into 2011 for the auto industry.
First, the comeback: The Chrysler Group, as we write this, is in the midst of launching 16 new or refreshed vehicles. Ford Motor, meanwhile, has become the world's most profitable car company. And General Motors just completed a successful share offering, managing to pay back billions in taxpayer loans and investment. The Detroit auto makers are definitely staging a comeback and how they are doing it is reflected in new models such as the Ford Fiesta subcompact and the Chevrolet Cruze compact - competitive entries in segments where Detroit has lagged the competition seemingly forever.
We've put both the Fiesta and the Cruze among the Cato and Vaughan Top 50 vehicles for 2010/11 for a good reason: They are both excellent. From Ford, we also like the 2011 Explorer for its fuel efficiency and its user-friendly gadgets and we like the Ford Edge for the simplicity of its voice-activated controls. At GM, the Cadillac CTS Coupe is arguably the best looking Caddy ever. What's happening at Caddy points to GM's emerging product story.
Next year, we think quite a few of Chrysler's latest offerings have a chance at making the list, too. Already, we're big fans of the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee, putting it on our Top 50 list along with the 2011 Dodge Journey. We're also intrigued by the 2011 Dodge Durango SUV and we're excited about the upcoming Fiat 500, to be sold out of selected Chrysler dealerships starting very shortly. The latter two look like early contenders for the 2011/2012 list. No question, Detroit is in the early stages of what could be an impressive return to across-the-lineup competitiveness.
As for bold promises, well, take the Volkswagen Group. VW CEO Martin Winterkorn and his lieutenants have made no secret of the Group's plan to become the world's biggest auto maker by sales no later than 2018. The plan has a name: Strategy 2018.
"The Volkswagen Group continues to have its sights firmly set on capturing pole position in the automotive industry," Winterkorn said in a recent statement related to the company's financial results late last month.
To get there, VW has begun designing and building vehicles specifically for the North American, adjusting the entire lineup to reflect not European vehicle tastes, but those unique to North America - to Canadians and Americans. Case in point, the 2011 VW Jetta.
At less than $16,000, the new Jetta is now price-positioned to go head-to-head against heavy hitters like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and our favourite compact coming into this year, the Mazda3. Meanwhile, the Golf hatchback has gone slightly up-market, chasing a marginally more affluent economy car buyer - if you'll excuse the slight oxymoron. Note: the Jetta and Golf remain the only thoroughly affordable cars available with a diesel engine option. So we have both in our Top 50.
Nissan Motor is another example of a car company making bold promises - and we're not talking about the LEAF electric car, either. The LEAF won't go on sale in Canada until next year, so we didn't even consider it for the Top 50. However, we're intrigued by Nissan's promise of innovation in all its models, not just the electric ones. Thus, we put the Juke mini-crossover on our Top 50 list. Love it or hate it, the design is bold, the direct-injected turbocharged four-banger is a gem and the price is right.
Toyota launched the youth-oriented Scion brand this year, insisting on its bona fides for the Gen Y set. We think the xB will prove more popular with baby boomers than any other group, though we could be wrong. No question the boxy xB is a perfect moving van on wheels and as we are both baby boomers with teenagers and twentysomethings in the household; we like it for that.
BMW of Germany is ready to embark on a major remake of its whole lineup. It starts in the new year with the X3 crossover. Meanwhile, the 3-Series, though a little aged now, remains one of the best rear-drive cars available. To juice sales, BMW Canada is offering special prices on special versions of the 3-Series. The deals on the 3 are worth a long look.
Minivans from Toyota (Sienna) and Honda (Odyssey) are impressive and are nicely priced. Mercedes has a great line of diesel-powered vehicles (the ML350 BlueTec, for instance) and we did not overlook racy rides like the Audi R8 Spyder, arguably one of the best gas-powered cars in history.
As we've done in the past, we have separated the Top 50 into easily understood groups such as vehicles for luxury lovers and rides for the urban cowboy. The prices quoted are for base models, though as we all know, real buyers will spend more almost without fail. We stayed with base pricing in an effort to keep the playing field level.
Here, then, is our latest Top 50. If nothing else, we hope our choices stir some debate.
Chrysler 200, Subaru Impreza and Outback, Suzuki Kizashi, Nissan Altima
Audi Q5, Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, Kia Sorento, Dodge Journey, BMW X3, Land Rover LR4, Ford Edge and Explorer, Chevrolet Equinox, Mitsubishi Outlander, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Infiniti FX 35, Lexus RX350, Mercedes-Benz ML 350, Acura MDX
Scion xB, Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Mazda3, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Golf, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Juke
Audi R8 Spyder, BMW 5-Series, Hyundai Sonata, Cadillac CTS
Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz S400 and R-Class, Jaguar XJ, Lincoln MKX, Audi A8, Hyundai Equus, Porsche Carrera
Buick Regal, Volvo S60, BMW 3-Series, Infiniti M37, Mercedes-Benz E350
Ford F-150, Mini Countryman, Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota 4Runner