Big. We all like big. Sprawling homes, blockbuster movies, Vladimir Putin's $50-billion Olympics. It may be trendy to say that small is the new big, but we settle for small only when we can't afford big.
And nothing is bigger than the car business. Last year, car companies sold 82 million light vehicles around the world. Canada saw a record number of new vehicles sold in 2013, 1.74 million, in fact.
The wares of the world's biggest industry are right there on the floor of the Toronto auto show, Canada's biggest trade show – where 300,000-plus visitors are expected. What better place to look for the big ideas of the 21st-century car business. Here are six:
1. No silver bullet for better fuel economy. Actually, car companies and their suppliers are taking the shotgun approach to achieving fuel economy gains. They're shooting at everything, all at once.
They're stripping weight out of new vehicles by moving to lightweight steel, aluminum and carbon fibre. Car designers are creating sleek, aerodynamic shapes to improve fuel economy, too. For instance, the sub-$14,000 Versa Note is a subcompact hatchback with a sport-car-like drag coefficient of 0.30. Even the taillights are vented to optimize air flow.
Power trains? Gas engines are using direct fuel injection to improve performance and reduce fuel use. The Toronto show floor is littered with hybrids, plug-in hybrids, diesels and pure electric cars. The auto industry is rolling out a buffet of power train options, including more efficient transmissions. There are many answers to the fuel economy riddle.
2.No more ugly cars. Sure, one person's beauty is another's horror. But in general, even cheapo models have some design flair – like the teeny, tiny Fiat 500 and the minuscule Nissan Micra coming to Canada this year. Car companies haven't just freed up their designers; no, they are counting on them to juice interest in models of all shapes and sizes.
3.Connectedness. Drivers, especially millennials, no longer want to be alone. So even starter models can keep you wired 24/7. Connected World magazine named these six its segment winners for having the right mix of safety, convenience and infotainment technology:
- Small: Dodge Dart (Uconnect)
- Mid-size: Infiniti Q50 (Infiniti InTouch)
- Luxury: BMW 5 Series (ConnectedDrive)
- Ultra luxury: Mercedes-Benz S-Class (mbrace2)
- Green: Tesla Model S
- Truck: Ford F-150 (SYNC)
4.Luxury brand explosion. DesRosiers Automotive Consultants expects the luxury market in Canada to hit 260,000 by 2020, up from just less than 173,000 last year. So huge growth. Premium players like Mercedes-Benz are moving down market to spur sales. The sub-$34,000 CLA sedan is one example. Mercedes and others are also going small in crossovers, with the upcoming GLA heading to showrooms, with more of the same coming.
5.Trucks can't be pigs. Ford's next 2015 F-Series pickup will have huge aluminum content, stripping out as much as 700 pounds or 318 kilograms. The Chrysler Group has introduced a light-duty Ram 1500 EcoDiesel pickup with the fuel economy of a mid-size car – 7.1 litres/100 km in a truck with 420 lb/ft of torque. General Motors' new Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra arrived last year with immensely fuel efficient gas engines. And coming soon, Nissan will have a new Titan pickup with a Cummins diesel.
6.No one dominates. Twenty years ago, General Motors commanded 40 per cent of the Canadian market. Last year, GM Canada had an 11.5 per cent share.
Ford of Canada was No. 1 with 18.4, while Chrysler was second with 15.2. Hyundai and Kia combined for 11.2 per cent, Toyota/Lexus 11, and a handful of others grabbed between 4 and 7 per cent.
Point is, today's status is not necessarily the status quo and can change by tomorrow. Kia is launching a new luxury model, the K900, and Hyundai is introducing the second-generation Genesis premium sedan.
Nissan says it will boost sales from last year's 82,000 to 100,000-plus. No longer is a single company in charge. Consumers are the winners.
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