Posts Tagged ‘Hyundai Sonata’

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The Toyota Camry: Still the one to Beat

August 19, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon

 

The Toyota executive was beaming.

He stood in the cavernous entrance hall at the New York Mets’ Citifield last August, in front of a glistening, redesigned, stylish Camry, the flagship of the company’s fleet and the nation’s best-selling mid-sized sedan. It had been a rough two years for Toyota and its personnel: lurid stories of runaway cars and stuck accelerators had eroded confidence in the company’s quality controls and the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami had caused thousands of deaths and seriously eroded the company’s manufacturing pipeline. Both events contributed to Toyota losing its hard fought status as the world’s biggest car company to a resurgent General Motors.

But the unveiling of the 2012 Camry was supposed to change that, to herald the start of a new, resurgent time for the Japanese car maker. With a flourish, the cover was whisked off the prototype model to appreciative nods from the automotive press.

And then, the Earth moved. Literally. And the walls shook. And the floor moved. And a panicky voice on the loudspeaker shouted: “This is an earthquake. Evacuate the building immediately!”

Toyota’s pre-launch media hoopla may have been lost in the aftermath of the major east coast earthquake which caused minor damage to buildings and major worries about the safety of American nuclear power plants. It was not the most auspicious introduction to the car that Toyota hoped would restore its luster as the one to beat in a field with strong competition from a resurgent Detroit and an upstart Korea. But as the car made its way to showrooms this year, it has proved to be as special as the company hoped it would.

“Toyota has done extraordinarily well,” said Alec Gutierrez, manager of vehicle valuation for Kelly Blue Book. “For the first seven months of this year compact car sales were flat compared to last year with an increase of just 1.4%. But mid-sized cars accounted for 18.6% market share in June, a 44% increase year over year. The surge in mid-sized car sales can largely be attributed to the strength of the redesigned Toyota Camry, which posted more than 32,000 sales in June alone.

“The mid-sized segment traditionally has been dominated by Camry and the Honda Accord. When they are redesigned there are so many people out there who will only buy from Toyota or Honda. The Camry until now was conservative in terms of styling. For 2012, they didn’t stray too far in terms of design, but it was upgraded in terms of fuel economy and is competitive with compact cars. They didn’t increase the price much and there is the Toyota brand loyalty. Anyone considering a mid-sized car is going to consider Camry. It’s the long standing reputation they built in terms of Camry’s reliability and long term desirability that keeps it in the top position.”

According to a national survey by KBB, the 10 best-selling mid-sized cars from January through July of this year are:

 

Camry – Sales 243,800. Up 40% over 2011

Honda accord – 183,800. Up 18%

Nissan Altima, 183,700. Up 20%

Ford Fusion – 160,200. Up 6%

Chevy Malibu – 153,800. Up 8%

Hondai Sonata – 138,400. Up 2%

Kia Optima – 86,500. Up 99%

Chrysler 200 – 78,400. Up 105%

VW Passat – 64,100. Was not available

Subaru Outback – 63,300. Up 6%

 

Gutierrez added that “Toyota has played a large role in the nation’s auto market in general, and account for 18.5% of all car sales this year, compared to only 16% last year.” The company is still in third place, however, behind General Motors and Ford, who’s revamped Fusion may threaten Nissan and Honda for the Number 2 spot on the mid-sized list.

But for the foreseeable future, the Toyota Camry is still the one to beat.

            To start understanding the allure of the 2012 Camry, take a look at the outside styling. It is still a family sedan, but now has an aggressive-looking, low-scooped, front grill similar to that of its sporty, costlier Lexis IS 350. It is a distinct departure from the sedate, conservative appearance of previous generations of Camry, with a face that is more grimace than smile.

At a glance of its side profile, the Camry’s styling is not as eye-popping as that of the drawn-in-America Hyundai Sonata. But Toyota has definitely dropped the laid-back look and opted for a more flowing, artistic design which draws the eye approvingly from that charging face, over the wide wheel rims to a flare at the rear. It is not a car that is sitting on its laurels.

Under the hood, the Camry has a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine producing 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough to let the Camry run with the best of the highway pack. The engine drinks regular unleaded gasoline, but is thirstier than one might expect from a Toyota. The Camry’s EPA rating is just 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 MPG on the highway. And if you opt for the less expensive, 178-horsepower, four-cylinder engine the Camry has an EPA rating of 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 35 MPG on the highway – which is about what you would get from a compact car like the Honda Civic.

If one is really looking to cut down on trips to the gas station, Camry has a hybrid edition carrying an EPA rating of 40 miles per gallon in the stop and go city traffic, and 38 MPG on the highway. The Camry hybrid has a 2.5-liter gasoline engine producing just 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. But it is mated to a 105 kilowatt electric engine that gives the Hybrid power plant a combined rating of 200 horsepower.  The electric motor’s 199 pound-feet of torque added to that of the gas engine makes the Hybrid significantly more responsive and quick – in taking off or passing – than the standard Camry with the big gas engine.

There are, of course, tradeoffs when one buys a hybrid. The combined power plant adds about $2,000 or more to the price of the car, which can be partially offset by cutting back on the options. In addition, the hybrid’s regenerative braking system uses the heat generated by the brake pads to make more electricity. As a result, Toyota Hybrid owners avoid having a large brake repair job five or six years down the road. So it may be more productive to consider a full hybrid system such as this one as a performance enhancement with a higher upfront cost but reduced carrying costs and less stress on the average budget.

           

            Aside from the gas mileage the differences between the standard and the hybrid models are slight. The rear seats in the standard Camry can fold down, thus enlarging an already ample storage area. In the hybrid version, that middle area between the rear seat and the trunk, however, is occupied by the battery, so the trunk is a bit smaller and the seats do not fold down.

Inside, the Camry offers the type of real wood trim on the doors, center console and dash that is usually reserved for more upscale, full sized sedans. The seats are leather, power adjusted and can be heated in the regular Camry. And though one may opt for cloth covered seats in the hybrid for economic reasons, these, too, can be heated, which is a boon in cold weather climes or if you’re just plain tired.

For entertainment, the Camrys are now part of the Toyota/Lexus Entune system, which lets you set up your musical tastes and folders on your computer at home and these are instantly available in the vehicle.  They come with AM/FM and Sirius satellite HD radio for standard enjoyment over 10 JBL speakers. In addition, there is Bluetooth connectivity both for phone use and playing music. The system also has connections for iPods, MP3 players and USB drives. There is also a CD changer.

The system can be controlled via fingertip controls on the leather steering wheel or through the seven-inch, color, touch screen, which also provides navigation and a crystal clear backup camera.

The fully loaded Camry will tap your wallet for $32,500, which is packing an awful lot into a well-designed package. It is not surprising that the Camry still sets the standard for all the rest.

 

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Road Running Investments: 4 Cars Worth More Used Than New

May 31, 2011


By Roger Witherspoon

 

            People contemplating potential financial investments are not likely to put a car on the short list of places to park their money for a year. Indeed, the standard mantra – though exaggerated – is that a new car loses half its value the moment it leaves the dealership.

But if you had bought a 2010 Toyota Prius Hatchback, a 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE, a muscular, 2011 Chevy Camaro SS, or the iconic 2011 Kia Soul, you could have made money putting it on the market after driving it around for a year. And that’s with serious driving.

The EPA considers 15,000 miles to be the average an American motorist drives the family car in the course of a year. According to Kelley Blue Book ( www.KBB.com  ), which tracks private party and Internet sales through sites such as www.Autotrader.com ,  a Prius (  http://bit.ly/lynbyq ) with 22,500 miles and an original MSRP of $22,150 is now selling on the private market for $24,705 – an increase of $2,555 over the purchase price. That’s a return of 11.5 percent, which is higher than the return Bernie Madoff gave his favored investors during the heyday of his Ponzi years.

The stylish Sonata sedan ( http://bit.ly/mtnAO4 ) with 13,500 miles on it, sells for $24,170, an increase of $855 over its purchase price of $23,315 for a respectable 3.7 percent return. The Kia Soul ( http://bit.ly/lGLbXz ) , which uses hip hop hamsters to hype its appeal to youthful buyers, held pretty steady with a resale price of $14,055 after 13,500 miles. That’s just $60 over the purchase price of $13,995, but its more than the Federal Reserve was paying on treasury notes during last year’s financial crisis.

And near the top of the investment list is an entry from Detroit, the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe, which left the showroom with a sticker at $$31,000 and after 8,000 miles on the road can now be sold for $34,000 – an investment return of 9.6 percent (http://bit.ly/mdRgHg ).

“In most cases a car is not an investment,” said Alec Gutierrez, manager of vehicle evaluations for Kelley Blue Book. “Over the last several years, however, used car values have been on the rise.  Part of that is a lack of vehicles available due to the economy and a reduction in new vehicle sales.

“Cars fit the classic definition of a depreciating asset. But with supply decreasing and fuel assets increasing, their value has been really strong.”

The domestic car market, Gutierrez explained, dropped from 17 million cars per year in 2005 and 2006 to a low of 10.5 million in 2009, a decline of nearly 40 percent. So there are far fewer cars on the used car lots. “The increases depend on the segment, however,” he added. “Overall, used car values are up between 5 percent and 6 percent. But the value of fuel efficient vehicles can but up anywhere between 15 percent and 20 percent, and we attribute that to the rapid rise in gasoline prices.

“The resale value of the Prius is definitely tied to gas prices. It has always been in demand, and even prior to the earthquake in Japan Toyota had only a 10-day supply in the showrooms. But it is one of the vehicles that consumers flock to immediately as gas prices rise.  We have seen demand for the Prius shoot through the roof, with some Prius values increasing between $3,000 and $4,000. And that goes for two, three, and even four-year-old Prius.”

The Sonata’s appeal, he said, has come from he termed its “phenomenal” new design (http://bit.ly/mzwk2z ).  “Even as it becomes used,” he said, “There is a lot of interest and it stays close to the MSRP. We see that from time to time when the design is great. The new Camaro has done well because of the redesign.

”The standard 2011 Camaro is selling $200 to $500 above sticker price and the convertible is really hot.”

            Hyundai spokesman James Trainer said that in addition to the design, the Sonata is offered as a standard sedan, or a hybrid or a turbo, and the hybrid gets 40 miles per gallon and the standard and turbo get 35 MPG. The Sonata is the only car in the mid-sized sedan segment that does not offer a V-6 engine.

“The competition – Camry and Honda Accord – have to be engineered to carry the weight of that bigger engine.  But our turbo-charged four cylinder engine, with 274 horsepower, gets better horsepower than any of the 6’s do.”

The resale value is also helped by Hyundai’s 100,000 mile warranty.

The Kia Soul, said Gutierrez, has benefitted from rising gas prices “and it’s a fun design. Nissan has tried to jump into that market with its Cube. That car is performing well, but the 2010 model is just about $1,000 below its MSRP. The Kia Soul is just more in demand.”

The reception of the boxy Soul comes as something of a surprise, particularly with its pants-sagging, hoody-wearing, hip hop hamsters comparing this odd-shaped Kial to standard boxes and toasters (  http://bit.ly/mCKQx3 ). “The car was targeted equally at male and female Gen Y consumers in their mid-20s who are looking for their first car,” said Michael Sprague, Kia’s vice president of marketing.

“We positioned the Soul to break out from the ordinary and offer a new way to roll.  Our creative agency, David and Goliath, came up with the concept of hamsters who were on the wheel and broke out of that cycle. We thought it was great imagery to convey that you don’t have to buy the traditional little compact car out there. You can have this really cool car instead of one of the other boxy cars.

“A lot of parents are putting the money down and buying it for their children, with the children making the ongoing installment payments.”

Kia has also found that a large portion of their sales are to senior citizens, who are still active and like its price, interior spaciousness and the fact that it is easy to get into and out of.

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Something New from Koreans on the Left Coast

October 26, 2010

By Roger Witherspoon

 

The man in the parking lot walked slowly around the Sonata, pausing occasionally to run his hand along the long, low, sloping front hood and arcing crease splitting the side form fender to fender.

He was tall enough to look through the open sunroof and gaze at the leather seats, the ample room in the rear for his six-and-a-half-foot frame, and the note the easy flow of the interior lines. I asked him if he would like to see how he fit in the back, and he eagerly slid inside. The seats actually sloped downward and the ceiling curved up, providing far more head room that would appear possible in the sport sedan.

He broke the silence by stating “I find it hard to believe this is a Hyundai. I thought they just made little boxes. Did they team up with Lexus or Mercedes or something?”

“No,” I replied. “They set up a west coast design shop and started turning out cars they hope Americans will like.”

“Well,” he said, “they’ve got my attention.”

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata sedan is a significant departure from the types of cars historically produced by the Korean car company, which were high on economy, competent on technology, and low on styling. The company long languished in the deep shadows of their Asian neighbors at Toyota/Lexus, who also started out with inexpensive, boxy cars but went on to become the world’s largest auto maker with a reputation for style, quality, and performance.

Hyundai, however, did not intend to wait 40 years emulating Toyota’s slow, upward climb and opened a design studio on the Left Coast with simple marching orders: compete on the showroom floor with Lexus and Mercedes.  They started with the eye-catching sports car, the Genesis Coupe, which was slick enough to win a spot as one of Jack Bauer’s chase cars in the final episode of “24.”

But then it was time to move up to family level with a car that would cost less than a Toyota Camry or Ford Fusion, but easily share a mirror with a Lexus. The mid-sized sedan is a tough market, dominated by the Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Fusion, and Chevy Malibu. The Koreans were nowhere to be seen in this niche.

Leading Hyundai’s charge into the sedan market is the Brother from the Other Coast, designer Andre Hudson, whose sketch pad produced the Sonata. The car, with a sticker price under $29,000, has its own distinct look, with wavy lines that flow the length of the car, vaguely resembling lines drawn on a sandy beach by the meandering tides.

“That’s the whole idea behind what we call fluidic sculpture,” explained Hudson. “The wind shapes the sand as you sit on a beach. And when you see sand dunes, you see a beautiful line, shifting when the wind moves. You see the same beautiful patterns in new snow drifts as the wind blows the snow around.  You get these beautiful formations with hard snow ridges and soft forms in between.

“Fluidic sculpture is our vision of that art form that is derived from nature. From that you get a lot of natural arcs and lines, which is nice to look at and has a flowing feel to it, even when still.”

Under that graceful hood is a four cylinder engine cranking out just 198 horsepower and mated to a six-speed, automatic transmission. That’s not a racing engine, the 0 – 60 miles per hour time is about eight seconds. But on a small sedan, it is more than enough power to push the car to about 150 miles per hour and give the Sonata a sporty feel, particularly in the electronic manual mode utilizing the wheel-mounted paddle shifters.  In addition, the Sonata’s power plant is more powerful than the Camry and Malibu engines with 169 horsepower, or the 175 horsepower engines in the Fusion, Accord and Altima.

The Sonata also packs a lot inside, and the Korean sedan includes a number of items usually sold as separate add-ons. The steering wheel is leather, for example, as are the seats and padding on the doors and dash. The front seats are powered and heated, and the rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split. The entertainment system includes AM/FM and XM satellite, as well as HD broadcast radio, a single-disc CD player, and connections for iPod and MP3 players and USB drives. There is an eight gigabyte hard drive to store 1,000 or so of your favorite jams. The navigation system has an easy to use, 6.5-inch, touch screen, which also provides a wide view for the sharply focused backup camera. And there is a Bluetooth cell phone connection that is standard with all models.

Whether the Sonata, with its fluidic sculpture look is slick enough to slide into the crowded mid sized sedan market – or remains an extremely attractive also-ran – remains to be seen. But the Japanese and Detroit auto makers would do well to look over their shoulders.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Ltd.

MSRP:                                                                       $28,415

EPA Mileage:                        22 MPG City                          35 MPG Highway

Performance / Safety:

2.4-Liter, direct injection, 4-cylinder, aluminum engine producing 198 horsepower and 184 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode and paddle shifters; MacPherson strut front suspension; Independent multi-link rear suspension; power assisted disc brakes; electronic brake assist; stability and traction control; 17-inch alloy wheels; rear backup camera; fog lights;  front, side impact, and side curtain air bags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; navigation system with touch screen and XM traffic and weather; iPod, MP3 and USB port connections; single disc CD player; 400-watt Infiniti audio system with 6 speakers; 8-GB hard drive; leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls; leather, power adjusted, heated front seats; fold flat rear seats with 60/40 split.

 

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Doodling Sports Cars: The Art of Andre Hudson

August 13, 2010

By Roger Witherspoon

From the perspective of a Denver middle school teacher, grading papers from Andre Hudson was a chore.

“Like a lot of kids,” the 33-year-old designer recalled, “I was always doodling on assignments and the teachers were not quite happy when I turned papers in with sketches of people and cars and boats on them. I never really imagined that you could make a career doing something like that.

“Then somebody gave me an automobile magazine since I had always loved cars. There was a sidebar story on Chrysler design and a story about a designer that had worked on the Dodge Viper concept. I was blown away. Somebody’s job is to go in and draw and design cars! I had never thought about it. Wow! This could be an amazing thing to do! That’s why I consider it a blessing to be able to do what I do for a living.”

Whether or not Black artists could do that for a living is a question the young Hudson didn’t ask. His middle school guidance counselors had no idea what it took to get involved in automotive design, or where to go for practical guidance. So Hudson went home and composed a letter to Bob Lutz, then at Chrysler Design, saying he was about to enter high school and wanted to know what it took to be a car designer.

“I would love to work for your guys at some point,” Hudson wrote. “I loved aircraft and cars and could you please enlighten me as to what I need to do to pursue a career?”

Three months later, young Hudson got home from school and found a letter from J.E. Hurlitz, then vice president of product design, stating the company was “thrilled with your excitement and willingness to work with us.”  If Hudson attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and earned a degree in industrial design he could join the Chrysler design team.    Three years later, Hudson graduated from high school, packed up, and headed for Detroit, unaware of the downward spiral of the Motor City.

“Imagine the shock of this Colorado kid packing up his dodge shadow and rising out of I-94 corridor into downtown Detroit thinking where have I come to?” Hudson recalled.  “That neighborhood was abandoned and there were barrels with fires burning in them. It looks like I have landed on the set of Robocop.”

But College was a different world. This was the study of utilitarian art in motion. To designers, a car is a form of performance art and those who appreciate your work buy replicas to take home.

“Cars are a very emotional product,” he explained, “and as a designer of cars, they are extensions of you. Trains and aircraft and other types of transportation are more engineering than design driven and, therefore, the attachment is not quite that emotional.

“There is much more freedom of expression in vehicle design, and it’s what made the connection with me as an artist.”

In his junior year, he received a summer internship with Chrysler. But his work brought him to the attention of Ed Welburn, a design executive at General Motors, who hired him when he graduated.

Welburn, who would eventually become vice president of global design at GM, mentored Hudson, steering him through several projects as he grew as a design professional.  “I worked on several concept cars,” he said. “Your dream is to do that because you can get those dreams out on the turntable at shows.  But as you mature you realize the importance of not only getting the cover of a magazine for a month or two, but working on a product that you can see in your neighbor’s garage or your parents’ garage.

“It’s been a quest to hone my skills and put out products that my friends and family can drive.”

His seven-year journey through GM’s design system had the young Hudson working on big SUVs including the Chevy SSR and Hummer H3, as well as the slick, Saturn Sky roadster. He had a three month assignment in GM’s design shop in Coventry, England, which stretched to three years.

Hudson was eager to see the world, and looked forward to working in other GM design studios. But then, the Koreans came calling.

“I was intrigued with Hyundai,” he said. “They were on this mission to become much more – perception wise – than the staid company they had been. I was intrigued with the idea of becoming part of a company going through that growth process.

“Hyundai was up and coming and moving quickly. I felt it was time for something new for me.”

Hudson left GM to become the senior designer at Hyundai’s new studio in Irvine, California where he was to come up with a model for a new sports car. He came up with a head turner called the Genesis Coupe which, he said, “was a first for the new Hyundai.     “The company said we know we are building cars that are competent and highly rated in safety. But we are not stepping gout aesthetically to establish who we are. The Genesis was to say we are not copying or mimicking anyone. We are standing alone. We are ready for this.”

The Genesis was striking enough to earn a television debut as the high speed escape vehicle of Jack Bauer in the last episode of the adventure series “24.”           (  https://rwshiftinggears.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/rolling-with-the-road-runners/ )

In his five years with Hyundai, he said, “the biggest culture shock was the speed at which this company moves. I have worked on twice as many projects at Hyundai as I would have worked on at GM.”

Cars resulting from Hudson’s professional doodling which may now be found in neighborhood garages include the Elantra and Azera sedans, and the 2011 Sonata, now hitting Hyundai show rooms.

“The last generation Sonata was very conservative,” said Hudson. “It would blend into a parking lot if you went to a mall and tried to find your car. With this car we sought to establish ourselves as design leaders. We looked at what it was going to take to make an attractive and competitive design with its own distinct language. We didn’t want people saying we were making knock-offs of Toyota or BMW.

“The romance of many cars in the last decade or two has been lost to a very architectural, tectonic, product-like feel.  With the Sonata, you notice it has a three dimensional feel. Just as Ed (Welburn) use to say a car is the largest piece of sculpture working people will buy – that is true of the Sonata. You can follow a single line from the bottom of the grill through the hood, up the rail, across the roof and down the tail end. There is a beautiful inter weaving of details on the car. We call it fluidic sculpture.”

Whether the new Sonata catches on with upscale motorists remains to be seen. In the meantime Hudson, with his dream job and colored pencils, continues doodling.

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