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Friday
Apr222016

Le Mans 2030 and the Future of Racing

By Christopher A. Sawyer

From left to right they are Dave Marek, Acura’s Executive Creative Director, Doug Fehan, Program manager, Corvette Racing, and Ben Bowlby, the man who gave us the DeltaWing and Nissan’s radical but underdeveloped front-drive LMP1 racer. They were at the Detroit Athletic Club at Michelin’s request to talk about the 2017 Michelin Challenge Design Brief, designing for Le Mans in 2030.

Thus far, Michelin has nearly 1, 100 entries for a competition that will be judged this September in Austin, Texas. The event is open to participants from OEM design studios, independent design studios, individual designers, transportation design students and automotive suppliers. It is open to residents of any country and — with the consent of parents for those under the age of majority — to young and old alike. And yet here were these three men talking about their favorite Le Mans racers, and how technology may change racing for the better, or — if autonomous driving and risk aversion dominate — destroy it once and for all.

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Friday
Apr082016

Beyond Tesla's Model 3 Hype

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Model 3's upturned duckbill nose has drawn criticism, and may be changed.A few days ago, Elon Musk pulled the covers off the Model 3. From the media coverage, especially of the approximately 150,000 preorders for the supposedly $35,000 sedan. A number of media outlets stated this was proof that the American public not only was ready for a mainstream EV, but Tesla had discovered a rich vein of untapped demand in the general public for electric vehicles. A few even predicted this was proof that the internal combustion engine was dead, as were fossil fuels, and the future was one of charging stations and battery packs, not gas stations and piston engines.

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Friday
Apr082016

Never Eat Hamburgers in Manhattan

By William G. Sawyer

I stopped at a Manhattan bar for a burger and came out as Championship Auto Racing Team’s new Director of Marketing.

This isn't a joke. It was January, 1983. I was at a crucial point both personally and professionally; the start of an eighteen month period in which demons from my childhood threatened to destroy me-- and almost did. An inopportune time to stumble upon a job for which I still believe I was ideally suited. The personal part will remain just that. Suffice it to say I wrestled the demons to the ground, but not until after the CART job became history.

In many ways, Open Wheel racing was experiencing a similar struggle, although all appeared well. Five years earlier a team owner’s revolt brought the sport to its knees, a position it’s returned to several times since. By 1983 CART was relatively healthy in comparison to the current state of Open Wheel racing. Indy Cars, as they’re commonly known, were attracting reasonable crowds, television ratings were acceptable, and newspaper ink wasn’t the rarity it is today. Yet I soon realized CART was a house of cards waiting to fall.

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Friday
Apr082016

Bienvenue en Arrière, Peugeot!

By Christopher A. Sawyer

The PSA Group, the new name for the company encompassing the Peugeot, Citroen and DS brands, released its five-year “Push to Pass” strategy that will launch one new car per region, per brand, per year. This means 26 new passenger cars, eight new light commercial vehicles, and a new one-ton pickup. But what most took away from the plan was PSA Group’s intention to relaunch in the U.S. in the next decade.

Yes, the next decade.

Peugeot pulled out of the U.S. in 1991, 17 years after Citroen beat a hasty retreat, and had a corporate presence in the U.S. until 2013. It was not unusual to spot the occasional late model Peugeot running around the streets of Metro Detroit, much as Fiats and Lancias used to when Fiat’s only presence was a research lab in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Unlike Fiat, however, the PSA Group has no plans to take control of a bankrupt American automaker to support its return. (Or does it? See below.) Instead, it has laid out a three-stage program that will start with PSA Group’s entry into North America as a “mobility provider” in 2017. Which means it will run a car-sharing program in major U.S. cities.

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Friday
Mar112016

No One to Blame but Themselves

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Sales of Chrysler's 200 tanked when FCA management confirmed it would be replaced by more profitable crossovers.This is all getting a bit tiring… and boring. In one corner we have the team at Fiat Chrysler holding a meeting with its Fiat dealers, trying to explain how it will make them whole. In another corner, we have VW Group of America announcing that its leader, Michael Horn, is leaving “by mutual agreement”. Too bad nobody warned the dealers, many of whom expressed concern that it is just another sign of mismanagement by the leadership in Germany.

The common thread that runs through both these items is that neither company — FCA or VW — is serious about selling vehicles in the U.S., nor has any idea about how to fix its problems. They are the Keystone Cops of the auto industry, whose continual missteps continue to erode the  confidence of buyers on whom they must rely for salvation.

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