The automotive industry underwent a signiﬁcant transformation during the recession of the past six years. As the country continues to recover, sales have rebounded, but both the vehicles and the consumers who are buying them have changed considerably.
The explosion of new technologies has trickled down, changing vehicles at all price points. The rallying economy and new technologies in all phases of our society have changed consumer expectations.
Ford’s Jim Farley, who carries the lengthy titles of executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service, and of Lincoln, addressed the new look of the industry as the keynote speaker at the New York Auto Show, which ends its 11-day run at the Jacob Javits Center today.
He spoke of the new perception of luxury, the rise of women and Hispanics as consumers, the continuing focus on fuel economy, and the proliferation of mobile platforms and social media.
“Luxury no longer is deﬁned by price, size, and exclusivity. People are looking for luxury-level quality, performance, and features in smaller sizes and at more reasonable price levels,”says Farley.
Farley noted two trends in the luxury segment. One, a recent Luxury Institute survey found that 60 percent of the respondents now expect a fully equipped luxury vehicle to cost less than $60,000—a huge drop from the $100,000 price tag that’s standard on many luxury models. Two, small SUVs are the biggest growth segment in the luxury market with sales increasing 60 percent in 2012 and 200 percent over four years.
The face of the buyer is changing, too, with women outpacing men for the ﬁrst time in the United States, increasingly afﬂuent Hispanics buying luxury models at a higher rate than the market average, and millennials entering the family stage.
Mobile devices are increasingly part of the buying process and continue to drive the incar, connected experience.
“When your dashboard becomes a seamlessly connected screen, it becomes a more important, integrated part of your life,” says Brendon Kraham, Google director of global mobile sales and product strategy.
As for fuel economy, Farley says that “the torrent of best-in-class claims is starting to become noise. We are seeing more and more confusion as consumers try to make informed decisions. We have the opportunity to give consumers better and more relevant data to understand what they can expect in on-theroad fuel economy.”
Start-Stop for Stop‘n Go
I grew up in the age of carburetors and distributors that contained points and condensers with an ignition coil nearby. In those days, wheneveradriver sensed his or her engine stalling, it was cause for panic. Was it just a hiccup? Would the engine re-start? Had something burned out?
Over the years, a driver likely experienced both a “yes” and “no”answer to each of those questions. Cars of those days simply were nowhere near as reliable as today’s models.
Still, many of us have been hesitant to embrace the growing trend toward start-stop technology. Closing down the engine while at a stop is a bit hard to accept on a visceral level though it makes sense intellectually, economically, and environmentally. Those advantages are impossible to deny, especially in an urban area with trafﬁc congestion as bad as Boston’s.
Texas A&M’s annual Urban Mobility Report rates Boston among the 10 most congested US cities. It says that if only 10 percent of Boston commuters had start-stop technology, it would result in 2.9 million fewer pounds of CO2 emissions and 147,158 fewer gallons of fuel consumed per year in the metro area.
Ford is pushing the idea of this technology, which basically exists in luxury and hybrid vehicles, because it is a $295 option on the 2013 Fusion with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine, moving the technology into the mid-size segment.
Do you need all-wheel-drive? Increasingly, drivers think so. Thirty percent of Ford Escapes sold in the East are AWD. “Everyone expects AWD to do well in the Northeast,” says Ford analyst Erich Merkle, “but we’re seeing growth in other regions, such as the Paciﬁc Northwest. Even in the South, people are realizing that the technology works well on wet pavement and gives the driver increased control in many different conditions. … A tip of the hat to Village Honda (Newton), Honda North (Danvers), and Bernardi Honda (Brockton, Natick) as 2012 winners of the Honda President’s Award. All are multipleyear winners.… April Fool’s Day is never complete without Planet Subaru’s humorous contribution; however, the dealership’s “methane-powered, composting BRZ” model was upstaged by Subaru’s national announcement this year. The company made the tongue-in-cheek announcement that “bowing to continued media and internet speculation, Subaru of America has conﬁrmed it will launch an AWD twin-turbo, two-seat, convertible, diesel hybrid BRZ in 2015, essentially conﬁrming all media and internet rumors about the BRZ sports car in one fell swoop.” Runner-up was HondaHair, a spinoff of the just-announced Honda in-car vacuum option in the top trim level of the Odyssey minivan. The HondaHair is an imaginative takeoff on the Flowbee vacuum attachment that terrorized kids in the late ’80s and early ’90s.Bill Grifﬁth can be reached at WGrifﬁth@globe.com. Follow him onTwitter @MrAutoWriter.