Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: 2015 Ram ProMaster City Cargo

2015 Ram ProMaster City

In the last few years, the commercial vehicle landscape has changed. The traditional “work van” has been replaced by Mercedes Sprinters, Ford Transits, Nissan NVs, and most recently, the Ram ProMaster. Alongside these workhorses have come smaller compact commercial variants. The 2010 Ford Transit Connect was the first to hit our shores, followed by the Nissan NV200/Chevrolet City Express Twins. Ram is now also offering a smaller commercial van in the form of the Ram ProMaster City.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

2015 Great Pacific Northwest Microcar & Minicar Extravaganza: June 26–28

2015 Great Pacific Northwest Microcar & Minicar Extravaganza
There's a lot going on this week in the Pacific Northwest. While we'll be at the NW Overland Rally, another great event is the Great Pacific Northwest Microcar & Minicar Extravaganza, which starts June 26. Held each year in Forest Grove, Oregon at the McMenamins Grand Lodge, this event brings out some of the smallest, rarest, weirdest, and most awesome little cars you could possibly think of, and some you can't believe until you see. This includes From Autobianchi to Vespa; BMW to NSU—if it's small, it'll be there.

We attended the 2011 show and it was a hoot! And there's a fun video from the 2012 show, too. Hopefully some of you will be able to attend the 2015 event. It's a really good time.

INFO: 2015 Great Pacific Northwest Microcar & Minicar Extravaganza

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Persistent Project Car Problems


The Teal Terror, aka, project Suzuki Sidekick, has been a bit of a pain in the ass lately. I think it might be angry. It seems as if there is something that's been going on with it. Bad juju, gemlins, crappy luck—I don't really know what it is—but it seems like there's been one thing after another. None of them has been terribly bad, just annoying. Why do I have a feeling this is going to end up costing a lot to fix at some point? Let's hope not.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ford Focus RS Drift Mode

Ford Focus RS

By Scott Huntington

Chances are, if you're a gearhead, you were the type of kid who played video games like Burnout and Need for Speed. And obviously, the best part about those games was drifting your car around hairpin turns.

Now, with a dynamite car like the Ford Focus RS coming to America (sometime in spring 2016, that is), people like you should be excited. Why?

Well, besides the fact that it's just plain awesome—and we'll get to those details later—the RS will feature a "drift mode." So whether you're a seasoned track racer or a wannabe gymkhana expert, you'll feel like you're playing a real version of your video game.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Photos From the 9th Annual Mt. St. Helens Cruise

Ford Fiesta 1.0 liter EcoBoost

The 9th Annual Mt. St. Helens Cruise, put on by Subcompact Culture and sponsored by Scion, happened last weekend, and it was great. We had 127 cars, more than 230 people, and great times.

We met at Riverdale Raceway in Toutle, WA and headed up the mountain to Johnston Ridge Observatory for perfectly clear views of the mountain. Th weather was 85 and sunny—perfect cruisin' weather.

Many new friends were made, lots of cool cars attended (both subcompact and not), and there was even a little 1/8 mile drag racing at Riverdale Raceway!

A big thanks to Scion, Riverdale Raceway, and all those who attended to make this yet another fantastic event.

For photos, check out the Subcompact Culture Facebook page.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

May 2015 Subcompact Car Sales

May 2015 Subcompact Car Sales
May 2015's sales are in the books and if you were up, you were way up. Mitsubishi continued to surprise with strong sales in May. The Japanese automaker moved 98.2% more Mirages this May than last, and year to date sales are also up 73.6% to a total of 11,832 units. And while that may not be near the levels of the second-place Honda Fit (which was up 89.0% this month), it's overall sales are more than the MINI Cooper Hardtop and the Toyota Yaris, which come in third and fourth, respectively.

The volume leaders are in a close race for the most small cars sold: The Nissan Versa (which includes the Versa Note) is outselling the Kia Soul by just 623 units for the year! With the kind of monthly numbers these two cars put up, it could be anyone's game in the next six months.

With continually low fuel prices here in the U.S., small cars are a bit soft. The Scion iQ, in its last model year, is slowing exiting the picture, down 73.4% this month and only moving 64 units. This totals just 369 for the year—still more than MINI's odd Paceman is also way down to the tune of 51.3%. Chevy's hot Spark has cooled off for May down 47.7%.

Of the new-for-2015 models, the Chevrolet Trax has moved 18,844 units thus far, making it a strong seller. Jeep's Renegade is off to a good start having already sold 9,573 models despite limited availability. The newcomer to the list? Fiat's 500X, which is, of course, a mechanical twin to the Jeep Renegade.

So long as fuel costs remain low here, we can expect small car sales to be fairly tepid. That being said, it's interesting to see which models post big numbers.


Make/Model% May '15 vs. May '14Units May '15% YTD May '15 vs. May '14Units YTD
Mitsubishi Mirage98.2336973.611832
Honda Fit89.0634272.230965
MINI Cooper/S Hardtop (2DR)77.72141123.17071
Toyota Yaris54.3240137.09878
Ford Fiesta30.89426-3.927518
Buick Encore20.7540028.225023
MINI Roadster14.3144-1.9414
Chevrolet Sonic3.29067-28.529082
Kia Rio-8.03615-25.712415
Nissan Versa-10.0101210.856765
Kia Soul-11.013886-10.456142
Fiat 500L-13.01245-2.05546
Toyota Prius c-14.93763-4.116165
Mazda MX-5 Miata-15.3449-1.62214
MINI Cooper/S Convertible-19.5301-2.2996
Fiat 500-22.02614-12.013107
Hyundai Veloster-24.32249-26.49136
MINI Coupe-27.558-53.5159
Hyundai Accent-27.644283.129435
Nissan Juke-31.42625-47.912080
Honda CR-Z-34.3246-35.41088
MINI Countryman-39.21244-29.64469
Chevrolet Spark-47.72705-16.315552
MINI Paceman-51.582-41.0339
Scion iQ-73.464-64.1369
Chevrolet Trax570718844
Jeep Renegade44169573
MINI Cooper/S Hardtop (4DR)15034797
BMW i34063087
Fiat 500X88

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Will Lower Gas Prices and Low Profits Mean Fewer Subcompacts?

Do low gas prices mean fewer subcompacts for the U.S. market?

We recently reported that the 2016 Mazda2 won't be coming to the U.S. as a '16 model. The reason? Low gas prices mean lower demand for small cars, and subcompact cars often don't yield the profits of their larger cousins.

According to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report, the average price for a gallon of 87 octane fuel in the USA is currently $2.73. One year ago it was $3.65, and in 2012 it was closer to $3.68 (according to eia.gov). Because of this recent trend of lower fuel prices, people are buying larger vehicles that aren't as frugal. Frankly, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise—we've seen it happen before.

And while gas prices are one thing, subcompact cars have never been money makers, at least not big money makers. Many dealers only make a couple hundred dollars of profit off of them. This is one reason why you when you go into the dealer to ask about a subcompact car, the salesperson immediately says, "But for only a little bit more money, you can get into the [INSERT LARGER CAR HERE." Do you know how many times this scenario has played out for me?

TOYOTA DEALER
ME: I'm looking for a Toyota Yaris.
DEALER: We had one on the lot about 92 weeks ago. What about a Corolla?

CHEVROLET DEALER
ME: I'm looking for a Chevrolet Spark.
DEALER:No, no no. You want a Sonic! No wait, a Cruze!

KIA DEALER
ME: I'd like to check out a Rio.
DEALER: I don't think we offer those anymore. But come check out this Forte.

I hear enthusiasts always say, "Well, if they advertised the [INSERT SMALL CAR HERE] more, they'd sell more of them." Or, "I if they just kept more [INSERT SMALL CAR HERE] in stock on the lots, people could actually buy them." And while this is true, there isn't much motivation to sell product that doesn't have a lot of profit margin. However, in times of high fuel prices, they can sell more volume and get people into the brand. So in this scenario (e.g. the past few years), small cars make more sense to dealers. But with gas prices where they are, it's likely many dealers will have fewer subcompacts on the lot, making them harder to find—and harder to purchase.

While I'm not concerned about people continuing to buy larger vehicles—I'm not one to tell people what kind of cars to buy—I do wonder how it will effect the prospects of new small cars being offered here, assuming gas prices stay fairly low. We've seen Mazda's reaction, but will we see other automakers decide to skip the U.S. market when it comes to future small car offerings?

As our Canadian readers know, Canada is more willing to buy small cars, so I doubt there will be much of a change there. Canada will still get the Mazda2 and continues to get vehicles the U.S. don't have, such as the Nissan Micra.

Granted, the U.S.'s small car market is probably the best it's ever been with a host of outstanding small cars out there. However, could we see a slow drop off in subcompact car sales and popularity because of low fuel costs?

Monday, May 25, 2015

The 2016 Mazda2 Will Not Be Sold In The U.S.

2016 Mazda2 will not be sold in the U.S.

Mazda is saying the 2016 Mazda2 will not be sold on the U.S. market. Say it ain't so, Mazda! According to Automotive News, cheap gas and strong demand from other markets are two major reasons the soon-to-be-Mexican-built Mazda2 won't be headed north of the border.

A quote from Mazda U.S Senior Vice President, Robert Davis, says he'd prefer to focus on product that makes more profit for the company and Mazda dealers—a common issue with subcompact cars. He did, however, say the car will always be there if they want it. The car will be for sale in Puerto Rico, and therefore has already undergone U.S. safety standard testing.

Frankly, this is a bit heartbreaking. I was looking forward to the next Mazda2 hatchback a lot. I loved the last version. Yes, the Scion iA will be a Mazda2 sedan, but I don't have much interest in owning a subcompact sedan at this point. Undoubtedly, the Mazda2 will have great driving dynamics and will be the "driver's car" of the subcompact segment. However, at least for 2016, we'll never really find out. Well, unless you opt for the Scion iA.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Facebook Killing Online Automotive Forums?

Are Facebook Groups Killing Online Forum Sites

Online forum sites have been a gathering place for gearheads since the Internet has been able to have forum sites. Before the popularity of the modern forum there were online interest groups and mailing lists. In the mid-to-late 1990s, I even ran a message board about the Mitsubishi Expo LRV and I was a subscriber to the Nissan SR20DE mailing list. But in the late 1990s, I got hooked on online automotive forums. I loved the sense of community and interaction; the ability to have people help with problems or installations; sharing stories and photos. Frankly, I still belong to an embarrassingly high number of automotive forum sites as they're still a knowledge base for all things automotive. They can be information goldmines, although some require digging deep through online drama to reach the useful bits. Regardless, for more than 15 years, web-based automotive forums have long been the places to go for online car enthusiasm. But that might be changing.

Recently I noticed a drop in online forum participation on a couple of the sites I frequent, including Scionlife.com, Yarisworld.com, and Zukiworld.com. At first I didn't really think much of it. The Scion brand has been going through some changes; the Toyota Yaris isn't selling like it did in 2007, and Suzukis are a very niche brand, even more so since the company left North America. I decided to chalk my observed decline in activity up to those factors. That was until my friend, Justin, mentioned how he thought Facebook was killing online forums. It dawned on me that perhaps certain forum sites were being affected by Facebook's popularity, and not in a good way. While some forums may have setup a Facebook page or group to help their website get traffic, it could be adversely changing them. Suddenly I realized that Justin was probably right. It got me to thinking: Is Facebook killing online automotive forums?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: 2015 Jeep Renegade Sport

Colorado Red Jeep Renegade Sport

If there are two automotive trends that Americans are obsessed with, it is Jeeps and crossovers, but nary the two shall meet, right? As someone who works in the off-road industry (as my full time gig), I can tell you most Wrangler owners don’t want to have anything to do with the Renegade. “It’s not a real Jeep,” they’ll say. Let’s get this straight: The Renegade will never be a Wrangler; it was never supposed to be. However, the more Renegades Jeep can sell, the more likely it is the company will continue to finance the uber-niche Wrangler. OK, well I’m glad I got that off my chest.

To me, the Renegade is one of those vehicles I've been looking forward to since I heard rumors of a “baby Jeep” a couple years ago. We immediately thought it’d be a Fiat Panda. Then we figured it’d just be an all-wheel drive Fiat 500L. Well, it’s neither. Its larger than the European Panda and more capable (and better looking) than the 500L. Jeep did a great job designing this little rig, which is sold in a host of countries around the world, not just North America. And I’ll tell you this: It’s likely going to be a huge success.

Despite the Jeep brand having an image almost as American as the Statue of Liberty, the Renegade is actually made in Italy. (Hey, the Statue of Liberty was made in France.) It’s manufactured on the same line as both the dowdy (albeit super practical) Fiat 500L and the Fiat 500X, which is essentially a mechanical twin of the Renegade. Think of it this way: The Renegade wears blue jeans; the 500X wears khakis. They’re both pants, but with different looks.

Nearly all of the Renegade’s attention in the media has been focused on its Trailhawk trim level, which offers up most of the off-road goodies. Our tester, however, was the entry level Sport trim, although it was equipped with the optional SOHC 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed ZF transmission that’s standard on the Trailhawk. Yes, the Renegade is available with the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine and a six-speed manual in Sport guise, but our tester had the more powerful mill. This Sport model comes in either front- or all-wheel drive; our tester turned all four wheels.