Archive for the ‘Dealers’ Category


Car sales are always a good barometer of the economy, and if that’s true, the outlook or at least the anticipated outlook for 2013 is good. According to the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA), new vehicle sales for 2012 were up 25.3% over 2011, exceeding a whopping 1.6 million units (including fleet sales).  Compare that to a nationwide increase of 13.4%.  Go California!

A couple weeks ago, headlines around the country trumpeted (or jeered, depending on your perspective), that the Toyota Prius was the number one selling vehicle in California in 2012.  How many? An impressive 60,688 – more than the entire population of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  You could practically feel the derision and scorn aimed at California from “real Americans” who only buy big pickup trucks and SUVs. Those damn socialist, communist, tree huggers, over-zealous environmentalists and car-haters in California.  How dare you choose a Japanese-made hybrid over an American pickup truck!

2013 Toyota Prius in the top trim level - Five.

2013 Toyota Prius in the top trim level – Five.

I think the Prius’ crown makes sense and here’s why: Gas is expensive in California – more than most of the rest of the country – and the Prius delivers the best fuel economy for the dollar.  For the vast majority of buyers, whether they admit it or not, it’s a pocketbook issue. Aside from economics, you can pretend to (or actually) care about the environment and brag about how little you spend on gas.  It’s also a class-less car.  You will see people of all socioeconomic levels driving a Prius — from a wealthy Hollywood star to one of the below-the-line staffers on a television show.

The 2013 Toyota Prius v ("v" for versatility) has more cargo capacity and a wagon-like tailgate.

The 2013 Toyota Prius v (“v” for versatility) has more cargo capacity and a wagon-like tailgate.

The whole Prius ethos is wrapped up into a simple, right-sized, easy to drive transportation appliance that people love. We have one in our family and it functions exactly as advertised. It is very reliable and requires almost no driving skill to glide through daily activities and gets a relatively consistent 40 mpg (never the 50 mpg claimed).

Top-Selling Vehicles in California versus Top-Selling Vehicles in the U.S. for 2012 (source:CNCDA)

However, for us in Los Angeles and the other large metropolitan areas that dot the beautiful coast of California, this isn’t surprising. You can’t throw a stone in any direction without hitting one.  And in 2012, the Prius family grew to three models: The standard Prius hatchback, the compact, Yaris-based Prius-C and the larger Prius-V wagon.  We are used to the creepy “silence” a Prius makes as it rolls along before the gas engine kicks:  There is that vague electric hum (like you hear from a transformer) and the subdued road noise from the low-rolling resistance tires as if someone was pushing a stalled car.

The Prius c ("c" for compact) was introduced in the first quarter of 2012 and was an instant hit from the beginning, despite tepid reviews. It's based on the humble Yaris.

The Prius c (“c” for compact) was introduced in the first quarter of 2012 and was an instant hit from the beginning, despite tepid reviews. It’s based on the humble Yaris.

This isn’t to say that our former favorite car, the Honda Civic, didn’t do very well, despite being dropped from Consumer Report’s “Recommend List” for the first time in memory and receiving near-universal scorn from the automotive press. When I drove the 2012 Honda Civic in 2011, I piled on the poor Civic calling it a second-rate, noisy econobox.  But as you can see by the graphic above, Honda Loyalists didn’t abandon their favorite car and still bought 57,124 units.

Honda execs, horrified by the merciless criticism, rushed a heavily-revised 2013 Civic to market in 18 months. I predict it will be a close race between the Prius and Civic in 2013.

The heavily revised 2013 Honda Civic is sure to outsell the 2012 in 2013.

The heavily revised 2013 Honda Civic is sure to outsell the 2012 in 2013.

Apparently we also like cars better than trucks. In California, in 2012,  passenger cars accounted for 62.9% of sales; SUVs 24.3% and pickups and vans, 12.7%.  Compared to the entire country where passenger cars accounted for only 51.6% of total sales.

In 2012, hybrid registrations were 98,154 (a 7.4% of the market) and 2996 electric cars were registered (0.2% of the market) mostly Nissan Leafs, with a few Teslas thrown in.  The Tesla Model S is growing in popularity.  Just yesterday, on my short drive home from the gym, two of them passed me.  And last week in Venice, I saw a brand new Model S parked on (appropriately) Abbot Kinney.

The very sexy and very fast 2013 Tesla Model S

The very sexy and very fast 2013 Tesla Model S

Toyota and Honda still dominate our market. Below is how the various manufacturers divvy up the highly-lucrative California market:

  • Toyota (including Scion and Lexus) grabbed the lion’s share at 21.1%
  • Honda (including Acura) 12.5%
  • Ford (including Lincoln), 11.3%
  • GM (Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac), 11.2%
  • Nissan (including Infiniti), 8.3%
  • Hyundai/Kia 8.3%
  • Chrysler (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, SRT and Fiat) 5.5%
  • VW (Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche. Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti) 5.5%
  • BMW (Including MINI and Rolls-Royce) 4.5%
  • Mercedes-Benz (including smart and Sprinter light trucks) 4.1%
  • Other 6.7%

The rising star in California is Hyundai’s twin, Kia, with sales up a whopping 53.3% in 2012.  And a  little car company whose sales are part of the “other” rounding category, Subaru, had a stellar year with sales up 44.2%.  Volkswagen, in its march to conquer the world, saw its California sales increase 37.9%.

Broken down by region, in 2012, L.A. and Orange Counties accounted for 522,256 (approximately 40%) of the total 1,310,720 (retail, excluding fleet) new car registrations.  Southern California (including Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Diego counties) accounted for 67% or two thirds of all registrations. That makes sense given the vast freeway systems, long distances and lack of good public transportation.

California top-selling vehicles, by segment were:

Entry Level: Nissan Versa, Kia Soul, Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta

Subcompact: Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla/Matrix, VW Jetta, Hyundai Elantra

Sporty Compact: Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Scion tC, Hyundai Veloster

I don't quite think of the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro (in ZL1 Convertible trim in this picture) as a "compact" sports car... But that's how it's categorized.

I don’t quite think of the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro (in ZL1 Convertible trim in this picture) as a “compact” sports car… But that’s how it’s categorized.

Standard Mid Size: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima

Large Mid Size: Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima, Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon

Near Luxury: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Infiniti G, Lexus ES, Lexus IS

Luxury: Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-series, Lexus GS, Audi A5, Audi A6California Auto Outlook Q4 2012 2014 Mercedes Benz E-class sedan

Sports Car: Porsche 911, Nissan 370Z, Chevrolet Corvette, Mazda MX-5 Miata, BMW Z4

Compact Pickup: Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, Honda Ridgeline

Full Size Pickup: Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram, Toyota Tundra, GMC Sierra

The Ford F-150 pickup truck and all its derivatives has been the best-selling vehicle in the US for more than 20 years.  This model is the SVT Raptor, an expensive performance upgrade to the standard F-150.

The Ford F-150 pickup truck and all its derivatives have been the best-selling vehicle in the US for more than 20 years. This model is the SVT Raptor, an expensive performance upgrade to the standard F-150.

Minivan: Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Dodge Caravan, Nissan Quest, Mazda5

Full Size Van: Ford E-Series, Ford Transit Connect, Chevrolet Express, Sprinter, Nissan NV

Compact SUV: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Nissan Rouge, Jeep Wrangler

Always a big seller and favorite in both California and in the whole US, the Honda CR-V seems to hit the sweet spot of the compact SUV market.

Always a big seller and favorite in both California and in the whole US, the Honda CR-V seems to hit the sweet spot of the compact SUV market.

Mid Size SUV: Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento

Full Size SUV: Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Ford Flex, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Traverse

Luxury SUV: Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class, Acura MDX, Mercedes GLK

The Lexus RX350 is forever popular in Los Angeles. This one is the F-Sport model with some subtle changes to the grille and body cladding.

The Lexus RX350 is forever popular in Los Angeles. This one is the F-Sport model with some subtle changes to the grille and body cladding.

You can download the full California Auto Outlook, Fourth Quarter publication here.

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I’m not usually at a loss for words when it comes to cars and dealerships.  When I went to a nearby Audi dealer to test the 2013 Audi Allroad, I wasn’t prepared for the salesman to tell me that he didn’t want me to drive the car.  Even when I pressed the point, I was turned down.

Chris Hemsworth from the 2011 movie Thor – The God of Thunder.

As background, the last time Audi sold an Allroad/Allroad quattro in the United States was for the 2001 – 2005 model years.  The first-generation Allroad was based on an A6 Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) with added ride height, some body cladding and a choice of a 2.7 L turbo V6 or Audi’s 4.2 L V8.

2005 Audi A6 Allroad quattro V8

These were ruggedly-handsome wagons – think Chris Hemsworth (Thor) with  a five day beard – that occupied a grey zone between an normal wagon and an SUV.  At the time, Audi didn’t offer an SUV in the very SUV-friendly U.S. market and Audi dealers were champing at the bit to offer something to the Aspen, Long Island or image-conscious LA customers who wanted an Audi with a better view of the road and a small amount of soft-road capability.

Today, Audi offers the Q5 and Q7 SUVs with a Q3 coming in a couple of years, so Audi didn’t see the need to continue offering wagons in the U.S. It discontinued the A6 Avant quattro in 2011 and the A4 Avant quattro in 2012.

For the 2013 model year, Audi reintroduced the Allroad quattro in the form of a pumped up A4 Avant rather than the larger A6 format. Audi’s website makes the “a” in Allroad small, perhaps to let you know it won’t really go on any road. You should stick to paved roads or perhaps a packed dirt road — but not a muddy bog.  Think light snow on a plowed road. Coiffed, calculated scruffy not rugged.

The 2013 Audi A4 Allroad quattro

The rear of the 2013 Audi A4 Allroad quattro is nicely styled. The rear kick plate is really more for show than for fending off boulders.

The Allroad is only 1.5 inches higher than the standard wagon, but the Allroad package makes for a handsome styling exercise. It wears a 360 degree belt of hard plastic body cladding, including the wheel arches, running boards and front and rear lower bumper scrape zones. It sports a unique, nicely-detailed Audi corporate grille with the four interlocking Auto Union rings properly centered.

The large grille featuring some delicate vertical chrome detail and the new headlights with complex LED eyeliners that form a continuous line of light rather than individual points of light.

I was allowed to sit in the car – that’s  as far as I got.   The interior is lifted entirely from the A4 sedan, which is a good thing. Nobody does mass-market auto interiors as well as Audi, and the Allroad is no exception.  Fit, finish and quality of materials is top notch.

The cockpit of the 2013 Allroad is very buttoned down and proper with luxurious trim pieces. The layered Oak Wood inlays are a nice touch.

Like the A4, the rear seats don’t give a bigger person much leg room (thigh support is marginally-better than the usual fare in this category) and I was disappointed that they seats don’t fold exactly flat.   I’d also like a pop-open rear glass, but only BMW thinks that’s a handy feature.

The Audi A4 Allroad had a decent amount of cargo space that is easy to load. I wish the seats folded completely flat, but it won’t matter in most situations. Cargo space is about the same in its cousin, the Audi Q5 SUV.

The Allroad costs thousands more and has less cargo space that its cousin, the Q5 (also based on the A4 platform).  So it’s really a “lifestyle” vehicle, all dressed to impress.

The Allroad offers only one drivetrain: Audi’s ubiquitous 2.0L direct-inject turbo four cylinder engine making 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a ZF 8-speed automatic, used widely by both Chrysler and BMW. Since I have only driven the BMW and Chrysler version, I can’t share my thoughts on Audi’s tuning of the ZF, but in the 2012 Dodge Charger SXT and the 2012 BMW 328i, it’s  an amazingly smooth and intuitive transmission that significantly increases fuel economy (usually by more than 10% over previous 6-speed auto boxes).

The Center console of the 2013 Allroad is also from the A4. The shifter has a Tiptronic manual function. You probably won’t use it much as the transmission probably does most of the thinking for you.

What went wrong with my test drive?

How did this happen? It wasn’t like they were so busy that the salesman had three lease deals all pending and I was merely wasting his time.  I always make a point of visiting dealers during slower days and times when they won’t miss a sale if they spend some time with me.  And, while they usually don’t know it, lots of local people read my column both here and in WeHoNews.com and the dealer may get customers as a result of my reviews or musings.

I was dressed the part with expensive casual clothes, as is very common in LA. You don’t have to show up in a German luxury car showroom dressed in Hugo Boss to get their attention.  I drove my older Mercedes, so it was clear that I could be in the market for a new car. I had done my usual homework about the car, its pricing, option packages, etc.

My mistake was talking the competition with the salesman.

I told him that there wasn’t much competition in the area of luxury wagons. The Mercedes E-Class wagon, while lovely, was too big and much more expensive.  I threw out that I was interested in the 2013 BMW 328i Touring, which hasn’t hit our shores  yet, but should be here in early 2013.  Mercedes-Benz stopped importing the C-Class wagon several years ago, and while I hadn’t tested the refreshed GLK, the substitute for the C wagon, I wasn’t sold on the styling.

2013 BMW 3-Series Touring wagon. Only BMW offers the pop-open rear window. The Audi Allroad and all the competitors have fixed glass.

I didn’t toss out the Volvo XC60 or XC70 or the Infiniti EX, as those weren’t on my radar screen.

I sat in the cockpit of the lovely Brilliant Black Allroad parked in front of us and touched various surfaces and pushed dead buttons. I asked if it was fully-loaded.  I always love to test them.  Of course, he said oh yes- it has everything!  My first thought was that it should have everything for $49,695, but instead I asked: “Does it have adaptive cruise control?”  A bit rattled, he said no. I let it go, but he didn’t know that it was available as part of the eye-popping $3,200 Driver Assist package.  A fully-loaded Allroad can easily top $54,000 (base MSRP $40,495).

Then I asked: “Does it have vented/cooled seats?” He admitted that no, that was a option on more expensive Audis.

So it’s not loaded, I concluded.

I also made the mistake of telling him that I wasn’t ready to buy a car that day.  Never say that to a salesman.  We then played a little game, apparently to prove a point.   He asked me whether if he could sell me the car today for $29,695, would I take it?  I said “I’ll get my checkbook.”  He seemed very satisfied with himself  that I did have a price and he could make the sale that day; but most people would take that deal.  It was fiction, and obviously too good to be true.  I could resell it the next day, eat the sales tax and DMV fees, and still pocket at least $5,000.

His final, and I do mean final, advice to me was that I should go and drive all the competition first, then drive the Allroad. He was sure I’d pick the Allroad.  I got lumped into the category of dumb consumer, with the attention span of a gnat, who would buy the last car I’d drive because it was the latest shiny thing in front of me.  Despite my direct protestations to the contrary, he insisted that I go away, drive the others first, then come see him.  Fat chance.