+++ Feels like I wrote about Consumer Reports’ 2022 Brand Report Car and 10 Top Picks a few weeks ago, but it was last April. So the magazine is back with a ranked roster of 32 brands and 10 vehicles in 4 categories for your debating pleasure. Starting with the brands, last year’s top 3 were Subaru, Mazda and BMW . This year, the Munich crew climbed 2 spots to win the prize thanks to “Superb road test scores and solid results in CR’s reliability and owner satisfaction surveys”. Subaru narrowly fell to second, maintaining its 4-year run in the top-3. Mini, 8th last year, jumped 5 spots to get the last step on the podium. The rest of the top 10 was Lexus (up 1 spot from last year), Honda (down 1 spot from last year), Toyota (up 3), Genesis (up 12), Mazda (down 6), Audi (down 3) and Kia (up 8). The magazine and testing outfit says its Brand Report Card “reveals which automakers are producing the most well-performing, safe, and reliable vehicles based on CR’s independent testing and member surveys”, and that “Brands that rise to the top tend to have the most consistent performance across their model lineups”. Last year’s top 10 had 6 automakers from Japan, 3 from Germany (giving Mini credit for England), 1 from South Korea and 5 luxury brands. This year’s list counts 5 makes from Japan, 2 from Germany because Porsche fell out of the top 10, 2 from South Korea, still none from the U.S. and 4 luxury brands. Buick again ranked as the best domestic, dropping to 12th after being 11th last year. The big mover was Lincoln, its 10-place jump up to 16th attributed to better reliability from the Corsair and Nautilus. Tesla’s improved overall reliability saw it climb six spots to 17th. Dodge climbed one spot to 15th. Jeep got out of the penalty box in last to come second-to-last. Land Rover fell 3 places into the penalty spot. The 10 Top Picks list is practically a new list. Only 2 holdovers made it to 2023, those being the Subaru Forester and Kia Telluride. For each vehicle segment and purchase price, the outlet crediting the chosen models for being “the best of the best in CR’s ratings: they perform well in road tests; they come standard with key safety features; and owners say they are reliable and satisfying to drive”. The Ford Mustang Mach-E, Honda Accord and Ridgeline, Lexus RX, Nissan Sentra and Rogue Sport (Qashqai in Europe), Toyota Prius and RAV4 Plug-in were all ushered off the stage. The carryover from last year’s Top 10 Picks is the Subaru Forester (On the list for a 10th straight time, it’s appeal arises from features like “the basic design, crafted to provide solid crash protection, a spacious cabin, generous cargo area, and terrific outward visibility” plus responsive handling, a supple ride and a low fuel consumption). The new inductees to the list are the Toyota Corolla Hybrid (Called “a rolling masterclass on what is possible with a low-priced model” that also returned a good fuel consumption overall in CR’s tests), Toyota Corolla Cross (It’s “the Corolla of subcompact SUVs, with all the practicality, value, and virtue the familiar moniker implies”), Toyota Camry Hybrid: Chosen as the most compelling trim in the lineup, delivers on the Camry promise of “comfort, convenience, reliability, and value”, has a “comfortable ride, athletic handling, accommodating seats” and sipped little fuel during the trials), Nissan Leaf (The small electric hatchback, in either battery size, got here with a cushy ride and whisper-quiet cabin), Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid: Continuing the hybrid assault on the list, “the Hyundai’s cabin is roomy, with a spacious, comfortable rear seat, and a generous roster of standard safety features include BSW, LKA, and LDW”), Lexus NX 350h (Can we interest you in another hybrid? This one “hit a sweet spot with the NX” thanks to low fuel consumption overall, “quick steering and a well isolated ride” and its “pampering and practicality” and Tesla Model 3 (A basket of accolades including “blistering acceleration”, “tenacious grip and precise steering”, “feels very much like piloting a sports car”, and kudos for the Supercharger network. +++
+++ CADILLAC gave a short presentation today going over its business performance, and it included some interesting tidbits. Among them was the announcement that we’re going to see three new EVs from the American luxury brand this year. Also, it had a surprisingly strong year for sedan sales last year. The announcement of new EVs comes as the brand is ramping up production of its first, the Lyriq (photo). The brand said it would reach its 1.000th Lyriq built by the end of this week. It’s also going to start production of the Celestiq flagship this December. All 3 new cars will be revealed throughout the year. No exact availability estimates were given, but Cadillac plans to have all three of them start production sometime in 2024 (which could include some starting at the very end of that year). Cadillac also had good news for fans of sedans. CT4 and CT5 U.S. sales were up by around 40%. CT5 specifically had its best sales year since it was introduced. Cadillac representatives noted that some of this improvement is due in part to 2022 being one of the first years that nothing was impeding production and sales, from supply chain issues to the pandemic. Also, the average age of Cadillac sedan buyers is going down, particularly with Blackwing buyers. That being said, sedans are still behind Cadillac’s SUVs in sales. The CT5 sold a bit fewer than 16.000 and the CT4 sold a little more than 9.000. Every SUV save for the Lyriq, which was just starting out, sold more than 20.000 units in the U.S. And among the SUVs, the Escalade remains king with more than 40.000 units crossing lots. +++
+++ The C3 Aircross was introduced in 2017 as a small, budget-focused crossover, but CITROEN has been spotted working on an all-new model and it’ll arrive with some major differences. This is the first time I’ve seen the new car testing, suggesting a full reveal will not happen until later this year with an on-sale date potentially stretching into 2024. The biggest change the new model will bring is the introduction of an all-electric option for the first time. PF1 architecture underpins the outgoing C3 Aircross but this didn’t allow for electrification. I expect a new platform from parent company Stellantis to be used with this new C3 Aircross. It’s most likely that the CMP architecture, found on the Citroen C4 and ë-C4 models, will be used, accommodating a 50 kWh unit shared with the Peugeot e-2008 and Opel Mokka-e. This means a power output of 136 hp and a range of around 350 km should be on the cards. I expect it to be named ë-C3 Aircross as well, following the naming style of the current ë-C4. Stellantis also has the EMP2 platform which is used by the Astra Electric. This can allow for a larger 54 kWh battery pack with 156 hp and 270 Nm of torque, and more importantly a longer range of 415 km. However, given the C3 Aircross will still be pitched as a cheaper alternative to the C4 and C5 Aircross, it’ll probably use the smaller battery. There will still be internal combustion engine variants of the C3 Aircross available too. These will be made up of the 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol PureTech units seen in models across the Stellantis Group. As for the new images of this test car, it may be heavily covered in camouflage but we can make out plenty of design details already. The overall size will grow over the outgoing C3 Aircross with a longer wheelbase to create extra cabin space. Citroën will take an evolutionary approach to the styling, with a headlight signature influenced by the C4. The third pillar will feature a curve that wraps around the rear passenger window. To mark it out from the C4 as a more practical offering, the C3 Aircross will have plenty of ground clearance and increased boot space. Inside, the C3 Aircross we’re likely to see an evolution of the interior design seen in current models. I expect a softer, more rounded approach than Peugeot’s i-Cockpit, although technology like a 10-inch central screen and digital display could be lifted from the car’s Stellantis siblings. Pierre Leclercq, Citroen’s design boss, previously told that the French firm will avoid the temptation to move upmarket. “I am so happy to be working for a brand that is not shooting to be premium. This is a popular brand and something I love”. With that in mind, I expect pricing to undercut rivals from Opel and Peugeot, reaffirming Citroen’s position as a more budget-friendly brand. +++
+++ In 2022, COUPES were worldwide in major decline, but sales of affordable sports cars and supercars grew, thanks largely to the new Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ siblings and increased European demand respectively. However, overall, a significant decline in the coupé market (including for the Ford Mustang and Mercedes C-Class & E-Class) dragged the wider 2-door car market down. The evergreen Porsche 911, which resolutely sells around 30.000 units per year, narrowly got the better of the Chevrolet Corvette, but encouragingly both cars found more buyers in 2022 than they did in 2021. Success in the US remains key, as it has since the first British Jaguars and MGs created the market post-war, although Jato cautions that American demand for sports cars is fragile and that without new demand from China (which bought just 17.300 in 2022), the segment “doesn’t have a driver of growth”. Proving that newest is best, at least for sales, the GR86 outsold Mazda’s perennial bestseller, the MX-5, in the affordable sports car segment. Jato analysis: “For supercars, it’s pretty much the case as in the coupé segment. The US continued to drive the volume (59.600), but demand barely grew. Instead, growth was driven by Europe, where Ferrari and Porsche are still strong”.
+++ SUVs are the killer app in the car industry so, as expected, the Tesla Model Y grabbed the global ELECTRIC VEHICLE crown from the Tesla Model 3. The duo sold 1.15 million combined; more than the next 5 EVs added together. And compared with Volkswagen, whose complete corporate strategy has been redrawn around EVs, Tesla sold 4 Model Ys for every 1 unit of the ID 4. Last year’s surprise success, the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV (China’s cheapest car, at around only €5.000), continued to prosper, but new rivals slowed its rate of growth. With 3 models in the top 10, BYD is consolidating its position as a serious global EV player and one that Jato believes will only strengthen in coming years. For Europe’s brands, the EV sector remains a challenge in terms of global sales. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, an early adopter of EVs, is losing ground, although Stellantis had some strong launches and Volkswagen enjoyed success with the ID 4. The onward march of Chinese EVs nudged Stellantis down 2 positions compared with 2021, behind Geely and BYD. Volume totalled 274.000 units versus the 1.24 million of Tesla. Jato analysis: “New models are making the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoé look aged compared with rivals. The Fiat 500 is well ahead of other Stellantis cars (Peugeot and Opel models). And Volkswagen’s ID range is alive thanks to the ID.4 and 7-seat ID.6 (both SUVs), not the ID.3 (a hatchback)”.
+++ Tesla, BYD, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz emerged as the big winners in the GLOBAL AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY last year, as China extended its position as the dominant market for new vehicle sales. The Tesla Model Y proved perfect for exploiting the growing global demand for family-friendly electric transport, while Chinese giant BYD had 3 models in the global EV top 10; a better result than any European firm recorded. “The Model 3 lost its crown to the Model Y because the latter is a cross-over and what most of the customers, even in the EV market, are looking for”, says Felipe Munoz, senior analyst at Jato Dynamics. Global powerhouses Toyota and Mercedes both scored major successes last year. Toyota extended its lead over the Volkswagen Group as the world’s leading vehicle manufacturer, while Mercedes sneaked ahead of BMW as the world’s biggest maker of premium cars. All these ups and downs played out against strategic strife in the shape of the energy crisis caused by the outbreak of war in Europe, the chip shortage and recovery from the pandemic. It’s therefore no surprise that only 2 global markets (China and India) grew, recovering to 2020 levels after the ravages of peak Covid. In the face of this adversity, the car industry did what it does best: roll up its sleeves and find solutions to problems. In this case, that meant focusing on the most profitable models. “The industry has learned from the 3 consecutive crises since the pandemic and posted record profits despite the sales drop”, explains Munoz. China’s crushing domination of the global car market kept rolling in 2022, as this country of 1.4 billion people extended its sales lead over its nearest rival, the US, a country of 300 million. EVs steered China’s recovery from 3 years of stagnation, with sales nearly doubling. But the gap between the 2 heavyweights stretched because the US market regressed back to 2011 levels, dragged down by shortages of many components, not just chips, and the dwindling availability of cheap lease finance. India made a huge statement last year by overtaking Japan to become the world’s third-biggest market; a significant step forward for a country that has the potential to match China for new car sales, given its similar population. Germany retained fifth position, despite not growing, while the other major European markets declined. Jato analysis: “India was number-3, ahead of Japan, thanks to a more dynamic market, better products, deals and a rapid recovery from the pandemic. Japan is a mature market that reached its peak many years ago”. The best news in Europe came from the United Kingdom, as the country overtook France to become the second-largest market; a reversal of the 2021 outcome. Jato tempers this welcome news, however, by pointing out that this was because the UK declined by 5% while France did by 10% and that both are suffering their own troubles. The UK is trying to cope with Brexit and low consumer confidence, while France is being held back by a shortage of the small hatchbacks and SUVs that usually dominate as manufacturers prioritize bigger, more profitable models. Specific issues affected other countries, such as Italy having a government that has yet to come with incentives for BEV sales. Jato analysis: “In general, the whole of Europe is suffering the most compared with other regions. As the continent is the most exposed to the energy crisis generated by the war in Ukraine, the economies and their consumers are delaying purchases or simply not buying as many cars as in the past”. +++
+++ Browse the back catalogues of Japanese firms and you will discover exceptional variety and creativity. Today, however, there’s a feeling of not so much energy in their ranges, which poses the question: are the Japanese losing their grip? In GLOBAL SALES terms, and some markets certainly, volume has been lost, but Japanese models still took 6 spots in the global top 10, even though they didn’t have a single representative in the European chart. Meanwhile, in the global brand ranking, Japan’s big 3 take key positions, with Toyota comfortably retaining its number one slot. Nissan and Honda did lose some ground in 2022, the former because its models and brand lost appeal and the latter because of several model changeovers during the year (the CR-V, Civic, Accord and Pilot). Jato analysis: “Toyota is still strong everywhere. Honda may not be strong in Europe, but it’s very strong in Asia and North America. Nissan keeps playing a big role in China, South-East Asia, the Middle East and North America. And Suzuki is the largest in India, now the world’s third-largest market”. To be the global number one, a car maker needs the right models in as many markets as possible to sell strongly. That’s easy to say, but Toyota is still the only car maker that manages to deliver on all 3 elements. The Volkswagen Group’s headlong rush into electrification hasn’t yet delivered the sales boost hoped for, although freeing production bottlenecks in 2023 may improve the situation. Meanwhile, Honda retains its third-place ranking, just ahead of a resurgent Ford. Its European sales may have dwindled, but it’s increasingly prosperous elsewhere. Jim Farley’s reinvention of Ford certainly seems to be paying off, with new models freshening the range and moving the brand ahead of Hyundai and Nissan into 4th spot. Jato analysis: “The decisive models were the Toyota Corolla Cross in South-East Asia and Latin America; the Toyota Yaris Cross in Europe; the Volkswagen Lavida in China; the Honda City in South-East Asia and Brazil; the Ford Bronco in North America; the Hyundai Elantra in North America; and the Hyundai Tucson globally”. +++
+++ JAGUAR LAND ROVER is struggling to grow, despite an extensive range of premium SUVs and strong demand for new models. Jato’s provisional figures suggest the model changeovers to the new-generation Range Rover and Range Rover Sport have been difficult, with both models recording double-digit sales drops, but it looks like they will bounce back in 2023. However, waiting lists stretch well into the year, so JLR needs to work to resolve its supply issues and return production to healthier levels. On a positive note, the Land Rover Defender has established a very strong position, increasing volume by 6% in 2022 to 61.321 units; around 3 times the volume of the old model. Jato analysis: “JLR’s smaller models also suffered double-digit sales drops, like the Range Rover Evoque with 53.000 (-13%) and the Discovery Sport with 37.000 (-32%). But we should wait for 2023 for conclusions about the company’s success”. +++
+++ The story in the PREMIUM segment is Mercedes versus BMW and C-Class versus 3 Series. Although Mercedes as a brand barely grew in 2022, it did receive a strong boost from the new C-Class, which offset significant declines of the A-Class and the GLB. The principal effect of the new C-Class being introduced was it considerably outselling the 3 Series, which dropped 23%. Because the 3 Series contributed much of BMW’s growth in 2021, its decline had a magnified negative effect on the company’s sales in 2022. 2 other BMW models fell back in 2022, the X3 and X1, both in the hotselling SUV segment. The latter entered a new generation, skewing the figures. As BMW’s third and fifth bestsellers, these drops had a sizeable effect on overall sales. The case of Audi is different, as it didn’t introduce a single all-new model last year. +++
+++ Conceived and built in the United States, TESLA dominates sales of new EVs in their home market. They scored 460.000 sales last year; equivalent to 37% of the company’s global total. Given that the overall US market contracted, the percentage increases in EVs show strong demand for them. The Ford Mustang Mach-E put in a strong showing as the best of the rest, splitting the 4 Teslas in the sales chart. While in pure numbers the Mustang Mach-E remained a distant third behind the Model Y and Model 3, Ford is mounting the most serious challenge to Tesla in the US, having launched the F-150 Lightning pick-up, while General Motors waits for its own electric trucks to make an impression in 2023. An eye-catching performance also came from the Koreans, as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 massively ramped up the volume to finish ahead of the ID.4, and the Kia EV6 in its debut year matched the established Volkswagen. Jato analysis: “The American big-3 are moving into EVs, although the pace needs to speed up. Ford came second, thanks to the F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E. General Motors wasn’t a big star, pinning its hopes on pick-ups, and was outsold by Volkswagen. Stellantis was still out of the race, as it had no EVs available in the US”. +++
+++ In 2021, the TOYOTA Corolla just beat the Toyota RAV4 to the global vehicle sales title, and that result was repeated in 2022. Together, Toyota’s 2 best-sellers sell almost enough to break into the global brand top 10 and comfortably outsell the entire Audi line-up. Just look at those full-size pick-up truck sales: America’s Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram range took third, seventh and eighth in the global vehicle top 10. As the electric Ford F-150 Lightning gets established, it will be an interesting sector to watch in 2023. Tesla maintained a spot in the top 10 with the Model Y, a new entrant straight in at number 4. It replaces the Model 3, with the saloon slipping just outside the top 10 ranking. Jato analysis: “Despite the strong growth posted by the Model Y, Toyota retains the top positions, thanks to the strong popularity of the RAV4 and Corolla in all of the 5 continents”. +++