Koblenz, Jay, Black Enterprise
The big buzz on the automotive front lately has been about business, overshadowing even the products themselves. Some of this news will have a direct impact on the products you buy and the prices you pay, while other effects won't show up for months.
Some of the most immediate effects stem from last summer's General Motors' strike. Although settled for now, differences still remain. Meanwhile. the company's most popular vehicles are in short Supply without discounts for consumers. To regain company loyalty, there will be fire-sale pricing on slower-selling products.
In other news, there's a new entrant into the U.S. auto market. Daewoo, the newest South Korean car company, offers three models, including a subcompact (Lanos), a midsize sedan (Leganza) and a compact (Nubira). At first glance, these cars look to be of higher quality than other Korean models.
When it comes down to products, SUVs are still where the action is. Because they've hit such a hot fashion button with the auto-buying public, people are willing to pay thousands more for them than for equally equipped, more comfortable and safer passenger cars. This is the price of fashion. Those who prefer cars (and minivans) are, by far, getting the better deals.
The best overall deals are in minivans and midsize and compact sedans. Manufacturers still have an overabundance and must move these vehicles out, even if it means taking lower profits,
The last and perhaps most important news item of 1998 was the purchase of Chrysler Corp. by Daimler-Benz to form the mega company, Daimler-Chrysler. It'll be years before we know how well this combination works. but beware of the clash of two very different and powerful corporate cultures.
Conceived as a modern rendition of the luxury performance car, the Arnage and a new addition, the Rolls Royce Silver Seraph, have instead become victims of corporate ego. Just as this refined motorcar is going on sale, the parent company is being bought, sliced and diced. The Bentley name will soon become part of Volkswagen, while BMW gets the Rolls Royce moniker.
For now, the Arnage goes on sale as part of Rolls Royce Motor Cars Ltd. While shape and style remain firmly in the Old World tradition of elegance, there is more modern thought beneath this $204,000 sedan. This is the first Bentley to be built with a monocoque body design, which allows for better handling, maneuverability and ride. Under the bonnet is a 4.5-liter V-8 engine, sourced from and turbocharged by BMW. This power plant sends 350 horsepower to the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission.
For the next few years, Volkswagen will continue building the cars in England. BMW will supply much of the underpinnings, including the engines. But according to the latest agreement, after five years Volkswagen keeps the factories and Bentley name while BMW gets the Rolls Royce name. The future beyond that is unknown. But we have likely seen the last new Bentley designed in conjunction with a Rolls Royce.
Cadillac's most popular car maintains the corporate image as a large, comfortable way to retire. For 1999, the update is a new seat option that has a massage feature. It may feel to some like an unruly youngster kicking you from behind, but others may find it a simpler way to remain awake and alert on longer journeys.
Meanwhile, the rest of the car remains the same. You have a choice of the standard model with 275 horsepower or the sportier Concourse with another 25 horsepower, although some low-rpm torque is sacrificed in the process. All this power sent through the front wheels means torque steer is ever present. Unfortunately, a heavy throttle will cause the steering wheel to be pulled strongly to one side. Traction control tames things a bit, but V-8-powered Cadillacs can be somewhat disconcerting to drive. …