2009 Reviewed (or Mark & Me)

On this past Sunday, Mark Phelan, auto critic for the Detroit Free Press (full disclosure: I’ve known Mark for many more years than our vanity would allow either of us to admit and have the utmost respect for his knowledge and acumen), wrote a piece headlined “2009’s Hits & Misses.” Which seems like a convenient thing to use as a framework for this.

On this past Sunday, Mark Phelan, auto critic for the Detroit Free Press (full disclosure: I’ve known Mark for many more years than our vanity would allow either of us to admit and have the utmost respect for his knowledge and acumen), wrote a piece headlined “2009’s Hits & Misses.” Which seems like a convenient thing to use as a framework for this. So read his piece, then the rest of this.

  • Chrysler’s Five-Year Business Plan: a “marathon briefing” and no-longer “skeptical analysts” don’t a turnaround make. 2010 will be critical for Chrysler.
  • 2010 Ford Fusion: We think the Hybrid is quite remarkable, too.
  • GM-Opel: Keeping Opel will probably be a wiser decision than anything revealed during the Chrysler briefing.
  • Kia Soul: While not crazy about the car per se, earlier this year we named its exterior designer, Mike Torpey, one of the 10 hottest pens in the industry.
  • The Obama Administration: The auto bailout, not TARP. Perhaps not a perfect solution, but it keeps GM and Chrysler rolling for the time being, which is a good thing.
  • 2 Honda Insight: Maybe this is a case of simply broadening the hybrid portfolio. And while there is what can be construed as Prius-like as regards the side view, that’s pretty much predicated by aerodynamics, not cribbing designs.
  • GM Quality Reports: They can run all the spread-sheet comparisons with Toyota and Honda in their ads they want, but the proof is on the road—over time.
  • Lexus: The important point about the RX 350 is that it is still successful (comparatively speaking) sales-wise, not that it wasn’t a semi-finalist for the North American Truck of the Year. Consumers’ pocketbook votes count in the end more than a bunch of people who write about cars for a living (present company included). And the HS 250h is a curious vehicle, but like the Honda Insight, it may be a matter of broadening the portfolio.
  • Toyota Recalls: A huge problem for the manufacturer as it becomes a bigger factor in the U.S. market (in part because of the shrinkage of GM). Leaders should lead, not obfuscate, and a story in the L.A. Times is disturbing.  Mats are a problem.  But perhaps not the only one.

As 2010 unfolds, here’s hoping that there’s more about design and process and product and less about financials and layoffs and closings.

We can all hope, right?