The Chicken or the Egg

Well, sorry for not updating my stupid blog for a bit, but life got in the way.

Manufacturers don't want you buying one of these.

I went to a media preview for the Mazda2 the other night at the beautiful Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts the other night (get there, if you haven’t been, by the way). The car is pretty nifty in a “first car you can afford to buy after leaving college with $30,000 worth of school loans” way, but I asked two questions of Mazda‘s representatives:

1. How come a car with 100hp and 2,500 pounds can’t get better than 35 mpg?

2. How come you’re only building 20 percent with manual transmissions?

The answer to the first was that when gas is $2.65 a gallon, 35 mpg seems to be what people are interested in. I think that for no more money, you could gear the car a little differently, get 40 mpg and beat Ford‘s Fiesta, but hey, that’s just me.

The manual answer is more perplexing, though. “Customers don’t want manual transmissions.”

Really? When customers in that segment are so price sensitive you can afford to build in a USB port rather than an AUX input, don’t you think a lot more people would be interested in saving $700 versus the automatic transmission?

The issue here, of course, is that you won’t really know what anybody’s interested in buying because you can’t actually ORDER a car anymore. The manufacturer sets the build ratio, and the dealers do all the ordering. Chances are, if you can even find a manual, it’ll be devoid of any other interesting equipment on the option list, because for most car dealers “manual” is synonymous with “cheapskate,” so they’re ordered with the absolute minimum of equipment. If you think I’m lying, take a look at a manual transmission-equipped Focus sometime. You’d be hard pressed sloughing that thing off to a fleet buyer.

The second issue is that there really isn’t a price difference between building a manual and an automatic. You’ve just been conditioned to pay $700 more, and in an era of tight margins, why the hell would anyone make it easy for you to pay $700 less for the same damned car?

Ford and Chevy are finally learning a lesson with the Mustang and the Camaro. Since 1964, if you bought the six-banger Mustang, Ford went well out of its way to announce to the world that you were a skinflint, with things like dog dish hubcaps, blanking plates and plugs where an antenna should be. Where my cheap-o-riffic 1976 Camaro should’ve had a tachometer, I got a fuel gauge the size of a pie plate.

Manufacturers were petrified up until 2010 (can you believe that?) that if you offered an attractive, desirable six-cylinder, you’d rob sales from the more impressive eight-cylinder model. But what I could’ve told you in 1964 was that if you offered a attractive, desirable six-cylinder, you’d rob sales from your competitor who didn’t have one. For the same money, would you rather have a plain vanilla Accord, or a good-looking Mustang?

2 Responses to The Chicken or the Egg

  1. Kevin says:

    I ran into this situation when I lived in NJ (1997-2006). I went looking to buy a new car (1999) and went to several dealerships. When I went to a Dodge Dealership to take a look at the latest Neon model, I asked if I could get it with a manual transmission. The sales rep, said he would have to charge me $500 more for it. When I asked why, he claimed that if he ordered it and I didn’t buy the car, he would not be able to sell it as no one in the greater NYC area wanted a manual. Problem was, as a native New Englander, I had driven a “stick” for five years by then and even my old 1988 VW Fox (4Cyl. FWD) was outperforming 4WD SUVs up the Taconic Parkway near Poughkipsee in a white out when I traveled home for the December Holidays.
    I love my “sticks”! Personally, I feel a FWD Stick performs better in the wintery Western Mass area than most SUVs because they have more control. With a bit of driving experience and a good car is all you need.

    I recently came across your blog when I pondered the effectiveness of Electric Vehicles in New England winters. My concern was traction control from the independent wheel motors, but the temperature differentials effect on the battery packs was enlightening. Thanks.

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