Is Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz Styling Becoming Lazy?

Remember when you were walking back to your car with groceries and saw a Mercedes Benz and knew exactly what model it was? Have you seen two Audis parked next to each other and could distinguish the difference between the two from a distance? Do you also remember when BMW’s numbering system actually made sense? Those were the days. Now German automakers just extend or shorten the length of models, stick on a different number, and sell it with some added gimmicks or lower price tag. Anyone else see a growing problem from the German luxury market?

Needless to say, the interiors that Mercedes Benz offers is in a league of its own. A comfortable and welcoming environment could make the idea of living in an S-Class sound reasonable. Audi’s updated cabin that’s now noticeable in the 2017 Q7 and A4 will put them in the upper echelon when it comes to stylish and luxurious interiors. But when you take a look at the outside of most of the models the big three German manufacturers offer, you begin to realize just how lazy automotive design has become.

Starting with BMW, the 3 Series, 5 Series, and 7 Series all had a slightly different face a few years ago. You could tell they were from the same family, but the siblings were not identical. Today with the recent addition of the 4 Series, the two door coupe and convertible are essentially the sportier versions of the 3 Series sedans. But it doesn’t stop there. With the 435i Gran Coupe, BMW has effectively created a dilemma where a four door has been given a number that was supposed to symbolize the difference between the coupes from the sedans. There’s no value proposition that the Gran Coupe offers, in fact you pay more for what is a 3 Series with an extended trunk.

Lately, car enthusiasts have had to ask themselves, “What is Mercedes Benz doing to their lineup?” There was once a time when the C-Class, E-Class, and S-Class were all distinctive. As recent as 2014, the C-Class and E-Class from front to back were completely different, with the C-Class clearly being more of an entry level sedan, and the E-Class having a very upscale presence, both in terms of the exterior and interior. Now with the 2017 models hitting showrooms, the C-Class sedan, and more noticeable with the coupe, have the same body style as the S-Class. The redesigned E-Class has become the middle child, having a very similar appearance to it’s bigger and smaller siblings. Mercedes Benz has defined the term “German luxury” for the past decade; there was no reason to make carbon copies of their models

Audi might just be he laziest of them all, despite BMW and Mercedes Benz attempts to claim the thrown on producing identical cars. Park an Audi A6 and A8 next to each other, same color and year, and you’ll have a 50% chance of guessing the correct model. If you subtract the A7, TT, and SUVs from the Audi lineup, you’re left with three sedans and one coupe that all have similar body styles and faces, but only differ in size. At some point, an executive at the corporate level must take a look at the lineup and think, “Maybe we need to stop being so mundane”.

The lack of creativity and originality is frightening to say the least. Yes the Mercedes Benz AMG’s, BMW M-Series, and Audi S-Line make our mouths water and we crave more power, but at the end of the day, the German automakers are beginning to lose their speciality. Right now we’re living in an era where the i8, R8, and GT-S are the only iconic cars that we’ll look back on and remember. Twenty years ago, the BMW M3 and Mercedes Benz 190E Cosworth were attainable sports cars that we could all enjoy. Today there’s not a special car within the reach of the average American.

German cars will always be looked at as the very best in luxury. However, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for a car that is unique. Jaguar and Volvo are beginning to find a foothold, and once their new and updated lineups are completed, the Germans will have stiff competition coming from Britain and Sweden.

Maserati and Jaguar Are Ready To Take The Stage

The perennial powerhouses, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz could be on the verge of a luxury market share war with the British and Italians very soon. For far too long, the big three German automakers have gone untouched, growing their lineups by adding vehicles that reach every market sector in the automotive industry. With models consisting of bigger or smaller versions of their siblings, the Audi A3, A4, A5, A6, and A8, Mercedes Benz C-Class, E-Class, and S-Class, and BMW’s 3 Series, 4 Series, 5 Series, and 7 Series, all have similar, or downright lazy styling in terms of exterior. The time has come for a fresh design from other automakers, and ones that aren’t based in Germany.

It’s Jaguar and Maserati’s time to shine, and with new models ready to hit the market this year for both automakers, the British and Italians are ready to make a huge splash. Maserati unveiled their new and first ever SUV, the Levante, which starts at $72,000 and we should expect to see Maserati’s newest addition to the lineup in September. Jaguar is only months away from offering the new XE and first ever SUV, the F-Pace, in showrooms across the United States, which is expected to be in June. It seems as though the pieces are coming together for Jaguar and Maserati, and once they’re in place, they’ll be off an running to take on much larger companies.

The new Jaguar XE will be priced starting at $34,900, which will immediately take on the Audi A3, Mercedes Benz CLA, and BMW 320i, which are all in the same price range. Since the XE can exceed a $50,000 price tag, it will also be a direct competitor to the A4, C-Class, and 3-Series. In terms of power, the XE will get a 240 hp 4 cylinder turbo engine and also a 340 hp supercharged V6 on the higher trims. This will put them right in line with their German counterparts, as the new Mercedes Benz C450 AMG will top the list with a 362 hp bi-turbo V8.

2017-jaguar-xe-s-inline5-photo-660839-s-original

The new F-Pace comes with two different engine types; A 180 hp 4 cylinder diesel, or a 340 hp turbocharged V6. Pricing starts at just over $40,000, which will take on the Audi Q5, Mercedes Benz GLE, and BMW X3. Because Jaguar is basing their SUV off the F-Type, the F-Pace is performance driven. This is not your typical soccer mom SUV, and in fact, dads can now have fun with the grocery getter, as the F-Pace is capable of going from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds. While this is not advised, it can also reach a top speed of 155 mph, so the young guy in a sports coupe might not have such an easy time leaving you in the dust. On higher trims, the F-Pace can exceed $50,000, but thankfully the V6 can be paired with any trim level.

As of right now, we don’t know the performance that the Maserati Levante will have. We can only speculate that it will receive a similar engine to the Maserati Ghibli, which would be a 345 hp twin turbo V6 on the entry level trim, and possibly the 404 hp twin turbo V6 on the higher trims, but that’s purely speculation. The Levante is set to take on the BMW X6 xDrive50i and Mercedes Benz GLE450 AMG Coupe which are beginning to roam the streets. Another automaker which hasn’t been discussed that will also get their turf impeded on by the Levante is Porsche. Still more of a niche manufacturer, Porsche and it’s compact SUV the Macan, will now have to take on a new competitor in its class. The performance SUV market is going to get real interesting by the end of this year, and it will be exciting to see who ends up on top after this is all said and done.

Jaguar and Maserati can no longer be looked at as small time players in the high-end luxury market. While Maserati will stay above $70,000 on all their models, Jaguar will now be entering new territory by offering a model within the $35,000 – $40,000 price range. Soon, consumers will be able to choose from other countries besides Germany to find the best the luxury market has to offer. As it turns out, Porsche’s decision to introduce an SUV to sports car only lineup, set the stage for other manufacturers to do the same. Now Jaguar and Maserati can compete on bigger scale and begin to take market share away from the German powerhouses.

Don’t Look Now But Jaguar Is On The Prowl

Jaguar F-Type
Jaguar F-Type

Across the pond, there’s a luxury car manufacturer ready to steal market share in the compact sedan and SUV markets. No, they’re not from Germany, but from a town in the West Midlands of England. Jaguar is back and with a vengeance as the 2017 XE and F-Pace are ready to shake things up in a German dominated automotive segment. Two vehicles that will put Jaguar on the map in the entry level luxury market in the United States are set to be released in 2016. Is Germany ready for another battle against Great Britain, this time being in the automotive world?

Starting prices for both the XE and F-Pace are extremely competitive with the competition, and the prestige that comes along with owning a Jaguar could have an affect on consumers’ buying decisions next year. The base model XE starts at $34,900, and the F-Pace, $40,900. Along with the badge, owners will also get performance to go along with luxury, as the compact sedan will get 240 hp, with the option of receiving 340 hp with the XE S. The F-Pace will come with a V6 and 380 hp on the higher trims, making SUV’s the ultimate grocery getter for the car enthusiast with a family.

British cars are often looked at being very expensive, prestigious, and high class luxury, and with these two new additions to the Jaguar lineup, some people question whether the lower prices changes the perception of the brand. One could argue that it enhances the Jaguar brand, as British luxury, performance, and styling, are now available at a more affordable price. Their tagline, “It’s good to be bad” is not just a jab at Aston Martin and James Bond, but it’s a mission statement and identity that reaches out to the younger consumer who wants to feel power, both literally and figuratively.

Good things are happening for the British automaker, as the F-Type is the foundation that created the XE and F-Pace. The engineering behind the two door sports car is now the soul of Jaguar, and they’re implementing that styling and performance into all their models. BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Audi better start looking over their shoulders, because the big cat is on the prowl, and now has the ability to pounce on its competitors.

You Have $15,000, Do You Buy Or Lease A Car?

If you have $15,000 in cash, do you buy or lease a car? Actually, I’m going to make it more interesting. If you have $10,000 in cash would you buy or lease a car?

Having scanned through forums and Reddit, there are many young, and even older consumers, who ask the same question, usually with the same amount of money in hand asking for car buying advice. Now, if your commute to work and weekend trips make your annual mileage higher than 12,000 a year, then buying is the better option. But what about those who are driving around 8,000 – 10,000 miles a year. Would you still be so hasty to buy instead of lease?

Most people feel that leasing costs you more in the long run. But does it really? True, your car payments could be higher per month, but because it’s a new car, you won’t have to factor in major maintenance costs. At $10,000 – $15,000, you’re not going to end up with what you want. Certified pre-owned, you’re looking at the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, or Toyota Corolla to name a few. Used can be a case of trick or treat. There’s always diamonds in the rough, but more often than not, you’ll end up with someone else’s problem. Mechanical failure is likely, factoring into the overall cost of the car, while it’s aging, and every year the resale value is slowly tanking. You either wind up with a money pit, or a decent car that will last you a few years before maintenance issues could arise.

Now let’s look to leasing. You have $10,000 – $15,000 in hand and you’re visiting local dealership websites comparing lease offers and deciding which one works best for you. You stumble upon a great deal. Your local Ford dealership down the street has a lease offer for a new Ford Escape SE; $4,173 due at signing, $159 a month for 24 months. If my math is correct, for those 2 years it will cost you a grand total of $7,989, not including oil changes and annual maintenance. You’re saving $2,000 in the long run, which will be two grand more saved up for your next lease. If you buy a $10,000 car, you’re looking at a world of unknowns.

So the choice. A new Ford Escape SE or an 8 year old car with 50,000+ miles on it. $8,000 overall in 24 months, or $10,000, plus maintenance that will inevitably happen sometime during your ownership of the car.

Another example; this time you have $15,000. Now I’m sure you can find some sweetheart deal for a 6+ year old Infiniti G35 or G37 or an older BMW 3 Series, but again let’s factor in unforeseen maintenance. But you decide, “I’ll lease instead because I want to drive a new car”. Here are the potential options you have. Let me just say this is all predicated on what the dealerships in your area are offering. Here’s a few from my neck of the woods.

Audi A3: $2,694 downpayment, $299 a month for 36 months = $13,458

BMW X1: $4,000 downpayment, $239 a month for 36 months = $12,604

BMW 320i X-Drive: 4,000 downpayment, $239 a month for 36 months = $12,604 (Same offer as the X1)

Infiniti Q40: $1,499 downpayment, $229 a month for 39 months = $10,430

Lexus IS 250: $1,599 downpayment, 349 a month for 36 months = $14,163

These are just some of the deals that are out there. They all cost under $15,000 within the three year window you have the car. Most come with leather seats, heated seats, bluetooth, navigation, and electric sunroof. So think about it for a minute. You can have a luxury car for the same price, or less than if you bought a certified pre-owned Honda Civic. There are even better offers out there if you don’t want to spend $15,000.

After seeing this, would you still buy or would you lease?

Lower Gas Prices Are Still Not Enough For Consumers To Buy Big SUV’s

Cadillac Escalade SUV
Bruno Rs / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The national average for gas is below $3.00 a gallon which has affected different markets in the automotive segment of the economy. Electric and hybrid cars have seen lower sales figures since the recent nose-dive oil has taken the past few months. However, with these lower gas prices, sales figures for large SUV’s still hasn’t improved, and just as the sports car market, the bigger SUV market may never recover.

Ian Robertson, a Sales Chief for BMW said recently that the age of the sports car is coming to a close and that we’ll probably never see that market recover. While he only mentioned two-door coupes, it appears that the recession has also put another segment of the auto industry on life support. Larger SUV’s such as the Cadillac Escalade and the Chevrolet Tahoe are only maintaining a 7% share of the market, which that number has flatlined since 2009. Not even lower gas prices are helping this segment. Since the recession and the days of $3.00 a gallon, car companies have had to adapt to a new economy, one in which the consumer is very careful about spending and expenses.

The crossover SUV’s have taken a bite out of the traditional SUV’s market share which could explain why we’re not seeing improving sales figures. Crossovers and small SUV’s such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, BMW X1 and X3, Mazda CX-5, Audi Q3 and Q5, Ford Escape, Volvo XC60, and Honda CR-V, are all eating away at the sales figures of their bigger siblings. Car companies aren’t just stopping there, they’re continuing to grow the crossover segment as Mazda already has a CX-3 in the works, and seeing the competitiveness of the Germans, who knows what they’ll think of next.

Consumers have also adapted to the new economy that we’ve lived in for the past seven years. They’re learning that they don’t need a huge SUV to get around and that even with a smaller vehicle, they can still carry their groceries, drive their kids to school, and while doing that, saving money at the pump. Smaller SUV’s and crossovers have become the new practical. While Americans won’t admit it, they’ve become more like Europeans since the recession, as Europe has been living with high gas prices way before the economy had it’s downturn.

We live in a new world. The economy may or may not have recovered, or some sectors have while others are still lagging behind. But one thing is for sure, the auto market will not change the direction it’s heading in unless there is a major swing in the markets and on Main Street. In 5-10 years, we may look back on the recession as the killer of the big SUV and sports car markets as we once knew them.

Acura Going AWD To Compete With Subaru and Audi?

CIAS 2013 - 2014 Acura RLX
MSVG / Foter / CC BY

According to a report by Automotive News, Acura is looking to make AWD standard on all their models and go the route of Subaru and Audi. But is it too late for the Honda-owned luxury car manufacturer?

While going AWD creates benefits for the consumer, Acura has to distinguish themselves from Subaru and Audi first. What is the Acura brand? Who are they marketing to, and are they a luxury car company, or more similar to Subaru who market to consumers that need AWD to deal with snow and difficult terrain?
Subaru has already built up a strong tradition of manufacturing durable and long lasting AWD sedans and station wagons, and their Impreza and Legacy are in a league of their own that’s very difficult to break through and compete.

Audi on the other hand is pure luxury that offers AWD as standard, but their cars are predicated on luxury more than off-road capability. Their sedans and smaller crossovers are competing against BMW and Mercedes Benz, and it would be a mistake for Acura to jump into the fray and compete against the best the automotive world has to offer.

Acura needs to change their image, or promote the brand that displays a definte direction so consumers know exactly what they’re buying. Introducing a crossover SUV wouldn’t be a bad place to start, and then figure out where their sedans compete in the automotive market. 

AWD is the right answer, but to the wrong question. Consumers don’t know where Acura fits in the luxury market, and they have no idea whether it’s a luxury brand or not, especially with the changes they’ve made to their lineup by getting rid of the TL and TSX. Acura has a lot of questions to answer and evaluate where their brand stands among its competitors, but when it comes to standardizing AWD on all their models, they’re on the right track.

Is Luxury Taking On A Whole New Meaning In The Automotive World?

If someone walked up to you fifteen years ago and said that Subaru, Honda, Mazda, and Toyota were making four door sedans that rivaled the Germans, would you believe them? Or better yet, if that same person told you Audi, Mercedes Benz, and BMW were offering smaller vehicles with starting prices near $30,000, would you think they were joking? The reality is, in the year 2014 the Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord and Civic, Mazda 6, and Toyota Camry and Avalon are all on par with German luxury vehicles, but for a fraction of the cost. While the big three German auto manufacturers are entering the cheaper luxury markets, the Japanese and even the Americans are meeting them with top notch vehicles that might make you question your bias towards a certain car brand.

The fact that any car can have an LCD monitor, leather seats, a spacious interior, and great fuel economy, really begs the question on whether it’s worth spending $10,000 – $20,000 more to get the same package and luxury you’d find on what used to be inferior car brands. For many, the dream of owning a Mercedes Benz or BMW will never go away, but when we were kids, who could have foreseen a Honda, Toyota, Mazda, or Subaru with a luxurious interior? What was once exclusive to those who were affluent, can now be found on most cars that were seen as average. Luxury really has taken on a whole new meaning, but it doesn’t stop there. Performance is also another feature that can be found on four door sedans that were 15 years ago, a family oriented vehicle.

You can own a Subaru Legacy with a 265 horsepower V6 engine for around $32,000, almost $8,000 less than the Audi A4 that has a turbocharged four cylinder engine with 220 horsepower. I must ask the question again, is it worth spending the extra $8,000 on an Audi when you can own a Subaru with the same comforts and styling? The Chrysler 200 has a V6 option which supplies a whopping 295 hp, completely blowing away any of the Japanese or German four door sedans in the price range of $30,000 – $35,000.

But at the end of the day, all the driver really wants is reliability with a combination of some form of luxury, and Honda, Mazda, Subaru, and Toyota can offer that. These brands speak for themselves as they’ve been known for reliability for years, but now that they’ve put in nicer interiors, leather seats, and performance for competitive prices, it’s hard to see why you’d pay extra for a car that offers the same. The only major difference is the badge on the front of the car and the recognition that brand has that catches the eyes of bystanders.

Heading into 2015, the consumer is going to have a boatload of options in the four door luxury sedan market in the $30,000 – $35,000 price range. Luxury is what you make it; the auto manufacturers are just making cars that help steer you into their direction. Owning an Audi, Mercedes, or BMW is a major feat, but when you see cheaper options that may offer more, it’s hard to say no.

Auto Marketing: Are Car Manufacturers Becoming Too Much Alike?

Let’s go back in time for a minute to the late 1990’s to early 2000’s in the automotive world. What has changed since those days? Are consumers more confused now than ever? Are car manufacturers becoming too much the same, losing that individuality and no longer catering to the loyal customers they’ve had for probably generations? These are the questions that no one is asking, and in an industry that is constantly changing, why have blurred lines appeared where consumers can’t decide on what the better brand is, and instead just go along with tradition?

In the late 90’s if you wanted luxury you probably would buy a Mercedes Benz, BMW, or Cadillac. For the average family vehicle that was reliable and safe you’d go with the Honda, Toyota, Subaru, or Volvo. The young and dangerous teenager who wants speed would maybe look at a Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, or Pontiac Firebird. And for the person that wanted a pickup truck, Dodge, Chevy, GMC, and Ford were constantly advertising on TV to appeal to that specific person.

However, today there is such a variety of vehicles in the same price range that often get forgotten, not because they’re of poor quality, but they’re neither marketed correctly nor presented as an individual car manufacturer that stands out from the competition. For example, the average consumer who has no loyal ties to one specific brand will look in multiple categories such as, fuel economy, safety, performance and price. Yet most likely, they’ll only compare the car brands and models that are most prevalent in their lives that have been marketed to them constantly over the years.

As I wrote in a previous article, the 2015 Chrysler 200 is priced from $21,000 to $31,000, putting it in the same price range as the Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic and Accord, the Mazda 6 and the list could continue on for a while. What the average consumer who wants performance while still owning a four door sedan doesn’t realize is that the 200 comes with a V6 engine that supplies 295 horsepower, completely blowing away the competition in it’s class in performance. Any one of the cars listed are also subjected to the same reality that poor marketing and a person’s personal preference completely drives their buying habits.

Let’s take a look at the new crossover SUV market that is constantly growing that includes the BMW X1 and the all new Audi Q3. Besides looking good, and for BMW and Audi the brand recognition, what do they really have to offer that other manufacturers can’t? Because luxury brands are now entering markets that are now rivaling Ford, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Mazda, consumers will now look to just the luxury brands and skip over what the traditional brands in that price range offer.

What used to be a black and white market has now become an array of colors, and while that is great news for the consumer, the manufacturers may end up losing in the end. If the consumer wants a small compact sedan, they’re going to be attracted to the Audi A3 or Mercedes Benz CLA without looking at what the other auto brands have to offer. The sports car market has remained the same over the years, as there is still a price margin wide enough where younger consumers will look to the American muscle cars over the BMW 2 series and others in that category.

The auto market has certainly become competitive, but along with it is the loss of individuality. Most have LED lights, leather seats, MP3 capability, power windows, keyless entry, and other technologies and comforts that were only found on the most luxurious of brands in the late 90’s. There needs to be better marketing strategies from auto manufacturers, whether that be target advertising, or mass marketing that reaches a variety of different people. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz will be catering to a whole new audience; the audience that once bought Hondas, Toyotas, Volkswagens and Fords. TV commercials aren’t enough anymore as brand recognition is enough for consumers to get fixated on one manufacturer.

Right now there are multiple options at all different price ranges, but the consumer doesn’t know it. These auto manufacturers need to become unique again and cater to the specific audience they knew would buy their brand for many years to come. For the time being, the German luxury car segment is taking over, and if the other manufactures don’t step up their game, they’ll be in a for a rude awakening if and when Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz introduce the smaller vehicles they’ve been selling in Europe.

Maserati is Launching the “Cheaper” Ghibli Starting at $68,000

Maserati Ghibli en México DF
Daniel Palestino / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

With Maserati’s sales up 357% from last year, the Italian automaker is looking to enter a new market; luxury sedans in the price range starting close to $68,000. It is no secret that Italian cars are slowly becoming more prevalent as they’re becoming cheaper and more models are storming the American shores every year. The Ghibli will be competing with the likes of the Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera, giving consumers a dilemma whether to go German or Italian.

If you still prefer German engineering, maybe a Ferrari engine and a chassis and suspension of the more expensive Maserati Quattroporte will persuade you to at least consider buying the Italian sedan. However, even with the lower price, the Ghibli still doesn’t offer the more powerful twin-turbo V6 that supplies 404 hp that can be found on higher end trims of the Ghibli that are no doubt more expensive.

This is really where the problem lies. To get performance and luxury you must pay more to get it. While owning a Maserati puts you in a more exclusive club, there are other options out there that won’t completely drain your bank account.

Now of course you’re not going to get the same ambiance and perception that you will in a Maserati, but the Audi S4 and BMW 535i X-drive do offer a relatively cheaper alternative and you’re not sacrificing much horsepower with the “cheaper” German sedans. As an added plus, fuel consumption is much better with the Audi or BMW as opposed to the gas guzzling Maserati Ghibli.

The engine in the base model Ghibli supplies 345 hp, while the Audi S4 receives 333 hp, and the BMW 535i X-drive gets 300 hp. We’re not talking about a major loss in power, as both the Audi and BMW offer the same luxury and sports car appeal the Maserati does; the name however does make all the difference.

It really comes down to preference, but with the looks of things, maybe waiting a bit longer to buy an Italian car might pay off. Slowly buy surely prices are receding and if you do want a Maserati, the price tag is entering the realm of possibility.

Audi S4

• MSRP Starts at $48,100
• HP 333
• MPG 17 in the city – 26 on the highway

BMW 535i X-drive

• MSRP $60,000
• HP 300
• MPG 26 in the city – 37 on the highway

Maserati Ghibli

• MSRP $68,000
• HP 345
• MPG 15 in the city – 25 on the highway