Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for March 28, 2011

It’s Friday, which means it’s time to take a look back at what has been going on in the auto industry and point out some of the more interesting stories that are gathering headlines – or in some cases, not attracting enough notice.  These are just a few of my thoughts on what has been crossing my desk over the last little while.

1 – Japanese automakers are facing serious inventory shortages and work stoppages

The effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan have been horrendous, and the logistical nightmare faced by Japanese car companies and parts suppliers as they attempt to take stock of the situation is considerable.  I’ve covered this story over the past couple of weeks more than once, but news of how plant shutdowns are affecting the North American auto market continues to trickle out, with the latest being a report from Mazda that it has suspended U.S. dealer orders for vehicles built in Japan.  This includes the Mazda2, the Mazda3, the Mazda5 compact minivan, the Miata and the CX-7 and CX-9 crossovers.  Rising prices on Japanese cars seem a certainty, and have already been reported in some areas, as dealers try to protect themselves from inventory issues down the road.

2 – Will the Japanese auto slowdown impact how people perceive regional vehicle production?

One of the most telling aspects of the mini production crisis facing automakers in the face of the Japanese natural disaster is how well it illustrates the interconnected nature of the entire industry.  GM has had to shut down production of the Colorado / Canyon pickup twins due to the halting of supply shipments from Japan and Chrysler and Ford have put a hold on certain paint colors due to problems getting key pigments out of the Merck KgaA plant near Fukushima.

3 – No Seven-Passenger Prius V for North America

It’s really difficult to understand Toyota’s reasoning behind the decision to import only the five-passenger model of the upcoming Prius V wagon to the U.S.  I’ve written about the issue earlier this month, but I still haven’t come to terms with Toyota’s explanation that European buyers are more comfortable seating seven in a small wagon than those across the Atlantic.  If Toyota is truly going to grow the Prius as a separate brand around the world, wouldn’t it make sense to offer the biggest and best edition of the automobile to American drivers?

4 –  Taking the Ferrari FF out for a spin

Is it embarrassing when you accidentally jump the curb in a friend’s car?  Definitely.  Is it even more shaming when an automotive journalist does the same in a high dollar, not-quite-on-sale-yet Ferrari?  You better believe it.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but one imagines that the Ferrari FF’s handlers were not amused.  Accidents happen to everyone, regardless of how many miles they’ve logged behind the wheel.

5 –  Does the world really need a four-seat, four-wheel drive Ferrari?

The answer is, of course, “no.”  However, the same could be said of any exotic automobile.  High performance cars are not about need, they are about passion, and Ferrari is at the stage in its development where passion may need to be tempered with at least a nod to practicality in order to grow its market share and better compete as a luxury – and not just a performance – brand.  We were all shocked at the concept of a Porsche SUV, and yet the Cayenne has grown into one of the best-selling models in the German company’s lineup.  Ferrari’s first all-wheel drive model isn’t quite as scandalous, but it’s a baby step towards a more fully-featured range of products from the Italian masters.

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