From the new issue of Newsweek, an interview with Honda's chief US engineer, Charles Baker:
Newsweek: How difficult was it to engineer the MDX to meet Honda's stringent mileage standards?From the WaPo, on GM's development of the GM Aztek:
Baker: I'll never forget it. I was a rookie leading this MDX team. We'd done the research and we had an efficient package. But when we pitched our business plan to the board of directors, Mr. [Koichi] Amemiya, who was in charge of North America, his No. 1 comment was: "It should be more green." I made the mistake of saying, "But sir, nobody cares about the green issues." And he just smiled and said "I know."
The Aztek represented all that is wrong with GM's design process, that official said. The concept car actually did something few GM designs do: arrive before a trend -- this time, the crossover SUV that combines the attributes of a truck and a passenger car. And GM had high hopes to sell 50,000 to 70,000 Azteks a year, establishing Pontiac on the cutting edge.It's called L-E-A-D-E-R-S-H-I-P.
Then came production, the executive said. The penny-pinchers demanded that costs be kept low by putting the concept car on an existing minivan platform. That destroyed the original proportions and produced the vehicle's bizarre, pushed-up back end. But the designers kept telling themselves it was good enough.
"By the time it was done, it came out as this horrible, least-common-denominator vehicle where everyone said, 'How could you put that on the road?' " the official said.
Sales never reached the 30,000 level needed to make money on the Aztek, so it abruptly went out of production last year. The tongue-in-cheek hosts of National Public Radio's "Car Talk" named it the ugliest car of 2005. "It looks the way Montezuma's revenge feels," one listener quipped.
Of the top 10 most fuel efficient cars on the road today, Honda has 7 of them. As the chart above shows, over the course of the past five years, Honda's share price has increased 50%, while GM's has decreased 50%.
Of course fuel efficiency isn't the only factor that comes into play in determining the relative success and failure of the two companies, but of all the US manufacturers GM most slavisly reflects Bushian economic philosophy: spend your money lobbying Congress not to legislate fuel efficiency rather than voluntarily adopting it yourself, reward yourself and other top level employees lavishly, pin the blame for your poor decision making on the unions and expect the working class to pick up the tab while you wrestle Oprah for $6,000 handbags at Hermes.
A friend just pre-ordered a Lexus RX 400h and I'm dying to drive it. As someone who makes a solid effort to buy American-made products whenever possible, I'm probably a couple of cars away from being interested in anything that US automakers have to offer, and that is just a plain tragedy.
Update: John Pearley Huffman has a review of the new Lexus in The Car Connection.com. He also says Roger L. Simon has been sniffing around the new Lexus. John attributes it to geography-related curiosity.