It’s Friday once again, which means it’s time for another round of my Five For Friday: Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for September 27, 2013. Hyundai and Nissan fight government shutdown woes, the SRT Viper loses steam, we say 'good-bye' to the Aston Martin Cygnet, car companies deal with a paucity of vehicle names, and Fiat dealers are left out in the cold by Alfa Romeo - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Hyundai and Nissan Offer Government Shutdown Relief
The shutdown of the U.S. government over budget issues is a headache for everyone, but it hits much closer to home if you happen to be one of the thousands of furloughed federal employees who can no longer count on a paycheck. In recognition of the mounting financial obligations facing government employees deprived of their income, both Hyundai has introduced a special easement that will allow furloughed workers to defer their car payments for as long as the shutdown situation lasts. Nissan has actually opened up its payment deferral incentive to each and every 'qualified' customer currently making either lease or loan payments, whether they work for the government or not. Hyundai is also allowing furloughed workers to actually buy a brand new car without having to make any payments at all for 90 days.
02. SRT Viper Production Slows To A Trickle
Hailed as one of the most exciting sports cars on the market when first unveiled last year, it would appear that hype has failed to translate into sales for the all-new SRT Viper. The Automotive news is reporting that SRT is making significant cuts to Viper production in order to allow inventory to catch up with the weak demand for the brand's most expensive model. Workers at Chrysler's Viper assembly plant will be re-assigned to other facilities in a bid to reduce the number of vehicles built by one third, after only 426 models were sold to customers between February, 2013 and the start of the fall season. The brand had hoped to move 2,000 vehicles per calendar year, but had been hampered by delays associated with quality control as well as lower-than-anticipated customer interest. Well over 500 SRT Vipers are currently in stock at Chrysler dealers across the country.
03. Aston Martin Cygnet Disappears From The Market
Remember the Aston Martin Cygnet? This doomed city car was the result of a bizarre cooperative effort between Toyota and the British luxury manufacturer, and it consisted of a Scion iQ re-branded with Aston Martin styling cues. Not altered in any way was the car's sub-100 horsepower, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine. With a price tag near $50,000, it's perhaps unsurprising that this bizarre-looking economy car was a slow seller, but the most puzzling part of the Cygnet mystery is how it ever came to be built at all. The Cygnet has left showrooms after two short, bizarre years as the least-likely Aston Martin in history.
04. 800,000 Trademarked Vehicle Names Explain Boring Letter/Number Combos
Have you ever wondered why so many car companies have switched to alphanumeric designators like 'ZDX' or 'MKS' instead of bold, effusive, emotionally-resonant names like 'Mustang,' or 'Vanquish?' A special report in the Automotive News indicates that it's because the number of trademarks applied to vehicle names has jumped from 75,000 to 800,000 in the space of only 20 years, leaving only a very small pool of potential product monikers to choose from. Throw in the fact that the same report attaches a price tag of $200 million in advertising costs to introducing a brand new vehicle name, and it seems clear that car companies prefer to stick with the status quo.
05. Fiat Dealers Snubbed By Alfa Romeo 4C
Fiat dealers in the United States received a firm slap in the face this past week with the news that the vaunted Alfa Romeo 4C will not be available at their stores. Instead, the semi-exotic sports coupe will be sold via upscale Maserati dealerships according to a report from the Automotive News. While the Alfa Romeo 4C is a limited-production model whose entire inventory is predicted to sell out well before customer deliveries ever even begin, the snub is a chilling one for Fiat dealerships for two reasons.
The first is that any association with a vehicle like the 4C would have no doubt attracted significant traffic to a Fiat location. The second, and more important issue, is that it casts doubt on future Alfa Romeo models, such as the upcoming Giulietta sedan, being made available through Fiat dealers. This would leave purveyors of the Italian brand with a very limited lineup of future products - Fiat only - which would be a shock after the company's CEO, Sergio Marchionne, consistently linked the two marques together in the years leading up to Alfa Romeo's official return to America.