2012 – Year In Review

Motor City Blogman

Elsewhere at this site, you’ll find a compilation of Automobile Magazine editors’ bests and worsts of 2012. This isn’t that. Normally, I would check blog posts from the just-ending year to refresh my memory about highlights and lowlights in the automotive world.

This year, I’m going from memory, because, if you can’t remember it off the top of your head, how is it a highlight/lowlight? Except for the 2012 Geneva show, which being on neutral ground, tends to reveal many important cars without having a standout. So, without further ado, here’s my quick drive down 2012 Memory Lane …

Best of the Detroit show (January): The Acura NSX concept. Just because it looked like a real NSX, while previous NSX replacement concepts looked too much like anodyne high-tech sports cars drawn on the back of junior high schoolers’ notebooks. And because it’s being designed and engineered in Ohio.

Best of the Chicago show (February): The annual afterglow party at North Side blues dive Kingston Mines.

Early departure: After getting Ford Motor Company through the Great Recession and years of fiscal losses, product chief and contributing One Ford architect Derrick Kuzak abruptly retires.

Best of the Geneva show (March): Oh, I don’t know. Range Rover Evoque convertible concept?

Most important Geneva launch: Mercedes-Benz’s new A-Class, triggering a new round of small, front-wheel drive premium cars from automakers that usually do rear-wheel-drive cars. Well, OK, there’s one other such automaker, BMW.

Most important New York launch (Easter/Passover): 2014 Chevrolet Impala, which I wrote is the car that will do really well if its sales fall, because that means it didn’t go straight to rental and compete in transaction price with the Malibu. Since then, it turns out the Malibu is enough of a disappointment that Chevy will have to push out a lot of Impalas just to keep brand volume reasonably high.

Brain drain: GM cuts one-quarter of its R&D department at the Warren, Michigan, Tech Center, thus providing Henrik Fisker a steady stream of highly trained and experienced unpaid interns.

Multicultural moment of the year: South African Johann de Nysschen abruptly resigns as Audi’s North American chief, prompting all kinds of speculation from Automotive News and virtually every website vaguely covering the auto industry. De Nysschen shows up the following week as Infiniti’s new global chief, based in Hong Kong.

What was Akerson thinking?: First, for hiring Joel Ewanick from Nissan as marketing chief, then for promoting him to global marketing chief, then for firing Ewanick because he signed with football club Manchester United in a $559 million Chevrolet jersey sponsorship deal. Or, at least that’s the semi-official story.

What was Akerson thinking? part II: As if to divert attention from the Ewanick debacle, GM fires Dave Lyon just before Lyon was to leave for Germany to become chief of the European design studio. No official reason is given.

Date uncertain: Somewhere in the middle of all this, Volkswagen Group completes its purchase of Porsche. I think.

Not an unimportant move: Akerson names GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky interim GM Europe president.

Most important commodity car launch of ‘12: The 2013 Accord, for signaling Honda is back on track. And for proving you don’t need to try and make your midsize car sexy; you need to combine a spacious interior package with a trim exterior package.

Not so important in the greater scheme of things, but big to us: The design, balance and handling performance of the new Porsche Boxster and the coming Cayman are making it hard to pay attention to the new 911 and its close-minded purist followers.

Don’t forget: The Cadillac ATS. Though its manual gearbox is half-baked and the 2.0-liter turbo engine could use more development, the car comes as close as any other luxury competitor to dethroning the BMW 3 Series.

Automotive TV moment: A tie. Donna and I are “Breaking Bad” fanatics. We have not regularly watched “Mad Men” until this year, spurred by the Jaguar ad account tie-up. Of course, we caught the episode in which partner Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), is caught embezzling from the ad agency just as his wife gives him a beautiful BRG Series 1 E-Type coupe for his birthday. “No, not in the car!” Donna says as Pryce carefully prepares to use the car to asphyxiate himself. It’s not that I’m prescient or smart. It’s probably because I still remember the E-Type convertible in the recurring scenes in “Gumball Rally.” “Don’t worry,” I tell my wife. “It won’t start.” Meanwhile, over at “Breaking Bad,” loser high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has fully transformed himself into Heisenberg, the man in the black porkpie hat, the one who knocks – and so he gives up his Pontiac Aztek for a black Chrysler 300C SRT8.

This had better not be another deal like when they had to pay Fiat not to buy it: GM and PSA Peugeot Citroen sign a deal to share parts purchasing and some smaller platforms. The deal would make the GM-PSA combo bigger in volume than VW AG in Europe, though talks to expand it and bring in Fiat are blunted when the French government gives PSA a $9 billion bailout.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Paris: VW Chief Martin Winterkorn, who has been trying to buy Alfa Romeo out from under Sergio Marchionne’s Fiat, reportedly tries to oust Marchionne as president of the European manufacturers’ lobbying group. Ostensibly, the dispute is over the way Marchionne is handling the European crisis. He’s seriously trying to cut production capacity there. Marchionne meets with Winterkorn at the Paris auto show and prevails. His employer still owns Alfa, too.

Romney moves Jeep production to China: Ironically enough, Jeep was the first U.S. automaker in China, even before Buick. Marchionne and, especially Ralph Gilles react strongly to presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s misstatement that Fiat is moving all of Chrysler’s Jeep production to the world’s largest auto market. It certainly didn’t help Romney’s campaign in Ohio.

Post-election, GM buys up Treasury’s GM stock: Can CEO Dan Akerson finally rid the company of its “Government Motors”sobriquet? (See my previous post.)

Biggest automotive trend: Americans are cross-shopping compact CUVs like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Chevy Equinox with midsize sedans.

Boom or bust: Premium subcompact CUVs (BMW X1, Buick Encore) as the next big automotive trend?

RIP: Snake charmer Carroll Shelby, race driver and would-be sports carmaker John Fitch, great drives impresario Martin Swig, racing broadcaster extraordinaire Chris Economaki, Chrysler engineer and genuine car guy Dan Knott and pianist/composer Dave Brubeck. Brubeck? The Dave Brubeck Quartet, with drummer Joe Morello, bassist Eugene Wright and tenor saxophonist Paul Desmond (who described his sound as that of a dry martini) used to practice in Denise McCluggage’s kitchen (denisemccluggage.com).

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