Facing sluggish sales, automakers are doing everything they can to hold steady until next year, when things might stabilize. Whether the market recovers fully remains to be seen, but auto experts do agree on one thing: that to stop innovating will kill a car company.
"The bulk of the recovery will occur in the second half of 2010, when we have a lot of exciting new products coming in," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights at TrueCar.com. "We're supposed to see the Chevy Volt in the second half of 2010--that in itself will create a lot of excitement."
Industry insiders seem to agree. Rupert Stadler, the chairman of Audi AG, told reporters that Audi's success this year has been built on a "fresh, diverse range of products" and that the company has "not changed our strategy of moving forward on the product."
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Audi reported year-over-year sales up 26 per cent last month; BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz were down 25 per cent, 33 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively, for the same time period.
Fortunately, as evidenced by Audi's R8 Spyder, the past couple of years were rife with innovative efforts that will be realized in vehicles launching in 2010 — including the first-ever four-door car from Porsche, the Panamera, and the most informal Rolls-Royce yet, the Ghost.
The autos on our list of the most exciting cars of 2010 are mostly of the luxury variety: BMW's high-performance, $87,000 US mdoel X5 M, Mercedes-Benz's new hybrid, the $88,000 S400 BlueHybrid, and Audi's R8 Spyder.
But there are some more affordable offerings too.
Hyundai's Equus, a large, cushy sedan that follows on the heels of the company's award-winning Genesis, is one such car. It's notable for embodying Hyundai's aspiration to sell vehicles that compete with a Mercedes S Class or Lexus LS. The Equus will offer many of the same amenities as its luxury brethren (a navigation system, iDrive-like central control device, heated and cooled front seats, wood accents), but for several thousand dollars less. It will have an estimated manufacturers suggested retail price (MSRP) of $50,000.
Joel Ewanick, Hyundai's vice president of marketing, says the car will appeal to informed consumers who don't necessarily care as much about brand image as they do about getting a solid vehicle with premium amenities.
"There's a value to this car," Ewanick says. "People feel smart when they buy it. Value doesn't mean cheap. It's a relative term."
The car looks long and strong, with a 368-horsepower 4.6-liter Lambda V8 engine and a wide front angled to funnel air out and back over the car. Ewanick says the company has yet to decide whether or not it will prominently display a Hyundai badge on the Equus (the Genesis, the company's first foray into the premium market, displayed the logo only on the back of the car).
Rolls Dressing Down On the other hand, the $245,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost requires no identification to prove it's a direct descendant of Britain's best coach maker — but it's a step in a new direction for the company.
The Ghost, unveiled Sept. 15 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, breaks with tradition in that while it's a four-door sedan, it's clearly meant to be a driver's car — not one used with a chauffeur. Night vision, a heads-up display, lane-departure warning and active cruise control all attest to the driver-centric focus. And the elevated prow, long hood and short front overhang add to a newly informal effect.
Wayne Kung, a spokesman for Rolls-Royce, says the car will appeal to American entrepreneurs and self-made businessmen who have no need, or desire, for a driver but who want to make a statement nonetheless.
"When you drive one of our cars, people want to know about you," Kung says. "They already know about the car — they're more curious about who could be driving it."
Perhaps more interesting will be finding out who buys into Porsche's latest experiment: the four-door Panamera sedan. Purists have derided the vehicle for its elongated look, but supporters say it has the low center of gravity, cabin room and handling of a 911. They also point to the success of the Cayenne SUV, which was laughed off by some but is Porsche's best-selling model this year.
Lincoln Merrihew, the senior vice president of business solutions for market research firm TNS, drove a Panamera at Porsche headquarters and says the company seems to have applied the same method it used to develop the Cayenne: Above all, focus on making the vehicle a Porsche.
"You're going to feel like you're in a Porsche," Merrihew says.
Porsche is positioning it as a sports car that just so happens to hold four adults and their luggage. And if the company can achieve that, who's to say that Hyundai won't have a luxury sedan that competes with Lexus and Mercedes.