Expert Panelist Wayne Cunningham of CNET’s Car Tech Channel Nominates Car Launches for MMNPL Survey

September 21, 2010

This year, the technological and automotive worlds have collided more than ever, resulting in a selection of 2011 cars with abundant amenities. From wireless routers to HD radio, these cars are fully loaded and are a dream to drive.  Take a look at Wayne Cunningham’s list below, as the senior editor of CNET’s Car Tech channel makes his nominations* for the most memorable new cars of the year (product choices by Wayne, summaries compiled by MMNPL staff).

2011 Infiniti M56

With its magnetic exterior and equally elegant interior, this mid-sized luxury sedan by Infiniti offers drivers a smooth, yet invigorating, driving experience. The 2011 Infiniti M56, which hit showrooms in March, 2010, features a signature engine and Blind Spot Intervention System, making your ride both safe and powerful. With Bluetooth technology, USB connection, 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, Bose audio and Zagat restaurant guide, this new Infiniti is a driver’s dream.

……

2011 Ford Fiesta

Fiesta gets the most out of every corner, thanks to the technical precision of its finely tuned suspension. Covert aerodynamic design and critical technology such as the class-exclusive PowerShift six-speed automatic and 1.6L Ti-VCT Duratec® I4 engine give it a responsive and fuel-responsible driving experience. The Fiesta Movement previewed the US version in ’09 and sales started in summer, 2010.  Features such as front heated leather-trimmed seats, SYNC® in-car connectivity system and Intelligent Access with push-button start reinforce that Fiesta is a choice, not a compromise.

….

2011 Audi A8

With a sleek design and an elegant, wood and leather interior, the 2011 Audi A8 puts your office on wheels, starting Fall, 2010. This luxury car seamlessly integrates technology, with iPod integration, Bluetooth and HD radio, plus Audi’s exclusive drive select, allowing drivers to personalize vehicle drive characteristics. If the car’s sleek design isn’t enough, the Audi A8 is equipped with a powerful engine, going from 0-60 in just 5.7 seconds.

….

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee features a sleek, modern styling that aims to make every driving moment grand. Premium craftsmanship is the car’s hallmark with soft, leather seats and leading edge technology. The Uconnect system puts the driver in control, with navigation, FLO TV, phone control, SIRIUS Radio and an in-car wireless router. The model hits showrooms in September 2010.

2011 Honda CR-Z Hybrid

The 2011 Honda CR-Z Hybrid is proof that efficient design does not have to come at the expense of beauty. The first 6-speed production hybrid offers a fun, yet functional, design with perks such as Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation, Bluetooth, driver-centric controls and a USB audio interface. Powered by a 1.5 liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine, the 2011 Honda CR-Z offers spirited performance rarely seen in hybrids, as well as impressive fuel-economy. Sales start late 2010.

2011 Mini Cooper Countryman

The 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman offers more power and a different driving experience as the biggest and most rugged of the Mini family. The first five-passenger Mini, the Countryman offers a spacious, yet sleek interior design. Slated to hit U.S. shores in January of 2011, this larger Mini does not disappoint.

*Not all products chosen by the MMNPL expert panelists are guaranteed to be included in the MMNPL survey due to our rigorous criteria for selecting new products.

For more information on Wayne Cunningham, please visit our expert panel page.
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Honda Accord Crosstour Offers Versatility – Except When it Comes to Consumer Engagement

February 24, 2010

Honda recently launched its Accord Crosstour, a car with an innovative design that combines the versatile characteristics of an SUV (like all wheel drive) with sexier features generally found in a premium sedan or sports car (like a 271 horsepower, V6 engine). But based on online consumer chatter, people aren’t sure how to describe the Crosstour, and lots are calling it a design failure. Honda’s response to those critics? “………..” (virtual silence)

Because of the volatile economy, Honda completed a “tame” launch. Honda ran an ad during the Super Bowl and is also running ads during the Olympics. You can also find Crosstour advertising on YouTube, in movie theaters and in a variety of magazines such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Men’s Health, Time, Forbes and The Economist. But one place where they deviated from the usual was in the launch of a Facebook fan page in the beginning of the campaign during the summer of 2009, which proved to be the match that set off a firestorm. Consumers and fans on the page spoke out against the car’s design, and according to a Columbus Dispatch article, they used terms like “epic fail,” “pig of a car,” “hideous” and the “Crossturd.” The article goes on to describe a “Crosstour Haters” group that sprung up right on Honda’s page. Honda’s marketing team attributed the feedback to unflattering photography, so they added new pictures and posted a response. “We scanned comments and found several key concerns that we addressed in a note on Facebook,” said Christina Ra, public relations manager for Honda. Speaking about their target “empty nester” consumer, Ra insisted, “We knew buyers wanted something that provided utility for their active lifestyles and newfound time and disposable income.”

Although Honda’s Facebook response seems like a mild mannered way to address the issue, a quick review of their Facebook fan page now shows a divide between Crosstour lovers and haters, who are posting dueling comments, so it seems Crosstour brand ambassadors have stepped forward and entered the fray to defend the design. On Twitter, it appears that Honda is only tweeting back to positive comments (Example: “Congrats! Honda Love prevails”), lumping legitimate critiques in with outright negativity over the look and feel of the new car. While ignoring the negativity and denying engagement looked like a faux pas early in the launch, it seems the momentum of their campaign and positive reviews from consumers have begun to stem the tide. Although Honda admittedly was surprised by the negative onslaught that occurred in social media, could it be that a complete refusal to engage in negativity was actually the right strategy? For more on this hotly debated topic, check out a recent Ad Age column by Jack Neff.


Honda to release the FCX Clarity, first hydrogen fuel cell car for consumers

July 2, 2008

Soon southern Californians will have yet another claim to fame.  The new Honda FCX Clarity will be available for lease later this summer. The FCX Clarity is the first hydrogen fuel cell car for consumers, but don’t count on getting your hands on one.  Honda will only be releasing 200 vehicles over the first three years. 

The Clarity, which emits nothing but water, runs on the hydrogen equivalent of 68 mpg for a total of 385 miles per fueling. The vehicle uses a lithium-ion battery and has the capacity to reach approximately 100 mph.

To coincide with the release of the car, Honda launched both print and television campaigns last year. The print ads feature a single letter from H-O-N-D-A, all made from a different substance representing the hydrogen qualities of the car.

The television campaign brings to life two different scenarios.  In the first commercial, “Mafia Men” shoot one another with water pistols, and in the second TV spot, a group of people are seen working together and solving problems.  At the end of the commercial, which is known as “Problem Playground,” this group of people builds a Honda FCX Clarity.  Do either of these ads sound familiar?

So how come only a limited number of vehicles will be released?  One major reason is that hydrogen fuel stations are scarce.  To help solve this problem, Honda has been working directly with Plug Power, Inc. since 2003, to bring hydrogen fuel stations to consumers’ homes.  In 2007, Honda released the Home Energy Station IV, which helps consumers fuel their homes along with their cars.

I certainly hope John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda, is right when he said that the release of this new car is “a monumental step closer to the day when fuel cell cars will be part of the mainstream.”  With the growing demand for environmentally safe products, Honda has taken a large leap forward.

Although they are releasing only a limited number of vehicles, Honda will certainly raise the eyebrows of the competition, and I’m sure we can expect to see more vehicles running strictly on hydrogen in the future. Toyota has always been in fierce competition with Honda, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar Toyota car in the next couple of years. 

Amen to eco-friendly driving!