Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why We "Never" Get The Good Stuff

Above and below: the SEAT Leon SC.  The Fifth Gear presenters liked it a lot better than the base model Volkswagen
Scirocco.  The Leon SC is both faster and cheaper in the U.K.  And I think it's better-looking.  Of course we won't see
it over here: VW owns SEAT and the Leon S would be a direct competitor with base Golfs and Sciroccos.

The main thing that appeals to me about this car is its restrained styling and use of creases (except for the "triangulated" front).  It's not a true pocket rocket, but a slightly-optioned entry-level car.  But the Fifth Gear people liked it a lot better than its direct competitor, the entry-level VW Scirocco.

Now and then, I get a bit weepy over the excellent cars available in Europe that don't make it over here: the hard-edged Golf GTI, the Honda Civic Type R, the Citroen and Peugeot hot hatches, previous hot rod Ford Focuses and Fiestas.  (In launching the current Focus ST, Ford stressed that we North Americans were getting "the good car," identical to the one sold in Europe.)

But it makes commercial sense.  The European hot hatches are more hard-edged.  And, in my two trips to France and Belgium, I didn't see one over there.  It's a small market segment with a lot of competitors.  On both continents, a hot hatch is a daily driver, not a weekend toy.  The European versions can be smaller cars than their North American counterparts (the Civic Type R, for example).  A softer-edged car makes more sense for our stop-and-go traffic and long Interstate runs.  My Civic Si is a 4-door and I needed one.

I've not seen figures for sales of the GTI vs. the regular Golf, or the Civic Si vs. the regular Civic, but would not be surprised if the hot rods were outsold 20 or 30 to 1 by the normal cars.  So firms like VW and Honda have to ask themselves "Can we sell even more hard-core cars in North America?"  Firms like Citroen, Peugeot, and Vauxhall aren't even in our market.  When Fiat bought Chrysler, it apparently decided (sensibly) not to sell Fiat 500's and Alfa Romeos through Chrysler dealerships.  Instead, the new Dodge Dart has Fiat engineering and components under its sheet metal.

Give the customer what he wants.  There aren't many of us who want a Nurburgring-capable hot hatch.  And of that small number, many need 4 doors.

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