Sunday, July 26, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News for Wk of 7-27-15

Last week we shared with you a tale of woe from Jacksonville, Florida, where the proud owner of a new 2016 Mazda MX-5 found himself with the unenviable title of “first to crash a new Miata” among owners of the new Limited Edition ND cars.

I am happy to report Mazda North America Operations and Tom Bush Mazda went above and beyond the call of duty and good business practices. The manufacturer slotted a new car for the owner in the midst of the production run. The replacement MX-5 drops in the US August 15th. Mazda is taking back the wrecked model for forensic analysis.

This may tread into the realm of wonkishness, but the numbers are pretty impressive.
J. D. Power
and LMC Automotive are estimating U.S. new vehicle retail sales for July—this is the Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Selling Rate, or SAAR—will reach 14.0-Million units. That’s the highest level for the month since 2005.

July’s SAAR figures are nearly a half-million more than July 2014, and the strongest sales in a decade. What was going on in July 2005? SAAR reached 16.7-million units sold when automakers offered alleged “employee pricing” for everyone and his dog.

Autosales forecasters are predicting July sales will finish at 1,260,200-units. For a minute, I thought they’d confused their job with weather forecasters, because in Texas this week it’s been about a million-degrees.

“The average new-vehicle retail transaction price so far in July is $29,673,” says John D. Humphrey, Senior VP of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power. The record average transaction price for July was set last year, at $29,428.

My first, brand new car was a 1976 Honda CVCC Civic.
It was a 5-speed manual, and I paid extra for the A/C.
I subsequently owned four more Honda's over the next decade and a half. They’re fine automobiles.

Honda’s latest claim to fame is the 2016 Accord which will feature both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in addition to a plethora of techie features. Honda says it’s the most high-tech Accord ever.

"Customers want their vehicles to be more intelligently integrated with their smartphone-powered lives, and we are committed to delivering that experience starting with Accord,” says John Mendel, Executive VP, Automobile Division, American Honda Motor Co.

The new Accord will be offered with two advanced Honda engines: a direct-injected (DI) 2.4-liter inline i-VTEC 4-cylinder, and a 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 that is the most powerful engine offered in a Honda sedan to date.

Until now, wheelchair-bound drivers’ choices for personal transportation were limited to larger minivans or full-sized vans, specially fitted with wheelchair accessible lifts. Ford Motor Company is marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by rolling out the first wheelchair accessible SUV, based on the Ford Explorer. It's a doozy.

BraunAbility is working with Ford to “change the face of an industry, and bring creater mobility to people in wheelchairs.” The BraunAbility MXV is the company’s first-ever volume production SUV offering. 

The company has promised the first production model to wounded Marine veteran Mike Delancey, who was paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet while serving in Iraq in 2006.

The BraunAbility MXV features sliding-door technology, removable driver and passenger seats, and a powered, lighted in-floor ramp. With Explorer’s middle-row seat removed, the BraunAbility MXV provides interior space to fit the most common power wheelchair models, and its 56-inch cabin height provides a spacious interior for a comfortable ride.

If you’re a first-adopter, you’re going to want to get on the list for Toyota’s new hydrogen fuel cell electric, the Mirai. The company’s order request portal is up and running.

The Mirai combines hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity on-board, while emitting nothing but water vapor.  It has the highest EPA estimated driving range rating of any zero emission electric vehicle on the market, at 312 miles, and offers an EPA estimated 67 mpge city/highway/combined.

Toyota says production of the Mirai will be limited, and the vehicles will be placed with select, eligible customers.  After placing a request, potential Mirai drivers will be contacted directly by a Toyota representative to discuss ownership and next steps.  If you want one, you’ll have to drive to California to pick it up. Toyota is authorizing eight dealers between northern and southern Cali to handle the cars. MSRP will be $57,500 plus an $835 destination fee.

The Mirai ownership experience will include three years’ worth of complimentary fuel, three years’ complimentary Safety Connect and Entune, including a hydrogen station finder app. That feature may be worth its weight in gold…or hydrogen...because there are only a dozen hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S.—ten of them in California.

 Listen to the Automotive Reporter Radio Show every weekend on, or from our webpage.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News for Wk of 7-20-15

And then there were 999…

production run of the first 1,000 new fourth-generation MX-5 Miata has already been reduced by one unit. “Steve” and his wife had just taken delivery of their brand-spanking-new Miata LE in Jacksonville, Florida when they were hit from behind by an F-150 Pickup truck, traveling at an estimated 50mph. The impact of the collision pushed the couple’s car forward into the rear of a Mazda 3.  They were less than a mile from the dealership.

Steve says every body panel on the MX-5 was altered in some way.  “[The] trunk is jammed, fenders and body parts are in contact with the wheels, and the body gaps around the doors have shifted, but the doors both still open.”

“We have to be thankful [to] the "higher powers" that be that we walked away from this,” Steve posted over the weekend. “It is also a testament to Mazda and their design and engineering team that the car did what it should do in so many ways and we literally walked away from what could have been a fatal in just slightly different circumstances,” he wrote.

The pictures tell the tale. “5000-lbs F-150, no brakes applied, closes on us at a 20-30 mph difference and punts us into a car in front of us at probably a 15-20 mph closing speed difference and we walk away!” says Steve. “Amazing........”

The insurance company is expected to total the car.
Despite the massive damage, he says, “the car still runs, but that's about it.
Steve is now looking for a clean, used 6-speed LE.

One of the fog lights on my 2007 MX-5 gave up the ghost last week. Hating to drive around at night with a burned out bulb, I replaced both lamps with a new set of LED lightbulbs, which should last until the next millennium.

Ford Motor Company is developing a new camera-based Advanced Front Lighting System that will widen the beam of lights at junctions and in curves—after memorizing routes and interpreting traffic signs.

“Many people who drive at night have had to quickly react to someone or something suddenly appearing in the road – as if from nowhere. Ford’s Camera-Based Advanced Front Lighting System and Spot Lighting help ensure the driver is quickly alerted to people or animals that could present a danger,” says Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. Elements of the technology are already available in Ford vehicles, providing drivers with “improved visibility at roundabouts, stop, and give way or yield signs.” 

The system also uses GPS information to better illuminate bends and dips on a chosen route. Where GPS information is not available the technology uses a forward-facing video camera mounted in the rear-view mirror base to detect lane markings and predict the road’s curvature, using the information to illuminate the area more effectively. In a further evolutionary step, the camera stores the information in the navigation system, allowing the headlights to automatically adapt to the course of the road.

Spot Lighting – currently in the pre-development phase with Ford engineers in Europe – uses an infra-red camera in the front grille to simultaneously locate and track up to eight people and bigger animals, including larger dogs, at a range of up to 400-feet.

Ford already offers Dynamic LED Headlights which combines full-LED headlamps with Ford’s Adaptive Front Lighting System. The system adjusts the headlight beam angle and intensity to match the driving environment. I’m a big fan of Ford’s Glare-Free Highbeam technology, which detects vehicles ahead and fades out light that could dazzle oncoming drivers, while retaining maximum illumination for other areas. Apparently in Houston, many drivers are already blind, and normally drive around with their high-beams on at all times.
Thank you, Ford, for saving my retinas.

The next-generation Nissan Titan XD is on its way. The automaker has produced a series of videos highlighting the passion of truck owners, called the Nissan “Titan Truckumentary.” 

Chapter 7, “Truck Love,” was filmed in-part at the 8th Annual Texas Nissan Truck Meet, as well as the first public unveilings of the 2016 Titan XD earlier in the year in Southern California. 
The series, starring Dave Mazur, vice president of Market Intelligence, Nissan North America, also provides a look at current-generation Titan customers and an analysis of Nissan's market positioning for the next-generation Titan.
The U.S. Apollo Spaceflight Program inspired several generations of young Americans to enter math and science careers. Ford is continuing the legacy for an eighth consecutive year of producing aviation-inspired Mustang models to benefit youth education programs. The automaker has created a one-of-a-kind 2015 Ford Mustang Apollo Edition which will be sold at a charity auction this week (7/23) at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Edsel B. Ford II is enthusiastic about the US space program—and the special-edition vehicles. “The Apollo program delivered astonishing innovations in technology and achieved a national goal of landing the first human on the moon,” he says. “The entire program was extraordinary – one of our nation’s greatest technological achievements.” 

Ford’s Apollo Edition salutes “that spirit of American ingenuity with the quintessential American automobile – Ford Mustang.”

Ford Design Manager Melvin Betancourt headed up the project. The exterior features a one-of-a-kind glossy pure white and pure black non-production paint scheme featuring a carbon fiber front splitter, rear diffuser, rocker moldings and accent treatments, along with unique LED underbody lighting to symbolize atmospheric re-entry.

Enhancements include a Ford Performance supercharger and shifter, X-pipe with side and rear exhaust, sport-tuned suspension, six-piston Brembo brakes and custom Forgiato 21-inch performance wheels. Betancourt says the Apollo Mustang “will deliver a heart-pounding 627 horsepower and 540 lb.-ft. of torque to provide an exhilarating, controlled launch for its new owner.”

Unique Ford vehicles have raised nearly $3 million for EAA youth aviation programs, including the Young Eagles group. Other unique vehicles that support EAA youth education programs are:

2008 Mustang AV8R, with cues from F-22 Raptor, which helped introduce the glass-roof canopy and delivered an auction contribution of $500,000

AV-X10 “Dearborn Doll” Mustang, crafted in honor of the World War II aircraft

– Two automotive icons – the late Carroll Shelby, former U.S. Air Force flight instructor, and Jack Roush, longtime P-51 pilot – collaborated for the first time to create the SR-71 Blackbird Mustang inspired by legendary reconnaissance jet

Blue Angels Mustang, created to celebrate 100 years of U.S. naval aviation

 2012Red Tails Mustang, to pay homage to Tuskegee Airmen – courageous squadron of P-51 Mustang pilots who were the United States’ first African American military airmen

2013U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Edition Mustang, built to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team

F-35 Lightning Edition II Mustang, which featured design cues from the world’s most advanced multirole fighter jet – the F-35 Lightning

The Apollo Edition Mustang
will proudly be on display all week in the Ford hangar at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015. To participate in the auction, prequalify by contacting the EAA development office, (800) 236-1025 or

GMC’s best-selling truck continues to perform on the road—and on General Motors’ sales ledges. Truck sales are coming off the best June since 2006, with 12 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains. GM says exterior styling is the top reason for purchases, and the new truck adds key design elements: LED “C-shaped” signature daytime running lights and LED headlights; new front fascia and grilles for each trim level; new LED fog lamps; new bumpers; and new “C-shaped” LED taillights.

The new Sierra will be available in the fourth quarter of this year, with additional details and information on the new model released in the coming months.

Are we destined for driverless cars? In his Weekend Essay, LinkedIn Executive Chairman and co-founder, Reid Hoffman, opines in the affirmative, pointing to Google’s impressive record over the past 6-years in its driverless fleet: Only 11-minor accidents—none caused by the pilotless cars—and no fatalities.

While Hoffman owns a Tesla-S, which he says purchased for its pure driving pleasure, he predicts networked, driverless transportation between two points will be the norm of the future. 

That future will take some time to assemble, with more than 2-billion “legacy cars” still on the road, and the automotive industry only able to produce/replace about 100-million units a year.  With those numbers in play, Hoffman’s driverless utopia would take about 20-years to become a reality.  

Say “it’ll never happen” until they pry your cold, dead hands off your steering wheel?
Hoffman reminds that our love of the open road, and driving upon it at will, is not a right, but a licensable privilege. What the Government giveth, the government can taketh away.

Listen to the Automotive Reporter Radio Show every weekend on, or from our webpage.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News for Wk of 7-13-15

The new Ford Shelby GT350R is already a wicked-fast Mustang, but the Ford Performance Division has just figured out a way to make the car even faster. You might say they really did reinvent the wheel.

Engineers know one key to superior performance is eliminating as much un-sprung weight as possible—that is weight not supported by the car’s suspension—and a big part of that is in the wheels. And what is the ultimate, light-weight high-performance material? Carbon fiber.

Together with Australia’s Carbon Revolution, Ford has taken on and met the challenge of creating a new carbon fiber wheel for the Shelby Mustang that reduces individual wheel weight from 33- to 18-pounds. The resulting performance is as stunning as the process by which it is created.

“The carbon fiber wheels reduce vehicle weight by 60 pounds compared to aluminum, yet are stiffer for better steering response,” says Adam Wirth, Ford Performance chassis supervisor. “We believe this is a game changer for the industry, a great example of improved performance through innovation,” Wirth said.

Spun from carefully formed strands of carbon fiber, the wheels are manufactured as a single unit, cured and sealed, and treated with a special ceramic coating to protect from the extreme 900-degree heat generated by braking. 

Curb strikes are a death-knell to lightweight, high- performance rims. But because of the carbon fiber wheel’s extreme rigidity and exceptional low weight, test cars’ suspensions were able to respond more rapidly to the impact of a curb strike. 

Ford says its drivers had to repeat the curb strike portion of the trials because they first believed they’d missed the curb. Yeah, it’s that light.

Up until now, only Swedish ultracar maker Koenigsegg offered optional carbon fiber wheels. Move over for Mustang.

Back in the 1960’s, General Motors needed a reliable test bed for some of the innovative technology it was developing. Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Chevy Corvette, came up with the “Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle, or CERV-1, as a mechanical guinea pig for engines and suspension designs.

The CERV’s were raced on oval tracks, up Pikes Peak and all over, and had no mechanical peer anywhere. One version of the CERV-1 would eventually hit 205 mph. 

The car’s suspension layout is the basis of the one used in modern day Corvettes.

Most of the CERV’s were destroyed or kept by GM in its archives, but the CERV-1 escaped those fates, and goes on the auction block next month (August) at RM Sotheby's Monterey.
The car is expected to fetch upwards of $1.3-Million.

How effective is crowd funding, really?
Elio Motors
is a big fan of the process, and a big winner in its disclosed equity crowd funding campaign: More than $16 million in expressed non-binding interest from nearly 5-thousand potential investors in just 19 days! 

Elio Motors’ goal is to raise $25 million through the campaign. Capital raised will help fund next year’s launch of its three-wheel, enclosed vehicle that is expected to sell for $6,800 and get up to 84 MPG.
Impossible, you scoff?

The company has already taken nearly 45,000 reservations for a spot in line to purchase a vehicle, and routinely has people lined up around the block to see the vehicle at its tour stops across the country.

The innovative funding strategy, made possible by recent changes to the 2012 JumpStart Our Business Start-up (JOBS) Act, was the perfect fit for a company that looks to innovate in every aspect of its operations.
“We’re always looking for new ways to do things and crowdfunding is certainly the wave of the future for entrepreneurs, start-up organizations and investors,” says Paul Elio, founder and CEO.

The crowdfunding opportunity was made possible in March of 2015, when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission enacted rules to implement Title IV of the JOBS Act, paving the way for private companies to raise up to $50 million from both accredited and non-accredited investors. This new set of rules is known as “Regulation A+.”

Elio Motors will use funds from this initiative to build an additional 25 prototypes for testing and validation.    

FCA US LLC is investing more than $166 million in three new press lines at its Sterling Stamping Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., to support increased product demand. The new press lines - already under construction - are expected to begin production in the fourth quarter of 2015 and will reach full volume in the first half of 2016.

The investment comes as the facility celebrates 50 years of producing body panels and assemblies for some of the Company’s most popular vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram Truck.

Included in the funding is the purchase and installation of two extra-large High Speed Servo Tandem press lines (each 180 inches) and one large Servo Progressive press line. These three presses will increase the number of stampings produced each day by nearly 75,000 or 20 million a year. Currently, Sterling Stamping produces 62 million stampings annually.

Sterling Stamping is one of six facilities in the FCA North American family that stamps and sub-assembles parts from sheet metal, including hoods, roofs, liftgates, side apertures, fenders and floor pans. Those parts are then shipped to several of the company’s North- and Central American facilities to be welded and assembled together to form the bodies of vehicle such as: Dodge Grand Caravan, Dodge Dart, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Chrysler 200, as well as Ram Trucks in its Warren, Michigan and Saltillo, Mexico Truck Assembly Plants. 

It’s a hot summer day, and your car is parked an acre away, where it has been baking in the relentless sun. If it’s a Mazda 6 or CX-5, you can just whip out your smartphone with the Mazda Mobile Start app, and fire-up that hot rod, and cool it down by the time you trek to your parking space.

Mazda North American Operations is launching Mazda Mobile Start, the only Smartphone Remote Engine Start system engineered and designed specifically for Mazda vehicles. 

The service will control not only Engine Start functions, but also door locks and a panic alarm feature. There’s also a GPS component, so you can locate your car on a map grid, if that never ending asphalt leaves you dazed and confused in the heat.

The app also has a timing feature—once your car is started remotely, it will run for up to 30-minutes—with an up and down timer for your phone. I mean, really, is it going to take you a half hour to find your car?? 

Included with the purchase of Mazda Mobile Start (MSRP $500) is a complimentary one-year subscription to the Mazda Mobile Start app, which is available in the iOS App Store and Google Play. Annual renewal for the service is $65. Mazda Mobile Start is currently compatible only with the 2016 Mazda6 and 2016 Mazda CX-5 with automatic transmission only). The service is planned for more models.

Listen to the Automotive Reporter Radio Show every weekend on, or from our webpage.