Monday, August 31, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 8-31-15



 
Just keep reminding yourself, it’s a Mercedes-Benz.
smart is debuting the latest variant in the series, the ForTwo Cabrio, next month at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt

The folks at MB crow the car is really three autos in one, transforming from an enclosed two-seater into a canvas-drapped sunroof, or full-open convertible.  smart says its cabrio is the only true cabriolet in its class. That’s because no one else makes these things. Thankfully.

The smart series is powered by a turbocharged 898-cc three-cylinder engine cranking out 89-hp and 100-lb/ft of torque. Rawr. The smart cabrio boasts a turning circle of just under 23-feet. Zero-to-sixty times have not been published, but the car’s top speed is posted at 96-mph.

Sidebar: How smart is it to name your car and not capitalize the name? Don’t these guys realize the spellcheck havoc they’re wreaking, especially when you need to start a sentence with “smart,” and force a lower-case first letter in the first word of a line? Second, where did this convention of eliminating the spaces between two words, two names, or any adjective-noun combination come from? How is it no one has said, “ENOUGH!” yet?
ForTwo, SmartCar, AppleCar. SmartPhone, MileagePlus.
Need I go on?

All those whiz-bang features in new cars may be for naught.
The 2016 class of automobiles feature unprecedented technology features. We now have cars that will park themselves and then come get you from their parking space. There are more pre-installed apps, and touch screen displays that rival some small laptops. Some automakers are even offering “ground school” classes to familiarize new car buyers with all of the features. I still have trouble setting the clock on my dashboard every time we switch between DST and standard time.

J.D.Power’s latest DrIVE report of driver experiences with in-vehicle tech reveals a surprising level of non-use of these newest features, with 20% of new car owners never using 16 of the 33 features measured. 43% of drivers never use the in-vehicle concierge, 38% ignore mobile routers, 35% don’t let the cars park themselves, and 32% don’t use the built-in apps…or don’t know where/what they are to get to them.

This might beg the question, if automakers are building technology no one uses, is the value of these cars over rated? The Power report also shows 14 tech features 20-percent of car owners do not want in their next car, including Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, in-vehicle concierge services, and in-vehicle voice texting.  Gen Y owners would just as soon use their own personal smart instrument of choice instead of an in-car app.

So what technologies do drivers want? Anything that enhances the driving experience and safety, like vehicle health diagnostics, blind-spot warning, and adaptive cruise control.
Car Wars: Summer Sales forecast results
Depending upon whom you ask, new car sales are anticipated to take a dip for August.
Some car makers are blaming it on Labor Day timing from last year—sales totals in August 2014 included Labor Day sales figures. This year, Labor Day tallies will be in September’s numbers.

Kelly Blue Book is predicting a 4% year-over-year decline to 1.52-million units sold, which yields a SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) of 17.2-million sales.  Across the street at Edmunds.com, numbers crunchers say August numbers will hit 1.53-million units, for a SAAR of 17.4-million sales. That would be a 2.8% drop from August 2014. Analysts at both counting houses are watchful for a softening of the new car sales market, which is joined at the hip to the financial markets.


Want to buy a new Ford GT?
Instead of shipping the rare 2017 Ford GT to dealerships to sell, Ford Motor Company is taking a more “exclusive” approach to marketing the $400,000 supercar. You’ll have to take a number.

Ford is requiring prospective buyers to file an application to purchase the GT, although one source says current owners will go to the front of the line. Anyone can apply to buy starting early next year, and Ford’s concierge services will “walk them through” the process. 

Why all the persnickitiness over the 2017 Ford GT? They’re only going to build 250 of them a year. AutoBlog notes for comparison, Ferrari only built 499 LaFerraris, and there were 918 Porsche 918 Spyders.

Review Preview
Watch this space later this week for my reflections on driving Ford’s 2016 Mustang fitted with a 2.3-L Ecoboost four, one of the most pleasantly-surprising configurations you could imagine. 

The car is not without its flaws, but they’re minor in comparison with performance and handling.  It doesn’t hurt that the ’16 ‘Stang is knee-weakeningly gorgeous.
 

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

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 8-24-15



The design team at Ford Motor Company has created a combination of beauty and brawn in the all-new 2015 Shelby GT350 Mustang that can only be described as knee-weakening. Ford’s PR peeps prefer to describe the newest pony car as “the most athletic Mustang ever.” That’s acceptable.

The Shelby GT 350 boasts a 5.2-Liter V-8 with the flat-plane crank, creating 526-horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque, driving a 3.73 Torsen limited-slip differential, sprung on MagnaRide suspension.

That last feature you have to say in your “Dr. Evil voice.” MagnaRide.

Spoiler alert: next week I will be driving a Mustang with half the cylinders, which might seem to be a travesty on the surface. I am told it is an experience to behold. Stay tuned.


There is a shifting trend in used-car sales, with the average model getting younger—and more expensive. Edmunds.com’s most recent Used Vehicle Market Report says that’s because used car inventories are being inflated by newer off-lease vehicles and certified pre-owned (CPO) programs.

Pardon my wonkiness as I quote from the report: “Average used car prices hit a record high of $18,800 in the second quarter, up 7.6 percent — or $1,300 per vehicle — from the second quarter of 2014. Meanwhile, the average age of used cars sold in Q2 2015 was 4.5 years, down from an average of 4.9 years the same time last year.”

But there’s also more value in what you’re paying more for. Edmunds.com Director of Industry Analysis, Jessica Caldwell, says "Three-year old used cars have more bells and whistles than older used cars, and they're actually selling for less than they did just one year ago.” Caldwell says that’s in contrast to vehicles aged eight and over, whose prices are up an average of 11 percent over last year. “There's undoubtedly a growing value proposition these days in newer used cars," she says.

It’s back to school season, and for the college bound, that may mean a new(er) gently-owned hooptie. Which one is the best value? Analysts at Edmunds.com have chosen 11 standout cars and SUV’s for your consideration.

The data suggests collegiate car buyers want more than just a dependable ride. Game-day tailgate capability and smart phone connectivity are also must-have features.

“We left out ‘sensible’ used car choices like the Honda Civic, Toyota RAV4 or Ford Fusion," said James Riswick, Used Car Editor for Edmunds.com. "While these are all great options, they are generic enough to appeal to anyone, and we wanted to craft a list specifically based on what matters most to today's students."

Herewith we present Edmunds.com’s Top 11 Used Cars for College Students:

  • Mazda 3 (2004-'09): $4,000-$15,000
  • Honda CR-V (2002-'06): $4,900-$13,000
  • Scion tC (2005-'10): $5,000-$15,000
  • Acura TSX (2004-'08): $6,500-$15,500
  • Ford Mustang (2005-'09): $7,000-$30,000
  • Toyota Prius (2006-'09): $7,000-$15,000
  • Kia Soul (2010-'13): $8,000-$17,000
  • Honda Fit (2009-'13): $8,500-$18,000
  • Hyundai Tucson (2010-'15): $11,000-$26,000
  • Toyota FJ Cruiser (2007-'11): $11,500-$28,000
  • Subaru Impreza (2012-'15): $12,900-$26,000

Nissan continues to roll out refreshed brand introductions, following up its successful 2014 Rogue and 2015 Murano. That back-to-back achievement helped drive Nissan to a record 1,269,565 units in 2014 calendar year sales—a gain of more than 12% in the United States.

2016 promises to continue the trend with Nissan’s presentation of its’ eighth-generation Nissan Maxima "4-Door Sports Car," and a Cummins diesel-powered Nissan Titan XD pickup. The new Maxima arrived at Nissan dealerships in June. The Titan XD rolls out later in the year. Nissan’s Altima and Sentra will also see significant refreshing in the 2016 model year. 

Nissan says the new Titan XD design combines the "capability of a heavy-duty hauler with the drivability and affordability of a light-duty pickup." The truck is anchored by a Cummins 5.0L V8 Turbo Diesel, rated at 310 horsepower and 555 pound feet of torque. It is mated to a heavy-duty 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission. Nissan’s gasoline-powered version of the Titan XD will come out in the Spring of 2016.

The jury is still out on what will happen to Houston’s historic Astrodome, the first enclosed stadium in the world. Down here, folks would rather tear down old buildings and put up new ones, to our cultural detriment, in my opinion. 

So I am pleased to share with you that General Motors’ historic Durant-Dort Factory One in downtown Flint, Michigan, will be converted into an archive and research center as part of a renovation project connecting the site’s  manufacturing history with ongoing developments in the automotive industry.

GM still owns the former carriage factory, and is planning to invest several million dollars to create a modern archive to house the automotive collection currently located at nearby Kettering University

The archive and research center will occupy the first floor of the east wing of Factory One. The second floor of the east wing will become a flexible meeting area for GM, community and educational groups to conduct STEM-related classes, seminars and  research. The high-bay area in the west wing of the facility will be renovated to house classic vehicles and other artifacts from Flint’s carriage-building era.

Located on the Flint River, Factory One got its start in 1880 as part of the Flint Cotton & Woolen Mills company. In 1886, the then-empty facility was leased by William Crapo Durant and Josiah Dallas Dort, who formed the Flint Road Cart Company.

Durant later took control of Buick Motor Company and leveraged his Durant-Dort resources to grow the fledgling automaker into one of the most successful car companies in the country. Durant used Buick’s success as the cornerstone on which he built General Motors, and, a couple of years later, he again turned to his friends from Flint’s carriage industry to form Chevrolet
And the rest is history.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News Wk of 8-17-2015



When is the best time to release bad news? Friday’s…after 5p.
That’s what Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV did ahead of the weekend, announcing the recall of more than 85,000 new cars because their engines could stall.

At issue is the 2015 Chrysler 200 midsize sedan, where it’s been determined some electrical connectors were damaged. The discovery came during routine post-production testing. Chrysler says no crashes or injuries have been reported.

FCA has not yet announced an owner-notification schedule.
You can call the automaker at 800-853-1403, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's vehicle-safety hotline at 888-327-4236, or go to www.safercar.gov for more info.
That sounds like fun on a Monday.


Acura has been teasing us about three all-new NSX models, and finally showed off two of them at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, for the very first time last week. 

These are the first build-to-order vehicles for Acura. The NSX will feature plenty of factory-installed options, including carbon-fiber front, side and rear body elements, carbon-fiber engine covers, and a carbon roof.  If your model has a roof.

General Motors’ Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant has a achieved another milestone. The automaker’s newest factory just turned out its 2-millionth vehicle—a 2016 Buick Enclave large crossover.  
 
Since starting production on May 24, 2006, the Lansing Delta Township plant has manufactured the Saturn Outlook, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Acadia Denali and Buick Enclave

3,200 employees operate three shifts at the plant, into which GM has invested more than $580-million. It also doesn’t hurt that sales numbers for Enclave continue to swell. 2014 production was 39-percent higher than its first year of production. 


GM says it's already sold more than a half-million of the crossovers globally.

Baby, it’s hot outside.
That’s the perfect time to test Ford Motor Company’s fleet for extreme weather performance at the McKinley Climactic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Only they’re dialing-down the thermostat, and testing Ford’s global prototypes for extreme cold weather performance. 

The Air Force test chamber can produce temperatures as low as -40-degrees Fahrenheit in ten-hours. The chamber can accommodate up to 75 vehicles. The practical benefit of such testing is creating a Ford F-150 Pickup truck, for example, that can become a safety cocoon for an injured employee on the frozen slopes of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil field.

Ford also uses the facility to test fuel grades’ characteristics at temperatures as cold as -22 degrees. Know why Ford F-Series Super Duty engines have spark plugs with ceramic gold plugs? Not for the extra bling. Engineers discovered replacing the metallic plugs in the 6.7-liter engine enabled a quicker warm-up and more robust starts, a trick they learned in the super-cooled lab.

Speaking of cool…
How’d you like a ’55 Chevy Coupebrand new, factory fresh?
Woody’s Hot Rodz in Bright, Indiana, can build you one—or sell you the kit—for the Tri-Five’s of Chevrolet’s glory years, 1955, 1956, and 1957.

The cars are hand crafted by a team of ten workers in Woody’s shop. The cars are powered by a 2016 Cadillac CTS 680-hp V8, running through an 8-speed automatic, with adaptive suspension. Just because the cars look like they’re from the ‘50’s doesn’t mean they have to run like they’re 60-years old!

Chris Sondles is the man behind the machines, of which he’s already sold about 125 copies. He expects demand to increase as the Tri-Five’s reach their 60th anniversaries. 

Chris Sondles
Sondles' creations are licensed, and so come with a full warranty. He can build one for you in about six months’ time…but there’s a one-year waiting list now. Prices for the shop-built cars start at $75,000.
 
Back to the future…
Hyundai Motor America is giving the automotive press a sneak peek at its “Vision G" Concept Coupe, the automaker’s inspiration for future premium products…and it’s a dandy. 

Interestingly, Hyundai engineers centered their design around the concept of the word, “chivalry,” in crafting their dream car—meaning, the car doesn’t have to shout to be noticed.
Word.

Among the technology features in the Vision-G, a valet system that opens the car’s doors for you as you approach. 

The Vision-G would be powered by a 5.0-liter Tau V8 engine, producing 420 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 383 lb. ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm. The Tau V8 engine family has been named to Ward’s prestigious Ten Best Engines list three times.

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


Sunday, August 09, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 8-10-15



 Infinity is defined as “having no end,”and Nissan’s luxury nameplate, Infiniti, is stretching the envelope on that definition with new entries to its line-up for 2016. I’ve always been a big fan of Infiniti’s crossover SUV, and its QX50 gets a longer wheelbase, affording more rear passenger and cargo space. They’re going to dress up this land yacht with new LED lights front and rear, and a standard power moon-roof on all models.
And it comes in AWD.

Infiniti is minding its P’s and Q’s…mostly Q’s…with a new 2-liter turbo-4 engine for its QX50, while planning for a 2017 release of the Q30 Premium compact and QX30 Premium crossover. The ‘30’s will be the replacements for the Q40 and QX40, which ends production with the 2015 model.
Then there’s the ‘50’s…including a sports sedan to be revealed in the winter of 2016.
The Q60 coupe and convertibles are also ending their run in 2015.
Infiniti is working on concept models for their replacements, which will be introduced for the 2017 model year.
The Q70 will be offered in five models in 2016. The QX80 will include a Signature Edition among the three models offered in that line. There could be more surprises in store as Infiniti’s skunkworks continues to work on new designs in the queue.


The little SUV made popular by a pair of hamsters continues to drive success for Kia Motors.  The 2016 Soul acquires features first debuted on Kia’s K900 sedan, and will include standard alloy wheels on all three models.

No alphabet soup at Kia. The trim levels are “Base,” “Plus,” and “Exclaim.” Kia is also offering two-tone paint schemes, and even leather upholstery in the top of the line trim. Kia is adding Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning systems in its premium package for when those wacky hamsters start to get out of control.


I’m still a bit leery of driverless automobiles, and really can’t see myself ever owning one. That may change when I’m 90 and wheelchair bound, but we’ll see. However, if you’re going be driven around in a robot car, might as well make it fast and snazzy…like an Audi A8. Audi has been actively participating in its Ko-HAF research initiative into standards for something they call highly-automated driving. (That’s not what happens when you’re on the tollway at 5pm.)

Audi says it will introduce what it calls “piloted driving” in its next-gen iteration of the Audi A8. This might result in a resurgence of those “God is My Co-pilot” bumper stickers. 

Audi has already remotely navigated an Audi RS-7 around the Grand Prix track in Hockenheim--at race speeds. 

The first piloted Audi should be able to automatically drive you along in rush hour traffic at speeds up to 37mph—that’s like light-speed in drive times on the tollway!


Remember that cool hoverboard in the “Back to the Future” series? Lexus has brought that dream to life in a project known as “SLIDE,” unveiling its Lexus Hoverboard in Barcelona, Spain.
Yes, it’s for real.

The Lexus Hoverboard project is the spawn of scientists from IFW Dresden and evico GmbH, who collaborated to create a working application of magnetic levitation technology. This virtually eliminates all friction between the board and any surface over which it travels.

Okay—here’s the trick: You have to have a magnetic hoverboard track over which the craft will glide. Lexus built a 200-meter hoverboard park—it resembles a skateboard track, with hills and curves and loops, and even a water pond.  

How does it work? According to Lexus, the Hoverboard technology “features two “cryostats”—reservoirs in which superconducting material is kept at -197 degrees through immersion in liquid nitrogen. The board is then placed above a track that contains permanent magnets.”

evico CEO, Dr. Oliver de Haas, says “The magnetic field from the track is effectively ‘frozen’ into the superconductors in the board, maintaining the distance between the board and the track—essentially keeping the board hovering. This force is strong enough to allow the rider to stand and even jump on the board.”
You can watch for yourself here.
I know what I want for Christmas.

Disclosure:   Lexus says its Hoverboard remains a prototype and will not be on sale.
Bummer.

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