Annnnnd we’re back!
AutoInfluence here on Friday, April 12th making our way through automotive news headlines for the second week of April – leading up to the highly anticipated one-two punch of Auto Shanghai and the New York International Auto Show. That said, grab a drink and a snack, get comfortable, go to the bathroom if you have you because this one might take a while! (Just don’t forget to wash your hands!)
Kicking things off, we have Ford whose $11B global restructuring strategy has already fueled major shakeups in terms of the automaker’s staffing, operational and manufacturing footprint. In a statement, Ford CEO Jim Hackett said, “In the past two years, we have made tangible progress in improving the fitness of our business, overhauled our regional strategies, created a winning product portfolio and are working to transform Ford to succeed in an era of profound change and disruption” adding “with this strong foundation in place for our auto and mobility businesses, we can now accelerate our transformation.” And that transformation includes Hackett’s distribution of control, now split between two of his lieutenants (as if signaling an inevitable battle for the crowning his eventual successor). With Joe Hinrichs named President of Automotive Operations and Jim Farley overseeing autonomy as President of New Business, Technology & Strategy it’ll be interesting to see how things play out.
And in regard to Ford’s role in the future of autonomy, Hackett recently went on record to admit that Ford had “overestimated the arrival of full self-driving vehicles” calling the process “complex” despite years of competitor road-testing and Tesla’s intention of unveiling their first self-driving offering later this year. As explained by one of Ford’s senior analysts, “Ford’s not trying to be the first to market. Their goal is to have the right kind of business developed specifically for autonomous service, not an adaptation of an existing vehicle.” Needless to say, it seems that Jim Farley will have his work cut out for him.
But pulling ourselves back from the ‘way-forward machine’ Ford has just issued a safety recall for 327,000 North American vehicles including certain F-150’s built between 2015-2019, and Super Duty trucks built between 2017-2019. Stemming from a previous recall, Ford has announced that cable splice connectors to the engine block heater might have damaged, increasing the risk of overheating, melting and possibly fire. No injuries have been reported, but affected consumers can research the recall further using Ford Recall ID# 19511.
General Motors (Chevrolet, GMC)
With sales of the Bolt EV dropping by 1.35 percent during Q1, and the phase out of federal tax credit entitlements effective April 1, Chevy has addressed recent criticism by finally deciding to incentivize purchase of both the 2018 & 2019 Bolt EV. Combining the preexisting offer of 0% financing for qualified buyers with a 15% discount rebate (equivalent to as much as $6500) they have certainly sweetened the proverbial pot.
Extending well-beyond the reach of last week’s April Fools Day, a number of publications (and even dealers) have been lending momentum to a claim that the New York International Auto Show will feature the unveiling of a Chevy Blazer SS. Claiming a Twin Turbo V6 engine mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, churning out 404hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, and boasting a sportier design and suspension, there seemed to be a lot of excitement. That said, any rumors of spy photos are unsubstantiated, and no record of trademark filings surrounding the Blazer SS name have been found anywhere. So unless Chevy and GM have become the most powerful illusionists in history, we’re chalking up rumors of a Blazer SS to the greatest urban legend since Momo. Sorry guys.
And amidst an onslaught of defensive rationalization ranging from cold tires to lack of preparedness, the Corvette ZR1 (touted by Chevy as the most powerful Corvette ever) missed a sub-7 minute laptime on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, earning a quick but not record-breaking time of 7:04 leaving it bested by the likes of the Dodge Viper, Porsche P11 GT2 RS and current record holder Lamborghini Aventador SVJ who earned a time of 6:44.97
And in an oddball story that (if we didn’t know better) might have felt like a better fit for April Fools Day, a Chevy salesman based out of Chattanooga TN is suspected in the kidnapping of a disabled customer, and subsequent theft of $200,000 from him. The victim (a recent amputee who was awarded a sizable cash settlement) alleges that, after purchasing a pickup truck from salesman Daniel Bryant, he was kidnapped – forced to withdraw a total of $200G over two days time, held captive within a hotel and forced to smoke crack cocaine. Police have yet to issue any formal statements, due to the continuing nature of the investigation but as the late Whitney Houston once said, “Crack is Whack”.
June of this summer marks GMC’s scheduled production launch of their new CarbonPro carbon-fiber bed for the GMC Sierra 1500, for delivery beginning in late summer. But the launch for the proprietary bed will be accompanied by a limited-edition variant of both the 2019 Sierra Denali and the Sierra AT4 before being rolled-out as part of the wider 2020 Sierra lineup. Spec’d to deliver best-in-class resilience against dents, scratches and corrosion the bed weighs approximately 60 lbs (a 25% reduction in weight from traditional steel beds). The bed will also enhance the Sierra’s best-in-class cargo volume, while working in conjunction with GMC’s new MultiPro tailgate .
But that’s not the only upgrade to be enjoyed in future Sierra models. Following some criticisms that the Sierra’s interior had become largely indistinguishable from that of its corporate cousin the Silverado, GMC’s VP of Marketing shared that the brand was in the process of developing an array of more luxurious features intended to justify the higher price point.
And finally, although GM Press hasn’t always been that positive as of late – and acknowledging that awards tend to be a a bit subjective – GM has been awarded ‘Partner of the Year” honors by Energy Star for “Sustained Excellence in Energy Management”. Credited for having eliminated 1.5 milliton tons of carbon emissions, GM’s commitment to reduction of energy intensity equates to the amount of electricity used to power 260,000 homes for a full year.
Well done, GM.
FCA (Dodge, RAM, Jeep, Alfa Romeo)
Switching gears, Dodge has earned a unique distinction outside of the traditional stream of industry awards, having been named the ‘Most Loved Brand’ on Facebook. Earning a total of 461,187 “LOVE” reactions across 408 posts in the 2018 calendar year, the recognition might seem arbitrary but it speaks to the power of social media, the importance of unapologetically on-brand content, and the impassioned nature of Dodge’s fan-base, especially in regard to their presentation of American muscle.
And speaking of American muscle, the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon continues to make a lasting impression after almost two years. Down in Merritt Island, Florida Johnny Bohmer Proving Grounds provides a three-mile runway with 1,000 feet of runoff making it the perfect place to test hi-po’d offerings and supercars. Now the Demon offers a 2.3 second sprint from 0-60mph and is capable of doing a damn wheelie straight out of the factory, So when they got their hands on one, and achieved a top speed of 211mph, it sounded something something like this.
And Autotrader honored the 2019 RAM 1500 by listing it among their picks for the year’s Best New Cars. As explained by executive editor Brian Moody,”The 2019 Ram 1500 is on our list of Best New Cars this year because it’s the best full-size truck you can get. The ride and handling are the best we’ve ever experienced in a full-size truck, the cab is comfortable and full of useful tech, and yet, the Ram still does all the tough truck stuff everyone expects. We also like Ram’s eTorque system that adds useable torque at low speed and functions like a mild hybrid. Sales numbers don’t lie, the Ram is on the way up and this 2019 version is the best I’ve ever seen.” For the record, I wholly support this recognition (even if my boss, Zach the Raptor King, threatens to fire anyone who considers themselves Pro-FCA…)
Jumping over to Jeep (Zach says I’m fired again) Tim Kuniskis of Jeep North America squashed plenty of hopes by declaring that neither the Wrangler or Gladiator would gain the option of a 707hp supercharged Hellcat V8, simply out of safety concerns. Despite Jeep having been teased in the Trailcat concept, Kiniskis explained that the engine “fits like a glove” but “there is no air space around the engine” eliminating the crush space required to absorb energy during a crash. That said, we’d have to question the sanity of anyone itching to get behind the wheel of a 707hp Wrangler. For an insider’s opinion, we’ve asked our resident Jeep Guy Brandon to join us.
[AI] Brandon — would you be interested in taking that kind of risk?
[Brandon, excitedly] Yasssssss!
[Zach] You’re both fired! Just finish the damn podcast first.
[AI] Ummm, okay…
Speaking of Jeep, they are set to debut six concepts at the 53rd Annual Moab Safari taking place in Utah from April 13th to the 21st. Known for offering some of the most challenging and technical offloading in the country, Jeep’ offerings (using FCA’s official descriptions) will include:
Jeep Way-out – A fully capable overland concept utilizing the all-new Jeep Gladiator’s best-in-class payload to allow for a full roof-top tent and custom canopy.
Jeep Flatbill – Extreme 4×4 capability and utility of all-new Jeep Gladiator with a playful nod to Motocross culture.
Jeep Five-Quarter – “Resto-Mod” of 1968 Jeep M-715 Gladiator-based military vehicle is a true 4×4 showpiece featuring a blend of vintage and modern chassis and drivetrain components.
Jeep J6 – Mixes classic Jeep truck styling with concept and production Jeep Performance Parts and accessories from Mopar.
Jeep JT Scrambler – Combines retro 1980s-era appearance with Jeep Performance Parts and innovative touches.
Jeep Gladitator Gravity – Rock-climber-themed trail vehicle courtesy of launch-ready Jeep Performance Parts.
[Brandon, excitedly] Yasssssss!
[Zach] Didn’t I fire you, Brandon?
[Brandon, sadly] Yasssss.
And for the second year in a row, the Alfa Romeo lineup has earned Car and Driver Editor’s Choice Awards for their Alfa Romeo Giulia, Giulia Quadrifoglio and Stelvio Quadrifoglio. According to Car and Driver, the Giulia lineup isscredited with “reinventing the premium midsize sedan segment with an unprecedented level of Italian design, class-leading performance, state-of-the-art technology and a true passion for driving.” In its line-topping Quadrifoglio trim, the Stelvio “continues to highlight Alfa Romeo’s performance expertise with best-in-class 505 horsepower and segment-leading V-6 torque, powering it from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds with a top speed of 176 mph.”
And while we’ve touched on plenty of exciting headlines related to FCA brands, there are a couple of less endearing headlines to cover before we switch over to the next automaker.
First, pending approval by a Federal judge is FCA’s agreement to cough up a $110 million settlement after investors took legal action claiming that FCA had falsified information regarding emissions compliance. This is in addition to their settling of a continuing antitrust lawsuit. Having previously defeated claims of racketeering and breach of contract, FCA was accused of pushing dealers to submit fraudulent sales numbers, stacking the deck to create the illusion of higher share value. While few other details were made public, the settlement is being described as ‘amicable’.
[Zach, laughing maniacally]
[AI] Damn it Zach! You scared the *bleep* out of me!
And while there may not be the most organic of connections between FCA’s powerhouse reputation and that of the more sustainably-minded Tesla, the potential of a new relationship (at least in Europe) might shake things up a little. Basically, Tesla is empowered to sell emissions credits to other automakers, and by pooling lineups with Tesla’s low-emission offerings the numbers average out significantly lower making higher-emission offerings more palatable by European standards. Purchase of the credits is expected to cost FCA hundreds of millions of dollars. I guess you’ve got to “Show Green” to “Go Green” (ba dum bum shhhh). Was that oo much? I can never tell.
Toyota / Lexus
Mixing things up a bit, let’s move over to Toyota who recently teased their 4th-generation Highlander which is set to debut later this month at the New York International Auto Show. The enigmatic tease, best described as unconventional utilized what is being called ‘augmented reality artwork’. The camera shot centers around 200 individually hand-painted pieces suspended in a manner that, when viewed from the right angle, depict the Highlander’s profile. As the reveal begins, the choice of camera angle appears to showcase a nonsensical assortment of non-nondescript shapes. As the camera pans over, forced perspective takes over and the Highlander takes form before your very eyes. Certainly an inspired reveal, capable of generating excitement over a vehicle almost old enough to legally drink. For those interested, here’s a great look behind the scenes of that reveal.
And Toyota’s investment in a $50 million manufacturing facility in Athens, TN is slated to add another 400 new jobs producing seat systems. The supplier facility will be located about 30 miles away from the $1.6 billon dollar manufacturing facility which Toyota & Mazda already have underway.
And Lexus has announced the recall of approximately 560 vehicles, specifically 2019 Model Year Lexus ES sold in the United Sates. While centered around faulty deployment of the driver’ knee-level airbag, the voluntary recall calls for replacement of the unit at no cost to customers. While notifications will have been sent, 2019 Lexus ES owners interested in confirming whether or not their vehicle is included in the recall can visit toyota.com/recall, enter their VIN# and will be advised accordingly.
The inaugural J.D. Power Engineering Awards presented by the Society of Automotive Engineers has recognized the all-electric Nissan Leaf as “Highest Rated Vehicle Redesign”. Recognizing the 2010 introduction of the original Leaf, the award recognization Nissan engineers for their ability and willingness to “utilize the lessons learned from that vehicle and successfully apply improvements to the redesigned vehicle.” To-date over 400,000 Nisan Leafs have been sold globally.
Honda / Acura
April 16th makes the arrival of the 2019 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle at select California dealerships . With Honda intending for electrified vehicles to make up two-thirds of their global sales by 2030 the Clarity offers an emissions-free 360-miles of driving range. And in California, it qualifies owners for both a $5,000 state rebate and single-occupant HOV access. Available at the competitive lease price of $379/moth, Honda describes the Clarity Fuel Cell as “a compelling choice for customers who want to be on the leading edge of our low-carbon future”.
And, at least in the eyes of Car and Driver Magazine, the 2019 Honda Passport has bested four competitive offerings from other automakers as part of their “Meat in the Middle” comparison. Positioned against the Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Hyundai Santa Fe, Car and Driver awarded the Passport highest honors, noting its best zero-to-60 time, best quarter mile time, best passing time, and best observed fuel economy, exclaiming that there was “so much winning going on” and stating that the Passport “has the most to offer”.
And the Acura RDX was another of Autotrader’s picks for their ‘Best of 2019 list’ describing the RDX as a means of silencing anyone accusing Acura of “getting bored” or “forgetting their roots”. Closing with a definitive statement of “if this is what Acura has in store for the future, I’m buying” Autotrader celebrated the consistency of luxury and bold styling, as well as the responsiveness and commendable fuel economy of its turbocharged powertrain.
Over at Hyundai, beginning this month it’s going to cost you a little more green to go green (*record scratch* still not funny?) well…at least in terms of nameplate of the moment, the 2019 Kona EV. While price adjustments are nothing new, and certainly nothing exclusive to Hyundai or any other automaker, the EV-variant of the Kona has received a $500 bump that prospective buyers should be aware of. And in case you’re wondering, no, there have been no equipment changes made.
Where there are bound to be some changes though is in Hyundai’s acquisition of Tyrone Johnson, the former chief engineer on Ford’s RS vehicles. Named Head of Vehicle Test and Development at Hyundai’s Germany-based Test and Development facility, Johnson is among the growing number of impressive names being added to the South Korean automaker’s roster indicating there are certainly some exciting things to come, even if they may not be entirely tangible for a few years to come.
And with the NYIAS less than two weeks away, it’s worth sharing that Hyundai will be on-hand to demonstrate their new Digital Key app, slated to first appear in the 2020 Hyundai Sonata. The downloadable smartphone app, enables a vehicle to detect a pre-authorized and secure smartphone allowing the user to lock, unlock, activate panic alert and start the engine within a range of about 100 feet. Configured to allow for up to four users, Digital Key is the product of Hyundai’s partnership with Trustonic a company which offers a “multilayered, industry recognized cybersecurity approach”.
And last up in terms of Hyundai-related headlines for this week, the automaker has been defending themselves against a series of claims regarding [record scratch] ‘exploding glass’. While none of the roughly 61 claims (centered primarily around Hyundai Tucson & Santa Fe) have been proven, and a government investigation was deactivated having found no evidence of a defect, such unpredictability and questionable safety are prompting affected parties to question Hyundai’s commitment to customer assurance.
And speaking of safety, Mazda has been credited for bringing safety to the forefront thanks to their decision to make their full suite of I-Activsense Safety Features standard on the 2019 Mazda6. Previously standard on line-topping trim levels, the I-Activsense suite includes (deep breath) Advanced Smart City Brake Support with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist, Smart Brake Support and Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop and go function, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, rearview camera and a new seat belt reminder indicator for all passengers. Automatic on/off headlights, High Beam Control, rain sensing windshield wipers and standard LED headlight with auto-leveling.
And in our opinion, Mazda’s marketing team have knocked it out of the park with their FEEL ALIVE brand campaign designed to evoke feelings of sense and wonder. Compelling drivers to “dream bigger” the campaign feels like a perfect extension of Mazda’s near-flawless reinvention of themselves in recent years, creating one of the most emotionally-sound design philosophies in the segment.
And members of the Teslarati are likely to have welcomed the news of an bipartisan electric car-friendly bill having been introduced by US lawmakers. Called the “Driving America Forward Act”, the bill would extend a $7,000 tax credit entitlement across an additional 400,000 vehicles in addition to current tax credit allowances. The proposition, expected to cost around $11.4 billion would also aim to extend the hydrogen fuel cell credit through 2028.
Volkswagen Group (Audi, Porsche, VW)
Volkswagen has the EV-focused media in a tailspin after filing to reserve a large number of EV-focused names, open for use in the branding of vehicles, batteries, chargers and any other proprietary components that could be associated with the EV initiatives.
And while some might still call such efforts ironic in light of certain emissions scandals, the Volkswagen Group is pushing the Pro-Electric agenda through Audi’s “Not For You” campaign for the Audi e-tron SUV. The introductory television spot has some fun at the expense of anti-electrification naysayers, challenging certain uninformed misconceptions about EV offerings.
And if you picked up on our mention of emissions scandals, VW (along with BMW and Daimler) have been charged with collusion by German prosecutors, looking to prove that the automakers attempted to block the introduction of more effective diesel and emission technology. Each of the automakers involved have confirmed that they intend to fight the charges by every legal means possible.
But on a more positive note, Porsche is claiming that they’re positioned for success when it comes to sustainability after having reduced their C02 emissions by 75% over the last five years, despite an 82% increase in production. In a formal statement from Porsche management, “We at Porsche are aware of our responsibility in terms of environmental and climate protection” a statement which seems to be validated by their self-proclaimed quest to build a Zero Impact Factory with CO2 neutral offerings like the Taycan serving as the initial blueprint.
Wrapping things up for the week, here’s another reminder of that we have Auto Shanghai slated to kick off next week, running from April 16th to the 25th – overlapped in part by the New York Auto Show running from the 19th to the 28th. That said, there will inevitably be plenty of reveals, teases and concepts floating around at both shows – plus all the everyday news stories – and we’ll be back next week to cover all of them for you. Unless of course Zach was serious about me being fired…
[Zach] I wasn’t kidding…
In the meantime, say hi to your mom for me.