Annnnnd we’re back. AutoInfluence here with the latest automotive news headlines from the first week of April 2019. So let’s drop the hammer and get down to it.
Despite a 1.6% decrease in overall sales for the first quarter of 2019, Ford continues to increase the scope of their near-unchallenged leadership of the truck segment. The decrease of course, is driven primarily by the waning popularity of sedan-styled passenger cars (down 24.1% overall) proof-positive that Ford was right in their plans to all-but-scrap their contributions to that particular segment. But while that trend proves consistent among most every competitive automaker, Ford distinguishes themselves through the F-Series offerings which make up approximately 83% of their Q1 sales. Climbing 4% across the quarter, and .2% year-over-year F-Series sales fell in around the 215,000 unit mark between January 1st and March 31st . Considering that Chevy’s Silverado (traditionally at #2) came in just over 114,000 bested by RAM (traditionally #3) at over 120,000 units sold, puts the significance of Ford’s advantage into perspective. Needless to say, with another new F-150 due to arrive for next year, featuring a hybrid powertrain as well as increased towing and payload ratings, the truck segment remains fun to watch.
As most everyone knows, Ford is redesigning their passenger vehicle offerings around the ever-increasing popularity of eco-friendly crossovers. And with that in mind, Ford has announced their 2020 redesign of the Ford Escape reinvigorating the small SUV with both compelling hybrid powertrains and exciting new technology. In terms of the former, the standard hybrid is expected to offer best-in-class range of over 550 miles, while the plug-in variant also aspires to best-in-class all-electric range of over 30 miles. But the new Escape will also feature Co-Pilot360 driver assistive features, selectable drive modes and Ford’s first North American heads-up display.
But while Ford continues to restructure their lineup, the one actual car granted reprieve was (of course) the iconic Mustang. Currently built atop the S550 platform, it’s been confirmed that the we’re unlikely to see the upcoming S650 platform (a variant of that used on both the Explorer and Lincoln Aviator) any time soon. In fact, it’s expected that the current platform will last through (at least) 2026, with little more than refreshes to come in the meantime.
And speaking of speculation, there has recently been quite a lot of it regarding the new Bronco or, at least, some of the value-added features being made available for it. Patent filings seems to indicate that the Bronco might enjoy both (i) removable doors and (ii) a retractable cloth roof, designed to enhance open-air driving options on the already exciting offering. Time will tell how, or even if, such options come to fruition.
An while it’s not applicable solely to Ford, the automaker is joining General Motors, Toyota and engineering giant SAE International in formation of the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (or AVSC). Designed to guide the establishment of safety principles and standards of development for autonomous vehicles, the AVSC recognizes that three-quarters of American drivers decisively oppose any transition to autonomy. Their intention of providing education, and creating measurable assurances aims to reduce that number.
And GM stands to enjoy a $1B payday courtesy of their ownership of 18.6 million Class A shares in growing rideshare unicorn, Lyft. With a $24B valuation Lyft went public leading to a question of what GM planned to do with their valuable investment. Whether they hold onto shares for strategic purposes, sell shares to reinvest in GM or put the cash to work as either buybacks or dividends remains to be seen. That said, whatever choice they make, it’s likely that the choice will be scrutinized by too many eyes to count.
Amidst the string of perceived missteps and negative headlines, GM has reported a 7% decrease in sales for Q1. The extent to which this number is related to the cutting of 14,000 North American jobs in the U.S. and Canada, or Mexican-based manufacturing is speculative at best. But the company’s profit-centric strategy, even with the most noble intention of ensuring longevity, has certainly fallen under its fair share of criticism.
Currently 80% of GM’s sales consist of trucks, SUVs and crossovers. But as previously mentioned, the Silverado (a cornerstone of Chevy sales) fell just short of RAM sales in Q1, putting Chevy/GMC offerings further down the line. Certainly not a death knell, but something worth keeping an eye on while we watch GM restructure their brand lineups to better play to their strengths.
And if we’re going to mention bad press, we’d be remiss if we didn’t share the story of GM’s decision to quietly remove the 2019 Chevy Blazer they had displayed at Comerica Park in Detroit. For over a decade, GM has featured vehicles atop the Chevrolet Fountain, in an attempt to generate excitement and reinforce brand. And while plenty of people are excited about the new Blazer, the fact that it’s produced in Mexico made the display seem disrespectful to UAW workers in the Detroit-area. Having been replaced by an American-made Traverse certainly feels apropos, but with bargaining talks between the UAW and Detroit 3 automakers taking place before September 13th, this most recent misstep on the part of GM feels criminally ill-timed.
Buick has announced that Shanghai will be the location at which they introduce their redesigned 2020 Encore, in both its stateside form and the GX variant likely to remain in China. In a teaser image released last week, a scarcely lit GX with lit tail-lamp was shown (in forced perspective) as if departing from the scene. Little is known at this point, aside from the promise of enhanced connectivity and a nine-speed transmission so, with an April 16th unveiling, we’ll have more to report in the weeks to come.
Over at Cadillac, there have been some troubles in the continued development of their Super Cruise hands-free driving system. Persisting since their introduction of the features in the 2018 CT6, the infrared camera system (placed atop the steering column) is designed to monitor driver attentiveness but is proving vulnerable to extreme light (sunlight or otherwise) the same way a human eye might be. Minimizing any assurance of safety, GM engineers have claimed this is a major focus of next-gen developments; but if the plan is to roll out Super Cruise among 2020 Cadillac offerings, GM’s team has their work cut out for them.
Along the same lines as GM, Dodge is experiencing an overall decrease of 7% in sales for Q1. No real surprise there since, as previously reported, there have been some scheduled production lulls designed by FCA to realign production with slowed demand (be it seasonal, or otherwise).
And Dodge has revealed their plans to replace the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon with the upgraded power (and expense) of a new nameplate, the Challenger SRT Ghoul. Besting the Demon’s 808hp supercharged Hemi, it’s possible that the Ghoul might feature either Mopar’s 1000hp 7.0-liter crate engine or some form of the Viper’s V10. Time will tell, but anyone interested….well…April Fool’s Day!
And speaking of hi-po’d offerings, the less-than-secretive RAM Rebel TRX (FCA’s proposed answer to the Raptor) might just be trialing the same 808hp Hemi V8 found in the Demon, in addition to those already trialing the 707hp Hellcat variant.
And within 24 hours of Jeep announcing the planned production of 4,190 Launch Edition Gladiators, they followed up with an announcement that the vehicles had been sold out with web traffic nearly crashing their site. With a $60K starting price tag, the Launch Edition enhances what is already one of the most anticipated vehicles of 2019 with standardization of all Rubicon features, 33-inch All-Terrain tires, distinctive fender flares and a same-color hardtop.
As with the big three automakers, Toyota reported a Q1 decrease of 3% proof positive that only a select few automakers (who we’ll get to later) managed to best the threat of declining sales.
But Toyota might just be every automaker’s best friend right now, after their decision to release almost 24,000 hybrid car patents for used by other automakers, royalty-free through 2030. This, combined with their offer of consultancy echoes the licensing Toyota had previously offered companies like Nissan, Mazda and Subaru – and the 2015 release of 6,000 hydrogen vehicle patents. This precedent of usage by other automakers helps to distinguish Toyota’s move from the similar patent release offered by upstart Tesla, since there’s little-to-no indication that Tesla’s patents have actually been put to use by established automakers.
And the EPA has finally released numbers on the 5th-gen 2020 Toyota Supra placing its around 26 mpg combined ( that’s 31mpg highway, and 24city). Equating to an 8-10 point improvement from the 4th-gen Supra turbo which had preceded it, that’s what we call progress. And the 335 hp Supra also manages to beat out the Corvette, Porsche Cayman, Jaguar F-Type in terms of fuel economy. For what it’s worth, of course…
Among the various decreases reported for Q1, Nissan surprises us by ranking among the highest with a. Staggering 11.6% drop. That said, Nissan also ranks among one of the most successful brand in terms of reinventing themselves in recent years, so we expect this to be little more than a temporary blip – likely to have been encouraged by the uncertainly of the Ghosn Scandal.
But on the brighter side of the street, the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder has earned a spot on Parents’ Magazine list of “10 Best Family Cars”. Among their favorite features, Parents’ specified the Pathfinder’s Rear-door Alert system and intelligent 360-degree Around View Monitor.
And Infiniti has announced that their presence in Auto Shanghai will include the introduction of a new sports sedan concept, featuring what they describe as “and all-new flexible architecture developed specifically to accommodate electrified powertrains”. Called the Qs Inspiration, the new vehicle is expected to introduce the design language for Infiniti’s new electrified offerings, moving forward.
If we’re giving credit where it’s truly deserved, we have to give some kudos to Honda who earned our pick for best automotive April fools Day prank, courtesy of their nostalgic Honda Pastport (yes you read that right) introduced in this video campaign:
Inspired by the kind of nineties pop culture resurgence experience as of late, the Pastport was advertised as an exclusive trim level being made available for the Passport. And while we love the attention to detail evident in such features as the cassette player and beeper-mount, it’s smaller interactive nuances of the campaign that made us laugh. For example, fans of the Pastport were “encouraged to leave a detailed message on the Company’s microcassette answering machine explaining why they’d like to own a Pastport.”
With that kind of inventiveness, we’re glad to share that Honda ranked among the handful of automakers to avoid a drop in Q1 sales (even if a 2% gain is modest at best).
Also enjoying an increase of 2.1% is Hyundai, whose celebration was relatively short, overshadowed in prompt fashion by their need to recall 20,000 North American Velosters due to risk of engine fire. Related to 2013 Velosters equipped with the 1.6-liter engine, this feeds into concern that Hyundai and KIA have recalled about 2.4 million vehicles since 2015 for this kind of reason. Whether or not this is the tip of the iceberg remains to be seen.
And yet KIA has reported an impressive 10.2% jump in Q1 sales. Combined with such positive press surrounding the likes of the Niro, Telluride and the March announcement that they’d surpassed the 8 million unit mark, KIA seems to be on a roll. Just as long as it’s not a stop, drop and roll – am I right? (Too much? I can never tell…)
While, we don’t have any major headlines to share regarding Mazda, we didn’t want to forget them in terms of Q1 sales numbers. Unfortunately, a drop of 19.1% isn’t the most positive of news but – much like Nissan – we hold Mazda in surprisingly high regard, and have high hopes for correction of their course.
Switching gears over to Tesla, there are few headlines that won’t circle around electrification. And in that regard, it’s been pointed out GM’s previous leadership of EV offerings might be experiencing a quick decline with the slashing of the Bolt, and a notable lull in the aggressive plan laid out to introduce 20 new electric vehicles by 2023. And while things can certainly turn around, and any other number of automakers might become serious competitors, it seems that GM’s dwindling number of Tesla killers might just place Tesla in a position of advantage.
That said, some of Tesla’s reported struggles with both production and delivery will need to be resolved before any kind of long-term victory celebrations are planned. The only thing for sure is that electrification is starting to become anyone’s game.
And that’s it for us, this week. Join us next week for more headlines leading up to Auto Shanghai and the New York Auto Show, along with any other industry developments that might come along. In the meantime, this has been AutoInfluence with your weekly automotive news update.
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