Did you miss us? We missed you. That’s right, AutoInfluence is back after a two week break and there’s plenty of current auto news to cover – from everyday industry headlines to the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Q2 Truck Sale shootout to the impactful death of two industry giants, there’s plenty to cover. In fact, speaking respectfully, that latter point sounds like an appropriate place to start.
An innovator of the Mustang, and credited with the revival of the Chrysler brand, Lee Iacocca passed away on July 2nd at the age of 94. Iacocca had been celebrated for both his sense of innovation and forward-thinking management style. Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford described Iacocca as “truly bigger than life” and having “left an inedible mark on Ford, the auto industry and our country”. FCA also memorialized the icon by illuminating the two-story ‘Pentastar’ window atop their Auburn Hills, MI headquarters in his honor – and continued to do so until the close of his July 10th funeral.
And while some might remember him best as the easily-satirized upstart Independent candidate of the 1992 Presidential race, Ross Perot (who passed away July 9th at the age of 89) was also a notable member of GM’s board, as a significant shareholder at one point. A perpetual eccentric, one of his iconic quotes regarding General Motors was that, “Revitalizing GM is like teaching an elephant to tap dance”. And while that relationship, which took place in the 1980’s, was tumultuous with GM choosing to buy Perot out of his shares to the tune of $700M it’s worth noting that he represented a forward-thinking mindset of addressing culture rather than supporting bureaucracy or simply throwing money at a problem.
But let’s get on with the news…
Goodwood Festival of Speed
From Thursday July 4th to Sunday July 7th, while most of us stateside were busy throwing back drinks, grilling and jumping off boats in the name of Independence, West Sussex, England once again played host to the 27th Annual Goodwood Festival of Speed. Combining the appeal of Formula One, performance cars and motorbikes, the Festival offers a number of events designed to put countless high-profile vehicles to the test. From automaker displays to the iconic hill-climb, a full rally stage plus a drifting arena there’s good reason why Goodwood is arguably the premier automotive event in the UK. So, let’s cover some of the highlights.
In honor of their 70th anniversary, Aston Martin stood as the featured marque of the festival, with a racing green DBR1 adorning Goodwood’s iconic (and seemingly gravity-defying statue).
Volkswagen manned their all-electric ID.R race car, following up last month’s record-setting run at Nurburgring, by breaking a 1999 hill-climb record set by McLaren with a 41.18 second run, coming back later that same day to beat their previous record with an even faster 39.9-second run. Audi arrived with their R8 LMS, powered by a 640hp V10 powertrain. Porsche served up their racing variant of the all-new 992-generation 911; powered by a 4.2-liter flat-six, the RSR delivers up to 515 horsepower and has been re-engineered to reduce weight and improve aerodynamics. And after a long absence, Italian automaker De Tomaso made their return in dramatic fashion with their self-referential P70-inspired and retro-styled 972, of which only 72 will be produced.
And check this out: Roborace’s Devbot 2.0, a fully-autonomous race vehicle which clocked a run-time of just under 67 seconds. Certainly an interesting indication of a possible future for racing.
And while we’re throwing fun videos out there, be sure to check out this footage of a flame-flame-throwing 1910 Fiat nicknamed ‘The Beast of Turin’. With a 28.353-liter engine displacement, the ‘Beast’ was one of the more fascinating oddities at Goodwood. Serving up just over 280 horsepower, it makes a damn-good run for a 110-year old vehicle.
And yes, if you want to watch more of the 2019 Hill-Hill-Climb shootout (and have an hour and ten minutes to play with) we have you covered there too.
And with that said, let’s move on to some other industry headlines that you might have missed since our last episode.
Ford and Volkswagen have been teasing their alliance for quite some time now and, at the time of this podcast being posted, only a few hours have passed since their joint press conference scheduled for 8A EST Friday morning. While there was no real surprise, the announcement confirmed that VW will invest $2.6B to partner equally with Ford, tin order o develop self-driving technologies through Argo AI. The first wave of commercial products is slated to arrive for 2021, and will focus on a Level 4 hybrid utility vehicle used in commercial ride-sharing. This means that the vehicle will be able to operate autonomously albeit in limited, mapped-out (and predominantly urban) areas.
With the release of Q2 sales numbers, Ford is reporting that their pickup sales – at 324,243 units, representing a 7.5% increase over Q2 of 2018 – is the strongest that they’ve been in fifteen years. Following Q1’s reported 5% growth on pickup sales, it’s clear that Ford’s stronghold on the truck segment isn’t going anywhere but, with a 21.4% drop in car sales and 8.6% drop in SUV sales, it’s also clear that their truck sales continue to carry the lion’s share of Ford’s sales burden, at least for the time being.
And Ford continues to feel the hurt in recent headlines, surrounding the problematic dual-clutch DPS6 Powershift transmission found in the last-generation Fiesta and Focus. We’ve previously reported on the complaints of unexpected acceleration and gear slippage, injuries (both reported and not) as well as the allegations that Ford was well aware of the issue but took no action. Now, with an estimated 1.5 million affected vehicles on the road, and multiple class action lawsuits in process across the globe, the Detroit Free Press has completed an exhaustive investigation as to Ford’s culpability and have shared some of their damning findings. In response, a Ford spokesperson did little more than explain it away as a normal issue an automaker might encounter with new, innovative technology and that they’d simply overestimated their ability to resolve said issues in a timely fashion. Something tells us, we’ll be hearing more about this in the weeks and months to come.
General Motors / Chevy / GMC
Having touched on Ford’s Q2 sales numbers, let’s kick off the GM conversation by mentioning that that their total sales were down 1.5% when compared to Q2 of last year. That said, crossover sales were up by 17%, and crew-cab variants of both the Silverado and Sierra 1500 enjoyed a 12% gain. THAT said, GM has spent most of the last three months vehemently contesting RAM’s claim on the #2 truck position, criticizing their competition with questions practices and falsified numbers. However, the Silverado was once more bested by RAM in Q2, selling 256,777 units YTD versus RAM’s 299,480 units. Perhaps Q3 will look better.
This week, the primary headline over at Chevy seems to be the dwindling countdown leading to the highly-anticipated west coast reveal of the mid engine C8 Corvette, scheduled for 7:30 PDT next Thursday, July 18th. For anyone looking to watch the global livestream reveal, you can plan to do so at media.chevrolet.com/nextgenCorvette
And bridging discussion of GM with that of FCA, you might have seen headlines regarding the July 10th derailment of 33 train cars in western Nevada. The cargo consisted of brand new vehicles, including Chevy Silverados, GMC Sierras, Jeep Wranglers and the all-new Gladiators. Fortunately, there were no human injuries or casualties, but a report from hooniverse.com revealed some interesting insights on the vehicles noting that,”the upended Gladiator seems to have a pretty sturdy support structure for its glasshouse, thanks to its new rollbars. Another matter is that the GM trucks, wear discreet and temporary transport steel wheels instead of fancier items, perhaps to deter thieves eager to grab a shiny set from trucks on their way to the dealer.”
FCA / Dodge / RAM / Jeep
Fair warning, we don’t currently have a full breakdown of the Q2 numbers for FCA brands. In fact, aside from a few announcements and the confirmation that RAM once again bested the Silverado to grab the #2 spot, it’s been a relatively slow news week across the board.
But for those interested in the Charger Hellcat, Dodge’s recent confirmation of the new widebody variant has expanded to serve as a confirmation that the non-widebody version would be discontinued. But we doubt that anyone will actually have a problem with this. Suffice it to say that, if you have a problem with 3.5-inches of added width, 11-inch tires and a fortified suspension, you might possibly be shopping in the entirely wrong segment.
But for those of you who are absolutely in the right place, I have something for you. You like videos? I sure do. And this week introduced one of my favorites in recent histories, in terms of the growing trend of blending mechanical elements with inspired film-making. How would you like to watch an amazing time-lapse build of the Demon’s Hemi-V8 engine?
Toyota / Lexus
Making a departure from their original plans, Toyota has announced that the Corolla will not be included in the production queue at their new Alabama facility, opting to include a new SUV offering instead. And there seems to be a lot of speculation implying that the enigmatic SUV could take the form of a production version of the off-road inspired FT-4X concept, first revealed at the NAIAS way back in 2017. While the bold and boxy styling the FT-4X would demand some concessions before being greenlit for production. It would, however, equip Toyota with a great answer to Ford’s ‘Baby Bronco’ planned for next year.
Earlier we spent some time talking about the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and it was at last week’s festival that Lexus unveiled a prototype of the LC Convertible we’d discussed a few times in recent months (albeit partially camouflaged). Since its introduction in 2016, the LC was quick in establishing its fan base, with Lexus proving successful in claiming that their entire goal was to achieve ‘Ultimate Beauty’. While no dates have been given for wide scale market introduction, it’s safe to say that the LC Convertible will be warmly received once it is released out into the wild.
Honda / Acura
While it’s been a slow news week over at Honda, Acura is speaking out in regard to some confusingly leaked photos of what may, or may not be the 2020 MDX crossover, as well as the 2021 TLX sedan. Claimed by an unnamed consumer to have been accessed accidentally through the RDX’s built-in software suite, the images bear a striking resemblance to the camouflaged MDX as well as an Acura concept debuted at this year’s NAIAS. And while they’ve offered no confirmation or denial, an Acura spokesperson responded with, “These conceptual renderings were embedded deep in the RDX’s user interface software for placement only. While the renderings are conceptual and based on our Precision Concept design language, we are pleased with the anticipation and positive reaction, and are excited to share details of future Acura products at the appropriate time.”
Hyundai / KIA
While there are still plenty of questions left to ask and answer, Hyundai has advised that the release of a new North American pickup is right around the corner. At best, we have an understanding that it will echo the design language of the Santa Cruz concept revealed earlier this year in Detroit, and that it will be produced stateside. Whether or not it comes powered by a 2.0-liter turbodiesel seen in that concept will remain to be seen. Of course, we’ll keep you up to speed as more information becomes available.
And a brief footnote before moving on: for those who have been captivated by all the buzz surrounding it, order bookings for the brand new Kia Seltos are scheduled to begin July 15th.
Mazda has issued a recall on 262,000 SUVs and cars in order to repair a software issue which can cause unexpected stalling. Focused on 2018-19 models, the recall affects certain Mazda6 sedans and CX-5 crossovers. Affected customers will be contacted, with the recall slated to take place prior to late August.
But this wasn’t the only recall for Mazda, with another 270,000 vehicles produced between 2003-8 called back for airbag-related issues, as a result of the oft-maligned Takata airbags being used. Which makes us wonder…when will it [effects of the Takata Airbag Scandal] ever end?
Volkswagen / Audi
VW has released information regarding the SUV that will be replacing the Beetle, in terms of Mexican production scheduling. Expected to be positioned below the Tiguan, and with the U.S. name yet to be determined, the SUV (called the Tarek in other geographic markets) is the approximate size of a Nissan Rogue Sport and may, or may not, come powered by a four-cylinder powertrain (as is found under the hood of its Chinese market counterpart).
And Audi has pulled the curtain back to reveal the 2020 S8 which, thanks to a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, will have improved numbers of 571hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. This positions it more evenly between its predecessor, and the ramped up S8 Plus. That said, we’ve only seen the European version so far – and expect the stateside version to boast the longer wheelbase as seen in the 2019 A8. It’s well worth a deep dive for any interested readers out there, since there’s no shortage of tech and amenity-centric upgrades to be found. I mean, seriously…dig in a little bit and read up on this, it’s great.
And both BMW and Daimler issued separate statements in the last week regarding their new autonomy partnership, with the intention of having Level 4 self-driving vehicles on the road for 2024. Once again, Level 4 autonomy means that vehicles can operate on their own in specific areas that are designed to support them. The project, which involves 1200 specialists from each company, will develop technologies which will be used by both automakers, albeit not in identical ways.
And that about wraps things up here for this week’s current auto news. It feels great to be back, and we’ll be here next week for another round of headlines. In the meantime, say hi to your mom for me.