Annnnnnd we’re back, AutoInfluence with another round of automotive news headlines – this time for the third week of April. Of course this means highlights from both the refined presentations of the tech-centric Shanghai Auto Show as well as the New York International Auto show, and it’s American-sized portions of everything covered with a heavy smothering of automotive gravy. And while we’re not entirely sure if that should sound as delicious as it does, we’re getting hungry, so let’s get down to it.
Ford / Lincoln
As always, let’s kick things off with Ford who celebrated the 55th Anniversary of the iconic Mustang by stealing April 17th from the rest of us and rebranding it as “National Mustang Day”. As stated so succinctly by Ford’s Jim Farly, “We broke the mold when Ford launched the Mustang. Nothing says freedom, the wind in your hair and the joy of driving like Mustang. The roar of its V8 on a spring day? There’s nothing better.” Setting aside our personal preferences the numbers don’t lie, with the 113,066 Mustangs sold last year beating out all other sports coupes globally for the fourth year running. Bottom-line, we’ve come a long way since the 1964 New York World Fair and – even if the Mustang eligible for an AARP discount – it is still as sexy and powerful as ever.
In other Mustang news, Ford has announced that the 2020 model will enjoy the option of a High-Performance Package, based around a 2.3-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine designed by Ford Performance, capable of 330hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Considered the most powerful powertrain of its kind within the Ford lineup, it is joined by the inclusion of Mustang GT branches and suspension components, as well as a fully-active quad-tip exhaust tuned with a signature sound. Offering a sprint to 60mph in the mid-four second range and a top speed of 155mph, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost offers a 40% broader torque curve than the base EcoBoost and is spec’d to maintain horsepower more consistently up to the 6500rpm redline.
Under the rule of CEO Jim Hackett, Ford has proven to be a bit of an enigma. On one hand, they haven’t had to endure quite the level of scrutiny that GM has found themselves burdened with. On the other the hand, they’re far from beyond reproach, with many of Hackett’s strategies (and the motivations behind them) proving puzzling to automotive pundits. And yet, they’re providing a great example of how restructuring can prove profitable with the prediction of a $1B jump in earnings courtesy of changes made at their Wayne, Detroit facility. Driven by the decision to shift production away from slow-moving compacts to focus on high-profit crossovers, SUVs and trucks, no-one could accuse Ford of not giving people what they want.
Of course, there is some concern surrounding Ford’s lack of lower-priced offerings following their decision to kill off the Fiesta, Focus and Fusion. Recognizing the gaping hole in the middle of their lineup, Ford VP Jim Baumbick has announced that the automaker plans to restore an affordably-priced nameplate to fill that void. No other details exist in regard to body style or dimensions, but the demand just goes to show that you simply can’t please everyone all the time.
But plenty of NYIAS attendees were pleased with the introduction of the 2020 Lincoln Corsair, a compact luxury SUV designed to take the place of the MKC, which will be produced stateside at their Louisville production facility. Powered by either a 2.0 or 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder paired to an 8-speed automatic, the all-wheel drive Corsair generates 250 or 280hp respectively and plans are in play for electrified powertrains to be introduced down the line. The Corsair will go on sale this fall, with pricing starting somewhere around the $35,000 mark.
And speculation has risen that Lincoln’s MKZ might be replaced with a revival of the Zephyr nameplate, based on the surfacing of a 2016 trademark filing. While no hard facts or confirmations surround these suspicions, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the possibility of a 2020 concept reveal.
GM / Chevy / GMC / Buick / Cadillac
Over at GM we’re seeing what we’ve been seeing a lot of across the entire industry, with GM seemingly pumping the brakes on the self-driving ‘Cruise’ taxi fleet that they had projected a 2019 launch for. This is nothing exclusive to GM, with countless automakers acknowledging limitations in infrastructure and consumer interest, recalibrating their respective trajectories despite such rabid competition to be the first one to achieve Level Five autonomy. In the works for the last two years, GM had planned to spend around $1B on finalization of the program in 2019 including the hiring of another 1,000 employees. But Federal Safety Regulations are another hindrance, and it’s largely expected that the project will be extended out to 2020 at least.
And speaking of 2020, GM has confirmed a July 18th launch date for the long-awaited (and oft-lamented) 2020 C8 mid-engined Corvette with a camouflaged debut in New York. Chevy remains tight-lipped in terms of the C8’s powertrain specs but the drive-up reveal was described by the Robb Report as “low and rumbly, like a Corvette should, with a hint of a supercharger whine.” We’ll leave the speculation for another day but, with all of the hiccups along the way and the ripple-effect of slowed C7 sales, it’s great to see some firm release info on the C8.
Over the last year-and-a-half, we’ve seen an unprecedented mix of both forward-thinking innovation and rose-colored nostalgia, with a surprising number of model resurrections and throwback nameplates. And while they won’t be available stateside (at least not initially) Chevy has announced the return of two familiar names: the Trailblazer and Tracker. The former seems to be a three-quarter scale version of the Blazer, while the Tracker features a similar design notes albeit with what has been referred to as “a youthful, kinetic energy.” Whether or not we’ll see these, or something similar down the line herein the U.S. will remain to be seen.
For the benefit of any owners of either the 2019 Chevy Equinox or GMC Terrain, a recall has been issued for a total of 120 vehicles in the U.S. (and 24 in Canada) to correct weld issues found in the head restraint brackets. For those interested in learning more, reference GM Recall# N192209550.
One of the biggest GM-centric headlines of the week surrounds the company’s contention regarding the RAM 1500’s besting of the Silverado for the #2 truck spot during Q1. Most of us are well-aware of the cut-throat nature of the truck segment, but GM has equated FCA’s claim of victory to a “hollow chocolate Easter Bunny”. The criticism stems from three major accusations. First, that FCA offered $8500 bonuses to dealers who placed RAM Classics into courtesy transportation fleets (counted as retail deliveries). Second, the offering of stacked discounts in target geographies such as Texas. And finally, the availability of short-term, low-mileage leases for Detroit-based employees and families. Combined, GM claims that FCA positioned themselves with unfair advantages. Only time-will-tell if Q2 validates or refutes such claims in this all-out-war.
Over at Buick, abysmal sales of the full-size LaCrosse were exemplified by a decrease of 59% in Q1. So it’s no real surprise that a discount is now being offered on the premium sedan, with discounts of 16% beginning this month, with delivery by April 30th.
And Cadillac’s NYIAS reveal of the CT5, complete with Super Cruise hands-free driver assistive technology was warmly received despite recent development woes that we’ve reported din recent weeks. Embracing all the premium luxury one might expect, the CT5 comes powered by either a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder or a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, with either being paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. This puts the CT5 between 237 and 335 in terms of hp, and between 258 and 400 lb-ft of torque. Now if they can stop the Super Cruise from being disrupted by bright sunlight, we might feel a little better.
FCA / Dodge / RAM / Jeep / Alfa Romeo
Despite FCA’s intention fo a $355M investment in the Windsor plant responsible for production of the Chrysler Pacifica, shift cuts designed to help align production with demand continue to fuel concerns. As such, the long-term fate of up to 1500 employees remains in question.
But back in Detroit, plans surrounding some other FCA investments continue to inch forward with a major land deal awaiting City Council approval . Connected to both the $900M reinvestment in their Jefferson North Assembly Plant and $1.6B conversion of two existing facilities into a singular assembly plant, approvals are required by an April 26th deadline.
A new appearance package has been made available for both Charger and Challengers, aimed at American Servicemen and Servicewomen. Called the “Stars and Stripes Edition”, the package includes a black and silver center stripe, dark American flag fender decals, blacked-out Dodge badging and oversized 20-inch black wheels. And it looks (bleep)ing sick.
And the NHRA is ‘abuzz’ (badump-bump) after sanctioning yet-another Challenger, in the form of the R/T Scat Pack 1320 “Angry Bee”. Equipped with a 6.4-liter Hemi, capable of 485hp and 475 lb-ft of torque, the Bee ranks as the fastest naturally-aspirated muscle car in the world running then quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 115 mph. As a wise man named Axl Rose once said, “Yowza!”
[Zach: You’re Fired]
Listen, Zach. Say what you want but FCA just took home the most awards from the Texas Auto Writers Association annual roundup, out of any manufacturer. This includes the Challenger being crowned “Car of Texas”, “Performance Car of Texas” and “Performance Coupe of Texas”. The Chrysler Pacifica was named “Family Car of Texas” and “Minivan of Texas” for the fourth year running. And the Alfa Romeo Giulia was named “Performance Sedan of Texas”!
[Aaron: That’s a whole lot’a Texas!]
[Zach: You’re Both Fired]
And RAM has confirmed that a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 EcoDiesel variant of the RAM 1500 is in the works, expected to crank out 260hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. However, what’s missing from the horizon are any plans for a midsize variant fo the RAM.
And in recall news, FCA has issued a recall for approximately 8,000 vehicles including the 2019 Dodge Challenger, Charger and Chrysler 300 due to a software issue which restricts the instrument cluster from illuminating certain driver warnings. Notifications were sent out beginning on April 8th, but concerned owners can check their VIN# on the NHTSA website.
It’s been more than two decades since Toyota led the sustainability charge with their introduction of the Prius hybrid, but with that charge expanding into a $255B global battle between automakers, there are a variety of approaches being taken. And while brands like Tesla and now VW seems to be laying an all-electric future, Toyota feels that future is further away than many believe. Citing the expansive cost of EV batteries, Executive VP Bob Carter summarized his thoughts by pointing out that Toyota “see(s) an opportunity in North America, but it’s much further down the road” adding “this is going to be a slow evolution in the U.S. market unlike in China and Europe where there are government regulations.”
Hey Bob Carter…let’s not give the government any ideas, okay?
All right, we’ve talked a bit about both the Shanghai and New York shows, but only in broad strokes. So let’s spend the rest of this quality time together looking as some of the most notable reveals, be they for better or for worse. And with that in mind, we’re sticking with Toyota for a little while longer.
First off, the New York reveals of both the 2020 Highlander and the highly-publicized hatchback variant of the Yaris. In terms of the Highlander, we get an improved cabin experience, improved fuel economy, and a bump in storage space so minimal we’re inclined to say “good try” and leave it at that. But with a clean redesign, reducing the oversized grille and extending the length by about 2.4 inches the new Highlander is appealing and worth taking note of.
The Yaris? Well. It’s the Yaris with a hatchback, enough said.
But having mentioned Toyota’s reluctance to commit to an electric future stateside, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Shanghai reveal of their Rhombus concept. Targeting consumers born after 1990 [Everyone: That’s us!] Damn. I work with a lot of young people. The Rhombus might be one of the most futuristic concepts I’ve seen, with bold angles that seem to work against both aerodynamics and conventional design theory and two sliding doors give way to a four-seat cabin with almost-inexplicable swivel chairs in the front. What this foretells about Toyota’s planned release of 10 EV vehicles in the next size years remains to be seen. That said, do the young people like the Rhombus? [Mixed response until Kyle yells, “I gotta go pee!”] Go ahead, Kyle. Just remember to put up the seat this time.
And Hyundai made their presence known in New York with reveals of their overhauled Sonata, as well as the all-new Venue which we’d mentioned in recent weeks. The Sonata gains some width and loses some height to create a lower stance, with a coupe-like silhouette. But most notable is the intent of minimizing the distraction of multiple screens which seem to be permeating the design of so many models as of late.
The diminutive Venue SUV seems custom-made for urban use, and is positioned under the $20G to be Hyundai’s entry level offering. And, in our opinion, it’s that accessibility that best defines the Venue’s appeal. Small. Boxy. 121hp. Front-Wheel Drive. Case closed.
Also debuting at the NYIAS were the GTS Variant of the game-changing Stinger, as well as rather peculiar HabaNiro Concept. It’s no secret that we love the Stinger (even though we never stop being surprised to admit that…out loud…to other people). And while we love the 365hp GT, especially with the option of all-wheel drive, the rear-wheel GTS gains Dynamic All-Wheel Drive with the option of Comfort, Sport or Drive mode which regulates power to the rear wheels setting it at 60, 80 or 100% respectively. The inclusion of a mechanical limited slip rear differential is another perk.
But the curiously-named (or at least, curiously-spelled) HabaNiro concept is a unique, forward-thinking compact EV crossover with autonomous capability. Flaunting four butterfly doors and a heads-up display which occupies the entire windshield, it’s hardly the crossover of today. Factor in the READ System (which stands for Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving) which interprets the driver’s emotional state and adapts the interior, and it becomes a little more Black Mirror-ish. But the 300+ mile range is something to take note of, and the design, however chaotic is far from displeasing to the eye. Just get out of our damn minds, KIA!
Earlier we’d mentioned the angular future foretold by the Toyota Rhombus. On the flip side of the equation comes the Genesis Mint EV concept, whose sleek design is devoid of nearly any angle, or even flat surface. Described as fashion-forward the small two-door EV with a 200mile range was presented in a misty, metallic green which helped to display its aerodynamic contours. Supercar-inspired, the Mint trades a traditional hatchback for a pair of wing-like doors that open skyward. Maybe not sensible in a production sense, but certainly cool to look at.
Volkwagen / Audi / Porsche
Amongst their various brands, the Volkswagen Group was among the automakers who made a an appearance in both Shanghai and New York. This was of course a welcome break from the headlines of former CEO Martin Winterkorn being charged by German Prosecutors in relations to VW’s continuing Emission Scandal. That said, let’s talk about those reveals.
In Shanghai, we were introduced to the Volkswagen Teramont X, I.D. Roomzz and AI:ME Concept. The Teramont is a two-row version of the Atlas the will be released stateside, but is largely unimpressive and we’ve already grown tired of talking about it. The I.D. Roomzz (spelled with two Zs, for the record) is an all electric full-size crossover concept that also fails to grab our attention, both in terms of general appearance and that (bleep)ing name. That said, it’s the perfect vehicle for girls named Amy, who spell their name with one “I” two “m’s” and two “e’s”. You know who you are.
Which is a bizarre segue to Audi’s revel of the AI:ME concept, level four autonomous hatchback that offers a “broad range of high-tech features for communication, entertainment or simply relaxation” including a VR system designed for passenger enjoyment.
In New York, the VW group presented the Audi R8 Supercar and Porsche 911 Speedster. The former enters the scene with a starting price tag as high as $216,245. Then again you get a V10 Performance engine with a top speed of 205mph, courtesy of 602hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. The latter wrangles 502hp and 346lb-ft of torque to reach 192mph and sprints to sixty in 3.8. But it does herald in the end of the 991 generation of the Porsche 911.
Wrapping Things Up…
But one of our favorite reveals has to be the Quiantu K50 a Chinese electric sportscar that can reach 60mph in 4.3 seconds courtesy of twin electric motors that churn out 430hp and 560 lb0ft of torque. While we don’t expect to cough up the $149G that the K50 will be priced to start at, it certainly struck a distinctive pose.
And in closing, we’d like to give credit where it’s due and recognize Honda for their #TheTextTalk campaign which not only reiterates the importance of discussing the dangers of texting and driving with teenagers, but shines a welcome spotlight on a parental hypocrisy, showing that sometimes we don’t set the best of examples.
As the parent of a teenage daughter fast approaching driving age, it rings true and provides a powerful reminder of the role we play in our children’s transformation into responsible drivers.
So that’s it for AutoInfluence this week. Despite being a secular, non-denominational entity we’d like to recognize those celebrating both Passover like Josh…
[Josh: I just went on Facebook and marked myself Safe from the Angel of Death]
and Easter like my daughter…
[Emma: Forget the egg hunt, Pop…I’ll just take Visa Gift Cards].
For everyone else, have a great weekend.
And as always, say hi to your mom for me.