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Tesla Killers & Name Games…it’s This Week’s Automotive News Headlines!

The all-new Volkswagen ID.3 as featured in AutoInfluence Weekly Automotive News for May 10th

Annnnd we’re back, AutoInfluence on Mothers Day Weekend with all your automotive news headlines since…well, since seven days ago. Why? Because we want to be just as dependable as your mom is, except you can damn well bet that we’re not gonna clean up after you.

Ford / Lincoln

While an official unveiling of the 2021 Ford Bronco is still a ways off, spy shots surfaced this week which revealed some interesting potential. A look underneath the vehicle revealed the presence of an oversized swaybar, sparking speculation that the Bronco is being designed to allow for greater suspension articulation – as in the kind required for off-roading and rock-climbing. And while some might argue that kind of assumption as being a bit of a reach, the inclusion of several skid plates seems to be adding fuel to the fire – although it is worth clarifying that those could have simply been included to hide the build from spy photographers.

After a year in practical real-world development, Ford has announced that they will be expanding their ‘GoRide Healthy’ non-emergency medical transportation service first launched for testing in Toledo OH. By the end of 2019 the handicapped-accessible service, which provides safe courtesy transportation to those with medical appointments, testing or treatments, will makes its way into the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus. Advertising a 10-20 minute wait time on pick-up, an a 95 percent on-time rate, it’s proven inarguably successful to-date. The expansion will continue into North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and California beginning in 2020. According to Minyang Jiang, CEO of GoRide Health, the service is “gaining momentum because it is a reliable, human-centered service for people whose very lives depend on making their medical appointments. Despite a critical and growing need across our country, most patients are unable to find reliable transportation and drivers who understand their needs. GoRide Health can fill that gap.”

Certainly a feel-good story.

But that’s when the clouds rolled in…

In the last few weeks have unveiled the possibility that Ford could face up to $4 billion dollars in liability, based on claims that they were well aware of transmission issues on the Ford Focus and Fiesta, affecting up to 1.9 million consumers. The vehicles in question (2012-16 Focus and 2011-16 Fiesta) were built with dual-clutch transmissions which, according to legal filings were prone to “shuddering, slipping, bucking, jerking, hesitation while changing gears, premature internal wear, delays in downshifting and, in some cases, sudden or delayed acceleration.” Ford spoke with the Detroit Free Press this Wednesday stating that they, “continue to deny allegations in this lawsuit, but rather than continuing with the litigation, Ford entered into a settlement agreement with lawyers representing these plaintiffs. That settlement is fair and appropriate and we look forward to final court approval.” That approval and the subsequent ruling are expected to be finalized later this year.

Last week, we had touched on Lincoln’s desire to push back against outdated perception, pursuing new demographics, but doing so based on their established strengths. That said, it’s not all the ‘same old, same old’ – at least based on recent comments made by Megan McKenzie, Marketing Manager for Lincoln. The brand which is serving up plug-in hybrids of both a fully redesigned Aviator and Corsair crossovers later this year, as well as having full-electric designs in the works was described by McKenzie as “a demographic grab for the brand, which has long has some of the oldest average buyers in the automotive industry” adding “plug-in vehicles appeal to a younger, more affluent demographic”. Not pulling any punches there, are you Megan?

GM / Chevy / GMC / Buick / Cadillac

And speaking of a good grab…

(That did not sound good, at all…)

GM managed to garner some positive headlines this week with the announcement that they would be creating more than 450 manufacturing jobs across three Ohio cities, as part of a $700 million expansion. These plans, which will affect the cities of Toledo, Parma and Moraine will focus on (i) expanded output of the all-new 10-speed automatic transmission (ii) production of stamped parts, and laser cell welding and (iii) expanded production of heavy-duty diesel powertrains.

But aside from that it was a relatively light news week for General Motors with not much else going on for either Chevy or GMC. The latter however has been linked to some speculative conversation regarding Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, and their trademark filing for the “Arcadia” nameplate. That’s right…a-R-c-a-d-i-a. Sounds familiar, right? And it’s not just us, as we’ve seen a number of other automotive news sites question the similarity and point out the potential for confusion. Factor in Daimler’s filing under the category of “Heavy Duty Trucks” (which GM’s Acadia trademark was filed under “Motor Land Vehicles” ) and one can’t help but predict a legal battle to come sometime in the near future.

But leave it to Buick to surprise us all by saving GM on this slow news day. Separated from the Opel and Vauxhall nameplates that had done more than a little to restrict evolution, Buick has recently touted their ‘Orange Car Project’ as a self-proclaimed ‘shot in the arm’, intended to refresh the lineup’s tired design philosophy. Not quite green-lit for production, the Orange Car concept has enjoyed a full clay build according to sources at Buick. We wish we had more to share about that, but the intention to attract a more youthful Gen-Z demographic seems to be the primary M-O everywhere these days, so…yeah…get ready for a sleek, streamlined Buick?

But that’s not all. Buick’s revitalization plan is bound to have a major effect on its relatively stagnant six vehicle stateside lineup. So the announcement of an all-new coupe crossover furthers the narrative of this all-new design language. Not to be confused with the Orange Car concept, this very separate beast has been rumored to be a badge-engineered variant of the Cadillac XT4 although we think GM recognizes the need to be a little bit more adventurous and hedge their bets a little bit further than that. Time will tell what the next couple of years bring.

FCA/ Dodge / RAM / Jeep

While there’s been no firm news, and mostly a blend of rumor and speculation driven by increased share value, the potential acquisition of FCA seems to be a popular conversation as of late. As we said, this is little more than hearsay at this point, but rumors of either an Asian or French acquisition has been batted around a lot lately – especially in regard to discussion of FCA’s struggles in the European market. In part, or in whole, any developments regarding this story will just have to remain to be seen…

And we’ll be watching (and listening…)

And Steve Beahm, head of FCA’s passenger car brands and Mopar unity has retired, following a career spanning more than three decades. Helming the brand through the creation of the 797hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye and delivery of the “Hellephant” 426 Supercharged Hemi crate engine, we wish Beahm an enjoyable retirement and hope that his yet-to-be named successor makes similar brand-reinforcing waves during their tenure.

And RAM has apparently decided to reignite the ‘on-again, off-agin’ discussion of a midsize RAM pickup this week with Chrysler CEO Mike Manley reaffirming that the RAM product development team is focused on the “clear hole” in their portfolio. Confirming that he is looking for a solution soon, the challenge requires the team to find “a cost-effective platform in a region where we can build it with low cost” and to do so in a time frame where the concept still feels applicable within the marketplace. This may of course, be yet another swing in the pendulum that is RAM’s back-and-forth discussion of a midsize truck, but…well, your guess is as good as ours on this one…

Last week, a federal judge in California approved what is roughly an $800 million settlement against a class-action lawsuit against FCA, surrounding their emissions scandal. As such, owners of certain RAM 1500 pickups produced between 2014-2016 and Jeep Grand Cherokees powered by the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 may be eligible for up to $3,075 in repair compensation. If you think your vehicle might have been affected, visit www.ecodieselsettlement.com for information on submitting a claim.

And an announcement that might prove interesting to our European listeners who count themselves as Jeep lovers. FCA has announced that the Gladiator, as well as the upcoming Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer will be made available on your side of the Atlantic. Planned to arrive by the second quarter of 2020, there have been no powertrain specs confirmed. However it might also be of interest to know that a version of Jeep Compass is also in development, equipped with a Mercedes-Benz diesel four cylinder. If successful, this will also make it over to you, albeit as a European exclusive.

Honda

Over at Honda, the decision was made to keep things simple by announcing that – two years after its initial unveiling – the all-electric Urban EV concept vehicle would be named…the Honda E. The vehicle (which according to Honda is “95% production ready”) will be begin to arrive at European dealers later this year, with plans to expand into other markets beginning in 2020.

But on a wider scale, Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo has revealed the impending launch of a new vehicle platform to be referred to as…well…’Honda Architecture’. Expectations are that the platform will first be launched for 2021, and will affect global models such as the Civic, CR-V, Fit and HR-V.

That was combined with a separate announcement that Honda planned to reduce the number of variant trim levels served up in their current lineup. Claiming “excessive complexity and higher costs than necessary” the reduction will trim the lineup by roughly 2/3.

Those are some seriously big cuts.

Kia

While Kia’s market strategy with the Kia Stinger might have earned some valid criticism (w’re looking at you starting price point) few have criticized the innovative vehicle itself. Helping to vault the Korean automaker into the favor of entirely new demographics, the Stinger served its intended purpose proving to be a true game-changer for the brand. And now, it appears that there are some major deals in play for people interested in buying a Stinger. While programs and participation differ, and discount tiers are split between the four and six-cylinder model, the incentives to buy are certainly there. Among the programs being offered are a $2,000 competitive cash rebate (on any Kia newer than 2011) but add in a zero percent APR for up to 66 months (for qualified buyers) plus a $2,000 cash back offering and it might be worth pulling the trigger if you were just waiting for a good reason to buy.

Mazda

Mazda has people talking, thanks to their planned development of an all-new straight six engine with Skyactiv-X technology, as well as a diesel variant. This aligns them with such aspirational brands as BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes in recommitting to the straight-six engine configuration. In a statement, Mazda went on record as saying, “We’re excited to bring these powertrains to our future vehicles as we continue on our path to premium. We know our fans will be yearning for additional details, however specific models, performance figures and market rollout will be disclosed at an appropriate time.” As an aside, the reveal was made as part of the automaker’s fiscal reporting, and hadn’t previously been shared before that. Considering that Toyota had recently claimed it would be a logistical nightmare for them to do offer the same kind of engine, involving years of development, it makes us wonder how Mazda manages to keep their cards so well hidden.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has opened an investigation regarding the Mazda CX-9, specifically those released between 2010-2013. Sparked by the filing of two reports, the investigation surrounds the risk of unexpected deployment of the side curtain airbags. Understand that this is merely an investigation of two isolated instances at this point, and to-date there has been no mention of a recall being necessary.

Volkswagen

On Wednesday, Volkswagen opened preordering for their long-awaited ID.3 electric hatchback  prior to its official September launch, and those preorders surpassed 10,000 cars within just 24 hours. Slated for 2020 deliveries in Europe, the 1st Edition ID.3 (priced equivalent to $33,600 USD) didn’t quite measure up to the 276,000 preorders of Tesla’s Model 3 (within 48 hours) but its certainly a notable accomplishment.

Switching gears to another facet of the VW Group, Audi has announced that they are returning their alternative fuel efforts to be focused on fuel cell technologies. Part of this decision, according to CEO Bran Schot was based around current concerns about the sufficiency of global battery supplies since most every automaker is fighting for their share. Expecting to unveil a prototype sixth-generation fuel cell later this year, they expect to have a new limited edition FCEV ready as early as 2021, with mass production to be started soon afterwards.

But it’s not all optimistic promise at Audi, courtesy of extra delays in Norwegian deliveries of the all-electric eTron. With over 7,000 reservations placed, many are being told their extended wait for delivery could be as long as six months. Affected by a Hungarian worker strike, and furthered by a reactionary reduction in production scheduling, there have been complaints regarding the ease (or maybe we should say ‘difficulty’) with which preorder customers can secure a refund, if they should wish to do so. The indication reported by some complainants is that Audi has imposed cancellation fines, an idea made almost obsolete based on Tesla’s worry-free cancellation policy.

Mercedes-Benz

And while the extent of the overall threat to Tesla remains to be seen, the development of the aforementioned VW ID.3 has been lined up next to the compact Mercedes EQC in the rankings of EV offerings seeking the coveted title of ‘Tesla Killer’. The launch versions of the EQC (subtitled the Edition 1886) delivers 292 miles of range, over 400 horsepower, 564 lb-ft of torque and sprints to 60mph in about five seconds. Seems like a contender if you ask us. Plus, Mercedes parent company Daimler had long ago made  the announcement that they planned to incorporate10 pure battery-electric vehicles across their various brands by the end of 2022, so it’ll be interesting to see how the industry-wide inrush affects the high bar that has already been set by Tesla.

And that just about wraps things up for AutoInfluence this week. But we’d like to wish the very Happiest of Mothers Days to all of the wonderful, loving and hard-working moms out there, whether you’re one of our listeners – or if the rest of you just want to say Happy Mothers Day to your mom for me.

 

Much love…from AutoInfluence.

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