Annnnd we’re back. AutoInfluence with all of your current auto news headlines for the week of June 28th. And FINALLY. What a week it was! We have rumors of one iconic muscle cars’s retirement, FCA change-ups, Tesla firefighting, results of this year’s American Made Index, Porsche electrification and the rumor of one model’s death which was – apparently – greatly exaggerated. And for our European listeners, we have some big picture news coming up from Ford in just a few seconds, but first…
Ford announced the availability of the all-new Tremor Off-Road Package for the 2020 Super-Duty, available on F-250 and F-350 pickups equipped with either the all-new 7.3-liter V8 or third-gen 6.7-liter Powerstroke diesel powertrain. Focused on delivering off-road prowess, outstanding towing and payload capacity, the Tremor package features Trail Control drive modes including a special ‘Rock Crawl’ mode, an upgraded suspension with massive 1.7-inch piston twin-tube dampers, 35-inch maximum traction Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac all-terrain tires, off-road running boards and empowers the truck with best-in-class water fording of 33-inches. If you’re interested in a closer look, you can check out the Tremor video teaser in this podcast on AutoInfluence.com.
But the biggest news for Ford this week came when the automaker announced their intention to launch an entirely new European business model. Focused on sustainable profitability, the roadmap is built around (i) three customer-focused business groups for Commercial Vehicles, Passenger Vehicles and Imports (ii) the creation of at least three new nameplates in the next five years (iii) improved CO2 performance led by aggressive changes to be made through 2021, and (iv) broad-based efficiency improvement actions. The latter is a multi-tiered strategy which includes the closure of six European plants, reducing the European footprint to eighteen facilities, discontinuation of several nameplates and the elimination of 12,000 positions including a 20% reduction in management. Implementation of the strategy, which goes into effect July 1st, as summarized by Stuart Rowley, president of Ford Europe enables them to “invest and grow [Ford’s] leading commercial vehicle business and provide customers with more electrified vehicles, SUVs, exciting performance derivatives and iconic imported models”. Addressing the ramifications of closures and positional streamlining, Rowley goes on to explain that, “separating employees and closing plants are the hardest decisions [Ford] make[s], and in recognition of the effect on families and communities,communities, [Ford is] providing support to ease the impact. [Ford is] grateful for the ongoing consultations with works councils, trade union partners and elected representatives. Together, they are moving forward and focused on building a long-term sustainable future for our business in Europe”.
And in a peripheral story, British EV automaker Charge is delivering the must-have gift for any (or at least 499) pony car enthusiasts with $400 grand burning a hole in their pocket. That’s right, after years of teasing it, Charge is finally serving up their EV version of the classic 1967 Mustang, using an officially-licensed aftermarket body. Powered by a 64-kilowatt-hour battery, the Mustang wrangles 469 horse while delivering 885 lb-ft of torque. The first production model of Charge’s 67 Mustang will debut on July 4th, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
General Motors / Chevy / Cadillac
This week, GM announced another round of facility reinvestments – this time in the Arlington TX assembly plant which serves as the sole producer of Chevy’s Tahoe and Suburban, GMC’s Yukon and Yukon XL, as well as the Cadillac Escalade. The $20 million investment bolsters the $1.4 billion that GMC has already invested in the facility, feeding demand for the GM SUV lineup which all but dominates the segment. Consider 2018 sales, where GM enjoyed sales of four SUVs to every one sold by their nearest competitor. This newest investment will support GM’s plans for their next-generation of SUV offerings while earning sustainability points from the EPA, for being run entirely on Wind Power.
Which segues nicely to GM’s 9th Annual sustainability report, titled ‘Transformation in Progress’. Focused on delivering the lofty goal of ‘zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion’, GM’s updates covered everything from sustainability to safety, to fiscal transparency and corporate action designed to support gender equality within the organization. Focusing on the automotive side of the report, GM reiterated their having reached their carbon reduction goal three years ahead of schedule, with the intention of reducing emissions by 31% by 2030. The report also stated that GM intends to be 100% powered by renewable energies by 2050, that Cruise (their self-driving division) has received an additional $5 billion in external investment to push forward their efforts in autonomy, and that Cadillac will serve as GM’s leading brand for electrification technologies with engineering resources doubled in the next two years.
And while a GM spokesperson has stated that they wouldn’t “engage in speculation”, auto news resources everywhere are reporting on rumors that the Camaro might soon be taking an unconfirmed rest. Having taken a hiatus as recently as 2003-2009, the current Camaro is currently about halfway through its life cycle, with no immediate plans having been shared to update it past the 2023 model year. Trailing behind the Mustang and Challenger, and still struggling after the poorly received 2019 and reactionary 2020 redesigns, time will tell if the rumors regarding the Camaro’s impending discontinuation are, in-fact, true.
So, is anyone out there looking to trade up on their truck? More specifically, are you itching to get your hands on a $100,000 Silverado? Neither are we. But in a case of what might be described as ‘out of touch automaking’, GM firmly believes that they have a responsibility to offer a high-end pickup for those high-rollers interested in buying one. Granted, truck prices have been on the rise with the average price increasing from $32,557 to $45,260 since 2017, as reported by J.D. Power and Associates. Of course, this benefits automakers, since the profit margins on trucks are fatter than on any other segment, falling in anywhere between $10-20 Grand per unit sold. But is a six-figure High Country Silverado really necessary, in the wider scope of where GM and Chevy should be investing their energies? According to IHS auto analyst Stephanie Brinley, it comes down to their willingness to address a niche audience claiming, “There’s not a lot of risk for them. There’d be no harm if it doesn’t work but, if it succeeds, it would earn a tidy profit.” It just seems comical that, having lost out on the Number Two spot during Q1, and with Ford and FCA both chipping into their profits to offer significant discounts in the hopes of spurring truck sales, Chevy would be so public in the showing their cards regarding a desire to cater to more entitled buyer. Makes you wonder if things are looking up for GM, anticipating release of their Q2 numbers.
And if you’ve been considering a 2019 XTS or XT5 as of late, well, both have received a drop in advertised MSRP over the past week. Prompted by a 23.76% decrease in sales, and with talk of its impending discontinuation, the XTS is now being served up for $2,500 less than it would have cost you mere days ago. The XT5 has also been burdened with a 10% drop in interest, and is now being offered for $3,000 less in terms of asking price. If either of these offers will help you to get behind the wheel of the Cadillac you’ve been eyeing, be sure to reach out to your local GM / Cadillac dealer for more information. Also – and we’re merely speculating here, but – it may not hurt to hold out a little while longer.
FCA / Dodge / RAM / Chrysler / Jeep / Alfa Romeo
This week, John Elkann, chairman of FCA finally opened up regarding the failed merger talks with Renault in a letter which was obtained by the Detroit Free Press. Having previously alluded to “political conditions” as the root of the issue, implying that the French government’s 15% stake in Renault was creating unwelcome variables within he discussion. As reported by the DFP, Elkann elaborated on the stalled discussions with an odd mix of humility and bravado stating that, “even the finest proposal, such as this one” had little chance of succeeding if “foundations are unstable”, adding “it takes a certain boldness to convene a dialog as we did. But when it becomes clear that the discussions have been take as far as they can reasonably go, it is necessary to be equally decisive in drawing matters to a close”. Renault also issued a statement claiming its “disappointment not to have the opportunity to continue” discussions, while thanking FCA for their efforts and reiterating their own sense of reflective appeal. That said, countless automotive analysts have weighed in on this situation, and it’s widely believed that we haven’t seen the end of this story.
Several weeks ago, we had reported on the retirement of FCA / Mopar legend Steve Beahm. This week, FCA announced some restructuring moves which – while not necessarily a direct result of Beahm’s stepping down – have come in its wake. This includes Tim Kuniskis stepping into to oversee FCA’s North American passenger car brands. Former head of RAM, Jim Morrison (no not THAT Jim Morrison) breaking on through to the other side, in order to manage Jeep’s North American brands. And finally, Mike Koval Jr. has been appointed Director of U.S. product marketing for RAM.
And speaking of Tim Kuniskis, the head of FCA’s passenger cars division has stepped up to extoll the virtues of the iconic Dodge Charger, following the release of specs for the Widebody Package option being gifted to the 2020 Charger. Powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi Hellcat V8, it will deliver 707hp and 650 lb-ft of torque with a top speed of 196 mph, while enjoying 3.5-inches of body width, with wider 20×11-inch Pirelli tires. “Can you buy a vehicle that is dollar for dollar more practical than a Charger Widebody?” Kuniskis asked, answering, “Absolutely, but there are also more than 1,000 flavors of ice cream and vanilla is only one of them. If the ‘average’ person will own six cars in their lifetime, our cars need to connect so strongly that people can’t help, but turn around and take a second look before walking away.” As the proud owner of what is now my second Charger in the last twelve years, I tend to agree.
[Zach: You’re Fired]
And over at RAM, suggestions that a EcoDiesel variant of the 2020 RAM 1500 could be a reality finally became a reality. As confirmed by Reid Bigland, supreme overlord of the RAM brand, the high efficiency third-generation 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel will find its way under the hood as an option for all new RAM 1500 models (including the Rebel) while the RAM Classic will continue to offer the 2nd-gen EcoDiesel.
But as pleasing as that news is, it doesn’t little to downplay a 343,000 vehicle recall surrounding the 2019-20 RAM 1500. Spurred by a software malfunction it’s possible that (i) air bags could be disabled and (ii) seatbelts could be tightened before a crash, both inadvertently. While there have been no reports of incidences, the recall is currently being announced, calling for dealer updates to software or replacement of computer controls.
And for fans of the minivan (and no, that wasn’t a sarcastic statement) FCA has announced their attention of streamlining the Chrysler Pacifica lineup, resurrecting the Voyager nameplate in an effort target budget-conscious families. Spec’d to be powered by a 287-hp V6 engine paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, the 2020 Voyager will offer up to seven-passenger seating with smartphone connective technology. Considering the goal, we can only guess that the price tag will fall in below the $28,730 MSRP of the 2019 Pacifica.
And cars.com has deemed the Jeep Cherokee to be the ‘Most American’ vehicle for the second consecutive year, after earning the top spot on the guide’s American-Made Index. According to cars.com, the AMI is based on five major factors: assembly location, domestic-parts content, engine sourcing, transmission sourcing and U.S. factory jobs. In accepting the award, the “dedicated employees” of the Belvidere Illinois assembly plant where the Cherokee is manufactured, were praised by Jeep’s Jim Morrison (still not that Jim Morrison) as were the “loyal Jeep owners who drive it”.
Honda / Acura
Having mentioned Jeep’s placement on cars.com American Made Index. In an effort to battle stereotypes, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Honda’s 40-year stateside presence has earned them six slots on the AMI’s Top Ten, encompassing both Honda and Acura brands. Recognized models include Honda’s Odyssey, Ridgeline, Passport and Pilot, as well as the Acura MDX and RDS . Celebrating the recognization Honda North America’s EVP Rick Schostek assessed Honda’s commitment to “building products close to our customers” and credited “more than 31,000 associates and over 600 suppliers in America who make that happen every day.”
And speaking of Acura, the third-gen RDX has been recognized for making some serious waves since its June 2018 model year debut. Setting an all-time annual sales record for the segment in 2018, the RDX has posted 12 consecutive months of sales growth proving a new favorite among affluent consumers under the age of 45.
Nissan / Infiniti / Mitsubishi
And while there’s not much to share on the Nissan and Infiniti fronts, Mitsubishi is turning a few heads with recent rumors that they might be resurrecting the Lancer Evolution, retired only two years ago. While there is no confirmation of this, or one that it would be made available in the U.S., the 11th-generation Lancer is rumored to have a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood, with a 48-volt mild hybrid variant to follow close behind.
While there’s been little in the news this week regarding both Toyota and Mazda, Subaru (along with Isuzu, Suzuki and Daihatsu) have announced capital investments in Monet Technologies with the intention of furthering their interest in self-driving autonomous vehicles. Subaru’s investment equates to around 2% of Monet’s shares (as opposed to Toyota and Honda who account for 34.8% and 10% stakes, respectively). As with most every automaker, Subaru has voiced their interest in pursuing “ultimate levels off safety in the aim of eliminating automobile accidents”. This new partnership is expected to have a heavy influence on public and private transportation services in Japan, and is expected to compete with such recognizable names as Uber and Cruise on a more global level.
Despite a claim that their EV’s are 10 times less likely to experience fire than traditional petroleum-fueled vehicles, Tesla has spent the last couple of months answering the the April 21st report of a parked Model S catching fire in Shanghai. Stating the results of their investigation of battery, software, manufacturing data and vehicle history Tesla reported no system defect, placing the blame on a single battery module. As a preventative measure, they have executed an over-the-air software update on Model S and X vehicles, revising the charge and thermal management settings – helping to protect the battery and preserve longevity.
Volkswagen / Audi / Porsche
This week Volkswagen assuaged any concerns surrounding their ambitious plans for an all-electric future by confirming that their battery supply was secure through 2023. Encompassing the first wave of their plans to build 3 million all-electric vehicles by 2025 and 22 million in total by 2027, the VW Group has partnered with multiple vendors including Samsung, SK Innovation, Sweden’s Northvolt, Korea’s LG Chem and China’s CATL. That said, VW has confirmed their expectations of being in permanent negotiations for the next three to five years in order to secure their longterm plans. This is no surprise since their 10-year strategy would effectively outstrip the global supply of battery capacity.
Conflicting with recurring rumors to the point, Audi has confirmed that they will not be retiring the TT nameplate, which is currently in play until 2022. That said, it will be succeeded by an EV sports car offering although there are fewer details.
And Audi has reported a U.S. recall of 265,000 vehicles, in order to address two separate issues. The first, and most significant, relates to a faulty connection which could deactivate airbags in (2015-19) A3, (2015-16) S3, (2017-19) RS3 and (2016-18) eTron vehicles. The second relates to Q5 and SQ5 SUVs produced between 2018-19 and is related to a wheel arch cover that could come detached from the vehicle. Dealer repairs will take effect beginning August 18th and 2nd respectively.
And despite their reiteration of the importance of electrification, Porsche has confirmed that their GT division will remain combustion-powered, at least for the foreseeable future. Porsche GT boss Andreas Preuninger explained that, “members of the Porsche Board still understand the importance that the GT division’s hardcore models have for the brand, even as the company develops more hybrids and fully electric models. All three types of vehicles form major pillars for the company’s product plan”.
BMW / Rolls-Royce
In one of the quirkier stories lurking in the peripheral this week, BMW has announced that they have partnered with celebrated film composer Hanz Zimmer to determine what next-gen BMW electric vehicles (specifically the VISION M NEXT) will sound like. Zimmer, who might be best-known for THIS sound (taken from the ‘Inception’ soundtrack) has been recruited as part of BMW’s new ‘IconicSoundsElectric’ sound brand, designed for consumers who value emotional brand. If you want to check out what he’s come with, you can hear it here:
Finally, on the heels of Rolls-Royce announcement a couple of weeks back that they would be cutting 4600 (primarily UK-based) jobs to free up £4 million (currently equivalent to around $508.2 million USD) share prices are soaring. Despite criticisms for such cuts being “too deep and too fast” and possessing “a dire economic impact on local communities” Rolls-Royce is standing by their decision based on a perceived need to “create a commercial organization that is as world-leading as our technologies”.
And that about wraps up things for us this week. With apologies to our global listeners out there, we’ll be taking next week off to observe our July 4th holiday, but you can expect us to return on Friday July 11th, where we’ll be sure to catch up on everything you might have missed. So, be sure to say hi to your mom TWICE for me.