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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep released images yesterday of the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which went into production this week atChrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit. This is the 4th generation of the Grand Cherokee, originally introduced in 1992. It is completely reengineered and redesigned for 2011 – with a new sculpted body, athletic profile, panoramic dual-pane sun roof and an interior with premium soft-touch materials. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee features Chrysler’s all-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that boasts an 11 percent improvement in fuel economy and delivers up to 23 mpg and more than 500 miles on one tank of gas. Capability highlights include a choice of three 4×4 systems, new Jeep Quadra-Lift™ Air Suspension and Selec-Terrain™ systems and towing capability of 7,400 lbs. On-road dynamics are improved courtesy of new independent front and rear suspension systems and a new body structure that dramatically increases torsional stiffness.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×2 models start at a sticker price of $30,995 – $495 lower than the outgoing model. Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4 models start at $32,995 – $465 lower than the outgoing model. The Overland model is the top of the line, with a price of $42,995 in 4×4 guise. The Limited model slots in between. The 2011 Grand Cherokee arrives in Jeep showrooms next month.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this product launch to Chrysler. Before Fiat’s present management, Chrysler was run by Daimler, which cost-cut the products into irrelevance, and then Cerberus, which cut the cupboard bare of new product investment. There is very little new product coming in the short-term, so it is very important that the new launches it does have are home runs. Chrysler plans to make improvements to just about every product in the next year, but no major launches outside of the Grand Cherokee and the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger due later this year until Fiat-based new products start coming next year and the year after. The Grand Cherokee looks like a winner, but SUV sales are down overall, which will limit the sales potential. Ford and GM, though, have abandoned the true, off-road (mid-size) SUV market, leaving the market to Jeep, Nissan (Xterra & Pathfinder) and Toyota (4Runner).

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

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Acura Announces Pricing on ZDX

26th November 2009

2010 Acura ZDX

2010 Acura ZDX

The all-new 2010 ZDX “four-door sports coupe” is set to go on sale on December 15 with a base sticker price starting of $46,305, Acura announced this week.  The ZDX will be available in three trim packages: the ZDX, ZDX with Technology Package ($50,805), and the ZDX with Advance Package ($56,855).

Standard features on the ZDX include a panoramic glass roof, concealed rear door handles, and a hand-stitched leather dash, center console and door panels. Powering comes from a 3.7-liter V6 that generates 300 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque while achieving a “class-leading” fuel economy of 16/23 mpg. Standard on every ZDX is Acura’s exclusive Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system.

For $4500, the technology package adds a Navigation System with Voice Recognition, real-time traffic with traffic rerouting, real-time weather and a rear camera. Additionally, the Technology Package includes an upgraded Acura/ELS Surround® 415-watt Premium Audio System with a 15-gigabyte hard disk drive media storage system (that allows the ZDX owner to download and store up to 3,500 songs), a GPS-linked, solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control system and Keyless Access System (with Smart Entry and push button ignition).

In addition to the features found in the Technology Package, the Advance Package adds a new blind spot information system (BSI), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Collision Mitigating Braking System™ (CMBS™), an Integrated Dynamic System (IDS) active damper system, heated and ventilated front seats with Perforated Milano Premium Leather seating surfaces, premium brushed tricot headliner material and a sport steering wheel. All for the low, low price of $6050.

The ZDX is based on the successful MDX SUV, but will be priced well above the MDX, which starts at about $41,000.  How does Acura justify the higher price?  They have the same engine, transmission and all-wheel drive system.  The MDX also has 3 rows standard; the ZDX has 2.  Maybe they can charge more because it’s a new design that’s so good looking….not.  Maybe it’s just me, but I needed to write this before my Thanksgiving turkey just to make sure I could keep it down.  Fugly.  Acura says, “…the ZDX has already generated a tremendous amount of excitement since its world debut at the New York Auto Show in April, thanks to its stunning coupe-like styling…”  Please.  The only excitement is from The Bulimics of America Society. And calling it “coupe-like” is nothing short of drug-induced.  I give the designers and management credit for trying something new, but this design just doesn’t work, especially at such a premium against the much-loved and successful MDX.  Acura’s sales target is about 6000/year, which is a modest number, but might be overly optimistic.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Ford announced today a new program designed to encourage would-be buyers to step up and buy.  The Ford Advantage Plan will cover payments (up to $700) for up to 12 months on any new Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicle if customers lose their jobs.  The program runs through June 1, and is addition to other incentive programs available.

Not to be outdone, General Motors unveiled its own version, called GM Total Confidence.  GM’s plan covers you for 24 months of ownership, but has a maximum of 9 payments of up to $500 each.  GM’s plan also has “Vehicle Value Protection” which protects the residual value of the vehicle starting when you are halfway through your finance contract.  If your outstanding loan balance (when you buy a new GM product) is more than the NADA Clean Retail Value, GM will provide “negative equity assistance,” meaning that GM will cover you for the difference up to $5000 on a trade-in, or $2500 on a sale.  GM Total Confidence also runs through June 1.

Why the sudden interest in protecting buyers?  Two reasons.  First is that buyers are staying out of the vehicle market out of fear that they might lose their job due to the economy.  With these programs, GM and Ford hope to quell that fear. The second is that Hyundai began offering this same basic idea a few months ago.  Not coincidentally, Hyundai is one of only 2 manufacturers that have posted higher sales in 2009 so far (Subaru is the other one, but that is only because they have a new version of the Forester, their biggest seller.  All of their other models are down). Ford and GM obviously saw this and decided it is worth a try as well. Will it work? Probably, but perhaps not as well as Hyundai’s.  Hyundai has the advantage of being a (relatively) healthy company that is not caught up in the specter of bankruptcy, government loans, etc.


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It’s really turning into the pickup season.  Ford just introduced a new version of the F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the US for a million years; Chevrolet just announced pricing for the Silverado Hybrid; and Dodge just introduced the new Ram pickup.  It’s like Christmas for truck buyers.

2009 Dodge Ram Laramie

2009 Dodge Ram Laramie

The 2009 Dodge Ram came out first, sporting a new, more sophisticated look and a host of new features.  The new look that hits you first (maybe literally, but I hope not) is the grille.  It has a forward-leaning top edge, similar to the Dodge Charger.  Other exterior changes are even more subtle, but give the big pickup a more aggressive and larger appearance.  If you’re not into studying the details, you will not even notice the difference.  The Ram also (finally!) has a true crew cab configuration.  They’ve been getting by for a few years with a crew cab wanna-be called the quad cab.  It has 4 front-hinged doors, but the rear doors are smaller than a true crew cab’s, so the addition of the crew cab will certainly be welcomed by dealers and customers.  The most interesting and innovative, though, is the RamBox cargo management system (available on the crew cab) includes weatherproof, lockable, illuminated and drainable storage bins built into bed rails.  RamBox bins hold up to 10 cases of 12-ounce “beverages”.

The interior sports significantly ugraded look and materials.  The most obvious change is the new floor console with the shifter moved from the steering column.  Other interior changes are “store in the floor” storage bins with removable liners, large enough for ten 12-ounce beverages and ice, heated and ventilated front seats (heated rear seats also available), heated steering wheel, live SIRIUS Backseat TV™ and surround-sound audio system.

Under the hood, the new Ram has improved, but carryover engines, including the 3.7L V6, 4.7L V8 and 5.7L Hemi V8.  Both V8s have increased power, torque and fuel economy.

Also just introduced is the new 2009 Chevy Silverado Hybrid pickup.  The starting price is $38,995, including destination charges, but not including the $2200 federal tax credit.  Production will begin in December, arriving in dealerships in “early 2009”, according to Chevrolet.  The Silverado uses GM’s two-mode hybrid system, and delivers 21 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway for the 2WD models.  4WD models get 20 city and highway.  These numbers are 40% better in the city and 25% overall.  The hybrid can still tow up to 6100 lbs and can drive in electric-only mode up to 30mph.  It’s available as a crew cab only.

2009 Ford F-150 XLT

2009 Ford F-150 XLT

The 2009 Ford F-150 is all-new as well.  The new styling mimics the F-150’s big brother, the Super Duty, with the 3 bar chrome grille and headlamps.  It also has the tailgate step bar from the Super Duty.  With 3 cab styles, 4 box options and 7 unique trim levels, the F-150 comes in 35 different configurations.  The new top trim level, the Platinum, was created when the Lincoln Mark LT was cancelled late in the program.  They had already engineered the luxury truck, so why not use it?  Ford claims it maintains its lead as the most capable pickup on the market, delivering towing capability of 11,300 pounds across all cab configurations and payload of 3,030 pounds.  The SuperCrew model has increased interior space due to a 6″ stretch over last year’s model.  The F-150 also benefits from a better sound management package, making it much quieter inside.  Under the hood, the F-150 no longer offers a V6 entry-level engine; the 4.6L 2V V8 is the base engine – but it offers better power for the same fuel economy as the 2008 V6 (14/19).  The next step up is a 3V version of the 4.6L V8, giving more power and better fuel economy than the 2V (15/20).  The top engine is the 5.4L V8, which has more power and torque, with 12% better fuel economy than 2008.  The F-150 also comes with a full complement of safety equipment, including AdvanceTrac® with RSC®; ABS;

2009 F-150 SFE

2009 F-150 SFE

Safety Canopy® side curtain air bags with roll-fold technology for enhanced head protection in rollovers and side impacts; front seat-mounted side air bags; Personal Safety System®; and new seats and restraints.  The F-150 includes many other new features including the box side step, EasyFuel Capless Fuel-Filler System, Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control, trailer sway control, integrated trailer brake control, reverse camera and Ford’s SYNC system.

With all of these new choices, and gas prices down so significantly, maybe these new trucks will be successful for their makers.  With all of the bad news coming out of Detroit and Washington, some good news would be a welcome change.  So drive on down to your local truck dealer – and don’t forget your belt buckle.

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Ford is being lambasted in various news media, including Automotive News and Business Week, for excluding the recently introduced Ford Fiesta ECOnetic from the US market. Ford will begin selling a Mexico-produced Fiesta in the US in 2010, but it will not, apparently, sell the ECOnetic here. What is the ECOnetic? It is a higher economy (65 MPG) version of the already high economy (40-45 MPG) Fiesta. It has a Diesel engine, very few creature comforts, low rolling resistance tires and special aerodynamics. According to Business Week, the cost of producing and shipping would require the price to be higher than the $25,700 at which it will sell in Europe. It would, however, be eligible for a $1300 tax credit, bringing the price to $24,400 – approximately comparable to a Toyota Prius, the current darling of the environmental crowd. Ford sources confirm to The Slandy Report that the ECOnetic is not planned for the US market – yet. If fuel prices keep rising, they will likely revisit that decision.

So is Ford making a mistake? Or are they exercising due prudence in spending what little money they have left? The Slandy Report thinks the answer is C – all of the above. The ECOnetic and its engine are made in the UK, where labor, exchange and shipping rates stack the deck against selling the car profitably in the US. There are mitigating factors, however:

• Because the Fiesta will already be produced in Mexico, why couldn’t Ford ship only the engine from the UK for assembly in the Mexican plant? It sure would cost less than shipping the entire car…
• Ford would realize a tremendous PR boost by beating the Prius’ environmental claims (presently the highest mileage vehicle for sale in the US – 48 mpg city, 45 highway) with a North America-produced product – this would help shed the image of selling only big, bloated SUVs and pickups.
• Ford tends to over-analyze everything (I’m not exaggerating) and has the attitude that “if you can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist.” Most reports say that Toyota is just starting to make money selling hybrids. They were willing to lose money for some time because they saw the long-term benefits (PR, future economies of scale, etc.). Ford needs to do the same. Even if they lose money on every ECOnetic they sell here, the car will have a halo effect over the entire company (see previous point). You can’t buy the positive image that car’s economy would give Ford.

Ford can/should limit the availability of the ECOnetic and advertise the hell out of it. Make sure every man, woman and child in the US and Canada knows that Ford sells “the highest-mileage car you can buy.” By limiting availability, they will be able to charge the $25K without any trouble – and without costly incentives. Reduced availability will also create a perceived shortage, which any first-year marketing or econ student knows is the way to create demand and profits. They should look at any loses they do incur as advertising or PR cost – it will be more effective than anything the “marketing communications” staff could come up with.

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Automotive News published the following on 13 June:
DETROIT — Chrysler LLC told dealers today that it will raise prices 2 percent for most remaining 2008 models. The increase will carry over to the 2009 model year. The price rise, which will be reflected in invoices starting June 16, was announced in a Webcast to dealers by Jim Press, Chrysler co-president, and Steven Landry, executive vice president of North America sales. The executives said increasing commodity prices, including steel, pushed the company to raise prices. Chrysler spokesman Stuart Schorr said: “The average 2 percent increase brings total model year price increases in line with key competitors. It does not affect vehicles already in dealer inventory. Incentives would not be changed. “The increase will affect the remaining 2008 vehicles Chrysler will make during its summer buildout. Press told dealers at the end of May Chrysler would build 127,000 units from July to mid-August. Schorr said that since the beginning of this model year Chrysler put in an average increase of $1,200 in content per vehicle without increasing prices. Automotive News has reported that steel prices for automakers have risen $500 a vehicle since January.

This is just the latest example of the automakers formerly known as The Big 3 showing their ignorance of basic supply and demand. Countless times over the last several years, they have increased their prices at the beginning and during their model years. They justify these increases to themselves and the press by saying 1. it’s only $75 or 2. it’s only 2% or 3. we added equipment valued at more than the price increase or 4. blah, blah, blah. They’ve done this so many times that they can actually say this with a straight face. Chrysler’s sales are down 19.3% this year (more than any other manufacturer). They’ve lost over 1.5 points of share, or 179,000 units. And that’s just through May! You might think, well, everybody know that truck sales are down, it’s just the trucks…wrong. Chrysler’s car sales are down too – more than any other manufacturer’s as well.

In what other reality would a rational company say, “Hmmm, sales are down – we should raise our prices!” Customers don’t give a damn about your costs. They want a great product at a price that represents value. Period. Don’t bore me with the details.

As always, I welcome your feedback. Well, maybe not welcome, but I don’t mind it too much.

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Hyundai Genesis

28th May 2008

Hyundai has announced the pricing for their new “luxury” sedan, the Genesis. This is a rear wheel drive sedan (coupe will follow later). 2 engines will be offerred, a V6 and a V8. The V6 will start at $33,000 and the V8 will start at $38,000. No word yet on the drugs that will be made available to dealership personnel and customers to revive them when they find out that Hyundai wants $40K for a car. Maybe this will work, like Lexus in the late 80s to undercut the competition with a great car. The track record recently has been good, but the name Phaeton keeps coming to mind. Is Hyundai reaching too far?

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