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2017 Detroit Auto Show

14th January 2017

As I sat down to write my usual report for the Detroit Auto Show, I realized that I wouldn’t have a lot to say this year. Nothing really stands out. Sure, there are many nice cars this year, including some world premieres. The overall desirability of cars, trucks, and utilities has never been better. Better fuel economy, better looking, better technology (some of which won’t kill you). The downside of all this excellence is that it’s tougher to stand out. And nothing did.

What really didn’t help this year was the absence of several of the high-end sports and luxury makers. Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Tesla, McLaren, Land Rover, and Jaguar were all MIA.

Here a brief rundown of some of the notable cars, in no particular order:

  • Roush P-51 Mustang. Rousch slaps a supercharger onto the Ford 5.0 V8, giving it 727 horsepower! 🙂
  • Ford GT: not new, but if you can walk by the GT on the Ford stand without drooling all over yourself, you need to check your pulse.
  • 2018 GMC Terrain: all-new; smaller, loses 400 pounds, gets a more refined look, maybe too refined. Powertrain lineup is all-new: 1.5L or 2.0L turbo 4 gas or 1.6L turbo Diesel.
  • VW Atlas: new SUV designed especially for the US market. And they did such a great job, the result of their efforts looks amazingly like the quintessential American SUV, the Jeep Grand Cherokee. No kidding – if you squint, you can barely tell the difference.
  • Toyota Prius Prime: this is the 2nd generation plug-in Prius, now with a new name. It’s just as…quirkey…as the “regular” Prius. Lots of people buy the Prius, but I think it is (and always has been) a weird-looking car that drives like a tin can on wheels. Sorry, but it’s true.
  • Kia Stinger: brand new entry 4-door hatchback RWD/AWD optional. 2.0L turbo (255 hp / 260 torque) or 3.3L twin-turbo V6 (365/376).
  • VW ID Buzz: yet another in a long line of micro bus concepts from our Diesel-impaired friends. VW’s electric offensive is clearly partly an attempt to deflect the stare of government regulators and partly a peace offering to environmentalists they’ve offended with Diesel emissions trouble.
  • 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA: they said it’s new, but who can tell?
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe moves to the new platform already adopted by the sedan
  • 2018 F-150 – freshened (very slightly), with new engines, including a Diesel for the first time
  • 2018 Chevy Traverse looks very much like a larger scale model of the recently-introduced new Equinox
  • Audi Q8 Concept – a more emotional, coupe-like version of the Q7. Plug-in hybrid. Was introduced during the preview, but was gone on the first public day of the show.
  • Nissan Rogue Sport – a new entry for Nissan in the small SUV segment. It’s not a new car, though; it’s already sold in other markets as Qashqai
  • 2018 Honda Odyssey: honestly, it’s a minivan. Ho-hum. It’s good-looking as minvans go, and Honda has finally integrated the sliding door track into the gap between the body and the rear window. Chrysler did this a million years ago, and Ford did it more than a decade ago.
  • 2018 Toyota Camry: some will tell you that it’s an exciting new aggressive design. Maybe for a Camry. I’ll tell you it’s mildly more expressive, but stakes no new ground.
  • Nissan Vmotion 2.0 concept: winner of the Eyes on Design best concept car. It’s very good looking.
  • 2018 Lexus LS 500: newest version of the Lexus that started the brand back at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show. Has a twin-turbo V6, 415 horsepower and 442 pound feet of torque, 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, 10-speed auto tranny.
  • Volvo V90: this is an S90 wagon, and brings to 3 models that have Volvo’s new design language, including and especially the gorgeous interior.
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio: an all-new utility on the same platform as the recently introduced Giulia (still can’t buy it, though). Like the Giulia, Stelvio will be available with either a 2.0L I4 with 280hp & 306 torque on the base model. Upgrade to the Quadrifoglio and you get a 2.9L twin turbo with 505hp & 443 torque. Score!
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It occurred to me that my comments in the Detroit Auto Show report about the GMC Acadia might need some explanation.

Automotive planners are constantly looking for “white space” for new products. If you could graph all products on the market, and place a dot where they reside in terms of size, power, economy, seating, etc, then anywhere without a dot it white space. Simple, right? In theory, yes. Actually finding the white space and a feasible product to put into it is another answer all together. When you find true whitespace, it’s like finding gold. Think 1984 Chrysler minivans, 1965 Mustang, 1953 Corvette. That’s real white space – new segments. Other types of white space are a certain niche within a segment, like the Ford Taurus SHO, Ford Transit or Ram SRT10 pickup. These products filled a need that was not being met within an existing segment.

So what does this have to do with GMC moving its Acadia large crossover to the midsize segment? The Acadia (and its GM siblings: Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave) is a large crossover. There are very few large crossovers in the US market – besides the GM triplets, there are 2 (non-luxury) others: Ford Flex and Mazda CX-9. A crossover is an SUV that is built on a car body and generally rides lower and more like a car than a “true” SUV. A large or full-size crossover is generally one that is about 200” (5000 mm) or longer. So while the large crossover segment is not really whitespace (anymore), it is only a light shade of grey. GM has been able to sell many of these since they were introduced in 2006, reaching a record 278,419 in the US in 2015.

In my opinion, GM is getting a bit cocky with the move of the Acadia to the midsize segment (around 190”/4800 mm – 200”/5000 mm). Yes, the midsize segment has more sales than the large segment, so why shouldn’t GM go after those sales? 2 reasons:

  • The segment includes some of the best-selling vehicles in the US market (Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, among others). This is the opposite of white space.
  • The new Acadia is also very close in size to GMC’s own Terrain, which at 187.8” is less than 6” shorter than the new Acadia.

Of course, all of this is without knowledge of the General’s product plans that they haven’t announced. Maybe there are other plans in the works that make this make sense. Maybe. Call me skeptical.

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The Sharks Begin Circling

28th January 2010

Toyota’s problems seem to multiply everyday. The latest in the saga of Toyota’s quality issues involves other car companies, namely General Motors and Ford. Yesterday, GM added an extra incentive to its existing ones specifically for Toyota and Lexus owners, giving them an extra $1000 which they can apply in three ways: 1. Those who choose to lease a vehicle may waive three payments for up to a total of $1,000. 2. Qualifying customers who are financing a vehicle purchase can receive 0 percent financing for up to 60 months. 3. Cash buyers can receive $1,000 off their purchase. It is noteworthy that GM did not “announce” this new incentive. They didn’t want to appear like they were gloating over Toyota’s situation. Ford followed suit shortly thereafter, but with a twist. Ford’s program targets people who own Honda, Acura, Toyota, Lexus or Scion vehicles that are 1995 models or newer. The owners of eligible vehicles would get $1,000 for trade-in assistance on either a purchase or lease of a new Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicle. That money is stackable on any other incentives already on a Ford Motor product.

In straw #2, the suppler of the pedals in question, CTS, (sort of) fired back at Toyota. Toyota, you might remember, was quick to drive a bus over CTS by naming them as the supplier of the faulty pedals, prompting some reporters (me) to question where the buck stops at Toyota. Mitchell Walorski, head of CTS Corp. investor relations, said the Elkhart, Ind., supplier is not part of the problem. CTS has “no knowledge of any accident or injury” stemming from the accelerator assemblies it supplies Toyota, he said. Walorski told Automotive News that CTS engineers are assisting Toyota, “but this is their recall.” CTS was not consulted about Toyota’s decision to issue the recall or to halt certain vehicles’ sales, he said.

In straw #3, the National Auto Auction Association announced that all of its member auctions would be required to make an announcement concerning the affected vehicles at their auctions. This is regular procedure for any auctions that have issues, and NAAA said Toyota is no different. The reason is simply full disclosure so everybody knows what they are getting. The impact is that Toyota’s residual (resale) values just took an immediate and substantial hit, which will affect trade-in values and, further down the road, lease payments. A lower residual value makes the lease payment higher, absent additional incentives. So lower residuals will hurt sales (especially leasing) or make them more costly to Toyota.

Straw #4 is an update to #3. The NAAA changed course and advised its member auctions to halt the selling of the affected Toyota models until the issues are resolved. This takes the ramifications in #3 and magnifies them significantly.

Straw #5 concerns rentals. All of the largest rental companies –  Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Dollar and Thrifty – all said they would stop renting vehicles covered in the recall.

In Straw #6, Toyota yesterday said it would recall an additional 1.1 million autos in the United States to fix floor mats that may jam accelerator pedals and cause unintended acceleration. The action is an extension of last fall’s recall, in which Toyota recalled 4.3 million vehicles in its largest-ever U.S. safety action. Today’s amended recall involves 2008-10 Highlanders and 2009-2010 Corollas, Venzas, and Matrixes, Toyota said in a statement. The action also covers 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibes made in a joint venture with General Motors Co. This brings the total units recalled for the 2 separate problems to over 6 million.

Lucky Straw #7 goes overseas. Toyota announced that it will extend the recall to an estimated 2 million units in Europe and about 75,000 in China. Let’s see, that now makes over 8 million units worldwide, about the same as Toyota sells worldwide in a year.

For Crazy Straw #8, Ratings agency Fitch, placing Toyota on watch negative, said the recalls and production suspension damaged Toyota’s reputation for quality and could hamper its recovery. If they ultimately lower Toyota’s credit rating, this will make borrowing to fund operations more costly. If it is only a short-term hit, then it will be unlikely to affect Toyota very much, as Toyota has more cash on hand the the pharaohs did.

I wonder if the camel’s back is getting weary yet?

As you might expect, all these straws are having an effect on Toyota’s stock. It has fallen over 15% since last week, reducing the camel’s market capitalization by $25 billion. That’s not going to make the shareholders very happy.

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

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Every year, Ward’s Auto has published its 10 Best Engines list.  Considered the most prestigious award for powertrain excellence, the 10 Best Engines award is highly coveted by automakers.  The criteria include many objective and subjective factors.  They all must be available in a regular production model priced no higher than $54,000 by early 2010.  There were 34 nominees this year.  2009 winners and any all-new or significantly changed engines are eligible.  Lest you think Ward’s only includes high-powered, sports car engines, this year’s list is highly diversified, with engines of every major type and geography represented.

The list includes engines from German (4), US (3), Japanese (2) and Korean (1) automakers.  The engines have 4-cylinders (6), 6-cylinders (3) and 8-cylinders (1) and are powered by gas (6), Diesel (2) and hybrid (2) power.  They use natural aspiration (4) and turbo (5), and 1 supercharged.  5 winners are repeats from last year and 5 are new on this year’s list.

The engines have a huge range of horsepower (98 – 375) and an even larger torque range of 105 – 425 lb.-ft.  Specific output, or horsepower per liter, is considered a measure of how well the engineers have wrung power out of the engine.  A few years ago, 60-70 hp/L was considered excellent.  The lowest figure on this year’s list (54) is a hybrid, whose horsepower figure does not include the extra power provided by the battery.  The highest non-forced induction engine is 82.  The forced induction engines range from 88 – 111.

Enough of the stats!  Here are the winners this year:

Manufacturer

Vehicle

Size & Type

Horsepower

Torque

HP/L

MPG

Audi

A4

2.0L Turbo I-4

211

258

106

23/30

Audi

S4

3.0L Supercharged V6

333

325

111

18/28

BMW

335d

3.0L Turbodiesel I-6

265

425

88

23/36

Ford

Taurus SHO

3.5L Turbo V6

365

350

104

18/27

Ford

Fusion Hybrid

2.5L I-4 Hybrid

191

136

76

41/36

GM

Chevy Equinox

2.4L I-4

182

172

76

22/32

Hyundai

Genesis

4.6L V-8

375

333

82

17/25

Subaru

Legacy GT

2.5L Turbo I-4

265

258

106

23/31

Toyota

Prius

1.8L I-4 Hybrid

98

105

54

51/48

Volkswagen

Jetta TDI

2.0L Turbodiesel I-4

140

236

70

30/42

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GM May Keep G8 as a Chevy

14th July 2009

Never one at a loss of words, Bob Lutz has publicly spoken what many have said or thought privately – GM may keep the G8 after all. “The G8 has finally been discovered by a broader percentage of the buying public,” Lutz said on GM’s FastLane blog. “The owners are ecstatic about them, many calling it the best sedan they’ve ever driven. We consider it too good to waste. So we’re studying the feasibility of bringing it in as a Caprice for both law enforcement and the public.” Tom Stephens, who replaced Lutz as head of product development, made a similar comment a few weeks ago.

The G8, by most measures, is a great car. Some call it a better BMW than a BMW – and cheaper. So the idea of keeping it makes a lot of sense in many ways. One way it does not is the CAFE way. A big, powerful rear-drive sedan will hurt the company’s CAFE numbers. It will also help sales and (presumably) profits. So what’s more important – satisfying the government’s (read: majority owner’s) need for fuel economy, or that same government’s need to be paid back?

Bob and whoever else is part of this decision need to be aware that maybe the recent sales spike isn’t what it appears to be.  While it is true that June sales were up 136% from last year, a close look at G8’s sales chart might be interesting:

G8 has only been for sale for 16 months, perhaps the most tumultuous 16 months is GM’s history.  It can easily take that long to establish a new nameplate in the US auto industry – under ideal circumstances.  G8 was launched just as gas prices were starting to spike last year, and you can see that right after the first full month, sales started to creep back down, despite the positive reviews.  After a brief increase in August, sales started to fall again, probably due to all the bad press surrounding GM’s bleak financial situation last fall.  Sales spiked in February, and except for an April slide, have increased since.  Bob would like to call this being “discovered by a broader percentage of the buying public.”  Maybe, but I doubt it.  This is more likely the result of the announcements concerning Pontiac’s (lack of a) future.  Recall that it was in February that the General announced that Pontiac would be reduced to a “niche” brand.  This prompted many to go out and buy the car, as its future was uncertain (speculators, maybe?).  The dip in April is likely because there were no more people who were nervous about the G8’s future.  So why the increase in May and June?  GM announced in very late April that it would kill the Pontiac brand and all of its nameplates.  This has brought out even more pull-ahead sales, as people rush to make sure that they will get their G8 before they’re gone.

So does this mean that the G8 will not be successful as a Chevy or even a Buick (see below)?  Of course not.  It just means that Bob and his band of merry men better be careful reading too much into the sales chart.

So say we assume that GM will keep it in the lineup.  Next question is what do you call it?  Chevy Caprice, as Bob suggested, is a good fit.  The last Caprice was a big, RWD sedan.  It also didn’t win any beauty contests or warm the hearts of any enthusiasts, unlike the G8.  Other suggestions might include Chevy Impala, but the General is already working on a replacement for that car, or Chevelle, a name from the past that might work.  You could go really simple and name it Chevy G8.  How about Buick Grand National?  Buick is in need of a shot of adrenaline, and the G8 would certainly provide that, while resurrecting Buick’s performance heritage.

There are many decisions that GM must make, but let’s hope that they don’t get bogged down in too much research.  GM has long been known to become paralyzed in research, only to make a decision that is too watered down to excite anybody.

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GM confirmed today that the United Auto Workers (UAW) union has approved modifications to its national contract that “…will enable GM to be fully competitive and has eliminated the gap with our competitors.”  GM claims the changes eliminate the wage and benefit (cost) gap with its competitors.  It also includes changes to the agreements regarding the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) trust for retiree healthcare.

Separately, GM announced a plan to utilize a UAW-represented idled assembly and stamping facility for future production of an unnamed compact/small car in the United States to meet future fuel efficiency regulations.  GM did not specify the facility to be used, but the re-tooled plant will be capable of building 160,000 cars annually, which can be a combination of both small and compact vehicles. 

GM already has a strong manufacturing presence in the United States. Currently, about 67 percent of GM cars and trucks sold in the U.S. are built in the U.S. With this announcement, GM anticipates that U.S. production levels will increase beyond 70 percent by 2013, augmenting its already automotive industry-leading U.S. manufacturing footprint.

This is clearly a bone thrown to the UAW and the federal government.  The UAW has complained very publicly about GM’s plan to close US plants and increase imports.  This has put pressure on the feds because the public believes the $19.4 billion in loans that GM has received should not be used to subsidize the elimination of US jobs in favor of foreign-based jobs.  GM (and the other Detroit automakers) has long stated that high costs prevent them from manufacturing small cars in the US profitably.  Could the new contract really save them enough to make this turn around, or are they just saying this for PR or are the y just willing to continue to lose money to please their new overseers in DC?

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GM has teamed up with Segway, the maker of the Segway PT, to introduce the PUMA (“Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility”).  The idea is a small, electric runabout that is easy to drive and park, and is easy on the environment as well.  It can travel up to 35 MPH (56 KPH) and for 35 miles (56km) on a charge.  While certainly an interesting engineering exercise, one has to question the practicality of such a “vehicle.”  At a top speed of only 35MPH, where is it even legal to drive?  There are not many details available, but the prototype in the video (see below) that GM released has no doors, lights, mirrors, bumpers or any other obvious safety equipment besides the seat belts.  Yes, seat belts.  The PUMA seats 2, though if they are not good friends before the ride, they will be after.  The prototype says “experimental” on it, so you have to assume that GM/Segway will address these issues before they (attempt) to sell it to the public.  But given that the PUMA looks like a science experiment that attempted to mate a phone booth, wheel chair and a skateboard, you have to assume their market is small.  Segway’s lack of any success in marketing the PT needs to be factored into the calculations as well.

You have to give credit to GM & Segway for trying to break the mold of transportation to find new markets.  But given GM’s well-publicized troubles, you’d think they would have a better place to spend their scarce resources.  GM says that they have been developing the PUMA with Segway for 18 months.  Is it coincidental that they choose to tell us about it now, when the loan officer-in-chief seems to be calling the shots at GM?  Is Fritz Henderson, GM’s new CEO, just sucking up to the would-be boss?  I fear that the PUMA is just the first (and most ridiculous) of many so-called green cars that GM (and Chrysler if they survive that long) will be forced to produce as a condition of their loans without any regard to what the customers actually want.  If we had any semblance of an energy policy, then maybe PUMA would make some sense.  With gas around $2, there is no hope for PUMA.


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2010 Cadillac SRX

2010 Cadillac SRX

Our spy photographers, always on the lookout for a scoop, spotted this undisguised 2010 Cadillac SRX in suburban Detroit on Friday, January 2. As you can see, the new SRX takes its styling cues from the new CTS. It has the bold, larger front grill area and fog lamps in the front. The rear is also reminiscent of the CTS, with similar taillamps and license plate area. Notice also that the top of the tailamps are not flush with the body panels.

The new SRX will move from the rear-wheel drive platform that it currently shares with the CTS and STS to a front-wheel drive platform.  Production moves from Lansing, Michigan to Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.  All-wheel drive continues as an option. The AWD system includes an advanced electronic limited-slip differential (eLSD) that distributes torque as needed from side to side along the rear axle, as well as from the front to rear axle. The pre-emptive, active-on-demand system provides an extra measure of capability in wet or icy conditions.

The standard engine will be a 3.0L V6 with direct injection, making 260hp (5hp higher than the present standard engine).  It is a smaller version of the 3.6L powerplant in the CTS, where it makes 306hp.  The optional engine is a turbocharged 2.8L V6, making 300hp.  Why not just use the 3.6L from the CTS?  GM is trying to improve fuel economy, and while EPA numbers are not yet available, it is likely that the 2.8L turbo gets better fuel economy that the 3.6L – with the same power.

The 2010 SRX features numerous advanced electronic systems. Highlights include a “pop-up” navigation

2010 Cadillac SRX

2010 Cadillac SRX

screen with three-dimensional imaging; adaptive forward lighting that swivels the headlamps in synch with vehicle steering; power liftgate with adjustable height setting; integrated hard disc drive for audio storage and a dual-screen system for rear entertainment. Bluetooth compatibility is standard, as is OnStar’s turn-by-turn navigation service for buyers who do not select the car’s navigation system option.

18″ aluminum wheels are standard on all versions, while 20″ wheels are optional. 4-wheel disc brakes are standard with ABS and stability control.

The new SRX is shorter than the outgoing model, losing a little more than 4″ in length to 190.2″. It is shorter in height by 2″, but is wider than the outgoing model. One downside of the shorter length is that the new SRX will no longer have a 3rd row as an option, but Cadillac still has the Escalade for those that really want 3 rows.

The new SRX should better appeal to buyers in the luxury crossover segment. It is better looking and will get better fuel economy while providing more standard power. It’s new front-wheel drive platform will get better traction for those not upgrading to all-wheel drive. Pricing is still TBD, and Cadillac will show the new SRX at the North American International Auto Show next week.

2010 Cadillac SRX Interior

2010 Cadillac SRX Interior

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Spied! Corvette ZR1

29th September 2008

You’ve seen it here first, faithful readers: the newest, baddest Corvette ever – the ZR1. 2 of The Slandy Report’s top reporters spotted the car in a parking lot in Farmington, Michigan tonight. They were overheard exclaiming, “Yellow Corvette!” They are shown here with their prize “catch”. When asked what they were going to do with the $105,000 car, they said they would mount it on the wall of their bedroom because they can’t field dress a moose (or afford the gas).

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Ford unveiled a new logo for its iconic sports car, the Mustang, last week. If you look carefully, you might even notice the difference. Ford has essentially made the pony logo look sleeker and faster than the previous logo. It also sports a new “subtly toned tinted-chrome finish”.

“We wanted to give the Mustang pony a more realistic feel,” said Douglas Gaffka, chief designer for the 2010 Mustang. “We lifted the head to make the pony more proud, tipped the neck into the wind to give it a feeling of greater speed and better balance.

“It’s more chiseled and more defined and looks more like a wild horse,” Gaffka added. “It’s more realistic in terms of proportion to an actual Mustang.”

The new logo will make its debut on the 2010 Mustang, which will go on sale next year. The 2010 Mustang will be redesigned along with the logo.

An interesting aside: the original Mustang pony was facing to the right (because that made it look like the pony was running forward), not the left as it is today. When presented to Ford management for approval, the team was told that the pony should be facing the other direction. Why? Because left is usually associated with “west”, and a wild Mustang is associated with the old west. That’s just a little insight into the decision-making at Ford.

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