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Archive for August, 2011

First Look: 2012 Honda Pilot

New design, better mileage.

by on Aug.31, 2011

The 2012 Honda Pilot was briefly delayed by Japan's March quake and tsunami.

Honda has finally pulled the covers off the new 2012 Pilot, one of the market’s most popular 3-row crossover vehicles.

Somewhat surprisingly, the changes to the 2012 Honda Pilot appear to emphasize a more traditionally boxy SUV-style shape for its makeover, even as other makers are adopting softer, more CUV designs.

The big news for the new model-year is that Pilot’s highway fuel efficiency jumps to 25 miles per gallon on front-wheel-drive models, an increase of 2 mpg.  That would make the 2012 Honda Pilot the most fuel-efficient model in the 8-passenger crossover segment, the maker boasts.

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There had been some concern about the roll-out of Honda’s upcoming products — the CR-V being delayed by several months due to the March 11 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.  Resultant parts shortages slammed the maker just after it launched the new 2012 Honda Civic, for example, which will effectively be re-launched for the new model-year.  The good news for Pilot fans is that it’s hitting market on time, despite Honda’s challenges.

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Ford Teaming up with Zipcar

Partnership targets potential buyers on college campuses.

by on Aug.31, 2011

Ford Chairman Bill Ford and Zipcar Chairman Scott Griffith with a Zipcar Ford Focus.

Ford Motor Co. is teaming up with car-share service Zipcar to put 1,000 Ford vehicles onto college campuses across the U.S.

The Zipcar service is designed to offer easy access for those who need a car for brief periods – such as commuters or college students who might need to run quick errands.

The company already has partnerships with a number of other manufacturers and is also pioneering the use of electric vehicles.  There are more than 600,000 registered users who already have access to a fleet of 9,000 vehicles. But the alliance with Ford will become Zipcar’s biggest partnership yet.

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Initially, Zipcar will field 650 Fords, including the Focus compact and the Escape crossover.  Ultimately, as many as 1,000 Ford will go into service during the two-year pilot.  The Detroit maker is sponsoring a special reduced-rate program for students – and sees the alliance as a way to reach young buyers who traditionally haven’t had Ford on their radar, says CEO Bill Ford, Jr.

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August Auto Sales Defying Gloom-and-Doom Forecasts

Japanese makers still struggling through product shortages.

by on Aug.31, 2011

GM products like the Chevy Cruze continued to post sales gains in August.

Despite the roller-coaster ride on Wall Street, sales of new vehicles remained steady during August with Detroit makers collectively experiencing an increase in demand, according to new estimates of current sales trends.

If there was any drag on the U.S. new car market for August it was the result of the ongoing product shortage faced by some of the key Japanese makers due to the March 11 Japanese tsunami and earthquake.

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Both Edmunds and TrueCar.com, two Internet sites that collect and analyze car and trucks sales data, indicated August sales will be up 8% over year-earlier totals — and also up slightly from July — despite the turmoil in the stock market.  That echoes other recent reports that suggest that despite concerns about a possible double-dip recession consumers have been slowly loosening their pocketbook strings.

The sales projections, however, were made before Hurricane Irene hammered the East Coast on what is usually a busy weekend for sales, so the final numbers that are due out later this week could be weaker than initial projections.

Detroit’s automakers — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — are all expected to post double-digit, year-over-years sales increases, but only GM and Chrysler will see month-over-month sales increases in August from July.

“Auto sales stayed on a relatively flat road this month, even as the stock market took a roller coaster ride,” said Lacey Plache, Edmunds chief economist.

“Stronger buying conditions are telling consumers to go ahead and make their car purchases, but a weak economic landscape is telling them to wait until later this year, or even longer. This is the battle that will determine exactly how much the auto industry will grow this year,” she said.

Plache said Edmunds also projects Toyota has done little in August to build on its momentum from July, when it gained a modest 1% in sales — with August expected to bring a decrease of 0.2 percentage points in market share over the same period. Toyota’s August sales are expected to be down 14.4% compared with last year.

Even with lingering inventory issues still to sort out, Honda will likely show some month-over-month sales gains this month. Edmunds.com projects that Honda’s August sales will grow 5.4% over July, with a market share gain of 0.2 percentage points. Compared to last year, however, August sales are still expected to be off about 25%.

“We fully expect August will be the worst month of the year in terms of the inventory situation” caused by the March disaster, said Mike Accavitti, Honda of America’s new marketing chief.  “The good news is that our plants are back up in full production and product is now on its way to dealers,” which could bode for a better performance in September.

Edmunds.com forecasts that Ford will be the only major automaker this month to report a decline in sales from July to August. Ford’s sales are expected to be down 0.5% from July, leading to a market share loss of 0.5 points.

“The auto industry is a mixed bag this year, due to economic uncertainty; sales have improved compared to last year, but nowhere near the potential we had expected,” said Jesse Toprak, VP of Industry Trends and Insights for TrueCar.com.

“The strongest correlation to new car sales is the Dow Jones Industrial Average and it was shaky and nervous in August,” Toprak said.

For August 2011, new light vehicle sales in the United States are expected to be 1.077 million units, up 8% from August 2010 and 2% from July 2011.

The August 2011 forecast translates into a Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Rate, or SAAR, of 12.2 million new car sales, flat from 12.2 million in July 2011 and up from 11.5 million in August 2010, according to Edmunds.

Retail sales are up 4.9% compared to August 2010 and fleet and rental sales are expected to make up 20% of total industry sales in August 2011.

The industry average incentive spending per unit will be approximately $2,663 in August 2011, which represents an increase of 3%, Edmunds predicted.

First Look: Ford Evos Concept

Ford puts on a new face.

by on Aug.31, 2011

Ford will introduce the new Evos Concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Automotive journalists may hate the phrase “design language” due to its prevalence in the industry, but there’s a reason so many designers, executives, and PR people use it. Most automakers are looking to create a unified theme throughout their brand, hence the use of “design” as a “language.” Ford is no different – and the new Evos Concept shows that the maker is switching dialects.

Take a peek at Ford’s consumer Web site and look at all the similarities between the company’s vehicles, particularly those introduced or redesigned in the past few years. Or think for a second about the company’s “One Ford” mission, which aims to streamline product variation across global markets, thus reducing costs.

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The Evos Concept will introduce Ford’s newest design language at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show. The name, the maker confirms, suggests this is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary shift.  But the impact, if the show car is any indication, will still be significant.

The Evos concept looks like a two-door sports coupe but offers four gull-wing doors. While those doors and other high-zoot concept features likely won’t see production (more on that in a bit), and it’s unclear if the Evos itself will ever roll down an assembly line, the takeaway here is that the concept reveals the basic design cues that most Ford vehicles across the globe will share in the coming years.

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First Look: Land Rover Defender Concept

Coming to America?

by on Aug.31, 2011

Land Rover will reveal the DC100 concept at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show.

Underscoring its aggressive product development program, Land Rover will reveal an all-new concept version of its big Defender sport-utility vehicle at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show.

The update of what is arguably the British maker’s most iconic model will go into production in 2015, though Land Rover officials caution “there is no current decision” on whether to bring the reborn Defender back to North America.  Perhaps not, but as TheDetroitBureau.com recently reported, that is something Land Rover is hoping to accomplish if it can meet U.S. regulations – and lay out the necessary business plans.

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The new Land Rover Defender, we earlier reported, will be part of a much more aggressive product program that is kicking off with the current launch of the all-new Range Rover Evoque, and which also includes a variety of new powertrains, including the brand’s first hybrid, a plug-in.  (Click Here for that story.)

“Replacing the iconic Defender is one of the biggest challenges in the automotive design world,” said Land Rover Design Director Gerry McGovern.  “This isn’t a production-ready concept but the beginning of a four-year journey to design a relevant Defender for the 21st century.”

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Cheney Opposed GM Bailout

Former Veep wanted to led Detroit makers fail.

by on Aug.30, 2011

Former VP Dick Cheney tried to block the bailout of GM and Chrysler.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was strongly opposed to saving General Motors and Chrysler and tried to convince then-President George W. Bush not to approve a proposed bailout of the floundering Detroit makers.

Ultimately, the outgoing Commander-in-Chief decided to approve a partial rescue, at a cost of $17.4 billion for GM and Chrysler and another $7.5 billion for Chrysler Financial and what was then known as GMAC.  The money helped carry the two makers and their lending arms through until early 2009 when the White House guard changed, newly-elected Pres. Barrack Obama authorizing billions more in rescue money.

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“Although I understood the reasoning, I would have preferred that the government not get involved and was disappointed — but not surprised — when the Obama administration significantly increased the government intervention in the automobile industry shortly after taking office,” the oft-controversial Cheney writes in his new memoir, “In My Time.”

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Honda Exec Downplays Impact of Consumer Reports Trashing

No maker can "always hit them out of the park."

by on Aug.30, 2011

Can the 2012 Honda Civic overcome bad reviews?

Timing is everything – and Mike Accavitti was clearly wondering whether he got it right the day he accepted his new job as head of marketing for American Honda, a couple months back.

That was the same day that the influential Consumer Reports magazine took a potshot at the Honda Civic, declaring that the 2012 remake of the long-popular subcompact, normally one of the non-profit publication’s favorite choices, “now…ranks near the bottom of its category.”

As if to drive the knife deeper, the magazine followed up with a second report raising serious questions about Honda itself.  And CR wasn’t alone.  The 2012 Honda Civic has received a rash of criticism while the maker itself has come under increasing fire from various media – including TheDetroitBureau.com – faulting it for a variety of issues, including timid design.

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Further complicating matters, the maker was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Japan on March 11.  The subsequent product shortages have probably reached their worst this month, says Accavitti, a former Chrysler executive.

“For a second, I thought, ‘Holy, moley, what did I get myself into?’” he says with a laugh that betrays his initial concerns.  But despite Honda’s recent setbacks, the new marketing chief insists he’s in for a good ride.

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Audi Offers Closer Look at Urban Concept

1+1-seater will be shown in coupe and roadster trim.

by on Aug.30, 2011

Two takes on the Audi Urban Concept theme: a roadster and a coupe.

Audi is offering up a closer look at the battery-powered Urban Concept vehicle it will formally reveal at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show – or, more precisely, the two Audi Urban Concepts it will plug in at next month’s automotive extravaganza.

The maker, it turns, out, has two versions of the unusual 1+1-seater design to reveal: a coupe and a roadster, both sharing the same e-tron battery drivetrain.

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The hotrod design, with its 21-inch outrigger wheels, is designed to give a sporty appearance to what is functionally an around-town commuter car.  The latest version of the e-tron drivetrain uses two electric motors drawing power from a lithium-ion battery pack.

But the styling is what is likely to draw crowds to the Audi stand.

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Orders Roll in for Ford Transit Connect Electric

Battery van gaining fans.

by on Aug.30, 2011

Initial demand for the Ford/Azure Dynamics Transit Connect Electric van is exceeding expectations.

What was supposed to be a niche vehicle appears to be gaining some unexpected momentum.    Demand for the battery version of Ford’s Transit Connect van is pushing past initial expectations.

The Transit Connect Electric is a joint venture of Ford and the Canadian Azure Dynamics.  The Vancouver-based firm’s lithium-ion-powered driveline gives the compact commercial van a roughly 80 mile range, which the partners are betting hits the sweet spot for delivery services and other urban users.

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While that market is modest, so were Ford and Azure’s initial expectations, with first year sales targets of no more than around 700.  But early demand suggests that demand could push past that goal.

Azure Dynamics has announced its Norwegian Ford dealership, RøhneSelmer, has ordered an additional 100 all electric Transit Connect Electric vans. Its original March order was for just 58 of the vans, which were sold to a variety of clients, among them Norway Post.

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Hopes Fading for Quick Settlement in Auto Talks

Two-tier wages could be sticking point.

by on Aug.30, 2011

UAW President King insists the U.S. is not broke.

Chances for a quick and amiable settlement in contract talks between the United Auto Workers Union and Ford Motor Co, General Motors and Chrysler Group appear to be fading as labor and management head towards their Sept. 14th deadline.

Both sides continue to put a positive spin on the pace of talks – at least for public consumption – but sticking points are starting to develop.  The union, for one, is taking an increasing tough tone on the two-tier wage system the Big Three insist they need to stay competitive.  And, the manufacturers warn, that without a sense they can remain on a cost par with their foreign competitors they will need to consider exporting more jobs.

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On the other hand, the makers are also dangling a carrot, suggesting that labor peace could lead to significant job creation in a domestic industry that has seen its job base shrivel over the last several decades.

The two-tier wage debate has spurred angry talk – and some local demonstrations – in recent weeks, though UAW president Bob King continues to insist he is “upbeat” about the prospects for reaching a peaceful resolution.

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