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A Real Gas: First Drive of the 2017 Honda Clarity FCV

Hydrogen-powered sedan is no lightweight.

by on Mar.20, 2017

A bit late, but ready to roll. The new Honda Clarity FCV is the latest fuel-cell powered vehicle to hit the U.S. market.

During a visit to Detroit last week, President Donald Trump all but promised the auto industry his administration will roll back the tough 54.5 mpg federal mileage standard set to go into effect in 2025.

Yet while some manufacturers, especially Detroit’s Big Three, issued a collective sigh of relief, others insisted such a move wouldn’t make much, if any, difference in their long-term plans. That includes Honda, whose CEO recently emphasized his commitment to generating two-thirds of the maker’s sales from electrified powertrains by 2030.

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“Electric” doesn’t necessarily mean “battery,” however, and Honda has become one of the biggest proponents of fuel-cell technology, the Japanese maker recently becoming the third manufacturer to start marketing a hydrogen-powered car in the U.S. market. This past week, it gave TheDetroitBureau.com a chance to put the new Honda Clarity FCV through its paces traversing the mountainous terrain east of Santa Barbara, California. (more…)

Tesla Drops Base Models S 60 and 60D

Customers willing to pay for better range.

by on Mar.20, 2017

The low end of the Model S range failed to attract much interest from buyers.

Tesla hoped to win over buyers on a budget by introducing two more affordable versions of the Model S a year ago, but both the 60 and 60D battery sedans are being pulled from the line-up next month, according to the Silicon Valley automaker.

Turns out buyers are willing to come up with the extra cash to get the extra range offered by two slightly more expensive versions of the Model S, the 75 and 75D, Tesla has discovered. They offer a minimum EPA rating of 265 miles per charge.

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That fits with the general direction of the battery-car market, according to several industry analysts and insiders who spoke to TheDetroitBureau.com. Demand for shorter-range electric vehicles is largely flat-lining, while there’s growing interest in vehicles that can deliver at least 200 miles per charge.

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Wall Street Throws Tesla a Lifeline

Stock offering does better than expected.

by on Mar.17, 2017

Tesla needed cash to ensure the Model 3 launch.

Despite growing concerns among industry analysts, investors haven’t given up on Tesla. Anything but.

Wall Street came up with another $1.2 billion in capital for the Silicon Valley battery-carmaker this week as it went back for an infusion aimed at helping complete development of the critical new Model 3 SUV set to go into production in July. And it’s possible the figure could climb to $1.4 billion.

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The latest stock offering went off barely a year after Tesla’s previous turn to the market, and was meant to “reduce any risks associated with the rapid scaling of (our) business due to the launch of Model 3, as well as for general corporate purposes,” the company said. It also came just weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned that the maker’s finances were “getting very close to the edge.”

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Automakers Doing Better Job of Satisfying Customers, Finds New JD Power Study

by on Mar.16, 2017

Lexus topped the 2017 CSI, but has growing competition, notably including U.S. brands like Buick.

While consumers have had to suffer through a modest increase in quality and reliability issues in recent years – most in the form of balky electronics – automakers appear to be doing a better job of keeping their owners happy, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates.

When it comes to servicing the vehicles they sell, Power shows a “significant” uptick in the 2017 Customer Satisfaction Index. The CSI focuses on how owners feel things went at franchised dealer and independent service facilities. The latest study calls out Lexus as tops among luxury brands, Buick among mainstream marques.

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“The quality of work—doing the job right the first time—can noticeably affect customer satisfaction and loyalty, but it shouldn’t be viewed in a vacuum,” said Chris Sutton, vice president, U.S. automotive retail practice at J.D. Power. “Proactive communication with the customer, especially while the car is being serviced, is one element that has a direct influence on loyalty.”

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Hyundai Recalling Nearly 1m Cars for Faulty Seatbelts

Latest in a series of recalls involving unsafe safety systems.

by on Mar.16, 2017

The 2014 Sonata is part of a 1 million vehicle recall for seat belt problems related to the midsize sedan.

A seatbelt defect, linked to at least one known injury, is leading to the recall of nearly 1 million Sonata sedans sold in the U.S. by Hyundai Motor Co.

The recall covers versions of the conventional, gas-powered midsize model sold during the 2011 through 2014 model-years. The 2011 to 2015 model-year Sonata hybrid is also covered, according to a new report published on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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The Hyundai recall is the latest in a series of large recalls reported by automakers domestic and foreign. And it comes just days after federal regulators revealed that safety-related callbacks hit another all-time record in 2016 – for the third year in a row. A total of 53.2 million vehicles were involved. (more…)

Tesla Hopes to Charge Up with $1B Stock Offering

Wall Street growing increasingly jittery ahead of Model 3 launch.

by on Mar.16, 2017

Tesla CEO Elon Musk plans to buy the first $25 million worth of shares from the company's new $1B offering.

Running out of juice just as it prepares for the most important product launch in its short history, Tesla is once again going to the well, hoping to raise $1 billion through a new stock offering.

The announcement comes just weeks after founder and CEO Elon Musk revealed a dim fourth-quarter earnings report and warned that the battery-carmaker was “getting very close to the edge” in terms of its cash reserves.

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The latest stock offering, which comes less than a year after Tesla’s previous turn to the market, is meant to “reduce any risks associated with the rapid scaling of (our) business due to the launch of Model 3, as well as for general corporate purposes,” the company said. (more…)

Trump Reopens CAFE Review

Hailed by automakers, scorned by environmentalists, announcement may have little practical impact on auto industry plans.

by on Mar.15, 2017

“My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate the industry-killing regulations,” Trump said in Detroit.

Declaring his goal of making Detroit “the car capital of the world again,” Pres. Donald Trump came to the Motor City on Wednesday bearing what could be a major gift for the domestic carmakers – but one that quickly raised concerns among environmentalists.

The business-cum-politician said he was ordering the EPA to reopen a mid-term review of Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards that would require the industry to deliver a fleet average of at least 54.5 mpg by 2025. Many – though not all – manufacturers have warned they cannot meet that target without raising vehicle prices beyond what consumers could afford, something Ford CEO Mark Fields in January told the president could cost 1 million automotive jobs.

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The announcement that the government would review both the mileage target and timing was actually less of a radical development than many had expected, some industry observers questioning whether the new administration might slash the numbers immediately or, perhaps, repeal CAFE entirely as part of Trump’s promise to reduce government regulations. (more…)

German Prosecutors Raid VW, Audi Offices

Probe expands as Audi and VW execs come under closer scrutiny.

by on Mar.15, 2017

German prosecutors raided Volkswagen and Audi offices recently as part of an ongoing investigation into the diesel-rigging scandal.

Even as the criminal and civil cases against Volkswagen over its rigging of diesel engines wind down in the U.S., German prosecutors are ramping up their own probe – which could lead to additional criminal charges against current and former VW officials, including one-time CEO Martin Winterkorn.

The latest twist comes as the embattled automaker confirms that prosecutors had launched raids at VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, as well as the offices of its semi-independent Audi subsidiary near Munich.

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“The execution of the search warrants is meant to clarify which persons were involved in the use of the relevant technology and, where applicable, were involved in providing inaccurate information to third parties,” said Munich prosecutor Ken Heidenreich, in a statement announcing the move against Audi’s offices. (more…)

FCA, VW, Patching up Differences, Could See Joint Opportunities

Volkswagen CEO opens door to “conversation.”

by on Mar.15, 2017

VW CEO Matthias Mueller has been struggling to dig the maker out of its diesel scandal.

Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller, apparently picking up on recent comments by his counterpart at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, opened the door to “a conversation” on Tuesday, something some observers suggest could lead to merger talks between the two companies.

Mueller’s comment, which was made during a news conference called to discuss VW earnings, came barely a week after CEO Sergio Marchionne said a merger between FCA and some other manufacturer “will happen” in the coming years.

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Talk of mergers, acquisitions and alliances in the global auto industry has escalated in the wake of General Motors’ decision to sell its long-troubled German-based Opel/Vauxhall unit to France’s PSA, the parent of the Peugeot and Citroen brands.

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Major Management Changes Coming at Nissan

Nakamura retires, Albaisa gets promoted, BMW’s Habib to take on Infiniti styling.

by on Mar.14, 2017

Nissan's Shiro Nakamura helped build the maker's reputation for strong designs.

More big managements changes are in the works at Nissan Motors Corp., barely three weeks after Carlos Ghosn relinquished his title as CEO of the Japanese automaker.

The latest wave impacts Nissan at a variety of senior levels, both at its headquarters in Japan and in the critical U.S. market. That starts with the announcement that Shiro Nakamura, the well-respected Nissan Chief Creative Officer, will be retiring. He will be replaced be Alfonso Albaisa, who had been overseeing design at the maker’s Infiniti division. In turn, Albaisa will be replaced by former BMW Design director Karim Habib.

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Still other major management shifts come as Nissan moves to cement its control over Mitsubishi, the long-troubled Japanese automaker that was rescued by a Nissan bailout late last year. Four more Nissan executives will move over to the smaller maker starting in April.

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