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Payne: Infiniti quickens the pulse with all-season Q60 looker

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 6, 2019

The Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 (as in 400 horsepower) is a fun drive on track with its all-wheel-drive power and slippery 0.28 drag-coefficient. At over 4,000 pounds, the all-wheel drive model is heavy.

The Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 (as in 400 horsepower) is a fun drive on track with its all-wheel-drive power and slippery 0.28 drag-coefficient. At over 4,000 pounds, the all-wheel drive model is heavy. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

The Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 is another mouthful of luxury alphanumeric badging that will make your brain hurt.

Just remember that Q60 rhymes with “cue sexy.”

Infiniti has come a long way from the somnolent 1989 ads that introduced the brand — not with footage of sleek cars — but with quietly narrated commercials about water and geese. I’m not making this up. Thirty years later the growly, aggressive, shapely Q60 has no patience for water. Or geese.

Cresting the curvy hills of west Oakland county, I toggled the Q60’s drive mode to Sport Plus and put pedal to metal. Four-hundred horses under the hood roared in unison, the quick seven-speed transmission firing off shifts like a shotgun. Hustling into a tight bend, I flicked through downshifts as the exhaust barked loudly.

If a flock of geese was anywhere nearby, it would have scattered. Cue sexy.

How sexy? The Q60 Red Sport 400 (400 signals 400 horsepower) is now one of the official driving-school cars of the terrific M1 Concourse test track in Pontiac. Right alongside M1’s ferocious, 700-plus-horsepower Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcats, and earth-pawing Viper ACR.

Red Sport, Hellcat, Viper. That’s a lot of underworld references. You get the point. This isn’t your father’s Infiniti.

It’s taken a long time, but Nissan’s luxury brand has finally produced a halo coupe with personality, style and twin-turbo V-6 power. All that sexiness still sits on top of Nissan’s aged rear-wheel drive FM platform which has been the bones of everything from the Nissan 370Z to the late Infiniti G35.

If the Japanese brand can stick with its nomenclature and update its platforms over time, it has a chance to bottle a credible formula of emotion and value.

Start with the fundamentals. The Red Sport’s powerful baritone comes from the same twin-turbo V-6 found in the base coupe that puts out a detuned 300 horses. Infiniti then wraps this playful mill in its updated, head-turning Infiniti design (also found in the compact QX30 ute of all things). The hood and flanks are deeply scalloped. The lines flow to all the right places over 20-inch wheels.

With its lower hood and grille, these new cars eschew the heavy, swollen-cheek appearance of other Infiniti models that reminded me of Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor. It wasn’t a memorable look. The Q’s pouty grille (essentially an inverted Jaguar mouth) is flanked by angry, LED running lights that glow with menace in your rearview mirror.

Sitting next to a hippy $90,000 Lexus LC500 coupe in the M1 Concourse paddock, the Infiniti holds its own.

Slip inside and the premium vibe dulls. The sculpted door handles continue the sinewy lines of the exterior, but the old Infiniti FM architecture shows its age in the console and instrument panels. If you cross-shop with state-of the-art digital interiors from BMW or Audi, you’ll be taken back in time. There’s an old-school truck brake for the emergency brake. Analog displays and screens are from another era, though they make up in utility what they lack in modernity.

The dual-stacked screens remind of old Honda Accords (the 2019 version of that mainstream sedan shames the Infiniti’s interior architecture), but they work together nicely — separating navigation and radio/vehicle information that now have to co-exist on state-of-the-art tablet displays of competitors.

The Q60 may lack the digital pizzazz of its class peers, but it’s up to date on the latest digital driver-assistance features like pedestrian emergency braking, blind-spot assist, and adaptive cruise-control (or Intelligent Cruise Control in Infiniti-speak). After I’d had my jollies at M1 Concourse and exhausted Oakland County’s twisties on my way home, I merged into clogged highways where the adaptive cruise system is useful in maintaining a distance from other cars — and from (ahem) state police speeding tickets.

Even the navigation system — usually a horror show in vehicles these days — was reasonably competent, and Nissan provides a remote control knob for zooming in or out depending on the destination. Still, the option of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto app compatibility for superior phone navigation is a must, and here Infiniti lags. Compatible systems aren’t due for another couple of years.

Mrs. Payne, my right-seat navigation expert, groaned at Apple CarPlay’s absence. But she didn’t groan at the price.

Loaded to the gills with all-wheel drive, digital goo-gaws and two-tone leather interior, my racy coupe stickered for $62,000 — a healthy $20,000 cheaper than a comparable BMW M4 coupe. For the M4’s stratospheric $80,000 you could walk out of the Nissan/Infiniti dealership with a Red Sport and a low mileage, pre-owned Nissan Rogue for off-the-grid hatchback adventures for which a sports coupe is ill-equipped.

What the Q60 is equipped for is getting your pulse racing.

The all-wheel drive Red Sport is nicely screwed to the road, meaning you can get into the throttle — and that glorious 7-speed box — confidently at corner exits. Corner entry is more a challenge given the all-wheel drive car’s 4,000-pound heft. If you enjoy track days, you’ll want the lighter (if still porky) 3,866-pound rear-drive car.

If you’re buying an all-season sports tourer, then the all-wheel driver is a must for Midwest snows.

Frankly, that’s where the Q60 Red Sport’s value lies.

If you have $60,000 to drop on a performance coupe, then lust after a rear-wheel drive, 405-horse BMW M2 or 500-horse Mustang GT350. They are quicker on track and carry epic brand histories.

But their fun ends with the first flakes of winter. If you want an all-season, all-wheel drive sports car that’s easy on the eyes — and the wallet — then the Infiniti is a solid choice. Compared to its AWD peer group — the 349-horsepower Audi S5 or 305-horse Lexus RC 350 F Sport AWD , the Infiniti is the only one to crest the magic 400-pony mark.

Most importantly, that means the Infiniti will walk away from its Japanese rivals. Pity that message didn’t shine through back in 1989 when Lexus advertised cars, not geese, and launched one of the America’s most coveted luxury brands.

Nice to have Infiniti finally in the game. Cue Sexy.

2019 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400

Vehicle type: Rear or all-wheel drive, 4-passenger sports coupe

Price: $55,895, including $995 destination charge ($64,130 AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6

Power: 400 horsepower, 350 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 3,882 pounds (4,047 AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. 19 city/27 highway/22 combined

Report card

Highs: Slinky looks; AWD, all-season athlete

Lows: Dated interior; porky on scales

Overall: 3 stars

After Mustang SUV, calls for Corvette SUV grow

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 6, 2019

Speculation about a Corvette-badged SUV led Car and Driver magazine to come up with its own rendition of what a Corvette SUV might look like.

Speculation about a Corvette-badged SUV led Car and Driver magazine to come up with its own rendition of what a Corvette SUV might look like. (Photo: Alexander Stoklosa, Car and Driver)

An electric Mustang SUV will hit dealerships late next year. When will Corvette follow suit?

The positively received debut of Ford’s battery-powered Mustang Mach-E in Los Angeles last month (with the automaker hinting that it could develop a full Mustang sub-brand) has turned up the heat on Chevrolet to expand its Corvette lineup as well.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas has added his name to a chorus of voices calling for General Motors to create a Corvette sub-brand making SUVs. He estimates the sub-brand could be worth $7 billion to $12 billion, and says a battery-powered, Corvette-badged vehicle would help GM convince customers that electric vehicles are a desirable performance option.

Just this year, ex-GM vice chairman of product development Bob Lutz as well as Car and Driver magazine urged GM to create a Corvette sub-brand. Their case builds on a Detroit News story that went viral two years ago.

In answer to repeated News inquiries as the whether GM has studied the idea, company executives and spokespeople have said “We do not comment on future product.” Intriguingly, however, when GM CEO Mary Barra was queried on the topic by Morgan Stanley’s Jonas in a quarterly earnings call last month, she replied: “Well, I appreciate that you think our Corvette franchise is very strong. I’m not going to talk about the future.”

Porsche was the first sports car brand to translate its DNA to sport utility vehicles. The Cayenne SUV was controversial when it rolled out 16 years ago, especially among Porsche faithful. But the move has been a huge hit. Today Porsche SUVs are the brand’s best sellers, and analysts estimate Porsche is responsible for one-third of Volkswagen Group’s profits.

Nearly every other performance brand has followed suit, including Lamborghini, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. Aston Martin was the most recent sports-car brand to enter the fray when it unveiled the DBX crossover last month in Los Angeles.

But Mustang is different in that it has been a performance badge in the Ford stable since its introduction as an affordable sports coupe in 1965. Nevertheless, Ford hints that it could expand a Mustang sub-brand.

Ford introduced the 2021 Mustang Mach-E, an electric SUV, in November.

Ford introduced the 2021 Mustang Mach-E, an electric SUV, in November. (Photo: Max Ortiz, The Detroit News)

“There’s a lot of emotion with the Mustang, and it’s time to progress that and make it spread wider,” Ford Europe design boss Murat Gueler said in an interview with British magazine Autocar. “We’ve talked about building a family.”

Morgan Stanley’s Jonas envisions a similar future for Chevy’s Corvette sub-brand.

“The Ford Mustang Mach-E unveil stands as a clear precedent with relevance to Corvette,” Jonas wrote in a comprehensive case study. “The Mach-E extends the Mustang brand into an all-new powertrain, segment and consumer base.”

Former GM vice chair Lutz told the News in 2017 that “Corvette is a powerful brand that should be developed. Go upmarket with a mid-engine sedan (or) something like Cayenne. They would split it off from Chevrolet — nobody makes that connection anyway.”

Chevrolet's mid-engine 2020 Corvette Stingray debuted in July.

Lutz expanded on those statements this summer in an interview with Automotive News: “If I were there, what I would do is develop a dedicated architecture, super-lightweight, super-powerful, Porsche Cayenne-like, only much better and a little bigger, medium-volume Corvette SUV.”

Auto enthusiast publication Car and Driver followed up with a rendering of a front-engine Corvette SUV with a hood scoop, coupe-like roof, and entry price of about $70,000. “We also think it’s a no-brainer for Chevy to expand the Corvette brand beyond just the titular model,” wrote the influential publication.

“While the risk of brand dilution has always existed, Porsche has managed this delicate relationship of scarcity vs. volume growth particularly well, which has been reflected in financials,” he wrote. “Today Porsche sells across a variety of segments.”

Just two years after Porsche launched the Cayenne in 2003, the mid-size SUV represented 28% of brand volume – a number that has ballooned to 50% today with the introduction of a second crossover, the Macan.

Jonas sees a Corvette SUV — along with increased demand for its first-ever mid-engine C8 sports car — leading to an increase in Corvette volume to 85,000 units by 2025 with a bullish market valuation of $12 billion.

Retired GM engineer Tom Wallace ran the Corvette program from 2006-2008 and says the company closely tracks rivals’ development.

“When I was Corvette chief, we often studied the Porsche business model and product line-up, and were generally impressed,” he told The News. “The fact that they have done the Cayenne and stuck with it is a vote of confidence that such a vehicle can be a success.”

Industry experts say the challenges to expanding Corvette’s offerings beyond a single model are many, including a fear that a Corvette SUV would cannibalize sales from Cadillac.

A Corvette SUV would require a different platform than the mid-engine C8 — at substantial cost.

“To be successful, this vehicle would require an all-new RWD/AWD architecture, which currently does not exist,” Lutz told The News. “That’s high investment for relatively low volume.”

That has led to speculation that the Corvette could share GM’s “skateboard” electric-vehicle platform currently being developed for Cadillac beginning in 2021. GM has promised an all-EV future with Cadillac its flag-bearer, but Jonas sees an opening for Corvette.

“Electric Corvette would … help to convince customers that EVs are desirable from a point of view of speed, range and performance,” he writes. “We see room for Corvette to be a part of GM’s EV strategy and complement the existing gap of models across Cadillac and select Chevrolet models currently.”

With the Mustang Mach-E coming next year, and the electric Porsche Taycan sedan already being shipped, GM will surely be watching closely.

Payne: Porsche puts its DNA in an EV with the electrifying Taycan sedan

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 2, 2019

The Porsche Taycan Turbo S carved up Angeles Crest road north of Los Angeles.

The Porsche Taycan Turbo S carved up Angeles Crest road north of Los Angeles. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Tesla pioneered the high-performance electric vehicle. The Porsche Taycan has put it on steroids.

The Tesla Model S caught the automotive world flat-footed in 2012. It could shoot from zero-60 mph in under 3 seconds and whip around interstate cloverleafs as if on rails.

Suddenly, EVs were cool. But while other legacy automakers scrambled to catch up to innovations like iPad-sized touchscreens, mega-batteries and on-air software upgrades, Porsche focused on raw speed.

With the Taycan, Porsche has set a new standard beyond Tesla’s Ludicrous-mode performance benchmarks. You know that because Tesla chief Elon Musk is camped out at Germany’s Nurburgring track trying to beat the Taycan’s lap time.

Raw speed is what the Stuttgart-based manufacturer has been doing for the last six decades. Significantly, Taycan does not go head-to-head against Tesla on autonomous driving, charging networks and minimalist big-screen interiors.

The Taycan is a market of one — a $100,000-plus electric four-door sports sedan boasting Porsche 911-like performance characteristics well above comparable EVs. It’s an EV for Porsche-philes.

Porsche is deserving of its reputation. Scott Burgess, one of my predecessors in this seat, advises journalists to grab a Porsche at least once a year to reacquaint themselves with the driving standard. When I asked K.C. Colwell, Car and Driver’s skilled test driver, which car stood out at the magazine’s legendary Virginia International Raceway Lightning Lap this year (a performance-car showdown including notables like the McLaren Senna and Mercedes-AMG GT63 S), he didn’t hesitate.

“The Porsche 911 GT3,” he said.

When I tested the mid-engine 2020 Chevy Corvette last month, I compared it to the Porsche Cayman, the best mid-engine sports car under $100,000 I’ve ever driven.

Now Taycan is the EV gold standard. Developed by Porsche’s mid-engine chassis team, think of it as a 5,200-pound electric Cayman.

The Taycan’s capabilities are welcome news for us motorheads. Automakers are evolving into highly regulated utilities as governments dictate their drivetrain choices. Michigan says DTE Energy must get 15% of its energy from wind power by 2021. California says about 8% of carmakers’ product must be electric by 2025.

For most automakers, that’s a chore. But for a select few performance shops — Porsche, Tesla, Audi — the EV is an opportunity to explore the envelope of battery propulsion.

We’re talking serious giddyap.

I will never forget my first launch in a Tesla Model S P90D in Ludicrous mode. My brain slapped against the back of my skull by instant 100% torque in the 2.6 OMG seconds it took to get from 0-60.

The Taycan offers the same concussive acceleration in its top-drawer 772-torque Turbo S, which explodes to 60 in a mere 2.6 ticks.

Mash the brake and accelerator pedals to the mat in launch-control mode as you would in a gas-powered 911 — wait a moment for instrument panel approval — then release brake. Zot!

Also familiar is Porsche’s naming convention. Porsche wants you to know its EV has turbo-like capability. It calls the Taycan’s top-drawer trims “Turbo” and “Turbo S” just like the 911 and Panamera, even though EVs don’t use turbochargers like gas cars. (Taycan even options a guttural hum that mimics internal-combustion engine sound.) Porsche wants you to know its EV has turbo-like capability.

That capability is most apparent in the chassis dynamics.

This 5,121-pound beast is nailed to the road. Scraping myself off the seatback after the rocket-launch acceleration, my 760-horse Turbo S hurtled toward corners with alarming pace only to be brought back to earth by huge, 10-pot calipers clawing at ceramic brake discs. Then, miraculously, the Taycan would hug corner apexes as if they were magnets.

Credit Goodyear Eagle II summer rubber as wide as the slicks on my old Porsche 908 racer (12 inches rear, 10.5 inches front). It has the the same all-wheel steer, all-wheel-drive suspension magic that makes 911 the world’s best-handling coupe and the 4,500-pound Panamera GTS feel half its size.

But also credit battery physics. Instead of the low-slung “Boxer” 4- or 6-cylinder engine  in a Cayman or 911, Taycan pilots sit atop an enormous 94-kWh battery between the wheels.

Porsche has ridden to glory on low-center gravity Boxer engines for decades. Low-slung lithium-ion battery packs fit the formula perfectly. Indeed, Porsche says the Taycan’s center of gravity is three inches lower than a 911, already one of the best in the industry.

The Taycan’s purpose is reinforced by its tapered coupe roofline low nose and tear-drop headlights. Inside, there’s more rear-seat room in a Tesla Model 3 Performance than a Taycan, a reminder the Porsche is a compact sedan, not a mid-size grand tourer like Panamera.

Passengers will be treated to Porsche’s most advanced cockpit yet. Curved glass instrument panel, buttonless touchscreen and keyless entry are harbingers of Porsche interiors to come. But there is no big Tesla touchscreen here (a second dash screen is optional for the front passenger to fiddle with) that can plot the Porsche’s route to the company’s own network of superchargers across the country.

Porsche’s dependence on a hodgepodge of charging networks — Chargepoint, dealer lots, EVGo, Electrify America — is a reminder of Tesla’s ace in the hole: its proprietary charging infrastructure.

Porsche boasts the industry’s only 800-kW charge system (good for 80% charge at 270-kW in just 22 minutes), assuming you can find an 270-kW-capable Electrify America charger in the Midwest.

The Porsche’s interior signature is its drive-mode selector in the middle of the steering wheel with settings for Range, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. This car wants to be driven fast.

I flogged the Turbo S unmercifully over Angeles Crest twisties and Los Angeles interstates. I arrived at my destination after 174 miles, having taken just 178 miles of the battery. That’s next-level thermal management.

Where the Taycan excels is in its purity, with exquisite craftsmanship and meticulous engineering.

If all that’s worth your paying $100,000 more for a Taycan than a Model 3 Performance, then you fit Porsche’s demographic. Steroids don’t come cheap.

2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Vehicle type: All-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan

Price: Starter 4S $105,150, including $1,350 destination charge (Turbo S starts at $186,350; about $198,000 as tested)

Powerplant: Lithium-ion battery pack mated to dual electric motors

Power: 750 horsepower, 774 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Two-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.6 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 161 mph

Weight: 5,121 pounds

Range: 246 miles on full charge

Report card

Highs: Sports car handling despite weight; distinctive looks

Lows: Gets pricey; tight back seat

Overall: 4 stars

Detroit GP 2020: IndyCar champ kicks off ticket sales

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 27, 2019

The 2020 Detroit Grand Prix will feature IndyCars (foreground) and the Historic Trans Am Series with cars like the 1960 Camaro Trans Am (background).

The 2020 Detroit Grand Prix will feature IndyCars (foreground) and the Historic Trans Am Series with cars like the 1960 Camaro Trans Am (background). (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Detroit — It’s November in Detroit but racing enthusiasts are already warming up for Detroit Grand Prix IndyCars.

Reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was in town Tuesday to kick off ticket sales for the 2020 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear as the IndyCar circus roars back to Detroit May 29-31. The event will kick off a June full of big events, including the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, the Detroit Auto Show and Ford Fireworks.

The race weekend will boast a jam-packed schedule including the only doubleheader IndyCar race on the calendar, the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar race, Trans Am Series, and the inaugural Historic Trans Am Series race featuring legendary muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s.

“It’s like Christmas here in Detroit when we start ticket sales,” said Newgarden.

The Penske driver is coming off his second title in three years.

“I never thought that would be something that would happen,” he said. “For sure a highlight of last season was Detroit — being able to win the first duel. We tried to follow it up on Sunday and win the second race but didn’t quite make it happen. So we have some room for improvement in 2020.”

Scott Dixon, one of Newgarden’s closest title rivals, won the second race last year.

In addition to kicking off Detroit’s summer calendar, the Detroit Grand Prix will be run for the first time under Penske Corporation’s IndyCar ownership. Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (home of the Indy 500 a week before Belle Isle) and the NTT IndyCar Series in a stunning deal announced earlier this month. Penske has organized the Belle Isle races since their debut in 2007 – and the 2020 event will the ninth consecutive running of the Dual in Detroit.

Team Penske will enter three cars in the NTT IndyCar race.

Penske’s Acura SportsCar team will compete in the IMSA Weathertech race. And the Historic Trans Am race likely will be awash in classic Penske Camaros and Javelins as The Captain and crew dominated Trans Am racing in the 1960s-early 1970s. The series will recreate those days of thunder as period-perfect Chevy Camaros, GMC Javelins, Ford Mustangs, Plymouth Barracudas, Pontiac Firebirds, and Dodge Challengers will go wheel-to-wheel on Belle Isle’s street circuit.

“We know how passionate people are in Detroit about classic cars and Motor City muscle, and the Historic Trans Am Series features some of the coolest and most powerful cars in racing history,” said Bud Denker, Detroit Grand Prix chairman and Penske president.

Newgarden took a moment Tuesday to fire up the 5.0-liter V-8 of a 1969 Camaro that will compete at Belle Isle.

IndyCar and IMSA Weathertech have led a resurgence in open wheel and sports car racing in the U.S., even as NASCAR numbers have fallen. IndyCar viewers were up 9 percent this year via NBC TV and online broadcasts. Eyeballs for IMSA increased 35 percent this year.

About 95,000 spectators crossed the Belle Isle bridge in 2019, even as severe weather and lightning postponed Saturday activities.

Tickets for the 2020 Detroit Grand Prix can be purchased online at DetroitGP.com/Tickets, through the ticket hotline at 866-464-PRIX (7749) or at the Grand Prix box office in downtown’s GM Renaissance Center.

What Ford F-150 owners think of the Tesla Cybertruck

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 27, 2019

Ford F-150 owners were impressed by the Tesla Cybertruck's claimed performance. But they worry about battery range and reliability.

Ford F-150 owners were impressed by the Tesla Cybertruck’s claimed performance. But they worry about battery range and reliability. (Photo: Tesla)

And now for something completely different.

A Los Angeles Auto show that started with a Ford Mustang Mach-E electric crossover taking on the Tesla Model Y, ended with Tesla in its familiar position: introducing a vehicle unlike any seen before.

The Tesla Cybertruck pickup caught the automotive world by surprise with its daring sci-fi design, segment-busting performance figures and competitive $39,000 starting price. Conversations with Metro Detroit Ford F-150 enthusiasts indicate the Tesla has their attention. But when it comes to purchase, these users all got hung up on familiar concerns about electric vehicles.

More than perhaps any other vehicle, owners of pickups raise concerns about battery range and reliability compared to gas-powered mainstays.

Detroit auto companies these days are noticeably insecure when it comes to Silicon Valley EVs and autonomous vehicles. They, too, want to be the cool kids on the block. So Ford cheekily launched its first electric SUV, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, at LA’s Hawthorne Airport right under the nose of Tesla’s design studio. The glitzy launch event featured movie star Idris Elba interviewing Ford CEO Bill Ford. Consumers applauded.

Then Tesla reminded everyone how it was done.

“The Mach E was a familiar auto industry reveal,” said Tim Stevens, an auto reviewer with C-NET’s “Roadshow” who used to cover Silicon Valley electronics. “Tesla is probably 95 percent Tesla faithful in the room, emotions are very high. Musk presents the truck and all of a sudden they are hitting it with a sledgehammer. It’s a very different sort of event.”

The Tesla show was populated with lightning-shooting Tesla coils and screaming Tesla employees dressed in sci-fi costumes. When Musk strode on stage, says TFLTruck expert Roman Mica, he was greeted with screams of “I want to have your baby!” and “I want to marry you!” That doesn’t happen to other industry executives.

Then things really got crazy. Musk introduced a stainless-steel triangular pickup that looked like it had come off a Hollywood sci-fi movie set. After demolishing a Ford F150 door, Tesla designer Franz Von Holzhausen turned his sledgehammer on the Cybertruck’s doors and then chucked steel balls at its windows to prove its toughness.

Musk infamously failed in proving the shatterproof quality of the Cybertruck’s “armored glass” – two windows yielded to steel balls – but such glass is not unknown to the industry. Ford itself was the first to use shatterproof Gorilla Glass on its Ford GT supercar.

The rollout was crazy, yes. But it was also an acknowledgment by Tesla that its space-age truck has to address conventional concerns valued by Detroit Three pickup owners: toughness, performance and versatility.

Ford, Chevrolet and Ram brands have ridden these attributes to dominate the biggest vehicle segment in the United States. Musk is desperate to penetrate the truck truck market to show the mass sales-potential of EVs. On the toughness front, F-150 owners I talked with were impressed by Musk’s demonstration – unconventional as it was.

They were well aware of the Cybertruck after Musk’s circus show. They were unfamiliar with Rivian, Bollinger and Lordstown Motors, the other electric trucks hoping to gain traction in the pickup space.

When Ford introduced its aluminum-body F-150 four years ago, Chevy responded in a similar manner as Tesla: by dropping a toolbox on an F-150 truck bed and puncturing it. By contrast, the Silverado’s bed is made from rolled-steel. The Cybertruck’s skin is stainless steel.

My trucker focus group liked Tesla’s macho, including claimed payload (3,500 pounds) and towing (14,000 pounds) — figures that beat the Detroit Three. At $39,000 for a rear-wheel-drive model, they liked that the Tesla was priced competitively, unlike the Rivian and Bollinger trucks that are north of $70,000.

But where truckers get cold feet is in the practical application of those numbers. The Ford F-150, for example, sold nearly a million copies last year because of its gas-powered versatility.

At TFLTruck, which tests vehicles on Colorado’s challenging landscape, Mica and his team have been testing Tesla’s Model X SUV with a claimed 4,980-pound towing capability – healthy for a mid-sized SUV. But with 2,000 pounds behind it, TFLTruck finds the Model X gets just 30 percent of its predicted 325 miles of range.

For an Oakland County-based construction worker commuting 100 miles to a job site in, say, Ann Arbor, that can be an issue. To an outdoorsman driving up north on a fishing trip to the Manistee River outside Grayling, the lack of charging infrastructure in rural America is concerning. For an electrician working out of his truck in winter cold at a facility without power, battery life is a worry. The concerns translate to other battery-powered trucks entering the market as well.

Those concerns mirror the people who have tested my Tesla Model 3.

Interestingly, my truck experts did not flinch at the Cybertruck’s styling. In fact, they found it refreshing. Technologically curious by nature, these Ford faithful were intrigued by the Tesla’s electronic wizardry. Put the Cybertruck design back-to-back with an F-150 and it looks like it arrived here from the future.

That said, they balked at the Cybertruck’s steep bed sides that would make it difficult to pitch shovelfuls of mulch into an open bed. The innovative midsize Honda Ridgeline introduced a similarly innovative design in 2006 and was met with poor sales.

At the Cybertruck reveal, Musk’s 1976 Lotus Esprit was on display. The angular sports car, which was used in the filming of the “The Spy Who Loved Me,” helped inspire the Cybertruck’s unique looks.

At the Ford reveal, a picture of the 1914 Detroit Electric vehicle that Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, drove was prominently displayed. Innovative and quiet, the Detroit Electric EV failed to sell next to Ford’s popular, gas-powered Model T because it lacked range and affordability.

Chevy’s Trailblazer is back as a stylish subcompact crossover

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 21, 2019

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS

Los Angeles – The Chevy Trailblazer is back, and it’s had an extreme makeover. Abandoned by Chevy as truck-based, V-8 powered family SUV in 2009, the Trailblazer has returned for 2020 as a stylish, unibody-based subcompact SUV that fits into Chevy’s SUV lineup between the subcompact Trax and compact Equinox.

Think of it as the baby Blazer.

Just as the Chevy Blazer offers a sexier two-row SUV to complement the more pedestrian, volume-selling Equinox, so does Trailblazer offer a more stylish (check out the ACTIV adventure trim) is particularly striking., more-contented version of Chevy’s wee entry-level Trax.

If that sounds like the Buick Encore GX (positioned above the smaller Encore) that was also revealed this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, it is. The Trailblazer will be built in Korea on the same stretched, front-wheel drive subcompact platform as the GX – and share its new, turbocharged 1.2-liter and 1.3-liter engines.

The Trailblazer demonstrates GM’s strategic shift away from sedans to concentrate on SUVs. The compact Cruze sedan is no more – replaced now by three subcompact and compact SUVs: Trax, Trailblazer and Equinox.

The Trailblazer is not alone, competing with other automakers who also see white space between subcompact and compact SUVs. The “subcompact-plus” Jeep Compass, Nissan Rogue Sport, Encore GX, Kia Seltos and Mazda CX-30 have also recently joined the segment — the latter pair also introduced here in Los Angeles.

The Trailblazer will blaze a trail to dealer lots around spring 2020. Pricing is expected to start at under $20,000. Which means its will start cheaper than the Trax despite being bigger. Go figure.

The Trailblazer brings what the market wants – a high-riding seat position and optional all-wheel drive for snow-belt winters. The new ute even wants to live up to its name with an ACTIV trim that is tricked out with muscled shoulders, Hankook Sport Terrain tires, higher ground clearance and shock tuning when traveling off-road.

Its youthful white “turret top” will draw immediate comparisons to Mini Cooper.

The Trailblazer also comes with an urban chic RS badge, trimmed out with black grille and wheels just like the bigger Blazer. “This is my sexy-mom car,” thrills a woman in one of Chevy’s signature “real people” ads. The RS and ACTIV trims will likely start in the mid-$20,000 range.

The two turbo engine options are mated to a sippy, continuously variable transmission or nine-speed automatic.

Inside, Trailblazer sports a suite of standard and optional safety equipment – first introduced on the pricier Equinox – and not found on the Trax: forward-collision alert, automatic emergency-braking, auto high-beams, lane-keep assist, rear-seat reminder and more. Options include adaptive cruise-control and blind-spot assist.

Rear passengers enjoy more legroom than the tight Trax thanks to a stretched wheelbase. Front passengers enjoy an armrest and deep center console storage. The interior is also wonderfully configurable – the rear seat reverses the traditional 40/60 split so that the passenger and second-row seat can be flattened to fit a surfboard or long boards.

Payne: Two motors are better than one for Tesla Model 3 Performance

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 21, 2019

Tell the difference? The external differences between Henry Payne's RWD Tesla Model 3, right, and the new Tesla Model 3 Performance are subtle. The Performance model gets bigger Brembo brakes with red calipers — and an underlined, dual motor badge in the rear.

Tell the difference? The external differences between Henry Payne’s RWD Tesla Model 3, right, and the new Tesla Model 3 Performance are subtle. The Performance model gets bigger Brembo brakes with red calipers — and an underlined, dual motor badge in the rear. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

What’s more fun than a Tesla Model 3 with an electric motor? A Tesla Model 3 with two electric motors.

Regular readers of this column know I’m a car enthusiast who bought a long-range, rear-wheel drive Model 3 a year ago (after putting down a $1,000 deposit waaay back in April 2016) because I wanted to follow the first viable U.S. auto start-up in my lifetime, live with an EV and drive the industry’s most innovative vehicle.

I bought the rear-drive car because it’s what I could afford. I pined for the wigged-out dual-motor, 473-horse Performance Model 3 with Track Mode, but its sticker price $20,000 north of the rear-drive chariot was prohibitive.

So when Tesla lowered the price of the Performance 3 this fall by $15,000 (just $6,440 more than my rear-drive drive car) I jumped at the chance to trade up for the brand’s most rabid sports sedan.

Buying a fully loaded Performance Model 3 allows me to tell you of the full capabilities of the tricked-out version of America’s best-selling EV. Indeed, the Model 3 last year outsold every luxury car in America.

The purchase was primarily a selfish one. I was reaching the limits of my car in track tests and knew the Performance 3 had more to offer.

I didn’t wait long to storm Champion Raceway at Pontiac’s M1 Concourse to put the dual motors to the test. On the street, the Performance car’s power advantage (nearly doubling the rear-wheel drive model’s 225 horses by unlocking more battery capacity) is obvious. Stomp the right pedal and the car explodes to 60 mph in a chest-caving 3.2 seconds, the 473 ponies getting instant traction via all-wheel drive. That’s not far off the $140,000, 760-horse, Ludicrous Mode, 2.8-second Model S P90D AWD I tested four years ago.

It’s comparable to a Corvette Grand Sport. Or an Audi R8 V-10. Supercar stuff.

But on track, that’s the least obvious difference in the two cars. After all, instant torque off corners is an inherent advantage performance EVs have compared to gas cars that lose drivetrain efficiency by feeding its gas power to a combustion chamber lit off by a spark plug that shoves a piston that turns a connecting rod that (pause for breath) … well, you know.

Electric motors are instant power — the dual motor Model 3 just has more of it. Dual motors also allow more athletic handling. The 3’s dynamics are quite good with its low center of gravity, planted steering and sophisticated suspension. The Performance model turns up the wick, not just with better traction, but by using the motors in tandem for better rotation.

Tesla does this through Track Mode, exclusive to the Performance model. I turned it on while in Park, then attacked the M1 Concourse in Pontiac. Surprisingly, Track mode does not turn off battery regeneration, meaning the car still “brakes” when you pull your foot off the accelerator. I learned to use regen as a trail brake, tipping into the throttle with trail-brake oversteer as I entered a corner. Indeed, for all its EV sophistication, the Performance 3 has some good ol’ fashioned “Fast ‘n’ Furious” blood in its veins that encourages drifting.

The Performance Model also benefits from massive Brembo brakes that increase stopping power from the car’s impressive 110 mph top speed on the back straight. But I still got a brake-overheat warning after four laps (the RWD model protested after just two).

True to Tesla’s minimalist, Apple-like design philosophy, the Performance 3’s appearance changes little. Wheel wells are now engorged with extremely low-profile 20-inch dinner plates — just waiting to be eaten by a Detroit pothole. I’ll revert to aftermarket 19-inch wheels (supplied by T-Sportline) for the winter months.

Speaking of Brembos, their red caliper hats are another subtle giveaway that more capability lives under the skin. Other than that, the front is the same ol’ blank face (with larger lower intakes to feed the battery within), and the Dual Motor badge is underlined red out back to differentiate it from the Model 3’s regular dual motor (4.1-second 0-60, no Track Mode).

Inside, nothing changes. Same black seats. Same 15-inch screen. Same wood dash stretching A-pillar to A-pillar. The same, that is, until a new over-the-air upgrade comes along.

Like every Tesla, the Model 3 improves over time. My RWD model was dramatically different after one year — in ways big and small. Small like the whimsical whoopie cushion I can prank passengers with (Pfffft!). Big in that it now self-drives on geo-fenced highways, including automatic lane changes.

My new car got better within days of purchase, downloading software upgrade 3.10 that is most significant for its Enhanced Summon feature. Where the crowd-pleasing Summon once only allowed the car to drive forward or backward, it now can turn, negotiating its way out of parking spaces and trotting to you across a parking lot.

Manufacturing quality had improved over a year. My new car’s panel gaps were more uniform, with no blemishes like an unpainted inner-trunk corner.

Other things hadn’t changed as much as I would have hoped. Tesla’s service was still outstanding, but I had to travel to Cleveland to trade in for my new car just as I had a year ago. Michigan still bans the California company from selling in-state.

Trade-in value was also consistent with the industry at about 25% deprecation after one year. Tesla has, after all, become a volume seller in the compact luxury-sedan segment just like BMW, Mercedes and Audi. My $57,500 2018 Model 3 traded in for $40,800 — about the same as offers I got online at Cars.com and CarGurus.

But where my Performance Model 3 started at $65,000 in 2018, my loaded 2019 model cost me just $63,940 — just over $6,000 more than my loaded RWD model. Sweetening the deal: free Supercharging by using a referral from a fellow owner as the Model 3 continues to save me hundreds of dollars at the gas pump.

What a year it’s been.

2019 Tesla Model 3 Performance

Vehicle type: All-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan

Price: Base $51,190, including $1,200 destination charge ($63,940 as sold)

Powerplant: Lithium-ion battery pack mated to dual electric motors

Power: 473 horsepower, 471 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.2 seconds (mfr); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 4.072 pounds

Range: 325 miles on full charge

Report card

Highs: Supercar acceleration; Track Mode

Lows: 30% devaluation of Model 3 on trade-in after 1 year

Overall: 4 stars

Mid-engine Corvette wins MotorTrend Car of Year honors

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 21, 2019

Los Angeles – The mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette C8 has won its first major award, grabbing the coveted 2020 MotorTrend Car of the Year honor for best car.

Other winners include the three-row Kia Telluride as best SUV and the Ram Heavy Duty as best truck.

Presented annually ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, MotorTrend’s Gold Caliper trophy is often displayed prominently at automaker’s show stands and in advertising campaigns. MotorTrend offers video and magazine content for auto enthusiasts.

One of the year’s most anticipated vehicles, the C8 is the first Corvette to put the engine behind the driver like European supercars costing four times as much. At just over $60,000 the Corvette can sprint from 0-60 in just 2.9 seconds without sacrificing interior comfort. Its combination of speed and value wowed Motor Trend jurors.

“The C8 represents the biggest step-change since the original Acura NSX in terms of being a usable everyday mid-engine supercar,” said MotorTrend International Bureau Chief Angus MacKenzie. “It brings the Corvette closer to the Porsche 911 in terms of being an attainable and credible 24/7 supercar than any time since the ’60s.”

The diesel-powered Ram Heavy Duty has followed in the footsteps of its light-duty Ram 1500 brother in winning media and market raves for its posh interior, smooth ride and beastly capabilities.

“This is how luxury should feel,” said MotorTrend en Español Managing Editor Miguel Cortina. “No other truck on the market can beat it.”

Like the Corvette C8, value was key to the Kia Telluride taking home the SUV prize. The stylish family ute offers luxury looks and amenities while costing thousands of dollars less than segment leaders like the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander.

Jurors called the 2020 Kia Telluride “one of the most compelling family SUVs, loaded with standard equipment, spacious seating, and refined driving manners, all at an astonishingly reasonable price to fit the family’s budget.”

MotorTrend also honors a Person of the Year and, fittingly, the award went to Hyundai Motor Group Design Chief Peter Schreyer whose tenure has transformed the styling of Korean brands like Kia.

A former Audi designer, Schreyer has attracted some of the industry’s top talent to the Hyundai group to create acclaimed chariots like the new Kia Telluride and Stinger sports sedan, Hyundai Palisade and Sonata, while also penning new design language for the Genesis premium brand.

First drives: Ford and Porsche challenge Tesla with new EVs

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Los Angeles – Navigate California’s clotted highways and there is no doubt which electric brand reigns supreme. Teslas — particularly the compact Model 3 sedan — are ubiquitous.

But as the Los Angeles Auto Show opens this week, the Silicon Valley electric-vehicle maker is under assault as never before. Mustang and Porsche, two of the industry’s most formidable performance names, are debuting battery-powered cars that are Tesla’s equal in speed and brand appeal.

First drives in both vehicles reveal that the hounds have caught up with the fox.

Beginning at $44,995, the 2021 Mustang Mach-E SUV takes on the heart of Tesla’s lineup: the $39,490 Model 3 and its forthcoming crossover clone, the $40,020 Model Y. At the luxury end of the electric market, the 2020 Porsche Taycan performance sedan, starting at about $106,000, wants to poach buyers who might have gone for a $79,990 Tesla Model S.

The squeeze at both segments of the market is hardly coordinated, but the threat to Tesla’s manufacturing and capital infrastructure is real. Porsche and Ford are backed with deep resources that will allow them to keep improving and expand their offerings.

In a cheeky move, Ford gave journalists rides in the Mustang Mach-E on Friday at Los Angeles County’s Hawthorne Airport, home of Tesla’s design studio.

Riding along in the back seat of a pre-production Mach E driven by race driver Kai Goddard (journalists will drive the Mustang in 2020), the all-wheel drive, big-battery version of the Mach-E launched from stoplights like a Model 3. Zot! Zero-60 comes in the mid 5-second range.

With the power unit over the rear wheels like the Teslas, the Mach-E puts down its 417 pound-feet of torque seamlessly compared to lesser front-wheel drive competitors from Nissan and Chevy. Around a slalom course, the Mach-E is not as nimble as the low-slung Model 3 sedan, but exhibits little body roll for an upright SUV.

The Mustang replicates the Tesla’s interior cool-factor with a big center-touchscreen and easy-to-use icons to negotiate EV staples like regenerative braking and Mach-E’s Unbridled driving mode – a close cousin of Tesla’s Insane and Ludicrous modes.

The creators of the the Mach-E are also acutely aware of what customers have found wanting in the Model 3.

Some Tesla drivers have pined for a head-up display. Voila! The Mach-E places a small instrument display behind the steering wheel with driving essentials like a speedometer.

Tesla has lagged in the infotainment game as it has tried to develop its own proprietary services. In contrast,  the Ford brings familiar industry options – AM/FM, Sirius XM – as well as consumer favorites like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

In short, the Mach-E matches Model 3 and Model Y innovation while maintaining popular traditions.

For Porsche, what is lacking in a Tesla is what’s lacking in anything that is not a Porsche: more horsepower, more torque, more athleticism.

Despite a truck-like curb weight of 5,200 pounds (some 45% more than a Porsche Cayman coupe) the all-wheel drive $185,000 Taycan Turbo S sedan handled like a sports car on a 175-mile test drive through California’s challenging Angeles Crest curves.

Where other European premium brands have focused on Tesla’s interior and design amenities, Porsche girded for raw speed. The Taycan has accomplished the improbable by making an electric car handle like a Porsche.

The Taycan nearly matches the Tesla Model S P100D’s blistering acceleration with neck-straining, sub 3-second launch control starts. Through mountainous roller-coaster curves, Porsche uses all the tools in its toolbox — all-wheel steering, electronic limited-slip differentials, 12-inch-wide tires — to keep the electric beast planted.

So quick is the Porsche that it set an electric-car lap record around the famous 12.8-mile Nürburgring race track of 7 minutes, 42 seconds – a feat that got Elon Musk’s attention. Tesla has been testing at Nürburgring to take the record back.

Interestingly, both Ford and Porsche feel the need to pipe artificial sound into the cockpit to mimic a gas engine. The low growl is meant to satisfy customers who expect a roar from their legacy automakers, unlike electric-only Tesla.

The challenge of prying Californians away from their native Teslas will be greatest when it comes to charging. Tesla is a synonymous with its own supercharging network, whereas Ford and Porsche (and other automakers) are dependent on a patchwork of third-party charging stations – most prominently Electrify America, which aims to rival Tesla’s network over time.

Tesla’s visionary CEO Elon Musk is a cult-like figure that rival automakers can’t match. Like Steve Jobs, the late Apple founder, Musk’s product reveals are like rock concerts attended by the Tesla faithful.

Ford’s Mustang Mach-E launch here Sunday was a glitzy but familiar automaker product intro complete with an Idris Elba celebrity endorsement.

Even Musk weighed in with kudos, tweeting: “Congratulations on the Mach E! Sustainable/electric cars are the future!! Excited to see this announcement from Ford, as it will encourage other carmakers to go electric too.”

It’s not the first time a Detroit automaker has had high hopes of dethroning Tesla. The Chevrolet Bolt debuted to much fanfare in 2016, armed with a fresh battery architecture and innovative interior. Like the Mach-E, the Bolt’s five-door hatchback style targeted the sweet spot of the U.S. market.

The Bolt’s low center of gravity and instant torque make for thrilling bursts out of stoplights. Invading Tesla’s California backyard, the Bolt even won plaudits from West Coast celebrities like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who traded his Model S for a Bolt.

The Bolt beat the Model 3 to market by a full year … but has made barely a dent in the EV market, selling some 1,500 units a month compared to the Model 3’s 12,500.

The Mustang – like the Porsche – brings rear-wheel-drive performance moxie to the fight that other automakers have lacked. But can brands developed on growling gas engines translate in an electric space?

As more competitors from Audi to Volvo enter the premium EV space, the question will be whether they can become volume-sellers like Tesla – or just low-volume alternatives.

California sales will be the test of whether the tide turns.

Mid-engine Corvette wins MotorTrend Car of Year honors

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Los Angeles – The mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette C8 has won its first major award, grabbing the coveted 2020 MotorTrend Car of the Year honor for best car.

Other winners include the three-row Kia Telluride as best SUV and the Ram Heavy Duty as best truck.

Presented annually ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, MotorTrend’s Gold Caliper trophy is often displayed prominently at automaker’s show stands and in advertising campaigns. MotorTrend offers video and magazine content for auto enthusiasts.

One of the year’s most anticipated vehicles, the C8 is the first Corvette to put the engine behind the driver like European supercars costing four times as much. At just over $60,000 the Corvette can sprint from 0-60 in just 2.9 seconds without sacrificing interior comfort. Its combination of speed and value wowed Motor Trend jurors.

“The C8 represents the biggest step-change since the original Acura NSX in terms of being a usable everyday mid-engine supercar,” said MotorTrend International Bureau Chief Angus MacKenzie. “It brings the Corvette closer to the Porsche 911 in terms of being an attainable and credible 24/7 supercar than any time since the ’60s.”

The diesel-powered Ram Heavy Duty has followed in the footsteps of its light-duty Ram 1500 brother in winning media and market raves for its posh interior, smooth ride and beastly capabilities.

“This is how luxury should feel,” said MotorTrend en Español Managing Editor Miguel Cortina. “No other truck on the market can beat it.”

Like the Corvette C8, value was key to the Kia Telluride taking home the SUV prize. The stylish family ute offers luxury looks and amenities while costing thousands of dollars less than segment leaders like the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander.

Jurors called the 2020 Kia Telluride “one of the most compelling family SUVs, loaded with standard equipment, spacious seating, and refined driving manners, all at an astonishingly reasonable price to fit the family’s budget.”

MotorTrend also honors a Person of the Year and, fittingly, the award went to Hyundai Motor Group Design Chief Peter Schreyer whose tenure has transformed the styling of Korean brands like Kia.

A former Audi designer, Schreyer has attracted some of the industry’s top talent to the Hyundai group to create acclaimed chariots like the new Kia Telluride and Stinger sports sedan, Hyundai Palisade and Sonata, while also penning new design language for the Genesis premium brand.

10 cool things about the Ford Mustang Mach-E

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Los Angeles —The Mustang Mach-E carries the familiar styling cues of Ford’s famous pony car. But the new battery-powered SUV introduces a new user-experience that Ford customers have never seen.

First-adopters will relish its little details:

1. Where are the door handles? Round buttons are embedded in B- and C-pillars to open the doors. The buttons are both practical (for drag reduction) and high-tech: Push the disk and the door pops open by 1.5 inches. Then you grab the door and pull it the rest of the way; front doors have a small hook as a grab-assist.

2. It’ll drive itself. All Mach-Es are equipped with the hardware necessary for eventual autonomous driving. Ford will surely charge a fee, like Tesla, to unlock the software necessary to activate it. Engineers say the hardware resembles that of Cadillac’s sophisticated Super Cruise system which not only uses radar, cameras and GPS to orient itself, but also monitors the driver with a camera and laser atop the steering column.

3. New logo. Mustang’s familiar pony emblem adorns the front facia, tailgate and steering wheel of the SUV (Ford logos are nowhere to be found). It’s has been tweaked for the EV age: It is stretched horizontally and detailed — not with a horse’s sinewy contours, but with a ribbed, techie surface. The logo on the GT performance model will be lighted in white.

4. Get to know the acronym “CG.” Although it’s a tall crossover, the Mach-E has the third-lowest center of gravity in Ford’s lineup after the Mustang sports coupe and GT supercar. Credit the EV’s inherent physics resulting from storing its giant battery in the basement. At 98.8-kWh – bigger than the mighty Porsche Taycan EV – the Mustang battery weighs 1,300 pounds.

5. One-pedal driving. All electric cars use electric motors for regenerative braking to recharge the battery. Regeneration enables one-pedal driving – that is, lifting your foot off the accelerator slows the car. Want more aggressive regeneration? You can dial in more resistance in the Mach-E by pushing the a button in the middle of the rotary console shifter.

6. Talk to it. The Mach-E debuts Sync 4, the latest generation of Ford’s infotainment system. The 15.5-inch screen wows, but the biggest advance is that you can talk to the vehicle like a phone. Say “OK, Ford” and the system is at your service. Unlike other auto systems that require a slavish adherence to keywords, Sync 4 will respond to multiple demands: “Take me to Campus Martius” of “Drive me to Campus Martius.”

7. “Power My Trip.” A Ford smartphone app called “Power My Trip” is aligned with Sync 4. Use it to plot your trip (complete with charging stops if needed). Then, says Ford, when you jump in the car the app will seamlessly hand off to the Sync screen. Unlike Tesla, the Mach E also recognizes the popular Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps if that’s your preference.

8. We got the frunk. With the battery in the floor and the main power unit powering the rear wheels, the Mach-E offers extra cargo space under the front hood: a front trunk, or “frunk.” Ford adds two cupholders and a drain plug to the plastic liner so you can ice it down and use it for tailgating before games. Or as Ford designers call it: “frunk-gating.”

9. Unbridled. You’ve heard of Tesla’s Insane and Ludicrous acceleration modes? The Mach-E is hip to eccentric modes, too. In a refreshing change from the usual Normal and Sport modes, drivers can select Whisper mode for quiet driving, Engage for sportier driving, and Unbridled – which also pipes a dull roar into the cabin for folks who miss the ol’ Mustang V-8.

10. OTA is OK. The Mach-E promises over-the-air software upgrades (also pioneered by Tesla) so the car should get better over time. But this being a Mustang, OTA will also benefit handling. Engineers will be able to tweak the electromagnetic shocks, electric motors and e-steering. More Drive modes could be added in the future. Think Giddyup Or Stampede.

Ford’s new battery-powered Mustang Mach-E challenges Tesla

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Ford's first fully electric SUV, the Mustang Mach-E, premiered Sunday night.

Los Angeles — Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long patterned his company after the Ford Motor Co. If the Model T introduced the 20th century to affordable personal transportation, then Tesla’s similarly named Model 3 is bringing electrification to the 21st.

So it’s only fitting that Ford is introducing a competitor against the Silicon Valley upstart.

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV is Detroit’s most direct answer to Tesla’s pioneering Model 3 electric compact sedan and forthcoming 2021 Model Y crossover twin. By challenging the Model Y from footprint, to performance specs, to online ordering strategy, Ford is daring buyers to compare the two — and then assess whether the Tesla is a match for the Blue Oval’s superior dealer network and manufacturing quality.

The Mustang Mach-E is a testament to how Tesla has disrupted the auto industry. Once regarded as rolling roadblocks piloted by tree-huggers, EVs were reinvented by Tesla as the cool car on the block. With seatback-flattening acceleration, sleek looks and sci-fi technology, Tesla’s $70,000 Model S became one of the world’s most coveted performance sedans. The $40,000 Model 3 expanded the appeal.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford wants a piece of that action.

►MOREFord takes the wraps off the $45,000 Mustang Mach-E electric SUV

►MORE: 10 cool things about the Ford Mustang Mach-E

It’s fair to say this is personal – not just because Bill Ford wants his great-grandfather’s brand to remain relevant in a new century, but because he shares Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s vision: that the planet is in crisis and EVs can help save it.

Approved by Chairman Ford himself, Ford’s new EV is adorned with the company’s most valuable performance badge, Mustang. Spending that name-equity on a battery-powered EV is an acknowledgement that it must have sex appeal.

The Mustang Mach-E closely follows the Tesla game plan.

The real story behind ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 15, 2019

The start of the 1966 24 Hour of Le Mans. Having waved the starting flag, Henry Ford II (first suit on the left) hustles across the track while the drivers spring to their cars.

The start of the 1966 24 Hour of Le Mans. Having waved the starting flag, Henry Ford II (first suit on the left) hustles across the track while the drivers spring to their cars. (Photo: Ford)

Track-side at Road Atlanta where Ford’s blindingly quick 2019 GT race car was competing in October, I asked Ford performance chief Mark Rushbrook if his company had contributed to the “Ford v Ferrari” movie that’s opening this weekend.

“We had nothing to do with it,” replied the man who oversees Ford racing. “I hope the Ford still wins.”

I’ve seen the movie and Rushbrook can rest assured that the 1966 GT40 still crosses the line first at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. The movie is not always so historically accurate. Produced by Disney/Fox, it takes broad artistic liberties with the story of Ford’s epic battle with Ferrari in order to create an action-packed, fist-flying, testosterone-fueled Hollywood buddy movie. Good ol’ boy racers Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles (played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale, respectively) win the world’s greatest endurance race in spite of the stuffed suits in Dearborn.

It makes for an entertaining 2½ hours at the theater.

But the real story of Ford’s historic win is just as compelling, even if it can’t be condensed into a 153-minute blockbuster. Ford’s dominance of the 1966 Le Mans under the management of the wise-cracking Shelby not only made racing history — it remade Ford as the performance-car company it is today.

Today the Blue Oval competes across the globe in endurance supercars, NASCAR stock cars, Focus rally cars, even NHRA dragsters. The latest Ford GT is a state-of-the-art carbon-fiber rocket. And Joey Logano took his Team Penske Mustang to last year’s NASCAR title.

So it’s hard to imagine that 60 years ago, Ford didn’t even race.

The company was founded in the early 1900s on Henry Ford’s driving skills — winning races to attract investors. But in the post-World War II era, that racing spirit had been snuffed out. In one of Washington’s regulatory spasms, Congress pressured the Big Three to agree to a “Safety Resolution” swearing off racing as morally irresponsible. The fragile truce unraveled as General Motors secretly poured money into NASCAR racing.

As Pontiac and Chevy dominated NASCAR, sales followed. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Feeding a post-war Boomer generation’s need for speed, GM captured 61% of the market share by March 1962.

Ford CEO Henry “The Deuce” Ford II – at the urging of his ambitious marketing guru Lee Iacocca – exited the Safety Resolution in June 1962. Eight months later, Ford dominated the Daytona 500 and sales soared.

Then Enzo Ferrari came knocking.

Competing not on ovals but on tree-lined road courses, European racing was fast and often fatal. Ferrari drivers dominated the winner circles – and the obituaries – leading to a public outcry. Governments opened investigations into Mr. Ferrari’s enterprise. Once hailed for his automotive genius, Ferrari was scorned as the “Monster of Maranello” (home of Ferrari).

Suddenly Italians awoke to prospect of their national jewel being sold to Americans. The public rallied behind Ferrari and its founder yanked the rug out from under Ford. The unsigned contract that would have created the FeFo Corporation (short for Ferrrari-Ford) sits in Ford’s archives today.

Livid, The Deuce swore to beat Ferrari no matter the cost. In its backyard. At the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans 24, where Ferrari had dominated for a decade.

“It’s a great story because it works on so many levels,” says AJ Baime, author of “Go Like Hell,” the definitive book on the Ford-Ferrari clash. “It’s a great sports rivalry, a great business story about Ford trying to relaunch its brand in Europe, about two huge auto companies facing off.”

“Ford v Ferrari” screenwriters translated this epic battle into a fictional culture clash between the free-spirited Shelby and Miles, and corporate overlord Henry II (played by Tracy Letts).

But the reality was different.

Ford struggled to make its GT40 race car reliable in long races. So the company turned to Shelby and his competition director Miles to lead the team’s assault on Le Mans. The 1960s marked the birth of modern racing where corporate money seeded fledgling racing icons like Shelby, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Mario Andretti and a young competitor named Roger Penske.

“(The movie) does a good job of selling the story,” Shelby’s grandson, Aaron, said at the Shelby Museum in Las Vegas while standing next to the Ford GT40 that Miles drove in ’66. “It will open people’s eyes who have never heard of Shelby.”

Contrary to the movie’s portrayal of Ford as untrusting of the California mod shop, Iacocca had built a healthy relationship with Shelby, providing his Cobra team with Ford engines.

Indeed, Shelby disliked Ferrari as much as The Deuce did. A former Le Mans winner himself in 1959 for Aston Martin, Shelby had seen how Enzo Ferrari pushed his drivers to the ragged limit.

When Ford-powered Shelby Cobras beat Ferrari in the GT-class at Le Mans in 1964 – while Ford’s GT40s struggled against Ferrari in the premiere prototype class – Ford handed the reins to Shelby and his brilliant competition director.

“It’s a remarkable piece of history that a company with unlimited funds wound up relying on these World War II-veteran hot-rodders,” says author Baime.

The pairing thrust Miles – a skilled-but-unknown driver played to the hilt by Bale as a quirky, ornery Brit – into the international limelight where he thrived.

Contrary to the film, Ford did not conspire to keep Miles from driving at Le Mans. Nor did Shelby shame The Deuce by reducing him to a shaking puddle of tears after a tire-smoking test drive. In truth, Ford’s technical resources meshed with Shelby-Miles’ racing instincts. Ford II communicated only one message, hand-scrawled on small cards: “You’d better win.”

Miles piloted the 1966 GT40, stuffed with Ford’s brutish 427-cubic inch NASCAR V-8, at speeds over 220 mph against the sleeker 12-cylinder red Ferraris. He barely missed out as endurance racing’s first triple-crown winner of the Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24-hour due to a late race technical error.

Miles would perish in a crash – like many of his peers – just two months later. But Fords would win Le Mans three more years running, taking Dearborn to the racing summit it still occupies today.

On the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 win in 2016, Rushbrook’s team led Ford to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans’ GT class after an epic duel with a Ferrari 488. The win has helped sell Fords like the Mustang globally, making it the best-selling sports car in the world.

One of the Mustang’s trims is called the Shelby GT350 in honor of the race shop that built Ford’s reputation.

Payne: The racy Honda Civic Si just wants to have fun

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 15, 2019

The 2020 Honda Civic Si lacks the high-revving, screaming i-VTEC engine of previous generation Sis — but its taut chassis makes it the best handling Si ever.

The 2020 Honda Civic Si lacks the high-revving, screaming i-VTEC engine of previous generation Sis — but its taut chassis makes it the best handling Si ever. (Photo: Wes Allison, Honda)

They say the transportation future is autonomous. That’s hard to believe as long as there are cars like the 2020 Honda Civic Si.

At just $25,000 the athletic, tech-tastic Si is a gateway drug for young auto enthusiasts.

One fling through Hell, Michigan’s twisty roads and you’ll be intrigued. A day at a parking lot autocross and you’ll be in love. A race-circuit track day and you’ll become a soapbox evangelist for the joys of the stick shift.

I’ve been in the bag for the Civic Si since I bought a 2006 coupe with an i-VTEC engine that revved to 8,250 rpms. The four-banger let out a full-throated wail over 5,600 rpms that would wake the dead. My two 20-something sons learned to drive on a track in that car and they, too, are hopeless auto addicts.

The glorious 2.0-liter, 197-horse VTEC is no more, a victim of the nanny state and its emissions agenda. But the 2020 Civic Si is a worthy successor to my 2006 hellion.

Only Honda engineers know what an evolution of my screaming i-VTEC would be capable of today (210 horses? 220?) But the smaller 1.5-liter turbo hamster wheel that debuted two years ago is a remarkable machine that puts out 205 horsepower.

Henry Payne tests the 2020 Honda Civic Si at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Where the VTEC had to be rowed hard above 6-grand to find its torque band, the turbo has grunt aplenty at 3,000 rpms. Turbo lag is minimal off corners, and by the time the hamsters get to 6,000 they are out of breath. Gone is the glorious music of that 8,000-rpm i-VTEC — but, hey, U2’s days of writing epic Irish anthems like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are behind it as well.

Yet they’re still writing hits. So is the Civic Si.

The joy of this car is the Nürburgring-tested chassis, a remarkable tool in a $25,000 car. I marvel at the sophistication of mainstream vehicles compared to their luxury betters — the $35,000 Ford Mustang HiPo that imitates a BMW 3-series, the $40,000 Kia Telluride that looks like a $70,000 Audi Q7. So, too, the Civic Si.

Underneath the racy boy-toy styling of the Si — I swear the initial design drawings were rendered in crayon — is a remarkably mature front-wheel drive package with limited-slip differential, magnetic shocks, electronic steering and the best manual shifter this side of a Porsche.

I flung the Si through the writhing esses of Circuit of the Americas race track in Texas, expecting the front-drive car to push like an offensive tackle on a corner sweep. But my red athlete rotated with remarkable ease and encouraged more throttle. Though not nearly as athletic as the asphalt-sucking $90,000 Mustang GT500 I tested two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Si was no less fun to drive through the twisties. Its chassis stayed glued to apexes, brakes biting hard lap after lap.

Brakes have been the bane of my existence in my $57,000, rear-wheel-drive Tesla Model 3. They overheat after just two hard laps on track, smoking and smelling like a bonfire. Yet, with only a performance pad upgrade (same as my Tesla), the brakes on my $25,000 Civic never flinched around the demanding 3.5-mile COTA course.

Honda Performance Development president (and accomplished driver) Ted Klaus tried to explain this to me. Let’s just say it’s magic.

Even as I wrung its neck, the Si treated me with hospitality. The bolstered cloth seats (red-accented for the updated 2020 model) are so good I never gave them a thought until now, and the notchy six-speed is intuitively positioned for quick shifts. I flogged both sedan and coupe versions (giraffes like me will prefer the sedan, as it’s easier on the neck, but the rear seat is easy on long legs.

What makes the Si so worthwhile is how — when you’re done dancing with it — it is quite willing to be a progressive daily driver.

Standard on the Si is Honda Sensing (even standard on the entry-level, $20,680 Civic), the brand’s radar-enhanced safety suite that includes self-driving features like adaptive cruise-control and automatic emergency-braking. Civic’s adaptive cruise-control allows easy highway cruising or an extra security blanket in stop-and-go traffic. I can even attest the emergency braking works, thanks to some rapid closing maneuvers under braking at COTA.

The competition in the compact segment is relentless, however, and the Civic’s interior feels dated compared to spiffy new entries like the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3. Despite a nifty digital tach, Honda’s graphics are small and steering controls plasticky. With a major Civic update looming in 2021, expect upgrades.

What is not lacking is Honda’s signature passenger-friendly interior. No one does consoles like Honda. Big-brother Pilot SUV has the best center console in ute-dom and the Civic makes a case for best compact car console.

An infotainment tablet sits high on the dash for easy viewing, which in turn opens up storage below for keys, French fry boxes and Apple CarPlay connectivity. A deep, versatile center console features sliding cupholders.

As regular readers know, I’m a hatchback fan, and the Si comes only in coupe and sedan flavors. The trunk space is ample, but I prefer Civic Sport and Type-R hatchback variants for better cargo access. With sporty hatch competitors out there like Mazda 3 and Golf GTI, the Si will lose some customers willing to pay for their convenience.

But with its racy styling, glued handling and standard features, the Si is a peerless $25,000 performance value.

While Detroit makers have abandoned small cars, Si and company offer new buyers an entrée to driving fun. To lure shoppers, the 2020 model is distinguished by its body-colored eyeliners under the new LED headlights — and wicked, black wheels that contrast with a Skittle bag full of flavors from Rallye Red to Crystal Black Pearl to my favorite, Tonic Yellow Pearl.

Speaking of value, Si can also be had as a $52,000, slick-tire shod, roll-caged SCCA racer when you want to taste even more g-loads on track. That’s what gateway drugs lead to.

Autonomous car future? I think it just got pushed back another generation.

2020 Honda Civic Si

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan and coupe

Price: Base $25,930, including $930 destination charge

Powerplant: Turbocharged, 1.5-liter inline-4 cylinder

Power: 205 horsepower, 192 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 137 mph

Weight: 2,889 pounds (coupe); 2,906 (sedan)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 26 city/36 highway/30 combined

Report card

Highs: A blast to drive on track or off; versatile console

Lows: Interior style lags competitors; lacks hatchback utility

Overall: 4 stars

New Corvette hits 60 in 2.9 seconds … but won’t arrive until March

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

Passersby will get an eyeful of the Corvette C8's all-new 6.2-liter V-8 LT2 engine through the rear glass.

Pontiac – Due to the 40-day UAW strike, production of the much-anticipated mid-engine Corvette C8 will be delayed from December until late February, General Motors confirmed Wednesday. That means customer deliveries likely will start in early March.

Patient buyers will get the most capable Corvette ever, with a long list of firsts.

Chevrolet says the made-in-the-USA $59,999 supercar will rocket from 0-60 mph in just 2.9 seconds when equipped with the $5,000 Z51 performance package. That makes it the first sub-3-second entry-level Corvette in history.

That number is quicker than the last-generation front-engine, $80,000 Z06 performance model that boasted 650 horsepower, even though the C8 Z51 is rated at only 495 horses. (The base 490-horse C8 with no Z51 trimmings will hit 60 in 3 seconds flat.) Chevy says both C8 versions will trip the quarter-mile in just 11.2 seconds.

Passersby will get an eyeful of the all-new 6.2-liter V-8 LT2 engine responsible for these jaw-dropping numbers: It will be the first Corvette to ever show its engine under glass. Corvette’s design team was deeply involved in designing the engine cover, valve covers and exhaust heat shields because — like a mid-engine, $250,000 Ferrari — the top of the engine will be on full display amidships.

“The engine is a showpiece,” said assistant LT2 chief engineer Mike Kociba at a deep dive into the Corvette’s oily bits at GM Performance and Racing Center. “It’s the jewel in the ring setting. When the design team came to us, we were flattered that they wanted to show it off.”

The mid-engine layout gives the Corvette fundamental handling and package advantages over the traditional front-engine layout, leading to numerous Corvette firsts.

The LT2 powerplant, which succeeds the LT1 used in the front-engine ‘Vette, is the first base Corvette mill to use a so-called dry sump lubrication system. That system is common on race cars to avoid oil starvation when the car is at high side G-loads. The technology was driven by the mid-engine car’s handling capabilities that can exceed 1 G. Kociba says the engine is capable of 1.25-G loads in every direction.

“We designed this engine so that you could do full loops with it without losing oil pressure,” said LT2 chief engineer Jordan Lee.

With the engine behind the driver – unencumbered by demands that the driver be able to see over it – engineers designed taller intake manifolds for better air flow. The added height also allowed Tom Peters’ exterior design team to dress up the engine with a Stingray logo, ribbed engine cover and bright-red valve covers that can be admired from outside the car.

The engine cover — black on the entry model — can be optioned in red and silver as well. Look for after-market companies to show off variations for enthusiasts.

Powering the rear-wheel drive C8 to 0-60 mph times commonly associated with all-wheel drive 700-horse Lamborghinis required another Corvette first: a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission common to European exotics.

The dual-clutch transmission is the first mid-engine transaxle effort from veteran Chevy transmission supplier Tremec, and is built in Wixom.

The versatile gearbox includes useful features like launch control and double-paddle declutch, which allows the driver to mimic a manual clutch pedal by holding down both steering-mounted shift paddles at once (useful for revving the engine for spectators while coasting down the Woodward Dream Cruise, for example).

Unlike the previous LT1, the LT2 has proved near bulletproof in GM’s development. The team blew only one engine as it pushed to meet the car’s performance benchmarks. To honor the engine’s achievements, GM President Mark Reuss asked that every engine feature a “pride badge” sticker on the valve cover to honor its production facility in Tonawanda, New York.

The sticker, too, can be seen through the rear deck glass.

Payne: Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride twins battle for best 3-row SUV

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade cuts a noble figure at Stratford Hall in Virginia.

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade cuts a noble figure at Stratford Hall in Virginia. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

The year’s most anticipated bargain is the 2020 Corvette C8, a $60,000 mid-engine supercar offering the same performance thrills of European sports cars costing four times as much.

But on a more utilitarian front, the three-row Korean twins — the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride — are just as remarkable.

Introduced, respectively, at the 2018 Los Angeles and 2019 Detroit auto shows, the Palisade and Telluride wowed with good looks and high-tech interiors. But as these vehicles have come to market, the automotive world is realizing they offer game-changing value.

Both feature luxury styling, that — when paired with their standard content — should make anyone question why they are paying tens of thousands more for a three-row luxury sport-utility.

“What’s the most impressive three-row SUV you have driven this year?” a group of successful female entrepreneurs asked me at a social gathering this summer.

“The Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride,” I responded.

They were horrified, having expected the answer to be a Range Rover or Volvo XC90 or Audi Q7 — vehicles they aspired to as successful business people.

“Not a Kia. And how dare they use the name ‘Telluride’?” scoffed one.

I get it. Brand matters.

But even judged by their mainstream peers, the Telluride and Palisade are extraordinary luxury bargains. Compared to class-leading, comparably equipped Toyota Highlander, a feature-rich $43,000 Hyundai Palisade SEL is $4,000 cheaper. And compared to a comparably equipped Ford Explorer? The Hyundai is $8,000 cheaper.

I tested a Kia Telluride earlier this year, so let me catch you up on the Hyundai Palisade first. I’ve put a lot of miles on it in Metro Detroit and on a long-distance trip through Virginia.

I parked it at an Oakland County shopping center next to a Cadillac XT5 SUV. Both Koreans have cribbed heavily from Cadillac’s vertical design style. Except for its badge, the Palisade looks like a luxury ride. It has gorgeous LED headlight piping. More taillight LED piping out back. Chrome-lined grille. Big, beautiful, 20-inch wheels. P-A-L-I-S-A-D-E spelled out across the tailgate.

The content list included everything under the sun: all-wheel drive, leather, drive modes including 4×4 lock for off-roading, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise-control, automatic headlights, back-up assist, rear-view camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sun roof.

How much would you pay for this? In a Toyota Highlander, the Limited Platinum trim will cost you $47,000. The Ford Explorer Limited costs $50,000. The loaded Hyundai Palisade SEL only asks $43,155 of your wallet.

This is no Dollar Store special like the Hyundai sedans I saw at the Detroit auto show in 2000. The interior is not only luxurious but meticulously rendered with fine materials and clever details like USB ports for second-row passengers embedded in the front seat-backs.

Out of the instrument panel a pane of glass extends across the Palisade’s dash, enveloping the infotainment touchscreen like — well, a Mercedes. On the touchscreen, I tap Talk Mode. A speaker allows conversation with third-row urchins back there. Clever.

The huge center console under the touchscreen houses redundant control buttons and a fancy, electronic button-shifter fashionable these days on everything from Corvettes to Hondas. You get used to it — and it opens acres of space (more on that later).

A student of ergonomics, the Palisade borrows a sliding center-console door from the the Honda Pilot. Hyundai’s solution is not as big (a purse won’t fit in there) but it will hold your fast-food meal — and your purse can go in the big cubby underneath the console. Slide the door over the console and (Pilot-like) its raised ridges will keep your cellphone — or anything else you place there — from sliding off.

That’s right. For $43,000.

In back of the front leather thrones of the Hyundai Palisade are two more rows of leather-wrapped luxury. Access to the third row is as simple as pressing a button on top of the second-row seat, and — VROOOOMP! — the seat slides forward (another page from the Pilot’s book).

Stash the kiddies in the third row and they’ll be snug as a bug in a rug. They get USB ports, cupholders and reclining capability just like they were in Dad’s living room chair. They’ll miss only the Highlander’s two-pane panoramic sunroof versus the Hyundai’s mere sunroof.

The best buys in class, the Korean twins’ closest competition is one another.

The Kia Telluride’s tidy Cadillac-meets-Range Rover exterior design gives it a leg up on its Hyundai sibling. It consistently turns my head on road — a tribute to a Kia design team that has been hitting home runs from the wee Sportage ute to the sexy Stinger muscle car.

To compare the two, I stepped up to the fully tricked-out $47,605 Hyundai Palisade Limited and $48,100 Kia Telluride SX (comparable competitors were well over $50,000) and drove them for a week.

The Palisade Limited gains a luxe-like 12.3-inch digital instrument display (the Telluride SX sticks to analog gauges). Both Koreans get neat tricks like head-up displays and cameras under the mirrors to give drivers one more look at their blind spots (in addition to mirror-based blind-spot monitoring) before changing lanes. The Palisade’s bigger digital panel allows for even better viewing with this feature.

Interior technology like voice commands are premium-class good. The Palisade’s console is beautifully thought out, rivaling a Ram 1500 pickup for space and convenience. The Telluride’s upright shifter matches Kia’s sporty image, but the Palisade’s button-shifter opens up lots more storage space like that sliding console drawer.

Waiting in a three-hour Virginia traffic delay (caused by an 18-wheeler accident on a two-lane bridge), I made the Palisade my office. I plugged my laptop into the 12-volt rear console plug and charged my phone in a USB port. I munched on a box of Chick-fil-A nuggets in the console drawer next to two cups.

The Koreans both use a 3.8-liter, 291-horse V-6, which is just right for this three-row class: excellent low-end torque mated to a smooth shifting, 8-speed box.

If you have a need for speed in this class, then the raucous 400-horse, $59,000 Ford Explorer ST is unique. But the bargain Palisade or Telluride look like premium utes from a class above — for $30,000 less.

That’s $30,000 can put toward your bargain Corvette C8.

2020 Hyundai Palisade

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $32,595, including $1,045 destination charge ($43,155 SEL and $47,505 Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,387 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 19 city/24 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: Luxurious interior, versatile console

Lows: Polarizing face; trigger shifter has learning curve

Overall: 4 stars

2020 Kia Telluride

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $32,735, including $1,045 destination charge ($48,100 SX as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,255 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 19 city/24 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: Knockout exterior, three-row ease of use

Lows: Less versatile console and a few dollars more than the Palisade

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: First drive, mid-engine Corvette lives up to hype

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

The 2020 Chevy Corvette C8 is the iconic badge's first mid-engine layout. Handling and traction benefit mightily from the new architecture.

Ann Arbor – The book on the Chevy Corvette has long been that it’s the poor man’s supercar. Accept compromises in handling and interior comfort and you can afford a Ferrari-like performance machine for under $100,000.

Throw out the book.

I have driven the all-new, 2020, mid-engine Corvette C8 for the first time, and it is a supercar without compromise. These are early days as the C8 comes to market, but the C8 holds the promise of a supercar paradigm shift: affordable, Porsche Cayman-like handling with the raw power of exotics costing four times as much.

The world’s elite auto car makers should be very afraid.

I will be able to give more detailed critique early next year after a more extensive on- road/on-track test, but on first impression at the North American Car of the Year jury test over twisty Ann Arbor roads and Interstate 94, the car is fundamentally sound from the inside out.

“This is a Cayman with cargo room,” I told chief engineer Ed Piatek a couple of days later in Road Atlanta where Chevy introduced the C8.R race car model.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” smiled Piatek. Please do. The Cayman is the best-handling production sports car I’ve driven.

Since we first learned of a mid-engine Corvette in the works, expectations soared. Could it marry the brute force of a small-block Chevy V-8 with the nimbleness of a Cayman? Could Chevy render a pleasing, mid-engine design? Would there be any money left for a livable interior? Yes, yes, and yes.

Start with the handling. I have raced mid-engine, Porsche and Lola sports cars all my adult life. From Le Mans prototypes to Indy Car, the world’s fastest cars are mid-engine. It’s why Corvette’s Pratt & Miller race team has craved a mid-engine vessel to go up against the likes of Ferrari and Porsche that also locate the engine aft of driver.

Let Corvette race driver Tommy Milner explain. “The driver is more centrally located in the car, so we get immediate feedback from understeer or oversteer,” he said in introducing the race car version in Road Atlanta last weekend. “The car rotates around the driver.”

I felt it on the first tight, 90-degree corner on Washtenaw County’s Huron River Road. With the engine behind me, the lighter front end instantly rotated to the corner apex — the rear following like the tail of a dart.

Walking around a naked, cutaway chassis of the C8 at Road Atlanta, chassis engineer Ed Moss explained that the precise handling is much more than just putting the 6.2-liter V-8 behind the driver. Like the C7, the C8 is built around a stiff central spine to allow for easier driver egress (carbon-fiber tub cars like Lambos use tall, wide side sills for stiffness, but are a nightmare to crawl over). But unlike C7, C8 uses 20 — count ‘em, 20 — aluminum castings to complement that spine where C7 had but 4.

For the first time, the mid-engine car uses coil-over springs and shocks for state-of-the-art suspension like European supercars (previous-gen Corvettes used cost-saving, composite “leaf” springs).

Supercar tech, Corvette price. The 3,600-pound Corvette will never be as maneuverable as the lighter, 3,100-pound Cayman. But, then, the C8 has Lambo-like power that the wee Porsche can only dream of.

And it puts it down effortlessly. I experienced auto launch control in a Cayman three years ago. Bury the left brake foot. Bury the right throttle foot. Let revs stabilize at 3500 RPM. Release brake.

FOOM! Cayman shot forward like a rocket. Just like a McLaren 720S. Just like a Lamborghini Huracán. Just like the Corvette C8.

I did multiple launch control starts in the new ‘Vette (starts at $64,995 with Z51 performance package) on unpopulated Michigan country roads. Stable. Blindingly fast. Motor Trend clocked the C8 at a staggering 2.8 seconds — the same as the $288,000, 710-horse McLaren 720S I tested last year .

Credit the engine weight over the rear wheels providing inherently better traction. And a Porsche-like, dual-clutch auto transmission.

Try that in a front engine C7 and hold on for dear life. With the engine in front, the rear tires hunt for traction, squirming nervously.

“It’s having less weight on the front axle, sitting closer to the front axle and having all the weight on the rear. It helps you with standing starts, helps you coming out of a corner,” said Corvette program chief Tadge Juechter when I first saw the car at the Warren design dome in July.

Motorheads like me can babble on about C8 handling dynamics until sundown, but the interior is the real revelation. The Corvette is nicer inside than a $300k Lambo or a McLaren. The standard car is roomy, techy, and coated in leather.

I’m a big fella’ at 6’5” and was sedan comfortable. Curiously, for a big sports car meant for long-distance driving as well as track days, the C8 lacks adaptive cruise control.

Otherwise, the driver-centric cockpit is state-of the-art — an amalgam of the best supercars in the world. The digital dash reminds of McLaren with its configurable drive modes (I like Track Mode and its racing tachometer). A Formula One-like square steering wheel allows unobstructed instrument visibility. The console — “beach-front real estate” as engineer Piatek likes to call it —  is a masterpiece of space management. Chevy’s excellent touchscreen infotainment is within easy reach.

Then Corvette pairs an efficient, Acura-like “trigger” shifter with the Drive Mode dial for easy operation. Corvette faithful may struggle to learn the trigger at first (I use a three-finger approach), but once mastered it’s intuitive.

Only a central sleeve of buttons interrupts this digital vibe. The concept is taken straight out of the last-gen Porsche 911 and allows for easy climate control.

Corvette designer Kirk Bennion and his team have wrapped this technical tour de force in a mid-engine shell that is nicely portioned  — and looks wicked on the road.

Even some of my most jaded Car of the Year jury peers allowed how it looked better than the Audi R8 or Acura NSX —  cars costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

Details have been sweated over right down to the, er, smell. Climb into the ol’ C7 and you got a nostril-full of the polymers used to make the dash and interior inserts. It smelled like a poor man’s supercar. For the C8, the engineers “pre-baked” the materials to eliminate odors.

I got an hour in the C8 this time. Stay tuned for much more. Corvette is just getting started.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger sports car

Price: Base price $59,995 including $1095 destination charge ($88,895 with Z51 package as tested)

Powerplant: 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 495 horsepower, 470 pound-feet of torque (with $5000 Z51 performance package)

Transmission: 8-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.8 seconds (Motor Trend); top speed, 194 mph

Weight: 3,600 (est.)

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Good interior ergonomics; intuitive handling

Lows: No adaptive cruise control; Trigger transmission takes getting used to

Overall: 4 stars (out of 4)

 

Attitude drives Dodge Charger to top of big sedan market

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

The big-sedan market is cratering … with one exception.

Defying the market’s stampede to SUVs and the demise of storied nameplates like the Impala and Taurus, the Dodge Charger is recording strong sales.

Riding the sex appeal of rear-wheel drive performance nameplates like the Hellcat and Scat Pack, the Charger has revved sales to over 71,000 this year through September. That’s a 20% increase over 2018. The Charger is on track for its third year atop the large-sedan market segment.

“What separates us from everyone else in that segment is I don’t think anyone looks at Charger and says that’s a boring, bland car,” says Jeff Strauss, Dodge sales chief. “We take a lot of pride in that fact that our cars have a lot of attitude.”

That attitude has been key to the Charger’s sales growth in a segment traditionally ruled by front-wheel drive boulevard cruisers like the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon. Avalon sales have cratered by 50% since 2014, while the Impala has been axed from Chevy’s lineup due to poor sales. Once a segment leader, Impala sales have fallen 60% in the last five years.

In contrast, Dodge’s full-size four-door amped up its performance brand with a marketing blitz starting in 2015. The introduction of a 707-horsepower Hellcat model — followed by a steady stream of performance upgrades continuing with 2020’s limited-edition Daytona and muscular Widebody variants — took the market by storm and gave customers a reason to stick with sedans over boxier SUVs.

With sinister fascias, fat tires and colors like Sinamon Stick and Hellraisin, the Chargers are some of the most recognizable cars on the road.

“I just want to make bad ass-looking cars,” Charger chief designer Mark Trostle said at a media test-drive of the Charger’s latest Hellcat and Scat Pack wide bodies.

Cox Automotive analyst Karl Brauer says that the current generation of unibody SUVs have lapped sedan sales because they offer so much upside — hatchback utility, interior room, high seating position — with little downside in handling or fuel efficiency.

“Sedan’s advantages are in a lighter weight, lower center of gravity and sleek looks,” says Brauer. “People don’t want just a large sedan that an SUV does better. But give them a V-8 with personality and they will find that interesting.

“What’s impressive about Dodge is that they emphasized these attributes with V-8 powered Hellcats and Scat Packs and leveraged the brand’s performance heritage to create cars that really stand out.”

That Charger heritage reaches all back to 1966 at the height of the ’60s muscle car era when the first rear-wheel drive Charger debuted with a powerful V-8 and fastback body style. After some lean years in the front-wheel drive wilderness in the 1980s, Dodge brought the Charger back in 2006 as a rear-wheel drive sedan.

“Not everyone wants an SUV,” said Strauss. “We realize that Dodge is 3% of a huge industry, but we also realize that 3% can be a big deal if you have a car that has really solid DNA. (Charger) stands for something and that’s why people buy our cars.”

Analyst Brauer says that other full-size sedans in the segment used to stand for something, too, but companies didn’t invest in brand equity like Dodge.

“The Ford Taurus and Nissan Maxima have been marketed as performance cars,” said Brauer. “But they are front-wheel drive sedans and Ford and Nissan have not put as much energy into selling them as Dodge has the Charger.”

As rivals have fallen away, the Charger has emerged as the segment sales leader. Brauer says that the Charger has also benefited from the timing of GM’s bankruptcy. “Charger absolutely cashed in on the loss of Pontiac,” he says of the GM’s former performance brand.

Still, the market remains challenging for large cars, and Charger sales had dipped 17% from 97,110 in 2016 before this year’s rebound. As with its Ram trucks that have eclipsed Silverado sales this year, Dodge is typically aggressive with rental fleet Charger sales.

In addition to bringing customers into showrooms, the Charger has fattened Dodge profits. A Charger Hellcat Widebody can fetch prices north of $80,000, producing BMW-like luxury price spreads from the entry-level $30,000 Charger.

“You can get an awesome V-6 for just $30,000 — then we go all the way up the line to an R/T, Scat Pack and ultimate Hellcat,” said sales boss Strauss. “If we can get (consumers) into the brand with that awesome performance look, that customer ultimately might buy the Hellcat. We are growing customers through the brand.”

And growing sedan sales against the SUV tide.

Payne: Mustang GT500 is the baddest, best pony car ever

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 31, 2019

Since it hit the showrooms, the sixth-generation Mustang has topped the Camaro everywhere but on the track. Media comparisons have consistently given the Chevy the handling nod. Ford got so sick of hearing about its rival’s track superiority that it went and made a Corvette-inspired Terminator.

The 2020 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 is a front-engine Corvette in drag.

It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen from the Blue Oval’s pony car stable. Forget the GT500s of old — they were crude, solid rear-axle, straight-line hammers. This Mustang is more supercar than muscle car. Nostalgic for the front-engine Corvette now that the mid-engine weapon has dawned? Take a look at the GT500. Like the supreme 755-horse Stingray ZR1, the GT500 supercharges its V-8 to a mind-blowing 760 horsepower.

For road-sucking downforce, it’s available with a ZR1-like track package that includes a huge carbon-fiber rear wing and front splitter and wicker. It has Recaro seats, magnetic shocks, launch control, electronic rear-differential and a quiet mode for long road trips. Tires? Fat Michelin Pilot Sport 4S or near-slick Pilot Cup 2 that stick like glue. Heck, the GT500 even reached into the mid-engine C8’s toolbox and mated its supercharged tornado to a lightning-fast, dual-clutch seven-speed transmission from Tremec.

The 650-horse Camaro ZL1 and winged ZL1 1LE is Camaro’s top-of-the-line. The GT500 is its match, plus 100 horsepower.

The Mustang is a relentless, apex-carving cyborg on track. Despite its heavy V-8 up front, it defied the law of physics (or more precisely, mastered them) around Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 2.4-mile Outfield Road Course. Thundering through the tricky high-speed “bus-stop chicane,” I overcooked the entry and braced to bounce over the next apex curb. Nope.

A quick flick of the steering wheel, and the GT500 stayed on course. It’s a 4,000-pound rhino in tennis shoes.

“That’s the 550 pound-feet of downforce working,” Ford racing driver Billy Johnson told me later. Johnson — who knows a thing or two about supercars, having piloted the mid-engine GT at Le Mans the last four years — was deeply involved with GT500 development long before it debuted at this year’s Detroit auto show.

This is a muscle car with degrees in aerodynamics, materials and mechanical engineering. If Tony Stark hadn’t invented Iron Man, he would have flown around in a GT500.

Drive the Shelby hard on public roads and it’s a T. rex on wheels. Put your boot in it and the familiar overhead-cam, 5.2-liter Mustang V-8 gurgle turns into a bellow. Add a touch of supercharger whine and it’ll send goosebumps up your spine.

Thundering around corners through Red Rock Canyon Park in my Twister Orange tester, I could see the necks of road-side tourists already turned in my direction — What in Moses is THAT? I didn’t keep my foot in it for long for fear of attracting every cop in the southwest.

If you want to have fun on public roads, ignore the GT500 and buy the nimble, turbo-4-powered Mustang High Performance Pack I reviewed last month. Its 332 horses are plenty for the street. Affordably aimed at the Camaro V-6, it’s entry-level performance for the enthusiast.

Not that anyone with $71,395 in the bank account will listen to me.

The GT500 will be coveted by the Woodward cruiser crowd. It has serious road presence. Its huge front jaws can swallow Toyota Priuses whole. The fascia is a sci-fi work of art; even the headlights remind  one of Hollywood’s Terminator. Heat exchangers stuff every crevice to feed the nuclear reactor inside. The GT500 eschews adaptive cruise-control because there’s simply no room in the grille for radar.

Option the GT500 with signature Shelby stripes (white or black) for added effect. The standard version comes with eight-way leather seats, digital instrument display with configurable drive modes, lap timer, lowered stance and multiple exhaust modes.

But so does the GT500’s little brother Shelby GT350. Indeed, the 526-horse GT350 was designed by Ford Performance chief troublemaker Carl Widmann and his merry band of engineers as the driver’s car of the pair. The GT350 is more raw, more viscerally engaging.

Available in manual only, you can row the GT350’s normally aspirated, flat-plane crank (just like a Ferrari!) V-8 to a goosebump-inducing 8,250 rpms. Downshift into turns and it’ll produce more tailpipe flatulence than Shrek. If you want to swagger around town and shred the occasional rural road, buy the GT350 for $10,000 less.

But if you want to know what a front-engine muscle car is capable of on track, the GT500 is your weapon.

Howling down Las Vegas Speedway’s front straightaway — the dual-clutch tranny firing off millisecond shifts — I thought the Shelby might join the F-16s taking off from nearby Nellis Air Force Base in flight.

But stomp on the Brobdingnagian Brembo brakes — with red calipers the size of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet gripping massive 16.5-inch rotors — and the striped rocket is brought immediately back to Earth. Brake fade was non-existent.

Then this otherworldly cyborg really showed off its skills.

The Tremec downshifted rapidly — WHAP! WHAP! — as I rotated into the corner with trail-brake oversteer. A manual GT350 can’t pull this off with nearly the precision.

Suddenly on top of the apex, the GT500 was surprisingly neutral despite all that extra plumbing up front. Then another surprise: the GT500 wanted me to use all 760 horses on exit. With every successive lap I fed the beast more throttle without any alarm from the Michelins. Try this in a Dodge Hellcat and it’ll turn your hair white.

Unleashed again, the V-8 roared, the landscape rushing by at warp speed. It doesn’t make the same high-rev music as the GT350, but it’s still a glorious sound. I never turned on the radio in a day of driving. We spent the afternoon doing 11-second quarter-mile launch-control hole shots down Vegas’ dragstrip.

It doesn’t come cheap. Equipped with the $18,500 track package, racing stripes and bolstered Recaros to keep you upright under high G-loads, my tester cost an eye-watering $94,385.

The Ford Mustang shoulders a lot of responsibility these days. It must not only beat the Camaro and Challenger in the muscle car race, it must also carry the Blue Oval’s electric car aspirations with a Tesla-fighting Mach E performance ute coming next year.

Being top dog in the former assists with the latter. Thus the 2020 GT500, the best Mustang ever.

20202 Ford Mustang GT500

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger sports coupe

Price: Base price $71,395, including $1,095 destination charge ($94,385 as tested)

Powerplant: 5.2-liter, supercharged V-8

Power: 760 horsepower, 625 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.3 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 180 mph (governed)

Weight: 4,171 pounds (about 4,080 with carbon-fiber track package)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 12 city/18 highway/14 combined

Report card

Highs: Intimidating styling; track hero

Lows: Will land you in jail if driven hard on public roads; gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: UAW-GM fight exposes fears of an EV future

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 31, 2019

The General Motors Co. strike has united the United Auto Workers and their Democratic political allies over demands for more pay and job security. But the walkout also has opened a rift between the union and Democrats focused on a Green New Deal’s electric vehicle future.

Long supporters of government mpg mandates to force a transition to EVs, the UAW has gotten cold feet as studies — including one from its own research department — show battery-powered vehicle production takes less labor to manufacture.

“The shift to EVs … involves a fundamental change in the key components that power the vehicle,” says a UAW research paper, “Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future,” published this spring. “Such a change will have disruptive implications for the auto industry (including) changes in where and under what condition vehicles and key components are made, employment declines in powertrain manufacturing, and the entrance of new corporate actors without a U.S. manufacturing base.”

With only a battery and electric motor driving the wheels, EVs require fewer workers to assemble than internal combustion engines with dozens of components like transmissions, valves and connecting rods. And EVs are expected to last longer because they have fewer moving parts to wear out.

Furthermore, the union worries that new players in the EV space will not be union shops like the decades-old supply chains that feed the Detroit Three automakers. EV innovator Tesla Inc., for example, makes electric motors and batteries, yet is non-union.

“The studies have the UAW leadership nervous,” says consultant and ex-GM general director for labor Art Schwartz. “They are figuring out that fewer people will be employed making EVs.”

That nervousness is recent. For the last decade, the UAW has supported the Environmental Protection Agency’s aggressive push to force battery-powered vehicles, beginning with the Obama administration’s doubling of fuel economy standards in 2009.

Recognizing that the Detroit Three were “on federal life support,” then-EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality chief Margot Oge recounts in her book, “Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change with Cleaner, Smarter Cars,” how the EPA used its “power dynamics” to push for significant mileage standards under the federal government’s new-found authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

For Oge and the EPA, the standards were accelerated because the gas-powered car “needs to be largely replaced” by zero-emission vehicles. Oge claimed the push toward EVs would create a job boom, estimating “that by 2020, the greenhouse-gas standards will help add 150,000 manufacturing jobs” — that is, as many UAW workers as are employed by the Detroit Three today.

The UAW consistently voiced its support. When the Obama administration controversially tried to lock in the mpg standards under a mid-term review ahead of the Trump administration’s taking office, the UAW sent a letter to EPA supporting the move.

“UAW members know firsthand that … greenhouse gas (GHG) standards have spurred investments in new products that employ tens of thousands of our members,” the paper said. The UAW has also worked with billionaire Democratic candidate Tom Steyer who advocates the elimination of all fossil fuels.

As recently as last May, then-UAW President Dennis Williams held a news conference supporting the Obama-era emissions standards: “We had an agreement during the Obama administration. All the companies agreed to it. We agreed to it. The enviros agreed to it. I don’t think we should be rolling back those standards.”

The UAW’s report sounding the EV alarm this spring, however, cited a Ford Motor Co. investor presentation predicting a “30-percent reduction in labor hours per unit compared to (gas engine) production.”

UAW advocacy for drivetrain regulation has taken a turn. The just-negotiated UAW-GM proposal pledges creation of a National Committee on Advanced Technology to address coming change and devotes a section to assuring its members it will fight any job cutbacks related to a new generation of transportation:

“Your bargaining committee raised many concerns regarding the company’s plans to increase its electric and autonomous vehicle lineup. They outlined how advanced manufacturing had already impacted the membership. As a result, the union won a commitment from the company to not only reaffirm that the introduction of new technology will not move work out of the bargaining unit, but also ensure UAW members will be able to retain the higher-skilled work associated with new technology.”

Schwartz, the former GM labor director, says the union’s about face on government-mandated EVs is likely due to the organization’s reactive nature: “They probably looked at it from an environmental, not a labor perspective. They wanted to be a progressive organization that looks out for the environment.”

As the UAW puts the brakes on electrics, however, its Democratic allies are shifting into high gear. The Green New Deal would eliminate the internal combustion engine, with Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders — who joined the picket line at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in September — vowing a national trade-in program for EVs as well as a mandate for electric buses.

Front-runner Joe Biden told a CNN climate change townhall that EVs are “going to create so many new jobs for us. We have to … take combustion engine vehicles off the road as rapidly as we can.”

The UAW and the candidates agree that a comprehensive, government-led industrial policy is needed to manage the government’s forcing of electrics — including job training, protectionist trade policy, consumer incentives, and infrastructure investment.

For automakers, the train — or EV — has already left the station. Ford is investing $11 billion to make 40 EVs next decade, while Volkswagen AG says it will phase out gas-powered cars by 2026.

An industry insider familiar with the situation says that regulation alone is behind the industry’s move to electrification. Without consumer demand, the UAW is nervous an electric future is more tenuous than the gas-powered present.