Articles

Ford takes wraps off updated F-150

Posted by hpayne on January 10, 2017

18FordF150_01_HR

How do you celebrate 40 years of Ford F-series dominance with an enviable 820,000 pickups sold in 2016 alone? Roll out a new F-150.

To kick off the Detroit auto show this morning, Ford announced the first update to its ground-breaking, aluminum-body truck since it wowed the auto show as a 2015 model in 2014. With the 2018 pickup, the headlines just keep coming.

The new truck ditches the three-bar grille that has been Ford’s signature design for over a decade, and brings a diesel engine to the light-duty truck lineup (previously offered only in heavy duty) for the first time in its nearly 70-year history. Ford, the official truck of the NFL, will preview the F-150 on the Fox NFL Wildcard Pregame Show at 4 p.m. Sunday, and then unveil it at Ford’s news conference at the North American International Auto Show on Monday morning.

Ford crested the 800,000 sales bar for the first time since 2005, leading truck market sales with the F-150 and its new for 2016 F-250 Super Duty brother. The Ford beat out its biggest competitor — the Chevy Silverado by over 250,000 units sold, and it beat General Motors’ Silverado/GMC Sierra twins by about 24,000.

“It’s the best-selling truck since disco,” said Todd Eckert, Ford truck group marketing manager.

The 2017 Super Duty broke from the F-150 with a fresh, two-bar grille — dubbed “double I-beam” by Ford. Embraced by buyers, the F-250 grille style — with seven variations — is migrating to the F-150 along with a new bumper and headlamps. Changes to the rear fascia include new taillights and the letters “F150” tattooed on the tailgate.

The three-bar retires after a 14-year run that began with the Ford 427 Concept sedan that was rolled out at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. The 427 inspired a “bolder, more American” design style that first graced the 2006 Ford Fusion sedan and was the echoed throughout the lineup from the Ford Focus compact to the Ford Edge. The F-150 fascia went three-bar in 2009.

“We took the grille and really stretched it to give it more width,” said Gordon Platto, F-series designer. “The Super Duty was liked so well with the double I-beam, we felt an obligation to create harmony between big brother and little brother.”

The 3.0-liter turbo-diesel leads a revamped engine lineup that includes a turbocharged Ecoboost 2.7-liter engine; twin-turbo V-6. 5.0-liter V-8; and a new base-model 3.3-liter V-6. Innovative port and direct fuel-injection systems increase fuel efficiency and durability.

“Direction injection engines have improved fuel efficiency, but the problem is they have come with carbon buildup,” says Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for research firm AutoPacific. “Adding port injection will solve that problem and increase engine longevity. Other manufacturers like Toyota are also moving toward this solution.”

The 2018 F-150 is due in showrooms in the fall 2017, but the diesel version won’t be available until the summer 2018. Built in England by Ford, the diesel will deliver impressive towing ability and is the same oil-burner found in Land Rover’s SUVs.

All engines but the 3.3-liter will be mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission — co-developed with GM — that was first introduced on the 2017 Ford Raptor muscle pickup. The 3.3-liter V-6 (downsized from the current 3.5-liter) will be married to a 6-speed automatic. The F-150 will come standard with stop-start technology, which turns off the engine at stoplights to save fuel.

The F-150 will be the first light-duty truck to get pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection as well as adaptive cruise control which can come to a complete stop – then accelerate again. The 2018 model will also have an available Wi-Fi hot spot that can accommodate up to 10 devices. The F-150 will come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility.

In addition to the seven new grille choices, the 2018 F-150 will sport six new wheel options (from 17- to-22 inch) and more interior color and material choices. All these options across five model trims – XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum – make for hundreds of potential pick configurations.

“We like to offer our customers as much customization as possible,” says Platto.

While 2018 F-150 pricing won’t be released until later this year, it won’t differ much from the current model which starts at $28,025 for a base XL and tops out at over $64,000 in Platinum trim with all the goodies. The F-150 is built in Dearborn, Louisville, Kentucky, and Kansas City, Missouri.

For complete coverage of the Detroit auto show go to detroitnews.com/autos/auto-show

New models ready for their close-up at auto show

Posted by hpayne on January 6, 2017

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The Detroit auto show rolls into town Sunday for a two-week stay that promises something for everyone: futuristic self-driving cars, Detroit classics, the latest sport utilities, state-of-the-art sports cars … even a life-size version of “Cars 3” star Lightning McQueen.

The McQueen racer will be a lighthearted kickoff to the high-tech AutoMobili-D — a showcase for speakers and startups on the cutting edge of autonomous and ride-sharing technologies, AutoMobili-D will commence Sunday on Cobo Center’s Atrium Stage.

Some 5,000 journalists from around the world will attend over 40 new-car reveals on Sunday and Monday. On Jan. 13, the show will roll out the red carpet for the glitzy Charity Preview ball, which has raised over $41 million for children’s charities in the last decade. While party-goers sleep off hangovers on Jan. 14, the show opens its doors to the general public until Jan. 22. Last year, the Detroit Show recorded its biggest gate since 2003 with 815,575 attendees.

Now in its 28th year, the North American International Auto Show has weathered industry cycles — including the devastating recession of 2008 — to remain one of three premier auto shows on the planet along with Geneva and Frankfurt/Paris.

“Because of the number of press here, this is a great show to launch things,” says Sam Slaughter, NAIAS chairman and CEO of Sellers Subaru and Sellers Buick and GMC dealerships in the metro area.

Now, as the industry faces an “inflection point” (in the words of AutoMobili-D speaker John Krafcik, CEO of Google autonomous car spinoff Waymo), Slaughter says NAIAS organizers recognized the need to make the show a display case for the technologies that are transforming the industry. Automakers this year have used the CES technology show in Las Vegas to introduce high-tech vehicles like Chrysler’s self-driving Portal EV concept and Toyota artificial-intelligence driven Concept-i. Those vehicles — and the creative talent behind them — will also be in Detroit.

“These are the brains behind the behind the autonomous future,” says Slaughter. “We have an amazing story to tell with over 50 startups in Cobo.”

Those startups will join establishment pillars in presenting their visons of a new auto mobility. . The startups , meanwhile, will be among 100 companies to populate nearby Hall E — aka “Cobo’s basement” — that in years past has been outfitted for everything from tree-lined, electric-car demonstration courses to displays for Chinese automakers.

This year, a Chinese company will graduate to the show’s main floor as Guangzhou Automobile Group looks to follow Japanese and Korean companies as a successful, Pacific Rim export to the U.S.

All eyes will be on Japanese giant Toyota as it reveals an all-new Camry sedan, the best-selling car in America. For all the talk of self-aware EVs, the bread-and-butter of American manufacturers remains gas-powered cars and SUVs.

The Camry is promising an extreme makeover as it tries to remain relevant in a market that’s crossed over to crossovers. Camry sales, echoing all sedans, were down 10 percent in 2016. Since the recession, ute sales have exploded to 60 percent of the market and NAIAS offerings continue the trend. SUV reveals from automakers as diverse as Chevrolet (Traverse), Ford (Expedition), Audi (Q8), Infiniti (QX50 concept), and BMW (Concept X2) will debut on the menu.

“This will be a meat and potatoes show,” IHS Automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley says of the core offerings coming from automakers including a new version of Honda’s best-selling Odyssey minivan.

“Auto product is still the most important part of NAIAS,” shrugs Brinley in reference to the tech buzz in the air. “We went through a phase when every show had to be green. Now every show has to be high-tech. Soon tech will just be part of the auto landscape.”

Showgoers will feel, however, the absence of several brands on the show floor. Past exhibitors Porsche, Tesla, Mini Cooper, Jaguar, Land Rover, Bentley, Ferrari and Maserati are AWOL this year.

The reasons are many.

Exclusive brands prefer more intimate venues where wealthy customers can be wooed one-on-one — like The Gallery event at the MGM Grand Casino that officially opens the show on Saturday and where beautiful Ferraris and Lamborghinis will be on display for $500 a ticket. In a multi-media age some automakers also aren’t as dependent on auto shows for attention.

But even some major exhibitors are turning away from press conferences to show new wares — brands like Buick, Cadillac, Dodge, Mazda and Acura.

Brinley blames this dearth of glitz on automakers taking a breath from frantic new car development.

“What we’ve seen since the recession is a big increase in new offerings to meet new product directions,” says Brinley. “A little slowdown in product cadence is natural.”

Show attendees will still be dazzled by auto displays worthy of a place in Times Square — part of a $200 million upgrade last year in which 80 percent of manufacturers remade their displays. The high-def, pixel-pallooza of giant LED screens is a high-tech marvel itself — with more stage tweaks this year from GMC, Subaru and Nissan.

For all the 21stcentury tech, though, the Detroit Show will also honor its roots. Before the reveals, before the speeches, before the champagne … three vintage cars from the American Car Museum will complete a six-state, 12-day, 2,150-mile winter journey from Boston to Detroit. Friday morning, winter Dream Cruisers can join a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, 1961 Chrysler 300G and 1966 Ford Mustang as they travel down Woodward to christen the show.

“This is the second annual ‘Drive Home’ and I hope it becomes a tradition,” says NAIAS chairman Slaughter. “With all that’s going on in the industry, it’s a great way to connect to our history.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

Detroit auto show

Friday: “The Drive Home II: The Heritage Run” – final leg of drive from Boston to Detroit by 1957 Chevy Nomad, ’61 Chrysler 300G and ’66 Ford Mustang

■9-10 a.m.: Cars & Coffee at Lincoln of Troy

■10-11:30 a.m.: Drive down Woodward Avenue

■Noon: Press conference, Cadillac Square

Saturday: The Gallery of ultra-luxury cars, MGM Grand Detroit. Tickets: $500.

Sunday-Thursday: Press days/AutoMobili-D

Wednesday-Thursday: Industry preview

Jan. 13: Charity preview, 6-9 p.m. Tickets: $400

Jan. 14-22: Public days, Cobo Center. 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (no admittance after 9 p.m.), except Jan. 22, when hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (no admittance after 6 p.m.). Tickets: $13 adults, $7 age 65 and older, $7 age 7-12, free for ages 6 and under

Payne’s 2016 Detroit Show Top 10: Where are they now?

Posted by hpayne on January 5, 2017

Chrysler Pacifica: All that’s left of Chrysler’s lineup

It’s almost show time in Detroit once again, but visions of last year still dance in our heads. The 2016 North American International Auto Show unveiled a little of everything from sleek sedans to pickups; from the electric Chevy Bolt EV hatchback to the 745-horsepower, V-8-powered VLF Force 1 sports car. With auto sales revving to over 17 million unites, there was a toy for everyone.

So before the new acts roll out for 2017, here’s an update on my 2016 Detroit Show Top 10. Are they as good as promised? Have they even turned a key? Let’s find out …

Chrysler Pacifica

Everyone knows minivans are the best family haulers out there, but they’ve been typecast as boxy mom-mobiles (remember the devastating Mitsubishi SUV ad: “Whoever owns the tan minivan, your lights are on.”). The handsome Pacifica aims to change all that — including a plug-in version so you never need visit a gas station if your daily routine covers less than 30 miles. Pacifica’s sculptural design echoes Mercedes’ R-Class wagon, and doesn’t skimp on inside amenities with a dresser-drawer console and stowable, foldable, removable middle seats.

BMW M2: BMW delivered its 365-horsepower M2 – a $56K

BMW M2

BMW delivered its 365-horsepower M2 — a $56,000 gateway drug to BMW’s iconic performance badge that includes such highs as the $80,000 M4 and $115,000 X5 M SUV. A throwback to earlier, more compact generations of M-coupe — its dimensions the same as my own 2001 M3 — the ferocious M2 looks fast just parked at curbside. I found it more fun than any BMW I’ve driven — with a bottomless well of torque from its twin-turbo V-6. In a year that saw the sensational Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio challenge the M’s performance crown, the M2 is a reminder that the German brand is still the benchmark for style and speed.

Lincoln Continental: 
</div>If BMW’s M is all about performance,

Lincoln Continental

If BMW’s M is all about performance, the Lincoln brand is about interior comfort. The brand’s flagship Continental is a rolling couch. Check that, it’s way more comfortable than your couch. The 30-way front throne is tops in class — including an auto-headrest that cradles your head like a mother’s arm. From the posh rear seat you have full interior control from radio to moon-roof to front passenger seat positioning. No wonder that’s where Lincoln-spokesman Matthew McConaughey hangs out in his latest ads.

Honda Ridgeline: 
</div>Ridgeline 2.0 is back with the only

Honda Ridgeline

Ridgeline 2.0 is back with the only crossover-like, unibody chassis in the hot, small-pickup segment. Though the Honda gives up some towing and hauling capability to its more traditional, body-on-frame competitors from Chevy and Toyota, its ride is unparalleled on-road. Which is where most of its metropolitan owners will drive it. With its Acura-shared, torque-vectoring AWD system it’s fun to get dirty off-road, too.

Lexus LC500 Coupe: 
</div>I have yet to get my mitts on Lexus’

Lexus LC500 Coupe

I have yet to get my mitts on Lexus’ dramatic-looking, six-figure flagship, which is due in the States in the first quarter of 2017. The LC is a two-door sports car — but with its big, honking, front-mounted V-8 and porky 4,300 pounds, it’s aimed more at BMW 6-series customers than at the rubber-burning Porsche 911 crowd.

VLF Force 1: 
</div>Based on the now-defunct Dodge Viper

VLF Force 1

Based on the now-defunct Dodge Viper bones, the front-engine supercar is the second offering from VLF (the initials of partners Gilbert Villarreal, a successful manufacturer, ex-GM product guru “Maximum Bob” Lutz and legendary designer Henrik Fisker), a company that builds automotive Frankensteins for luxury customers. The first was the VLF Destino — a plug-in Fisker Karma retooled with a Corvette V-8 — which rolled out last year. In a nondescript building overlooking The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Force 1 is slowly taking shape. With a 513-cubic-inch Viper engine, you’ll feel the Hills shake when it’s ready.

Chevrolet Bolt: 
</div>For those living under a rock for

Chevrolet Bolt

For those living under a rock for the last year, the Bolt EV is the first electric car under $40,000 to go over 200 miles on a charge (238 miles to be exact). That range is real (though expect to subtract 25 percent in Michigan’s frigid winter temps), but this is no green snore-wagon. With the same-sized battery (60 kWh) as a base Tesla model S, low center of gravity and no range anxiety, the five-door hot hatch is a blast to drive hard.

Ford Fusion: 
</div>With Aston Martin-like good looks and

Ford Fusion

With Aston Martin-like good looks and the best-bod in class, the Fusion didn’t need to change much for its 2016 refresh. A nifty e-shifter here, sharpened grille there. The real changes came underneath where the mid-sizer adds Sport, battery-powered Energi, and luxe Platinum trims to its already diverse lineup. Powered by a throaty, 325-horsepower V-6, the Sport is a hot sedan with luxury performance at $20K less.

Acura Precision concept: 
</div>The Precision debuted as

Acura Precision concept

The Precision debuted as an old-school, head-turning design concept. The sedan’s purpose was to inspire Acura’s tired lineup and its effect is already being felt. The 2017 Acura MDX crossover sports the Precision-inspired “Diamond Pentagon” grille (ditching the much-maligned bottle opener). A near-production ready Acura Precision Cockpit concept followed at the LA Auto Show which points the way toward a new, touchpad-controlled infotainment interface.

Buick Avista: If you didn’t remember Acura’s concept,

Buick Avista

If you didn’t remember Acura’s concept, it’s probably because Buick’s concept blew everyone’s socks off at last year’s show. The stunning coupe — based on the same Alpha platform that under-girds the athletic Cadillac ATS and Camaro — inspired hope for a production version. Don’t hold your breath. Like the Precision, Avista is more likely to inspire next-generation sedans – like the stunning Lacrosse and coming Regal.

Payne: Jeep Wrangler, swamp thing

Posted by hpayne on December 29, 2016

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne took the Jeep

My 2017 Jeep Wrangler is covered in mud. We’re marooned in a gulch. Up to the footboards in water. A three-foot step from the nearest mud bank. All four wheels spinning in place.

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

The Mounds Off-road Vehicle Park is in the middle of a swamp 12 miles northwest of Flint. It’s 230 acres of bogs, hills, mud, sand and forest. A web of trails cuts through this forbidding landscape booby-trapped with roots, rock and moguls that challenge the fortitude of any off-roader. This is Wrangler country.

Jeep sells its rugged image to over a million customers a year. From the posh Grand Cherokee Summit to the cute, subcompact Renegade, Jeep’s familiar seven-slot grille is everywhere. It’s the outdoorsman’s automaker. The original sport utility vehicle has drive modes for SAND, MUD and OCEAN BOTTOM (OK, made that last one up). Even if most owners never take their comfy crossover anyplace more adventurous than a county road.

It’s an image built on the iconic Wrangler, a direct descendent of the Army’s World War II Jeep.

I’d never driven the famed Wrangler. Like a tough kid from the other side of the tracks, Wrangler’s first impressions can be, um, uncomfortable. The front hood is held down by straps. A tire on the back hatch makes access difficult. The exterior styling is retro-World War with big bumpers and an upright windshield. It gets more Spartan inside.

My Wrangler Sahara costs a whopping $45,000, but its technology is stuck in the Stone Age: There’s no keyless entry. It has nets for storage on the doors, and a hard plastic dash and door rests. At least it has power windows. You need the strength of Hercules to pull the drive mode shifter from 2WD to 4WD.

With the Wrangler’s brawny, 32-inch tires and 3.6-liter V-6 roaring, I communicated with Mrs. Payne in the seat next to me by megaphone.

But like my favorite, trunk-challenged, apex-carving Alfa Romeo 4C sports car, the Wrangler is built for play. What other vehicle is engineered for easy door removal? When I jumped into the tall Jeep, I hit my head. I turned to find a huge, 21/4-inch roll bar spanning the cockpit. Now we’re talking.

Don’t buy a Wrangler unless you plan to go off-road. Like the Mounds. In, say, December.

Late fall might be the most challenging time of year at the park.

After a week of torrential rains the swamp-like terrain was even swampier than normal. The park gatekeeper warned me to stay away from watery gulches. You know, like when Mom used to tell you to stay away from mud puddles on your way home. So naturally I ignored the advice and charged right in.

On asphalt the Wrangler’s body-on-frame chassis and big Bridgestone tires give it the manners of a crude pickup without the bed. Off asphalt, it’s a terrain-shredding animal. But my Wrangler met its match in a deep, water-filled rut. Like losing adhesion on a race track, you got to explore the edge of the envelope.

“You aren’t off-roading unless you get stuck,” said Kelly Boerner of Newport, Michigan, who brought his cavalry of veteran off-roaders to rescue me.

Kelly and his mates had done Bundy Hill and Silver Lake, but it was their first visit to The Mounds. They looked like one of those vehicle trains from the “Mad Max” movies. Vehicles big and small. Chevy Trailblazers, RAM 1500 … and lots of Wranglers. Half the vehicles I saw at The Mounds (not counting ATVs and dirt bikes) were of the Jeep variety — and many had already been stuck. Indeed, the swamp was littered with marooned carcasses like a sort of present day La Brea Tar Pits. Difference is, dinosaurs didn’t have trucks to pull them out.

Our savior was a Ram 1500 pickup with five-inch suspension rider addition, hemi V-8, 38-inch tires and tow gear. Owner D.J. Floreskul threw a line around my tow tongue (just like my Lola 90 sports racer, oddly enough) and yanked me out of the bog back to terra firma. Well, at least terra mud.

There were other limits on the vast Flint playground. I learned to stay away from the rock quarries. The Sahara’s more refined features include cool 18-inch wheels with Granite Chrystal painted pockets and dent-prone steel fenders.

To further explore the limits (if not the watery bogs), I’d suggest the Wrangler Rubicon with a lift kit, plastic fenders and electronically detachable front sway bar. The latter basically gives the vehicle knees — allowing the front wheels to move independently of each other to crawl over rocks.

You might guess Wranglers are boy toys (like sports racers), but you’d be wrong. The Mounds was littered with Jeep women. And everywhere I went in Oakland County, I found females flogging Wranglers. An empty-nester friend had traded in her Town & Country minivan for a Wrangler. A retiree bombs around Arizona in her Jeep. Heck, even Mrs. Payne confided to me that she coveted a Wrangler as her first car as a 16-year-old.

Wrangler fan Lauren Stuart (she has two) fell hard for the brand while on a Pink Jeep tour in Sedona, Arizona. I know the Pink Jeeps. They’re the tour guides through Arizona’s impossible canyon trials. This summer, Lauren drove cross country to Sedona in her Rubicon (license plate “BE FIT”) to tackle the Pink Jeep trails themselves.

She must have used her smartphone’s Google Maps to get there. True to the Jeep’s stuck-in-WWII technology, my Wrangler’s navigation system couldn’t get us to The Mounds. Not because it couldn’t find it, but because its directions lagged about 5 miles behind us. It’s a rare glitch in Jeep’s usually excellent UConnect system.

Wrangler’s proven, torquey Pentastar V-6 mill had no issues. Its 285 ponies can easily outrun any bee nests you might disrupt in the wilderness. The Wrangler is unique: Loud, rugged, with a face that looks like it’s been to Normandy and back. It was built to run through a brick wall.

Just beware of the depth of the watery gulch on the other side.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER SUV
Power plant 3.6-liter V-6
Transmission 6-speed manual; 5-speed automatic (as tested)
Weight 3,976 pounds (automatic as tested)
Price $24,990 ($45,045 as tested)
Power 285 horsepower, 260 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 8.4 seconds (Car and Driver); towing: 3,500 pounds
Fuel economy EPA 16 city/21 highway/18 combined

report card

HIGHS FEARLESS OFF-ROADER; THAT WWII JEEP FACE
Lows Loud interior; over $40,000 in upper trims

Overall:★★★

Perfect Tens: Camaro, Raptor are transmission pioneers

Posted by hpayne on December 29, 2016

zl1_track_fr3-4

Los Angeles — Rocketing onto Willow Springs Raceway’s front straight at 100 mph in fourth gear, the 2017 Chevy Camaro ZL1 rifles off barely perceptible automatic upshifts — five-six-seven — at 100-millisecond intervals to reach 150 mph. Two hundred miles southeast in the Anza-Borrego desert, a Ford F-150 Raptor sport pickup goes airborne over a sand dune at 60 mph, its transmission holding the highest possible gear so its 35-inch tires maintain momentum when they hit the desert floor again.

The Camaro and Raptor may seem an odd couple. But they are the cutting edge of automotive technology: They represent the first application of automatic, 10-speed transmission technology in the industry.

Developed jointly by General Motors and Ford Motor Company, the 10-speed combines an unprecedented range of performance and fuel efficiency in one gearbox. They allow the ZL1 and Raptor to be on-course warriors one minute — and domesticated, on-road commuters the next. With government mandating increased fuel efficiency at the same time consumers expect increased performance, the 10-speed satisfies both goals.

“The 10-speed has a greater ratio spread, which enables fuel economy in the upper gears while providing more torque multiplication in the lower gears,” says Ford drivetrain engineer Seth Goslowski, who did extensive, extreme development on the Raptor in the formidable Borrego sands east of San Diego.

Ford was the lead engineering team on the rear-wheel-drive 10-speed, while GM leads development on a joint, 9-speed, front-wheel drive tranny.

The effect of an automotive 10-speed is not dissimilar in theory from an 18- or 27-speed bicycle, says Goslowski. Like a bike, multiple gears allow for better torque at low speeds, better cruising in high gear. For Raptor that translates to steep rock crawling where the big truck uses gears one-two. For the Camaro the closer low-end gear ratios enable it to better manage the pony car’s awesome 650 pound-feet of torque in order to go 0-60 in just 3.5 seconds.

But don’t expect 27-speed drivetrains from cars anytime soon.

“The 10-speed came about because its manufacturing complexity and weight makes sense,” says Goslowski. “A 12-speed does not have enough performance and fuel efficiency benefit to justify the added weight and complexity of adding more gears.”

Crucial to the joint program, dubbed 10-Speed Rear Drive (or 10R for short), was that the gearbox’s packaging would fit the same space as the base Camaro’s eight-speed transmission and the Ford F-150’s six-speed automatic.

“We spent a lot of time crafting a 10-speed that has minimum content— low losses, light weight, (economic) package — but also give us performance and efficiency improvements over our existing products,” says Chevy transmission engineer Jim Borgensen.

Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenhimer says the 10-speed was the perfect fit for the low-volume, high-performance ZL1. Tested on some off the world’s most challenging race tracks, the Camaro shares GM’s most capable V-8 — the 650-horsepower, 650-pound-feet LT4 — with the Corvette Z06.

“I wouldn’t say we did this match-up with the Camaro for (federal fuel-efficiency mandates),” says Oppenheiser. “We did it to match the powerband of the engine and track requirements because of the close-ratio of gear sets. It works perfectly with a 650-horsepower engine.”

The ZL1’s 100-millisecond upshifts put it in supercar territory; dual-clutch, $200,000 Porsche Turbo gearboxes shift in 500 milliseconds. Combined with turbo technology, the 10-speed allows the 5,518-pound Raptor to gain 16 percent fuel efficiency over the previous-generation six-speed gearbox.

Ford’s first application goes in its highest-volume vehicle: In addition to the Raptor, Ford has announced that all F-150’s with the Ecoboost V-6 engines will get the 10-speed. As a result, the automaker optimized the transmission for both power and gas mileage.

Although the F-150 and Camaro may appear to be an odd couple, Ford’s Goslowski says the performance benefits of the 10-speed to a nearly three-ton pickup and 3,944-pound sports coupe are similar.

“They both need to be sporty and aggressive in their shifting,” he says. “But towing at low speed in a truck and getting grip-torque off the line with a 6.2-liter V-8 also put similar demands on a transmission.”

Ford has not announced other applications beyond the F-150, but GM has said that it will put its so-called Hydra-matic 10R90 transmission in eight other GM products.

Ford and GM vehicles won’t be alone with 10-speed offerings in the market for long. Lexus is introducing a 10-speed in its LC 500 supercar due in May. Meanwhile, Honda has taken out a patent for an 11-speed box. Anyone for 12? Not yet in cars, but Volvo and Mercedes semi-trucks have been running 12-speed automatics for a few years now.

Whatever the speed, Goslowski thinks automatic transmissions will continue to be the technology of choice over performance-challenged single-speed CVT transmissions.

Jeff Troush was the lead calibrator on the ZL1’s transmission. He and his team of engineers programmed the box with “performance-shifting strategies” so that shifts adapt to lateral g-loads and pedal inputs by the driver.

Team Penske IndyCar racer Josef Newgarden took several hot laps in the Camaro at Willow Springs. He left it in automatic instead of using paddle shifters: “It was sensing what gear I wanted and at what moment.”

 

Self-driving firm moves fast: Waymo in talks with Honda

Posted by hpayne on December 22, 2016

Waymo_logo

Less than a week after Google’s self-driving technology company spun off as its own enterprise, Waymo is already in talks for a collaboration with a second major automaker. The Silicon Valley company’s latest proposed partnership — this time with Honda — suggests it is eager to press its advantage in autonomous technology and bring it to market, industry analysts say.

Honda Motor Co. announced Wednesday it is entering formal discussions with the Silicon Valley company to integrate Waymo’s self-driving technology with Honda vehicles. Honda R&D Co. Ltd. — the research and development subsidiary of Honda — will work directly with Waymo.

“The collaboration announced today between Honda researchers and Waymo’s self-driving technology team would allow both companies to learn about the integration of Waymo’s fully self-driving sensors, software and computing platform into Honda vehicles,” Honda said in a press release from its Tokyo headquarters.

The talks include discussion of Honda initially providing Waymo with vehicles modified to accommodate Waymo’s self-driving technology.

Fiat Chrysler Automobile NV’s announced Monday that it will test 100 Pacifica minivans outfitted with Waymo technology.

“Between Honda and Chrysler, Waymo is ready to aggressively integrate their technology in manufacturers’ cars,” says Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer. “Their self-driving technology is more refined than anyone else.”

Brauer notes that the Pacifica and the 2018 Honda Odyssey, which will be introduced at the Detroit auto show, are the most advanced minivans on the market.

“Because initial autonomous applications are likely to be business-to-business applications like campuses and public transportation,” says Brauer, “minivans are a great place to start because they haul the most people. If nothing else, Waymo seems to be looking for the most advanced minivans on the market. Then they could move on to other vehicles.”

Rebecca Lindland, also an analyst for KBB, says, “The dialogue between Waymo and Honda makes a lot of sense given that Honda is such a well-respected brand. It’s a tacit endorsement of the technology, and consumers won’t hesitate to buy a Honda. Honda is already well ahead of many automakers when it comes to artificial intelligence, evidenced by its ASIMO humanoid robot. With 100 of Chrysler’s minivans already outfitted with Waymo’s technology, it’s as if Waymo went to the dance with Chrysler, but they’re leaving with Honda.”

Honda’s vehicles could join Waymo’s fleet which includes the Pacifica minivans, 24 Lexus RX450h SUVs and 34 Google prototype cars. The vehicles combined have driven more than 2.3 million miles since 2009 across Mountain View, California; Austin, Texas; Kirkland, Washington; and Phoenix.

If both Honda and Waymo agree to enter into a formal partnership, Honda R&D engineers based in Silicon Valley and Japan would work closely with Waymo engineers in Novi and Mountain View, California.

Waymo and Fiat Chrysler co-located part of their engineering teams at a facility in Novi to accelerate the overall development process.

“It’s consistent with Waymo’s strategy that it would want to work with different manufacturers to make these vehicles,” says IHS Automotive auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. “And Honda wants to learn more about this technology, too. From their announcement, it feels like Honda may want to negotiate a deeper agreement.”

Honda previously announced its intention to put production vehicles with automated driving capabilities on highways around 2020 related to its goal of a collision-free society.

“We’re not in the business of making better cars, we’re in the business of making better drivers,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik, a former Hyundai exec, said in announcing the Waymo spinoff from Google parent Alphabet Inc. last week in San Francisco. “We’re a self-driving technology company — not a car company.”

Krafcik will speak Jan. 8 at the Detroit auto show about the future of autonomous mobility. Fiat Chrysler will show its specially outfitted Pacificas at that presentation.

Payne: Camaro ZL1, the four-seat ’Vette

Posted by hpayne on December 22, 2016

zl1_rocks_fr3-4

You’ve saved your pennies and now it’s time to buy yourself a Christmas present.

In particular, that track-eating Corvette Z06 you’ve eyed ever since it stomped the Porsche 911 GT3 (and everything else) at Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap competition around Virginia International Raceway. The one with 650 horsepower, magnetic shocks, T-Rex growl. The works.

But life is complicated. You’ve got a family, kids; a two-seat sports car seems so … selfish. Rear seats would be nice to ferry family — especially if you can find a sports coupe with similar, trackable dynamics.

Well, Merry Christmas. Chevy’s elves have a nice, red toy just for you.

With the same supercharged V-8 monster under the hood, magnetic dampers and Jurassic bellow, the 2017 Chevy Camaro ZL1 is a ’Vette with four seats.

Roaring down California’s Willow Springs front straightaway at 150 mph (is that sonic boom from the Camaro or Edwards Air Force base nearby?), I’m reminded of my first test of the Z06 last year at Spring Mountain Raceway in Nevada.

Like the ’Vette, the ’Maro’s lo-o-o-o-ong front hood seems to arrive at Turn One 10 seconds before I do. Enormous 15.35-inch front Brembo brakes (six-pot front, four rear like Z06) stop the 3,944-pound missile like a brick wall. Huge 11-inch front rubber claws the pavement. The car rotates effortlessly into the 90-degree left-hander, throttle flat across the apex, emerging with pavement to spare as I launch to Turn 2.

Like the Stingray, the ZL1 has more to give.

Josef Newgarden, one of “The Captain” Penske’s Indycar star drivers, finds more. Back in the pits, I join him, jumping in the passenger seat. He explores the ragged edge in Turn One, dancing the car from turn to turn. He obliterates my 1.33 second lap with his 1.28.5 — just seconds off the Z06 track best of 1.25. And it’s the first time either of us has been in the car.

The Camaro still has more.

To achieve this mind-melting performance, the ’Maro has more than any ZL1 before it.

Begin with the Alpha platform, the same bones that gird the sensational Cadillac ATS-V. As awesome as the new Mustang GT350R is on the track and as intimidating as the Dodge Hellcat is in a straight line, this Camaro is in its own league. This is a pony car with thoroughbred DNA.

Peer under the skin and the ZL1 gets the same bat-wing under-body brace and suspension bits as the ATS-V. Lighter than its predecessor by 237 pounds, the ZL1 weighs just 80 pounds more than ATS-V, despite its bigger wheelbase and V-8 boat anchor up front that requires 11 heat exchangers to keep cool. Alpha’s inherent goodness shines through as the ZL1 handles like a much smaller car.

GM’s 1st 10-speed gearbox

The Camaro even gets more than big brother Z06.

In a sign of just how serious the General is about making Camaro a premier sports coupe, the ZL1 is GM’s first application of the much-anticipated, lightning-quick 10-speed gearbox co-developed with Ford for rear-drive vehicles.

I imagine Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenheiser and Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter in a friendly arm wrestle to claim the rights to use the 10-speed. Oppenheiser, who has the torso of a grizzly bear, wins.

The 10-speed is a revelation, a single-clutch automatic that rivals — nay, surpasses — the sophisticated, more expensive, dual-clutch Porsche PDK transmission that GM used as a baseline. Nail the big V-8 out of a corner and shifts snap off in almost imperceptible, 300-milliseconds shots — quicker, GM, claims than a Porsche’s 500 milliseconds.

“I thought I was driving a PDK,” says Randy Pobst, Sports Car Club of America champ and a Motor Trend hot shoe who has driven everything from Porsches to McLarens around Willow.

Drew Cattell, a Camaro track jockey and ride and handling engineer for Chevy, says the 10-speed’s quickness gives it a slight advantage over the ZL1’s also available 6-speed manual (itself superior to the Corvette’s confusing, three-gate, 7-speed box). That efficiency helped propel ZL1 to a stunning, 7.26 lap across Nurburgring’s 14-mile course this year — that’s quicker than the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

Ready to perform

Want more? Cattell says the ZL1 should lap Willow in the 1.26-1.27 second range.

But the 10-speed’s benefits don’t have to be tracked to be realized. Chevy’s elves have been busy. This is a modern, computer-controlled box that sprinkles magic dust over the old automatic formula.

The transmission’s range of ratios allows the box to concentrate on gears 3-to-7 while on track (Cattell caught 8th gear at 180 mph on the ’Ring’s back straight), then rely on overdrive gears 8-10 on road to save fuel. Seized by the need for speed on a twisty road? Toggle to SPORT mode, hold the left paddle-shifter for one-Mississippi and the tranny will instantly downshift to the appropriate gear — no cycling required — for maximum torque. Cruising along in 10th gear when a Hellcat challenges you into a Hell, Michigan, corner? Hold. Bang! You’re in third gear, revs at 5 grand. Let’s play.

These electronic “Easter eggs” are found in PDKs as well and open a whole world of performance possibilities.

Speaking of Mustangs, the ZL1 adds a ’Stang-like, line-lock burnout feature to impress the crowds at Dream Cruise stoplights. It’s also in keeping with the ZL1’s history as the Camaro family’s dragster. The beast snaps off impressive 11.4- second quarter mile times with an easy-to-use launch control system.

But the supercharged ’Maro is wa-a-a-ay beyond its 1969 drag-racing origins when ZL1 was code for a secret batch of Camaro available to Pamona quarter-milers. Chevy correctly calls this car a triple threat: On dragstrip, on road, and on track.

Even before Camaro rolls out its track-king Z28, the athletic, 650-horse ZL1 joins the Mustang GT350 (still my pick for most fearsome fascia) as athletes that transcend their muscle roots and take on more exotic animals like the BMW M4 and Caddy ATS-V. With its thunderous V-8 and rock-hard abs, it’s a genuine competitor to these $70K cyborgs. But for 10-grand less.

That’s $30K south of a Z06, but admittedly a lot of coin. So, Camaro takes another page from ’Vette. Like the cheaper “Z06 Jr.” Grand Sport, the ZL1’s athleticism can be had in the 1LE package (sans 200 horsepower and 10-speed) for $49K. Still with a V-8. Still with room in back for the kiddies.

Merry Christmas.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE, FOUR-PASSENGER SPORTS COUPE
Power plant 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8
Transmission 10-speed automatic or 6-speed manual
Weight 3,887 pounds, manual (3,944 automatic as tested)
Price $63,435 ($65,030 as tested)
Power 650 horsepower, 650 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 3.5 seconds (automatic), 3.7 seconds (manual) manufacturer); top speed: NA
Fuel economy EPA 14 city/20 highway/16 combined (manual); automatic, NA

report card

POWER CORVETTE Z06 PERFORMANCE WITH FOUR SEATS; QUICK, 10-SPEED BOX
Lows Awkward interior storage; rear seats for wee folks

Overall:★★★★

Payne: 10 best auto innovations of 2016

Posted by hpayne on December 19, 2016

Virtual Cockpit;
</div>. Audi debuted its Virtual Cockpit

The digital revolution continues to transform automobiles, with software affecting every corner of the vehicle (literally the corners, like sonar). Some innovations prove indispensable (rear-view cameras), others annoy (lane-keep assist). But the oily bits aren’t standing still either. A look at the Top 10 auto innovations from 2016.

10-speed transmission: With digital tech, cars are piling on the gear ratios. Will we soon see bicycle-like 21 speeds? Ford and GM have teamed up to make processor-controlled 10-speed (for rear-wheel drive) and 9-speed (front). Manufacturers can maximize the ratios for fuel economy or performance. First applications of the 10-speed went to the Ford F-150 Raptor off-road monster and Chevy Camaro ZL1 on-track weapon. Cracking off shifts in 300 milliseconds, the Camaro’s box beats dual-clutch transmissions found in cars three times more expensive.

Push-to-pass: Digital trannies are about more than quick shifts. Computer processors also enable neat tricks like push-to-pass (inspired by Formula 1). Option Porsche’s Sports Chrono package with its automatic, dual-clutch box, and a button will appear on the lower right quadrant of your steering wheel. Push it while you’re luffing along a two-lane road, and … look out. The tranny directly downshifts from 7-to-3, revs spike, you floor the throttle and get 20 seconds of instant power. By which time you’ll be halfway to the moon.

 Hands-free, kick-open trunk: Yeah, I know, Ford innovated this years ago, but now everyone is adopting a feature that allows Christmas shoppers with full arms to open the trunk with a wave of the foot. Audi, BMW, Caddy and other luxury makers have followed the Blue Oval’s lead. This year’s coolest upgrade comes from the Chrysler Pacific minivan which allows you to kick open, not just the trunk, but the two sliding doors a well.

Brake-by-wire: To e-steering and e-throttle, add e-brakes. The playful 2017 Alfa Romeo is the first to market. Just don’t tell the trial lawyers. Remember the fake news stories about “ghosts in the machine” causing instant acceleration? Yeesh.

Virtual Cockpit: Audi debuted its Virtual Cockpit in the low-volume TT in 2015 – this year it went mainstream in the Audi A4, A3 and Q5 crossover. Using top-of-the-line Nvidia graphics processors (ask your videogame-playing kids), VC offers extraordinary Google map displays. And they’re heads-up in a 12.3-inch instrument panel so you never have to take your eyes off the road. Sexy and safe.

Apple Car Play/Android Auto: The must-have nav-app for cars. No car navigation system (Audi Virtual Cockpit is close) holds a candle to Google maps. Chevrolet and Hyundai led the way on this technology and most every manufacturer has followed. In a bow to the tide Chevy now offers its Bolt EV with no nav option at all – assuming its customers own smart phones.

GKN AWD: What do the Ford Focus RS Hoon-mobile and Buick Envision SUV have in common? GKN-supplied, dual-clutch, torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive. Like the 10-speed tranny, this digitally controlled hardware brings enormous versatility. With the ability to transfer torque to any wheel, the system helps RS carve up race tracks. The same tech rotates bigger-mass vehicles like the Envision to better negotiate tight turns and grueling winter weather.

Alpha platform: The new skeleton of the Cadillac ATS has made it the best-handling sedan in lux. But wait, there’s more. Alpha architecture also made Camaro Alpha dog in the muscle car segment – and on par with BMW’s M3 and Mercedes AMG E-63. Stiff and light, the platform also transfers loads to the vehicle’s spine allowing genius designers like Tom Peters to scult those wicked sheet metal curves in the Camaro’s rocker panels.

Payne: Ford Raptor is off-road king

Posted by hpayne on December 15, 2016

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne flogged the Ford

Buy a Ford Focus RS, Corvette Grand Sport or Porsche 911 Turbo, and you’ll want to take it to the nearest track playground to explore its capabilities. Probably something like Grattan Raceway’s 2-mile roller coaster, where you can test the limits of the RS’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive, or rocket the 911 to more than 130 mph on the long, main straight.

Buy a 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor sport pickup and you’ll need a bigger sandbox.

A good one is California’s 50-mile Anza Borrego Desert State Park course, where you can unleash the full potential of this Brobdingnagian vehicle. Nail the 5,500-pound Raptor’s fat throttle pedal (I wear narrow race shoes for sports cars, but I suggest steel-toed work boots to mash this sucker) and the Ford gulps landscape like an aluminum rhino. Rocks are pulverized in its wake, bushes tossed aside, sand dunes obliterated by 35-inch BFGoodrich rubber mallets. Roaring along at 100 mph on sandy flatland, this truck is king of the beasts.

Yes, truck. The Raptor is already a legend in its own time — the first production pickup to offer Baja-like, race-tuned performance. Introduced in 2010, the Raptor follows in the (much smaller) footsteps of the VW Golf GTI (the first hot-hatch compact) and BMW M3 (the iconic, steroid-fed, luxury sedan). Those pioneers created a cult of production Frankensteins — the Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, Audi RS4, Cadillac CTS-V and so one. Daily commuters by week, track weapons by weekend.

While SUVs have attempted the formula — the 567-horsepower BMW X5 M and Jeep’s nuclear Grand Cherokee SRT8 — none translated the idea to off-road macho. Then along came Raptor.

With a growling, 409-horse, 6.2-liter V-8, steep front approach angle and gym-toned shocks and chassis, the first-gen Raptor wowed. As odd as an empty box seems on the back of any sports vehicle, the testosterone-fueled truck — with its rugged, body-on-frame construction — is a natural tool for off-road runs.

Curiously, other automakers haven’t rushed to follow in Raptor’s wake — though Ram teased a Hellcat concept of its 1500 pickup. The Raptor sells a healthy 15,000-plus units a year while further cementing Ford’s reputation for licking any kid on the block (see Fiesta ST, Mustang GT350, Ford GT).

At first glance I thought Raptor 2.0 was a mild evolution of the original. Wrong.

Sure, signature details are there: Wicked, intake-rippled hood. Blacked-out fascia boldly stamped “FORD” — which translates to “GETOUTTAMYWAY” when read in a rear-view mirror. Swollen fenders over a wider, six-inch track. You’ll know it by the details — twin, three-inch tailpipes snugged under the rear bumper (for better rear attack angle) and menacing, LED headlights that glow red at a full moon.

These minor cosmetic changes mask a major overhaul.

Like the F-Series, Raptor body panels are all-aluminum (plus exclusive lightweight composite front fenders to resist shrub scratches), which is particularly advantageous to lowering Raptor’s center of gravity. Dig deeper and you’ll find an all-new power-train with a 450-horse, twin-turbo V-6 mated to an industry-first 10-speed tranny. Custom Fox shocks, surrounded by a fortress of suspension upgrades, anchor the four corners. All this is attached to 17-inch forged wheels rolled up in rubber the size of The Rock’s biceps.

Bleed the big gummies to 20 pounds and you can go rock-crawling, thanks to a new, rear e-locker that turns Raptor into a mountain goat. A three-ton, seven-foot-wide mountain goat. Admittedly, not the best application of this truck. Chase a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (or goat) into a narrow canyon and you might get stuck.

You’ll want the e-locker only to get over whatever mountain lies between you and a high-speed off-road course. Once there, Raptor’s terrain-chewing athleticism is breathtaking.

Like a sort of off-road Porsche Turbo supercar (at a third of the price), the Raptor comes weaponized with six drive modes ranging from NORMAL to MUD/SAND to BAJA/ROCK CRAWL. In BAJA mode with Ford drivetrain engineer Seth Goslowski playing right-seat rally spotter, I assaulted the landscape.

Pity the landscape.

Seth, an amateur racer, compares off-roading to speed-boat racing. Power is gold, brakes irrelevant, chassis stiffness paramount. On the flat stuff I rocketed along between 80-100 mph — the stiffened chassis enabling astonishing speeds for a projectile this size. Then the shocks — with 13-inches of travel — took over in a raging sea of moguls. Call them sand waves.

One moment I was hard in the turbos to power out of a wave trough, the next I was completely airborne over a crest. WHUMP! The beast would hit another trough, sand splashing its bow. Then — WAAUUUUGHH! — back in the throttle over the next mogul at 50 mph.

Try this in anything but a Raptor and your internal organs would turn to jelly. But the F-150’s cockpit is remarkably removed from the violence outside. Quiet. Superb SYNC 3 system — “Seth, tune to Wagner’s ‘Ride of Valkyries’ while I destroy Borrego” — leather-wrapped, orange-trimmed seats so comfortable I might have been racing in my living room Barcalounger.

Moguls turned to ess-curved, dry creek beds carved by seasonal monsoons. Light on the brakes to prevent plowing, I drifted the Raptor across a thorny apex — “Big dip here,” Seth warned — then hard on the throttle under opposite lock on exit. Four wheels churning like giant screws. A sand-cigarette boat.

The 10-speed’s agility also reminded of the Porsche and its effortless, dual-clutch 8-speed. Though not as lightning quick as the German’s box, the 10-speed never interfered in the truck’s high-stress maneuvering, always picking the right gear.

After my 11/2-hour drive, Seth and I simply rolled back on asphalt and headed back to Borrego Springs with the Ford as poised in domesticity as it is voracious in its natural habitat.

The only drawback to owning a Raptor in Michigan is finding a sandbox to play in. Silver Lake State Park below Traverse City is sandy fun, but hardly big enough to hold the beast. Logging trails in the UP are further afield. America’s West is Raptor habitat. California. Texas Raptor Run. Or my personal recommendation: Ford’s Raptor customer academy in Utah (coming in 2017).

Sure, Raptor looks awesome sitting in your company parking spot. But like keeping a 40-foot speedboat in your backyard, this truck won’t be happy unless you turn it loose in the open.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Ford F-150 Raptor

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER PICKUP
Power plant 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6
Transmission 10-speed automatic
Weight 5,518 pounds (SuperCab as tested)
Price $51,310 ($68,655 as tested)
Power 450 horsepower, 510 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 5.2 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 107 mph
Fuel economy EPA 15 city/18 highway/16 combined

report card

POWER OFF-ROAD WARRIOR, ON-ROAD GENTLEMAN; COMFORTABLE SEATS
Lows Nearest playground is in, um, Utah

Overall:★★★★

Why Subaru moved small car production stateside

Posted by hpayne on December 14, 2016

Impreza_line-white

San Diego — Ford has come under withering criticism from President-elect Donald Trump for moving production of its slow-selling Ford Focus and plug-in Ford C-Max compact cars to Mexico. The small Fords follow other manufacturers that produce their compacts south of the border including Nissan, Volkswagen and Mazda.

In addition to labor costs — an estimated $600-per-car cheaper — shipping cars from Mexico to other markets can save thousands in tariff costs because Mexico has more foreign free trade agreements than the U.S.

Subaru is bucking that trend. The carmaker announced earlier this year it is expanding its Lafayette, Indiana, plant to produce its all-new, fifth-generation Impreza compact. The Impreza made its testing debut to media here this month and is now arriving in dealer showrooms.

While political necessity often reduces trade issues to bumper-sticker slogans, the Subaru vs. Ford situation reflects the complex factors that drive plant location in a global market.

Though Subaru won’t give precise figures on how many Imprezas will roll out of its huge, 3.4 million-square-foot facility, the Indiana plant is expected to meet U.S. demand for the popular, all-wheel-drive sedan and wagon. The non-union operation makes 380,000 vehicles a year (including Legacy sedans and Outback crossovers). The previous-generation Impreza was made in Japan.

“Subaru Indiana Automotive has a long history of building high quality vehicles,” says Senior Executive Vice President of SIA Tom Easterday. “Indiana has a very favorable business climate, many Subaru suppliers are located nearby, and we already have the administrative structure in place — so it made sense to expand SIA rather than build a plant somewhere else in North America.”

Though Subaru has operated in Lafayette since 1989, SIA was a joint venture with other manufacturers, including Toyota, which produced Camry sedans there. But since its fourth-generation, 2011 debut, Impreza has more than doubled sales from 41,000 a year to more than 100,000 in 2015. Combined with a tripling of overall U.S. Subaru sales since 2008, the company decided to focus more production resources in Indiana with a $1.3 billion investment.

“It made sense to use that plant capacity to make the Impreza here,” says Subaru car line product manager Todd Hill, who works at the company’s U.S. headquarters in New Jersey. “Other markets have been experiencing growth, too, so adding that capacity helps us produce more cars for this market.”

Ford, by contrast, has seen its Focus sales decline by more than 40,000 units since 2012 in a segment with razor-thin profit margins. Labor costs disproportionality impact small cars.

“Labor is just one variable in manufacturing a car,” says Bernard Swiecki, senior auto analyst with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. “But it is a much higher variable cost in small cars, which is why their production has been moving to Mexico as their sales stagnate and consumers move to SUVs.”

Another variable, says Swiecki, is whether a vehicle is “due to leave NAFTA.”

NAFTA is the North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminates tariffs between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. But cars made in the United States still have to pay a tariff if they’re exported to Europe. So Audi chose to make its new, 2017 Q5 crossover in Mexico even though it’s a high-margin SUV. Why? Because it can ship to both the U.S. and Europe tariff-free courtesy of Mexican free trade agreements with 45 countries, compared with U.S. trade deals with only 19 countries.

That $5,000 tariff savings to Europe on a $40,000 luxury vehicle like the Audi is a huge incentive to locate a plant in Mexico. The same incentive drove Nissan south because Mexico trades tariff-free — unlike the U.S. — with South America. Contrary to U.S. political rhetoric, says Sweicki, fewer tariffs would benefit U.S. workers.

Geography also played a role in Subaru’s decision to locate in the U.S., since the small Japanese automaker operates just two plants: Gunma, Japan, and Lafayette. Ford, meanwhile, has multiple North America facilities that allow it to optimize plant capacity by playing musical chairs with a broad range of products. As Focus vacates the Wayne, Michigan, assembly plant for Mexico, it will be replaced by the new Ford Ranger pickup and Bronco SUV.

“If I were a Wayne worker, I would be glad that the Focus is going to Mexico and being replaced by trucks,” says CAR’s Sweicki. “With higher demand, they are more likely to stay in the U.S.”

Perhaps the biggest reason the Impreza can produce economically in the U.S. is its best-in-class economics. With the highest brand loyalty, highest resale value and highest-in-class safety rating, the AWD Impreza commands unusually high margins among compact cars.

“Subaru is a different beast,” says Swiecki. “It commands a premium price for the Impreza so it doesn’t have to put incentives on the hood like other automakers to move its vehicles.”

In addition to the Focus, other compact cars made in Mexico for U.S. export include the VW Golf, VW Jetta, Nissan Sentra and Mazda 3. The Chevy Cruze, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra are all made in the U.S.

“I think people appreciate that the Impreza is now made in the U.S.,” says Subaru’s Hill. “We have workers here and their jobs are to build cars here.”

Payne Q&Auto: Chevy Bolt EV’s chief speed freak

Posted by hpayne on December 14, 2016

tavel_bolt

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV just won Green Car of the Year. It’s the first green vehicle under $40,000 to travel 200 miles on a charge. It gets a $7,500 federal tax credit because the government wants us to live green.

But the all-electric Bolt EV is really more hot hatchthan tree hugger.

Like other five-door hot rods — Ford Focus ST, VW GTI, Honda Civic Type R — it’s lightning-quick off the line, a blast to drive through the twisties, and looks cool. Which makes sense once you’ve met its chief engineer, speed freak Josh Tavel.

Tavel grew up in a racing family. He began flogging dirt bikes in kindergarten. He was driving a 1978 Porsche Turbo at age 14. (“I had to cheat the rules a bit,” he says). He was autocrossing at 15.

A rising GM talent at 37, he is determined to bring performance to the green segment. Like Elon Musk, Tavel does not see battery power and performance as mutually exclusive. Tavel engineered the Bolt EV as a mini-Tesla Model S. Talk EVs and the planet isn’t in his vocabulary — he touts electrics’ inherit performance benefits: Instant torque and a low center of gravity.

I sat down with the Long Island native at Orion Assembly north of Detroit (where the first Bolt EVs are rolling off the line this month) to talk dirt bikes, Daytona and Bolt.

Q: Your first car?

Tavel: A Porsche 944. I started racing BMX in kindergarten. I’ve raced motocross. I’ve shattered both tibia so I can barely walk anymore. When I was 3 years old, my parents say I would sneak out the screen door into the garage and sleep under my Dad’s Trans Am. Cars are a a magnetic thing for me.

Q: Education?

Tavel: My parents got transferred out to Minnesota in high school. I went to college there. Minnesota State, mechanical engineering, Masters at Michigan in automotive systems. I went to work for Jim Derhaag — Trans Am race guy. I eventually went to Rolex 24 (at Daytona) — first wrenching, then engineering. My (team car) was on the pole at the Daytona 24 Hour. I’ve been there probably six years. Even after I started working for GM at 21 or 22, Derhaag would fly me to the track and I would support. Our drivers were Ron Fellows, Derek Bell, Justin Bell, Simon Gregg, Kenny Wildon. Ron Fellows is one of the coolest drivers I have ever worked with. Derek is the chattiest guy on the radio — nonstop. He had no filter whatsoever. He talked the entire race every turn — it didn’t matter if he was racing wheel-to-wheel.

Q: How’d you get your start at GM?

Tavel: I started in Wisconsin plant as a quality engineer. I’ve managed ride and handling, foundation, brakes, chassis controls. I’ve engineered steering gears, steering parts. I’ve managed steering, suspension, structure on trucks. Then advanced vehicle dynamics. Then I went to Brazil and ran integration for midsized truck in Latin America and Middle East.

Q: Your first project lead?

Tavel: I was lead development engineer on the Chevy Cruze diesel in Milford. Then I was the chief engineer for Cadillac ELR. Then I came to Bolt EV.

Q: What’s in your garage today?

Tavel: Chevy Bolt, Spark, Yukon. A Spec Racer Ford, and 1970 Datsun 240Z E-Production SCCA race car. I’m starting (to build) a Corvair — a highly modified Corvair. And I also have two Corvettes in the garage. Fixes top coupe and a Grand Sport C6 which is my Dad’s.

Ford F-Series on track to extend sales streak

Posted by hpayne on December 14, 2016

636167841572117927-raptor-3-4.jpg

San Diego — Ford Motor Company and industry analysts say the Ford F-Series pickup is on track to sell more than 800,000 in 2016 for the first time since 2005. That staggering figure will mark a milestone 40th straight year that the F-Series has been the best-selling pickup in the U.S. market.

And it also affirms one of the biggest gambles any automaker has made in the U.S. marketplace: production of the first all-aluminum, full-size pickup.

Two years ago, Ford bet its franchise vehicle on the wholesale changeover to an aluminum skin. Facing a doubling of government fuel-economy standards by 2025, Ford wagered the lighter material would both improve EPA fuel numbers while also advancing performance.

“Question asked and answered,” said Truck Group Marketing Manager Doug Scott here at the media launch of the F-Series latest model, the terrain-chewing F-150 Raptor sport truck. “The answer was our light-weighting strategy has given the truck owner more of everything they wanted: more payload, more towing, better acceleration, better fuel economy, better vehicle dynamics.”

The F-Series success comes despite daunting manufacturing challenges and a fusillade of negative advertising from Ford competitors. Prior to Ford’s investment, Chevrolet’s steel Silverado pickup had been the class lightweight. With Ford’s aluminum diet making headlines, Chevy fired back in a series of high-profile TV ads suggesting that aluminum compromised the pickup’s core promise: strength.

Yet, despite months of Chevy ads showing bears stalking aluminum cages and concrete blocks puncturing F-150 beds, F-Series sales — which include the F-150 and F-250 trucks — are growing. With one month to go in 2016, F-Series sales are 733,287 to 213,000 more than nearest competitor Silverado, a 35 percent increase in the margin over 2015.

“There’s no doubt they’ll make 800,000 by the end of the year,” says Karl Brauer, a senior auto analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “The switch to aluminum hasn’t hurt them at all. Any concerns have been offset by a laundry list of advanced equipment on the F-Series.”

Indeed, the F-Series’ metal swap coincided with a wave of technical advancements including more fuel-efficient 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter turbocharged V-6 engines, 360-degree camera, mirror-mounted floodlights, LED box lighting, versatile box cleats and trailer back-up assist.

“Light-weighting is an enabler like no other material,” says John Thomas, global auto marketing manager for Ford’s aluminum supplier, Arconic, the once-parent company of Alcoa. “It helps engineers seek better solutions for towing and hauling — and make powertrain selections that advance fuel economy and power.”

Arconic’s challenge was formidable — up its production of military-grade aluminum to feed the best-selling vehicle in the American market. And deliver it on time to pickup factories in Dearborn and Kentucky being retooled for the new material.

Truck marketing chief Scott says the switch to aluminum has not sacrificed F-series’ bottom line. “Overall F-Series transaction price is highest in the industry and Super Duty is transacting $10,000 a unit higher than the 2016,” he says. “The F-150 transaction price is $1,500 to $3,000 higher than our competitors.”

Scott largely attributes the 2016 sales surge — up nearly 40,000 units over 2015 — to the introduction of the 2017 F-250 Super Duty which launched three months ago. It is, he says, “exceeding expectations.”

Ford hopes the second generation 2017 Raptor will continue to buff the Blue Oval’s shine. Shipping this week to dealers, the aluminum (with exclusive, plastic-composite front end) Raptor — the only full-size, off-road performance pickup in the market — loses 500 pounds over the previous generation while gaining 39 horsepower and an industry-first quick-shifting, 10-speed transmission (co-developed, ironically, with truck nemesis General Motors).

The Raptor will sell for between $50,000 and $68,000, part of an F-Series sales band that ranges from the $26,000 base model to $90,000-plus for upper trim Super Dutys — a price breadth rivaled only by high-end supercars like the Porsche 911.

To put the F-Series sales volumes in perspective, a TrueCar.com found study that — if you define luxury vehicles as $50,000-plus — the F-Series would be far and away the world’s biggest luxury automaker. Some 25 percent — more than 200,000 — of F-Series sales are over $50,000.

“This will be quite a year,” says Scott. “Our highest volume year since 2005 when we did 901,000. An amazing accomplishment 40 years as bestselling truck in America. It’s unmatched in the industry.”

 

Cadillac is back with Daytona racing entry

Posted by hpayne on December 2, 2016

2017-Cadillac-DPi-VR-RaceCar-002

For the first time since its LeMans effort in 2002, Cadillac will field a purpose-built race car in an endurance series. The Cadillac DPi-V.R will compete in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype International series and will make its debut at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona on Jan. 28-29.

“Cadillac is proud to return to the pinnacle of prototype racing in North America after a 14-year absence,” said Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen in a statement. “The Cadillac DPi-V.R further strengthens our V-Performance portfolio, placing Cadillac into the highest series of sports car racing in North America.”

The V-performance brand – including high-octane beasts like the ATS-V and CTS-V – are a key part of Cadillac’s efforts to compete as a performance luxury brand against the Teutonic trio of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. None of those marques have announced an entry in the Daytona Prototype class next year.

Cadillac’s Northstar LMP prototype racing had disappointing results in its three years competing in the American LeMans Series and against Audi at the 24 Hours of LeMans, France from 2000-2002. Audi dominated the 2002 race with Cadillac finishing ninth.

The Daytona Prototype class will be the fastest cars in the Weathertech Series – lightweight thoroughbreds motivated by 600 horsepower. GM will continue to field its production-based Corvette C7-R in the GTLM class, which Corvette won in 2016.

Detroit automakers like Ford and GM have historically used racing as a performance halo to sell its productions vehicles. Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of its 1966 LeMans win this year by entering – and winning – the GT class with its Ford GT racer.

Cadillac will compete in IMSA against manufacturer entries from Mazda and Nissan as well as private teams using approved chassis from Riley/Multimatic, Ligier, ORECA and Dallara, powered by single-specification Gibson V8 engines.

The Mazda effort was revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show last month.

The 2,050-pound Caddy prototype will be managed by the Wayne Taylor Racing Team but was designed in-house. Based on the Dallara chassis but with unique Cadillac bodywork, the Dpi-V.R incorporates familiar brand design elements like a vertical lighting signature, chiseled features – even the rear-camera mirror first introduced on the full-size CT6 sedan. It will be powered by a 600-horsepower version of GM’s familiar, push-rod 6.2-liter V-8 engine found in everything from the CTS-V sedan to Corvette.

Toyota to reveal new Camry at Detroit auto show

Posted by hpayne on December 2, 2016

CamryTeaser

Detroit – The North American International Auto Show is still a month away, but Toyota is already teasing news of one of the show’s most anticipated products: the all-new, 2018 Toyota Camry sedan.

The midsize Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. market for 14 years running and is on course to be No. 1 in 2016 as well. But with sedan sales under assault from crossovers – including Toyota’s own RAV4 and Highlander – the eighth-generation Camry will be particularly important as one of the Japanese company’s franchise cars.

“This car has had a dominant image of quality, dependability, and reliability, but our styling has been conservative – some would call it boring,” said Toyota North America Chief Bob Carter in announcing the new Camry Thursday in Detroit. “So we’ve really been focusing on passionate emotional design and making it more fun-to-drive. This will car will be the most significant vehicle we have brought out in a long time.”

Toyota put out a teaser image of the new Camry’s rear quarter-panel. Sharper body lines and a long, thin vertical taillight graphic suggest the car continues styling cues from the newly released Toyota Prius and Prius Hybrid. The sharp body lines also echo Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand which has forged a more polarizing design direction in recent years.

Toyota announced no further details on powertrain or interior.

“That segment is under pressure from changing consumer taste, so this car really needs to make an emotional statement,” said IHS Automotive senior auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. “It’s unlikely it will change current trends, but does need to make sure the segment is solid. Exterior and interior design – and technology – are the keys to that.”

The Camry is made in Georgetown, Kentucky, alongside the Avalon and Lexus ES where it is manufactured for domestic consumption and export. The plant produces over 550,000 units a year total.

“This car is very significant for us in North America so we want to use Detroit as the platform to announce that we’re bringing to market,” said Carter.

Payne review: Chevy Bolt, the electric hot-hatch

Posted by hpayne on December 2, 2016

The Chevy Bolt is not your average green machine. With

I’ve been trying to figure out who would buy the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle.

Greenies? Well, yes, except that priced at $37,495 before the $7,500 federal EV tax credit (which may run out as early as 2018) that’s a lotta dough compared with a $25,000 hybrid Prius.

Families? Sure, the cab-forward Volt is roomy for a subcompact because it has no engine up front — but it’s a shoebox next to a similarly priced Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

Empty nesters? No, either one of the much cheaper Chevy Cruze hatchback or Buick Encore small crossover makes more economic sense

And then it hit me: The kind of folks who’ll buy a Bolt are car enthusiasts like me.

Strip away the Green Car of the Year mumbo jumbo and Save the Polar Bear politics and the Bolt is a hot hatch. I looove hot hatchbacks. As my patient readers have been reminded ad infinitum, I think the V-dub Golf hot-hatch twins (GTI and Golf R) are, pound for pound, the best cars on the planet. They are practical commuters during the week, speedy autocrossers on the weekend.

Who would throw $40,000 at a hot hatch? Guilty as charged. After all, I put $1,000 down on the Bolt’s main competitor, the promised 5-door Tesla Model 3, sight unseen. And I would happily part with $40,000 to buy a Golf R even if it’s nearly double the price of a base Golf. We enthusiasts are crazy that way.

Now that I’ve figured out the target demographic is staring me in the mirror, how does the Bolt stack up to a Golf R, Ford Focus RS and Model 3?

I’ve driven the Bolt three times and on each occasion I couldn’t wait to stomp it out of a stop light. As proof of the Bolt’s hot hatch bona fides, Chief Engineer Josh Tavel is a hot shoe (in SCCA’s Spec Racer Ford class, a cousin of the Sports 2000 racing I do) and developed the Bolt with performance in mind. On my torrid test drive with Tavel outside Chevy’s Orion Assembly plant this summer, Tavel and I talked speed.

My latest spin came in Los Angeles, where my co-driver and I — Gary Witzenberg, another crazed, oil-blooded club racer — couldn’t wait to get out of town to flog the hatch through the seriously twisted canyon roads north of LA.

Our drive route alone tells you Bolt isn’t your average green machine. With a game-changing, 238-mile range (the 200-mile-plus Model 3 won’t be here for a couple of years), range anxiety wasn’t an issue. That’s peace of mind that you used to have to lay out $80,000 to experience in a Tesla Model S.

While you could call the Bolt “Tesla Jr.,” it does have charging issues (more on that later), but range isn’t a problem. On my 96-mile route, I had juice to spare.

Charging up (pun intended) up the canyon road, pedal to the metal, the Bolt squirted from turn to turn. The Chevy is nearly two seconds slower to 60 mpg (4.7 vs. 6.5 for Bolt) that the Golf R, but its monorail-quiet torque makes it feel faster. Regenerative braking prolongs battery life but the brakes are never mushy, always firm. With its short, 102.4-inch wheelbase, the Bolt feels nimble like any compact car, rotating quickly in tight switchbacks.

Over half-a-foot taller, the crossover-like Chevy has more roll than a Golf. But the gigantic 60kWh battery underneath lowers the center of gravity. That helps weight distribution, too, lessening the front-driver’s natural instinct to plow in corners (though the Bolt lacks the sensational, AWD torque-vectoring of the Golf R and Focus RS).

Its athleticism is compromised, however, by low-rolling resistance, eco-Michelin tires specially developed for the Bolt to swallow sharp objects. Run over road shrapnel and the rubber will stretch so as not to puncture. My tester didn’t ingest any nails, but the narrow tires squalled constantly through curves as if in pain. Enthusiasts will want to switch to something grippier.

If the Bolt can’t keep up with the V-dub in raw speed, it has a few performance tricks of its own. Snap the upscale monostable shifter (also found in a Buick Lacrosse and Caddy XT5) from drive to low and you can drive the Bolt for miles without touching the brake. Just let the regen brakes do the work.

On a long downhill grade back into LA, I gained 14 miles of range using low. Try that in a gas-powered car. Back in town, I used low to cruise into a stoplight without using any brake at all. Mistime the stop? Use the regenerative button on back of the steering wheel to assist.

Despite flogging the Bolt mercilessly for miles — including two hard acceleration runs to confirm the Bolt’s 93 mph top speed — my onboard computer still predicted a range of 207 miles. So I’d have plenty of juice left for the next day’s commute. This, however, is where Bolt EV gets complicated. Most of my hot-hatch friends are apartment dwellers without access to the 240-volt, Stage 2 plus equipment needed to recharge the Bolt in an estimated 9 hours (a 110-volt socket requires a lengthy 51 hours). This is also why Bolts seem an unlikely buy for Uber drivers — convenient and quick charging is a challenge.

For all its cabin space, the Bolt’s biggest liability next to its competitive hatch set is its interior decor. Outfitted in full leather with carbon fiber and chrome accents, my preferred manual Golf R funbox lists for $36K. The Bolt doesn’t wear leather until the top $42K Premium trim level, and the dash is marred by plastic-ey white trim that looks like it was designed by a toilet bowl company.

The down-market look takes away from a roomy interior and classy digital displays that offer my favorite Apple Carplay/Android Auto app — just like the Golf. Chevy’s interior will also dissuade Tesla Model S buyers, who will expect a more luxurious interior for their $40K. That’s what’s tricky about putting Chevy in a compact space inhabited by upscale brands such as Tesla and VW.

I like the sporty exterior much better (check out the cool, wavy LED taillights) except for the black plastic nose which, fortunately, can be remedied. In true enthusiast fashion I would outfit my Volt in Mosaic Black Metallic which comes with a silvery beak — giving the car a more menacing appearance.

Menacing. Now that’s a proper hot hatch.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE BATTERY-POWERED, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER HATCHBACK
Power plant Single AC, continuous magnetic-drive motor powered by 60kWh lithium-ion battery
Transmission 1-speed direct drive
Weight 3,563 pounds
Price $37,495 ($43,710 Premiere as tested)
Power 200 horsepower, 266 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 93 mph
Fuel economy EPA 110 city/128 highway/119 combined MPGe; 238-mile range on full charge

report card

HIGHS BEGONE RANGE ANXIETY; FUN TO DRIVE
Lows How long to recharge?; toilet bowl interior trim

Overall:★★★

 

Payne: Pacifica Hybrid is the coolest minivan in town

Posted by hpayne on November 28, 2016

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My favorite minivan story comes from the Chrysler Pacifica’s launch last year in Los Angeles. I took the stylish, 3.6-liter, V-6-powered seven-seater to my 6-year-old nephew’s elementary school. No one appreciates minivans more than kids, and I looked forward to Henry’s friends (Henrys are everywhere in my family) enjoying Chrysler’s latest tricks. But one first-grader was resistant.

“Mr. Payne, my father has a Model S,” he said confidently, as if there was nothing that could impress him after the Tesla experience.

I agreed the electric Model S is one of the seven wonders of the auto world, but that he wouldn’t be disappointed by the Pacifica. After a half-hour roaming the Chrysler’s interior — making seats magically disappear into the floor, exploring backseat theater screens, running the vacuum cleaner, sliding doors with a wave of the foot — the kids were impressed. Even my early skeptic.

“Mr. Payne, this car is better than my dad’s Model S!” he exclaimed.

Don’t look now, Tesla, but the coolest ride in town just got cooler. The Pacifica is now available as a plug-in hybrid.

When Chrysler invented minivans three decades ago, it birthed one of the most innovative vehicles on the planet — the Swiss Army knife of the auto industry. But their boxy, dowdy shape branded them as mom-mobiles, and women fled the segment for SUVs. With Pacifica, Chrysler has gone a long way to erasing that stigma.

The hybrid EV is the coup de grace.

First, a disclaimer. I am a hybrid skeptic. Equipping a big, family vehicle with a second power source (gas engine plus battery) comes at a huge variable cost (back-of-the-envelope math with Chrysler developers puts the hybrid cost at $5,000 to $7,000 north of a comparably equipped gas-fired minivan) that takes years to make up in gas savings. But government mandates to build zero-emission vehicles put automakers in an awkward position: How to sell vehicles few want?

Chrysler’s minivan turns this into a positive. In reinventing the minivan, engineers built the Pacifica from the ground up to have a plug-in option. What could be cooler than a minivan that doesn’t use gas?

Pacifica was designed with a best-in-class 0.30 drag-coefficient. Increased torsional rigidity to take a big battery. A battery big enough to haul its girth around town for 30 miles on electrons — but also qualify for Uncle Sugar’s full $7,500 tax credit. $7,500! I didn’t pay that much for my first car.

Bottom line: Buy a nicely equipped, $42,000 Pacifica Hybrid Premium, subtract the tax credit, and you’ve got a cheaper ride than the regular, gas-powered Touring — and it will save hundreds of dollars at the pump. Who says there’s no free lunch?

Chrysler prefers the term “hybrid” to deflect range-anxiety concerns that come with the word “plug-in,” but this 4,900-pound bowling ball works just like a plug-in Chevy Volt.

Plug it in overnight and it’ll go 30 miles (the Volt will do 58) on nothing but battery. On our drive around the rolling hills of north Los Angeles, most media drivers were getting 36 miles. No way, you say. Payne, you’re snorting the Kool-Aid.

Well, you’d have a point, because the physics of the U.S.S. Pacifica means that — unlike the little Volt skiff — it does have to call on the V-6 gas engine for the heavy lifting. Like hard stoplight acceleration. Or going up hills. Or cruising at more than 75 on the highway.

But these are momentary asks in a daily commute, so for the most part Pacifica comes by its 30-mile EV range honestly. More importantly, its combined 538-mile battery-gasoline range (the Volt gets 420) means fewer visits to gas stations. I averaged a compact car-like 31.5 mpg over 122 miles.

Buyers will want to spend a little extra to maximize the plug-in experience. For example, $2,500 gets you a 240-volt home charge system so you can replenish the battery in just two hours (versus 14 hours on a standard 110-volt plug).

That $7,500 subsidy will run out after 200,000 sales, but if Pacifica reaches that number it may have a hit on its hands.

Even without the subsidy, the $40,000-something yacht makes a $50,000 Audi Q7 look plain.

The supersized Pacifica starts out well-proportioned and gorgeous. Its “candy-knotted” chrome lower grill is art. Its swept flanks are elegant. Its hidden C-pillar is stylish. And the hybrid takes it up a notch.

Its ribbed grille, teal highlights, and silver teal pearl paint make it look like an iMac on wheels. Pinwheel rims complete the tech-y look. Pacifica Hybrid doesn’t telegraph minivan mom at all.

What Pacifica most resembles is the old Mercedes R-Class wagon. Pacifica interior designer Chris Benjamin nods at this analogy — because he was the R-Class’ interior designer. “I agree there is a resemblance,” he says, “and, to be honest, the Chrysler blows the R-Class away in utility.”

This isn’t just Benjamin’s pride talking. Despite losing Chrysler’s famed, unique “stow ’n’ go” capability to the 16 kWh battery, the Pacifica still wows in its interior dexterity. Let me count the ways:

1. It’s a pickup bed with a roof: In seconds, I removed the middle buckets, stowed the third row and opened enough acreage to swallow a grandfather clock, chest of drawers or ATV.

2. It’s a home entertainment center: In their middle-row captain’s chairs, kids can play checkers and other games on the rear-seat infotainment system for hours.

3. It’s a road office: I sat in the third-row seat with my laptop, folded the middle throne into an ottoman and connected via in-car WiFi.

When it comes to luxury autos, it’s “all about the badge,” a friend of mine likes to say. The Chrysler minivan may not be a luxury name, but with its elegant looks, exclusive teal colors and e-Hybrid logo, it has the badge. Yes, the Pacifica Hybrid is as cool as a Tesla.

And for $35,000, it’s a steal at half the price.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, SEVEN-PASSENGER MINIVAN
Power plant AC motor powered by 16 kWh battery and 3.6-liter Atkinson cycle V-6 engine
Transmission Electrically variable transmission (EVT)
Weight 4,934 pounds
Price Two trims available: $43,090 Premium; $46,090 (Platinum as tested)
Power 260 total system horsepower
Performance 0-60: 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 110 mph
Fuel economy EPA figures TBA; 80 MPGe (mfr. est., combined gas and electric modes), 25 city/33 highway (Car & Driver)

report card

HIGHS UPSCALE STYLING; NICELY PRICED, AND A STEAL WITH TAX CREDIT
Lows Lose middle seat stow ’n’ go capability; add $2,500 for Level 2 charger for charging convenience

All-new Honda CR-V rolls out at versatile Ohio plant

Posted by hpayne on November 23, 2016

crv_plant-fr-angle

East Liberty, Ohio — After a major expansion of its auto assembly plant here northwest of Columbus, Honda rolled out the first copies of its all-new, 2017 CR-V on Monday night. The best-selling crossover in crossover-crazy America, the CR-V sold a record 345,647 units in 2015.

The launch marks the first time that Honda’s U.S. plant has been the lead in CR-V global production — and continues Honda’s trend to delegate more responsibility to its operations here. Global design development for the Acura NSX hybrid supercar and popular compact Civic were both directed — not from Japan — but out of Honda’s Metro Columbus research and development center.

“For Honda, the CR-V is a critical product and we have the responsibility to provide the first set of hard-tooled parts and complete body unit builds for the nine other CR-V plants around the world to follow and replicate,” said Ken Sheridan, CR-V engineering chief for the East Liberty plant.

Together with the nearby Marysville assembly plant, Performance Manufacturing Center and Ana engine plant — the biggest Honda engine facility in the world — Honda’s central Ohio footprint has evolved into one of the epicenters of American car manufacturing.

“The parts and manufacturing processes must be perfected by the East Liberty team,” added Sheridan. “It’s a huge responsibility. All eyes are on the East Liberty Auto Plant.”

The CR-V will also be built in North America in Greensburg, Indiana, and Alliston, Ontario. It hits dealer showrooms this winter.

But East Liberty’s 200,000-square-foot welding shop remake guarantees much more than CR-Vs. The sprawling plant, discretely located next to wood-lined farm fields off U.S. Route 33, is now one of the most flexible in North America. It allows Honda to produce everything from compact sedans to luxury SUVs. In addition to the CR-V, the Civic and Acura compact RDX and mid-size MDX crossovers can all be made here. The three-row MDX, currently produced only in Alabama, will begin production in East Liberty next year.

With the CR-V and its sister vehicles in full production, East Liberty can produce a staggering 240,000 vehicles a year.

“It’s apparent Honda is enhancing its flexibility in order to adapt to U.S. market demand,” said auto analyst and Society of Automotive Engineers Editorial Director Bill Visnic at the CR-V’s launch. “They are essentially saying they can build almost any Honda model in this plant if they need to do so.”

The Tokyo-based company has always designed its manufacturing for better flexibility, says Visnic, and it is bringing that trademark to the heart of the American market.

The 2017 CR-V itself was redesigned both as a better vehicle — and with more efficient manufacturing in mind. The SUV’s frame is lighter for better fuel efficiency with a longer wheelbase to better accommodate rear seat passengers — and its front grill and bumper are now a signal, modular piece for more efficient assembly.

The modular front end, produced by a supplier outside the East Liberty plant, allows for plant space savings and easier access to the engine bay for plant associates. Without the bumper and radiator in the way, plant workers can now work faster inside the engine bay – only attaching the front module at the end of the assembly process.

The CR-V’s modular design and East Liberty’s flexibility are a harbinger for other facilities.

The new weld shop’s expansion includes 200 new robots, more energy-efficient LED lighting and polyurethane panels to better deflect sparks from robot welding. The massive space was under construction for three years.

The 2.8 million square-foot East Liberty facility employs 2,350 workers in two shifts, producing 950 vehicles a day. Its last major redo was in 2006 when the Civic move to new production digs in Indiana and the CR-V was brought in. East Liberty now exports CR-Vs to multiple countries including Saudi Arabia, Korea and Russia.

Just one exit away on Route 33, Honda’s 4 million-square foot Marysville plant churns out the Honda Accord — America’s best-selling retail sedan — and the Acura ILX and TLX, the luxury brand’s top-selling sedan. In its shadow is the smaller Performance Manufacturing Center, opened this spring, where the $160,000 NSX is made.

All told, Honda’s northwest Columbus empire employs 8,100 people over 8,000 acres, pumping out 680,000 vehicles a year. Another 3,900 work at the nearby engine plant in Anna and the transmission facilities in Russells Point.

Best of the best from the LA Auto Show

Posted by hpayne on November 21, 2016

Los Angeles – The City of Angels is home to greenies, wealthy moguls, sports enthusiasts and some of the most beautiful people on earth. So it’s only fitting that this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show debuted cars that would fit every archetype. From the all-electric, if-you-gotta-ask-you-can’t afford-it Jaguar I-PACE to the beastly Chevy Colorado ZR2 to the jaw-dropping Cadillac Escala, this show has it all.

Here’s my best of the best.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio -- Take the fire-breathing Giulia

Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Take the fire-breathing Giulia sedan. Jack it up six inches. Add AWD and throw on a fifth door and you have the Alfa Stelvio SUV. Named after Italy’s Stelvio pass — one of Europe’s greatest driver roads — this Italian promises to be a driver’s ute to rival the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio gets the same 505-horse, twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6 engine that powered the Giulia Quad to a Nurburgring sedan lap record.

Jeep® Compass Limited

Jeep Compass

Wedged between the subcompact Renegade and the compact Cherokee, the Compass completes Jeep’s unmatched array of small SUV offerings. Are you an off-roader? Buy the Wrangler. Feeling young? The cute Renegade is your toy. Like a car-like SUV? Cherokee is your drug. The Compass (which replaces the Patriot as well as the last-gen Compass) is the conservative choice — a sort of Grand Cherokee Jr.

VW Atlas 2

Volkswagen Atlas

It’s a V-dub with a Tennessee accent. The Chattanooga-built, mid-sized Atlas is key to VW’s future in the U.S. market after the embarrassment of Dieselgate — and the failure to recognize Americans’ demand for all things ute. The masculine-looking SUV offers easy access, three-row seating, copious legroom and German engineering.

Porsche 911 RSR

Porsche 911 RSR

Many manufacturers use race cars — Jaguar’s Formula E racer, Mazda’s IMSA prototype — as competition halos for their sedans and SUVs. But Porsche racers are extension of the street cars. The 911-based RSR moves its rear-mounted engine to midships (heresy!) to better compete against the mid-engine Ferrari 488, Acura NSX and Ford GT for world sports car hegemony.

Jaguar I-PACE

Jaguar I-PACE

The electric I-PACE is a Tesla Model X fighter. But without the gull wings. The I-PACE bears Jag’s signature design cues, but its sleek, cabin-forward design is unique to the five-passenger EV as it opens up acres of interior space thanks to the lack of engine under the bonnet. With 90 kWh of battery in the basement, the I-PACE promise 0-60 in just 4 seconds.

Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

This tree-chewing, wall-climbing animal is just the ticket for the back country. While the ZR2 is no steroid-fed Ford Raptor (it keeps the same diesel and gas drivetrain as the stock Colorado), it comes with fortified rocker panels, an extreme 30-degree approach angle and 31-inch tires to conquer Mother Nature’s worst.

2016-Cadillac-Escala-Concept-Exterior-001

Cadillac Escala

I know, the Escala debuted at the Pebble Beach Concourse this summer — but this is its first contact with the unwashed masses and, boy, is this land yacht a stunner. With a wheelbase stretching from here to San Diego, the high-tech V-8-powered Caddy hints at a future flagship.

Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5

Who needs luxury SUVs? The Mazda CX-5 (and big brother CX-9) are the prettiest utes on the planet. Draped in red satin, the CX-5 is a sculpted, mid-size masterpiece. Under the skin, Mazda will offer a diesel engine — as do the Chevy ZR2 and Cruze show offerings, a sign that efficient diesels may not be dead in the U.S. yet.

Toyota C-HR

Toyota C-HR

Insane design? Nurburgring tested? Driver-centric cockpit? No, this isn’t a Lamborghini, this is a Toyota. Wow. The directive from CEO Akio Toyoda to wake up the company’s styling was clearly heard as the C-HV is the wildest looking thing to hit subcompact utes since the Kia Soul. While major manufacturers like Chevy (Trax) and Ford (Ecosport) have debuted familiar brand designs in the hot new segment, Toyota follows Mazda’s CX-3 in designing a sport hatch on stilts.

Honda Civic Si

Honda Civic Si

The Civic’s performance variant seemed frozen in time since its high-revving, 100-horsepower-per-liter 2.0-liter debuted back in ’05. With this Extreme Makeover, Si is back. Available as a coupe or sedan, the wicked-looking Si features a front splitter, rear wing and center-mounted rectangular exhaust to blat out a naughty tune from its new 1.5-liter turbocharged powerplant.

Subaru goes XXL with big SUV concept

Posted by hpayne on November 21, 2016

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Los Angeles — To get bigger, Subaru is going bigger.

Determined to expand sales by 30 percent by 2020, the Japanese maker of affordable, all-wheel drive vehicles is introducing a spacious, three-row sport utility vehicle into its lineup. The VIZIV-7 SUV concept previews a full production model that will be shown next year and hit showroom floors in early 2018.

True to Subaru’s iconic “love” ad campaign, Americans have embraced everything Subaru has thrown at them — except a large SUV. Subaru’s first attempt at the three-row segment, the Tribeca, went out of production in 2013. This time, Subaru promises to get it right.

“The Tribeca was too small, too underpowered for its class,” said Tom Doll, Subaru’s president and CFO for North America, on the Los Angeles Auto Show floor. “This is sized perfectly with seven- to eight-passenger seating. It will compete against the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer.”

Indeed, the concept telegraphs the production ute’s proportions with huge 21-inch wheels and an expansive, 117-inch wheelbase — 5 inches longer than the Explorer. The concept brings the ritual concept bling like sky-blue lighting tinsel. But overall it conforms to Subaru’s new design language — split-wing logo in grille and c-clamp headlight signature — wrapped in a package that dwarfs the little Impreza compact and Legacy sedan that made Subaru’s mark in this market.

No details on drivetrain or interior were released, but look for the production version at another car show soon.

Green Car of the Year: Chevy Bolt

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

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Los Angeles — There were no surprise upsets in this year’s race for Green Car of the Year award. The 2017 Chevy Bolt won in a landslide.

The five-door hatchback — the first production car under $40,000 to achieve more than 200-mile range on a single charge — cruised to victory over a five-car field that included the BMW 330e, Chevrolet Bolt, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Optima and Toyota Prius Prime.

The winner of the 12th annual award was announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show by Green Car Journal and GreenCarJournal.com.

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