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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

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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

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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.

MORE LOS ANGELES AUTO SHOW ARTICLES IN THE “ARTICLES SECTION”

Bolt breakthrough? A tale of two electric cars

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

Josh Tavel, chief engineer for the Bolt EV,   talks

Los Angeles — Chevy Volt, Fiat 500e, Ford C-Max Energi, Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen E-Golf, BMW i3 … the Los Angeles Auto Show is Ground Zero for showing off electrified vehicles. California’s green culture and the state-mandated EV quotas make it a natural for all things battery-powered.

But unless your name is Tesla — America’s best-selling large sedan — electric vehicles have failed to interest U.S. consumers. EVs make up less than 1 percent of vehicle sales despite a $7,500 federal subsidy plus additional perks in several states including California. One of the most notable disappointments has come from one of the world’s most recognized brands, Mercedes. Its $42,000 battery-powered subcompact B-Classcame to market in 2014 — yet is selling just 50 per month on average this year.

This week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Chevy Bolt EV took home the Green Car of the Year award. The Bolt is the same size as the Mercedes, boasts similar sub-7-second acceleration, and starts at the same price when comparably equipped.

Yet, Chevrolet is bullish that the Bolt is the answer.

Much of that confidence lies in the Bolt’s breakthrough 238-mile range on a single charge — the first car to achieve that figure under $40,000. The Chevy’s base LT trim will start at $37,495. But the better apples-to-apples comparison to the leather-appointed $42,000 Mercedes is the Bolt’s Premiere trim — also with leather appointments — which will start at just above $41,000.

Though the Mercedes interior design is a class above the Bolt hatchback in materials and presentation, the five-door B-Class manages just 85 miles on a full charge.

“The Bolt lies in a quadrant where nobody else plays,” Chevy Marketing guru Steve Majoros said in an interview next to the Bolt, the centerpiece of Chevrolet’s show stand in LA. “There’s low cost and low range, and there’s high cost and high range — and in the sweet spot there’s low cost and high range, and that’s where we are.”

“We feel confident in the value equation being solved here,” he continued. “This is a solution that consumers have been telling us they are craving. People are very clear — it’s better have a ‘two’ in front of it.” As in 200 miles.

Mercedes concedes that the B-Class has been a learning experience. Notably, it was not present on the Mercedes show stand in Los Angeles.

“Into the future, we have learned that we need to build up the range,” said Matthias Lührs, vice president of Mercedes sales functions. “Over 200 miles is a number customers expect.”

Luhrs says Mercedes is now committed to a new strategy that will produce a separate line of EV vehicles under the “EQ” badge. The plan is similar to BMW’s i-brand that sells the i3 and i8 cars.

“EQ is more than just putting an electric vehicle in the market,” says Luhrs. “That’s one of our key learnings after two or three years of the B-Class. We are going to expand EQ to seven to 10 vehicles beginning with the EQC (a compact crossover) in 2019.”

No coincidence, Luhrs says the EQC is targeted to get a Bolt-like 267 miles of range.

Chevrolet’s Majoros says GM’s commitment to an EV strategy years ago is bearing fruit. “The commitment we made to Bolt EV wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t commit to Volt Gen 1 in 2010,” he says. “And Volt Gen 2. And Malibu hybrid. This has been a progression. It has been a slow, steady march to where we are today.”

But even with its Tesla-like range, the Bolt EV faces an uphill battle in consumer acceptance, say industry analysts.

“The reality is, we’re still looking at less than one percent of the market for EVs and that number has been there for years,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “And it doesn’t matter as we bring out more and more. Consumers are still saying, ‘I’m not familiar with it, I don’t trust it, my neighbor doesn’t have one. What happens ‘if’?’”

She says the challenges of range anxiety and charging time are formidable — challenges only upscale Tesla buyers have accepted.

“People are buying into the Tesla dream. They are not necessarily buying an EV,” says Lindland. “They are excited it’s an EV because it plays into the whole Tesla vision of saving the world. But it’s going to be difficult for any brand to replicate the Cult of Tesla.”

She says the Bolt’s range and price are attractive — but that price has not been a barrier to battery-powered cars.

“You’ve been able to get a Chevy Volt for $199-a-month lease for years,” says Lindland, referring to the Volt’s flat, 20,000-a-year sales since 2012. “It’s not a pricing issue.”

Whatever the future holds for electric cars, automakers will continue to run up the EV hill because it’s not just about customer acceptance. Government rules demand them.

“There are two issues,” says Mercedes’ Luhrs. “One is customer demand, the second one is regulatory circumstances like federal fuel standards in the U.S.”

Payne: Alpina B7, the Bimmer Hellcat

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

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I’m a Dodge Hellcat fan. Especially the Charger SRT Hellcat, the biggest, baddest, meanest sedan on the planet. With its 204 mph, 6.2-liter Hemi ground-thumper and spacious rear seat, it’s the anti-minivan — the family car that picks up the kiddies at school then lays rubber past the school bus line.

But built on an aging Chrysler chassis from the Flintstone era, it’s also a raw, one-trick pony. A Woodward hand grenade one minute — a twisty-road handful the next.

What if someone mated its Herculean, V-8 drivetrain to a more sophisticated chassis? Swept Eliza Doolittle off the muscle-car streets and into the halls of luxury? What if someone built something like a Thurston Hellcat III?

Well, let me introduce you to a truly twisted gentleman: The 205 mph, 600 horsepower, all-wheel-drive, twin-sunroof, twin-turbo V8-powered 2017 BMW Alpina B7.

Alpina, of course, is the legendary German performance brand closely associated with BMW. Think Roush and Ford. Like, Roush, Alpina gained its reputation on the track, fighting for the prestigious European Touring Car championship in the 1970s with ferocious BMW racers that graced teen motorheads’ walls (mine, for instance) with rear fenders wider than Michael Phelps’ shoulders.

Like Roush Mustangs, BMW Alpinas are sold and serviced at BMW dealerships. Yet Alpina goes one step further to integrate its Frankenstein monsters into BMW production lines. Exhibit A: The B7, which is made in Dingolfing, Germany, alongside the Bavarian maker’s flagship 740i.

With its race history in the rear-view mirror, (Alpina stopped racing in 1983), the carmaker has evolved alongside BMW’s own, in-house M performance brand as BMW’s more refined hot-rod badge. Hard-core performance enthusiasts prefer Ms and their high-revving engines and washboard-stiff rides. Alpina’s trademark is low-end torque and posh interiors.

The B7 is of particular renown because — unlike its 2,3,5 and 6 series models — Bimmer does not bother with an M-badged 7-series. Rumor is it’s coming — complete with a howling V12 that will make grown men weak in the legs. I’m feeling a little jelly-kneed myself, actually.

But for now, the world must live with the more refined Alpina. You won’t be disappointed. This beast is the kraken in a coat and tie. A Bimmer Hellcat.

And pure car porn. An unattainable sexpot outfitted with every essential and nonessential accessory known to autodom. Gold plate it and The Donald would put it in his living room. Out of reach of most mortals, it nevertheless is a rolling representation of what’s possible in luxury sedan performance.

At its heart is the 740i’s twin-turbo V-8 bulked up to 600 horses and 591 pound-feet of torque. That’s more than 100 horses shy of the Hellcat. But mated to a quick-shifting, automatic eight-speed tranny and torque-vectoring AWD system, the Bimmer lays down power better than the tire-smoking, tail-wagging Dodge to achieve similar eyeball-flattening acceleration times. Zero-60 goes by in just 3.5 seconds; the quarter mile tape broken in sub-12.

Bearing Alpina’s signature, multi-spoke wheels and lowered menacingly to the ground (its front spoiler dragging out of my driveway like a Corvette Z06), the B7 has presence. Drop the hammer out of a Woodward stoplight and the B7 launches like a nuclear missile. Inside the yacht-like cabin the 4.4-liter V8 sounds a football field away, but acceleration is immediate.

I took the Alpina to Pontiac on M1 Concourse’s Championship Raceway (official track school car: Hellcat) where it was astonishingly quick. With stamina. A heat-challenged, electric Tesla wouldn’t make it a lap. Even the BMW X5M I flogged at Autobahn Raceway went into limp mode after five hot laps. The Alpina pounded around all day long.

Where the Hellcat’s old chassis and rear-wheel-drive system slides luridly through corners, the B7 is planted, the X-Drive system distributing torque for explosive corner exits. On Championship’s back straight, I hit 118 mph — just 6 mph shy of what a Dodge Viper ACR has recorded there. Happily, the B7 is outfitted with 15.5-inch front brakes — the same size as a Z06 — so I could haul its girth back to earth. Loaded with more upholstery and electronics than a luxury hotel suite, the 4,800-pound Alpina actually weighs 300 pounds more than the porky Charger Hellcat.

But where the B7 really shines is on the open road, where its sophisticated chassis tuning makes for a surreal experience. With a long, 127-inch wheelbase and luxury’s largest backseat, the Bimmer feels huge, yet corners with a scalpel’s precision thanks, in part, to all-wheel steering.

On high-speed four-lanes in Hell, Michigan, I matched a Nissan GT-R — Godzilla vs. Destroyah! — move for move. On I-75, the B7 gulped traffic like a whale swallowing plankton.

When not annihilating asphalt outside, I lounged in the BMW’s palatial, wood-and-leather-trimmed apartment inside.

Alpina distinguishes the interior with its own digital instrument display that changes color depending on which of three drive modes you choose — COMFORT, REGULAR and SPORT (my preference, the seat bolsters tightening around your ribs as you press the button). The rotary dial is the best in the business, as is the monostable shifter. A heads-up display means never having to take your eye off the landscape rushing by. Night-vision infrared radar warns of deer at night.

And voice recognition is as good as my Samsung smart phone — a first in my experience. Just say where — “Navigate to M1 Concourse” — and you’re there (which means you only need spend $100K-plus on a car for nav as good as your $500 phone).

You also get frivolous toys. Like gesture control. Do an air circle with your finger and the radio volume goes up or down. And useless autonomous features. Set lane keep and adaptive cruise, then retire to the reclining rear seats to get some work down, right? Wrong. Take your hands off the wheel — and the car will throw a fit telling you to be hands-on.

Wrapped in Amsterdam blue, my B7 was striking yet stealthy. No Hellcat hood scoops. No demonic badges. Roll up quietly next to a Corvette at a stoplight — then match it stride for stride coming out. The Alpina is the most refined, most powerful, most excessive sports sedan BMW can make for just $153,895. That’s the price of two, $70,000 Dodge Charger Hellcats.

But your knuckles won’t be white when you hit 200 mph.

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

2017 BMW Alpina B7

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, ALL-WHEEL DRIVE FIVE-PASSENGER LUXURY SEDAN
Power plant 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Weight 4,800 pounds
Price $153,895
Power 600 horsepower, 591 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 3.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 205 mph
Fuel economy EPA 16 city/24 highway/18 combined

report card

HIGHS SUPERB INTERIOR CONTROLS; DRIVETRAIN HEAVEN
Lows If ya gotta ask, you can’t afford it; over-indulgent tech toys like gesture control

Overall:★★★★

Porsche unveils latest race car and a new Panamera

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

high_911_rsr_991_2017_model_2016_porsche_ag (1)

Los Angeles — Porsche rocked the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday with the introduction of its new mid-engine Porsche 911 RSR racing car that will do battle against the Corvette C7.R, Ford GT and Ferrari 488 in 2017 in the IMSA Weathertech racing series at tracks like Belle Isle.

Yes, mid-engine.

The iconic 911 is moving its famously rear-mounted engine to the middle in order to better compete in the world GT arms race. The mid-engine Ford GT and Ferrari dominated LeMans last year and the Corvette is reportedly developing its own mid-engine machine.

“Applying all freedoms of the regulations has allowed us to place the engine closer to the middle,” said Porsche sales and marketing executive Detlev Von Platen.

Mid-engine architecture is inherently better-balanced than rear and gives developers more options to add aerodynamic and drivetrain options at the front and rear of the car. In the case of the RSR, Porsche has developed a bigger defuser aft of the engine that helps suck the car to the ground.

The RSR’s debut overshadowed the world premiere of the new Porsche Panamera and its new, turbocharged V-6 engine in L.A. But it’s fitting the RSR stole the show since the marque’s race cars give performance cred to Porsche’s highly profitable line of sedans and SUVs.

“We may not have invented the sedan, but we have made a Porsche out of it,” grinned Porsche Global CEO Oliver Blume.

The base Panamera is the second generation of the four-door sedan — and the first to sport a base, turbocharged six-cylinder. With 330 horsepower, the Panamera gains 20 ponies on the previous generation’s normally aspirated six. The Panamera continues Porsche’s transition to all-turbo engines in order to increase performance and meet increasingly stringent government emissions mandates.

Ridiculed for its awkward, bulbous rear end — critics remarked the sedan looked like a stretched-limo version of the 911 coupe — the Panamera’s new design has a racier, fastback appearance.

Panamera Turbo Executive

The base Panamera is actually not the first sighting of the car: the performance S (440 horses) and Turbo (550 horsepower) models were introduced in Europe earlier this year. The base car was joined onstage in L.A. by the debut of the most opulent Panamera variants: the Executive models.

With six more inches of wheelbase (the base Panamera is already longer than a Ford Explorer), the all-wheel drive Executive models come in Panamera 4 Executive, Panamera 4S Executive, Panamera Turbo Executive and Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Executive (with 32 miles of all-electric range).

Standard Executive features include a panoramic roof, adaptive air suspension and a roll-up sunblind behind the rear headrests. The Panamera 4S Executive and Panamera Turbo Executive get even more tricks – like rear-axle steering and soft-close doors.

Perhaps more dramatic than its exterior improvement is an all-new center console with a more integrated screen and control buttons. “Our advanced cockpit is smartphone-like,” said Blume. The long-wheelbase Executive models prioritize rear-seat luxuery with optional, large rear center console equipped with two integrated folding tables. Also available are 10.1-inch entertainment displays integrated in the backrests of the front seats can be detached and used as tablets outside the vehicle.

And they are engorged with luxury features.

 

Jaguar I-PACE concept targets Tesla Model X

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

Jaguar I-PACE Concept_020

Los Angeles — Look out Tesla Model X, your rear-view mirrors are filled with Jaguar.

On a new electric architecture that shares the suspension with the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE crossover, the all-electric I-PACE concept sport utility will be the first direct competition to Tesla’s gull-winged, six-figure-priced EV rocket. The I-PACE was introduced Monday night ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, but executives say it’s a close approximation of the production version due to hit shelves in late 2018.

The iconic British performance car manufacturer bills the I-PACE as a “five-seat sports car and a performance SUV in one.”

While the Jaguar bears the familiar design cues — large grille, slated headlights and muscular hips — of its carbon-fueled stablemates, the I-PACE cabin is moved well-forward because there is no engine up front.

Combined with a more open cabin design — courtesy of its huge, 90 kWh battery in the floor — the I-PACE promises big interior volume numbers to go with its big performance figures. Jaguar estimates its range at 220 miles on a single charge. With 400 horsepower and whopping 516 pound-feet of torque on tap, the vehicle is expected to zip from zero-60 in just four seconds.

Jaguar says its experience in the all-electric Formula E racing series has trickled down into the development of the I-PACE’s all-wheel-drive, electric-motor drivetrain. The brand also promises an innovative, “flightdeck” cockpit with gearshift buttons and three screens.

“The I-PACE concept represents the next generation of electric vehicle design,” Director of Design Ian Callum told a celebrity-sprinkled audience. “It’s a dramatic, future-facing cab-forward design with a beautiful interior — the product of authentic Jaguar DNA, electric technology and contemporary craftsmanship.”

Jaguar put on the glitz with a world-first, love cross-continent virtual reality reveal experience featuring actress Michelle Rodriguez, late night-talk show host James Corden, supermodel Miranda Kerr and Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper.

Chevy Colorado ZR2 pickup: Off-road animal

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

AP_16321071971891

Los Angeles — The midsize, off-road pickup wars are on.

Chevrolet on Tuesday introduced its Colorado ZR2, a scenery-eating, wall-climbing shot across the bow of the Toyota Tacoma. With its innovative, Multimatic shocks and class-exclusive, front-and-rear locking differentials, the ZR2 goes head on against the Tacoma TRD Pro, until now the undisputed champ of midsize truck terrors.

With the explosion of the midsize truck segment in recent years, the challenge was inevitable. Toyota had owned the midsize segment until the Colorado and GMC Canyon entered the market followed by the Honda Ridgeline this year. While the GM twins and Honda emphasized their pickups’ comfort and drivability, Tacoma continued as king of the Outback.

But with the ZR2, Colorado wants to change that.

“We assembled a dream team of GM truck enthusiasts in order to bring more off-road technology than any other truck in the class,” said GM North America President Alan Batey in introducing the ZR2 before the Los Angeles Auto Show.”

The ZR2 comes from Chevy’s performance division. Like the ferocious, 650-horsepower Camaro ZL1, which is impressive both on and off the race track, the ZR2 aims to be both an off-road warrior and an on-road dancer.

Chevy claims the key to its dexterity to be its exclusive spool-valve dampers. Developed by supplier Multimatic for Formula One racing, the so-called DSSV shocks were first used on the Camaro Z28 track monster.

“Chevy came to us to bring the wide range of capability that spool-valve technology affords to a truck,” said Michael Guttilla, vice president of Multimatic Sales. “All the technology that made the Z28 a successful track car lends itself to going off-road.”

The shocks — combined with a 3 1/2-inch wider track, 2-inch higher ground clearance, and Tacoma-equivalent, 30-degree front approach angle — transform the Colorado into an off-road animal. At the Los Angeles unveil, journalists were taken over a closed course of moguls, hills and terrain. Most impressive was the ZR2’s locking differentials which enabled the ZR2 to climb a steep, unpredictable grade.

The truck segment has seen off-road performance trucks before in the Tacoma and Ford’s full-size F-150 Raptor. Unlike the Raptor, Chevy does not offer a unique, high-output engine with the ZR2 — but the standard V-6 and diesel option available in other Colorado trucks. Instead of raw power, the ZR2 appeals to extreme off-roaders who want more maneuverability than the big Raptor. The ZR2 was tested extensively through the narrow ridges of the Rubicon and GM’s off-road test facility in Yuma, Arizona.

“It’s amazing what a difference a foot of width makes off-road,” said Mark Dickens, boss of Chevy performance vehicles. “The smaller size of the Colorado is a huge enabler for taking the ZR2 more places, and getting it through tighter spots than you could access with a full-size truck.”

The ZR2 is distinguished by its robust front skid plate, robust, steel-tube rocker panels, black hood bulge and huge, 31-inch tires. It will tow up 5,000 pounds and carry 1,100 lbs. of payload. It was developed by GM after positive response to its ZR2 concept introduced her in LA in 2014.

With the ZR2, “you can go rock crawling on Saturday, desert running on Sunday, and comfortably drive to work on Monday,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president, Global Product Development in a statement. “This truck can do it all, and do it all well.”

Honda takes wraps off fastest Civic Si yet

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

HondaCivicSI1

Los Angeles — Honda took the wraps off the Civic Si prototype, the quickest variant of its best-selling, tenth-generation compact car.

The Si previews what the production Si will look like in coupe and sedan form when it hits showrooms next year.

Baselined to the Audi A3, the all-new Civic sedan was launched last year and immediately won 2016 North American Car of the Year with its superior handling and sharp styling. The new Si will join a broad Civic lineup that includes the sedan, coupe and hatchback siblings.

Estimated to produce 220 to 230 horsepower, the Si won’t be the quickest Civic for long: Honda is expected to tease the radical, 300-horsepower Civic Type-R Prototype later this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

In addition to the Civic’s trademark bat-wing taillights and wrapped headlights, the Rallye Red Pearl Civic Si prototype showed off a full aero kit that includes front and rear splitters and rear spoiler. Dual center-mounted polygonal exhaust finishers and 19-inch forged aluminum alloy wheels are part of the package.

For the first time the Si will get a forced-induction engine, replacing the high-revving, 8,000 rpm 2.0-liter screamer of recent generations. The new turbocharged 1.5-liter, in-line 4-cylinder will be mated to a short-shifting 6-speed manual transmission.

Additional performance upgrades for the Si variants will include a new active damper system, active steering system, limited-slip differential and available high-performance tires.

“With the new Honda Civic Si, we’re injecting even more sporty goodness into our 10th-generation Civic lineup,” said Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of Honda. “This will be, hands down, the fastest, best-handling Si we’ve ever offered to our customers.”

The Civic Si Prototype interior closely previews the production model and features Si-exclusive front sport seats with red stitching, including stitched Si logos. The red sport stitching carries through to the doors, steering wheel and leather shift boot with aluminum shift knob.

The Si promises more tire-smoking, boy-toy handling for another generation of “Fast and Furious” movies.

NACTOY finalists a mix of new blood, old faves

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

SuperDutyFILE

Los Angeles — A diverse mix of rookie and veteran nameplates lead the field of nominees for the 2017 North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year.

The Chevy Bolt, Genesis G90 and Volvo S90 will vie for best car. Best truck nominees are the Ford F-Series Super Duty, Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Titan. And either the Chrysler Pacifica, Jaguar F-Pace, or Mazda CX-9 will be crowned utility of the year — the first time that SUVs have been honored as a separate category.

The finalists were announced Tuesday morning at the Automobility LA conference, which kicks off the Los Angeles Auto Show. The 23rd annual NACTOY winners will be announced Jan. 9 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The three finalists were winnowed from a list of 44 semifinalists by some 60 automotive journalists who have tested, analyzed, and buggy-whipped the nominees over the past year.

The Bolt will be front-runner for car of the year as the first electric vehicle under $40,000 to travel more than 200 miles on a single charge. It will be challenged by two luxury badges that are also celebrating their freshman year in the market. The G90 is the flagship for Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury line, while the lovely S90 hopes to follow in the footsteps of its sibling XC90, which won 2016 truck of the year.

Speaking of trucks, the legendary Ford F-series pickup will try and add to its stuffed trophy case with the 2017 F-250 Super Duty, the latest, largest version of the F-series’ revolutionary, all-aluminum body construction. The pickup was previously honored as best truck in 1996, 2004, 2009, and 2015. Its competitors this year also are veterans of the pickup wars. The mid-size Honda Ridgeline is the second evolution of Honda’s unique, unibody chassis structure. And the Nissan Titan follows big brother XD — a finalist for 2016 truck — in trying to put a dent in Detroit Three dominance of the trucking arena.

In the utility space, Chrysler has reinvented the minivan with its sleek, multi-functional Pacifica. The Pacifica replaces the Town & Country — itself a trend-setter in the segment. The F-Pace is Jaguar’s entry in the hot luxury ute race with three engine choices and head-turning British style. But even England’s pride has to be impressed by Mazda’s three-row CX-9 SUV, perhaps the prettiest utility in the land.

Founded in 1994, NACTOY is the only independent auto award made up of journalists from a wide range of outlets. The award honors excellence in innovation, design, safety, performance, technology, driver satisfaction and value.

For more information, go to: http://northamericancaroftheyear.org/

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

■ Chevrolet Bolt

■ Genesis G90

■■ Volvo S90

■■ Ford F-series Super Duty

■■ Honda Ridgeline

■■ Nissan Titan

■■ Chrysler Pacifica

■■ Jaguar F-Pace

■■ Mazda CX-9

2017 NACTOY finalists

Car

■ Chevrolet Bolt

■ Genesis G90

■■ Volvo S90

Truck

■■ Ford F-series Super Duty

■■ Honda Ridgeline

■■ Nissan Titan

Utility

■■ Chrysler Pacifica

■■ Jaguar F-Pace

■■ Mazda CX-9

Chevy Bolt’s charging challenge

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

bolt_nactory-fr

If your smartphone is low on charge, relief is just a wall socket away. But what if your battery-powered car beeps that it’s low on juice halfway between Detroit and Lansing?

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt five-door hatchback, the first electric vehicle under $40,000 to get 200-plus miles on a charge, is a milestone in addressing range anxiety.

“You could drive all week and never have to charge the Bolt,” Chevy’s Bolt communications chief Fred Ligouri said after a drive of the 238-mile-per-charge EV.

The Bolt, which GM is now building in Orion Township, will be in showrooms by the end of the year. The high-tech car is one of the clear favorites among 15 semi-finalists for the prestigious North American Car of the Year award. But tire-smoking acceleration and extended range don’t guarantee automatic success as Chevrolet seeks to transform electric vehicles from green curiosity to mass-market mainstay: Convenience and cost remain big reasons why EVs are currently below 1 percent of market sales.

“It’s going to need workplace charging, it’s going to need a home charging for sure that isn’t off a 110-volt outlet,” said Pasquale Romano, president and CEO of ChargePoint, which sells chargers for electric cars. “(That’s) because its battery is of a size – that depending on its state of charge when you get home – you’re going to want to plug that into a reasonable home charger to fill that battery back up again in the shortest time possible.”

EVs face daunting competition from more affordable, gasoline-powered cars that can gallop 400 to 600 miles on a tank of gas with just five minutes required for refueling. And gas doesn’t cost much above $2 a gallon.

Tesla has eased customer concerns by selling fast home-chargers for its all-electric Model S, a top-selling luxury sedan. The Silicon Valley-based startup is also building a proprietary, nationwide network of superchargers that its EVs can use to “top off” for long trips.

But such solutions are prohibitively expensive for more-affordable EVs like the Bolt.

The Tesla – with an average transaction price over $100,000 – packs an industry-leading 20 kilowatt, on-board charger. With such a large on-board charger, the Tesla Model S can hook up to a 240-volt Level 2 home charger (at a cost of about $2,500 with installation) to refuel its battery to 80 percent capacity in about three hours.

More mainstream electric cars like the $37,495 Bolt and $29,010 Nissan Leaf have 7.2-kW and 6.6-kW on-board recharging packs, respectively. As a result, it takes the Bolt 91/2 hours to recharge its 60 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery (the same size as a base Model S) on a 240-volt station. A full charge on a standard 120-volt wall socket would take 51 hours, according to Chevy. If somebody is doing a daily commute of 40 to 50 miles, a regular wall-socket would take more than 10 hours to recharge the battery.

Charging networks

General Motors brings years of experience to the battery game. The automaker found that only 35 percent of plug-in hybrid Volt owners installed Level 2 chargers. They are apparently content to charge the 53-mile range compact on a conventional, 120-volt outlet which can take upward of 12 hours. But with a backup gasoline engine to sooth range anxiety, customers are not fully dependent on the Volt’s battery to get around.

Bolt EV customers, by contrast, will rely solely on battery power, and GM expects most drivers will invest in a Level 2 charger. ChargePoint, which is providing Bolt buyers with a charging welcome kit, sells Level 2 home chargers though Amazon that start at $499 and range up to $749. Installation prices vary, but you may qualify for federal tax credit to recoup some costs through Dec. 31. DTE Energy initiated a 2016 program that awards 2,500 customers with $2,500 toward the purchase and installation of a Level 2 charger.

Chevy’s Ligouri expects a majority of metro Bolt owners will upgrade their vehicles with fast-charging Level 3 capability as a $750 option. A Level 3 station provides 90 miles per half-hour charge.

Buyers will benefit from urban networks of Level 2 chargers and even-faster Level 3 chargers installed by companies like ChargePoint and EVgo in gas stations and store parking lots like Dunkin’ Donuts where EV owners can charge outside the home. Cost at metro-area EVgo Level 3 stations is $5.95 per session plus 20 cents a minute.

Beyond big cities, resources get scarce. For example, Mackinaw City – 289 miles from Detroit on Interstate 75 – doesn’t have a single charging station. The Obama White House is seeking to remedy that situation with a national program to create 48 electric recharging corridors – with chargers available every 50 miles – across 25,000 miles of U.S. interstate. One of those corridors is I-94 so that an EV driver could refuel on his way from, say, Detroit to Chicago.

Price will increase

The additional equipment costs associated with charging EVs like the Bolt exacerbate the biggest reason drivers have avoided EVs: sticker shock.

A Harris poll last year found that 67 percent of respondents said cost was the No. 1 barrier to buying a battery-powered vehicle. Determined to encourage the adoption of EVs in order to meet its strict carbon dioxide emissions laws, the federal government gives a $7,500 income tax credit toward purchase of EVs like the Volt. As a result, the Bolt’s base cost comes down from $37,495 to $29,995.

That is still well north of a larger $22,130 Chevrolet Cruze hatchback in LT trim. At current gas and electricity costs, the Bolt would make up that price premium in about 12 years, assuming 10,000 miles traveled a year.

However, under current law, the Bolt’s tax benefit may soon disappear. Federal law only allows 200,000 credits per manufacturer – and GM estimates it is already at about 110,000 when sales of its current Volt plug-in, Spark EV and (now defunct) Cadillac ELR are added up.

When the tax credit phases out, the Bolt’s sticker price would not only dwarf that of a Cruze hatchback, but would be comparable to a fully loaded Honda CR-V.

GM expects most Bolt sales will be on the West and East coasts, as well as urban areas like Metro Detroit. Montgomery says all Detroit-area dealers have committed to sell the car. When It will be available for lease as well as sale, though Chevy has not released pricing details.