Articles Blog

GMC Sierra pickup moves uptown

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2018

Gmc Bed Drop Wide

St. John’s, Newfoundland – With the all-new, 2019 Sierra pickup, GMC is moving uptown, putting significant room between itself and working-class sibling Chevrolet Silverado.

Boasting unique features, a flashy wardrobe and transaction prices that would make Mercedes green with envy, GMC is effectively establishing itself as America’s only premium truck brand. At a time when fat truck profits are crucial to Detroit Three investments in autonomous and electric vehicles, GMC is complementing its deluxe Denali and SLT menu with an expensive, off-road offering called the AT4.

“We’re finding customers stepping out of Mercedes and BMW sedans and wanting to get into this beautiful, premium, high-powered truck,” said GMC design chief Matt Noone in Newfoundland’s port of St. John’s where the Sierra was introduced to media. “The success for Denali has outstripped all our expectations. The (market) appetite for premium trucks is something we’re focusing on.”

General Motors’ success in promoting GMC and its Denali badge, say analysts, is a shrewd reading of a market where truck customers demand luxury – but still value the ruggedness of trucks.

GMC is succeeding where Cadillac and Lincoln failed in the early 21st century by providing a pickup truck that rivals German luxury automakers in profit margin.

Named after the largest mountain peak in the United States (also known as Mt. McKinley), the Denali trim was introduced on the GMC Yukon SUV in 1999 to compliment the palatial Cadillac Escalade SUV launched a year prior. The badge was added to the Sierra lineup in 2001.

As the market has moved to SUVs after the Great Recession, the General positioned GMC — and Denali — to catch the wave with its midsize Acadia and compact Terrain utes.

Denali growth has been meteoric.

Since 2013, sales have nearly doubled from 74,795 units to 140,403 last year. The average Denali transaction price in 2017 was a stratospheric $55,656 — higher than Mercedes, BMW and Audi.

 “Coming out of the recession, people have been willing to pay for technology,” says Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for IHS Market, after a drive in the new Sierra. “They have opened up their checkbooks to buy content and that’s benefited GMC and Denali.”

Ford and Ram compete against the Sierra with successful, premium trims like the F-150 Platinum and Ram 1500 Limited.

So coveted is GMC’s premium image that it has transformed the brand. Where the standard, $40,000 SLE retail trim was once 40 percent of sales, it has shrunk to just 9 percent of Sierra volume. Meanwhile, the posh SLT and Denali trims now account for 75 percent of sales, says marketing boss Phil Brook. Denali alone – which starts at an eye-watering $59,495 – accounts for 20 percent of Sierra sales.

Noone says the clean-sheet, 2019 Sierra gave the truckmaker the chance to push the envelope over its Chevy kin.

“Customers told us – you have this great brand, you need to do more with it. We would like the truck to look different, feel different. It has features you can’t get on a Chevy – or any other truck.”

GMC is following a path familiar to luxury carmakers like Lincoln, Acura, and Lexus: It shares a base architecture with the mainstream Chevy Silverado pickup – then enhances its with styling and unique features.

“This is the biggest separation between GMC and Chevy we’ve seen,” says analyst Brinley. “The only sheet metal they share is a rear door, roof and rear bumper — and GMC is getting technology ahead of Chevrolet.”

The Sierra’s exclusive MultiPro tailgate is an engineering marvel – essentially two tailgates in one that can be configured into a stand-up desk, lumber load stop, or entry staircase into the pickup bed.

The new AT4 off-road trim gains a 6.2-liter V-8 over its 5.3-liter V-8 Chevy Trail Boss cousin. It will also be optioned with a carbon-fiber bed, a light, durable material usually found on exotic performance cars.

“With Denali, we have focused on premium, on luxury,” said Noone. “But we also have 100 years of delivering ruggedness, so we’re bringing an AT4 that focuses on capability. The carbon-fiber bed is the strongest box we’ve ever done. “

While Cadillac has struggled to gain traction against German lux-makers, GMC is racking up luxury-like sales. Denali sales alone were just 14,000 units shy of the entire Caddy division. According to Bloomberg News figures, the average GMC vehicle sells for about $44,000, almost 40 percent higher than the average US transaction.

The Sierra Denali pickup will top out at over $67,000. But while the Cadillac Escalade SUV can push $100,000, don’t expect luxury makers to move into the pickup space anytime soon.

Both Cadillac (the Escalade-based  EXT) and Lincoln (the Blackwood and Mark LT) introduced pickups in 2002. They were discontinued earlier this decade after poor sales.

“When it’s been a luxury brand trying to deliver on a pickup truck, it hasn’t been successful,” said IHS Market’s Brinley. “Pickup buyers want to have faith in their capabilities, but they don’t want a Cadillac truck. They want their truck brand, and then they want to reward themselves.”

Even Mercedes, which sells its mid-size X-Class pickup truck in Europe and Latin America, has no plans to compete against Detroit’s premium titans in the US market.

“I think Mercedes would struggle here,” says Brinley.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

Payne: Hyundai Kona is nutty outside, meaty inside

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 13, 2018

Kona Fr3 4

 

For those of us who mourned the passing from the American market this year of the defiantly funky Nissan Juke, there is good news — the Hyundai Kona is here.

The frog-eyed, multi-colored, fun-to-drive Juke was an early entrant in the subcompact ute-stakes along with other quirkboxes like the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and Scion xB. The Juke thrilled us with its taut chassis, 188 horses, and  — um — unique wardrobe. Remember the mustard interior?

But as we Yanks have gone whole-hog for SUVs, the subcompact class is no longer an outlier but a full-blown, entry-level mainstream class.

It’s now populated by respectable five-doors like the Ford Ecosport, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek and Chevy Trax. These latest cute-utes carry familiar family DNA. Even Nissan has gotten the mainstream fever by ditching the alternative R&B Juke box for the more mainstream classical Kicks.

I get it. Mass audiences require a broader taste. No mainstream station survives on a steady diet of Devo. Ya gotta play the Beatles and Springsteen and Swift. Is there still room in subcompact utes for outrageous?

Well, slip into a Lime Twist Hyundai Kona, crank up “Whip It” on Apple CarPlay, dial in all-wheel drive, and let’s play in the twisties.

Whip it! Whip it good!

To be honest the sub-ute class is hardly devoid of character despite the dropouts. The class has a bit of everything from the aforementioned mainstreamers to the athletic Mazda CX-3 to the funkadelic Toyota CH-R.

“It’s a wild, wild west segment,” says Hyundai chief engineer Mike O’Brien. “It’s all over the place in size and capability. What is the ideal set of attributes?”

For Hyundai, the ideal – to squeeze my music metaphor one more time – is to borrow from different genres to create a pleasing whole. The Kona is classic Hyundai set to a hip-hop dance beat.

Yes, Hyundai. The conservative Korean brand took a backseat to brother Kia over the last year as the latter redefined itself as a sexy, upscale brand with the introduction of the sensational performance Kia Stinger sedan.

But where Kia’s halo car trickles down to smaller fish like the Forte and Sportage, Hyundai’s halos bubble upwars like a ground spring. Like Mazda and its MX-5 Miata.

Credit elves like O’Brien, a serious motorhead restoring his own open-wheel race car, who has a passion for performance and has used every tool in Hyundai’s box to make Kona worthy. Kona joins the three-door Veloster quirkster I reviewed in June as entry-level, $20,000-somethings that introduce customers to the brand with funk ‘n’ spunk. They share drivetrains, value and attitude. Lots of attitude.

My Kona tester looked like a supersized Hot Wheels tester with its lime paint job and show, five-spoke wheels. The front end isn’t shy either, adopting a three-shelf headlight stack – last seen on the 2014 Jeep Cherokee – that glues on the running lights where the headlights usually sit.

The rear is no less radical with two stacks of taillights framing the license-plate stamped rear hatch.

With the white, front running lights ablaze next to a gaping, Veloster-like grille, the Kona looks like the demonic Chernabog from Disney’s “Fantasia” (look it up). Which would fit with O’Brien’s anthropomorphic description of the styling as “urban smart armor that shows the bones — the exoskeleton of the vehicle.”

Makes ol’ froggy Juke seem downright cute by comparison.

The Hyundai’s slashing lines and heaping dose of cladding does indeed give the appearance of skin stretched over a carcass. There is no mistaking this car on the road – if you can keep up with it.

The Kona may have spent a lot of time dressing up in front of a mirror, but it put in the hours at the gym, too. Although its sits higher off the ground than cousin Veloster, Kona is eager to tackle curvy roads. It is quite comfortable chasing other athletes in the class like CX-3 and CH-R, but Hyundai has gone them one better – it’s has provided the driveline to match its chassis ambitions.

Where Toyota and Mazda stop with 2.5-liter 145-horse four-bangers, Hyundai offers the same pair of engines offered with the sporty Veloster – a 143-horse, 2.0-liter 4-banger and a stonkin’ 175-horse, 193-torque, 1.6-liter turbo.

My tester came equipped with the latter, turning the lime into a red hot chili pepper out of corners, the smooth, seven-speed automatic downshifting in sync with my lead foot. This turbo is mated to a standard all-wheel drive system — standard, because that’s what you want out of an SUV, after all.

What I wanted was maximum traction with the four’s pony-power, so I kept the system set to “full-time all-wheel drive.”

This lovely drivetrain is controlled from a startlingly mature cockpit. The transition from the fan boy exterior to the cabin is abrupt. Green accents are tastefully distributed around the push-button starter and console, but otherwise the inside is all grown up with iPad-like touch-screen and silver-ringed instrument dials. Console space is ample, the seats comfortable, the value impressive.

Like fellow mainstream brands, Hyundai loaded my $29,775 tester with electronic features that would challenge some luxury marques costing twice as much.

Automatic windshield wipers and high beams, smartphone connectivity (who needs a nav system?), head-up display, auto braking, blind-spot assist…

(Pause to catch breath)

… dual-climate control, heated seats, sun roof, Amazon Echo remote start/commands, and best-in-class 10-year/100,000 mile drivetrain warranty. Options aside, buyers at the starting price of just $20,480, get good fundamentals like best-in-class cargo room.

The Kona – which at first appears a green-hair Dennis Rodman shock jock – turns out to be a well-rounded, Grant Hill all-star.

While Mrs. Payne wouldn’t be caught deal in Lime Twist, she did concede that the loaded Kona reminded her of her equally value-rich Subaru Impreza hatchback. All-wheel-drive, Apple CarPlay, heated seats — all the stuff she counts on day-to-day.

And she wasn’t bothered by the higher seating position, perhaps because – like her lower Subaru – the Kona is so well screwed together.

The Kona is reminiscent of the Subaru Crosstrek, the Impreza hatch’s body double – just raised a couple inches and layered with fender-cladding to give off that coveted crossover vide. Paint the Kona  more conventional Surf Blue or Thunder Gray and it might almost seem conventional compared to the more conservative Subaru.

But for those of you in Juke withdrawal, you’ll want the Lime Twist.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Hyundai Kona

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $20,480 base ($29,775 Ultimate AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder; 1.6-liter Turbo-4

Power: 147 horsepower, 132 pound-feet torque (2.0-liter); 175 horsepower, 195 pound-feet torque (1.6-liter Turbo-4)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic (2.0-liter); 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic (1.6-liter)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.67 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 135 mph

Weight: 3,344 pounds (Ultimate AWD Turbo-4 as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 25 city/30 highway/27 combined (4WD 2.0-liter); 26 city/29 highway/27 combined (4WD 1.6-liter)

Report card

Highs: Versatile cargo space; fun to flog

Lows: Quirky styling; more console cubbies, please

Overall: 4 stars

Roush JackHammer Mustang joins the 700 (hp) Club

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2018

Roush Side

Plymouth — In the Detroit horsepower wars, the 2015 Dodge Hellcat was the first to unbridle 700 ponies, followed by Chevy’s 755-horsepower Corvette ZR1 this year. Ford is expected to join the club with its earth-pawing, 700-plus horsepower Mustang GT500 early next year.

Call it the Meg. But for those who can’t wait, Ford mod shop Roush has dropped a 710-horse Snake on dealerships for 2018: the supercharged JackHammer Mustang.

Based on the GT model, the new JackHammer makes 710 horsepower and 610 pound-feet of torque thanks to a massive supercharger mounted on top of the already capable 5.0-liter V-8.

A rocket ship on wheels, I tested the beast in its native Plymouth habitat. Armed with a 6-speed manual transmission, smoky burnouts are easily induced out of stoplights (a 10-speed automatic is also available). The added horsepower overwhelms the rear tires even with the nanny systems turned on. Merge with authority onto I-96 and the Jackhammer gulps traffic like a whale ingests krill.

The JackHammer, named after the mad doctor Jack Roush himself, is the latest Frankenstein’s monster to emerge from the legendary mod shop here. Roush has a special partnership with Ford that allows customers to order a Roush-modified Mustang for dealer delivery with other trims like the turbocharged 4-cylinder Ecoboost or movie-inspired Bullitt.

Customers can choose a Stage 1 kit that modifies the suspension and exterior of an turbocharged-4 cylinder Ecoboost — or a Stage 2 kit that does the same to a Mustang GT. But the JackHammer is the only package that comes with the Full Monty: body mods, suspension tuning and supercharged mill.

The upgrade stickers for $14,765 on top of whatever the customer has paid for their factory GT, which starts at $36,090. Roush then adds its goodies before the ‘Hammer is shipped to the customer’s dealership for supercharger installation. Thanks to the certified Ford installation, says Roush, the customer still gets a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty just like a factory ‘Stang.

Both Suburban Ford of Ferndale and Hines Park Ford in New Hudson are certified Roush dealers in the Metro Detroit area.

The JackHammer is not the first time Mustangs have eclipsed 700 horsepower. Roush entered 700-horsepower territory with its 727-horse P-51 special edition last year. The package cost over $42,000 and only 51 were built. In even rarer air is the $113,445 Super Snake from Shelby’s Vegas tuner shop which buys you 710 horsepower with an upgrade option to a claimed 800 horsepower.

Roush will make 200 Jackhammers for 2018. But if they run out, don’t panic because the company begins manufacture of a 2019 model Stage 3 Mustang this October. It will carry similar specs right down to the 710-horse engine, adjustable shocks and sticky Continental ExtremeContact Sport tires.

Though the Corvette ZR1 is king of the 700 horsepower club, the Roush ponies are clearly aimed at the 717-horse Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.

The Hellcat is already legend, but its aging chassis weighs in at a porky 4,439 pounds. Even when outfitted with supercharger and additional cooling equipment, the JackHammer should weigh less than 3,800 pounds on Mustang’s new sixth-generation architecture.

Pushing the Jackhammer around interstate cloverleafs, that lighter weight is noticeable as the rear-drive Mustang rotates beautifully under throttle. Beware full throttle, however, as 710 horses easily induce wheelspin.

Roush claims the JackHammer is capable of 1.07 Gs in cornering loads, which puts it in good handling company with the track-tuned factory Mustang GT350 and Chevy Camaro ZL1. Based on the same, nimble platform as the sensational Cadillac ATS sedan, the Camaro is in another league in handling, rivaling luxury performance weapons like the BMW M4.

But there is nothing as distinct as a Mustang V-8 soundtrack, and the JackHammer roars under throttle like a T. rex after Jeff Goldblum. Roush offers an Active Exhaust tuning option that allows drivers to turn up the sound to Touring, Sport, Track and Custom modes.

That ought to keep us occupied until the Meg arrives.

Payne: GMC Sierra wows with Swiss Army tailgate

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 6, 2018

Sierra At4 Fr3 4

ravel to Newfoundland, and the friendly locals will adopt you as a “Newfie” after a “screech-in” ritual that includes the kissing of a cod.

“Are ye a screecher?” demanded the chief of ceremonies as I wiped my lips of the fish.

“Indeed I is, and long may your big jib draw,” I responded, reciting the required vows. “Big jib” is a large boat sail. Translation: May the wind always be at your back.

GMC brought members of the automotive press to this rocky North Atlantic isle this summer for the launch of its totally re-imagined Sierra. The big pickup has long been an honorable Newfie with its handsome looks, rugged capability and smooth ride. It’s going to be adopted by a lot of customers around the rest of North America, too.

This is the Year of the Truck and each of the Detroit Three is bringing new pickups. Ford has it first diesel F-150. From Ram comes a stylish 1500. And from GM, the brawny Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra identical twins.

Except, the twins aren’t so identical anymore.

As the years have gone by, Silverado and Sierra have diverged to the point where they are fishing for different customers. Chevy is the populist choice, populating worksites with work trucks for working stiffs. GMC is the managers’ brand, delivering architects, construction foremen and company owners to the site — its big, chromed bow announcing its business-class passenger.

Sierra may start around $30,000 like its Chevy twin, but a mere 9 percent of GMC sales are the affordable SLE trim. Its upscale Denali and SLT wardrobes account for a whopping 75 percent of sales, says GMC marketing guru Phil Brook. So synonymous is Denali with GMC that customers simply ask for Denali. Like BMW speed-freaks say they want an M. Or Mercedes motorheads want an AMG.

The GMC customer wants something different and, boy, do they get it with the 2019 pickup. For the Year of the Truck, GMC brings the Year of the Box.

The General has already made news with Silverado’s expanded, Brobdingnagian, rolled-steel bed. The bed is the working end of the pickup, the head of the hammer. “I don’t think we’d get much work done with an aluminum hammer,” GM product captain Mark Reuss said at this year’s Detroit auto show, hammering away at the F-150.

Sierra, too, gets Silverado’s steel, defying pundit claims that truck makers would have to follow Ford and go lightweight with aluminum to save the polar bears. Tow that to the same 21st-century scrap yard as predictions that we’d all be driving hybrid compact sedans by now.

Sierra caps the steel box with the innovative MultiPro tailgate. Exclusive to Sierra and standard on upper trim Denali and SLT, the MultiPro is a gate within a gate.

It’s a six-way Swiss Army knife of versatility:

1. The inner gate drops, forming a shallow, chest-high shelf. Not as expansive as the full “tailgate party” drop, it can act as a rear workspace — or mini-bar.

2. With the inner gate open the shelf will rotate vertically, creating a load-stop for boards or plywood that otherwise hang awkwardly over the tailgate.

3. The full gate drops slowly on cables like a standard pickup (a new auto-close trick is exclusive to Silverado).

4. With the full gate open, the inner-gate shelf can again be propped open to create a lower load-stop. For large loads with the truck, I preferred the taller load-stop so I could put the heavy stuff in the bed of the truck — then long, load-stopped boards on top of them.

5. With the full gate down, drop the inner gate to create a sort of “walk-in desk.”

6. With the full gate and inner gate down, the load-stop shelf now acts as a step creating a two-step staircase into the bed. GMC/Chevy were already innovators in this space with their corner step — but the staircase makes easy bed entry when carrying big items. Say goodbye to hiking your knee up onto the tailgate to get in the bed.

The MultiPro gate is as cool as it sounds. Not since Audi’s slick, multi-functional Virtual Cockpit display and Tesla’s 17-inch screen have I so enjoyed playing with an accessory.

But where the Audi/Tesla function is ultimately an aesthetic luxury, the Sierra’s premium tailgate is must-have, truck utility.

Other accessories push beyond premium to luxury. The Sierra reaches into Cadillac’s toolbox for a giant head-up display and rear camera mirror — the latter giving drivers an unobstructed view of bed and trailer. A swiveling side step (also available on Silverado’s High Country trim) allows better access to the front bed quarter. And the bed will also be available in carbon fiber — an exotic, lightweight material typically found on sports cars. For Sierra, carbon means a material even more durable than steel.

Speaking of sports cars, my Denali had a similar 6.2-liter V-8 to the Corvette. Paired with a 10-speed and spitting out 460 pound-feet of torque, it was as silky as the Sierra’s wardrobe. Dress a Chevy Silverado in a tuxedo and it’s good-looking. If it can do a six-way tailgate, wade streams with 1,600 pounds on your back and go zero-60 in less than six seconds, it’s a celebrity.

Heck, if James Bond ever needs a gorgeous, versatile pickup, Q might deliver him a Sierra Denali.

Or a Sierra AT4. The latter is Sierra’s latest premium trim — a skid-plated, off-road version packing two extra inches of lift, that big honkin’ V-8 and knobby off-road tires. If Newfies don’t need their Sierra to load fish, then they can take this brute inland to chop Christmas trees.

My MultiPro-accessorized Sierra starts just $1,700 north of a $57,795 High Country Silverado. The looks alone are worth it. The remade, high-strength steel chassis is not just 380 pounds lighter than the last generation, it’s allowed designers a bigger canvas to differentiate it from the humble Chevy. Behold the sculpted flanks and C-shaped headlights, and an upright hood that rivals the Ram 1500 for best-looking truck on the road.

Sierra customers may be surprised to find the interior is little changed from the Silverado. Still, that also means it gets the same three-inch boost in rear legroom over last generation, rear-seat storage compartments and connected console.

Sierra beats kissing a cod. It’s a whale of a truck.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 GMC Sierra 1500

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- and four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $31,095 base ($67,200 Denali, 6.2-liter V-8, 4WD Crew Cab as tested)

Powerplant: 4.3-liter V-6; 2.7-liter Turbo-4; 5.3-liter V-8; 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 285 horsepower, 305 pound-feet torque (4.3-liter V-6); 310 horsepower, 328 pound-feet torque (2.7-liter Turbo-4); 355 horsepower, 385 pound-feet torque (5.3-liter V-8); 420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet torque (6.2-liter V-8)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic (V-6, 5.3L V-8); 8-speed automatic (Turbo-4, 5.3L V-8); 10-speed automatic (6.2L V-8)

Performance: 0-60 mph, est. 5.7 seconds; Towing: 12,100 lbs. (4WD 6.2-liter V-8 Crew Cab, mftr); Payload: 2,070 lbs. (4WD 6.2-liter V-8 Crew Cab, mftr)

Weight: 4,797 pounds, base, 2WD Crew Cab (5,015 pounds (4WD, Crew Cab as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/21 highway/17 combined (4WD 5.3L V-8); 15 city/20 highway/17 combined (4WD 6.2L V-8)

Report card

Highs: Head-turning looks; Swiss Army knife meets tailgate

Lows: Interior still too Chevy-like; how come the interior wood trim is buried in the dash?

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Hearty Chevy Silverado serves meat and potatoes

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 6, 2018

Chevy Ltz Fr3 4

I love the pickup wars for the same reason I love muscle car bouts. Both are uniquely American segments boasting big engines, big capability, and Big Three automakers clawing at each other to be King of the Hill.

The Battle of Muscle has been white hot in recent years as General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler introduced their latest weapons — Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger — boasting state-of-the-art performance. The three brands bring unique talents and flag-waving partisans scream themselves hoarse urging them on. Crossing sides is a traitorous act — the partisan divide makes D.C. politics look like tiddlywinks.

Camaro partisans cheer their warrior’s handling, Mustang fans adore their gorgeous-styling, and Challenger faithful recite Herculean horsepower figures. When the armies clash and the V-8s roar, you can hear them for miles. They are light infantry compared to pickup battles.

The Truck Wars are far more consequential because, with millions of sales at stake, they are the core moneymakers of Detroit’s Three. Tens of thousands of standard pickups are sold every year to company fleets, flooding the landscape with worker ants doing the daily essentials of American commerce: building, landscaping, towing.

With this summer’s introduction of the long-awaited 2019 Chevy Silverado pickup, the truckmakers — like their muscle car cousins — have finally lined up their state-of-the-art steeds.

Happy birthday, Cadillac Escalade

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 31, 2018

Escalade 2018 City

The Cadillac Escalade debuted 20 years ago with all the subtlety of Shaq O’Neal jumping out of a birthday cake.

Introduced at the prim-and-proper Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance in California, the pickup-based, three-row land yacht shocked polite society as the most outrageous SUV the world had ever seen. It was a throwback to the tail-finned behemoths of Cadillac’s 1950s glory days, yet became an icon for a new, 21st-century generation of wealthy rappers, actors, and athletes — including Shaq himself.

Cadillac is celebrating the Escalade’s 20th birthday this summer with a series of prints and a video commemorating four generations of Escalade.

Bigger than a New York apartment and bejeweled with enough chrome to be seen from outer space, the Escalade has been a segment champion for a brand that has struggled to establish itself as an athletic maker of smaller sedans and crossovers like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.

The best-seller in its segment for 15 of its 20 years, the bling-tastic Escalade delivers about $3 billion a year to Caddy’s bottom line. Sales have topped more than three-quarters of a million in the United States and over 800,000 world-wide. Since 1999, its customers have been the Cadillac’s richest and youngest (average age 52) — bringing new generations to an 116-year-old brand.

The Caddy that put the OMG into SUV debuted in 1998 as little more than a GMC Yukon in a tuxedo. Based on a pickup truck chassis, it was rushed to market to counter the similarly super-sized Lincoln Navigator.

The Caddy’s stature and palatial interior room wowed a world warming to SUVs.

“That combination immediately struck a chord,” says Cadillac president Steve Carlisle. “It introduced Cadillac to an entirely new generation of luxury customers via popular culture and changed perceptions of what the brand could offer.”

By 2003 musicians from Kanye West to Ludacris to Jennifer Lopez were writing about the Escalade. Sang Lopez in her hit “Love Don’t Cost a Thing”:

“When you rolled up in the Escalade
Saw that truck you gave to the valet
Knew that it was game when you looked at me”

Escalade became synonymous with Hollywood celebrity, helping to grow sales by 90 percent with the second-generation model in 2003. By its fifth birthday Escalade sales had ballooned 230 percent. Though it pioneered the mega-ute, Lincoln’s Navigator couldn’t match the Caddy’s celebrity status.

Blinged-out Escalades from urban-ride trend-setter DUB magazine became a staple at auto shows. The ute starred in The Sopranos and Entourage TV shows. Even Tiger Woods was attacked by his golf club-wielding wife in an Escalade.

Not everyone wanted the big Caddy.

It was scorned by media who labeled Escalade a threat to safety and the planet. New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher skewered the beast in his 2002 book “High and Mighty SUVs: The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way,” writing that “it looked like a very large shark traveling down the road with its jaws gaping.”

As Escalade sales approached 40,000 a year in North America, not every model was a success as attempts to expand the badge with pickup and hybrid versions were met with yawns.

The Escalade hybrid might have been single-handedly slain by Paris Hilton’s 2008 “Paris for President” campaign song which included the lyrics:

“Incentivize nuclear nonproliferation and ratify Kyoto today
You can ride in the motorcade in my hybrid pink Escalade
Paris for President!”

Even as sales leveled off at 20k a year, the big Caddy has survived gasoline price spikes and proved that the full-size SUV segment is here to stay. Last year it inspired an all-new, widely-acclaimed Navigator — the first Lincoln to go to-to-toe against the legend in years.

Mainstream models based on the same architecture — the Yukon and Chevy Suburban — have also become profit-rich mainstays unrivaled by foreign makers.

Celebrity fads come and go. As Tinseltown has moved on to other status symbols like the Tesla Model S and Bugatti Veyron, the Escalade has touted technological and stylistic advances.

Escalade introduced an adaptive shock system, Magnetic Ride Control, to full-size utes in 2009, and was the standard bearer for Cadillac’s Art & Science design philosophy in 2014. The majestic ute has been featured prominently in brand advertising and has a large female buying demographic.

At 17-feet long and 6-feet tall, the $75,990 Escalade’s (loaded models can approach six figures) outsized proportions have changed little in 20 years. But the King of Bling, winner of 16 JD Power reliability awards, gets 65 percent more horsepower from its 6.2-liter V-8 and 52 percent better fuel economy (15 mpg vs. 23 mpg) than the ’99 model.

Some things just get fitter with age.

Payne: Chasing McQueen’s tracks in 2019 Mustang Bullitt

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 30, 2018

The 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt is the third special edition 'Stang made in commemoration of the Highland Green, 1968 car that starred in the movei "Bullitt."

San Francisco – Driving downhill on Larkin Street high above San Francisco Bay in a 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt, I understand how “Bullitt” star Steve McQueen missed the right-hand turn onto Chestnut Street. Chestnut flattens out, which surely forced McQueen’s galloping ‘68 Mustang Fastback to push wide. The actor stopped before hitting the far curb, stuffed it in reverse, then peeled rubber down Chestnut in continued pursuit of his prey.

Rather than edit the error, the film’s editors liked its authenticity and kept it in the movie. After pausing at the intersection, I burned rubber down Chestnut — following in the legend’s tracks.

Fifty years ago this October, Warner Brothers released “Bullitt” with McQueen and his four-wheel co-star. The film, produced by McQueen, was a blockbuster.

It will forever be remembered for its thrilling 12-minute car chase for which it won an Oscar for Best Film Editing.

The sequence would cement the Fastback coupe as one of cinema’s great cars along with the “Back to the Future” DeLorean and Ferris Bueller’s Ferrari. A ‘60s sales hit and cultural icon, the Mustang fit McQueen’s vision of making an urban Western in which he “would strap on the car like a gun belt.”

In the 21st century the Bullitt badge has become an essential weapon in the Mustang holster — a reminder both of the pony car’s 1960s origins and its ferocious performance. The 2019 model is the third Bullitt Mustang, following 2001 and 2008 special editions.

I went to the streets of San Francisco this summer to retrace the “Bullitt” chase scene and to strap on the latest Mustang in Ford’s arsenal — the fastest Bullitt yet made.

Taylor Street parallels Larkin through San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood, but is even steeper, descending like a staircase. McQueen and director Peter Yates — both experienced race drivers — ignored Russian Hill’s most famous street, the tight, zig-zagging Lombard. They were intent on filming speed, and arrow-straight Taylor showcased the big block V-8s in McQueen’s 6.4-liter Mustang and the 7.2-liter Dodge Charger he was chasing.

The 2019 Bullitt Mustang has been downsized to 5.0-liters — yet has gained 155 horsepower (equivalent to adding a Mazda Miata engine) over the original’s 325 horses, thanks to relentless engineering advances.

To separate it from its V-8 powered, $36,000 Mustang GT stablemate, the $46,495 Bullitt has gained 20 horsepower over the standard 460. That power also comes higher, in the 7,500-rpm rev range, in order to feed your need for speed.

Ford’s engine geniuses accomplished this feat with a new throttle body, plasma-sprayed cylinders and a new air intake. The result is a glorious howl of the overhead cam V-8 as I consistently pushed it to 7,000 rpms before downshifting into corners, the quad-exhaust snap-crackle-popping off throttle.

Avoiding the city’s clotted morning traffic, I took to the streets at 6.30 a.m. I accelerated hard down Taylor, before easing across the stepped, flat intersections. So steep is Taylor that the crossroads must have looked like approaching walls to McQueen and his top-shelf stunt drivers, Carey Loftin and Bill Hickman. The fronts of the Mustang and Charger slammed into the pavement before vaulting — airborne! — onto the next downhill.

To withstand the impact of San Francisco hills, the Bullitt crew upgraded the ’68 car with stiffer suspension and swaybars. I didn’t go airborne in the 2019 car, but I have no doubt that if I did, it would bounce my spine off my pelvis.

With its stiff chassis, sophisticated suspension and independent rear, the ’19 Bullitt is a serious performance car. If you want a quiet, silky ride, this is the wrong rodeo. While the Performance Pack One-enhanced Bullitt (stiffer springs/roll bars, front splitter) lacks the latest tires of the GT’s new Pack Two, the latter’s MagneRide shocks are a marvelous complement to the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires.

Though shy of the performance of the current Camaro SS (Hey, Warner Bros, how about a remake of “Bullitt” with Tom Cruise chasing a Camaro?), the Bullitt Mustang is ready for battle, rotating eagerly into corners.

After a game of cat and mouse, the “Bullitt” chase scene is joined when chasee McQueen becomes the chaser  the Mustang’s menacing, cowl grille looming in the Charger hitman’s rear-view mirror. Spooked, the Charger takes off, shedding eight hub caps (a classic of movie-editing trivia) as it tears around  corners.

The new Bullitt Mustang is no less threatening.

Mustang chief engineer Carl Widmann pitched the Bullitt four years ago as the then-controversial sixth-gen Mustang debuted to the world. With a its sloped front hood and Fusion-like grille, the new pony was a departure from the retro-styled cowl of yore. Buyers embraced the new look, re-establishing Mustang at the top of the muscle car sales charts.

As the “Bullitt” movie’s 50th anniversary approached, Ford partnered with Sean Kiernan — the owner of the 1968 Mustang used in the movie — to parade the two cars together. Shoulder-to-shoulder in San Francisco, the Highland Green Bullitts are unmistakably family.

Stripped of the Mustang logo, both grilles are menacing, dark voids. The ’68 car’s signature fastback is repeated in the new Bullitt right down to the window angle. The new car’s angled headlights and low front splitter give it menace.

True to its heritage, the 2019 car has the “Bullitt” movie logo stamped on the trunk lid.

The original Bullitt Mustang still has camera mounts under the rocker panels and trunk holes that were cut to power the cameras via generator. The punishing movie-chase sequences were shot, then the cars were transported to Willow Springs race track outside LA, where chase scene sounds were recorded  and dubbed in for the movie.

Inside, the new Mustang’s interior has been transformed with 21st-century electronics offering touchscreen navigation, configurable instrument display, line-lock burnouts, launch control — features that the ‘60s could only dream of.

But just like the original, the new pony only comes with a manual transmission. The cue-ball shifter tells a tale.

In the movie car, McQueen — a Porsche buff — installed a Porsche shift knob. That wouldn’t do for a production Ford Mustang, so Ford adopted the next best thing — a replica of the white shifter Kiefer’s father installed when he bought the car in 1974.

That’s OK. When you shift it into first and pop the clutch, it burns rubber down Chestnut Street like it was 1968.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four(ish)-passenger coupe

Price: $47,590 base ($51,385 as tested)

Powerplant: 5.0-liter V-8

Power: 480 horsepower, 420 pound-feet torque (with 93-octane fuel)

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.2 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed: 163 mph

Weight: 3,705 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/25 highway/18 combined (Car and Driver)

Report card

Highs: Movie-star looks; V-8 baritone

Lows: Stiff daily driver; Camaro SS 1LE would run away from it in a car chase

Overall: 4 stars

NSX and ZR1: Made in the USA supercars

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 30, 2018

Odd couple. The 755-horsepower Corvette ZR1, left, gets it grunt from a front-mounted, supercharged, push-rod V-8. The Acura NSX is more complicated with a 573-horse, hybrid-electric, mid-engine, twin-turbo V-6 and three electric motors turning all four wheels.

Pontiac — I drove two future classics along Woodward last week, a red Corvette ZR-1 and blue Acura NSX. The odd couple — one an old-school ground-pounding Chevy V-8, the other a luxury hybrid-cyborg from the future — turned heads wherever I went. And they effortlessly negotiated laps around M1 Concourse’s test track.

Yet, the pair share more than first meets the eye.

They are the only supercars made in America by major brands. They are the top-of-the-line prestige cars of automakers that produce hundreds of thousands of vehicles. And they represent the alpha and omega of the gas-powered supercar.

In one year, the two vehicles — for all their apparent differences — will become more alike in the form of a mid-engine Corvette built on an Acura-like lightweight chassis. It will pack the potential of megabuck hypercars in a sub-$200,000 package.

Dodge’s cessation of Viper production at Connor Assembly late last year (we Viper fanatics held a wake at the 2017 Dream Cruise) left Bowling Green, Kentucky (Corvette) and Marysville, Ohio (NSX) as the only outposts of American-built supercars against a foreign onslaught of speed weapons.

Even the remarkable Ferrari-slaying, LeMans-winning Ford GT is produced out of the U.S., outsourced to Multimatic in Markham, Ontario.

The NSX is assembled on the Marysville campus that also churns out Honda Accords to 100 countries and employs more than 4,000. It’s part of a Midwest manufacturing empire that extends from East Liberty, Ohio, home of Americas’ best-selling CR-V, and west to Indiana, home of the popular Honda Civic compact.

The NSX is the crown jewel in Acura’s crown, a representation of where Honda Motor Co. thinks cars are headed. It has a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 and a 1.3 kWh battery powering three electric motors for a total system of 573 horsepower. A lightning-quick, 9-speed electronic transmission mated to all-wheel drive. This being a supercar, the battery isn’t just for fuel economy: turbos + electric motors = zero turbo-lag.

At a stoplight, I turn the mode dial to Track I and floor the brake and accelerator. Revs level at 2,500 rpms and I dump the brake.

It takes just 3.1 seconds to hit 60 mph. You might have to do a U-turn to pick up your stomach.

But around a parking lot, it’s silent, the battery shouldering the load. I sneak up on a couple of shoppers pushing a grocery cart. Startled, they want to have their pictures taken with the cyborg from the future.

Cyborgs are expensive and the NSX is no exception: My carbon fiber-trimmed beauty stickered north of $160,000. It’s rare air for Acura, which has to compete with brands like the McLaren 570GT and Porsche 911 Turbo at that price. Only 1,000 have sold here in two years. But the technology is trickling down: electric motor-driven, all-wheel drive MDX SUVs … electronic transmissions in RDXs. Cool stuff.

If the Nouvelle Blue Pearl NSX is cool, my Torch Red ZR1 tester is scorching.

The $120,000 ZR1 is the ultimate application of Chevy’s prehistoric front-engine, push-rod V-8 might. It’s Hulk bursting from his shirt. A supercharger sticks through the hood. Fenders are engorged with huge black wheels. A giant, inverted rear wing keeps the monster grounded.

On M1, it annihilates the Acura NSX with 755 horsepower, 1,000-pound feet of downforce and gummy tires that would be slicks save the two vague grooves down the middle. I swear other cars dropped to their knees when I roll by. All hail King Cruise.

But Chevy also thinks NSX is the future.

A mid-engine Corvette C8 will soon be born. Because for all the ‘Vette’s muscle, the Kentucky supercar desperately needs NSX’s architecture so it can explore the frontiers of handling and electrification.

Plant the V-8 behind the driver’s ear, and the next-generation ‘Vette will be able to dance around the track like Acura Astaire, not just pound it into submission. Put an electric motor in the front where the engine used to be, and rumors are the next-gen ZR1 will be able to channel 1,000-horsepower from a twin-turbo V-8 through all four wheels.

King Cruise? King Universe.

A mid-engine Corvette will make life hard for Ferraris and Ford GTs in world sports car racing’s GTLM class. Just as the Acura NSX has been hard to beat in the GTD class this year. Yet, when these future classics get their historic license plates in 26 years, cruisers will marvel at how effortless they are daily-drivers.

Not bad for a couple of home boys.

Meet the Dream Cruise Class of ’92

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 16, 2018

Paynecars

The Woodward Dream Cruise is an automotive class reunion. It’s that time of year when owners get together on Michigan’s most fabled avenue to share memories about their favorite old jalopy and to catch up on the latest trends and models. My goodness, have you noticed how big Mini Cooper has gotten?

This year we celebrate the Class of 1992. It turns 26, meaning cars are eligible for antique status from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.

Most things turn antique after 25 years but, well, close enough for government work. The designation allows owners to slap on historic license plates and qualify for more affordable collector car insurance (assuming you only drive to historic car events like the Cruise).

Ah, 1992. When Bill Clinton was elected president, a Cyrus — Billy Ray, not daughter Miley — had the top-selling music album in the land, and my daily driver was a red cop-magnet: a 1987 Porsche 924S.

The average cost of a car was $16,334 (less than half today’s $36,270), the Detroit Three were demanding trade protection, BMW announced it would manufacture in South Carolina, and General Motors made cars named after the planet Saturn. “Little Al” Unser won the Indy 500, NASCAR still was sponsored by cigarettes, Richard Petty retired from racing, and some kid named Jeff Gordon got his rookie start.

That’s a lot of nostalgia for the reunion to chew on. Want more? Let’s talk the year’s most notable new vehicles.

Hummer H1
The military Humvee was to the 1991 Gulf War what the Jeep was to World War II. The troop carrier inspired a civilian version that debuted with a ringing endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gun turret not included.

Just 316 were sold in ’92 by AM General off the same Indiana assembly line as the military brute. They shared components, including an impressive 72-degree front departure angle, which meant you could take the River Rouge as a shortcut to work. Other features were less impressive, like zero-80 mph acceleration in a glacial 47 seconds and brakes that didn’t stop the three-tonner until the middle of next week.

Cadillac Eldorado/Seville
Cadillac’s early-21st century product resurgence may have had its roots in the 1992 Cadillac Eldorado and Seville. The pair’s shrinking dimensions had matched their shrinking market share, but the bigger, bolder ’92 was a return to form.

“It’s the brightest ray of sunshine that we’ve seen from the Motor City in years,” wrote Car and Driver. Motor Trend awarded it Car of the Year. The Caddys were powered by a 200-horse, 4.9-liter V-8 and an ad campaign that promised “it could change the way you think about American automobiles.”

BMW 3-Series (E36)
So fanatical are BMW 3-Series customers that many can name their favorite Bimmer by alphanumeric generation: E36, E46, E90 and so on. Mine is the E46 M3, FYI. But for many the E36 model — introduced in the United States for model year 1992 — is the one.

E46 marked the first 3-Series to move away from a cowl grille to encased headlights separated from the signature kidney grille. The new look gave the Bimmer better aerodynamics to complement its athletic handling and healthy 189-horse, straight-6 engine. A driver’s car, rear-seat passengers were shortchanged with little leg room.

Mazda 929
An elegant sedan to rival the Eldorado, the 929 was a study in minimalist beauty with its thin grille and sweeping lines.

The 929 also offered techy features like a “solar moon roof” (pardon the oxymoron) which cooled the interior. Exotic, but impractical. It lacked a glove box (due to air bag placement) and boasted a price tag that was $2,500 higher than Lexus’ ES300, the fast-rising Japanese luxury juggernaut. The ES would endure, the 929 would not.

McLaren F1
The F1 is legend, but wasn’t allowed here until last year under America’s “25-year rule” that permits imports not previously approved for U.S. regulations. The scissor-door F1 was the successful English race team’s first venture into production cars. Today’s P1, 720S, and 570GT cyborgs are its spawn.

Specs are epic. The first supercar with a carbon-fiber monocoque weighed just 2,500 pounds, hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and set a (then) record top speed of 231 mph — numbers still competitive today. But here’s the thing: only 106 were built, so expect to pay north of $10 million for one.

Honda Prelude
If McLaren F1 was the class’ unobtainable hottie, then Prelude was the fun party gal. The coupe entered its fourth-generation in 1992 with significant changes, including an end to pop-up headlights that had been the industry rage in the ’80s.

Car and Driver voted the remake to its 10 Best list, raving that “Honda changed the Prelude’s personality from plain-vanilla to cayenne pepper.” Prelude came loaded with options including a sliding sunroof, innovative all-wheel steering (really) and three engine options.

The performance Si version pumped out 160 horsepower from a 2.3-liter mill shared with the Accord. Prelude has since been crowded out of the Honda lineup with the racy, 205-horse Civic Si waving Honda’s coupe flag.

Subaru SVX
The nimble Subaru BRZ (the only Subie without all-wheel drive) is one of my favorite sports cars. But it’s hardly Subaru’s first foray into the segment. In ’92 the Japanese brand turned heads with the SVX. Starting a trend of one, SVX innovated the “window-within-the-window,” which allowed passengers to roll down an embedded pane and not get wet in a rain storm.

Subaru contracted Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro — father of the BMW M1 and Maserati Ghibli — to pen their new halo coupe. Other notable features included a powerful, flat-6 putting 230 horses to the ground via all-wheel drive. The hefty price tag ($45,000 in today’s dollars), however, was outside Subie customers’ comfort zone and the SVX met an early death.

Ford Taurus SHO
The last of the purist SHO (Super High Output). This classic, manual-only Woodward Q-ship was nearly indistinguishable from the standard, best-selling Taurus family sedan (hmmm, those dual-exhaust pipes look different!). But Ford stuffed the engine bay with a stonkin’ 220-horse, Yamaha-developed V-6 that hit 60 mph in less than seven seconds.

Sales suffered for the lack of an automatic option, so a year later, Ford added a 3.2-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed auto.

Congratulations to the Class of ’92, 26 years young. Slap on your historic plate and burn rubber. You’re only as old as you feel.

Online’s most popular cruiser: ’69 Dodge Charger

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

1969 Dodge Charger

As Dream Cruisers celebrate the automobile on Woodward this week, everyone will have their favorite: maybe it’s a Stingray Corvette, a 1932 Ford hot rod or even a gull-wing DeLorean.

But if you’re looking for hard data on the most popular collector car and muscle car in Michigan, one stands alone: the 1969 Dodge Charger.

Collector-car research and sales site ClassicCar.com has crunched the numbers, and the Charger coupe is not only the most-searched classic and muscle car in the Mitten State but also across the country. Thirteen states count the ’69 Dodge as the most popular. It ties the Ford Mustang for most-searched muscle car nationwide.

Classiccar.com sifted 45,781,804 searches in the one-year period through June 21 to make its determination.

“Nothing truly personifies American car collector’s pride, passion and freedom like a muscle car,” says Roger Falcione, the website’s president and CEO. “They are powerful, beautiful, designed for maximum performance. It makes sense that these cars are searched for so often.

“Tastes evolve regionally, but the staples of the performance car market have remained constant, and that is why we believe values continue to be so strong for cars like the Charger and Mustang.”

The Charger coupe debuted in 1966 and has been a Hollywood favorite in car-chase movies like “Bullitt” (a 1968 Charger is the mob hit-man car that chases Steve McQueen’s Mustang) and the “Fast and Furious” franchise (Vin Diesel’s black 1970-vintage steed).

But the ’69 Charger became an American icon as the “General Lee” in the “Dukes of Hazzard” series that debuted on CBS in 1979. The show — and its star car — has been recreated on the silver screen and music videos, most famously in 2005 when a bikini-clad Jessica Simpson gave it a suds wash.

“A lot of people consider the ’69 the most beautiful muscle-car built from that era,” said Marc Rozman, 64, of Royal Oak, who will cruise Woodward this week in his red ’69 Charger R/T. “The 440-cubic inch Magnum engine has a lot of power. But I’m not a drag racer, I just like to cruise around with the windows down.”

The Dukes built the Charger as a race car wearing No. 01 on the side. They used it to run moonshine. Powered by a 375-horsepower engine that could push the car to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds, the General was known as the fastest car in Hazzard County, Georgia. An estimated 300 Chargers were used across the TV show’s 147 episodes, with 17 known to have survived the brutal, physical stunt scenes.

The original car is now owned by golfer Bubba Watson, who purchased it for $110,000 in 2012 (he has since painted over the Confederate flag on its roof). Ex-U-M basketball star Jalen Rose has also owned a General Lee replicar.

The 1969 Charger also won fame in NASCAR as the high-wing Charger Daytona. With Buddy Baker behind the wheel at Talladega Speedway in Alabama, it became the first NASCAR to run a lap in excess of 200 mph.

After the Charger and Mustang (the original 1968 “Bullitt” car will be on display at this year’s Cruise), the Chevy Corvette comes in as the third most-searched car, leading in five states. The Chevy Camaro is fourth, followed by its cousin, the Pontiac Firebird.

America may be divided politically into red and blue states, but the popularity of Detroit muscle cars is uniform, with the Charger ranking No. 1 in states from New York to Michigan to Texas.

The sole foreign make ranking No. 1 anywhere was the British-born MGB, which was the classic of choice for Nebraskans.

Last year, the Mercedes-Benz 250SE was the only foreign favorite, leading classic searches in Connecticut. The Nutmeg State has another eclectic choice for most-searched this year — the 1949 Ford Custom.

Other notable detours from the Charger-Mustang-‘Vette Big Three were in Maryland, which likes the 1954 Chevy Bel Air — and Utah, which is wild for the ‘23 Ford T-Bucket.

The 2018 report upends last year’s findings, with top-searched classics repeating in just seven states. In 2017, Mustang led the way in 13 states followed by the Chevrolet Impala (seven) and Charger coming in fifth.

‘Fast N’ Loud’ star Rawlings crashes Hellcat at Roadkill Nights

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Rawlings

Pontiac — Roadkill Nights drag racing competition was full of thrills Saturday, but it was TV personality Richard Rawlings’ spill that will be most remembered.

The Gas Monkey Garage owner and star of Discovery’s “Fast N’ Loud” reality show peeled a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat into the Jersey barrier on Woodward here as he battled NHRA Top Fuel superstar Leah Pritchett in a celebrity shootout. Woodward was closed off and turned into a legal, 1/8-mile drag strip next to M1 Concourse Car Club north of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.

Rawlings, an experienced drag racer, thrilled the packed grandstands on Woodward with a long, tire-burning display out of the box, only to have his 707-horse steed snap left and into the wall. Pritchett continued without incident to win the heat.

Rawlings took it in stride, flashing a smile, as he limped back to the paddock in his bruised Dodge.

Roadkill Nights is full of experienced, invitation-only racers and this year’s event had been incident-free until the Gas Monkey’s run.

Rawlings posted a statement later on social media: “Y’all asked for it, here’s me going into the wall at Roadkill Nights against Leah Pritchett. What a day! Looks like I’m gonna need some more practice, sorry Dodge.”

Saturday marked the third year that Dodge, Motor Trend, and M1 have teamed up for the Roadkill spectacle, which kicks off Dream  Cruise week.

Rawlings is a Dodge Performance spokesman and he was trailed by fans at the Roadkill event all day. He happily took interviews and posed for selfies and photos.

On this writer’s 910 AM “Car Radio” show from M1 Concourse earlier in the day, he said he was looking forward to the celebrity shootout. “I wish they did this in Dallas,” said the 49-year old of his home town. “But the weather up here is so much better this time of year. This is where you want to be.”

Rawlings says he owns every devilish model of Dodge’s SRT performance portfolio including the Hellcat, 797-horse Hellcat Redeye, and 840-horsepower Demon.

The car he crashed, however, was one of four Hellcats – bearing #SaveYourSlips stickers on their front bumpers – that Dodge brought to Roadkill Nights for the late afternoon celebrity shootout. Celebrities included Pritchett, “Roadkill” hosts Mike Finnegan and David Freiburger – and the ultimate winner, pro wrestler Goldberg.

Roadkill Nights brings thunder to Woodward

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Roadkill Pritchett

Pontiac — Thunderstorms washed out much of last year’s Roadkill Nights, but the sun shone brightly this year. That didn’t mean there wasn’t thunder.

Dragsters rumbled down Woodward Avenue towards South Boulevard all day as street legal racing took over Metro Detroit’s main street. Leah Pritchett’s earth-shaking, ear-splitting, eye-watering display in her 11,000-horsepower slingshot racer was the highlight as she showed off the world’s ultimate dragster to the roaring approval of packed grandstands.

From Pritchett to a Hellcat V8-powered Toyota Prius to super-fast paraplegic drag racer Marc Henretta to “Gas Monkey Garage” star Richard Rawlings hitting the concrete barrier (oops), the 2018 Roadkill Nights at M1 Concourse had it all.

This year marked the fourth annual Roadkill Nights — and the second year in which the event kicked off Dream Cruise week.

“I have a question,” shouted an excited Pritchett before her senses-assaulting run down Woodward. “Is there anyone but Dodge who can put on a show like this?”

Her nitro-powered Mopar Dodge 1320 Top Fuel dragster led a parade of Hellcats and Demon gas burners down Woodward’s 1/8-mile public drag strip Saturday. Nearby, Challenger and Charger Hellcats took thrill-seekers on sideways, tire-burning laps around M1 Concourse’s Champion Motor Speedway. Saturday even marked the Detroit debut of the first Hellcat Funny Car dragster – a 10,000-horsepower beast driven by pro Matt Hagan that rocketed down Woodward in Pritchett’s wake.

But there were cars for every enthusiast on Roadkill’s 660-foot drag srip.

The Hellcat-powered Prius first debuted at SEMA in Las Vegas last year, and it wowed fans with its decidedly non-hybrid run.

“There are only two good uses for a Prius,” joked David Freiburger, who co-hosted the races with his “Roadkill” YouTube partner Mike Finnegan. “As a Hellcat dragster or under a tank driven by Feiburfer and Finnegan.”

There wasn’t a lot of tree-hugging at Roadkill. There was Gary Box of Cleveland, last year’s fastest drag racer, who was in his epic, black, 1,300-horsepower Corvette Stingray.

Box was the only car under 6 seconds last year, but this year he had company with two other competitors breaking the six-second mark. As day turned to night, Cox still was top dog, however, with a 5.72 second run.

That’s not easy on a crowned, cracked public road. Top Fuel pro Pritchette acknowledged it’s a challenge in her slingshot dragster. Still, she was pleased to hit 157-mph in a mere 660 feet. Give her 1,000 feet on a proper race strip and she’ll eclipse 320 mph.

But you don’t have to be a top dog to have fun at Roadkill. You don’t even have to have use of your legs. Paraplegic Marc Henretta of Clarkston wowed with a run down the strip in just 7.4 seconds in his 2016 Charger Hellcat.

“I had a setback but life’s still good,” said Henretta, 47, at trackside, while he worked on his car from his wheelchair. “I still race cars and I still have fun.”

Henretta lost the use of his legs when motocrossing in his 20s. Unfazed, he has equipped his car with hand controls attached to the gas and brake pedals. Made of high-strength aluminum, the rods require the use of both Henretta’s hands as he held the car on the line with launch control.

A quick release of the brake pedal and his 707-horsepower steed rockets down the strip as his right hand jumps to the steering wheel for control.

Drag racers must apply to race Roadkill Nights and the event is full of experienced racers. Incidents are rare, but the most spectacular this year occurred in the Celebrity Shootout competition.

Squaring off against Pritchett, “Gas Money” host — and experienced racer — Rawlings put on a tire-burning display out of the box, only the have his Challenger Hellcat snap left and into the Jersey barrier.

Rawlings took it in stride, flashing a smile, while Pritchett advanced to the next round.

As sun set on Woodward, thousands of fans crammed the M1 Concourse gorunds – cheering the racers, ogling car displays, waitng in long lines for thrill rides, and lining up at food trucks for dinner.

The night was young as a full evening of heat racing lay ahead.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

Roadkill Nights drag racing lights off Cruise week

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Road Kill

Pontiac — Dragsters, muscle cars, and rib-rattling speed take over Woodward Avenue Saturday as “Roadkill Nights powered by Dodge” drag racing kicks off Dream Cruise week.

Woodward will be closed off and turned into a legal, 1/8-mile drag strip next to M1 Concourse Car Club in Pontiac. This marks the third annual Roadkill spectacle, and the second year that the event has been scheduled a week before the official Dream Cruise, Saturday, Aug. 18.

The event, sponsored by Dodge and Motor Trend, is a car fan’s delight as some of the best drag racers — joined by a couple of notable celebrity professionals — burn so much rubber that Woodward turns a sticky black by the end of the day.

The event hearkens back to Detroit legend when motorheads tried to stay one step ahead of the law by using Woodward stoplights as dragster “Christmas trees” to show off their latest hot rods. Thanks to Roadkill, they can now do it legally in front of stands packed with speed-addled fans.

Entrants will be vying for a $40,000 purse — Roadkill’s largest yet — as they race for glory in two classes, Big Tire and Small Tire. The pot also includes $10,000 awarded to the winner’s charity of choice. Last year, Gary Box of Cleveland was the only racer to break the six-second mark down the 660-foot strip in his ferocious, 1,300-horse Corvette Stingray.

Celebrity showdown races will be hosted by David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan, co-hosts of Motor Trend’s YouTube hit series “Roadkill.”

Roadkill Nights will mark the Detroit debut of the insane, nitro-burning, 10,000-horsepower (that’s not a misprint) Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car dragster as pro driver Matt Hagan will do a demonstration run on Woodward. He’ll be joined by NHRA Top Fuel superstar Leah Pritchett in her Dodge/Mopar slingshot dragster.

Pritchett hit 322 mph in winning her first race of the National Hot Rod Association season earlier this year at Atlanta Raceway’s 1/5-mile strip.

Roadkill Nights attracted more than 40,000 fans last year. When they aren’t protecting their eardrums as hot rods rocket down Woodward, attendees can get thrill rides drifting around M1’s race course.

Dodge offers up 707-horsepower Challenger SRT Hellcats and Charger sedans piloted by pro drivers that put on a roller-coaster ride of burning rubber and corner drifts. Lines can extend to over an hour to ride, so get there early.

Other fan favorites include show ‘n’ shine, dyno testing, a kids zone, flamethrower and wheel-stander exhibitions, “Roadkill” stunts and more. Dodge also will have Challenger SRT Demon simulators so fans can virtually experience 840 horsepower in the world’s fastest production car through the 1/4-mile.

Speed addicts also can participate in the “Drag Strip Showdown,” a head-to-head simulator contest.

Food trucks will be on hand to satiate appetites and thirsts. Those who can’t make it out to Woodward can still have a front-row seat by tuning via livestream on dodgegarage.com.

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

WHAT: Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge

WHERE: M1 Concourse Car Club, 164 South Blvd. West, Pontiac, MI 48341

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 11

10 AM: Gates open

– Muscle, vintage and classic cars enter the event to set up for the show ‘n’ shine

– Dodge thrill rides and drift rides on the M1 track and skid pad

– Dodge Challenger SRT Demon race simulator competition

– Family-friendly activities

11 AM: Drag racing begins (also available via livestream at dodgegarage.com)

10 PM: Event concludes

ADMISSION:

$10 per person; $5 per person for Pontiac residents (at event only). Children 12 and under are free.

SPECTATOR PARKING:

Spectator parking is available at the United Shore lot – enter from 561 Martin Luther King Boulevard South, Pontiac 48341. There also will be spectator parking available at 2001 Centerpoint Parkway Pontiac 48341. Shuttle buses will be available at both lots and they will run from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. (drop-off/pickup by the main spectator entrance). Parking in these two locations is FREE and available on a first come, first served basis. Handicap parking is on South Boulevard, next to the main spectator entrance. Additional handicap parking is available at the United Shore lot. An ADA shuttle bus will run to and from the United Shore lot and will drop you off at the main entrance of the venue at M1 Concourse.

For more information, go to: http://www.roadkill.com/events.

Sedans are gateway to luxury brands for some carmakers

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2

Whistler, British Columbia — In the Age of Ute, the future of mainstream sedans is in flux: Detroit automakers Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are largely exiting the passenger-car market to concentrate on profit-rich SUVs.

But for foreign automakers, sedans are not only profitable, they’re seen as an opportunity. Sedans as well as SUVs are important foundation stones for their luxury brands — and introductory gateways to higher-priced models. As domestic automakers leave sedans, some auto insiders wonder if they are ceding a competitive advantage to full-line foreign automakers.

Take Honda Motor Co., which depends on less-expensive Honda-branded offerings to feed new customers to luxury-brand Acura.

“That’s one of the reasons why Acura exists, in order to have a home for people looking for something more than a Honda,” Gary Robinson, Acura’s senior manager for product planning, said at the launch of the all-new RDX crossover in Canada this summer.

The RDX begins the reboot of an Acura brand that lost its way in the last decade. Yet, even as Acura struggled with its identity in a hotly contested luxury market, its Honda brand continued to bring hundreds of thousands of new customers a year to the Honda-Acura product portfolio.

“One of the advantages that a mainstream brand has is the full lineup of vehicles, and the ability to grow with their customer,” says IHS senior auto analyst Stephanie Brinly. “That’s the best way to start brand loyalty.”

Complementing strong SUV sales (HR-V, CR-V) with a staggering 750,000 sales between its three entry-level sedans (Fit, Civic and Accord) last year, Honda buoyed Acura despite the latter’s identity crisis. The aging RDX, for example, was the second-best selling luxury compact SUV.

“Our customers understand quite well what’s similar between Acura and Honda,” says Robinson. “They understand the good resale value, and that there is a similar corporate approach between vehicles.”

While the RDX is aimed at the red-hot SUV market, Honda executives don’t see its customers as coming exclusively from Honda SUVs, which are booming. They say that the affordability of an entry-level Honda Fit subcompact sedan may bring a new customer to the Honda portfolio — but when their life circumstances change, they might be interested in a luxury crossover.

“The inflow from Honda is critical to us,” continues Robinson. “I’ve never thought of the inflow in terms of sedan vs. SUV. With both Civic and Accord, it has to do with finances, with age, with lifestyle considerations, so it’s not just customers going from Civic (sedan) to ILX (compact Acura sedan), or Accord to TLX (mid-size Acura sedan). It’s very much people changing segments depending on what they are interested in at the time.”

Korea’s Hyundai has followed the Honda model by introducing its Genesis premium brand to the U.S. market with the G70/G80/G90 sedans after building customer loyalty for its mainstream Hyundai brand with its popular Accent/Elantra/Sonata sedan lineup and SUVs.

“Genesis will offer at least six models including SUVs by 2021,” says Genesis’ U.S. chief Erwin Raphael. “Sedan customers are very important to Genesis at this stage of our existence, as we currently offer sedans in three luxury segments.”

Like Acura and Genesis, the premium Lincoln brand is looking for a fresh start in the U.S. market — but does so at a time when the mainstream Ford brand is abandoning sedans.

However, auto analyst Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says that’s not a bad thing.

“Import luxury brands have benefited because their sedans are still popular. It makes sense for them,” she says. “But Ford isn’t making profit on small cars. There is an opportunity here for both Ford and Lincoln to turn things around. With a new lineup of crossovers, Ford can attract younger buyers — because they are not doing it now.”

Ford sedan sales are half those of Honda, so with the market shift to crossovers comes a chance to start over.

“I think domestic Ford buyers will welcome the body style that Ford is talking about,” she says. “There is an opportunity here if they get the right product on the showrooms – and the Lincoln is not going to lose out.”

Industry insiders agree that Ford risks alienating enthusiast buyers if it moves away from its Focus and Fiesta ST performance models. Such buyers are missionaries for the brand and likely would migrate to competitive alternatives like Honda’s Civic Si or Volkswagen’s GTI.

IHS auto analyst Stephanie Brinley sees Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ premium brands like Alfa Romeo as vulnerable in the U.S. market because Fiat Chrysler’s entry-level brands are so weak.

Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep is a powerhouse. Not only is one of the fastest-growing brands in the industry, but it’s the rare mainstream brand that is cross-shopped against premium makes. Still, Jeep does not play in sedan markets. Dodge and Chrysler have no entry-level offerings — either sedan or SUV.

And Alfa’s natural source of customers, Fiat, barely registers in the U.S. market in sales. Fiat sold a mere 26,492 cars in the U.S. in 2017 — less than the Honda Civic sells in an average month.

“It’s interesting about FCA. It’s a full-line manufacturer — and it’s not,” says Brinley. “They have something in every segment, but it’s all under different brands with different personalities. FCA does does not have as much ability to grow with their customer (into the premium space) because it’s hard to see customers going from a Fiat 500 to a Dodge Challenger to an Alfa Romeo.”

Electric-car makers amped on Formula E racing

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Fe Jag Speed

New York — Like the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, the New York City E-Prix’s circuit is laid out on the public streets of Brooklyn, with Manhattan skyscrapers forming a majestic backdrop across the river. The world’s top drivers come here to race state-the-of-art, open-wheel cars at the limit just inches from makeshift barriers and adoring fans.

The difference is the cars barely make a sound.

Formula E is the world’s premier battery-powered auto racing series with 11 stops around the globe, including the streets of Hong Kong, Paris, Rome and New York.

As some governments consider outlawing the internal combustion engine, manufacturers from Audi to Jaguar to Nissan are rushing to the new race series to accelerate battery development and excite potential buyers about electric vehicles. Like other race series that have tried to capitalize on government trends — like ethanol in America (IndyCar) or diesel in Europe (LeMans) — Formula E is the new epicenter of alternative powertrain technology transfer.

“We, like a lot of other brands think that electrification is the key to the future,” said Jaguar racing manager James Barclay. Jaguar is using Formula E to promote its $70,000 I-Pace crossover EV. “Yes, regulation changes are driving it – in many city centers in the future you won’t be able to bring in internal-combustion engine cars. But also, there is a consumer that wants a car that is sustainable.”

The Formula E series — despite no major TV contract and relatively small spectator interest compared to louder, faster cars in NASCAR and Formula One — is attracting major corporate investment.

That investment comes not just from the usual suspects of European and U.S. auto racing, but from emerging economies like India and China, the latter having displaced the U.S. as the biggest global auto market and which is soon expected to severely restrict gas-powered automobiles.

Mahindra, a pioneer in Indian electric cars in the world’s fastest-growing car market, brought its Formula E team to New York.

“We are reaching a perfect storm as … both regulation and technology see EVs as a viable option,” says Dilbagh Gill, Mahindra’s Formula E team manager. “Mahindra is headquartered in India, and India is looking at stopping the registration of gas-engine vehicles by 2030. That’s just 12 years from now, so we need to get on with development now.”

The 10-team series —  each with two entries — is a who’s-who of manufacturers including Audi, Jaguar, Mahindra and Renault. BMW, Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche will join over the next two years. If they are not managing their own programs, then they are supported by some of the world’s top race teams including Andretti (Mario’s son Michael) and Penske (Roger’s son Jay).

“France is banning the combustion engine by 2040, Germany is talking about 2030, and Norway has already announced 2025. It’s not just racing — you won’t be able to sell a car unless it’s electric, hydrogen or some other alternative to fossil fuel,” Andretti told The News last year. “It’s coming whether you like it or not.”

Conspicuously missing from Formula E is an American manufacturer. Only Ford has expressed an interest. A Ford spokesperson said the company has been watching the series closely, but has no plans to join.

With EVs a small, expensive U.S. market niche —  and no federal mandate to eliminate gas power — Detroit makers are avoiding the e-racing trend, just as they bypassed diesel development once pushed by global governments. Detroit racing dollars continue to go where the buyers are — to gas-burning NASCAR, IndyCar and drag racing.

Quiet riot: With only the whine of electric motors, Formula E racers negotiate the Brooklyn street course. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

The brainchild of Paris-based motorsports governing body Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA for short), Formula E began four years ago as a way to bring emerging EV technology to consumers and as a competitive platform for manufacturer development.

Where IndyCar and Formula run some of their events on street circuits, all Formula E races take place in cities. The commitment is part of the series’ ethic to be greener by bringing racing to population centers (rather than fans burning gas to drive to remote road courses). No parking is offered, encouraging fans to take public transportation and walk.

“Formula E really throws out the racing rulebook,” says Jaguar’s Barclay. “We are racing in city centers like New York. It brings motorsports a new audience – it’s the most accessible motorsport in the world and brings EV technology to the masses.”

He is undeterred by the minuscule market for electric cars in the U.S.

“The U.S. has the potential to be the largest EV market in the world,” he says. “It was in many ways the first to adopt electric tech — they are ahead of the rest of the world with Tesla and other electric vehicles.”

The Fornula E ethic dovetails with city plans to ban gas-powered cars. Paris, which has hosted Formula E for four years on streets just east of the Eiffel Tower, occasionally bans vehicles on Sundays – with a total ban on gas-powered cars by 2030. Host Mexico City will ban diesel cars – which governments have encouraged with low taxes – by 2025.

On Brooklyn’s circuit along the East River, the pack of 20 cars whooshed by, with only the whine of their electric motors. Unlike the Detroit Grand Prix, fans converse easily in the grandstands without the 12,000-rpm wail of a V-6.

Though packing 200-kWh lithium-ion batteries — twice the capacity of a Tesla Model S P100D —  FE cars are noticeably slower than IndyCars.

Around the New York City E-Prix’s narrow 1.4-mile course, the average lap speed for pole position-winner Jean-Eric Vergne was 68 mph compared to the 114-mph pole by Alexander Rossi at 2.4-mile Belle Isle. While some of that is attributed to the tight track layout, the Formula E cars also have significant handicaps. Chief among these is a requirement to use one set of hard, grooved Michelin tires — rain or shine.

The tire restriction conforms with the series’ race culture to be sustainable compared to IndyCar, which uses sticky, slick tires and goes through multiple sets in a weekend (up to 13 at Belle Isle). The Michelins limit Formula E corner speeds to 1.5 g-loads compared to IndyCar’s 3.0-plus.

When the Formula E cars locked up in hairpins they made loud skidding sounds like a street car before a crash – not the brief “scrunch” of a soft-compound slick.

“You can’t look at Formula E as a replacement for (all) racing – but it exists in addition to it. It is very different.,” says Bobby Rahal, IndyCar racing legend-turned Jaguar dealer. He is race team manager of a Formula E support series that will feature the Jaguar I-Pace EVs next year.

“As a dealer,” continues Rahal, “we see more and more people thinking about electrified vehicles. The more they understand the benefits, the more interest there is. There is no doubt that hybrid-electric will take a bigger and bigger place in the marketplace.”

Energy-guzzling Formula E suffers from the same battery drawbacks as production EVs. Managing battery life over the NYC E-Prix’s 43-lap race is crucial (the Detroit GP is 70 laps). So inefficient were this year’s batteries that each driver had to change to a second car after about 20 laps.

But next season, when the series debuts its second-gen, 250-kWh battery, a single car will be able to go the distance.

It’s this kind of compressed, performance-driven technology advance that has attracted manufacturers.

“The relevance of Formula One is not really there anymore,” says Jaguar’s Barclay explaining why Jaguar ignored F1 for Formula E.  “The technology transfer of Formula E is why you see so many manufacturers now. If you’re a manufacturer, you have to be here.”

Payne: Lamborghini supercar meets Lamborghini tractor

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Lambo Adell Payne

The exotic Lamborghini’s engine roared in my ears as I crested a hill on a remote farm road and shifted into fifth gear. The great beast lurched forward. My foot to the floor, the speedometer hit … 31 miles per hour.

Didn’t know Lamborghini made tractors, did you?

Long before it crafted greyhounds like the Countach, Huracan and Aventador, the Italian marque began as a post-World War II tractor-maker. Today, Lamborghini’s sports car and tractor operations are under different ownership, but the bull logo still, improbably, graces the hoods of diesel-powered tractors and V-12 supercars in Europe.

But the only place in the U.S. you can find them both under the same roof is in Metamora, Michigan. Detroit media entrepreneur Kevin Adell has one of the most eclectic auto collections in the country with a stable that includes everything from a 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 to one of the made-for-TV “Batman” cars to a 2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn.

The 2017 Lamborghini Aventador SV supercar and 2017 Lambo Nitro 130 T4i farm tractor fit right in.

“I love Lamborghinis and I knew they were originally a tractor-maker and still manufacturing overseas,” says Adell, who ordered his Nitro through an Italian dealer. “I wrote them a letter in Italian and it took a year to get it over here.”

Among Adell’s properties is Detroit 910 AM talk radio station where I broadcast my weekly “Car Radio” program. We car guys get along, and this summer I had the opportunity to test his raging-bull bookends.

They have almost nothing in common except purpose: a commitment to get you from one place to another as quickly as possible.

The Lamborghini Aventador is simply the most coveted sports car on the street today. No matter where I go, no matter who I meet, when someone learns that I review cars, the question is always the same.

Neighborhood kid: Have you driven a Lamborghini Aventador?
Media colleague: Have you driven a Lamborghini Aventador?
Fellow racer: Have you driven a Lamborghini Aventador?

With its wicked, F-22 Raptor-like angular styling, scissor doors and 740-horsepower V-12 furnace, the Aventador puts the “exotic” into exotic car.

While walking busy downtown Vancouver last year, I observed a black Aventador growl up to a stoplight. Everyone in the four-way intersection stopped to admire it. It’s a sci-fi movie celebrity.

Adell’s yellow and black-trimmed SV dials up the wow factor. The SV — short for Superveloce (translation: Super Fast) — is the track-focused, performance variant of the Aventador. Light-weighted by 110 pounds with 50 more horses then the base bull’s already insane 691, it bristles with exposed carbon fiber and a tall rear wing. Only 600 were built.

Driving it through Metro Detroit is like Jennifer Lawrence walking through Times Square. In her form-fitting Mystique Marvel suit.

Pedestrians gawk. Rubberneckers pull alongside for long glimpses. Muscle cars crowd its rear bumper to see if they can keep up. Then I push the throttle to the floor, the V-12’s afterburners light, and the SV disappears like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon into hyperspace.

No less satisfying is testing the Aventador’s grip around interstate cloverleafs. With its stiff-carbon tub and all-wheel drive claws, the car sticks like painted lines to asphalt. Its chassis stays flat as a board even as g-forces claw at my ribs under increasing throttle.

As you might expect from an Italian supermodel, the Aventador is defiantly eccentric. Climbing in between the high-sill carbon tub, scissor doors and squashed roof requires a giant shoehorn. Once inside you can’t see outside. The windshield is as shallow as a Corvette with zero rear visibility save mirrors and a (helpful) backup dash cam.

There are no cup holders, of course. With cornering loads over 1-G,  who can sip coffee? The cockpit is optimized for track and driver. Like a Porsche 911, every button (even windows) is on the loooong console for easy access. I lift a hatch cover to access the red starter button — you know, like the president’s nuclear launch button.

The Lambo’s thrust is ballistic.

Using launch control in manual-only Corsa (“race” mode), the Adventador explodes forward. The V-12 mounted amidships — no turbos or superchargers here — howls to a manic 8,500-rpm redline. My right fingers twitch off lightning-quick transmission shifts, each one belting me in the back. But with all this violence channeled through all-wheel-drive (unlike rear-wheel drive 700-Horsepower Club members like the McLaren 720S and Corvette ZR1) the traction is eerily stable. It’s like Cedar Point’s Top Thrill roller coaster on rails.

Sixty miles an hour blows by in 2.7 seconds. The quarter-mile takes just 10.7. In addition to Corsa and Sport (automatic), the stiff, raucous Lambo has a rarely used Strada (street) mode for daily driving. Aventador’s natural habitat is the track.

Nitro’s natural habitat is the farm.

It, too, is driver-focused. Make that farmer-focused. The manual five-speed tractor’s high cabin is even more complex than the Aventador with two gear-shifters, two throttles (foot and hand), three instruments screens and a crowded console.

With controls needed to maneuver the tractor and attached accessories like front-end loaders and grass cutters, the cockpit bristles with buttons and joysticks that makes the Aventador look elementary. And a John Deere seem common.

Nitro’s console is sculpted, the seats contoured, the cabin lined with auto-climate controlled, AC vents. No Aventador suede or leather her, but still a premium interior worthy of the bull logo.

It’s performance also screams Lamborghini.

While not the fastest tractor in the world (that honor goes to England’s JCB Fastrac which can reach 40 mph), the fuel-efficient, 480-torque, diesel Nitro 130 is plenty quick. The 28-inch-tall by 14-inch-wide Aventador rears are huge, but they’re dwarfed by the tractor’s 40-inch by 17.3-inch rears that anchor a sophisticated four-wheel drive air suspension.

In this mechanized jackrabbit, I was able to maintain a fast clip around Metamora’s ox-kart roads.

“This tractor is built for speed and longevity on big farms,” says Alvin Fergson, who farms across four southeast Michigan counties. “If I had one of these, I’d put front-loaders on it and really make time moving rocks, soil, you name it.”

At the Detroit auto show this year, I attended the unveiling of the wicked, high-riding, all-wheel drive, 650-horsepower Lamborghini Urus — the brand’s first SUV.

It might be the Metamora love-child of Aventador and Nitro.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2017 Lamborghini Aventador

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

Price: $493,095 base

Powerplant: 6.5-liter V-12

Power: 740 horsepower, 509 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.7 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 217 mph

Weight: 4,010 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 11 city/18 highway/13 combined

Report card

Highs: Jaw-dropping looks; nuclear V-12

Lows: Can’t see out of it; cop magnet

Overall: 4 stars

2017 Lamborghini Nitro

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, two-passenger farm tractor

Price: $94,600 base ($146,000 Nitro 130 T-4i as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel

Power: 127 horsepower, 480 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual or 3 stage Powershift

Performance: 0-31 mph (NA); top speed: 31 mph

Weight: 11,023 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy (NA); 43-gallon tank

Report card

Highs: Comfortable cabin environment; very maneuverable

Lows: No scissor doors

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Jaguar I-Pace prowls quietly

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 3, 2018

The Jaguar I-Pace bears familiar brand touches like angled headlights and open grille. A low roof line and deeply-scalloped rocker panels also give the exterior a unique character.

For seven years, Tesla has been king of the electric jungle. Now comes a challenger on silent paws.

The athletic Jaguar I-Pace crossover debuts in U.S. showrooms in September, the first of a wave of premium battery-powered challengers coming to knock the Silicon Valley lion off Simba’s Rock. The I-Pace is cat-quick, head-turning and comfortable.

But the I-Pace will also be fighting for pre-eminence within its own brand against a legacy of roaring, long-nose cats. In short, if you have $85,000 to spend on a Jag, do you want a stealthy EV, or a growling V-8 that sounds like, well … a Jaguar?

I grew up at race tracks lusting after long-nose 1970s-era, inline-6 and V-12 powered E-type sports cars howling around vintage Trans-Am club events with Camaros and Mustangs. The English cat stood out among the American ponies, its long-nose arriving three corners before its fastback hindquarters.

After years in the Ford zoo, Jaguar was re-energized when Tata bought it in 2008. The new owner gave Jag room to roam, and designers re-introduced the big cat to the world with the gorgeous, V-8 powered F-Type sports car in 2013. Grown men’s knees buckled.

Gone was the long hood (a victim of safety nannies), but the rest of the DNA was there: big haunches, fastback cockpit and eight-purring cylinders. It was a classic Jag for the second Golden Era of muscle cars.

The I-Pace is a new Jaguar halo car for a new century.

Throw out the rulebook, re-write the script: The electric cat not only doesn’t have a gas guzzler under its short front hood, it isn’t even a sports car. This is a “Pace”-edition Jaguar, as in E-Pace and F-Pace, the other SUVs that make up the Brit badge’s stable.

Jaguar SUVs? Crikey, what?

It’s a Jaguar aimed at a new generation of car buyers, not 20th-century dinosaurs like me. Not only is Jag hip to the new century trend of (cash-cow) premium SUVs, it sees a new generation of buyer raised to ogle at electric iPhones and Teslas.

Cruising the Palisades State Highway along the banks of the Hudson River – New York’s skyline quickly disappearing in my rear-view mirror – the electric cat pounced like a Tesla, its 90-kWh battery offering instant torque in any gear. Check that. There are no gears here, just a single-speed transmission driving an electric motor with lakes of torque.

The Jag EV provokes immediate comparisons to King Tesla’s lineup of Model X ute, Model S sedan and Model 3 sedan. Shrewdly, the I-Pace plays tweener.

It declares itself a crossover in this SUV-crazed age, but it looks and feels more like the Tesla sedans. Its $70,495 entry price splits the base $75,000 Model S 75D (that’s 75 kWh of battery) and the $64,000 top-of-the-line, all-wheel drive Model 3 Performance model.

 With its cab-forward design, its stance is more Model 3 than long-nosed Model S, but its rear hatch mimics that of the latter. The Jag is prettier than its Model X ute-mate with a streamlined roof, angular lines and scalloped rocker panels.

Curiously, however, it’s the Tesla (remember when Tesla was aping Jaguar XF styling?) that pulls off the sexier rear haunches.

Jaguar spent a great deal of time trimming the I-Pace for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, including nifty touches like using aerofoil fluid dynamics to wipe the back window clean (dude, that is soooo cool).

But to keep its drag-coefficient below 0.3 – 2.9 to be exact – the Jaguar gets skinny hips. The hippy Model S manages an impressive 0.24. Hmmm.

No doubt this is because the Model S is a sedan – but then how to explain the Model X’s 0.24 drag-coefficient?

I first tested the I-Pace in March at Jaguar’s North American headquarters in Jersey where it deftly sliced up a low-speed autocross course courtesy of that big brick of a battery stored in the floorboards for low center of gravity. At speed through New York’s rural twisties, the I-Pace isn’t as nimble as the lower Model S – and out of the league of the similarly sized (96 vs. 97 cubic feet of passenger volume) Model 3 which may be the best athlete in the compact sedan class.

With the Model 3 Performance model’s extra oomph, it will also beat the Jag to 60 mph with a healthy 3.5 seconds vs. 4.5.

Too much stoplight fun and the Jag eats battery. My Hudson trip took 140 miles on the odometer, but erased 195 miles of range from the battery. After zigging when I shoulda zagged, I found myself further from New York City than planned. Dreaded range anxiety crept in. The Jaguar became a docile kitten as I preserved electrons home.

Range anxiety? An hour out of America’s biggest metropolis? A reminder that infrastructure – the EV’s Kryptonite – is weak.

The Model S and Model 3 go sci-fi inside with their trademark interiors. The iPad-like screens still wow 10 years after their introduction.

Despite a clever “flying-buttress” console design (Jaguar’s signature, recessed rotary transmission-controller isn’t necessary in an EV), the Brit’s dash instruments are more conservative than Tesla’s. Similar to brother F-Pace, they are digital, configurable and (regrettably) slow.

The familiarity is meant in part to re-assure EV customers who are wary of Tesla’s nagging quality issues.

The Brit may not have a sci-fi cockpit, but it offers good ol’ reliable services like 5-year/60,000-mile free maintenance and roadside assistance (Tesla does not), a longer warranty (5 years/60,000 miles compared to Tesla’s 4 years/50,000 miles) and eight-year battery warranty.

And then there are track bragging-rights.

With its racing history, the I-Pace has been flogged mercilessly around tracks. It’s what all cats must do. The I-Pace recently was witnessed doing four hard laps around Portugal’s’ Portimau Circuit without breathing hard (the Model 3 Performance claims similar performance); the I-Pace will get its own “e-Trophy” race series next year.

But the Jag is also aware that four laps in a roaring, $90,000 F-Type – its angry growls scattering prey for miles – would be more emotionally rewarding. So it has introduced an artificial “GRRR” into its Dynamic mode (the GRRR can even be programmed to stay in Normal mode should the driver desire).

Millennial fans might find it alluring, like a “Star Wars” jet fighter. Others might find it strange. Artificial Jaguar growls? Crikey!

Therein lies Jaguar’s challenge. It has produced a credible Tesla fighter for affluent EV fans. But does Jaguar have the same electric status as Tesla?

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Jaguar I-Pace

Vehicle type: Electric, four-passenger luxury SUV

Price: $70,495 base ($80,500 HSE as tested)

Powerplant: 90-kWh lithium-ion battery with twin electric-motor drive

Power: 394 horsepower, 512 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Automatic, single-speed

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 124 mph

Weight: 4,784 pounds

Fuel economy: 240-mile range (189 miles on battery to cover 140 miles, observed)

Report card

Highs: Handsome exterior, interior; electric performance

Lows: Slow infotainment screen; lack of charging infrastructure

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Polaris Slingshot, a 173-horsepower trike

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

Slingshot Wet

When I was a tot, I was a serious tricycle rider. I’d tear around the cul-de-sac, pedaling furiously, making growling engine sounds.

Not much has changed in 50 years. Except now I have the good sense to wear a helmet.

This summer I tested the Polaris Slingshot three-wheeler — a 1,750-pound trike with the wheels in front that’s powered by a 2.4-liter, 173-horse General Motors Ecotec engine (last seen in the 2012 Chevy Malibu) up front. It drives a carbon-fiber-belt-driven single rear wheel in back.

It’s wicked looking — like the Dark Knight got bored one night and decided to burn the midnight oil by bolting the Bat-Pod onto the Tumbler.

Paint it gray and lime-green (Lime Squeeze Polaris calls it), screw in two seats, and it’s a neighborhood kid-magnet. They lined up like it was a Cedar Point ‘coaster. But everyone had to put on a helmet first. I’ve never driven a two-wheeler but the Slingshot is close.

The 7.5-inch “wind deflector” is an option on the base $19,999 Slingshot S (my tester was the loaded, $31,000 SLR LE), but the low screen is little protection from eating bugs on the freeway — much less any larger, errant objects that might come along (while in a sedan on Interstate 75 this spring, I narrowly avoided a ladder flying off a utility truck).

But the thrill of riding in the open air — your knuckles dragging just feet off the ground, an engine roaring in front of you —  is undeniable.

The kids strapped into the seat, secured their helmet and had a blast while holding on for dear life to the “oh crap” handle on Slingshot’s exposed aluminum frame. It’s like a stick-shift, rear-wheel drive Mazda Miata with a single rear wheel.

Wider than a Corvette ZR1 up front with a fat, 12-inch Kendra tire out back, the Polaris turns on a dime, the rear wheel slewing sideways under power. And with a power-to-weight ratio of 1:10 — same as a Ford Focus RS hot hatch — the car comes off a corner like, well, a slingshot.

Pop the clutch and tricycle burnouts are a blast — especially without having to worry about pulling a wheelie with the single tire out back.

“That was awesome!” screamed the kids.

Music to my ears. As makers of snowmobiles and ATVs, Polaris has been tickling adult’s inner 10-year-old for years. My top-trim model even came equipped with adjustable Bilstein shocks to tempt me out on the track.

But Polaris intends the Slingshot to be more than just a thrill ride — it’s an affordable, serious summer commuter not unlike the similarly priced Miata fun-box.

After laying some rubber up Woodward one morning, I stopped for lunch with a pal at one of my favorite eateries, Motorcity Burgers & Company (try the Z28 Burger with zip sauce, portabella mushrooms and mozzarella) across the street from the M1 Concourse car club. I tucked the helmet under my arm and strolled through the restaurant like a biker dude.

While inside, the skies opened for a good summer soaking. Polaris doesn’t sweat the rain — exposed surfaces are waterproof — and I wiped off my drenched seats when I returned. But what if it was still raining?

My biker friends tell me they’ve invested in waterproof jackets and pants, gloves, balaclava, the works. So after you put down $30,000 for your Slingshot, prepare to invest in a new wardrobe. Keep an extra set of dry clothes tucked in the glove compartment, too.

For $29,999, Polaris offers a Grand Touring LE model with a “Slingshade” — a sort of canopy with gull-wing roof over the passenger compartment (as if the standard Slingshot isn’t extroverted enough) that includes an enlarged, 9.5-inch windscreen. But without windows or doors, you’ll still get wet in a rainstorm.

I met my first Slingshot a few years back at an I-75 rest stop somewhere north of the Zilwaukee Bridge. Husband and wife were piloting their Sunset Red three-wheeler to a weekend Up North.

“It’s awesome!” they said, channeling their inner 10-year-old.

I can vouch for the travel experience. Mrs. Payne and I took an extended trip around the metro area one weekend and enjoyed the attention. Muscle-car guys would pull up next to us with a thumbs-up. Gals strolling on the sidewalk shouted “cool car!” and everyone was real nice about giving us space.

Which was nice because space is an issue when the only thing between you and a 5,500-pound Chevy Suburban is a steel-tube frame.

I’ve never been so paranoid lest a texting, left-lane-lollygagging SUV pilot fails to see me beneath their 8-foot-tall bow and punts me clean across the interstate median. I grew eyes in the back of my head.

Encased in our helmets, the engine roaring at the top of its lungs, Mrs. Payne and I nary exchanged a word save her occasional gesticulation which I interpreted as: “Look out for that Suburban turning into our lane!”

Beyond the bare-bones Slingshot S, the upper-trim options beginning with the $25,499 SL trim come standard with a 7.5-inch infotainment touchscreen and backup camera. The screen is optimized for operation with gloves on, but hearing the radio over 173 horses required turning the volume up so high that we became a mobile boom box.

Yet, when my wife and I stopped for groceries, we took our helmets off and beamed at each other. Like getting soaked on a whitewater raft trip, there is something exhilarating about being on a trike again instead of the usual grown-up quiet luxury of a modern sedan.

Yes, I said groceries. Two storage compartments — about the size of a hotel drawer turned on its end — are accessible by key behind the seats and under the forged-aluminum roll bars. It’s enough space for a small grocery run, though I would warn against eggs if you enjoy three-wheel drifting through corners as I am tempted to do.

Since its launch in 2014, the Polaris has sold more than 25,000 Slingshots worldwide. Happily for Michiganians, our state is one of 44 to classify the Slingshot as an “autocycle” — meaning you can drive it with a standard driver’s license (the other states require a motorcycle license).

Order it online at https://slingshot.polaris.com/en-us or at eight Michigan retail storesthat also carry Sea-Doos, ATVs and other adult toys for those of us who never grew up.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Polaris Slingshot

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger three-wheeler

Price: $19,999 base ($30,999 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder

Power: 173 horsepower, 166 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 130 mph

Weight: 1,750 pounds

Fuel economy: Observed under Payne’s whip: 23 mpg

Report card

Highs: Your personal Batmobile; nimble handling

Lows: Exposed to the elements, semis, texting SUV drivers; slippery when wet

Overall: 4 stars

Sergio Marchionne, former Fiat Chrysler CEO, has died

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

2016 323614378-TDNBrd_DETROIT_11-25-2016_TDNXX_1_A003~~2016~11~24~IMG_-08261.jpg

Sergio Marchionne, 1952-2018    

Sergio Marchionne, the founding CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV who died Wednesday at age 66, will be remembered as one of the auto industry’s transformational figures.

An automotive outsider groomed as an accountant and financial officer, Marchionne engineered the merger of Fiat and Chrysler in 2009. By the time he was replaced as CEO by Jeep chief Mike Manley at a hastily called board meeting Saturday, Marchionne had revived the fortunes of both companies as a growing, international conglomerate encompassing 10 brands under the corporate umbrella of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

“His unbelievable turnaround left Fiat so much healthier than when he found it,” said Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis for Edmunds. “He’ll be remembered as one of the early 21st-century’s great auto leaders along with Alan Mulally and Elon Musk.”

Exor SpA, the holding company of Fiat’s founding Agnelli family, confirmed Marchionne’s death in a statement. It attributed his passing in Zurich, where he kept a home, to complications from surgery.

“Unfortunately what we feared has come to pass,” said John Elkann, a Fiat heir. “Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone. I believe that the best way to honor his memory is to build on the legacy he left us, continuing to develop the human values of responsibility and openness of which he was the most ardent champion.”

Industry leaders and politicians offered condolences. Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., said Marchionne was an admired industry leader.

“Sergio Marchionne was one of the most respected leaders in the industry whose creativity and bold determination helped to restore Chrysler to financial health and grow Fiat Chrysler into a profitable global automaker,” he said in a statement. “His extraordinary leadership, candor and passion for the industry will be missed by everyone who knew him.”

 Noted for a minimalist wardrobe that seemed limited to a closet full of black sweaters, Marchionne was as colorful as his sartorial taste was monochromatic.

“He was well-known for his business prowess as well as his disdain for suits and neckties,” says Rebecca Lindland, senior auto analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

Never shy with a quip, the profane, funny, driven CEO bucked industry trends and questioned industry traditions. He famously said of the Fiat 500e, a poor-selling electric vehicle sold in California to meet the state’s zero-emission mandates: “I hope you don’t buy it, because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000. I’m honest enough to tell you that.”

He was reticent to invest in electric vehicles at a time when competitors like General Motors Co. were rushing them to market. “Better late than sorry,” he said in 2016. Yet, Fiat Chrysler was the first major automaker to announce a partnership with Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo subsidiary to put hybrid, self-driving minivans on the road.

Critical of the industry business model to build lookalike, compact four-cylinder sedans, he publicly courted other automakers — most notably GM — to merge and build common automobiles to save costs. No competitor took him up on the offer.

A quick study

Marchionne’s family crossed the Atlantic from Italy to Toronto in 1965 when Sergio was 13 years old.  After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in philosophy, the ambitious Italian-Canadian citizen added a bachelor of commerce degree and MBA from the University of Windsor, and a law degree from York University in Toronto.

He spent the 1990s working in financial positions with a series of international corporations, culminating in his first chief executive appointment at Swiss aluminum company Algroup in 1997. In 2002 he became CEO of Geneva’s SGS, a Forbes Fortune 2000 company that works with companies to assure products meet regulatory standards.

Two years later, the Agnelli family, which holds a controlling interest in Fiat and its successor company, plucked him from Switzerland to become CEO despite Marchionne’s lack of auto industry experience. He would prove a quick study and a shrewd judge of talent.

Ironically, given his obsession with a GM-Fiat Chrysler merger 10 years later, one of Marchionne’s first acts at the Italian automaker was to quit a troubled partnership with GM in Europe. The divorce won Fiat $2 billion in needed cash from Detroit’s No. 1 automaker.

But Marchionne’s signature move was acquiring crippled Chrysler Group LLC out of bankruptcy in 2009 for no cash down and commitments to the U.S. government to meet a series of sales, engineering and technology goals in return for a controlling interest in the Auburn Hills company.

Key to that promise was bringing Fiat’s know-how to develop a 40-mpg vehicle for Chrysler. Marchionne accomplished the feat with the fuel-efficient 2013 Dodge Dart. But Marchionne had his eyes on a bigger prize: unlocking the international potential of Chrysler’s Jeep brand at a time when consumers were moving toward SUVs.

“He saw the pendulum swinging away from cars and towards SUVs,” says Edmunds’ Acevedo, who notes that Maserati and Alfa Romeo also expanded their SUV offerings under Sergio’s watch. “He had the grit to make the hard decisions.”

By 2014 Jeep’s international sales crested 1 million for the first time under the leadership of Mike Manley, who Marchionne had brought in to run the off-road brand and who ultimately succeeded an ailing Sergio as CEO on July 21. By 2016, Jeep sales were 1.4 million globally, increasing four-fold in the U.S. alone over 2009.

Also upon assuming control of Chrysler, Marchionne spun off Ram from Dodge as a stand-alone truck brand, remade Dodge as a performance icon and re-introduced Alfa Romeo to the U.S. as a luxury automaker.

“He understood the legacy of a brand like Jeep, but at the same time he could bring back an old brand like Alfa,” says KBB’s Lindland. “He had the discipline of an accountant and the creativity of an entrepreneur.”

In this 2012 video, FCA’s Sergio Marchionne talks about the American character, while other CEOs name the traits they see and admire in him. Ankur Dholakia, The Detroit News

Legal trouble

Marchionne’s tenure was not, however, untouched by trouble.

Seven people have pleaded guilty in a widening corruption scandal involving Fiat Chrysler, the United Auto Workers and their joint-training center, funded by the automaker. Federal prosecutors describe a pattern of company officials funneling illegal payments to UAW leaders through training center accounts. The case already has ensnared former Fiat Chrysler executive Alphons Iacobelli and Monica-Morgan Holiefield, widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield.

Federal prosecutors say the automaker conspired with the UAW from before 2009 through 2015 to violate the Labor Management Relations Act. The law prohibits employers or those working for them from paying, lending or delivering money or other valuables to officers or employees of labor organizations — and from labor leaders from accepting such items. Prosecutors allege that Iacobelli and at least four other unnamed Fiat Chrysler officials were funneling more than $1.5 million worth of illegal payments to UAW officials.

Marchionne was questioned during a private meeting in July 2016 with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, sources familiar with the investigation said. He was escorted to the meeting by his white-collar criminal-defense lawyer. Marchionne had not been charged with a crime during the ongoing federal grand jury investigation.

The automaker also faced allegations it cheated on pollution testing for diesel engines.

In May 2017, Fiat Chrysler said it would modify around 104,000 diesel vehicles after the Justice Department sued the the automaker, accusing it of illegally using software in diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 pickups sold since 2014 to mask true pollution levels during testing. Court filings in May 2018 cited emails that diesel engine subsidiary VM Motori knew as early as 2010 that an auxiliary emissions control device would be illegal if concealed from regulators.

Bold vision, detailed

Marchionne’s bold plans were laid out in public five-year plans beginning in 2010 with the CEO and his team telegraphing their product moves in the normally secretive auto industry. The ambitious plans sometimes fell short, yet Marchionne would reboot five years later with another five-year salvo.

“He was a very plain-spoken person,” says Lindland. “He was a risk-taker but also able to motivate his team to take those risks with him.”

Fiat Chrysler got an infusion of cash by spinning off Ferrari in 2015 in an initial public offering valued at over $12 billion. With its 9-percent stake in the prancing horse, Chrysler made off with nearly $1 billion. By the end of 2017, Fiat Chrysler’s net profit had doubled over the previous year with the company predicting its profits would outrun Ford by the end of 2018.

Under new chief, Fiat Chrysler future still more Jeeps, Ram trucks

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

636678915454638795-Manley-and-trailhawk.jpg

The British executive who supercharged Jeep and made the most American of brands a worldwide sales leader will rely on that experience to lead all of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Mike Manley was appointed Saturday as the Italian-American automaker’s next CEO.  Analysts — and the company’s board — say the 54-year-old is the right man at the right time to continue longtime CEO Sergio Marchionne’s push toward with driving profits in an increasingly saturated and competitive SUV and truck market, and a rapidly changing global automotive industry.

In an emergency meeting in Italy, the automaker’s board of directors replaced the 66-year-old Marchionne, who led the company for 14 years but is said to be in serious condition in a Swiss hospital with complications following surgery a few weeks ago.

Manley’s value is evidenced in the five-year plan Marchionne laid out in June: The Jeep and Ram brands are the backbone of Fiat Chrysler’s latest road map. The plan relies heavily on leveraging the Jeep and Ram brands in the U.S. and around the globe by launching more high-margin SUVs and trucks. Those products are expected to fund investment in electrification and autonomous-vehicle technology.

The company said Manley was being asked to follow the plan set forth by Marchionne that guides the company to 2022, when it aims to be the most profitable carmaker in the United States. It will not be without challenges.

“Mike Manley is a worthy replacement at FCA, but it’s a huge job to not only fill Sergio’s shoes, but to run many brands that are facing capricious fortunes in a variety of markets,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “Manley’s masterful management of Jeep and Ram will serve him well as he moves into this huge, global role.”

Jeep is promising 14 electrified vehicles in the next five years, including four battery-electric options. By 2021, every Jeep nameplate will have an electrification option. The off-road brand is also going to add mobility options starting next year, with a planned car-borrowing experiment in the Northeast.

Ram planners hope a new performance pickup called the TRX – and a yet-unnamed  midsize pickup to compete against the Chevrolet Colorado and Ford Ranger – will boost annual global sales for Ram to 1 million by 2022.In the U.S., Ram’s largest market, ​​​the automaker sold 556,790 Ram vehicles last year.

While Marchionne’s plan incorporates the entire Fiat Chrysler lineup, Jeep and Ram are foundation of the strategy. Analysts said it’s fitting that Manley would assume the helm, even under unfortunate circumstances that have Marchionne exiting the company months ahead of his planned retirement.

“The success of the Jeep brand under Mike Manley and his global background make him the smart choice to be the new head of FCA,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. “His international experience in growing that brand will play a key role as he applies those techniques to all of the Fiat Chrysler divisions.”

Manley’s imprint

Manley’s sense of humor and often-grizzled appearance were a good fit for Fiat Chrysler during a casual era in which the CEO was known for wearing a rumpled black sweater no matter the occasion.

But beneath the informal exterior, insiders say Manley is a brilliant executive focused on achieving the company’s goal of making Jeep a super-brand. While guarded about his personal life, the laconic British-born Manley has been the public face of Jeep at auto shows and product debuts as the brand climbed the sales charts.

Manley took charge of Jeep in 2009 and Ram in 2015. Under his leadership, sales of both brands surged, contrary to the anemic sales of Fiat and Chrysler. That’s led some insiders to joke that Fiat Chrysler should be renamed Jeep Ram.

From just 231,701 Jeeps sold in the U.S. in 2009 when Fiat took over assets of the failing Chrysler Group LLC, Jeep sales have increased four-fold as Manley transformed the off-road brand into a full-line SUV-maker just as the market was turning to sport utilities.

Manley relentlessly focused his staff on Jeep’s core values to make sure the brand’s personality stands out in a crowded marketplace.

Under Manley’s watch, Jeep re-asserted the rugged Wrangler as its iconic vehicle, and added three new models: the (reborn) Cherokee, compact Compass and subcompact Renegade. Riding the sport-utility wave, U.S. sales exploded to 926,376 by 2016 before leveling off at 828,522 last year. While not yet in the league of megabrands like Ford and Chevrolet which sell over 2 million vehicles a year, Jeep has big ambitions.

He pushed Jeep into international markets. Worldwide Jeep sales now crest 1.4 million, and the brand has grown from four plants in the U.S. in 2009 to 10 plants in six countries this year. The compact Jeep Compass alone is made in four countries, the subcompact Renegade in three. Along with global titans like McDonald’s and Disney, the brand is widely known as one America’s most iconic, with roots reaching back to World War II.

Manley, who was born in Edenbridge, Great Britain, is expected to make his first public remarks as CEO during the company’s second-quarter financial results call on Wednesday.

Marchionne’s health

Company representatives have declined to go into detail about Marchionne’s medical condition but said he’s not returning to work.

 An Italian newspaper reported Sunday that Marchionne is in extremely serious condition in a Zurich hospital. Il Messaggero, a newspaper based in Rome, said his condition had worsened and that two sons were with him, along with his partner Manuela Battezzato, who works in communications for the automaker.

Marchionne, a native of Italy whose family moved to Canada when he was a teenager, had been on medical leave for several weeks. His last public appearance was June 26, when he spoke at an event in Rome. The company said July 5 that he was expected to require “a short period of convalescence” after shoulder surgery.

But Fiat Chrysler Chairman John Elkann, heir to the Agnelli family that founded Fiat, sounded a somber tone Saturday, saying in a statement he was “profoundly saddened to learn of Sergio’s state of health. It is a situation that was unthinkable until a few hours ago, and one that leaves us all with a real sense of injustice.”

Marchionne was one of the longest-serving CEOs in the auto industry, appointed in 2004 as the fifth Fiat chief in a two-year period. He managed to return the carmaker to profit in 2005 by cutting costs, laying off workers and then looking for a partner. The company had lost more than 6 billion euros ($7.04 billion) in 2003.

In 2009, Marchionne managed to take ownership of Chrysler Group LLC assets without putting up cash as it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy under the guidance of the federal government. He pledged to reopen factories and share technology with the struggling U.S. carmaker.

By acquiring Chrysler, Marchionne gave Fiat the global scale it needed to survive. Still, as the world’s seventh-largest automaker, the company may lack the size it needs to compete in an industry being reinvented by the emergence of autonomous driving and electrification.

In leading a 14-year turnaround, Marchionne returned the U.S. carmaker to health, revived Alfa Romeo in the United States and pushed the company toward slashing net industrial debt to zero.

He said in early June while laying out his road map for the future that his mission there was complete, and his successor would inherit a plan already in motion to make Fiat Chrysler the most profitable automaker in the U.S. by 2022.

FCA plans to deploy some $52.5 billion (45 billion euros) in capital expenditure over the next five years to achieve its 2022 goals of leveraging the highly profitable Jeep and Ram brands in the U.S. and abroad with higher-margin products that fill holes in their respective portfolios.

In recent months, Marchionne was preparing to slow down but wanted first to complete the five-year plan to rid the carmaker of industrial debt, making it financially stronger and able to survive the next downturn. “I am a fixer,” he said. “Until something is definitively fixed, I can’t stop.”