Auto News for April 30

2014-Chevrolet-Silverado-LTZ-003-medium

 

GM has started production of its very important 2014 Chevy Silverado pickup at a plant in Mexico, according to the Detroit Free Press. The truck will appear on dealer lots this quarter. Silverado is a high volume seller in the Chevy lineup and a major profit producer yet the brand continues to trail the Ford F-150 in sales.

Worldwide car rental revenues rose almost 26 percent in the first quarter at Hertz. The company reported record first quarter revenues of $2.4 million, a gain of 24 percent year-over-year.

The birthplace of the legendary Model T has re-opened for the season in Detroit. The Piquette Avenue Plant museum and education center is where Ford built its first 12,000 Model T’s. It will remain open through October.

IMG_0304

Fewer consumers are shopping around looking for a new auto insurance firm, according to J.D. Power. In fact, the number of shoppers has hit a six year low. But among those who are looking, a record 45 percent have switched to a new company and price was the main reason why.

Automakers will report on April sales tomorrow, and Edmunds.com is predicting the best April sales since 2007. It sees double digit gains for Detroit’s three automakers on a year over year basis. Demand is expected to be strong for full size trucks and compact crossover vehicles.

 

Auto News for April 29

 

Start saving your pennies, or perhaps indulging in a lottery ticket or three. The 2014 Corvette Sting Ray will carry a starting price of $51,995, or about $1,400 more than the 2013 model. If you opt for the convertible, the price increases to $56,995. Check a bunch of option boxes, and the price could soar to $73,360. The Sting Ray is expected to hit the market this summer.

Sting Ray 4

Chrysler reported lower first quarter net income citing the costs of tooling up for new product launches such as the  2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and the further down the scale 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Net income for the quarter was $166-million compared with $473-million a year ago.

For those with the interest, the current edition of the Economist has a lengthy study of the world’s auto makers. The magazine touts the benefits of the driverless car.

The Detroit News says the former headquarters of American Motors has been turned into a dumping ground. It is now owned by a scrap hauler.

Is this replacing a trip to the showroom? Autobytel reports 15-million views of its new car videos on its YouTube Channel. That is up from 10-million views in December 2012.

Saturday Road Test

MB GLK 350-3

 

2013 Mercedes GLK350

Wagner in the Mud

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD – Do not scoff at a comparison of the renowned German composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner with the GLK350. They have a lot in common.

Wikipedia said Wager’s later works were known for their complex textures, rich harmonies and quickly shifting tonal centers.

The complex texture was the GLK’s ability to go from luxury highway cruiser to mild off road master. The fine finish and materials of the interior are in rich and satisfying harmony, while the polished 302 horsepower V6 works in complete syncopation with the seven-speed automatic and its quick shifting tonal centers.

It may not be quite the “Ride of the Valkyries” but this is a solid work and well worth the consideration of those seeking an upscale yet compact sport utility.

Step inside and the Burl Walnut Wood trim, fine leather and soft touch materials along with excellent fit and finish make it clear this sport utility is a step up. An exceptionally nice touch was the infinitely variable head rests that were the softest I have experienced.

G350 interior

There was an abundance of room up front even with the large panoramic sunroof, and the dual zone automatic climate control quickly warmed the interior on an especially cold April morning. Basic controls for the audio system were fairly easy to figure out. One turns off the system by pushing a speaker button on the upper center console. If you want to figure out everything in the Command System, plan on an evening with some good wine, an easy chair, and the separate 272 page instruction book. Not to mention the 40 page manual on voice commands.

I will continue to applaud Mercedes for providing access to the National Weather Service broadcasts – it is an excellent service and very valuable when foul weather threatens.

The test GLK included the Gracenote media data base. It claims to be the largest source of music and video data on the planet with descriptions of more than 130-million tracks and TV listings for 28 countries. Ahh, that Wagner should have had such exposure!

Ventilation controls are a bit low on the center stack, but temperature settings do pop up on the 7 inch color display screen mounted much higher.

My major complaint with the interior was Mercedes unique shift pattern. You push up on the steering column mounted lever for reverse, down for drive and push a button at the end of the stalk for Park. On the left side of the column are the levers for windshield wiper/direction signal, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and cruise control.  One would become accustomed to all this in time, but it was still easy to hit the shift lever when you wanted to turn on the wipers.

Out on the highway the GLK was a delight – quiet, comfortable and with plenty of power for all driving situations. Ride-wise it was an excellent blend of comfort and firmness and felt glued to the road at higher speeds.  The permanent all-wheel drive conquered a muddy back road with aplomb, even if this was like adding the Beetle’s “Hard Day’s Night” in the middle of an opera.

MB GLK350-1

According to the EPA, the GLK should produce between 19 and 24 miles per gallon of premium fuel. I recorded 22 in mostly country and interstate travel. Mercedes lists a 0-60 run in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 130 miles per hour, maybe a bit slow on some autobahns. (Just kidding.)

A nice touch was the Lane Keeping Assist that instead of sending out a Wagnerian shriek accompanied by flashing lights on the windshield, settled for a vibration through the steering wheel instead.

For the information deprived, there are 49 pages in the owner’s manual of menus and submenus of facts, display messages and details of various warning and indicator lamps.

To the rear, there was adequate room for two 6’ tall passengers but entry and exit was hindered by rather narrow door openings. The two rear seats easily fold down to create an almost flat floor and 54.7 cubic feet of cargo room, yet that is below rivals such as the BMW X3 and the Audi Q5. It should be noted that the GLK is a shorter vehicle and therefore easy to handle around town yet perhaps better suited to empty nesters or those close to it.

Despite some control qualms, the Merc was a most enjoyable ride. One always had the feeling of experiencing something special, a ride for Valkyries who want to downsize from a large sport utility without giving up any luxury touches.

A ticket to the GLK opera I tested came to $54,905 with an extensive list of options totaling $14,910.

MB GLK350

 

 

 

Auto News for April 26

The first quarter was not kind to Kia. Profit dropped 35 percent as the Korean currency fell against the Japanese yen and labor concessions limited output. Here in the U.S., sales were off just over eight percent.

Quarterly profit rose almost six percent at Honda. It benefited from the weak yen that helped reduce prices of vehicles sold in overseas markets.

GM reports the government now owns about 16 percent of the company after selling additional shares in the first quarter. As part of the government bailout, Uncle Sam once owned almost 61 percent of the automaker.

On a year over year basis, April auto sales will increase just over ten percent, according to a forecast from Edmunds.com. But change that to a month over month comparison, and sales would show a ten percent decrease.

A new survey shows that residents of Washington, D.C., Maine and Pennsylvania purchased the most diesel powered vehicles between 2010 and 2012. A diesel industry group cited figures from RL Polk.

Yours truly is now working his way through the more than 900 page owner’s manual covering the various elements of a high tech car. That doesn’t include the 248 page navigation system manual. That raises the question of what high tech information potential owners are looking for in their new cars. J.D. Power reports that tech related to fuel economy, smartphone integration, and voice activation lead the list. A rather surprising 76 percent wanted to know more about “Active Shutter Grill Vents.”

Auto News for April 25

The head of GM, Dan Akerson, predicts April U.S. sales will increase 3.4 percent, or about the same gain as registered in March. And how did Wall Street react to Ford’s first quarter results announced yesterday? The stock closed at about the same level as it opened.

Interest rates for 60-month and 48-month car loans moved up a bit this week. Bankrate pegs them at 4.12 percent from 4.04 percent.

Luxury auto sales rose 14.6 percent in the first quarter well ahead of the overall market gain, according to a report from Kelly Blue Book. Big gains came in the area of luxury crossovers where the Lexus RX more than doubled sales of the second place finisher, the Cadillac SRX. While Cadillac had the biggest sales gain, Mercedes was still first when measured by market share.

The Census Bureau reports that New York was the first state to require license plates on this date in 1901. I would still like to see a Z06 Corvette with a vanity plate that somehow spells out “Innocent.”

Someone actually keeps track of the brands purchased by those with less than perfect credit. CarFinance.com said the Dodge Avenger tops the list followed by two KIA models, the Forte and the Optima. The Chrysler 200 and the Dodge Journey round out the top five.

It’s not sold here but the Skoda Yeti has been named Britain’s favorite car in a new poll. “There is no such thing as try – just start.”

Yeti

Auto News for April 24

Ford

Ford continued to lose money in Europe, ($462-million), but managed to post first quarter earnings of 41 cents a share, and that topped forecasts. The automaker rang up a pre-tax profit of $2.4 billion in North America, its best quarter ever. Early Wall Street reaction was favorable with Ford shares up more than 3 percent in pre-market action. Chrysler will issue its earnings report on April 29 and GM joins the parade on May 2.

Calling distracted driving a “deadly epidemic” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued voluntary guidelines to auto makers to combat distracted driving. The focus is on manual texting and touch screens that display web content such as social media and pull the operator’s attention away from what lies ahead. NHTSA recommends that such devices only be activated when drivers pull over to the side of the road. Auto industry officials are seeking further talks with the department.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the biggest seller of them all? Various reports say Toyota is number one worldwide in the first quarter followed by GM and VW.

 

Auto News for April 23

 

While driving, do you feel safer sending text messages by voice rather than tapping them out with your fingers? You shouldn’t according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute. Their tests showed that sending messages by voice is just as hazardous as punching them out. The problem with voice text was the need to look at a screen to see if the message was interpreted correctly. Manually tapping out text messages while driving has been outlawed in 39 states.

On a related note, the state of California has banned the use of the GPS app on your smartphone unless it is hands free.  In Maine, the House of Representatives turned thumbs down on a bill that would have banned the use of cellphones while driving. They also rejected a mandatory motorcycle helmet law.

The Guinness Book of World Records agrees that the fastest production car is the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. With 1,200 horsepower on tap the Veyron tops out at 254 miles per hour.  Do fasten your seat belt.

Starting early next year, consumers can buy an iBeetle from Volkswagen. Once snapped into a docking station on the dash of the Beetle, and an app is downloaded, users can do all the expected musical exercises, along with measuring G forces and checking on oil and coolant temperatures. It will even send out digital postcards on Saturdays.

Honda will be both a sponsor and participant in this year’s Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The run to the top will take place on June 30th.

 

Auto News for April 22

We will soon get a good look at how Detroit’s three automakers are doing. Ford checks in with quarterly earnings on Wednesday, GM on May 2, and Chrysler reports on April 29. All three are expected to be hurt by slumping sales in Europe.

Toyota announced that for the first time a Lexus will be assembled here in the U.S. The ES350 will be built at its Georgetown, Kentucky, plant where 750 new jobs will be added and Toyota will invest big bucks to create a dedicated assembly line.

Ward’s has announced its top interiors for 2013. The Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda6, Lexus GS450h, Kia Forte, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Chevy Spark, Cadillac XTS, and Acura RDX were this year’s winners.

It is called a preview of Buick’s future design language, the Buick Riviera concept that made its global debut at the Shanghai auto show. GM said it sports gullwing doors, a wireless plug-in hybrid system, four wheel steering, and electromagnetic controlled suspension. There are 10 high resolution cameras for image monitoring and 18 micro high precision sensors for distance monitoring. The data is displayed in a holographic image onto the windshield. If the Riviera name sounds familiar, it should. Buick sold them from 1963 to 1999 here in the U.S. and some are considered to be very desirable classic cars.

Riviera-1-medium

 

Saturday Road Test

late March 2013 020

 

2013 RS5 Coupe

Really Spectacular Coupe

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD – When you have a 450 horsepower V8 under the hood, a dash to 60 in 4.5 seconds, and all the important elements set on “Dynamic” you are set for a wonderful ride.

But don’t think this a rude, crude coupe. The wizards at Audi’s Quattro GMBH also factored in a nice helping of refinement in the RS5 coupe that sets it apart from the much loved TT RS that we tested earlier.

There is an impeccably finished interior, Nappa leather bucket sets, a Bang & Olufsen Sound System mixed with the delightful sounds that emanate from the sport exhaust system as the tach easily spins to 8,000 rpm.

Audi’s drive select system adjusts the transmission shift characteristics, throttle response, steering and differential when the operator selects Auto, Comfort, Dynamic or Individual settings. Set it all up correctly, and the RS5 sticks to the road like a Chicago Cubs fan sticks to his gum and Wrigley Field.

Adding to the fun is the RS5’s rev matching on down shifts that sends a nice little blat back through the interior. While drivers can shift the seven-speed transmission for themselves via large paddles on the steering wheel, I found it just as easy to let the car do its thing.

The self-locking differential can vary the distribution of power between front and back with up to 70 percent flow to the front axle or as much as 85 percent to the rear. Fitted to the test car were optional 275/30 Pirelli P Zero summer tires mounted on just plain gorgeous 20” 5-arm Rotor Wheels.

late March 2013 015

Should you ever get the chance to take one to a nearby track don’t pass up the opportunity to see how this autobahn inspired coupe can feel so solid and stuck to the road on its way to the electronically governed top speed of 174 miles per hour. One could also then fully try out the standard Launch Control system.

As I enjoyed the twisting West Virginia pavement at its finest, (at speeds well under the car’s max,) the satellite channel pounded the “Ritual Fire Dance” which seemed ever so appropriate. The car simply hugged the road and was not flapped by a bumpy reverse elevation right turn that can upset lesser models.

2013-audi-rs5-interior

Yet out on the interstates, and dialed back to the auto setting, the RS5 was simply perfect for long drives and I longed for some of those western interstates with their 80 mph speed limits.

The black gauges with white lettering extended the sporty feel of the car along with the small and flat bottomed steering wheel. Audio controls and ventilation were easy to figure out. But I wondered why Audi placed the music interface with iPod cable in the rather small glove box.

Very annoying was the so called Parking Assist that beeped incessantly even when there was no danger of hitting something when backing out of a parking space. It should be pointed out that this is not exclusive to the Audi brand.  Disable it, and the rear view camera also exits from the color screen atop the center stack.

A better idea was the blind spot detection lights in each of the outside rear view mirrors.

The navi system features Google Earth, a 3D satellite and aerial imagery that features a camera zoom feature that allows closer views of surroundings or destinations. Real time traffic info is also part of the plan with a four year subscription standard. Perhaps longer exposure to Google maps would change my mind, but I found myself going back to the more old-fashioned navi map because I was able to grab a quicker read while driving.

By the way, this high performance coupe carries no gas guzzler tax, with an EPA rating of 16/23 mpg on premium fuel. I would image that most drivers would come in on the low end of that scale, closer to my 19 mpg.

Audi’s somewhat conservative exterior design still managed to turn heads wherever it went. Two men approached in a shopping center parking lot and said, “We just wanted to look at your car.” They gave it two thumbs up as they climbed back into their pickup.

There is nothing easy about balancing high performance and sports car handling with the refinement expected in high priced coupes. The engineers in Ingolstadt produced one that in German is very schon, pronounced shurn, which translates in my dictionary to beautiful, fine and nice.

With the $3,500 MMI Navigation system, $2,500 Titanium package and $1,000 Sports exhaust system, (don’t pass this one up,) the test car sold for $77,320 with delivery.

The downside is that Audi will import the RS5 only in limited quantities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Auto News for April 19

Auto News for April 19

Consumers are paying more to have collision damage repaired and are less satisfied with insurance companies. J.D. Power said claimants pay an average of $499 out of pocket for repair, compared with $469 in 2012. Power said this is a seasonal trend when poor road conditions lead to a batch of accidents.

A growing number of used cars for sale were owned by people who ignored recall notices, according to Carfax. It is calling on buyers, sellers, and car owners to find and fix open recalls. The number of unfixed recalls is up more than 25 percent in eight states, the company said.

The head of Fiat-Chrysler predicts that economic conditions will force further consolidation in the worldwide auto market. According to the Detroit News, Sergio Marchionne predicts there will eventually be just five or six global players left. Addressing the Society of Automotive Engineers, he touted the development of vehicles that run on natural gas, over pure electric models calling it the cleanest alternative available.

The keynote speaker at the event, Bob Lutz, predicted that government mandated fuel economy standards will one day increase the price of a vehicle by $5,000. By the year 2025, the average fleet fuel economy must be 54.5 mpg.

 

Kia says its Cadenza sedan will go on sale later this month in one trim model only at a base price of $35,100 plus $800 for destination and handling. It is Kia’s answer to the Hyundai Azera. Among other things, standard equipment on the Cadenza will include an eight-inch touch screen and a 550-watt Infinity 12 speaker audio system.

Hertz will now rent you a Porsche 911, Boxster or Cayenne. Beginning this month, customers in select California, Florida and Nevada markets can drive one for rates starting at $250 on a weekend day. It also notes that terms and conditions apply. One would guess that would include the expectation that the car is returned in one piece.

porsche 911