Auto News for July 31

Amazon’s streaming service has landed Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond for a new show that will be broadcast next year. The trio has been in limbo for a while after the BBC dropped Clarkson after he punched a producer after a taping session. May and Hammond both left the Beeb. Amazon said taping of the new show, that has yet to be named, will begin in the near future. The BBC will continue production of “Top Gear” with a radio personality, Chris Evans.

Quarterly net profit rose 20 percent at Honda helped by strong demand for its vehicles here in the U.S. that offset the cost of recalls tied to faulty Takata airbag inflators.

If you follow the monthly auto sales reports, you know that Subaru has enjoyed record demand for its cars here in the states. So it was no surprise when the automaker reported a 50 percent increase in operating profit in its third quarter. Japan’s weak yen benefited both Honda and Suby.

Lotus has confirmed that it will build an SUV that will, initially, be sold only in China. Don’t look for it before 2019. Aimed right at the Porsche Macan, Lotus said its offering will be lighter and faster. It is fair to speculate that if it sells well in China, distribution might be expanded to Europe and the U.S. one day. (Maybe.)

 

Auto News for July 30

2016 Ford F-150 Limited

The aluminum bodied Ford F-150 crew cab pickup swept the full slate of crashworthiness evaluations to earn a TOP SAFETY PICK rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It said the truck turned in a good performance in 4 of 5 assessments but stumbled in the small overlap front test. In the small overlap front crash test it received a marginal rating for occupant protection. And IIHS said the truck did not receive the top rating because it lacks an autonomous braking system.

However, a SuperCab version received the second lowest rating of “marginal” because it lacks tubular bars in front of the wheel wells that are included in other truck models and makes the truck safer in the offset crash test. The IIHS said that “… shortchanges buyers.” A Ford spokesman told the Detroit News the improvements will be added to other models. Ford and the IIHS also disagreed on the cost of collision repairs following certain types of accidents, with the Institute saying they were 26 percent higher for the aluminum bodied trucks. Ford maintains that in the real world the repair costs are much the same.

It was a good second quarter for Fiat Chrysler, the company posting a 69 percent increase in net profit over a year earlier. The U.S. was its most profitable market where Jeep sales remain strong helping FCA report a 7.7 percent profit margin here, a big gain over the 4.7 percent rung up a year earlier.

If you have Hercules tires on your sport utility you’ll want to know that the company is recalling about 90,000 tires. These are certain 15 and 16 inch tires where the tread could separate and possibly cause an accident. Dealers will replace the recalled tires with newer and safer ones.

The average age of vehicles on the highway is now 11.5 years, according to IHS Automotive, a bit of a surprise given the strong sales of new cars and trucks. IHS said the average age has gradually increased over time due to the increasing quality of automobiles and consumers hanging out to their cars longer for economic reasons.

 

Auto News for July 29

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Let’s start the day with something exciting, and one can’t do much better than the Ferrari 488 Spider, the convertible version of the 488 GTB. This one has a folding hardtop that the maker claims weighs 55 pounds less than a soft top. The car will make its debut at the Frankfurt auto show in the fall and most likely appear in showrooms here next summer. Now for the exciting part!! 0-62 mph in just three seconds and just 8.7 seconds to 124 with a top speed of over 200 mph. The turbocharged mid-mounted V8 is rated at 660 horsepower with 560 lb-ft of torque and the car is said to be the “most aerodynamically efficient Ferrari Spider ever built.”

Consumers feel it should take no more than two hours to complete a vehicle purchase from the time they walk into a dealer showroom. Many felt one hour would be ideal. Yet a study from J.D. Power said the average time is four hours, most of it taken up with selecting a vehicle and negotiating the deal. Gen Y buyers spend more time negotiating than other groups. Power said dealers should develop more efficient procedures to speed up the buying process.

Two more automakers have reported on earnings with Nissan checking in with better than expected results. It said sagging sales in China were offset by strong demand for its products here in the U.S. At Volkswagen, second quarter profits were lower due to a restructuring of its truck division and slower sales in China and Russia. Profits dipped even though yesterday VW said it outsold Toyota globally for the first time to become the top selling brand.

If they can put a device in a car or truck that tells the driver when a tire has deflated, why can’t they do the same for footballs? Just wondering.

On Capitol Hill, a bill has been introduced that would raise the maximum fine for delayed auto and truck recalls to $105 million from $35 million. The bill was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell but the administration is seeking a $300 million maximum fine. Stay tuned.

Auto News for July 28

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Ford shares gained ground after it announced second quarter earnings that topped analysts’ estimates. Net quarterly profit came to $1.89 billion or 47 cents a share easily topping the forecast of 37 cents. The result was 7 cents a share better than a year earlier and Ford claimed its best automotive quarterly profit since 2000. “We delivered an outstanding second quarter, a great first half of 2015, and we are confident the second half of the year will be even stronger,” said President and CEO Mark Fields. The company reiterated its forecast of a yearly operating profit of up to $9.5 billion.

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When it comes to worldwide sales, what company is on top so far this year? Volkswagen took the number one position from Toyota for the first time with sales of 5.04 million vehicles. Toyota came in at 5.02 due to lower sales in Japan. GM finished third.

Chevy will launch a diesel version of the mid-size Colorado pickup this fall with a starting price of $31,700 up to $38,700 including delivery. Chevy said the truck will be able to tow 7,700 pounds.

About 900 customers with orders for 2015 Dodge Challenger and Charger Hellcat models have had their orders cancelled. They will receive a voucher that will allow them to purchase a 2016 at 2015 prices as Fiat Chrysler said it wants to change the way dealers handle the much in demand high performance car. Apparently some took orders for more Hellcats than they would receive. Dodge will double production of the cars next year and implement new rules regarding how dealers place orders and receive their Hellcats. As dealers do, many put markups totaling thousands of dollars on the cars.

If your hometown is like mine, you see tons of auto ads during the local nightly news. Well the first known national ad promoting a car appeared at the end of July 1898 in the Scientific American. A report from the Census Bureau said it was for the Winton Motor Carriage with the headline, “dispense with a horse.”

 

 

 

Auto News for July 27

Fiat Chrysler HQ sign

Fiat Chrysler has agreed to a civil penalty of up to $105 million, the largest ever imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and will buy back some defective vehicles from owners.

The NHTSA said the automaker “has acknowledged violations” of the rules regarding the repair of vehicles with safety defects. This involves “effective and timely recall remedies, notification of vehicle owners and dealers and notifications to the NHTSA,” the agency said.

“This civil penalty puts manufacturers on notice that the Department will act when they do not take their obligations to repair safety defects seriously,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox.

“Today’s action holds Fiat Chrysler accountable for its past failures, pushes them to get unsafe vehicles repaired or off the roads and takes concrete steps to keep Americans safer going forward,” Fox said.

Owners of more than a half million older Ram pickups with a steering defect that could lead to an accident will have the opportunity to sell their vehicle back to Fiat Chrysler. And, owners of more than a million Jeeps that are prone to “deadly fires” either will have the chance to trade their vehicle in for above market value, or will receive a financial incentive to get their vehicle remedied, the agency said.

In a consent order signed with the agency, FCA also agreed to the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the recalls for three years.

For its part, FCA said it accepts the consequences of the consent order and will move forward with “renewed resolve to improve our handling of recalls and reestablish the trust our customers place in us.”

It will make a $70 million cash payment to the NHTSA and spend $20 million on industry and consumer outreach activities and incentives to boost recall and service campaign completion rates. An additional $15 million will be payable if FCA fails to comply with terms of the consent order.

Here are the vehicles included in the buyback program.

2008-12 Ram pickups both light duty and heavy duty, all with a tie rod problem.

2009-11 Dakotas, 2009 Durangos and Chrysler Aspens for a rear axle problem.

There will also be incentives for one million Jeep owners that had been recalled for gas tank fire risks to get their vehicles in for repairs. In this case, the tank was located behind the rear axle creating a fire risk if the vehicle is rear ended.

Separately, FCA is recalling 1.4 million vehicles over concern that their onboard computers can be hacked and another 2.2 million trucks regarding inadvertent air bag deployments.

Do you know the interest rate on your current auto loan? A new survey indicates that 71 percent of consumers are not aware of the total dollar amount of interest spent on their last loan, and 69 percent do not understand what a one percent point reduction would save them. The study comes from Carvana, a Phoenix based online auto retailer.

 

 

 

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Saturday Road Test – Lexus NX 300h

Lexus NX 001 Lexus NX 003

 

Lexus NX 300h

Next Big Thing From California?

By Ron Amadon

FROSTBURG, MD. – The evening news showed pictures of the extremely high gas prices in California, with some stations exceeding $5 a gallon. YIPE!

Why are prices at least $4 a gallon in many stations? It depends on who you ask. But that does set the stage for a compact crossover with luxury touches that uses up to three electric motors and a smallish four cylinder to deliver better than 30 mpg on cheaper regular unleaded.

So before you can mutter, “Who was that masked man,” we will tell you it is the Lexus NX 300h.

Lexus entry into the hot, hot compact crossover market shares a platform but very little else with Toyota’s RAV4. It checks in at 182.3 inches long or 2.3 inches longer than the RAV and it is basically the same width and height.

Power comes from a 2.5-liter in-line four with Atkinson cycle producing 154 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm and 152 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. It operates on 87 octane fuel.

Add in the three electric motors in the tested All-Wheel Drive model, and total system power bumps up to 194 horsepower. An electric motor drives the rear axle when required while the front axle is driven by gasoline or electric power, or a mixture of both and AWD is only called on to perform when needed.

While gas mileage is a class leader, performance is not. Lexus lists a 9.1 seconds 0-60 and when merging onto an interstate that felt about right with the CVT pushing up the revs and producing much noise and little in the way of forward progress. Once at cruising speed it is quiet inside the cabin, but you will hear a little wind noise at higher speeds.

A center console knob allows the driver to change operating mode to Eco, (which numbs things down still further performance wise), Normal, or Sport to extract all the power there is. Lexus said it adjusts parameters for multiple systems including throttle response and power steering assist. The NX did feel more responsive in the Sport mode, but it also begged the question of why not just pop for the turbo.

To wit, a 2.0-liter turbo four good for 235 horsepower and that is the model that I would recommend unless you are hell bent for extracting the maximum amount of fumes one can get out of a gallon of petrol.

EPA mileage for the hybrid is 33/30/32 and 32 is where I came in. Fuel economy refused to fall below 31 mpg even when deep stabs of the go pedal were need on steep Western Maryland grades on interstates, and even steeper hilltops on secondary roads.

Inside, owners are treated to first class fit and finish and feedback that says this is a solidly built vehicle. Drivers get a 10-way adjustable chair with 2-way lumbar with front passengers settling into an 8-way power seat.

Lexus NX 004 Lexus NX 005 Lexus NX 008

Two adults will find ample room in the second row. But the driver will discover large blind spots to the right and left rear due to the styling. So the Blind Spot Monitor that lighted a warning in the outside rear view mirrors when necessary was a very welcome addition.

Cargo space is lacking even with the second row seats folded down – among the lowest in its class at 16.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 53.7 with them folded down.

Missing from the center console was the joystick featured in many Lexus models. It was replaced by a touchpad known as the Remote Touch Interface that took some getting used to and was a distraction once underway.

It acts in concert with a high resolution seven inch screen that looks like the one that pops up in Audis only it doesn’t pop up. The optional navi upgrade offers ETA calculation, traffic information and low fuel coordination. This one worked just fine giving me gas station information before the NX had to run on promises.

The navi system gives you the choice of 3D and bird’s eye map views with 3D building views. That bird’s eye view was a hoot.

Lexus’ Enform App Suite brings you to the free voice enabled apps which allow one to search the net through Bing to make restaurant reservations, get movie tickets, and listen to internet radio, among other items. Will Bing offer Crosby’s “White Christmas” when the season rolls around? Just asking.

Hidden in the center console arm rest bin was a black box. This wasn’t Big Brother spying on us, but a wireless charging device. Lexus said a portable device can be charged by placing “Qi standard wireless charge compatible portable devices according to the Wireless Power Consortium” on the tray … that sounds to me to be something that comes under the purview of John Kerry.

And prepare to do some reading with the 395 page “Navigation System Owner’s Manual” and a 680 page “Owner’s Manual.”

A $2,140 Navigation Package along with an excellent 10 speaker premium sound package and a $1,100 power tilt and slide moonroof were the most expensive of the many options on the test vehicle that totaled $9,168. With delivery, that brought the MSRP to $48,453 on the test unit.

In sum, the NX 300h brings excellent fuel economy, a comfortable ride, and, when extensively optioned, a ton of toys along for the trip.

Four and five dollar a gallon gas is scary stuff for many and enough to make one seriously consider this one of its kind small hybrid crossover. Until or unless this latest California trend moves nationwide, I would recommend checking the turbo box on the order sheet.

 

Auto News for July 24

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi will close its lone U.S. manufacturing plant in Illinois and may try to sell the facility to another automaker, according to the leading Nikkei business daily in Japan. The company said it is always considering optimizing its global production structure, but insisted no decision has been made regarding the plant. The newspaper said further details will be announced later but the mayor of Normal, Illinois said this is all news to him. Mitsubishi’s plant employs 1,250 workers.

2016 Honda Accord

New cars, even refreshed ones, are usually displayed first at auto shows in big cities. But Honda showed off the 2016 Accord in Silicon Valley because, the maker claims, it is the most hi-tech Accord in history. It is the first Honda to support both Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. There are also a number of safety features including Collision Mitigation Braking System and Adaptive Cruise Control that you are probably already familiar with. Honda also opened its expanded research and development center in Mountain View, California.

2015 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock

New vehicles sales are expected to increase 2.6 percent year-over-year to a total of 1.47 million units this month, according to Kelley Blue Book. “Fiat Chrysler should extend its sales gain streak to 64 consecutive months with expected growth of 4.4 percent” almost entirely on its Jeep brand, said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for KBB. Compact SUV’s once again will be the fastest-growing segment in the market and mid-size cars the weakest, the company said.

Older adults who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long term care facility as those who remain behind the wheel, according to a new study from Triple A and Columbia University. “When the decision is made to relinquish the keys, it is vital to mitigate the potential negative effects through participation in programs that allow seniors to remain mobile and socially connected,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.