Happy New Year to you all. The Auto News column will resume on Jan. 4. However, do join me on Saturday the second for my Car of the Year and SUV of the Year announcements! Do have a safe and fun filled holiday
Gas prices remain low and are likely to stay there according to Triple A. Today’s national average has ever so slightly edged up to $2.002 a gallon from $1.999 a few days ago. But a year ago, the auto club said the average was $2.273 a gallon. Today, California drivers are shelling out $2.846 a gallon much higher than the $1.929 I have seen here in Maryland.
In a short press release Bridgestone announced it will not present a counter offer to acquire Pep Boys and this morning, Carl Icahn’s company said it has entered into a definitive merger agreement to acquire the auto parts firm. Icahn recently increased his offer to $18.50 a share in cash or $1.50 a share more than Bridgestone’s last offer. That puts the Icahn offer at just over $1 billion for Manny, Moe, and Jack’s 800 outlets around the country. The agreement has been unanimously approved by the boards of each company, Icahn Enterprises said.
A total of 48 vehicles have met tougher criteria for 2016 to take home a TOP SAFETY PICK+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. An additional 13 vehicles qualified for the second highest rating. “For the first time, a good rating in the challenging small overlap front crash test is a requirement to win, in addition to an available front crash prevention system,” said Adrian Lund, IIHS president. The insurance industry group cited improvements made to the Nissan Maxima, Volkswagen Passat, and Toyota’s Avalon and RAV4.
Scheduled to be unveiled at the Geneva show next year is a new Audi, the Q2, a compact crossover that will do sales battle in the hottest segment of the U.S. market. Previously, Audi had announced it would build the Q1, so there is some confusion over whether the Q2 might replace it. Audi also announced it will “present the successor” of the Q5 next year and that it plans major investments in alternative drive systems with the “first large-series battery-electric vehicle” to be launched in 2018.
And here comes a special one-off X-Men-inspired Kia Sportage that will debut at the 2016 Australian Open tennis championship. It is part of the brand’s collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox and the X-Men movie franchise. You can see more from January 4, 2016 on when Kia releases an online video of the vehicle with Rafael Nadal at:
You might remember that Hyundai announced it will enter the luxury car market with an expanded Genesis brand. Now it’s really getting serious with the hiring of former Lamborghini executive Manfred Fitzgerald who will be in charge of “brand strategy, marketing, and other business operations” for the Genesis lineup. He was formerly director of brand and design at Lambo.
There is quite a battle going on for control of Manny, Moe & Jack, the Pep Boys, and it involves names you know – Carl Icahn and Bridgestone Tires. Icahn is now offering to take control of the firm for $18.50 a share topping the Bridgestone offer of $17 a share. Pep Boys board has declared Icahn’s offer is the best one on the table, and is moving to end an earlier takeover agreement with Bridgestone.
BMW will show off “AirTouch” at the Consumer Electronics show to “demonstrate what the interior and the user interface of the future might look like.” It is an upgrade of a system now in the 7-series. Entertainment, navigation and communication functions will be controlled by simple gestures made with a flat hand by either the driver or passenger. So it would be like a touchscreen that you don’t have to touch. Basically, sensors would record the hand movements in the area between the central console and the interior mirror and would also allow 3D control. One would assume the occupants would have to learn a series of hand movements to make the whole thing work, and this could get interesting. J
I hope you all had a wonderful weekend and now it’s on to 2016! Of course the automakers are already there, in fact, it is time to gear up for the 2017’s, some of which will be on display at the Detroit show early next month and the other big exhibits to follow.
Tradition holds that on New Year’s weekend I reveal my choice for Car of the Year based on vehicles tested in the past calendar year. While I had the chance to drive various makes such as the Hellcat and Corvette for short periods, a full week behind the wheel on all types of roads and in all kinds of traffic conditions gives a more accurate picture of what a car is like to live with. So the COY category will be limited to those cars that spent more time in the road test driveway.
Also this year, I will add a Sport Utility of the Year to the list for no other reason than this is the hottest segment in the industry right now.
In alphabetical order, here are the finalists for Car of the Year:
Audi S3 2.0T Quattro S tronic
The car with the never ending name checked all the boxes: Acceleration, handling, ride, interior luxury touches and a 14-speaker audio system that will convince you that Adele is sharing the seat next to you. Of course, Quattro all-wheel-drive is at your beck and call in time for winter. With all its performance virtues, the Audi was also an excellent commuter vehicle. It was a no brainer when it came to the finalist list even at the $41K asking price.
Hyundai Elantra GT
THE WHAT you may ask? OK, granted this is not a car that made many COY lists but it was a sad moment when they picked up the sleek silver hatchback at the end of its test week. Long term readers will know that I favor cars that offer a nice balance of power, handling and style, matched to a classy interior and value for the money. The little hatchback was all that and more thanks to a responsive 2.0 liter, 173 horsepower four and some suspension tweaks that made rural Maryland roads a lot of fun. Even with two high priced option packages the bottom line came to a reasonable $26,675 for an entertaining, well made, stylish car that will not raise any eyebrows at your insurance company!
Hot on the heels of the Elantra is the Mazda 3. Stirring the pot was a wonderful six speed manual in the test car, that was as delightful as any shift-it-yourself I have driven. It felt light, nimble, balanced and ready to take on any sort of back road. Yet the ride was not sports car stiff. In hatchback form it can carry stuff, produce excellent gas mileage and still champion rural roads and off ramps – All at the reasonable MSRP of the test car, $28,385 for a top-of-the-line Grand Touring model.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
It is a lone wolf. The Triumph TR-4 is long gone. MG is still alive but producing mediocre sedans. Sunbeam (remember the Tiger), is something that now comes down from the skies on a warm day. But to take one of these Mazda two-seaters out for an afternoon drive on a top down kind of day is to rediscover the joy for driving. Therefore, everyone who enjoys that experience should lift a cold frosty one to Mazda for updating its sports car while retaining everything that endears it to the faithful. It might be the North American Car of the Year! We will find out in early January. But will it be mine? Check back Saturday when, as Agatha Christie’s favorite detective might say, “All will become clear.”
Mark Phelan has an interesting story on the Detroit Free Press website on the cars and trucks that will go out of production in the New Year. The Nissan Xterra is one that I will miss having seriously considered one for purchase a few years ago. But when I checked, the off roader was too tall to fit in the parking garage I used at the National Press Club building in downtown D.C. The backup garage was even shorter. The paper’s web site also has a photo feature of the new vehicles that will debut next year, many at the Detroit show in roughly two weeks.
Honda has begun deliveries of its new business jet after receiving certification of the aircraft from the FAA. The factory is located in Greensboro N.C. Honda said the “Over-The-Wing” engine design allows for a quieter and more spacious cabin. It will seat up to five passengers.
As you may have guessed auto news will be on the light side with the holiday weekend just ahead of us. The news column will resume on Monday, Dec. 28. I wish all of you a very happy holiday and may one of your very special dreams come true in 2016!
The Saturday Road Test column will resume on Jan. 2 with my selection for Car of the Year. Don’t miss it!
“Das Auto” is out as an advertising slogan at Volkswagen as the automaker tries to change its image in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal. The new image will be just the familiar VW logo and the Volkswagen name under it, according to Reuters, the news service that broke the story.
Nissan’s Titan XD pickup will carrying a starting price of $40,290 for the S model 4×2 with the top-of-the-line Reserve 4×4 starting at $60,520. The XD is the more heavy duty version of the Titan and is just now hitting showrooms. It will be offered in three cab configurations, two frame sizes, and five trim levels. All models will be equipped with a Cummins 5.0-liter Turbo diesel offering a robust 555 lb-ft of torque, matched with a 6-speed automatic.
Ford is recalling a total of 313,000 Crown Vics and Grand Marquis models because solder joints on a module could crack and cause the headlights to fail. Ford said it was aware of 11 accidents and one minor injury. Involved are 2003-05 models.
TRUCK TREND, an offshoot of Motor Trend, has named the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali has its Pickup Truck of the Year. Editors said they were impressed with the truck’s focus on comfort, safety, and innovation.
BMW has been fined $40 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to issue a timely recall of vehicles that “did not comply with minimum crash protection standards.” This involves 2014 and 2015 Mini Cooper models that NHTSA said failed to meet regulatory minimums for side-impact crash protection. Administrator Mark Rosekind said this is the second time in three years that BMW has been penalized for failing to launch recalls and inform consumers in a timely fashion when a safety defect or noncompliance is discovered. The $40 million penalty includes $10 million in cash, a requirement that the company spend at least $10 million meeting the order’s obligations, and $20 million in deferred penalties that will come due if BMW fails to comply with NHTAS orders or commits other safety violations. The automaker said it is “committed to further improving its recall processes to better serve its customers.”
The morning rumor mill has it that Google and Ford will announce at the Consumer Electronics show an agreement to work together on the development of a self-driving car. Yahoo Autos was first with the report. Elon Musk predicts fully autonomous vehicles could be a reality in two years. But one wonders about the legal issues surrounding them.
Over the river and through the woods has seldom been this inexpensive. AAA reported Monday that U.S. average gas prices dropped below $2 a gallon for the first time since March 25, 2009. The national average price was $1.998 per gallon and the motor club said cheaper gas has saved consumers more than $115 billion so far this year. That works out to more than $550 per licensed driver. As AAA put it, “We’re going to party like its $1.99”
The market share of leased new vehicles could hit a record this year, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. The record was set in 1997 when 27.4 percent of new vehicles were leased. The new record could be as high at 27.8 percent.
Mercedes has named Dietmar Exler as president and CEO of its operations here in the states. Steve Cannon is leaving MB but will remain as a consultant through January. And Mazda has announced that the president of its North American Operations, Jim O’Sullivan, will retire after 13 years in his post. He will be succeeded on New Year’s Day by Masahiro Moto who has been serving as a Managing Executive Officer at Mazda. O’Sullivan will be the longest serving senior executive of any car company in the U.S. at the time of his retirement. O’Sullivan is pictured.