GM Beats Ford in Pickup Truck Sales

US pickup sales chart

The Ford F-150 is the indisputable sales leader by model, but GM has the upper hand in overall pickup sales. Looming changes in the segment, including the dissolution of the “chicken tax” may shake up the market further.

Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck sales.

Chevrolet Silverado sales are outpacing the market in 2015.

It has been nearly four decades since the Ford F-150 assumed leadership in the large pickup truck category. Year after year, the F-150 continues to outsell its chief rival, the Chevrolet Silverado, as well as the Ram 1500, GMC Sierra, Toyota Tundra, and the Nissan Titan.

But Ford is not the top seller of large pickup trucks, at least not now. Indeed, the combined forces of Chevrolet and GMC have conspired to outsell Ford through the first six months of 2015. Specifically, GM has sold 376,672 Silverados and Sierras through June, while Ford has sold 357,180 F-150s.

This was supposed to be the year when Ford put some distance between itself and its rivals. An all-new aluminum-bodied pickup truck hit the market and analysts expected that vehicle light weighting would give Ford an unbeatable advantage, one that consumers would embrace.

Instead, Ford is still working on getting its manufacturing plants up to full capacity. As a result, F-150 sales are down 2.4 percent year to date. Meanwhile, Chevrolet Silverado sales are up a robust 14.6 percent and the GMC Sierra is up by 8.2 percent. And that’s for a pair of pickup trucks that have relied on traditional styling to win new customers.

***Please continue reading after the chart***

US pickup sales chart

The large pickup category only tells part of the story about customer demand for these types of vehicles. While Ford is relying exclusively on the F-150 for pickup truck sales, GM has two brands and four model lines to serve customers.

This time last year, GM began to sell a pair of midsize pickup trucks — the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon. Combined, these two models have added 56,592 units to the market. Ford, which discontinued its small Ranger pickup truck in 2011 for the US market, has nothing to offer North American customers. A new unibody and larger Ford Ranger is built and sold overseas, but Ford has no plans to sell it in the largest pickup truck market in the world.

GM’s pickup truck advantage through the first six months of the year exceeds 76,000 units. Prior to the release of its new pickup truck lines and its recent sales surge, Ford outsold GM for several years. Now GM leads Ford in the most profitable category and also battles Toyota and Nissan for midsize truck buyers.

Ford F-150

The Ford F-150 is all-new for 2015.

The rest of the pickup truck segment shows Toyota is continuing its lead in the midsize segment, even as the Chevrolet Colorado has pushed past the Nissan Frontier. Tacoma sales are up 18.2 percent and that’s especially significant as Toyota readies its next generation model for release this fall.

Ram 1500 sales continue to edge up as do sales for the full-size Toyota Tundra. Nissan will release an all-new Titan pickup truck this fall, in a bid to stoke interest in a product that is woefully outdated and outmatched by the competition. With a 5.0-liter Cummins diesel in the mix, the Titan may surprise some.

Additional Changes Forthcoming?

As buyers continue to flock to pickup trucks, a number of manufacturers find themselves on the outside looking in. Honda is preparing its next generation Ridgeline, a unibody pickup truck that has been marginally successful.

But there is another factor that might bring in additional competitors and that is the coming expiration of the so-called “chicken tax,” what has long placed a 25 percent tariff on imported pickup trucks. Set to expire when two new trade laws kick in, manufacturers such as Mazda, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen that once served the US market might find it easier to return. Furthermore, India’s Mahindra Motors could very well renew its earlier effort to enter the market with models of its own.

Lastly, the repeal of the chicken tax could very well have Ford rethinking its Ranger strategy. With the tax removed, factories in Argentina, South Africa, and Thailand, which are currently tasked with building the global Ranger, could be tapped to supply the North American market. That move would gladden not a few Ranger fans who have since departed to competing brands.

Sales data supplied by the respective manufacturer.

Replacement Models May Bolster Scion

Scion is either a distinct brand or a sub-brand of Toyota, depending on the way that you examine it. Scions are registered under their own nameplate, but Toyota treats it as a sub-brand. Furthermore, not every Toyota dealership carries Scion, the only place you will find them.

At the Beginning

The Scion marque was launched in 2002 to great fanfare. It was Toyota’s attempt to capture the youth market, particularly customers who weren’t necessarily drawn to small Toyota moniker models such as the Corolla or the then Echo (now Yaris).

Initially, Scion found success with its xA hatchback, xB wagon and tC sport coupe. Sales topped 170,000 units in 2006. But four years later those numbers had plummeted to just under 46,000 units as the patina quickly diminished. Pundits felt that Toyota had lost sight of what Scion was about. New models from competitors, including the Kia Soul, also swiped sales.

2016 Scion iM.

2016 Scion iM.

Canceled Models and New Products

In recent years, Toyota has updated Scion’s model line and added the iQ, a mini car. But the iQ hasn’t sold, especially well as customers are drawn to the roomier and more efficient Chevrolet Spark. The iQ will not return for 2016 nor will the xB.

A number of critics, including this writer, had previously marked Scion for dead as recently as this year. As chance would have it, he was also at the 2015 New York International Auto Show to witness the debut of two new Scion models. Both models — the Scion iA and the Scion iM — will be on sale this fall.

The Scion iA is a compact sedan and is priced at $15,700 for the 6-speed manual transmission. Add $900 to obtain a 6-speed automatic. The iA is the result of Toyota’s partnership with Mazda. Indeed, it is based on the Mazda2, a model that is no longer sold in the United States. Toyota estimates that the iA will achieve 33 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway.

The Scion iM is a hatchback model and priced from $18,460 for the manual transmission and $19,200 for a continuously variable transmission. It is based on the Toyota Auris, a compact hatchback derived from the Toyota Corolla. Given that the Corolla is sold only as a sedan, the iM could interest buyers who would prefer a hatchback. Top fuel economy is estimated at 28 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

2016 Scion iA.

2016 Scion iA.

Four Model Lines for Scion

With the iA and iM in the Scion line and the iQ and xB vanquished, Scion will also have the FR-S sports car and the tC sport coupe to round out its product line. Scion sales are down 18 percent through the first half of this year and is on track to sell 50,000 units for the year. However, the two new models could change the brand’s fortunes when they are placed on sale this September 1.

One model that won’t be supplemented with new body styles is the Scion FR-S. Convertible and turbo variants had been considered, but the brand’s senior vice president, Doug Murtha, said last year that both derivatives will not happen. The Scion FR-S is based on the Toyota GT86. Once that model is due for its replacement in about two years, Toyota may switch to Mazda to supply it. Indeed, that model could be based on the Mazda Miata, a roadster that is also yielding the Fiat 124 Spider. That last tidbit is based on a rumor shared by Car & Driver in June.

No SUV Slated

Regardless of Toyota’s future plans for Scion, the sales battle will certainly become a heated one. Customers are shifting to smaller crossovers too, abandoning the same vehicles that Scion is banking on. Neither Toyota nor Scion appears to have a model to fill that widening hole, at least not yet.

See Also — Scion is Back With Two New Models to Show For It

Juking With a Nissan NISMO RS

Nissan JUKE NISMO RS

2015 Nissan JUKE NISMO RS.

The Nissan Juke is so ugly that it is beautiful. Its design is polarizing, the dimensions seem too short, but this tiny crossover sport utility vehicle is simply a hoot to drive. That’s something I can personally confirm, having spent three times in the past four years driving one.

The Juke is now in its fifth model year and a second generation model should debut in 2016. That’s important to know because the segment Nissan essentially helped get started has since been joined by a slew of new models, including the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and very soon the Mazda CX-3. Auto Trends expects Ford and Toyota to join the fray in the near future as well.

Other Juke competitors include the Kia Soul and the Mini Cooper S. The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is yet another model that might also be considered.

Consumers who opt for the Juke are all in — they either like or look past the exterior styling and focus on the performance. Consider the Nissan Versa’s mass when sizing this model and you will realize just how small it is. That there are only 99.6 inches between the wheels amplifies its limited interior, but the NISMO (NISsan MOtorsports) version seems roomier thanks to the front Recaro seats as they’re thin, thereby making the rear seat bearable for two, perhaps even for three in a pinch.

Nissan JUKE NISMO RS
Nissan JUKE NISMO RS

2015 Nissan Juke NISMO RS

My most recent time with this model enabled me to experience the best of what the Juke has to offer: a NISMO RS joy toy. Instead of supplying the standard 188 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque, Nissan tweaked the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine by optimizing the engine control settings and revising the exhaust system for improved air flow. With these changes, Nissan lowered the compression ratio, effectively upping the performance quotient to 215 horsepower and 210 foot-pounds of torque.

So, what sets the NISMO RS ($28,020) apart from the S ($20,250), SV ($22,300), ($25,240) and NISMO ($24,830) trim levels? A number of things, including 215 horsepower versus the standard 188; improved aerodynamics and with the front-wheel drive model a helical-geared limited-slip differential, what sends more power to the front wheel with the most traction — effectively helping the car maintain acceleration during cornering.

Nissan Juke NISMO RS


2015 Nissan JUKE NISMO RS

View manufacturer details and pricing


Nissan JUKE NISMO RS

My experience with the Juke confirmed Nissan’s claim that the rear differential enables the driver to maintain control what serves a dual purpose of mitigating torque steer. Just when you think that the wheels are about to slip beneath you, the differential kicks in to maintain composure.

Front-wheel drive is standard across the model line; all-wheel drive (a $2,000 option) is available. In the Juke NISMO RS, all-wheel drive (AWD) gives you torque vectoring to enhance handling. Besides moving power between the front and rear wheels, the AWD system automatically transfers power to the left or to the right. You also get the continuously variable transmission with standard paddle shifters.

Nissan JUKE NISMO RS

Styling, Speed and Control

As tested, the NISMO RS with front-wheel drive quickly picks up speed and zips down the road with authority. Its compressed mass and sub-3,000 pound stance mean that you will fool not a few people by its agility. The NISMO RS also benefits from changes to the front fascia and grille, modified to enhance airflow to the engine. The front end is lower and more aggressive with a more prominent upper grille. Additional changes to the wheels, body skirting and rear fascia provide a 37 percent boost in aerodynamic efficiency over other Juke models.

Inside, the most noticeable difference between the NISMO RS and the standard NISMO edition are the front seats. As mentioned earlier, they are Recaro seats, specifically the Sportster design. Consider these seats ideal for holding you and the front passenger in place as you make your maneuvers — they are just about as bolstered as any seat you will find and come trimmed with red-leather side bolsters and black suede center inserts. Embossed Recaro and NISMO logos and red stitching provide further showmanship.

Nissan JUKE NISMO RS

Nissan JUKE NISMO RS

Other details that set this top-end model apart from the pack is an “RS” design on the speedometer, a charcoal gray suede meter hood with red stitching, privacy glass, keyless entry with push button start, and automatic climate control.

Slip behind the wheel and you’re ready to embark on your NISMO RS adventure. But be forewarned: its off-the-mark acceleration won’t astound you and shifting between the first and second gear seems downright plodding. But, once you move up through the higher gears this model awakens and provides a lively kick.

Enhanced performance aside, the chief shining point for the NISMO RS is its sprightliness. Where you might otherwise feel inclined to brake as you corner, the Juke invites you to keep your pedal to the metal and keep moving. Despite its higher profile, the NISMO RS always seems grounded — much credit must be given to the improved chassis bracing and the limited slip differential. Without these two features you’d be fighting to maintain control.

Additional standout points include a super tight turning radius for excellent doughnut maneuvers and augmented braking that is fade free.

Nissan JUKE NISMO RS

NISMO: Performance Suited

To sum up, if you can overlook or accept the exterior design and focus on the NISMO embellishments, you will be rewarded with a capable and fun sports model costing you less than $30,000. That’s about $3,000 more than a Ford Focus ST, one of several performance models to be considered.

And as far as choosing front-wheel drive over all-wheel drive, it comes down to this: what importance do you place on shifting? FWD offers the manual and comes with the rear-diff. AWD gives you a CVT with paddle shifters and torque vectoring. If I were a betting man, NISMO fans would go with FWD and the four horsepower edge it provides over AWD.

Nissan JUKE NISMO RS



2015 Nissan Juke NISMO RS

  • Sticker price from $28,020
  • Price as tested: $29,315
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 1.6-liter 16-valve four-cylinder gasoline engine
  • 215 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM
  • 210 foot-pounds of torque @ 3,600 to 4,800 RPM
  • 3.14 inches bore by 3.19 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 9.5-to-1
  • 6-speed manual transmission
  • Wheelbase: 99.6 inches
  • Length: 163.8 inches
  • Width: 69.7 inches
  • Height: 61.8 inches
  • Passenger volume: N/A
  • Storage volume: 10.51/35.9 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds
  • EPA: 25 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
  • Premium grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 13.2 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 2,969 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Good, except Poor in small front overlap test
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 5 years/unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Oppama, Japan

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2015 Nissan Juke NISMO RS photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.


About That Chicken Tax on Pickup Trucks

Volkswagen Amarok

With the “chicken tax” removed, the Volkswagen Amarok could be readied for the US market.

“The power to tax is the power to destroy” — John Marshall

There may be no subject more contentious in the United States than taxation. Every citizen pays taxes and it is nearly impossible to avoid that expenditure.

While there are some taxes that are easy to understand, such as a sales tax on purchases and property taxes on homes, there are other taxes that just don’t seem sensible or are downright maddening.

One such tax that stirs the ire of automotive enthusiasts is the so-called “chicken tax” applied to light-duty pickup trucks. The appellation seems misplaced, but under closer scrutiny the tie-in to the original and retaliatory chicken tax should be understood. We’’ll take a look at this tax and its future, especially as a pair of new trade agreements may finally render the chicken tax null and void.

The Chicken War

In the early 1960s, the United States was battling with Europe’s Common Market regarding the export of US chickens to the continent. In response to US imports that they believed were hurting European farmers, the European Economic Community (EEC) raised tariffs on imported chicken, essentially closing the market to US producers.

After more than a year of diplomatic negotiations, the United States responded by slapping a 25 percent chicken tax on four items of importance to European exporters: brandy, dextrin, potato starch and light trucks. In 1963, the Chicken War began and still rages today, although only light trucks are still taxed. The other three items have since been removed from the tax. Further, the Chicken Tax — now a tax on light trucks — applies to all manufacturers, not just those based in Europe.

Bypassing the Tariff

With the chicken tax in force, foreign automakers found themselves squeezed out of a lucrative market. But not for long. Indeed, manufacturers soon devised ways to bypass the tariff, by looking for loopholes. Those loopholes, when exploited, lowered the tariff to a more reasonable 4 percent.

Japanese manufacturers were at the forefront of driving through the loopholes. They did so by exporting only part of the pickup truck composed of the cab and chassis, leaving off the truck bed or box. When the vehicles arrived in the US, they would then be upfitted with a cargo box and marketed stateside.

The 1970s was the heyday for small pickup trucks, with manufacturers such as Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Mazda participating in the US market. Moreover, the US manufacturers jumped in with their own models as Ford imported the Courier from Mazda and Chevrolet the Luv from Isuzu.

Closing the Loophole

By 1980, legislators closed the cab chassis loophole as both General Motors and Ford readied home-built models such as the Chevrolet S-10 and the Ford Ranger. Despite the tariff, Japanese manufacturers continued to import pickup trucks, but also began building factories in North America to produce them locally.

Subaru found yet another loophole in the law that it exploited throughout the 1980s. Specifically, by placing a pair of rear facing seats in the cab, the company called its Brat pickup truck a passenger vehicle. That loophole was closed as the 1980s came to and end.

Avoiding the Tariff

Although the chicken tax was left in place to protect GM, Ford and Chrysler, the US manufacturers have always looked for ways to circumvent the tariff as well. Certainly, truck brands such as Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Dodge Ram have benefited from the tariff, but all three manufacturers have looked for ways to burgeon their own fleets with carefully selected models.

In the 2000s, DaimlerChrysler began to import the Dodge Sprinter van (later the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter). Cargo versions of the van were subject to the chicken tax, while passenger versions were not. Thus, partially assembled cargo Sprinters were sent stateside with upfitting completed in South Carolina.

Ford has avoided the chicken tax with its Transit Connect van, built in Turkey. All models are imported as passenger vans, thus avoiding the tax. Once in the US, those models destined as cargo vans are modified accordingly.

Ending the Chicken Tax

A push to end the chicken tax has been going on for decades. Much of that effort has fallen on deaf ears, with no concerted effort to eliminate the tax. Until now.

Two new trade deals are now in place — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) — and each one will make the chicken tax history. In essence, the Obama administration (and subsequent administrations) now have the ability to negotiate trade agreements and submit these to Congress without worry that power sucking amendments would be added.

A treaty with Pacific Rim countries will most likely go before Congress this fall, but the European version will take longer. The chicken tax and other tariffs will gradually disappear, but it may take years as they’re gradually rolled back.

Are New Models on the Way?

With the chicken tax removed, might we finally see many of the smaller pickup trucks that the world enjoys stateside? Certainly, manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, and Mazda have vehicles that might be considered for the US market. However, with pickup truck buyers overwhelmingly interested in pickups with robust towing and off-roading characteristics, the demand may not be as strong as some have hoped.

Then there is also the matter of making such trucks compliant to US crashworthiness and emissions standards. Ford hasn’t built the Ranger stateside in five years and now has a global, unibody version built in Thailand. Ford has not given any indication that it wants to sell a model to complement its full-size F-150, but that could change. Yet, the latest Ranger wouldn’t have the body-on-frame durability of the Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, GMC Canyon or the Nissan Frontier, giving it a distinct disadvantage.

Summer Driving: Beat the Heat!

Nissan Versa

Is your car ready for the long journey ahead?

Summer is here and more than likely you will be taking to the road over the next few months. From now through Labor Day, millions of Americans will be heading out by car, plane, train and bus.

Car travel is still the most significant of the conveyances used by vacationers to get them where they are going. But there are challenges too, including traffic, possible breakdowns, and driver fatigue. Here’s how to beat the heat this summer and arrive at your destination safely.

Prepare Your Car

Traveling hundreds or thousands of miles while on vacation can take a toll on your car. It is important that your vehicle is road ready and that means completing your scheduled maintenance before you head out.

Your owner’s manual should be followed and all due items handled before you leave. It is also a good idea to confirm the working order of your lights, your battery connection, hoses, clamps, and tires. Make sure your spare tire has enough air; replace those worn wiper blades before you leave.

Bring an Emergency Kit

flat tireIf you do experience a breakdown, will you have your auto club’s number handy to assist you? What problems can you handle yourself? Putting together some type of emergency kit is important and can keep you and your family safe while you wait.

An emergency kit should be composed of a working flashlight, extra batteries, reflective warning triangles or flares, jumper cables, gloves, duct tape, rags, a tire gauge, and foam tire sealant. You might also include a cell phone charger or extra battery, drinking water, snacks, and tools such as a screwdriver, an army knife, and scissors.

Mountains can be very cool at night, even in the summer. A thermal blanket and the ability to make something hot to eat can help here.

Plan Your Route

Today’s cars come with GPS and that makes it easier for you to map your route and get to your destination. Still, it can be useful to find out what road blocks or detours may be in place along the way and plan accordingly. After all, summer is also road construction season.

Travel along roads that are well kept, marked and lit. Take a route that allows you to stop every two or three hours to stretch your legs, eat and fill up the tank. It is best to drive during daylight hours when you are less likely to battle fatigue. You might also incorporate a stop that will keep the children interested such as a park or amusements.

Save on Fuel

Taking a long trip provides an invitation for you to compare the EPA-estimated fuel economy for your vehicle to your real world numbers. Reaching those numbers may prove more challenging than what you had expected. With a little effort on your part, you can meet, even beat those statistics.

That being said, saving fuel begins with the way you drive. If you are prone to taking jackrabbit starts, then your gas mileage will suffer accordingly. Ease down on the accelerator — do not drive as if you are on the track and always brake with care.

Properly inflated tires are important in helping you save fuel too. Your tires should be checked when cold and inflated to the PSI number listed in your owner’s manual or on the placard located on the door jamb on the driver’s side.

summer tow truck signOne of the best ways to save on fuel is to use cruise control on the open road. As long as road conditions are dry, then flick the cruise switch and set it for the speed limit. Turn off the cruise control when the road is wet to avoid an accident.

As far as your choice of fuel, use the recommended grade. If your car runs fine on regular gasoline avoid higher fuel grades and the elevated prices that come with it.

Your Summer Driving Itinerary

If your trip takes you to or through a remote area, it is advisable to share your itinerary with someone who isn’t with you. This person may be someone you plan to visit or an individual who is otherwise in contact with you along the way, such as by cell phone.

Keep in mind that cell phone gaps (dead zones) exist in more remote parts of the country and may not provide a way for you to contact someone if you encounter a problem. If you don’t arrive at your destination within the allotted time, then someone will be ready to send help if you instruct them to do so.

On the Road This Summer

Is your car up to the trip? If your vehicle is old or well worn, you might consider renting a vehicle for your time away. You will pay for rental cost, gasoline and insurance, while avoiding the wear and tear that would have been experienced by your car.

See Also — What Your Breakdown Cover Policy Offers

Fiat Chrysler Product Delays Mount

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Product delays will keep several Jeep, Ram, Dodge and Chrysler products from reaching showrooms when originally planned. FCA is pouring its resources into Alfa Romeo, a gambit that might backfire.

Alfa Romeo Giulia

FCA is pinning is hopes on the Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has been in the news a lot lately, mainly due to chief executive Sergio Marchionne’s efforts to find his company a partner. The company itself is a new union of European and North American enterprises, but Marchionne insists that FCA could cut its costs by partnering with another automaker.

For FCA, the automaker is battling two problems: its debt levels are high and profit margins are low, twin threats to a company’s vitality when the economy is good as well as to its viability when the economy takes a downturn. Perhaps seeing that the next downturn is looming, Marchionne has been redoubling his partnership efforts.

Alfa Romeo Guilia

Marchionne is also gambling that Alfa Romeo will make huge inroads as new products come to the market. Last week, Alfa showed the world its midsize Giulia, a luxury sedan that FCA says will lead an eight-car onslaught in a bid to elevate this once moribund marque.

The new model has the looks to be a winner, but executing a flawless introduction is key. Moreover, competitors such as BMW, Jaguar, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, Infiniti, Audi, and Acura are not about to cede marketshare to Alfa Romeo without putting up a fight.

Pouring billions into propping up Alfa Romeo means that FCA’s other brands will have to make do with less. Or at least wait a bit longer for new products to arrive.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

The next generation Jeep Grand Cherokee will be delayed.

Jeep and Ram Product Postponements

Just last week Automotive News reported that the planned redesign of the Jeep Grand Cherokee for 2017 will be put off until late 2018 or even later. And it isn’t the first product delay noted.

Because of the Grand Cherokee push back, the upcoming Grand Wagoneer flagship will be delayed as well. The new, full size model would essentially complete the product line, giving the brand strong models from top to bottom.

In early June, Reuters reported that FCA’s big profit model, the Ram 1500, would be delayed by several months, missing its mid-2017 debut. Instead, November 2017 has been targeted as a more likely introduction date.

The Jeep Wrangler, initially planned for an early 2017 release, isn’t expected to arrive until July 2017. Two issues may factor in the Wrangler’s delay:

1), a decision to reverse course and stay with a body-on-frame model instead of the earlier proposed unibody design and,

2), FCA hasn’t announced where it will be built. The Wrangler has long been produced in Toledo, Ohio, but production can be moved elsewhere. Likely, it will be part of the UAW’s negotiating strategy when contract talks are held this September.

Chrysler 300

Additional product delays will likely involve the Chrysler 300.

Additional Product Delays

Delays for higher profit line models follows the postponement of production revamps for several lower cost models, including the compact Dodge Dart sedan and the Dodge Journey crossover. Instead of new models arriving in mid-2016, both vehicles will likely get refreshed and wait an additional three years for revised models.

Other vehicles that may see delays include the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans as well as the Dodge Challenger coupe. And the singular replacement model for the Jeep Compass and Patriot due out early next year will be delayed by at least six months.

Saving Money: At What Risk?

The product delays will allow FCA to put off some of its expenditures to later dates, possibly in a bid to see if Alfa Romeo takes off. A promising Alfa Romeo brand could make FCA a more desirable partner, but it comes as a huge gamble, especially if the product delays send customers shopping for newer designs elsewhere.

Meanwhile, FCA’s bid for GM remains in play. Earlier this month the two companies hired financial advisers to assist them. Furthermore, hedge fund Greenlight Capital snapped up more than 9 million shares of GM stock in the first quarter of 2015.

Lastly, John Elkann is chairman of FCA and oversees the Exor fund in Italy. He is the grandson of Gianni Agnelli and has been advising the family on how best to take on GM. His skill as an investment banker included a hostile takeover of a reinsurance company, PartnerRe. USA Today says that Elkhann “has no qualms about becoming an activist investor.”

See Also — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: No Takers

Lotus Announces New Models, Plans US Return

Lotus Cars says that it is moving its US operation and is readying the Evora 400 for the US market. A limited-edition Lotus 3-Eleven model will go into production in February 2016.

Lotus Evora 400

A federally compliant Lotus Evora 400 arrives at the end of 2015.

The Lotus automotive brand has been on a new product hiatus in the United States since 2014, the last year it made a model for the American market. Some 45 dealers scattered across the country are still selling the 2014 Evora, but no 2015 vehicle was imported because the government’s smart airbag waiver ended last summer. Without the required waiver, future new model sales came to a halt.

While the waiver permitted Lotus to circumvent an important federal government safety requirement, subsequent models could not be modified in time for the 2015 model year. Thus, Lotus was forced to sit on the sidelines this year while it readied a fully compliant model.

Lotus Evora 400

Lotus Evora 400

A new Lotus Evora 400 is on the way and will arrive stateside in December for the 2017 model year. It is essentially an update of the current design, representing a moderate refresh at that. Lotus unveiled the sports car at the Geneva Motor Show this past March.

Under the hood a 3.5-liter, supercharged V-6 engine making 400 horsepower and 302 foot-pounds of torque will power the sports car. That represents a 55-horsepower boost over the previous model and with its weight coming in at 3,119 pounds (down from 3,168 pounds), the new model should easily attain its projected 0-to-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds. Its top speed will be 186 mph.

Evora 400 buyers will still have a choice of 6-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions, the latter with shift paddles. Select the manual edition and your Lotus will get its first-ever limited-slip differential. Lighter wheels, larger brakes and a more refined cockpit are among the more significant changes to the new model.

Besides bringing the Evora 400 to the market, Lotus announced that it will be relocating its US headquarters to Ann Arbor, Michigan, from Lawrenceville, Michigan. The pending move will allow the company to consolidate its operation with its Lotus Engineering arm already located in Ann Arbor.

The automaker will continue to build its Elise and Exige models for other markets and has also set its eyes on building derivatives of all three product lines.

Lotus 3-Eleven

Road and track versions of this Lotus 3-Eleven will be built.

Lotus 3-Eleven

At the Goodwood Festival of Speed (UK) last week, Lotus took the wraps off of the 3-Eleven, powered by the same supercharged engine in the Evora 400, but making 450 horsepower. Furthermore, the race version weighs just under 2,000 pounds (dry weight) and is expected to go from 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds.

Production of the Lotus 3-Eleven begins in February 2016 and will be limited to 311 models. The street-spec model will retail for about $129,000 and the track version for $151,000.

Lotus 3-Eleven

Lotus 3-Eleven

Lotus SUV

Yet another model is in the planning stages and should do for the brand what it has done for Porsche: bring an SUV to a sports car line. The SUV, sized relative to the Porsche Macan, will serve China first and if successful find its way to Britain reports Auto Express. There is no word whether the US market would follow.

Founded in 1952, the Lotus marque has survived the death of its founder, Colin Chapman, financial troubles and is on its third international owners. Indeed, General Motors owned Lotus for seven years beginning in the 1980s before selling it to Romano Artioli and Bugatti in 1993. In 1996, its current owner — Malaysia’s Proton Holdings Berhard — took over.

Besides building its own models, Lotus has cooperated extensively with other manufacturers, including designing the chassis for the DeLorean DMC-12, supplying the chassis for the Aston Martin DB9, and created a concept Dodge EV for Chrysler. Most recently Lotus has contributed its handling and steering expertise to better the Hyundai Genesis sedan.

Lotus 3-Eleven

See AlsoPossible Lotus Sale Is No Surprise

Photos copyright Lotus Cars — all rights reserved.

The Infiniti QX80 Goes to Washington

Infiniti QX80
Infiniti QX80

This Infiniti QX80 provided precisely 700 miles of driving pleasure.

When taking to the road, you need a reliable car. A meaningful bonus is any model that gets you there in style.

This past week an Infiniti QX80 was my weekly driver and I also received an added bonus of my own: permission to take it Washington, DC, and back, covering 700 miles with my two teenage sons who were along for the ride. It was a boys weekend out and the strapping QX80 supplied everything we needed to make the trip a thoroughly enjoyable one.

The Infiniti QX80 is the brand’s largest model, offering room for seven or for eight when the middle row seats are replaced with a bench seat. It was originally known as the QX56, with the “56” pointing to the model’s 5.6-liter, V-8 engine. Briefly, it sported the QX moniker alone before assuming its current name.

Beginning with the 2014 model year, Infiniti overhauled its naming convention and the big SUV assumed its current QX80 moniker. It is a second generation model, introduced in 2012 and eight years after the first model rolled out.

Notably, the first generation model was underpinned by the same platform powering the burly Nissan Titan pickup truck as well as the large Nissan Armada SUV. The current model is related to the Nissan Patrol, a vehicle that is not sold in the US.

In the QX80, Infiniti offers a compelling response to consider it over large, opulent SUVs such as the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator. It also competes against the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, and the Lexus LX 570.

National Mall

On street parking near the National Mall.

2015 Infiniti QX80

The QX80 is one of four SUVs sold by Infiniti. A fifth model, the QX30 is on its way. The two-wheel drive model is priced from $63,250; the all-wheel drive model starts at $66,350.

Typical of Infiniti, you get one trim level and can build it out from there. But beginning in 2015, Infiniti has rolled out the Limited package to take this model to where no Infiniti has gone before. In other words, Infiniti has upped the craftsmanship quotient a notch to convey a vehicle that matches the top-of-the-line editions for what its competitors offer.

You will pay for this package too. Ultimately, it unites five distinct packages — driver’s assistance ($2,100); theater ($2,400); deluxe technology ($5,500); Limited ($10,000); and tire and wheel ($2,450). That’s about $22,500 of goodies that we’ll inspect at length later.

Infiniti pairs the QX80’s V-8 engine with a 7-speed automatic transmission. The engine makes 400 horsepower and bangs out 413 foot-pounds of torque. That’s puissant performance you need to move this three-ton beast. Thankfully, the powertrain is up to the task.

The Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial.

Tight Storage Space

Loading the QX80 means making an immediate decision: do I pack in the tiny storage area (16.6 cubic feet) behind the third row seat alone or make use of some other option. Folding the third row seat is possible if there are no more than four of you present, otherwise you will need to place your extra luggage on top. A long weekend away meant we brought with us a lot of stuff and what didn’t fit in the back we put on the floor in the third row.

Once you are packed, then get settled in. One of the goodies found in this model is an innovative DVD entertainment system with bright, 7-inch screens affixed to the back of the front seat headrests. My boys used it, loved it and you probably would too. The $2,400 price tag seems steep, but the theater package adds heated outboard second-row seats and remote tip and flip middle row seats too — an excellent feature to help you access the rear row.


2015 Infiniti QX80 Limited

View manufacturer details and pricing


The Limited package took an already above the conventional model and makes it extraordinary. On the exterior, Infiniti matches the all-season rubber with natty 22-inch, dark chrome finish wheels. The “dark” leitmotif continues with the lens around the headlights and tail lights as well as to the exterior trim and roof rails. Stainless steel running board caps and illuminated kick plates add further lift to the visage.

Inside, take note of the upscale cabin replete with leather, ash wood trim, and an ultra suede headliner. Distinctive quilting on the seats, the storage compartments and door inlays add further luxuriance to the interior.

Golden Lion Tamarin

A golden lion tamarin at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

Art

Some call it art.

Power and Towing Capabilities

Press the accelerator and the engine immediately responds with every horse that you need. The transmission shifts smoothly through all seven forward gears and brings this SUV up to highway speed without delay. It is easy to rely on the power to get the job done. Furthermore, that power provides 8,500 pounds of towing capacity if you are so inclined.

What the QX80 doesn’t do is deliver pleasing gas mileage numbers. In fact, each of my earlier tests of the Lincoln Navigator, Cadillac Escalade and an assortment of Chevrolet and GMC trucks reveals the same thing: you would be hard pressed to get better than 15 mpg. This SUV is EPA-rated at 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. We averaged 15.5 mpg and that was with cruise control active along the interstate.

Washington, DC, is not a vehicle-friendly city. The District does everything to discourage driving, by providing an excellent mass transit system composed of subways and buses. Trouble is, when you’re riding underground you miss what is going on above ground. And in DC that means everything.

And to emphasize matters, driving around the city is a BEAR, especially during the week. Fortunately, Saturday and Sunday were the days when we were in the city proper, staying 12 miles outside of The District each night.

National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Rising Up: a new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Eschewing Mass Transit

Although mass transit was relatively close by, we chose to drive and headed straight to the National Zoo in the upper northwest part of the city. You can pay for parking or you can save $20 and park on the local streets. We chose the latter and found a space about four blocks away from the entrance. There was no need to parallel park this time around as we located an empty spot near a side street.

After the zoo, we drove through the city and stopped near Howard University for lunch. The GPS was precise, presenting clear instructions along the way, although we did figure that the Chick-Fil-A was located in the university, which was closed. Subway was another option and we managed to find a free parking lot nearby.

Once lunch was done we headed to the National Mall area. Our trip was composed of mostly Smithsonian destinations, which meant hunting for parking. Oh, there is plenty of off-street parking in our nation’s capital, but we managed to find a spot on the street directly across from the Smithsonian National Museum of American history.

GM EV-1

The GM EV-1 on display at the Smithsonian.

Parallel Parking: No Problem

Two things to keep in mind: you’ll be parallel parking a big SUV and you’ll also have to feed the meter.

The parallel parking wasn’t all that dramatic and you always have the rear view monitor to guide you. I ended up parking a foot out from the curb, then decided to move the QX80 within six inches to avoid a ticket from a pesky traffic attendant. Pay close attention to the meters too: we were limited to just two hours and made our plans accordingly. It was the only time we had to pay up. Fortunately, it took a credit card to cover my $4 fee.

There are plenty of other places around DC, where meters aren’t acting as sentinels in a bid to drain you of your cash. The National Mall area has on street parking sans meters and usually someone is pulling out as you want to pull in. You just may become a parallel parking pro, but please avoid curbing the beautiful wheels.

Safety Features Galore

Safety is a big deal for any model and the QX80 has you covered. You get backup collision warning, backup collision intervention (to apply the brakes if you don’t), blind spot warning, blind spot intervention (to move you back to your lane), lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, forward collision warning, and brake assist.

SUVs in this class routinely have some sort of adaptive cruise control. Infiniti calls it intelligent cruise control with full-range speed. The system adjusts the QX80’s speed according to your distance needs. You can also shorten or lengthen the space between cars, an entirely useful feature in heavy interstate traffic.

Washington, DC

Washington, DC, near the White House.

One feature we didn’t use because I am stubborn as a mule, is the Infiniti Personal Assistant. This service supplies a live assistant 24/7, an individual who will help you book hotel and restaurant reservations, make flight check-ins, and handle general trivia. If it works according to plan, you may have a better and more pleasant source than Siri. Infiniti offers this service to customers for the first four years of vehicle ownership.

As far as seating goes, the first and second row passengers have it all. When you get to the third row, the seat is best used by the smaller people in your family as the thigh support goes wanting and padding is not thick. This deficiency is typical in most three-row SUVs and should be kept in mind when considering the segment. One workaround is to explore the slightly smaller, but roomy Infiniti QX60, a crossover SUV with room for seven.

Off-Road Stoutness Too

Lastly, the body-on-frame Infiniti QX80 is entirely suitable off road as it is around town. To aid you in your quest, there is a big dial located between the stick shift and the storage compartment, one that controls four-wheel drive modes at the push of a button and a flick or two of the same. You get snow and tow modes here too — and for the sport-minded among us, you can turn off the stability control, if desired.

To sum up, the 2015 Infiniti QX80 meets expectations for the large, luxuriant SUV segment. In addition, it does this by offering an ideal blend of creature comforts, technology and performance, in a package that is evocative, swanky, and intrepid.



2015 Infiniti QX80 Limited

  • Sticker price from $66,350
  • Price as tested: $89,845
  • Seats 7 occupants
  • 5.6-liter 32-valve V-8 gasoline engine
  • 400 horsepower @ 5,800 RPM
  • 413 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,000 RPM
  • 3.86 inches bore by 3.62 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.8-to-1
  • 7-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 121.1 inches
  • Length: 208.9 inches
  • Width: 79.9 inches
  • Height: 75.8 inches
  • Passenger volume: 167.9
  • Storage volume: 16.6 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds
  • EPA: 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway
  • Premium grade gasoline recommended
  • Fuel tank: 26 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 5,888 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Not rated
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/60,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 6 years/70,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 7 years/unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Yukuhashi, Japan

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2015 Infiniti QX80 and Washington, DC, photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.


Hatchback Chevrolet Cruze Set For US Introduction

Chevrolet Cruze

June 25, 2015: Corrected to include accurate details about the body styles the Cruze’s competitors offer in the US market.

Chevrolet Cruze

An earlier Cruze hatchback will set the stage for a new model.

The Chevrolet Cruze may be the best compact car General Motors has ever built even though its sales have yet to reach the top numbers the Chevrolet Cavalier attained during the 1980s. Back then, GM was selling more than 400,000 Cavaliers per year. In 2014, Chevrolet sold 273,060 Cruzes in the US, the brand’s best selling model line behind its Silverado pickup truck series.

An Expanded Model Line

The Chevy Cavalier also had a big advantage over the Cruze as it offered as many as five body styles, including a two-door coupe, a three-door hatchback, a four-door sedan, a wagon and a convertible. The US-spec model is sold only as a four-door sedan, but beginning in 2016 a second body style — a four-door hatchback — will be added.

Adding a hatchback to the Cruze family would put this car within line of other models offering more than one body style, including the Honda Civic (coupe and sedan), Kia Forte (coupe, sedan and hatchback), and the Ford Focus (sedan and hatchback). It might also place the Cruze within striking distance of the Civic (325,981 units sold in 2014) and perhaps the Toyota Corolla (339,498 units sold in 2014), the segment’s leaders. Notably, Toyota sells enough Corollas as a sedan-only model to hold off No. 2 Honda.

GM’s original sedan-only strategy for the US-spec Cruze was hatched while the company was struggling to stay afloat, then regroup following its 2009 bankruptcy filing. Other manufacturers, including Kia, Volkswagen, Mazda and Hyundai have successfully sold hatchbacks in the US.

Hatchbacks were largely left for dead in the 1990s as US consumers avoided them, however manufacturers began testing the waters with new, stylish models and found consumers receptive. It also helped that Europe and other markets never lost interest in these styles.

2016 Chevrolet Cruze

2016 Chevrolet Cruze

The 2016 version was unveiled this week and it will be larger and lighter than its predecessor. It is part of a rapid-fire product introduction that brings new Spark, Volt, Malibu and Camaro models to the market for the 2016 model year.

The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze will debut early in 2016 and will be followed by a diesel version in 2017. A new, turbocharged 1.4-liter engine is standard and will produce 153 horsepower. It comes paired with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. GM says that the Cruze will make 40 mpg on the highway. Up to 250 pounds have been shaved from the first generation edition, enabling the Cruze to go from 0-to-60 mph in under 8 seconds.

Highlights of the New Cruze

Among the highlights of the 2016 edition are the following:

  • A class leading 106.3-inch wheelbase. This will translate into more leg and knee room in the back seat.
  • Projector beam headlights are standard across the model line. And for upper trim level models, LED daytime running lights are standard.
  • OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot is included. Other standard features include 10 airbags, a rear view camera and four-wheel disc brakes.
  • Wireless phone charging will be available. A heated steering wheel and heated leather rear seats are additional options.
  • On the safety front, a number of features typically found on more expensive models become available. These are: forward collision alert, side blind zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert and lane keep assist.

As for the design changes, these include moving the center rear stop lamp to the top of the roof line. Chevrolet also describes the rocker panels as seamless for a more refined look. The new Cruze will also feature polished aluminum, piano black and bright-finished accents.

Choose the RS package and this model brings in a unique grille along with front and rear fascia embellishments, a front splitter, fog lamps, 18-inch wheels, and a rear spoiler.

More Details Forthcoming

Auto Trends will offer more details about the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze in the coming months, following media and personal test drives. With sedans and hatchbacks both in the mix, this model’s appeal should only grow as consumers take advantage of its many enhancements.

See Also — Chicago Hope: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Chevrolet Cruze photos copyright General Motors Company.

Yet More Jobs Follow Volkswagen to Tennessee

University and industry researchers have examined the impact of Volkswagen’s operation on the Tennessee economy. They have concluded that the upcoming expansion will create thousands of new jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy annually.

Ever wonder why state governments throw out the welcome mat and offer generous incentives for international automakers? It comes down to just one word: jobs. Indeed, ever since Volkswagen set up shop near Chattanooga, Tennessee, the German automaker has created thousands of direct jobs with many times that number of indirect positions following.

Gainfully employed workers pay taxes, buy goods and services, purchase homes and otherwise contribute to their local economy. Notably, every state benefits from automotive industry investing — Tennessee has been benefiting in a big way, particularly as both Nissan and Volkswagen expand or are planning to expand their operations in the Volunteer State.

Center for Automotive Research Study

According to a January 2015 report by the Center of Automotive Research — Contribution of the Automotive Industry to the Economies of All Fifty States and the United States — more than 9,000 people are employed directly by car manufacturers in Tennessee. Another 53,000 have found work with body and trailering manufacturing companies and 218,000 are employed by parts manufacturers.

Volkswagen PassatThat’s more than 280,000 of just over 3 million people in the state’s labor force. Furthermore, those numbers will be rising over the next few years as Volkswagen doubles its lone US plant to accommodate an upcoming new vehicle, a midsize SUV.

UTK CBER Volkswagen Impact Study

A recently released study by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) bears witness to what Volkswagen is doing in Tennessee. In July 2014, Volkswagen announced its plans for Chattanooga, what led to the university’s Center for Business & Economic Research (CBER) to analyze the impact of the plant’s expansion further.

The university report — Economic Impact of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga Expansion Plan — was prepared by William Fox, CBER Director and Lawrence Kessler, a research assistant professor with CBER.

The report noted that Volkswagen will be adding more than 500,000 square feet to its facility located in Hamilton County, Tennessee. The manufactory will gain 1,800 new workers. Moreover, another 200 engineering jobs will also be added to that number, employees working in a new Research & Development (R&D) center, the first automotive R&D center located in the US southeast.

Volkswagen says that it will take five to eight years for the new positions to be filled as production of the new model ramps up. The plant will be finished in the first half of 2016 with production commencing later in the year.

Temporary and Permanent Employment

Volkswagen SUVConstruction alone will add nearly 5,400 jobs while the plant is being built and contribute $217 million to the Tennessee economy. State and local coffers will enjoy a one-time increase in tax revenues too, totaling $20.5 million.

With 2,358 people currently employed directly by Volkswagen in Tennessee, the new totals will approach 4,400 when the hiring process comes to an end.

Once fully operational, the UTK researchers estimate that the new plant will create 9,799 new jobs and pump $372.6 million annually into the local economy. Further, local and state governments will see a $35.1 million bump in annual tax revenue through sales and other taxes.

OEM Contribution and the Multiplier Effect

Volkswagen’s presence in Tennessee has also encouraged original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to expand or set up their operations in the region to serve the automaker. The UTK researchers found that 20 companies have done so since 2009, adding 2,257 jobs to the area and contributing nearly $200 million to the economy in less than six years. That financial investment is a gift that keeps giving and will likely increase as Volkswagen expands its operation.

The UTK researchers also honed in on the multiplier effect of auto industry job creation, noting that for each dollar spent another dollar or more of economic activity is generated.

In other words, as new workers are hired by Volkswagen and OEM suppliers, that’s more money to be spent on food, clothing, cars, entertainment and so forth, a ripple effect that underscores why your own state’s governor and politicians are eager to land car manufacturers.

See AlsoNow Hiring: Volkswagen Adding 2,000 New Jobs in Tennessee

Photos courtesy of the Volkswagen Group of America.