Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mitsubishi Pulls The Plug On Lancer Evolution Production

In a move that many in the industry saw coming, Mitsubishi has revealed that it will begin winding down production of the Lancer Evolution sport sedan as part of a broader move to shift the company’s focus from being a performance oriented brand, to a seller of eco friendly vehicles in a bid to improve the company’s slumping sales.

According to the folks at Nikkan Jidosha Shimbun (Automotive News Daily), Mitsubishi will cease official production of the 10th and latest iteration of the car ( the Lancer Evolution X) by the end of the year. Overall sales numbers for the potent four door since its 1992 debut totaled to about 92,000 units in domestic sales on its home turf, as well as an additional 154,000 in world wide sales. The car was first gestated when engineers from the firms rally program incorporated the Galant VR-4’s all-wheel drive system and 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder into the tiny 4th generation Lancer (known here in the U.S. as the Mirage). The end result of this mad scientist esque effort was a four door sedan that not only offered buyers world class performance that could be measured on par with the world’s best sports cars, but also a cheap entry price with the Evo costing thousands less which opened the car to a broader range of consumers.

This potent combo allowed the car to become a smash hit with young buyers, and even spurred rival company Subaru to create the Impreza WRX and WRX STI performance sedans which would provide the spark for a sort of arms race between the two that would last for over 10 years with one side trying to outdo the other. While it initially began in the Asian and European markets, the heated rivalry eventually landed here in the U.S in 2003 and 2004 with the respective introductions of the eighth generation Evolution and the second generation WRX STI. Ironically Mitsubishi never intended to import the car, and had originally intended it to be a Japan exclusive model. However news of the Evolution’s achievements in rally racing (as well as its impressive performance numbers) slowly trickled beyond Japan and helped foster a popular “grey market” for the car in Britain and Australia during the mid 90’s. With today’s announcement, this hotly contested duel of all-wheel drive ideologies has ended and the WRX STI will emerge as the winner when production ceases later this year.

Prior to this announcement, the company once acknowledged the Evolution as a key image leader in its lineup, but this was back when the company’s marketing plans had performance as a key asset and buying point for consumers. Since then poor sales, as well as a decline in overall relevance have forced the company to abandon this approach, and instead embrace the development of electric and hybrid vehicles. A recent example of this new mantra is the new i-MiEV electric car which aims to help the firm achieve this new goal and will arrive here in the U.S. later this spring. The Mirage subcompact is also another notable example offering commendable fuel economy in a package that is small and reasonably priced.

While today’s announcement may disappoint hardcore fans of the model, these same loyalists should not be discouraged and hope that perhaps Mitsubishi will listen to their feedback and possibly resurrect the iconic nameplate. It would be similar to the way that the Dodge Viper was brought back to life (as an SRT offering) after ending production in 2010. We here at Autoinfoquest will miss the Evo but not so much the model itself, but rather we’ll miss the passionate rivalry that the potent four door had with Subaru, as well as the way it brought legions of enthusiasts together during its time in production.

Toyota Offically Unveils TS040 Hybrid Race Car

In its latest bid to secure the podium at the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championships, Toyota has unveiled its latest race car effort the TS040 Hybrid which will have its sights set on allowing Toyota to secure the podium for the 2014 WEC racing season.

The newly revised design features an all new hybrid all-wheel drive system which is good for a solid 513 horsepower but it can be increased to a mind-blowing 986 horsepower when paired with the 3.7 liter V8 engine. To make sure it is a competitive entry in the series, Toyota cg_still003 engineers developed the TS040 to comply with new WEC rules which mandates that all teams participating in the series must cut overall fuel consumption by 25 percent. In addition, the increased flexibility of design in other areas of the TS040 allowed engineers to dedicate the bulk of their efforts into increasing the power of the electric motors which reside on the front and rear axles of the race car.

In a statement released by Toyota, the company revealed that “By adopting more road relevant technology, the WEC will increase the possibilities for the transfer of Toyota’s TS040_4race bred technical know-how to its production cars, strengthening its status as the worlds leading manufacturer of hybrid vehicles”. This transfer could also benefit non hybrid models as well which should please customers looking for more efficiency out of their vehicle purchases.

Look for the TS040 to go head to head with entries from rivals such as Audi and Porsche in several races which will serve as collective warm ups for the iconic 24 hrs of Le Mans event which is set to take place June 14th in France. he elaborated further saying “It’s hard to know where our competition will be performance-wise” stated team driver Anthony Davidson. “We are waiting to face them on the track, but you have to expect that Audi will have done a good job, and will probably be the one to beat despite Porsche’s heritage in this category”.

 

Cadillac Considering Bringing European Sales Strategy To U.S. Market?

With Cadillac preparing to unveil a new marketing strategy in Europe that could raise the brands relevance in that particular part of the world, some of the brands executives have revealed that this experimental approach could eventually find its way to U.S. showrooms.

In lieu of conventional dealerships where nearly all of the elements of the brand experience take place, Cadillac plans to open several small scale store fronts as well as independent sales centers and test drive locations in Western Europe to try and redefine the buying experience while also satisfying younger buyers at the same time. Cadillacs global marketing chief, Uwe Ellinghaus elaborated further in a statement to Automotive News claiming that “many European customers are not excited to visit dealerships given how limited their leisure time is”. Ellinghaus claims that this system could also offer similar benefits to buyers in the U.S. market, and serve to help create a future where the buying experience can be achieved “without bricks and mortar” while also admitting that investing “multimillions” in dealerships may not be the best strategy for the brand in the long haul.

However Cadillac is not the only brand to try and rethink the way its customers buy and interact with their products in recent years. In a nod to Apple’s sales strategy for its smartphones and music products, Tesla Motors (as featured in my editorial last weekend) has completely flipped the script by scrapping franchised showrooms in lieu of direct sales to customers. While consumers have so far embraced this novel method of selling versus that offered by mainstream brands, it has also been met with considerable criticism and resistance from dealer associations and legislation in various states that aim to “protect the status quo” by banning the practice. For the moment Cadillac’s new strategy is still in the experimental phases and is only being utilized in Western Europe with no official confirmation of an attempt in the U.S . However if it is a hit with consumers expect Cadillac to perhaps change its tune in the near future and begin similar experiments here in select areas of the U.S. market.

Stay tuned to Autoinfoquest for the latest developments on this story as they become available.

 

Why Tesla’s Sales Approach Should Be Accepted By Dealerships

Ever since Tesla first arrived on the automotive scene with its unique direct to consumer sales approach several years ago, various dealer organizations and individual dealerships have continuously appealed to lawmakers to pass legislation that would make it much harder for Tesla to pursue this approach supposedly in the name of fair business and consumer safety with their efforts succeeding in Texas, Arizona as well as New Jersey. This wave of success is mainly due to the varying levels of lobbying and financial contributions that these groups have made to try to sway the minds and votes of our elected officials. However instead of fighting Tesla’s unorthodox approach via the legislative process, they should embrace it and welcome this competition to further improve themselves.

Direct sales are a key part of Tesla’s successful business formula which has allowed the California based upstart to stand out from other failed efforts such as Fisker, and gradually transform into a leading phenomenon in the automotive world. In fact this approach is truly unique because buyers can configure options, colors, and features of the Model S sedan from virtually anywhere via the internet, send a quick electronic payment, and have the very car you made arrive in your driveway a few weeks later. All of this adds up to the key theme, and that is a unique and easy customer experience that caters to various buyer tastes while also being informative and fun at the same time (something that could benefit other businesses as well). The company’s stores are also another dimension of this simple approach but whereas pixels and a computer screen can only show one part of the experience, the brick and mortar stores allow you to see the color pallet in person, take a test drive, and facilitate financial transactions with kind and friendly staff. They also allow the company to retain control of its retail operations which in turn also allows Tesla to keep full control of the buying experience while also eliminating some of the common and perhaps sacrosanct practices that sour the buying experience at conventional showrooms such as haggling, upselling, and commission driven offers.

By taking such a serious and one track minded approach against Tesla, the dealer associations are not only wasting valuable time and money, but also robbing its members the opportunity to compete on even ground with Tesla’s stores. While Tesla has certainly been the most successful with the direct to consumer approach, the concept is nothing new and has persisted in some way or another for years prior to Tesla’s rise to fame. Daewoo for example used a similar approach here in the U.S. for its products and while it did little to reverse the company’s dismal sales and eventual pull out from the U.S. market. It did give consumers a sneak preview of what the direct to consumer approach is about and how it brings advantages to both the consumer and the retailer especially if done correctly as is the case with Tesla.

Granted the current and accepted “franchise dealership model” did not come about by some mere fluke or accident and still makes a fair amount of sense in today’s market with the advantages it does provide to manufacturers and the dealerships themselves. However look closer and some of the disadvantages of this system come to light. It is no secret that buying a new car is ranked at the bottom of many peoples shopping experiences, and joins other bad experiences such as getting a tooth pulled or waiting in line at the DMV due to the long agonizing wait as well as the unpredictable nature of the sales experience as a whole.

This where Tesla can play a key role by not being “public enemy number one” as some dealer associations like to claim, but instead as a “frienemy” that encourages dealers to accept and adapt to new tactics and sales strategies. Competition has existed from day one and has been around for thousands of years in various forms but the end result is the same, it encourages improvement. Not only does a rival serve as a target for many businesses, it also encourages creative thinking as well as the implementation of new tactics and techniques which help dealerships retain customers and still be relevant in the marketplace. While this exists to a degree in traditional dealerships, the bigger balloons, spiffy signage, and exterior trimmings that come with “new thinking” fail to target and address the one basic thing all dealerships (big or small) need to survive and that’s the customer experience. Having been through the car buying process myself, I always believe that the customer experience from the initial negotiations and test drive to the final deal are the most important things I look for in a potential purchase versus how many balloons are on the ceiling or whether the lounge has enough of a certain food or drink item. Because when all is said and done your not just buying a car, but also building trust as well as a long term business relationship that benefits both you and the dealer.

While franchise dealerships cannot exactly duplicate Tesla’s business practices, the dealer associations can take several steps to help their members adapt and compete far more effectively against Tesla. For example the organizations can use their collective voices to encourage its members to make improvements to the sales environment to reduce stress for staff and customers while also meeting with manufacturers to overhaul the buying process to reduce wait times and improve efficiency. Ultimately staying on the current well trodden path of lawsuits and legislative bullying is not the answer for franchise dealerships and organizations in the long haul. Tesla and its way of doing business are not going to be going away anytime soon, and with foreign competition possibly using this approach in the near future. The need for change is even more apparent now than it was prior to Tesla’s arrival, and should be done before time runs out and the future overshadows them all.

Volkswagen Sheds New Light On Upcoming TDI Engine

Volkswagen has officially revealed that its recently unveiled TDI engine (known officially as the EA288) will see duty in the 2015 Golf, Jetta, Beetle, Passat, and Beetle convertible which shows how serious the company’s intent is to increase the efficiency of those models for the 2015 model year.

Douglas Skorupksi Volkswagen of America’s manager of technical strategy elaborated this further stating ” With the introduction of the new EA288 engine, we are excited that our family of TDI Clean Diesel vehicles is continuing to improve and will be even cleaner and more fuel efficient and powerful”.

The engine (which will eventually replace virtually all of the current 2.0 liter units powering VW and Audi models) is good for a modest 150 horsepower (a gain of 10 horses versus the old motor) and a stout 235 lb-ft of torque while overall efficiency has been enhanced thanks to a redesigned exhaust gas recirculation system as well as locating all exhaust after treatment components closer to the engine. Meanwhile lower friction bearings a two stage oil pump with volumetric regulation as well as other components help enhance the engines efficiency even further.

Volkswagen already has an impressive position in the U.S. with its various TDI models accounting for 75 percent of all diesel SUV and passenger car sales in 2013. Look for this figure to rise even higher with the appearance of the new engine which should help cement the company’s dominance in this segment  thanks to its suite of new technology and increased efficiency.

 

Chrysler Suspends Viper Production Due To Slow Demand

Amid slower than expected sales of its flagship Viper sports car, Chrysler is reportedly planning to temporarily shut down production of the car at its Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit which would layoff 91 workers and raise questions on whether the Viper can succeed as a viable product.

The shutdown which is expected to last two months, is due to the car’s low sales numbers. Chrysler originally planned to sell 1,600 Vipers a year when it revived the model back in 2013, however in a report released by the Detroit Free Press sales in its first two months of production failed to surpass 100 units which is concerning given the Viper’s role as Chrysler’s crown jewel in its diverse model lineup. In a bid to kick start sales and diversify the Vipers customer range, the company released several special edition models including the track oriented Time Attack model (pictured) as well as the Launch Edition and various Grand Touring packages which help provide even more distinction and identity.

Part of the Viper’s sales woes could stem from the recent introduction of its key domestic rival the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray which has experienced better than expected sales numbers thanks to its blend of technology, efficiency, as well as a cheaper price tag which gives the Stingray a key advantage over the Viper (despite a price increase by Chevrolet for the 2014 model year).

However despite this key disadvantage, all is not lost for Chrysler’s iconic serpent. The SRT branded brute is still a great choice for enthusiasts thanks to its sleek styling as well as its trademark 8.4 liter V10 which is a welcome touch of potent nostalgia in a time where smaller forced induction power-plants are becoming more commonplace in the performance car market. As for the shutdown, expect it to begin on April 14th with production expected to formally resume on June 23rd. Stay tuned to Autoinfoquest for the latest on this story as it becomes available.

NHTSA Ends Investigation Of Jeep Liberty Fires

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it has officially its investigation of the Jeep Liberty which began in October of 2013 due to the possibility of fires with the agency receiving two complaints regarding the problem.

The fires in question were located in the drivers door, and were thought to be caused by a flaw in the design of the master power window switch. It was initially thought that up to 80,000 Liberty’s could be covered under a possible recall, but in a report published by the Detroit News the agency also examined data concerning 425,000 additional Chrysler products that utilized the same type of switch including the Liberty’s sibling the Dodge Nitro, as well as the iconic Chrysler Town & Country minivan to see if the same problem occurred in those models as well.

After all of this investigative work, the NHTSA concluded that the rate of fires versus the “large population of vehicles” was too low to warrant major action, and no trend pattern was found with the few reported issues that the agency did find during the course of its investigation which would’ve brought about a recall if one was indeed discovered. This was the second probe that the NHTSA has launched on the Jeep Liberty with older models being the target of a separate probe concerning the possibility of the trailer hitch assembly penetrating the gas tank causing a fire.

 

 

 

 

Chrysler Adding 1,000 New Part Time Jobs At Toledo Jeep Facility

In a move that is sure to please the local community in Toledo Ohio as well as serve as an encouraging piece of economic news, Chrysler is reportedly planning to hire an additional 1,000 part time workers to work shifts at the firms Jeep Plant to help meet increased production goals as well as demand for popular Jeep models.

The extra workers will be welcome assistance to the plant’s full time employees who have been working in average of 60 hrs a week to satisfy the strong demand for the Jeep Wrangler SUV as well as the recently launched and equally popular Jeep Cherokee crossover. In an interview with the Toledo Blade Chuck Madden the plant’s acting manager highlighted the importance of these new hires stating “Our people have been working a tremendous amount of hours. To get them more time off is important to us, to make sure they’re refreshed and can work safely”. Prior to this announcement Chrysler brought in 380 temporary part time workers with 50 of these new recruits being promoted to full time positions in the plant.

This new wave of workers can also expect to be fairly compensated for their efforts with the company offering the same amount of pay as full time employees ( $15.75/hr) as well as work hours averaging 10 to 30 hours per week. As a bonus temporary workers will also receive a limited benefits package with bundled health insurance which should be helpful to those that have families.

Plant managers hope that the new hires will help the facility meet its target of 2,000 vehicles per day. Currently the facility is producing 840 Wranglers per day with the Cherokee averaging 990 units per day despite the challenges brought on by the recently launched Cherokee and its various configurations which vary among the 150 countries it is sold in. Madden elaborated claiming that “As the volume is picking up we’ll be one of the largest manufacturing sites in North America”.

William Clay Ford Sr. Last Surviving Grandson Of Henry Ford Dead At 88

William Clay Ford Sr. retired vice chairman of Ford Motor Company and owner of the Detroit Lions football team, as well as the last surviving grandchild of company founder Henry Ford died in his home earlier this morning after a bout of pneumonia. He was 88.

Ford spent much of his career (57 years to be exact) at his grandfathers company before making the transition to the company’s board of directors in 1948. In addition to his place on the board, Ford also served as chairman of the company’s design and executive committees as well as taking the position of vice chairman of the Board of Directors. In addition to his business prowess, Ford was also well known for his philanthropy and not only donated to many charities and worthy causes throughout his life, but also aimed to revitalize the city of Detroit and was a key player in bringing the Detroit Lions back to the city with the opening of Ford Field in 2002. Mr. Ford also served as owner of the Lions and purchased the team back in 1961.

“My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company  and the community” stated William Clay Ford Jr. executive chairman for Ford Motor Company. “He also was a wonderful family man, a loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him, and yet he will continue to inspire us all.” Ford’s president and current CEO Allan Mually offered his thoughts on William Clay Ford Sr. stating “Mr. Ford had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company”. “The company extends its deepest sympathies to the many members of the extended Ford family at this difficult time. While we mourn Mr. Ford’s death, we also are grateful for his many contributions to the company and the auto industry”.

Mr. Ford is survived by his wife Martha Firestone Ford, son William Clay Ford Jr, daughters Sheila, Martha, and Elizabeth, as well as 14 grandchildren, and two great-grand children.

BMW Unveils Production Spec X4, Starts at $45,625

Proving that its knack for creating niche vehicles is still running strong, BMW has officially unveiled the production version of the 2015 X4 which brings X6 styling cues in a smaller package that will cater to buyers looking for an alternative to the more utilitarian looking X3 crossover.

The exterior styling was clearly designed to counter rivals such as the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and the Audi Q5 thanks in part to its bolder more dynamic styling theme which sacrifices utility in the name of sport and slick design. The front fascia leads the way with a prominent grille which is flanked by twin headlights as well as fog lamps which are carried P90143882_highResover from its X3 sibling. The rear also embodies its X6 derived roots, and features a swooping rear roof line that BMW claims is supposed to invoke images of “classical sporting coupes”. While our minds are still trying to determine how well the X4 fits in that particular category, we are fans of its L-shaped LED tail lights as well as the rear diffuser which brings plenty of style to make up for its lack of function.

The interior of the X4 also borrows heavily from the X3, and features copious amounts of aluminum trim as well as gloss black accents to provide some much needP90143843_highResed contrast while also making the cabin more youth oriented and performance friendly. The X3 derived seats promise to bring a healthy balance of comfort and support, while the overall layout of various buttons and controls should be familiar to X3 owners as well. Look for the X4 to still offer decent headroom though the swooping rear roof-line could compromise rear passenger headroom to a degree (a common issue with sweptback roof designs).

BMW says that performance for the 2015 X4 will come from six different engines though buyers here in the U.S. can expect to choose from just two offerings due to our country’s emissions and safety laws. The base engine will be the company’s familiar 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine found in the X4 xDrive28i model which is good for a solid 240 horse power, and has a starting price of $45,625 (destination included). However P90143864_highResbuyers looking for more excitement can opt for the X4 xDrive35i which wields a 3.0 liter turbocharged inline six and brings 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque to the festivities. It also brings slightly higher pricing with base models starting at $48,925 which is slightly higher than coupe variants of the Evoque, as well as premium plus versions of its main rival the Audi Q5. Regardless of which model you choose, all X4 variants will come with an eight speed automatic transmission and mandatory all-wheel drive which is a departure from the X3 with that model being available in either rear or four wheel drive versions. Look for more performance data (such as 0 to 60mph times) to be unveiled closer to the X4’s official debut.

After it makes its debut at the 2014 New York Auto Show next month, look for the X4 to begin production at BMW’s Spartanburg South Carolina plant this spring with the first units arriving in showrooms shortly after. Stay tuned to Autoinfoquest for the latest developments on the 2015 BMW X4, and check out the accompanying gallery to see whether the X4 fits your definition of a “classical sporting coupe” we look forward to reading your comments.