Category Archives: Editorials

Navigator Concept Offers Compelling Hints On 2018 Expedition

With the world just getting its first formal look at the stylish Navigator Concept (us included) its easy to forget that underneath its opulence and luxurious styling, is a veiled preview of a second model, the 2018 Ford Expedition.

Like the Navigator, the current generation Expedition is also starting to show its age, and has largely fallen behind the pace set by rivals such as the Chevrolet Suburban and the Toyota Sequoia both in sales and market relevance. A refresh in 2015 helped it catch up in terms of technology and performance, but it still was not enough to right the sales ship (again like the current generation Navigator.) So what will 2018 bring to the Expedition? And can it help revive sales?

The exterior styling of the 2018 Expedition will be radically diffrent with the big ute still sharing much of its inspiration with the company’s popular F-150 pickup truck. This will be especially evident in the front fascia 2015-FORD-EXPEDITION_SKV_8327where the front headlights, beefy grille, and front bumper will be largely transplanted according to recent spy shots. This will be a welcome change from the current generation Expedition (pictured) which looks clumsy and a bit awkward from some angles. Fuel economy has always been a weak spot for the Expedition, but look for that to improve with the family hauler fully embracing lightweight aluminum in its construction as well as lighter steel components. This would allow the big Ford to catch up to its rivals in fuel economy figures, while also improving its handling and acceleration.

The interior of the Expedition will also be completely diffrent with welcome updates throughout. Granted, it will not boast some of the posh factor that the Navigator Concept previewed (except on a possible Platnium model), but look for the cabin to boast more 16_EXPD_KR_FullIPMesaBrown_mjlevels of functionality and versatility two key assets that make or a break a family oriented SUV. Like the exterior, the interior is also expected to borrow moves from the F-150 playbook in terms of basic design and higher grade materials, but look for the production cabin to branch out on its own in a few categories especially in passenger room and connectivity.

The Navigator Concept provided a compelling glimpse of the mysterious new chassis that will underpin it, and look for this chassis to make its way into the Expedition as well. It would not only be lighter than before, but also allow the big Ford to have a smoother ride, while improving its capability at the same time.

Expect the performance hardware to remain V8 free, with a host of EcoBoost engines that promise balanced levels of performance and fuel economy. A 2.7 liter EcoBoost engine could make its apperance as the base engine, which would be a perfect fit with the Expedition’s lighter weight, while also maintaining its reputation for towing. A naturally aspirated V6 could serve as the mid range engine with the 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged V6 retaining its spot as the top engine. Handling would also be tweaked with the Expedition most likely retaining its segment exclusive independent rear suspension.

Ford for its part has remained quiet on specific details regarding the upcoming Expedition, but look for it to possibly arrive sometime in 2017 with an initial unveiling taking place later this year. When the new Expedition arrives on dealer lots, look for it to be a part of a double edged assault with its Lincoln badged cousin  that aims to not only end a dire period of USSR style stagnation, but also reestablish both brands as formidable contenders in the full size SUV segment.

 

The Requiem Of Top Gear, And Why Viewers Should Not Be Punished

With the swirling firestorm growing between the BBC and Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson over what exactly happened in the “fracas” between Clarkson and producer Oisin Tymon, it is incredibly surprising to me that the various media outlets reporting on this story have appeared to have forgotten the unseen consequences of this incident and that’s the effect that it has had on viewers and fans of the show (myself included.)

When I first started watching Top Gear back in 2003, it was a welcome breath of fresh air both in terms of format as well as the chemistry that existed between Clarkson and fellow presenters James May and Richard Hammond. This was especially apparent when one looks at older iterations of Top Gear which were usually very boring to watch and had commentary so bland and complex that it completely missed the mark as an automotive themed television program (you can see what I mean here). When Jeremy Clarkson was first introduced to audiences in 1988, the Top Gear of yore was on the decline, but his colorful commentary as well as his automotive knowledge served as the lone saving grace of that era, and would later prove to be a key ingredient for the BBC when the show was relaunched in 2002 with Clarkson as lead presenter.

With a new format favoring slick camera angles and more focus on entertaining the viewer, the show would rise from its predecessor’s tarnished ashes, and later become one of the BBC’s most popular television shows. However none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the figurative glue that helped keep the show together and that was Jeremy Clarkson’s ability to not only bring the viewer into the broader experience of whatever car he happened to be driving each week, but also delivering commentary that was relevant, witty, and reached out to a wider range of viewers especially young people. Granted Richard Hammond and James May certainly played a minor role as well in its resurgence (May catering to traditional car buyers, and Hammond young enthusiasts) but it was Clarkson that served as the complete package, bringing the best of both worlds together in a way that made sense.

It is these very viewers that are now under siege by the BBC in its ongoing and sadly bungled handling of the “fracas” (the name the network prefers to call the incident). While I do not support the alleged actions of Mr. Clarkson (violence in the workplace is inexcusable) the BBC’s move of cancelling the final three episodes of Season 22 rather than letting them air in their entirety does serve to unfairly punish viewers that follow the show, viewers that have helped the BBC see increased viewership in recent years especially in foreign markets such as the U.S. (the country I call home).

Imagine what would happen if these very viewers were to suddenly leave in droves and watch other programs. It would not only affect the BBC’s bottom line (Top Gear is a figurative gold mine that has helped the network rake in copious amounts of cash over the years) but also how it would affect other extensions of the Top Gear franchise especially Top Gear USA. The latter being key since one of the offending episodes was a crossover that took place between that program and Clarkson and his crew. The U.S. program would’ve not only benefited from the enormous boost in ratings that could have been generated by this event, but viewers new to the franchise (especially in this country) would have had an excellent opportunity to see where the show got its roots, and the chance to see the original cast on U.S. soil once again.

With all of this in mind, I urge the BBC to greatly consider how the handling of these events is affecting the viewers, and I hope that the network will air the three episodes in question sometime in the near future not so much for giving Clarkson his “15 minutes of fame”, but rather for the sake of allowing the viewer to see the content in question as it was meant to be seen and enjoyed not only as a piece of informative programming, but also the secondary artistic value that lurks beneath the surface.

Saab Prepares New Attempt To Get Out Of Bankruptcy, Will It Work?

In the latest chapter in the long, surreal, and ongoing saga that is Saab, the company’s current owner National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) has announced a new proposal that aims to get the company out of bankruptcy so that it can resume talks with several prominent OEMs in a bid to resume vehicle production.

The new proposal which was highlighted in a press release from NEVS reveals that the majority of the company’s creditors would receive full repayments as part of the new plan. As for the remaining 104 creditors that are owed balances in excess of 500,000 Krona (equivalent to $60,000) their repayments would be reduced by half which may disappoint some that were hoping to receive full repayment for some of the outstanding bills that NEVS racked up since it took over the helm at Saab several years ago.

The company claims that if creditors approve this latest proposal it would provide “the conditions for completion of ongoing negotiations with two major OEMs”. Which brings me to my thoughts on the whole situation as a whole. While the Saab 9-3 and 9-5 were decent vehicles that were practical, fun to drive, and unique when compared to others in the marketplace (the 9-7x and its flawed Chevy Trailblazer based charms do not count.)  It was ironically the company’s reputation for uniqueness that played a role in Saab’s eventual demise as well as its current plight. While being unique may appeal to a group of niche fans that understand its rich history and enjoy all of a Saab’s quirky attributes, for broader mass market buyers it was like being thrown a curveball with many of them seeing some of the quirkiness as unnecessary and odd. This was especially apparent when viewed against rivals from Volvo and even BMW (a brand that Saab benchmarked during the 90’s and early 2000’s)

Furthermore it is important to remember that when GM was going through its reorganization during the financial crisis, Saab was bleeding money and was hemorrhaging cash for 17 of the 20 years that GM owned them. While some of the loss was due to events that precluded GM’s 1989 purchase, it also amounted to the cars themselves considering that they were not as refined as the German competition and often times under-performed (Viggen and Aero models excluded) in raw performance a key factor for a brand that was eager to promote its turbocharged capabilities. That said, do I want Saab to ultimately succeed? The answer is a solid yes. Surprising perhaps, but for me I am curious to see what would happen if the brand had proper management and financial structure. It’s not without precedent considering that Audi was once an afterthought here in the U.S. back in the early 1990’s before radically improving under new management that knew what needed to be done and were willing to provide the support and discipline that was needed to resurrect the brand into what it is today.

The same could very well happen for Saab if given the opportunity to survive especially with a revamped 9-3 and 9-5 leading the way. In the meantime you can read the press release here, and tell us what you think about this latest proposal, and whether Saab has any chance of surviving in the current automotive marketplace.

 

 

 

 

Alfa Romeo’s Return To The U.S. What Does It Mean For Consumers?

The saga of Alfa Romeo has always captivated and also infuriated me at various points with each proclamation of its return either scrapped or delayed. However unlike those prior attempts, this one appears to be the real deal and if things hold up. The legendary Italian brand could be on the heels of a resurrection both in its home European market as well as the U.S. But what does this return to the U.S. market mean for consumers like you and me? read on below to find out.

Currently Alfa Romeo (like sister brand Chrysler) is limited to just three offerings the MiTo hatchback, the Giuletta hatchback, and the recently released 4C sports coupe. However look for the stable to double in the next 18 months with the help of a bigger engineering team which will add six more models to the lineup for a grand total of eight different nameplates which should allow the brand to compete in more segments than it currently does now with particular attention focused on the C and E-segments of the market. Look for the first salvo to appear late next year when a new mid-size sedan offering makes its official debut followed by the eagerly anticipated debut of “Cloverleaf”. The latter in particular has us keenly interested since “Cloverleaf” branded Alfa’s have traditionally served as the flagship of the Alfa’s mainstream offerings (as well as a simpler alternative to saying the tongue twister esque Quadrifolglio Verde designation). What is unknown is whether “Cloverleaf” will continue that established heritage or if it will become a competitor to AMG as well as BMW’s M division. Either way it sounds promising and we look forward to hearing more information on “Cloverleaf” as it becomes available.

Look for the tempo to substantially increase during 2016-2018 when Alfa will bring two compact products and two CUV/SUV offerings to consumers as well as a “specialty product”. Our best guess is the “specialty product” will most most likely be a version of the jointly developed next generation Mazda Miata roadster which would follow in the spiritual footsteps of the Alfa Romeo Spider a model made famous by actor Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 movie The Graduate.  A full-size and mid-size sedan will also make their respective debuts, but according to Alfa CEO Harald Wester all of these models will feature several distinct qualities including 50/50 weight distribution, class leading power to weight ratios, as well as the brand’s familiar take on styling and sleek design. All of these traits sound pleasing to us, but only time will tell if the new offerings will indeed deliver on these promises when they eventually make there way into the hands of buyers.

New Italian built engines will also be on tap during this crucial period and will serve as the source of motivation for many of the fore-mentioned models. The first two engines are a pair of six cylinders and while technical information was not released about them, expect one of the duo to be a diesel offering to cater to European buyers that want a seamless blend of efficiency and power. Two four cylinders will also make their respective debuts, and serve to round out the expanded engine family. These changes as well as the availability of either rear or all-wheel drive aim to drive sales up to 400,000 units by 2018 which would be a considerable gain versus the paltry 74,000 copies the brand sold in 2013.

While it is unclear if this will be enough to allow Alfa to pose a serious threat to the established sales advantage enjoyed by the German big three as well as a resurgent Cadillac in the long run, it should allow the brand to enjoy broader awareness and a renewed sense of relevance in the marketplace versus its current role as an afterthought brand. However a key challenge for Alfa Romeo will be rebuilding its reputation for quality among U.S. customers especially those that have fond memories of the quality woes that plagued their offerings back in the 80’s and 90’s. If they can succeed in achieving this as well as creating a pricing ladder that caters to a wide range of consumers, then the future should look bright and promising for Alfa Romeo.

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.

A New Day Is Here!!! Welcome to Autoinfoquest.com

Hello Readers and Visitors,

First and foremost I would like to welcome you all to Autoinfoquest.com the latest in depth news, reviews, as well as unqiue insight into some of the automotive industry’s hottest topics. When I first began my venture into automotive writing several years ago, I aimed to make sure that my pieces were fair and balanced while also continuing my quest to learn and gradually improve the way I wrote and also delivered my works to all of you (the readers). I  am hopeful that some of what I learned will be shown here on this site, and that your experience here is a positive and engaging one that will fufill your quest for the latest in automotive information while also showcasing the latest advancements in the automotive world.

 As the site slowly becomes more operational over the next few days, look for the first flow of articles to slowly begin funneling through early next week with reviews following shortly afterward. In addition, I will also be creating a FB fan page for fans that wish to follow the site via social media (stay tuned for the unveiling of that item in a future article.) In the meantime if you have any questions for me, or want to send a suggestion my way about what you like to see featured here, please post a comment below this article and I will respond to you as quickly as possible.

Thanks again for checking out Autoinfoquest.com, and I look forward to serving all of you in the weeks and months ahead.

Have a safe and wonderful weekend

Carl Malek