2018 Hyundai Accent No Longer a Penalty to Drive

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2018 Hyundai Accent

2018 Hyundai Accent Substantially Upgraded

Once upon a time, way back in 1986, I drove a Hyundai Excel.  Excel was Hyundai’s entry vehicle to the USA market.  It was terrifying to drive.  It wallowed, wheezed and it felt like parts were falling off as it rolled down the road.  With the upcoming launch of the 2018 Hyundai Accent, the successor to the first Excel, Hyundai has a very respectable sub-compact car to sell.

Of course, car sales are down, and Hyundai Motor America would rather have the Kona small crossover SUV on dealer lots now instead of in the Spring.  But Accent is needed as the low-priced anchor to Hyundai’s car presence.

2018 Hyundai Accent Models and Pricing  Hyundai has raised the base MSRP by $250, but it feels like much more cost was added to the car than $250.  Its $14,995 base price is for a  base SE 4-door sedan with a 6-speed manual transmission.  A 6-speed automatic on the SE adds $1,000.  The top of the line Limited goes for $18,895 and an 8-speed automatic is standard.  All models of the 2018 Hyundai Accent are powered by a 130-horsepower 1.6L DOHC GDI 4-cylinder engine.

Going up to the mid-range SEL model you get a 4-wheel disc brakes, a 7-inch center screen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability, driver’s blind spot mittot.  When you go all out and select the Limited, front LED accent lights, sunroof, LED taillamps, 17-inch wheels, BlueLink Connected Services, automatic temperature control and a 3.5-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster are added.  Heated seats are part of the Limited package.2018 Hyundai Accent2018 Hyundai Accent2018 Hyundai Accent

2018 Hyundai Accent Presence  But pricing and equipment isn’t all that is interesting about the Accent.  It looks good and doesn’t look particularly downscale.  Accent now has the  signature Hyundai grille. Its profile is semi-fastback like the Sonata.

The ride is good.  Handling is better than many small cars.  Ergonomics are excellent.  The beefy leather wrapped steering wheel in the Limited is worthy of a much more expensive car.  The door closing sound is a reassuring thunk rather than a clang that characterized many small cars in the past.  Easy to get into, with great visibility, the Excel will be an easy car to live with.

The only strong criticism is the interior. The black interior of the model AutoPacific drove swallowed light like a black hole.  The seats, while pretty comfortable, had a muted check insert that confirmed its lower price positioning.  The upper surface of the instrument panel glared under heavy sunlight – almost like it had a coat of Armor-all on it. Not good.2018 Hyundai Accent Panel Glare

The customer looking for base transportation without too many bells and whistles should be very satisfied with the 2018 Hyundai Accent.

#2018HyundaiAccent #HyundaiAccent


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2018 Jeep Wrangler Now Can Be an Every Day Driver

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2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara – High Volume Model

All New 2018 Jeep Wrangler

One of the major challenges for Jeep in the major re-design of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler – the 4th Gen Wrangler – was how to maintain its ultimate off-road capability while making it easier to live with day-to-day.  Jeep says “we are maintaining and enhancing tradition.”  And they are.   Previous Wranglers were capable off-road, but abusive on-road.  Generally, a Wrangler owner would only keep it for two or three years and then move into a vehicle that was softer, and more compliant.  It was a one-time vehicle.  Probably it was one of those things where the happiest days were when you bought it and then when you got rid of it.  The market for nearly-new Wranglers is robust among avid off-roaders.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler has a simple model lineup.  There are 2-door and 4-door bodystyles.  The 2-door is available in Sport and Rubicon models and represents 25% to 33% of the bodystyle mix.  The 4-door Wrangler Unlimited immediately outsold the 2-door and has two-thirds to three-quarters of the bodystyle mix.  The 4-door is available in Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon models.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler is new from the ground up and, while keeping the character of its predecessors, fixes the issues the may have prevented someone from keeping theirs for a long time.  The new Wrangler is a vehicle you can drive day-to-day in comfort for years.  The design is unmistakably Wrangler, and at-a-glance, many folks will not be able to tell the difference.  It looks tough and capable.  Still hard-core.  Sure the grille is laid back a bit and so is the windshield.  This improves its brick-like aerodynamics by a few percentage points (9% improvement).  The belt-line is lower providing much larger side windows that provide better visibility.

In a head nod to off-roaders, the doors of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler can be removed.  The windshield can fold down.  The roof can open or come off depending on which roof you have.  There is a wide selection of tops – two hardtops, the “Sky One-Touch” power top, and a soft top are available.  The Wrangler can be completely closed or completely open depending on climate, terrain and how dusty you want to get.

The doors, hood, fenders and windshield frame are aluminum to save weight.  The swing gate is magnesium.  All in the quest for lighter weight and more responsive handling.

Improving driving comfort was a central objective for the Wrangler engineering team.   There have to be trade-offs between on-road riding comfort and off-road capability.  Jeep has done an outstanding job with the 2018 Jeep Wrangler in achieving those objectives.  Unlike its predecessors, the new Wrangler has a supple ride with good wheel travel.  This is not what owners of previous generation Wranglers experienced.  The ride is so good, you would expect off-road capability to be sacrificed, but it is not.

Powertrain and 4×4 Choices

There are two powertrains available at launch.  The base engine is the tried-and-true 3.6L Pentastar V6 with 285-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.  The V6 provides plenty of grunt that Wrangler owners are accustomed to.  The new premium engine is a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder mild hybrid with eTorque technology.  The 4-cylinder has 270-horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.  The personality between the two is dramatically different.  The V6 is solid and purposeful.  The 4-cylinder turbo feels like it has more finesse.  It is very responsive and revs willingly.  Also, it is very quiet.  Made in Italy and derived from the Alfa Romeo 4-cylinder found in the Guilia and Stelvio, the 4-cylinder is a very happy engine that will provide satisfying driving in all conditions.  The 4-cylinder turbo will be a $1,000 option over the V6.  Driving off-road, both were extremely capable.

Two transmissions are available on the V6 – an 8-speed automatic and a 6-speed manual.  The 4-cylinder is automatic only.  A diesel will be added to the lineup in 2019 and a plug-in hybrid in 2020.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler has a fully boxed frame that is lighter weight than its predecessor.  There are several 4×4 choices.  Command Trac is on the lower line Sport and mid-line Sahara models.  The most capable Wrangler is the Rubicon that gets the Rock Trac 4×4 system.  Rubicon also includes an electronic locking differential and front sway bar disconnect.  At the press event in the Tucson, Arizona desert the off-road portion of the drive used Rubicon model Wranglers, but Jeep engineers said that a Sahara could also transverse the course with little problem.  One defining characteristic of the Rubicon is the front fender height.  To accommodate larger tires that many Wrangler owners fit to their vehicles, the front fenders are mounted two inches higher than the Sport or Sahara models.

Comfort and Convenience Technology

Gone are the days when a hard-core off-roader was a Spartan machine with few amenities.  The 2018 Jeep Wrangler provides all the creature comforts and conveniences a buyer of modern vehicles have come to expect.  Of course there is a center screen featuring FCA’s Uconnect infotainment system.  Depending on model and equipment, the screen size is 5.0, 7.0 or 8.4 inches.  The instrument cluster is available with a 7-inch TFT display that has over 100 ways to personalize it for the driver.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available.  The rear camera with dynamic grid lines is standard.  Blind spot monitoring and  rear cross path detection is available.  One thing missing that would have been a benefit to off-roaders is a 360 degree camera.  In tight off-road situations without a spotter a 360-degree camera can help the vehicle maneuver between obstacles.  Maybe as a running change.

Pricing

Wrangler pricing ranges from $26,995 for a 2-door Sport  ($3,000 higher than the base 2017 model) to $40,495 for a 4-door Rubicon.  The center of mass will be the 4-door Sahara model that lists for $37,345.  There is a $1,195 destination charge.  So the new Wrangler is not cheap by any means, and Jeep expects to sell 250,000 worldwide each year, but given the significant upgrades to the product these prices seem reasonable.  Of course, a fully optioned Rubicon can probably hit $50,000 or more that some proud buyer will be happy to pay to drive this ultimate off-roader.

#2018jeepwrangler #2018wrangler #jeepwrangler #newjeepwrangler

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Kia Stinger is Hot – Inflection Point for Kia Brand

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The Kia Stinger is a 5-door hatchback sport sedan that ventures into an area Kia has not gone before. Kia describes the Stinger as “an inflection point that takes Kia to a different level”. It does, indeed.

What is the Stinger  The Kia Stinger is a rear wheel (or AWD) mid-size car with a long wheelbase, a large interior package and outstanding driving dynamics. Using worldwide design resources, including a delay to finesse the chassis by former BMW “M” executive Albert Biermann, the Stinger provides Kia with a world-class challenger to German sport sedans. The vehicle closest in concept is the Audi A7 hatchback.

Driving the Stinger  We drove Kia Stinger V6 GTs (there were at least 36 Stingers in the first wave of Kia’s two-wave press preview) over the Angeles Crest Highway north of LA. These are challenging mountainous twisties that reveal the competence of a vehicle when pushed aggressively. Here the Stinger was very good. It was solidly planted, very stable, and hugged the road.

The Kia Stinger GT is also fast. Its 365-horsepower turbo V6 is powerful and flexible. Power is instantaneous. Kia claims a zero-to-60 time of 4.7 seconds. The engine note is muted even at full power and cabin quietness is very good. This is premium-brand quietness.

The GT2 level vehicles driven have Brembo brakes with red calipers. When aggressively on the binders the system compensates for brake fade so you keep constant pressure on the pedal rather then pushing harder to get more braking oomph.

Easy to Live With  Ergonomics are good.  It comes close to passing the rental car test where you can intuitively start the car and drive off at midnight in a driving rainstorm. The steering wheel may be a bit intimidating until you suss out what each of the buttons does. There is a bright center display with good graphics – some of the best in the industry.  The nav system shows the road you are on but not the city you are in. A pet peeve of mine in dense geography, it doesn’t take much more to display the city name (Ford’s SYNC system has shown the city name from the start.). The Kia Stinger comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto… as any modern vehicle should.

Surrogate for an XSUV for the Discerning Mom?  At the press briefing, Kia had a chance to really tout the utility of the car. When asked who would drive it, the obvious was missed. The young mother with one or two infants that loves advanced styling and fun to drive. For her, a crossover SUV might not do it. All of her peers are beginning to drive those, right? (Crossover SUVs might be becoming the new minivan… not the right image). Wanting to be different, she chooses the Kia Stinger – clearly a car appealing to a man – because the liftgate-accessed cargo area gives her the utility she needs with her kids.

Very Attractive Pricing  The base Kia Stinger comes with a powerful turbo 4~cylinder and is priced about $32,000 which is attainable for many Kia buyers. Check all the boxes to get GT2 level Stinger GT with all wheel drive you can get over $50,000. With the feature load of the entire lineup, Stinger is a compelling proposition.

While we haven’t driven the 4-cylinder yet, it promises to be quick and nimble due to its lower weight. Can’t wait to get in one.

Kia Brand is Elephant in the Room  The elephant int the room is the Kia brand.  Initially positioned as a cheap and cheerful brand, Kia has increasingly been selling better and better products.  In AutoPacific‘s 2016 and 2017 consumer research, Kia has been the top scoring popular brand providing an “ideal” vehicle.  But even while Kia has been selling higher priced Cadenza and K900 sedans for years now, it is not a premium brand.  The Kia Stinger is an outstanding effort and a product to be proud of.  Getting Stinger into the consideration set that may include the Audi A7, BMW 440i Grand Coupe and even the Porsche Panamera will be a challenge.  Kia Stinger’s huge price advantage should get buyers wanting a very sporty fun to drive sedan to visit a Kia dealer for a test drive.  Time will tell if Kia and Kia dealers can set the hook and land the sale.

#kiastinger #stingerishere


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Manual or Automatic Transmission? What Enthusiasts Prefer to Drive

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Whizzing around tight corners, while rapidly shifting the gears of a manual transmission is exhilarating! However, reality dictates that I spend most of my driving time mindlessly crawling through rush-hour traffic, so the thought of constantly burying my leg into a clutch while shifting from 2nd to 3rd back to 2nd every five seconds has made me think twice about buying a car with a manual transmission. Driving an automatic now-a-days just seems more convenient for day-to-day driving. And apparently I am not alone here.

VehicleVoice recently surveyed its panel to find out how much of the vehicle-driving population still drives a manual transmission. Looking specifically at enthusiasts (after all, aren’t they primarily the ones driving a stick shift?), the data reveals that, despite a significant portion of our sample claiming stick-shift know-how (89%), only a fraction of them (24%) are actually driving one today.

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AutoPacific Announces 2017 Ideal Vehicle Awards

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AUTOPACIFIC ANNOUNCES 2017 IDEAL VEHICLE AWARDS – PORSCHE TOP BRAND AND TOP OVERALL VEHICLE; FORD MOTOR HAS MOST SEGMENT WINNERS

TUSTIN, Calif. (August 22, 2017) – Automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific, Inc. today announced the 2017 Ideal Vehicle Awards (IVA), recognizing vehicles that best meet their owner’s expectations and desires.

The 2017 awards are based on responses from more than 54,000 owners of new model year 2016 and 2017 vehicles across all major manufacturers. Respondents were asked what changes they would make to their car or truck in 15 key categories, including ride and handling, interior storage, safety features, power and acceleration and technology. “Even the most satisfied owner would change something about their vehicle if given the opportunity,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “AutoPacific’s IVAs identify vehicles whose owners want the least amount of change – those that are truly hitting the mark with owners.”

Porsche Returns to the Top

After being edged out by Tesla last year, Porsche returns to the top with wins for top brand and top overall vehicle, a testament to the brand’s ability to meet owner expectations in both the sports car and luxury crossover SUV segments in which it competes. “Winning a brand recognition speaks volumes about a brand’s product planning capabilities,” says Peterson. “While some brands do cars well, others do trucks or SUVs well. Success doesn’t always span a complete product line. Porsche has a small lineup, but has mastered polar opposite segments.” Porsche also has this year’s highest scoring vehicle overall, the 911, and wins the Premium Luxury Crossover and Luxury Crossover SUV segments with the Cayenne and Macan.

Ford Motor Company Runs Away with 2017 Ideal Vehicle Awards – Takes Home More Wins Than Any Other Manufacturer

Moving up substantially from prior years’ Ideal Vehicle Award results, Ford has winning vehicles in 5 segments, in addition to having the Most Ideal Popular brand. “You don’t get the best selling vehicles in America without giving owners what they want,” says Peterson. “Ford’s F-Series pickups give owners an ideal combination of performance, comfort, safety, and styling.” Additionally, the spaciousness and ease of getting in and out bring the Edge and Flex to the top and owners enjoy the Mustang’s visibility and seat fit.

Lincoln gets 2 segment wins, including the MKZ, which handily outscores the 2nd place Lexus ES and wins its segment for the 4th year in a row.  Navigator wins in its last year before it is replaced by a new generation Navigator.

It appears that the roll out of Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system has gone a long way in contributing to Ford’s 2017 results.

New Chrysler Pacifica and Genesis G90 Hit Mark with Owners

Chrysler’s debut of the Pacifica is a hit with owners, primarily in the areas of safety features, cargo space/cargo opening and passenger room. “In a segment where roominess and safety are top priorities for owners, the Chrysler Pacifica met expectations for 90% of owners – a strong showing that helped Chrysler solidify the top spot,” says Peterson.

The Genesis G90 was a clear winner in the Luxury Car segment, with strong performance in the areas of visibility, passenger room, safety features, ease of ingress/egress and interior storage.

Both the Pacifica and G90 were also AutoPacific 2017 Vehicle Satisfaction Award winners. The G90 won AutoPacific’s President’s Award as achieving the highest VSA score EVER!

The Advanced Technology Challenge

The highest attained ideal info/entertainment technology rating was in 2009, when 73% of vehicle owners said they would keep the same technology as now when asked if they would keep it the same, have more advanced technology, or have simpler, easier to use technology. Since then, owners have increasingly desired simpler, easier to use technology, while desire for more advanced technology has remained fairly steady – ranging from 23% to 29% from 2006 to 2017 (27% in 2017). “Consumers today would make 3 main changes to their vehicle if they could: more advanced technology, more safety features and more/better interior storage,” says Peterson. “Vehicles that are successful in AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award calculations typically do well in those three areas, yet also do well with the human-machine interface, integrating advanced technologies that are easy to use for owners.”

2017 Overall Winner: Porsche 911

2017 Most Ideal Brand Overall: Porsche

2017 Most Ideal Popular Brand: Ford

Passenger Cars
Luxury Car Genesis G90
Aspirational Luxury Car BMW 2-Series
Large Car Chevrolet Impala
Luxury Mid-Size Car Lincoln MKZ
Mid-Size Car Subaru Legacy
Premium Compact Car MINI Clubman
Compact Car Volkswagen Jetta
Economy Car Honda Fit
Sports Car Porsche 911
Sporty Car Ford Mustang
 
Light Trucks
Light Duty Pickup Ford F-150
Heavy Duty Pickup Ford F-Series Super Duty
Compact Pickup Honda Ridgeline
Luxury SUV Lincoln Navigator
Large SUV GMC Yukon XL
Mid-Size SUV Jeep Grand Cherokee
Premium Luxury Crossover SUV Porsche Cayenne
Luxury Crossover SUV Porsche Macan
Large Crossover SUV Ford Flex
Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV Ford Edge
Mid-Size Crossover SUV Honda CR-V
Compact Crossover SUV Kia Sportage
Minivan Chrysler Pacifica

About AutoPacific

AutoPacific is a future-oriented automotive marketing research and product-consulting firm. Every year AutoPacific publishes a wide variety of syndicated studies on the automotive industry. The firm, founded in 1986, also conducts extensive proprietary research, forecasting, and consulting for auto manufacturers, distributors, marketers and suppliers worldwide. Company headquarters and its state-of-the-art automotive research facility are in Tustin, California, with an affiliate office in the Detroit area. Additional information can be found on AutoPacific’s websites:  http://www.autopacific.com and http://vehiclevoice.com/

Contacts:

Dan Hall, dan.hall@autopacific.com, 714.838.4234

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Atomization – Sales per New Vehicle Nameplate Will Drop

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 Atomization Continues Unabated  The American car and light truck market is undergoing atomization.  There are 313 car and truck nameplates on sale today in the United States.  By 2022 – just five years in the future – there are going to be 377.  A nameplate is a vehicle name like Ford Explorer, Renge Rover Evoque or Toyota Camry.

Car to Truck Shift Permanent  Manufacturers are adding new products to more tightly appeal to customers with more diverse tastes.  Buyers have shifted to crossover sport utility vehicles (XSUVs) in droves.  Automakers are adding more XSUVs to satisfy every whim.  Trucks began outselling cars in 2001, but since 2012 when cars last had 50% of the market truck sales have boomed.  Today, truck sales are about 61% of the market and AutoPacific forecasts that truck sales will reach 69% of the American light vehicle market by then.  In 2016 there were 178 car nameplates on sale.  Today there are 192.  In 2016, there were 147 truck nameplates on sales; now there are 153.  In 2022, there will be 199 truck nameplates and 178 car nameplates.

Atomization Means Fewer Sales Per Nameplate on Average  In 2016, sales per name were about 54,000 units each on average in a 17 million sales year.  This was up dramatically from the 2009 downturn year when there were 34,500 units sold per nameplate.  But the bad news is that all nameplates are not equal in sales.  Some sell in the thousands while others sell in the hundreds of thousands.

The top ten vehicles, led by the Ford F-Series pickups, accounted for 25% of the sales in 2016.  If you take the top ten sales out, average sales per nameplate in 2016 was 42,000 sales per year.  In 2022 it gets even worse.  AutoPacific is forecasting 16,200,000 sales in 2022, but there are 377 nameplates.  Taking the top ten nameplates out, the remaining 367 nameplates will sell only 32,700 each.  This puts average sales per nameplate in 2022 about the same as the downturn year of 2009.

Auto Marketing Wars to Continue  With so many individual nameplates on the market it will be difficult for auto marketers to support them.  Marketing budgets are not large enough to get this number of new nameplates in the car buyer’s consideration set.  As XSUVs continue to grow in popularity, traditional sedans will be allowed to languish or be dropped altogether.  At best, strong marketing support will be during the vehicle’s launch period and then taper off.  If a vehicle is a hit, it may continue to get TV time, but more and more targeted internet advertising will become the name of the game.  If a vehicle is not a hit, it will quickly become an unloved cash cow.

It’s no surprise that the Chief Marketing Officers at American automotive brands have a target on their back.  Failing to create the magic potion that will keep this huge number of nameplates moving off of dealer lots is hugely challenging.  Creative talent and huge amounts of money are required to continue succeeding in the upcoming more crowded vehicle market.

And… don’t forget the disruptive influence of electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and the changing driving/vehicle ownership environment of the next ten years.


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Revenue Generator – Which Vehicles Generate the Most Cash?

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New car and light truck owners responding to AutoPacific‘s annual New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey, provide the price they paid for their vehicle.  That price is what the buyer pays the dealer.  A vehicle that is a strong revenue generator is golden to the health of a brand.  Of course the revenue is split into many smaller and smaller pieces.  Simplistically, the dealer buys the vehicle from the manufacturer and sells it at a profit.  And that is about as complicated as we are going to get, because that is not the story we are chasing.

We want to know which vehicles generate the most revenue.  This is analysis is rough.  We use the median price paid from AutoPacific’s research and multiply that times the numbers of vehicles sold in 2016.  Each of the top ten vehicles generated $10 billion or more of revenue.

AutoPacific Revenue Analysis by Vehicle Line

F-Series Top Revenue Generator  The top revenue generator was the Ford F-Series.  Not only is the F-Series the top selling vehicle in the market, about 30% of its sales are of very expensive Super Duty models.  Our rough estimate of the F-Series revenue is about $38.5 billion.  This may be low, because Super Duties may be under-represented because many are commercial use that are not included in the research.

Top Four in Revenue are Pickups  Following the F-Series, the top revenue generators are in order:  Chevrolet Silverado ($27 billion), Ram ($24 billion), GMC Sierra ($11 billion).  Combined, the Silverado and Sierra about equal the overall revenue of the F-Series.

Five Through Seven are SUVs  The top selling crossover SUV is the Honda CR-V and it is the first non-puckup on the list.  It generates almost $11 billion in revenue.  The sixth top revenue generator is the Toyota RAV4 at about $10.5 billion.  The CR-V and RAV4 are expected to be Honda’s and Toyota’s top sellers for 2017 outselling the Accord and Camry.  The Ford Explorer sells for about $12,000 more per vehicle than the CR-V, but sells 110,000 less vehicles.  Nevertheless it is 7th on the list generating about $10.4 billion.

Camry and Accord are 8th and 9th Top Revenue Generator  The previously top selling non-pickups were the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.  By AutoPacific’s analysis, Accord generated $10.4 billion in revenue in 2018 while the Camry generated $10.2 billion.

Nissan Rogue Caps Off The Top Ten  The Nissan Rogue crossover SUV is tenth top revenue vehicle with about $9.7 billion.  Having shot above Altima in sales, Rogue is Nissan’s top revenue vehicle line.

 


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Mid-Size Sedan Onslaught – New Camry, Accord, Sonata

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Up until 2016, the mid-size sedan was the top selling product segment in the USA light vehicle market.  That has changed substantially as buyers are flocking to crossover SUVs that offer more utility at little expense over sedans.  That does not mean carmakers are abandoning mid-size sedans.  On the contrary, they have to keep their top selling mid-size sedan entries fresh and competitive.

Source: AutoPacific, Inc.

Three high volume 2018 model year mid-size sedans are launching in Fall 2017.  All three are from Asian brands.  The Korean brand Hyundai Sonata is assembled in Montgomery, Alabama.  The Japanese brand Toyota Camry is assembled in Georgetown, Kentucky.  The Japanese brand Honda Accord is assembled in Marysville, Ohio.  Some would say that these sedans are the most American cars on the road.

All three are excellent cars and all three are trying to vacate typical anodyne mid-size car styling.  The Accord and Camry are all new cars.  The Sonata is a major redesign to its front and rear styling.  All three are much more expressive than before.

2018 Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry  Toyota’s longtime sales champ, the Camry mid-size sedan, is all-new for the 2018 model year. As this iconic model line has consistently topped sales charts but is often derided for being dull and boring, the 2018 Camry wears much more expressive and in XSE trim, at least, genuinely sporty styling. Toyota undoubtedly hopes that the revitalized looks of the latest Camry will help it shed its stodgy image.

Toyota launches its new Toyota New Global Architecture platform with the 2018 Camry mid-size sedan.  The TNGA platform will be used for the other Toyota cars built at Georgetown: Lexus ES aspirational luxury car and the Toyota Avalon large car.  When Avalon moves to the platform in 2018 they are expected to move the RAV4 crossover into the plant.  The next generation Toyota Highlander crossover SUV and Toyota Sienna minivan will likely move to the TNGA platform and continue to be built in Princeton, Indiana.

Part of the new Camry’s more appealing looks come from its lower proportions. In recent years, sedans have typically gotten taller with higher seating positions to emulate what makes SUVs so popular: great visibility, easy ingress and egress, and a chair-like driving position. However, as market preference towards SUVs has now been well established and sedan share is rapidly dropping, Toyota saw an opportunity to make the Camry a real car again. After all, those who want to sit up high will buy one of Toyota’s many able SUVs anyway. If Camry sales are (by Toyota’s own admission) expected to drop at the hand of the almighty SUV, why not make Camry more differentiated from its high-riding SUV lineup?

So, the new Camry’s seating and roof heights are about an inch lower than before, giving it a sleeker and more aggressive profile than any Camry before it. The seating position is also more sporty too. The interior is a massive step up in appeal too, with expensive looking materials, textures, shapes, and colors that dramatically up the Camry’s desirability. Toyota hasn’t ignored technology either. While lacking Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Toyota’s latest Entune 3.0 infotainment system with its standard App Suite and standard navigation is easy to use. Notably, Toyota’s TSS-P suite of safety technologies, which includes forward collision alert with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist is standard on every Camry.

Camry’s base engine is a 206-horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder.  Its V6 option is a 301-horsepower 3.5L V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Though this generation will no longer hold Toyota’s sales crown (which is being taken over by RAV4), it certainly looks to be the most appealing and engaging Camry yet.

2018 Honda Accord Touring

2018 Honda Accord Touring

Honda Accord  The all-new 2018 Honda Accord mid-size sedan takes a page out of the latest Camry’s playbook, but that’s no bad thing. Like the 2018 Camry, the 2018 Accord rides on an all-new platform and features lower seating height and a lower roofline, abandoning prior generations’ goals of trying to imbue the mid-size sedan with SUV-like interior packaging. Like Camry, Accord’s sales crown at Honda is being transferred to an SUV model, namely the CR-V. This latest Accord is set to lose sales compared to prior generations not because of any inherent flaws, but because market preference has been rapidly shifting to SUVs.

For those who prefer sedans over SUVs, the Accord is a real winner. Its lower seating and roofline don’t result in less interior space; both cabin and trunk space have increased over the last generation’s already generous cabin and cargo hold dimensions, partially due to a longer wheelbase that also improves the car’s exterior proportions. Speaking of proportions, it’s hard not to think Audi A7 when looking at the new Accord in profile; its fastback roofline and pert tail – combined with the longer wheelbase – help give the sedan a luxurious presence.

Also contributing to that luxurious presence is the styling, which possesses a delicateness not seen in recent Honda products. The detailing is crisp and not overdone as is the case in many Hondas. The visual appeal of the new Accord is in its proportions and detailing; the heavy handedness of other recent Honda designs is absent here.  Unlike Toyota, Honda uses more bright-work to highlight the grille.  There is a bright arch sweeping from the A-Pillar down into the rear quarter (similar to the Kia Optima).  The bodyside lower is accented by a bright swoosh line flowing rear from just behind the front wheel opening, through the lower doors and peaking at the rear fascia.  There is a dainty bright highlight on the lower rear fascia above the the bright exhaust tips.

The new Accord does differ from Camry in a key way: its powertrain strategy. Unlike Camry, which sticks with traditional naturally aspirated four- and six-cylinder engines, the Accord moves to an all four-cylinder lineup with a 192-horsepower 1.5L direct injected turbo as the volume engine and a 252-horsepower 2.0L direct injected turbo replacing last generation’s V6. A new non-turbo 2.0L hybrid four is also available. Not that it matters to anyone but the buff books, but a six-speed manual is available on both turbo engines. In practice, nearly all 2018 Accords will have automatic transmissions; the 1.5 is paired to a CVT while the 2.0 is paired to a brand-new ten-speed unit. The hybrid will be paired to a two-motor e-CVT transmission.

Like Camry, a full complement of safety technologies are standard, with Honda Sensing (automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition) installed on every 2018 Accord. Infotainment is upgraded too, and a head-up display is available for the first time.

2018 Hyundai Sonata – LaJolla, CA

2018 Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai Sonata  The Hyundai Sonata mid-size car gets a major freshening for the 2018 model year.  The present Sonata has been criticized for getting too conservative when changing from the very avant garde 2010 model.  Senior management probably were surprised at the success of the 2010, but could not muster the will to keep the pedal to the metal.  The 2018 Sonata goes a long way in correcting that strategic error.

The front and rear styling is all new.  Like Toyota and Honda, Hyundai is adopting a much more expressive grille and front face.  They describe the grill surround as being a “cascade”.  There are two different grill textures – horizontal and diamond shaped mesh.  The front fascia is highlighted by a horizontal bright strip flowing from side to side.  Hyundai describes this as a “catamaran blade”.  Hyundai continues with the bright spear flowing from the front fenders back to surround the windows.  In profile, the Sonata is similar to the Camry and Accord.  Even though this is a freshening, the car looks as up to date as the all new Camry and Accord.

The interior has been freshened with material upgrades throughout.  The center stack has been redesigned and ergonomics are excellent.  Hyundai has found a way to make its blind spot warning system affordable and has made it standard on all 2018 Sonatas.

There are changes under the skin as well.  Chassis tuning has been improved making this the best handling Sonata ever.  Steering feel has been improved and the ride feels more taut than before, but not in a bad way.  The rear suspension has also been upgraded.

Sonata’s base engine is a 185-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder.   The Eco model gets a 178-horsepower 1.6L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The top engine is a 245-horsepower 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The 2.0L Turbo vehicles get an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Competitive Battleground  There are ten major competitors in the mid-size sedan market in the USA.  Three are all new or freshened for 2018.  Two will get major changes in 2019.  Three will be all new or get a major change in 2020.  Even though the segment is beset by woes stemming from crossover SUV popularity, the mid-size sedan segment will remain fresh and competitive.  The new Accord looks like a real winner and promises to continue sparring with Camry for sales dominance in the mid-size sedan segment, even as the segment itself is in decline. The Sonata will hold its own.  For those who really like cars (and not SUVs),  the new Accord, Camry and Sonata provide a lot to get excited over.


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Envision an Autonomous Car Chase Scene

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Source: George Peterson

Volkswagen XL Diesel Hybrids in Wolfsburg, Germany. Not Autonomous

I was watching “Live Free or Die Hard” recently.  As with most of the Bruce Willis “Die Hard” genre, there were exciting chase scenes where dozens of Crown Victorias get smashed up or full of bullet holes.  That is the name of the game for the “Die Hard” movies.  Chase scenes where the hero invariably gets injured but comes back to battle the bad guys after no recuperation time are the norm.  There were five “Die Hard” movies.  There were 8.5 “Fast and Furious” movies.  Epic chase scenes abound from “Bullitt”, “The French Connection”, Ronin, every James Bond movie, “The Blues Brothers” mall chase scene.  Chase scenes are too numerous to count, but what impact is the autonomous car going to have on screenwriters going forward?

Some films have dealt with that in the past. In 1990’s “Total Recall”, a frustrated Arnold Schwarzenegger rips the robot out of the Johnny Cab he was trying to use as a getaway car.   Speech recognition was not the same in 1990 as it is in 2017.  Siri could have handled Arnold.  “Demolition Man” uses a non-autonomous car to wreak havoc through the self-driving police fleet.  Agent Coulsen, the head guy in Marvel’s “Agents of Shield” franchise carries his 1962 Corvette roadster where ever he goes.  When there is an Electro-Magnetic Pulse that puts modern cars out of commission, the Corvette runs just fine.

Questions for Future Screen Writers – Smart Cars Impact on the Chase  If the mobility world changes the way the prognosticators are prognosticating, what will the films in the future look like?  Will they all be set in the past so Crown Vics can still duel it out with today’s Chargers?  Are they set in the “now” where old vehicles interact with new autonomous vehicles?  Are the bad guys hackers that can control not only their own autonomous car, but also control the surrounding traffic and the vehicle(s) chasing them?  Maybe the government outlaws a person driving a vehicle on public roads at all.  Driving becomes restricted to special tracks.  This will change the face of crime dramatically!

Smart Streets Impact on the Chase  Will the streets be so smart they could defeat the bad guys themselves?  Controlling stop lights and opening and closing lanes will probably be simple tasks for a smart street in the future.  Anti-traffic bollards could be raised from the streets to stop the chase.

Ethics of Vehicle Autonomy  Those are simple questions for the movies.  There are real world ethics questions over vehicle and traffic control.

Autonomous Vehicle MUST Follow the Law, or Must They?  If an autonomous car is programmed to exactly follow the speed limit, you can envision four abreast autonomous cars on a Los Angeles freeway traveling at exactly 55mph.  They may be driving at the speed limit, as per law.  But they are creating an extremely dangerous situation unless every vehicle is autonomous and following the same programming.  During the Jimmy Carter presidency, after implementation of the 55mph federal speed limit, drivers from Ann Arbor to Detroit drove the I-94 freeway two-or-three abreast at exactly 55mph.  This lasted a few days with motorists passing them on the shoulders and giving them the finger.  They were eventually cited by the Michigan State Police for impeding the flow of traffic.

Source: Los Angeles Times

OJ Simpson Slow Speed Chase – Los Angeles 1994

Autonomous vehicle ethics need to accommodate the reality of chaotic traffic flow, different vehicle capabilities, and, until everything is autonomous, different driving styles.

Remote Vehicle Control  Over the past twenty years in automotive research, AutoPacific has been asked by automakers and suppliers to research all sorts of autonomous car and autonomous-like features.  In Europe, a discussion of driver opinions of GPS systems with vehicle tracking capabilities results in,  “Sacre bleu!  I don’t want my boss to know where I am!  I don’t want my wife to know where I am!”  While drivers might not want vehicle tracking in their car or on their body, they may be too late in resisting.  After the Boston Marathon bombing, Mercedes-Benz USA located the Mercedes ML the bombers car-jacked.  So, today, vehicles with a navigation system can probably be tracked.  Most action thrillers on TV have the authorities or the bad guys locating folks on their smartphones. No problem.  It’s tough to hide anymore.

Another scenario is when the police are chasing the bad guys.  Think about OJ Simpson and his famous slow speed chase.  Today, if he had a fully up-to-date SUV, could the authorities put it into limp mode, and then into stop mode?

The certainty is that driving in the United States is going to dramatically evolve over the next ten years as technology, communications, regulations and consumer sentiment all converge on the idea of autonomous driving and its impact on our lives and culture.


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Jeep Renegade Survives Costco Challenge

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2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk

Having a new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk over the long July 4th weekend, I took it to Costco for the quarterly bird seed, cat food replenishment.  At first I was wondering if the Renegade was up to the task.  Does a small crossover SUV have the capacity to take the load?

There were fourteen bags of bird seed and two of cat food.  Plus the package of 30 rolls of toilet paper.  Would they fit?  Plus, would they fit with the other stuff we bought?  Removing the tonneau cover over the cargo area and folding the rear seats were required to fit in the load.  There was room to spare.  Probably could have doubled the number of bird seed and cat food bags.

Renegade Survives Costco Run

Renegade Easily Takes Load from Costco

Small Crossover SUVs are Very Capable  Even the smallest of the new generation crossover SUVs are extremely capable as this brief test shows.  The booming sales of small and mid-size crossover SUVs is the reason sales of traditional passenger cars are down.  Responding to what vehicle buyers have been telling us they want since the late 1980s, the new crossovers fit the bill.  They are easy to get into and out of.  You don’t have to drop down into one like in a car.  The seating position is chair like.  Your legs are not extended forward.  More glass and the higher seating position provide optimum visibility.  The fold down rear seat combined with an open rear cargo area maximize load carrying capability.

Trailhawk “Deserthawk”  This Jeep Renegade had the Deserthawk 4×4 package ($1,395) to yield the ultimate off-road Renegade.  It is another answer from Jeep on their old saying “a Jeep is for the occasional use prerogative”.  On-road or off-road, the Deserthawk can do it all.  Taking this particular Renegade off-road even with the full load, would have been no problem.  The challenge would be to keep the cargo in place, or to fill it even more deeply so nothing could move around.

Pricing for Everybody  Not only can the Jeep Renegade carry an impressive amount of cargo and be capable off-road, the vehicle can be loaded with amenities.  The base price for the front wheel drive Sport model is $17,995.  The Trailhawk is $26,895.  Adding practically all the optional features and selecting the Deserthawk package you can pay $33,265.  At that level you get a blind spot monitoring system, UConnect navigation system, automatic temperature control, Selec-Terrain 4×4 system, hill descent control, hill start assist, and more.  One thing oddly missing is a remote liftgate release. There is a nice blank spot on the key fob for that feature, but it is not there.  Go figure.  In July 2017, Jeep is offering a lease discount of $4,250.

Powertrain a Bit Balky  The 180-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder Multi-Air engine is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission.  This combination is fine most of the time around town, but when you need to quickly accelerate there is an unwelcome hesitation.  Slam the accelerator to the floor, wait, wait, then the engine decides you really do want full power and it gives it to you.  Too much hesitation for my book. Maybe an owner would learn to compensate after driving the Renegade for a week or so.


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