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2014 Ford Expedition/EL Wins AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award

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The 2014 Ford Expedition/EL is the highest scoring Luxury/Large SUV in AutoPacific’s 2014 Ideal Vehicle Award research. The big truck team at Ford knew exactly what their customers wanted and gave it to them. The Expedition EL led its category against some impressive competitors such as the GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia, Chevrolet Suburban, Nissan Armada, and the Toyota Land Cruiser.  Ford’s big SUVs swept the Luxury/Large SUV category with Expedition EL, Expedition and Navigator one, two, three.

Expedition/EL owners truly did not want their vehicle changed. Of the fifteen categories in the Ideal Vehicle question battery, the 2014 Ford Expedition/EL led or tied in six satisfaction categories and was within three percentage points of another three.

The top five highest ratings by Expedition/EL owners are: same exterior size, same wheels, same safety features, same interior lighting, and same visibility as now.

Although the Expedition/EL is at the top there are several things owners would change. Owners would like a more relaxed drivers seat, more advanced technology, and would like it to be easier to get in and out of the vehicle.  With the upcoming 2015 model year, these vehicles finally get up-to-date with MyFordTouch and an EcoBoost V6 powertrain.

AutoPacificIVA Feature copy


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2014 Chevrolet Camaro Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro is the highest scoring Sporty Car in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. Coming in just behind the Camaro are the Hyundai Veloster, Scion tC, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe.

The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro led its category with twenty-nine of fifty wins or ties in satisfaction. The Camaro also was within one tenth of a point with six more attributes. This puts the Camaro leading in seventy percent of the satisfaction categories.

The top ten highest ratings by Chevrolet Camaro owners are: exterior color and styling, brand and vehicle reputation, handling and braking, image, perception of reliability and durability, perception of feeling safe when driving, and it is fun to drive.

Competition for the Camaro gets stiffer for the 2015 model year with the all new 2015 Ford Mustang being introduced and the facelifted 2015 Dodge Challenger entering the fray.  The Hyundai Genesis coupe also is due for a update and reportedly gets a V8 engine for the first time.  Camaro also is getting a facelift about now, so the playing field will be mostly all new for 2015.  It will be interesting to see how the Sporty Car dynamics play out.

AutoPacific VSA Logo Feature


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2014 Ford F-Series Super Duty Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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The 2014 Ford F-Series Super Duty is the highest scoring Heavy-duty Pickup Truck in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award. Coming in behind the F-Series SD is the GMC Sierra Heavy Duty. Followed by the Ram Heavy Duty and the Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty.

The 2014 Ford F-Series Super Duty demonstrated their excellence in Heavy-duty Pickup trucks by winning or tying in thirty-nine of fifty satisfaction attributes. The F-Series Super Duty was within one tenth of a satisfaction point in five other attributes, putting it at the top for Heavy-duty pickups.

The top ten highest ratings by F-Series SD owners are: exterior color and size, brand and vehicle reputation, handling and braking, power and acceleration, exterior styling, the perception or reliability and dependability, and feeling safe while driving.

Ford is not to be left falling behind its competition.  With its convincing win in 2014, the Super Duty is updated for the 2015 model year with a more powerful PowerStroke diesel engine and enhanced up-market trim packages – the King Ranch and Platinum models.  These are very profitable units for the Ford and the Super Duty models represent about one third of Ford’s F-Series production.

AutoPacific VSA Logo Feature


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AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Announced

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AutoPacVSAlogo blogOn Monday June 16, 2014, AutoPacific announced its 18th annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSA), identifying the most satisfying 2014 model year vehicles on the market.  Other automotive awards provide information on defects – things gone wrong.  AutoPacific’s research looks at the issue of vehicle ownership in a totally different way – how satisfied a new vehicle is to its owner.  While it’s important to know how well a vehicle is screwed together, it is even more important to learn how well buyers and drivers feel about their vehicle.

The AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards objectively measure owner satisfaction with 50 separate attributes ranging from interior comfort and convenience to fuel economy and performance. “Vehicles that score highest in the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards are delivering value and satisfaction across a wide range of attributes,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “The winners perform well in 50 separate categories that objectively measure the ownership experience.” An industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new vehicle, AutoPacific’s VSA are based on the results of responses from over 92,000 new vehicle owners.

For 2014, the most satisfying brands are Lincoln, Top Premium Brand and GMC, Top Popular Brand. The vehicle – car or truck – registering highest overall satisfaction is the new-for-2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class that also wins AutoPacific’s second President’s Award for achieving the highest VSA score ever.  The truck with the highest overall satisfaction score is the new BMW X5 Premium Luxury Crossover SUV.

“With the launch of each new car and truck, carmakers try to improve the product and increase the satisfaction of their buyers,” explains Peterson. “By surveying a substantial number of owners who have purchased a new 2014 model year vehicle, The AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards provide an objective measurement of how well the makers are doing. More than one-third of new vehicle buyers are positively influenced by objective awards based on owner ratings when deciding on a new car or truck.”

The awards in 2014 are much more diverse than they have been in previous years, with no single brand dominating the results.  Multiple top-ranked award winners are:  Chevrolet with four winners; Lincoln with three winners; Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Kia, and GMC with two winners each.

The brands that improved their relative ranking positions in 2014 compared with 2013 are:  GMC moving from 17th to 8th position; Lincoln moving from 6th position to 1st position; Ford moving from 25th to 19th; Chevrolet moving from 21st to 16th.  Brands with the largest drop in position were Volkswagen moving from 16th to 28th position and Jaguar dropping from 7th to 17th.

From a manufacturer perspective, General Motors was tops with seven wins and Ford had four wins.

“AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards help vehicle buyers sort through an increasingly complicated selection of brands and models.  For the 2014 model year, there are 274 models and 32 brands from which to choose a new vehicle.  The VSA clearly shows the buyers which vehicles are at the top of the class they are considering,” says Peterson.

Top 2014 model year performers are:

PRESIDENT’S AWARD FOR HIGHEST VSA SCORE EVER: Mercedes-Benz S-Class

HIGHEST SATISFACTION PREMIUM BRAND: Lincoln

HIGHEST SATISFACTION POPULAR BRAND: GMC

2014 PASSENGER CAR WINNERS:

Premium Luxury Car

Executive Luxury Car

Aspirational Luxury Car

Luxury Mid-Size Car

Large Car

Mid-Size Car

Premium Compact Car

Compact Car

Economy Car

Sports Car

Sporty Car

Hybrid Car/EV

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Lincoln MKS

BMW 3-Series GT

Lincoln MKZ

Chevrolet Impala

Kia Optima

Mercedes-Benz CLA

Kia Soul

Chevrolet Sonic

Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet Camaro

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

2014 LIGHT TRUCK WINNERS:

Heavy Duty Pickup

Light Duty Pickup

Luxury/Large SUV

Mid-Size SUV

Premium Luxury Crossover SUV

Luxury Crossover SUV

Large Crossover SUV

Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Compact Crossover SUV

Minivan

Ford F-Series Super Duty

GMC Sierra

Infiniti QX80

Jeep Grand Cherokee

BMW X5

Cadillac SRX

GMC Acadia

Toyota Highlander

Nissan Rogue

Hyundai Tucson

Honda Odyssey


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Ford Crew Chief Telematics System

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Telematics System for Vehicle Tracking and Management  Ford is offering the Crew Chief telematics system on its fleet vehicles.  Developed by Telogis, Crew Chief is a GPS-based system designed to monitor vehicle activity and improve efficiency.  The Ford Crew Chief system is available on the F-150, F-Series Super Duty, E-Series, Transit and Transit Connect.

Black Box GPSThe Ford Crew Chief system includes a GPS receiver, or black box, mounted out of the way in the instrument panel.  The GPS tracks the vehicle real-time and converts the data received from the vehicle into a visual dashboard that provides an at-a-glance summary of a commercial fleet’s performance.  Knowing how a vehicle is being driven can help fleet management “counsel” drivers on how to improve their driving style and achieve better efficiency.  When driving and vehicle operation improves, insurance rates can drop.

The Ford Crew Chief system measures a wide array of vehicle attributes.  Measuring these attributes can help fleet management anticipate problems and correct them before a serious mechanical failure might occur.

Some of the attributes measured by Crew Chief include:

•  VIN
•  Oil Life (% remaining)
•  Tire Pressure
•  Diagnostic Trouble Codes
•  Engine Coolant Temperatures
•  Water in Fuel of a Diesel-Powered Vehicle
•  Excessive RPM
•  Safety Belt Usage
•  Air Bag Status
•  Battery Charge
•  Excessive Idling
•  Hard Acceleration/Driving

•  Driver Insurance Expiration Date
•  Driver License Expiration Date

Clearly, the fleet can save a lot of money by reducing the time a vehicle is idling or whether or not the driver is abusing the vehicle by revving the engine unnecesarily, accelerating hard and driving hard.

Can Be Very Big Brother  It might sound like Big Brother, but knowing what the driver is doing and where the vehicle is and has been can be a real advantage in managing a fleet.  Here are some of the features Crew Chief can include:

•  Find the Closest Capable Driver
•  Develop Custom Map Overlays
•  Add a Fuel Efficiency Module
•  Satellite Imagery (helps identify landmarks in mapped locations)
•  Provide Real-Time Alerts
•  Provide Turn-by-Turn Directions
•  Fast Mapping
•  Automated Reports
•  Animated Vehicle History Trails
•  Maintenance Reporting
•  Fleet, Driver and Team Management
•  Search (finds any vehicle, driver, location or tagged group, improving asset utilization and making fleet management more efficient)Ford Crew Chief History Map

•  Speeding Alerts (flags when drivers are over the speed limit.  Can help reduce insurance costs)Ford Crew Chief Speeding

Of course, Ford Crew Chief is not free.  There is a monthly fee for each vehicle of $31.99 for the standard package and $39.99 for the professional package.


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2015 Ford Transit – Conquerer of the White Van Market

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Once upon a time, I was the design engineer for the advanced vehicle package of the Ford Nantucket program.  Nantucket was the code name of what would become the 1975 Ford Econoline full size van that was to continue in production with moderate updates through 2014 – about 39 years!.  So, it was particularly meaningful to me to accept an invitation by Ford to attend the press preview for the Econoline’s (now “E-Series”) replacement in Kansas City, Missouri – the Ford Transit.2015 Ford Transit Group Shot

Hugely Complex Program –  Lots of Choice  Ford’s One Ford strategy dictates that vehicles be as common as possible around the world.  While the E-Series has been the top selling large van in the USA for years, it was basically a North America only product.  The European Transit van was completely different.  Also, the American E-Series never had the breadth of product choices that the European Transit had.  Now that has changed with the American-made Transit about as complex as the European model.2015 Ford Transit Wagon F34

America has been introduced to the European white van offerings with the European Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter van and the Ram Promaster (from Fiat).  So the 2015 Ford Transit may not take the American eye by surprise, but its complexity is near mind blowing.  The 2015 Ford Transit is available in two wheelbases, three roof heights in both cargo van and passenger wagon configurations.  There is even a chassis cab and cutaway available.  What this means is that you can have an empty box, or a high-roof wagon that can seat up to 15 people.  Ford affectionately calls this one the “Jumbo”.2015 Ford Transit Jumbo SV

(General Motors has the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans that are sorely in need of updating.  At present, The General has no vehicles in the USA facing these Euro-style competitors).

Initially, Transit is available with a sliding door on the passenger side of the vehicle.  Later the van version will be available with a sliding door on the driver’s side as well.  Because the second row seat would have to be narrowed to be two passengers only, the passenger version – the Transit wagon – is only available with a passenger side slider.

Maneuverable  The Transit is very easy to drive with outstanding forward visibility through what has to be about the largest windshield in the industry.  Europe-like turning radius makes the Transit very maneuverable in tight spaces.  A tight slow-speed gymkhana course in a Kansas City parking lot helped demonstrate how nimble even the Jumbo was through narrow cone alleys.2015 Ford Transit Cockpit

Wide Powertrain Selection  Power comes from a 275HP/260 lb-ft of torque 3.7L V6, a 310HP/400 lb-ft of torque 3.5L EcoBoost V6, or a 185HP/350 lb-ft of torque 3.2L I5 Power Stroke diesel.  Of the three engines, the EcoBoost V6 has the most punch and is the most fun to drive – as if that is a major attribute a van buyer is looking for.  All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The powertrains in the 2015 Ford Transit get much better fuel economy than the outgoing E-Series; a substantial operating cost savings commercial van operators are looking for.

Can Transit Be Rattle Free?  We have all ridden in vans and shuttles that are consummate rattle traps.  Of course, they probably have a couple hundred thousand miles on them and have been abused for their entire time in service.  And, of course, the vans Ford provided for the press preview had been thoroughly prepped.  The remarkable thing about these vans was how quiet and rattle-free they were.  They were very tight and solid feeling.  It will be interesting to experience one when it hits 100,000 miles.

Navigation Screen Snafu  Okay, I can understand Ford’s rationale that few commercial fleet operators would spring for an in-vehicle navigation system when most of their drivers are equipped with GPS enabled smart phones with Google Maps, but the Transit solution to navigation is Sync with MyFord Touch and a relatively small screen.  Other Ford vehicles have an 8-inch screen and the Transit loses out in comparison.  I know, its a nit-pick, but worthy of mention.

E-Series Continues in Chassis Cab Versions  Probably until the end of the decade, the old Econoline/E-Series will still be available in chassis cab configurations likely for airport shuttle use.  They are built at Ford’s Loraine, Ohio plant.


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2015 Lincoln MKC – 2nd Volume Entry for Lincoln

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The 2015 Lincoln MKC hit Lincoln dealerships in June 2014 and promises to be the 2nd volume entry for Ford’s premium brand after the award-winning Lincoln MKZ.  Lincoln is the top brand in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research and the MKZ and MKZ Hybrid are the winners of their product categories.  The MKC (getting confused with the alphanumeric nomenclature yet?) is joining a booming market for smaller crossover SUVs and, based on our brief drive of the vehicle, the MKC should do very well in AutoPacific’s 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.2015 Lincoln MKC F342015 Lincoln MKC R34

Excellent Package  The MKC is a “small” crossover SUV, but it does not feel small from the driver’s seat.  The front seating package is spacious.  Visibility forward is excellent.  Ergonomics are good.  Transmission shifting is through push buttons on the left hand side of the center stack.  The MyLincoln Touch system is more intuitive (but reading the channel numbers for SiriusXM is almost impossible because of tiny font sizes) and stable.  Losing the shifter in the center console is an excellent idea for many reasons.  It allows for more storage in the console and also allows the console to be narrower giving the front seat passengers more seat width.  The MKC is a persuasive package that will appeal to buyers across all age ranges.2015 Lincoln MKC Cockpit

Neat Features Abound on MKC  For those buyers who want the latest technology, MKC offers a lot.  Of course, there is MyLincoln Touch that sets the stage in the center stack.  There is Approach Detection where the vehicle reacts to the key fob approaching the vehicle at night and the headlamp accents, taillamp accents, door handle pockets and interior all light up.  There is even a Lincoln logo projected onto the pavement from the outside rear view mirror puddle lights.  Then there is Drive Control that includes continuously adjusting shock absorbers to provide a comfortable ride under all conditions.  Electric Power Steering and Active Noise Control are standard features that complement the Drive Control System.  Active Park Assist not only can park the MKC, but includes Park Out Assist to help the driver maneuver the vehicle out of a tight parking space.  As with many newly introduced vehicles there is a suite of electronic driver assist technologies:  lane-keeping system, driver alert system (checks driver alertness), adaptive cruise control, collision warning system with brake support, blind spot information system, and cross traffic alert.  These features may sound like overkill, but once you have used them, they become a necessity rather than a luxury.

Highly Differentiated from Escape – All EcoBoost Engines   The MKC is derived from the Ford Escape but shares no body panels or interior trim bits.  Without looking under the skin, the relationship is invisible.  The 2015 Lincoln MKC comes standard with a 240HP 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine.  Optional is a 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder with 285-horsepower (with 93 octane gasoline – in California the top spec gas octane is 91 octane so the output for the 2.3L would be about 280HP).  The base vehicle is front wheel drive with all wheel drive available as an option.

Outstanding Dynamics  Starting in Santa Barbara and driving across the Los Padres National Forest to the Tejon Ranch , the MKC proves to be nimble and athletic on the twisty roads more suited to a sports car than a X-SUV.  With the 2.3L EcoBoost and AWD, the MKC is quick and solid over all road surfaces.

Price and Competition  The base price of the MKC is $33,995, but the versions Lincoln provided for the drive evaluation were all in the $50,000 range equipped with the full suite of electronic features and the big engine.  The size and price of the MKC puts it in the competitive set with the Cadillac SRX, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X1, Infiniti QX50 (i.e. EX), Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60.  As if that isn’t enough competition, there is more to come:  Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Porsche Macan.  Clearly, buyers will have a tremendous challenge sorting out which of these smaller XSUVs to select.

Now for the Nit-Picks  Ford (Lincoln) can be depended on to make mistakes in feature availability.  For a company that touts “democratization of technology” (meaning the neat electronic features found on the top of the line will be available in a Focus, for instance) the base MKC cannot be had with an in-vehicle navigation system.  Since MyLincoln Touch is standard and each vehicle has a center stack screen, and the navigation system is via an SD card, navigation should be available on all models.

Brand Challenge  The only thing standing in the way of the MKC being a whopping success may the Lincoln brand.  While AutoPacific’s research shows Lincoln is doing a great job satisfying its customers, the brand has languished and is only now starting to re-assert itself.  The MKC is an outstanding addition to the Lincoln portfolio.  Now the challenge is to get buyers into the dealerships to drive and buy the MKC.  It will be interesting to watch how Lincoln markets the vehicle in the coming months and to monitor its sales performance.


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GM’s 2015MY Full Size SUVs

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GM’s 2015MY Full Size SUVs  General Motors has launched its new-for-2015MY full size SUVs.  While you might wonder why they care about launching these behemoths when the segment has fallen at the hands of expensive gasoline, these are mighty profit generators for the General even at relatively low volumes.  Last year, GM launched the pickups upon which these SUVs are based – the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra.  When they were launched these pickups were criticized because their styling was so evolutionary from their GMT900 predecessors.  But, it turns out that GM planners and engineers really know their stuff and the pickups have won kudos for their capability.  The Silverado was named the North American Truck of the Year.


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Ford’s First Big Bronco – The Shorthorn

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Big Bronco to Compete With Chevy’s Popular Blazer  In the late 1960s, Ford Motor Company was competing in the sport utility market with the first generation Bronco a small hardcore vehicle designed to go off road in a big way.  The 1st Gen Bronco was to compete with the Jeep CJ and International Harvester Scout of its day – off-road.  Today, these 1st Gen Broncos are coveted by off-roaders all across the nation.  At the same time, General Motors was thumping Ford with its Chevrolet Blazer SUV.  The Blazer was a two door derivative of the four door Chevrolet Suburban and sold in impressive numbers.  Ford had nothing to match the Blazer, but in the early ’70s began a program to develop a strong competitor to the Blazer.


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Ford Carrousel – The Story Continues

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For this last Holiday Card, I included a non-holiday photo of an vehicle I worked on in my youth at Ford – the Ford Carrousel concept and asked who could identify the vehicle.  A few who were working at Ford at the time correctly identified it, but all misspelled it.  The prototype used an unusual spelling of Carrousel with two “Rs”.  Many though it was Hal Sperlich’s MiniMax concept from the late ’70s at Ford, or a prototype of an early Chrysler minivan.  Nope.

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