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Cadillac Escala – More Vaporware from Cadillac?

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Escala Continues Series of Outstanding Cadillac Concepts  Concept cars push design limits to determine if the buying public is ready.  Over the past few years, Cadillac has teased the car community with three outstanding concept cars.  The Ciel was a 4-door convertible with suicide doors first shown in 2011.  The Elmiraj was a stunning coupe shown at Pebble Beach in 2013.  The Escala was a highlight of the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance in 2016.

The Ciel and Elmiraj were to be precursors of future Cadillacs.  Then the Cadillac CT6 sedan was launched and we learned these distinctive concept cars were just vaporware after all.  Concept cars often over-promise the future and production cars under-deliver.  This year’s Escala may not be produced, but some of its design cues may find their way into future Cadillacs.

Cadillac Escala FV ForbesEscala is a Glimpse of Future Cadillacs  With Johan de Nysschen leading Cadillac there may be a better than even chance that Cadillac will actually launch a flagship.  If the Escala were produced as it was shown the car would be worthy of Cadillac’s old “Standard of the World” tagline.  It could be the car that would return Cadillac to its heyday.   Like the Ciel and Elmiraj, the Escala may be nothing more than a design exercise.

de Nysschen, however, added this note of caution to the Escala’s press release.  “Depending on the development of the market segment for large luxury sedans, Escala is a potential addition to our existing product plan.”  Interpret this to mean that the Escala is not a go program yet.

CADILLAC ESCALA R34 VehicleVoiceThe front end style uses Cadillac’s distinctive vertical light pipe driving lights.  Narrow OLED headlamps flank a sinister looking blacked out grille with a sporty three-dimensional texture.  The headlamps and grille are highlighted by a bright surround that is mimicked in the rear styling.  The bodyside is relatively unadorned with subtle rearward front fender and forward quarter panel character lines meeting around the B-Pillar.  The very fast roofline hides a rear hatch with a generous rear opening ala Audi A7.  The liftover, however, looks a bit daunting.  The bright bordered boomerang-shaped taillamps are connected by a horizontal bright strip atop the rear fascia.  There are large bright dual exhausts to complete the ornamentation of the rear end.

To give an idea of the size of the Escala, it is about 6-inches longer than today’s Cadillac CT6 sedan.  Six-inches may not seem like a lot, but the Escala (probably CT8 if it is ever produced) looks much more substantial than CT6.

Cadillac Escala Interior VehicleVoiceDriver Interface – OLED Screens  The interior of the Escala is very tastefully done with upscale materials and three OLED panels for the telematics/infotainment systems.  The interior is trimmed in light grey to maximize the sense of spaciousness.  The OLED panels sweep across the instrument panel and maximize the display of information for the driver.

Cadillac Dealers Need More Crossovers  Johan deNysschen is less-than-definite about whether Escala will be produced.  In fact, there are rumblings that de Nysschen’s ambitious product plans have been scaled well back.  So the existence of the Escala is very iffy.   We can be somewhat confident that some of the design cues on the car – like the front and rear designs – may be seen on a future Cadillac model.  Frankly, Cadillac would be well-served to add a couple of hot-selling crossover SUVs to its lineup first. The flagship would be nice, but the crossovers would move the metal.


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Lincoln Navigator Wows at New York Auto Show

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Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Navigator – First Luxury SUV  Lincoln launched the Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Market in 1997 when it launched the first generation of the Navigator.  Navigator was a derivative of the Ford Expedition Full Size SUV and proved to be an instant success.  Loaded with the appropriate amount of technology and bling for the time, Navigator hit a chord with upscale families that wanted something more than a minivan or full size SUV.  The first Navigator was somewhat tame by today’s standards, but provided the sophistication, size, power and price people coveting this kind of transportation.  It took Cadillac two years to respond with the Escalade – a quick-to-market response to Navigator.

A Battle of Bling Between Lincoln and Cadillac  The first generation Navigator was to last for five model years (1997 through 2002) when it was replaced by the 2003 Navigator which raised the bar in the American Luxury SUV category. It adopted independent rear suspension which allowed for the rear load floor to be dropped by 7-inches and for a commodious third row seat to be installed.  To this day, General Motors full size SUVs have not matched Lincoln’s third row seat package, much less Escalade.  Cadillac evolved into a bling-mobile (one Cadillac marketer described the vehicle as having seven layers of chrome).  Lincoln responded with a gaudy Navigator in 2007 that seemingly had chrome haphazardly thrown at every bodypanel.  While Escalade had a major refresh in 2015 incorporating Cadillac’s vertical LED light pipe daytime running lights in the front, Lincoln freshened the front styling of the Navigator incorporating the clumsy winged grille style that appeared on its vehicles during the decade.  Navigator also dropped its V8 powertrain replacing it with a more powerful EcoBoost V6.  The lower weight and higher power of the EcoBoost transformed the handling of the Navigator.

But that brings us to the future.

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Style Evolution Yields a Range Rover Look-Alike  The next generation Lincoln Navigator concept has been shown at the 2016 New York Auto Show and it is an absolute WOW. Like Lincoln did in 2015 when they stealthily introduced the Continental concept at New York, the Navigator concept was kept very quiet until its initial reveal.  With this new Navigator, Lincoln takes a different tack towards elegance, sophistication and quietness – a Personal Santuary.  The new Navigator adopts new Lincoln styling cues like the strongly trapezoidal grille opening, Lincoln logo mesh grille, headlamps accented by LED running lights.  The front end is very strong looking.  The rear appearance adopts Lincoln’s horizontal full-width taillamp treatment.  The bodyside, however, comes across much like a Range Rover with similar accent lines and window graphics.  Different, but similar.  You might remember Bentley accused Lincoln of plagiarizing the style of its Flying Spur.  Might Range Rover make the same complaint with the new Navigator?

Lincoln says the new Navigator is its “most spacious ever”, but the exterior style seems to make it appear a bit less bulky.  This is good.

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

The concept is shown with gull-wing doors and “concertina” side steps for easier access.  These are certainly there for the concept reveal and will not appear in production.


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“Trucks” to Continue to Outsell Cars – XSUV Segment

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500 wide Car Truck Sales 1987-2021500 wide Car Truck Mix 1987-2021AutoPacific, an automotive specialist research and product planning consultancy, forecasts that trucks, including XSUVs will be about 60% of the market for the foreseeable future.  In fact, reading the crystal ball for the next five years, this percentage of the mix may be low.  The charts above detail how cars and truck sales and market penetration have evolved since 1987 and the forecast for the future.

The hottest product segment in the American light vehicle market is the crossover SUV (XSUV).  A crossover SUV can be as large as a Chevrolet Traverse or as small as a Chevrolet Trax.  There are dozens of XSUVs in between.  And there will be more.

The XSUV segment has become so hot because this type of vehicle corrects the criticisms buyers had of traditional SUVs which sold very well, but were not optimal.  Buyers wanted products that were not hard-core off-roaders, but more civilized and city friendly.  The SUV market exploded in the early 1990s with the introduction of the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee.  It wasn’t until 1996 that the crossover SUV began slipping into the marketplace.  First the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V appeared.  They were followed by the luxury crossover RX300.  Clearly the manufacturers were listening and reacting.

Here are just a few of the things we know about the evolution of the SUV market over the next five years…

Cadillac  Cadillac states that it has too few XSUVs (one, the upcoming XT5) and wants to add two or three more to its lineup while adding one more car as a range topper between now and 2020.

Buick  Buick is adding the small Envision XSUV to its lineup this Spring.  Envision is assembled in China.

FCA Drops Cars to Add XSUV and Pickup Capacity  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is dropping its Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart in favor of more capacity for XSUVs and pickups.  The Ram pickup will take over the FCA Sterling Heights, Michigan Plant when the Chrysler 200 is dropped.  FCA’s huge Belvidere, Ilinois plant will be populated by XSUVs when the Jeep Compass and Patriot plus the Dodge Dart fade away.

Toyota Pushing RAV4  Toyota Motor Sales has stated that they would not be surprised if the RAV4 XSUV overtook the Camry mid-size car as its best selling product.  Camry was the best selling car in the USA in 2015.

Lexus will add a 3-row XSUV above the RX350 in the next few years.500 wide SUV XSUV Sales 1987-2021500 wide SUV XSUV Mix of SUV 1987-2021

 

The charts above show the impact of crossover SUVs on the light truck market.  Huge volume increase and market share increase.

Hyundai Aggressively Adding XSUV Capacity  Hyundai is replacing 50,000 units of car capacity in its Montgomery, Alabama assembly plant with the Santa Fe Sport.  That drops capacity for the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra from 400,000 to 350,000 units per year.  Hyundai admits that they underestimated the demand for XSUVs years ago.  This capacity move reacts to market demand and dealer pressure to get Hyundai dealers more XSUVs that are easier to sell and require less incentives and discounting.

Hyundai will add 45,000 units to its Tucson compact XSUV volume this year.  Built in South Korea, Tucson has been limited because it is popular around the world and the vehicle was capacity constrained.

Hyundai also recognizes there is a hole at the bottom of their XSUV lineup and are adding a sub-compact B-Segment XSUV to fill that hole.  There is a possibility that a smaller A-Segment XSUV will replace the Hyundai Accent hatchback.


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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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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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Fun Controversy Around Cadillac Poolside Advert

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Brilliant Ad – Controversy Worth its Weight In Gold  Cadillac, once the Standard of the World, has aired an outstanding ad for the Cadillac brand and the Cadillac ELR electric coupe.  It was first shown on the American broadcast for the Sochi Winter Olympics and more recently for the Oscars that aired on Sunday, March 2.  And what a controversy has ensued.  Cadillac’s agency Rogue created the Cadillac Poolside ad to espouse unbridled American confidence and showcase what Cadillac stands for.  In the process, the spot has left leaners and right leaners sniping against each other on numerous websites.  On Thursday, March 6, arch-conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh (click on the link to be taken to the transcript of the Limbaugh show about the Cadillac ad)  devoted the top of his second hour to the controversy the ad has created.  The Cadillac Poolside ad pushed a button that allowed Limbaugh to rant for about a half hour.


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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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Chevrolet: An Impala You’d Be Proud To Own

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258820120411_Chv_14_Imp_1

Back in 2008 I had an Impala as a rental for three weeks.  The mouse fur fabric of the seats combined with the awful instrument panel and wheezing powertrain left a lasting impression with me.  In 2008, it was clear that the Impala was developed during a dark time at GM where profits came before product.  Can GM shake off that awful stigma Impala has had for years?

Posted in: Chevrolet, GM

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GMC: Terrain Hits Sweet Spot for Size But Denali Blows Value Proposition

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2013 GMC Terrain Denali

The GMC Terrain is one amazing vehicle.  Why, you might ask?  GM can’t seem to make enough of them.  Even as the Terrain ages, it is still selling incredibly well.  It was really the first vehicle where GM made the first good effort at interior design with a well-crafted centerstack, tons of 2nd row legroom, and features galore.  Does slapping the Denali name on the Terrain make it the ‘must have’ in the Terrain lineup?  Not exactly.


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AutoPacific’s 2013 Ideal Vehicle Award Results Are In – Cars

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Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs:  AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers.  The person driving the car does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems.  Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give car and truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.

As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility  Among all cars about 29% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility.  Too often visibility is sacrificed for swoopy styling.  Roominess  About 24% of car owners want more passenger roominess than now.  Of course, some people bought a vehicle that may be smaller than they like so they want something bigger, but many are also reacting because passenger roominess has been sacrificed for style. Power vs Fuel Economy  Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, owners want good power and acceleration.  About 26% want more power and acceleration and only 7% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy.  Ingress/Egress  Going with the basic package challenges like roof height vs styling and rear seat room vs styling there is also ease of getting in and out.  About 26% of all car owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of.  Info/Entertainment Technology  Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today.  Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 25% of car owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now.  These folks are offset by 13% who want their info/entertainment technology to be simpler and easier to use.

With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for cars  for 2013…


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