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Can All New VW Tiguan Challenge Top Selling Small SUVs?

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2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium

The all new Volkswagen Tiguan was revealed at a low key media event driving out of Denver, CO up to 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.  While the VW Tiguan is classified as a Compact Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle (XSUV), it’s dimensions are close to that of an ideal mid-size car of a decade ago – wheelbase of about 110-inches and overall length of about 185-inches.  It is a nice size, has a comfortable interior with adequate room in the second row seat and even has a third row seat available.  Front wheel drive Tiguans have the third row seat standard.  In all wheel drive VW Tiguans, the third row is optional.

The 2018 VW Tiguan is the second generation of the smaller VW XSUV.  It is about 10-inches longer than its predecessor.  At-a-glance, the styling is clearly Volkswagen.  It is evolutionary but crisper and clearly more modern.  The VW Tiguan rides on Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform that also underpins the newly introduced Volkswagen Atlas crossover. The replacement for Volkswagen’s 4-door CC coupe – the Arteon – will be based on MQB when it is launched in 2018.  The present Golf is also an MQB platform mate.

Compact XSUV Competitive Landscape  Having been underrepresented in the SUV market before now, Volkswagen’s two SUV introductions this year show the automaker has clearly heeded the shift in the market away from cars and towards crossover SUVs.  Today the truck/car split is about 60% trucks/40% cars.  Who woulda thought?

While VW management will not talk about future products, there are whispers of a couple of more XSUVs.  Probably one a bit smaller than the VW Tiguan and maybe one larger than the Atlas.  Somewhere in the mix, the aging Touareg still is sold.

Through May 2017, the 1st generation Tiguan has sold about 15,000 units in the USA down from 17,500 in 2016 for the same time period.  Where Volkswagen has fully competitive products in the USA, they usually sell at about 50% of the segment leader.  So, with the May CYTD leader being the Nissan Rogue with over 161,000 units sold, Tiguan should sell about that many in a full calendar year.  While that would be great, VW’s Pueblo, Mexico plant probably doesn’t have capacity to pump out that many Tiguans.  And the compact XSUV battleground is vicious with Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox leading the pack.  Tough competition.

Tiguan Feature Laden, But Not Perfect  The VW Tiguan is in the sweet spot though.  Easy to get into and out of, the ergonomics are top-notch.  The center screen is big and bright, but the information is a bit confusing.  The road/street name does not show on the navigation screen like on most competing makes.  You can find that information in the instrument cluster where turn-by-turn arrows anticipate your next turn but the fonts are tiny and contrast is bad.  Having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard is the saving grace to save the VW navigation from itself.

There is a full complement of advanced driver assistance features available from adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert with braking, lane assist, area view.  There is even a 12.3-inch reconfigurable display for the instrument cluster.  Availability of these features is the price of entry in almost any class today.

Driving Tiguan, Adequate  The VW Tiguan is powered by a 184-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine (EA888).  In the front wheel drive model, the engine is responsive but a bit noisy.  The same engine in the AWD model seemed to resist responding quickly seeming to think about whether or not it wanted to go or not.  Perplexing.  All in all, the Tiguan engine is “adequate”.  Its power output is competitive for the segment, but somehow it doesn’t have the finesse of the Honda CR-V for instance.

The ride is firm and composed over most road surfaces.  The Tiguan evaluation route did have one stretch that was bumpy and had a washboard surface.  The front wheel drive Tiguan danced around dramatically even at moderate speeds.  Drivers of the AWD model reported similar dynamics over this particular piece of road.  The vehicle did not feel particularly under control.

Price Competitive  The base price for the front wheel drive 2018 VW Tiguan is $25,345.  The top price is $37,550 for an AWD SEL model.  Checking all the boxes can get its price up to about $40,000.  Following its lead with the Atlas, the Tiguan has a 6-year, 72,000 mile warranty.


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Honda Civic Si Added to Lineup for Enthusiast Small Car Buyers

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2017 Honda Civic Si

Eighth Generation Honda Civic Si  There have been ten generations of the Honda Civic spanning about 40 years.  Generations three through nine have included the Honda Civic Si model to provide a sportier alternative for enthusiast small car buyers.  The tenth generation Honda Civic Si sedan and coupe went on sale at Honda dealers on May 13, 2017.

The tenth generation Civic is a platform development tour-de-force.  Honda lost its mojo with a generation of technically excellent, but unexciting products.  Honda is now back with a vengeance.  Their new generation stuff is outstanding.  Their truck platform products are very good – Honda Pilot XSUV, Honda Ridgeline pickup and Honda Odyssey minivan.  The Honda Accord is a very competitive premium mid-size car selling at high volumes.

The previous, ninth gen Civic was created during the lean years of the Great Recession.  Consequently, the car left a lot to be desired.  Realizing the ninth gen Civic had been a step backwards, Honda pulled out the stops on the tenth generation Civic.  They created a car with distinctive styling and a comfortable and functional interior.  The car is available with an impressive load of comfort, convenience and safety features.

2017 Honda Civic Si

The Honda Civic Si is not the end of the car line’s model extension.  The higher performance Type-R hatchback will be launched in a month or so.

Exterior Styling  The 2017 Honda Civic Si is special.  It has more aggressive front and rear fascias with prominent air ducts.  The grille texture has moved from chrome to gloss black for a sportier look.  A rear spoiler has been added.  Tires are upgraded to 235/40R18 to help more aggressive handling and enhance the car’s stance.  There is a center outlet exhaust with chrome surround.  All this clearly communicates the car’s more sporty nature.

Interior Styling  The black interior sports black and red accents for the instrumentation.  The Honda Civic Si has two driving modes – “Sport”and “Normal”.  In sport mode, the cluster accents are red.  In normal mode, the cluster accents are blue.  New front seats have a unique frame and bolstering to better support the driver and front seat passenger when pushing the limits.  The bolsters are firm, but not uncomfortable.

Powertrain and Chassis  Under the skin, the engine has been upgraded.  It is powered by a 205-horsepower 1.5L 4-cylinder turbo.  The turbo substantially improves mid-range torque which makes the car feel more flexible.  The already-excellent 6-speed manual transmission in the Civic is upgraded to provide an even more definite short stroke gear change.  Front brake discs grow 1.2-inches to a 12.3 inch diameter.  Rears add 0.9 inches for 11.1 inches.  As you might expect, the Si gets an exclusive suspension with unique springs, stabilizer bars and shocks.

Competition and Pricing  The Honda Civic Si competes with the Subaru Impreza WRX, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ and Hyundai Veloster Turbo.  In recent years the WRX and GTI have outsold the Si, but the new car may change that.  The Si is priced at $23,900 for either the coupe or 4-door sedan.  This gives it a $525 advantage over the Focus ST, $1,695 over the GTI and $2,795 over the WRX.   Si is a high value proposition in its class.  There are no options available on the Si.

What Honda Civic Si Lacks The Si is available only with a 6-speed manual transmission.  This is admittedly an excellent transmission, but American buyers have been abandoning manuals for years.  This limits the sales potential of the Si.  Honda engineers and planners seemed to dismiss the need for an automatic.  They cited the enthusiast’s desire for the active driving experience provided by a manual.  One admitted their Continuously Variable Transmission found in the rest of the Civic line would accommodate the horsepower and torque of the Si’s engine, but the CVT would surely sap the crispness of the engine.  Then there is a dual clutch automatic like Honda uses in the Acura ILX.  Maybe that could be fitted.  Anyway, if they want to increase Si sales at some point, an automatic would be in order.

The rest of the Civic line offers the excellent HondaSensing automatic driver assistance system.  This includes adaptive cruise control, lane watch and assist.  More and more drivers are expecting this system.  Just because Si is directed at sporty drivers, it does not mean they do not want HondaSensing.  Similarly, the Si is not available with a blind spot monitoring system.  It needs one available.

 


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Honda Odyssey Leapfrogs Minivan Competition

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Has the new 2018 Honda Odyssey leapfrogged its competition the way Chrysler’s second generation minivans did in the early ’90s?  After spending several days with the Odyssey on the Big Island of Hawaii, the case can be made that the Odyssey is the best minivan out there.  Up until now, the clear leader was the new-for-2016 Chrysler Pacifica.  Its advanced styling, stow-‘n-go seating and available plug-in hybrid make Pacifica a persuasive choice in the minivan category.  Only the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are real competitors.  Other minivans like the Nissan Quest and Kia Sedona don’t have the volume to be mainstream players.  Ford and General Motors abandoned the minivan market years ago to concentrate on SUVs – a good move.

Odyssey a Cornerstone of Honda Brand  Honda has a relatively narrow and focused lineup for a mainstream brand.  The Honda Odyssey is one of its cornerstones.  The new 2018 Honda Odyssey is the fifth generation of the minivan.  The fourth gen Odyssey was with us for seven model years which is long for a Honda product.  Based on Honda’s Global Light Truck platform, the new Odyssey shares major components with the Honda Pilot crossover SUV and the Honda Ridgeline pickup.  From AutoPacific’s assessment, all three of Honda’s new truck products are fully competitive and compelling.  The new Odyssey checks most of the boxes to make it the best minivan available today.

Still a Soccer Mom Image  Lets talk about minivans a minute.  Minivans are the perfect vehicle for a family.  They carry kids, their friends and their stuff.  They are seen as suburban taxis driven by a mom schlepping her little darlings from LaCrosse practice to Little League to band practice.  When we note in focus groups of suburban mothers that they should be driving a minivan, most women strongly disagree.  When compared with the active image of even the tamest crossover SUV, the SUV wins and the minivan loses.  The soccer mom image of the minivan cannot be avoided.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

Evolutionary Design With Bold Cues  The new 2018 Honda Odyssey comes pretty close to avoiding the minivan image as does the Chrysler Pacifica and the “swagger-wagon” Toyota Sienna.  The styling of the new Odyssey is evolutionary but more  interesting than before. Odyssey continues with the chrome “lightning bolt” window surround that has been a distinctive design cue since the previous generation.  Now, however, the bodysides get a few more curves to add more personality to the design.  The front end design is a swath of brightwork similar to the Pilot and Ridgeline.  This look is being adopted throughout the Honda lineup and adds interest to the Honda “face”.

Magic Slide Seats Compete with Chrysler’s Stow-‘n-Go  The interior is very comfortable and accommodating for any size family.  Gone is any pretense of a walk-through from the front seats to the rear.  There is now a very usable console including excellent cupholders and a deep console box.  Honda has made interior flexibility one of its hallmarks.  The very small Fit and HR-V crossover SUV have interior flexibility that can accept many different sizes of cargo.  The Odyssey “Magic-Slide” second row seat counters the Chrysler Pacifica’s stow-‘n-go rear seating design.

In the Honda design the individual second row seats can be moved from side to side and fore and aft.  The center position is good for children in child seats which can be fixed toward the center of the vehicle – a good location in a side impact.  One of the rear seats can be positioned in the center and pushed forward so the driver and/or front seat passenger can tend to a baby in a child seat.

2018 Honda Odyssey Center Stack w/Apple CarPlay

Ergonomics Top Notch, But Nav Screen Display Needs Work  Ergonomics are always a Honda forte and the 2018 Honda Odyssey does not disappoint.  The instrument cluster gauges are bright and easy to read.  The center screen is large and bright with navigation by Garmin.  I found the information display on the screen to be hard to read because the fonts were so small.  While Garmin provided the guts, Honda designed the display graphics and could have made the font size bigger, contrast better and included the city name in addition to the road name on the display.  (Why is it so hard to get the city name on the display?  Everyone should do it!).  I ended up using Apple CarPlay maps and streaming in lieu of the Honda system.

Loaded Odysseys Want for Nothing  95% of the 2018 Honda Odysseys (EX and above) will have the full suite of Honda’s safety features standard including Honda Sensing and blind spot monitoring with cross traffic monitor.  The top level Elite model includes acoustic windshield and side glass that Honda contends makes the vehicle the quietest minivan on the market.  In fact, when you opt for the Odyssey Elite, there is very little missing from its equipment list.

Engine Upgraded – 10-Speed Transmission  The 2018 Honda Odyssey is powered by a 280-horsepower 3.5L single overhead cam V6.  The additional 32 horsepower over its predecessor gives the new Odyssey the power to pass at will.  On a long stretch uphill climb on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway on the Big Island, the engine strained a bit.  On anything but steep grades the power is adequate.  The Elite model includes a 10-speed automatic transmission – all others have 9-speeds.  The shifting is transparent in the 10-speed model.

~$30,000 – $47,000 – Is There Room for a +$50,000 Model?  The base price of the 2018 Honda Odyssey is $29,990 with a $940 delivery charge.  The Elite model is $46,670.  Honda pays particular attention to vehicle price points as do all manufacturers.  As a high volume, mainstream brand keeping prices affordable is paramount.  However, some automakers are wrestling with ways to charge even more for their top of the line products because buyers want more stuff.  The Odyssey Elite is $46,670 – $3,230 below $50,000.  Could there be a place for a $50,000 entry in the very price-conscious minivan market?  While Honda competitors are moving mid-size SUVs into the low $50,000 range could there be a place for an even higher spec Odyssey?  It would be interesting to do the analysis.


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Pretty New Face for 2018 Acura TLX

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The Acura TLX has been kind of an automotive Jimmy Durante.  All you could do is stare at its proboscis.  It’s looks were hurt by its parrot beak grille.  Even though TLX was a good premium brand mid-size sedan, it was hard to love.  The 2018 Acura TLX gets a much needed mid-cycle facelift that transforms its presence.  (Acura began replacing its parrot nose grille texture in 2016 with the launch of the freshened 2017 Acura MDX).

Designer and now Acura Vice President and General Manager, Jon Ikeda, says that you can tell when a design team is having a good time they do great work.  Fun and inspiration have brought out the best in TLX looks.

Under the skin, the 2018 Acura TLX is basically carryover with tweaks made the engineers thought were necessary.  Base engine is a 2.4L 4-cylinder making 208 horsepower.  The upgrade engine is a 3.5L V6 with 290 horsepower.  But the story is not about the mechanicals.  The story is about the style.

Appearance Changes More Extensive Than for a Typical Mid-Cycle Freshening  This freshening is a classic front and rear six.  This means that the front and rear ends have been restyled, but roof, doors, glass are carryover.  Thankfully, the parrot’s beak grille texture is replaced by a pentagon grille with a mesh grille texture.  This relatively conservative approach yields a very attractive front end.  In addition to the new grille, the front fascia has large air inlets at the vehicle corners providing a distinctive and aggressive face.  Bright accents highlight the air inlets which also include driving lights.  The hood is all new and more curvaceous than previously.  LED headlamps are standard.

Depending on trim level, a tasteful chrome side sill garnish provides finesse fir the body side.

The rear appearance is upgraded with new tail lamps, bright exhaust tips and a rear diffuser.  Chrome accents are added balancing the accents in the front fascia.

2018 Acura TLX Gets the Latest Driver Assistance Safety Features  The interior is updated with new seat trim.  The instrument panel has been tweaked and all of the latest safety features are available   AcuraWatch is standard.  AcuraWatch includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation.  Unfortunately blind spot monitoring is not standard but included in a $3,700 Tech Package.  AutoPacific research finds blind spot is a feature wanted by over 75% of drivers and greatly helps in avoiding lane changing accidents.

Also standard are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which allow integration of many of your smartphone apps to the dual center screens of the TLX.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec Trim  Acura is particularly proud of its TLX A-Spec package that should appeal to younger, more enthusiastic drivers than will choose the more chrome-laden standard, Tech or Advanced packages.  The A-Spec an appearance package with a sport tuned suspension.  Believing that the target buyer wants differences defined as “sporty”, A-Spec includes a dark surround for the grille, exclusive front and rear fascias that lose the bright highlights, round bright exhaust tips, red accent piping for the seats, LED fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, wireless charging, and ventilated front seats.  The A-Spec does have a color combination available that should be striking – bright blue exterior with a red leather interior.  This is a bold combination that few carmakers allow these days.  Kudos to Acura for making this selection available.

Attitude Change at Acura  An aside on the story of Acura.  31 years ago Acura was launched as the first Japanese premium brand.  At first, Acura was very successful with the Legend mid-size near luxury car and Integra sporty hatchback – names that still resonate among American car buyers.  VP Ikeda says Acura is returning to its performance oriented roots – Precision Crafted Performance.  He hopes to instill the fun and passion in Acura’s design and engineering that was evident 31 years ago.  Maybe, they will bring names back – at least Legend and Integra.

 


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Atlas Crossover Hits Mark – or Doesn’t

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The all new Volkswagen Atlas crossover SUV (XSUV) launches in late May in the United States.  It is being dropped into the highly competitive mid-size crossover SUV market dominated by the Ford Explorer and the Honda Pilot.  Those two vehicles are Atlas’ strongest competitors.

Volkswagen, like Hyundai, can be criticized for being late to the American-style XSUV market.  Sure VW has had the Touareg and Tiguan crossovers in the market, but neither have the volume potential of the Atlas.  Atlas is produced at VW’s 300,000 unit assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN.  Atlas shares Chattanooga capacity with the Passat that sold 73,000 units in the USA in 2016.  Clearly, VW has room in Chattanooga for the Atlas and perhaps one or two additional entries. 

The Atlas is sized right for its competitive set.  It is almost exactly the size of the very successful Ford Explorer on the outside, but has a much longer wheelbase.  It makes great use of its interior space yielding much more cargo capacity than the vehicles compared above.  The front seat area is spacious and the cockpit is well laid out.  Ergonomics are first rate.  The second row can accommodate three large child seats and is adjustable for better legroom.  The third row seat is accessible, but only for small children or adults for short trips.

Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific

The Atlas is styled like you would expect a VW XSUV to be.  The front end styling is definitely a VW face with standard LED lighting and accent lights – distinguishable from afar.  The muscular bodysides communicate capability with a strong character line connecting the front and rear wheel openings.  The taillamps are connected by a chrome strip that highlights the rear styling and gives an upscale image.  The liftgate opens to the very large cargo area which is flat when all the rear seats are folded.

Driving the V6 Atlas crossover is pleasant, but not particularly exciting.  That is a good thing for a XSUV targeted at family car usage.  Ride quality is good, but there is a bit too much body lean on the twisty roads in Texas’ Hill Country around San Antonio.  Quiteness with its 20-inch tires is poor on many road surfaces.  When you find that elusive stretch of absolutely smooth asphalt, quietness is superb.  On rougher road surfaces you cannot carry on a conversation.

Source: George Peterson

In search of the Atlas’ unique selling proposition you conclude that the reconfigurable VW Digital Cockpit may be it.  The 12-inch wide instrument cluster can can change to provide several different information displays.  Unlike some reconfigurable systems, you cannot change the overall appearance, just the information shown.  The 8-inch center stack display is intuitive and turn by turn driving directions can be displayed on the instrument cluster at the swipe of a finger.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

The Atlas crossover has a complete suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems available.

Checking prices, the price for a FWD 4-cylinder Atlas S is $30,500.  An AWD V6

Atlas SEL Premium is $48,490.  So, the price is in line with competition.

Who will buy the Atlas?  The Atlas crossover is selling in a growing segment but there are two giants among its seven-passenger competition – Explorer and Pilot .  Both Explorer and Pilot have a loyal buyer base and they may be the superior products.  Volkswagen has a buyer base that loves the brand (let’s not discuss “Dieselgate”) and will likely consider the Atlas for their family hauler.  The question is can VW dealers position the Atlas as superior to its strong competitors or will they have to hope for VW loyalists coming in looking for aggressive prices?


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Mazda Premium Strategy to Surprise Competitors

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Mazda Premium is the objective for the Mazda brand in the future.  Mazda realizes it is a mainstream brand but wants to become premium.  In the minds of the car buyer, Mazda competes with Toyota, Honda and Nissan.  Mazda has limited resources and needs to husband them.  To achieve Mazda Premium positioning, its products must be executed to meet or beat premium brand competitors.  This requires targeted benchmarking against more expensive vehicles in the same product category.

CX-5 Latest Mazda Premium Vehicle  At the press launch of the 2017 Mazda CX-5 mid-size crossover SUV (XSUV) in San Diego, Mazda detailed its competitive strategy.  The Mazda product development team did not closely benchmark the usual suspects.  The CX-5 will be sold against Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.  To go against premium brands, the CX-5 team benchmarked luxury brand XSUVs like Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX, Mercedes GLA.  To show how deep they have benchmarked premium XSUVs, the Jaguar F-Pace was even included on one comparison chart.

The new Mazda CX-5 is a 5-passenger XSUV slotted below the 7-passenger CX-9 introduced last year.  The CX-5 completes Mazda’s evolution to its Kudo design theme that stresses the “soul of motion”.  The styling is striking and clearly differentiated from its German and Japanese competitors.  Mazda states that “every element has been designed to be in a class above”.

To demonstrate the superiority of the premium-designed CX-5 over its luxury competition, Mazda provided these premium vehicles as comparisons to drive through downtown San Diego.  While we cannot yet discuss the driving experience, we can reveal that the CX-5 arguably looks and drives better than premium brand XSUVs costing about $10,000 more.

In reality, it will take years for Mazda to achieve premium brand status.  Executed consistently and effectively, Mazda Premium will ultimately achieve a stronger image with Mazda dealers and customers.  Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to achieve higher per-unit profitability.  Ultimately, Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to be positioned at a premium brand like Acura or Buick if all goes as planned.  Competing against Audi, BMW, Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes is still a ways off.


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2 Million Jeeps – Global Sales Goal

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Jeep sold about 1.4 million SUVs in 2016 and has 2 million Jeeps in its sights.  It is going to take until 2020 or so to sell 2 million Jeeps per year.

At an event showcasing the all new 2017 Jeep Compass, Mike Manley, Head of Jeep, detailed the evolution of Jeep production that could achieve global sales objectives of 2 million Jeeps by 2020.  The Compass is a crossover SUV positioned above the B-Segment Renegade and below the D-Segment Cherokee. Actually, the Cherokee is more of a C/D Segment vehicle. Cherokee is not really big enough to be a full D-Segment vehicle.  At the top of the lineup is the Grand Cherokee which is the heart of Jeep DNA for now.

Jeep’s Capacity Story

There is a dance of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US (FCA) plants that is going to realize substantially more Jeep production.  The dance goes like this…

  • FCA kills Dodge Dart, Jeep Patriot and the old Jeep Compass produced at their huge 407,000 unit capacity plant in Belvidere, Illinois.  Cherokee moves from Toledo, Ohio to Belvidere in 2017.  Estimate a maximum production of Cherokee at 250,000 units.  This means there is room for another vehicle “not yet announced” at Belvidere, says Manley.
  • Toledo adds all new Wrangler off-road SUV during 2017.  Wrangler is selling so well it needs more capacity, but not as much as relieved by moving Cherokee to Belvidere.  Jeep adds a Wrangler-based pickup to Toledo to fill capacity.  This also satisfies demand from dealers and customers for a Jeep pickup.
  • The all-new 2017 Jeep Compass is launched with assembly plants in four countries:  Mexico, India, Brazil and China.  The Mexican plant will supply North America and left hand drive Europe.  The Indian plant will satisfy demand from right hand drive countries including the U.K, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  Jeep has high expectations for the new Compass as the assembly plant count confirms.
  • Jeep is adding a Jeep Wagoneer to the lineup.  Manley mentions that this could be a “line of Wagoneers” implying that there could be a Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer in Jeep’s future.  Wagoneer will be a body-on-frame SUV.  It will be based on the next-generation Ram pickup but with independent rear suspension.  Manley agrees that “Ford went the right way when they added independent rear suspension to their Expedition to get a great 3rd row seat”.  The speculation is that Wagoneer will be added to FCA’s Sterling Heights assembly plant.  Sterling Heights is being shifted to Ram pickup production after the Chrysler 200 sedan was killed.  The 200 was the only vehicle in Sterling Heights and never achieved anything like FCA’s hoped for volumes.
  • That leaves the “mystery vehicle” to take up the additional capacity at Belvidere.

Given all this attention to plants and plant capacity, 2 million Jeeps looks plausible by the next decade.

New Compass Key to selling 2 million Jeeps

Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific

2017 Jeep Compass in Brief

Based on driving and living with the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass for a short time, the Compass will attract robust sales.  Compass styling is very much traditional Jeep with the seven vertical slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches and a strong overall style.  Compass has a unique floating roof character that has been adopted from everybody from the Jaguar XJ, Lexus RX SUV, Nissan Murano to the GMC Acadia SUV.  The Compass is one of the only vehicles in white where this really looks cool.

The Compass interior is excellent in the mid-range Latitude model, the top-of-the-line Limited and the aggressive Trailhawk model.  Front seat comfort is outstanding for a vehicle in this class.  The seats are firm without being too stiff.  Visibility is excellent from the driver’s seat.  Everything is easy to reach and see.  Ergonomically, Jeep designers and engineers have done an excellent job.

Compass is powered by the 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque.  In North America there are three transmissions.  4×2 models get a 6-speed automatic.  4×4 models get a 9-speed automatic.  Both 4×2 and 4×4 models are available with manual transmissions.  Manual transmission availability is getting rarer and rarer these days.  Likely the wide global distribution of the Compass makes the 6-speed manual readily available.

Performance on-road is adequate.  A 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder with 230-250 horsepower would always be welcome in a vehicle like the Compass.  Off-road, navigating a very technical course, the Compass is very capable.  Clearly, retaining Jeep DNA for off-road fun was an important feature in the development of the Compass.


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Chevrolet Bolt EV Surprises – Range Anxiety Gone

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Image Source: George Peterson

When a Chevrolet manager refers to the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, they inevitably hold up two fingers to guarantee you know they are referring to the Volt.  When they mention the Chevrolet Bolt EV electric vehicle, they always say “Bolt EV”.  “Bolt EV did well in focus groups,” one PR manager stated.  Having done thousands of focus groups over the years, I know how that can be done.

Well, enough of that.  The Chevrolet Bolt EV is the real deal.  It is an electric vehicle purpose-built around a five module battery pack that forms the floor of the car.  These batteries give a maximum range of 238 miles.  AutoPacific’s research on electric vehicles over the years has concluded that the holy grail for EV range is 225 miles to avoid range anxiety.  So Bolt EV achieves that range with a little to spare.

The designed-in-South Korea Bolt EV is a crossover SUV in Chevrolet’s mind.  I see it as more of a 5-door hatchback, but Chevrolet contends its higher seating position and relatively high roof deserve a crossover classification.  Besides, crossovers are selling like hotcakes these days and cars are not.  Bolt EV looks modern with forward sloping character lines that you could see on a crossover today.  OK, it’s a crossover.

The Bolt EV is spacious enough for four people.  Getting in and out is relatively easy but the front A-Pillars are so fast that you have to be careful to duck or else you will hit your head.  The instrument panel in the top model includes a reconfigurable instrument cluster and a 10.2 inch screen in the center stack that provides all the information concerning its electric operation and the usual connectivity features like Bluetooth.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are how you get navigation in the car.  There is no resident NAV.  The Bolt EV is available with the typical General Motors driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane keeping warning, surround view camera, blind spot warning, etc.

The real surprise comes when driving the Bolt EV.  Its powerpack provides 200-horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque.  This output is like a peppy 1.6L or 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder in a hot hatch small car.  Bolt EV does not have to apologize to anyone on the freeway.  The car can be operated in “one-foot mode” where regenerative braking is activated.  This would be my normal driving mode.  When you lift off the accelerator, the brakes engage to put electricity back into the batteries.  The deceleration can be controlled by a paddle behind the steering wheel.   Using regen, you rarely have to actually press on the brake pedal.

No new car is perfect and the Bolt EV is not.  Where it falls down is in the material selection in the interior.  Lots of hard, glossy plastic.  The lightweight front seats are very hard and the side bolsters are stiff.

The base price of the Bolt EV is $37,495 that results in a $29,995 price after the federal government tax credit (you have to earn about $75,000 to qualify for that tax credit).  If you load the Bolt EV up with all the options, it will top out at around $44,000.

Bolt is on sale now in California and Oregon and will roll out nationally over the year.


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More Aggressive Mustang Near Launch

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Source: Ford Motor Company

Source: Ford Motor Company

Ford is updating its iconic sporty coupe giving us a more aggressive Mustang for 2018.  In industry parlance this could be termed a “front and rear six” meaning the front and rear six inches of the car has been changed.  The 2018 change is a bit more than that.  The front end is the main contributor to the more aggressive Mustang look.  The standard LED headlamps flank a redesigned grille which has a new sporty texture.  The front fenders, front fascia, and hood are all new.  In the rear end, the taillamp graphics are tweaked a bit, not so you’d notice.

Source: Ford Motor Company

Source: Ford Motor Company

The big news in the interior is that the car is now available with a 12-inch re-configurable instrument cluster display.  The display has been lifted from the new Continental luxury car but conveys different information.  This is the “modern” way to go and also demonstrates that the costs of these electronic features are coming down dramatically and quickly.  In addition to the cluster, the seat trim sew patterns have been updated.  There is an available heated steering wheel and the center console has been upgraded with padded knee bolsters.   Ford also adds Driver Assistance features as options such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping warning and lane keeping assist.

Under the hood, the 3.7L V6 is gone and the 5.0L V8 has been upgraded.  Ford has not yet provided the specifics.  Similarly, the 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder turbo has been upgraded.  There is a 10-speed automatic transmission available, but the the folks who think manual transmissions are appropriate for a sporty coupe, a 6-speed manual is still available.  The chassis has been upgraded to provide more nimble handling.

Ford has been producing the Mustang continuously for over fifty years.  The car has gone through tough times and was almost killed on more than one occasion.  Even when Chevrolet killed the Camaro, Pontiac killed the Firebird and Dodge killed the Challenger, Mustang stayed the course.  There have been a few half-hearted efforts in the history of Mustang, but the 2018 promises to improve the breed.  This update is a mid-cycle change that means we should see a major update in 2020 or 2021.


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All New Honda CR-V Impressive Re-Incarnation

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Honda has imposed an embargo for the new Honda CR-V on technical specifications, driving impressions and pricing, so we can only describe the vehicle and its competitive position in generalities.  The embargo lifts on November 30, 2016.

New Honda CR-V FV VV

New Honda CR-V – all new for 2017 with distinctive front end styling.

Honda Assures Continued Success in Entry XSUV Market  The all new Honda CR-V is an impressive compact crossover SUV.  A pillar of Honda’s product lineup that includes Accord, Civic and Odyssey, the CR-V sells almost 400,000 units per year.  Strong competitors include the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.  The Nissan Rogue is starting to make waves as well.  The entry crossover SUV category has become the best selling class of vehicle in the United States.  Entry crossover SUV sales are higher than mid-size cars.  The popularity of the segment, and how good this new CR-V is, has led Honda to add more assembly capacity at its Indiana assembly plant in 2017.

Sport utility vehicles have evolved from the hardcore 4x4s of the 1970s to the very easy-t0-live with crossover SUVs of today.  Responding to customer demand for better ride, better fuel economy, the latest electronic and infotainment features, the new crossovers have taken the market by storm.  They are now the vehicles of choice for most female buyers.

In the development of the new Honda CR-V, Honda benchmarked the European BMW X3 to give this mainstream crossover a luxury feel.  They clearly have higher aspirations for the vehicle.  Also, given the sales volume of the CR-V, Honda added standard features in lower trim levels.  Cost efficiencies are substantial when a product approaches the 400,000 unit volume level.

Nwq Honda CR-V F34 VV

New Honda CR-V – all new for 2017 with more muscular styling

More Aggressive Than Past Hondas  Sounding like a Big Three manufacturer of yore, the new Honda CR-V is longer, wider and higher than before.  It has a new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission on all but its base LX trim level.   The looks of the new Honda CR-V are an upward evolution of its predecessor.  Styling is more aggressive with more character in the hood and body panels.  The grille is much more aggressive than previously and follows the trend adopted by the new Honda Pilot XSUV and Ridgeline pickup.  The wheel openings are more muscular to accommodate larger tires and wheels.

More Upscale than Typical for This Class  Comparing the new Honda CR-V with the RAV4 and Escape, the CR-V comes across as a product in a class above.  The finish is outstanding, the interior has been substantially upgraded with soft touch materials in critical areas.  As usual, the new Honda CR-V is an ergonomic tour de force.  Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent.  Reach to the controls is intuitive.  The large electronic instrument cluster is brilliantly lit and provides necessary information.  Responding to customer complaints, the new Honda CR-V adds back a volume control knob for the audio system replacing the slider used previously.  The rear seat is larger than in its predecessor and Honda describes the interior space in the new Honda CR-V as being best in class.

High Volume EX Trim Loaded with Features  The highest volume trim level will be the EX one step above the base LX.   The level of equipment on this model is impressive.  Honda includes Honda Sensing, blind spot warning and cross traffic warning as part of the EX trim level.  Honda Sensing includes adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation, and lane keeping assist.  The Honda-exclusive Lane Watch video camera system has been abandoned for the new Honda CR-V.  Blind spot information replaces Lane Watch because owners want blind spot information on both sides of the car and the right-side-only Lane Watch system couldn’t be adapted to show the left side as well.

Best Selling Honda?  Given the excellence of the latest generation CR-V, and the additional production capacity being added, it would not be surprising if the CR-V becomes Honda’s top-selling vehicle.


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