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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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Genesis G90 Luxury Car Sets New Satisfaction Record

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Source:  George PetersonG90 Satisfies its Owners to the Max  Launching a new brand with an all new car is a huge challenge.  Launching in the luxury space is even more of a challenge.  Hyundai, the top Korean manufacturer,  launched its Genesis brand in late 2015.  The 2017 Genesis G90 Luxury Car followed in 2016.  Owners of the new Genesis G90 have rated their satisfaction with their car.  Their ratings have the G90 achieving the all-time highest score in AutoPacific’s 2017 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  Hyundai has established a new benchmark with the Genesis G90 in its first year out.

Most vehicles are well-made today.  The key is in the execution.  Is the vehicle intuitive to use?  Are the electronics easy to understand?  Is the powertrain smooth and seamless?  Is the interior quiet and comfortable?  Is the dealership experience special?  For the G90, the execution is excellent. Excellent car.  Excellent experience with the dealer.  This is from a Korean manufacturer that just began building its quality mojo in 1999.  Job well done.

Satisfaction Results Distributed Across Segments  The rest of the industry has not been standing still.  All major automakers have at least some design and engineering capabilities in the United States.  Winning vehicles show product design that caters to American tastes.  Winning vehicles also show that the sales organizations are listening to their customers to provide a satisfying sales experience.

The top brand in the satisfaction research is Lincoln closely followed by Cadillac and Genesis.  The top popular brand is General Motors’ GMC truck brand.

There are twenty-three segments in AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  Eight were won by American brands.  Seven were won by Japanese brands.  Four were won by Korean brands. Four were won by European brands.

Nissan is the top brand with five category wins.  Kia is second with three.

Only one American CAR won its class.  The Dodge Challenger is the top ranked in the Sporty Car category.  The other nine car categories were won by Japanese, Korean and European brands.  Seven of the eight awards won by the American brands are in truck and SUV categories.

One surprise is that the Nissan Titan won the light duty full size pickup truck award.  The new Titan was a dark horse in a race including the vaunted aluminum Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet, GMC and Ram half-ton pickups.  Another interesting result is in the Compact Pickup category.  The Honda Ridgeline handily won top spot.  While “real” truckers disdain the Ridgeline’s small pickup bed (that is integral with its body) and plush ride, Honda has provided a pickup that is luxurious and quiet like a SUV but with adequate pickup capability.  The “trunk” in its pickup bed is a great idea.


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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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All-New 2017 Honda CR-V – Improved Across the Board

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The 2017 Honda CR-V goes on sale in December 2016.  It’s predecessor, the fourth-generation 2016 Honda CR-V, is on track to sell about 380,000 crossover SUVs in 2016. It is the highest volume crossover SUV and one of the top selling vehicles in the market. In AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award Research the CR-V achieved a score of 690.  This is a fourth place showing in the Mid-Size Crossover SUV segment.  Nissan Rogue (712), Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester place ahead of the 2016 CR-V. In AutoPacific’s 2016 Ideal Vehicle Award Research the CR-V was tied with Rogue in third place (1134 points).   The class leading Subaru Forester (1175) and Mazda CX-5 scored higher.2017 Honda CR-V F34 VV2017 Honda CR-V FV VV

Each year, AutoPacific surveys new car and light truck buyers to determine what changes they want in their vehicle. It is particularly interesting to compare the changes that owners want to their vehicle when it is just about to be replaced by the next generation.  Also, AutoPacific’s research can be measuring stick on how well a manufacturer’s product planners, engineers and designers understand their customers.  Using AutoPacific’s research to determine what changes people wanted in their CR-V, let’s see how well Honda did with their update.

Source: AutoPacific - Radar Chart Showing Changes 2016 Honda CR-V Owners want Compared with Competition

Source: AutoPacific – Radar Chart Showing Changes 2016 Honda CR-V Owners want Compared with Competition

Technology – Still a Challenge as With Most New Generation Vehicles: As with many vehicles these days, technology is a love it/hate it affair. About 25% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more advanced technology than now. About 30% want the technology they have to be easier to use. The 2016 CR-V has the HondaSensing suite of driver assistance technologies available.  The 2017 version expands on that adding a blind spot information system to the affordable EX model. Technology is still an area that requires a great deal of work, and the 2017 Honda CR-V improves on its predecessor.  About 25% of CR-V’s competitors want more advanced technology as well.  Among competitors, about 34% of 2016 Ford Escape owners want easier to use technology.

Driver’s Seat Visibility – Excellent View: Visibility is a key component in the acceptance of new crossover SUVs. About 29% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want better driver’s seat visibility compared with 27% for competition. The previous CR-V was very competitive, but AutoPacific concludes the fourth generation CR-V is better. The driver’s seating position is excellent.  The hood has been redesigned with more character that gives the driver more reference points in front. Honda has always been generous with glass and it appears the windows are larger. The 2017 CR-V should see better results next year.

Power and Fuel Economy – Going Turbo: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more power and acceleration and about 10% would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. About 29% of 2016 Nissan Rogue owners want more power and acceleration. The 2017 Honda CR-V adds a 190-horsepower turbocharged 1.5L 4-cylinder in all but the base LX model. The turbo 4 gets both better fuel economy and acceleration and feels sprightlier than its predecessor.   2017 results should be even better than 2016.

 Ride and Handling – Improved Dynamics: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want easier handing and a softer ride. This compares to just 14% of the owners of its primary competitors wanting easier handling and softer ride.  Honda has improved the ride and handling giving the 2017 CR-V a solid ride with crisp sporty handling. It is not a pillow-soft ride by any means, but gives the confidence that the vehicle will do what the driver demands.

Passenger Roominess – More Rear Seat Room: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more passenger room. This compares with about 24% of competition (about 32% of Ford Escape owners want more passenger room). The 2017 Honda CR-V has 2.1-inches more rear seat legroom while increasing the overall length of the vehicle by 1.2 inches. The rear seat seems much more spacious and the 2017 Honda CR-V should fare even better in AutoPacific’s 2017 research.

Exterior Styling – More Distinctive – Upscale: Looking at the all new CR-V, the at-a-glance impression is “more of the same”. CR-V, however, adopts Honda’s more aggressive and distinctive front end design with a heavy dollop of chrome. The taillights are a blatant evolution of the 2016 CR-V. About 16% of 2016 CR-V owners want more distinctive styling. 23% of owners of the 2016 Ford Escape, for instance, want more distinctive styling. It is probably safe to say that the 2017 changes to the CR-V will move the needle towards the more distinctive area.

Cargo Area – Even Better:  2016 Honda CR-V owners are less likely to want more cargo space than the competition – 14% compared to 28%.  The 2017 Honda CR-V adds almost 10-inches to the length of its cargo space.  This makes the all-new CR-V even better than before and substantially better than each of its main competitors.

Overall: The 2017 Honda CR-V has incrementally improved in almost every area. The styling is more distinctive. The powertrain more responsive. The interior is larger within a vehicle that is no bigger than before. Combined with Honda’s outstanding ergonomics, the CR-V, as a product, should be able to sell at about capacity especially at the aggressive pricing Honda has adopted.

Competition does not stand still. The Ford Escape has a substantial upgrade for 2017. The Nissan Rogue is all new for 2017. The 2017 research will show which vehicle’s product development team understood its customers the best and executed the product for them.

 


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Infiniti Upgrades Mid-Size Vehicles Mid-Cycle

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Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti, is upgrading its two mid-size entries in the middle of their product cycle.  This is not unusual these days as carmakers attempt to keep up with new technologies and keep fresh products available to their buyers.  Infiniti’s one-two punch comes with new powertrains for the Q50 (nee G35/37) rear wheel drive mid-size sedan and freshened styling for the QX60 (nee JX35) front wheel drive/AWD mid-size crossover SUV.

The Q50 changes target enthusiasts and the QX60 changes target families.  Let’s talk about the Q50 first.

Infiniti Q50 models equipped with the 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo 400 hp engine are designated as the Q50 Red Sport 400 and feature unique staggered 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and 245/40R19 front/265/35R19 rear summer performance run-flat tires, as well as unique exhaust tips. These changes help to assert the car’s performance credentials and add to its aggressive, confident aura.

Q50 Powertrain Updates  Infiniti positions the Q50 against the Lexus IS and the BMW 3-Series.  To us, it is closer to the Lexus GS350 in size and ambiance, but priced lower.  Q50 looks the same as before.  Its changes come in the form of new engines.  The top-of-the-line is the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400.  What does all that mean?  The “400” is for the 400-horsepower twin turbo 3.0L V6 engine.  “Red Sport” refers to the red “S” sport badge on the fenders and rear of the vehicle.  The Red Sport 400 is very flexible from easily lumping around town in stop and go traffic, to quickly running rural roads.  With several drive selections from Eco to Sport+ available, the personality of the car can transform dramatically.  In Sport + mode throwing the car around sharp curves over undulating terrain is a blast.  A fully loaded Q50 Red Sport 400 should set you back around $55,000 although pricing has not been finalized.  About 20%-25% of Q50 mix will be Red Sport 400 models.

Rounding out the new powertrain news for the Q50 is the high volume engine which is a de-tuned version of the Red Sport 400 – a twin turbo V6 with 300-horsepower.  This will be on 50%-60% of the volume.  The Infiniti Q50 2.0t is powered by an all-new base engine developed with Daimler – a turbo 2.0L 4-cylinder with 208-horsepower.  This will be on about 20%-25% of the Q50s sold.  The power output of the 4-cylinder seems pretty anemic.  Other 2.0L turbo 4s on offer today are more common with between 230 and 240-horsepower.  Some even have as much as 270-horsepower.  Infiniti says only the basic engine design is from Daimler.  All the accessories and systems engineering were by Nissan engineers.  The engine is produced in Infiniti’s Decherd, Tennessee Engine Plant.

2016 Infiniti QX60-550px

QX60 Freshening Moderately Extensive  The QX60 is Infiniti’s mid-market family hauler.  It is in the middle of an SUV lineup that includes the flagship QX80 (formerly QX56), the “urban gorilla” QX70 (nee FX35/45/50).  Below the QX60 is the QX50 (nee EX35) and the upcoming QX30 (based on a Mercedes 5-door bodystyle).

The 2016 QX60 looks pretty much the same as the 2016 model, but it does have new front and rear styling that evolves slightly from the 2015 version. The grille and headlamps are new and now de rigeur LED accent running lights are part of the headlamp design.  Outside mirror-mounted turn signals are standard. The taillamps and liftgate are new, but look similar to their predecessor.  Inside, the seat trim is new with more intricate sew styles.  The instrument panel upper is softer and looks more appropriate for luxury brand vehicle.  Driver assist technologies abound.

Responding to criticisms about ride control and handling, Nissan upgraded the suspension.  While ride comfort was excellent, body lean in cornering was excessive.  The update to the suspension yields a vehicle that is more confident feeling, more nimble and lighter on its feet.  This is a very positive move forward.

While these updates to Infiniti’s mid-market entries are not earth shaking, they keep the vehicles fresh and up-to-date.  The changes to the QX60 are more extensive, but the powertrain changes to the Q50 will get the most attention.  Both are good moves.


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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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2016 Nissan Titan XD is a Square Peg in a Round Hole That Fits

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2004 was the year Usher had some of his biggest hits in the music world. It was also the year 3 Doors Down had their hit “Here Without You”. If that doesn’t ring a bell for you, 2004 was also the year that the Nissan Titan came out. You probably forgot about that one though. 2004 was also the year where Ford had the 6.0L Powerstroke V8 diesel with 325 HP and 560 LB-FT of torque.

Fast forward to 2015 and the Biebs and Adele are rockin’ the charts and Nissan FINALLY has something Titan related to talk about. Unlike Bieber, Nissan wants you to remember this truck: The 2016 Titan XD. With 310 HP and 555 LB-FT of torque from a V8 Cummins, the 2016 Titan XD picks up where Detroit left off. The Titan XD should be pegged as the spiritual successor to the heavy duty pickups of 2004.

The arms race power between Ram and Ford has amounted to pickup trucks that can tow over 30,000 pounds. Besides the need for a CDL to tow that much, that is a lot more truck than most people need. What if Nissan took the best of 2004 and the best of 2015 to bring a pickup that isn’t overkill in the power department at a more reasonable price than that of a diesel Super Duty F-250 or Ram 2500? The Titan XD is the pickup equivalent of a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t match up with anything else out there. Not a bad problem to have in a hyper competitive market.


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AutoPacific 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

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Owners rate Kia K900 top car, Ford F-150 top truck. Tesla Top Brand

TUSTIN, Calif. (July 8, 2015) – AutoPacific today announced its 19th annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSAs), identifying the most satisfying vehicles on the market. An industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new vehicle, VSAs are based on survey responses from over 66,000 owners of new 2015 model year cars and light trucks.

“2015 represents a year of diversity,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “Competition is fierce and no one automaker dominates the results.” The 2015 winners are spread across nearly every manufacturer, with wins by 9 out of 11 automakers. General Motors receives the most wins with 5, followed by Kia and Nissan, with 4 and 3 wins, respectively. Honda, Toyota, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobile), Volkswagen and Ford follow with 2 wins each. Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai each take home 1 win.

“For the 2015 model year, there are 274 models and 33 brands from which to choose a new vehicle,” says Peterson. “It can be daunting for consumers to sort through all of those options and try to predict which one will work best for them in the long run. AutoPacific VSAs help to give them a strong starting point.”

The average VSA score for 2015 is 25-points higher than in 2014 confirming products and customer handling are improving markedly. The brands with the greatest year-over-year improvements are Jaguar – improving eleven positions; Volkswagen – improving ten positions; Ford – improving nine positions.

The Kia K900 – Kia’s range topping luxury car – set an all time high and wins AutoPacific’s President’s Award. This award is given only when the overall score tops the previous high score. Interestingly, the all-new aluminum bodied Ford F-150 would have won this award if the Kia was not in the running.  The previous President’s Award winners were the 2014 Mercedes S-Class and the 2010 Hyundai Sonata.

Korean Manufacturers Take Over Top Spot in Satisfaction

Tesla, a domestic brand with only one vehicle, is the top scoring brand overall.  General Motors’ GMC division is the top scoring mainstream brand.  In aggregate, Korean brands are the top source of high scoring vehicles.  With 5 winning vehicles, including the top ranking Kia K900, Korean manufacturers Kia and Hyundai come out on top in combined average score, taking over the position previously held by European manufacturers. “Kia and Hyundai are continually improving owner satisfaction in key areas like reliability and quality, yet are also hitting the mark with safety, braking, handling, styling and seat comfort, not to mention a very satisfying warranty program,” explains Peterson.

AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Awards objectively measure owner satisfaction with 50 separate attributes ranging from interior comfort and styling to fuel economy and performance.

“In many cases, an extremely satisfying vehicle is not the car or truck that has the best absolute build quality or the best safety rating,” says Peterson. “VSAs look at the big picture, which includes owners’ experiences with their vehicle’s quality and safety, but also goes deeper into the heart of the ownership experience.”

Brand SummaryVehicle Summary

About AutoPacific

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

Contacts

Dan Hall dan.hall@autopacific.com 714.838.4234


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2016 Nissan Maxima – 8th Generation

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New Maxima Job #1 in April 2015  The 2016 Nissan Maxima is assembled at Nissan’s huge Smyrna, Tennessee plant.  Smyrna has become the highest capacity single plant in the United States with a capacity of over 650,000 units per year.  The 8th Gen Maxima Job #1 was in April 2015 and dealers began getting the cars in early June.  Competing with the likes of the Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus and Acura TLX, the new Maxima pushes the design envelope with its “energetic flow” styling.  The styling is head turning and certain to be controversial.  2016 Nissan Maxima2016 Nissan Maxima2016 Nissan Maxima

 


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2015 Nissan Murano – Sexy Upgrade

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3rd Generation Murano The 2015 Nissan Murano crossover SUV went on sale Friday, December 5, 2014.  The third generation of the Murano pushes the envelope on crossover styling and brings new Nissan design cues to the vehicle.  The Murano has been a sweet spot among crossover SUVs since its launch.  Each iteration has been very easy to live with and the 2015 version is no exception.  Easy to drive, maneuverable, quiet and up to date, the Murano provides Nissan with a suitable vehicle to attract its target buyer.  Media attending the product preview in Napa Valley were surprised that Nissan admitted its target market is empty nester couples 45 years of age or older.  These people do not need seven or eight passenger seating they might have required during their family formation years, but they do want reasonable cargo capacity and a spacious rear seat.  This 5-passenger crossover SUV meets their requirementsGoats Head Beach

The Murano review was held during an early December storm with gale force winds.  The Murano handled the inclement weather with aplomb.  It was very stable even in vicious cross winds.

Exterior  Given its sporty, futuristic styling, you might think the visibility would suffer, and it does to the rear, but overall visibility is pretty good.  For years many in the industry have been stripping vehicles of exterior ornamentation, but not the 3rd gen Murano.  There is a striking bright flash running from the upper edge of the front door rearward over the rear fender kickup.  Very distinctive and nicely done.  Murano follows the trend of front lighting with LED signature lights and available LED headlamps.  LED “boomerang”  taillamps are standard.2015 Nissan Murano F342015 Nissan Murano SV2015 Nissan Murano R34

Interior  The interior comfort is excellent with “Zero Gravity” seating.  Ergonomics are excellent with a large 8-inch center stack screen standard.  For those who like an open air feeling, the Murano offers a large panoramic moonroof.   The top of the line Platinum model includes leather seating surfaces and comes across as a very premium place to be.  The lower level SV model, loses the leather, but the interior retains much of the premium feel of the Platinum version.  In essence, spending less does not result in a vehicle feeling cheap.

Technology  The 2015 Nissan Murano comes with the expected suite of available technology:  blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, moving object detection and forward emergency braking.2015 Nissan Murano

Powertrain  The engine is essentially carryover – Nissan’s venerable 260HP 3.5L DOHC V6 (VQ).  The continuously variable Xtronic transmission has been improved with subtle “shift points” added to the shiftless gearbox.  The driving experience is effortless.

Pricing  The base price of the 2015 Nissan Murano os $29,560 for the S model.  The next step up is the SV at $32,620.  Then the SL at $35,950 and the range topping Platinum at $39,000.  Adding all wheel drive adds $1,600 to each model.  Checking all the boxes on a Platinum – adding premium paint, Technology Package and 20-inch wheels – brings the price to $44,975.

Production  While Nissan’s huge Canton, Mississippi plant is the main source for the Murano worldwide, there is a secondary source in Pusan, South Korea should the USA need more volume.  The Pusan plant is part of the Samsung Renault Nissan relationship.

Research Results  Over the years, Murano has done very well in AutoPacific’s Satisfaction Research.  The 2015 Nissan Murano promises to deliver strong satisfaction results just as did its predecessor generations.

 


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