2015 Ford F-150: The Ford half-ton pickup, the F-150, is the top selling vehicle in the USA – car or truck. For the 2015 model year, Ford launches an all new F-150. And it is literally ALL NEW. In most model changes, there are numerous parts carried over from previous generations. The 2015 Ford F-150 is so completely re-done that there are probably no common part numbers with the 2014 model. The body is all aluminum with the exception of a “quiet steel” dash panel (between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment). You can lift the military grade front fender with one finger. The aluminum panels are not welded as in steel bodied vehicles they are riveted and glued. The result is a stiffer vehicle that feels even more robust than its predecessor. Ford says the use of aluminum has yielded a reduction in weight by up to 700 pounds.
The interior width in the cab is two inches wider than before. The aluminum structure allows the pillars to be smaller while meeting or exceeding all relevant safety standards. With thinner pillars, driver’s visibility is improved. The belt line has been dropped by an inch increasing downward visibility as well.
The 2015 Ford F-150 is available with a Regular Cab (2-door), SuperCab (extended cab with rear access doors) and SuperCrew (4-doors) cab style. There are three box lengths: 5 1/2, 6 1/2 and 8 feet.
Feature Laden: All those gee whiz things we have been seeing on luxury cars recently, you know, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot information system, active park assist, rear view camera, reverse sensing system, 360-degree cameras, LED accent lights, LED everything lights, information screen in the instrument cluster and MyFord Touch in the center display, are available on the 2015 Ford F-150. The lighting strategy for the truck is probably the best in the industry. When all the boxes are checked, there are LED accents for the headlamps and taillamps that communicate the F-150’s DNA. There are LED headlamps available. There are LED lamps in the bed to improve nighttime visibility. Of course, there are puddle lamps below the outside rear view mirrors, but there are also LED spot lamps on the top corners of the mirrors to allow the area beside the vehicle to be illuminated (now, if these could be used to blast the car beside you, the good ol’ boys in Texas driving with their open bottles could have a hoot).
The Interior: In the lower models of the 2015 Ford F-150 you get what you expect from a base truck. Lots of plastic, cloth seats (comfortable), minimal equipment. There are five basic trim levels: XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum. By the time you get up to King Ranch or Platinum you could be riding in a Lincoln.
Wide Powertrain Lineup: While the 2015 Ford F-150 does not offer a diesel, it does have four gasoline engines. The base engine is a 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 with 283-horsepower and 255 lb. ft. of torque. The first step up and expected to be the highest volume powerplant is a 325HP 2.7L EcoBoost V6 with 375 lb. ft. of torque. This is about the power of a small displacement V8 in half the size. There are two top-of-the line engines based on what you want to do with the truck. The 365HP 3.5L EcoBoost V6 has 420 lb. ft of torque. The sole V8 in the line-up is the 385HP 5.0L V8 with 387 lb. ft of torque. The 3.5L EcoBoost has the highest trailer towing rating of 12,200 lbs.
It goes like this… Honda invites you to an event that is held locally to review a vehicle that is not scheduled for a meaningful change for a couple of years. What’s up? Well, enough that Honda can make a pretty big deal out of it. The top selling sport utility vehicle is Honda’s CR-V crossover SUV. The 2015 Honda CR-V looks pretty much like the 2014. Same profile. Same doors. Same window openings. What’s the big deal? The front end looks more butch, more SUV-like. It has really cool running lights below the headlamps. Likewise, the rear end looks stronger. The effect is that the CR-V looks a little bigger even though it isn’t. Ah, the story is pretty much beneath the skin. Honda calls it a MAJOR minor model change. Clever.
Engineering Story – Earth Dreams Powertrain This is an engineering story. The 2015 Honda CR-V gets a new engine – an Earth Dreams direct injection 2.4L 4-cylinder engine with 185-horsepower (same output as 2014). Torque is up by 18 lb-ft or 11% to improve driving feel especially at lower speeds. New transmission – now a CVT to achieve better fuel economy. The new engine and transmission combination substantially improves fuel economy for both 2WD and 4WD versions – highway fuel economy up about 10% better for both leading Honda to claim class leading fuel economy for the 2015 Honda CR-V.
Finesse and Value In addition to better performance, Honda has finessed the vehicle giving it a quieter cabin making it more pleasant to drive. The instrument panel has been upgraded as has the center console. For buyers coming down from larger, more heavily equipped SUVs the 2015 Honda CR-V will not disappoint. Honda has added a slew of standard and available features that will make tech savvy customers feel warm and fuzzy. There are a couple of new features standard like rear air conditioning vents on the rear of the console and a sliding driver’s side sun visor. The big news is in the high volume EX model where $1,400 worth of equipment has been added for only a $200 price increase including: heated front seats, Honda Lane Watch, display audio, smart key start, 10-way power driver’s seat.
New Touring Model Has Available Honda Sensing System At the top of the trim lines is a new Touring model that checks most of the features boxes. This is where the Honda Sensing system comes into play. Honda Sensing is a safety system developed by Honda R&D that combines several technologies to help drivers avoid crashes. This collision avoidance system includes: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking and Honda Lane Watch. John Turley, Honda R&D Americas principal engineer says, “Honda Sensing is a stepping stone to a fully autonomous car. With a couple more big overlays of technology, Honda can have a self driving car by 2020. One of those technologies is longer range radar and inter-car communications that can provide warnings up to 1500 meters around the car up from about 250 today.” The government and car makers are working to develop regulations and standards that will help cars of the future connect with each other seamlessly.
Telematics System for Vehicle Tracking and Management Ford is offering the Crew Chief telematics system on its fleet vehicles. Developed by Telogis, Crew Chief is a GPS-based system designed to monitor vehicle activity and improve efficiency. The Ford Crew Chief system is available on the F-150, F-Series Super Duty, E-Series, Transit and Transit Connect.
Black Box GPSThe Ford Crew Chief system includes a GPS receiver, or black box, mounted out of the way in the instrument panel. The GPS tracks the vehicle real-time and converts the data received from the vehicle into a visual dashboard that provides an at-a-glance summary of a commercial fleet’s performance. Knowing how a vehicle is being driven can help fleet management “counsel” drivers on how to improve their driving style and achieve better efficiency. When driving and vehicle operation improves, insurance rates can drop.
The Ford Crew Chief system measures a wide array of vehicle attributes. Measuring these attributes can help fleet management anticipate problems and correct them before a serious mechanical failure might occur.
Some of the attributes measured by Crew Chief include:
• Oil Life (% remaining)
• Tire Pressure
• Diagnostic Trouble Codes
• Engine Coolant Temperatures
• Water in Fuel of a Diesel-Powered Vehicle
• Excessive RPM
• Safety Belt Usage
• Air Bag Status
• Battery Charge
• Excessive Idling
• Hard Acceleration/Driving
• Driver Insurance Expiration Date
• Driver License Expiration Date
Clearly, the fleet can save a lot of money by reducing the time a vehicle is idling or whether or not the driver is abusing the vehicle by revving the engine unnecesarily, accelerating hard and driving hard.
Can Be Very Big Brother It might sound like Big Brother, but knowing what the driver is doing and where the vehicle is and has been can be a real advantage in managing a fleet. Here are some of the features Crew Chief can include:
• Find the Closest Capable Driver
• Develop Custom Map Overlays
• Add a Fuel Efficiency Module
• Satellite Imagery (helps identify landmarks in mapped locations)
• Provide Real-Time Alerts
• Provide Turn-by-Turn Directions
• Fast Mapping
• Automated Reports
• Animated Vehicle History Trails
• Maintenance Reporting
• Fleet, Driver and Team Management
• Search (finds any vehicle, driver, location or tagged group, improving asset utilization and making fleet management more efficient)
• Speeding Alerts (flags when drivers are over the speed limit. Can help reduce insurance costs)
Of course, Ford Crew Chief is not free. There is a monthly fee for each vehicle of $31.99 for the standard package and $39.99 for the professional package.
Volvo Growth Strategy: Tony Nicolosi, new President and CEO of Volvo Cars of North America says 90% of the senior management of VCNA is new since he took over in October 2013. Volvo’s marketing strategy is also going to change with the arrival in January of Bodil Eriksson as executive vice president of marketing and new advertising agency Grey London starting in March. Nicolosi says Volvo will return to its roots emphasizing safety, the environment and the family. The marketing budget for 2014 is bigger by about 50% but its emphasis will shift away from television to digital messaging.
Prior to becoming head of VCNA, Nicolosi was head of Volvo Finance in the USA, so he is very familiar with the leasing game. About 42% of Volvos are leased, well short of the leasing penetration of Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Going forward, Volvo’s lease penetration should increase with more concentration on more car for the payment and regular replacement. This will give Volvo dealers the first shot at putting off-lease customers into a new Volvo.
Early in its life, Acura was a brilliant attempt to establish an upscale Japanese brand that was a smart buying decision. The Acura Legend and Acura Integra carried the brand at first with the Legend being a very rational buying desicion vs. a Mercedes 300 or BMW 525.
Unfortunately, Acura lost its way when it went further upscale and changed from using names for its vehicles to alphanumeric nomenclature. This was a move that Honda insiders once admitted cost $1.5 billion in lost sales revenue and damaged the Acura image immeasurably. At the same time the third generation of the Acura range topper was launched replacing the well-liked Legend. This was the RL. It had boring style, was heavy, slow and expensive. It had completely abandoned the Legend’s Unique Selling Proposition. Wags called it the “Ruined Legend”.
The RL never caught on except with buyers heavily engaged in technology. Adding the Super Handling All Wheel Drive System as an optional drive package helped handling, but was very heavy. The engine did not have the oomph to handle all the weight. RL sales slumped into the range of hundreds per month – an unsustainable level.
Now we come to the introduction of the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid in Spring, 2014. The front wheel drive RLX was launched in early 2013 as a 2014 model. The RLX is arguably better styled than the RL it replaces. However, it is still a very heavy car (3,933 lbs base) and with its standard 310-horsepower 3.5L V6 it is a lot of weight to push around. The solution? Add a Sport Hybrid model as the new top-of-the-line RLX – the Sport Hybrid system adds 350-lbs to the weight of the car, but the power of the hybrid powertrain more than offsets the weight gain..
Officially, the hybrid is a mouthful – Sport Hybrid – Super Handling All Wheel Drive. The hybrid absolutely transforms the car.
With one of the most technologically advanced powertrains in the industry, the RLX hybrid puts out a combined 377 horsepower. Impressive. We won’t go into the details of the technology much beyond the fact that it has Honda’s Earth Dreams Three Motor Hybrid System combining the RLX’ 310-horsepower 3.5L V6 with one 47-horsepower and two 36-horsepower rear electric motors. The resulting 377-horsepower combined with the 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission makes the car into a dancer.
Think of Disney’s Fantasia. The front drive RLX can be the dancing hippos in tutus. The Sport Hybrid with SH-AWD plus DCT in sport mode becomes a completely different car. A star. The transmission downshifts in the blink of an eye anticipating what you want it to do. Fantastic!
The Sport Hybrid adds equipment not available on the front wheel drive car: larger front brakes, electric air conditioning, power distribution monitor added to the 8-inch color display, head-up display, Chestnut wood trim, premium audio system with 14 speakers, electronic gear selector, unique wheels, smoked chrome plating for grill.
The front wheel drive base car gets 20/31/24 (City/Highway/Combined) mpg with a city range of 370 miles and highway range of 575 miles from its 18.5 gallon fuel tank. The hybrid is rated at 28/32/30 mpg giving city range of 425 mile and highway range of 475 miles from its 15.1 gallon tank. While the hybrid does get much better city fuel economy, its smaller fuel tank hurts its maximum range. Clearly the hybrid in the RLX is about technology and performance, not maximum range.
While Acura has not released pricing the the hybrid, the 2014 RLX with the top of the line Advance Package is priced at $60,450, $12,000 higher than the base RLX. Given this price range it’s reasonable to expect a price of between $65,000 and $70,000 for the RLX Sport Hybrid. Given the dynamic improvement the hybrid system gives the car, this may be worth every penny.
It has long been said that Honda is first and foremost an engine company and everything it does is really just to sell more engines. It sells everything from motor bikes and generators to jet planes with cars in between. Honda engines can be as small as 25 cubic centimeters used in lawn and garden equipment. The engines we are interested in are Honda engines powering their cars, minivans and crossover SUVs. The new evolution of Honda’s car and truck powertrains is “Earth Dreams Technology”. Earth Dreams includes a range of engines and engine technology, CVT transmissions and hybrid powertrains and EV technology. It is a comprehensive approach to updating Honda’s automotive powertrains in response to looming United States and global emissions regulations.
Engines for Every Application Focusing on Environmental Friendliness and Fun The engine line-up goes from 660cc (in foreign markets – N-One and N-Box) to 1.5L, 1.8L, 2.0L, 2.4L and 3.5L. In the USA, we find these engines in Honda’s lineup from Honda’s Fit (1.5L 4-cylinder) to Accord and from Acura’s ILX to RLX. Earth Dreams technology improves efficiency with better fuel economy, and lower emissions while still providing fun-to-drive performance.
Three Sport Hybrid Drive Systems There are three unique extra cost hybrid systems: one-motor, two-motor and three motor systems. Honda refers to them as “Sport Hybrid” systems. The one-motor system uses Intelligent Dual-Clutch Drive (i-DCD) that combines a 1.5L DOHC i-VTEC Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The two motor system is found in the 2014 Accord Hybrid using a 2.0L DOHC i-VTEC Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine with a CVT. Honda calls this two motor hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD). Coming later in the Acura RLX is the Super Handling All Wheel Drive three motor hybrid system. Honda claims this “unique system achieves both fuel economy and superior driving performance at a whole new level by combining a new V6 3.5L direct-injection engine and a newly-developed 7-speed DCT system with a built-in motor, while enabling free control torque distribution to the right and left rear wheels through the use of two motors installed in the rear.” From a company only having mild hybrids before, this onslaught of Earth Dreams hybrids in such a short period of time is impressive.
Continuously Variable Transmissions Coming with the new engines and hybrid systems are new CVT transmissions. Honda engineers state that the toughest challenge when developing the 2013 Accord was getting the CVT right. It is used on all 4-cylinder Accords. The key is to make the CVT feel more like a conventional automatic transmission with noticeable (but smooth) shift points rather than the rubber band feeling that many CVTs provide. Honda says their new CVTs are 5% more efficient than other CVTs on the market today and 10% more efficient than a 5-speed automatic (who is using those anymore?).
Earth Dreams Electric Vehicle There is even an EV in the Earth Dreams portfolio found in the Fit EV.
PHEV Accord We can’t forget the 2014 Accord PHEV introduced earlier in 2013. This top of the line Accord plug-in hybrid has stretched the technology in the Honda brand lineup by adding an EV system that provides an all-electric range of 13-miles and an MPGe fuel economy rating of 115MPGe. EPA fuel economy ratings are 47/46/46 (city/highway/combined). The recently launched Accord Hybrid (not PHEV) gets 50mpg in the city.
Powertrain System Naming Becoming the Rage Earth Dreams may sound a bit hokey to customers, but Honda is not alone in naming their powertrain technologies. Ford has EcoBoost. Toyota has Hybrid Synergy Drive (for its hybrids). Mazda has Skyactiv. Nissan has Pure Drive. Chrysler has Hemi.
The new 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid joins the mid-size sedan hybrid wars with a two-motor hybrid that achieves 50mpg in the city (50 city/45 highway/47 combined). As one of the top selling cars in the USA, the Accord Hybrid has the potential to unseat the present leader Toyota Camry Hybrid (followed by the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid in sales so far in 2013). Accord’s bragging rights are for city fuel economy – highest in the mid-size class at 50mpg. Fusion gets 47mpg in the city (and highway). The best-selling is down on mpg compared with Fusion and Accord – Camry gets 43mpg in the city and 39 on the highway.
I have to admit that I’m rooting for Lincoln. I used to work there and the Lincolns were “my” cars – Lincoln Continental Town Car, Lincoln Continental Town Coupe (yep, there was a Town Coupe in 1981), (eh hem, the Granada/Monarch-based Lincoln Versailles dubbed the “Mini Mark”), the Fox-based Lincoln Continental, and the Lincoln Continental Mark VI Coupe and Mark VI 4-door.
About 20 American journalists and analysts had a chance to drive the Volkswagen XL1 at the Autostadt near Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. Only 20 of the planned 250 vehicles have been completed to date and five were on hand for our drives. A Volkswagen engineer guided each drive through Wolfsburg and even included a short autobahn blast hitting the car’s top speed limited to 160kmh (about 99mph).
261 MPG! The XL1 is very special. First, it looks totally cool and highly aerodynamic. Volkswagen has been developing a car to achieve the European objective of 1 liter of fuel consumed per 100 kilometers driven for over a decade now. This equates to 238mpg using United States gallons. The XL1 actually beats this. It gets 0.9L/100km fuel efficiency (about 261mpg!). With its 10L (2.6-gallons) fuel tank this translates to a cruising range of over 600-miles on a tank of diesel.
How does it do this? A combination of small size, great aerodynamics (Cd=0.189), plug-in-hybrid 2-cylinder turbo-diesel powertrain and a carbon fiber body that weighs only 197lbs. To save weight, VW forgoes an on-board charger – at least for the first 50 in their production run. Adding an on-board charger (which would allow the car to be charged at a public charge station rather than a dedicated charger likely in someone’s garage) would add 8kg (about 18lbs) to the weight of the car. VW is considering adding a charger to the last 200 of the vehicles.
Staggered Seating The seating package uses a trick out of the smart fortwo design. The seat in the two passenger car are staggered with the passenger seated slightly to the rear of the driver so shoulders won’t touch. The XL1 certainly is not spacious, but for a hyper-miler it may be just the ticket. Seeing the XL1 out in traffic reinforces just how small the car has to get to achieve such great fuel consumption. It is tiny. It is about an inch lower than a Lamborghini – and those come up about to your waist. In traffic, it is dwarfed by other cars – even the small VW Polo and Lupo models driving around Wolfsburg. To its credit, and for better aerodynamics, the rear of the body is lengthened and yields a trunk of 4.2 cubic feet – about twice the size of the first generation Mazda Miata.
Advanced Powertrain The XL1 is a rear engine, rear wheel drive car. The diesel is hard-mounted just behind the passenger compartment. Given that location it is very obvious when the diesel kicks in. At least in the early models, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is sacrificed to achieve a total weight of 1723 pounds. The diesel is relatively noisy and with only two cylinders it vibrates quite a bit. The 5.5kw battery pack is mounted in front of the driver and on electric-only power the car will go 31 miles. XL1 uses a DSG (automatic) transmission from VW’s new MQB platform. If you really step on it, the XL1 will achieve a 0-60mph time of 12.7 seconds. With no power steering, the rear engined car is a bit heavy feeling but not objectionable.
Rear View Cameras – a Bit Uncomfortable Probably the most uncomfortable part of driving XL1 is rear visibility. VW has received an exemption from the EU to use rear view cameras instead of outside rear view mirrors. The viewing screens are mounted in the door trim panels just forward of the armrests. You have to look down left or right to see the traffic behind you. Takes a bit to get used to the design. You never really know where the traffic is in your blind spot.