Category Archive:

“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 Honda Civic EPIC!

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2016 Honda Civic F34 VehicleVoice2016 Honda Civic R34 VehicleVoiceCheap and cheerful is gone.  The 2016 Honda Civic sedan has raised the bar for a compact car to new levels.  After realizing that the 9th generation 2012 Civic was a dud, and quickly adding band-aids for 2013, Honda has gotten very, very serious with the all new 10th generation Civic.  In fact, for awhile there the automotive analyst and journalist community was sensing Honda was losing its mojo.  After updates to the Accord, the new Pilot, the HR-V and now the New 2016 Honda Civic, it is clear Honda is back.  Honda’s development name for the new Civic is “EPIC” Civic and it fits.  To achieve this “epicness” Honda benchmarked not only the usual suspects, but also the C-Class entries from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

For reference, the 2016 Honda Civic has 5 basic trim levels:  LX, EX, EX-T(urbo), EX/Leather, Touring.

More Expressive Styling:  While still quickly identified as a Honda, the new Civic is much more expressive than any Civic before it.  The car is larger with a 3.0-inch increase in overall length and a 1.2-inch increase in wheelbase.  The car is 0.8-inches lower and going back to an old Honda trick, its cowl is 1.6-inches lower giving better forward visibility.  The car is lower and wider to give it the look of a more premium car.  The Civic adopts its own version of Honda’s evolving face using an upscale looking grille.   Innovative front lighting gives  the car a unique look.  LED daytime running lights are standard.   The top-of-the-line Touring model has LED headlamps as well.  The bodyside is creased as is today’s fashion with a slight bulge over the front wheels leading to a upper body character line ending in a muscular bulge over the rear wheels.  The C-Pillar has a sharp crease separating the roof from the rear fender.  The standard LED taillamps are huge V-shaped affairs.

2016 Honda Civic Cockpit VehicleVoiceInterior Much, Much More Upscale:  The front edge of the instrument panel sweeps below the windshield in a smooth unbroken arc from A-Pillar to A-Pillar and continue down the door trim panel.  This adds a sense of width to the car.  The instrument panel pad feels very high quality and nowhere near the hard plastic some cars in this class had in the past.  The seats are very comfortable – at least in the EX-L trim level with leather interior – and trimmed in high quality leather.  The instrument cluster includes a digital speedometer surrounded by an analog tachometer.  Nicely done.  Honda has paid a lot of attention to the transformer-like center console.  The conventional shifter is where you would expect, but ahead of the shift lever is an area for your cell phone or iPad mini.  Next to the driver’s knee is the switch for the electronic parking brake.  There is a sliding lid that reveals cupholders and space to hold an iPad.  Since all Civics have keyless start, there is storage for the key in the console.

2016 Honda Civic Instrument Cluster2016 Honda Civic SpeedoTwo Engines – Both Upgrades to Predecessor – Honda’s First Turbo in USA:  The base engine for the 2016 Honda Civic is a 2.0L double overhead cam 4-cylinder with 158-horsepower (the old Civic had a single overhead cam 1.8L 4-cylinder with 143HP).  The upscale engine is Honda’s first turbo in the USA, a 1.5L double overhead cam 4-cylinder turbo with 174-horsepower.  The base engine is available with a 6-speed manual transmission or CVT.  The Turbo is available only with the CVT.   The 2.0L I4 has more power than Corolla, Elantra or Mazda3.  The base Ford Focus with a 2.0L 4-cylinder has 160-horsepower edging out the base Civic by a couple of ponies.  The Turbo is bested by entries like Ford’s 252HP EcoBoost 4-cylinder Turbo in the Focus ST (manual transmission only) and 350-horsepower in the Focus RS, but those are rarefied enthusiast entries, not mainstream like the Civic Turbo will be.

Joins Democratization of Technology Club:  As with many car lines down the price spectrum, Civic now comes with a long list of available technology features capping out with its Honda Sensing system that includes adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning.  Honda Sensing is standard on the top of the line Touring model and optional for $1,000 on the lower spec models.  Even the base LX is pretty well equipped with automatic headlights, auto up/down power windows, ambient interior lighting. LCD color audio system, electronic parking brake and automatic climate control.  You get Lane Watch and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto when you move to the EX model.  When you go the EX-T you get the 174HP Turbo engine, heated seats XM and HD radio and dual zone automatic temperature control.  When you pop for leather, you get an 8-way power driver’s seat.  Touring gets the full package: Honda Sensing, rain sensing wipers, LED headlamps, power passenger seat, navigation.

Driving the Civic Turbo:  Honda is, after all, an engine company and the new 1.5L Turbo shows that.  It has good power to move the car easily.  It is smooth and nicely damped from the interior.  The engine is quiet even when outside the car.  The CVT, a usually reviled transmission type, has been developed to a point where you cannot really tell it’s a CVT. While you expect Honda to provide an outstanding powertrain, it is the solidity, ride, handling and braking that set this Civic apart from its predecessors and many other small cars out there today.  It appears that they implemented many of the lessons learned when benchmarking European luxury car competitors.  It is that good.  No complaints on the dynamics of the car at all.

Pricing:  The base price of the 2016 Honda Civic LX is $18,640 with $835 destination and delivery on top of that.  The top of the line Touring Edition comes in at $26,500 with $835 D&D.  Comparatively, a 2016 Ford Focus S starts at $17,225 with $875 D&D. The Focus S does not have the feature load of the Civic LX.  It lacks a 6-speed manual transmission, automatic climate control and one-touch windows all around.   The Focus Titanium with (almost) all the boxes checked comes in at $26,125 plus $875 D&D.  So from a MSRP standpoint, the two cars are pretty close and Ford dealers are more likely to go for the deal vs. a hot out of the box Civic.

Now for the Nitpicks:  There are, of course, no perfect cars even though Consumer Reports contends the Tesla Model S is better than perfect.  Here are my nits for the Civic.  1)  The steering column adjustment lever is a long reach under the instrument panel.  Even though you might not use it often, it is tough to get to.  2)  Radio volume control is a slide on the touch screen for the audio system.  Might not be too much of a problem once you figure it out, but it would fail the rental car test.  3)  Blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alert is not available.  Honda contends this is not now appropriate for the Civic class of car even though several competitors offer it.  It appears that Honda is depending on Lane Watch to handle this important safety chore, but Lane Watch will not help you pull out from between two Suburbans in a parking lot and warn you of approaching traffic.  Honda used a similar rationale on the Accord where Blind Spot Monitoring is only available on the top of the line. 4)  Honda has lowered the front seats by about 1.5 inches.  This reduces the hip to floor distance, creates a more laid-back driving position and hampers ingress/egress.  The higher seat height in the previous car was better.

Overall:  Great Job on the EPIC Civic. 

 


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Expressive 2016 Lexus RX350 on the Way

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Lexus RX350 SnoutsLexus Spindle Grille Gets Even Bigger  You might have noticed that Lexus products are getting a bit more expressive as the brand tries to broaden its customer base.  A bit more expressive may be an understatement for the new RX350.  The now-trademark Lexus spindle grille goes to new lengths in the 2016 Lexus RX350.  The gaping snout is so large that it impinges on the approach angle of the crossover SUV.  It is gigantic!  This is the fourth generation RX350.  If you can remember back to 1998, the RX350 was the first premium brand crossover SUV.  It started a trend that almost every premium brand has since copied – car-based, unit body, good ride, maneuverable, fuel efficient, quiet, good performance.

The predecessor to the 2016 Lexus RX350 was clearly a derivative of the Toyota Camry/Lexus ES350.  In fact the instrument panel was so plain it looked like it was right out of a Camry.  The styling was essentially characterless, but it remained the top selling Lexus.Bouncy Castle Pentagon Princess buy

2016_Lexus_RX_350_SVNew RX350 Designed to Broaden Appeal  Lexus’ top engineer described the new RX as being derived from the Toyota Highlander, but contends it is dramatically different.  Compared with its predecessor, the new Lexus is about 5-inches longer with a 2-inch longer wheelbase.  The character of the vehicle has been moved up a notch and the 2016 Lexus RX350 looks like it will easily remain the top selling Lexus nameplate.  In addition to the grille, the exterior styling approaches “wild”.  It has a “floating roof” where a black glass panel crosses the D-Pillar to give the impression that the roof hovers above the rear quarters.  There are character lines swooping from the front fenders, the rear quarters, the rocker panels.  Busy, busy, busy.

All of this new “interest” is designed to broaden the appeal of the RX.  Previously, the RX was primarily a woman’s car.  It was a car that took kids to school and to soccer practice and was seen parked in front of the beauty salon.  But the new RX is designed to also appeal to younger males while not turning off the traditional RX buyer.  Brian Bolain, the Lexus Corporate Manager of Marketing, says that research conducted by Toyota Motor Sales confirms that they have met the objectives: 1) keep traditional buyers, 2) attract more males, 3) attract younger buyers, 4) and with the F-Sport attract buyers wanting a more sporty look that is different from the base vehicle.

2016 Lexus RX350 IPIts instrument panel looks like it is out of a Lexus GS350 rather than a Camry.  The ingress/egress is easy.  Visibility is pretty good.  The seats are comfortable.  The interior trim is upgraded compared with its predecessor.  All in all, the 2016 Lexus RX350 comes across as completely new crossover SUV with more distinction inside and out that should appeal to a wider range of buyers.

Power Upgraded  The base vehicle is powered by a 295-horsepower 3.5L V6 engine that operates on either Otto cycle or Atkinson cycle depending on engine loads.  The V6 is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.  The hybrid RX450h has 259-horsepower V6 that when combined with the hybrid motors yields a total 308-horsepower.  The sporty F-Sport package is available on both the RX350 and RX450h. The F-Sport has upgraded interior trip, sports seats, unique grille and exterior ornamentation.  The F-Sport chassis is upgraded and an optional adjustable suspension is available.

Mark Levinson Clari-Fi Premium Audio  As usual, Lexus has teamed with Harman Automotive’s Mark Levinson sound system team for a very high quality premium audio system.  Using Mark Levinson’s Clari-Fi technology, the system analyzes and improves the audio quality of all types of compressed, digital sources like SiriusXM radio or MP3 tracks.  The idea is to fill in the up-to-90% of the original audio content lost through compression.  The system works very well delivering clear, full music, but what would you expect from an 835 watt, 15 speaker/12 location, 10-channel system.

Dynamics – Seamless  Driving the 2016 Lexus RX350 is seamless.  The ride is smooth, handling flat.  Performance is adequate.  It is very quiet in the cabin except when some road surfaces excite the Michelin Ever Grip Technology tires.  Ergonomics are good.  Circling back around to performance.  The F-Sport package is a trim and chassis option only.  There is no performance upgrade with F-Sport.  To really appeal to the younger, more enthusiastic male buyer it would be appropriate for the F-Sport to have power output above the 308-horsepower hybrid.  A 10% power bump from 295 to 325-horsepower would be nice.

The one bitch several members of the media voiced was that a navigation system should be standard on any vehicle base priced over $30,000.  Optional on the 2016 Lexus RX350.

Base price for the 2016 Lexus RX350 will be below $45,000.  The vehicle is still assembled in Cambridge, Ontario.  It will be in dealerships beginning in November 2015.


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2016 Ford Explorer – Major Minor Change

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The 2016 Ford Explorer marks the 25th anniversary of the vehicle line.  When it launched as a 1991 model, the Explorer redefined what a sport utility vehicle should be – it was a high volume SUV with 4-doors (Ford wrongly estimated 4-door sales would be 30% of the mix – later, it became 100%).  7,000,000 sales later, Ford is launching a nicely updated mid-cycle product change.  When the 2016 Ford Explorer launches, most people won’t be able to tell the difference from the present Explorer.  While the vehicle’s sheetmetal ahead of the A-Pillar is all new and the liftgate and taillamps are all new, the differences are subtle to the casual observer. So while the change for 2016 is major, its appearance change is minor.2016 Ford Explorer F34 VehicleVoice2016 Ford Explorer R34 VehicleVoice

 


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2014 Toyota Highlander Wins AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award

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The all new 2014 Toyota Highlander is the highest scoring Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV in AutoPacific’s 2014 Ideal Vehicle Award research. Highlander’s designers, planners and engineers knew what consumers wanted and gave it to them. The Toyota Highlander leads its category against some big name vehicles such as the Ford Explorer, Honda Crosstour, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Equinox, and the Subaru Outback.  The 2014 Toyota Highlander also had a convincing win in its category in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.

Toyota Highlander owners are satisfied with their vehicle and did not want it much different. Of the fifteen categories in the Ideal Vehicle question battery, the Toyota Highlander led in one category and was within three percentage points of four categories.  This shows how close the results were.  Highlander edged out second place Ford Explorer by a nose.

The top five highest ratings by 2014 Toyota Highlander owners are: same wheels, same exterior size, same ride/handling, same passenger room, and same interior lighting as now.

No vehicle is perfect and although the Highlander led in its category there are several things owners would like to change. Owners would like better driver visibility, more advanced information and entertainment system, more interior storage, and more safety features.

AutoPacificIVA Feature copy


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2014 Toyota Highlander Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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The all new 2014 Toyota Highlander is the highest scoring Premium Mid-Sized Crossover SUV in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. The Highlander finished first against some impressive competitors. Behind the Highlander are the following: Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Toyota Venza, and the Dodge Durango.  This is the second year in a row Highlander has won the VSA.  It also won in the last year of its previous model.  Not bad for a “mature” entry.

The 2014 Toyota Highlander leads its category with thirty-one wins and ties out of fifty attributes. The Highlander also is within one tenth of a rating point with ten other categories. This puts the Highlander at the top with forty-one of fifty satisfaction categories – over 80%.

The top ten highest ratings by Toyota Highlander owners are: the vehicle and brand reputation, the perception of reliability and dependability, fun to drive, seating capacity, ease of loading and unloading, durability, vehicle ride, braking, and feeling safe while driving.

AutoPacific’s opinion of the all new 2014 Toyota Highlander is that it is better in all ways than its predecessor, but it follows the Crossover SUV formula pretty closely and does not particularly break any new ground.  One innovative feature is a shelf below the instrument panel spanning the width from the driver’s area to the passenger door.  Also fun are Highlander TV ads featuring Sesame Street characters – a clear attempt to attract families with young children to the vehicle.  “Mom, let’s buy a Highlander!”

AutoPacific VSA Logo Feature


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AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 2014 model year performers are:

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

HIGHEST SATISFACTION PREMIUM BRAND: Lincoln

HIGHEST SATISFACTION POPULAR BRAND: GMC

2014 PASSENGER CAR WINNERS:

Premium Luxury Car

Executive Luxury Car

Aspirational Luxury Car

Luxury Mid-Size Car

Large Car

Mid-Size Car

Premium Compact Car

Compact Car

Economy Car

Sports Car

Sporty Car

Hybrid Car/EV

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Lincoln MKS

BMW 3-Series GT

Lincoln MKZ

Chevrolet Impala

Kia Optima

Mercedes-Benz CLA

Kia Soul

Chevrolet Sonic

Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet Camaro

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

2014 LIGHT TRUCK WINNERS:

Heavy Duty Pickup

Light Duty Pickup

Luxury/Large SUV

Mid-Size SUV

Premium Luxury Crossover SUV

Luxury Crossover SUV

Large Crossover SUV

Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Compact Crossover SUV

Minivan

Ford F-Series Super Duty

GMC Sierra

Infiniti QX80

Jeep Grand Cherokee

BMW X5

Cadillac SRX

GMC Acadia

Toyota Highlander

Nissan Rogue

Hyundai Tucson

Honda Odyssey


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Honda Insight Killed, CR-Z Next?

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2001 Honda Insight

2001 Honda Insight

2nd Generation Honda Insight Fails The Honda Insight began life as a hardcore hybrid with futuristic styling.  It was so revolutionary, different looking and so purpose-built it never sold in satisfactory volumes.  The first Insight was a pure commuter car with extremely slippery aerodynamics.  There was no rear seat and the body tapered off into a teardrop shape.  The rear wheels were covered bodywork to improve aerodynamics.  The Insight actually beat the Toyota Prius hybrid to the market, but once the Prius launched, the Insight was blown into the weeds.  The Prius was more practical, had better performance and got competitive fuel economy.  No wonder the Insight failed.  After a hiatus, Honda launched the second generation Insight in 2009 as a 2010 model vehicle.  While the 2nd generation Insight was a better attempt, its sales peaked at 21,000 units in 2009 and 2010 before dropping to below 5,000 units in 2013.  A key aspect of the Insight is how poorly it fared in AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  The Insight was always in the bottom ten of the ratings out of more than 200 vehicles sold in the USA.  Low sales and poor satisfaction do not make for a viable business case.  The car simply did not meet buyers’  expectations and Honda dealers had a hard time moving them.


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2014 Toyota Highlander – Meeting Competition

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2014 Toyota Highlander F782014 Toyota Highlander R78Don’t Call it a “Crossover”  Like Ford and other makers, Toyota has largely abandoned the distinction between “traditional” and “crossover” sport utility vehicles.  “It was confusing our customers,” said Bill Fay, Group Vice President of the Toyota Brand.  Now, Toyota refers to both under the “mid-size sport utility vehicle umbrella”.  This might seem to be a small thing, but for decades (at least since 1997 when unibody “crossovers” began appearing) automakers have been making this distinction.  The customers largely did not know or care about the difference, they just bought the emerging crossovers in droves.

Toyota’s Two-Tier Mid-Size SUV Strategy  With the introduction of the 2014 Toyota Highlander, Toyota continues with a two tier mid-size SUV strategy.  The unibody 8-pasenger Highlander goes into its third generation with the 2014 model year entry in production since early December, 2013.  The body-on-frame 4Runner appeals to the traditional SUV buyer needing more off-road capability and towing ability.  Fay says, “these are totally different buyers and the 4Runner and Highlander are seldom cross-shopped with each other.

For 2014, the Highlander gets more aggressive styling, a more upscale interior and a price bump of about $1,500.  A lot of that price increase is offset by the Highlander having more standard equipment.

2014 Toyota Highlander F-Seat2014 Toyota Highlander CockpitInterior Moves Upscale  Toyota’s designers and engineers clearly devoted a lot of attention to the instrument panel.  It is a neat piece of automotive sculpture with the most up to date technology.  The base vehicle comes with a 6.1-inch touch screen.  When you get to the XLE and Limited models an 8-inch touchscreen is fitted.

A “why didn’t I think of that?” design feature is a shelf running beneath the center stack and below the glove box.  This padded shelf is the perfect place to set your smartphone while driving.  There is a slot in the shelf that allows a cord to be connected to the USB port to power the phone and connect it to the Toyota Entune app system.

The seat trim is typical Toyota.  In leather versions

The feature availability on the Highlander is impressive.  Features like adaptive cruise control, cross traffic warning, dynamic grid lines in the rear camera are just a few examples of Highlander (and many other middle- and low-market vehicles) offering features once found only on luxury entries.

Comprehensive Model Offerings  There are three basic powertrain offerings for the Highlander.  The price-leader LE (about $29,200) 185-horsepower 2.7L  DOHC 4-cyinder is perfectly adequate for around town driving in the Sun Belt.  If you do not need all wheel drive and don’t need to tow, the 4-cylinder would suffice, but you probably won’t find one at your Toyota store.  It will be 5% to 10% of the available Highlanders.

The bread-and-butter Highlander is powered by a 3.5L DOHC V6 making 270-horsepower.  This is the engine that about 90% of Highlanders will get.  It works sell in front wheel drive (with a good amount of torque steer under full throttle) and is required with all wheel drive (about of 60% of Highlanders will be AWD).  The 3.5L DOHC V6 is available on the base LE model for an additional $1,305.  Add all wheel drive to the V6 version and you increase the price by another $1,460.

The middle of the lineup includes the LE Plus for $32,740 for the front wheel drive version.  The front drive XLE model goes for $36,040 and the Limited goes for $39,640.

Hybrid Tops the Lineup  At the top of the line is the Highlander Hybrid making 280-horsepower with its Atkinson cycle 3.5L DOHC V6.  The Hybrid is available in the Limited trim level and is priced at $47,300.  Driving the Hybrid on the hilly roads around Carmel, California we saw about 30mpg – in line with its rated fuel economy.  The throttle effort on the Hybrid was high making it difficult to accelerate with traffic without really getting into it.  Maybe that is because Toyota wants you to drive the Hybrid like you have an egg between your foot and the accelerator pedal.

Evolutionary Improvements Meet Competition  All-in-all, the 3rd gen Highlander is an evolutionary, but substantial, improvement over its predecessor.  Toyota describes the Highlander as “Beyond Hero” in the SUV segment meaning it overachieves when compared to competition.  They also describe its development as “without compromise”.  It does not meet those lofty phrases, and although there are no WOW factors (with the exception of an absolutely gargantuan front seat center console), it will be a steady seller filling an important slot in Toyota’s lineup.  Toyota expects to sell about 140,000 units a year in the USA from its Princeton, Indiana assembly plant while sending another 10,000 to 15,000 overseas to another 20 countries.


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Honda Accord Hybrid – 50mpg City – A Halloween Treat

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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.

2014 Accord Hybrid F34


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