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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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All New Honda CR-V Impressive Re-Incarnation

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

New Honda CR-V FV VV

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

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

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

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

Nwq Honda CR-V F34 VV

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

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

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

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

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


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Auto Industry is Ahead of Fuel Economy Technology

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The Midterm Evaluation of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards report issued in July 2016 by the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) set the stage for comments on 2022-2025 CAFE standards.  The comment period ends on September 30, 2016 and some congressional leaders have asked for a further 60 day extension to receive comment.  Reading the details of the report is very enlightening and has largely been overlooked by the media.

Fuel Economy to Double from 2012 to 2025  In the rules established in 2012, fuel economy is to double by 2025 and green house gas emissions are to be cut in half.  This would save 12 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of 2012-2025 model year cars and light trucks and save consumers billions of dollars in fuel costs.

Report Under-Estimates Truck Percentage of Light Vehicle Market  At the time the initial rules were set, the truck mix was assumed to be 33% of the light vehicle fleet.  Given today’s low gas prices and the popularity of crossover SUVs, the light truck mix is over 60% of the market today and is projected to grow to over two thirds of the market by 2020.  In the Midterm Evaluation the government agencies show the highest truck mix to be 52% with low fuel prices continuing.  If fuel prices return to peak levels seen during the last decade (not projected), the light truck mix is assumed to be 38%.  Given the reality of the market, both of these estimates are conservative and very low.

Automakers Ahead of Schedule in Meeting Future CAFE Requirements  To date, the Midterm Evaluation concludes “auto manufacturers have over-complied with the program”.  This is a surprising statement from agencies that often accuse the industry with foot dragging in fuel efficiency and safety technologies.  They note that “fuel economy technologies are entering the market at rapid rates” and that the costs of adding these technologies have not been as high as estimated back in 2012.

Consumers Have Accepted Enhanced Powertrains  The report also notes that consumer acceptance of advanced fuel efficiency technology has largely been positive.  Ford’s EcoBoost turbocharged powertrain technologies have been well accepted (and strongly advertised).  Stop/Start technology is becoming more accepted according to AutoPacific’s consumer research.  Stop/Start shuts the engine off when stopped and then restarts the engine immediately when the accelerator is applied.  Some Stop/Start systems are seamless.  Others are rough on start-up. As the systems improve acceptance will improve.

Enhanced Gasoline Powertrains Can Meet 2025 CAFE Standards  To meet 2025 CAFE requirements, the agencies identify several technologies that will play an important part.  Most are enhancements to gasoline powertrains.  Tops on the list are transmissions with 8-speeds or more (70%) .  General Motors and Ford are working together to develop multi-speed transmissions.  More engines will be turbocharged (54%).  Stop/Start will become more commonplace (38%).  The most interesting fact is the report assumes less than 2% of the vehicle fleet will be full electric vehicles and less than 1% will be a plug-in hybrid.  Mild hybrids are estimated to be 14% and full hybrids will be 14% to meet 2025 CAFE.  There is only passing mention of fuel cell vehicles.

Substantial Cost Increases to Meet Future CAFE Standards  Improving fuel economy is not free.  Back in 2012, cost increases of over $3,000 per vehicle were estimated to meet 2025 standards. The cost is now estimated by the agencies to be around $1,250 (over a 2021MY vehicle).  Nowhere in the report does it mention how much the cost to get from 2012 to 2021 is.  The report estimates that meeting the 2022 to 2025 standards will increase lifetime vehicle costs by $87 billion.  This is estimated to be offset by fuel savings of $120 billion and other benefits of $55 billion.  The net benefit is estimated to be $88 billion.  Like many government reports, the arithmetic is vague and the conclusions are shaky.

AutoPacific’s bi-monthly Fuel Price Impact Study shows that consumers are not particularly willing to spend more for a vehicle that is more environmentally friendly.  Consumers also say that their present vehicle is clean enough and the focus should be on cleaning up other sources of pollution.  The Midterm Evaluation does not mention that there has been any research conducted to determine consumers’ willingness to pay substantially more for higher fuel economy vehicles.

Plug-In Electric Vehicles Not Needed to Meet Federal CAFE  Perhaps the most interesting conclusion in the report is that plug-in electric vehicles are not needed to meet the Federal 2025 CAFE standards.  This is not welcome news to Tesla’s Elon Musk or Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn.  The primary reason electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) will impact the overall vehicle fleet are to satisfy California’s mandate for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) in the fleet.  California’s regulations also are shared with northeastern states.

Even Tougher Standards in the Future?  The report is very complimentary of the auto industry’s progress in adopting enhanced technologies to meet future fuel economy requirements.  While some might hope that this would lead to a reduction in future standards, it might result in even tougher fuel economy goals.


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The Quail 2016… A Motorsports Gathering

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The Quail VehicleVoiceThis is the second time I have attended The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering and it did not disappoint.  Held at The Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel, California, the event drew 5,000 attendees.  Cars and motorsports are supposed to be the highlight of the event, but food, drink and people are even more interesting.  The attendees were enthusiasts, collectors, owners and motorsports personalities.  Some of the vehicles on display had their owners hovering nearby.  Other vehicles had their attendants close to make sure spectators did not touch them.   Some of the restorers had worked on the cars for years and were bringing them out in public for the first time since the restoration was complete.  Getting more popular all the time are “barn finds”.  These are vehicles that have not been restored to a level never even attained from the factory.  They have their fifty, sixty, seventy or eighty year patina intact.

There were over 250 vehicles to gaze at.  Most were luxury and sporting marques like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Rolls Royce, Bentley.  One of the highlights was the new Bugatti Chiron in a deep French blue with a highly chromed character line sweeping up the A-Pillar along the door and then down and back forward towards the front fender.  Very dramatic.  Framing the Chiron was a “sea” of Bugatti Veyrons in a rainbow of colors.

Bugatti Chiron VehicleVoiceBugatti Sea VehicleVoiceWhile The Quail is an event for individuals to showcase their vehicles, corporate displays seem to be on the upswing as well.  Bugatti showcased the Chiron.  Bentley showed off the Bentayga and the new Mulsanne.  Acura was there celebrating 30 years on the market.  BMW was celebrating its 100th Anniversary.  Cadillac was featuring its CTS-V.  Alfa Romeo featured the 4C and upcoming Guilia sedan.  Singer, the classic Porsche upfitter, had a small display and a large crowd.

Bolus VehicleVoiceMy favorite display was the Bowlus travel trailer hitched to a Bentley Bentayga.  This all-aluminum $219,000 travel trailer is reminiscent of an aluminum Airstream but is totally high tech.  The Bowlus folks say you can live off the grid for two weeks in their travel trailer and be totally comfortable.

The Quail is a signature event for Peninsula Hotels.  Six Peninsula hotels had a spectacular pavilion with gourmet food appropriate from their cities – Bangkok, Beijing, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Paris, and New York.  Most people probably couldn’t get through all six pavilions.  While all six of the Peninsula pavilions were outstanding, perhaps the best was Beijing with great food and music to set the ambiance for a truly luxurious experience.


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Genesis G90 – Genesis Flagship – Worthy Premium Luxury Competitor?

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2017 Genesis G90 F34 VVThe Genesis G90 is the flagship of the new Genesis lineup.  It will be on the market in September, 2016.  Genesis is positioning the G90 against the top-of-the line Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus sedans.  The question is can it compete?

Size is Competitive with Lexus, Mercedes, BMW  From a size perspective, the Genesis G90 is within inches of its competitors.  It is a bit bigger than the Lexus LS460.  It is about the same size as the Lexus LS460L, however.  That is the extended length LS.  It is a couple of inches shy in wheelbase and overall length to the BMW 7-Series.  It is a couple of inches shorter than the Mercedes S-Class.  Its interior volume is a bit bigger than the S-Class.  Let’s call it a toss up when looking at size.

Powertrain Choices – Base V6 TT with Optional V8  The base Genesis G90 powertrain is a 3.3L Twin-Turbo GDI (gasoline direct injected) V6 with 365 horsepower and 376 lb.ft. of torque.  About 80% of G90 volume will be the V6.  Base-to-base, G90 loses to the competition with standard V8s.  Lexus’ 4.6L V8 has 386 horsepower.  The Mercedes 4.7L bi-turbo V8 has 449 horsepower.  But Genesis’ V6 has more horsewpower than BMW’s base 3.0L Twin-Turbo V6 that has 320 horsepower. The optional Genesis engine is the 5.0L GDI V8 with 420 horsepower and 383 lb.ft of torque.  The BMW 750i with its 4.4L Twin-Turbo V8 has 445 horsepower.  So Genesis’ V8 is a bit below the German V8s.

So what?  The Genesis G90 with the Twin-Turbo V6 performs very well.  Teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission, the G90 has excellent performance.  Power is delivered smoothly and continuously.  The powertrain is seamless and unobtrusive.  There are only two options – V8 and All wheel drive.  Driving the V6 with both rear and all wheel drive, we did not feel any noticeable difference.  It wasn’t snowing.

Genesis planners want to have an interior that is “whisper quiet” and the NVH of the car delivers.  The interior is quiet.  Conversation is easy at any speed.

Rumor has it that Hyundai called in Lotus Engineering to help fine tune the G90s suspension.  True or not, the suspension feels biased towards a German feel – purposeful and taut.  It is not the cushy, absorbent feel provided by the Lexus LS.  Handling is stable with little body lean.  Nothing not to like.

On the Road to Autonomous Driving  The Genesis G90 is loaded with standard driver assist and safety features.  Many standard features on the G90 are in optional packages on the competition.  As more and more is being written about autonomous driving, the G90 has some features that qualify.  With standard adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist the G90 can cruise in heavy traffic pretty much autonomously.  But, if the driver has their hands off the wheel for longer than 13-seconds, the car insists you touch the wheel again.

I found the lane keeping assist pretty accurate on twisty mountain roads in British Columbia, but there were a couple of times the car was obviously going to overshoot a lane marker and I had to take over.  I would be confident in using this in heavy Los Angeles Freeway gridlock, but would stay attentive when on the twisties.

Base Pricing Guess – $65,000 – $70,000  Genesis is not ready to divulge pricing for the G90 yet.  As brands usually say at a press event prior to introduction, pricing will be set closer to the release date.  But the pricing of the competition can show the general area the G90 will be priced.  The more-powerful V8-only S-Class has a base price of $95,650.  G90 will not be that high.  The less powerful in-line 6-cylinder BMW is priced at $81,500.  A 750i V8 is priced at $97,600.  The lowest priced facing competitor is the Lexus LS at $72,520.  But lets look at the Genesis sister ship the G80.  The G80 starts at $41,400 with a 311-horsepower 3.8L V6.  Check all the boxes and you get the G80 up to $50,350.  The V8 G80 is $54,550 fully equipped.  Any guess at what the base price for a rear wheel drive G90 with the V6 would be?  Our guess is the base price will be between $65,000 and $70,000.  For a V8 G90 with All Wheel Drive?  Maybe $75,000.  I could be high.


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New Genesis Brand – Bbalee Bbalee

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Image Source: Genesis Motors USA

Image Source: Genesis Motors USA

The new Genesis brand of luxury vehicles has been launched with Hyundaispeed!  Bbalee!  Bbalee!  Quick, quick in Korean.

Finally, Hyundai Launches a Luxury Brand  After years of deliberation, argument, and negotiation, Hyundai has launched the new Genesis brand.  Hyundai officially announced the new Genesis brand in November 2015.  Erwin Raphael was appointed head of Genesis in March 2016.  The new Genesis brand goes public in September, 2016.  That is quick – bbalee, bbalee!

In reality, the new Genesis brand is not a big deal.  The brand will have only six vehicles by 2021.  This does not approach the dozens of models offered by Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.

But wait.  That is wrong, Genesis is a BIG DEAL!  Genesis is the only luxury car brand launched after 1990 that has a deep pockets major manufacturer behind it.  Tesla, launched in 2004, is questionably viable in the long term.

Hyundai has decided after years of consideration that a stand-alone luxury brand is a BIG DEAL.  The resources of Hyundai are committed to guarantee its success.  Hyundai presently has about 835 dealers in the United States.  The new Genesis brand will launch with about 300.  These have been selected with great care.  The Genesis Institute will train dealer salespeople across the country.

Aggressive Launch Marketing  The new Genesis brand launches with all guns blazing.  Genesis launches as the luxury car sponsor for the National Football League.  They are the sponsor for the Los Angeles Open golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club.  These sponsorships are sure to make a splash.  By early 2017, awide cross-section of American car buyers will know Genesis as a brand.  They will know Genesis now exists as a brand rather than just a few car lines resting atop the Hyundai Motor America lineup.  This will get the new Genesis brand and the two vehicles it will initially have to sell – the G90 and G80 – on the radar of people who have money to spend on their next new vehicle.

While Genesis vehicles promise to be outstanding, the brand’s commitment to its customers is a cornerstone of its existence.  Genesis wants to take the customer experience to a whole new level beyond Lexus, Mercedes and BMW.

Respect for Time  Respect for the Genesis Customers’ time is of paramount importance.  Time is precious and cannot be replaced.  So lets call this the Genesis “Respect Initiative”.  Tthe features of this “respect initiative,” hovever, last only for 3-years and 36,000 miles.  The 3/36 commitment results from Genesis management estimates that up to 80% of Genesis vehicles will be leased and the majority of those leases will be for 3-years and 36,000 miles.  During the “respect period” Genesis owners/lessees will get full maintenance, valet service, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, navigation map updates, 24/7 roadside assistance with concierge service, and Genesis Connected Services.  It would not be a surprise if Genesis has a comprehensive CPO (certified pre-owned used car) program in place by the time the first vehicles come off lease that would extend the “Respect Period” for subsequent owners.

Genesis Uses Hyundai’s In-House Advertising Agency – Innocean  While Genesis is a stand-alone brand, it accelerated its launch by using Innocean as its advertising agency.  Innocean is owned by Hyundai and also handles advertising for Hyundai brand vehicles.  By using Innocean, Genesis gets a known quantity without lengthy reviews to select from numerous agencies vying for the job through lengthy and expensive reviews.  Also, there is likely a “family discount” for using the in-house agency in there somewhere.

When asked by an advertising-savvy media member how the new Genesis brand will target its buyers after the NFL and LA Open hoopla, Genesis and their agency will “respectfully” target anyone who can afford to buy their cars.  Genesis head Erwin Raphael contends they have no specific target buyer in mind – no age range, gender, or ethnicity.  They are just targeting the ability to pay a certain lease fee for their G90 and G80 sedans.  And after the brand is launched with heavy advertising and sponsorships, specific groups will be emphasized using Internet messaging and social media.

Product is the Foundation Leading to The Genesis Customer Experience  Presently, there are six vehicles planned for the Genesis lineup.  There are four cars and two SUVs.  The G80 luxury sedan is on sale now.  It is a 5-Series/E-Class competitor.  The all new G90 (formerly Hyundai Equus) luxury sedan goes on sale in September.  It is a competitor to the Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series.  Later comes a BMW 3-Series competitor – the Genesis G70.  Then a near luxury sport coupe is launched.   There will be a mid-luxury sport utility vehicle and a near luxury SUV.  Frankly, they cannot get these SUVs on the market quickly enough.

Based on driving the G90 and G80, Genesis products promise to give the best entries in the competitive set a solid run for their money.  Initially, they will be value propositions.  You will get more features and content for your money.  Such a deal!


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AutoPacific 2016 Ideal Vehicle Award

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AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle AwardAutoPacific surveys new car and light truck buyers annually to determine how satisfied they are with their vehicle and what changes they want made.  Based on this owner research, AutoPacific calculates the vehicles that owners want changed the least.  The people who have purchased the vehicle are the people it was designed for.  The data result in the AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award.  Every year there are some results that stand out.  The 2016 awards are no different.  Here are some highlights:

•  The top brand overall is Tesla – a one car brand at the time of the research, but that one car is on target with its buyers.  The Tesla Model S is the top ranked Luxury Car.

•  The top popular brand is GMC – for the third year in a row.

•  The most ideal vehicle, overall, is the Volvo XC70.

•  Subaru swept the crossover SUV categories in which it competes with the Outback winning the Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV category, the Forester winning the Mid-Size SUV category and the Crosstrek winning the Compact Crossover SUV category.  That is a very impressive sweep.

Multiple year winners include:

•  Jeep Grand Cherokee – winning the last six years in a row

•  Volkswagen Golf – winning the last three years in a row and six of the last ten years

•  Chevrolet Colorado – for the second year in a row

•  Subaru Outback – for the second year in a row

•  Subaru Forester – for the second year in a row

That Tesla has won so early in its lifetime is a testament to its planning, design and engineering teams.  Maybe Tesla does not have the bureaucracy that bogs down bigger companies and allows it to effectively target the affluent buyers of its first vehicle.

Jeep has been fine-tuning the Grand Cherokee since the early 1990s.  The fact that it has won the Ideal Vehicle Award for six years in a row shows that Jeep really does know what Grand Cherokee owners want.

The string of Ideal Vehicle Awards won by the Volkswagen Golf over the past ten years is impressive.

Finally, Subaru has solved the equation of successful small and mid-size crossover SUVs.  Subaru sales have been steadily increasing and the Ideal Vehicle Award wins show the company understands crossover SUVs.  Of course their “LOVE” advertising and dog-centric messages don’t hurt either.


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Infiniti QX30 – Infiniti Joins Small Luxury XSUV Battle

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2017 Infiniti QX30 - VehicleVoice

Image by: George Peterson

Infiniti QX30 Launched  One of the fastest growing product segments is the Luxury Small Crossover SUV (XSUV) category.  Infiniti has been a bit late to the party as there are already 33 small XSUVs on the market.  Eight of those are luxury brand XSUVs:  the Acura RDX has been out since 2013 in its second incarnation, Audi Q3 out since 2014, BMW X1 out since 2014, Land Rover Discovery Sport out since 2016, Lexus NX200t out since 2015, Lincoln MKC out since 2015, Mercedes GLA since 2015, Range Rover Evoque out since 2012.  Launch of the Infiniti QX30, while a bit late, pretty much has every brand in the fray.

Infiniti enters the fray with the Infiniti QX30, making it the 34th member in the small XSUV market and 9th luxury brand XSUV.  Remember, QX is the Infiniti nomenclature for SUVs whether they are body-on-frame SUVs (QX80) or crossover SUVs (QX70, QX60, QX50).  Infiniti cars carry names that begin with a simple “Q”.

All USA QX30s Classified as Trucks  The Infiniti QX30 is a highly styled small crossover available in front wheel drive and all wheel drive powertrain configurations.  In other markets the all drive model is called “Q30” indicating Infiniti is classifying it as an hatchback car.  In the USA, both versions are classified as trucks.

Dramatic Infiniti Design Cues Differentiate QX30   The Infiniti QX30 is sporty and curvaceous like most Infiniti models.  It has bulging front fenders sweeping back and down with a strong character line.  Infiniti decribes the character lines as “dramatic and turbulent”.  The windshield is very fast flowing into a steeply dropping roofline. The front end is instantly recognizable as an Infiniti with its unique “double-arch” grille.  In the side view, Infiniti’s signature crescent-shaped C-pillar further differentiates the vehicle.  There is a lot going on there, but it works very well in this small XSUV.

Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes GLA Share Platform  To keep the investment in line the Infiniti QX30 is assembled in Sunderland, England alongside the Mercedes-Benz GLA.  QX30 and GLA share platforms, but Infiniti has loaded its entry with all the latest high tech electronic gadgetry available.

Engine Power at the Low End of Competitive Range  The 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine is shared with the GLA and is manufactured by Daimler in Kolleda, Germany.  Power output is 208 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque.  Compared with other luxury XSUVs this power output is anemic.  Driving the QX30, the performance is adequate, even pleasant, but a power output of between 230 and 240 horsepower would be more expected from an engine with these specifications.

The engine is mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.


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Super Duty – Ford’s Super Capable 2017 Pickups

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Ford’s F-Series Super Duty pickups are all new for the 2017 model year.  The Super Duty line includes the F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 heavy duty pickups.

All-New For Real  The term all new here is an actual fact because the last time the Super Duty was all new was over a decade ago.  The high volume F-150 light duty full size pickup was all new and all aluminum for 2016.  The Super Duty follows a year later, but Ford says the product update cadence should be shorter for both the F-150 and the Super Duties in the future.

2017 Ford F-250 Super Duty King Ranch

Image by: George Peterson

Borrows from F-150, Then Goes on Steroids  For this iteration the Super Duty pickups share the aluminum cabs of the F-150 – regular cab, Super Cab and Crew Cab.  Each of these cabs is longer than that on the old Super Duty.  Then everything changes.  The front end styling is very different, tougher and stronger looking than the pretty darn strong looking F-150.  The pickup box is upgraded to handle the more severe workload of a vehicle designed for construction crews and trailer towing.  The fully-boxed frame has been substantially upgraded with the center section frame rails 1.5 inches taller than previously.

Venerable Twin-I-Beam Suspension Retained and Upgraded  The Twin-I-Beam front suspension has been upgraded and remains a very important Super Duty unique selling proposition.  According to Doug Scott, head of Ford truck marketing, there was a lot of discussion about retaining the venerable, but very strong Twin-I-Beam front suspension.  There was one contingent within Ford that wanted a more contemporary front suspension similar to Chevrolet Silverado.   But buyers of the Super Duty rely on the over-designed Twin-I-Beam for durability in extreme abuse situations.  Super-computer simulations of the suspension design have eliminated the quirkiness of the previous set-up that tended to wander a bit on the open road.

Unique Interior  Although the Super Duty shares the F-150’s cabs, the interior in the Super Duty is unique to the line.  The “Active Motion” seats are designed for heavier duty application and long seat time.  They are comfortable for hours on the road.  The instrument panel is unique and much more industrial looking than in the F-150.  There is a wide center console that can accommodate files or a laptop computer.  The console top is an armrest in normal driving or a desk when necessary.

Feature Laden  The list of available advanced features is an arm long.  Most would be expected in an up-market car, but in a heavy duty pickup they are extraordinary.  Super Duty gets Sync 3 available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  There is a 360-degree camera set-up that is extremely useful when parking or off-roading.  Activating the camera allows you to see the obstacles near the vehicle and avoid them.  The Super Duty can have as many as SEVEN cameras.  Lane departure warning, blind spot information and adaptive cruise control systems are available.  Adaptive steering is available that adjusts the steering ratio based on driver input.

Powerful Power Stroke Diesel is the Volume Engine Choice  The available powertrains include the second generation Power Stroke diesel that will be the high volume engine.  The 6.7L V8 diesel has 440-horsepower and 920 lb. ft. of torque.  That’s right – 920 lb. ft.  The diesel is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The diesel pulls, and pulls, and pulls.  There is a 6.2L V8 gas engine with 385-horsepower and 430 lb. ft. of torque.  On chassis-cab models Ford’s 6.8L V10 is available.

Driving the Super Duty  The Super Duty is a delight to drive for such a big truck.  The 4×4 King Ranch F-250 Crew Cab (~$78,000) was easy to drive and easy to maneuver if you have a lot of space.  The unloaded ride was good depending on road surface.  Because of the stiff 4×4 suspension the ride over choppy roads was a bit uncomfortable.  The power of the 6.7L Power Stroke diesel was very impressive.


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2017 Fiat 124 Spider – Japanese Roadster with Italian Flair

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider F34 450Fiat Turns to Mazda for Iconic Sports Car  About 50 years after first launching the Fiat 124 Spider in the United States, Fiat is launching a new Spider in Summer 2016.  The last time the Fiat 124 Spider was sold in the USA was in 1983.  To gain a desirable roadster without having to develop the car themselves, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) turned to Mazda.

Fiat wants the 124 Spider to re-establish the sporty image of the brand and communicate “fun, joyous and optimistic” motoring.

Basically, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a reskinned Mazda Miata propelled by a Fiat MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine.

Unique Exterior Styling  Take the outstanding Mazda MX-5 Miata and breathe Italian-ness on it and you have the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider.  With the rear wheel drive Mazda roadster platform as a base, Fiat has done an excellent job differentiating their little roadster from the Miata.   The proportions are definitely Miata, but the Fiat body is 5.5-inches longer with much of the length increase going to the trunk.  The exterior styling is different, maybe a bit more upscale looking.  The front end has a hexagonal grille with a honeycomb mesh flanked by styled headlamps.  It has a friendly face.  The rear has sharp horizontal LED taillamps.  Both the front and rear designs are reminiscent of the original 124 Spider.

Minor Interior Differentiation  The interior is lifted directly from the Miata with material upgrades here and there.  The seats are very comfortable and supportive with a unique sew style.  Two seat trim colors are available, black and saddle.  The saddle seat trim is very upscale looking and radio speakers in the headrests are a nice touch.  The interior has been optimized for quietness.  Being a roadster, wind buffeting can be a real problem, so care was taken in the windshield header and side window design to minimize buffeting at speed.  The top is one of the best features of the Fiat 124 Spider.  It can be opened or closed with one hand from either front seat.  Brilliant!

Unique Turbo Engine from Italy  The Fiat 124 Spider is powered by Fiat’s 1.4L MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine with 160-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque.  The engine block has been modified for longitudinal installation in the platform and to mate with Mazda’s excellent 6-speed manual transmission and 6-speed automatic transmission.

The suspension has been tuned a bit differently and the ride seems a bit more supple than on the Miata.  Handling is crisp as befits the short wheelbase.

Pricing Essentially Equivalent with Miata  There are three trim levels:  Classica, Lusso and Abarth.  There is also a 124 unit special edition car at launch – Prima Edizione Lusso (check all the boxes, unique blue color = $35,000).  The base Classica model is priced at $24,995 with the 6-speed manual transmission.  Destination charges are $995.  About 60% of the Fiat 124 Spider buyers are expected to opt for the automatic transmission that adds $1,350 to the price.  The volume model likely will be the $27,495 Lusso model that adds automatic headlamps, fog lamps, rain sensing wipers, automatic temperature control, leatherette and piano black instrument panel inserts, and 7-inch touch screen.  Selecting the sportiest Abarth model is $28,195.  When compared with the Miata, Lusso seems like a deal compared with the Miata Grand Touring ($31,270) except the Grand Touring Miata is fully loaded.  To get that level of equipment on the Fiat 124 Spider adds another $3,795 to the price putting the Fiat only $20 higher than the Miata (Fiat destination charge is $160 higher than Mazda – puts actual price difference at $180 higher than Miata).


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