Posts By: stephwillems

By on August 18, 2017

UAW-Chrysler National Training Centre (Norwood Jewell on left), Image: UAW-Chrysler National Training Center

On the surface, the UAW-Chrysler National Training center is a facility offering a helping hand to blue-collar workers looking to improve their employability. But the widening spending scandal involving former top brass at both the union and automaker has exposed a previously unknown use for the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles-funded NTC: a trough of cash at which to gorge oneself.

Two weeks after former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles financial analyst Jerome Durden, indicted for funnelling $4.5 million in training center funds to other execs, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, the scandal has spread to existing execs.

The Detroit News reports current United Auto Workers Vice President Norwood Jewell (seen above, on left) became the recipient of some of those funds in the form of a high-powered gift: a $2,180 shotgun. (Read More…)

By on August 17, 2017

EcoBoost Mustang Burnout, Ford Motor Co.

If you believe certain segments of the media, we’ll soon be able to avoid the drudgery of turning a steering wheel, pressing and releasing pedals, and — gasp! — shifting gears.

The inevitable onset of self-driving vehicles, tech aficionados and urbanists tell us, will bring traffic fatalities down to zero, somehow remove all congestion from the road, and turn our lives into a never-ending sojourn of blissful tranquility. Never again will you take that aimless and unprogrammed late-night drive, just for the hell of it. Never again will you bother with buying and owning a car. Automakers will simply turn their driverless cars loose, emptying driveways while filling streets with hands-off ride-sharing pods.

Not so fast, says Ford’s newly minted CEO. (Read More…)

By on August 17, 2017

2017-hyundai-next-gen-fuel-cell-suv, Image: Hyundai

Hyundai isn’t about to let Tesla hog all the eco glory. The automaker has announced a near-term roadmap for green vehicle production, promising 31 hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and fuel cell models by 2020, shared between the Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis brands.

Having already joined the fray with its compact Ioniq, offered in hybrid, plug-in, and EV flavors, the company wants a larger presence in the fledgling (but growing) EV scene. To this end, it’s planning long-range, high-end EVs built on a dedicated platform, as well as a much-needed crossover that dispenses with gas stations altogether. The Kona, which arrives in the U.S. in gas-powered guise this winter, serves as a body donor.

Will a 242-mile electric crossover give Elon Musk reason to sweat? (Read More…)

By on August 16, 2017

2017 Honda Civic hatchback - Image: Honda

The lifespan of an average car-model usually lasts a half-decade before the automaker shells out for a full redesign, unless it’s a Nissan Frontier or Lincoln Navigator. That’s more or less the rule at Honda when it comes to the top-selling compact car in North America, the Civic.

While the eighth-generation Civic soldiered on for a lengthy six years, Honda sold the preceding seventh, sixth, fifth, and fourth versions of the model for either four or five years. Thanks to a boring design and lackluster reviews, the automaker spirited the ninth-gen model off of dealer lots after just four years, but not before adding extra content and style via an emergency 2013 model year refresh.

We’re now hearing the current generation — larger than ever before, radically redesigned for 2016, and a sales leader in a shrinking segment — won’t see a full redesign until the 2022 model year. That’s a six-year stretch. A stretch where automakers will be scrambling to hold on to compact-car market share in a land flush with small crossovers. (Read More…)

By on August 16, 2017

FCA Brampton Assembly Line Challenger & 300 - Image: FCA

After a bombshell report stated multiple Chinese automakers are courting Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in the interests of a buyout, the country’s most well known manufacturer says it wasn’t the one making an offer.

Geely Automotive, an unknown entity until its parent holding company’s 2010 purchase of Ford castoff Volvo Cars, claims it isn’t planning a takeover of the Italian-American automaker. However, it’s not like Geely’s parent company doesn’t have deep pockets. Surely there’s roughly $20 billion in clanky bits somewhere in those trousers.

Still, a source claims Zhejiang Geely Holding Group did hold preliminary talks with FCA late last year. (Read More…)

By on August 15, 2017

2018 Jeep Wrangler, Image: Reddit

Someone at Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Toledo, Ohio, assembly complex might be in trouble. That’s assuming management pins down the person who whipped out a phone while a next-generation Jeep Wrangler Unlimited sat exposed on the plant floor. (We’re assuming it’s Toledo, for obvious reasons.)

A photograph posted to Reddit this morning, clearly shot in a hasty manner as workers line both sides of the vehicle, shows part of the 2018 Wrangler — a.k.a. the JL/JLU Wrangler. It’s a vehicle at the center of an expensive redesign and lightweighting process, and it’s also one of the most heavily leaked vehicles in years.

So, what does this picture show us? (Read More…)

By on August 15, 2017

FCA China flag

As you’re probably aware, this week began with rumblings that several Chinese automakers, some of them state-owned, are taking an interest in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Not entirely surprising, as we all know FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne’s spent the past year or so positioning his company for a potential takeover. Slashing debt, consolidating its operations, all to look pretty for that potential mate.

Sure, General Motors and Volkswagen rebuffed the company’s awkward advances, but there’s plenty of fish in the sea for a company with an urge to merge. However, with cash-flush Chinese manufacturers, buyouts are more likely than partnerships.

If it comes to pass, it might not be a bad thing for the volatile American automaker. China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., owner of Volvo Cars, did great things for the Swedish brand, overcoming its financial issues while affording the automaker a hands-off approach. Is Volvo making great cars again? Is it on solid footing?

All signs point to “yes.” (Read More…)

By on August 14, 2017

2018 Hyundai Kona - Image: Hyundai

Getting a new or redesigned model off the drawing board and into showrooms isn’t like designing and posting a meme on Facebook. It’s time consuming, and automakers run the risk of being left behind as rivals cash in on the latest hot bodystyle or styling trend.

Hyundai knows this, having underestimated the buying public’s affection for anything with a high ride height and rear liftgate. The Korean automaker made a bundle on its well-fleshed-out car lineup following the recession, but the seismic shift towards SUVs and crossovers left it scrambling to bolster its three-vehicle utility lineup. The result? Stagnant sales.

This won’t happen under a new plan, the company’s senior vice president of design claims. Hyundai’s hitting the product throttle. (Read More…)

By on August 14, 2017

gearshift stick shift manual transmission (public domain)

In this day and age, when a “coupe” often means a four-door SUV and automatics, DCTs, and CVTs perform almost all gear-shifting duties, it’s nice to see a patent from a major mainstream automaker concerning a manual transmission.

However, Toyota’s recent patent for an electronic tranny nanny might spark worry that the three-pedal experience, as endangered as it is, could become watered down by technology. A manual transmission that doesn’t let you make mistakes? Who’s in charge here? (Read More…)

By on August 13, 2017

Ford Ranger Raptor, Image: Spiedbilde/The Truth About Cars

This ties in nicely with an earlier post detailing the only two options available for midsize pickup buyers wanting more off-road prowess. For now, it’s Chevrolet and Toyota’s arena. Both GM and Toyota dominate the midsize pickup segment — a class that saw its U.S. market share rise to 17 percent of total pickup sales last year.

However, Ford’s late-to-the-game Ranger pickup, arriving on these shores in 2019 as a 2020 model, should bring a third player to the midsize mud and rock jamboree. It might not carry the Raptor name made famous by its bigger brother F-150, but this spied test vehicle shows Ford isn’t willing to send the Ranger to America wearing just work clothes. (Read More…)

By on August 11, 2017

2018 Ram 3500 Cummins towing, Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Healthy competition lowers the price of consumer goods, the economists tell us, but it also raises torque ratings. Nowhere is this more apparent than among the Detroit Three automakers, with Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles locking horns, crossing swords (keep it clean…), and firing arrows at each other in a heavy-duty pickup war that’s only heated up in recent years.

It comes down to stump-pulling, gravel-hauling, trailer-towing twist. In 2015, the Ram 3500’s 6.7-liter Cummins inline-six turbodiesel topped the Ford F-350 SuperDuty’s 6.7-liter turbodiesel V8 by 5 lb-ft of torque — 865 to Ford’s 860. This clearly couldn’t stand, so for 2017 Ford upgraded the Power Stroke’s torque rating to 925 lb-ft, kiboshing Ram’s 2016 attempt to stay ahead with a 900 lb-ft rating.

With 2017 came further aggressions. This year saw GM pulling ahead to second place with its 6.6-liter Duramax V8, now upgraded to 910 lb-ft, knocking Ram down to third place.

Well, FCA’s having none of it. Just a day after Ford’s unveiling of a newly powerful second-generation 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 and 5.0-liter V8, Ram fires this salvo: a Cummins with more grunt than any other rival. (Read More…)

By on August 10, 2017

2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Screenshots of preliminary information added to the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dealer network computer system suggest the next-generation Jeep Wrangler, due for a late-November reveal, breaks with tradition in more than a few ways. The largest break involves how the 2018 Wrangler puts its power down to all four wheels.

The dealer system images, shared by JL Wrangler Forums, show the Wrangler adopting a Selec-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system, among other drivetrain details. Is this a goodbye to the manly transfer case lever? (Read More…)

By on August 9, 2017

Back in late June, Hyundai’s Canadian division bundled myself and a group of fellow journalists into a Quebec hotel, then proceeded to explain how crossovers are eating the compact car’s lunch. The 2018 Elantra GT, the company’s representatives said, almost didn’t happen because of the unstoppable popularity of high-riding, cavernous utility vehicles. Hyundai’s U.S. crew […]

By on August 8, 2017

Mazda CX9 Skyactiv Turbo engine - Image: Mazda

There’ll still be spark ignition available, but Mazda doesn’t expect you’ll get a whole lot of use out of it. With its just-revealed Skyactiv-X engine technology, the gasoline-loving automaker has added a new way of making power to the automotive realm: the compression ignition gas engine.

It’s something we’ve known about for a while, but today saw its confirmation. Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine, bound for its vehicle lineup in 2019, adopts technology forever associated with diesel engines and combines it with a lighter, much cleaner fuel. Apparently, going green needn’t require batteries and AC motors. (Read More…)

By on August 8, 2017

car crash (Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr)

The Civic Holiday I mentioned yesterday didn’t prove very civil for yours truly and his red Chevrolet Cruze Eco. Sadly, a second-generation Volkswagen Passat made mostly of rust, primer, and pure, simmering evil decided to make a play at the poor Cruze in the midst of a nightmarish traffic jam. I don’t want to get too specific about the locale for fear of tarring a whole community of drivers with the same brush. (It was Montreal.)

While the Cruze escaped intact, it didn’t leave the scrap unmolested. Looks like I’ll be heading out in search of paint and rubbing compound tonight (Note: first-gen Cruze bumpers seem to hold up under pressure; I can’t speak for the second-generation models).

The incident nonetheless reminded me of past run-ins, be it with large animals or large vehicles. My 1993 Corsica of years gone by didn’t weather a front-quarter hit from a circa 2000 Impala all that well. Curtain call. Six feet under. Pushing up daisies. Contrast the Corsica’s  “folded like Superman on laundry day” performance to my beloved ’94 Camry, which soaked up two whitetail deer and politely asked for more. Zero dollars spent on repairs with that one. Just a minute or two spent evening out the hood with my rear end and some wooden shims inserted for headlight alignment. Duct tape wasn’t required.

What a tank that car was. Bland? Absolutely. Beige? What else? But beastly when push comes to shove. (Read More…)

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