The Truth About Cars » chicken tax http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » chicken tax http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com QOTD: Bring Back the Unibody Pickup? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-bring-back-the-unibody-pickup/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-bring-back-the-unibody-pickup/#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:35:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=837665 1024px-SubaruBaja

For decades, the formula for a successful pickup design in America has been pretty much the same. Design a simple ladder-frame chassis, drop in the biggest engine you can find, give it a front-engine rear-drive layout with an optional transfer case, and start raking in the money. From time to time, however, manufacturers have tried to swim against the current.

The last true unibody pickup (one without any type of traditional ladder frame) sold in the United States was the Subaru Baja, which ended production in 2006. A derivative of the Legacy/Outback platform, the Baja was Subaru’s attempt to cash in on the mid-2000s vogue for “sport utility trucks:” part-SUV hybrids like the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and the Chevrolet Avalanche. While those more successful models were selling well over 50,000 a year at their peak, the Subie barely managed to shift 30,000 examples in a four year run. With its funky body cladding, exposed rollbars, and limited utility compared to those other truck-based SUTs with traditional ladder-frame chassis, the Baja never managed to become anything but a niche product. Even so, it followed in a long lineage of experiments with unibody construction for pickups.

The golden age of the unibody pickup was the 60s, when every major manufacturer offered at least one. Ford had the Falcon-derived Ranchero, as well as a pickup based on the Econoline van. (The 1961-63 full-size F100 is often cited as an example of a unibody pickup design, but as Mike Levine explains here, this is technically incorrect. The ‘61-63 still had a ladder frame underneath its single-piece body.) Chevrolet had a similar offering in the Corvair Greenbrier pickup, although the more popular El Camino utilized a ladder frame. Dodge got in the unibody game with the pickup version of its A100 van. The pickup version of the Type 2 Volkswagen Transporter was increasingly popular in the burgeoning small truck segment before it became a target of the infamous Chicken Tax. That tariff also kept out the Japanese, who might otherwise have attempted to sell car-based pickups such as the Toyota Corona PU. The most popular of all these unibody pickups was the Falcon Ranchero. It offered meaningful size and economy advantages over the full-size trucks of the time, and was available with a greater number of creature comforts.

Many of these unibody pickups disappeared in the 70s, as compact, conventionally engineered Japanese pickups became more widely available. Many of these were captive imports sold by the Big 3, who utilized tricks like importing cab-chassis units separately to avoid the Chicken Tax. Unibody pickups didn’t reappear again until the 1980s. The Subaru BRAT was the first of these, followed by the Rabbit-based Volkswagen Pick-Up. The Volkswagen PU was an attempt to squeeze more volume out of the disappointingly slow-selling Rabbit; the Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp were similar attempts to expand the use of Chrysler’s L Platform. Neither of those was particularly successful, with both the Volkswagen and Rampage/Scamp cancelled after only three years. The BRAT was reasonably popular, lasting in the US market until 1987. The Jeep Comanche was based on the unibody XJ Cherokee, but used a ladder frame to strengthen the superstructure. Around 190,000 units were produced before new Jeep owner Chrysler called it quits in 1992; the company didn’t want the Comanche cannibalizing Dodge’s truck offerings. After that, there were no more unibody trucks in the United States until the introduction of the Baja. Cheap gas and a slew of competitive ladder-frame pickups meant that the incentive to develop a unibody pickup was limited.

Like Subaru, Honda tried to cash in on the SUT trend with the Ridgeline. Although based off the unibody Odyssey minivan, the Ridgeline utilizes a hybrid chassis setup that incorporates a box frame. Sales have been disappointing, with the model scheduled to go out of production this month, although a sequel has been promised by Honda. The Ridgeline is often cited by midsize truck pessimists as emblematic of the reasons the segment has gone into decline. The truck offers no serious fuel economy advantage over a full-sizer. It also has a smaller bed, a lower tow rating, and less power, all in a footprint not much smaller than that of a full-size. Attempting to straddle segments was the Ridgeline’s doom. Buyers who wanted power, room, towing and hauling capability, and who didn’t care about mileage bought Avalanches, Sport Tracs, and full-sizers. Economy-minded individuals went for the cheaper, more utilitarian options like the Frontier and Tacoma. None of these alternatives were particularly great on gas, but neither was the Ridgeline; and they all offered price and/or capability advantages that the Ridgeline didn’t have. That doesn’t mean, however, that the unibody truck should necessarily go the way of the dodo.

The greatest argument against a renaissance in the small-to-midsize truck segment is profitability. Small trucks often have thin margins, and it’s hard to justify separate development programs for unique platforms. That’s ultimately what killed the Ranger in the United States, as well as the Dakota. GM is spreading out the development cost of the new Colorado/Canyon by making it a world market vehicle, but it remains to be seen if this strategy will work. Only the Tacoma has proven to be a consistent winner in the US market, and it also has the advantage of being globally sold; the same is true of the new Frontier. A US-only compact truck platform is a mistake. Repealing the Chicken Tax might open up the market to more imports, but ideally a compact truck would be developed from a platform already in use in the US. This would lower the cost of federalization, while at the same time increasing the margin derived from already existing platforms. That’s where unibody design comes in.

America is awash in unibody CUVs, whose platforms could be utilized to make compact and midsize trucks. The Chevrolet Montana/Tornado has been mentioned by small-truck aficionados as a possible import, but the cost of certifying it for American sale would probably be prohibitive. Instead, it would make more sense for GM to develop a small truck from either the Theta or Epsilon architectures, both of which have already been adapted for the American market. A small truck based on the Equinox, for example, might be profitably produced for the American market. If a small truck can offer significant price or fuel economy advantages over full-sizers, it can justify its existence against highly competitive full-size offerings. Even so, doubts remain about the segment’s overall viability. FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne recently alluded to this when discussing possible plans for a future compact pickup in the United States. Could a unibody truck be the savior of the compact truck segment?

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Junkyard Find: 1982 Subaru BRAT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/junkyard-find-1982-subaru-brat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/junkyard-find-1982-subaru-brat/#comments Wed, 05 Feb 2014 14:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=733825 15 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWith so many old Subarus in Denver wrecking yards, I do run across the occasional BRAT. We’ve seen this ’79 and this very rare Sawzall Edition ’86 so far in this series, and today we’ll be looking at a well-used ’82 that still has the very rare lawsuit-inducing jumpseats in the back.
14 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYes, those Chicken Tax-skirting jumpseats that made the BRAT, legally speaking, a car instead of a truck were loose in the bed of this Subaru when I found it a couple weeks back.
13 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI thought about buying the seats for my Dodge A100 van, but they’re missing the headrests and one of the grab handles, plus the floor-mounting brackets were beat to hell.
12 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThese cars rusted very quickly, though Colorado’s arid climate spared this one from full-on Michigan-grade cancer.
10 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNice BRATs are worth quite a bit these days. Thrashed ones are worth scrap value.
05 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStrangely, I saw three vehicles with variations on this sticker during this trip to the junkyard. There’s meaning there somewhere.

01 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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My Fellow Americans, Our Long National Game Of Chicken May Be Coming To An End http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/my-fellow-americans-our-long-national-game-of-chicken-may-be-coming-to-an-end/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/my-fellow-americans-our-long-national-game-of-chicken-may-be-coming-to-an-end/#comments Wed, 07 Aug 2013 18:55:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=498552 Rooster_Cat

I come to praise the chicken tax, not to bury it. In exchange for the short-term consequence of a few people paying too much for Toyota trucks with insta-rust beds, this country managed to acquire a pretty substantial infrastructure to build “foreign” automobiles while still providing jobs to Americans. It even helped the Japanese automakers, who managed to survive the 1985/1986 spike in the yen without abandoning the US market because they were largely in the process of moving production to the Southern states.

In recent years, however, the 25% tariff has come to be ever-so-slightly irrelevant, primarily affecting buyers of the Ford Transit Connect who can’t figure out why there are wrench marks on the floor of their brand-new cargo vans. And now it might be gone for good.

The Detroit News reports that the so-called “chicken tax”, which has been in effect since 1963, is very much on the table as the United States attempts to negotiate a “Trans-Pacific Partnership” with Japan and ten other Asian countries. Apparently we’re looking for some Japanese barriers to trade to be dropped in return. It should be noted at this time that, under previous administration, the official position of TheTruthAboutCars regarding barriers to American products in Japan could best be summed up as “Japan is a completely open market just begging for loads of imports from other countries and it’s all America’s fault that people don’t buy your crap.” Our current editorial position on this is, ah, somewhat more flexible.

Who would the winners and losers be from the removal of the tariff? Well, Mahindra and a few other manufacturers might take another stab at this market. European vans like the Jumpy and Kangoo and whatnot, particularly those assembled in Turkey and other low-cost nations, might get a look in as well. So prices would likely drop a bit and customer choice would increase. That’s a good thing.

Domestic truck manufacturers, including Honda/Toyota/Nissan, would see lower transaction prices but it’s unlikely that any of them would return truck production to Japan. For those of you who haven’t tuned in lately, a whole bunch of the ol’ quantitative easing and various financial disastrous stuff have combined to take their toll on the almighty dollar and make our country, ’tis of thee, a bit of a low-cost production area. Honda’s so firmly based in the United States that it’s hard to imagine the company ever moving any production of anything back to Japan. This is unlikely to cost American jobs to any significant degree, particularly now that Ford’s tooled up Kansas City to build the full-size Transit.

We’ll keep you posted on developments as they occur. In the meantime, if you’ve always dreamed of a Skoda Praktik or something like that… hold tight, but don’t start counting your chickens.

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We’re Not Getting The Holden Ute, But Not For Reasons You’d Expect http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/were-not-getting-the-holden-ute-but-not-for-reasons-youd-expect/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/were-not-getting-the-holden-ute-but-not-for-reasons-youd-expect/#comments Mon, 03 Jun 2013 15:59:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490631 ge5547549213459505029

Every so often, the same tired rumor will pop up again, like a particularly resilient pimple that habitually reappears in the same conspicuous spot. Thanks to the incessant hunger for clicks among auto websites, these rumors refuse to die, no matter how asinine they are. How many times have you seen a “BREAKING” or “EXCLUSIVE” story on the next Toyota Supra or some absurd BS fabrication regarding a diesel Mazda MX-5?

The latest round of bollocks concerns the Holden Ute, another car that tickles the fancy of enthusiasts on all sides of the globe, but would be a commercial nightmare if they ever tried to export it to America. One Australian publication is now claiming that a guerilla marketing campaign showing Mark Reuss lapping the Nurburgring in a brand new Ute is part of a ploy to export the Ute to America. Of course, other car blogs have been lathering themselves up into a frenzy over the prospect of a very expensive quasi-pickup that they will not purchase once it gets here.

Holden claims that there will be some kind of major announcement regarding the Ute next month. I’m going to be the first to say it will not be related to any Ute exports. There are two simple reasons here: the US-Australian dollar exchange rate is abominable as far as exports are concerned, and there is likely little to no demand for a very pricey product that is neither fish nor fowl. Who is going to pay $50k for Corvette powered pseudo-pickup wearing a Chevrolet badge. Did we discuss the UAW’s reaction to an Australian built pickup, or the whole “cannibalizing GM’s new ‘lifestyle pickup’ thing “either? Both of those matter, but would require their own articles to really get into.

One thing that is not a factor is the chicken tax. Not long ago, Holden used the chicken tax as an excuse for why it’s been unable to export Utes to America. TTAC commenters soon produced plenty of evidence showing that Australian cars and “light commercial vehicles” (i.e. pickups and Utes) can be brought to America duty free. So that excuse is out. I feel for Holden though. The Australian domestic car industry is going down the tubes, their signature product is about to become just another boring front-drive appliance and all they want to do is send some good product to world markets.

The problem is nobody wants it. No matter how loud the internet cries out for it.

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Why Detroit Is Chicken About Free Trade Agreements. And Why Korea Hates Them Too Now http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/why-detroit-is-chicken-about-free-trade-agreements-and-why-korea-hates-them-too-now/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/why-detroit-is-chicken-about-free-trade-agreements-and-why-korea-hates-them-too-now/#comments Mon, 18 Mar 2013 18:19:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481627

 

It’s not just the UAW that is upset about free trade agreements. The Koreans are likewise. The offices of the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association were raided by investigators of the country’s Fair Trade Commission, the Financial Times reports. The agency alleges that BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Toyota Motor were involved in price collusion.

Imports to Korea Jan/Feb 2013
Jan/Feb %Share
Volkswagen  GRP 6,846 29.9%
BMW GRP 6,476 28.3%
Mercedes-Benz 3,343 14.6%
Totota  GRP 1,666 7.3%
Ford 1,030 4.5%
Honda 866 3.8%
Fiat-Chrysler 743 3.2%
JLR  GRP 621 2.7%
Nissan  GRP 585 2.6%
PSA  GRP 444 1.9%
Volvo 200 0.9%
Cadillac 64 0.3%
Mitsubishi 17 0.1%
Subaru 0 0.0%
Grand-Total 22,901 100.0%

It just so happens that the four are the most successful importers to Korea, accounting for 80 percent of car imports. After free trade agreements with the EU and the U.S. were enacted, exports took surprising turns. Car imports to Korea were up 23 percent in January and February, amounting to 12.9 percent of total sales, compared with only 4.9 per cent in 2009. Korea’s total exports to the EU increased by only 1 percent in the first year after the trade pact came into force, while trade from Europe to Korea rose 37 percent.

American carmakers are not under suspicion of collusion, no wonder; they did not have a big impact on Korea. Biggest American importer to the nation is Ford, up 72 percent.

Ford is against free trade agreements, especially with Japan, and calls the negotiations a “masquerade,” Reuters says. Stephen Biegun, Ford vice president of international governmental affairs, still blames the nasty Japanese for a closed market they say is wide open. There is zero import tax on cars to Japan, and even if the alleged non-tariff barriers are gone, it won’t make Biegun happy. He said change must reach into “the very bowels of the Japanese economy.” And because the Japanese will object to foreigners reaching into their bowels, Biegun will continue to complain.

Refreshing honesty comes from a surprising camp. Four dozen democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to President Barak Obama, warning against a free trade agreement with Japan. The alleged closed market found only passing mention. The lawmakers don’t worry about exports to Japan. They are worried about imports from Japan. Says the letter:

“In an industry with razor-thin profit margins, the elimination of the 2.5 percent car tariff (as well as the 25 percent truck tariff) would be a major benefit to Japan without any gain for a vital American industry, leading to more Japanese imports, less American production and fewer American jobs.”

What Detroit is REALLY worried about is a fall of the Chicken Tax. Detroit has a near monopoly on trucks, which drive its profits.

There is one part about free trade agreements automakers the world over love: A harmonization of standards. Biegun said that the cost of designing and producing according to separate EU and U.S. safety standards was between $3 billion and $6 billion, different environmental rules added a cost of $1.5-2 billion.

 

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