The Truth About Cars » Product Planning The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:30:59 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » Product Planning Lincoln Nearly Axed By Mullaly, Saved By Fields Tue, 01 Jul 2014 11:00:37 +0000 2015 Lincoln MKC

Today marks the day Mark Fields becomes CEO of Ford, taking up where now-former CEO Alan Mullaly leaves off. This day may also mark the day Lincoln begins its slow climb back from the brink, especially when Mullaly once considered killing the brand before Fields became its champion.

Bloomberg reports Lincoln, then struggling to find footing after years of assimilating Fords upmarket with no unique product in sight, would have gone the way of Mercury had not Fields and global marketing chief Jim Farley convinced Mullaly that the brand was worth saving. Now that he is CEO, Fields will be leading the effort to bring Lincoln up to fighting trim.

The first product of this effort is the MKC, which shares its mechanical base with the Ford Escape and its 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo-four with the upcoming Ford Mustang. However, the crossover’s design is 85 percent unique to itself, and has premium features on par with its competitors — BMW X3, Audi Q5, Acura RDX — including soft-touch leather and parallel-parking technology. The crossover follows the MKZ — whose delayed roll-out over technical gremlins prompted the debate over Lincoln’s fate — and will be later joined by a redesigned MKX and the replacement for the MKS.

The MKC will be aimed at drawing buyers from premium brands like Cadillac and Lexus, Ford owners wanting to move up, as well as young first-time buyers and empty nesters looking to downsize. The road back to the top will be long, however; though U.S. sales climbed 21 percent during the first half of 2014 with 37,251 models leaving the showroom, annual sales are 65 percent down from the brand’s peak in 1990.

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Volkswagen Dials Back On 2018 Milestone Mon, 19 May 2014 12:00:39 +0000 Volkswagen-CrossBlue-Concept

Though Volkswagen had plans to move 800,000 units annually out of U.S. showrooms by 2018, the automaker may now opt to dial back its ambitious plan in light of slow growth and falling sales.

The Detroit Bureau reports VW’s U.S. chief Michael Horn said his goal with the company for now is to focus on “realistic targets,” especially as sales fell against the harsh winter weather earlier this year, and though the main goal is still there, it will be reached in the long-term.

According to industry insiders, the automaker wants to be sure it builds the kind of vehicles the U.S. market desires — such as the upcoming CrossBlue Concept-based full-size SUV — even if it means holding back on products until they are ready for production. Another diversion from the 800,000/year road is China: financing meant for the U.S. market was diverted across the Pacific in VW’s fight to dominate the emerging market, which it hopes will happen by decade’s end.

That said, VW will likely turn more of its focus back on the U.S. in order to shore up its stake in the fight to take the top podium in global sales, such as the impending announcement of where the aforementioned SUV will be built. There, the plants in Chattanooga, Tenn. and Puebla, Mexico are in the running, though the former may be out due to the fallout surrounding the February 2014 battle between the UAW and anti-union forces over organization of the plant.

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No Replacements For MINI Coupe, Paceman, Roadster Tue, 18 Mar 2014 12:38:49 +0000 2012 Mini Coupe

BMW’s MINI may not replace the Coupe, Paceman or Roadster when their day comes, opting to focus on three “pillar” models that allow the brand to be “more relevant to more people,” according to MINI head of product management Oliver Friedmann.

Automotive News Europe reports Friedmann’s first priority for MINI “is to roll out a portfolio that has strong pillars,” with each pillar being clear in what it means to the overall brand. With the original hatchback and Countryman identified as the first two pillars, a potential third pillar could come in the form of a compact model based upon the Clubman concept shown in Geneva.

As for the Coupe, Paceman and Roadster, Friedmann says the trio aren’t a priority to the brand at this time, with the possibility all three may end up in the crusher of history in the near future.

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Toyota Allowing Dealers to Drop Scion but Tells Them That New Product On Way: FR-S Ragtop, Small CUV Mon, 19 Aug 2013 15:24:31 +0000 geneva-toyota-86-convertible-front34

Toyota FT86 Concept

A dealer attending Toyota’s U.S. dealer meeting in Atlanta earlier this month has told the Automotive News that the automaker is now letting its dealers drop underperforming Scion franchises without any penalties. Those dealers that keep their Scion stores open will likely get two new products that were teased at the convention. Toyota Senior Vice President Bob Carter declined comment though he hinted at changes, “We’re not ready to go public with that yet.” Toyota Division General Manager Bill Fay recently told WardsAuto that Scion “has a few too many stores.”

About 80% of Toyota’s 1,225 U.S. dealers also have a Scion franchise, about 30% more than Toyota anticipated when it launched the youth-oriented entry level brand a decade ago. Scion sales in the U.S. peaked at 173,034 three years later but deliveries have dropped significantly since than. Other than the FR-S sports car that is sold as the Toyota GT86 outside the U.S. (and also as a Subaru) the current Scion lineup is aging and there has been little news forthcoming about revised or new product.

Earlier this year, at the Geneva auto show, Toyota revealed a convertible version of the GT86, called the FT86 concept. At the Atlanta meetings, dealers were shown the same concept badged as a Scion FR-S. Carter said the FR-S convertible “is under study but has not been green-lighted.” Toyota/Scion dealers were also shown a sketch of a subcompact CUV that one dealer described as having a “racy silhouette”. A Toyota source said that it would slot in below the Toyota RAV4 and compete with Honda’s upcoming Fit based CUV.

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CAR Magazine: Alfa Romeo to Go RWD Only Mon, 22 Jul 2013 12:00:10 +0000 2014_alfa_romeo_4c_overseas_01-0216

The UK’s CAR magazine’s Georg Kacher is reporting that Alfa Romeo will be going exclusively to rear wheel drive models as it drops the Mito and Giulietta FWD hatchbacks around 2015.


The new Alfa models will involve collaboration with fellow Fiat stablemate Maserati. According to CAR’s “insider” source, 2015 will see the introduction of a Giulia sedan intended to compete with cars like the BMW 3 Series, with a larger Alfetta sedan following in 2016 to go up against the E Class and 5 Series cars. Those sedans will be followed in 2017 and 2018 with a compact competitor to BMW’s X1 and then a larger X3/Q5 competitor. The SUVs will based on the same modular platform as the sedan, developed with Maserati. Those cars will share showroom space with the recently introduced 4C midengine sports car and the upcoming roadster jointly developed with Mazda’s next MX-5. Both those cars are rear wheel drive. It’s apparently thought within Fiat that Alfa cannot compete with brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi without superior driving dynamics and that RWD is the way to achieve those dynamics. Look for ZF’s rapidly proliferating 8 speed transmission and a Maserati V6 in the new Alfas as well as hybrid versions. No word from CAR’s insider on whether or not Fiat owned Chrysler will have access to the same RWD platforms, though the larger Alfetta sedan would be the right size to underpin the next Chrysler 300.


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After One Year On The Market, Honda “Upgrading” 2013 Civic Tue, 20 Dec 2011 20:35:06 +0000

It’s been a fascinating year for the compact car, as all six of the segment’s leading competitors brought out new or updated models over the last 18 months. But as our Chart Of The Day shows, the competition has hardly sent the segment into overdrive, as after an early-year boom, compact car sales have slackened considerably. Intriguingly though, Honda and Toyota, which lost sales early this year due to supply interruptions in the wake of the Japanese Tsunami, seem to be the only brands with recovering compact sales. What’s especially interesting about this is the fact that Toyota’s modest refresh and Honda’s poorly-received new Civic were once widely considered by automotive pundits to be under threat from the resurgent competition. Indeed, Honda’s Civic has been especially hard-hit by media criticism, earning a harsh review from TTAC’s Michael Karesh, losing its coveted “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports, and engaging in some ugly media-bashing. But now that the Civic seems to be one of the only compacts to enjoy a late-year sales rebound, Honda’s announcing that it will be upgrading the Civic for the 2013 model-year, just one year after the new model was introduced.

Tetsuo Iwamura, Honda’s top North American executive tells Bloomberg that

Civic is a good product; of course the expectation of the marketplace for Honda product is quite high. We have to once again make it great. The gap between Civic and the competitors has been narrowed. We have to once again make the gap wider.

Honda has not yet announced any specifics about its planned 2013 upgrades to Civic, preferring instead to let Sales VP John Mendel hammer home the relative nature of Civic’s fall from grace. Mendel tells Bloomberg

We disagree with [Consumer Reports]. Did they make some points? Yes they did. We haven’t gotten worse, everybody else has gotten better. Where we used to be four or five laps ahead in the race, there’s more people on the same lap with us.

Moreover, Honda’s execs argue that inventory levels, not product weaknesses are the cause of relatively low Civic sales, as Bloomberg reports

The company has about 117,000 models in inventory, or a 41-day supply, less than half what it should have, Iwamura said.

“Hopefully, by the end of March next year” Honda will have full inventory, Iwamura said. “If John could sell more, then it will be the end of April or May.”

Honda has set a target to increase U.S. sales of its namesake brand to 1.25 million models next year, from about 1 million this year, Iwamura said. It plans to boost sales of its Acura luxury line by 43 percent to 180,000 from about 126,000 this year, he said.

“It looks like quite a high jump, but because of the availability problem we had a really low year this year,” Iwamura said. “That is the reason why growth looks huge, but for us, it’s a natural growth.”

Of course, there are a few problems with this line of reasoning. First, and most obviously, why is Civic receiving an “upgrade” after one year on the market if there’s nothing wrong with it? Second, since when is an 80+ day inventory ideal? Wasn’t this industry supposed to be moving away from the stack-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap ethos? Inventory levels may be a convenient scapegoat for weaker-than-hoped-for sales numbers, but financial results in this industry are closely tied to keeping those inventories from running out of control. And considering Civic is one of the only compact cars showing signs of recovery in recent months, it seems that both the upgrade and the professed need for a skyrocketing inventory may not be as necessary as Honda now seems to think. In any case, we’ll see how Honda’s upgrades affect the quality of the Civic, and we’ll be watching this segment closely to see how this brutal competition pans out…

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Anwyl: Should We Be Preparing For The Next Gas Price… Collapse? Tue, 15 Nov 2011 18:47:59 +0000  

The big news around here yesterday came from Bertel’s interview with Toyota’s Chief Engineer, in which it became clear that Toyota takes the developing world’s growing demand for oil very seriously. With global demand already outstripping supply, the giant automaker’s embrace of a petroleum-constrained business model seems to make it clear that gas prices will play a significant role in the future. But markets are, by their natures, both difficult to predict, and shaped by predictions. And Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl reckons that, although gas prices are high and could well go up in the short term, fears of a runaway gap between supply and demand may not materialize over the longer term. He writes:

Here’s the twist: As I said, the consensus belief (or story) on future oil prices is that they will be higher. And short term, this may be the case if and/or when the global economy recovers and/or demand grows in emerging markets.

But there is a longer-term story as well. This story suggests that peak oil may be nigh and the future holds shortages and sharply higher prices. Buying into this story, companies, acting individually, will see profit in expanding exploration, developing sophisticated new extraction technologies, etc.

The aggregate result of all these individual activities is that the future supply of oil will improve and prices will actually drop.

In fact, we have seen this paradox play out before. Through the Seventies, we were first shocked by rapid price increases and then conditioned to believe they would continue. And, of course, oil prices collapsed in the Eighties.

Anwyl butresses his argument by pointing to an NYT story on exploration of promising new reserves of hydrocarbons, arguing that new finds could stave off the kind of undersupply that has Toyota and others so worried.

From the high Arctic waters north of Norway to a shale field in Argentine Patagonia, from the oil sands of western Canada to deepwater oil prospects off the shores of Angola, giant new oil and gas fields are being mined, steamed and drilled with new technologies. Some of the reserves have been known to exist for decades but were inaccessible either economically or technologically.

Put together, these fuels should bring hundreds of billions of barrels of recoverable reserves to market in coming decades and shift geopolitical and economic calculations around the world. The new drilling boom is expected to diversify global sources away from the Middle East, just as the growth in consumption of fuels shifts from the United States and Europe to China, India and the rest of the developing world.

“Use whatever hackneyed phrase you want, like tectonic shift or game-changer,” said Edward L. Morse, global head of commodity research at Citigroup. “These sources will dramatically change the energy supply outlook, and there is little debate about that.”

The major complaint with these new “unconventional” hydrocarbon sources is that they are more carbon intensive than oil, an argument that some will find more convincing or troubling than others. But the reliance on this critique shows that unconventional hydrocarbon sources hold the potential to undermine the major impetus for the “new peak oil,” which is based solely on the economics of growing emerging-market demand outstripping global capacity increases. If these hydrocarbons prove economically viable at a price point that holds off a challenge from battery technology, we could well see the industry slow-rolling parts of its high-efficiency toolbox. After all, the last few years have proven that American consumers respond to sharp upward changes in oil prices more than the actual price. If these new reserves can keep oil closer to $100/barrel than $200/barrel, we’ll see the market evolve slowly, with efficiency improvements driven more by CAFE regulation than market demand.

On the other hand, it’s not clear how much oil prices constrain development in the fastest-growing economies around the world. If gas prices soften on the strength of these new discoveries, there’s little reason to believe that these young but strong economies won’t turn up the wick on growth, eating up new gains in production. Furthermore, “game changing” automotive technology is worth developing simply because energy markets still rely on a semblance of order in chaotic parts of the world. With chaos always one suicide bomb away and global pressure on oil supply mounting, the short-term possibilities of a dramatic spike in gas prices makes rapidly-deployable, high-efficiency technology (for example, Nissan’s unmatched investment in global Leaf EV capacity, or Toyota’s ability to hybridize most of its vehicles) a worthwhile investment policy. Even if Nissan gets a few years of panic-fueled bumper EV sales before new “unconventional” reserves (generally from friendlier, more stable regions) come online, it will have made a huge leap over unprepared competitors. And after such an event, the EV market will not go away (as the hybrid market has not completely gone away since the Summer of 2008).

Of course nobody has a crystal ball, and if anyone knew for sure what was going to happen with oil prices over the short, medium and long terms, they wouldn’t tell anyone (or, more likely, they wouldn’t be believed by anyone). But there definitely seems to be more angst about energy prices among auto industry types than we’ve seen in several years. And with billion of dollars riding on every market fluctuation, that’s the only thing about this discussion that isn’t at least a little surprising.

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Porsche: Why Build The “Baby Boxster” When We Have A “Baby Cayenne”? Mon, 14 Nov 2011 16:18:23 +0000

Do you badly want a new mid-engined Porsche? Is the Boxster/Cayman combo still a bit rich for your blood, given the weak economy? Chances are you have been waiting patiently for news about Porsche’s “Baby Boxster,” the long-discussed, entry-level, flat-four-powered version of Volkswagen’s Bluesport concept. The sad news: you may be waiting quite a bit longer. In an interview with the FT Deutschland, Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller says

There is no decision to develop this car into production. The decision is due soon, but they may well drag on into next year

Why? Well that’s easy: Porsche’s number one priority is to remain the world’s most profitable automaker, with “at least” a 15% operating margin and a 21% return on capital. And it can hit its 200k sales by 2018 goal without adding a sixth or seventh model… thanks to the fact that its fifth model is an entry-level SUV, called the Cajun.

Of course the downturn doesn’t affect a cash cow like the Cajun, but the smallest, lightest, cheapest mid-engined Porsche in modern history may well be off the table. If it does come to market, the earliest release date would be Summer 2014. But if the markets dip again (and in Europe that outcome looks near-certain), the Baby Boxster could be lost forever. One hopes that if that does happen, VW and/or Audi will step up and fill the breach. After all, how are people supposed to get through a recession without affordable, mid-engined roadsters?

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Wild-Ass Rumor Of The Day: Lincoln Drops Compact Car To “Focus” On Compact CUV Thu, 03 Nov 2011 19:40:17 +0000

FordInsideNews reports

According to two independent sources within FoMoCo, FIN has learned that Lincoln has killed off plans for the MkC. Instead, Lincoln will focus all compact energies upon their new CUV, which is internally named the MkD. According to one source, Ford feared that the MkC would cannibalize sales of the larger MkZ sedan… According to a source who has seen the “MkD,” the Escape based CUV sports a design that is more of a tall hatch rather than a traditional CUV. When it comes to interior dimensions, it will be slightly less than that of the Escape

OK, let’s get this straight: a Focus-based “MKC” competes with the MXZ but a next-gen Escape-based CUV doesn’t compete with the MKX? It’s good to see Lincoln trying to focus its efforts, but it’s hard to say that a reborn Mercury Mariner is the place to be focusing. Meanwhile, this wasn’t the only spooky news coming out Ford’s struggling luxury brand over Halloween weekend…

FIN adds:

According to a separate Ford supplier source, the 2013 Lincoln MkZ has been pushed back yet again. Originally scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2012, and then for June 2012, the MkZ is now set to arrive in late 2012. The all-new 2013 Ford Fusion is supposedly still on track for a mid-2012 launch.

Two delays and in danger of competing with a Focus-based Lincoln… does this sound like the car that will revive Lincoln’s flagging fortunes? No? Luckily it doesn’t have to be: there’s a real flagship coming! Maybe.

FIN has been able to confirm with two independent sources that Ford is considering the development of a Lincoln flagship sedan. Both sources state that the car under consideration would be rear-wheel drive and be the pinnacle of Ford’s technology prowess. One source suggested the car would reside on a heavily modified variant of the Mustang platform.

Wait, were the phrases “heavily modified Mustang platform” and “pinnacle of Ford’s technology prowess” just used in the same paragraph? That’s it, I’ve got to stop reading the fanboy sites…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Nissan About To “Pull A Hyundai”? Tue, 01 Nov 2011 21:31:40 +0000

On the way to TTAC’s Southern Tour, I filled some of the gaps in my automotive history by reading Car Wars by Robert Sobel. Written in the same year that Nissan opened its first US plant, a sprawling complex in Smyrna, Car Wars documents the early years of the Detroit-Import wars, starting with the Beetle and ending with the rise of the transplant factories. The book is full of lessons, but its most rattling reminders was that Nissan was the major Japanese automaker during the early days of the Japanese industry. Nearly thirty years after Car Wars was written, Nissan often gets lost in Honda and Toyota’s shadow when it comes to perceptions of the Japanese OEMs. And lately Nissan has fallen off more than a few radar screens for the simple fact that its key products are aging: Sentra, Maxima and Altima were introduced for the 2007 model-year, while Rogue is just a year younger. Together these four models account for over half of Nissan’s monthly volume… and yet despite this aged core lineup, Nissan’s sales (as a brand) are up over 17 percent year-to-date, maintaining the brand’s consistent growth.

And, after touring the Smyrna facility last week, Nissan’s VP for Communications David Reuter told us that this fact was what made him so optimistic about Nissan’s future. If sales are doing this well with product this old, he wondered aloud, what might happen if.. say, models representing 75% of Nissan’s sales volume were replaced in a two-year span? He admitted that one of the brand’s biggest issues was breaking through the Honda-Toyota monopoly on media perceptions of Japanese automakers, and he suggested that a new product blitz was the only way to really accomplish that. I was reminded of the current darling of the mass-market brands, Hyundai, which grew sales steadily with aging and stolid but value-laden products, before replacing its entire lineup with eye-catching new models. Could a fresh batch of new designs do the same for Nissan?

Of course, a lot of that depends on product execution. Hyundai would not have garnered the attention it has if it had replaced its entire lineup with new but dowdy or uninspired models. And on that front the picture is still mixed: critics have been cruel to Nissan’s newest car, the Versa, but consumers have been snapping them up in the first two months of sales. Meanwhile, the brand’s recent niche products (Juke, Murano CC) have received mixed and polarized responses. And Nissan’s got a raft of new technology to play with for its new cars, including a next-gen CVT and its first-ever in-house front-drive hybrid system (look for Bertel to bring you more on that from Japan shortly). And though the brand likely won’t be jumping on the turbocharging bandwagon wholesale, it seems likely that our prayers have been answered and that the Juke’s delightful 1.6 turbo engine will make its way into an SE-R-type vehicle to celebrate the revamped lineup. This couldn’t hurt Nissan’s flagging reputation for sporting mass-market vehicles.

One thing is certain: Nissan may not get a lot of press these days, but the brand has been thriving given where it is in its key product cycles. If the new high-volume models (which Reuter says we’ll learn more about at the Detroit Auto Show) bring some pizzaz back to the brand, it could well be poised to exploit Honda’s recent product weaknesses and Toyota’s battered image. With the right execution, we could find ourselves returning to a time when Toyota and Nissan are once again the Japanese standard-bearers. On the other hand, Detroit isn’t sleeping on the competition the way it once was. And Hyundai will certainly have a few things to say about any company looking to steal its momentum.

So while we wait to learn more about Nissan’s upcoming product blitz, we’re curious to hear your take on the brand’s fortunes. What explains Nissan’s resilience in the face of old product? Do you expect the new products to vault the brand into the “hot” category, or do the downsides of recent products like Versa and Murano CC leave you a bit suspicious? Will Nissan surpass Honda as a leading Japanese brand, or is the Honda-Toyota duopoly cemented in the minds of consumers? What do you hope to see from the next-generation of Nissans? So many questions…

[Disclosure: Nissan bought me lunch when I toured their facilities in Smyrna and Franklin, and I am about to be bought dinner by the company in Seattle, where I will be hearing more about this subject from Director of Product Planning Mark Perry. If you have any questions for Mark, you have a few hours to post them in the comments below]

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The 9-3 That May Never Be Edition Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:23:51 +0000 According to, this is an image of the next-generation Saab 9-3, as revealed in a presentation to Sweden’s National Debt Office. Based on a new Phoenix platform that is supposedly under development (although with what money is unclear… new platforms typically cost around a billion dollars to develop), the new 9-3 will be the first Saab developed by the brand since gaining independence from GM. If, in fact, the company survives long enough to bring it to market in the 2013-2014 projected timeframe. And, based on all the news we’ve seen, the chances of Saab surviving, let alone developing a new car on a new platform, are extremely slim. But if you’re still holding out hope for The Industry’s Most Troubled Brand ®, this might inspire some more wholly unjustified optimism… as might the leaked image of Saab’s future product “plans.” Just don’t come crying to us when this all falls apart again in mid-November…

saabproductplan Are you real? Does it matter? (courtesy:


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Will Chevy’s Cruze Diesel Be A “Game Changer”? Lutz Thinks Not Thu, 20 Oct 2011 17:46:23 +0000

It’s a phenomenon with some precedent: import manufacturers will get nowhere with a certain bodystyle or drivetrain until one of the US domestic brands jumps on the bandwagon and popularizes it. And Jeff Breneman, executive director of the U.S. Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars, is hoping the same dynamic plays out in the world of diesel power when Chevy brings its Cruze Diesel to the US. He tells WardsAuto

The fact that Chevy will offer a diesel Cruze in 2013 is huge. The gas-powered Cruze will get 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km), so the diesel is expected to get 50 mpg-plus (4.7 L/100 km), and that will make it a game-changer.

Ford, Toyota or Honda haven’t got a diesel for the U.S. yet, but get ready for 2013-2014. That’s when we’re going to see a lot more diesels.

And, as the diesel booster-in-chief, it’s not surprising that Breneman would come to that conclusion. But what are folks inside GM saying about the Cruze diesel? In a recent interview with TTAC, senior advisor Bob Lutz suggested that we shouldn’t expect the Cruze diesel to conquer America or “change the game” all that much.

Our conversation had turned to emissions regulation, and Lutz had just mentioned that Europeans “cheerfully” pay the equivalent of nearly $40k for a Cruze LTZ with a diesel engine. Since he brought up the Cruze diesel, I asked if he had any insight into the decision to bring it to the US. He answered.

Yeah, it’s almost impossible. We’ll do some because we’ve got  them in Europe anyway, and we’ll make them compliant and GM will sell a few just to show that we’re part of the game. But I don’t think anyone sees much of a future for diesels in the states because our emissions regulations are six times tougher than Euro 5, and multiple times tougher than Euro 6, which nobody even knows how to do yet. The companies that are selling diesels in the United States, last time I checked which was over a year ago, are all operating on EPA deviations. So nobody meets even current diesel emissions standards. The EPA renews the deviations on an annual basis, but they’re not  supposed to renew for more than three years.

It’s just so tough. You need the urea tank and everything, and in order to do the post-combustion NoX reduction in the catalyst, you have to deviate fuel to the catalyst because every two minutes a burn takes place to fry all the oxides of nitrogen and particulates. Well, that reduces the diesel advantage. So now you’re talking $2,500 of hardware and a big urea tank, and instead of a 30% gain in fuel economy, you’re looking more like 18% or 20% and you’re using a fuel that costs 18-20% more per gallon than gasoline. You tell me how this makes sense.

I mean, it’s cool. Owners of Volkswagon diesels love to go around saying [affects a voice dripping with self-satisfaction] “I have a turbodiesel,” and everyone says “wow.” But Ford canceled their passenger car diesel program, they canceled their midsized SUV diesel program, we canceled ours, we canceled passenger car diesels for the US. We were at one point talking to Honda to see if we could collaborate jointly on, say, a two-liter diesel for passenger cars, and we both came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth the trip. They were hopeful (and frankly so were we) that with all they know about engine and emissions that they would be able to somehow conquer this emissions conundrum… they gave up. So all the major producers gave up on diesels for the US.

Now, I don’t understand US and EU emissions regulations well enough to fact-check some of Lutz’s technical claims, but his deep pessimism can best be captured by his modest ambitions for the Cruze diesel. Lutz rarely misses an opportunity to praise a GM product, so his “we’ll sell a few just to show that we’re part of the game” line seems quite revealing. Unless things change fundamentally between now and its launch, I wouldn’t expect the Cruze diesel to blow the lid off the diesel market in the US.


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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Quantum Niche Theory Edition Sun, 25 Sep 2011 18:36:42 +0000 When word first began circulating that BMW was considering an X4, I wondered

is BMW trying to prove a kind of automotive Zeno’s paradox, in which niches can be infinitely subdivided?

It was a rhetorical question, of course, and the answer was “pretty much, yeah.” This official BMW sketch preview of the X4, which has been approved for production, shows a three-door version, but according to Autocar,

The car is also depicted in a pair of official BMW sketches. Although they reveal a three-door model badged X3, they hint strongly at the X4′s design, mainly its roofline and front-end styling; BMW sources insist that too much shouldn’t be read into the fact it has three doors.

But if MINI and Range Rover already have three-door “sport activity coupes,” isn’t it just a matter of time before Audi or Mercedes jump on the trend, forcing BMW’s hand? The only problem: there’s only one number between X3 and X5. Which means we will probably end up with an X4 xDrive28i (say) and an X4 xDrive28i Coupe. You know, the coupe version of the coupe version of the X3. Or maybe they’ll just move on to the inevitable X2 coupe version of the X1 and leave the task of trying to tear logical holes in space-time to the crazies manning the supercolliders.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail x4concept1 Inevitable absurdity, in concept form





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Ed “Not A Car Guy” Whitacre Takes Control Of GM Global Product Planning Sat, 05 Jun 2010 15:14:00 +0000

The executive shake-ups show no signs of stopping at GM, as Ed Whitacre ended the week with yet another re-shuffle. And this time Whitacre himself is the big winner. Automotive News [sub] reports that Whitacre has assumed control of GM’s global product planning, leaving former planning boss Tom Stephens with the more prosaic responsibility of overseeing new product development. Whitacre will be assisted by new VP for product planning Steve Carlisle, who, unlike Whitacre, actually has some experience in product planning. Carlisle replaces Jon Lauckner, who will head up GM’s new venture capital unit. But the big news here is that a man who only just learned the term “segment” about five and a half months ago, is now in charge of GM’s global product planning. Quick learner or egomaniac?

An interesting perspective into the planning and development reshuffle is revealed in a the internal announcement obtained by AN [sub].

Stephens said GM is also seeking to simplify its product-development process. So GM is reducing the number of reviews each vehicle gets by GM’s Global Product Development Council, which includes Stephens, his direct reports and top executives from the global region that will get the vehicle.

That committee will now only review each product four times during its development. That’s “about a third” fewer times than before, spokeswoman McBride said. The intention is to hold lower-tier executives accountable for decision-making, she said.

Devolving development decisions down the food chain is probably a good idea, especially when the upper tiers of management are being taken over by a mad Texan with no industry experience. And a look at some of the changes in engineering and vehicle development staff point to The General’s future direction.

GM’s former mid- and full-size sedan engineering boss Jim Federico has been taken off sedans, and will now serve as group vehicle line executive and chief engineer for global compact, small, mini and electric vehicles. Federico had led the international engineering team that developed the Epsilon II architecture out of Opel, and his reassignment seems to hint at a new emphasis on compact vehicles at GM.

Randy Schwarz will take over as chief engineer and group VLE for mid- and full-size cars, as well as RWD cars. Jim Dolot and Mark Moussa will work under him as chief engineer and VLE for mid- and full-size cars, while Bill Shaw will take over as global VLE for performance and RWD vehicles.

Jeff Luke will become group VLE and chief engineer for global trucks, vans and crossovers, while Jully Burau will become global chief engineer for full-sized trucks.

AN [sub] summarizes some of the other engineering changes:

• John Calabrese, to executive director of body, exterior, interior, safety and HVAC. Changes under him include:

1. Jim Hentschel, to executive director of body, exterior and dimensional engineering;

2. Jeff Boyer, to executive director of interior and safety;

3. Ray Bierzynski, to executive director of HVAC / powertrain cooling.

• Micky Bly adds responsibility for infotainment and OnStar engineering to his role as executive director for electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries. Changes under him are:

1. Tim Nixon, to executive director of infotainment and OnStar engineering; and

2. Kristen Siemen, to executive director for electrical systems.

• Ken Kelzer adds responsibility for induction controls and exhaust and the Canadian engineering center to his role as executive director of chassis.

And apparently the shake-ups will continue. GM’s internal announcement of these changes promises that “other organizational changes” would be announced in the future.

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