Archive for the ‘Minivans’ Category

Germans, Japanese Struggle as Koreans Expand Lead in Power Initial Quality Study

Detroit automakers show strength, though industry, overall, stalls out.

by on Jun.19, 2019

While Porsche scored below average overall, the 911 was the highest-quality model in the 2019 IQS.

Once known for bargain-basement pricing and mediocre quality, Korean carmakers have not only moved up-market but shown that they can deliver industry-leading quality, or so it seems, based on the latest annual J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.

If anything, Kia, Hyundai and recently launched luxury brand Genesis are actually expanding their lead over the Japanese and European marques that had traditionally led the closely followed Power IQS. Genesis topped the 2019 chart, followed by Kia and Hyundai, followed by Detroit-based Ford and Lincoln. Japan managed to place only three brands in the IQS top 10, while not a single European brand scored above average.

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But the new study – which focuses on new cars, trucks and crossovers during their first 90 days on the road – also revealed that the quality of the latest models leveled off after scoring significant improvements through much of the past decade, according to Power. (more…)

Nissan Recruits New Design Chief from Lincoln

Woodhouse helped to lead luxury brand's renaissance.

by on Jun.14, 2019

Dave Woodhouse played a key roll in Lincoln's renaissance and is now heading up Nissan North America's design team.

Nissan has hired away the top designer at the Lincoln brand from the Ford Motor Co. to serve as its new design chief in North America.

David Woodhouse, who has overseen Lincoln design during Ford’s recent efforts to revive the brand, will serve as vice president, Nissan Design America, Nissan announced.

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In this role, Woodhouse will lead all Nissan and Infiniti design activities in North America. He will also serve on the company’s Global Nissan Design Management Committee. (more…)

Exterior Airbags Could Save Lives of Passengers and Pedestrians

ZF bag automatically triggers ahead of an collision.

by on Jun.13, 2019

Auto supplier ZF has developed exterior airbags to help mitigate injuries to both vehicle occupants as well as pedestrians.

Today’s cars are loaded with smart safety systems, including technology like forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, designed to prevent crashes. But when a crash does occur, airbags can substantially reduce the risk for vehicle occupants.

Today’s airbags can pop out of all sorts of nooks and crannies, including the steering wheel, the instrument panel and a vehicle’s headliner. But ZF has unveiled a new airbag concept that is mounted outside the vehicle where it can be triggered in the milliseconds before a crash occurs, rather than after an impact already has taken place.

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“Occupant safety is paramount when developing new vehicles for automated and autonomous driving,” said Michael Büchsner, head of ZF’s Passive Safety Systems Division. “Our concept of the pre-crash external side airbag is a great example of how ZF wants to achieve its Vision Zero, a world without accidents and emissions.” (more…)

Fiat Chrysler Teams Up With Autonomous Vehicle Start-Up Aurora

Move could fill a gaping hole left open after collapse of merger talks with Renault.

by on Jun.10, 2019

Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley hasn't stopped looking for partners the wake of the FCA-Renault falling apart.

Fiat Chrysler will form an alliance with autonomous vehicle start-up Aurora to develop technology for commercial vehicles that could range from hands-free taxis to driverless delivery trucks.

Aurora currently runs operations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as well as San Francisco and Palo Alto, California, three of the hotbeds of autonomous vehicle research, with more than 200 employees. Earlier this year it raised $530 million through a Series B funding round, with Amazon one of its key investors.

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“As part of FCA’s autonomous vehicle strategy, we will continue to work with strategic partners to address the needs of customers in a rapidly changing industry,” said Mike Manley, chief executive officer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. “Aurora brings a unique skillset combined with advanced and purposeful technology that complements and enhances our approach to self-driving.”

The deal, which officially links Aurora with Fiat Chrysler’s North American unit, FCA US, was announced only days after the parent company broke off merger talks with Renault. One of the potential benefits of that tie-up would have been access to autonomous and electrified vehicle technologies being developed by the French automaker’s Japanese alliance partner, Nissan.

(French government blamed for collapse of Fiat Chrysler-Renault merger plan. Click Here for the story.)

Fiat Chrysler also supplied Waymo with 65,000 Pacifica minivans for its Waymo One service.

FCA insiders have blamed French government interference for scuttling the proposed “merger-of-equals,” but sources in France have, in turn, claimed that they were concerned that the deal could have fractured the two decade old Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

What is clear is that Fiat Chrysler has needed help when it comes to autonomous technology. Under Sergio Marchionne, the former CEO who passed away unexpectedly last summer, it was little more than an afterthought. There was little work done in-house, in sharp contrast to other major competitors such as Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, General Motors and Ford.

Prior to this announcement, FCA’s biggest move in the autonomous field was to agree to provide as many as 60,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans for use in the new Waymo One ride-sharing service started by the Google spinoff Waymo in the Phoenix area – which is scheduled to expand to at least 20 more cities in the coming years.

In an ironic twist, Aurora’s CEO Chris Urmson, a pioneer in the autonomous field, previously headed Waymo before it was spun off by Google and new CEO John Krafcik came onboard.

In the non-monogamous world of high-tech transportation, the connecting lines crisscross all over one another. Amazon, which is now paired with FCA though Aurora, led a consortium that purchased a major stake in electric vehicle start-up Rivian earlier this year. While the digital retailer hasn’t explained its goals, it is widely believed to be working up plans to field a fleet of driverless delivery trucks.

Meanwhile, another investor in Rivian is Ford Motor Co., a key rival of Fiat Chrysler’s in the commercial vehicle market.

(Click Here for more about the failed FCA-Renault merger.)

Neither FCA nor Aurora would discuss specific details of their new alliance, including any financial arrangements. Earlier this year, after the Series B funding round was completed, the start-up reportedly had a $2.5 billion valuation, according to the Reuters news service.

Along with the new FCA deal, Aurora has also forged relationships with Hyundai, Volkswagen and Chinese electric vehicle start-up Byton.

“We are thrilled to forge a partnership with FCA US to develop a meaningful business model for delivering the benefits of self-driving commercial vehicles,” said Sterling Anderson, Aurora co-founder and chief product officer.

Precisely what those vehicles will be isn’t clear, but the dozens of automakers and research firms exploring autonomous technology see a number of possible options. The general consensus is that costs will run too high, at least in the early years, for most consumers, putting the focus on commercial ventures. These include autonomous cabs like those Waymo One is fielding, with General Motors and its Cruise Automation subsidiary promising to launch their own operation later this year.

Local delivery services would like to dispense with costly drivers, as well, though the challenge is resolving the “last 100 foot” problem, getting packages from the truck to the door. Some experiments have required customers to go and pick up their packages but that isn’t seen as a popular option. Drones are a possibility, but Ford last month demonstrated a robot that could take packages from truck to drop-off.

(Waymo kicks off autonomous taxi and ride-sharing service. Click Here for the story.)

Long-haul trucks are also a possibility, though not an area in which FCA competes. Its former partner, Daimler AG, however, has been fleet testing hands-free technology through several subsidiaries, including the U.S.-based Freightliner.

Auto Loans, Payments Reach Record Highs

New benchmarks set for new and used vehicles.

by on Jun.07, 2019

People are taking out bigger loans for their vehicles, and that means bigger payments: Both have reached record highs.

Despite the fact that automakers are selling fewer vehicles, they continue to make more money per sale because buyers are borrowing more and, as a result, paying more each month for those new vehicles.

The average amount borrowed to buy a new vehicle hit a record $32,187 during the first quarter, according to Experian, which tracks millions of auto loans each month. The trend has spilled over to used vehicles where the average loan also hit a record, $20,137.

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“We have not seen a slowdown in loan demand. In fact, volume for new and used loans is up from previous years,” said Melinda Zabritski, senior director of automotive financial solutions for Experian. (more…)

Renault Expected to Give Thumbs Up to FCA Marriage Proposal

Nissan upbeat, but cautious, according to report.

by on Jun.04, 2019

Any merger between FCA and Renault must protect France's hourly workforce, such as its Maubeuge plant, French government officials said.

Renault’s board will meet on Tuesday afternoon to pore over the merger proposal offered late last month by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and reports from Europe suggest the response will be a positive one.

Should the French automaker signal its approval it would surprise few, several observers told TheDetroitBureau.com, considering the two companies had discussed the idea of a full merger for more than a month before the plan became public.

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But there are some potential obstacles to be overcome, including the existing ties between Renault and its long-time alliance partner Nissan, as well as Mitsubishi which entered the alliance several years ago. But the two Japanese automakers also appear to be signaling cautious approval for the deal that would create the world’s third-largest automaker – and largest automotive group. (more…)

U.S. New Vehicle Sales Tick Upward in May

Toyota and Fiat Chrysler led monthly sales surge.

by on Jun.03, 2019

Reid Bigland, FCA head of U.S. Sales, reported that the company's Ram division set a new sales record in May.

With Fiat Chrysler and Toyota leading the way, automakers surprised on the upside in May, posting modest sales increases for the month.

FCA, where overall sales increased 2%, reported setting three records in May, led by the Ram brand which notched its 12th consecutive monthly sales record as demand for both light-duty and heavy-duty pickup trucks remained strong.

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It was also the best May ever for the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the highest level of May sales for the Dodge Charger in six years. Overall, total sales rose to 218,702 vehicles. Fleet represented 31% of total sales during the month. On a year-to-date basis, fleet accounted for 22% FCA of sales, the automaker reported. (more…)

Putting the Jigsaw Together: Who’ll Run the Show at Merged FCA-Renault?

New management team always a challenge when companies combine.

by on May.29, 2019

Fiat Chairman John Elkann's role in a merged company is part of what the two sides are trying to sort out.

During the coming months, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe Renault will be putting an emphasis on due diligence, studying the potential pros and cons of the merger FCA formally proposed on Monday. Among other things, they’ll be looking at how their global operations would come together, everything from product lines to manufacturing operations.

But one of the biggest challenges, numerous sources both in and outside of the two companies stress, will be making sure that their corporate cultures are a comfortable fit. And that will begin at the top, with the management team of what would become the world’s third-largest automaker.

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With the proposed deal expected to take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to finalize, many things could happen, including the choices for key management positions. But, at the moment, sources closely connected to FCA and Renault expect that Jean-Dominique Senard, currently the French automaker’s chairman, will become the new auto giant’s CEO. John Elkann, now FCA’s chairman, will retain that role in the new organization. (more…)

WTO Likely to Shoot Down Trump’s “National Security” Tariffs

Organization adjudicator says Trump would lose with trade group.

by on May.28, 2019

The Trump administration would like lose a case before the WTO if it implements its Section 232-based tariffs.

President Donald Trump’s potential plan to implement new tariffs on inbound goods, such as autos and automotive components, claiming they represent a threat to the national security of the U.S. likely won’t survive a challenge with the World Trade Organization.

Trump order the Commerce Department last fall to determine if the imports could be national threats under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. Recently, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross delivered a recommendation that they could indeed be viewed that way, allowing the administration to slap a 25% tariff on the goods.

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For much of its presidency, Trump has chastised automakers – foreign and domestic – for not building enough vehicles and components in the U.S. and he planned to do something about it, if they do not. However, a former adjudicator with the WTO who has recently ruled on a similar issue told Reuters that any country challenging the levy before the WTO would likely win their case. (more…)

Power, LMC Predicting 2.1 Percent Drop in May Auto Sales

Power, LMC Predicting 2.1 Percent Drop in May Auto Sales

by on May.28, 2019

New vehicle sales are expected to fall 2.1% compared with last May's results.

May is expected to see the continuation of falling monthly auto sales in the U.S. that the industry has seen for the first four months of the year with a decline of 2.1%, according a new estimate.

Higher prices for new vehicles are largely to blame, according to analysts at J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, who also predicted a 3.1% slide in retail sales for May down to 1.23 million units and 1.56 million, including fleet and other sales, units overall.

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The expected bump in sales over Memorial Day weekend isn’t likely to offset earlier declines in the month as vehicle prices combined with higher interest rates are still combining to shut some potential buyers out. Dealers often put out for special sales on the long holiday weekend. This year was no exception and manufacturers were backing those efforts with some big discounts, and a return of several 0% financing deals. (more…)