Posts Tagged ‘SUV’
At the Geneva Motor Show, Goodyear unveiled a new SUV tire concept that’s specifically crafted to deal with multiple types of terrain while improving fuel efficiency, CNET reports. The tire has two rings, each serving a different purpose — a main outer ring that takes up two-thirds of the tire’s width and is used for regular day-to-day driving on regular roads, and an inner one that takes up the rest and is used for off-road action.
The outer ring is slightly bigger in diameter than the inner one, and “has primarily a slick surface with cut-ins to move water and prevent hydroplaning,” but also different textured surfaces to enhance grip. The inner ring has “more aggressive cut-ins and pebbly surfaces” to improve traction in off-road driving conditions that involve making contact with softer surfaces including mud and sand.
The outer ring is narrower than a regular SUV tire in order to improve fuel efficiency, and, interestingly, both rings have their distinct air chamber, meaning that if one of them is punctured, the other ring will still have air, allowing the driver to keep driving the car.
It’s not clear whether this Goodyear tire will move past concept phase at this time. Speaking of concepts, a recent tire innovation from Nokian Tyres proposes drivers “the world’s first non-studded winter tire with studs,” a combination of a standard tire with a studded winter tire.
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At least it’s not called the Bindo.
Maserati used Tuesday’s Geneva Motor Show to debut a new concept sports car called the Alfieri. The sleek, two-door coupe is named after one of the Maserati brothers who founded the company a century ago. Bindo was his older brother.
Naming issues aside, the Alfieri is a compelling concept, for two reasons.
First, it’s a look at a new model that could very well reach production in the near future.
“I sincerely can’t say that we’ll see this car in production in two years’ time, but I’m certain we’ll see something very similar,” said Lorenzo Ramaciotti, global head of design for Fiat, Maserati’s parent company.
Maserati’s current lineup includes the Quattroporte full-size sedan, the new Ghibli midsize sedan that the brand made noise about with a dramatic Super Bowl ad, and the GranTurismo coupe and convertible.
With an SUV currently in development, the Italian automaker is clearly worried about deviating too far from the race-bred sports cars that earned the company its name in the 20th century.
“This new concept is striking back and reminding everybody that the brand has a remarkable racing heritage and a unique tradition in exotic GT cars,” Maserati said in a statement.
A smaller, sportier coupe (and subsequent convertible) like the Alfieri concept would give Maserati a true sports car — in line with much of the brand’s heritage — that could target rivals such as Jaguar’s F-Type and either a loaded Porsche Boxster/Cayman or base 911. The Alfieri would also be considerably cheaper than the GranTurismo’s $127,000 starting price, and thus be a higher-volume seller.
The Alfieri concept is based on the GranTurismo’s chassis, but has a wheelbase that’s 9.5 inches shorter. The concept is powered by the same 4.7-liter V-8 as the GranTurismo, but here it makes 460 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque.
While a V-8 version of the car would certainly make sense in production form, keep in mind Maserati could also offer a cheaper version of the Alfieri with the twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 that’s in the Ghibli sedan.
A six-speed automatic transmission pushes the Alfieri’s power to the rear wheels, while other performance goodies include a limited-slip differential and carbon ceramic brakes with Brembo calipers.
The Alfieri is also compelling because its design shows where future Maserati models are headed. The wide, catfish-like grille of current models has been stretched larger, and a pair of thin headlights appear to slice through the Alfieri’s skin.
The car proudly wears plenty of curves, including a bold shoulder line above the rear wheels. At the back, vertical air vents to the side of the rear end intersect with horizontal taillights. Short overhangs at the front and rear of the Alfieri give it a very purposeful stance.
“The Alfieri boasts proportions that might well be archetypal for a future true sport car and certainly hint at the brand’s stylistic intentions for the near future,” Maserati said.
Ramaciotti was more succinct. “Maserati doesn’t change. Maserati is always Maserati.”
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The U.S. auto industry announced in 2013 that it was back in full force with unit sales increasing to 15.6 million, up better than 7% from 2012, and crossing the 15 million mark for the first time since 2007.
A combination of an improving economy, lower unemployment rates, and historically low lending rates have encouraged consumers to jump into what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase their dream car at a very attractive lending rate.
Needless to say, a lot of thought and effort goes into which car a consumer will purchase. Consumers often look at fuel economy, read reviews online, test drive the vehicle (perhaps a number of times), ask for advice from family and friends, and also plot out how much they’re willing to spend on their vehicle over the life of a loan if they choose to finance it.
One thing that consumers often overlook, though, is the dependability of the vehicle they’re considering buying. For a new car buyer, the expectation is that they’ll encounter few maintenance problems for the first couple of years, and if they do, that their warranty will cover those snafus. For a used car purchaser, dependability is everything since there’s rarely any warranty attached to a used car purchase.
Not only is dependability important for your pocketbook in that more dependable vehicles will cost less to maintain, but it’s also the silent advertiser for a brand. As J.D. Power & Associates has demonstrated through its research, 56% of car owners who report having no problems return to the same brand, while 42% who reported three or more problems kept their same brand of vehicle with their next purchase. Therefore, vehicle dependability can, at least partially, help us predict which brands’ sales may move higher and which brands may struggle based on this vehicle dependability-brand loyalty correlation.
America’s five most dependable automotive brands
To that end I turn to J.D. Power & Associates annual vehicle dependability study for 2014. The study itself looks at three-year-old models from a number of brands (i.e., all 2011 models) and asks consumers if they experienced one or more of 202 noted problems. J.D. Power then ranks those car brands from top to bottom based on how many problems were reported per 100 vehicles, commonly known as its PP100 metric. Dependability is especially important this year when you consider that J.D. Power’s study uncovered the first rise in reported problems, especially engine and transmission problems, since 1998!
Let’s have a look at the five top automotive brands according to J.D. Power’s study and then note what brands really stood out, as well as which brands faltered.
As a warning, you may be shocked to discover which brand decisively took the No. 1 spot in vehicle dependability!
No. 5: Buick (112 problems per 100 vehicles)
Rising from the sixth spot into the top five this year is Buick, owned by General Motors(NYSE: GM ) which had consumers report just 112 problems per 100 vehicles as opposed to 118 PP100 in last year’s study from J.D. Power. The real standout for Buick was the Lucerne which took top honors in the large car category, besting Toyota‘s (NYSE: TM ) Avalon and Ford‘s (NYSE: F ) Taurus. As Foolish auto analyst John Rosevear notes, Buick is doing a really nice job transitioning into a global brand.
No. 4: Acura (109 problems per 100 vehicles)
Honda Motors‘ (NYSE: HMC ) Acura was another big mover in 2014, vaulting higher by four spots to fourth place from eighth with 109 PP100 reported compared to 120 PP100 last year. Like GM’s Buick, Acura only took top honors in one category (compact premium CUV) with its RDX, but it also claimed a tie for the third-highest rating in the midsize premium CUV category with the Mercedes-Benz M-class. Honda and Acura are relatively synonymous with economical but dependable vehicles in the U.S., making this ranking not too surprising.
No. 3: Cadillac (107 problems per 100 vehicles)
Chalk up another victory for General Motors which can claim its second top-five brand for dependability in Cadillac. Year over year, Cadillac surged 11 spots to No. 3, with vehicle owners reporting only 107 PP100 compared to 128 PP100 last year. This huge jump came in only second to Jaguar which vaulted 13 spots higher in J.D. Power’s rankings. Cadillac took home the top honors for its large premium CUV, the Escalade, as well as large premium car, the DTS, which tied for the top spot with the Lexus LS. Cadillac has certainly done its best to focus its efforts on a slightly younger crowd, and these improved dependability ratings should help.
No. 2: Mercedes-Benz (104 problems per 100 vehicles)
Jumping three spots in 2014 to No. 2 with only 104 PP100 compared to 115 PP100 reported in the prior year is Daimler‘s (NASDAQOTH: DDAIF ) Mercedes-Benz. What’s particularly interesting here is that Mercedes-Benz didn’t win any of the 22 vehicle categories as outlined by J.D. Power, but it did place or show in quite a few which speaks to its overall consistency. Mercedes-Benz ranked second in midsize premium car with its E-Class sedan/wagon, second in large premium CUV with its GL-class, second in compact premium CUV with its GLK-class, and tied for third with the Acura MDX in the midsize premium CUV category with its M-class. Simply put, if consumers are going to pay a premium price, they expect premium results, and Mercedes-Benz appears to be delivering on that promise.
And the real shock (at least to me)…
No. 1: Lexus (68 problems per 100 vehicles)
I guess it shouldn’t be that much of a shock since Toyota-owned Lexus was first in last year’s ratings as well, but I recall shortly after I got my license, nearly two decades ago, how I was admonished from buying a Lexus because of their dependability issues. This rating simply confirms how far the brand has come in less than two decades as its PP100 of just 68 is light years ahead of second-place Mercedes-Benz, and even lower than the 71 PP100 that J.D. Power reported last year. Lexus tied its LS for top large premium car with the Cadillac DTS, was the top midsize premium car with the GS, and nabbed both the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in compact premium car with the ES and IS, and midsize premium CUV with the RX and GX.
Here are J.D. Power’s full rankings based on PP100:
Source: J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.
Obviously brands in the top five can be construed as winners, but General Motors, Toyota, and Honda deserve special recognition since they brought home eight, seven, and six, of the top category awards, respectively – that’s 21 of 22 categories won by just three companies!
As I stated above, Toyota and Honda generally build no-frill vehicles, choosing instead to focus on improving fuel economy and storage space. The end result for years has been a reliable vehicle that will get the consumer from point A to B with ease, and without too many automotive issues.
The real shock here is the dominance by General Motors’ vehicles and the total absence of Ford, save for a runner-up effort in the midsize pickup category with its Ranger. GM is hoping to translate these key wins into strong sales for its recently redesigned trucks, the Silverado and Sierra, which it hopes will give Ford’s dominant F-Series a run for its money. Early sales of GM’s Silverado have been mixed with winter weather and parts shortages eating into total unit sales, but as Foolish auto guru John Rosevear recently pointed out, it’s actually spending fewer days on dealership lots than either of its foes, signaling that GM may indeed be on the up-and-up.
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Let me plant this scenario in your head, as I’d bet this has happened to a majority of you reading this right now. I’ll admit, it’s happened to me. Here’s the scenario:
You’re at the car dealership, and you’ve picked out the car of your dreams, or perhaps something to get you from point A to B and/or handle that new addition to your family. You discuss financing options with the dealership and pat yourself on the back for negotiating a notable reduction in price from where you started. By at this point in time, you’re quite proud of yourself. You drive the car off the lot and feel like a victor for what might be days or weeks.
Then, one sunny afternoon (or since I live in Seattle, stormy winter’s night) while checking the resale value of your car online, you realize that with just a couple thousand miles on what is essentially your brand-new vehicle it’s worth thousands, or perhaps even tens of thousands of dollars, less now than what you paid for it just months prior.
This is the plight of the new car purchaser. Consumers can certainly trade down to used cars for a cheaper sticker price, but they’ll often pay the penalties of buying as-is with no warranty and could be in line for a number of repairs. If these same consumers choose a new vehicle, their warranty will cover a number of repairs and maintenance options, but they’ll deal with their vehicle immediately depreciating once they drive it off the lot.
What the new car purchaser would really prefer to do is find that common ground between buying a new car and not having it depreciate rapidly over time. Unfortunately, the average new car in 2014 is expected to lose 60% of its original value after five years. Thankfully, we have Kelley Blue Book to help us out.
Kelley Blue Book recently released a report detailing 10 car models that hold the highest resale values after the five-year mark. According to its figures, all 10 of these car models maintain at least half of their original value after five years. As a car enthusiast, perhaps nothing surprised me more than what car model held the No. 1 spot!
By understanding which models deliver the best resale, we not only can make smarter decisions as consumers, it could point to which vehicles are likely to drive automakers’ sales higher moving forward.
Here are the 10 car models with the highest resale values (all models are 2014).
10. Dodge Challenger: resale value at 36 months (60.8%) / 60 months (50.5%)
Behold the ongoing rebirth of the American muscle car! Because of consumers’ seemingly insatiable appetites for horsepower at the moment, seeing the Dodge Challenger squeak in at No. 10 isn’t a surprise in the slightest. The Challenger is maintaining high interest among consumers for its reasonable price point — ranging from a tad over $26,000 up to nearly $46,000 — and heart-pumping 305 to 470 horsepower. An aggressive, sleek look coupled with unbridled power should keep Challenger sales rolling strong in 2014.
9. Chevrolet Silverado 1500: resale value at 36 months (59%) / 60 months (50.6%)
What a difference a remodel can make forGeneral Motors‘ (NYSE: GM ) Chevy Silverado. It’s been roughly eight years since the vehicle has had a major redesign, but it’s clear from initial sales of the vehicle that GM has had trouble simply keeping up with demand. Although sales have stagnated over the past two months, as Foolish auto analyst John Rosevear pointed out, the average number of days a Silverado sits in a car dealership’s lot before being sold is lower than both of its major domestic rivals. That proves the demand is there and gives us a primary reason Silverado’s resale value is so high.
8. Honda CR-V: resale value at 36 months (63%) / 60 months (50.7%)
Why Honda Motor (NYSE: HMC ) ? Simple: reliability. Consumer perceptions can go a long way to boosting the value of a vehicle in the auto sector, and Honda vehicles exude the idea of being economical, maintaining good gas mileage, and requiring less long-term maintenance relative to their peers. The CR-V is the perfect blend of the above, blending the space of an SUV into a compact form, while still providing reasonable gas mileage and the expectation of years of drivability without issues.
7. Chevrolet Camaro: resale value at 36 months (63.7%) / 60 months (51.9%)
Have I mentioned that Americans are really fascinated with the resurgence of the American muscle car? Perhaps no vehicle has captivated the attention of consumers than the Chevy Camaro, which is the best-selling muscle car — topping Ford‘s (NYSE: F ) Mustang and the Dodge Challenger — since 2009. In 2013, the Camaro nosed out the Mustang for the top spot in muscle-car sales and actually left the Challenger eating its dust. With extremely reasonable price points and an engine that cranks out 323-580 horsepower depending on what model you choose, the Camaro’s future and its resale value looks bright.
6. Toyota Tundra: resale value at 36 months (63.7%) / 60 months (52.3%)
We have to jump all the way up to the No. 6 spot to see our first appearance of a Toyota(NYSE: TM ) vehicle — but here’s a hint: You’ll get used to it! The Tundra is a bit of a curious case, as it’s not even close to being among the top 20 vehicles sold. Instead, Ford’s F-Series pickups, the Chevy Silverado, and the Dodge Ram run circles around the Tundra in terms of total units sold. What’s curious is that it holds the most superior resale value of the bunch, likely having to do with consumer perception of its superior reliability, as well as the fact that it can actually come with a number of equipment add-ons that can give it an edge over its peers.
5. Chevrolet Corvette: resale value at 36 months (67.5%) / 60 months (53.5%)
Surprise! Americans like muscle cars! General Motors is surprisingly cleaning up on thisKelley Blue Book list, but it does have a major redesign of the Chevy Corvette to thank for that.
In years past, you pretty much had to sign over your first born to park a Corvette in your driveway. But the redesign, which comes complete with a new hydroformed aluminum chassis, can be had for a bargain-basement $52,000 MSRP and delivers 455-460 horsepower. As long as longtime Corvette enthusiasts don’t balk at the stylistic changes, there’s a good chance the Corvette will remain on this list for some time to come.
4. Toyota 4Runner: resale value at 36 months (66.6%) / 60 months (56.2%)
Sometimes minimal change is for the best, as we see with the No. 4 spot on Kelley Blue Books’ resale value list with the Toyota 4Runner. It’s been four years since there’s been a major resdesign of the 4Runner, and this appears to be one of those situations where the automaker says, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!” The 4Runner relies on consumers’ perception of reliability for the Toyota brand and the fact that few midsized off-road capable SUVs remain on the market.
3. Jeep Wrangler: resale value at 36 months (70.3%) / 60 months (59.1%)
In addition to unbridled horsepower, the resale value of genuine off-road vehicles is unparalleled with the Jeep Wrangler. This is the second year in a row the Wrangler has held the No. 3 spot, and it’s the highest-ranked American-made brand on the list. With genuine off-road-capable vehicles becoming difficult to come by these days as automakers move more toward luxury features, the Wrangler is likely to remain on this list because of this niche aspect.
2. Toyota Tacoma: resale value at 36 months (73.7%) / 60 months (61.9%)
Yet again, another Toyota vehicle in the top six! Like the previous Toyota models, the historic reputation of Toyota is what appears to drive the value of these vehicle down at a much slower pace over the long term. With few frills added, the Tacoma is simply a reliable midsize truck that consumers can drive the wheels off of without worrying too much about repairs or gas mileage.
And the No. 1 vehicle for best resale value is …
1. Toyota FJ Cruiser: resale value at 36 months (81%) / 60 months (70%)
That’s right … the FJ Cruiser. Perhaps one of the odder-looking vehicles on the road takes the best resale value yet again and clinches Toyota the position as top dog for resale value in the U.S. The FJ Cruiser’s leading resale value comes from a combination of unique styling, which simply has no comparison, as well as its ability to successfully navigate off road. Being able to combine city and utility functions into a unique body styling earns the FJ Cruiser the honor of America’s best resale value vehicle.
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At the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, Dodge introduces the new 2014 Journey Crossroad model to SUV shoppers who are looking for a more rugged-looking crossover vehicle. When the Journey Crossroad goes on sale, it will slot between the existing SXT and Limited trim levels, and will start at $25,990 including the $995 destination charge.
To create the new 2014 Dodge Journey Crossroad, the automaker installs revised front and rear bumpers with simulated skid plates, side-sill cladding, Platinum Chrome exterior trim, and dark-tinted headlights and taillights. The Journey Crossroad rolls on unique Hyper Black 19-inch aluminum wheels in a 5-spoke design.
Inside, the Journey Crossroad features black leather seats with light-gray accent stitching and black mesh inserts, as well as plenty of Liquid Graphite trim. Standard equipment includes a Uconnect 8.4 color touch-screen infotainment system, power driver’s seat, power heated exterior mirrors, illuminated cup holders, and a keyless passive entry system with push-button starting.
Like the existing Dodge Journey, the new Crossroad model provides 7-passenger seating, reclining second-row seats with integrated child booster seats, fold-flat front passenger’s seat with a storage bin under the cushion, and removable storage bins in the second-row floor designed to hold wet items or conceal valuables. Maximum cargo space measures 67.6 cu. ft.
The Journey Crossroad is equipped with a standard 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive. A 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission is optional, and the Journey Crossroad can be fitted with an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. When taking corners at speeds above 25 mph, the AWD system automatically sends power to the Journey’s rear wheels to improve handling.
Dodge says crossover SUV buyers can expect to see the new 2014 Journey Crossroad in showrooms in the spring of 2014.
When it comes to its plug-in hybrid SUVs, Volvo is willing to sacrifice a bit of range to go a lot further, in the global sense. The Swedish automaker started producing a diesel plug-in hybrid version of the V60 late last year but doesn’t plan to make that model available around the world. Instead, Volvo will replace it with a gasoline-drinking plug-in hybrid XC90 crossover, Australia’s Drive.com says, citing Volvo executive Lex Kerssemakers. The new plug-in hybrid will use a gas-powered four-cylinder turbo as its engine and deliver at least 300 horsepower. Production of that SUV will start late next year.
Volvo says moving from diesel to gas will shave about five percent off the model’s 120 miles per gallon equivalent fuel economy rating (per the more lenient European standards), so the SUV will still have fuel economy worth bragging about. Kerssemakers said that gas power, as opposed to diesel, would be an easier sell outside Europe. Volvo started making the diesel plug-in last November. The company said at the time that it initially planned to make 1,000 units for the 2013 model year but that advance orders caused them to boost that number to as many as 6,000 vehicles for the 2014 model year.
A rotund glasses-wearing man, proudly employed by the new i division of BMW, stood on a platform in front of a large photograph of some indeterminate European skyline. He looked quite self-satisfied, if a little nervous. For 15 minutes, he’d been moving around the room from one platform to another, like an actor in an awkward college staging of a Bertholdt Brecht play.
“BMW i,” the man said, “heralds the dawn of a new age of electromobility.”
If history has taught us anything, it’s to be wary of Germans proclaiming “the dawn of a new age.” That said, the BMW i3, which enjoyed its international cotillion last week in Amsterdam, represents a substantial reimagining of how a car should drive, how we interact with our vehicles, and what, in general, a car should be. It’s a significant development in automotive history, and a remarkably nimble one given the size and pedigree of the company.
BMW formed “Project i” in 2007 under the care of Ulrich Kranz, the executive who’d overseen the rebirth of Mini and the highly successful launches of the X3 and X5 SUVs. The goal was to position BMW for the future by thinking of “sustainable mobility concepts.” An initial team of seven people began debating what the car of the future would look like: It had to run on alternative energy, it had to have a trendy modern design, it had to incorporate technology in an intelligent way, and, most of all, it had to suit the lifestyle of the world’s megacities.
Kranz and his team traveled to 20 metropolises, including London, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Mexico City, looking for tech-savvy upper-middle class people who either claimed to, or strived for, “sustainable lifestyles.” In other words, they sought out the BMW customer of the future. The result? An electric car of great quality and efficiency, and — this may be the key genius of the whole concept — made entirely out of materials recycled using renewable energy. As one BMW executive told me, “the next phase in premium is sustainability.” They know what their customers want; the i3 stands for a totally different approach, and may very well end up being the most significant car of its age.
The i3 presents small, and on the outside, it doesn’t look like much, maybe a slightly more chic version of “The Howard,” the electric-car MacGuffin from Larry David’s hilarious HBO movie “Clear History.” There’s almost no hood, and the front grilled is framed, rather than with a showy roundel, by plastic slits that look suspiciously like a pair of Ray-Bans. It slopes up to a rear hatchback, and has four doors, though the rear coach doors, hidden almost like a Murphy bed, can only be opened if the front doors are open. At the moment, the i3 only comes in two colors, a fun-looking burnt orange, which will probably become its signature, and a less-fun-looking creamy silver.
Much of BMW’s efforts has gone inside. The i3’s designers intended, BMW told us, to create a feeling of a “loft on wheels” that offers an escape from the stresses of city living. It’s made of recycled carbon-fiber and faux-wood paneling, like a tech startup office with an electric motor; all that’s missing is a white board and a ping-pong table. Because the car, essentially, doesn’t have a hood, the dashboard seems to extend forever. The front seats are perfectly poised, and the rear is a little cramped, but basically functional. There’s enough storage in the hatch for a few grocery bags, but the rear seats come down, creating room for whatever errands need to be done.
At its core, the i3 is a city-dweller’s car. BMW rode 32 million miles with megacity drivers, and they determined that the ideal urban pod dweller drives an average of about 35 miles a day. The majority of the world’s drivers spend the majority of their time driving in cities. “It’s not an aggressive way of driving,” a BMW executive told me, “but cooler driving. Drivers can have a calmer, more relaxing driving style.”
They engineered it as such, and the buzzwords match the experience. Driving the i3 was the most relaxing city-driving experience of my life. They gave it to us in Amsterdam, which isn’t as stressful to drive in as, say, Los Angeles or Calcutta, but it’s still a big city full of trams and trucks and scooters and thousands upon thousands of happy, tall, beautiful coat-wearing people riding bicycles. There were many obstacles. The i3 helped me drive around them with incredible precision and nimbleness.
Traditional categories like horsepower (there’s 170 hp available from the i3′s electric motor) dissolve with this car. The major operations are comprised of three components: a “one-pedal drive,” turning radius, and balance. Because of the regeneration grip dialed in by BMW engineers to recharge the batteries from motion, the car stops almost immediately when you take your foot off the accelerator. I drove the i3 for more than four hours over the course of two days, and used the brakes roughly twice. The i3 turns almost in a circle, making it easy to maneuver into tight parking spots and narrow alley-like streets. It has excellent poise, necessary for the small, sudden turns that urban driving often requires. It’s car operation as parkour.
The machine isn’t without its flaws. On my second-day test drive, when I moved it over cobblestone streets, the automatic doors kept locking and unlocking, and I couldn’t stop them. For a second there, the i3 felt like HAL 9000, turning psychotic and hurtling me toward oblivion. But other than that modest annoyance, driving it felt relaxing, calm, and even friendly, almost meditative.
BMW’s conception of the i3 as the ultimate hipster lifestyle car goes far beyond an approximation of driving Zen; they’ve designed it to be an extension of a modern digital reality. The i3 comes equipped with a suite of apps that actually work. It has a center-console screen with a somewhat above-average GPS, but it’s not a crummy iPad knockoff like the ones seen in so many contemporary cars. The real magic comes in the smartphone connectability; in particular, there’s an app that directs you to the nearest parking station with an electric charger and gives you an alternate route involving public transportation or even walking. This wouldn’t work in a city like, say, Houston, at least not right now, but it’s perfect in Amsterdam, which has more than 700 public charging stations within the city limits alone, or in a San Francisco of the very near future.
The i3 gets more than 80 miles per charge, and can totally refresh in six hours. The charging cable cleverly hides under the front hood, and it locks in place when you lock the car. So if you want to drive it all day, you can; there’s also a version with a tiny motor borrowed from BMW’s motorcycle unit that acts as a mini-generator, but BMW provided none of those to us for testing, pushing only the electric version instead.
So let’s address the 800-pound carbon-fiber gorilla in the room: The i3 almost seems to mock the concept of BMW as “the ultimate driving machine.” That said, it goes fast. Very fast. We never took the i3 over, say, 85 mph on the motorway, but it got there with amazing quickness, as though I were calling down to Scotty in the engine room and saying “warp drive.” The car gave a little whirr, and then we launched, awesomely, into the Delta quadrant. It rocketed us forward into a beautiful, noiseless, solar-powered future.
The i division now has 400 employees, and with the launch of the i8 sports car next year, it’s just going to keep growing. The i3 goes on sale in Europe in November, and will sell in the U.S. for a little more than $41,000, which is just about the cost of a tricked-out Chevy Impala. In other words, it’s not an inexpensive car, but it’s hardly beyond the reach of BMW’s core customer. It’s going to be hugely successful, and we’re going to have to change our conception of what a BMW car looks like.
The key to evolution, Charles Darwin taught us, is that the most successful species aren’t necessarily the smartest, or the fastest, but the ones that are most able to adapt to change. While the rest of the dinosaurs wonder about that bright light in the sky, BMW has evolved.
To paraphrase Tolstoy, all successful cars are alike but each unsuccessful car is unhappy in its own way. Combine a minivan and an SUV and you get a Pontiac Aztek. Put a station wagon and an SUV together and you get a Chrysler Pacifica. But attach an SUV body to a passenger car platform, and you get an SUV crossover. So as analysts crunched the numbers from August’s sales results against the backdrop of the year’s biggest auto show in Frankfurt, all anybody was talking about was how crossovers — those streamlined SUVs — were coming to dominate the industry, and how they will unsettle the global competitive landscape.
–Sales of small crossovers increased 36% in August, according to Automotive News, and crossovers sales of all sizes now represent more than one-quarter of industry volume — up from essentially zero 20 years ago.
–Consumers are on a pace to buy 300,000 Honda CR-Vs and Ford Escapes, and 200,000 Toyota RAV4s this year. Total crossover sales in 2013 should reach 4 million.
–Japanese brands gained 2.5 points of market share in August, largely on the strength of increased crossover sales. The Detroit Three, which have lagged in crossovers, particularly in the compact and subcompact segments, lost 1.4 points.
–For some premium brands, crossovers are their most popular models: The RX accounts for more than a quarter of all Lexus sales; the MDX and RDX lead Acura’s sales charts; and Enclave and Encore are the most popular Buicks.
–Luxury manufacturers — even those who never built an SUV — are jumping into crossovers. Bentley and Jaguar both showed new concepts at Frankfurt, while Tesla is due to introduce the industry’s first all-electric crossover, the Model X, for the 2014 model year. Buyers need never worry about damage from mud, rocks, or wild animals. Like most crossovers, these luxury models will never go further off-road than a highway exit ramp.
The flexibility of crossovers has made them the industry’s default solution, its no-brainer. When asked at the Frankfurt show whether Jaguar would consider developing its first crossover, Design Director Ian Callum told Automotive News Europe, “Why not? Everyone else is doing it.” Even Rolls-Royce is considering developing an crossover. “We are intensively thinking about entering the SUV segment,” CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes said in an interview with Bloomberg News. Its sticker price would be north of $300,000.
Crossovers have become the industry’s equivalent of a Swiss Army knife. Says analyst Jeremy Acevedo of Edmuds.com: “By borrowing the best aspects of so many different segments with relatively few concessions, crossovers will continue to be an integral and growing segment of the market.”
Their growing dominance signals an historic transition for the auto industry. Crossovers represent a once-in-a-generation sea change in car designs and buyer tastes. With
traditional station wagons practically extinct, and minivans in seemingly terminal decline, crossovers are spreading across the landscape like some alien species, strangling lesser varieties. Subaru, whose sales rose 45% in August and is one of the fastest-growingmanufacturers in the industry, has a model lineup that consists almost entirely of crossovers and has a hard time keeping up with demand. “This will be the fastest-growing segment globally for the next five years,” says Warren Browne, vice president of AutomotiveCompass.
With Porsche getting ready to complement its Cayenne with the Macon crossover in 2014, just about every automaker is scrambling to add more crossovers to its lineup. In the process, they are being forced to ask some pressing questions:
–How thinly can they slice the crossover market? Crossovers are now available in subcompact, compact, and mid-size sizes, configured in two rows or three, and wearing mainstream or premium nameplates. Is there room for more two-door crossovers like the aggressive Lexus LF-NX concept shown in Frankfurt, convertibles like Nissan’s slow-selling Murano, or sport models like Subaru’s popular XV Crosstrek?
–What other segments will shrink as crossovers grow? Full-size sedans have been in decline for several years. Are mid-size sedans next? How many buyers are ready to choose functionality over formality, or practicality over pizzazz?
–What is the fate of the traditional SUV? The truck-based vehicles can’t compare to crossovers for car-like ride and handling , features, or fuel economy. And while SUVs are still superior for towing or hauling heavy loads, pickups can do the same job more efficiently.
Crossovers came to prominence in the 1990s because they copied many of the best-liked features of SUVs — command seating, high ride height, easy access, available all-wheel drive — with none of the drawbacks — truck frames with truck looks and truck rides. The first ones came out of Japan, where consumers are more open to innovative body styles. After finding success there, Toyota (TM) and Honda raced to be first to sell to U.S. customers. When it became apparent that the RAV4 was going to win by arriving in late 1996, Honda (HMC) took the unprecedented step of making a Japanese-spec CR-V with right hand drive available to automotive journalists for reviews to blunt its impact. The tactic worked, and the CR-V has gone on to join the Civic and Accord as a core Honda model, as well as the bestselling crossover, while the RAV4 resides in third place.
Not all crossovers are created equal. Ford (F, Fortune 500) has struggled with the Flex, which buyers find reminiscent of a minivan, and had sold only 18,166 through August this year, compared with more than 200,000 Escapes. Nissan’s brave attempt to design a convertible crossover with the Murano CrossCabriolet suffered from dumpy looks and uncertain handling, and will be discontinued.
Consumer interest in crossovers seems to be gaining steam. In Edmunds’ tally of its 50 most researched cars in August, four of the top five were crossovers, with Honda’s CR-V leading the pack. Automakers are racing to keep pace. Says Edmunds’ Acevedo: “Manufacturers can’t ignore the popularity of these models and those doing well in the segment will continue to refine their offerings as those looking for a larger piece of the pie will continue to up the ante.” Some analysts believe that in addition to higher sales, crossovers return higher profits because their unibody construction makes them more economical to manufacture and because many crossovers share parts with passenger cars.
For now, all signs point upward. Analyst Browne sees a world in which prosperous buyers will use a sedan to commute and keep a crossover for fun and vacations. In other words, the sky is the limit — until something newer and better comes along.
As surely as the sun rises in the east, automakers will inevitably find new wrappers to clothe smaller SUVs that can sell at luxury car prices. Here’s the first images of the Lexus LF-NX concept that will be fully revealed in a few days at the Frankfurt auto show, and while it’s got more creases on its face than Tommy Lee Jones, it’s all but guaranteed to preview an actual Lexus small SUV, the one gaping hole in Toyota‘s luxury lineup.
While the previous Lexus LF concepts carried their modern style well, the NX shows some of its limitations, namely in making the angry Norelco front end so tall. The back end suffers from a similar problem, with an ungraceful pile-up of lines on the back door and a fender fold that looks deep enough in these photos to store a small dog. Lexus says the LF-NX will sport an all-hybrid power source and typical but unsurprising luxury accoutrements; we’ll have live photos to examine soon.
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is home to perhaps one of the most appropriate buttons we’ve encountered in the What Does This Button Do? series. Mysterious buttons are rarely spelled out as clearly as the Jeep SRT8′s, or as fun to use. By spelled out, we mean the whole word, “Launch,” appears on the button to designate the 470-horsepower, all-wheel-drive Jeep SRT8′s Launch Mode. There are no acronyms or guessing with this button. What the button does is also made clearer by the awesome depiction of a drag strip’s starting-line lights, aka a “Christmas tree.”
Jeep’s launch control is standard on SRT8s for consistent, enhanced fast starts of the high-performance SUV. Launch Mode brings the engine, suspension, transmission and driveline together for fast launches from a standstill by revving the engine at a standstill and launching the 5,000-pound SUV like a rocket.
To activate, Jeep’s instructions say the SUV must be stopped on a level surface before fully depressing the brake pedal – while in Drive – and then pressing the Launch button. While holding the brake, mash the accelerator pedal to the floor within a half-second and the engine will rev to a predetermined rpm. Once the engine speed is up, all the driver has to do is lift the brake and the SRT8 launches perfectly every time.
Cars.com reviewer Aaron Bragman tested the SRT8′s Launch Mode at the vehicle’s introduction:
“Jeep rates the SRT Grand Cherokee at 4.8 seconds from zero to 60 mph, but I discovered that this is a conservative figure: Using the SRT’s onboard software and a special launch button, I was able to consistently rip off 4.5-second zero-to-60 times, and SRT engineers say that they’ve been able to achieve 60 mph in 4.2 seconds under perfect conditions.”