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Detroit Motor Show stories 2013

Mercedes New Little CLA Aimed To Tempt Generation Y

    Mercedes Benz unveiled its new CLA compact four-door coupe, which it said will spearhead new conquest sales in the U.S. for buyers from so-called generation Y who value internet connectivity as much as cars themselves.

     Mercedes Chairman Dieter Zetsche introduced the car, which he described as a smaller version of the CLS. The CLS is based on the mid-sized E class sedan, but has an adventurous-looking body in stark contrast to the staid, conservative shape of the basic car.

    Mercedes chose to unveil the car on the eve of the annual NAIAS, but said the car would not be present at the show itself. Perhaps Mercedes felt it would take attention away from the face-lifted E class, which will be unveiled at NAIAS Monday.

    Mercedes didn’t reveal the likely price of the car, which will go on sale in the U.S. in the fall of this year. But prices are likely to start at around $30,000.

    Mercedes officials said the new CLA was built with connectivity with the internet at the forefront of the design and all models would integrate services like Facebook and Twitter. The body design was also highly aerodynamic with a drag coefficient of only 0.22.

    The CLA is based on the A class, which Mercedes won’t be sending to the U.S.

 Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Infiniti Launches New Q50, Helped By The Cirque Du Soleil

     With a little bit of help from some Cirque du Soleil tumblers, Infiniti launched its new and renamed 2014 Q50 sports sedan at the NAIAS.

    Infiniti, the luxury subsidiary of Nissan of Japan, is renaming all its cars, with “Q” referring to all sedans and “QX” for all its SUVs.

    The Q50 has engines options of 3.7 liter V6 gasoline, or 3.5 liter gas/electric hybrid. A diesel version is being considered.

    Among the many high technology advances in the car is direct adaptive steering, and active lane control.

    Infiniti President Johan de Nysschen told a press conference      “This exciting new Infiniti Q50 stretches the boundaries of what a sports saloon can be, propelling Infiniti in a bold new direction.”

    That would be good for Infiniti, which, although it has produced finely engineered cars which perform well, styling has been nondescript. It also has to compete against the global leaders in the premium sector, BMW, Mercedes and Audi of Germany

    De Nysschen is a former employee of Audi.

    The new Q50 will launched in the U.S. in the summer of 2013.

     “The new Q50 amplifies every driver’s performance preference and enjoyment behind the wheel. We have one of the fastest accelerating hybrid engines, which also happens to be projected as one of the most fuel-efficient. We have advanced performance and safety technologies that can see and react before the driver can. And, we have the world’s first quick and precise Direct Adaptive Steering technology,” said de Nysschen.

    He said direct adaptive steering gives a quicker reaction from drivers because it able to anticipate steering intentions.

    The Q50’s 3.7-litre aluminum-alloy DOHC 24-valve V6 is rated at 328 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. The hybrid powertrain’s 3.5-litre V6 is rated at 302 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The advanced, 50 kW electric motor is rated at 67 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque.

    Both powertrains are available in rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.

    Like many manufacturers at this year’s show, Infiniti makes much of internet connectivity and personalized technology. The Q50’s key will recognize the driver and automatically engage pre-set preferences for things like seats, heating, air conditioning and navigation.

    Details of the new Q50 for Europe will be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2013 and will include different engines.

    “The new Infiniti Q50 is a true game changer in the sports saloon segment,” said de Nysschen. “With its cutting-edge performance, design and technology, it breaks away from ordinary – just like the Infiniti brand.”

 Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Germans Prosper In U.S.; Call For E.U. Free Trade Deal

    German automobile manufacturers sold a record number of new cars in the U.S. 2012, and expect to beat that again in 2013, according to the German Association of the Automotive Industry.

    At a Detroit Car Show press conference Matthias Wissmann, president of the association known by its acronym in German, the VDA, called for a free trade agreement between the European Union and the U.S., which he said if it also included an elimination of non-tariff barriers like overlapping safety regulations, could save consumers billions of dollars on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Wissman also lauded the progress of diesel engines in the U.S.

    German manufacturers raised their 2012 car sales by 22 per cent to 920,400 vehicles. In a car market totalling just over 7.2 million that gave Germans a market share of 12.7 per cent, he said.

    “More than one new car in eight sold in the U.S. in 2012 bore a German badge,” Wissman said.

    Wissman contrasted the mood in the U.S. now, with the dark recession days of 2008 and 2009.

     “The U.S. automotive market has revitalised itself with amazing speed and dynamism. Last year it shifted up several gears. We are especially pleased that in 2012, both in the car and the light truck segments the German manufacturers grew faster than the relevant U.S. markets,” Wissmann said.

    “For our manufacturers the automotive year 2012 was the most successful year ever on the U.S. market. All the German brands that are active here recorded double digit rises in their light vehicle (cars and light trucks) sales. In view of the model offensive that our member companies are showing in Detroit, everything suggests we will expand in North America for the eighth year in succession,” he said.

    Wissmann said German carmakers sold 125 per cent more diesels in the U.S. in the first 10 months of 2012 at 77,300 compared with 2009. He said diesels would win an increasing market share in the U.S., but were unlikely to reach European levels where almost every other new car sold is a diesel.

    Wissmann said he wanted the European Union and the U.S. to negotiate a free trade deal, but he was especially concerned about the level of what he called non-tariff barriers, where the duplication of safety regulations raised costs hugely.

    “If a vehicle is accepted in Europe, it should be accepted automatically in the U.S. That would cut costs for the consumer by billions of dollars if you cold do that,” he said.

    “Let’s do it with electric vehicles,” Wissmann said.

    “I call on the leaders and heads of state in the E.U and the U.S. to push to get this done,” he said.     

 Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Nissan Unveils Versa Note; Reveals New SUV Concept

    Nissan of Japan has redesigned its Versa hatchback and added Note to the name, as it ratchets up a sales drive for compact and sub-compact cars.

    Nissan also unveiled a new SUV concept, the Resonance, and remained silent about its Leaf electric car, which is not selling well.

    The Versa Note hatchback will arrive at dealerships in the spring. The sedan version continues, and Nissan now hopes to appeal to a wider group of buyers. Nissan sells a similar hatchback vehicle in Europe and Japan, known just as the Note.

    Prices for the Versa Note start at $13,990, about $2,000 above the sedan, with a 109 hp 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine with either a 5-speed manual gear change or continuously variable automatic. Nissan claims 40 mpg highway fuel consumption for this engine.

    At a press confernce at the NAIAS, Nissan said the new Versa Note will offer technology that allows a 360 degree view of the area around the car to help parking.

    The Versa has become a big contender in the subcompact market, rivalling the Hyundai Accent, Kia Soul, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Ford Fiesta.

    Along with almost every other manufacturer at the show this year, Nissan said the Versa Note will have enhanced internet communication ability, including hands-free text messaging.

    Nissan also unveiled a concept SUV at the show called the Resonance, unveiled by executive vice president Andy Palmer.

    Palmer said the Resonance would raise SUV standards, with its startling body design, improved interior, and advanced hybrid gas/electric engines.

    Resonance was produced by Nissan Design America, San Diego, CA,.

    Palmer said the Resonance’s interior was more like a VIP lounge than a car, the headlights were a unique “boomerang” design. And of course it broke new ground in connectivity to smart phones and the internet.

    Nissan, in a statement, expanded on the VIP lounge idea.

    “With the interior, the designers imagined what the future of first-class space travel might be: welcoming yet exclusive and high-tech yet premium. The resulting “VIP lounge,” with its light, buttery leather and premium-stitched seats, exudes genuine sophistication,” Nissan said. 

    In his speech, Palmer didn’t mention the slow-selling Leaf battery-only car. On January 14, Nissan cut the base price of the Leaf by 18 per cent or $6,400, to $28,000. In 2012, Nissan predicted Leaf sales of 20,000 but sold less than half that.

 Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Shelby Reveals More Powerful Super Snake; Hot Focus Too

    Shelby American Inc, legendary creator of souped-up versions of standard sports cars, announced a new version of its Ford Mustang based GT500 Super Snake with 850 hp, and said it will also give the hot-rod treatment to the humble Ford Focus.

    The company’s creator, racing driver Carroll Shelby, died last year, but according to John Luft, president of Shelby American, his legacy lives on.

    “Carroll Shelby’s innovative and aggressive hot-rodder spirit lives on at Shelby American today. His Cobra redefined the sports car genre and then Shelby turned what some called a ‘secretary’s car’, the Mustang, into the fire breathing GT350. This year we’re returning to our roots with a pair of game-changing cars that will rewrite the rules for American performance,” Luft said at a press conference at the NAIAS.

    The new Shelby GT500 Super Snake takes the basic top-of-the- line Mustang output of 662 hp and boosts it to 850 hp. The previous Snake produced 800 hp. Despite the extra power, the company said it is legal in 50 states for emissions, and uses 91 octane gas.

     If will cost you $28,995 to buy the basic Shelby GT500 Super Snake, after you’ve provided the company with a Ford Mustang GT500; price about $54,000. For $14,995 more you get the wide-body option, which includes bigger tires and other handling improvements.

    If you want a hot Ford Focus, you first buy the ST version for $23,000, then give it to Shelby for the treatment which will cost an extra $14,995. The Shelby Focus GT has front-wheel drive and a turbocharged four cylinder motor. Shelby wasn’t revealing more about performance and power, but the Focus GT has lowered suspension, bigger brakes and a Shelby/Borla exhaust. Shelby will make a maximum of 500 versions a year.

    Gary Patterson, vice-president operations at Shelby American, didn’t go into details about the Focus, but had this to say.

    “This baby rocks,” said Patterson.

 Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Acura Unveils New Range-Topping RLX; NSX Gets Closer

    Acura took the wraps off its all-new 2014 RLX luxury-performance sedan, unveiled a prototype of its 2014 MDX mid-sized SUV, and titillated the audience with more promises about the introduction of the Acura NSX super-car.

    The NSX concept was first unveiled here in Detroit last January, and a production version is promised soon.

    Acura is the upmarket subsidiary of Honda of Japan.

    The flagship RLX has a new direct injection gasoline engine, a lightweight body, and the first application of Acura Precision All-Wheel Steer to deliver what Acura calls a new and dynamic driving experience unlike that of any other luxury performance sedans.

     The next-generation cloud-based connected car system makes its debut on the new RLX, offering a broad range of convenience, entertainment and security features.

    “The 2014 Acura RLX heralds the introduction of a number of new signature Acura technologies that provide the driver a feeling of connection to the product, to the road, and to the world from the very moment they enter the vehicle,” said Jeff Conrad, vice president and general manager of Acura Sales. “

    The 2014 RLX is powered by a 310-hp V-6 engine, which Acura says should achieve 24 mpg combined fuel economy.

    A hybrid version of the RLX producing 370 hp with expected fuel economy rating of 30 combined, will debut later in 2013 after the standard version is launched this spring.

    Prices start at $48,000.

     Acura also unveiled the MDX prototype SUV, slated for sale later this year.

    The latest version of the NSX concept was shown, but no firm promises were made for an introduction date. The latest NSX was shown last year at the NAIAS as a concept, which might be ready three years from then.

 The NSX is expected to be powered by a mid-mounted, direct-injected V6 engine, with all-wheel drive. The new NSX is being developed by Honda in Los Angeles, California, and Raymond, Ohio. It will be manufactured at a new factory in central Ohio.

 Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Young Still Want Autos That Are Green, Connected

    You can’t have a conversation with any group in the automotive industry without a shaking of heads and sad looks agreeing that, yes, the young are just not interested in cars anymore.

    But that’s not true, according to a new survey from management consultants McKinsey & Co.

    On the contrary, car ownership is still seen as an important status symbol, but with important differences; the car has to show how clever and discerning the buyer is in choosing a vehicle that reflects concern with the environment and sustainability, while demonstrating technology that is top of the class in seeking to plug itself in to their smart phones.

    Bling won’t do it. High-tech will.

    There is also a powerful mood, at least in the U.S. and Germany where the survey was conducted, to pay more for electric cars. New ideas like car sharing are also viewed with favor by the young.

    It seems that young people, hurt much more seriously by recent poor economic conditions, were merely reflecting the fact that they couldn’t possibly afford new wheels anyway. Higher insurance costs and tougher driving tests were also causing the young to put off buying automobiles.

    “It’s not a status symbol like it was 20 or 30 years ago when it centered on what you achieved. Car ownership today is more a symbol of independence and an advanced life style,” said McKinsey partner Hans-Werner Kaas in an interview.

    “That’s especially true of young buyers, and it’s becoming more of a connectivity device in itself, enabled by technology and integrated with smart phones and apps. 10 years ago you might just get traffic reports; now it’s all (the internet) seamlessly integrated and helped by Blue Tooth for safe use,” Kaas said.

    “Cars today almost without exception are a technology product which drives environmental awareness and fuel efficiency. It’s not just luxury. Manufacturers are making progress even with better ways of making the internal combustion engine work better and making steady progress with hybrids and plug-ins. What car you buy can make an indirect statement that you are aware of the environment,” Kaas said.

   Kaas said advanced engineering allows manufacturers to sharpen and reinforce brand messages.

    The survey showed that 47 per cent of the young, defined as between 18 and 39, showed greater willingness to pay more for an electric car, and are ready to use CO2-neutral cars.

    Given that sales of electric cars have been so pitiful, isn’t this just meaningless warm words, grandstanding really?

    “10 years ago people didn’t even know there was anything available. For us the 47 per cent is quite a strong indicator of the educational awareness of large groups of the population. What we see today is that higher willingness to accept electric vehicles. That sector will grow as the price comes down and range anxiety improves,” Kaas said.

    “We will see from all auto manufacturers increasing efforts to really push the envelope on fuel economy and environmentally responsible vehicles,” Kaas said.

    The next level of connectivity will address active safety issues like collision avoidance, advance braking, and lane departure warning, he said.

    It can’t be long until technology is capable of taking over all tasks behind the wheel, including the driving. That would be impressive but perhaps not very exciting for the under 40s.

 Neil Winton – January 13, 2013

Britain’s Jaguar Land Rover Has Record Year, Vows Repeat    

     Detroit – British based SUV and sports car maker Jaguar Land Rover said it had its best year ever in 2012 with sales up 30 per cent and plans to beat that again in 2013.

    Among new products hitting markets in 2013 will be the new F type roadster, and the latest version of the Range Rover. The new F type goes in sale in the U.S. this summer. New Range Rover sales started here last month.

    In 2012, Jaguar Land Rover sales were 357,773 vehicles, with China the biggest market at 71,940, up 71 per cent. U.S. sales were 55,675, up 11 per cent.

    At a press conference ahead of the North American International Auto Show Phil Popham, Jaguar Land Rover’s Director of Group Sales Operations said the performance was strong globally.

     “2012 has been a strong year for Jaguar Land Rover with record breaking sales performance globally. All of our key markets saw strong progress, with demand for our premium vehicles setting new records in a very competitive environment,” he said.

    “Looking ahead to 2013, we are continuing to invest in our business to support our ambitious plans for growth and we will be introducing eight new or refreshed products throughout the year.”

Popham said.

     Popham said the company, owned by Tata of India, has the ambition to be a significant player in the global premium market.     “Global sales in 2013 will be better again in 2013,” he said, declining to be more specific.

    Popham didn’t talk about profits though.

    The new Range Rover Evoque, a compact SUV, was the stand out product, with 108,598 vehicles sold in its first full year of sales – more than any other previous Land Rover model.

    Jaguar’s sales for the year were up six per cent compared to 2011. The launch of the XF 2.2 Diesel, XF and XJ 3.0 liter  powertrains, and the introduction of various new derivatives including the XF Sportbrake, has widened the brand’s portfolio and geographic reach. The brand’s top five markets were the UK, United States, China, Germany and Russia.

    Jaguar is concentrating on widening its four-wheel drive availability, and lessening its offering of big V8 engines by producing more smaller, four-cylinder engines with superchargers.

    In 2013, Jaguar Land Rover will continue to implement its ambitious plans for growth and has announced a recruitment campaign to create 800 new jobs in Britain. Jaguar Land Rover has recently confirmed a $600 million investment program in Britain which includes the installation of a new aluminum body shop.

    Jaguar Land Rover has no new products to launch at the NAIAS show.

 Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Honda commercials judged to be the best in 25 years

    Two commercials for Honda were judged the best and runner up as the top automotive ads in the last 25 years, according to the One Club.

    The One Club describes itself as the world’s foremost non-profit organization devoted to recognizing creativity in advertising.

    The award was judged by 73 creative directors and journalists, and announced at an NAIAS press conference. It considered 60 entrants before whittling down the list to 10.

    The winning ads were both made in London for Honda. The second place work showed an endless progress of small bolts and objects nudging wheels into levers which finally switch on the object of the commercial, a Honda Civic. Fascinating, until you have to watch it for a second time. The winning ad showed bunnies and birds apparently thriving in a world of clean diesel. Since the commercial was made in 2003, diesel is still an also ran compared with gasoline.

    Both these commercials were appealing and funny, but probably did little to promote the object of the films, selling more automobiles In fifth place was a commercial for Saturn in 2002, and GM dumped that in 2009.

    These commercials do prompt the question, just how many extra car sales were made because of these advertisements, and how much did they cost?

 Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Corolla Furia Means Radical Restyle, If Toyota Holds Nerve

    The Toyota Corolla is supposed to be reliable, discrete, worthy and inevitably just a little dull.

    That formula has worked well for Toyota and it has sold more than 39 million Corollas since its debut in 1966. That’s even more than Volkswagen’s fabled Beetle.

    Toyota is expected to reveal the new design of its latest Corolla this fall, and if it looks anything like the Corolla Furia concept, unveiled today at the NAIAS, you can dump all those negative stereotypes.

    Bill Fay, General Manager of Toyota U.S.A, told a press conference that as the name “Furia” suggests, the concept vehicle has a “ferocious” look and a “fury” of energetic design elements.

“There are a lot of words designers use to describe it, but just let me say it’s a great looking car.  And I’m sure it will cause some surprise from those who may have preconceived notions about the future of Corolla,” Fay said.

    The Furia has short overhangs to emphasize the long wheelbase. That should improve interior space, ride and handling.

“It’s only a concept, but the Corolla Furia sends a clear message where we’re going in the future. Not only will the styling be more expressive, but it will also reflect our overall approach to the compact segment in every way,” Fay said.

Toyota has sold more than nine million Corollas in the U.S. since 1968. Over four-and-a-half million are still on the road today.

The current model – introduced in 2008 – was number two in the compact segment last year. In 2012, 2.1 million compacts were sold in the U.S., and Corolla accounted for nearly 300,000, a 13.5 percent segment share. Other contenders in this sector are the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus.

    Will Toyota take the potentially risky move of trying to sell a Corolla with the “wow” factor? You only have to look at the Toyota stand, filled with worthy, reliable cars, to realize it didn’t get to be one of the world’s must successful car companies by taking any chances with styling.

Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

Audi Unveils Hot RS7 And SQ5 – Sees More Sales Records

    Audi of America unveiled two hot new models, the 190 mph RS7 and the highly tuned SQ5 SUV, and reckoned that sales in the U.S. would soon hit 200,000 a year.

    Last year Audi, upmarket subsidiary of Volkswagen of Germany, sold a record 139,000 vehicles in the U.S., a 19 per cent rise.

    “We will reach 200,000 sooner rather than later,” Scott Keogh President, Audi of America, told a press conference at the NAIAS.

    The 4-door RS 7 Sportback has a 4.0 liter twin turbo V8 engine developing 560 hp, propelling the car from rest to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. Customers, in Germany at least where there are sections of highway without speed limits, can opt to remove the 155 mph speed limiting device. The car will then reach 189.52 mph. If that sounds hard to believe, how about this; Audi claims the car will do 24 mpg.

    The SQ5 is a Q5 compact SUV with a 3.0 liter V6 motor developing 354 hp, providing sports car performance, Audi said.

    No word on prices for the new vehicles yet.

    Late last year Audi announced a $17 billion spending plan through 2016, part of its plan to sell at least two million cars a year by 2020, and overtake BMW to become the world’s biggest premium car manufacturer. Mercedes has similar ambitions.

    Audi has a long way to go before overtaking BMW in the U.S. Last year BMW sold 347,583 vehicles, the automaker said, up 13.8 percent from 2011. Mercedes was close behind BMW. 

Neil Winton – January 15, 2013

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