AutoGuide News Blog
The AutoGuide News Blog is your source for breaking stories from the auto industry. Delivering news immediately, the AutoGuide Blog is constantly updated with the latest information, photos and video from manufacturers, auto shows, the aftermarket and professional racing.
Left in the wake of Hyundai’s debunked fuel economy claims, brands that vowed to catch up are unexpectedly well-positioned.
As gas mileage lurches to the forefront of many driver’s minds, car buyers are considering which product will be the least thirsty. It’s an issue that easily put Hyundai atop many lists until recently when the EPA found Hyundai to have exaggerated its mileage claims. Of course, that revelation is expected to hurt Hyundai’s sales, but a recent report fro Bloomberg suggests it will also be particularly good for Honda, which was formerly the U.S. fuel economy leader.
Hyundai’s efficiency claims were a face-full of cold water for several automakers not the least of which was Honda. It, along with many others including Ford, Nissan and Toyota, worked vigorously to improve fuel consumption figures. Much like a student pouring over a term paper without knowing the deadline has been pushed back, those brands find themselves ahead of Hyundai.
“We’ve been conservative in our EPA estimates,” said Mike Accavitti, Honda’s head of U.S. marketing, to Bloomberg. “We triple check everything so customers are satisfied with the mileage they get in the real world.”
In 2012, Honda’s generally-popular civic took a beating with negative reviews. Quick to turn around, the brand will already offer a refreshed version for 2013 which could be timed perfectly to steal business away from Hyundai and Kia as customers shaken trust in the brand shoos value-minded buyers in other directions.
Introduced for the Japanese market last December, the Toyota Prius C had only hit U.S. showrooms on March 12. In only its first three days in the U.S. market, the Prius C sold 1,201 units, eclipsing the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf’s complete February sales performance of 1,023 and 478 units respectively.
However, demand for the new small hybrid is even greater in Japan. Quite the hot seller, a 120,000 order backlog for Japan threatens the U.S. allocation. Toyota announced that current supply constraints limit the plants to only assembling 6,000 units per month for the North American market, or 30,000 Prius C’s a month in total.
The car is built exclusively in the Kanto factory of Iwate, northern Japan, and while the plant exported as much as 60 percent of its output in 2007, only 30 percent of its output is exported today. The lack of a North American plant for assembly combined with the yen’s steadily rising rate of exchange against the dollar has tightened the profit margin of the Japan-made vehicle, causing Toyota to concentrate its sales efforts to Japan.
Despite the challenges, Kanto Iwate President Tetsuo Hattori said that tweaks will be performed to push efficiencies that should help boost capacity. What’s more, the Japan-specific Ractis subcompact, built in the same plant, will gradually shift its production elsewhere starting in May, providing extra capacity and dedicating more of the facility to Prius C assembly.
Besides the Ractis small car, a number of Scion xD models, the Belta/Yaris sedans, and the Blade hatchback are manufactured at the Iwate plant.
“We have to produce other models too, so we are running at quite high utilization. We are looking at ways of satisfying demand of all our customers,” Hattori said.
So far, Hattori is unaware of discussions to expand Prius C capacity by assembling them at other plants as well. He did note that Toyota will commence a group wide manufacturing strategy review in Japan this April and May.
GALLERY: Toyota Prius C
[Source: Auto News]
Of the major Japanese Automakers, Nissan Motors has been one of the least affected by natural disasters and the strengthening yen, effectively minimizing exposure to regional risks by erecting facilities overseas.
Nissan has announced plans to build another manufacturing complex in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to expand North American production. An investment worth $2.0 billion USD, the new facility will be joining two other Mexican Nissan factories already in place. When construction is completed, operations are projected to begin late in 2013, with an initial production capacity of 175,000 vehicles annually.
Operations in the new complex include body, trim, and chassis installation, paint manufacturing, associated parts warehousing, as well as an on-site test track for quality assurance tests of new vehicles. All this means that the manufacturing complex will provide up to 3,000 new jobs at the facility, and approximately 9,000 new jobs from supply chain and wider community. All in all, Nissan’s expansion will allow a total of 13,500 jobs provided for Aguascalientes.
Nissan currently makes up six of the ten most popular vehicles sold in Mexico. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said, “Mexico is a key engine for Nissan’s growth in the Americas. Together with our new plant in Brazil, this new manufacturing facility in Aguascalientes is an important pillar in our strategy to ensure that Nissan has the capacity it needs to increase sales volume and market share across the Americas.”
Jose Munoz, president and general director of Nissan Mexico adds, “No other automaker is investing in Mexico more than Nissan. Nissan’s investment in new manufacturing, engineering and technology resources in Aguascalientes validates what thousands of our employees, suppliers, and customers already know. Behind our market leadership is an unparalleled commitment to deliver the best vehicles for Mexico and more than 100 international markets.”
Mercedes-Benz unveiled its second-generation B-Class at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show along with a concept for an E-Cell version of the front-wheel drive compact sport tourer.
The new B-Class is almost two inches shorter than the previous version yet has more leg room thanks to a lowered floor. The seats are also more upright but still offer a lot of head room.
European customers will have the choice of two new gasoline and two diesel options, all with ECO start/stop. The turbocharged 1.6 liter B 180 offers 122 hp while the B 200 version offers 156 hp. The 1.8 liter diesel options include the B 180 CDI with 109 hp and the B 200 CDI with 136 hp. B-class models will come with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a new 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
Sharing the same platform as that car, look for an improved ride quality, plus the Forte is expected to get a new design closer in keeping with the larger Optima sedan.
As for engines, look for the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder from the Elantra with 148-hp. Both a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic will be offered. In terms of fuel economy, look for fuel economy that could even exceed the 29/40-mpg rating of the current Elantra. The 2013 Kia Forte could even get a stop-start system that will arrive in the all-new Rio later this year.
[Source: Automotive News]
Honda’s best selling car in Japan for the first half of 2011 was the Fit compact, helped by the addition of a fuel-efficient hybrid model released in October.
During the time period, 88,282 Fit cars were sold, interestingly sales figures dropped 2.1 percent compared to the same period last year because of disruptions caused by the March 11 earthquake. Honda released a van model of the Fit in June, known as the Fit Shuttle.
The Toyota Prius came in second place in Japan regarding sales for the first half of 2011. In total, 83,319 Prius’ were sold in the first six months of 2011 but, this figure represents half of what was sold in the same period last year. Sales were affected by severe damage to the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan that makes nickel-hydrogen battery cells for the Prius.
While Audi’s plans for the U.S. market originally did not include the compact Q3 crossover, but Audi is re-considering the decision to not import the car after seeing the segment expand with offerings like the MINI Countryman, BMW X1 and the Nissan Juke.
While the Q5 starts at $35,200, Audi would likely have to price it closer to the MINI Countryman which retails between $21,650 and $26,950. A sub-$30,000 price tag might be uncomfortable for Audi and its positioning as a premium brand, but with the small crossover segment growing, it could be a chance for Audi to increase their overall volume in North America.
The Q3 would likely be powered by the corporate 2.0T engine, with the possibility of a 2.0L TDI diesel engine as well. The diesel offering could allow the Q3 to stake out a niche within the segment, and remain consistent with Audi’s overall diesel strategy.
[Source: Kicking Tires]
The Honda Fit and Mazda 2 will headline a new racing class, known as B-Spec, that’s been designed as a new showroom stock racing series. The rule set is expected to be finalized within the next 60 days, and both the SCCA and NASA sanctioning bodies have expressed interested in adopting the class.
Using OEM specified wheel, tire and suspension components, the cars will have stock chassis and engines, but will be able to use weight reduction and ballasting to gain performance advantages. The Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Aveo, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris are also eligible for competition.
For all the hype surrounding Ford‘s Fiesta subcompact, which is capable of hitting 40 mpg, it looks like subcompacts, especially those than can hit the vaunted number, aren’t selling all that well in the USA.
Even though gas prices will almost certainly hit $3 a gallon, customers are still gravitating towards compact cars, according to Cars.com’s David Thomas. This means vehicles like the Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra are well positioned with their 40 mpg fuel economy numbers, spacious interior and premium features…but if gas prices keep going past $3 (and they almost certainly will) then the sub compact segment may see a resurgence, just like the summer of 2008 when gas was around $4.
The big winners in the segment are still the Nissan Versa and Honda Fit respectively, with the Versa enjoying a nearly 3,000 unit lead over the Fit in November. Hyundai’s Accent and the Fit are nearly neck and neck, while the Fiesta comes in at fourth place, but cars like the Chevrolet Aveo and Toyota Yaris are nipping at its heels, even with stale-dated designs and no 40 mpg capability. We think the significant delta in price between a bare bones Aveo and a more expensive Fiesta hatch may have something to do with this.
[Source: Kicking Tires]
Honda has given its European market Jazz (also known as the Fit to us North Americans) a mild refresh, and confirmed availability of the Jazz Hybrid that debuted at the 2010 Paris Auto Show.
A front end re-style drops the drag co-efficient to 0.33, and the 1.2L and 1.4L powerplants get minor reductions in CO2 emissions. Higher-grade materials adorn the cabin, while leather seats are an option on higher trim levels.
Most significant is the option of a CVT transmission, something that was apparently quite popular on the first generation Jazz. The CVT will be standard equipment on the Jazz Hybrid, and an option on 1.4L engine cars.
Ford has announced pricing for the 2012 Focus, and the car is set to start in the upper end of the price bracket, with a base price of $16,995.
The base S model in sedan with the 6-speed automatic will cost likely $17,995, as the 5-speed manual is standard. The upper end Titanium trim starts at $22,995 while a fully loaded example costs $24,295. Hatchback models will start at $18,790 and top out at $24,785.
The sticker may seem high, but pricing reflects Ford’s desire to position the car as a “premium” compact, much like General Motors and Volkswagen are doing. Chevrolet’s Cruze retails for the exact same amount, while the new Volkswagen Jetta undercuts it by $1,000.
[Source: Ford via Edmunds]
Hyundai‘s subcompact crossover, the ix20, will be revealed at this month’s Paris Auto Show media days, but the company has released a rendering of the car in advance of its launch.
Based on the Kia Venga, the ix20 is an interesting blend of a crossover and small car, similar to a Ford Fiesta hatchback. With the Accent filling Hyundai’s subcompact role in North America, it’s unlikely that the ix20 will make it to our shores, but if you go to Europe, don’t be surprised to find yourself renting one.
Check out Autoguide’s Paris Auto Show Preview for more info and coverage of the Hyundai ix20
[Source: Auto Express]
Jeep fans who were up in arms about the Compass and Patriot crossovers will have a no reason to get aggravated; a new video that purports to go inside Jeep’s design studios apparently show a new crossover based on a C-segment Fiat.
Aside from the illustration, we can also see a clay model in the video, suggesting that the car is still pretty early on in the design stage. Truthfully, it doesn’t look bad but we can almost hear the cries from hardcore Wrangler owners and internet pundits who will forever treat this Jeep as an unwanted stepchild.
The Jeep Comanche has a small but dedicated following of fans, but the venerable brand hasn’t been too interested in returning to the segment – until now. With the Mahindra pickup on the way and demand for the Ford Ranger still at passable levels, Jeep CEO Mike Manley says compact trucks are an area that he is “very curious about.” “I know it’s had a rough time here in the U.S., ” he told Pickuptrucks.com, “but globally it still seems to be an important sector.”
The former Comanche was based on the Cherokee, but we don’t see that happening any time soon with the current Liberty. Instead, the Europe-only Jeep J8 is an enticing prospect, and we would love the above example as a very long term press car.
Land Rover is apparently working on a front drive SUV, as part of a push for smaller vehicles that produce fewer emissions. Autocar is reporting that the vehicle will be known as the Compact Range Rover, a smaller addition to the lineup that should emit significantly less CO2 than the current Range, without having to use hybrid technology.
The brand could see a trickle down effect, as the platform spawns a compact, front-drive Land Rover, as well as other similar Range Rovers that use an all-wheel drive system. Cars are taxed based on CO2 emissions in Europe, necessitating a lowering of emissions for Range Rover’s SUVs. The company has developed a 100-strong division dedicated to investigating hybrid and extended-range electric vehicle systems as the British automaker looks to stay relevant in the future market place. Land Rover offers a variety of well-regarded diesel engines in Europe, however they have yet to make their way to North America thus far.
The Compact Range Rover is rumored to surface at the Paris Auto Show this Fall.