Odds and ends about cars and the car business
By Chris Haak
On the eve of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, there are a few news items that may not necessarily warrant a full article. However, they’re probably still worth mentioning.
FORD’S new Focus Electric, slated to hit the market in late 2011, made its worldwide debut not at the Detroit show, but at Las Vegas’ CES show. In the keynote address in which he revealed the car, Ford CEO Alan Mulally called his company as much of a technology company as a car company, and he may be right. Ford has been on the leading edge of infotainment with its SYNC and MyFord Touch system, and has done a great job of pushing high tech features such as self-parking down from luxury cars into more mainstream offerings.
But back to the Focus Electric: Ford says that this new car, one of five global Fords to be electrified by 2013, will deliver over 100 miles on a charge, and deliver a superior MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) than the Chevy Volt does. A full charge of the car’s battery pack happens in just three to four hours on a 240-volt home outlet, which is half the time required to charge the Nissan Leaf. Like the conventional Focus, the Focus Electric will be built in Michigan. The car looks similar to the gasoline-powered Focus, but with a snazzy Aston Martin-inspired grille and a lighted charging port on the left-front fender.
NADA, the car dealer association, has predicted that we will see 11.3 percent growth in new-car sales during 2011, to 12.9 million units. The growth rate was 11.1 percent in 2010, which of course came only after the bottom fell out of the market in 2009. We’re still a pretty long way from seeing the peak numbers of the early part of the last decade, and a lot of that depends on how well the economy recovers.
In the second half of 2011, MAZDA will add direct injection technology to the Mazda3 lineup. Though the range-topping MazdaSpeed3 has direct injection with its turbocharged 2.3 liter, this new engine will mark the North American debut of Mazda’s SkyActiv powertrain technology. In combination with a next-generation transmission (likely a dual-clutch unit), the new engine should deliver near-hybrid fuel economy without the cost penalty or odd driving experience. The Mazda3 with the technology should return 40 mpg on the highway, versus 33 mpg on the current car, when the new one is equipped with the Sky-Drive six-speed automatic.
If a rumor reported by Motor Authority is correct, a mid-engine CADILLAC supercar may be a possibility for production. Cadillac is still trying to work out where it wants to go, and the case for a production version of the 2004 Cien concept (pictured) is far from a certainty. Another possibility would be a range-topping ultra-luxury sedan that competes with the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Unlike the production-bound Cadillac XTS (a front wheel drive-based replacement for the DTS and STS), the true flagship sedan would be built on a rear wheel drive platform, likely either Zeta or Sigma.
Speaking about CHRYSLER’S outstanding loans from the US and Canadian governments, Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said, “I’d like to pay them off in 2011, if I could. I would like to get it done as quickly as I could.” The outspoken auto executive has not been shy in pointing out that his company’s restructuring and GM’s were, well, structured differently. GM got most of its post-bankruptcy money from an equity stake that the US Treasury acquired, while Chrysler got its money from loans. And those loans require substantial interest payments, which grate on Marchionne. Chrysler is paying more than $1 billion a year in interest to Canadian and US taxpayers for the $6.9 billion it owes them.
Stay tuned starting tomorrow for our coverage of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/autosavant and on Facebook at facebook.com/autosavant.