Auto News


 2009 Ford F-150

The automaker announced last Wednesday at the media preview of the Chicago Auto Show that a set of high-tech features for its F-Series trucks and E-Series vans including the best-selling F-150. The auto show is open to the public from February 8 to 17.

The high-tech offers of the 2009 Ford F-150 include a broadband-capable in-dash computer, Tool Link tracking system that has embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) capabilities for logging tools and inventory on the truck; and Crew Chief, a telematics and diagnostics system. These features are expected to be available in Ford’s new vehicles in the fall.

The truck’s built-in computer, powered by Microsoft Auto, is located in the middle of the dashboard. It offers a 6.5-inch touch screen, 2GB of memory capable of entertaining expansion, and a USB port.

The Tool Link feature lets users mark their tools with RFID tags. When the tools are not returned to the pickup boxes, the computer flashes a warning on the computer screen.

“It helps contractors and tradespeople guarantee they show up at the job site with the right tools for each job – and that they don’t leave equipment behind,” said William Frykman, the automaker’s product development manager. Additionally, the computer also tells fleet managers precisely where the truck is. This is an effort to make easier truckers work. The system also features an 8-foot steel cable used to avoid auto theft.

The new F-150 truck offers V-8 engines ranging from a 4.6-liter to a 5.4-liter engine which can run on E85. The truck is also equipped with either a four-speed or a six-speed automatic transmission to bolster performance and handling.

“Our truck customers are smart – and they work hard,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president. “Ford Work Solutions provides truck customers new technologies and tools to help them work even smarter and further boost their productivity.”

The new vehicles are engineered for business. And there are two companies responsible for that milestone – Garmin International and Sprint Mobile Broadband Network. Internet access is provided via the Sprint and navigation capabilities by Garmin.

Separately, the automaker announced Wednesday the Transit Connect, a compact van engineered to respond to the needs of small-business owners. Already on the roads in Europe, it is now coming to North America. The van features a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. The cargo space can accommodate loads that are 6.5 feet long and 4.7 feet wide.

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Texas is facing a great pickup battle having Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and Toyota as contenders. Toyota Motor Corp., meanwhile, works to lure true truckers in Texas to win over more customers. This is why it has unleashed its redesigned Tundra to steal a portion of Ford F-150’s sales. But the best-selling pickup is not the only potent rival. There is the new Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram. Moreover, the Japanese automaker is expected to exert extra effort in order for its goal to materialize.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, Ford F-Series dived nearly 3.6 percentage points across the nation to hold 30.7 percent of the market. In Texas, the models lost 5.5 points to fall to 31.9 percent, reported the Michigan-based R.L. Polk & Co. In comparison, the Tundra, sources divulged recorded nearly 3.5 points nationwide and 3.7 in Texas in its first year since a major redesign.

“Those numbers might not seem huge, but when you consider truck buyers are second only to luxury buyers in terms of loyalty, Ford’s drop and Toyota’s climb are significant,” said Lonnie Miller, the director of industry analysis at Polk. “There’s no doubt been a very aggressive push by Toyota.”

“We certainly had a lot more full-size pickups traded in for Tundras in ’07,” said Tom Shopoff, the director of truck support for Gulf States Toyota, a network of dealerships that includes statewide Tundra best-seller Fred Haas Toyota World in Spring. “We have a tremendous product.”

But Shopoff predicted the Tundra would see a bubble burst. “You’ve seen the big bubble,” he noted.

Increased competition from Toyota comes at a time when auto sales in general and pickup sales in particular, are down, according to Houston Chronicle. Auto sales in 2007 fell 2.4 percent, and large pickups were down 2.7 percent, Libby said in an interview.

“That means more competition, which in turn means more incentives and lower prices,” Libby concluded. “The winner in all this is the consumer.”

Audi’s Godfather-themed Super Bowl commercial

Audi AG is revving up its image as the new luxury auto brand through a high-budgeted Super Bowl commercial.

The first Big Game ad of the Volkswagen-owned automaker in two decades will be featuring the new R8. The said ad utilizes a send-up iconic scene from The Godfather to poke fun, without naming names, at luxury auto rivals, reported USA Today.

The German automaker will be competing with several rivals in the auto industry for attention in the game. General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and Hyundai Motors are in the game. Additionally, Nissan Motor Corp. and other automakers are acquiring ‘spot’ ads in individual markets.

Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco, the advertising company behind Audi’s ad, took that into account. “The fact that people don’t pay attention to auto ads unless they are in the market for a car is exactly the ammunition we used to do something different and provocative,” said Paul Venables, the agency founder and co-creative director. “We have this slow, methodical open; it’s eerie and not a gag a minute. The light bulb is going to go off that it’s The Godfather. All those things contribute to a pause that’s going to deliver an entertaining story and brand message.”

Audi paid Paramount Pictures a licensing fee that it would describe only as ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million.

Who will get to see Audi’s ad first? According to reports, the lucky ones are the registered users of the automaker’s official Web site. The ad will be e-mailed to approximately 35,000 registered users of audi.com on Super Bowl morning.

Audi, to note, is already etching a positive standing in the industry. In 2007, global sales of the automakers surged 6.5 percent from the previous year to 964,000. Additionally, the limited production of the R8 for this year is already sold out. Moreover, the automaker hopes its Super Bowl ad will make its image shine even brighter at the same time drive more gains to its coffers.

Recently, Chrysler also pointed out that the Canadian auto manufacturing sector is in danger of losing automakers.

With the increasing value of the Canadian dollar, automakers producing vehicles in the country can no longer take advantage of huge profits from importing the vehicles into the United States. In the past, automakers have set up vehicle assembly facilities in Canada as they can build vehicles in the country at lower wages and raw material price. But with the soaring loony, importing vehicles from Canada into the United States does not necessarily translate to huge profits. In fact, Canadian auto buyers are looking more and more at purchasing vehicles in the United States.

LaSorda pointed out that to build an assembly facility in Canada that will produce 200,000 vehicles per year would cost about $800 million. That figure is much higher than what it would cost if the new assembly facility will be built in China or Mexico. If a new vehicle manufacturing plant is built in China which can also produce 200,000 vehicles annually, it will only coast $250 million and in Mexico, around $450 million. That disparity is what LaSorda is warning Canada about.

“We can get approvals in other states here much faster than in Canada,” added the Canadian-born LaSorda. “If you’re competing with an investment in different locations and others are faster, you lose out.”

With the United Auto Workers union agreeing to lower contracts from automakers, it is expected that Canadian manufacturing facilities have lost its bargaining chip. After the contract with the UAW was signed, it was official that wages in Canada are $25 an hour better than in the United States. Thus, automakers will no doubt look to just build vehicles in the United States if they are forced by Canada to maintain the wages. If that happens, it will negatively affect the Canadian auto industry.

Japanese automaker Mazda is one of the automakers pursuing growth in the United States and the global auto market. Recently, the automaker held their annual ceremony to celebrate the first shipment of the year. The said ceremony was held at the automaker’s cargo dock located just within the vicinity of its headquarters in Hiroshima.

About 500 people were present at the ceremony. Attendees of the ceremony included Hisakazu Imaki, Mazda’s representative director, president, and Chief Executive Officer. Other senior executives of the company were also present at the event as well as employees. All of them witnessed the loading of Mazda’s first shipment of vehicles which will be unloaded in different countries across the world. Among the vehicles to be shipped around the world is the award winning Mazda2 as well as the Mazda CX-7.

At the ceremony, Hisakazu pointed out that this year, the automaker will be aiming to go forward and attain more growth. He said that “2008 will be the second year of our mid-term Mazda Advancement Plan, and it will be extremely important year for us”.

“The automotive industry’s operating environment is tougher than ever, but we will confidently go forward this year, taking steady steps in our operations toward achieving our goals,” he continued.

Mazda’s CEO pointed out that there are three areas where the automaker will be focusing on in their quest to further their growth. “To do so, we will emphasize three major issues: improving brand value, strengthening our business efficiency, and improving quality throughout the Mazda Group,” said Imaki.

He said that to attain their goal, they will be launching new vehicles this year. “Notably, this year Mazda will launch a number of exhilarating products here in Japan and overseas, including the all-new Mazda6. Leveraging these exciting products to come, we want to see this year made outstanding by a dramatic improvement in Mazda’s brand value,” stressed Imaki.

Dearborn automaker Ford owns a certain share of Mazda and it is quite possible that the American automaker will have a hand in the development of Mazda’s new vehicles. Last year, Mazda announced their Mazda Advanced mid-term plan after Ford had formulated their turnaround plan.

Mazda’s mid-term plan states that the automaker is targeting to sell 1.6 million units of vehicles by fiscal year 2010. To attain that sales goal, the automaker has increased their production output in Japan and also in China.

 Toyota Prius

Today, with the increasing price of fuel and the threat of global warming, consumers are looking to own vehicles which are both fuel efficient and eco-friendly. Japanese automaker Toyota is widely considered by many to be at the top when it comes to providing vehicles matching those attributes.

The Toyota Prius, the iconic gas electric hybrid car from Toyota, is also known to be the most popular green vehicle today. And this month, the automaker is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Prius. The decade marks the Prius setting the bar for other vehicles when it comes to fuel efficiency. Even today, Toyota’s rivals are yet to come up with a vehicle that can be called quite a match to the Prius.

One of the main reasons for the Prius’ popularity is its use of a hybrid system. The said system is composed of a small internal combustion engine and a powerful electric motor. The electric motor powered by a battery pack helps the gas engine power the car. With the electric motor taking over during light load operations, fuel consumption is cut resulting to cleaner emission and better fuel efficiency.

Another reason why the Prius is popular with consumers is its ease of handling which is surprising due to the fact that hybrid vehicles in the past are known for not being too consumer friendly. And contrary to what others believe, the Prius is easy to maintain.

In the first ten years of the car’s life, there have been about 900,000 units of the Prius sold across the world. Of that number, it is estimated that more than 81,000 units were sold in Europe. In the said continent, the Prius was only offered from 2000. With the release of the 2004 Prius, many consumers took notice and got enticed by the green credential of the vehicle which resulted to a boost in demand for the Prius.

Earlier this year, Toyota announced that they have already sold more than a million hybrid vehicles. The bulk of that is not surprisingly attributed to the Prius. In the United States, the Prius has become more than a green car – it has become the poster car of the green revolution thus propelling Toyota to the top.

 2008 Honda Accord Sedan

The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) has voted the new 2008 Honda Accord sedan as the “Best New Family Car” in the 26th annual AJAC Canadian Car of the Year competition. Winners will be announced on February 13 at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto.

In the event, the Honda Accord EX Sedan competed against five other rival products in the Family Car category. The 2008 Honda Accord Coupe, powered with V6 engine that comes with 6-speed manual transmission, on the other hand, competed against two other finalists in the “Best New Sports/Performance Car Under $50,000” category.

The 2008 Honda Accord will be available in sedan and coupe body styles. There will be two variations of a 2.4 L 4-cylinder engine and two iterations of the 3.5 L V-6 engines. With manual transmission, the two L4 engines will produce 177 and 190 horsepower, respectively. They have estimated city/highway fuel economy rating of 9.4/6.4 L/100km. On the other hand, the 3.5 L i-VTEC V-6 engine will produce 268 horsepower. This other engine comes with a new generation of fuel-saving advanced Variable Cylinder Management (TM) (VCM) technology, which will be operating in six-cylinder mode for power in and 4- and 3-cylinder modes for efficiency. Thus, the vehicle will be an estimated city/highway fuel economy rating of 11.0/6.7 L/100 km.

Since Honda intends to provide comprehensive approach for vehicle safety, every 2008 Accord will be integrated with sophisticated safety technology. It includes driver’s and front passenger’s dual-chamber side airbags; side curtain airbags; dual-stage, dual-threshold driver’s and front passenger’s airbags; and active head restraints designed to reduce neck injuries in the event of a rear collision. Standard active safety features will include the VSA and four-wheel-disc anti-lock brake system with brake assist and electronic brake distribution.

The 2008 Accord will be equipped with an Advanced Capability Engineering (TM) (ACE) body structure to enhance frontal collision compatibility with vehicles of varying sizes and bumper heights.

Honda Motor Company Ltd., a Japanese automotive manufacturer, has been supplying a wide range of dependable vehicles, motorcycles, power equipment and marine engines to Canadian customers. It has 130 manufacturing facilities in 29 countries around the worlds. Each year, it attracts over 20 million customers. At its two assembly plants in Alliston, Ontoria, Honda Canada is manufacturing the Honda Ridgeline and Civic, and the Acura MDX and CSX.

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