Last week’s L.A. Auto Show saw a number of important introductions from OEMs, so for this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” John McElroy and I went to the show floor to talk to some of the people who were behind some of the introductions.
There was the Lincoln MKZ, a car that has undergone a refresh so significant that to call it a “refresh” is to understate the extent to which there are changes inside, out and under the hood (as in a 400-hp turbocharged engine). So we sat down with Kumar Galhotra, the president of Lincoln and a vice president of the Ford Motor Company.
Another vehicle that has been changed so much that Ford is designating it as a new generation (the fourth) is the Escape SUV. Again, this is a vehicle that has changes fore, aft, inside, and under the hood (as in two new EcoBoost engines, a 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter twin-scroll, both of which come with stop-start tech as standard). So we sat down with Milton Wong, chief engineer for the Escape.
One of the most-anticipated introductions was the Fiat 124 Spider, a reinterpretation of the car that debuted at the 1966 Turin Auto Show. And the 2017 version has its share of Italian influences, as it was penned at the Centro Stile in Turin. This is a two-seat, rear-drive soft-top. (It was developed with Mazda, which has as its version the MX-5 Miata, so the 124 Spider is a car with a 160-hp turbocharged MultiAir engine, Italian styling, and damn good bones beneath the entirely different sheet metal.) So we sat down with Bob Broderdorf, director of FIAT Brand North America to talk about the 124 Spider.
At the North American Auto Show in Detroit last January Buick unveiled the stylish, stately Avenir concept sedan. In Los Angeles it rolled out with the stylish, stately 2017 LaCrosse production vehicle. The LaCrosse is Buick’s flagship car, and for 2017, it has not stinted in the least bit, providing a car that is long and low, with proportions that are the kind of thing that people looking for premium automobiles are interested in. So we sat down with Tony DiSalle, vice president, Buick/GMC Marketing, to get his take on the LaCrosse, as well as Buick, which is doing rather well in the U.S. market this year.
In addition to which, John and I are joined by Anton Wahlman, writer for The Street and Seeking Alpha, who shares his observations on what he saw at the show—and what wasn’t there.
And you can see it all here:
One of the ostensible reasons for buying a Fiat 500 is the little car’s “Italian-ness.” It has style. Panache. Presence. Character. All packed into a 90.6-inch wheelbase.
Funny thing about the Fiat 500, however.
Last week, there was a celebration in a plant that had just completed the build of the 1,500,000th Fiat 500, a “Pop” model painted Gelato White.
But the plant wasn’t in Turin. Rather Tychy.
As in Poland.
It took eight years, four months for that number of 500s, which are sold in over 100 countries, to be built.
Incidentally. Tychy isn’t the only build location for the 500.
There is another assembly plant. Toluca.
As in Mexico.
There are, however, boatloads of Italian style.
The reveal of the 2017 Hyundai Elantra at the LA Auto Show yesterday included an emphasis on something that isn’t ordinarily spoken of in such settings:
Yet during his portion of the introduction of the sixth-generation Elantra, Mike O’Brien, vice president of corporate and product planning for Hyundai Motor America, said that he happens to be a pilot and so is greatly appreciative of technologies that can be strong, safe and light, and that airframes are transitioning from riveting to bonding.
Similarly, the engineers who developed this new car were also keenly interested in strength, safety and low mass, so this new car makes extensive use of structural adhesives.
And “extensive” means “extensive.” They’ve increased the amount of bonding on stress points of the chassis and in other places where they determined that the spot welds needed reinforcement by 40 times compared to the fifth-generation model.
The amount of advanced high-strength steel in the car is also increased. The outgoing model: 21%. The 2017 Elantra: 53%, including hot-stamped grades in the A- and B-pillars.
A consequence is that the new car has a 29.5% stiffer torsional rigidity and 25.3% greater bending strength.
We’ll learn more about the Elantra—which is the sixth best-selling car on the planet—early next year. But clearly, when they’re looking at a car right down to the bonding, it probably has some impressive ride and handling and NVH characteristics.
Last Spring at the New York Auto Show, Lincoln unveiled what it calls the “new face of Lincoln” on the Continental Concept, a vehicle that it is to be putting into actual production (after the vehicle, of course, has been “productionized” from its conceptual form) in 2016.
This Fall (today, in fact) it revealed the “new face of Lincoln” on a car that hasn’t been a concept for quite some time, on the Lincoln MKZ midsize sedan, a car that Kumar Galhorta, president of Lincoln, points out is an exceedingly important product in the brand’s portfolio.
So I ask David Woodhouse, Lincoln design director, about how close to the facial features the MKZ, which has undergone an extensive midcycle refresh, is to those of the face that is to launch sales of several thousand cars.
Real 2017 Lincoln MKZ
And he says quite close.
A key difference is that given the nature of a concept—where things are built by hand, not by machines—the depth of the grille is deeper than achieved on the MKZ.
But still, close.
While midcycles ordinarily call for front and rear fascia changes, something new under the hood, and perhaps new trim on the inside, for the MKZ they went further. Much further.
As in not only changes to the front and rear fascias (in the back the lower apron and the tailpipes, really, in the front a comprehensive transformation), but new front fenders and a new hood.
And as for the box that says “Modify the powertrain,” they’ve marked it with a giant checkmark in the form of a Lincoln-exclusive (i.e., the Ford models don’t have one) 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that is expected to produce 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. This is not performance for leaving rubber on the road surface. Rather, in Lincoln’s approach, it is for “refined and effortless performance.” Meaning that you step on the accelerator and the car moves out smartly. The MKZ with the available Driver’s Package has Dynamic Torque Vectoring, which means that torque is shifted to where it is needed to keep the car going where it is supposed to.
(They’re also offering the MKZ with a 245-hp 2.0-liter turbo four and a hybrid version. The car is available as all-wheel or front-wheel drive. And for those opting for the 3.0-liter engine and a FWD setup, know that the horsepower will be 350 though the 400 lb-ft of torque will remain the same.)
On the inside, yes they’ve changed out some of the trim. “Some” as in “all.” Woodhouse: “Every panel on the interior is changed.”
The most significant—or at least obvious—change is on the center stack, where the painted polymer has given way to real aluminum. Yes, real metal surfaces sweep down from the center of the IP. On the Driver’s Package there is the use of real carbon fiber trim to accent the aluminum. (Woodhouse says that there are two new up-trim Black Label interiors that use wood—but he points out that this is wood done in a way that doesn’t make you think of a plastic applique.)
He says that one of the drivers of making modifications to certain areas of the interior was a need for the installation of speaker grilles for the Revel audio systems available for the car.
Another change—something that will certainly set Lincoln apart from its competitors in the luxury segment, particularly the one that used to be headquartered not far from Dearborn—is that they’ve installed things like knobs, buttons and switches on the IP. It is not as though they are stinting in the least bit on the tech—they’ve got that whether the issue is connectivity or safety—but they are reacting to a demand from consumers for something that’s more automotively ergonomic.
Odd as it may sound, Lincoln is a challenger brand in the luxury space.
And from the looks of the 2017 MKZ, it is up to the challenge.
When you think about the sales of Ford vehicles, you undoubtedly know that the F-Series trucks are by far the number-one seller for the Blue Oval brand.
But what comes in second?
Well, it is probably a good thing for Ford that it has a vehicle that is not only number-two in its lineup, but which happens to be in the segment that will account for about a third of all vehicle sales in the U.S. in 2015, and which is expected to account for about 40% of the entire industry sales by 2020.
And the niche that this Ford product is in is the biggest part of that segment, and is appealing to two non-trivial cohorts of buyers, the Millennials and the Boomers.
The category is sport utility vehicles. The niche is the compact segment within SUVs. And the number-two best-selling Ford is the Escape.
The Escape has been in market for 15 years, during which time some 3-million have been sold.
And for 2017 model year, Ford has made notable improvements to the compact SUV, such that they’re not referring to it as a refresh but a fourth generation of the vehicle.
Milton Wong, chief engineer of the vehicle, said last night (November 16) at the world unveiling of the vehicle in Hollywood, said that his favorite part of the Escape is something that isn’t there: the mechanical hand brake has been replaced by an electric park brake. Consequently, he points out, there is significantly more room for storage and amenities on the inside of the vehicle.
This, Wong says, was not a move made simply because the designers and engineers working on the program thought that it would be a good idea.
Rather, he explains, that when the 2013 Escape came out with a whole new highly styled exterior appearance, a big change from the predominantly rectangular vehicle that it succeeded, customers said that they were interested in having more room for storage in the Escacpe.
“The data speaks,” Wong says. “And we’re a data-driven company.”
Hard to argue with the data, especially when it comes from your customers.
“For us,” Wong says, “2017 was about getting back to our roots. It was about making a great product even better by listening to our customers.”
The styling of the 2017 model is changed, albeit not as extensively as its predecessor. There is a new hood. New front fascia, including headlamps. A new rear fascia and tailgate.
They’ve updated the rear suspension, including larger dampers. “We’ve sacrificed nothing relative to the steering and the handling”—again, something that he says customers are highly complementary of—“but have added greater precision and balance.”
A big change is under the hood, where they have on offer two EcoBoost engines, a 1.5-liter and a twin-scroll 2.0-liter. (There is a carryover 2.5-liter four, as well.) The 1.5 produces, it is anticipated, 180-hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter produces 245 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque.
What is notable is that both engines come standard with Auto Stop-Start. Wong says that the average driver idles about 16 minutes a day, which means that without stop-start, this is a whole lot of gasoline that is doing nothing more than burning.
Factor in the fact that they estimate that the two EcoBoosts will account for about 90% of Escape sales, so this is a whole lot of fuel that is being saved.
Wong estimates that this will represent the largest application of start-stop tech in the industry. One consequence of that is that they worked exceedingly hard to make sure that they got it right, without the jarring restart that can sometimes can occur. So they benchmarked their system against brands that one doesn’t ordinarily associate with ford, such as Porsche, BMW and Mercedes.
The 2013 model was the first with the hands-free liftgate function. The 2017 model will be the first Ford with SYNC Connect, which allows drivers to unlock and lock doors, start the engine, and find the car all through an app.
Bottom line: the Escape is a big deal for Ford. And for the next model, they’ve made it even better.