Autofield Blog

The Dodge Brothers


By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. June 2015

Despite the remarkable exterior designs, interior innovations and potent powertrains, Dodge sales are not doing particularly well.

In May, sales were off 22%. For the year they’re off 17%.

The brand under the FCA US LLC umbrella has sold a total of 213,685 units through May.

Chevrolet sold a total of 207,970 units in May.

In order to try to boost sales, Dodge is running a series of ads featuring the Dodge Brothers, fictional version of the actual guys who established their car-making concern back in 1912.

The spirit of the legendary Dodge Brothers lives on as Dodge launches four new ads in its marketing campaign. The 60-second “First Dodge” spot goes back to the beginning to tell a story of John and Horace Dodge. Before they founded their car company and before they were even out of their teens, the first vehicle they ever built was a bicycle.

According to Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of FCA Global (i.e., not just the U.S. but the whole shooting match), "Today's Dodge vehicles have the same passion for performance as John and Horace Dodge established in the first vehicles they crafted more than one hundred years ago. The initial 'Dodge Brothers' campaign we ran last year as a celebration of Dodge's centennial was so successful that the brothers are now back in this cinematic 'season two,' beautifully directed by Academy Award winner Adrien Brody.”


He added, “Our Dodge owners have embraced this campaign as they are extremely passionate about our cars and connect with the excitement these two brothers first brought to the auto industry decades ago and continue to bring to the ads in which they star today."

A couple of points.

One is that Brody won his Oscar for his remarkable starring role in Roman Polanski’s 2002 film The Pianist, in which he plays the title role, a musician in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Not a whole lot of Dodge Brothers hijinks there.

According to his profile on IMDB, Brody has directed one film, Stone Barn Castle. It is documentary about the restoration. . .of a barn.

Not exactly SRT territory.

Second, “Dodge owners have embraced this campaign.” These people already own Dodges. The brand needs to attract buyers who don’t own Dodges.

Were I to provide Francois with a recommendation regarding what they ought to do with the Dodge Brothers rather than making them look like a couple of guys who take on overweight boys and society snobs is to look to what I continue to consider the all-time go-to book about the auto industry, The Automobile Age by James J. Flink (The MIT Press).

In it, Flink writes, “The chassis (engines, transmission, and axles) of the first Ford car were supplied by the Detroit machine shop of John F. and Horace E. Dodge, which earlier had supplied transmissions for the curved-dash Olds.”

Just imagine an ad that stated: “Who taught Ford and General Motors about powertrains? These guys.”


Creating the Camaro, Gen Six


By: Gary S. Vasilash 15. June 2015

Whether it is reduced gasoline prices, an overall improvement in the economy or just because they are what they are, cars like the Mustang, the Charger and the Camaro are doing exceedingly well and the segment is arguably more competitive than ever.

So when Al Oppenheiser and his team set out to create the sixth generation Camaro, they had an opportunity and a challenge facing them.

Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer

And Oppenheiser, the chief engineer for the sixth generation, went to work on creating a car that is truly a Camaro, but which is a contemporary vehicle.

This car is truly a new car to the extent that there are two carryover parts: the bowtie emblem on the back and, if someone opts for the most powerful Camaro SS ever—a car equipped with a 6.2-liter LT1 direct-injected V8 that’s rated at 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque—then the SS badge is a carryover, too.

One of the big changes was a weight reduction program for the car—curb weight is down as much as 200 lb. compared with previous versions—while not sacrificing anything in the way of performance, but actually improving it: the structural rigidity, Oppenheiser points out, is increased by 28%.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro engineering prototype

Oppenheiser talks to freelance automotive journalists Jim McCraw and Chris Paukert and me on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” about how the 2016 Camaro was developed.

In addition to which, John McElroy joins the journos to talk about subjects ranging from the success Costco has in connecting car buyers with cars, the BMW 7 Series, and much more.

And you can see it all here.

 


 


2015 Kia Sedona SXL


By: Gary S. Vasilash 12. June 2015

One of the toughest categories in the auto business is probably not one that immediately springs to mind.

It’s not in the premium car segment, with Mercedes and BMW and Audi slugging it out.

It’s not in the muscle car segment with Mustang taking on Camaro taking on Challenger.

It’s not in the midsize segment with Camry vs. Accord vs. Fusion.

2015 Sedona SX Limited

Sure all of those categories are tough and important to the respective OEMs, but they are a walk in the park compared to the minivan segment.

Realize that this is a segment that is so brutal that both General Motors and Ford threw in the towel.

Chrysler, which is credited with essentially inventing the category, now FCA NA LLC for those of you keeping acronymic track, is reportedly foregoing the Dodge Caravan as minivan for the next generation, with the Chrysler Town & Country carrying the minivan banner alone, with Dodge possibly coming out with a three-row crossover (although it does have the Durango, and that’s not going anywhere, and there’s the smaller Journey, also available with three rows).

One of the problems that the minivan faces that the other types of vehicles don’t is that no matter how unergonomic, unfunctional, uneconomical they may be (e.g., does anyone really need a Hellcat or a car that costs as much as the GDP of some small nations?), minivans are perceived to be, well, minivans.

This means that it is a vehicle that seemingly no one wants to be seen behind the wheel of. Toyota tried to position a model of its Sienna as a “Swagger Wagon,” as though that was going to have the next door neighbor nodding his head and saying slyly, “I know what you’re talkin’ about,” but let’s face it: lower it, add trim, hell, put flames on it, and it is still a minivan.

Then, of course, there is the stigma—and let’s not forget that the meaning of that word is “mark of disgrace” and a synonym is shame—associated with women who have children who happen to play soccer. No one wants to be perceived as being a “soccer mom” even if they’re a soccer mom.

2015 Sedona SX Limited

Or, stated more correctly—but with more ontological complexity—to drive a minivan is to be perceived as a soccer mom, so not driving a minivan means that one is not a soccer mom even if one is a soccer mom.

That’s why it is tough.

For the past several years, the category has been dominated by FCA, Toyota and Honda. Last year, according to Autodata, there were 138,040 Town & Countrys and 134,152 Caravans delivered. 124,502 Siennas. And 122,738 Odysseys.

Kia has the Sedona, but arguably, up until it launched the 2015 model, it was pretty much the proverbial “place-holder” vehicle: last year it delivered 14,567.

That would be horrible were it not that Nissan Quest had deliveries of just 9,833 units.

When history or Wikipedia entries are written about the auto industry in the early 21st century, Kia would be chronicled as the “great comeback story,” except that to be a comeback you have to have been somewhere other than near the bottom.

However it is described, it is absolutely clear to anyone who has looked in a showroom of late that Kia has elevated the state of its vehicles’ design and execution so high—especially the design—that other, more familiar brands often seem staid by comparison.

Sedona 3

So for whatever bizarre reason, it has re-executed the Sedona in such a manner that the vehicle is now thoroughly competitive with the strongly competitive set of survivors in the category.

Although they are trying to position it as a “multipurpose vehicle” and point to it having a CUV-like appearance (some may remember how, in its last gasps of minivans, GM came out with the 2005 Pontiac Montana SV6, Chevy Uplander, Saturn Relay, and Buick Terraza, all of which were claimed to be SUV-like from the B-pillar forward—and how did that work out?), it is a minivan.

There, I said it.

Minivan.

But what a well-done vehicle it is by any name.

It is clearly stylish. It offers the necessary functionality that a minivan requires, such as a fold-in-the-floor third row seat, and outlets, storage spaces and cupholders galore. At the SXL trim level it has second-row “lounge seating,” which means that the two people who are lucky enough to get those seats even have footrests.

It has a 3.3-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic that are up to the task—with that task not only moving the vehicle smartly, but doing so in a manner that is important for those who are buying a minivan because they need something that can more comfortably and capably transport people and stuff than an SUV can: good fuel economy, with the combined number being 19 mpg. (Realize that this thing is about the size of a family room, comparatively speaking.)

2015 Sedona SX Limited

Those who are minivan-oriented and who are looking for a new one now need to check out the Sedona, as it is the real deal.

Those who think they’d never even get near a minivan even though they are well suited for having one by all objective measures (i.e., even if you kids are still in car seats and not old enough to kick a black-and-white ball, know that getting those car seats into a vehicle and the kids into the seats is a whole lot easier in a minivan than anything else; or even if you’re kids are grown and gone and you like to take your friends out to dinner, know that the leather in the Sedona is as nice as anything in a sedan, and again, your knees and the knees of your guests will thank you vis-à-vis ingress and egress) really need to check this vehicle out.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.3-liter DOHC, GDI V6

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 276 @ 6.000 rpm

Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Rack-and-pinion hydraulic power assisted

Wheelbase: 120.5 in.

Length: 201.4 in.

Width 78.1 in.

Height: 68.5 in.

Cargo behind third row: 33.9 cu. ft.

Cargo behind second row: 78.4 cu. ft.

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 17/22/19 mpg


Nyet.


By: Gary S. Vasilash 11. June 2015

According to IHS Automotive, in May, 125,801 passenger vehicles were sold in Russia.

Let’s put that into context.

The population of Russia is 143.5-million people.

In May, Ford delivered 241,639 vehicles in the U.S.

The population of the United States is 318.9 million.

This means that the Russian population is 45% that of the U.S.

2015 ACCENT

The U.S. Hyundai Accent .  The Russian Hyundai Solaris is a variant of this vehicle.  And the best-selling car in Russia in May.

And it means that total Russian car sales were 52% of those of Ford alone.

It should be noted that Ford U.S. sales were down 1.5% in May.

Russian car sales were off by 37.6% compared with the sales in May 2014.

For the year, Russian vehicle sales have declined 37.7%.

The Russian government is attempting to promote sales of Russian-built cars through a loan program that, according to Tim Urquhart of IHS, “offers loans at one-third of the base rate on automotive purchases on approved cars made in Russia.”

The top-selling car in Russia in May was the Hyundai Solaris. It qualifies for the loan program.

There were 10,654 Solaris models sold in Russia last month.

The Solaris is a variant of the Hyundai Accent available in the U.S.

In May, Hyundai sold 4,428 Accents in the U.S.

Well, there is that.


Volvo Goes Green


By: Gary S. Vasilash 10. June 2015

Volvo Group—as in the company that makes trucks, and buses and construction equipment, not cars—has a strong commitment to the environment.

For example, they’re launching an electric bus on the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden. It operates on renewable electricity.

Volvo electric

No noise pollution, either.

Last week, for example, Volvo Group North America announced that it achieved an environmental goal scheduled for 2020 five years earlier than anticipated.

As part of the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge, it set out to improve the energy efficiency in eight U.S. manufacturing facilities. (Volvo Trucks, Dublin, VA; Volvo Group Powertrain, Hagerstown, MD; Mack Trucks, Macungie, PA; Volvo Penta, Lexington, TN; Volvo Bus, Plattsburgh, NY; Volvo Group Remanufacturing in both Plattsburg, NY, and Charlotte, NC.)

The goal was a 25% reduction between 2009 and 2020.

By the end of 2014, they had reduced energy consumption by 26.8% compared to the 2009 baseline.

That accomplishment notwithstanding, Rick Robinson, director of health, safety and environment for Volvo Group North America, said, “We will continue to strive for improved energy efficiency.”

Who knows what they’ll accomplish in the next 4.5 years?




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