Autofield Blog

Does MINI Matter?


By: Gary S. Vasilash 19. February 2015

BMW Group is bullish on MINI. And I wonder why. Still, in reporting on how the brand performed globally in January 2015, Peter Schwarzenbauer, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for MINI, BMW Motorrad and Rolls-Royce (I would hate to see his business card, said, “Following on from our core model change last year, MINI is aiming for sustainable growth in 2015.”

MINI assembly

Making MINIs in Oxford (yes, that Oxford)

Globally, MINI moved 17,373 units in January, according to BMW Group, or an increase of 12% compared to January 2014.

And from a percentage basis, things were even better in the U.S.

MINI had a total deliveries of 3,228 units in the U.S. in January, according to Autodata, which is a more-than-respectable increase of 26.9% compared to January 2014.

When we look more closely, that’s 1,494 Cooper/S units, up a whopping 79.6%. There were 675 Cooper/S four-doors, which weren’t available last year. There were 144 convertibles, which is down 11.7%. And there were 22 coupes, down 73.8%, which seems sad until you realize that there was one Clubman delivered, down 99.5%. They moved 65 Roadsters, a 12.1% gain. The 745 Countrymans were off by 30.6%, and the 82 Pacemans were down by 26.1%.

When you look at that 3,228 number, realize that BMW, the company that owns and operates MINI, delivered 3,279 5 Series sedans in January. One car vs. eight.

And if you consider other small cars on offer in the U.S., it is interesting to note that Ford delivered 3,454 Fiestas in January, which is down 17% compared to 2014, and Chevy sold 3,521 Sonics, and that was off 46.5% compared to January 2014.*

Maybe the rest of the world is more taken with MINIs, but when the U.S. market, which accounted for 18.5% of the global sales in January buys just 3,228 units and that’s a 26.9% gain, the math seems rather mysterious.

*It should be noted that the pricing of MINI is different than the Ford and the Chevy, with a starting MSRP of $20,700 for the Cooper and $13,965 for the Fiesta (and if you want to go up a notch, the Focus starts at $16,810) and $14,245 for the Sonic. Consequently, the margins are undoubtedly better on the MINI, which means that you need to sell fewer to still make as much. But when it comes to auto sales, more is generally better, isn’t it?


2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI S w/Performance Package


By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. February 2015

This is the 2015 Golf GTI:

GTI 1

The version that you’ll find in a dealership won’t have that sticker on the hood. That sticker was affixed to the GTI at the North American International Auto Show in January because the Golf was named the North American Car of the Year.

This is on the heels of the Golf being named the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

Golf is clearly on a roll vis-à-vis recognition among those in the automotive press community.

There are actually four Golf variants. The Golf. The e-Golf, an electric car. The Golf R, a recently introduced high-performance vehicle (there have been R’s before, but there is a new one for 2015). And the GTI.

GTI 2

The GTI with the optional Performance Package is arguably the “hot hatch.” Its turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. (The non-optioned version provides 210 hp and the same torque, which is still rather steamy given that we’re talking about a car with a curb weight of 2,972 lb., when it is a two-door and equipped with the six-speed manual.) Admittedly, the R is hotter, producing 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, but when you think of the crowd that would be most interested in a fast hatch, chances are the GTI with the Performance Package is more realistically attainable, as the MSRP for the GTI is $24,995, and the Performance Package adds $1,495 to that, whereas the R has a base MSRP of $36,595, so things are a bit more difficult economically speaking.

There are several cars about which companies claim: “This is fun to drive.”

You can probably count on one hand the number of cars that truly are fun to drive, as in really giving you a kick even if you’re just going to the grocery store. And the GTI is one of them.

Given that this is appearing in February and it is being written in Detroit, it must be said, however, that the standard 18-in. Bridgestone summer tires are not the sort of thing that you want on the alloy wheels until Spring breaks. And even with all-season rubber on the rims, the profile is so low as to make even a couple inches of snow all-but insurmountable except that the vehicle has the power to propel the car and the electronically controlled limited-slip differential helps manage the torque.

GTI LSD

The GTI’s LSD

Still, this is probably the car for hot fun in the summertime.

Because this is a GTI, the standard seats—which are certainly bottom-securing—are “Clark” plaid. Which underscores a sense of fun. And the shifter knob for the manual has golf ball-like dimpling (there is also an automatic, a dual-clutch model, available).

GTI 3

Yet there is serious stuff, as well, like the 5.8-inch screen with capacitive touch sensing. Or, more mechanically, the “aluminum-look” pedals (which I think means that they are a metallic material of some sort that resembles aluminum, but which doesn’t have an effect on the production of F-150s).

But the point of this car is, I think, that it is a car for people (probably skewing younger rather than older) who are interested in having a car that provides a level of driving enjoyment that is probably otherwise unachievable unless the monthly payment is something that is a large percentage of monthly apartment rent.

And the good news for Volkswagen of America is that there is a comparatively large number of people who understand the appeal of the Golf GTI.

Last year, according to VoA, they sold 15,941 Golfs—but they also sold 17,363 GTI versions. Imagine: the performance version outselling the daily-driver.

Take one for a spin (after the weather breaks if you have winter; as soon as you can if you’re elsewhere) and you’ll probably know why.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Material: Cast-iron block, aluminum head

Horsepower: 220 @ 4,700 rpm

Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Steering: Electrical power-assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 103.6 in.

Length: 168 in.

Width: 70.5 in.

Height: 56.8 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.31

Curb weight: 2,972 lb.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 25/34/28 mpg


How Do You Spell “Corolla”? “M-I-S-S-I. . . .”


By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. February 2015

While “the Georgetown plant” is almost synonymous with “Toyota” when it comes to U.S. manufacturing operations, given that the company started building cars there back in 1988, that is just one of many plants the company operates in the U.S.

It is making engines in Alabama and trucks in Texas. It’s making transmissions in West Virginia and Camrys in Indiana.

Corolla

And last week, Toyota Mississippi—yes, they have a product facility in the Magnolia State—announced that they’ve produced 500,000 Corollas in the plant.

Given that they started building them when the plant opened in 2011, that’s PDQ.

Corolla 2

Last year, Toyota Mississippi produced approximately 180,000 Corollas.

The Corolla is an important car for Toyota. According to Autodata, last year 339,498 Corollas were delivered, which makes it the #3 best-selling car in America after the Camry and the Accord. In terms of overall vehicle sales, it is #6, with the first three spots being taken by pickups (F-Series, Silverado, Ram).


How the 2015 Nissan Murano Was Developed


By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. February 2015

One of the best stories you’re ever likely to hear about automotive development comes from Chris Reed, overseas chief engineer for the 2015 Nissan Murano, the all-new third-generation vehicle. (He was the straight-up chief engineer for the crossover when he lived in Japan, but now that he is back at the Nissan Technical Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan, the word “overseas” is appended.)

2015 Nissan Murano

Clearly, of all crossovers on the market, the Murano, since it made its debut in 2002 as a 2003 model, has had a far more expressive design, one with shapes and forms that are more characteristics of a sports car than a sport-ute.

But, Reed relates, as time has gone on, the competitors’ products have become more expressive, so for the 2015, they had to reestablish distinction in design.

(Realize that Reed is an engineer, not a stylist, and he is acutely concerned with making sure that shapes and forms, both outside the car and in, are executed even though there might be more easily achieved alternatives.)

2015 Nissan Murano

Three days before the decision was going to be made for the production version of the car, after they had winnowed away many alternative designs that had been presented by studios in Japan, Europe and the U.S., they were down to two vehicles.

One of the two, Reed says, was the most likely to succeed.

But he, and some of his colleagues, realized that the other one was more expressive. Had much more gesture. Flair. A certain something. But it would be more difficult to produce.

Still, they knew that that had to be the one, so they spent the time before the die was cast to figure out whether they could do it.

And that’s the vehicle that is the one that they’re manufacturing in a plant in Canton, Mississippi.

Reed talks about that aspect of the Murano, as well as the “zero-gravity” seats, how they achieve a remarkable coefficient of drag of just 0.31 and much more on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Quant

QUANT e-Sportlimousine with nanoFlowcell (no, we don’t get it, either)

In addition to which, John McElroy of “Autoline,” Joann Mueller of Forbes and I discuss other recent automotive topics, including some of the products introduced at the Chicago Auto Show; Harry J. Wilson, who is nominating himself for a spot on the General Motors Board of Directors; and alternative propulsion sources, including some mysterious electrolytic fluid.

All of which you can see here:

 


Focus Gets Enhanced Stability Control


By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. February 2015

This is a 2015 Ford Focus that is evidently parked:

2015 Ford Focus

However, there are times, when the car is in "D," that things can get rather. . .extreme and lead to a skid which can lead to a spinout.

(Given the surface of where the Focus is located, which is undoubtedly a test track, the driver of that vehicle has been trying to make the car do things that the rest of us never want to experience in our daily driving.)

So Ford engineers have come up with a way to mitigate that, a capability they’re calling “enhanced traditional stability technology.” This, according to Ford, makes the assessment within 100 to 200 milliseconds.

This new feature goes beyond the standard stability control system in the vehicle. The inputs—including car’s speed, steering wheel position, turn rate of the steering wheel—are all used, just as they are in conventional stability control.

But for this enhanced system the information is additionally processed in a way that it heretofore hadn’t been.

Which makes this development all the more clever, in as much as it is one of those unexpected benefits.

That is, Ford engineers used an algorithm that had been developed for the Ford Roll Stability Control system to see how it would affect the ability to control a vehicle from spinning.

And it turned out to be beneficial.

Said David Messih, Ford Brake Controls manager (when a potential skid is detected, brakes are individually applied), “By recognizing scenarios that can lead to a potential loss of driver control before oversteer has developed, the enhanced transitional stability system is setting the recovery process in motion quicker than ever before, resulting in smother, more refined control.”

If you’ve ever been in a car that spins you know that that is absolute understatement.




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