Autofield Blog

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?


The Economic Importance of Auto


By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. June 2015

A couple weeks ago the University of Tennessee Center of Business and Economic Research (CEBR) released a study on the economic impact of Volkswagen’s plant expansion in Chattanooga as well as the establishment of the North American Engineering and Planning Center.

Overall, Volkswagen of America is investing $900-million, of which $600-million is being invested in Tennessee.

VW SUV

The manufacturing facility, where the Passat is currently produced, will be adding an all-new vehicle, a seven-passenger SUV. The SUV is slated to go into production by the end of 2016.

Overall, the 1.9-million sq. ft. plant, which opened in April 2011, will be expanded by 512,886 sq. ft. The body shop will add 149,415 sq. ft.; the pilot hall 25,095 sq. ft.; the assembly area 40,701 sq. ft.; the warehouse 297,675 sq. ft.; and there will be a second line added in the paint shop.

In terms of employment, it is expected that there will be 2,000 new jobs created, bringing VW’s total in Chattanooga to 4,400.

If you’ve ever wondered what sort of impact automotive operations can have, then know this, from the CEBR study, prepared by William Fox and Lawrence Kessler: “On an annual basis, we estimate that operations from the Volkswagen expansion plant and R&D center will generate $372.6 million in new income earned in Tennessee once the expansion is fully operational. Of this income, $271.7 million will come from a combination of new purchases from Tennessee suppliers (the indirect effect), and the multiplier effect. Thus, every dollar spent on operations (i.e. production and R&D) leads to $3.69 of income for Tennessee.”

A dollar spent, $3.69.

Nice multiplier.


Exploring the 2016 Ford Explorer


By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. June 2015

The Ford Explorer was introduced in 1990 as a model year 1991 sport utility vehicle. And in that time, with all of the ups and downs in the market, with all of the changes in gas prices and the overall economic situation in the U.S., the Explorer has managed to be the best-selling SUV for 25 years.

All in, there have been more than 7-million Explorers sold.

In 2011 there was a major model change for the Explorer. For model year 2016 there has been a major refresh of the vehicle, including new sheet metal ahead of the A-pillars, a whole new rear fascia, new engine options, new trim offerings including the top-of-the-line Platinum, and a new interior.

2016 Ford Explorer

“Refresh” seems too weak a word for what they’ve done for the Explorer, which is sold around the world, with the mother plant being in Illinois, the Chicago Assembly Plant. (There are two other production facilities, one in Venezuela and the other in Russia.)

Last year Ford exported 56,000 Explorers from the U.S.

Arie Greneveld is the chief engineer for the Explorer.

And he sat down and talked with David Welch of Bloomberg, Henry Payne of the Detroit News and me on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Learn what’s behind the engineering of the Explorer from the man who headed up the team.

In addition to which, Welch, Payne and I discuss a number of other things, including some low numbers from May sales (e.g., 40 Alfa 4Cs were sold in May, 58 Vipers, and 116 Cadillac ELRs—imagine).

You can see it all here:


 




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