Autofield Blog

Developing the 2016 Nissan Maxima


By: Gary S. Vasilash 13. July 2015

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about the Nissan Maxima, which is now in its eighth generation: The car, which is the flagship of the company’s lineup, the vehicle that is at the top of the line that starts with the Versa and goes up through Sentra and Altima*, is, says Vishnu Jayamohan, Nissan senior product planner, the longest-running nameplate on offer from Nissan.

2016 Nissan Maxima

While it may be dwarfed in sales numbers by the other vehicles mentioned, know that this is a vehicle that there is clearly a pride in on behalf of the Nissan team that worked on the car.

And Jayamohan is one of those people.

The car was designed, primarily, in San Diego, engineered in Farmington Hills, and is being produced in Smyrna, which pretty much makes this a solidly American car—and the U.S. is the #1 market for the vehicle, according to Jayamohan.

2016 Nissan Maxima

In this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Jayamohan talks with host John McElroy, Detroit Free Press auto critic Mark Phelan and me about the development of the Maxima.

Among the points he makes is that while other full-size sedans have tended to be more staid in design, they worked hard to make a statement with the Maxima in terms of its presence: while they don’t necessarily call it the “Four-Door Sports Car” as they once did, there is no mistaking the fact that when you shape the sheet metal with such bold lines, this is not your classic businessman’s sedan with four doors to take clients out to lunch.

Nissan Maxima 2016

In addition to which, Phelan talks about a road trip that occurred 100 years ago: Edsel Ford, the only son of Henry and Clara, and some of his pals headed out in Model T’s and other cars of the day and headed west from Detroit (actually, Dearborn) and rolled all the way to San Francisco. There are some wonderful photos of the trip on display during the show.

Speaking of Edsel Ford, this is a restored version of his 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster. Obviously, he didn’t have this for a trip in 1915. But clearly this car gives a good sense of the style and adventurousness of the man, who is probably one of the best executives in the history of the industry who isn’t particularly well acknowledged for his efforts. One of his lasting legacies: he was the man who bought Lincoln.

Model 40

Anyway, the Maxima, Edsel, the sales numbers in Greece, the traffic jam in London, John and I drive the ZF autonomous car in Germany, and more, which you can see right here:


 

*There are other cars in the Nissan lineup. But arguably, these are not exactly “mainstream.” That is, there is the quirky Cube, which is going away. There is the Juke, which pretty much looks like a French car, and you know how well French cars do in the U.S. market (it may be interesting to note that in June 2015 Nissan sold 2,567 Jukes in the U.S., and 10,300 in Europe, which just goes to show that tastes in cars are not necessarily global). There is the LEAF, the electric vehicle that Carlos Ghosn continues to have tremendous faith in. And there are the 370Z and the GT-R, cars that are meant for those who are interested in looking good. . .and going fast. Really fast.


Electric in Norway


By: Gary S. Vasilash 10. July 2015

The Norwegian government set in place incentives to get 50,000 electric vehicles (EVs) sold in the Scandinavian country by 2017.

Turns out that either the cars are so appealing or the incentives are that the 50K mark was achieved in April of this year.

eGolf

Volkswagen e-Golf: Most popular model in Norway during Q1 2015

And according to the just-released IHS Automotive Plug-in Electric Vehicle Index, Norwegians are continuing to buy EVs like Røkt laks.

During the first quarter of 2015, there were 8,112 new EVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) registered in Norway. While that is not the greatest number overall—the U.S. has that distinction, with 14,832 EV/PHEVs registered in Q1—but Norway, by far, has the greatest number of EV/PHEV registrations as a percentage of total vehicle registrations.

Specifically, 33.1% of all cars registered in Norway in Q1 2015 were EV/PHEVs.

In the U.S., the share is just 0.8%, according to the IHS Automotive figures.

So what do the Norwegians get? A variety of advantages, including reduced taxes (purchase, VAT), no road license fee, free parking, bus lane use, etc.

Even though the 50,000 mark has been achieved, the incentives will remain in place until 2018, at which time they will begin to be phased out.

One interesting aspect of the U.S. registration number: although it was the biggest in Q1 2015 compared to the other countries measured, from the standpoint of comparing it to a year-over-year change (i.e., compared with Q1 2014), it shows the lowest growth, at just 0.2%.

In China, that same year-over-year change is up 744.9%, 392.3% in the U.K., and 101.3% in France.

Of course, the 0.2% change is better than what’s going on in Japan: it is down 19.5%.

IHS analysts speculate that the Japanese number may be affected by greater interest in hybrids without a plug.


2016 Mazda6 Touring


By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. July 2015

As I have stated on multiple occasions, when it comes to midsize sedans, the Mazda6 is hands-down the car with the best exterior design. (OK, the Kia Optima is well done, as well, but it is getting a little old in the showroom, having been introduced in model year 2011, while this version of the Mazda6 first appeared in the U.S. market as a model year 2014 car.)

And as it is a sporty-looking sedan, the interior is designed with sufficient sportiness, as well (e.g., the front bucket seats are bun-cossetting; the gauges are in a pilot-like pod).

But this is a car that is fitted with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, and in this case a six-speed automatic (there is a six-speed manual, as well), so it is more oriented toward less-frequent trips to the gas station than head-snapping acceleration, although moving around town or on the freeway you won’t feel like a three-legged dog among greyhounds.

Given the long-hood design, there is a truncated deck lid (a.k.a., trunk), but the trunk itself is sufficiently capacious for swallowing all manner of stuff.

There is an impressive array of standard interior features, like a rearview camera, keyless entry, pushbutton start, blind-spot monitoring system, and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

There is a 7-in. color touch-screen display and a knurled knob on the center console for clear, simple selection of things on that screen.

So what’s not to like?

This is an admitted quibble of mine, so you can simply stop now.

But it seems to me that when you offer a 7-in. color touch-screen display, if nothing else, that display ought to be displaying navigation information.

The Touring model that I’m talking about here is the mid-grade offering, not the entry vehicle. But you have to go up to the Grand Touring to get navigation.

Think about this for a minute. You can go to Costco and get a Garmin with map updates and real-time (more or less) traffic info for a couple hundred bucks. You can download Google Maps on your phone and buy one of those suction-cup phone holders and get navigation that way.

So wouldn’t it be the case that if you’re selling a car—heck, I don’t care if we’re talking a Mazda0, were there such a screen—that has a built-in screen, it ought to come with navigation.

Car companies are concerned with attracting young people and yet they’re pulling this? (NOTE: Mazda is not alone in this practice, not by a long shot.)

I took a road trip with the Mazda6 to a place I had never been to before. And I had to avail myself of my Garmin stuck on the windshield. It spoiled my experience with the car.

So I guess I could say that if you’re always likely to know where you’re going, or if you don’t mind having a really well executed car (inside and out) and having to use your phone or carry-in navigation system or you happen to want to make the most of your AAA membership and so get TripTiks and maps, then this may not bother you.

But in my estimation, some product planner at Mazda really ought to rethink this approach because I’m guessing that when that new  Chevrolet Malibu comes out with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the game is going to be a different one.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.5-liter DOHC, DI I4

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 184 @ 5,700 rpm

Torque: 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electric power assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 111.4 in.

Length: 192.7 in.

Width 72.4 in.

Height: 57.1 in.

Cargo volume: 14.8 cu. ft.

Curb weight: 3,232 lb.

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 26/38/31 mpg


MINI: Credit Where Credit Is. . .


By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. July 2015

Earlier this year, after considering the sales number of MINI, I wondered whether the brand continued to have any relevance in the market, at least in the U.S.

According to the latest sales numbers, MINI is doing fine compared to itself.

That is, in June 2015, there were 6,174 MINIs sold in the U.S., up 14.8% from the 5,376 sold in June 2014.

Clubman

New Clubman

From January through June, MINI has had U.S. sales of 30,260 units, up 25.3% from the 24,152 units sold in the comparable period last year.

However, if you want to know how BMW’s bread is buttered (yes, BMW owns MINI), know that in June the company sold 6,891 3 Series vehicles and has moved 42,783 units so far this year. That’s just the 3 Series.

But it seems as though the folks back in Munich had a bit of a reconsideration of MINI because the company recently announced that it is taking the brand in a bit of a new direction.

Peter Schwarzenbauer, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, responsible for MINI, Rolls-Royce, BMW Motorrad and After Sales, said, “Since its creation in 1959, the MINI brand has always stood for ideas, inspiration and passion. That will not change. The new MINI Clubman is the symbol of our refined brand philosophy: We will concentrate in future on five core models with strong characters. We will open ourselves up to new ideas and new business areas. We will develop the brand’s visual identity. We are expanding our offering into the premium compact class, which will attract new customers and avid MINI fans. I firmly believe that this comprehensive realignment will enable us to continue the MINI brand’s unique success story.”

Clubman 2

Put more simply: They’re going bigger. They’re going more upscale.

The new MINI Clubman is a bigger vehicle than the company has heretofore had on offer (bigger by more than a foot in length, 12.4 inches).

What’s interesting to know is that of those 6,174 units sold in the U.S. in June 7 were the current generation Clubman. Seven.

Compared to the Hardtop 4 Door, which was second in overall sales in the U.S. in June (1,886), the new Clubman is 10.9 inches longer, 2.9 inches wider and its wheelbase is 4 inches larger.

What MINI is banking on is that moving upscale with MINI will help the brand. According to BMW, studies show that there is going to be a 4% annual growth in the premium compact segment, and that by 2020, that compact segment will account for 27% of the global premium car market.

So based on this new rationalization, the question of whether MINI matters is a resounding “Yes.”


Fuel Efficiency Falls in June—Sort Of


By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. July 2015

In June, SUV and van sales were very good for Ford.

The sales of the Explorer were up 30% compared with June 2014. And the same is true for the Ford Edge.

2015 Ford Edge

Things were even better for Ford van sales, which were up 31% compared with last year.

In fact, Ford vans had their best June since 1999. June 1999 was the year the Napster first appeared. It’s been that long.

Overall, sales of light trucks did exceedingly well in June, and not just for Ford.

Anyway, over at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) researchers monitor overall vehicle sales and calculate the miles per gallon that those sales represent.

And while it is true that the miles per gallon for a given SUV or other light truck variant are better today that in the past, when you make the overall calculation, including cars in the mix, then it isn’t entirely surprising that they found a decrease in the fuel economy for the month of June.

UMTRI

However, it is just by 0.1 mpg, so it is not like a comparative Deepwater Horizon event on land.

Actually, the 25.4 mpg in June is pretty good for the year so far.

That is, the UMTRI researchers calculated that it was 25.4 mpg for January, 25.2 for February, 25.4 in March, 25.2 in April, and 25.5 mpg in May. That would be an average of 25.3 for those months, which means that the 25.4 mpg for June is actually above average.

Go figure.




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