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It’s Friday once again, which means it’s time for another round of my Five For Friday: Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for April 5, 2013. Nissan's Taxi of Tomorrow runs aground in New York, the Detroit Electric revival, a diesel-powered Chrysler 300, Mitsubishi to expand its U.S. lineup, and a possible Hyundai pickup truck - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
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01. Nissan's Taxi Of Tomorrow Runs Into NYC Regulatory Trouble
It was just one year ago this month that the 'Taxi of Tomorrow' was introduced to much fanfare at the New York International Auto Show. Based on the Nissan NV200 van, the Taxi of Tomorrow was slated to completely take over fleet duties in NYC and replace the city's aging Crown Victorias and assorted hybrid sedans and SUVs. Unfortunately, it would seem that this plan was never run by the city's lawyers - nor the Greater New York Taxi Administration (GNYTA).
A quirk in NYC law states that any taxi company has the right to operate hybrid vehicles if they so choose. Since the NV200 isn't available with a hybrid drivetrain - and won't be for several years, if ever - the GNYTA launched a lawsuit stating their right to opt-out of Nissan ownership. The city's Taxi and Limousine Commission has countered by interpreting the hybrid loophole as one that can only be filled by battery-assisted vehicles with a certain interior size (138 cubic feet) that would rule out all hybrid sedans or hatchbacks currently operating in New York City. The battle continues, but the acrimony has delayed the adoption of the Taxi of Tomorrow and could in fact freeze it out of the lucrative NYC market.
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02. Detroit Electric Joins EV Fray
Reviving the name of a long-departed automotive brand has become fashionable over the course of the past decade, but rarely has it been done in order to launch an all-electric enterprise. Detroit Electric, defunct since 1939, will now be seen once again on the body work of a high end sports car and at least two other vehicles that will be available by the end of next year. The lightweight Detroit Electric SP:01 - which looks an awful lot like a Lotus Elise - will be sold for $135,000 and will provide the ability to accelerate to 60-mph in just a tick over 3.5 seconds thanks to the 201 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque generated by its electric motor. In an unusual move for an electric car, the SPO:01 can be had with a pair of manual gearboxes, as well as an automatic option that offers two speeds (as opposed to the direct drive used by most EVs). The range for the car is listed at 150 miles.
Although the SP:01's supercar pricing might be discouraging for the average electric car fan, the company insists that the next two models it produces will be marketed in the $30k range. They will also be designed to serve as daily drivers, which means they will provide much more practicality than the two-seat SP:01.
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03. Will The Chrysler 300 Be The Next Diesel Pentastar Model?
In Europe, the Chrysler 300 is sold under the Lancia banner, where it can be ordered with a diesel drivetrain. Ward's Auto is reporting that Chrysler might be on the verge of making that same configuration available to North American buyers. Technologically the addition would be an easy one, as Chrysler would most likely borrow the Italian-sourced, 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 currently found under the hood of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, where it makes 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. The bigger question is, would Chrysler customers be willing to pay thousands of dollars more for a diesel motor, as they currently have to do with the Grand Cherokee? The move would seem to be one that would push the 300 further up-market than it currently sits, and while the idea of an ultra-efficient Chrysler 300 is appealing, the business case for its production might not be as strong as it was for Jeep's more lateral move into diesel power.
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04. Signs Of Life At Mitsubishi With Potential U.S. Lineup Expansion
Mitsubishi's future in the United States is an uncertain one, despite recent claims from leadership that a plan was being put together to revamp its fortunes in America and regain some of the market share it has bled away since the 1990s. The Detroit Free Press has published an article suggesting that the words of Mitsubishi executives might have some actual weight behind them - specifically, in the form of an expanded lineup for U.S. customers. The report mentions two new vehicles populating Mitsubishi showrooms by the end of 2015, including a mid-size sedan and a larger SUV, with the intention of going after volume instead of the niche approach of recent additions like the i-MiEV electric car.
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05. Hyundai Mulls The Introduction Of A Pickup
Niche is very much the word at Hyundai these days, but with the Korean automaker having already covered all of the major product bases it's one that is used to describe efforts to draw even greater numbers of potential buyers onto the showroom floor. The latest product effort from Hyundai? According to the Automotive News, it just might be a pickup truck. Due to a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea, building a pickup in Hyundai's home market would keep it from being subject to the 25% Chicken Tax tariff that prevents many other foreign trucks from being sold in America.
The Automotive News article quotes a Hyundai vice-president as stating that the brand is in the middle of studying the feasibility of producing a pickup - whether in Korea or in the U.S. - that could serve either the full-size or compact market. The recent research was prompted by demand from dealers around the world for a truck that they could use to flesh out the company's current SUV lineup.
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