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 August 2, 2013. The reasonably priced BMW i3, Ford's ST driving school, Porsche tempts fate with eco-friendly 911, alternative fuel F-150 models, and Toyota's SUV loyalty - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. BMW i3 Electric Car Bows With A Very Reasonable Price Tag
The BMW i3 debuted this past week, and the subcompact hatchback brought with it a refreshing surprise: a starting MSRP of $41,350. Given that the car qualifies for the federal tax credit associated with electric vehicles, this places the battery-powered model well within the reach of entry-level BMW buyers at a cost significantly less than one would expect from a brand that typically charges a premium for its electrically-assisted vehicles. If you are willing to pay more for the i3, it's possible to order a gasoline engine that will act as a range extender for the 170 horsepower battery-powered unit, adding to the 100 miles of capacity before a recharge is required. BMW is also offering a program that will allow i3 owners to borrow gasoline cars for longer trips.
02. Ford Offers ST Buyers Free Performance Driving School
Anyone who buys a Ford Focus ST or a Ford Fiesta ST - the brand's high performance compact and subcompact hatchbacks, respectively - will now qualify for a free session at the ST Octane Academy. This driving school, which is hosted by Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, is a two-day event where owners will be shown how to get the most out of their turbocharged front-wheel drive rides. Other goodies include a tour of notable Ford driver Ken Block's home base, as well as the chance to sample other Ford products in a track or off-road setting. If you've already bought your ST, you can still qualify for the school, but all ST owners will have to pay their own way there and find a place to stay for the duration of the Academy.
03. Does The World Need An Eco-Friendly Porsche 911?
Rumors have been posted on 911UK.com that detail a special eco-friendly version of the Porsche 911 on its way to help the German brand celebrate the model's 50th anniversary at next month's Frankfurt Auto Show. The coupe would come with a detuned six-cylinder engine that would drop output as low as 300 horses and 211 lb-ft of torque, and it would feature a number of aero details to help improve fuel mileage while also decontenting the vehicle when compared to the current entry-level 911.
The above description sounds like a bad joke, and for the sake of Porsche, let's hope that it is. It's one thing to push the envelope of efficiency and green awareness with non-core models like the Panamera and the Cayenne (huge sellers, but not the face of the company). It's quite another to mess with a formula that has worked so well for five decades and risk alienating a very loyal group of buyers. There's a reason we haven't seen a twin-turbo Corvette, or a Mustang GT without a V-8, and that's because those automakers have respect for the history of these special models. Hopefully, if Porsche has to green-out one of its sports coupes, it will pick a model like the Cayman, which is unfettered by the baggage of tradition.
04. Ford Gets On The Alternative Fuel Pickup Bandwagon
Ford has decided that it wants to expand its alternative fuel action past its Super Duty and commercial vans and will be offering natural gas and propane models of its class-leading F-150 full-size pickup. The option will become available starting for the 2014 model year. Alternative fuel editions of the F-150 will be restricted to its unpopular 3.7-liter base V-6. At a cost of just $315, the engine package would seem to be an appealing choice for fleet buyers looking to save on fuel costs, but it doesn't factor in the up to $11,000 in conversion costs per vehicle to add the additional fuel tank as well as other associated hardware. The Automotive News is reporting the Ford expects the savings to pay for the total conversion within a three-year window. A team of aftermarket shops will be handling the alternative fuel installations for Ford.
05. Toyota Stays True To SUV Roots
Very few of the original group of Japanese off-road vehicles - such as the Nissan Pathfinder and the Toyota 4Runner - are still available in their original, full-frame form. The decision for most SUV manufacturers to pursue the car-based crossover platforms that ensure better fuel economy and a more composed ride has left Toyota largely on its own in this segment, with the FJ Cruiser, the Land Cruiser, and the 4Runner still standing tall amid diminishing sales. Even the Toyota Sequoia is still crowding showrooms, a behemoth of a people mover based on the same bones as the Tundra full-size pickup. Brand representatives stated this week that Toyota will be continuing to produce this diverse lineup of rugged SUVs due to what it perceives as strong buyer niches for each. The companies cites towing and off-road toughness as the factors that most often lead to sales for the four models.