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 5, 2011. Let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Ford to Offer Plug-in Hybrid Super Duty Pickups
Ford will be teaming up with a company called Azure Dynamics to create a fleet of plug-in hybrid F-Series Super Duty trucks that will become available in 2013. The initial focus will be on F-550 chassis cab models, with the technology eventually trickling all the way down to standard F-350 models. The vehicles will be sold and serviced through Ford Commercial Truck dealerships, which should comfort business owners not wanting to be stranded with a stable full of complicated electric vehicles that cannot be easily repaired. Although no hard figures regarding fuel mileage improvements have been released, similar projects between Azure and Ford working together on E-450 van conversions have seen up to 40 percent reductions in fuel consumption.
hybrid trucks in the commercial realm have achieved greater penetration over the past several years. Ford’s decision to join the battery-assisted party will no doubt help the company partner with companies eager to slash fuel bills without sacrificing power or reliability. If successful, the initiative may also eventually spread to its lineup of light trucks, which has seen radical changes made to its drivetrain options over the course of the past two years.
02. DOT Testing How Humans React to Cars That Drive Themselves
It’s not just important to make sure that a self-piloted car stays between the lines while it is driving its human cargo from point A to point B – it’s also crucial that passengers actually feel comfortable while being ferried around by a cluster of computer chips. According to the Department of Transportation, feeling “comfortable” is code for ensuring that vehicle occupants don’t intervene in the operation of the automobile during unusual driving situations.
The Automotive News reports that the DOT is setting up a series of tests across the United States that will attempt to get a feel for what people do in circumstances where a vehicle takes automatic emergency action to prevent a collision or other type of accident. The Department hopes that it will be able to count on passengers not interfering with the decisions made by future Smart cars, which could potentially endanger their own lives and the lives of others around them on the road.
03. Budget Offers Ultra-Cheap Car Rentals – Wrapped in Advertising
Would you be willing to drive around a mobile billboard in order to save money on a rental car? Budget is betting that you will, and has already rolled out a pilot program in Atlanta that offers exactly this type of promotion. According to USA Today, Budget’s partnership with Wrap Media Group is providing a savings of close to 75 percent on long-term rentals for drivers who don’t mind the extra attention that having an advertisement emblazoned on their vehicle brings them.
Vehicle-wrap publicity programs are nothing new, with some companies even offering individual car owners the chance to get paid for adding ads to their daily drivers and parking them in prominent places around town. Budget’s gambit could work out nicely for bargain-hunting car renters and rental locations looking to earn a few extra dollars from their fleets.
04. MINI Offers $500 Discount to Move Manual Transmission Cars
Much has been made about the impending death of the traditional manual transmission, with even dedicated sports car companies such as Lamborghini and Ferrari eliminating or at the very least limiting the availability of this type of gearbox across their vehicle lineups. A recent MINI incentive reveals just how low the take rate is on manual transmissions even at more affordable price points in the market. Until the end of August, anyone selecting a manual-equipped MINI Cooper, MINI Clubman or MINI convertible will get $500 off their purchase price.
MINI’s manual cars are already their most affordable in terms of MSRP and their most economical at the fuel pump, but it would appear that they are simply not leaving dealer lots fast enough. Hopefully for enthusiasts, this $500 discount doesn’t signal the start of a change in design philosophy and marketing focus at the compact car company.
05. U.S. To Get Chevrolet Spark City Car After All
It’s official: General Motors has announced that it will sell the tiny Chevrolet Spark ultra-compact car in the United States. The Chevrolet Spark will make it to American showrooms as a 2013 model, and according to Autoweek could potentially offer a 1.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
After years of being represented solely by the unpopular smart fortwo, the microcar market in the U.S. is heating up, with the Scion iQ, the FIAT 500 and now the Spark all going on sale within a year of each other. It remains to be seen just how popular a tiny Chevrolet vehicle that does not offer the European cachet of a Fiat or the branding of a Scion will fare with car shoppers in a country that has consistently rejected the idea that small is beautiful.