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 December 21, 2012. Infiniti goes Q, Ford pushes for more efficient trucks, the return of the VW Routan, the Lincoln MKC, and intrigue between Hyundai and the Blue Oval - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Infiniti's Q Confusion
Infiniti made a surprising announcement this week that it would be renaming all current and future vehicles using a homogenous scheme centered around the letter Q. More specifically, all sedans, coupes and convertibles will be labeled Q, while crossovers and SUVs will be known as QX. Two digit numbers will be appended to the letter in order to denote the specific model, with the QX80 (the former QX56) representing the top of the SUV range and the Q70 (the former M sedan) sitting at the top of the passenger car heap.
Infiniti claims that its previous naming convention, which used a combination of letters to denote model and numbers to advertise engine size, was too confusing for buyers who were unable to situate a vehicle's position in the company's lineup. The backlash against what seems to be an almost random move that adds a touch of blandness to an otherwise exciting stable of cars has been strong, but Infiniti has stood its ground and defended the action via Facebook posts and press releases. The new names go into effect for all 2014 models.
02. Ford Aims For More MPGs With 2015 F-150 - But Does It Matter?
The Automotive News is reporting that Ford is pushing hard to improve the fuel mileage of the next generation of Ford F-150 full-size pickups when they hit the market as 2015 models. $2 billion of investment will in part help Ford engineers achieve what they hope will be 'best in class' fuel efficiency, through a combination of lightweight materials use and small-displacement turbocharged engines.
Are truck buyers actually interested in the pursuit of fuel economy above all else? Despite their popular image as plus-size daily drivers, pickups are often purchased as task-focused machines, and if fuel mileage is prioritized above capability, then truck shoppers will look elsewhere. Ford would like to squeeze an additional three miles per gallon out of its most frugal F-150 model. It remains to be seen whether customers will notice - or even care - when it comes time to trade in their old F-Series trucks for the latest and greatest.
03. One More Year Of Routan?
Just when everyone thought that the Volkswagen Routan, the perfect example of all that is wrong with badge engineering on a global scale, would be put out to pasture, it turns out that the VW-by-way-of-Dodge minivan has been granted an 11th hour reprieve. Volkswagen has elected to resume Volkswagen Routan production next summer, despite facing general disinterest on the part of customers in the United States who have rather easily detected that the Routan is simply a subtly re-styled Grand Caravan without the bonus of Stow 'n Go seating. Speculation is that Volkswagen is simply seeking to add the Routan's small sales figures to its overall totals as it attempts to push forward in its quest to snag the title of world's largest automaker.
04. Lincoln To Introduce New Compact Crossover
Lincoln isn't finished introducing new products, as hot on the heels of the Lincoln MKZ and Lincoln MKS sedans comes the announcement that new entry-level crossover will be presented by the premium brand at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. The vehicle, which will be sold as the Lincoln MKC, will borrow heavily from the new Ford Escape compact crossover, sharing its basic platform, and it will also most likely offer a choice of two four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engines. Presumably, the Lincoln MKC would go up against vehicles like the Buick Encore and the Acura RDX.
05. Did Ford Rat Out Hyundai?
An interesting twist in the Hyundai/Kia fuel economy fiasco from last month has been unearthed by an Automotive News story that claims Margo Oge, the former head of the EPA branch responsible for verifying the fuel mileage figures advertised by automakers operating in the U.S. market, received a 'tip' from another car company that Hyundai and Kia were perhaps not being as honest as they could be about their 40-mpg claims. Oge confirmed the that she had been contacted by a senior executive from a domestic brand, but she would not be more specific about the source. So far, Chrysler and General Motors have denied involvement, leaving only Ford to twist in the wind with essentially a 'no comment' statement that was intriguingly capped off with the acknowledgement that the automaker 'routinely speaks with policymakers.'