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 January 24, 2014. Subcompact car crash tests ignite panic, Cadillac's full-size flagship goes on walkabout, the new Lincoln Navigator is here, Volkswagen's internal turmoil goes public, and Nissan runs afoul of the FTC. Let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Subcompact Car Crash Tests Spark Unnecessary Panic
A report this week from the IIHS concerning the performance of subcompact cars in its recently-introduced small overlap front crash test has sparked dizzying panic from mainstream media outlets. The instigator of the scare are the injuries that would occur to occupants inside these small vehicles should they find themselves in a similar crash situation in the real world. Only a handful of subcompacts managed to turn in a respectable performance during this particular IIHS test.
Before everyone goes out and buys a giant SUV, it's important to note that it's not just small cars that have had trouble with the overlap test, which was introduced in 2012. In fact, stalwarts like the Toyota Camry and the Volkswagen Jetta have all scored a rating of 'poor' from the IIHS in this type of crash, with vehicles like the Hyundai Sonata managing only a 'marginal' performance.
The reason? Automakers tend to build vehicles with specific crash tests in mind, so when a new type of collision simulation hits the scene they are often unprepared for that specific type of impact. It's important to keep switching up how cars are crash tested so that they reflect real-world conditions (and so that manufacturers don't get complacent), but it's also necessary to avoid flailing one's arms every time a new test returns negative results on a batch of cars that were designed before it was introduced. It's not that these cars are inherently unsafe - it's just that they failed a very specific type of crash test.
02. Cadillac Full-Size Sedan Spotted
Whether it's going to look like the stunning El Miraj concept or not, Cadillac's upcoming full-size flagship sedan has been spotted out and about, wrapped in testing camouflage. The four-door car is simply enormous - much larger than the current XTS that perches at the top of line-up - and looks exactly the right size to take on contenders like the class-leading Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Cadillac has been coy about whether it will build a two-door coupe on the same platform that will mimic the El Miraj's lines more faithfully than a sedan could, but it's encouraging to see that the brand is moving forward with its product development rather than simply showing off breathtaking concepts and then letting them die on the vine.
03. 2015 Lincoln Navigator Bows Early, Bows Silently
The 2015 Lincoln Navigator has been 'soft-launched' online a few weeks prior to its in-person presence at the Chicago Auto Show. In fact, this particular product announcement was done so quietly that it escaped the attention of many who had been waiting for word on how different the refreshed Navigator would be from the current pickup-based model. The most significant change is under the hood, where Lincoln has swapped out last year's underperforming V-8 for a sexier 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that pushes out 370 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque (a sizable upgrade over the 5.4-liter mill it replaces). Also new is a front fascia that fully embraces the brand's dual-waterfall design motif, as well as a few more luxury goodies on the options list. It seems likely that the new Navigator represents a stop-gap until the brand can introduce a new platform for the aging full-size SUV.
04. Volkswagen Critical Of Its Own U.S. Operations
In an unusual move, a Volkswagen supervisory board member - who also happens to be a labor leader for the company - has declared that Vow's American operations are a 'case for disaster.' Reuters is reporting that Bernd Osterloh does not believe that Volkswagen has a plan that will allow the company to achieve lasting success in the U.S. market, a criticism that seems to be backed up by the automaker's decision to sack Jonathan Browning last month as its U.S. divisional chief. Osterloh pointed to sliding sales, the lack of a fully-featured line-up, as well as organizational confusion over where in North America certain vehicles should be built as signs that all is not well with the German brand.
05. Truth In Advertising Bites Nissan
According to the Automotive News, the Federal Trade Commission and Nissan have reached a settlement concerning a 'misleading' advertisement that was broadcast on American television three years ago. The TV spot depicted a Nissan Frontier bounding up an immense sand dune and pushing an off-road vehicle over its crest - an effect that was actually achieved by way of a cable system, not the four-wheel drive of the pickup on-camera. Despite the fact that the ad's disclaimer labeled the on-screen action a 'fictionalization,' the FTC determined that both Nissan and its ad agency, TBWA Worldwide, were guilty of deceiving consumers.
The settlement does not levy any fines, and it is unclear as to what, if any, punitive actions have been taken against either entity other than compelling both to release statements explaining that the ad was not meant to confuse potential customers. The FTC is also barring both players from any other 'misleading' product demonstrations in future ads - essentially, asking them twice to obey an existing law.