It’s the first Friday of 2012, which means it’s time for another round of my Five For Friday: Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for January 6, 2012. The Chevrolet Sonic's missing brake pads, BMW's luxury dominance, aluminum body panels for the Ford F-150, Volvo's gasoline / electric plug-in hybrid and better protection for the Chevrolet Volt's battery pack - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
It's the kind of embarrassing story that no automaker wants to have associated with a brand-new model that has been only recently introduced: General Motors is recalling just under 5,000 examples of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic across North America due to concerns that some vehicles might have left the factory missing their front brake pads.
The subcompact automobile, which is assembled in the United States, apparently fell victim to an issue during transport where inner and outer brake pads on a small number of cars fell out of the brake assembly. When the component was installed on the vehicles, no one noticed the missing pads - at least, not until a rental agency serviced one of the Chevrolet Sonics that it had in its fleet. GM has taken care of the issue by changing its shipping procedures for the components in question, and dealers will be inspecting the brake hardware of each of the automobiles involved in the recall.02. BMW Snags Title of Best-Selling Luxury Marque From Lexus
BMW has finally achieved its goal of leading the luxury pack in the United States. Although Lexus has dominated the American premium market for more than a decade when looking at the total number of units moved, the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan dramatically ate into the company's ability to meet demand throughout 2011. This opened the door for BMW to swoop in and seize the reigns, snagging a much larger number of well-heeled buyers than ever before.
The secret to BMW's success has been the German brand's willingness to brazenly expand into product niches that stray from its reputation as a purveyor of sporty, upscale automobiles. With a larger number of crossovers and hybrids in the mix, as well as new compact, front-wheel drive models on the way, BMW's push to become all things to all luxury buyers paid dividends with a final tally of 247,902 automobiles sold in the United States for 2011. According to Autoweek, Mercedes-Benz followed close behind with a volume of 245,192 vehicles moved, while Lexus fell below 200,000 vehicles going out the door for the first time this millennium.03. New Ford F-150 Will Make Extensive Use Of Lightweight Materials
When the next-generation Ford F-150 debuts in 2014 it will swapping out many of its current steel body panels for aluminum ones in an effort to reduce its overall weight. Restrictive corporate average fuel economy regulations have forced automakers to get creative when it comes to developing new designs, and Ford's best-selling full-size pickup is no exception to the rule.
Ford's aluminum gambit is an interesting one, given that pickup trucks like the Ford F-150 typically take a lot of abuse from hauling cargo and drive in more extreme conditions than a standard passenger car. The goal is to initially use aluminum on doors and fenders, which means the box and tailgate could remain steel and therefore exhibit more resistance to dents and perforations. In an article published by Ward's Auto, a Ford spokesman referenced the company's desire to cut as much as 700 lbs from each model sold by the company over the course of the next seven years.04. Volvo To Debut Plug-In Hybrid In Detroit
I mentioned the Volvo V60 plug-in diesel hybrid in a recent column, but it would appear that the Swedish car company will be going in a different direction when it imports its first battery-powered automobile to the American market. Volvo will be bringing the Volvo XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week, a crossover which makes use of a gasoline / electric drivetrain in order to offer up to 50 miles per gallon in combined driving.
The Automotive News reports that the Volvo XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept features an eight-speed automatic transmission and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that combines with an electric motor to produce a hefty 350 horsepower. Like certain other premium hybrid builders Volvo is positioning the XC60 as offering V-8 levels of output without the concomitant increased rate of fuel consumption. The XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept has been tagged for eventual sale in the United States, with the plug-in drivetrain potentially spreading across the Volvo lineup.05. Chevrolet Volt Battery Pack To Be Altered To Improve Safety
Despite the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's improper handling of crashed Chevrolet Volt automobiles was largely responsible for these same wrecks catching on fire in storage yards run by the NHTSA, Chevrolet has announced that it will be making changes to current and future editions of the automobile's battery packs.
The Detroit Bureau has published a report describing GM's decision to provide structural reinforcements to the steel that protects the electric car's battery, as well install a special sensor that will stay vigilant for any signs of coolant leak - the problem that is believed to be the cause of the spontaneous ignition of accidented Chevrolet Volts after weeks of sitting immobile. The NHTSA has already tested the new design and given it the stamp of approval in terms of eliminating the threat of leaking coolant. A voluntary recall will repair customer Volts as they are brought in to dealerships over the course of the coming weeks, while unsold and future models will be taken care of before they hit dealer lots.