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 March 29, 2013. Suzuki exits Canada, the BMW i3 placates the range-obsessed, Alfa Romeo might be for sale, the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee, and the Audi A3 hatchback’s electric exile - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. Suzuki Pulls Out Of Canadian Market, Too.
Suzuki’s retreat from the North American automotive market is on the verge of being complete. This past week Suzuki announced that it would stop selling passenger cars in Canada past the 2014 model year. Unlike in the United States, Suzuki is not using the bankruptcy process to facilitate its withdrawal but will simply be closing its approximately 55 dealerships across the country. Canada, with its small population, accounted for just over 5,000 Suzuki sales last year, although the brand’s reputation from coast to coast was a strong one due to the Canadian proclivity to purchase compact cars. As with the United States, motorcycle sales will not be affected in Canada.
02. BMW i3 Not Exactly A ‘Pure EV.’
BMW has decided that the best way to combat the ‘range anxiety’ that some potential electric vehicle owners struggle with is to dilute the purity of its EV lineup. Well, the marketing materials don’t use that exact phrasing, but it does seem like an apt description of the decision to offer a range-extending gasoline engine as an option with the upcoming BMW i3 subcompact car. The BMW i3 was, in its original design, motivated exclusively by a battery-powered electric engine with roughly 100 miles of range between charges. According to the Automotive News, the available two-cylinder gas engine will add up to another 100 miles of range by acting as a generator, effectively giving the car a maximum driving distance of 200 miles before needing a fill-up of fuel.
BMW is confident that as much as 80 percent of i3 sales will include the range-extension option, which could indicate that the move is one calculated to drive up the margins on the small car. The motor, which is located in the trunk, will not be able to drive the wheels on its own as it has no direct mechanical connection to the automobile’s axles.
03. Will Alfa Romeo Be Sold To One Of Fiat’s Biggest Rivals?
The bad blood between Fiat and Volkswagen is well documented, with the two European automotive giants regularly offering special rebates and incentives for owners of one brand to switch to the products of the other. Thus it was somewhat surprising when Ward’s Auto reported that Fiat might finally be seriously considering the acceptance of VW’s offer – made repeatedly in the recent past – to purchase Alfa Romeo. Volkswagen has long coveted the Italian brand, wanting to adds its sporty history to its growing stable of global nameplates, but Fiat has resisted and instead bolstered the Alfa Romeo lineup by cross-pollinating it with recent acquisition Chrysler and current partner Mazda. Alfa’s sales struggles, however, combined with the weak European financial situation, could lead Fiat to conclude that it is better off moving into the future in a sleeker form.
04. New 2014 Jeep Cherokee Is More Efficient, And Better In The Rough Stuff
It’s always dangerous to mess with a brand’s key image, which is why the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee had many Jeep fans holding their breath prior to its unveiling in New York this past week. The Jeep Cherokee rides on Fiat platform, which means a front-wheel drive architecture (shared with the Dodge Dart compact sedan) that was necessary in order to improve fuel mileage (by as much as 45% over the outgoing Liberty, according to the company). Steps have been taken, however, to ensure that the Cherokee can tread where most other compact crossovers can’t. Specifically, although a front-wheel drive only version will be sold, there will be three other models that feature Active Drive, which is an advanced all-wheel drive system that in its ultimate iteration comes with a locking rear differential and low-range gearing. A nine-speed automatic transmission also debuts in the Cherokee.
05. The 2014 Audi A3 Plug-In Hybrid Hatchback Destined To Break Hearts
‘Disappointed’ would have been an apt description of Audi acolytes when informed of the German automaker’s decision to go sedan-only for the North American update of the Audi A3 compact car. The disappearance of the hatchback might have been exaggerated, however, as we were told in New York that the A3 hatch will live on – as a plug-in hybrid. The sedan, which will feature three gas engines (including the S3 model) and a turbodiesel unit, will be complemented next year by an e-tron hatchback edition. The A3 e-tron hatchback will offer plenty of power, but will undoubtedly be saddled with a very high price tag that could hurt sales amongst its already-established buyer base. There has been no reason given as to the decision to limit the A3 hatchback’s appeal to well-heeled hybrid fans.