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 November 16, 2012. GM to dial down hybrid development, Europe's bleak future for luxury brands, an all-electric Toyota Supra, a seven-passenger Range Rover Sport, and mandatory collision avoidance systems - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. General Motors To Back Away From Hybrids
Despite the implementation of so-called 'light hybrid' designs in vehicles making use of its eAssist drivetrain, General Motors has announced plans to move towards adopting pure electric vehicles in place of conventional, battery-assisted designs. Although GM will continue to develop plug-in hybrids, most of its 'green' development effort will shift to vehicles that use no gasoline at all.
A prime motivator for this decision is cost: it is simply too expensive to attempt to research and produce examples of every type of hybrid or electric vehicle. The company also sees a strategic advantage in its plug-in / pure electric-only philosophy, as it feels that the market is headed in that particular direction. GM's next electric car is an all-electric version of the Chevrolet Spark subcompact, which will be on display at the L.A. Auto Show later this month.
02. Europe's Doldrums Killing High End Luxury Market?
According to a report by the Automotive News, Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann is not optimistic about the future of the ultra-luxury segment. The manufacturer of exotic Italian supercars does not see sales improving over the course of the next year due to economic problems in Europe and weaker Chinese sales. Lamborghini isn't the only company concerned about the effect of European malaise on the bottom line: the Automotive News has also published an article describing Porsche's efforts to reduce production in order to avoid inventory overstocks on the continent, and similar factory dial-backs have also taken place at Mercedes-Benz and Audi. 10 percent fewer Porsche sports cars are expected to be sold in its home market next year.
03. Will Toyota Build An All-Electric Supra?
The collective cheering followed by extensive groaning that was heard throughout the sports car community this past week was the reaction of Toyota Supra fans to hearing the news that the company plans to build a new model of the iconic coupe - only to then realize that the vehicle will likely bear an all-electric drivetrain. This is not to paint Supra aficionados as anti-green, but rather to address the reality that any electric sports car is likely to carry a higher price tag than its gasoline equivalent. The Detroit Bureau is reporting that the next Supra could be developed in partnership with electric car company Tesla, and it would serve in a GT role rather than a pure - read FR-S / GT86 - sports car role.
04. Seven Passenger Range Rover Sport On The Way
The world of truly off-road capable, high performance sport-utility vehicles that can actually seat seven passengers is a very small one. A report by Auto Express would seem to indicate that it's about to gain a new member thanks to the decision by Land Rover to add a third row of seating to the Land Rover Range Rover Sport. The Range Rover Sport would complement the more laidback Land Rover LR4 as the second seven-passenger vehicle in the company's lineup, and it would go up against vehicles like the Lexus LX and, to a lesser extent, the Toyota Land Cruiser. Seven inches of additional wheelbase from the new Range Rover platform (on which it will be based) would give rearmost passengers the chance to enjoy the ride to a much greater degree, but it's a fair bet that occupants won’t be fighting over who gets to be entombed in the final row on a road trip.
05. NTSB Wants Mandatory Collision Avoidance Systems
Adaptive cruise control and systems that can automatically apply the brakes should a collision be deemed unavoidable might soon find their way out of the luxury segment and into bread-and-butter commuter cars. The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that these types of collision avoidance systems be made standard equipment by federal law - a move that would improve safety out on the road, but one which would also most likely increase the price of entry-level vehicles. Not all high tech systems are so lauded by safety advocates however, and some, such as lane departure warning systems, have been shown to offer few advantages from an accident avoidance perspective.