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 April 4, 2014. The BMW X7 and BMW 9 Series are waiting in the wings, the NHTSA dropped the ball with GM's ignition recall, Mitsubishi tacks an ignominious end onto the Lancer Evolution's final chapter, and the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class could lose its retractable metal roof - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
The lack of a full-size SUV at the top of BMW's line-up has grown more conspicuous in recent years after the introduction of vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and the revamped Land Rover Range Rover that have wowed well-heeled family shoppers seeking the utmost in high capacity luxury. In recognition of the clamor for a seven-seat BMW, the automaker will be bringing the BMW X7 to market by 2017. The Automotive News is reporting that the X7 will be built in Spartanburg, South Carolina alongside the brand's other crossover vehicles, and that the model will ride on an existing platform. No other details have been made public, although it's easy to imagine turbocharged six-cylinder and eight-cylinder versions of the vehicle, which will no doubt also offer standard all-wheel drive.
A more surprising development is the revelation from Auto Motor und Sport that BMW is also set to launch a range-topping sedan that will dwarf the current 7 Series in terms of both prestige and size. The BMW 9 Series is on its way to being unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show later this month, and it will sit on the same architecture used by the German brand to build the upcoming 2016 Rolls-Royce Phantom. Styling will no doubt be more in line the BMW's kidney grilles than the Phantom's 90-degree angles, but it's conceivable that the vehicles will share power plants. The 9 Series will also likely offer a more engaging driving experience than the Rolls-Royce once it eventually goes on sale.
The NHTSA has stated that while it was aware of the crashes associated with the failed General Motors ignition switches that have sparked a massive recall, it decided not to act due to the fact that the number of injuries associated with the problem did not seem out of the ordinary. The revelation came during testimony being made to Congress regarding the sweeping safety issue. The NHTSA's David Friedman clarified that there were other problems with different vehicles that seemed to be more dangerous at the time, and that focus was instead given to those particular issues. He also said that the regulatory body lacked the required information to properly assess the scope of the problem. The NHTSA ended its investigation into the issue with the Chevrolet Cobalt / Pontiac G5 / Saturn Ion / Saturn Sky / Pontiac Solstice / Chevrolet HHR ignition switches in 2010. More than 1.6 million cars are implicated in the associated recall initiated earlier this year.
Just as Subaru brings a new generation of Subaru WRX STI to market, Mitsubishi has elected to bid adieu to its own rally-inspired compact sedan, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Car and Driver has confirmed that the 10th generation of the turbocharged all-wheel drive rocket will be its last, with no interest in a potential high performance replacement from Mitsubishi. This is a sad state of affairs for several reasons, not the least of which being that a vehicle with the Evolution's storied history deserves a better fate than being relegated to the dust heap by a company that has largely given up on being competitive in the modern automotive landscape. Also alarming: Mitsubishi's lineup in North America will soon shrink to just the Lancer, the Outlander, the Outlander Sport, and the i-MiEV. How much longer will the company cling to the edge of the cliff by just its finger tips?
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has presented luxury-seeking roadster fans with a well-rounded grand touring experience for decades, and in recent years the car's high end package has included a retractable hard top. The days of the steel-roofed SL may be numbered, however, with AutoBild reporting that the next-generation version of the car will share a platform with the smaller SLK-Class - and go with a ragtop.
The arguments for a cloth top instead of a metal one are compelling: reduced complexity and weight, more trunk space - and the SL-Class' retractable unit is a relatively new addition, for up until the 90's the vehicle's hard top feature was a standard bolt-on part that complemented the existing fabric roof. According to AutoBild, the SLK-Class would apparently keep rolling with its retractable hardtop design, which makes little sense to me considering the more premium status of the SL-Class, but it remains to be seen what will shake out when the new car is eventually announced.