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 11, 2013. The worst selling car of 2012, Isuzu pickups with GM badging, 'free' weather and traffic updates from Lexus, Ram ups the towing ante, and the potential return of the Lexus IS SportCross - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
Year-end sales tallies are in, and almost everyone is dying to know which models no one wanted to buy during the course of 2012. Unsurprisingly, a few of the top contenders for the least relevant nameplates in the auto business hail from specific niches that typically don't do all that much business to begin with, such as the number one 'least sold' vehicle, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric subcompact (588 examples sold) and the number four entry, the Nissan GT-R supercar (1,188 examples sold). A couple of surprises lurk in the top five, however: the mass-market Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback at number two (702 examples sold), and the Cadillac Escalade EXT at number five (1,934 examples sold). Perennial list alumnus the Acura ZDX takes the third spot overall this year with 775 proud new owners adopting the four-door crossover coupe. Of the top five 'least sold' models in the United States, both the Escalade EXT and the ZDX count 2013 as their final year of production.
General Motors and Isuzu have been working together on commercial-grade trucks for many, many years, but a recent press release indicates that their collaboration could soon extend into the pickup truck segment. GM and Isuzu have signed a 'memorandum of understanding' that would see the Japanese brand help the General build pickups for non-U.S. markets. Could these vehicles eventually make their way to America as fuel-efficient alternatives to current mid-size truck offerings? It seems unlikely given the onerous duty fees placed on trucks assembled outside of America, but with fuel economy looming large on the horizon less thirsty pickups could be an attractive lineup addition for Chevrolet and GMC in the future.
Although it has yet to fully break cover ahead of next week's Detroit Auto Show, the 2013 Lexus IS entry-level sedan has been announced as the first vehicle on the market to offer traffic and weather updates for free - that is to say, without the need to shell out for a subscription-based service. The feature will be available to all Lexus IS buyers who choose to have its optional navigation system installed, and the information will be streamed to the car using a combination of HD radio signals and cellular technology.
The latter requires a connection to a smart phone that has a data plan of its own, which takes some of the shine off of the 'free' nature of the weather and traffic service. This writer can remember being able to push a button on the very basic AM/FM/cassette player installed in his early 90's BMW and hear national weather service radio updates for whatever region he happened to be driving in, which didn't cost a dime. This particular technology seems to have disappeared completely from the modern marketplace.
The RAM 3500 full-ton pickup truck has a nice surprise in store for those who waited until 2013 to update their heavy duty pickup fleet. The 2013 Ram 3500 moves to a Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) of 37,600 lbs, which is an increase of more than 7,500 lbs compare to the 2012 edition of the truck. This means that the 2013 Ram 3500 sees a concomitant boost in the maximum trailer weight it can tug along behind it, a figure which now crests 30,000 lbs. This rating, made possible by an upgraded steel frame, a more robust 6.7-liter Cummins eight-cylinder turbodiesel engine making 850 lb-ft of torque, and a tuned transmission, allows the truck to trounce the 30,500 GCWR of both its Ford and GM competitors.
Chances are you don't remember the Lexus IS SportCross, a hatchback wagon edition of the Japanese brand's compact sedan that was available for a brief window during the 2000s. Driven from the market by general public apathy, the SportCross was nevertheless an interesting effort from an automaker not known for taking chances. A recent post on Lexus' Facebook page has fans abuzz about the potential return of the IS wagon, as it specifically calls out the SportCross and provocatively suggests that the vehicle will be making a return when the new IS sedan is officially unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week.
Is a hatchback IS a good move for Lexus? Currently available in sedan and hardtop convertible editions, a small wagon would give the IS the ability to compete more comprehensively with Audi and BMW in the entry-level luxury segment. That being said, wagon sales are a tiny subset of the premium market, which could see the potential second-generation SportCross becoming yet another footnote in Lexus history in a few years time.