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 October 7, 2011. Let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
The Ford Escape Hybrid has long enjoyed the title of "most fuel efficient SUV," but with an all-new Escape platform on the way and a new focus on EcoBoost-based engines as the brand's fuel saving technology, the reign of the battery-assisted crossover is finally over. The 2013 Ford Escape will drop not just its hybrid four-cylinder motor, but also its optional V-6 and instead offer a trio of gasoline-powered four-cylinder options.
The upcoming Escape will mark the introduction of the company's 1.6-liter EcoBoost motor, a unit which is already on sale in Europe and which will offer as much power as the larger 2.5-liter motor available in the current-generation crossover while delivering better-than-Hybrid fuel economy. The older 2.5-liter unit will remain as a less efficient base motor for the Ford suv, while a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine will serve as a replacement for the V-6.
The Volvo C70 convertible is also looking at the end of the line - at least, the plant that currently produces it is. The drop top Volvo is manufactured at a facility in Uddevalla, Sweden, and is in fact the only automobile to roll down the assembly line at that location. According to The Automotive News, Volvo has determined that it no longer makes financial sense to operate a single-vehicle plant, especially one which produces an automobile that the market has largely ignored. The Volvo C70 will not be built in Uddevalla past 2013, which casts doubt on whether the slow-selling premium convertible will continue as part of the brand's lineup.
Bill Vlasic's latest book "Once Upon a Car," which covers the impact that the recent financial crisis had on the domestic auto industry, makes a rather startling claim: that GM CEO Rick Wagoner made overtures to Ford's Chairman Bill Ford and chief Alan Mulally regarding a potential merger between the two companies. According to Vlasic, the talks took place in the summer of 2008, and while the Ford leadership team had absolutely no interest in putting the two bitter rivals together under one roof they listened to the GM proposal and for the first time realized just how bad things had become behind the scenes at the giant car company.
For its part, General Motors had been hopeful that a merger with Ford would have attracted much-needed Wall Street investment that could have kept the company afloat long enough to avoid bankruptcy.
It might be news that manual transmissions will soon be available in seven-speed variants, but eight-speed automatics have been a reality for quite some time and are employed across a wide variety of luxury and passenger car applications. Motor Trend reports that Hyundai will be replacing the eight-speed tranny found in the Hyundai Genesis sedan with a brand new 10-speed gearbox by 2014. The effort to give automotive transmissions at least as many gears as the bicycle you rode to school as a child would seem to have reached its peak with this latest announcement. Hyundai claims it is pursuing the double-digit gearbox design in the name of better fuel economy.
Ford's E-Series vans might not be all that advanced when it comes to the technology under the hood, but their continued popularity amongst contractors and corporate fleet buyers has kept sales numbers positive and production steadily moving forward. With competitors like the Nissan NV full-size van offering a more modern alternative to traditional domestic vans, however, Car and Driver claims that Ford has elected to import the Ford Transit van from Europe to sell alongside the E-Series.
The Ford Transit is the plus-size companion to the compact Ford Transit Connect, which is already on sale in the United States. Although not yet official, Car and Driver posits that the Transit will be sold as the "T-Series" and that models destined for American buyers will be built in the United States in Kansas. The Transit is a more fuel efficient alternative to the E-Series, and offers improved handling and comfort compared to Ford's full-frame model.