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The Chicago Automotive Media Kicks Off the 104th Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place

Wednesday, February 8: 104th Chicago Auto Show. The first of two days at the Chicago Auto Show began today with the annual MAMA breakfast, with guest speaker John Maloney, President and CEO of Volvo Cars of North America. Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs-Morton Grove-Maloney brought the media up to speed on the latest Volvo products and progress. “Everyone has a car story to tell,” Maloney noted, and indeed, growing up in the 1950s–60s, during the greatest decades in automotive history, many of us do have great memories.

Volvo is on the move, stated Maloney, with cooler and more stylish vehicles to offer. Offering up its “Concept You” for the auto show, Volvo has given us some idea of where they are going in the future. For sure, changes will include fewer engines, fewer parts, better fuel efficiency and more alternative methods. If anyone knows anything about the Volvo brand it’s that safety is at its core. Making that evident this morning, Maloney boasted that by the year 2020 Volvo will make an automobile that will guarantee that no one will be killed or seriously injured in one of their vehicles.

With lots of new and innovative technology in store-such as animal detection systems, car train improvements and the continued creation of a global brand, Volvo is on an upward trend. Volvo predicts they will sell 800,000 cars in 2020. Soon to build a plant in China to serve the Chinese auto market, Volvo will tweak their vehicles sold there: Some with longer wheelbases. Projected to sell 13.7 million cars in 2012,  Volvo sold 14.1 million in 2011, up from 11.5 million in 2010. Their vision is not to take driving away from the driver, says Maloney. Rather, they will continue to strive to add more of those last minute safety interventions.

On a local note, VP of Membership for MAMA (Midwest Automotive Media Association’s) Kirk Bell announced to the group MAMA’s annual award for Family Vehicle of the Year. The nonprofit group of automotive journalists and public relations professionals developed the award to help the consumer make a wise buy when it’s time. Criteria includes a vehicle that sells for less than $50,000, either new or significantly redesigned/updated, have been present at both MAMA rallys within a year: Out of a list of 11 contenders, the winner: 2012 VW Passat.

GMC’s presentation included a look at the new 2013 GMC Acadia Denali. With the focus on trucks and SUV’s, GMC is making headway with its newer CUV models (Terrain), with an increase in sales. Sales of the 2011 Acadia were up 16 percent in 2011, with 52 percent of buyers new to the brand. Sporting a new grille and face, Acadia also shows off some fancy LED lights, upgraded interior and red ambient lighting. Improved handling, ride and driveability are also features of the new and improved 2012 Acadia.

Hyundai’s CEO and President John Krafcik announced an uptake in sales for 2011; a very good increase at 29 percent retail growth.  Rated number one in Dealer Attitude Surveys, Hyundai has come a very long way. A year of lots of awards, Hyundai’s Elantra was recently named The North American Car of the Year, and in the effort to end recent consumer controversy about miles-per-gallon, Popular Mechanics confirmed that Elantra, indeed, can achieve the mileage it says it can: 40 mpg and more. Neck and neck with Ford Focus (avg. 47.5 mpg.), Elantra hit a high of 47.6 mpg. Two new 2013 Elantra models were announced for 2012: Coupe, GT. The only compact car to offer three models, Elantra can’t seem to keep up with the demand. First to be offered in Spring 2012 will be the 2013 Coupe, decked out with 17-inch alloy wheels and a sport suspension. Appealing to younger buyers, the Elantra Coupe will have  1.8-liter engine, with the manual delivering 40 mpg., and have more space than the Honda Civic. Early summer will bring the European-inspired GT model, complete with a long list of standard equipment, such as a cooled glove box. At 151 pounds lighter than the Mazda3, the new Elantra GT will be the lightest vehicle in its class, but with a 37 percent increase in body stiffness and comprised of 57 percent high tension steel. Three steering modes will also be available, and fuel economy will be upwards of 39 mpg./highway. One very cool feature will be the badge-concealed, flip-up lid rear camera. Cool!

Up next was KIA, also with bragging rights about its increase in sales in 2011. Introducing nine new models in three years, KIA has been on a roll. Living their dream, KIA was the fastest growing car brand in the U.S. in 2011. With all-time best sales in 2011 of 485,000 units, KIA has experienced 78 percent growth in volume since the introduction of the KIA Soul. One can’t help but assume much of KIA’s success can be attributed to their clever advertisements. Especially the hamsters. Come on, who among us cannot connect with those rapping hamsters?  (the hamsters, by the way, have won two Nielsen awards and their latest ad has become the number 1 most-shared video in the world on UTube). “Doers,” KIA hasn’t been sitting around. The Sorento, built in Georgia will soon be joined by the building of various iterations of the Optima. Attempting to bring more affluent, stylish-conscious consumers into the brand, KIA will introduce the 2012 KIA Optima Ltd next month. Complete with all premium technology and features, the new Optima adds elegant touches, including a turbo. With an MSRP under $35,000 new Limited Optima will be another hit for KIA, along with two turbo-charged models. Partnering with Kinetic Motor Sports, KIA will offer a serious racing-style, yet street legal, Optioma. KIA will continue to provide the lowest cost of ownership in the industry over a 5 year period, as it offers up new and innovative features, such as UVO eServices, an enabled free Smartphone app.  Also news at KIA is their reach into the world of racing. KIA’s gone racing with its Forte coupes and Optima sedan in the ST series. Tom Kearns of the design department introduced the KIA Track’ster concept. A high-performance, 2-liter turbo with 250 horse, this KIA based on the Soul, will be a hit if it ever hits the showroom. Sporting three doors, the Track’ster has massive rear tires (285/35-19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 high-performance), a widened body and stretched wheelbase (101.2 in.), large 14-inch vented and cross-drilled disc Brembo brakes and modified cockpit. While there are no plans to produce the Track’ster yet, its appeal is obvious.

Introducing the 2012 Ford Fusion in Detroit was some of Ford’s big news for 2012. This spring will bring a refreshed Escape SUV, Flex and Taurus.The Focus ST will appear in summer 2012, with the EcoBoost engine. A screamer at 250 horse and 250 ft. lb. torque, the ST will be the first vehicle from Ford’s global one approach. Ford folks also celebrated Ford’s 20-year relationship with SVT. Still popular, the SVT-equipped Mustang began its tenure in 1993, along with the F-150 Lightning truck. Producing a limited run, the SVT race-tuned Cobra R Mustangs are a niche vehicle, of course, but very sought after by some.  First look for media included the Shelby GT500 Convertible, each with a commemorative lit sill plate and optional track package.

Speaking at the Economic Club of Chicago was President and COO of Toyota Motor North America, Yoshimi Inaba, recollecting his days as a Kellog School of Business in the 1970s when Toyota began to step up their pace for selling cars worldwide. Part of the Toyota team here to lead those efforts, Inaba spoke well of the U.S. and the generosity of Americans when earthquakes hit Japan. Focusing on the imortance of the automotive industry, Inaba quoted interesting facts: Over the next four years, 150,000 jobs in the industry will be created. The public may not realize that six million American jobs are in the automotive industry; it is the largest manufacturing sector, with a $500 billion payroll; second only to the Defense Dept and Social Security. Inaba shared with the audience Toyota’s launch of 19 new or updated products of late. Between their three iconic brands: Lexus, Scion and Toyota, Toyota has adopted a “wide portfolio approach” to selling cars. As the Prius “goes plural,” additional versions of the popular hybrid have gone on sale, including the soon-to-be introduced PriusC which arrives this coming spring. A plug-in seating five, the PriusC boasts 50 mpg. in hybrid mode and 95 mpg. combined. Seven in 10 hybrids on the road, noted Inaba, are Toyota, Lexus or Scion models. Since its introduction in 2000, the Prius has saved 1.1 billion gallons of gas and 16 million tons of Co2.  With the RAV4EV coming, Toyota is also toying with concept sporty vehicles such as the LF-LC Concept introduced at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. And the plug-in hybrid, the N54 sports car. Inaba also shared with the group that Toyota employs more than 30,000 people in the U.S., and operates 10 U.S. plants. One-thousand engineers are employed in Michigan, and the new Highlander Hybrid will be built in Princeton, IN. Toyota will spend $400 million to expand the Princeton plant, projecting to build 50,000 more Highlander vehicles, and adding 400 jobs. Every automotive job, noted Inaba, creates three spin-off jobs.

The Chicago Auto Show opens this coming Friday, February 10 for the public, with lots to see and do..

A new feature will be Toyota’s Hybrid Monopoly Ride Experience, located in the South Hall. With more than 30,160 sq. ft. of space, Toyota will offer a closed course and show attendees will be able to experience the capabilities and advantages of the third generation Pruis, the all-new Prius V, Camry Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid. Professional drivers and product specialists will be on hand to offer fun and informational demonstrations. Hop a ride through Toyota’s eco-friendly course patterned after the Monopoly board game, while learning about all the features of the hybrid vehicles’ regenerative braking, multiple drive modes and fuel efficiency. Toyota teams up with Hasbro toy maker to present this unusual display.

Also be sure to stop by the Scion display, utilizing more than 30 percent more space at this year’s Chicago Auto Show. The display will feature a media theater called “Thunderdome,” to display products. No more Matchbox-style vehicle showcase introduced nearly five years ago. The Scion display will also feature15-foot tall overhead LED screens with action-packed videos and graphics. At the center of the exhibit will be the 2013 Scion FR-S compact car. A rear-wheel-drive sports car, the FR-S features 200 horsepower and goes on sale in the spring of 2012. Also available for review will be the Scion iQ micro sub-compact which appeared in showrooms fourth quarter of 2011. Scion’s award-winning sX guest experience featuring brand content, user participation and information sharing will also be available.

2012 Chicago Auto Show  – February 11-20

Best of Show Voting As we have for nearly a decade, we are letting people select their favorites from the Chicago Auto Show. They can vote at the show, via SMS text, and online. This feature will be live from February 11-20. Click here for:  Best of Show Interactive Online Voting

What to See at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit

Reported by Susan Frissell

A partial list of vehicles not to miss, exhibited at this year’s NAIA auto show in Detroit:

*2013 Hyundai Velostar Turbo (with more power)
*2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe ( a facelift)
*2012 Acura NSX Concept
*New Toyota Prius C
*2013 Cadillac ATS Compact Sedan
*2013 Lincoln MKZ Concept (cues the brand’s new direction)
*Chevrolet Tru 140S Concept and Code 130R Concept
*2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 (longer, newer, lighter and more nimble)
*2013 Nissan Pathfinder Concept
*Nissan e-NV200 Electric Van Concept
*Scion’s sporty new FR-S (sports car aimed at the younger buyer)
*Hyundai Elantra Electric Concept
*Lexus LF-LC Concept (2+2 hybrid)
*Honda Accord Coupe Concept
*Volvo XC60 Plug-in hybrid
*Audi’s new Z3
*VW E-Bugster Concept
*VW Jetta Hybrid
*Debut of the Mini Roadster

Making debuts at this year’s 2012 NAIA Auto Show in Detroit are old-school muscle cars and fuel-efficient electric cars, as well as upscale sedans. Something for everyone.

On another note, the sales war between BMW and Mercedes-Benz is ongoing. The saga continues with Mercedes and BMW duking it out. BMW outsold M-B this year, by 2,715 vehicles, ending Lexus’s 11-year run as the annual luxury sales leader. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz expect to continue to fight for the lead in 2012. Mercedes forecasts their sales to rise at least 10 percent in 2012, aided by the refreshed C-Clas. BMW, on the other hand, predicts a rise in U.S. sales, helped by the intro of their redesigned 3-Series compact sedan. Deliveries of the 3-Series fell 6.5 percent to 94,371 last year.

Compared to last year, however, BMW’s vehicle sales rose 13 percent to 247,907 vehicles, boosted by the redesign of the X3 SUV. Lexus sales fell 13 percent to 198, 552 vehicles.

As Chrysler sales continue to improve, it’s obvious that both Fiat and Chrysler need each other. CEO Sergio Marchionne admits this fact, as he appears somewhat surprised at Chrysler’s strong double-digit sales rise for 2011. Marchionne says he has no doubt about investing in the Chrysler brand 30 months ago. Expected to reduce the number of underlying “architectures” from 12 to five, Fiat will enhance economies of scale while at the same time, improve quality.

No shortage of challenges ahead of him, Marchionne admits sales forecasts of 50,000 sales of the new Fiat were naive. After reassessing the figures, he has admitted sales of 20,000 in the U.S. and 5,000 units in Canada are a bit more realistic.

This is a critical time for Chrysler and Fiat, notes Marchionne. The new Dodge Dart will be the first test car, trying to find a place in the competitive compact segment, alongside such notables as Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra (winner of this year’s North American Car of the Year), and Ford Focus.

Other challenges remain for Chrysler, including reviving it’s ever-popular minivan. At one time the minivan leader, Chrysler has lost market share to Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. In need of fixing quality problems, Chrysler is considering new, distinct models to separate themselves from the other brands. One possibility may resemble Chrysler’s 700 Concept vehicle, on display in Detroit this year.

Originally given 20 percent stake in Chrysler, Fiat has steadily upped its holdings and will get another 5 percent, raising its stakes to 58.5 percent. Marchionne would like to increase Chrysler holdings to 70 percent.

Vehicle Finalists for 2012 Car of the Year

The Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Passat are the finalists for the 2012 North American Car of the Year. The annual award, given by a group of 50 automotive journalists, is a feather in any auto manufacturer’s cap and was revealed December 15 at an Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit. Signifying value and fuel efficiency, the three contenders have a lot to offer in a smaller package, including affordable pricing. Sales of the Hyundai Elantra have increased 45.5 percent through November of 2011. At VW, Passat sales have leaped 29.9 percent in the same month. The finalists for the 2012 North American Truck of the Year are the BMW X3, Honda CR-V and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque.

Big News Chrysler to come out of the NAIA Show

Come January, Alfa Romeo will announce its return to the U.S. at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit with the introduction of the 2013 Dodge Dart. While few pictures are circulating now, the 2013 Dodge Dart will have some Italian heritage and will make its debut at NAIA in 2013. The Dart will have a U.S. badge while based on the Alfa Romeo Giulieta.

Three engine options will be available: two Tigershark and one low volume MultiAir. Buyers will have a choice of the Tigershark 16-valve, 2.0-liter, a 16-valve, 1.4-liter Intercooled Turbo, and the new Tigershark 16-valve, 2.4-liter MultiAir 4-cylinder. Three transmissions choices will also be available.

Borrowing from the Dodge Charger and other cars, the Dodge Dart will have full-width LED “racetrack” taillamps, integrated dual exhaust tailored split-crosshair grille, projector headlamps, fog lamps and accentuated fenders. Stay tuned.

GM to offer Loaner Cars to Chevrolet Volt Owners

General Motors is offering loaner cars to Chevrolet Volt owners who are concerned about safety after fires occurred in crash-testing of the Volt.

Mark Reuss, President of GM North America told the press “Our customers’ peace of mind is the most important thing.”

All Volt owners will be contacted to reassure them that the electric Volt is safe and will not spontaneously catch fire, even if involved in a crash. Federal officials put out a formal safety-defect investigation into the plug-in hybrid car after the crash tests resulted in battery fires. The problem appears to occur when electricity is left stored in the batteries following a crash.

GM has sold about 6,000 Volts which can travel 40 miles on battery power before the gasoline engine takes over and functions as a generator to extend the Volt’s range another 300 miles.

GM engineers are working with safety regulators to understand the problem, including depowering the battery.

Ford Ecoboost 2011
Posted on November 27, 2011
Ford Expands its Range of Vehicles

Susan Frissell

Rochester, MI. In and around Ford’s proving ground we sampled the relatively new to Ford engines Ecoboost I4. A greener alternative to the V6 engines in the 2012 Ford Edge (30 mpg) and 2012 Ford Explorer (28 mpg.), the Ecoboost 4-cylinder offers 240 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft.torque. Driving this I4 is deceiving as it provides plenty of needed pep to power these SUV’s.

The Ford Ecoboost engine boasts a 40 percent improvement in fuel economy, while also assuring Ford honors its four pillars: Quality-Green-Safe-Smart. From a green perspective, the Ecoboost I4 offers “best-in-class” fuel efficiency (along with Ford models Fiesta and Fusion Hybrid), offering better than 30 miles per gallon.

Ford introduced the Ecoboost technology in the Explorer America Concept at the NAIA auto show in 2008. The features direct injection-fuel is injected into each cylinder of an engine in small,precise amounts. Different from the conventional port injection, direct injection produces a cooler, denser charge while delivering better fuel economy and performance.

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