MONEY Autos

Honda’s Adorable Little SUV Is This Summer’s Hottest New Car

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Honda—Wieck 2016 Honda HR-V

Subcompact HR-V is selling like hotcakes

Honda’s brand new HR-V, a subcompact SUV that’s taller than the Honda Fit compact and smaller than big sister crossover CR-V, has only been available for purchase for a few weeks. But during the last two weeks of May—the model’s first two weeks on the market—an impressive 6,381 HR-Vs were sold.

That’s triple the amount that any other automaker has achieved with a new model in the tiny SUV category, Bloomberg reported, and Honda hit this sales mark without even launching an advertising campaign for the vehicle. Honda sees the HR-V, which starts under $20,000 and gets 35 mpg on the highway, as the perfect vehicle for a broad swath of consumers, no matter if gas prices rise, fall, or stay flat.

“This is a small crossover that people will look at as the ultimate hedge against everything,” John Mendel, executive vice president of Honda’s U.S. sales unit, told Bloomberg. “I think, personally, the car is going to be a home run, but we’ll bear that out over some time.”

Before the HR-V arrived at Honda dealers, some analysts expressed concern that the new model would simply tempt customers away from purchasing the larger, pricier CR-V, which has a sticker price starting roughly $4,000 higher. According to Honda, however, one-third of HR-V buyers haven’t been Honda customers in the past, and CR-V sales have remained strong even with its smaller, cheaper sibling on the market.

“[We’ve been asked]: Was this going to cannibalize it? Well, we sold exactly what we did with CR-V last year, which was well over 30,000 units, so no cannibalization there,” Honda’s Mendel explained to Wards Auto.

MONEY Autos

This Is the World’s Most Valuable Auto Brand

2015 Toyota Camry
David Dewhurst Photography 2015 Toyota Camry

Despite a strong year for industry sales overall, the top automaker saw its value drop.

Toyota is worth 2% less than it was a year ago, according to the just-released BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands study from market research firm Millward Brown. Nonetheless, Toyota, estimated to be worth $28.9 billion, is still the world’s most valuable automotive brand. The Japanese automaker has held the title in eight of the last ten years.

Automotive News noted that Toyota, as well as Honda, saw its valuation drop over the past year partly due to massive recalls that plagued the entire industry and hit these two automakers especially hard. Honda’s worth, according to the BrandZ study, dropped 5%, landing the automaker in fourth place with a value of $13.3 billion.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz hold positions #2 and #3, while inching up slightly in value over the past year. Ford, the only American automaker in the top 10 (#5), boosted its value by 11%, while Audi (#7) and Volkswagen (#8) increased their values an impressive 43% and 10%, respectively.

Overall, the total value of the top 10 automakers rose 3%, which is nothing compared with the growth in industries such as tech and retail—both up 24% year over year. The insurance and telecom categories showed substantial increases as well, with their overall values up 21% and 17%, respectively.

Why isn’t the auto sector growing faster? The study’s researchers point to the overlapping trifecta of mobile devices, millennials, and non-ownership trends that include car sharing and services like Uber. “Factors such as urbanization and the influence of millennials are changing the very idea of mobility in fundamental ways,” the report explains. “Young people, in contrast to their parents, don’t rely on cars for freedom or for defining and projecting a self-image. They have mobile devices.”

MONEY Autos

For Electric Cars, High Gas Prices Can’t Come Back Quickly Enough

2015 NIssan LEAF
Nissan—Wieck 2015 NIssan LEAF

Gas prices have rebounded a bit, but they remain low enough to kill the cost-saving argument for buying a plug-in electric car like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt.

Thanks to the dramatic decline in prices at the pump, the average American household is expected to spend $750 less on gas in 2015 than it did last year. We’ve already seen how some of this “saved” money is being spent, what with restaurants, casinos, hotels, and recreational activities all seeing a bump in business lately. Cheap gas seems to have affected big-ticket purchase decisions as well, exhibited most obviously by the spike in SUV and luxury car sales.

It’s an entirely different story, however, when it comes to the impact of cheap gas on electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf. Nissan just released its February numbers, and sales for the brand were up 1.1% compared with last year. Sales of the all-electric Leaf, however, were down 16%. That follows on the heels of a 15% decrease in January, the first such sales decline for the Leaf in two years. Overall Leaf sales dropped from 2,677 for the first two months of 2014 to 2,268 this year.

The recent sales performance of the Chevrolet Volt, the gas-electric pioneer that has been vying with the Leaf for the title of most popular plug-in among buyers, has been even worse. January was the worst month for the Volt since August 2011, with only 592 units sold, a decrease of 41% compared with January 2014. According to General Motors data, 693 Volts sold in February 2015, a drop of 43% compared with 1,210 the year before.

Surely, the prospect of new Chevy plug-in models has hurt Volt sales lately. The all-electric Chevy Bolt, expected to cost $30,000 and get 200 miles on a single charge, is planned to hit the market in 2017, while the 2016 Volt should be available for purchase during the second half of 2015. Many would-be Volt buyers are simply waiting for the newer model, which can be driven 50 miles on electric power, up from 38 miles for the current one.

That explains some—but not all—of the decline in Volt sales. Certainly, cheap gas prices have done damage to sales of the Volt as well as the Leaf, other plug-in vehicles, and even hybrids like the Toyota Prius to boot. After all, one of the big reasons to buy an electrified vehicle is that powering it is cheaper than filling up at the pump. Consequently, when the price of gas plummets, like it did month after month for nearly half a year recently, a prime argument for going the plug-in route is weakened.

It isn’t just new plug-in models that have taken a beating thanks to a combination of cheaper gas prices and emerging new tech that makes older models seem outdated in a hurry. According to the Wall Street Journal, the resale value of used electric cars has absolutely tanked:

In December and January, for instance, the average selling price of a 2012 Nissan Leaf at auction was about $10,000, nearly a quarter of the car’s original list price and down $4,700 from a year earlier, according to NADA’s guide. Three-year-old Volts, a plug-in car with a backup gasoline motor, were selling for an average $13,000 at auction in January, down from about $40,000 excluding the federal tax credit.

Nissan is coming off of the best-ever year for any plug-in, with Leaf sales in the U.S. topping 30,000 in 2014. The way things have started in 2015, it will be difficult for the automaker to beat last year, though Nissan has blamed bad weather for the Leaf’s recent struggles, and it expects a strong rebound in the spring. Meanwhile, at the start of 2014, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said he anticipated selling an average of 3,000 Leafs monthly that year, and 4,000 Leaf purchases monthly sometime in the near future.

Recent sales notwithstanding, Nissan isn’t giving up on electric cars anytime soon. Neither are many other automakers. At the auto show in Geneva this week, BMW, Volkswagen, and Fiat Chrysler were among the car companies showing off high-tech battery-powered vehicles that demonstrate their commitment to electrified cars.

At some point, rising gas prices will likely steer more interest back to alternative-fuel cars too. But that hasn’t happened yet. “Gas prices inched back up this month, but it didn’t appear to have much impact on shoppers’ choices,” Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said in a report focused on February sales. “We’re still seeing a strong market for trucks and SUVs—especially compact crossover SUVs, which continue to ride an impressive wave of popularity.”

At least if the Leaf and Volt are struggling, Nissan and GM can take solace in the fact that some of their larger, less fuel-efficient and less environmentally friendly siblings are faring quite well during this winter of cheap gas, cold temperatures, and lots of snow. Two Nissan SUVs, the Pathfinder and Rogue, had record sales months in February, while GM pickup sales were up 37% for the month.

 

TIME Recalls

What You Should Do About the Massive Airbag Recall

Car Dealerships Ahead Of Total Vehicle Sales Figures
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Honda Motor Co. vehicles are displayed for sale at the Paragon Honda dealership in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.

Millions of cars from ten automakers are subject to an airbag recall. Here's what you need to know

Takata produces about 300,000 airbag replacement kits per month, possibly increasing to 450,000 or so. At that rate, it will take from 2 to 3 years to recall and replace the defective airbags in the 16-million to potentially 30-million affected vehicles in the U.S.

So what do concerned vehicle owners do in the meantime?

Takata is the only airbag manufacturer to use ammonium nitrate as a propellant for its inflators. Ammonium nitrate is affected by heat-and-cold cycling over time, plus humidity, that can cause it to become too forcefully explosive when ignited in a crash.

To fix this potentially lethal default the company says it has (1) changed the compression density force with new press machines; (2) rejected products that are not meeting quality standards; and (3) changed humidity control during production and assembly. Takata also says it also improved the hermetically-sealed package to minimize effects of moisture that would deteriorate the chemicals and make them less stable. Perhaps NHTSA should consider outlawing the use of ammonium nitrate in the first place, or at least use a safer chemical in the recall campaign.

But there are safer alternatives. It should be feasible to re-program the software in the vehicles’ airbag control modules (ACM). By changing the software, including the thresholds of activation and the control algorithms, the system could be made safer— as a temporary solution. The threshold to trigger the airbags could be raised so that it would take a crash at 30 mph, rather than 18 mph. In these low-speed collisions, the driver and passenger would still be protected by wearing their seat belts.

Since the driver and passenger airbags are dual-stage designs, they could be re-programmed to inflate only at the lower-pressure level to help ensure that the explosive force does not exceed levels that cause the metal canister to become lethal shrapnel. Because of the inherent instability of ammonium nitrate, such lower pressures in the canister cannot be absolutely guaranteed, but the risk would be reduced. (On the other hand, passenger risks would rise in a high-speed crash.)

To re-program your car’s Takata airbags, you’d drive over to your local dealership and download new software into your car’s ACM computer. It would likely take less than an hour, and then you’d drive away with a less-risky airbag system that could still offer protection in a crash. If the automakers and Takata cooperated, such software could be developed and tested and available probably within a month…. or maybe even a week.

I believe it should also be a requirement that each affected vehicle have a label attached permanently on the instrument panel, advising that the vehicle has been recalled and that a replacement airbag system has been installed. The date of such recall and replacement action should also be noted on the label.

Finally, I believe that all Takata airbag systems should have a “failsafe” pressure-relief mechanism to prevent any over-pressurization of the airbag. In the late-1970’s I became aware that too many pressurized beer kegs were exploding and propelling lethal shrapnel that injured or killed college students. I showed there was a solution, a simple device that would vent out any over-pressurization before it could cause the metal keg to explode. Lives have been saved by adopting such an inexpensive, simple device for beer kegs. Why not a use a similar device to prevent excessive forces from rupturing the metal canister that holds the airbag’s propellant? And yes, the canisters should be made stronger, too.

Byron Bloch has over 30 years of experience as an independent consultant and court-qualified expert in Auto Safety Design and Vehicle Crashworthiness. Over the years, he has inspected accident vehicles to evaluate how and why the occupants were severely injured, and exemplar vehicles to evaluate their structural details. He has qualified and testified as an expert in auto safety defect cases in Federal and State Courts coast-to-coast. He also lectures, writes, and appears on TV reports on auto safety design and vehicle crashworthiness.

TIME Autos

Ford Recalls 65,000 Fusion Vehicles

There are no known accidents caused by the issue

Ford has recalled 65,000 Fusion cars for noncompliance with a regulation on “theft protection and rollaway prevention.

The automaker announced Tuesday said that it is not aware of any accidents or injuries caused by the issue, but said that it would voluntarily fix the more than 56,000 affected vehicles in the United States, as well as 6,000 in Canada and 2,300 in Mexico.

The 65,000 vehicles recalled Tuesday is small in comparison to General Motors’ notorious recall this year, when more than 1 million vehicles worldwide were pulled over a faulty ignition switch that caused the deaths of at least 30 people.

TIME Autos

Toyota’s ‘Mirai’ Fuel-Cell Car Gets 300 Miles to a Tank

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Yoshikazu Tsuno—AFP/Getty Images A customer admires Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor's fuel cell vehicle which will go on sale end of this year at Toyota's showroom in Tokyo on November 5, 2014.

Toyota disclosed the vehicle's name, 'Mirai,' hours before a Honda news conference

Toyota unveiled its hydrogen-powered concept vehicle ‘Mirai’ on Monday, stealing thunder from a scheduled press conference on a hydrogen-powered vehicle from rival automaker Honda.

“The future has arrived, and it’s called, ‘Mirai,'” said Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda in a video announcement posted to YouTube (the word ‘mirai’ actually means ‘future’ in Japanese). Toyoda said the vehicle could travel 300 miles on a single tank of hydrogen.

The announcement went live several hours before Honda was scheduled to disclose new details of its own fuel cell vehicle, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Mirai is expected to go on sale by the end of the year, once again getting the jump on Honda’s hydrogen-powered vehicle, which is expected to go on sale by spring of 2016 at the latest.

TIME Automakers

Tesla Motors’ New ‘D’ Cars Are All-Wheel Drive, Not Self-Drive

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Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk unveils a new dual-engine chassis at the Hawthorne Airport in Los Angeles on Oct. 9, 2014

The “D” in Tesla’s big reveal stands not for “self-driving," but for “dual motor”

Tesla Motors on Thursday night disappointed some auto-market watchers’ expectations that it would put out a self-driving car — but the electric car juggernaut did announce the release of a higher tech version of its Model S car, with all-wheel drive and rapid acceleration rivaling that of luxury vehicles, USA Today reports.

The tripped-out new Model S will have all-wheel drive, plus acceleration of 0-60 mph in just 3.2 seconds, says the newspaper. It can also reach a top speed of 155 mph, up from the Model S’s peak velocity of 130 mph.

“This car is nuts. It’s like taking off from a carrier deck,” Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, told press assembled at Los Angeles’ Hawthorne airport, where his commercial space travel company SpaceX is also based.

The “D” cars will also come with a package of new safety features, including the ability to read speed-limit signs and shift speeds, USA Today says.

Tesla will release three versions of the upgraded car under the “D” designation. The all-wheel drive version without the acceleration boost will be a $4,000 add-on to the basic and mid-level models of the Model S, which starts at $71,000, says the Associated Press. The base price for the all-wheel drive car with boosted acceleration, dubbed the P85D, is $120,000.

The P85D will go on sale in December, while the other versions will go on sale in February, the Associated Press reports.

Musk had fueled speculation about the announcement in Los Angeles with a tweet that the company would roll out something he referred to just as “the D,” plus “something else.” He also tweeted a photo that appeared to be of Tesla’s Model S car.

Some Tesla fans had speculated that the unveiling might be of a ramped-up version of the Model S — but observers had debated if the “D” referred to an automated driving feature, or all-wheel drive.

TIME Automakers

Lamborghini Just Unveiled a Beautiful Plug-In Hybrid That Can Go Almost 200mph

Now you can be environmentally conscious and really, really fast

Pull over, Prius drivers: Lamborghini just unveiled a 910-horsepower supercar called the Asterion at the 2014 Paris Auto Show.

The Asterion, seen here in blue, has a 5.2-liter V-10 engine putting out 610 horsepower of its own before getting a jolt from three separate electric motors.

All told, the Asterion can do zero to 60mph in about three seconds before topping off at nearly 200mph. It’s also got a tablet in the dash for GPS and some other functions, taking a page from other high-tech car manufacturers like Tesla, whose cars offer touchscreen controls in lieu of the knobs and switches of yesteryear.

Lamborghini’s message? Hybrids aren’t just for the environmentally-conscious anymore — now speed demons can get their hands on them, too. No word on cost, though. Start saving your pennies now, Lambo fans.

TIME Automakers

Chrysler Recalls Up to 800,000 Jeeps Over Ignition-Switch Problems

A 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolls down the assembly line Wedn
John F. Martin—Bloomberg/Getty Images A 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolls down the assembly line Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004, at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan.

Older Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Commanders may have a faulty ignition switch

Around 800,000 older Chrysler Jeeps could be affected by a recall due to a problem with the ignition switch, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

The company said it is aware of one reported accident associated with the defect, but no injuries.

The recall will affect a still-undetermined number of model year 2006-2007 Jeep Commanders and 2005-2007 Jeep Grand Cherokees. In vehicles affected by the problem, contact with a driver’s knee or other outside force can move the ignition switch from on to off, causing the engine to stall and cutting power brakes and power steering.

The company said its investigation is ongoing but that around 792,000 vehicles could have faulty switches, including 659,900 in the U.S. and others in Mexico, Canada, and elsewhere. Newer models have been redesigned are unaffected, the company said.

Chrysler’s recalls come as rival automaker General Motors has recalled nearly 28 million automobiles worldwide for similar ignition switch issues. The GM problems have been linked to at least 13 deaths, and the company has faced federal investigation over its handling of the situation.

Chrysler also announced that 21,000 vehicles, including certain 2014 Ram pickups, 2015 Jeep Cherokees and 2015 Chrysler 200 sedans, will be recalled for inspection and, if necessary, have their shocks and struts replaced.

TIME Innovation

Ford President Says Aluminum F-150 Is All Engines Go

Ford

Ford says the truck will ship on time this year, despite analyst concerns that manufacturing plant retooling will impact availability.

Investment firm Morgan Stanley is publicly fretting the truck might be delayed, but Ford says its new lightweight aluminum Ford F-150 pickup is on track and we’ll see it later this year.

“Everything is on schedule and everything is going as planned,” Ford Americas President Joe Hinrichs told reporters, speaking at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan (via Automotive News), adding that he was “very confident in this vehicle.” Morgan Stanley’s analyst Ravi Shanker had said earlier that Ford’s planned factory retooling, which it has to perform in order to produce the new pickup, would result in “slow changeover, with tight supply.”

Ford has noted the planned retooling would temporarily deplete its production by over 90,000 F-Series pickups, reducing company sales and profits. Furthermore, margins are expected to be lower on the new aluminum-bodied F-150. But Ford views all of that as necessary back-stepping to be first to market with a truck that uses a combination of “military-grade aluminum and high-strength steel,” and that’ll weigh roughly 700 pounds less than the version it’s replacing.

Note that Shanker doesn’t say the launch itself is in danger of being delayed, only that supply is going to be very tight in 2014 given manufacturing constraints. If supply is at a trickle, that could mean higher demand-driven dealer pricing, of course, culminating in a scenario where the truck’s debut looks more like a paper launch, and buyers wind up having to wait to lay hands on one until supply catches up.

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