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Nutson's Weekly Automotive News Digest April 17-23, 2017; Self-Driving?, Tesla and Subaru Recalls, Manuals, Best Interior, EV's, Trump Cuts EPA Funding


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AUTO CENTRAL CHICAGO, April 23, 2017; Every Sunday Larry Nutson, Senior Editor and Chicago Car Guy along with fellow senior editors Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell from The Auto Channel Michigan Bureau, give you TACH's "take" on this past week's automotive news in easy to digest mega-tweet sized nuggets.

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Nutson's Nuggets: April 23, 2017

* The U.S. auto show circuit has calmed for this year but global auto news is still in the making. At the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show VW debuted its I.D. Cross SUV concept, following on the heals of the I.D. sedan shown in Paris and the I.D. Buzz van shown in Detroit. The Crozz will come on-line in 2020 followed by an onslaught of pure EVs with VW predicting 1 million units per year by 2025.

* Other news from this week’s Shanghai motor show included Volvo’s announcement they will build an electric car in China and offer it globally. The car will be on the company’s small CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform and will begin the Chinese-owned company’s plan to build and sell 1 million electrified vehicles by 2025. The first vehicle in this line will be fully electric, they say, and gasoline-electric hybrids will follow.

* And in other electric-car news from the Shanghai show GM showed the newest iteration of the Chevy Volt, a Buick badged version called Velite 5. GM sells more Buicks in China (about 80% of total global sales) than any other market, including the U.S., and more different models as well. The Velite 5 shares just about everything with Volt with just modest styling differences. It is claimed to have 477 miles of total range and 72 miles on just electric power. The cost of the car is not much different than it would be in the U.S. and it has a significantly upgraded air filtration system for seriously smog-prone cities.

* AAA released results of a small study they’ve interpolated to reveal that "30 million Americans are likely to buy an electric car as their next vehicle.” As we might expect, millennials would be most likely adopters of this technology. This might be good news for automakers who continue to put a lot of resources into developing these vehicles. The report indicates demand for electric cars is as strong as demand for pickup trucks. We’re not sure how AAA selected the 1,004 respondents, but some skepticism seems to be in order here.(Millineals DON'T WANT EV's)

* Bloomberg reports that Borgward, the German car brand revived by a state-owned Chinese bus maker after going bust in 1961, has surprised many including its own CEO by racking up more than 30,000 units in sales for its first model over eight months. At the Shanghai Motor Show, Borgward Group AG showcased the electric version of its BX7 SUV that’s slated to be available later this year alongside the BX5 compact SUV that went on sale last month. At a starting price of 149,800 yuan ($21,700), the BX5 will compete with similarly priced compact SUVs from Chinese carmakers SAIC Motor Corp., Changan Automobile Group Co. and Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. The smaller BX5 will complement the BX7 SUV that made its debut last year.

* Seven brands earned spots on the Wards 10 Best Interiors list for the first time, while three returning winners introduce groundbreaking designs and features. This year’s winners, in alpha order: Alfa Romeo Giulia ($50,490 as tested), Bentley Bentayga ($278,730), Buick LaCrosse ($50,270), Honda CR-V ($34,635), Lexus LC 500 ($102,995), Lincoln Continental ($72,870), Maserati Levante ($90,000), Mazda CX-9 ($45,855), Mini Countryman ($38,450) and Subaru Impreza ($29,260).

* The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has published two new reports from Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle. One study was designed to survey Americans regarding their views about flying cars due to the recent rapid increase in interest in flying cars from various companies. The overall conclusion from the findings is that, despite the fact that most Americans are very concerned about the safety of flying cars, most would still ultimately like to use them. Fly the friendly skies, maybe?

* Another UM study examined consumer preferences and motivations for owning Light Trucks/SUVs versus passenger cars. Main findings are: The main usage for LT/SUVs tended to be for general transportation and commuting.The primary reason for owning a LT/SUV was for the overall increase in utility over passenger cars; the primary reasons for not owning a LT/SUV and only owning passenger cars related to costs savings relative to LT/SUVs. LT/SUV owners and passenger-car owners both listed small (or smaller) LT/SUVs as the vehicle type they were most likely to consider over their current vehicle. More than one third of both LY/SUV owners and passenger-car owners said that they would not consider another vehicle type or class other than their current vehicle.

* Subaru is recalling more than 33,000 Impreza models from the 2017 model year because a fuel problem can make the engines stall without warning.

* Tesla is recalling nearly two-thirds of the vehicles it made last year to replace faulty electronic parking brakes that may not release properly, marking its second-largest recall to date. About 53,000 Model S and Model X vehicles assembled between February and October last year contain a small gear that could have been manufactured improperly by a Tesla supplier. If that gear were to break, the parking brake could become stuck in place.

* Tesla’s second-generation semi-autonomous Autopilot system is facing legal action as a class action suit was filed this week on behalf of about 47,000 Model S and Model X owners. The suit in California Federal District Court claims the AP2.0 system is "dangerously defective” and affects Model S and Model X vehicles made at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017. The updated software was installed in cars after a string of accidents. The suit states in part, “. . . buyers of affected vehicles have become beta tester of half-baked software that renders Tesla vehicles dangerous if engaged.” Needless to say, Tesla disagrees.

* Apple plans to start testing self-driving cars on California roads, the clearest signal yet that the world’s most valuable technology company wants to design or build autonomous vehicle technology. The California Department of Motor Vehicles granted Apple an official test permit that the agency said would allow the company to test autonomous driving technology in three 2015 Lexus RX 450h luxury hybrid sport utility vehicles.

* According to a Detroit News story, manual transmission take-rates peaked at 25 percent for cars in 1987, according to EPA figures, and have plummeted to between 3 percent and 7 percent over the last decade. In 2016 just 3.8 percent of sales were manual, according to Edmunds.com. Edmunds.com also says the percentage of vehicles offered with manuals has climbed from 19 percent in 2012 to over 27 percent today. Many brands, more than you can count on two hands, offer manuals on certain models. Noteworthy is that manuals often get worse fuel economy compared to the equivalent automatic.(Find All New Cars Available With Manual Transmissions In North America

* The Trump administration’s plans revealed through their proposed budget includes elimination of almost all federal funding from EPA’s Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standard and Certification program, the program that determines new vehicle emission compliance as well as fuel economy ratings. The proposal anticipates imposing fees on manufacturers for the EPA testing. Overall the EPA’s budget is looking at a 30% cut. The administration also plans to revisit the 2025 fuel economy standards requiring a fleet wide average of over 50 mpg.

* VW Dieselgate moved one more step towards closure. Volkswagen must pay a $2.8-billion criminal fine for purposely building a diesel engine equipped with software to cheat on greenhouse gas emissions tests. In Detroit, U.S. District Judge Sean Cox accepted a $4.3-billion plea agreement reached in January between the automaker and the federal government that includes the fine. He also sentenced the company to three years of probation and accepted the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the automaker's compliance with federal regulations in the future.

* Political unrest in Venezuela resulted in the seizure of a General Motors assembly plant by the government. Going beyond just the factory, GM announced complete cessation of operations in that country including 79 dealers. GM’s suppliers represent more than 55% of the auto parts industry in Venezuela. GM established operations in the country in 1948. Tens of thousands of workers will be out of jobs but the company says it "will pay separation benefits to workers according to Venezuelan law.”

* We don't usually editorialize in this column but we thought you might like to ponder a bit on the reality of self-driving cars somewhere in the future:
-- Ford's head of research believes the general public won't be able to buy a fully autonomous vehicle until sometime between 2026 and 2031.
-- the first autonomous vehicles for sale to the public will be car-based and probably limited to urban-use, low-speed driving...that's 25mph or less.
-- Presently, more than 50% of new vehicle sales each month are SUVs, crossovers and pickups.
-- Over one-third of the owners of these vehicle types won't consider a car.
-- We have over 260 million car and light truck/SUV passenger vehicles on the road in the U.S. with an average age of more than 11 years.
-- Some car makers like Mazda and Porsche have said they may never offer a fully autonomous car.

* What's the reality in the ability to drive your own vehicle going away in your lifetime?