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In Case You Missed It - Nutson's Weekly Automotive News Digest - Jan 2-8, 2017; Drive Home II Home, Happy Car Makers and Dealers, Chrysler Portal, Ford Goes Electric, 700 HP Bentley,


AUTO CENTRAL CHICAGO, January 8, 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: January 8, 2017

* With stronger than expected December sales, U.S. consumers bought a record number of new cars and trucks in 2016. U.S. vehicle sales totaled 17.55 million, beating the previous year's record of 17.47 million, according to Autodata Corp. That represents a 0.3 % increase over 2015’s record sales and the 7th consecutive year of sales increases. Sales gains by smaller brands helped push the new sales record along with the love affair with pickups and SUVs as well strong cash incentives that eat into profits. International brands ended 2016 with 55.1 percent share of the U.S. auto market and Domestic brands with 44.9 percent. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects U.S. sales to drop to 17.1 million vehicles in 2017 as interest rates and vehicle prices rise.

* In an unprecedented feat the Ford F-Series achieved 40 consecutive years as America’s Best Selling Truck. The F-Series is also America’s best-selling vehicle for 35 years with more than 26 million trucks sold since 1977. Ford's F-Series pickup remained the best-selling vehicle in America in 2016, with 820,799 trucks sold. That's the equivalent of 93 trucks sold every hour.

* We told you last week about Fiat Chrysler Automobiles decision to make a major product announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas instead of the usual intro venue of the Detroit Auto Show. FCA unveiled its Chrysler Portal concept, an all-electric, self-driving-capable vehicle with a customizable interior for up to six people. The front-wheel-drive Portal is estimated to have more than 250 miles of range on a full charge, including 150 miles of range in less than 20 minutes when using a DC fast-charge system. The steering wheel is designed to fold and stow away inside the instrument panel when parked, a feature that will become more realized after the vehicle is equipped with higher levels of autonomous capability, according to officials. Fiat Chrysler says the Portal is capable of Level Three semi-autonomous operation, which means the driver has the option to turn control over to the vehicle under certain highway situations.

* Also at CES the Chinese EV maker, Faraday Future, showed its FF91 4-seat Crossover with a reported rating of 378 mpg-e on the EPA test-cycle with its 130 kWh battery and a range of over 300 miles. The FF91 is supposed to go into production in 2018, although the assembly plant is not even built yet. Orders are being taken with a $5,000 down payment, however no retail price has been announced. It's a luxury car and rumor has it that it could cost $150K or more. It has AWD and is wicked fast with acceleration to 60 mph in under 3 seconds. I wonder who needs that in an CUV?

* Ford detailed seven of the 13 new global electrified vehicles it plans to introduce in the next five years, including hybrid versions of the iconic F-150 pickup and Mustang in the U.S., a plug-in hybrid Transit Custom van in Europe and a fully electric SUV with an expected range of at least 300 miles for customers globally. Plus they'll have two new, pursuit-rated hybrid police vehicles. A high-volume autonomous Level 4 vehicle designed for commercial ride hailing or ride sharing, starting in North America is also targeted for 2021. The company will invest $700 million in the aging Flat Rock, MI assembly plant to produce electrified vehicles alongside conventional Mustang and Lincoln Continental models. Plans to build a new plant in Mexico were canceled.

* The second running of the epic vintage car winter drive called The Drive Home II culminated in Detroit this week just in time to help open the North American International Auto Show. Three cars, a 1957 Chevy Nomad, a 1961 Chrysler 300G and a 1966 Mustang, from the LeMay, America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, WA drove over 2,100 miles from Boston to NYC, Washington DC, across Pennsylvania and Indiana to Michigan in 11 days dealing with multiple mechanical issues including a broken axle in the Chrysler. The weather turned treacherous on the last few days as the remaining cars drove up the west coast of Michigan. The trip culminated in a drive down famous Woodward Avenue in Detroit with the Chrysler repaired and back in the group. They will be on display during the full run of the auto show.

* At the Rose Bowl Parade, a float powered by Ford's 6.8-liter V10 gasoline truck engine and heavy-duty TorqShift six-speed automatic transmission found in the company’s F-650 and F-750 medium-duty trucks expects to get double GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS titles for longest and heaviest parade float. Lucy Pet Products' Gnarly Crankin’ K9 Wave Maker float is more than 125 feet long and weighs more than 137,000 pounds; portable surf machine generated waves in 5,000-gallon water tank for eight dogs to ride.

* Bentley revealed what they claim is the “fastest and most powerful four-seat luxury car ever,” and the most powerful Continental ever. It is called Supersports and boasts a 700-horsepower, 6.0-liter, twin turbo W12 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that will power the car to a 0-to-60 mph time of 3.7 seconds. Top speed, they say, will be 209 mph and it will have the largest brakes of its kind in the world. Both interior and exterior styling gets updated from the current Continental. Pricing was not announced.

* The Haartz Corporation, a world leader in highly engineered and uniquely designed convertible toppings and interior trim materials, announced findings from a consumer opinion survey about open-air driving. Results indicate that key demographics prefer open-air driving. Among the key findings, approximately 90% of respondents who own an open-air vehicle drive it year-round, dispelling many common myths that these vehicles can’t be driven in colder climates or during the winter. Approximately 86% of convertible owners also want to see more design and color options offered for their top materials. The unique appearance of an open-air vehicle plays a major factor in the purchase decision.

* An ongoing criticism of Tesla has been about production delays. The electric car company missed their fourth quarter promises because of difficulty getting the hardware that supports its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system. About 10% of the projected 25,000 orders are affected. After some delays producing the Model X crossovers last year they caught up not long after. Tesla now has hundreds of thousands of orders for the upcoming Model 3 due out later this year and analysts remain skeptical that they can meet initial demand and expectations.

* NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. married his longtime girlfriend Amy Reimann on December 31. The New Years Eve wedding took place at North Carolina's Childress Vineyeards in front of a crowd of family and friends that included many of Earnhardt's fellow NASCAR drivers. The 42-year-old Earnhardt has been medically cleared to be back behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet at the Daytona 500 on February 26.

* And in other NASCAR news, Stewart-Haas Racing is switching to Fords. SHR drivers Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick switch from Chevrolet to Ford for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

* The Auto Channel team will be reporting from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. Check back often for the latest news. We'll have product reveals and breaking news posted for you to see and in many cases even before they pull the cover off the vehicles on the show floor.