The Convertible Market is Shallow Enough to Start Calling Droptops Irrelevant

Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet 2012

Convertible sales have slid steadily for a while now and “everyday” droptops like the difficult to praise Chrysler Sebring have vanished from the automotive market. With the exception of a few premium options from Germany, fun in the sun doesn’t seem to coincide with daily driving anymore.

With their sales volume now trumped even by impractical, short-ranged electric vehicles, lidless cars are less popular than ever. In fact, America’s most popular convertible isn’t even a car (Jeep Wangler), and today’s remaining open-air options are either performance focused, comically small, or extremely expensive European luxury items. That’s likely to remain the case for some time, considering it took us over a decade to get here. 

According to IHS Markit (via Automotive News), the ragtop market has been shrinking since 2009, if not before, and now comprises less than 1 percent of all new car purchases. The last handful of years have been especially grim for the convertible, despite the segment’s continued willingness to exist.

“North America has always led the global convertible market, but hit a near-record low in 2014 with just 164,000 units sold in the region. While consumers returned to the automotive market, the gain has been in more practical segments, and purchases of convertibles and roadsters have lagged the general automotive market resurgence,” said Tim Urquhart, principal analyst at IHS Automotive, in last year’s analysis. “However, the North American market is expected to progress on a stable platform over the next few years, led by the launch of the latest iteration of the Ford Mustang in 2016.”

However, that predicted stability has instead become a bottoming out. The Mustang, along with the Camaro, are one of the few remaining American options for a retractable roof — and they aren’t particularly popular. While Mazda’s MX-5 managed 733 units in December, November only saw 387 U.S. sales. While that might seem like one bad month for one roadster, the better-than-ever Miata has not returned to its sales high of a decade ago and is actually a comparatively strong-selling convertible.

Haartz, the corporation that produces unique convertible tops for discerning customers, commissioned a survey for people who own or have ever owned a convertible and another for those who would ever consider buying one. While the survey only reached out to 574 consumers, it did return the knowledge that more people would consider buying a convertible if they were more practical, roomier, less expensive, and better looking. Unfortunately, these elements are all things that today’s surviving convertibles seem to have trouble with. The Haartz survey also highlighted consumer preference toward retractable hardtops over folding fabric as well as a penchant for panoramic glass.

With so much working against them, droptops will likely never return their pre-Great Recession U.S. record of of 344,000 units, recorded in 2006. Even with Europe’s slightly stronger interest in convertibles, most sales will continue to be drawn from premium German models until the segment dies out entirely or undergoes some incredible metamorphosis. However, considering the abominations that was the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, that new form might not do the segment any favors.

[Image: Nissan]

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2017 Honda CR-V to star in Super Bowl LI spot

We’re now just a month out from Super Bowl LI and one of the first automakers to announce a spot is Honda, which has a redesigned CR-V to promote.

The ad will be a follow-up to the successful spot aired during last year’s game, which saw a farm dog tout the benefits of Honda’s redesigned Ridgeline.

Honda says last year’s ad got roughly 100,000 people to enquire about the Ridgeline. With the wider target audience for the CR-V, even more people are likely to be influenced by this year’s ad. It will be the third time a CR-V has featured in a Big Game spot.

The latest CR-V arrived in showrooms in December, as a 2017 model. It’s the fifth generation of the popular SUV and boasts a handsome look, a much more refined interior, and the nameplate’s first-ever turbocharged engine, in this case a 1.5-liter inline-4 delivering 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque. The standard engine is a 2.4-liter inline-4 good for 184 hp and 180 lb-ft.

Super Bowl LI takes place February 5, 2017 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

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Faraday Future’s FF 91: A Closer Look at the Biggest Question Mark in the Industry

ff_91_exterior_8

One year after Faraday Future (FF) revealed its futuristic and racy FFZERO1 concept, the company has pulled back the curtain on its first production car.

The FF 91 is cut from cloth similar to the recently revealed Lucid Air. Both cars are being built by California-based, Chinese-backed companies. And both are scheduled to follow Tesla into the EV Super Sedan market as Trump’s first term hits its midpoint.

FF 91 Reveal

The FF 91 will be built on FF’s proprietary Variable Platform Architecture (VPA). The VPA, with its integrated multi-motor powertrain, will enable FF to design vehicles of any style, size, or purpose. And by the numbers, the first car to use VPA will be a giant killer. According to Peter Savagian, VP of Propulsion Engineering, the car will offer the largest, most energy dense battery pack in the industry. The FF 91 will store 130 kilowatt hours of energy and make up to 1,050 horsepower. It will best the Model S P100D, Tesla’s current range-topping sedan, meaning the FF 91 edges its better known rival in a 0-60 sprint by one-tenth of an unverified second.

In exchange for blistering straight-line performance, the FF 91 does not sacrifice range. FF claims 378 miles of EPA adjusted range, slightly ahead of the current Models S’ verified range and behind Lucid’s optional maximum range claim. The FF 91 features an open charging system that will accept any residential standard, including 110 and 240 volt AC at 1.5, 10, or 15 kilowatt levels. Not only that, but its class leading 200 kilowatt fast charging capability, as well as the prospect of wireless charging, will make the FF 91 easy to live with.

ff_91_exterior_11

The car is dimensionally similar to a long-wheelbase Mercedes S-Class, though the proportions could not be more different. The FF 91 pushes the greenhouse so far over the front wheels that its abbreviated hood flirts with rakish minivan territory and the roofline extends well over the top of the rear passengers.

The closest analog to the FF 91’s profile may be the defunct Mercedes R-Class. However, the FF 91’s rear glass has a far more gradual slope and terminates at the sharp rear arc of the UFO line — FF’s term for the character line circling the car. Whereas the Lucid Air hues closer to the prevailing industry design trend of providing hatchback-like rear functionality combined with a stealthy roofline that suggests a sedan, the FF 91 embraces its hybrid wagon/hatch form with a pronounced flying buttress D-pillar.

ff_91_exterior_6

Just how close to production is the design? FF representatives were reluctant to quantify, much less qualify an answer, but several details suggest some design elements may not make it to production.

For example, the B pillars look too broad. These blind-spot-inducing obstructions may be required to support the frameless glass in the doors and access buttons, but they lack elegance. And consistent with other manufacturers in the segment, passenger access is a focal point. FF has chosen to incorporate what we commonly call suicide doors, but the company prefers to refer to as an “entry system”. They point to the autonomous parking/retrieval capability as a practicality enabler, but suicide doors they remain and regulators may have something to say about them. Additional technical risks remain under the skin, where engineers are experiencing challenges getting all 45 computers to talk to each other.

Making the most connected car ever will not be easy.

FF 91 Reveal - Stage

The product reveal was again scheduled to coincide with the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and was well attended by the press. Approximately 500 media, VIPs, and employees gathered inside an expansive enclosure near the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard.

On stage, FF not only revealed its new car, but ran 0-60 mile times with their benchmark competitors. A Bentley, Ferrari, two Teslas, and finally the FF 91. But in spite of the showmanship and FF’s intricately executed PR teaser campaign, the spotlight was as much on the company as it was on the car. Recent departures of senior executives combined with rumored financial disagreements with vendors put a shadow over the event too big for MC Nick Sampson, EVP of Engineering, to ignore. And in closing he acknowledged as much when he said, “Despite all the nay sayers, the skeptics. We will persist. We will carry on to make the impossible possible.”

Whether FF brings the FF 91, or any car, to market remains to be seen. But they demonstrated live last night their willingness to take risks and keep pushing forward. At the very least, we now know Faraday Future has a real car.

[Images: Faraday Future]

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BMW brought a sculpture to CES to show us the future of autonomous interiors

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It’s called the BMW i Inside Future sculpture, which almost explains what it is.

Continue reading BMW brought a sculpture to CES to show us the future of autonomous interiors

BMW brought a sculpture to CES to show us the future of autonomous interiors originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 04 Jan 2017 12:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Forget the stupid millennial pitch, the Chrysler Portal Concept is full of good ideas

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Spoiler alert: The best package for flexible hauling of people and cargo is still a minivan.

Continue reading Forget the stupid millennial pitch, the Chrysler Portal Concept is full of good ideas

Forget the stupid millennial pitch, the Chrysler Portal Concept is full of good ideas originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 04 Jan 2017 09:15:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Don’t Worry, Everyone – the Hottest Civic Money Can Buy Will Come With a CVT

New Civic Type R Prototype breaks cover in Paris

An optional CVT, to be clear.

We all know true motoring — as Mother Nature intended — should involve the manual changing of one’s own gears, but even scrappy, youth-infected Honda knows that stick shifts are not the way to have customers beat down your doors.

Hence the availability of a traditionally tepid transmission in its upcoming Civic Type R.

Previously unreleased specifications for the top-rung model, expected to debut at the Geneva Motor Show, showed up recently in Britain’s Car Magazine. Details were then shared with the salivating aficionados who populate the CivicX forum.

According to the publication, which confirmed the details with the model’s head engineer and designer, as well as Honda Motor Europe president Katsushi Inoue, the hottest of Honda hatches will bow with a six-speed manual transmission and optional continuously variable transmission. Honda purists might see this as sacrilege, as many expected an optional dual-clutch setup, though the automaker has seen fit to ensure the CVT doesn’t drain all the fun out of the experience. Engineers have reportedly tuned the gearless box for low-end acceleration.

The Type R should also send its power to the front wheels only, while boasting a noticeably lower center of gravity compared to a regular Civic hatch. What we don’t know for certain is its output.  The model’s expected turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder is rumored to make up to 340 horsepower.

Meanwhile, the prototype flaunted by Honda since the middle of last year should be damn close to the real thing, so don’t expect any drastic design departures come March.

[Image: Honda]

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Faraday Future FF 91, Lucid Air First Rides

If Elon Musk were a normal, everyday guy, life on earth would be a whole lot simpler. For instance, we wouldn’t have to nervously watch rockets landing on heaving ocean barges. Or fret about being sucked across the country at 700 mph in some big Hyperloop vacuum tube. And car pundits such us would not have to explain something that wasn’t supposed to happen: the emergence of an all-new automotive brand in the beginning of the 21st century.

On the other hand, if Musk were a normal car company executive, his own life would be a lot simpler, too. Like the haughty Enzo Ferrari who famously antagonized Ferruccio Lamborghini into making his own supercar 50 years earlier, Tesla has trained an army of engineers and then inadvertently (or maybe intentionally) jettisoned many of them to where they’d inevitably coalesce into a couple of close-orbiting competitors. One, Lucid Motors—located in Menlo Park, California—recently unveiled its Air, which is technologically guided by Peter Rawlinson (the Model S’ original chief engineer) and Derek Jenkins (former chief designer at Mazda). In Gardena, California, is Faraday Future (FF), which is masterminded by Rawlinson’s Model S successor, Nick Sampson, and shaped by Richard Kim, who previously drew the cheeky BMW i3 (the car that popularized the pinched side-glass/floating-roof look that’s now de rigor in EV styling).

Until recently, both projects were cloaked in shadows. But in the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to examine, sit in (in fact, nearly fall asleep in), stew over, and even briefly ride in both the Air and the Faraday car, which internally is called the 91.

Here’s my one-sentence summery of each: Think of the Lucid as the Model S 2.0 and the Faraday as the Model X that might have been had there been an intervention with Elon before he got all fixated on falcon-wing doors and bioweapon air filtration systems. It’s like Lucid and FF held a clandestine meeting a couple years ago at an all-night diner in Bakersfield. With the neon light flickering outside, they set down their cups of burned coffee on the Formica table and checked that nobody was listening. “OK, you go after the sedan, and we’ll go after the crossover. Deal? Deal.” Then they shook hands and headed back to Menlo Park and Gardena to get to work.

Lucid Motors Air top view
Lucid Motors Air rear three quarter in motion
Lucid Motors Air rear windshield
Lucid Motors Air front three quarter

Lucid Motors Air front three quarter in motion

Lucid Motors Air front three quarter in motion
Think of the Lucid Air (pictured) as the Tesla Model S 2.0

Visiting both companies is like entering Tesla refugee camps (300 employees at Lucid and a total of 1,400 at Faraday, worldwide). At one point I was sitting in the back seat of the Air and commented that it’s good to see cupholders back here. How dumb that the original Model S didn’t have any? An engineer crouching at the open door confessed that it was his bad. “You’re the guy?” I asked and turned to him with in an accusatory grin. He shook his head. “Elon overruled me,” he said. During our FF tour, I walked past Faraday Future’s battery-tech display and noted that the cylindrical 21700-type cells inside are stacked sideways in the modules. (They call them strings.) The engineer nodded. “Yes, different from what we did at Tesla.” This happens at every turn. Elon made us do this; at Tesla we did that. On and on.

X-ray past each car’s very divergent exteriors, and you’d see strikingly similar architectures. It’s as if each company laid a sheet of velum over the Tesla’s blueprints, traced its basics, then started their independent brainstorming. Both the Air and the 91 are stake-poled by Tesla’s dual-motor and battery landmarks, with their lithium-ion packs under the floor, bookended by powered axles. Lucid quotes about 1,000 combined hp (FF, 1050) with the majority of their horses stabled in their sterns; the Lucid distributes 600 hp aft (400 in front) with the FF at roughly the same ratio. Both companies speak of their Tesla-like frunk’s up front and ultra-long ranges (378 miles from the 91’s 130-kW-hr pack; Lucid’s base 100-kW-hr battery is expected to reach 300 miles, and its larger battery should equal Faraday’s claims). And there’s Ludicrous acceleration rates, too—estimated at 2.5 seconds to 60 mph for the Air (matching Tesla’s quickest Model S P100D) and 2.39 for the Faraday, marking it as potentially the quickest car in the world (though by an amount I wouldn’t exactly call meaningful).

The dual-motor Model S was everybody’s first taste of neck-snapping acceleration in the EV era. It was like going from P51 Mustangs to carrier-launched jets. I remember doing acceleration runs many years ago in a Ferrari F50—a historically fast car, yes? Halfway down the quarter, I was actually urging it along because it seemed, well, kind of slow to me.

I’d never say that rail-gunning down a dragstrip in a high-power dual-motor Tesla. When its Insane mode first appeared, Carlos Lago and I rushed out to sample it. With me mindlessly staring out the passenger-side window (i.e., me in Normal mode), Carlos suddenly tramped its pedal from a stop. My neck actually cracked, I winced, and I gave him my dagger-eyes look. The drivers who demonstrated the thrust of the Lucid and Faraday were well aware that surprise-throttle stomps can physically hurt you. Both told me to place my head against the headrest. Both cars discharged that same familiar Tesla gunshot thrust, though the Lucid was deliberately dialed down a bit because it was still under development.

From here, though, the Lucid and FF begin their technological divergence. The Faraday’s battery—an underfloor monolith (à la Tesla) is a series of easily expandable, side-by-side, stackable modules (depending on wheelbase length, or in FF lingo, its VPA, Variable Platform Architecture). When I noticed that the nose-mounted charge port’s cover looked unfamiliar, the Faraday engineer hesitantly explained they were creating their own receptacle besides the SAE CCS, CHADdeMO, and elegant Tesla designs. I’m hesitant to point out the implication of another charging infrastructure here. FF claims an empty-battery charging rate of 500 mph and half of a full charge in 4.5 hours from their included 240-volt home charger.

Lucid Motors Air front end 02
Lucid Motors Air front interior
Lucid Motors Air front top view
Lucid Motors Air rear badge

The Lucid Air disregards the FF’s simple, stacking modules for a highly sculpted, complexly shaped, and more three-dimensional battery that’s double-layered beneath the center console, entirely removed from the rear passenger’s footwell. When I asked whether it contained 18650 or the larger 21700 cells (used by Faraday and upcoming Tesla Model 3), the engineer was coy. I’m not sure they’ve decided yet. However, both cars are sourcing their cells from LG Chem.

But this unusual battery shape gets to the crust of how both cars architecturally splinter from the Model S and X. Each is utterly obsessed with maximizing interior space, and they aggressively remold their guts to that end. The Lucid moves portions of its battery from where people are to where they’re not. It has fanatically compacted its front and rear drivetrains (including a new type of tiny planetary-gear differential). The Faraday’s rear motor is actually two motors, back to back, with their own halfshafts. There are two reasons for this.

One of those reasons is to shrink their diameters. How come? To afford more rear seat-back angle for the optional reclining zero-gravity couches that lay you at a (literally yawning) angle. It was not only comfortable but also very familiar, as I’d sat in the Lucid’s virtually identical 55-degree-reclineable seat solution two weeks earlier. When I climbed out of the FF, Sampson asked if I’d like my Ubers to have seats like those.

But more important, when will these cars be fully autonomous? Everybody’s thinking the same thing here. Getting in and out of the FF will be a cinch, too, as both its front and rear doors (suicide-type) are powered and have proximity sensors and the smarts to lower their frameless windows in tight spots to lessen your wriggling.

Part of the Faraday’s vast rear legroom simply owes to its long wheelbase and crossover profile. Fitting people into the Lucid’s sedan silhouette isn’t as easy, hence those battery cutouts for the rear seats and no aft overhead roof cross member). Countering the long FF’s incumbent turning circle challenges is active rear-wheel toe control with a total range of about 7 degrees. In a demonstration, the FF revolved in a smaller space than a Model X.

The second reason is that at high speeds, the double punch of active rear toe with the torque vectoring from those two rear motors should make for stupendous handling opportunities. I got an inkling from my brisk lateral jolts through a lane change while hanging on for dear life.

Styling. Jenkins and Kim are two completely different designers whose jobs are less about logic and more about taste. But even here, threads of common think appear. For instance, both are expecting to jettison side mirrors for cameras (FF hedging its bet with a removable mirror atop a camera stalk). And both designers describe their cars as stacked layers; Jenkins speaks of the Air’s cabin floating above a lower fuselage, and Kim points out the FF’s three bands: the greenhouse (about experience and electronic interface), the middle (about comfort and security of the interior), and the bottom (about the electric drivetrain). Both cars also share unusual twin shark-fin antenna enclosures, though each claims different reasoning. The Lucid wants twin separate GPS antennas for heading analysis, and the FF is simply burdened with lots of data to communicate. Both the Lucid and FF have improbably short hoods—the antithesis of the old visual cue that a long hood signals more performance.

Visually, the FF is playfully active. Waves of flowing shapes intertwine and sometimes arrest your eyes’ movement. The best is the freestanding vertical ears offset from the D-pillars that help warp the wind behind the car. Neither car has elegantly solved the problem of lidar placement, though. For now, the FF places it on a rising periscope that ascends from the hood, and the Lucid rather optimistically hides them under the bumpers where they are not likely to wind up.

Lucid Motors Air top view in motion
Lucid Motors Air front headlight details
Lucid Motors Air interior view
Lucid Motors Air rear quarter panel 02

The Lucid Air will likely be more polarizing, mainly because it’s speaking with a mixed vocabulary of automotive and sophisticated consumer electronics design languages. Up close, the headlights—a major feature of automotive expression—are collapsed to two strings of three-quarter-inch-tall cubes encasing a total of 9,740 insectlike micro-lenses. And even these are so recessed that they’re invisible until you step back several feet. The Air is a car of subtle shapes and quietly crossing lines at gentle angles. At its introduction, I walked around it several times and then settled into to the rear seat to think. Remember our controversial Apple Car story? I think if Apple had followed through, it might have looked like this. In that sense, the Air really anticipates the future of automotive design as cars morph into rolling computers. (When I returned to Orange County Airport that night and walked to my car, I passed several Model S’s that seemed almost adolescent by comparison.)

If Apple has sympathy with the Lucid’s taut industrial design, the Faraday would appeal Cupertino’s emphasis on a lush digital ecosystem. We weren’t able to actually try any of its features, but their demos tasted Apple-like in their advanced blending of people and processing power. Remember how you’d smile when Steve Jobs explained a neat new feature?

As I walked up to the car, a video camera in the pillar recognized me and displayed, “Hello, Kim,” unlocked the door (there’s no key), and set the environment to exactly to my taste. Cameras inside the cabin analyze your mood and can auto-prompt an ambiance change; tap the smart glass panoramic roof (polymer dispersed liquid crystal), and it adjusts tinting. The view from the side and rearview cameras are blended into a single image, which replaces the rearview mirror. With a Faraday Future ID (FFID), your individual tastes can be transferred throughout the ecosystem of FF’s parent company, LeEco. And within restricted private parking lots, the 91 can drop you off and go find a spot by itself. (Its complement of sensors includes lidar, 10 cameras, 13 radars, and 12 ultrasonic sensors.)

There’s visual communication, too. When in use as a ride-hailing vehicle, individual colors will appear on the same pillars directing passengers to their door. Those shark-fin antennas (claimed to offer near broadband data rates by combining services) will change color, signaling to other drivers that they can use your car as a moving Wi-Fi hot spot. And most obviously, illuminated grids of FF’s cross-hatch graphics are streaked across the car’s front bumper, along its rocker panels, and between the taillights. They symbolically communicate patterns to other drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians to show that the car is aware of them, intends a lane change, or is in autonomous mode. (Like the Lucid, it welcomes you as you approach, too; the Air’s exterior lighting playfully greets you, plus broad sweeps of side lighting help you to better see curbs at night.)

This week during CES, Musk is holding forth with guests at the Gigafactory, a colossal reminder that creating a car company sometimes takes a leader who sees the rocks below the cliff of failure and doesn’t blink. Faraday Future is evidently treading near that edge. But for now, at tonight’s CES unveiling, it’s finally the car’s turn to communicate directly to you—not through rumors—what the rest of Musk’s alumni have been working so hard to create. How do you think it compares to the Lucid Air?

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FCA’s next-gen Uconnect system may be powered by Google’s Android

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles [NYSE:FCAU] has teamed up with Google to develop a version of the Uconnect infotainment system powered by Android. Uconnect can be found in most of FCA’s brands and features an 8.4-inch touchscreen display as its main input source.

The version of Uconnect powered by Android, to be demonstrated in a Chrysler 300 sedan at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, will run the latest version of Google’s popular operating system, version 7.0, nicknamed Nougat.

The infotainment system has been designed so that the Android OS works away in the back end, controlling some key car features like the radio and comfort settings. There are also a few of Google’s own apps integrated with the system, such as Google Assistant and Google Maps.

At the front end, the user will be faced with FCA’s own designs for the various screens, tailored to each of its brands.

Google a step closer to taking control of infotainment

Though a release date hasn’t been mentioned, the move brings Google a step closer to taking control of car infotainment systems, just as it has in the smartphone world. Recall, the tech giant has already developed its own Android-based infotainment system.

“Google is committed to building Android as a turn-key automotive platform that integrates deeply with the vehicle in a safe and seamless way,” senior Android developer Patrick Brady said in a statement. “This collaboration with FCA brings together the industry standard for connected car systems with Android to create powerful infotainment systems designed for the digital age.”

Other automakers have been wary of ceding control of key components such as the infotainment system to an outside firm, especially when it comes to privacy of data collected. For example, we’ve already seen Toyota reject Android Auto and the similar Apple CarPlay smartphone integration system. It will be interesting to watch this battle play out.

CES starts January 5, 2017. For more on the show, head to our dedicated hub.

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