Consumer Car News: 8/5/02

August 5, 2002

IS FORD ENDING ITS EXCURSION?
Reports Tuesday from Detroit's WDIV-4 and other sources indicate that Ford may end production of the Excursion with the current generation of vehicle. The Excursion, Ford's largest SUV, was criticized at its 1999 introduction as too large and too fuel-efficient; representatives from the Sierra Club referred to it as the "Ford Valdez," referencing the Exxon tanker that spilled millions of gallons of oil on the Alaska shoreline. The Excursion was planned to generate about $10,000 in profit per vehicle sold, but sales have been slowing since last year. The end could come as soon as 2004, the television report indicated.
Flint: California CO2 Dreamin’ by Jerry Flint (7/29/2002)

 

SALES TO DATE: JAN.-JULY 2002
Your top-selling vehicles through July, as reported by Reuters:

RANK   VEHICLES                          2002             %CHGE

1        Ford F-Series pickup           479,407         -4.3
2        Chevy Silverado pickup       380,422         -2.9
3        Toyota Camry                    264,176         +14.8
4        Ford Explorer                     234,634         +0.6
5        Dodge Ram pickup             228,955         +9.6
6        Honda Accord                    222,755         -11.0
7        Ford Taurus                       194,877         -13.3
8        Honda Civic                       181,393         -6.1
9        Dodge Caravan                  163,703         +4.8
10      Chevrolet Cavalier              156,015         +8.5

 

GM PLANS ONSTAR CRASH REPORTING
General Motors’ OnStar communication system will now report when drivers are in moderate to severe crashes – even those where airbags aren’t deployed, the company said on Wednesday. Vehicles equipped with the system will use crash sensors in the front and rear bumpers and on both sides of the vehicle to determine when a crash has happened and if the driver is in danger. The system can report back to OnStar operators to summon help. OnStar is available on many GM models as well as some cars sold by Lexus, Acura, Audi, Saab, Subaru, Isuzu and Volkswagen.

 

SUZUKI BUMPS UP WARRANTY
American Suzuki Wednesday announced it is offering arguably the auto industry's most generous warranty, guaranteeing its vehicles' engine and transmission for seven years and 100,000 miles without a deductible to pay. Chrysler last month upped its powertrain warranty to 7 years/70,000 miles. Hyundai and Kia offer 100,000-mile/10-year warranties but restrictions kick in after five years. Though sales of budget-priced vehicles like Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi are way up this year, Suzuki sales have been lagging. Sales through the first six months were 33,000, down 3 percent despite the addition of the new Aerio, which has been generally well reviewed in the auto press. Suzuki is also a laggard in J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study. Spokesperson Celeste Speier, though, says warranty expenses and dealer feedback indicate that Suzuki quality is better than the scores would indicate. "There is a lot of perception built into how consumers respond to those surveys, and we think the new warranty offer will begin to change some of those perceptions." GM, which is part owner of Suzuki, and Ford have both said they will not expand warranty coverage to match Chrysler.—Jim Burt
2003 Suzuki Aerio by Bob Hall (3/18/2002)

 

TRAILBLAZER EXT GETS V-8
Like the Buick Rainier coming in 2004, Chevrolet’s TrailBlazer will be adding GM’s Vortec 5300 V-8 to its engine lineup. The TrailBlazer – which has sold 113,136 copies in the first half of 2002 – gets the 290-hp V-8 engine in 2003. “Offering a V8 engine for the TrailBlazer EXT extends the appeal of the TrailBlazer mid-size SUV family,” said Russ Clark, TrailBlazer Marketing Director, in a release. GMC’s Envoy XL is also expected to get the V-8 option in the 2003 model year.

 

2003 Chevrolet Avalanche

2003 Chevrolet Avalanche

AVALANCHE LOSES BODY PLASTIC
Chevrolet’s Avalanche will undergo plastic surgery in the 2003 model year as the division offers a version of the versatile pickup/SUV without the extensive plastic cladding standard in its first year of production. Minus the cladding, the Avalanche Without Body Hardware will enter production early in 2003. Other Avalanches will get darker-grey trim. All the trucks will sport passenger-sensing airbags, and new options including XM satellite radio, adjustable pedals, a DVD entertainment system and new colors.

 

2002 Mercedes-Benz SL55

2002 Mercedes-Benz SL55

EXPANDED PLANS FOR AMG
Look for Mercedes-Benz to continue expanding the use of its performance-oriented AMG brand, officials tell TheCarConnection, one limited to a few, low-volume, short-run models. “We have made a commitment to have an AMG model in each of our segments,” notes marketing chief Dave Schembri, including the upcoming G55, as well as the new SL55. The latter sports coupe lays claim to being the fastest car the automaker has ever put on the road. As recently as 1996, MBUSA sold just 296 AMG-badged vehicles in the States. Last year, that jumped to 7502.  In the U.S., buyers can opt for complete AMG models and a few AMG-influenced appearance packages. In Europe, however, Mercedes customers can mix and match, selecting such individual components as AMG steering wheels or instrument panels. “You may see us expanding into the more European approach to AMG,” Schembri adds. There’s a good reason, insiders add. AMG models are invariably in short supply and generate huge profits, to boot. –TCC Team
Spy Shots: ‘05 Benz SLK by Brenda Priddy (7/29/2002)


MBUSA PLANS TO REVIVE DIESEL
The number of automakers intending to get back into the diesel market continues to grow. “Every time I go to (Mercedes-Benz headquarters in) Stuttgart, I beg for a diesel,” says Dave Schembri, marketing director for the automaker’s American subsidiary, MBUSA. He’s finally getting what he’s been asking for. Schembri tells TCC a diesel-powered version of the all-new E-Class is likely to make its debut in the States for the 2004 model-year. Back in the early to mid-1980s, diesels accounted for about half of the automaker’s U.S. sales, but the fuel-efficient powertrain vanished from the market three years ago. It remains a major seller in Europe, where overall diesel sales are surging on the back of rising fuel prices. With the growing likelihood that American fuel economy standards will be raised soon, manufacturers are rethinking their plans for diesels. New technology could overcome the biggest obstacle: tougher clean air standards. They’re also faster, smoother, quieter, and reduce the offensive smell traditionally associated with diesels. Last month, Ford COO Nick Scheele said he expects to see a diesel in his company’s passenger car lineup within a few years. –TCC Team
Diesels On Display in D.C. by William Rapai (5/20/2002)


2003 BMW X5

2003 BMW X5

BMW RECALLING MINI, X5
Showing the Germans are no strangers to recalls, BMW is recalling 2002 MINI Coopers and X5 sport-utes. Some 38,700 MINI Coopers around the world will be going back to dealerships to fix a shifter cable. And more than 56,000 X5 SUVs are coming back for a fix on loose brake pedals, Reuters reports. Of those, the news service reports, some 3531 of the MINI Coopers and 34,860 X5s are in the U.S.
2002 Mini Cooper by Marty Padgett (4/1/2002)


 

BUDGET DECLARES BANKRUPTCY
The parent company of Budget Rent-A-Car and Ryder says it’s declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Florida-based Budget Group Inc. said in a release that the difficulties of its rental-car unit after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks contributed to the company’s bleak financial picture. The group reported some $4 billion in debt in its bankruptcy petition, but says it has secured financing to continue operations while it reorganizes its finances.

 

NHTSA DELVES INTO ESCORTS
Ford is facing another federal investigation, this time concerning the 1997 Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that more than 390,000 of the cars could be susceptible to vehicle fires and inadvertent airbag deployments due to a fluid leak into the airbag monitoring system. Five incidents are linked to the problem, which NHTSA can elevate to a full recall if it deems one necessary. In other actions, the agency is investigating some 1996-2000 Olds, Pontiac and Buick sedans with GM’s 3.8-liter V-6 for engine fires, and 1995-1998 Kia Sephias and Sportages for driver-side seatbelt complaints.
Ford Turns a Profit Again by Joseph Szczesny (7/22/2002)

 

GM SETTLES LEMON COMPLAINT
GM will pay $110,000 in a suit brought by the Ohio Attorney General, who charges the company didn’t comply with the state’s lemon laws. Reuters reports the Ohio law enforcer filed suit in April because GM did not label some 515 cars and trucks as lemons, according to the state law, after they were fixed and resold. GM could be fined another $150,000 if it does not remain in compliance with the law over the next seven years.

 

LAND ROVER ACTS ON “FRAGILE EARTH”
Land Rover, whose off-road vehicles are more likely than many others to be driven across uncharted territory, has launched a worldwide Fragile Earth policy, aimed at all drivers who venture off-road. The policy, according to Land Rover, is “a global promise to ensure that our actions minimize environmental damage. It is evident in everything we do.” Aimed at encouraging 4x4 owners to enjoy the pleasures of exploring off-road while at the same time protecting the environment, the policy puts forward guidelines for drivers under the heading of ‘Land Rover’s Off-Road Code.’ Among the guidelines are instructions about vehicle preparation, off-road ethics to protect the environment and the animals it supports, and recommended driving techniques. The code has been drawn up with the collaboration of a number of environmental organizations that Land Rover supports, including the California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission and the ‘Tread Lightly’ program of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. In the rest of the world, Land Rover has consulted with bodies such as the Born Free Foundation in Africa, Britain’s Royal Geographical Society and the China Exploration and Research Society.—Ian Norris

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