Mazda 3 Redesign Program is Focused on the Human Physique

Traditionally, major vehicle redesigns begin with a review of such hardware as cylinder heads, suspension arms and chassis legs. The remake of the compact Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback focused on those items as well as a detailed study of human arms, legs and heads as well as spines, pelvises and necks.

The 2019 Mazda 3 new engineering goal is to create a tremendously balanced car that is as natural for humans to drive as it is for them to walk.

Quite an ambitious claim and during their recent media presentation, Mazda engineers spoke of their comprehensive studies of human bodies and how the car was designed to decrease stress and drastically improve comfort. Instead of talking as much about the usual redesign metrics of stopping distances, horsepower, torque or 0-to-60.

According to Mazda engineers the new Mazda 3 is all about one word: balance.

The redesign started with an in-depth study of how the body maintains balance when walking, said Kota Beppu, Mazda3 program manager. Mazda engineers were particularly interested in preventing unwanted head movement. To do that, engineers redesigned the Mazda 3’s body and suspension so that when the car encounters a bump in the road, the shock absorbed by the suspension system is channeled behind the driver. Engineers also studied the human spine and developed seats that put the driver in the optimum position to maintain balance. The tilting lower seat cushion helps keep the thighs firmly planted in the seat. This keeps the pelvis in an upright position and the spine in its natural S shape, Mazda says.

While the Mazda 3 uses conventional electric rack-and-pinion steering and hydraulic four-wheel disc brakes, engineers kept a keen eye on removing jerkiness in the car’s behavior. The brakes initially feel as though they don’t have significant bite. But a little extra pressure on the pedal slows the car quickly and smoothly. Mazda calibrated the brake feel to eradicate abruptness that can force passengers to lurch forward. The power steering also has been fine-tuned to reduce coarse movements.

On a 50-mile test drive, the Mazda3 proved easy to handle, with comfortable and supportive seats, unobstructed front and rear views and simple-to-manage controls. The car was said to be quiet, took curves at speed with ease and drove smoothly in heavy stop-and-go traffic. The sedan and hatchback go on sale in March. Prices start at $21,895 for the front-wheel-drive sedan and $24,495 for the hatchback. Adding all-wheel drive and other premium features pushes prices close to $30,000 for both body styles.

Infiniti plans a shift in marketing for its Anniversary Models

Infiniti has announced that they will launch a portfolio of anniversary-edition models in 2019 to mark the brand’s 30 years in business. Infiniti Americas Vice President Mike Colleran devoted a large part of his NADA session to reassure dealers that new vehicles are on the way, said Mario Murgado, CEO of Brickell Motors in Miami and chairman of the Infiniti National Dealer Advisory Board. “We have the oldest portfolio of products in the business, and Infiniti is working hard to renew that portfolio, and to be transparent with its retailers to tell us that they are fixing it,” Murgado said. While not offering details such as when the models will appear, Colleran told dealers the anniversary plan will include multiple nameplates. He said Infiniti will reveal details in a series of start-up meetings commencing this month around the country.

In an interview, Colleran said Infiniti wanted to specify dealers with new offerings as they await the brand’s next great product modification. According to retailers who attended this meeting, that will be a remodeled QX60 crossover, due next year. Infiniti also expressed to dealers that specific electric vehicle plans are in the works, following its proclamation a year ago of an electrification strategy set to begin after 2021. In its 2018 announcement, Infiniti said every new vehicle introduced after 2021 will be a full EV or have an electrified powertrain — except for Infiniti’s full-size SUV, the QX80.

The electrification approach will begin revealing itself “very soon in automotive years,” Colleran said after the meeting. “We have changes going on and we want to make sure we have open communications with our dealers to keep them involved.” Phil O’Connor, Infiniti director of marketing communications and media, told vendors the company plans a new marketing tactic this year, aiming for likely buyers instead of relying on broad market campaigns. “It’s about reaching to a specific household that is currently in-market, as opposed to covering an entire city, including consumers who are not planning to buy a new vehicle,” O’Connor said after the meeting. “We now have the tools to know who is likely to be ready to buy a vehicle, and who is likely to buy a premium vehicle.” O’Connor told the suppliers the new tactic will not replace Infiniti’s national advertising, which traditionally becomes more visible during the college basketball season, leading up to the March Madness national college basketball tournament. He said Infiniti’s new advertising tactic came about at vendors’ request.

Nissan is adding an Outdoor Package for the 2019 Pathfinder

Nissan has decided to do some cosmetic updates to the Pathfinder to redirect their marketing towards the crossover’s outdoorsy consumers.

They are introducing the Rock Creek Edition package for the midsize crossover at the Chicago Auto Show. This package will be available in the spring for $995 and offered for the Pathfinder SV and SL variants, in both two-wheel- and all-wheel-drive configurations. “The Rock Creek Edition name was chosen to connect to Pathfinder’s family outdoor adventure-minded target customers,” Nissan North America Chief Marketing Manager Scott Shirley said in a report.

These special editions help bring much needed attention to models late in their life cycles. Proposing a package such as the Rock Creek Edition permits Nissan to put together anticipated features at a lower cost rather than having them as standalone options, said Sam Fiorani, vice president at Auto Forecast Solutions. “Tying the Pathfinder to an outfitter, such as Rock Creek, has the additional benefit of generating interest to the core buyer’s desire to get back to nature,” Fiorani said.

Enhancements

The Rock Creek Edition package comes with a variety of features such as dark 18-inch wheels, black roof rails, black door handles, black mesh grille, and outside rearview mirrors, black front and rear fascia accents and black molded over fenders. The interior features include high contrast stitching on seats, door, console lid, two-tone seating surfaces and badging, and steering wheel and premium metallic interior trim. They also have two additional options are available with the Rock Creek Edition.

As far as pricing goes, the $980 SV Rock Creek Edition Technology Package includes the Nissan Connect smartphone-based infotainment system, heated cloth front seats, heated steering wheel and heated outside rearview mirrors. The SL Rock Creek Edition Premium Package, which is a little pricier costs about $2,110. However, this package also adds a Bose 13-speaker audio system and a panorama moon roof.

Compared to its previous models, the 2019 Pathfinder is powered by a 3.5-liter direct-injection V-6 gasoline engine that delivers 284 hp and reels out 259 pound-feet of torque. The Pathfinder, with three rows of seats, contests directly with the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Pilot and other midsize crossovers but also the slightly larger Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Traverse. As minivans have fallen out of favor in recent years, the three-row utilities have become today’s sleeker family wagons. While U.S. sales of the Pathfinder fell 17 percent to 67,550 last year, they still account for a significant portion of Nissan’s volume and an even higher percentage of the automaker’s profit. The Pathfinder received a major makeover in 2016, and a revamp is expected in 2020 or 2021.

Detroit’s saving grace: All-American muscle car

The amount of passenger cars sent to the scrap heap keeps getting
larger. The Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 are over, Ford models including the
Fusion and Fiesta are done and last month General Motors Co. announced plans to
cull the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala and others. But as Detroit kills off
slow-selling sedans, there’s one niche that’s hung on: retro-styled reincarnations
of muscle cars introduced in the 1960s and 1970s. “What’s dying is the commoditized, four-door nothing burger, no-personality cars,” said Tim Kuniskis, who ran the Dodge brand at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV from 2013 to early 2018. Muscle cars “have a really well-defined personality and positioning while enticing respectable revenue.” For example, Fiat Chrysler commands an average transaction price of around $36,000 for its muscular Dodge Challenger. It might not be enough to match the fat margins on the trucks and SUVs that have become the focus for Detroit, but these powerful throwbacks can be still be moneymakers. And that can help big automakers finance their shift to a more electric future, especially since the initial investment on developing a Challenger or a Dodge Charger has long since been paid off.

Looking for growth in muscle cars still might be a bit of a stretch. Fiat Chrysler expects to sell roughly 65,000 Challengers this year, about the same as last year and just below the record 66,000 reached in 2015. Sales of the four-door Charger dropped 11 percent this year through November. Still, compared with the death spiral that’s consumed sedans, the Dodge muscle cars are doing alright. Retail sales of large passenger cars, a segment that includes the Nissan Maxima and Chevy Impala, is down 21 percent in 2018, according to J.D. Power. The Ford Mustang, the top-selling muscle car in America, was down a modest 3.6 percent through last month.

Manufacturers of more mass-market sedans are trying some of the same tricks to a lesser degree as a way to revive flagging sales. Even Fiat Chrysler is to stanch the bleeding from Americans’ disinterest in compacts by packing more power into their engines. Every Fiat model starting in 2019 will be turbocharged, said Steve Beahm, head of Fiat Chrysler’s passenger brands. However, considering that drag racers in Challengers, Camaros and Mustangs are already being bested by Tesla drivers on the track, a omen of the electric future awaiting the muscle-car world. Kuniskis said he expects performance cars to become more electrified over time, with plug-in hybrid versions taking off in the future. However, they declined to go into detail on Fiat Chrysler’s product plans, and the automaker hasn’t invested heavily thus far to bring in electric vehicles to market. But their cult following, muscle cars are always going to be a niche segment, leading some analysts to still question how much longer they’ll hang around. The Dodge, Fiat, and Chrysler brands were all left out of the automaker’s five-year strategic plan the company presented in June, and Schuster of LMC thinks it may be hard to sustain enough volume to keep the Charger and Challenger alive beyond the next three or four years. Fiat Chrysler’s Beahm insisted the Challenger isn’t going anywhere because it sets the tone for the whole Dodge brand. “I’m not going to tell you it’s going to grow,” Beahm said. “But it’s going to dramatically buck the trend regarding where passenger cars have gone lately and where they’re going to go in the next couple of years.”

BMW’s Electric Future for 2019

BMW’s i sub-brand launched the i3, a full-electric city car with an ultra-lightweight carbon fiber frame, in 2013. BMW showed that it will continue to push the sub brand to new levels when it previewed the iNext, in September 2018. Robert Irlinger, the head of the sub brand was recently interviewed about BMW’s electrification strategy. He disclosed that they announced four BMW electric models and one Mini. Which entails that there are seven battery-electric models still to come. He hopes to increase the distribution of their volumes across the brands while also covering the segments according to customer demands as much as possible. With the new iX3, they will expand into the compact SUV segment, the i4 is a compact sedan with a coupe like look and the iNext will roughly has the dimensions of an X5. These are all volume segments BMW is entering since the demand for electric vehicles is growing, governments will support them and the infrastructure is expanding. They changed strategy because they felt the customers want them to bring electrification across a broad range of our models. Irlinger also discusses the i3 letdown by stating that they were going through the learning process. He expresses how they started with a range of 80-99 miles in everyday conditions and thought that was enough since they originally positioned the car for urban mobility. However, the customer had a mindset that more range would be better, so they decided it was necessary to bring a second battery update relatively quickly. The first update brought 50 percent more range with the 94-amp-hour cells, and the 120-amp-hour cells now add another 30 percent on top. Car buyers continue to ask for more range at present. Although, there could come a time when they say, for example, 600 km under WLTP rules is sufficient. Then maybe the sub brand won’t need to come with an update at all. However, if customers want 500 mph and our competitors respond, then they would have to adapt appropriately.

Dealers’ most-liked brand remains Lexus

According to the most recent NADA’s Dealer Attitude Survey, Lexus remains the most-liked brand by dealers. Toyota held the second spot, followed by Subaru repeating at third, Honda remaining in the No. 4 position and Porsche moving up one spot from the winter survey to finish fifth. The rest of the rankings for the latest survey included Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Jeep and Ram. Kia and Ford fell out of the top 10 this round, while Volvo and Ram entered in. NADA confidentially surveys franchised dealers twice a year about their relationships with their automaker partners. They are questioned on satisfaction with brand franchise policies, the automaker’s field staff and franchise value, and those opinions are measured. NADA declined to offer a complete list, including brands that finished at the bottom. The summer survey was conducted over a one-month period from July to August and NADA shared survey results privately with automakers in a series of meetings in late November.

The rankings are simply a measure to help automakers engage with dealers to improve business practices. Rankings also are shared with NADA’s industry relations committee and brand-level dealer council members in meetings. This survey also measures the consideration of dealer input on product, quality concerns and advertising programs. In that ranking, Lexus also finished atop the list, followed by Toyota, Subaru, Audi, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Volvo, Porsche and Lincoln. The top four in that list remained the same from the winter survey. NADA also tracked dealer response to the survey and found BMW dealers had the highest rate of response, at 88 percent. Toyota followed, at 81 percent, Kia at 76 percent, Porsche at 72 percent, Volvo at 70 percent, Mercedes-Benz at 70 percent, Hyundai at 67 percent, Mini at 67 percent, Acura at 66 percent and Audi at 65 percent. During the last survey, Mercedes-Benz dealers had the highest rate of response but BMW was able to take first this round.

Congress will not pass self-driving car bill in 2018

Congress announced that they will not vote on a bill to speed the introduction of self-driving vehicles before it adjourns for the year. A monumental blow to companies such as General Motors and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo unit, according to key senators after the latest hearing. Congress will also not take up a proposal pushed by GM and Tesla Inc. to extend or expand a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. To win passage in the final days, the measures had to be attached to a bill introduced December 19th to fund government operations. Senators conceded the funding bill was the only way forward before Congress adjourns.

Senator John Thune and Gary Peters led the battle to win approval for more than a year and vowed on December 19th to try again in 2019. Thune stated it is a problem if Congress does not act in 2019 because “the technology is going to keep advancing.” Peters warned that the United States could get surpassed on self-driving vehicles by China, South Korea and others who “are betting big on the technology and they are developing the regulatory framework to accommodate it.” Automaker lobbyists say the measures will face harsher odds in 2019 when Democrats and Republicans will share control of Congress. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, called the bill’s failure “a setback for the development and ultimate deployment of potentially life-saving technologies, and leaves many unanswered questions on how this technology will be regulated.” The tax credit for Tesla buyers will fall to $3,750 on Jan. 1 and will phase out entirely by the end of 2019, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Senator John Barrasso, proposed termination the EV tax credit entirely and has plans to reintroduce the measure in 2019, while automakers plan to press for the credit’s extension.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in 2017 to increase the adoption of self-driving cars and bar states from setting performance standards, but the legislation stalled in the Senate. Despite concessions by automakers, the bill could not overcome oppositions from some who argued it did not do enough to resolve safety concerns. Automakers may instead turn to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has said it plans to make it easier to test self-driving vehicles. In October of 2018, NHTSA said it was considering a pilot program to allow real-world road testing for a limited number of vehicles without human controls. GM in January filed a appeal seeking an exemption to use fully automated vehicles as part of a ride-sharing fleet it plans to implement in 2019, but the agency has not yet acted on it.

Sedan buyers on the lookout for a redesigned Insight

Honda has been relishing strong mini car sales here in its small-car-heavy home market. However, that success has caused the company to think hard lately about its identity as a carmaker. The problem is that Japan is currently undergoing a consumer preference shift. While American shoppers are switching from sedans to crossovers, young Japanese consumers are turning from stylish cars to mini cars. To get back to its roots as a maker of sporty cars that promise driving performance, Honda is pinning hopes on its new Insight sedan to underscore “a fundamental value of automobiles.” They are also exploring a new way to reach possible sedan customers.

The Insight is already getting public acclaim, winning the 2019 Green Car of the Year award at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late November. Kimiyoshi Teratani, Honda’s Japan operating officer said the third-generation Insight embodies driving feel and good design in one package. “Fuel economy, driving and design — we have sought to strike the right balance among these three elements at high levels,” he said. In the U.S., the model is targeted at younger customers with no families to drive around. But in Japan, the Insight is pitched to people in their 40s and 50s who are more familiar with driving sedans. In Japan, young people have shown less interest in buying cars, and many users have been deciding to drive mini cars. Of the top 10 sellers in the first half of this year, seven were mini cars, with the Toyota Prius as the only sedan, in eighth place.

Japanese consumers are also increasingly gravitating toward sport utility vehicles like their counterparts in the U.S., thus cutting further into the market for sedans, which have made Honda globally successful. However, with all this success would this the best time for Honda to introduce another sedan. Honda acknowledged that the overall sedan segment is shrinking at home, but customers now have more diverse choices in the sedan segment. “The new Insight is neither an ordinary sedan nor an ordinary environmentally friendly vehicle,” Teratani said. “I think this is more like a luxury sports-car-type model.” Short-term rental programs can be an effective way to help lower a psychological barrier and make it easier for Japanese consumers to try driving the redesigned Insight and experience its smooth acceleration firsthand. Honda is targeting Insight sales of 12,000 units a year in Japan and hopes to sell more than 20,000 vehicles a year in North America.

Hyundai’s Successful Marketing Tactic

Marketing precision has become precedent for brands such as Hyundai that have traditionally relied on car sales.

So for a personalized video campaign on Facebook and Instagram to promote the 2018 Sonata, Hyundai locked in on users based on purchase behavior. They went specifically after audiences such as sedan loyalists, those with an affinity for the Sonata and owners of competing models from Nissan, Honda, Chevrolet and others.

Their digital ad firm executed the video rollout in the fourth quarter of 2017, creating 20 spots using rolling footage from Hyundai that touted various Sonata features while making head-to-head comparisons with rival models. The sedan loyalist audience would likely skew older because the group was defined as people who had already bought multiple sedans. The campaign reached 5.4 million households and was credited with 2,227 new Sonata sales during the measurement period. “Great stories don’t begin with great tactics. They begin with an understanding of who we are telling that story to.” Diamond stated during the J.D. Power Automotive Marketing Roundtable here last month.

Hyundai built ads highlighting the different life stages of each audience. To reach corporate moms, the videos depicted a woman in a business suit in one scene, while having her push a stroller in another. For the traveler, the ads showed a man with a surfboard, taking photos and walking with his family. The company mixed up the sequencing of those scenes in multiple versions of the videos to see how different arrangements would influence viewers.

Automakers may do themselves a disservice by developing too many distinct audiences for a campaign, but then running only one video to reach them all. Therefore by using a variety of subtle changes to draw in the target audience, customers feel more connected to the brand and are more inclined to purchase their vehicles over their competitors.

However, the Sonata campaign wasn’t about playing the long game of brand building. The goal was more immediate to secure the perception of customers and motivate them to take action.

Subaru’s Crosstrek chosen for first plug-in hybrid

Subaru seeks to thrill at the Los Angeles Auto Show with the brand’s first plug-in hybrid, a gasoline-electric version of the Crosstrek subcompact crossover that arrives in U.S. dealerships by year end.

The 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid gets exterior and interior design flourishes to distinguish it from its gasoline-powered stablemate, the brand’s No. 3 seller since 2014.

The all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid will also be the most powerful and fuel-efficient variant, according to Subaru. The drivetrain pairs a 2.0-liter direct-injection boxer engine and new continuously variable transmission with two electric motors and a lithium ion battery.

The 148-hp setup achieves an electric-only driving range of 17 miles and can speed up to 65 mph in full electric mode. For a fuel economy rating of 90 MPGe, the Crosstrek shows remarkable promise while still delivering quicker 0 to 65 mph acceleration than the gasoline-powered counterpart.

 More to come

But after the Crosstrek Hybrid, Subaru plans to introduce another full electric in 2021.

The Crosstrek Hybrid will start at $35,970, including shipping, about $8,000 more than the base Prius Prime, Toyota’s plug-in hybrid offering. The Crosstrek Hybrid is built on the company’s new Subaru Global Platform, which is designed to accommodate hybrid and full-electric powertrains.

Blue headlight projector rings and silver metallic finish on the grille will make the Crosstrek Hybrid stand out from the standard Crosstrek. A lower front bumper and body cladding, as well as fog light accents, further convey the model’s electrified persona.

Interior highlights

Inside, the plug-in hybrid sports a new color scheme of high-contrast gray and navy blue. The leather seats, door panels and armrests are accented with blue stitching.

Drivers using Subaru’s Starlink multimedia system can also access some special hybrid-only functions. The Crosstrek Hybrid’s system will allow them to remotely start the vehicle’s climate control. They can also use a remote battery charging timer to manage charging from afar.

U.S. sales of the Crosstrek surged 40 percent to 122,464 vehicles through October. But executives expect the plug-in hybrid to be a niche model helping Subaru comply with new emissions mandates. Former global r&d chief Takeshi Tachimori said in January that Subaru expects to initially sell it only in states that have adopted California’s zero-emission vehicle regulations.