• Lexus RC range gets turbo four-cylinder, new V6 AWD variant

    October 3, 2015

    Lexus has detailed a few new powertrain additions to its 2016 RC range.

    The coupe now essentially offers the same powertrain options as its four-door counterpart, the 2016 IS, complementing the current RC 350 and RC F with two more affordable alternatives.

    The new entry-level RC 200t package is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger, producing 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

    The same four-cylinder engine brought a significant fuel-efficiency improvement to the IS 200t, increasing its city/highway rating to 22/33 mpg, though official figures have not been announced for the coupe.

    Buyers can also opt for the new RC 300 AWD, outfitted with a modified 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 255 ponies and 236 lb-ft of twist. The detuned mill is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

    The RC 350′s 3.5-liter V6 keeps its 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed Sports Program Direct Shift (SPDS) transmission. An AWD packages is also available, swapping the eight-speed gearbox for a six-speed unit, and the F Sport trim remains unchanged.

    Lexus has not yet announced pricing details or launch dates for the expanded 2016 RC lineup.

  • Ford shifts F-150 production amid strike threat

    October 3, 2015

    Ford is reportedly shifting F-150 production capacity between two factories amid a United Auto Workers threat to strike.

    Union officials at the Kansas City Assembly plant are said to have set a 1pm Sunday strike deadline as contract renewal negotiations continue to falter, according to a Detroit Free Press report.

    Ford just recently began producing enough units to meet demand for the next-generation aluminum-clad pickup. Frame shortages and other issues were blamed for constraining sales in the first half of the year, with F-Series deliveries down by 8.9 percent in July. F-Series sales were up by 16 percent in September, finally pushing the pickup’s overall year-to-date numbers into positive growth.

    The company is now said to be canceling overtime shifts in Kansas City and sending additional frame supplies to its Dearborn Truck Plant in preparation for a possible strike in Missouri.

    UAW Local 249 bargaining chairman Todd Hillyard suggests it’s “within the company’s right” to send production to Dearborn, and UAW members at the Michigan plant “support us fully.” He claims the negotiators have struggled to agree on several issues, ranging from seniority to safety.

    “The company has failed to negotiate in good faith at the local level on issues surrounding manpower provisions, the national heat stress program, and skilled trades scheduling amongst others,” added UAW VP Jimmy Settles.

    In a statement, Ford said that it is “confident we will be able to negotiate a fair and competitive labor agreement with our UAW partners.”

  • NHTSA steps up Ford Police Interceptor SUV brake failure inquiry

    October 3, 2015

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reopened an investigation into brake-hose failures with Ford’s Police Interceptor Utility.

    The City of Sacramento police fleet had reported seven front brake-hose failures in five different Interceptor SUVs, all occurring during intensive Emergency Vehicle Operation Course (EVOC) training with evasive maneuvers and mock pursuits.

    “Most of the failures resulted in a sudden loss of braking performance that caused the vehicle to run off the intended course,” the investigation summary notes.

    The NHTSA initially failed to identify any evidence of a defect in the hose material. A lab blamed the failures on excessive bending stress, and Ford suggested improper service procedures, such as hanging the brake caliper from the brake hose during pad replacement, could have contributed to the problems.

    All five affected vehicles in the Sacramento fleet were repaired with a hose from the 2016-model-year Explorer, which includes a short steel tube attached to the caliper-end banjo fitting. Ford reported two additional failures in other fleets, however, including one involving a Sacramento Regional Transit vehicle that was driving on public roads at the time.

    The company took a second look at the problems and determined that the hoses failed due to excessive temperatures produced during “hot soak” cycles, when the SUVs have completed a rigorous EVOC test and then parked without first allowing the brake components to cool.

    “Ford believes that the excessive temperatures experienced at the crimp fitting in the subject vehicles are unique to the EVOC duty cycle, have not been observed in the standard on-road severe duty cycle testing performed by Ford and police fleets who routinely conduct such testing and are not likely to occur in service usage for on-road Explorer Police Interceptor vehicles,” the investigation adds.

    The NHTSA will now conduct its own engineering analysis to determine if a recall is warranted. The hose assemblies used in the Police Interceptors are said to be similar in design to the parts used on the 2013-2014 Explorer civilian vehicles, suggesting a recall could involve more than just law-enforcement vehicles.

  • UAW members reject FCA contract proposal

    October 3, 2015
    United Auto Workers members have rejected a tentative contract agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, sending both sides back to the negotiating table.

    Interestingly, FCA officials and union leaders seemed unusually upbeat after completing initial negotiations two weeks ago. Full details of the talks were not made public, though various reports suggested the sides had agreed on new raise programs for tier-two workers and established plans for a healthcare co-op.

    The first round of talks are said to have included a provision that would allow Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart production to move to Mexico, in exchange for more SUV and crossover production concentrated in the US.

    “FCA US is disappointed that UAW members voted not to ratify the tentative agreement,” the company said in a statement. “The memories of our near-death experience in 2009 are vivid to this day in the minds of most of us at FCA. “The cyclical nature of the automotive business demands that while we must recognize the need for rewarding employees during times of prosperity, we must also protect against the inevitable market downturn. This agreement accomplished both of these objectives.”

    UAW members currently benefit from profit-sharing agreements that give workers a cut of the automaker’s bottom line during good years, while limiting payroll costs during downturns. The 2008 industry crisis also resulted in the current two-tier wage system, however, which is said to have created a division among the tiered workers in factories throughout the US.

    “What I love about our organization most of all is that no matter what we do, what action we take, the ultimate decision and the power of the union is our members and they make the final decision,” said UAW president Dennis Williams. “We don’t consider this a setback; we consider the membership vote a part of the process we respect.”

    Approximately two thirds of workers rejected the tentative agreement.

  • VW intends to detail refit plan inside a week

    October 3, 2015
    Volkswagen will lay out its plan to address the fix for its emissions work-around within a week, the company said Thursday.

    “The Board of Management will inform the public in regard to solutions found for the problems next week,” the company said in a statement detailing its supervisory board’s recent meetings.

    According to Reuters, analysts are skeptical that the fix itself will be expedient or that customers will find the experience seamless. Volkswagen has said only that a “refit” will be necessary. Whether that comes strictly in the form of software updates or additional emissions equipment is still anybody’s guess.

    While the company is still short on details, though some reports have suggested the affected vehicles may need to be outfitted with a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system to bring emissions back down to acceptable levels without a significant reduction in power output and fuel economy.

    A urea-injection retrofit is expected to be extremely expensive and may not even be technically feasible. As an alternative, VW could take the cheaper route of simply tweaking the software to run in the emissions-compliant test mode. A software reflash may be less expensive up front, but could cost VW later as the deluge of class-action lawsuits begin to put a price tag on lost value and owners’ higher fuel costs.

    The German automaker has already put aside 6.5 billion euros (~$7.25 billion USD) to cover costs associated with the crisis. It is unclear if the total has been allocated solely for the recall costs, or if the charge reflects anticipated fines and civil-litigation damages.