When Daimler started selling its Sprinter van in North America – first as a Freightliner, then as a Mercedes-Benz and even a Dodge – it found companies on this side of the Atlantic were keen to get their hands on a European-style van, including the RV industry where the platform is widely used in van campers and in some Class C motorhomes.
But, according to Autoblog, the Sprinter is about to get some European competition from an American automaker. That Ford makes certain products for overseas markets is nothing new, but as part of its drive to standardize its lineup around the world, the Blue Oval automaker is apparently planning on bringing its full-size Transit van Stateside.
Not only is it bringing the Transit to the American market, but it will also be building it here, too. The news is confirmed by a recent United Auto Workers announcement that reveals that, with production of the next-generation Escape moving to Louisville, Ky., the Transit will be assembled for local consumption alongside the F-150 pickup truck at the Kansas City plant.
According to Car and Driver sources, in order to avoid confusion with the smaller Transit Connect, the big van will be badged as a T-Series in this market, with nameplates like T-250, T-450 and T-550 – similar to the F-Series trucks, and more pertinently, the E-Series vans that used to be known as the Econoline. They can call it whatever they want; we just hope we get a version of the UK-market limited-edition SportVan.
A proposed new contract between Ford Motor Co. and the United Autoworkers calls for the automaker to invest $128 million in its Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake to build medium-duty trucks and motorhome chassis, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The newspaper credited people familiar with the negotiations as its source for the information about the contract.
Workers at the plant, which is in parts of Avon Lake, Sheffield Lake and Sheffield, currently builds the E-Series vans and E-series cutaway van chassis used by RV manufacturers in Class C motorhomes. The plant is currently on a two-week shutdown.
Ford announced in a news release this morning that it pledged to add 12,000 hourly jobs at its U.S. manufacturing plants by 2015 and invest $16 billion in its U.S. operations, including $6.2 billion for its plants as part of the proposed contract.
The tentative agreement must still win approval from rank-and-file union members across the United States before it goes into effect.
Winnebago Industries Inc. was once again recognized by Ford Motor Co. for receiving the “fully meets” classification as part of their Truck Quality Program.
The Truck Quality Program is the highest honor awarded to vehicle modifiers, according to a news release. It is based on an assessment of a modifier’s engineering capability, design and build process controls, management commitment and quality control procedures. According to Ford, the purpose of the program is to assure vehicle modifiers have the capability and processes in place to complete the vehicle in a repeatable manner that maintains the integrity of the Ford chassis system, meets federal and other standards in place at the time of the build, and provides end users with a quality built vehicle that meets their expectations.
In order to earn the “fully meets” classification, companies must meet all minimum requirements, as well as score a minimum of 85% on Other Criteria (OC) items. Winnebago Industries has received Ford’s “fully meets” classification every year since the program’s inception in 1997.
“Once again, Winnebago Industries is proud to earn the fully meets classification from Ford’s Truck Quality Program,” said Winnebago Industries’ Director of Quality Control Chuck Hughes. “Our top priority is to manufacture the highest quality motorhomes on the market – and it all starts with the chassis. Meeting the stringent requirements by Ford to earn this classification shows that we are maintaining the integrity of the chassis while at the same time building the superior products our customers want. We hold Ford’s Truck Quality Program in high regard and we will continue to strive to meet their expectations, as well as those of our customers.”
In addition, Winnebago Industries recently received its 15th consecutive Quality Circle Award from the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association (RVDA). Quality Circle Award winners are determined by the Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) survey, which RVDA conducts annually with its dealer organization. The DSI survey, which determines the Quality Circle Award winners, rates manufacturers’ performance in eight core areas: sales support, sales territory, vehicle design, vehicle reliability/quality, competitive price/value, parts support, dealership warranty support and overall dealer communications. Winnebago Industries is the only motorhome manufacturer to receive this award every year since its inception.
Although it’s not time for a celebration yet, the U.S. auto industry in September posted its best monthly wholesale sales rate in 13 months. The industry sold 959,049 light vehicles in September — a year-to-year jump of 29% — for a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12.2 million, as calculated by the Automotive News Data Center.
Inventories last September were depleted in the aftermath of the federal government’s cash-for-clunkers incentive program, Automotive News reported.
Other than August 2009 when the clunkers program inflated the sales rate to 13.7 million, last month was the first since September of 2008 during which sales surpassed 12 million. The rate in September 2008 also was 12.2 million.
“It’s a solid month, another step in a stable, somewhat painful recovery,” said analyst Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com. “This may be a healthier way to recover.”
George Pipas, Ford Motor Co.’s lead sales analyst, said September capped the fourth straight quarter of modest recovery in the pace of U.S. auto sales.
And modest improvement may be acceptable at this point, he said, in that it may keep industry players from falling back into the bad habits — overproduction and massive incentives — that led to disaster for so many companies when U.S. auto sales tanked.
“We’re happy with what we’re getting,” Pipas noted. “We’re not going to waste a lot of time wishing that things would go quicker.”
Looking at the big picture:
* Ford’s sales jumped 40% to 160,375 on strong sales of pickups and new models such as the Fiesta subcompact.
* General Motor’s sales rose 11% in September to 173,031, including its four discontinued brands. However, its core brands — Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC — rose 22% while retail sales of those core brands jumped 39%.
* Chrysler Group posted the biggest year-over-year increase of any manufacturer for the month, rising 61% to 100,077.
Are U.S. Pickup truck buyers prepared to set aside their love affair with V-8 engines and climb into more fuel- efficient models instead?
Time will tell because Ford Motor Co., in a high-stakes move, is promoting a high-tech, 6-cylinder engine in its best selling F-Series pickups.
Ford this fall will introduce a 300-h.p. V-6 and a new six-speed transmission in its F-150 pickups , the No. 1 seller in a market in which eight cylinders still rule, The Wall Street Journal reports. And for the first time, Ford will offer a V-6 in its popular crew cab model, which accounts for 60% of all F-150 sales.
While Ford in the past has offered V-6 engines only in its most basic, two-door F-150’s, the automaker plans to start marketing F-150s with a 3.5 liter “Ecoboost” V-6 — potent enough to tow a 11,300 pound trailer — that gets up to 20% better fuel economy than a V-8 with comparable power, F-150 Marketing Manager Mark Grueber told The Journal.
Behind the move is an attempt by Ford to hedge the risk that its highly profitable vehicle line could get battered by another run-up in gasoline prices, and it also must meet federal fuel economy rules that will steadily ratchet up the minimum mileage required by all vehicles.
Ford in 2009 sold more than 500,000 F-Series trucks — the best selling U.S. model line for 28 years — and sales were up nearly 35% through the end of July.
Ford Motor Co. recently announced that Thor Industries Inc. is the top volume manufacturer of motorhomes built on Ford chassis.
The award came from Ford after calculating F-53 Super Duty chassis Class A motorhome and E-Series Class C cut-away chassis sales from January 2009 through December 2009, according to a news release.
“We are thrilled to win this award. Ford is a great supplier to us and to the overall motorhome market. Throughout the years, the relationship with Ford has continued to grow, and we have been very successful with Ford chassis’ and engines,” commented Bill Fenech, president of Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International Corp.
Thor’s subsidiaries Four Winds International and Damon Motor Coach offer their gas class A RVs on the reliable Ford F-53 Super Duty chassis. Four Winds offers the Ford’s F-53 chassis on their popular Hurricane and Windsport Motorhomes. The Daybreak, Challenger, and Outlaw models from Damon Motor Coach also offer the Super Duty Class A motorhome chassis. Four Winds Class C products are built on the Econoline Class C cutaway chassis. This include their Four Winds, Chateau, Siesta and Citation brands.
So, you thought brawny pickup trucks were dead?
Ford Motor Co., which has been leading the automotive industry’s turnaround of late, will begin a heavy-duty advertising campaign next month for its redesigned 2011 Super Duty pickup truck, according to Automotive News.
Ford’s campaign – which encompasses three national TV spots, national print ads, owner mailings and digital ads – will tout the vehicle’s capability and fuel economy as the best in the heavy-duty truck segment, says Brian Rathsburg, Super Duty marketing manager.
“It’s modeled after the F-150 campaign but dialed up a bit in terms of its ‘Built Ford Tougs,’” Rathsburg says. “We used Denis Leary as the voiceover, and he has that irreverent, tongue-in-cheek tone.”
The actor has been used for the voiceover in F-150 commercials since the redesigned pickup debuted in the fall of 2008.
The Super Duty goes on sale next month. It will offer Ford’s new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 turbocharged diesel that makes 390 hp and 735 foot-pounds of torque, according to Ford. That’s a 40-hp and 85-foot-pounds improvement over the 2010 diesel model, which has a 6.4-liter engine supplied by International.
Ford also will offer a 6.2-liter V-8 gasoline engine with 385 hp and 405 foot-pounds of torque – 85 hp and 40 foot-pounds more than the current 5.4-liter V-8 gasoline engine.
Ford is not releasing fuel economy estimates. Rathsburg says the 2011 Super Duty will average 18% better fuel economy on the pickups and up to 25% better on the chassis cabs compared with current models.
The base price of the 2011 Super Duty will be $28,995, including shipping, Rathsburg says. That’s a $600 increase over a similarly equipped 2010 Super Duty, he says. The diesel will be $36,830 with shipping.
Ford Motor Co. reported a 43% U.S. sales gain in February as it leaped over rival General Motors Co. in monthly sales, according to Automotive News.
Ford sold 142,006 light vehicles last month — 471 more than GM, which advanced 12%. It was Ford’s fifth straight monthly increase in its home market.
The last time Ford topped GM in monthly sales appears to have been July 1998, when GM was crippled by a strike at its Delphi parts unit. GM has been No. 1 annually since 1931.
On an industrywide basis, analysts expect U.S. auto sales to be near a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 10.4 million, down from January but higher than year-earlier levels when sales rates were near the bottom of the deepest downturn in almost three decades.
Heavy snow froze dealership traffic in many mid-Atlantic states for several days in February, further depressing sales in “what is proving to be a very fragile recovery,” said Jack Nerad, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com.
The month’s big question was how much sales at Toyota Motor Corp. were affected by its recalls. Grappling with its biggest safety crisis in history, Toyota is expected to be one of only two major automakers — along with Chrysler Group — to report sales declines for the month.
The industry tracking firm Edmunds.com sees Toyota’s market share dropping to 12.6% in February, its lowest level since July 2005. The world’s biggest automaker accounted for 17% of U.S. sales for all of 2009.
Far from 2008
While GM’s overall February sales rose, demand is still about half of pre-recession levels. GM sold 141,535 light vehicles last month, vs. 268,737 in February 2008.
A combined 33% advance at Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC more than made up for an 86% drop at the automaker’s four canceled brands: Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn. GM released its results four hours earlier than usual today.
Ford’s February climb came on top of a 25% January increase and a 33% rise in December.
Subaru, the only brand to lift U.S. sales in each of the past two years, soared 38% in February.
“The pace of the recovery has hit a speed bump,” Jeff Schuster, forecasting director at J.D.Power and Associates, said before today’s results were released.
“This hiccup appears to be the result of consumers waiting out the Toyota recalls and winter storms impacting showroom traffic.”
U.S. auto sales are expected to rise more than 10% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of about 10.5 million vehicles in February, according to analysts surveyed by Reuters. A Bloomberg News poll of eight analysts projected a SAAR of 10.3 million.
That would mark an improvement from 9.05 million a year earlier but a decline from 10.5 million in January.
Analysts expect Toyota’s February sales to drop at least 10% from the previous February.
Ford, Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. were projected to be the big winners, posting sales gains of 20-40% in February, according to Edmunds.com. The analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had pegged Ford’s gain at 33%.
But dealers and analysts said rivals have had limited success in poaching customers from Toyota, with most customers delaying any decision to abandon the automaker.
“There is a wait-and-see approach by Toyota loyalists,” said Chris Hopson, an analyst with IHS Global Insight. “They want to see how this plays out before making a buying decision.”
Toyota shut down sales of its most popular vehicles in the last week of January, including Camrys and Corollas, while dealers fixed sticky accelerator pedals in the recalled vehicles.
Winnebago Industries Inc. was once again recognized by Ford Motor Co. for receiving the “fully meets” classification as part of its Truck Quality Program.
The Truck Quality Program is the highest honor awarded to vehicle modifiers, according to a Winnebago news release. It is based on an assessment of a modifier’s engineering capability, design and build process controls, management commitment and quality control procedures.
According to Ford, the purpose of this program is to assure vehicle modifiers have the capability and processes in place to complete the vehicle in a repeatable manner that maintains the integrity of the Ford chassis system, meets federal and other standards in place at the time of the build and provides end users with a quality-built vehicle that meets their expectations. Winnebago Industries has received this award since the program’s inception in 1997.
“We are extremely proud to earn the ‘fully meets’ classification from Ford’s Truck Quality Program,” said Chuck Hughes, Winnebago Industries’ director of quality control. “We believe we have excelled in this program due to the advanced technology we utilize in the development and manufacturing process of our motorhomes with industry-leading designs, as well as by employing seasoned manufacturing engineering staffs and manufacturing management with the commitment to adhere to these stringent guidelines. Winnebago Industries also has ingrained a philosophy of continual improvement into all areas of the company.
“We work closely with our suppliers, such as Ford, to maintain the integrity of the purchased components in order to provide a superior product for our customers in the market place. The vehicle chassis is a critical element in our motor home design and we put a lot of time and effort into achieving these exemplary ratings from Ford. It continues to be a priority for us in order to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for the quality found in each Winnebago and Itasca motor home that we build.”
The V-8 engine, powerplant of choice for several generations of RVers and the public at large, may be going the way of leaded gasoline.
According to a report in Automotive News, a panel of experts speaking Tuesday (April 21) at the 2009 SAE World Congress believe that tightening emissions standards and volatile fuel prices could spell the end for a nearly century-old engine design that first piqued interest in a big way with the introduction of the Chevrolet overhead-valve V-8 in 1955.
At least one panelist, Mary Ann Wright, CEO of the Johnson Controls-Saft joint-venture battery company, referenced an April 17 ruling by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases endanger the public. The ruling is expected to lay the groundwork for further reductions in such emissions.
“You are going to see the discussion starting to shift to not only reducing fuel consumption but CO2,” Wright said.
As noted during the panel discussion, contemporary engine technology, combined with lighter-weight vehicles, improved vehicle aerodynamics and more efficient transmissions, would be able to effectively counteract the need for larger-displacement engines without adversely affecting acceleration and towing performance.
However, while speakers such as Don Kapp, Ford Motor Co.’s director of powertrain research and advanced engineering, extolled the virtues of such breakthrough technology as Ford’s EcoBoost – a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter engine that produces 355 hp, about the same as a V-8 – no one apparently addressed the torque values of such designs. While V-8 engines are seldom used today in automobiles, they remain a cornerstone for light-truck sales due to the engine’s ability to create large amounts of torque – pulling power – at relatively low engine rpm.
Developing technology wasn’t the only topic under discussion. According to Minoru Shinohara, a senior vice president at Nissan Motor Co., driver behavior is yet another factor in vehicle efficiency that needs to be addressed. Nissan is working on a number of in-car technologies aimed at improving feedback to the driver, including:
- An accelerator pedal that pushes back slightly when speed is increased too much.
- An Ecometer that keeps the driver informed about vehicle performance.
- Carwings, a program that alerts drivers to traffic congestion along a computed route and selects alternative paths.
Other technologies presented included a chain-driven starter-alternator by supplier BorgWarner Inc. intended to eliminate fan belts. The company also is researching more efficient turbochargers and transmissions.
“Turbocharged engines offer 15% to 30% better fuel economy and as much as 20% reduction in CO2 emissions,” said Roger Wood, executive vice president of turbo and emissions systems for BorgWarner, in predicting that the use of turbochargers would grow by 135% by 2014. Meanwhile, Uwe Grebe, executive director for advanced engineering for General Motors Corp., suggested that smaller turbocharged engines could account for as much as 20% of the market by 2014.
Ironically, Detroit automakers previously embraced turbocharging as a way of developing horsepower in smaller engines in the 1970s when Mideast oil embargos caused similar fuel cost spikes. But the technology was later abandoned in all but a few cases as fuel prices moderated.