Honda posts strong first quarter, sees higher annual profit

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Honda drove up its profit forecast for the year, citing a more favorable currency exchange rate, after posting a surprise rise in quarterly earnings on the back of a weaker yen and solid demand in Asia.

Japan’s No.3 automaker, however, continues to struggle in its largest market, North America, which accounts for a third of its sales — where sedans, including Honda’s top sellers the Accord and the Civic, have fallen out of fashion as drivers opt for bigger models including SUVs.

Making the situation worse is an overall slowdown in demand in the U.S. auto market, the world’s second largest after China, following years of growth that boosted profits following the global financial crisis.

Honda’s sales in North America skidded 7.6 percent in the first quarter ended June, but this was offset by a 10.8 percent jump in sales in Asia, including China — which the automaker expects will become its largest market this year.

The Civic sedan and the XR-V compact SUV model were strong sellers in China. The country accounted for around 65 percent of all of Honda’s Asian sales.

The automaker’s operating profit in the quarter edged up 0.9 percent to 269.2 billion yen, versus an estimate for a drop to 230.43 billion from seven analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

For the year to March, Honda now expects an operating profit of 725 billion yen ($6.57 billion), versus 705 billion yen forecast earlier, based on the U.S. dollar averaging around 107 yen instead of 105 yen as expected previously.

“We had assumed a rate of 105 yen for the full year, but the yen averaged around 111 yen in the first quarter, so that will have a big impact on full-year operating profit,” senior managing director Kohei Takeuchi told reporters at a briefing.

A softer yen makes exports from Japan cheaper, while also increasing the value of overseas proceeds when converted to the home currency.

[Source: Autoblog]

2018 Hyundai Sonata First Drive | An infield home run

Baseball’s boring. At least that’s what anyone thinks who doesn’t understand that it’s an exciting game of inches. To wit, the same can be said for the crowded midsize family sedan segment. Unlike the all-new Toyota Camry and the upcoming 10th-generation Honda Accord, the Sonata is a refresh of the existing model. Hyundai is still in it, but can it improve sales in a segment being eaten alive by crossovers?

At first glance, the most significant change to the new-look Sonata is the front end with a new cascading grille, which is longer and more contoured. This grille will make its way across all models as a major part of Hyundai’s new corporate design language. Hyundai claims to be the only car company that manufactures its own steel, and this cascading design is inspired by the flow of molten steel as it’s poured. With an elongated front end, new character lines on the hood and front bumper, and slimmer LED headlights, revisions give the entire car a more aggressive appearance and sportier stance.

At the rear, moving the license plate from the trunk to the bumper was a good choice. It simplifies the back end, better showcasing the sheetmetal and allowing the trunk lid and redesigned taillights to take center stage. Turbo models will get a twin exhaust, increasing the sporty feel even more.

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Inside the Sonata, the facelifted center stack features a seven-inch touchscreen monitor (eight-inch on the Limited edition. The audio controls are more streamlined to give the entire unit a less bulky appearance, and a sporty, leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel complements other goodies such as leather seats. The biggest change in trim levels comes with the addition of the SEL model, just above the SE and Eco models, which includes even more features for about $1,600.

Gone for 2018 is the six-speed transmission from the turbocharged 2.0-liter models, replaced by the all-new eight-speed that adds ratio range at both top and bottom. The power is unchanged at 245 horsepower, but remember that the BMW 330i’s 2.0-liter turbo makes 248 hp, so Hyundai’s engine is in the ballpark with those from established luxury brands. Even with that power, don’t count on racy launches, as there’s plenty of lag. Once the turbo is spooled up, the engine has moxie.

We drove two trim levels, the Sport and the Limited 2.0T. The ride is plenty comfortable on the refined chassis and updated rear suspension, which includes an increase in trailing-arm thickness to stiffen the suspension. Meatier anti-roll bars give the on-center steering a tighter, more connected feel and help decrease body roll, showing the influence of ex-BMW M-performance guy Albert Biermann.

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The Sonata is well-balanced, communicative, and quick in any trim level, though the Limited 2.0T definitely benefits from the 18-inch tires as opposed to its Sport counterpart, which comes standard with 17-inchers. Less sidewall means more grip and better handling.

After five-plus hours of driving, the seats still felt comfortable and supportive. The back seat has plenty of room for average adults, and USB ports for those in need of recharging devices, which is pretty much everyone these days. Cabin noise was a bit of a factor when on rougher roads. Driving uphill in the Sport model, the engine droned loudly, too.

Blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist is now standard across all trim models, which especially in this family-conscious category should be the cost of entry. Glad someone’s figured that out.

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The SE, SEL, Limited and Limited 2.0T models are available now, with the Eco 1.6T coming later this summer. The Hybrid and Hybrid Plug-in models won’t be at dealers until early next year.

This midsize segment is indeed a game of inches, and an interesting one at that these days. If this refresh is any indication, Hyundai and its flagship Sonata may have just turned a base hit into a triple. Play ball!

[Source: Autoblog]

2018 Ford F-150 Police Responder is Ford’s first pursuit-rated pickup

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Ford introduced its latest police vehicle, the Ford F-150 Police Responder, today. It isn’t the first F-150 police vehicle ever, but it is the first one to achieve the same pursuit rating of other Ford police vehicles – including its Taurus- and Explorer-based Interceptors, and the new Fusion hybrid-based Police Responder Hybrid Sedan. What this means is that it’s fast enough for pursuits, and it can handle extended high-speed driving without risking overheating, reduced braking performance, or other mechanical issues. It also distinguishes it from the Expedition and F-150 SSV models that are already available, which are not pursuit-rated.

Under the hood is the familiar twin-turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 used in other F-150s and the Expedition. It makes 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, and will propel the truck to a limited top speed of 100 mph, which is 5 less than a civilian F-150. That engine is coupled to a 10-speed automatic transmission and a part-time four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case.

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All Police Responder F-150s also come standard with the FX4 off-road package, which adds a locking rear differential, skid plates, and off-road tuned shocks. The shocks are also supplemented by a stiffer front anti-roll bar specific to the Police Responder. Upgraded brake calipers are fitted that can better handle heat, with reformulated pads.

The aluminum wheel and all-terrain tire package is also exclusive to the Responder. According to a Ford representative, aluminum wheels were acceptable because of the thicker tires. To complete the Police Responder package, a 240-amp alternator is fitted, along with redesigned cloth seats to allow for utility belts, steel-plates in the seat backs, and a column-mounted shifter. The shifter frees up space in the center console for equipment, and allows for quicker shifting.

Senate bill would secure the ‘internet of things,’ from cars to fridges

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A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday is introducing legislation to address vulnerabilities in computing devices embedded in everyday objects — known in the tech industry as the “internet of things” — which experts have long warned poses a threat to global cybersecurity and which has made several recent hacking events all too easy.

Reports of thieves using laptops to steal cars have persisted for years, and white-hat research into hacking cars goes back at least to a 2010 study at the University of Washington. The biggest real-world example surfaced last year when a pair of hackers in Houston were accused of using FCA software on a laptop to steal vehicles, mostly Jeeps, that were spirited away across the Mexican border. Possibly 100 vehicles were stolen this way.

Nissan had to suspend its Leaf smartphone app for a time, as did GM with its OnStar app, which got some notoriety when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) used the app to hack a Chevy Impala for 60 MInutes.

In 2015, cybersecurity researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller accessed critical vehicle controls on a 2014 Jeep Cherokee via the infotainment system. This allowed the pair, without physical access to the vehicle, to remotely disable the brakes, turn the radio volume up, engage the windshield wipers, and tamper with the transmission, measure its speed and track its location. The hack prompted Fiat Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles.

Security researchers say the ballooning array of online devices including vehicles, household appliances, and medical equipment are not adequately protected from hackers. A 2016 cyberattack was facilitated when hackers conscripted the “internet of things” into a “zombie army” of devices that flooded servers with web traffic in what’s known as a “distributed denial of service.”

The new bill would require vendors who provide internet-connected equipment to the U.S. government to ensure their products are patchable and conform to industry security standards. It would also prohibit vendors from supplying devices that have unchangeable passwords or possess known security vulnerabilities.

Republicans Cory Gardner and Steve Daines and Democrats Mark Warner and Ron Wyden are sponsoring the legislation, which was drafted with input from technology experts at the Atlantic Council and Harvard University. A Senate aide who helped write the bill said that companion legislation in the House was expected soon.

“We’re trying to take the lightest touch possible,” Warner said. He added that the legislation was intended to remedy an “obvious market failure” that has left device manufacturers with little incentive to build with security in mind.

The legislation would allow federal agencies to ask the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for permission to buy some non-compliant devices if other controls, such as network segmentation, are in place.

It would also expand legal protections for cyber researchers working in “good faith” to hack equipment to find vulnerabilities so manufacturers can patch previously unknown flaws.

Between 20 billion and 30 billion devices are expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, researchers estimate, with a large percentage of them insecure.

Though security for the internet of things has been a known problem for years, some manufacturers say they are not well equipped to produce cyber secure devices.

Hundreds of thousands of insecure webcams, digital records and other everyday devices were hijacked last October to support a major attack on internet infrastructure that temporarily knocked some web services offline, including Twitter, PayPal and Spotify.

The new legislation includes “reasonable security recommendations” that would be important to improve protection of federal government networks, said Ray O’Farrell, chief technology officer at cloud computing firm VMware.

Reporting by Dustin Volz. Background information from Autoblog was included.

New 2018 Ford Mustang GT won’t wake the neighborhood

As much as we all love the sound of a burly V8 cracking and spitting to life after a cold start, not everyone in this world shares our sentiments. Even enthusiasts can be undone by a noisy car at the early hours of the morning. Ford has come up with a solution on the new 2018 Mustang GT. Its so-called “Good Neighbor Mode” allows owners to start their cars at a relatively sedate noise level. This should help prevent any noise complaint calls to local constabularies.

The optional mode works like any active exhaust system. When you select Quiet Mode or Quiet Start, a set of baffles in the exhaust system close, dropping the sound to about 72 decibels. Ford says that’s about 10 decibels less than the standard Mustang GT. A lot of cars offer similar systems, though the Mustang has a bit of a party trick: scheduled quiet hours. For example, an owner can set the exhaust to automatically switch to quiet mode from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Switching to and scheduling Quiet Mode is just like changing to any of the other exhaust modes. Cars with the 4-inch screen can find the mode in the settings menu. Those that opt for the upgraded 12-inch digital instrument cluster find the setting in the pony menu. Once you’re out on the open road, you can simply switch it back to Sport mode like any blue-blooded American.

[Source: Autoblog]

Watch an exclusive sneak peak of Top Gear America’s Ford F-150 Raptor review

With its premiere on July 30, we’re just a couple of days away from finally seeing the new Top Gear America. But you won’t have to wait that long to get a quick taste of the show on BBC America. We have a clip to share with you, and it’s of actor and now Top Gear America host William Fichtner driving a Ford F-150 Raptor in the desert. This is an exclusive clip you’ll only see on Autoblog.

He seems to like the truck, saying it’s “the American dream incarnate,” and “a fighter jet on four wheels.” It does look about as majestic as a bald eagle out in its natural habitat. While plenty of that is because of the inherent coolness of the truck, part of it is probably due to the way the truck is filmed. It appears that Top Gear America will have a high level of production value, with beautifully framed shots and lighting.

When the full episode airs on Sunday, Fichtner, the man behind Finding Steve McQueen, will be joined by two other hosts, Antron Brown and Tom “Wookie” Ford. Brown is a drag racer who first raced motorcycles before taking on Top Fuel drag cars in 2008. He took home his first Top Fuel championship in 2012. Ford has been in the automotive journalism biz for quite a while. He’s presently an associate editor for Top Gearmagazine and was previously at CAR magazine. He also has worked on a number of automotive-related TV shows, including gone, but not forgotten, Fifth Gear.

[Source: Autoblog]

Police car makes dramatic entrance to break up a bar fight

This Facebook video posted over the weekend shows an overly enthusiastic police response to what has all the classic signs of a bar fight — bloke explaining himself to a cop, another yob yelling and gesturing in a bloodied shirt. This all happened early Sunday morning in Kent, England.

The driver clearly was coming in too hot for the wet pavement. The bad part, obviously, is the car barely avoided striking a number of people on the sidewalk. On the bright side, the cruiser wound up perfectly parked. Though they may want to drop it off at the shop for an alignment.