Jeep Wrangler rides into SEMA on new Mopar performance axles

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Mopar is unveiling Jeep Performance Parts axles as the latest off-road accessory to the Jeep Wrangler, which itself won the “4×4/SUV of the Year” honors at SEMA for the ninth consecutive year. The show opens Tuesday and continues through Friday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Mopar teamed with longtime partner and auto supplier Dana to develop the axles, which are co-branded under the name JPP Ultimate Dana 44 AdvanTEK. They’re installed on a Nacho Wrangler concept at Mopar’s 15,345-square-foot display.

The high-strength axles are built in the U.S. and feature gear technology that reduces gear set packaging, with added strength and overall rigidity for the trail. The high-clearance carrier design adds an extra half-inch of ground clearance, with an expanded range of gear ratios (4.56, 4.88, 5.13 and 5.38) to accommodate for more tire sizes. Chromoly axle shafts, thicker quarter-inch steel bracket mounts, 9.5-millimeter tubes and upgraded U-joints also add durability, while a nodular iron differential cover adds rugged looks, and its ribbing adds strength and rigidity.

The direct bolt-in assembly allows for use of OEM components and includes electronic differential lockers already installed.

The axles will be available for purchase starting next month.

With Ram truck sales surging, FCA may continue production in Mexico

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ new CEO is tired of being No. 3 in U.S. pickup truck sales.

With a strategy of loading up its revamped Ram 1500 full-size trucks with new features — ranging from 12-inch touchscreens on the dashboard to large battery packs and 48-volt electric motors to help adjust speed and gears and conserve fuel — the automaker is banking on a sustained surge in demand.

So Chief Executive Mike Manley is now reconsidering a decision announced in January to stop building Ram Heavy Duty pickups at a plant in Saltillo, Mexico. That plant, and another in Warren, Michigan, between them would produce other Ram models and free up manufacturing capacity to make even more new trucks to eat into sales of Ford’s F-Series or General Motors’ Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.

“We need to get ourselves into second” place, Manley told Reuters exclusively in his first interview since taking over the No. 7 global automaker after Sergio Marchionne died suddenly. “Frankly, I don’t care which of the two I take share from.”

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When U.S. President Donald Trump was threatening action that would have imposed a 25 percent tariff on Mexican-made pickup trucks earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler said Saltillo would be “repurposed to produce future commercial vehicles.”

In 2017, Marchionne had raised the possibility his company could move heavy-duty pickup production out of Saltillo, saying U.S. tax and trade policy would influence the decision.

Now, the United States, Mexico and Canada have a tentative trade agreement that imposes no ceiling on shipments of pickups to the United States from Mexico, provided they meet thresholds for the share of parts produced within the region.

“With a combination of Warren and Mexico building what we call the classic truck, we have enough production to increase output next year if it’s required,” Manley said. “In my opinion it will be required. We are gaining share. Obviously I am looking for that to continue, but it’s an incredibly competitive segment,” he added.

Three-way fight

The new Ram 1500, meanwhile, is built at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, also in the Detroit area.

The Ram and Jeep brands underpin the automaker’s North American business — which accounted for nearly 85 percent of Fiat Chrysler’s second-quarter pre-tax profit — and offset the struggles of its legacy Fiat business in Europe and operations in China.

Ford’s F-Series trucks have led the segment for four decades. In 2017, Ford had a 35.6 percent share of U.S. retail truck sales, followed closely by GM at 34.2 percent and FCA with 22.3 percent.

Pickup trucks are the single biggest contributor to the Detroit Big Three automakers’ profits, so there is plenty at stake as they fight for market share.

In the battle for pickup customers, GM launched a new version of its Silverado truck designed with a focus on slashing weight and trimming production costs to compete with market leader Ford.

Fiat Chrysler, which reports third-quarter results on Tuesday, took a different tack with the new Ram. The automaker stuffed more features into the vehicle — including an optional 12-inch touch screen and partial electrification that saves fuel and helps with acceleration and cruise control — on a bet that customers would pay more in return.

So far, the gamble appears to be paying off. The new Ram 1500’s average sale price for the year to date through late October hit $46,856, higher than the $42,389 average for the Ford F-150, according to industry data.

Hayden Elder, owner of Elder Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Athens, Texas, said three times in under a month he has had families trade in nearly-new large SUVs made by FCA’s rivals for a new Ram 1500.

“This new Ram is the biggest leap I’ve ever seen from one version to another,” Elder said. About 70 percent of the 800 vehicles he sells annually are trucks.

‘Haven’t found the ceiling yet’

Phil Jansen, Fiat Chrysler’s head of product development, said when his team began redesigning the Ram 1500, they decided a lighter, all-aluminum body — which Ford uses for its trucks — was too expensive. GM executives reached the same conclusion.

But Fiat Chrysler took a chance that GM did not, and added a large battery pack and electric motor that assist with acceleration and shifting, plus deliver a smooth start-stop function that idles the engine when stopped in traffic, boosting fuel economy.

“It can save about this much fuel at an average stop,” said FCA electrification manager Brian Spohn, holding up a small tumbler of water.

The decision to offer a larger dashboard screen than its rivals have came late in the design process. Initially, the big screen was offered in the top three of the truck’s six versions. Fiat Chrysler has since decided to offer it on an additional version.

Demand is so high, the company has pushed the screen’s supplier for as many screens as it can provide, according to a source familiar with production plans.

“We haven’t found the ceiling yet” for what U.S. customers are willing to pay for additional features, said Jim Morrison, head of the Ram brand in North America.

Fiat Chrysler had problems earlier this year accelerating production of the new Ram truck on a highly-automated production line installed at Sterling Heights, which previously made slow-selling sedans.

Among the problems: Dropped bolts and other debris would shut down automated vehicles that carried truck frames through part of the assembly process. The solution was to put debris-sweeping skirts on the carriers, FCA executives said on a recent tour of the plant.

Now, the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant is cranking out around 65 trucks an hour, 20 hours a day, six days a week — a pace of about 400,000 vehicles per year.

“It is capable, if we wanted to, to push it up more from there,” Manley told Reuters. “Clearly, having the capacity to fulfill our ambitions is important.”

Reporting By Nick Carey

[Source: Autoblog]

Ford wants to make silent electric police cars

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An electric car moving at speed but producing next to zero noise could give new meaning to the term “silent but deadly.” That’s why the U.S. Department of Transportation has drafted legislation to ensure that, starting in 2020, all EVs and hybrids must emit some sort of noise at any speed over 19 miles per hour. Turns out, though, that there could potentially be one exception to the rule.

According to The Verge, Ford submitted a comment back in 2015 for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141, shortly after the official public comment period ended, “regarding the legality of equipping certain vehicles used for security purposes with a means of turning off the required pedestrian alert sound.” Vehicles used for security purposes is most likely a roundabout way of saying police cars.

Although the actual comment from Ford has been redacted from the text of the public-facing rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in its public filing that it is responding to the comment from Ford. Whatever the final ruling may be, Ford told The Verge that its products will “meet the requirements of this rule.” We’d guess the actual implementation, if it were allowed, would be to provide officers with an on-off switch to enable silent operation.

It’s worth mentioning that police vehicles are usually equipped with all manners of lights and sirens to make them immediately noticeable to other drivers, particularly when the officers inside are traveling at speed or in pursuit. Under certain circumstances, like when sneaking up on unsuspecting criminals during a bust, we suppose, moving silently could certainly be a desirable feature.

If Ford does get a waiver to produce silent electric or hybrid police vehicles, there seems a reasonable chance that General Motors and FCA could follow suit.

2018 Ford Mustang GT has more horsepower than Chevy Camaro SS

Ford has finally announced the power and torque figures for the 2018 Mustang lineup, and both the V8-powered GT and four-cylinder-powered EcoBoost models benefit from some big increases. Most impressive is the GT, which now produces an extra 25 horsepower and 20 pound-feet of torque to bring it to 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet total. That puts the GT ahead of the Camaro SS by 5 horsepower, though it still trails the bow-tie-branded pony car by 35 pound-feet of torque.

Still, the Mustang GT isn’t slow. In fact, Ford claims that it will do a 0-60 mph sprint in under 4 seconds, which just beats the Camaro SS, for which Chevy claims a 4-second flat time to 60. There are a couple of prerequisites for the Mustang GT to hit that time, though. It has to be equipped with both the 10-speed automatic and the performance package. The automatic allows the Mustang to use the special “Drag Mode” driving mode for the fastest shifting and maximum torque delivery. The performance package provides the car with the stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires.

The Mustang EcoBoost also sees increased performance for 2018. Torque increases from 320 to 350 pound-feet, though horsepower remains the same at 310. That means the Mustang EcoBoost is down 25 horsepower to the V6 Camaro, but has a whopping 66 more pound-feet of torque. Just like with the GT, the Mustang EcoBoost manages its best 0-60 time with the 10-speed auto and the performance package. Equipped as such, it will get to 60 in less than 5 seconds, also just beating the Camaro V6’s best claimed time of 5.1 seconds.

Ford says the 2018 Mustang will be arriving at Portland Ford dealer, Mackenzie Ford in Hillsboro, this fall. The online configuration tool will also go live tomorrow, and will allow people to spec their perfect Mustang. It will also show pricing for the new pony car.

2018 Hyundai Kona SEL 2.0-liter Quick Spin Review | Slow down and save money

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The 2018 Hyundai Kona has certainly impressed us, at least in its turbocharged, all-wheel-drive form. It makes healthy power — 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque — to hustle around town and up on-ramps. It also has a playful chassis and suspension that provide responsive handling with minimal body roll. But Hyundaialso offers the Kona with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder making just 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. And no matter what engine you choose, if you pick a front-wheel-drive Kona it’ll be saddled with a primitive torsion-beam rear axle instead of the AWD’s independent multi-link setup. All of this sounds like a recipe for disaster, but as it turns out, the 2.0-liter Kona is mostly as good as its force-fed iteration, just slower and cheaper.

Just like the turbo Kona, the naturally aspirated models feature the same distinct styling. It’s not for everyone (though this editor quite likes it), but you’ll never mistake it for anything else. No other compact crossover fits so many creases, angles, gills and materials onto one vehicle. The naturally aspirated models, SE and SEL, do have smaller alloy wheels than the turbo versions, but the alloy wheels are a standard feature regardless. Inside, the interior is nearly identical as well, using the same plastics and most of the same colors. You will have to make do with cloth seats, but that’s OK in our book because the houndstooth upholstery is way cooler than the plain black leather seats of the Limited and Ultimate turbo models.

Ride and handling are also nearly identical to the turbo all-wheel-drive Kona. The ride is on the stiff end of compliant, the steering is quick, and turn-in is eager, even though feel is lacking. There isn’t much body roll, and you can carry a decent amount of speed in corners. Admittedly, the Turbo feels more planted and confident in corners thanks to its rear multi-link suspension, but the non-turbo doesn’t feel unsettled on a bumpy, curvy road.

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There’s just no getting around the fact that it’s noticeably slower than the turbo Kona. Whereas the turbo engine will whisk you away fairly effortlessly on a wave of low-down torque, the naturally aspirated engine will be buzzing away at high RPM to get you moving. While we’re thankful that the engine itself has a reasonably deep note and is fairly smooth, when you ask for some oomph it gets pretty loud. Passing vehicles and running up on-ramps can be a bit grating. Additionally, there isn’t any benefit to choosing the 2.0-liter engine over the turbo 1.6-liter unit for reasons of fuel economy. Both engines produce the same 30 mpg combined EPA rating for front-wheel-drive, and 27 mpg combined for all-wheel-drive. Since turbocharged engines tend to be less fuel efficient in real-world driving, we expect the non-turbo to have more of an edge than the numbers indicate. Even so, we wish the 2.0 offered more of a benefit.

If you compare the non-turbo Kona to more than just its Turbo sibling, the picture doesn’t look so bleak. The subcompact crossover SUV segment is awash with fairly slow options, so it’s not like the non-turbo is slower than most — it’s just that the Turbo is fairly quick. Same with fuel economy. For example, the Honda HR-V’s and Mazda CX-3’s most fuel-efficient models return 31 mpg combined, just one above the front-drive Kona. The Toyota C-HR only manages 29 mpg combined, as does the Crosstrek, though the Crosstrek does it with all-wheel-drive. Among American small crossovers, the Trax manages 28 with front-drive, the Renegade can hit 26, and the EcoSport’s best is a disappointing 24. And of these vehicles, the 2.0-liter Kona has more power than HR-V, CX-3, Trax and C-HR, but slightly less than the Renegade, Crosstrek and the 2.0-liter EcoSport. The bottom line is the Kona is mid-pack in both punch and frugality.

There is one area in which the naturally aspirated Kona has an advantage over the Turbo iteration, and that’s in price. Provided that you can do without many of the premium features found on the turbo models, you can get a Kona SE for as little as $20,480, which is $5,200 less than the base-model Turbo, the front-drive Kona Limited at $25,680. And if you do decide you want many of those features, you can get the Kona SEL for $22,130, which adds niceties such as heated front seats, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, keyless entry and start, heated side mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Moving up to the SEL with the Tech Package adds the Limited’s fog lights, eight-way power seats, sunroof, lane-keep assist and forward collision assist. It ups the price to $23,630, but that’s still about $2,000 less than the Limited, which just adds leather, chrome and the turbo powertrain. So if you’re fine without the extra power, you can save thousands of dollars on the Kona and still get nearly all the features that make it great.

Overall, even with less power than its turbo twin, the 2.0-liter, front-drive Hyundai Kona is right on par with the competition in fuel economy and power. But it provides a good value proposition compared to the Kona Turbo thanks to a comfortable ride, perky handling, loads of style, and most of its feature content, all at a lower price point. That’s a winner in our book.

Ford will sell 1,000 people the chance to have completely custom Mustang badges

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In addition to the many ways a real Ford Mustang can be modified, Ford is now giving fans the opportunity to customize the car’s badge. It has launched a Facebook app called “Personalize Your Pony” and can be visited at this link. It allows you to select from some preset patterns inspired by Shelby, Bullitt, Roush and RTR Vehicles, and then shift and manipulate them within a Mustang logo with a very simple tool. One of the other color settings that lets you play with different pairings of Mustang colors to create a custom design.

Now, the tool is more interesting than a brief five-minute time waster. Whatever design you end up liking the best, you can submit with your name and city. Afterward, you can buy shirts, mugs, phone cases and stickers with the logo. But the coolest product is the actual Mustang badges that feature your design that you can buy for your 2015 and later pony car. But you’ll need to act quickly, because Ford will only make 1,000 of them.

There’s one other nifty aspect to this program. When you submit your design with your name an city, you’re also entered to have that design featured on a billboard. Exactly where wasn’t given except to say that the locations are “major cities across the U.S.”

Ford Ranger Raptor to debut in February in Bangkok

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The Ford Ranger will soon return to America, but for now we have to sit and wait while the rest of the world runs around in Ford’s smallest pickup truck (except for Autoblog, because we couldn’t wait forever). The wait is made more difficult knowing something like the Ranger Raptor is coming. While we’ve seen teasers and spy photos, Motoring in Australia reports that Ford has confirmed the new performance truck will make its global debut on Feb. 7 in Bangkok, Thailand.

While some people may have been hoping that the Ranger Raptor will get some flavor of Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine, it seems the truck will be powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel. That’s smaller than the Ranger’s 3.2-liter inline-five diesel, but it should deliver more power. Still, when the truck finally comes to America, it’s likely to have a gasoline powertrain. The Chevy Colorado ZR2 is offered with both gasoline and diesel engines. Ford may take the same route. Look for the 10-speed automatic, though we can cross our fingers that a manual will be on offer.

We don’t know many other details on the truck. Look for beefed up suspension, wider fenders thanks to a wider track and more aggressive front and rear fascias. Really, this is going to be a smaller version of the F-150 Raptor, and that’s totally OK by us.

[Source: Autoblog]