Inside the SEMA show

November 30, 2015 - by David Zatz

Recently, the auto aftermarket industry held its annual convention/show in Las Vegas, showing off aftermarket gear and, often, using customized cars to attract attention. This year, FCA US showed several new concepts, and was buttressed by numerous third party suppliers using their cars and Jeeps as demonstration vehicles.

Ray Alexander was on the scene and provided local color, impressions of the vehicles on display, and photos from the 2015 SEMA show. Full story.

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More CNG tech

November 30, 2015 - by David Zatz

More compressed natural gas (CNG) engines may be on their way — or Ram may be upgrading their current CNG engine, if a recently granted patent is any indication.

FCA US’ Louai Faied and Bryan Axe filed for the patent, which involves having a computer decide whether the temperature is low enough that injectors may “freeze up.” If so, the system uses a heater to heat up the tank and injector in such a way that both are ready for use at the same time, making it possible to switch from gasoline to CNG more quickly. Ram’s current CNG pickups are dual-tank setups, with gasoline used either when the CNG tank is empty or when it is too cold to use compressed natural gas (essentially, when it is below freezing). (...) →

FCA labor costs to increase by 19%

November 29, 2015 - by Bill Cawthon

Reuters reported that FCA US is looking at the biggest jump in labor costs of the Detroit Three automakers, at the end of four years.

A study by Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry and Labor Group at the Center for Automotive Research, and consultant Arthur Schwartz, claims that FCA US’ average hourly labor cost will rise by 19%, from the current $47/hour to $56/hour by 2019. (This is not the amount workers are paid, but the full cost of their total compensation.)

The primary driver of the increase is the adjustments given to lower-paid “Tier 2” workers, including having those with the most seniority  advance to the Tier 1 pay scale. (...) →

’53 Chrysler Special up for auction

November 28, 2015 - by Bill Cawthon

A 1953 Chrysler Special by Ghia is headed to Sotheby’s “Driven by Disruption” auction on December 10.

The Chrysler Specials were inspired by a Virgil Exner show car that made its debut at the 1952 Paris Auto Show.

Chrysler contracted with Italian custom bodybuilder Ghia, which did much of the special body work for Chrysler in the 1950s, to build six copies of the show car for sale in Europe; Ghia was allowed to build more cars, and chose to build 12 more. (See The Chrysler Ghia Specials of 1951-1955 by Geoff Mitchell.)

According to historian Raphael Brunet, the car, built midway through the run, is known as the “Swiss Special” because it was produced for Chrysler’s Swiss importers. (...) →

Abarth to add dealers, cars

November 26, 2015 - by Bill Cawthon

Fiat’s performance brand, Abarth, is on track to increase its worldwide sales by 50% this year.  According to an article in Automotive News Europe, 2015’s goal of about 10,000 worldwide sales is in sight, with November and December sales still to be tallied.

Without specifying a timeframe, Paolo Gagliardo, head of operations at Abarth, said the brand is now seeking to go from 300 locations in Fiat dealerships worldwide to 750.

Gagliardo also said the brand will expand from tuned versions of the Fiat 500 next year.  Allpar reported in July (Is this the Fiat 124 Abarth?) that Alfredo Altavilla, the CEO of Fiat and Abarth, said a hot version of the 124 could appear in Europe by the end of next year. (...) →

Jeep hits a million worldwide sales

November 26, 2015 - by Bill Cawthon

With November sales to be reported next week and December sales still to come, the Detroit Free Press reported that Jeep reached a million worldwide sales early this month.

The news came from a “Freep” interview with Jeep CEO Mike Manley, who said sales reached 1,013,000 at the end of October and that the tally was official around November 6.

That gives Jeep plenty of time to beat the 2014 record of 1,017,000 sales, just in time for the brand’s 75th anniversary.

Manley said global sales are up 22% this year and FCA is looking to hit 1.2 million deliveries by the end of December.

The new compact SUV that will replace the Compass and Patriot is still on schedule for a late 2016 rollout, as a 2017 model. (...) →

Who will be the minivan leader?

November 25, 2015 - by David Zatz

Across brands, neither Chrysler nor Dodge is likely to take the U.S. minivan crown this year; but together, Chrysler and Dodge easily beat any other brand’s sales. This may be why the plan for 2018 is to have just the Chrysler Town & Country out there, perhaps with a low-end Caravan trim (in 2017, we still expect to see a limited run of old Dodge Grand Caravans).

At the moment (through October 31), the Chrysler Town & Country is running three thousand sales behind the Dodge Caravan — 73,302 vs 76,313. Both are well below their 2014 sales: the Chrysler is down 39% and the Dodge, down 33%. (...) →

November sales to be a squeaker?

November 25, 2015 - by Bill Cawthon

FCA US’ November sales could be a close call, according to one analyst, calling into question the company’s ability to hit 68th consecutive months of growth.

KBB’s Tim Fleming predicted that FCA US would sell 171,000 cars and trucks this month, just 161 more than the company sold in November 2014. Fleming wrote that sales will increase by just 0.1%, and market share will be essentially flat.

Jessica Caldwell, the lead analyst for Edmunds, gave FCA a bit more breathing room with a 5,800-unit margin and a tiny bump up to 13.3% in share.

Eric Lyman of TrueCar was the most optimistic, predicting over 179,000 sales, a nice 4.8% increase but just a 13.2% piece of the pie as his crystal ball shows much more growth in total industry sales. (...) →

FCA US gets five of the “best loved” cars

November 25, 2015 - by David Zatz

After polling 44,000 people, Strategic Vision has named five FCA US LLC cars to its “Most Loved Vehicles in America” list: the Dodge Charger and Durango, Jeep Renegade, and Fiat 500 and 500e.

Strategic Vision’s Customer Love Index (CLI) goes beyond satisfaction to stronger emotions that bring greater buyer loyalty. There are 28 categories. The top mark went to the Porsche Macan (629) followed by the Corvette convertible (617). The top pickups were the Colorado (423), Titan (482), and Sierra 2500/3500 (467). The top minivan was the slow-selling Kia Sedona (391), which had the lowest non-“alternative powertrain” score.

The Fiat 500e (408), sold only in California, easily beat the Toyota Prius and Camry hybrids (354 each). (...) →

FCA US to spend $1 billion in Michigan (updated)

November 24, 2015 - by David Zatz

FCA US has a revised agreement with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation / Economic Growth Authority, which caps the value of the tax credits it can claim. The MEGA credits became controversial when they topped $9 billion, thanks to lavish spending in 2009-10, when credits were given for promises of jobs retained rather than added.

FCA US is required to invest another billion dollars into capital investment over the term of the MEGA tax credit; the company has spent $4 billion in Michigan and added nearly 15,000 new jobs since 2009. A press release noted that FCA would not say how it planned to invest, but observers expect that upgrades and repurposing of the Sterling Heights and Warren Truck plants will account for a good deal of the investment. (...) →

The race is on: Cherokee vs Wrangler

November 24, 2015 - by David Zatz

The U.S.  sales race is on between the Jeep Cherokee and the former front-running Jeep Wrangler.  While the Wrangler epitomizes much of what Jeep used to be — its go-anywhere capability, nearly-all-American design and engineering, and the style-and-form ties to the original Army jeeps — the Cherokee is more practical for most people, more technologically advanced, and newer.

So far, the people have chosen the Cherokee, helped by constraints on the Wrangler’s production. Those constraints will not ease for at least a year, as the Cherokee is moved to a new plant (likely Sterling Heights or Belvidere) and the Wrangler moves into its spot.

The Wrangler has not had a full redesign for some years, and is missing some of the creature comforts of the Cherokee — some of which it can’t have anyway, since its removable roof and off-road chops reduce its comfort-and-convenience options. (...) →

Bargain time for 500L?

November 23, 2015 - by David Zatz

The Fiat 500L, despite garnering some publicity as the car chosen by the Pope for his American commute (though not for parade duty), is also the most heavily discounted FCA car for United States buyers.  The company is offering $2,500 to $4,500 back, easily beating the #2 cars – Ram 1500 and the Chrysler 300/300C ($500-3,500 and $750-3,500 respectively).

The Fiat 500L  has been slow to move, while Mini Countryman has been relatively popular. The 500L, which is mostly unrelated to the actual Fiat 500, starts at under $20,000; the top of the line Lounge starts at $24,700 and carries the $4,500 rebate.

Every 500L has the same turbocharged engine as the 500 Abarth and Dodge Dart, with an Aisin six-speed automatic or (except on Lounge) a stick-shift. (...) →

Mopar garners British racing award

November 23, 2015 - by David Zatz

The British Drag Racing Hall of Fame has honored the Mopar and Hemi drag racing legacy, giving Mopar the their Global Achievement Award. The head of Mopar, Pietro Gorlier, took the award during a ceremony in England; he paid tribute to the late Tom Hoover.

Stu Bradbury, chair of the British group, wrote, “More than an engine, the Hemi is an icon, one brought originally to the drag strip by Mopar and then adopted for the streets. We are proud to recognize the legendary motor that still fuels drag racers and performance lovers around the world.”

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits’ daughter, Donna Garlits, was one of the presenters of the award. (...) →

AN: FCA looking for hackers

November 23, 2015 - by David Zatz

Automotive News’ Larry Vellequette researched and found listings for computer hackers who can find problems and suggestion repairs to security in their software. This follows the 2014 hack of a Jeep Cherokee, resulting in its remote control, due to a breach of the car’s cellular connection. That vulnerability was fixed before the article was published, and took two professionals a good deal of time to discover, but the life-threatening nature of the outcome has apparently had an effect on Fiat Chrysler.

The company already has a cybersecurity incident response team (CIRT) to make sure that problems are resolved quickly. One job on this team has been open since the end of September, and includes running security assessments and finding competency gaps within the CIRT itself. (...) →

Fiat Chrysler expands dealer college program

November 23, 2015 - by Bill Cawthon

As of today, Fiat Chrysler’s 2,600 U.S. dealers can offer no-cost college educations not only to their employees, but to the employees’ spouses and children.

The Degrees@Work program, tested in the southeastern U.S. in May, subsidizes dealers employees’ educations at Strayer University, enabling them to get a free associate’s, bachelor’s, or Master’s degree in one of dozens of fields.

The Degrees@Work program covers all tuition, fees and books at any one of Strayer’s 15 campuses or for online courses, and does not require employees to put money down and request reimbursement.

The dealers’ contribution varies based on their size and whether they want they employee-only plan or the new, expanded version. (...) →

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