Thinking About Buying a New Vehicle? Think Hard

. . .because (a) you’re going to be spending more than you might think and (b) you may be buying something that you aren’t necessarily considering

By Gary S. Vasilash

If you’re thinking about buying a new car, ute or truck—and “new” may mean “new to you,” as in “used”—then you ought to hear what Charlie Chesbrough, senor economist and senior director of industry insights for Cox Automotive has to say about the current market conditions.

As Cox Automotive encompasses a variety of businesses that know more than a little something about, as they say, the conditions on the ground—as in Kelley Blue Book and Manheim Actions—Chesbrough’s observations and understanding are grounded in what’s really happening, not some theoretically calculations.

The fundamental thing is this: Although it might seem that COVID is behind us, that everything, with a few hitches here and there, is getting back to normal, that is far from being the case with regard to the availability of some things. Things like motor vehicles.

This is because COVID helped cause a semiconductor chip shortage. In part this came from everyone working or playing from home, which led to a sudden demand for PCs and PlayStations, both of which use silicon.

Because the auto companies faced shutdowns of their factories last year, they canceled their orders with the semiconductor providers, who then readily found anxious customers who were making things like PCs and PlayStations.

So the vehicle manufacturers had to go to the end of the line.

It is also worth noting that some of the chips that go into vehicles don’t have the types of margins that chips that go into other products do, so the semiconductor manufacturers realized that they’d do well by just serving the non-automotive customers fulsomely while providing the auto manufacturers—who are famously thrifty when it comes to paying suppliers—with a reduced number of chips.

This has led to two things, Chesbrough notes:

  1. Overall reduced number of available vehicles
  2. Overall increases in the prices being charged for vehicles—new and used

While the first part of the year seemed to be improving when it came to the availability of vehicles (relatively speaking—2020 was a horrible year for sales and 2021 was an improvement on that), things have gone south since then.

Chesbrough suggests that things won’t get back to what may be considered “normal” until sometime next year (if at all).

At present, OEMs are concentrating on putting chips in vehicles that are high-ticket items, which is good for returns, but which put many consumers in a bind (unless they are high-end buyers).

There are some companies, like Ford, which are recommending that people order vehicles, something common in Europe but not a practice that is at the basis of the auto market as it has developed in the U.S., which is all about moving the metal.

Chesbrough talks to Keith Naughton of Bloomberg, Joe White of Reuters and me on the show.

In addition to which, Naughton, White and I talk about Ford’s massive investments in electric vehicle/battery manufacturing capacity in Kentucky and Tennessee—and how Michigan didn’t even make a proposal for the investments, as well as about GM’s Investor Day presentations, which were clearly designed to make Wall Street look at GM more as a “tech company” with a wide range of product in the pipeline and technology and capacity that will make money sooner rather than later.

And you can see it all

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22 Ford Expedition: Of Course They Did

Ford full-size SUV flagship gets an update. A serious update

By Gary S. Vasilash

Jeff Marentic, Ford North American general manager for Passenger Vehicles, says that since they launched the then-all-new Ford Expedition for model year 2018, the large SUV (it is 210 inches long, a.k.a., 17.5 feet long–and this is the standard-size vehicle) saw its numbers triple.

So as the vehicle manufacturer has decided to pretty much go all-in on things that aren’t cars (yes, there is the Mustang hanging in there as a “car,” but it is worth noting that when they decided to develop the Mustang Mach-E, the electric vehicle, they opted for the crossover look, not a fastback coupe), it has done a refresh for the Expedition, one that isn’t a tweak here or there, but even including two new versions, the Stealth Edition Performance Package and the Timberline model.

2022 Ford Expedition Timberline. You never know when that road somewhat non-improved, so the vehicle is. (Image: Ford)

(There are also the XL and the Platinum versions.)

What “Performance” Means

As for the Stealth Edition Performance Edition—yes, yes, there is a lot of black all around the vehicle, from the grille to the 22-inch premium alloy wheels—what provides the performance is the 440-hp, 510 lb-ft of torque 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6.

They are not shy about pointing ouit that the performance of that engine leaves the Chevy Tahoe RST’s 5.3-liter V8 at quite a deficit: the Stealth offers 85 more horsepower and 106 more lb-ft of torque. Not trivial differences.

Sorry, Jeep

Then as for the Timberline, know that back when the ’18 model came out, Jeep dealers didn’t have a Jeep Wagoneer on their lots. So the ’22 Expedition Timberline has the same engine as used by the Stealth, but it this case, the comparison is with the 5.7-liter V8 in the Jeep Wagoneer: Ford brings 48 more horsepower and 106 more lb-ft of torque.

What’s more, the ground clearance—an important factor when the surface under the 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler AT tires isn’t paved—for the Timberline is a standard 10.6 inches. That bests the Wagoneer by 0.6 inches.

Mike Kipley, vehicle chief engineer, notes that they’ve deployed the same steel skid plate that’s used on the Ford Raptor and the same Trail Turn Assist that’s found on the Bronco (it tightens the turning ratio of the vehicle, very useful when negotiating tight turns off road): Clearly Ford is taking advantage of the developments made for a couple of its iconic vehicles.

Amenities, Too

Lest you begin to think that Expedition has become some sort of family vehicle that can either go very quickly or is for just going to trailheads, know that the Expedition Platinum offers Ford BlueCruise hands-free driving assist tech. A 22-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system is on offer. And there is an available 15.5-inch high definition touch display available.

The customers of these large vehicles should be pleased.

And the people in Detroit and Auburn Hills are probably unhappy.

Of course Ford went big on the Expedition.

Ford Lightning Pre-Production Underway

The first versions of the F-150 model are being built at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Michigan

By Gary S. Vasilash

Ford is increasing its investment—to the tune of $250-million—at its operations at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, Van Dyke Electric Powertrain Center and Rawsonville Components Plant.

The reason?

The F-150 Lightning.

It also means 450 more jobs spread across the plants, all of which are in Michigan (Dearborn, Sterling Heights and Ypsilanti).

“We knew the F-150 Lightning was special,” said Ford executive chair Bill Ford, “but the interest from the public has surpassed our highest expectations and changed the conversation around electric vehicles.

“So we are doubling down, adding jobs and investment to increase production,” Ford added.

“This truck and the Ford-UAW workers who are assembling it in Michigan have a chance to make history and lead the electric vehicle movement in America.”

Pre-production underway for the all-electric F-150 Lightning. (Image: Ford)

Ford has taken more than 150,000 reservations for the full-size electric pickup that has an estimated range of 300 miles and a starting MSRP of $40,000. (It is worth noting that the reservations require $100—which is refundable.)

The Lightning is another in the F-150 offerings, which has been the best-seller in the U.S. for 44 years running.

Pre-production is underway for the Lightning, with consumer vehicles planned for availability in the spring of 2022.

How Autonomy Will Really Start

Why Ford, Argo AI and Walmart are going to be making a difference in the implementation of the tech

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although many people think—or imagine—that autonomous driving is going to occur from a company like Tesla, which will allow people to do whatever while their vehicle chauffeurs them to wherever, in point of fact, that is not going to be the case for a variety of reasons, not the least of which that sensors and processors are expensive, and even though there are some people who are willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for something that claims to be “full” but is really more than half empty, OEMs are going to need to have assurance that there are going to be many more than a few who are willing to buy the tech.

But while consumers might not opt to spend the money, commercial carriers are likely to if they can determine that the tech is going to provide them with an economic advantage.

Ford, Argo AI and Walmart are driving autonomous tech forward. (Image: Ford)

Which makes the announcement by Ford, Argo AI and Walmart about the retailer using vehicles from Ford (Escape Hybrids) and self-driving technology from Argo AI to launch an autonomous delivery service for the “last-mile” in Miami, Austin, and Washington, DC, all the more significant.

These are mass-manufactured vehicles that are going to be put work by the world’s largest retailer in urban settings doing driving that will conceivably provide an ROI to Walmart, if not immediately, then at some point in the future.

Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile delivery at Walmart U.S., said, “This collaboration will further our mission to get product to the homes of our customers with unparalleled speed and ease, and in turn, will continue to pave the way for autonomous delivery.”

The way this will work is that the Walmart online ordering platform will send information to the Argo AI cloud-based infrastructure, which will then calculate the necessary scheduling and routing.

The point is that this is all predicated on business processes.

And that’s what is going to make actual autonomy a real thing long before something shows up in your driveway that will take you from somewhere to somewhere else while you sit in the back seat eating a hot dog and watching Netflix.

Know that this is something of a journey as Ford and Argo AI have been testing their tech on city streets since 2018, the same year that Ford and Walmart ran a test in Miami. It takes time, effort and consistency of purpose.

The technology needs to be developed, tested, validated and verified.

It is not the consequence of an over-the-air update that follows a tweet.

Mobility in Michigan

The auto industry is changing. And Michigan is doing so right along with it

By Gary S. Vasilash

To be sure, the world is chasing advanced mobility solutions, things that will include cars and trucks as we know them—more or less—as well as other modes of transportation, be they electric scooters or air taxis.

Of the places in the world where this is probably focused on more than almost anywhere else is Michigan, given that the southeastern part of the state is where cars and trucks as we know them originally emerged in sufficient numbers that, well, we know them. (While Henry Ford didn’t “invent” the automobile nor the truck, what he did do was create a system whereby those things became accessible to regular people: manufacturing operations may not be the sexiest of things, that’s how Ford, as the phrase has it, “put the world on wheels.”)

Detroit Smart Parking Lab (Image: Ford)

Certainly there are other places where mobility is of intense interest, whether it is Silicon Valley or Stuttgart.

So the state of Michigan appointed its first chief mobility officer, Trevor Pawl. And we have him on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Pawl’s undertakings in this position are wide ranging.

For example, the State announced it is working with Ford, Bedrock and Bosch to launch what is described as “the nation’s first-of-its-kind, real-world test site for emerging parking technology.” Yes, parking. It is the “Detroit Smart Parking Lab.”

About a year ago the state announced that it would be building what is described as “a first-in-the-nation connected and autonomous vehicle corridor” between Detroit and Ann Arbor, again working with a number of partners (including Ford—that company is serious about the future of transportation).

And Pawl and his team are working on the ways and means to get seniors and the disabled to where they need to go. They are working on the build-out of charging infrastructure.

And a whole lot more.

Pawl talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley of IHS Markit, and me on the show.

And you can see it all here.

How the Ford Maverick Was Developed

An up-close look at bringing the clever small truck to the market

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Ford Maverick is what is being called a “white space” vehicle, a small—199.7-inch long—pickup truck with four doors and seating for five. As a point of reference, a Ford Ranger is 210.8 inches long and an F-150 is 231.7 inches long.

It will come standard with a hybrid powertrain that will provide an estimated combined fuel efficiency rating of 37 mpg. And the standard model has a payload capacity of 1,500 pounds and is capable of towing 2,000 pounds.

(Image: Ford)

The starting MSRP for the Maverick is $19,995.

And when asked whether this is some sort of artificially low price, both Chris Mazur, Maverick chief program engineer, and Trevor Scott, marketing manager for the Maverick (and Ranger), unambiguously maintain that this truck is the real deal.

It is, they say “Built Ford Tough.”

That claim is fairly bedrock for the Ford truck lineup so you can be confident that they’re not going to be using it unless there is confidence that they’re going to deliver with this pickup the same way that’s done for the other Ford trucks.

The interesting thing about the Maverick is how it was developed—done in a way unlike has been the case at Ford (as well as other companies that develop, well, anything). And this approach has not only led to the various innovations that are part of the Maverick, but also contributes to the cost-efficiency that the MSRP underscores.

One of the things about the truck is that the team, observing the way that real people use their trucks (not that the people on the team aren’t real people, too) is that many of them hack solutions, whether it is drilling holes in the sidewalls of the box to access electricity or jury-rigging the means to secure a mountain bike in the back. So Mazur says that they thought about that and have made power access simply available will provide CAD files that will allow owners to 3D print tooling for things like attachments.

It is almost that DIY ethos that is characteristic of the product development.

When the development started—pre-COVID—it was decided that there would be a cross-functional team consisting of representatives and participants from all functions that would be necessary to get the job done.

All of the participants wouldn’t just be in the same email group—they would be in the same room. Finance. Manufacturing engineering. Everyone was there. If there was a question to be answered, there was the person—right over there—who probably had the answer.

And they worked to be fast. Their “audacious goal” was to cut 25 months out of the development program.

They made quick models. They plastered the wall with documents and Post-It notes.

When it was time for the upper management reviews, it was there in the room, with the working documents and models and whatnot. Binders and PowerPoints were not on the schedule.

And when COVID hit and the people left the room for their own houses, they were still a team that knew one another, knew who to talk to to get answers, knew who was involved in what aspect of the development.

They were able to get things done.

They didn’t hit the 25-month goal, Mazur admits.

But they took 20 months out of the process.

Remarkable by any measure. And they had a pandemic to contend with.

Realize that as Ford has decided that things like trucks are important to its offering in a way that cars no longer are, the Maverick is a key vehicle in its product lineup.

Mazur and Scott are our special guests on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

John McElroy and I are joined by Mike Martinez of Automotive News, who covers Ford.

It is a full hour devoted to the Maverick.

If you have any interest in the truck or in an innovative approach to development, you’ve got to watch this show because you’re not likely to ever get a better sense of how the Maverick has been created.

You can see it all here.

Ford Transit: They Made a Million of ‘Em

Productive people at Ford Kansas City

By Gary S. Vasilash

Vehicle plants that make a million vehicles of one type are comparatively rare, so a nod to the folks at the Ford Kansas City Assembly Plant, who made the millionth Transit commercial van there this week.

Consider this: the Transit comes in various lengths, from 217.8 inches to 263.9 inches. So let’s take something about in the middle, 235.5 inches. A million Transits parked nose to tail would be about 3,800 miles long. That’s a lot of trucks. (Image: Ford)

The plant began production of the vehicle in 2014.

Undoubtedly as a result of their expertise (and the tooling on had probably plays a role, too), they’ll start building the E-Transit, an all-electric cargo hauler, later this year.

Ford F-150: Fast for 5-0

Turns out that police pursuit pickups are really quite quick

By Gary S. Vasilash

According to test data from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the 2021 Ford F-150 Police Responder has the best acceleration of any pursuit-rated police vehicle tested.

You don’t want to see this in your rearview mirror, do you? (Image: Ford)

The tests show that the vehicle does a quarter mile in 14.4 seconds. That 0.4 is important because that is how much faster it is than its closest competitor.

The Michigan State Police are also running tests on the pickup. So far it has measured a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.4 seconds. Again, number-two is 0.4 seconds slower.

However, they’ve found the F-150 going from 0 to 100 mph in 13.1 seconds, which is 0.8 seconds faster than the runner up.

The top speed? The Michigan State Police say 120 mph, which is 15 mph faster than the 2020 model of the truck.

A big contributor to the performance?

A new torque-on-demand 4×4 transfer case.

This is the case because it gets the torque to the wheels faster.

It is also beneficial when cornering.

Both police departments run 32-lap vehicle dynamics test.

The improvements in cornering capability resulted in a 5.8-second reduction in the average lap time in Michigan and a 3.6-second reduction in LA.

No, it’s not that the LA cops are slower drivers than those in Michigan: They put 400 additional pounds of payload into the trucks during testing to simulate cargo.

A Thought About the Design of the Ford Maverick

Does an urban dweller want something that is Built Ford Tough or which smacks of fashion?

By Gary S. Vasilash

“One thing that’s non-negotiable is that Maverick is Built Ford Tough,” said Chris Mazur, chief engineer for the small pickup.

What seems a bit odd is that Ford says of the truck “The interior design is stylish and spacious, with thoughtful features and the versatility for city driving or escaping the urban life,” which seems to indicate that this is a vehicle for city dwellers.

Looks like a truck. Is a truck. (Image: Ford)

So this “Built Ford Tough” characteristic doesn’t seem to align with what would assume would be style-conscious urbanites—except for those who wear Carhartt.

As it starts under $20K and comes standard as a hybrid, there is a draw there.

But as Hyundai is coming with the Santa Cruz, a vehicle that is certainly more chic, it will be interesting to see which has greater appeal for those who want a “truck” but really don’t want a “truck.”

What’s In a Name?

Ford is transforming what it going on in what was once a traditional transmission plant

By Gary S. Vasilash

While what has long been known as the “Ford Van Dyke Transmission Plant,” a 2-million square-foot factory in suburban Detroit, didn’t make a transmission until 1993, even though it had been established in 1968 (when it was a suspension components plant), the sign visible on Van Dyke Avenue, after a generation is undergoing a change.

Now it is the “Van Dyke Electric Powertrain Center.”

Sign of change. (Image: Ford)

Inside they are going from just making the classic step-gear (a.k.a., “automatic”) transmission to electric motors and electric transaxles for full electric and hybrid vehicles.

Production of the Ford eMotor will begin at the plant this summer. Early next year the electric transmission (“eTrans”) manufacture will commence.

Ford spent $150-million in the plant to prepare it for its new role.

Things are clearly changing.