General Motors has inked a deal with Nissan for a small commercial van to be sold in the U.S. and Canada starting late next year.
The 2015 Chevrolet City Express will be cloned from Nissan’s NV200, which has been on sale in various world markets since 2009 and in the U.S. since earlier this year. If the name rings a bell, it might be because a passenger version of the NV200 was selected as the replacement for the Ford Crown Victoria as the next standard New York City taxicab.
Both vans will be built at the Nissan plant in Aguascaliente, Mexico.
“Our fleet customers have asked us for an entry in the commercial small van segment, so this addition to the Chevrolet portfolio will strengthen our position with fleets and our commercial customers,” said Ed Peper, GM’s U.S. v-p of Fleet and Commercial Sales.
While customers may have asked for a junior Chevy van, a more likely rationale for the Chevy-san is the success of Ford’s imported-from-Turkey Transit Connect, which has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the segment with only minor competition from Chrysler’s Ram Cargo Van. Ford sold 35,216 Transit Connects in 2012. As of April this year, Transit Connect sales are up 27.6% while sales of GM’s full-size G-Series vans (Chevrolet Express and GMC Savanna) are down 6%.
In addition, Chrysler Group will start selling a Ram version of the Fiat Doblo, which is also built in Turkey, early next year, leaving GM as the sole Detroit automaker without an entry in the field. GM hasn’t had a small commercial van since the Astro was dropped in 2005.
The tie-up with Nissan seems unusual, considering that General Motors already has a small van, the Opel/Vauxhall Combo, which is sold in Europe and other markets. However, the Nissan van is already federalized, which will get the City Express to market more quickly and save GM the cost of certifying the Combo with the EPA. There’s also the potentially embarrassing fact the newest Combo is itself a clone: of the Fiat Doblo. Surprisingly, GM Korea (formerly Daewoo), which supplies the Spark and components for the the Sonic and Cruze, does not produce commercial vehicles.
Whatever the reason, Nissan is quite happy with the arrangement. Joe Castelli, Nissan v-p for commercial vehicles and fleet said, “Working with partners to expand markets for our innovative products enhances Nissan’s growth and manufacturing efficiency by leveraging our capacity to meet growing demand in this space.”
Stealing a bit of thunder from GM’s introduction of the next-generation 2014 Silverado and Sierra pickups, Ford today offered a sneak peek at the next F-series pickup, due in 2015.
Called the Atlas Concept, Ford says the truck is a showcase for the the design and technologies that will shape its future pickups.
“The Ford Atlas Concept previews the innovations that will transform what people expect from their pickup,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. “With 36 years as America’s best-selling pickup, we are absolutely committed to setting the agenda in the truck market.”
As with the new GM designs, the Ford Atlas look is “evolutionary,” continuing the massive-appearing, chiseled front end and side styling that emphasizes the trucks height. Prominent wheel arches reinforce the “big” image.
“We wanted the concept to reflect how Ford trucks help customers in both their worlds – professionally and personally,” said J Mays, Ford group vice president and chief creative officer. “Every surface and feature in the vehicle has been crafted for purpose and capability while retaining an unmistakable Built Ford Tough look.”
Designers enhanced truck functionality with details like multiple tie-down points integrated within the cargo box walls and load floor, as well as 110-volt electrical outlets in the cargo box to charge power tools. An integrated roof carrying system and hidden extendable ramps increase the truck’s suitability for a number of vocational applications..
The interior incorporates thin, lightweight seating allowing leather allows for extra legroom for rear passengers and storage for smaller items. “Floating” instrument pods and glove-friendly buttons and controls keep the interior functional.
The Atlas Concept features a next-generation EcoBoost® powertrain,with truck-enhanced Auto Start-Stop engine shutoff technology. Ford says further fuel savings will come from aerodynamic elements that reduce wind resistance. They include automatic shutters behind the grille that stay open when extra engine cooling is needed and automatically close to improve aerodynamics when cruising on the highway at steady speeds.
It will be interesting to see is some of the Atlas Concept’s other features make it to production. The first is Active Wheel Shutters, panels in the wheels that are hidden at low speeds but automatically deploy at highway speeds to improve aerodynamics. Self-charging batteries use energy from the wheels’ motion to power the shutters. The automatic drop-down front air dam lowers at highway speeds to improve underbody airflow and retracts at low speeds to improve ground clearance.
Ford Atlas Concept is a rolling showcase of features that improve capability, durability and productivity to meet the diverse needs of pickup truck owners.
General Motors has unveiled what might be its most important new product in years: the 2014 Silverado 1500 and Sierra 1500 full-size pickups.
GM says the trucks are “new from hood to hitch” and are engineered to be fully competitive with pickups from Ford, Ram and Toyota.
The styling revisions are evolutionary with a more aggressive grille giving the truck a more massive appearance. But the big bucks, estimated to be between $3 billion and $4 billion, were spent on improvements underneath the sheet metal.
“Our customers rely on their trucks to meet the day-to-day challenges of earning a living, running a business and taking care of their families,” said Mark Reuss, president, GM North America, during the presentation. “Chevrolet is committed to giving truck customers the most-refined, best-engineered pickups in the market.”
Among the improvements are three new, naturally aspirated EcoTec3 engines, a 4.3-liter V-6, 5.3-liter V-8 and a 6.2-liter V-8, all of which have standard cylinder deactivation. Horsepower and torque figures weren’t released but the new engines are expected to be very capable: GM believes pickup customers prefer better performance to better fuel economy and isn’t going to try to match Ford’s EcoBoost engines.
All three engines will be matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. An eight-speed gearbox is scheduled to go into production in 2014.
GM’s slow-selling hybrid trucks will disappear with the introduction of the new series.
A nifty addition is the CornerStep bumper, a foothold stamped into the rear bumper. Combined with handholds built into the box rail protectors, the Cornerstep bumper makes it easier to access the box, which is a good thing as the top of the box is even higher than it is on the current models. The bed is also available with new upper tie-down hooks, under-rail light-emitting diode lighting, and an EZ Lift and Lower tailgate.
Buyers of the 2014 Silverado 1500 and Sierra 1500 crew cab will be able to opt for a longer six-foot, six-inch box instead of the five-foot, eight-inch box. Extended cab trucks will offer only the six-foot, six-inch box while regular cab pickups will be available with the six-foot, six-inch box or the eight-foot bed.
New interiors feature a revised instrument panel and a six-gauge instrument cluster. GM says the controls are functional, logically placed and easily operated while wearing work gloves. The rear doors on extended-cab trucks are now hinged at the front and those on crew cabs are larger, making entry and exit easier.
Chevy and GMC will retain their steering-column-mounted shifters but add a tap-up/tap-down mode for those wanted to do their own shifting.
The bodies and frames have been improved with more high-strength steel in the bodies and hydroformed frame members. The chassis and body have been tweaked for a better ride and reduced wind noise. GM says millions of hours of computational time were used in the development of the new pickups.
The new Silverado and Sierra will go into production at GM plants in Flint, Michigan, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Silao, Mexico in the second quarter of 2013, starting with the crew cab. Extended and regular cab trucks will follow later in the year.
Pricing will be announced closer to start of sales.
The folks at General Motors say they have the truck that can outsell the F-Series. At the beginning of the unveil, Reuss said, “Our competitors may think they have smooth sailing ahead. But let me tell you, the weather is about to change.”
THe folks at General Motors clearly think they finally have the truck that can outsell the F-Series. The last time the Chevy outsold the Ford, Jimmy Carter was President and everyone was complaining about gas at 64 cents per gallon.
These trucks are vital to GM’s bottom line, bringing in as much as $10,000 to $12,000 profit each, depending on trim and options. However, GM has neglected the lines since the last overhaul for the 2007 model year. As a result, the GM pickups are now the oldest in the segment and have lost market share to Ford and Ram. From 2008 to the end of November 2012, the gap between Silverado sales and those of the Ford F-Series has more than quadrupled. The gap between the GMC Sierra and Ram pickup has also grown, nearly doubling since 2009.
Since brand loyalty in the pickup segment is higher than any other light vehicle segment, the new GM pickups should do well with current owners of GM light trucks. However, the lack of significant exterior change combined with the possibly risky call on fuel economy could hamper conquest sales to owners of other brands.
Ford has already announced plans to rain on GM’s parade and the official introductions of the new pickups at the North American International Auto Show next month. Ford will display a sneak peek at the 2015 Ford F-Series pickup, hoping to give the Ford faithful reason to hold on to their truck another year.
Furthermore, Ford has won high praise for its EcoBoost engine and the Ram’s Pentastar V-6 was a repeat winner in the Ward’s Auto best engine list. Even though gasoline prices have fallen significantly in recent weeks, nobody, especially fleet buyers, believe they will remain low. Chevy’s power vs. economy may play well among consumers, but it may hamper sales to the fleets that help truck makers roll up the big numbers.
In addition, GM will have just one model year to be the freshest face on the block. With the 2014 debut of the next generation F-Series, FOrd can play to its far larger base: since the pickup segment began to recover in 2010, Ford has sold nearly 120,000 more pickups than Chevrolet and GMC combined. The three-year gap between the Silverado and the F-series is over 537,000 units, which is more pickups than Chevy has sold in any year since 2007.
Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results and GM has done well with its Cruze and otehr new cars, but it remains to be seen if GM is going to see a billion bucks worth of bang for its hefty investments.
Ford has beefed-up the 2013 F-Series lineup for 2013, increasing the payload and towing capacities of its Super Duty pickups to 7,260 pounds and 18,500 pounds, respectively. Ford says the Super Duty’s towing capacity is 500 pounds more than its nearest competitor.
“Super Duty pickups and chassis cabs are the segment benchmarks, chosen by tradesmen more than any other heavy-duty truck to get the job done,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. “To help our customers continue to become more productive and efficient, we’ve increased our towing and payload capability yet again.”
The Super Duty also received an improved brake system that increases brake rotor swept area by 16.4 percent in front and 14.5 percent in the rear for maximum braking and to help dissipate heat, important on long downhill grades. Ford also added improved brake pads and a retuned booster for better brake pedal feel.
Late last night, a Toyota Tundra 4X4 half-ton pickup truck towed the 150,000 pound space shuttle Endeavour across Manchester Boulevard Bridge over the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. The crossing took about five minutes.
The planners in charge of moving the Shuttle the 12 miles from from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center had initially planned for the Tundra’s segment of the journey to be down Bill Robertson Lane, but they determined the Manchester Bridge crossing would be better because of the lighter tow mechanism required for proper weight distribution.
The Tundra was an unmodified production vehicle purchased from inventory at a Southern California Toyota dealership and the only extra equipment was a special clevis-and-pin hitch. Looking at the truck, it appeared there was a fair amount of ballast in the bed, to give the truck extra traction.
At the wheel was Toyota professional driver Matt McBride. Riding shotgun was Garrett Reisman, one of the astronauts aboard the orbiter when it traveled to the International Space Station in 2008.
“I’m honored to be part of the space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission to the California Science Center,” said Reisman. “I appreciate Toyota’s support in helping bring this space icon home to the Southern California community.”
The truck will be donated to the California Science Center where it will replace a Tundra already on display.
For more information on the Tundra Endeavour, and an opportinity to help Toyota raise $500,000 for the California Science Center, visit www.toyota.com/tundraendeavour.
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