Edmunds.com has proclaimed the new Chevrolet Sonic to be 2012′s “Rookie of the Year” based on its sales in the first half of the year. In addition to outselling all the other new models on the market based on both June and year-to-date (YTD) sales, the Sonic ranked No. 56 out of the 272 light vehicle models for which manufacturers reported deliveries. While that’s behind the Kia Soul and Nissan Versa, that ranking beats other established small cars like the Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit. The Sonic also handily beats its predecessor, the Chevrolet Aveo.
We recently had the opportunity to check out one of the latest GM hybrids, the Chevrolet Malibu ECO.
Unlike a traditional hybrid, the ECO is what’s known as a “mild hybrid” that doesn’t use the onboard battery and motor to propel the vehicle.
The GM system leverages the fact that a generator also can be a motor: use it to make current; it’s a generator: feed it current; it’s a motor. When the Malibu comes to a stop, such as at a red light, the conventional 4-cylinder engine shuts off. When it’s time to move again, the GM system’s battery feeds juice to the alternator, which restarts the engine and gets the car moving. This all takes place so quickly, the driver will likely never notice the system working. When the car is in motion, the alternator powers the car’s electrical systems and recharges the on-board battery.
In a week of mixed city and highway driving, we found the Malibu to be a most agreeable car. More important, the Malibu is a well-built car; a testament to the changes that have taken place since GM’s near-death experience.
At the 2010 Shanghai Auto Show, General Motors presented a very interesting vision of the future of personal urban transportation called the EN-V (Electric Networked Vehicle). An upright car with a very small footprint, the EN-V was intended to be capable both of autonomous operation and as part of a networked group of vehicles. The EN-V was designed for an environment in which an electric vehicle, with its limited range, could excel. The two-seat electric vehicles were developed to show the possibilities for solving problems of urban traffic congestion, parking and air quality.
While one of the three designs presented in 2010 was a bit odd, looking like an old-fashioned, deep-sea-divers helmet mounted on a Segway, the other two were suitably futuristic. Nonetheless, the original EN-Vs were among of GM’s most talked-about concepts ever.
Normally, when an automaker displays an “advanced concept” it’s to create some buzz and bring in the crowds that hopefully will look at the other iron on the floor after they’ve seen the “Car of Tomorrow.” The vehicle makes the rounds of the auto shows and maybe even goes on the road for a promotional tour, but sooner or later, it’s off to storage or recycling and oblivion. No one expects the car company to actually build the thing as a production model.
Apparently, somebody forgot to tell that to the folks at GM China Group.
At this year’s 2012 Auto China show in Beijing, Kevin Wale, president of the General’s Chinese operation, was not only revisiting the EN-V concept, he was showing a rendering of a newer version and talking about making the EN-V the centerpiece of a feasibility project.
“Our designers and engineers are exploring a range of options for turning the EN-V concept into a reality. The EN-V 2.0 concept would use technologies such as the mobility Internet, electrification and telematics to help change the automotive landscape and ensure a sustainable future for our industry,” Wale told his audience. “The EN-V 2.0 design rendering we are showing today is our vision for the next step.”
“We’re very excited about EN-V 2.0 concept, which embodies the essence of its predecessor but was evolved into a more practical design for real-life use,” Wale continued. “The combination of sensing technology, wireless communication and GPS-based navigation establishes a technology foundation, pieces of which could potentially lead the way to the creation of future advanced vehicle systems.”
EN-V 2.0 concept does away with the front-opening doors of the original designs and adds features such as in-vehicle climate control and storage space. It also sports a new Chevrolet bow tie. In addition, the design brief calls for the car to be capable of driving in all weather and city road conditions.
“We are designing the Chevrolet EN-V 2.0 to have a modular architecture so our engineers would have the flexibility to create a simple vehicle with manual operation or a more complex, fully autonomous and networked vehicle,” said Wale.
For better or worse, the concept’s wireless communication enables a “social network” that can be used by drivers and occupants to communicate with friends or business associates while on the go.
While Wale and his folks are looking at how the EN-V could work in Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities, one can’t help but think of the possibilities available in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and other crowded cities where short trips are the norm and space is at a premium.
It will be interesting to see how this project progresses. IF GM can make it work and make it affordable, they could have a real game-changer on their hands.
Chevrolet announced this morning that the Chevrolet Avalanche will end its run with the 2013 model year. Chevy also announced a special edition Black Diamond Avalanche. Black Diamond Avalanches will feature body-colored bed surrounds, a unique badge on the sail panel, additional features on LS and LT models, and lower prices across the lineup.
“More than 580,000 Avalanches have been sold since its introduction in 2001, and Avalanche has won major awards and recognitions throughout its run,” said Mark Clawson, Avalanche marketing manager. “So it is only fitting that Avalanche retires on a high note.”
“The Chevrolet Avalanche was one of the earliest forays into re-inventing the traditional pickup truck, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst, Edmunds.com. “It was a vehicle that maintained the traditional truck image and capability but was more versatile for the person buying it for personal use more than work – a lifestyle truck more than a work truck. Other variations on the theme from competitors followed the Avalanche’s debut.”
Originally a concept presented at the 2000 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Avalanche and its clone, the Cadillac Escalade EXT, were based on the Chevy Suburban platform. Unusual features included a “midgate” that allowed the owner to expand the cargo area by folding down the rear seats and mid-gate and removing a rear glass panel, opening the cab to the elements. In addition to creating thermoclines in the cab as air-conditioning and heating fought the great outdoors, the early midgate system also had problems with leaks and made the Avalanche and Escalade attractive to thieves. Another widespread problem was unsightly bleaching of the cladding applied to Avalanches from 2001 to 2003. GM did address these problems and owners have been generally pleased with their vehicles. The Avalanche was named Motor Trends’ Truck of the Year in 2002.
The Avalanche was supposed to help General Motors end Ford’s long reign as king of the pickups. While aggregate sales of the Avalanche, Escalade, Silverado and GMC Sierra often exceeded sales of the F-150, the Avalanche itself was usually more successful in cannibalizing Silverado sales than generating conquests from Ford and Dodge.
Avalanche sales peaked at 93,482 in 2003 and were gradually declining until 2007. In 2008, sales plunged 37.0 percent followed by a complete nosedive in 2009, when sales totaled 16,432, just 17.8 percent of peak sales. Sales have risen in the past couple of years but the market no longer justified development of a long-overdue replacement. Through the end of March 2012, Chevrolet has sold 589,719 Avalanches.
The Avalanche and Escalade did have a big impact on the full-size pickup market, making the crew cab a more popular body style than was previously the case: crew cabs now account for a majority of full-size pickup sales. They were also popular with those whose actual needs for a pickup’s utility were secondary to its usefulness as a family vehicle. Up until the recession and gas price crisis of 2007-2008, this segment of pickup buyers accounted for a large part of the rapid expansion of the U.S. pickup market.
“Although Avalanche sales have tapered off in recent years, as crew cabs have grown to dominate Silverado sales, we know there are many Avalanche enthusiasts among Chevy customers,” said Clawson. “The Black Diamond Avalanche is our way of saying ‘Thank you’ and making it just a little more attractive to own one more Avalanche.”
Toyota hybrid sales soared 50.8 percent in March, finishing the first quarter of 2012 47.9 percent ahead of the first three months of 2011. Camry sales rocketed 276.1 percent to 5,404 units, second only to the Prius, which again had segment-leading sales of 27,800, up 49.4 percent, and outsold the Toyota Corolla for the month.
GM was the next big player in the hybrid segment, thanks to the (very) mild hybrid eAssist system available on the Buick LaCrosse Eco, Buick Regal and Chevrolet Malibu Eco. GM also reported record sales of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.
Toyota and GM were the driving force behind a 47.7 jump in hybrid sales last month and a large increase in market share, from 2.7 percent in March 2011 to 3.4 percent this year. For the first quarter of 2012, hybrid sales are up 42.8 percent and market share has grown from 2.5 percent to 3.1 percent.
Hybrid buyers had eight new choices last month. Manufacturers reported sales on 33 hybrid models in March 2012, compared to 25 in March 2011. Overall average sales per model increased 32 percent from 1,363 to 1,461 units.
Not every manufacturer finished in the black. Honda, third in the segment by volume, reported hybrid sales down 49.6 percent, while Ford, the fourth-largest player, came in with a 45.1 percent deficit.
Toyota dominated hybrid sales last month and in the first quarter. The combined March market share for Toyota and Lexus hybrids grew from 72.6 percent last year to 77.4 percent this year. For the quarter, share rose from 71.1 percent in the first three months of 2011 to 76.0 percent in 2012. The Prius, alone, accounted for 57.7 percent of all hybrid sales and adding just the Camry increases the share to 68.9 percent. In fact, without Toyota, growth in the hybrid segment would have fallen by nearly two-thirds to 16.7 percent. Sales per model would have actually declined, from 550 to 436, a 20.7 percent fall.
Toyota’s impact on the hybrid market was further reinforced with the release of a Polk study yesterday. The study, covering the four-year period from the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2011, showed that only 35 percent of hybrid buyers purchase another hybrid at trade-in time. Polk said that if Prius buyers are factored out, the repurchase rate drops to fewer than one in four. Surprisingly, the repurchase rates in Southern California, usually considered to be in the forefront of “green” vehicle markets, were at or below the national average. In Los Angeles, the rate, including the Prius, is 34.1 percent.
Polk doesn’t give any specific reasons for the low repurchase rate, but price is likely to be a major factor, along with significant increases in the fuel efficiency of gasoline-powered cars. Polk did note that fuel prices did not seem to be a significant influence in purchase decisions.
In the pure, or mostly pure, electric segment, the Chevrolet Volt was the hands-down winner, reporting record sales of 2,289 cars, enough to put it in fourth place among all alternative-power vehicles, hybrid, electric and diesel. The new Toyota Prius PHV, a partial hybrid like the Volt, came in second with 911 sales. Sales of the Nissan LEAF nearly doubled, up 94.3 percent to 576 cars. BMW’s Active E was fourth with 326 sales and Mitsubishi sold 56 of its tiny, egg-shaped MiEV. Electric car share jumped from 0.07 percent in March 2011 to 0.3 percent last month.
German clean diesels also had a good month in March. Sales of diesels were up 39.6 percent, to 11,642 cars and crossovers. Volkswagen’s Jetta, Passat and Golf were the top three in sales and VW claimed 72.5 percent of clean diesel sales up from 70.1 percent in March 2011. Volkswagen’s share is not surprising as all other diesels are sold by upmarket luxury brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Unlike the hybrid segment, there were only three diesel models that missed their year-ago numbers: the Audi Q7, BMW 335d and Mercedes-Benz R320. The results for the BMW and Mercedes aren’t surprising; the 335d and the entire R-Series have been pulled from the U.S. market and dealers are selling down existing inventory. In first-quarter sales, the segment-leading VW Jetta missed its 2011 mark by 0.7 percent, quite possibly due to sales that went to the new Passat.
As a group, the alternative-power vehicles claimed 4.6 percent of total light vehicle sales in March, up from 3.6 last March.
U.S. MARKET ALTERNATIVE-POWER VEHICLE SALES
Lexus CT 200h
Lexus CT 200h
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