Can you feel it in the air? It's the holiday season and joyous times with friends and family are here. Or rather, they would be if this wasn't 2020 and the world wasn't a coronavirus dumpster fire. Yes, it hasn't been the best year, but before we shuffle 2020 out the door like a drunk, illiterate squatter claiming to own your sofa, there's some unfinished business that requires discussion. Yes, it's Festivus time.
Before you can really get happy about the holidays, you have to get a little angry. Odds are you're already a bit angry, especially if you spent hours trying to get your 10-year-old collection of lighted reindeer lawn sculptures to work. Festivus falls on December 23, and while the secular holiday actually had its beginnings in the 1960s, it was forever immortalized in 1997 thanks to everyone's favorite television show about nothing, Seinfeld.
We have our aluminum Festivus poles, we've conducted our feats of strength, and now it's time to air our automotive grievances. From manufacturers to stupid trends and things that just royally double-dip our salsa, we have opinions and we aren't afraid to use 'em.
To our automotive friends, colleagues, and readers around the world, we are continually humbled to work with you, to explore with you, to inform you, and hopefully, entertain you from time to time. 2021 will be better. And we're excited to journey forward with you.
But right now, it's time to cry havoc and let slip the tires of tyranny.
Standardize names for common safety and assist systems.
Distinguishing the differences between modern vehicle safety systems is no easy task. Ford’s Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control does not function the same as Toyota’s Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Both of which are different from Toyota’s Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Throw in some marketing gobbledygook, and parsing the plethora of passive and active safety tech can quickly become an overwhelming task.
That’s why automakers must settle on a standard naming scheme for the most common safety features. For one, it’d make cross-shopping much easier for consumers by allowing them to compare safety features between makes and models easily. However, the more important factor is managing expectations of what a particular feature can and cannot do when the driver climbs in behind the wheel.
Much of today’s safety tech is passive, sitting in wait until it’s needed. However, that means most people don’t experience those safety features until they’re needed. Any confusion about how it operates could be catastrophic, especially in a high-stress situation leading up to an accident. Simplifying that understanding with an agreed-upon naming standard would be a great first step in helping consumers before automakers put even more tech into cars.
The influx of semi-autonomous driving systems as automakers tiptoe toward fully autonomous vehicles will further confuse consumers and complicate cars. The promise of a fully self-driving car has been an alluring one, though the technology is far from achieving that reality. The need to out-market the competition as these systems become standard is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of confusing drivers.
– Anthony Alaniz, Contributing Writer
Hey dealerships, it’s time to evolve or die.
At this point in history, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the automotive realm unlike anything that’s come before. Mainstream electric cars with gobs of connected technology aren’t coming, they are already here. Automakers are literally evolving faster than society’s laws, and yet, the vast majority of new car dealerships still conduct business like it’s 1972, right down to the sleazy bait-and-switch tactics that were pathetic back then. It’s like the last 40 years and the rise of instant information through the internet never happened. But that’s no longer the biggest slap-in-the-face for dealerships.
When Cadillac told its dealership network to upgrade for EV sales, upwards of 20 percent decided the future wasn’t worth it. Significant shame falls to Cadillac for giving these dealerships buyouts instead of letting them face the music, but make no mistake, they will be facing music sooner or later. Electric cars require far less maintenance, and that means the traditional dealership model of making a small profit on sales and absurd profit on service must change, full stop.
The dealership model should’ve been evolving for decades now, but the US is still littered with Neanderthal stores and commission-hungry sales staff shoving business cards in your face before you even get out of your car. Society has generally tolerated this behavior, but now that cars themselves are drastically changing, dealerships have no choice but to evolve. And frankly, it’s about damn time.
-Christopher Smith, Contributing Writer
Alphanumerics are lifeless. Give cars actual names again.
Do me a favor. Ask your Uncle Alvin what automaker builds the RLX. Unless he’s a car buff, he probably won’t know the answer. Now ask him the same question of the Legend. I’d bet that he’d likely be able to come up with Acura.
Insert any alphabet-soup model name into that conversation and you’d have the same result. It’s a lesson Lincoln took to heart a few years ago, reportedly after the company’s marketing manager overheard a couple arguing about whether they owned an MKC or an MKZ. Now, instead of MKS, MKX, MKT, and MKC, Lincoln builds the Continental, Nautilus, Aviator, and Corsair – though admittedly, the Conti is heading off into the sunset alongside the smaller MKZ four-door after 2020.
Even though a name change couldn’t save Lincoln’s passenger car offerings, I’m still glad the company is going evocative with its naming strategy. Acura and Cadillac could follow suit. Telling the valet, “It’s the red Vigor” would be way more fun than TLX. I’d rather have a Cadillac Calais (or even a Cimarron) than a CT4.
Hell, Infiniti and Lexus could even use the names of their Japanese-market Nissan and Toyota counterparts – out with the Q50 Red Sport 400 and in with the Skyline 400R. And would a Lexus Celsior carry more cachet than a Lexus LS 500h? I’m inclined to think so.
-Brett T. Evans, Senior Editor
There are too many damn hypercars, period.
We're coming down the home stretch of 2020, one of the most tumultuous years in recent history. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the millions of unemployed Americans struggling to make ends meet: There are so many new hypercars coming out. That's exactly what we needed, right?
As the wealth gap widens and the one percent profits even more off the rest of us, the market for multi-million-dollar hypercars is growing at an offensive rate. The list of companies that have a new hypercar coming out either next year or shortly thereafter includes many names you've heard of, and some you haven't: Apollo, Ares Design, Brabham, Bugatti, Delage, Elation, Ferrari, Gordon Murray, Hennessey, Hyperod, Hyperion, Koenigsegg, Lamborghini, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, McLaren, Naran, Pininfarina, Rimac, SSC… and there are probably a few I'm missing.
Admittedly some of those may never happen – looking at you, “Hyperod.” But the fact that these 20 companies believe enough in the booming market that they're willing to put the time, effort, and dollars into developing a hypercar is telling. And for the record, each one will cost nearly $1 million or more. It's gross. Stop it.
-Jeff Perez, Senior Editor
Why so many electric pickup truck launches?
Automakers have never been so hyped about a segment that doesn’t even exist yet like they are with electric pickup trucks. A running total of 11 electric trucks have “debuted” so far and include offerings from automakers as big as Ford, GMC, and Nissan and as small as Atlis, Hercules, and Lordstown Motors. Then there’s the controversial Tesla Cybertruck, as well as the handsome Rivian R1T, perhaps the two most anticipated electric trucks of the bunch.
What makes so many companies, big and small, confident this segment will be huge? Perhaps it’s that electric trucks will boast longer ranges because their frames can carry larger battery packs. Maybe it’s because America is and forever will be in love with trucks, and auto execs believe that affection will transfer easily from fossil fuels to electrons. Or it could be this industry is full of lemmings with strong FOMO tendencies – nobody wants to be left out.
Regardless of the reason, we see no guarantee EV pickups will be a hit from day one. Why? They’re full of compromises that typical truck buyers may not like. Their ranges can vary greatly based on how they’re driven, where they’re driven, and what they’re being used for. Charging takes more time and planning than just stopping for gas. And while electric trucks boast max tow capacities that make a one-ton wince, their ranges will take such a big hit when towing as to make them practically useless. Lastly, they’re going to be friggin’ expensive, with prices usually starting over $75,000 and going much higher with options and larger batteries.
The Cybertruck might be the exception. For one, it’s a Tesla product, and Tesla is hot now like Apple was in the 2000s. Also, the Cybertruck will have a starting price of $39,900 and be under $70K for its highest trim level. That means you’ll be able to get a loaded Cybertruck for less than the base price of most competitors. It also boasts the best or nearly best specs in the whole segment, with a maximum range exceeding 500 miles, max towing capacity over 14,000 pounds, and a supercar-squashing 0-60 time of 2.9 seconds.
As with all these trucks, however, the Cybertruck is vaporware until its first sale is recorded, and a lot can happen between launch and delivery day.
-John Neff, Global Editor-In-Chief
Mild hybrids shouldn't classify as an electrified car.
I mean, yes - technically, they are. A mild-hybrid powertrain consists of a combustion engine, an electric motor, and a very small battery, which is pretty much the definition of a powertrain combining two power sources of different types, or a hybrid. On paper, this technology should reduce fuel consumption by 10 to 15 percent but in reality, that’s just a mirage.
A regular or full hybrid frequently provides purely electric power to the wheels, especially in city driving, thus lowering the consumption of fuel and resulting in significantly (sometimes) improved fuel consumption numbers. In contrast, even though a mild hybrid may employ regenerative braking and store electric energy in a battery, it does not have an electric-only mode of propulsion.
The electric motor here acts as a simple starter-alternator and is never attached to the wheels. Instead, the system can only assist the combustion engine with acceleration, which in turn could allow an automaker to use a smaller and (potentially) more efficient internal combustion engine.
But that’s not enough.
All that said, I believe a mild hybrid shouldn’t really be classified as an electrified vehicle and benefit from any kind of government incentives, in any country. Yes, there’s some sort of electric motor assistance involved, but the motor is never turning the wheels, which is a significant constructive difference with all other types of hybrid or electric cars that we qualify as being electrified. Plus, the actual fuel-saving benefits of a mild hybrid powertrain are negligible. No zero-emission miles, no government incentives. It's that simple.
-Angel Sergeev, Contributing Writer
Don't brag about pre-orders/deposits without saying how many you have.
There’s nothing wrong with offering a pre-order of a Launch Edition or a First Edition of a new vehicle to appeal to people who want to be an early adopter of a new model. Things get frustrating, though, when an automaker touts selling out of these special models in record time but without disclosing how many are actually coming.
This year, I'm mostly looking at you, GMC Hummer EV Edition 1, but Rivian R1T Launch Edition, don’t think I'm missing you, either. The egregious example late in 2019 was the Ford Mustang Mach-E Launch Edition, and the company still hasn’t offered numbers for it.
Even being vague provides some useful information. For example, we know VW is bringing “about” 2,000 units of the ID.4 First Edition into the US. The number puts into perspective that the German brand intends this version of the EV to be fairly rare.
The Hummer EV example is the most annoying because the Edition 1 is the only version of the model available for the first year. GMC said that it ran out of reservations within an hour of opening them up. How many was that, though? A report put the figure in the “thousands,” but did that mean 1,001 or 9,999?
Our job is to tell you everything we can about all things automotive, especially when it comes to models that are causing a stir like the Hummer EV and Mach-E. Ideally, we’d want to be able to tell you that an upcoming Launch Edition is limited to X units so that you can make a more educated decision about whether it’s worth pre-ordering a vehicle. So, let’s hope that this isn’t a trend that expands in 2021.
-Chris Bruce, Contributing Writer
Enough with the Hellcat already!
Listen, I like the Hellcat. I’m glad it exists and that Hellcatting All The Things makes Fiat Chrysler Automobiles lots of money. Automakers making money is good for the economy and the livelihoods of millions of Americans. But I’m sorry, we’re perilously close to jumping the shark with this Hellcat business, if it hasn’t happened already (and I’ll entertain all the arguments that it has).
The original arrived, and it was great. Then we got the Demon. Followed by the Hellcat Redeye and Widebody – this happened over the course of a few years, which was a good pace for an engine that leaves media so breathless. In 2020 alone, though, we got a Challenger Super Stock, a Durango Hellcat, and the Ram TRX. And I have little doubt that FCA will find a way to stuff a Hellcat into a Wrangler and one-up the upcoming 392 variant (a Hellcat Wrangler already exists in concept form, after all).
But while FCA was busy finding new and creative ways to cash in on low fuel prices and tooling that’s been paid off for a decade, what else happened with the company and its brands? Dodge shrunk, Chrysler continues to matter in just one segment, and Fiat and Alfa Romeo are listless. Ram remains a winner and Jeep is getting by, but if you look at the competition for each brand, you’ll notice a trend towards the future that’s conspicuous in its absence at FCA.
The Ford F-150 is now offering a full hybrid model and is preparing a hands-free driving system, while the new Bronco and Bronco Sport are aimed squarely at Jeep. The upcoming Ford Maverick, the redesigned Nissan Frontier, and the Hyundai Santa Cruz will exploit a part of the market Ram has no entry in (despite the existence of small Fiat-badged pickups sold in other markets). And General Motors launched new body-on-frame SUV cash cows that, for reasons that defy reason, FCA has never bothered to challenge.
While FCA has gotten drunk on the Hellcat and its inarguable success, the cupboard has grown decidedly bare at the company. With that and the upcoming “merger of equals” – a phrase that sends a chill down the spine of any Detroiter that lived through the DaimlerChrysler era – there should be real concern about these brands and the jobs they support. But hey, at least we got 800-horsepower Challengers.
-Brandon Turkus, Managing Editor
Yes, you still need snow tires on your AWD vehicle.
I can’t believe I still need to say this. All-wheel drive is great for accelerating. If you live in a region that sees a fair bit of snow, that can certainly help get you going on slick roads. Last time I checked, successfully driving a motor vehicle also requires turning and stopping. Guess what doesn’t matter in those circumstances? So congratulations, your rugged-looking, soft-roading, all-wheel-drive crossover with all-season tires is 33 percent capable of tackling tough winter conditions.
Meanwhile, my snow-tire-equipped Ford Mustang is 66 percent capable of handling winter’s worst (more like 75 percent with extra weight in the trunk) and while AWD acceleration is fun, I’d much rather have control under braking and steering when things get bad. I know, being a Mustang driver I’m supposed to just hit stuff and post it to YouTube, but that gets old (and expensive) after a while. So bite the bullet, get an extra set of wheels and tires for winter, and revel in the unbelievable difference you have in overall vehicle control. Yes, it really makes that big a difference.
-Christopher Smith, Contributing Writer
Stop it with the restomod custom Land Rover Defenders already.
The hottest new business to get into this year was not building tiny homes. From my perch, it was building custom Land Rover Defender restomods. My inbox was inundated in 2020 with press releases from so many companies announcing their latest custom Defender build. Tesla-powered Defender. Overlander Defender. 600-horsepower Defender. Bond villain Defender. And my favorite: Defender with a wine and glass cabinet. There were so many more we didn’t write about because, after a while of this, if you’ve seen one custom Land Rover Defender restomod, you’ve seen them all.
-John Neff, Global Editor-In-Chief
Flying cars exist, they’re called airplanes so stop pretending to be The Jetsons.
Angel investors, listen to me because I can save you millions. Flying cars are never going to happen, so stop putting money into them. I understand that the dream of flying over everyone stuck in traffic seems fantastic, but it’s never going to happen. Let’s consider the reasons why.
First, the air traffic control infrastructure is already complicated, particularly around major airline hubs, and the cost to fix it is in the billions of dollars. To make the flying car safe, there needs to be an overarching control interface that makes sure that they don’t crash into each other, let alone existing commercial and private planes.
Next, flying is hard. There’s a good reason why getting a private pilot’s license requires lots of training. Even then, more lessons are necessary to take to the air during low visibility periods. Maintaining level flight in good weather is pretty easy, but takeoffs, landings, and inclement conditions compound the challenge. For there to be a viable flying car, it would be able to handle all of this without human intervention. Keep in mind that if something goes wrong, you don't just pull over to the side of the road. You fall out of the sky.
There are a vast number of other reasons that I could innumerate, but I don’t want to take up your time, Mr. Investor. Suffice it to say: give up the dream of the flying car.
-Chris Bruce, Contributing Writer
In defense of simple machines.
A few years ago, the Toyota RAV4 introduced an Adventure trim level, then upped the ante last year with a new TRD Off-Road package. That’s right, the name that first appeared on the vaunted, first-generation Tacoma 4x4 is now available on your everyday RAV4 crossover. In that application, the TRD Off-Road brings “specially tuned” coil springs, revalved shock absorbers, and all-terrain tires, among a few cosmetic googaws.
Then there’s the Chevrolet Colorado. When it arrived in 2015, it was a revelation, a midsize truck that could serve as reasonable daily transport, with good on-road dynamics and decent fuel economy from its car-derived 3.6-liter V6. Many of the other midsizers have been playing catch-up ever since – you could probably argue that Ford reintroduced the Ranger to the US as a direct result of the Colorado’s relative success.
And what of the Porsche 718 Boxster? It’s a mid-engine convertible with either a manual or a dual-clutch transmission that attacks corners with ferocity, yet somehow offers abundant daily usability thanks to its well-damped ride, exceptional cargo capacity (more than the much larger Mercedes-Benz E-Class cabriolet), and good fuel economy.
But as much as I like Swiss army knives (and their automotive equivalents), sometimes it’s nice to have a simple tool that does one job well. The Honda CR-V is one example; with few pretentions of off-road capability, the CR-V gives its customers a large helping of space, efficiency, and comfort. Adding heavy, all-terrain tires would sap fuel economy and exact a penalty in ride smoothness.
The Frontier, on the other hand, is an avowed workhorse, its dated interior and admittedly lackluster on-road dynamics tailor-made for rugged tasks – whether they be hauling landscaping supplies or tackling a fire road. Stiffening the chassis for refinement and covering the interior in soft plastics (as we expect from the next generation) might make the cheap and cheerful Frontier fatter, more expensive, and less resistant to abuse.
The Lotus Evora GT is another example. Starting at just under $100,000, it feels a bit overpriced at first due to a minimalist interior that doesn’t even feature a center console. But as a purpose-built machine for achieving speed and smiles, it’s arguably second to none, and adding luxury would dull the thrills it delivers on just about any paved road.
Look, I get it. Most of us can’t afford two or three or four cars, so our one choice has to do it all, as it were. Our RAV4 needs to have at least some nominal off-road capability, and our pickup truck must be able to handle Saturday soccer games, and our sports car sometimes gets pushed into a downtown commute. We live in an era where our automobiles are better and more versatile than ever, and that’s a great thing. But there’s still something to be said for single-purpose machinery that demands compromises in exchange for relative simplicity.
-Brett T. Evans, Senior Editor