Good Morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.
1st Gear: There Are Cars!
Cars! That’s what the automakers of Earth have for you all at the Javits Center this year. The reveals started at some parties last night with the Lincoln Navigator Concept, a gull-winged SUV whose doors will never see production ever, and the Mazda Miata RF, a kind of Porsche 911 Targa for poors.
What wonders will today hold? Press conferences from automakers like Toyota, Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Jeep, Genesis and more.
How thrilling for us all!
2nd Gear: Honda Invests Big In The SUV Boom
Honda’s putting it’s money where buyers are putting their money: in the CR-V. The Indiana plant that produces it is about to get a big investment, reports Automotive News:
Honda will invest $52 million in its Greensburg, Ind., assembly plant to add output of the popular CR-V compact crossover by early next year, the automaker said Tuesday.
About $40 million will go toward upgrading the manufacturing site to allow for CR-V production, while another $12.4 million will be spent on a 20,000-square-foot training center for manufacturing skills classes.
The 1.3 million-square-foot plant will continue to produce the Honda Civic compact sedan, the automaker’s third-highest-selling vehicle in the U.S. The plant, which is southeast of Indianapolis, has produced 44,579 Civics through February this year, a year-over-year rise of 38 percent.
3rd Gear: Mini Faces Big Challenge
I’m an unapologetic Mini Cooper fan, but I’m not most buyers. Those people want their big SUVs and trucks and they want them now. And in this era of booming SUV sales and cheap gas, Mini’s kind of struggling at the moment, reports Bloomberg:
Mini executives say the brand needs to change. Not only are Americans flocking to SUVs as fuel prices have plummeted, but German luxury models are competing on Mini’s turf. BMW has its tiny 2 Series, Audi has the A3 compact car and Mercedes has its CLA coupe. While not considered a luxury model, a Clubman can easily cost more than $40,000, meaning that Mini is battling those companies for the same wallets.
Mini’s image as a tiny car also has held it back, according to brand executives. The vehicles are actually quite roomy for their size. Even 6-foot-10-inch Randy Johnson, a Hall of Fame pitcher, can comfortably drive one, but no one knows it, said Tom Noble, head of Mini brand communications in the U.S.
“A lot of people never considered Mini because they think the cars are too small,” Noble said. “We’re trying to open the brand to people who need something more functional.”
The brand’s sales will probably pick up whenever the new Countryman drops. Depressing if you like small, fun cars, but those aren’t what people are buying.
4th Gear: And The Alternative Is This
Maserati’s doing an SUV, which isn’t the worst thing in the world when you consider Maserati’s history and heritage, but it’s close. Then again Porsche did it, so who cares? Via The Detroit Free Press:
But that didn’t stop Maserati CEO Harald Wester from heaping superlatives on the vehicle.
“It is warm, seductive, powerful and unique,” Wester said. “It is a force of nature capable to bend senses.”
Some enthusiasts still cringe at the thought of the 102-year-old sports-luxury brand producing an SUV. Others point out that the Porsche Cayenne has been on the market for more than a decade and several other competitors have zoomed by Maserati to jump into the red-hot luxury SUV market.
Wester worked hard to make the case Tuesday that the long-awaited Levante was worth the wait.
“We like to say it is the Maserati of SUVs — 100% Maserati and 100% SUV. The best of both worlds,” said Wester, who has an master’s degree in mechanical engineering and remains an engineer at heart. “I could speak for hours about its technical characteristics, its specs and features.”
5th Gear: The Navigator Too
SUVs run the world these days. Have you figured that out yet? Here’s The Detroit News on the Lincoln Navigator Concept:
The full-size luxury SUV concept makes a striking statement with two upward-opening gull-wing doors with concertina steps. With a prominent grille and sweeping exterior lines along the sides, it puts forward the “new face of Lincoln” design language that debuted a year ago on the Continental Concept.
“The Navigator is an incredibly important vehicle for us on multiple levels,” Lincoln President Kumar Galhotra told The Detroit News. He said the Ford Motor Co. luxury brand has no intentions of keeping the gull-wing doors on the production version of the SUV but thought it was a “fun yet very practical” way to draw attention and showcase the six-passenger concept SUV’s interior.
Galhotra said the concept vehicle, which was shown to select members of the news media Monday prior to its official debut, strongly symbolizes what Lincoln hopes to accomplish when it releases the production Navigator next year. It will be the fifth new vehicle from Lincoln since the “rebirth” of its lineup started in 2012.
Reverse: 600 MPH
Neutral: How Does Mini Survive In The Big-Car Era?
Besides “wait until gas gets expensive again,” that is.