Episode 881 – Orders Start for Focus ST, Aptera Zapped Back to Life, Tires Get Smarter

May 2nd, 2012 at 12:12pm

Runtime: 8:02

After what seems like an eternity, Ford is taking orders for the hotly anticipated Focus ST, but at what price? The Aptera we thought was dead in the ground is being “zapped” back to life by a Chinese company. German scientists are developing smart tires that can change their tread to match driving conditions. All that and more, plus a full report on April car sales.

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Welcome to Autoline Daily for May 2nd. I’m John McElroy and we’re going to have a full report on April sales in the American market later in the show, but first let’s take a look at some of the latest product news.

It feels like we’ve been waiting about 20 years for this, but Ford finally opened the order books for its highly anticipated Focus ST. At last you can build and price one on its American website. This 2013 model is powered by a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. It’s officially rated at 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, which should make this little five-door scream. In fact, a source inside the company tells us its top speed is 148 miles an hour! The Focus ST is offered exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. Base price is just about $25,000, including shipping and handling charges. If you load it up with options it’ll set you back just about 31,000. No fuel economy figures have been revealed nor has the release date, so stay tuned.

What’s old is new again, or in this case, what’s dead is alive. According to Autoblog Green, the super aerodynamic – and super defunct Aptera 2e is being revived. It was spotted at the Beijing Auto Show. A Chinese company called Zap Jonway has apparently bought the body molds and plans to start building cars. It’s reported they also plan to ship them to the United States where powertrains would be installed. But due to some legal issues it seems pretty unlikely Apteras will ever be sold in America.

Scientists in Germany are developing tires that adapt to weather conditions or any kind of road surface. According to Motor Authority, embedded sensors in the tire automatically adjust for optimum grip and fuel efficiency. In other words, the tread pattern will change or reconfigure to get the best performance. Flexible actuators, piezo-ceramic actuators, shape memory alloys and other smart materials, are all used to make it work. As you can probably guess it will be years before these tires are ready for the public to use but hopefully it’s not too long because it sure would be nice not to worry about putting snow tires on during the winter.

India has the Tata Nano and now China has the Zoyte Z100. According to China Car Times, it’s the cheapest car in the Chinese market at a starting price of just $3,700. Powering the Z100 is a 1.0 liter engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. But it could just be a copy of the Suzuki Alto. Zoyte purchased another Chinese company which built the Alto under license. We don’t know if this is a legal replica or not, but they sure look like twins to me.

Coming up next, we have a lot to learn from what the market is telling us. We do a deep dive into April car sales.


New car sales in April in the American market show that the market is well above a year ago, but somewhat softer than the prior month. Total sales came to nearly 1.2 million vehicles, up 15 percent, which WardsAuto says translates into a SAAR of almost 14.4 million. But sales were down 1.6 percent compared to March.

The top five gainers in the market included Daimler, which was up 44 percent. Typically we’d just call it Mercedes-Benz, but take a look at this! Smart was up 84 percent. Even so, total smart sales were only 764 cars, so don’t get too excited. Chrysler continues to stun everyone and posted another 35 percent jump, VW-Audi was up 27 percent Toyota 25 percent and Porsche 22 percent.

The Toyota Camry continues to be the best selling car in America but it just barely edged out the Honda Accord. Clearly the two Japanese juggernauts are regaining their foothold after a disastrous year ago April which was just after the earthquake hit. The Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata all finished close to each other. And while the Nissan Altima blew everyone away in March with sales of 41,000 cars, clearly it pulled a lot of customers forward, because in April sales fell 60 percent.

Toyota and Honda also dominated small car sales with the Corolla and Civic. The Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze were well behind them, but look who broke into the top five in this segment: the Volkswagen Jetta. Amazingly, VW pulled ahead of Nissan, Hyundai and Kia.

On the truck side the Ford F-series continues to easily lead the segment, but look at the Ram pick-up which saw a 34 percent jump. Looks like they’re clearing out the inventory to clear the decks for the redesigned Ram that comes out later this year. If I were Chevy I’d be nervous about Ram closing the gap with Silverado.

In the hot compact crossover segment, Honda easily led the way with the CR-V, but a surprise was the strength of the Chevy Equinox, which edged out the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV-4 and Nissan Rogue.

Electric car sales continued to disappoint. While sales of the Chevy Volt were up 233 percent compared to a year ago, total sales only came to 1,462 cars which was actually a 25 percent drop from the month before. Nissan LEAF sales were a paltry 370 cars, while Mitsubishi only managed to sell 79 i’s.

Sales of hybrids, EVs and cars with E-assist, shot up 80 percent over a year ago, but almost all of that is thanks to the Toyota Prius. The sedan, the v and the c now account for 41 percent of all hybrid sales. Even so, hybrid sales were down 2.4 percent from March, which means they fell more than the overall market, even with sky-high gasoline prices.

That wraps up our sales report, but before we go, be sure to join us Thursday night for Autoline After Hours. Our guest will be Bill Coughlin from Ford and the guy who is responsible for bringing TechShop to Detroit. You’ll be amazed why he did this.

Anyway, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

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31 Comments to “Episode 881 – Orders Start for Focus ST, Aptera Zapped Back to Life, Tires Get Smarter”

  1. Brett Says:

    Darned shame about Aptera…

    Looks like that all-new Escape is going to hit the market in the nick of time for Ford, doesn’t it?

    Anyone else surprised that Mitsubishi sold even 79 of their electric cars last month. If they had a lick of sense, they’d figure out how to offer them as loaners for warranty service.

    Chrysler’s sales uptick doesn’t surprise me. Americans root for American manufacturers (regardless of who actually owns ‘em now) and they root for the underdog, too. Wait until the Dart hits showrooms.

  2. dcars Says:

    Pedro is going to be very happy!

  3. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’m not surprised that Camry still tops the sales charts, but I’m a little surprised that Accord is still up there. Maybe the Honda loyalists are buying them, because they are afraid the next generation will be worse than the current one. That’s been a trend with Honda recently.

    Next year will be interesting, with the new, much-different Fusion, and the new Malibu.

  4. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Here’s a review of the new Escape, for anyone who is interested. The one tested has basically the same engine as the Focus ST.


  5. pedro fernandez Says:

    Whoopeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Smart sales way up. good to see stupid buyers are still alive and well! With all the new, much better competition, I can’t even believe that POS is still on the market, much less gaining sales numbers. #3 Forget about it, when it comes down to your hard-earned money, you’re gonna bank on a sure thing, not some BS story about a so-called Detroit renaissance in the mid size market.

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    That Focus ST is coming just in time to go against the new coupe twins from Scion/Subaru which are creating so much buzz, that a lot of initial buyers are gonna be pissed off that they can’t find one, so they will start looking for an alternative, and only Ford (domestics) will have one.

  7. john 878 Says:

    The Toyota Corolla beating the Chevy Cruze is really shameful when the Cruze is a far superior car. We Americans better wake up, and magazines like Consumer Reports, for all I care, should go out of business. They’ve been in love with Toyota no matter how lousy their cars are.

  8. Lex Says:

    Smarter Tires? What about Smarter Drivers. I guess the only way we will get that is with Autonomous Vehicles!

  9. pedro fernandez Says:

    Seems like every day we read a story about attempts to make driving less desirable and enjoyable, smart tires really? in today’s reality when people are shopping for used tires, cause they can’t afford new ones, why not concentrate on making tires more affordable without all that useless crap?

  10. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The competition for the Focus ST will not be the Scion/Subaru coupe. It will be the VW GTi and the MazdaSpeed 3, 4 cylinder turbo front-drive hatchbacks like the Focus.

  11. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I agree. The biggest thing wrong with my MINI is the “new technology” run-flat tires which are noisy. Tires are certainly much, much better than they used to be, but radial construction was the most recent worthwhile breakthrough, and that was about 50 years ago.

  12. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit why do you think that the ST won’t compete with the Scion coupe? even though the Focus is FWD, it should be close enough to those 2 plus the Golf R which I find too expensive, considering the competition. If these coupes are a big hit because of RWD, the competition has nothing to put up against it, anything RWD like that is years away. That’s the result of the FWD obsession that has been in place for decades now.

  13. Jon M. Says:

    @ #7 Lex.

    Smarter drivers, yes, but too bad the former is easier to make than the latter. But don’t count on autonomous cars to solve the problem either. If I had to count on my computer alone to make it through a busy day at work, I’d be far less productive. I don’t hold out much faith in computer-driven cars to make commuting any better; it’s just one more car on the road to cause problems.

  14. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The Scion/Subaru will compete with the ST, GTi, and MazdaSpeed with some people, enthusiasts who don’t need much room, and who don’t care about having as good of winter drivability as the front drivers. Actually, I could be in that category.

    The GTi et. al., from what I know, have considerably more cabin space, both for people and cargo, and would be expected to work better in ice and snow.

  15. MJB Says:

    #8 & #10 – agreed

    I have a hard time ponying up the nearly $600 it takes to outfit my car with a new set of standard equipment tires. No way in heck I’m gonna fork over what’s likely guaranteed to be double that price-point on these “Smart Tires”. I don’t care what advantages they bring to the table.

    There IS a segment of buyers who will buy these tires. I am not yet among them. And most folk will never be.

  16. cwolf Says:

    pedro: I must have passed a half dozen or so Dodge Journeys on the pike and refused to let anyone of them get too close behind me because of their brake problems. You have me paranoid!

  17. cwolf Says:

    The Focus ST is sweet! It has about 50 more ponies than the Scion,but the FWD vs RWD will make an interesting comparo. If’n I was a kid,I’d like to see the Focus offered in a 2 door though.

  18. pedro fernandez Says:

    cwolf, you are toooo funny, but really, the latest “re-engineered” pads seem to have nipped it in the bud, for now. Bottom line is: too much weight+too small rotors = crappy braking.I wonder if Sergio himself worked on that project. #17 they seem to be pushing this drifting crap quite a bit to sell these cars, but really how many people are gonna put a $30k car with expensive tires through that ordeal?

  19. cwolf Says:

    Come to think of it,instead of forking out $30k for the ST,couldn’t I get a 6 cyl. Mustang for the same money? And because the ST is still a Ford,I wonder if you will take a hit when it comes to resale value. There are a growing number of neat cars that tempt me to splurge from my norm in a work car; something fun,exciting and different. Still,the ATS keeps coming front and center in my wishes.

  20. cwolf Says:

    T,Bejma: Read your yesterdays post about promoting the Volt. How do you stire excitement with a car that can only travel 30 miles on a charge,then only gets 32 mpg’s there after? Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of the Volt and believe it is a well built car. But you have to admit it needs more attractive numbers than that! Any talk of a diesel engine from the future Cruze? What’s the skinny of its future developement? Also,when can I expect se see an ATS turbo?

  21. Bob E K Says:

    I agree with you 100% #7 No matter how good or reliable The Chevy Cruze or Ford Focus are plus there other offerings, they always (certain magazines) always put Toyota on top along with Honda…they will never side with GM or Ford..pitiful..

  22. pedro fernandez Says:

    yeah, mechanics love them Chevys, keeps them busy and earning money. cwolf the type of people that buy hatchbacks like the ST or Golf R do not go for the Mustang or Camaro, just like the ones who like the upcoming coupes from Scion and Subaru would not get into a pony car.

  23. C-Tech Says:

    If only the ST came in a Focus 3-door hatch like the old Focus. I don’t think GM has anything to compete with the ST. Hopefully Ralph Gilles will unleash a Dodge dart SRT-4 like the old Neon SRT-4 (but more refined).

    Sales numbers are up but all over the place. I don’t see that many Jettas around here yet.

    Not surprised at the mid-sized segment, but it does look like GM. Ford, and Chrysler are starting to close the gap. I still like the Accord over the Camry.

  24. C-Tech Says:

    Are “smart” tires going to do “all things in a mediocre way” like the current batch of “all season” tires?

  25. carrib1 Says:

    I think the the ford focus cars are ugly an plain…

  26. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Yeah, the GTi is the only one of the “hot hatch” group that has a two door. I liked the old Focus 2 door hatch, but not enough to buy one. It was too “rough around the edges.” I really liked the way it looked, though.

  27. cwolf Says:

    What was wrong with the tires of not so long ago,yet before the manufacturers assertion that lower side walls is something we so ever need? The old also came in ample sizes and patterns,lasted up to or beyond 80K miles,quiet through out the tread life and affordable. How many times has there been a review praising our desire for superb handling dynamics and the 40 series tire?;…As if we have a need or opportunity to take a curve at break neck speeds or want to zig-zag in and out of a bunch of red cones equally spaced! There are soooo many other things that could be made better and the tires on some of these cars do not quallify as “better”.

  28. pedro fernandez Says:

    #27 just like wheels and tires getting bigger and thus more expensive to replace. I see nothing wrong with having 14in in a small car, but now they come in as large as 17 for a small car.

  29. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I think low profile tires becoming “fashionable” is why the OEM’s now use them.

    Extremely low profile tires provide only marginally better handling; C & D, and maybe others have run tests, but the low profile tires ride worse, transmit more road noise, and generally cost more.

    Some of today’s tires, even ones used as OEM on cheap cars last a long time. A friend with a Pontiac Sunfire got a little over 100K miles out of the original tires, some kind of B.F. Goodrich, size 195-65/15.

  30. HtG Says:

    I’ll stick with higher profile tires that let me know they’re approaching the limit. These sexy-time side walls stick well, until they let go in a flash. Ever see the tires on a Formula 1 car? 13″
    BTW, still who wants to bash GM tonight? Read this article about all the banks in the UK.


  31. Brett Says:

    Frankly, I miss the generous slip angles you could achieve with bias-ply tires, but I’m fairly old school.

    Radials may have higher grip, but it’s much more like dancing on a knife’s edge once you get north of 90%.