March 29th, 2012 at 11:53am
Ford released information on the new Explorer Sport, which is getting a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine. The Blue Oval’s cross-town rival, Chevrolet, just spilled the beans on its latest three-row crossover, the Traverse. Prices of the precious metal palladium are set to rise throughout the year because automakers keep using more and more of this shiny, silver metal. All that and more, plus guest host Peter De Lorenzo, the Autoextremist, shares his recipe for the perfect sports car.
‘Renzo here. Mr. McElroy has relinquished control of the show to me once more because he’s away on double secret Autoline Business, but don’t ask me ‘cause I don’t know nothin’! And if you’re wondering who I am, well, I’ll give you three guesses . . . HINT, it’s right down there. Anyway, enough of that, we’ve got some news to get through, and after that, I’ll share MY recipe for the PERFECT sports car.
FORD EXPLORER SPORT
But first up . . . some news from Dearborn. On Monday we told you Ford would be offering a performance version of the Explorer. Well, now it’s official. The Explorer Sport is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine that cranks out an estimated 350 horsepower and 350 pound-foot of torque – no surprises here. Four-wheel-drive is standard. Fuel economy is projected to be 18 MPG in the city and 22 on the highway. The chassis was stiffened for better handling and larger brakes were added to enhance stopping performance. The exterior has its own unique cues. Most notably, the Explorer name is spelled out on the front hood just like on the new Flex. The Explorer Sport will be out later this year.
In related crossover news, Chevy showed off a refreshed version of the Traverse. Look closely at this family hauler’s front end because it’s the new face of Chevy crossovers. Inside, the Traverse now features soft surfaces on the instrument and door panels, ambient lighting and a new center stack. It’s powered by the same 3.6-liter six-shooter as the current model. The new Traverse will be available later this year.
RENAULT’S GRANDIOSE KANGOO
Meanwhile over in France, Renault just revealed its new people hauler, a larger version of the Kangoo called the Grand Kangoo – really? – which can seat up to seven people. If hauling cargo is a must, its second- and third-row seats can fold flat for even more room. This compact “vanlette” is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder diesel. The Grand Kangoo goes on sale in Europe next month.
There’s an automotive turnaround taking place. No, I’m not taking about GM, Opel or even Peugeot. Bloomberg reports palladium is set to storm up the charts. Last quarter it was the worst-performing precious metal on commodities exchanges, but the shiny silver element could turn into a segment leader. Even though it’s had a rough ride, investors predict it will become No. 1 by the end of the year. In the final quarter of 2011 palladium was trading at about $850 per ounce. But since then prices have fallen more than 30 percent. The drop is attributable to slowing car sales in China. Despite the country’s cooling, automakers keep using more and more of the stuff. The transition metal’s primary use is in catalytic converters. There’s expected to be a shortage this year as Russia limits supplies. South Africa, another major producer, is projected to have the lowest output in years.
PATENTLY THE BEST (subscription required)
General Motors an innovation leader in the U.S.? Yes. Last year it was ranked No. 1 in the automotive/transportation sector by the Patent Board, an organization that tracks this kind of stuff. Moving to Europe, Peugeot-Citroen takes the crown in France. PSA published more than 1,200 patents last year – 85 more than it did in 2010. It’s interesting that PSA can deliver all of this innovation yet still be in a terrible financial position. You can thank French tax incentives for that.
THE WILD, WILD EAST
China’s roads are like the Wild West. They’re congested with inexperienced motorists and hordes of pedestrians. Driving a bus must be one of the most stressful jobs in the country. But it’s just gotten worse. Drivers in Jinghua have been instructed to stop crashing in to expensive cars! Recently they were shown a poster with logos of different luxury automakers and their corresponding price tags. Apparently it’s still ok for them to plow through inexpensive vehicles, so watch out if you drive a Geely.
After the break, MY secret recipe for the ultimate sports car.
‘RENZO’S SECRET RECIPE
If I were to build my vision for an everyday sports car – a 3,000-pound, design-forward, mid-engined machine – I would go shopping for the “magical” ingredients that make the great machines of the world, well . . . great.
Since design is the ultimate initial product differentiator in this business, I’d give GM’s Ed Welburn a call, because I appreciate his feel for what makes design work and what makes it exciting.
The power? As good as the engines are these days from Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, McLaren, Mercedes, VW, et al, I’m going with the magnificent, normally aspirated 7.0-liter LS7 V-8 from GM.
The six-speed gearbox would come from the Audi R8. Yes, I appreciate and sometimes love double-clutch automatic transmissions, but if it’s my car with my name on it, I will happily be shifting manually, thank you very much.
The steering mechanism would come from the new Porsche 911 because its new electromechanical system is simply the best in the business. And I would dip into the Porsche parts bin for the brakes as well – from the current Porsche 911 Turbo.
For the suspension I’m calling up McLaren to see if they wouldn’t like to sink their teeth into my little “project.”
The lighting and interior design execution would be left to Audi and the tires will come from Michelin.
The aforementioned sources for these magical ingredients represent car companies that are consistently doing the best work in the automobile business today.
But just having a couple of these ingredients doesn’t guarantee success in this business, because a random set of ingredients is just that, a mélange of good stuff that looks great on paper, but doesn’t necessarily hang together as a unified whole.
The car companies who separate themselves from the pack are the ones that are gifted at tuning their particular set of magical ingredients to flourish together to the point that greatness follows.
The rest? They may score a few notable wins and superlatives here and there, but they never seem to get it together enough to achieve the top plateau.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this Thursday.
And since it’s the fourth working day of the week, you know what that means. Join me tonight for another episode of Autoline After Hours. I’ll be wranglin’ a trio of all-star guests including Mark Phelan from The Detroit Free Press, Gary Vasilash of Automotive Design and Production as well as Charlie Vogelheim from ResponseLogix. We’ll cover a bunch of interesting topics PLUS the biggest news stories from the past week. Check it all out at Autoline.tv starting at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time. DO NOT MISS IT!
Again, I’m the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo. Ciao, for now.