Episode 962 – Ford Focus No. 1 in World, New Fiat Panda 4×4, Gas Prices Skyrocket in Italy

August 31st, 2012 at 11:45am

Runtime: 8:32

The Ford Focus is the world’s best-selling car in the first six months of the year. Fiat will unveil a new 4×4 version of the Panda at the Paris Auto Show. A gallon of unleaded gasoline now costs about $9.50 a gallon in some regions of Italy! All that and more, plus a preview of Autoline This Week, where we take you inside Bob Lutz’s garage.

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Well, we’ve made it through another week. It’s Friday the last working day in August, so let’s wrap it up and get to the news right now.

Congratulations Ford Focus. You’re the best selling car in the world so far this year, nearly 490,000 Focuses or is it Foci?, were sold in the first six months of the year. The Toyota Corolla is number two with over 460,000 sold. Looks like that One Ford idea is really paying off.

Speaking of Ford, the company is accused of patent infringement. According to Bloomberg, a lawsuit filed by TMC Fuel Injection System accuses the automaker of selling F-150s with its fuel-injection system that it received a patent for in 2008. Ford began discussions with the inventor back in 2004 to license the system but that fell apart in 2008 when Ford allegedly said it wasn’t interested in the technology. The system increases the dynamic range of the fuel injection system to boost performance and improve fuel economy by up to 35 percent in the city. Ford had no comment.

We’re getting more new product leaks in front of the Paris auto show. Fiat will unveil a new 4×4 version of the Panda, making this the only four-wheel-drive vehicle in its segment. It sounds pretty serious, with two differentials that can be electronically locked at speeds under 50 kilometers an hour, or about 35 mph. It’s powered by a 0.9-liter gasoline engine with 85 horsepower, or with a 1.3-liter diesel with 75 horsepower. From a styling standpoint note how they put some brightwork under the front and rear bumpers to make it look like it has skid plates. Fiat first introduced the Panda model 30 years ago.

And here’s why that Panda has such dinky engines. A gallon of unleaded gasoline now costs about $9.50 a gallon in some regions of Italy! You can blame the European debt crisis, which has forced the Italian government to raise taxes on fuel to help cover its debts. Fuel prices may be outrageous in Italy but they’re actually worse in Norway, where a gallon of petrol can cost more than 10 bucks.

Now to the commercial-vehicle side of the business. Meritor WABCO has developed an electronically controlled air suspension for heavy commercial vehicles. The system is much more efficient than mechanical setups because it’s lighter and uses less air, and because the electronically controlled suspension ONLY adjusts to changes in load. Mechanical systems react to every bump in the road. All that extra adjustment consumes air, which causes a truck’s compressor to run more often, wasting fuel. An electronically controlled suspension can also help improve traction. If wheel slippage is detected loads can be transferred fore and aft from one drive axle to another. More than 3 million of these systems have been sold globally.

Mazda officially announced that it is continuing to develop the Wankel engine. Amazingly the small Japanese automaker is working on a range-extended vehicle that could launch as soon as next year! A rotary powerplant is perfect for this sort of electric vehicle. They’re very compact and lightweight, which makes packaging a breeze and they can be pretty efficient when operated at a constant RPM. On the subject of the Wankel engine, we recently interviewed a guy that thinks he’s solved all of its problems. Look for that in a future episode of Autoline Daily.

Coming up next, a look at Bob Lutz’s garage and at how Toyota develops new cars.

We’ve got two great shows to promo here. Last night we had Randy Stephens, the chief engineer of the Toyota Avalon on Autoline After Hours. Let me tell you. All you product development people, especially those of you who work on the Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Azera, and Buick Lacrosse ought to be watching that show. There’s some great inside info on how Toyota developed this car.

And then check out Autoline This Week where we take you inside Bob Lutz’s garage. Many of you saw the After Hours version of this show, but the television version edits it down to the best of the best. Here’s a small sample of that show.

Your can watch that show right now on Autoline.tv or check out our YouTube channel as well.

Also, make sure you tune in to RoundAbout tonight. It starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time on our website, Autoline.tv. It’s a great way to kick off the long weekend, so don’t miss it.

Remember, Monday is the Labor Day holiday here in the United States, and we will gratefully take the day off. So have a great weekend and we’ll see you back here on Tuesday.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog and WardsAuto.com

56 Comments to “Episode 962 – Ford Focus No. 1 in World, New Fiat Panda 4×4, Gas Prices Skyrocket in Italy”

  1. pedro fernandez Says:

    “Our old La Salle ran great, those were the days”, Randy must have spent a lot of time at golf clubs and at Century Village doing research for the Avalon

  2. Jon M Says:

    Ford’s at it again. I wonder if Greg Kinnear will take the lead role for the sequel to Flash of Genius, Flash of Genius II – Corporate Mêlée. Corporations aren’t usually considered underdogs though, so Hollywood might not be so attracted to this showdown.

    Anyway, it sounds like to culture hasn’t completely changed at Ford!

  3. Jon M Says:

    …THE culture, that is, hasn’t changed much at Ford.

  4. pedro fernandez Says:

    Focus # 1? Really? not from this POV. Here the Civic and Corolla still reign supreme although I have seen more new Focii than Fiestas, even though the latter has been around longer. It’s all about getting your money’s worth, I suppose.

  5. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Focus is top seller world-wide, not in th U.S. Focus sells well in Europe, adding a lot to its numbers.

  6. jack879 Says:

    I own a Chevy Cruze and it was good that I was given the change of driving a rental Ford Focus for two weeks while I was in Hawaii. I might add I also was given the chance of driving a Corolla about a year ago. Being an auto enthusiast, here’s how I would rate these cars. The Cruze would be number one, than the Focus, than the Corolla. I was not impress with the Focus and by far the worst was the Corolla. The Focus transmission sucks and was always searching for a gear and I missed the quietness of the Cruze. How they sell so many Corolla is beyond me. It to show consumers don’t do their homework.

  7. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit it’s amazing how different Europeans choose their cars compared to us here, example the Aveo is still available over there in the UK where it does not get the negative reviews it gets here, I suppose since it is a Chevy, they do not expect it to perform as well as the other models that are more popular over there and in most cases are not available here.

  8. HtG Says:

    Two Rolls Royce cars spotted today on the highway. One was a new Ghost in dark gray, the other a 1925 phaeton in yellow body with black fenders. My, how an awesome car owns the road. Nearly a hundred years apart, these cars know who what they’re about.

    (the 1925 was a right hand driver heading to CT.)

    BTW, this weekend there are historic races at Lime Rock, with F1 cars from 60′s and 70′s. I’ll be there, as will Sterling Moss.

  9. pedro fernandez Says:

    On the contrary, my friend, most buyers are NOT enthusiasts, they buy based on reputation and word of mouth. Despite all their shortcomings and bad reviews, both Corolla and Civic are top sellers here due to their reputation for durability, quality and smoothness. No clunky double clutch tranny there.

  10. pedro fernandez Says:

    #6 whatever happened to Ford’s legendary quietness?

  11. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Wish I were there. Sounds like fun.

  12. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I don’t know what all versions of Corolla and Civic are sold in Europe, but Focus has multiple body styles, including the hatches that almost everyone in Europe buys in that size car. Also, there are a bunch of different engines available. That is needed to sell high volume in Europe.

  13. dcars Says:

    The JPS Lotus 97 was a great looking car, it would be nice to see that car roaring around the track.

  14. dcars Says:

    opps Lotus 79!

  15. pedro fernandez Says:

    #12 I also think European buyers pay a lot more attention to handling and dynamics and most of the Asian cars just handle too sloppy for their tastes, thus they prefer the better handling Fords and German brands.

  16. T. Bejma Says:

    The Aveo that has been sold in other areas outside of the US for the past 2 years is the “Sonic” here, which gets great reviews. The old Aveo was one of the worst quality vehicles in the GM lineup so the name was changed here. In the rest of the world, I agree with you, they did not expect as much so the Aveo name did not mean crap like it did in the US.

  17. Kit Gerhart Says:

    There has been a lot of discussion here about Opel’s financial woes, but not the products. What ever happened to Astra? It was the top selling car in Europe, or at least in its class including Golf anf Focus not too many years ago. It may have been a top seller the first years of the generation sold as a Saturn, or maybe a previous generation.

  18. pedro fernandez Says:

    Opels are sold in different part of the world under various brands, it is a shame that GM has not been able to use the Opel name and its history to sell cars under the Opel brand.

  19. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Ford, Toyota, and VW have managed to use a single “brand” world wide for their mainstream products. GM should be so lucky.

  20. Kit Gerhart Says:

    GM has two brands, just in Europe, with Opel on the continent, and Vauxhall in the UK. I guess they are now using Chevy, so that makes three.

  21. BOB LONGMATE Says:

    August 31st, 2012 @ 11:27 AM

    Kudos to Ford Motor Company upon manufacture of their 350th million vehicle, standing in celebration at the end of the production line at Ford Thailand Manufacturing so aptly poised for {archival} digital photos is a Race Red 2013 Focus.

    Almost incomprehensively, other than war time(s), continuous production for 109 + years, virtually unfathomable is it to contemplate what Henry Ford’s hands hath wrought since 1903 amid the outstanding efforts of the men & women who have worked tirelessly since…

    Additionally, since 2006, Alan Mulally, William Ford Jr., the Board of Directors, the Executive management teams(s), each & everyone of Ford’s global workforce, dealers included, must be so proud to realize and comprehend, based on resolute dedication, the burgeoning promises, the Focus, of ‘One Ford’ now manifested as the best selling car, worldwide, during the first half of year 2012.

    Most profound is the thought that the promises of ‘One Ford’ have really only just scratched the surface…

    Well beyond our American roads, may EcoBOOST & LINCOLN discover new lands and proliferate to each of the four corners of our Globe…

    New manufacturing agents, embracing FoMoCo’s state of the art Global manufacturing, as well, technologies expertise to ‘win’ in every market that Ford serves…


  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    If only Ford would concentrate more on CARS, and less on driver distraction gadgets in the dash.

    Oh, and Lincoln is on life support. Maybe things will pick up for them, but there is little evidence at the moment, except for the new MKZ, if they don’t price it beyond its market position.

  23. Kit Gerhart Says:

    …and VW/Audi have had “ecoboost” for about 8 years, but they just call it 2.0 turbo. Chevy also had a gdi turbo a few years ago in the HHR SS.

  24. pedro fernandez Says:

    What Ford does possess is a great marketing and image making machine, for sure. They play the role of good guys vs GM’s bad, welfare-recipient, problem child.

  25. C-Tech Says:

    @ #24
    I think you left out the fact that Ford does build good quality cars and truck at a reasonable price. Many people buy them for that reason.

  26. pedro fernandez Says:

    Are they any better than What GM and Chrysler are putting out now? Surveys seem to point out that is not the case, except Fusion (they can thank Mazda and Mexico for that) But perception seems to believe otherwise.

  27. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Ford has one car that I like, the Focus hatch. I would have considered it, had I not gone for the ultimate in fuel efficiency and gotten the Prius.

    A minimally equipped Focus SE, which has cruise, is 18-19K, and you can avoid the worst of the electronic stuff. It is easy to run the price way up, though. There is one at the local dealer with an MSRP of over $26K. Yikes.

    The biggest weakness is that the manual transmission is a 5-speed, with a lowish top gear that makes the engine kind of “busy” at highway speed. It’s a nice car, though.

  28. C-Tech Says:

    Ford F-150 is still the best-selling truck and very highly ranked. Ford fusion (and Mercury Milan) has excellant reviews and good resale value. Mustang sales are still strong, even though second to the newer Camaro. The Focus has good sales and good reviews. If it is marketing, then Ford has some solid reliable products to back it up. When Ford has receive bad ratings it is because of the Sync media system, not because of a ” failure to proceed “.

  29. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The main complaint I’ve heard about recent Fords, other the mytouch stuff, is that the dual clutch automatic is hard to drive smoothly at low speed. I drove one about a year ago, and it felt like just desensitizing the throttle would help. I thought that transmission worked well at anything above parking lot speed. It’s probably too early to know about its reliability, though.

  30. pedro fernandez Says:

    At this stage, I think GM and to a lesser extent, Chrysler can match Ford’s offerings, with the glaring exception of the mid-size segment, the aging, awful 200 just is not even in the same league as the Fusion/Malibu, and they need an entry level car as well, today I met new clients who both have owned Hondas for a long time and I asked why Honda? and they both answered the same, while struggling as students, they both owned older Civics that served them well and now that they can afford something nicer, they both stuck with the brand, this is one problem the Detroit 3 have always had, poor entry level products, GM and Chrysler were guilty of this even to last year’s models.

  31. pedro fernandez Says:

    I nominate as one of the year’s biggest hypocrites, the former Governator of California who while signing into law the country’s toughest greenhouse legislation, now buys himself a humongous, gas guzzling SUV that will do around 10 mpg of diesel fuel on a good day, I gotta stop scratching my head, I’m betting a bald spot!

  32. Kit Gerhart Says:

    What, a Hummer H1?

  33. pedro fernandez Says:

    No its some Mercedes truck like thing which they don’t even sell here, it is an industrial vehicle and he had it modified to be more “civilized” $250k and needs special permission to be allowed in the states, how does that fit in California’s environmentally friendly, green state lifestyle is beyond me, perfect do as I say, not as I do moment.

  34. pedro fernandez Says:

    So, the new Sentra is coming with a CVT and others are coming with double clutch, aren’t these OEM’s taking a big risk in alienating buyers by only offering these new transmissions? I wonder if GM, Honda and Toyota are on the right track by NOT going this way, or will they be like Kodak and regret not following along with the others.

  35. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Honda is going with a CVT on the new Accord. Dual clutch gearboxes, and the newer CVT’s give a slight mpg advantage, but the advantage over today’s torque converter automatics is, indeed, small

  36. cwolf Says:

    RE #24,26,30
    After reading these comments,it’s clear to me ,pedro, you have an enormous bug up your butt about American brand cars,pure and simple! Your foreign brands are no better and they are far from being immune from recalls. I think you’re just pissed because the Focus took the sales lead from your Corolla. Short on factual data,instincts tell me the bail-out references you often exclaim lay in the same plane as the protections built into the Asian markets. I believe it is very possible you would feel differently if support was’nt offered to the US manufacturers because the evaporation of all those laborers and retirees who lost their benifits could have jeopardized your job as well. Think about it my friend!

  37. pedro fernandez Says:

    Well, give me ANY car that will serve me as well as this Corolla has and I will eat every word I’ve ever said or written on the subject, I’ve seen to many people I know buy their precious vehicles after I got mine and have to get rid of them at half the age and mileage of mine due to constant breakdowns and repair costs, including more expensive and yes even Japanese ones, I got a cousin with a 99 Accord that has given him lots of problems, so I guess I’ve been lucky with my Crapola, and no I am not sorry about Focus outselling Corolla,. Toyota has been neglecting this car for years and now they will pay the price.

  38. pedro fernandez Says:

    #36 look up an article on TTAC about the whole Focus outselling Corolla news, it’s not so clear after all!

  39. cwolf Says:

    #38 Does’nt really matter. It gives you a clue as to peoples car choices around the world. The Corolla for reliability or loyalty and the Focus for its style and driving dynanics. I think these folks are saying both are pretty good cars for the money!

  40. bob e k Says:

    I would settle for the Chevy Cruze hands down…try it I guarantee you will be pleased!

  41. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Anyone else catch “60 Minutes” and the interview with Marchionne; not as big a ‘jerk’ as some may have implied (here). Of course, what could I glean in a 20 minutes interview, still, he sounded grounded (and HAS lead Chrysler out of the ‘dumpster’).

  42. pedro fernandez Says:

    41 I like the fact that his office is right next to the engineering dept, instead of the penthouse offices most other chiefs occupy, shows to me that he realizes PRODUCT is everything!

  43. cwolf Says:

    #40 Can’t argue with you,yet depeding on how and where you drive,some others may be equally or better suited. I believe the Focus interior is nicer,but the Cruze is more roomier. The Focus has more zip and sharper handling. Some fault the tranny for a “clunk” at slow speeds,which did’nt concern me. The Cruse handles well and its highway gearing makes it a less peppy city driver. Its turbo gives a tad more zip. I would,nt find the turbo necessary and not worth the added $. I think the coming diesel will attract a lot of attension. Again,most enthusiasts realize there are as many pro’s as con’s having a diesel. For mpg minded folk,the coming Focus 3 cyl. turbo may get the lions share of interest as a diesel alternative. And for pedro’s sake,let us not forget the Corolla for its reliability,though the interior and dynamics lag far behind all others. One fact should not be overlooked and more buyers should give it more weight in their purchase; The Cruze is a TRUE American car!!! I’ll take American owned and made any day.

  44. cwolf Says:

    It’s nice to see some of you guys coming out of the wood work today!

  45. pedro fernandez Says:

    43 If you discount the fact that it was mostly engineered by Daewoo, this Daewoo/Cruze coverup is even affecting cwolf.

  46. Kit Gerhart Says:

    …if only they would sell the hatch version in the U.S. That would be a nice car. Also, the upcoming diesel will be appealing if it matches or beats the mpg of the VW TDI, and has a timing chain instead of the belt in the VW with a 110K mile change interval.

  47. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Kit, I agree, wouldn’t mind seeing a hatch on some of these small cars; almost a mini-ute (with all that access of a hatch). I loaded some big stuff (back in the day) when I had my Chevy Citation (hatch), plus it was the X-11 model (I liked it).

  48. cwolf Says:

    pedro,even if there is truth to your relentless hang-up with GM,all your points are moot! First,there is a difference between engineering and design and I’m sure you are clueless as to the extent of participation. Second,sales should give you wordless response to your comment. Pondure upon the fact that the Koreans have been going “gangbuster” and their styling (int &exterior) makes Toyota’s and other Asian brands look immaturish in talent and ability. Would’nt you agree?

  49. pedro fernandez Says:

    Oh, I see nothing wrong with the Cruze design, it is a very attractive car without being “edgy” like Focus or Hyundai, but it is engineered by the same company that did Aveo AVEo means crap in Korean!

  50. pedro fernandez Says:

    I got a Cruze lined up for next weekend from Avis, gonna go out on the town for my b-day and treat myself to a new ride for a couple of days.

  51. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Let us know how you like it.

  52. pedro fernandez Says:

    After all this time with the less than comfortable Vibrolla, I am sure I will be in auto heaven!

  53. T. Bejma Says:


    You do realize that Daewoo no longer exists, right? They were so much GM that last year they became GM Korea. I am sure very little of the Aveo Team was even around when the Cruze was created…

  54. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Does a non-automotive Daewoo still exist?

  55. pedro fernandez Says:

    And all these engineers were replaced by GM guys? Don’t think so, hopefully this merger improves the brand, no doubt they’re on the right track, the Cruze and Sonic are way better than the ones they replaced, but only time will tell about durability and long term reliability, no one can predict that yet. But past Daewoo products were bad, really bad, I know 2 people that were happy with their Daewoos and suddenly catastrophic tranny failures at just over 70k miles and then the cars became worthless, metal junk, cause it cost a lot to fix, those parts were expensive.

  56. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit I see some Daewoo appliances sold to 3rd world countries cause they’re very simple to operate and in the case of washing machines, they are manually operated, you let the water in and let the water out and they just have an electric motor for washing and rinsing and they have manual wringers. No American housewife would put up with that!