Hi, I’m Dave Mathews – The Gadget Guy, and this is Tech Talkback number 3 goodby cars, hello high-rolling SUVs. Tech Talkback on Anchor Free and Spotify Podcasts
If you drive in any city, it should be no surprise to you that SUVs are taking over the roads of America. If you’re in the Midwest, where I am from, or of course, our largest state of Texas, those roads are all about trucks. In fact, the number 1 vehicle in the USA isn’t even a car, it’s the Ford F150 which starts just under $30,000 dollars.
Ford shipped more than 900,000 trucks in 2018, with the Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram at just over a half-million produced EACH. Even the police forces of America have gotten away from the Ford Crown Victoria’s and have a Police Interceptor Utility Vehicle which now amounts to 80-percent of those fleet sales.
|Ford Police Interceptor SUV
Most of the F150 owners are corporates and organizations, using them as work trucks. Hertz, when founded, once focused on renting trucks and was later owned by Ford until 2005. Even Home Depot will rent a Ford to you by the hour. Heck, I bought one of the last steel body F150’s to tow my classic cars around.
But the F150 will too need to become electric. To prove the Ford Tough marketing mantra, they towed a train loaded with more than 1 million pounds of gasoline F150’s on their prototype F150 running high-torque motors under electric power with a cab full of internal combustion engine as known under the acronym of ICE, F150 owners inside the crew cab.
So why don’t we see European tucks in our cities and on our US interstates? Well, in 1964 the administration of then president Lindon B Johnson’s issued a 25% tariff, nicknamed the “Chicken Tax” on light trucks, corn starch and other staples of Americana. This decision was a rebuttal from Germany’s tax on our major import to their country at the time – did you guess it?? Chicken. This levy has prevented the cool VW and Mercedes trucks from driving on our streets, and the US trucks not having to go through the rigmarole that cars do. If you want to dig into this bucket of chicken, you can research the writing of Harvard Professor Robert Lawrence.
Ford, with their #1 vehicle has greatly benefitted from those long-ago eaten Chickens, but even they skirt the tax by importing their Transit Connect vans which are manufactured overseas. These arrive in the US from Turkey, with extra rear seats and therefore are considered “passenger cars” and once here, the seats are stripped from the chassis to become work vans again. This saved Ford thousands per vehicle in taxes, but hundreds in costs for the removed materials. What happened to the removed rear seats, the seat belts and glass behind the driver you ask? They were shredded, of course!
This isn’t the first time that “extra-seat trick” was used. Subaru, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s put a second set of waterproof seats and carpet in the bed of their trucks on their sport truck BRAT model. This went on until further legislative changes in 1989.
|The Subaru Brat w/rear bed seats
But this tax leads us into the reason for this Tech Talkback story – due to the lack of truck imports from foreign competition, our SUVs are built typically on truck chassis. With frames vs car’s mono-body design. Due to this, these vehicles are heavy, have a greater carbon impact and typically do not have the advancements in technology like turbochargers and small displacement engines that we see in the rest of the automotive industry.
If that’s not enough, the US truck market has been exempt from the so-called CAFÉ fuel regulations which keep automobiles lightweight and efficient. As any economist can vouch, competition brings rapid advancements – as in, the more players that are in a space, the better the range of these products become, as consumers vote with their wallets. The inferior products are eliminated.
So here we are, approaching the year 2020, were climate change is making our summers warmer, winters more erratic and our SUVs and trucks are exempt from the fuel efficiencies we need as a good global citizen. The truck industry in general is attempting to make a difference, with a slew of high power “tow ready” turbo V6 engines, and some of those being clean diesel, debuting in the last few years. More efficient dinosaur carbon burning engines of this ilk are coming out for 2020.
Now, here’s the surprise that even got me, as a guy who follows this automotive stuff closely – Ford back in 2018 announced they will not be producing passenger vehicles, except for the Mustang and a Focus crossover by 2022. But Ford’s CEO wanted to breathe more “huzzah” into the upcoming Focus electric crossover, and before launch, asked the team to revamp it, creating the Mustang Mach-E that we covered on our first episode. Does this mean that there will be no Ford cars, but only crossovers in Ford’s lineup? Time will tell, and that time is just two years from now.
Their sister company Lincoln now produces the new Aviator SUV that has a 30-mile electric ”boost” option and the Navigator high-end SUV. As an aside, their chimes are literally orchestrated by the Detroit symphony. How cool is that? And the electric vehicle newcomer Rivan has taken a 500-million dollar investment from Ford which we assume will go towards an electric SUV platform for Lincoln.
The Chevy Tahoe was announced this week with innovations as an independent rear suspension, a new for the segment 6-cylinder diesel engine and a longer wheelbase for more room between seats. A 5.3 and 6.2 liter V8 ship with the trucks, with direct fuel injection, variable valve timing and cylinder-deactivation that came from the team at Oldsmobile in the 1980’s. Nothing hybrid or electric, surprisingly.
Back to the electrics: Jaguar’s SUV that they call the e-Pace has just issued a software update that eeks 12 more miles on its range nearly reaching 300 miles on a charge. They achieved this update from analyzing their race series i-Pace eTROPHY data, and best of all, these dealership software changes will add more over-the-air future functionality to the ePace remotely. They have shipped 2,418 vehicles after hefty discounts that started at $5-thousand and moved up to $15-grand, if you were a (former) Tesla owner.
Audi has launched two versions of their first and second gen eTron– a low profile 5 door, that means hatchback, version based upon their 3 series and a larger one that is more SUV-like as their Q series, oh, and it’s priced like a Q too. Those vehicles have shipped about twice of the Jag electric, at 4,600 units.
The sales of these hasn’t been stellar, as they command a Deutschland premium and, in my opinion, until VW’s charging infrastructure is as built out as Tesla’s for fast charging, sales will be weak. To that effect, as part of the diesel-gate settlement, VW is dropping in chargers around America and publicizing them with a marketing campaign that you’ve probably seen already – called Electrify America. Hit that site up and find a charging station near you or your work, or even on the way to Grandmothers’ house you go! While you won’t find VW’s name listed on the Electrify America website, the entity’s CEO came from VW where he worked for seven-years. Heck, their entire management team came from Volkswagen, along with Audi, BWM and even Nissan, who’s electric Leaf hatchback is finally doubled their original range of 82 miles for 2019.
Big news here is that Mercedes announced that they are delaying their e-SUV, the EQC, wow, that rhymes, debut in America to concentrate on the launch in their home country of Germany. Whether this was based on their assessment of Tesla’s stranglehold on the market, where 3-year old designs FAR outsell the new models from Audi and Jaguar, or the lack of charging infrastructure that the VW is attempting to solve, is your guess as good as mine. But we will see those Benz vehicles in 2021 on US shores. They’ve actually got TEN electronic models planned to arrive by 2022. This will help with the state of US trucks and SUVs lax pollution laws. Lets see what kind of adoption the Mustang Mach-E and Electrified F-150 have with customers.
In wrapping up this episode I have to laugh at my own ICE or Internal Combustion engine woes. I’ve got two classic 70’ cars; down from 3 that I owned last year, where the smell of fuel inside them intensifies when even a hint of Ethanol gas hits the system. Many US gas stations put up to 10% Ethanol in as a way to cut their gas and save money… On top of that, my F-150 engine has a “tick” in the bottom end on the right bank, and a prior owner cross threaded one of the spark plugs in the 8-piston engine so I’ve installed an oversized threaded adapter to fill in the stripped void. I cannot wait to have enough range and high-amperage quick-charging stations to go electric and thereby eliminate the complexities of moving parts in ICE powerplants.
I’m Gadget Guy Dave Mathews and this is Tech Talkback – let us know what you think about the demise of the passenger car from automotive giant Ford below here at TechTalkback.com and stay tuned to our next episode where we talk about all things technology and automotive. Yee Haa!