Fitch Ratings on Monday downgraded Ford Motor Co. to one notch above non-investment grade with a negative outlook as the new coronavirus pandemic causes the Dearborn automaker to shut down plants around the world. Ford now is rated "BBB-." Although the Blue Oval has strong liquidity, according to the rating agency, it expressed concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak will lead to extended plant closures and harm demand.
Source: The Detroit News
Overall automotive shopper volume for the first 15 days of March was off 25% compared with the same period in 2019, according to Comscore, an analytics company and market-data provider. It saw declines in all but one vehicle segment. Full-size pickup shoppers remained ahead of last year’s pace, likely buoyed by incentives and personal use needs. “For the first half of March 2020, which includes the beginning of self-quarantines and social distancing, in-market shopper volume fell to its lowest level in more than 6 years, a clear indicator that March 2020 sales – and beyond – are in for some turbulence ahead.”
Here at The Car Connection, we review more than 250 cars every year. We write those reviews with car buyers in mind. We consider several key criteria based on the six categories in our rating system: Design, Performance, Comfort and Quality, Safety, Features, and Fuel Economy.
However, beyond those basics, automakers can slip in some little thoughtful touches that make the everyday driving experience a little better. None of these surprise-and-delight features will raise any of our ratings, but we love them and you might, too. Here are ten of our favorite small bug significant new car features.
Satellite radio’s greatest strength is its variety of content. However, with hundreds of channels to choose from, finding that content at any given moment can require scrolling through dozens of channels. Audi is one automaker that makes what’s playing on satellite radio stations much easier to find by listing not only the channel names but also the current song, commercial, or talk topic. Love Rush (the band, not the blowhard) like I do? You can spot “Spirit of the Radio” on channel 25 Classic Hits at a glance and quickly tune in to hear Geddy’s soaring lyrics, Alex’s blazing guitar, and Neil’s intricate drum riffs. Alternatively, if you see Def Leppard’s “Armegeddon It” on channel 38, Ozzie’s Boneyard, you can steer clear without having to hear one overwrought chord.
Speed cameras and red light cameras are a clear revenue grab by municipalities that have cost taxpayers millions. Land Rover and Volvo both a warning system that sounds a beep and flashes an icon in the instrument panel to let drivers know they are approaching one of these cameras. We appreciate that you have our backs, Land Rover and Volvo. Those who don’t drive a vehicle from these brands can also get warnings by pairing their phones with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and running the Waze app.
Blind-spot monitors and surround-view camera systems are smart features offered by most automakers. Combine the two and you get turn signal cameras. These systems display the view behind the car when the driver activates a turn signal. Honda’s Lane Watch system uses a camera on the passenger side mirror that shows the view behind the car on the center screen when turning right. It also has a button on the turn signal stalk that keeps the camera on to help while parallel parking. Hyundai Motor Company’s system works on both sides and displays the blind-spot view in the instrument cluster. These systems provide an additional measure of safety when changing lanes.
It can be hard to keep track of what windshield washer setting you’ve chosen when the wet stuff starts. Hyundai has a cool feature to help in some vehicles. When a driver changes the washer setting, an icon pops up in the instrument cluster to indicate the current setting. It stays up for a couple seconds then disappears, and it’s a good way to help drivers remember which direction to turn the stalk to raise or lower the speed. It’s a small, but thoughtful feature.
Seat heaters are great in winter…for about 10 minutes. Then they get too hot and start to heat up the ol’ undercarriage. I don’t want my biscuits to burn, so I’m not a fan of the typical seat heaters that heat both the seat back and bottom. However, seat heaters that warm only the back can be a boon for people with back pain while also preventing prickly heat on our bottoms. GMC and BMW offer heating for the front seat bottoms or seat backs or both. That’s a perfect solution that more automakers should adopt.
Automotive infotainment interfaces vary by automaker and sometimes within a brand. Some are intuitive and others frustrate. However, we’re all used to how our phones operate, so importing those interfaces onto vehicle screens makes sense, thus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Most systems are connected via a phone cord, which means you have to remember your cord every time you get in the car and risk the possibility of someone stealing it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve left the house only to run back in to grab a cord. BMW, Ford, and GM offer wireless connections that are doubly useful when the vehicles also have wireless phone charging as CarPlay and Android Auto can drain your battery the more apps you use. Going wireless just makes life easier.
Heated seats and heated steering wheels are now ubiquitous across the auto industry. Even economy cars offer them. But Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz love us so much that they offer heated armrests, on both the doors and center console. It’s like your car giving you a warm hug. Sometimes these functions are buried deep in a vehicle’s infotainment system, so do some digging to see if your luxury car offers heated armrests.
Glossy wood veneer can look great in a car, but it can also look like wallpapered plastic. In nature, wood has a matte, or open-pore, finish, and even when varnished it rarely looks as polished as the wood trim in luxury cars. Open-pore wood always looks like...wood. Used properly, like in the Bentley or in vehicles from BMW, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, and Rolls-Royce—it evokes an upscale environment.
Shift knobs can be a surprise-and-delight feature. A substantial feel and positive action improve the driving experience. A good design also dresses up a cabin, and no design is more effective at that than the crystal shift knobs available in Volvo and BMW vehicles. The crystal knob can give a car’s interior the feel of a high-end study with crystal decanters.
A stressful day at work can be exacerbated by the frustrations of rush hour traffic. Some cars are there to help like a friend with a sympathetic ear. When equipped with the optional navigation system, the new Hyundai Sonata has a Nature Sounds program that can play seven calming programs similar to white noise programs used to help people fall asleep. Examples include “Lively Forest” with the sounds of forest animals and “Snowy Village” that includes the sound of footsteps crunching the snow. Mercedes’ Energizing Comfort system goes much further. It uses climate control, massaging seats (always a wonderful feature), seat heaters and coolers, audio system, ambient lighting, and a fragrance system to create seven programs designed to relax or rejuvenate front-seat occupants. BMW has a similar system called Caring Car.
Source: The Car Connection
In most industries, when public consolidators decline in value, private companies quickly follow suit. However, in auto retail, that is not usually the case. This valuation aberration is best explained by auto retail’s fragmentation. The public represents just 8% of industry revenue, ~6% of dealerships and a very small percentage of industry acquisitions. As such, when their stock prices decline, the immediate effect on private dealership valuations is relatively minimal. That said, the publics’ dramatic stock price declines in March, which are driven by COVID-19’s expected economic effect on the entire auto retail industry, likely portend a reduction in private dealership valuations, though potentially not to the same degree as the public. Private dealers typically hold, rather than sell, their businesses in challenging times. COVID-19 will undoubtedly force some distressed dealership sales; however, for the most part, dealers are able to sustain profits in even the worst of times and patiently wait for valuations to rise. Thus, the most likely impact of declining public valuations is a slowdown in 2020’s dealership buy/sell market, though not a commensurate decline in private dealership valuations.
Source: Kerrigan Advisors
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is suspending a number of its development projects as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, putting about 2,000 employees from its subcontractors in North America on hiatus. The move comes as FCA and other automakers have ordered a shutdown to manufacturing operations, and various states, including Michigan, have issued stay-at-home orders. The company also has remote-work arrangements in place for many other employees.
Source: Detroit Free Press
Asbury Automotive Group has terminated its $1 billion purchase of most of the luxury Park Place Dealerships in Texas days before the deal was scheduled to close. Asbury, in a regulatory filing, said it notified the sellers Tuesday that it was ending its transaction agreements and would pay $10 million in damages. It did not specifically give a reason for the termination but said in the filing that it has borrowed $237 million from a revolving credit line and $110 million from its used-vehicle floorplan loan.
Source: Automotive News
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