Posts Tagged ‘Ford’

Are you of an age that the expressions “three on the tree” and “four on the floor” actually mean something? 

Prepare to have your mind blown. 

Just the other day Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. signed an agreement under which both companies will jointly develop an all-new generation of advanced technology 9- and 10-speed automatic transmissions for cars, crossovers, SUVs and trucks. 

The new transmissions, to be built in both front- and rear-wheel drive variants, will improve vehicle performance and increase fuel economy. 

And how many remember that for improved fuel economy, manual transmission, not automatic used to be the (preferred) way to go?

Where will it all end?

 

 

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Other than this being a pop culture reference from a decade or two ago in the comparison of a value-priced detergent and the (at the time) number one selling brand, blind tests have been a tried and tested form of instant affirmation of a brand’s status – regardless of the product.

And so it was one morning in early fall as the leaves were beginning to turn that a small group of automotive journalists made their way to Mosport, now more correctly referred to as Canadian Tire Motorsports Park or CTMP near Bowmanville, Ontario.

We were here to test a Sailun Tire against a very popular competitor in the Canadian marketplace.

Initially assembled in the now demolished Castrol control tower, we sat and listened, made notes as we were told the story of Sailun Tires, their origins and future plans – specifically in Canada.

To many of you reading this, Sailun is a typo, a name not currently in your lexicon – automotive or otherwise. And for the most part, that was pretty close to the mark for the assembled auto writers in the room. In fact, employees and technicians of Sailun painfully outnumbered writers.

Some had heard of the brand before, but no-one had any direct experience. Or had ever knowingly driven any vehicle clad with Sailun rubber before. There was a palpable nervous chuckle and anxious glances at this fact from Sailun employees over this reveal.

But let’s address the back story before we go any further. Sailun Tires are a division of a bigger organization; Dynamic Tire Corp. Sailun Tires are made in China. OK, there we go; the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The tires are made in China! But wait, there are more than 600 tire manufacturing facilities in China including some ‘household’ names, such as Goodyear, Michelin, Pirelli and Bridgestone, to name a few.

That tidbit certainly got the attention of the assembled writers and the room was silent: Brian Mielko, Vice President Marketing certainly had our attention.

First and foremost, Sailun recognizes that it is not an industry leader. They are quite comfortable in the value tier segment of the tire world. Some of the facts that got knowing nods at appropriate moments included 41% of aftermarket tires are sold from the value tier segment; the value tier market comprises some 24%.Within this market there are dozens of choices.

Is there one that is any better than the other?

To be clear, Mielko and his team were not here to take on the world of tires. They were here to attempt to demonstrate that there is another viable alternative in the crowded value tier tire landscape. However, because their brand is not first on the lips of drivers and dealers and not  being in the top five, by sales volume in any market does not mean that they cannot produce a great tire. Sailun’s goal today and every day after this is not to prove their tires are the best. They want an opportunity to demonstrate that their brand is as good as anyone else’s. Not a lofty goal, perhaps, but the proof would be there for all to see shortly.

We were now ready to head out to the Driver Development Track (DDT) of CTMP to play with the tires and of course, cars. Before leaving it was suggested that there would be a reveal of the competitor’s brand at lunch time, half way through our testing. To a person this notion was, to the obvious pleasure of Sailun execs tossed out. This was to be a true blind test all the way through. No reveal until the last brake pad and rotor had a chance to cool down.

All of the tires we would test drive had the names and identifications buffed off the tire’s sidewalls. So, unless you were an expert on tread pattern there was no way of knowing which tires were fitted to the car. Our cars for the day were Ford Fusions and needless to say, everyday driver’s are not encouraged to do what we did to the cars and especially the tires over those the next few hours. Do not try this at home.

The first test consisted of drives around the DDT in the opposite direction to the way it was designed. We were requested to travel at a maximum of 80 km/h to simulate driving on rural two-lane highways. Cars were marked clearly either “1” or “2”. On this test the tires on “1” produced minimal road noise and did not squeal under moderate cornering loads while offering good levels of grip in generally accepted non-aggressive driving conditions. The “1” tires were almost predictable – a good thing, especially as they seemed to subliminally grip through all corners – in my opinion. Generally, the tires on “2” car did not feel the same – less comfortable over all yet perhaps providing a marginally better steering response.

After each lap in every car, eager techs descended upon us with tablets looking for us to offer immediate opinions on predetermined test templates while the ride was fresh in our minds. This would occur each time any driver stepped from a Ford Fusion. A little annoying but definitely necessary.

Next we were taken to the wet slalom, where we performed the autocross course at speeds of 50 km/h, 60 km/h, and then as fast as we could. The cars were still “1” or “2” – some were FWD, some AWD but regardless, we drove all configurations equally.

Again every vehicle and their buffed rubber seemed very close in performance – this was, indeed, the Pepsi challenge revisited.

After lunch it was hot laps on the DDT – going the right way around the course that many of us had experienced before – in fact, my first turn around this track was on a Bridgestone-sponsored event. Long story short, in spite of every driver’s best efforts, no cars ploughed the in-field and no tires were blown. It appeared that none of us could really tell the two seemingly different sets of tires apart.

To Brian Mielko and his team, this was a dream come true.

Over coffee in the old Castrol tower, we waited patiently as the survey results were carefully tabulated. It was then revealed that tire “1” had been the Sailun Z4+AS and that tire “2” had been the Continental Extreme Contact. As stated, anecdotally we all thought that overall there were no discernible differences between the popular Conti rubber and the Sailun contender. Then came the actual results.

Sailun’s Atrezzo Z4 AS tire

On the wet slalom, tires were rated on four criteria: overall control and predictability; cornering stability; steering feel; and, traction under acceleration. Sailun performed marginally better in all categories.Next was the road drive with one added category – drive comfort. Sailun prevailed again.

Then we had tracking. Five categories similar to the slalom with the addition of confidence on braking. Sailun bested Conti in four of five categories, being narrowly edged out on steering feel and responsiveness.

Continental’s Extreme Contact tire

So at the end of the day with a possible score of 40, Continental came in at 30; Sailun edged them with 31. Then a marketing manager shared additional information: a couple of phone calls moments before to tire dealers in the Toronto area revealed that the Sailun Z4+AS retailed at $111 per tire and the Continental for $189. That’s a huge 70% price difference!Smiles all round; mission accomplished – at least as far as the day was concerned. Tires as good as a major competitor – and way less expensive.

Can Sailun succeed in their quest to be seen as an industry leader in the value tier segment? They are making all the right moves at the back end with expansive new warehouse facilities in Brampton and with major quality control measures for every tire that comes off the production line – yes, you read that correctly; each and every tire is tested before it heads out to any market for resale.

Time, of course will tell. They are taking their future very seriously and carefully. They’re not looking for global domination, merely some respect and the ability to sell more tires – especially in the challenging Canadian market. Remember, this test was for all season radials; we’ll see in the near future how Sailun stacks up in snow and much colder weather conditions at a later date. Then, and only then can Sailun truly hold their collective heads a little higher – if their winter tires compare as favourably. We shall see.

As we left the parking lot we could see high fives and broad smiles being exchanged.

My thoughts? I wish them every success. On the day, their tire performed well. It stood up against a brand leader. And bested it by 70% on price. I’d buy them and give them a chance. As a true Canadian my response is not “Why?” but a resounding “Why not!”

Ford of Canada at the Princes gates in Toronto

On May 31st Ford of Canada was at the Allstream Centre in downtown Toronto to offer information and test drives for the local auto press with their latest offerings of electric and fuel efficient vehicles. The Power of Choice Tour (going for the rock star image?) in Toronto was one of eight tour stops to take place across Canada through April and May; Toronto was the final stop on the tour.

Ford presented a variety of eco-friendly engine options; from fully electric and plug-in hybrid, hybrid, to EcoBoost engines. Vehicles available for very brief trips around part of the perimeter of the CNE grounds included the Ford Focus BEV, the all new 2013 Escape , the 2012 Fusion Hybrid and on display in the foyer area of the Allstream Centre, the Aston Martin-looking 2013 Fusion – some spill over family DNA at play here?

The Aston Martin-looking pre-production 2013 Ford Fusion

While many manufacturers are openly flirting with all-electric and electric/hybrid technology, do these vehicles ever really stand a chance in the highly competitive automotive world? The EV Ford Focus is a sharp, sub-compact vehicle that looks good, feels pretty good and for commuters that know they will never exceed a daily charge range, may be one of the preferred choices in EVs today. But realistically, without a suitable and far-reaching infrastructure (ubiquitous charging stations) in the short and long term, do EVs truly stand a chance?

Of course, manufacturers have also placed a few of their eggs in the hybrid basket and here Ford is certainly not the exception. Their respective offerings makes sense, mostly have considerable curb appeal and come with an eco-feel-good aura already initiated.

But listen to what Ford says of their truck engines with EcoBoost. More economical motors that provide considerably superior mileage than their once-preferred and oft revered engine of choice, the V8 – without a major sacrifice in power – specifically, torque. In fact, in the F150 line (46 years as the top selling vehicle in Canada – and counting), demand has been so strong this past year that keeping up to demand for the V6 with EcoBoost has been a daunting yet pleasant challenge. And now, Ford’s category leader, the Escape is now available with an EcoBoost engine. But here, the Ford story veers ever so slightly; EcoBoost in a four cylinder engine! An optional 1.6-litre turbocharged EcoBoost four with 178 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque is available. Coupled with self-closing grille shutters (they open for breathing at low speeds and close to reduce drag at higher speeds), the 1.6-litre engine is estimated by Ford to return 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway – and on regular fuel.

The all new Ford Escape on the road in Toronto

As many of us have suspected, but Ford has now begun to underline, does the future of the automotive industry lie with the internal combustion engine (ICE) – the once revered technological marvel that brought us all to this point?

Perhaps. Ford anticipates making EcoBoost available in many of their product offerings over the next few years. Whether driven by gasoline or diesel fuel, as another manufacturer once said, so prophetically many years ago… tried, tested and true.

Will, indeed ICE be the industry’s ‘saviour’ – even if – or as gasoline prices and demand continues to rise?

Time alone will tell. Meanwhile, a canny manufacturer such as Ford, appears to have all bases pretty well covered.

These days, even with gas prices running at least 40% higher than they were 12 months ago, car manufacturers and their dealers are doing just about anything and everything they possibly can to entice you behind the wheel of a brand new vehicle.

Scan your newspaper (yes, people still do that, you know) and check out the full-page advertisements for new cars, trucks, SUVs and vans on either a Saturday or Sunday and be prepared to be bamboozled and confused.

Sometimes the colours of type in the advertisement will subliminally tell you who the manufacturer is. Blue? Well, that’s easy – it’s Ford. No, wait; it could be Hyundai – my mistake. Wrong shade of blue. Red? Got to be Toyota – or is it Honda?

Even after a credit meltdown these past couple of years, the inducements are often still beyond belief. For example, what follows are just some things that Detroit and Asia have seen fit to throw at us,  and, for the record not all necessarily bundled together. Usually.

  • No money down.
  • No security deposit.
  • Zero percent financing.
  • We’ll pay the tax!
  • First three months payments are on us!
  • Free gas for a year.
  • Save $x per gallon/per liter for 12 months.
  • Free delivery.
  • Free tank of gas.
  • Free oil changes for as long as you own the vehicle.
  • Free tires for as long as you own the vehicle.
  • No charge scheduled maintenance.
  • Free courtesy vehicle when your car is in the dealer’s shop.
  • And my personal favorite, employee pricing – meaning you were being taken if you considered paying anything close to the suggested MSRP.

As alluded earlier, business, generally thanks to the recent ‘downturn’ in the economy took a nosedive. Automobile manufacturers went cap in
hand to their respective governments looking for bailout money. Why, like the debacle in the mortgage market, Detroit especially, in its own inimitable fashion followed suit and offered the automotive equivalent of mortgage-backed securities, one of the core reasons for the financial meltdown we all still struggle to make our way out from under. Easy credit and alarmingly disarming terms and sales tactics sucked in many individuals who seemed to believe that, the ‘dream’ that Madison Avenue had been promising for years, was attainable.

Just sign here. And here. Here, too.

People… are we not going down that very same road again?  If something sounds to good to be true…

Did we learn nothing?

That, my friends, is the perfect example of a simple yet rhetorical question.

In this part of the country, we love our trucks.  ½ ton pick ups and up. Some use them as a primary vehicle, some for work. Some drive them on weekends. Some drive them day in, day out. In rural Canada, trucks are king. No question.

For the most part and to this point, to get the job done, owners traditionally looked to growling V8 monsters (gas or diesel-fuelled), capable of performing just about every task thrown in its 4 x 4 or 4 x 2 path. There was no task too big, no task too small for the venerable workhorse.

In Canada, pick up truck sales consistently lead the way for vehicles purchased, month over month. As a matter of fact, the top-selling pick up in this country for 45 years now is the Ford F-150 series, a pick up that comes in about as many variations as Baskin Robbins has flavours.

As popular as the F-150 pick up might be, the Ford Motor company has not sat back complacently and watched the orders come in, month in, month out.

Well, they have made note of the orders, but a few years back, Ford, like many other manufacturers out there began to realize that the salad days of big honking, fuel guzzling stump-pulling trucks was perhaps nearing an end. People were finally starting to pay attention and made demands on Detroit and Canada’s Big 3 and even popular import manufacturers. Greater fuel efficiency was required. But for trucks, the message was even clearer. Improve the efficiency of the motors to reduce wear and tear on wallets, but don’t even think about sacrificing power and raw, brute strength.

Those that work the land or haul loads of lumber and equipment from job site to job site have high, some might argue unrealistic expectations when it comes to their trucks. But now, especially with the high cost of fuel, they want everything they ever had when they turned on their pick up’s engine. And more. Saving money has never been more important – without sacrificing raw power.

A tall order, and over the past few years, there have been many close calls from all the major manufacturers. Even some of the imports were getting it right – to a point. As much as there may be loyalty to North American trucks, if off shore manufacturers presented a diesel-fuelled  option, there would be many folks tipping their hats, rubbing their chins and saying, “Show me!”

Now it seems that the engineers at Ford may well have come up with a winning formula with the introduction of the 2011 F-150 with EcoBoost.

EcoBoost is a name that Ford has pinned on one or two engines over the past couple of years, especially with the SHO passenger vehicle and the large family-oriented Flex SUV. So what exactly is this EcoBoost they’re almost bragging about? Well succinctly, EcoBoost is a family of turbocharged and direct injected six-cylinder (and four-cylinder) gasoline engines built by the Ford Motor Company. Engines equipped with EcoBoost technology are designed to deliver power and torque consistent with larger displacement, naturally aspirated engines while achieving approximately 20% better fuel efficiency and 15% reduced greenhouse emissions. Imagine that; an eco-oriented pick up! Simply put, relative to the power output and fuel efficiency of hybrid and even diesel technologies, Ford sees EcoBoost as an affordable and versatile alternative and intends on using it extensively in more future vehicle applications – hence the F-150.

This truck is a definite game-changer in the world of pick ups. The leopard has managed to change its spots. Really. Under the hood of this venerable pick up is an all new 3.5L V6 with the aforementioned EcoBoost. Will this V6 convince die hard V8 believers? If you look strictly at the numbers, there is little doubt. This engine is a twin-turbo, DOHC – practically unheard of in the truck world. And it runs on regular, readily available unleaded gasoline. Fuel economy is also impressive – 12.9l/100km city and 9.0l/100km highway. Pretty darn respectable for a truck. But what’s next makes it stand out from the pack. This blown V6 motor generates 365hp and 465lb.-ft. torque way down low in the rev range – putting it in the same class as similar trucks with massive V8 engines – but with respectable fuel economy. In fact, fuel consumption even for this twin turbo engine, is reduced by 20 per cent. Even when compared to the F-150 Platinum with a 411hp 6.2L V8, the Ford F-150 V6 with EcoBoost shares a towing capacity at an axle-ripping 11,300lbs and 3,060lbs payload, respectively. That’s right. V8 performance in a V6 package. Some observers have stated for the record that this truck drives more like a turbo-diesel, providing loads of low-end ‘grunt’ with what would appear to be little effort.

For the first three months of this year, Ford sold 20,000 trucks in Canada. By comparison, Honda, manufacturers of the top selling passenger car in Canada for 13 years running, rang up sales of 12,000 units.

It remains to be seen if this new dog can teach some old dogs a trick or two. Ford is expecting big things from this truck. Convincing die-hard ‘big-must-be-better’ customers to consider switching will tell the story. This is a serious contender with a considerable pedigree that cannot nor should not be denied. To appease some skeptics, engineers may have to tweak the exhaust systems, allowing the vehicle to actually ‘sound’ like it’s exerting itself. After all, that’s what everyone is used to. Not this good looking, performance-oriented street or off-road mainstay.

Ford F-150 V6 with EcoBoost doing a day's work

2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium

With the arrival of the new V8, ‘5.0’ badges make a return to the Mustang’s flanks after an 18-year absence. Mustang GTs are also quickly identifiable by their grille-mounted fog lamps and 18-inch wheels that fit snugly under the boldly flared wheel arches. Make no mistake, the 2011 Mustang is no wallflower.

From behind the wheel, it’s soon evident that the Mustang GT even with automatic transmission is not your grandmother’s Ford. When filled up with wallet-draining premium fuel, the 5L 4V Ti-VCT V8 kicks out 412hp and 390 pound-feet of torque. You’ll still see gas station owner’s smile when you drive in.

OK so we know this is a driving machine. How does it stack up, overall?

Chances are, you’re going to enjoy the time you spend inside the 2011 Mustang GT. Ford do not appear to have ‘cheaped’ out on materials and finish.

The by now almost ubuitous (Microsoft) Sync infotainment system is pretty amazing, but it’s perhaps not quite as instinctive as TV spots might have you believe. Spend time with it and it is impressive and quite versatile. Word to the wise; the navigation system might even make getting lost fun. It’s one of the best out there – especially in this price range which, incidentally, starts around $40,000.

The 2011 Ford Mustang 5.0 V-8 launch in LA