Today marks the second day of the North American International Auto Show 2016 and with it, automakers from around the globe have unveiled their next superstars, volume leaders, unknown concepts, and ground-breaking technologies. As a skeptic with an affinity for vehicles unveiled at the 1962 Detroit Auto Show, here’s a snippet of unbiased truth aimed at three of the 2016 NAIAS’s hottest vehicles.
Ford’s Raptor – will it off road?
In 2004, Jeep built what would almost instantly be known as the most capable, factory off road passenger vehicle ever – the Wrangler Rubicon. Since then, Ford has been scrambling to overthrow the king with the F-Series Raptor. Born around 2010, the Raptor has battled the Rubicon on internet forums for years, but on the trails, the Jeep hits more trees, bangs more rocks, and finds new summits more often than the lifted Ford. The reason is simple – the Jeep is simple. Six years ago, the Raptor had fairly straight forward running gear with a basic 5.4 liter V8 and some high-quality Fox Racing dampers. Now, the 2017 Raptor with its four full doors will sport a 10-speed automatic transmission, a twin-turbo 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6, and a torque-on-demand transfer case with Terrain Management System. While exciting on paper, a truck marketed as an off roader for pedestrians should be simple as there won’t be a hundred-thousand dollar support team to fix anything that breaks.
Here’s the problem with the 2017 Raptor: it’s too complicated for its own good. Off road equipment needs to be simple, strong and dependable. Chances of things breaking are high when push comes to trail and repairs needs to be possible with basic hand tools and a high-lifat jack. The Raptor seems like a complete nightmare to work on at a fully-equipped shop, let alone trail 60 at Windrock ORV park. While the Rubicon has advanced since 2004, it still remains with solid, Dana 44 axles that anyone can upgrade and repair, a standard, multi-port engine and standard, 5- or 6- speed transmissions, and a standard, two-speed transfer case that is manually actuated. If these seem crude to you by 2016 standards, it’s because you don’t off road. The Raptor probably won’t either.
Chrysler Pacifica – Bring Back Pluto
In the 2000s, when Chrysler and Daimler still sat at the dinner table together, a crossover was created as a “merger of equals.” It was called the Pacifica and it quickly could be found at most Enterprise, Hertz and other rent-a-car establishments around the nation. Annual sales were projected to reach 100,000 units, but higher prices, questionable quality and poor performance lead to those numbers struggling to be reached. In fact, the last full year it was produced, the Pacifica barely broke half of its targeted figure.
Why bring up a failure of Chrysler’s past? Because FCA, the brand’s Italian parent company, has decided to throw away a name established nearly 30 years ago to revisit a name no one wants to remember. For 2017, the time-tested and well-loved Town & Country will be dropped in favor of the Pacifica, a potentially game-changing minivan that will alter the entire segment. Chrysler knew going into this the gamble they would make by renaming a beloved vehicle and ignoring the history of their brethren, i.e. when Ford renamed the Taurus the 500 and then the Taurus again. Even if the Pacifica will be great, Minivan shoppers buy based off word-of-mouth, or, name loyalty. Playing around with the name Town & County and soon, Caravan, is a recipe for a complete overhaul with marketing, money spent and probably, money lost.
The Honda Ridgeline – Repeat Offender
Truck owners battle each other, but at the end of the day, even Tundra owners can get behind the collective hate of the Honda Ridgeline. Sized comparably to the Toyota Tacoma, the Honda “truck” was essentially a Pilot with a bed small enough for a lawn mower and annual sales to match. At its lowest, 2011, the Ridgeline found less than 10,000 new owners and for 2017, Honda plans to revamp the name with… the exact same formula.
When you challenge conventional thinking in the U.S. pickup truck market, you’re going to fail. Even when Ford and Jeep did it in the 60s and 80s respectively, their unibody trucks were left to the history books. While the new Ridgeline may look tough, it is still based off a front-wheel drive platform and will even come standard as a FWD model. Weight transfer is apparently lost on Honda and the 2017 Ridgeline will surly continue to be outsold by pre-owned Tacomas.