Genesis sales are looking up thanks to new crossovers

LOS ANGELES — Last year was rough on automakers as they struggled to maintain production and keep up with surprisingly strong demand. It was particularly rough on luxury upstart Genesis, whose U.S. sales plunged 23 percent to just more than 16,000.

The Hyundai Motor Group brand began 2020 with a splashy Miami debut of its GV80 midsize crossover, but then grappled with regulatory challenges to get the GV80 and the redesigned G80 sedan into dealerships. Delays in its planned summer launches for those two dragged into December.

But suddenly, things look different. Just as the U.S. market is emerging from the pandemic with renewed vigor, Genesis is finally spreading its wings. As the industry grapples with semiconductor shortages, Genesis is launching new models and emerging as a growing force in the luxury market.

Sales are up 149 percent this year to just more than 15,000 through May. And June marks a major milestone in the brand’s six-year journey: the launch of its GV70 compact crossover, which is expected to become its top-selling model and help double or triple overall sales this year.

Since its 2015 brand debut, Genesis has been a slow starter. Despite critical acclaim for its three sport sedans, it couldn’t get a crossover to market until the GV80 in late 2020. But it now has two crossovers on sale and its first battery-electric vehicle coming in 2022.

“The combination of entering the SUV segment and entering it with an outstanding product like the GV80 is really what’s catapulted Genesis into the forefront of the luxury-SUV discussion,” Tedros Mengiste, executive director of sales operations at Genesis Motor North America, told Automotive News.

“With the GV70, that model should be the No. 1-selling Genesis model in our lineup. We just keep going from strength to strength,” Mengiste said. The GV80, for example, is outselling the three Genesis sedans combined through the first five months of the year.

Despite its inventory and regulatory setbacks in 2020, Genesis has been less impacted this year than some of its luxury rivals. The Korean brand has not removed any features from its vehicles because of chip shortages, Mengiste said, and supply has been solid.

“Our colleagues in Korea have done an outstanding job of maintaining Genesis production at a very critical moment,” the executive said. “Gaining momentum is critical and we’ve been able to uphold that.”

To be sure, Genesis is not oversupplied, Mengiste said. Inventory is running lean on strong sales more than production constraints.

“The sales velocity has been so much greater than anticipated, we’re running lean,” he said. Genesis dealers are selling vehicles before they arrive on the lot, generating fast turn rates, he added.

“When we look at all of the units in our pipeline, we’re north of 30 percent pre-sold before they get to the store,” he said.

Lean inventories also have an upside, Mengiste pointed out.

“We take a lot of painstaking effort in our planning process to ensure the we protect the brand from distressed merchandising or deep discounting,” he said. “It’s rare that your inventory is balanced, and extremely rare that it’s balanced across all models — and that’s where we are.”

Besides the previous lack of crossovers in its lineup, another persistent hurdle for Genesis has been its lack of a dealership network. It still relies on its Hyundai dealers to take customers through the buying process, with mixed results.

Genesis dealers have been successful with digital buying tools and at-home delivery of vehicles. And the brand has always offered complimentary maintenance with pickup and drop-off.

But some traditional luxury buyers still want to visit an upscale store for vehicle shopping. And some Genesis dealers admit privately that there are weak retailers in the network who don’t deliver a high-level experience.

As an intermediate step, some Hyundai dealers have created exclusive Genesis lounges and separate staff. But many have not, leaving the Genesis sales experience to Hyundai personnel.

But standalone Genesis stores are now on the verge of reality after years of planning.

“We have a number of dealers going through the process to build facilities for us,” Mengiste said. “The number of dealers in the pipeline is quite large. We should be seeing an impact of that next year.”

In the meantime, Genesis will continue to use its suite of valet services that make dealership visits unnecessary.

“We want to be the most convenient luxury brand in the market,” Mengiste said. “It’s about what the customer is more comfortable with, and we’re just opening up more avenues to them to own a Genesis.”

We Go Hands-Free In A 2022 Lexus LS 500h Prototype, Test Its New Teammate Semi-Autonomous Driving System

We Go Hands-Free In A 2022 Lexus LS 500h Prototype, Test Its New Teammate Semi-Autonomous Driving System

The automotive industry is in a new age of innovation as we’re seeing rapid developments involving everything from alternative powertrains to autonomous vehicles.

The latter promise to revolutionize transportation, but some of the most interesting developments involve semi-autonomous driving technology which can be found in cars today and in the near future.

Among them is the 2022 Lexus LS 500h AWD, which will arrive at U.S. dealerships this fall with a new Level 2 Teammate semi-autonomous driving system that allows for hands-free operation.

Vehicles equipped with Teammate feature an assortment of different sensors including a forward-facing LiDAR, a front-facing long-range radar, front- and rear-side short-range radar as well as a number of different cameras. They give the vehicle a 360° view of its surroundings and this information is processed by four electronic control units, which enable the LS to recognize other vehicles and make decisions about what to do.

Furthermore, the system relies on high definition maps to pinpoint its location. This is far more precise than GPS data and it enables the vehicle to know exactly which lane it is in.

While Lexus officials wouldn’t reveal how much roadway they have mapped so far, the company said it’s between 100,000 and 300,000 miles (160,934 km and 482,803 km). That’s a big range, but officials noted it would be “competitive” with rivals. As a refresher, GM’s Super Cruise can be used on more than 200,000 miles (321,869 km) of roadway in the United States and Canada, while Ford’s BlueCruise can be used hands-free on more than 100,000 miles (160,934 km) of North American roads.

With that primer out of the way, let’s talk about how the system works. After merging onto a compatible highway and setting the adaptive cruise control, the system will automatically recognize this and display a message saying “Advanced Drive Ready” once it’s able to allow for hands-free driving.

When engaged, the vehicle assumes control of the steering, acceleration and braking. Drivers still need to monitor the road ahead and there’s a camera mounted on the steering column, which determines where they’re looking at. If they take their gaze off the road for too long, the system will attempt to get their attention through a series of escalating steps which include audible and visual alerts. However, the system isn’t overly strict as you can look at a passenger or adjust the infotainment system without being hassled.

That being said, if you take your eyes off the road for too long and fail to respond to escalating warnings, the emergency driving stop system will activate, slowing down the vehicle and activating the LS’ hazard lights. It will then automatically pull the vehicle over to the shoulder or stop in its lane.

Getting back to driving, the system works well as the vehicle stays centered in its lane even while following curves on the highway. Drivers can also easily adjust the following distance and vehicle speed, exactly like adjusting adaptive cruise control.

During our time with a prototype, the car was able to handle some challenging scenarios including a box truck that cut us off. The LS simply slowed down and made room for the vehicle. Furthermore, Teammate isn’t flustered by other vehicles merging onto the highway as it can slow down or keep its current pace to give them enough room to merge.

Unfortunately, Teammate does ask you to put your hands on the wheel fairly often in urban areas such as Plano, Texas. This largely happens when you’re in the right lane and white lines are no longer located next to the vehicle due to entrance or exit ramps.

However, this isn’t much of an issue as you only need to lightly hold the steering wheel until white lines reappear next to the vehicle.  It’s also worth noting you can avoid this by traveling in inner lanes where lines are always present.

One of the more interesting aspects of the system is its ability to plan ahead when a destination is entered into the navigation system. It plans roughly 6 miles (9.6 km) ahead and will give you advance warning about areas where you need to place your hands on the wheel to “assist” or resume manual control. The next three events are shown on the instrument cluster and they have a countdown next to them, so you’re prepared ahead of time. As someone who hates surprises and last minute notifications, this is certainly a welcome touch.

Furthermore, when navigation is being used, the system makes lane change suggestions to ensure you’re in the proper lane well ahead of time. An audio and visual message is presented and the car can automatically change lanes for you after tapping on the stalk. However, before this occurs, the system asks you to check your mirrors and the steering column camera will ensure you do.

When it’s time to exit the highway, Teammate will take you onto the exit ramp and automatically slow down once you’re on it. You then resume manual control by accelerating or braking.

That’s a lot to take in, but everything is relatively intuitive and straightforward once you get the hang of it. The system also keeps drivers in the loop thanks to informative cluster displays as well as a semi-autonomous focused head-up display.

More importantly, Teammate is safety focused and Lexus officials noted the system is designed to be conservative. Engineers also embraced redundancy and fail-safes as the semi-autonomous driving system has been designed to “prevent the loss of control for up to four seconds in the event of a system malfunction or limitation.” Furthermore, there are multiple backup systems to “put safety at the core of the driving experience.” Teammate also promises to get better with age thanks to over-the-air updates which will allow for improvements and new features.

While Teammate is limited to the LS in the United States, it’s clear the technology will eventually spread to other models. Lexus didn’t go into specifics, but noted high-tech features debut on flagships and then trickle down to more affordable vehicles. GM took a similar approach with Super Cruise, which debuted on the Cadillac CT6 and can now be found on the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV.

At the end of the day, Teammate works well and should make long distance trips more relaxing. While it does require a fair amount of driver involvement, most of the time you only need to lightly hold the steering wheel for a few seconds. The system is also intuitive and safety focused, which should help to win over people who might be wary about semi-autonomous driving technology.

more photos…

Live picture credits: Michael Gauthier for CarScoops

Turn back time with this retro 2021 Ford F-150

Turn back time with this retro 2021 Ford F-150

After launching a retro design package for the Ford F-150 about two years ago, Ohio dealership Beechmont Ford is back with another version for the redesigned 2021 F-150.

First spotted by Motor1, the 2021 BFP Retro Ford F-150 features basically the same ingredients as before, including a two-tone vinyl wrap, retro 17-inch wheels wrapped in 35-inch all-terrain tires, and a 3.5-inch lift kit. A chrome bed rack and KC Hi Lights complete the look. The default Satin Pearl wrap can also be substituted for actual paint.

While the previous retro F-150 was based on the XLT trim level, the 2021 model shown here is based on the higher-level Lariat model. You can still get the retro package on an XLT, or a different 2021 F-150 trim level should you desire. Beechmont Ford does recommend the factory Chrome Package, which matches the bed rack and polished wheels.

2021 BFP Retro Ford F-150

2021 BFP Retro Ford F-150

Beechmont is asking for a $500 deposit on the package. Customers must order their trucks directly from Ford and specify delivery to Beechmont, which will then add the retro extras.

The dealership noted that wait times are longer than usual due to the global microchip shortage, which has heavily impacted truck production. It’s currently estimating a six-month wait time for delivery.

Beechmont doesn’t just do retro trucks. This is also the dealership that began offering a 750-hp supercharged Ford Mustang for $44,994 last year. Beechmont takes a stock 5.0-liter V-8 Mustang GT and adds a Roush Phase 2 supercharger, which is normally a $7,999 item on its own. You even get a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty.

This year, vehicles returning to the roads

Used vehicles are expected to continue to command higher prices for the foreseeable future, but the reason may not be as simple as lower availability amid higher demand.

Based on data from IHS Markit, one might conclude that vehicles in operation in the U.S. are set to shrink, given what happened in 2020. But so far in 2021, the trend is reversing.

Scrappage rates hit their second-highest point in two decades last year and outpaced the rate of new vehicles being added to U.S. roads. That probably won’t be the case this year.

About 15 million vehicles were scrapped last year, a rate of 5.6 percent of vehicles in operation, according to IHS Markit. At the same time, new-vehicle registrations increased the number of vehicles in operation in the country by 5.1 percent.

IHS Markit tracks scrappage, or the number of cars and trucks no longer on U.S. roads, by getting data on:

  • Exports
  • Branded vehicles — those labeled a total loss by an insurance company
  • The number of vehicles that should have been registered with their states but were not.

Todd Campau, the research firm’s associate director of aftermarket solutions, said that last metric likely would have covered fewer vehicles last year, thus lowering the scrappage rate, “had we not experienced a pandemic.”

Many people may have simply not registered their vehicles last year, Campau said. Perhaps they didn’t need to use them because they weren’t going anywhere, or maybe their home states allowed for delays in registration.

“I think during 2020, what we observed in the data is that people made the decision to actually effectively not re-register their vehicle, which drove our percentage of scrappage up higher than it had been in recent years,” Campau said.

So far in 2021, with COVID-19 cases declining and vaccination rates generally on the rise, Americans appear to be more active. At the same time, used- and new-vehicle sales have been brisk.

And so, too, have registrations. March had the highest new- and used-vehicle registrations in the last decade, according to IHS Markit.

“People who may have said, ‘I’m not registering that vehicle because I’m not using it right now,’ in 2021 are now making the decision of, ‘I don’t think I need that vehicle anymore, and I can either sell it for more than I thought I could, or I can sell it and pay off my loan completely. Whereas in 2020, the residual value on my vehicle, I wouldn’t have been able to do that,’ ” Campau said.

IHS Markit forecasts total vehicles in operation to grow to 284 million by 2026 from 279 million this year. A key factor is the rising average age of vehicles on U.S. roads, which was 12.1 years as of Jan. 1, up from 11.9 years the year before.

Within the total population of vehicles in operation, Campau said he expected the number of used vehicles to stay relatively large because of record annual new-vehicle sales from 2015 to 2019.

However, it’s clear that newer used vehicles — namely those cascading into the market from 2020 and 2021 — will be in lower supply. This is because there were fewer new-vehicle sales last year, and sales this year are likely to be below 2019 levels amid the chip crisis, especially fleet volume.

Total U.S. light-vehicle sales last year were 14.6 million — the lowest volume since 2012. IHS Markit is forecasting sales of more than 16 million this year.

The research firm looked at the expected change in vehicle age distribution from 2019 to what is forecast through 2024.

During that period, the number of vehicles that are new to less than 3 years old is expected to shrink by 3 percent, and vehicles 3 to less than 6 years old are expected to decline by 7 percent.

At the same time, the number of vehicles that are 6 to 11 years old is expected to grow by 33 percent.

Campau said the shrinking number of newer vehicles is not surprising.

“We came off of five years of over 17 million units” in new-vehicle sales, he said. “Unless you’re going to continue to set records going forward, there’s obviously going to be a breather, and that’s what we’re seeing in the new-to-3 [year-old vehicles] there.”

Unplugged Performance Reveals Insane Model S Plaid Pikes Peak Racer

Unplugged Performance Reveals Insane Model S Plaid Pikes Peak Racer

On June 10, 2021, Elon Musk formally kicked off deliveries of the 1,020-hp Tesla Model S Plaid. Approximately two days later, on June 12, Unplugged Performance debuted its race-prepped Model S Plaid that’s set to compete at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (with our resident pro racing driver, Randy Pobst, behind the wheel). You might remember that at last year’s race Pobst had a little moment and unexpectedly flew the Unplugged Performance Model 3 off the course. In a feat of determination, the Unplugged Performance team rebuilt the car overnight, and Pobst placed second in the exhibition class—and in a car with only half its horsepower!

What Is It?

Unplugged Performance’s Plaid racecar uses the stock powertrain from the top-line Model S. The interior is almost completely stripped out. After ditching items such as the car’s airbags, a center console, and door panels, Unplugged Performance fit this tri-motor Tesla with a roll cage and a racing seat with six-point racing belts. The body is stock except for a huge front splitter and a gigantic adjustable rear wing. Likewise, the Plaid racer retains its factory air springs, however, it employs custom Unplugged Performance/Bilstein dampers and a three-way adjustable rear anti-roll bar. The car rides on Yokohama Advan slicks on custom forged aluminum wheels. The so-called Pikes Plaid retains its stock brake calipers but subs in Unplugged Performance/PFC rotors. Air jacks? Yes ma’am. This thing is a real race car. Before the car gets to Colorado, the company intends to fit its front end with a set of fully adjustable upper controls arms, adjustable rear camber arms, and high-performance brake pads.

Unplugged Performance pulled the covers off of its Pikes Plaid racer at the third annual Hypercar Invitational happening at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. The company finished the vehicle at 3:00 am on June 11, loaded it on a trailer, and then drove it straight to the track. In other words, the first time the completed car was ever driven was when it rolled straight out of its garage at Laguna Seca and onto the track’s racing surface—just the way it should be. Pikes Plaid is in full shake-down mode for the next two days. Pobst was able to silently pass several Lamborghinis, Porsches, and McLarens, before shattering the splitter on his second lap of the day.

What Is Unplugged Performance?

Founded by Ben Schaffer in 2000 to customize Japanese cars (Ben was even an extra in The Fast and The Furious), Unplugged Performance moved into a building next to Tesla’s Hawthorne design studio in 2013—right next to SpaceX. Through that physical connection, Unplugged Performance began talking to Tesla about modifying automaker’s EVs for enthusiasts. After falling in love with EVs as performance cars, Unplugged performance quickly began building race cars, and in 2020 it brought a tuned Tesla Model 3 to Pikes Peak. The difference between last year’s Model 3 and this year’s Plaid?

“Power is the big one. This is more than four times the power we ended up racing last year. Unintentionally so,” Schaffer said. Obviously, the Model S is heavier than the Model 3, however, “the battery pack and the cooling systems are much better.”

Illustrating this point, Schaffer points out that as the state of charge decreased in the Model 3, “the power would go down in ratio to some degree.” The same does not hold true for the Unplugged Performance’s Pikes Plaid racer. At one point Pobst rolled into the pits at Laguna Seca with 34 percent charge remaining, only to announce the car feels as quick as it does with a full charge. “That’s a big difference.”