Analysis

Plan on these changes to trucks from Ford, GM, and others in the second half of 2020

Ford is just one of the automakers trying to suss out how to adapt to the sudden changes to the usual automaker calendar when it comes to production and debut dates.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The year 2020 is turning out to be one for the history books. Even though we're only part of the way through March, a global pandemic is shutting down automotive production and halting economic growth. Plans to launch new automobiles have been shifted and schedules changed. But we're still expecting a big year in pickup trucks, with some pretty amazing stuff in the pipeline.

Assuming production reaches some kind of normalcy by the summer, and strong incentives to get people to buy, here's what you can expect from all the truck automakers this year.

2020 Ford Ranger The Ford Bronco will be built alongside the Ford Ranger in Michigan, eventually.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford

Starting with the largest truck manufacturer in the country, Ford has several trucks in the pipeline. The body-on-frame Ford Bronco was supposed to be revealed at the New York International Auto Show, but that show has been cancelled and an alternative reveal date hasn't been set. The Jeep Wrangler competitor has a removable roof, serious off-road components, and a design reminiscent of the iconic first-generation.

Ford has re-tooled its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan for the Ford Ranger and Bronco and word on the street is that it's ready to go.

There's also a Ford Bronco Sport that is on its way. It too was supposed to show this spring and is slated to be built at the same plant as the 2020 Ford Escape in Louisville, Kentucky.

The 2021 Ford F-150 will also debut this year and should be a complete redesign since the last mid-cycle update was in 2018. Spy shots show a new infotainment screen and instrument cluster. Don't expect dramatic changes in appearance, but expect new powertrains including a hybrid version and a full-on battery electric F-150. At this time, we'd expect to see this truck at the North American International Auto Show in June, or around that time, assuming things start to return to normal.

2022 GMC Hummer EV The 2022 GMC Hummer EV is slated to be revealed in May, but those plans may change.Photo courtesy of GMC

There is also a chance to see Ford's upcoming sub-Ranger pickup. This unibody truck will be smaller than the Ranger, likely be front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, and provide buyers an alternative to a small SUV if they really need the cargo bed. Other than some spy shots and speculation, much isn't known about the truck. If we see it this year, expect it to be towards the end of the year.

General Motors

General Motors recently updated all of their pickup trucks, including mild refreshes of both the Colorado and Canyon, so don't expect a lot happening there. Except, of course, for the revived Hummer pickup truck with a GMC badge. The fully-electric truck will debut this spring – slated for May 20th, but who knows at this point – and should do a zero-to-sixty run in about three seconds.

FCA

Ram Trucks also recently updated their entire lineup, so don't expect anything major from them for the rest of the year. But that doesn't mean that they won't roll out special editions and trims, like the Laramie Southwest version, to help drive sales.

We aren't expecting big things to happen with Jeep's pickup truck this year, since last year was the official launch of the Gladiator. A Mojave edition is hitting dealerships now, and new special editions are always in the works for the Jeep brand.

We do expect, likely this year, for Jeep to drove the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine into the Gladiator like they just did for the Wrangler. With that available engine, the Gladiator should return a respectable fuel economy number.

The new engine won't change the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the truck, meaning that the maximum towing Gladiator might still remain the gas engine.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave The debut of the Jeep Gladiator in December means that it's already headed to dealership lots.Photo courtesy of Jeep

Nissan

Nissan just finished launching their updated Titan and Titan XD trucks and is preparing to show us a significantly updated 2021 Frontier later this year. The new truck will be powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 and a 9-speed automatic transmission. Interestingly, that engine and transmission is in the non-updated 2020 Nissan Frontier.

Toyota

Over at Toyota, we should be due for an updated and refreshed Tundra pickup. While it has received small model year changes, there hasn't been an updated engine or transmission in quite some time. Toyota has said that by 2025 every vehicle in their lineup will have some sort of electrification as an option, so an updated truck with a hybrid powertrain has to be coming. Will it be this year? Depends on how far they are along with engineering that setup.

In the meantime, the Tundra, 4Runner, and Tacoma Trail, which debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in February, are the closest thing to "new "in the Toyota trucks lineup.

2020 Toyota Trail The Toyota Trail badged trucks are the newest addition to the Toyota lineup.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Hyundai

In any other year, talking about a pickup truck from Hyundai seems like crazy talk, but 2020 is different. We're expecting the production-version of the Santa Cruz concept to appear. Hyundai has confirmed that this truck (they're calling it a utility vehicle) will be built at their HMMA facility in Alabama.

We expect the truck to have a lifestyle focus appealing to people who like to get out and do things, like surf or ski or camp, and not focus on towing or payload numbers. Hyundai is aware that they can't beat the Big 3 at the truck game, but the Santa Cruz isn't designed to take sales from them.

Except it to have Hyundai's latest safety technology and phone-as-a-key technology. The real question is; will it have Smaht Pahk?

2020 Honda Ridgeline The Honda Ridgeline has gotten some new components for 2020 but it's not quite a refresh.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Honda

The often overlooked Ridgeline has gotten an equipment and features upgrade for the 2020 model year including a new nine-speed automatic transmission and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has been on sale since December. We're coming up on the timeframe for a mid-cycle fascia upgrade for the model but don't expect to see it until later this year, if that happens in 2020.

The beginning of the year looked bright for the car industry for another year, but the spread of the novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc on automotive production and automaker plans for new models. That really is the great unknown now with when we will see a new truck from a manufacturer.

Trucks like the F-150 and the Hummer are likely too far along to postpone. The Bronco is basically ready to go. Everything else could potentially be pushed back. It just depends on how serious this downturn is, how freely people can access money to buy, and whether the consumer confidence is there to buy.

We will see.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Nissan Rogue has been completely redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

It's easy to glance across the compact SUV landscape and characterize them all as being perfect for soccer moms. In the field, however, there are few that actually blend together. All have highs and lows as part of the design process that is their company's plan to stand out.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue is no exception to that rule. It was fully redesigned for the 2021 model year, bringing updated looks, an upgraded interior, and more powerful engine to the table. That's not all. The Rogue has stepped out of the bubble-body bubble. Though it still has typical SUV proportions, its nose is beefier and more muted while its backside stands taller and flatter.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan offers the Rogue with a two-tone paint scheme.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

Under the hood is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is paired with a continuously variable transmission and neither the most fuel efficient nor the most energetic power plant available in a compact SUV. What it is, is capable. There are few times in the Rogue's lifespan where the average buyer is likely to take advantage of the full 181 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque and think, "You know, I wish this thing was quicker."

Drivers have their choice of Off-Road, Standard, Eco, and Sport drive modes when behind the wheel of an all-wheel drive variant of the SUV. Sport genuinely kicks the experience up a notch and gives the crossover a little more asphalt-eating enthusiasm.

Like the previous-generation Rogue, this one goes right where you want it. The steering is properly weighted and effortless. Parking in a typical store lot is a breeze, as is maneuvering it around traffic.

There's a new-to-Nissan shifter in the Rogue that takes up far less room than the previous generation's did and offers quick and easy maneuverability with accuracy, which is about all you can hope for from a modern shifter yet so many automakers get it so wrong (hello, rotary dial).

2021 Nissan Rogue The shifter in the Rogue is new for 2021.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

A crossover is more about functionality than looks and the Rogue has that covered. From the standard multi-level LED headlights to the wide opening doors (easy in-out for little ones, car seats, and groceries), a split one-touch fold-down rear seat with remote capability, easy-to-wash cargo liner, and Divide-n-Hide divided rear cargo storage system.

It's also about keeping people safe. The Rogue works to do that with its standard Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of safety technology that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking.

The company's ProPilot Assist driver assist technology is available and performs just as well as it did on the previous generation Rogue. Though its functionality has become more commonplace on vehicles in years since its debut, the system remains one of the better ones on the market and it truly makes driving long distances a heck of a lot easier on the brain.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan has improved the car's digital footprint with a large infotainment screen, all-digital driver information display, and a head-up display.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

For 2021, the system is available with Navi-Link, a navigation-based component that uses real-time data to help predict traffic ahead and route accordingly. Additionally, the system makes adjustments to allow the driver to remain at ease in changing situations including Speed Limit Assist, and extended auto restart timing.

That technology pairs with the creature comforts that abound in the Rogue. Its seats are of the famously comfortable NASA-inspired Zero Gravity variety. Rear seat passengers can enjoy a recline function as well as available tri-zone climate control. Pull-up sunshades are also available for the second-row windows.

Its cabin is far more premium than what you'll find in the Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape at an trim level, and is most comparable to the Mazda CX-5. Though clearly built to withstand the daily rigors of family life, the Rogue's cabin isn't overpowered by materials built for hardiness rather than aesthetics.

The SUV's new all-digital 12.3-inch driver information screen is easy to read and appealing. The same goes for the full-color 10.8-inch head-up display and 9-inch infotainment touch screen. Nissan has brought back its helpful surround view monitor for this generation.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan has reconfigured the SUV's cargo area for 2021.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

Other technology amenities include wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, USB-A and USB-C charging ports, Google Maps, and Waze.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue doesn't reinvent the wheel. It keeps doing what the Rogue has always done – offer family-friendly functionality that is hard to beat in its class. For that reason, it deserves to be on your test drive list.

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The Chevrolet Suburban is just one of the models caught up in the recall.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

No automaker wants to have to recall its vehicles. But, they do so willingly (most of the time) in order to prevent a larger problem from presenting itself. Sometimes the repairs are immediately needed, like when there's an imminent fire risk, while other times they seem like they can be put off a bit, like when a sticker needs to be replaced on a door jamb. No matter the recall, buyers should act as soon as they receive notice of a recall on their vehicle.

Today, it was announced that approximately 7 million SUVs and trucks would be part of a recall regarding Takata airbag inflators. GM has been fighting the recall for four years.

In a statement, General Motors said:

"The safety and trust of those who drive our vehicles is at the forefront of everything we do at General Motors. Although we believe a recall of these vehicles is not warranted based on the factual and scientific record, NHTSA has directed that we replace the airbag inflators in the vehicles in question. Based on data generated through independent scientific evaluation conducted over several years, we disagree with NHTSA's position. However, we will abide by NHTSA's decision and begin taking the necessary steps."

The recall is part of a larger Takata airbag recall that has affected over 60 million Takata air bag inflators in tens of millions of vehicles in the United States alone.

To date, 18 people have been killed by rupturing Takata inflators in the U.S. The inflators have also caused hundreds of injuries, including lacerations and other serious injuries to occupants' face, neck, and chest areas.

The Takata airbag recall was initiated in 2015 when the company entered into a Consent Order with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizing there was an issue with inflators installed in vehicles across 12 different automakers. A Coordinated Remedy was initiated that prioritized and phased the Takata recalls by vehicles most at risk to least at risk.

The automaker has been fighting the recall since shortly after the defect information report (DIR) was submitted, in May 2016. At that time, GM asked that the NHTSA defer its decision on the inconsequentiality of the inflators used by the company until GM was able to complete its testing and engineering analysis in August 2017. That request was granted due to the extraordinary circumstances of the recall.

GM and the NHTSA went back and forth with testing results and clarifications through 2018. A second DIR was filed by Takata in 2017, which triggered another filing by GM, this time a petition for exemption. The process repeated in 2018 and 2019, with GM looking to exempt all but a few of their models from the recall.

Those vehicles are "GMT900" models that contain "SPI YP" and "PSPI-L YD" inflator variants. The GMT900 is a General Motors-specific platform that underpins a number of light- and heavy-duty pickup trucks and SUVs including: Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500, GMC Sierra 2500/3500, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Avalanche, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac Escalade ESV, and Cadillac Escalade EXT. The petition involves approximately 5.9 million model year 2007–2014 vehicles.

GM undertook a number of weathering, aging, and safety tests as part of its research into the recall. Those results were then submitted to the NHTSA.

According to the filing released this week regarding the petitions, a manufacturer does not have a "statutory obligation to conduct a recall for a defect unless and until it 'learns the vehicle or equipment contains a defect and decides in good faith that the defect is related to motor vehicle safety,' or NHTSA orders a recall by making a 'final decision that a motor vehicle or replacement equipment contains a defect related to motor vehicle safety.'"

It is because of this, that the NHTSA says that, "a manufacturer bears a heavy burden in petitioning NHTSA to determine that a defect related to motor vehicle safety (which necessarily involves an unreasonable risk of an accident, or death or injury in an accident) is nevertheless inconsequential to motor vehicle safety. In accordance with the plain meaning of 'inconsequential,' the manufacturer must show that a risk posed by a defect is not important or capable of being ignored."

GM was up against a steep hill to begin with. Of the three known occasions in which the NHTSA has previously considered petitions contending that a defect is inconsequential to motor vehicle safety, the Agency has granted only one of the petitions. That action occurred nearly three decades ago, in what the Agency refers to as "a vastly different set of circumstances".

GM submitted thousands of pages of research and context to the NHTSA in support of their case as well as supporting testimony from an engineer who is an expert in airbag construction and safety.

Despite the efforts, the NHTSA determined that GM has not demonstrated that the defect is inconsequential to safety in the GMT900 vehicles. A number of reasons were given for the determination including that GM was unable to identify how the unique construction of the inflators in their vehicles made them less prone to rupture, how solar-insulating glass in the large cabin of the vehicles was decreasing the environmental impact on the inflators, and the small sample size of the inflators tested (just 0.07 percent of the total GMT900 population). GM also argued that replacing the inflators exposed owners to risk due to the possibility of improper dealership installation of the replacement inflator.

In its final decision, the NHTA said,

"The defect here poses an unsafe condition caused by the degradation of an important component of a safety device that is designed to protect vehicle occupants in crashes. Instead of protecting occupants, this propellant degradation can lead to an uncontrolled explosion of the inflator and propel sharp metal fragments toward occupants in a manner that can cause serious injury, including lacerations to the face, neck and chest, and even death. This unsafe condition—hidden in an air bag module—is not discernible even by a diligent vehicle owner, let alone an average owner.

"Moreover, nineteen manufacturers (including GM for other populations of their vehicles) have conducted similar recalls of other non-desiccated PSAN inflators. NHTSA has been offered no persuasive reason to think that without a recall, even if current owners are aware of the defect and instant petition, subsequent owners of vehicles equipped with GMT900 air bag inflators would be made aware of the issue.226 This is not the type of defect for which notice alone enables an owner to avoid the safety risk. A remedy is required."

Within 30 days of the date of this decision (November 20, 2020), GM shall submit to NHTSA a proposed schedule for the notification of GMT900 vehicle owners and the launch of a remedy required to fulfill those obligations.

To find out if your vehicle is part of a recall, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls.

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