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Rest stop: Mustangs, Moab and moon landings [Discussion]

We head into NYIAS week with an open mind.

Welcome back to our "Rest Stop" series, our staff round-table discussion of the recent goings-on in the auto industry. We're a bit light this week heading into New York, but a few noteworthy items have popped up since the last time we had a chat. Let's dive in.

[This week's participants: Drew Johnson, Managing Editor; Byron Hurd, Buyer's Guide Editor; Ronan Glon, European Editor]

Byron: Let's start with the mid-engine Corvette, since GM's announcement is still fresh. This is the second discussion in a row where we've covered this thing (Congrats, GM PR!) and probably won't be the last. Who wants to start?

Ronan: Driving it through Manhattan seems like an odd way to announce it. But, at this point, anything is better than Chevrolet trying to pretend the car doesn't exist.

Byron: We're at the point where the whole project just feels like the culmination of a bad meme, and everything about this stunt fits that narrative perfectly.

Byron: The NY drive-around was likely improvised because of project delays. GM's marketing people were probably going, "Crap, this was supposed to show in Detroit and now we're still not ready for NY. Quick, throw one on a flatbed and drive it around NYC."

Ronan: Yeah, that sounds accurate. Like Land Rover testing the Defender in Moab right now.

Byron: Bingo.

Ronan: It just so happens that the Defender is in Moab and it just so happens that two or three auto journos are in Moab as well and it just so happens that they're able to get video footage and photos of the undercarriage to publish online. BUT I SWEAR none of this was planned.

Byron: HASH TAG NEW DEFENDER

Byron: Oh wait, you saw that? How could we be so clumsy?

Ronan: Easter Jeep Safari? Never heard of it.

Drew: Going back to what Byron said about the mid-engine Corvette being a meme, other than the fact that it has been a running joke for decades, why does this thing need to exist?

Drew: From a technical perspective, I get why Chevy wants to do a mid-engine Corvette. From a sales and marketing perspective, not so much. I'm just not convinced that there is a large pool of buyers out there clamoring for a mid-engine supercar from Chevy.

Byron: It just feels like GM doing its best approximation of a Ford GT, but without the inherent nostalgia angle Ford has going for it.

Drew: The GT works for Ford because it's a low-volume, high-dollar vehicle. In other words, it's special. Meanwhile, the Acura NSX, which is probably the closest comp to the C8, is struggling to find buyers.

Byron: And at least the NSX is a second-effort situation. It already existed. The "brand" was there.

Drew: I think it would make much more sense for Chevy to brand its mid-engine sports car as something other than a Corvette -- call it Zora or something along those lines -- and then keep the Corvette what it's always been. That would give Chevy a special supercar along the lines of the GT while also providing a halo vehicle that might help Corvette sales.

Byron: Maybe GM will surprise us by branding it that way at the last second. This whole Moon Landing angle seems a bit contrived, but what if there's more to it than that? Radical approach to a radical new car?

Drew: But if taking the Corvette brand in a radical direction was the whole point of the exercise, why not go electric? That wouldn't require a mid-engine layout and would make the Corvette truly special within the sports car category. And by going green, Chevy could broaden the Corvette's appeal to the kind of people patiently awaiting the next Tesla Roadster.

Byron: You got me there. Speaking of EVs, Tesla seems to have hit a wall. The expiration of EV subsidies is the boogeyman most are pointing to, but are we also just reaching a saturation point for the current generation of electrics?

Drew: This will be an interesting thing to watch. I don't think there is any question that tax credits have been helping EV sales, but to what extent remains to be seen. I don't think the expiration will cause sales to completely drop off a cliff (the people that buy $100,000+ electric cars don't need the tax credit) but it could impact the more price-sensitive part of the EV market (Kona, Leaf, etc.). But even then I think it will be a temporary setback -- the momentum is swinging and the days of the mainstream EV are coming.

Byron: I'm in lock-step with you on that one. It also helps that projects like Kona and Leaf are money-losers anyway. They don't exist to sell cars. They exist to find ways to sell cars. They're development efforts, not solutions.

Byron: I think that point is often lost on people who criticize the current state of EVs as replacements for ICE vehicles. To make the argument that EVs "aren't ready" for prime time is to consciously ignore the role of iteration in the development of the automobile.

Drew: Speaking of, the FCA/Tesla carbon pooling situation is back in the news this week.

Byron: That's always a fun one.

Drew: I think it makes sense for both parties. Tesla still needs cash and FCA needs carbon credits. And in theory, it should help both companies. Tesla can use what is essentially free money to continue the roll out of new vehicles. FCA, meanwhile, can buy some time until it can get cleaner tech to market. Of course that assumes FCA actually can get cleaner vehicle to market, which isn't a certainty.

Byron: The reactions have been a little on the silly side. I think the point that gets lost on quite a few people is that FCA isn't using Tesla to help it build Hellcats; it's using Tesla to help it build Fiat Pandas and 500s.

Ronan: Carbon-pooling sounds ridiculous to me. Imagine applying that to other scenarios. "Sorry, officer, I know I was traveling at 105 mph but the dude in the next lane was doing 45 mph so we cancel each other out. We're good, right?" Either you comply or you don't.

Ronan: That said, I think we'll see more companies resorting to carbon-pooling in the near future. Toyota and Mazda are taking that route already. The EU's CO2 regulations are draconian and a lot of automakers are going to have a difficult time meeting them.

Byron: It's far from a perfect system. Honestly, I think we'll see EVs become mainstream before we see a better solution come along to replace cap-and-trade-style arrangements, and the former will eliminate the need for the latter.

Byron: Speaking of environmental angels, let's talk pickups! Lots going on on that front. We have the first numbers from Ranger; Gladiator just hit dealer lots; Nissan is... kind-of remaking the Frontier? And there's the whole Ram-beating-Chevy situation in the full-size market too.

Drew: They'reeeee baaack! Mid-size pickups are a thing again and everyone is getting in on the action. And on the full-size front, it's not a huge surprise that Ram is outselling Chevy -- I personally think the 1500 is a better product than the Silverado. Will be interesting to see how reliable/durable the Ram turns out to be. I suspect if there are any issues, Chevy will be on top again.

Byron: Ram has in the past been accused of building toys rather than real workers' trucks, but I think that is heavily biased by front-runners in the Ford and Chevy camps.

Byron: Also, let's be real: Pickups are as much fashion accessories as they are hard-core work vehicles. The image matters more than the substance in many cases, to the extent that people are so in love with the notion of capability that they actually bake that right into the whole "image" thing.

Drew: Back to mid-size trucks. I think it's great, more choice is always a good thing. I especially like the new Gladiator because where else can you get a convertible pickup? One thing I will note is that I feel bad the Honda Ridgeline has largely been forgotten about. The new crop of mid-size trucks are great, but I think the Ridgeline is the best "everyday" truck of the bunch.

Ronan: The Gladiator is interesting because it's one of the only trucks in recent memory that's purely leisure-oriented and priced accordingly. In that respect, it kind of takes us back to the days of the Chevrolet Avalanche and the Ford Explorer Sport Trac.

Byron: Dodge Dakota Sport convertible! Anybody? Anybody? Fine. Sorry.

Ronan: You can't get a work truck-spec, two-door Gladiator painted white with black bumpers and a vinyl interior. This approach will work well in terms of profit but not necessarily in terms of volume, which is fine; I don't think Jeep is chasing volume with it.

Byron: Nor should they, I'd argue. If FCA wants to sell that truck, they can slap a Ram body on it and throw $5,000 in the bed to move metal. Gladiator's identity is tied to its Jeep-ness, for better or for worse.

Ronan: Yeah, I'm disappointed that Jeep's Easter Safari concepts were all Gladiator-based or Gladiator-themed this year. In the past, the concepts often previewed upcoming models; some of the earlier ones discreetly alluded to the fourth-gen Wrangler's design, for example. This year, at best, they're teasing a Scrambler appearance package for a variant they don't even build yet. The two-door model is cool but it's not happening, and we already know a Hellcat-powered Wrangler has been ruled out. But, with the resurrection of the Wagoneer and the Grand Wagoneer, I'm hoping the 2020 crop of concepts will be awesome.

Byron: Yeah, and Jeep didn't even use a Gladiator as the basis for that two-door concept. It's just a JL Unlimited frame with a modified two-door cab and a box. If they were serious about production intent, they would have started with the production pickup.

Drew: Let's move on to Mustang. NYIAS is also loosely observed as "Mustang Week," and we've got some rumors floating around about that too.

Byron: I, for one, welcome our new SV-Overlords. And I'm also completely unmoved by the rumor that Mustang and Explorer could eventually share platforms.

Drew: Says the Challenger owner.

Byron: Guilty, but this former S550 Mustang owner is willing to give Ford the benefit of the doubt. Platform sharing doesn't mean what it once did. Modular processes are essentially universal. If a 3,800-pound Audi and a 2,800-pound Volkswagen can share architecture, there's really no reason to panic about Ford diversifying its new rear-drive platform.

Drew: I'm sure the purist will hate this, but at this point I don't think it's a decision between keeping the Mustang on a unique chassis or merging it with something else. It's more like merge with another chassis or discontinue the Mustang. There is huge cost savings there and other automakers have shown they can make platforms be good at different things. Outside of F-150, Mustang is the strongest brand Ford has, and I'm fully confident in their ability not to ruin the next one.

Byron: OK, full-circle to NYIAS, since you brought it up again. Anything we're excited about? I'm curious as to what Nissan is going to show us.

Ronan: I like the CT5, I hope it looks as good in person as it does in photos, but I'm also intrigued by the Hyundai Venue because it's a segment nearly everyone else has steered well clear of.

Drew: I'm probably a little too excited about the new Mercedes GLS. The current GLS is one of my guilty pleasures and I openly lust for the GLS63. Given Mercedes' latest products, the new GLS should be pretty epic, especially when they drop the four-liter in the AMG.

Byron: I'm quickly becoming an AMG apologist. Four-door coupes be damned, I love the way they drive.

Drew: The Acura TLX PMC Edition is also an interesting one. I'm not really sure why Acura would go through the trouble of hand-assembling one of their normal sedans. The upcoming MDX PMC Edition makes even less sense. Fingers crossed they are just doing it as a practice run for a second sports car to be added to the NSX line.

Byron: OK, I think we've run out of steam. Drew and I are off to New York to cover America's final show of the season. Have a great weekend, everybody!

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