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The Next Big Thing? Automakers rush to meet all-wheel drive demand
LINDSAY CHAPPELL | Automotive News and RICK KRANZ | Automotive News
Posted Date: 2/16/05
All-wheel drive has become all the rage, but it's a phenomenon that seemed to sneak up on some automakers.

General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are among those scrambling to catch up as awd cars catch on.

At the Chicago Auto Show last week, Cadillac officials admitted they underestimated demand for awd STS V-8 models. And Ford has struggled to meet unexpectedly heavy demand for awd versions of its Ford Five Hundred sedan, Freestyle sport wagon and Mercury Montego sedan.

Ford executives might make awd standard on a new generation of Lincoln sedans that debut this decade. The automaker also might increase production plans for both the awd Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr, which go on sale in about a year.

All-wheel drive is the industry's newest "gotta have it" equipment, and it is about to get hotter. CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills, Mich., forecasts that North American automakers will build 1.96 million awd vehicles annually by the end of this decade. That's up from about 1.06 million units this year. And that doesn't include a separate wave of imported awd vehicles.

"It's big," says forecaster Paul Haelterman of CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills, Mich. "It's more than just a trend. Every carmaker understands that if they're going to have a performance sedan, they're going to have to get all-wheel drive.

"By the end of this decade," Haelterman predicts, "all luxury or near-luxury cars will have awd as standard or option."

The number of awd-equipped nameplates, including cars and trucks, more than tripled between 1999 and 2004, rising from 22 nameplates to 73, according to the online automotive data base Edmunds.com. The number will hit 83 models this year.

American Honda Motor Co.'s Acura Division has created awd versions of both its RL and TL sedans. And Nissan North America Inc.'s Infiniti line is planning an awd version of its G35 sedan, as well as its new M35 flagship. Mercedes-Benz USA LLC in September began offering all-wheel drive as a free option on S-class sedans.

Weather-related

Jim Hall, vice president of the research firm AutoPacific Inc., says most of the awd sales growth is coming from consumers in bad-weather regions - the Northeast, the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest.

"There are dealers in those states that just don't order cars like the Lexus GS 300 during certain months of the year because nobody will buy them," Hall says. "People won't drive them in the snow."

But by adding awd to the GS 300, he says, Lexus has turned it into a year-round product. Lexus announced the plan last week in Chicago.

CSM's Haelterman believes all-wheel drive is also becoming more important as high-end cars get bigger engine output.

"The new bogey is a 250-hp V-6," Haelterman says. "But carmakers are talking about boosting that to 300 hp and higher. From a performance point of view, you need the all-wheel drive. If you don't send all that power out to all four wheels, you're going to have issues with slippage and handling."

As all-wheel drive sales take off, the winners among suppliers are makers of transfer cases and power takeoff units. That includes Dana Corp., GKN PLC, Haldex AB, ZF Group, BorgWarner Inc. and Magna International.

"The components come from all over the world," Haelterman said. "Capacity can be easily added."

Lincoln Mercury President Darryl Hazel said the automaker is reviewing the original awd forecast for the Milan and Zephyr with an eye to increasing it. Hazel did not disclose the awd projection.

"That is under very active consideration," he said. "It is pretty sad if you can't learn from your experience, so I would say that we are trying to understand what we are observing and see what we can learn from it."

Lincoln also plans to develop two sedans off the D3 platform that is shared with the Five Hundred, Freestyle and Montego. One car, expected to be the replacement for the LS, will debut in late 2007 while a larger sedan is expected in 2008. Hazel said those cars may be offered with all-wheel drive as a standard feature.

"The thought occurred to me 18 months ago. That is under active discussion," he said.

Cadillac admits it can't meet demand for all-wheel drive in V-8 versions of the STS sedan.

"Honestly, we missed it," Cadillac marketing director Jay Spenchian said at the Chicago Auto Show, adding that it must "be more broadly available. But we missed the shift to all-wheel drive."

Spenchian said 20 percent of STS demand has been for the awd-equipped, top-of-the-line G trim. The vehicle has a sticker price of $64,730 including destination. Cadillac has delivered on less than one-quarter of that demand, he said.

Within a month, Spenchian said, Cadillac will expand its awd option to the $58,785 F trim. Cadillac has told dealers it will add awd to its V-6 lineup by summer.

'Phenomenal' demand

"People are clamoring," Spenchian said. "To have 20 percent demand at launch for a $63,000 car is phenomenal. We would have never predicted that."

He said Cadillac wanted to have awd in most STS packages, but had to make engineering decisions early in development that affected the mix.

Some dealers aren't happy about the shortage. "We can't get them because they're not building enough of them," said Chuck Kohen, sales manager at Schepel Cadillac-Hummer in Merrillville, Ind., where Kohen has one awd STS customer waiting 60 days for delivery and another waiting 90 days. "They dropped the ball on this and if they can't build it into the G, how will they do the F?"

Spenchian said increasing availability won't be a problem at GM's Lansing, Mich., plant.

"When you look at the uplevel V-8s, it was a chink in the armor, and all-wheel drive is driving a lot of that," he said. "Frankly, it's higher than we expected, but we will adjust."

Jason Stein also contributed to this report
 

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i won't be surprised at all to see an awd TL. i just hope people still buy the near $50k RL coz if it were me, i would buy an awd TL over the RL in a heartbeat. in fact if and when it does, i'm strongly considering trading my audi in for one. it's good to see other luxury cars offer awd. audi was pretty much the lone luxury brand for so many years that offered awd on most of its models. having more alternatives is never a bad thing.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
hm.. RL.. then TL.. and last and not least TSX.. wow super handling sedans..hm.. remind me of the other forum that talks about best handling cars...DW could be right... AWD goes to all Acura sedans
 

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If the RSX were to still exist after the next Si comes out, it would have to be an AWD RSX with at least 240 hp. But then there would be nothing left to complain about. :noo
 

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Discussion Starter #7
webslingr said:
If the RSX were to still exist after the next Si comes out, it would have to be an AWD RSX with at least 240 hp. But then there would be nothing left to complain about. :noo
heheh RSX with SH-AWD is dat mean they gonna race in WRC too??? heehe 2.0 liter compact car with AWD hm.. just need turbo then walla.. a rally car.
 

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i think everyones just jealous of subaru because of their sweetness...
 

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dodolaje said:
heheh RSX with SH-AWD is dat mean they gonna race in WRC too??? heehe 2.0 liter compact car with AWD hm.. just need turbo then walla.. a rally car.
Well if Pugeot can win with their tiny little shits, I'm sure Honda could make a rally winner in no time.
 

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isnt it possible that people go for the awd versions of these cars because they dont want to deal with fwd issues such as torque steer and a massive front weight bias, or they just dont feel like another economy fwd car, so they are moving up to something like a five hundred... and while they are moving up they want to move up to awd....
 

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snozepp147 said:
i think everyones just jealous of subaru because of their sweetness...
haha. i think it just means that subaru will have trouble selling their cars now becuase they cant claim AWD. well they can claim AWD, but everyone offers it so they dont stand out anymore.

we can expect an AWD TL pretty soon.
 

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You know I'll be real interested in seeing a G35 coupe AWD vs an AWD TL...so similar, with the TL lacking in the torque department as usual.

Both of them to me, are hot looking with the G edging out slightly.

EDIT: OK here we go:

Infiniti 2005 G35 Coupe 6 speed (3.5 liter):
298 @ 6,400 RPM
260 lb-ft @ 4,800 RPM

vs.

Acura 2005 TL 6 speed (3.2 liter):
270 bhp @ 6200 rpm
238 lbs-ft @ 5000 rpm


On a TOTALLY unrelated note: I was going on acura.com to look up the TL specs, and I always knew the TSX looked a lot like the TL but, if you're browsing through the 'tabs' and roll your mouse over the TL; the pic of the TL will pop up. Quickly slide your mouse over to the TSX (one over to the right) and it'll pop up. It's amazing how similar looking they truly are.
 

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divinewisdom said:
haha. i think it just means that subaru will have trouble selling their cars now becuase they cant claim AWD. well they can claim AWD, but everyone offers it so they dont stand out anymore.

we can expect an AWD TL pretty soon.

they still will stand out if it is standard on their cars and optional on everyone elses, plus they have had more time to refine their awd systems and get the kinks worked out...
 

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Kane317 said:
On a TOTALLY unrelated note: I was going on acura.com to look up the TL specs, and I always knew the TSX looked a lot like the TL but, if you're browsing through the 'tabs' and roll your mouse over the TL; the pic of the TL will pop up. Quickly slide your mouse over to the TSX (one over to the right) and it'll pop up. It's amazing how similar looking they truly are.
I like the look of the TL/tsx. While I like the G, I cant afford that. Id consider getting a tsx since its been called the grown up version of the prelude. At least it still has double wishbones all around. Just needs a little more power - especially if they make an SH all wheel drive version...
 

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Looks like Audi and Subaru have known something all along.
 

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Kane317 said:
You know I'll be real interested in seeing a G35 coupe AWD vs an AWD TL...so similar, with the TL lacking in the torque department as usual.

Both of them to me, are hot looking with the G edging out slightly.
You can't get AWD on the G35 coupe, it's optional on the Sedan version only.

You live up north like i do, and AWD/4wd is a must. We just got dumped with about 7" of snow last night. Forget about making it up steep hills (only 4wd SUV's made it up the one by my house), most Fwd and Rwd cars where stuck on minor inclines and flat surfaces and roads:evil.
 

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I bought my wife a TSX and people mistake it for a TL all the time. If they do put SH-AWD on the TL, then I will definitely trade up (and go to a few SOLO II events!) I live in Ohio, and we get snow sporadically, but I never realized how FWD cars were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked until I bought my EVO. I have never driven a RWD car in my life, but I imagine it doesn't fair much better than a FWD car in the rain/snow.

At least it looks like car manufacturers are jumping on the AWD band-wagon now - maybe that means less SUVs on the road! (Not likely since I believe the next iteration of SH-AWD is coming out on the smaller version of the MDX.) I think Subaru will be ok with the tagline for a while b/c it is still so weird to see a Ford commercial touting AWD, and as with all new things there is still probably a lot of development to be done. Has anyone driven the 500 yet?
 

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hondacura said:
Looks like Audi and Subaru have known something all along.

i wouldnt say that. if they knew anything they would have been a bigger company and sold more cars.

Audi and Subaru basically had the niche market for AWD. which sells very well in colder northern states. since then AWD has pretty gotten into a fad mode, thanks to the STi and Evo. plus, now everyone wants something catchy and nifty to add as a sales pitch. thats why everyone is offering everything.
 
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