The year’s hottest new cars just got cold as ice
At least three years and about $1 billion. That’s roughly what it takes to make a new vehicle, from drafting table to dealerships.
Car companies live and die by that long-range gamble — but every once in a while, the bet coincides with an economic disaster. The coronavirus pandemic and its attendant recession may be the worst time to launch a car since, well, since we’ve had cars. Selling a Model A was a tough task during the Great Depression, but at least dealerships were open and some assembly lines still humming.
The global auto industry of 2020 is witnessing an unprecedented, near-instantaneous drop in demand as potential customers steer clear of car lots, and dealers close up shop to comply with public health mandates. Volkswagen, Honda, Hyundai and Mazda each reported a more than 40% decline in U.S. sales last month. For the year, S&P expects global auto sales to plummet almost 15%.
In a normal economy, the first few months for any shiny new machine are relative magic. Overeager customers clamor for the fanciest, most profitable versions, and dealers seldom have to offer discounts or incentives. Now, every sale (done online or over the phone) will be considered a coup.
With would-be buyers now focused on the grave crisis at hand, this is less a preview of automaker glory than a wistful look at what might have been.
The much-anticipated new Land Rover Defender launches this year with the historic brand’s manufacturing sites shuttered. While the vehicle’s release remains on schedule, the first media test drives planned for April were predictably canceled. The good news for the British automaker: The Defender’s official debut took place at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show.
Along with the Defender, the reborn Ford Bronco is one of the most hyped vehicles in years. In 1996, Ford parked the Bronco name (which dates to the mid-1960s) after O.J. Simpson provided the worst kind of publicity. In subsequent years, the seminal SUV became a design icon and collector’s item. We were supposed to see the new Bronco on April 2, but its debut has been delayed.
Crosstown rival Chevrolet has turned to Trailblazer, a nameplate that’s been defunct in the U.S. since 2009, to carry its newest, small crossover with an optional three-cylinder engine and a sticker price below $20,000. Kia is aiming for the just-right-size SUV market with its new Seltos. For now, the machine is coming from factories in Korea, which are still running.
Aston Martin is still hoping to deliver its first SUV, the DBX, in late summer. The automaker first showed the 542-horsepower DBX at the L.A. Auto Show in 2019; media drives were planned for May. Those have been postponed and production at all the company’s manufacturing sites halted.
Tesla’s all-electric flatbed Cybertruck that almost broke the internet when it debuted last year. The Blade Runner-style vehicle boasts driving range estimates of up to 500 miles and a zero-to-60 mph sprint of 2.9 seconds. Production is tentatively slated to begin in 2021, and Tesla is already taking deposits, but all this could change.
That shutdown also applies to Tesla’s Model Y, a compact SUV the company started delivering to customers in March.
Rivian Motors in Plymouth promises its R1S will be able to travel 400 miles on a charge, drive through three feet of water and zip up to 60 mph in three seconds, all with Costco-capable cargo space. But at the moment its facilities are shuttered.
Ford has also been hustling to finish its Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric vehicle whose November debut won broad praise. Now, dozens of early versions are cycling among the homes of Ford engineers, who disinfect each before continuing work.
The fastback Polestar 2, Polestar’s second vehicle and first all-electric car, started production on March 23 in Luqiao, China. The Polestar 2 produces 408 horsepower with an estimated range of 292 miles. It remains unclear, though, how many units will be produced or when deliveries might begin.
Last month, BMW “e-revealed” the BMW i4 Concept. It’s expected to be an all-electric sedan that uses an 80-kilowatt-hour battery to get 530 horsepower and 372 miles of driving range. Despite the closure of production plants, the i4 is expected to start selling toward the end of 2021.
Porsche had big plans to roll out the 640-horsepower 911 Turbo S version of its franchise machine with group media drives. Instead, the company delivered the machines one by one via fleet drivers. Porsche’s German manufacturing plants in Zuffenhausen and Leipzig have been silent since March 21.
Ferrari is hoping it can eventually add factory shifts to help deliver its all-new Roma on time.
The $225,000 supercar debuted in November, but a total Ferrari production halt on March 14 included production of the 611-horsepower, V8 Roma, which was supposed to roll into dealerships toward the end of the year.
Finally, Lotus is trying to piece together its first new vehicle in more than a decade. The machine, dubbed Evija, is stunning — and costs $2.1 million.
Shaped like a spaceship with trimmed sides and massive wheels, it boasts nearly 2,000 horsepower generated from four electric motors. Only 130 will be built; as for when, that will be determined later. Production has halted at Lotus’ Norwich headquarters while engineers continue tweaking designs from home.