This Week in Cars: Making Stock Car Racing Look Stock, Teeny Tiny Vans, Volvo Velocity
If you think redesigning a BMW grille sends shock waves through the car community, try redesigning a NASCAR race car. The big motorsports news this week is stock car racing’s debut of the seventh-generation Cup car platform. The"Next Gen" NASCAR racer follows the philosophy of its predecessor—the unimaginatively titled"Gen 6" design—to make the cars more aesthetically close to their stock counterparts, and more technically up-to-date with modern components, like oh, say, rack-and-pinion steering.
So far the response seems positive, with teams mostly pleased about changes that will keep costs down, and fans happy about the more recognizable cars. Certainly the feedback so far has been much better than the outrage about the fifth-gen redesign, the so-called"Car of Tomorrow," which led to possibly the best Onion Motorsports spoof ever. The big challenge on the new car? Where to put the number plate.
This Week in Sheetmetal
We keep hearing C8 Z06 Corvettes, and we're not complaining about that. This time it was at GM's proving grounds, where the camouflaged Vette was spotted through the trees doing repeated launch control starts, for testing reasons, surely. It sounds good and we can't wait to hear it from inside the cockpit.
Speaking of high-revving, good-sounding engines, Ferrari unveiled a limited edition of the 812 Superfast called the Competizione. The naturally aspirated V-12 engine will rev to 9500 rpm, and make 819 horsepower—which is 30 more than the standard 812, that old thing.
For fans of small trucks, Hyundai offered more details of the Santa Cruz pickup, including trim levels, exterior color options—it looks weirdly good in the goldy-tan shade—and engine options. There’s no Ferrari V-12, but you can get a turbo. If that's not a small enough transport for you, maybe renting a Citroën Ami will satisfy your longings for littles?
In electric news, we tested the Volvo XC40 Recharge P8 and found it considerably quicker than its gasoline-engine counterpart, while its styling says nothing about its sneaky electron power base. It can't compete with the electric competition on range, but for fans of Volvo's design language, the Recharge says Volvo first, and electric only when you get on the gas, er, accelerator, pedal.
If you’ve been waffling on dropping coin for a new car because of the big price tags, things aren’t looking any more affordable in the near future. Average transaction prices for new vehicles are higher in 2021 than in 2020, and various parts shortages and supply-chain delays are unlikely to improve the situation. With fewer new cars on dealer floors but an increase in customer interest, there's not much impetus for dealers or manufacturers to offer price breaks. There are also simply fewer small passenger cars being made, as the market has shifted to more expensive, larger machines. General Motors prices have risen by an average of $3500 per vehicle. Ford had a high average of $43,000 in April 2021, which reflects the large percentage of SUV and truck sales that make up most of its offerings.
As with all markets, bucking the trend may lead you to better deals. According to economists over at Cox Automotive, compact and mid-size cars and small SUVs may be available in larger numbers and thus could offer dealers more leeway for dealing. If the chip shortage continues, shoppers should expect the high prices to carry through the summer, but once the production lines catch up, everyone should expect to get back to bargaining.
Speaking of Shortages
Don't start hoarding tires just yet. For one thing, they have a shelf life; for another, your neighbors won't appreciate the addition of a mountain of unmounted rubber in the parking area of your apartment building; and finally, there isn’t a current rubber or tire shortage in the U.S. at the moment.
But for those of you who like to prepare for possible upcoming disasters, keep an eye on your treadwear. Bloomberg reports that natural rubber—an ingredient that makes up 19 percent of passenger tires and 34 percent of truck tires today, according to the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association—may become scarce in the future. The problem is caused by a lack of new rubber tree planting during 2020, and poor weather and tree-health conditions that are affecting current plantations in Southeast Asia. Add that to increased demand from China, and a lack of shipping containers to transport materials—probably because they keep falling off in canals—and you have a good excuse to buy those nice summer tires now, rather than waiting till July.
Need some inspiration? How about legendary drag racer Don"the Snake" Prudhomme taking home a trophy at age 80, and in the dirt? Autoweek has the story. In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander month, The Drive is featuring a series of stories on AAPI voices in the car community, starting with drift photographer Larry Chen.
Planning a road trip this summer? If not, why not? We’ll even help you shop for the car.