Did you know you could get the new Nissan Rogue with a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine? The three-cylinder motor has been around, in various forms, throughout the years. Almost always the three-cylinder engine has represented an efficient yet undesirable poverty-spec car (sorry Geo Metro!). No more. The three-cylinder is here to stay and it’s gone slightly upmarket.
There’s a certain inevitability to this. Turbocharging, direct injection, variable valve-timing, et cetera have led to V6s as powerful as V8s and, now, inline-four motors as powerful as V6s (and many V8s). What’s there to replace the four-cylinder motor in cheap cars? Three is a magic number, after all.
This Morning Dump won’t be all motor as we talk about a car with 4x the cylinders and two offshoots of the UAW strike, one quite predictable and one a big surprise.
The Rise Of The Three-Cylinder
Right off the bat, it’s important to note that the absolute king of powertrains in the United States is the four-cylinder engine. Whether in boxer or inline configuration (or V4 if you’re driving a Taunus), America can’t get enough of the fourbanger.
This data comes from intelligence firm S&P Global Mobility, which points out that four-cylinder engines still make up 57.2% of all sales in the first three quarters of 2023. The once-popular V6 and V8 engines have dropped to 26.8% and 10.9%, respectively.
According to this data, as recently as 2019 the three-cylinder engine made up less than 1% of total sales, which I’m thinking was Mirages and maybe leftover Fiestas? By comparison, in just four years that number has jumped to 6.2%, which is a huge jump.
What’s the deal? S&P points to the rise of the subcompact+ crossover like the Buick Encore, Chevy Trax (which our Thomas Hundal quite likes), and Ford Bronco Sport:
S&P Global Mobility data shows US new personal registrations of 589,026 for subcompact-plus utility models through July, compared to just 123,033 personal registrations for subcompact utilities.
Consumers moving up from a subcompact utility face a modest bump in monthly payments, from an average of about $422 for a subcompact, with a $40 increase to get into a subcompact-plus, according to AutoCreditInsight data supplied to S&P Global Mobility by TransUnion. Moving up further to a compact utility would entail about $ 100 per month in incremental payment from a subcompact-plus.
The story goes on to point out that the lack of consistent inventories has made it “impossible” to tell what the market really wants. My suspicion is that there’s a ton of upside and market demand left for these vehicles and improved inventories will result in more sales and, therefore, more three-bangers (that sounds wrong).
Detroit Automakers Will Start Reducing Incentives
Speaking of inventories… just as vehicles are starting to become affordable again (depending on how you’re financing them), the strike is reportedly leading automakers to reduce inventories as they face the possibility of newly reduced production.
September incentive promotions will be allowed to run their course with cuts appearing in October, Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ head of insights, told Automotive News on Friday, the day the UAW had announced plans to expand its strike to new Ford and GM plants.
J.D. Power Data and Analytics Vice President Tyson Jominy on Monday said automakers establish incentives at the beginning of the sales month, with the first incentive bulletins expected to appear overnight between Monday and Tuesday.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t going to apply to all vehicles from these automakers as the article goes on to point out:
Caldwell said incentives might not shrink on the high-inventory Jeep Gladiator even though Toledo Jeep Assembly factory workers are on strike, but other models would be “reined in,” Caldwell said. (Enough Gladiator inventory exists to manage at least a five-month strike, Cox Automotive Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke wrote in a UAW strike update posted Monday.)
It will be interesting to see what automakers do and if it’s a bellwether for the strikes themselves.
Trucking Volumes Crater Because Of Strike
There has been a lot of debate about how big the auto industry is in terms of percentage of the trucking market.— Craig Fuller ????????????⚓️ (@FreightAlley) October 4, 2023
The range we’ve assumed is 4-8%.
The drop in trucking volumes over the past week suggest that it’s much bigger with volumes dropping 12%. pic.twitter.com/wzBD3ZIfD7
One fascinating way to look at the economy is through the trucking industry, which my buddy Joe Wiesenthal over at Bloomberg does with his co-host Tracy Alloway for their podcast “Odd Lots” (check out this episode in particular).
Trucking is both an upstream indicator (moving raw commodities/parts) as well as a downstream one (delivering assembled products/processed commodities). I’ve been keeping an eye on trucking volumes via Craig Fuller’s tweets (see above tweet) and it initially seemed somewhat contained.
Now it’s dropped off significantly. The most exciting part is that even the experts weren’t entirely sure how much of America’s total trucking volume was accounted for by the auto industry. While it’s possible something else is going on here, the UAW strike is the most obvious explanation at the moment for the drop and shows that trucking volumes are tied to automotive production to a greater extent than many people thought.
The V12 Aston Martin Valkyrie Hypercar Is Good
Le Mans is getting exciting again. The cars are good again. They’re not necessarily as loud or as wild as they used to be (the Glickenhaus car being the recent exception), but at least there are more of them.
You know what’s cool, though? The return of a V12 powerplants. Not a hybrid. Not a weird diesel. A damn V12. Will it be competitive when it goes racing in 2025? Who the hell knows? Who the hell cares?
It’s a V12!
It’s based on the Cosworth-built 6.5-liter V12 in the roadgoing Valkyrie that revs to 11,000 RPM and has about 1,000 horsepower. The one racing at Le Mans will probably not have 1,000 horsepower, but it’ll sound freakin’ amazing.
The Big Question
Would you buy a three-cylinder car? Have you?!?
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