DETROIT — The threat from the coronavirus crisis closed in on the global auto industry on Thursday, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV warned that a European plant could shut down within two to four weeks if Chinese parts suppliers cannot get back to work.

The next several weeks will be critical for automakers. Parts made in China are used in millions of vehicles assembled elsewhere, and China's Hubei province, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, is a major hub for vehicle parts production and shipments.

Industry experts said auto suppliers had built up a cushion of parts in inventory and in-transit ahead of the long Chinese New Year holiday in late January. Those will start to run out if Chinese parts factories cannot get back to work next week, or if flights to and from China remain limited.

Chinese auto parts and assembly plants have extended previously planned New Year's shutdowns through Feb. 9. But some have pushed the shutdowns out further.

"Almost everybody has some product where they are in trouble," said Dan Hearsch, a managing director for the auto and industrial practice of consulting firm AlixPartners.

Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley said Thursday the automaker could be forced to suspend production at a European assembly plant if parts don't begin to flow within two to four weeks. He did not identify the plant or vehicles at risk.

South Korea's Hyundai said shortages of parts from China would force it to suspend production at its South Korean plants.

Other global automakers have not disclosed details about potential disruptions outside China, but have said they are monitoring the risks. Toyota operating officer Masayoshi Shirayanagi said the automaker is "looking very closely at inventories of components" outside China.

GM has teams working around the clock to head off trouble, the automaker's chief financial officer said.

AlixPartners consultant Hearsch said automakers are more likely than in the past to have backup sources of critical parts. They and their major suppliers took steps after the deadly 2011 tsunami that crippled key auto parts makers in Japan to reduce the risk that a catastrophe at a single factory could shut down assembly lines.

Flexible manufacturing equipment can also be reprogrammed or relocated to produce parts. When a fire at a Michigan supplier plant threatened production of Ford Motor Co's high-profit pickup trucks, Ford moved rapidly to relocate production tools to a plant in Ontario.

Still, not all the production from China's Hubei province can be easily replaced or moved. Hubei is one of 11 Chinese provinces that are responsible for more than two-thirds of vehicle production in China, IHS Markit said in a study last week.

If plants remain idled into March, the production losses within China would become significant, amounting to more than 1.7 million vehicles of lost production during the first quarter, IHS projected.

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In the spirit of public service for which this periodical has become famous, we bring to your attention a matter of terrible importance. We've ignored it for too long already. But frankly, we haven't been strong enough to come face to face with the hideous truth: There is a disease spreading within our community.

Its devastation reaches nearly every corner of every city and town in this and increasingly every other country on earth. Why, just today, I received fresh evidence of its impact in an email from a multinational conglomerate. Am I to ignore it yet again? Should I look away as I, and so many of us, have done, simply because it makes me retch? And when I say retch, I mean wave after wave of savage retroperistalsis that leaves me physically spent and delirious. Those in neighboring office cubes are unable to snack normally for days. I shall not look away, though. We shall not look away. Not this time.

Gaze, if you're able, at this picture of the next Genesis G90. I promise you that I have not modified the photo in any way, not even by means of the Facebook Messenger filter that makes your mouth look massive and makes me and my younger daughter cackle with delight. Every. Single. Time. Yes, the company actually intends to sell this vehicle to the public looking like this, grotesquely (and pointlessly) huge grille and all. It's not easy to tell from the picture below, but precious little of the G90's grille acreage is actually open to allow air to pass through to the radiator. You will recall that the passage of air for cooling is the purpose of grilles. Or it was. If the new purpose of a grille is almost entirely to define a car as having come from a particular brand, then what does it say about that brand if its front ends just look like sections of chain-link fence?

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We're picking on Genesis only because its release is the most recent in a long line of troublingly absurd grilles. Have you seen a Chevy Camaro lately? Or a Silverado? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, they don't even have faces anymore! Their grilles have devoured their front ends. They have become mouths without faces, like automotive lampreys.

And it's not just Asian and American cars that are showing evidence of this. Have a gander at the BMW 7-series sedan and X7 SUV. Their grilles no longer look like kidneys (psst, they never actually did). They now appear to be giant gleaming buckteeth. The company's designers invariably blame American and Chinese tastes for this ridiculous tastelessness. Well, they do unless American journalists are around, in which case they will simply blame the Chinese market.

Part of the problem is that we—the buyers, designers, and enthusiasts of automobiles—are human. As a species, we're doomed to see human faces everywhere we look, even where they don't exist. Seriously, we all walk around with a section of our brain devoted to recognizing faces; it's called the fusiform gyrus. Automotive designers understand this. It's why Dodge Chargers have horizontal, canted headlights. It makes them look tough and maybe a little angry, just the image the company wants its neo muscle car to present. And if headlights are the eyes of a car, then the grille is the mouth. You can't help but see it that way. You're wired to see it that way. And as insensitive as it might be, we're also programmed to be uncomfortable when those features are out of whack.

So what's with all the wrong automotive faces, then? It is my contention that what we're seeing is the result of widespread prosopometamorphopsia. This disorder (which exists, by the way) causes sufferers to perceive faces in a distorted way. Noses are askew. Teeth look huge. Features are misplaced, cartoonlike. Its cause, in this case, is thought (by me) to result from an art-school overexposure to spray mount, Bestine solvent, clove-cigarette smoke, and angst. Or it could be that China-market thing. I don't know.

From the January 2020 issue.

It's happening! The two-door variant of Ford's new Bronco 4x4 has been spotted in the wild, this time wearing what appears to be the earliest version of its production-intent body work. We previously speculated that it could be some time before a two-door mule with a production body made its way into the wild; we're happy to report that we were mistaken. 

We've seen the four-door variant testing a few times so far in 2020, but this is the first time we've seen a two-door that wasn't just a cobbled-together collection of Ford Ranger pickup parts

This mule is clearly being used as intended, which has the unfortunate downside of making it trickier to spot any noteworthy details that we haven't already identified from closer looks at the four-door.

From previous photos, we already know that the new Ford Bronco will ride on a solid rear axle with coil springs and struts (which makes sense, because leaf springs would conflict with the departure angle needs of a short-wheelbase 4x4). A Panhard rod serves as the rear lateral link. 

It will have an independent front suspension (which appears to sport aluminum lower control arms) and, at least in its more basic trims, a fixed sway bar. If Ford comes out with a variant intended to compete directly with the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, we'd expect it will have an electronic sway bar disconnect.

Like the four-door, this appears to be wearing a disguise to cover what is almost certainly a removable roof. It also appears to be wearing the larger tires spotted on a four-door prototype late in January. 

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    The smallest Audi is getting a redesign, and we've now gotten our first look at the next-generation A3. These pictures show a camouflaged prototype of the A3 Sportback, a hatchback version of this compact luxury car that's sold in Europe. It'll make its debut in this form at the Geneva auto show next month, and this first look gives us an indication for what to expect from the eventual A3 sedan that we're likely to get in the U.S.

    The new A3 appears to have an evolutionary look, with front-end styling that apes that of the slightly larger A4 sedan and headlights that look similar to the e-tron electric SUV. The A3 sedan that America gets will obviously differentiate itself from this hatchback from the B-pillar rearward. Audi has offered the A3 hatchback in the U.S. in the past, mostly recently in e-tron plug-in-hybrid form, but we don't expect the Sportback to return to our shores.

    Audi A3 Sportback prototype

    Audi

    Audi is detailing several of the A3's new mechanical features that are said to improve handling, but from what we can deduce the company is effectively stating that it will be offered with Quattro all-wheel drive and adaptive dampers—nothing all that novel to the Audi family. The AWD setup does sound distinct from other Audi systems in the way that it can disconnect the rear axle (Audi does offer a system called Quattro with ultra that already does that, but this setup strikes us as slightly different).

    There's no info yet on powertrains for the new A3, but we can assume that it will continue to include higher-performance S3 and RS3 variants. Stay tuned for more information to come on the new A3 range as it makes its debut next month.

    Honda surprised us with a Civic Type R update at the Tokyo Auto Salon a short time ago, but today’s Chicago Auto Show was the first chance we had to get up close and personal with the refreshed hot hatch. Many of the changes are minor, but we were able to learn a lot more about what the updated Type R is bringing to the table. We walked around the car with Honda spokesperson Davis Adams to gain some insight into the design changes.

    “Every car gets a mid-cycle halfway in, and also, if anything has been one of our design complaints, it’s been the mesh, the fake grille. It’s just changed,” Adams tells us.

    He’s referring to the fake mesh vents that were on the front of the old Type R. We’ve complained about the fake vents on the high performance car, and plenty of others have, too. Now, Honda has inserted blank black plastic inserts with hockey stick-like paint color flourishes passing through them. We think it looks better in the flesh, and it should quell some of the fake vent complaints, too. That said, Honda kept the mesh inserts on the rear bumper.

    The biggest change to the front end was to open up the front grille for enhanced cooling, not a common issue when most cars’ grilles these days are already oversized. Davis told us that it’s going to make a big difference on track.

    “More significant than that, there’s more airflow into the front of the car, which is important, because early Type Rs were having overheating challenges in some cases with super high performance track driving, they were getting too hot too early, so this mitigates it.”

    For those who spend time on desert tracks in their Type Rs, this one is for you. Cooling that high output 2.0-liter turbo requires a lot of fresh air, and Honda thinks this fix will be the solution. There are suspension changes, too. We didn’t have many complaints about the stellar handling of the Type R, but it’s going to be a more livable daily driver and a more aggressive track machine soon.

    “Most of what’s changed in the car is underneath,” Davis told us. “The suspension is firmer in its most aggressive modes for aggressive driving in +R, and then it’s also more compliant when you put it in Comfort.”

    Honda wouldn’t go into the details of the new damping technology, but we’re told that those will be coming soon. There are bushing changes, sway bar changes and a variety of other suspension tweaks. The brakes feature new two-piece un-drilled rotors (they were drilled before), and a new pad formulation that’s meant to greatly improve high speed braking. Honda PR is calling it a nuanced change now, not one that you’ll immediately notice when driving the car for the first time. There’s great reason for Honda to keep the Type R the same, too. It’s still wildly popular — Honda has sold about 10,000 Type Rs in total now.

    “Honda hasn’t changed a ton, because it remains sold out,” Davis says. “Three years in, there’s still a waitlist for them. Dealers are still transacting at or above MSRP. So there’s been no real need to shake up the formula too much yet, because it hasn’t fatigued in the marketplace. So it’s getting finessed now.”

    The last thing we asked Honda about was the “Active Sound Control” system being added for 2020. Enthusiasts complain plenty about fake noises over a real exhaust sound, and that’s exactly what the Type R is featuring.

    “Effectively it’s sound piping. It’s piping into the speakers. It’s the same kind of system as in the 2020 Si,” Davis told us. “It sounds bassy and rumbly. It’s all emulated.” 

    So, none of it is real noise. It’s just being played over the speakers. We’ll be the judge of it when we drive the updated car, so the jury is still out on this one.

    We’re told there will be more news and more details about the Type R in the coming weeks. It’ll go on sale later this winter. Pricing also hasn’t been announced, but we expect the MSRP to continue its gentle creep upwards.

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      The Volkswagen Atlas three-row SUV enters the 2021 model year brandishing a facelift which gives it a similar look to its smaller counterpart, the two-row Atlas Cross Sport. It also offers an additional powertrain configuration and some new tech features.

      The new Atlas is nearly three inches longer than the outgoing model, but that increase is due to the reshaped front and rear bumpers and doesn’t alter interior space. Chrome lines span the width of the car between more angular and aggressive headlights relative to the outgoing model. The three-row Atlas's new front end isn't exactly identical to the Cross Sport's, however, as the lower air intakes look a bit different.

      All-wheel drive is newly available with both the standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and the optional 3.6-liter V-6 engine; it used to be available only on the V-6. Both engines are still paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

      Volkswagen

      Also new for the Atlas is VW's updated Car-Net app, which allows owners to lock and unlock doors, honk the horn, view their vehicle's location, and remote-start their vehicle through their phone. The 2021 Atlas also comes with newly optional driver-assist features including traffic jam assist and road sign display. There's also a new steering wheel with VW's new logo, which can also be seen on the Atlas's exterior.

      Volkswagen says it will release more details, including pricing, this spring as the 2021 Atlas starts arriving at dealerships.

      Just when you thought the Ford GT was yesterday’s news, Ford hits us with an unexpected shot of supercar. With a few years of production remaining (scheduled to finish in 2022), Ford has decided to make the last half of its run of GTs a hair better than the first half. Call it a mid-cycle refresh, but for a half-million dollar supercar.

      Instead of 647 horsepower from the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, all 2020 GTs will produce 660 horsepower. That 13 horsepower increase comes thanks to a few changes, according to Ford. Mechanical upgrades include new gallery-cooled pistons and higher energy ignition coils. This is then combined with a new engine calibration, ultimately resulting in a broader torque band — though Ford hasn’t told us what the exact difference is yet. Ford mentions that lessons learned from the track-only GT Mk II helped this upgrade along. 

      Cooling to the engine is greatly improved, as Ford designed new buttress air ducts that increase airflow by 50 percent. The intercoolers are also slightly larger than before, a boon for extreme track use. Speaking of the track, Ford says it also increased the suspension stiffness in “Track” mode for even greater on-track performance. It was probably stiff enough before, but maybe you’ll be able to pick up a tenth of a second somewhere in the lap. Everybody will be able to hear you a little better on track in the new car, too, because Ford is making the optional Akropovic titanium exhaust standard equipment for 2020. It was a $10,000 option before.

      Lastly, Ford is introducing a couple new looks for the 2020 GT. The first is called Liquid Carbon, and it’s pictured at the top of this page. If you like carbon fiber, this is the GT for you. Ford eliminated the paint! Well, not all of it. There’s still a special clear coat sprayed onto the full carbon fiber body — we've asked Ford what kind of weight savings there are with the elimination of the paint, but it wasn't able to provide a figure. You can bring a little color to the party in the form of optional stripes and painted mirror caps. These will be available in any of the colors offered on the regular GT. The carbon fiber wheels will be standard with this car (duh), and you can still pick an optional brake caliper color.

      The last appearance package is an updated Gulf Racing Heritage livery. Ford now uses black pinstriping to surround the orange stripes, and the number has changed from a 9 (2019 car) to a 6 for 2020 as it mimics the racing numbers of the back-to-back (1968 and 1969) Le Mans winning GT40. You can also select carbon fiber wheels on the Gulf liveried car this year, an option that wasn’t available for 2019.

      When we asked, Ford told us the 2020 price has increased to "approximately $500,000." That's up significantly from the $450,000 Ford wanted when the car first went on sale. For those who want one of the special Liquid Carbon GTs, Ford says to expect a number in the $750,000 range. As a reminder, all GTs are currently spoken for, so these updated cars already have future homes.

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        We just got our first look at the 2021 Cadillac Escalade. It's big. It's bold. It's all new. But it was only the standard-wheelbase version of the luxury SUV. Cadillac told us the longer-wheelbase ESV version was going to be unveiled at the New York auto show, but it put the ESV on a fun virtual configurator, and we spec'd one of our own.

        What you need to know about the ESV is that it will ride on a 134.1-inch wheelbase, which is 3.2 inches longer than the regular Escalade, and its overall length, at 226.9 inches, is nearly 16 inches longer. The two Escalade models have nearly the same interior space measurements in terms of head-, leg-, shoulder and hip room, although third-row legroom is 1.7 inches better in the extended model, but the ESV's cargo volume is considerably greater. With all seats folded, the total cargo volume of the ESV is 126.6 cubic feet, which is 17.5 cubic feet more than the already capacious 109.1 cubic feet of the standard Escalade.

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        Cadillac

        As of now, there are eight exterior color choices to choose from. We went with the elegant Sandstone Metallic, although Dark Mocha Metallic was a close second choice. There are four sets of 22-inch wheels to choose from, and we slapped on some 22-inch 12-spoke high gloss black wheels. Inside, we opted for a Gideon/Whisper Beige, featuring mini chevron perforated inserts with linear marquetry wood.

        The only trim level available on this configurator is the Escalade Premium Luxury Platinum. The 2021 Escalade comes standard with more than 38 diagonal inches of OLED screens. The three curved displays make up the infotainment system as well as the gauge cluster.

        Cadillac says that the online visualizer will update as the Escalade receives updates. There isn't much to choose from for now, but Cadillac says the new SUV is all about customization. We can't wait to fully spec one of our own.

        Two people are in police custody after they drove onto the parade route early Wednesday where thousands of people had lined up to celebrate the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory in Super Bowl LIV.

        No injuries were reported in the incident, which police said took place at 8:12 a.m. local time after the suspect drove what looks like a mid-aughts Ford Taurus through a barrier on the north side of the parade route in downtown Kansas City. Officers from the Clay County Sheriff’s Department deployed Stop Sticks to flatten the vehicle’s tires, but the driver continued south down the parade route.

        Officers eventually used the tactical vehicle intervention known as the PIT maneuver to stop the vehicle. Video shows the car being pinned against a curb as several officers converge on foot.

        This is really incredible work by @41actionnews. pic.twitter.com/6CFGN97rta

        — Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) February 5, 2020

        “The driver is under investigation for impairment,” the Kansas City Police wrote in a statement released on Twitter. “A search of the vehicle revealed no weapons, and there were no indications of terrorist activity. Police do not know the suspect’s motive at this time.”

        The Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade was scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m., with a victory rally planned at 1:30 p.m. at Union Station.

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