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How The 35 mpg Law By 2020 Will Affect The Cars We Will Drive

hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,120
If the newly revised 35 miles-per-gallon law by the year 2020 becomes law, as now appears very probable, it will have a profound effect on the auto industry and the vehicles we drive. It's difficult to predict the widespread effects of this law, without knowing such things as how consumers will react, what technological breakthroughs lie ahead, the effect fuel efficiency gains will have on sticker prices and the demand for new vehicles, and the value of used ones, etc., What's almost certain is that we'll see a lot of changes, as well as some unintended effects.

It's likely that most motorists haven't focused on the significance or this legislation, and are in for a surprise. I'll acknowledge that, other than an increase in hybrids and diesels, and reductions in average size and weight, the future of vehicle designs is hazy to me. What are your thoughts on this subject?


  • volvomaxvolvomax Posts: 5,274
    In essence, what happened in the early 80's will happen again.
    Cars will get smaller and less powerful.
    Big SUV's will probably become extinct, at least until technology allows big cars to make a comeback.
    The difference this time is, no manufacturer will have a headstart on the market.
    Even the japanese make big gas sucking cars and trucks.
    That is one of the reasons why Toyota is lobbying so ahrd against this legislation.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,396
    Big SUV's will probably become extinct, at least until technology allows big cars to make a comeback.

    The technology already exists to meet 35 MPG standard in larger vehicles. Big Mercedes and BMW diesels do it all the time in Europe where fuel costs more than $6-$7/gal.

    Toyota is resisting out of solidarity with the other makers and because businesses instinctively resist regulation.

    IMO the legislation is a bit of a joke. Gas will probably cost as much as in Europe and Japan now so the market will demand better than 35 MPG well before 2020.

    And yes I confidently predict that cars will cost more. :P
  • boaz47boaz47 Posts: 2,730
    cars will become slower, maybe smaller and more hybrids and diesels. I doubt if SUVs will cease to exist however. I have wondered if Gas is 8 bucks a gallon in the US what is the world will Asia and Europe do? It would seem to me they could be spending 16 bucks a gallon by then. If the fuel is increasing because oil costs more then it has to cost more in Europe and with all of their taxes they will get hammered. Because unlike the US they are already driving smaller lighter cars and using diesel to boot.
  • 1stpik1stpik Posts: 495
    All these "oh, the humanity" cries regarding the new CAFE standards are nothing new. They began in 1975, when Congress first enacted the Energy Policy Conservation Act.

    It applied to model year 1978 cars, and required the average fuel economy ratings of 18 mpg. Auto enthusiasts at the time recoiled in horror at such a requirement; said it would ruin the auto industry. It didn't. Then from 1978 until 1985, the CAFE standards increased gradually to 27.5 mpg. Auto makers whined all the way, but they met the standards, and the world did not end.

    Then, from 1985 until the present day, a funny thing happened. The CAFE standards never increased. Not once. They're still set at 27.5 mpg. So car makers today aren't required to produce anything more efficient than what they made 22 years ago.

    But now Congress has finally agreed to move up CAFE from 27 to 35 over the next 12 years, and all we hear is whining again. What B.S.! I guess the financial downfall of the Big Three has cut into the bribe money ..... OOPS! I mean "campaign contribution" money ..... that allowed auto makers to enjoy a 22 year free ride from Congress.

    As usual, car companies simply want to churn out the same junk decade after decade, and have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

    Keep this in mind; the internal combustion engine is 100-year-old technology. Since its invention, we've seen the development of nuclear power, space travel, and the personal computer. Are we supposed to believe that in all that time, GM, Ford and Chrysler simply couldn't come up with anything better than a gasoline engine?

  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,120
    "The technology already exists to meet 35 MPG standard in larger vehicles. Big Mercedes and BMW diesels do it all the time in Europe..."

    The '08 Mercedes E320 diesel gets 23 mpg city/32 highway. While they probably sell smaller Mercedes and BMW diesels in Europe, it's unlikely that they get 35 mpg in mixed driving. I think we're a long way off from what the proposed new law requires. It's a case of so close, yet so far, as it gets increasingly difficult to increase average fuel economy after you've done what's already been done, without big reductions in size and weight, or expensive technology, that will make cars significantly less affordable for the average motorist.

    The '08 Toyota Yaris, with manual transmission is rated at 34 mpg city/40 highway, while the Prius is 48/45.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,594
    Where, exactly, are they pulling this 35 mpg number from? If it's, say, the average of the EPA/s unadjusted numbers for city/highway driving, 35 mpg for a fleet average shouldn't be too hard to attain. Basically, the numbers that the EPA used to publish throught 1984, before they adjusted them downward.

    For instance, a 1984 Accord with a 5-speed manual got 30/42 in the lab tests, and they gave it a combined number (I think 55% city/45%highway) of 34. Once they started adjusting those numbers downward for 1985, to reflect more realistic driving conditions, it came out to 27/33, with a combined number of 29. And now that they've adjusted those numbers downward again for 2008, it's only rated at 23/30 with a combined number of 26.

    Using the old, unadjusted numbers, even a big car like a 1984 Caprice with a 305/overdrive automatic scored pretty well, 17/28 with a combined number of 21. Using the 1985 numbers (or rather, a 1985 Caprice) equipped that way, the figures drop to 17/24, with a combined number of 19. With the 2008 numbers, it's down to 15/22, with a combined number of 18.

    A 2007 Camry with the 4-cyl/automatic is EPA-rated at 24/34, with a combined number of 28, using that 1985-2007 style of rating. With the new 2008 ratings, it drops to 21/31 with a combined figure of 25. Those combined numbers really aren't that far off from the figures that the 1984-85 Accord posted. So I imagine that the combined raw number for Camry could be something like 28/44, with a combined figure of 33.

    So when you figure that something like a 2007 Camry is basically the stereotype of a mass market car today, that 35 figure might not be too hard to meet, if it's that raw, unadjusted average number they're using. At least, with passenger cars. Where we're really going to get screwed is with trucks.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,120
    Your overriding point, as I interpret it, that we need to know more details before we can discuss this topic intelligently, is very true. I presume the newest method of calculation (the 2008) will be used, but I'm not certain, and am basing my argument that achieving 35 mpg is likely to be challenging and expensive. Help, anyone?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,594
    I did some digging on the internet, and found that the CAFE fuel economy ratings actually come from NHTSA. Here's the website:

    Here's an excerpt from it...

    "EPA is responsible for calculating the average fuel economy for each manufacturer. CAFE certification is done either one of two ways: 1) The manufacturer provides its own fuel economy test data, or 2) the EPA will obtain a vehicle and test it in its Office of Transportation & Air Quality facility in Ann Arbor, MI. EPA will do actual tests on typically about 30% of the existing vehicle lines, using the same laboratory test that they use to measure exhaust emissions. The entire certification test procedure, including the vehicle test preparation, the actual running of the test on the dynamometer, the recording of the data, etc., is specified in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations."

    "Three different sets of fuel economy values- NHTSA’s CAFE values, EPA’s unadjusted dynamometer values, and EPA’s adjusted on-road values exist. NHTSA’s CAFE values are used to determine manufacturers’ compliance with the applicable average fuel economy standards and to develop its annual report, the Automotive Fuel Economy Program Annual Update. The EPA’s unadjusted dynamometer values are calculated from the emissions generated during the testing using a carbon balance equation. EPA knows the amount of carbon in the fuel, so by measuring the carbon compounds expelled in the exhaust they can calculate the fuel economy. EPA’s adjusted on-road values are those values listed in the Fuel Economy Guide and on new vehicle labels, adjusted to account for the in-use shortfall of EPA dynamometer test values. "

    I find it a little confusing, but it sounds to me like the number they use for CAFE averaging is probably similar to the EPA's raw,unadjusted laboratory numbers.

    I also found this blurb from a Wikipedia article on CAFE:
    "The EPA laboratory measurements of MPG have consistently overestimated fuel economy. This results in a shortfall of about 15% in actual vs. measured CAFE goals. Starting with vehicles in model year 2008, the EPA is improving their estimates of MPG. This change does not affect CAFE ratings, only Consumer Guide values will change to reflect more realistic fuel efficiencies."

    So it sounds like these down-rated EPA ratings they're putting on the Monroney stickers on cars have no bearing whatsoever on the CAFE standards.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,680
    So it sounds like these down-rated EPA ratings they're putting on the Monroney stickers on cars have no bearing whatsoever on the CAFE standards.

    That is how I would read that also. It seems that GM was given a 31.5 MPG rating on their PU trucks that are able to burn E85.

    Manufacturers can earn CAFE “credits” to offset deficiencies in their CAFE performances. Specifically, when the average fuel economy of either the passenger car or light truck fleet for a particular model year exceeds the established standard, the manufacturer earns credits.

    It makes it profitable for Toyota to sell lots of Prius to offset the Tundra and Sequoia gas guzzlers.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,120
    Thanks for these clarifications. Your quotes and interpretations make these new standards seem less daunting than what I had feared, but still rather difficult to achieve without significant changes in vehicle designs and product mix. For example, GM recently indicated that it will probably introduce a "B" class Chevy (Trax?) in the U.S. This is one size smaller than the Aveo, which, from what I've read, will grow a little in a future redesign (the generation after the newest one, which is already on the road in Korea and Europe, arrives here as the '09 model). In the absence of a major technological breakthrough, GM and others will have to sell a significant number of B class cars to compensate for continued sale of traditionally profitable SUVs, pickups, large sedans and powerful sportscars. Ford will introduce the smaller-than-Focus Verve, and Chrysler will pump out Hornets and Demons, or similar size vehicles. More diesels and hybrids (traditional and plug-ins), plus refinements on existing technologies will help, of course, but will also add to costs.

    If my interpretation of what will be required to meet the higher standards is more than what you perceive it will take, it's because each incremental mph is more difficult to achieve than the preceding one. One could conclude that going from, say, 27.5 mpg to 35 is only 27%, so it's not such a big deal, but I think it'll require more changes than the numbers suggest. Now, it's true that the tighter standards will be phased in, beginning in 2011, and that a lot can happen in terms of technological breakthroughs in the next several years, so I'm more interested in seeing how this all plays out than I am concerned about it.

    Continued high fuel costs, in the form of a trend of higher highs and higher lows, would continue to put upward pressure on the demand side of the equation for higher mileage vehicles.

    It'll all be interesting to watch. Andre, are you ready for a somewhat downsized 3,300 lb. '11 Intrepid II, featuring a 190 hp/230 lbs. ft. direct injection four cylinder turbodiesel hybrid powerplant, for $29,995?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,594
    One could conclude that going from, say, 27.5 mpg to 35 is only 27%, so it's not such a big deal, but I think it'll require more changes than the numbers suggest. Now, it's true that the tighter standards will be phased in, beginning in 2011, and that a lot can happen in terms of technological breakthroughs in the next several years, so I'm more interested in seeing how this all plays out than I am concerned about it.

    Yeah, on the surface, a 27% increase doesn't seem like too big of a deal. After all, the original CAFE requirements called for a 100% increase in just 10 years! Starting in 1978, when the CAFE requirement was 18 mpg, they wanted to get up to 27.5 mpg by 1985, which was about double what the average fuel economy was in 1974-75.

    But that first time around, there was a lot of fat to trim. Many cars could easily lose 600-800 pounds or more, with little to no sacrifice in interior room. And in many cases, simply upgrading from a 3-speed automatic to a 4-speed ovedriver automatic would see a pretty big boost. For instance, the 1978 Caprice, with a 305-2bbl and 3-speed automatic was rated at 16/22. And that's the raw, unadjusted numbers! The 1984, with a 305-4bbl and 4-speed automatic, was up to 17/28 with the raw numbers.

    Switching from carburetors to fuel injection, and getting the bugs worked out of the computer systems helped alot, too. By 1996, the Caprice with the LT-1 350 V-8, actually scored something like 19/32, using the raw numbers! The window sticker said 17/26 though, using the adjusted numbers, and accounting for the 2008 adjustment, is probably something like 15/23.

    Oh, as for where I'm pulling these numbers, the EPA has a bunch of old files listed here:

    I have a feeling though, that it's going to be hard to make the cars get much more enonomical than they already are. Or at least, it's going to be much harder to realize than the gains that were made in the 70's and 80's. For instance, when we made the leap from the 3-speed to the 4-speed automatic, it helped alot, but then jumping to the 5-speed, 6-speed, or CVT isn't going to help as much. You can only make a car rev so slow on the highway before it downshifts to get more power, so you're pretty much limited by how slow you can make it rev.

    Similarly, how much weight can you trim out of a car and still make it safe AND affordable to build? A lot of those 70's cars had weight to spare, but some of the cars got downsized TOO far, and were little more than rolling deathtraps. Similarly, cars tended to be over-built in many ways before downsizing set in. But how many midsized cars really need to be beefed up for a 1500+ pound spread between GVWR and curb weight, or be able to tow 4000-5000 pounds? Believe it or not, many compact cars back in the 70's had a bigger spread between payload and GVWR than full-sized cars do today! I've seen slant six Darts and Valiants that probably weighed around 3000-3200 pounds with a GVWR sticker stating 4800 pounds. Yet today, you're lucky if there's a 1000 pound spread there anymore.

    Still, the computers and electronics and such keep on getting more and more sophisticated. So while I don't think it's going to be easy to keep pushing these fuel economy ratings higher and higher, it won't be impossible. Just as long as the electronics don't get so sophisticated that they develop their own intelligence and try to revolt against mankind! :surprise:
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    That's mostly what the new legislation is, although I still hope they pass it because any step in the right direction is better than none at all.


    1. The CAFE rating will still be based on the old measurement system, which isn't even the numbers that appeared on LAST YEAR'S Monroney stickers, but an even higher number based on lab tests.

    2. E85 vehicles will be rated much higher than the mileage they make burning gas, which as we know is all that 99.999% of those E85 cars will ever burn.

    3. Certain trucks will continue to be exempted from the regs, while others will have to meet lesser standards depending on how big their footprint is. So, make the truck even bigger, and it doesn't have to make as high a fuel economy rating. That one ought to be good for highway safety.

    And I for one will not get on the "the fleet has no weight to lose" bandwagon. The fleet has hundreds, in some cases THOUSANDS, of pounds to lose. The latest crop of midsizers is pushing and often exceeding 3500 pounds. Please! They buff these cars up with hundreds of pounds of extra metal to resist torsional and bending forces so they can drive like race cars. Then they add bigger rims and tires to account for the extra anticipated speed. Then they add extra sound-proofing to soften the added noise of the low-profile tires they've just installed. Then they plunk a bigger heavier engine in there to compensate for all the weight they just added. All this, for what? To sit in the almost-gridlock that is the reality for 50% of all these cars' daily use? To hot-foot it from one stoplight to the next, sometimes almost hitting the lofty speed of 45 mph, in those suburbs?

    I would hope the automakers would treat this new law, finally, as a wake-up call, but I doubt they will. The domestics will pump out hundreds of thousands of additional E85 cars and trucks (GM sells almost half that way already, including some of the most popular models like the Impala and the pick-ups) so they can continue to offer exactly what they have been offering, while Toyota will lay on the rebates to sell Priuses like they are going out of style - every single one is a 60/51-rated (remember, old rating system for the new CAFE :confuse: ) credit against 16/20-rated trucks and SUVs (and those are the smaller ones - the new Land Cruiser is rated like 13/17) that go for big profits.

    I AM a little curious to see how Nissan will tackle the problem. Honda is already not far off the 35-mpg standard as it is. With a few more hybrids and small cars in the next decade, models it was already planning, it should find its way there without much trouble.

    Business as usual is going on in Washington and will be in Detroit and Japan too, despite what blowhards like Lutz whine to reporters about.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,594
    will lay on the rebates to sell Priuses like they are going out of style - every single one is a 60/51-rated (remember, old rating system for the new CAFE )

    Oh, it's worse than that. Remember, even last year's rating, of 60/51 is down-rated from the raw laboratory numbers. The EPA used to publish the raw and adjusted numbers, but the most recent raw numbers I could find were for 1996.

    The raw laboratory numbers are what used to get printed on the window stickers from 1978-84. From 1985-2007, they used numbers that were adjusted downward. But for 2008, they've adjusted the numbers down ever further. I'd imagine that 60/51, by the 1985-2007 standard, could very well be something stratospheric like 70/60 using the raw numbers!

    As for weight, I agree that cars could give up a little. But I can't think of a car out there that could lose 1000 pounds. Unless we go through a wave of downsizing again. For instance, when downsizing started back in the late 70's, one reason the cars got lighter was simply that they got smaller. A 1977 Caprice V-8 4-door, which was pretty much the poster child for the family car back then, came in at 3701 pounds according to my old car book. In contrast, the mastodon-class 1976 Caprice V-8 4-door weighed 4,285. Now these are base weights...I've heard that a/c alone in those days could add 100-150 pounds worth of weight.

    Just for comparison, a 1977 Malibu Classic V-8 4-door, which is about the same size as the downsized Caprice, had a base weight of 3,824 pounds. So on one hand, a new full-sized car that weighed almost 600 pounds less than its predecessor yet had virtually the same amount of room almost sounds miraculous. But then, when you figure that it still weighs about as much as existing cars that are its same physical size, not such a big deal. Now a Caprice was a roomier car than a Malibu, despite being the same size, but there was no real magic there...they simply made the car taller and boxier!

    Nowadays though, I doubt if you're going to be able to just lop 600 pounds and a foot off of a 4-cyl Camry, and end up with a car that's just as roomy. What you're going to end up with is a Corolla. And the Camry is already a fairly upright, tall car, so it wouldn't be practical to make it taller and boxier, as GM did with the '77 Caprice.

    As for Nissan, aren't they already pretty fuel-efficient? I know that the Altima, with the 2007 redesign, got a boost in the EPA figures. The Sentra did as well. Plus, now they have the Versa to help boost their average. On the upper end, the Maxima really isn't that much of a guzzler. Their trucks aren't that fuel-efficient, but the big'uns like the Titan and Armada don't sell in very big numbers, anyway. Their smaller trucks are pretty guzzly too. For example, my roommate's '06 Xterra is rated at 16/22. However, their trucks are also sort of over-powered. The Xterra's 4.0 puts out something like 265 hp and gets it from 0-60 in something like 7-7.5 seconds. I'm sure if things got rough, Nissan could figure a way to put a de-tuned 4.0 in that truck, or even a smaller-displacement V-6, to get better economy. Guess they could also start churning out more 4-cyl Frontiers and then loading them up with hefty rebates, to help boost their figures.
  • boaz47boaz47 Posts: 2,730
    I think you are more than likely correct. I noticed the new Focus on TV says it gets 35 MPG average. And like you I suspect they will simply make trucks heavier to avoid some regulations and find loopholes. I will freely admit my First 3/4 ton was purchased mostly because it was a lot easier to smog than a 1/2 ton in my area. Fuel mileage wasn't much different from a 1/2 ton but a 1/2 ton had to be smogged just like a car.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    the CAFE ratings are based on last number's Monroney stickers plus 11%. So I was just speaking in round numbers. To be exact, each Prius gets Toyota a credit to the tune of 66.6/55.5, combined figure of about 60. Sell 200K of them as they will this year, and you can also sell 200K Tundras (as they will this year) rated only 10 mpg (which it isn't). Or 400K Tundras, 4Runners, and Sequoias with an average rating of 22.5 (which is probably about right using laboratory numbers). See how it's not looking like Toyota needs to do much of anything?

    Check out GM: they are 60/40 trucks/cars in the mix, but the E85 thing is a boondooggle. A full-size E85 Silverado counts around 30 mpg with the E85 credit, IIRC. E85 Impalas will be well over the required 35 mpg figure. Imagine if they also stick an E85 powertrain in a quarter million fleet Malibus every year? Doesn't sound like much of a stretch as far as investment, yet it will quickly boost them over the new standard. And we haven't even talked about Equinoxes or Colorados.

    As for Nissan, no, they are not very fuel-efficient. In fact, they always shadow Toyota's combined rating, which is never that good because of all the trucks. But unlike Toyota, Nissan doesn't have a Prius in its back pocket (not to mention two small gas cars that already exceed the new standard) to bring their average way up.

    boaz: I believe if you look closely you will find they are claiming that the Focus makes 35 mpg HIGHWAY, not average. Indeed, with these high gas prices, suddenly every automaker is hauling out ridiculous ads trumpeting their usually very mediocre highway mpg ratings. Go, you tall fifth and sixth gears! But what will people average? A whole lot less, that's for sure. My fave is the ads Chrysler was running. Their most fuel-efficient model made only 30 mpg HIGHWAY, yet they wanted to boast about it! Pathetic.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,120
    From what I'm reading in this discussion (smoke and mirrors, etc.), my suspicion that the new CAFE standards amount to another failed energy policy is being confirmed. It appears that the new standards will be easy for the manufacturers to game, as the current ones are. Although nothing is perfect, the Europeans have already achieved an average of 36 mpg. Better fuel economy could have been achieved more effectively and efficiently by gradually increasing fuel taxes, and making the increases revenue neutral by reducing other taxes, such as the state sales taxes, so the incremental fuel tax, as a whole, would not be regressive.

    Also, diesel fuel should cost less than gasoline, at least by a little, as it does in Europe, to incent rather than penalize the use of diesel. Although I'm not knowledgeable about the costs associated with refining fuels, but doesn't diesel fuel require less refining and, therefore, cost less to produce, than gasoline? If yes, then it would seem logical for prices to reflect this, but maybe someone who knows more about refining than I do can chime in on this.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,594
    That whole E85 thing and the credit that they get for it really bothers me. For one thing, vehicles tend to get worse economy when they're running E85, but I guess they're getting credit because they're still using less gasoline.

    But the current technological level, doesn't it basically take about 1 gallon of gasoline to manufacture 1 gallon of E85, anyway? So while the vehicles may be burning less, once you factor in the production of the stuff, it's still taking just as much gasoline, if not more, in the long run.

    As for Chrysler, I think they really shot themselves in the foot by replacing the Neon with the Caliber. While the Caliber is selling okay (or at least it was initially), it doesn't get near the economy that the Neon did. And that's not saying much, because the Neon still tended to use more fuel than the Civic or Corolla. IIRC, the 2.0/automatic was rated at 24/32. And oddly, when they went from the 3-speed automatic to the 4-speed automatic, fuel economy didn't change much, if at all.

    Another thing that's odd, I just found out, is that it's the midsized Avenger/Sebring, that gets 30 mpg on the highway. In 2.4 4-cyl/automatic configuration, it's rated at 21/30 (24/32 under the 1985-2007 style ratings). That's actually kinda sad, when your most economical vehicle is a midsized car!

    Oh, and it looks like the 2.7 is one of the engines that's being converted to run on E85. It's rated at 19/27 (22/30 old ratings) on gas and 13/20 (15/22) on E85.
  • boaz47boaz47 Posts: 2,730
    You are correct in that diesel takes less refining than gas. Diesel is produced from what is called the first crack when it is refined. However we do have the problem in our country in that we use a lot of diesel in the winter for heating oil.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    "So while the vehicles may be burning less, once you factor in the production of the stuff, it's still taking just as much gasoline, if not more, in the long run."

    And let's get real anyway: less than 1% of all E85 vehicles ever burn anything but gasoline their whole lives.

    By contrast, hybrids do actually save gas, but they cost their owners more money to buy in the first place. I think in the long run saving gas in order to import less oil will have a cost to consumers, so in that sense I don't mind that hybrid buyers are paying a bit more. It gets everyone used to the notion that times are changing and cars will cost a bit more in the future.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,120
    "And oddly, when they went from the 3-speed automatic to the 4-speed automatic, fuel economy didn't change much, if at all."

    Andre, did the substitution of the 4-speed for the 3-speed coincide with the introduction of the second (and last) generation Neon, which was a little larger and heavier than the first, or did the transmission change come while the gen II was already in production?

    Thanks for the clarification, boaz.
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