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First Drive: 2018 Chevrolet Traverse

Moncton, NB – As consumers move from sedans to SUVs, Chevrolet is stepping up its game with the all-new 2018 mid-size Chevrolet Traverse. It's been a forgotten nameplate since its inception in 2009 save for a 2013 facelift, and dwindling sales have followed suit. 

In a market where perception can quickly become reality, the Traverse couldn't get by with minor adjustments. Even though SUV sales are booming, the three-row Traverse needed a complete overhaul to compete against segment-heavyweights including the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Hyundai Santa Fe, and that's not even the whole lot.

The 2018 Traverse has shed its past starting with a new platform, shape, engine, transmission, suspension and technology. Most importantly the words 'best-in-class' can now be thrown around, as it provides plenty of interior comforts along with space and versatility.



More modern, more spacious

The new Traverse takes on a more boxy frame compared to the more rounded hatchback-y look it used to own. It's not as bold and in-your-face as the Ford Explorer – the vehicle Chevrolet is calling its direct competitor – rather, it takes on body creases, a larger two-stack grille and sleeker headlights. The new look won't wow, nor does it offend. All-in-all its an attractive, more truck-like vehicle that can now places itself in the middle of the mid-size SUV conversation.



Overall length stays pretty much in tact, except for an two-inch expansion of its wheelbase. It may seem minor, but that little extra room allows for best-in-class maximum passenger volume (4,485 litres), legroom in the third row (856 mm), and cargo space beyond the first row (2,789 litres). That expansion is most evident in the third row with plenty of headroom to spare and enough legroom to get by. Yes, I know it says best-in-class third row legroom, I just wouldn't get overly excited about it. On the flip side, sliding second-row seats tip the seat up and move forward to allow for easy passenger access into the third row.

On the base model, eight seats are standard with a bench in both the second and third row. Our testers for this first drive program in Moncton – a second-tier LT and top-of-the-line High Country – both sported the volume-selling, seven-seater with captain's chairs in the middle row, a configuration that comes standard starting at the LT trim.

As for interior materials, it naturally gets better as you move up the trim line. The High Country version is draped in a stunning tan leather and complemented with wood and suede accents. It doesn't feel like a Chevy, but it also doesn't cost like a Chevy either coming in at $60,390. On the LT Cloth trim, you're treated to simple, yet comfortable cloth seats. There are plastic touches around, but it's all done in a modern and organized fashion pleasing to the eye.



Like all Chevrolet products, the Traverse comes with a wide array of technologies that include standard features in 4G LTE WiFi with hotspot capability, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Teen Driver, Rear Vision Camera, and a Rear Seat Reminder chime to go along with its seven-inch Multi-Link infotainment unit.

Other notable features that become available beyond the base LS are a hidden storage slot that opens up behind the infotainment screen, a hands-free liftgate that emits a bowtie sign signalling where to kick for the trunk to open, wireless charging, ventilated seats, heated rear seats, and a plethora of safety technologies.

New engine, smooth drive

As aforementioned, under the hood of the Traverse is a new 3.6-litre V6 engine that ups its output to 305 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque that's matched to a new nine-speed automatic transmission with options of front- and all-wheel drive available. Later this year, a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder will enter the fray, but only for the upcoming sporty RS version.

The new engine not only improves on power – previous hp was rated at 281 – it improves on fuel economy with ratings of 13.7 L/100 km in the city and 9.4 L/100 km on the highway in all-wheel-drive; while front-wheel-drive clocks in at 12.9 and 8.7, respectively. The Traverse is able to save on gas through a seven percent weight reduction with the use of high-strength steel and computer-aided designs.

The weight savings factor into the drive, as the Traverse felt nimble and ready-to-go throughout the journey. Initial acceleration is more brisk than expected with a lot of torque kicking in. Otherwise, the transmission is a dream with seamless transitions that reflect the quiet nature of the ride. If there's one standout in the Traverse's ride quality it has to be its peaceful ride, something a family might desperately need during those oh so rare moments of family silence.

Other technical features include electric power steering, towing up to 5,000 lbs on all trims except LS, traction mode selection that includes off-roading on AWD models, and Active Return, a system that assists the driver in keeping the vehicle centred through slight steering adjustments. 

Verdict

The Chevrolet Traverse was in major need of an overhaul after getting a bit old in the tooth. At a starting cost of $36,790, the Traverse packs in plenty of value to go along with better styling and more interior space. There also are only a few combinations to choose from to not confuse customers, a total of 136 build possibilities have been simplified down to 11.

With the rise of SUV sales, the Traverse shouldn't have a problem reaching more customers, as its all-new second-generation version touches all the key boxes of what families look for: size, versatility, connectivity, comfort and performance. It even adds a sizable amount of towing and off-roading prowess when needed.

Nissan SUVs showcase towing abilities

Muskoka, ON – Summer is in full swing – and for many that means cottage life. Canadians from all over the country allow themselves a little break from everyday life – for at least one weekend – and and find a way to hit their own or another's cottage.

Water activities are a key component in fully enjoying the cottage lifestyle. However, setting that up takes not only planning and the purchase of a boat or jet ski, but also the right vehicle for towing.

A pickup truck may be the the first thing that comes to mind due to its high payload and towing rating. It makes sense, but there are many SUVs out there from small to large that can perform these tasks, as well as fill three rows of seats. In addition, those SUVs produce an abundance of versatility while providing better fuel economy savings.

Nissan has a few of these SUV haulers in its Pathfinder and Armada, so the Japanese brand brought them to the cottage country hotbed of Muskoka, Ontario – along with a few Titan pickups – to showcase how practical and easy-to-use they are for regular towing tasks.

Hitching a boat to the SUV

There were a total of five vehicles and five boats on hand, and regardless if you were in the Pathfinder or Titan, all vehicles were capable of towing the biggest boat in the lot. Naturally, the Titan diesel topped all in towing capacity at 12,010 lbs., followed by the Titan half-ton at 9,770 lbs. The Armada and Pathfinder rounded out the roster, but are impressively both class-leading at 8,500 and 6,000 lbs., respectively.

The first task was to safely hitch the Mastercraft Prostar boat to the back of the Armada; the same thing would occur the following day with a smaller Rossiter powerboat to the Pathfinder. This involved ensuring the trailer was properly balanced and level, the hitch ball was positioned below the trailer's coupler and lower to fasten, pin was locked in for backup safety, tie down straps were used to fasten the boat to the trailer, winch cables were attached to the bow of the boat, and finally the trailer's lightning harness was fastened to the Armada.

A lot to remember, but luckily we had experts around to help out. I might need one more lesson, but will be good to go afterwards. The whole trailer setup is easier with two people, as one can be the directional aid especially when positioning the trailer hitch ball, allowing the driver to receive signals through the SUV's 360-degree monitor. Once everything was set, it was a matter of checking if the trailer lights worked, and that involved a simple process of cycling through all the lights through Nissan's key fob.

How's the drive while towing?

The Armada, now in its second-generation, is built-on the same platform as the Patrol, which is the global name for the full-size SUV. It used to be based on the same platform as the Pathfinder, but it still possesses a body-on-frame construction as all the other larger Nissan products.

Towing any vehicle can be a challenge in many respects: visibility, weight, braking and constant mirror checks, the list can go on. However, one key ingredient comes down to confidence. As long as the vehicle is able to tow that capacity, it's just a matter of getting used to that different type of drive.

The Mastercraft Prostar boat added an extra 3,300 lbs. (1,497 kg) to the Armada, which was definitely felt. The feeling is a bit sluggish on acceleration, but after some time you get used to it. The vehicle is aided by by its 5.6-litre V8 engine that produces 390 hp (up from 317) and 394 lb-ft of torque, so it's more than capable of handling the weight. It's more the driver that has to adjust his or her way of driving: accelerate more uphill, take sharp bends at a slower speed, and keep a fair distance from drivers ahead to allow more time to stop.

Once those adjustments are made, the Armada does the rest while achieving better fuel economy than its past iteration thanks to its direct injection engine, variable valve event and lift and seven-speed automatic transmission.

A similar experience was had in the Pathfinder, albeit with that smaller Rossiter powerboat. The Pathfinder utilizes a direct-injected 3.5-litre V6, good for 284 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque, up from 260 and 240, respectively.

In the case of the Pathfinder, the smaller boat's weight became a non-factor, as it was hardly felt throughout the drive. Sweeping curves became simple to handle, as long as the SUV stayed between the lanes, proving that the Pathfinder could have easily towed more weight than the 2,500 lb. boat.



There were a few instances with both vehicles where reversing became a challenge. A spotter was used in both circumstances: one time to back out of a parking area; the other to launch the boat into the water. With any object being towed, steering wheel inputs are backwards. Therefore, if you need to turn the boat right, you would have to move the steering wheel to the left. Once I got through my 12-point backup turn out of the parking area, launching the boat into water only took a couple corrections. It all comes down to practice to get the hang of it, but a lot of the Armada and Pathfinder backup camera aids definitely helped out in the process.

Verdict

If Nissan's point was to showcase that all of its larger vehicles are champions when it comes to towing – that point was definitely proven. It's easy to showcase any pickup when it comes to taking a boat to the cottage, so that's why my focus centred around the Armada and Pathfinder.

Both SUVs proved that one doesn't need to spend more on a pickup to casually go away for the weekend with your boat or jet ski. The Armada and Pathfinder, along with many other SUVs from other automakers, are all more than capable to haul and tow many objects. You don't have to sacrifice towing abilities in order to receive better handling, added comfort, money savings at the pump, as well as space on the driveway. In the end, picking an SUV might just be that versatile option families are looking for.


 

First Drive – 2017 Land Rover Discovery: still the all-versatile warrior

St. George, UT – Snow-covered mountain peaks, large red rock formations and a deep sand dune were all part of a playground for the all-new 2017 Land Rover Discovery. Seems fitting for the capabilities of a Land Rover product, even though they're customers rarely taken to task. On this two-day journey through the heart of both Utah and Arizona desert country that saw us cross into Zion National Park and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Land Rover aimed to prove how capable the newly-sculpted Discovery still is.

The Discovery nameplate may not be new globally, but in North America, it's taking over for the LR4. A refreshing change to an off-roading SUV that needed a complete overhaul from its mundane name to its aging boxy style. Canadian sales stayed status quo for the LR4 in 2016, but the British brand needed to aspire for more than triple digit sales numbers, which meant being niche in its off-road capabilities and not in the looks department as well.



A transformation in design

At 2,080 kg – 20 percent lighter (480 kg) than the LR4 with most of its construction out of aluminum – the Discovery resembles other luxury SUVs with a rounded, more aggressively-sculpted appearance. According to Phil Simmons, Land Rover’s Studio Director for Exterior Design, Land Rover wanted to “build on the [Range Rover] Evoque's styling cues that resonated emotionally with customers. A progressive more adventurous design that goes along with the brand's heritage.”

The driving force behind the sleek look comes down to aerodynamics – the 2017 model achieves a coefficient drag of 0.33. The smooth front corners remove bulk in front of the wheel allowing it to not only look planted, but have air flow around the sides to the back of the wheel arch, reducing wind noise and fuel economy in the process. The rear end takes on a whole new look with horizontal LED taillights and an off-centred license plate that bucks the trend.



Its exterior takes a while to get used to, but don't judge a book by its cover. This Discovery can still sit seven, has class leading ground clearance of 283 mm, 900 mm of wading depth when in need of some refreshment, can climb large mountains and tow up to 3,500 kg. And outside of the towing, that's exactly what we accomplished, and all of that with ease.

Conquering challenges along the way

Before we get into its on-road and off-road prowess, let's go over the two engine choices offered: a supercharged, 340-hp 3.0-litre V6 gas unit with 332 lb.-ft. of torque and a turbocharged, 254-hp 3.0-litre diesel V-6 with an impressive 443 lb.-ft. of torque. Both are matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and a top-of-the-line four-wheel-drive (4x4) system.

That 4x4 system is what separates the contenders from the pretenders and Land Rover has numerous drive modes that include: Auto, Rock/Crawl, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts and Sand. Land Rover didn't hold back on the Discovery's capabilities, putting on a first class presentation of its skills with no stone left unturned.



Sandy trails were just an appetizer for the Discovery, as the diesel unit powered through those quicksand dips, turns and inclines with only minor moments of fear, but that was more to do with the driver getting acquainted with the sandy terrain.

Once settled in, it was those Coral Pink Dunes that teleported us to a scene in a modernized movie version of Lawrence of Arabia. The sand was deep, the inclines steep, and the Discovery had to find its own lines to gain any traction. After watching the lead instructor get bogged down in some heavy sand twice, it was clear this was no easy task, but this is why our tire pressure was lowered. Amazingly, every single Discovery made its way up, down and sideways through the dunes. The key was keeping momentum and powering ahead, and when done successfully without driver error, the Discovery made it past every challenge.

The last major off-road obstacle was a rock crawl. Once again, this wasn't your typical trail, but plenty of instructors were on-hand. The rocks were large, edgy, and at times, they appeared never ending. The Discovery was put in low-range and outside of a little slip right at the beginning, yours truly made a slow crawl through the most difficult rocks without any second attempts. I've been with other capable off-roaders, granted not on the same course nor with these amount of instructors, but that typically comes with a few gear shifts to get the job accomplished.



Calm, composed and quiet

The off-road obstacles were clearly the highlight of this first drive. But on reflection, it was the on-road component that became the most impressive part. And before you roll your eyes, give me a second to explain.

We expect a Land Rover to be able to be an off-road warrior – it's been doing that since its inception. What makes this new version unique is that it turns into a quiet and composed drive that allows all occupants to sit back and enjoy the plush luxuries of its cockpit. It's all about versatility and the fact that it can transform into a regular SUV with improved fuel economy – we managed a combined 10.5 L/100 km in the diesel version and 8.9 L/100 in the gas model in mostly highway driving – gives it an edge over its luxury competitors.



The LR4 never had great handling skills, but for a girthy SUV, that comes with the territory. For 2017, the Discovery still isn't the easiest to manoeuvre, but advancements have been made with turning more direct and in less need of wheel correction. In addition, braking tended to be a little slow and in need of additional pressure, but that's something that can be worked out over time.

Overall, the gas and diesel powertrains were similar rides. A few key differences of note came down to acceleration and off-road climbs. The gas version showed better chops when in need of some acceleration on the highway or while navigating city streets. On the other hand, the diesel accessed that extra amount of torque to perform some difficult rock climbs at an easier rate.

Tech-savvy interior

The technology used in its off-roading capabilities may be equal to the ones found inside. The layout is easy to understand and filled with gadgets that include 21 storage bins, nine USB ports, six 12-volt power outlets, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a rotary transmission dial. The only downside was its new 10-inch touchscreen that may use vibrant colours and graphics, but became difficult to use with slow reaction times and buttons too small to accurately press when scrolling through radio stations and other functions.

 

As frustrating as the touchscreen can be, Land Rover makes up for it in the cargo department. A one-piece liftgate breaks away from the previous split setup and supplies a handy hop-on shelf that can hold three people. In total, there is 2,500 litres of cargo space with both rows folded down, which reduces to 2,406 litres in the seven-passenger setup. Seat folding controls are made easy with electronic switches in the trunk or on the touchscreen that fold in 14 seconds. If only the third row needs to be flattened, the second row intelligently slides forward to allow for a fully flat canvass.

Conclusion

The 2017 Land Rover Discovery turns a chapter on the boxy-look we've all grown accustomed to. Its new sleek and rounded exterior may resemble a similar tone like most luxury SUVs on the market, but it's a whole lot more. The Discovery showed its strengths during rock climbs and sand dunes, but its transformation into a quiet and comfortable street cruiser makes it the total package.

Not only will it appeal to more consumers, it has everything that was rugged and versatile about the LR4 carried over along with more technology and improved fuel economy. The Discovery will start at $61,500 and go up to $82,500 with Canadian sales to begin in May.



 

2018 Ford Expedition first look and walkaround

We check out the all new 2018 Ford Expedition at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. This full-size SUV exchanges its heavy duty image for a more crossover-like appearance. The Expedition's closest competitors include:

- Chevrolet Tahoe
- GMC Yukon
- Nissan Armada

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Next-gen Honda CR-V revealed in Detroit

 

Detroit, MI – In an exclusive reveal in downtown Detroit, Honda showed off its new fifth-generation CR-V. For 2017, the CR-V raises the bar with more performance, space, ride comfort, safety features and fuel efficiency. The 2017 model will build off an already prosperous 2016 version that has seen its sales rise by 16.2 per cent thus far in Canada and 1.5 per cent in the United States, where it's the No. 1 selling SUV. 

The all-new CR-V is new from the ground up as it sits on a new platform that showcases a broader, wide stance with a more bold appearance. From the front, you will immediately notice its two-layer chrome grille with standard LED headlights. LED lighting continues in the rear for its taillamps.

The 2.4-litre direct-injected four-cylinder engine is carried over and is joined by a 1.5-litre direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 190 hp and 179 lb.-ft. of torque. The new, turbo engine is the same one featured in the Civic, and Honda is saying it will provide the CR-V with best in-class fuel economy. 

The inside will possess a more spacious area that includes a top-class total interior volume, a two-inch increase in rear leg room, and 10-inches more rear cargo with the second row down. But the most important addition might be a simple volume knob. For the past two years, Honda has toyed with a sliding touch feature for volume adjustment, and based on the reaction from the crowd of journalists that gave this announcement a resounding ovation to the new volume knob, it was clear that Honda listened to its critics. 

In addition, Honda will be improving its suite of safety technology known as Honda Sensing, and we will find out exactly what will be added shortly. The one safety technology that was demonstrated at the event was a foot-activated tailgate that comes standard with the vehicle. 

The Honda CR-V will be assembled in three plants: the lead one being in East Liberty, Ohio, Alliston, Ontario and Greensburg, Indiana. 

Pricing is to be announced closer to the launch date later this fall.

 

2017 Jaguar F-Pace Preview at CIAS

We look at the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace at the 2016 Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS) in Toronto.

Closest Competitors:
- Porsche Cayenne
- Mercedes GLE
- Audi Q7
- Lexus RX
- Range Rover Sport
- BMW X5

 

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Going exploring, platinum-style with Ford

 

Big Sky, MT – Throughout the auto industry, there's a certain confusion growing that has blurred the lines between mainstream and luxury. Mainstream automakers have been going against the grain, offering luxury touches at affordable prices. This is turn, has forced luxury automakers to go further providing laser-etched wood and hand stitching to please consumers wanting that little bit more.

For 2016, Ford is jumping into the fray with its all new Ford Explorer large-size three-row SUV. The model has been completely refreshed with a new look and an added engine choice that offers best-in-class fuel economy, but the one thing they really wanted to show off was their new Platinum trim offering.



The Ford Explorer Platinum might be classified in the mainstream division, but there's nothing mainstream about it. The Explorer Platinum utilizes a vision of no compromise and is catered to the consumer who wants it all. Not one option will be found, as everything comes standard. The only decision you're left to make is a choice between bench or bucket seats in the second row.

Showing its enthusiasm for this vehicle and trim, Ford created an epic six-leg journey throughout the Western part of North America. In total, nine cities would be crossed covering 4,406 kilometres with the use of 187 media members. We were separated in waves, and yours truly took the third one that had us fly into Bozeman, Montana.



The journey through America's heartland to the west was a great opportunity to take the full-size SUV on a road trip and explore the beautiful roads of Big Sky Country into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, before concluding in the affluent town of Jackson. It's a trip that many take each year to discover nature and wildlife, not to mention the mountainous backdrop that is just breathtaking.

As you enter the Platinum, luxury surrounds you with a leather-wrapped interior that has a quilted design panel on the doors, dash and seats. My test vehicle had the new Ebony with Anthracite headliner combination that was pristine with a brushed-aluminum Platinum logo. The seats are plush, but they're complemented well by real ash-wood touches and more shiny aluminum.

Ford made sure to show that this Platinum offering is not just another trim choice by changing the famous blue oval centred on the steering wheel with one that is made out of that same brushed-aluminum. Just above the steering wheel, you'll find another first for Ford as a 10.1-inch digital display with analog components put an exclamation mark on the term 'upscale.'



Now that all the luxury touches were described, it was time to set out with the Explorer. My driving partner and I packed our luggage into the trunk within seconds, thanks to the PowerFold third row. After a few button touches, the third row seats get tucked in to expand trunk space to 43.9 cu. ft. from the 21 cu. ft. of space with all three rows up.

Our starting base was in Big Sky, a tourist attraction for skiing in the winter and fly fishing in the summer. If you've ever seen the movie A River Runs Through It starring Robert Redford, you would know how beautiful the Gallatin River is. As the Explorer crosses by that famous river surrounded by mountains, fly fishers are found flinging their rods to reel in some fish.

The scenery is as peaceful as the ride itself. As much as the luxury touches catch your eye at first, it's the calm and quiet nature of the Explorer Platinum ride that wins you over. Ford has focused on sealing off road noise to allow occupants to rest their arms on those thick arm rests, turn on those massaging front-row seats and enjoy the adventure ahead, the original purpose for the Explorer.



We soaked in plenty of Montana's nature, but we knew it was time to start moving on as we needed to see one of the world's greatest attractions and wonders, Yellowstone National Park. We cranked the industry-first 500-Watt Sony audio system with live acoustics and clear phase technology and booked it on US-191 S, testing out the standard 3.5-litre direct-injected twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 that produces 365 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. The Platinum offered plenty of power when needed, while still maintaining that quiet ride that seamlessly transitioned through its six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. The roads were relatively smooth, but when we encountered bumps, not much noise or vibration was heard or felt.

Once we hit the park, it was all about adventure. Within 10 minutes of being in the park, we came across our first obstacle, a 2,000-lb. Bison. The Explorer brakes worked to perfection, and we were literally eye-to-eye with the gargantuan hairy land mammal. It was a sight to see; one that was both amazing and scary.



As the Bison slowly walked off heading into the opposite direction, we parked the Explorer off the road and onto the hilly grass to catch a glimpse of Yellowstone's remarkable geysers. The most incredible of them all is called Old Faithful, due to its predictability. It shoots out hot water and steam every 35-90 minutes, allowing visitors to see one of nature's beauties. Through our many stops, we were thankful that the Platinum had a 180-degree camera with a wash for both ends of the SUV, identical to the one found in the Edge

We didn't fully get to test the Explorer's Intelligent four-wheel drive with a Terrain Management System, but it's there when needed. Just select what terrain mode you want with the dial below the gear shift. You can choose between Normal, Sand, Snow/Grass, or Mud/Ruts.



The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum has everything you want in a large, adventurous SUV. Its versatility of performance, luxury and off-roading abilities are hard to match, to go along with fuel economy numbers that have improved. We ended up averaging a respectable 10.0L/100 km on the dot, which isn't too shabby for a large SUV that weighs 4,890 lbs. and can tow up to 5,000 lbs.

As luxurious as it is, it comes with a price tag that's typically attached to entry-level Mercedes and BMWs. But for the one price of $58,599 and a destination and delivery charge of $1,690 – this Platinum edition comes with all the fixins. It's only available in all-wheel drive and will be coming to showrooms this September. If you're not about wanting that label, this Platinum Explorer provides all the luxury and performance you will ever need.

Google tests autonomous Lexus SUV in Austin

For years, Google has travelled around its home base, near San Francisco, California to test out its autonomous vehicles. Now, it's been confirmed that they've moved these practices for now to Austin, Texas in order to see how it reacts to various driving environments, traffic patterns and road conditions.

The vehicle being used is a Lexus RX 450h SUV prototype, that's been fitted with numerous sensors and a plethora of software technology. It will make its way around the outskirts of downtown Austin (a city known for its praise of innovation and change), without a driver steering the way. Instead, two “safety drivers” will be in each autonomous SUV to analyze how each performs and for precautionary measures.

So far in the testing process, Google has logged over 1.6-million kilometres since 2009, and can detect hundreds of different activities and objects that surround the vehicle.

Google still believes that its autonomous fleet of vehicles should be ready by 2020, but wish to work with other automakers to build the vehicle, as opposed to creating its own.

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