Could Ram Debut All-New Tailgate to Rival the GMC Sierra’s MultiPro?

The 2019 Chicago Auto Show is coming up, and we're expecting a variety of pickup truck news at the nation's largest auto show—including an updated Ford Super Duty and a new version of the Toyota Tacoma. It appears that Ram Trucks will also have an announcement, and it's something that we've been waiting for a while: a new tailgate.

In a tweet directed at GMC talking about its clever MultiPro tailgate, Ram's social media team replied with a football reference—it's Super Bowl weekend, after all—and the date of Feb. 7, 2019, which happens to be the first media-only day of the Chicago Auto Show.

Way back before the 2019 Ram 1500 was revealed, we had spy shots of a new truck with a funky-looking tailgate. A patent application uncovered showed a split liftgate for Ram, but it was never officially announced when the new truck went on sale, and some of us just assumed Ram was patenting something to protect the idea without actually bringing it to market.

Maybe that was even the case, but upon seeing the hype around GMC's tailgate tweet we're thinking Ram is up to something. At this point, this is all just rumor and speculation, but calling out GMC on its origami tailgate with an announcement of news at the upcoming auto show seems like a strong indicator that there might be a clever new gate making its way to the North American Truck of the Year.

We'll find out soon enough.

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec Test Drive Review: There’s Nothing Wrong with Pretending

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec.

The 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec, By the Numbers

  • Base Price (Price as Tested): $44,300 ($55,795)
  • Powertrain: 3.5-liter V-6 engine, 290 horsepower, 267 pound-feet of torque; front-wheel-drive with available all-wheel-drive; nine-speed automatic
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
  • Seating Capacity: 7
  • Cargo Space: 15.8 cubic feet behind the third row / 43.4 cubic feet behind the second row |/ 90.9 cubic feet behind the front row
  • Towing Capacity: 5,000 pounds
  • 0-60 mph: 6.3 seconds
  • Quick Take: A sport crossover in name only, the MDX A-Spec is a missed opportunity for Acura.

Those who suffer from imposter syndrome—that nagging anxiety that despite everything you've accomplished, deep down you're just a big phony—should take heart in the existence of the 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec. Here is a vehicle appropriating all the visual cues we've come to expect from today's fast SUVs, wearing a $3,500 badge with a not-insignificant tie to Acura's performance heritage...and doing pretty much nothing to back any of it up. But therein lies the rub: It doesn't really matter.

That's partly because as it sits, the base MDX is a surprisingly sharp handler for a three-row crossover that shares a platform with the Honda Pilot. But it's also because performance-lite is what people want. Enthusiasts perseverate over Wusthof-edged family trucksters like the BMW X5 M or X6 M, but it's the Bavarian's more approachable and cheaper M Sport versions that move the mass market. Likewise for things like the Mercedes-AMG GLE63, the Range Rover Sport SVR, or even the Dodge Durango SRT. They're precious fun, not volume sellers for their respective models.

Still, many of their neutered versions also use key pieces of top-shelf tech to justify the alphabetic connection—a limited-slip differential here, a larger engine there. Acura doesn't have an in-house performance shop of the same stature...but it does have the NSX, a 573-horsepower hybrid supercar built right here in the United States. Yet it's the MDX Sport Hybrid that borrows the NSX's trio of electric motors to make it a truly engaging performance SUV; the gas-only A-Spec is content with flash like a red leather interior, 20-inch wheels, and dramatic dual exhaust pipes that do more to reaffirm our visually-driven nature than anything else. It's a long fall from the original 2004 Acura TL A-Spec, which ran with a suspension tuned by NSX chassis designer Makoto Tamamura.

And yet, the Acura MDX A-Spec is an easy car to like, a mix of impressive technology, genuine charm, and an unserious practicality. It presents a unique alternative to higher-end German alternatives, Japanese competitors like the Lexus RX, and loaded-out domestics like the Chevrolet Traverse High Country. Those of us with the time and inclination to kvetch about things like driving dynamics and brand heritage will undoubtedly find the MDX A-Spec's non-performance frustrating. But out in the real world, minus a few unusual quirks, it's a fine family crossover.

The 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec: The Pros

  • Non-hybrid versions of the Acura MDX come with but a single powertrain option: a 3.5-liter V-6 good for 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission. It's buzzy in a good way, working itself up to a nice-for-a-V-6 exhaust note once VTEC kicks in, and it offers a surprisingly competent 5,000-pound towing capability. The A-Spec package also forces you to select the company's Super Handling All Wheel Drive system, which backs up that delightfully kitschy name with impressive torque-vectoring abilities that can send up to 100 percent of the engine's power to the rear axle and further distribute it to individual wheels.
  • The MDX A-Spec handles like an Acura—which is to say, it's surprisingly light on its feet, if not as sharp as your long-since-departed '98 Integra. Its mid-corner confidence is boosted further by that SH-AWD system, which can overspeed the outside wheel in a fast turn to aid rotation. The effect is better seen with the help of the electric motors in the MDX Sport Hybrid, but it's noticeable even here on the gas-powered A-Spec, whose snappy launches were also bolstered by the addition of AWD. Braking is sharp, steering is engaging enough, and the power is usually there when you want it.
  • Safety tech also stands out in a segment where it very much matters. Dubbed AcuraWatch, the standard suite serves up adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and auto high beams. Because the A-Spec also forces you to choose the $5,000 technology package, it also comes "standard" with blind spot and rear cross traffic monitors. Still, even the base MDX offers freebies that cost thousands of dollars on much of the competition, all of which well as can be tested without purposefully crashing a press car.
  • The spec sheet lists the Acura MDX as having 68 cubic feet of seats-down cargo space, which would put it below rivals like the BMW X5, the Audi Q7, the Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia, and even its platform-mate, the Honda Pilot. But Acura puts that figure above 90 cubic feet when you factor in the floor space between the first and second row and the extra underfloor compartment in the rear; you also won't feel nearly as guilty taking advantage of that capability, as the Acura's interior feels less fussy and far more usable than your average premium SUV. That's not to say it comes across cheap. "Sensible quality" is the modus operandi.
  • Between the sport bumpers, 20-inch five-spoke wheels, and red leather interior, the MDX A-Spec is a welcome visual break from the base model that tightens select areas to create a distinct persona. It works, mostly—taking in those fat exhaust pipes and taut bumpers in person, I keep thinking that it looked faster (or at least louder) than it really was. For a large and growing segment of buyers, that's all that matters.

The 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec: The Cons

  • Unfortunately, the speedy illusion is mostly shattered by the drive. Apart from a weird and annoying delay in the push-button gear selector, there's nothing really wrong with the MDX A-Spec's manners per se, but even in Sport mode, you never get the sense the powertrain is built for anything but everyday cruising. 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque aren't a ton in a car weighing over 4,300 pounds, and the lack of low-end torque is noticeable when the transmission misses its cue to downshift—which happens more than you'd like. Sharp handling can only do so much to counteract an engine that lacks any real fire in its belly and a gearbox tuned for the normies, not enthusiasts.
  • The red-leather interior is also tasked with distracting you from the MDX A-Spec's horrible dual-screen infotainment setup, which is as dated and inefficient as it looks. The bottom screen is a touchscreen for climate, audio, and other controls; the top box, controlled by the knob below the bottom screen, displays navigation, contextual menus, or the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto interface. Apart from the distracting sight of dueling LCDs, the upper screen is curiously low-resolution. The new Acura RDX has a center stack designed around a single screen and the company's True Touchpad setup, and it's only a matter of time before that makes its way to the MDX. Whatever you think about touchpads, they have to be better than this.
  • Like most automakers, Acura has been experimenting with how best to offer all the optional features. It's settled on a single base model with a series of tiered packages—but the tree is twisted in strange ways. The $3,500 A-Spec package simultaneously requires the $2,000 SH-AWD system, and omits the adaptive suspension system found on $6,750 Advance package—which you can't equip on top of the A-Spec, either, meaning those buyers must go without extra goodies like a 360-degree camera, heated steering wheel, or second-row captain's chairs. Opting for A-Spec also means you have to select the $5,000 Technology package, granting navigation and a 10-speaker sound system, but you can't go further and get the $2,000 rear-seat Entertainment package.
  • Materials and build quality were both up to par, but overall, the interior is let down by that infotainment system and a few less-refined touches. The MDX A-Spec's automatic wipers seemed to work on a mind of their own during a rare rainy week in Los Angeles, rocketing to full speed upon slight acceleration and failing to adequately clear the windshield once moving. The dinky LCD screen nestled in the physical gauge cluster was another pain point for a $50,000-plus car, its low resolution a constant reminder of the dated design surrounding you (the interior has barely changed since the current generation launched in 2014). Sadly, the MDX A-Spec is neither fancy or sporty enough to help you forget that fact.
  • It probably doesn't need to be said, and it won't matter to most buyers, but there's no real soul here. I don't see Makoto Tamamura using this one as a blank canvas.

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec, Value

Were the 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec to present itself as a true performance SUV, it would be dead-last in the value rankings. $56,000 for a tepid 290 horses and no mechanical gains over the base model? Hard pass. Even as a luxury crossover, the MDX still has some material shortcomings when compared to the refinement found in a rival like BMW, Volvo, Lexus, or even the also-dated designs in some Infinitis. Then again, the MDX also starts at thousands of dollars less with more standard features than just about any other entry in the three-row mid-size SUV segment. So from a pure content perspective, it delivers enough to be worthy of a second look.

And beyond that? Well, it depends on where exactly you place the most value. You can find something more exciting than the MDX A-Spec as equipped for $58,000. You can find something fancier. You can even find something more capable. But you can't find something that delivers enough on those fronts combined with that famed Honda reliability. A-Spec aside, which again does nothing to change the driving experience, there's a reason Acura touts the MDX as America's best-selling three-row luxury SUV of all time (whether it actually is depends on how you define the words "luxury" and "SUV"). It is worth noting that Acura's warranty doesn't provide the same free scheduled maintenance offered by other premium brands, though.

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec, The Bottom Line

Just like life is too short to spend it worrying about whether or not you really deserve to be where you are, it's also too short to stress about an automaker introducing an appearance-only sport package on their best-selling SUV. If the 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec can go out there and present itself as a real alternative to premium performance utility vehicles like the BMW X5 or the Audi Q7—and more importantly, have people take it seriously—then so can you charge forward with a completely unearned yet totally deserved confidence. If everyone is faking it, then no one is faking it.

Along with literally tens of people, I do think the MDX A-Spec a missed opportunity for Acura to do something a little more savage with the form. A turbo, a tuned suspension, even a more distinctive exhaust note would have given the A-Spec that much more reason to exist, and casual shoppers that much more reason to buy it. But that "what if" doesn't define the Acura. Instead, it's another solid entry into the growing sport-ish class of crossovers.

Subaru Teases 2020 Legacy and Its Massive New Vertical Touchscreen

Ahead of a full reveal at next week's 2019 Chicago Auto Show, Subaru has released a couple of teaser images for the all-new 2020 Legacy. Judging from the single, poorly lit exterior shot, Subaru's next midsize sedan will look like...a textbook, three-box, Japanese midsize sedan. No Honda Accord-like sloping rooflines to be found here. Once inside, however, Subaru appears to have been a little more adventurous.

Dominating the 2020 Legacy's dashboard is a massive, vertically mounted infotainment screen that takes clear inspiration from the futuristic setups found in Tesla's Model S and X.

Sandwiched between a "status bar" area at the top and HVAC controls at the bottom is a smartphone-style grid of large icons occupants can use to control various aspects of the Legacy's infotainment system. The screen is flanked by a volume knob (thank God), a tuning knob, and several hard buttons to control front and rear defrosters as well as adjust the dual-zone, automatic climate control.

All of this appears to be surrounded in a pretty conventional interior reminiscent of the current Impreza. Normal gear selector, normal Subaru steering wheel with a normal-looking tachometer peeking through behind it, and a pair of vertical, trapezoidal air vents on either side of the center stack. It's surrounded by some plush-looking, stitched brown material that probably makes the car feel a lot homier and less like something you'd grab off the Enterprise lot.

As the world continues to snap up crossovers like mad, the 2020 Subaru Legacy will join the stalwart Toyota Camry, the aforementioned Honda Accord, the luxurious Mazda 6, Nissan's Altima, and the recently updated Volkswagen Passat in holding down the midsize sedan fort.

Uber Withdraws From Barcelona Following Violent Pushback From Taxi Drivers

Uber is suspending ride-hailing service in Barcelona, where the company has faced fierce opposition from local taxi drivers. New regulations are the reason for the withdrawal, an Uber blog post said Thursday.

The suspension of Uber service in Barcelona coincides with the implementation of new restrictions on for-hire vehicles operating in the Spanish city, and the wider region of Catalonia. The rules require a minimum 15-minute wait between a ride being booked and the passenger being picked up. Cars are also no longer allowed to circulate freely in between trips, requiring them to go back to a base such as a parking lot or garage to wait for new fares.

In its blog post, Uber said the new rules were "totally incompatible with the immediacy of on-demand services" such as its own. Cabify, another ride-hailing service with a presence in Barcelona, also suspended operations in response to the new rules. In a statement to Reuters, the company said the local government had "given in to the demands of the taxi sector, seriously hurting citizens' interests."

While Uber has attracted its share of controversy in other countries, the situation in Spain has been particularly heated. In 2014, taxi drivers in Madrid and Barcelona filed legal protests against Uber, claiming ride-hailing represented unfair competition. This led to stricter regulations, which Uber tried to find workarounds for. Uber was dealt a serious blow in 2017, when Europe's top court ruled that it should be regulated as a transportation company, similar to taxi services. But Spanish taxi drivers kept the pressure on.

Last summer, taxi drivers called a strike that lasted six days. Uber and Cabify claimed their drivers were attacked by strikers, but Spanish taxi associations denied this. The strike ended when the Spanish government agreed to enact new regulations, including a cap on the number of licenses for ride-hailing vehicles.

This isn't the first time Uber has withdrawn from a market because it views local regulations as unfair. The company ended service in Denmark and Greece for similar reasons. But with regulators around the world putting Uber under the magnifying glass, the company may soon have to confront stricter rules rather than just running away from them.

Koenigsegg Prepping $1.1M ‘CO2-Neutral’ Supercar With Freevalve Tech

Christian von Koenigsegg, namesake of the Swedish supercar manufacturer, revealed in an interview published Thursday that his company has a $1.1 million supercar coming in 2020, which will feature a near-zero-emissions internal combustion engine.

This vehicle will occupy a new, unspecified market segment. Potentially, it could be the vehicle Koenigsegg and its newly-announced partner NEVS use to secure what Christian described Tuesday as "an untapped market segment."

"It's a different volume, a different segment of car, where we're seeing a gap which exists in the market," Koenigsegg said of his company's next car in an interview with Top Gear. The Swede declined to specify this market segment by stating, "That'd give away too much."

This vehicle could also catapult traditionally low-volume Koenigsegg into a larger market by boosting manufacturing to three-digit production numbers each year, which would allow it to capitalize on its notoriety.

"We've been looking to expand our offering because basically, our brand has outgrown our production volumes by quite a big margin. We have several years of delivery time on the super-exclusive hypercars we're building today," he continued. "But we do think if we make a super-exclusive, custom built supercar at a slightly lower price—that's the €1 million [$1.1 million USD] mark—we could get the volumes into the hundreds."

Koenigsegg will continue to utilize hybridization in this model, as it has with vehicles like the Regera, but the vehicle's emphasis will still be on its internal combustion engine, which Koenigsegg says will be sustainable.

"Our ambition is that this car will be completely CO2 neutral," Koenigsegg proclaimed. "Given the Freevalve technology, we can actually cold-start the car on pure alcohol, down to minus 30 degrees Celsius, so there's no need for any fossil fuel mix then. The idea is to prove to the world that even a combustion engine can be completely CO2 neutral."

Koenigsegg has previously spoken of his company's first potential implementation of a Freevalve system in a hypothetical manner, such as when he explained how he'd combat the Tesla Roadster's alleged earth-shaking performance. Unlike Elon Musk, Koenigsegg isn't as bullish on electric vehicles and is skeptical about the ability of battery suppliers to keep up with the demand that will explode over the next decade.

"If you imagine that Tesla today is producing around half of all the battery cells in the world, and that's just about enough for 300,000 cars. Then you hear Volkswagen is going full electric, BMW too, and that's millions of cars. It's quite easy to realize that there will be a cell shortage coming up very quickly."

One safeguard, Koenigsegg believes, could be to continue development of the combustion engine and use smaller battery packs to achieve a best-of-both-worlds compromise.

"I think having a smaller battery pack and combining it with a CO2 neutral combustion engine is a very enticing, exciting, lightweight, sporty solution for a sports car."

Parking Garage Fire at Newark Liberty Airport Burns 17 Cars to a Crisp

Anybody in the northeast who's ventured outside in the past few days will have been wanting for a little heat but this seems like overkill.

A massive fire laid waste to a total of 17 cars on a Newark Liberty International Airport parking structure on Thursday morning, reports NBC New York. No injuries have been reported and airport operations remain unaffected, per the Port Authority. According to police, 15 of the burnt vehicles were totaled and while the cause of the blaze remains under investigation, it is suspected to be caused by one of the now-charred cars.

That vehicle's owner was reportedly arrested when he heard about the fire and headed from the airport to his parked vehicle to check it out. Curiously, the unnamed man was not charged for his connection to the fire but for outstanding traffic warrants as well as a suspended driver's license.

The man also reportedly told police a few weeks ago that he was working on the vehicle's alternator. It is now being investigated as a possible cause of the fire.

As a result of the inferno, EWR's Terminal C parking garage and the nearby passenger pickup area were temporarily closed with the latter being since reopened. Newark Airport told those with cars parked in the affected garage to head to the Terminal C Level 1 taxi stand for further assistance via Twitter.

The thick, black smoke coming from the fire could be seen from miles away as evidenced by posts from passersby and other news outlets on social media.

USMC’s Older F-35Bs May Only Be Able To Fly Around A Quarter Of Their Expected Service Life

A new Pentagon report is warning that the U.S. Marine Corps' oldest F-35B Joint Strike Fighters may remain airworthy for just over a quarter of the aircraft's expected lifespan due to serious structural problems. This could force the service to begin grounding jets, or retiring them permanently, as early as 2026. It also remains unclear whether subsequent improvements to the aircraft's design on later models have significantly increased the durability of later production aircraft.

Bloomberg first reported the new details about the life expectancy of early block F-35Bs, which may be as low as 2,100 flight hours, after acquiring the most recent annual review of the program from the Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, more commonly known as DOT&E. This office publicly releases reports every year on how various significant military programs are proceeding in testing, often compiling data together with information from previous years.

The yearly reports on the F-35 also cover the entire Joint Strike Fighter program, including developments with the U.S. Air Force's F-35A and the U.S. Navy's F-35C, as well as components common to all three variants. Beyond the F-35B lifespan problems, the review also said concerns about cybersecurity vulnerabilities, as well as issues with the overall performance of the cloud-based Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) computer network that supports all the F-35s, remained unresolved, according to Bloomberg.

We have yet to see the full report for ourselves and get more details about these particular problems, and any others it might highlight. But these particular points are hurdles that the Joint Strike Fighter program has been struggling to overcome for years and you can read about more about them in depth here and here. The latest DOT&E review also raised questions about the accuracy of the internal GAU-22/A 25mm gun in the Air Force's A model against ground targets, another well-established issue that the Air Force has, at least implicitly, appeared to ignore over the years.

The appalling low durability of early F-35Bs is also something that DOT&E reports have highlighted in the past, but this is the first time there has been any concrete information on how bad the problem actually is. All three F-35 models are supposed to have a life expectancy of 8,000 flight hours.

The Joint Strike Fighter program office had demanded that a non-flyable airframe representative of each one of the three F-35 models go through the equivalent of three full life cycles, or 24,000 flight hours, of simulated routine wear and tear. Contractors hired to do the fatigue testing could make general repairs and conduct normal preventive maintenance at appropriate points in the experiments.

An F-35B test article undergoes structural testing.

So far, only the F-35A test article has completed all of these tests. In 2017, the Joint Strike Fighter program suspended plans for the third round of testing on F-35B test article, also known as BH-1, because it was "no longer representative" of any actual production aircraft, according to DOT&E's reports.

BH-1 had received significant structural redesigns over the course of testing, including a new carry-through-structure joining the wings to the fuselage, the latest DOT&E review explained, according to a separate report from Aviation Week. Testing had also exposed that certain components proved to be more prone to cracking than expected.

This can only reignite concerns about the F-35B's basic design going back more than a decade now. In 2004, Lockheed Martin tasked a group of engineers, known as STOVL (Short Take Off/Vertical Landing) Weight Attack Team, or SWAT, with shaving pounds off the B model. This variant is still heavier than the F-35A due to the added weight of the lift fan, articulating exhaust, and other features necessary for its short- and vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. Those same features also reduce the size of its internal weapons bays compared to its cousins and give it a lower G rating compared to the A model.

Lockheed Martin's SWAT cut 2,700 pounds off the F-35B. The changes they made also resulted in 1,300 pounds of weight savings on both the F-35A and C models as part of the herculean effort that effectively saved the Joint Strike Fighter program. Since then, critics had questioned exactly what had to get sacrificed to meet those goals as reports of cracking and other component failures have emerged with the B variant in particular.

The Marine Corps' oldest F-35Bs are underperforming, in general, due in large part to their now thoroughly obsolete Block 2B software package and shortages of spare parts. In March 2018, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Steven Rudder, the service's Deputy Commandant for Aviation, informed Congress that these aircraft were mission capable, on average, less than 40 percent of the time.

A general overview of the different software packages developed for the U.S. military's F-35 fleets, as of 2018.

The limited capabilities of the Block 2B software already means that the Marines have relegated these aircraft to training roles and other non-combat roles, an arrangement that poses potential risks for the service's ability to meet the demand for generating more F-35 pilots. The Corps has regularly downplayed these issues with its Joint Strike Fighter fleet. The service declared initial operational capability with the type in 2015 and used the aircraft in actual combat for the first time over Afghanistan in September 2018.

The Marines also suffered the first crash of an F-35 of any kind in 2018. This was one of the F-35Bs assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron Five Zero One (VMFAT-501), the service's premier Joint Strike Fighter training unit, but there is no evidence as yet that structural problems played a role in that accident.

The reason that there are so many different sub-configurations of the three main F-35 variants spread across the U.S. military at all is the result of a concept known as "concurrency." The Pentagon had billed this idea, which involved stepping up production of the jets and buying dozens of low-rate production examples while simultaneously planning to implement any necessary upgrades across the fleet as time went on, as a cost-saving measure.

F-35As under construction at Lockheed Martin's plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

This has not turned out to be the case and there are now questions about whether it will ultimately turn out to be practical to upgrade any F-35s still running the older software, regardless of specific variant. If this comes to pass, the U.S. military will have sunk billions into jets that will never be combat capable and may be increasingly irrelevant even for training purposes as newer Joint Strike Fighters become increasingly distinct from the earlier examples.

The problems look set to become increasingly pronounced for the F-35B fleet if early models won't be airworthy without significant structural upgrades by the end the next decade. Beyond that, there's no guarantee that later model Bs will meet the 8,000 flight hour life expectancy goal, “even with extensive modifications to strengthen the aircraft,” either, according to previous DOT&E reports on the F-35 program. In the end, concurrency may leave the Marines with a fleet of aircraft that will only ever fly for a fraction of their expected service life before needing replacing entirely.

The Joint Strike Fighter program office has received funds for a new test article that is representative of the current B model configuration that it could use to gather more realistic data from the third round of fatigue testing, but it has yet to actually acquire that airframe, according to the latest review. The F-35C still need to complete its third cycle of testing, as well, though previous DOT&E reports have not highlighted severe structural issues with that model. The F-35A has completed its full battery of tests without any apparent major issues.

An F-35B prepares to take off from the <em>Wasp</em>-class amphibious assault ship USS<em> Essex</em> for an operational mission in 2018.

The new and worrisome details about the F-35B's life span also come amid growing concerns about the readiness of the U.S. military's F-35 fleets overall. In 2018, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered the Air force, Navy, and Marine Corps to take the steps necessary to boost the availability of the Joint Strike Fighter fleet across the services, as well as that of F-16, F/A-18, and F-22 fighter jets, to an average of 80 percent by the end of the 2019 Fiscal Year.

“I am biased towards giving the taxpayer their money’s worth," Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan more recently told reporters on Jan. 29, 2019, in response to questions about whether the former Boeing executive had pushed the Air Force to purchase new F-15s from his former employer over F-35s. "And the F-35, unequivocally, I can say has a lot of opportunity for more performance."

It is worth noting that the Air Force and Lockheed Martin have said that the Air Force's plans to acquire F-15Xs will have no impact on the F-35 program, something that we at The War Zone underscored when we broke the story initially. Shanahan's statements do seem to highlight growing frustration within the Pentagon over persistent issues with the Joint Strike Fighter program, even as the jets continue to hit certain milestones and drop in price.

"If they choose to have an order of the F-15, it won’t be at the expense of F-35 quantities," Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin's CEO, said during a routine earnings call on Jan. 30, 2019. “I'm hearing that directly from leadership in the Pentagon, and I think that's an important point for me to make. It's not just our suspicion, but I've been told that directly."

We're eager to get our hands on DOT&E's latest review to see if there is any more specific information about the F-35B's life expectancy or other issues still plaguing all three Joint Strike Fighter variants. From what we know now, though, there are already serious questions about the future of the Marine Corps fleet in the near term and about whether the U.S. military's F-35 fleet as a whole can come anywhere close to meeting the performance targets the Pentagon has laid out for this year.

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Hyundai Super Bowl Ad Says Car Shopping Is Worse Than a Vegan Dinner Party

You might recognize Jason Bateman from his countless TV and movie roles including his part as Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, but in this new ad for Hyundai that will air during Super Bowl LIII, we see Bateman playing a sadistic elevator operator who cheerfully delivers people to painful experiences. As an exception to the bad times, the lift makes a stop at a Hyundai showroom where you get the pleasure of shopping with Hyundai Shopper Assurance.

The featured couple gets in the elevator and on the way to their car shopping experience, but while doing so, they pass globally hated scenes and scenarios. A few of the floors include a root canal, jury duty, and our personal favorite, a vegan dinner party where "beet loaf," something that we hope isn't a real thing, is being served. When the car shoppers finally get to their floor, they see a typical car lot with lots of banners, loud music, and inflatable tube men.

Then our car shoppers tell Bateman that they’re actually shopping for a Hyundai with the Hyundai Shopper Assurance program that’s been around with participating dealers since early 2018. Shopper Assurance uses four main elements: transparent pricing meaning it shows the actual price of the car after incentives and dealer discounts; a flexible test drive which allows for Hyundais to be delivered to the location of your choosing for a test drive; a streamlined purchase which is basically just doing a lot of the paperwork ahead of time so you can spend less time at the dealership; and a three-day, worry-free exchange which is pretty self-explanatory.

Even if you didn't need the humor to comprehend the Shopper Assurance program, this ad fits in with the rest of the laughable lot that's set to air this Sunday.

Watch a Cop Play Bumper Cars to Nudge a Pontiac GTO Down a Snowy Interstate

Driving a rear-wheel drive car in the midwest without winter tires is a dangerous gamble. You might be fine for most of the winter, but when the roads get snowy, slushy, and slippery, you’ll wish you forked over the money for a proper pair of winter boots for your car. Such was the case for this gentleman and his blue fifth-gen Pontiac GTO who got stuck spinning his tires and getting nowhere on I-43 in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.

But luckily for him, he wasn't stranded. The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputies got creative in giving this guy a hand to get him moving down the interstate. It began with someone dumping a bunch of salt near the tires in an effort to give the car some traction. After that, the bull bar on the front of the Dodge Charger Pursuit came in handy as it gently nudged the helpless GTO to give it some momentum on the highway. The cop then proceeded to follow closely behind the muscle car once it was able to drive without being pushed by another car.

It was nice of that cop to help out in the snow, but let this be a warning to anyone brave enough to go RWD without winter tires in a snowy climate this winter. If we can’t convince you that winter tires are worth it, hopefully, this amusing video can.

GM Closes 11 Michigan Plants Over Natural Gas Shortage, Ford and FCA Also Affected

General Motors is temporarily halting operations at 11 Michigan assembly plants and its Warren Tech Center campus after Consumers Energy urgently asked users to conserve their natural gas, reports Reuters. The utility reportedly ran into supply issues due to the record-breaking frigid winter temperatures as well as a fire at a compressor station in Macomb County.

As of Wednesday evening, GM employees were told to stay home from its assembly plants in Orion, Flint, Lansing Delta Township, Lansing Grand River, and a number of other stamping and transmission plants. Warren Tech Center employees are also taking the day off. The automaker has not announced when work would resume but Consumers Energy is asking Michiganers to cut back on the natural gas use until at least the end of the workweek.

In a Facebook post, the energy provider says it's "cautiously optimistic" that its calls for conservation are helping the cause and the Macomb County compressor station is now partially in service.

Ford and Fiat Chrysler plants have also heeded the utility's call. Ford has reportedly turned down the heat at its Liviona and Van Dyke transmission plants, stopped the heat treatment processes in Sterling Axle, and is suspending the paint process at Michigan Assembly while FCA says it has canceled a Thursday shift at both the Warren Truck facility and Sterling Heights Assembly plant.

In a live Facebook video, CMS Energy CEO Patti Poppe thanked companies for the cutbacks but also urged 1.8 million non-corporate Michigan customers to use as little natural gas as possible so that places like hospitals and nursing homes would not be without power. "I need you to take action right now," Poppe said.