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Archive for March, 2007

EPA Shrinks MPG for 2008

March 31st, 2007

Old EPA mpg label 

Look familiar?  It should.  This label represents the way car makers used to tell you how many miles per gallon (mpg) to expect from your car.  However, if you’ve already started looking at ’08 automobiles, you may have noticed that mpg estimates look a little lower than usual.   Don’t worry.  The lower numbers don’t mean that gas guzzlers have suddenly flooded the market.  Instead, the EPA decided to update the way we figure out how many miles a given model gets on a gallon of gasoline.

Why change now?  First off, the government hadn’t updated its mpg measuring method since 1984.  The EPA points to higher highway speed limits and more vehicles equipped with standard air conditioning as key ways that driving has changed in the past two and a half decades.  The new testing methods account for these changes in calculating the new fuel economy figures.  With increased engine exertion resulting from the way we drive today, you’d figure that mpg’s would naturally decrease under the new testing methods, and they have.  Expect the average mpg to decrease by about 10% with more efficient models going down by as much as 30%.

The bottom line: When assessing mpg figures, compare 2008 models with other 2008 models, not with models from 2007 or earlier.  While the transition may require some adjustment for everyone, the EPA has taken a necessary step in ensuring that consumers get everything they expect from their vehicles.

To learn more, check out these links:

Yahoo Autos

The New MPG Sticker

– posted by Taeho Lim

Car Industry News, Domestic Cars, Foreign Cars, Gas for your car...

German Hybrids: Have Your Black Forest Cake and Eat It, Too

March 29th, 2007

The Black Forest may contain trees for as far as the eye can see, but heretofore the local people have been leaving them starved for affection. Alas, the tide seems to be turning, and there is evidence that the people of Germany may be catching on to the pastime of tree-hugging.

Sure, diesel engines have long been de rigueur in Europe, achieving better fuel economy than gasoline-burners. But without proper control those diesel engines are dirty and noisy, and they still consume a lot of petroleum. With Japan and the U.S. offering a burgeoning array of hybrids, including SUVs and even pickups, it’s time for the Europeans to provide some options for the Earth-minded new-car buyer. And sure enough, the European makers seem to be crawling over each other in a craze to produce the ultimate vehicle for the well-heeled tree-hugger.

The most recent buzz is that Porsche is building a gas-electric Cayenne SUV, although it’s not slated for sale in this hemisphere. According to Michael Winkler, the managing director of Porsche Australia, this hoity-toity hybrid should be available Down Under for 2009.

Buyers of this environmentally-friendly luxury crossover can expect fuel consumption at least 15 percent below that of the conventional Cayenne with no compromise of performance. The gasoline-electric powerplant is currently in development for both this vehicle and the Volkswagen Touareg.

The plan for the hybrid Touareg was hatched as an offshoot of VW’s endeavor to make hybrid versions of at least one of its cars, either the Golf or the Jetta or both. After R&D revealed that such an effort wouldn’t yield sufficient profit, they embraced the notion of a hybrid version of their SUV. The current Touareg is certainly not known for its green rating, so a less-thirsty version of it would be most welcome.

A couple of years back, Audi was the first German maker to announce a hybrid SUV when it introduced the Q7 Hybrid Concept at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show. That vehicle, said to be more powerful than its conventional version, is now a reality, as it’s set to go on sale for the 2008 model year. The numbers on this one are dominated by a hard-to-fathom 473 lb-ft of torque; other pertinent stats are 0 to 62 in 6.8 seconds, and a 15-percent improvement in fuel economy.

Mercedes is also jumping into the ring, although not with an SUV, having announced at this year’s Geneva Motor Show that it will offer a hybrid S-Class sedan. Once it has a hybrid in place, though, it may be more likely that an SUV with the same technology may be offered in the future.

But the real story here deals with how Mercedes-Benz is going about its research – or, more specifically, with whom. The company has been working in concert with its rival – yes, BMW – as they have joined forces for more cost-effective development of hybrid technology. As can be expected, the two proud powerhouses have no intention of compromising their individuality (or performance, but why would they even worry about that happening) in any final product. Look for those final results to be a Mercedes S and a BMW 7 Series model, rear-wheel-drive beauties with small appetites.

All of this is splendid news for environmentalists, responsible luxury-car buyers, and the industry and world in general. The more choices for lowering petroleum dependence, the better, and there’s no reason to believe that the alternative-fuel movement will subside. Consider this the vanguard of some very wonderful things to come.

Foreign Cars, General Chat, Hybrid Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Hyundai Goes Big-Time in the Big Apple

March 28th, 2007

When you think “Hyundai,” you think “compact” or “affordable,” don’t you? The Korean automaker’s betting on the New York Auto Show to start changing that.

At next week’s New York International Automobile Show, Hyundai will preview its Genesis concept car, a rear-drive V8 sedan with a lot of power and a full array of bells and whistles (adaptive cruise control, tilt-steering, high-intensity headlights, Bluetooth capability–all the goodies that make us American drivers feel pampered behind the wheel). And with a 300-horsepower output, Hyundai’s 32-valve Tau engine may be the sexiest thing about the new power sedan.

Hyundai Genesis ConceptIt’s a nice-looking car, if its preview photos are any indication. Its sleek, swooping lines aren’t particularly original, but the Genesis concept has the kind of solid-but-speedy look that marks luxury performance sedans from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and of course the U.S. Big Three automakers.

One difference, though, is that Hyundai plans to deliver this mid-size sport perfomance sedan for a dealer price under $30,000. If they can do this at this price point, with consistent quality, that’s going to make quite a splash in the U.S. market. Another idea that’s been in the works (though this isn’t confirmed by Hyundai to date) is that the Genesis will be produced with a number of different engine options, including a hybrid version.

A well-performing four-door hybrid with a dash of style would probably find a market niche full of eager buyers. Hybrids are hot sellers; people who might feel guilty about buying a new car are salving their conscience by being green.

If the Genesis lives up to its hype, there are lots of suburban soccer moms and yoga dads who may be looking for something just like it.

Hyundai has announced its plans to put the Genesis concept into production for 2008; we’ll be watching to see what happens. Right now, there’s a lot of buzz about the car, and it definitely looks like one of the big draws for next week in New York.

This year’s auto shows have been an interesting batch, with a lot of creativity shown in both the concept vehicles and their presentation (I’m thinking of the Scion marketing team’s strategies in reaching out to young drivers, for instance). With a few exceptions, though (the Chevy Volt being a notable one), most of the innovation is coming from overseas.

Now Hyundai, which used to be a punchline for jokes about little putt-putting cars, is stepping into the V8 arena with the European and American manufacturers. If the Genesis is as appealing in production as it is in concept, that’s going to be another tough blow for Detroit. (And perhaps an ego boost for Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, et al.!)

For more about the Hyundai Genesis concept car, Damon Lavrinc has a preview at AutoBlog.com. Erik Johnson goes in-depth at CarAndDriver.com.

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Shows, Foreign Cars, General Chat

2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid Fits the Bill

March 27th, 2007


When Al Gore recently decided it was time to trade in his Lexus for a more efficient vehicle, he opted for a new 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid compact SUV (actually, he bought two of them). And he’s not the only politico who’s a fan of the Mariner Hybrid: Ford built a custom model for former President Clinton. Seems the gas-electric Mariner Hybrid is suddenly hot, and the vehicle of choice for those who want to make a statement about their commitment to automotive efficiency.

And if you want to make a statement, the new Mariner Hybrid certainly fits the bill (or the Al, for that matter). While the Mariner Hybrid won’t win any design competitions for the most beautiful car in the world, it’s certainly contemporary looking, with new headlights and taillights, a prominent grille, and a distinctive rear bumper. The interior is a bit more jazzy, with satin pewter accents, ice-blue illuminated instrument panels and dashboard, plenty of storage room in the center console, and an MP3 input jack on the stereo system.

But the real action takes place under the hood. The Mariner Hybrid is equipped with a combination gas engine and electric motor that work in sync with each other to provide maximum efficiency. For instance, at stoplights or when coasting, the gas engine automatically shuts down to conserve fuel, and when it’s running, it charges a 330-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack that’s located in the floor of the cargo bay. The battery pack provides energy to start the engine and, along with the generator motor, provides the drive power at speeds up to 25 miles per hour.

The gas engine/electric motor powerplant is controlled by a Vehicle System Controller, which shuts down the engine at specific times to conserve fuel and manages the recharging of the batteries, among other functions.

Of course, just because one drives a hybrid doesn’t mean one has to give up comfort. The Mariner Hybrid is outfitted with two-tone leather-trimmed seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a dual-zone climte control system, an available power moonroof, and an optional Audiophile Sound System and optional Sirius Satellite Radio. It also comes with anti-lock brakes, a Roll Stability Control system, and automatic headlights that turn off and on automatically depending on outside lighting conditions. The Hybrid is available with either front-wheel-drive or an intelligent four-wheel-drive system. Of course, you don’t have to be a former president or vice president to get one tricked out to your exact specifications — but then again, it never hurts, either.

Domestic Cars, Hybrid Cars, Trucks & SUVs

NASCAR Unveils Car of Tomorrow

March 24th, 2007

Car of Tomorrow

I’ll admit, I don’t know much about NASCAR. Like most people in the Northeast, I figure we’ll leave hockey to the Canadians and auto-racing to our friends down South.

In any event, racing has made its annual trip to the forefront of the sports page as NASCAR introduces the Car of Tomorrow for 16 races in 2007 and 36 in 2008. The news comes nearly 6 years after the death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt at the 2001 Indy 500. The public backlash prompted drivers, officials, and engineers to reassess car safety standards and design a safer car.

If you saw Talladega Nights last summer, you’ll remember that Reese Bobby told his son Ricky’s classmates at career day that, “Your teacher wants you to go slow, and she’s wrong because it’s the fastest who get paid and it’s the fastest who get laid.” And that mentality reflects the defiant reaction from drivers who don’t like the boxier body, clunkier rear wing, and front splitter designed to provide better balance. More politically correct drivers have publicly taken a wait-and-see attitude and figure they’ll need some time to adjust to the new features. Regardless, the Car of Tomorrow maintains a maximum speed of 200 mph and should allow for easier passing.

Even though I don’t really follow NASCAR, I got a sense of the important place racing holds in Southern culture from living in Virginia for 3 years. Every gas station and WalMart seemed to carry Dale Earnhardt jackets or memorabilia and I saw plenty of people wearing them. So in my mind, NASCAR’s taking a step in the right direction in a sport bent on unbridled speed.

For the full scoop, visit the following links:

ESPN

Yahoo

– Posted by Taeho Lim

Auto Racing, Car Accessories, Car Parts

Good News, Bad News for 2008 Ford Super Duty

March 22nd, 2007

What a difference a day makes!  I was starting to draft a post about the 2008 Ford Super Duty F-250, F-350, and F-450 trucks, the long-awaited retool of Ford’s hefty line of workhorse pickups.  Reviewers have been excited about the restyling and re-engineering of the Super Duty models, and the trucks have been flying off dealers’ lots since they started to be shipped in early February.

And then–yikes!  Ford announced a recall of all the 2008 diesel Super Duty trucks sold to date (37,000 of them!) because of a problem with engine temperature control that could result in tailpipe fires.

The good news here is that it’s a very simple fix: a ten-minute update of the engine control software is all that’s needed.  The bad news is that it’s another ding in Ford’s reputation.  Innovation is great.  It’s vitally needed, especially in the lagging US car industry.  But shipping product that just isn’t ready for prime time is always a horrible mistake.

The 2008 Super Duty redesign was already “behind”–it had originally been scheduled for a 2007 model year launch–so Ford’s impatience to get the new truck on the road is understandable.  Understandable, but costly, as it turns out.  Part of the delay had to do with an ongoing dispute with diesel-engine vendor International Truck, which had wound up in the courts and had affected production of the 2007 Super Duty as well as the 2008.  In the way that these problems snowball, the International Truck 6.4 liter diesel V-8 plants at the heart of the production-lag drama are the very engines prompting the product recall.

If you’re reading this, and you just bought a 2008 Ford Super Duty, remember that the recall affects only the diesel models; the gasoline-powered engines are performing fine.  If you do have a diesel ’08 Super Duty, get it back to your dealer and get it fixed!  Then you can go back to burning up the roads the safe way.

2008 Ford Super Duty Now let’s get to the good news: the truck itself.  It’s a gorgeous machine.  The frame and suspension have been beefed up still further, but the exterior styling has made the Super Duty’s lines more elegant.  That’s a pretty nifty trick; although the big grille and broad-shouldered stance of the truck say “Power!”, the tapering curves of the hood and roofline say “Style!”

The interior cabin designs are luxurious and comfortable.  Reviewers praise the 2008 Super Duty as much for its quiet ride as they do for its plush seating; it’s a long way from the rattle and clank you might remember from tough haulers of the past.  Part of the hush, according to Ford, is because of state-of-the-art acoustical tuning and the use of Quiet Steel, a composite steel laminate.

But the Super Duty’s main selling point has always been its power, and the 2008 delivers this bigtime.  With a hauling capacity of up to 24,000 pounds (for the F-450, fifth-wheel towing setup), and a payload of up to 6,120 pounds (again for the F-450), the Super Duty is a monster workhorse.  Ford’s banking a lot on this truck, and it’s definitely something different: a high-performance pickup with the interior comfort and extras you’d be more likely to find in a high-end SUV.   It’s a bold move toward capturing what other industries call the “prosumer” market, the consumers who are looking for professional-quality products.

And once the initial bugs are dealt with, this gamble might just pay off…but we’ll have to wait and see.  For a great road-test review of the 2008 Super Duty, check out Dan Prescott’s ice-storm saga at TheAutoChannel.com.  And Motor Trend calls it “a labor of love.”

Car Industry News, Domestic Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Addition by Subtraction: Ford Sells Aston Martin

March 17th, 2007

Aston Martin DBS

After losing nearly $12.7 billion last year, Ford recently decided to trim the fat and sell over 90% of its stake in Aston Martin to a group of private investors. Ford gets $848 million from the sale and retains a nearly $77 million stake after owning the luxury coupe outright for 13 years.

Financial analysts see this move as merely a stopgap measure for a domestic automaker that plans to spend nearly $17 billion over the next 3 years in an attempt to restructure its lineup. However, the Aston Martin sale has a significant symbolic impact that demonstrates Ford’s growing commitment to reducing factory capacity and supplying the public with more new models. The ailing company simply didn’t have a place for a luxury coupe that routinely sells for 6 figures.

While its previous owner has fallen on tough financial times, Aston Martin has experienced a resurgence over the last 15 years. With production numbers dipping as low as 46 cars in 1992, sales climbed to 7,000 in 2006. Analysts project similar figures in 2007 for the elegant coupe featured in classic James Bond films such as “Casino Royale” and “Goldfinger.”

In the end, this move represents Ford’s resolution to slowly peel away its old skin and present a new face to consumers around the world.

For more information, visit the following links:

Read the full story on Yahoo

Full Ford coverage on CarGurus

Read about the new Aston Martin Rapide on the CarGurus Blog

– Posted by Taeho Lim

Car Industry News, Domestic Cars, Exotic Cars

Carving up the Road with the Carver One

March 15th, 2007

When you compare it to the ISwing, below, the Carver One seems like a staid family sedan! But this motorcycle/car hybrid is definitely drawing its share of buzz at the Geneva Auto Show. Although it may look like a glorified golf-cart, the Carver One is street-legal in Europe, and according to our friends at Caradisiac.com, dozens of them have already been shipped for sale from the Carver distribution center in Alsace.

Carver One So you may be asking, “Why do I care?” Well, if the people at VentureOne have their way, they’ll be bringing a version of the Carver technology to North America some time in the near future. Although I don’t see a big future for the one-cylinder Carver One over here (despite what seems like pretty amazing performance for a tiny mill: according to Caradisiac.com, the Carver One turbo-charged plant puts out 68 horsepower, and takes the 643-kilogram [1414-pound] vehicle from 0 to 100 km/hour in 8.2 seconds!)

VentureOne’s idea is to marry the basic Carver One technology with a streamlined design and power the whole thing with an innovative modular drive train. Their goal is to offer hybrid and electric two-seaters that will meet all of the street-legality requirements of motorcycles.According to the VentureOne prospectus, their goal is to ship product in the fall of 2008. That’s pretty ambitious, though VentureOne does have a lot of capital backing, as well as the experience of Carver’s engineering, manufacturing, and sales behind it. (I could write a whole entry on Carver’s amazingly cool gyroscopic technology, but Jacob Gordon at Treehugger.com has already beaten me to it.)

And you know what? The VentureOne concept looks…well, awesome. I’m going to be following this story closely from now on…as closely as an angry tailgater!

VentureOne concept

Car Minded, Car Shows, Gas for your car..., Hybrid Cars

2008 Bentley Brooklands: A Pretty Car for a Prettier Penny

March 15th, 2007

The newest member of the Arnage line of Bentley sedans was unveiled at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show. The 2008 Bentley Brooklands awakens the model name that was inspired by Bentley’s high-falutin’ racing days at the Brooklands track in Surrey early in the 20th century.

This ultra-luxury four-seater holds the ultimate in exclusivity: a mere 550 Brooklands coupes are to be assembled (by hand, of course). Each member of this rarefied group will receive a remarkable twin-turbo 6.75-liter aluminum V8 powerhouse that churns out 530 horsepower and 775 lb.-ft. of torque. Yowza. This fancy set of wheels could do some hefty towing – but would it deign to?

Thanks to those numbers, the Brooklands will make its mark as the most powerful Bentley ever. The 6-speed automatic transmission will please the hands-on driver with its locking torque-converter and manual mode that allows for manual shifting should that whim strike.

The Brits put an emphasis on spaciousness, and as such the Brooklands has a slightly wider cabin than its earlier Bentley sibling, the Continental. The body, with its sleek, low roofline that just bleeds elegance and privilege, does without B-pillars for a unique and sporty appearance. The exterior elegance continues with the traditionally familiar Bentley traits, such as the high mesh grille and the large, round headlamps.

Inside, the same premium-beyond-premium materials turn a nose up at plastic and make their statement within the cabin: highest-quality leather (although Bentley’s marketing people refer to it as “hide”), real wood, chrome, and carpet. The buyer even gets to select the color of the seatbelts. The two backseat passengers get individual, power seats to maximize their comfort.
That’s rather important, as anyone who rides in a Bentley is most assuredly accustomed to the highest level of comfort. The debit for being seen in one on a regular basis will hover around $300,000.

Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

Smart Like HAL 9000, Hopefully A Bit More Reliable

March 12th, 2007

The Toyota Motor Corporation has a long history of eco-consciousness, even before it was such a fashionable cause. The Japanese automaker first introduced the compact and highly fuel efficient Corolla in 1966, at a time when abbreviations like EPA and MPG did not factor in to the average American car buyer’s decision-making process. The Corolla was met with a lukewarm response; an oddball, weighing in at under 6000 pounds, measuring less than seventeen feet in length, and boasting fuel economy above ten miles per gallon. Of course, Toyota’s foresight would be appreciated seven year later, as Corollas sped past crowded gas stations, where people waited in line for hours to fill their thirsty Cadillacs at the unimaginable price of $2.19 per gallon. That was just the beginning.
Toyota later brought forth Variable Valve Timing + intelligence technology, currently found in all Toyota, Lexus, and Scion vehicles. VVT-i boosts the engine output, but also significantly lowers emissions and improves fuel efficiency. The flagship Avalon and many current Lexus models are equipped with a newer Dual VVT-i system, and these vehicles all earn a SULEV super ultra low emissions rating.

At the same time, Toyota introduced the revolutionary Hybrid Synergy Drive. More potent versions of the amazingly efficient Prius power plant are now being used in the RX and Highlander crossover SUVS, the Camry, and even the high-performance GS sport sedan. The Lexus LS 600h is on the way, and a hybrid Tundra may also be in the works.

Toyota’s list of past innovations and eco-accomplishments is quite impressive, and here’s what is next:

The “i-Swing” was introduced in Tokyo as a follow-up to Toyota’s recent high-tech vehicles, the 2001 Pod and the 2005 PM. This latest incarnation is a significant departure from the Pod and the PM, which were both still bound by some traditional car rules. With these two previous high-tech innovations, Toyota had adhered to long-held automotive axioms like four wheels and an interior. The i-Swing breaks those rules.

The PM was Toyota’s first one-seat concept, and the i-Swing follows that lead. The cockpit feel is more akin to something being worn than something being driven, with its interchangeable form-fitting padding and color-adjustable polyurethane shell.

The i-Swing is also equipped with an artificial intelligence technology. The AI will learn driver moods and preferences and also act as personal assistant. Vehicle settings will be adjusted accordingly, and the driver will receive personal reminders through a built in calendar. In a tribute to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Toyota has named the AI system “AL,” which may be a bit unsettling for i-Swing drivers who are familiar with the outcome of that film.

Performance specs have not been released, and the i-Swing may not appear capable of much more than sidewalk-speeds, but Toyota claims that the vehicle will be able to keep up with most city and back road traffic. In “pedestrian mode,” the i-Swing rides on two wheels, at speeds ideal for a crowded city square. The third wheel drops down for “i-Swing mode,” and much higher speeds can be reached. A joystick control is included, but drivers can lean forward to brake, and backward to accelerate.

The i-Swing may be easy to dismiss as fantasy, or even as a marketing tool of political correctness for Toyota. However, the question has been raised: is this the future of transportation?

Skeptics should remember, there once was a time when the very idea of the ‘auto-mobile’ also seemed quite ridiculous. “Preposterous,” the transportation experts once snickered. “How would it move without the horse?”                          -B.Veinotte
For more information on the i-Swing check out:

http://www.gizmag.com/go/4730/

http://reviews.cnet.com/Toyota_iSwing_Concept/4660-11443_7-6459325.html

http://www.engadget.com/2005/10/12/toyotas-i-swing-the-latest-in-personal-mobility/

Car Industry News, Car Shows