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Archive for April, 2007

General Motors Drops the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado Hybrids

April 30th, 2007

Chevy Silverado Hybrid
In this blog, we usually talk about new cars ready to hit the market in the near future. However, older models often fade into obscurity as car companies replace untenable lineups with new technology. The latest replacement involves General Motors dropping the hybrid versions of the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado despite rising gas prices.

The recent decision reflected General Motors’ realization that simply slapping the hybrid tag on a rugged pickup wouldn’t cut it in a market where consumers demand true fuel efficiency. The Silverado and Sierra hybrids never ran on electricity alone and saved drivers only 2 mpg compared to gas-powered trims.

In any event, fans of the aforementioned hybrids won’t have to go too long without their favorite models. GM plans to re-introduce the Silverado and Sierra hybrids in late 2008 with a twist: two-mode hybrid transmission. GM, Daimler-Chrysler, and BMW have joined forces to work on new technology that will give drivers the same smooth electric engine performance they’d get with a Toyota Prius without sacrificing towing capacity and fuel efficiency when driving uphill. Early tests show a 25% increase in fuel economy, enough to convince the more environmentally conscious among us that the technology really does save wear and tear on our planet.

With GM losing its spot as the world’s top automaker to Toyota last week, the lineup shuffle represents one small part of a larger movement designed to bring the heavyweight title back to its rightful owner.

- posted by Taeho Lim

Domestic Cars, Gas for your car..., Trucks & SUVs

Pitt Auto Show Offers a Second Look at U.S. Concepts

April 26th, 2007

The Pittsburgh Auto Show, usually held in February, was postponed by more than two months because the convention center was broken. No, really: a truck drove through a loading bay and triggered a collapse of part of the floor. The good news is that the show opens today as scheduled. The tough news for the show’s organizers is that they’ve lost the “edge” in terms of dramatic unveilings and the like–after Detroit and New York, the energy around new and concept cars has fizzled a bit.

In some ways, though, that’s a good thing. The Pittsburgh show gives us a second look at some of the concept cars that made appearances at the earlier events, especially the ones from American manufacturers. The Chrysler Nassau, for example, didn’t grab headlines in Detroit: with all the new ideas and big-picture concepts out there, the relatively understated Nassau made less of a splash than the folks at Daimler Chrysler probably had hoped. Perhaps at Pittsburgh, the car will get the attention it deserves.

Chrysler Nassau (Cars.com photo)

It’s an interesting concept, though you wouldn’t know it from the press release. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to pitch the Nassau by comparing it to English “shooting brakes” needs a stern talking-to from Doctor Z!

The core of the Nassau concept is simple, really. It’s a luxury sedan with a hatchback. See? No blather about “shooting brakes” is needed; it’s as easy as the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials to understand. Two great tastes that taste great together.

Or you could think of it as a PT Cruiser that doesn’t look like a toy schoolbus. Or a station wagon that has a bit of flair. Or a lighter-weight crossover with the feel of a limo. The key to the Nassau is that it’s low-slung (and hence, presumably, nimble on the roads) and yet simultaneously roomy and flexible.

In other words, an idea whose time has come, right? Well, according to most of the automotive press, not so fast. Everyone from Car and Driver to Popular Mechanics is proclaiming the Nassau a false start. The hatchback concept, especially, has come in for some harsh criticism.

And so I’m interested in what the Pittsburgh crowds will think of the Nassau. The appeal of the design seems obvious to me–a car that can deliver the comfortable ride of a luxury sedan along with the flexibility and cargo capacity of a hatchback makes sense to anybody who’s tried to load a cart full of groceries into a car filled with dogs and kids. A lot of us Generation X’ers miss the giant station wagons of our childhood; the Nassau offers that kind of room without the top-heavy boxiness of the Honda Element or the Toyota Scion.

Gas prices aren’t going anywhere but up, at least for the near future. I think every automaker would do well to think about new solutions to the age-old question of how to balance comfort and efficiency. And given the theme of the Pittsburgh show, “Fantasy to Reality”, the Nassau seems like one interesting answer!

For more about the Pittsburgh Auto Show, check its website.

More about the Chrysler Nassau at MotorTrend.com.

Car Industry News, Car Shows

Remember When One Hemi Was Enough?

April 26th, 2007

Introducing the most capable off-roader you will never own.
…or will you?

While other automakers may be busy competing to reach the paramount of eco-consciousness, the folks at Daimler Chrysler are continuing to think outside of that limiting, environmentally friendly box. In a time of fuel cells, three-wheeled solar-powered concepts, and hybrids, Daimler Chrysler has the Hemi V-8. So now, why not two Hemis in one vehicle? The Jeep Hurricane 4×4 is powered by two 5.7 liter Hemi V-8s, for a total output of 670 horsepower and 740 pound-feet of torque. Jeep claims a 0 to 60 time of 4.9 seconds. And it’s not as environmentally neglectful as it sounds, either. Chrysler’s Multi-Displacement System allows the Hurricane to run on four, eight, twelve or all sixteen cylinders.

The Hurricane also boasts 14 inches of ground clearance, approach-departure angles of 64.0 and 86.7 degrees, a mechanically controlled four-wheel torque distribution system, four-wheel steering and a 0-foot turning radius. Thanks to a unique tow-steer system, which allows both the front and rear wheels to turn inward, the Hurricane can do a 360 degree turn in place.


Jeep first unveiled the Hurricane concept at the Detroit Auto Show in 2005. Unlike the Gladiator concept, the Hurricane was not intended to demonstrate the future direction of the company. It was merely designed to be a show-stopper, which it was. While it was touted as the “most capable 4×4 ever,” and was named Autoweek’s “Most Fun” concept that year, few off-road enthusiasts had any hope that such a vehicle would ever see production. Since then, Jeep has remained rather ambivalent about the future of the Hurricane.

However, this concept recently became newsworthy once again amidst whispers about the possibility of limited production. Public reception has demonstrated that there is actually a demand for such a vehicle, and there have been discussions about possible military use. Now, one could argue that if the Hurricane concept is called upon for a military application, then the public will eventually get a taste. A quick look at the history of Land Rover, Hummer, and, of course, Jeep will back up such a thesis.

For More Updates and Information, Check Out:

http://www.automobilemag.com/auto_shows/naias_2005/0501_jeep_hurricane/

http://www.edmunds.com/news/autoshow/articles/103626/page014.html

http://www.gizmag.com/go/3599/

Car Industry News, Car Shows, CarGurus Features and Updates, Trucks & SUVs

Porsche Ups the Power for 2008 Cayenne

April 25th, 2007

Perhaps it comes as no surprise — not really big news at all — that the Porsche Cayenne, the sporty SUV from the maker of the venerable 911, as well as the Boxster and the Cayman, is equipped with more powerful engines for 2008. After all, isn’t that what we expect from Porsche? Shouldn’t all the vehicles produced by the iconic German automaker be the best in their fields, the fastest around the track, and the hunkiest in suburban driveways across the country?

Well, sure. But in the Cayenne’s case, particularly the base model equipped with a V6, the extra power is justified, even necessary, when you consider that the Cayenne is a large, heavy vehicle that can always use a little extra umph to move it along the highway. But when you add in the fact that the new 2008 engines are actually more fuel-efficient that their forebears, and that the Cayenne has received some minor styling upgrades that make it more aerodynamic (and yes, again, more fuel efficient), well, just maybe that is news.

Besides, we can’t help writing about the Cayenne, or any other Porsche, for that matter. They’re cars that demand to be noticed. So we’re noticing them — it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

The new Cayenne (which has just arrived in showrooms) is available with a choice of three engines. The base 3.6-liter V6 gets a goose of 43 horsepower, to 290 horsepower, which drives the vehicle from 0 to 60 more than a second faster than the engine it replaced, while the new 4.8-liter V8 (available on the S trim package) receives a boost of 45 horsepower, to 385 horsepower. At the top of the heap is a twin-turbocharged V8, which produces a whopping 500 horsepower, up 50 horsepower from the previous model.

Porsche achieved those boosts in power via direct injection (on all three engines) and variable valve timing (on the V8 engines). The direct injection, by the way, also helps make the engines more fuel-efficient.

Exterior changes are subtle and include a revised front end, which helps improve aerodynamics, as well as new headlights and taillights, and a new rear spoiler. All-wheel-drive is standard across the line. The Cayenne also is equipped with more powerful brakes, and such new features as the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control system, which helps keep the vehicle level under hard cornering. And with all that additional power under the hood, you might be using that new leveling system more than you think.

Foreign Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Wind in the Willows: The Mazda Hakaze

April 20th, 2007

Mazda Hakaze

Have you ever noticed how Asians can manage to capture in one word what Americans need an entire phrase to convey? ‘Hakaze’ means ‘wind blowing through leaves of a tree’ in Japanese and succinctly captures the essence of the crossover concept coupe that made its flashy debut at the Geneva Auto Show in March.

Road and Track had the chance to test drive the Hakaze and liked what it saw. The new concept seats 4 and features a 258 hp 4 cylinder powertrain with all-wheel drive. Exterior highlights include a clear glass top, streamlined ridges around the body, and rotating doors that open up at a 45 degree angle to the ground. The interior features a rectangular steering wheel, sensor-based console controls, and seats made from neoprene, a synthetic rubber often used in wetsuits and insulation.

So when can you try out the Hakaze for yourself? Don’t hold your breath. While the crossover looks intriguing, Mazda intended the Hakaze as a means to an end. In this case, the design and dimensions should find their way into an as-yet-unnamed SUV set to arrive in late 2009. For now, the current Mazda lineup should suffice until the winds of change blow into your local showroom.

- posted by Taeho Lim

Car Shows, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

Long Live the King

April 18th, 2007

I was going to blog, as usual, about some Albanian hatchback that runs on reconstituted soybeans–because that’s how I roll, green and nerdy. But then I was going through the Popular Mechanics website (you see, I wasn’t kidding about the “nerdy”), and I fell in love. In love, I tell you.

2008 Ford GT500KRSo I’ve got a crush on the 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR, and I don’t care who knows it. Not that this does me much good, you understand–Ford’s only making 1,000 of these special-edition babies, and I couldn’t afford one even if I could beat Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld to the dealer.

But you can’t stop a car junkie from dreaming, and there’s a lot to dream about with the Shelby GT500KR. First of all, the “KR” stands for “King of the Road,” and I’m not going to argue with them about that. This limited edition superperformance car was created to honor the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Mustang, the all-star pony car that first bore the KR moniker.

If you can find a ’68 Mustang today, you can expect to pay a couple of hundred thousand dollars for it. The 2008 Shelby GT500KR’s price hasn’t been announced, but it’s definitely going to be a lot cheaper than that; the Mustang GT500 lists at a little over $40,000.

Of course, the Shelby KR has more to offer than the plain vanilla GT500 (which is already an awesome muscle car). Its supercharged 5.4-liter engine clocks at 550 horsepower, and the Ford SVT team has come up with a “Performance Racing Package” that includes a state-of-the art exhaust system, 14-inch Brembo brakes, and a scooped, aerodynamically designed carbon-composite roof.

There’s something refreshing about a dream machine car like this, a marvel of engineering that reminds you that cars can be fun as well as serious business. In today’s complicated market, it’s good to see Ford turning out this beautiful labor of love. Even if I can’t drive it. (But if one of you gets to, please write a review! And send us pictures!)

But wait! Here’s some good news for the average driver: last year, Ford and Hertz reintroduced the “Rent A Racer” program, a Carroll Shelby brainchild from 40 years ago. Yes, there’s a limited-run series of Mustang GT convertibles produced especially for Hertz and available for rental around the U.S.

2007 Mustang GT-H Hertz Racer The limited-run Shelby Mustang GT-H Hertz Racer sports a 325-horsepower V8 engine. Body modifications (including rollbars and a stiffer suspension) and engine tuning were done by the Shelby folks in Las Vegas, and every GT-H is badged and plaqued with the Shelby signature.

Even in the odd Hertz colorway, it’s a gorgeous car. And you can rent one! That is, unless I’ve already booked it.

For more about the 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR, check out PopularMechanics.com. CarAndDriver.com has all the inside information on the Ford Mustang GT-H Hertz Racer.

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Classic & Vintage Cars, Domestic Cars, General Chat

Imprezas Impress: 2008 Subarus Times Two

April 17th, 2007

In many ways, the Japanese automakers always seem to be just one step ahead of their American, and sometimes their European, counterparts. While the Big Three in Detroit struggle to reintroduce and reposition their lines for a changing world, the Japanese are unveiling cars that seem to be a perfect fit for the current, ever-changing automotive climate.

For proof, just take a look at the 2008 Subaru Impreza 2.5i and its high-performance sibling, the 2008 Impreza WRX, both of which were unveiled recently at the New York Auto Show. A few years ago, at the height of the SUV craze, these cars would have been lost in the crowd. But in this day and age of high gas prices and a renewed emphasis on efficient motoring, the Impreza twins take the lead in a new class of high-tech, high-performance compact sport cars.

Both Impreza models are available in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback versions, and both feature a new, more rigid chassis and a longer wheelbase than the previous year’s models, yet both are lighter in weight than earlier versions. In addition, the engines are placed lower in the chassis, lowering the center of gravity. When you do the math, it all adds up to better handling and a sportier ride.

Adding to the cars’ performance are two new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines that have been modified to improve emissions and fuel efficiency, while delivering improved torque at lower speeds for true high-performance driving. A standard four-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower is dropped under the hood of the Impreza 2.5i, while the WRX gets a turbocharged version of the same engine, producing 224 horsepower.

Both models are equipped with Subaru’s Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, as well as all-new double-wishbone suspension. New exterior styling details such as new grilles, rooflines, and rear spoilers are also part of the packages, as are new sculpted door panels, more comfortable seats, and an available nagivation screen that can double as a display for hand-held video games, which can plug right into the system. So while the passenger plays video games, the driver can be play his or her own game behind the wheel of the Impreza over the hottest stretches of road in the country. The two new Imprezas will be available globally starting this summer, so sharpen your driving — and your game-playing — skills.

Car Shows, Foreign Cars

The Ford Airstream Enters the Stream of Consciousness

April 13th, 2007

Ford Airstream
Have you driven a Ford lately? Possibly not, especially given the domestic automaker’s recent financial issues. However, as Ford gears up for another run at international prominence, it certainly hasn’t given up on pushing the envelope with a new concept car that looks like a spaceship: the Ford Airstream. One look at its futuristic design should tell you that Ford couldn’t have drawn this up on its own, given its historic penchant for understated elegance. So who could have collaborated on this unique project?

A wise man once said that a man’s car is his castle, and Airstream, Inc. would know that better than anyone as a manufacturer of trailers and motor homes for 76 years. Based in Jackson Center, OH, Airstream had a lot of input into this innovative design that defies classification.

When it comes to the car itself, you’ll notice that the special exterior paint makes the sturdy steel body shine like aluminum. In addition, the dimensions match the Ford Edge. Step inside and you’ll appreciate the rich red fabric that lines the cabin. A cylinder-shaped LED screen enables you to pop in your favorite DVD and watch it from just about any angle.

While the interior and exterior design will make you do a double-take, perhaps the most futuristic aspect of the Airstream comes from the powertrain: a hydrogen hybrid fuel cell. In addition to saving the environment, this device works a little differently from your traditional fuel cell. While most fuel cells supply power directly to the wheels, the Airstream’s cell charges a lithium ion battery. The charged battery then fuels the electric motors that rotate the wheels.

So when can you get one? No one knows for sure, although we’ll have plenty of opportunities to see the car for ourselves. After making its debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January, the Airstream will make appearances around the country in 2007 before Ford decides on a potential release date. In any event, Ford and Airstream want to make sure that this unique concept enters your stream of consciousness before it enters the stream of commerce.

For more information, visit the following links:

The Official Website

Yahoo Autos

Research Ford on CarGurus.com

- Posted by Taeho Lim

Car Shows, Domestic Cars, Gas for your car...

Crossing Over With GM

April 12th, 2007

Do psychologists have a name for the delusion that Bob Lutz is listening to you? Because I was a little startled by the announcement that GM plans to use the Opel Corsa platform as a basis for a series of small eco-friendly crossover vehicles. I’ve been talking up the Corsa for a while–the zippy little hatchback/mini-SUV/people-mover/whatever you want to call it has an instant visual appeal that matches its environmentalist street cred.

Opel Corsa OPC

You want one, don’t you? I know I do. Well, there’s good news for me and everyone else in North America who thought that our car-crush would go unrequited.

First, Bob Lutz seems a lot more bullish on the notion that the Corsa will be produced and marketed as a Saturn offering. Over the last six months, there’s been a lot of speculation about this, and the statements from GM have ranged from “never” to “maybe in five years” to “we’re working on it right now.”

Second, even if this incarnation of the Corsa doesn’t make it to dealers’ lots in the US, it’s clear that the underlying concept (and the engineering platform) is getting a lot of attention at GM. And it should: the Corsa offers the advantages of compact crossovers like the Honda Fit and the Toyota Yaris, but with a whole lot more power and style.

As I said in my earlier piece on the Corsa, it seems like a no-brainer to me that an energy-efficient, eco-friendly vehicle with a roomy cabin, a powerful engine, nimble handling, and a bunch of sporty touches would be huge in the US market. And the Corsa is just so cool! It’s not a boxy old mini-van or a giant juggernaut SUV; it’s a car that looks like it would be fun to drive.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that Bob Lutz isn’t actually listening to me. A Corsa-based line of small-but-mighty vehicles is an idea whose time has come, and lots of people have seen this. As gas prices go higher, and air-quality regulations get tighter, the US market is going to get more and more like the European market, where the Corsa (and its Vauxhall twin) are already a huge success. It’s good to know that the people at GM are paying attention, though.

Of course, if Mr. Lutz is reading this…can I have dibs on the first Corsa off the line? A red one, if it’s not too much trouble?

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Domestic Cars, Trucks & SUVs

An Efficient V8 Sport Coupe? The 2008 BMW M3 Delivers

April 10th, 2007

No doubt it’s a sign of the times that even when unveiling a next-generation motorsport-based sport coupe with a new 420-horsepower V8 engine, the automaker still makes an effort to sneak a few energy-efficient components into the car’s makeup. So what’s the motivation behind this curious mix? Smart manufacturing techniques, or political brownie points? You be the judge.

The vehicle in question is the new BMW M3, which for the first time in its history is equipped with said V8 engine, a little 4.0-liter light-alloy powerhouse that borrows design elements from BMW’s Formula 1 race team engines, and is, in fact, about 30 pounds lighter than the V6 engine it replaces. In fact, a lot about the new M3 is high-tech and efficient. Take the brakes. They’re regenerative, meaning they actually generate electric power when the driver applies a foot to the brake pedal and engages the braking mechanism. The energy generated by the brakes is used to power the car’s on-board computer and charges the battery, conserving fuel, according to BMW.

BMW also notes that the 2008 M3 is the first production car in its segment with a roof made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (again, borrowed from the motorsport side), resulting in a lighter, more efficient and more agile vehicle with a lower center of gravity.

As far as that V8 engine is concerned, it’s powerful enough to drive the M3 from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour (about 60 miles per hour) in just under 5 seconds, yet is efficient enough to get almost 23 miles to a gallon of gas. So in many ways, it’s the best of both worlds for power-loving drivers who also like to feel they’re doing their small part to conserve energy resources.

Technology aside, where the new M3 really excels is in its styling, with a “powerdome” hood, a new front end with large air intakes, a sweptback roofline, air intake gills in the front side panels, a discreet spoiler at the rear, dual tailpipes, flared wheel arches, and “tuning fork” high-performance 19-inch wheels.

Equipment and specifications for the U.S. models have not yet been finalized, and more information will be released as we get closer to the car’s U.S. introduction.

Auto Racing, Foreign Cars