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Archive for May, 2007

Air Apparent

May 31st, 2007

If cars that fly through the air don’t move you, maybe you’ll go for a model with an air-powered engine. Indian automaker Tata Motors will build the predictably named “Air Car” and plans to have 6000 models driving around in India by 2008. Top speed will hit 68 mph and a fully powered engine will take you up to 125 miles.

So how does it work? Think of the new model as an electric car without the batteries. Compressed air powers the pistons in the 4 cylinder engine. Without relying on high-temperature combustion like traditional cars, engineers can utilize an aluminum powertrain that weighs less than half as much as a traditional engine. The net benefit comes in the emissions, which consist of warm air instead of noxious exhaust. Filling up should only set you back about $2. For an in-depth look at the mechanics and design, watch this YouTube video.

With releases planned in 12 more countries, will the Air Car ever make it to America? Probably not. The lightweight frame wouldn’t do well in U.S. crash tests. However, Air Car developer Guy Negre says that sometime in the not-so-distant future, we may see a gas-air hybrid that can go cross-country on one tank of gas. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see whether the latest environmentally-friendly technology isn’t just blowing a lot of hot air.

– posted by Taeho Lim

Foreign Cars, Gas for your car..., Hybrid Cars

A Century of Elegance: The Rolls Royce Silver Ghost

May 31st, 2007

This seems to be Dream Car Week here at the CarGurus blog (quite a change from last week’s hybrid and flex-fuel focus). My own wish-button was pushed by a press release I received about a Rolls-Royce gathering that marked the centenary of the luxury automaker’s Silver Ghost model.

According to DueMotori.com, sixty classic Silver Ghosts (and, of course, their owners) assembled at the Rolls plant in Goodwood for a 17-day tour of the United Kingdom in honor of the classic car’s 100th anniversary. The event was organized by the 20-Ghost Club, a group devoted to restoring and celebrating pre-war Rolls Royce cars.

Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Centenary

You can see how a car this beautiful could become your passion, let alone your hobby. But the amazing thing (to me) about Rolls-Royce is that they still do make them like that. One of the advantages of the Rolls market niche is that their reputation and cachet allows them to charge premium prices, which in turn enables them to hand-craft their cars to an enduring standard of elegance.

The heir to the Silver Ghost legacy, the Phantom Drophead Coupe, has the same meticulous craftsmanship that made the Rolls Royce brand a synonym for luxury; when the 2008 Phantom Drophead Coupe was unveiled at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, gawkers and collectors alike were mesmerized. According to our friends at Autoblog.com, the first 2008 Phantom Drophead Coupe to be shipped to the US belongs to a Florida gentleman who paid $2 million for the privilege in a high-end charity auction (quite a premium over the 300,000-pound list price, but it’s for a good cause!

Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead CoupeSo one might ask: what does this have to do with the rest of us, who don’t have a couple of million to drop on a handmade Rolls? One lesson I think that the enduring success of Rolls Royce (now, of course, owned by BMW) can teach the auto industry as a whole is to build on strengths, and to incorporate history in a company’s future.

The British and European auto industries had to learn this tough lesson before the US auto industry, but the wake-up call is long overdue on this side of the Atlantic. The US isn’t going to be able to keep competing with Asian manufacturers (especially now that China has launched its automotive sector in a big way) on cost, volume, or efficiency.

What US carmakers can offer is a heritage of excellence, of powerful muscle cars and innovative, rugged trucks, of a century of redefining family transportation for the world. Ford’s revitalized collaboration with Carroll Shelby, the designer behind its classic Mustangs of the 1960s, is one positive step in this direction; I’d like to see more of this energy from GM, and perhaps the new management at Chrysler will be inspired by that brand’s past glories in creating its future. Let’s see what the next few years bring!

Car Minded, Classic & Vintage Cars, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

Acura NSX Roars Back to Life

May 30th, 2007


Admist all the automotive news about hybrids and compact SUVs and fuel-efficient engines and Smart cars no bigger than a size 11 shoe, there slip occasionally a few tasty tidbits about unabashed modern-day supercars. Admittedly some of these cars seem a little out of place in this day and age of soaring gas prices, but perhaps that’s what makes them so desirable. They’re sort of the bad boys of the automotive industry, and their numbers are small yet growing.

Continue reading >>>

Car Shows, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

Hail a Hybrid!

May 24th, 2007

We’re very green this week at the CarGurus Blog, aren’t we? One of the week’s biggest stories on the green automotive front was the announcement by New York’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg of a plan to turn all of New York’s yellow cabs green: by 2012, according to His Honor, all licensed taxicabs in New York will be hybrids.

Right now, says City Hall, 400 of New York’s taxis are hybrids. Bloomberg’s plan, based in part on an earlier proposal by City Councilman David Yassky, would phase the environment-friendly new vehicles in over time, with a target of 1,000 hybrid cabs on the street by this October. A headline-friendly appearance on NBC’s Today show, in which Bloomberg unveiled ten Ford Escape hybrids donated by Yahoo.com, launched the initiative.

Response to the initiative has been quite positive, with praise from the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers as well as the American Lung Association of the City of New York, whose president, Louise Vetter, said “Putting more clean cabs on New York City streets is an important step in our fight to improve air quality.”

Ford Escape Hybrid Taxi

Hybrids are great choices for city taxicabs: they can idle on battery power, and use gas for higher-speed driving. The gas/electric model is extremely well-suited for the stop-and-go nature of most taxi driving, especially in highly congested New York. And the Ford Escape Hybrid is a roomy, comfortable SUV whose 36 city miles per gallon EPA rating is head and shoulders above the city’s existing taxi fleet.

But where is the hybrid sedan that’s going to replace the backbone of New York’s yellow cab infrastructure, the good old Ford Crown Victoria? And while we’re thinking about the Crown Vic, wouldn’t a hybrid version of that sturdy warhorse make our cities’ police departments a lot greener?

The New York initiative is an important first step. We’ll have to wait and see if the automotive industry–especially the beleaguered U.S. automakers–take this nudge in the right direction. And hybrids alone may not be the answer; by 2012, it may make more sense for a city’s taxi fleet to have a range of alternative-fuel vehicles, including rechargeables like the Chevy Volt and small runabouts like the SmartCar or the ZAP Zebra. But for now, I’m looking forward to hailing a hybrid!

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

The 100 MPG Prius

May 19th, 2007

As the previous entry intimated, the world’s #1 automaker maintains its global dominance on the strength of its top-notch sedans and innovative hybrids. At the top of the lineup sits the Prius with its sleek design and industry-best 60 mpg on the highway and 51 in the city. But just when you thought the news couldn’t get any better for Toyota, it turns out that the Japanese automaker has a 100 mpg Prius in the works for 2009. 

This potentially industry-altering development comes in response to Honda’s plans to develop a 2008 version of the Fit hybrid that would cost only $1700 more than the model’s gas-powered predecessor. Toyota only recently ascended to the top of the automotive industry and won’t feel the same sense of entitlement that ultimately undermined the Big 3.

But forget about Honda for the moment. Can anyone touch the Prius if Toyota’s development team executes the plan? We’ve seen the Audi A2 and the Volkswagen Lupo get 80 mpg over in Europe and the Honda Insight gets 102 mpg in Japan. However, those vehicles don’t meet U.S. emissions standards and no other domestic model has even approached triple digits. With the increased emphasis on fuel-efficiency in today’s market, the 2009 Prius would break new automotive ground and effectively lap the competition.

In the end, we’ll have to wait and see if Toyota can make good on the buzz it just created. 100 mpg in Japan won’t necessarily equal 100 mpg in the U.S., especially with different testing standards and driving conditions in the two countries. Hopefully for us, the 2009 Toyota Prius won’t lose anything in the translation when it hits our shores.

– posted by Taeho Lim

Foreign Cars, Gas for your car..., Hybrid Cars

The Ultimate Hybrid

May 17th, 2007

The 2008 Lexus LS600h and LS600hL luxury hybrid sedans officially went on sale in Japan on Thursday, May 17th, and will start showing up in showrooms in North America, Europe and Asia in the next month or two. Now that we’ve had our first real look at them, it’s clear they are truly the groundbreaking cars Toyota says they are, not only because of the technology under their sleek Black Opal Mica exteriors, but also because of their price tags — which come in at around $124,000. Obviously these are not cars for the masses, but they are an indication of the direction Toyota/Lexus is moving with its hybrid technology. To put it simply, Toyota is in this for the long haul, and expects to offer hybrid models at all price levels. It also plans to sell a lot of them, with sales of all hybrid models projected at a million cars by 2010, compared to about 300,000 sold last year.

So what do you get for that $124,000? Details were actually released about 18 months ago, and we reported on the LS hybrid last November. But a number of additional details have been released now that the production models are finally on sale. The LS600h (the “h” stands for hybrid) and the LS600hL (the “L” stands for long-wheel base) are powered by a 5.0-liter V8 engine and a permanent magnet electric motor, which together drive a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Horsepower is rated at 430, but all that power is produced with less gas and reduced carbon-dioxide emissions, compared to similarly rated cars. In fact, Toyota says CO2 emissions are about half that of a similarly performing luxury car with a comparable 6.0-liter engine. In addition, the LS models are built with a number of recyclable components and a reduced amount of toxic materials.

Inside is a leather-trimmed interior with real-wood trim and a black leather-trimmed instrument panel, a voice-activated navigation system with XM satellite radio, hand’s-free Park Assist, and a 19-speaker 450-watt Mark Levinson surround-sound stereo system. A premium rear-seat package with a fold-out table, DVD rear-seat entertainment system, and right rear-seat power recliner, massager, and leg-rest is also available. Outside are such features as LED headlights and 19-inch seven-spoke aluminum wheels.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the 2008 Lexus LS models incorporate a long list of other high-tech and luxury features. If you’re a reader with deep pockets, no doubt you’ve already put your order in. The rest of us will have to make due with gawking at one as we pass it on the highway, and perhaps in time the technologies built into the new LS models will work their way down to less-expensive models we all can afford. And hey, there’s always the Prius.

Foreign Cars, Hybrid Cars

Topless!

May 17th, 2007

It’s spring, and so a young woman’s fancy naturally turns to thoughts of…convertibles! And even though I’m not as young as I once was, the good news is that there are quite a few new, redesigned, and just generally super-cool convertibles out there for me to drool over.

My convertible-lust was first piqued by Royal Ford’s review of the redesigned Mazda Miata MX-5 in last week’s Boston Globe. I hadn’t seen the new Miata’s (optional) hardtop in action, and though it looks a bit weird (Ford describes it as a “Goldbergesque” contraption), it appears to work smoothly and make this zippy, sporty little convertible a year-round option for those of us who live in the Snow Zone. Best of all, the price for the most tricked-out MX-5, with all the options, is around $26,000: not super-cheap, but not bank-busting for what you get.

Mazda MX-5

So this got me thinking. What other affordable convertible options are out there right now? Gen-Xers like me remember the dark, practically convertible-less days before the original Mazda Miata, when people who longed for the wind in their hair were doomed to spend their last dime on a pricey import or to nurse a vintage classic to health (again, often at the cost of that last dime).

Well, there’s some good news. Of course, if you’ve been lucky in the lottery/hedge fund/inheritance sweepstakes, the BMW Z4 Roadster or the Porsche Boxster are always an option. But for those of us trying to find top-down thrills on a budget, there are definitely some lower-priced choices. Even if we limit our options to American cars, there’s a wealth of good picks!

Pontiac’s G6 Convertible, alas, is still a work-in-progress. But the Pontiac Solstice, with a base price under $23,000, is already attracting a following. You’ll find Solstice owners celebrating their cool cars at SolsticeForum.com, with galleries of the sporty little roadster in action. Oh, it’s cute. And has plenty of power, to boot.

Pontiac Solstice

GM’s best-known convertibles, the Dodge Viper and Chevrolet Corvette, are fantastic cars, but sadly out of our price range. But if you want more oomph than the Solstice, but still want to keep your sticker under $30,000, be sure to check out the Saturn Sky, which reviewer Aaron Robinson called “a Corvette junior petite”.

Now, when you’re talking about affordable convertibles, you’ve got to mention the Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible. With a base price under $20,000 (!) it’s definitely the buy. Not everyone loves the Cruiser’s retro-styling, but I think the convertible version is probably the most attractive. And unlike the roadster-type convertibles, the Cruiser works for families.

Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible

Chrysler’s also got the Sebring and Crossfire, both with sticker prices under $30,000; let’s hope that the new management continues to offer this range of selections for convertible fans.

And what about Ford? Well, they have only one convertible, but heavens, it’s a beauty. The 2007 Ford Mustang, priced in the mid-twenties for the base model, is the original pony car. And the folks at Ford have had the good sense not to mess too much with Carroll Shelby’s vision for the ‘Stang. This year’s offerings (which include the Shelby GT500, successor to the Cobra, which I’ve already spotlighted here) are looking good, and reviewers and drivers alike are singing their praises. So what are any of us waiting for?

Ford Mustang Convertible

Car Minded, Domestic Cars

Infiniti Crosses Over with the 2008 EX35

May 16th, 2007

These days, it feels like automakers inundate the marketplace with more crossovers than Allen Iverson and Tim Hardaway combined. The latest vehicle to defy conventional classification comes from Nissan’s Infiniti luxury line in the form of the EX35, a mix between an SUV and a coupe. While you may have seen the Infiniti EX concept that debuted at the New York Auto Show last month, don’t expect the same vehicle in the showroom. Infiniti built the EX concept for the sole purpose of showcasing some of the EX35’s innovative features in the body of a taller G35 sedan.

One of the most intriguing features involves a lane departure prevention system. Simply put, peripheral cameras work together with the stability control to paint a picture of your surroundings. When you park, the system relays the data to the screen on your dashboard so you can see everything around you and avoid doling out an unintended love tap to another vehicle. On the road, the system notices if you stray too far out of your lane without signalling and lets off a warning noise to keep you on track. This feature should make driving a little less stressful and a lot safer.

With a capable 3.5 L V6 powertrain, 5 speed automatic transmission, and room for 5 passengers, the EX35 presents an interesting new addition to the Infiniti lineup. Expect this killer crossover to hit your local showroom sometime this fall.

– posted by Taeho Lim

Car Shows, Foreign Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Volkswagen’s Bringing SexyBack

May 10th, 2007

I’m going to admit right now that I am old. Yes, I am old enough to remember the original Volkswagen rear-engine Bugs, with the rattle-clangy suspension and the doors you sometimes had to rope shut and the floors that were allergic to Massachusetts road salt and broke out in rust. (Note: I am not old enough to have driven one of these, but one of my coolest baby-sitters had a blue one. With daisy decals and a peace sign hanging from the rear-view. The 1970s were a scary, scary time.)

But if there’s one thing that leggings, The Producers, and Flavor Flav have taught us, it’s that there’s nothing too offbeat for a comeback. Not even rear-engine drive. And so, in the endless cycle of reincarnation that is automotive design today, Volkswagen is coyly letting it be leaked that they have a rear-engine car in the works. Automobile magazine has the inside English-language scoop on this new spin on an old idea.

According to the German magazine Auto Bild, Volkswagen’s joining other European manufacturers in trying to compete with the Smart Car and the Mini Cooper. However, in the race to get smaller and smaller, Volkswagen has one advantage on its side–years of engineering lightweight, affordable cars with rear-engine drive. And that boost in the rear means more power with a smaller engine. Which translates to fuel efficiency, and that’s an idea looking better and better as gas vaults over the $3/gallon barrier with no end in sight (make that $4 for all of you CarGurus in California).

The leaked stories suggest that the sexy new rear-engine nanocar is the brainchild of Ferdinand Piech, nephew of Ferry Porsche and grand-nephew of Ferdinand Porsche, designer of the original Volkswagen. If so, it’s an interesting switch for Piech, whose tenure as VW’s chairman (from 1993 to 2002) was marked by a move to heftier and more upscale models. On the other hand, that’s where the whole industry was going in those days!

According to Automobile, only two models are slated for release in the US market: a 130-inch two-door sedan and a four-door notchback. Sticker prices are projected between $10,000 and $15,000. No power steering with these little econoboxes; however, the inside sources want to make it clear that an improved stability system will make these cars easier to maneuver and safer than the original Beetles.

I wish I had a great photo of the new/old Volkswagen to show you, but that’s only been released to Auto Bild so far (you can see it here; it’s the very very green one). Instead, this beautiful blue old-school Beetle will have to do; I’ll leave the daisy decals to your imagination!

Car Industry News, Classic & Vintage Cars, Foreign Cars

Is the BMW 1 Series Coming to America?

May 7th, 2007

A five-door hatchback from BMW might just be what the doctor ordered in this transitional era for the automotive industry. Sure, power-mobiles like the BMW 7 Series are great for those who can afford them — and the gas that’s needed to keep them moving down the highway (usually at high speeds). But the era of the small car seems to be upon us, which is why buzz is building for the BMW 1 Series.

You probably haven’t heard much about the 1 Series, unless you’re a total car geek. But it’s worth talking about. Introduced in 2004, the BMW 1 series is a compact, five-door hatchback model powered by a variety of fuel-efficient gas and diesel four- and six-cylinder engines, from a 115-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder to a 255-horsepower six-cylinder borrowed from the 3 and 5 Series.

The cars are equipped with a number of technologies that help ensure fuel-efficiency, like piezo injectors that fire as many as 2,000 times a minute with small amounts of gas, an Auto Stop function that shuts off the engine when it’s idling to conserve fuel, and regenerative braking, which generates electricity to operate various systems and helps to lower fuel consumption.

Like all BMWs, the 1 Series also comes with its share of high-tech features, like Active Steering, which adjusts the steering ratio depending on the car’s speed to improve cornering and agility, and Dynamic Stability Control, which automatically reduces power and applies measured braking pressure to prevent skidding in an emergency situation.

At the 2007 Geneva Auto Show, BMW showed off revised exterior styling for the 1 Series that improves aerodynamics. The automaker also introduced a new three-door hatchback model, which has BMW watchers buzzing.

So is the 1 Series coming to America? Currently it’s sold in the U.K. and Australia, and plans call for the car to be introduced to Europe this year. There have been rumors about a U.S. introduction for some time, but according to a number of automotive sources, both in the U.S. and Europe, the deal is done for the 1 Series to make its bow in U.S. showrooms next year. If the rumors are true, the 1 Series will be a welcome addition to BMW’s lineup in America.

Car Industry News, Car Shows, Foreign Cars