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Archive for October, 2008

My Top 5 Concept Cars

October 31st, 2008

Here’s what I love about concept cars: They’re the cars auto engineers would create if they weren’t limited by feasability. The designs and features they come up with can be so far fetched that they never come close to reality, or they can spark new innovation in the way cars are built.

This year’s auto shows have showcased dozens of concepts. Here are my top 5, a mix of near-production ready vehicles and futuristic technology that seems out of this world.

Peugeot RC HYmotion4

The car uses a 70-kilowatt electric motor up front and a 1.6-liter gas engine in the rear, producing a total of 313 horsepower. The cool thing here is that the car can be driven electric-only, gas-only, or with gas and electric power. Peugeot claims 52 mpg.

Nissan Nuvu

Assuming city-dwellers will gravitate towards small electric cars, Nissan gives us a look at the Nuvu concept. It has only one seat on the driver’s side and a front and rear seat on the passenger side. But here’s why it made my list: solar panels help charge the batteries. Here’s to harnessing our planet’s natural resources!

MINI Crossover

Perhaps the most likely car to go into production, this MINI manages to keep its iconic looks while upsizing to a more family-ready version. Cool!

Toyota A-BAT

It’s a compact truck that is where the Tacoma would be if it hadn’t gone full-size on us. Plus, it’s a hybrid, can seat four, and offers plenty of innovative cargo hauling abilities. Nevermind that it looks like a Honda Ridgeline.

BMW GINA

This is a quote from Motor Trend: “The surface of the concept features a new fabric material that BMW says is highly resistant to expansion, durable, and flexible. Underneath the covering material is a light aluminum subframe that is moveable via electric and hydraulic controls, allowing the surface itself to be reshaped according to the owner’s desire.” Whoa. That’s just awesome.

Have you seen any concepts on the auto show rounds that excite you?

-tgriffith

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The 10 Sexiest Sports Cars of All Time

October 30th, 2008

Sports cars are without doubt potent sex symbols. Whether they are featured in James Bond movies, accompanied by bikini models on the covers of magazines or simply remain the objects of our dreams, the lure of a sexy sports car is undeniable.

But what makes a car sexy? Like all things, that’s for people to decide on their own. But few can resist the smooth lines, the pure confidence, the absolute power and the perfectly sculpted bodies of these: the 10 sexiest sports cars of all time.

1961 Jaguar E Type

I normally prefer cars from closer to my own generation, but in this case I can respect a true classic of British elegance. This car was a good 10 years ahead of its time in terms of design.

1962-1964 Ferrari 250 GTO

Perhaps Ferarri took a page out of Jaguar’s successful design book, but regardless produced an automobile worthy of eternal enshrinement.  

2005 Pagani Zonda

I have a thing for exotic Italians. While this girl may be a little top heavy, even for me, I’m still left speechless at her ‘I’m ready to launch my passengers into orbit’ looks.

2003 Ferarri Enzo

The Enzo is one of those girls with a stunning body but has a nose that’s too big for her face. In the right light though, that doesn’t matter.

1992-1998 McLaren F1

Equally exotic as the Pagani, this isn’t a car that will slowly seduce you. It’ll either have its way with you or send you running knowing you can’t handle it.

2008 Audi R8

Maybe this Audi made the list simply because she’s the youngest of the bunch, but with those eyes and a killer body, who’s gonna turn her down?

2006 Aston Martin V12 Vanquish

Sleek, sexy and perfectly proportioned. This is a car has a flawless body, but doesn’t flaunt it. It’s her confidence that makes her sexy.  

2007 Jaguar XKR

What? The sexy Vanquish has a cousin? I’m in!

2008 Aston Martin DB9

You’re kidding, the Vanquish has an even sexier younger sister!? Seems too good to be true!

 2005 Porsche Carrera GT

The Carrera can deliver an amazing night, and I’d wake up the next morning excited to see her face. This is a car I could live with for the rest of my life, and there’s nothing sexier than that.

Did I leave a car you love off this list? Which is your favorite?

-tgriffith

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What cars are selling in 2008?

October 29th, 2008
The best selling car in America... for now

The best selling car in America... for now

We all know auto sales are way down; so much so that automakers and dealers are taking some desperate measures to move cars.

While it may sound like nothing but doom and gloom, cars are still selling. It’s when we look at which ones that we get a glimpse into what consumers are demanding. And there are some surprises about what cars are popular right now.

Through August, the top selling vehicles for 2008 are: 

  1. Toyota Camry
  2. Honda Accord
  3. Honda Civic
  4. Toyota Corolla
  5. Ford F-Series
  6. Nissan Altima
  7. Chevy Silverado
  8. Chevy Impala
  9. Ford Focus
  10. Chevy Cobalt

Here’s what surprises me about this list: First, even though the first half of 2008 saw the highest gas prices EVER, the Toyota Prius isn’t present. I take that as a sign that consumers are smart, electing to save their money by buying traditional gas-powered cars that deliver an acceptable MPG.

Second, there are two trucks on the list. Chalk this up to aggressive discounting by Ford and Chevy, in addition to the simple fact that a lot of guys in America will ALWAYS buy trucks.

It’s no surprise that all SUVs have disappeared completely from the top 10. Families in need of hauling soccer gear and kids are sacrificing the space of an Explorer for the practicality of the Accord.

No doubt this list is posted in the corporate offices of automakers around the world, and we’ll be seeing more 4-door fuel efficient sedans in the future.

I want to know: How long will pickups stay on the top 10?

-tgriffith

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Give it up, Ford and GM

October 28th, 2008

Enough with putting off the inevitable, it’s time to get it over with. GM and Ford need to file for bankruptcy. 

WHAT!? I can hear the anger rising in Michigan, with fears that the collapse of these giants will devastate the already troubled state. Of course, that all depends on your perspective.

The simple fact is this: The auto industry needs to change and bankruptcies will force that change. Yes, unemployment will rise, suppliers will go out of business and dealerships will dissolve.

Forgive me for lacking compassion, but I don’t care. I believe the official term is collateral damage. Over time things will get better and the people who lost their jobs will find new ones (or discover that they never really liked their jobs anyway).

If Ford or GM filed for bankruptcy they would probably ask for, and receive, the ability to sever both union contracts and dealer franchise agreements. That could lead to a restructuring of mammoth proportions, ultimately putting the US automakers in a much better position to compete on a worldwide level with the likes of Toyota.

We have to face the reality of these times. The credit crunch has stalled car sales, made it virtually impossible for GM and Ford to borrow money and plunged their stock prices. In fact, Ford stock closed yesterday at $2.18. Yeah, buying a latte will now set you back more than buying a piece of Ford. Take that in your espresso shot and chug it. 

Here’s another dose of reality: The maker of Hot Wheels is worth more than GM. Would you ever have guessed that a maker of toy cars could be worth more than the largest car company in the world?

If that’s not reason to give it up and start over, I don’t know what is.

What do you think? Is it time Ford and GM reached Chapter 11? 

-tgriffith

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Is ethanol the answer?

October 27th, 2008

 

Grow corn for food or fuel?

Grow corn for food or fuel?

Oil prices are in a free fall right now.

While it’s a refreshing change at the fuel pump, it’s not a free pass to forget about alternate fuel sources. Hydrogen, natural gas and ethanol (in its many forms) are top contenders right now.

We’ve all heard about the much hyped Honda GX and FCX Clarity, the company’s dip into natural gas and hydrogen-powered vehicles. What’s a little less known is their work on ethanol-powered vehicles.

In 2006, Honda announced that they’d be releasing vehicles in Brazil able to run on either gasoline or a 100% bioethanol, derived from sugar cane.

Ethanol as a fuel source is nothing new. For a number of years now, Ford has offered vehicles with a cute little leaf icon on the front fender, symbolizing that the vehicle can run on E85, a corn-based ethanol fuel. There’s been a pretty heavy PR push behind that leaf, but it seems a pitiful attempt at claiming to be at the forefront of the alternative fuel race.

The controversy with E85 is that it means growing corn for fuel rather than food, resulting in soaring prices. Plus, E85 delivers fuel economy that’s about 30% less than gasoline. (Honda’s ethanol vehicles deliver equal MPG to gas.)

Compare with Honda, who has stepped up and brought hydrogen, natural gas, hybrid and bioethanol to the table. The U.S. automakers have given us: corn.

It’s tragic, really. I’d like to see ethanol as a fuel source abandoned, and focus our collective resources on more promising long term solutions, such as hydrogen and electricity.

Have you driven an E85 vehicle? What do you think?

-tgriffith

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Connection between U.S. driving habits and Mid East violence?

October 24th, 2008

 

The countries of OPEC

The countries of OPEC

You wouldn’t think that global politics would have a place in an auto blog. But today I’m going there and here’s why:

We drive cars. Cars need gas. Gas comes from oil. And oil comes from OPEC.

The political firestorm that is OPEC currently comprises of 12 countries (The U.S. is not one of them). Here’s a brief look into how two of them use oil money:

Venezuela: funds their socialist government and suppresses opposition. They’ve also used oil money to buy Russian weapons.

Iran: they have the second largest oil reserves in the world, so it’s no wonder economic sanctions have little effect. They make their money in oil, and use that money to help spread their influence through Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel.

Many OPEC countries actually build their budgets based on the price of oil. If prices begin to fall below a predetermined level, OPEC can step in and decide to decrease production, thus increasing prices and fuelling economies. Nothing puts the economic squeeze on an OPEC country more than a cheap barrel of oil.

Now that prices are hovering around $70 per barrel, OPEC countries are feeling that pinch. And just yesterday, OPEC announced they would cut production by at least 1 million barrels per day. As a result, prices should increase enough to ease the economic pressure on countries like Venezuela. At least for a while.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be controlled and I feel like OPEC countries are the worldwide equivalent to 6th grade bullies. The best way to defeat them is to just stop giving them money.

I want to see an end to violence in the Mid East. I want to see terrorist groups dissolved. I want people living in Venezuela to choose how and where to live. I DON’T want to see these countries obliterated, I just want to see their economies crumble, followed by OPEC.  

Since OPEC countries are dependent on high oil prices, it’s not war in Iraq that is going to bring peace to the region.

It’s refusing to buy that region’s oil.

And that means using as little gas as possible until we can supply and sustain our own energy needs.

What are your thoughts on OPEC?

-tgriffith

 

 

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The Pickens Plan and natural gas vehicles

October 24th, 2008

 

 

Are natural gas vehicles the answer?

Are natural gas vehicles the answer?

Have you heard of the Pickens Plan yet?

Keep an eye on a YouTube near you, because it’s exploding there.

The idea being pushed by T. Boone Pickens is fairly simple to understand, and I’ll simplify it even more here: To reduce our use of foreign oil, we take our domestic natural gas production and divert it to powering our automobiles. We use wind energy to make up for the loss of natural gas on our national energy grid.

This plan wouldn’t free us from importing foreign oil, but Pickens argues it would bridge the gap until hydrogen or electric powered cars are a feasible option.

As good as this plan sounds, it seems like there’s a fundamental problem with it. It’s the same problem that’s keeping hydrogen from becoming mainstream: places to fill up. See many natural gas stations on your last road trip?

The logistics and infrastructure required to add natural gas filling stations is only slightly less intimidating than building hydrogen filling stations. At least there are already vehicles, mostly in the public transportation domain, that are running on compressed natural gas. Honda even has a CNG car in the Civic GX,  but the car doesn’t deliver any better MPG numbers than a standard Civic LX.

I admire Pickens’ drive to create sustainable, domestic fuel for our cars. But this plan is only somewhat plausible in the coming years, when we need a solution that is feasible today.

And so far, nothing I see beats plain old conservation in the form of lighter, more fuel efficient gas and diesel cars while we wait for the next generation of clean auto fuel, whether that be CNG, hydrogen, electricity or something else entirely.

What do you think: Is Pickens a genius or a nut job?  

-tgriffith

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Which car companies posted gains in September?

October 23rd, 2008
Maserati's U.S. sales increased in September

Maserati's U.S. sales increased in September

“It’s like post 9/11.”

“It’s tantamount to a natural disaster, really.”

Believe it or not, these are quotes in the Los Angeles Times concerning the state of auto sales. I find it appalling that a lack of sales could be compared to tragedies, but then again I’m not the one trying to sell cars.

In September there were only two car manufacturers who posted U.S. gains: Maserati and Bentley. Even Honda, which normally weathers these types of slowdowns with slight gains, was down 24% from last year. And that’s considered a small decline of the major automakers: Ford declined nearly 34%. Nissan was down almost 37%. Toyota was off by 32%. Chrysler’s downturn was 33%. Believe it or not, GM is the one that gets to celebrate, slipping “only” 15% last month.

Obviously, consumers are keeping a tight grasp on their wallets. Even if they wanted to buy, dealerships are reporting that banks are only giving loans to people with the highest credit ratings. People can’t even skirt around the banks by leasing… some manufactures aren’t even offering leases anymore (Chrysler gave it up in August).

Car makers are dealing with an incredible convergence of events: high gas prices, a sinking economy, the crumbling of available credit, and increasing costs of production.

It’s evident that the car makers at the high end of the price scale will be fine, since gas prices and credit availability aren’t major issues for buyers. Honda and Toyota will emerge without major injury because of their competencies at building economical cars efficiently, and because of their solid financial strategies of the past.

Things will get tougher for Ford and Chrysler, who have specialized in high-profit trucks and SUVs for so many years. For them, a major back-to-the-drawing board strategy had better take effect, and fast.

I’d include GM in that group, but somehow they’ve managed to perform a September miracle.

I want to know: Will GM continue to lead the pack with the smallest declines in October?

-tgriffith

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Let’s change how often we change our oil

October 20th, 2008

 

 

If we’re serious about reducing our use of oil, why does every dealership, repair shop and quick-lube joint I’ve ever visited still recommend changing the oil in our cars every 3,000 miles or 3 months?

The maintenance manual for my 2007 Suzuki recommends changing the engine oil every 7,500 miles. My Honda recommends every 10,000 miles. Yet anywhere I go, the little sticker on the windshield says to come back in 3 months.

I’m thinking this is an example of recommending unnecessary oil changes to pad the bottom line, when perhaps we should require that shops adhere to manufacturer recommendations. I’d even go so far as to suggest we change our oil one time per year, if an adequate filtration system could be developed to extend oil life another couple thousand miles.

In the U.S. alone, we’ve got about 250 million vehicles. If each uses 5 quarts of oil every 3 months, that’s 20 quarts (or 5 gallons) every year. Five gallons multiplied by 250 million cars is a big number: about 1.2 billion gallons. That’s 22 million barrels of oil each year.

Switching from 20 to 5 quarts per year would reduce the number of barrels we’d use by an astounding 17 million.

Though I admit changing the oil in our cars once per year isn’t feasible currently, it is feasible to follow the recommendations in your manual and not let your repair shops coerce you into a 3-month schedule.

That is a simple and effective method we can use right now to conserve our dwindling oil supplies.

I want to know: How often do you change your oil and why?

-tgriffith

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Toyota iQ: New trend or laughing stock?

October 20th, 2008
Toyota's iQ at the Geneva Auto Show

Toyota's iQ at the Geneva Auto Show

Imagine living in a country where a car like the Toyota Yaris is big.

That’s the direction America appears headed, as our panic-happy society demands immediate changes along with the ever-evolving landscape of our economy.

When gas prices were down, Americans hollered for bigger, more powerful cars. Before we knew it, Toyota’s Tacoma expanded from a compact pickup to the size of a Suburban. Then gas prices rose and a backlash erupted against SUVs and pickups, as though the American people are insulted that car companies ever built such massive beasts.

Toyota is again a perfect example of adapting to public outcries and introducing the cars we say we want. So the Yaris isn’t small and efficient enough for you? How about the iQ – a miniscule “4” passenger car measuring 117 inches long (the Yaris is 150 inches).

Though not yet officially slated for a U.S. release, Toyota’s iQ is set to hit the streets of Europe and Japan soon. Success there is assured, though I question whether or not the iQ would be successful in America, especially now that gas prices are stabilizing. Two months ago I paid $4.20 per gallon and just today I filled up for $3.01. Americans could very easily get used to gas that costs three bucks, and frankly I am not convinced that the iQ would sell here if gas remains at that level.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: American SUVs are not dead. What we’re seeing now is America in flip-out mode. Soon we’ll recover our wits, get used to the gas prices and resume our habit of relishing the rumble of a good ol’ American V8.

The iQ, while a nice piece of engineering and a valiant effort in fuel economy, could become a laughing stock in America. I don’t think the answer to reducing our use of foreign oil is in miniscule gas-powered cars. I’m putting my money on Americans opting for larger electric-powered cars, and forking over the costs of keeping their SUV tanks full while we wait for them.

I want to know: How much would gas prices have to fall in order for you to get back into your SUV?

-tgriffith

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