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Archive for February, 2009

Maserati GranTurismo S: No Concession to the Times

February 27th, 2009

maserati-front

In a time when we all seem to be giving up our dreams and dollars, turning to hybrids or even econocubes, one of the great marques steps out with a Grand Touring Sports car that puts others to shame. (More pix here.) If your portfolio is giving you fits, take $135K or so and put it where it will reward you every day.

maser-rear1Not only is it one of the best looking GTs anywhere, the Maserati is kind of a bargain when you look at the competition. Niched between the paltry Porsches and the over-the-top Astons, the GTS has a lot more class than either. Now, owing to public demand, our Italian friends are giving it a ZF automatic with paddles to replace the electro-clutch in the former “automatic.” This should provide smoother and faster shifting, and it’s debuting at the Geneva Show.

maser-interior1You’ll also get elegant 20” wheels, Bluetooth and iPod capability, and sideskirts under the doors. Standard is a 4.7-liter V8 with 433 hp and 361 lb-ft of torque, which should be enough to get your blue blood flowing. A Skyhook suspension system, like Ferrari’s, features electronically controlled damping. Since Fiat owns both Ferrari and Maserati (and Alfa Romeo), we may see more of these Mediterranean beauties here in the States.

But don’t expect prices to drop. The GT (no S) has made new sales records in all markets, and S buyers will have to be wait-listed. Said one auto analyst at the LA Show last fall, where Maserati starred,

You’re dealing with the ultra rich who, even if they take a hit, a car purchase for them is a very, very fractional piece of their net worth, Whether they’re paying $50,000 for a car or $200,000 or $300,000 for a car, it really makes no difference in their net worth.

Thank God we can all rest easy on that score.

What is it about Maseratis that turns us on—rich or poor?

—jgoods

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

Is this the end of Chevy SS models?

February 27th, 2009
GM high performance: burnt out

GM High Performance: burnt out

So GM is shutting down its legendary High Performance Vehicle Operations team. This is the unit of GM responsible for bringing us every SS model ever built, from the ’63 Nova SS to the upcoming ’10 Camaro SS (not to mention the crazy fast Cadillac CTS-V and insanely good Corvette ZR1).

I gotta say, I’m sad about this. I’ve never even owned a high-performance GM car, but I sure like to read about them in the pages of auto mags. The thought of a Chevy with no SS models is like thinking of the NFL without a Super Bowl.

At the very least, we can all take comfort in knowing that the models already designed and in production will still make it to showrooms. That means if you ordered a 2010 Camaro SS, you’ll still get it. And Corvette will still be produced in the future.

Obviously this is a move designed to cut costs and focus on fuel efficiency over performance in an effort to save the company.  As an auto blogger, I usually have a very strong opinion on things, but in this case I could go either way:

  1. It’s about time. This is a move that needs to be done in order to create a leaner company.
  2. This is outrageous, because the brand’s core customers are the ones who live and breathe American high-performance cars. Reading about a CTS-V outperforming a BMW M3 might make folks who can’t afford the V reconsider the base model.

Instead of taking a side on this issue, I want to open it up to you.

Do you agree with GM’s move to disband the HPVO team? What are some of your favorite GM performance cars?

-tgriffith

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Domestic Cars, General Chat

Scanning the Auto Blogosphere

February 26th, 2009

Hello again, car fans. Let’s get one bit of bad auto news that’s been widely reported over the last week out of the way pronto: GM posted a loss of almost $10 billion for the fourth quarter and over $30 billion for 2008. Ouch. That news probably contributed to Thomas Friedman’s suggestion that the U.S. government put money into start-ups instead of bailing out the Big Three, in which he called GM “a giant wealth-destruction machine,” but GM’s response, comparing Friedman to Sir Thomas More and calling him “a wealthy scribe” (does anyone at GM know what newspaper reporters get paid?), was just plain weird.

The Car Connection’s story rejecting a TechCrunch post suggesting Steve Jobs get put in charge of a merged Chrysler and GM was just plain funny and has a great title, but its inclusion of links to 50 Cent and Britney Spears info on the Internet Movie Database and Tyra Banks and Gillian Anderson videos, not to mention a swipe at Paris Hilton, seemed pretty gratuitous. Of course, as you should know from the video link at the top of this post, I’m not above the occasional gratuitous link myself.

I did manage to find some good news and evidence that optimism has survived our current economic difficulties this week. Hyundai has added a Plus to its well-received Assurance plan, meaning that the automaker will make up to 3 months of car-loan payments for any Hyundai new-car buyer who loses his or her income. The company hopes that will give customers time to get a new job and back on their feet, but if things don’t work out, customers can still return the car after those three months with no credit-rating impact.

Better Place has taken an interesting approach to electric cars and already struck deals with a number of national and state governments, including Israel, Denmark, California, and Hawaii, to build battery exchange stations as well as charging points. It hopes Americans will be much more open to driving electric vehicles if they don’t have to buy the batteries, which are a big component of the cost of an EV and have a limited lifespan. Better Place plans to charge based on mileage driven and keep its customers using the latest, longest driving range batteries in their BP-compatible cars.

A California dairy has taken a big step to reduce its dependence on imported petroleum that should also lower the chance that visitors will accidentally step in a cow patty on its premises. Hilarides Dairy has converted two 18-wheelers to run on biomethane made from the dairy’s abundant supply of manure. Bacteria breaks the manure down, impurities are removed, and the methane is pressurized into compressed natural gas. The dairy hopes to convert five pick-up trucks to run on biomethane, too.

And last but not least, I wanted to share an idea from Jil McIntosh, an auto blogger who was inspired by the story of Sam McLaughlin, founder of General Motors of Canada. She suggests that rich auto execs could help put people to work and boost the economy by spending some of their generous earnings on personal projects – a new garage on their property, maybe, or even better a local senior center or library – and making sure to hire local workers and use local raw materials. In the words of the challenge McIntosh advises auto execs to pass along to other bigwigs:

Each project may only directly help a small number of people. But if every one of us, who were fortunate enough in the good times, gets just a handful of people working, that number grows. I challenge all of you to do your part, one local job at a time.

Sounds like good thinking, no?

Anything you’d like to see get more – or less – coverage here on the CarGurus Blog?
Let me know.

-Steve Halloran

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Politics, Car Site Review, Electric Vehicles, Gas for your car..., General Chat, Hybrid Cars

Best of the Box Cars?

February 26th, 2009

nissan-cube-sideNow, this thing looks to me like it was designed by a Japanese Frenchman, and that’s a compliment. Nissan’s Cube Mobile Device (so-called per their website) has been called “cute” so often that Carlos Ghosn must have heartburn. But he won’t complain when these cars start selling, as they will in May in Nissan showrooms.

At a time when the car industry sorely needs a lift and a new life, perhaps a stylish, well-made Mobile Device can help blow some fresh air into a despondent market. The Cube offers so much in the way of utility and styling at a base price of under $14,000 that city buyers will find it hard to resist. The side-hinged rear hatch, the sliding rear seat, and the boxy shape all give it really good cargo capability.

The base version features a 122-hp, 1.8-liter four with a six-speed transmission. There are three other trims—up to the $19,360 Krom—that enable you to add all kinds of goodies and a continuously variable automatic. Performance is pretty decent, but don’t try to do the Nurburgring in this car.

2010_kia_soul_430_1208-1There have been several shootouts of competing box cars. In one, pitting the Scion xB and the Kia Soul Sport (right), against the Cube, they gave the edge to the Kia. But that car looks like somebody stepped on it, and the Cube . . . well, you know we think it’s cute.

If you were in the market, which of the box cars—Kia Soul, Scion xB, or Nissan Cube—would you likely buy, and why?

—jgoods

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

Fear this, Prius! Here comes America…

February 25th, 2009

2010-ford-fusion-hybrid

Ask anyone what the best hybrid car is and you’ll likely hear “Prius” nine times out of 10.

Toyota has had a stranglehold on the hybrid market since introducing the Prius in Japan in 1997. Nothing short of world domination has ensued in the years since. Not to say there hasn’t been any competition; Honda has tried with their Insight, Civic and Accord hybrids. Nissan has given it a half-hearted go with the Altima hybrid. GM stumbled into the game with the meaningless Cadillac Escalade hybrid. And Ford? Hardly worth mentioning as their Escape hybrid has been simply mediocre.

By hey, what do you know – leave it to Ford to come up with a game changer and topple King Prius from the top of Media Mountain. And it’s not the Escape that made the lofty climb to the top; it’s the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

USA Today and Car & Driver recently raved about the Fusion Hybrid. In fact, in both of their tests, the Ford smacked the Toyota from its perch at the top, sent it tumbling into the ocean below, and then blew it out of the water.

Here’s what USA Today said:

OK, let’s just get it out there: The 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid is the best gasoline-electric hybrid yet. What makes it best is a top-drawer blend of an already very good midsize sedan with the industry’s smoothest, best-integrated gas-electric power system. It’s so well-done that you have to look to the $107,000 Lexus LS 600h hybrid to come close.

Dude. You have to spend $107K just to get CLOSE to the Fusion! Who would’ve ever thought the automotive press would say that about a Ford, especially in our current U.S. automaker crisis? Talk about a welcome breath of fresh air.

And to keep the clean breathing going, check out Car & Driver’s take:

Ford has pulled off a game changer with this 2010 model, creating a high-mpg family hauler that’s fun to drive. Nothing about the leather-lined test car, optioned up from its $27,995 base price to $32,555, seemed economy minded except for the mileage readings. On that score, the Fusion topped the others, turning in a 34-mpg score card for the overall 300-mile test run.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve needed to hear something positive about the U.S. automakers for a long time now. Ford, I congratulate you on a job well done and I’m excited to see what you come out with next.

What do you think about these reviews of the 2010 Fusion Hybrid?

-tgriffith

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Domestic Cars, Foreign Cars, Gas for your car..., General Chat, Hybrid Cars

Car Blog Showdown: ’69 American sports cars

February 25th, 2009

This is CarGurus’ first Car Blog Showdown. tgriffith and jgoods were each invited to select their favorite 1969 American sports car and tell us 5 reasons for their choice. Each also noted 3 reasons why they disagree with the other’s choice. We plan to run this feature weekly – let’s get our first Showdown started! (And please tell us which is your favorite 1969 American sports car!)

1969 Mercury Cougar

1969 Mercury Cougar

tgriffith’s 5 reasons why the 1969 Mercury Cougar is the best ’69 American sports car:

  • The available 428-cubic-inch V8 with 335 horsepower could rocket from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds. Booyah!
  • The front grill is intimidating, unique, and stronger than other cars of the same year.
  • This car could squeal the tires between 2nd and 3rd gears with an automatic transmission.
  • 1969 was the last year Cougars were true performance machines; this car is a legacy of American Muscle.
  • Mercury infused the Cougars with a touch of class that Mustangs, Camaros, and GTOs didn’t have.

jgoods’ 3 reasons why it isn’t:

  • The interior is cheesy.
  • The rear styling is bland and boring.
  • Do you like Merc-o-Matic transmissions?
1969 Pontiac GTO

1969 Pontiac GTO

jgoods’ 5 reasons why the 1969 Pontiac GTO is the best ’69 American sports car:

  • The muscle car that started it all in 1964, the ’69 GTO beats out all its competition with a 400-cid producing 366 hp, later a 400 block Ram Air V that could take you to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds.
  • “The Judge” option with its phony hood scoops is one of the great chick magnets of all time.
  • Values (for good ones) keep climbing in the used-car market.
  • The GTO has the sleekest styling of all the muscle cars and charisma like no other.
  • Arrogance: Pontiac stole Ferrari’s sacred GTO name.

tgriffith’s 3 reasons why it isn’t:

  • It’s a money pit – if you buy one, you’d better open a second checking account, because a GTO will drain it faster than it burns through a gallon of gas.
  • The original build quality was questionable at best.
  • It’s a good-looking car…until you see it from behind. Why buy a muscle car that looks weak in the rear? After all, on the road that’s what people will be seeing.

What’s your favorite 1969 American sports car? Why?

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

Obama’s Challenge to Think Big

February 25th, 2009

84660752WM031_PRESIDENT_OBAIn the aftermath of the president’s speech to Congress, we’re hearing a lot of praise and a lot of skepticism. Maybe both are in order. On the whole, the speech was masterful—in part at least because of its tone, welcoming engagement from the opposition:

And while his program is certainly open to criticism, he made clear that he would rather engage critics than simply defeat them. He attempted to be the grown-up in the room, willing to accept responsibility and prodding others to do the same.

What struck me most was Obama’s willingness to deal candidly with the challenges that have angered and frightened so many. Regarding the auto industry:

We are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

Obama 2008The actual agenda for the car industry has yet to be written, much less fought over, and so it will take time for those who are fed up with Detroit to see beyond their desire to punish it. Their case is similar to public anger toward Wall Street and the bankers. As much as they are to blame, we as buyers, investors, dupes, and fools were the great enablers. There were few outcries or grassroots moves to stop them.

Regarding the auto industry collapse, we, too, can take plenty of blame—for wanting and buying bloated and inefficient Detroit cars for so many years and enabling the industry’s business-as-usual practices.

Obama has very big plans. He proposes a synthesis that will incorporate more than fixing the banks and the auto industry. To reform energy policy, health care, and education will be to make short-term stimulus fixes stick. To reform the auto industry will require that these other, larger challenges be met. That is surely true as far as energy and health care are concerned. There can be no new auto industry without tackling those issues.

Whether the public and the Congress will accept Obama’s grand design remains to be seen. But his demonstration of how these problems are interlinked was a great service.

Do you think the speech conveyed real hope for the auto industry? Or was it just “kind words”?

—jgoods

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Politics, Domestic Cars, General Chat

Coming face to face with a car that hops

February 24th, 2009

car-hoppingCars don’t do a lot of hopping where I live.

So when I was on my way to the mall the other day in my CR-V, the lowrider next to me might as well have been any other car on the road. Until the car rose up to my height, the driver nodded at me and then sunk his car right back down again.

Oh sure, I’ve seen movies with lowriders all rigged up with hydraulic systems, bouncing and gyrating to the beat of rap music.

Seeing it happen three blocks from my local mall caused a serious double-take, though, which was probably the point of the young man driving. Whatever his reasons are for customizing his car like that, it got me thinking about cars that hop and spurred a YouTube search when I got home.

Holy smokes, car hopping is pretty serious business! Videos like this are all over YouTube:

While this kind of customization is not something I’d do to a ’65 Impala, I sure respect the technology and engineering behind all those hydraulics. Seriously, how are axles and ball joints not snapping with every bounce these cars take? That’s the question I was asking myself when I found this video. Ouch!

While I’d rather customize an old Impala into a supercharged muscle car, you won’t hear any smack from me on turning one into a hydraulic masterpiece.

If you had a ’65 Impala, would you rather restore it to its original form, create a hot rod out of it, or customize it with hydraulics?

-tgriffith

Car Accessories, Car Minded, Car Parts, Classic & Vintage Cars, Domestic Cars, General Chat

Will We Have a Rescue or a Miscue?

February 24th, 2009

ford_c-max_lineThe more I read about the automakers’ problems, the more I conclude that government has to force their hand. What that would mean is a complete makeover of the industry, which would accomplish two things:

  • Reduce the overcapacity and oversupply problems
  • Get the carmakers in sync with building cars the public now demands.

The overcapacity problem, building for years, is at the root of many others. In effect, the industry has killed off, or saturated, its market. One blogger says:

In 1968, the US had 100 million cars for 199 million Americans. In 2006, by contrast, the population of 225 million Americans over the age of 18 was outweighed by an automobile population of 234 million passenger vehicles. Obviously, people will continue to buy replacement autos as their cars age, but there does seem to be a limit to how many cars the country can consume.

You bet there is, and the recent economic recession has weakened demand to a trickle. What do you do about that? The auto companies do not want to bite this bullet because it will mean a complete restructuring of their business model. The government hesitates to force the issue because it will raise the prospect of “social engineering,” “nationalizing,” and—the biggest scare word of all—“socialism.”

But there seems no alternative to finally building cars the public and the times require, plus addressing the energy dependence, pollution, and basic transportation issues the country faces. These require massive efforts and resources. Small, innovative startups are great, but won’t get us there.

houston-light-railPractically, what it means is converting the overcapacity of the carmakers into making socially beneficial things like light rail, efficient buses, high-speed rail . . . and energy-efficient cars. Do we have the political will to do this stuff, or are we going to squabble about it? Most likely, we’ll squabble for a while, then do it.

Instead of firing people and closing plants, the Big Three should be thinking about retraining, conversion, and retooling. I am betting they will go that route if the government pays part of the freight and puts seed money into these efforts. If that does happen, private money will follow. Paradoxically, the Big Three could be the vanguard instead of the laggard.

A columnist from Toronto put it this way:

The Obama task force, in protecting the total $30 billion of taxpayer funds that GM has received and is seeking, would impose on GM a more rapid resolution of those issues. There has long been no cachet in owning a vehicle made by a North American-based firm. That could change if the Obama administration uses its bailout leverage to force a transformation of Motown’s mission.

GM—and Detroit—could re-emerge as a global leader in fuel-efficient vehicle technology if Obama’s task force clears out its senior and much of its nostalgia-enslaved middle management. The precedent was set when FDR threatened a Detroit reluctant to convert to war production with nationalization unless it did his bidding.

Once again, the heavy hand of outside intervention is Detroit’s best, and perhaps only, hope of salvation.

Tell us what you think Detroit will look like in five years.

—jgoods

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Politics, Domestic Cars, General Chat

Should the auto union die?

February 24th, 2009

uaw-versus-gm-strikeI don’t typically like to follow politics, and it’s rare for me to get fired up over political issues.

But when politics enter the world of cars, all bets are off. Especially when common sense is obscured by political influences. 

Granted, politics has had its grimy hands wrapped around the auto industry for years; it’s just that no one really noticed or cared, because the public had money, and they were more than happy to give it to car dealers in exchange for new Chevy trucks.

That’s not the case anymore. In these troubled times we’re realizing the far-reaching stranglehold politics has on our beloved car industry.

I admit the United Auto Workers union has done amazing things for its members. I don’t know of any other union that has used its political power to secure free lifetime healthcare, provide a virtual guarantee against layoffs, and offer a hefty pension that can theoretically be collected for longer than someone actually worked.

As good as such arrangements are for workers, they’re absolutely insane business practices. Surely any CEO knows this, but the union has had the Big 3 paralyzed by fear. If GM tried to break agreements, they’d be saddled with a strike that could cost billions. If anyone from within the union had the guts to propose changes, they’d lose any hope they have at re-election.

Common sense flew out the window in exchange for power and money. I just wonder: If GM and Chrysler were able to lay people off to cut costs, would they be facing these dire consequences right now?

uaw-noPlease know that my beef isn’t with the people building American cars. It’s with the union behind them – a union that should not exist. I find it so ironic that to begin the process of freeing automakers from politics, they need massive political help from the U.S. government.

Readers can attack me all they want and accuse me of being ignorant about the auto industry. I’m not. I just want to love my U.S. automakers again.

In response to fellow blogger jgoods’ post yesterday, yes, we will always have an auto industry. Let’s just hope it becomes free of the politics of cars, and full of a renewed passion for them.

How does all this political news influence what you think about GM and Chrysler? Do you think the United Auto Workers’ union should exist?

-tgriffith

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Domestic Cars, Gas for your car..., General Chat