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Archive for June, 2009

Max Caves, Formula One Teams Win

June 24th, 2009

Max Mosley, FIA PresidentWell, sort of. In fact FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) and FIA, the sport’s governing body, do need each other, and the tradeoff the teams got was having Max Mosley, FIA president, agree not to run for reelection in October as Supreme Leader. That will be a result very much to the good of the sport and its fans.

Edward Gorman of the Times Online put it well:

The reign of Max Mosley as ruler—for that is what he was—of world motorsport and Formula One has come to an end. Like all men who enjoy almost unfettered power, there was always a danger he would over-reach himself and that, in the end, has been the case with Mosley.

After constant battles with the teams and the recent imposition of a “voluntary” budget cap, the teams had had enough. Thus the split we reported. Nobody trusted the guy. Still, the sport needs a governing body, and it became apparent that the teams recognized this. If they split off from FIA, how would they organize themselves and pursue a viable 2010 season?

So, as one wag put it in the comments section of the Jalopnik story, “It means only that he’ll have a lot more time for Nazi orgies.” In the end, money talks, and the FIA controls a great wad of it.

Now, when and how are they going to get rid of Bernie Ecclestone, the other half of this dynamic duo?

—jgoods

Auto Racing, Car Minded, Domestic Cars, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Hybrid Cars

2010 European Car of the Year Candidates Announced

June 24th, 2009
Just in case you were wondering what a Skoda Yeti looks like...

Just in case you were wondering what a Skoda Yeti looks like...

The European press has released the candidates for their 2010 Car of the Year award.

Apparently there are a lot of great cars in Europe, because 30 of them made the list of finalists, two of them coming from U.S. automakers. The Chevy Cruze and Ford Ka could potentially bring home Europe’s biggest car award.

To be eligible for the award, vehicles must be available in at least five European markets and have projected sales of more than 5,000 units.

Here’s the full list of candidates:

I default to our European friends on this one: Which car do you think deserves to win?

-tgriffith

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Domestic Cars, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Hybrid Cars

Green Is the Color of Money

June 23rd, 2009

Green MoneyFinally, Ford gets rewarded for staying out of bankruptcy. Today it got a $5.9 billion loan from the Department of Energy to develop more fuel-efficient cars. Nissan got $1.6 billion, and Tesla (yes, Tesla) got $465 million—all coming out of a $25 billion pot to help car companies retool and get green.

GM and Chrysler got nothing, as they were not “financially viable,” per the terms of the loans.

Reportedly, Ford will use its money to “upgrade factories in five Midwest states to produce 13 fuel-efficient vehicles.” Nissan will build a new battery facility and advanced vehicles in Smyrna, Tennessee. Tesla will build electric vehicles (presumably the new Model S, below) and powertrains in Silicon Valley.

2010 Tesla Model SInteresting coincidence: $5.9 billion is the same amount Ford reported losing in its fourth-quarter 2008 report. GM lost that amount in its first quarter of this year. This activity is what the media calls “burning through cash,” and you’ll note that nobody rounds up to $6 billion.

Did these firms deserve it? Should other, smaller firms have gotten a piece of the pie? Give us your opinion, please.

—jgoods

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

Name the American Truck: Chevy Silverado or Mazda B-Series

June 23rd, 2009
Silverado - it sure looks American!

Silverado - it sure looks American!

Not long ago, we asked if Ford was a foreign car company.

We asked because so many American cars are built in Mexico, while Japanese cars are built in America, so we wondered what really constitutes a “domestic” automobile. The location of final assembly is only a piece of the puzzle – there’s also the whole question of where a car’s parts come from.

It sounds like a philosophical conundrum: If a car’s engine is built in Germany, its transmission comes from France, final assembly happens in the United States, and the corporate headquarters is in Japan, where is the car from?

In this case it’s the “Japanese” Mazda B-Series pickup, but it seems more “American” than the Mexican-built Ford Fusion or Chevy Silverado.

Considering all this, I’m surprised to see the results of a poll in our original blog asking if car owners know where their car was built. With nearly 2,500 people answering, an overwhelming 81 percent said they do know where their cars were built.

I have to wonder, though, if some people just assume their Fusions or Silverados (or Escalades or Avalanches or HHRs or Sierras…the list goes on)  were built in America just because they believe all those American Heartland “Like a Rock” TV ads.

Heck, the Honda Odyssey is more “American” than the Dodge Grand Caravan, with its engine, transmission, and assembly all sourced from the United States.

That’s why I get infuriated when a staunchly anti-foreign Midwestern truck guy judges me for buying a Japanese SUV when he (unknowingly) owns a Chevy Silverado that was made in Mexico. I imagine that guy would be pretty peeved to hear that little nugget of information.

With pieces of cars literally coming from all over the world, I was excited to see this brilliant feature, put together by the New York Times, that lists every car that’s made in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

I’d be curious for the people who took our original survey to check out the Times’ feature and then answer our survey again.

Which do you think is more American: a Mazda built in America or a Silverado built in Mexico? If you want, go ahead and tell me what car you own, including the year, and I’ll tell you where it was built.

-tgriffith

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Parts, Car Politics, Domestic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Trucks & SUVs

2010 Ford Taurus SHO: Ford’s Attempt at a Muscle Sedan?

June 22nd, 2009

2010 Ford Taurus SHO-1This one is getting really mixed first-drive reviews. People want to like it, and they find its performance and engine by and large good. The steering leaves much to be desired, the brakes are inadequate, the interior is Audi-esque, the handling is good for a big car. And this is a big car: 4,368 pounds of big car, 998 more than the original. You might like its looks; I think it’s a tank.

2010 Ford Taurus SHO-2The new SHO is a very different concept from the one that debuted in 1989 with a 220-hp V6 (later a V8) developed and built by Yamaha. By taking a family sedan and transforming it into a production car, Ford caught the imagination of more than a few niche buyers. Production ended ten years later with 100,000 cars sold. Still, according to Car and Driver’s Tony Quiroga, Ford dumbed it down over that time, trying to make it appeal more to the mainstream.

The new SHO has what Ford calls an Eco Boost, 365-hp, 350-lb-ft/torque twin-turbo direct-injection V6, with a flat torque curve, all-wheel-drive, and, most agree, a great paddle-shifted automatic transmission. Jalopnik described the ride:

Put your right foot down and the SHO is fast, if unexciting. The ride is firm yet controlled in the European luxury mold and the interior is exceptionally isolated from wind, road and engine noise. There’s absolutely no body roll. The electric power-assisted steering is direct and well weighted, but almost completely absent of feel. Combine that with the extremely large proportions—at 202.9″, the Taurus is only 9″ shorter than the Crown Victoria—and the limited vision created by the high belt line and you have a car that’s pretty challenging to place accurately at speed on a winding road.

Autoweek is cheerleading for the car, with the headline “Hot-Rod Ford Taurus SHO Lives Again.” From what I read, this is hardly the case. Ford has created a high-powered luxo sedan—very quiet, very big, very mainstream, but hardly a performance sedan. Fully equipped, you’re looking at $39,825, and finally, but for the engine, it’s not all that different from the Taurus at $27,995. Where’s the beef?

Is Ford on the right path here? Or have we traveled this way before?

—jgoods

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

Jeep Panda? This Is Supposed to Save Chrysler?

June 22nd, 2009
Alfa Romeo 149: The new Dodge Journey?

Alfa Romeo 149: The new Dodge Journey?

Chrysler’s new bosses in Italy are cooking up some new models to bring to the States, and most of them look pretty dang cool.

We all know the Fiat 500 will come to America in 2011, and now the folks at Fiat have announced that their C-EVO platform will underpin new Chrysler models, including the Dodge Journey, Dodge Caliber, Chrysler Sebring, and Jeep Liberty.

This is exciting news for Chrysler, because the C-EVO platform is used in an upcoming Alfa Romeo SUV in addition to Alfa’s 149 and the Fiat Bravo. After some Chrysler sheet metal is welded onto these babies and they’re renamed Caliber, Sebring, and Journey, Americans just may buy them. (We’d buy more of them, though, if Fiat just dropped the Chrysler name completely and sold ‘em as Fiats and Alfas. Feel free to argue, but if a dealer had an Alfa Romeo version next to an otherwise identical Chrysler, people would buy the Alfa all day long.)

Regardless, I foresee a lot of excitement on the pavement at Chrysler dealers as these new models eventually arrive. I’m especially excited about a possible new Dodge Hornet, which could be based on Alfa Romeo’s super-cool MiTo.

All that excitement, though, will abruptly run into a horrible wall called the Jeep Panda. When people see that on the lot, they’ll turn and run while screaming in disgust about what the Italians have done to Jeep.

2009_fiat_panda1Just look at the Fiat Panda. It doesn’t exactly say “Trail Rated” to me. Maybe once it has Jeep’s signature grill and an “Only in a Jeep” bumper sticker I’ll change my mind.

Right. This thing makes the paltry Patriot look like a Land Rover in comparison.

Would you rather buy a Fiat-badged car or a Chrysler-badged car, assuming they were otherwise identical?

-tgriffith

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Domestic Cars, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Trucks & SUVs

Old GM Plant Home to New American Car Company

June 20th, 2009
So far, this is our only peek at a possible VVC vehicle

So far, this is our only peek at a possible VVC vehicle

We love stories of upstart carmakers. From the tales of Tesla to the pie-in-the-sky Aptera, we think it’s fun to look into the future of what the automakers of tomorrow could look like.

It’s a pretty safe bet that automaking in the U.S. will consist of more than just GM, Ford, and Chrysler as the former Big 3 reorganize to become smaller, more efficient companies. As they shrink, opportunities open for new companies to sprout up.

One such company is V-Vehicle Co., a new automaker based in San Diego that recently announced they’d move into an ex-GM plant in Monroe, Louisiana, to build environmentally friendly vehicles. The state hopes 1,400 jobs that pay $40,000 each could result from the move. Not bad!

We don’t know much more than that, except that the new company has T. Boone Pickens as an investor. Pickens was last heard from touting his plan to tap into natural gas as a way to kick our oil habit, so it’s safe to say VVC could have something exciting up their sleeve. Plus they’ve hired a former Mazda design chief, the guy behind the MX-5 Miata, as their design director.

Sounds to me like the pieces are in place for some genuine competition to begin, as the soon-to-be-reborn GM and Chrysler have to do battle with well-funded and smartly designed upstart car companies.

Are you excited to see what kinds of car companies pop up in the near future? Can they succeed against still-massive GM, Chrysler, and Ford?

-tgriffith

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

Formula One Pot Boils Over

June 19th, 2009

Max Mosley, FIA PresidentThe major F1 manufacturers and teams finally got a bellyful. Yesterday they announced they would leave the sport’s governing body, the FIA (Féderation Internationale de l’Automobile), and run their own racing series in 2010. This is auto racing’s version of the rebellion that’s racking Iran.

The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) comprises eight teams—Ferrari, BMW-Sauber, Renault, McLaren-Mercedes, Brawn GP, Toyota, Red Bull Racing, and Scuderia Toro Rosso. These guys are the heavy hitters of international formula racing, and they have apparently had enough of the dictatorial whims of FIA president Max Mosley (above) and cohort Bernie Ecclestone (below), its business head, the money man.

We wrote about the F1 revolt, including Max and his Nazi sex orgy, last month. Between them, Max and Bernie have run the FIA like two stooges out of a Mel Brooks movie. British racing hero Jackie Stewart told Autocar Magazine:

I think a lot of people are kind of fed up with the dictatorial attitude. It’s been coming for some time. I think the teams feel that they have been bullied in some way for quite a long time, trying to force things through. I have said for a long time that the FIA needs to be restructured and there needs to be more corporate governance.

Bernie Ecclestone, CVC Capital PartnersYou bet. And Brother Bernie, like his namesake Madoff, has finally been unmasked. Formula One generates more than $1 billion a year.

Formula One teams—the people who design the cars, invest the cash and put the drivers on the circuit—get half the cash, while CVC, a privately-owned [sic] company of professional money-makers, get the rest. Meanwhile, there is no investment in the grass roots or in the infrastructure of motor racing or the circuits. Bernie and CVC simply sit there and take the loot.

The teams are especially fed up with having no say in running the sport. So things are beginning to look like the streets of Tehran. Like Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Max has a revolt on his hands after wielding Supreme Leader power for many years. To the streets, race fans!

If the breakaway teams race in the U.S., as seems possible, would you attend?

—jgoods

UPDATE

The FIA has responded to the threatened withdrawal by suing the eight racing teams (the FOTA), accusing them of “serious violations of law,” breaking contracts and “a grave violation of competition law,” whatever that is.

“The positions have hardened on both sides,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “The teams feel they have gone as far as they can, the FIA feel they have gone as far as they can and we’ve ended up in a situation where a solution hasn’t been found.

“We’ve no alternative because if we can’t race in Formula One under the current rules, if you want to keep competing then you’ve got to look at something else.”

Another element driving the lawsuit, which had some special words for Ferrari, has been the growing bad blood between Max Mosley and Ferrari head Luca di Montezemolo.

Auto Racing, Car Minded, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat

These Cars Never Seem to Fail (and Get Over 30 MPG!)

June 19th, 2009

Why is it so difficult for modern vehicles to approach 40 mpg? For some reason it takes complicated and expensive hybrid systems to deliver that kind of mileage now, when cars of the 1980s easily and consistently topped 30 miles per gallon and often approached 40.

Yes, there’s the issue of a modern car’s weight and safety equipment, which no doubt have impacted fuel economy. But come on – 20 years of development, and we’re struggling to get 25 mpg? That sucks. So with that in mind, here are some of the cars from the past that have proven themselves by easily topping 200,000 miles and burning very little fuel:

1980s and early 1990s Honda Civics

1989-honda-civic

Just count how many of these you see on the road in the next week. They’re EVERYWHERE, probably because they get 30-40 mpg, are cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and simply don’t die. You could drive one of these cars for 5 years, forget to change the oil even once, and still know you could drive across the country. Twice.

1985 Toyota Tercel Wagon

1985-toyota-tercel

You may not look or even feel great driving one, considering even the deluxe versions lacked power anything, but you’ll get over 40 mpg on the highway and be able to laugh at all the Prius owners getting the same mileage, but with a $600 monthly car payment.

1987 Subaru GL

1987-subaru-gl

Hey, I’m not making this list because the cars are fast. I’m making it because they last. That’s why this Subie gets added. My mom had one with 250,000 miles on it, and it ALWAYS started and went where she wanted it to go. I won’t mention the part where flooring the accelerator was necessary to climb even the smallest incline, but that little 1.6-liter hatch consistently got over 30 mpg and refused to die.

1984 Toyota Pickup (or any Toyota with the famous 22R engine)

1984-toyota-pickup

Got 150,000 or even 200,000 miles on your 22R engine? Relax, she’s hardly broken in! The team at Toyota who came up with the four-cylinder 22R really hit one out of the park, creating an engine that goes down in history as perhaps the most reliable ever built. Look for it in model years from 1981 to 1995. Yeah, 15 years. It was that good.

Do you have any stories of cars that refused to die?

-tgriffith

Car Minded, Classic & Vintage Cars, Foreign Cars, Gas for your car..., General Chat, Hybrid Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Why People Hate Congress

June 18th, 2009

Cash for Clunkers CarThe history of Cash for Clunkers offers a prime example of how Congress can make a total mess of a good thing. The Clunkers bill, which we described last week, demonstrates a history of special-interest pleading, unworkable and undesirable regulations, and political maneuvering—finally becoming tied to a $106-billion supplemental to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) originally proposed Cash for Clunkers in January as a bill to promote fuel efficiency and environmental goals. Funny thing how the standards got rapidly watered down, and suddenly the bill was transformed into a “save the auto industry” effort by some Michigan lawmakers. The Detroit News and other major media now refer to it as a “program to spur new-car sales.”

People noticed that the bill would enable you to buy a new 16-mpg Hummer H3T in the light truck category and get a $3,500 voucher, because the mileage mandates got lowered. Others talked about how the bill would encourage scamming the dealers, buying up voucher specials, junking perfectly roadworthy cars, and so on.

In the Senate, Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) says that $85 billion in taxpayer assistance to the car companies is enough and, along with most Republicans, will try to get it removed from the supplemental war funding. (This is the first, maybe only, time I’ve found myself siding with Judd Gregg.) But wait, there’s more.

Barney Frank, D-Ma.With the Democrats in power doing all these good things for everybody, maybe they’re banking on the fact that people won’t notice. But when Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), right, calls up Fritz Henderson of GM to get a stay of execution for a parts dealership, anyone can detect the odor of influence.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) pressured Chrysler to keep local dealers open; the company agreed to buy back 100 percent of dealer inventories. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) maintains that Democrats have deliberately shut down Republican-owned Chrysler dealerships. And so it goes.

The Congress seemingly can’t keep its hooks off the auto industry. “Well, we’re just supporting our constituents,” they claim. Yet President Obama pledged to keep the government out of the auto business, and maybe it’s high time that he speak for his constituents – that is, the rest of us.

How can Obama keep Congress from interfering politically in the operations of GM and Chrysler? Or is he powerless to do so? Tell us what you think.

—jgoods

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