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Archive for July, 2009

Best-Looking Cars of 2009-2010

July 24th, 2009

2009 Dodge NitroWe’ve polled people from Maine to California, and they all come up with the same answer: The sharpest, sexiest, hottest vehicle of this past year is … the Dodge Nitro!

Well, if enough people think it’s the best-looking, that will make it so. That’s how the Mercedes E-Class Coupe got to the top. In May it was reported that

the German publication AUTO BILD asked its readers to vote for the best looking car in each of five categories, with the prerequisite being that all of the vehicles must have made their debut in the last year. Then, some 100,000 readers responded, voting the 2010 E-Class 2010 Mercedes E-Class CoupeCoupe winner in the “Coupe and Cabriolet” category and bestowing the 2010 E-Class sedan with top honors in the overall ranking. Based on this highly scientific, one-hundred percent definitive study, Daimler arrived at the only conclusion that one could derive from a study of this type: that the E-Class business saloon [sedan] is “the most attractive new car in the world.”

Well, the cars shown here, excepting the Nitro, are my choice, my taste, and so there. The E-Coupe is just above. You decide.

2010 BMW Z4The Germans are surely producing prettier cars than they have in years past. BMW’s new Z4 is a big improvement on the older version. I want one.

2009 Jaguar XFThere has been much hoopla about the new Jaguar XJ, and I’ve looked at some photos and video. I think they missed the boat on this one. The downmarket XF is better looking and still a great performance sedan. I saw one in New York a couple of months ago, and it’s even better looking in the flesh.

2009 Alfa Romeo MiToIn the same vein, we’ve heard much about the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, including its $300,000 pricetag. For that kind of change, it better be good looking. Alfa has also produced the MiTo (above), which may be the world’s best-looking small car.

2009 Ford MondeoOkay, you ask, why no American cars? ‘Cause most of them are just plain ugly. Everyone says the Fusion is the best looking U.S. hybrid. If so, that speaks volumes about how lackluster our cars are. The Mondeo (above), on which the Fusion was based, is much better looking, but Ford dumbed the design down, for reasons best known to them.

2010 Corvette Grand SportBut we still like the Corvette, especially the Grand Sport version.

2010 Mazda CX-9And finally the Mazda CX-9 crossover, which is a really sharp design for a medium-size crossover, beautifully executed. My nephew has one, and it makes his former 2006 Volvo look like something out of a World War II motor pool.

Let us know how you rank these babies and, of course, which cars I should have included but didn’t.

—jgoods

Car Minded, Car Review, Domestic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Hybrid Cars

Ford Posts Profit, Hopes for More with Turbo EcoBoost.
Could That Mean a 4-Cylinder F-150?

July 24th, 2009
Coming soon: 4-banger F-150?

Coming soon: 4-banger F-150?

Earlier this week we posted an article about Ford engines running on laser beams.

That same post declared Ford should be the domestic company the U.S. should throw its collective support behind.

The good news just keeps coming for Ford, as just yesterday the company announced a $2.3 billion quarterly profit. Granted, that’s a number that resulted mostly from restructuring debt, but still, the company appears on track to at least break even by the end of 2011.

Ford’s 2010 model line is looking impressive as well, with the new Taurus and Mustang anchoring a strong, quality-filled fleet that includes the Fusion and Flex. Check out a great review of Ford’s 2010 Model Year Drive Event here.

In addition to being on track to make money by building quality cars that are relevant, exciting, and attainable to consumers, Ford is innovating in the fuel-efficiency field, too.

Remember when I mentioned that maybe V8 engines should be outlawed? Not exactly a popular sentiment, but Ford’s advances in technology continue to render the V8 engine, at least in consumer vehicles, obsolete. Ford’s EcoBoost technology combines direct fuel-injection with turbochargers, resulting in more power and up to 20 percent better fuel economy.

So V8 engines get replaced with V6 engines. V6 plants become 4-cylinders. Already, the Taurus SHO and Flex are debuting with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, rather than being outfitted with a thirsty V8. Ford will even offer an EcoBoost 4-cylinder in 2010. Anyone want to place money on the likely candidate being the 2011 Fiesta?

Ford product chief Derrick Kuzak has said a four-cylinder has potential even in the F-150 truck. I can’t imagine that would go over well, but hey, the potential is there!

It’s hard to find a fault with Ford right now. The company is emerging as the Detroit domestic that could take serious market share from General Motors and Chrysler.

I hope Ford can do it…. I’d really enjoy seeing the scrappy underdog kick butt against its government-funded competition.

Do you think there’s any chance a four-cylinder can power a Ford F-150?

-tgriffith

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

Porsche CEO Goes Bye-Bye

July 23rd, 2009

Wendelin WiedekingYup, the big drama is over for now, and Wendelin Wiedeking got pushed out, bowing to “mounting pressure,” as Autoweek so cleverly put it. After a brilliant career at Porsche, pulling them out of virtual bankruptcy in 1993 and leading the firm to become the world’s most profitable carmaker, Wiedeking, like so many others, seemed to become a victim of hubris.

Along with Holger Haerter, the CFO who was also fired, and Chairman Wolfgang Porsche, Wendy took the company down the path of financial ruin when he tried to acquire Volkswagen (which now will take over Porsche, ha-ha!) through borrowing, stock options, perhaps some financial chicanery (“complex financial derivatives,” says the NY Times), and opening the door to Qatar to take a large position in the company. When the economic crisis hit, the strategy went into the tank, and Porsche was left holding the debt bag.

There’s no denying, however, that the guy was colorful and cut a wide swath in the European auto business, managing to get press every few days about new cars he brought out—like the Cayenne, Boxster, and Cayman—or about the sturm und drang we recently discussed in this blog. The public squabbles and soap operas produced by the Porsche and Piech clans were surely not helpful to the company’s image or finances.

Ferdinand PiechAnyhow, VW’s chief, Ferdinand Piech, now holds all the cards and has most of the cash. Wiedeking will have to make do with his €50-million severance package, half of which he’s pledged to charity, possibly to make up for his other PR disasters. Rick Wagoner hasn’t done that.

Is Porsche going to do better under the Volkswagen umbrella? Will it be more secure?

—jgoods

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

Remember when you could just go to the dealer and buy a car?

July 23rd, 2009
Has anybody had any luck buying one of these?<br/>Tell us about it in the comments section!” width=”320″ height=”213″ /><p class=Has anybody had any luck buying one of these?
Tell us about it in the comments section!

For some reason, car dealers just aren’t interested in selling cars.

It didn’t used to be that way. I remember the days so long ago when I didn’t dare call or e-mail a dealer, much less step foot on the lot, unless I was very seriously ready to buy a car. The ambush by blood-sucking salesmen just wasn’t worth the trouble unless I was ready to negotiate.

I’ve mentioned my own recent troubles with dealers when I shopped a number of months ago, only to never get called back.

Now it’s happened to a Washington Post blogger, and the blogosphere is abuzz at the unwillingness of some car dealers to… you know… sell cars.

Blogger Vijay Ravindran just wanted to get rid of his 9-year-old BMW and support troubled automaker Chevrolet by buying a new Camaro. Seems like a simple enough request, and one that any Chevy dealer would likely jump on.

Poor Vijay, though, had to go through four Chevy dealers and eventually give up his quest. One never called back. He e-mailed two more. They never wrote back. The fourth eventually said he had one, but when Vijay got to the lot, it was an automatic. He had asked for a manual. That dealer tried to sell him a Corvette. Vijay went home, only to get an e-mail saying they assumed he wasn’t interested anymore.

Why is this happening? Why aren’t dealers interested in helping people buy cars anymore? If it just happened to me, I’d assume it was a fluke. Now that I’m hearing more stories of similar experiences, I’m wondering if part of the blame for dive-bombing sales numbers lies with apathetic salespeople who can’t put forth the effort to help customers look for cars.

GM is promising a rebirth based on superior customer service. I’m thinking someone better send a memo to the dealers, because they haven’t gotten the message.

Do you have any recent experiences shopping for cars? Salespeople: What’s the deal?

-tgriffith

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

The Blind Leading the Blind

July 22nd, 2009

Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge VehicleThink we had problems with drunk drivers and cell phoners crashing cars? Just wait till blind people get behind the wheel. And that will happen, according to some Virginia Techies who put together this dirt buggy loaded with such stuff as a

laser to scan the vehicle surroundings, instant voice command to guide the driver to steer, brake and accelerate. The team also installed non-visual interface technologies, such as vibrating vest and click counter steering wheel with audio.

A challenge grant from the National Federation of the Blind’s Jernigan Institute enabled Virginia Tech students to build the vehicle. They are bringing in blind students from across the country this summer to learn to drive it.

I say let’s go for it. With training, these kids can certainly do no worse than texting teenagers or the bar-closers lurching to their vehicles at 2 am. In fact, as one of the organizers remarked,

There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation with any of our blind drivers, whereas blind-folded sighted drivers weren’t as quick to let go of their preconceptions. The blind drivers actually performed better than their sighted counterparts.

Besides, these folks deserve to have access to the driving experience. A Ford project recently got some young blind people behind the wheel of a 2010 Mustang out in the desert. Roger Keeney narrates:

Heartwarming, eh? It’s a well-known fact that sensory-deprived people sharpen the active senses they do have. How ironic that those with senses intact work hard to dull them through activities like boozing and phoning while operating a car. Maybe someday the blind will learn to drive—and beat us all.

Do projects like Virginia Tech’s actually advance driving technology?

—jgoods

Car Minded, General Chat

Should Suzuki Pack Up and Go Home?

July 21st, 2009

2010_suzuki_sx4_sportback

Something’s wrong over at Suzuki.

The Japanese automaker is skidding hard, as its sales are down a staggering 78 percent from one year ago.

That might not surprise many people. In fact, I’ll bet most folks can’t even recall the last Suzuki ad they saw or even tell me where their nearest dealer is.

Another part of the problem is Suzuki’s American lineup, which includes the Korean-built Forenza and Reno, and the lackluster XL-7.

But Suzuki has been in the news a lot lately. First came those sobering sales numbers. Then analysts urged Suzuki to exit the American car market. But there’s some good news, too, as Suzuki is getting some nice press on the new SX4 Sportback. Also, the infamous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was won by Nobuhiro Tajima driving a customized SX4.

Of course, the car used for the hill climb was outfitted with a whopping 850 horsepower, but still, it should lend some credibility to just how good the car is.

suzuki_kizashi_conceptI think if Suzuki can eke out enough sales of the Japanese-built SX4 and sell them in the same dealerships that sell motorcycles, the company might have a chance of staying in the American market. Plus, Suzuki’s Camry-fighter, the Kizashi (at right), is due to hit dealerships in 2010. If it’s a success, stay tuned for Suzuki’s American rebirth.

If it flops, watch for the company to pack up and ship out.

Do you even know where your local Suzuki car dealership is? Do you care whether or not the company stays in the United States?

-tgriffith

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

Which Is Worse? Drunk Driving or Cell-Phoning?

July 21st, 2009

Total DistractionBoth are equally likely to cause an accident, according to research the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) squelched. Today the full body of research on driver distractions is being made public for the first time since the studies began in 2003. The New York Times broke the story on its front page this morning.

It seems that certain unnamed members of Congress, including members of the House Appropriations Committee, pressured NHTSA officials into withholding their research, even though it found that cell phone use (even the hands-free kind) and texting were deadly. The researchers “estimated that cellphone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents over all in 2002.” Hands-free headsets didn’t eliminate the risk, since the conversation itself caused distraction.

Another study

found that drivers using a hand-held device were at 1.3 times greater risk of a crash or near crash, and at three times the risk when dialing compared with other drivers.

Texting? Forget it. You might as well be driving from the passenger seat.

Police DistractionWhether pressure came from the cell phone industry or not is unknown, but Congress has once again worked to promote a special interest at the expense of the general good. And those in the Bush administration, including Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, should be held accountable. This time, these guys actually have blood on their hands.

It will take a massive campaign to get people to stop phoning while driving. Is that possible? Is it desirable?

—jgoods

Car Accessories, Car Minded, Car Politics, Car Safety, General Chat

Ford Cars to Run on Laser Beams?

July 21st, 2009
No, not that kind of Ford Laser...

No, not that kind of Ford Laser...

I’ve decided that Ford should be the domestic automaker this country rallies around.

I mean really, it’s the only company that hasn’t gone bankrupt or been bailed out by the U.S. government. General Motors doesn’t appear to have changed its management style, and the old-timers at the company are still running the show. Chrysler might show some promise later, but its current lineup of vehicles is laughable. Plus, the company now has an Italian owner, which could present the question of whether or not it is a true “domestic” company.

Ford, though, is making genuine technological advances at a time when they are needed most.

...that kind!

...that kind!

How’s this for technology: Ford  engineers have found a way to replace spark plugs with lasers within two years. Yeah, a car powered by honest-to-God laser beams… is that the coolest thing in the world?

Laser ignition would reduce the amount of fuel needed and produce more stable combustion, so less fuel would be needed in each cylinder.

Our friends at Left Lane News said,

Not only does the system need less fuel, it also requires less electricity than normal spark plugs. Researchers say the laser’s pinprick beam fires more than 50 times in a fraction of a second to produce 3,000 rpm. The laser can also be reflected back to a receiver to provide information to the computer about fuel type, to help optimize the engine’s settings.

The new technology will probably show up first in high-end Ford products, but eventually become standard fare in even the company’s entry-level offerings.

If you had to buy a domestic automobile today, would you buy from Ford, GM, or Chrysler?

-tgriffith

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

Gas Mileage Matters to Car Consumers, Despite Dramatically Reduced Gas Prices

July 20th, 2009

CarGurus survey finds more than half (51%) of respondents say gas mileage will be an important factor in their next car purchase.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 20, 2009CarGurus®, a leading online automotive community, today announced the results of its latest survey of 3,391 online automotive consumers worldwide. When asked how important a consideration gas mileage will be in their next car purchase, forty-one percent of respondents said it would be important, and ten percent said it would be the most important factor. These results are of some surprise given the fact that regular gasoline costs 38% less in the U.S. than it did a year ago (source: U.S. government Energy Information Administration). In fact only 19% of respondents said gas mileage would not be a factor at all.

“Automotive consumers have a long memory. Despite the fact that U.S. regular gas prices peaked about a year ago, consumers remember $4.10 regular gasoline and are wary of buying a car with poor gas mileage,” remarked Langley Steinert, CEO of CarGurus. “To their credit, car manufacturers do appear to have heard these consumer concerns and are now building smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles.”

Survey Results

Across the CarGurus Network, 3,391 respondents answered the question:

With gasoline at less than half its peak 2008 price,
how important a consideration will gas mileage be
in your next car purchase?

(Total Votes = 3,391)
The most important factor  10%
An important consideration  41%
A small consideration  30%
Not a factor  19%

About CarGurus LLC

Located in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, CarGurus LLC is a leading online automotive community founded by Langley Steinert , formerly Chairman/co-founder of TripAdvisor LLC, the 3rd largest online travel site in the world. CarGurus’ founders, board, and investors bring a wealth of experience from such leading web companies as TripAdvisor, eBay, Expedia, and Yahoo. For more information about CarGurus, visit us at www.cargurus.com.

CONTACT: Steve Halloran, Editor, CarGurus LLC
617-354-0068, x12
press@cargurus.com

Car Minded, CarGurus Features and Updates, Gas for your car..., General Chat

More Sturm und Drang at Porsche

July 20th, 2009
Car Eater

Volkswagen Lunch

Over the weekend, the respected media outlet der Spiegel reported that the end of the drama was near: Volkswagen was finally going to buy out Porsche. The latter company, if you remember, chewed off more than it could swallow when it bought some 51 percent of VW stock in an attempt to consume its larger brother, and has since suffered grievous indigestion owing to the €9-billion debt incurred.

We told this story back in May, and the family squabbles may finally be resolved. Now it may be VW’s turn to eat.

VW has planned a two-step purchase of Porsche for €8 billion ($11.3 billion). Now, says Sueddeutsche Zeitung, there will be substantial tax consequences to the tune of $4.3 billion that may scuttle the deal. No comment from the principals.

Another problem seems to be Porsche CEO Wiedeking, who earns a lot of money and will want lots more before he leaves the helm. He reportedly loves his job and earned about $109 million last year as he took a 0.9-percent share of the company’s pretax profit. Wiedeking is one tough customer who has alienated the unions but

transformed the 911 sports-car manufacturer, almost bankrupt when he became CEO in 1993, into the automaker with the highest profit margins for the industry. In 2005, he began using cash from the luxury-vehicle business to acquire shares of Volkswagen, a company that builds more cars in a week than Porsche does in a year.

The strategy worked until Wiedeking’s efforts to topple power structures at VW, Europe’s largest carmaker, failed and the economic crisis thinned profits and spooked banks.

If the deal does go through, the Porsche and Piech families (Porsche’s shareholders) will hold 50 percent of the shares in the merged company. Lower Saxony will keep its 20 percent share, and the emirate of Qatar might buy into the new company at anywhere from 14.9 to 19.9 percent.

None of this presumably will change the cars or their merchandising all that much. But watch out for the stock: At press time, both companies’ shares were down about 8 percent.

Is it over? We think the deal will go through and the government will make an accommodation on the taxes. What do you think?

—jgoods

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