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Archive for July, 2011

BMW’s i3—a New Take on City Cars

July 29th, 2011

BMW i3 concept

BMW presented two very interesting working concept cars this week in Frankfurt that demonstrate the company’s new commitment to hybrid and EV technology.

The i8 is an expensive, sexy plug-in hybrid working off the Vision EfficientDynamics ideas of two years ago. It performs, says TopGear, like the base Porsche 911 (4.6 seconds to 62 mph), with 350 hp and very light weight. More on this one in a future post.

But the i3 is more radical and represents BMW’s attempt to seriously engage in redesigning the city car as something more practical and appealing than the current offerings.

Car and Driver calls it “revolutionary,” with batteries, motor and drivetrain in one “Drive” module (mostly aluminum), and the “Life” module as a separate unit (mostly carbon-fiber) for passengers and luggage. It’s actually roomy.

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So a Blonde Crashes a Bentley into a Ferrari, Aston Martin, Mercedes and Porsche…

July 29th, 2011

Oops

…And it’s not even a joke.

I’m not one to laugh, too hard, at other people’s misfortunes. In fact, unless someone’s smart fortwo ends up in a river, I’m actually pretty compassionate. But I think my level of compassion for people tapers as their bank accounts rise.

Do I feel bad for the unemployed family man who gets his only car stolen? Of course. Do I shed a tear for the blonde driving the Bentley who smashes into a number of other exotic supercars? Ummm… no. Well, maybe, but the tear will come at the sight of an injured Aston Martin and not for the loaded socialite who caused an exotic automotive Armageddon.

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Nissan on the Move, But Not in the U.S.?

July 28th, 2011
2011 Infiniti G37 Coupe

2011 Infiniti G37 Coupe

Compared to the other worldwide brands sold in the U.S., we don’t seem to hear much about Nissan cars—unless somebody is reviewing the Juke, the Cube or the Murano CrossCabriolet, and poking fun at them.

Autobloggers had a field day with the CrossCabriolet, the N.Y. Times writer cited above calling it “the ride of Frankenstein.”

How come we don’t get reviews of the Altima, Nissan’s best-selling car in the U.S. with sales up 22.7 percent over last year? That car was just approved for use in New York’s taxi fleet (hybrid and non-hybrid versions). The NV200 was recently selected as the city’s next large-volume taxi. The company’s U.S. June sales as a whole rose 11.4 percent.

The Leaf recently won the top safety awards from both NHTSA and the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). It’s beating the Volt in sales, with Nissan “selling 3,875 of the Leaf in the United States to GM’s 2,745 Volts,” a substantial margin.

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Cars Coming Soon: 570 Stallions On Tap for Chrysler SRT8 Models

July 28th, 2011
2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

The news on Chrysler just keeps getting better.

To quickly sum up, a blogger for Forbes says,

Fiat is firmly in control of the rebounding Chrysler, which on Tuesday reported a modified operating profit of $507 million, up 177 percent from a year ago, along with a 30 percent surge in revenues. Chrysler’s worldwide sales were up 19 percent in the second quarter and its U.S. market share rose to 10.6 percent, from 9.4 percent a year ago.

On top of that, its government loans are now paid off, CEO Sergio Marchionne says he won’t mess with the company’s American culture, and there are some exciting products in the pipeline coming down from Auburn Hills.

Yes, it’s good times all around under the Pentastar. And even better times are on the way for future performance-loving Pentastar customers.

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Porsche to Revive the 550 Spyder; New 911 Pics and Specs

July 27th, 2011

Porsche 550 RS

“I can imagine that such a modern version of the famous ‘James Dean’ Porsche would be well-received by our customers. The new model will not be retro-styled.” Thus spake Matthias Mueller, Porsche’s CEO, confirming that a new version of the iconic 550 Spyder will be built.

James Dean, famous film actor in the 1950s, loved racing and prepared one of the 90 550s built. He was killed in a head-on collision (not his fault) on a California highway in September 1955. And his association with the car has become legendary.

But the 550 also had a great racing history (RS version above) and went through several evolutions, including the very successful RSK, and fathered many replicas.

All we really know about the new car is that it will probably share the proposed Audi R4 roadster platform and be midengine. Power is speculated to come from a 4-cylinder boxer engine that may also go into the Boxster and/or Cayman.

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Crazy or Brilliant? Scion Hopes to Sell New Cars Online

July 27th, 2011

2011 Scion xB

Automotive News reports that 65 to 70 percent of car shoppers never contact the dealer they purchase from before walking through its doors.

That, in my opinion, is a mistake that could cost a car buyer thousands of dollars. I’m not going to get into the importance of online research and dealer comparison shopping again, but instead use that stat to illustrate that cars, for many reasons, have yet to succumb to the online purchase phenomenon that has gripped every other product on Earth.

Some automakers have tried to push an online buying experience (remember the GM eBay experiment?), but for now buyers prefer to buy their cars within the confines of dealership walls.

Scion, the “Gen Y” marketing arm of Toyota, wants to start pushing dealers into selling vehicles online. Could it work?

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Green Update: Smart Grids and the Car Industry

July 26th, 2011

Parking and charging in the future, according to Siemens

The idea of the smart electrical grid is to deliver sustainable, economical electric power by optimizing supply and demand. At least that’s my definition after looking at a bunch of complicated and contradictory others.

The future of the EV is clearly tied to the development of the smart grid, even after the other problems of public acceptance—high price, reliability and the cost and convenience of charging—get solved.

Typically, the U.S. has no kind of master plan to coordinate or encourage charging infrastructure. EV buyers now have to rely on home charging, fast DC chargers aren’t supported by the automakers (and cost $80K each), and the powerful Society of Automotive Engineers can’t even agree on a common charging system and port.

The smart grid will be no workaround for such bureaucratic problems, but automakers and governments are beginning to work on other kinds of solutions to get public acceptance. Two are notable.

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Next Honda CR-V Loses Underbite, Gets Big-Boy Face

July 26th, 2011

2012 Honda CR-V

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the 2012 Honda CR-V.

Well, the concept version anyway, which Honda confirms will debut at the Orange County International Auto Show in Anaheim, Calif., in September 2011.

The current CR-V, which debuted in showrooms in 2007, looks a lot like any other CR-V, except it developed a severe underbite and lost its rear-mounted spare tire. The current double grille looks like a Shih Tzu I once owned: exceptionally ugly but somehow kind of endearing with its lower jaw protruding out well beyond the upper.

Eventually though, the look gets irritating, and like the Shih Tzu, you just kind of hope you’ll wake up one morning and it will be gone.

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Impressive C63 AMG Black Coupe—and Other Cultural Excesses

July 25th, 2011

2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe Black Series

Even as Automotive News tells us that 4-cylinder engines have now become more popular than V6s in the U.S.—and the V8 “has lost favor even faster”—super-powered road cars continue to be built and sold at outlandish prices.

Even as the U.S. edges toward default and cannot agree on how (or whether) to pay its bills, the country is awash in money, at least in certain quarters, and can be counted on to buy all the M5s and AMG Blacks the Germans can produce.

A front-page piece in today’s New York Times tells how private jets are jamming up the airports in Maine delivering rich kids to summer camps. Kind of weird, isn’t it, that the whole idea of camp—getting kids back to nature and the basics—is totally undercut by parental excess?

Enter the Benz C63 AMG Black Coupe: technically and performance-wise as good as anything the company has produced. M-B’s press site says it has driving performance “like no other AMG model,” with 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds (probably less) and every kind of techie whiz-bang development you never heard of.

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Perfect Chariots for a New Bride and Groom

July 25th, 2011

1933 Packard Eight

My brother got married over the weekend to the love of his life.

The outdoor wedding under mild afternoon sun was picture-perfect. There was an open bar, lots of dancing and, of course, nothing but smiles and laughter (thanks in part to the open bar).

As the night wore down, I was taken by surprise by a car that gracefully rolled up the long gravel driveway to the reception site… a 1933 Packard Eight instantly recognizable by the trademark headlights, side-mounted spare tires and winged hood ornament (not to be confused with the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy).

The American luxury car of the Great Depression was the chariot of choice to escort the groom and his bride to their lavish downtown hotel; a better choice I could not have suggested myself.

But, should I have been asked which autos I might recommend to chauffeur a newly wedded couple from the reception to the beginning of marital bliss, I would have also included any of these fine automobiles:

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