Archive for October, 2011

Honda’s Troubles Multiply with Thailand Floods

October 31st, 2011

Flooded Hondas

Maybe you’ve been watching the photos coming out of Thailand. This one is of Honda’s underwater assembly plant near Bangkok, which is likely to be out of commission for up to 6 months, affecting 3 percent of global output.

And who can forget the pictures from the earthquake/tsunami disaster in March that humbled Honda big-time? Plus the strong yen, which has contributed to Honda’s recent announcement of quarterly profit falling 56 percent. U.S. sales dropped 22.3 percent, and revenue from nearly all regions was down.

The company is really taking it on the chin—and this at a time when U.S. auto sales are predicted to rise. Other companies, like Toyota, have also been affected by the floods, and there are all kinds of supply chain shortages.

We’ve written before about Honda’s 2.5 million recalls and how Consumer Reports dissed the Civic. Now the bad press about the car has forced Honda to move up its efforts to redo the cheapened Civic, to sometime in 2013. By which time, the damage may have multiplied.

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Ford’s “New” ’65 Mustang…Available Now!

October 31st, 2011

1965 Ford Mustang convertible body shell

It’s funny how modest a kids’ dream car can be.

As a young teenager, my car obsession was a 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang convertible. I’d drool when spotting one on the street and flip through the local classifieds checking prices and wondering how I could save for one before my 16th birthday.

For a variety of reasons, I never made the leap to buy a classic Mustang. Maybe it’s because my car tastes evolved toward the exotic in the 20 or so years since then. I did own a 1994 Mustang for a few years, thinking that maybe it would sate my Mustang desire, but I learned pretty quickly that a ’94 hardly replaces the ’64 1/2 to ’66 variety.

I often find myself looking through classifieds just like I did so many years ago, hoping that I’ll find a restorable car at a great price. As time ticks on, though, it’s getting harder and harder to find a body in decent shape. Fifty years can wreak havoc on old steel.

Well, Ford may have a solution for guys like me in the form of a brand-new ’64 1/2 Mustang…with a bit of a catch.

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More on Driverless Car Craziness

October 28th, 2011

Back in August, we gave you our take on the pros and cons of driverless cars. Among other smart things we said: “The big issue for a lot of people is losing control. It’s a bit like the drunk who won’t give up the keys to his car.”

The U.S. seems to be in the grip of a widespread fear of losing control—over everything from bladders to jobs. The individual has always been sovereign in this country, and who of our readers would give over the power and command of driving a car? Is technology taking over every aspect of our free choice?

Still, autonomous cars (so-called) are probably inevitable, at least in some situations. Many futurists are already happily jumping on board. Popular Science loves this stuff and recently came up with a story about cars dropping off their drivers, then going to search for parking spaces on their own.

Just thinking about the wild scenarios that could result, one of the the story’s commenters (D13) came up with the following:
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Next Dodge Viper: Small and Lean or Big and Brash?

October 28th, 2011

2013 Dodge Viper test mule

The BMW M3 will lose its V8 in favor of a turbo six.

The vaunted BMW M5‘s V10 engine has been pared down to a twin-turbo V8.

Mercedes-Benz will develop a straight 6 and replace its 6.3-liter V8 engines with a 5.5-liter turbo 8.

Yes, the theme of the day is downsizing. Automakers across the board are using smaller engines to develop more power and deliver better fuel economy. It’s true in everything from the monster super-sedans to the Ford F-150 and its EcoBoost V6.

There’s one brash automaker, though, that may have decided to buck the trend of going small and plans to reinvent an icon in the only way it knows how: with a crazy big engine.

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Two Kias: Good Cars, Nice Price

October 27th, 2011

2012 Kia Optima SX Turbo

The car above, the 2012 Kia Optima SX Turbo, has been getting excellent reviews. One writer called it “hands down the best looking mid-size sedan on the market today, and possibly of the past decade.” And then went on to praise its Saab-like cockpit, its performance, equipment, and base price of $25,995.

Fitted out with a nav package, fancy stereo, big sunroof, heated/cooled seats and so on, the cost was $30,840, a bargain compared to its Honda and Toyota competition. And it’s a lot better-looking.

The Optima SX Turbo has a turbocharged 4-cylinder, producing 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of “silky smooth” torque, tempting most reviewers to push it to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and thereby undercut its 22/34 mpg EPA ratings. Car and Driver likes it better than the Mazda6.

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Cars Coming Soon: Toyota FT-86, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ

October 27th, 2011
Scion FR-S concept

Scion FR-S Concept

Toyota is like an old man.

“Stodgy” might be a good word to describe the company’s driving dynamics lately. Yes, its rock-solid reliability reputation seems to be intact, but there’s not a lot of spunk left in the ol’ company. Its cars have gained weight. They don’t move very fast. There may be some bloat in certain places.

So what should an aging company do to reignite the feeling of youth?

Grab a bottle of wine, play some Jay Sean music and seduce a young, fun partner. That’s what Toyota did, essentially, with Subaru, and the result of the long courtship between the two is the Toyota FT-86/Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S triplets.

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Sharp Supercharged Lexus IS 350C at SEMA

October 26th, 2011

Lexus IS 350C

Some folks laugh at SEMA, the auto aftermarket show that opens next week in Las Vegas: the dopey cars with bolt-on wings, the girls with bolt-on bras (lots of photos here) and so forth.

But SEMA represents a vast industry of automotive specialty manufacturers and distributors that make and sell all kinds of accessory auto parts—performance and cosmetic—for every kind of vehicle.

Every once in a while, you see a car there that truly improves on what the factory has offered. Such is the Lexus IS 350C as modified by VIP Auto Salon. These guys seem to work on Lexus cars almost exclusively, and while most Lexi leave me cold, the 350C is beautifully executed, and VIP has left nothing untouched.

The standard 350C is far from a bad car, even though it doesn’t offer a manual gearbox and can’t really compete with the convertible offerings of Audi and BMW. Its 3.5-liter V6 outputs 306 hp and will do 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds, says LeftLane.

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Consumer Reports Reliability Study: Ford Down, Chrysler Up

October 26th, 2011

2011 Ford Explorer

Uh oh, Ford…

The new Explorer, Fiesta, and Focus all had below-average reliability in their first year. As a result, Ford’s overall reliability rank among 28 major car makes slipped from the 10th to the 20th spot this year—the biggest drop for any major nameplate in Consumer Reports 2011 Annual Auto Survey.

This news was circulated yesterday in an e-mailed press release and posted on the CR website later in the day. While many blogs and news sources are repeating the message that Ford’s reliability has gone down the drain, the truth is, it hasn’t. Most of the problems reported are technology-related and involve the MyTouch infotainment system, a distraction I don’t believe should even be in cars.

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Green Update: Chrysler and Nissan Commit to Impossible Green Goals

October 25th, 2011

A hybrid for this car?

The tougher U.S. fuel economy (CAFE) standards have forced some radical rethinking by two of the world’s largest auto companies.

They really have no other choice, as long as the government commits to the flawed idea of CAFE, with all its loopholes, contradictions and costs of enforcement.

The 54.5-mpg requirement for passenger cars by 2025 (really around 40 mpg per EPA window sticker) has forced Chrysler to start making and selling hybrids and diesels. In 2013, the Chrysler 300 (above) will have a hybrid version, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee will offer diesel. The Fiat 500 EV will be coming next year.

Last year, Chrysler trailed all 14 major carmakers with a 19.2-mpg average. Regarding CAFE, CEO Sergio Marchionne has said, “I have no other way of getting to 2025 numbers than by going to hybrids.” He is also hopeful that CNG infrastructure will take hold.

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Odometer Rollbacks: More Common Than We Think?

October 25th, 2011
Jeep odometer

Are odometer rollbacks a thing of the past?

I haven’t given much thought to odometer rollbacks since the mileage counters entered the digital era. I guess I just figured those computerized numbers couldn’t be changed, because there isn’t a physical number to “roll back.”

Silly, naive me.

A quick search online revealed all kinds of potential criminal rollback activity and even instructions on how to do it. Not only is that bad news for the scumbags who choose to break the law, but it’s even worse news for potential used car buyers. Is this a prevalent crime or just a blown-out-of-proportion worry that won’t go away?

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