Aston Martin to Rebadge the Toyota iQ

Aston Martin's Cygnet concept, based on the Toyota iQ

Aston Martin's Cygnet concept, based on the Toyota iQ

Apparently, a lot of people think the Toyota iQ is a good idea.

Our original post on the minuscule Toyota questioned whether or not the car made sense for the United States, especially with gas prices well below the $4-per-gallon mark.

I remain skeptical, even though a lot of great comments made valid arguments. If one thing can change my mind, though, it’s Aston Martin.

Toyota iQ

The elite car maker is taking the tiny iQ and giving it a new super-luxo skin, complete with a new grill, headlights, trademark side vents, leather interior, and an all-new name: the Cygnet. Go ahead and laugh if you want – I did when I heard Rolls-Royce was decking out a set of MINI Coopers – but Aston Martin’s reworking of the iQ looks like it’s going to work.

At first, the Cygnet will be offered only to existing Aston Martin customers at a price of about $33,000. Only time will tell if they’ll make them available to the public. The iQ, though, should make it to the U.S. as a Scion in late 2010, as a 2011 model.

I still think the iQ and Cygnet are just too small for the United States, but this comment from reader Jerry Zabin and others like it are pretty convincing:

I just returned from Berlin and I saw the Toyota IQ up close. LOVE IT!!! If this car becomes available in the U.S., I am a definite buyer! Gas prices continue to rise and this car would fit the bill. With US carmakers in peril, it is no wonder…the day of the gas guzzler has passed! In Berlin, gas is nearly $5.25/gallon and you rarely see large cars on the road. Let’s get with it America….conservation is no longer optional, it is necessary. The Toyota IQ fits the bill!

If you’re like me, you’ll take Aston Martin’s endorsement of the iQ to heart. Maybe there’s something to this small-car thing after all.

Will a $33,000 rebadged Toyota hurt Aston Martin’s credibility?


What!?! GM to Save 1,200 Jobs?

If GM can deliver the Chevy Cruze, it might have a chance

If GM can deliver the Chevy Cruze, it might have a chance

I can’t remember the last time there was news about General Motors saving jobs and injecting life into a sleepy Michigan township.

We’re all used to stories of GM plants being shuttered and workers fretting about unemployment. Heck, one of GM’s plants is being overtaken by an upstart American car company!

According to The Detroit News, General Motors will invest $800 million to convert its Orion Township Plant, which currently produces the Pontiac G6 and Chevy Malibu, to produce cars more on the scale of the Chevy Aveo and Chevy Cruze.

Fiat to Sell Four Versions of the 500 in U.S.

Fiat 500 Abarth

Fiat 500 Abarth

It’ll be a crazy day when there are more Fiats on the road in America than Chryslers.

It could happen, too, because the Chrysler/Fiat merger isn’t just bringing one Fiat 500 to the States – it’s bringing at least four: hatchback, convertible, station wagon, and sporty hatchback.

Perhaps the best news for Fiat fanatics is the “sporty hatchback,” which will be the famous Abarth version that won Europe’s 2008 Car of the Year Award.

Alfa Romeo Kamal concept

The station wagon could be based on the sexy Alfa Romeo Kamal concept, which should help Americans shed the wagon stigma of the ’70s. I don’t care what logo ends up on the front of this baby – I’d drive it all day long.

Come 2011, get ready to see fleets of Fiats cruising your city. I’m going to predict right now that these cars will hardly get to know dealers’ lots before flying off them and into garages across the country. The other side of that, unfortunately, is sure to be premium prices without a lot of negotiation room, which is something Chrysler salesmen aren’t used to. I think they’ll adapt pretty quickly, though!

In addition to the four Fiat 500 versions already slated to arrive, there could be a fifth: a micro SUV. Hey, if MINI can do it, why not?

I’m genuinely excited to see Chrysler shack up with Fiat; these are products much more relevant to the U.S. market than losers like the Sebring. In early 2011, you can count on me stepping foot inside a Chrysler dealership for the first time in years and taking a test drive.

Will you try out a new Fiat when they arrive at Chrysler dealerships in 2011?


GM Looks in the Face of Liability and Laughs


On this Monday morning, I want to open the week with a quote from a favorite movie:

A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.

That’s from Fight Club and is pretty accurate, considering the state of auto companies today. If it’s cheaper for a company to just pay off people hurt by its products, why issue a recall and face potentially damaging PR? Those liability payments are costs car companies have to count on.

Unless of course you’re the “new GM.”

As part of GM’s bankruptcy filing, it’s possible it will no longer be liable for injuries or deaths caused by vehicles built by the “old GM.”  Our friends at Autoblog reported that GM may be reconsidering, but Chrysler set a precedent earlier this month when they emerged from bankruptcy free from such liabilities.

So if you’re driving around in an ’06 Cherokee or a ’94 Lumina, and it suddenly bursts into flames, the folks at Chrysler can just let out a sigh of relief knowing the third-degree burns their vehicle gave you are not their responsibility. Awesome, huh?

News like this doesn’t exactly instill the kind of trust GM and Chrysler so desperately need. Why are we supposed to believe that the “new” GM will be run any differently than the old, considering most of the top execs are still in place? At least Chrysler has the advantage of an all-new CEO and top management team.

I don’t think the world’s auto buyers will just forgive and forget a century of mediocre vehicles and start buying cars from a post-bankruptcy Chrysler or GM. Especially if they keep showing signs of continuing in their old ways, only with a brand new set of government-issued credit cards.

A company can’t hide in the shroud of bankruptcy and keep screwing its customers. Eventually we’re going to catch on.

Would you buy a pre-owned GM or Chrysler if you knew the company wouldn’t assume liability if it malfunctioned?


Good American Cars, Unloved and Unbought

2009 Mercury Sable

Here are some thoughts occasioned by tgriffith’s post on “buying American” and an interesting piece by Keith Naughton (Bloomberg) on some J.D. Power research supporting the idea that car buyers still want products from Japanese brands, not GM or Ford.

The Mercury Sable (You thought it was gone, didn’t you? Nah, it’s just a rebadged ’08 Taurus, née Ford 500) got top marks in quality in the latest Power surveys, and GM cars—the Chevy Impala and Malibu, Pontiac G6, and Cadillac CTS—rank well up there. But U.S. buyers still perceive Toyota and Honda to hold the edge on quality: “Imports held 69 percent of the U.S. car market through May, 4 points more than a year earlier.”

Well, did you think people were going to forget overnight those 25 years of declining quality, product irrelevance, marketing indifference, and management arrogance?

Of course not. The Big Three trained their customers well in diminishing expectations. Now with their reputations and balance sheets shot, the companies have to stop talking and start producing cars that are better than their Japanese, German, and Italian competitors. This will likely take years.

Here are a few things I think need to happen for them to succeed:

American cars are still mostly ugly and overweight. Look at the new Taurus and tell me you think it’s beautiful—at over two tons. Put some emotion and style into these products—it’s the only way to distinguish them. Our cars have no imagination or passion in them. That’s what’s wrong with the Impala. Credibility and good will on the part of some patriots may help seed the market. But professional/technical people are mostly very turned off with Detroit. “Buy American” makes absolutely no sense today. There is no “American,” as tgriffith showed. The global marketplace has been part of the car industry for years, and people must learn to accept that. Not only will great products be required, but the Big Three needs some real marketing genius to change attitudes and make it cool to buy American—that is, American-owned firms that produce cars with a unique style and quality—again. Toyota got fat; now they’ve put the grandson, Akio Toyoda, in charge to do a makeover. The great principles of lean production that Toyota brought to the world were overlooked in the company’s zeal to follow the U.S. market. Of all the models to follow, GM was the worst they could have chosen. All the big companies are going to have to produce smaller, greener vehicles, which means much lower earnings. They will have to find their profits in production and merchandising efficiencies. There is no other way.

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? How many years will it take before you buy your next “American” car?


Michael Jackson’s Curious Car Collection

The interior of Michael Jackson's 1999 Rolls Royce Silver Seraph

The interior of Michael Jackson's 1999 Rolls Royce Silver Seraph

As those of you who’ve seen “The best car songs… ever!” know, we at CarGurus are music fans as well as car fans. And while Michael Jackson got awfully strange and maybe a little criminal toward the end of his life, I love some of his music, and I think it’s a shame he so clearly never learned how to truly grow up despite – or perhaps because of – his absolutely massive success.

Maybe Jackson’s desire to live his whole life as a child explains why his car collection consisted mostly of vehicles that allowed him to bask in over-the-top luxury in the rear while someone else drove. Auto Trader UK assembled a slide show featuring some of Jackson’s cars in an article on a planned-but-canceled auction of Jackson items in February, including a 1999 Rolls Royce Silver Seraph limousine for which Jackson designed the interior himself, using lots of 24-karat gold.

Sadly, that limousine and a 1997 Neoplan Touring Coach (which doesn’t appear until near the end of the slide show) are the only really interesting vehicles in the bunch, and they are interesting mostly because they’re so over-the-top gaudy and gold (including the fixtures on the bidet in the tour-bus’s bathroom). No Ferraris or rare muscle cars, no hot rods, not even a well-preserved classic from the year of his birth – Jackson had the money, at least in the ’80s, to assemble a fleet of cool cars that would rival Jay Leno’s. But no, he built a 2,700-acre amusement park instead.

Based on the segment from Jackson’s film “Moonwalker” called “Smooth Criminal,” though, he did at least appreciate the futuristic looks of the Lancia Stratos – he morphs into a 1970 prototype version to escape Mr. Big and his cronies in the video. Of course, Michael probably didn’t handle the driving for that scene, and maybe one of his collaborators selected that car to feature. According to Wikipedia, that car now sits in a private showroom for Bertone, who did the exterior styling, in Italy. But surely Michael could have found – and afforded – one of the other 500 or so versions of the Stratus. Why didn’t he?

I guess the King of Pop and I don’t have too much in common. I wear two gloves at a time, I’ve never had and don’t want a pet monkey, I wouldn’t hang my child out a hotel window, and I don’t moonwalk at all well. But if I had enough money to start assembling a collection of cars, you can bet I’d have some beautiful Italian cars, some American muscle, and I’d drive those babies myself.

Thanks for sharing your enormous talent with the world, Michael, and may you find more peace in the afterlife than you did in this world.

If you had enough money to buy any single car on the planet to begin your car collection – we’re not looking for daily drivers here – which car would you select, and why?


2012: The End of the Automotive World?


The Mayans predicted the world would come to an end in 2012.

Maybe they were right, as this news from analyst Grant Thornton LLP could signal the end of times:

Foreign automakers will build more cars on U.S. soil than the Detroit 3… by 2012.

Epic, isn’t it?

The analysts predict by 2012 the Detroit 3 (I’ve retired my use of the “Big 3” term) will produce 7.5 million vehicles, compared to an estimated 8 million produced domestically by the likes of BMW, Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai. Most of those 8 million “foreign” cars will be built with non-union U.S. labor, which is enough reason for me to buy my “American” Toyota and be proud of it.

More good news: U.S. automakers should return to profitability by 2012, even if they reduce production by 35 percent from 2008 numbers. The bad news is for the suppliers, who will have to adapt to these changes in order to survive. I think many won’t.

The whole landscape of what “Made in the USA” means is changing. Does this mean the world is ending? Hardly.

More like a whole new one is beginning.

Are you bothered by the news that foreign automakers will, by 2012, build more vehicles in the U.S. than the Detroit 3?


For Sale: 1950 Chevy Club Coupe, 437 Original Miles

The 1950 Chevy Club Coupe

The 1950 Chevy Club Coupe

I thought I got lucky when I  found a 2004 used car with only 28,000 miles on it, but my find pales in comparison to Mark Young’s.

According to this story by Jeff Jardine at the Modesto Bee, Mr. Young, who is with The Chevy Connection in Portland, Ore., acquired a 1950 Chevy Club Coupe last year with only 437 original miles on the odometer.

Yup. 437 miles in 59 years.

It seems anytime a story surfaces in which an old car has extremely low miles, a little old lady is involved. This story holds to tradition: It seems the original owner bought the car new in 1950 and shortly afterward had a heart attack after trying to rescue a woman who had fallen out of a boat into a river. (No word on whatever happened to that woman!)

The original owner’s widow then did what is necessary to create an automotive treasure: She drove the car back to her husband’s plumbing business and then didn’t touch it for the next 30 years.

After that, she traded the car in at a local dealership, whose owner smartly parked the car for another 20 years. Now the Chevy is in the hands of Mr. Young, who will put the car up for sale at a Barrett-Jackson auction in Arizona.

I always love stories like this and think Mr. Jardine at the Bee did a great job tracking down and reporting this one.

While I’m still proud of my ’04 find with 28,000 miles, I know there are a ton more stories like this, with old Chevys just waiting to astound car fans everywhere.

Even if you don’t have a 59-year-old car with 437 miles, I’m sure you have fond memories of old cars… and we’d love to hear them!


On the Road Again

ICARE Motorcycle

Hola, compadres! I’m making a short two-week visit to Mexico, once again to resolve the drug crisis, this time driving the vehicle pictured, which is guaranteed to spook any of them cowardly killers. That’s right, a gringo in his 70s, wearing white hair and black huaraches, bent over and urging this beast forward into the night of the iguana.

You’ll notice that this bike (or whatever it is) carries the name “ICARE,” which says it all. Info is available here.

You’ll get occasional progress reports on conditions south of the border, so stay tuned. Hasta la vista, baby!


2010 North American Car of the Year Candidates Announced

2010 Kia Forte: a potential winner!

2010 Kia Forte: a potential winner!

I love Car of the Year awards. I love analyzing the candidates and then picking on the winners.

Earlier this week we shared the candidates for the 2010 European Car of the Year Award, which revealed a little gem I hadn’t heard of before called the Skoda Yeti. I hope it wins!

On our side of the Atlantic, I’m excited to read through the candidates for the 2010 North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. The list is proof that the line between cars and trucks is blurring, because the Subaru Outback is in the truck category. Hmmm.

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