Green Cars Versus Red Cars

Ethanol Powered Silverado

Of course you’ve noticed—how could you not?—the Great Fissure in the auto world: As some cars get heavier, more powerful, and more expensive, at the same time we seem to be growing a whole new crop of greener, more efficient vehicles (which, however, don’t seem to be that much cheaper).

We try to cover both green and—let’s call them red—cars on this blog, but it’s strange that they seem to be in some kind of gigantic tractor pull against each other. Which is to say their makers are trying to sell to two very different, even opposing, types of customers.

So, why do you think it’s so difficult to get health care reform passed in this country?

The same thing appears to be true with the Cash for Clunkers (CARS) program. The Feds found a rather expensive way to get a few gas hogs off the road, but it has so many things wrong with it, and so many unhappy participants, that the program is withering on the vine. It has become neither red nor green, but brown.

Dealers have to submit paperwork to the government to get reimbursed for each CARS sale, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 25 percent of dealer submissions get turned back because of dumb mistakes. Well, were car dealers ever good at filling out forms (except for the financing package)? Look at the list of reasons for rejection here, as the National Automobile Dealers Association reports that paperwork requirements are just too much for some of these guys. How about NADA sponsoring a GED program for them? The Transportation Department is trying to speed up Clunker payments to dealers; maybe that will help them focus.

On top of everything else, consumers are losing interest. Some say they’re buying Hummers and Cadillacs with their credits. Well, I kinda doubt that. Here’s a list of what they’re buying, and you’ll see that Ford makes four out of the top ten, including the top two. Not bad, and I see only two red trucks (and trucks are supposed to be red) on the list.

1. Ford Escape 2. Ford Focus 3. Jeep Patriot 4. Dodge Caliber 5. Ford F-150 6. Honda Civic 7. Chevrolet Silverado 8. Chevrolet Cobalt 9. Toyota Corolla 10. Ford Fusion

Maybe we’ll see Chrysler give over completely to the red-car concept and let Ford have its shot at the green (when they quit making Lincoln Navigators).

How long will it take for green to eliminate red in our crazy fissured auto world? Or do you think that will never happen?

—jgoods

Do These Kids Have the Alternative Fuel Problem Solved?

Lucas Laborde and his homemade EV, based off a Bradley GT II kit car. Photo from www.gas2.org

Lucas Laborde and his homemade EV, based off a Bradley GT II kit car. Photo from www.gas2.org

The folks over at gas2.org recently did a nice piece on six teenagers who have built their very own alternative-fuel vehicles. The vehicles run on electricity, solar power, soybeans… you get the idea.

Not long ago I would have hailed these achievements as incredible feats sure to embarrass the world’s automakers.

Now I realize that’s just silly.

Sure, the kids referenced in the story are ambitious young people I applaud for their passion, talent, and forward thinking. But converting your old pickup into an EV really isn’t anything new.

I did a little research on the topic and found this Web site dedicated to posting pictures of EVs that people have built over the years. There’s even a page here that answers some commonly asked questions about converting a car into an EV.

So creating an electric car that can go 40 miles on a charge isn’t that big of a deal. Creating one with an extended range, a quick recharge, reliable batteries, and a reasonable price is another story. Some MIT students have come close, succeeding on all but the low price side of the equation.

Makes me have a little more appreciation for the technology behind the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, assuming they make it to market as promised.

So will the kids of today ultimately solve the problem of alternative-fuel vehicles? They’re smart enough – just check out this guy, who at 18 has already converted two cars into EVs.

It’s kids like him who will solve the problem… just not while they’re kids. Let them experiment with EV technology, let them graduate from college, and wait for them to be hired by General Motors or Nissan. Once these brilliant kids are working for a company with the means to fund the research, I have no doubt they’ll be the ones who eventually break our oil habit.

We’ll just have to wait a little while longer.

I wouldn’t buy an electric vehicle that I couldn’t take on a cross-country road trip. Would you?

-tgriffith

C’mon, Guys, Bentley Used to Build Race Cars

2011 Bentley Mulsanne

Bentley reminded the audience of its racing heritage on Sunday when it revealed its latest Mulsanne to the world at Pebble Beach.

Sitting next to the covered Mulsanne was a piece of history: a 1930 Bentley 8-Liter, an almost impossibly enormous and thoroughly period vehicle that still somehow evokes the same design language—large round headlamps tight to the grille, a play on oval shapes—we recognize today as being uniquely Bentley.

Now, it seems, the company is content to build luxo-tanks for the very wealthy and those whose tastes incline to the ostentatious. Witness the Mulsanne, now the company’s top-of-the-line replacement for the Arnage (Bentley has always been good at crafting ultra-smart Euro-names; Mulsanne is the long straightaway at Le Mans).

Well, a lot of people seem to love this car, judging by the raves in the auto press today. Still, not all reactions have been favorable, including my own, as you may have gathered. Here’s a comment from Afaque on TopGear’s article:

Looks like the premiership rooney-esque chavs are having their influence on the Bentley. I love the original Bentley 8-litre for its raw brutalness. This is just a chavved up shiny blingy thing… Get rid of those shiny wheels, the shiny grills, the shiny side mirrors and the shiny paint and all the other shiny bits and then it might look a little more tasteful!

Well, my friend, it looks like the blingmeisters are in charge. They aren’t about to produce anything as elegant as the vintage ’50s Continental coupe (right), or even the 1985 Mulsanne (below right), which had a certain staid-but-perfect style about it. The new car’s headlights are simply the last word in the brutality of bling. Imagine facing down these searchlights on the M-6 at night. Blimey.

Please give us your thoughts on the Mulsanne’s looks. Yes, we know it’s a great car mechanically, but who buys such vehicles, and why?

—jgoods

Monterey 2009: Not Just the Classics

Aston Martin One-77

Aston Martin One-77

I have a certain appreciation for classic cars. But it’s the designs and technology of today that really get me excited.

The fact that the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance had its share of new-car debuts mixed in with the classics was great news for people like me. Even better were the kinds of cars that bowed down in California this weekend: A $500,000 American supercar, a Japanese sport sedan, an exclusive Spyder, and an all-new Bentley are among the favorites.

If you’re in the market for an ultra-exclusive supercar, you typically look to Europe and search the offerings from Italy, Britain, and Germany. But if you want to buy domestic, now you have a real option in the 2010 Devon GTX. This American-made work of art will cost you a half-million dollars, but provides a carbon-fiber body, an 8.4-liter V10 engine, and 650 hp. Get in line now, because only 36 will get built per year!

2010 Devon GTX

Even the Dutch came to play in California, as Spyker unveiled the C8 Aileron Spyder, a convertible masterpiece with an Audi 4.2-liter, 400-hp engine. Check it out:

Spyker C8 Aileron Spyder

Dropping down the exclusivity scale a few notches, Infiniti showed off its new M sedan, which thankfully took styling cues from the absolutely stunning Essence concept. While the “wow” factor of the Essence didn’t translate fully into the sedan, it still looks like the car can beat BMW and Mercedes, at least in the design department.

2011 Infiniti M

And then came Bentley… waiting until the last day of the concours to unveil the all-new Mulsanne. I know a lot of people out there love Bentley, but seriously, I still maintain that it’s the least-attractive member of the ultra-car club. While the headlight placement on the Mulsanne is a definite improvement, it still has a most unfortunate Chrysler-like grille. The rest of the car looks like a droopy hearse. If I were developing a TV show based around an ugly-but-likable car, I’d call it “Ugly Bentley.”

I'll pass, thanks

If I’m dropping enough money to buy a (really) nice house, I’m opting for something more along the lines of the Aston Martin One-77, pictured at the top of this story. Now THAT is classy!

Which of these cars would you want to grace your driveway?

-tgriffith

This Weekend: Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

1934 Packard V12 Coupe-Roadster

1934 Packard V12 Coupe-Roadster

It’s way too late to get a reservation now. So instead, we’re going to show you photos of some gorgeous cars and point you to websites that show even more, plus give you a sense of what you’re missing. Events began on Wednesday and will continue through this Sunday, August 16.

Pebble Beach is perhaps the world’s greatest outdoor classic-car show. It’s for certified old-car lovers, but puts all kinds of notable new and old vehicles on display. You can even see the 2011 Infiniti M, which has caused quite a stir, unveiled “virtually” in a live broadcast from the Concours. There will also be an auction, driving events, historic cars racing at Laguna Seca, tours of Pebble Beach and Carmel, and more events and attractions listed here.

Porsche is the featured marque this year. So you’ll see the Panamera and can join the complainers in discussing the just completed VW takeover of the historic sports-car firm.

Two major websites will give you most of the info: this one for the Concours and this one for Monterey. Even if you can’t get there, here are some photos that may tempt you to make the trip next year.

Best of Show 2008: 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C-2900B Touring Berlinetta

Lamborghini Reventon

Best of Show 2007: 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster

(I don't know what these are - do you?)

Have you ever entered (or thought of entering) a car in a concours? Tell us about it.

—jgoods

The Sports Cars We Want To See

acura-nsx

If you’re not into sports cars, you might as well stop reading.

In my mind, while certainly not practical, sports cars are the backbone of all things automotive. They represent the pinnacle of engineering and possibility; but like any other car, sports cars come and go. Here are some we wish would come and then just stay.

Acura NSX

Here’s a piece of trivia: Honda went to Italian design firm Pininfarina in 1984 to design the car that became the NSX. In 2005 the NSX was discontinued… then in 2008 hopes for a next-generation NSX were dashed when Honda cancelled its plans for the car. Now, there’s news again that Honda may create a lower priced NSX, which means it would probably fall out of supercar territory. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather never see a new NSX than see one with that awful Acura beak that’s going around these days. Bring it back right, or let it rest forever!

Continue reading >>>

World’s Most Powerful Hybrids: the X6 and 7 Series from BMW

2010_bmw_activehybrid_x6-sm

And the ugliest (X6). Well, the idea is to give the well-heeled, socially conscious hot shoes some bragging rights. “Look, Mary, if you don’t like it, you can take the Escalade. This car gets 8 mpg better than last year’s V8 model, even if it looks like a warthog.” I’m guessing the price (not yet announced) will be in the upper $80s, and folks who want to pay for this unique blend of performance, tech, and modest efficiency will be few and far between.

After all, the present X6 M, with all-wheel drive and 555 hp, uses the same twin-turbo V8, performs even better, and gets 17 mpg. I wonder how many of those have been sold.

The ActiveHybrids have so much new and complicated technology that the company saw fit to issue a 4,000-word press release on the X6 alone. We cut to the chase (per AutoSpies):

The X6 uses two electric motors which combined with the turbo V8 results in 480 total horsepower and a huge amount of torque, 575 lb-ft to be exact. The 7 series uses a simpler hybrid system that places a smaller 20 horsepower electric motor between the V8 and a new 8 speed automatic transmission.

Both cars can really step out, despite the fact that the X6 weighs over 5,300 pounds. Still, the 6 will hit 60 mph in 5.4 seconds (4.8 seconds for the 7 Series). The looks of the ActiveHybrid 7 Series remain similar to the present 750il, it appears.

Sales of the hybrid 7 Series will begin in Spring 2010; the U.S. version of the hybrid X6 will be available late this year. Both can be seen at the Frankfurt show in September. Look for long lines of interested nonbuyers.

Does all this heavy-duty technology appeal to you? Is moving 5,300 pounds around the test track fun?

—jgoods

Hyundai Equus Coming to the U.S., But Will It Sell?

Hyundai_equus

You know the how the old saying goes…

“When the economy’s in the tank, offer the big-ticket items.”

What? That’s not a saying? Oh. Someone might want to tell the Koreans that.

Hyundai will announce the U.S. arrival of its premium luxury sedan, the Equus, at this weekend’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The sedan will be sold in the U.S. beginning in late 2010.

While the Pebble Beach crowd might consider a pricetag just south of $60K a bargain, most of the rest of us still consider that a pretty hefty chunk o’ change. Conventional wisdom says unveiling an expensive new luxury car in a falling market is unwise, but then again Hyundai has no intentions of being conventional.

And maybe Hyundai can afford to take some risks, considering its sales have seen a boost, partially thanks to the infamous Cash for Clunkers plan. AutoObserver.com says:

The Hyundai group’s July sales – which includes the performance of Kia Motors America – actually were better compared with last year (a 16-percent jump) than with last month, over which sales improved 9 percent.

So why not take a chance and aim the Equus directly at the Lexus LS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and even the BMW 7 Series?

In typical Hyundai fashion, the intent is to undercut the price of those competitors while offering features that would be expected in all of them.

Expect rear-wheel drive, potent V8 power, and possible options like reclining rear seats with massagers and TV screens. Of course we’ll know more after the weekend, but I expect the Equus to be the final element in Hyundai’s transformation from being the butt of jokes in the early 1990s to a king of the auto world now.

That is, if people buy it. I can’t help but be reminded of Volkswagen’s experiment with the Phaeton… a terrific car that is still sold around the world, but tanked in the U.S. I still think a major reason for that failure was the giant VW logo on the trunk; very few people wanted to spend $70K on a Volkswagen.

Hyundai is smart not to plaster its name all over the Genesis or, presumably, the Equus. Who knows? Maybe this is all part of a plan to turn the Equus into an entire line of luxury cars. Toyota would have Lexus, Nissan would have Infiniti, and Hyundai could have Equus.

Of course that’s all just conjecture, but I sure wouldn’t want to spend $60K on a Hyundai Equus. Call it something like an Equus Genesis, though, give it a fancy new logo and hood ornament, and we’ve got a whole new ballgame.

Can Hyundai’s new luxury sedan succeed in the U.S.?

-tgriffith

Don’t Be a Dolt, Buy a Volt

chevrolet_volt_sm

Wait a minute, a car that gets 230 mpg in the city—as claimed by General Motors? Well, you’ve got to read the fine print, Jack, as the story has gotten played out all over the web, courtesy of GM’s press machine.

Is it too good to be true? The Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t verified the claim, as it hasn’t actually tested the Volt. And there’s debate about EPA’s testing procedures, its conclusions, and most of all, its methods for rating plug-in hybrids, or EVs. The agency is still working on the methodology, but there is much skepticism afoot. Check out the story and comments here on the Car Tech Blog, for example.

The Volt, as you may remember, has a 100-kilowatt electric motor, a lithium-ion battery to power it, and a 1.4-liter gasoline engine driving a generator to run the electric motor as the battery discharges. You plug in at night for a complete battery recharge at minimal cost. But—and it’s a big “but”—the car will cost at least $40,000, and you can buy a lot of $3.00 gas for the difference between that and a Prius’ cost. Someone calculated you would have to drive 113,000 miles to make up the price difference. And there are other factors.

Autopia mentioned some of these, quoting a former Tesla exec (no axe to grind here?) who talked about the difficulty in measuring “energy equivalents,” e.g., batteries, house current, power losses, gasoline—not to mention driving cycles. The Volt can run 40 miles before the engine kicks in, so if your commute is less than that, you’ve achieved infinite mpg, not counting use of other resources. Well, that is impressive.

The Tesla exec, Darryl Siry, says in his blog that GM’s 230-mpg claim

isn’t an “untruth”, as long as the main thing you are concerned about is the burning of gasoline as a resource, as opposed to the actual energy efficiency of the system. The problem is that this number will be broadly discussed as a comparison to other cars, particularly the Prius. People will improperly conclude that the Volt is about 5 times more efficient that [sic] the Prius, which simply isn’t true.

So why is GM making so much noise about its admittedly impressive but unverifiable estimate? Well, to co-opt the Prius, of course. And Siry is right when he says it’s also because of the increasingly demanding CAFÉ standards. GM will get a lot of mileage off their 230-mpg claim, even as it’s challenged.

Is the Volt’s claimed 230 mpg more GM marketing hype—or something to celebrate? Let us have your opinion.

—jgoods

Buicks and Old People, Part Two

Buick crash

Imagine: You’re working at your desk one morning in the office and suddenly get attacked by a Buick. How many times have we read that story? Some old fart hits the gas instead of the brake and roars into your space, like a predatory tank. Here’s another instance from Michigan, and somehow they always seem to involve Buicks.

The reason is that, as we all know, many old people drive Buicks, and they do so because they feel safe in them. With 4,000-plus pounds of steel wrapped around you, a person can barge in almost anywhere in full safety and comfort. Buicks have had the safety/comfort/older buyer segment locked up for as long as I can remember—and that’s a long time. They’re like Volvos used to be, only more so. Note how long it took Volvo to change its image.

Now Buick is making a misguided attempt to attract younger buyers, as my ol’ buddy tgriffith reported. There are three things wrong with his post. One, he endorses GM’s dumb strategy of sucking up to the “youth crowd,” when in fact the company should be actively pursuing the “elderly crowd,” both because they are already well-positioned there and because the elders/boomers are growing rapidly in numbers. GM will spend lots of our tax dollars in a futile effort to achieve this market shift.

Two, with the insolence of youth, he puts down Buick drivers as “old people with blue hair and a pair of knuckles poking up over the steering wheel.” Or “Florida retirees driving with their left turn signals flashing on the way to a 3 p.m. dinner at the buffet.” In my next post look for an image of a drunken 32-year-old, weaving down a major artery at 3:00 a.m. with music blaring as he talks on his cell phone. Hah-hah-hah.

Three, my blogging buddy seems to think that the giant-clam Enclave or the tiny Aveo or the MINI Crossman (yes, the MINI Crossman) may be a path to crossover success for Buick. Down this road madness lies: See point one, above.

The fact that old people are sometimes dangerous drivers is a problem everyone needs to face, and that’s the real issue behind all this Buick BS. There should be mandatory re-licensing for drivers age 70 and over in all states, not just in the relatively few that now require it. Some of these people are indeed a menace, and I’ll bet most of them know it. Get them off the road, and stop stereotyping old people.

Tell us your Buick story: Did your father have one? Did your mother crash one? Anything else?

—jgoods