Cars Coming Soon -> Power, Grace and Effenciency; Not All in One

Aston Martin V12 Vantage

Aston Martin V12 Vantage

Aston Martin is one of my favorite automakers, and the V12 Vantage is perhaps my favorite car it makes. Why? Because of this simple fact:

The V12 Vantage merges the brand’s biggest engine with its smallest car. The result? The best Aston ever. And now, contrary to prior announcements from Aston Martin, buyers in the U.S. will have a chance at one of the 1,000 or so that are produced. Seriously, is a 6.0-liter 510 hp V12 that does the 0-60 sprint in 4.2 seconds ever a bad idea? No. No it isn’t.

If $250,000 is a tad high for your wallet, here’s another exciting development that’ll cost a few bucks less: the Mazda2 is coming to the States.

Car and Driver reports that the popular and much-demanded small hatch will be sold across North America, including the U.S.A. Mazda North American Operations’ president and CEO, Jim O’Sullivan said the new Mazda will

be true to everything that makes our cars stand apart from the competition: it will be stylish, fun to drive, and a heck of a value. In short, it will be Zoom-Zoom.

Expect the smallest Mazda to go on sale sometime in late 2010.

And then there was Hyundai…

The redesigned 2010 Sonata will go on sale in the U.S. in early 2010 with all-new sheet metal, a revised interior and updated mechanics. I’m thinking it looks pretty dang sweet… even better than most of what Honda is producing these days.

Expect a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, possibly paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. I’d also put money on a V6 option being offered here.

When your lucky numbers come up, what exotic car will you buy?


Green Update–> The Future Is Not Now

Fisker Karma

So much is happening with green vehicles that, as we have said before, this report can only give you a partial view. Still, the big talk today is that the Feds (through DOE; press release here) gave Fisker $528 million in a low-interest loan to develop a next-generation plug-in hybrid (around $40K after tax credits, says Autoweek) and to continue development of the twice-as-expensive Karma (right). You won’t see the “family-oriented” plug-in, to be called Niña, until 2012. We wonder if Fisker—like Columbus’ ship, namesake of this new project—will still be in existence then.

Looking even further down the road, Volkswagen announced that its L1 Concept 1-liter hybrid TDI vehicle (in the works since 2002) would become available in 2013. This is really futuristic stuff: Called “the most fuel-efficient automobile in the world,” the super-light carbon-fiber and aluminum L1 is predicted to “achieve 189 mpg [some stories say 240 mpg] on the combined cycle while emitting just 39 g/km of CO2.” Driver and passenger sit in tandem, and the car uses a 7-speed transmission to reach 100 mph, fairly slowly. This from the company that brought us the Bugatti Veyron.

Frankfurt showed Kia’s new 2010 Sorento 1.7-liter turbodiesel hybrid, which impressed Evelyn Kanter, who noted that, once again, we won’t get this car in North America and it won’t get to Europe till 2013:

Like so many of the great new green cars I saw in Frankfurt, these are for Europe. Like the Lexus FL-Ch hybrid hatchback, sibling Toyota’s newest hybrid, the Auris, and all those good looking and efficient little Pugeot [Peugeot], Renault and Citroen cars.

That exclusion didn’t keep Ford from talking green at Frankfurt. It makes hybrids of course, like the Fusion and Escape and others for the world market, but the company stressed that present-day improvement in traditional technologies has also been its goal. So it touted its EcoBoost engines, which can provide 20 percent better fuel economy, and its C-Max car, coming in late 2011 after the new Focus debuts. C-Max a small 7-passenger minivan that tgriffith discussed here.

BMW, we learn, has 450 Mini E electric cars doing a year’s trial in metro New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles. To get its 240-volt rapid recharger certified in N.J. has been a nightmare of approval and compliance problems. Imagine what happens when and if the car, or any 240-volt car, goes national. The two-seater Mini E has a huge battery and is basically a test-bed for new technology and BMW’s commitment to electric car development.

GM ran an interesting webchat last week with its departing R&D head Larry Burns, a big proponent of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Among the provocative things Burns said:

The beauty of hydrogen is that it can come from a wide variety of sources. Natural gas is an excellent source to get started (As I mentioned earlier, large amounts of hydrogen from natural gas are already used in the production of gasoline.) Very importantly, any source of renewable energy—biomass, wind, solar, geothermal—can be used to make hydrogen cost competitively with gasoline at $2.50 to $3.50 per gallon equivalence.


I’ve seen a tendency for people to promote one solution over another. They seem to think the question is batteries vs. fuel cells. Or fuel cells vs. biofuels. I have become convinced we need all three. Like I said earlier, it’s “and” not “or.” Unfortunately, many of the players have a vested interest in a single solution. Therefore, they over-promote one and criticize the others.

The big question, I think, is when: When will these solutions (take your pick) start to become viable in numbers/applications that can support a real market? What are your thoughts? —jgoods

An Exciting New Buick Concept and Some Good News for GM Workers


Luxury is getting smaller.

General Motors is touting its new small premium Buick Avant concept on the new Lab website, where the Avant is described this way:

Ultimately, we wanted to create a dramatic expression of a new kind of Buick. We designed six exterior themes and four interior concepts as proposals. Each utilized some of the features we developed, and took the Buick aesthetic in a new direction.

This vehicle is intended to be a stunning object, something that fits into the consumer’s everyday life, yet elevates the everyday to a compelling experience.

Sounds OK, I guess, but what about features? Try these: Doors that can open traditionally or slide open for easy access in tight spots. A sliding luggage rack in the back that “presents luggage to you” rather than reaching to get it. Finally, there’s the micro pergola roof that allows it to either be transparent or not let any light through at all. Pretty sweet, I think.

In other GM news, the company is adding third shifts and increasing production in its Fairfax, KS, Lansing-Delta Township, MI and Ft Wayne, IN factories. In all, the move will add about 2,400 jobs while consolidating production of GM’s fullsize heavy duty pickups along with the Chevy Aveo, Malibu and Traverse.

Perhaps these are signs that General Motors is starting to right the once-sinking ship.

How’s that new Buick Avant concept looking to you?


Next Corvette to Have a Split Window!


I know there are a ton of Camaro fans clicking through the CarGurus pages lately, so this news should reach lots of happy readers:

According to the good folks over at Edmunds InsideLine, the C7 Corvette will feature that long-lost but much-loved design feature known as the split window. Pretty cool, huh?

Funny how the split window, which was featured only on the 1963 ‘Vette, has created such a loyal and fanatic following… vaulting the prices of ’63 Corvettes into the stratosphere.

Visibility on those vintage ’63s, though, was another issue, something that, in modern times, can be addressed with cameras and sensors. While those are no substitute for seeing with ones own eyes, they at least make the split window feasible, so I’m all for it!

What I’m not sure about are those monster modern-day tail-fin tunnels on the back. Hopefully those are toned down a little come production time… or maybe Chevy will just throw a jet engine into each one for a little extra thrust.

What do you think: Are you glad to see the return of the split window, or has the retro design trend finally gone too far?


Uh-Oh: Some GM Dealers Not Liking 60-Day Guarantee

Cadillac: Too good for a money-back guarantee?

Cadillac: Too good for a money-back guarantee?

Here’s a troubling sign:

Some GM dealers are opting out of GM’s just-launched 60-day money- back guarantee program.

According to 24/7 Wall St., 149 of GM’s 4,000 dealers are saying ‘no thanks’ to the program that allows customers to return their cars after 30 days of ownership. Reasons cited by those dealers are:

1. They dislike the new ad campaign promoting the 60-day promotion. The campaign TV commercials star new GM Chairman Ed Whitacre, former head of AT&T (T). Whitacre has no experience in the auto industry.

2. Dealers believe that they are running financial risks by taking cars back from customers. Whether this is true or not is hard to tell. Some dealers are worried that once they pay customers it may take time for them to get money from GM.

3. Higher end dealers, particularly those who sell Cadillacs, believe that the marketing program is a sign of desperation that cheapens the brand.

While only about four percent of dealers are opting out (so far), the fact that they are concerned is worthy of our attention. Perhaps those dealers don’t have the same confidence in their cars that corporate GM seems to have, and foresee too many returns.

The promotion is indeed a sign of desperation, but it’s also a sign of a corporate behemoth asking the American public for our trust back.  I for one am glad to see GM humbled  to the point of sticking up for itself and proving its worth, rather than assuming people will buy its cars no matter what.

GM will have to work hard to earn our trust and prove its products are competitive with other brands, but dealers have to be on board for the promotion to work. I hope the majority of dealers stand up behind the General and work just as hard to prove the cars they sell are worthy of our attention.

I say the American public, not GM dealers, should be the ones who decide if General Motors has told the truth this time around.

Should GM dealers opt out of GM’s money-back promotion?


Chrysler Game Plan Leaking Out

2010 Chrysler Town & Country

Product planning, brand managing, strategic positioning: all good, common buzzwords that are nonetheless significant indicators of how a firm moves its goods. Marketing words like these can say as much about the buyer as they do about the seller.

Chrysler has had a few months to get its marketing act together, and while still having a ways to go, its three brand heads put out some new ideas at Frankfurt yesterday.

They want to make the company’s three brands—Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep—quite distinct in function and appeal. Chrysler is going upmarket, “a notch above Lincoln, a notch above Cadillac,” says CEO Peter Fong (we link to The Truth About Cars’ story, since Automotive News, the actual source, is subscriber-only). Bringing off this radical move will be a production and marketing effort of major proportions. November should bring us more details.

At the same time, the company wants to reconfigure Dodge from a “brute force” spirit to one of driving dynamics. Said CEO Michael Accavitti,

Dodge will go from a middle linebacker to Lance Armstrong…. We will remain a sporty brand, with a lot of emphasis on the performance area, but also on better fuel economy, benefiting from the great technologies Fiat is bringing to us.

Jeep will remain Jeep, the C-men say, focusing more on fine-tuning than reinventing, keeping its relatively small segment alive.

The minivans, Chrysler’s constant bread-and-butter cars for years, will finally become more differentiated and distinct from one another. Until Fiat takes over, the minivan will have to carry the firm’s sales. In the mid-’90s, minivans had about 8.5 percent of the market, and Chrysler had 40 percent of that. Now the general market is 3 to 4 percent, but the Big C still maintains its share—and that’s what it’s subsisting on, or hopes to subsist on, for the next year and a half.

So they need to push minivan sales hard and maybe, just maybe, the market may be turning in their favor. GM and Ford are getting their offerings ready, crossovers and SUVs are expensive people-movers, and the international market is receptive. Chrysler recently increased minivan production at its Windsor plant, including diesel and right-hand-drive versions.

The company shows some grasp of how it needs to innovate, even in little things. It announced today that, instead of those big bulky owner’s manuals in the glove compartment that nobody reads, it’s putting out DVDs with all that info (plus a quick-start 80-pager for safety, lights, and emergency info). Smart.

Bottom line: Don’t count Chrysler out yet. They know that only innovation and creative marketing will keep them alive.

Is the minivan concept still viable? Give us your thoughts.


Volkswagen Could Take Stake in Suzuki by 2010

Suzuki Kizashi: Will we ever see a TDI version?

Suzuki Kizashi: Will we ever see a TDI version?

Just five days ago I wrote about Volkswagen’s desire to add two more brands to its growing lineup of companies after the Porsche deal is done. I took a guess that Suzuki might be of interest to them.

About the same time, though, Bloomberg was reporting that

Volkswagen has no interest in buying Suzuki Motor Corp., Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn said in an interview last night, calling the Japanese carmaker a “nice company.”

Nice company, indeed. Apparently, nice enough to buy. Check out what the Autoblog guys say:

Apparently, a Suzuki executive at the Frankfurt Motor Show mentioned that an agreement between the two automakers would be in place by the end of the year. “For Suzuki and VW this connection would be a win-win situation. Suzuki would have access to a variety of VW’s technology, while Volkswagen would have a solid supporting leg in India and Southeast Asia,” the unnamed source said.

Neither VW nor Suzuki are making any official statements, but a possible VW/Suzuki takeover could have a ton of possible ramifications. For instance:

Maybe VW would pull Suzuki from the U.S. market,  as some analysts have recommended doing, and then just rebadge Suzukis as V-dubs to charge a premium price and gain a better small-car presence here.  The quote above is evidence that the Suzuki brand would likely still exist to build VW’s Asian presence.

If I was leader of the growing German regime, that’s probably what I would do in my quest to dominate the auto world. And hey, I’ve been right before….

I wouldn’t mind seeing Volkswagen take a share of Suzuki. What do you think? If it happens, I want first dibs on a Kizashi TDI!


Shag Carpet for Your Car, But Not on the Floor

Covering the bald spot on your dashboard

Covering the bald spot on your dashboard

So I’m reading the paper this weekend and see an ad touting new accessories offered for the Nissan Cube. Wow.

The Cube is, in my opinion, the most homely of the box-shaped cars. Even the Honda Element looks sexier than the over-funked-out Cube. (If I had to choose the best looking of the bunch, my vote would go for the Kia Soul.)

In its apparent quest to create the weirdest car accessory ever offered by a manufacturer, Nissan now offers a toupee for your Cube’s dash – a round piece of shag carpeting that sits front and center that serves no purpose at all. The CarTech blog even said,

The dash-topping shag rug may serve as a conversation piece, as one Nissan spokesperson explained it, but there probably would be even more to talk about if the rug were able to grip the personal electronics that don’t really have a home, like cell phones, iPods, and those keyless keys that are still required for push-button ignition.

So, we have an accessory that looks idiotic and doesn’t even do anything. Sweet.

I also started noticing that it’s cars like the Soul, Cube, and Scion xB that offer a huge array of accessories, ranging from headlight eyeliner for your Soul to 20-color LED mood lighting for your Cube.

We’ve already covered the absolute worst aftermarket mods people make to their cars… now tell us what you think of accessories that are coming straight from the manufacturers. Cube owner or not, would you buy shag carpeting for your dash?


Porsche Fans: Watch These!

You know, most car commercials are pretty predictable, not to say boring. So I found it kind of interesting that Porsche recently released some great footage of how a Panamera commercial was made. Particularly since the last Panamera commercial I saw was really blah. But the cars and the closeups in the videos below are fascinating.

According to,

The shoot used 16 cars from Jerry Seinfeld’s collection and another 15 more from the likes of Roger Penske, Brumos, Mat Drendel and others. While the commercial was filmed at a former Marine Air Base in El Toro, California, it will be altered to look [like] the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Now the cars are running, some 50 of them. I have to say the Panamera looks like it came from a different universe.

As a footnote, we should add that Avis locations throughout Germany are going to make the Panamera available for rental beginning October 1. Autoblog opines that the rates are “a surprisingly reasonable €189 per day from Monday to Thursday. If, on the other hand, you plan to hit the autobahn for a weekend getaway, the tariff goes up to a more Porsche typical €567.”

Wow, what a bargain: $835 a day to drive this machine. Pick up your phone and call Avis today! Would you do it if you had the bread?


Girls of the Frankfurt Auto Show

Most of the models on display at an important international car show are concepts showcasing the technology and design of tomorrow.

But sometimes we just need to stop for a moment and appreciate the other kind of model often draped around the cars we love so much. Auto Show Girls are as much staples of a good auto show as the cars themselves.

Here’s a taste of the women who have graced the floor of Frankfurt so far:

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You’re welcome. Happy Friday and have a great weekend! Who’s your favorite?