Prediction: Escalade Sales Will Zoom After Tiger’s Misadventure

2009 Escalade

I mean the guy crashed into a fire hydrant and tree to the tune of an estimated $8,000 damage and emerged scratched, bruised, and semi-conscious after his wife allegedly tried to whack him with a golf club. But he was protected by his car. And he didn’t have to call OnStar! It may well be that this debacle sells more cars for GM than all of Tiger’s ads for Buick did.

For all the nasty things tgriffith and I have said about it, the Escalade holds up well in a crash, though repairs will be costly. Pictures of Tiger’s car are here. For a vehicle that can price out at over $75 grand, you would expect some protection. The fact is that people who buy this 6,000-pounder tend to love it, as our reviews show. One called it the “best family car ever made,” even if your family, like Tiger’s, is apparently under stress.

The Escalade typifies the excess that many people with money expect and want in a car: power, luxury (of a sort), heft, and appearance. I don’t see that segment of the market changing any time soon, even though sales of the hybrid version seem to be picking up. Tiger’s crash will give the car even more status with this group and can’t help but boost sales. After all, the titillating elements of the story and the fact that police are still seeking a warrant will keep the spotlight on the Escalade—at least for a few more days.

Do you think Escalade sales will escalate in the next weeks? Will Tiger’s debacle be the main factor?


Chevy Reveals 2011 Cruze Ahead of LA Auto Show

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

I’m hoping the pictures just don’t do it justice.

The official images of the 2011 Cruze released by Chevrolet don’t look all that earth-shattering to me. But then again, it’s not the looks that Chevy needed to work on when designing the replacement for the Cobalt. It’s the less-than-stellar refinement, interior quality and driving responsiveness that needed major doses of awesome.

That’s exactly what Chevy promises to deliver with the Cruze. According to GM’s press release:

Cruze’s bold design cues and attention to detail carry over to the interior, where a Corvette-inspired twin-cockpit motif is matched with high-quality materials and exceptional assembly tolerances. Grained, soft-touch components and low-gloss trim panels exude a quality that is uncommon in the segment.

The Cruze's 'Vette inspired interior

That sounds pretty good. Pair that new level of interior quality with a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (or a 1.8-liter normally aspirated four) and the Cruze, which is based on the same platform as the Chevy Volt, should deliver at least a little driving fun while returning up to 40 mpg on the highway.

The Cruze, which has been available overseas for nearly a year, officially debuts in North American form at this week’s LA Auto Show.

The show will be ripe with exciting debuts, including the world debuts of the latest (and possibly last) Dodge Viper, the Cadillac CTS Coupe and the Porsche Boxster Spyder.

North American debuts will include the new Buick Regal, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sorento and Volvo C30.

Los Angeles will also host some sweet exotics, in the form of the North American debut of the Audi R8 Spyder 5.2 FSI, Lexus LF-A, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Porsche 911 GT3 RS and the Rolls-Royce Ghost.

I’m hoping this show signals the return of some swagger to the U.S. car show circuit, which limped through the second half of 2008 and 2009. Considering even the Chevy Cobalt replacement is showing promise, I think the odds of a grand slam show are good. Stay tuned for photos and highlights!

How does the new Chevy Cruze look to you? Anything else from LA look promising?


Get a Cool Toy Camaro, Help a Charity and Have a Free Pizza

Papa Johns Camaro

I think weekend nights were invented purely for the consumption of pizza. Ordering in a made-to-order pie is the perfect way to enjoy a lazy evening.

So last night, as I was browsing the inventory at Papa John’s, I was delighted to see a die-cast replica of founder John Schnatter’s 1971 Camaro Z28. Schnatter sold the car back in the ’80s to raise money for his business. Earlier this year he paid about $250,000 to get his car back, then celebrated by giving out free pizza to other Camaro owners.

The toy car is being sold through Papa John’s. I wouldn’t mention it if Schnatter was pocketing all the cash to pay himself back the quarter million, but he’s donating one dollar from each $4.99 sale to the Marine’s Toys For Tots program. And each car comes with a coupon for a free medium cheese pizza.

Schnatter is obviously a man who loves cars and pizza, and by donating 5,000 of the toy Camaros directly to Toys For Tots, he also likes helping children at the holidays. Sounds like a class act to me.

All in all, it seems like a great way to kick off the holiday season, provide some hope to children who need it and enjoy some hot pizza at home with family and friends.

If you know of any other car-related ways of helping out a charity, drop us a comment!


Toyota Embarrassed, Still

Toyota Quality Alliance, 2008

As if they didn’t have enough troubles with the gas pedals, Toyota now is recalling 110,000 2000-2003 Tundra trucks for rust problems. The rear cross-member that supports the spare tire could fail, dropping the tire onto the road, which would be embarrassing to say the least.

Further embarrassment, and possibly death, could result from unintended acceleration if the gas pedal in some 4 million vehicles jams, either because of the floor mat or the pedal’s design. You have undoubtedly heard about this, the largest recall in U.S. history, and the company has been taken to task about its prior response. Now, Toyota declares it

will install a brake override system on the involved Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350, IS 350 and IS 250 models “as an extra measure of confidence.” The system will shut off engine power if drivers press the accelerator pedal and brake pedal simultaneously.

This will not only cost the company many millions but blemish its reputation as Quality King of the auto industry. Adding to the problem is the report today that 8,700 Toyota managers will have their bonuses cut by 20 percent (18 percent for union workers). This comes not just to defray the cost of the recalls but because of the declining dollar and slow sales—a 68 percent drop is forecast for this year.

For the world’s now-second-largest auto company, this is more than an embarrassment.

Will these developments encourage you to buy Toyota—or keep you away?


Cars Coming Soon->From Kia to Bentley, Lots of Luxury to Be Thankful For!

2011 BMW 5 Series

2011 BMW 5 Series

Happy Thanksgiving!

While most people in the U.S. are huddled around dining room tables lit by the soft glow of candles and warmed by freshly baked apple pie, there are still a few of us car freaks who are hungry for nourishment of a different kind.

We prefer our stuffing to be wrapped in supple leather rather than stuffed inside poultry. We prefer to be lured by the fresh scent of luxury rather than a browned turkey. We’d rather be hypnotized into a state of delusion by the exhaust note of an Aston Martin than the exhaust note of a sleeping Uncle Larry.

And that, my friends, is why we bring you this special Thanksgiving edition of Cars Coming Soon.

First, for those of you who want a Bentley but also want to hold onto your half-million dollars, you may soon have something to be thankful for. The elite carmaker is considering a double whammy of economical fun: a potential performance-oriented shooting brake model and an SUV. Actually, it would be more of a crossover. Think along the lines of a $130,000 Audi Allroad. Engine choices for both models could include a diesel and a 4.5-liter Audi V8 pumping out 550 horses.

For a healthy dose of luxury and power, but without quite as hefty an entry price, the new 2011 BMW 5 Series has officially debuted. It’s built on the same platform as the 7 Series and even the Rolls Royce Ghost, so this one could be called a bit of a bargain, as it certainly can be had for well under $100K. Factor in a 400-hp twin-turbocharged, direct-injected reverse-flow V8 on the 550i and a 300-hp turbocharged inline six in the 535i, and you’ve got yourself a nearly perfect automobile. Then there’s the lure of a possible M version, a diesel, and a hybrid…. Who wants seconds!?

The Kia Amanti is a car that never got much love. The expectations for a replacement are pretty high, considering the greatness Hyundai has been pumping out in the form of the Genesis and Equus. So what does Kia have in store for those of us who crave cheap luxury? It’s called the Kia Cadenza, and it will debut at next month’s Riyadh Motor Show in Saudi Arabia.

Hyoung-Keun Lee, president of Kia Motors Corporation said,

With the Cadenza, we have created an all-new, large sedan that will revitalize Kia’s fortunes thanks to its exciting appearance, strong performance and luxurious cabin which will guarantee a much broader consumer appeal, attracting thousands of new customers to our brand.

We’ll see if he’s right, but a 285-hp V6 combined with slick looks and sure value are pretty strong indicators that Kia will soon have another vehicle they can be very thankful for.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving.


Koenigsegg Leaves Egg on GM’s Face

Saab Emblem

In a big setback for General Motors, Swedish sports-car maker Koenigsegg yesterday backed out of its deal to take over Saab. The problem it cited was “the time factor,” that is, the deal kept dragging on (over six months and counting), but Koenigsegg would point no fingers as to responsibility.

GM said it was going to reassess the situation and would advise next week. The thinking in most of the car press is that it will finally pull the plug on Saab, unless—and it’s a big “unless”—a buyer in China or India can be found. The Chinese firm BAIC, which was prepared to take a stake in Koenigsegg, said it would also “cautiously evaluate” the situation (whatever that means).

Unfortunately, this seems like a replay of the Penske back-down with respect to Saturn less than two months ago. When Roger P. couldn’t find a Saturn supplier in Renault, his plans rapidly went south. Then GM abruptly reneged on an almost-final deal to sell Opel. Now, there seems no chance that Koenigsegg will reconsider. One month ago, we wrote about that company’s ambitious plans to reorganize Saab and take it upmarket. At this point, one must conclude that there’s simply no market to take it up to.

The Swedes are putting a good face on it, but they are in a tough position, according to Edmunds’ Michelle Krebs (quoted in a CNN story):

Losing the deal could cost GM additional cash to shut down dealerships and manufacturing facilities in Sweden if it is unable to find another buyer. “This might not get much notice here, but they’ll notice in Sweden,” she said. “The big question is what will the Swedish government do now, whether they’ll allow the plants there to shut down.”

Celebrating the 100,000th Saab 96 in 1963

There’s also the small matter of GM’s $912 million write-down this year on Saab. Over ten years, GM paid out some $725 million to buy the company. Now, money promised from the European Investment Bank ($600 million) on the Koenigsegg deal is also out the window. Saab has 4,500 workers, most in Sweden, whose jobs are plainly in jeopardy.

Financially, it’s a sad story. Emotionally, it’s hard to see a great car company die.

Can a white knight be found to rescue Saab? Let us have your thoughts.


Thirty Percent of Eligible GM Buyers Return Cars


What’s the bigger news here: Arnold Schwarzenegger parking illegally, or 30 percent of GM’s 60-day money-back guarantee customers returning their cars?

Well, it seems like the Web loves a good Governator controversy. TMZ posted photos, the one here included, of the Governor getting into his Porsche 911 that was parked in a red zone. That’s a $90 ticket for civilians, but it looks like the big man got off free of charge. That story, at last count, had generated 88 heated comments, many of which pointed out that Arnold’s car also is missing the required front license plate.

I tend to think that if you’re a governor, you should get perks that include free parking wherever you want. But whatever.

The bigger news, I think, is a story published over at Leftlane saying about 30 percent of GM buyers are returning their cars under the 60-day money-back guarantee program. The last time we checked on the stats, only one buyer had made a return.

Now, we need to clarify some numbers here. Since GM launched the guarantee program, the company has sold about 220,000 vehicles. However, only 653 buyers have accepted the guarantee (the others took an additional $500 off the sales price). Of those 653 people, 193 have returned their cars for a refund. So really, GM is dealing with a very small fraction of returned cars while gaining public trust just by offering the guarantee. That seems like smart marketing and money well spent to me!

Also, GM is using the opportunity to have execs personally call each person who returned a car to ask for feedback. To me, such actions are evidence that GM really cares about improving its quality and building world-class vehicles.

Now, if GM really wants to succeed, it’ll sign Schwarzenegger to an endorsement deal and require him to park his all-new Chevy Malibu only in clearly marked spaces.

So what’s the bigger news: Schwarzenegger’s parking skills or GM cars getting returned?


Green Update–>Quiet Cars, 1 Series Hybrid, Benz Bash, GM, and AMP

BMW 1 Series Hybrid

Before we get into the techy stuff, a report from Japan claims that hybrids and electrics are too quiet, so the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is considering whether to put beepers on the cars to keep pedestrians safe.

The policy would require that when vehicles are running at speeds less than 20 kilometers per hour that they activate a beeping noise that is similar to the sound of the engine. The policy would not allow the sound to be musical or a chime and would permit the driver to temporarily disable the beeping sound.

Too bad, we were hoping for musical chimes, filling the streets of Tokyo with irritating car music. BTW, how can a beeping noise sound like an engine? Only in Japan.

A new BMW 1 Series hybrid (above) is now testing in Germany. The gas-engine version has been around for a while, and the hybrid (so far) looks the same: like a car out of the 1930s. Details here. The company is going whole hog, if you will, on hybrids, with the ActiveHybrid X6 and the 7 Series, both of which we looked at. BMW is not likely, we imagine, to produce the car in this form, and it won’t come to the U.S. until 2011 or 2012 in any case. So there is still hope.

Mercedes will show the F-cell hydrogen electric at the L.A. Auto Show on December 4. Built on the B-Class platform, this is an entirely new car for Benz, with zero emissions of course, and very little prospect of being widely available anytime soon. However, there will be 200 production F-Cell cars in the U.S. and Europe made available to lease customers for “real-life testing.”

Benz has had the S400 Hybrid for sale in the U.S. for a while now, and you know how we feel about overpriced, overweight cars like this. But this news just in from Autoweek has laid us out. They reported on an event in Manhattan called Eco-luxe whose purpose was to bring journalists to a fancy restaurant to consort with green marketers selling everything from “quintuple-filtered vodka made in low-landfill facilities to carcinogen-free water bottles…. Guests who wanted test drives held off on cocktails before sampling the rides,” thank God, which included the S400 Hybrid.

GM, it appears, has not given up on using the so-called two-mode hybrid system, which it developed with Mercedes and Chrysler in 2004. This technology combines “an electric continuously variable transmission (eCVT) with two electric motors, four fixed gears, various clutches and planetary gearsets, heavy-duty electronics, and originally, a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack.” The Volt, as you know, will use lithium-ion batteries, but this complex system was developed for trucks, buses, and heavy-duty applications in which it works well. One wonders what kind of vehicles GM envisions for it in the future.

Finally, AMP=D showed a marvelous ’33 Ford electrified hotrod coupe at SEMA 2009, demonstrating that the good ol’ hotrod spirit is alive and well. The crew took a high-torque (660-lb-ft) motor designed for a bus, dropped it into this well-executed fiberglass ’33, and they project 0-60 mph in 3 seconds. Its range is 100 miles. Have a nice day.

Should hybrids and electrics require noisemakers? Are pedestrians in danger? Why or why not?


Driving Through the Worst Floods in 800 Years

Flooded Irish road

Take a good look at this picture.

That, my friends, is a road in Ireland that I was supposed to drive on to get to my next hotel. Needless to say, I had to change my plans. I had already driven through one lake that I shouldn’t have and wasn’t about to get washed away by attempting to drive across this. Especially in my rented Chevy Kalos.

I got back from a trip to flooded Ireland just yesterday. One of the most exciting parts of planning the trip was deciding what car I wanted to rent. I ended up requesting a Fiat, wanting to drive a cool European car that isn’t (yet) available in the United States. I would have been equally happy with a Peugeot 207 or Citroen C3.

Maybe if I had rented a Land Rover or Hummer, the floods wouldn’t have forced my change of plans. But I was stuck with the little Chevrolet.

Chevy Kalos

The Kalos is  really an Aveo. Which is a Pontiac G3. Which is a Daewoo. Not exactly the European flair I was hoping for, and certainly not capable of parting Irish floodwaters. The car rattled, it went 0-100 kilometers per hour in about 14 minutes, and it squealed like a guinea pig. But it got about 40 miles per gallon, which was awesome considering gas prices averaged $6.67 per gallon. The car served my wife and me well enough, though, considering we drove 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles) around the country during the worst flooding Ireland has seen in 800 years.

When we planned the trip, we figured driving long distances would be nothing, since we can easily log 700 miles in one day on U.S. highways. But Irish roads are not U.S. highways. Most of the roads might better be called paths, and are more suitable for hardcore hiking than cross-country driving. And that’s when the roads are dry.

Typical rural road in Ireland

Combine those treacherous driving conditions with the whole driving-on-the-left-thing, and you can imagine the adventures!

Even with all the setbacks, the trip was an eye-opening view into the car culture of Europe versus the U.S.

With small roads, high fuel prices, and excellent rail systems, there is no reason for European residents to own an American-size car or truck. Driving a Ford Explorer (or even a Honda Accord) across rural Irish highways and through tight city streets is as laughable as the bill would be to fill up with gas.

On our side of the Atlantic, wide open Interstate highways and cheap gas have fueled our passion for large, comfortable cruisers capable of chewing up highway miles. Small cars here are needed only when fuel gets expensive. Small cars in Europe are an absolute necessity just to maneuver through the streets.

I sincerely hope all those affected by the flooding in Ireland and England are safe, and I thank the many people there who were nice enough to point a couple of lost Americans to higher ground.

Do you have any stories about driving in a foreign country?