Green Update–>Is the Small-Car Renaissance Real?

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

We all want to see good motives, where some see only profit.

Last week’s New York Times piece “Detroit’s Rebound Is Built on Smaller Cars” tells us that “nearly one in four vehicles sold in the United States in April was a compact or subcompact car, compared with one in eight a decade ago.” About 27 percent of the small cars sold in April were so-called “American models,” versus 20 percent the year before.

As causal factors, the article notes the Obama administration’s stress on fuel economy, the UAW’s concessions, Japanese complacency, and so on. They also mention rising gas prices.

But this “stunning change” in the American buyer’s psychology was really caused by his finally recognizing that a) gas prices are likely going to stay high and b) small cars aren’t really so bad after all.

Consumers change their habits when circumstances force them to or when they have a better choice.

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Why the Used Car Bubble Will Burst Soon

Honda Civic

Buy in three months and save money?

Wholesale used vehicle prices are surging. For now.

In the June edition of the NADA Used Car Guide, prices of small vehicles are expected to increase from May levels, some by as much as 17 percent.

For example, NADA could raise the price of a 2007 Toyota Prius by nearly $2,000 (or 15 percent) and a 2010 Honda Civic LX by 12 percent. Even a 2007 Hyundai Accent, a car that should be plummeting in value, could increase by $875.

We’ve discussed in depth the reasons for these price jumps, but now we should begin to wonder when the bubble will burst.

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The 100th Indy 500 Is History

Wheldon's 2011 Indy 500 winning car

By now, most of you have heard about J.R. Hildebrand’s hitting the wall on the last lap and giving the race to Dan Wheldon. Hildebrand made a rookie’s mistake, staying on throttle while passing and going too high on the turn. He crashed but coasted to second place, 2.1 seconds behind Wheldon.

Graham Rahal finished third. Danica Patrick led the field for a time, made a badly timed pit stop and finished tenth. The race had more than its usual drama, and Wheldon’s a good driver and deserved the victory. See last-lap video after the break.

I watched videos of the race this morning, having been too busy yesterday eating and drinking with friends to check whether Mexican cable would even be covering it. (I did see some of the Monaco Grand Prix, much more interesting.)

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Recession? Not in Supercar Land

Ferrari FF

Much to the chagrin of certain members of my family, I’m not a fan of the Indy 500. I don’t deny the significance of the race (a riveting look at it is coming later this afternoon from jgoods) but in my simple view, racing 500 miles around an oval isn’t of much interest.

I know, though, that the race isn’t just about the race. At an average speed of 150-160 mph, it’s about what can go wrong during the race, something JR Hildebrand is painfully aware of this morning.

In the spirit of the furious weekend of speed that was the Indy 500, we thought it would be a good time to take a look back at three of the super-performing cars that have graced our presence this year. Cars that can scream to 200 mph and are capable of turning right.

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Dr. Ford May Soon Monitor Your Health While Driving

Ford is studying in-car health monitoring with apps to keep track of allergens in the area, for instance, and roll up the windows. There is no provision to automatically dispense Kleenex and wipe your nose.

In combination with the Sync system, the company is figuring out ways to monitor blood glucose levels and possibly recommend a snack for diabetics. “Eat the orange slices, fool, before you hit that tree.”

Ford reports progress in making a car seat with sensors that will detect irregular heart activity through clothing, warn the driver, call a medical center, maybe stop the car.

One thing Ford is not working on is a device to monitor blood alcohol and keep drunks from getting behind the wheel. While that might provide great public safety benefits, it will not likely appeal to the millions of drinkers out there.

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Best Car Videos of the Week!

Ferrari Superamerica 45

As if Friday wasn’t already the best day of the week, we want to make it even better. And around here, the only way to do that is to take a few moments to revel in the sweet goodness of fast cars.

Follow the jump and enter a world of racing a Lexus LFA, ride along as a hypercar takes a few hot laps, see an exotic beauty go topless and sneak a peek into the world of 2020 driving.

It’s good stuff! Happy viewing and happy Friday!

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Mitt Romney on the Auto Bailout, and Other Confusions

Mitt Romney

To the delight of liberals everywhere, Mitt Romney has not only reversed but contradicted himself about the auto bailout. In the wake of Chrysler’s loan payoff this week, Romney’s comments also typify how very confused and confounded the public’s perceptions of the bailout remain.

First, in 2008, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” saying that if they got the bailout they wanted, “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” In 2009, he called Mr. Obama’s rescue plans “tragic,” “a sad circumstance for this country.”

Now, last Tuesday, one of Romney’s people said, “Mitt Romney had the idea [of restructuring though bankruptcy] first.” He just thought they should do it without wasting billions of dollars “propping up” the auto companies.

That of course made the Dems and the Libs run wild. With one brilliant stroke, the man has probably forfeited his candidacy for the presidency.

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No Replacement for Displacement? Next Corvette May Offer Small-Displacement Turbo V8

Corvette Centennial concept

There are three sure things in life: death, taxes and high-displacement Corvette engines.

Looks like in the coming two to three years we can cross at least one of those off the list, as General Motors just might introduce a small, turbocharged V8 in its classic super muscle car.

I, for one, happen to think this is terrific news, as it gives the ‘Vette some European sophistication it’s been missing since, well, forever.

Others, however, may disagree.

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Chrysler Repays Bailout Debt, Fiat Increasing Its Share

Sergio Marchionne

By refinancing its loans and getting $1.3 billion from Fiat (now holding 46 percent), Chrysler was able to repay $7.6 billion of bailout debt yesterday to the U.S. and Canadian governments. Applause echoed everywhere, except from the usual skeptical sources.

The amount included $1.8 billion in interest, and the company was eager to get out from under that high-cost debt, which bled it for $1.2 billion last year.

Chrysler could pull this off, six years before the due date, for two big reasons. One is Sergio Marchionne’s leadership and smart financial moves. Second is that sales are up (22.5 percent, through April), largely owing to refreshed Jeeps, Ram trucks and crossovers.

All of which gave the investment market confidence. Now, however, the company must do the harder thing—using Fiat technology, get its small- and midsize-car lineup designed, built and sold to the public.

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Aston Martin V12 Zagato: Weird and Beautiful At Once

Aston Martin V12 Zagato

Take a few moments to fully take in and appreciate all that is happening in the photo above.

What you’re looking at is the Aston Martin V12 Zagato concept, a collaboration between Aston and Italian design firm Zagato. The car previews a model destined to run the 24 Hours of Nürburgring this June.

In the past we’ve accused Aston of doing the same design over and over, which, quite honestly, we don’t have a problem with. This V12 Zagato changes everything. While still amazingly gorgeous, it manages to infuse some weirdness along with bits of a Ferrari FF and even some Nissan GT-R.

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