Green Update–>Volt Production Going Up, Value Going Down?

2011 Chevrolet Volt

The bad news first: Last week, Kelley Blue Book set the residual value of a $41,000 2011 Chevrolet Volt at “just over $17,000” at the end of a 36-month lease (that is, 42 percent).

KBB then uses some funny math to factor in the effect of the $7,500 tax credit, boosting the car’s value to 51 percent, better than the Toyota Prius or the Ford Focus. But a tax credit doesn’t lower the car’s MSRP, and there are too many variables involved to set an accurate residual value.

Consumer Reports noted

that fuel-efficient hybrids and diesel models often depreciate far less than most vehicles. And the Volt’s heavy dependence on emerging battery technology is another wildcard. GM has announced that the next-generation Volt’s battery will have twice the capacity and cost less, making the first generation cars obsolete when the new ones come out in 2015—like yesterday’s cell phone.

Gas prices are surely another wildcard. If they keep going up, so will used Volt prices.

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The Best $7,500 You’ll Ever Spend

1997 Jaguar XK-Series

Jaguar XK-Series

Let’s say for a moment that you have a spare $7,500 sitting in your offshore savings account. Yeah, maybe you’ve been stashing the cash in case of Rapture, but since we all know that ship has sailed, maybe it’s time to use the cash to enjoy your limited time on Earth.

Yeah, you could probably do some good with that wad of hundreds (donating to a worthy cause is always an admirable endeavor). But for those of us slightly more…ego-centric, the best way to use a few grand is to buy a fun car.

Not just a used car, but a fun car that’ll leave people wondering how much it cost and what illegal activities you suddenly started dabbling in to afford it.

Yeah… take $7,500 or so and have some fun…

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Fiat 500 Winning Awards, Getting the Gucci Look

Fiat 500 by Gucci

Like most car blogs, we’ve probably written too much about the Fiat 500, but the car keeps making news, and the MINI vs. 500 comparisons keep proliferating. They are wrong, by the way, as the cars are really in two different niches. A better comparison would be the Mazda2.

Anyhow, Fiat clobbered the competition to win International Engine of the Year award for its potent 2-cylinder TwinAir, 85-hp, high-torque engine. It’s fun to drive, has very low CO2 output and high fuel economy. And there may be a “tweaked, sport-orientated 105 bhp derivative” in the offing.

Naturally, we won’t get the TwinAir in the U.S., as Fiat gives us only the 1.4-liter four-cylinder (101 hp, 98 lb-ft of torque), which, according to most reviewers, is enough—but just enough.

The Cabrio (500C) has just arrived, with a motorized roll-back cloth roof that’s clever and keeps the body structure intact. There’s little wind noise, and you can roll it back to half-open at speeds up to 50 mph. Only problem is the $4,000 additional cost. Yikes.

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Lotus Elan Postponed, Company’s Future in Jeopardy

Lotus Elan concept

Lotus Elan concept

Lotus was the big surprise of the 2010 Paris Auto Show, showcasing an onslaught of five concept vehicles designed to move the company upmarket and compete with the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche.

It was an ambitious move, with the striking Elan concept among the first to usher in the new tide at Lotus. Production was said to begin as early as 2012.

Turns out that ambition was all show and no go, because now we hear news that we’ll have to wait until at least 2016 for Lotus’ two-seat, midengine 450-hp supercharged 4.0-liter V6 Elan. But Lotus fans can at least take some solace in the rebirth of an old favorite:

The Lotus Esprit. But even with that car, Lotus may be digging itself into a big hole.

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Bill Ford Sees Electrified Future Ahead

Bill Ford

Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company (and environmental iconoclast) Bill Ford wrote a piece for Fortune the other day that has caused some stir, though not enough, in the automotive world. I urge you to read it.

Finally, we get some common-sense talk about where the auto industry is headed, or should be headed. In part, his piece is a bit of a promo for the Ford approach, with the Focus EV and the C-Max, but the main thrust is how to make environmental technology work.

Bottom line: Ford anticipates/hopes/hedges that “about 25% of Ford’s fleet will be electrified by 2020,” that these cars will be fun to drive, with extended range, and tied into a network of GPS and WiFi communications that are part of “a smart transportation system.”

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Big Surprise! Lincoln and Chrysler Most Satisfying Cars of 2011

2011 Chrysler 300

Did the 2011 Chrysler 300 make the list?

Owning a vehicle can be either seriously detrimental to your sanity or a flawless experience that leaves you fully satisfied and proud to display the car in your driveway.

Which category you end up in depends largely on the brand of car you buy.

AutoPacific has done some research that shows the field of cars most pleasing to their owners is becoming populated by names previously not associated with a deeply satisfying ownership experience. This year, in its annual quest to discover which automakers are the doing the best job keeping customers happy, the organization has, believe it or not, bestowed top honors on Lincoln and Chrysler.

Lincoln has earned the award for Highest Satisfaction, Premium Brand. Chrysler took home the trophy for Highest Satisfaction, Popular Brand.

Keep reading for a partial list of the other winners, and be sure to chime in on what you think of them.

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Best Time Ever to Sell Your Car—and Buy a Bike?

As we keep telling you, used car prices are going crazy. It’s supply and demand, and dealers are now paying almost 30 percent more for a used car or truck than they did at the end of 2008.

So it’s the perfect time to sell your car, especially if it’s less than five years old, in good shape and has decent fuel economy. Often, you’re better off buying a new car.

Take the Honda Accord, known for reliability and holding its value. A dealer would sell a 2008 four-cylinder Accord LX sedan in good condition with about 45,000 miles on it for $16,175.

With no down payment and a loan at 5 percent interest, it would cost $373 a month to pay off the Accord in four years. But Honda is offering a three-year lease on a new 2011 Accord for just $250 a month. The company will even make the first payment. You still have to pay $600 up front and 15 cents for each mile you drive over 12,000 a year.

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Cars Coming Soon->2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster, Honda CR-Z Mugen

Test drive: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster

Hold on to your toupees, because there’s a new 197-mph roadster on the way that wants to rip ’em clean off.

The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster, based on the coupe, is due out on American roads by the end of this year. The extra development time has been spent firming up the body’s rigidity, fine-tuning the topless driving dynamics and figuring out a way to hinge the SLS’s gullwing doors to a convertible.

Kidding, of course. The roadster version of the supercar will feature plain ol’ regular doors since gullwings just aren’t feasible on a roadster. (Captain Obvious, at it again!)

What is perfectly feasible are the SLS AMG’s sinister good looks paired with the coupe’s 563-hp V8, good for a top speed of 197 mph. Automotive insanity perfected!

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Exciting New Engine Technologies

Scuderi engine

A friend sent me this story about the Scuderi engine (above), which has been in development for nearly ten years. It is a weird, innovative concept but shows enough promise to have enticed “nine major carmakers” to look at it.

Called a split-cycle engine, the Scuderi, placed in a Nissan Sentra sedan, “showed a 36 percent reduction in fuel consumption, the equivalent of a 54 percent improvement in miles per gallon.”

The engine uses paired cylinders, one for compression and one for ignition/exhaust. A compressed air tank stores energy and feeds the power cylinder, where fuel is added and combustion occurs. A turbocharger controls air pressure in the engine.

It’s complicated, different and impressive. Read a good summary here.

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Is a Foreign-Owned Chrysler Still American?

Italian American: the Chrysler 200

I hope you’re practiced in your philosophy, because here’s a question that could throw you for a loop:

If a foreign company owns 70 percent of an American automaker, should that automaker still be considered “American”?

A news story that surfaced last week seems to have skidded under a good majority of the blog-o-sphere’s radar: Fiat, it seems, is well on track to owning a full 70 percent of Chrysler. While that’s great news for improving Auburn Hills’ lineup, it turns Chrysler into little more than another Hyundai: American-built cars from a headquarters across the Atlantic.

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