Land Rover May Get Its Roots Back

The Land Rover Defender has been around in something like its present form since 1944. Like the Jeep, it evolved from a successful military light truck in World War II, and the Defender got its own badge in 1948. A good history is here, and the Brits have loved that beast forever.

It’s probably the best off-roader in the world, certainly an icon. In the past, the car had its problems getting certified in the U.S., and the company finally moved upmarket to its Discovery and Range Rover models.

Now, with Tata calling the shots, LR has come forward with a concept redesign for the Defender, called the DC100 (above), a far cry from the utilitarian, in-your-face, bone-rattling Defenders of the past.

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Warning Others of Speed Traps: Illegal?

A simple flash of the headlights would've sufficed...

As a driver concerned with the well-being of my fellow citizens on the road, I make an effort to warn oncoming traffic when I notice a cop stalking for speeders.

That is, once I’m sure that Johnny Law hasn’t locked his sights on me. When I know I’ve made it through the speed trap unscathed, I believe it’s my civic duty to warn others that a stealthy officer lies in wait around the next bend. A simple flash of the high beams usually does the job. It’s like an unspoken bond between drivers; one that leaves me feeling good about saving a stranger’s day and one I sure appreciate when I happen to be on the receiving end.

Who knew that, in some cases, such community goodness might be against the law?

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Green Update: No Market for Small City Cars in the U.S.?

Fiat Panda, front

CNNMoney ran a recent piece on six Detroit dinosaurs that are, or should be, on the way out. They included truck-platform SUVs like the Tahoe, muscle cars like the Mustang, all Lincolns and the Chrysler 200. Yes, send them all to the cruncher.

One of the cars on their list was the Chevy Volt, whose sales are ridiculously low and whose price is ridiculously high. Since GM totally bungled the production and marketing of this car, maybe the concept can be rethought and reduced in size and price. There is no way this car in its present form can take on the Prius.

American carmakers are still fighting to preserve the past in some of their offerings, and to be sure, the U.S. market will not change overnight. But why can’t some of the decent, long-tested small cars of Europe be brought here—at least to the urban car market?

Instead of giving us junk like the Nitro, why doesn’t Chrysler import the Fiat Panda (above), a great small funky wagon-hatch that has been a hit for 30 years in Europe and around the world?

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Diesels in America: 4 Makes, 15 Models

The diesel-versus-hybrid game in America continues as a no-contest landslide victory for the gas/electric hybrid. Since the Prius came to town and blew the doors down by promising, and delivering, 40+ mpg while using regular gas, deisel-powered cars have fallen behind in a game they never had a shot of winning.

Could a comeback victory be in the works?

Not anytime soon, unfortunately. For the 2012 model year, only four automakers will offer diesel engines. (I’m not including American heavy duty pickups here, since those workhorses use diesels for their massive towing power rather than fuel efficiency.)

No less than 18 automakers will offer around 37 hybrid models in the U.S. for 2012. Always one to root for the underdog, I’m hoping diesel can gain some steam as people realize the technology is clean and has years of proven reliability and longevity without requiring expensive battery changes down the road. Toyota, Subaru, Honda and Nissan all offer oil-burners in other countries, and would here, too, if the market demanded.

For now, though, here are the 2012 U.S. diesel options:

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Steve Jobs Is Not Dead; Apples Are Not Oranges

Hyundai Equus iPad owner's manual

With Steve Jobs’s news that he’s stepping down as Apple CEO, we have seen a flood of articles that read very much like obituaries: praise to the skies, lists of Apple Corp.’s grandiose accomplishments, comparing Jobs to Edison and Henry Ford.

It’s as if they came to bury Caesar and ended up praising him. This began even before Jobs’s announcement. GM’s marketing chief Joel Ewanick pronounced at the company’s Global Busness Conference:

Our direct competitors are Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Ford; however in the eyes of consumers, it’s time for Chevrolet to clearly differentiate our brand and align closer to the world’s true global brands like Apple.

By which Ewanick presumed to explain, “We’re going to become one of the most consumer-centric brands in the world.”

Joel got rightly chewed out by some for these dumb remarks, and it would have been smart for GM to issue some kind of retraction or follow-on explanation.

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Road Trip to Russia? New Tunnel Might Make it Possible

A 64-mile-long tunnel beneath the Bering Sea might be more torturous than relaxing for the more claustrophobic of road-trippers, but a proposed tunnel from Russia to Alaska might open the possibility.

The Russian government has apparently given the green light on a new tunnel project that would double the length of the England-to-France Channel Tunnel and connect Siberia with Alaska. If completed, the $65 billion project would be the longest underwater tunnel in the world.

The bad news for possible commuters between Uelen, Russia and Nome, Alaska is that the tunnel would strictly be a high-speed rail line that could move up to 100 million tons of freight per year.

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Bad Driving and What, If Anything, to Do About It

Oh boy, another lecture on distracted driving and texting.

Well, this one’s a little bit different. I want to talk about how bad driving is part of the culture in most every country—and suggest that there’s only one way to fix it.

Texting and cell phone use in cars seem to be slightly on the decline in the U.S., and maybe that’s due to all the publicity, maybe to stricter law enforcement (which varies widely, state to state). Maybe PSAs and public education have helped. I have come down for much tougher laws and enforcement but now have my doubts.

American teens still admit to “texting while driving (21%), talking to passengers (20%), and changing songs on their MP3 player (17%) instead of focusing on the road.”

But NHTSA said, a year ago, that only 18 percent of highway fatalities were caused by cell phone use. We’re getting a mixed message from the agency, which can’t seem really to decide whether to crack down on distracted driving—of all kinds—or not.

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Do Movies of the Past Predict Cars of the Future?

Still from Back to the Future II

Remember when the year 2015 seemed far enough in the future that flying cars and elevated “roadways” were a distinct possibility? Heck, I remember the clock switching to 1990 and wondering when the first car would magically elevate from the pavement.

One of the things I’ve found entertaining lately is paying attention to movies set in the not-so-distant future and then laughing at the many depictions of society and the vehicles it uses. If we predicted the future purely through the lens of filmmakers of the past, we would have had spaceships capable of traveling to Jupiter by 2001, transforming robot vehicles by 2005 and sky-roads by 2015.

I’m sure those filmmakers would have been terribly disappointed at the time they made their movies to learn that vehicles would still run on rubber firmly attached to terra firma in the first couple decades of the 2000s. Keep reading for a few of their visions of the future, which in many cases are years that we already call history.

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2012 Toyota Camry Appears, Like the Second Coming

Toyota brings forth the 2012 Camry, a brand new, apparently good car born from the ashes of arrogance and unintended acceleration. The company had a great deal at stake with this launch, and reviewers are treating it like Christ coming down from the mountain. (Google reports 663 stories.)

Indeed, Toyota hopes its reputation will be born again, and I haven’t read a bad review yet. The most balanced is from Car and Driver’s Csaba Csere, an old pro. The most breathless may be on AutoSpies, which looks to be a reprint of the Toyota press release.

So, what have we got here? It’s a quieter, more refined car than the 2011, with a subtle but effective redesign, a 2.5-liter four, a 3.5-liter V6, a very good hybrid—all with decent performance, better ride and handling, and a much-improved interior. The 4-cylinder and hybrid models cost less than last year’s cars.

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Cars Coming Soon: Kia RWD Sports “Coupe”

Kia RWD sport sedan concept

If you’re a reputable maker of economical but reliable vehicles and want to move up a segment or two, there’s really one thing to do: Build a concept that looks like a Lamborghini.

Kia Motors has established itself as a top automaker, moving from bargain-basement econoboxes to a full range of top-quality vehicle offerings. Currently, Kia’s U.S. lineup tops out with the midsize Kia Optima, but considering sister company Hyundai has the Genesis and Equus, and other countries have the fullsize Kia K9, it’s conceivable that a larger, more luxurious Kia could hit these shores soon.

And if we’re lucky, it might look a little like the Lamborghini Estoque concept.

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