Could Small, Efficient Speed Be the Demise of American Muscle?

Mazda Takeri concept

In the midst of the world’s dire need for an energy revolution, there’s a welcome, though probably feeble, theme emerging from automakers:

Small, agile, efficient and fast.

Fast fun cars that are easy to drive and cheap to fill were once a mainstay on U.S. roadways. The Nissan 280ZX. The Toyota MR2. The Honda S2000. The Mazda Miata. Then the road behemoths of the 1990s and early 2000s took over, and only now are they slowly being replaced by smaller crossover SUVs. I wonder if the same fate awaits the heavy muscle cars that currently dominate sales charts.

Could the return of small, efficient speed be the demise of American muscle?

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Green Update: What to Do About Energy? Part 1

BP Gulf oil spill

We need an energy revolution in this country, and it doesn’t look like we’ll get it any time soon. Not to mention an energy policy from the government. The world is desperate for clean energy sources, and real solutions seem far off. Yet big oil price spikes are not only possible but likely. Their effects could be shocking, and the auto industry is on the front line.

Above is a summary of what I’ve been reading over the last weeks about oil and renewables, supply and demand.

One of the interesting facts that emerged is that car buyers in Germany and the United States actually rank fuel economy outside the top ten attributes they consider when buying a car. This is from a valuable McKinsey study (subscription but free) on the likelihood of another oil shock in the next few years, one lasting for years.

To ease the shock, the authors suggest:

Governments would need to raise auto fuel efficiency standards further, and consumers would need to place greater emphasis on fuel economy when they bought new cars. Policy makers in several developing countries would need to abolish fuel subsidies so that consumers felt the real price of oil. Around the world, we’d need to see deeper reductions in the use of oil for heating, power generation, and chemical manufacturing. Some transport by ships and heavy trucks would need to start shifting toward more reliance on natural gas as a fuel.

Well, the chance of any or all of this happening soon is simply nil, in my view, unless people get really scared. We’ll follow up in Part 2 of this story with ways to scare them.

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Going Diesel? Now Is the Best Time to Save on a Used Car

Chevrolet Cruze

Ready for a diesel Cruze?

With all the attention hybrid cars get, compared with diesels, I’m surprised to read that they share a fairly minuscule segment of the auto market. Hybrids have about a 2 percent share of the market, while diesels, remarkably, have less than 3.

I’ve made my case for diesels here many times. I prefer them because they are more durable, produce more torque and deliver up to 30 percent better fuel efficiency than their gasoline counterparts. If gas prices rise, and diesel doesn’t rise as much, the extra cost for diesel-powered cars will be worth it. The benefits over hybrids are their long-term durability and no worries about battery replacement.

Diesel cars are gaining in popularity, more new models are entering the market, and used models could be priced as low as they’re going to get for a while.

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Cheers! Bentley W12 SUV Coming

Bentley SUV concept

It’s last month’s news, but potential buyers like Mideast potentates, hedge-fund managers and NFL stars won’t care. The car of their dreams will be here in 2015: Bentley’s next-gen W12 in an SUV. In a few years after launch, there may well be a diesel V12.

Autocar, whose concept rendering you see above, tells us that the power plant will likely be derived from Audi’s 6-liter V12, and there is definitely a market, per CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer.

Two great quotes from Wolfie (same article):

1. “We will be first to use a 12-cylinder petrol engine in a luxury SUV. I like this idea; it makes clear whose car is the boss.”

2. “Absolutely thousands of premium SUVs have been sold—Cayennes, Range Rovers, Q7s and so on—but nobody has given those owners the chance to upgrade. We will.”

Well, thank you for that! Those deprived owners have been champing at the bit for years, just yearning for more goofy luxo options, power, weight and exclusivity. You can’t imagine how hard it is to overtake, let alone impress, one’s peers at a certain level.

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Toyota GT-86 Specs and Images Released

Toyota GT-86

It’s time to get excited: The long-awaited Toyota FT-86 concept, now called the GT-86 (in Europe, at least), has at last made its full reveal.

Pictured here is the final production version of the much-anticipated Toyota sports car. Fortunately, it has retained its concept-car looks and appears ready to take Toyota enthusiasts by storm. But will it capture buyers considering other options?

Perhaps comparing some specs will help clear up that question.

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Three Car Rumors That Refuse to Die

Ford Evos concept

Someday, when humans die off and are replaced by a superior race, future archaeologists will dig up skeletons of our modern cars and be amazed at how advanced a civilization we were. They’ll marvel at the BMW M5 and wonder how it must have sounded. They’ll stumble across the C7 Corvette and wonder why it never fulfilled its destiny. They’ll find a Mustang, and say, “This would have been amazing, if only…”

Then they’ll stumble across a Lexus LFA and write in their journals that although humans are gone, at least they figured out automotive perfection before being done in.

There’s also a good chance they’ll hear about the best automotive rumors of our time and start buzzing all over again about the slightest possibility that, somehow, they’ll be resurrected.

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Happy Thanksgiving! This Year’s Biggest Automotive Turkey Is…

2012 Volkswagen Passat

Is the Car of the Year a turkey?

Over 45 million turkeys are being savored on American dinner plates today.

Americans love turkey. We love dousing it in gravy, we love it with mashed potatoes, we love it with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Someone has even invented tofu that “tastes” like turkey to satisfy the three people in America who crave the flavor but don’t want the guilt.

Turkey makes us happy. Turkeys make us sleep well. So why did the term “turkey” come to describe something that fails to meet expectations? Who knows. But when a car is labeled as the “Biggest Turkey of the Year,” you can bet it isn’t going to be good.

Keep reading for a look at the vehicle winning this year’s dubious honor.

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Porsche Parking System: Flying Cars Have Arrived

When Porsche designs something, you can bet it’s going to be amazing. From sunglasses and watches to luggage and smartphones, Porsche Design has long been dabbling in products outside the auto realm.

Porsche Design Group was spun off from the German automaker in 2003 and handles Porsche accessories and licensing. While kitchen lighting and knife sets are interesting pieces in a luxury home, nothing compares with the ultimate Porsche-designed convenience: the $560 million Porsche Design Tower in Miami, complete with a parking garage that makes cars fly.

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Would You Buy a Car Without a Test Drive?

Test driving a car

Don't skip the test drive!

I don’t like to buy socks without first trying them on. I know that’s a bit extreme, but usually I can’t take new socks for a “test wear” anyway, because they are wrapped in plastic, which I find terribly inconvenient.

When it comes to buying a car, something that cannot be returned and must be lived with for a number of years, I can’t imagine not test-driving it first. Twice.

Yet in certain situations, people are buying vehicles, especially used ones, online without as much as opening the doors to peer inside. That’s just a bad idea, on so many levels!

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New Bugatti Veyron Special Editions Keep the Discontinued Beast Alive

Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport, yellow-and-black Dubai edition, exterior

If you thought your opportunity had passed to own a new Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport, you’re in luck. Though production has ended, it seems around 105 of the original run of 150 vehicles have not found homes.

The Grand Sport, to refresh your memory, is the topless version of the regular Veyron. In regular dress, the Grand Sport costs around $2 million, or about $300,000 more than the base coupe. For the extra coin, buyers get an extensively reinforced body with even more carbon-fiber panels, beefed-up composite doors, taller rollover-protection loops and stronger B-pillars. The car also comes with two roofs: one that looks and functions like an umbrella (don’t try to hit the 233-mph top speed with that in place) and a solid, single-piece, body-color cover that is easy to mount but impossible to stow. The Grand Sport also gets more aggressive daytime running lights, a rear-view camera and an upgraded Burmester sound system. Its 16-cylinder engine will accelerate the 4,339-pound Grand Sport from 0 to 62 mph in 2.7 seconds.

Even with all that, Bugatti struggles to unload its remaining inventory. So what’s the company to do?

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