Seven Cars We Think Will Do Well in 2012

2013 Ford Fusion

The New Year is a time for resolutions (which usually fail) and for predictions (ditto). So, in the following piece, we will hedge our bets by naming vehicles that have already shown promise, or the hope of promise. That, of course, is the trick behind making predictions—stack the deck a little bit.

There are no guarantees in the auto business, and while everyone looks forward to a banner year, some of the following cars are brand-new and as yet untested. All are reportedly good, and it will be interesting to see how the public responds. Let us know if we are off-base, out of line, or on the money.

Ford moves to a global platform and complete redesign with the 2013 Fusion and, except for some spy photos, its appearance is a secret. Above is a fair rendering of what the car may look like. It will go live at the Detroit Auto Show in January. The new car has lots of tech-y stuff and will be Ford’s big play in the midsize game, with a wide choice of powertrains.

The company should sell some 240,000 Fusions in 2011 and now has about 12 percent of the midsize segment. It is looking for a 50 percent sales increase.

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Biggest Product Flops of 2011: FIAT 500 and Chevy Volt?

New Coke was a product flop. Bic disposable underwear was a product flop. I won’t even mention the Ford Edsel.

But the new FIAT 500 and Chevy Volt?

Yahoo! Finance has determined, perhaps as nothing more than a way to generate year-end web traffic, that those two new cars were some of the biggest product flops of 2011, right up there with Qwikster.

Yes, sales have been a disappointment, but calling them flops is a bit unfair and premature. Well, for one car, anyway.

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Crunched Cars for Christmas: Planned and Unplanned

Tropical Chevrolet, Miami

Cars are not forever, but some of us get upset when they crash, get crunched or are otherwise destroyed. Of course. We are attached to cars, even when they aren’t ours. So here are three stories of Christmastime crunches that will surely tug at your heartstrings.

A couple of weeks ago at 3 a.m., a speeding drunk driver demolished at least three brand-new Corvettes on the lot of Tropical Chevrolet in Miami Shores, Fla. Naturally, the guy sustained only minor injuries, as the cars did not.

This is the second time that Tropical has gotten creamed. In 2007, a Corvette driver landed on top of four Suburbans, valued at over $300,000, and again the driver survived intact.

Several possible conclusions here: 1. Don’t drink and drive. 2. Somebody really has it in for Tropical. 3. The Corvette driver was extremely annoyed at the Service Department.

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Cars Coming Soon: BMW i8, as Seen in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”

Mission Impossible, BMW i8

The new Mission Impossible movie isn’t so much an espionage spy thriller as it is a 1-hour-and-50-minute-long car advertisement. No fewer than four models in the BMW stable make an appearance in the film, with the lead role going to the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept car. Tom Cruise may get his name in the lights, but BMW is the star.

The product placement has its purpose, of course. Marketing folks at BMW hope movie watchers will want to be like Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character and cruise around town in a Bimmer of their own.

And wouldn’t you know it, the very car Cruise drives in the movie is coming soon to a dealer near you, as the BMW i8.

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Volkswagen Up!: Finally, a Great City Car?

Volkswagen Up!, front

City cars either scare the bejesus out of prospective U.S. drivers, or they make fun of them, or they just don’t see the point.

The point is, folks, that the U.S. badly needs a good city car—something that’s well-built, handles well (enough), is spacious enough to carry four comfortably and is, above all, small, parkable, low on emissions and high on fuel economy.

Volkswagen’s Up! appears to fill the minicar prescription and should sell well in Europe when it appears in March. It’s “brilliantly packaged and effortlessly easy to drive,” says TopGear, which gave the Up! its 2011 Small Car of the Year award.

A front-driver with choice of two 3-cylinder engines, the Up! actually gives its passengers, including those in the back, real room since it has a long wheelbase of 95.3 inches, wheels out at the corners, and is 64.6 inches wide. A 9-cubic-foot trunk (34 cf with rear seats folded), gives you real carrying capacity. It’s smaller than the MINI Cooper, with more interior space. And it’s better-looking and better-packaged than the Fiat Panda, another competitor.

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Chrysler 300 Luxury Series Could Be a Contender

2012 Chrysler 300 Luxury Series

2012 Chrysler 300 Luxury Series

Here’s a benefit to having some well-off Italian friends in your hip pocket:

When you need some unique high-end items to include in your new luxury car, all you have to do is call.

Such is the case for Chrysler and its new stablemates Maserati and Alfa Romeo.

In the past, Chrysler’s attempts at luxury have fallen well short of competing American brands Lincoln and Cadillac. Now that FIAT can assist in injecting some Italian flair into American luxury, Chrysler might have a fighting chance at capturing some luxo-barge buyers. While the path of evolving Chrysler into a full-blown luxury brand will be a slow one, the new Chrysler 300 Luxury Series could be the car that begins to change the brand’s perception.

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Green Update: The Year in Energy and Emissions

Methane Bubbles from Alaska Lakes

There are two articles in particular I want to point you to regarding the State of the Air. Then we’ll get to the car industry.

First is a Washington Post piece on the five biggest stories in energy and environment, and what a terrible year we’ve been through on that score. Second is a New York Times report on melting of the permafrost that underlies about a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere. This is probably the scariest piece I’ve read all year.

If you still don’t believe in global warming after reading these, put your head back in the tar sands and tell us about the wonders of fracking.

As CO2 emissions from fossil fuels took a record jump of 5.9 percent in 2010—“the largest absolute increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the greatest percentage increase since 2003”—Republicans united in their animus toward the EPA, and the Obama administration called off its tough new standards on ozone pollution.

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Super Deal on a Supercar Reminds Us: Be Suspicious When Buying Used

Damaged McLaren MP4-12C

When a car is priced at half its value, be suspicious. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to be suspicious any time you go used car shopping.

We’ve covered the lure of underpriced cars before, from the standpoint of watching out for common online scams. Sometimes, though, the price is accurate, and the car is real. But that doesn’t mean the deal isn’t too good to be true.

From Motor Authority (via, we heard about a killer deal on a used McLaren MP4-12C. The seller of the car, listed for sale in The Netherlands, wants about half of what the car is worth. The catch, as you might have guessed, is that the car has been in an accident and has not been repaired. Would buying it be a good deal, or would someone save money by just buying a new one?

Of course, that depends on the extent of the damage. The front end has obviously been hurt, and the windshield is cracked. Both front airbags have deployed. There’s a possibility of unseen water damage. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance that the buyer of this car would be better off financially buying new.

How easy would it be, though, for the seller of this car to replace the front bumper, install a new windshield and sell it for full price to an unsuspecting buyer? Okay, maybe that wouldn’t be an *easy* process on the McLaren, but it’s certainly feasible, which is why buyers of any used car should always complete the following checklist to make sure no hidden defects lie beneath the surface:

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Can Chevy’s 2013 Malibu Meet the Competition?

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco

Based on published figures, reading lots of reviews and my own biased opinions, Chevy is in for a tough ride if it expects its new Malibu to do well in the very competitive midsize field.

Here’s why: The new car is probably better than the present Malibu, but it’s not up to its competitors in either mileage or performance. It does have a better interior cabin and better steering and handling.

Chevy released the car in its mild-hybrid Eco form first, probably because the other two promised engines weren’t ready. These will likely be a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder (190 hp), due next summer, and a 2-liter turbo similar to what’s in Buick’s Regal (220-270 hp).

So the new Malibu Eco gets something called eAssist, a mild hybrid wherein an electric motor (15 hp) replaces the alternator to assist the gas engine (182 hp) and permit it to run slower, thus getting better mileage. But, “even with all its fancy hardware, the Malibu Eco’s estimated 25/37 mpg city/highway rating gets trampled in a segment chock full of hybrids.” The new Camry Hybrid gets 43/39 mpg for about the same price. See our take on that car here.

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The New Wave of Driver Authentication: Butt Recognition

car seat

It was used in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, in the Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall and in countless sci-fi books and movies: some kind of anatomy-based identification. Usually it involves hand- or fingerprint ID, or sometimes a scan of the eyeball, but whatever it is gains access to a secret room.

Never has a person’s posterior, that I know of, been used as a way to verify identity.

Researchers in Japan, though, think they’ve figured out a way, and the application could end up in the driver’s seats of Japanese-made cars sooner than you’d think.

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