Audi and VW Push Web-Enabled Cars

Audi Connect

Wisconsin introduced seat belt legislation in 1961. Not until 1984 did the U.S. mandate seat belt use. The same protracted battle is taking place with infotech in cars, and by most accounts, the safety guys are losing.

Audi has proudly announced it was the first luxury brand to offer Wi-Fi and Google Earth access in its cars. Nissan, GM and Ford have followed suit. Web-enabled cars are going to be a fact of life (and death), so get used to them.

The industry is loving it.

Vehicles are now viewed by automakers as entertainment and technology platforms; not transportation. The transportation part is now a given; THAT you get there is far less important than HOW you get there…

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GM, Facebook, and Prospects for the Auto Industry

GM's Facebook fan page

There’s big noise about the fact that General Motors recently pulled $10 million worth of ads off Facebook. Ford made it clear that its advertising would continue, and the two companies are squabbling.

GM says half its Facebook ads never get clicked on; Ford reached millions when it launched the new Explorer. The jury will be out a long time on this one.

While the food fight was going on, more important things were happening. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway announced it had bought 10 million GM shares at well below the initial IPO price. That gave the stock a 2.3 percent bump.

Auto sales are on a roll, predicted to top 14 million units this year. Car sales accounted for fully half of the 2.2 percent U.S. economic growth in the first quarter. Take that, Mr. Romney.

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Total Confusion About BMW’s New 1 Series Offerings

BMW

BMW makes great automobiles—and some very strange marketing decisions. Consider the 1 Series. The company announced a couple of years ago that there would be no M1 nameplate, because that moniker was taken by a car no longer produced.

So they built something they fumblingly called the 1 Series M—terrific car, priced to beat the competition ($47,010 to start), though production of 2,700 cars ended in December 2011. Reviews were outstanding.

The 1M (as some have called it, and so should have the factory) “really was an M3—light with a unique looking bodykit and the bi-turbo N54 powerplant.” And it performed as well as the M3 at the Nürburgring (see video here).

Now comes the introduction of the M135i abroad and the 135is (above) in the U.S. The M135i seems to be not really a BMW M car; it simply pushes in that direction.

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Green Update: Hypercar Hybrids from Porsche and Ferrari

Design study for the F70

We have written about the incredible Porsche 918 hybrid before, with details here and here. Now, 918 Spyder prototypes have been spotted testing, looking a little like the old 917 race cars (see pix here).

The 918 will produce some 770 hp from a V8 and “two independent electric motors, one on the front and one in the drive line, acting on the rear wheels.” All this with decent fuel economy. Production is expected by the end of 2013, so you have time to save up the $850K it will cost.

The new Ferrari F70 is expected to replace the Enzo and may come to market around the same time as the 918, according to Automotive News. The F70 will probably cost more than the Porsche, but has some amazing technology, which we will illustrate below.

Why are these companies building such monster cars?

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Shelby’s Gone. Any More Like Him?

Shelby with a Ford GT40

Shelby and the Ford GT40

Caroll Shelby (1923-2012), whom tgriffith wrote about today, was one of the last true Car Guys. There just won’t be any more like him.

Here’s why. Shelby’s career began with sports-car racing, and there he made his greatest mark. He could never have created the Cobra or the muscle cars that followed had he not raced for Aston Martin, Maserati, and finally won Le Mans as driver, constructor and team manager—the only person ever to do that.

That was the great era of sports-car racing—the late ‘50s-early ‘60s—when the sport had a very big following and a bunch of grand individualists. Pete Lyons offers this tidbit in his tribute to Shelby:

“Old Man Ferrari offered me a job and I said, ‘Well, Mr. Ferrari, I have a family, three children, what kinda money?’ He says, ‘Oh, it’s an honor to drive for Ferrari.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I can’t afford the honor.’ And I had a deal with John Wyer, anyway, and I had another deal with Maserati. I had a choice of four or five different offers. So I turned Ferrari down.”

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Automotive Madness: Three Stories

Subaru BRZ

1. You may already have heard that a few dealers are upcharging for the upcoming Subaru BRZ (above)—to the tune of $5,000 over MSRP. Some have called this price gouging, which, of course, it is. Anyone paying this price is a turkey.

One imbecile argues that this is owing to the immutable law of supply and demand. Since the BRZ is in high demand and deliveries are late, if you don’t like the upcharge, “go buy a Civic,” he says. He also questions why anyone would want a BRZ when you can buy a Mustang with over twice the horsepower for the price of the BRZ plus the upcharge (around $30K).

The over-list gouge is not a new thing, of course. It’s been done with the Prius and other cars. Manufacturers should absolutely forbid it and, as one commenter said, take away the dealer’s allocation. It’s a perversion of supply and demand.

2. The Responsible Young Drivers group in Belgium came up with a great idea: Make teens take a driving test in which they are forced to text and drive, with the driving instructor telling them that this is a new legal requirement.

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Leasing Deals Are Hot Right Now

Chevy Cruze lease: 24 months, $159/mo., $1,879 down, 12,000 miles/year. Good deal?

Why would you buy (rather than lease) something that depreciates as fast as most automobiles? I have never understood the extraordinary need, often a compulsion, that Americans have to own things.

It used to make sense in the housing market, when everyone thought prices would rise forever. We know how that turned out.

The only sensible reason to own a car is the need to drive it more than 15,000 miles a year (the limit in most leases, and overage charges are steep). Or if it has an especially low depreciation rate (i.e., high quality) and you plan to keep it a long time. Or if you got a very attractive deal on a used car. Our listings can lead you to some.

Used car prices are high right now in part because new-car prices just keep rising. Leasing can help beat the high cost of driving, because basically, you pay only for the portion of the car’s lifetime cost that you use. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages. You need more than ever to be a smart buyer, and there is some good advice here and an explanation of leasing terms here.

We found some very attractive current lease deals, which we’ll pass along, plus a few that are kind of ridiculous.

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Romney Claims Credit for Auto Industry Resurgence

Mitt Romney has always claimed his dog was perfectly happy on top of the car. He talks blithely about his wife’s Cadillacs, his dad’s success, his Mustang, his car elevator at the beach house, and every time he talks about cars, he says something stupid.

Last Monday in Cleveland, he went even further:

“I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet,” Romney said in an interview inside a Cleveland-area auto parts maker. “So, I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back.”

Echoing another of his boss’s earlier, manic claims, senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said a few days later: “The only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney’s advice.” One wonders how that will play in Detroit and Cleveland.

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Green Update: New Toyota RAV4 EV for Sale, with Some Restrictions

Toyota RAV4 EV, front-quarter view

The 2013 RAV4 EV is a pretty nice car. With Tesla-made battery and powertrain, it gives you good power, a 100-mile range, classy interior and equipment, and plenty of room. Read here a short version of its features.

However, there are a few—let us call them—restrictions. The biggest is price: a whopping $50,610, including destination charge and not including Federal and California tax rebates, which can knock off $10 grand. A very mid-level car with a luxury pricetag.

The second restriction is that it’s available in only four California regions: Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles/Orange County and San Diego. The company expects to sell a mere 2,600 over three years.

The third restriction is that this is clearly a so-called “compliance car,” built to sell only in small numbers to satisfy California’s zero-emissions requirements. The law essentially requires that in order to sell cars in the state, a carmaker has to build at least some few ZEVs.

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Lexus Marketing Sells Sex, Character and Handling

“Character and handling” are the two elements Lexus CEO Kiyotaka Ise says he wants to stress for his brand. His marketers have some other ideas.

I don’t know how tgriffith and I missed this, but back in February, after too much sake, the Lexus lads came up with a totally fabo-genius idea. Take Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Tori Praver, create an actual race course from the outlines of her body, make a video with two professional drivers (and herself, of course; see after the break), and create a downloadable video game app—so you can race around Tori’s body at home!

The thrilling process of how this stunt was accomplished is described here. The multifaceted campaign (basically, to push the new GS) also included print (in the February 14 SI) and online rollouts, plus several Las Vegas events.

If at this point you’re asking what the hell this has to do with character and handling—or whether this kind of silly sexual marketing is really targeting the right buyers—well, I’m with you.

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