Saturday, November 15, 2008

2008's Worst-Performing Cars

The recent news that Chrysler may merge with General Motors didn't come as a surprise to many, as Chrysler has been struggling for years. It can't negotiate a deal with GM fast enough to save it from going under, in large part because its poor-performing vehicles are a drag on overall sales.

It therefore shouldn't come as any surprise that when the performance of cars is examined according to their predicted reliability, recalls and rate of depreciation, Chrysler vehicles dominate the list of the poorest performers, with seven of the 10 models on our list. All the vehicles have multiple recalls, ranging from airbags to door latches, along with mediocre resale values and bottom-level reliability scores for market-research groups.

Owners of the current-model-year Dodge Avenger, for example, have had to deal with six recalls. The depreciation and true market value of Avenger only ranks at two stars (out of a possible five) in the Automotive Leasing Guide, which provides depreciation estimates for use in the automotive financing industry.

And experts see no signs of Chrysler making quality improvements across the board, because the company currently lacks the financial resources to do so. It also remains unclear if the company has the means to hang on until auto sales revive.

"I'm not sure Chrysler can weather the storm as an individual company," says Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at

It's an entirely different story, however, for the two Japanese auto giants, Toyota and Honda. The best-performing cars, according to our rankings, are all made by these two carmakers, with Toyota claiming six spots and Honda four in the top 10.

In the sixth spot is the immensely popular Honda Accord. It earned the highest Insurance Institute Highway Safety crash test ratings, its predicted reliability is high and there are no recalls so far this year.

"Honda's manufacturing quality is strong, and the consumer's perception of quality is also strong," says Jonathan Banks, senior director of consulting services for Automotive Leasing Guide.

Behind the Numbers

To compile our list of 2008 best- and worst-performing cars, we looked at five factors, all pertaining to 2008 model-year vehicles: the number of recalls to date, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) database; reliability ratings from Consumer Reports; depreciation, in the form of Automotive Leasing Guide's (ALG) star ratings; safety from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash test ratings; and fuel economy and annual fuel costs from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Fuel costs were based on AAA's national regular gas price of $2.42 and unleaded at $2.60.

Aside from a standout number of recalls, we looked specifically for below-average reliability, high depreciation and IIHS results of "marginal" or "poor" for worst performers. Of the vehicles that met at least two of these qualifications, we also looked at other factors, such as fuel efficiency and fuel cost per year of ownership, assuming 15,000 miles driven per year.

Leading the Pack

Just as Chrysler dominates the bottom of the list, Toyota reigns at the top, with six vehicles that have among the highest resale values and best reliability scores. And all of the top 10 are among the most fuel-efficient cars and SUVs on the road.

The fuel-efficient Toyota Prius hybrid tops the list with an "excellent" reliability rating, no recalls and a five-star-rated resale value. It has the highest fuel economy (1.61 km per litre) and the lowest annual fuel cost of any car on the list ($789).

Another top performer is Toyota's Scion xD , a hatchback introduced in the 2008 model year as a replacement to the xA hatchback. The xD has an "excellent" reliability rating, no recalls and good fuel economy (1.62 km per litre).

While the Scion is a solid performer, however, it isn't perfect. It earned an "acceptable" (second-highest) frontal crash-test rating but did score a "good" rating (highest) in side- and rear-impact crash tests. Also, its resale value is an average three stars.

Which is more attractive in buying a car: a better price or better predicted reliability? Weigh in. Add your thoughts in the Reader Comments section below.

While there are no similar cars from U.S. automakers on the top half of the list, there are bright spots for 2009 and beyond, as GM and Ford Motor both plan to bring more fuel-efficient, nicely equipped small cars like the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Festiva to the U.S. from other countries.

"There are things in the pipeline," says Edmunds, at least for those two companies. "I just don't know if Chrysler will be around to do it."

Trailing the Pack

Chrysler has carved out for itself a big space on our list of poor-performing cars, but the automaker has plenty of company.

When gas prices topped $4 a gallon this summer, consumers dropped gas-guzzling SUVs like the Nissan Xterra (1.6 km per litre), as sales plummeted 29.1% from January to October, compared with same period in 2007. The Xterra falls to sixth place among the worst-performing vehicles, as there have been three recalls on the car so far this year, not to mention its below-average performance in crash ratings in side (marginal) and rear (poor) tests, as well as its mediocre three-star resale value.

The Xterra's sales drop can't be chalked up to a general anti-SUV sentiment either, as the smaller Toyota Rav-4 rated fourth among best-performing cars and the Honda CR-V came in fifth. Unlike the Xterra, both cars deliver on fuel economy and resale value.

With the 2009 model year now in full swing (it kicked off Oct. 1), the 2008 model-year cars still sitting on dealer lots are loaded with incentives to make them more appealing to consumers. Chances are, says Banks, many poor-performing vehicles are among the ones with the highest incentives. But while you may save with a lower transaction price now, on a year-end deal, you're likely to be paying for it later.

"If it has a one- or two-star resale value, then it's not a great quality car," says Banks. "If it has a lot of recalls, then you may spend a lot of time in the repair shop. And when the vehicle warranty ends, you may face high repair costs."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Porsche - A Pioneer in Hybrid Technology

Porsche®, a name long associated with engineering innovation, stunned the automotive world by introducing the world’s first advanced electric car – a vehicle that also led to the world’s first hybrid car. While this “green” alternative to petroleum-based transportation may be considered a mundane news story in the 21st Century when green technology announcements are a daily occurrence, a 24-year-old engineer by the name of Ferdinand Porsche developed, produced and raced such a car more than 100 years ago when horseless carriages were in their infancy.

Working for Jacob Lohner & Co. in Vienna, Austria in 1899, Ferdinand Porsche – father of Dr. Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche who in 1948 founded the Porsche high performance sports car and SUV company we know today – developed and built the world’s first automobile that used electric wheel hub motors rather than a fossil-fuel combustion engine and transmission to drive the wheels. It was called the Lohner-Porsche.

A Lohner Porsche and concept versions of the Hybrid Cayenne® SUV can be seen at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show to be held Nov. 14-25, 2007.

Ferdinand Porsche installed his patented invention, the electric wheel hub motor, directly on the front wheels. Standard output was 2.5 horsepower at 120 rpm, but they were capable of 7 horsepower each for up to 20 minutes.

This technology could provide speeds of just over 10 mph and a top speed of about 31 mph. Using a 44-cell battery with 300 ampere hours and 80 volts, Porsche’s new vehicle had a range of about 30 miles.

Hailed as “the greatest invention of the age” by one trade journal because electric wheel hub motors eliminated the need for a transmission, gears, belts, chains, differentials and other moving parts and could be produced very quickly, this drivetrain was 83 percent efficient because there was no mechanical loss due to friction. Its debut at the World’s Fair in Paris on April 14, 1900 hurdled Ferdinand Porsche to worldwide fame overnight and prompted Lohner to produce and sell well over 300 such vehicles.

Soon after, Porsche took his invention to the race track. On Sept. 23, 1900 he fitted his electric wheel hub motor car with a larger battery and set his first speed record at Semmering, covering the 6.2-mile route in less than 15 minutes with an average speed of 25.5 mph. The best internal combustion engine powered car averaged 21.5 mph.

Later that year, Porsche fitted his wheel hub motors on all four wheels, thus producing the world’s first all-wheel drive car. To give the car sufficient power and range, it required nearly 4,000 lbs. in batteries, proving to be the same challenge faced by today’s engineers. He tried to solve this dilemma by fitting the all-electric speed-record car with two De Dion Bouton gasoline engines producing current for the electric powertrain. The result was the world’s first hybrid.

He again surprised the automotive world when this new concept debuted at the 1901 Parisian Auto Salon. His design used the 3.5-horsepower combustion engines to drive dual generators to supply current to the two wheel hub motors on the front wheels. It also was possible to run the gasoline engines after start up to so that the electric motor functioned as a generator and kept the battery charged. If necessary, both the combustion engines and electric motors could be used in parallel. Porsche stepped up performance and created variations delivering 5 to 12 horsepower. And in 1902 he piloted his hybrid during trial runs at the Exelberg race, finishing first in the large-car class and third overall.

Porsche went on to develop automobiles for Austro-Daimler, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Stuttgart, and Steyr-Werke AG in Austria before forming Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH in 1931. He is most remembered as the inventor of the Volkswagen Beetle, yet his innovative work in the areas of electric and hybrid drive systems is substantial. His wheel hub motor resurfaced decades later when the concept was used to power the Lunar Rover during NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon. Today, his innovative spirit lives on at Porsche AG’s Research and Development Center in Weissach, Germany where the company is applying its engineering strength to develop hybrid systems for the Cayenne SUV and the upcoming Panamera four-door gran turismo.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


After much teasing from Lamborghini over its all-new concept car, here's the whole thing - and it's said to be close to production.

The Estoque, named for a bullfighter's sword, is the long-rumored four-door Lamborghini, a 2+2 seater to rival the likes of the Aston Martin Rapide and the Porsche Panamera.

It uses styling cues from the Murcielago and Reventon to look every inch an uncompromised supercar - its extra rear doors are subtle. It should also be lightweight; it's built around an aluminium spaceframe structure similar to that of the Audi A8.

Though it's not a working prototype as yet, this four-wheel-drive Estoque could be fitted with the 5.2-litre, 560bhp V10 as used in the Gallardo LP 560-4, rather than the Murcielago's V12, though several other engines from the Volkswagen-Audi Group could also be used in the production vehicle - even the V12 TDI diesel as in the latest range-topping Q7, a smaller but turbocharged V8, or a hybrid powertrain system. The engine is front-mid mounted, for optimum weight distribution.

Though just 1.35m tall, the Estoque is 5.15m long and has a wheelbase of over 3m, plus a large boot - said to be big enough for a pair of golf bags. It sits on 22-inch wheels up front and 23-inchers to the rear, giving a muscular stance, and its cabin, with large LCD display screen which can be set to a traditional design with circular dials or digital displays, is upholstered in 'highest-quality' nappa leather. Rear-seat passengers can enjoy a top-notch entertainment system, as well as a high-end stereo.

The Estoque is thought to be scheduled for production in 2010, with annual sales of 3000 planned, though Lamborghini is remaining tight-lipped: it says only that the Estoque 'represents one of several possibilities for a third model series within the Lamborghini product line-up. At this point in time, no decisions have been taken in respect of either a third model series of any kind or of the Estoque concept in particular.'

The fact that this concept has been engineered to meet all European occupant and pedestrian safety standards suggests that it's very much a goer, though, for a start, and Lamborghini does admit that 'it is based on a feasible technical concept.'

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saab 9-X Air

It's just over 25 years since Saab unveiled its first four- seat convertible, a car based on its 900 model that became the most popular rag-top in the world.

In a new take on topless motoring the Swedish carmaker has come up with its 9-X Air concept car.

It will be revealed to the public at the Paris Motor Show next week and Saab says it's a glimpse of what a convertible from the company could look like.

Featuring what Saab calls a canopy top, the 9-X Air is not like other convertibles as it incorporates prominent rear pillars which curve upwards to mount the flat folding roof.

This is not dissimilar to Ferrari and Ford sports prototype endurance cars of the 60s which never resulted in production versions. With the top down in the 9-X Air, occupants can enjoy open-top motoring free from buffeting, while with the cloth top in place, the 9-X Air assumes the appearance of a solid-roofed coupe.

The 9-X Air's raked rear pillars – which have a separate rear screen between them – support the canopy top in a design development of the classic Targa roof principle.

However, instead of having a manually detachable roof section, the Saab canopy top will be power operated, neatly and quickly folding away in the boot, taking up very little load volume. Saab has already filed a patent for the design.

The roof design allows a clean, sculpted body contour for the 9-X Air, but there's no mistaking the car as being anything but a Saab, for its Scandinavian-inspired design links as directly as ever to Saab's aircraft heritage.

With a purposeful stance, and minimal front and rear overhangs, the effect is complemented by the single, wraparound window graphic, and smooth, uncluttered body surfaces.

Anthony Lo, director of advanced design at General Motors Europe, says of the car: "Like her sister, the 9-X BioHybrid, this car is all about efficiency in design and performance. It offers important benefits in weight-saving and packaging, as well as giving us the freedom to take convertible design forward."

The 9-X Air showcases seamless, wireless connectivity (Bluetooth) with one or multiple devices (mobile phones, PDAs etc).

Designed in parallel with the Saab 9-X BioHybrid concept, the 9-X Air shares its distinctive frontal styling, together with its highly efficient powertrain. The small, 1.4-litre Saab BioPower engine combines measures for more responsible performance: smaller engines, turbocharging, the use of biofuel and hybrid technology.

Running on E85 fuel (85 per cent bioethanol/15 per cent petrol), the engine delivers 147kW, giving zero- to-100kmh acceleration in 8.1 seconds and CO2 tailpipe emissions of 107g/km. Compared with normal petrol, the environmental impact on a source-to-wheel basis of using E85 is even more beneficial.

The exterior of the 9-X Air is defined by the prominent C-pillars, or buttresses, that provide the rear mounting for the canopy top – a powered, flat-folding roof developed from a Targa top principle. In a further break with design convention, the 9-X Air dispenses with a boot lid.

Instead, a large storage compartment, big enough to accommodate two golf bags, slides out from underneath the rear light bar. To save weight, it is spring- loaded, without power assistance, and slides on rollers.

Inside, the 9-X Air's driver information zone encompasses the top of the door moulding as well as the traditional dashboard. It's a fresh execution of Saab's traditional, driver-focused cockpit layout and dispenses with a central, floor-mounted console.

The zone is a flat, arc-shaped surface, within which a row of five display screens is embedded and illuminated in green 3D graphics.

In cooperation with Sony Ericsson, the 9-X Air's in-car interface enables streaming of data, entertainment and satellite navigation functions, which are transferred automatically to the car while the driver's PDA, phone or iPod remains on board, and the smarter the device, the more functions are available.

The same unit could also be programmed to remotely lock /unlock the car, raise or lower the canopy top, and even remotely change in-car pre-sets.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

FORD 2009 FIESTA ECOnetic - 65 Miles per Gallon

If ever there was a car made for the times, this would seem to be it: a sporty subcompact that seats five, offers a navigation system, and gets a whopping 65 miles to the gallon. Oh yes, and the car is made by Ford Motor, known widely for lumbering gas hogs.

Ford's 2009 Fiesta ECOnetic goes on sale in November. But here's the catch: Despite the car's potential to transform Ford's image and help it compete with Toyota Motor and Honda Motor in its home market, the company will sell the little fuel sipper only in Europe. "We know it's an awesome vehicle," says Ford America President Mark Fields. "But there are business reasons why we can't sell it in the U.S." The main one: The Fiesta ECOnetic runs on diesel.

Automakers such as Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have predicted for years that a technology called "clean diesel" would overcome many Americans' antipathy to a fuel still often thought of as the smelly stuff that powers tractor trailers. Diesel vehicles now hitting the market with pollution-fighting technology are as clean or cleaner than gasoline and at least 30% more fuel-efficient.

Yet while half of all cars sold in Europe last year ran on diesel, the U.S. market remains relatively unfriendly to the fuel. Taxes aimed at commercial trucks mean diesel costs anywhere from 40 cents to $1 more per gallon than gasoline. Add to this the success of the Toyota Prius, and you can see why only 3% of cars in the U.S. use diesel. "Americans see hybrids as the darling," says Global Insight auto analyst Philip Gott, "and diesel as old-tech."

None of this is stopping European and Japanese automakers, which are betting they can jump-start the U.S. market with new diesel models. Mercedes-Benz by next year will have three cars it markets as "BlueTec." Even Nissan (NSANY) and Honda, which long opposed building diesel cars in Europe, plan to introduce them in the U.S. in 2010. But Ford, whose Fiesta ECOnetic compares favorably with European diesels, can't make a business case for bringing the car to the U.S.

First of all, the engines are built in Britain, so labor costs are high. Plus the pound remains stronger than the greenback. At prevailing exchange rates, the Fiesta ECOnetic would sell for about $25,700 in the U.S. By contrast, the Prius typically goes for about $24,000. A $1,300 tax deduction available to buyers of new diesel cars could bring the price of the Fiesta to around $24,400. But Ford doesn't believe it could charge enough to make money on an imported ECOnetic.

Ford plans to make a gas-powered version of the Fiesta in Mexico for the U.S. So why not manufacture diesel engines there, too? Building a plant would cost at least $350 million at a time when Ford has been burning through more than $1 billion a month in cash reserves. Besides, the automaker would have to produce at least 350,000 engines a year to make such a venture profitable. "We just don't think North and South America would buy that many diesel cars," says Fields.

The question, of course, is whether the U.S. ever will embrace diesel fuel and allow automakers to achieve sufficient scale to make money on such vehicles. California certified VW and Mercedes diesel cars earlier this year, after a four-year ban. James N. Hall, of auto researcher 293 Analysts, says that bellwether state and the Northeast remain "hostile to diesel." But the risk to Ford is that the fuel takes off, and the carmaker finds itself playing catch-up—despite having a serious diesel contender in its arsenal.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hyundai Genesis

Hyundai Motor America today announced that HKS USA, Inc. will create a high-performance Genesis Coupe 2.0t for the 2008 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show. The all-new, rear-wheel drive Hyundai model will make its SEMA debut at the Las Vegas Convention Center Nov. 4 - Nov. 7, 2008. HKS, the leading manufacturer of premium performance parts, is the second company to join Hyundai for this year's SEMA show.

"Genesis Coupe has the basic DNA that HKS looks for -- an excellent chassis, rear-wheel drive, aggressive styling and a new generation turbo-charged engine. These attributes provide the opportunity for HKS to maximize the Genesis Coupe driving performance capabilities for the serious driving enthusiast," said Rick Lafferty, president, HKS USA, Inc. "HKS is allocating R&D, engineering and prototyping resources to lay the groundwork for HKS-brand Genesis Coupe performance parts. We are looking forward to working with Hyundai to realize the full performance potential of the Genesis Coupe."
The HKS plan for the Genesis Coupe includes a HKS GT Turbo upgrade to maximize horsepower and torque, HKS engine internals, HKS limited-edition turbo exhaust system, HKS Super Mega Flow Intake System, HKS Engine Management and HKS Hipermax III fully-adjustable suspension.
"We've designed Genesis Coupe from the start to be tuner-friendly," said John Krafcik, vice president, Product Development and Strategic Planning, Hyundai Motor America. "Partnering with an industry leader like HKS is a terrific way for us to stretch the performance envelope of Genesis Coupe."
The HKS Genesis Coupe will also showcase functional ground effects designed by Ken Style, HKS Time-Attack cars' aerodynamic partner. The interior will emphasize driver comfort and control with HKS electronics including CAMP2 that monitors up to 24 data signals from the Genesis OBD2 and programmable calculations for fuel costs, average fuel consumption and fuel efficiency in real time.

-- Hyundai's first rear-wheel drive sports car
-- 306 horsepower (est.) from enhanced 3.8-liter V6 from Genesis sedan
-- Standard 210 horsepower (est.) turbocharged, intercooled inline four
-- Genesis Coupe arrives in the spring of 2009 as a 2010 model

HKS USA, Inc. is a leading manufacturer and supplier of premium automotive aftermarket performance systems, parts and accessories. Delivering its products to both the import and domestic car markets, HKS has been recognized for its engineering and performance excellence in the automotive industry since 1973. Established in 1982, HKS USA, Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of HKS Company, Ltd. Japan and distributes its products through its worldwide dealer network. For more information about HKS USA, Inc., visit their website at
Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif., is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. of South Korea. Hyundai vehicles are distributed throughout the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced through 800 dealerships nationwide.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

BMW Recalls over 200,000 cars over Airbag concerns

BMW AG said Wednesday it was recalling 200,000 vehicles over concerns that the front passenger air bag may not deploy in a crash.

The German automaker said the recall involves the 2006 3 Series, the 2004-2006 5 Series, and the 2004-2006 X3 compact sport utility vehicles in the United States.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a posting on its Web site that small cracks could develop in a seat detection mat and deactivate the front passenger air bags.

NHTSA said the air bag warning lamp and the passenger air bag "on-off" light would remain on. The head protection system, however, would not be affected, the government said.

BMW spokesman Tom Plucinsky said there were no injuries or accidents reported.

If the seat detection mat fails to sense that a person is sitting in the passenger seat, it deactivates the air bag. Plucinsky said customers alerted the company when they noticed that the air bag light indicated a deactivated air bag even when a passenger sat in the seat.

NHTSA opened an investigation into the issue in September 2007 and upgraded its probe in January. In addition to the vehicles under Wednesday's recall, the ongoing investigation also includes the 2004-2006 Z4, 2006 X5, 2006 6 Series and some 2004-2006 7 Series vehicles.

BMW had received 23,739 warranty claims over the air bag system issue by early January, NHTSA said. Plucinsky could not immediately address why the additional vehicles under NHTSA's investigation were not part of the recall.

To respond to the problem, BMW said it would extend the warranty to 10 years without any mileage limit for the following vehicles: 2006 6 Series, 2006 3 Series with standard seat, 2004-2005 Z4, 2004-2006 7 Series, 2006 X5, and 2004-2006 5 Series with comfort seats.

BMW said under the extended warranty program, the detection mat in a vehicle with the air bag system problems would be replaced at no charge to the customer.

Owners can contact BMW at (800) 525-7417.

On the Net:
BMW of North America:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

BMW Winning back Market

BMW, buoyed by a new line of small cars, threatens to end the 8-year reign of Toyota's Lexus as the leading US luxury brand.

BMW topped Lexus in July for the third time in 2008. BMW, the world's largest maker of luxury cars, trails Lexus by 3466 sales after 7 months, erasing 90% of the gap from the start of the year.

The US debut of the 1-Series car in March bolstered BMW's offerings with a model that gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway, blunting the effect of record gasoline prices that are sapping sales of big four-wheel-drives. Lexus has added only a sports car and a 4WD with 400 horsepower, V8 engines.

"Looking at BMW's line-up with all the gas issues of the day, they may be in better shape than Lexus,'' said Stephanie Brinley, a product researcher with AutoPacific. She said Munich-based BMW may pass Lexus by the end of the year.

A 40% jump in global demand for the 1-Series helped boost last month's worldwide deliveries by 2.2%, BMW said.

The 1-Series generated 7400 US sales through July that the Munich-based carmaker didn't have a year earlier. BMW also is benefiting from a 32% rise in US sales of the Mini compact.

V8 engines

Lexus has this year introduced a redesigned version of its biggest 4WD, the $US74,000 LX570, powered by a 383-horsepower V8 engine, and the $US56,000, 416-horsepower, IS F sports sedan. The brand is suffering its biggest decline since Toyota unveiled it in 1989.

But a BMW title isn't assured. The company is scaling back on leasing programs after being forced to take writedowns on returned leased vehicles. Residual values, the projected worth of a vehicle at the end of a lease, are dropping industry-wide because of waning demand for pick-ups and 4WDs.

BMW also is struggling with the weakest industry-wide demand for new cars in 16 years. The company said this month that it would ensure profitability by reducing the number of vehicles produced for the US market this year by 40,000.

Still, BMW's 8% US sales decline in 2008 has been less severe than the industry's 11% drop and Lexus's 15% slide.

Cadillac, Lincoln

Lexus and General Motors' Cadillac have held the top-luxury-brand title for most of the past seven decades. Ford's Lincoln took the crown from Cadillac in 1998 and ceded it to Mercedes-Benz a year later. Lexus has held it since.

Ms Brinley said BMW had more small cars. The 1-Series starts at $US28,600, and the best-selling 3-Series line begins at around $US32,700 for the 328i. The 3-Series also gets as much as 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway.
Lexus relied on 4WDs for 39% of its 2007 US sales; BMW's 4WDs accounted for 22% of its volume.

Lexus has also been among the leaders in quality. It ranked as the most dependable car brand in the US for the 14th consecutive year, according to a study of 3-year-old vehicles released last week by J.D. Power & Associates. BMW ranked 7th.

Enjoying the title

"We definitely have enjoyed having that status'' as the best-selling luxury brand, said Greg Thome, a spokesman for Lexus in Torrance, California. "That is not our number one goal, especially in context of this market.''

In addition to the 1-Series, BMW has introduced a small 4WD called the X6 as well as its M3 series of performance sedans. It also will sell a partially redesigned 3-Series starting in October and introduce two diesel-powered models late this year, said spokesman Tom Plucinsky.

"It is not at all a focus to beat Lexus,'' said Jan Ehlen, a spokesman for BMW North America. "All we are doing right now is trying to maintain profitability in the current market conditions.''

BMW and Lexus may not be affected in the same way by changes in consumer behaviour, said Jim Hall, principal of 2953 Analytics, an automotive market research company in Birmingham, Michigan.

"The brands are getting two different parts of the market,'' Mr Hall said. "BMW has a much younger demographic'' and a broader line-up with several niche, low-volume vehicles for which Lexus doesn't have a competing model, he said.

Should Lexus cede the crown, it may not be runner-up for long, Mr Hall said. A redesigned RX, the brand's best-selling 4WD, will boost sales after it reaches showrooms early next year, he said.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

2009 Hyundai Genesis

The 2009 Genesis is out as are the reviews. Here is the National Posts' take on the 2009 Hyundai Genesis.

Trot out any tired old metaphor you'd like -- a deal changer, a seismic shift, a quantum leap. Whatever the verbiage, not since Lexus introduced its LS 400 in 1990 has so much luxury and performance been offered for so little money. For the first time in a very long time -- since that first Lexus, in fact -- mere proles can afford the same performance, luxury and amenities as all the yuppies in their BMWs can.

There was really no indication the new 2009 Genesis would be this good. After all, there is a Hyundai badge on its rear deck. Oh, sure, the company's Sonata now competes head to head with the Camry, but there's a huge gulf between benchmarking a Toyota and claiming that one's car is on an equal footing with a BMW.

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To Hyundai Canada's credit, it admits that with perception being so crucial to buyers in the car's snack bracket, its new Genesis has neither the pomp nor the circumstance to challenge the marketing might or brand status that BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi command. Indeed, Hyundai Canada is looking to prospect Lexus ES 350 and Cadillac CTS buyers with the Genesis V6's $37,995 base price.

That intention sells the Genesis's performance far too short. The car that compares most equally with the Genesis is BMW's 5 Series -- and not just any 5 Series, but the mondo-powerful and very expensive 550i. Yes, the Hyundai Genesis, in its $43,995,4.6-litre V8 guise, can keep up -- and occasionally trump -- BMW's finest sedan at roughly half the price. Don't believe me? Then take a gander at the specs for the Genesis's new 4.6L DOHC V8. At 375 horsepower, it out-muscles the BMW's 550i and, thanks to its smaller displacement, also gets superior fuel economy. Opting for a V8 when premium fuel exceeds $1.40 a litre may seem profligate, but the Genesis's fuel economy ratings of 12.6 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 8.1 on the highway border on economical.

But mere numbers don't do the Tau V8 justice. On the open road, the Genesis feels as quick as the 550i and just as sophisticated. Acceleration to 100 kilometres an hour from a standstill arrives in just 5.7 seconds, the same as with the 550i and quicker than the comparable Audi or Jag. Only the Mercedes E550, with one litre greater displacement, is quicker -- and then only by 0.2 seconds.

And the sound! Again, the comparison with BMW comes up. At idle, the V8 burbles with equal authority. There's the same ripping silk roar as the tach passes 4,000 rpm, not to mention the same eerie smoothness as the revs crest 6,000. It's all very authoritative without intruding into the cabin's calm.

Punch the V8 at any speed and the Genesis surges forward as fast --or faster -- than any of the mega-buck German sleds. It's smoother than the Mercedes and quicker than either the Audi or normally aspirated Jaguar V8. And it uses the same ZF six-speed automatic transmission as many $80,000-plus European sedans, meaning the entire powertrain is equal to the best from the continent. The closest I can come to a complaint is that the transmission, which offers manumatic shifting via the centre console-located lever, doesn't come with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

It would be natural to think there's no way the Genesis can keep up with a BMW in the chassis department. After all, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Jaguar, to name but a few, have all tried and -- to date -- failed. Yet, after spending a day terrorizing California's Highway 150 and scorching the tarmac at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, I can only assume Hyundai hired some BMW chassis engineers. At the very least, it bought some German suspension bits since the Genesis rides on Sachs dampers all round. As well, Hyundai has the audacity to claim that the Genesis's chassis is stiffer in both torsion and bending than its BMW, Mercedes and Audi counterparts are. Throw in the five-link suspension setup front and rear and you're looking at the beginnings of fine-handling sedan.

The suspension's tuning means the Genesis is nearly as well controlled as a 550i, with mid-corner bumps handled with an aplomb a Mercedes E550 can only envy. In the end, it remains a little behind the Bimmer in suspension performance. But, unlike the Bimmer, the Genesis doesn't come with an upgraded sport suspension. Still, you'll need access to a race track to feel the difference. Besides, the Hyundai has a slightly better ride.

After so obviously benchmarking BMW in drivetrain and suspension performance, it seems a little odd that the Genesis's steering most closely emulates Mercedes' propensity toward heavy on-centre damping. Turn-in requires more effort than in a BMW 550, and, in fast transitions between ess turns, the Genesis feels a little ponderous. It's the car's worst dynamic trait, although it's hardly a dramatic shortcoming. It's just that I had to find fault somewhere or nobody would believe me.

The surprises continue inside the cabin. The leather -- even the stuff used for the dashboard -- is top-shelf. Everything is simply laid out, ergonomically correct and easily decipherable. The one exception is Hyundai's answer to BMW's iDrive. Here, the emulation goes a megabyte too far and, although not unmanageable for us Luddites, it adds nothing to the enjoyment of the Genesis compared with the base model. The bigger problem is that opting out of the multimedia controller also means forgoing the excellent 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, which also makes up part of the Technology package.

All of this makes the Genesis a tremendous accomplishment for Hyundai. Price aside, the V8 model makes a worthy competitor for BMW's 550i. With a sticker price starting at $43,995 and topping out at $48,995, the 4.6L-powered Genesis gives incredible value. It's the best sedan you can buy for the money and a great car regardless of its price.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ford to Bring European Models to North America

Ford this Thursday is expected to announce it will fast-track at least one of its European passenger cars for U.S. production. The announcement will come amidst Ford’s second quarter earnings report and an update on its restructuring plan.

The two cars that CEO Alan Mulally has been pushing Ford to build in the U.S. are the Ford Mondeo and European Ford Focus. I have also heard that some in Ford have been trying to make a business case to sell the tiny Ka car in the U.S.

It is vital that Ford build these cars in North America if they are to sell them, rather than trying to export them from Europe. The weak dollar makes such a move a loser. Ford would lose money on each Mondeo and Focus it would import from Europe today. Those cars are not “federalized” for U.S. emissions and safety standards anyway.

For years, Ford’s management has fended off calls to unify its product offerings in Europe and the U.S. The European Mondeo, for example, is a huge critical and sales success, and is widely viewed as a more attractive vehicle than the U.S. Fusion. Too, the auto press has long praised the European Focus, while Ford has chosen to sell a different Focus in the U.S.

When Ford launched the Focus in the U.S. and Europe in the late 1990s, it was the same car on both continents. The manufacturing launch, though, was chaotic and the U.S. Focus was beset with numerous recalls. Once Ford got the bugs out, the reputation of the car was damaged. The automaker has not remade the car from top to bottom since its launch, choosing instead to change the design while keeping much of the mechanicals beneath. The current U.S. Focus is selling well as the demand for fuel efficient cars has spiked. But the car is not critically praised much for design and performance. The European Focus, meantime, has been substantially upgraded twice.

Ford managers have pushed back against Mulally’s directive to “make it happen,” referring to his desire to unify Ford’s global product line and make some of the European product in the U.S. These are the same strategic planners in some case, though, who made Ford so top-heavy on trucks and SUVs and short of competitive passenger car products.

This is where the choice of Mulally should really pay off for Ford. An outsider who came to Ford in 2006 from Boeing Co., Mulally has a retort for long-time Ford managers who fight him on a decision that makes so much sense…”How’s that workin’ out for ya so far?” Not too well. Ford managers have painful memories of the company trying to sell the Ford Contour/original Mondeo globally. And who could forget the raging success of the Merkur Scorpio in the U.S. But those people are responsible for a alot of Ford’s problems today. It’s time to try it Mulally’s way.

But just because those Euro models didn’t work, it doesn’t mean that today’s Focus and Mondeo can’t be globalized with success. The designs are much better than those previous attempts, and the world is different when it comes to design. Last time I checked, Toyota was doing pretty well selling a global Camry and Corolla design.

Given the long-term prospects or oil prices, Ford would do well to have a full line of passenger cars that includes the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, Mondeo, Taurus…Ka? What remains to be seen in Mulally’s announcement is whether or not the Mondeo will replace the Fusion, or be added to the lineup. There has already been a move to unify the design of the Fusion and Mondeo for each car’s next generation. Ford also has an updated design of the Taurus due next year. The update, as seen in spy shots and in a slide presented to dealers a few months ago, looks akin to the Mondeo.

The next generation Focus, too, was to be brought together. So, Mulally will be outlining whether or not the end result of this will be adding models, or just accelerating the merging of these model programs. Either way, Ford’s car lineup is going to get a needed boost.

Ford Posts $ 8.03 billion Loss for second Quarter

Ford Motor Co. said Thursday it lost $8.67 billion in the second quarter and will retool two more North American truck and sport utility vehicle plants to build small, fuel-efficient vehicles. The net loss includes $8.03 billion worth of write-offs because of a decline in value of North American assets and Ford Motor Credit Co.'s lease portfolio. Even excluding those items, Ford lost 62 cents per share, worse than Wall Street expected. Twelve analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial, on average, expected a 27 cent loss per share. Including the write-downs, Ford lost $3.88 per share in the April-June quarter, compared with net profit of $750 million, or 31 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

Second-quarter revenue was $38.6 billion, down $5.6 billion from the year-ago period. Analysts expected $34.6 billion. Ford also announced that it will bring six European small car models to North America by the end of 2012 as it deals with a market shift from trucks to cars brought on by high gasoline prices. The company said it will retool the Michigan Truck plant in suburban Detroit, shifting its products from large SUVs to make global vehicles off the European Focus platform by 2010. The SUVs made at Michigan Truck — the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition — will be shifted to the Kentucky Truck plant in Louisville, which makes Ford Super Duty pickups.

The company also will retool the Louisville Assembly Plant, which now builds the Ford Explorer midsize SUV, to produce vehicles on the European Focus frame, starting in 2011. The company had previously announced it would retool its pickup truck factory in Cuautitlan, Mexico, to build the Fiesta subcompact for North America starting in 2010. Ford also said its Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minn., will continue producing the Ranger small pickup through 2011. The plant was scheduled to close next year, but Ranger sales are down just 4 percent in the first half of this year, versus 18 percent for the U.S. light truck market as a whole.

The company said its write-offs included $5.3 billion in North America and $2.1 billion for Ford Credit's truck-heavy lease portfolio. Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair said most of the write-down was triggered by the drop in value of the company's truck and SUV inventory and lease residuals. Ford reported a pretax loss of $1.3 billion in North America because of the deteriorating U.S. market and the shift away from trucks. U.S. sales overall were down 10 percent in the first half of the year, with Ford's sales down 14 percent.

The company, though, continued to be profitable overseas, posting a $582 million profit in Europe and $388 million in South America. The company also made $50 million at its Asia-Pacific-Africa division.

"The second half will continue to be challenging, but we have absolutely the right plan to respond to the changing business environment and begin to grow again for the long term," President and CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement.

Ford said it does not expect a U.S. economic recovery to start until early 2010.

The company identified only three of the European small vehicles it will bring to North America: the Transit Connect small van, the European Focus and the subcompact Fiesta. Most will be built in North America, and Leclair said some might be exported. Ford already has announced that the Transit Connect will be imported from Turkey.

Ford said the other three vehicles would be identified later, including one that is unique within its segment.

Other possible vehicles are the Kuga small crossover, the C-Max small van and the Mondeo midsize car.

Ford also announced that the next-generation Ford Explorer midsize SUV will come out in 2010 and be built on car underpinnings, making it more fuel efficient than the current truck-based model. And it announced it will build a seven-passenger car-based crossover vehicle for Lincoln in mid-2009.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gasonline to Ethanol conversion

Can Alcohol be gas?

I just ran across some information on running your vehicle on Ethanol as opposed to gasoline. I can definitely understand and appreciate the desire to save money and reduce one's carbon footprint. However, prior to jumping on the bandwagon, one needs to realise the energy required to distill Ethanol. I do not know the numbers, or how they compare to the environmental cost of refining oil into gasoline but this should be an interesting development. If nothing else, at least the air around the cities will be a little cleaner.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Volkswagon Anounces new Plant in Chattanooga

Volkswagen AG will build its first United States assembly plant in Chattanooga, reports said today.

Europe’s biggest automaker said it will put a nearly $1 billion investment in Chattanooga’s Enterprise South Industrial Park.

The new plant is expected to eventually create 2,000 jobs.

Volkswagen officials said the surging euro has pushed plans for a production facility forward. The 15-nation currency has been hitting record highs in recent weeks against the U.S. dollar, making goods exported from Germany more expensive in the United States.

Volkswagen recently moved its North American headquarters from suburban Detroit to Herndon, Va., outside Washington, to bring it closer to its East Coast customer base.

Volkswagen produces VW cars and trucks and also makes vehicles under the Audi, Skoda, Seat, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti names.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prius Hybrid to get solar panel

Although some aftermarket operations have tried installing rooftop solar panels on the Toyota Prius, none of the pioneering hybrids have ever come so equipped from the factory. This will reportedly change next year when the third-generation model hits the streets. Top trim levels of the new Prius and likely the Lexus-badged version will be equipped with photovoltaic cells on the roof. The solar cells won’t generate enough power to do any significant charging of the battery pack but will be able to power accessory drives like the air conditioning. That should reduce the parasitic loads on the power-train, helping to improve the mileage slightly. The solar panels could also be used to keep the ventilation system running on hot days while the car is parked. That would reduce interior temperatures, cutting the load on the air conditioning when the driver gets in. The new Prius and the Lexus hybrid will debut in January 2009 at the Detroit Auto Show.

Toyota Shifting Gears as demand for fuel efficient cars booms

Toyota Motor Corp. will build its Prius gasoline-electric hybrid in the U.S. as part of an overhaul of North American production driven by record-high gasoline prices.

The Prius, the world's best-selling hybrid, will be assembled in late 2010 at a plant under construction in Blue Springs, Mississippi, Toyota said in a statement today. That factory originally was to build the Highlander sport-utility vehicle.

The change mirrors U.S. consumers' rapid shift to fuel- efficient models and away from large pickups and SUVs as gasoline soars above $4 a gallon. It also eases production constraints on the Prius, now built mainly in Japan, that have left U.S. dealers with shortages of the car and an oversupply of its biggest trucks.

``They bet wrong on the truck market,'' said Jeff Liker, a University of Michigan engineering professor and author of ``The Toyota Way.'' ``They've been really good about not screwing up like that in the past.''

The company will consolidate production of Tundra large pickups at its San Antonio factory. The model currently is assembled in Texas and in Princeton, Indiana. The Princeton plant will suspend work on the Tundra and Sequoia SUV starting Aug. 8 until November. The Highlander will be shifted to Indiana.

American depositary receipts for the Toyota City, Japan- based automaker rose 50 cents to $91.98 at 10:54 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The ADRs have dropped 14 percent this year through yesterday.

First Decline Since 1995

Toyota's U.S. sales fell 6.8 percent in the first half, with trucks dropping 13 percent, pushing Japan's biggest automaker toward its first annual decline in U.S. sales since 1995. Toyota introduced a bigger, redesigned Tundra last year to increase its share of the U.S. large pickup market.

Bob Carter, general manager for U.S. Toyota brand sales, has said since January the company will sell about 170,000 Priuses this year, down from 181,221 in 2007, because of tighter supplies in the hybrid model's largest market. U.S. Prius sales last month plunged 34 percent to 11,765 from a year earlier and fell 3.2 percent in the first half.

Toyota had to make sure that there would be sustained demand for the Prius before moving production to the U.S., said Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

``Toyota has come to the realization that this is not just a blip on the radar screen, but is a long-term trend,'' he said.

Ford, GM, Chrysler

Fuel prices have prompted similar changes at U.S.-based automakers General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC, all of which rely on trucks for a majority of their U.S. sales.

Ford has cut output at truck plants, including a nine-week shutdown of a Michigan SUV factory, while assigning overtime work at another Michigan plant that produces the Focus small car. Ford's F-Series pickup was passed by Toyota and Honda Motor Co. car models as the top-seller in the U.S. in both May and June.

GM said it will close four North American truck factories and is reviewing whether to divest its Hummer brand of SUVs. Chrysler plans to close its Fenton, Missouri, minivan plant. The company also will cut to one shift production of its Dodge Ram pickup at another plant in Fenton. Production also has been temporarily suspended for several weeks at SUV plants in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio.

2009 Volkswagon TDI Diesel coming to North America

Volkswagen's long-awaited new family of diesel engines has finally hit the road to the United States.

The powerful and fuel-efficient engines, which account for 63% of VW sales in Europe, have been absent from the automaker's U.S. lineup for more than a year.

Diesel buyers are among VW's most eager and enthusiastic owners in the United States, but they had to do without 2008 models because the automaker was caught flat-footed without engines that met U.S. emissions standards that took effect Jan. 1, 2007.

VW will rectify that by offering the engines, which have used less fuel than gasoline-electric hybrids in some driving tests, in two 2009 model year vehicles. Both models will wear VW's TDI badge, which stands for turbocharged direct injection, two of the technologies that make modern diesels cleaner and more powerful. The Jetta Sportwagen and sedan are already in showrooms. The Jetta scored 29 m.p.g. city/40 highway in EPA tests, up from 21 city/29 highway for the 2.5-liter gasoline engine.

VW will also add a V6 diesel version of its Touareg SUV in 2009. It may add diesel versions of other models later.

The Volkswagen group's Audi luxury brand will offer its first U.S. diesel, with a 3.0-liter 221-horsepower V6 for sale in the Q7 SUV in March. Audi is expected to add diesels to other models in the United States, including the all-new A4 sport sedan that goes on sale later this year.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

GM Shifting focus to more ECO friendly cars including GM BEAT

General Motors Corp., the automaker that popularized the Hummer, may sell a mini-car four feet (1.2 meters) shorter than its biggest offering and more than a foot shorter than anything else it markets in the U.S. to win back buyers scared off by high fuel prices.

GM may bring the production version of the Chevrolet Beat to the U.S., people familiar with the plan said. The car, which would normally be reserved for markets such as Asia and Latin America, gets as much as 40 miles a gallon, a fuel efficiency topped in the U.S. only by hybrids.

The possible American introduction of the Beat would be one step in a fleet downsizing and shift away from fossil fuel-based vehicles that the people said is already under way at Detroit- based GM. Resigned to $4-a-gallon gasoline and stricter pollution rules, the largest U.S. automaker has recognized that its response must go beyond the mothballing of large truck plants, the people said.

``This is a very big change for GM,'' said John Wolkonowicz, an analyst at Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. ``They have no choice. There's never been as rapid a shift in consumer demand in the history of the auto industry.''

GM, turning 100 this year, has few options to re-inventing itself. The company reported its largest annual loss in 2007, $38.7 billion, after a tax accounting change, and hasn't had a profitable year since 2004. The carmaker's U.S. market share hovers at the lowest level since 1925, and last year GM was 3,000 cars away from being dethroned by Toyota Motor Corp. as the world's largest automaker.

Smaller Than Mattel

The company's current market value is smaller than that of Mattel Inc., maker of Matchbox cars, and a 10th what it was in 2000. A Merrill Lynch analyst said yesterday that a GM ``bankruptcy is not impossible if the market continues to deteriorate.''

GM rose 15 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $10.13 at 8:56 a.m. before regular New York Stock Exchange trading. Yesterday, GM fell 15 percent after Merrill downgraded the stock to ``underperform'' from ``buy.'' The price was the lowest since 1954 adjusted for splits, according to Global Financial Data in Los Angeles.

Besides the Beat, GM is weighing a list of options for refocusing its auto lineup on fuel efficiency rather than performance. They include the U.S. introduction of a small pickup popular in Latin America and an expansion of the number of versions of the Volt plug-in electric car, the people said.

GM is also trying to increase production and speed up availability of the successor to the Chevy Cobalt sedan and develop a fuel-efficient alternative to the Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicle, they said.

Portfolio Review

``We are looking at and reviewing our entire portfolio, not just because gasoline is $4 but because of stricter government fuel economy regulations,'' GM spokesman Dee Allen said, referring to U.S. requirements that automakers reduce fuel use 40 percent by 2020. He declined to discuss specific projects.

Already, GM has reassigned engineers to many of the projects, according to the people familiar with the planning. The company is taking them from SUV and truck programs suspended while awaiting the return of customers. Now, these people said, GM sees no point in waiting.

``This is the biggest change that we have seen at GM in three decades in terms of engineering,'' said Jim Hall, principal of 2953 Analytics, an automotive consulting firm in Birmingham, Michigan.

Close to Smart

The automaker unveiled the Beat as a prototype at the New York auto show in April 2007, along with two other 40 mpg Chevy small-car concepts. Besides two hybrid models, the only car in the U.S. that comes close to the Beat's projected fuel efficiency is Daimler AG's Smart car, with 36 mpg, according to Yahoo! Autos.

At about 138 inches (3505 millimeters) long, the Beat would be among the smallest cars sold in the U.S. Only the 106-inch Smart car is shorter.

Sales of the smallest cars in the U.S. have risen 31 percent in the first half this year as the industry total fell 10 percent and the largest SUVs 31 percent. GM reported a 21 percent plunge in U.S. sales of pickups, SUVs and vans for the first six months.

In November, GM said it approved a model based on the Beat prototype for markets outside the U.S. and Canada starting next year. GM wouldn't disclose where the new vehicle would be built.

GM may also expand the Volt electric car program, the people said. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, 76, said last month the company currently plans to build about 60,000 Volts a year after they go on sale in late 2010. The product is designed to drive 40 miles on a charge from a household outlet before an onboard engine recharges the battery.

Variation on the Volt

``The Volt is going to have far more variations than people imagine,'' said Hall, who studies GM's plans for future models.

The small pickup GM is considering for the U.S. would be similar to the Chevrolet Montana, according to the people with knowledge of the plans. The 174-inch Montana is sold in Brazil and in Mexico as the Tornado and in South Africa as the Opel Corsa Utility. The Chevrolet Colorado, GM's smallest U.S. pickup, is 192 inches.

Additionally, Cadillac is considering a smaller SUV, known internally as the MiniSlade, as a more fuel-efficient option to the large Escalade SUV.

Tesla Motors to manufacture all electric car in California

Tesla Motors will build the follow up vehicle to the Tesla Roadster in California. The plan to manufacture the 4-door, 5-passenger sedan was announced earlier this week by Ze’ev Drori, CEO of Tesla Motors, and California Governor Schwarzenegger

Known as the Model S, the second addition to the company's fully-electric line-up is slated for late 2010 production and will reportedly cost around US$60,000 and make 225 miles on a single charge. The new model signals Tesla's intention to evolve beyond the boutique market targeted by the US$100,000 Roadster

“Make no mistake - we are not a niche player with a car only for the rich and famous. As our agreement with the state so clearly demonstrates, we are building a high volume ZERO EMISSION VEHICLE, manufactured in California for mid-range family use. And we aren’t going to stop there. We will continue on and build even more affordable cars. You are witnessing the debut of a new car company, a company unlike all others, a company with a disruptive technology, a company dedicated for the exclusive production of Zero Emission Vehicles,” said Ze’ev Drori.

The decision to build the new sedan in California (not New Mexico as originally planned) keeps the manufacturing operations close to Tesla's engineering and research HQ in San Carlos. Tesla’s battery pack and the final assembly of the Tesla Roadster is also currently in California.

The news also boosts California's push to attract ZEV manufacturers. The California Alternative EnergyAlternative energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority (CAEATFA) recently approved a new program that exempts new manufacturers from paying sales and use tax on the purchase of manufacturing equipment and Tesla will also be eligible for at least USD 1 million in Employment Training Panel Workforce Development Funds to train employees according to the company's press release.

There's no details yet on what the new car looks like or exactly when we may see it

Monday, June 16, 2008

HONDA FCX CLARITY - Honda's First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car

Honda's new zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell car rolled off a Japanese production line Monday and is headed to Southern California, where Hollywood is already abuzz over the latest splash in green motoring.

The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water and none of the noxious fumes believed to induce global warming. It is also two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a standard gasoline-powered car, the company says.

Japan's third biggest automaker expects to lease out a "few dozen" units this year and about 200 units within three years. In California, a three-year lease will run $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage.

Among the first customers are actress Jamie Lee Curtis and filmmaker husband Christopher Guest, actress Laura Harris, film producer Ron Yerxa, as well as businessmen Jon Spallino and Jim Salomon.

"It's so smooth," said Harris, who played villainness Marie Warner on the hit TV show "24" and was flown over by Honda for the ceremony. "It's like a future machine, but it's not."

The FCX Clarity is an improvement of its previous-generation fuel cell vehicle, the FCX, introduced in 2005.

A breakthrough in the design of the fuel cell stack, which is the unit that powers the car's motor, allowed engineers to lighten the body, expand the interior and increase efficiency, Honda said.

The fuel cell draws on energy synthesized through a chemical reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen in the air, and a lithium-ion battery pack provides supplemental power. The FCX Clarity has a range of about 270-miles per tank with hydrogen consumption equivalent to 74 miles per gallon, according to the carmaker.

The 3,600-pound vehicle can reach speeds up to 100 miles per hour.

John Mendel, executive vice president of America Honda Motor Co., said at a morning ceremony it was "an especially significant day for American Honda as we plant firm footsteps toward the mainstreaming of fuel cell cars."

The biggest obstacles standing in the way of wider adoption of fuel cell vehicles are cost and the dearth of hydrogen fuel stations. For the Clarity's release in California, Honda said it received 50,000 applications through its website but could only consider those living near stations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine.

Initially, however, the Clarity will go only to a chosen few starting July and then launch in Japan this fall.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for a statewide network of hydrogen stations, but progress has been slow.

The state has also recently relaxed a mandate for the number of zero-emission cars it aims to have on roads. By 2014, automakers must now sell 7,500 electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, a reduction of 70 percent.

Spallino, who currently drives Honda's older FCX and was also flown in for the ceremony, said he will use the Clarity to drive to and from work and for destinations within the Los Angeles area. The small number of hydrogen fuel stations is the "single limiting factor" for fuel cell vehicles, he said.

"It's more comfortable, and it handles well," said Spallino of Redondo Beach. "It's got everything. You're not sacrificing anything except range."

The world's major automakers have been making heavy investments in fuel cells and other alternative fuel vehicles amid climbing oil prices and concerns about climate change.

Although Honda Motor Co. was the first Japanese automaker to launch a gas-electric hybrid vehicle in the U.S. in 1999, it has been outpaced by the dominance of Toyota's popular Prius.

Toyota announced in May that it has sold more than 1 million Prius hybrids, while both the Honda Insight and the hybrid Accord have been discontinued due to poor sales.

Honda also plans to launch a gas-electric hybrid-only model, as well as hybrid versions of the Civic, the sporty CR-Z and Fit subcompact.

Toyota has announced that it would launch a plug-in hybrid with next-generation lithium-ion batteries by 2010 and a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle later in Japan later this year.

U.S. carmaker General Motors Corp. plans to introduce a Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicle in 2010. It also introduced a test-fleet of hydrogen fuel cell Equinox SUVs.

Honda has no plans for a plug-in electric vehicle. President Takeo Fukui said he does not believe current battery technology is good enough to develop a feasible car.

The company has not revealed how much each car costs to make, and it is unclear when, or if, the car will be available for mass-market sales. Takeo has set a target for 2018, but meeting that goal will depend on whether Honda can significantly lower development and assembly costs as well as market reaction to fuel cells.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ford moving towards cars over trucks and SUV's

Ford Motor Co is assembling a plan to retool its North American truck plants to build cars in a bid to keep up with changing consumer demand in the United States, the Detroit News reported on Wednesday.

Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski declined to comment on the report, but said plant managers and local union leaders from across the United States have been summoned to meet at Ford's Dearborn headquarters on Friday.

"It's a private meeting to discuss the state of the business," Kozleski said. "What we're going to do is to keep everyone up to date on the changing business situation."

The No. 2 U.S. automaker would revamp some of its North American plants to produce vehicles currently built in Europe, where it is a leader in the small-car segment, the paper reported, citing people familiar with the company's plans.

Details of the plan are expected to be announced in July, it said.

Ford is currently reviewing its entire product pipeline in North America to accelerate the introduction of more fuel-efficient cars and build more vehicles on fewer platforms.

Ford's U.S. vehicle sales plunged 12 percent in the first five months of 2008 from a year earlier as record gasoline prices depressed sales of large gas-thirsty trucks and SUVs.

Last month, Ford dropped its long-standing goal of returning to profitability in 2009, saying the shift in consumer demand toward fuel-efficient cars and crossovers and away from trucks and SUVs is permanent.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ferrari Recall's 2,171 612 Scaglietti's

Fiat SpA's Ferrari is recalling 2,171 cars of its model 612 Scaglietti due to a possible malfunction of a sensor in the Formula One transmission, Auto Motor und Sport magazine said, citing a spokesman for Ferrari.

The malfunction could make it impossible to shift gears, the magazine said in its online edition.

The recall affects 612 Scaglietti model cars build between 2004 and 2007, the magazine said.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Automakers bring back Purchase incentives following dip in market

With gas prices high, a weakening economy and slowing demand, automakers will need incentives to lift sluggish automobile sales, automaker Chrysler decided Friday.

"Incentives will be a key part but the focus will shift on those products that are facing the headwinds, such as trucks and SUVs, rather than those benefiting from the tailwind like cars." said Chrysler LLC President Jim Press, according to Dow Jones Newswire.

Incentives, which can help raise sales numbers, are not always an automakers ally as they cut into the profit margins of their dealers.

Some of the major automakers began to phase out the buying incentives early this year and offset any reduced sales with expense reductions, choosing to keep plants idle rather than produce an inventory build up. With May auto sales down across the board, automakers are quickly shifting their philosophy.

Employee price discounts have already been brought back by Ford for its F-series pickup trucks.

For the month of May, Chrysler had an average incentive per vehicle sold of $3,714, the highest among the major automakers.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

HYUNDAI Tries to compete with Mercedes with the new HYUNDAI GENESIS

Hyundai's production version of its first rear-wheel drive luxury sedan is about to hit showrooms. The Genesis will have a choice of three powertrains: a 3.3-liter V6, a 3.8-liter V6, and a new 4.6-liter V8. Starting at under $30,000, the Hyundai hopes the Genesis will be strong competitor to $60,000 premium sedans such as the Mercedes E-Class, Infiniti M, and Lexus GS.

Hyundai will offer a host of safety features on the Genesis including standard stability control, eight airbags, electronic active head restraints, and adaptive cruise control, which adjusts the vehicle speed to maintain distance from the vehicle ahead.

What is new or notable? Hyundai claims the V8, dubbed the Tau, will produce 368 hp on regular fuel. With the Tau matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, Hyundai says it will propel the Genesis from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Ferrari will unveil at the Paris show next October a new car called the California, its first convertible with a retractable hard top. Although the Italian luxury sports car maker of Formula One fame has only released the slightest of details about the car.

The car has a V8 engine like the F430 Scuderia, but it is placed in the front rather than the back. And it is strong enough to propel the two-seater from zero to 100 km/h in less than four seconds.

Other details about the car have yet to be published, but it will be similar in size to the F430, according to a spokesman. The car, which is similar to the 1957 250 California in name only, will arrive on the market in early 2009, he said.

Its price tag has yet to be posted.


The first official photographs have been published of the Ferrari California, the latest addition to the new generation of Ferraris launched in 2004 with the 612 Scaglietti and added to more recently with the 430 Scuderia.

The Ferrari California joins the Prancing Horse's 8-cylinder family which has always been defined by power and performance. It also flanks the flagship 612 Scaglietti in the prestige sporty Grand Tourer segment.

The new Ferrari California will satisfy even the most demanding of owners in term of its superb vehicle dynamics and driving pleasure. The new model will be available exclusively as a convertible with a folding hard top. Both chassis and bodywork are aluminium, in line with the rest of the current range. The California will be powered by a new V8 engine mounted for the first time in the marque's history in the mid-front position.

In line with Ferrari tradition, the new model also features several innovations. Apart from its folding hard top, these include the original 2+ concept which guarantees exceptional versatility of use in the rear of the car. The California's 4,300 cc V8 engine features direct fuel injection and a "flat" crankshaft. It generates 460 CV at 7,500 rpm with a torque curve that enhances vehicle dynamics and provides maximum driving pleasure which is typical for Ferrari.

As per the traditional Ferrari transaxle layout, the engine, which allows the Ferrari California to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 4.0 seconds, will be coupled to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission that boosts the car's performance while enhancing the driving pleasure, improves ride comfort and reduces fuel consumption and emissions (c.310 g/km CO2). The comfort is further enhanced by a new multilink rear suspension system. The Ferrari California is also equipped with the exclusive F1-Trac traction control system which made its debut on the 599 GTB Fiorano and has been further honed to suit the typical driving conditions expected for this new GT. Brembo brakes featuring carbon-ceramic material disks as standard guarantee superbly efficient braking.

In addition to sporting the marque's classic styling cues, the cabin has also been beautifully trimmed using quality materials by Ferrari's own skilled artisans. New accessories and equipment, such as the seats, steering wheel, instrument panel and infotainment system, together with optimised aerodynamics ensure that this is a highly ergonomic and enjoyable car to drive regardless of whether the top is up or down.

The Ferrari California is aimed at owners who desire a car which embodies everything the Prancing Horse represents in terms of sporty design and innovation, but also seek a car with greater versatility than ever. The car will be officially unveiled to the public at the Paris International Car Show. However, over the coming weeks, new photographs and further details about it will also be published.

"It's not a cheap car. It's not an entry-level car," the spokesman added.

Ferrari is a subsidiary of Fiat, the Italian industrial group.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

FORD is RECALLING more than 650,000 F-150 and Lincoln Mark LT pickup trucks

The Ford Motor Company is recalling more than 650,000 F-150 and Lincoln Mark LT pickup trucks because of a faulty power brake assist hose.

The Ford recall covers 2005 and 2006 F-150 and Mark LT trucks equipped with the 5.4-liter three-valve engine, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Web site.

The brake hose may swell over time causing the hose to become detached from the intake manifold, NHTSA reported. As a result the agency warned, applying the brakes could require increased pressure on the brake pedal.

“Several brake applications with power assist will be available before the vacuum reserve is depleted,” according to the NHTSA report.

A Ford spokesman said there are reports of 11 minor accidents caused by the brake hose issue with no injuries.

More than 600,000 of the recalled trucks are in the U.S. and roughly 50,000 are in Canada. Another 1,500 pickups are in other countries.

“Parts are currently not available to complete the required repairs” the automaker said in a letter to all Ford Lincoln and Mercury dealers. Ford plans to begin notifying F-150 and Mark LT owners of the recall in early July.

Dealers will replace the hose at no charge to customers when the recall begins.

Owners may contact Ford at 1-800-392-3673 or NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

SMART FORTWO car receives top crash scores

The 2008 Smart fortwo micro car, the smallest car for sale in the U.S. market, has earned top scores in crash tests conducted by the insurance industry.

The 8-foot, 8-inch vehicle received the highest rating of good in front-end and side-impact testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helping address some concerns that consumers may be more vulnerable in the tiny two-seater.

The tests, released Wednesday, show how well vehicles stack up against others of similar size and weight. The institute noted that the front-end test scores can't be compared across weight classes, meaning a small car that earns a good rating isn't considered safer than a large car that did not earn the highest rating.

Adrian Lund, the institute's president, said a small car may be more practical in congested urban areas where serious, high-speed crashes are less likely. The institute conducted the crash test to help guide consumers who want a small car that can give them good protection.

"All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better. But among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package," Lund said.

The institute's frontal crash test simulates a 40 mile per hour crash with a similar vehicle. The side crash simulates what would happen if the vehicle was struck in the side by a sport utility vehicle at 31 mph.

In a test that assessed the vehicle's protection in rear crashes, the fortwo received the second-highest rating of acceptable.

Smart, a division of Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz brand, has arrived in U.S. showrooms this year as consumers deal with rising fuel prices. The automaker has received more than 30,000 reservations for the vehicle — which has a base price of more than $12,000 with destination charges included and more than $17,000 for a fully loaded Smart passion convertible. Customers are putting down $99 to reserve a car.

The vehicle, which had sold 6,159 units through the end of April, gets 33 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. The fortwo is more than 3 feet shorter and nearly 700 pounds lighter than a Mini Cooper.

In earlier crash tests conducted by the government, Smart received the top score of five stars in side testing but the driver door unlatched during the test and opened. While it did not affect the vehicle's test score, government regulators said the incident required them to note a safety concern for the vehicle which will appear on window stickers at dealerships.

The concern was warranted because the unlatching of the door could increase the likelihood of a driver or passenger being ejected from the vehicle, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

When the IIHS conducted its side test, the driver door also became unlatched. But the institute said the injury measurements on the test dummy were low and the opening didn't affect the dummy's movement.

The 1,800-pound car has a steel safety cage and four standard air bags, including two in front and two on the sides to protect the head and abdomen. It also has standard electronic stability control, which is designed to stop vehicles from swerving off the road.

"America has never seen a car this size before and their first question usually isn't about (fuel) economy, it's about safety," said Dave Schembri, president of Smart USA. "And that's why we think these results are so very important."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Clean Cars - Civic GX

Clean Burning Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) are hot commodities in some parts of the country, where fuel can sell for as low as $0.63 per gallon.
Unlike the world’s most fuel efficient car (VW’s 285 MPG bullet), the Honda Civic GX looks like a standard passenger vehicle. What makes it special is what you don’t see: tailpipe emissions that are often cleaner than ambient air.

The Civic GX is powered by compressed natural gas—methane—the simplest and cleanest-burning hydrocarbon available. With an economical 113-hp, 1.8-Liter engine, the EPA has called the Civic the “world’s cleanest internal-combustion vehicle” with 90% cleaner emissions than the average gasoline-powered car on the road in 2004.

And get this: in Utah, natural gas can be purchased for $0.63 per gallon.

At $24,590, buying a new Civic GX won’t exactly break your bank account, especially since up to $7,000 will come back to you in the form of state and federal tax credits. But don’t expect to find one easily. The car is only sold in two states, New York and California, and Honda can’t build them fast enough. One dealership said they have over 80 people waiting to buy.

It’s fairly obvious why densely populated states would be interested, especially since natural gas is a readily available source of heating fuel for many parts of the country. Most importantly, the Civic is the Eagle Scout of emissions certifications: it qualified for the California Air Resources Board’s Advanced Technology Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle (AT-PZEV) status, which means that it’s a Super-Ultra-Low-Emission Vehicle (SULEV) with zero-evaporative emissions. To qualify for AT-PZEV, the Civic must also carry a 15-year/150,000-mile warranty on emissions equipment. It also meets EPA’s strict Tier-2, Bin-2 and ILEV certification.

Despite getting the equivalent of a good but not quite amazing 36 MPG highway/24 MPG city, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) awarded the Civic the green ribbon as the greenest vehicle of 2008. That’s the fifth consecutive year it’s taken the top prize.

So what’s the downside?

Drawbacks to the Civic GX and other Compressed Natural Gas Vehicles
Earlier this week I was clued-in to the explosion in popularity of compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles in Southern Utah, and their potential to overwhelm the 91 refueling stations already in place there.

That’s the biggest drawback to NGVs:

There are only about 1,600 CNG stations nationwide (compared to 200,000 gas stations), though some areas (like Utah and California) are better served than others. To see where these stations are, see the alternative fuel locater from Mapquest (under #2 on that post).
One way to get around this is to buy your own natural gas refueling station. Since a large number of us burn natural gas for heat, this doesn’t require much more than setting up a pump. The refueling kits, made by FuelMaker, will set you back about $3,500, but that can be offset by substantial tax credits.

Second drawback: since natural gas is a compressed fuel, the tank takes up some trunk space, and only holds the equivalent of 8 gallons of gasoline. Honda estimates the vehicle’s range to be 220 to 250 miles, although Consumer Reports claimed it was closer to 180 miles.
NGV enthusiasts are getting around range limitations (and vehicle scarcity) by converting their own vehicles to run on natural gas and adding spare tank capacity. Throwing extra tanks in the bed of a truck, for example, can boost driving range to around 600 miles. The best part about converting a vehicle (as opposed to the Civic GX) is that if you run out of CNG, the system automatically switches back to gasoline.

Third drawback: NGVs don’t provide that great of a reduction in greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions when compared to their gasoline counterparts.
According to the industry group Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVA), the reduction is only 20%, which is about the same GHG reduction you get from corn-based ethanol. That doesn’t sound too impressive, but it’s still a reduction, and clean air could be worth it.

The big question mark is natural gas supply. If large amounts of biomethane can be produced from biomass (which is probably already done at your local landfill), the emissions reductions would be much greater.

But What About Natural Gas Supply?
Natural gas supplies 20% of all energy use in the US. According to NGVA: “Even if the number of NGVs were to increase 100-fold in the next ten years to 11,000,000 or roughly 5% of the entire vehicle market (a formidable goal), the impact on natural gas supplies and the natural gas delivery infrastructure would be small — equating to about 4 percent of total U.S. natural gas consumption.”

At first glance, that sounds pretty good, but any increase in natural gas usage means importing more fuel.

Taking a look at data from the Energy Information Administration, the US uses about 21.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, most of which is produced domestically (18.5 trillion cubic feet) with the difference being imported (4.2 trillion cubic feet). Proved natural gas reserves in the US amount to about 211 trillion cubic feet. If my math is correct, without taking into account any increase in demand, the US only has about 11.5 years of natural gas left. After that, we’re back to square one: importing oil from Russia, Qatar, Iran, and Saudi Arabia

Like petroleum, two-thirds of world natural gas supply exists in just a few countries. If we’re at all worried about having domestic (let alone renewable) energy sources, basing the future of US transportation on natural gas puts us right back in the same position we’re in now.

Also like petroleum, there is an “infinite supply” argument: “Don’t worry, we won’t run out… promise.” NGVA says that if we can tap into methane hydrate ice formations that exist under 1000 feet of water at the bottom of the arctic oceans, we’ll be just fine. Right now, this is about as plausible as time travel, and methane hydrates serve a very important function—they’re a crucial sink for carbon dioxide in the global carbon cycle.

Whether or not we’ve learned our lesson about importing foreign energy, natural gas could still provide a functional infrastructure and technology for transition to hydrogen fuel cells. Natural gas is currently the number one feedstock for producing hydrogen, and refueling stations along California’s hydrogen highway may produce the fuel by reforming natural gas on-site. Basically, this gives us a transition fuel until we figure out how to make hydrogen sustainably.

As for the Honda Civic GX, it may be the cleanest-burning vehicle on the market, but the drawbacks listed above are likely to keep NGVs out of mainstream production for the forseeable future. It seems unlikely that natural gas will stay as cheap as it currently is in Utah, but relatively low pricing could keep the car’s popularity high in some areas. It will be interesting to see how things resolve there.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Volvo Recall's 65,000 Cars due to Side Aiarbag problems

Sweden's automaker Volvo Cars said on Monday it will recall 65,000 cars for a problem with side-impact air bags.

The recall affects 2008 models such as the V70 and XC70 and they were sold primarily in Europe, Volvo Cars spokeswoman Maria Bohlin said in a statement.

The cars' so-called "inflatable curtains" did not deploy as quickly as designed in a European safety test in the winter, due to a software problem, she said.

Volvo will recall the cars to fine-tune the software that triggers the release of the air bags, Bohlin said, adding that the company will send letters to all the owners of the affected cars and tell them to take the car to a mechanic to get this upgrade.

Volvo Cars has been owned by U.S. Ford Motor Co. since 1999.

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