Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Little Zipcar Deal Dwarfs the Big Jaguar Sale

We often measure change by large events, such as Ford's sale last week of its Jaguar and Land Rover luxury brands to the Tata Group, a wealthy Indian conglomerate.

But such measurements can be misleading.

The sale of Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata is not the seminal event some in the media have portrayed it to be. Instead, examined in its particulars -- Ford's unloading of those brands for $2.3 billion, less than half of what it paid to acquire them in 1989 -- is little more than a desperate correction of a mistake that never should have been made in the first place.

Ford bought Jaguar and Land Rover to regain some of the prestige it had lost by failing to build desirable, high-quality cars wearing Ford, Lincoln and Mercury badges. It was a waste of money, a pursuit as useless as trying to buy friendship. Now, Ford plans to use the money it gets from the Tata deal to do what it should have been doing all along: designing and manufacturing superior quality, must-have, Ford-branded cars and trucks.

It is important to note that development. But it is also important to point out that Ford's deal with Tata, expected to be finalized by the end of the quarter, is not nearly as significant as something else that occurred last week: the merger of Zipcar and Flexcar, the nation's leading urban car-sharing providers.

The Zipcar-Flexcar deal, which could help reduce the number of cars and trucks crowding America's roads while simultaneously boosting the fuel efficiency of the vehicles using them, points to the future of the automobile industry.

The resale of Jaguar and Land Rover is in many ways a continuation of the past, the purchase of prestige stemming from an age when fuel was plentiful and relatively cheap, when luxury meant the exclusion of most things practical, when horsepower ruled.

In short, here's betting that Tata will have more success with its super-cheap, super-efficient Nano city car and that automobile's future derivatives than it will have with keeping fuel-consumptive Jaguars and Land Rovers afloat in an era of $100-per-barrel and higher oil costs.

A Nano-like car, should it ever make it to the Western Hemisphere, would fit in perfectly with Cambridge, Mass.-based Zipcar and D.C.-based Flexcar, now merged singly under the Zipcar banner.

The newly expanded Zipcar will bring car-sharing to 26 of the United States as well as to jurisdictions in Canada and London.

The merged company now has 180,000 international members -- consumers using the service -- who will have access to 5,000 vehicles, many of them representing the best fuel efficiency available, in the Zipcar fleet.

Simple math breaks that down to 36 people per Zipcar.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New Chevy Tahoe Hybrid

It promises a better way of doing things. It just may help save the earth. And you can dress it up any way you want.

Wonderful qualities, you say? In a hybrid truck?

"Certainly in the full-size truck area, you can make a general statement that accessorization is very important to buyers. On the hybrid side, it's hard to say," said Brian Goebel, a spokesman for General Motors, whose Chevy Tahoe Hybrid is arriving in dealerships now.

The Tahoe Hybrid, which promises up to 21 miles per gallon in city driving - 50 percent better than the conventional Tahoe - was named SEMA's most accessory friendly hybrid last fall. SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, represents companies that build aftermarket products and names a "most accessory friendly" vehicle each year in four categories.

As hybrid truck offerings begin to proliferate, most experts, including those from SEMA and GM, acknowledge that buyers are primarily looking to improve their mileage. But, while accessorization is no more important to buyers of trucks as any other hybrid, it may be no less important for hybrids than any other truck.

"Personalization is experiencing such a groundswell among consumers that it plays an increasingly important role in every category," said Peter MacGillivray, SEMA vice president of events and communications. "Everybody, every type of consumer, is talking about ways they can make their vehicle fit them like a glove."

Be that as it may, J.D. Power analyst Mike Omotoso said the purchase of any hybrid boils down to more practical concerns.

"The two main reasons are fuel economy, No. 1, and the image of being environmentally conscious," said Omotoso, director of global powertrain at the research firm.

Lance Rack of Hyde Park, who has been researching full-size trucks to replace his 1999 Ford Expedition, fits squarely in the first category. Rack's work for a plumbing supply company requires him to haul bathtubs, 10-foot pipes and other large equipment.

"Most of my driving's in the city, and I'm getting 8 miles a gallon. If I could get 20 miles a gallon carrying the same stuff, why wouldn't I?" he said.

He was intrigued by the Tahoe Hybrid when he came across the mileage figure and is now considering it for his next purchase.

"Of course, not everyone with a big truck uses it, but I'd say about 80 percent of the time I'm doing something that a Prius wouldn't fit my needs," he said.

Rack says he would look for add-ons -- factory or aftermarket -- to make a vehicle fit his needs, which also include towing a motorcycle trailer. But with a Tahoe Hybrid there would be no need, as the fully loaded SUV can haul 6,000 pounds.

In fact, that's part of the reason to believe that right now, hybrid buyers would be among the least likely to accessorize their vehicles.

Hybrid technology carries a built-in premium of several thousand dollars, so automakers usually put the powertrain in a model's top trim level, giving buyers a fully loaded vehicle for the high price. (Indeed, the Tahoe Hybrid starts just under $50,000, making it more expensive than a Lincoln Navigator.) But, Omotoso points out accessorizers might not be looking at the top trim level.

"Those type of people want to spend their money on accessories," Omotoso said. "So they'll buy a cheaper version of the vehicle and have extra money to put toward accessories."

Furthermore, excessive personalizing goes against the pragmatic nature of the hybrid, as adding too much weight will reduce mileage.

"We see hybrid truck buyers purchsing the same type of things as non-hybrid buyers, such as functional items like our cargo management system; appearance items such as grilles, chrome mirror caps, tube steps; and a hard tonneau cover, which actually helps improve aerodynamics," said Tom Henderson, spokesman for GM's Service Parts Operations division. "Those would be some things we sell a lot of on our regular pickups; we would also expect to sell them on the hybrids. And then we have a lot of electrical products. Again, these are all products that don't add much mass to a vehicle."

GM's hybrid truck offerings include the GMC Yukon and Saturn Vue. Hybrid versions of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra are planned for 2009. Henderson said GM offers the same range of accessories for the conventional version and the hybrid.

SEMA's MacGillivray said he also has no specific knowledge of aftermarket add-ons designed for hybrids, but he suggested that fringe elements probably are working on products to further improve their mileage.

"They have not reached a level yet where they're part of our industry," he said, but "we've seen it happen over and over where new technology comes into the marketplace and people out there take it to a whole new level."

Still, SEMA sees value in the award. Truck owners buy the lion's share of aftermarket accessories, MacGillivray said, and when hybrids are common enough that factors beyond mileage enter the purchasing decision, consumers will expect the aftermarket to provide the means to their custom dreams. By recognizing models that are easily served by the aftermarket, he said, SEMA is preparing for the future.

"The change is inevitable. It's going to happen. When it's going to happen, nobody can predict," he said. "Once there is real money to be made out there, it will be interesting to see how our guys react."

Even J.D. Power's Omotoso sees that day.

Omotoso believes hybrids may account for as much as 6.5 percent of all light-vehicle sales by 2013, when as many as 80 models will be available, in all market segments and possibly all automakers selling in the U.S. In 2007 hybrids made up 2.2 percent of the market.

"In a way, the novelty value of a hybrid will wear off and people will start to take it for granted," he said, at which point buyers' priorities will migrate to the hybrid class. "You want the fuel economy of a hybrid, but you want all the creature comforts and all the other add-ons that you can afford."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peugeot Recalls 904 Cars in S. Korea for Brake Defects

European carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen is recalling 904 passenger cars in South Korea over brake defects, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said Thursday.

The recall applies to 495 units of the 307 sedan and 409 units of the 607 model, the ministry said in a statement.

The malfunction of a vacuum pump system or brake fluid leakage in the vehicles undermines their ability to stop in time, according to the statement.

High-precision connector for automobile

A high-precision 36-way sectioning connector set for Renault automobile front/rear harnesses benefits from the exceptional dimensional stability, high electrical insulating property and mouldability of Arnite® polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) TV4 261 (30%GF) resin from DSM Engineering Plastics. Designed and manufactured for Renault by FCI, the two-connector set incorporates many intricate geometric features for precise positioning and locking. Arnite® TV4 261 resin’s balance of flow and mechanical properties helped enable the design of these complex parts using automated manufacturing equipment. The connector set is a standard component that fits many Renault vehicles manufactured after 2006.

According to FCI advanced engineering, "the critical design objectives were foolproof mating of the male and female connectors, and ensuring connection over the lifetime of the part. Thanks to cooperation between our design group, DSM and the harness maker, Valeo, we were able to develop an entirely new connector in a short time. In particular, the use of DSM's Arnite helped us optimize the design while keeping costs reasonable."

Arnite resin offers an excellent balance of tensile strength, high flow and elongation at break compared to competitive materials, which typically sacrifice elongation benefits as flow increases. These properties enabled the highly complex connector design, which features an intricate, moulded-in protective grid to separate and protect the wires feeding 30 signal pins and six power pins. On the male connector, a slide creates a positive lock between connecting parts for reliability; the female connector includes several pre-positioning lugs, as well as ridges that mate with grooves on the male connector.

The DSM resin also helped FCI control costs. First, this competitively priced material is a standard grade with an extensive database covering relevant properties at a range of temperatures and mold flow specifications. This comprehensive information allowed FCI to quickly set up its production line. Second, Arnite TV4 261 resin keeps costs down by simplifying the coloring process: FCI purchases the material in two basic shades and adds its own masterbatch.

About DSM Engineering Plastics
DSM Engineering Plastics is a Business Group in the performance materials cluster of DSM, with sales in 2007 of EUR 1068 million (which number includes the sales of DSM Dyneema) and approximately 1500 employees worldwide. It is one of the world's leading suppliers of engineering thermoplastics offering a broad portfolio of high performance products including Stanyl® high performance polyamide and Akulon® 6 and 66 polyamides, Arnitel® TPE-E, Arnite® PBT and PET polyesters, Xantar® polycarbonate, Yparex® extrudable adhesive resins. These materials are used in technical components for electrical appliances, electronic equipment and cars, in barrier packaging films as well as in many mechanical and extrusion applications. With Stanyl®, it is the global market leader in high heat polyamides.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hitchi to re-enter automobile Engine Market

Japanese electronics giant Hitachi Ltd plans to resume production of automobile engine turbochargers by 2010 in partnership with group member Hitachi Metals Ltd, the Nikkei reported over the weekend, without citing sources.

Hitachi, which stopped taking new orders for turbochargers in 2006, has decided to get back into the field because of anticipated demand growth for vehicles equipped with fuel-efficient turbochargers as fuel economy regulations are toughened in Japan, Europe and the US, the business daily said.

Hitachi is targeting 1 trillion yen in sales in its automotive business in the year to March 2011 and aims to generate some 40 percent of sales from such environment-related parts as motors and rechargeable batteries used in hybrid cars.

(1 US dollar = 99.56 yen)

Extneded Warranties - Not always what they seem to be


When it comes to most purchases today, extended warranties seem to be the final sale offering before the seller runs to the bank with your hard earned cash. Extended warranties can cover purchases from Automobiles to electronics and even real estate. And of course, just like any insurance policy, most of the "fine print" exclusions are not discovered until a loss actually occurs.

This is not to say all entended warranties are a rip off, just a warning that many extended warrantee's are not what they may seem to be.

Pricey new-car extended warranties are usually poor deals, according to a recent survey and in-depth report published in Consumer Reports' Annual Auto Issue. Providing further evidence is action by the Missouri attorney general against several warranty companies in the St. Louis area.
Sixty-five percent of more than 8,000 Consumer Reports readers surveyed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center earlier this winter said they spent significantly more for a new-car warranty than they got back in repair cost savings.

Extended warranties are very lucrative for dealers, who are being squeezed by lower commissions and better pricing information. On average, dealers collected around $800 on each extended warranty they sold.

Meanwhile, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon took legal action against several businesses, most of them based in the St. Louis area, that he said used misrepresentation and deception to sell motor vehicle extended service contracts to consumers around the country.

Nixon said the coordinated filings of lawsuits and settlements, dubbed “Operation Taken For A Ride,” involve scores of consumers who were misled into paying for extended service contracts on their vehicles that, in most cases, they did not need.

CR Survey

In the Consumer Reports survey, respondents cited warranty costs of $1,000 on average that provided benefits of $700 -- an average $300 loss.

Some 42 percent of extended warranties were not used, and only about a third of all respondents used their plan to cover a serious problem. About one in five respondents (22%) said they had a net savings. Seventy-five percent did not buy extended warranties at all.

"Extended warranties sell costly 'peace of mind' for repair nightmares that probably won't occur," said Rik Paul, automotive editor, Consumer Reports. "Sellers know what tends to break, and in most cases consumers are betting against the house."

Extended warranties were, however, a better deal for those who bought more troublesome cars scoring lower in CR’s reliability ratings, such as those from Mercedes-Benz. Still, only 38 percent of Mercedes-Benz owners said they saved money. The average loss was $100.

Lexus and Toyota owners lost the most money: $600 on average for Lexus and $550 for Toyota. Owners of Pontiacs and Jeeps broke even because on average they had covered repairs that equaled the warranty cost.

Consumer Reports' analysis of specific car makes was based on 5,465 responses from a December 2007 online survey of CR readers who owned 2001-2002 vehicles.

What to do

Consumer Reports experts suggest, among other things, shoppers put the $1,500 to $2,300 they might spend on an extended warranty into a money market savings account or mutual fund instead, to insure against unlikely significant repair costs.

For consumers who want absolute peace of mind and don't mind paying for an extended warranty, Consumer Reports offers the following advice:

• Don't feel pressured to buy an extended warranty at the same time as buying a new car. Instead, shop about six months before the vehicle's factory warranty runs out.
• Ask for and have a trusted mechanic review sample contracts before buying.

• Bargain hard -- sales commissions can be large.

"Taken for a Ride"

Missouri AG Nixon said the companies targeted by his office used use high-pressure, misleading tactics.

“It’s rather insidious how these companies prey upon consumers’ fears, sending misleading letters informing them that their current motor vehicle warranties were about to expire, when in fact many of the consumers possessed factory warranties that wouldn’t expire for several months,” Nixon said.

“That was the hook to sell these consumers unneeded motor vehicle extended service contracts for hundreds or thousands of dollars. When consumers canceled the contracts, many received only a partial refund or no refund at all.”

Nixon says the companies mislead consumers in letters and postcards with boldfaced statements such as “Notification of Interruption!” and “Important Dated Material Enclosed” — leaving the impression that they are sent from the manufacturers who produced the consumers’ vehicles or the dealers who sold the vehicles to them.

In fact, Nixon said, the defendants fail to inform the consumers that they are not affiliated with the manufacturer, dealer or any local, state or federal government agency, and that the mailings amount to advertisements for the company’s service contracts.

“Many consumers — confused, but not wanting their car warranties to expire — went ahead and purchased the new, but in most cases unneeded, service contract the company was hawking,” Nixon said.

In one case, an elderly consumer received a postcard stating that her motor vehicle warranty was “expired or about to expire” in March 2007, even though her actual extended warranty through General Motors wouldn’t expire until November 2008. The consumer purchased a new service contract for $1,898 from the company, and the company refused to issue a refund when it was requested.

Nixon filed one of his lawsuits against that company, Vehicle Services Inc., of St. Peters, in St. Charles County Circuit Court, requesting injunctions, restitution for consumers, penalties and other relief. In addition, the Attorney General filed lawsuits today against the following businesses:

• TXEN Partners, which does business as Service Protection Direct of St. Louis; and a related company, United Warranty Solutions, for using misleading notification letters to pressure, confuse and intimidate consumers into purchasing MVESCs they did not need. The defendants failed to disclose coverage requirements to consumers who purchased MVESCs (such as the requirement to use a specific brand of oil to receive reimbursement for repairs); failed to honor contract terms and perform repair on consumers’ vehicles; and failed to issue refunds to consumers, including one consumer who is owed as much as $3,800. The lawsuit was filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

• Dealer Warranty Services of St. Charles, for using misleading notification letters to pressure, confuse and intimidate consumers into purchasing MVESCs they did not need. The defendant also misrepresented to consumers the cost of purchasing the MVESCs and debited the bank accounts of several consumers without authorization. The lawsuit was filed in St. Charles County Circuit Court.

• Certified Auto Warranty Services Inc., of Lenexa, Kan., which promised a “100 percent Money Back Guarantee” to those consumers who purchased and canceled MVESCs, but then issued only partial refunds or no refunds at all. One consumer who paid $1,335 canceled her contract, but has received no refund to date. The lawsuit was filed in Greene County Circuit Court.

• National Dealers Warranty Inc., of St. Peters, which sent consumers postcards and letters informing them that they had limited time to purchase renewed, extended warranties for their vehicles. The company neglected to inform consumers that it was not affiliated with the dealers or manufacturers of the vehicle, or that it was actually offering to sell MVESCs instead of warranties. The lawsuit was filed in St. Charles County Circuit Court.

• National Auto Warranty Services Inc., of Wentzville, which also sent consumers postcards and letters informing them that their warranties were about to expire, and that it was offering them their final chance to purchase a renewed, extended warranty. The company failed to inform the consumers that it was not affiliated with the dealers or manufacturers of the vehicle, and that it was actually offering to sell MVESCs instead of warranties. In addition, the company violated the Missouri No Call Law by calling Missourians who were on the No Call list, as well as federal telemarketing laws by contacting consumers by phone and failing to honor their requests not to be called. The lawsuit was filed in St. Charles County Circuit Court.

• Smart Choice Protection of St. Louis, doing business as Direct Dealer Warranties, which also sent consumers postcards and letters informing them that their warranties were about to expire, and that it was offering the final chance to purchase a renewed, extended warranty. The company failed to inform the consumers that it was not affiliated with the dealers or manufacturers of the vehicle, and that it was actually offering the sell MVESCs instead of warranties. The lawsuit was filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court.

In addition to the lawsuits, the Attorney General filed assurances of voluntary compliance with two companies to settle allegations of misrepresentation in the selling of extended warranties:

• Carhill Enterprises, which does business as Consumer Protection Services, of 1232 Washington Avenue in St. Louis, will pay $7,209 restitution to eight consumers and $4,000 to the state to cover the costs of the investigation and enforcement of the case. The company also agreed to injunctive relief which requires them to inform consumers upfront of specific details of their product prior to purchasing. The agreement was filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court;

• Warranty Activation Headquarters, of 12244 Tesson Ferry Road in St. Louis, satisfactorily responded to all consumers who complained. The company will pay $5,000 to the state to cover the costs of the investigation and enforcement of the case, which was filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court. The agreement also requires the company to provide full refunds to any consumers who cancel within 30 days.

Nixon encouraged consumers who have complaints about businesses selling motor vehicle extended service contracts to file complaints with his office, by either going online to or by calling the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Influx of Chinese cars expected to drop overall vehicle pricing - Just don't let your kids lick the car

THE influx of cars manufactured in China in the Philippines is expected to pull down the prices of automobiles, especially Japanese brands.

The price tag of a Chinese manufactured car is the “true price,” said Raymond Tumao, chief operating officer of Iseway Motors Phils. Inc, the exclusive distributor of Chery cars from China.

Chery Automobile Co. was founded in 1997. It penetrated the Philippine market in May 2007 with 31 dealerships, 14 of which are already operating in key areas in the country.

“Japanese car brands are priced way too high. As soon as Chinese brands come in and people will be given alternatives, we expect prices of vehicles to go down,” said Tumao during the opening of the Chery showroom on March 15.

Other Chinese car brands that are expected to be introduced in the Philippines this year are Lifan, Foton, Chana, Kama, Jac and Chang An.

Tumao said he wants to organize Chinese car distributors so they can consolidate marketing efforts in the Philippines.

He said Chinese brands offer “affordability, utility and quality.”

Chery vehicle lineup includes sedans and sports utility vehicles with prices ranging from P360,000 to P850,000. It has introduced six types of car: Cowin, Eastar, QQ3, Tiggo, A5 and V5.

Seven years after it started, Chery had sold 189,100 cars with a total increase rate of 118 percent and had exported 18,000 cars.

In the Philippines, so far, Chery has closed corporate accounts. This year, it targets to sell 2,500 units.

Manufactured in China, Chery cars feature European technology and standards in automobile fabrication.

Tumao said Chery buyers will experience “excellent after sales service” and “cheap spare parts.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

X-Prize Foundation announces $ 10 Million award for most fuel efficient car

An insurance company and a nonprofit group today announced plans to give $10 million to the team that designs, builds and brings to market the most viable and efficient vehicle that can get 100 miles per gallon of gasoline.

Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. and the X Prize Foundation jointly made the announcement at the New York International Auto Show.

The international competition, called the Progressive Automotive X Prize, was launched to help break the world's addiction to petroleum and stem the effects of climate change, according to the X Prize Foundation, a nonprofit group that sponsors contests encouraging innovation.

The foundation billed the contest as independent and technology-neutral. It is open to teams from around the world that can design green vehicles that people want to buy and that meet market needs for price, size, capability, safety and performance.

"The Progressive Automotive X Prize is a call to action to promote and inspire innovation," said Peter H. Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, in a statement. "The environmentally friendly cars created as a result of this competition will affect everyone who drives in ways we can't even imagine today."

The foundation said that so far, more than 60 teams from nine countries have signed a letter of intent to compete. Four teams and their vehicles were on hand at the auto show during the announcement today.

"Development of a superefficient car would be a major step forward in the fight against global warming, and it would help us reach our goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in New York City by 30% by 2030," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attended the press conference today. "The Progressive Automotive X Prize is an excellent example of how the private sector can spur solutions to our most complex challenges."

The foundation will be accepting applications for the competition until midyear.

Teams and their plans will be examined for safety, cost, business plans and production feasibility. The teams that are accepted into the competition will race their vehicles across the U.S. in various legs in 2009 and 2010. Overall performance will be rated, along with emissions standards and their placement in the races.

Host cities for the races will be announced "soon," according to the X Prize Foundation.

In 2004, the X Prize Foundation awarded a $10 million prize in a global competition to design a private suborbital spacecraft.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Misc stuff from the New York Auto Show

The 2009 Pontiac Solstice coupe is set to hit dealerships in early 2009. Pricing hasn't been revealed, but the current Solstice starts at $22,785.

The roof panel is removable for drivers who still want the convertible experience. The panel's frame is made of lightweight magnesium and weighs 31 pounds.

The coupe has a standard 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 173 horsepower. A high-performance GXP version has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 260 horsepower.

More of Dodge Challenger
The 2008 Dodge Challenger won't be in showrooms until May, but Chrysler LLC is already taking the wraps off the 2009 version.

Only one model of the updated pony car -- the SRT8 -- is available in 2008, but the 2009 Dodge Challenger will come in three versions: the SRT8, SE and R/T. All go on sale this fall.

The 2009 SRT8 has the same 6.1-liter HEMI V8 engine with 425 horsepower that the 2008 SRT8 has.

The SE has a 3.5-liter V6 with 250 horsepower, while the R/T has a new-generation 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with 370 horsepower.

Ethanol-powered speed
Troy-based sports car maker Saleen unveiled a concept coupe that could become an ethanol-powered sequel to its S7 supercar.

The S5S Raptor on display this week boasts a 650-horsepower supercharged V8 engine that burns 85% ethanol fuel. Tied to a six-speed manual, and with a light aluminum chassis and composite body, Saleen said the mid-engine S5S can hit 60 m.p.h. in 3.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 200 m.p.h.

If it decides to build it, Saleen said the S5S could be on the market in about two years with a price tag of $185,000.

Fresh look for taxis
Ford, the leading provider of taxis in North America for decades, is offering a fresh take on the urban transportation for the New Yorkers who flag them down every day.

While the Ford Crown Victoria is the most popular taxi vehicle in America, Ford is now showing a new people-hauler: the Transit Connect Taxi concept.

The vehicle has a vertical stacked design to accommodate three rear-cab passengers and 75 cubic feet of cargo. With its standard, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, Transit Connect delivers an estimated fuel economy of 19 m.p.g. in the city -- an improvement of more than 30%. Tailpipe emissions would be nearly 90% lower than many of today's traditional taxis.

2009 Nissan Maxima

In 1989, Nissan introduced the third-generation Nissan Maxima -- arguably the most important model in the 32-year history of this car in the U.S. Why? Because of a little 4DSC sticker it plastered on the rear side windows.

Car geeks know this stands for Four-Door Sports Car -- a bold claim at the time, but one Nissan backed up with a sport-tuned suspension and a 190-horsepower V-6, mated to a five-speed manual. With our current crop of 260-horse Accords and Camrys that may not seem like much, but back then it was enough to get the Maxima SE whispered along with the likes of Benz and BMW.

Perhaps Merc and Bimmer comparisons are what Nissan is aiming for now, with its all-new, seventh-generation Maxima. The 2009 Maxima represents a return to the car's 4DSC heritage -- at least that's what Nissan marketers hope to invoke with the addition of the very same stickers on the rear windows.

Liquid Motion

At first glance, it seems clear the 2009 Maxima designers are a breed apart from the ones that birthed the avant garde, but feminanonymous 2004-2008 Maxima.

Nissan's new flagship sedan is built upon an all-new front-drive "D platform" that is shorter between the wheels and overall, yet boasts a wider front and rear track. Why then does it look larger and meaner? Because of a butched-up styling language that Nissan calls "liquid motion." Just look at the aggressive stance and wide, upright grille work. Then notice the broadly spaced, asymmetric head and taillamps and sculpted muscular lines down the sides and hood. No slab-sided antiseptic styling here; the 2009 Maxima channels the GT-R and Infiniti G35 to great effect.

Though the chassis and sheetmetal are new, performance will come from the standard 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve VQ-series V-6 engine that powered the previous-generation Maxima and nearly everything else in the Nissan fleet. This revised engine is now rated at 290 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 35 horsepower and nine lb-ft of torque over the 2008 Maxima engine. Will such impressive output make it a torque-steering beast? Nissan engineers say no and claim to have implemented appropriate countermeasures.

On the handling side, Nissan has outfitted the Maxima with aluminum intensive MacPherson strut suspension up front and a separate spring and shock multilink setup in the rear. There are various chassis reinforcements throughout the car, including a front strut tower brace and, for Sport/Premium package-equipped models, a rear seat panel that is said to improve torsional rigidity by 17 percent.

All 2009 Maximas come in two trim levels, 3.5 S and 3.5 SV, and are equipped with a revised version of the Nissan's standard Xtronic CVT with manual mode and available paddle shifters. A new "Ds mode" (drive sport) also has been added to the CVT for 2009. No official word yet, but you can bet a six-speed manual Maxima SE version is in the works if Nissan is bold enough to put the 4DSC sticker in the window.

New BMW 520 Beats Prius in fuel Economy

Is this a case of man bites dog? A mid-size BMW sedan equipped with a diesel engine returned better fuel economy on a 545-mile, London-to-Geneva, run than a gasoline-powered Toyota Prius. A BMW 520d with a 2.0-liter diesel engine and regenerative braking (but no heavy duty hybrid features) got 41.9 mpg while the full-hybrid Prius, 500 pounds lighter, got 40.1 mpg.

Two writers for the Sunday Times (London) wondered if official mpg ratings were accurate after hearing from their readers who said the Prius ratings were high by 15 (U.K.) mpg. "If our readers are right and the official figure is wrong it has important implications, not least of which is that people driving frugal diesels are getting a raw deal," the paper said, since hybrids get some tax and roadway access benefits in Europe as they do in the U.S. To find out, they drove BMW's midsize 5 Series sedan and the Prius London-to-Geneva, adding 100 miles to the route "to give the Prius the advantage of running in urban conditions where its petrol-electric drivetrain comes into its own."

Whilst the BMW "doesn't have the external look of a green car and you don't get the same self-righteous glow when you are driving it," it does have a series of energy-saving features BMW calls EfficientDynamics: battery recharge when braking, good aerodynamics, low rolling resistance, a continuous fuel consumption gauge on the dashboard, and a six-speed manual transmission that is rated as improving fuel economy by about 10%. Testers found the 520d "not startlingly quick ... [but] it cruised happily at the French autoroute limit (dry conditions) of 78mph towards the champagne region." When the trip was done, the BMW still had a third of its tank in reserve.

The Prius, in comparison, ran out of gas. Not because of lousy mileage but because the tank is smaller (and the testers had a spare can of gas aboard). Acceleration was "hardly dragstrip quick and slower than the BMW, but still respectable." The Prius weighed 573 pounds less and had an aerodynamic shape "as slippery as a campaign manager discussing political donations," leading the testers to believe "the Prius should take less energy than the BMW to maintain a constant cruising speed." Not so. As many people know, the advantage of hybrids lies in urban driving where the stop-and-go recaptures the car's energy. On the highway, it's one more four-cylinder car pushing throught the wind.

The full story is on the website of the Sunday Times (London): "Toyota Prius proves a gas guzzler in a race with the BMW 520d: The Toyota hybrid is hailed as an eco-paragon, so how does it fare against a big BMW? To find out our correspondents go on a run to Geneva." An Imperial gallon is 1.2 U.S. gallons, or a U.S. gallon is 0.83 Imperial gallons. Roughly speaking, discount the Times numbers by one-fifth: a 50 mpg vehicle to them is a 40 mpg vehicle in the US. Another reason we should all go metric.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Peugeot Citroen plans to outsource to China

French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen plans to boost its sourcing of spare parts from China by the end of this decade, according to its local car joint venture.

The venture with Dongfeng Motor Corp, the nation's No 3 auto group, said yesterday that PSA Peugeot Citroen plans to procure 600 million euros of spare parts from China a year by 2010 for its production in Europe and South America.

The tie-up, based in the central city of Wuhan, said the French carmaker bought a total 350 million euros in spare parts from China during the 2004-07 period, without providing a figure for last year.

"Its China sourcing will be on a fast track in the coming years ... this is a big opportunity for our suppliers," the venture said.

The venture now has 326 suppliers in China.

PSA Peugeot Citroen set up a procurement center in 2004 in Shanghai. The venture said the center will double its staff to 100 by 2010.

A spate of other global automakers, such as Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors, are also increasing procurement from China, taking advantage of low costs and the improving quality of the spare parts industry here.

Meanwhile, the Sino-French venture said it plans to build a third car plant. But it wouldn't reveal the size of the investment, production capacity, location or a time frame for its opening.

The company has a 300,000-unit plant in Wuhan that makes Peugeot and Citroen small and medium-sized models. Its second factory, also in Wuhan, will be operational next year with an annual capacity of 150,000 larger sedans.

The venture said it plans to launch 20 all-new models before 2013, with five this year to woo Chinese buyers.

It expects to increase sales by 30 percent this year from 207,255 cars in 2007, the venture said.

PSA Peugeot Citroen last June signed a memorandum of understanding with China's main minibus producer Hafei Automobile Co to produce high-end vans. Hafei, based in Northeast China, is reportedly in merger talks with Dongfeng.

Sales of China-made vehicles rose by 19.27 percent year-on-year to 1.52 million units in the first two months of this year, according to data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Full-year sales are predicted to hit 10 million vehicles, up from 8.79 million units in 2007.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Bio-diesel & Ethonol craze could harm US Food Supply

Corn is a key element of the U.S. food supply. It is what dairy cows eat to make milk and hens consume to lay eggs.

It fattens cattle, hogs and chickens before slaughter. It makes soda sweet.

As the building block of ethanol, it is now also a major component of automobile fuel. In fact, Bio-diesel is largely dependent on it.

And that just might be a signal of trouble ahead.

Economists are cautioning that the nation’s growing dependence on corn would make for a double jolt if there were to be a drought across the Midwest: soaring prices not just for food but also for gasoline.

Analysts now warn that “corn shock” might not be far off — and it could lead to $5 gas and $3.50 eggs as the effects reverberate across the economy.

“We are replacing price volatility from the Middle East with Midwestern weather price volatility,” said Michael Swanson, a Wells Fargo & Co. vice president and agricultural economist.

Such a scenario would occur against a backdrop of soaring prices for basic food items and other commodities that are already stressing the economy.

Coffee is up 21 percent to date, platinum 42 percent and already high oil an additional 6 percent.

After a torrid 2007, corn prices have risen an additional 20 percent this year because of global demand for livestock feed, sweeteners and ethanol.

The rush by American farmers to plant cash-producing corn — along with the added pressure from weather problems — has squeezed wheat supplies, pushing the price of that grain up 21 percent. The cost of soy has risen 25 percent this year.

Analysts are already simulating what would happen if a drought hit the corn belt. Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, estimates that corn could reach $8 a bushel from $5.46 now.

It could happen as soon as this summer.

“The risk of a drought right now is higher than normal because of the La Niña we are seeing,” Babcock said, referring to the cooling of ocean temperatures that often has a drying effect.

As any farmer can tell you, Mother Nature is fickle.

The U.S. has suffered four major weather disasters since 1971 that wiped out 21 percent to 29 percent of the corn crop at a time.

Periodic bad weather, including droughts, scorching heat waves and cold, cloudy spells at just the wrong time, has reduced harvests by billions of bushels.

Previously, these disasters have raised food prices. The next drought will be the first to affect gas prices.

That’s because ethanol — mostly refined from corn — will make up about 6 percent of the nation’s gasoline supply this year, and that’s expected to rise to 10 percent over the next five years.

But if there were a crop shortfall, the rising price of corn would prevent ethanol distillers from earning a profit, prompting them to slash production, Babcock said.

Oil companies would have to scramble to fill that sudden gap with conventional gasoline. Prices would soar for both fuels, said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an energy economist in Aspen, Colo.

A slowing U.S. economy would blunt demand. But such safety valves won’t always exist.

“Five years from now, this could be a big, big deal,” Verleger said.

Farmers are also worried about what could happen in the short term.

“A drought would be bad for everyone. The high prices would hurt my customers, and I would have no crop to sell,” said Ron Heck, a fourth-generation soy and corn farmer from Perry, Iowa.

As demand for gasoline outstrips refinery expansions, fuel prices will be linked more tightly with the size of the corn crop.

“You might see a point where even the threat of a drought could cause gas prices to rise,” Wells Fargo’s Swanson said.

Lester R. Brown, an author and president of the Earth Policy Institute, sees a scenario with global implications.

He estimates that as long as oil prices continue to hover around $100 a barrel, ethanol distillers could pay up to $7 a bushel for corn and still make money.

However, Brown said, “if the ethanol producers stay in the market, that will disrupt the food supply.”

Vehicle GPS now available in Jamaica

It is all the rage now. Cars that can find your favourite restaurant, know which street you work on, and can take you home with a voice command.

It is the leveraging of global positioning systems for everyday use and car manufacturers, working with the doyens of technology like Microsoft, are including them in vehicles now to keep their edge on the market.

In Jamaica, the Mona Geo-Informatics Institute (MGI) has created its own mapping or navigational system, and will in a matter of months, offer the service to companies and individuals.

Here is how it works: You buy the hardware, and MGI will program the Jamaican coordinates for a cost.

Now the fancy device on the dashboard of your BMW, Volvo, Benz or any other showpiece vehicle can actually have functionality.

Of course, a car finding its way through New York is not the same as, say, an SUV taking on the challenge of the twists and turns of Stony Hill, nor locating a house in a small township in diverse St Elizabeth.

For one, street names and numbers are not a given here, so it makes MGI's work all the more challenging.

Still, it is not altogether clear what MGI's product will look like, nor how detailed it will be.

The institute merely mentioned its project at the 'Management Control Systems (MC Systems) 35th Anniversary Exposition and Technological Conference' held Wednesday at the Jamaica Pegasus.

According to director of MGI, Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee, the idea is to give Jamaicans the ability to track their location anywhere within the country, while also levelling the playing field by providing software to make GPS as useful here as it is in countries of North America and Europe.

While the date that the product will become available is not known, Lyew-Ayee told Sunday Business that it would be later this spring.

For now, MGI and Jamaica National are in negotiations to bring the navigational technology to market.

"MGI is responsible for the research and technical development of the product, but commercialisation will be done through the JN group and MCS and JAA," Lyew-Ayee told Sunday Business.

MC Systems and the Jamaica Automobile Association are both JN subsidiaries.

On Friday, MC Systems confirmed the talks but said they remained in the embryonic stages.

"Our partnership with Mona Geo-Informatics will see us offering Jamaican consumers a range of superior products starting with vehicle tracking and navigation solutions," said general manager Shereen Todd.

"We are very excited about this new technology and have great plans in store for our corporate customers as well as individual consumers."

Lyew-Ayee said it did not matter the type of navigational tools owned by potential clients, and MGI would configure any the device to the Jamaican landscape.

"We are not interested where you buy the device - whether it is Best Buy, it doesn't matter to us. What we are concerned with is the data that will make it work in Jamaica. That is the business," Lyew-Ayee said.

Bring navigational devices

MGI representative Mario Mighty said when the product makes it to market, prospective clients - companies and individuals - would have to bring their GPS navigational devices to MGI for configuration to Jamaica's topology.

MGI is the focal point for geo-informatics study at the University of the West Indies.

But the institute is also commercially savvy, developing products and services that it sells to different markets.

MGI, for example, provides services for private companies wishing to create virtual replicas of buildings and structures. It also maps and identifies areas suited to particular purposes for, say, a company seeking to expand to new locations.

Lyew-Ayee disclosed to Sunday Business, for example, that MGI has been asked by Digicel Jamaica to map all its billboards across the Jamaica, and to appraise the condition and content, and review new locations.

The new GPS technology is being launched after 18 months of research, field work and programming by MGI.

Lyew-Ayee refused comment on the actual investment in getting the product from design to market, but said it was funded by endowments as well as revenue from other projects.

Currently, only private security firms such as King Alarm and Marksman have the ability to track vehicles from a remote location, with the help of telecommunication companies.

This would be the first time that Jamaicans would have access to GPS technology that can be functional within Jamaica.

Misc Auto News

Starting this weekend, Honda DN-01 automatic motorcycle is officially on sale in Japan. When we first heard about the concept, we wondered how it would perform with its 680 cc V-Twin and new hydraulic transmission design. Since then, we've heard that the engine will make 61 horsepower, so think of this machine as a bridge between large maxi-scooters and entry-level sportbikes like the Ninja 500 or GS500. We expect that the DN-01 will have no problem handling daily commuting chores and the often necessary highway-drones, but don't expect to challenge any sportbikes on long straights. Handling will likely be a strong point, with 17" rims sporting 130/70 front and 190/50 rear tyres combined with ABS for panic-free stops.

Honda ending US motorcycle production

Honda has announced that next year it will cease motorcycle production at its Marysville, OH manufacturing plant. That facility's output, along with that of the Hamamatsu, Japan factory, will be shifted to the company's brand-new bike plant in Kumamoto next year. In 2007, Marysville built 44,000 Gold Wing and VTX models, though Honda notes that there will be no layoffs because of this shift in production. Instead, the Marysville workers will be reassigned to other Honda businesses in the fair state of Ohio.

Ban on used cars

Mexico has ban all imported used cars from US except 1998 models. The only used cars the Mexican government will allow across its borders for resale are those exactly 10 years old. There are two main reasons for Mexico's seemingly arbitrary automotive adjudication. First, its new-car dealers are tired of trying to compete with all manner of relatively inexpensive, recent-model used cars from the US. Second, the government says cars older than 10 years are wreaking havoc on the country's air quality. Until now, it was legal to import cars into Mexico that were between 10 and 15 years old. The Mexican Association of Automobile Distributors fought for the newer, more restrictive law.

BMW diesel hybrid

BMW's X5 Vision EfficientDynamics hybrid has a 2.0-litre twin-turbo 4-cylinder diesel engine mated to a li-ion battery pack. Third-generation common-rail injection and an all-aluminum crankcase to deliver 204hp 400Nm of torque between 2,000-2,250rpm. The relatively small capacity engine delivers nearly the same levels of horsepower as the conventional X5, but offers improvements in its already class-leading consumption and emissions figures. Special aero rims, a solar roof panel to heat up engine fluids before you start the vehicle; it has an 8-speed transmission. The mild hybrid solution in the BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics uses a compact generator that, for the first time, is flange mounted directly on to the gearbox. This motor produces up to 20hp of on-demand power. Innovatively, the alternator is also integrated into the crankcase rather than conventionally driven from the front of the engine.

Lancer Sportback coming to America

Mitsubishi has put out its global business plan for the next few years. The official title of the blueprint for Mitsubishi's future is 'Step Up 2010' and the automaker's overall prognostication look good globally, but more 'bear' than 'bull' for the US market. Mitsubishi figures that worldwide sales will increase from the 1.34 million units sold currently to 1.42 million by March 31, 2011. Most of the boom is expected to come from emerging markets in Brazil, China, India, the Middle East and Russia, with the latter expected to climb by close to 70 per cent and eclipsing the American market by around 63,000 in vehicle sales. On the product front, Mitsubishi is touting the introduction of the Evolution X that's currently on sale, plus a redesigned Eclipse that will be coming to market in the next few years.

No diesel hybrids for Toyota

One company that won't be joining that diesel hybrid party is Toyota. Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said the hybrid pioneer had no plans to introduce any diesel hybrids.

Watanabe announced that Toyota would offer a diesel engine in the Sequoia and Tundra in 2010. Toyota already offers a variety of diesels in the European market. However, according to Watanabe, the combination of diesel and hybrid doesn't yield enough of an incremental improvement in efficiency to justify the combined cost premium of both. At this point, the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system is not suitable for use in the big trucks, which is why Toyota is following just the diesel path for now.

BMW to offer unlimited in-car Internet access

BMW is planning to offer a production version of its Connected Drive system by the end of the year, which will allow for unlimited web browsing while on the go. BMW says that the functioning display model it has in the X6 is a prototype, but that the final consumer version of the system won't look a lot different. Connected Drive will be interfaced with BMW's much-discussed iDrive, with the web pages appearing on a high resolution, dash-mounted display. The engineers have wisely limited front-seat access to the system to when the engine is turned off, but passengers with an optional rear display (and a special iDrive interface) will be able to browse while the car is running.

No Honda Accord Type-R

The all-new European Honda Accord buyers will be disappointed to hear there are apparently no plans to launch a high-performance Type-R version of the car. Honda does not feel the all-new model fits the Type-R brand, adding that the new European Accord is designed to propel the company into competing with the likes of BMW and Audi. Honda does have plans to release Accords with modified suspension and body kits, but with standard engines, much like Audi does with its S-line models.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Toyota Decides not to follow Lithium Ion Battery Trend

Sure, lithium-ion batteries are all the rage with consumer electronics and are slowly making inroads with carmakers. Toyota, however, has bucked the trend and decided to say "Screw it!" and skip the lithium-ion battery bandwagon altogether. Rather, Toyota is looking towards some really futuristic concepts for auto batteries. Like air-zinc. And what the hell is that, exactly?

A battery that can be charged off a standard AC outlet, and that has a 50-mile range. Toyota set a goal of 2020 to commercialize the new battery. You know, I don't really have a problem with Toyota deciding to skip out on lithium-ion batteries. Those things are freaking dangerous. You ever see an exploded laptop battery? Yeah, it's bad news bears. Imagine a battery bigger than that exploding at 75 mph. Hello, zinc-air!

Toyota extends Tacoma truck warranty due to Rust problem on Frame

Sort of a recall, but not quite.

Toyota says it will extend warranty coverage on 813,000 Toyota Tacoma truck frames because of problems with corrosion.

Toyota Motor Corp. said Friday the warranty extension would involve coverage on corrosion that leads to holes in the frames of Tacomas for the model years 1995 to 2000.

The warranty will be extended for a period of 15 years from the original sale without mileage limitation.

Toyota spokesman Bill Kwong says the company received 240 complaints about excessive corrosion in the Tacoma's metal frame. Most of the cases come from cold weather states with road salt.

Toyota says owners will be notified about the extended warranty in the middle of March. For additional information, owners can call Toyota at (800) 331-4331.

BMW working on Bi-Fuel Liquid Hydrogen car

BMW may have a limited number of a 7 Series bi-fuel hydrogen-gasoline vehicle in the hands of a small number of customers in Europe and perhaps the US this year, according to Christoph Huss, senior vice president Science and Traffic Policy, BMW Group.

Huss made the remark during a panel session at the NHA Annual Hydrogen Conference and Expo in Long Beach, CA.

The 7 Series vehicle will use a bi-fuel 6.0-liter V12 engine fueled by gasoline and liquid hydrogen (LH). Both the engine and the LH storage system were on display at the Hydrogen Expo. (Earlier post.)

The engine, which uses direct injection for gasoline but port injection for the hydrogen, is optimized for neither—in other words, it sits in the middle. Running on hydrogen, it can produce 170 kW (228 hp) of power and 337 Nm of torque.

A monofuel-fuel hydrogen version of this engine powered the record-setting H2R in 2004 (earlier post), highlighting that there is further power enhancement work that can be done.

With the 170-liter liquid hydrogen tank storing about 8 kg of hydrogen, the car has a hydrogen-fueled range of 200 to 300 kilometers (125 to 185 miles). On gasoline, the car has a range up to 500 kilometers (310 miles).

Running on hydrogen, the bi-fuel engine far exceeds SULEV II targets in the US:

Less than 1% of the 0.01 g/mi NMOG
Less than 1.0% of the 1.0 g/mi CO
30% of the 0.02 g/mi NOx. The monofuel version delivers less than 10% of the NOx target.
BMW combines engine management with catalytic aftertreatment to reduce the NOx emissions. Through the mid range of the engine curve, BMW operates on a lean burn to reduce NOx. Once a power threshold is crossed, is switches to a stoichiometric mix, with the aftertreatment handling the NOx.

BMW continues to explore the utility of liquid hydrogen as a vehicle fuel (earlier post). With its higher volumetric density (0.070 kg/liter) than gaseous hydrogen (0.030 kg/liter @ 10,000 psi, liquid hydrogen offers BMW an way to satisfy what it sees as its customers needs better than a compressed hydrogen gas system. (Both BMW and DaimlerChrysler were in full agreement during the panel discussion that storage is the biggest obstacle automakers faces in delivering hydrogen vehicles acceptable to the market.)

Cutaway view of the LH tank, with the insulating layers visible between the two walls.

One of the downsides of liquid hydrogen is the energy required to compress it. The other is that as the liquid hydrogen inexorably warms from its fueling temperature of -253º C, it expands, increasing the pressure in the tank. Once internal pressure in the tank reaches 5 bar, excess pressure is relieved via a pressure check valve.

Boil-off management catalytically converts the hydrogen together with oxygen in the air to form water.

With current tank technology, the hydrogen takes about one day with the engine not running to reach a pressure of 5 bar.

BMW notes that it is “carefully observing” the ongoing technical development of gaseous fuel tanking systems, and will ultimately deliver the best solution for the customer.

In close cooperation with the South German Technical Inspection Authority (TÜV), BMW has simulated a variety of accident scenarios with the tank, which it is developing with Magna Steyr. (BMW earlier had worked with Linde on LH tanks. Linde is still working with BMW on standardizing liquid hydrogen fueling systems.)

In one series of tests, full tanks with blocked safety vales were destroyed under high pressure. Additional safety valves inside the tank ensure that the hydrogen discharges safely under such conditions.

Another series of test exposed filled tanks to fire on a test bed, surrounding the tanks with flames of almost 1,000 º C for up to 70 minutes.

A final series of test deformed full LH tanks by hard and solid objects causing “substantial damage” in the process. No tank exploded. TÜV concluded that running a car on liquid hydrogen can be just as safe as running a car on gasoline.

BMW is definitely in a minority among automakers with respect to its work with liquid hydrogen, especially given the additional energy required to compress the gas. In response, the company keeps coming back to the need to fit a technology to customer requirements and capabilities.

There are a number of reasons BMW sees it worthwhile continuing to work with LH—one is the range of the vehicle as mentioned before. The other is the geographic area available for refueling stations in Europe.

Liquid hydrogen storage requires a smaller footprint than on-site production, for example, and BMW argues that those restrictions would prove to be important obstacles in the widespread deployment of a hydrogen infrastructure.

With a road program looming, the company should soon be able to collect both quantitative data and subjective responses from its test customers on the LH bi-fuel vehicles, just as other automakers are collecting data on their fuel-cell prototypes, to enhance its work and validate—or disprove—its assumptions.

Honda unveiles new Accord at Geneva auto show

Honda took the wraps off its new family car at the show, with the fresh saloon and sporty Tourer models the stars of its Geneva stand.

The upmarket newcomer features a host of advanced technologies, including Honda’s Lane Keep Assist System, Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Mitigation Brake System.

Buyers will get the choice of three new engines, with 2.0 and 2.4-litre petrol units joined by the firm’s new 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel. Later next year it will be available mated to an automatic gearbox – a first for the family model.

The eighth-generation Accord goes on sale in June as a saloon, with the Tourer arriving in September. Prices are likely to be similar to those for the current model.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New Mercedes S400 BlueHybrid

Competes with: Lexus LS 600h L
Looks like: A run-of-the-mill S-Class
Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V-6 with electric motor and seven-speed automatic transmission
Hits dealerships: Fall 2009
The Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHybrid is a gasoline-electric hybrid version of the automaker's flagship S-Class sedan that's expected to arrive in the U.S. in fall 2009. Average fuel economy is about 30 mpg, according to Mercedes, which is nearly double the 16 mpg combined rating of the V-8-powered S550.

Though a gasoline-electric version of the S-Class is significant in its own right, the S400 BlueHybrid's hybrid system also incorporates a lithium-ion battery pack. Mercedes says the operating temperature of the battery pack is regulated by the car's air conditioning system, thereby enhancing battery life and performance.

Total system output of the 3.5-liter V-6 and electric motor is 299 hp and 277 pounds-feet of torque. Mercedes-Benz spokesman Rob Moran says the electric motor supplements the gas engine during acceleration. The automaker cites a zero-to-62-mph time of 7.3 seconds for the car and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

Buyers of expensive luxury sedans haven't had many eco-friendly alternatives to traditional V-8-powered models, and even the new Lexus LS 600h L is no fuel-saver with its 20/22 mpg city/highway rating. That's about to change with the S400 BlueHybrid, which gives big spenders all the luxury they'd expect from an S-Class with significantly improved gas mileage.

Geneva International Motor Show Showcases Eco Friendy Automobiles

Car makers showed off their leanest, greenest mass-market models Thursday in anticipation of stricter European emissions controls as the Geneva International Motor Show opened its doors to the public.

A host of small cars are celebrating their debut in Geneva, including production versions of Ford Motor Co.'s new, fuel-stingy Fiesta and Toyota Motor Corp.'s three-seater iQ, and a concept version of Fiat's 500 Aria. All three boast carbon dioxide emissions of under 100 grams per kilometer, which will help those manufacturers beat an EU proposal for a fleet average of 130 grams by 2012.

Environment ministers from the 27-nation bloc _ the world's biggest consumer market with 490 million people _ met in Brussels earlier this week to discuss the plan, which has ruffled feathers among Europe's large car-producing nations such as Germany.

The environmental group Greenpeace says even tighter emissions targets than those in the EU proposal are needed if climate change is to be reigned in.

About 20 activists protested at the show on Thursday morning, demanding that auto makers rethink what makes a good car and calling for average fleet emissions to be limited to 120 grams per kilometer by 2012, and 80 grams by 2020.

The Geneva show is traditionally regarded as the most level playing field for car makers because Switzerland lacks its own industry.

Europeans will get their first glimpse of Indian manufacturer Tata's Nano, hailed as the world's cheapest car and due to begin rolling off the production line by the end of the year. The pint-sized five-seater will cost $2,500 plus tax and delivery, but will initially only be available in India while Tata works on improving the car's emissions ratio and safety features.

Chevrolet too will be appealing to Europeans accustomed to driving smaller vehicles than their trans-Atlantic cousins.

General Motor Corp.'s top-selling brand is unveiling a three-door version of the Aveo, which debuted in Europe at last year's IAA exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany, with a five-door model.

One of the loopholes to the emissions proposal currently being discussed in Brussels lets car makers pool their fleets with those of companies producing more efficient vehicles.

Companies that exceed the limit would face stiff fines starting at 20 euros ($30) per gram per kilometer, multiplied by the number of cars sold, rising to 95 euros ($144) by 2015. If auto makers pass this cost on to consumers it would add hundreds of euros (dollars) to the price of a car.

Low-volume manufacturers producing fewer than 10,000 vehicles a year would be exempt, but major players such as BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen would have to team up with greener car makers or improve their own fleet if they want to continue selling high-powered SUVs and sports cars in Europe.

The EU proposal, even if it is watered down before being agreed upon, has set auto makers fine-tuning their product range to reduce emission levels as much as possible.

Moves by several large cities to follow London's lead in charging owners of gas-guzzling vehicles a daily fee to enter the city have also spooked manufacturers and given them a further incentive to reduce emissions.

London mayor Ken Livingstone last year raised the daily charge to 25 pounds ($49) for cars that produce more than 225 grams of CO2 per kilometer, while those that produce less than 120 grams per kilometer enter free of charge.

Matthias Wissmann, head of the German auto industry group VDA, has accused Livingstone of appealing to "social envy" rather than pursuing a sound environmental goal.

Almost every major manufacturer in Geneva is showing off hybrid versions that use electricity or hydrogen in addition to conventional fuels. Lighter materials, electricity-generating brakes and even solar panels will be on show by the 260 exhibitors.

No single technology has yet emerged as the definitive way of reducing emissions, but manufacturers including General Motors and Daimler have put their weight behind developing more efficient lithium-ion batteries for use in hybrid vehicles. The German car maker said its Mercedes-Benz flagship S-class luxury sedan will be available in a gas-electricity hybrid version next year.

Martin Lloyd of Greenpeace, who toured the show before its official opening, accused car makers of "greenwashing" their industry with a few headline-grabbing eco models while continuing to sell heavier, faster and less efficient vehicles.

"The industry knows what it has to do and it has the technology to do it," Lloyd said.

The show runs through Sunday, March 16.

Nano Technolgy involved in Scratch resistant self cleaning Automobile coating

Imagine for a moment, a world where pilots can safely bypass the deicing pad prior to a winter flight, an automobile that is car key resistant and requires 60% less cleaning, an ocean liner hull that repels marine growth, or a car wheel that prevents the unsightly appearance of brake dust or a speed boat that resists fading. These and other amazing coating benefits are now possible due to recent developments in nanotechnology.

According to Nanovere Technologies Chairman and Principal Scientist Thomas F. Choate, "What's most unique about Zyvere coatings based on nanotechnology; is their ability to resist scratching and ease of cleaning. Zyvere Nanocoatings are permanent, Self-Cleaning and Car Key Resistant! Even after 5 years, our Zyvere Nanocoatings provide 100% gloss retention, a feat just not possible with any ordinary clear coat finishes." Zyvere Nanocoatings outperform all automotive OEM coatings, automotive aftermarket coatings and aerospace coating competitors;

-- 53% higher scratch resistance: 6H pencil hardness
-- 60% improved clean ability over any competitor
-- 476% higher chemical resistance over the nearest competitor
-- 100% gloss retention even after 5+ yearsWhy is tiny such a big thing?

Nanotechnology can be described as the science of molecular engineering. The word Nano is derived from the Greek word "small". A nanometer is one- billionth of a meter. For comparison purposes, a human hair is roughly 80,000 nanometers. The smaller the particle, the closer they reside together, which alters the surface area and material characteristics dramatically. Zyvere nanocoatings provide permanent surface protection, and utilize nanostructured materials which form three dimensional molecular networks. These molecular networks form a very high crosslink density coating with remarkable physical properties including extreme scratch resistance, ultra high gloss, very high chemical resistance, extreme UV resistance, remarkable flexibility and self- cleaning properties including dirt, oil and ice release properties.

Zyvere nanocoatings were specifically designed to be applied over Automotive OEM Coatings, Aftermarket Paint finishes, Aerospace Paint, Industrial Coatings and Marine Coating surfaces. To learn more about Nanovere, please visit or call (877) 998-3737 or e-mail at

About Nanovere

Nanovere Technologies, Inc. specializes in the research, development & manufacturing of permanent coatings based on nanotechnology materials and concepts.

Ford Motor Company to take over Romanian Car Plant

Ford Motor Co. will formally take over a Romanian car manufacturer by the end of this month, the prime minister said Wednesday.

Ford was the only bidder for Automobile Craiova in September, paying 57 million euros ($77.9 million) for a 72.4 percent stake in the state-owned company and vowing to invest another 675 million euros ($923 million) to upgrade and expand car production.

Parliament voted 238-15 with five abstentions Tuesday to approve the sale.

The European Union has criticized the sale, accusing Romania of underselling Automobile Craiova to Ford. Regulators have ordered the government to demand Automobile Craiova pay the state the lost revenue from the sale.

The EU executive said the stake was actually worth 84 million euros ($125 million) and the Romanian state lost 27 million euros ($40 million). Romania joined the EU in 2007.

Despite the EU criticism, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said: "I am happy we can finalize this project ... We can ensure jobs to workers in Craiova."

"An entire network of suppliers of parts and components will be created, which will become the second major industrial landmark of the automobile industry in Romania," he said.

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