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.

Your Ad Here

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

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner