Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Is This Your Next Saab?

No, actually the photo is of the Concept X debuted this week at the Geneva Auto Show by Saab, which has no production plans for the vehicle.

Concept X does, however, give broad hints about the direction of future Saab styling, according to company officials.

"'This study shows how the strength of the Saab brand heritage can inspire bold, innovative design,' says Bryan Nesbitt, Executive Director, GM Design Europe. 'As we move forward with new Saab products, we will remain focused on carefully cultivating this brand equity in the context of Scandinavian design values.'

"'This concept shows the exciting possibilities that are open to us as we evolve a more progressive design language for the brand,' says Jan Åke Jonsson, Saab Automobile's Managing Director.

"'Our designers, engineers and marketers in Sweden are ideally placed to nurture and communicate the unique DNA of the Saab brand. Their work will ensure that future product proposals express core qualities, such as progressive design, sporty performance and emotional functionality, in a way that is specific to Saab.'"

Concept X is powered by a 400 horsepower V-6 that runs on ethanol. The interior features no conventional switchgear. Instead of the usual buttons and rocker switches, the Concept X displays all control functions behind glass acrylic "clear zones" with three-dimensional images.

In related news, Autoblog reports that GM's top car guy, Vice Chairman Robert Lutz, told a media event in Geneva that Saab is near profitability and has such a bright outlook that Jerry York, newest member of the GM board, has reversed his previous recommendation that the Swedish automaker be dumped.

And on GM's Fastlane blog today, Lutz promises:

"It has taken a while, but we're solidly on track now with a strong and extended future product portfolio for our Swedish brand. All based on GM architectures, these products will be more 'Saab' than ever before."

Monday, February 27, 2006

Mazda Unveils Mazdaspeed3 in Geneva

Mazda takes the wraps off its Mazdaspeed edition of the Mazda3 today in Geneva.

Unfortunately, we won't get it here in the states until this fall. Here's how Mazda describes its plans for the car now:

"The flagship of the Mazda3 range, the all-new Mazdaspeed3 will give sports-minded customers a double dose of Zoom-Zoom driving fun. Mazdaspeed3 is the fourth model to carry the Mazdaspeed brand, following the Mazdaspeed6 and Mazdaspeed MX-5. The car will be called Mazdaspeed Axela in Japan and, in other key regions including Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Mazda3 MPS."

A Mazda spokesman tells Tapscott Behind the Wheel that sales of the new model are expected to begin "in the fall."

Friday, February 24, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around the Auto Blog Block for Friday, Feb. 23, 2006

How do you like the hot new logo for Carnival of Cars? We are gettin' slick around here!

Enough with the shameless promotion already.

Let's engage the clutch, flip the switch to "on," press the starter button, put it in first gear and get this thing heading down the race track:

Being an old Formula Ford racer myself, I'm not at all surprised that the winner of TheCarConnection's contest for wierdest street names is "Psycho Path." There are lots more, including a bunch of really funny ones, and some very ones as well.

This has absolutely nothing to do with cars, but, since Joe Sherlock of The View Through the Windshield and I suffer a common passion for terrible punning, I have to share this one: "Bad Pun Of The Day: A midget fortune-teller who escapes from prison is a small medium at large." Oh, and don't miss Joe's exciting reminiscences about the 1960 Opel Rekord and much more that is about cars in his posting for today.

I'll bet you know without my telling you who wrote this while reviewing the Audi A3: "While Ingolstadt's diminutive four-door may seem like a hatchback for badge snobs willing to sacrifice size for breeding, it’s actually a four-wheeled fiend, a beast born and bred to take a bite out of the time - space continuum."

OK, for the one or two of you who didn't instantly recognize a genuine wordsmith at work, it's Robert Farago and The Truth About Cars.

The Auto Prophet has a message for Detroit's politicos. Sadly, the real world has called and he won't be posting as frequently.

Speaking of politicos, did you know America has a chicken tax on trucks? No, me, neither, at least not until I read Straightline's post on the topic.

Bugatti's Veyron may not be the world's fastest production car much longer. Check out the upcoming 2006 Koenigsegg CCX at Serious Wheels.

Racedriven.com liked the Daytona 500, for the most part, but is not happy with the lame penalty given Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus. What should have been his penalty? "My answer, not life, but more than 4 races, maybe a 18 races to a year or at least consitent with Barrier’s penalties plus more for not first time offense and that includes points off ..."

I agree.

Want to win a BMW X5 and help some sick kids at the same time? Check it out here at Qt Auto News.

Okay, Toyota, is it gonna be an Aygo, a Vitz or a Belta? Paul Tan and a bunch more folks waaay over there on the other side of the Pacific would like to know. Some folks closer to home here are probably gonna ask why Tan rates four links in one Carnival of Cars post, too!

Last week it was the new Kia Sedonna. This week My Honest Mechanic Austin Davis is singing the praises of the Rio. But really, Austin, do you recommend the Rio over an Accord????

Will Ford kill the present Crown Vic in 2008 and replace it with something based on Ford Australia's Falcon platform? My Ford Dreams has little confidence in the prediction of same in Motor Trend, but hopes it's true even so.

Here's my question: Why not just bring the whole Supercar Series to the states, so we can all see those awesome V-8 Holdens and Falcons racing in person?

Dave at MPH Blog got his hands on a new Civic Si for the first time and took a spin in it to and from the tax office. I would have chosen a different destination, but judging from his comments, it looks to me like Dave and I have a similar approach to stop lights and four lanes. Love those revs!

Sorry, but the original Saab Sonett made absolutely no sense to me when it roamed the earth in regular production. This despite my long-standing love of Saab sedans. Now along comes the Sonett concept, Aero-X. Left Lane News has lots of photos.

But will the ignition key be on the floorboard between the front seats?

Dave Leggett highly recommends Jeff Daniels' piece on emissions and diesels. Go here at JustAuto.com and follow the links.

Aston Martin fans will not want to miss Jalopnik's introduction to a review of the Vanquish S.

Hot Wheels Blog (and Okie on the Lam) laments the passing of the Goat.

You just thought the Ford Bronco died long ago. Gear6 has details.

No, the Pagani Zonda is not a new Italian sandwhich craze. FosFor Wheels explains the real deal with the Roadster F.

Has anybody else seen a new post on Fastlane since Lutz' 2/16 "Stop me if ...." post? Is Fastlane about to get the Goat treatment?

Nope, the IRL-CART deal isn't yet, according to Fast Machines. Keep your fingers crossed!

A Lotus sedan? Carscoop is the place to go for this story. That name has got to change, though, because it sounds like a military commissary or maybe an industrial solvent. Or .... nothing like a car.

Cars! Cars! Cars! has a sound warning about a Forbes slideshow.

Smile! You are on Scottsdale's candid camera. AutoBlog reports here. Where is the ACLU when they could actually do something productive?

Do you know what is meant by "algorithymic graphic design"? Me, neither. But no matter because Joshua Davis does and that's a good thing as far as BMW is concerned. Auto Spectator has a full read on the topic.

E. L. Eversman explains "product dilution" to Hummer's Marketing General Manager, Susan Docherty. Eversman, AKA the Auto Muse, nails it with this: "Younger buyers already crave a Hummer. They just can't afford one."

Auto Extremist's "Road Kill" columnist, Dr. Bud E. Bryan says "Not so fast, Scooter." No, wait, that was Ron White. What Bryan said was about scooters. To some guy from Italy peddling Vespas. Filed straight from Austin, Texas, where reside the reigning national champion Texas Longhorns!!!!

And on that happy note about God's Country, we have reached the end of this week's Carnival of Cars. See ya next week and remember to file your contributions for next week's installment in Chicago-voting-style - early and often.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Washington Dems Seek Federal Aid for Detroit

Senate Democrats today blamed the U.S. auto industry's ills on "fundamentally unfair" trade policies and currency manipulation by Asian countries, according to National Journal's Congress Daily (subscription only, unfortunately), covering a hearing held by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

"Lawmakers and both union and industry representatives from the auto industry said U.S. trade policies with China, South Korea and other countries over multiple presidential administrations, as well as the failure to crack down on Asian currency depreciation, can be partially blamed for recent announcements by Ford and GM that each will cut roughly 30,000 jobs," Congress Daily reported.

"Democrats blamed the GOP-led Congress for not holding oversight hearings on the auto trade imbalance and not moving legislation to crack down on currency manipulation," Congress Daily reported.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, cited a trade agreement with China negotiated by the Clinton administration in which U.S. manufacturers must pay tariffs to export vehicles 10 times than are paid by the Asian giant for its products shipped to America.

"I would love to find the name of the American negotiator who agreed to that nonsense," Dorgan told Congress Daily. "It is unbelievably ignorant for us to have negotiated that proposal." Dorgan is chairman of the SDPC.

Dorgan also noted that South Korean firms exported more than 700,000 vehicles to the U.S. last year, compared to only 4,200 from the U.S. to South Korea, according to Congress Daily.

UPDATE: And now from the kid with ADD in the back of the class

Jalopnik's Between the Lines column today takes apart the recent commentary by The Detroit News' Daniel Howes. This is about as comprehensive a fisking of a mainstream journalist's work as I have seen anywhere. Definitely well worth reading.

Smart Roadster a Spridget for the 21st Century?

AutoBlog reports DaimlerChrysler has entered into an agreement to sell production rights and equipment for the Smart roadster to a British group. Go here for more details.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Is There Enough Time Left for GM To Turn Itself Around?

I remain among the optimists in believing 2006 is going to be a better year for General Motors than is generally expected among the auto critics' fraternity, but I have to admit that The Car Connection's Paul Eisenstein's latest analysis almost had me persuaded otherwise.

Whatever your view is on the current and future state of affairs at The General, Eisenstein's extremely thoughtful analysis is well worth reading.

First Brazil, Now Sweden, When the U.S.?

MyFordDreams has an excellent look at the world's energy situation and presents a persuasive case for the proposition that ethanol is the most logical path towards achieving energy independence from the Middle East's oil shieks.

The question is when, according to MyFordDreams:

"Will it be another 90 years before we can fill our tanks without supporting terrorist or being held fiscal hostage by fascists in robes, who are calling us the 'Great Satan' on one hand, while spending our money with the other?"

Go here for the rest of MyFordDreams' thoughts on the issue.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Dude Ranch Dandy from Mercedes Benz

This is a tough review to write. Here’s the problem: The CLS500’s radical exterior styling has drawn raving reviews in virtually every corner of the auto critics universe ever since it was first seen as a concept vehicle three years ago.

Me? I reserved judgement, insisting on waiting to see what the real production version had in store. Now that it is here, I can’t stop thinking it looks like a Dude Ranch Dandy.

You know the type I mean. It’s the Drugstore Cowboy who shows up at the Dude Ranch for two weeks of making like he’s the real thing, but knowing all he’s gotta do is survive a week or two. Then he can go back home and tell his high-falutin’ city slicker friends that he really is a cowboy now.

I’ve looked at the CLS500 from every possible angle. I drove an Iridium Silver tester for a week and loved it’s performance, supplied courtesy of the 302 horsepower, 5.0 liter V-8 that puts the power to the rear wheels with a seven-speed automatic transmission.

And if that’s not enough gumption to go with your gawker-killing looks, Mercedes will even sell you a supercharged 5.5 liter AMG edition of the CLS500 that boasts 469 horsepower. Talk about wretched excess!

Anyway, I loved the interior, with its four bucket seats and sumptuous appointments. Nobody will ever sit in a CLS500 and think to themselves how cold and emotion-less it looks.

It’s even got neat stuff for techno-obsessives. How’s nanotechnology based paint that Mercedes claims improves the CLS500’s surface resistance to scratches by 300 percent, thanks to the millions of tiny little ceramic particles that go into the mix before it’s applied?

I loved pretty much everything else about the CLS500, except the $76,740 sticker price. But being an humble journalist, I did have to ask what kind of gas mileage the CLS500 gets and you know what that means about my prospects for ever being able to afford one.

Still, I keep coming back to those looks. I’m sorry but the front end droops too much and that curved shoulder line that rises from the front fender up to the greenhouse and down again to the rear lamps … I’m sorry, it just looks like one multi-linear curve too much.

Friday, February 17, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around The Auto Blog Block for Friday, February 17, 2006

What a week. We got more than a foot of snow at the Tapscott compound in Upper Northern Central Maryland. Uggghhhh! Spring can't get here too soon, but in the meantime let's head out for a drive around the auto blog block.

So Kirk Kerkorian got his man - Jerry York - on the GM board. Salvation is right around corner? Not exactly, according to The Auto Extremist's Peter DeLorenzo:

"Jerry York has been called a 'change agent' by the business school-types who are big on platitudes but who offer little substance to go along with their sound bites. He is smart enough to know, however, that speeches and sound bites count for exactly zero when it comes to GM's problems."

Go here for the rest of Peter's rant, which is especially interesting since he actually knows and worked with York back in the day.

Stickman at axiomATTIC thinks getting addicted to alcohol is a nifty idea. Go here to find out why.

Have you ever clicked Google's "I'm feeling lucky" button? Auto Muse says try it for the word "Failure." Hmmmmm.

Auto Spectator is rather impressed with the performance capabilities and marketing potential of the Dodge Caliber SRT4, so the Dodge news release touting same is there.

AutoBlog is in Berlin today, so they've got the scoop on the new VW Concept A.

Would you read the results of a cop contest to pick a new police car? Carpundit was reading the results of the Michigan State Police Cruiser tests when New York announced its choice of the Dodge Charger. Why? Cauz it's got a hemi, fool! Carpundit has more details here.

Looks like it'll be 2010 before that new Camaro hits the streets. You can imagine how impressed Cars! Cars! Cars! is with that production schedule. It's the last item in the post.

Go to Carscoop if you want to know more about the Mitsubishi EZ MIEV, which is a concept van featuring electric motors at the four corners and a special battery. I thought electric vehicles were kinda out of it but Mitsubishi clearly hasn't given up on that front just yet.

F1's rules typically focus primarily on engine displacement. But starting in 2011, Max Mosely is talking about a sort of Formula Libre engine approach, with the major limitation being the equal amount of fuel given to each competitor. Fast Machines has more.

They're soliciting ideas again over at GM's FastLane blog. Lutz urges us to stop him if we've heard it all before but he's worth a read before and after you go through DeLorenzo's rant.

FosFor Wheels thinks you will thoroughly enjoy spending some quality time at the new Porsche 911 Turbo campaign site. So does Serious Wheels, which has its usual impressive photo spread, plus lots of facts and figures.

Once upon a time, Formula Atlantics were powered by four-cylinder Ford motors with special heads. Then Atlantic became a Toyota deal. Now, Gear6 reports that Mazda will be supplying powerplants for the Champ Car Atlantic Championship for the next three years. No, not a rotary.

This must be "How can we help save GM?" week, what with Lutz and DeLorenzo chiming in and now Jalopnik has a foto of a special vision for the future of GM design. You don't want to miss this one! Vega fans will feel vindicated.

Got a spare plane ticket to London sitting around the flat? Jonathan Fry has just the thing to do when you get there - a Caterham auction. You'll find all the details here. And isn't that a neat shot of a leaping Seven?

What is Audi planning for the S3 and RS3? Left Lane News wants to know.

Well, would you pay $54,540 for a Dodge pickup? Would you?? One of MPH Blog's readers sounds off.

My Ford Dreams likes the prospects for the MazdaSpeed3 but is still incensed about things like that Europe-only Focus cabrio.

Kia's redesigned Sedona minivan has at least one big fan, Austin Davis at My Honest Mechanic.

Love your dog? Abby, my sweet baby dog chocolate lab, is undoubtedly the world's most hopelessly spoiled animal, so QtAutoNews' piece on a pooch seat belt caught my eye. Can't wait to get my paws on one of those!

Sorry, I just couldn't resist that one.

Toyota's move into NASCAR is still causing lots of talk and buzz in the motorsports and auto media communities. Racedriven.com sums it up thusly:

"Its upsides: Teams will have more factory support, more sponsors, more money, and Toyota’s success in other motorsports will be great for sport. More support, hopefully more teams fighting for the victory week in and week out.

"Its downsides: The sport will change, but how?? and it might start a huge war up, you know like in Formula 1 for tires…We are talking foreign/import auto makers coming into an american sport."

Bob at Straightline thinks Subaru's new advertising campaign emphasizing safety is a winner. Me, too, especially the line: "Air bags save lives. All-wheel-drive saves air bags." Now if we can just get the drivers as good as the technology.

Would the automakers of the world be focusing so much time, money and brain power on hybrids if CARB wasn't CARB? The Auto Prophet found the answer offered by VW's head of research and development. In my book, the guy ought to get a medal for his honesty.

Things just aren't looking very cheery for GM's new Tahoe, according to Robert Farago at The Truth About Cars. Here's the dilemma in one concise Farago sentence: "Talk about duality: GM can’t afford to discount its products; it can’t afford not to discount its products."

Who said this:

"Why do they put pictures of criminals up in the Post Office? What are we supposed to do - write to them? Why don't they just put their pictures on the postage stamps so the mailmen could look for them while they deliver the mail? Or better yet, arrest them while they are taking their pictures!" Joe Sherlock at The View Through the Windshield has the answer in his 2/16 post.

Looks like Joe gets the last word for this week's drive. See you next week, folks!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

VW Research Chief Calls California Regs "Stupid," Says No Hybrids Without Them

The Auto Prophet points to the latest issue of Automotive Engineering International, which includes an interview with Volkswagen's Wilfried Bockelmann, Director of Research and Development, who expresses a, shall we say, unfashionably candid assessment of the current rage over hybrids.

The Auto Prophet nearly fainted when reading this graph:

"'Nobody would deal with hybrids if we did not have the 'stupid' regulations in California that make them necessary,' he said. 'But we have to have one of these models on the market if we want to sell our cars there in 2008-9. With the right kind of driving cycle it will save fuel in Tokyo or Paris, but not when it comes to typical U.S. driving habits, such as a 55 mile drive to work with just the last five in stop-and-go conditions. Even on I-75 in Detroit, it is a case of slow cruising at 30-40mph -and at that speed you are not saving much fuel in a hybrid.'"

So what is it in the California Air Resources Board regs that has Bockelmann succumbing to a bad case of anti-PC hoof-in-mouth disease? The Auto Prophet suggests checking out this page from CARB's web site.

Two predictions: One, this is the last we will ever see of Mr. Bockelmann in the automotive media because, two, his superiors just ordered the VW public relations shop to never, ever again allow him anywhere near a journalist.

I mean the nerve of the guy, to tell the absolute truth like that!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Corvette to Get Even More Power?

Chevrolet's Ed Peper says they can't keep the 505 horsepower Z06s in stock long enough, so consideration is being given to offering an even more powerful version, according to Automotive News' Rick Kranz, reporting from the Chicago Auto Show.

Speaking of the 'Vette, Motor Week named the Z06 the Best Dream Machine for 2006 during the Chicago doings. In the photo accompanying this post, that's Motor Week's John Davis, right, presenting the award to Peper, who is Chevrolet's General Manager.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

GM Boosts Green Cars With Yellow Cars

Jalopnik reports on the GM unveiling of its "Live Green, Go Yellow" campaign on behalf of E85 flexible fuel vehicles during the Chicago Auto Show. Go here for the details.

In other alternative transportation news, AutoBlog links to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story on measures being taken by local authorities there to deal with the expected increase in population and traffic in coming years.

Friday, February 10, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around The Auto Blog Block for Friday, February 10, 2006

WELCOME INSTAPUNDIT READERS! While you're here for Carnival of Cars, don't forget to check the top of Tapscott Behind the Wheel for posts from today and the weekend.

It's car showtime in the Second City and that means new models being unveiled like the massive new Tundra. But there was lots of other news around the automotive world as well, so we have a long drive ahead of us for this week's Carnival of Cars. Let's hit the cyber road!

Right off the bat, Joe Sherlock at The View Through the Windshield gives us what may well be the world's worst pun. It has nothing to do with cars and you have to scroll to the bottom of Joe's Friday post to get to it, but you will be glad you shelled out the time to get to it. Oh yes, don't miss Larry Leonard's prescription of GM and Ford, too.

Ohkaay .... moving right along.

Can you guess which new model earned this observation from The Truth About Cars' C. Douglas Weir: "From the side, the ---- ten-spokes seem an inch too large, the rear wheels are set mysteriously far forward and the swooping bulge flowing up and over the wheels looks like a resting bunny rabbit. Of course, everybody likes bunnies…" Ouch!

Sarah at The Car Blog went on a quest recently and has this pithy observation at the nadir of her journey: "Realizing that my dreams were probably common with those of a 17 year old, my ego bruised, my wallet aching and a hubby who would have a massive coronary … I chose to wait." Do not miss the rest of this one!

Some of you may have wondered why you found no comment on this blog about Lincoln's goofiness with the Zephyr naming this week. I held off because I knew somebody else would do it so much better than I possibly could. I was right. Check out the Auto Prophet's take here.

You can stop dreaming now about that Hemi-powered Nitro cauz it ain't happenin' according to Straightline. What a bunch of kill joys!

Would 1,000 horses qualify the 2006 Freestream as Serious Wheels for the street? Check it out here. It seems to display a touch of McLaren influence.

Have you been splogged yet? Racedriven.com was and wasn't very happy about it, either. An interesting several days of reflection and discussion thereby ensued, which you will profit by considering.

Next time you get up to Oregon and find yourself yearning for a little nostalgic return to the drive-in movies, Qt Auto News knows just the place you should go.

Paul Tan seems to like the Honda Civic Si sedan concept being displayed this week by the Lake. Sort of a Japanese version of the entry level German sports sedan, I guess. I thought that's what the Jetta is supposed to be?

Chicago got the car show headlines this week but Houston had an auto gathering, too, and My Honest Mechanic's Austin Davis took a little time off from fixing other folks' problems to scanning the glitter and gas-hogs. He liked what he saw on the Lincoln Zephyr stand.

Car & Driver biased against Detroit? Automobile Magazine, too? And Road & Track? Say it ain't so, Joe at MyFordDreams!

Only in America! MPH Blog's Dan Pund conducts a controlled variable video experiment involving a Subaru Justy (what, you don't remember that one?) and a Hummer H3. It just might be a new comparison test that Car & Driver can use to end forever accusations of bias against Detroit!

Did you catch Discovery channel's rerun of the Top Gear UK show with the Ford GT? The American version is coming soon to a TV screen near you, according to Left Lane News. What I didn't understand was why he kept complaining about understeer. Looked to me like maybe the front rubber needed 10 pounds.

Dave Leggett of Just-Auto.com has spent some time this week queing in London for a visa to a BMW event and studying Carlos Ghosn's strategy for the future of Renault.

Having a Yank que for a visa wasn't the only excitement on the other side of the Big Pond. Jonathan Fry has the details on the national certification of the 1,000th auto technician among the Brits. What languid celebratory verse might that happy event evoke from yon window at Mr. Shakespeare's digs?

Jalopnik takes a spin in the $200,000 Bristol Fighter and comes away, shall we say, unimpressed?

Some thoughts at Grant's Auto Rants on the meaning of it all with the sudden burst of enthusiasm for E85 in some corners of the AutoBlogiverse, including yours truly's little niche last week.

Gear6 reports there will be no Maserati in the ALMS this year.

Better check out this post from FosFor Wheels of the new Peugot 4007 SUV. You know, so you will recognize it the next time you see one on the road doing winter testing near Bismark.

Fresh from having his salary slashed 30 percent, Fastlane blog's Bob Lutz still sounds enthusiastic about the all-new Chevy Avalanche GM unveiled this week at Chicago. What a trooper, that Lutz!

Can you imagine, Rossi and Biaggi battling it out on four wheels? FastMachines sure can.

Carscoop has the scoop on the 258 horsepower Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart. That 258 figure sure got my attention. Lots more on Chicago stuff there this week, too.

Say a prayer for a quick and complete recovery for the Cars!Cars!Cars! crew. They got a mean flu bug that just won't give up.

I knew things were screwed up in Taxachusetts, but hunters in the 'burbs??? Carpundit is locked and loaded on this one.

Is Chrysler headed for a cool-down? Autoblog has thoughts and links.

Dodge isn't interested in a cool-down with its SRT edition of the Calibre. Auto Spectator has the full release.

Hmmm, there may be some big bumps in the road ahead for an Illinois Judge, according to AutoMuse.

Okay, DeLorenzo is at it again, beating around the bush about what he thinks of the state of play among the buff books:

"The unbridled genius and inspired chaos that once ran rampant at the car magazines in their heyday has turned into an ugly, formulaic and painfully predictable tea dance of orchestrated sameness - and they've become homogenized and sanitized facsimiles watered down to the lowest common denominator."

They don't call it the AutoExtremist for nothin,' folks! I am lovin' it!!

And that, Ladies and Germs, is the last word on this week's spin around the Auto Blog Block. By the way, the photo above of the Freestream is from Serious Wheels.

Oh yes, one more thing: Submit your blog article to the next edition of Carnival of Cars! Use our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

New Toyota Tundra is BIG News in Chicago

WELCOME TOPIX VISITORS! Don't miss this week's Carnival of Cars: A Drive Around the Auto Blog Block for February 10, 2006.

Bigger is better in every dimension and every significant specification, if the 2007 Toyota Tundra unveiled today at the Chicago Auto Show is an indication. More power. More towing capacity. More length. More width. More .... everything.

Here's how the official Toyota news release describes the second generation Tundra:

"'From bumper-to-bumper, under the hood and from the inside out the new Tundra is a true American truck that will set a new benchmark in the full-size truck segment,' said Jim Lentz, TMS group vice president and general manager.

"'It will be aimed at the ‘True Trucker,' the true opinion leaders among full-size owners. True Truckers are highly credible because they use, punish, and demand the most out of the pickups they buy.

"The expanded size and power of the new Tundra will be reflected in its ability to tow over 10,000 pounds. To achieve this towing capacity every major component was designed for maximum strength, durability and reliability over the long haul.

"This will be accomplished with an all-new 5.7-liter i-Force V8 engine manufactured at Toyota's Alabama engine plant. The V8 will be mated to a new heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission.

"In addition to the new powertrain, Tundra will also come equipped with heavy-duty front disc brakes with four-piston calipers and vented rotors increased by nearly one and one-half inches, and standard rear disc brakes.

"High capacity cooling and electrical systems will help Tundra tow heavy loads through the toughest weather. Finally, Tundra will ride on a new rock-solid chassis platform with 30 percent higher tensile strength steel."

To read the whole release from Toyota, go here.

Detroit: Bail Us Out But Please Don't Call it a "Bailout"

That's the clear message being heard in Washington, D.C. from General Motors and Ford, judging by a front-page news story in today's issue of The Wall Street Journal. That article is only available online to subscribers.

The Journal story confirms what I predicted here last Dec. 6 in a post inspired by an op-ed in The Washington Post by James Womack, author of the classic "The Machine that Changed the World." Womack argued that Japan Inc. is not the Big Two's problem but better products from Toyota, Honda and Nissan are.

In that post, I noted that: "Womack's op-ed is especially important in view of the coming demands from politicians and domestic auto executives for measures such as government subsidies for sales of hybrid vehicles, trade restrictions on imports and federal tax credts and support for research and development of new technologies."

The latest Journal story confirms that laundry list and adds the important tactical decision by GM and Ford officials to never, ever refer to the assistance they are seeking in the nation's capitol as a "bail-out."

Note the first two graphs of the Journal story:

"As their woes mount, America's two big auto makers are making it clear they don't want or expect a bailout from Washington and instead have crafted a call for help that focuses on measures that could provide more limited assistance.

"Among specific areas where Detroit is seeking federal support: Restraining health care costs, promoting new fuel technologies and keeping exchange rates in line. To strengthen their case, General Motors Corp. Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers are couching their appeals as measures that would benefit all American manufacturers at a time when U.S. industry is coming under increasing pressure from globalization."

But like Shakespeare's rose, a bailout by any other name is still a bailout. And what GM, Ford and the UAW are seeking is anything but a cheapo version of the $1.5 billion in loan guanantees Chrysler received in a much-debated 1979 bailout.

The table has already been set by the Medicare Presciption Drug program for taxpayers to assume a big portion of healthcare costs currently borne by GM and Ford. Tax credits for alternative energy use and development will cost tax dollars. And so and so on.

There is the additional consideration that the UAW and its allies on the Democratic side of the aisle in Congress - led by Michigan senators Stabenow and Levin - will push for every possible form of federal assistance, direct and indirect. When serious negotiations begin, the Bush vow to oppose a bailout is likely to prove to be little more than words.

In other words, expect whatever legislation ultimately passes Congress and lands on Bush's desk to include a host of provisions, all of which will cost all taxpayers in one way or another. In the final analysis, it might even contain measures that everybody can agree are good and proper.

But a bailout of Detroit it will still be.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

GMC Sierra Puts Hybrid in Big Pickups

Before you get all excited and rush out to your local GMC dealer to plunk a big down-payment on the salesman’s desk, understand that there are hybrids and then there are hybrids.

A full hybrid can use either its electric motor or gasoline engine to move the vehicle. The best example of this stage of hybrid development is the Toyota Prius, which move at up to 30 mph using only its electric motor. This gets the maximum fuel and environmental benefits, such as they are.

Then there are what we might call the semi-hybrids like the hybrid editions of the Honda Insight, Honda Accord and Honda Civic. The electric motor is more of a supplemental performance booster to the gasoline engine in this approach, so the vehicle cannot move solely on the current.

Now we come to the Hybrid Lite class to which the GMC Sierra Hybrid and its Chevrolet Silverado brother belong. In this application, the 14 Kilowatt starter/generator replaces the alternator and starter motor.

The starter/generator is used to power accessories while the vehicle is stopped and the gas engine is turned off. Electric power is also stored for supplemental use and can be used to power external tools (though the gas engine has to be on for that use).

Hybrid purists may well dismiss the Sierra and Silverado hybrids as little more than public relations stunts by a GM desperate to catch up with other automakers that have pushed the technology further and faster. For its part, GMC claims the Hybrid provides up to 10 percent improvements in fuel economy, compared to the gas-only Sierra.

However you come down on that issue, I spent a recent week in a Sierra Hybrid and concluded that although small there are definitely concrete benefits to the system. The system is also virtually transparent, so it is hardly even noticeable.

Basically, the only time you notice anything different about the way the Sierra Hybrid operates is when you come to a full stop. Listen carefully and you will notice the 5.3 liter Vortex V-8 shuts down. The radio and all other accessories continue to work, however.

Push the gas pedal and the V-8 instantly refires and off you go. There is hardly any driveline clunk or shudder with the restart because the generator becomes the starter and is much stronger than a conventional starter.

Net result is that you’ve saved a bit of gasoline by switching the V-8 off and you’ve avoided a slight amount of emissions at idle. It may not be much but every little bit helps, right?

The hybrid option adds about $2,500 to the Sierra price and is only available on the two and four-wheel drive extended cab versions. For a four-wheel-drive version with Onstar and other popular options expect to see a sticker bottom line of around $37,735.

Is it worth it? Yes, if you want to encourage the hybrid movement in the marketplace. No, if you expect to see vast gains in fuel economy or emissions reductions. But like we said, every little bit helps, right?

Monday, February 06, 2006

GM Gets Good News (For a Change!) as Solstice Outsells Miata

It's only two months worth of sales data but GMers have reason to cheer in the December and January figures that show the Pontiac Solstice outselling the Mazda Miata.

For January, the Solstice showed 1990 deliveries, compared to 1,067 for the Miata, according to figures compiled by Automotive News.

January was the first full month of head-to-head sales. For the partial month of December, the Automotive News Data Center showed 2,746 Solstices sold and 1,007 Miatas. The Solstice is a completely new model, while the Miata, which has been around since 1989, has been redesigned for 2006.

Dodge Nitro to Debut at Chicago Auto Show

Dodge enters the mid-size sport-utility vehicle segment of the market with the 2007 Nitro, which is making its debut this week at the Chicago Auto Show. The Nitro concept vehicle was also first seen in the Second City's annual auto event during the 2005 edition.

Not only is the production Nitro Dodge's first-ever mid-size SUV, it is also the first non-Jeep product to be based on a Jeep platform, the Liberty.

Dodge officials are positioning the Nitro as a performance-oriented mid-size SUV that also features an abundance of convenience and luxury features and options. Here's how the official Dodge release describes the Nitro:

"'The Dodge Nitro's styling delivers something extra; that little something mid-size buyers are still searching for, attitude,' said George Murphy, Senior Vice President – Global Marketing. 'In addition, the Dodge Nitro offers many features that are not typical of a mid-size SUV, such as two V-6 engines, 20-inch tires and chrome-clad aluminum wheels and a performance suspension.'"

Friday, February 03, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around The Auto Blog Block for Friday, February 3, 2006

It's Super Bowl Week in Deetroit, State of the Onion Week in Washington, Dee Cee, and the third day of the second month of the Year of Our Lord 2006. Obviously, that means it's time to fire up the ole buggy and head out for Carnival of Cars!

Peter DeLorenzo at Auto Extremist took note of President Bush's observations on the sad state of affairs in the domestic auto industry and concluded that "it's clear that a large majority in our U.S. capitol are clearly clueless and out of touch when it comes to the problems facing Detroit and the problems looming for America's manufacturing base." Yep, Peter, but why limit that clueless part just to the manufacturing base?

Like DeLorenzo, E. L. Eversman had Dee Cee in sight this week and found some encouragement in the fact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has come up with a four-year plan to deal with potential safety issues connected to alternative fuel vehicles. We're elated to know the Auto Muse is elated.

For Mercedes Benz enthusiasts, Auto Spectator re-published the German automaker's news release on the AMGized SL55 and SL65.

Ever see an Altica? Autoblog's Stuart Waterman has details if you haven't seen an Altica and therefore are not aware of the fact that this critter is a new Renault sportwagon concept to be displayed at the upcoming Geneva Auto Show.

Speaking of the State of the Onion, Carpundit now has a very clean keyboard, having taken the opportunity afforded by the evening's festivities to vacumn it thoroughly. Must be one of those Librulz.

Lotsa Yadda Yadda over at Cars!Cars!Cars! about stuff like the real news behind the apparent sales recovery at Ford, the paucity of Solstices, hybrid trucks from GM, and ... well, lotsa stuff. And YOU ARE STILL EXPECTED TO POST COMMENTS! Got it?

Who makes the most powerful truck in Yerrup? Why, Volvo, of course. It's the 660 horsepower, 16 litre V-10 powered FH16. Carscoop has photos and details. Let's see, V-10, big horsepower ..... a Ford Viper maybe? Nah!

What do "sand castles, laser printers and candle wax" have to do with designing cars and trucks? Check out this post from ConsumersHero where you will find that it has nothing to do with the Super Bowl or a new song to be unveiled to the world at half-time by the guys who also sing about ceiling wax.

Things aren't looking good for the IRL's Texas Motor Speedway date in June, according to Fast Machines, quoting a Dallas Morning News story.

So have you hacked your Prius yet? FosFor Wheels links to a Treehugger.com (remember, I don't make this stuff up!) piece explaining how to do it and get rid of things like annoying noises. How long till the aftermarket offers the Prius Super Chip?

No more Ford GTs will be built. No more Lincoln LSs, either. That's what Gear6 reports.

If you like to drive perhaps a bit too much, then you aren't a suitable candidate for the purchase of a Mercedes Benz E350 with the 4Matic powertrain. That's the gospel according to my man Robert Farago, posting over at Mike Spinelli's Jalopnik.

There will definitely be an Ascari team competing in the European rounds of the GT3 series, reports Jonathan Fry. What a wonderful name for a race car, even if it is built in Jolly Ole England rather than next to the Autostrada of Italy.

Just-Auto.com's Dave Leggett has the low-down on why DC's Dieter Zetsche has such high hopes for a surge in diesel popularity in the U.S.

Speaking of the Autostrada and Italy, Left Lane News has a bunch of artist sketches of what a new Alfa Romeo coupe could look like if the Institute for Applied Art and Design gets the nod to do the real thing.

Folks in the executive suites at General Motors and Ford would do well to read Dave Wasserman's account of two meetings called to attack the problem of declining domestic market share. Go here to Motor Alley. Question: If the rest of us can figure out this stuff, why can't the high-six-figure suits in Detroit and Dearborn?

Molto Adagio Mario. Cool. Here.

Then there is the F-word, which My Ford Dreams thinks is none too cool.

What do you do when the check engine light comes on, you replace the cat but the car still fails the emissions test? Dave Austin at My Honest Mechanic has some timely suggestions for an appropriate response.

Toyota appears to be grooming another Matrix-inspired entry, this one the forthcoming redesigned Corolla. New Car Blog has a sketch.

Paul Tan has lots of interesting news and analyses on Proton's past, present and future. There is a new deal with Mitsubishi, among much else, but Tan thinks it's time to simplify the product line. Too bad things didn't work out with KR.

Remember what Confucius said about the journey of 10,000 miles starting with a single step? Or something along those lines. Qt Auto News says you can now set forth on the Journey of 10,000 songs in your iPOD blasting in your Merc. Better plan a long trip if you intend to listen to all 10,000 songs.

Don't miss the shot of Chip Foose's Impressions, which just won the America's Most Beautiful Roadster title. Racedriven.com calls it "incredible" and I must say I agree. And I never got that into hot rods.

Serious Wheels has the Abt treatment of the Audi Q7.

Suzuki had a great January, according to Straightline.

Did Car & Driver's John Phillips go too far in the March issue with his characterization of the Motor City's mayor? The Auto Prophet wants to know.

The Car Blog still likes the Ford Expedition.

I ask you - has a transmission ever previously been described with more beauty than this by The Truth About Cars' Rob Schweitzer: "Once rousted, the Vitara's autobox is a bullish conductor: the five-speed shifter arpeggiates the gears upward like a fleet-fingered prodigy." I dare say Schweitzer has exceeded all previous scores.

On the other hand, gazing out The View Through the Windshield Joe Sherlock goes Bill Wilson on us with this assessment of the coming hybridized Escalade: "This is like adding a splash of water to each glass of scotch you drink in the belief that it will keep you from getting drunk."

BTW, the photo above this post is of the Ford Reflex small car concept.

And that, friends and neighbors, is the last word on this spin around the Auto blog block. See you next week.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Here's Why Ethanol/Methanol Just Might Be The Answer For Energy Independence (And Why Hydrogen Most Definitely Isn't!)

Did you know hydrogen is not a source of energy? Or that hydrogen must be made in a process that requires more energy than is created? Dr. Robert Zubrin explains in the latest issue of The American Enterprise, published by AEI:

"Hydrogen is not a source of energy. In order to be obtained, it must be made - either through the electrolysis of water, or through the breakdown of petroleum, natural gas, or coal. Either process necessarily consumes more energy than the hydrogen it produces.

"When hydrogen is made by electrolysis, the process yields 85 units of hydrogen energy for every 100 units of electrical energy used to break down the water. That is 85 percent efficiency. If the hydrogen is then used in a fuel cell in an electric car, only about 55 percent of its energy value will be used; the rest is wasted to heat and so forth.

"The net result of these two processes: the amount of useable energy yielded by the hydrogen will be only about 47 percent as much as went into producing it in the first place. And if the hydrogen is burned in an internal combustion engine to avoid the high production costs of fuel cells, the net efficiency of this vehicle will be closer to 25 percent.

"Hydrogen produced from hydrocarbons instead of water also throws away 40 to 60 percent of the total energy in the feedstock. This method actually increases the nation’s need for fossil fuels, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

"While hydrogen could also be produced by nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, or wind power, the process would continue to be dragged down by the fundamental inefficiency of hydrogen production. Such power supplies could always do more to reduce fossil fuel requirements simply by sending their electric power directly to the grid.

"The bottom line is that hydrogen is not a source of energy. It is a carrier of energy, and one of the least practical carriers we know of."

So if hyrdrogen is so clearly not the answer to the energy crisis, what is? Zubrin makes a convincing case that ethanol holds both the way out of our current dependance upon foreign oil but also frees up important foreign policy, political and economic options that must be ruled out under the existing situation:

"Congress could make an enormous step toward American energy independence within a decade or so if it would simply pass a law stating that all new cars sold in the U.S.A. must be flexible-fuel vehicles capable of burning any combination of gasoline and alcohol. The alcohols so employed could be either methanol or ethanol.

"The largest producers of both ethanol and methanol are all in the western hemisphere, with the United States having by far the greatest production potential for both. Ethanol is made from agricultural products. Methanol can also be made from biomass, as well as from natural gas or coal. American coal reserves alone are sufficient to power every car in the country on methanol for more than 500 years.

"Ethanol can currently be produced for about $1.50 per gallon, and methanol is selling for $0.90 per gallon. With gasoline having roughly doubled in price recently, and with little likelihood of a substantial price retreat in the future, high alcohol-to-gasoline fuel mixtures are suddenly practical.

"Cars capable of burning such fuel are no futuristic dream. This year, Detroit will offer some two dozen models of standard cars with a flex-fuel option available for purchase. The engineering difference is in one sensor and a computer chip that controls the fuel-air mixture, and the employment of a corrosion-resistant fuel system. The difference in price from standard units ranges from $100 to $800."

Zubrin further explains how converting to an ethanol/methanol-based energy economy would have tremendously positive environmental consequences, as well stimulating the creation of vast new sources of wealth that simultaneously devalue the resources of our petroleum-based masters.

Ethanol and methanol are not without downsides, most notably the fact each produces less energy per gallon than does gasoline. But the economics of the energy market - to say nothing of the political equation beyond - are rapidly changing in favor of the new fuels.

This is a very significant article that deserves the widest possible distribution and discussion. Go here for the full story.

UPDATE: USA Today's Healey Looks at Ethanol

Jim Healey has been covering the auto industry for USA Today for several decades, so he's heard extraordinary claims for all sorts of new technologies and products over the years. Here's his take on ethanol.

UPDATE II: Not Everybody is so Enthusiastic on Ethanol

Coyote Blog has a much more skeptical take on ethanol, noting among other things that "every gallon of ethanol used actually INCREASES total petroleum use." He has some excellent links to other critical pieces as well.

UPDATE III: But Lou Ann Hammond is at Carlist.com

There are already 5 million FFVs on the road, so why aren't people like Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, focusing on getting E85 in the corner gas station? Good question, Lou Ann!

Cross-posted at Tapscott's Copy Desk.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Will GM Gain, Lose or Just Tread Water in 2006?

Time to get out your crystal ball and see what it holds for the General in 2006. Look over in the right sidebar, just below the Google ads, and you will see the latest Tapscott Behind the Wheel Auto Bloggers Survey.

I happen to think the coming year is going to be an upbeat one for General Motors but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that such a view is in the minority among automotive journalists, bloggers and Wall Street analysts.

So let's see what the automotive side of the Blogosphere thinks will happen in 2006 for GM's market share and then see what actually happens come December. You can only vote once a day but do vote and encourage your readers to do the same.