Monday, January 30, 2006

Split Window Vette Leads Best Classic Sports Car Voting, 427, 289 Cobras Closing Fast


With only two days left to vote, the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray - the famous split windown coupe - leads the voting for Best Classic Sports Car in the Tapscott Behind the Wheel Survey. It's not a scientific survey, of course, but it does provide an interesting scan of contemporary auto enthusiasts' likes and dislikes.

The 63 Vette leads with 19 percent of the vote, followed closely by the 427 Cobra with 15 percent and the 289 Cobra third with 13 percent. Voting will end at midnight tomorrow night.

The Ford GT40 with 11 percent in fourth is the only other model to receive a double-digit percentage of the total votes cast.

The survey is located in the right sidebar of this blog. The system insures only one vote per day per voter.








Sunday, January 29, 2006

GM, Ford in Trouble Because Their Cars and Trucks Last Longer?

When I was growing up in the 60s, cars that made it to the 100,000 mile mark were the exception, not the rule. Cars like my family's prized 55 Chevy, which made it past 250,000 miles on two engines, were especially rare.

Nowadays, according to a report last weeky released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it is becoming common for cars to last beyond 150,000 miles and trucks to approach the 200,000 mile mark.

Okay, so everybody is driving more and their vehicles are lasting longer because they are better engineering and assembled with greater precision and care. What's the news here, other than the extended mileage?

Rob Port at Wizbang offers a novel idea:

"This makes me wonder...if cars are lasting longer in the market wouldn't it be logical to conclude that this would drive down demand for new cars? And if that's true, couldn't it also be true that this increased durability has played into the woes faced by Ford and General Motors of late?"

Put another way, have GM and Ford done such a good job of improving their products, at least from the standpoint of durability, that they have driven down the demand for those same products because people can keep their vehicles longer?

But then why hasn't the same been true of Chrysler nee DaimlerChrysler? I don't know but I do think there is something worth pondering in Port's speculation.

Go here for the rest of Port's explanation of his theory.









Saturday, January 28, 2006

M-Benz to Open Classic Center for Golden Oldies


Now there's something you don't see every day - a car dealership devoted to restoring, appraising, servicing and selling the classic models of a particular marque.

In this case, the classics involved are all Mercedes Benz products and the dealership is owned and operated by the German automaker's American subsidiary.

The Classic Center at Irvine in California will open next month and "will offer a full compliment of services, including retail sales, restoration, appraisal and vehicle-search assistance for Mercedes Benz models aged 20 years or older," according to a release from Mercedes-Benz USA.

Vehicles available for sale at the Classic Center will range in price from $25,000 "reaching upwards into the millions."

Technicians employed by the Classic Center will be qualified to work on all models classified by the company as "classics," a range that spans vehicles up to the 126-series (280-560 models) built from 1979 to 1992.

"Imagine the chance to step back in time and purchase the Mercedes-Benz of your dreams right off the showroom floor and that is the magic of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center," said Mike Kunz, the center manager in the release.

The German automaker opened a similar facility in 1993 in Fellbach, Germany, making the new Irvine center only the second of its kind in the world. The company estimates there are approximately 500,000 of its classics registered to operate on roads in America.





LUTZ: We Promised, Now We Deliver

Vice-Chairman Robert Lutz says in his latest FastLane post that the all-new 2007 full-size SUVs - Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade - are "solid examples" of GM's promise to build "best-in-class vehicles" in every class of cars and trucks.

Lutz thinks each of the new SUVs has a distinct exterior look and interiors that match up with anything else out there. "When you drive them, you’ll find vastly improved handling, comfort and quiet. They offer best-in-class fuel economy, and they’re priced reasonably," he adds.

I haven't spent any time with this trio as yet but others who have report back with comments that sound rather similar to what Lutz is claiming at FastLane. Let us hope the GMers aren't merely building the best dinosaurs.

BTW, scroll down to the next post to catch the latest Carnival of Cars: A Drive Around the Auto Blogs Block. Or you can simply click here.







Thursday, January 26, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around the Auto Blog Block for Friday, January 27, 2006


It's been All Ford, All the Time in many parts of the automotive blogosphere this week, but there were other unmitigated outrages, rolling ridiculosities and pompous perplexities as well, so how 'bout let's get this show on the road:

At Auto Extremist, Peter DeLorenzo attended Ford's "Way Forward" news conference and found himself thinking that "it's a flat-out miracle this iconic American company has managed to survive this long." As always, Peter has much more to say on the topic and he isn't, how you say, "deeplomatique."

Auto Spectator was present at the Washington Auto Show unveiling of Ford's Escape Hybrid E85, which is the world's first hybrid capable of operating on different kinds of fuel. "If just five percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet were powered by hybrids operating on E85 ethanol, oil imports could be reduced by about 140 million barrels a year," Ford claimed, according to Auto Spectator.

GM's continuing losses moved Carpundit to post links to its previous posts on the topic.

There is a familiar maxim in recovery circles that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. That might well have been in the mind of Cars! Cars! Cars! with this post on Detroit's problems and CNN's recent report on same.

Would you be interested in a Jeep Grand Cherokee V-6 with 262 horsepower? If your answer is yes, you need to go directly to Carscoop here and read all about just such an animal. Never enough horsepower, whether you're puddle-jumpin' or apex-strafin', right!

Guess whose going to be both team owner and driver of one of the initial three Toyota Camry Nextel Cup teams? Mikey Waltrip, that's who! Fast Machines has the rest of the story here.

You lay in bed at night wondering what would happen if a Eurospec M6 encountered a couple of superbikes while running with speedo and tach buried to the right on a Portugese four-lane, right? No? Well, even so FosFor Wheels has the video. Sounds to me like the M6 has a bit more road noise at 155 mph than I would have expected.

Lincoln Zephyr gets a much-needed power boost with addition of the 3.5 liter Duratec V-6, the same powerplant we will be seeing in the forthcoming Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. Gear6 has more here.

Paul Newman turned 81 Thursday. Has any other 80-year-old ever competed at Daytona or LeMans? Or won an Oscar? Grant's Auto Rants provides a detailed explaination for why both of those questions are on point with the ageless salad dressing entrepreneur. My personal favorite Newman moment was in 1987 at Summit Point Raceway when he chewed Tom Cruise from one end of their race trailer to the other. Why? Cauz Cruise couldn't keep his friggin' race car (a Sports 2000 as I recall) out of the weeds for more than a couple of laps at a time. Believe me, there was no failure to communicate in that cozy little chat.

Now this is what I call a vivid metaphor: "Calling that logic is like calling putting your brain in a Cuisinart 'thinking out of the box.'" Go here to discover what inspired this literary masterpiece from Jalopnik.

If these graphs by Jonathan Fry don't make your mouth water, check your pulse:

"The new high-performance BMW Z4 M Coupé generates 343hp and 365Nm of torque from its 3.2-litre straight-six cylinder engine. Maximum power is generated at 7,900rpm while 80 per cent of the maximum torque is available from 2,000 rpm.

"The renowned power and flexibility of the 'M' engine contributes to a zero to 62mph time of 5.0 seconds and propels the car to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. Power is transferred to the road via a six-speed short-shift manual transmission."

Jonathan has much, much more detail about the hardtop Z4 here.

Just-Auto.com's Dave Leggett is among the most thoughtful observers of the auto industry, so it's no surprise that he links to an outstanding piece on continuous improvement in Industry Week as the start of his answer to the question: Why is Toyota so successful? Why isn't Leggett being published on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal?

No, no, no ... this cannot be true! Lamborghini building an SUV? Please say it ain't so, Left Lane News.

Ya think they like it? "The C-pillar and beltline are about the only exterior cues taken straight off the 1969 Camaro, but the concept looks exactly like a Camaro should. The bodywork over the rear wheels makes it look super wide, and it has an old GTO-style gas cap back there." That's MPH Blog on the Camaro Concept. Check out their mullet observation, too.

If you are wondering about whether you really need to use premium in your gas tank, Austin Davis has the answer over at My Honest Mechanic. And may I say it is a high octane response? No, you'd rather I didn't say it? Sorry.

They're getting a new Civic in Malaysia, too. Paul Tan has a reader's snaps of a moderately disguised tester on the road. I wonder, do Malaysian hot rodders refer to the Civic as the "57 Chevy of today's youth" over there?

Folks are paying less for auto insurance up in Ottawa this year than they were last year, according to QtAutoNews. Now there's something in Canada I hope makes it down this way.

More on Toyota's NASCAR plans, another radical chopper custom and the phase-in schedule for NASCAR's COT racer, all at Racedriven.com.

That Volvo C30 displayed at Straightline looks very aggressive, don't you think? Seems there is an internal debate within Volvo over the proper marketing strategy for the little screamer. Let's hope the folks advocating all-wheel-drive win the debate.

The Auto Prophet speculates that the new "low cost" factory Ford plans to build in North America will be located in Mexico or Canada. For the record, my crystal ball has a very large sombrero in it, if that means anything.

Is there a corn cob in your car's future? John at The Car Blog - as well as a trio of U.S. senators representing Corn Belt states - thinks there is more than a kernel of truth in the view that there better be a corny future there.

Only my man Robert Farrago at The Truth About Cars would find automotive significance in the 1817 museum tour of Marie-Henry Beyle. True, automobiles were still decades away at the time, but that tour teaches us something about today's consumers. Farrago calls it "Automotive Stendahl Syndrome." I just got my M5 tester today and I know exactly what he's talking about. Go here and you will, too.

Meanwhile, Joe Sherlock's latest take on The View Through the Windshield yields the conclusion that he is indeed a "Chalcedon compliant Merlot drinker." If you have to ask, odds are excellent you aren't, but if you insist on finding out for sure, go here. Either way you freely choose to go, it was predestined.

And finally, TheCarConnection explains why the hyphen is gone from DaimlerChrysler. This is truly a no more BS story. BTW, that's Chrysler's first-ever SUV in the photo atop this week's Carnival of Cars. They call it the Aspen.

Now, if you are looking for those "other unmitigated outrages, rolling ridiculosities and pompous perplexities" I mentioned at the outset, go here. See ya next week!





Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I'm a Corvette! Which Sports Car Are You?


You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.

Go here to find out what you are.

Go here to find out what Instapundit is.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ford Plan a Blueprint for Getting to Chapter 11?

Political observers are reacting to the Ford downsizing plan. Trevor Bothwell of Democracy Project, a moderately libertarian/conservative blog that rarely comments on automotive issues, offers a biting response to the UAW.

"American automakers are sitting on a double-edged sword in today's market. Not only has the United Autoworkers union contributed to the high costs Ford has grappled with for years as a result of its demands for inflated wages and pension and health care plans, but foreign competitors are simultaneously not strapped by such provisions. This is a plan for financial disaster, though you'll never hear union reps admit it."

Sooner or later, Ford will have to go to the mat with the UAW on these issues, according to Bothwell. Go here for the rest.

GM's Keebler Drops an Interesting Hint of Small (Rear-Wheel-Drive) Things to Come

GM's Director of Advanced Concepts asked for a survey of opinion among Fastlane readers and got a raft of responses. He's gone through those responses and concluded the obvious - there is a market for all three powertrain configurations.

But then he added this tantalizing observation: "Specifically though, I promise to work on the creation of a line of small, agile, rear-wheel-drive cars. And quite frankly, I can't imagine a front-drive version of Camaro."

Neither could anybody else imagine a Camaro with anything but power to the rear wheels. But "a line of small, agile" rear-drivers? Smaller than a Camaro? A rear-wheel-drive Cobalt-sized pocket rocket?

Or maybe a proper Malibu SS capable of churning its rear tires into blue haze? Perhaps we are talking about something unexpected coming off the Solstice/Sky line?

Come on, Keebler, you've got a chance to use the Blogosphere to generate some of the good buzz GM really, really needs these days.





Monday, January 23, 2006

Ford Announces Plant Closings, Job Losses as Toyota Confirms NASCAR Nextel Cup Plans


Could there be a more appropriate juxtaposition?

Ford Motor Co. announces it is downsizing by closing up to nine plants and laying off as many as 30,000 white and blue collar workers.

Analysts predict Ford's share of the domestic auto market will shrink to 17 percent this year.

On the same day, Toyota, which is threatening to overtake General Motors Corporation as the world's largest automaker, confirms what has been clearly coming for several years - race cars that look vaguely like the Japanese firm's top selling family sedan will be in the starting lineup at the 2007 Daytona 500 and will be a regular competitor thereafter in America's most popular form of motorsports.

It was clear when Toyota joined the Craftsman Truck Series three years ago that it was just a matter of time before the Nextel Cup would see the first non-American firm competing on the big circuit.

Toyota will also be backing teams competing in Camrys in NASCAR's Busch Series, the sedan series a notch below the Nextel events, which for years was known as the Winston Cup. Toyota will continue supporting its teams in the truck series.

"'It's a great pleasure to announce Toyota's entry into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series with the Toyota Camry,' said Dave Illingworth, senior vice president and chief planning and administrative officer for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

"'Next year - 2007 - will be a special year for Toyota in more ways than one. Toyota will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in the United States, and we will be joining the NASCAR NEXTEL CUP Series, America's premier racing series.

"'Toyota has been an important part of the U.S. motorsports community for almost 25 years. We've competed and won in different series and on tracks across America. Toyota drivers and teams have won championships in a variety of different series. But, if you want to compete against the best, in America that means NASCAR.

"We look forward to February of 2007 when the green flag waves to start the Daytona 500 and the starting lineup features the Toyota Camry."

NASCAR is, of course, ecstatic about the fact Toyota's silhouette racing Camrys will join the silhouette racers from Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge on the Nextel circuit.

"'NASCAR welcomes Toyota to the greatest auto racing in the world,' said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, who made the announcement on Monday at NASCAR'S Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.

"'Toyota's entry into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series is good for drivers, teams and the fans. This move provides for even more intense competition on the track between drivers and manufacturers, which will provide more excitement and fan interest. Toyota's entry also provides more options for drivers and teams, which will increase the competition between manufacturers.'"

You can read the full Toyota statement here. The NASCAR statement is here. You can read what some of the good ole boys are already saying about the prospect of racing against Camrys here.

Toyota has for years backed teams competing in professional road racing series like the Camel GTP Series, as well as the CART, Formula 1 and IRL open-wheel racing series.

Can you imagine Curtiss Turner, Cale Yarborough or Junior Johnson winning the Daytona 500 and doing the hat dance in Victory Lane while proclaiming:

"That's right, Mr. Economaki, the Nippon Industries/Toshiba Computers/ExportJapan.com Toyota Camry flat blew the doors off them ole Chivvies and Fawds and Dahjas today. Eat my dust, Jeff Gordon, ya little Yankee twerp!"

Yep, it's going to be real interesting at Daytona in February next year!



Saturday, January 21, 2006

GM Wants to Know: Rear-Wheel-Drive (With AWD, Too) or Front-Wheel-Drive for Fun Driving

Head over to GM's FastLane blog and check out Jack Keebler's post on the General's internal discussions about which is better, rear or front wheel drive. Says the GM Director - Advanced Concepts Group:

"One of the things that GM would like to better understand is the level of enthusiasm for rear-wheel drive versus front-wheel drive, particularly for young buyers of compact and sub-compact cars.
"Our belief is that front-wheel drive cars can be very rewarding to drive if properly set up. We also like the interior packaging space advantages, low mass and poor-weather traction of front-drive vehicles."

There are already 159 comments posted in response to Keebler's observations and I am sure there will be many more because this is a debate that has been going on since the earliest days of the automobile

Having raced vehicles with both powertrain configurations, I found Keebler's observation that front-wheel-drive "cars can be very rewarding to drive if properly set up" particularly interesting. Keebler is offering a very carefully worded observation that I believe also contains an unstated qualification.

The qualification is this: Front-wheel-drive vehicles can be very rewarding to drive on the street if properly set up. Put the same vehicle on a race track, however, and more often than not it's driver will see only the back bumpers of competitors with rear-wheel-drive.

Keebler is right, of course, and there are numerous extremely entertaining front-wheel-drive vehicles, not the least of which are the VW Golf R32, Acura RSX and Focus SVT. I've had loads of fun on race tracks over the years while driving such vehicles, especially the Rabbit GTI in which Scott Goodyear taught me how to threshold brake (this was before he was the famous Scott Goodyear).

But asking the front tires to brake, steer and convey power to the road is simply too much to ask. That is why understeer is such an inherent characteristic of high performance driving in a front-wheel-drive vehicle. In the matter of vehicle dynamics, you can only defy physics so far (unless your name is Colin Chapman or Aryton Senna, of course).

The rear-wheel-drive vehicle simply has higher breakaway thresholds in all three areas. That is why a rear-wheel-drive vehicle is typically more fun to drive on the race track, especially if it happens to have a V-8 or some other high-power engine, good balance front to back and responsive steering and brakes.

On the street, however, it is almost never prudent to drive at the same level of intensity as on a race track, so the vast majority of drivers rarely approach the limits of their vehicles. It is certainly possible to set up a front-wheel-drive vehicle that is quite neutral and responsive in most phases of driving.

That being the case, it would surprise me to see manufacturers moving too far away from the front-wheel-drive configuration for compact and sub-compact vehicles for precisely the reasons Keebler notes.

Packaging efficiency for occupants is simply better with the powertrain together under the hood, rather than stretching front to back of the vehicle. When space in the passenger cabin and trunk are at a premium, it makes good sense to go with front-wheel-drive.




Blown Rover is Fast but So What?


Faster is better, right? So what’s the deal with the mocking headline? You wouldn’t buy a flash light to drive nails or an antique chair for firewood. So why buy a sport-utility vehicle to go fast?

This is why I have never understood the rationale for the Porsche Cayenne, the hot version of BMW’s X-5 or the AMG edition of the Mercedes M-class. Why put lots of horsepower and a specially tuned suspension in a vehicle whose original justification nowhere mentions anything about going as fast as possible down straights and around corners?

Thus my problem with Land Rover’s Range Rover Sport Supercharged edition of the LR3. Yes, it will leap down straights with ferocious intensity and carve up corner apexes with a wholly unexpected level of confidence.

The same $75,000+ required to put a Sport Supercharged in the driveway could buy a Dodge Magnum Hemi and a Dodge Ram 1500 4X4. The Magnum hauls a lot and goes faster than the blown Rover, while the Ram can traverse the vast majority of off-road terrain within the English SUV’s capabilities.

Aha! In posing the question in such utilitarian terms, however, I have revealed the plebian nature of my perspective. No Dodge ever built has offered the same level of prestige and class as a Land Rover. That the Sport Supercharged is quick as blazes just make it jolly more fun on the estate’s lovely back roads.

Oh well, my half-acre estate in rural Maryland probably isn’t the sort of scenery Land Rover’s designers had in mind when conceiving and birthing the Sport Supercharged. It is intended for a select few prospects.

Power is courtesy of the same 390 horsepower 4.0 liter supercharged V-8 normally found in the R editions of the Jaguar XK and XJ vehicles. Put your foot in it and the Sport Supercharged will rip from rest to 60 mph in less than seven seconds.

Similarly, the suspension is well-sorted and is aided by massive 20-inch tires and electronic stability control, with a result that the Sport Supercharged is quite capable of moving down a twisting lane with far more velocity than any other SUV, save the aforementioned Cayenne and its German fellow travelers from BMW and Benz.

The interior is lavish, as expected in a Land Rover and there is no getting around the handsomeness of the current edition’s exterior look. And you need say no more than “let’s take my Land Rover” to let other folks know you’ve arrived at one of those top household income brackets.

Still, there is less cargo capacity in the Sport Supercharged than the regular LR3, thanks to the shortened chassis, and that blown V-8 does love its petrol and demands it in massive quantities whenever the itch to go fast strikes.

The Sport Supercharged is indeed fast. Luxurious and prestigious, to be sure. But anything remotely practical? Not really. Which brings us round to the question posed by the headline. And the real answer is .... because it's fun!







Thursday, January 19, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around the Auto Blog Block for Friday, January 20, 2006




Oohs and ahhhs are still being heard in Cobo Hall at the North American International Auto Show - aka "Detroit" - and much of the posting on the auto blogs in recent days has focused on the displays there.

But there are other happenings in the automotive world this week, too, so how about let's fire it up, slip it into gear and head out for this week's Carnival of Cars drive around the auto blog block:

Auto Extremist's Peter DiLorenzo has some interesting ideas on how to jazz up the Detroit Auto Shows. Yes, that's a plural "shows" because there really are two Detroit Auto Shows, one right after the other. Go here for the rest of the rant.

The ever engaged E.L. Eversman at Auto Muse thinks BMW should have hired him to do the interviews with Chris Bangle that the German firm is now making available via pods and vods. He's also happy to note that it was a year ago when he praised GM for being the first automaker to get into blogging.

They're maxi happy with the Mini 2006 lineup and price schedule, over at Auto Spectator. BTW, welcome to the Carnival of Cars, folks.

Jason Vines, Chrysler's top flak, has done it all, seen it all, heard it all in the car PR biz. Well, he hasn't quite seen it all. But a dozen folks at the Detroit Auto Show did when a model doffed her clothes and gave them a birthday suit pose. Inside Line has the bare details here. Don't worry, it's office safe.

This is a family friendly blog!

Toyota will unveil a new ground game during the Super Bowl, Autoblog reports, and it will feature a true hybrid runner. It's the spots for the redesigned Camry.

If you ever thought about moving to Europe, My Ford Dreams laments that Dearborn gives the other side of the pond this version of the Focus but denies it to millions of deserving Americans. No wonder those guys are in trouble.

Carpundit has a solution to the Iran nuclear crisis. Secretary Rice, I'm sure he's available for a consulting gig at the State Department.

Buick is delusional! It's that simple. If you doubt me, maybe you'll believe Cars! Cars! Cars!. Scroll down here. You'll know you're there when you get there.

By the way, should the Blogosphere's equivalent of heel and toeing be called "palm and fingering"? Just thought I'd ask. Keep reading.

Carscoop has a sequence of excellent photos showing the progression of the Camaro Concept, courtesy of Chevrolet. What we saw at Detroit was the second iteration of the basic concept. That's the Detroit car in the assembly jig in the photo above.

Peter Gillepsie of FastMachines admits he's going way out on the limb in predicting it but he sees 2006 as the year Juan Pablo Montoya finally shows the world just how great a driver he is. Thereafter, Peter sees Ferrari red for JPM.

Do not try this at home. Not even if you are a professional. Gear6 has the details.

It appears Richard Branson's Virgin Cars endeavour has crashed and burned over in Jolly Ole England. Jalopnik hears a fat lady singing a song nobody wants to hear.

Speaking of that place where the Red Coats came from, Jonathan Fry reports some good news for Ford of England. The Fry fellow was born to multi-task!

OK, how would you like to have to learn a foreign language that consists of four tones, no alphabet and includes 60,000 unique characters? Just-Auto's always thoughtful Dave Leggett isn't any more excited about the prospect of having to learn Chinese than you are. But it could happen.

A new Camaro before 2008? Left Lane News says it is possible.

Over in the MPH Blog testing facility, David Merline is rather taken by the Civic Hybrid. No, I mean as in really, really taken.

Speaking of the 57 Chevy, I mean the Honda Civic, My Honest Mechanic's Austin Davis links to a comprehensive roundup of how-tos and what-fors aimed at those who have a Civic they want to "make as cool as it can be."

Hey, Little GTO, this is starting to look more interesting! New Car Blog claims to have the inside scoop on the 2008 Pontiac muscle car:

"2008 Pontiac GTO will be powered by 6.0L LS2 engine with 400 hp and will have a six speed manual transmission. The Zeta platform gets fresh suspension, with a added classy independent rear end assuring better traction and superior handling. The wheelbase is increased to 110 inches."

Yes, Lord, please let it be!

Paul Tan has a computer rendering of what he describes as "the new BMW X6," which is what the Nissan Murano would have looked like had it been born a Bimmer - i.e. with a "Bangle butt" and a straight six under the hood.

And just where do you expect to be Feb. 26, 2006? Qt Auto News suggests you be in St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park that day where you will find the third annual Festival of Speed. What is the Festival of Speed? Well, it includes neat stuff like a Ferrari FXX and a Bugatti Veyron, among much exotic else.

How 'bout that NASCAR "Car of Tomorrow" we keep hearing about. One day it's on, the next it's crashed and burned beyond recognition. RaceDriven.com has a photo of a testing COT and a great roundup of news and views within and without France, er NASCAR, on the future of the COT.

Subaru announces a new addition to its stable of Subaru World Rally Team support vehicles, the B9 Tribeca, according to Straightline. You can have yours in any color you desire so long as it is SWRT blue.

Hey, didja catch that Tundra Jack Bauer was driving in Texas during the first 10 minutes of "24" last week? The Auto Prophet did and he also sees some forehead slapping among the suits who ride the elevators to the top.

Alex shares a reverie - or is it a nightmare? - about The Car That Came Back From The Grave over at The Car Blog. Alex, you remind me of Bruce McCall. No, what I mean is your writing reminds me of Bruce McCall's writing. Never mind.

Speaking of the literary arts, let me tell you about this Farago guy at The Truth About Cars. I've known people who were snake handlers and I've known people who spoke in tongues. But Robert knows a guy who speaks like somebody who is both a snake handler and a tonques speaker. And he works for GM! Now that is a world-class literary allusion in my book.

Speaking of the literary arts II: Would you notice if somebody dumped "a fresh load of steaming crap" on your living room carpet? Joe Sherlock at The View Through the Windshield sure as heck would, only he would call it something else that sounds like a Chinese car company. Read all about it in his post for Friday, January 2006.

And in our final stop for this week's Carnival of Cars, Marty Padgett at TheCarConnection.com has some interesting comments from Jaguar's design chief, who says the next T-Type has "an axe to grind." Well, that's certainly better than a rod to throw ... or a tranny to drop ... okay, that's enough.

We're home! See ya next week.

UPDATE:

OK, As you can see in the comments section below, The Auto Prophet thinks E.L. Eversman must be a female. Being a *MAWG, I just assumed the other gender was the right answer.

Or maybe the use of initials rather than actual names indicates a desire for a level of anonymity?

E.L.?

* Middle-Age-White-Guy. AKA in some (mistaken) corners as Male-Chauvinist-Pig.

UPDATE II: Newest BMW Spot?

Just stumbled onto the FosFor site in Sweden, which has a wonderful video of an upcoming BMW TV spot. (Not really, but it's hilarious anyway).









Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Caribou Coffee May Not Be What You Think It Is; Why Posting is Light, and Carnival of Cars Deadline Approaches

The Auto Prophet has been a long-time enthusiast of the Caribou Coffee chain that struggles to compete against the Goliath of Starbucks. But now The Auto Prophet has discoverd some rather disturbing news about Sharia law and the majority ownership of Caribou Coffee. It's a little off the typical path for an auto blog but it's still worth knowing.

Go here for the details.

By the way, I was in a seminar learning Microsoft Access all day yesterday and will be again today, so posting will be light. If you believe in prayer, all prayers for my thick head finally getting it on Access will be appreciated!

Also, don't forget - Carnival of Cars deadline for submissions is tomorrow evening. Let me know if you have something in particular you would like to see linked to in the Friday edition of Carnival of Cars.

Monday, January 16, 2006

How Math Is Rocking Your Auto World (Or Why The New Bean Counters Will Soon Win Everything)

Those who are not regular readers of Business Week probably missed a feature story that at first glance might easily be dismissed as having nothing to do with cars and trucks and the industry that designs, builds, sells and services them.

Think again, wing nut!

"Some 18 months ago, 30 blue-chip companies, from Procter & Gamble Co. (PG ) to Walt Disney Co. (DIS ), underwent a series of tests promoted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry group.
"These studies crunched consumer data to measure the effectiveness of advertising in a host of media. The results came back in hard numbers. They indicated, for example, that Ford Motor Co. (F ) could have sold an additional $625 million worth of trucks if it had lifted its online ad budget from 2.5% to 6% of the total."

You think that pair of numbers didn't get Ford's attention?

"Ford responded vigorously: Last August it announced plans to move up to 30% of its $1 billion ad budget into media targeted to individual customers, half of it through online advertising. Such moves are sure to generate even more data, giving greater clout to the numbers people."

But it's not just in marketing and advertising that the Business Week story has tremendously important implications for the auto industry, as well as every other industry. The point of the piece is to show the present and possible future impact of the empowerment of mathematicians by the digital revolution.

That's right, mathematicians. Not software jockeys. Not programmers. Math people. AKA "numbers crunchers," "bean counters" and "most boring professor on campus." Is this the ultimate revenge of the ultimate nerds?

Imagine new math majors graduating with a choice among competing offers of six figure starting salaries with generous stock options from major companies like Google and Yahoo. That's now. Soon enough those offers will be commonly tendered by firms like Ford, IBM and Shell Oil.

The key to understanding why this is happenning is grasping the significance of the fact that mathematicians need nothing more than data to "map" anything in the world, including people, buildings, cars, concepts, words and relationships. Being a math whiz has never been more valuable.

Not only can they map things, they can project important stuff like potential sales of a proposed new model, based upon the billions and billions of bytes of data already amassed on auto consumers likes, dislikes and demographics.

So you can easily imagine this conversation taking place during a new products approval committee meeting at GM in the near future:

Lutz: Accounting says we have to sell 150,000 new Camaros a year in order to justify making the upfront investment. I don't see any reason why that won't happen. Did you see the jaws drop in that press preview when we took the wraps off the Camaro Concept?

Waggoner: That's great, Bob, but the numbers projected by the Marketing Department's cyber-graphics staff don't look good.

Lutz: Excuse me? What the heck is cyber-graphics?

Birdhead (Recently lured away from Stanford Math Department to head all GM Marketing): Well, Lutz, we did a multiple stochastic regression analysis of product factors required to motivate additional buying decisions among our target consumers and the Camaro Concept hardly moved the needle.

Lutz: Multiple depression analysis? Since when are Camaro customers depressed? They live on adrenalin highs from burning rubber.

Birdhead (Laughing nervously): "No, no, I said multiple stochastic regression analysis." It's one way we can model future sales based upon current customer preference data. Quite elementary actually. The model says the new Camaro will sell about 75,000 in its first year, then decline at a steady rate for the following four years until it is cancelled.

Waggoner: Sorry, Bob, but we just don't have the resources to waste on your dinosaur muscle car illusions. Next project? Ah yes, the Buick Electraflow ....

You think I am kidding? Go read the whole Business Week piece here.

HT: Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine







Friday, January 13, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around the Auto Blogs Block for Friday the 13th, 2006


The Detroit Auto Show has been hot and heavy, testing started at Daytona and a Dodge Charger R/T Hemi kept me grinning all week. How about you? Let's fire'er up and see what's down the Auto Blog block this week.

Need help figuring out what the federal tax code may mean for your purchase of a hybrid? Don't Mess With Taxes has a trunkful of information and analysis.

Peter DiLorenzo at Auto Extremist had this to say about the Detroit doings: "... there was a lackluster air about the show that emanated from the fact that many of the auto manufacturers appeared to be 'sleep walking' through the show or just going through the motions - and those companies distinguished themselves with rampant mediocrity and in one case, flat-out embarrassment." Go here to learn who ended up cowering in shame.

Also at the Auto Extremist cyber-digs, Methanol Boy sees the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Camaro revival trend and asks the obvious question about a new Trans Am Series: When? For what it's worth, I agree with MB on the "throw-back" rules for such a series.

Remember the flap a few weeks ago about Ford's corporate and financial support of homosexual groups and causes? AutoBlog reports this statement by the American Family Association's response to Ford's u-turn on the issue: "Ford’s support for these groups pushing homosexual marriage can only hurt dealers across the country. Why would Ford put the interests of seven homosexual groups ahead of the interests of all their dealers?" AFA is also casting a furrowed brow towards GM and DaimlerChrysler. This could get really ugly before it gets better.

CarPundit is rather taken by VW Vortex Forum's tour of a Phaeton factory.

Cars!Cars!Cars! want us to read this, or they will make us all drive Azteks. I'm reading! I'm reading! I'm reading!

Carscoop knows you're out there. You know who you are. The guy who thinks the Impreza WRX STi needs more horsepower. Go here.

Is the IRL saying we can all KISS Indy car racing's .... As for me, I just want to know who is Mindy? FastMachines has all the answers.

It's official now. The Buick Enclave podcast is up at FastLane Blog. Lutz is getting pretty good at these televised walk-arounds, you know? The Enclave is in that photo at the top of this post. Yeah, I mistook it for a Lexus at first glance, too.

Remember the days when qualifying for the pole at an F1 race required a zillion pounds of boost to get 1,000 horsepower out of that tiny little 1.5 liter turbo? Now you can get your Audi A8 or S8 with 1,000 watts of stereo power. It's not as fast as the F1 turbo, but almost as loud! Gear6 has the details.

Must-Read of the Week: Grant's Auto Rants on "the Other GM." That's the one that just might end up as the 21st Century's auto industry colossus.

Hot Wheels Blog spent a lot of time on the floor at the LA auto show but what impressed them most was the new Tahoe's interior: "Who would have ever thought that a Chevy dash would look like this?" Did you know HWB is cross-posted over at my buddy Dale Baker's Okie on the Lam sight?

Jalopnik wants to know which of the Detroit Auto Show's domestic concepts was the best. Vote here. My vote goes to the Camaro Concept.

Across the Pond, Jonathan Fry has an extended length look at the all-new Ford Transit. You can also listen to Jonathan opine here.

More Must-Read: Just-Auto's Dave Leggett on "cranial stimulation" and the auto industry's future.

Pssst. Hey, Meester. Want to see some photos of my 2007 BMW Three-Series coupe? Meet me here at LeftLane News.

Over at MotorAlley, David Wasserman overhead some union guys comparing the Camaro and Challenger concepts. It's all about the Hemi, doncha know?

So you think being an auto critic is all fun and games, huh? Well, head over to MPH Blog and scroll down to "The Lone Sentinel." Oh, the humanity of it!

Paul Tan assures me the Waja Compro is a car, not a new digital camera.

It's classics time over at Qt Auto News where everybody is all misty eyed over the 1955 Ford Crown Vic. "It's the classic American Car," they're blubbering. Get a hold of yourselves, people! Everybody knows the 55 Bel Air with the 265 and three-on-a-tree-with-overdrive is the classic American car. Heh.

What was your first car? What was your best car? Those inquiring minds at RaceDriven.com want to know. Me? My first was a tank masquerading as a 53 Chevy Bel Air. My best was a 76 Audi Fox, cream outside and beige inside. Loved that little Fox.

And while you're being RaceDriven, check this out, too. A 1954 Olds F-88 selling for $3.24 million? Just imagine, an Oldsmobile Corvette!

Need more info on GM's latest pricing strategy? Bob at Straightline explains everything here.

Tapscott Behind the Wheel's nominee for best Detroit Auto Show reporting goes to The Auto Prophet for this comprehensive and insightful look at ..... everything in Cobo, even some stuff nobody else saw.

The Car Blog gets seat time with a Ford GT. I'll have mine in Heritage Blue, thank you.

Robert Farago is beating around the bush about GM's future again. I wish the guy would just tell it to us straight at The Truth About Cars. How many days does he think GM will survive? Really.

Having had an emergency double bypass five years ago, Joe Sherlock's View Through the Windshield note about heading over the cardiologist for a check-up caught my eye. Hope everything went well today, Joe.

And finally as this week's drive comes to an end, Mike Davis at CarConnection.com looks behind the numbers to find the real news in the 2005 sales figures.

Hope you enjoyed this spin. See you next week right here for another Carnival of Cars.






Thursday, January 12, 2006

Carnival of Cars is Tomorrow

If you have something you want to see in the Carnival of Cars, email me here. The more the better.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

And Then There Was the Corvette SS ...



Chevrolet has had two potential world-beaters that were orphaned by sudden corporate decisions to withdraw from official participation in motorsports.

Here is the 1957 Corvette SS, which made a few laps during practice at Sebring, including some with Juan Fangio at the wheel of the development mule if I recall correctly.

Fangio spoke highly of the car, but it was mothballed after General Motors went along with the industry decision to get out of racing in early 1957. The SS would see new life a few years later when Bill Mitchell got a hankering for something with which to do some road racing.

The other orphan, by the way, was the Grand Sport, which was Zora Arkus Duntov's answer to the Cobra - a super lightweight Corvette with enough horsepower to lift the front wheels at speed.

Jim Hall and Roger Penske won the Bahamas Speed Weeks with Grand Sports and one of my favorite childhood memories was seeing a Hall/Penske Grand Sport pass a couple of Ferrari prototypes for the lead early in the 1964 Sebring 12 Hour.

What might have been had GM supported the SS and the Grand Sport?

BTW: These Corvette SS photos are from the Chevrolet image gallery for media. They are for editorial use only. The shots in the preceding post of the Camaro Concept are also from the Chevrolet image gallery and are similarly strictly for editorial use only.





Here's the 69 Camaro (Front and Rear Views)

The current concept car's taillamps aren't shaped like the 69's but somehow seem especially suggestive of it.




Camaro Concept Rear View

Camaro Concept Interior Sketch

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Camaro Concept Shows It's 1969 All Over Again!


GM's FastLane blog has info and links to podcasts and videocasts of the Detroit Auto Show debut of the Camaro Concept pictured at left.

See the later posts above this one on Tapscott Behind the Wheel for more views of Camaro Concept. Automobile Magazine also has a bunch of illustrations and photos.

The GMTV videocast of Lutz doing a walk-around of the Camaro Concept is especially informative. A bit worrisome may be his comment that the business case for producing the car requires selling 150,000 annually.

"If we do it, it will be a high-value sporting coupe," Lutz observes during the walk-around.

Interesting that the 69 model was the inspiration for the new version, rather than the edition that debuted in 70 and was widely thought to resemble an earlier classic Ferrari Berlinetta. I loved both but the latter drew raves from the styling critics, as did the Pontiac Firebird that shared the platform and was described by contemporaries as reminiscent of a Maserati.

First reaction in this corner to the new Camaro Concept is that it certainly captures the spirit of the original without being a mere reincarnation. I love the tail lamps, the extreme coke bottle-shaped fenders grab your eyes and won't let go, and the front end is a clever reinterpration of the 69's.

I'm not so sure about the greenhouse, though. Looks a little too much like a Boyd Coddington Chezoom fantasy. Or maybe a GM designer's idea of applying the Chrysler 300C/Dodge Magnum roofline to the Camaro. Either way, it's a bit much, at least for me observing the vehicle from a video distance.

Otherwise, Lutz sounds rather enthusiastic about a production Camaro becoming a reality by 2008 or 2009. What a pity it would be if GM's financial woes prevent Chevy from rejoining the pony car war with Ford and Dodge.

More here from R&T.

UPDATE:

Lutz has posted extensive comments at FastLane blog here. Here's his bottom-line:

"Make no mistake: We would love to build this car. I would love to have one in my garage. But we cannot commit to it just yet. Circumstances dictate that we have other priorities that come first. For now, we’ll just enjoy what we have, and find out what everybody thinks about it, and we'll make a final decision on it at our earliest opportunity."

Monday, January 09, 2006

QUICK TAKES: Dodge Charger R/T is a Hemi Allright!


Regardless what you think of how it looks on the outside, there is no doubt about the appeal of the way the Dodge Charger R/T Hemi drives. This thing absolutely flies. Speed comes effortlessly and the rate of power production seems to increase as the tach needle swings closer to redline.

The interior doesn't impress me much but I could live with a lot of flaws just to be able to experience that Hemi surge at will. More details and a full review to come.

By the way, I used the photo above, which was taken at Virginia International Raceway, because I suspect it best conveys the view most rivals are likely to see of the Charger R/T.



Friday, January 06, 2006

Next Carnival of Cars Will Appear Jan. 13

Don't miss it! 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, January 05, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around the Auto Blogs Block for Jan. 6, 2006

The January auto show circuit is running hot and heavy this week, which means manufacturers are touting radical concept vehicles that supposedly tell us what new production models are right around the corner.

It also means lots of announcements of actual new models being introduced. And the rumor mills of the industry are running white hot as auto executives, mainstream media journalists and auto bloggers converge in a churning cauldron of candidates for appearances on "Car Crazy!"

Tapscott Behind the Wheel is just such a candidate, so let's put her in gear and burn some cyberspace rubber:

In a distressing development on the international front for Detroit, another foreign automaker is determined to sell its wares to Americans, according to John Neff at AutoBlog, who links to an AP report that the Cross Lander from Romania's Aro SA has been granted an air bag exemption by NHTSA. Cracks Neff of the planned 9,000 air bag-less examples to be sold here through 2008: "We're willing to bet not one of 'em goes to a Public Citizen member."

Wow, you don't see those on the roads much anymore! CarPundit has some crisp shots of a somewhat obscure 60s classic, but you have to read the comments to find out what it is. Unless you already know because one of your neighbors had one when you were a kid.

Hey, it hasn't happened in 19 years. You know, Chevy outselling Ford. It was close but that's what the final 2005 sales figures show and Bob Schulties at Cars!Cars!Cars! has some observations about how The New York Times reported the end-of-year numbers. Bob wasn't, you know, impressed with the Old Grey Lady.

See that gorgeous green exotic gracing Carscoop? That's the Lamborghinia Miura concept appearing at the North American International Auto Show - the "Deetroit Show" to us Dixie rubes - and Carscoop is apparently rather taken by it:

"The new car retains the extraordinary purity of line characteristic of the original Miura. The designer's intervention has been defined by refining the contours and eliminating any superfluous detail in order to enhance the clean, simple lines and perfectly-balanced proportions of the original that so impassioned enthusiasts."

Allow me to translate for my Dixie rube buddies who have just one inquiry about this lovely Italian stallion, which concerns the absence of sufficient storage capacity to accommodate such essential items as multiple refreshments appropriate for the weekend's entertainment event that are typically packaged in aluminum containers of a certain girth.

If you are looking for info on the second generation Audi TT, Consumers Hero has it here.

Scott Keller at FastMachines writes the CART obit here and opines that "the only way unification [with the IRL] will ever happen, is when (not if in my opinion) Tony George has run Indy into such a deep hole, that he has no choice but to beg Champ Car to return. Things in Speedway, IN are in bad shape, if you haven't noticed lately (bye bye Toyota)."

Sad but true, I fear.

Over at Gear6, Casey says the new Audi RS4 is a "beast of a car" and he links to a Top Gear video review in which we learn what Ingolstadt's latest sedan stormer has in common with the posture of W and Tony. No, really. I don't make this stuff up!

Speaking of things I couldn't possibly make up, check out why Jalopnik thinks that minivan deal between DCX and VW will produce "a run of hyperclever ads involving subtle references to van-based pot smoking (well, maybe)."

Plus ...

This week's Jalopnik Bonus: Scroll to the next item under the VW-DCX doings post to get the low-down on the Hoon of the Day. (No, I can't tell you what a Hoon is because this is a family friendly blog).

The wise one at Just-Auto.com ponders Renault's situation, now that Carlos Ghosn is returning to the land that didn't invent the French Fry. Says Dave Leggett: "Renault has a relatively high European cost base that makes it difficult to compete in the segments where it is strongest in product terms. Performance outside Western Europe isn't bad, but how much money can you make on the Logan?" He has much more to say on the subject here.

Moving right along ...

No, the Fisker Tramonto is neither an as-yet-unidentified fungus nor a killer research app for the Blogosphere created in Italy. Rather, the Fisker Tramonto "is a sculpted statement of exotic, two-seat, open-air motoring - with design as its first priority." Left Lane News has more, including some stunning photography.

Guess which marque gets the most internet price inquiries? Toyota, of course, at least according to data compiled by Motor Alley. David Wasserman is the man there and he's got the numbers to prove it. Go here.

Austin Davis at My Honest Mechanic says STAY AWAY FROM SALESPERSONS if you want to get the cheapest loan. Hey, makes sense to me. Of course, I don't make my living on commission. And I hate hanging out in showrooms drinking stale coffee. OK, I'll stop rambling now ...

Sorry Austin.

In news that shook Wall Street, Qt Auto News has the inside story on the merger of HappyBalls.com and InConcept, Inc. The former is online retailer of the latter's antennae balls. Is this a match made in heaven or what!

Brian Vermette at Racedriven dot.com surveys the retro Muscle Car movement in Detroit, with comments on the Mustang, Pontiac GTO, Dodge Challenger concept and Chevrolet Camaro concept. Brian would like to hear from you, too.

Buy a hybrid. Get a discount on insurance. Straightline.com has the rest of the story.

Holy Cow! Lincoln is switching to a numeric system to identify its models!! That oughtta lure all those greedy Baby Boomers out of their Bimmers and Mercs and back into the Lincoln showrooms.

The Auto Prophet has only one question: "Can you name the parent company of the following models? CTX, CXT, SRX, XJ8, SC, CLK, SLK, QX, MX5?" Am I the only one who thinks Lincoln's demise may be coming sooner than previously thought?

Can you believe this? It must be true cauz The Car Blog linked to it. Even if it is from one of those dead tree thingies that appear on the street each morning.

Robert Farago offers this gem of sober analysis at The Truth About Cars while responding to a New Year's Outlook for 2006 feature in The Detroit News:

"In reality, carmakers are not 'perfecting the vehicle.' For one thing, perfection is impossible. For another, legislation is now the driving force behind automotive design and engineering. As you'd expect from this odd intersection of fiat and free market, the car industry is being pulled in all directions. It's forced to reconcile mileage with safety, cost with complexity, innovation with liability."

And we now bring you this from the Cautiously Beating Around the Bush Department as Joe Sherlock of The View Through the Windshield peers at Chrysler's Imperial Concept:

"The new four-door Chrysler Imperial concept is based on the 300C/Magnum platform, but sits 17 inches longer and six inches higher than the 300C sedan and has massive 22-inch wheels. It's a sleazy knock-off of the current Rolls Royce which - in my opinion - is a design monstrosity. In the race to Ugly, it's neck-and neck, folks."

Got that right, Joe. Lawdy, that thang is uhhhgleee!

Finally, as this week's Carnival of Cars Drive Around the Auto Blog Block concludes, Paul Eistenstein at TheCarConnection.com reports on "The Way Forward," the recovery plan soon to be unveiled by Ford's Gary Fields. Plus much, much more as always.






Onslaught of New Model Intros Begins as Toyota Unveils FJ Cruiser, Yaris


As expected, Toyota confirmed today at the Los Angeles Auto Show that FJ Cruiser sport-utility vehicle and Yaris econocars are headed to the U.S. Go here for the official Toyota announcement and here for the less than enthusiastic review of the Yaris by USA Today's Jim Healey.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

BUY THIS BOOK! If You Are Sick of Traffic Jams, That Is


America is relying on a 1970s road system and a costly patchwork of 19th century mass transit systems to cope with the world's largest, most dynamic and fastest growing fleet of private passenger cars and trucks.

We depend primarily upon private vehicles to maintain the world's highest standard of living and individual mobility, and to keep the world's biggest economy running at full speed.

But things got seriously off track beginning several decades ago when the costs of building new roads started spiralling. Today it is virtually impossible to construct critically needed major arteries, thanks to political, environmental and economic obstacles that are prohibitively expensive to overcome.

Just reducing commuting times by 10 percent could save $980 million in Chicago and $240 million in Philadelphia, acccording to an economic model used by the Transportation Research Board to predict the impact of traffic relief or delays on economic activity.

"21st Century Highways: Innovative Solutions to America's Transportation Needs," edited by Wendell Cox, Alan Pisarski and Ronald Utt traces how the transportation system got off track and provides practical solutions to modernize our roads and transit systems and to restore much-needed balance between private cars and public subways, rail and bus.

The authors are recognized experts in the fields of transportation policy and urban planning. I relied on Cox and Pisarski for facts and figures, trenchant analyses and memorable quotes when I covered transportation issues as a journalist a decade ago. I've known and admired Utt since we served together in the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

Regular readers of Tapscott Behind the Wheel know I rarely recommend books. Be assured, too, that I don't stand to gain a penny as a result of "21st Century Highways" being only available via its publisher, The Heritage Foundation. I wish it was available through Amazon because then I might actually pick up a quarter or 50 cents if you bought the book via Tapscott Behind the Wheel!

Anyway, why am I now encouraging you to get this particular book? If you read my Sunday post on Jane Holtz Kay's "All paved over with no place to go" op-ed in The Washington Post, you know there are some serious divisions of opinion in America these days about how to fix our transportation system.

You also know that I love the individual freedom and mobility cars provide and promote, so I care very much about the public debate on these issues. "21st Century Highways" lays out what impresses me as an historically accurate, factually based history of the federal highway program, as well as a candid, no-holds-barred analysis of what must be done to protect our individual freedom and mobility in a responsible way.

No matter your reaction to it, please let me know what you think about this book after reading it, whether you love it or hate it. Does it make sense? Is it realistic? Will anybody in Washington, D.C. listen?

Let's talk about it, folks.







Monday, January 02, 2006

Solstice Inspires Memories of Original BMW Z3


A dark blue Pontiac Solstice has been the ride-of-the-week over the holidays and it has been an enjoyable introduction to a car that may yet prove to be a milestone in th recovery or descent of both its divisional maker and parent corporation.

Auto critics and Pontiac officials have been comparing the Solstice to the Mazda Miata, but as I have tooled around in my test car this week the thought kept coming to me that I'd driven it before. Long before in fact, because visions of the original BMW Z3 kept popping into my mind.

After re-reading Tony Swann's 1996 review of the first Z3, I understand why. The Miata is principal current market rival for the Solstice, but this two-seater Pontiac strikes me as more analogous to the Bimmer.

Checking specs on both vehicles reveals the Solstice is within an inch or two on every critical dimension, with length/width/height data at 157.2/70.3/50.1 for the Pontiac and 158.5/66.6/50.7 for the Bimmer. Similarly, curb weights are 2,860 pounds for the Pontiac and 2,680 pounds for the Bimmer.

The biggest difference between the two is under the hood where the Solstice features a 2.4 liter Ecotec four-cylinder producing 177 horsepower, while the Z3 checked in at its original debut with a 1.9 liter four good for 138 horsepower.

The power difference is reflected in 0-60 mph times: My tester managed a 7.35 while I seem to recall my 1996 Z3 tester was in the low eight second bracket, as was Swann's. The two powerplants were about par with each other in terms of vibration, quietness and thrash, as I recall.

Frankly, I always viewed the Z3 as more of a styling exercise than a serious attempt to do a BMW interpretaion of the classic roadster. The lack of power was cured with the addition of a straight six that made the Z3 seriously fun.

Again, there is a parallel here with the some aspects of the Solstice, although I find it more fun to drive than I did the Z3, and not only because of the extra horsepower turning the Pontiac's rear wheels.

I didn't get any track time with the Solstice but there are a lot of wonderful back roads near where I live to get a solid feel for how the Pontiac roadster takes to the asphalt. Pontiac claims a "near 50/50" weight distribution and the Solstice certainly feels balanced and lithe when pushed into a series of left-right-lefts.

The steering is quick and precise, the brakes shave off speed efficiently. The Solstice comes standard with 18-inch Goodyear Eagle RS-As that provide more than abundant grip. I say more because a little less of it in back could ease the understeer that takes over if you really pop the Solstice into a moderatly tight turn.

So, the Solstice doesn't quite handle like a Formula Ford but it is an exceptionally entertaining roadster on the right road and would be a neat tool for spending time at a track during an event like the Friday at the Track series at Summit Point Raceway. But you will need to get a roll bar installed for that kind of activity.

Other observations: The interior looks fine, especially the main instrument pod, but the emergency brake is too far back, which puts it inline with the driver's shoulder plane, thus making it difficult to use.

Also, the cupholder is virtually useless and 3.7 cubic feet of storage, with the top up, is all but useless, and raising and lowering the top needs some major work. Oh yes, one more thing: the five-speeds gearing could be a bit closer.

Still, the Solstice impressed me greatly. The exterior, of course, is smashing good looking, especially the way the fender lines flow front to back and how the short front and back overhangs emphasize the tautness of the silhouette. The front end grabs me, too, and who can't love a clamshell hood?

At $21,000 and change, the Solstice is definitely a bargain, at least in my view. I definitely prefer it to the Miata, which I've never been particularly fond of (too slow, too precise, too perfect), and on the quality front my tester seemed tight and right.

But is the Solstice enough to re-ignite the creative juices within Pontiac and GM? I don't think there has ever been much doubt about the engineering prowess GM is capable of displaying. The question is whether the bean-counters and the suits give the go-ahead to put that prowess to best use.

The Solstice shows inspiration on the styling side, as well, and I can't help but think the upcoming Saturn Sky will be even more of an inspiration. But again the suits and the bean-counters have got to give the green light to the risk-takers in the studios.

In any case, I am eager to get behind the wheel of the upcoming Solstice GXP, with its turbo power, enhanced handling and more aggressive visage. That's the Solstice that is really going to have an impact on the serious enthusiasts.

One more thing: Nobody will ever, ever mistake the Solstice for a Fiero and Mr. Lutz, I apologize for all those previous cracks. You done one heckuva job getting this one to market!








Marque-by-Marque Preview for Detroit Auto Show


Automotive News has an excellent preview of what automakers will be displaying at the Detroit Auto Show.

Most notable vehicles expected to appear include the Chevrolet Camaro concept and the Dodge Challenger concept. But the redesigned 07 Camry will be unveiled and a bunch more new models.

The vehicle in the accompanying illustration is the Hyundai HCD-9 Talus concept, which is described by company officials as a preview of their firm's plans in the sports car segment.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Liberal Planners' Biggest Secret Exposed! They Love Traffic Congestion and Want More

As more and more people drive more and more cars, the one solution that is absolutely off-limits according to liberals and other exponents of the conventional wisdom in urban planning departments across the country is .... building more roads.

"We can't pave our way out of congestion" is the truism heard from these people whenever conversation among the transportation experts in city halls, county planning departments, state legislatures, federal highway and environmental agencies or the U.S. Congress turns to traffic problems.

The only permissible solutions these people will tolerate discussing and funding are more mass transit, usually in the form of sharply increased government spending for subways, light rail and buses, combined with regionalized "smart growth" development policies that are claimed to limit suburban sprawl.

The reality is that people resolutely refuse to get out of their private passenger vehicles and into the Metro cars, with a result that the chronically unprofitable public transportation systems consume more and more tax dollars that could have gone to serve other public needs, even as average commuting times steadily go up year in and year out.

And as the Smart Growth advocates block new road construction and succeed in making new suburban development prohibitively expensive, the cost of closer-in housing spirals, the urban poor lose all hope of escaping the inner city ghetto and middle class people find themselves crammed into high rise hives.

But this is exactly what Liberals want! If you doubt this, check out today's Outlook section of The Washington Post where Jane Holtz Kay pens one of the contributions to the lead feature, "363,584,435."

That number is the U.S. Census Bureau's current projection of the U.S. population for 2030. The Post editorial folks assembled Kay - author of the rabidly anti-car "Asphalt Nation" and planning critic of Nation Magazine - and a handful of other left-leaning experts to tell us why having so many more people around will require having much, much more government intrusion and regulation of everybody's daily lives.

Kay's piece is entitled "All paved over with no place to go" and it is especially indicative of why liberals love traffic congestion. Consider Kay's projections of what will happen when there are so many more Americans needing places to live and ways to get to jobs, schools, shops and entertainment.

"The need for a ton of wheel and steel - plus a 10-lane highway to get a bottle of milk - has rendered Americans immobile," Kay predicts. But she is smiling when she says that because the congestion will, finally, force people to accept the regulatory schemes of the smarter people like her:

"Happily, word has it that a counter-car culture of octogenarian hippies from the 1960s - from pedestrian activists to scientists, harrassed mothers and climatologists - has come up with some alternatives to motorized entrapment," Kay predicts.

Among those measures are building more ... sidewalks. One can only speculate what will be an acceptable paving material for advancing "the nascent movement of the Walking School Bus."

The renewed influence of the 60s will also be felt as the newly empowered planners "save the Little Red Schoolhouse" by "reviving the 'small is beautiful' thesis of the 60s," according to Kay.

Other measures sparked by the 60s revivial will be authorized by "the Human Mobility Commission's Placeway over Raceway Committee," which "has managed to add bike paths and hand out bikes and Segway scooters."

But what really demonstrates the underlying love of liberals for traffic congrestion is the final triumph of the planners favored regulatory schemes of the past 20 years:

"On the grand scale, compact-growth advocates have persuaded born-again hard-toppers in both the White House and the 50 state capitals to disown the oil hegemony, link their communities with rail, not roads, and practice the 'smart growth' policies of the 20th century."

But wait there is more in this vision of liberal regulatory heaven:

"Green groups have inflitrated the ranks of the hard-toppers and enlisted builders to create eco-zones to replace the asphalt that destroyed so much of our bi0-diversity. Endangered species are making a comeback, first-growth forests are happily maturing and the turn-of-the-century deaths from driving are down 70 percent."

The high dreamy liberals like Kay get from such projecting their ultimate victory over the gaseous forces of automotive reactionary Republicanism - aka individual freedom - is finally encapsulated in this visionary summary of 2030:

"Now settled in their dense, compact, transit-oriented urban communities, wrapped with rail, laced with walkable, bikable routes and endowed with the inalienable right to live happily ever after in ecologically endowed Mini-Meccas, the nation's bipeds head toward the 22nd century feet-first and proud."

So, the next time you hear some academic transportation guru, an urban planning expert or an official with a group like the Surface Transportation Policy Project explaining why "we can't pave our way out of congestion," you'll know what they really mean:

"You will never do what we know is best for you until we can force it down your hopelessly congested throats. But trust us, we don't let you build more roads now because we know better and we promise you will be happier."

If you believe that, I've got a government program in Brooklyn I will sell you for cheap and it's guaranteed to make you a millionaire!