ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 21, 2009

Goodbye, Carbonite

I have been using Carbonite as my backup service for 2 years now, but I will not be renewing.  

Carbonite has an infuriating feature.  To save storage space on their end, they automatically de-select video files from your backup sets.  Which means that to backup family videos, you have to manually go and select video files every so often. 

I have had enough of this.

My subscription will run out soon, and I will switch to a different service.  So far, Mozy and Backblaze look the most promising.  Both are unlimited, cheap, and seem to get good reviews.

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 17, 2009

2010 NA Car Of The Year, My Vote

I don't really get a vote on the 2010 North American Car Of The Year, but if I did, here is how I would vote.

Car Vote: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrd
The Fusion Hybrid is, according to numerous sources, the best hybrid sedan on the market.  From car magazines to Consumer Reports, the hybrid Fusion is very highly rated for its ride and handling, refinement, and neat instrument cluster.  The styling update is handsome, making the car look faster and more masculine than the first generation Fusion.  The Fusion is also known for high reliability.  A significant downside to this car is that the packaging of the battery pack, behind the rear seat back, precludes a fold-down rear seat feature.  Home Depot and Ikea runs will have to be done with something else. 

The Buick Lacrosse is a major product for GM, and shows the future direction of Buick.  It is a handsome new package (though a bit over-styled) with an interesting direct injection I4 motor which makes good power and fuel economy. 

The VW Golf gets good reviews for ride and handling, power, and interior design.  It is one of the few passenger cars that can be had with a clean diesel engine, becaus VW has been committed to selling diesels in the U.S.  But its exterior design, to me, is bland.  And VW has not been known for stellar reliability

Truck Vote: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox
The Equinox is a major new product for GM, updating their badly uncompetitive previous compact SUV offerings which included the previous Equinox, as well as the recently departed Pontiac Torrent and Saturn Vue.  It has an attractive design, with sharp styling and good proportions.  The interior is much better than previous Chevrolet products, and stands with the best in its class.  Fuel economy is excellent with the 2.4L Ecotech with direct injection.  The major issue with this vehicle is probably GM's inconsistent quality.  Hopefully for GM, the Equinox is one of their high quality products.

The Ford Transit Connect is a neat little delivery van, but I am not sure it is TOTY material.  It isn't really a consumer product, but a fleet vehicle.  It has a spartan interior, and being based on the current Focus platform, its engine and transmission are getting old.  Fuel economy is very good for its payload, and reviews praise the handling.

The Subaru Outback is a good solid Subaru product.  The new model is larger than the previous generation, but doesn't come with any more power.  It combines high reliability and safety with bland styling and boxer engines.  It is quiet and comfortable, but to me, boring. 

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 14, 2009

NASA's Billions

This article from New Scientist reports that NASA needs about $3 Billion more dollars in their budget to support "meaningful" human space exploration, and that the Obama administration is likely to give them part of their request.

In October, a report by a White House panel headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine said NASA would be unable to support meaningful human space exploration without at least $3 billion more per year.

 In my opinon, we have much higher priorities for our science and research funding than manned space exploration, which is dangerous and expensive.  Things like high-efficiency cars, future fuel sources, smart power distribution, smart traffic control, robotic warfare.  We need ways to find WMD's, and ways to zap terrorists from thousands of miles away. 

NASA should focus on cheaper (relatively) un-manned exploration.  We should be sending more robot probes and space telescopes, not people.  Star Trek will remain a fantasy for now, and that is OK. 

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 10, 2009

Do People Want Small Cars?

Do people want small cars?  The market research so far says "not really".  Paul Eisenstein has a good compact writeup of the issue here.

Will people buy small cars? Yes, they will, and as time goes on, they will have no choice. 

I expect the mechanism for this to be pricing.  Automakers will have no choice but raise prices on large and thirsty vehicles, and limit production volumes, to encourage people to buy the smaller cars. 

Large, high performance vehicles will continue to be sold, but at a significant price premium. 

Wanted: The Perfect Portable Internet Device

I want someone to make a little computer which has the following specifications.  Dell, are you listening?

  • Tablet format (hidden or no discrete keyboard)
  • 10 or 11" touch screen
  • Powerful processor to play video files without stutter (Intel CULV? Ion chipset?)
  • 2GB+ RAM
  • Bluetooth
  • Webcam
  • Wi-Fi N
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (not Starter)
  • 3 hours of battery life using wi-fi or video playback
  • Price below $600

Something like the Dell 11z or Acer 1410 but in a tablet form instead of notebook form.  The Archos 9 is close, but it appears to be under-powered for the task, and early reports are that it struggles with some video files.

Oh, and please get it to market before Apple shows up and ruins the show with their hype.

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 7, 2009

The Return of 55mph? Probably Not Yet.

Over at the Examiner, Mark Tapscot is warning that the EPA is going to inevitably mandate a national speed limit, as a result of its CO2 endangerment finding.

I don't think the EPA will do it, in part because I am not sure they can. The EPA has a mandate to regulate major emitters of pollution, and in general works on the large scale industrial policy level. The EPA makes rules on smog forming automobile emissions, also known as Tier II, for example.

Speed limits are locally regulated, on a state-by-state basis. The old 55mph national speed limit was enacted by Congress, and was enforced on the states with the threat of withholding road funding. The EPA doesn't have this budgetary power, and I am not sure if it has the legal authority to impose a national speed limit.

The EPA could, however, publish a rule that requires automakers to add speed related equipment to their vehicles. For example, a GPS system with a database of local speed limits could babysit the driver and make it unpleasant or impossible to speed. At the most extreme, the EPA could mandate a speed control system which simply limits the top speed of a vehicle.

I think it would be an excellent national debate if they tried for it. Let's get it out in the open. Do we believe in man-made global warming, as a nation, or do we not? Do we buy the EPA's ruling that CO2 is a poison, not just a plant food?

ಶನಿವಾರ, ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 5, 2009

Review: Kirkland Beer (Costco Beer)

At Costco the other day, I saw that they were selling Kirkland branded beer. Kirkland is Costco's store brand. It was reasonably priced for "real beer", about $18 for a case of 24.


Four flavors are included, one sixpack each: Hefeweizen, Pale Ale, German Lager, and Amber Ale.

I have tasted each flavor, and they all have similar characteristics. They have a solid hoppy taste, with nice color and a light to medium body. This is relatively light beer, not barley stew, but with a good hop hit.


The Hegeweizen was actually cloudy (see photo), which is sort of neat.


Overall, I would say this is a pretty good value for decent beer. I'm not sure it is as good as, say, Bell's, but I am not regretting the purchase.

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 3, 2009

Mini-Review: WeatherTech Floor Mats

If you get any auto magazines, such as C&D or AW or MT, you have probably seen the multipage ads for WeatherTech floor mats, the ones that show the ankles and tow cleavage.  I decided to order a set of front "semi custom" mats for my car. 

While they are expensive, at about $60/pair delivered, they do fit quite well.  They have a built in hole to mount on the mat retainer hook.  They are made of a nice, heavy rubber with deep grooves and good grip.  They fit very well.  Overall, I would say they are worth the price.  And they are made in the U.S.A., a rare breed nowadays.

*This review was not requested by WeatherTech, and no compensation was given for it.

Stolen Cop Car Possibly Used In Detroit Rape

I heard on the radio this morning that a parked unmarked police cruiser, a Dodge Charger, was stolen from Detroit, ironically, from a policeman who was with the auto theft unit.  Later, a woman who's car had stalled out on I-94 was raped by two men who drove up in a vehicle that matched the description.  The wire story is here.

The stolen car's license plate is 8JP H46. 

If you are ever followed by a vehicle that looks like a police car, but is not marked, you are NOT obligated to pull over.  If they flash lights at you, and you aren't sure if they are  legit or not, do not pull over unless you are in a well lit public area.  You can also call 911 and explain what is going on, and they will try figure out what is going on.

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 24, 2009

The End Of Saab?

Bad news for Saab fans today. Koenigsegg, like Penske with Saturn, backed out of the deal, leaving GM with another brand it doesn't want.

Perhaps Geely will look at it, since it is rumored that they are leading the bidders for Volvo.

A great place to go for Saab discussion is Saabs United, the home of Steve Wade, the definitive Saab Blogger, who formerly blogged at Trollhattan Saab. Swade thinks GM will probably try to sell to another buyer, because they have a lot invested in Saab, and can use the cash.

The dismantling of GM sure is ugly.

ಶನಿವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 21, 2009

How To Convert .WTV Files (For Free)

Windows 7 Media Center records TV shows into a file format called ".WTV".

I found that you can convert these to .WMV format using the free Windows Movie Maker Live from Microsoft. Then, it can be played on many other devices.

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 20, 2009

Google Chrome's Secret Plan

Google is making news this week unveiling a prototype of its new OS, which is basically a stripped down Linux based wrapper for their Chrome browser.   As part of the Q&A, Google stated that other browsers (such as Opera or Firefox) won't run on Chrome OS.

One of the reasons the Google is developing Chrome and the Chrome OS isn't widely discussed, but I think it is fairly obvious.

Google makes it's money from advertising.  You can't get an ad blocker for Chrome.  And you won't be able to run Firefox on Chrome OS.  What Google is doing is ensuring that people will have to see advertising, by luring us in with slick, lean, and fast applications.

Buick Manual? NFW!

Amazing news.  Buick may start selling a Regal in the U.S. with a manual transmission.  I'm blown away.

This is definitive proof that GM is serious about shifting Buick's image, which it badly needs to do.  Currently, Buick="old". 

Nothing says "young" like 3 pedals on the floor.

ಗುರುವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 19, 2009

Aptera Death Watch?

Should we start an Aptera Death Watch, TTAC style?

Not yet, but maybe soon.

Aptera's difficulties in getting financing, which is very much like Tesla and Fisker's struggles to stay alive, underscores the point that making vehicles is a very tricky business.  It is capital intensive, requires high efforts, and demands a very high quality product.  The car buying public will not accept a vehicle that is not reliable, day in and day out, for over 100,000 miles.  If you design and build something that is just a little off, you get hammered.

The venture capitalists of the world know this.  They look at the financial history books and see numerous companies which tried to start up to build a better car, and then faded out.  Tucker, Bricklin, DeLorean, and so on.

Building a car isn't like building an iPod (not to minimize the excellent engineering behind the iPod).  You can't just jump in with fresh ideas and be successful.

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 17, 2009

Republicans Hate GM, Democrats Heart Toyota

Jalopnik asks, "Why Do Republicans Hate American Automakers?", and talks about how some Republican pols are badmouthing GM and Chrysler, including recent presidential election loser John McCain.

Anecdotally, however, I can tell you that many Republicans are solidly "buy American" types, from a variety of different backgrounds.  There are rural farmers and hunters who love their full size American trucks.  There are patriotic war veterans who won't drive any "Jap" cars.  And, believe it or not, there are even Republicans who are pro-UAW (though a minority, for sure). 

I have personally noticed that there are lots of liberals who drive non-UAW assembled vehicles with pride.  Many times I have noticed a car (in metro Detroit, no less!) sporting stickers such as "Obama", "End This War", etc., and as often as not, this car is a Toyota or Honda.  It seems the liberals don't necessarily love the American auto makers either, at least not when it comes down to choosing a car to own.

When was the last time you saw an NRA sticker on a Prius?

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 16, 2009

Housekeeping

Google Ads are now gone. They were cluttering up my blog, and though they were paying a little, it wasn't a significant amount. Enjoy.

GM's Repayment Plan

In today's news, GM is going to begin repaying its government loan.

Sort of.

Most of GM's government debt, which came from the TARP, was converted to ownership in the New GM. So the government loans that GM is going to start repaying are only $6.7 Billion out of about $50 Billion it received in total.

GM is sitting on a cash pile of $42.6 Billion, according to the news story. That cash is essentially all bailout money, as GM is not yet generating net profit. So GM is going to use bailout money to pay off a bailout loan. Then, when the New GM sells stock, we the taxpayers will hopefully gain back some of the rest.

Hope. The watchword of the Obama administration.

ಭಾನುವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 15, 2009

Don't Boycott GM

I have talked to a few people, and read many more on web forums, who will not buy any GM or Chrysler products because they took a government bailout. Some of these folks also want to stick it to the UAW, who they see as the reason for GM and Chrysler's destruction.

This attitude is self defeating.

The taxpayer money has been spent, and the best (and only) way to recover it is for GM and Chrysler to be successful. A profitable GM will be able to service its outstanding TARP loans, and provide a stock value which will repay the government. Refusing to buy GM cars, while emotionally satisfying, only works against GM's success, and the repayment of the taxpayer loans.

As for the UAW, it is true they fought hard and were successful in the past at winning extremely generous benefits for their employees. But it was the automaker's management which was a negotiating partner, and didn't have the fortitude to keep things more reasonable, even if it meant strikes and nasty public relations. The UAW was doing it's job, fighting for its members. Expecting otherwise is like expecting the wolf to go easy on the sheep.

But with the collapse of the domestic business, and bankruptcy of 2 of the 3 UAW automakers, the UAW woke up in a hurry. The UAW leadership, under Ron Gettlefinger, pushed hard on the rank and file to agree to multiple rounds of contract renegotiations.

If the Detroit 3 can't survive going forward, it is not because the UAW workers are being overpaid. From here on out, "it's the product, stupid".

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 10, 2009

Mini Review: Dell Vostro 1520 Laptop

I ordered a Dell Vostro 1520 from Dell Small Business. It was a screaming deal, $499 after a $50 coupon, stackable with their promotion.

Unfortunately, I hated the laptop, and returned it after two days.

The screen was nice. The processor fast. Windows 7 was great. The problem was, the keyboard was just awful. It had a lot of flex, and my fingers seemed to bounce off of it when I typed. On top of that, the keys rattled when you typed, with a high pitched sound, it drove me nuts.

Now I need to figure out if I want to try a Latitude (more money) or a Studio. Anybody have any advice for me? Who makes a laptop which is reasonably priced and has a solid keyboard?

ಗುರುವಾರ, ನವೆಂಬರ್ 5, 2009

Ford's New Inflatable Seat Belt

Update: Wes Sherwood of Ford Safety PR has left answers to my questions in the first comment. Thanks Wes!

Ford unveiled a new inflatable rear seatbelt design today. (There's a neat video here.)

This looks like a pretty good idea, but I do have some questions. If any Ford safety or PR people are reading, please chime in.
  • What happens if you use one of these belts to anchor an infant seat, using the belt instead of LATCH anchors? Will the expanding baloon damage the infant seat?
  • Why not use these on the front, too? Seems like front passengers could benefit as well.
  • Will they trigger in a minor accident? Can they be repaired, or will they be expensive to replace, like airbags?
  • Will accessories such as seatbelt positioners, or fuzzy seat belt covers defeat or interfere with the balloon?

Open Question To Chrysler/Fiat

A question for Chrysler:  why are you going to keep building the Jeep "Pavement" Compass?  How does this product advance your brand?  You can barely sell any of them (8,498 YTD).  The only Jeep model which sells fewer is the bloated Pavement Commander.  

Don't replace it with a Fiat in 2012.  Kill it now.  Nuke it from orbit.  It's not a Jeep.  It's not even close.    

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 30, 2009

Will GM Pay Us Back?

This is a big question these days, and many observers say "no".  According to Rasmussen, most Americans don't expect GM to be able to pay back the loans.  I think the taxpayer is basically screwed here.  Even if there is a successful IPO, there is no way that the new GM will be worth as much in stock as the Old GM at its peak. 

What could a valuation of the New GM be?  According to Dartmouth's Anant Sundaram, the government share could about $26 billion.  You can see his analysis here.

So if there is an IPO, and the government gets $26 billion for GM, the U.S. Government will get a return of about 0.60 on the dollar ($50.7B loaned, $8.8B remains as debt, so $42.7B put in as equity)

Mosler For Pres? Heh.

Warren Mosler, hedge fund manager and supercar builder, may be running for President.  One of Mosler's proposals is a national 30mph speed limit, to save fuel and reduce accidents.  Yes, that's 30mph.  Read it here.

Good luck with that.

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 27, 2009

Gettelfinger On Marchionne

This morning on Paul W. Smith's morning talk show (AM760), Ron Gettelfinger was a guest.  Paul W. tried to extract comments from Gettelfinger about Fiat's leaked plans to kill off some badly noncompetitive Chrysler and Dodge products, and the risk that this plan may hold for UAW employment.  Gettelfinger, as carefully spoken as ever, did not take the bait, and openly praised Sergio Marchionne instead.   Approximately:

"We have a close working relationship with Sergio Marchionne.  He has his arms around the car industry.  He understands what the buying public wants."

Gettelfinger then went on to say, as he often does, that he won't comment on "rumors and speculation".  "The newspapers, they want to sell their product.  And you know how they have been doing lately". 

Besides a resistance to attack Fiat based on an unpublished plan, Gettelfinger's response may indicate that there is less danger to UAW interests in Fiat's plan than the media is inferring.  For example, perhaps Fiat plans to build more Fiat/Alfa cars here using UAW labor, and that the plants will be re-tooled rather than shut down.

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 26, 2009

Paper: LEDs Not As Cool As You Think

According to a paper published in an IEEE journal, LED lamps can run hotter than equivalent fluorescent lamps.  Where florescents may dissipate 73-77% of their output as heat, the LEDs tested wasted 87-90% of their output!  Source here.

LED lighting has a long way to go. 

Car Buying Advice

A friend of mine is working on a purchase of a new vehicle.  She called me in terror the other day and said "they told me I should get paint protection, and rust proofing, and an extended warranty, and I wasn't sure so I said 'ok' let me think about it".  I told her to call the salesman back and cancel all of it.

  • You don't need rust proofing.  Cars today are designed to survive 150,000 miles or more, including salty road winters.  Just make sure to wash your undercarriage once in a while, you'll be fine.
  • You don't need paint sealant.  The car is clearcoated at the factory.  If you park it outside a lot, put on some Rain-X or Turtle wax, that will do the trick.
  • You don't need an extended warranty.  Today's cars are as reliable as ever. These are really just insurance policies, which means that mathematically, you will on average save money by self insuring.  That's because the cost of the policy is the average pay-out per customer + profit margin. 
  • You don't need a pre-paid service contract.  Your car won't need much more than oil and tire rotations for the first 30,000 miles, and after that, you should be taking it to your neighborhood service shop (I like my local Midas,myself, and Firestone has been good to me also).  Dealer service rates are substantially higher, on average, than independent shops.

The one item I told her to consider, if it would maker he sleep better, was the road hazard warranty,which is insurance against wheel damage.  At $350, it was cheap compared to the price of a new wheel/tire, and Michigan's pothole roads are wheel destroyers. I myself have trashed 2 wheels in the last 3 years. 

Tell the dealer to keep the locking wheel nuts, the scotch guard, and everything else that didn't come from the factory (unless you like overpaying).  Learn the phrase, "No thanks, I want just the car". 




ಶನಿವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 24, 2009

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 22, 2009

Internet COTY Voting

The "Internet Car Of The Year" awards are open for the final voting, here.

My picks:

Car: Camaro SS.  The return of a muscle car icon, with sharp styling (though poor rear visibility) and vicious performance.  Yes, the Taurus SHO is good, but it is a $40,000 Taurus.  The Shelby is also a wicked muscle car, and faster than the SS, but also quite a bit more expensive.  Bang for the buck, Camaro is the winner.

Truck: Ford Raptor.  One. Bad. Ass. Truck.  The Chevrolet Equinox is a well executed product, but it doesn't inspire lust.  Same goes for the Audi.  If you drive on of these two down Woodward Ave, no one will notice.  Drive a Raptor, and little kids will point and jump up and down.







ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 19, 2009

Will GDI kill HEV?

As things currently stand, gasoline hybrid electric vehicles ("HEV" as opposed ot plug-in hybrid vehicles, or "PHEV") cost approximately $3,000 more than an similarly equipped gasoline vehicle, although the actual hardware cost may actually be more. 

However, a gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine, with turbocharging, such as GM's Ecotec (Chevrolet Cobalt SS) or Ford's Ecoboost (Taurus SHO) costs only about $750 more than its naturally aspirated counterpart.

When you down-size from a power equivalent naturally aspirated engine, you gain about 20% in fuel economy by going to turbo direct injection.  The hybrid fuel economy improvement is typically around 40-50% EPA combined.

As GDI type engines become more common, consumers will have to choose between a system that offers half of the fuel economy benefit for one quarter the cost.  If gasoline continues to be affordable (say, sub-$4.00), and Congress doesn't enact large tax incentives for HEVs, I don't see large scale adoption of HEVs until their costs come down dramatically. 

I know that I, for one, would choose GDI over HEV in the current market.  GDI doesn't force you to sacrifice cargo space because of batteries, and doesn't make the car heavier.  It doesn't give you the strange feel of regenerative braking.  And it gives you lots of fun-to-drive torque very quickly.

ಬುಧವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 14, 2009

GM Marketing Backfire?

So after a few weeks of voting, GM's TheBestCarWins.com web site has the following results:

Fuel Efficiency: Toyota (Prius, not Land Cruiser)
Safety: Volvo
Quality: Toyota (sans zip ties)
Performance; BMW
The Best: BMW

So what was the point?  Everyone can see that GM's brands aren't the winners.  What did GM gain?

May The Best (Golf) Car Win

Oops.

If you type in "May The Best Car Win", you might wind up here.  Not GM.

No Zip Ties For Buick

From Fritz Henderson's recent web chat:

15:24
[Comment From Ray Wert ]
Will Buick seek to add white, plastic floor mat zip-ties in a bid to look more like Lexus?
15:24
Fritz Henderson:  not going to get into this.

Heh.

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 13, 2009

Viper's iPhone Remote Start System

Viper (maker of car alarms and remote starters) sent me a PR kit for a new system which will allow you to remote start your car with your Apple iphone.



It looks neat, because you can start your car even if it isn't within direct line-of-sight; the system communicates between the iphone and the car over the cellular network.

However, there are a couple of things I wonder about. First, the cost: after the first year, it costs $30/year for service. Is that worth it? Not to me, when I can have a service-fee free line-of-sight remote starter.

Secondly, I wonder about the safety implications of being able to remote start your car without being near it. All remote starters have a cut-off timer which kills the engine if you don't come and open the car within a certain amount of time, typically about 10 minutes. But without being able to see your car, you have no idea if there is some unsafe situation where you wouldn't want to be starting a car.

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 9, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Credit Not Taxable

I have gotten one of those chain emails purporting to show that the CARS program (cash-for-clunkers) actually costs you more money than you save if your car had some trade in value.  The email is based on a false premise, that the credit is taxable.  It is not.  According to the CARS.GOV web site (here),

The CARS Act expressly provides that the credit is not income for the consumer.

Also, for 2009, the sales taxes on a new car purchase are tax deductible.

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 8, 2009

Future Cop Cars

Now that GM has announced that they will bring their Australian RWD V8 sedan to the U.S. as a police car, there is a clearer picture of what the U.S. police car market is going to look like in the next few years.

2011 Chevrolet Caprice

RWD, 6.0L V8, 355HP, ~4000lb, 0-60 in 5.3s (G8 numbers)
Based on the same platform as the recently departed G8.

Photo courtesy of Edmunds

2011 Ford Taurus (rumored)

FWD/AWD GTDI 3.5L 365HP, 4300lb, 0-60 in 5.8s (SHO numbers)
Big and heavy, but quick thanks to twin turbo direct injection. Will the police accept front wheel biased AWD?

Photo courtesy of Edmunds

2012 Carbon Motors E7 (in development)

RWD 3.0L Diesel ">250HP", 4000lb, 0-60mph 6.5s (planned)
Still a concept car at this point, or vapor-ware for the skeptical, Carbon Motors is working on the design, and the manufacturing plant has not been tooled yet. The E7 will be built on an "aluminum spaceframe" with body panels. Expected to sell for around $60,000 a copy and last for 250,000 miles before being scrapped. This would be the only purpose-built police car in the U.S.

Photo courtesy of Edmunds

2010 Dodge Charger

RWD 5.7L V8 340HP, 4000lb, 0-60 in 6.2s
The old man of this group, the Charger platform will have been in production for 6 years by the time 2011-12 arrives.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

For comparison:

Crown Victoria CVPI

RWD 4.6L V8, 250 HP, 4000lb, 0-60 in 7.6s.

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 6, 2009

Survey: Customers Regret Buying Small Cars

The Pittsburg Post-Gazette (link) has an interesting article about sagging demand for small cars in the face of cheaper gas. AutoPacific did a study that asked buyers of small cars what they thought of their purchase, and unsurprisingly (to me), many indicated they'd rather go large next time.

"This is buyer's remorse," said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, "What they said in the study is they want a bigger car. They bought a fuel efficient car, but now they're saying, 'It does what I want, but it doesn't have what I want. It doesn't have the features, the power, the room, and next time I'll opt for a bigger car.' "

In the AutoPacific study, based on more than 32,000 new car and light truck buyers in the United States, 30 percent said they wanted more power than they have in their current small car, 25 percent wanted more cargo room, 18 percent want more room in general, and 25 percent want more technology. In addition, 22 percent wanted a softer ride, and 18 percent wanted more safety.
In general, I think the auto companies expect that gas will be more expensive in the longer term, and with the 35.5mpg CAFE standards coming for 2016, will be pushing small cars more aggressively than ever.

What this research tells us is that in order to have satisfied small customers, carmakers need to offer cars that are comfortable, have good cargo space, good acceleration, and lots of gadgets. In other words, well equipped smaller cars. Which is exactly what the carmakers are working on.

Over the next few years, we will be seeing mainstream European style small cars in this country, such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Volt, Ford Fiesta and Focus, Fiat 500. These will be fun to drive, solidly built, and well equipped.

And, in a departure from what most consumers are used to, the new crop of small cars will not be cheap. We can expect to be seeing $20,000 price stickers for our "econoboxes" in the future.

Honda Crosstour?

I haven't digested all of its stats and photos yet, but from what I see so far, the Honda Crosstour looks like an answer to a question no one asked: "Can you make a cheaper copy of the BMW X6?". To me, the Crosstour looks like a big compromise. I also hope it looks better in person than in the photos, because the photos show me a whole lot of ugly.

Image courtesy of Edmunds

Edmunds has some photos and commentary here.

GM Sort Of Leaving RenCen?

According to a story in the Detroit News (here), GM is considering moving many employees out of downtown Detroit's only modern high-rise, the Renaissance Center, to fill in the empty offices in Warren, where many of the designers and engineers sit.  GM tried to sell the RenCen and then rent it back recently, but couldn't find a buyer.  And Warren's mayor recently campaigned to have GM move its headquarters entirely back to Warren. 

It's bad for Detroit, which is already teetering on insolvency, but GM has to look out for GM.  If Warren is better for cash flow, then Warren should win.

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 5, 2009

How A V6 Beats A V8

Q: How does a V6 out-run a V8 with more displacement?

A: On a high altitude hill climb where the V6 has twin-turbos compressing the intake air, while the V8's run at effectively 60% of their displacement.

Still, it is sort of neat to see a V6 from Ford spank a Maserati at something.  Link: http://www.6versus8.com/showdown/intro/index.html

ಬುಧವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 30, 2009

Saturn Dead?

Bad news for Saturn.  Penske just announced that they are backing away, because they are concerned about vehicle availability from GM going forward.  WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125434260817353567.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_LEFTWhatsNewsCollection

"Unintended Acceleration", Don't Pray, THINK

This morning on the radio, I heard the audio from a 911 distress call that a man placed while driving an out of control Lexus.  This was one of the events which precipated the massive Toyota floor mat recall.  Apparently, his accelerator pedal was stuck to the floor, and his brakes weren't working (he probably boiled them, or perhaps, the brake pedal was obstructed). He called 911 in a panic, and the operator just had time to suggest that he turn the car off, before the man said "We're coming to an intersection... pray!", and that was the end.  The man and his three passengers were killed. 

He didn't need to pray.  He just needed to think.  He panicked, and got himself and his family tragically killed because he wasn't able to use his cars multiple redundant controls.

Suppose your gas pedal is stuck to the floor.  What can you do?

  1. Use your toe to try to lift the pedal.  This actually happened to me once, that a piece of trash got jammed next to the pedal, and I had to physically pull it up to free it.
  2. If that doesn't work, put your car into neutral.  Then use the brakes.
  3. If your normal brakes won't work (they're cooked, or loss of vacuum) you can use your emergency (aka parking) brake to slow your car
  4. If all else fails, kill the power to the engine by turning off the key.  If you don't have a key but have push button start, no big deal.  On many systems, pressing and holding the engine start button will force it to stop.
So there are 3 different ways to stop your car from accelerating: transmission, emergency brake, engine stop.  It's a shame that the 911 caller couldn't remember any of them.

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 29, 2009

NHTSA: Toyota Owners Remove Floor Mats

NHTSA has an urgent message to owners of many Toyota vehicles:

  • 2007-2010 Camry
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • 2004-2009 Prius
  • 2005-2010 Tacoma
  • 2007-2010 Tundra
  • 2007-2010 ES 350
  • 2006-2010 IS 250 and IS350
Remove your driver side floor mat and do not replace it with any other mat until otherwise instructed.  For more information see NHTSA at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/menuitem.f2217bee37fb302f6d7c121046108a0c/

This will probably become a massive recall later, potentially affecting millions of vehicles, and a may be another chip in Toyota's quality reputation.

Meanwhile, owners of Chrysler, Ford, and GM may continue to enjoy their floor mats.

Sorry, I can't resist a little schadenfreude.

On Paddle Shifters

More and more cars now ofter steering wheel mounted shift levers for cars that have fully automatic transmissions. These are an imitation of the semi-automated manual transmissions typically used in high performance and full-bore race cars such as the Ferrari 430.

I think this is silly.

Real paddle-shift transmissions are basically automated mechanical transmissions which do not have torque converters; they have replaced the clutch and stick with the paddles. On a high-end sportscar, they makes sense, as an alternative to a traditional manual with 3 pedals on the floor.

On a consumer grade car with a torque converter type automatic transmission, the paddles are a gimmick, and I doubt anyone uses them.

If the car won't stall because you forgot to shift with the paddles, it's not authentic, in my book. If you don't need to interact with it unless you feel "sporty" that day, it is a toy. Part of the fun of driving a true manual transmission car (which I do) is that you have to do your job ot make the car move. If my car had a dual-clutch automated manual transmission, I'd be thrilled, but I would probably never use the manual override. I'd put it in D and go.

The Truth About TTAC

The Truth About Cars (TTAC) was started by Robert Farrago, an auto blogger whose calling cards were coprolalia and an obsession with predicting the death of GM.

So Farrago turned out to be sort of right about GM, they did go bankrupt, though it is still very alive and kicking.

However, not so much for Farrago's blogging career at TTAC. The media company that owned TTAC just about stopped paying its writers, and then sold the site to another media company. Money was still a problem, so Farrago left.

Score: Farrago 1, GM 2.

I'll give RF credit for riding the GM-dies horse so hard and long, because after all, he turned out to be right. But I've always been annoyed at TTAC's style. Farrago, if you remember, was the one who compared a Subaru front end design to a woman's genitals, and then was outraged that he wasn't going to be offered free press cars to drive anymore. TTAC under Farrago didn't necessarily do anything better than any other automotive news site, they just did it louder.

ಭಾನುವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 27, 2009

Review: 2010 Ford Taurus

I thought I would make an effort to test-drive a 2010 Ford Taurus, since it is an important product for Ford, and I am familiar with the previous incarnation. I talked my mom into buying a used Five Hundred based on the big room, excellent safety, and big depreciation.

I went to my local Ford dealer and test drove a shiny metallic white Limited, the top of the line. It had the Sony sound system, navigation, SYNC, push-button start, keyless entry, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot warning system.

The car is still quite large, but Ford did a good job making it look less huge. Instead of a large dome-on-a-box shape, the new Taurus looks more like a blunt wedge. The compromise here is that the interior head space is smaller than the old model, and the rearward visibility is not very good. Which may be one reason why they chose to add the blind spot warning and rear view camera as options. The trunk is still huge.

I like the re-style. It is distinctive without being outlandish (see Chrysler 300) or derivative (see Avalon). It is definitely not bland-but-functional like the Five Hundred was.

The driving experience was overall pretty good. The powertrain is smooth and quiet, and gives more than adequate power, though it is not a muscle car. Steering feel was excellent, with good on-center precision and crisp response for such a large car. The ride was somewhere in between family car soft and sports car hard, about right for that size of vehicle. I didn't feel like I was in a race car, but I did feel like I was well connected to the road.

The interior is very nice. Ford did a good job putting together an attractive interior without being too blingy (see: MKS). I was particularly impressed with the door panels, which look like they are actual stitched leather, but are in fact high fidelity moldings of stitched leather. I did feel that the center stack was a bit on the wide side, eating up some valuable driver space. There was liberal use of fake wood (which I am not a fan of), but the fake wood was good quality, and it looked a lot like actual wood.

I liked the implementation of keyless entry and start. You walk up to the car, and swipe the hidden door pillar keypad with your finger. The door unlocks. You get in, buckle in, press the brake pedal, and push the start button. The engine fires up and you go. Very quick and easy. The only issue I noticed with this is that I would personally have to re-train myself to lock the car by hitting the door button, since you don't need to hang on to the key fob.

Adaptive Cruise Control was fascinating to use, but had a few weaknesses. If the guy in front of you slams on his brakes, the system flashes a large row of red LEDs to warn you that you need to brake--apparently it is limited in how much braking it can command. Also, the system can not brake the car completely to a stop and then start rolling again, instead it disables itself if your speed drops too low (I tried). It was neat, but not worth the cost in my opinion.

My test drive car had the paddle shifters, which are pretty silly. I found myself fiddling with them because they were there, but I can't think of time when I actually would want to use them. A simple 'L' would be fine for most people, to allow engine braking down grades. I can't believe anyone is fooled into thinking the paddle shifters are "sporty". Message to Ford (and everyone else): If the car won't stall because you forgot to paddle shift, the paddle shifters aren't real.

Some annoyances: the foot-actuated parking/emergency brake was carried over from the Five Hundred as a pedal on the driver's left kick-panel. Ford should move the e-brake to the center console like most modern cars.

Another problem for me is the poor rearward visibility. Between the short rear window and intrusive rear head restraints, the rear view mirror has a poor field of view. Ford should have imitated Volvo and installed pivoting (they don't have to be powered) rear headrests. Normally if you know how to adjust your mirrors, you wouldn't need a blind spot warning system. But on the Taurus, it is helpful because of the poor corner visibility through the rearview mirror.

I was able to find a comfortable driving position, but in my favorite spot, the top buttons of the center console were hard to reach because of the steep rake. As stylish as a swoopy center stack is, I think a steeper angle would have been better for me ergonomically.

SYNC worked well and the navigation system was good looking and easy to use. However, I don't think there is a way to customize the SYNC voice, which my $150 TomTom offers. SYNC also does offer a way to dictate outbound text messages or emails, which would be very useful. The Sony branded sound system sounded good to me.

Overall, I enjoyed driving the Limited. If I bought one, I would buy a cheaper variant (MSRP ~$38,000). If I needed a larger car, or wanted something with some heft, I would definitely consider a 2010 Taurus. Consider the competition: Chevrolet Impala? Ancient platform, mushy, rental-car queen. Toyota Avalon? A big bland mushy couch on wheels. Chrysler 300? Old product, rough interior, though RWD is a plus. Buick LaCrosse? Zzzzzzz.

Stuff I Liked:
  • Leather moldings
  • Nice fake wood
  • Huge trunk
  • Steering feel and handling
  • Cooled seats
  • Seat comfort
  • Sony sound system
  • Keyless entry and start
  • Capless fuel filler
Stuff I didn't like:
  • Park brake pedal
  • Rear visibility, headrests
  • Steep rake of center console makes reaching top buttons hard
  • No speech-to-text messaging on SYNC
  • Silly paddle shifters

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 25, 2009

The UAW/CAW Car List

The UAW and CAW have released a list of vehicles which they endorse, because they are assembled by unionized plants in North America.  There are some  "Big 3" vehicles which are notably missing because they are assembled in Mexico, such as the Chevrolet HHR.  Others have an * because some variants are built in Mexico while others are built in US or Canadian union plants, such as the GM pickups.

There are some "foreign" cars which are UAW kosher:

  • Mazda6 (Flat Rock, MI, along with Mustang)
  • Mazda Tribute (Kansas City, along with Escape)
  • Mitsubishi Eclipse (MMNA Normal, IL)
  • Mitsubishi Galant (MMNA Normal, IL)
  • Mitsubishi Endeavor (MMNA Normal, IL)
  • Toyota Corolla/Matrix (NUMMI, but not for long)
  • Toyota Tacoma (NUMMI)
  • VW Routan (Windsor, with Chrysler vans)
Some Detroit 3 vehicles which are assembled in Mexico:
  • Chevrolet HHR
  • Chevrolet Avalanche
  • Chrysler PT Cruiser
  • Ford Fusion/Lincoln MKZ
  • Saturn Vue

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 18, 2009

GMC Terrain Reaction

The other day, I had a chance to take a close look at a GMC Terrain which was probably a GM employee drive-home, or perhaps a press fleet car, which I spotted around the Troy area.

Photo courtesy of Edmunds

I can't say I was too excited about the styling. While it is certainly not bland, it has a very brutal style to it, with the very large trapezoidal grille and exaggerated flared fenders. It was the fenders that bothered me the most, they seemed cartoonish, and reminded me of the many non-functional embellishments of the Hummer brand, such as the non-functional inflater hubs on the wheels. The fenders look more inflated than tough, and a tough look doesn't work well for the Terrain anyway because it is not much of an off-road vehicle.

To me, it is just too far towards ugly to consider buying one.

Edmunds has a nice photo gallery of the Terrain here:

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 17, 2009

IIHS At 50: 1959 Bel Aire Vs. 2009 Malibu

We've come a looong way since 1959 with auto safety.

This shocking video shows what happens when a 1959 Bel Aire crashes into a 2009 Malibu at 40mph, offset. The Bel Aire weighs about 400lbs more than the Malibu, but it gets seriously destroyed.

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 14, 2009

Equinox Vs Escape Math

In his recent web chat, GM's Bob Lutz stated that the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox "trounces" the Ford Escape Hybrid. I'll ride to the defense of the Escape Hybrid against the onslaught of Mr. Lutz.

Let's compare EPA mpg and carbon footprint calculations:

Equinox FWD 2.4L 22/32 mpg (city/hwy) 7.1 tons/year CO2
Equinox AWD 2.4L 20/29 mpg 8.0 t/yr CO2
Escape Hybrid FWD 34/31mpg 5.7 t/yr CO2
Escape Hybrid AWD 30/27mpg 6.3 t/yr CO2
Saturn Vue Hybrid 25/32 mpg 6.6 t/yr CO2

So Equinox "trounces" the hybrid Escape because it beats it on highway fuel economy by a whopping 1-2mpg? And it doesn't even trounce the Saturn Vue Greenline, soon to be killed off.

Where the Equinox does beat the Escape is in acceleration:

Equinox FWD 2.4L 8.7s (GM claim)
Escape Hybrid FWD 9.5+ s (Edmunds)

Which is impressive, considering that the Equinox weights about 100lbs more than the Escape, 3761 vs. 3669 lbs.



Lutz "Best Car" Chat

Bob Lutz had a web chat on the topic of the new GM "return it if you don't like it" marketing campaign, "May The Best Car Win". A few things that I noticed (my creative interpretation in red):

15:00
[Comment From Matteo Ronzoni ]
Hi Bob! I realy liked gm latest ad w/ whitacre but I'm not sure if the May the best car win can apply to the chevy aveo...when is the replacement due?
15:01
Bob Lutz: You'll notice that the Chevy Aveo, sound little car that it is, is not featured in the ads. Its replacement is on the way, and it's going to be sensational, done by an international product development team. Obviously, we're not revealing exact launch timing.
Yeah, you got me there. Aveo sucks.

15:01
[Comment From Aldo ]
Hi Mr. Lutz: Do you think it's going to be difficult to effectively market both Buick and Cadillac to upscale crowds if Cadillac continues to blurry brand identity by having more front wheel drive vehicles, just like Buick?
15:03
Bob Lutz: We don't think so. Cadillac will be much more tuned, chassis-wise, to take on the German marqes, while Buick will be aimed at Lexus. Both brands will have AWD offerings, so the question of rear- vs front- will be moot.
Cadillac = FWD Mercedes, Buick = Lincoln
15:06
[Comment From Herb Shuldiner ]
What percent of Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer customers do you think GM will retain, or do you concede they will be lost to domestic and import competitors.
15:06
Bob Lutz: The goal is all of them but that's obviously not realistic. If we could keep 50% or more we would declare victory.
Lutz is admitting that most of Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer customers are lost to GM. This is interesting (and bad news for GM).

15:24
[Comment From Ed ]
What is GM doing to appeal to a youth culture. Example: The 2004-06 GTO was, for all intensive purposes a failure in a marketing sense. Yet, now that they're available in a youth price range (sub 20k) they've started to explode in re-sale. Will GM be doing anything to appeal to the sub $20k muscle car market? Like it did in the good ole days.
15:26
Bob Lutz: The only reason for the GTO's lack of sales was a serious rise in the Australian dollar that caused us to have to price it over $30K, as opposed to our original intent of mid-$20s. Regardless of all the negative media coverage at the time, it was and is a great and rewarding car to drive, and the owners have a legitimate and wonderful piece of muscle car history. That is apt not to be repeated due to new fuel economy regulations which will drastically inhibit the production of large-engined high horsepower cars.
The end of cheap high-output engines is nigh.

15:35
[Comment From Sorgenfreillc.com ]
Mr. Lutz, looking 5 years out, how concerned are you about the Chinese manufacturers entering the U.S. market?
15:35
Bob Lutz: Not as concerned as i was about the Japanese and Koreans, because unlike those situations, we participate fully in the Chinese automotive industry. If Chinese imports to the US dominate, we will be able to participate in that.
We'll build in China and import to the U.S. if we have to.

15:38
[Comment From Sheth ]
what can we expect to see in terms of print ads going forward? Will other products have comparison charts like Equinox ads?
15:39
Bob Lutz: Equinox will probably wind up being compared to Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 as well as the Ford Escape hybrid, all of which Equinox trounces roundly. And yes, other products will have comparisons.
The Equinox trounces the Escape HEV? Sort of, but not always. The EPA numbers for Equinox FWD are 22/32 City/Highway , AWD are 20/29. Escape Hybrid is FWD is 34/31, AWD is 29/27. So Equinox "trounces" Escape Hybrid on the highway, but not city or combined.


Aptera Wants It Both Ways

In order to be able to build and sell a super-efficient vehicle legally, Aptera takes advantage of the federal motor vehicle regulations which consider their 3 wheeled vehicle to be a type of motorcycle, rather than an automobile. This means that the Aptera does not have to meet numerous FMVSS regulations, such as front and side impact standards or bumper requirements.

Now, Aptera also wants to get in on the Department of Energy loans that competitors Tesla and Nissan (Leaf) are taking advantage of. Problem is, the DOE program is explicitly for "automobiles", not "motorcycles".

The WSJ has a nice video on this subject:



Congressman Brian Billbray of California has proposed legislation which would extend DOE consideration to any enclosed passenger vehicle, removing the requirement for 4 wheels.

In my opinion, Aptera should fund their enviro-trike themselves, and not demand public funds, or they should be ready to pass the same stringent requirements that all their four wheeled competitors must pass. Otherwise, it is not a fair table. if GM knew that tricycles are acceptable, they may have developed one from the very beginning.

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 10, 2009

People Want PHEVs, But Cheap

A fascinating survey was publshed by Pike Research (here: http://www.pikeresearch.com/newsroom/48-of-consumers-interested-in-purchasing-a-plug-in-hybrid-electric-vehicle) which found that out of 1,041 respondents,  48% are interested in buying a plugin hybrid car (such as a Chevrolet Volt).  The problem is, of those, 65% would pay a premium of an average of 12% over a similar gasoline car, while 35% would not pay any premium at all. 

The Volt will cost around $40,000 at first.   A 12% premium over on a $25,000 car is $28,000. 

ಶನಿವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 5, 2009

Galileoscope: It Really Works!

I got my Galileoscope in the mail the other day, and I am really impressed. It has a large, heavy, real glass objective lens. The eyepiece lenses are plastic, but seem to work pretty well.

It was not too hard to assemble, and is solid when together. I took it out, screwed to a camera tripod, and I was able to see Jupiter and 4 of its moons!

I am not able to take a picture, but the image was similar to this, though not as magnified:



I can't wait to point it at Saturn!

Read Pete.

If you aren't reading Peter DeLorenzo, you should be. He's got a lot to say, and it is usually well said. http://www.autoextremist.com.

(No, he didn't pay me for that.)

Creepy Metal Detector Guy

I went for a walk to today, and went past a local construction site where the city is re-modeling a municipal park. A metal detector guy had slipped through the construction fence, and was quietly wandering around with his detector, stopping every so often to dig into the exposed earth with a small trowel.

I don't know about you, but I find these guys to be creepy. Their hobby is based on the idea of profiting by digging up stuff that other people have lost. They are mostly looking for jewelry and rare coins. To me, the right thing to do is to turn in lost property, especially if it is valuable. Perhaps you get to keep it if no owner comes forward.

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 4, 2009

"I Just Sent You An Email"

Some people at work have this annoying habit of sending you an important email, and then popping into your cube (Yes, I work in a cubicle "office") or call you on the phone to say "I just sent you an email". 

Look, if it is critical information, call or show up first, and say "I need to send you some information about this...".  Or, send a text message to my phone that says "important: check your email".  And give me time to read it.

What always happens is I am sitting there, trying to digest this important email, and the person runs in and says "Did you get the email?" and then proceeds to tell me what is in it!

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಸೆಪ್ಟೆಂಬರ್ 3, 2009

Chrysler--Looking Shaky

Have you noticed the lack of positive news about Chrysler?   How Chrysler's sales numbers continue to slide year-over-year, even after Cash For Clunkers?  How Ford and GM are coming out with new product, and teasing the press with development mules running around in heavy camo, but there are no spy shots of Chrysler vehicles?

For 2010MY, the only "all new" (for what that's worth) product is the Dodge Ram HD.  That and some minor cosmetic tweaks and standard equipment package changes.  For a complete run-down, see AllPar (http://www.allpar.com/history/chrysler-years/2010.html).

For 2011MY, the new V6 Phoenix engine will be introduced.  A new Jeep Grand Cherokee, co-developed with Mercedes, will launch, as well as a refreshed 300.

In 2012, FIat may be able to introduce the first small Fiats, such as the 500 ("Cinquecento"). 

Meanwhile, Chrysler must figure out some way to keep selling their sub-par mid-size cars. 

Will Ram, Jeep, and minivans keep the company alive?  Or will Fiat take a Cerberus-like financial beating as Chrysler bleeds out money? 

I hope that Chrysler has some sort of secret project under wraps which will prove to the world that thay are alive, and can still design and engineer a lust-inducing world class car.  They need to remind consumers that they are still in the game, because to me, it looks like they are fading out.

Audi Mocks Volt

In an interview with MSN Autos, Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen mocks would be buyers of the Chevrolet Volt as "idiots" and environmental posers. (Link http://editorial.autos.msn.com/blogs/autosblogpost.aspx?post=1247701). He predicts that the Volt will flop and that Obama will have to prop up the Volt to save face.

He's basically right. Even Obama's own automotive task force reported that the Volt was "too expensive to be commercially successful in the short term".

But, Audi's cheerleading for clean diesel is not going to work. That's because the U.S. decided long ago to be very tough on diesel emissions standards, which means that "clean diesel" engines are expensive. Though not as expensive as hundreds of pounds of batteries. Also, due to the economics of refining, during times of high demand diesel can be as expensive (or more) as gasoline, ruining the value proposition further. A much better plan is to develop GTDI and HCCI engines, which get diesel-like efficiency running on gasoline, which several of the OEMs are looking into.

GM's Volt is basically a publicity gesture and technology exercise. Eventually, the system might get cheap enough to makes sense economically. Or it may not. It wil still have done its job, helping GM earn public assistance and learn about all electric propulsion for future programs.

One more thing: pop some popcorn, folks, because Lutz is going to come out swinging a lead pipe.

Spotted A 2010 Buick LaCrosse

The other day, I stopped by my local Murray's Auto Parts store to buy some high quality washer fluid.  Pulling in next to me was a new Buick LaCrosse, of the freshly redesigned 2010 vintage.  It was a nice metallic cream color. It had standard plates, but some sort of parking sticker on the windshield.  A well dressed young man stepped out, likely a GM management type or maybe a marketing/PR guy.

The guy noticed me admiring the car, and said, "So, what to you think"?

"The design is nice, and the interior looks great", I said, "but I'm not sure about the vent things."

"Yeah, that's a Buick styling thing", he said, and walked off.

So that's my mini-review of the 2010 Buick LaCrosse.  Lovely lines, rich looking interior, silly vent holes.


ಶನಿವಾರ, ಆಗಸ್ಟ್ 29, 2009

Quick Review: 2009 Chevrolet Impala Rental

I needed a rental car for a couple of days, and the only car available at my local Enterprise store was a red 2008 or 2009 Impala.

The Chevrolet Impala is a perfect example of why GM nearly went under, and how the Chevrolet brand was adrift without a clear identity. It is a mediocre car, with some very annoying details. It doesn't inspire passion, it isn't a car I would choose to buy. It is a rental fleet queen.

Good Points:
  • Quiet, smooth, 3.5L V6 with variable valve timing.
  • Clean, if boring, styling.
  • Flex-Fuel (E85) capable.
  • Unoffensive transmission behavior.
  • Decent fuel economy for a larger car (I got 25mpg average on gasoline)
  • Huge trunk

Bad Points:
  • The OHV V6 is modestly powered at 211HP/214Lb-ft. The 3.6 DOHC GM V6 makes 252HP.
  • Only 4 speed transmission.
  • Prominent tire noise.
  • Wind noise from driver's door seal?
  • Cheesy fake wood interior trim.
  • Odd wedge shaped sideview mirrors offer reduced visibility.
  • Hard plastics abound in the interior.
  • Bizarre vertical levers for dual zone temperature control, with very little resistance.
  • Pedal-type parking brake intrudes on foot room and interferes with dead pedal space.
  • No PRNDL markings on floor shifter (PRNDL displayed on IP).
  • Soft, squishy ride with lots of body lean.
  • Mushy on-center steering feel.
  • No hand-hold to open trunk (you can try to grab the trim, or put your fingers under the trunk lid edge).
The case for the Impala falls completely apart when you compare it with the newer Chevrolet Malibu. The Malibu has a more powerful V6 engine, a 6 speed transmission, a much nicer interior, and about the same interior space (with more rear headroom).


ಗುರುವಾರ, ಆಗಸ್ಟ್ 27, 2009

Chevy Mocks Volvo, I Mock Chevy

In a new ad campaign, GM's Chevrolet division points out the passion that some of their classic cars inspire.  Link: http://blogs.edmunds.com/straightline/2009/08/chevy-hates-on-imports-and-hollywood-with-recent-ad-campaign.html#more.  One of the banners says "They Don't Make Songs About Volvos".

As a former Volvo 850 owner, I am a little hurt by Chevrolet's blow, implying that Volvo's don't inspire passion.  I'd like to point out that in fact, there are several songs about Volvos.  For example, "Volvo Cowgirl 99" by Sheryl Crow (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VIUod8EAo4).  Or Everclear's "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xK_XWH7Ryd4).  And I also found something called "The Volvo Song" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quAFK_CkXOs). 

I don't think many people are writing songs about Impalas these days.  If you dwell too much on past glory, you might re-inforce the idea that right now half of your lineup is sub-par boring crap, like the Impala.  And the Aveo.  And the Cobalt. 

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಆಗಸ್ಟ್ 25, 2009

GM Debadges Itself, Finally

Finally, GM has come to its senses and is removing (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125115331402254991.html) that stupid little square GM badge that they started sticking on every car.  It was a silly idea (and I blogged so), because they were promoting a brand that wasn't really much of a brand, while annoying their high end customers.  If you bought a $50k Cadillac, or a Saab, or a Corvette, did you really want to be reminded that your car was built by the same corporate amoeba that builds the Aveo?

Good job Mr. Lutz!

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಆಗಸ್ಟ್ 24, 2009

Bill Frist Trades Down

Bill Frist said in a Larry King Live interview that he Cash-For-Clunkered a Chevrolet Suburban to get a Toyota Prius.  

He didn't have to choose Toyota, there are other excellent options. 

As an employee of an American based automotive related company, I would like to send Mr. Frist a hearty "go to hell".

For the first time ever, I find myself appreciating something about Howard Dean, who on the same program said that he was going to get a hybrid Ford Escape, because he wanted to support American manufacturers. 

This is an example of why I will always say that I am a Conservative, but not a Republican.  Because as badly as they need my vote, sometimes they just don't have a clue. 

ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಆಗಸ್ಟ್ 17, 2009

Fiat 500 to Mexico?

According to the WSJ (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125046466790535335.html), Fiat will bring assembly of it's b-car 500 (aka Cinquecento) to the Toluca, Mexico plant where PT Cruiser is built.

This looks bad for Obama, and there is going to be a lot of heat.  A lot of people are going to reasonably ask, "why are we spending government money to prop up assembly jobs in Mexico?".   I expect Congress will have hearings, where members who have plant closings will throw shoes at the Italians.

"When a difficult decision has to be made on matters like where to open a new plant or what type of new car to make, the new Chrysler, not the United States government, will make that decision," said an administration official. "It's quite consistent with the plan from the start."

ಶುಕ್ರವಾರ, ಆಗಸ್ಟ್ 14, 2009

The Woodward Pre-Cruise: Friday Night

Friday night in Birmingham. Lots of people, lots of interesting cars.

Sign of the times.


Weird Harley powered thing

Two yellow sleds.

Monster truck











Green Thing






Monkees Car

Biggest truck of the night

Woody!







No joke.

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಆಗಸ್ಟ್ 13, 2009

The Woodward Pre-Cruise

On Thursday evening I went over to Birmingham and shot some photos of the pre-cruise cruising. It was very busy. I apologize that the photos aren't all sharp, I am still getting the hang of how to use my camera in relatively low light.

Work-in-progress

Zimmer?


Old school jeep

This guy had lots of lights on his motorycle


Wacky Red Wings themed limo

Blurry but cool



This is the guy who put a jet engine in the back of his F150.

Big truck

Little car



Old style hotrod

Another monster truck

Dune buggy

Barney-mobile