Thursday, December 29, 2005

Eye in the Sky

GM has reported that its OnStar satellite subscriptions have increased thirty percent. This is one aspect of the car industry where GM has a clear advantage. GM has been pushing the saftey angle most recently. Now the vehicle can even email the owner to let them know the brakes need to be replaced. OnStar is a good way for GM to retain its customers, "According to an OnStar survey, over 75 percent of OnStar subscribers say they prefer to have OnStar in their next vehicle, and almost 90 percent of subscribers say they would recommend the service to others."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Made For China

While former sports car maker Malcom Bricklin is plotting to bring Chinese-built cars to the American market, Honda appears to be planning the exact opposite. Honda recently announced that it would be introducing its Acura line of luxury and near-luxury cars to the Chinese market in 2006. That line includes the Acura TL, which is built in Marysville, Ohio. Set to arrive in China in the summer of 2006 the TL will follow on the heels of the Acura's RL flagship sedan as the company attempts to establish a foothold in the burgeoning Chinese automotive market. The brand will compete against domestically built brands including Buick and Toyota, as well Nissan which recently announced that it would be bringing it's Infiniti brand to the party. With a new market at stake and customer tastes still developing in China the scene is set for a showdown of epic proportions. It's anyone's guess which brand or brands will come out on top, but it's guaranteed to be a good show.

Automotive News

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Toyota gets a taste of the union pain

So get this, Toyota's labor union is seeking a pay increase next spring. This will be the first time the Toyota union has asked for an increase in pay in four years. There are 58000 Union members waited so long due to the Japanese economy. Will this lead to more expensive cars and SUVs being built? We'll see...

This request is actually being driving by the living expenses that are expected to rise in Japan. Toyota's growth and the possibility of becoming the world's number one auto maker may have influenced the union as well. I really want to see how this unfolds, hopefully this can lead the American car market on an uprise and maybe create some new jobs here in the States.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Michael Andretti To Race In 2006 Indy 500

Michael Andretti will have plenty to cheer for this May. Andretti Green Racing, of which he is co-owner, will field five cars in this year's Spectacle. His son, Marco, will be driving one of those five cars and to top off the excitement, Michael himself will pilot the fifth car. This will mark the first time Michael has strapped into an Indy car since 2003. It will also mark the first time since 1994 that two generations of Andretti will compete simultaneously for the Borg Warner trophy. Michael has started 14 Indy 500s, resulting in four top-five finishes including a second place in 1991, but he has never won the fabled race.
Michael's persistance is to be admired, but it is unquestionably a lot to ask of someone to field a five-car race team, coach a son in his first Indy 500 start, enter the race themselves, and do all three effectively. While Michael himself is the only one doing the asking, it bears consideration that perhaps he may be spreading himself too thin. Regardless of Marco's incredible talent, he will hardly be on cruise control in his first Indy 500. It could be argued that waiting a year for the youngest Andretti to get his legs would allow Michael to put more effort towards his own success. On the other hand, at 43 Michael isn't getting any younger, and Andretti Green Racing is effectively at the top of the world: they are defending race champions and defending series champions. As unlikely as it would be, an off-year for AGR may take away the resources necessary for Michael's one-off attempt.
Regardless of the ultimate result, one thing certainly holds true: the more Andrettis, the better.

Ford Safety Reaches Gold Standards

Motor Trend reports that the new Ford 500 and Mercury Montego both have attained the IIHS's highest honor. "The institute's new Top Safety Pick Gold only is attainable by an elite fraction of vehicles that achieve the best available safety performance in three separate categories rear, side and frontal collisions according to IIHS President Brian ONeill." Unknown to most of the public Ford continues its dominance in the affordable, safe, midsize transportation segment. Notice how Accord, Camry, Maxima are not in this list.

On a side note I would also like to mention that in my opinon Montego also has the most attractive spokesperson, Jill Wagner.

Monday, December 19, 2005

And Citroen Makes Three

Previously thought to only have two factory-backed teams, the World Rally Championship scored points today with the announcement that Citroen would in fact field two cars for the 2006 season. The two Citroen Xsaras to be driven by Sebastien Loeb and Xavier Pons were previously listed as privateer teams.
Ford and Subaru will have stiff competition, as Citroen has won the Manufacturer's Championship every year since 2003.

Fernando Alonso to McLaren

World Champion Fernando Alonso will drive for Vodaphone McLaren Mercedes in 2007. This news comes as a surprise to most in the F1 community, and as a serious disappointment for Renault. Many had thought Alonso was committed to Renault for the long-term, expecting the team to replicate the success enjoyed by the Ferrari/Schumacher pairing.
This may raise some questions about the future of the Renault F1 squad, but the most intriguing aspect of the situation is that Renault Team Boss Flavio Briatore is also Fernando Alonso's manager, and as such must have had intimate knowledge of the McLaren deal. Exactly who's best interest Briatore was acting in is certainly a question Renault's upper management will be chewing on for quite some time.

According to an article on, Flavio Briatore had nothing to do with Fernando Alonso's defection. Reassured of the integrity of the Renault team boss, the questions will now focus on Alonso's motivations. Alonso has been involved with Renault and Briatore since his F3000 days in 2000, and his success with the team is obviously abundant. Perhaps a best-case scenario (in regards to Alonso's character) is that Renault's V8 development is not going smoothly, and Alonso simply thinks he has a better shot at another title with McLaren. Money is the other obvious possible motivator, although bouncing around to whichever team promises the biggest number does not tend to help a driver's stock.
Alonso cited a desire for challenge as his reason, and while the change will no doubt present him with new problems to tackle, I find it unrealistic that he would give up sure success with one team merely to see if he could be as successful elsewhere.

Track Insurance

After seeing a picture of a new corvette which had an unfortunate meeting with a wall at a local track day event, I have always wondered what you could do to best protect your car during such events. MotorTrend has reported that the American Collectors Insurance has decided to start covering cars who are involved in driver education courses. I always thought this would be a good idea for insurance companies to add some kind of coverage for accidents at a track day. This measure however only seems to cover driver education courses and not your normal weekend autocross. Maybe an insurance company could take a marketing spin and attract sports car enthusiasts by giving them safe driver bonuses because they are racing in the proper places and not on the road.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Rally-Inspired... Or Not

Mitsubishi recently announced its withdrawal from the 2006 WRC season. Given the rally-based hype surrounding the Lancer Evolution street car, one wonders where this will leave the marketing department.
In fact, one wonders what year that marketing department was left in to begin with, as the above-linked Evolution product page boasts "four straight World Rally Championship titles" but fails to mention that the last one was in 1999. Since then, Mitsubishi's rally success has tanked, ultimately leading to their withdrawal from the series. Mitsubishi claims this is merely a temporary hiatus, and has the history to back it up as they withdrew from the 2003 season in similar fashion.
Of course, don't let any of these pesky facts get in the way of the good-natured marketing hype, it would knock the fun right out of the next inevitable Evo v. STi magazine comparison.

Michelin Out Of F1 After 2006

According to a article, 2006 will mark Michelin's last year of participation in F1, leaving only Bridgestone to supply tires to every team. The FIA had been pressing for a single tire manufacturer rule, although most of their plans pinned the change on 2008. Michelin cites philosophical differences as the reason for their departure, although that sounds like a polite way of telling the FIA to pound sand. The FIA and Michelin never came to a satisfactory resolution following the 2005 USGP, in which the 14 Michelin-shod cars (out of a field of 20) boycotted the race due to safety concerns. That incident put a permanent scar on the reputations of both Michelin and F1, and everyone still blames everyone else for failing to resolve the situation gently.
Michelin tires were on the winning car in 18 of the 19 races in 2005, although this past season was something of an enigma. Mid-race tire changes were prohibited except in extreme circumstances, and Michelin clearly adapted to this more effectively than Bridgestone. New rules for 2006 mark the return of mid-race tire changes and while that decision would seem to favor Bridgestone, the loss of Michelin is a significant one. Without any competition, one wonders how much effort Bridgestone will put into mid-season tire improvements.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Audi Bucking Several Trends At Once

On Tuesday, Audi AG officially introduced the R10, its replacement for the legendary R8 endurance-racing sports car. The R10's significance is immediately apparent, as the car is powered by a 5.5 liter turbo-diesel V12. This will mark the first attempt at overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans using a diesel powerplant.
While there is much-deserved attention surrounding the powerplant of this car, a significant-but-overlooked fact is Audi's continued presence in endurance racing. The trend in endurance racing is to show up, dominate for a few years, then totally leave the sport. While this may be spectacular and give marketing gurus ammunition for decades, it is refreshing to see that Audi is interested in a more long-term relationship. This should do wonders for Audi's already excellent motorsports reputation. Ultimately the sport itself will benefit from this as the rest of the field realizes that they can't just wait for Audi to leave, but rather they have to step up and meet the challenge.

Ford's Bad Timing

Last week, the Ford Motor Company announced a decision to pull Jaguar and Land Rover ads from gay and lesbian targeted publications for what the company called "purely business" reasons. By itself this decision could stir some controversy, based merely on the fact that rather than naming one or several particular magazines that may have been negative cost-benefit situations for Ford, an entire segment was called out.
Unfortunately, what could have been a small storm broke out into a full-scale natural disaster when it was revealed that the American Family Association had threatened to boycott Ford's products for being "gay-friendly." All indications are that Ford buckled under this threat, and money-losing ads had nothing to do with it.
There are a number of important issues in play here, but the one that holds my attention with the strongest grip is the fact that, given the current state of the American auto industry, Ford needs to be selling as many cars to as many people as possible. Offering incentives to certain groups could certainly be cause for some grumbling, but merely advertising to any group of people, given a positive cost-benefit ratio, is nothing but good business. Caving to intimidation tactics is certainly not a viable business strategy.
There is a distinct possibility that Ford identified an unprofitable market segment and decided to stop spending money pushing ads on people who were not about to buy their products, but the timing of the situation has resulted in a PR firestorm. Even giving Ford the ideological benefit of the doubt, the best-case explanation here is the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. Ford is a massive company spanning a large corporate landscape, and we can only hope the Magazine Ad Department never spoke with the Interest Group Relations Department prior to their unfortunate decision. However, Ford is no longer in the dominant position it was once in and situations like this, resulting from either a lack of corporate fortitude or a lack of internal communication, need to be avoided for the company to pull out of its recession.


The Ford Motor Company sent a letter to national gay and lesbian organizations earlier today. The letter reiterates Ford's stance on the decision to pull Jaguar and Land Rover ads from gay and lesbian targeted publications, which is that the decision was purely a business one and had nothing to do with catering to the American Family Association. To further emphasize this point, Ford is revising their decision and while Jaguar and Land Rover will still not be advertised in the magazines in question, corporate ads incorporating all eight of Ford's vehicle brands will be run.
This does seem to suggest that the threat of boycott by the AFA is not a factor in Ford's advertising strategy. Critics may tag this as a way for Ford to cover their tracks after a bad call, but as mentioned above even the best case scenario suggests that Ford needs to get all of its resources to operate as a cohesive unit.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

BMW Turbosteamer

BMW has developed a new type of "hybrid" technology, using centuries-old ideas. According to a recent article, BMW Group Research and Engineering has taken advantage of the heat generated by a normal internal-combustion engine and used it to generate steam. Essentially, they've replaced the electric motor in a "conventional" hybrid with a steam engine. This is significant because it puts no extra load whatsoever on the existing engine. Additionally, the components involved don't take up a significant amount of space. Here's a diagram that, while in German, gives a pretty good idea of the size of the additional equipment.
According to the article, the system in its current form will fit a current-generation BMW 3 Series equipped with the four-cylinder engine. Following additional development, BMW hopes to further improve the packaging of the system to make retrofits to existing cars possible.
This system breathes some new life into the internal-combustion engine, and reminds us that regardless of the leaps and bounds being made in alternative power technologies, we're a long way from fully tapping the potential of our existing engines.

Ford Plant Closings

GM's financial woes have gotten considerable press lately, somewhat taking the public pressure off of the Ford Motor Company. Unfortunately, Ford's financial pressure hasn't followed suit, and it looks like they're likely to close a round of plants themselves.
This is an unfortunate, as any need for downsizing is a negative sign, however the under-utilization of these facilities isn't something Ford can afford to support. The part that really got my attention was the inclusion of the Windsor powertrain facility. Any Ford enthusiast has a special place in their heart for motors manufactured in the Windsor plant; Mine formed when I first read about the DeTomaso Pantera. Auto companies sell a lot of vehicles based on their history, hence the resurgence of names like "Charger" and "GTO". While the name "Windsor" doesn't quite carry the weight of, say "Mustang," I have no doubt that the "Windsor V8" option catches a significant number of eyes. While I'm willing to accept the necessity of plant closings, I certainly hope the historical and sentimental significance of certain facilities is something Ford is taking into consideration.


Street Level is a collection of opinions, reviews, and links to articles, written or assembled by a small group of automotive enthusiasts mostly for our own benefit.

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Street Level contributors share more than just an interest in cars: we're informed, intelligent, and entertaining. You'd probably like us if you met us! Our opinions and perspectives are quite diverse, so it's likely you'll find something interesting. The posts themselves are where the good stuff is, but you can find out a little more about each of us by clicking the links below:

Cope - A Mustang driver from a Ford family, Cope has spent time in both Boston and Los Angeles driving fast, following motorsports, and hunting for track time.

Frank - Frank's Cadillac SRX is his latest in a line of criminally-underrated American cars. He is based in San Francisco, where he is continually frustrated by the uninformed choices of the drivers around him.

GregC - GregC has gone from one icon to another, trading his Jeep Wrangler for a Ford Mustang, and the Mustang for a Taurus SHO, to get himself around suburban Massachusetts.

Kevin - When he's not driving his Camaro around California, Kevin's automotive attention is focused on the UAW, nearby auto shows, and planning out a drag car.

LymanSS - Once the founder of a performance parts business, LymanSS currently maintains an impressive stable including among others a Cadillac, a Lincoln, and multiple Corvettes.