Friday, November 03, 2006

Christiano da Matta's Condition Improving

Christiano da MattaChristiano da Matta collided with a deer while testing at Road America on August 13th. da Matta sustained serious head injuries, including a subdural hematoma, and until recently was in the ICU at the Theeda Clark Medical Center in Wisconsin. Fortunately the expert medical staff on hand at Road America and at Theeda Clark responded quickly and effectively, saving Christiano's life.
On August 20th, Christiano was moved out of the ICU, and recently has become significantly more responsive to verbal commands and other stimuli. The extent of the damage, and therefore the speed and possibility of recovery, have yet to be determined, but his progress has been encouraging and the possibility exists for a full recovery.

Chistiano da Matta was released from the Theda Clark Medical Center and flown to his Miami home on September 22nd, according to a Champ Car World Series news report. His condition has shown steady and encouraging improvement, although no timetable has been set for his return, if any, to Champ Car.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The 2007 Jeep Wrangler: A Dead Breed.

Military Jeeps In ActionIf you have not seen the pictures or read an article about the new 2007 Jeep Wrangler, then you are in for an eye opener. We all know Jeeps, rugged, go anywhere, look-I-was-made-for-WWII use. I myself own a 2004 Wrangler, custom built from the factory. Since reading and looking at photos of the new design of the Wrangler I have been annoyed and also inspired. First off let us look at the exterior.

The first noticeable item is the new front bumper. No longer will you find the flat steel, but plastic with integrated fog lamps. Moving onto the next phase of the ‘07’ larger wheels. Starting at 16” but also can be 17” and 18”. I’m sorry I don’t need “bling bling” wheels on a Jeep. I’ll stick to my 15” wheel with big tires. The new Jeep is a wider stance which is nice, except on those tight trails. The new features which I do like are the slightly curved body panels. They do still look like flat steel but add to the strength of the Jeep and also aerodynamics. One other feature they change has been the windshield. This something on the fringe for me, you get used to the flat, insect killing, rock attracting Jeep windshield in the older models. This new design incorporates a new “slightly” curved windshield to help with the overall aerodynamics of the Wrangler. Let take a look at the inside of the cabin.

Features, features, features is the world we live in now. Navigation, stereos, let face it toys. Yet again the Jeep itself is a toy. The interior is even more modern than the last redesign, the TJ “97 -06”. Larger, more roomy space is nice. The dash has more of Jeep Cherokee feel than the traditional military feel. Nice ideas and movements of part would be the middle air vents being mid mounted in the dash. That’s right below the stereo. Not a bad idea for those pesky winter months. Some of the new toys to be found the 07 wrangler are navigation system, larger glove box storage, power winders and locks (not so military with that one), larger seats, sound absorbing carpets for the 368 watt stereo with 6 speakers and subwoofer (little overkill unless you drive a Hummer H2), under the cargo floor storage bin (now that’s military), as well as a crap load of airbags. We all love upgrades and this new Jeep has a few.

The last large change to the 07 Jeep Wrangler is the engine. Gone is the 4.0L straight 6, dating back to the Stone Age it seems. The new 2007 is powered by a 3.8L V6 based off of the Jeep Liberty’s power plant, creating 205HP and 240lb-ft. Other new feature include electronic sway bar disconnects, 32 Inch BF Goodrich tires, and more suspension travel for improved departure angles while offroading.

With all of these new features and designs, the 2007 Jeep Wrangler claims to be “In a class all its own.” which is true. Gone are the days of the Military Jeep. Due to new laws for safety the Jeep had to change, which in my mind is quite unfortunate. I, like many others, like to pay some homage to the WWII vets that built and drove these machines into battle. Looks like those days are gone.

Take a look at some links below for images and articles.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Danica Patrick to Andretti-Green Racing

Tony Kanaan With Danica Patrick
Not to be outdone by Champ Car's A.J. Allmendinger or F1-turned-NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya, on Tuesday the IRL's Danica Patrick announced her signing with Andretti Green Racing for the 2007 season.
Patrick was signed by Bobby Rahal five years ago and led the 2005 Indy 500 with Rahal Letterman Racing, however the team's plans for next season are tentative at best.
Andretti Green Racing currently fields cars for Tony Kannan, Marco Andretti, Bryan Herta, and Dario Franchitti, although the latter two have not been resigned for 2007 as of yet. The AGR drivers have not always been Danica's biggest supporters, however pairing Patrick with the youngest Andretti will guarantee publicity for both the team and the IRL.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Juan Pablo Montoya to NASCAR

Montoya In Ganassi NASCAR Garage
Following on the heels of the recent Champ Car World Series roster moves, both Formula 1 and NASCAR were simultaneously shaken up on Sunday. Star F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya announced his immediate departure from team McLaren/Mercedes, stating he will begin preparations to drive for Chip Ganassi in the NASCAR Nextel Cup next season. According to Sunday's press conference, Casey Mears will surrender his seat in the #42 Dodge to Montoya, familiar to American racing fans as the winner of the 1999 Champ Car title and the 2000 Indy 500. The Columbian is a marketing dream for NASCAR, itself planning to expand into Latin-American markets. His aggressive driving style and occasionally-public temper should make for an excellent fit in the NASCAR scene.
An interesting coincidence is that Montoya participated in a Speed Channel promotion called "Tradin' Paint", where he and Jeff Gordon swapped cars for a day of hot laps at Indy during the festivities for the 2003 U.S. Grand Prix.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Pontiac: We Build Seduction?

Pontiac, once the builders of excitement itself, are in the process of adjusting its image. First with the new GTO, then the Solstice, and bolstered by the incredibly-accessible G6 hardtop convertible, Pontiac is now decidedly sexy. Rather than baiting customers with promises of adrenaline, Pontiac's current lineup seduces potential customers with curvaceous bodies, powerful engines, and guaranteed attention.
As mentioned by AdRants, Pontiac recently launched two television commercials to bolster their campaign with the Hispanic market: One is called Grab and features the Solstice and a frisky girlfriend. The other is called Traffic Stop, which shows that flashing lights aren't always a bad thing. Both commercials are in Spanish, but are excellent regardless of what language you speak.

Pontiac Badge

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Allmendinger Replaced at RuSport, Silly Mid-Season Ensues

A.J. Allmendinger is one of the most promising, young drivers in the Champ Car World Series. At least, he was until he was unexpectedly replaced at RuSport this week. Carl Russo has hired 2002 champion Christiano da Matta from the beleaguered Dale Coyne racing team to replace Allmendinger, effective immediately.
A.J. had yet to win a race with RuSport, so his departure is not unprecedented. However, his talent is obvious and the fact that he is now without a ride is certainly no help to Champ Car. Those paying close attention will also note that Allmendinger was the only American driver in the series. More importantly, he has a distinct character and is readily likeable.
Dale Coyne Racing now has an open seat which may be offered to A.J., but the reality is that DCR is not consistently competitive and A.J. may decline to drive for a backmarker team. His presence in Champ Car is a positive one, so we can only hope that he finds himself back behind the wheel shortly.

Effective immediately, Mario Dominguez has been released from Forsythe Racing, leaving the #7 INDECK car without a driver. The announcement came this morning, citing "changes in the engineering structure of the team." Dominguez has crashed in to teammate Paul Tracy twice this season, taking them both out of both races. This includes a first-corner-of-the-first-race incident at Long Beach, and Forsythe's "engineering structure" may simply be changing to a model where one team car does not take out the other. Forsythe Racing, and particularly Paul Tracy, were expected to be the primary challengers of Sebastien Bourdais and Newman/Haas Racing, but have struggled so far this season. An interesting note is that A.J. Allmendinger came up through the karting ranks on Paul Tracy's karting team, and the two are longtime friends...

Earlier today, Forsythe Racing announced the addition of A.J. Allmendinger to the team. The move reunites Allmendinger and Tracy, gives Forsythe arguably the two most aggressive drivers in the Champ Car World Series, and should dramatically increase Forsythe's ability to challenge Sebastien Bourdais and the Newman/Haas team.
Assuming the near-inevitable placement of Mario Dominguez in the vacant seat at Dale Coyne Racing, the rearrangement of drivers and teams should make for a better show. Former champion Christiano da Matta is now back with a competitive team, and will be directly challenging the team he won his championship with. A.J. Allmendinger still has a competitive car to drive, and the mix of his personality with Tracy's will be nothing short of wildly entertaining. Mario Dominguez has suffered a downgrade in terms of equipment, but he joins a team that has in the past resuscitated the careers of both Oriol Servia and Christiano da Matta.

A.J. Allmendinger

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jeep Bugs

Jeep has been making the auto show rounds with a clever new set of ads for the 2007 Wrangler Unlimited. Proclaiming their discovery of a new "species" of Jeep, the ads show the Wrangler packed with various outdoor gear, with amuzing results:

Blue Four-dooricus Rockcrawlerus
Dark Green Four-dooricus Rockcrawlerus

Green Four-dooricus Rockcrawlerus
Red Four-dooricus Rockcrawlerus

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

May be a good time to recall?

Toyota announced a huge recall involving 986,000 cars worldwide. 320,000 of those include the Priuses sold in America. Toyota says the steering wheel on these cars will lock up if the wheel is turned too hard or if the car strikes a curb. No injuries have been reported. About this same time last year Toyota recalled 750,000 Tundra, Tacomas, and 4 Runners. I wonder what will get recalled next year in May.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Big Oil Profit Margins

During the May 14 edition of Autoline Detroit, host John McElroy presented a comparison of the net profit margins of various companies, according to their annual reports:
ExxonMobil 9.1%
Microsoft 30.7%
CitiGroup 29.4%
Dreamworks 22.6%
Toyota 6.3%
The profits of oil companies have come under public scrutiny lately and while large in dollar value, the resulting profit margins are comparatively small. Technology benchmark Microsoft posts profit margins more than three times greater than those of oil leader ExxonMobil. Also noteworthy is the fact that Toyota's margins are not significantly lower than ExxonMobil's.
According to McElroy, even if oil companies operated at cost, the effect on gas prices at the pump would be minimal. Further, compared to the software, financial, and entertainment leaders, the oil companies are certainly not the appropriate recipients of any public criticism.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Being right is better than being first.

GM has unveiled their new fuel savings plan. GM unveiled the first 6 cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation. It will be a 3.9L engine which will exist in the new Impala to start off with. This is supposed to increase gas mileage by 5%. The new Green Line Vue will save 20% gas on average and only be a $2000 option. If you spent $2000 on gas a year, you could recoup your spending in 5 years time. With Gas prices rising the time to recoup costs would decrease significantly. The Chevy Tahoe will soon have a new hybrid system developed with BMW. "It's fun to be first in an early-stage technology. It's more important to be right, and I think we have a well-thought out approach," he said. "I think (the Vue and the Tahoe) will show people that we can play with anybody on technology. We'll see how the market plays out."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Truth In Advertising

One of Toyota's latest campaigns calls attention to their huge number of U.S. employees, and together with their pending participation in the NASCAR Nextel Cup works to portray Toyota as America's Car Company. Some people have taken exception to this claim, including The Level Field Institute.
The LFI is running TV and print ads that look at the numbers from a different perspective: According to them, Ford and GM both each employ more Americans than all foreign auto manufacturers combined, and together with Daimler Chrysler account for 8 out of 10 U.S. autoworker jobs. The Level Field Institute's website has several graphs and charts detailing the specific differences between the domestic and foreign manufacturers.
It is worth noting that the LFI was founded by retirees of The Big Three, shedding some light on their motivation. The numbers they present are nonetheless powerful, and as stated by them they should be taken into account when shopping for a new vehicle.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

C6R Dominance

Lone Star Grand Prix LogoThis past Friday night, the two C6Rs of Corvette Racing faced a formidable challenge in the ALMS Lone Star Grand Prix. Held on a temporary (and incredibly bumpy) "street" circuit, the race actually snaked its way through the sprawling parking lots surrounding Reliant Park in Houston, Texas, and was difficult just to get around at speed. Making things even more interesting was the presence of a pair of DBR9s fielded by Aston Martin racing, winners of the 2005 24 Hours of Sebring, and fastest qualifiers of the same 2006 race. The DBR9s are prepared by Prodrive, legendary for their WRC Subaru WRXs and LeMans-winning 550 Maranello, and recently notable for announcing their entry into the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship.
As if that weren't enough of a challenge, the dominant Corvette C6Rs were saddled with a 176lb weight disadvantage to the Aston Martins. Actually a 66lb addition to the Vettes and a 110lb weight reduction to the DBR9s, the adjustment was intended to bring parity to the GT1 class, long dominated by the Corvettes.
In classic Corvette Racing fashion, the two C6Rs led every lap and finished 1 and 2 in class, 2 and 3 overall. Nothing short of a monumental achievement for GM, the Corvettes held off the fiercely-competitive Aston Martins, and were bettered only by Audi's R8, arguably the greatest car in sports car racing history. This is nothing but bad news for the rest of the GT1 competitors, as it clearly shows that nothing short of an unlikely mechanical failure will keep the Corvette Racing C6Rs off of the top step of the podium.
Corvette C6Rs

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The CG-Lock is a nifty little adapter that cinches up a car's lap belt. It's aimed at enthusiasts whose everyday vehicle sees occasional use as a race car, and don't want to deal with the expense, hassle, and stigma associated with installing a 5-point racing harness in their grocery-getter. By all accounts the product is priced fairly and works well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dario Franchitti's Tire Changer OK

Mid-way through last weekend's Bridgestone Indy Japan 300, Dario Franchitti came in for what was supposed to be a routine pit stop. Locking his tires due to a bump in his pit box, Dario unfortunately barreled into several of his waiting crew members, sending them tumbling along the pit wall. Taking the worst hit was his left-rear tire changer, Steve Price, who momentarily appeared to be trapped under the car. Despite the incident, Franchitti's crew worked around their injured teammates to complete the pit stop and send Dario back out.
RACER Magazine reports that Price suffered no serious injuries and was released from the Dokyu University Hospital later that day. Franchitti drove back from the considerable delay to finish 11th, well back from his top position of 3rd but still ahead of his rookie teammate Marco Andretti.
Dario Franchitti Indy Japan 300 Pit

Eagle One Bucket-Free Car Wash

Eagle One Bucket-Free Car WashEagle One has recently introduced their Bucket-Free Car Wash; Essentially concentrated soap in a spray bottle, Eagle One is following Mr. Clean's lead in eliminating the bucket that is usually necessary for washing your car. However, I have found that a bucket of soapy water is still necessary while using Mr. Clean's AutoDry; The water/soap mix is not adjustable and the car never quite gets soapy enough without help. Eagle One's approach is a good one, as obviously you are in control of how much soap to use. According to Eagle One, "only 1-2 sprays per panel/section are needed," and this is largely accurate as even that seemingly-sparing amount is enough to build up a healthy lather.
Missing from Eagle One's approach is the means to avoid manually drying the car after the wash. The soap lacks the "Dry Rinse Polymers" of Mr. Clean's AutoDry, and letting the car air-dry will produce water spots. Washing the car with the Eagle One soap, then rinsing it with the AutoDry's filtered water seems to be the ideal solution to a quick, effective manual car wash.

Penske to GM? Miller Says Maybe

During this past Sunday's edition of Speed Channel's Wind Tunnel, Robin Miller relayed that one of his "inside sources" had strongly suggested that GM was looking to hire on Roger Penske, yes that Roger Penske, to lead GM out of its troubled mire. What at first seems unlikely may in fact have some basis in reality, as it was Penske who once pulled Hertz out of its own slump. He also successfully runs a massive network of GM dealerships, giving him a solid perspective of the sales and consumer side of the business at a minimum.
GM's continued trouble is bad for everyone except Toyota, but someone like Roger Penske may just be able to bring the fresh strategy and outlook that is needed to turn things around.

Roger Penske

Friday, April 21, 2006

GTO Giveaway

Flowmaster's Kevin McClelland built up a 2004 Pontiac GTO, which was featured on the 2005 Hot Rod Power Tour and in Hot Rod Magazine, and now they're giving it away. Unfortunately stripped of the heavily-modded motor, the GTO nonetheless comes tantalizingly-equipped with a complete headers-to-tailpipes Flowmaster exhaust system, plus new tires and brakes, a new suspension system from Hotchkis, and other modifications. Check out Flowmaster's contest page for rules and entry details.

Flowmaster GTO Giveaway Contest

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Possible Spec-Mustang Series?

Dan Davis, the director of Ford Racing Technology, has teamed with Multimatic to produce a 550hp Mustang racer that he would like to see sold through Ford dealers for around $200,000. Davis created the track-only car with the vision of a spec racing series that would potentially include the Camaro and Challenger, essentially re-creating the Trans Am series. Assembled from production parts, Davis and Multimatic have the capability to produce dozens of copies if the demand is there.
According to AutoWeek, the car lapped the Long Beach street circuit within 10 seconds of the times laid down by the Daytona Prototypes racing there last weekend as part of the Champ Car World Series.
Certainly an exciting development for fans of the Trans Am series of old, or of Ford Mustangs, with any luck Davis' vision will catch on with enough weekend racers to make it a reality.
550hp Mustang Racer by Ford Racing Technology and Multimatic

Saturday, April 15, 2006

18-Wheels, Or 10?

For several years, Michelin has been developing an alternative to the dual-wheels commonly seen on large trucks. Called the X One, these tires are twice as wide as standard truck tires so only two are needed per axle. According to Michelin, this setup saves weight and significantly improves fuel economy, as well as offering better traction and control. Michelin recently doubled their production capacity of this tire, which may soon change common 18-wheelers into 10-wheelers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Acting Like A Supercar

Who isn't a fan of Jason Stratham? As cool as his movies are when he's ripping around some French town in a large, town-car-sized sedan, isn't it about time he gets a performance upgrade? In his latest movie "Rogue" two Spyker cars will be featured: The C8 Spyder (400hp) and the C12 LaTurbie (500hp). Spyker is a pretty unknown vehicle manufacture to most, hailing from the Netherlands. Production ends this month on the movie so expect it to come out some time in the summer.

Monday, April 10, 2006

From C To Shining C

Chrysler's 300 has been a runaway success for the company, earning numerous awards including a spot on Car & Driver's 10Best list for the fourth consecutive time. In an effort to continue their success, Chrysler has introduced two new variants of the 300C: the Heritage Edition and a long-wheelbase version.

Chrysler 300C Heritage BadgeThe Heritage Edition is a currently-available trim package, comprised mainly of aesthetic alterations to the 300C. It includes unique badging, chromed-aluminum wheels, "performance" front seats, a rear decklid spoiler, a "performance" exhaust system, and other touches. Certainly nothing Earth-shattering, although it is reassuring to know that Chrysler has at least some idea of the importance of heritage, and is trying to find ways to let that heritage work for them.

According to Auto Express, Chrysler will unveil a long-wheelbase version of the 300C at the upcoming New York Auto Show. The long-wheelbase version will be six inches longer than the standard version, adding about 10 cubic feet to the cabin. The car will be aimed squarely at Jaguar XJ, Mercedes S-Class, and Audi A8 customers with options such as lighted writing tables for the rear seats, foot rests, and custom paint and pinstriping options. There is no word on pricing yet, although the car is scheduled to launch this fall.
Long Wheelbase 300C ExteriorLong Wheelbase 300C Interior

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Hidden Costs of Oil

This past Saturday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Milton Copulos presented figures suggesting the actual cost of a gallon of gasoline is much higher than the $2 - $3 we pay at the pump. According to Copulos' study, there are massive "hidden" costs associated with importing foreign oil, including but not limited to military expenditures to keep the Persian Gulf area stable. Copulos, president of the National Defense Council Foundation, estimates these hidden costs added $7.41 per gallon last year, and will rise to $8.35 in 2006.
While Copulos' numbers are estimates, it is certainly interesting to consider these "hidden" costs when comparing the various fuels available to us.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

BMW Criticized For Advertising To Gays

At first glance, this sounds similar to Ford's debacle late last year. However, closer inspection reveals a twist: the criticism aimed at BMW is coming from, a resource for the gay and lesbian community. The website maintains lists of what they call "Gay-Friendly" and "Non-Gay-Friendly" automakers, based on the domestic partner benefits available to their employees. BMW does not offer domestic partner benefits, although a company spokesman said this is an effort to comply with New Jersey laws. The website labels BMW as hypocritical as the automaker targets the "deep pockets" of the gay and lesbian community without supporting their gay and lesbian employees.
Criticism like this serves as a reminder that each automaker must move as a cohesive unit, with the model line, advertising, and corporate staff moving in the same direction at the same time, all reflecting the same image.

Monday, March 27, 2006

IRL Driver Killed In Warm-up

30 year old Paul Dana was killed Sunday morning during the final warm-up session for the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Ed Carpenter had backed his car into the Turn Two wall at about 10:30am, a few minutes into the session. His car slid to the bottom of the track and came to a rest sitting perpendicular to the flow of traffic. Paul Dana was unable to avoid the stationary car and struck it at roughly 170mph.
Both men were airlifted to nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital, but Paul Dana was declared dead just before noon. Ed Carpenter was found to have no broken bones but was held overnight for observation.

During a pre-race press conference, Brian Barnhart (IRL President and COO) and Bobby Rahal (Paul Dana's team owner) confirmed that the trackside and in-car yellow lights functioned properly and quickly, and there was no problem with the radio system in Dana's car, leaving some question as to why Dana did not appear to slow down sooner. The Indy Racing League cars are equipped with an array of safety systems, ranging from data recorders to wheel and wing tethers to chassis designed to deflect energy away from the driver in the event of a crash. That the crash was fatal despite these measures speaks to the severity of the impact.

Fellow Rahal-Letterman drivers Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice withdrew from the race, but the Toyota Indy 300 proceeded as scheduled, leaving Dana's fellow drivers to put the tragedy out of their minds, at least temporarily, and get on with their business of racing.

Paul Dana was seen by many as an enthusiastic driver, happy to have his shot at the IRL. He had broken his back while practicing for the Indy 500 last May, but had fully recovered and was in excellent shape. While most of his fellow drivers considered him capable, there was some concern for his lack of experience. Unfortunately Dana's death follows that of Jorge Bastuck's last week as a sharp reminder of the dangers of motorsports.
Paul Dana

Friday, March 24, 2006

Jaguar XK Safety Award

Jaguar was recently recognized for safety measures built-in to the new XK coupe designed to reduce pedestrian injury in the event of an impact. If a pedestrian is struck, the hood of the XK automatically raises up a few inches in a fraction of a second, providing some cushion from the solid components in engine compartment, and helps deflect the pedestrian over or around the windshield instead of through it. The Prince Michael International Road Safety Award for Technology is given out annually for road- or vehicle-based innovation considered to have "significant merit." Jaguar has traditionally gotten a lukewarm reception from car shoppers, and will hopefully use this positive press to their advantage.

Junior WRC Co-Driver Killed reports that Junior WRC co-driver Jorge Bastuck was killed during the second stage of the Rally Catalunya. Bastuck was effecting repairs to the wheel of his Team OMV Citroen C2 when he was struck by another car. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital but died from his injuries.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Speaking of Heritage

With GM's latest television commercial, they remind us of their successful past and rich heritage while simultaneously reinforcing their mission to recapture that success.

The ad connects the glory days of GM with their current offerings, effectively delivering the message that GM is once again capable of producing innovative, desirable cars and trucks. Clever editing and a catchy, relevant song should help plant the ad firmly in the mind of anyone who sees it. It is interesting to note that missing entirely from the commercial is any mention, reference, or image of anything from the 80's.

Born From Jets

Saab has rolled out a new ad campaign playing on the company's aircraft manufacturing heritage. On paper, "Born From Jets" sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, the cars currently rolling off Saab assembly lines do little to make the connection.

While no one expects radar-guided missiles or afterburners, Saab could use many existing technologies to reinforce their jet heritage: The ubiquitous turbo engine is an obvious starting point, and may be the only actual link between the cars and aircraft. Heads-up displays have been available in GM cars for a decade, and Cadillac's night vision could find a home here as well. Radar- or laser-guided cruise control would mesh with the theme, and external cues such as a large rear wing or prominent front air intakes would add a visual tie-in. A markedly driver-centric dashboard could produce a cockpit feel, complete with a plethora of analog gauges reporting all manner of information. Up-level models could even feature five-point-harness-friendly seats. Redundant buttons on the gear shift lever for radio (or perhaps turn-signal) controls would add to the image.

The production of warplanes is considerably more exciting than the production of farm equipment, for example, and Saab has an excellent opportunity to develop a powerful connection to their past. However, simply mentioning that past is not enough, and neither is the one-off Aero-X Concept, canopy and all. The cars they produce must carry their image to the consumer in tangible ways, or it will simply be lost in the fog of other mindless marketing drivel.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cobra with Some Bite

This bad boy is made by Weineck in Germany. They boast that it has the most acceleration of any car that is street legal. It sports a 12.9L V8 engine. Yeah 12.9! It puts out 1300 ft/lbs of tourque. They say the engine revs so fast the tachometer can not keep up. There is no traction control or any electronic assists to help you out in your quest for drag strip domination. 0-186 is approximately 10 seconds. Unfortunately only 15 of these will be made.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I like mine scrambled please.

The 2007 Koenigsegg CCX is a marvelous car. Koenigsegg is located in Sweden and had produced its first concept car in 1996. This version is completely US street legal. The engine is produced completely in-house. It sports an 800hp supercharged 4.7L V8. Lots of kevlar and carbon fibre are used throughout the car. Performance claims are 0-62 in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of at least 245mph. All for a mere $600,000 which is a bargain for trying to go those speeds. Currently you can order your CCX at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hold your horses! Or Goats in this case.

Over the last few weeks everyone on the internet has been crying out about Pontiac's shutdown of building the GTO. Nobody mentions that they only planned 3 years production of 18,000 to 15,000 units per year to begin with. That is pretty miniscule in comparison to GM's overall sales of 9mil cars a year. I'm surprised a car which gets as much bad press as it does (despite a remarkable first drive review by C&D) would be of everyone's concern now. Bob Lutz, like an embattled football coach or war general, reminded everyone that they are planning a 2009 GTO.
“The reason we said it was canceled is because that way our people would put their pencils down, in GM if you say something is deferred, then people keep working on it. We really needed to get that message through to everybody. It was my fault that it got out of control in the first place, it was going to be the world’s greatest car and apparently cost nothing to make. So we’ve started over now. The program is back on and it’s going full tilt.”
I think the whole exercise is a good example of how many people actually like the GTO despite their thrashings of it. Bring on more Australian engineering combined with American engineering and drop 500-600 hp engines on this zeta platform with large tires in the 300 mm width range please. I don't care what they call it or who they piss off when they do.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Opel GT
GM unveils the Opel GT at the Geneva autoshow. It looks oddly similar to the Solstice and Sky vehicles. However, the Opel GT is much faster.
"Thanks to its powerful 2.0-liter, 260 hp ECOTEC turbo engine with gasoline direct injection the Opel GT accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in less than six seconds, and reaches a top speed of more than 230 km/h."
Hopefully if any of the parts are compatible American Solstice owners can take advantage of upgrades straight from GM.

Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano

Ferrari officially introduced its replacement for the 575M Maranello at the Geneva auto show. Sporting a 6.0 liter V12 in the nose producing 611 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, the 599 GTB Fiorano reaches 60 mph from a standstill in 3.7 seconds, and is capable of over 200 mph.
This is nothing but exciting news for those who still think of Ferrari as a producer of world-class sports cars.

Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano ExteriorFerrari 599 GTB Fiorano InteriorFerrari 599 GTB Fiorano Engine

Sunday, March 05, 2006

R10 Pilots Announced

Audi has revealed its driver lineup for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and while there are no surprises the roster certainly deserves attention:

Frank Biela
- Three-time Le Mans winner (2000, 1, 2), defending ALMS co-champion
Emanuele Pirro - Three-time Le Mans winner (2000, 1, 2), defending ALMS co-champion
Marco Werner - Defending Le Mans winner (2005), two-time ALMS champion (2003 - 4)
Rinaldo Capello - Two-time Le Mans winner (2003, 4)
Allan McNish - Previous Le Mans winner (1998), previous ALMS champion (2000)
Tom Kristensen - Seven-time and defending Le Mans winner (1997, 2000 - 5), previous ALMS champion (2002)

With the help of what is arguably the most elite team of drivers in endurance racing history, Audi will almost certainly put on a clinic for their competition. Biela, Pirro, and Werner will drive together in one car, and Capello, McNish, and Kristensen will share duties in the other. This team will also drive in the ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring, as well as other late-season events.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ford Escape Hybrid E85

Ford's commitment to the proliferation of flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles has taken a step forward with the development of an Escape hybrid able to run on up to 85% Ethanol. While the combination of fuel-saving technologies is a rather obvious idea, Ford is one of the first to follow through. Unfortunately, the Escape Hybrid E85 is not currently slated for production, but Ford's engineers are hoping to use it to tackle the challenges currently facing these developing technologies.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Price Gap More Like Price Chasm

It is known that Toyota vehicles sell for about $1500 more than GM products. Of course, GM sells more high price vehicles where Toyota sells more low priced smaller vehicles. This makes it hard to just go to the dealers and calculate yourself. There are three factors for this $1500 price gap: resale value and market perception. The first factor is a concrete fact where a consumer can actually see the benefit of buying a Toyota (of course I would tell the person trying to make money reselling a car to invest in mutual funds). The second factor is more abstract: It is a result of good marketing by Toyota and a vengeful market place. For example: "I bought a Ford Escort in 1980 and it really sucked, so I'm not going to buy any more American cars". The third factor is the perception that Toyota's cars have more quality and reliability, which has yet to be proven by J.D. Powers. Consumer Reports doesn't count because it's based on public opinion (refer to second factor above). So now that we see there is a $1500 price gap you would hope that GM could produce their cars at a $1500 discount. Unfortunately this is not true. Because GM is paying for 5 retirees per every 2 workers on an assembly line their costs are high. GM says in 2004 that its health care costs were $1,528 per vehicle and their pension costs were $695 per vehicle. This comes up to $2,223. Toyota's comparable costs are about $201 for healthcare and $50 for matching 401k, for a total of $251. This means that Toyota on a playing field is going to have a $3500 advantage. At best if GM works out a plan with U.A.W., they may be able to drop their costs to $1100 per car. This still leaves a gap of $2400 per car. Don't expect GM to start walking all over Toyota just because it has its labor prices under control. The only way that everyone is going to benefit (and when i say benefit I mean the US consumer, GM workers, GM retirees, and investors) is if GM can make headway in the original $1500 perception gap. This doesn't mean GM needs to go convincing every Camry owner to switch to an Impala. What it does mean is that when a GM customer goes into a dealership, they would think, "Wow I'm getting a great deal, and this is a nice car!" GM can then sell the car for more which would help resale value as well. If you take a look at other technology segments such as the Apple iPod and Google, my best guess on how GM would be to able to "WOW" the customers is to seduce them with engineering and features. Combine that with some top notch marketing and things could come around.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ford Accessorizer

All cars can be modified: Colors chosen and changed, parts bolted on or stripped out, etc. But most cars come from the factory looking just about like all of the others that came out before it, requiring the custom-minded customer to seek aftermarket help to put their own touch on their ride. Auto companies have met this demand with factory-supplied modifications that usually leave the car's existing warranty intact. Scion took this concept one step further by offering dealer-installed "aftermarket" parts, with optional time-of-purchase installation. On March 15, The Ford Motor Company will pull even with Scion, offering new car dealer-installed Genuine Ford Accessories.
Ford's plan revolves around an addition to their website, called the Accessorizer. This feature allows customers to install Genuine Ford Accessories to a new car online to instantly see the visual and financial results. Once the customer has finalized their creation, the site allows for the usual options of printing out the results or e-mailing them to a local dealer for a final price quote.
By making the customization process as easy as possible, Ford is hoping to snare potential customers for whom "stock" options just don't cut it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Giving them away!

In a recent NASCAR promotion, Chevy is giving away a Tahoe. This is not a normal Tahoe: This is a Tahoe actually built by Tony Stewart himself. "Chevrolet is America's brand and there is nothing more American than building Chevy trucks in Texas,” said Stewart. “It was a lot of fun building the all-new Tahoe, but somebody is going to have a lot more fun driving it.” This is advertised on a special web site where you can win a bunch of different prizes, including this truck.
Another championship-caliber celebritiy giving away cars is Tiger Woods. On Buick's home page you can sign up to win one of several special editon Buick Lucernes:
The Lucerne CXS ... features a black exterior and cashmere leather interior, a standard 275 horsepower 4.6L Northstar V-8 engine, a wood steering wheel and shift knob, 18-inch chrome wheels with a 10-spoke design, heated washer fluid, heated and cooled seats, Magnetic Ride Control, six standard air bags, a unique exhaust tip, spoiler and more. Tiger is autographing a plaque for the vehicle's interior.
For every tournament that tiger wins someone is going to win his car. Not a bad deal for Tiger either, since he'll be getting a new car to lug his golf bag in. Maybe if you win you'll get some left-over grass that fell out of his cleats in the carpet.
Seems like some good marketing. The American public generally listens to winners regardless of how blatent the advertsing. Tony Stewert does actually use chevy products to win his races though.

Intrusive Advertising

Marketers of all products and services are in a constant battle with themselves and each other for the finite attention of consumers. There is an impossibly fine line between unnoticeably quiet and offensively loud, and there is a marked trend to err on the side of excessive volume.
The idea of sponsorship is a good one: Make known the products used by professionals, and the rest of us will follow suit. An example of this is the OZ Racing rims on all IRL and Champ cars. Sponsors paying for real estate on the cars themselves is certainly nothing new, and for the most part this practice is inoffensive.
However, on occasion things wander off of the acceptability path clear into the field of ridiculous. A well-documented example of this is a NASCAR driver's victory interview, where each of the 22 major sponsors is given credit for the win in an unintelligible mumble. Another example that came to my attention recently is in Champ Car, the full name of which is actually The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered By Ford. Not to mention the inescapable grammatical error, this name is so long and cumbersome that it is frequently shortened, both in print and in the minds of the audience. The result of this is the disassociation of the brands Bridgestone and Ford, negating much of the marketing value of the sponsorship. The problem only gets worse when the name of a race is included, such as The Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered By Ford Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach season opener. This ridiculous name is commonly referred to simply as the Long Beach GP, taking all of the brand names right out, including that of the series.
Race sponsorship, such as the Toyota Grand Prix, can work if done tastefully. Even appending "Powered By Ford" to the end of the series name is clever. But the mess that results from Naming By Committee is something that both viewers and sponsors would be best off avoiding.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Overactive Adrenaline Disorder

Ford has just kicked off its latest advertising campaign with a series of mock educational materials surrounding Overactive Adrenaline Disorder. This condition, originally detected in Ford Racing drivers, occurs when an above-average need for adrenaline goes unfed.
The campaign is fairly extensive, including print and TV ads, and a website where users can perform a self-diagnosis to see if they are affected. The cure, of course, is the purchase of a new Ford Fusion, which is apparently an incredible source of adrenaline.
Obviously tied in to Ford's NASCAR campaign, the campaign would seem to make sense. However, while Karl Edwards may drive a formula car with "FUSION" stickers on it, the Fusion is by no means the best source of adrenaline within the Ford Motor Company(Shelby Mustang, anyone?). The end result is a good effort that produced an ad campaign that works well in a box, but makes little sense when brought out into the real world.

Friday, February 17, 2006

FreeStream T1

Evidently tiring of the lack of common ground between top-tier race cars and road cars, a team of British engineers are developing the FreeStream T1. Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead have moved on from their prior careers working on the McLaren F1 and McLaren/Mercedes SLR road cars to team up with legendary designer Gordon Murray in pursuit of a true road-going race car.
Bearing a striking resemblance to modern LeMans prototypes, the T1 appears to be very nearly an F1 car with fenders. Not content to merely deliver blistering speed, the T1 promises unmatched 3+g grip levels. Regardless of the unlikelihood of US legality, the mere production of the T1 should excite even the most jaded supercar enthusiasts.

FreeStream T1

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lucerning Differences

So I know what your thinking: Why didn't GM axe Buick with Oldsmobile? I would say that Buick is the most underrated car company today. In terms of GM brands, Buick doesn't have any Supercars, Convertibles, or Muscle Cars to spice up the brand. Nobody refers to things as "The Buick of Blenders". You don't get your first job out of college and say "I'm going right to the Buick dealer to buy my first brand new car". However Buick, whether you want to believe it or not, is a top tier manufacturer in terms of quality. J.D. Powers puts Buick fourth on the list of quality of ownership after 90 days, just behind Lexus, Jaguar, and BMW. J.D. also listed Buick fourth behind Lexus, Porsche, and Lincoln for quality of ownership after 3 years. Yup, those facts are correct. The Lucerne's biggest competitor is the Toyota Avalon. Forget the myth of Japanese built cars being infallible and unstoppable (by even meteors!). In 2005 the Avalon was recalled because a number of them had un-welded steering mechanisms. Why don't you see that on the evening news? It seems like whenever a Ford gets a paint chip it's on the 8:00 news. The Lucerne is a car of a dying pedigree. As upscale luxury cars are trying to copy BMW and Mercedes with super stiff suspensions and performance features, the Buick still has a large trunk, a large interior, and a comfortable, luxurious ride. And unlike a lot of so-called luxury cars it comes with an available V8. I'm not sure how people get away with calling V6s luxury cars. Luxury isn't having to drop 2 gears on the highway to pass someone. Heck even Tiger Woods rolls around in a Buick. Tiger makes hundreds of millions a year; He could drop Buick and take sponsorship with Lexus if he wanted. Tiger likes a nice comfortable ride with a trunk big enough for 4 golf bags. He isn't fooling himself thinking he's driving an F1 car to the golf course and the grocery store. The Lucerne is an instant classic car, however, we will see if anyone buys them.

The answer to last week's trivia question is: 1992 was the last year in which GM cut its dividends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Girls Can Drive Champ Cars, Too

Following several successful tests for Kevin Kalkhoven, Katherine Legge has been given a full-time ride at PKV Racing. She will be the fourth woman to drive a Champ Car, but more importantly she's one of several talented rookies moving up from the Atlantic series. Katherine had a successful road racing career in her home country of England, and should be very competitive in the 2006 Champ Car season.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What's In A Name, II

Lincoln recently announced that they are dropping the easy-to-pronounce and heritage-rich "Zephyr" name in favor of "MKZ."
The advantages of Lincoln avoiding alphanumeric names has been previously discussed, but this case is a mistake for additional reasons. Cadillac has shown us that replacing the name of an existing model with a series of letters can work if done properly, but Cadillac made the change to models that were years into their production. The resulting letter combinations were easy for prospective customers to relate to the old names. Lincoln released a bold, new car as the fresh face of Lincoln, and has drastically changed its name just over a year later. This will undoubtedly cause customer confusion which Lincoln may not be able to afford, furthered by the fact that the MKZ moniker brings the names of all three new Lincolns within one letter of each other.
If there is good news regarding the MKZ, it is that for 2007 it gets a new 3.5 liter V6, an AWD option, and other upgrades. Still, none of that will matter much if customers can't keep the names straight.
Lincoln MKZ

I'm glad someone agrees with me; Like Cassio Cortes of Racer magazine, for example. He brings up the good point that not only are there loads of alphanumeric cars already out there, but MKX, MKZ, and MKS are all very similar to a few competitors. At least enough that Honda is suing Ford because MKX is a little too similar to Acura's MDX for their liking.
This whole Lincoln naming fiasco has earned top What Were You Thinking marks in my book.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Vehicles of the Corn Part II

You have to visit the Cornulator.

Honda Element: Dull at Parties

Recently a new radio commercial for the Honda Element has been getting a lot of air time. The premise is that an Element and a platypus are conversing at a dinner party, "held by a mutual friend." This potentially-humorous idea is played out by two monotone voices which totally suck any life right out of the commercial. The spot is also seen on TV and is available on the web (click on "Platypus" in the bottom-right), so you can go check it out for yourself.
I'm sure the script seemed funny and left a few ad staffers laughing out-loud, but the voices chosen for the final cut make for a terribly boring conversation.
Ultimately, the message conveyed by the ad is arguably accurate, but less than flattering: the Honda Element is dull, awkward, and doesn't live up to the hype shoveled upon it by others.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Slashed and Divided

Answer to last weeks trivia: Corvettes have been built in Lancing, St. Louis, and Bowling Green(current production).

This week GM announced that it is dropping their dividend payout in half. This is good because it will save millions of dollars. However, this has caused some banks to advice their stockholders to sell the stock. Another cost cutting measure taken is that Wagner has cut his own salary in half and the executive's salaries across the board between 30 and 10%. Overall this will save the company approximately 500 million a year. Thats a far cry from the 8 billion in profit lost in 2005. However, its more of a PR stunt so that people dont say, "Maybe they wouldn't have to fire all those employees if the executives took a pay cut!". Wagner should probally follow the lead of Ford's CEO and take a 100% paycut for himself until they become profitable again. There is still a lot of work to be done this year to make up that 8 billion dollar gap. With a brand new SUV line added to an already solid lineup of cars it would seem a bit of key marketing this year could put them in a position to cut their deficit in half or even more. If not expect to see GMAC sold off pretty quick to stave off bankrupcy.

This weeks trivia question: In what year was the last time GM has cut its divdends?
The answer can be found in next week's post.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ferrari Returns to ALMS

Having skipped the 2004 season, Ferrari will once again compete in the ALMS: Risi Competizione will field two 430 GTs in the GT2 class. Although not of the same caliber as the LeMans-winning Prodrive 550 Maranellos, the 430 GTs will nonetheless add some much-needed competition to GT2. Despite Panoz' best efforts, GT2 had essentially become a Porsche Parade, and the addition of the Risi Ferraris is a welcome one that will be exciting to watch.

Ferrari 430GT

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Corvette Origins

1953 Vega RoadsterAnswer to last week's trivia question: 1953 Vega Roadster. This car was displayed at the latest Barrett-Jackson auction. There is some debate between the Street Level crew weather or not this could be considered a concept car for the T-Bird. You be the judge. "This one off prototype was commissioned by Ford Motor Company and financed by Henry Ford II. Willys Wagner, stylist for the International Division of Ford Motor Company and the legendary Indy racecar designer Frank Kurtis awarded the project to automotive designer Vince Gardner. Vince's resume includes Studebaker, Ford, Budd car body manufacturer, and most notably, the Auburn Automobile Company design department under the direction of Gordon Buehrig, the design team responsible for the famed Cord 810. Vince's influences from his days at the Auburn Automobile Company are clearly evident in the Vega's (Cord like) disappearing headlights. Vince spent over 2 years building the lightweight aluminum bodied roadster. Henry Ford would check on the progress and sometimes bring his celebrity friends, Groucho Marx and Red Skelton. Howard Hughes also paid a visit. Upon the cars completion, Ford Motor Company summoned the "one off" Vega roadster back to Dearborn to celebrate the firms 50th anniversary. Ford displayed the Vega for several years at its Rotunda Exhibition Hall in Dearborn. Then it slipped into obscurity. However, not before a seed was planted. While strolling through the 1953 Paris Auto Show, Henry Ford II, first acknowledged interest in building his own two seat roadster, which would become the 55 Thunderbird.'' - Barrett-Jackson

This week's trivia: Name the three different cities in which corvettes have been produced. Lets not get cute and talk about how someone may have built one in their garage. I'm talking about normal production corvette plants.

Monday, January 30, 2006

James Bond will return...

That's right boys and girls, James Bond is returning. Being a fan of the series of movies, I have always noticed the cars of Bond as well as the girls. I've seen Bond in many different cars, Lotus, BMW, and even an AMC. In this new Bond movie scheduled for November release Bond will return to an Aston Martin. This time in the all new Aston Martin DBS. Ever since the beginning with Sean Connery and to now with Daniel Craig, Bond is behind the wheel of pure class and power. I hope to enjoy this new Bond.

Variable Valve Timing Pushrod V6

Chevy's Malibu Maxx flies quietly under the radar of the general public. It is a low-key pseudo-wagon with lots of utility, but not a lot of excitement. It is available in SS trim which raises the bar slightly, but it is hardly the favorite of tuners or street racers, despite having a fairly generous 240hp available.
One very underrated feature of the Malibu Maxx is the equipment used to generate that power. Based on Chevy's 3.5 liter V6, the 3.9 in the Maxx doesn't appear to be anything special with its iron block and pushrod design. However, closer inspection reveals variable valve timing for both intake and exhaust.
This marks the first instance of variable valve timing in a pushrod engine, and is a very exciting development considering cars like the Corvette have yet to take advantage of this technology. It will certainly open up options for powertrain engineers looking to boost the power and efficiency of their pushrod engines.Chevrolet Malibu Maxx EngineChevrolet Malibu Maxx

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Top Down

The answer to last week's trivia is, 613 Lamborghinis were sold in 2005.

After going to my local dealer and sitting in a Pontiac Solstice, I have got riled back up about convertibles. I miss my old convertible. Its a car that looks even more beautiful in person. The extreme round front is not as pronounced when your standing over, looking down on the car. It is unfortunate that a front license plate is required in Massachusetts. Pontiac is nice enough to supply a bracket, however I'm sure drilling is required to get it in there. The whole car is very elegant, which is not what you think of when you say Pontiac. When you think of Pontiac generally you think of huge hood bulges and giant fender flares. The one part of the car that does follow in gaudy Pontiac tradition is the 245mm wide tires. Holy crap is that huge for a 2 seat roadster from the factory. For comparison the GTO Pontiac also sells comes with 245mm tires as well. The inside is big. There should be no problem for those of us who have long legs. All this for $20 to $24k.

This week's trivia/Google questions is:

Name the 2 seat roadster prototype and year which eventually evolved into the highest selling 2 seat roadster in Ford's company history. Email your answers here.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Back in September, I saw something a little strange on I-10 in Los Angeles. It looked like a RAV4 from the back, and a squashed Wrangler from the front:
Ssangyong Korando RearOn closer examination, you can see it is a Ssangyong Korando, with a Michigan dealer plate:
Ssangyong Korando Rear CloseSsangyong Korando Front QuarterSsangyong Korando FrontSsangyong Korando Front FarSsangyong has very little presence on the Internet, so digging up information was rather difficult. I managed to find a few reviews, and most of them are surprisingly favorable. It seems the truck is built in Korea, and in fact Ssangyong is Korea's fourth-largest auto maker. The obvious resemblance to the Jeep Wrangler is apparently intentional, as the truck was drawn up by a Professor of the Royal College of Art in London who used the WWII Willys Jeep as his basic theme. I would have thought the seven-slot grille and round headlights would have brought the wrath of Jeep, but it has somehow escaped. The Korando uses Mercedes engines, and Borg Warner transmissions and transfer cases. Daimler had a stake in Ssongyang (possibly explaining Jeep's tolerance), but has since sold its stake to Daewoo, the majority shareholder.
None of this explains what one was doing wearing Michigan dealer plates navigating morning rush hour in Los Angeles. It was possibly on a shakedown run in preparation for an entry into the U.S. market, or it could have been on some kind of comparison test for an auto publication, but I couldn't find any mention of it anywhere online. Nonetheless, an interesting sight during the morning commute.

What's In A Name?

Lincoln has recently unveiled four new vehicles: the Zephyr, the Mark LT, the MKX, and the MKS. These last two in particular have given rise to some criticism of Lincoln's naming scheme. While some car companies have had great success with alphanumeric naming schemes, BMW and Lexus come to mind, Lincoln has not been one of them. Much has been made recently of the plight of U.S. automakers and their fight against their foreign rivals, and one of the few things U.S. automakers like Lincoln have over their competition is heritage. While the offerings of the 80's are what let the competition take hold in the first place, the offerings before then are legendary, and almost exclusively American.
Lincoln seems to have realized the importance of this heritage by bringing back the Zephyr name: The Zephyr was originally offered in the 1930's and was in fact the car that made Lincoln financially successful. The names Continental and Town Car are classic Lincoln. Before the mediocrity of the 80's, these names had 50 years of history and heritage behind them.
Regardless of Cadillac's apparent success in the switch from names like DeVille and Seville to DTS and STS, Lincoln appears to need all the help it can get and it would seem wise to remind people as much as possible of the days when a Continental was something you wanted to work towards. As much as someone may aspire to someday own a 760Li, S600, or LS430, I think Lincoln would do better to try to add Continental or Town Car back to the list, rather than MKS.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Domestic v. Foreign

Jeff Olsen recently published an article on discussing Toyota's entry into the NASCAR world and the fan reaction to it. Mr. Olsen notes that this reaction has been mostly positive, and he surmises this is because NASCAR fans, "perhaps better than any demographic group - understand what's happening in the automotive industry," which is that Toyota is now manufacturing models in Indiana, while Ford and GM have plants outside the country. Mr. Olsen concludes that the line between foreign and domestic manufacturers has been blurred, and buying a Toyota is just as helpful to the American economy as buying a Ford or Chevy.
What Mr. Olsen doesn't seem to take into account is the difference between assembly line jobs and upper level (R&D, management) jobs. While Toyota may have factories in Indiana, their corporate offices are in Japan, and Toyota is certainly a foreign company.
Buying a Toyota is hardly the same as mailing cash overseas: many mutual funds include Toyota stock, and Toyota pours a fairly large amount of cash back into U.S. operations. However, the majority of Toyota's profits go home to Japan.
While the UAW may be thrilled that Toyota has opened so many jobs for them, the overall state of the U.S. economy is not aided by the proliferation of Camrys and Corollas, while it is rather directly linked to the success of both GM and Ford.
Mr. Olsen seems to share the rather popular opinion that the American auto industry is in no real danger, nor is it linked in any real way to the U.S. economy. The reality of the situation is that stereotypes brought on by inferior product in the 80's, along with aggressive and deceptive marketing by Toyota and other foreign manufacturers today, have put Ford and GM in very real financial danger. Further, the health of these two companies is extremely important to the health of the U.S. economy as a whole.
As always, chosing a vehicle that is the best solution for your particular needs is a smart move. Perhaps, however, country of origin should carry more weight in the decision than has previously been necessary.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Australian V8 Supercars

Recently several racing series have come under fire for a relative lack of excitement. Both F1 and NASCAR have gotten the "boring" tag, and attendance for IRL and Champ Car events has been dismal. One series that is unquestionably exciting, however, is the Australian V8 Supercar series. The cars are Holden Commodores, which are the basis for the current GTO, and Ford Falcons, a similar offering that Ford inexplicably does not bring to the U.S. Near 30 of these V8 sedans blast around road courses in Australia in races of varying lengths. Some of the races are 50 lap sprints, and some are 150 lap endurance events including driver changes and brake pad swaps. The cars are incredibly durable, backing out of tire barriers and driving through fairly massive collisions. Tire-smoking burnout 180s are the most common way to get cars turned the right way after a spin. The racing is also incredibly close, with frequent passing all over the track and tight finishes. The series is literally a reminder of why I enjoy auto racing so much, and I would highly recommend checking it out if you have the chance. Speed Channel has recently begun showing this season's races, and their coverage is excellent. Borrowing the feed from an Australian channel, the races are edited to essentially skip caution periods without losing race continuity. Absent Speed Channel, the V8 Supercar website has video highlights from races of past seasons, and they are definitely worth a look.

Totaled Up

According to Autonews GM has sold almost more than double the amount of cars and light trucks than Toyota has in the US in 2005. 4,454,385 to 2,260,296. Worldwide GM has sold 9.17 million vehicles. Toyota which sold 8.1 million cars. Worldwide sales figures, however, are misleading whereas Toyta sells lots of small cheap cars not seen here in the states. Even if toyota overtakes GM in total sales GM will still be king of gross, the total amount of money, sales.

Now its trivia/google search time. Please guess or find the total number of Lamborghini sales for 2005. Please email entries here with subject as Street Level Trivia. A winner will be announced Jan 24th.
*Edit* Total number of Lamborghini's sold in 2005: 613.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Toyota Sued For Patent Infringement

Solomon Technologies, Inc. has filed a complaint against the Toyota Motor Corporation with the US International Trade Commission in addition to action already filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida. According to the claims, technology used in Toyota's hybrid powertrains infringes on a patent held by Solomon.
The end result may see Toyota unable to import its current hybrids, which would of course be a fairly serious blow. While a monetary settlement is much more likely, this should be interesting to watch in any case.

Danica Patrick To Race In 24 Hours Of Daytona

Danica Patrick will join the likes of Rusty Wallace, Boris Said, and Allen McNish to drive the Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Patrick is an IRL regular but got her start in karting and should be able to hold her own on Daytona's road course. Wallace is a retired NASCAR ace who specialized in short tracks but had an impressive road-race record. Said and McNish are road-racing regulars, making this a fairly well-rounded team. It is also a marketing gimmie-shot as Patrick and Wallace should draw eyes that may not normally watch the arguably ugly Daytona prototype cars drone around for 24 straight hours.


While Boris Said was originally listed as the fourth driver, Howard Boss Motorsports has announced that Jan Lammers will take his place, citing "size limitations." This may sound trivial, however the height difference between Said at 6'4" and Patrick at 5'2" is not slight. Most multi-driver race cars have slightly adjustable seats, but 14" of travel is simply not possible. Lammers has won the Daytona 24 twice, finished third last year, and is certainly an appropriate replacement for Said.

Passive Vs. Active Safety

CNN recently reported on a study done by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia which gives us the shocking revelation that while SUVs have certain size-related safety benefits, those benefits are offset by their tendency to roll over in accidents.
This rehashes the difference between active and passive safety. Passive safety is the ability of a vehicle to absorb damage without adversely affecting its occupants. Crumple zones, seat belts, and general heft are means to this end, with SUVs and other large vehicles standing as examples. Active safety, on the other hand, is the ability of the vehicle to avoid the danger in the first place. Nimble handling and computer controlled stability systems contribute to this, as demonstrated by smaller, sportier cars.
While both are obviously important, it would seem to make sense that if the goal is to reduce and minimize injury, avoiding the accidents in the first place would be more effective.

Super Aguri F1 Team

Formula 1 could now have 11 teams competing for the World Championship. The Super Aguri F1 team needs only the FIA's approval, and to place a small, mandatory $48 million deposit to be allowed to enter. This 11th team, while providing much-needed expansion to the F1 field, brings to light an up-until-recently-insignificant rule: only the top 10 constructors get to share in F1's TV rights money. Since the TV rights money is the primary source of income for teams of limited success, this may quickly lead back to a 10-team field as the lowest-rank team may not be able to fund another season sans TV rights money.
Either way, in the meantime it should make for some exiting racing as 22 cars take to each track.

Super Aguri F1 Logo

F1 Rules Changes

Formula 1 draws polarizing reactions from those who have seen it recently. Some are in awe of the technology that allows the cars their blistering speed. Some are bored by their lack of relevance to anything on real roads, and even more are tired of the almost total lack of real competition, with each team essentially stuck in whichever position they start each race in.
In an attempt to retain the die-hard fans, as well as bring back the bored masses, the FIA has settled on a number of significant rules changes designed to liven the competition in various ways. The cars will look significantly different, as the rear wings will be split in the middle. This will allow for a smoother wake behind the cars, which will in theory allow trailing cars to follow closer, facilitating passing. The cars will also run slick tires, allowing for much greater mechanical grip. Coupled with some aerodynamic adjustments, this will again allow for closer running and more passing. Another goal of the changes is to reduce costs, hopefully attracting more teams while keeping those currently running. Larger fields would obviously make for more exciting races.
As an F1 fan, I am very excited to see what effect these rules have on the series. Formula 1 has long thought of itself as the pinnacle of motorsports. With any luck these changes will start to convince the rest of the world of the same.

F1 In Germany

Given the popularity of Michael Schumacher in F1, one would think that Germany would have no problem sustaining the two grands prix it currently hosts. Unfortunately, this appears to not be the case. According to SpeedTV, Germany may be looking to consolidate it's race dates, leaving each venue with one race every other year.
Regardless of exciting new rules changes and the formation of new teams, dropping race dates is never a sign of good health for a race series.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Billy Draws The Line

William Clay Ford, chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company has announced that his company will hold on to its market share in 2006. The automaker has been losing market share every year for the past five years and Mr. Ford has vowed that this is the end of the line. Of course losing market share isn't always a bad thing. The highest volume manufacturer is not always the most profitable manufacturer, which partially explains why this vow to hold on to market share can be viewed as a change of strategy rather than simply stating the obvious. In recent years Ford allowed market share to slip at times when retaining it would have caused losses. Back in 2002 when William Ford replaced Jacques Nasser as CEO of Ford this strategy made a lot of sense. The company was reeling from a $5.5 billion loss in 2001 and it was crucial to show a profit quickly, even if it meant sacrificing market share. Today Ford's most visible setback (besides having its debt rating cut to junk status) is losing the distinction of being the world's second largest car manufacturer. Toyota recently surpassed Ford in global sales, leaving Ford in the number three slot. Holding on to its number two position in the US market probably seems rather important now, and might even be worth sacrificing profits for. However Mr. Ford insists that they won't be buying the market share with hefty discounts and incentives but will win it through their strong product line.

If this all sounds a little familiar, think back a few years to the period when GM made a whole lot of noise about its intentions to reach 30 percent domestic market share. After years of slipping they wanted to climb back up to what they considered a reasonable share, and intended to get there through sustainable business practices. All of the executives wore gold pins advertising their intent to hit the thirty percent mark. After a while it became clear that they would never even crack twenty seven percent and the pins quietly went away.

Does Ford have a better shot? Arguably yes. Its product line is the best it has been in years, and the company seems to have a good idea of what its customers want. But competition from both domestics and imports is fierce, and Ford will have to work hard to hold on to the market share it has.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Volkswagens New Crossover

Volkswagen has unveiled a new crossover to their potential lineup. This new vehicle is a half car and half motorcycle. The GX3 is the crossovers current name. Powered by a 1.6L 4 cylinder engine with 125HP this baby is made for the mean streets of the city. With an amazing 46 MPG rating and the top speed of 125MPH this pocket rocket can move. This not-so-standard vehicle is made to get your blood moving. Designed with the cityscape in mind, the GX3 is made to corner and power down the road. The estimated price tag of this machine would be less than $17000. Not too bad for a modified motorcycle with two seats.
From what the statistics read, this odd machine weighs in at lean 1257lbs which gives it a very nice power to weight ratio of 10 lbs/hp. The 5.7s 0-60 MPH isn't have bad either. Still keep in my mind that at 46 MPG this rocket is pretty impressive. Take a look at the link below for some photos and more detailed information.

Volkswagen GX3

Ford Hybrid Leadership

As of a November 9th press release, Ford offered two models with hybrid drivetrain options and had plans for two more. Two of these models are SUVs, and the other two are mid-size cars. Ford also announced that hybrid Escapes would be serving taxi duty in New York City.
At the time of the release, Ford was producing 24,000 hybrid vehicles annually, with plans to produce 250,000 hybrids per year by 2010.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Cost of Doing Business

Daimler Chrysler, BMW, and VW do not seem to have any concern with the US environment or US laws. BMW paid $12 million in fines, DC paid $8.5 million, VW paid $3.4 million. The current CAFE laws require an average fleet gas milage to be obtained. 27.5 mpg for cars and 21.8 mpg for light trucks. It does not seem like any of these companies are really concerned with complying to the laws. If an American company had been breaking pollution laws in Germany you would see public outcry and possibly a complaint with the WTO. I propose law makers take the oppurtunity to raise fines for companies who are repeat offenders. Apparently the current fines are not heavy enough to cause a change of action.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Chevy vs. Ford

There is no American rivalry that can match that of Chevy vs. Ford. Not Coke vs. Pepsi, PC vs. Mac, Burger King vs. McDonalds... not even Yankees vs. Red Sox. No two groups fight harder over the hearts and dollars of the American public than Chevy and Ford, each of which sell over two and a half millions vehicles every year in the United States. Today, as imports take an ever increasing portion of the market, Chevrolet and Ford are still at each others' throats, battling for the title of US sales champ. Since 1986 Ford has held the top postion, aided by its strong truck and SUV sales and by GMs decision to send half of it's pick-up customers to GMC, deflating Chevrolet's sales. For 2005 it seems the tables turned and Chevrolet is once again on top of the heap, outselling Ford by 17,084 units. But GM cannot afford to rest on it's laurels. Nor can Ford spend time licking its wounds. Toyota is nipping at the heals of the American automakers, selling 2.2 million units in 2005. That's about four hundred thousand units behind Chevrolet and Ford, and only 300 thousand behind Daimler Chrysler.

Of course there's more to be concerned with than just the American market. Ford was recently surpassed by Toyota as the world's second biggest automaker. GM and Ford are both losing ground in the global market while Toyota continues to thrive. Will we see a new global sales leader by the end of the decade? It's too early to tell, but it's definitely not out of the question.

Corn Fueled Trucks

GM is currently selling the Avalanche, Tahoe, Suburban, and Yukon with engines that can run on gasoline or ethanol (E85) or a mixture of both. Ethanol comes from from corn grown right in the US.

"E85 is the term for motor fuel blends of 85 percent ethanol and just 15 percent gasoline. E85 is an alternative fuel as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy. Besides its superior performance characteristics, ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline; it is a completely renewable, domestic, environmentally friendly fuel that enhances the nation's economy and energy independence."

Unlike the "hybrid" bandaids which still use a normal gasoline mixture. GM's solution is an actual difference maker in the transition from foreign oil to domestic fuel.

Challenger Reborn

Ever since the emissions and economy laws of the late sixties and early seventies brought the power wars to a screeching, eye watering halt, enthusiasts have bemoaned the loss of the classic American muscle car. Gone were the thundering big-block V8s wedged into undersized coupes. Gone were the aggressive lines and sinister stance that advertized Detroit's unabashed infatuation with high powered cars. Sure the Mustang, Camaro and Firebird lived on, but the spirit had faded.

Today modern technology has allowed manufacturers to deliver the power we crave with none of the emissions we detest. Why then, one might ask, can't they simply bring back the cars so adored by the American public? Indeed why not? And so they have. Chrysler probably deserves credit for kicking off the modern age of retro styling. Its Prowler arrived in 1997, delivering the styling of a classic hot-rod melded with the performance and reliability one can expect from a modern chassis and powertrain. Others soon followed, pilfering their own (and others') heritage for shapes and lines that stir passion in consumers' hearts. The New Beetle, the PT Cruiser, the Mini, the HHR, the Mustang... the list goes on.

Now Chrysler is at it again, bringing us perhaps the most cleanly and gorgeously re-interpreted car yet. The Dodge Challenger. Unlike the new Mustang which borrowed styling cues from several generations and integrated them into a new design, the Challenger concept is a straight-forward remake of the 1970 Challenger. It delivers the lines and stance of the original car, in a thoroughly modern package, backed by a proven chassis and drivetrain. This isn't "building it like the used to." this is better.

For now it's only a concept, but recent years have shown that making the leap to production is not something to bet against. Chrysler says that if the car gets the response they're looking for, it could be in production by 2009. Only time will tell how long the retro movement will last, but for now let's hope DC has the good sense to put this stunning car into production.