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.