Tuesday, March 31, 2009

General Motors EV1

Most people are not familiar with the Saturn EV1 now called the GM EV1. which was the first modern production electric vehicle from a major automaker. It was also the most recent fully electric car produced by General Motors in the United States.

Introduced in 1996, The EV1 electric cars were available in California and Arizona with a 3 year/30,000 mile lease only agreement. This was because the EV1 and its leasees were to be participants in a "real-world" engineering evaluation created by GM's Advanced Technology Vehicles group. GM was doing a market analysis and feasibility study as to the feasibility of producing and marketing a electric car in the U.S.

The EV1 was directly based on a prototype vehicle created by AeroVironment called the GM Impact. The Impact in turn had been based on design ideas first tested out in a record-breaking race car called the Sunraycer, a solar-electric vehicle the company created in 1987 specifically to win the World Solar Challenge, a trans-Australia race open to solar powered cars only.

All this effort was a result of the ZEV Mandate which required by 1998, 2% of all new cars sold by the seven major auto manufacturers in the state of California were to meet 'zero emission' standards as defined by the California Air Resources Board and 10% by 2003. The California ZEB mandate was subsequently cancelled.

The EV1 was discontinued after 1999, with all examples subsequently removed from the roads in 2003 by General Motors and crushed, except for a select few kept for educational purposes or as museum pieces. The car's discontinuation remains controversial.

In late 2003, GM officially canceled the EV1 program. GM stated that it could not sell enough of the cars to make the EV1 profitable. GM alleges that the EV1 cost GM $1 billion dollars. This, combined with the fact that their parts and service infrastructure costs required to maintain the existing EV1's for the state legislated minimum of 15 years, would mean the existing leases would not be renewed and all the cars would have to be returned to GM's possession.

According to GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, his worst decision of his tenure at GM was "axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. It didn’t affect profitability, but it did affect image." Wagoner repeated his assertion after the December 2008 Senate hearings on the U.S. auto industry bailout request.

According to the March 13, 2007, issue of Newsweek, "GM R&D chief Larry Burns . . . now wishes GM hadn't killed the plug-in hybrid EV1 prototype his engineers had on the road a decade ago: 'If we could turn back the hands of time,' says Burns, 'we could have had the Chevy Volt 10 years earlier.'"

A documentary film debuted entitled Who Killed the Electric Car?, which outlines the debate. Also, people who had leases on EV1's were refusing to turn their cars in after the lease ended, that should have indicated something to the GM brass.

My take is that the EV1 was a decade ahead of its time. GM basically looked at the numbers and figured that it had cost enough money $1 billion dollars. The problem is GM did not have the vision to fully develop the project. The battery was the limiting factor at the time, the EV1 did not have the driving range necessary to be a commuter for many people. If GM had the vision to complete this project, GM would still be the largest car company in the world with the profits to match.

GM and Ford Announce New Buyer Assurance Plans

I do not agree with many of the actions taken by President Obama, I applaud President Obama's actions with regard to the auto companies. He has acted boldly, swiftly and decisively. I did not vote for him but I have been impressed with his leadership ability. These are difficult times and it requires substantial actions to get us thru these difficult economic times. The banks and AIG should have been handled in a similar manner to the auto companies.

The same needs to said of the leaders of our troubled companies. Today, Fritz Henderson the new CEO for GM announced its "Total Confidence" program. The Total Confidence program will make up to nine payments for up to $500 if the buyer is laid off during the first year of ownership. Customers do have to qualify for state unemployment to be eligible for the program.The program appears to be testing the waters, since it is effective from April 1 thru April 30th.

Ford Motor Co. also announced a similar program Tuesday, which will take over customer's payment of up to $700 a month for a year in the event of job loss. The Ford program goes thru June 1st.

These programs are similar to the Hyundai's program which has limited severe declines in their sales via a creative incentive for its customers. Hyundai will cover a new vehicle's depreciation if customers return a car within 12 months because they are unable to make payments due to a job loss, disability etc. GM's U.S. sales declined 51 percent and Ford's U.S. sales were down 44 percent in the first two months of 2009, compared to a market that declined 39 percent overall. Hyundai's sales rose 5 percent over the period.

These type of programs directly impact buyers concerns about the future. Buyers lack confidence that they will have their jobs in a few months, so why would someone buy a car under that scenario. People are also concerned about buying a car from a bankrupt company.

My take is that the U.S. based companies need to be aggressive to reassure their buyers that they are going to survive and prosper. GM and Ford should have instituted these programs originally, not in reaction to Hyundai's program.

Monday, March 30, 2009

White House Shreds Auto Restructing Plans

President Obama today announced that they have turned down the restructuring plans submitted by General Motors and Chrysler. GM apparently did not meet certain promises made in exchange for the $13.4 billion in government loans. Obama cited a failure in leadership in Detroit and Washington. My February 16th post GM Time To Pay the Piper outlines GM's misfortunes.

Apparently, the automotive task force was not convinced that the revised plans were viable, therefore the auto companies should not receive additional bailout money.

There have been over 400,000 jobs lost in the automobile sector in the last year. That includes manufacturers, dealers, and suppliers. Currently, Michigan which has the most automobile employees has over 10% unemployment.

“We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish,” the president indicated in his speech. Obama will give GM 60 days to submit a new viability plan meanwhile providing operating money to GM. The automobile task force will find new management for GM, CEO Rick Wagoner was asked to resign yesterday. Fritz Henderson, GM's President and Chief Operating Officer will be the new CEO. New directors will now make up the majority of the GM Board of Directors If the new restructuring plan is approved permanent loans will follow.

Chrysler has less time than GM, they must reach a deal with Fiat SpA within thirty days. Fiat will be allowed to buy up to 35% of the struggling automaker. The Fiat deal would give Chrysler some small car designs with good fuel economy. Fiat would get stock for transferring the technology. If Chrysler is successful $6 billion in permanent loans would follow.

It is possible that if one or both companies do not put together a successful business plan, the auto task force will sponsor a structured bankruptcy. This would allow the companies to operate, reduce debt and restructure without fear of creditors.

This is a sad day for the auto industry! There will probably be many more people laid off due to this severe downturn. I am of the opinion that a government sponsored bankruptcy is the only way to get either of the companies turned around. GM will probably survive in a much smaller reorganization, Chrysler may not survive!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

GM CEO Rick Wagoner

Rick Wagoner, Jr. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors has resigned today as Chairman and CEO at General Motors at the request of the White House. The U.S. government will announce plans for restructuring of GM and Chrysler tomorrow. During Wagoner's unsuccessful tenure as CEO of General Motors, the market capitalization of GM has gone down by more than 90%.

In 1992, he was named GM's chief financial officer, in 1994 he became executive vice president and/or president of North American Operations, and in 1998 he was named president and chief operating officer. He became president and chief executive officer in June 2000 and was elected chairman on May 1, 2003. During his reign, GM shares have plummeted from around $60 in June 2000 to as low as $1.27 in March 2009, a loss of approximately 98%, and GM's share of North American cars sales went from 28.3% to 18.3%.

In an interview, Wagoner stated that the worst decision of his tenure at GM was "axing the Saturn EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. GM was at the forefront of electric automobiles with the EV1. It didn’t affect profitability, but it did affect image." The effect on the image was that the perception of GM changed from viewed as a technology innovator, into a perception of the company as having little interest in innovation. Meanwhile, serious competitors like Toyota were outperforming GM in nearly every measure. GM basically became a company that provided unexceptional cars in a market with a number of substantial competitors. GM, under Wagoner's leadership, failed to see clearly obvious trends.

My take is that Rick Wagoner should have been gone years ago! The fact that GM was mismanaged from the worlds largest car company from dominance in the auto world to begging for government bailouts is unthinkable. I find it hard to believe the that GM Board of Directors or the shareholders had not terminated him and selected someone else!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

2011 Tesla Model S

This is really really BIG NEWS! Tesla Motors announced the Model S will be available for sale in 2011, they have started taking orders. Most people that read my blog are familiar with the Tesla Roadster. Tesla is a U.S. company that is at the forefront of automotive technology. During the current economic difficulties they have a backlog of orders for their high technology vehicles. Actually, they are producing the cars of the future now! Click here to go to the Tesla Model S website!

The Model S is a four door sedan but it can carry seven people and travels 300 miles per charge. Also, Tesla indicates that the Model S can carry more cargo than many SUVs. Apparently, the powertrain is in the floor, which gives the Model S a substantial amount of cargo room, the space under the hood is used as a second trunk.
Actually, it might be the worlds first mass produced highway capable electric vehicle! That is as long as it beats General Motors Chevy Volt or the Toyota Prius plug in to the market first. The Model S is strictly battery powered, it does not have an engine. Production will be at a new plant in Hawthorne, California, which is close to the LA International Airport.

Here comes the best part! The Model S carries a charger on board, and the vehicle can be charged from any 120V, 240V or 480V outlet. Using the 480V outlet charges the batteries in forty five minutes. Tesla indicates that the vehicle can be driven across country similar to a regular gasoline car.

The 0-60 time is under six seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph. Pricing for the Model S starts at $57,400, a $7,500 federal tax credit helps to reduce the cost. Three different battery options will offer a range of 160, 230 or 300 miles.

Tesla is planning to come out with a model that costs $30,000. "Model S doesn’t compromise on performance, efficiency or utility -- it’s truly the only car you need,” said Tesla CEO, Chairman and Product Architect Elon Musk. “Tesla is relentlessly driving down the cost of electric vehicle technology, and this is just the first of many mainstream cars we’re developing.” Tesla is planning to open showrooms in London, New York, Miami, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Munich sometime this year.

My take on the Model S is this a game changer! It shows that a small company can produce a state of the art product with limited financing in an extremely difficult economic climate. This company will become a household name within the next couple of years. I will take mine in black!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fuel Economy Efficiency Standards Raised

One of the major issues of the last six months has been the world wide economic problems. It is apparent that actions taken in the United States have material impacts to the rest of the world. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke last week announced that the U.S. Federal Reserve was going to purchase U.S. Treasuries and toxic mortgages. That is great news for the banks!

Bernanke is well qualified for his position, graduating summa cum laude from Harvard with a bachelor of arts degreee. He received a PhD in economics from the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology in 1979. He has written a number of papers on the great depression and the methods for handling such an event. Basically, he is an intelligent well educated economist.
Apparently, Bernanke is prepared to throw everything at this crisis that he can! The net result over the long term will be that the dollar will go down in value versus other currencies. Inflation will be back, possibly even hyper inflation. That will also increase the price of oil since oil is purchased with dollars.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration plans to raise fuel economy standards for the new cars and trucks for the 2011 year. The increase is two miles per gallon which raises the standard to 27.3 mpg.

The new fuel efficiency standards should increase the average fuel economy for passenger cars to 30 mpg and 24 mpg for light trucks. The new standards will also cost the automakers an estimated $1.5 billion to implement.

China first implemented fuel efficiency standards in 2005, with more stringent standards in which started 2008. China is moving to control soaring oil consumption meanwhile requiring foreign automakers to share their latest fuel saving technologies.

The bottom line is that these actions in the long term will increase the price of fuel. So anyone purchasing a car should take into account that fuel prices will probably increase materially over the next several years.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Volkswagon CC

I would like to introduce you to a new car most people have not seen! The 2009 Wolkswagon CC, the CC stands for comfort coupe. It may be Volkswagon's most attractive car out of the current available models. Obviously, styling is the issue here! What is unique about the Volkswagon CC is that it is that Volkswagon is calling the car a four door coupe. Mercedes started this with the introduction of the Mercedes CLS coupe, which is another four door car that Mercedes refers to as a coupe. The reasoning behind this designation is that the vehicles have a coupe like silhouette. See the Car and Driver article.

The CC is based on the Passat architecture, so many of the parts are shared with the Passat. It only seats two in the back seat versus three in the Passat. The engines available are the 2.0 liter turbo four cylinder with 200 hp, a 3.6 liter V6 is an option and is rated at 280 hp. The acceleration for the four cylinder is 7.4 seconds 0-60 and 6.6 seconds for the six cylinder. The transmissions are a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.

The bottom line is that the CC is a more stylish version of a Passat. It basically drives well, with a firm Germanic ride. It is a competent vehicle and available for approximately $1200 less base price than a Passat, but can get expensive with a number of options. The CC will attract a lot of attention since it is an attractive car.
I do think that the cars designation as a coupe is rather absurd, nothing but a marketing gimmick.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jaguar XF

Today's post is about one of my favorite cars the Jaguar XF. I had a friend that had two Jaguars in the 1990’s. I inquired why he had two since he was single. He said that he really enjoyed his Jaguars but that he needed one to drive since the other was usually at the dealer for repairs. Since, then Jaguar quality has improved, see my post Jaguar And Buick Overtake Lexus On Quality.

The Jaguar XF was selected by
Car and Driver as one of the Ten Best for 2009. The XF is the first Jaguar ever picked for this award in the twenty seven years that Car and Driver have given out the awards.

The styling is radically different from the S-type that it replaced. Gone is the traditional British styling, instead there is a new aggressive stance. I have to admit to being partial to the traditional styling with my S-type. But, the new styling is attractive! Check out the
Ian Callum video who designed the XF, Ian Callum is an exceptional British designer. He designed the Aston Martin DB7, DB8, Vanquish, and Jaguar XK.

The driving dynamics of Jaguars has also changed during the period that Ford owned the brand. The XF is a now a dynamic, agile, athletic drive. The XF has a supple suspension meanwhile handling the curves beautifully.

The base 4.2 liter V-8 motor produces 300 hp, while the 4.2 liter V-8 supercharged has 420 hp. The 0-60 time on the supercharged motor is 6.2 seconds. The stopping distances are excellent at 70-0 in 155 ft.,which is sports car territory. For additional information see XF

The base price starts at $49,975, which is a good price compared to most of the competition, which have a V-6 equipped model to compete in that price range. The competition is the BMW 535i, Mercedes E350, Cadillac STS, Infinity M35, and the Acura RL. All of those models are rear wheel drive with the exception of the Acura RL.

Jaguar had been a financial drain on Ford Motor Company since Ford acquired Jaguar. But, Ford did have to put in a substantial amount of money to make the brand competitive. The bottom line is that they were successful!
The XF has brought Jaguar onto the world stage with a highly competitive and dependable car. In the end, I think that Ford will regret selling Jaguar to Tata Motors at a bargain basement price, just when Jaguar started paying dividends.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe

One of my blogging friends Positive Letters, requested is post on the Smart Fortwo. The Smart Fortwo is a cute, small, and economical car. The Smart is produced by Smart Gmbh, which is a brand owned by Daimler AG(Mercedes Benz). The Smart Fortwo is a rear-engined two-seater car which was introduced at the 1998 Paris Motor Show.

In September 2006, Daimler AG announced that Smart USA, a division of Penske Auto Group, would be the official distributor for Smart in the United States and Puerto Rico. The redesigned Smart Fortwo has been available since January 2008 in the USA. See Car and Driver article for more information.

The Smart Fortwo has a short wheelbase of 73.5 inches, which is four and one half feet shorter than the original Volkswagon Beetle. In combination with its 15 inch wheels results in a jarring ride. The Smart seats two people and weights 1815 pounds, and has approximately eight cubic feet of storage space.

Since the Smart is so light, safety is apparently a concern with most people. The car's core architecture is a body cage made of steel that Smart calls a "Tridion Safey Cell". The engine , battery and fuel tank are housed in impact protected zones that keep them from entering the cabin in a crash.

In May of 2008, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released crash test results for the Fortwo. The IIHS gave the Fortwo top ratings in protecting passengers in front and side crashes. However, the NHTSA cited a Safety Concern on their tests of a 2008 Fortwo, stating "during the side impact test, the driver door unlatched and opened. A door opening during a side impact crash increases the likelihood of occupant ejection." See the crash test video!

Numerous changes were made from the original model. Its Mercedes Benz power plant was replaced by a non-turbo Mitsubishi engine, with 70 hp, the interior made more luxurious, and the overall dimensions of the car increased. If your into speed this car is not for you with a 0-60 time of 14.4 seconds and a top speed of 90 MPH.

The 2009 model year US version of the Smart Fortwo is available in 3 trims: Pure (base trim), Passion, and Passion cabriolet. Pure has an MSRP of US $11,990, Passion has an MSRP of $13,990, and the Passion Cabriolet has an MSRP $16,990. A reservation program was launched by Smart USA in March, 2007. This program allowed interested parties to place a $99 refundable deposit on the new Fortwo in preparation for the product's launch. Since the product's launch, sales have surpassed production and the reservation program continues as a "wait list" program. The average wait is 12 to 18 months for delivery.

The Smart Fortwo was rated as the most fuel efficient two-seater car in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2008 Fuel Economy Guide, with fuel efficiency ratings of 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. The 2008 Smart Fortwo coupe was given an EPA fuel efficiency rating of 36 mpg.

My view on the Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe is that it is a good looking car. Definitely for someone that is looking for good gas economy or looking for a "green" vehicle. What I did not like about the car is the slow acceleration and the harsh ride.

Shown below is the original model which was produced from 1998-2007, and initially named the Smart City Coupe.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Economic Tsunami Hits Toyota

Toyota under a year ago was considered an automotive juggernaut and the largest company in Japan. Toyota was overtaking GM to become the worlds largest auto manufacturer with its Toyota, Psion and Lexus brands. Last month Toyota announced last month that it was posting its first annual net loss in 59 years, which is anticipated to be a $5 billion dollar loss for the year end March 31 st versus $37 billion dollar profit for 2008.

Due to the economic tsunami, Toyota has applied to the Japanese government for a multi-billion dollar loan. The company is seeking government help to hold off private investors demanding as much as 50% interest on the companies debt.

Toyota last month began an unprecedented production slowdown that called for reduced shifts and a 10 day closure of its 12 Japanese based plants. Also, it has fired 9000 contract workers which accounts for more than 10% of its 85,000 employees, with warnings that more layoffs are probable.

This cascading economic slowdown has flowed to Toyota City, were 80% of the people are employed in the automobile industry. It has an equally negative effect on revenue for the city with corporate taxes estimated to be down by 96%. Toyota City use to the envy of Japan with the lowest unemployment rate but now has the highest unemployment rate in the country.

Similar to the United States, auto suppliers are also in a critical stage. Many say that Toyota's production cuts will force bankrupcies unless they can qualify for government loans.

The bottom line is that this economic crisis is the most severe that I have seen since the 1950's. The world wide economic carnige will be wide and deep.

Please see the LA Times article by John M. Glionna for more information.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pontiac G8 GT

The Pontiac G8 GT is a new rear wheel drive model introduced for 2008. It is produced by Holden which is an Australian brand owned by General Motors (GM).
The development cost savings for GM to transfer an existing platform to a new model are substantial.

Bob Lutz was driving a Holden Monaro while he was in Australia. That came became the Pontiac GTO. GM had brought a Holden product called the GTO back to the U.S. in 2004. Actually, it is a good sports car, unfortunately the GTO did not sell well and production was cancelled in 2006.

He decided next to use the Holden VE Commodore as the GM Zeta platform, which is used for the Pontiac G8. Going back to the 1960's and early 1970's, Pontiac was GM's performance division. The Pontiac Tempest with a 389 CI 6.5 liter motor started the muscle car craze in the United States. Then Pontiac followed with the GTO, which was a hot car during that period.

Between then and now GM seems to have lost the marketing vision for the Pontiac Division. GM basically turned Pontiac from the performance division into another front drive bland rental car manufacturer.

Now the G8 is the first Pontiac in recent memory that evokes those images from the 1960's. The Pontiac G8 was on the shortly list for the North American Car of Year Award in 2009. Check out the Pontiac G8 video

The G8 is a car enthusiasts car, reminiscent of a BMW. The car drives well, it is fast, handles well and stops well. The GT comes with a 361 hp 6.0 liter V8, which propels the car from 0-60 in just over 5 seconds, with the quarter mile time of 13.5 seconds. Note the Pontiac G8 GT exhaust note!

The front exterior is nicely styled with the functional hood scoops. The seats in the G8 are excellent. The bolstering holds you in during cornering meanwhile the seats are supportive at the same time.

The interior is a cut above of GM standards. The interior design and materials although competent are not up to BMW standards.

The GXP version has a LS3 6.0 liter Corvette motor which takes the car 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. The GXP also has a 6-speed manual available as an option. Check out the GXP video.

In my opinion, this is a poor mans BMW. The Pontiac G8 GT starts at $31,755 and the GXP starts at $37,610. It has the interior room and performance of a a 5-series BMW V8 at a stripped 3-series price. My hope is that this model survives the difficult financial times. Shown below is the GXP model.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jaguar and Buick Overtake Lexus On Quality

This Associated Press news story written by Dan Strumph came across the wires today . Lexus has dominated the J.D. Powers vehicle dependability study since 1986. So this is shocking news that Jaguar and Buick have tied for the top spot and surpassed Lexus on the quality front. J. D. Powers dependability study surveyed owners of 2006 model year vehicles. Jaguar moved up from tenth place, meanwhile Buick moved up from sixth position from last year.

Owners opinions of a cars reliability after three years can be an impact on their opinion to repurchase that auto brand again. Auto makers watch the J. D. Powers reports closely since a positive report can increase or decrease sales.

Shown below is the Jaguar XF, which is a new model for 2009 replacing the S-type.

Cars have improved materially since 1986 and Lexus and Toyota have set the pace. In the J. D. Power report Lexus was in third place followed by Toyota. Mercury, Infinity and Acura take the fifth, sixth and seventh places in the survey. The worst performing brand was Suzuki, which is a Japanese brand.

The Buick LaCrosse, which was the highest ranked mid-size car, has basically been a sleeper in the automotive scene. It is a conservatively styled and designed car. It competes well against the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. Buick has been chosen as the GM division to compete against Lexus. Accordingly, the Buick LaCrosse will be totally redone for 2010 and looks quite impressive. A future post will cover the 2010 LaCrosse. Shown below is a 2008 LaCrosse.

This report basically shows that a number of brands are now competing with the Japanese on the long term quality of their vehicles. Ford has been on the upswing for the last couple of years. Credit does belong to Ford implementing the quality programs at Jaguar that developed this acclaim.
General Motors is increasing their quality at the same time. Many people have the perception that the American and British brands are inferior to the Japanese in quality. That may have been the case ten years ago but times are changing!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Auto Suppliers Get $5 Billion Aid

I have raised the issue in prior posts that the U.S. auto suppliers are in as desperate financial shape as the U.S. auto manufacturers. It is critical that auto manufacturers have the necessary parts to build cars. Apparently, the U. S. Treasury is coming to the rescue! The information just came in this article from the Associated Press by author Ken Thomas.

The U.S. Treasury Department will assist troubled auto parts supplies with up to $5 billion in financing. The funding will be from the Troubled Assets Relief Fund or TARP.

In a statement, Treasury Secretary Geithner said the "Supplier Support Program would help stabilize a critical component of the American auto industry during the difficult period of restructuring that lies ahead. The program will provide supply companies with much needed access to liquidity to assist them in meeting payrolls and covering their expenses, while giving the domestic auto companies reliable access to the parts that they need."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

BMC Mini

Today's post is about an English icon the Mini which has been produced in England and other countries around the world since 1959. British Motor Corporation (BMC) and its successors produced the original Mini from 1959 to 2000. Shown above is 1959 British Motor Corporation Mini.

The Mini was created due to the fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. Petrol (gasoline) actually was rationed in the U.K., sales of large cars plummeted. During that period of time the German Bubble Cars soared, the President of BMC Leonard Lord said "God damn these bloody awful Bubble Cars. We must drive them off the road by designing a proper miniature car." The rest is English automotive history. Shown below is a BMW Bubble Car, note that it is a three wheel vehicle.

The Mini is considered the British equivalent of the Volkswagen Beetle. In 1999, the Mini was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century behind the Ford Model T.

One of the interesting features of the original Mini was mounting the engine transversely with front wheel drive. This feature has become the standard powertrain configuration for small front wheel drive cars today. The suspension system used compact rubber cones instead of conventional springs. The rubber cone system gives the Mini a hard and bumpy ride. But the wheels pushed out to the corners gave the Mini go-kart like handling that has became famous.

Minis were marked under the under the Austin and Morris names until Mini became a brand in 1969, see Austin 7 post dated March 11th. Minis were produced in a number of configurations. A prime example of a 1964 Austin Mini is shown below.

Most Americans are familiar with the new Mini which has been produced since 2001. The Mini brand is owned by the BMW Automotive Group. I will do a post on the new Mini in the future. Enclosed below are pictures of a 2006 and 2007 Minis.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hybrid Car Sales Tank

As I have mentioned before car sales have taken a nose dive off the deep end lately. Americans have cut back on buying vehicles of all types as the economy continues to slow down. I read an interesting article in the LA times by Ken Bensinger which is the basis for this post. Unfortunately for the automakers, due to the low price of gasoline hybrid auto sales have taken a steeper decline than regular automobiles.

Last summer when gas prices were at there peak $4, hybrid sales were hot! Now consumers refuse to pay a premium for a fuel efficient vehicle now that the average price of gas has dropped to $2. The bottom line is that it hybrids are not cost effective presently with the low price of gas. A hybrid can cost up to $9000 more than the same non hybrid vehicle, $9000 will pay for a lot of gasoline. The premium over a non hybrid vehicle can take up to ten years or more to pay for the difference in the additional fuel economy that a hybrid generates.

The average days to sell a Toyota Prius hybrid has gone from 1.6 days in July 2008 to 76.6 days in March 2009. The Camry hybrid has gone from 4.6 days to 156.2 days during the same period.

President Obama is calling on the automakers to build the cars of tomorrow, but the present business case is costing the auto companies money. Currently the auto companies complain that they loose money on every hybrid that they produce. Congress is pushing the auto manufacturers to improve mileage as a key to reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and limiting the global warming gases that autos emit.
Manufacturers from across the world are increasing their hybrid models. Here are the latest updates. Honda plans to introduce the new Insight hybrid in the next few weeks after discontinuing the Honda Civic hybrid in 2008. Hyundai and Audi plan to deliver their first hybrids sometime in 2010. Toyota has the new Prius coming in the next few months along with a new Lexus hybrid.

Since the big three U.S. automakers have testified before congress, the biggest push will be coming from the American manufacturers. Ford plans to follow its high mileage Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids (see Feb. 6th post Can Detroit Build Hybrids?) with a battery powered van in 2010 and a family of hybrids in 2012. Chrysler has committed to eight new hybrids or electric cars by 2015. Meanwhile, GM indicates that 26 of the 33 cars they sell in 2015 will be some type of hybrids, including the Chevrolet Volt, a plug in hybrid due out next year. I have a future post coming on the Chevrolet Volt, which is a game changer for GM and the auto industry.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Car and Driver 10 Best Awards 2009

As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is a good idea to use various guides in purchasing a car. Here is one of my favorites Car and Drivers 10 Best Cars. The staff at Car and Driver are serious car enthusiasts, so if they pick a car for this list then that should be a serious consideration on your list.

"The cars are judged on three points. The first is how each car performs their intended duties. Second, they consider how engaging a car is on an emotional level. Lastly, they look at how competitive a car’s pricing is for the levels of versatility, practicality, and fun it offers. They are looking for value in their selections and highlight those cars that possess it. Check out these Car and Driver videos!

Eligibility for 10Best is determined based on newness and past 10Best success. All cars either new or significantly redesigned are allowed. Additionally, cars that made the list in 2008 are automatically invited back for 2009, providing they still clear the price cap—2.5 times the average newcar transaction price for all light-duty vehicles sold through August of the previous year, or $71,000 this time around.

If a car fails to make the list its first year on the market, it’s out of contention until a significant redesign renews its eligibility. Conversely, if a car consistently impresses Car and Driver enough to be voted to the list year after year, it can remain on the list indefinitely, even if it receives no updates. But all eligible cars must be available for sale no later than January 2009.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


BMW's most popular car is the 3-series, which is the most awarded car that BMW produces. It is a perennial favorite at Car and Driver winning the 10 Best Award 18 years in a row. That tells you something about the degree of automotive excellence that BMW builds into this car.

The pick of the liter is the BMW M3 which was revised in 2008. The car is produced both as a coupe, a sedan and a convertible. Check out the Motor Trend review!

Under the bulging aluminum hood is a V-8 that makes 414 horsepower. BMW had to increase the horsepower to compete effectively against the Audi RS4 and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG which both feature V-8 power. When stepping on the gas you realize there is a powerful beast lurking under the hood!

The roof is made of carbon fiber and saves 11 pounds compared to the steel top of the regular 3-series. The brakes are cross-drilled brake discs to stop the M3 in record time.

Overall the car is well balanced between the front and rear weight. It handles exceptionally well with great breaking. The M3 is an car that can be used as a daily driver. The handling is exceptional, you can take corners like your on a rail.

Visually, there is no confusing the M3 with the standard 3-series. The M3 shares the doors, windows, headlights, taillights and trunk lid. The differences are in the hood, the roof which is carbon fiber, the fenders flare out to handle the 19 inch optional tires and includes four exhaust pipes and a small spoiler to the trunk.

The cost of admission starts at $54,850 for the sedan, $57,850 for the coupe and $66500 for the convertible version. Check out the Car and Driver video.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Austin 7

My friend from England, see positive letters blog, requested a post on the Austin 7. The Austin 7 is very interesting from a historical perspective. The Austin 7 was a vintage car produced from 1922 through 1939 in the United Kingdom by the Austin Motor Company. Shown below is a prime example of a 1929 Gordon England Wembleau Saloon.
The reason that this vehicle is interesting is that most people are familiar with the rise in popularity of the Model T and Ford Motor Company. The effect that the Austin 7 had on the British market is very similar to the impact that the Model T had in the United States. The Austin 7 was considerably smaller than the Ford Model T with a wheelbase of only 6'3" and weighed only one half as much.

It also was licensed and copied by companies all over the world. Actually, the first BMW models were licensed Austin 7s. In Japan, Nissan also used the Austin 7 design as the basis for their original cars, although not formally licensed.

After World War II, many Austin 7's were rebuilt as specials The first Lotus, the Lotus MK1 was based on the Austin 7. A beautiful example of a 1937 Opal Tourer is shown below.

The Austin 7 name was so well regarded that it was reused for versions of both the A30 in 1951 and the Mini in 1959. We will have an upcoming post on the historical Mini in the future! A 1937 Peal Cabriolet is outlined below.

Austin Motor Company was advanced from a technical standpoint. The Austin 7 was the first mass market car to be fitted with a "conventional" control layout that is found on today's modern cars. Also, the engine was a aluminium crankcase with a cast iron cylinder block and head. They were light years ahead of other auto manufacturers. Shown below is a 1939 Big Seven Sixlite.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Consumer Reports on Top Picks for 2009

Consumer Reports magazine has just issued their Top Picks for 2009, which are outlined below.

  • Pickup Truck - Chevrolet Avalanche
  • Fun To Drive - Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Small SUV - Toyota Rav4
  • Small Sedan - Hyundai Elantra SE
  • Green Car - Toyota Prius
  • Minivan - Toyota Sienna
  • Best Overall Vehicle - Lexus LS 460
  • Upscale Sedan - Infinity G37
  • Midsized SUV - Toyota Highlander
  • Family Sedan - Honda Accord

They choose these cars based on:

(1) Road Tests - the vehicles must rank at or near the top of their categories which includes more than 50 individual tests and evaluations.

(2) Reliability - each car must have an average or better reliability rating based upon more then 1.4 million vehicles reported by Consumer Reports subscribers.

(3) Safety - top picks must perform adequately in overall safety tests conducted by the government or insurance industry. In addition, each must offer electronic stability control (ESC), which is a proven lifesaving feature.

My view on Consumer Reports is that overall they do a good job of evaluating cars based upon their criteria. Anyone buying a car has to consider a number of additional items styling, driveability, fun factor, brand, warranty, resale value, discounts and affordability. The bottom line is that this is guide to use! In the end result you have to be happy with the car that you have purchased!

2010 Ford Taurus

Everyone reading my blog is familiar with the problems of the auto industry, specifically the American manufacturers. Ford is the only American company not going to the government well for a hand out! Mainly due to the foresight of Alan Mullaly, CEO of Ford, who arranged for lines of credit in 2007 when the capital markets were much better. In addition, Ford quality has improved substantially where they are on a par with the Japanese manufacturers.

Back in 1986 Ford set Ford's sales charts on fire with the new Taurus with a spacey stylish design. I was not a fan of the car in that I thought the styling was unusual and not to my preference. The drive was OK but unexceptional. Over the years the Taurus was downgraded to a rental car status.
Ford purchased Volvo in 1998 and one of the benefits was the Ford 500 which came out in 2005. The Ford 500 was underpowered and connected to a CVT transmission and did not sell well. The Ford 500 was based on the Volvo S80 platform and is one of the safest cars on the road. In 2008, the name was changed to the Ford Taurus and upgraded the powertrains.

I drove a rental 2008 Ford Taurus last summer when I was in New York city. My associate commented that he thought this was the one of the best American cars. It drove smoothly, handled well for a sedan and braked well!

The 2010 Ford Taurus is prime example of the quality car that American manufacturers are capable of producing. It has the 3.5-liter V-6 which makes 264 hp, which is connected to a six-speed automatic.. The Limited model comes with a different six-speed transmission along with paddle shifters.

They are resurrecting the SHO (Super High Output) model which is shown below. The SHO will have a twin-turbo, high output, twin-turbocharged 3.5 liter EcoBoost V-6 with an estimated 350 hp. That is a lot of power for a sedan!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jaguar XKR

One feature that traditionally separated Jaguars from the competition is the use of fine woods in their autos. Today, technology and performance are features of the brand, a beautiful example can be found in one of Jaguar's premire vehicles the XKR. The XKR is available either as coupe or a convertible.

Jaguar introduced the XK series in 1996 featuring the AJ-V8, which was the first V8 in Jaguar history. The XKR features a 4.2 liter version of that motor, 32 valve, 4-cam aluminum, supercharged V8 with 420 hp. The motor propels the cat from 0-60 MPH in 4.9 seconds. The motor defines power, just as a silky 6-speed ZF allows gear changes via steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The XKR is nimble and light due to its aluminum alloy bodyshell which is a rivit-bonded monocoque design that increases stiffness, reduces weight and improves road performance.

It also has Computer Active Technology Suspension (eCATS) which reads road conditions and automatically adjusts damping for an optimum balance of ride and control and delivers class-leading highway fuel economy.

The convertible version of the car has an interesting safety feature, sensors deploy a high-strenght aluminum hoops in the case of a rollover, creating a shield zone to help protect passengers.

Pricing starts at for the XKR coupe is $84,475 and the convertible $94,475. Check out this XKR video.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Volkswagon Beetle

Probably everyone at some time or another has been exposed to a Volkswagen Beetle. The people's car was produced from 1938 until 2003. The car was originally known as the "Kafer", which is German for "beetle". In 1933, Adolf Hitler gave the order to Ferdinand Porsche to develop a "Volks-wagon, and production began in 1938. Yes, the Third Rich was responseable for the development of the Beetle. War broke out before large scale production could commence and manufacturing capacity was switched over to war production. The car was designed to be as simple as possible mechanically, so less could go wrong.

After WWII, this car ultimately became the longest running and most produced automobile of a single design with over 21 million produced. The Beetle was produced in a number of countries. In Britain, it was known as the Type 1 or by engine size 1100, 1200, 1300, 1500 or 1600.

The Beetle was a benchmark for American compact cars such as the Chevrolet Corvair, Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto. It is also considered a German equivalent of the Austin/Morris Mini. The Beetle also was voted the fourth most influential car of the twentieth century. The original Beetle was rear drive with an engine in the rear.

Show below is a version of the New Beetle, which was introduced in 1998. It is not the same car since it is based on the Volkswagon Rabbit and has front wheel drive. Strong public reaction to a concept car persuaded Volkswagon to produce the new Beetle. The New Beetle was designed by J. Mays and Freeman Thomas at the company's California design studio. The New Beetle is related to the original only in name and appearance.