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Check Your Mirrors
Jan02

Check Your Mirrors

Odds and Ends About Cars and the Car Business

By Brendan Moore

01.02.2009

AUDI is bringing out their A1 in Europe (only) in 2009, after they introduce it at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, and it promises to make the boys over at BMW and MINI quite nervous. The A1 will get gasoline engines putting out 80 BHP, 100 BHP, 140 BHP and 170 BHP and seven-speed sequential automatic transmissions, but the really intriguing mode of power is the hybrid setup shown at the Paris Auto Show last fall. The hybrid components are the standard 1.4 liter engine paired with a 27 BHP electric motor, which take the A1 Hybrid to 100 KPH (62 MPH) in 7.9 seconds. But the big deal is that it does this while putting out only 92 grams per kilometer and returning 72 MPG. And it will go 60 miles just on the battery charge. Audi says the A1 hybrid is a concept but it is production-ready and you can expect to see it at some point, probably when gasoline goes way up in price again.

PININFARINA says it will not take on more contract work from auto manufacturers in the future and will focus on building electric cars only. Pininfarina, in partnership with Bollore, a French industrial group has commited to producing an EV pilot vehicle in 2010 and mass production of same in 2011. The strategy represents quite a gamble for the Italian design firm, and if the market for electric cars does not materialize by 2011, Pininfarina is effectively finished.

SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Association show) pulled in over 125,000 visitors in 2008. And it’s not even open to the public. Those were all trade people and automotive journalists and they came from over 100 countries. But, then again, the aftermarket industry is valued at $36.7 billion USD, so that seems about right.

PHILIP EGAN, one of the designers of the 1948 Tucker Torpedo, passed away on December 26, 2008 in Fairfax, California at the age of 88. After the meltdown of Tucker, Egan designed appliances for Sears in Chicago as a senior designer. He started his own design firm after leaving Sears, then joined Walter Landor and Associates in California, which he worked at until retirement. Egan was hired as a consultant for the 1988 movie about Preston Tucker, his car and the Tucker Corporation, Tucker: The Man and His Dream. That movie was produced by George Lucas, who lives in San Rafael, the next town over from Fairfax in Marin County. The Tucker biopic was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who also lives north of San Francisco. So they didn’t have far to travel for those script meetings.

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Hyundai Introduces a Wagon
Dec26

Hyundai Introduces a Wagon

Excuse me, I mean a Touring model

By Brendan Moore

12.26.2008

The prevailing wisdom is that station wagons are a terrible market segment in the US market. People want minivans, SUVs and crossovers, not station wagons.

First, the minivan displaced wagons in driveways across America, then, when the minivan became identified as a housewife’s vehicle, it was replaced by the SUV. And now we have the crossover. Each one of those station wagon replacements took away some percentage of the station wagon’s former constituency, and now, there just aren’t a lot of station wagon fans left.

Some import manufacturers sell wagons, but in small numbers, to a core “wagon” population, and those are the exception rather than the rule. Station wagon models have gone away completely at Ford, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Toyota, Nissan in the last 15 years.

This, despite the fact that a lot of SUVs and almost all crossovers look like, well, a tall station wagon.

And then, of course, you have vehicles like the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix twins, the Honda Element and the Dodge Caliber that are really big hatchbacks (kinda like wagons).

But the difference, according to a tremendous amount of consumer research done over the years, is that those vehicles do not have the “station wagon” label, which has lately become the kiss of death in the North American market.

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Chrysler Will Become the Next BMW or Mercedes?
Dec23

Chrysler Will Become the Next BMW or Mercedes?

By Brendan Moore

12.23.2008

We can’t make this stuff up.

Apparently, Jim Press, co-president of Chrysler LLC, stated in an interview last week that should Chrysler survive, it would survive as a small boutique manufacturer producing high-performance, high-quality cars much like German automakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz do currently.

In fact, according to Automotive News, an industry weekly, Mr Press stated: “If there’s one company in America that can build high-craftsmanship, innovative vehicles, it’s Chrysler.”

Referring to the new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup, Mr. Press opined that, “If Mercedes-Benz built a pickup truck, that’s what it would be”.

Jim, Jim, Jim.

There is nothing wrong with having a positive corporate self-image, but statements like that just boggle the mind.

Sure, it’s possible that Chrysler could transform itself into BMW or Mercedes-Benz. I mean, it could conceivably happen. But at this point it would be the equivalent of Pamela Anderson becoming a respected Shakespearean actor. Or Detroit becoming as much of a tourist destination as Paris, New York City or London.

Yeah, both those things could happen, but, you know, it’s not a good percentage bet.

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GM, Chrysler Get a Lifeline

By Brendan Moore

12.19.2008

By now you have read that the federal government (read: the Bush Administration) acted to give some short-term aid in the form of loans to General Motors and Chrysler early today so that the automakers would not collapse.

It is a 17.4 billion dollar (USD) bailout.

Ford did not ask for aid at this time.

This has a produced a good news-bad news scenario for the two automakers.

The good news, of course, is that they won’t run out of money in a few weeks and have to shut down. They now live to fight another day.

The bad news is that the federal government now can tell them what to do whenever it suits them, starting with some very tough loan conditions in the first few months.

These are the terms from a “fact sheet” released by the Bush Administration this morning.

Fact Sheet: Financing Assistance to Facilitate the Restructuring of Automobile Manufacturers to Attain Financial Viability

Purpose: The terms and conditions of the financing provided by the Treasury Department will facilitate restructuring of our domestic auto industry, prevent disorderly bankruptcies during a time of economic difficulty, and protect the taxpayer by ensuring that only financially viable firms receive financing.

Amount: Auto manufacturers will be provided with $13.4 B in short-term financing from the TARP, with an additional $4 B available in February, contingent upon drawing down the second tranche of TARP funds.

Viability Requirement: The firms must use these funds to become financially viable. Taxpayers will not be asked to provide financing for firms that do not become viable. If the firms have not attained viability by March 31, 2009, the loan will be called and all funds returned to the Treasury.

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Ford Brings Out the 40th Anniversary Ford Racing Mustang Cobra Jet
Dec18

Ford Brings Out the 40th Anniversary Ford Racing Mustang Cobra Jet

By Brendan Moore

12.18.2008

While there is a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the auto industry these days, the things the companies usually do continue in the background, muted by the noise being generated by the grindingly awful economic news.

One of those things the companies are still doing is supporting racing of their machinery.

With that in mind, Ford, specifically Ford Racing, has just rolled their 40th Anniversary Mustang Cobra Jet specially built drag-racing car off the production line.

Some of the fondest memories of my misspent youth came about in a stock-looking 1968 Mustang GT fastback that my friend’s engineer father had taken apart in the Seventies, then considerably upgraded with all the bits from a Cobra Jet race car. Voila! A drag-racer for the streets.

Not that we ever engaged in any crazy shenanigans like that.

These Mustang Cobra Jets are sold with serial numbers, but those serial numbers are not legal VIN numbers, so you can forget about ordering one and then making some money on the informal racing circuit – you can’t license these Mustangs for the road.

Interestingly, Ford wasn’t even going to make this car until someone had an idea eight months ago to bring back the racer. Eight months of hard work by the Blue Oval Boys later, the first finished car is rolling off the line, ready for its new owner. By the way, that new owner getting the keys in the photo is Brent Hajek, owner of Hajek Motorsports, who will enter four of the new CJ’s at the 2009 Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. in February. The guy in the suit is Brian Wolfe, Director of Ford Racing Technology.

Brent looks happy, doesn’t he?

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