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Chevy Adds 5th Door to Cruze, Makes the Car Attractive
Sep03

Chevy Adds 5th Door to Cruze, Makes the Car Attractive

By Chris Haak

The Chevrolet Cruze compact has been on the market in the rest of the world for over a year, and has done reasonably well for GM in markets like Australia and South Korea.  US production in Lordstown, Ohio began in July, and it’s slated to hit dealer lots this month.  The car is sold as a Chevrolet Cruze in Europe, a Holden Cruze in Australia, and a Daewoo Lacetti Premiere in South Korea, but the only visual differences are powertrain choices, design details like grilles and bumpers.  All sheetmetal is identical among the variants.  Overall, GM currently sells the Cruze in 70 countries worldwide.

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Sticker Shock: EPA to Revise Window Labels
Sep03

Sticker Shock: EPA to Revise Window Labels

By Charles Krome

Remember when the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) was passed back in 2007? Me neither. But it turns out that EISA calls for the EPA to come up with revised window stickers for the 2012 model year, with the goal being to make it easier for customers to sort out the fuel-efficiency and emissions performance of new vehicles.

The redesigned stickers will still provide the traditional EPA fuel-economy ratings as well as information about greenhouse gas emissions, other air pollutants and annual fuel costs, and, again, the goal is to end up with a sticker that can “help consumers make easy and well-informed comparisons between vehicles.”

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Adventures in Branding: Kia EcoDynamics
Aug31

Adventures in Branding: Kia EcoDynamics

By Charles Krome

Back in March of 2009, Kia execs announced plans for the automaker’s future green-focused products, and that included a tried-but-true industry tactic: Kia would differentiate its most fuel-efficient products, and those featuring new fuel-saving technologies, by sticking a new badge on them. The badging wouldn’t represent the birth of a new automotive brand—at least not in the standard sense of the term—but be more of a separate trim level.

At least that was my take.

But a recent news report from Wards.com puts a whole different spin on things, and it’s one that shows a surprising disconnect between Kia and U.S. buyers.

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The Land Speed Record for Bad Ideas
Aug20

The Land Speed Record for Bad Ideas

By Charles Krome

Okay, here’s another one for the “what were they thinking?” file:

Let’s say you’ve got an auto company that’s seen some relatively big success outside of the U.S. but has never quite found its mojo in the states. Not so many years ago you were selling 100,000 vehicles a year here, but at this stage in the game, your total monthly sales are under the 2,000-unit mark and your best-seller in July only found 788 customers.

But one of those products is a sharp new mid-size sedan with notably nimble handling—its development included the requisite trip to the Nurburgring—as well as a trunkful of kudos from reviewers, third-party quality groups and customers alike. For what it’s worth, the vehicle was even rated as the top car from the whole industry in the 2010 AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Awards.

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The Volkswagen Phaeton is Returning to the US. Why?

By Chris Haak

From the day the flagship Volkswagen Phaeton launched in the US, analysts and customers questioned the wisdom of a company known for selling small, sporty, efficient cars deciding to sell a V8- and V12-powered $85,000 luxury car.  The wisdom of the Phaeton seemed even more dubious when one considered the fact that the Audi showroom down the street offered a very capable A8 luxury sedan, sharing many of the Phaeton’s parts and powertrain choices, for a price not far from the big VW.  There was also the large leap in price from the next-most expensive Volkswagen model at the time, the $40,000 Passat W8, to the Phaeton.

The best the company could have hoped for was selling a few Phaetons to executives who didn’t want the glamour and glitz of a luxury-branded car.  The more likely cases were that either the Phaeton would flop, or it would cannibalize Audi A8 sales.  As it turned out, the Phaeton flopped in the US.  Just 1,433 Phaetons were sold in the initial 2004 model year, followed by 820 units for 2005.  The car was withdrawn from the US market in 2006, and several VW executives distanced themselves from the white elephant.  Notably, former VW CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder called the car’s global 20,000-unit sales goal a “pipe dream.”

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The California 200 Tragedy: Taking Responsibility
Aug17

The California 200 Tragedy: Taking Responsibility

By Charles Krome

As most people likely know by now, an off-road racer named Brett Sloppy flipped his truck into the crowd at the California 200, leaving 8 people dead and another 12 injured. For those who follow racing history, it no doubt brought back thoughts of the infamous 1955 Le Mans disaster, in which Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (like the one pictured below) left the track at 150 mph. The car began disintegrating almost immediately, with pieces flying off the car and into the crowd with lethal affect, and once the racer’s magnesium-based body began to burn, the scene quickly turned into an inferno. In the end, Levegh and more than 80 people died, and 120 were injured.

Now, you might think that this loss of life would have been enough for all of motorsports to rethink its safety measures, but not so. There were certainly major immediate changes to LeMans, but the pace of improvements to spectator safety in other series, even major ones, has often bordered on the glacial—especially for non-oval racing.

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