By Roger Boylan
That isn’t how GM, who organized the event, billed it. It’s just me being cute. Not quite as cute, mind you, as the herd of little Chevy Volts I found tethered to their battery-charging stations at 8 a.m. last Friday, when I arrived to participate in the Texas leg of the nationwide “Volt Unplugged” media event. About a dozen automotive writers convened at The Crossings, a h resort hotel west of Austin, with stunning views of Lake Travis and adjoining hills and bluffs in autumnal shades that reminded me—and a German-born colleague—of the Rhine and Mosel valleys. “Wunderbar,” we exclaimed, jointly. “Jawohl.” Tears welled; thoughts of beer came, and sparkling Riesling. Then we pulled ourselves together and the drive got underway.
Coincidentally, I’d just reviewed a Plug-In Prius, which impressed me so much that I was unprepared to be equally or more impressed by the much-hyped, perhaps overly hyped, Volt, Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year. And indeed, there are undeniable superficial similarities between the two futuremobiles: a starter button instead of a key; a Star Trek instrument panel; winking displays of electronic arcana on the display screens; otherworldly clicks and faint moans at ignition. But as soon as I moved onto the two-lane blacktop, the Volt came into its own. Even on uphill spurts and cruising at 70+, my power source was all electric, and I made sure that some of those spurts were fast. GM claims 0-60 in 9 seconds, but I estimate that my heavy boot application shaved nearly a half second off that figure.
By Charles Krome
With November sales now in the books, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the industry is back on the upswing, and that was reinforced during a recent American Press Association (APA) event in Detroit. There, the team from IHS—one of the more prestigious of the automotive consulting companies—presented its forecast for 2011 and beyond to key members of the automotive elite (oddly, they let me in, too).
The IHS is predicting the auto market will finish at approximately 11.5 million units this year, an increase of 1.1 million vehicles over 2009, then continue to steadily reclaim sales through 2015. The forecast is for the industry to reach 12.8 million units in 2011 and hit the 17.1-million mark by 2015—which would be roughly equal to the industry’s pre-meltdown peak of 17.3 million units, achieved in 2000.
By Kevin Miller
Subaru is well known for making capable, competent all-wheel drive family vehicles. At the same time, they made a name for themselves building high-performance turbocharged rally cars like their WRX and STI models, with roots in the famed World Rally Championship series. The Legacy GT Limited is the car that attempts to bridge the divide between Subaru’s sensible and sporty vehicle lines.
Subaru launched their all-new, fifth-generation Legacy a year ago as a 2010 model, and I had the opportunity to review an entry-level Legacy 2.5i Premium sedan last autumn. That vehicle impressed me with the space and features available at its price point, but I was eager to sample the sportiest version of the Subaru Legacy, the Legacy GT. After all, if the regular car is good without the turbo boxer, the GT must be even better.
By Charles Krome
In addition to my writing here at Techshake, yours truly also has a number of other auto-related gigs, including a semi-regular spot on a weekly web-based “talk show” called Open Line (check it out on Mondays at ). And in this past episode, we chatted briefly about a new approach to fuel efficiency that I’m eager to try out on my fellow Savants.
Here’s my thinking: It’s always struck me as odd when vehicles in two different segments somehow ended up with very similar EPA numbers. For example, both the Ford Fiesta and the new Ford Focus are going to post marks of 40 mpg highway. Now, one way of looking at this is “wow, Ford was able to build a compact car that gets the same great fuel economy as its subcompact.” But I can’t help approaching this from the other side, wondering how, if the Blue Oval can get that kind of performance from the Focus, it can’t do better with the smaller, lighter Fiesta.
By Chris Haak
Honda’s second-generation Insight, which is based heavily upon the Fit’s architecture, but without the conventional car’s peppy drivetrain or much of its sporty handling, has not been a sales success for Honda so far. While the company initially hoped to sell 60,00o Insights annually in the US, sales have been barely over a quarter of that number, with 17,789 units sold through the first ten months of 2010, against 17,530 units sold during the first ten months of 2009. Meanwhile, the Prius is whooping the Insight in terms of sales: Toyota’s standard-bearer has moved 115,065 so far this year (again, through October 31) and 118,290 during the same period last year.
So does Honda’s solution involve developing a trick new hybrid system, tossing out the underperforming IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) mild hybrid system? Nah, instead they just stripped content from the car to lower its price point.
By Chris Haak
GM and Chrysler – yes, the same two companies that shed tens of thousands of white-collar and production employees over the past few years as both firms stumbled into bankruptcy in 2009 – announced separately today that they plan to hire a considerable number of engineers. Most of the new jobs will be located in Michigan, where it seems likely that there is a large number of out-of-work, qualified engineers with automotive experience ready to start working again on a moment’s notice.
For Chrysler, which saw its US-based employment fall from 64,750 in 2006 to just 32,250 in June 2009, the new hires will come in large part from stepped-up campus recruiting efforts at 35 schools, but the company also wants to hire a mix of new grads and experienced hires. Since exiting bankruptcy in June 2009, the company has already hired some 5,000 workers, of whom at least 500 are engineers. Of the 1,000 projected new hires, about 600 will actually be on Chrysler’s payroll, and 400 will likely be contract employees. Chrysler expects to fill the openings within the next four months.
By Charles Krome
According to a report this weekend from The Detroit News, Ford has received nearly twice as many orders for its all-new 2011 Explorer as the company originally projected. But the actual numbers may surprise some people: According to the article, the 15,000 or so orders include approximately 3,000 from retail customers and 7,500 from dealers, with the remainder—roughly 4,500—coming from fleet buyers.
It’s good news overall for Ford, but I do have some mixed feelings about that last number. On the one hand, in the context of a (hopefully) improving economy, it makes sense that fleet orders would be on the rise, especially for a vehicle like the next-gen Explorer, which offers both iconic name appeal and an all-new model. But I’m certain Ford is hoping fleet sales will represent significantly less than 30 percent of Explorer purchases once the vehicle actually goes on sale.
By Kevin Miller
I don’t watch much TV, but I read plenty plenty of automotive websites and I travel a lot. Both on those automotive sites and in national news publications such as USAToday, the Lincoln MKX is being heavily advertised. Ford is doing a great job in getting the word out about the MKX and its class-leading MyLincoln Touch system.
After spending a week in a 2011 Lincoln MKX, I came away conflicted. It has some great features, is more fun to drive than many competing five-passenger crossover vehicles, and for the most part is nicely finished.