By Chris Haak
Fresh from snatching the title of the “world’s largest new-vehicle market” from the US last year, China’s new-vehicle sales could top 18 million vehicles by the end of 2010, which would be an all-time record for a single country. Who held the previous record? The US, of course, before the market started sputtering.
According to [sub], part of what’s leading to the sales growth in China is a government tax incentive that cuts the purchase tax on vehicles with engines displacing 1.6 liters or less from 10 percent to 5 percent starting in January 2009. That tax cut helped spur China’s explosive auto-sales growth, but early in 2010, the central government raised the tax to 7.5 percent. The expectation is that the purchase tax will be restored to the original 10 percent level after December 31, though that has not been confirmed.
By Chris Haak
This past week, the EPA released the long-awaited official mileage estimates for the two newest kids on the block, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. Because both cars are capable of running without burning gasoline (in fact, the Leaf cannot use gasoline at all), many were curious as to how the Monroney stickers would turn out for these two trendsetting automobiles. So now we have the answers, and they are probably more realistic and more relevant when comparing against other cars than some of the initial claims that had been thrown out by both GM and Nissan.
By Charles Krome
Well, in Europe anyway. That’s the lowdown from the European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association by way of Automotive News. According to those sources, Hyundai and Kia have combined to ring up 521,369 sales across the pond through October, up 4 percent compared to the same time last year, while Toyota ( Lexus) saw sales slip 17 percent to finish at 511,754. Unsurprisingly, experts pinned the blame on fallout from the Toyota Recallathon as well as improving quality for the South Koreans.
And although things haven’t swung to the same extremes in the U.S., consider this: Toyota-Lexus had 1,448,589 U.S. sales at this point in 2009, with Hyundai-Kia tallying 634,282 customers, which meant that the South Koreans had sold 43.7 percent of Team Toyota’s total. In 2010, the numbers went 1,456,790 for the Japanese and 752,926 for Hyundai-Kia, with the latter now representing 51.6 percent of the former’s total. Hyundai and Kia obviously still have a ways to go before they catch Toyota and Lexus, but just as obviously, momentum is now on their side as the industry continues to recover. Plus, even assuming Toyota now has its quality issues under control, dealing with them has left the company well behind its Hyundai-Kia competition (among others) in a number of key areas.
By Roger Boylan
When a representative from Toyota asked me if I’d be interested in having the plug-in version of the Toyota Prius hybrid to myself for a couple of days, I of course said yes, knowing that relatively few drivers have had that privilege. And a privilege it has been. Rarely do I consider myself a trendsetter, a go-getter, or on the cutting edge of anything, but I felt like all three at the wheel of this Jetsonmobile.
The name “Prius,” of course, is as synonymous with “hybrid” as the name “Bill Clinton” is with “ego,” and Toyota has sold well over two million copies since its worldwide introduction in 2001, so Priuses tend to be among the more ubiquitous vehicles on the road. Not the Plug-In, though, which Toyota calls the PHV, for “Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle.” This variant first appeared at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show, and only about 150 are currently being test-driven in the U.S. These cars are not “mules” or prototypes, but fully finished cars that look and perform pretty much like regular Priuses, the main difference being that the PHV boasts a larger-capacity battery pack consisting of 3.6-volt lithium-ion cells rather than the nickel-metal hydride cells in the standard Prius. This allows for rapid charging via household current and a short electric-only driving range at speeds up to 62 m.p.h.
By Chris Haak
Photos by Joseph Rapanotti
For the past decade, we’ve been in the midst of a winner-take-all battle for torque supremacy in the heavy-duty pickup truck market. Like the horsepower wars that have seen mainstream V6 family sedans producing more power than Corvettes of a decade and a half ago, heavy duty pickup trucks now produce about double the torque that they did just ten years earlier. As with the horsepower race in cars, the one-upmanship in the truck torque race is nothing but a win for consumers, who can now buy trucks that have the kind of power tractor trailers had years ago.
The Ford F-350 Super Duty is a ridiculously big truck, even in shortbox form. The truck’s height (both from the frame to the ground, and from the roof to the ground) is just incredible. Until my time in this truck, I had never spent time in another vehicle that I felt neededrunning boards, so it was an unusual sensation for me at 6’4″ for me to hop out of my seat and slide down about six or eight inches before my feet hit the ground. The Super Duty does have grab handles on both A-pillars, which helps with ingress/egress; however, I just used the steering wheel to pull myself into the truck, and to gently lower myself to terra firma.
By Chris Haak
US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a crusader against distracted driving, has fired the latest salvo in the battle.  reports that not only has LaHood gone beyond suggesting penalties for in-car handheld cell phone use, but actually wants to require that jamming devices be installed in all new cars to block cellular signals from being transmitted or received.
LaHood specifically said, “I think it will be done… I think the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if were going to save lives.” Folks, raise your hand if you have a problem with this. Raise both hands (or a pitchfork) if you have more than just “a” problem with this.
By Charles Krome
Well, that was anti-climactic. After months of buzz and years of anticipation, the U.S. version of the BBC’s Top Gear finally debuted last night on the History Channel, and I for one was underwhelmed. The original program has become something of an icon among a certain swathe of Anglophilic gearheads, based on its combination of wacky English humor and the opportunity it presents to see a wide range of vehicles get put through their paces each week. Admittedly, I’m not much of a fan: Jeremy Clarkson is the definition of insufferable, and his two co-hosts, Richard Hammond and James May, leave me cold as well.
By Chris Haak
Less than a year and a half after its predecessor, General Motors Corporation, collapsed under the crushing weight of declining sales and market share, unsustainable debt levels, and enormous labor costs, General Motors Company has completed its initial public offering. Starting this morning, you can hit up your broker for a few shares of GM (the company got its old ticker symbol back) and ride what may or may not be the company’s ascent toward business success.
The company sold 478 million shares yesterday, priced at $33 per share. That price was well above the original expected price range of up to $27 per share, and also at the top end of the revised $30-33 per share. The revised range, and the higher price, reflect considerable IPO demand for GM’s stock. On top of the 478 million shares, GM’s bankers were expected to also sell another 71.7 million shares as an “overallotment,” which is allowed when demand for shares is stronger than expected. The 478 million shares raised $15.774 billion, and the 71.7 million shares raised another $2.366 billion, for a total common stock sale of $18.14 billion.