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Some Things I Learned About the Nissan LEAF
Nov02

Some Things I Learned About the Nissan LEAF

By Charles Krome

I had lunch with Nissan vice president Carlos Tavares yesterday—just me, Tavares and about 100 of my new friends from the American Press Association—and it was quite the ol’ learning experience. Tavares, who heads up Nissan’s business in the Americas, was in town to discuss the automaker’s new “Innovation for All” marketing campaign, but he ended up spending much of his time talking about the Nissan LEAF. It was no surprise, of course, as America’s first “real” electric vehicle designed for the modern-day mainstream consumer is nearing its launch, and to say there’s still some skepticism about its viability is a serious understatement.

So, Tavares spent most of his time presenting counter-arguments to the points people usually use to discount the LEAF’s potential. For example, there’s the fact that while the car itself uses no gasoline and produces no tailpipe emissions, there are still plenty of environmental issues around generating the electricity on which it runs. As some on the green side of things like to point out, “clean coal” is an oxymoron.

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First Drive:  2011 Honda Odyssey Touring
Nov02

First Drive: 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring

By Chris Haak

The 2011 model year is definitely shaping up to be the year of the minivan, with the all-new Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey duking it out, a significantly upgraded 2011 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan hitting dealers this fall, and an all-new 2011 Nissan Quest returning from the dead to do battle in the family-friendly kid hauler segment.  In spite of their makers’ best marketing efforts, minivans really aren’t likely to be seen as “cool” anytime soon, but the current crop is truly the best that there’s ever been available.

Honda first showed its all-new 2011 Odyssey a few months ago, and after first-time observers (us at Techshake included) picked our jaws off the floor and asked what the heck Honda did with the rear-quarter styling of their bread-and-butter family hauler, we began to realize just how good the fundamentals of this van were. The million dollar question is, does the Odyssey’s “lightning bolt” and prominent door track take too much away from what’s really a very good vehicle, or is the underlying van so good that design details are truly just superfluous conversation starters among people who wouldn’t actually buy a van?

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Chevy Runs Deep—Maybe Too Deep

By Charles Krome

While I’m not sure how many people realize this, the FOX network will be hosting a double dose of history in the making tonight: Not only are the Texas Rangers slated to play their very first World Series game, but Chevrolet is debuting its first significant TV spots since Joel Ewanick enlisted with the General as its vice president for U.S. marketing.

The World Series is, of course, an ideal launching pad for Chevy’s new pitch to reach customers, as baseball—along with hotdogs and apple pie—has a strong association with Chevrolet. Well, at least in the minds of folks who were alive in the 1970s to remember that classic bit of marketing. The thing is, many of the division’s potential customers weren’t, and therein lies a possible problem for Chevrolet’s new “Chevy Runs Deep” campaign.

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Who Killed the Electric Car? Economics.

Chris Haak

In spite of the relentless hype that the electrification of the automobile has generated over the past few years, culminating in the nearly-simultaneous launches of both the Nissan Leaf EV and the Chevrolet Volt extended-range EV, a new report by J.D. Power and Associates () seems to drop a wet blanket on the EV’s prospects for success over the next decade.  In short, the notion that the mix of new-vehicles will be anything other than very heavily weighted toward internal combustion is little more than a pipe dream.

Power projects that hybrids and plug-in vehicles of any kind will make up just 7.3 percent of global automotive passenger-vehicle sales in 2010.  Even more dramatic, though, is the fact that the majority of that number is comprised of hybrids like the Prius, Camry Hybrid, Fusion Hybrid, et al – in other words, cars that aren’t plugged in ever.  If you take those non-plug-in hybrids out of the mix, it drops to between one and two percent of the US market.

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Review:  2011 Infiniti M37
Oct26

Review: 2011 Infiniti M37

By Chris Haak

Over its three generations, Infiniti’s M car has gone from a staid, upright, obsolete-when-it-debuted sedan with a big engine to a curve-heavy technology-packed luxury car with a big engine.  The first generation of the M was basically a left hand drive, Infiniti-badged version of the JDM Nissan Gloria.  That car was sold during the 2003 and 2004 model years only, and was what amounts to a Japanese muscle car; it had the then-flagship Q45’s 4.5 liter V8 installed on a smaller, lighter body.  All-wheel drive was not available in the first M45s, nor was a lower-cost V6-engined version.

In 2005, Infiniti shed the M’s stodgy, conservative bodywork for something still clean and conservative, but also a look that was more aligned with the rest of the Infiniti family, including the about-to-be-introduced 2007 G35 sedan.  The second-generation M stepped up the technology game over the original car, adding features like four wheel steering, all wheel drive, blind spot warning system, a sophisticated multimedia entertainment system, and a standard V6 engine.  Over the term of the second-generation M’s lifespan, the V6 was upgraded and the M got Infiniti’s seven-speed automatic In my past experiences with the M (via a 2008 M35s and a 2009 M45x), I found it to be a comfortable, capable highway cruiser.

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Buy American-Made or Goodbye, American-Made?
Oct26

Buy American-Made or Goodbye, American-Made?

By Charles Krome

Every now and then, there’s a flurry of discussion here in the U.S. about the importance of buying vehicles from one of the home teams, and this usually leads into a discussion of exactly what it means to be an American automaker. Well, that’s the case today, thanks to a recent story on CNNMoney.com.

The impetus behind this is a recent discussion a CNN writer had with John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America. The bottom line: “By next year about 80% of the vehicles Korean automaker Hyundai sells in the United States will be built here.”

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Brand Awareness? It’s Elementary: Part II
Oct21

Brand Awareness? It’s Elementary: Part II

By Charles Krome

(This column is dedicated to Ms. P. and her amazing class of fifth-grade students. Thanks!)

As I mentioned in my last piece, I recently had an opportunity to visit two local elementary-school classes to find out what tomorrow’s vehicle buyers think of today’s cars and trucks. My methodology was simple: I passed out a one-question survey asking “What is your favorite car?” and then left it to the students to fill in their answers as they saw fit. I reported on the results from my third graders last time, and here are the statistics from the fifth graders.

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Neo-Classic Car:  2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10
Oct20

Neo-Classic Car: 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10

By Dennis Haak

It’s not quite a car, and it’s too young to be a true classic, but it’s probably safe to say that there will never be another vehicle quite like the 2004-2006 Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup.  Also known as the Viper Pickup, the Ram SRT-10 showed the crazy things that could happen when performance car engineers – many from Chrysler’s Dodge Viper and Plymouth Prowler teams – were unleashed on a utilitarian vehicle.  Call us crazy, but we don’t expect to ever see a vehicle with EPA ratings of 8 mpg city/11 mpg highway (Quad Cab model, with adjusted 2008+ ratings) sold in the US ever again.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate the Ram SRT-10 for what it is:  perhaps the most hairy-chested, brash, and fast performance pickup* truck ever built.  Chevy’s 454SS, sold in the early 1990s, produced less than half of the horsepower that the Ram SRT-10 did, and the Ram SRT-10 topped the supercharged Ford F-150 Lightning by at least 125 horsepower.

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