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First Drives:  2011 S60, Mazda2, Juke, Optima, and Grand Cherokee
Oct20

First Drives: 2011 S60, Mazda2, Juke, Optima, and Grand Cherokee

By George Straton

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a day at a media event outside Chicago where I was able to play the automotive version of musical chairs. Over six grueling hours, I and a few dozen other media members were able to get some seat time in 30 or so newer automotive models. The following is the result of the time spent with several new-for-model year 2011 offerings which we think will have some sort of impact in the marketplace.

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Brand Awareness? It’s Elementary: Part I
Oct19

Brand Awareness? It’s Elementary: Part I

By Charles Krome

(This column is dedicated to Ms. Y and her wonderful third-grade class. Thanks!)

Your intrepid correspondent was out in the field yesterday, conducting some hard-hitting research on a topic that’s near and dear to the imaginary hearts of automakers everywhere: Brand awareness among elementary school students.

Here’s the deal: Two of my kids’ teachers were kind enough to let me stop by for a visit, during which I passed out a single, one-question survey asking “What is your favorite car?” The students then filled in the blanks, and the results were no less than fascinating. Here are the answers and number of “votes” per each answer for the third graders; I’ll post the results for the fifth graders in the near future.

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Hey, There’s a Cool Car: 1973 Lincoln Continental
Oct18

Hey, There’s a Cool Car: 1973 Lincoln Continental

By Charles Krome

As I was trolling through the Internet researching this beauty, I came across an interesting comment from an owner: “If God had to buy a car, this would be it”—which, I suppose, is appropriate for a vehicle that’s nearly the size of Noah’s ark.

This 1973 Lincoln Continental—a coupe, remember—is more than 19 feet long and nearly 80 inches wide, giving it a slightly larger footprint than a Cadillac ESV. On the other hand, it’s true that the body-on-frame SUV outweighs the Lincoln by a fair amount; the Continental tips the scales at a mere 5,214 lbs. And the engine here shares the same sort of epic proportions. It’s a 460-cubic-inch V8 straight from the “no replacement for displacement” school of engineering.

Unfortunately, that mammoth mill has been detuned to produce only 212 hp (to go with 342 lb.-ft. of torque) and therein lies another distinguishing feature of this particular car.

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Why Insurgents Love The Toyota Hilux
Oct18

Why Insurgents Love The Toyota Hilux

By Chris Haak

Newsweek recently that explored why it seems that the Toyota Hilux pickup has appeared as the insurgent vehicle of choice in nearly every guerrilla war over the past 40- years.  The article contends that a few factors can be attributed to the little truck’s popularity:

  • Reputation/brand recognition
  • Popularity, which makes finding replacement parts and doing repairs easy
  • Durability
  • Ground clearance
  • Maneuverability

The US Military’s Humvee checks off some of those boxes, but certainly not maneuverability.  The Humvee is just too heavy and too wide; at 85 inches wide, that’s just over 7 feet.  A Hilux through the 2005 model year was no more than 65 or 66 inches wide.  When you’re an insurgent making your way through narrow, undeveloped trails, twenty inches makes a huge difference in terms of maneuverability.

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EPA Approves E15 Ethanol-Gasoline Blend
Oct14

EPA Approves E15 Ethanol-Gasoline Blend

By Chris Haak

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday announced that it has approved the use of E15 (a blend of 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol) for 2007 and later model-year vehicles.  Much to the chagrin of the farm lobby and to the ethanol lobby (represented by the Renewable Fuels Association, or RFA), the EPA is continuing to study the effects of ethanol on pre-2007 vehicles.

The RFA, of course, is interested in selling more ethanol.  According to the group, raising the previous 10 percent ethanol cap in regular gasoline could increase ethanol demand by a substantial 6.5 billion gallons, which the group says would also reduce oil imports by 200 million gallons, presumably annually.

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2011 Chrysler 200, AKA Sebring, Breaks Cover
Oct14

2011 Chrysler 200, AKA Sebring, Breaks Cover

By Chris Haak

Few new cars have been as unloved by retail consumers as has Chrysler’s Sebring.  Showcasing the very worst of what Daimler felt Chrysler stood for:  tacky hood strakes, overdone chrome, poor proportions, a plastic-heavy interior, and subpar powertrains, the third generation Sebring hit the new-car market with a thud, and proceeded to lose nearly every comparison test it found itself in.  Chrysler still needed to keep its factories humming, though, and the smallest of the Detroit 3 found willing buyers of Sebrings at rental car lots across the country, almost certainly at deeply-discounted prices.

Chrysler’s Fiat overlords are well aware of the Sebring’s probems, which we were so gracious as to point out last month – heck, even Cerberus was aware of them.  But in this case, the new management team has actually done something.  Ding, dong, the Sebring’s dead.  Say hello to the 2011 Chrysler 200, which is really just a heavily-revised Sebring.  The 200 shares the Sebring’s hard points (doors, greenhouse, and wheelbase), but appears to have finally become the car that Chrysler should have introduced in 2007 instead of the Sebring that was bestowed upon us.

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Chevrolet Volt: The Big Lie?
Oct13

Chevrolet Volt: The Big Lie?

By Charles Krome

According to my handy-dandy New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary—and by “shorter,” they mean it comes in just two volumes, as opposed to the 20 that make up the full OED—a “coupé” is “an enclosed two-door motor car.” Yet Mercedes insists on marketing the CLS-Class as a “four-door coupe”—does that mean the folks at M-B are lying?

I bring this up because of the recent hubbub over the Chevrolet Volt: It turns out that under certain, relatively uncommon circumstances, the car’s 1.3-liter internal combustion engine will actually contribute some amount of mechanical driving force to its wheels. And if that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, you either haven’t been paying attention to the automotive blogosphere or you need to update your membership in the Official He-Man GM-Haters’ Club.

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Google Knows Best: Taking the “Person” Out of “Personal Transportation”
Oct12

Google Knows Best: Taking the “Person” Out of “Personal Transportation”

By Charles Krome

About two weeks ago, Google CEO Eric Schmidt came out with his vision for the future of the automotive industry. Noting that “It’s amazing to me that we let humans drive cars,” Schmidt took this to its logical conclusion by flatly stating that “Your car should drive itself.”

Another unrealistic pronouncement from the kind of folks who once expected us to be driving flying cars by now? Unfortunately, no. In fact, it turns out that Google has a small fleet of “automated cars”—Toyota Priuses, of course—that already has racked up more than 140,000 miles of driverless driving out in California and Nevada. The vehicles are part of the company’s efforts to “help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.”

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