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Germany Declines to Give Opel State Aid

By Chris Haak

GM’s troubled European subsidiary, Opel, requested €1.1 billion ($1.3 billion USD) in state aid to help fund its expensive €3.6 billion restructuring program. Opel already has the support of its largest works council vis-à-vis plant closings, and also has secured aid from four of the German states in which Opel has plants.

According to German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle, the aid request was turned down mainly because he feels that parent company GM has enough financial wherewithal some 18 months after Opel’s future was thrown into doubt that it could fund Opel’s restructuring on its own.  Also, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has recently announced austerity measures that did not sit extremely well with the public in an effort to save €80 billion over the next four years.  Dropping 1.4 percent of the required savings in aid to Opel, where Germany didn’t think there was a dire need, would have likely proven politically unpopular.

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Review:  2010 Toyota Venza V6 4×2
Jun10

Review: 2010 Toyota Venza V6 4×2

By Roger Boylan

The 2010 Toyota Venza is a sleek and stylish SUV crossover with a pseudo-Italian name (a marriage of “venture” + “Monza”), designed to compete head-to-head with a sleek and stylish SUV crossover bearing a genuine Italian name, the Nissan Murano, which has no apparent connection to the eponymous Venetian glassblowing district but which comes closest to wearing the same three-cornered hat of sportiness, utility, and style. The others in this segment, such as the Ford Edge, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-7, and the new Honda Accord Crosstour, are, if you ask me (and even if you don’t), a step or two behind on the fashion runway, although all are pretty solid contenders. But in the street or the piazza, the Venza’s design stands out, with its bright chrome grille, tapering headlamp clusters, and low front valence containing a wide air dam and embedded fog lamps.

From the side, the Venza’s low rocker panels and tight doorsills evoke a more than passing resemblance to the first-generation Matrix, but on a larger scale that manages to look up-to-date, sleek, and swift. The huge wheels (in the V6 version, 20-inchers shod with 245/50 tires) sit at the corners of the body, contributing to the overall muscular, yet graceful, stance. Swoosh-shaped tail lamps add a sporty touch. It’s an eye-catching design, and it comes courtesy of Toyota’s CALTY Design Research Center in Newport Beach, California. Its Asian DNA is evident, though, in the grinning–almost leering–grille, as if Kabuki demons had a part in its creation.

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EPA Announces Top-Ten Fuel Sipper Lists, 1984-Present

By Chris Haak

The US Environmental Protection Agency issued a news release yesterday that listed the top-ten fuel sippers from the period 1984 to 2010.  During the 27 model years in question, one common theme among the most-efficient vehicles is that they are either hybrids, or very small cars from the early 1990s.  The lesson:  if you want to save fuel, you either need significant technology or very light cars.  And very light, cheap cars (like the 1989 Chevy Sprint) fare very poorly in collisions.  The list of most fuel-efficient new cars according to EPA ratings from 1984-2010 are below (numbers are presented as city/highway/combined, and are adjusted to the 2008 and later methodology):

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Vehicle Safety Bill Moves Toward Senate Vote

By Chris Haak

In response to the Toyota recall crisis and the subsequent furor over when vehicles should be recalled, how large fines for deliberate noncompliance should be, a bill is working its way through the Senate Commerce Committee that would bolster new vehicle safety regulations.  If the amendments proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to the bill passes committee as expected, the bill will be put to a vote on the Senate floor shortly thereafter.

The bill as proposed is less strict than the original proposals that had been floating about.  Credit a mix of common sense and intense auto industry lobbying for moderating many of the original bill’s provisions, including stopping-distance performance requirements with the mandatory brake override (these have been eliminated) and a 75-second event data recording requirement (this has been dramatically reduced).

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A Saab Owner’s Visit to Saab Cars NA Headquarters
Jun09

A Saab Owner’s Visit to Saab Cars NA Headquarters

By Kevin Miller

As a dedicated gearhead and Saab fanatic, I’ve gotten plenty of entertainment from my membership in the Northwest Saab Owners Club. Kip, a fellow club member, found himself in the Detroit area late last month, and had a little time before his return flight so decided to drive by the new Saab Cars North America (SCNA) headquarters in Royal Oak, Michigan. He emailed me to describe his visit; the text in italics below quotes directly from his email.

Kip states that …while most of the surrounding facilities are older, the building that Saab is leasing is newer, very modern and probably smaller than what you would expect. A new white 9-3 [convertible] was displayed just outside the entry. I suspect that [the convertible] is taken in when the offices are closed.

He described the atmosphere inside the offices as quiet, with a minimal staff just 70 days after the formation of the new company.

[There was no] receptionist and I was taking a few pictures when Mike Colleran, President and COO of Saab Cars North America came out. We talked and he said he had a few minutes between appointments and offered a tour of the facilities.

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The Week of Recalls Continues

By Chris Haak

Though nowhere near the number of vehicles recalled by Toyota at the height of its sudden unintended acceleration crisis of late 2009/early 2010, there have been a fairly sizable number of vehicles recalled by GM and Chrysler over the past week.  Ford also had its name dragged through the recall mud a bit, perhaps proving that Toyota’s persecution at the hands of NHTSA was not a politically motivated attempt to bolster government-owned GM and Chrysler.  But who knows?

Ford’s Floormat Problem
Ford benefitted perhaps more than any other automaker from Toyota’s recall crisis, snatching marketshare from the Japanese juggernaut almost point-for-point, as Dearborn-based Ford basked in its bailout-free balance sheet and income statement.  Ironic, then, that NHTSA is investigating Ford midsize cars (such as the Fusion and Milan) for potential accelerator pedal entrapment caused by improperly installing all-weather floormats above carpeted mats.  The company was quick to point out that there were no reported cases of properly installed all-weather mats causing pedal entrapment.  I’m sure that Ford is hoping that it doesn’t find itself entrapped in a similar conundrum to what Toyota is crawling out of.

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Chrysler PT Cruiser Production Set to End July 6
Jun08

Chrysler PT Cruiser Production Set to End July 6

By Chris Haak

The Chrysler PT Cruiser, perhaps the best-selling and most-recognizable retro-styled car sold in the US market over its eleven-year production run, is about to end its production once and for all.  On July 6, the last new PT Cruiser will roll off the assembly line at Chrysler’s Toluca, Mexico assembly plant.

That the PT Cruiser has endured for as long as it has – selling some 1.2 million copies in the process, or an average of over 100,000 units annually over its production run – is a testament to the car’s fundamentally clean, quirky, fun-loving design.  Over the past decade, the PT Cruiser has changed only slightly.  All of the hard points are still the same as the original 2000 model, but the front bumper and grille were revised slightly for the 2006 model year, and the interior was changed for 2006 also.

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Review: 2010 Ford Transit Connect XLT Cargo Van
Jun08

Review: 2010 Ford Transit Connect XLT Cargo Van

By Chris Haak

I can sum up the Ford Transit Connect in one word:  visibility.  Approaching the van, it’s hard to miss it.  I caught more than one fellow motorist gawking at the oddly-shaped little van as I navigated traffic or parked it in public places.  It’s not that the Transit Connect’s shape is unconventional – it’s a two-box van, like so many other two-box vans.  But the Transit Connect is just built in an unexpected size for a work van, and you don’t see many of them on the road.  It almost looks like a shrunken Dodge/Freightliner/Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, but one that was left in the dryer too long.  The little van is short and stubby, with minimal overhang front and rear (in spite of its front wheel drive and transversely-mounted engine), and has a stubby hood, giant windows (particularly its windshield) and tall roof.  People do notice the Transit Connect, which may only be due to its relative scarcity in the US.

Back to the visibility theme, from inside the van, the tall windshield collects a lot of bugs in warm-weather months, but offers an amazing forward view.  There is no crouching forward to see traffic lights above your head, and the tall windshield necessitates tall sun visors, which look kind of funny, but do the trick.  The front doors have large windows that dip lower by the mirrors for additional visibility (in the same way the Ford Super Duty pickups’ windows do), and the side mirrors are large.  At this point, outward visibility ends, at least in the full-fledged cargo version of the Transit Connect that Ford provided to us for a week.

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