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Is GM Overhyping its “Loan Repayment?”

By Chris Haak

Since Wednesday, GM has been making a big deal about its repayment of the remaining $5.8 billion balance of government loans ($4.7 billion to the US and $1.1 billion to Canada).  GM Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre had this to say.  “GM is able to repay the taxpayers in full, with interest, ahead of schedule, because more customers are buying vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse we build here in Fairfax.  We are now building some of the best cars, trucks, and crossovers we have ever built, and customers are taking note.  Our dealers are increasing their sales, we are investing in our plants, and we are restoring and creating jobs.”

That’s all well and good, but the reality of the situation – reinforced by an audit report provided to Congress this week by the TARP inspector general, Neil Barofsky – is the GM repaid the money with “other TARP funds currently held in an escrow account.”

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Beijing Auto Show: Ford Start Concept with 3-Cylinder EcoBoost

By Chris Haak

If you haven’t already noticed, several of us at Techshake are big fans of Ford’s 3.5 liter, 350+ horsepower EcoBoost V6.  The powerful engine has the ability to make big vehicles like the Taurus SHO, Lincoln MKS, Lincoln MKT, and Ford Flex perform like much smaller cars, at least in a straight line.  But Ford’s EcoBoost strategy doesn’t stop with the V6; the company has previously announced a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which we’ll first see in the refreshed 2011 Ford Edge; that engine will eventually proliferate itself throughout the Blue Oval’s lineup.

And now in Beijing, Ford has revealed a design study of an urban car called the Ford Start.  Interestingly, the Start does not seem to follow the current kinetic design language that Ford has been trending toward in its new car offerings lately (such as the 2011 Focus).  But even though the company does not plan to produce the Start, the 1.0 liter three-cylinder EcoBoost engine is very likely to see production in the near future.

Though the automaker was not specific about the diminutive engine’s output, it did say that it will produce similar output to a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four cylinder.  That means roughly 105 to 110 horsepower; surely not enough to get the heart fluttering for many enthusiasts, but a reasonable figure for a small, light car (probably smaller than Fiesta-size).  Too, the tiny engine’s likely CO2 output would be below the magical 100 g/km figure that defines a “green” car and gets its owner the least expensive registration fees in many countries.  Ford’s press releases and a photo gallery follow after the jump.

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Beijing Auto Show: Chevrolet Volt MPV5 Crossover Concept

By Chris Haak

Last week, the stumbled upon a design patent drawing for a crossover that seemed to basically have the Chevrolet Volt’s face attached to a crossover body.  Though the size wasn’t apparent from the fairly basic drawing, it seemed to be similar in size and shape to the forthcoming Chevrolet Orlando crossover.

Now, this Volt-looking crossover has made its official debut at the Beijing Auto Show in China, and it’s nearly exactly what the insiders at GM Inside News expected it would be.  The Volt MPV5 has a wheelbase just 15 mm longer than the four-seat Volt, but its body is 181 mm longer and 182 mm taller than the Volt.  The MPV5’s interior uses the Volt’s iPod-like center stack and gauge cluster, but adds five-person seating, and the second row seats fold.  The Volt MPV5’s powertrain is identical to the Volt’s (16 kWh T-shaped lithium ion battery pack, 150 horsepower/273 lb-ft electric motor, 1.4 liter range-extending gasoline engine), but because of the Volt MPV5’s less-optimized aerodynamics and heavier weight relative to the Volt sedan, its electric-only driving range drops from approximately 40 miles to 32 miles.

The Volt MPV5’s design works for me; it seems to be a handsome-looking extension for the Volt brand, and proves that the Voltec architecture that underpins the Volt is flexible (after all, it also underpinned the Cadillac Converj coupe concept in 2009).  In what is likely a further boost to the Volt MPV5’s production likelihood, it would most likely be classified as a light truck, and could help GM to meet increasingly-aggressive CAFE targets over the next several years.  No official word on production from GM, however.  Follow the jump for a photo gallery and GM’s press release.

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Recall Watch: Toyota Recalls 870,000 Sienna Minivans

By Chris Haak

News hit the wire tonight that Toyota is recalling some 600,000 two wheel drive Sienna minivans in the US and another 270,000 in Canada, covering model years 1998 to 2010, to address a risk that potential corrosion from long-term exposure to road salt in cold-weather states could cause the spare tire carrier cable to fail, which could cause the spare tire to fall from the vehicle.  If the van is stopped when this happens, it’s not a big deal, but if it’s moving, it is a huge problem, particularly for the poor sap behind the Sienna when the cable fails.

In addition to the District of Columbia, vehicles originally sold or currently registered in the following cold climate states with high road salt usage are covered by this recall: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia.  Owners of vehicles who live in unaffected states may still have their Sienna inspected free of charge.  The inspection is expected to take about 30 minutes to complete.

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Review: 2010 Ram 2500 HD Laramie Crew Cab 4×4
Apr16

Review: 2010 Ram 2500 HD Laramie Crew Cab 4×4

By Chris Haak

Welcome to tractor trailer driver fantasy camp, known in some circles as the new Ram 2500 HD Laramie Crew Cab 4×4.  Driving the new Ram HD trully makes one feel like the king of the road.  It also makes you feel like driving a nearly four-ton truck (over four tons with passengers, let alone cargo) just might be overkill unless you really need something with its capabilities.

But back to the tractor trailer thing:  the Ram has a miniature version of the engine in over-the-road tractors, has a diesel exhaust brake, 9600-pound GVW rating, an eight foot long box, and stands about a head taller than nearly any vehicle on the road, save those big rigs.  But even their drivers are nearly at eye level to the Ram’s driver.  And though the Ram’s styling has been toned down a bit (and is more familiar, with hundreds of thousands of them on the road) from the original 1994 “big rig” Ram pickup, it still looks like a cross between a Charger sedan and a semi.  I haven’t even mentioned the sound effects that the big Cummins six cylinder turbodiesel makes.

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2010 Lincoln MKT EcoBoost Review
Apr16

2010 Lincoln MKT EcoBoost Review

By Chris Haak

I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to now sample four vehicles with Ford’s outstanding 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6 under their hoods (Flex EcoBoost, Taurus SHO, MKS EcoBoost, and now the MKT EcoBoost).  In each vehicle, a blockbuster engine makes these large vehicles accelerate better in a straight line than they seemingly should be able to, while gulping down prodigious amounts of unleaded.

It was a gorgeous sunny day when the MKT was delivered for evaluation; its Cinnamon Metallic paint (a lovely metallic brown with a hint of red mixed in) sparkled in the sun, as did the large quantities of chrome found throughout the vehicle’s exterior.  There’s large polished aluminum wheels, chrome at the bottom of the doors, chrome around the greenhouse, chrome on the door handles, chrome around the foglights, chrome across the taillights, and of course, the giant chrome grille.

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Dmitri Nabokov, Car Guy: Take Two
Apr15

Dmitri Nabokov, Car Guy: Take Two

By Roger Boylan 

In November 2009, Techshake published a short piece of mine entitled “Dmitri Nabokov, Car Guy” about the cars in the life of Dmitri, son of the great writer Vladimir Nabokov, and himself a man of letters, noted car buff, and former racing driver. For the article I used mostly generic photographs, obtained online, of the models of cars referred to in accounts by him and various interviewers. Then, shortly thereafter, I entered into correspondence with Mr. Nabokov on this and other subjects, and he sent me what amounts to a family album of the cars of his life: a gesture typical of the generosity that has characterized his part in my dealings with him. 

I have included his photographs in this short addendum to the previous piece. They and their captions are Dmitri Nabokov’s; the bracketed insertions, mine. 

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2010 Lincoln MKZ AWD Review
Apr13

2010 Lincoln MKZ AWD Review

By Chris Haak

There has been a lot of buzz over the past year about Ford’s updated-for-2010 Fusion midsize car.  The Fusion – now with an excellent Hybrid model as well – has deservedly been winning accolades from buyers and reviewers alike for its clean design, array of powertrain choices, reasonable pricing, and upgraded interior with state-of-the-art technology and connectivity.  Less heralded are the Fusion’s corporate cousins, the Mercury Milan (which is basically a Fusion clone), and the Lincoln MKZ. The MKZ was called the Lincoln Zephyr in its first model year, before Lincoln swapped real model names for the MK_ convention (except for the Navigator, which, like its arch-rival Cadillac Escalade, hung onto its real name).  I’ve always been fond of the Zephyr name (in spite of the unfortunate 1978-83 Mercury version of the Ford Fairmont that carried the name).  It means “west wind,” which is nearly odd since there’s little wind noise to speak of inside the MKZ, particularly in the updated 2010 model, with its new sound-absorbing laminated windshield glass.

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