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NAIAS Preview: MINI Paceman Concept
Dec22

NAIAS Preview: MINI Paceman Concept

By Charles Krome

This is the kind of rerun I like seeing: Last year, the MINI brand introduced the Beachcomber concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, then used that dramatic show car as a launching pad for the MINI Countryman production vehicle. This time around, the automaker is showing a concept that’s a bit more conventional, but it, too, will certainly lead to a sellable product in the near future: Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the MINI Paceman.

MINI is of course being coy about production plans, but as even the press materials indicate, the Paceman is a natural addition to the lineup. It looks like a mash-up between the Countryman and the MINI Coupe concept from 2009, and it offers a mix of those vehicles’ capabilities and design cues. There’s a lot of emphasis on the Paceman’s ability to deliver a dynamic driving experience, and the car borrows the Coupe’s “floating roof” treatment—called a “helmet roof” by MINI—but at the same time, the company goes out of its way to bolster the connection between this vehicle and the Countryman: For example, it’s noted that the Paceman’s “MINI Countryman roots give this new MINI concept study an ideal platform for the MINI ALL4 permanent all-wheel-drive system.”

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IIHS Announces 2011 Top Safety Picks

By Chris Haak

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit funded by member insurance companies, has released its top safety picks for 2011, and there are a large number of very safe vehicles on the road for the 2011 model year.  According to the IIHS, there were 66 winners (40 cars, 25 trucks/SUVs, and one minivan) for 2011, which is a significant spike from the 2010 model year, when tougher roof-strength standards cut the list to just 27 vehicles qualified for the award.  During the course of the 2010 model year, that number eventually grew to 58 vehicles as new models were introduced and existing models were enhanced.  For 2011, two of the 2010 winners dropped off the list and 10 new models were added.  The IIHS expects that throughout the course of the model year, additional vehicles will be classified as top picks as well.

The IIHS crash tests are far more rigorous than the NHTSA’s tests, and come to play with a different perspective than the government does.  The IIHS, as it’s funded by the insurance industry, wishes to minimize claims payments from accidents.  The means to get to that lower claim amount is to shame auto manufacturers into making vehicles that do a better job of protecting their occupants, and do a better job of protecting the vehicles from fender-bender damage.  So, while the motives are not entirely altruistic (and whose are, really?), the outcome means safer vehicles for all of us.

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Toronto-Dominion Bank To Buy Chrysler Financial

By Chris Haak

Toronto-Dominion, the second-largest bank in Canada based on deposits, announced today that it has acquired Chrysler Financial.  Chrysler Financial has had a number of ups and downs over the past few years, but the entity is clearly ending its life on an “up” note.  Toronto-Dominion is better known in the US as TD Bank.

Previously the captive finance arm for Chrysler and its various brands, Cerberus purchased the lender along with Chrysler’s automotive operations in 2007.  Partially due to Chrysler’s struggles, and partially due to the financial crisis, Chrysler Financial was undergoing major struggles.  As Chrysler exited bankruptcy, Chrysler Financial lost its status as Chrysler’s captive-finance arm, with that role moving to GMAC instead under the government’s direction.  Chrysler Financial executives declined to accept TARP funds to shore up the company’s balance sheet, and it looked like the firm would be liquidated.  It was generating little new business and seemed to have dim prospects for the future.

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Time Travellers:  MkII GTI vs. MKV GTI
Dec21

Time Travellers: MkII GTI vs. MKV GTI

By James Wong

The favoured of the children, the teacher’s pets in class, the yardstick for performance hatches. Meet the MkII and MkV GTI – 20 years set them apart but did age really change anything? I drive both to step back in time – and fast forward to the future – to give you an answer.

There are many hatches out there which might give you ideas that you are driving a cool car. Take the Alfas for example – the new Giulietta no exception – they have such sex appeal that makes you just foolish enough to sign on the dotted line for one. Those ideas quickly dissipate, however, when your Alfa suddenly springs a squeaky door handle or flashes a phantom light on the dashboard that comes out to play only when the mechanic is away. Of course, sex appeal does count for something – after all, we cannot deny that looks do play a part in perception, no matter how small – which is why the GTI is quite a bit of a car. It is not outwardly sexy, but it is very appealing in the sort of way that you can count on it when everybody’s walking cold outside and you’ve got the heater working in a car that is 20 years old. It is with some amazement that things work at all in a car that is almost as old as me. The GTI too is widely known as a classless car, which means that even if you are the fruit seller from down the street or an investment banker from the City, you wouldn’t look out of place driving one. Now if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.

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NAIAS Preview: Ford C-MAX
Dec21

NAIAS Preview: Ford C-MAX

By Charles Krome

A particularly interesting vehicle slated to make its North American debut at the Detroit auto show (aka, the North American International Auto Show) is Ford’s “new” C-MAX, a small people mover that’s seen some success in Europe as the Grand C-MAX; in Europe, the plain old C-MAX is an even smaller vehicle. It’s another attempt to kick-start the mini-minivan segment, which, because the Kia Rondo has been cancelled, is now down to the MAZDA5 in the U.S.

To give you an idea of how “mini” we’re talking here, the C-MAX stretches a mere 178 inches, making it only about 6.5 inches longer than the new Focus. But that extra half a foot makes a key difference, as it allows Ford to position the car as offering a “5+2” seating configuration. The translation: It has room for five normal-sized humans, then offers a third row for smaller passengers, i.e., kids. Those dimensions alone would seem to offer a nice package for young buyers, but I thought the same thing about the Rondo and MAZDA5, neither of which have gained much traction among American buyers.

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