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MINI USA Gets Creative For April Fools’ Day
Apr01

MINI USA Gets Creative For April Fools’ Day

By Kevin Miller

04.01.2009

minie3Being educated as an electrical engineer, I’m always interested in electric vehicles and their propulsion systems. That said, also being a member of society, I can recognized an April Fool’s press release when I see one, especially when it has to do with electric vehicle technology.

This morning MINI USA published a press release touting a “perpetual motion” magnetic drive system, to extend the range of their MINI E electric vehicle. The system, referred to by Mini as PR0401, is said to use the attractive and repulsive properties of magnets to create virtually limitless perpetual motion, with the ability to travel as far as thousands of miles on a single charge. Sound like an April Fool’s joke to you yet?

The team at MINI cooked up some elaborately vague description of the PR0401 system, which is said to build on the als0-imaginary Magnetic Tow Technology introduced on April 1 by BMW in the UK. While perpetual motion from magnetic charges looks thoretically possible on paper, whenever real-world properties like mass and drag are introduced into such equations, the motion tends to be less-than-perpetual.

In any case, MINI’s press release is an entertaining read, it is attached below.

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BREAKING: VW Changes Mind Again, Renames Animal After Sport
Apr01

BREAKING: VW Changes Mind Again, Renames Animal After Sport

By David Surace

04.01.2009

are up in arms as the Volkswagen Group has announced that it is re-naming what were once called rabbits, members of the Leporid genus of the Lagomorph order of mammals. The new name will henceforth be Golfs, referencing the pedestrian Scottish sport which involves a dimpled ball.

The sudden move, which animal rights experts and scientists have decried as dangerous and irresponsible, was initiated according to VW Group marketing executives because of naming confusion leading to a loss of brand equity, a condition which commonly occurs among purchasers of rabbits.

“We found through extensive research that our customers had more in common with stick-and-ball sports,” said Engelbert Humperdinck, a VW spokesperson. “We consistently see people in our showrooms who indicate they like to spend their weekends wandering around a nearly empty expanse of perfectly trimmed grass, using electric vehicles to chase after a tiny round white object. So Golf turned out to be an excellent fit with our target demographic.”

But according to Dr. Hieronymous Bun, chairman of the Watership Downs’ Institute for Responsible Rabbit Breeding, naming animals after stick-and-ball sports could lead to a dangerous level of confusion. “Up until this week our primary problem was with sugar-covered marshmallows, which was manageable,” said Dr. Bun. “Now we’re talking about being chased around with a metal club? This is an entirely different class of abuse.”

Experts in the automotive field have since pointed out to Volkswagen’s marketing group that they do not sell mammals.

Experts in the sport of golf were too busy staring at looped footage of Tiger Woods, and were thus unavailable for comment.

Copyright AUTOSAVANT – All Rights Reserved

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Check Your Mirrors
Apr01

Check Your Mirrors

By Chris Haak

04.01.2009

rick-wagonerTOYOTA’s board of directors has changed its mind and replaced President-in-waiting Akio Toyoda with the newly available Rick Wagoner, formerly of General Motors.  Reached for comment, a spokesperson from the company noted that although Toyoda’s grandfather founded the company that bears his name, Mr. Toyoda does not have experience running a global automaker, while Mr. Wagoner has been doing that for the past eight years.  There’s no word yet on whether the Japanese prime minister is already planning to fire Wagoner.

CHRYSLER has announced plans to offer a SRT performance version of it’s Chrysler Sebring, as early as next week, and for a very limited time. The performance Sebring will have a V-12 engine under the hood, courtesy of a rush job by the engineering department at the SRT performance division – the Chrysler simply bolted two standard Chrysler V6 engines together, and added twin turbochargers. The new engine puts out a stunning 913 horsepower. The only other modifications other than the engine are very stiff bushings up front. When this reporter asked whether that much power in a stock Sebring might potentially be dangerous, Lee Nardelli Eaton, the Chrysler spokesman at the press conference, replied in the affirmative. Eaton stated, “Here at Chrysler we wanted to go truly retro and build a car that had way too much horsepower for its brakes and suspension. We think we’ve accomplished that and more. If we’re going out of business, we wanted a car like this to be our swan song, and to hell with the government regulations. So what if the car gets only 4 mpg, and so what if it has a potentially fatal problem with frame flex – we’re proud of our vehicles here at Chrysler and feel we can compete with any other automaker out there.”

TATA’s small, cheap Nano – the cheapest new car available anywhere in the world, has set a new Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record for production two-cylinder cars that have three-lug wheels.  The Nano’s 26:32.9 ‘Ring time, while not necessarily impressive compared to the Dodge Viper SRT10 ACR’s 7:22.1, nevertheless breaks new ground for economical cars.  With an average speed of 29.21 miles per hour over the 12.9-mile circuit.  Tata has not released a video of the record-setting lap, so it’s unknown if trickery was involved in the record-setting attempt.

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Fiat Will Dictate Terms To Chrysler
Mar31

Fiat Will Dictate Terms To Chrysler

By Brendan Moore

03.31.2009

chrysler-logo-small1If you’re on the Chrysler acquisition project team (sorry, “partnership” team) at Fiat, you must be feeling pretty good right about now. Because whatever valuation you arrived at for Chrysler last month just got halved, courtesy of the United States government.

The Obama administration has publicly stated that if Chrysler doesn’t do a deal within 30 days, then they cease to exist. So, if you’re Fiat, you have to figure that Chrysler is going to sell  a big piece of itself for whatever price is acceptable to you, the buyer. It’s not like they have a lot of time to negotiate, and besides, if there is no sale, then they will go away forever. Chrysler is now what is called a motivated seller (partner).

If nothing else, it should cut the time allocated to due diligence and discovery by Fiat down to a very small amount of time.

I’m not saying it’s a done deal – Fiat may decide a big chunk of Chrysler isn’t worth buying even at 50% of the valuation they arrived at a month ago. Frankly, they could reach that same decision at 25% of last month’s valuation, considering all of Chrysler’s debts and liabilities, and, the massive re-jiggering the company will need. Remember, this is a company that Cerberus got for free a couple of years ago, before a deep recession and the recent movement to frugality (read: less Chrysler trucks and SUVs going over the curb) by United States citizens.

It’s quite possible that Fiat may even wait for Chrysler to go into bankruptcy, and then bid on only the assets they want, cafeteria-style. Then they wouldn’t have to do the shut-down of production lines themselves. Of course, they would then run the risk of losing the Jeep brand and the truck line to someone else that was also bidding piecemeal, and, bidding higher.

One thing’s for certain – if Fiat buys a controlling stake in Chrysler, it will be at a price they dictate. Chrysler has no other potential buyers (“partners”) at this point and does not have the option of holding out for a higher price later.

What an ignominious end for what used to be a great company. A long time ago, admittedly, but nonetheless, they used to be somebody.

COPYRIGHT Techshake – All Rights Reserved

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Who’s the Renegade PR Person at Chrysler?
Mar31

Who’s the Renegade PR Person at Chrysler?

By Chris Haak

03.31.2009

chrysler_nardelli_001__midPerhaps lost among yesterday’s flurry of GM- and Chrysler-related announcements and news releases from each company, the President’s Task Force on Automobiles, and President Obama himself, Chrysler has had to do some serious backtracking from statements that its PR department released.

As we reported earlier, the government announced on Monday that it considers neither Chrysler nor GM to be viable entities and that it was giving Chrysler 30 days to work out a deal with Italy’s Fiat, which might make the firm a viable going concern.  Mere hours later, Chrysler announced that it had agreed to the terms of a formal alliance with Fiat S.p.A. and its majority owner, Cerberus Capital Management.  Chrysler went on to say that the US Treasury Department supported the agreement.

Just thirty minutes later, Chrysler issued another news release that said that the deal with Fiat was actually just the “framework of an agreement.”  There’s a big difference between a framework agreement – which Chrysler, Cerberus, and Fiat have already had in place for several weeks – and a final agreement, which the parties have 30 days (now 29 days) to come to.  When I first saw the news that an agreement had been reached, I was surprised, because most observers expected it to take possibly more than the allotted 30 days for the parties to come to terms.  Further, the government had changed the terms under which an agreement would be acceptable; specifically, Fiat’s proposed 35% initial stake, and eventually up to 55%, would have to be much lower.  The government would also not allow Fiat to have a majority ownership of the company until the loans had been repaid.

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Obama Gives GM and Chrysler Some Tough Love
Mar30

Obama Gives GM and Chrysler Some Tough Love

By Brendan Moore

03.30.2009

gm-logo-small1In a remarkable 24 hours, the Obama administration has forced out Rick Wagoner as CEO of General Motors, and publicly rebuked both Chrysler and GM for the inadequacy of their restructuring plans. They have also put forth their conditions for more federal aid to the two automakers and stated that bankruptcy is still an option for both Chrysler and GM.

Along the way, the Auto Task Force that was recently brought into existence by the Obama administration stated in direct language that Chrysler was absolutely not viable as a stand-along entity and that if they couldn’t get a merger done with Fiat in the next 30 days (with working capital from the US Treasury during those 30 days), that the company would get no more money from the federal government and go under.

The Auto Task Force concluded that General Motors had far more promise as a stand-alone company, but that their restructuring efforts to this point were not anywhere strong enough to get the job done. GM has been given working capital for 60 days to wring out more concessions from the unions and their stakeholders, cut more costs, change production capacity, etc.

chrysler-logo-smallPresident Obama has stated repeatedly that he would not let the United States auto industry just disappear, that he wants the companies to succeed and prosper, but that there is no blank check from the government towards that end. It is obvious that the Obama administration wants to keep the many jobs that the auto industry and it’s supplier base provides, but since they are providing the money to keep the staggering automakers afloat, they want to control the terms and conditions as to how the money is metered out and spent. There is also the issue of growing public resentment towards all bailouts, regardless of the industry.

In addition, the Obama administration today announced many other steps to assist the auto industry, including tax credits, new government task forces, greater availability of consumer credit and other measures.

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2009 Subaru Forester XT Review
Mar30

2009 Subaru Forester XT Review

By Kevin Miller

03.30.2009

h57100080aLiving in the Pacific Northwest, it seems like every other house has a Subaru Outback or Forester parked outside. Subaru vehicles and my family go way back. More than a decade ago my brother and I drove his AWD Legacy sedan from Seattle to New Jersey over four days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  That journey across a frozen part of the continent exposed me to the beauty of Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Since then, my mother-in-law has upgraded her ’82 Subaru  4×4 wagon for a modern Outback, and my mother traded her Saab 900 turbo for a 2002 Outback H6 3.0 L. L.Bean Edition.

With that history, I eagerly anticipated my week in the 2009 Subaru Forster XT. The new-for-2009 Forester has a much more modern shape than the angular vehicle it replaces, and has grown up by gaining more space, becoming more of a crossover than just a tall wagon.

Last summer Techshake’s Chris Haak had the opportunity to review a 2009 Subaru Forester X Premium equipped with a 170 HP 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. He found power to be merely adequate, with a too-soft suspension and handling that wallows. The Forester XT adds a turbocharger to that 2.5 liter four, for a rating of 224 HP and 226 lb-ft torque, and gains a functional hood scoop and dual exhaust. While the extra 54 HP do help to move the Forester off the line more quickly, the engine seems to be better suited to performance off the line than performance when the car is already traveling 50 or 60 MPH.

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2009 F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4×4 Review
Mar30

2009 F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4×4 Review

By Chris Haak

03.30.2009

dsc05984Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the sales results, we are really in a golden age of full size pickup trucks.  The full-size trucks sold today by Ford, GM, Dodge, Nissan, and Toyota are the most capable, most comfortable, most powerful, most efficient full-size pickup trucks ever sold.  Until a couple of years ago, pickup trucks were setting sales records too, but then gas prices more than doubled, many casual/personal-use buyers abandoned the market for smaller, more-efficient vehicles, and sales are down significantly from their peak of a few years ago.  That being said, however, full-size pickups are still the best-selling vehicles sold by most automakers who sell them by far.

Although two decades ago, trucks were used mostly as work vehicles and pickups saw new generations extremely infrequently (think of the GM C/K trucks of 1973-1987, with some models continuing to 1991 – that’s 19 model years, or the Ford F-Series of 1980-1996 – that’s 17 model years).  Today, trucks are nearly on the same update schedule as cars are.  The Ford F-150 was most recently all-new for the 2004 model year, which lasted just five years.

Although the truck is touted as “all new,” it doesn’t look entirely different from the 2004-2008 models.  The cab design appears to be more or less carried over intact (with the exception of a six-inch stretch in the SuperCrew’s cab, which is very much like Ford’s approach to the 1987 and 1992 refreshes of the 1980 original.  However, the 2009 model has wholesale changes under the skin.  The new truck has an all-new frame that manages to be both stronger and lighter than the old truck’s frame, new six-speed automatics, an all-new interior with better materials, an improved design, and more storage, and some handy cargo-management features in the bed.

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