Engine Technology Spotlight
By Kevin Gordon
BMW’s proposal: 425 lb-ft of torque, a 0-60 mph in less than seven seconds, 26 mpg on the highway, 585 miles of driving range, seating for seven, all in a vehicle that weighs more than 5200 lbs. These are the highlight specifications from BMW’s recently released X5 xDrive 35d. Under its hood resides an oil burning 3.0 liter force-fed inline-six. The same motor is available in a 3-series, which makes the same horsepower and torque numbers, but improves the rest of the variables due to a better power-to-weight ratio. I recently had the chance to spend a night with a highly optioned version of the X5 and it left me wanting to learn more about this new inline-six.
The mill motivating this 2.6 ton Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) burns something called diesel. You know – that stuff that comes out of the lonely pump at your local gas station. You’ve seen it before (unless your local station does not sell diesel) – it has an odd-colored handle and there is a black/brown puddle of goop in front of it. For most Americans, diesel is and has been a dirty word, the liquid of truckers and old Mercedes wagon drivers. This modern diesel motor is a completely different lady. Gone are the days of loudly-clattering idles and plumes of blue smoke. She has been sent to reform school and has manners that would fit in at any Concours d’Elegance.
Arguably the most interesting French car brand, Citroën, is embarking on a bold new strategy to reposition itself in the market. As part of the ambitious plan, it will be reviving the company’s iconic DS badge.
The move, kicked off with the release of pictures of the first DS concept, the DS Inside, a three-door premium small car in the mould of the Mini and Alfa Romeo MiTo, has caused some bewilderment in Europe.
The original DS (its name was play on the French word déesse, meaning goddess), was a seminal luxury car which lasted from the mid 1950s to 1975 and took European car design a huge step forward, with its elegant , ultra-streamlined body and radical underpinnings. Nothing like the new DS Inside, in other words.
The convoluted reason is that in the company’s latest thinking, DS apparently now stands for Different Spirit and will eventually be applied to a variety of models known as DS3, DS4 and DS5. In other words, it is simply a move away from the company’s current C-numbering system, which is applied to models ranging from the C1 city car to the C8 large MPV.
Apparently, DS models will supplement Citroën’s existing range, so the new DS3 will be similarly-sized and sell alongside the existing C3 supermini, but will presumably be more expensive and aimed at a different clientele.
A production version will debut in 2010, alongside a second-generation C3, and it’s still unclear if the cars will share any styling cues.
Different Spirit isn’t just the philosophy behind this planned new line of cars. In the most dramatic upheaval for Citroën dealers since the 1970s, a revised logo (with the famous chevrons “softened”) has also made its debut. To me they look more like boomerangs, but the official line from the company is that “the chevrons have broken free from their frame and become three-dimensional, gaining in strength and body”.
Better showroom ambience and more attentive customer service are also promised, with immediate effect.
By Chris Haak
As previously planned, Toyota Motor Corporation has ceased production at every plant in Japan with the exception of leaving a single production line running, as it struggles to keep new vehicle inventory in line with global selling rates. The company plans to implement 10 more Japan-wide production shutdowns over the next two months with the same goal of reducing output so that sales might catch up with inventory levels.
The company commented that “the production suspensions scheduled for Japan in February and March are part of our effort to keep production in line with market demand,” and added, “we are carrying out these suspensions fully aware of the necessity to even out production volumes and maintain employment levels.”
The appropriately-named Toyota City (a city of 400,000 located approximately 150 miles southwest of Tokyo) is the location of Toyota’s global headquarters, and has seen rising unemployment as the global automobile market collapses. Toyota City depends so heavily on Toyota that it expects nearly 90% of its tax revenues will evaporate as Toyota posts losses and has to pay less money as corporate taxes.
By Kevin Miller
Suzuki’s Grand Vitara is a small SUV, in a segment full of such vehicles. It seems like every family I know has a car in this segment. It also seems like virtually every automaker has a car in this segment. That being said, Techshake has tested both the Grand Vitara the Toyota RAV4 this week. Here’s the scoop on the Grand Vitara.
The Grand Vitara is the third Suzuki product I’ve tested for Techshake. The first was the SX4 hatchback, which I found to be a clever, useful little car. The second was the Canadian-made Suzuki XL-7, a badge-engineered GM product which very clearly shared DNA with its platform-mate, the Chevrolet Equinox rather than any Japanese-made Suzuki. The Grand Vitara is clearly a real Suzuki, with high-quality interior bits and sound design and assembly.
By Chris Haak
The numbers for January 2009 are now in the history books, and they will go down in history as some of the worst in the past three decades – that is, unless the market continues to deteriorate further, which unfortunately is a distinct possibility. Only two companies saw sales increases in January 2009: Hyundai/Kia (+8.9%) and Subaru (+8.0%). Every other manufacturer was down by at least 15.5%.
Taking it on the chin the worst among the major manufacturers was sad-sack Chrysler LLC, which saw its second consecutive month of a larger-than-50% sales drop at 54.8% below January 2008. The news wasn’t much better at GM, with sales declining 48.9%. Rounding out the top six, Ford was down 41.6%, Toyota was down 31.7%, Honda was down 27.9%, and Nissan was down 29.7%.
It’s become an interesting observation for me to watch the press releases announcing dismal sales results spin terrible news into what almost sounds like good news if you don’t know what to look for. A few tricks I’ve caught:
By Brendan Moore
The US Senate voted yesterday to make the interest on auto loans tax-deductible. By a vote of 71 – 26, and by voice vote, the Senate approved temporarily allowing most buyers of passenger vehicles to deduct interest on auto loans AND the sales tax at time of purchase.
The estimate of cost to the overall taxpayer base is calculated to be $11 billion USD, and that will raise the cost of overall stimulus package that is being currently proposed to over $900 billion.
You may have noted the use of the words “temporary” and “most buyers” in the first paragraph when describing the amendment langauge. The tax breaks are only available to those who purchase(d) new passenger vehicles between November 12, 2008, and the end of 2009 that cost less than $49,500. And, families with a household income of $250,000 or more are not eligible for the tax credit the way the current amendment is written.
The retroactive eligibility will appeal to everyone except the people that bought their new car or truck on November 11.
The NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) pushed hard for the provision and seemed to be very happy with the outcome in the Senate. The House did not include the provision in the stimulus bill they passed and sent to the Senate earlier, but it is believed that the provision stands a good chance of being approved by the House as well. The NADA forecasts that the measure will save the average consumer around $1500 on a $25,000 vehicle purchase.
Senator Barbara Mikulski, one of the ardent sponsors of the amendment, stated. “Everyone wants to save auto manufacturers but no matter how much government aid we give to the Big Three automakers, they can’t survive if consumers don’t start buying cars. We can help by getting the consumer into the showroom.” Mikulski also cited the same figures provided by the NADA regarding how much the average consumer would save on a vehicle purchase.
Many people in the auto manufacturing and auto retail sector were critical of the NADA push, saying the tax credit was not large enough or immediate enough to be meaningful in terms of increasing sales volume.
An NADA spokesman rebuffed that criticism, saying they got as much of a sales incentive as was reasonable in the current political climate.
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By Chris Haak
Chris Bangle, head of BMW’s design and the man singly most responsible for BMW’s current design language, is leaving BMW “to pursue his own design-related endeavors beyond the auto industry,” according to BMW.
Dutchman Adrian van Hooydonk, the BMW brand design head, will become Bangle’s successor. Both men had been with the carmaker since 1992, but Bangle is 52 years old, while van Hooydonk is 44 years old. Ironically, while the head of design’s name is usually attached to an automaker’s lineup, Bangle’s successor, van Hooydonk, was the actual designer of the 2007 7-series that started the Bangle butt/flame surfacing revolution. In the photo to the left, van Hooydonk is on the left with his arms folded, and Bangle is on the right making quotation fingers.
Love or hate his designs – personally, most of them eventually grew on me – there is no argument over the influence that Chris Bangle-led BMW design has had on the automotive industry. His 2002 7-series sedan and 2007 Z4 roadster were both shots fired across the bow of the luxury-car establishment that emphatically noted the presence of a new design direction at BMW. While the 2002-2009 Z4 has a more radical design than does the flagship 7-series luxury sedan, the 7-series aroused far more controversy in the automotive world when it made its debut because of the conservative shape of its predecessor. Bangle basically threw out the entire BMW design rule book with the exception of quad headlamps, the twin-kidney grille, and the Hoffmeister kink in the C-pillar. Everything else was fair game; no longer would various BMW models look like different sizes of basically the same car.
By James Wong
The new 7-Series was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 2008 with much fanfare. After which, it was to make a tour around major markets in the world to introduce would-be buyers to BMW’s flagship sedan. The second country in the world to receive the 7-Series after Paris is – unexpectedly – Singapore. Singapore represents one of BMW’s largest markets for the 7-Series after China, despite its sky-high taxation making luxury cars accessible only to the most affluent. A soft-launch of the F01/02 Seven was held in the fourth quarter of 2008 in Singapore to invited guests and the press. Several months later leading up to today, I was finally able to get behind the wheel of the new 7-Series. Being one who has been eagerly awaiting for this car for the longest time, I was happy to have the opportunity.
While both the 750Li and 740Li was available for a test drive, we brought out the 740Li which was probably going to be the larger volume seller locally, with its smaller engine capacity and prodigious power output. The 740Li is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3L inline 6 producing 326PS and 450Nm of torque. This engine, also used in the BMW 335i, has been tuned slightly to produce more torque and horsepower in the 7 to handle the extra weight. What surprised me the most is how a large sedan like this can do a century sprint in 5.9 seconds. What surprised me even further is how it can manage a combined fuel consumption of 10L/100km on paper. A luxury sedan that is both fast and frugal – things are looking good so far for the new 7.