By Brendan Moore
Oil is steadily falling in price (it dipped under $100 USD for the first time in five months last week) and some energy analysts think it may settle in around $100 USD a barrel for the short-term. Some analysts are much more optimistic, saying that they think oil will continue to descend further, until it reaches a plateau of around $70 a barrel.
Either of these scenarios begs these questions: Will Americans go back to pickup trucks and SUVs if gasoline becomes cheap again? If so, will it be in big numbers or a mere trickle? And how long would the lower prices have to be sustained before buyers felt confident enough about the future price of gasoline to then buy something that got 15 mpg that they would then have to fill up, for say, the next 4-5 years?
I talk to consumers about cars and all the issues peripheral to cars every chance I get, whether it’s a one-on-one situation, or in an informal group setting. I stop people in the parking lot at the grocery, or the post office, or at a gas station, introduce myself and my profession, and ask them about what they’re driving, why they’re driving it, etc. When I travel, which I do frequently, I do the same thing so I can get a feel for what people are thinking in different parts of the country.
By Chris Haak
Since its debut at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this past January, I’d been very eager to drive the new-for-2009 Ram, having driven all of its competitors except for the also-new 2009 Ford F-150 (which itself hasn’t launched yet, and is also on our wish list here at 100 Techshake Plaza). This week, I finally had a chance to take a brief drive in a 2009 Ram. Even better, it was un-chaperoned and in a curvy, mountainous setting with both fresh blacktop and a stone parking lot.
Outside, I’ve been a fan of the 2009 Ram from the get-go; I’d consider it to now be the most attractive full-size pickup on the market. When the Chevy and GMC full-sizers debuted for the 2007 model year, even GM fans took a while to accept their appearance. Most Tundra buyers I’ve spoken with liked the Toyota reputation and spec sheet more than its amorphous jellybean-like shape, and the Titan is not only the oldest design in the segment, but appears to try a little to hard to look tough. That leaves the F-150, which was conservatively styled in 2004 and conservatively restyled for 2009. The looks are more refined than on the old Ram, and engine power, fuel efficiency, and interior quality have been improved. The plastic-heavy dashboard of the outgoing truck was replaced by a stitched dash top (reminiscent of the Cadillac CTS and other luxury or near-luxury cars) and soft-to-the-touch surfaces everywhere. It’s obvious that Chrysler put a lot of effort into the interior, and although it has attractive materials, etc., the design isn’t what I’d necessarily call flowing. It follows the standard Chrysler squared-off look for the most part. Storage abounds, including inside the optional Ram Box bedside storage, which can hold 120 twelve ounce cans per side. There is also storage in the previously-unused area beneath the floor and under the seat in crew cab models, such as the one that I drove.
By Brendan Moore
The price of a barrel of oil has dropped below $100 USD for the first time in five months, but the price of gasoline in the U.S. is going up as a result of refinery shutdowns in Texas and Louisiana because of Hurricane Ike.
The average nationwide price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline has risen for four consecutive days and gone up 6 cents alone in the past 24 hours to $3.73 over fears of reduced refinery output. On a regional basis, however, the Southeast region of the U.S. has seen some huge jumps in specific areas, with some gasoline stations in Florida, for example, showing prices over $5 a gallon. Prices in other parts of the Southeast, like Tennessee, are already as high as $4.55 a gallon for unleaded regular. Increases in other regions of the U.S. have been minuscule so far.
A national survey of retail gasoline prices released by the AAA, a motorist association, Saturday morning shows that the average price of regular unleaded gasoline rose 5.8 cents to $3.73 a gallon, from $3.675 a day earlier.
The almost 6-cent increase was the largest one-day jump this year and the largest since immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, says AAA. The price of gas rose by 14 cents and 16 cents respectively on consecutive days in the days immediately after Katrina devastated the area around New Orleans, which also had a great deal of oil refinery and pipeline infrastructure.
President Bush, reacting to the possibility that there will shortages of gasoline, and therefore price increases, released a short statement saying that the Department of Energy and other federal agencies would do their best to ensure that there are adequate supplies of gasoline for the public. In that same vein, Bush said the Environmental Protection Agency waivers on certain reformulated gasolines were suspended Friday night to make it easier for imports to get into U.S. markets.
It is unclear how effective the Federal efforts to stabilize gasoline prices will be; some energy analysts are predicting a sharp temporary increase that will last a month at the most. It is also unclear at this point how much of the price jump is due to consumer panic and/or localized price gouging. Governors in several Southeastern states have issued statements this morning saying that any firm found to be engaged in price gouging will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
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By Brendan Moore
Timing is everything in life, and I have had the good fortune to have spent a week with the redesigned 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe after also recently spending the same amount of time with its BMW performance target.
Wait, it gets better.
Earlier this week, I was able to do actual track time in both the 2008 Infiniti G37 Coupe and the 2008 BMW 335i Coupe, back-to-back, and under perfect weather conditions. Neither Infiniti or BMW ran the track event, so there was no stacking of the deck in terms of the track layout.
If only auto journalists made a lot of money, this would be a perfect job. Really, it would be a perfect job if we just made an average amount of money, but since all the people at the bank point at me and laugh whenever I come in, it probably goes without saying that it’s mostly a labor of love.
Let’s get the track impressions out of the way first.
I drove the automatic versions in both cars; the G37 has a five-speed auto-box and the 335i offers a six-speed automatic transmission. Both cars offer the driver the option of using paddle shifters on the steering wheel to go through the gears manually.
The 3.7 liter, 330 horsepower V6 in the G37 Coupe is a wonderful engine and showcases Nissan’s first use of their VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift) technology in a production car. VVEL makes a conventional throttle butterfly valve superfluous (just like BMW’s Valvetronic technology) and gives the 3.7 liter a flatter torque curve than the 3.5 it replaced in the G35 Coupe. The result is more horsepower, natch, as well as more immediate throttle response. It was a lot of fun howling (literally and figuratively) around the track, using the horsepower of the G37 to help steer the car though corners with tail-wagging slides. The BMW 3.0 liter, 300 horsepoer 335i Coupe felt a little faster, but that wasn’t because the Infiniti’s engine wasn’t holding up its end; it was because the justifiably famous BMW chassis and suspension was more communicative and precise than the Infiniti’s. This, despite the fact that the G37 chassis and suspension is a huge improvement over the G35’s, with increases in stiffness, braking ability, track width, and, a lower polar inertia. It’s oh-so-close to the BMW now, but still not there.
By Kevin Miller
Saab has announced their pricing and model updates for 2009. The biggest news is that the phenomenal XWD (cross-wheel drive) all-wheel drive system highlighted by the limited-edition Turbo X will be available in four-cylinder 2.0T 9-3 Sport Sedan and SportCombi variants. The XWD system also becomes standard in the V6 Turbocharged Aero versions of those bodystyes, where it was introduced as an option in 2008. Saab’s XWD is not available on the 9-3 Convertible, because it has a unique floorpan that cannot accommodate the rear-wheel-drive components.
Saab XWD is a fully automatic, on-demand system capable of sending up to 100 percent of engine torque to the front or rear wheels whenever necessary. The system is activated only when required, limiting the impact on fuel economy. This technologically advanced all-wheel drive system includes two innovative features: pre-emptive engagement of the rear wheels to optimize traction at take-off; and an electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential (eLSD) that allows variable torque transfer between the rear wheels. The eLSD, however, is available only on Aero models; it is not available on 2.0T models. Saab’s XWD system was fitted to the Turbo X SportCombi we tested earlier this year offered a very impressive balance of power delivery and handling.
By Igor Holas
The Environmental Protection Agency has finally released official fuel economy figures for the redesigned 2009 Ford F-150 pickup. And while Ford did in no way run away from the pack, it managed to catch up to the long-leading GM in non-hybrid trucks.
Looking at truck fuel economy used to be easy – you decided between compact or full size, and in full size you decided between the base 6 cylinder, midrange V8 and up-level V8. However, while this still mostly holds, GM has turned the game on its ear with the Hybrid Silverado and Hybrid Sierra. With EPA rating of 21mpg city and 22 mpg highway, these trucks have the second-best combined fuel economy behind the Ford Ranger with four cylinder engine and manual transmission (20 city /26 highway). Note that Chrysler has also announced its intention to launch a two-mode hybrid variant of its new-for-2009 Dodge Ram pickup in the next year or so, which will likely get the same fuel economy ratings as the Silverado and Sierra Hybrids do.
Then, this past summer, GM added yet another exception to the rule with the launch of Silverado XFE, a special edition of its 5.3 liter V8-powered Silverado with low resistance tires, aerodynamic improvements, and other tweaks that achieve a respectable rating of 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway.
By Brendan Moore
Ford has informed the UAW (United Auto Workers) union that due to crashing sales, and despite recent employee buyout efforts, Ford is 4000 workers over what they need in order to satisfy current demand, according to Reuters. The statement was made during confidential meetings between workers and Ford earlier this week, as disclosed by the Reuters source.
Ford has been on a push to eliminate hourly employees through buyouts the last 24 months, but the pace of departures has slowed considerably lately as the overall job market worsens in the U.S. and potential buyout candidates fear being unemployed for a long time if they accept a buyout from Ford.
Ford has lost a stunning amount of money in last two years and desperately needs to better match production capacity to sales, and part of that production capacity is the worker population required to make the vehicles. Ford lost another $8.7 billion USD last quarter.
High gasoline prices, the housing sector implosion, the slumping overall economy in the U.S. and tighter consumer credit have been killing sales of all the auto manufacturers, but Ford has been hit particularly hard. The timing couldn’t be worse as Ford is trying to tear the company apart and rebuild it in order to position itself to compete more effectively in the new automotive world order that higher gas prices and much tighter emissions controls promise. Somewhat ominously, it now looks as if the rest of world may also be entering a period of slowing economic growth, which could mean that Ford can no longer count on its international operations to continue to pick up the slack from the ailing North American market.
Ford has cut approximately 40,000 workers from its North American payroll since the end of 2005, which leaves it with around 60,000 workers currently. Ford is the second-largest auto manufacturer in North America behind GM.
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By Brendan Moore
A 2009 Honda Fit was made available to us at a press preview recently, and I have to say, I was impressed. We’ll write more when we get the 2009 Honda Fit for a week’s worth of driving, but in the interim, my initial thoughts about the car.
If you’re a regular reader of Techshake, you know we loved the 2008 Fit. The redesigned 2009 Fit seems to have all the positive attributes of the previous car some great new features in a more attractive wrapper.
The 2009 Honda Fit is better-looking, more powerful, slightly larger, and finally, better-equipped than its predecessor. Pure dumb luck on Honda’s part since development time for new models is in years, but it must be noted that the launch of the new Fit certainly comes at the right time for the American market – wonderful little cars that sip fuel are pretty popular these days.
How much larger is the new Fit?
Well, it doesn’t look larger at all, but the distance between the front and rear wheels is a bit over two inches longer which makes the car itself a little over four inches longer. Seats are bigger (the old ones were designed for Japanese people), there is more leg room in the back, and the cargo space is increased by almost 40%.
Speaking of cargo space, you of course have to fold the rear seat down to get all of it, and now the rear headrests retract right into the seatbacks, which is very cool, and very convenient. You don’t have to remove them, or tilt them, or do anything else to them except push them down. Here’s another ingenious space design trick: the rear seat on the driver side has a compartment built into the floor-facing side of the rear seat cushion that will hold the owner’s manual, just in case you wan the whole glovebox for easy-to-reach storage. Since most people rarely look at their owner’s manual after the first few months, this is a thoughtful feature gives you a little extra storage room up front.
The new Fit also drives better and has more safety equipment. As I mentioned above, we’ll give you more about the Fit when Honda sends us a car for a week’s worth of road-testing, but so far – it seems like a lot of car for the money and one that would be just the ticket for meeting the transportation and carrying needs of most households.
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