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Chrysler Reveals Future-Product Details

By Chris Haak

None of these announcements are necessarily earth-shattering, but in a meeting with analysts and media yesterday in Detroit, Chrysler executives outlined several interesting items of note on the product front.  According to , fresh off the company’s first profitable quarter since 2006 (!), the company finally seems to be on the verge of breaking out of its long product slump.  Each of the company’s three divisions is getting something good.

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New York’s New Taxi Will Be a Nissan Van
May04

New York’s New Taxi Will Be a Nissan Van

By Chris Haak

Decades ago, when you travelled to the Big Apple, there was but one kind of taxi: the ubiquitous Checker.  Beloved by many because of their spacious interior and incredible durability – not to mention timeless shape – the last Checker retired from active taxi duty in 1999.  It was not unusual to see a Checker’s odometer tallying a million miles before the car was finally retired.  In more recent years, the taxi of choice in New York was the Ford Crown Victoria.  Though it’s still a big car, the Crown Vic was never as great of a taxi as the Checker; it had far less interior room than its outward size would suggest, and it’s just not as graceful to enter and exit as the big Checker was.

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Review: 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS AWD
May02

Review: 2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport SLS AWD

By Charles Krome

I’ll start by saying the Kizashi gets the highest praise I can give a vehicle: I’d actually use my own money to buy one. Maybe not this exact model, but certainly the Sport SLS or GTS without the all-wheel-drive system. Yes, you trade away some amount of grip, but you make up for it by getting a six-speed manual transmission, five more horsepower and a slightly lighter car. And at that stage, you’d be sitting in a nimble near-premium sport sedan with a surprising amount of pep, a well-crafted and roomy interior, and a sub-$25,000 starting price—a combination you really can’t get anywhere else.

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Why Insurgents Love The Toyota Hilux
May02

Why Insurgents Love The Toyota Hilux

On the occasion of the death of Osama bin Laden, we thought we’d revisit the relationship between Toyota’s Hilux pickup and varoius insurgencies around the world.  We originally published this piece in October 2010.

By Chris Haak

Newsweek recently that explored why it seems that the Toyota Hilux pickup has appeared as the insurgent vehicle of choice in nearly every guerrilla war over the past 40- years. The article contends that a few factors can be attributed to the little truck’s popularity:

  • Reputation/brand recognition
  • Popularity, which makes finding replacement parts and doing repairs easy
  • Durability
  • Ground clearance
  • Maneuverability

The US Military’s Humvee checks off some of those boxes, but certainly not maneuverability. The Humvee is just too heavy and too wide; at 85 inches wide, that’s just over 7 feet. A Hilux through the 2005 model year was no more than 65 or 66 inches wide. When you’re an insurgent making your way through narrow, undeveloped trails, twenty inches makes a huge difference in terms of maneuverability.

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Chrysler To Refinance Debt, Repay Government Loans

By Chris Haak

Probably due to its much larger size, GM’s bailout and repayment of some government loans has drawn far more attention than the assistance provided to Chrysler has for the past several years.  Chrysler doesn’t even get the perk of a derogatory nickname like “Government Motors” has.

Former “Car Czar” Steven Rattner’s book described how the Obama administration was split nearly 50-50 on whether Chrysler was even worth rescuing, and not everyone is certain of the viability of the now Italian-American automaker in the coming years.

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Lexus Boss Mark Templin Predicts a Dismal Future For His Brand

By Chris Haak

Auto executives are, by nature, an optimistic bunch of people.  They’re always on the verge of catching onto the next big trend, of turning around operations, yadda yadda.  Therefore, I raised my eyebrows more than a little bit when I saw what Lexus general manager Mark Templin had to say about his brand’s future.  It wasn’t optimistic; it was downright melancholy.  , he conceded the luxury-vehicle sales crown for 2011 with seven- months remaining in the year.  The reason?

He’s blaming the Japanese earthquake, which has done great harm to the auto industry supply chain, but in particular, to Japanese auto manufacturers.  Many Japanese OEMs still are not running at full production, including heavyweights Honda and Toyota.  Toyota, in fact, said that it was not likely to resume normal production until November, a full eight months after the March earthquake.  Lexus is particularly affected, though, because the majority of the brand’s models, with the sole exception of the RX crossover, are built in Japan.  In post-tsunami Japan, local auto production is a disadvantage.

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Review: 2011 Acura MDX w/ Advance & Entertainment
Apr27

Review: 2011 Acura MDX w/ Advance & Entertainment

By Chris Haak

The Acura MDX, now in its second generation, has become Acura’s bread and butter.  As the brand’s best seller in 2010, Acura saw 47,210 MDXs find new homes.  That represented a full 35.3 percent of all Acura sales.  Put another way, Acura sells more than three MDXs for every RDX that it sells, despite the RDX being smaller and cheaper.  What is it that buyers seem to find in the MDX against the rest of the brand’s lineup?

Honda – along with its luxury brand, Acura – is one of the most masterful car manufacturers when it comes to platform sharing.  Different from rebadging, where only the grille, emblem, and minor trim variations are changed, platform sharing is often invisible to the consumer, but saves manufacturers a considerable amount of money in development, purchasing, and manufacturing complexity because there are so many shared components under the skin.  The Accord, Accord Crosstour, TL, TSX, and RL all share major chassis components, and the company’s Odyssey, Pilot, MDX, ZDX, and Ridgeline have a common architecture.  Does basing the brand’s flagship crossover on a minivan platform mean that it’s making unacceptable compromises?  We set out to find out by spending a week with a new 2011 MDX.

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Review: 2011 Lexus IS350 F-Sport
Apr27

Review: 2011 Lexus IS350 F-Sport

By Roger Boylan

Traditionally, Lexus has been better known for serene luxury than for high performance, but the configuration changed in 2008 with the introduction of the blisteringly fast IS-F, so enthusiastically reviewed by my colleague Chris Haak in these pages that I’ve wanted to drive one ever since. Well, I came close this week, with a 2011 IS-350, the slightly more sedate cousin of the IS-F: not quite in the same V8-powered stratosphere, but a fine car in its own right, with a smooth and punchy 3.5-liter V-6 that employs a combination of direct injection (for peak performance) and port injection (for quietness), thereby providing both speed and luxury, Lexus style. I’d say it works.

In fact, I’ve rarely had such fun in a test vehicle.  Generally, after spending a week with a test car, I’m never disappointed to get back behind the wheel of my Jaguar S-Type, and of course the Jag has its own unique qualities, but the IS-350 came close to stealing my heart. For one thing, it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite cars, the BMW 2002tii, from back in the ‘70s—much more sophisticated, of course, but offering the same blend of drivability, taut engineering, and sheer performance in a small package.

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