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Fisker Karma Production Commences in Finland

By Chris Haak

The day that many thought would never occur has happened.  The Fisker Karma – a plug-in hybrid luxury-sports car – has begun at Valmet Automotive’s plant in Uusikaupunki, Finland.  This means that the first customer deliveries of the Karma should occur in the US and Europe by the end of April.

Fisker’s Karma is an ambitious project.  Similar in concept to the Chevrolet Volt, but more expensive, faster, and more stylish, the car boasts a shapely silhouette designed by Henrik Fisker and a 2.0 liter turbocharged direct injection GM-sourced four cylinder, an electric motor and sizable battery pack.

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GM Reveals Next-Generation Colorado; US Prospects Unclear
Mar22

GM Reveals Next-Generation Colorado; US Prospects Unclear

By Chris Haak

On the eve of the Bangkok International Auto Show, GM has revealed photos and some details of its next-generation Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup.  The company left open the possibility that the truck could come to the US market eventually, but the likelihood of doing so may be low.  The current Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins are scheduled to go out of production in July 2012 when their Shreveport, LA assembly plant closes its doors.  GM has found the Colorado/Canyon to be slow sellers in the US, where their purchase price and efficiency relative to a larger full-size pickup make them a difficult sell.

Currently, the only compact pickup on the US market is the Ford Ranger.  The other smaller pickups – just the Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, and the Colorado/Canyon twins – have all grown up to the midsize class.  With the Ranger’s impending demise later in 2011 as its assembly plant closes – and Ford having no plans to launch its new international Ranger in the US – there will be no new compact pickups in the US for sale, unless Mahindra manages to finally launch its star-crossed pickup after years of delays.

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Hey, There’s a Cool Car: Audi allroad
Mar21

Hey, There’s a Cool Car: Audi allroad

By Charles Krome

Yep, that lowercase “a” is correct. I guess it’s sort of like “quattro” or, on the other hand, LEAF or JUKE. But the car I saw while out making a doughnut run over the weekend is notable for being more than just an early entry in the goofy capitalization sweepstakes. This is actually Audi’s first crossover.

The 2001 Audi allroad 2.7T reached our shores in the second half of the year 2000 to fill a huge hole in the automaker’s lineup. And by “huge,” I mean about the size of a Ford Explorer. Although this was the same year that the Blue Oval’s SUV would find itself mired in a controversy over rollover accidents, it also marked the vehicle’s high-water mark in sales, with 445,157. Needless to say, sport-utility sales had taken over the U.S. marketplace.

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Review: 2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD
Mar20

Review: 2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD

By Kevin Miller

At first blush, Nissan may seem like a typical Japanese automaker. Looking from a different angle, though, shows Nissan offering vehicles in a few segments where no other automakers do. Nissan’s Cube redefined the JDM box in North America. The Versa proved to be a spacious and versatile car, decidedly affordable with a value-leader version offered at $9999.

Nissan’s latest left-field entry is the Juke. Dubbed a “Bold Urban Sport Cross” by Nissan’s marketing group, the Juke is the size of a compact hatchback, but rides on a taller suspension than other compacts, to give it a compact-meets-SUV flavor. SUV attributes include wheelarch cladding, all-wheel drive. Compact attributes include a minuscule trunk inside of the hatchback, incredibly tight turning radius which makes the Juke incredibly easy to park.

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Lincoln Tops Lexus in Vehicle Dependability, But…

By Chris Haak

J.D. Power and Associates has released its annual vehicle-dependabilty study results.  In this year’s survey, the perennial top brand, Lexus, was knocked off its perch by Lincoln, of all things.  Yes, that Lincoln: Ford’s near-luxury luxury brand that boasts a lineup consisting of nothing but gussied-up Fords.

Lincoln’s ascent in the study is not really a big surprise, since the brand was in the second spot in the previous year’s results, and Lincoln has been climbing steadily in its quality scores for nearly the past decade.  But changes made to J.D. Powers’ methodology a few years ago mean that their definition of “dependability” may not be what most others think of.

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Audi R8 GT to start at $196,800

By: Carl Malek

Audi of America has released the official asking price for the 2012 Audi R8 GT supercar. Owners interested in owning one of these rare vehicles will have to act fast; only 333 will be built before production ends, (with only a third of that total expected to hit U.S roads), and owning this lightweight rarity will cost you a grand total of $196,800 dollars excluding any optional equipment.

The most potent model in the R8 supercar lineup, the GT sets itself apart from the normal R8 model by shedding 220 pounds of weight. This weight loss is due to the extensive use of various carbon fiber body parts and Audi’s familiar ASF lightweight construction.

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Not All New Cars are Better Than Their Old Models

By Chris Haak

A typical pattern in the life cycle of products in a competitive market is that a new product will be introduced, and it will be incrementally better than the one it replaces.  Many times, its manufacturer will also at least attempt to benchmark the category’s leaders, and then either meet or beat the best attributes of those.  Then, after a period of time, a competitor will launch a new product, which may set a new benchmark.

Continuous improvement is known as kaizen in Japanese, and it’s the principle that helped Japan, Inc. take a significant share of US new-car market since the 1970s.  It’s also perhaps the worst-kept secret in the auto business that consistently applying incremental improvements over an extended period of time results in outstanding products that your customers are eager to line up to buy the new version at some point.

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Pontiac’s War: The Battle for Pontiac Customers Continues
Mar16

Pontiac’s War: The Battle for Pontiac Customers Continues

By Charles Krome

Here in the Detroit area,  I still see a fair number of Pontiacs. There are last-generation Grand Prixes all over the place, a fair number of Vibes, and the occasional G8 or two. A friend of a neighbor even parked a G5 in front of our house the other day. And that last one—essentially a Chevy Cobalt coupe with a Pontiac front clip—is a perfect example of how far the Driving Excitement brand had fallen when General Motors decided to pull the plug.

But rather than keep beating a dead brand, let’s take a look at where all the ex-Pontiac owners have been going recently, courtesy of some numbers from Bashar Cholagh at R.L. Polk. Cholagh leveraged Polk’s registration data to determine the top 15 brands that former Pontiac owners purchased from in 2010, when 57,641 of them went shopping for new vehicles.

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