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NHTSA To Investigate Seat Heaters Over Burn Risk

By: Carl Malek

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now trying to decide whether seat heaters pose an “unreasonable risk to safety”

Currently, the government agency is reviewing multiple reports of burns that have been associated with seat heater use. According to the agency’s report those with sensory defects of the lower body such as lower body paralysis are in danger of being seriously burned by the heaters without even realizing it.

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Twin Review: 2011 Lexus RX350/RX450h FWD
Mar16

Twin Review: 2011 Lexus RX350/RX450h FWD

By Roger Boylan

Your average SUV once lumbered across the land with all the grace of a sauropod. Think of the Scout, the Excursion, the Grand Wagoneer, and others with more utility than sport, and little in the way of creature comfort. Then, as birds evolved from dinosaurs, but in a far shorter time span dictated by the market rather than Darwin, crossovers evolved from SUVs, and a kinder, gentler beast was born. There’s a lot of variety in this market now, from high-speed machines like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo to more mundane critters like the Ford Edge. Some drivers are looking for something fast but elegant. Others want to cruise along in a hotel suite on wheels. The Lexus RX should satisfy on both counts—and I mean both Lexus RXs, the gasoline-powered RX350 as well as its hybrid sibling, the RX450h. I had the privilege of test-driving each, back to back. As they’re essentially the same vehicle, except for price, the obvious difference under the hood, and a few details on the instrument panel, I’m doing a unitary review of the RX genre.

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I ♥ Saab: The Swiss Tour
Mar15

I ♥ Saab: The Swiss Tour

By Kevin Miller

Now that the 2011 Geneva Auto Show has ended, Saab decided that instead of putting their cars from the show onto a truck and shipping them straight back to Sweden, they could instead host a series of events around Switzerland to show off their full line. Advertised by flyers handed out at the show (as well as marketing materials sent to current Saab owners), the event kicked off Tuesday night in the Swiss town of Rothrist. Staying just ten minutes from Rothrist on a visit to Switzerland, and being totally Saab crazy, I had to be there.

The event was hosted not at a Saab dealership, but instead at an events venue called Stilhaus. The parking lot was packed a lot of Saab vehicles, several of them wearing Hirsch Performance badges. Upon approaching the Stilhaus in Rothrist, there were visible inflatable pylons decorated with the I ♥ Saab logo. Near the entrance, a selection of beautifully kept classic Saabs, owned by SAABclub Switzerland member, was on display. Beyond those, a red carpet was literally rolled out to welcome guests.

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Renault Spy Scandal Is a Complete Fiasco For Ghosn

By Chris Haak

We haven’t given much attention to the EV spy scandal that has rocked Renault and drawn the attention of the French government.  But it’s become a pretty big deal, and has now cost Renault and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn his Renault bonus, and quite nearly cost his top lieutenant at Renault his job.

Luckily for Ghosn, having rescued both companies from the brink of failure over the years, and continuing to hold himself and other executives accountable for financial results, he’s built up considerable political capital and goodwill among investors and his board.  It seems that he has now had to cash in much of that goodwill, however, to survive this one.  And that survival is not a certainty at this stage.

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Review: 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS
Mar15

Review: 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

By Chris Haak

If you ask automakers what the hot ticket is likely to be in the next several years, they might say that premium compact cars are a potential growth area.  After all, with gas prices approaching the $4.00 per gallon line in many parts of the US, uncertainty in the Middle East, and increasingly-stringent CAFE standards on the horizon, we’ll have more small cars in the new-car mix.

With more small cars, that means more variety in the style, powertrain, equipment, and even size.  Yes, there are varying degrees of small.  To some traditionalists, the Chevy Cruze is small; to a Smart ForTwo driver, the Cruze is a perhaps large, wasteful near-midsize car masquerading as a small car.  There are also now cheap small cars – like the base Nissan Versa, and small cars that are more premium – like the Buick Verano.  The Mitsubishi Lancer GTS reviewed here kind of falls into the middle of the spectrum.  It’s a cheap car with some premium features.

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Review: 2011 Hyundai Tucson GLS FWD
Mar14

Review: 2011 Hyundai Tucson GLS FWD

By Charles Krome

It’s amazing how quickly time flies in the auto industry. There was a moment back in January of 2010 when the Hyundai Tucson represented the cutting edge of South Korean automotive culture here in the U.S. It was the very first of the new-school Hyundai models—beating the Sonata to market by a matter of weeks—and was light years ahead of the outgoing Tucson. Today, however, it’s a different story. With the pace of automotive advances accelerating so quickly, and expectations for Hyundai products rising in lockstep, the Tucson could end up disappointing some customers—depending on how they approach it. At least that’s my takeaway from a recent test drive with a 2011 Hyundai Tucson GLS FWD, provided to me by Hyundai with a full tank of gas.

Now, I’m just going to start with the bottom line here: The Tucson that ended up in my driveway had an MSRP of $21,845 (although it’s listed on the website at $21,995) and the only options it had were the $100 carpeted floor mats. Add in a $795 destination charge, and you end up at $22,740. That’s a bargain price in today’s marketplace, especially when you consider how unlikely it is that anyone would be paying the full MSRP for the vehicle. And it’s not like this was some stripper model, either. It had all the usual “safe” driving technologies, like electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, downhill brake control and hill-start assist, along with 17-inch alloy wheels, a nice-ish AM/FM/CD/MP3/XM sound system, some leather interior accents and Bluetooth compatibility.

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Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Halt Auto Production

Information on what you can do to help can be found at the bottom of the article.

By Chris Haak

It goes without saying that in the devastating earthquake and follow-up tsunami that hit Japan last Friday, the largest cost will be a human one.  Thousands of people have been killed, and the death toll is going to continue to rise in the coming days and weeks as cleanup and recovery operations progress.

There’s also an economic cost to the disaster.  Early estimates are that reconstruction costs might exceed $35 billion USD, to say nothing of the diversion of resources away from attempting to grow Japan’s economy and overcome a 20-year period of stagnant economic growth and immense public debt.  The auto industry in Japan is not immune from these forces, and in fact has already been significantly impacted by the disaster, with more to come.

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Chevrolet to Sell Rebadged Saturn Vue to Fleet Customers
Mar11

Chevrolet to Sell Rebadged Saturn Vue to Fleet Customers

By Chris Haak

Since the launch of the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, GM has struggled to keep up with demand for its popular small crossover.  First, it acquired sole ownership of the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario from Suzuki where the Equinox and Terrain are built.  Suzuki had been building the GM-based XL7 there, but the Suzuki kind of fizzled out in the market, leaving Suzuki with no product and GM with the opportunity to add to its production capacity.

Then, to further boost output, GM began shipping incomplete Equinox body shells from Ingersoll to its flexible and underutilized car plant in Oshawa for painting and final assembly.  That move added 60,000 to 80,000 additional units of Equinox production capacity and allowed additional Terrain production at the original plant.  Still, it’s not enough for dealers, who still report that they can’t get enough of the hot-selling vehicles, more than a year after their launch.  Last month, dealers had only a 30 day supply of new Equinoxes in inventory, which is half of the ideal 60-day level.

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