By Chris Haak
The RPO code ZL-1 from the GM order book in the sixties has near-mythical status in the minds of gearheads. For the 1969 model year, just 69 ZL1 Camaros were built, and all were equipped with an all-aluminum big block 427. Underrated at 430 horsepower, the ZL-1 engine produced more like 550 (gross) horsepower, and was specifically designed for drag racing. The ZL-1 was a high-compression engine, and basically a hand-assembled aluminum version of the L88 offered in some Corvettes.
Well, despite rumors that the new top-dog Camaro would grab the dormant (and well-loved) Z28 name, Chevrolet has decided to dust off the legendary ZL1 name (this time, without the hyphen) and slap it on the new supercharged top-of-the-line Camaro. The Camaro ZL1 goes on sale in early 2012, and will compete directly with Ford’s Shelby GT 500. Pricing has not been announced, but the GT500 is priced pretty aggressively for what you’re getting.
By Chris Haak
Writers for Techshake are given free reign to write about whatever they want to, as long as it’s about cars and the car business, whenever they want to. I almost never give them specific assignments, nor deadlines, unless it’s been a while since a time-sensitive event has occurred. I get many different perspectives on the issues using this approach, and also hopefully have writers opining on topics that they personally find interesting and enjoyable to write about.
Sometimes, however, this Wild West approach to editorial assignments results in interesting, or uncomfortable situations, like when two people write about the same subject. Or when two people drive the same car. (It should be noted that we never schedule the same vehicle twice at Techshake, but some of our writers are freelancers with individual access to manufacturers’ press fleets). This happened a few years ago with the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, when one of our writers reviewed the same truck that a freelancer did. Since one guy was in the Texas Hill Country and the other on Long Island and they have very different perspectives, I think it worked. Hopefully we’ll be able to say the same about the piece that Charles Krome wrote last month on the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and what you’re about to read below.
By Kevin Miller
It has been a quarter of a century since Chrysler Corporation launched the K-Car based Voyager and Caravan in the North American market, creating an entirely new segment of vehicle. Those minivans were incredibly successful for Chrysler, and they owned the segment for more than a decade. In the time since, domestic rivals GM and Ford each took several stabs at designing minivans before finally calling it quits. Meanwhile, competition arrived from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai. While Hyundai/Kia has essentially dropped out of the market, the three Japanese-brand competitors are now to the point of having very competitive products in the minivan segment, with class-leading features of their own.
With all-new products for 2011 from Honda, Toyota and Nissan, Chrysler has given the Grand Caravan (and its Chrysler Town & Country sibling) a thorough refresh. Much like Toyota has done with the Sienna’s Swagger Wagon marketing campaign, Dodge has tried to make the Grand Caravan a “man van” by giving it aggressive styling features. A new front fascia with integrated chin spoiler, an integrated rear spoiler, and new LED taillamps reminiscent of earlier Dodge Durango products attempt to give the Grand Caravan more visual attitude. These subtle upgrades do make a notable upgrade in appearance compared to the absolute anonymity of the 2008-2010 version.
By Chris Haak
Italian automaker Fiat, which of course has a large ownership stake in Chrysler Group, and which is in the process of planting its Fiat flag on US soil again in the near term, may actually move its global headquarters from its historical base in Turin, Italy to Detroit. Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said at a conference last Friday that the company would likely merge Fiat and Chrysler operations within the next two to three years.
Once the operations have been merged, then there is the question of where to headquarter the future merged company. Chrysler obviously has a large presence in the US, and Chrysler sales will make up a sizable portion of Fiat’s global sales, particularly if Marchionne’s aggressive volume and market share targets for Chrysler are met over that timeframe. Based on 2009 numbers, Chrysler’s [depressed] sales would represent about 28 percent of combined Fiat-Chrysler sales, so it’s reasonable. But there’s probably more to it than just headquartering where the sales are.
By Chris Haak
A week after driving Ford’s refreshed-for-2011 Edge crossover, I find myself having mixed feelings about this vehicle. On one hand, the rejuvenated powertrains (the standard 3.5 liter V6 gets the TiVCT treatment that the Mustang got, and goes from 265 to 285 horsepower, and a 305-horsepower 3.7 liter V6 is optional, with a four cylinder EcoBoost to follow later in the year), the more dynamic front end design, improved interior, and cutting-edge electronics make the Edge an appealing vehicle. However, it’s also very heavy, not particularly roomy inside given its heft, and observed fuel economy was somewhat disappointing.
The sales success that the Edge has seen since its launch for the 2007 model year has surprised many observers. It’s Ford’s best-selling large crossover by a considerable margin, and doing far better than its non-Ford competitors as well, such as the Toyota Venza and Nissan Murano. And yet, many reviewers panned the first-generation Edge’s braking, interior, and fuel economy. If the Edge sold well with all those shortcomings, perhaps buyers will be delighted to learn that Ford has addressed many of them for the 2011 model year.
By Charles Krome
Here in the Detroit area, the most exciting part of last night’s football game had little to do with the final score; instead, most of the buzz focused on the sight of Eminem driving around the city in a new Chrysler 200. But while it , I’m not so sure how effective it was for the automaker.
Certainly, with the 200 and Motown each being much improved this year, an ad celebrating the rebirth of both made sense. And going with the local boy made good as the co-star—especially when said local boy is an edgy, internationally famous rapper with numerous current Grammy noms—was a bold yet ideal strategy, perhaps even representing a nod to when Snoop Dogg came a-calling to DaimlerChrysler for a new 300 back in the day.
By Chris Haak
Ford has been releasing some increasingly attractive earnings reports lately, dating back seven quarters, showing only black ink on its GAAP financials since the second quarter of 2009. And with the book closed on Ford’s fourth quarter results for 2010, the company announced its largest annual net income – a hefty $6.56 billion – in more than a decade. The good results are a product of Ford getting three key areas right: volume, product mix, and pricing. Also, Ford now has zero “net debt,” which means that the company now has more cash on its balance sheet than it does debt. Without the benefit of bankruptcy the purge the balance sheet like GM and Chrysler “enjoyed,” Ford has been at a competitive disadvantage by having to pay larger interest payments than its rivals did.
But amid the hype about Ford’s annual results for 2010, the company’s fourth quarter 2010 results were somewhat pedestrian by the standards that it’s set over the past two years. Fourth quarter GAAP earnings were “only” $190 million. Ford reported net income of $886 million in the fourth quarter of 2009, which is nearly an 80 percent decline. But, as is usually the case, the headline numbers don’t tell the whole story.
By Charles Krome
I’m on a bit of a fuel-economy kick this week, and so, it appears, is Hyundai. The company is continuing to bolster its position as the industry leader in fuel economy with a notable change to how it reports monthly sales. Hyundai already had added a new entry to its sales tables to keep track of how many 40-mpg vehicles it sells each month—4,792 in January, a mix of Elantras and Sonata hybrids; now, it’s going to start including monthly data on its sales-weighted CAFE numbers as well.
Thus, for last month, we can see that the 37,214 new Hyundais purchased in January were able to achieve a sales-weight fuel-efficiency mark of 34.7 mpg. To provide some context here, the automaker points out that it’s most recent official CAFE level, for its 2009 model-year fleet, was 31.7 mpg. (Note: The industry usually tallies the figures after a given model year comes to an end; with a few 2010 vehicles still lurking on dealership lots, the official 2010 numbers are not yet available.)