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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for June 2009

Weird Auto News

If it’s wrong to strap a panda into a Fiat 500 for a crash test then Fiat is as wrong as wrong can be. In a series of new print advertisements the Italian automaker shows a Fiat 500 being smashed from various angles with wildlife animals seated inside the car as crash test dummies. 

The point is that Fiats are safe for the environment as well as their passengers. In addition to a panda who endures a brutal head-on collision, other animals used in the freeze framed carnage include a walrus and a couple of penguins, which is truly absurd when you consider the average penguin is far too short to operate a motor vehicle. 

Regardless, the advertisements’ tagline, “Engineered for a lower impact on the environment,” is fairly believable as the ads also mention the fact that Fiat produces an average of just 133.7 grams per kilometer – the lowest carbon emissions of any brand in all of Europe. 

See the ads here: http://www.autobloggreen.com/photos/european-fiat-advertising-campaign/

Be forewarned, the panda gets it hard. (1)

The best-selling car in 2008 moved more than 457,000 units and retailed for about $50. That’s right, it was the Little Tykes Cozy Coupe. You know, the little red one with the yellow top and the beep beep horn? Chances are it may have been your first car and many of your playmates’ as well. To celebrate it’s 30th anniversary, the Cozy Coupe has been inducted into the prestigious Cleveland’s Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, named one of the top 10 automobile museums in the country by Car Collector Magazine. (1) 

Personally, I found the Cozy Coupe hard to maneuver, underpowered, and the styling barbarically muddled in a Flintstones meet the Jetsons meet Dr. Seuss homage gone horribly awry. But that’s just me. If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about see for yourself at the Little Tykes website: 

http://www.littletikes.com/toys/cozy-coupe-30th-anniversary-edition.aspx


Besides the Cozy Coupe, the two top selling vehicles in the Month of May were both domestic and both pickup trucks. Here’s the official list from the AP: 

Top Selling Autos in May

1. Ford F-series (33,381)
2. Chevrolet Silverado (31,463)
3. Toyota Camry/Solara (31,325)
4. Toyota Carolla/Matrix (23,576)
5. Honda Accord (22,597)
6. Honda Civic (20,723)
7. Ford Fusion (19,786)
8. Chevrolet Impala (18,709)
9. Nissan Altima (18,408)
10. Ford Escape (16,391) (3)

I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing that we’re outselling imported cars with gas guzzling pickups. The rest of the list is dominated by fuel-efficient imports, implying that demand is centered about economy. What we might be seeing here is the result of Chevy and Ford slashing prices on big trucks to move them off the lot. Or it could be that as evidenced by the crazed popularity of our new muscle cars, there’s still plenty of demand for power and size. Maybe it’s a combination. 

Thoughts? 

Outside of his famous airplanes, Howard Hughes designed at least one custom car for his personal use and appropriately it seems to be a mixture of madness and genius. Last week former Portland Trailblazers center Bill Smith bought the 1936 Lincoln Boat Tail Speedster designed by Hughes at an auction for $1million, a price Smith believes was a bargain. 

The car started out as Hughes’ 1936 Lincoln K model V-12 Limousine, but being crazy and the fastest man in the world by air at the time, he decided to transform the limo to fit his vision of a ’36-37 Boat Tail Speedster. (4) From Hughes36.com: 

“After reducing the original weight by thousands of pounds and modifying the engine and exhaust this car would have easily cruised in excess of 100 MPH.”

Theories abound as to exactly why Hughes decided to develop a car so beyond the performance standards of the era, and from a limousine for that matter. Some believe he was planning to compete in a speed or endurance contest, or that he was developing his stab at the ultimate concept car. (4)

Others say that it was purely an experiment to develop a formula intended to boost fuel economy and engine performance by weight reduction and aerodynamics, which would make travel at high speeds more economical. If this were the case, Hughes could have used what he learned from restructuring the Speedster to set several of his world flying records. (4)

Others still believe that with its long wheelbase the car would have been very stable at high speeds and could have been used to keep up with the takeoffs and landings of aircraft Hughes was developing so he could film the tests. The car could have been especially handy in filming Hughes’ invention and refinement of retractable landing gear. (4)

Whatever the car’s purpose, assuming that there was one at all, it's now owned by Smith who says he would prefer to keep it alongside Hughes’ most infamous invention, the “Spruce Goose” at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. 

Sources:

(1) http://www.autobloggreen.com/2009/06/27/peta-alert-fiat-underscores-eco-friendliness-using-unique-adver/

(2) http://blog.marketplace.nwsource.com/nwautos/2009/06/little_tykes_best_selling_car.html

(3) http://blog.marketplace.nwsource.com/nwautos/2009/06/riversimple_unveils_a_hydrogen-powered_car_and_f-150_is_mays_top-selling_auto.html

(4) hughes36.com

New GM Vehicles spotlighted in Transformers 2

GM is using the summer blockbuster Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen to showcase a lineup of the next generation vehicles they hope will TRANSFORM their struggling empire. Whoo! I shelled out $10.50 and sat through 147 minutes of Shia LeBeouf to document this film and absorb key insights into the crucial future of General Motors’ offerings, which turned out to be completely unnecessary because all of the information I needed on the cars was already posted on the Internet. 

Ridiculously Cool Rides

If it weren’t for ridiculous cars there would be far less cars worth wanting. It would be easy to fritter our lives away worrying about what’s going to happen when the oil runs out or the icecaps dissolve or if we should adopt another polar bear but there's nothing wrong with opting to drive a new Chevrolet Camaro SS over new a Chevy Volt. Today, here's to choosing the Camaro, and to a few of the other automobiles out there that exist purely for fun. 

Bugatti Veyron 

$1,700,000. Don’t bother trying to spend more for a car because the Bugatti Veyron is by far the most expensive street legal car on the market today. Appropriately then, it’s also the fastest accelerating with a 0-60 time of 2.6 seconds and the second fastest top speed of 253mph, second only to the SSC Ultimate Aero, which stickers for a measly $550,000. The Veyron’s brag worthy $2 million price tag comes with a few other ridiculous numbers, such as a V16, four turbochargers, 987 horsepower, and a total of 10 Radiators: 

- 3 radiators for the engine cooling system
- 1 heat exchanger for the air-to-liquid intercoolers
- 2 for the air conditioning system.
- 1 transmission oil radiator
- 1 differential oil radiator.
- 1 engine oil radiator.
- 1 hydraulic oil radiator for the spoiler

That’s 10! Ten radiators! 

Ridiculous Fact: The Veyron uses Michelin run-flat tires designed specifically for the Veyron to handle its top speed - they cost $25,000 per set. (1,2)

Ask Patty, Cash for Clunkers, Gas prices, NASCAR

 

Are women really treated equally by car salesman, mechanics and the like? Jody DeVere, Founder and CEO of AskPatty.com believes that the male dominated atmosphere surrounding auto business needs to be more in tune with female clientele. According to the press release announcing Ask Patty’s launch, DeVere's company provides,

“Enhanced Certified Female Friendly Training for Car Dealerships, Tire Dealers and Automotive Service and Repair Centers”. (1) 

“Automotive retailers that do not change their approach to communicating more effectively with women will get left behind and leave themselves open to being over-taken by their competitors,” DeVere said, “Our goal is to provide training for automotive retail locations that is beneficial to the entire staff to help women have a great experience with all aspects of the car buying and automotive ownership experience.” 

On a miniature video next to the online press release, DeVere raves about Acura of Valencia in California, one of Ask Patty’s major success stories. The dealership now offers manicures, and when DeVere took her car there as a secret shopper to be serviced, the staff washed it inside and out, left her a “Beautiful thank you note,” and a bottle of water. 

CASH FOR CLUNKERS

The saga continues. To help push it through, the legislation was attached to a war-spending bill in the House of Representatives, but the ties could be removed if opposition from Legislators in the House and Senate decide to drag their feet. 

“People need to be patient. Creation of a whole new program like this does take time,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman Rae Tyson said Monday. “It's a very complicated thing, and one that's going to require some safeguards to make sure it doesn't get abused.” (2)

Under the current proposed plan, $3,500 or $4,500 vouchers good towards the purchase of a new more fuel-efficient car would be awarded to consumers who relinquish their dirty cars and light trucks rated at 18mpg or less, and large pickups and SUVs that suck around at 15mpg or less. As an added incentive for the workin’ class guys out there: ALL “work trucks” built before 2002 would be eligible.

To see if you’re vehicle qualifies as a clunker, copy and paste this bad boy into your browser: 

http://www.detnews.com/article/20090616/SPECIAL01/90615001/1148/auto01/Is+your+car+officially+a+clunker?+Search+the+database

GAS PRICES

Making the Clunker deal all the more enticing, summer is here and the price of regular unleaded gasoline has jumped up nearly 46 cents a gallon in the past month with the national average sitting threateningly at $2.674 as of 6/16/09. (3)(4)

NASCAR

Have you noticed all the cars look the same, minus the grill and headlight decals that are supposed to distinguish them as a particular make and model? Well, they kinda do. 

But now Ford and Dodge are going against the near universal NASCAR body style by submitting models of their Mustang and Challenger muscle cars to be tested and approved by NASCAR to run in the nation-wide series that better resemble the street versions of the iconic vehicles. 

“The Mustang and Challenger body proposals are said to look much more like the production cars.” AutoWeek.com reports. “The move by ford and dodge are an attempt to get their cars to really stand out on the track.” 

How cool would that be? 


Sources:

(1) http://www.prweb.com/releases/askpatty/certifiedfemalefriendly/prweb2501464.htm
(2) http://wot.motortrend.com/6554612/government/feds-warn-that-if-cash-for-clunkers-passes-it-will-take-a-while-to-implement/index.html
(3) http://www.autoweek.com/article/20090609/CARNEWS/906099981
(4) http://www.fuelgaugereport.com/
(5) http://www.autoweek.com/article/20090616/VIDEONEWS/906169989   4.5 

MotorSpaceNW muscle car test drive Part 1

The last time I attempted to test-drive a muscle car for this blog I was stuffed into the passenger seat of a tired 1980 Corvette Sting Ray alongside a rosy-cheeked man who was most likely dying of respiratory failure. At the time, a blogger from MotorSpaceNW.com didn’t carry the kind of clout a person of the “real” automotive press might have, at least not with ol’ wheezy. Needless to say I was righteously embittered.

“No American should be denied the right to at least test-drive a piece of their country’s heritage,” I wrote, “Mark my words: I’ll test drive one of those beasts before my days are through.” (1)

Yes, I just quoted myself. 

1/Big three ain’t bankrupt

So General Motors went bankrupt, Chrysler went bankrupt and by default Ford is poised to be our leading domestic carmaker, or the sharpest butter-knife in the drawer. Also, cheeseburgers are now eating people. As for the world heavyweight auto title, the big whoopin’ belt now belongs to Toyota after GM was knocked off its mighty thrown by a three-punch combination consisting of:

1. Foreign cars
POW!
2. Gas Prices
CRACK!
3. The Recession 
BLAMO!

Down went GM. The 100 year-old King hit the mat hard in the largest-ever U.S. manufacturing bankruptcy and the third-largest overall filing in U.S. history. Switching metaphors, with two-thirds of the big three bleeding bloody bankruptcy in open waters the piranhas are moving in and looking to get a piece of the action.

“The immediate implication is that the companies (GM & Chrysler) are going to get smaller and so market share is up for grabs, which means that rivals like Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai are going to gain share,” said Christopher Richter, auto analyst at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Tokyo. (1)

“Now the hard part begins, which is making GM and Chrysler competitive, “ he said,“ If they don't do that, then we'll be doing this all over again in a few years.” (1)

Chrysler’s bankruptcy, which was filed for April 30 is now being heralded as an example of how GM’s vastly larger and more complicated filing could pan out. On June 30, a bankruptcy judge allowed Chrysler to sell most of its assets to a group led by Fiat S.p.A as part of Chrysler’s mandatory alliance with the Italian car company. (2) 

The assets of the “new” Chrysler, dubbed Chrysler Group LLC will be 68 percent controlled by a United Auto Workers union health care trust, Fiat will control 20 percent and the U.S. and Canadian governments will control the remaining 12 percent. President Obama says that Chrysler should be done with its bankruptcy in just a few days, barely two months after the initial filing. 

Automotive News Europe calls GM's impeding bankruptcy, which is officially expected to last 60-90 days,” The most carefully orchestrated Chapter 11 filing in the history of American business.” (2) 

“Our goal is to get GM back on its feet, take a hands off approach and get out quickly,” Obama said. (3)

Reuters reports “On the first day in bankruptcy court, lawyers for GM said they would ask Judge Robert Gerber to approve its proposed sale of its strongest assets in just 30 days.” (3) 

It is expected that the U.S government will take a 60 percent stake in the new GM, the UAW will get 17.5 percent, the Canadian government, which is giving GM an additional $9.5 billion in aid will take a 12 percent piece while GM Bondholders will retain 10 percent. (4)

Presumably to the chagrin of MotorSpaceNW.com's “Kramer”, GM will receive another $30billion of taxpayer money to aid in their restructuring process. As he posted on the comment board of the MotorSpace blog “Another $30 billion to GM?”: 

“If there is another bailout I am going to stop paying taxes. This is ridiculous.” – Kramer. (5)

Recently, GM’s new Chief Executive Fritz Henderson made it apparent that he understands such concerns regarding the viability of GM’s uncertain future, but remains confident that the rocky road ahead is leading in the right direction

“The GM that many of you knew, the GM that let too many of you down, is history,” said Henderson at a news conference in New York.

“Today marks the beginning of what will be a new company, a new GM dedicated to building the very best cars and trucks, highly fuel-efficient, world-class quality, green technology development,” he said. (3) 

“I'm surprised they didn't go bankrupt in the 80s, building the crap that they do,” typed Internet user “Stewby” in response to the Auto News article “GM, symbol of U.S. might, files for bankruptcy.” (1) 

Harsh words Stewby, harsh critical words, and perhaps there’s a considerable amount of truth in them. But it would also be fair to say that the American auto industry has now officially shifted into survival mode. In the coming months we’ll have the unprecedented opportunity to see what the big three can produce when they’ve got their backs against the wall and the whole house is threatening to collapse. Whatever the outcome, it should be quite a show. 

Sources: 

(1) http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090601/ANE02/906019981/1042
(2) http://www.autonews.com/article/20090601/COPY/306019892/1057
(3) http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN3044658620090602 (4) (4)http://www.autonews.com/article/20090601/VIDEO/306019819/1219
(5) http://motorspacenw.com/member/blogentry.php?b=565&u=144

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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