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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for September 2012

Ford slashes debt and keeps high performance vehicles

Ford could be proof that despite the recession, there's still a healthy demand for high performance vehicles. While GM was forced to disband its High Performance Vehicle operations team as part of their reconstruction plan, Ford’s SVT (Special Vehicles Team) remains intact, and more high performance blue ovals are on the way. 

Since completing their restructuring initiatives April 3, Ford reportedly cut their debt by $9.9 billion from $25.8 billion at the end of December by swapping company stock and cash. (1)

“By substantially reducing our debt, Ford is taking another step toward creating an exciting, viable enterprise,” Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement. “As with our recent agreements with the UAW, Ford continues to lead the industry in taking the decisive actions necessary to weather the current downturn and deliver long-term profitable growth.” (2) 

Now, Ford is set to release several high performance vehicles that bank on the belief that car enthusiasts still want new toys, recession be damned.

Ford is considering bringing the 305 hp Focus RS, already sold in Europe to the U.S.. The three-door hatchback is powered by a turbocharged 2.5 liter five-cylinder Volvo engine and would sticker above its predecessor, the $19,205 Focus SVT which was discontinued in 2004. (3) 

AutoWeek reported that, “Hermann Salenbauch, Ford Motor Co.'s director of advanced product creation and global performance, says the decision to sell the Focus RS here will depend on reaction from U.S. car enthusiasts, such as Focus SVT owners.”

“Ford is looking for ‘feedback from the media and customers,’ he says. ‘How much do they like it? Is it really what they want? We are pretty confident that it is.’” (3)

In addition to the possibility of the Focus RS, the 2010 Ford F150 SVT Raptor, by all means a street legal off-road racer, is slated for U.S. release this summer. The Raptor is purpose built to tear through the desert at speeds well over of 80mph (watch in new videos) with a custom built suspension that allows 13 in. of wheel travel in the rear and 11.5 in the front. Under the hood, buyers have the option of a 6.2L overhead-cam V-8, more commonly known as “Boss,” producing roughly 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. (4)

All told, the Raptor is a full 7 in. wider and 2 in. taller than a standard F-150 Supercrew. The Raptor’s base price has yet to be announced, but it would be safe to assume that it costs a dollar or two more than the average half-ton and probably doesn’t go easy on the petroleum either.

Only the future will tell if Ford’s move to turn their flagship economy car into a tire burning speedster and their already thirsty F-150 into a full fledged off-road terror will cater properly to American car enthusiasts. If high performance vehicles such as these can still be successful, even in niche markets with the economy being as it is, Ford could be poised to provide a clear example that economical cars might not entirely represent the golden ticket to recovery for the auto industry. After all, there’s still plenty of people around that like horsepower. 

Sources:

(1-2) www.autonews.com/article/20090406/ANA02/904060282/1200
(3) www.autoweek.com/article/20090406/CARNEWS/904069995
(4) www.motortrend.com/features/auto_news/2008/112_0901_2010_ford_f150_svt_raptor/index.html

Rant: Why the Smart fortwo is dumb

I was nearly hit by a Smart fortwo while crossing the street earlier today and it made me realize how many other cars I would rather be killed by. Among cars that are easy to hate on the fortwo is unique in that it has few redeeming qualities that could be argued for on the basis of practicality. 

There lies the rub: If it’s not practical than what the hell is it good for besides running down auto journalists on the way back from doing laundry at their parents’ houses?

The fortwo just doesn’t make sense in so many ways. To make matters worse, many of the people who drive them seem to have a tendency to love them for ideological reasons, most of which are built on shortcomings. The fortwo is a social statement at best, one that says, “I am making a social statement. Look at how effing small my car is.” 

Here’s why the Smart fortwo is dumb enough for 3:

FUEL ECONOMY

For a car that looks like a toy suffering through the late stages of gigantism the fortwo’s fuel economy is lackluster at best. According to the United States’ fuel economy ratings it’s good for 34city, 38 highway, or 36mpg combined. A 2013 Ford Fiesta will get 29city, 39highway and weighs nearly 900 pounds more. That’s good weight that comes with a usable car attached to it. 

PRICE

So maybe the fortwo doesn’t live up to certain compact cars in the way of fuel economy, but at least it’s still priced like one. It starts at close to $12,490. Those are big numbers for a micro-car. The Ford Fiesta mentioned above starts at $13,200, leaving one to ponder how a vehicle that could fit into the bed of a used pickup can justify costing more than the truck.

PREMIUM FUEL

Compounding the fuel economy issue the fortwo isn’t a cheap date with the petrol. Her 1.0L three cylinder engine prefers to sip premium when out on the town. With the good stuff she makes 70hp and 14.1 second road trips to 60mph. For those of you unfamiliar with 0-60mph times that's very bad. 

WHY SO SMALL? 

Seriously, why? There’s no practical reason in these great United States the fortwo needs to be so tiny. Even in its most densely populated areas nearly every major U.S. city will still easily accommodate parking for a compact or sub-compact car. Parking garages were invented quite some time ago and seem to be working just fine for every ass that still manages to stuff his Escalade into a “compact” stall.

Although the man in the fortwo who nearly ran me over chose to stop I'm led to wonder if he may have contemplated for a split second whether blasting my corpse into a roadside shrubbery would be worth the erasure of my carbon footprint from his neighborhood.

And yes, for the purposes of this blog I may very well be playing the part of a hack auto blogger chicken-pecking a poorly conceived rant as a stopgap between valid story ideas. I may live in a studio apartment with an ugly fern that probably hates me, but I am nobody’s fool when it comes to cars. 

It should be noted that Edmunds, one of the most respected and widely read automotive review publications of our time described the 2012 Smart fortwo as one of the “least desirable cars on the market.” (1) 

Take a look at this paragraph from the full review:

“..The single-clutch, automated manual transmission is one of the worst transmissions on the market today. It causes unsettling lurches at any speed, complicating precise parking maneuvers and making boulevard driving thoroughly unpleasant. On the highway, the Smart fortwo is out of its element, being easily upset by wind gusts or passing trucks.” (1)

Being upset by wind gusts and passing trucks is something that should be reserved for people old enough to flag down a passing Access bus. 

The mystery man in the fortwo was right to be upset that I sauntered diagonally across the quiet residential street we share, lazily assuming his tiny toy car wouldn’t suddenly appear from behind a roundabout. He was forced to brake curtly and threw up his hands in disgust, as if to proclaim he had caught me blatantly disregarding the most important rule of pedestrianism; to look both ways before crossing the road. 

I’m sorry for the trouble this must have caused him.

“We're also not fans of the awkward brake pedal placement and its inconsistent travel.” (1) 

What I’d like for him to understand is that his Smart fortwo is a dark mark in the very important early attempts of automakers to build more economical, practical modes of transportation for a future that can’t expect to run on over sized fossil fuel vehicles much longer. Faux progression in the struggle is more unforgivable than honest failures.

If I had my pick I'd like to be run down by a late sixties V8-powered American pickup truck, rusted out and backfiring black smoke, driven by Norman Rockwell. A truck like that holds a golden place in automotive history. It made perfect sense for it's time. 

The same just can't be said about the Smart fortwo. 


SOURCES:
http://www.edmunds.com/smart/fortwo/2012/ 

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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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