Posts By: Frank Williams

By on June 28, 2009

Ever since Porsche debuted the Cayenne, Porschephiles have heatedly debated where it fits into Porsche’s branding strategy—or if it should even exist. When SPEEDtv.com Editor in Chief Tom Jensen reviewed the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, he declared that the four-wheel-drive trucklet is a “true Porsche.” He states that “the Cayenne Turbo is absolutely faithful to Porsche’s core values of performance, quality and competency” and is therefore worthy of Porsche-hood. Despite its ungainly exterior, early reviews of the heavyweight four-door Porsche Panamera make the same claim. (Autoblog: “Not only is it painstakingly engineered and truly enjoyable to drive… most importantly, the all-new Panamera has earned the right to wear the Porsche badge.”) So what say you? What makes a Porsche a Porsche? With the “independent” sports car maker on the brink of losing its independence, has the fabled Porsche brand finally lost the plot?

By on June 25, 2009

Forbes, number one on the top ten list of top ten list purveyors, has published their list of “Ten Cars That Changed the World.” It contains vehicles “that were the first of their kind and that influenced the design and performance elements of the entire industry” and that have “staying power.” Or so they say. While some are no-brainer picks as history-changers (Ford Model T and VW Beetle), some are kind of strange (c’mon . . . the AMC Eagle?). And I know a few million Corvette fans who will dispute their statement that the Porsche  911 “has the longest production run of any sports car sold in the U.S.” Forbes‘ complete list is after the jump. Alternative suggestions welcome.
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By on June 23, 2009

Ford may “just say ‘no’” to TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) money that puts them under the control of the PTFOA (Presidential Task Force on Automobiles), but the other wise acronym-aversive automaker doesn’t mind bellying up to the DoE’s (Department of Energy) bailout buffet. Bloomberg‘s mysterious “people familiar with the plans” say Ford, Nissan and Tesla will all dine upon  loans from the “original” bailout package: the $25 billion feast created by the 2007 energy bill. The loans were intended to “help automakers boost fleetwide fuel economy.” In February, the DoE said they’d received 75 applications, totaling $38 billion. According to Bloomies, Ford, Nissan and Tesla are the first to get the handouts loans.

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By on June 22, 2009

TTAC’s not the only one wondering when Toyota will stop acting like GM. Last February, none other than 84-year-old honorary chairman Shoichiro Toyoda (grandson of the company founder) upbraided 400 Toyota executives by asking them the same thing. “A person familiar with the meeting” told Bloomberg that Toyoda started out by asking lame-duck president Katsuaki Watanabe, “How many times have you made a mistake?” Then he went on to accuse the group of chasing sales and profits and letting Toyota emulate GM and Chrysler by becoming “addicted” to big cars and trucks while ignoring “the customers’ need to save money.”

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By on June 22, 2009

Toyota, the automaker of choice for the green movement, is under fire by the green movement. It seems that the company wants to turn 1600 acres of cedar forests and 17th century rice paddies into a research center that’ll include 10km of road courses. The problem—in addition to the historical value of the area—is that it’s the habitat of the endangered gray-faced buzzard and oriental honey buzzard. In total, Bloomberg reports, the project will deforest 691 acres, fill in rice paddies and raze mountains. Shigemi Oda, chairman of the “Society to Consider the Large-Scale Development Project of the 21st Century,” summed it up: “Most people think of Toyota as an environmentally friendly company. Crushing mountains is environmentally destructive.”

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By on June 22, 2009

I love technology. I was an early adopter of the microcomputer (8” SS/SD floppies, anyone?). I spent way too much on a TI calculator in college because it could *gasp* do square roots. My car has rain-sensing wipers, self-leveling headlights and power headrests. However, spending a week with an Infiniti FX35 made me wonder if, just as electronic calculators have given us a generation who can’t do simple math in their heads, the technical fripperies in our cars are going to produce a generation of drivers who can’t drive.

By on June 18, 2009

GM is shutting down production of the Pontiac Vibe at the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) plant in California. GM has sold some car or another based on the Corolla ever since they jointly opened the plant with Toyota. GM doesn’t need them to produce another small car, as they’re looking at plants in Michigan, Wisconsin and Tennessee for that. That’s the first dot. And away we go!

By on June 18, 2009

The GM/Toyota partnership known as NUMMI builds but one vehicle for GM: the Pontiac Vibe. And it will continue to do so. Until the end of August, that is. GM’s announced that’s when they’ll cease production of the Toyota Matrix’ platform mate at the California plant. The press release states “While no replacement for Vibe production has been determined, GM and Toyota remain in active discussions regarding potential future production at NUMMI.” What’s next for NUMMI?

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By on June 18, 2009

“We need to be able to make decisions faster.” Thus spake GM CEO Fritz Henderson to Automotive News [sub] at the National Business Summit yesterday. In what can only be termed a blinding flash of the almost obvious, he continued, “As part of the General Motors moving forward, you don’t normally think of us as speedy or fast, and that’s what we should be. But when you’re fast you do make mistakes. My view is if you’re slow, you make more mistakes. You just don’t notice it.” Huh? Anyway, what about organizational changes? What’s he waiting for?

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By on June 17, 2009

What is a clunker? Various dictionaries I consulted used terms like “a decrepit machine, especially an old car” or “an old or badly working piece of machinery” or “a noisy, dilapidated automobile.” Apparently there’s a new definition, courtesy of Congress: “any vehicle rated at 18 mpg or less.” The Detroit News has a link to a database to let you find out if your car would qualify for the “Cash for Clunkers” program that has passed the House and is headed for the Senate. The first thing you notice: the database has nothing to do with the condition of the vehicle in question.

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By on June 16, 2009

If it walks like a lame duck, talks like a lame duck . . . . During an interview with Fritz Henderson, the New York Times asked the GM CEO if the bankrupt automaker needed someone from outside GM to inject a little fresh blood. Fritz didn’t care for the insinuation. “Carlos Ghosn was no outsider [when he turned around Nissan]. Lee Iacocca wasn’t an industry outsider when he took over at Chrysler.” That’s right, Fritz, but neither of them had spent their entire working life sipping the corporate Kool-Aid at the company they saved. You, on the other hand, have never tasted any flavor but GM Grape. As former GM Director and current behind-the-scenes talent spotter Jerry York points out, “Fritz might be 20 percent better than Wagoner, or maybe 50 percent better, but the question is, is that good enough?” Talk about damned by faint praise . . . What’s the bet that the new, government-appointed BOD’s answers “no” after they ”evaluate whether Mr. Henderson deserves to hold his job more permanently”? Place your wagers on Henderson’s defenestration date below.

By on June 16, 2009

The Monroe (Louisiana) News Star proclaims, “A deal has been signed that will bring about 1,400 jobs” to an abandoned plant in Ouachita Parish. Whatta deal! But wait—just what company is the area’s economic salvation? It’s a “startup company [which] will assemble new autos in the plant.” The official announcement isn’t until tomorrow, but the deal “known as Project Liberty, involves famed Silicon Valley venture capitalists Ray Lane and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.” The AP cites Monroe City Council member Arthur Gilmore as saying the plant will build “fuel-efficient vehicles.” Nothing more was given about the company except to say it’s “relatively young” and “has a very unique business model and product.” OK . . . here’s where we have to make the obligatory comparison to Tucker and DeLorean. Oh yeah, and let’s toss in a reference to New Mexico and Tesla’s WhiteStar project. More to come following Gov. Bobby Jindal’s announcement about the deal tomorrow.

By on June 15, 2009

When Jay Shoemaker reviewed the 2010 Prius, he castigated it for its dead-feeling controls, strange operating procedures and total lack of soul. He concluded: “But I have a feeling that one day soon we will be able to drive something that gets outstanding mileage while stimulating its operator in the process.” Mr. Shoemaker, your car has arrived. May I present the Volkswagen Jetta TDI?

By on June 13, 2009

We’ve been quite vocal in our opinion of “Car of the Year” awards such as those sold handed out every year by Motor Trend. Even worse are those picked by non-automotive rags, where a COTY announcement ranks right up there with their pronouncements of the years trendiest sunglasses or the best place for the killer mojitos Yet, for whatever reason, Esquire has decided the world needs yet another of these useless (to everyone but their advertising department) awards.

By on May 21, 2009

How many Mercedes owners change their own oil to save a few bucks? The latest “Meet the Volkswagens” TV ad doesn’t just insult Benz owners— and everyone else’s—intelligence. It’s also racially insensitive. By depicting a middle class white guy with his face blackened with oil, it raises the specter of 19th century minstrel shows. OK, that’s a stretch. But so is VW’s supposition that reminding customers of their over-familiarity with their local dealer’s service department is a good thing. And what does a Microbus sliding out of a nearby garage have to do with anything, Amigo? Wait . . . cue-up the Routan commercial . . .

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