Posts By: Justin Berkowitz

By on February 3, 2009

The fact that BMW’s sales are down compared to January of last year should come as no surprise. These aren’t just cars, they’re luxury goods. What’s significant is the breakdown of model sales. The 3-Series and X5 sold 5471 units combined—44% of BMW’s entire sales for the month of January. Add in the 2596 units of 5-Series sold and between those three models (3, 5, X5) you have twice as many cars as the rest of BMW’s lineup combined. To wit: the 1-Series sold 716, the BMW Z4 roadster and coupe sold 45 units (down from 363 last January), the putrid X6 managed only 266 sales and the spine-crunching X3 registered 394 sales. And then there are the 6-Series (304 sold) and the 7-Series at a whopping 23 units. The explanation is that the next-generation 7-Series hits BMW dealers in a few months; same for the next-gen Z4. It’s not all bad news for BMW though—the M sub-brand had a record year in 2008, with its sales rising 50% over 2007. Dealers report that the boost in sales came from offering to throw in a free tub of hair gel with each sale.

By on January 26, 2009

According to Automotive News, Chrysler plans to sell up to seven Fiat/Alfa Romeo-designed models in America. Under this scheme, Chrysler dealers would flog the Fiat 500, Alfa MiTo, and Alfa 147 replacement. There’ll also be up to four Fiat-based cars in the A, B, C, and D segments. Some American car fans are thrilled at the idea of inexpensive, fuel efficient, fun-to-drive Italian cars — even if the machines in question end up as Dodges built in Mexico to Italian blueprints. But that’s exactly what it is: an idea. And a bad one at that.

By on January 21, 2009

Mercedes recently unveiled its new E-Class, much to the displeasure of eyes around the world. Still, the midrange Benz is all but guaranteed relative success in markets like the U.S. and Germany, thanks to high-powered lawyers and taxi drivers, respectively. The German-market car shown here is an E350 CGI, which refers to the direct injection that gives the car 292 hp. I believe that’s coming to the U.S. when the car debuts in place of the existing 268 hp V6.

By on January 19, 2009

I’m almost due for my next car. Well, in six months. Which might as well be tomorrow. My GTI will go back to Volkswagen so that some poor clod can own it out of warranty. And this leaves me shopping for a replacement. This is where I’m in trouble. Not only do I have car-lover’s ADD, but I am picky about cars I actually will drive and don’t want anything too common. Even though I’m a jerk, I won’t drive the official car of jerks everywhere. So that means no 3-Series.  Did I mention I prefer a hatchback or wagon? All this hemming and hawing has left me thinking about a Volvo or Saab. The trouble is, despite stories of the better experiences (“My Volvo V70 has gone 400,000 miles with only routine maintenance), whatever I buy will be weird, and therefore will break down. It’s not the breaking down I mind so much, but the cost of parts and repairs. The trouble is, I’m not unhinged enough to actually think an Alfa or a Citroen makes sense to buy. So what I really want is an Alfa Romeo or Citroen with Honda build quality. And if you take away the breaking down, you take away quintessential European-car character. What this means is that I’m crazy, but not crazy enough.

By on January 9, 2009

I think it’s great to get excited about new cars, announcements from manufacturers, spec sheets, press kit photos, and concept cars. I’m a jerk, but I’m not a jerk made of stone. With my mea-culpa qualification out of the way though, I do find it frustrating to see what I think of as undue enthusiasm. If you jump, you can see my five TTAC-spirited assessments of the product announcements of the week.

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By on January 5, 2009

In today’s podcast, Jonny and I talked — among other things — about the Toyota Century (mistakenly referred to as the Toyota Crown at first). We both think the V12 Japanese retrolimo is fantastic, and that its old-school technology (curtains?!) are charming as all get out. I agree with him that overflowing technology doesn’t make a car luxurious, and if someone would make a very comfortable, isolating quiet car I’d be thrilled. In other news, we hit on the Kia Soul, had debates about the insane 16-cylinder Cizeta-Moroder V16T on Autofiends, another debate about the Avanti, and then he presented a book report about a fascinating-sounding book called “Brightwork,” which Jonny received for the Jewish festival of lights, Hannukah.

By on December 28, 2008

Jaguar XF Diesel S – 3.0 V6 with 271 hp, 442 lb/ft of torque. Will do 0-60 in 5.9, rated at 35 MPG (US) average. A 236 hp version of the same 3.0 liter engine will be available.

Not for North America. (Consolation prize: we will get the 5.0 liter Supercharged gasoline V8 with 503 hp next year). Full embargo-broken press release after the jump.

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By on December 28, 2008

These are the stock wheels on two special edition “green” Volvos in Europe. What do you think of ye olde Swedish rims?

By on December 24, 2008

Apparently the Rasheen is a JDM car based on the Nissan Sentra. Those three letters are good enough for me, especially when we’re not talking about some crazy Integra but a weird Japanese car. This one is cube-shaped, RHD, has plaid seats, and a general air of goofiness. The owner says he has a Florida title, which only means he is the legal owner of a car that’s illegally in the United States. But is $6000 so much to pay for the privilege of having the only Nissan Rasheen in the country?

By on December 23, 2008

Hyundai just released some pricing info and specs on the surprisingly decent looking Elantra “Touring,” which is essentially just a 5-door hatch version of the professionally mediocre Elantra sedan. What really sticks is the EPA fuel economy, rated at 23 city and either 30 or 31 highway with the manual or automatic, respectively. We’re still talking about a four-cylinder “compact” car here, and despite the weight of size and safety equipment, I am surprised. Hyundai’s own Sonata — with another 40 horses vs. the Elantra — has virtually the same EPA ratings. Sure, we like to trot out the Corvette as an example of a high mileage powerful car, but there are at least a dozen other examples of cars with way more power (and metal) than the Elantra touring and better fuel economy. My 2004 Honda Accord V6, which was a rather portly cruiser, returned 31 mpg on the highway. And yet, the Elantra isn’t unique. Saturn’s Astra, with a 1.8 liter engine, only musters 24/32. The Mazda3 is in the same league. Some of the more efficient cars in this segment can deliver 35 miles per gallon highway – cars like the Corolla, Focus, Civic, and Cobalt XFE. But solely from a fuel economy standpoint, I have a hard time justifying even these better ones, when their bigger counterparts like the Camry, Fusion, Accord, and Malibu offer reasonably close numbers, especially on the highway. It leaves me wondering why, when the Fusion gets 32 mpg highway from its four cylinder, we don’t have a Ford compact car with a gasoline engine that gets 38 mpg highway. But them’s the breaks.

By on December 19, 2008

According to the Financial Times, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his government are sitting on an independent report about the future of cleaner, more fuel efficient cars. The 129-page document has been finished for months (since late September) and yet, from what the FT says, it will not be released to the public in the forseeable future. Apparently people who have seen the report say that it looks negatively on all-electric cars, instead preferring a motoring future based on a mix of gasoline, diesel, biofuel, and parallel and series hybrid cars, all with enhancements in tires, aerodynamics, and so on. In other words, the report said the variety pack we’ve got now seems to be the right approach. Unfortunately, Sarkozy is chummy with two billionaire businessmen who are both pursuing electric car businesses (Serge Dassault and Vincent Bolloré). To make matters worse, the French government still owns a 15% stake in Renault, which has poured a small fortune into the development of electric cars — including a large pilot testing program in Israel previously expected to launch in 2011. This stinks of corruption. And before we say “Well, it’s the French. They surrender and keep mistresses,” keep in mind that you should be no less bothered.

By on December 19, 2008

Ever since Cerberus took ownership of Chrysler, it has been lights out at what was once America’s third-largest automaker. With Daimler holding on to a 20% stake in the firm, some small news was public. And Chrysler did report its [dismal] sales each month. But that’s about it. The public relations folks were rolled into human resources. Cerberus played its cards close to its chest. And this was what we all expected from the beginning; it was at least in theory one of the major high-points of Cerberus taking over as Chrysler’s owner. They didn’t have to keep an open book, report financial data, and be subject to the short-term goals of shareholders. But it has also meant we have no idea what is going on inside this big company with tens of thousands of employees. Now that you and I are non-voting shareholders, we should have a better idea.

By on December 18, 2008

Engineer A: How’s testing on the Merak going?
Engineer B: The brakes catch fire all the time.
Engineer A: Put in a warning light.
Engineer A: Make it big.

By on December 17, 2008

The car bloggers went sub-ballistic (what would that be, scientists?) today because Honda announced that it was killing the NSX project. Well, I say good riddance to a stupid idea. I’m in that camp of people that thinks the original NSX is the very rare car that came out perfectly. And while many people have admonished me for clinging to outdated conceptions of what a particular car or company “should” be (like the 1-Series not being a suitable sucessor to the 2002, or the Subaru Forester betraying its goofwagon roots), I can’t understand the business case for a front-engined V10 Acura NSX. Trickle down tech? Maybe – though certainly not the V10 engine, unless it was going to be tacking two extra cylinders onto Honda’s already dubious planned V8. Front engine supercar? Plenty of those out there. Expensive? Again, plenty of those out there. Lexus reportedly cancelled its LF-A program because it was clear that they weren’t going to take down Godzilla (the Nissan GT-R). So why would Acura plan differently? I think people would welcome a modern version of the original NSX concept, though – a mid-engined car with the best handling in the world, a great gearbox, and a relatively simple V6 or V8 engine. Or, as Lieberman says in the podcast – Honda’s version of a Ferrari F430. Sold.

By on December 15, 2008

Last night’s TopGear (which will air in the U.S. by 2015 or on your computer now) featured Jeremy “The Gentle Giant” Clarkson driving the Tesla Roadster. His observations?

The good: Same time around the track as a Porsche GT3. No gas. Very fast in straight lines. Looks good. Very fast in straight lines. Cheap to fill up compared to a gas/diesel car.

The bad: Handling only so-so, because of the low-resistance tires and the 1000 lbs added by 6831 batteries in the middle of the car. Ample road noise. Green-ambiguity of electric cars & power production.

The ugly: After caning it, Clarkson got 55 miles of range. In a 13 amp UK socket, he estimated a 16 hour recharge time. Tesla had to bring two cars. One overheated while driving (on the track), the other’s brakes “broke” while it was recharging.

Clarkson calls the car a stunning “technical achievement” but finishes by saying it is “completely irrelevant” as he previews a later segment on Honda’s fuel cell car, the Clarity FCX.

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