Posts By: stephwillems

By on February 25, 2017

untitled

Onlookers outside Detroit’s Cobo Center took part in a great American pastime yesterday. That is, thrilling at the impending destruction of an airborne 1969 Dodge Charger.

You know the one. Orange, Confederate flag emblazoned on the roof, once the star of a popular TV show that was serviceable in its first season, but then got really stupid. There’s a pull, an irresistible force that compels us to find old B-body Chargers — ideally a ’69, sometimes a ’68 but never a ’70 — and launch those nose-heavy suckers to a frame-twisting death.

It’s the only classic, lusted-after muscle car that we associate with low-altitude flight and, for some reason, we continue to applaud the torture and destruction of the remaining examples. Why? (Read More…)

By on February 25, 2017

opel-ampera-e-paris-626x382

Apparently, the tidy sale of General Motors’ European division to French automaker PSA Group isn’t so clean-cut after all.

According to German publication Der Spiegel, PSA is looking to secure more than just the Opel and Vauxhall brands. It also wants a key bit of gear — one that would make the new European alliance market leaders in electric vehicle technology.

GM isn’t willing to let it go without a host of conditions. (Read More…)

By on February 24, 2017

lawsuit

Based in Germany and nabbed by federal agents in Florida, Volkswagen’s one-time top emissions compliance manager for the U.S. made an appearance in a federal courtroom in Detroit today.

Indicted, along with five others, on charges of conspiring to defraud the U.S. and violating the Clean Air Act, Oliver Schmidt isn’t about to face down hard time without a fight. The executive pleaded not guilty to the charges, reports The Detroit News. (Read More…)

By on February 24, 2017

tires

Remember when recycling was new and sexy and every 1980s sitcom included it as a subplot in at least one cringe-inducing episode? It was around the time that McDonald’s took away that convenient styrofoam container — you know, the one that stored a Big Mac on one side and a delicious pile of fries on the other.

Times change. Recycling is mundane, but it’s bigger than ever — and there’s no doubt about the environmental benefits. Unfortunately, there can also be unforeseen financial benefits for less-than-honest operators, especially if a program’s creator doesn’t keep watch on who’s minding the till.

If that creator is the government, things can get messy. Consider this cautionary tale of a massive program that went rotten so badly that it had to be scrapped. (Read More…)

By on February 24, 2017

Mercedes-Benz Concept X-CLASS

Colorado. Canyon. Tacoma. Frontier. Ridgeline. X-Class?

That could be the lineup Mercedes-Benz has in mind for the competitive — and growing — U.S. midsize pickup segment. Ever since the automaker unveiled its questionable-looking X-Class midsize pickup last fall and declared America off limits for now, there’s been no end to the speculation that we’d eventually end up with a German offering on these shores.

The midsize pickup segment has now grown to 17 percent of all U.S. truck sales, and Mercedes apparently likes what it sees. (Read More…)

By on February 24, 2017

GM: Barra at 2016 GM Annual Stockholders Meeting

For now, legislation restricting the use of those pesky self-driving cars is mainly up to individual states. Because no one wants an experimental, untested car piloting their local roadways, states have erected legislative safety barriers that, for the most part, restrict pilot projects in certain areas, or on certain roads.

As everyone waits for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make up its mind and put blanket regulations in place, an angry chorus of complaints from Silicon Valley startups is growing louder, accusing state lawmakers of favoring the old guard when it comes to fostering automotive technology.

Only naturally, concerns about corporate money influencing government decisions arose. One automaker’s political action fund seems more active than others (Read More…)

By on February 23, 2017

Design Center Audi. Picture courtesy Audi

There’s no end to the layers of intrigue swirling around the upper echelons of Audi.

Last week saw four engineers who worked on the company’s emissions-rigged diesel engines fired, with one of them, former engine development chief Ulrich Weiss, claiming in court that CEO Rupert Stadler was privy to the deception.

Audi fired back with a lawsuit threat against one or more individuals for “baseless accusations” and the revealing of internal documents. Now, the German publication Bild has released information on a potentially damning document that was reportedly locked away in Weiss’s safe since 2015 for exactly this purpose.

Weiss pulled out the document in a German labor court Tuesday to prove he’s the “pawn” his lawyer claims. (Read More…)

By on February 23, 2017

Carlos Ghosn (Image: Nissan)

Carlos Ghosn, the aggressive figurehead who brought a nosediving Nissan back from the brink, is stepping down as CEO after 16 years on the job.

The industry titan will remain CEO of Renault, where he staged a similar turnaround, and will continue to serve as chairman of Nissan, Renault and lowly Mitsubishi — the latter company being added to the alliance last year. Apparently, the decision to step down was prompted by Mitsubishi’s deeply-ingrained woes. In order to work some Nissan-style magic on the struggling automaker, Ghosn needed to hand over the reins.

Meanwhile, a man who stuck with Nissan for 40 years has seen his loyalty pay off. (Read More…)

By on February 22, 2017

Flint Silverado assembly plant

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s former attorney general, was sworn in to his new role as Environmental Protection Agency administrator late Friday following a 52-46 Senate vote earlier in the day.

While it isn’t known what Pruitt did over the weekend, it’s safe to say that members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spent at least part of that downtime drafting a letter, likely mirroring one they’ve already sent to President Donald Trump.

The group, representing 12 automakers that build 77 percent of the light-duty vehicles sold in the U.S., wants action on lowering the industry’s fuel economy and emissions targets. Urgent action, ideally. Now that there’s been a change at the top, the group feels that it might finally get its wish. (Read More…)

By on February 22, 2017

2017 Land Rover Discovery

Call it a case of thinking out loud, or perhaps the spark that could propel a company in a new and potentially disastrous direction.

Either way, Land Rover and Range Rover’s design chief, Gerry McGovern, is pretty open-minded about a future where a British automaker famous for making utility vehicles — and only utility vehicles — spawns a car-like model or two. And by open-minded, we mean in a first-year university kind of way. (Read More…)

By on February 22, 2017

2018 Lexus LS at NAIAS Front 3/4, Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Lexus’ next-generation LS has already thrown design heritage out the window and kicked its traditional V8 to the curb, so why not add more totally new hardware?

For 2018, the brand’s redesigned flagship sedan will again offer a hybrid variant, but that last version is yesterday’s news. Lexus didn’t need to look far to find a replacement. (Read More…)

By on February 22, 2017

Opel Insignia Sport Tourer

Opel autoworkers and executives worried that a French takeover will see their pretzels and bratwurst replaced by baguettes and brie can rest easy, or so the automaker looking to buy their company claims.

France’s PSA Group, which could submit a bid to buy Opel and sister division Vauxhall this week, would give the German automaker the autonomy it desperately craves, the company’s CEO told labor reps and Germany’s chancellor.

That elongated “Z” won’t become a fleur-de-lis. (Read More…)

By on February 21, 2017

Fordlandia

Welcome to the Paradise of Fordlândia. Three rules: no booze, no Jews, and we want to check your junk now and then.

Well, those were the rules (one of them unwritten) when the Brazilian town, hacked out of the jungle in 1928, was at its peak. Abandoned by Ford Motor Company in 1945, the bizarre utopian industrial and social experiment remains, slowly decomposing and encroached upon by vegetation, on the shores of an Amazonian backwater.

It is here, along the Tapajós river, that revolutionary industrialist and noted oddball Henry Ford created his rubber-producing settlement in the image of a modern Michigan city. Thanks to one enterprising reporter who probably owns a dog-eared copy of Heart of Darkness, we can now see what the failed experiment looks like in 2017. (Read More…)

By on February 21, 2017

1969 Chrysler New Yorker (Alden Jewell/Flickr)

Those who know me well — the lucky souls who’ve plumbed the deepest depths of my dark psyche and returned alive — know my strange and beautiful lust for 1970s land yachts. It needn’t be seen as a weird kink. I mean, who doesn’t like vast swaths of interior room, pillowed velour, and a narcolepsy-inducing ride? Weirdos, most likely.

If two sad, motherless puppies ever crawled their way to my doorstep, shivering and scared, I’d immediately rename them Brougham and Landau, and I don’t care who knows it.

As full-size cars shrink in popularity, the cues of those past Interstate barges — padded roofs, opera windows, flip-up headlights — are nowhere to be seen in today’s automotive landscape. Another common feature of those overstuffed rides, one that rose to prominence in the heady 1950s and met its death before the end of the 1970s, currently occupies an endangered micro niche.

I’m talking about the missing B-pillar. Yes, the alluring and illustrious pillarless hardtop. (Read More…)

By on February 21, 2017

2016 Lotus Evora 400

There’s a battle brewing between France and China over a famous Malaysian-owned British automaker. Who said globalization was in danger?

Geely, Volvo’s Chinese parent company, is in talks to buy Proton, the Malaysian owner of the famed Lotus brand, the Financial Times reports. Proton’s not doing well these days, all thanks to an influx of affordable imports that has eroded its domestic market share. To reach its goal, Geely must first stave off stiff competition from Europe.

France’s PSA Group, maker of Peugeot and Citroën (and potential future owner of Opel and Vauxhall), also wants to get its hands on Proton. However, it looks like the competing automakers want different things from the deal. (Read More…)

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