The Truth About Cars » Design The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Design The Culture Of Cars: Real Or Imagined? Thu, 03 Jul 2014 14:16:42 +0000 Citroen Ami 6. Picture courtesy Citroen

I’ve been on the road for the last few weeks and one of the places I was able to visit was the Smithsonian Institution’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport located just outside of Washington DC. Unlike the National Air and Space Museum located on the national mall close to the capitol building, the Udvar-Hazy Center is an enormous facility and although I have visited other aircraft museums that have had larger collections on display, I think it is safe to say that the Smithsonian’s collection is second to none. The aircraft on display span the history of flight and include both military and civilian examples. More importantly, at least for the sake of this discussion, they come from every corner of the globe and as they sit there, lined up beside one another, it’s easy to compare the craftsmanship of one nation’s products against the next.

Years ago I read an interview with one of the men responsible for the restoration of the aircraft I so recently saw and one of his comments leaped out at me. The national characteristics of each nation, he asserted, was represented in the design and construction of their aircraft. British planes, he said, were complex with many small parts while Italian planes were beautifully constructed but relatively fragile. German planes he continued, were generally well designed with large robust parts, Japanese planes were tinny and lightly constructed while American aircraft were solid and almost agricultural in nature. Of course that article is lost to history and I am left paraphrasing a dim memory, but as I stood there looking over the Smithsonian’s collection that statement rang true and I began to wonder if the same thing could be said of cars.

As auto enthusiasts we spend a lot of time talking about the soul of certain cars, Italians they say have it in spades while the Japanese have traded it away for sewing machine-like reliability. We say that German cars exude a feeling of solidity and technological competence while the best British cars, replete with thick leather seats and burled walnut panels, seem to lack that technological prowess but have instead the comfortable feel of an English gentleman’s club. American cars, and to a certain extent Australian cars, are traditionally agricultural, simple and rough but reliable, and in line with those nation’s connection to the land while French cars are stylish, quirky and unique much like the French people who have always had their own, unique worldview.

But I wonder of those days aren’t gone. National and international standards have forced the homogenization of vehicles over the years while the nature of large multinational companies, which consume one another like a school of voracious fish, constantly ingesting and occasionally regurgitating one another with surprising ferocity, has allowed for an amazing amount of cross fertilization. In house design and development, especially of subsystems like fuel injection and electrical systems, is frequently farmed out to subcontractors and it is common to see cars across several companies sharing similar systems so what then has happened to the national character of our cars? Does it still exist? Did it ever? I wonder…

02 - 1962 Cadillac Sedan DeVille Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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New York 2014: 2015 Corvette Z06 Convertible Live Shots Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:33:45 +0000 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-12

Turning up alongside the new-for-United States Chevrolet Trax, the 2015 Corvette Z06 posed topless before the cameras at the 2014 New York Auto Show. Speaking of, the top can be raised at speeds of up to 30 mph, while the car itself can go from naught to 60 in 3.5 seconds; the time matches that of the hardtop variant.

As for what’s under the more airy clothes, a chassis that is 20 percent stiffer than the hardtop, upon which rests the same 6.2-liter V8 pushing approximately 625 horsepower and 635 lb-ft of torque toward the back tires. The engine will be mated with a choice of either a seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic, the latter’s fast shifts could prove venerable on the track once a roll bar is installed.

The Z06, in both guises, will arrive sometime in 2015, and can be upgraded with the Z07′s list of goodies, with Chevrolet providing an open options list for future owners.

2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-12 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-13 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-15 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-2 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-4 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-7 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-5 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-10 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-3 2015-Chevrolet-Z06-Convertible-9 ]]> 9
Jet Age, Italian Style: Pinin Farina’s Lancia Aurelia PF200-C Sat, 12 Apr 2014 13:30:16 +0000 Full gallery here.

Full gallery here.

Just as “mid century” furnishings have become marketable antiques, you can be sure that “jet age” artifacts will also soon become collectible, if they aren’t already so. They certainly are in the car community. The Concours of America featured jet age station wagons in 2012 and jet age convertibles last year. The influence of aircraft design on American automotive styling is well known, dating to before the actual jet age. Part of automotive lore is the fact that the 1948 Cadillac’s tail fins were inspired by the P-38 fighter, and before that Hudson used the Terraplane brand, no doubt a nod to aviation. However, airplane influenced automotive design really took off (sorry, had to do it) with the advent of high speed jet aircraft, culminating, I suppose, in the Chrysler Turbine car of the early 1960s. American designers weren’t the only car stylists to evoke the look of jet aircraft. Italian designers were almost more overt in borrowing shapes from what then were primarily military aircraft. Bertone’s B.A.T. series, shaped with the use of wind tunnels, perforce had to look a bit like aircraft, what with form following aerodynamic function, but with cars with names like Ghia’s limited series of coachbuilt Supersonic cars, it was clear that the influence was more than just functional. Battista “Pinin” Farina’s contribution to jet age styling was the Lancia Aurelia PF200.


1956 Aston Martin DB2/4 Ghia Supersonic. Full gallery here.

Before Pinin Farina remade the family name into a portmanteau containing his own nickname, he made a name for himself as an automotive designer with the landmark 1948 Cisitalia 202. Car-writing convention dictates that I now tell you that the Cisitalia was so revolutionary and such an elegant design that it was chosen to be on permanent display in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (convention also dictates that I refer to that institution as MOMA). I think it’s more important to tell you that Pinin Farina’s design for the Cisitalia has been arguably the single most influential postwar car design, at least when it comes to performance cars. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the 427 Shelby’s body is that of a mesomorphic, steroid enhanced Cisitalia.


Cisitalia roadster. Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. Full gallery here.

When he decided to make a jet inspired car to show for the 1952 Turin Motor Show, Farina must have looked to contemporary military aircraft, because the round grille on what he dubbed the PF200 (need we guess what PF stood for?), accentuated by a wide chrome plated surround, looks like it was borrowed from a F86 Sabre. The pontoon front fenders also evoke aviation shapes and what jet age car would be complete without prominent tail fins? The PF200′s fins extend back past the rear deck of the car. If those weren’t enough styling cues from planes, particularly military ones, the fact that the twin set of triple exhaust tips that poke through the rear valence look like machine guns is probably not coincidental.

If you ask me, I think that rear end is the least original part of the PF200, borrowing a lot from Harley Earl’s personal jet age show car, the LeSabre. Earl’s team may have returned the favor because the Oldsmobile Cutlass show car from 1954′s GM Motorama has a roofline that makes me think of the PF200 coupe, introduced a year earlier.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Pinin Farina used a Lancia Aurelia B52 chassis, one of the few chassis that coachbuilders could then buy from large Italian manufacturers without a body. Based on the production B20, it had a 2 liter V6 90 hp engine designed by Vittorio Jano, who designed successful engines for Alfa Romeo before the war and then after he left Lancia, he went on to Ferrari where he did the engine for the original Dino and where his work continues to influence every Ferrari engine made to this day. The B52 also had a four speed transmission, integrated with its clutch into a rear transaxle riding on a de Dion suspension. Front suspension is sliding pillar. Inside the grille are louvers that can be opened or closed to allow more air to flow through the radiator, a feature that actually dates to the classic era and can be found on prewar Packards and Rolls-Royces.

This particular PF200-C was on display at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s.  It’s been in owner William Borrusch’s possession since 1968 and it has undergone a complete “nut and bolt” restoration. Several body panels and the floorboards had to be refabricated due to corrosion, but it looks great now. There’s some question in my mind as to the car’s proper nomenclature. According to some sources, the PF200-C designation was for the coupes. However, the owner says that his Lancia is an Aurelia PF200-C and my guess is that he knows more about the car than those sources.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Tesla Leads Charge To Replace Side Mirrors With Cameras Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:08:01 +0000 Tesla Model X Concept

Should Tesla and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — including General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen — be successful in their petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, new cars could soon have cameras instead of side mirrors.

Automotive News reports the petition — on the heels of the agency mandating rearview cameras by 2018 in all light-duty vehicles — explains cameras could do the same job as mirrors while allowing for increased aerodynamics:

In light of future greenhouse gas and corporate average fuel economy requirements beginning in 2017, camera-based systems represent an opportunity to increase vehicle fuel efficiency through improved aerodynamics by eliminating externally mounted mirrors.

Current regulations place cameras as a supplement to side mirrors, with Nissan, Honda and Mercedes-Benz offering such systems, while Volkswagen’s XL1 is one of a few vehicles to do away with mirrors by using cameras in their stead.

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GM Recalls 1.3 Million Additional Vehicles As Barra Heads To D.C. Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:07:19 +0000 GM

The Detroit News reports General Motors CEO Mary Barra boarded a commercial flight from Detroit to Washington, D.C. Sunday in order to prepare for two separate hearings before Congress regarding her company’s handling of the ongoing 2014 recall crisis. While in the nation’s capital, she also met with 25 family members whose relatives were killed in crashes linked to the ignition switch behind the recall.

CNN Money adds GM is about to reveal the names of the 13 people who lost their lives due to catastrophic failure linked to the defective part. The information will be made available to the public, with sensitive information — corporate secrets and personal data — redacted prior to publication. The information is part of a request by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration due April 3.

As for what Barra and NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman plan to say before the House and Senate hearings, Automotive News reports Friedman is standing firm on his agency’s effort to “properly carry out its safety mission based on the data available to it and the process it followed” in prepared remarks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Barra reiterates her position on the events leading up to the recall and subsequent actions moving forward:

When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers.

Automotive News also put forth four key issues Barra and Friedman will have to explain before Congress and the general public:

  • How GM’s multiple internal investigations failed to lead to a recall sooner
  • Why NHTSA failed to launch an investigation, despite signs that a faulty switch might be causing airbags not to deploy
  • Whether and how GM’s vehicle-safety protocols have changed
  • Whether GM’s internal processes were violated or laws were broken

Tying into the fourth issue, House Democrats have found and named the engineer behind the 2006 ignition redesign as Ray DeGiorgio, who denied in a 2013 court deposition having knowledge that the part was changed. They also penned a letter to Barra stating the redesigned switch still didn’t meet spec, based on information provided by supplier Delphi confirming the switches meant for 2008 – 2011 models tested poorly alongside the switch approved in 2002 now linked to 13 fatalities and 33 crashes.

Automotive News also posits the reason behind the NHTSA not pushing forward on a recall sooner was due to a heavy focus on child deaths linked to airbags. When GM introduced a smart airbag system in their vehicles in the 2000s, the agency focused on whether or not the airbags were doing their job to protect children placed in the front seat, with the goal of assessing “real world” performance while spotting “unusual circumstances” — such as the flawed ignition switch behind the recall — that would allow for “early identification of potential problems,” according to a 2004 statement by former agency boss Chip Chidester.

In new recall news, GM recalled 1.3 million vehicles made between 2004 and 2010 whose power steering could suddenly lose electric power, with the automaker aware of “some crashes and injuries” tied to the steering. Vehicles affected include: Chevrolet Malibu, Malibu Maxx, non-turbo HHR and Cobalt; Saturn Aura and Ion; and Pontiac G6.

As for reporting issues that could lead to a recall, GM leads the way in filing early-warning reports to the NHTSA with 6,493 reports between 2005 and 2007; Chrysler and Toyota filed around 1,300 in the same period, while Honda filed 290. However, the cause behind the numbers is in how each automaker follows the 2000 TREAD Act, with GM setting an extremely low threshold for reporting in comparison to other automakers.

Finally, a number of lawsuits are being aimed directly at dismantling the liability protection GM’s 2009 bankruptcy provided to “New GM.” The tactics range from securities fraud and loss of resale value, to wrongful death.

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BlackBerry Fights Google, Apple To Maintain Connected-Car Lead Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:44:33 +0000 Blackberry-QNX-Car-Entertainment-and-Telematics

Though BlackBerry owns a sliver of the smartphone market they once dominated, its QNX-based connected-car systems may be the best weapon they have in maintaining its lead over the companies that drove the Canadian company nearly out of the smartphone business.

Bloomberg reports QNX — the choice for connected-car systems by Ford, Porsche and BMW among others — is now facing competition from both Apple and Google for market and mind share of an industry expected to be worth $53 billion in 2018.

According to IHS Automotive analyst Mark Boyadjis, the bigger challenge will come from Google, whose Android operating system helped finish the job Apple’s iPhone began in 2007 in pushing out BlackBerry from the global smartphone market. Google — who also collaborates with the QNX division on occasion — has already put its mark on the Kia Soul and Mercedes-AMG SLS, and established the Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, General Motors, Honda and Hyundai.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry and Apple are on more equal footing with the latter’s CarPlay platform, bringing the connect-car/iPhone experience to Ferrari at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show this month.

As for QNX itself, the BlackBerry-owned division continues to expand further into the connected-car market, with Ford dropping Microsoft for the micro-kernel OS in its maligned Sync/MyFord Touch system last month. The Blue Oval’s action would place the automaker in good company, as QNX also powers systems used by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Hyundai, and Jaguar.

The biggest advantage QNX has over Google and Apple is its proven track record in running safety systems, where a software issue could mean the difference between life and death, which Boyadjis believes will carry BlackBerry and QNX into the future against the two technology titans from California.

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Still Thinking About A Small & Sporty Car: On To Something Wed, 19 Mar 2014 18:00:05 +0000 149

I’ve spent the past few weeks examining the possibilities. Some of you might remember an article or two that I wrote back in January about my desire to find something sporty and fun to drive once the family and I get safely relocated to our new digs down Leavenworth way. A few folks who read our fine website contacted me by e-mail to offer up various vehicles that meet the requirements I set and I had a good time imagining myself behind the wheel of each and every one of them. One of those cars struck a special chord with me and its owner and I have exchanged several emails in the weeks since. I am thinking now, should fate somehow not manage to intervene in the best laid plan of this large but mousey man, that I might take some of the mad amounts of money I make writing for TTAC and purchase it. Don’t tell my wife.

I don’t feel bad about my scheme, really. We have two drivers in my house and only two vehicles. Some people think that’s normal, I suppose, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to have a back-up. Today, for example, I emerged from my home in the pre-dawn hours to find that the battery in my Pontiac Torrent was dead flat. Maybe it’s my own fault, I was working in the front yard and the kids, who demanded to be outside with me, decided it was too cold and, rather than simply go back inside, demanded to be put into the car to play. I like it when the kids play in the car, after all I spent a lot of my time as a kid playing driver and it’s an interest I want to encourage, but when they flip a switch and leave the lights on all night it can be problematic. Since it takes time to re-charge a battery I’ve ended up spending the day at home and that wouldn’t have happened if I had some kind of small, fun to drive, sporty car just sitting there as a back up. See my logic? I know my wife will…

Of course she will, right?

Of course she will, right?

Anyhow, the real reason y’all hit the jump wasn’t to find out that I let my kids play driver, it was to find out just what car is the subject of my machinations and that car is (ready for it?) a one-owner 1983 Shelby Charger. The car was purchased at Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, MD on July 20, 1983 for $9435 and recently came out of storage to receive an extensive rust repair and repaint. Underneath it has all new brakes and shocks and, while the engine internals haven’t been touched, it also sports a new clutch, oil pump and timing belt. The transmission has been swapped out for a stouter, recently rebuilt unit from a turbo car and the shift knuckles have been upgraded from plastic to steel. Over all, the car sounds really well sorted and the photos I have received back-up the sellers assertion. The best part is, without being so crass as to discuss numbers in public, the price is right.

shelby charger

Naturally, I’m excited, and I’ve spent a good deal of time over the last few weeks learning everything I could about the 1983 Dodge Charger. It turns out I knew a lot less than I thought I did. For one thing, I had just always assumed that all Shelby Chargers were turbocharged. It turns out, however, that in 1983, the first year Shelby decided to slap his name on a car that, up until 1982, had been called the Omni 024, the car was still much closer to its econobox roots that it was a fire breathing muscle car. The 2.2, which had entered service in late 1980 as a part of the 1981 model year, originally made just 84 horsepower.

Realizing the limitations of the cars he was working with, Carroll Shelby hedged his bets and, according to Peter Grist in his book “Dodge Dynamite: 50 Years of Dodge Muscle Cars” that “The main parameters were to have as good a handling FWD car as there is anywhere, that it be unique in appearance, and that it perform adequately.” The car certainly looks unique, its hard to miss a Shelby Charger’s wild graphics, and by all accounts Shelby’s people were able to work real magic with the car’s suspension as well. The High output engine that was created, however, only managed to eke out 110 horses. A few years later, of course, the addition of fuel injection and turbo charging would add many more ponies to that rather modest number, but this car marks the beginning of the process that would eventually lead to those things. That makes it, I think, special. Now, the only question is if I can control the urges that would have me try and preserve it or simply use it as God and Carroll Shelby intended. I’ll be sure and give it my best shot.

shelby charger 1

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Toyota Dominates Consumer Reports Used Car Recommendations Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:07:02 +0000 2014 Toyota Camry

Several Toyota models dominated this year’s Consumer Reports list of used car recommendations, with 11 out of 28 overall belonging to the automaker’s Scion, Lexus and namesake brands.

Automotive News reports the 2011-2012 Camry and 2010-2011 Camry Hybrid among the best sedans between $15,000 and $20,000, while the 2006-2007 Lexus RX shares the same pricing space with the non-turbo 2009-2010 Subaru Forester. The 2004-2007 Prius, 2004-2006 Scion xB and the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix twins all took the $10,000 or less small car category, while the 2008-2009 Highlander Hybrid, 2011 Avalon and 2006 Lexus LS took their respective segment spots for vehicles between $20,000 and $25,000.

Overall, all but three of the 28 recommended used cars were made in Japan or South Korea; the 2011-2012 Lincoln MKZ, 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid and the aforementioned Pontiac Vibe were the only domestics to make the recommendation list.

Consumer Reports also unveiled their “worst of the worst” used car picks, where all but six were made by the Detroit Three, including the Chevrolet Cruze 1.8-liter and Impala, the Chrysler/Dodge trio of minivans, and the orphaned Saturn Outlook and Relay. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and MINI make up the remainder of the 21 picks to avoid.

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No Replacements For MINI Coupe, Paceman, Roadster Tue, 18 Mar 2014 12:38:49 +0000 2012 Mini Coupe

BMW’s MINI may not replace the Coupe, Paceman or Roadster when their day comes, opting to focus on three “pillar” models that allow the brand to be “more relevant to more people,” according to MINI head of product management Oliver Friedmann.

Automotive News Europe reports Friedmann’s first priority for MINI “is to roll out a portfolio that has strong pillars,” with each pillar being clear in what it means to the overall brand. With the original hatchback and Countryman identified as the first two pillars, a potential third pillar could come in the form of a compact model based upon the Clubman concept shown in Geneva.

As for the Coupe, Paceman and Roadster, Friedmann says the trio aren’t a priority to the brand at this time, with the possibility all three may end up in the crusher of history in the near future.

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BMW, Mercedes Downsize Number Of Architectures For Future Vehicles Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:01:18 +0000 bmw-2-series-active-tourer-11

In order to accelerate development of new models while also cutting costs, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are downsizing the number of architectures to be used in future vehicles in their respective lineups.

Automotive News Europe reports Mercedes will be down from nine platforms five years ago to four platforms by 2016, with the first — the MFA — already in showrooms as the CLA; the MFA-underpinned B-Class and GLA will arrive in United States showrooms later this summer. The move would allow Mercedes to move safety systems from their flagship S-Class to lower classes more quickly than in previous years.

Meanwhile, BMW will go from five to two platforms — one for RWD, one for FWD –between its namesake brand and Mini. The latter debuted with the redesigned Mini not too long ago, and will also underpin the 2-Series Active Tourer officially unveiled in Geneva last week.

As for the RWD platform, BMW R&D board member Herbert Deiss says it will arrive in 2016 under the next-generation 7 Series. Both consolidations were brought to life to allow more affordable expansion of each brand’s lineup.

BMW’s i Series will not take part in the consolidation, nor will Rolls-Royce.

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GM Offers Cash Allowance, NHTSA Cites Lack Of Sufficient Data Amid Recall Fallout Thu, 13 Mar 2014 11:39:58 +0000 2007 Pontiac G5

1.37 million owners in the United States affected by the ignition switch recall issued by General Motors last month will be offered $500 toward the purchase or lease of a new vehicle just as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cites a lack of sufficient data as the reason said recall wasn’t issued sooner.

Automotive News and Bloomberg report the cash allowance offer will apply to 2013 through 2015 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models, with the following explanation issued to dealers in a notice delivered March 4:

GM will not market or solicit owners using this allowance. We ask that you not market to or solicit these customers either. This allowance is not a sales tool; it is to be used to help customers in need of assistance.

For owners opting to have their affected vehicles repaired, a free loaner will be made available for the duration of the repair, as well as free towing to the dealership if so requested. Said repair work is scheduled to begin early next month.

Meanwhile, NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman explained that a lack of sufficient data regarding the ignition switch behind the recall prevented his organization from forcing such a recall out of GM sooner than last month:

If we had that information, if GM had provided us with timely information, we would have been able to take a different course with this. We took several efforts to look into this data.

At the end of the day, with the data we had at that time, we didn’t think that was sufficient to open up a formal investigation.

The NHTSA is facing criticism over their lack of action as of late from both Congress — who are launching their own investigation over the recall — and former employees, such as former administrator Joan Claybrook. Claybrook asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to look into why “no one [was] evaluating why NHTSA failed to carry out the law” in regards to the issue, which had been known in some capacity to the organization since 2006 when investigators were sent to document a high-speed fatal crash in Wisconsin involving a Chevrolet Cobalt and two women resulting from the switch cutting off engine power while preventing air-bag deployment.

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2015 Hyundai Sonata Caught Nude In Home Plant Wed, 12 Mar 2014 18:37:20 +0000 2015-hyundai-sonata-lf-scooped-factory-3

New spy photos of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata have emerged showing the upcoming sedan fully nude in its home plant in South Korea.

The Korean Car Blog reports spy photographers have said the Sonata boasted a 2-liter T-GDI four-pot pushing 274 horsepower toward the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The new Sonata will make its official launch March 24.

2015-hyundai-sonata-lf-scooped-factory-3 2015-hyundai-sonata-lf-scooped-factory-1 2015-hyundai-sonata-lf-scooped-factory-2 hyundai-sonata-turbo-seven-speed-dual-clutch-transmission-dct-scooped-1 hyundai-sonata-turbo-seven-speed-dual-clutch-transmission-dct-scooped-2 hyundai-sonata-turbo-seven-speed-dual-clutch-transmission-dct-scooped-3 ]]> 54
Leno Talks Nissan IDx: What’s Left Unsaid Speaks Volumes Mon, 10 Mar 2014 15:42:57 +0000 IDx Freeflow / IDx NISMO

The Nissan IDx concept, which debuted at the Tokyo motor show back in November of last year, is in the news again, this time appearing on YouTube as a part of the popular Jay Leno’s Garage series. We learned in January that the IDx is expected to go into full production and Nissan has been relentlessly seeking publicity for it by taking it to events all around the country. It is a good looking little car with just enough retro touches to remind people of the times when Nissan was sold in this country under the Datsun brand name and this video is the lengthiest review of the car I have yet seen. Leno spends a lot of time speaking with the car’s designer about all the little details that make the car so special and then takes it on a real world test drive. If you haven’t seen it yet, take time to look at it now as it will soon be the topic of discussion around water coolers and wherever else it is that car guys gather these days.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Rather than review the video, I’ll let you watch it and draw your own conclusions but I was struck by the fact that, even during the test drive, there was no discussion about the car’s driving dynamics or performance. Leno and the car’s designer ride around together talking about silly things like three-box design philosophy and keeping the car cheap so that normal people can afford it, but at no point does Jay say, “Wow, this thing handles great” or “Wow, this thing really accelerates.” Perhaps it was a simple omission on the part of the video’s producers but I feel like it could be more than that and, because of it, I am getting an odd sense of foreboding.

Back when Nissan announced that the IDx would go into production, they mentioned that the turbocharged engine in the show car would not make the final cut. They suggested instead that the production car would mount a 1.6 liter four cylinder and this earlier statement is confirmed by the designer during his ride with Leno. What does not come up in this conversation, however, is the other bit of informaion Nissan originally dropped in their January announcement: that their stated choice of transmissions for the car is their continuously variable transmission.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

I would imagine that, if Nissan was paying attention to the opinions of their many fans and had elected to go with a different choice of transmissions, the designer would happily have trumpeted that decision during the interview. The fact that he ignores the transmission altogether makes me feel even more certain that the IDx will be delivered exactly as Nissan’s original announcement indicates – sans manual. Frankly, I am disappointed, and unless the company takes action to offer at least some version of the car where people can row their own gears, I think the IDx is going to be another one of those cars that almost, but not quite, caters to the enthusiast market.

To be sure, I’m not sure if catering to the enthusiast market is a wise thing to do for a car intended to sell in large volumes, but I would like to think that our opinions still matter. If nothing else, enthusiasts generate buzz around a new car and that excitement can and does drive people into the show rooms. The industry has this habit of hyping cars to the enthusiast market and then coming up short and, frankly, I don’t like it. I believe the BRZ/FR-S is not selling in the numbers they expected because Toyota and Subaru decided they knew better than us about what people really wanted in a small sporty coupe. Dodge, too, horribly botched the debut of the new Dart by failing to bring enough automatic transmissions to market something that is, from my perspective, at least partially to blame for their failure to sell what is otherwise a nice little car. Will the Nissan IDx be the next example of a promising little car that ultimately under-delivers? I honestly hope it isn’t because I would love to live in a world where we have more than enough cute, zippy, fun to drive little cars running around, rather than a world where I am always right.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Mercedes-Benz Lets You Enjoy The Outdoors, One Steppe At A Time Sat, 08 Mar 2014 22:13:14 +0000

Photo courtesy of

Mongolia. The name evokes images of vast, sweeping plains, burning deserts, high mountains and deep, crystal clear lakes. Born to the horse and with restlessness is in their blood, the wanderlust of the Mongolian people fits the greatness of their land. History tells us that under the Khans, they once swept across the entirety of Asia conquering every kingdom that dared to stand in their way and stopping only when Kublai-Khan died and his empire fractured into four separate, competing kingdoms. Today, hemmed in by Russia and China, the country has become a cultural backwater, but the spirit of the people and their connection to the land remains as intense as ever. Given all that, what you are about to see makes perfect sense.

To those of us in the United States, Mercedes-Benz is the purveyor of high end luxury vehicles and the occasional delivery van but the rest of the world receives a much wider range of their product. In fact, their large trucks are famous throughout the developing world for their longevity, toughness and off-road ability and, given that reputation MB was the natural choice for two wealthy Mongolian businessmen who decided they needed to get back to nature and engage in traditional activities like hunting wolves with eagles.

Photo courtesy of

The men chose the Mercedes Zetros 2733, a 6X6 all wheel drive commercial truck chassis that puts its 7.2 liter inline 6 cylinder engine out front of the driver and added a custom made mobile home body, specially made to be able to deal with the climactic extremes of the Mongolian wilderness. As the photos on Daimler’s website show, the living quarters are well appointed units featuring all the comforts of home, including a full galley and bathrooms that feature heated marble flooring. The vehicles are also outfitted with large flat screen monitors, DVD/CD players, wireless LAN systems for computers and self aligning satellite dishes so the trucks’ occupants can be in constant contact with the outside world no matter how far they may choose to roam.

Truth be told, I am not much of an off-road guy and I have little interest in mobile homes, but I like exploring and the idea of a nicely appointed, large off-road truck that can take me further than the local KOA campground really fires my imagination. That said, I think I’ll leave the wolf hunting to the locals, I’m not so sure I have the heart for it.

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Analysts: Peak Car To Arrive By 2020s Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:56 +0000 Ferrari 550 Pininfarina Barchetta

After a century of motoring, and with several factors rapidly changing the landscape, analysts are forecasting the peak of global automotive growth to come sometime in the 2020s.

The Detroit News reports that as more people join the exodus out of suburbia into major cities, along with other factors such as pollution, gridlock, build quality and the adoption of alternative modes of transportation — particularly among younger generations who cannot afford a car of their own — auto sales around the globe will peak somewhere around 100 million in the next decade, according to several analysts such as IHS Automotive.

Further, 44 percent of Americans surveyed by Intel said they would prefer to live in big cities with driverless cars able to keep traffic flowing smoothly, while one out of 10 households have no car at all.

The coming upheaval is prompting automakers to consider their place in the new scene, where red barchetta owners outrun silver bubble cars, and where car ownership gives way to car sharing. Tim Ryan, vice chairman of markets and strategy for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, puts the future of motoring into perspective:

The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility? If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

With an expected 25 percent to 50 percent increase urban dwelling over the next decade, and 9 billion expected to live in urban areas 25 years from now, the groundwork is being prepared to meet this coming challenge. Gartner Inc. auto analyst Thilo Koslowski predicts urbanites to use ride- and car-sharing services such as Lyft and Car2Go to commute to their destination, with autonomous cars picking up their passengers, and using GPS and other communication technologies to deliver them safely.

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Sonata Quality Issues Drag Down Hyundai, R&D President Returns Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:37 +0000 2011 Hyundai Sonata

Just as J.D. Power ranks Hyundai fifth from dead last over quality issues regarding the 2011 Sonata, the automaker’s research and development president, Kwon Moon-sik, returns to the fold three months after quitting over a number of quality issues within the product line.

Automotive News and Reuters report Hyundai holds 27th overall on J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study, with 169 problems per 100 vehicles surveyed. Though nothing was specified for the 2011 Sonata or the 2011 Elantra — the other car from 2011 that brought down Hyundai’s rank — the industry overall developed issues with engines and transmissions tied to advanced fuel-efficiency technologies, including turbocharging. The sedan’s issues are magnified due to its groundbreaking design and said technologies, shaking up the otherwise conservative midsize sedan segment on its way to becoming Hyundai’s top-selling vehicle.

Meanwhile, Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-koo has rehired R&D president Kwon Moon-sik to help right the ship as the next generation Sonata prepares to make its debut in South Korea next month, as the automaker said in a statement:

Given his expertise, experience and leadership skills, we reinstated president Kwon to enhance quality and R&D capability from scratch.

Hyundai also said they expect their dependability ratings to improve next year when the 2012 models are evaluated, though it was “very disappointed” the results of this year’s study, and is “examining every component of the score to determine root-cause solutions” for improving their product line and services.

Kwon, along with two other R&D executives, quit three months earlier over quality issues — such as those affecting the 2011 models — that led to massive recalls in the United States, South Korea and other market. He was also one of the top aides to Chung’s son, Chung Eui-sun. His replacement, Kim Hae-jin, will return to heading powertrain development.

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True Confessions: Revealing My Secret Crush Fri, 07 Feb 2014 13:00:32 +0000 Photo courtesy of wikipedia

Photo courtesy of wikipedia

I was about eight years old when I fell in love the first time. She was a long, lanky and curvaceous piece of work, sexy and sophisticated, and I knew the moment that I first laid eyes upon her, her and her sister for there were two parked alongside one another in the driveway, that one day I must possess her. Looking back I can tell your she was a big girl, but compared to the my father’s Oldsmobile Delta 88 she seemed impossibly lithe and trim. Her chrome nameplate told me she was called “Jaguar” and once I spied her no other car would ever be quite good enough.

It’s funny how you can use a car every day for years and years and, when it is finally gone, be unable to recall a single detail. You know the make and model, of course, and probably have a general image in your mind, but when it comes to specifics you have only the vaguest of recollections, more an emotional impression of how the car made you feel than a single, hard and fast memory you can point to. But to this day, and despite the fact that I probably only spent about ten minutes next to them, in the driveway I still can recall enough of the details of the two cars I saw that just now I was able to get on line and identify them as Mark IIs. That says something.

The Jaguar Mark II is, of course a sedan – saloons as the British call them – and because of them I have always had a thing for the manufacturer’s larger offerings. To be honest, I wouldn’t turn down on of their sports cars if it were given to me, but the only one I have ever actually imagined owning is the most sedan-like XJS. I can’t tell you what it is about the big cats, but they have always had a special appeal to me. They ooze sophistication, and the thought of finding myself ensconced on a hand stitched leather seat, surrounded by old world craftsmanship as I survey the world across a long bonnet and monitor my progress via a set of clock like gauges mounted in burled walnut makes me a giddy as an English schoolgirl.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Of course, the brand’s reputation for unreliability, especially among the older models, means I will probably never actually own one but in my mind they are still the perfect combination of power, good looks and luxury and I still find myself pausing to look whenever I find one for sale. I’m not sure why that is. Logically I know it’s a relationship that could never work, but I still I have that hope that owning a Jag could turn out to be the craziest, wildest, greatest thing that ever happened to me and so I have to pause to consider that whenever the chance presents itself.

I’m not nuts, am I? Please tell me you feel the same way about some brand or another. Tell me that there is one car that you have always admired but, for whatever reason, have never indulged in. One of those cars that you could not resist if only they sold on this side of the ocean or that specific model you would buy if you had that extra spot in the driveway. That car you swear you will get when your children get out of their car seats, or that other one you are looking forward to owning when they finally get out of the house altogether so you don’t need to worry about rear seat legroom. You cannot be a lover of all things automotive if you do not have at least one secret crush. What is it? We must know.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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The Clones: Send Them In Or Send Them Out? Fri, 10 Jan 2014 20:00:03 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Trent was a poser. He was the kind of guy who wore a fake Rolex, an imitation Italian suit and “alligator” shoes that were actually made out of vinyl. His $100 hair style cost $8 at Supercuts and his midwinter suntan, the one made him look like he had just returned from a lengthy South American stay, came from a spray can. Determined to climb from the bottom rung of society, he was forever trying to get over on people by manipulating his image and the truth is I really could have cared less. What really tore it for me, however, was the day he decided to put SS emblems on his tatty old Malibu.

Although the car magazines and collector sites would have us think that, once upon a time, top drawer muscle cars were in every American’s driveway the truth is somewhat different. Back in the day, most people purchased modest cars with sensible powertrains and surprisingly few luxury options. It took someone special to walk into a dealership and order something more exotic. It turns out that a lot of these special people were young men, and despite their best intentions, the sad truth is that young men are rough on fast cars.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The result is that a great many of the fastest cars didn’t live to see old age and by the early 1990s the ones that were left were beginning to cost serious money. For a guy like Trent, a social climber who wanted the look of an expensive car without the associated costs, the obvious answer was to buy up some old parts and graft them on to his old dime-a-dozen daily driver. The result was, as he called it, “a clone.” I was incredulous at the concept. Trent was a phony.

Looking back over the years, I can say that my opinion of Trent has changed. Age and experience has taught me that the world really isn’t black and white and that if a young guy like Trent, a small town kid who wants to break out of his shell and appear more worldly than he really is, needs a knock-off Armani suit and plastic alligator shoes to feel better about himself then I’m OK with that. My feelings on what he tried to do to his car, however, remain split and that’s what I’d like to have a discussion on.

Original cars can be worth big money these days. Unless you are a millionaire with plenty of money burning a hole in your pocket, you are never going to own a real exotic. Original Yenko prepared cars, for example, are well into the six figure range and if a mortal man (or woman) is going to own anything like one, chances are they are going to end up with what is now being euphemistically called a “tribute.” Some tribute builds are quite authentic, and the people who build them provide rigorous documentation on the original “donor” car and how it was modified to match the collector car it is trying to emulate. So long as that car is sold as a tribute and never ends up being offered for sale as an original then I see nothing wrong.

photograph taken by Michael Chiolero Courtesy of Wikipedia

photograph taken by Michael Chiolero
Courtesy of Wikipedia

What I have a real issue with, however, are the down market, quick conversions of daily drivers into cheap knock-off SS cars which are then foisted off on unsuspecting buyers. Sure, there is a certain element of caveat emptor in every car purchase, but I don’t feel like someone should have to become an expert in decoding VIN numbers prior to purchasing a car on the used car market. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen cars on Craigslist that look like real SS cars that are obvious fakes. Here’s a hint kids, if you want to build a 73 or 74 SS Nova clone, start with a hatchback. The last thing I want to do is go out to your house and crawl around in the mud getting serial numbers from your old car because “You don’t know for sure if it’s an SS but the guy you bought it from said it was.”

That’s my take, anyhow, and now I’d like to hear your thoughts. Is this as big a deal as I think? Should it really fall to the buyer to check every piece of paper relating to an old car prior to making the transaction? Are clones or tributes something you would even want to own? It seems to me that if I owned a tribute car that I would get tired of forever telling people that it’s a knock-off, but that’s just me. Where do you stand?

Disclaimer: I just want to put on the record that all of the photos used to illustrate this article came from the internet and I have no way of knowing whether any of the vehicles are clones or original. By using the photos, I am not claiming that any of them are anything but what they appear to be, beautiful cars.

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Poles Vie With USA For Greatest Homemade Car Ever Fri, 03 Jan 2014 15:31:42 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

In the past few days virtually every automotive website on the intertubes has reported on the Polish man who hand built his own McLaren F1 replica in his shed. If you have been stuck under a rock and have missed it, allow me bring you up to speed. Jacek Mazur, a man who describes himself rather modestly, I think, as an “amateur mechanic” built his own tubular space frame, mounted a used BMW v12 amidships, popped on a homemade fiberglass body and built a car capable of a claimed 200mph. This isn’t the first exotic car that Mazur has built either. Previous builds include no less than three Lamborghini Countachs and a replica of the highly exotic, much sought after, Pontiac Fiero. Despite Mr. Mazur’s impressive work, America has not ceded victory in the war for the homemade car to the Poles. Not by a damnsight.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Years before Mr. Mazur even thought to begin constructing Supercars in his garden shed, loyal American patriots were hard at work in our own sheds. Today, the fruits of one American’s work can be found on Ebay. Offered to the public without reserve and a Buy-It-Now price of just $3000, undercutting Mazur’s efforts by a stunning $29,800, the incredible “Street Legal Micro Jeep Custom Body Mini CONVERTABLE 2 CYL” offers clean, All-American upright styling, a rear engine capable of a claimed 50mpg and an automatic transmission. Outfitted with a 2 cylinder Anon engine, something that turned up a whole bunch of porno search sites and probably put me on the NSA’s watchlist when I tried Google it, the “SLMJCBJMC2C” as I have just now dubbed it is capable of a stated 55 mph.

Fortunately, the world has gone through some significant changes in the years since the SLMJCBJMC2C was constructed the two vehicles will never find themselves pitted against one another. As one who yearns for days gone by, however, I almost wish they could be. It would be glorious.

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Just In Time For Christmas, The Driveable Lego Car Fri, 20 Dec 2013 13:00:21 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

An Australian entrepreneur and a Romanian inventor have teamed up to construct an air powered car built completely of Lego bricks (sans tires and wheels) that has proven capable of running at speeds in excess of 10mph.

The car features four interconnected engines and uses a whopping 256 pneumatic pistons. The mechanics would appear to be similar to steam piston engines that this author once worked with, with compressed air taking the place of high pressure steam. Air would flow from a pressurized tank, enter the piston chamber via some sort of valve gear and force the piston through its stroke. No combustion is necessary.

The project is one of those crazy things that can only happen over the internet. The car was originally proposed in an online conversation between two people who were literally half a world away from one another and crowd-funded after forty people responded to a late night proposal on Twitter. The car was built in Romania and then shipped to Australia where it was reassembled and then tested. There are no plans at this time to build another.

Video Used by permission of

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Vellum Venom Vignette: 2013 Awards Edition Tue, 17 Dec 2013 14:00:00 +0000 tesla

In a few days, TTAC’s editors will present their best and worst automotive picks of 2013. Today, Sajeev Mehta brings you his winners and losers in the field of design. Winners and losers below the jump.

Best Styled Car of 2013: Tesla Model S.  What happens when you have no rulebook, no badge engineered platform to start with?  Tesla’s impressive engineering and PR Buzz machine aren’t the only factors in the Model S’ shock and awe: it embodies the classic long hood and short deck proportioning that’s made so many cars so classically lovely.  It’s the same gospel spoken by everyone from Edsel Ford to Ettore Bugatti. The similarly styled Porsche Panamera only dreams of this low stance, subtle detailing and 1970s Italian concept car like flair in those hatchback hindquarters. Which proves that a clean sheet of vellum is a beautiful, beautiful place to start.

Worst Styled Car of 2013:  Not as easy, but the Honda Fit fits the bill. Not only is the second generation Fit a bloated redesign, the small Honda’s once quirky and cute details now suffer from gigantism. The biggest problem? Super excellent DLO FAIL, stealing defeat from the hands of victory: cars in this class justify a day light opening with a black plastic triangle (Sonic, Accent) with their low asking price.  Or be outstanding like the Ford Fiesta, using sheets of glass instead.  But no, the Honda Fit liked both ideas, having a huuuge DLO FAIL with both the plastic triangle and a rather large sheet of glass ahead of the front door. Congratulations, you’ve witnessed The Failing At Fail.

 Best Styled Truck of 2013: The RAM dodges Chevrolet’s cliché truck overstyling and Ford’s “Blue Collar Audi” design sensibilities for something…logical. Yes, the RAM is another modern truck that’s a caricature of its former self.  But in a world where cars jack themselves up to mimic CUVs, CUVs try to look like trucks and trucks imitate Peterbuilts, the RAM keeps some semblance of sensibility with subtle head/tail lights, logical hood/fender/bed flares and a gunsight grille that doesn’t try to be cool…because it’s been cool for almost 20 years.

 Worst Styled Truck of 2013: The Infiniti JX is one of the best examples of “overstyling” in modern automotive history. With every clumsy lump and flabby fold, the JX embodies everything wrong with the Crossover Utility Segment: trying too hard to evolve from the gritty blue-collar machines from whence they came, yet still remaining in the classic 2-box SUV design.  The ridiculous kink in the D-pillar’s quarter window says it all: you gotta know when to walk away from the vellum.

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Tokyo Motor Show: Are The Japanese Really Back? Mon, 25 Nov 2013 15:30:01 +0000

Three of the world’s most important auto shows began last week. Since my invitations to the various press events must have been lost in the mail I, like virtually everyone else in the world, followed them over the internet. I’m OK with that, really. I hate fighting the crowds and by the time a show closes high resolution photos of the most important cars are always all over the world-wide-web, anyhow. With the photos are the journalists’ impressions. Some are good and some are bad, but they all make me think. For example, there’s this article from the Top Gear website on the Tokyo motor show that asserts, on the strength of the cars at this year’s show, “Japan is back.” Hold on – Really?

To be sure there were some important and exciting cars at this year’s Tokyo motor show. Honda showed us a new NSX and the S660 sport compact that compares favorably to the Beat kei class sports car that Honda produced back in the last century. Nissan showed us the amazing three-seat, electric “Bladeglider,” a hotted up Nismo GTR and the retro themed IDx. Toyota’s performance car offerings came in the form of the Lexus RC and a convertible FT86. While Toyota ripped the top off of their Toybaru twin, Subaru went the opposite route and gave baby some back with their Cross Sport. So far as I could glean, that was about it for cars intended to stir the hearts and minds of enthusiasts. That would have made for a pretty small show though, so augmenting the really interesting stuff were was a whole slew of hybrid/electric/gas, etc SUVs, sedans and city cars intended to appeal to the masses.

Click here to view the embedded video.

From my perspective what we got are some new toys of the uber rich, two small cars that my all-American ass won’t fit into, a couple of modifications on a car I probably won’t buy anyhow and one wanna-be-retro Nissan that might actually have some possibilities if they don’t screw it up with a powertrain that serious enthusiast wouldn’t want. The emphasis on products with hybrid or alternative energy powertrains and other technical innovations says some good things about state of Japanese industry and the many different body styles on display indicates that the Japanese have noted the success of Korean cars’ design language and are finally looking somewhere other than Mercedes for inspiration, too. Good news for sure, but does any of it mean Japan is back?

For me, the glory days of Japanese cars happened roughly between 1985 and 1995. The cars of that era had good, solid lines and, while the designs weren’t daring, they did have their own unique sense of style. There was technical innovation too and it came wrapped up in practical packages. Real performance was offered across all the price ranges and the variety of new cars was enormous. There was something there for everyone and if you could not afford a Twin Turbo Supra or a Turbo 300ZX, you could, at the very least, take home on of the good looking down-market alternatives: the AE86 Twin-Cam Corolla or the 200SX Turbo. Today, that wide aray of choices is no longer a part of Japan Inc.’s current line-up.

I’m not sure why that is, but in the process of writing this article it suddenly hit me that the cars on display at this year’s Tokyo motor show says something about how our society has become ever more divided over the past couple of decades. It doesn’t take an economist to point out that the rich have gotten richer and the rest of us poorer. The market reflects that reality. The rich get supercars, those of us in the middle get family trucksters and the odd toy while the unwashed masses receive battery powered practicality. The choices are gone and fun is being increasingly reserved for those who can afford it. It wasn’t that ay 20 years ago and the sad truth is that Japan isn’t anywhere close to being back. But then, none of us are, are we?

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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TTAC Author Gets Schooled: Tries Again Thu, 14 Nov 2013 15:47:33 +0000 engine3web

Earlier this week I wrote a little article about the SEMA show and those weird little auto add-ons that so many people choose to stick all over their otherwise decent looking rides. In it, I contrasted performance add-ons with “auto accessories” and tried to poke a little fun at those plastic chrome doo-dads and the people who abuse them. It wasn’t really intended to be a heavy “think piece.” It was supposed to be light, fun and maybe elicit some cheerful banter from the best and brightest. Nice and easy, right? Hell no. As usual, the TTAC readership doesn’t make anything easy…

No excuses, the premise of my article was silly. I said performance add-ons were a good thing and that auto accessories were by their very nature, stupid. Despite that, a couple of you guys took the ball I punted so lazily downfield and ran it right back up the field. The points you made are really good and since my earlier article wasn’t intended to start a serious discussion I’m not sure they got the attention they deserved. But you made me think, and when someone does that I figure they might make others think too. That means another article and, hopefully, a fuller discussion.

El Carlismo en Castilla-La Mancha Image courtesy of

El Carlismo en Castilla-La Mancha
Image courtesy of

In response to my assertion that performance mods were justifiable while appearance mods were not, Carlisimo wrote:

I scoff at mods that looked tacked on, as many of them do. But I understand them. Even a small mod can make your car feel fresh for a little while, and that’s a good feeling. Especially when you know your car isn’t everything you’d like it to be. And I have a soft spot for underglow that I won’t admit to out loud.

Those modders are more honest than those of us who install performance mods. What could be sillier than increasing our car’s top speed from 137 to 140mph when we never exceed 80? Oooh, my coilovers save me a second when I drive around in a circle on a loop in the middle of nowhere. Best $1,000 evar! (I did install coilovers on my Miata. I like them, but it wasn’t a purchase I try to justify.) In contrast, visual mods make their difference 100% of the time, including when parked, and in heavy traffic. That’s value.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Athos Noble wrote:

Personally I don’t care, even in the most offensive of the cases. And I saw plenty of those in Venezuela. Here not so much, but they’re still out there… Brembo brake caliper covers anyone? chintzy 20″ chrome wheels? As far as I’m concerned, people can spend their money in whatever they want.

For example, I would use the aftermarket to upgrade my headlamps to projectors, complete with angel eyes. I also would like a fancier stereo and some “sport” seats would spice up my current ride. Some 18″ wheels would make it look more actual too. And retrofitting later model suspension bits would make it drive nicer. A turbo kit would certainly give it more oomph and coupling it with a LPG kit would make that “affordable” to run. I could sort those issues via OEM bits, aftermarket or a wrecker.

There were other comments as well, and while they were all great these are the two I want to focus on. Part of me wants to follow Carlisimo’s point to its logical conclusion and decry any form of performance add-on for the street but Athos raises a great point when he talks about improving a lot of your car’s basic characteristics through the aftermarket and selective scavenging. It’s clearly not the black-and-white issue I tried to lay out in that earlier, sillier article and I am hoping this new discussion allows us to fully explore the topic.

I’m curious, what are good add-ons for the street? What add-ons have you mounted over the years? What did you hope to gain and did the results meet your expectations? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Photo Thomas Kreutzer

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Plain Jane to Bling Queen Courtesy of SEMA and the Miracle of Plastic Chrome Tue, 12 Nov 2013 15:29:48 +0000

Image courtesy of

I hear the SEMA show was last week. You know the SEMA show, right? It’s that important aftermarket manufacturers’ show held each autumn in Las Vegas where various companies try to pitch their products to customizers and retailers. Like all good automotive trade shows, SEMA features hundreds of companies and dozens upon dozens of custom vehicles. The fancy, hand-built cars draw people to the displays and form a pretty canvas on which a company can display its wares. But like any fashion show there is a hidden truth. The special parts on this or that big-name builder’s hot rod won’t have the same effect on your own, more mundane vehicle. No, for most of us beauty is an illusion; the phrase “lipstick on a pig” exists for a reason.

The SEMA show is a big deal because there is a lot of money at stake. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association predicts 2014 sales to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 248 Billion dollars so it makes sense that the manufacturers go all-in when it comes to the Las Vegas show. Why wouldn’t they? If they have a unique product this is their chance to get it to the consumer. My only question is who actually buys this crap?

Now I’m not talking about performance parts – not genuine ones at least. If you drop a bunch of money on a set of headers or a cold air intake and you buy something that looks clean and neat I’m not going to criticize you. A carbon fiber hood saves weight and if it just happens to look really cool on the black and white Twin-Cam Corolla you have tarted up with JDM Trueno badges I won’t laugh – much. But that’s because I believe in performance modifications. Every enthusiast knows the Feds have regulated all the fun out of the business and that new cars are tuned too lean in order to meet strict emissions guidelines. A reflashed control module and a new exhaust just puts a car right back where it should be and it’s only natural that you should want to get everything you pay for, right? Right?

Photo courtesy of

It’s the other stuff that I wonder about, the stick-on bits of bling and little doo-dads to decorate your car’s interior. Larger modifications too, things like Lambo doors and weird body kits. The economy has been tough these last few years and people are hurting. Still, for whatever reason people seem bound and determined to still squander what little they have. What is the point of buying these things? How much time do you spend in your car that you need to have the insides entirely decorated in Hello Kitty seat covers and lace throw pillows?

We’re all car folks here. We all love our cars and if you are like me you probably spend hours cleaning and detailing your ride to make sure it looks its best. But buying this stick-on crap is over the top. When you face St. Peter at the Pearly Gates he’s sure to ask you why you put those fake Buick porholes on your Saturn. What are you going to say then? Unless you are under 18 or a Japanese “gyaru” there’s no excuse.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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A Special Sort Of Mediocrity Sun, 10 Nov 2013 13:00:01 +0000 Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

My 1974 Nova was as utilitarian as they come. It was a low optioned base model with a 250 CID inline six mounting a one barrel carb and backed by a three speed manual with a column mounted shift lever. It had so few options that on the inside it had a rubber floors, vinyl seats and a pegboard for a headliner. Outside there was no decoration, nary a pinstripe nor so much as a strip of trim to protect the car’s flanks from door dings. It was a plain, gutless, spiritless little car that inspired no passion or love from anyone other than the 17 year old boy who owned it. To me it was, and still is, one of the greatest cars ever built.

We see them everywhere, plain, utilitarian tools that carry people to and fro without a bit of drama. Although our eyes register them we seldom pay them any real attention, but if we took the time to really look we would be shocked at just how many there are. They are all around us, owned by respectable people who need a good, solid car and nothing more. If other, better, cars are like fine food and drink for the connoisseur, these are the cars that fill the bellies of the masses. They are the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes of the road.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Looking over the list of cars that I have owned over the years, it turns out that most of them fall into the meat and potatoes category. Oh sure, sometimes I added some ketchup or steak sauce to the meal– the turbo on my otherwise proletarian Dodge Shadow, for example – but for the most part I have always stayed true to my working class roots. I have never owned a Porsche, a Mercedes, a Jaguar or an Audi, nothing exotic at all, really. I did for a time own a JDM Twin Turbo Supra, but, truth be told, it was old and thanks to the odd way the Japanese used car market works, I only paid around $600 for it. No, most of the time I have owned fairly pedestrian, middle of the road, mass market cars. That’s a sad thing for an auto enthusiast who writes for a car blog to admit right? Bullshit, I’ve had a good time and I’ve owned some great cars.

A car that hits all the right spots is a glorious thing. It doesn’t matter if it is old, out of style, under-optioned or unpopular, if it gets the job done and makes you smile it is something to be enthusiastic about. I remember getting up the day after we brought that Nova home and looking out the window to make sure that I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing. I’ve done the same thing almost a dozen times since and, no matter what was in the driveway, each time I’ve thrown open the curtain it has been like Christmas morning.

See anything interesting in this photo? Image courtesy of

See anything interesting in this photo?
Image courtesy of

Novas like mine once graced driveways and garages all across middle America. When their original owners moved on, they were passed to kids like me. Some were hot rodded, some were crashed and some were simply used until they could no longer be used. Over time their numbers dwindled. Most of those that have survived into the present day have been performance variants, and plain Jane, straight-six three-on-the-tree cars like mine are a rare breed. It’s sad, but oddly appropriate too. Like the people they served, us average work-a-day Americans who struggled through life, who have had our ups and downs, raised our families as best we could and worked to be, above all else, dependable good citizens, they made the world work. Like the greatest generation, they are remembered as a group for all they have done and those remaining individuals are now respected senior citizens who garner praise and admiration wherever they go.

Today I will fire up my little Pontiac Torrent and go somewhere. I don’t know where yet, but when I do I’ll do it atop scratchy cloth seats and surrounded by hard plastic. It won’t be a remarkable experience, but my trip will be completed in economy, warmth and relative comfort. I’ll do the same thing tomorrow and the day after and for years to come until the Pontiac becomes so worn and unreliable that I am forced to move on to something newer. Perhaps then I will pass it on to my son or one of my daughters. If we do our jobs right, it might even live to see the day when just seeing it makes people smile and remember that better, simpler time in their lives when their government really listened to them, politicians were honest and children were respectful. Until that time comes, I’ll be sure to give it a little pat on the hood once in a while to let it know I appreciate it in the here and now. We are, after all, the same.


Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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