The Truth About Cars » Editorials http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:37:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 » Editorials http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/ Beijing 2014: Daimler and BYD Introduce Denza EV With 300KM Range http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/2014-beijing-auto-show-daimler-and-byd-introduce-denza-ev-with-300km-range/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/2014-beijing-auto-show-daimler-and-byd-introduce-denza-ev-with-300km-range/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:41:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=806674 DENZA_at_Auto_China_2012_11 (1)

The first fruits of Daimler and BYD’s Shenzhen BYD Daimler New Technology Co. joint venture is on display at the Beijing auto show this week. The partnership intends to blend BYD’s latest battery technology with more than a century of manufacturing experience at the maker of Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Schedule to launch on the Chinese market in September of this year, the Denza is a five passenger car with a 115 hp (86 kW) electric motor that has a top speed of 93 mph and a range of up to 186 miles (300 km). Produced at a factory in Shenzhen, the Denza was jointly designed in China, reflecting the Chinese government’s policy requiring foreign automakers to establish joint technical centers in China and to share technology with their Chinese partners.

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Recharging times are stated as 7 hours with conventional mains voltage and less than an hour with high speed chargers. The lithium ion phosphate battery pack is rated at 47.5 kWh and apparently in response to some Teslas catching fire, Denza publicity stresses how the battery pack is located underneath the body for safety and that it will automatically disconnect and quickly discharge safely in the event of an accident. Since the average driver in China travels 50 to 80 kilometers a day, with a 300 km range, most customers will only have to recharge a couple of times a week.

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One feature that I look forward to see if it makes it to production is the fact that the show car has suicide doors in the back and no B-pillar.

The Denza will have a starting price of RMB 369,000, about $60K at current rates, though there are subsidies from the Chinese national and local governments that reduce that price by about 1/3. In addition to those subsidies, the Denza will benefit by being exempted from many of the policies that Chinese cities have implemented to reduce congestion and pollution. Owners will be able to get a license plate in Beijing without participating in the mandatory lottery, and Shanghai and Shenzhen wave registration fees for Denza owners’ plates.

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2104 Beijing Auto Show: Ford Introduces Everest SUV to Chinese Market http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/2104-beijing-auto-show-ford-introduces-everest-suv-to-chinese-market/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/2104-beijing-auto-show-ford-introduces-everest-suv-to-chinese-market/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 15:30:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=805658 everestfront

While two days after an avalanche killed 13 Nepalese Sherpas on Mount Everest may not be the best time to highlight a vehicle named for the peak, Ford is going ahead with introducing the Everest Concept to the Chinese market at the Beijing auto show. The  seven passenger SUV, larger and more expensive than the Kuga and EcoSport crossovers already on sale there, will take the slot at the top of Ford’s utility vehicle offerings in China. The Everest was developed by Ford’s Asia-Pacific design team in Australia and it will be built in China by Jiangling Motors, one of Ford’s joint venture partners there. The Everest Concept was previously shown at last month’s Bangkok Motor Show.

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 While the red hot Chinese market has cooled a bit, with light vehicle sales growing at an annual rate of 10-15% compared to the 30% growth seen in 2009 and 2010, SUV sales continue to be strong, with 40% growth year to year.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally has said that the new Chinese market Escort sedan will likely end up in the United States (with local revisions) the company had no comments about selling the Everest outside of China.

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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New York 2014: Hits, Misses, Surprises And Duds http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-hits-misses-surprises-and-duds/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-hits-misses-surprises-and-duds/#comments Sun, 20 Apr 2014 11:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=804946 bmw-228-track-1-1-550x366

After the relatively low-key debuts at Detroit and Chicago, New York was thought by many to be the show we’ve all been waiting for – full of exciting debuts and important announcements. Instead, we got more of the same – a number of interesting debuts that will be important to the broader car market, but nothing overly exciting for enthusiasts.

But this is TTAC, a site where the introduction of a facelifted Camry was the most popular topic of discussion during the show. And that means that New York was a great show for the B&B.

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Miss – Acura TLX: Is this RLX 2.0? It sure looks that way. In a segment that has never been more competitive, Acura drops a dud. The TLX looks like a slightly bigger ILX and offers not one but two underwhelming drivetrains, utterly bland styling and no real reason for buying one, aside. Ok, there are some people who will make the case that this will make a good, solid, reliable luxury car once can buy with confidence – try telling that to the hordes of $299/month 320i leasees who want the Roundel and nothing else. The general public may not care that there’s no manual option, but they aren’t going to be sold on the novelty of a DCT or a 9-speed automatic either. Every time Acura introduces a car like this, it strengthens the case that they should become a premium SUV brand only.

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Hit – Alfa Romeo 4C: It’s one thing to look at this car. Sitting inside it – with the deep bucket seats, thick steering wheel and impossibly low driving position – is what makes it feel really special.

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Hit – Audi A3 Sportback TDI: A hit for no other reason than it demonstrates that in an era where everyone is paying strict attention to the spreadsheet, enthusiasts can have their voices heard. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves – Audi obviously sees a business case (if nothing else, it’s another diesel offering and it adds credibility to their TDI campaign), and the homologation costs were probably not terribly high. No, we don’t get a manual, and the VW Golf GTD probably will be sacrificed as a result, but it’s nice to know that somebody is listening.

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Hit – BMW 228i Handling Pack: Another insignificant introduction for everyone but enthusiasts. BMW has graciously decided to put all the heavy-duty performance goodies (big brakes, upgraded shocks) on the lighter 228i. On behalf of the internet, thank you, BMW.

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Dud – BMW M4 Convertible: I just don’t care at all for this car. It’s probably fast and nicely made, but I can’t help but think of the inevitability of these being driven quickly through residential areas with bad techno music blaring from them.

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Miss- BMW X4: To quote one industry professional “So…it’s an X3, that looks like an X6 and is the size of a 3-Series Gran Turismo, but has the same shape as a 4-Series Gran Coupe. I think I get it?” In their insatiable quest for volume, BMW has found the Gospel of Niche – and truly lost it.

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Hit- Chevrolet Trax: 2014 is the year of the small crossover. Along with the Nissan Juke and BMW, Honda, Mercedes, Audi and Jeep are all getting ready to enter the segment, and you can bet that everyone else is hurriedly readying their entries. The Trax should start at under $20,000, and that will provide healthy margins for a Sonic-based vehicle. If Buick can move 30,000 Encores annually, Chevrolet ought to do much bigger volumes.

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Miss – Chevrolet Z06 Convertible: The poseur’s Z06. No thanks.

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Hit – Dodge Challenger: It’s a little too retro for me, with the neon hues, Scat Pack badging and blacked out mag wheels, but the only thing keeping the Challenger from greatness was the lack of a proper UConnect system and an 8-speed automatic. Now that those two items have been added, it will be a great pony car alternative.

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Hit – Dodge Charger: The retro thing had to come to an end, and this is a nice transition out of it. The upgraded interior is just icing on the cake. Expect the next-generation Charger, based on a Fiat/Alfa RWD platform, to look a lot like this as well.

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Neutral – Ford Focus: Thumbs up for the 1.0L Ecoboost. Thumbs down for the re-design.

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Miss – Honda HR-V: Honda had the chance to steal the Trax’s and Renegade’s thunder with their new small crossover. Instead, we just got a press release. Also, the name sounds like venereal disease.

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Neutral – Hyundai Sonata: The B&B are very positive on this car, and it looked nice on the floor, but I have two reservations: it’s a bit more restrained that I was expecting, given how radical the prior car was. Also, can anyone really beat the Camry in sales, the Accord in quality/dynamics and the Altima in sheer momentum, to say nothing of the Fusion and equally strong Chrysler 200? Hyundai is capable of delivering a good car – they are going to need to pull out all the stops to stay competitive in this segment.

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Miss – Infiniti Lineup: Stale designs, confusing nomenclature and a largely ignored booth. Infiniti is right in going for slow, steady growth ala Audi. Right now, it’s looking rather unexciting, and people are losing interest, Q50 aside. Hurry up with the Eau Rouge.

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Neutral – Kia Sedona: Like the Sonata, it looks perfectly good, but are they really going to bring the fight to Honda, Toyota and the Chrysler vans?

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Hit – Land Rover Discovery: I don’t care for this SUV or its gimmicky suicide doors, but if the next Disco is like the rest of JLR’s recent lineup, the execution will be excellent, it will be hugely desirable and good enough to help them continue to gain solid footing in the cutthroat luxury market.

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Miss – Mazda MX-5 Chassis: Mazda’s exhibit of historically significant Miatas was a great move. The 25th Anniversary MX-5, with its blueprinted engine and chassis tweaks, should be a riot. The bare Skyactiv chassis on display? Well, unless you have a tape measure and can compare the dimensions of the NC’s RX-8 derived platform to this, you don’t really learn a whole lot. Unlike the NA and NB, Mazda is sticking with the multilink at the rear. Boo.

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Neutral – Nissan Murano: As gorgeous as it is, I can’t figure out the positioning. The Rogue and Pathfinder both offer seating for seven. The Murano makes do with just two rows. I suppose this is a premium SUV with snazzy styling and an upscale interior, compared to the no-frills Rogue and family-oriented Pathfinder. But I am not quite sure where it fits.

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Hit – Subaru Outback: As Subaru cars get more boring, they also improve in terms of quality and driving dynamics. Case in point: the new Forester. If the Outback follows this trend, it should be a very appealing SUV alternative. And for those who want something smaller, the XV Crosstrek exists.

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Hit- Toyota Camry: Our most talked about article was about this car, constantly derided as America’s most boring appliance. For such a poorly regarded vehicle, you all have a lot to say about it. My take? The new redesign looks great. It wouldn’t be my choice in this segment, but over 400,000 buyers disagree with me every single year. A home run for Toyota.

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Miss – Volkswagen Jetta: Sales of VW’s American-sized compact are sputtering and the new upgrades do little to make it any more attractive. An MQB-ified replacement would be welcome, and soon.

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Hit – Volkswagen GolfSportwagen TDI Concept: In Toronto, gas prices just breached the critical $5.30/gallon level (about $1.40/liter) with diesel as much as 30 cents cheaper per gallon. Up north, wagons and manuals are more popular, and the Haldex all-wheel drive on this car would be welcome. But its chances of success in America, where gas is cheap and the weather is milder, are slim. And that means that this is likely a PR stunt by Volkswagen. But we can dream.

 

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The Deuce’s Coupe – Henry Ford II’s Personal Prototype Mustang http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-deuces-coupe-henry-ford-iis-personal-prototype-mustang/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-deuces-coupe-henry-ford-iis-personal-prototype-mustang/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 01:56:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=804458 IMG_0600

Full gallery here.

Fifty years ago this week, the first Ford Mustang went on sale. While Lee Iacocca is considered by many to be the father of the Mustang, the simple reality is that without the approval of Henry Ford II, the chief executive at Ford, the Mustang would never have happened. That took some doing. After American Motors had shown the viability of compact cars, in 1960, Ford introduced the Falcon, Chevrolet introduced the Corvair, and Pontiac brought out the original, compact, Tempest. When GM introduced the sportier Monza versions of the Corvair, Iacocca, who by then was a Ford corporate VP and general manager of the Ford division, wanted something to compete with it. Henry Ford II, aka “Hank the Deuce”, had to be convinced to spend money on the project, just a few short years after FoMoCo took a serious financial hit when the Edsel brand did not have a successful launch. Iacocca, one of the great salesmen, not only sold his boss on the concept of the Mustang, the Deuce came to love the pony car so much he had a very special one made just for himself.

 

Multiple accounts from other participants in the story affirm that HFII was reluctant to give the Mustang program a green light. By early 1962, Iacocca had already been turned down at least twice, with Ford shouting “No! No!” when Ford’s division boss asked for $75 million to go after the youth market with a reskinned Falcon. Iacocca’s unofficial “Fairlane Committee”, an advanced product planning group that met every couple of weeks at the Fairlane Motel, away from prying eyes and ears at the Glass House, Ford’s World headquarters, had been working on the Mustang idea, but the team despaired of getting HFII’s approval.

In an interview on the Mustang’s genesis, Iacocca explained his challenge:

Henry Ford II had just dealt with one of the biggest losses in Ford history with the Edsel. It was dumped just one year earlier at a loss of $250 million. Henry was not receptive to launching a new, unproven line of cars which would present further risk to the company.

I made a number of trips to his office before I gained approval to build. He told me if it wasn’t a success, it would be my ass, and I might be looking for a new job elsewhere.

Surprisingly, Iacocca got word that Ford would let him pitch the as yet unnamed sporty car one more time. With the meeting scheduled for the next morning, Iacocca convened an emergency meeting of his secret committee. Things had to be secret because in the wake of the Edsel debacle, Ford’s corporate culture had become very cautious.

According to Ford head of public relations and Iacocca’s speechwriter Walter T. Murphy, who was at the meeting, the group included: Don Frey, Ford’s chief product planner; John Bowers, advertising manager; Frank Zimmerman, Ford division head of marketing; Robert Eggert, the company’s chief market research authority; Hal Sperlich, who wore many hats as Iacocca’s right hand man (and would follow him to Chrysler): and William Laurie, senior officer of Ford’s advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson.

In a 1989 account that he wrote for Ward’s Auto, Murphy described the scene:

“What I need are some fresh grabbers for my meeting tomorrow morning with Henry at the Glass House,” Mr. Iacocca told his committee (Note: we always called him Henry at meetings when Mr. Ford was not present), Bob Eggert, the researcher, was first at bat: “Lee, let’s lead off with the name of the car we’ve decided on.”

The feeling was that Henry didn’t know we were picking the Mustang name and he’d be entranced. Mr. Frey supported Mr. Eggert. “That’s a good way to go, but emphasize that this stylish pony car will kick GM’s Monza square in the balls.” Henry should love that! “I’ve got it,” Mr. Iacocca responded as he snapped shut the little car research binder that Mr. Eggert had slipped in front of him. “Murphy, put together some notes for me by early tomorrow morning. Thank you. The meeting is adjourned.”

The following morning Mr. Ford stretched out in his leather chair, fingers clasped atop his expanding belly. Mr. Iacocca stood holding a few index cards. He was not smoking or fingering a cigar, as he usually did. Mr. Ford asked “What have you got, Lee?”

Lee launched into his pitch on the market for the youthful low-cost cars that Ford once dominated but had surrendered to GM along with a bushel of profit/penetration points. “Now this new little pony car, the Mustang, would give an orgasm to anyone under 30,” he said. Henry sat upright as if he had been jabbed with a needle. “What was that you said, Lee?” asked Mr. Ford.

Lee began to repeat his orgasm line but Mr. Ford interrupted. “No not that crap, what did you call the car?” “It’s the Mustang, Mr. Ford, a name that will sell like hell.” “Sounds good; have Frey take it to the product planning committee and get it approved. And as of now, you’ve got $75 million to fund your Mustang.”

In the end, Henry Ford II’s approval of the Mustang came down to the name. I’ll note that Walker’s recollection is slightly different than that of Iacocca, who says that Ford initially committed just $45 million for the project.

The Mustang team first developed the four cylinder midengine Mustang (now known as Mustang I) concept for the 1962 show circuit, gauging interest in a sporty car targeted at young people. Because of cost concerns, they were likely to never build such a car (the Edsel failure guaranteed that the car would have to be based on an existing Ford car), but the reaction was positive, leading to the Falcon based Mustang II concept (not to be confused with the 1974 Mustang II production car). The Mustang II was based on a very early preproduction Mustang body shell, first used for a styling study with stretched front end (with “Cougar” badging – the name that convinced HFII was chosen very late in the process)  and then taken out on the ’63 auto show circuit to drum up interest in the new car. The Mustang II is owned by the Detroit Historical Museum and it would be hard to put a dollar value on such a rare and historically significant Mustang.

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Henry Ford II with the Mustang at Ford’s pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where the Mustang was first introduced to the public. Above and behind him you can see one of the convertibles used in the Walt Disney Co. designed Magic Skyway that carried visitors through Ford’s exhibit.

Before the official start of Mustang production on March 9, 1964, in February Ford started to build actual preproduction prototypes of the Mustang, about 180 of them in all. The bodies-in-white were pilot plant units built off of body bucks by Ford Body & Assembly in Allen Park, which explains the leaded seams. The bodies were then trucked to the nearby Dearborn assembly plant where they were assembled as part of the validation process.

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From left to right: Lee Iacocca, Henry Ford II, and Gene Bordinat

One of of those preproduction prototypes was set aside for special treatment by Ford Design. Ten years later, it was just another old Mustang when Art Cairo spotted a classified ad in a Detroit newspaper that read, ”1965 Mustang once owned by the Ford family.” The asking price was a very reasonable $1,000 so Cairo went to look at the car. He found what appeared to be a Hi-Po 289 hardtop in black. It had some unusual parts, though. The vinyl roof was leather, not vinyl, as was the interior upholstery and dashpad. The brightwork on the wheel arch lips was die-cast, not anodized aluminum as on production cars. Door jams and trunk openings had fully leaded seams, and there were features like GT foglights in the grille, exhaust tips and styled steel wheels that were not available on early production Mustangs. Under the hood, there was an alternator instead of a generator, which was what ran the electrical system of early Mustangs. The only Ford products that offered alternators in mid 1964 were Lincolns.

On the interior, in addition to leather seats there was real teakwood, molded leather door panels with pistol-grip door handles, and a factory reverb unit and rear speaker under the package shelf. Door strikers and latches were chrome plated. In addition to what appeared to be an authentic High Performance 289, the car had disc brakes up front, a “top loader” four speed manual transmission and a 9 inch rear end with a 3.50:1 final drive ratio.

When Art read the VIN, 5F07K100148, and realized that it was a genuine “K code” Mustang, an early production “1964 1/2″ model, with a real Hi-Po 289 and lots of oddball parts, he recognized that it was a special car and that he needed to buy it (it would turn out later that Cairo’s Mustang was the very first K-code Mustang built). In the glovebox he found an owner’s manual for a ’65 Mustang written with the name “Edsel B. Ford II” and a Grosse Pointe address. The VIN in the manual, however, was for a fastback and didn’t match the one in the car.

Edsel, Henry Ford II’s son, would have been in high school when the car was new so Cairo figured it was an authentic Ford family car and bought it, assuming it was the younger Ford’s personal car. In 1983, when Art was interviewing Edsel for the Mustang Monthly magazine, Edsel revealed to him that the hardtop was not his, but his father’s and that somehow the owner’s manual for his fastback ’65 ended up with his dad’s car. Since the car’s restoration, Edsel autographed the teakwood glovebox door.

It turns out that while the cars were built for Ford family members to use, they were not titled to the Ford’s but rather remained the possession of the Ford company. After Henry and Edsel were done with their Mustangs, they were returned to FoMoCo and sold. The story that Cairo had heard was that the Deuce gave his Mustang to his chauffeur, who then sold it to the person who sold it to Cairo.

In addition to the changes mentioned above, other modifications were discovered when the car was finally restored. The alternator meant that the car had a custom wiring harness. A steel scatter shield was welded into the transmission tunnel in case of a failure of the clutch or flywheel. The engine was a real Hi-Po 289, but it had experimental cylinder heads, and even the steering box was not a production unit. The original headliner was leather, to match the roof and upholstery and in addition to all the real wood and chrome plating, a custom AM radio with die-cast knobs and buttons was installed.

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“X” stands for experimental. The Hi-Po 289 V8 in Henry Ford II’s personal Mustang had experimental heads.

The fog lamps, exhaust trumpets and die-cast moldings were developmental parts planned to be introduced the following year, installed by Ford Design.

As mentioned, when Cairo bought the car, he knew it was special, being an early K-code car, but he didn’t take the Ford family provenance that seriously. He loaned the car to his brother, who beat on it pretty hard until something broke in the 289′s valvetrain. Art retrieved the keys, overhauled the heads and did a mild restoration and respray.

He didn’t drive it much because his job involving new vehicle launches at Ford kept him on the road a lot, moving from assembly plant to assembly plant. Though he drove 5F07K100148 sparingly, for the most part the car was unknown to the Mustang community.

In 2002, Cairo started getting worried about the long term effects of inactivity and humidity and a deep inspection found significant decay, rust and rodent damage. Rustbusters, a restoration shop in Redford, Michigan was entrusted with the car.

This was going to be a complicated job. Some parts, like the headliner and upholstery are so original they cannot be “restored”. How do you restore a one off with a replica?

The car was carefully taken apart, with copious notes and photographs taken. Once disassembled, they discovered that the rust had eaten through body panels, floors, frame-rails, wheelhouses, quarter-panels, inner fenders, doors, and the cowl vent. Had this been a run of the mill ’65 Mustang, most owners would have removed the VIN and bought a replacement body from Dynacorn.

Instead, with the help of reproduction company National Parts Depot, Rustbusters used a body jig custom designed for vintage Mustangs and repaired all of the sheet metal. A modern self-etching primer sealer was used as was polymer seam sealer, but Cairo was able to locate some vintage Ford Raven Black enamel, and after spraying, the Mustang was color sanded and hand rubbed old school style to replicate a 1964 era paint job. Unfortunately, the die-cast prototype wheel-lip moldings were too corroded to use.

Early production Mustangs came with an unimproved hood that had sharp edges, replaced in 1965 with a hood that had a rolled lip. Since all preproduction and Indy Pace Car Mustangs (Ford provided the pace car for the 1964 race) that have surfaced so far feature the later style hood, Art decided to go with the “1965″ hood, which is how he found the car when he bought it.

The engine was rebuilt to factory specs, other than a .030 overbore, but inspections revealed that both the transmission and rear end just needed new seals and gaskets.

The car was finished just in time for Ford’s centennial in 2003 and Art was invited to display his car in front of Ford World Headquarters as part of the 100th anniversary celebration. This month it’s appropriately back in the lobby of the “Glass House”, whose official name is the Henry Ford II World Center, along with some other historic Mustangs, to celebrate the Mustang’s semicentennial.

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Too Big To Fail, Too Confused To Operate: Analysis Of 619 Pages Of Cobalt Engineering Documents [w/ Full Text] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/too-big-to-fail-too-confused-to-operate-analysis-of-619-pages-of-cobalt-engineering-documents-w-full-text/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/too-big-to-fail-too-confused-to-operate-analysis-of-619-pages-of-cobalt-engineering-documents-w-full-text/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=799138  

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The House Energy & Commerce Committee recently released the documents GM submitted for investigation, which includes emails and internal reports documenting GM’s response to reports of their early Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models inadvertently shutting the car “off” while driving due to an ignition cylinder that was, simply, too easy to turn out of the “run” position; and in the case of several accidents, allowed the ignition cylinder to rotate out of the run condition before or during accidents, causing the airbags to not deploy when required.

The documents, totaling 619 pages (some with repeat info), reveal just how deep seated “old GM” was in their cost cutting ways (Driving down supplier costs to the point of sacrificing quality, admittedly poorly designed ignition cylinder, and removing internal quality control on the parts), and just how blind sided “new GM” was during their investigations. It also confirms how suspended engineers Ray DeGiorgio and Gary Altman were involved in the ignition switch response, and fuzzy problem solving. Full text and an analysis of key documents below.

We already know the basics of how this happened, but it’s still surprising just how ingrained GM was in putting the issue aside. The key issues are these:

  • GM became aware of the ignition issue in the 2001 preproduction Saturn Ion and the 2005 preproduction Chevrolet Cobalt.
  • Gary Altman initiated the report that lead to the insert, and Ray DeGiorgio consulted on the fix and argued against ignition switch changes.
  • Many different options were proposed, including suggestions from Delphi.
  • Cost played a major role in the decision to not recall the ignition switch early on.
  • The later key insert was the result, and was seen not as a fix, but as a “containment.”
  • GM also had very little oversight on parts from Delphi, only relying on Delphi’s incomplete testing.
  • GM’s engineers knowingly put the cars to market with a defective ignition switch.
  • This lead to ISB #05-02-35-007.
  • In 2006, DeGiorgio eventually signed off on design changes for Delphi, that included a stronger spring and plunger for the detent mechanism in the ignition cylinder, which provides a physical resistance between the different key positions.
  • When implemented in 2007, the new ignition cylinders cost less than a dollar per unit more than the original design; $400,000 to retool the production lines. These are the same changes that were deemed “not an acceptable business case” in 2005
  • As company, however, no one knew who signed off on the change until the Melton family lawsuit.
  • In court, DeGiorgio testified that he was unaware of changes to the ignition cylinder that would have effected the detents, only mentioning the key change..
  • Later investigations showed that the Cobalt had a substantial number of airbag warranty claims.
  • Higher level GM representatives broadsided by NHTSA’s investigations and disapproval of their slow reaction to other recent recalls.

First up, Gary Altman’s and Ray Giorgio’s role in the ignition cylinder issue is a problem. In court, Altman claimed that he did not feel that the Melton’s car was “unsafe.” This coming after submitting the initial mechanical complaint about the ignition falling out of run, in 2004:

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf
During the investigation, several different approaches to modify the ignition cylinder were brought up to DeGiorgio. All of which were quickly dismissed by DeGiorgio, because the switch was already “very fragile,”

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (1)
Later on, all fixes were dropped, as it wasn’t deemed necessary. With a tight deadline and budget, the engineers could not justify any of the fixes at the time, as it wasn’t an “acceptable business case.”

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (2) docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (3) docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (4)

In 2006, DeGiorgio finally signed off on a design change for Delphi. The design change included  a stronger spring and longer detent plunger to increase the force needed to switch the key between different positions, along with an unrelated electrical upgrade. In an unexplained move, DeGiorgio did not assign a new part number to the improved switch design. The design change added 90 cents to the parts cost, and about $400,000 in tooling costs.

 

cobalt report 3
docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD047.pdf (1)

But, with this large of a role in the decision to delay the redesigned ignition switch, DeGiorgio claimed that he was not aware of any mechanical changes to the switches during his testimony in the Melton family suit against GM:

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD056.pdf
Though, he did sign off on the changes, and worked with Delphi to test batches of ignition cylinders that contained an upgraded PCB (Printed Circuit Board), and detent plunger:

cobalt report 14

democrats.energycommerce.house.gov sites default files documents GM-Commodity-Validation-Sign-Off-2006-4-26.pdf

 

Curiously enough, though, is that GM had very little oversight on Delphi’s quality control, and Delphi did not check the rotational torque needed to turn past the switches detents. GM simply accepted Delphi’s parts and trusted their QC. But with rumored tensions between GM and Delphi, it’s said that cost cutting measures might be to blame as GM forced Delphi to push prices down, sacrificing parts quality. If this were true, GM’s choice to outsource QC to the supplier left them in the dark for too long, preventing them from seeing the immediate effects of their problems with Delphi:

cobalt report 4cobalt report 18

While this was going on, GM released the key insert as a “containment solution;” it would be the minimum needed to alleviate the problem for effected customers. This was chosen over two other modifications to the ignition cylinder, which were seen as a “partial solution” in the case of adding an additional detent mechanism to add more resistance to rotating the key out of “run,” and a “sure solution” involving moving the ignition switch higher up on the column, using a gear drive system to reach the rotary switch responsible for selecting which electrical circuit to run on. The added gearing would also increase rotational torque, the design stated.
cobalt report 11
cobalt report 12cobalt report 13
In 2007, the NHTSA began to probe into the surprising number of airbag-related complaints, despite “GM’s indications that they see no specific pattern.”
cobalt report 15

The issue was set aside, for the most part, until GM was informed by the Melton suit that there was a possible design change in the switch, based on an investigation into junkyard-found switches from the effected models. The testing showed that there was a noticeable change in detent torque, but no documentation from GM to show the changes. The GM engineers and representatives in the case were caught off guard by this design change, and began an internal investigation. This investigation lead GM engineer Brian Stouffer to find the documents that showed DeGiorgio signing off on design changes with no part number change.

cobalt report 5cobalt report 16
Finally, the most impressive point of this story comes from GM’s reactions to the NHTSA’s investigations. The NHTSA emailed GM asking for clarification on several other recalls, documenting GM’s reactions to other product issues with a disdain for GM’s penchant for doing the least amout possible to avoid full recalls; ie: regional recalls for parts failures in the rust-belt states. Saying that some were broadsided by this information would be an understatement:

cobalt report 19[...]
cobalt report 19

The response by Mike Robinson, VP for environment, energy and safety policy, sums up GM’s perception and confusion over their responses to the Cobalt issue, and several other poor recall responses in the past. “This note from NHTsA, both the content and tone, comes like a bolt out of the blue,” he states, “We worked way too hard to earn a reputation as the best and we are not going to let this slide.”

cobalt report 19
To summarize, GM is its own worst enemy. They responded poorly to incredibly early reports, dismissing the issue too quickly as a casual problem. With reports going back to 2001, during the Saturn Ion development, there is no reason why the switch should have come unmodified to the Cobalt development; never mind the dismissal of the problem before the car was produced. Ray DeGiorgio’s role in this problem is larger than he initially lead on in the Melton case, though his motive in this discrepancy is unknown at this time.

Full text to all 619 pages can be find here.

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At Toyota, Craftsmen Get Hands-On In Search Of Innovation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/at-toyota-craftsmen-get-hands-on-in-search-of-innovation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/at-toyota-craftsmen-get-hands-on-in-search-of-innovation/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:17:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=801290 Toyota factory near hard-hit Sendai. Picture courtesy cbsnews.com

Twenty years ago, as a young Merchant Mariner, I was sent to Japan where the ship I was assigned to, the Sea-Land Spirit, was undergoing a major refit. The ship had begun life as a LASH ship, a vessel that carried cargo-filled barges which it offloaded from its stern via huge, rail mounted cranes that ran on tracks down the length of its deck, and now, after the demise of that business model, it was being converted it into a container ship.

Prior to the refit, the ship had been virtually abandoned, left to rot in some bayside backwater for many years, and it had taken a pounding from the elements. To get it back into service, the ship was towed to Korea where it underwent most of the major modifications, after which it was then taken to the giant Mitsubishi works in Kobe, Japan for the final touches. It was there, so I was told, that Japanese laborers called into question the quality of the Korean’s work. Some of the massive steel braces that had been welded to the deck, they found, were as much as a centimeter off. Shocked by the poor quality of their counterparts’ work, the Japanese shipyard workers cut the braces off the deck, moved them a fraction of an inch and welded them down again.

Photo courtesy of cdn2.shipspotting.com

Photo courtesy of cdn2.shipspotting.com

The Japanese have a reputation for doing things right. Who else could take an iron ore of questionable quality and forge it into blades renowned for their strength, flexibility and sharpness? Who, but the Japanese, could take a pasty skinned, round face little girl and turn her into an object of enduring sexual desire? All cultures make things, but it is only in Japan that the making of things, “monozukuri” is elevated into an art unto itself, and where skilled craftsmen, who spend their entire lives honing their craft to perfection, become “gods.”

In recent years, however, thanks to the amount of production that has been handed over to robots, the number of “gods” on the factory floor has dwindled. Toyota, in particular, has noticed the problem and, according to a recent Bloomberg article, the company if now taking steps to reverse what it sees as a new form of brain drain by taking jobs away from robots and giving them back to men. The logic is slyly simple but infinitely deep, craftsmen, it goes, will always look for ways to innovate, always seek out easier more efficient methods and even find ways to reduce waste while robots can only do what they are programmed to do.

robots.jpg

Over the past three years, the article continues, Toyota has introduced more than 100 “manual-intensive” workplaces at factories all around Japan. In one of the sections, men manually turn and hammer red hot steel as it is forged into crankshafts in much the same way that Henry Ford’s workers once did. True to form, the men in the section have been watching and learning and the result of their efforts has been a 10 percent reduction in material waste and a shortening of the production line that will soon be applied to the automated processes used to make crankshafts in the next generation Prius Hybrid.

There is no doubt that the robots are here to stay, but Toyota’s recent experiments show that keeping humans closely engaged in the process can pay real dividends. By empowering workers and encouraging them to become skilled craftsmen who truly understand what it takes to build cars, Toyota is setting the stage for innovation. It is, I think, a uniquely Japanese solution but it could be applied here in North America as well. Despite the many people who decry the lack of skills and poor work ethic of the North American factory worker, I believe that there are a great many men and women in our factories who would jump at the chance to work harder. Everyone, I think, wants to be valued and most people want to make a difference. This could work here too, maybe some of our own best and brightest should take a look at what’s going on.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: 2015 Camry Regression Analysis http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/vellum-venom-vignette-2015-camry-regression-analysis/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/vellum-venom-vignette-2015-camry-regression-analysis/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:39:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=800242 051-2015-toyota-camry-1

As expected, TTAC’s Best and Brightest called it: the 2015 Camry has Chernobyl-grade DLO FAIL.

Or maybe that’s heavily tinted glass?

I consider myself lucky I’m not attending the NYIAS, this would make my head go explodey all over the show floor.

No transportation designer, wannabe like me or otherwise, wants to see that gigantizoid of a hunk of black plastic go into production.  The years of thankless hard work, the brutal cost of design school on your wallet/social life, etc shouldn’t turn into this.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with the 2014 Camry’s greenhouse: it was sleek-ish and a completely DLO FAIL free zone before the redesign.  It was a beautiful thing. And now it’s gone.

Thanks for reading, I hope you (can still) have a lovely week.

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New York 2014: 2015 Corvette Z06 Convertible Live Shots http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-corvette-z06-convertible-live-shots/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-corvette-z06-convertible-live-shots/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:33:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=799682 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 ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1992 Infiniti M30 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1992-infiniti-m30/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1992-infiniti-m30/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=797130 09 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen Nissan, not wanting to be left behind by Toyota, introduced the Infiniti marque in 1989, they needed a sporty coupe to sell alongside the mighty Q45 luxury sedan. No problem, just add some bling to the JDM Nissan Leopard, move the steering wheel to the left side, and you’ve got an instant Lexus SC300 competitor for the American market! Sadly for Nissan, few bought the M30 (though its J30 successor sold pretty well), and M30 junkyard finds are quite rare today. Here’s one that survived the Cash For Clunkers Japanese Luxpocalypse but then succumbed to depreciation five years later.
11 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinA good-looking car, but 1992 wasn’t a great year for California car dealers.
08 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere’s the same VG30 V6 that M30′s 300ZX and Maxima contemporaries got.

Naturally, the Japanese-market ads for the F31 Leopard coupe are far superior to anything shown on the other side of the Pacific.

01 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1992 Infiniti M30 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1980-volvo-262c-bertone-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1980-volvo-262c-bertone-coupe/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=796986 08 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOnly 6,622 Volvo 262C Bertone Coupes were built during the Italo-Swedish machine’s 1978-1981 production run, and I’ve found two of them in California self-serve wrecking yards during the last year. We saw this silver ’79 (actually, all ’78 and ’79 262Cs were painted in Mystic Silver) last summer, and now there’s today’s find: a gold ’80. These cars were weird-looking and something of a puzzling marketing move by Volvo, but you’d think that their rarity would give them sufficient value to keep the survivors out of The Crusher‘s jaws. Nope!
02 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAssembled in Italy!
06 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 262C-specific glass and trim pieces have been pulled, and there’s plenty of typical Northern California upper-body rust in places where weatherstripping failure can let water in. The lower body panels are good and solid.
05 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe can assume that some project 262C will benefit from these parts.
07 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIf I owned one of these cars, I’d ditch the unreliable Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 and replace it with a good old B230 (or something more interesting). In the case of this car, though, someone has grabbed the PRV.
13 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStill a few pieces worth taking left on this car. Let’s hope they get pulled before the car gets crushed.

02 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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A Curmudgeon’s Guide To The 2014 New York Auto Show http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/a-curmudgeons-guide-to-the-2014-new-york-auto-show/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/a-curmudgeons-guide-to-the-2014-new-york-auto-show/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:28:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=796746 BMW-X4-03

The 2014 edition of the New York Auto Show kicks off tomorrow, with press days continuing into Thursday. TTAC will have live coverage of the show, but here’s a little preview of what you can expect to see starting Wednesday.

Acura TLX: The replacement for the TL and TSX has already been spied, and it’s not the drastic change in styling that many were hoping for.

Alfa Romeo 4C: Alfa’s newest sports car gets its American debut, along with federalization changes and a couple hundred pounds in extra weight.

BMW Concept X5 eDrive: BMW’s biggest SUV gets a plug-in hybrid concept to help people feel good about the polar bears.

BMW M4 Convertible (2015): The M4 for those who can afford the best in hair plug therapy.

BMW X4 (2015): Another incoherent addition to BMW’s lineup, this X3-based pseudo-coupe will add volume to the lineup, and little else.

Chevrolet Cruze: Chevrolet’s compact sedan gets a nose job in advance of its redesign.

Chevrolet Corvette: An all-new 8-speed automatic and a ragtop version of the Z06 will make purists cry, while fattening Chevrolet’s bottom line.

Dodge Challenger: Revised powertrains and styling for Dodge’s ponycar.

Dodge Charger: The Charger gets some slightly more modern styling.

Ford Focus: Ford’s Focus sedan and EV get the corporate grille.

Ford Transit Skyliner concept: A luxury van concept from Ford, sure to be of interest to 1970′s custom van enthusiasts.

Hyundai Sonata: The worst-kept secret of NY is the all-new Hyundai Sonata, which has been leaked several times over.

Kia Sedona: Kia’s oft-ignored minivan gets a new look in an attempt to capture some minivan market share. And it comes in brown.

Land Rover Discovery Vision concept: Land Rover shows off their entry-level Kardashian mobile.

Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG Coupe: Once known as the CL, the S63 coupe is likely the last word in Grand Touring, but still looks like a very large Honda Accord coupe.

Nissan Murano: The Murano is all-new for 2015, but the big news is the death of the CrossCabriolet, which somehow escaped the grasp of an army of product planners.

Nissan Versa Sedan: America’s cheapest car gets a few tweaks. It will be nasty.

Porsche Boxster/Cayman GTS: Another incremental change for Porsche’s lesser products. Enjoy them now, before they get 4-cylinder engines.

Ram Power Wagon: Just what you need to go down to Home Depot in.

Subaru Outback: No manual. Get over it.

Toyota Camry: Toyota tweaks its most important car, proving it will do literally anything to hang on to the #1 spot.

Volkswagen Golf SportWagen: Diesel. Manual. All-wheel drive. Brown?

Volkswagen Jetta: A few styling tweaks that you can look forward to on your next rental.

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Junkyard Find: 1963 Dodge Dart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1963-dodge-dart/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1963-dodge-dart/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=796762 04 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFor the entire time I’ve been on this planet, Chrysler A-bodies have been a constant presence in American wrecking yards, and they’re still quite easy to find today, 33 years after the last Valiant Charger rolled off the assembly line in Australia. I don’t photograph every Dart and Valiant that I see in junkyards, but this series has included this ’61 Valiant, this ’64 Valiant wagon, this ’67 Valiant, this ’66 Dart, this ’68 Valiant Signet, this ’73 Valiant, this ’75 Duster, and this ’75 Dart, and today we’ll admire a non-rusty California Dart two-door that I saw back in December.
07 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe last official year of CONELRAD was 1963, and here we can see the official CONELRAD frequencies of 640 and 1240 kHz marked on this Dart’s fancy factory radio. How much was the optional AM radio in your new ’63 Dart? $169, which comes to $1,296 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Not only that, but you’d be hearing pretty much nothing but terrible hit singles and ugly news stories on that shockingly expensive staticblaster, back in ’63. Think about that the next time you’re enjoying your $300 Bluetooth-enabled aftermarket car stereo.
02 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car has the look of one that sat exposed to the elements for a decade or two. The biohazardous trunk contents include some icky-looking time-capsule stuff.
19 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe car was running as recently as 1987, when a student commuted in it to the stoniest junior college in California.
14 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIf the car had a hood (or at least an air cleaner) during its long-term abandonment, the engine innards might have stayed dry enough to remain unseized. Not that anyone is going to bother with rescuing a tired 170.
05 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBeing a two-door gave this car a slight chance of being saved by an auction buyer and restored, but the late-60s Darts tend to be more highly prized. Some of its parts should live on in other A-bodies, though.

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A Primer On SLAB Culture http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/a-primer-on-slab-culture/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/a-primer-on-slab-culture/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:55:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=794826 title

This well-traveled Houstonian thinks his town is Pistonhead Nirvana, proven every month via fanboi scale and diversity at Cars and Coffee gatherings.  Or with every 1000+hp racer on at Texas2k, every shoestring budget’d LeMons racer and Art Car fanatic: it’s all here. Except there’s nothing like Houston’s SLAB culture.

A confession: I know automotive subcultures, no matter which socioeconomic population nurtures it, always raise the ire of outsiders. My response?  Every generalization about SLABs applies to anyone building a custom, race or show car. We are all the same, deal with it.   

100_3783

Like most automotive hobbies, the Houston SLAB scene starts with the belief that the factory’s work needs improvement.  While spec racers turn a depreciated hulk into a track beast, the SLAB rider takes a slice of unloved Americana, bringing it back to a time when Japanese cars were cheap rust buckets that’d never threaten General Motor’s existence! I mean, look at our grilles and look at theirs, right?

IMG_1902

A car that traces its roots back to the 1970s Pimp Rides is necessary to make a modern SLAB: Camcords need not apply. Any Blaxploitation movie gets you up to speed on Pimp Rides, but the Houston SLAB scene uses them as a springboard to something new.

IMG_1878

Depreciated American luxury cars are the norm: Cadillacs, Buicks and certain Oldsmobiles are preferred.  Lincolns/Panthers and Chryslers are cool too, even Jaguars and Quattroportes pull it off vis-à-vis distinctly luxurious proportions.  But don’t break your budget on the ride, GM’s W-body is one of the most common platforms for good reason, as costly modifications are necessary to pay homage to the Pimp Riders while advancing the game:

  • Massive stereos, some are IASCA worthy with a little tweaking.
  • Kitted out power popping trunks, slathered in custom vinyl and personalized phrases in neon/mirrors.
  • Wire wheels much like the Cragar units supplied as OEM for Cadillac in 1983 and 1984, except replacing the fragile tin content with 100% steel. Texan Wire Wheels sells them as “83s” and “84s”, seemingly cornering this niche market.
  • Vogue tires in new sizes for new cars, naturally.
  • Replacement steering wheels, usually with wood grain rims.
  • Candy Paint, just like any vintage rodder.
  • Reupholstered interiors, taking advantage of the latest trimmings on the market.
  • Aftermarket HID lights, custom LEDs, Lambo doors, flat panel TVs and anything else you’ll find in the custom car scene.
  • Oversized brand logos, like the tailgate emblem from an Escalade.
  • Lowered suspensions (often aftermarket Air Ride) for obvious curb appeal.

That stance is at the SLAB’s core: it’s a sweet American luxury sedan ridin’ close to the curb.  Close to the concrete, up against the “slab”…hence the name. Some suggest that SLAB is an acronym for Slow-Loud-And-Bangin’ but that definition seemingly came later.

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But the wheels make SLABs so eye-catching: references percolating through Houston’s music, Houston’s culture.  Originally a re-pop of those Cadillac rims from 1983 and 1984, some are fed pro-baseball grade growth hormones to extend the hub far beyond Cadillac’s factory specification.  Ordinary wires have “pokes” while insanity ensues when you go “super poke.”  While not sure of their origin, odds are that having more poke comes people’s need to out-do each other. Like everything else in this world!

IMG_1759Your taste in poke is subjective, but they are all known as swangas and elbows.

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Elbows are when the hub and spoke of your wheels “poke” out of your body just like your arm’s elbow when perched atop the door sill.  Makes sense, but Swangas?

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Again, not sure: it’s connected to the organized dance that multiple SLABs do on an open stretch of road.  It’s like watching racers warming up their tires during pace laps.  It’s infectious: even the cops do it.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Here’s what I saw at the first annual SLAB Parade, put on by the Houston Arts Alliance.  This cow town’s been good about supporting the art scene, especially our Art Cars and our screwed and chopped Rap artists.  While H-town Rap is a “thing” for the likes of Jay Z and Justin Timberlake, Detroit has yet to embrace Houston’s re-branding of their Camry prey/Rental Car fodder and their highline euro-wannabes. Aside from the Chrysler 300, of course.

So welcome to the Third Coast, the coast that actually likes American cars. How they were: with real names, impressive proportions and maybe even SLAB hugging overhangs, too. And the people who make them?  They are no different than other car nuts.

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No doubt, Houston is the best place to be a car fanatic, mostly thanks to our diverse population.  Love it or hate it, hopefully you enjoyed seeing this slice of Automotive Americana while I avoided the pitfalls of a milquetoast overview of an automotive sub-culture. Fingers crossed on that last part.

 

 

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QOTD: Special Feature, Special Weakness http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-special-feature-special-weakness/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-special-feature-special-weakness/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 04:04:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=797274 IMG_0244.JPG - Copy

On a busy freeway, a first-generation Scion xB putters along. Ahead, a confused medley of dump trucks, semis, and passenger cars performs the lane-change dance that we all know and loathe. For the driver and passenger of the toaster, things are about to get interesting- and infuriating.

The dump trucks are fully laden, and there’s already plenty of junk on the road. The xB has a well-worn bug deflector, one which has spared the windshield from an unfortunate contact many times already. But this time, it won’t get the job done. Suddenly, a car darts across lanes in the traffic ahead. It picks up a rock, an asphalt clod, or some other piece of detritus. The missile arcs backward at the perfect angle. It misses the deflector by millimeters, hitting dead on right below the driver’s wiper. THWACK. Time to call the insurance company.

This isn’t the first time. The toaster is already on windshield number two, which itself has seen the business end of a resin gun. Half a dozen or so years prior, it took a stone right at the top, where the glass joins the roof. That time, the trauma wasn’t immediately apparent. However, a single cold, clear day later, the glass was split from top to bottom. The nice man from the glass shop told us that xBs were a great revenue stream for his company. Now he’ll be back to collect another check.

But oh, the glory of driving a fish tank. A virtually unobstructed view from any angle, the tiny blind spots totally confound the current zero-visibility trend in styling. When dad first bought it, I hated it. It was a dork’s car through and through. But when I got my license and my own ride, I began to appreciate its virtues. Those vast expanses of glass were fantastic for a young, nervous driver. They made it easy to watch the road, and to negotiate the tight spots. Dad appreciated it for much the same reason. At the time, no other car on the road offered the same level of visibility, unless it was a convertible. That’s even truer today. Perhaps that’s why he’s held on to it for longer than any other car he’s owned. Even if that fishbowl feeling comes at a price.

xB, Wrangler, FJ, van, and pickup drivers know all about the hazards inherent in steep windshields. Even so, they accept it as part of the costs of ownership. Many drivers tolerate possible headaches in maintenance and repair to get the special features they really want. A sunroof is a good example, as are convertible tops more generally. Heated and power seats don’t always last the life of a vehicle, but for many in northern climes they verge on necessity. Premium wheels can look great, even if they aren’t always resistant to potholes. Material quality and careful engineering can help special features last longer without requiring repairs. But some, like steeply raked windshields, can’t overcome the basic limitations of their design.

What weaknesses are you willing to tolerate in the design of your vehicle, to get exactly what you want? Or is durability your sole criteria? Have you ever been seduced by a trick feature that turned out to be an expensive source of woe later?

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Bark’s Bites: I Care What People Think of My Car, and So Do You http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/barks-bites-i-care-what-people-think-of-my-car-and-so-do-you/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/barks-bites-i-care-what-people-think-of-my-car-and-so-do-you/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 13:29:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=794546 image

It’s just another day in the grand city of Lexington, Kentucky, a rose of a town in the middle of a commonwealth full of honest, hardworking, middle-class Americans. Lexington has a higher-than-average household income combined with a lower-than-average cost of living, making it a great place to be able to afford a nice car. It’s also home to over three hundred horse farms, which means one is just as likely to see an S Class rolling down Broadway as a King Ranch F-150 with a horse trailer attached to it. You won’t see many true exotics, but they love their Kentucky-built Corvettes, and some of the cleanest examples anywhere can be found here.

But on this day, there’s one car that draws more attention than any of them.

This yellow preening peacock of a ride causes random passersby to give the thumbs up, fellow drivers to ask questions at stoplights, and children to literally cheer and applaud. Depressed fortysomethings behind the wheel of CUVs and minivans costing as much or more look upon it with envy the color of bluegrass. Young women exiting fashion boutiques straighten their posture and crane their necks to get a glance at the driver. Import boy racers roll down their windows and ask to hear the engine roar.

It’s my 2013 Boss 302, and I love it.

My very first article on these virtual pages nearly two years ago dealt with my decision to trade in my Pontiac G8 GT on this very same car. The G8 was, in many ways, the dream car if one were to buy a car based on what the majority of TTAC commenters claim that they want—it was fast, capable, and virtually invisible. At best, people thought it was a BMW 5 Series, and at worst, people thought it was a larger G6. In the three plus years that I owned it, I got fewer than ten compliments on it from strangers.

Fast forward to today. It’s impossible to drive a School Bus Yellow Boss 302 and not have somebody comment on it. Trips to the grocery store are often delayed because I come back to my car to find admirers circling it. Stops at the local gas station are accompanied by longing looks from fellow petrol purchasers. Nearly every driver on the road of any car with any sporting intent wants to race at every stoplight. I had a parking lot attendant at the airport post photos of my car to Instagram. Admittedly, there are times when this is annoying.

However, given the choice between the two scenarios, I’ll take the latter every time. Although I may not want to admit it, I view my car as an extension of my own personality. It’s the second largest check I write every month—shouldn’t I be passionate about it? I take pride in the fact that I was able to buy my dream car at a relatively young age. When people compliment it, or notice it, is it so wrong to enjoy that?

The comments section of this and many other automotive blogs would seem to suggest so. “Who would buy a car based on what other people think?” is a refrain that is repeated again and again and again. Is it wise to buy a car based solely on the opinion of others, to opt for a model other than the one that you would personally prefer due to what amounts to grown-up peer pressure? Of course not. To do that would be to deny one’s own self worth.

But to pretend that we just don’t care? Come on. Be real. To act like we don’t care what the world thinks of our car is equivalent to walking out the door every day without making an attempt to match our shoes and our belts. Sure, kids and people who have no ambition do it, but grown-ups don’t. The vast majority of people in the business world dress in a way that signifies their position in life. I choose to wear Hart Schaffner Marx suits and sportscoats and Allen Edmonds shoes almost exclusively in the workplace. Why? Because it shows people around me that I am a (moderately) successful man with a sense of style. Why would I risk that professional image by walking out to the parking lot and getting into a 1996 Camry? To act as though I don’t realize my car is making a statement about me—well, that would just be an act of social unawareness.

Perhaps there’s a sense of jealousy or envy involved. If one can’t afford his or her dream car, or perhaps chooses to place other financial investments first, then maybe it’s easier to say that he or she just doesn’t care what people think rather than admit that he still lusts for that 3 series BMW that he mocks his coworker for leasing. Or to shout “DEPRECIATION” from the top of his lungs while secretly crunching numbers to see if he, too, can afford a new E class like his boss just bought.

Maybe you’re just so hipster that by buying a 1998 Impreza you’re actually caring desperately about what people think of your car—that you’re making a passive-aggressive statement with your attempted non-statement. Or, like the social coastal elite, you’re driving that hybrid so that you can humblebrag about your carbon footprint. Regardless of why you make the statement you make, you’re making a statement.

The two most recent car purchases by TTAC contributors were recounted in articles that both rank among the ten most commented posts in the site’s history. It’s truly amazing how much we seem to car about the purchases of others while simultaneously claiming that we don’t care about what others think of ours.

So I’ll admit it—I care what people think about my car. Will you?

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The Truth About Caroline: Ethics, Marketing, ROI, and the Sad State of (Non-Mommy) Blogging http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-truth-about-caroline-ethics-marketing-roi-and-the-sad-state-of-non-mommy-blogging/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-truth-about-caroline-ethics-marketing-roi-and-the-sad-state-of-non-mommy-blogging/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 15:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793978 caroline2

Let’s say you opened your e-mail one morning, and, lo and behold, you were offered an all-expenses paid trip to sunny San Diego. Airfare, luxury hotels, gourmet meals…sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it?

However, if you’re like most sensible adults, you’d probably assume that there was some sort of catch involved—after all, who’s going to spend around two grand to give you a vacation just because…well, just because?

Well, if you’re a mommyblogger named “Xenia,” you’d probably feel like it was Christmas morning. Or, at the very least, you’d tell the Internet that’s how you felt. How do I know this?

Because that’s exactly what happened. According to her blog at raisedbyculture.com, Xenia, who is, sadly, not a Warrior Princess, but simply a woman who “leads a blended family” and is a “unique social media influencer,” that’s exactly how she felt upon receiving an e-mail from Honda with just such an invitation. All she had to do to accept this swanky invitation was write some nice things on her blog about the newly reimagined Honda Fit.

How did Honda know that she would write nice things about the Fit? Because her blogs says she will.

From her “Review and Gifting policy” on her site:

In addition, If I like the product, I will happily write about it, however, if I do not like the product then chances are I will not feature nor write about it, adhering to “If you have nothing nice to say…

So, in other words, Honda was guaranteed that, in return for a four-figure vacay, Xenia would not write anything negative about the Fit. So much for journalistic integrity.

So why did Honda select Xenia to receive this boondoggle? It must be because she’s a well-regarded car reviewer, right?

Not so much. She has exactly one car review posted on her site. It’s of a 2014 Kia Sorento from September 13, 2013. In this review, she admits to being befuddled by an Engine Start/Stop button and posts three separate photos of the nav system. The review garnered eight comments, two +1s on Google Plus, and no Facebook shares.

However, she has tweeted an amazing 91,000-plus times, and somehow managed to write a post that compared her decision to take early maternity leave to unusually strong and soft toilet paper. Somebody at Honda must have found this to be a relevant comparison, because the invite went out, and Xenia happily accepted.

Xenia managed to tweet no fewer than thirteen times with the hashtag #FitForYou from the event, including the tweet at the top of this article where she mentions how baller the hotel, free gifts, and drinks are.

Then, yesterday, her review of the Fit hit her blog. The review contained such insights as “I’m not a professional car reviewer” but proclaimed that the Fit was “super techy” and “smooth.” As per her policy, there was nary a single comment that could interpreted as negative. The review garnered a total of three comments, including one from a friend that she met at the event.

I retweeted her link on Twitter yesterday, proclaiming my total lack of surprise about her positive review of the car. That led to this exchange (note: her bio used to say, “changing the way you think about #mommybloggers” before she edited it):

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As you can see at the end of our exchange, she resorted to tagging the TTAC account, hoping they would admonish me for calling attention to her sponsored content blog post. Also, she wants to make it very clear that she is NOT a mommyblogger, despite this list of mommyblogger networks to which she belongs and events which she has attended.

However, the issue here isn’t Xenia in particular, or mommybloggers in general. It’s the total misunderstanding that car manufacturers seem to have about digital marketing and the blogosphere. It would be hard to think of a worse way for Honda to spend the money they spent on this event. Even if Xenia and every one of her commenters had immediately purchased a Fit as a consequence of reading her review, Honda would still have wound up in the hole. What percentage of readers of her blog, or any non-automotive blog, are in-market car shoppers?

And at what point does it become unethical to accept plush hotels, swag, drinks in exchange for a review? If OEMs sent the cash equivalent of a junket and a car to a reviewer’s front door, we’d all be howling. Why is this sort of behavior any different?

I will be spending my own money to drive my own car to NYC next week and paying for my own hotel so that I can provide my own, independent observations to you about what I see at the New York International Auto Show. Somehow, I don’t think I will see Xenia there.

(Note: Many of the B&B took a shot at our own Jo Borras for his frothy review of the Fit published here the other day. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep the discussion open despite the fact that we are in this case open to some criticism ourselves, and the fact that we’ve covered this ground before— JB)

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Jet Age, Italian Style: Pinin Farina’s Lancia Aurelia PF200-C http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/jet-age-italian-style-pinin-farinas-lancia-aurelia-pf200-c/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/jet-age-italian-style-pinin-farinas-lancia-aurelia-pf200-c/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 13:30:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793930 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.

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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.

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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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Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Understanding The Indian Car Market http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/best-selling-cars-around-the-globe-understanding-the-indian-car-market/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/best-selling-cars-around-the-globe-understanding-the-indian-car-market/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 16:12:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793417 Datsun Go India March 2014. Picture courtesy of What Car? IndiaThe Datsun Go starts at US$5,340. Only in India is such low pricing possible at the moment.

A recent stay in India has enabled me to get a much better understanding of the Indian new car market and its dynamics which have very unique characteristics. Understanding India is essential in today’s worldwide automotive scene – a lot of the innovation taking place here will soon be applied to other developing markets (like Africa).

1. Why India matters

Ever wondered why so many India-exclusive new cars were unveiled at the Delhi Auto Show in February compared to the relative small size of its new car market (3 million units in 2013 vs. 21.9 million for China)? That’s because on top of the enormous growth potential, making and selling cars in India requires a very different set of skills. And the manufacturers that are getting good at it are taking a decisive advantage into succeeding in tomorrow’s developing markets, where cost-cutting will be the most important factor. Many of the techniques being learned in India will come in handy when developing cars for Africa, which is considered the final frontier for automotive growth.

To be successful in India, cars need a price tag so much lower than in most other markets, that new thinking is needed. An Indian trademarked way of innovating that is adapted to local conditions, constraints and revenue levels. The old way of creating low-cost was to engineer down from more sophisticated products by cutting cost through tried-and-tested platforms and economies of scale. The new way is to engineer up from scratch a product that is far cheaper, with a mix of bare bones elements and the latest tech features. Example: the $100 laptop. This process has been dubbed ‘frugal engineering‘ (achieving more with fewer resources) by Carlos Ghosn, or ‘bottom-up innovation’.

Datsun Go What Car March 2014bNo radio and CD player in the Datsun Go

2. Bottom-up innovation at play

Indian manufacturer Tata was the first to bring bottom-up innovation to the car industry with the Nano, ‘the cheapest car in the world’ at US$1,700 when unveiled in 2009. The Nano turned a lot of carmaking conventions on their head. It uses a modular design that theoretically enables a knowledgeable mechanic to assemble the car in a suitable workshop. It also includes numerous lighter components, from simple door handles and bulbs to the transmission and engine parts, enabling a more energy efficient engine. The Nano is one of the shortest four-passenger cars on the market, yet it allows for ample interior space.

These ‘ultra-low cost’ cars can end up being more user-friendly, if sophisticated. One great example: the new Datsun Go does not have a radio or CD player (even optional), only an auxillary port and a USB charging point, which means you can only listen to music stored on a portable device. On the one hand, not having a radio seems unnecessarily stingy. After all, even Tata kept it optional on the Nano. But nowadays, most music is stored not on physical media like CDs, but on digital devices. The lack of a radio is, arguably, a more user-friendly decision that also saves money.

Renault Duster India March 2014What Car India says the Renault Duster ‘doesn’t feel premium enough’ for the price. Wait what?

3. Low cost is premium

Car prices are on a drastically different scale in India:  they are not just a little cheaper, but in a different ball game altogether. That’s because salary levels cannot compare with Western countries. A young taxi driver earns around $150 per month which is considered a relatively good revenue. A Taj Mahal entry ticket is INR750 ($12) for tourists but INR20 ($0.35) for locals. And all prices are in line with this, including cars.

This way, models considered low cost in Europe are borderline premium in India. And this is where Renault’s strategy of selling Dacia models under the Renault brand in emerging markets takes its full meaning. Starting at US$15,200, the Renault Duster is not the cheapest SUV/MPV on sale in India, and local magazine What Car? says ‘it doesn’t feel premium enough’ for the price. The Duster failing in the value-for-money equation is something I never thought I would see printed anywhere. But in India it makes sense.

Maruti Alto 800 India March 2014. Picture courtesy Matt GasnierThe Maruti Alto 800 starts at US$4,740 in India.

For a better idea of Indian prices, consider this: a Tata Nano starts at US$2,890, the Maruti Alto 800 at $4,740, the Hyundai Eon at $5,400, the Maruti Celerio at $6,280, the Honda Amaze at $8,330 and the Honda City at $12,000 (though the City is considered a more premium, Japanese-made car). A very large proportion of new car sales are happening well below $10,000. As far as models sold across different continents, they typically sell for half the price in India than in France. The Maruti (Suzuki) Swift starts at $8,500 in India vs. $16,100 in France, the Nissan Micra at $8,800 vs. $16,000, VW Polo at $9,500 vs. $17,700 and Ford Ecosport at $12,200 vs. $28,800!

In other words, it is impossible to truly compete in the Indian market without manufacturing locally. If you want to undercut local behemoth Maruti by selling ‘more car for the money’, you have to come up with completely new ways of thinking a car – the Datsun Go being a great example. This price structure becomes relevant on the world scale when you take into account that most African countries have even lower average monthly revenues. Manufacturers that will manage to build and sell an attractive car for this type of money will have all chances to succeed in Africa when it booms, and it will.

Tata Nano used. Picture courtesy of What Car March 2014A daunting task…

4. A hate of used cars

In this context, with a starting price at launch of roughly US$1,700 in 2010, Tata was hoping to sell millions of Nanos in India and even expected it would single-handedly increase the total size of the local new car market by 65%. It didn’t happen. And while this situation has boggled me for a long time, interacting with Indian consumers and exploring local roads with my own eyes has started to bring a few explanations to light.

First and foremost, the long-term view about low-cost cars is that they compete with used cars in the mind (and wallet) of consumers. It’s a little less true now in Europe where Dacia has somewhat shaken off its ‘dirty’ low cost image, but it was the case for the first generation Logan. The thinking was that as long as one could buy a new car for the price of an equivalent used one – but this is not true in India.

Tata Nano India. Picture courtesy of caranddriverIndia sees trade-up from motorcycle to new car, bypassing used cars altogether.

For example, a comparo between a brand-new Skoda Superb and a 4-year-old Mercedes E-Class in this month’s issue of What Car? India gave the Superb as winner. The conclusion that they came to isn’t terrible difficult to understand, but their reasoning provides a lot of insight.

“Car buyers in India usually shy away from used cars. The second-hand car market is still a big fat grey area, there is the added scare of buying something that’s been abused. If the Mercedes requires major work, it could become exorbitant. Yes, Skoda has a poor reputation for service and parts are expensive here too. And ‘I drive a Skoda’ doesn’t have the ring of ‘I drive a Mercedes’. Still, our choice here is the Skoda.”

Buying an entry level car in India is more a choice between replacing a motorcycle/scooter or trading up to a new car. The ‘used car’ box is bypassed altogether, as there are still too many unknowns associated with it and the used car market is far from regulated. It has become a bit of a vicious circle with cars depreciating extremely fast.

So why did India not choose to trade up from motorcycle to brand new Nano?

Delhi Agra Expressway. Picture courtesy of automark-india.comThe Yamuna Expressway opened in 2012, cutting the Delhi-Agra travel time from 5 to 3 hours.

5. Interstate travel in style – What the Indian consumer really wants

In their assessment of the Datsun Go, What Car? India says

“it’s clear that Datsun tried to make it look anything but budget. The Go has a peppy engine, spacious interiors and is easy to drive. It seems like a lot of car for the money.” 

An observation that goes against most Western observers that qualify the Go as nothing more than a bland and cheap copy of the Nissan Micra. Not in India. There, it is robust, handy and stylish enough to earn the right to be taken on interstate travels with pride.

And that’s the key. What can an Indian family do with a car that it cannot with a motorcycle? For them, it’s the ability to make long-distance visits to their extended families. The family takes a central role in any Indian person’s life, and only 20% of the entire population of India lives in big cities – stressing the need for interstate travel between smaller towns. Along with cars, the local infrastructure is fast improving – the Delhi-Agra Yamuna Expressway I travelled on was only 2 years old.

 

Tata Nano driving speed. Picture courtesy What Car India March 2014“Can I push my Tata Nano hard?” The answer is no.

To understand the failure of the Tato Nano, you have to take a journey to India’s motorways, where cars like the Go can often be seen blazing along at 150 km/h, despite the official 100 km/h limit. It becomes a little more obvious the Nano is, paradoxically, not cut for India. A What Car? reader asks “Is it safe to drive the Nano at 80-100km/h?” The magazine responds

“the Nano is fundamentally a city car and isn’t designed for high speeds. Driving it close to its maximum speed (105km/h) isn’t advisable. For the same money, it’s best to pick up a slightly used car like a Maruti Alto which feels more secure at highway speeds”.

So the Nano is ‘the cheapest car in the world’, but one cannot get out of the city with it, which limits it to a 2nd or 3rd family car, and Indian families that can afford a 2nd or 3rd car would not be seen dead in a Nano. Not stylish, too frugal, not a ‘real’ car. The loop is looped. The Nano could only attract posh city-dwellers that don’t really need a car and to them it’s not attractive. Now I’m generalising a bit, but you get the idea.

Hyundai Grand i10 Maruti Swift. Picture courtesy of zigwheels.comMaruti Swift & Hyundai Grand i10. Maruti and Hyundai are in Datsun’s line of fire. Tough targets?

What next?

My stay in India came at an important time in the local car industry: when Nissan, reviving the Datsun brand to make it its entry offering, launched its first ‘ultra low cost’ model, the Datsun Go – but don’t go calling it ultra low cost in India – Carlos Ghosn did not mention the word ‘low-cost’ once when he unveiled the car last year. Initial sales figures will show very quickly whether this adventure has been worth all the ‘bottom-up innovation’ trouble. Datsun has already announced its next two Indian launches: in late 2014, the US$7,500 Go+ MPV will arrive and in 2015 the US$4,990 Redi-Go hatch. If successful, expect Datsun to start launching in Africa very soon, and the start of a fascinating new chapter in the history of world automobile will have been written.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney and runs a website called BestSellingCarsBlog, dedicated to counting cars around the globe.

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Tesla Fires Back Against Accusations Brought By Lemon Law King http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:30:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793490 tesla-model-s-11

Tesla has fired back against the accusations brought in a lawsuit filed against the company earlier this week by a Wisconsin attorney and self-described “Lemon law King” Vince Megna. Mr. Megna’s client, a physician who took delivery of his Model S in March of last year, alleges that he has had repeated problems with the car’s doors and main fuse and that repeated attempts to remedy the problem have met with no success. He is asking that, after four attempts at resolving the issues, the company re-purchase the car under Wisconsin lemon laws intended to protect buyers if a product is faulty and cannot be repaired by the manufacturer.

Tesla’s response, published on their official blog and attributed to “The Tesla Motors Team,” claims factual inaccuracies in the attorney’s statements. The company writes that, although the customer filed an official buy-back request in November 2013, they have continued to work him to resolve his issues, many of which have “elusive” origins. They go on to say that their technicians were unable to replicate customer’s main complaints, problems with the door handles and the car’s main fuse, and that after replacing several of the parts in question without alleviating the situation they began to suspect the car was being tampered with. They noted that all the issues with the main fuse came shortly after the car’s front trunk, which gives access to the fuse, was opened and claim that the part has performed flawlessly since technicians applied a tamper-proof seal to the switch.

Tesla concludes their response by noting that the attorney in question also filed a Lemon Law suit against Volvo in February 2013 on behalf of the same customer and encourages the public to be aware of how opportunistic lawyers can take advantage of lemon laws.

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Car Guys and Car Gals You Should Know About: Emile Mathis and His All-Aluminum 1946 VEL 333 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/car-guys-and-car-gals-you-should-know-about-emile-mathis-and-his-all-aluminum-1946-vel-333/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/car-guys-and-car-gals-you-should-know-about-emile-mathis-and-his-all-aluminum-1946-vel-333/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785577 Retromobile2008_0236

For a man who once ran the fourth biggest car company in France, behind Citroën, Renault and Peugeot, an automobile manufacturer who produced motorcars designed by Ettore Bugatti and others in partnership with Henry Ford, Emile Mathis is relatively unknown today. Though he made many thousands of cars, ironically he’s better known today because of a car of his that never got to production.

emile mathis

Born in the Alsace region of German nationality in 1880, Emile Mathis was said to have built his first automobile by the turn of the 20th century. Having been formally trained in business, with his interest in cars it was probably natural for him to become a car dealer. The Auto-Mathis-Palace in Strasbourg sold, among others, brands like Fiat, De Dietrich, and Panhard-Levassor, making it one of the leading dealerships in the city. By 1904, he was manufacturing cars under the Hermes brand, building two models designed by Ettore Bugatti. He also had automobiles built with a license from Stoewer.

1904 Mathis Hermes

1904 Mathis Hermes

The first car that he sold under his own brand name, the 8/20 PS, went on sale in 1910 and by the start of World War One two small Mathis cars, the 1.3 liter Baby and the even smaller 1.1 liter Babylette had achieved some measure of success. It was after the war, though, that Mathis started making and selling cars in quantity. By 1927 Mathis was making more than 20,000 cars a year, making the firm the 4th largest automaker in France.

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Emile Mathis and one of his early automobiles

It seems that Emile Mathis was attracted to the United States and American cars. Though sales were strong through the end of the 1920s, with the start of the Depression they started to decline and Mathis looked west. Today, joint ventures between car companies on different continents are commonplace, but then it was a fairly novel idea.

14mathis1_Molotok

In 1930 Mathis made his first attempt to forge an alliance with an American automaker. He and William C. Durant made plans to form a partnership. By then Durant had been forced out at General Motors and had started building cars under his own brand. Mathis wanted the American entrepreneur to build cars for the European market in Durant’s Lansing, Michigan factory. They thought they’d be able to sell up to 100,000 cars a year but Durant couldn’t get the project funded and went out of business the following year.

mathis babylette

Staying in France, Mathis expanded his own firm’s lineup. 1932′s Mathis EMY 8 Deauville was a large, eight cylinder car that was likely modeled after the American Packards. In 1934, he introduced the EMY 4, a 1,445cc-powered car with a synchromesh transmission, hydraulic brakes and eventually fully independent suspension, giving him three different car lines and four different trucks. Though Mathis introduced advanced features like those on the EMY lines before his competitors, sales continued to deteriorate.

1933_EMY4_01

Not giving up on his plan of a partnership with an American car company, in 1934 Mathis seemingly hit the jackpot when he negotiated an agreement with Henry Ford. Ford Motor Company wanted to expand production of the Ford Model Y designed for the European market and Mathis’ Strasbourg factory was underutilized. The joint venture with Ford was called SA Française Matford Strasbourg. Ford owned 60% and Mathis the rest. Ford invested a substantial amount of money in the plant which at first produced copies of British and American Fords but by 1936 it was assembling localized vehicles under the Matford Alsace brand. While Matfords are obviously mid to late 1930s Fords, they did have features that distinguished them from non-French Fords, including Mathis’ independent front suspension on some models.

1938 Matford

1938 Matford

Matfords were produced until 1939, but Mathis was both disappointed by lower than expected sales and not comfortable being second in the relationship to Henry Ford so in 1938 he sold his shares in the joint venture. Most of Henry Ford’s business associates eventually parted ways with him. To my knowledge, only a handful of high level Ford employees stayed with the man and his company for their entire careers. Few people maintained relationships with Henry Ford for very long. Mathis was no different.

andreau

Again looking to America, after leaving Matford, Emile Mathis moved to the United States and started making marine engines using the Matam brand. After World War II broke out, he stayed in the U.S. for the duration of the war.

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Before the outbreak of hostilities, Emile Mathis had reasserted control of his factory in Strasbourg but as war approached the region was likely to be contested so he stayed an absentee landlord. Also, as a German Alsatian, Mathis had been drafted in the German army during WWI, but in 1916, while on a mission to Switzerland to buy truck, he deserted, taking the cash he was given for the trucks’ purchase. He also enlisted in the French army. Once Germany overran France in 1940, his return from America was mooted, and in any case since the Germans considered him to be a traitor and embezzler and had him on a wanted list he wasn’t going back to France under the Vichy government.

Mathis-in-1946-popular-science1

In 1946, Mathis returned to France to find his factory in Strasbourg had been mostly destroyed by Allied bombing as it was used by the Germans to make munitions and engines for military vehicles. Well, actually it wasn’t much of a surprise since he had supplied the Allies with the plans to the plants so they could more accurately bomb the production facilities. Before he could build cars he needed to rebuild the factory, which took two years and a substantial amount of money. Once his factory was rebuilt, he tried rebuilding his car company but he ended up being stymied by post war French governmental policies. A book should be written on how trying to structure the French automobile industry per the wishes of politicians and bureaucrats ended up killing off many French car companies. Those policies may also have indirectly led to the death of Emile Mathis himself.

Mathis-Moncoque

In addition to dealing with the policies enacted under what became known as the Pons Plan, Mathis had been out of the country for 7 years and had few connections with holdovers from the Vichy regime and other bureaucrats in positions of power when he returned to France. You can go over to Wikipedia and read about the Pons Plan (named after Paul Marie Pons, a senior French bureaucrat) in more detail but briefly, starting in 1946 the French government basically decided which of the 22 car and 28 truck manufacturers would survive. Since the government controlled permits and, more importantly, which companies got access to raw materials like steel that were in high demand in the postwar reconstruction period, even companies that didn’t go along with the Pons Plan had to comply with it. The net result in the French car industry was that the large manufacturers, Citroën, Renault, Peugeot and Simca were favored while the second tier and luxury car makers were starved of supplies. Engine displacement based taxes also negatively impacted French coachbuilders and luxury marques.

Mathis-Motor

Getting back to Mathis, with his factory rebuilt he needed a car to build in it, something suitable for a continent rebuilding after war. What he came up with was quite advanced from an engineering standpoint, and while it never got beyond prototype stage, with only 10 examples being built, it was novel enough to give Mathis a place in automotive history that his more successful pre-war endeavors have not quite secured. Considered the first all-aluminum car, it’s also, in a number of ways, very similar to a modern car planned by a new automotive startup.

Mathis-Engine Mathis-Engine

What Mathis came up with was the VEL 333. The name stood for Voiture Economique Légere, a light economical vehicle, that consumed three liters of fuel for every 100 kilometers (78.41 mpg), with three wheels and three seats. It had unibody architecture, with the aluminum monocoque being electrically welded. Though steel was in very short supply in 1946, aluminum was abundant. Demand for the metal from the aircraft industry had declined with the end of the war, plus there was ample surplus from planes being taken out of commission, and scrap from planes shot down in combat.

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The two door body was designed by noted aerodynamicist and designer Jean Andreau. Andreau also was an exponent of adding lightness, known for his slogan, “weight is the biggest enemy”. The three wheels were laid out in reverse trike fashion with two wheels up front and one in the back, packaged in a sporty looking and very modern envelope body. Passengers also sat two in the front with the rear passenger sitting sidesaddle. Power was supplied to the front wheels by a water cooled 707 cc horizontally opposed twin putting out 15 horsepower. It appears that the entire drivetrain and front suspension mounted to a subframe that bolted to the unibody. Top speed was said to be 70 mph, aided by the car’s aerodynamics. Total weight was only 386 kilograms (851 lbs) with the body itself weighing only 78 kg (172 lbs). The VEL 333 also had a novel twin radiator setup, with each cylinder having its own radiator (it’s not clear if each cylinder had its own water pump).

Retromobile2005_480

Though he was unable to persuade the French government to let him produce the VEL 333, Mathis didn’t give up. In 1947 he introduced the Mathis 666, this time standing for six cylinders, six seats and a six-speed transmission, which may have been another first and in any case was an early application of such a multi-speed gear box. The engine was again a flat, horizontally opposed motor, displacing 2.2 liters and again Mathis used front wheel drive. It’s possible that the Mathis 666 was the first FWD car with a flat six, decades before Subaru would build one. The 666 had angular styling that still looks almost contemporary, and it featured a wraparound windscreen. Panoramic windshields were a big thing on show cars in the late ’40s and early 1950s. Fully independent suspension, which the 666 also featured, was less common then. A year later Mathis increased displacement to 2.8 liters and the car was shown at the Paris Auto Salon of 1949 but it was to no avail. It’s not clear how many 666 cars were made by Mathis, but a prototype has survived and has been exhibited at the big French old car show, Retromobile.

mathis 6663

For the 1949-1950 model year, Mathis published a 16 page sales brochure that reiterated Emile Mathis’ affection for the United States: “Fast, economical and silent! The Mathis six cyl. car combines the American qualities of endurance and acceleration with the French features of economy and elegance.” That brochure included three alternate body styles of the 666 that likely never got beyond the designers’ sketches, a berline sedan, a roadster with a body by Saoutchik, and the Mathis Dandy, a landau roofed open car by Henri Chapron.

mathis_roadster_cat_50

Emile Mathis’ final car was a Jeep-like vehicle that used the 2.8 liter engine from the 666, introduced in 1951 but just three were built. Emile Mathis kept his factory going by making engines for light aircraft and components for Renault but in 1954 he sold the Strasbourg factory to Citroën. In 1956 Mathis died after a fall from a hotel window. While some have suspected suicide motivated by desperation over not being able to revise his car company, by then he was 76 years old and elderly people do have falls. His death is still unexplained.

Page8-666-moteur

Starting next year, Elio Motors says that it will start making and selling a reverse trike with an aerodynamic enclosed body and a sub 1.0 liter engine powering the front wheels that will get 84 mpg. In the case of the Elio, it’s  a tandem two-seater with a steel tube space frame, not a three seater with an aluminum unibody, still, the specifications aren’t too far apart from the VEL 333. I’m sure that the folks at Elio hope to have more success with their three-wheeler than Mathis did with their own.

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Though his postwar efforts to revive his car company did not end in success, Emile Mathis had an important role in the development of the French auto industry. Perhaps even more important was his role as a pioneer in how cars are made on a global scale. His cars were technologically advanced for their eras and his efforts to forge alliances with American automakers presaged the many international joint ventures in the car industry today.

Emile Mathis was a car guy you should know about.

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

616px-LogoMathis 800px-Mathis_Hermes 61-1904MathisHermes1 14mathis_Baydekarte 14mathis1_Molotok 11mathis1_SM 31americanmathis1_V 800px-Matford_1938 800px-Matford_1939 2852 1946_Mathis_VL_333_05 1946_Mathis_VL_333_04 1946_Mathis_VL_333_01 1946 Mathis VL333 46aa1ad9ea32221f8eb4326e8d7b600f XvwiKuavBWRQfbl6Aeq1rTl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9 1946 Mathis VL333 1946_Mathis_VL_333_05 2218625_m3w678h360q75v42114_Mathis_Andreau_VL333.jpg-G923KTQ26.1-ORG 9623472 bv000008 dreamcars_03_resized salon 1946 : moteur Mathis VL33 mathis 1947 cover mathis 1947 4cv mathis 1946 vl 333 Publicité Mathis V.L 333 1946 salon 1946 : Mathis chassis et coque en alliage duralinox mathis 666 Mathis-333-1946-rear mathis-333-1946-front mathis666_av mathis666 mathis1a mathis1 IOR9XBvPPk1VR930LohodDl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9 emile mathis dreamcars_03_resized bv000008 andreau 9623472 103584-500-0 mathis1 mathis1a mathis-333-1946-front salon 1946 : Mathis chassis et coque en alliage duralinox salon 1946 : moteur Mathis VL33 Publicité Mathis V.L 333 1946 mathis 1946 vl 333 mathis 1947 cover mathis 1949 16cv Mathis-Cylinders mathis-drawings Mathis-Drive Mathis-Engine Mathis-Fueling (1) Mathis-Fueling Mathis-in-1946-popular-science1 Mathis-Marque Mathis-Moncoque Mathis-Motor mathisVEL333_Bayfr Page8-333-1 Page8-666-moteur Page8-333-2 Page8-666-2 Page8-666-1 Page8-333-3 Retromobile2005_480 securedownload mathis babylette VL333_resized 46aa1ad9ea32221f8eb4326e8d7b600f 1938 Matford 800px-Matford_1939 1904 Mathis Hermes 14mathis1_Molotok 11mathis1_SM 103584-500-0 mathis babylette 14mathis_Baydekarte mathis baby Mathis-Engine xlg_auto_ideas VL333_resized securedownload Retromobile2008_0236 Retromobile2005_480 Page8-666-moteur Page8-666-2 Page8-666-1 Page8-333-3 Page8-333-2 Page8-333-1 mathisVEL333_Bayfr Mathis-Motor Mathis-Moncoque Mathis-in-1946-popular-science1 Mathis-Fueling Mathis-Fueling (1) Mathis-Drive mathis_roadster_cat_50 mathis_dandy_cat_50 mathis_666_cat_50 Mathis_666-1948 mathis babylette mathis 6661 mathis 6662 mathis 1949 16cv ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1962 International Harvester C-120 Travelette http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1962-international-harvester-c-120-travelette/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1962-international-harvester-c-120-travelette/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791945 21 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere was once a time when you could buy street vehicles made by a farm equipment manufacturer, and IHC products still show up in self-service wrecking yards today. In this series so far, we’ve seen this ’70 Scout, this ’71 Travelall, this ’71 Scout, this ’72 1010 pickup, this ’73 Scout, and this ’74 Scout. The crew-cab Travelette is a machine you won’t see every day, so I shot this ’62 that I spotted in a Northern California wrecking yard.
01 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBeing a California truck, there’s minimal rust here, but 52 years of hard work have worn everything out.
04 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere’s a good old Black Diamond 240-cubic-inch straight-six, rated at 141 horses in 1962. Yes, that’s not much more power than a 2014 Corolla gets; pickup drivers were tougher back when instant annihilation threatened.
14 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinTwo huge bench seats, and a custom shag-carpet headliner.
26 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI’m a little puzzled by this bumper extension. Is this to protect the open tailgate when hauling extra-long loads?

01 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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EGR-equipped Buick Regal Hits 40 MPG http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/egr-equipped-buick-regal-hits-40-mpg/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/egr-equipped-buick-regal-hits-40-mpg/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 10:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791809 EGR Buick Regal Gets 40 MPG

The current Buick Regal is an excellent car. I know, because I have one parked in my garage (it’s sweet). Still, it could be better- and the guys at the SouthWest Research Institute (SWRI) have figured out a way to enhance the mid-range Buick so that it produces fewer harmful carbon emissions and gets better fuel economy.

Can’t beat that!

Far from being pie-in-the-sky thinking, however, the motivation for building this 40 MPG ultra low-emission Buick Regal comes out of necessity. Namely the 2025 CAFE regulations that will force automobile manufacturers to achieve a 54.5 miles per gallon EPA rating across their product range. At the same time, the EPA is also expected to release new, more stringent emissions standards in a bid to improve air quality and save lives. Those two factors mean there is considerable industry focus on improving both emissions and fuel efficiency without incurring huge R&D costs- and the EGR system built into the SWRI team’s 2014 Buick Regal might play a big part in that.

EGR, for those not in the know, stands for exhaust gas recirculation. In the case of the Buick Regal tester, the 2.0 Liter engine was modified so that exhaust from one dedicated cylinder is run with a rich mixture of fuel and air to reform hydrocarbon fuel into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The reformulated exhaust gas is then cooled and looped into a patented mixer where the exhaust gasses are mixed with fresh air before going into the engine intake. “By running one cylinder rich, the excess fuel is reformed into hydrogen and carbon monoxide,” added Chris Chadwell, manager of SWRI’s Spark Ignition Engine R&D section. “The in-cylinder reformation slightly reduces the carbon dioxide and water vapor while producing large volumes of carbon monoxide, which is a good fuel, and hydrogen, which is an outstanding fuel. That provides an octane boost and a flammability boost, and extends the EGR limit of the engine.”

It’s all pretty trick stuff, in other words- and it’s not that far away from being a production-ready piece. Let’s hope the next generation of Buick Regals- heck, let’s hope they build a new ROADMASTER!- has enough slick SWRI stuff on it to still be legal, then. In the meantime, you can check out an under hood shot of the SWRI EGR-equipped 2014 Buick Regal, below. Enjoy!

 

egr-buick_1

 

Source | Photos: SWRI; Originally published on Gas 2.

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Editorial: Get Ready For Massive Recalls Driven By Modular Platforms http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/editorial-get-ready-for-massive-recalls-driven-by-modular-platforms/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/editorial-get-ready-for-massive-recalls-driven-by-modular-platforms/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:01:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791697 mqb6

Today’s recall announcement by Toyota estimated to span at least 6.4 million vehicles, serves as a nice distraction from the ongoing recall occurring at cross-town rival General Motors. The Best & Brightest are free to squabble about which faceless corporate entity with zero regard for their individual well-being is the superior one. The rest of us have bigger fish to fry.

At 6.4 million vehicles, this Toyota recall is massive. It won’t be the last one. In fact, I think that ten years from now, this will be a low number.

The big trend in the auto industry today is modular platforms, which allow an enormous range of vehicles to share components. Volkswagen’s MQB architecture is an oft-cited example of this, largely because it takes a holistic approach to modularity. Much like Lego bricks, different “modules” can be assembled to create different vehicles. MQB is capable of spawning everything from a B-segment Volkswagen Polo to a D-segment Volkswagen Passat to an Audi TT sports car to a Volkswagen Touran minivan. Only a small number of “hard points” like the dimension from the center line of the front wheel to the pedal box, or the engine mounts, are fixed.

Within these modules are a high level of common parts, designed to be used across the entire range of MQB vehicles. This can include everything from whole powertrains to braking systems to smaller components that could be shared across a range of small to mid-size vehicles – which is, in theory, a truly vast quantity. Other commentators have expressed worries that MQB will lead to components being mismatched to their application. An A/C system engineered for a Passat might be overkill on a Polo (or vice versa) from a utility or financial standpoint.

From a purchasing standpoint, MQB will allow Volkswagen to buy lots and lots of widgets, receiving a significant discount on the cost per widget. This will equal significant savings for VW (though just how much they’ll save seems to depend on who you ask) while leading to shorter assembly times and more standardized production of vehicles. In the event that demand for a given model changes, a factory could scale back production of a slower selling model to help meet demand for the more popular one. This gives Volkswagen unprecedented flexibility in the way that cars can be designed, engineered and manufactured.

It also leaves Volkswagen in a very vulnerable position. What happens if they get a bad batch of widgets from a supplier, or the widget in question was poorly engineered? What if a manufacturing process was poorly designed, and the widgets aren’t installed properly? With so many vehicles assembled with the same faulty part or process, the impact could be enormous: millions of vehicles requiring repair, a black eye for Volkswagen and, heaven forbid, human lives negatively impacted.

This kind of exposure to potential quality defects and mass recalls was dubbed a “Cascading Failure” in a prior article, but many readers with engineering backgrounds objected. Instead, we can call it a “platform level failure”, which is the key difference between the scenario outlined above, and the Toyota recall, which affects everything from the Yaris subcompact to the Land Cruiser SUV.

But in a future where every car maker will have to adopt some kind of modular architecture, the likelihood of these events occurring is almost certain. And those who have invested most in common vehicle architectures are at the greatest risk.

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Junkyard Find: 1979 Ford Thunderbird http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1979-ford-thunderbird/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1979-ford-thunderbird/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791097 10 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSajeev no doubt wept bitter tears when he saw the near-showroom-condition ’76 Continental Junkyard Find last week, and I’m going to keep those Malaise Era Ford tears flowing with another 1970s luxury FoMoCo product from the same California self-serve yard. This one isn’t quite as nice as the Lincoln, but just check out the metallic-green-and-white two-tone paint job!
07 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI could look up the horsepower numbers on the ’79 Thunderbird‘s 351M engine, but the figures would just make us all depressed. Let’s just say that this car had enough torque to get moving fairly well for its era (i.e., it would get smoked by a 3-cylinder Mirage today).
16 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis can’t possibly be a factory paint job, can it?
13 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOf course it has a landau vinyl roof!
04 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin85 MPH speedometer, according to 1979 regulations.
05 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe velour buckets are no longer as luxurious as they once were.


This ad for the similar ’77 Thunderbird shows the 85mph speedo in full effect, plus a very cocaineophile-looking driver. Radio comes as standard equipment!

01 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Analysis: Australia’s Free Trade Deals Are The Final Nail In The Coffin Of Its Auto Industry http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/analysis-australias-free-trade-deals-are-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-its-auto-industry/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/analysis-australias-free-trade-deals-are-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-its-auto-industry/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 15:35:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=790321 holden-plant

In the span of 24 hours, Australia inked two free trade agreements with both Japan and South Korea. Even though Holden, Ford and Toyota had already committed to ending auto manufacturing in Australia, it’s hard not to see the agreements as the last nail in the coffin of Australia’s once strong auto industry.

Although North American perception of Australia’s car market is one composed of big, rear-drive V8 sedans and Utes, that image is largely a construct in the minds of enthusiasts. The real picture is a lot less sexy.

Australia’s market is both unique and remarkably mundane. At around 1 million units annually, Australia’s new car market is a mere fraction of the United States – but it’s also far more competitive, with roughly 60 brands competing for a very small pie.

In past decades, the local auto manufacturing industry was heavily protected by tariffs, which encouraged a thriving domestic auto manufacturing industry. Holden and Ford ruled the roost, while Chrysler enjoyed a brief run of localized cars. Later on, companies like Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota joined the fray, establishing themselves as the favored Japanese brands.

But in 1983, the Button Plan radically changed the automotive landscape in Australia. The chief goal of the Button Plan was to consolidate the domestic auto industry by halving the number of model produced, while also looking to reduce tariffs and import quotas. The overall goal was to foster a more competitive, export-focused Australian car industry through increased competition.

In the immediate term, a number of badge engineered domestic models appeared in the showrooms of Japanese brands, but none sold particularly well. For a long time, traditional Australia vehicles like large sedans and Utes reigned supreme. But the past decade has seen a major shift in the automotive market, with rapidly changing tastes.

Much like their cousins in the United States, Australia’s traditional vehicles – large sedans and Utes – are facing a two-fronted war, and the outcome has all but been decided.

A report by Ward’s Auto shows that in 2003, large sedans (which ostensibly includes not just the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, but also front-drive entrants from Toyota and Mitsubishi) were the most popular cars in Australia, with 26 percent market share. A decade later, that number has fallen to just 7.6 percent.

Small cars and SUVs have overtaken the large car as the most popular segments in Australia. Rising fuel prices, shifting market tastes and a greater selection of small cars have helped propel vehicles like the Holden Cruze, Mazda3, Hyundai i30 to the top of the sales charts – to say nothing of the Toyota Corolla, which was Australia’s best-selling car in 2013.

At the other end of the spectrum, SUVs, crossovers and mid-size pickup trucks have eroded the large sedan’s domain as the family car of choice, with Ward’s reporting that one fifth of buyers are opting for mid-size or large SUVs. The Toyota HiLux was Australia’s best-selling truck in 2013, as sales of mid-size trucks (including Holden’s popular Colorado) helped dampen enthusiasm for Utes.

Beyond the lack of enthusiasm for traditional vehicles, the importance of Australian pedigree is on the wave. As Ward’s reports, the preference for Australian-made vehicles has declined substantially from over a quarter of new buyers in 2003, to roughly one eighth in 2013. Last year marked the first time that the three most popular brands in monthly sales rankings (Toyota, Mazda, Nissan) were all imports.

With a changing climate regarding imported vehicles, the FTAs with both Japan and South Korea will only reduce the cost of vehicles that Australian consumers are already gravitating to. While the FTA with Thailand arguably served as the catalyst for Australia’s major market shift towards Thai-built trucks and certain passenger cars, other factors, like a strong Australian dollar, high manufacturing costs and limited export demand for Australian cars (despite the protestations of enthusiasts across the internet) did their part in bringing about the inevitable end to Australia’s auto industry. The Japanese and South Korean FTAs won’t do any more harm to an industry on death row. But it’s impossible to ignore their symbolism in the wake of the Australian car industry’s annus horribilis.

 

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