The Truth About Cars » News Blog The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » News Blog 2015 Toyota Yaris Has “European Flavor”, We’re Afraid To Ask… Wed, 23 Jul 2014 15:00:01 +0000 2015_Toyota_Yaris_001


Toyota is touting a new “European flavor” for the 2015 Yaris. I’m not sure what that means, but it does evoke bad memories of the chevre I left in my suitcase after coming home from the Paris Auto Show. All jokes aside (and that was bahhhhh-d), our Yaris will likely be built in France, but Toyota is looking for a way to both incorporate that into their messaging, and avoid telling everyone that their new subcompact is built by a bunch of socialist surrender monkeys. It’s not easy to explain the poor economics of building a subcompact car in Japan, but telling American consumers that its made in France is likely even more difficult. Not much has changed mechanically, and the 4-speed automatic still remains. C’est la.

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Been Dacia’d And Confused For So Long It’s Not True… Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:50:42 +0000 420x280xvauxhall-viva-fr.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Q1f1uLPQ4g

General Motors took the step of killing off Chevrolet in Europe earlier this year, and has long attempted to position Opel and Vauxhall as mainstream but slightly more premium offerings (analogous to how Volkswagen was once marketed in the United States). And that makes news of a new line of budget cars all the more confusing.

Just-Auto reports that Opel and Vauxhall will launch two new budget models to attract customers who may have previously opted for Chevrolet cars. First is the new Viva, based on the next-generation Chevrolet Spark. A small SUV, set to rival the Dacia Duster, is also being considered.

Rather than aiming for a brand that specifically targets no-frills motoring, it appears that GM is aiming to emulate Skoda, which at least has some measure of style and chic appeal, even as it positions itself as a value brand. The new Viva looks to be a pretty stylish car, but the brand positioning appears to be contradictory. How can Opel and Vauxhall aspire to sell pseudo-premium sedans like the Insignia while also pushing a new line of budget cars? Then again, nobody can ever accuse GM of having a consistent or coherent brand strategy in Europe.

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2015 Honda CR-V Adopts CVT Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:27:54 +0000 450x299x2012-Honda-CR-V_04-550x366-450x299.jpg.pagespeed.ic.maBjGB5e2J

The last word in functional, utilitarian crossovers will now move even further towards the middle of the road, as the Honda CR-V adopts a CVT for its mid-cycle refresh.

Replacing the outdated 5-speed automatic, the CVT gearbox is, by our own EIC’s admission, a fantastic transmission. Furthermore, nobody buying the CR-V will know the difference, or care enough about it. The bland, practical formula that Honda appears to have perfected has made the CR-V the top-selling crossover for years and years. Don’t expect that to change any time soon.

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UAW Aiming For Works Council In Tennessee Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:22:19 +0000 0

The UAW’s new “voluntary” union local at VW’s Tennesse assembly plant will be aiming for the first Works Council at a North American plant.

Just-Auto reports that Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, told the outlet

“The commitment of this Local is to form the first works council – we intend to negotiate the first German-style works council.”

The announcement comes on the heels of VW global works council head Bernd Osterloh being appointed to the board of directors for Volkswagen Group of America. Osterloh, who has previously made waves over any moves that would harm union organization, will be a powerful ally for the UAW, and their union allies in Germany.

Osterloh’s appointment to the board could very well have been a concession to the powerful IG Metall union, which has ties to both Osterloh and the UAW. Having exhausted all other options, including a plant vote on organization and an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, Osterloh’s board seat and the “voluntary” union are the last options the UAW likely has in their arsenal.

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Lord, I Was Born A Ramblin Van Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:00:54 +0000 hyundai-cargo-van-spy-photo-01

Is Hyundai making a play for the commercial van market in North America? Automotive News seems to think so.

These spyshots (from AutoGuide.comshow Hyundai testing a new large commercial van somewhere in Europe, whereas AN caught it testing in California. Either way, it’s clear that Hyundai wants in on the action that the Sprinter, Ram ProMaster and Ford Transit are eagerly targeting.


hyundai-cargo-van-spy-photo-01 hyundai-cargo-van-spy-photo-02 hyundai-cargo-van-spy-photo-03 hyundai-cargo-van-spy-photo-04 hyundai-cargo-van-spy-photo-06 hyundai-cargo-van-spy-photo-10 ]]> 7
Rental Review: Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Wed, 23 Jul 2014 13:58:05 +0000 photo (40)

11 years ago, Cadillac told us that they were “The Standard of the World”, in a blast of Zeppelin-backed TV spots and aggressively geometric styling. The 2003 CTS wasn’t even the standard for North American luxury cars, but hey, it took Audi another 30 years to even come close to making that claim. Cadillac seems to be moving at a much quicker pace.

Despite Cadillac’s confidence in their excellence, they are reticent to lend any press vehicles to TTAC. The timing of a recent trip required a one day rental, and the local Avis counter advertised a special on the “Cadillac CTS” for just $80 a day with unlimited mileage. It turns out that Avis does indeed rent out the CTS, but our particularly branch did not. Instead, we were assigned a silver ATS4 (all-wheel drive) with the 2.0T engine and 6-speed automatic. Remember kids, if it seems to good to be true…

It would be incorrect to say that I was disappointed, but I had hoped for the CTS precisely because a) the relentless hype had me curious about its overall competence b) we are lacking in reviews of the car and c) every ATS I have driven thus far has been a letdown. Around the time of its launch, I briefly sampled a rear-drive 3.6L with all of the bells and whistles, and found it underwhelming. A second drive, in a 2.0T with the 6-speed manual, did nothing to dispel my skepticism. The 6-speed manual was unequivocally one of the worst gearboxes I’ve ever sampled, and the engine’s NVH characteristics were shockingly coarse for a luxury sedan. I could not, for the life of me, understand the praise being heaped upon this car.

After a solid day’s drive, I have a better picture in my head of why the ATS is so highly regarded. Part of it comes down to the fact that the team of engineers, product planners, designers and marketers have managed to great a truly worthy sports sedan. The other half of that equation is that the competition has miraculously managed to recede in overall competence to the point where the ATS is the class leader by default.

The ATS can reasonably lay claim to “The Standard of the World” title by virtue of its 2.0T engine, which is, well, the new standard of the world for virtually every mid-size car that would normally have used a V6 engine, thanks to a combination of regulations and economies of scale. The 2.0T in the ATS isn’t particularly charming or refined, but it does bring 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque at just 1700 rpm. Like most of these new turbo four-bangers, the torque builds down low and stays fairly robust throughout the rev range that you’d use in any realistic situation, including spirited back road driving.

Acceleration, passing on two-lane roads and any other task that relies on forward thrust is accomplished with minimal fuss, and it’s hard to see why anyone would bother with the V6 when the power on tap here is so usable in everyday situations. The 6-speed automatic transmission is the superior choice versus the manual, but it doesn’t feel terribly responsive or sophisticated. However, this gearbox will likely be replaced by either the 8L90 GM 8-speed automatic, or the Aisin 8-speed from the Cadillac CTS, so dwelling on its shortcomings is a bit of a moot point.

The most compelling part of the ATS is the chassis, which stands out as a credit to GM’s engineering team. It’s hard to think of a car that is able to so expertly balance ride and handling, delivering a smooth, composed ride no matter what the road surface, while also delivering on the “sport” part of the equation. Befitting its rental car specs, our ATS had a smaller wheel and tire combo than what I normally see on the road, and that may have contributed to the ATS being a bit more sedate. But through twisty stretches of road, the ATS still delivered in a big way, with flat cornering, eager turn-in and communicative, if not particularly weighty steering.

A spirited drive makes it plain why the ATS was met with such a chorus of approval when it debuted. GM has finally made a proper sports sedan that is better to drive than the current BMW 3-Series. Part of this has to do with the fact that current F30 has lost its way in such a severe manner that the ATS assumes this mantle by default: I have not driven the Lexus IS350, our EIC’s favorite sports sedan, and I know that an E90 328i is superior in every way, but right now, the ATS is without a doubt the best handling luxury sports sedan on the market.

Unfortunately, it has two glaring flaws.

  1. The back seat is tiny. Cadillac stole a lot of good things from the BMW playbook. One of them seems to be the size of the E36′s rear seat area. My two passengers, at 5’8″ and 6’2″, were initially enthusiastic about my rental car selection. By the end of it, they were cursing the Caddy.
  2. CUE is unequivocally the worst infotainment system on the planet. By comparison, the early renditions of MyFord Touch look like something running iOS. The haptic controls never quite worked the way they were meant to and even the slightest bump or pothole in the road can send your finger veering off to the tab or menu item that you didn’t intend to touch, leaving you to navigate through a confusing menu system that only leads to distracted driving.

With more time, a more thorough evaluation of the ATS, but for now, I can only determine that somewhere within the bowels of the RenCen, there are a talented group of engineers that are capable of making something that truly is “The Standard of the World”. Their electronics division is another matter…


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SAE J2601, J2799 Standardize Hydrogen Fueling, Increase FCV Range Wed, 23 Jul 2014 13:00:29 +0000 hydrogen_fueling_station

It took 13 years, but SAE International has introduced a new standard for hydrogen fueling stations: SAE J2601.

Autoblog Green reports J2601 will enable fueling of FCVs at 35 and 70 megapascals (MPa) of pressure, delivering 3- to 5-minute fueling times like those of gasoline-powered vehicles. This will likely be good news for all involved in the hydrogen movement, especially as infrastructure is only in the embryonic stage at this point — most located in California.

Meanwhile, another standard — SAE J2799 — will better enable communication between the FCV and the pump via wireless transmission, helping to boost driving range to over 300 miles per tank via a high State of Charge, or SOC.

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Galhotra Takes The Reins As Lincoln’s New President Wed, 23 Jul 2014 12:00:04 +0000 ashwani-kumar-galhotra.img.1375822969106

As one of his first major moves since becoming CEO, Ford’s Mark Fields named vice president of engineering Kumar Galhotra as president of Lincoln, effective September 1.

Automotive News reports Galhotra, who will report directly to the new CEO, will be the premium brand’s first president since Al Giombetti left the post in 2007. The move will also reduce executive vice president of global sales, service and marketing Jim Farley’s role with Lincoln, which will be focused on marketing the brand once Galhotra takes over.

The new president — an engineer and product executive who has worked with Lincoln, Ford and Mazda in the past — will bring his marketing experience to the table as Lincoln prepares to launch in China later in 2014; he headed Ford’s Asia Pacific division from 2009 to 2013, and helped bring about the new Ranger pickup to market.

Speaking of the division, engineering director Jim Holland will move from there to replace Galhotra as Ford’s vice president of engineering, reporting to global product development chief Raj Nair.

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Piston Slap: Chronic Xterra Maintenance? Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:26:30 +0000  


No correlation. (photo courtesy:

m koonce writes:

Sajeev – you wanted questions, I have questions! First – I love your column. Great advice, and well written. Now my question(s).

  1. I have a 2009 Nissan Xterra 4wd, X model, 52k miles, and no problems except door squeaks and rubber molding which wont stay attached but that’s trivial. My question is, when should I have a “tuneup” done – i.e., change the spark plugs. Should I wait until Nissan’s recommended mileage (105k miles I think), or do it sooner? And should I replace all the coils at the same time (I presume the truck has a coil-on-plug ignition setup)? What else should I have done at the same time?
  2. Re: same vehicle: at 36k miles (May 2013) I did a transmission fluid dump and refill at local dealership, and did the same again at 49k miles in May 2014, again at dealership. My plan is to continue this dump and refill procedure every year for as long as I own the truck. Am I on the right track here? I’ve also had all other fluids replaced, except brake fluid which will be replaced when I have a brake job done.

Thanks for your advice, and keep up the good work.

Sajeev answers:

Actually you have three questions, come on son!  Now you know I’ll Google up some half-cocked give an enlightening answer for just about any question. And my goodness, do you need questions answered, for the sake of your poor, poor wallet!

Question 1: Squeaky rubber seals: spray them with a silicone based lubricant (safe on rubber, less sticky than WD-40) or do it right with this tube of magic.

Question 2: Direct injection systems aside…rarely, if ever, does a non-modified vehicle driven by a law-abiding motorist need new spark plugs before the recommended interval. Even DI motors won’t necessarily need aggressive plug replacements, and the supercharged versions of your Nissan are fine if you follow the owner’s manual. Spark plugs, be it iridium or platinum, have come a long way, baby!

Question 2.5:  Replace coil pack(s) when the engine computer says so. That is, when you get a stumble/misfire, you scan for codes, etc. and determine the misbehaving coil. Do not change them during the mandated tune up interval, only change normal wear items as per owner’s manual recommendations.

Question 3: ZOMG UR ON THE WRONG TRACK!  Unless this is a work truck towing a loaded trailer every day in city traffic, there’s zero reason for annual ATF changes. You’d be more than safe swapping it out every 50,000-100,000 miles.

Put more succinctly: stop treating this rig like it’s a delicate flower!

Vehicles in the last 25+ years successfully embraced electronic engine control technology, and “long life” fluids are held in high regard across the board…well, Dex-Cool aside. The sooner you embrace the robust beauty of modern vehicles (and fluids) the sooner you can stop punishing your wallet.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Daimler To Enter FCV Market In 2017 Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:00:48 +0000 Mercedes Blue Efficiency

While Japanese and Korean automakers like Toyota and Hyundai are jumping into the hydrogen game, Daimler plans to begin its own journey in 2017.

Automotive News interviewed Daimler head of corporate research Herbert Kohler about his employer’s hydrogen plans. Kohler briefly reflected on how Daimler were questioned on focusing upon fuel-cell technology before everyone else, stating that if an automaker wasn’t now at least considering the game, it would have to ask itself “some uncomfortable questions.”

As for the timetable of releasing an FCV by 2017, he states that while Daimler had planned to do so by 2015 at the latest, its joint partnership with Nissan and Ford to develop the technology will give all three time to bring the tech’s high costs down amid increasing volumes by the time 2017 rolls around.

Finally, when asked how much Daimler would charge for their FCV — in light of the $68,000 price tag for the 2015 Toyota FCV — Kohler says his employer’s goal is to price its FCV on par with “the hybrid version of a comparable model.”

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Tata To Enter Global Passenger Market With Help Of Jaguar Land Rover Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:00:44 +0000 Tata-Xenon-11

Having done well with Jaguar Land Rover in its portfolio, Tata Motors is now turning to its premium subsidiary for its own foray into passenger cars and SUVs. reports the parent company is using the technical and design know-how JLR to begin growing its passenger vehicle line in Australia and beyond, though Darren Bowler, managing director of importer Fusion Automotive, assures that no badge engineering would occur between the two brands.

What would be shared, according to Bowler, would be platforms and engines, such as the global platform underpinning the upcoming Nexon SUV that could “be used as an Evoque… a Tata, [or] a Jaguar,” as well as the Ingenium family of four-cylinder engines that will soon turn up under the bonnet of many a JLR product.

In the meantime, Tata Australia plans to tackle the medium- and heavy-duty markets with the Ultra and Prima, both joining the light-duty Xenon.

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Track Analysis: Challenger V6 Track Pack, HEMI Scat Pack, SRT Hellcat Tue, 22 Jul 2014 19:45:01 +0000

Getting decent conclusions from very limited data is the sort of thing of which Nobel Prizes are made. What you’re about to read won’t be Nobel-worthy; however, I believe it will help you understand how fast the Hellcat and how it compares to both the other Challengers and the external competition.

I got a total of six flying laps at PIR, a place to which I’d never been, in three different cars. I had traffic in my face for all but two of those laps, and I had no truly clear laps in the Hellcat. But let’s start with the basics. I drove these three cars in this order:

Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack 6MT: lap time of 1:38.9 with a top speed of 122mph on the back straight.
Challenger V6 Super Track Pack 8AT: lap time of 1:38.3 with a top speed of 112.5mph on the back straight.
Challenger SRT Hellcat 6MT: lap time of 1:33.7 with a top speed of 136mph on the back straight.

So let’s start by eliminating some of the variables. The only clean lap I got in the Scat Pack was my first-ever lap of PIR. There’s no way I was going to turn a brilliant lap time first time out. Analysis shows I was 6mph slower going into the turn before the long straight than I was in the average of the other cars. My line in the V6 which I drove afterwards was better. After looking at the data and assuming that the Scat Pack can turn about as well as the V6, I’ve guesstimated a 1:36 at 127mph for the Scat Pack.

How did other people do: This video shows SRT’s Vehicle Dynamics Engineer Marco Diniz de Oliveira running a 1:33.0 with the same spec car that I drove. Compared to my videotaped 1:33.7 lap you can see that he didn’t have to lift for a frightened journo like I did on the front straight, and he also didn’t goatfuck the chicane the way I did. (My excuse: I was so annoyed at being balked that I held throttle too long.) I’m reasonably confident that I got about as much out of the Hellcat as I was going to in two laps. Given ten more laps, I think a 1:31.5 was well within reach. Keeping pinned on the straight is worth half a second, doing the chicane right is worth a second and a half, and I could have shortened the braking zone in back.

Another journalist whom I won’t name was kind enough to let me “run data” with them in the V6 Challenger that I drove. He turned a 1:58.3 with a top speed of 105.5mph on the back straight. That two-minute-ish lap time is approximately representative of what most people were doing out there and it’s why I kept running into traffic.

So those are the caveats. Now let’s look at some stats.

First off, acceleration. The corner before the back straight shows the Hellcat with a low speed of 43.5mph against 41.7mph for the V6. That’s the extra tire you get with the Hellcat which is only partially canceled out by the weight of the engine. As we pass the access road on the back straight, the V6 has accelerated to 87mph and the ScatPack to a corrected 93mph. How fast is the Hellcat going? Survey says: 102mph. That is brutal acceleration. More impressively, the gap widens as speeds increase. Supercharged cars often feel breathless at the top of the rev range because they are optimized to push air at low speeds and unlike turbo-supercharged (to use the old phrase) cars there’s no compound effect as the exhaust gases push the turbo faster. As an example, when I drove the GT500 at VIR I found myself dueling a Porsche GT2 on the back straight. The Shelby had legs on the GT500 in the first half of VIR’s long stretch but the GT2 picked up as speeds increased and it wasn’t all due to frontal area.

Now for braking. A similar push of the brake pedal produced a .78g retarding force in the V6, a .86g one in the four-piston Brembo Scat Pack, and .98g in the Hellcat. These numbers have to be understood in context, not as absolutes, because of the way my phone was mounted in the car and the general issues with Android accelerometers. Only the V6 ever felt underbraked in these short lap situations; it doesn’t have enough thermal capacity as supplied for two hard laps. The others were fine, with the Hellcat having a considerable edge in feel and response. My experience with the Z/28 at Thermal Club for last month’s Road&Track showed me that it’s possible to put enough brake on a ponycar, but you have to be willing to spend a LOT of money on it. As expensive as the Brembo system on the Hellcat must be, it ain’t carbon ceramic and when you’re slowing two tons down from a considerable velocity it’s worth getting the right material for the job.


This is the V6 lap.


This is the Hellcat lap.

Cornering isn’t exactly an open and shut case, which is why the V6 might be a satisfying track car if you could upgrade the brakes a bit via pads and fluid. Data for all three cars shows that they are capable of about the same max cornering g and speed, with a slight edge going to the Hellcat in pretty much all the corners. What the data can’t show you is that the Hellcat feels like it’s from a different class with regards to body roll control and suspension dynamics. Given enough time on a racetrack, you’d feel comfortable pushing the Hellcat harder in quick transitions and in long high-g turns. There’s a superiority of feedback that is no doubt due to better tires and higher-quality suspension. With that said, however, this is primarily a laws-of-physics thing. Big heavy cars are never eager to change direction. Unsurprisingly, the V6 is best in transitions and the Scat Pack has the lowest cornering speeds.

As I stated earlier today, you really do get your money’s worth with the Hellcat’s engine and brake upgrades. It’s also a solid handler for its size and class. Let’s do some subjective rankings as far as track-fitness goes, based on things I’ve driven recently:

Viper ACR (previous gen)
Viper TA (current gen)
Mercedes AMG SLS Black Series
C7 Corvette Z51
C6 Corvette Z06
C6 Corvette Z51
Camaro Z/28
Boss 302-LS
Boss 302
Jack’s raggedy old 2004 Boxster S with 48,000 miles
GT500 (not counting the brakes)
The old SRT8 392
Camaro SS
Mustang 5.0 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack
Mustang V6 Track Pack
Challenger V6 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 5.7 Track Pack

The higher you go up that list, the more comfortable the car feels on track, but at a cost.

I wish I’d had time to drive the standard SRT8, which has 485hp now and offers the big brakes as an option. I believe that car would feel most “balanced” since you wouldn’t be arriving at corners as quickly and therefore the brakes would hold up even better and it would be easier to select the absolutely perfect corner speed — but I’d choose to spend my own money on the Hellcat, plain and simple. There are no downsides. You can pretty much instantly turn it into an SRT8 6.4L just by laying off the throttle a bit on the long straights.

At this point I normally like to talk about what the cars do when they are “out of shape” on track. The truth is that with this little time on an unfamiliar course I didn’t spend too much effort getting the Challengers past their envelope of tire grip. I can say that the Hellcat and Scat Pack can be reliably turned on the throttle and that no Challenger has ever had bad habits on track with regards to overly quick responses in extreme handling situations. If you’re good to the Challenger, it will be good to you. If you’re bad to it, you will still have plenty of time to get things right.

Ponycars are about compromise. They’re about what you’re willing to give up in order to have the admittedly minimal but occasionally mandatory backseat. With the Hellcat, the answer is simple: you’re giving up Mustang-style direction changes but gaining more power at each trim and spec level than the not-so-small Ford can offer. It would be frankly absurd to buy a Hellcat if you primarily planned on using it at the track. But for the low percentage of owners who will try it there, their experience will be positive — even if their tire bills won’t.

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2016 Buick Envision Revealed Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:31:27 +0000 envision1


Buick took the wraps of the front end of their new mid-sized crossover, dubbed the Envision – or Ang Ke Wei, in China.

Powered by the corporate 2.0L turbo-four making 256 horsepower and 260 lb-ft, the engine will feature a 6-speed automatic transmission, stop-start and all-wheel drive. The Envision is likely based on the Theta platform that underpins the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain.

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Ford Announces 2.7L Ecoboost Powertrain Details Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:24:22 +0000 15FordF150_04

Ford has announced power figures for the 2.7L Ecoboost engine powering the new F-150 – and later on, other Ford models – while also announcing a sub-5,000lb curb weight.

The new 2.7L engine makes 325 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque, with a maximum tow rating of 8,500 lbs and a 2,250 lb payload capacity. The venerable 3.7L V6 will be dropped for a 3.5L version that makes 283 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. Towing capacity is up 900 lbs from the 3.7L to 7,600 lbs while payload capacity sits at 1,910 lbs.

Curb weight for the new trucks should sneak it at under 5,000 lbs, with the new Lariat trim shedding 732 lbs versus the 2014 truck. According to Ford, a 2015 Lariat will weight 4,942 lbs, though the actual fuel economy numbers weren’t announced alongside these figures, nor was any indication given regarding the power figures for the 3.5L Ecoboost or 5.0L V8.

All in all, we still don’t know a lot about specific weights, trim levels, engine options, axle ratios or fuel economy numbers. Without that data, it will be hard to make cross-comparisons between the new F-150 and competitor trucks. As it is, some GM trucks also weigh less than 5,000 lbs, so Ford’s PR boast is a bit meaningless without the proper context. But without more information, all we have to go on right now is Ford’s corporate messaging.

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Foxx: No Penalties Issued Within NHTSA Over GM Ignition Recall Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:00:50 +0000 Anthony Foxx + Barack Obama et al

Though General Motors gave 15 of its employees the ax over their part of the February 2014 ignition switch recall, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told those in the National Press Club Monday that no one in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was fired or disciplined over their part of the recall and subsequent fallout.

The Detroit News reports that while no one was penalized in the slightest within the agency, Foxx ordered a review on the NHTSA’s handling of the recall and other complaints:

I’ve asked our inspector general to go through and do an after-action on this GM situation to see if there is anything we didn’t do that we should have done. We will learn from that report, and until that time we have our team intact.

Foxx also defended the NHTSA in regards to the possibility of rehiring former employees who are currently working in the auto industry, proclaiming it has “ethical requirements that really guard against” undue influence in favor of the automakers.

Meanwhile, both houses of Congress are planning a second round of hearings with the agency later this year, with the goal to determine why it failed to link a series of complaints over ignition/airbag issues in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions to the out-of-spec switch at the heart of the February 2014 recall.

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Exporters Caught In Crossfire Over US Auto Exports To Chinese Customers Tue, 22 Jul 2014 13:00:20 +0000 2015-BMW-X4-06-550x366

Though most automakers prohibit sales of their wares to exporters, and though the government can sometimes block an export despite such exportation being legal, exporters in the United States are finding themselves in the crossfire over premium vehicle exports to Chinese consumers who prefer to pay lower U.S. prices over higher local prices.

Automotive News reports automakers are seeking help from the Secret Service and Customs to prevent any vehicle sold to a straw buyer from leaving port to the real customer residing in China, even though the exports are legal under current law.

Further, as the dealerships are paid in full for premium vehicles like the Land Rover Evoque or Tesla Model S, one federal judge in Ohio dismissed the alleged victimization of the dealer and automaker in her decision to make the federal government return two premium vehicles and $1.2 million in cash to an exporter.

Meanwhile, dealers must tread carefully around exporters, lest their automakers penalize such transaction, from chargebacks to being stripped of their franchise agreements. BMW, Porsche, Land Rover and Mercedes conducted the former to the tune of $30.4 million between 2008 and 2013.

Most of the legal trouble for exporters comes via tax evasion and identity faith, though those are ancillary to the civil lawsuits related to exporting premium vehicles to Chinese customers, who would otherwise be forced to pay two to three times the U.S. price at home. Said prices include heavy taxation and a 25 percent tariff on imported vehicles.

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT “Hellcat” 6MT Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:21:47 +0000 IMG_7883

To some degree, it’s about the number, right? Seven hundred and seven. The Dodge people certainly made the point again and again about how the Hellcat stacks up to everything from the Z06 to the Murcielago. Mine’s bigger than yours. And that other number — 10.9 seconds with drag radials and 11.2 without. That actually isn’t such a big deal; there are people out there who have put stock C6 Z06es with draggies into the tens. Still, they closed the freaking road course after just ninety minutes so the journalists could line up and try their hand at quarter-miles. I didn’t bother to do that. Nor did I get any street time in the Hellcat. What I got was this: four laps, none of them unimpeded. When you come back in the afternoon, I’ll tell you what my TrackMaster data showed about the Hellcat vis-a-vis the 6.4L. But for now let’s talk about what the Hellcat is and what it does.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI® Hellcat engine

Here’s how you make a Hellcat: Start with the 2015 Challenger and it’s improved interior. Add Hellcat-specific visual cues, most of them related to increasing the amount of air coming through the nose. Then drop the bore size a bit, redo the motor with “91 percent new” engineering and parts, and supercharge the hell out of the cat.

Here’s the press release, there’s no sense in rewriting it:

The 2,380cc/rev blower features integral charge coolers and an integrated electronic bypass valve to
regulate boost pressure to a maximum of 80 kPa (11.6 psi). Its twin-screw rotors are specially coated

• a proprietary formula of polyimide and other resins
• nanometer-sized, wear-resistant particles
• solid lubricants, such as PTFE (Teflon)

The coating accommodates tighter tolerances between the rotors. This reduces internal air leakage and
helps deliver improved compressor performance and higher efficiencies. The coating not only can
withstand the temperatures generated by compression, it provides a superior corrosion resistance.
The new supercharged V-8, sealed for life with premium synthetic oil, boasts a drive ratio of 2.36:1 and
a maximum speed of 14,600 rpm. The drive system’s one-way clutch de-coupler improves refinement,
while allowing for precisely the kind of auditory feedback SRT customers find alluring.
The supercharger gulps air through an Air Catcher inlet port, which replaces the driver’s-side inboard
marker light and connects to a patented twin-inlet, eight-liter air box. The blower further benefits from a
92-mm throttle body – the largest ever used in a Chrysler Group vehicle.
The fuel system keeps pace with an in-tank pump that accommodates variable pressures, half-inch fuel
lines and eight injectors each capable of delivering a flow rate of 600cc/min – enough to drain the fuel
tank in approximately 13 minutes at full power.

The transmissions were re-engineered; the eight-speed automatic has bigger clutches and more gear surface throughout, allowing it to bang out 120-millisecond shifts that, on the drag strip, sound close to dual-clutch. The Tremec TR6060 has a bigger clutch, a relatively light flywheel, and stronger gears. I believe, although I cannot say for sure, that this transmission, like the Hellcat’s HEMI, is made in Mexico.

To stop the car, there’s a 15.4-inch rotor Brembo brake package with 20×9.5 inch wheels. It would appear that there are now three Brembo brake packages on these cars: the four-piston setup on the Scat Pack 6.4L with Super Track Pack, the six-piston SRT8 14.2-inch package, and this high-power six-piston setup which is optional on the SRT8 and standard on the Hellcat.

Other fun features: an available flat-black hood, a removable lower grille for track use, (“Seven screws,” we were told, “it will take owners five minutes”) deliberately plain “SRT” badging, and a track key/valet key setup that also features a user-selectable “valet PIN” to limit the car to 4000rpm. A sunroof is optional, as are a couple of different color-coordinated seat packages.

It’s good value for money; the Scat Pack with a few options runs $46k so this Hellcat at $59,995 feels like a screaming bargain. And you’re almost certain to get your money back when you go to sell, assuming you don’t take too much of a beating at the hands of your dealer.

Okay. It’s late at night and you want to know how it drives. I’ll put video up later on today, but the short version is this: It is to the GT500 as the old SRT8 was to the Boss 302. The clutch is low effort, as is the shifting. The thrust is plainly massive but there’s enough tire under it to make it controllable on a racetrack. It’s very quick, but it doesn’t feel noticeably quicker than a GT500. There’s a certain viciousness you get with a ZR1 or GT500 that is blunted by the Chally’s weight here. Big motor, pushing a big car, and as a result things feel under control. It never occurred to me not to give it full throttle in a straight line on an eighty-degree Portland day. Change this to a Kentucky backroad with accumulated oil and grit, and drop the temperature to fifty, and we’ll talk about it again.

All the Challenger SRT8 virtues survive intact to the Hellcat. It really is just an SRT8 plus power. That’s what you really need to know about it. It’s not compromised or changed in any significant manner. It’s just faster, and unlike the naturally aspirated 6.4L it’s hellaciously strong everywhere, not just when the tach sweeps past four. At 1200rpm it has as much torque as the old SRT8 did at peak. So yeah — fast, effortlessly so, like a literbike.

But it also feels long-legged through the gears in a way that the GT500 doesn’t. My impression, which I’d need to check through a bunch of a documentation to confirm, is that it’s geared longer than the Shelby or the Boss or the Z/28. There’s more room to run in each gear, which given the fact that the Ford 5.4L revs higher than this 6.2L means that it’s geared higher.

On the track, the brakes and tires proved sufficient to the task, as I’ll explain later today with numbers. Unlike the Shelby, it’s far from underbraked, for a ponycar. Don’t expect Corvette-level braking performance here. There ain’t a disc brake big enough for that unless it’s on a triple-seven Boeing. This is a big car with good solid damping and big brakes, but it’s not a Corvette.

Neither is it a Z/28, not that you expected it. The Z/28 has better brakes and a lot more tire compound and it’s a bit smaller. I wouldn’t expect the Hellcat to see the nose of a Z/28 on a track, unless you’re on Road America and it’s the first lap.

I realize it’s a disappointment to say that the Hellcat is merely a faster SRT8, but that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Power like this has never been this accessible and the fact that it’s delivered in this big, comfy package is a technical knockout. You literally give up nothing by taking the high-power option, except perhaps your home equity. The Hellcat has no drawbacks except fuel economy and price. It is fully, thoroughly, completely recommended to anyone who wants a faster Challenger. Drivers who want the on-track aplomb of a Mustang or Camaro need not apply.

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Tesla Idles Plant For Two Weeks For Model X-Related Production Upgrades Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:00:38 +0000 tesla-model-x

Those who just ordered their Tesla Model S may need to wait a bit, as the premium EV automaker has idled its California factory in order to tool up for the upcoming Model X SUV.

Bloomberg reports the reconfiguration — including 25 new robots on the floor and other modifications — began June 20, and will conclude in two weeks to the tune of $100 million and a 25 percent increase in production.

Tesla has given its assembly workers the option of reporting for maintenance and training shifts during their time off, as well as using that time for vacation.

Once completed, the newly upgraded floor should pump out some 1,000 units of the Model S per week, as well as allow for both the S and the X to be screwed together next to each other. Pricing for the EV-SUV has yet to be announced.

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2016 Ford Mustang GT350 Will Get Even More Hardcore Track Model Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:30:06 +0000 450x298xMustang-SVT--450x298.jpg.pagespeed.ic.TcgSm69vlE

With recent spyshots of the Ford Mustang GT350 hitting the web, we contacted our Ford sources for more info, and got a few more tidbits about the car.

Our sources tell us that a magnetic shock absorber system is under development, along with an even more hardcore, track-focused model. Details on this were scant, but better brake cooling and “cooling pump ports” for the transmission. If so, this would echo the last-generation Boss 302 and the Laguna Seca model, which went even further in its performance-focused mission by doing away with the back seats and adding additional bracing.

One notable absence on the new GT350: an engine cover. Ford has apparently decided to show off the all-new 5.2L Ti-VCT naturally aspirated motor, without any plastic adorning the engine bay. What a relief.

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Mercedes Debuts B-Class Electric Drive To US Market Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:00:23 +0000 2014-b-class-electric-drive-2

If the upcoming Smart ForTwo isn’t quite to your liking, yet you do want something about as small with a tri-pointed star on its nose, Mercedes has brought over its B-Class Electric Drive.

Autoblog Green reports the EV compact made its world showroom debut in the United States last week, appearing in 10 coastal states at first before heading inward toward the heartland down the road. Price of admission begins at $41,150, which will net the driver an 87-mile single-charge range and 84 MPGe, about the same as the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3.

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2016 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor Spied Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:00:07 +0000 2016-2017-ford-raptor-spy-photos-04

We don’t even know power or fuel economy figures for the next-generation Ford F-150, but these spy shots of the next-generation Raptor have emerged.

All we know so far is that the Raptor will appear as a 2016 model year. No word on powertrains or technical details – maybe we’ll see an Ecoboost version this time around?

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Book Review: Stealing Cars Tue, 22 Jul 2014 10:30:28 +0000 81EbHc-EfRL._SL1500_

TTAC’s had periodic posts about car theft, from a recent news item on a student project disappearing in the night (here) to hacking into a car (here and here). A recent book however provides a, well, book-length treatment.

Stealing Cars: Technology & Society from the Model T to the Gran Torino ( Johns Hopkins, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4214-1297-9) is an examination of the phenomenon of car theft through the era of the automobile. Authors John A. Heitmann and Rebecca H. Morales lead off with this quote

“‘When I leave my machine at the door of a patient’s house I am sure to find it there on my return. Not always so with the horse: he may have skipped off as the result of a flying paper or the uncouth yell of a street gamin, and the expense of broken harness, wagon, and probably worse has to be met.’ That solitary impression soon proved to be wrong.” (p. 7)

First, there’s the historian at work, ranging from the first report of car theft in the Horseless Age of 1902, to the new methods of stealing cars noted on TTAC. Then there’s the organization behind it, or the lack thereof: from joyriding and local transportation in the early days (90% of all thefts, corresponding to a 90% recovery rate), to criminal operations seeking entire cars or merely parts – from pulling tires off cars during the WWII era of rationing rubber to cartels today paying for stolen cars with drugs. This thread is backed by an appendix with tables of data.

Then there’s the response to car theft, from the individual level to the lobbying of insurance companies. Technological responses were one avenue. These ranged from ignition keys (though the Model T only had 24 types of keys, with the type stamped on both the key and the starter plate; p. 12) to digital rolling codes tied required to enable the ECU (engine control unit computer). As the authors detail, all had defects – and all can be circumvented by stealing a key. Institutional responses began with the 1919 Dyer Act; for decades a central focus of the FBI was car theft, helped because it so frequently crossed crossed borders. Over time this extended to a system VINs and car registrations that sought to make it hard to remarket stolen parts or to get a stolen vehicle titled. Again, this system has holes. Finally there are sociological responses, particularly the development of garages and gated communities (pp. 73-77).

International theft figured from early on. Canada and Mexico were natural destinations, but on the East Coast rings such as that headed by Gabriel “Bla-Bla Blackman” Vigorito for over two decades (1930s-1950s) shipped cars to Europe and South America, grossing over $1 million in 1952 (pp. 61-3). The book is particularly detailed on the Mexican connection, reflecting the particular contribution of Morales. But it’s also empirically important: the top 10 theft “hot spots” stretch from Washington State through California, particularly near intersections of major highways that are trans-shipment points for drugs (Chapter 5 and Table 4.5 p. 173).

Then there is the depiction of car theft; Heitmann is a devoted watcher of movies and more generally an observer of automotive culture (the subject of an earlier book). Scattered throughout are references to a dozen-plus films, a handful of novels, and of course computer games. Press stories on car theft, ads for gadgets, and other miscellany are sprinkled throughout the book. Then there’s the racial aspect: joyriding whites were shuttled to dad, blacks were carted to prison. That was fine with J Edgar Hoover.

All of this makes for a fun book, and a quick read (159 pages of text). However it’s also disjointed; the authors love anecdotes, and don’t want to leave the best out. The narrative suffers, but quite frankly most on TTAC would probably rather have the anecdotes than the narrative. The book has no maps and only a few photos; it should have more! Likely the publisher resisted, and the authors wanted to get it done. It certainly is not because they lack in such materials: I invited John Heitmann to speak to my auto industry students in May 2014, and he came with a fascinating array of powerpoint slides and additional tales. (For those who want more, join the Society of Automotive Historians (of which he is currently president) or read through his essay on sources and copious footnotes.)

For additional quotes and details, see student journal entries on five chapters under the “Stealing Cars” pull-down menu on the Economics 244 Auto Industry web site at Order your own copy from Amazon as either an inexpensive hardcover or for Kindle.

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2014 Chevrolet SS To Pace 20th Running Of Brickyard 400 Tue, 22 Jul 2014 10:00:46 +0000 Actor Chris Pratt To Drive Chevrolet SS Pace Car At Brickyard

Monday, we alerted you that the 2015 Chevrolet SS will come with a manual transmission and Magnetic Ride. Today, the current SS has thrown on some red and silver pace-car clothing to lead its tube-frame brethren over the strip of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 20th running of the Brickyard 400.

Autoblog reports the driver behind the wheel of this SS will be none other than actor Chris Pratt, whose latest film, Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” will be in theaters August 1. Pratt said it was “a dream come true to drive the pace car” for the Brickyard 400, renamed the John Wayne Walding 400 by sponsor Crown Royal in honor of the Army veteran who lost part of his right leg during the Battle of Shok Valley in 2008.

The silhouette Sprint Cup version of the SS is doing well for itself since the start of its racing career in 2013, winning 16 out of 36 races in the previous season, and claiming nine of the first 10 events in 2014. Meanwhile, the Camaro and Corvette will take up pacing duties for the support events around the Brickyard 400.

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Challenger Week: Here’s A Few We Did Earlier Mon, 21 Jul 2014 20:30:44 +0000 MURILEEEEEEE

A Challenger on the front page of TTAC is like a blonde on the cover of Maxim: it gets all the nerdy dudes excited. Self included. So here are some of our most exciting Challenger reviews from years past!

Derek got his hands on a HEMI R/T Shaker and kind of liked it. Kind of.

Murilee Martin checked out the 392 SRT8 and was ironically impressed.

TTAC reader favorite Alex Dykes also reviewed the 392.

Automotive Traveler’s Richard Truesdell went to Willow Springs and ignored his mirrors for a very long time while I swerved and honked behind him. Thus, the one lap review of the 392.

Ed Niedermeyer was in fine Farago-wannabe form when he blasted the pre-Pentastar V6 model.

Last but not least, here’s the five-year-old review from when I took a Challenger R/T to Summit Point. I raced it against a Miata — and won.

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Opel-Badged Chevrolet Volt Killed In Europe Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:01:35 +0000 ampera-450x317

The Opel Ampera, an Opel-badged Chevrolet Volt, will be killed off in Europe due to slow sales.

The Ampera will be axed after just one generation – with a new Volt being launched in the second half of 2015, an Opel (and presumably Vauxhall) version will not be produced.

Automotive News Europe reports that Ampera sales slid dramatically in 2013. In Germany, the Ferrari F12 supercar has sold nearly twice as many units as the Ampera.

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