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By on June 29, 2011

With a new Viper being readied for a 2012 auto show debut ahead of a 2013 launch, Automotive News [sub]’s Rick Kranz has discovered something of an issue in the development process: suppliers don’t want in.

Ralph Gilles, who heads Chrysler Group’s design organization and SRT, the automaker’s performance group, says many suppliers said “thanks, but no thanks” when the automaker knocked on their doors.

“It has been tough to get low-volume suppliers,” Gilles says. “We have had a few hiccups here and there as we get suppliers. That type of fringe business has really dwindled. A lot of people are looking for big accounts now, but now that is behind us.”

Kranz blames low volume (2,103 units in its best year, 392 units last year) and supplier consolidation for the “hiccups.” But as it so happens, this has been a recurring problem for the Viper since day one…

Read More >

By on June 29, 2011

How user-serviceable should a car be? Should special tools be required to perform basic tasks? If the car in question is a sporty car, should there be less effort on the manufacturer’s part to ensure serviceability (because it’s a “toy” and more likely to be owned by people with multiple cars) or more (because sporty cars tend to have longer in-service lifetimes and have a more self-service-oriented owner base)?

After performing most of the 30,000-miles service on my 2004 Boxster S “Anniversary Edition”, I believe I’ve become a little more passionate about my answers to the above questions.

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By on June 29, 2011

When asked by thenational.ae if he preferred to drive his McLaren F1 or Mclaren-Mercedes SLR to work everyday, the man who designed both legendary hypercars, Gordon Murray demurs:

I wouldn’t say the SLR is quite an everyday car but I certainly like to drive it to work. But for me, despite all those cars and my single-seater Rocket [a car he privately designed], it’s the [eight year-old Smart Roadster] I’m most taken with. For one, it’s a great-looking car. It has a power roof, heated seats and air con, and it all weighs just 830kg. In fact, it’s got all you’d want from a car. It nips around corners and it’s fun to drive.

So, other than proving that Murray has exquisite taste (I’d kill you all for a Brabus Smart Roadster Coupe), what’s the point? That, having been there and done that in the world of high performance, Murray’s taking on a less obviously sexy but ultimately significant project that first occurred to him in a traffic jam back in 1993: the T.25 and T.27 city cars. We’ve written about Murray’s T.25 before, but the real news today is the release of specs for the T.27, an all-electric version of the tiny three-seater. And yes, it weighs 1,500 lbs on the nose (including batteries), and ekes 100 miles of range out of just 12 kWh. That beats the efficiency of competitors like the Smart EV (by 29%), the Mitsubishi iMiEV (by 36%) and MINI E (by 86%). So, how does it do it?

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By on June 29, 2011


The Malaise Subaru Apocalypse is in full swing in Colorado, if we are to judge from the selection of old Leones in Denver junkyards these days. Yesterday, we saw this ’82 GL “Cyclops”, but that was just the beginning of the Subaru death toll in this yard. A few rows away, I found this brown GL wagon, a little rustier than the ’82 but still appearing to have plenty of life left in it. Is anyone restoring these things? Read More >

By on June 29, 2011

The battle over the Houston, Texas red light camera program returned to the legal spotlight Monday. A majority of voters agreed with Francis M. Kubosh and Randall Kubosh in November that the automated ticketing machines should be removed, but a federal judge intervened earlier this month and overturned the election (view ruling). The Kuboshes filed a reply brief with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Monday seeking to restore the result of the public vote.

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By on June 29, 2011

Careful when transiting Nevada by car: Soon, there can be driverless cars on the roads of the desert state, legally. Nevada passed Bill 511 (full text here) that lays the framework for autonomous vehicles.

For instance, the bill authorizes the Nevada DMV to come up with rules for driverless cars. Just think of it: Will you need a driver’s license to operate a car that needs no driver? Read More >

By on June 29, 2011

Capacity, weight and price of the battery are the big challenges facing the electric car.  Researchers at Sumitomo have developed a porous, sponge-like metal called “Aluminum-Celmet.” It promises to triple the capacity of lithium-ion batteries. Read More >

By on June 29, 2011

The TEDx conferences are always good for surprises, and the TEDxBoston conference yesterday was no exception. Two presentations caught the most attention: Brigham and Women’s Hospital surgeon Bohdan Pomahac talked about the first full face transplant in the United States. Carl Dietrich, CEO of Terrafugia showed a (soon) commercially available flying car. Read More >

By on June 29, 2011

Whereas speed cameras are plenty in Japan, the use of red light cameras has yet to catch on in the land of the rising sun. Instead of viewing red lights as revenue sources, Japan (which certainly could use the funds) is spending money in a big way to make red lights and stop signs safer. The Japanese National Police Agency is starting to roll out its Driving Safety Support System (DSSS) in Japan in July. Instead of waiting for someone to run a read light, and then dispatching a costly ticket, this system attempts to reduce the instances of red lights run. Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers are starting to integrate their cars into this system. Read More >

By on June 28, 2011

Though it doesn’t get the play it deserves in the auto media, Project Better Place is one of the most ambitious, potentially disruptive plays anywhere in the world of cars, uniquely positioning itself to eliminate the biggest shortcomings of electric vehicles. TTAC was on hand when the “end-to-end” EV services firm opened its first battery swap station in Israel, and now the firm has launched its first European swap station in Denmark. Better Place’s single model, the Renault Fluence Z.E won’t be widely available in either of the two initial launch markets until later this year, but having sold over 70,000 of its initial order of 100k units from Renault, Better Place is keeping its foot on the gas… er, juice.
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By on June 28, 2011

Smell that? It’s the gathering scent of a new industry trend towards natural gas. Honda’s expanded its pioneering Civic GX to 50 states, Sergio Marchionne wants to replicate his Italian CNG success at Chrysler (eventually), and now GM is jumping on the bandwagon while it’s still relatively uncrowded. The Winnepeg Free Press reports that GM has signed a development deal with Vancouver, B.C.-based Westport Innovations which could see a prototype light-duty natural gas-powered engine completed “within 18 months” if preliminary study proves promising. A Westport spokesman boasts

If both parties agree to move ahead with commercialization this would be one of the first pure OEM [natural gas-powered] products

You know, except the Civic GX which has been prowling American streets since 1998. Still, with Chrysler targeting CNG commercialization no earlier than 2017, GM could have a strong head-start on a fuel technology that promises to be a viable and promising gasoline alternative, especially if the NatGas Bill [PDF] passes, expanding $7,500 plug-in tax credits to natural gas vehicles. And GM’s got a strong partner in Westport, which has heavy-duty commercial deals with Cummins and Caterpillar. With Nissan all-in on EVs and years ahead of the competition in terms of global EV production capacity, look for other competitors to hedge their alt-energy bets… and natural gas is rapidly becoming the most popular alternative.

By on June 28, 2011

Ronnie Schreiber reckoned that Chrysler would be able to protect its rights to the phrase “Imported From Detroit” in its lawsuit against local clothing firm MODA, but Automotive News [sub] reports that

U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled that Chrysler’s request didn’t show that it would suffer irreparable harm or that it had a strong likelihood of winning its case. That means Pure Detroit’s owner, Detroit retailer Moda Group LLC, can continue selling its “Imported from Detroit” products.

Tarnow also noted that Chrysler doesn’t have a trademark on “Imported from Detroit” and rejected the automaker’s argument that trademark law isn’t applicable to the case.

Interestingly, the last time Chrysler fought over its brand intellectual property (in a dispute with a Florida high school that had adopted the Ram’s Head logo as its school symbol), it won… only to stop using the the logo for Dodges when it spun off its Ram brand. In any case, this latest ruling may take Chrysler’s tagline out of its complete control, but it should also stimulate a strong market in knock-off goods bearing the line, ultimately increasing its exposure. And, at the end of the day, Chrysler needs to look past Detroit-boosting if it wants to get its marketing back on a nationally-appealing footing and win back sales on the coasts. This ruling may not be sucha bad thing after all….

By on June 28, 2011

According to Wards Auto, global auto sales through May hit 32.62 million units, up 6.0% from the year-ago number. But as the chart above shows, the rate of growth in global deliveries has slowed dramatically over the past year-and-a-half, falling below five percent the last several months. So what’s the problem? At this point, what isn’t the problem? The US and Japan have been hit hard by the Japanese tsunami, while the once-blistering-hot markets of China and India are shrinking and growing more slowly respectively.

Collectively, markets in the Asia/Pacific region accounted for 2.35 million vehicle deliveries, equating to 37% of world sales, the region’s lowest global market share since May 2009.

In the U.S. and Canada, sales of Japanese vehicles slipped precipitously below the rest of the market in May due to supply shortages, pulling North America’s year-over-year performance 2.3% below like-2010 on a volume basis, despite an 11.7% increase in Mexico.

So where’s the good news? After a forgettable few years, Europe is back… and South America is staying strong.

Overall deliveries in Europe rose 14.2% in May, to 1.85 million units. The resulting 29.2% share of world sales was the region’s highest take since June of last year…

Double-digit growth in many of South America’s smaller markets lifted regional sales in May 27.6%, compared with year-ago, for a 7.9% share of global deliveries – a 9-month high.

By on June 28, 2011

 

Talk about bad associations! Bloomberg reports that

General Motors Co.’s European Opel unit is introducing models with advanced options typically sold on luxury cars, seeking to revive a business that’s lost $14.5 billion since 1999.

The GM unit is working with AlixPartners LLP on how to tweak options packages or production plans to spur higher prices, said two people familiar with the matter. They are also studying ways to reduce engineering and manufacturing costs, said the people, who asked not to be identified disclosing private plans. Some new features include headlights tuned to high-speed driving on the Autobahn.

Which leads to one damning conclusion:

“They can’t price their cars like Audi or BMW,” said Thomas Stallkamp, principal of Collaborative Management LLC, a Naples, Florida-based consulting firm. Stallkamp, a former Chrysler Corp. president, was a partner at private-equity firm Ripplewood Holdings Inc. when it tried to buy Opel in 2009. “They’re like the Chrysler of Europe.”

Keep in mind, this isn’t just any old analyst… this is a guy who tried to buy Opel back when it was officially for sale. And though pricing issues in the face of rising costs are one Chrysler-like problem facing Opel, there’s another issue that may even be more troubling…

Read More >

By on June 28, 2011

Saab has reached a deal to sell 50.1% of its real estate holdings to a consortium led by Hemfosa Fastigheter AB, for about $40m, and has also received an order for $18.4m worth of vehicles from an unnamed Chinese firm according to AN [sub], giving the dead-alive Swedish firm the faintest, cruelest glimmer of hope. The real estate deal was for about a third less than the property had previously been valued at, and still needs to be approved by the Swedish Debt Office, the EIB and GM. Meanwhile, the real struggle is ongoing, as a Saab spokesperson tells Reuters that

Today’s news takes us a good way in the right direction, but it is the agreement (with suppliers) that matters and only then will we be able to communicate a date when we can restart production

But suppliers aren’t even the first in line for Saab’s much-needed cash injection: that goes to workers who are promising to take the company into bankruptcy if they aren’t paid soon. These two recent deals should be enough to pay worker salaries through July, but if suppliers aren’t brought back as well to restart production, the bulk sale and an earlier order from PangDa will never be filled. And those suppliers are currently mulling over an offer of ten percent of what they are owed until the Chinese inject more cash later in the year… not the greatest deal ever. Meanwhile, Saab says

There are other initiatives still being pursued. There is not much we can say about that until we have something concrete to communicate

Like what? What could there possibly be to communicate?

Read More >

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