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By on July 23, 2011

When BMW launched its X6 a few years ago, it was widely considered an abomination and a deviation from the true BMW way. Justin Berkowitz, while still working for TTAC, called it the BMW Xcreable X6 and claimed it was conceived while “a BMW X5 went out drinking with a Scion tC. They had way too much Jose Cuervo and yada yada yada…”

As it happened so often, the opinions of the experts were ignored by the market, and the X6 turned into a runaway success. Audi supposedly can’t stand on the sidelines. Now, Daimler is rumored to line up an X6 fighter of its own. Read More >

By on July 22, 2011


Actually, the full name of this race at Stafford Motor Speedway is the Boston Tow Party & Overhead Cam-Bake, and tonight was just Part One of the BS Inspection (the track has some sort of event going on, so we’ll have to do the bulk of the inspections early Saturday morning). As far as I’m concerned, however, we can all go home happy right now, because a genuine Peugeot 405 Mi16 has finally entered a LeMons race. Read More >

By on July 22, 2011

With the 2004 X3, BMW offered a compact SUV a half-decade ahead of other German car manufacturers. So not long after Audi and Mercedes have introduced their first such vehicle BMW has an all-new second-generation X3. The first-generation X3 had its strengths, but its weaknesses tended to outweigh them, especially in the U.S. market. The larger X5 has outsold it on this side of the Atlantic many times over despite a higher price. Has BMW learned enough in the past seven years to address these weaknesses and keep ahead of the new competition?

Read More >

By on July 22, 2011

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association has reviewed a number of studies on distracted driving, and its report [PDF here] shows a number of disturbing findings. A few of the highlights (or is that lowlights?):

  • At least one driver was reported to have been distracted in 15% to 30% of crashes at all levels, minor to fatal. The proportion of distracted drivers may be greater because investigating officers may not detect or record all distractions. In many crashes it is not known whether the distractions caused or contributed to the crash.
  • In almost 80% of all crashes and 65% of near-crashes the driver was looking away from the forward roadway just before the incident and that secondary task distraction contributed to 22% of the crashes and near-crashes
  • about two-thirds of all drivers reported using a cell phone while driving; about one-third used a cell phone routinely. In observational studies during daylight hours in 2009, between 7% and 10% of all drivers were using a cell phone… about one-eighth of all drivers reported texting while driving. In observational studies during daylight hours in 2009, fewer than 1% of all drivers were observed to be texting.
  • Cognitive distractions by themselves – thinking about something other than driving, without any manual or visual distraction – can affect driving performance. Two recent studies reinforce the conclusion that distractions affect the mind, not just the eyes, ears, or hands
  • [Two] studies found that crash risk was about four times greater when using a cell phone. Hands-free phones did not appear to be any safer than hand-held phones.
  • In the only study of texting bans, HLDI studied their effect on collision claims using the same methods as their 2009 study of cell phone laws. They concluded that texting bans did not reduce collision claims. In fact, there appears to have been a small increase in claims in the states enacting texting bans compared to neighboring states… there is no evidence that cell phone or texting laws have reduced crashes.

If you’re at all interested in a relatively concise (50 pages) overview of the state of distracted driving research, this report is well worth a download. Ultimately, though, the report offers more challenges than easy answers, as it largely debunks the notion that increased enforcement or hands-free laws make much of a difference in the problem. [via AutoObserver]

By on July 22, 2011

An anonymous tipster has sent us a copy of a letter from the Michigan congressional delegation to President Obama [PDF here, or hit the jump for an embedded copy], which calls his proposal for a 56.2 MPG CAFE standard by 2025 “overly aggressive and not reasonably feasible.” The letter is remarkable in the sense that the major signatories are Democrats, and yet it attacks the President’s proposal with more vigor than many inside the industry. The letter also confirms that that the Detroit-based automakers already rely on CAFE’s “credit” loopholes in order to meet the 2012-2016 standard, a stunning admission of how far behind Detroit still lags in fleet fuel economy. And rather than taking responsibility for their situation, the MI representatives blame CAFE for Detroit’s low fleet efficiency, arguing that “manufacturers that produce primarily smaller vehicles will have an unfair advantage.” Moreover, the MI reps don’t just admit that Detroit is behind its competition, but even goes as far as to argue that “the overall targets currently proposed may exceed what is technologically achievable for the the US automakers that produce and sell the majority of the larger pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles that US families and businesses -and tens of thousands of autoworkers- depend on.”

In short, the letter strikes me as a shockingly old-school display of excuses and apologia that stands in sharp contrast to the “green car revival” narrative that Detroit and D.C. pushed so hard during the bailout. And frankly, I’d be embarrassed if I ran one of the largest automakers in the world and I was reduced to pleading my inability, on technological grounds no less, to achieve a 56.2 MPG fleet average (which in “window sticker” terms, translates to about 41 MPG EPA) within 15 years… even though CAFE is riddled with loopholes that make it easier to continue building thirsty trucks. If Detroit were actually leading the charge for a gas tax (or offering any kind of market-driven alternative), it might have some credibility on this issue, but as things stand this strikes me as nothing more than whining. So much for America’s “can-do” spirit…

Read More >

By on July 22, 2011

Every automaker is in this business to make money… there’s nothing surprising about that. But some are a little more focused on profits than others, and it should be equally unsurprising that Porsche is one of them. In an extensive interview with Automotive News Europe [sub], Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller gives a strong impression of how Porsche sees itself over the course of the first two questions:

What is your vision for Porsche in 2018?

Porsche is synonymous with sports cars – yesterday, today and doubtless tomorrow as well. In addition, in every other segment where we operate, such as with the Cayenne or Panamera, we always offer the sportiest vehicle. At the moment we are hard at work on our future strategy. And I promise you, it will contain a few exciting surprises.

What are your most important objectives?

We want to remain the world’s most profitable car manufacturer – and build on this position.

These are actually two separate goals altogether, and not two which necessarily go hand-in-hand. But if anyone can pull off the mix between performance and profit, it’s Porsche… and to understand how this strategy will play out in the near future, let’s take a look at Mueller’s product plans.

Read More >

By on July 22, 2011

Life imitates advertising: Years after the un-pimp your Volkswagen ads with Teutonic blondes and lots of lab coats, Volkswagen at last gets a head of Advanced Design with a name to match: Luc Donckerwolke! Read More >

By on July 22, 2011

When I was a very young and very green copywriter, Dr. Carl Hahn, at the time CEO of Continental Tires and later CEO of Volkswagen, said in an agency brief: “We lose 10 Deutschmarks on every tire we sell.”

“Then we better stop advertising them,” said I.

Hahn gave me a pained look. The look was followed by real and massive pain in my left foot, because my Creative Director had kicked me viciously.

“Ouch!” I said.

“You’ve got that right,” said Hahn.

That little story crossed my mind when I read in The Nikkei [sub] that “Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s electric vehicles and other eco-friendly offerings are expected to begin contributing to the firm’s bottom line in two years.” Read More >

By on July 22, 2011

If Saab survives long enough, it plans on developing three new vehicles which China’s Youngman Auto will build in China, including a 9-6X midsize crossover SUV. But, as it turns out, a 9-6X already exists… at the museum in Trollhättan. Auto Motor und Sport reports that six years after Saab did the hard work of re-badging a Subaru Tribeca, the firm has brought the prototype out of storage to show… I don’t know, what might have happened had GM kept its stake in Fuji Heavy Industries? The good news is that the Tribeca almost makes more sense as a Saab. In fact, it almost makes you wonder why Subaru didn’t just buy Saab, since it basically stole the Swedish brand’s college-town-lefty market niche. The bad news: Saab’s forthcoming made-in-China 9-6X probably won’t be as good as this cynical GM-era rebadge. Oh well, perhaps this six-year-old reminder of Saab’s extended decline will help the faithful get over their terminally ill Swedish patient…

By on July 22, 2011

Would you be a little bit surprised if the man behind this tiny, funky little electric van was the man who styled the VW Passat CC and first-generation Mercedes SLK? Well, Murat Günak has been heavily into the electric car game since leaving Volkswagen, having designed one of my favorite EVs, the fresh-and-freaky Mindset. But even though the Mia and the Mindset seem a little more in the same vein, Günak has actually moved well past the Mindset’s super-high-end positioning, as this Mia is set to sell for the lowest price of any EV in the EU, starting at €19,500 ($28k). For comparison, Mitsubishi’s iMiEV (the cheapest EV in the US market) sells for €34,390, or nearly $50k… although its European price is set to drop to closer to €15k when production ramps up.

But the Mia isn’t just (relatively) inexpensive… it’s downright cool. Built by the French firm Heuliez in either 9.4 or 10.5 foot lengths (the latter with 53 cubic feet of cargo space), it comes with a McLaren F1-style central driver’s seat and doors designed to operate in tight urban conditions. With a range of only 60 miles and a top speed of only slightly more than 60 MPH, it’s strictly an urban runabout, but as a small business delivery vehicle it seems to hit a lot of the right buttons… especially the three-hour charging time (an 80-mile-range battery is optional but takes five hours to charge). Production hits 10,000 units next year, when sales to private customers begin. [via Autobild]

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