By on August 13, 2011

In his New York Times comparison of heavy-duty pickup trucks, Ezra Dyer opens with a provocative comparison:

Heavy-Duty pickup trucks are the supercars of the truck world. They have more power than drivers are likely ever to exploit, and bragging rights depend on statistics that are, in practical terms, theoretical.

How does he figure?

While you can’t buy a diesel engine in a mainstream light-duty pickup, heavy-duty pickups now offer propulsion suitable for a tandem-axle dump truck.

I’m not exaggerating. Ford’s 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V-8 packs 400 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque; the base engine in a Peterbilt 348 dump truck offers a mere 260 horsepower and 660 pound feet. Does your pickup really need more power than a Peterbilt?

I’m guessing most HD truck owners won’t take kindly to the question, especially coming a scolding Gray Lady. But if you read the full review, you’ll find that Dyer was able to locate at least one contractor willing to admit that he realized he just didn’t need his HD’s overabundance of ability. It goes against the grain of the “bigger, faster, tougher, more” marketing message that has helped make trucks such a huge part of the American market, but is it possible that the tide is turning? Have pickups improved too much? The huge sales of Ecoboost V6-powered F-Series certainly suggests the we may just be moving towards a more pragmatic truck-buying market…

By on August 11, 2011

About a month ago, TTAC’s Steve Lang hipped readers to the fact that used car prices had grown like crazy, and that the time to sell that old car had come. Now the mainstream media is starting to wake up and smell the 30-weight, and the wires are flooding in with stories of used car prices gone wild. The LAT reports that Kelley Blue Book values have risen an average of 16% per year in the 2008-2011 period. Autotrader saw 13 of their top-20 CPO models add at least a grand to their prices in the last month alone. And  Bloomberg reports that 2011 BMW Dreiers and M3s now cost only $34 per month more than year-old models, and that new Corvettes can actually be had for $12 per month less than year-old models according to data. Considering an Acura TL? New models are typically $18 less per month than year-old versions. So what’s going on?

New lease sales fell to 1.96 million in 2008 and 1.13 million in 2009, according to Manheim. Lease originations that averaged 2.78 million during the previous 10 years dried up as lenders such as GMAC Inc. and Chrysler Financial Corp. withdrew financing offers.

Leased vehicles’ input to used-vehicle supply will be 2.08 million units this year, a 40 percent drop from 2002 levels, according to Manheim. Off-lease volumes will keep declining through at least next year, to 1.53 million, Manheim says.

Sales to rental fleets, which fell to 1.13 million vehicles in 2009 from more than 2 million in 2006, may not exceed 1.5 million until after this year, according to Manheim. The 2011 contribution to used-vehicle supply from rental fleets will be about 1.4 million vehicles, a 30 percent drop from 2005 levels.

But here’s the real question: how long can this last?

(Read More…)

By on August 9, 2011

When news hit late last week that one of Google’s driverless cars had been involved in a minor fender-bender, the anti-autonomous driver argument made itself. “This is precisely why we’re worried about self-driving cars,” howled Jalopnik.”Google’s self-driving car seems like the ultimate distracted driving machine.” But on the very same day, Google claimed that

One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car [emphasis added]

Before you know it, the other side of the debate, as epitomized by Popular Science flipped the argument, insisting that

this incident is yet another example — as if we need one — of the human capacity for error. Hopefully when cars do take over, they’ll be able to prevent these types of incidents on their own.

So yeah, there’s a pretty wide range of opinions on the issue. And with Nevada’s legalization of driverless cars, it’s only a matter of time before something happens that busts the debate wide open again. So, how do you feel about our new robot overlords? I, for one, could live with the technology for freeway/expressway use… but not without drawing some kind of clear lines around legal liability. Off-freeway? No thanks. Too few benefits from packing traffic tighter and too many other variables in traffic. What say you?

By on August 4, 2011

As a telecommuter, I don’t drive as much as many Americans do, but I’ve come to the conclusion that lane discipline in this country (or at least in my part of it) is a huge problem. Traffic is frustrating in all circumstances, but unnecessary congestion caused by drivers who act without any apparent awareness of traffic around them is by far the most frustrating. And, in many cases, unnecessary congestion is caused by light-duty vehicles being held up by trucks, or slow-moving traffic clogging the left lane because of trucks passing in the middle lane.

Jalopnik takes on the issue of trucks in traffic with a piece entitled What you don’t know about the truck driver you just flipped off, which argues that truckers are overworked, overregulated and under financial pressure to deliver quickly. And though I sympathize with the plight of long-haul truckers, I don’t believe they should be allowed to leave the right lane.
(Read More…)

By on August 2, 2011

Ian Callum, designer of the Aston-Martin DB7 (along with the new Jaguars and numerous other gorgeous things) is a really, genuinely nice guy. But even nice guys have their limits, and having seen his groundbreaking Aston design evolve with the morphological dynamism of a sturgeon over the last 17 years, Callum appears to have reached his. Bloomberg reports:

It’s still that same old basic design,” Ian McCallum, who designed the DB9 and is now design director at Tata Motors Ltd. (TTMT)’s Jaguar Land Rover unit, said in a July 27 interview. “Some will argue that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But you do get to a time when you have to move on.”

Sadly, there are a few factual distractions to deal with here before we dig further into Aston’s predicament. First of all, though a Scot, the man’s name is Callum, not McCallum. Also, it’s not clear how much of the DB9 was styled by Callum, and how much was finished by his successor, Heinrik Fisker. Clear? OK, back to Aston…

(Read More…)

By on July 29, 2011

I made my first fortune in Chrysler. Back in 1991 I bought 250 shares of the company at a mere $10 a share. It was all I had at the time and everyone in my family thought I was plain nuts. When it got to 12 I was a bit less nuts but definitely screwy. 15 and I was a lucky guy. It wasn’t until the stock hit $25 a share when they realize that if I had a knack for anything, it was following the auto industry.

By 1996 everyone and their dog was announcing the second coming of Chrysler. I sold my shares in late May 1996 at around $60 and bought the most safe and enduring investment of that time… a house. A lot of car companies have soared to the skies and plummeted to insolvency since then. My question for all of you today is…

Who’s next!

NOTE: Kia, Hyundai, Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Saab are yesterday’s news. I want your take on tomorrow’s Midas and minus.

By on July 27, 2011

A few weeks back, SRT CEO and Chrysler Group Design boss Ralph Gilles hinted that a new LX-platform station wagon could be coming back, as the NYT reported:

“With the Magnum, we owned the station wagon segment,” Mr. Gilles said. “It was always a pleasure to go to car shows and trade fairs and see the number of Magnums that owners had personalized with such obvious loving care.”

Asked if a design for a second-generation Magnum might be found in one of his sketch pads, Mr. Gilles just smiled.

“Stay tuned,” he said. “Great things are coming. That’s all I can say.”

But now Gilles is changing his tune completely, telling the Fox Car Report that the rumor simply came about because the launch event was held in California (one of the Magnum’s biggest markets), and Gilles noted that he saw them “everywhere” and that every one of them was customized. While noting that the he “needs to get to the bottom of that” customized Magnum phenomenon, Gilles made it clear that the “rumor” was just him waxing nostalgic and that “we’re focusing on the products we have.”

But if Chrysler is desperate to make inroads in California, and the Magnum resonated there, might there be some sense in a neo-Magnum? After all, Sergio Marchionne has noted with disapproval how few variations are available for the LX platform, and said he would not have re-invested in an update if it were up to him (and really, putting an LX update ahead of a good C- or D-segment platform was a pretty shockingly poor business decision). On the other hand, the Magnum only ever had one year over 50k units… and that might not even be worth the cost of even a rebody. What say you?


By on July 17, 2011

Have you caught The Car Show yet? If not, the first episode is currently streaming at Hulu, so go ahead and waste part of your Sunday on a show that offers (according to Matt Farah) “everything you’re looking for from a proper British motoring show, but from a uniquely American perspective.” Having peeped the first episode myself, I’ve got some seriously mixed feelings…
(Read More…)

By on July 13, 2011

Wards has a fascinating piece on the recent evolution of the A-pillar, starting with the aesthetic novelty of the B5 Passat and ending with the various roof crush and head-impact safety standards that are creating ever-larger and more vision-obstructing pillars. But is the added passive safety worth the trade-off in visibility, and therefore active safety? A researcher equivocates:

We lack quantitative models that express the safety cost of vision obstructions. We’ve worked on it, but it’s difficult to see the relationships in crash data. People are highly adaptive, and any vision effects are buried in other larger effects due to exposure and driving style.

Inspired by the write-up, I found that the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (Australia) has its own annual forward visibility rating system, and that it refused to give a single 2011 model-year vehicle a five-star rating (in a rare display of respect for the five-star system). Without a rating system of our own, I thought TTAC should embrace the subjectivity of the subject matter and pool its collective wisdom to help the automakers understand which vehicles need an A-pillar diet. Which vehicles feel the least safe in terms of forward visibility? Which need window inserts and which need to just slim down? Or have we reached the point where we need A-pillar cameras?

By on June 27, 2011 has put together its take on GM’s forthcoming 2013 lineup, which will see the launch of only a few new cars including the Cadillac “ATS” small sports sedan and “XTS” DTS replacement, as well as Buick’s Gamma II-platform “Baby Buick” and a similar Chevy model. Other tweaks are said to include 250+ HP for the Regal and Verano Turbo engines (i.e. wait on that Regal GS unless you’re going to tune it yourself), a new interior for the Lamdas and SRX, a diesel engine for the Cruze and more. Hit the jump for all the details…
(Read More…)

By on June 24, 2011

Typically we try to accompany our book reviews here at TTAC with an author livechat, giving you, our readers, a firsthand opportunity to engage influential thinkers in TTAC’s trademark frank, open discussion of the most important automotive issues of the day. Today, however, is something of an exception. As I noted in my review of Car Guys vs Bean Counters: The Battle For The Soul Of American Business, Bob Lutz’s call-out of myself led to an opportunity for me to exchange words with the former GM “car czar,” which in turn led to his graciously agreeing to meet me for a face-to-face interview. Because Lutz is in the middle of a book launch media blitz (not to mention my own fairly well-laden to-do list), that will have to happen later this summer… but I assure you, it will be worth the wait. Meanwhile, I thought that we should at least honor the spirit of our author livechats by giving you the opportunity to submit your own burning questions for “Maximum Bob.” I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to get answers to all of them, but I’ll certainly do my best to make sure that the most germane queries at least get an airing. After all, if I’m going to tangle with one of the more formidable figures in the auto industry, I’ll need the full weight of TTAC’s inquisitiveness and savvy at my disposal.

By on June 19, 2011


The sad story of Maybach’s mini boom-and-bust, reborn in the go-go 90s only to die in the “Great Recession,” may not have the tidy ending we’ve been expecting for years now. Yes, Automotive News Europe [sub] reports that death is one of the three official options for the Maybach brand… and it’s certainly the option I’d pick. But if Daimler didn’t want to hold onto the plutocratic appeal of its zombie brand, Maybach would have died with a little dignity some time ago. And remember, the decline of Maybach is not the result of a decline in the über-luxury market… Rolls-Royce is selling cars hand-over-fist.

Accordingly, Daimler is exploring two “death alternatives” for Maybach: One, is rebuilding the brand in partnership with Aston-Martin, the other is relegating Maybach to a range-topping trim level. Aston has reportedly built four concepts on the next-gen S-Class chassis, so a new lineup is a real possibility, but then turning Maybach into “the AMG of Luxury,” and offering high-end trim for the S, GL and CL models would be cheaper and possibly even more profitable. And of course there’s always the eternal option: death. Which strategy would you suggest to Daimler before spending your giant consultants fee on a Rolls-Royce Ghost?


By on June 9, 2011

Given that the most dangerous part of a car is the driver, I’m basically sympathetic to the idea of some kind mandatory driver education… but I also know that my fellow Americans tend to oppose limitations on their “right to drive.” Unless, apparently, you happen to be a high schooler, in which case Minnesota and South Carolina (and possibly California in the near future) won’t let you get a license unless you can prove you are attending a high school. It’s not the only example of automotive ageism out there… and because I tend to favor regular testing for elderly drivers, it’s a little difficult to oppose this on principle alone. Except that, unlike elderly driver testing, this isn’t about auto safety per se, but about school attendance rates. Does that make a difference? Or is there perhaps a safety benefit from banning dropout drivers? Help me out here B&B (especially those with high school-age kids or experience with these laws)… does this make any sense, or not?

By on May 30, 2011

When Chrysler celebrated its payback of “every penny that had been loaned less than two years ago” last week, I noted that CEO Sergio Marchionne’s triumphant line was technically correct, but hardly represented the whole truth of the story. I pointed to $1.5b in supplier aid that helped keep Chrysler afloat, as well $1.9b worth of the Bush Administration’s “bridge loan” to “Old Chrysler,” prior to its government-guided bankruptcy and sale to Fiat. Apparently my more-inclusive accounting of the price of Chrysler’s rescue (which was picked up elsewhere in the online media) caused Mr Gualberto Ranieri, Chrysler VP of Communication, to spend some part of his Memorial Day Weekend writing a response of sorts, outlining Chrysler Group LLC’s perspective on the situation. Hit the jump for Ranieri’s statement, and my brief answer to the headline’s question.
(Read More…)

By on May 23, 2011

Hard on the heels of the release of Ferrari’s FF four-seater, Lamborghini’s Stephan Winkelmann tells Automotive News [sub]

We are going to have a third model. It has to be an everyday car. We want to have a car which is able to be used on a daily basis.

We’d heard as much back in December, but at the time it seemed that a production version of the Estoque Concept would be the third model line. That’s not necessarily the case, as it turns out, as Winkelmann admits that Lambo “has not yet decided which segment the car will belong to.” Between the strong reception Ferrari’s FF has received from the press and its background making one of the first four-seat supercars, the Espada, it seems that a two-door, four (full) seater has to be a top candidate. On the other hand, a four-door sedan would help the brand capitalize on the Panamera/Quattroporte market, which has been doing quite well globally (and would help the brand make progress in the Chinese market)… provided it doesn’t look anything like the uninspired Estoque. Alternatively, a modern interpretation of the bat-shit-crazy, Countach V-12 powered LM002 SUV might even be an option, despite Winkelmann’s previous protests, as his latest quote seems to indicate that anything is on the table at this point.

So jump in, Best and Brightest. What kind of car should Lamborghini develop as its third model line, and how can they walk the line between Lamborghini’s now-trademark extravagant impracticality and the desire to sell “everyday cars”?

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