The Truth About Cars » Between the Lines The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:48:26 +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 » Between the Lines IIHS Study Loves Red Light Cameras, Says Americans Do Too Thu, 30 Jun 2011 21:02:41 +0000

The controversy over red light cameras, once relegated to websites like TTAC,, and, is hitting the mainstream media thanks to a new study by the IIHS [PDF here]. The study used the following methodology:

Telephone surveys were conducted with 3,111 drivers in 14 large cities (population greater than 200,000) with long-standing red light camera programs and 300 drivers in Houston, using random samples of landline and cellphone numbers. For analyses combining responses from the 14 cities, cases were weighted to reflect each city’s share of the total population for the 14 cities.

And what did they find?

Among drivers in the 14 cities with red light camera programs, two-thirds favor the use of cameras for red light enforcement, and 42 percent strongly favor it. The chief reasons for opposing cameras were the perceptions that cameras make mistakes and that the motivation for installing them is revenue, not safety. Forty-one percent of drivers favor using cameras to enforce right-turn-on-red violations. Nearly 9 in 10 drivers were aware of the camera enforcement programs in their cities, and 59 percent of these drivers believe the cameras have made intersections safer. Almost half know someone who received a red light camera citation and 17 percent had received at least one ticket themselves. When compared with drivers in the 14 cities with camera programs, the percentage of drivers in Houston who strongly favored enforcement was about the same (45 percent), but strong opposition was higher in Houston than in the other cities (28 percent versus 18 percent).

Sounds like those red light cameras are pretty great after all, doesn’t it? That’s certainly the IIHS’s takeaway…

The IIHS concludes:

Most drivers in cities with long-standing red light camera programs support cameras and recognize their safety benefits, but communities could do a better job of educating the public about the dangers of right-turn-on-red violations and the need for enforcement. Given that camera opponents frequently said cameras make mistakes, it appears communities also could do a better job of explaining the safeguards that ensure citations are issued only to drivers who clearly run red lights.

But that’s a fairly one-sided interpretation of the data, as you might expect from a body that derives its funding from the insurance industry, which in turn has a vested interest in anything that might reduce insurance payouts, regardless of other drawbacks or context. What do I mean by that? Let’s go line-by-line through the IIHS’s conclusions:

Most drivers in cities with long-standing red light camera programs support cameras and recognize their safety benefits

First of all, the data underlying this conclusion is skewed by only including respondents in cities with “long-running red light camera systems.” The only exception is one city that had red light cameras but voted them out: Houston. And despite finding stronger opposition there than in other cities with red light cameras, the IIHS is forced to concede another problematic finding: “In Houston, 53 percent of voters cast ballots against the cameras in November 2010. In the current study, however, 57 percent of the drivers interviewed said they favor camera enforcement, and 45 strongly favor cameras”).

So where are the respondents from cities that had cameras but voted them out? Where in this report can we hear the voices of the citizens of Anaheim? Or Cincinnati? Or San Bernadino? Or how about Baytown, Texas, where the fraudulent tendencies of the red light camera companies couldn’t have been more obvious? Sadly, the list goes on. The IIHS has made its point about “cities with long-standing red light camera programs,” but it’s not at all clear that this data reflects wider American sentiment.

Meanwhile, even among this selective data set, there are issues. When asked if drivers running red lights is a problem in the city, the most common answer, with 38%, was “not a problem.” The next-most popular choice, with 31.8%: “somewhat of a problem.” Furthermore, nearly 93% of respondents said they had not run a red light in the last 30 days, further indicating that the problem is rare and limited to a small percentage of the population. A more fair presentation of the data would simply state that drivers see red-light running as having high risk potential, but that they don’t see it as a common, or everyday problem. This doubtless helps fuel a major complaint about red light cameras, namely that they exist primarily for revenue generation rather than safety.

Given that camera opponents frequently said cameras make mistakes, it appears communities also could do a better job of explaining the safeguards that ensure citations are issued only to drivers who clearly run red lights.

For one thing, the fallibility of cameras was not overwhelmingly chosen as a reason for opposition. At 26.4%, it was the number one reason for opposing, but “focus is on money, not safety” was an extremely close second, at 26.1%. If anything, the need for education is not limited to “explaining safeguards,” but rather explaining the financial incentives that local governments and photo enforcement firms have to rack up as many tickets, accurate or not, as possible. After all, if 4.4 percent are saying “camera programs cost too much money,” clearly there’s a disconnect between how people view red light cameras and the reality (as red light cameras are almost always revenue positive for local governments, unless massive errors or fraud force them to return fines).

but communities could do a better job of educating the public about the dangers of right-turn-on-red violations and the need for enforcement… it appears communities also could do a better job of explaining the safeguards that ensure citations are issued only to drivers who clearly run red lights.

Too bad the IIHS hadn’t sounded the alarm on the need for pro-red light camera “education” a few months ago… Bill Kroske might still have a job. In all seriousness, the 90%+ awareness level among respondents seems to indicate that folks do know that the cameras exist… what the IIHS seems to be suggesting is that people should be indoctrinated to believe that more red lights are fundamentally good, and that these beneficent cameras never screw up. Both of these points of “education” are aimed more at propagating photo enforcement industry talking points than furthering the public good.

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Between The Lines: Them’s The Brakes, Corvette ZR1 Tue, 04 Jan 2011 17:56:32 +0000
Though an objectively awesome car by any (non-environmental) metric (review forthcoming, I promise) some Corvette ZR1 owners are plagued with a strange brake vibration. Which, thanks to the Corvette Forum, is available for all and sundry to see. But let’s dig a little deeper: bearing in mind the customer involved is a personal friend, and his paraphrased comments are as follows.

I picked up my new ZR1 on Oct 29 and as soon as I got up to 75 the steering wheel began to vibrate…I then took the car straight to the only person on this earth I feel good about working on my corvette, Danny Popp at McKluskey Chev in Cincinatti OH. Pulled wheels and all balanced 0 on Hunter balancer.

In simple English, the diagnosis made it clear that the Michelin tires are not the problem. The next diagnosis goes one step further: Brembo rotors.

Unhappy, scratched head, went back to Danny. Pulled rotors and stuck them on balancer and they were out 1.5 oz!

An imbalance of that size, on a car with such little un-sprung weight at the (ceramic) rotors can be a significant problem. The solution?

We then balanced my carbon rotors by inserting bolts from the inside out and then threading on nuts from the outside with a set of long pliers. Put them back on car and took it out and OMG for the first time since owning the car the highway ride was dead smooth. So happy I want back and hugged Danny. Mystery solved. Now for the permanent fix which obviously should be new (balanced) rotors and should only be a phone call away for a new 120 k vibrating car. (Or even a vibrating cobalt for that matter)

But then again, that often leads to another problem: Customer Service, or lack thereof:

GMs first reply was that they know about the problem and the fix is to counterbalance the assembly by adding 1.5 to the wheels and indexing them so if removed they could be placed back in same location. Bull$&@#!

But wait, there’s more:

Danny had to work his way up the food chain until he got to talk to a brake engineer who basically admitted that they had run out of the supply of “Validated” i.e. balanced rotors and at some point had begun to put on non-validated rotors but that he would immediately send me out a set of validated and balanced rotors which he did.

Which, of course, gets a customer thinking:

I have mine and I am happy, but I hate to think about how many man hours are spent by customers like myself who are taking time off figuring this out and getting it fixed while GM knows about the issue and is still putting these S#%t rotors on their flagship car. I have lost serious loyalty and faith in GM on this one. They need to come clean now and do a recall on these.

Tru dat. A recall is the only way, even if the problem comes from Brembo, not GM. Read towards the end of the thread, and we find the real problem: the major flaw in GM’s customer service. The following is taken from the Corvette specialist who worked on the ZR1 in question:

I have gone through all of the GM protocol to fix this car properly and GM is interested in fixing his and all Corvette owners problems correctly. They are very aware of current situations more than you know…..they may even know about this particular thread (ask me how I know ;-) ).

If GM knows, why doesn’t the person associated with the Corvette brand post on the Forum on their behalf? Is silence really a smart PR move in the Internet age?

New in stock rotors have balance potential from Brembo and in speaking with GM they are deriving a procedure to check and balance rotors for cars that have this problem in the field. They are feverishly working on the protocol for this. This is obviously not a GM manufactured component; they have worked with the supplier to have this not happen from here in the future.

In fairness to GM, we must consider these are not commonplace GM parts. Who else had the stones to put these on a mass-produced vehicle as standard equipment? Then again, that isn’t our beef.

For those of you who have these problems and are frustrated, please contact your dealer and have them address your concerns and involve technical assistance. On that note all dealers are not created equally and every dealer my not have a Corvette only specialist that may be as involved as I.

So where you buy a six-figure Corvette ZR1 isn’t necessarily the same place it should receive service. And now would be a good time to make a significant donation to the Corvette Forum, ‘natch. Which doesn’t speak well of any Chevy dealer lacking a Corvette specialist, if we had a list of said dealers. And while I once disagreed with RF’s way-back-when comment about the Corvette’s relevance to Chevrolet

“At some point in the near future, as soon as we can, the Corvette will rejoin GM’s fleet as a Cadillac. It will be a different car, with the same goal: to give enthusiasts the world’s best and most thrilling sports car, bar none. An all-American product.”

…honestly, a low volume niche car like the Corvette ZR1 deserves a more worthy customer experience. Perhaps Cadillac dealers should be the only retail distributors of the Corvette brand, as we can assume superior service comes with The Penalty Of Leadership.

And with that thought, back to you, Best and Brightest.

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On Detroit’s Guzzling Ways Fri, 17 Dec 2010 20:18:42 +0000

One of the more admirable qualities of the blogging culture is a relentless underdog streak. Anyone who mans the ramparts of a decent blog is forever scouring the worlds of business, media and opinion for an opportunity to attack the most prominent voices of the day. And TTAC is no exception: we certainly came up by attacking the apologists and Polyannas who are still massively overrepresented in the world of automotive commentary. But what a difference a bailout makes. While the mainstream automotive media spent much of the leadup to the auto bailout making apologies and excuses for Detroit’s decline, TTAC told the unpleasant truth, gaining us new readers and credibility every step of the way. Now that I find myself being asked to contribute to one of the most prestigious opinion outlets in the world (the NY Times op-ed page) on a regular basis, TTAC is no longer the underdog, and other blogs have stepped into the breach to attack us as the new status quo. Fair enough… let’s do this thing.

After an embarrassing hacker attack left its commenter base vulnerable and seething, it’s no wonder that Gawker’s Jalopnik car blog decided to lead the charge against my latest Op-Ed on Detroit’s “Guzzling” ways. And because the entertainment-oriented car blog has wisely decided to hire the former Detroit Free Press reporter Justin Hyde, they actually have someone on staff worthy of taking up the debate. Unfortunately, however, Hyde seems more interested in penning a takedown than actually engaging in a debate about the issues raised in the piece.

Hyde thesis is essentially that “Niedermeyer wants to blame Detroit for building the pickups and SUVs that remain popular with buyers” and that “Detroit can rightfully claim a share of leadership in green cars.” Towards the end of the piece he distills the argument:

So according to the Times, if gas prices don’t rise and Americans don’t buy greener vehicles, then the bailout of GM and Chrysler fell short. If gas prices do rise — creating the demand for the more-efficient models Detroit has now shown it can produce — that’s also bad, because the credit markets will suffer, and then flying unicorns attack Detroit and its Bailout II: Electric Boogaloo.

The implication is that I am somehow responsible for creating this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t dynamic. What Hyde clearly doesn’t understand is that I never took to a public forum and attempted to make a politically unpopular bailout more palatable among certain constituencies by claiming that it would transform Detroit’s automakers from truck and SUV-dependent “dinosaurs” (the White House’s words, not mine) into green car leaders. My op-ed wasn’t meant to suggest any particular policy, or to push Detroit into either being “Pelosimobile” pushers or SUV-dependent laggards, but to point out the disconnect between an important justification for the bailout (green transformation) and the reality (GM and Chrysler have the worst fleet fuel economy numbers in the business). Hyde accidentally puts his finger on this reality when he writes

It may be news to the anti-SUV crowd, but Detroit can rightfully claim a share of leadership in green cars.

The first half of this sentence explains why my op-ed was necessary (the second half is highly debatable, witness the fleet-wide efficiency reality). Like it or not, SUVs do have a terrible reputation around the world, and Americans who oppose them on moral grounds can’t be blamed for taking Obama at his word and assuming that the government-led “transformation” of Detroit would lead GM and Chrysler to de-prioritize large gas guzzlers. Nowhere do I state that the government should have forced GM or Chrysler to build certain vehicles, but I absolutely understand why Americans might be disappointed to find out that the green rhetoric surrounding the bailout turned out to be just so much hot air.

But there’s that Catch-22 again: either Obama had to intervene in the day-to-day operations of the automakers, exposing him to libertarian and conflict-of-interest critiques, or he had to let GM and Chrysler operate purely on the basis of profit motivation, allowing old, bad habits to continue unchecked. But did TTAC create this lose-lose situation, or did Obama himself create it by justifying the bailout on green grounds? The fundamental problem here is that the American people overwhelmingly opposed the auto bailout, and rather than simply sell the policy as “the right thing to do” (a line that did emerge in the Administration’s rhetoric, but only after the bailout improved the auto-sector job situation) he had to sweeten the pot by promising that Detroit would transform into green car crusaders. Obama, not TTAC, promised the “flying unicorns”… we simply pointed out that

the bailouts have created a perverse new dynamic. With G.M. stock now being publicly traded on Wall Street, taxpayers have every incentive to cheer on the bailed-out automaker as it overproduces vehicles and pushes cheap credit. After all, the sooner G.M.’s stock hits a certain level — likely around $52 per share — the sooner the Treasury can sell its remaining equity and get taxpayers out of risk.

There’s certainly an argument to be made that allowing Detroit to operate as a business, though detrimental to Obama’s green goals, was the lesser of the two evils. But, as is so often the case when Jalopnik strays into heavy opinion, Hyde refuses to even take that stand. Instead, he concludes with a paragraph that oozes the kind of thinking that has enabled Detroit’s complacency for decades:

For this holiday, I’d wish for a few days where we set aside the kvetching about what the U.S. auto industry is or isn’t, and simply enjoy the fact that we as a nation decided a couple hundred thousand people should earn a living in manufacturing instead of hearing their children ask Santa Claus to stop their electricity from being shut off. I would also wish for better insights into the auto industry from the New York Times op-ed page, but I know better than to ask for flying unicorns.

In short, the message is “quit your whining.” For a piece entitled What The New York Times Op-Ed Page Doesn’t Know About Cars, that’s a pretty weak payoff. The American taxpayers made a massive investment in an industry that is constantly plagued by boom-bust cycles, makes huge gambles that destroy billions in wealth, and follows interests which, in the eyes of many, fundamentally trades off with the well-being of America’s environment and economy… but Hyde would prefer that we didn’t discuss any such trade-offs inherent in this kind of intervention. Given that the piece in question raises a number of issues that aren’t huge problems at the moment, but are indicative of industry backsliding into old bad habits (fleet sales, incentives, etc), isn’t discussing their trade-offs and raising awareness of them a fairly reasonable topic for an opinion piece?

And this is where Jalopnik and Hyde let down the blogosphere’s proud tradition of attacking op-ed columnists: if you’re going to imply that someone knows nothing about cars, you need to do better than wishing an end to all criticism of the bailout, or discussion of its fundamental contradictions. Blogs are about ongoing debates, but rather than adding anything meaningful to the war of ideas, Jalopnik simply retreats into the kind of “leave Britney alone” apologia that screams “we can’t handle the truth.” Luckily, readers who share Hyde’s visceral disagreement with my words but want more substance than limp-wristed a plea for censorship can always turn to TTAC’s comment section, where a vibrant exchange of ideas is already under way. After all, we don’t mind at all when people disagree with us; we all learn by having their views challenged. But the debate must go on…

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Between The Lines: Smarter Than Luxury? Fri, 01 Oct 2010 13:05:35 +0000

Is going Between the Lines this time ‘round more like shooting fish in a barrel?  Let’s find out with the latest ad campaign from Lincoln, as covered by the Detroit Free Press:

Ford said today it is rolling out a new ad campaign for its Lincoln brand with the tagline “Smarter than Luxury,” and starring John Slattery, who portrays Roger Sterling in the TV series “Mad Men.”

There’s an ironic element there, considering the behind-the-scenes marketing dialogue seen on the TV show.  If the boffins at Lincoln chose “Smarter than Luxury” over everything else, I gotta know what they passed on.  Perhaps “Lincoln: Our Stuff Looks Like Poop Dung” was already under consideration for the Lincoln Log people.

“This campaign shows that Lincoln offers a heightened sense of style, craftsmanship and technology and we’re showing that off in a new way for this brand,” Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing communications said in a statement.”

While Lincoln’s progression from nothingness to somethingness is noteworthy, it should be noted that this campaign promises nothing to show Lincoln’s heightened sense of yadda-yadda-yadda. You know what would?  Giving the media a teaser of an ad that stacks Lincolns up against their competition in stylish but aloof advertisements, in a very Top Gear kinda way. Play a modern remake of Commander Cody’s Lincoln-esque hit in the background, and finish with anything but “Smarter than Luxury.” Surely that’d “heighten some senses” and show off the brand like a sonofagun.

Probably not, since I just made that up.  But it still sucks less than the phrase, “Smarter than Luxury.”

“We’re going to challenge people’s perceptions of luxury and show that we deliver more technology and luxury for an unexpected amount of content for the price,” VanDyke said.

To which a recently deposed Lincoln-Mercury dealer noted, “they are already ‘challenging people’s perceptions of luxury’ by selling and servicing Lincolns next to a Ford Focus.” After informing him that Lincoln is coming out with a small car based on said Ford, the Lincoln-Mercury dealer’s head exploded.

The launch of a print ad campaign will coincide with the TV ads…designed to evoke emotion and challenge customer perceptions of luxury.

That sounds rather challenging, if they use the phrase “Smarter than Luxury” in print.

The TV ads will feature the latest Lincoln vehicles, the 2011 Lincoln MKX crossover and the 2011 MKZ Hybrid sedan, along with Slattery.

In all seriousness, if Lincoln refrains from offering a great lease in this ad campaign, avoiding the endless cycle of incentive promotion and breaking rank with Cadillac to instead promote the product (a la BMW and others), this campaign will be a success.  That is when we shall know that Lincoln is, well, Smarter than Luxury.

PS: When this was posted, the presentation for the “Smarter Than Luxury” campaign by the Action Marketing Group could be downloaded here. The “download budget” button was wisely disabled.

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Between the Lines: For Police, Every Week Is Panther Appreciation Week Mon, 20 Sep 2010 20:21:37 +0000

A crop of new police cars drew more than 400 law enforcement officials to Chrysler’s proving grounds in Chelsea today to see the Michigan State Police put the cars through acceleration, braking, high-speed handling and other tests.

This article isn’t gonna end well for Ford, and not just because it’s Panther Appreciation Week here at TTAC.

“They will have a tough time,” said Terry Sweezey, public safety officer from Leoni Township. “It is a whole different driving system.”

Understatement of the century, but Ford is all about leveraging what sales laggards they currently have on the books, and cramming it down every channel (SUV, CUV, Sedan, Fleet Sedan, etc) they can find. And who can blame them for wanting to cut off another profitable limb from their tree? Oh wait, I would do just that.

Plus, I wonder if Terry had an invite to the Police Interceptor Love Fest a few months ago. Because nobody mentioned the “whole different driving system” in the PowerPoint presentation.

Ford has long dominated the police car market with about 70% of the 75,000 police cars sold annually. However, the Dearborn automaker will stop producing the Crown Victoria next August and is replacing it with the far more modern Police Interceptor.

Way to cushion the blow, Detroit Free Press. If modern cars like the Taurus were desirable to Police fleets, the original Ford Taurus and the current Chevy Impala would rule the world. And, with FWD passenger cars now (theoretically) fully adopted, municipalities would demand 9,000 rpm V-TEC powered Priuses that run on moustache hair trimmings and donut frosting by now.

Both the Charger and Caprice are rear-wheel drive cars and the Caprice was the market leader before GM discontinued it in 1996. Rear-wheel drive cars are preferred by police departments because they tend to be more durable, are cheaper to repair and make it easier to perform high-speed maneuvers.

Why isn’t this the story’s lede? Oh wait, not pulling punches about wrong-wheel drive Police Interceptors might be keeping it a little too real.

“We drove Caprices for many, many years…so with Chevy coming back in with the rear wheel-drive Caprice, we are definitely very interested,” said Marlyn Dietz, a captain with the Wilmington, Police Department.

Put another way, “we don’t give two shits about a Taurus Cop Car now that we see superior offerings from GM and Chrysler, back to back. And quite franky, RoboCop sucked too.”

The Caprice’s 6.0-liter V8 is rated at an estimated 355 horsepower. Dietz said his department also likes the extra space provided by the Caprice. The Caprice has 122 cubic feet of interior space, which GM says is more than any of its competitors.

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, but OMG, there’s even a website for the Caprice Cop car! I wonder if Ford’s wicked Police Interceptor badges fit on its trunk. Those badges are cool, and I know Ford dealers sell them for cheap! I can buy, like, a hundred of those badges for the cost of one turbo on a Taurus…

The Caprice has 122 cubic feet of interior space, which GM says is more than any of its competitors. “That’s a big deal. When you have two big guys in a car, with a laptop, and you need to have room for them to move around and function,” Dietz said. Space and comfort are also important because officers spend hours inside their cars every day, he said.

Have we ever figured out why the console is so gigantic on the Taurus, Five Hundred, etc? And, aside from the column shift, why the Interceptor is no better? Oh wait…the Panther chassis sucks because it’s too old school, so never mind.

More to the point, Caprice 9C1 LS-X powertrain FTW!

Tony Gratson, sales manager for Ford’s government fleet vehicles, said the performance through curves and in bad weather of the all-wheel drive version of the Police Interceptor is actually better than rear-wheel drive vehicles. Still, he conceded many officers will need additional training to make the transition.

I would kill for that “transitional” training manual. One: don’t treat our Taurus like your Crown Vic or any RWD Chrysler or GM cop car, because the transaxle might implode. Two: stop bitching about the Taurus’ visibility, we gave up on the Panther ten years ago and it’s too late to turn back. Three: put down that Dodge Charger fleet brochure right now, Mister!

Eugene Mitchell, senior manager of government fleet sales for Chrysler, said the 2011 Dodge Charger Pursuit has 15% more visibility than the outgoing version because of an adjustment to the angle of the windshield. It also has 3.6-liter V6 engine with 285 horsepower that has 30 more horsepower than the outgoing version or a 5.7-liter V8 engine with 360 horsepower.

Mitchell was also quoted as being happy enough to wet his pants when he saw the Taurus Police Interceptor in the flesh. “First we got a few Chargers in fleets nationwide, but now Ford wants us to succeed so badly they’re giving us the whole shebang for nothing! I’d offer them some of our bailout money if I thought they needed it!”

Jerry Newbury, fleet operations manager for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Ford’s decision to end production of the Crown Victoria is ushering in a wave of innovation in police cars that was long overdue.“They were very stale, very outdated and technology had not kept up,” Newbury said of the previous police cars. “I think there are some things coming in the next two or three years that are really going to change the police business.”

Newbury added, “thanks again to Ford for not making a modern rear-wheel drive, V8 powered Police Vehicle. This makes our decision 33% easier. Do you know a good vacation spot in the Caribbean? I got time off I really need to burn.”

Preliminary results from three-day tests hosted by the Michigan State Police are expected in several weeks and final results are scheduled to be published in December.

We already know the results. I’m memorizing the front/rear facades of the Charger and Caprice as we speak. Too bad neither of them are as memorable as the almond-eyes of the 90s Ford Police Interceptor. You know, that time when Panther Appreciation week happened in places outside of TTAC.

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Between the Lines: Corvettemegeddon! Thu, 02 Sep 2010 18:30:40 +0000

One of the world’s foremost authorities on Automotive Journalism recently got their hands on a trio of Corvettes just for fun. But what unfolded was on the verge of hilarity, if not for their self-proclaimed journalistic superiority over us “punk kids with lots of servers and a desire to get free test drives.”

And that’s why it stings, in case you missed the backhanded TTAC insults in the link above. So let’s start with the Video reviews: I am no Jack Baruth, but I see numerous problems with their driving.  For one, Edmunds Chris Walton is caught–on camera–with his hand on the bottom of the tiller. (2:00 in the Grand Sport video) Anyone who’s taken a weekend driving school knows that 9-and-3 hand positions are the only way to fly.  After a brief reality check with Baruth, the other glaring deficiency comes to light: rarely, if ever, did Edmunds come close to hitting a racing line.

While power-on oversteering burnouts and gratuitous audio of LS-X mills are most welcome, Edmunds needs to hit apexs, take advantage of the entire track, and generally drive to the expectations of their most savvy readers.  To that effect, the commentator “1krider1” has it right: “Get some track instruction and learn to drive.” And consider the source, he’s probably be NASA racer/LeMons winner and Speed:Sport:Life contributor Rob Krider.  I’m no Tiff Nidel, but the rest of Edmund’s puff piece leaves much to be desired.

After just one launch with our Quicksilver Metallic 2002 Z06, it was obvious that the trick to getting the most out of the veteran Vette would be traction management. While Team Corvette has just announced major improvements are in store for its preferred Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, nothing could be done for these vintage examples because they were toast.

Don’t take my word for it, the comments section is filled with complaints that Edmund’s didn’t spring for a new set of tires when putting a C5 Corvette against a pair of hand plucked, PR-approved C6s from GM’s stable. With very little doubt, the C5 Z06’s track numbers on fresh rubber would easily match or (probably) beat the 2010 Grand Sport.

Again, it’s those tires. Surely the skid pad would reveal how little ultimate grip remained in the weary run-flats, and we were right. At 0.92g of lateral acceleration, the result shows some decline from the 1.0g a car like this could post in 2002

Apparently Edmunds isn’t big on doing their homework, since the C5 Z06 never came with run-flat tires. And if they installed a set, shame on them for stacking the cards in the C6’s favor.

As our test driver said after finishing this portion of the track test and anticipating the next day’s adventure on a road circuit, “I know I should be looking forward to driving three Corvettes on a racetrack tomorrow, but after today, I’m not so sure about this car. I’ll give it my 98 percent effort and reserve 2 percent just in case.”

Let’s blame the old car, not the people using worn rubber in a comparison test. Stay classy, Edmunds.

The Grand Sport now proves communicative, and we could confidently explore its limits thanks to its quick turn into each cone and the ability to throttle-steer the rear of the car. Did we just say that about a Corvette?

If you’ve spent enough time around C5 and (especially) C6 vettes, you’d know that they all behave this well once you ditch the run-flat tires for normal rubber. Or, for maximum butt kicking, installing the barely-legal Michelin Pilot Sport Cups used on top dollar Porkers.

We finally managed a run of 71.3 mph with the stability control on while sawing madly at the disinclined steering wheel.

Let’s hope you weren’t “sawing”  from the bottom of the steering wheel.  Not that you should saw at the wheel. Ever.  Especially when mad.

(We tried to verify with GM if these discrepancies could be explained by the Carbon’s active suspension or any other differences in hardware, but the Corvette engineers reported that the steering racks of the two cars are identical and further insisted that our impressions of the two cars should be reversed. Hmmm, sounds to us like prototype engineering might be the culprit.)

Not exactly. We might answer this question if we knew the Carbon’s active handling status: 100% on, 100% off and if the Traction Control was disabled or in “Competitive Driving” mode.  Edmunds needs to get off of the usual excuses for prototype vehicles and fess up to which mode was used while “sawing madly” at the wheel. I am not the only C5/C6 handling nanny-savvy reader on the planet, so let’s just finish this train wreck.

We have no qualms declaring the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Carbon Edition the best Corvette money can buy. You might suggest that the ZR1 represents a better deal since you get 133 hp more for just $5,495 more. But here’s the deal. The Porsche 911 GT2 is more powerful and both quicker and faster on a drag strip (and more expensive) than a Porsche 911 GT3, yet we still prefer the immediacy of the GT3′s naturally aspirated engine, its linear power delivery and the overall cohesive personality of the chassis. The same goes for the Corvette Z06 Carbon.

Wrong. Unlike the small displacement, turbo laggy Porsche GT2, there’s no lack of immediacy with a twin screw supercharger on a 6.2 liter V8.  Go ahead and ask me how I know. I know GM didn’t provide you a ZR1 for testing, but how could Edmunds get this so wrong? Oh wait, the lure of free press cars.  And the promise of more free press cars.  Press cars!

Benefit of the doubt: perhaps Edmund’s believes the ZR1 isn’t as track worthy because of the issues with heat soak in forced induction applications.  But will the intercooled “Z” lose 133 horses in 100+ degree weather on an asphalt track? Not bloody likely.

If Edmunds has the nerve to pull this stunt again, they better stop “sawing madly” at the wheel. And call out the Carbon Z06 as a fashion-statement fraud, because the Z06 + Z07 package is the real deal. Then they better put new tires on the C5 Z06. Have we journalists learned nothing from the Firestone tire debacle? If Edmunds doesn’t learn from their mistakes, they might face the wrath of more commentators like “1krider1” when he said:

“You guys are an embarrassment to real auto journalists.”

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Between the Lines: Wither The V8? Thu, 24 Jun 2010 21:25:19 +0000

As we all know, those oblivious to history are bound to repeat its mistakes. Longtime readers also know I’ve gone down this road before, but the powers of my Twitter news feed shoved extra grist into this particular mill. Behold: Alain Raymond’s blog about the death of the V8 engine. Raymond’s weakest argument revolves around one fact: V8’s did lose mainstream appeal shortly after the demise of the Butterfly Collar. But Alain wishes to beat this dead horse for some misguided reason.

So here are my counterpoints. First, the V8 is crucial for the success of high profit, low volume luxury and performance machines. Second, everything a “high tech” four or six cylinder is privy to, shall work just as well in a V8. Third, if you have a mainstream family car with a V8, you’re might be a cop or a cabbie.

So let’s go Between The Lines:

When you think V8, you think American car, and when you think American Car, you generally think V8. But things are starting to change. Radically. To the point where it’s starting to look like beginning of the end for the venerable 8-cylinder V engine that, for decades, has made the American automobile famous.

Welcome to mid-1970s, Alain. Except for perhaps India and China, everyone makes a V8 engine. But let’s stick with America: outside of Corvettes, Pony Cars and Panther Chassis, nobody associates American cars with the V8. In response to consumer demand, Detroit’s made cars like the imports. But Alain wants to squelch a niche product that makes Mustangs roar and Ford’s profits soar. So let’s go there.

Some will think I’m nuts or maybe just a doomsayer, but let’s take a look at the facts. The arrival of electronics has breathed new life into the internal combustion engine. The progress made in terms of reliability, power and pollution reduction in the past 20 years has been significant.

Alain isn’t nuts, just misinformed: every improvement to the internal combustion engine has an equal benefit to all members. Electronics, advanced metallurgy and manufacturing, variable displacement engines and induction systems are no strangers to the V8 engine. What was once exclusive to the 1990 Corvette ZR-1 is now available in a 2011 Mustang 5.0, but with even more goodies (variable valve timing) this time ‘round. And many V8s are just as “dirty” as the hi-po V6s in the same market: is the Infiniti G37’s economy and carbon footprint significantly better than a Hyundai Genesis? If you have the green to buy a $40,000 luxury vehicle, the extra nickels and dimes needed to feed a V8 is far from relevant.

Take Volkswagen’s 2-litre, direct injection turbo engine, for instance: it now produces 200 hp, 100 hp per cylinder, while a few years ago we only managed to wring out 50 hp per litre.

Ricer Math: the bullshit notion that horsepower per liter means something, anything in the real world. Chassis weight, area under the torque curve, gearing (double overdrive Corvettes) and even aerodynamics screw up that argument. Let’s overlook the Ricer Math: direct injection doesn’t hate V8 engines. The DI units from Jaguar are kicking butt: the fuel/carbon specs of a 5.0L Jag XF and a 4.2L S-type are disturbingly similar. But the 5.0L has over 80 more ponies underfoot. Add a turbo (or two) to the mix, and you have the stunning performance of BMW’s latest 5 or 7-series. The Laws of Thermodynamics don’t lie, so wait until the M5 gets direct injection and a pair of turbos.

Another telling example is Ford’s EcoBoost family of engines, four-cylinder and V6 mills with direct injection, turbochargers and variable valve timing.

The four bangers have promise, as Hyundai’s latest Sonata proves: the direct injected and turbocharged I-4 could care less about the V8, its enemy are V6s found in everything from a Toyota Camry to a Nissan 370Z. Ford’s EcoBoost V6 requires all-wheel drive: making a Lincoln MKS just as terrible as a Hyundai Genesis V8, per ratings. And while Ford plans to put an EcoBoost V6 in something without fuel robbing AWD, an Ecoboost F-150 or Mustang is gonna be interesting from a pricing and availability standpoint: with a motor that expensive and complex, don’t hold your breath on it making waves with people who buy trucks and Pony cars for their intended duty. Who wants a $33,000-ish Mustang or $27,000-ish work truck without a V8?

In its 4-cylinder, 2-litre incarnation, the EcoBoost produces 230 hp (115 hp / L) and 240 ft-lb of torque. When you consider that the 4.6-litre V8 engine of a 2000 Mustang generated 260 hp (56.5 hp / L), it’s obvious that things have evolved quite a bit in just 10 years.

Stop the presses! Did Alain compare the Modular two-valve V8 (introduced with the 1991 Lincoln Town Car) to a modern design, using Ricer Math to tell the story? Because over time, the V8 gets better: take the new, 412hp, 5.0 Mustang with a 2-3 MPG improvement over the 2000 model. To quote Ricky Bobby, “Does that blow your mind? That just happened!”

This is a good time to mention that today’s V8s (especially those with direct injection) run with the modern four/six bangers, without the added expense, weight and durability issues of turbochargers and their associated plumbing. Not to mention without the power and economy killing disadvantages of forced induction in summertime heat soak conditions. And without the requisite upkeep (not found in owner’s manuals) that’s reduced a number of turbocharged VW/Audi products to sludged-up carcasses.

And it’s not over, as the next engine revolution will be coming from Italy in the shape of Fiat and its ingenious MultiAir system, which will be featured in the new lineup of Chrysler models. On the 1.4-litre Alfa Romeo MiTo, MultiAir enables a 170-hp output. That’s over 120 hp / L. If we extrapolate these numbers to the new 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, we get a theoretical engine output of 432 hp.

Chrysler’s ability to remain financially solvent aside, new technology is always great…until it’s not. But even if FIAT’s electro-hydraulic variable valve actuation technology works flawlessly for the next 10 years, wouldn’t a Chevy LS3 (@6.2L) make an eye-popping 753hp with such a ludicrous, baseless extrapolation? And who needs a Ferrari Enzo after that?

Will the V8 become obsolete? “Yes,” says Professor Rinaldo Rinolfi, inventor of MultiAir. “No one really needs more than 400 hp in a family car. The V8 is doomed to extinction.”

Looks like Rinaldo sold himself short: your design shall make any V8 far more desirable. Why narrow your appeal by excluding a demographic with insane amounts of disposable income? Buyers of V8 machines aren’t your average Camry/Fiat consumer. Reconsider your stance Professor, thinking of all the royalties you’ll earn on AMG’s stellar V8 portfolio! Because it’s all about the money, honey.

And if I told you that I tried the prototype of a Fiat 500 powered by a 900-cc (0.9-litre), 2-cylinder MultiAir and that it handled like a great 1.6-litre four-banger, would you believe me?

I’m speechless, trying to find the relevance of this (direct) quote in Alain’s argument. But two can play this game: what if I told you I sampled a 2004 Corvette that retails for less than a new Scion tC, has Ferrari-like handling and acceleration, 32 MPG with the air conditioning on @75mph and has 25 cubic feet of cargo in the hatch? The C5 Corvette is a fine alternative to wanna be sports cars for $18,000 or less. You know, for the performance minded individual who wants to spank every challenger they find on the road.

Back to some semblance of reality: the V8′s claim to fame is here to stay, be it in a Mustang 5.0, AMG-something, BMW-whatever, Hyundai Tau-anything or the obligatory Chevy LS-X. And as technologies like direct injection go mainstream, the V8′s dominance in the performance/luxury market will remain. And remain unquestioned. So repeat after me: long live the V8.

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Between The Lines: Pete Mateja’s Auto Industry “Myths” Fri, 09 Apr 2010 19:23:52 +0000

People do the right thing, unless money and power is involved. From the highest paid executives to the lowest ranking newbie, money and power is a motivator. Those in positions of accountability are held to a higher standard, and post-bailout Detroit is not immune to criticism. But in an act of corporate cheerleading, Pete Mateja’s Internet flamebait at Automotive News [sub] titled “Detroit had lousy management — and other myths that need debunking” shows how the “experts” got it wrong.

“For the past year, I have…seen commentaries by industry analysts and consultants giving their opinions on all the causes of the problems and wrongdoings in today’s auto world and, in particular, the Detroit 3. Everyone has become an expert.”

Perhaps these experts prefer someone take responsibility for the systematic destruction of billions in stockholder’s equity? And maybe they’ve run about eleventy-billion tests on Detroit’s offerings since the dawn of the Pontiac Astre to the death of the Pontiac Aztek? But Mateja has an inside line to myths that need de-bunking.

“Myth No. 1: It is because of bad management. Senior executives such as Rick Wagoner, Jim Press and Tom Lasorda were not ‘bad management.’ All of these people have degrees and knew the industry.”

I know many MBAs and have one myself: those execs can indeed manage and inspire people. But coming clean about their fundamentally broken system? Not on the syllabus. They were lying to themselves: lies that grew more heinous with every 10K filing.

“Could they have done things differently if they had known the depths of the recession? Sure. But this could be said for almost any senior executive in the past 18 months.”

Short-term thinking works on Wall Street, building a reputable brand with a strong customer base takes decades. Destroying it takes a few years, maybe eighteen months when you’re hooked on GMAC’s highly-addictive smack. Those responsible for the decades-long slide into bankruptcy were caught red handed: tracked by every financial statement known to man, available to anyone with an Internet connection, understood by anyone who stayed awake in a freshman-level accounting lecture.

“Myth No. 2: The truth is the Detroit 3 and North American manufacturers listened and built vehicles that consumers wanted for more than 10 years…You can go back to 1990, when GM was the first automaker to introduce an electric car — the Impact. This is bad management? To build what your customers want?”

Detroit puts their eggs in one basket: proper Detroit Iron in land yacht or SUV form. Dude, where’s my Corolla-fighter? The EV1 isn’t an egg, it’s a zygote: not likely to earn a dollar for years. Volt redo, anyone?

So let’s talk money, bread and butter. If Detroit made a world-class compact in the Ford Pinto or Chevy Vega, choosing the relentless pursuit of product perfection, there’d be no Escort, Cavalier, Cobalt, Focus or Cruze. Which makes for another failed Detroit adage, a new name brings fresh karma. But the captain and his crew never sought atonement for past transgressions. Or if they did, it never showed outside of Bill Ford’s mass-media mea culpa back in January 2006. And to quote Jon Stewart, “look how sorry Domino’s was just for their shitty pizza!”

“Myth No. 3: Government subsidies are bad. The reality is that other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, subsidize their industry in some form. At a conference in Los Angeles, Sean McAlinden of the Center for Automotive Research said it best: ‘We’re the only country in the world that expects its auto industry to exist without some government support.’”

CAR’s incestuous relationship with the Detroit 2.5 aside, this Texan remembers the potential closure of the GM plant in Arlington, and what the Ann Richards’ era of Texas government did to keep it alive. More to the point, the American South knows the value of government gravy to court automakers. Question is, which organization deserves our taxpayer dollars? The ones with years of solid, trendable growth and a portfolio of strong performers, or those who continue to make the same mistakes with a Golden Parachute in one hand and the fate of an entire region in the other?

“Myth No. 4: Too many dealers are bad for an auto manufacturer. The rationale behind this is ‘big is better.’”

Mateja’s right, look at Bill Heard for proof. But Detroit’s “push” supply chain was (is?) a mess, and dealerships are but one cog in that failed machine. And it’s difficult to clean up with anything short of a proper Chapter 11 filing. Again, look to the top for answers. Or lack thereof.

“Myth No. 5: Unions are the real culprits because of high wage and benefit packages…now that GM and Chrysler have gone bankrupt, everyone has had to come to the table to make financial sacrifices.”

Union management enabled corporate management’s operational stupidity for years, if not decades. So it goes back to the Money, honey. Nobody’s hands are clean, this video is only one data point in how Management kept the rank and file in the dark. And today, everyone must pay: what purpose does a Union serve if it cannot reserve the right to strike?

Mateja ends by throwing the critics a bone:

“In the upcoming months, we will see whether the love affair between consumers and Toyota is over, the auto bailout money from taxpayers was a wise investment or just a postponement of the inevitable…”

We shall. And who is responsible for what the critics and staffers at the GAO point out? The automotive execs, obviously. These folks didn’t have to run to Congress with begging bowls in hand, provided they never relied on profits from their finance arm to cover their shockingly high overhead. They never needed to lie to the citizens of Michigan (and elsewhere) who trusted them. Now if only we addressed the problems of a broken system years ago.

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