Tag: History

By on October 22, 2011

One of the earliest iterations of the “Low Speed Vehicle Today, World EV Domination Tomorrow” business model to emerge at the dawn of the electric car era was ZAP. But after being exposed on numerous occasions for its poor product quality, vaporware hype and stock manipulation (most infamously in this Wired story), ZAP disappeared from the EV scene in the US (the company’s official (read: sanitized) history can be found here). Last we heard, ZAP was hyping a venture with the Korean optics firm Samyang, but it seems the firm has spending the last year or so putting down roots in the Chinese market. Having merged with Jonway, the Chinese maker of scooters, ATVs and a CUV that looks suspiciously like the Toyota RAV4, ZAP came back to the US for the Automotive X-Prize, which it contested in a ZAP Alias, the three-wheeled, $38k vehicle that has not been produced in volume although the company is still accepting deposits for it. The Alias failed to finish in the X-Prize, but ZAP says that revenue from Jonway is funding the vehicle’s continued development (including a four-wheeled version)… which was supposed to debut way back in 2009.

Now Consumer Reports says the firm is focusing on selling electric RAV4 knockoffs produced by Jonway as it continues to work on the Alias. But the firm seems to have burnt too many bridges in the US, as it says it will focus on selling the EVs in China and other world markets… despite the fact that developing market EV sales are going nowhere.  But ZAP has left something of a legacy in the US: Senator Mitch McConnell, a critic of government loans for Solyndra, apparently pushed for a quarter-billion dollar federal loan to ZAP, opening him to charges of hypocrisy. Now, as ever, ZAP remains a fascinating fixture at the margins of the EV scene. And though it’s an interesting company to watch, it’s best when viewed from a safe distance…

By on October 16, 2011

Axle and transfer case-maker Marmon-Herrington is still around, supplying OEMs and the aftermarket alike with up-rated drivetrain components. But back in the ’40s and ’50s, the firm designed its own vehicles as well, from an air-droppable tank, to a South African armored car, to monocoque electric trolley buses. Its predecessor company, Marmon Motor Car Company, even built the first car to win the Indy 500, the Marmon Wasp. Sadly this beast, an experimental amphibious off-road (on-marsh) vehicle called the Rhino (more here), was never produced. Otherwise, the Marmon name might have been exhumed during the ’90s SUV boom by a bespoke coachbuilding firm, offering specially-bodied medium-duty truck chassis bearing the brand name that won the first Indy 500 and parachuted into Nazi Germany. Imagine the possibilities…

By on October 6, 2011

Remember the video of Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn testing the quality of the new Hyundai i30? Thanks to Autobild, we’ve found a companion video from the Frankfurt Show, in which Winterkorn, along with VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech, gives the once-over to the new European-market Honda Civic. According to Autobild, Piech kept his nickname “Fugen-Ferdi” (Gap-Ferdi) relevant by checking the new Civic’s panel gaps. And, in contrast to the Hyundai video, the intelligible portions of Winterkorn’s commentary were less than entirely complimentary. The German magazine reports

A member of the VW entourage says that “(Honda) has had good role models.” But the big boss played down the praise for VW with a smile, and responded generously “they were once a role model for us.”

Note the use of the past tense, then contrast with Winterkorn’s reaction to the Hyundai. In just two videos you can see the balance of automotive power shifting…

By on October 5, 2011

How much do things change in 60 years? Sometimes the best answer to that kind of question is a picture. Here you can see an original Unimog (right), built sometime between the start of production in 1948 and 1951, when Mercedes bought the operation in order to expand it enough to keep up with demand. On the left is a “60th Anniversary” Unimog design concept, celebrating not the actual birth of the Unimog, but its purchase by Mercedes. Needless to say, the contrast between the two is… breathtaking. And if you’re curious about the evolution of this hugely influential vehicle, if you can’t help wondering how it grew from a (relatively) tiny, spartan utility vehicle to a garish, Mercedes-starred behemoth, be sure to check out Bertel’s illustrated history of the Unimog. It makes you wonder what the next 60 years have in store for vehicles like this… [images courtesy: Autobild]

 

 

By on September 17, 2011

The question of automotive preservation jogged an unblogged memory loose today, from earlier in this chaotic summer when I was in Wolfsburg, Germany. I was touring the Zeithaus, or “House of Time,” in Volkswagen’s sprawling Autostadt, taking in the remarkably well-curated exhibit of some of the most influential and important cars of all time. Unlike the GM Heritage Center, for example, the Zeithaus is not reserved for VWs alone, but includes fine examples of undeniably iconic cars from various marques. Organizing VW’s official museum in this way gives the brand a sense of sophistication, sending the message that VW knows quality even when it’s not the one producing it. And the Zeithaus’s curators use this well, offering up such flattering (if ultimately apt) comparisons as an Audi A2 poised alongside a Citroen DS.

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By on September 17, 2011

You may not have heard of the Historical Vehicle Association before, but it’s a 30,000-member advocacy group that actually emerged from a special insurance plan for historic cars offered by Hagerty Insurance. Now ratified by the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens, the HVA offers commissions on History, Skills and Trades, Technical Issues and Legislative Affairs, as it seeks to fulfill its mission of “Keeping Yesterday’s Vehicles on Tomorrow’s Roads.” One of its more laudable legislative tasks of late has been raising awareness about the damage caused by ethanol-blended gasoline and seeking to ban mandatory blending. But now it’s got another goal, as reported by Automotive News [sub]

The federal government has national registries for historic buildings, boats, airplanes, railways — you name it. But not for cars. And the Historic Vehicle Association is trying to change that…

A concern among enthusiasts is that government initiatives — such as the 2009 federal cash-for-clunkers incentive — could send many vintage cars to the crusher. Legislation might prevent cars from being destroyed. Or it could allow gas guzzlers to remain on the road if other laws preclude them.

As it so happens, my significant other is an Architectural Historian who spends her days evaluating buildings that could be impacted by federally-funded projects… so I hear about this issue (in terms of the Register of Historic Places) more often than you can even imagine. And it’s not as simple as it might seem…

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By on September 15, 2011

[Editor's note: Today, at 12:25 pm, the very last Panther-platform Crown Victoria rolled off the line at St. Thomas Assembly Plant. Ryan Paradis, a.k.a. "86er," has the honor of eulogizing the beloved beast in his first-ever contribution to TTAC] 

It has become beyond trite by this point to say that, with the end of the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car, an era comes to an end. And yet it is thus: the last of the body-on-frame, rear wheel drive and eight cylinder engine passenger cars, once a species unique to North America, have now reached the end of an 80 year span that commenced with the advent of the 1932 Ford V-8.

Having transported generations of Americans through some of the nation’s finest decades, full-size cars like the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car are now an anomaly. While large V8-powered sedans made a comeback in the 21st century, the Ford Panther chassis was one of the very few full-size, rear-drive sedans that never left. And today we bid it farewell.

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By on September 7, 2011

Bob Lutz admitted in his book Guts that he “possesses a certain duality of mind,” and he ain’t kidding. After all, how could someone spend a career in an industry built on “the industrial logic of scale” (to borrow a phrase from Sergio Marchionne) while trying to connect new vehicles with the lust centers of the human brain without developing a certain amount of creative schizophrenia? But, as anyone who has ever driven a Pontiac Solstice knows, sometimes compromises are made between the conflicting pulls of lust and practicality… and when those compromises must be made, Lutz tends to err on the side of lust. I confronted him about this tendency in our recent conversation, and rather than accept the criticism, he doubled down on his premise that lust-worthy design is more important than practicality. And he illustrated his point by telling the tale of a long-forgotten concept and its troubled path to production.

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By on September 6, 2011

Welcome to Bob Lutz week at TTAC! I spent several hours recently with the auto industry’s most notorious executive, and elements of that interview will be the basis for much of my writing this week. We’ll also be capping the whole thing off by voting on the 2010-2011 Lutzie award for most unfortunate quote by an auto exec. And rather than jumping right into the meat of the interview, I want to kick off Lutz week by looking at a few cars that came up in our meandering conversation. After all, these are not just vehicles… when Lutz brings them up in an interview, they become stories, little encapsulations of his philosophy or the state of the company that made them. Let’s start with a car that I literally had never heard of before he mentioned it almost in passing: the Dodge Dakota Convertible. Eat your heart out, Murano CrossCabriolet… the Dakota was the original “WTF-vertible.”

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By on August 30, 2011

The Detroit News reports that former Vice President Dick Cheney claims to have opposed the decision to bail out GM and Chrysler, writing in his forthcoming memoir:

“The president decided that he did not want to pull the plug on General Motors as we were headed out the door… Although I understood the reasoning, I would have preferred that the government not get involved and was disappointed — but not surprised — when the Obama administration significantly increased the government intervention in the automobile industry shortly after taking office.”

Cheney notes he had voted against the 1979 $1.5 billion loan guarantee for Chrysler Corp. in the House. “I had continued throughout my career to be philosophically opposed to bailing out specific companies or industries,” he wrote.

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By on August 23, 2011

As Camry-fest rolls on, we found an interesting little chart over at Edmunds Autoobserver, which shows that this latest Camry has the lowest inflation-adjusted MSRP in the model’s history. Amid all the talk of record-high transaction prices, Toyota obviously thinks MSRP still matters, as Autoobserver reports

The current-generation Camry has a theoretical build of 1,246 combinations. The 2012 Camry will be available in a startlingly meager 36 combinations, because consumers have told Toyota they want a simpler ordering process… There will be four trim packages from which to choose, and despite the significant improvements in the model, any 2012 Camry will be priced close to or less than a comparably-equipped 2011.

The 2011 Camry L, the base model produced in very low volume and sold almost exclusively to fleets, starts at $20,195. The new 2012 Camry L will start at $21,995 (plus $760 for destination), the core 2012 Camry LE package for comfort and value will be priced at $22,500. The sportier Camry SE, currently priced at $22,965, will start at $23,000. The premium trim package Camry XLE ($26,725 for MY 2011), will start at $24,725, a $2,000 reduction. Toyota notes that comparably equipped, prices for all trim levels have dropped.

So, even though you need fewer inflation-adjusted dollars than ever before to buy a base Camry, very few of those models will be built. Toyota may be talking value, but in this market you need to shout it…

By on August 21, 2011

Few will be surprised to hear that Chrysler Group will end production of its Dakota compact pickup truck next Tuesday, as sales of all small-to-midsized pickups have cratered over the last decade. Indeed, the Detroit News reports that the end of Dakota production will result in the layoffs of only 39 employees, although that number may climb as high as 150. In any case, the end of Dakota production is just the tip of the iceberg: Ford’s Ranger goes out of production in December of this year, and GM’s Colorado/Canyon twins will be discontinued sometime next year. Though Dodge plans to bring a minivan-platform-based AWD “lifestyle pickup” to market as a 2014 model, and Chevy is planning to build a North American variant of its new Global Colorado for the 2015 model-year, we’re looking at a several-year interlude in which no American OEM will offer a small pickup in the US. And looking at this chart, you almost can’t blame them…
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By on August 16, 2011

No, I’m not talking about the cars and SUVs that Mercedes assembles in Alabama. Yesterday, Jack Baruth told us about the relationship between the American Steinway and German Daimler companies and the cars that Steinway started assembling under license from Mercedes in 1905.  When I read Jack’s article I remembered that I had something in my collection of press kits, sales brochures, images and and assorted swag (with apologies to Mr. Zimmerman) that I’ve been accumulating for the past decade or so of working the press previews for the Detroit, Chicago and Toronto auto shows. In 2006 Mercedes Benz distributed a reproduction of a reproduction. It’s actually a very cool little piece of automobilia and a nice facsimile of a historical artifact, in a couple of ways.

It’s a small booklet, less than 40 pages, called The American Mercedes. It was originally distributed in 1906 by the Daimler Mfg. Company, on Steinway Ave. in Long Island City, and promotes the 1906 45 horsepower “American Mercedes”. It was reproduced in the early 1960s, and the copy M-B gave out in 2006 had a 1961 afterword and an insert from 1964. The whole package is chock full of historically interesting aspects.

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By on August 15, 2011

Wake up. Have breakfast. Head off to work. Wait… you need to put on some decent clothes for goodness sake! You’re not a teenager anymore.

You put on the finest thrift store clothes you can find and head off to your car and… wow! Who put a Delorean with a flux capacitor and gullwing doors on your driveway?

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By on August 11, 2011

With signs of change appearing in the midsized segment, I thought we would look at our archived sales results for the “Big Six” sedan nameplates in hopes of some historic context. And here it is: competitive convergence is turning what used to be Toyota and Honda’s wading pool into a bloody knife fight.

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