Posts By: Richard Chen

By on August 3, 2009

A month ago, a diagram of the just-announced Nissan Leaf EV appeared on the web. Unlike the Tesla S, the Nissan EV appears to be a fairly conventional front motor/front drive (FF) vehicle, with the battery pack in front of the rear axle. A shovel nose appearance, thanks to the small electric engine, results in a aerodynamically advantageous tiny frontal area. A degree of crush space is maintained for the pedestrian-cum-hood-ornament that will inevitably occur with the Leaf’s quiet powertrain. The distinctive snout, combined with some distinctive curves at the beltline and rear, give the Leaf a, ahem, unique visual identity. If Nissan was trying to create the Prius of EVs, they’ve succeeded. Now, if they had only stamped plant-like veins in the sheet metal . . .

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By on June 26, 2009

The August issue of Consumer Reports has started to arrive in subscribers’ mailboxes and features a review of the 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid. Guess what. They concurred with Michael Karesh and panned it, citing the lack of oomph, room, and refinement. CR didn’t like the original 2-seat Insight, either, citing the lack of oomph, room, and refinement, but at least it got 65+ mpg.

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By on May 27, 2009

The Detroit Bureau reports today that in a bankruptcy court document, CEO Robert Nardelli stated that Chrysler LLC offered for sale the Detroit Viper factory (and presumably the tooling and intellectual property to go along with it) for a mere $10 million dollars. The factory has been up for sale since this past August, but sadly there was “no purchaser interest.” 2008 Dodge Viper sales were 1,172, up 169 percent over the prior year. According to another bankruptcy filing, the operation was previously been slightly profitable, with a net $16 million in 2008 before taxes, interest, depreciation, and amortization. With those kinds of numbers a buyer would need to spend several times the purchase price just to keep the assembly line humming. We all know how challenging it is these days for a sports car manufacturer to stay solvent, SUVs or not.

By on May 13, 2009

Wired Autopia has a video of Better Place’s prototype $500,000 quick battery swap station. Think of a Jiffy Lube station but much slicker and no scruffy guys in the basement. Driver pulls up, automated lift unscrews discharged battery from beneath and slides it down a conveyor belt, and then another battery is bolted in. Total time is a few minutes, similar to a gas tank fillup. The conventional-looking Nissan EV’s battery goes in where the gas tank was and has a similar shape. Tesla is to have their own battery swap setup that’s not compatible with that of Better Place. Let the hypothetical swappable battery wars begin!

By on April 28, 2009

Hmmm, new Nissan QX? Nissan rumored to be replacing the current Armada-based vehicle with a Japan-sourced vehicle, and this seems like just the ticket to keep up with the Lexus LX-leasing Jonses.

By on April 8, 2009


Yesterday Mr. Leikanger wrote about his frustrating experiences with KitchenAid’s Espresso Pro. The compressed natural-gas powered (CNG) Honda Civic GX also has the option of quenching its thirst with a home appliance. The Phill is an electrically powered, mechanically complex, high pressure (up to 3600psi) pump. The Phill can be a pain to get serviced when it breaks down, and refurbished units are available for purchase. Oops, make that, were available. Honda of America, Fuelmaker’s sole owner, declared Fuelmaker’s bankruptcy last week and fired all of its employees. HoMoCo is liquidating the company’s assets. Huh? The maker of “America’s Greenest Car of 2008,” shooting itself in the foot?

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By on March 25, 2009

The pitchforks are out for bailout-funded Wall Street bonuses, and today’s NPR Morning Report highlights GM’s longstanding perk: free company cars with free gasoline. The Product Evaluation Program entitles 8000 white-collar employees to a new GM vehicle every six months. Drivers are to report problems back to the mother ship ASAP, and currently pay a $250/month administration fee. Current morale at the Tubes likely isn’t all that great, so any benefit is nice. However, it’s now at taxpayer expense, so what’s this fuss all about?

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By on February 4, 2009

The Financial Times reports that the glut of unsold new cars has spilled onto previously underutilized ships. Carmakers have apparently run out of space on dealer lots, ports of entry, rail cars, and airport runways. Just last spring, there wasn’t enough capacity aboard the world’s fleet of 640 car carriers to go around, a situation upended by the global downturn in car sales starting around September. Coincidentally, there are 70 more (and larger) car carriers due to be delivered this year. Shipping companies are relieved to get the storage business, and carmakers get someplace to hide their cars. The article was able to confirm that up to 2500 Toyotas are chartered for an extended cruise to nowhere aboard the Morning Glory in Malmö, Sweden. (Pictures, anyone?) As long as the boats don’t flip over, the cars will be just fine. [ED: Until the marine environment takes its toll.] And if not: sad, sad pictures of shredded Mazdas aboard the Cougar Ace here.

By on February 3, 2009

Honda reported in with their sad sales numbers with unadjusted monthly sales down 27.9 percent. Fit sales were steady, up 5.9 percent. Accord and Civic took drubbings of minus 31 and minus 32 percent respectively, with the Civic Hybrid down 62 percent. Light truck sales were down 27 percent with the Odyssey minivan trailing an unusually heavy 38 percent hit. (The number one selling minivan nameplate just took a back seat to the rebate-stuffed Toyota Sienna.) Over on the Acura side, TSX buyers ignored TTAC reviews and sent sales up 16 percent, which comes out to a little over 300 cars. The more expensive numb-feeling, shovel-nosed sedan, the TL, was down 40 percent. The Acura CUVs got similarly neglected, down 46 percent. Needless to say, Honda’s management team is on the case. Well, someone’s case.

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By on January 5, 2009

Nissan’s December sales weren’t out of line compared with the rest of the Big 6, down 30.7 percent in the last month of the year. Unlike some others today, the sales release didn’t have much nausea-inducing spin.  Again the couple of bright spots were the CUVs Rogue and Murano, up 10 and 54 percent respectively. The Quest minivan was again the mass-production loser, down 74.7 percent and 491 barely hustled. Other Nissan branded cars and trucks were well into negative territory, regardless of size or displacement. 2008 totals down 10.9 percent and just under 1 million sold., or less than half of Toyota. Infiniti division took a (par) 34.6 percent hit with nary a bright spot and closed out the year down 11.1 percent. At 112K vehicles, totals were roughly half that of Lexus, Mercedes, and BMW. Godzilla body count: 149 this month, 1,730 (potential fried transmissions) for the year. (We kid. We hope.)

By on December 2, 2008

Like everyone else, Nissan reported dismal sales for November, with total US sales down 42.2% and off 9.5% YTD. Without good news to report, Nissan’s press release consisted of a list of GT-R awards and future vehicle fluff (Cube, $10K Versa 1.6, 370Z, Infiniti G convertible). The Nissan division took a 44.4 percent hit with just about all cars and trucks taking double digit percentage hits. The little Versa was down 18.4%, Altima down 45.3%. The Murano and Rogue were faint bright spots, down 2.6% and up 4.7%, respectively. Other trucks took a pounding: Frontier down 70.7%, Titan down 79.6%, Xterra down 71.6%, Pathfinder down 70.6%, Armada down 70.5%, with the Quest minivan lagging at a whopping 81.3% drop and a mere 342 vans leaving the dealer lots. The Infiniti division took a 28.0% hit with all products in negative territory. Godzilla Watch: GT-R sales were steady at 208 for the month, 1,581 for the year.

By on December 1, 2008

By on November 27, 2008

The Washington Post notes a lesson in unintended consequences: a US government initiative to reduce gasoline consumption has been a miserable failure. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct) mandated that government agencies purchase flex-fuel vehicles for 75 percent of light duty fleets, hoping to spur automakers into building more fuel efficient vehicles and decrease gasoline consumption.  And they were built: the Ford Taurus FFV 3.0 and Ranger pickup, GM compact pickups, Chrysler minivans, among many others.  For years, agencies ignored EPAct; enforcement came in 1999 after environmental groups Sierra Club and Bluewater Network sued to force compliance.  Problem was, replacement flex-fuel vehicles had larger engines in their predecessors and often ran on gasoline, usually due to difficulty obtaining E85.  For the 2008-2009 period, fully 61% of vehicles had exemptions to run on gasoline. The mandate resulted in flex-fuel vehicles purchased for Puerto Rico and Hawaii, where E85 pumps don’t exist as it’s quite expensive to ship large quantities of ethanol. In some locations, said pumps are nearby but don’t accept government credit cards.  So, despite all good intentions, the result is an increase in government gasoline consumption.  Not mentioned in the article was that the billions of dollars in purchases went almost, if not wholly to the Detroit 2.8, as import manufacturers (still) don’t offer many flex-fuel cars or trucks.

By on November 9, 2008

Soon after Inauguration Day, President-elect Barack Obama is expected to reverse about 200 Bush administration executive orders. One ot watch: a reversal of the December 2007 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) ruling prohibiting the enactment of California Assembly Bill 1493 (pdf). Passed back in 2002, AB1493 mandates a 30 percent reduction in car and truck carbon dioxide emissions starting in model year 2009. Depending on who’s doing the math, calculations suggest that California’s law would mandate a fleet average of about 40mpg. That’s about five mpg higher than the EPA’s latest Corporate Avererage Fleet Economy (CAFE) target. There is a loophole for small-volume manufacturers, but volume carmakers are going to be pissed as as hell (they lobbied heavily for the primacy of the EPA ruling). As expected, Obama has come out in favor of aiding the US automakers ASAP. Will the automakers plead poverty and ask for a delay in reversing the AB1493 ruling?  Of course.

By on November 3, 2008

It’s the same story for Chrysler: another month, another sad sales chart. Saying that, this month was a little different. Unlike many other carmakers, percentagewise, car sales were down (37 percent) more than truck sales (34 percent).  Bright spots: a few extra Vipers (87) and discontinued Crossfires (253) bumped sales numbers up to 142 percent and 128 percent respectively.  Challenger sales went up over last month despite the general doom and gloom to 3,104.  Ram sales, a mix of 2008 and spanking new 2009’s, were down 21 percent, and another few thousand Journeys launched. Everything else was down, mostly well into the double digit percentages. Confirming suspicions of a stillborn launch, there was absolutely no mention of Durango/Aspen Hybrid sales. Zip. Nada. Total year-to-date sales are down to 26 percent. There are a few recent articles here and there about product tweaks, but the cupboard is bare, and the guillotine is looming.

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