Ask the Best and Brightest

QOTD: What Are You Doing This Weekend to Start the Summer?

Today I wanted to take a break from car stuff and ask you about your Memorial Day plans as we start the summer of 2024.

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Feds Pass Low Volume Law, Turn-key Fun for Everyone

For decades, enthusiasts came to dread new motor vehicle laws, as they typically conspire against the use of motor vehicles for fun. Post-Nader safety regulations that made cars heavier and less nimble came first. Emissions laws came a few years later, which strangled the previously-unrestricted engines into submission. The death of leaded fuel helped many of those old dinosaurs meet their untimely end.

For once, however, a massive new bill has actually lifted some restrictions. The Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015 ( as we covered in June) was passed last week as part of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015.

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Toyota Confirms New Land Cruiser for US

Toyota’s facelifted Land Cruiser will reach American shores, the automaker confirmed Tuesday. Toyota lifted the cover off the SUV yesterday in Japan and we reported that Toyota would tell us the same today.

(Oi. We should have stretched before patting ourselves on the back like that.)

The updated Land Cruiser will still sport a 5.7-liter V-8 that produces 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. The engine will now be married to Toyota’s eight-speed automatic (the first Toyota-branded vehicle on our shores to use the gearbox) but oddly, mileage doesn’t improve beyond 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway/15 mpg combined, which were the numbers for this year’s six-speed box.

Toyota’s announcement also includes one of the best lines in press release history:

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Taking The Plunge, A Modest Lowering of and Expectations

Just about all of my daily drivers have been stock, more or less. I did some engine, transmission and overdrive swaps on Volvos back in the 1980s, but everything was factory, if not on that particular vehicle when it left Goteborg. Also, there was a 1972 VW bus for which I built a high-performance Beetle *engine so it could cruise at fast enough speeds to be safe on the interstates. Other than those, I haven’t done any mechanical modifications to cars that I’ve driven regularly, at least not to the chassis, but now I’m taking the plunge.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: How Do You Handle Recall And Service Bulletins?

Since arriving at TTAC, I have been continually challenged and impressed by the B&B. The knowledge, wisdom, and rather civil discourse that arrives in response to the so-called journalism I produce is awe inspiring, often. Thank you, B&B. I’ve also been tasked with handling the GM recall story, given my technical background and my familiarity with GM’s processes at the dealer level – but today, I want to turn the floor over to you.

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Ask the Best and Brightest: What Will Chevy's Two "Surprises" for 2013 Be?

Chevrolet is betting that the number 13 will be lucky one. The GM brand announced on Wednesday that they will be introducing 13 redesigned or completely new vehicles for the North American market in 2013. While a number of those are expected, like the new Impala and the latest iteration of the Silverado fullsize body-on-frame pickup, according to GM spokesman Michael Albano the automaker is “thrilled” that two of the thirteen cars and trucks will be “complete surprises”. Joining the Impala and Silverado, among the non-surprises there’s going be a new Traverse CUV, a diesel Cruze and an electric Spark (sorry, I didn’t name the car).

“13 is a big year for Chevrolet. You know some of them. There’s a lot of chatter about others and a couple will be complete surprises, which we’re thrilled about.”

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Ask The Best And Brightest: When Are Two Pedals Better Than Three?

A scheduling conflict led me to be booked into a 2013 Mazda CX-5 SkyACTIV. With Jack and Brendan having already driven the car, I’ll spare you all yet another review discussing Mazda’s latest crossover. But a week in the CX-5 raised an interesting question; when are automatics better than a stick shift, even if it’s a vehicle that (arguably) has some appeal as a driver’s car?

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Ask the Best and Brightest: What Do You Do If You Cannot Avoid an Accident?

I’m pretty good at taking tests. The problem is, with some tests that you take, success is not attained by giving the logically correct answer but rather by regurgitating the answer the test giver wants. I forget that sometimes. When the Michigan Secretary of State’s office told me that I needed to take a written test to continue to have the privilege of driving, on one question I forgot the proper test taking strategy was to determine what some bureaucrat in Lansing wanted me to think. Instead I just read the question, parsed its logic, and gave the same answer that I’ve given my now-adult children concerning the same driving situation. Wait. That’s a fib. I didn’t just read the question, parse etc. The question and possible answers intrigued me enough that I jotted them down on an envelope I had with me. They were unclear enough that I wanted to run them by the other TTAC writers and the Best and Brightest to get your opinions. Here’s the question:

Q. If you cannot stop before hitting another vehicle it’s usually best to:

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Your Shifting Paradigm?

Ladies and gentlemen… As Katt Williams once said, “this country is in turmoil.”

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Ask The Best And Brightest: G-Body Project Car Hell

An impromptu dinner meeting with a friend last night led talk of a possible G-Body project car (and two very bored girlfriends). Joey, who has long wanted a G-Body Monte Carlo, asked what it would take to make a cool street car out of an old G-Body car, like a late 1980’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS.” It can’t be that hard,” I said. “Can’t you just drop in a crate motor from GM Performance Parts?”

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Should Bentley Redesign The EXP 9 F SUV?

A report from Britain’s “WHATCAR?” magazine suggests Bentley will go back to the drawing board before their EXP 9 F SUV hits the market in 2015. I, for one, am not so sure this is a good idea.

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Ask The Best & Brightest: Your Album Cover Car?
I was thumbing through the latest issue of Living Blues magazine, looking for authentically bluesy phrases, both musical and lyrical, to repeat as if they we…
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Ask The Best And Brightest: Will Minivans Bounce Back?

If there’s one thing that enthusiasts and the general public can agree on, it’s that minivans are deeply uncool. The terms “swagger wagon” or “man van” may seem like oxymorons, but the minivan marking has seen slow growth this past year.

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Hammer Time: What Should Have Been

I remember looking at the then brand new Ford Five Hundred and thinking to myself, “This would make one heck of a Volvo.”

Like the Volvos of yore this Ford offered a squarish conservative appearance. A high seating position which Volvo’s ‘safety oriented’ customers would have appreciated. Toss in a cavernous interior that had all the potential for a near-luxury family car, or even a wagon, and this car looked more ‘Volvo’ than ‘Ford’ to me with each passing day.

Something had to be done…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Who Is The New Saab?
To be clear, we aren’t talking about the next brand to linger on long past its kill-by date, pitting the brand loyalty of its fans against common sense…
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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Expiring Model Will You Miss The Most And The Least?

With the 2011 model-year ending, it’s time to eulogize the cars that have reached the end of the road and are being discontinued with the 2012 model-year. Some of them are well past their sell-by date (Hello, Lucerne, DTS!) whereas some are being euthanized in their prime due to regulatory issues (Goodbye, Elise and RX-8!). Some are slow-selling luxo-confections with nowhere to go (X6 ActiveHybrid), some are long-running workhorses which have simply run out of time (Ranger, Crown Vic), whereas others are simply mediocrities that the market has run out of patience with (Eclipse, Tribute). The New York Times‘ Sam Smith provides our list of expiring models, so hit the jump and tell us who you’ll miss and who you won’t. After all, unlike a real funeral, we don’t mind if you speak ill of the recently deceased…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Nissan About To "Pull A Hyundai"?

On the way to TTAC’s Southern Tour, I filled some of the gaps in my automotive history by reading Car Wars by Robert Sobel. Written in the same year that Nissan opened its first US plant, a sprawling complex in Smyrna, Car Wars documents the early years of the Detroit-Import wars, starting with the Beetle and ending with the rise of the transplant factories. The book is full of lessons, but its most rattling reminders was that Nissan was the major Japanese automaker during the early days of the Japanese industry. Nearly thirty years after Car Wars was written, Nissan often gets lost in Honda and Toyota’s shadow when it comes to perceptions of the Japanese OEMs. And lately Nissan has fallen off more than a few radar screens for the simple fact that its key products are aging: Sentra, Maxima and Altima were introduced for the 2007 model-year, while Rogue is just a year younger. Together these four models account for over half of Nissan’s monthly volume… and yet despite this aged core lineup, Nissan’s sales (as a brand) are up over 17 percent year-to-date, maintaining the brand’s consistent growth.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What's The Scariest Vehicle You've Ever Driven?

Well, it’s Halloween…. the time of year when a young man’s thoughts turn towards death. Bertel gave us a double-shot of the macabre earlier today, but it was an unplanned spin-and-a-half (no, not on public roads) that most recently and viscerally reminded me just how deadly this whole driving a car business can be. And that particular bit of man-machine miscommunication didn’t even happen in the most scary car I’ve ever driven (thank goodness).

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Ask The Best & Brightest: What's The Korean Discount Nowadays?

We’ve reviewed a lot of Korean designs here lately. The Soul. The Rio. The Veloster. The Sorrento. The Genesis. The Optima Hybrid. The Cayenne S. Actually, rumors that Porsche made a straight-up trade of engineering (the original Hyundai Santa Fe’s 2.7L V-6) for styling (the original Cayenne is clearly pretty much the same as said original Santa Fe) are completely unfounded. Some of these cars may not be quite up to the standard of their competition, but others are either the critic’s choice of the segment or the actual freaking segment sales volume leader.

Price has been a big part — for a long time, maybe the only part — of Korean-brand appeal in the United States since the very first Excel arrived with “$4995!” plastered on the windshield. In 2011, however, the Hyundai, Kia, and Daewoo vehicles aren’t always the cheapest choice. Which leads us to the question:

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Does Anyone Actually Get 40 MPG On The Highway?

What’s the most powerful number in automotive marketing? No, not zero, as in “zero down, zero percent interest”… the answer we’re looking for is 40, as in “40 MPG hwy.” With the compact segment heating up, 40 MPG on the highway is very nearly a price of entry… if your base model doesn’t achieve the magic number, you’d better have a special edition that does. But even as “40 MPG” becomes more and more important as an industry benchmark, it inevitably raises a perennial question: do EPA numbers mean anything in the real world? Hyping the highest possible number rather than a “combined” figure is a classic marketing move, but one that risks exposing the EPA highway number as a meaningless metric. And if nobody actually gets the rated efficiency, it’s only a matter of time before the market begins to demand more accurate reporting.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Should Chevy Get A Subcompact CUV?

According to Automotive News [sub]’s Product Editor Rick Kranz, GM execs “are debating” whether Chevrolet needs a subcompact crossover. Which is interesting, considering Buick’s next new vehicle after the Verano will likely be a subcompact crossover. But with GMC’s “Granite” moving to the Delta platform, and Buick doing a better job of differentiating itself (more on that soon, in an upcoming Verano review), that might work. Besides, the South American Chevrolet Agile (above) is based on the ancient 4200 platform which, as a “regional architecture,” is doomed to replacement with a Global Gamma-based vehicle. If you’re going to develop a global product, why not offer a version for the US market?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is It Time For A Movie About The Auto Industry?

Over at CNN Money, Alex Taylor III makes an astute observation about Bill Vlasic’s new book “Once Upon A Car,”

When Hollywood has tried capturing the auto industry on film, it aimed at realistic drama but wound up with suds… What filmmakers have lacked is believable characters and realistic dialogue. Until now, that is, thanks to a new book, Once upon a Car, by veteran Detroit newspaperman Bill Vlasic. Vlasic knows the industry in and out and enjoys near-universal access to its key figures. He recounts a tale filled with shrewd insights into their characters and conflicts told through verbatim accounts of their conversations. It’s the first nonfiction auto book that reads like a screenplay.

This, in a nutshell, is what I found so appealing about Vlasic’s book: it avoids the temptation to turn Detroit’s drama into a morality play, allowing the story to unfold in a personal, organic fashion. In my review of the book, to be published shortly by The Wall Street Journal, I argue that Vlasic’s approach holds a valuable lesson for automotive journalists of all stripes. Taylor, on the other hand, thinks Vlasic’s story is the perfect basis for a movie, and even goes so far as to make some casting suggestions (Al Pacino as Sergio Marchionne, Tom Hanks as Bill Ford, Tom Cruise as Alan Mulally, Sean Connery as Bob Lutz, Tom Wilkinson as Rick Wagoner). We already know there’s an auto industry video game simulation in the works, so I wonder, does the drama of the past few years make the auto industry a worthy subject for a great movie? At least worthier than, say, “ The Prince Of Motor City“? If so, would you rather see a historically accurate film based directly on sources like Vlasic’s book, a fictionalized account with real-life characters, or a fictionalized film-à-clef interpretation? Also, wouldn’t Kyle McLaughlin make the better Rick Wagoner? Discuss…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Is Obama's "130 MPG" Battery?

When the blogging gets tough, the tough bloggers get outsourcing, and since we’re swamped with fresh news and sales numbers, I’m going to throw this little mystery over to you, TTAC’s Best and Brightest. It’s no secret that the Obama Administration is bullish on plug-in cars, as it seeks to put a million of the fuel-efficient vehicles on the road by 2015. And though several studies have shown that the White House’s goal is wildly overambitious and needs more money or a major spike in gas prices, and though even the DOE’s assessment shows that the goal is unrealistic, EV optimism springs eternal. So, whence cometh this profound, unshakeable belief that the EV is going to go from production-constrained curiosity to significant market player in just a few years?

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Ask The Best and Brightest: Can You Identify This Book?

TTAC reader Bonso writes:

Hi Jack

As you have over eighty books on Porsches you may be able to help me. I read a travel book published in the mid 1960s about a tour of Bryce Canyon, Zion national Park, Painted Desert, Grand Canyon etc made in a Porsche 911. The car and scenery were both the “stars” of the book, the passion for the car and scenery were complimentary. I would like to re-read the book but do not remember either the title or author! Can you help me? Or perhaps one of your readers knows of the book. Thanks.

Well, I’m stumped…

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Ask The Best & Brightest: Why Not Buy the $250/Month Mazda?

I have a confession to make: I am experiencing a struggle in my life. Normally, when middle-aged male church musicians say that, they mean they are secretly thinking about visiting a San Francisco bath house and rocking out with certain appendages fully visible. In my case, however, the desire to squeeze myself into something young, tight, and not quite masculine is entirely automotive. I’m talking about the Mazda2, of course.

The Mazda2 holds a title that’s important to me personally, even if it doesn’t exactly cause examples of the model to depart dealership lots with a Saturn V’s worth of force: it’s the lightest, simplest four-passenger small car money can buy. The MINI, Fiesta, and Sonic all outweigh it by a Roseanne Barr or more. Even the new Accent and FIAT 500 can’t quite match it. Hilariously, even the Miata outweighs the 2.

To help shove the littlest Mazda off the floorplans, Mazda is currently offering 0% financing. For five years. That’s right: if you can pay your own sales tax up front, it’s possible to have a new 2 for $233.38 a month. Is it worth doing?

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Ask The Best and Brightest: Would You Pay $22,000 For This Toyota Wagon?

Toyota doesn’t sell the Camry in most European markets; it’s wayyy too big and powerful to find favor with our Continental betters. Instead, they offer the Avensis, which was rumored to debut a complete redesign at Frankfurt but instead only showed a minor facelift. It would be overly simplistic to call the Avensis a “Scion tC sedan or wagon” but that does more or less capture the approximate size and nature of the vehicle. The Avensis platform is normally sold with a choice of two-liter, four-cylinder diesel, turbodiesel, and gasoline engines. The 2.5, 180-horsepower four-cylinder from the tC would fit, however.

The Avensis sedan wouldn’t find too many customers Stateside; very few people want to pay Camry money and get less car in return. This little wagon, on the other hand…

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Ask the Best & Brightest: How Much Hell Do You Want Unleashed, Anyway?

It’s been a bit of a meta-critical and navel-gazing week or so here at TTAC. We’ve been reviewed and discussed by other media sources, we’ve reviewed and discussed a few media sources ourselves, and we’ve even had a delightful piece by Brendan McAleer which sort of reviews our own reviews of someone else’s review of us.

It’s safe to say that we will probably be taking a break from this sort of thing for a while so that we can bring you some more of the authentic TTAC content you’ve come to know and love. Clinical, yet strangely erotic, descriptions of trunk space. Callous disregard for human decency in the last of the Ford full-sizers. Chinese business news. That sort of thing.

Fortunately or unfortunately, however, we will continue to encounter “content” from our colleagues in the business which is mendaciously conceived, shamelessly produced, and incompetently edited. Which leads me to my question:

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What's Your Favorite "Center Stack"?

According to Automotive News [sub], the automotive supplier industry is going coo-coo for center stacks. Calling it “the hottest chunk of vehicle real estate” for suppliers, AN reports that the center console has “become a California gold rush of opportunity.” Having glanced at the headline, I figured the topic would make for an interesting question: what’s your favorite center stack? If nothing else, I figured it would be an opportunity to sing the praises of my M Coupe’s stripped-down, old-school console (I realize there’s nothing more dull than a car writer praising his own vehicle, but bear with me… there’s a point coming).

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is The Supercar's Cool Wearing Off?

The arrest of 13 young supercar drivers near Vancouver, British Columbia is not necessarily the sort of piece I’d jump all over right away, but it did inspire quite a number of emails from readers tipping us to the story. I’m always intrigued by stories that inspire a lot of tips, but after reading the Vancouver Sun follow-up, I was even more disappointed with the story. To wit:

The drivers face charges of driving without due consideration for others, which comes with a $196 ticket and six driver penalty points, which will trigger a $300 penalty point premium.

Gaumont said there is a lot of disappointment that the drivers face only $196 fines, but there is not enough evidence to charge them with the more serious offence of dangerous driving.

“We don’t have police officers who observed the offence, and we don’t have lasers and radars that have the speeds,” Gaumont said. “We have to really depend on third-party individuals who had called in.”

If I’ve got this right, we’re supposed to be outraged by young people in fast cars, and society’s inability to stop them from wreaking their “speeds upwards of 200 km/h” terror. For me, though, the overriding reaction to this story is “how uncool doess this make the supercars look?”

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Which Automaker May Be Fudging Their EPA Numbers?

The Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy testing system is notoriously weak, relying on self-reporting for the vast majority of vehicles, and exhibiting vulnerabilities to “gaming.” But rather than attacking each others’ EPA numbers, automakers seem to have agreed that it’s best if everyone does their best to juice their own numbers and allows the imperfect system to limp on. But over at Automotive News [sub], we’re hearing what could be the first shots fired in a new war over EPA ratings, as Product Editor Rick Kranz reveals that an OEM is starting to complain about another OEM’s fuel economy ratings. He writes:

An executive of one U.S. automaker suggests there might be some sleight of hand going on and that the EPA is not catching the offenders.

The issue: There’s a noticeable difference between the mpg number posted on some cars’ window sticker and an analysis of the data submitted by automakers to the EPA.


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Ask The Best And Brightest: Could This Become The Littlest Ram?

First of all, let’s not fool ourselves: this is quite the hypothetical question. For one thing, Fiat is unlikely to federalize the Doblo cargo van that this “Work Up” is based upon until a subsequent generation comes out. In the meantime, the only Fiat Professional vehicle the US market will be getting anytime soon (thanks to CKD production at Warren Truck, according to Allpar) is the Ducato van, which competes fairly directly with Daimler’s Sprinter. But, hypothetically, could this Doblo “Work Up” find a market in the US? Let’s look at what it offers…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Would You Pay For This Feisty Fiesta?

Although Ford has been relentlessly hyping its US-bound Focus ST, there’s been nary a word of a hot Fiesta coming to the states. And even if we do get the 180 HP (or thereabouts) 1.6 Ecoboost-powered Fiesta ST, seen here screaming around a certain ubiquitous test track, it probably won’t be in the three-door trim you see here. Still, if US-market Fiestas start at $15,500 and top out around $22,000, what would you (hypothetically) pay for an extra 60 forced-induction ponies, some nice wheels and the ubiquitous go-fast appearance bits? Or is there simply no reason to sell a hot hatch in the US that’s smaller than the forthcoming, 250 HP Focus ST?

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Your Nominations Please: Announcing The 2010-2011 Lutzie Awards For Outrageous Auto Exec Quotes

Whether agree that automotive PR needs to take more risks or you think it takes more than enough risks already, we can all enjoy the outlandish quotes that do emanate from industry executives in spite of the protective PR-professional bubble that surrounds them. And though TTAC has only had the institutional follow-through to hold a single “Lutzie Award” in the past, I figured that next week (when I’ll be presenting a flood of content based on my extended rap session with Maximum Bob) would be the perfect opportunity to bring them back. And in order to do so, we need you, our readers, to make the nominations. So fire up the search engine of your choice, and hit the jump for nominating criteria and the rules of this year’s awards.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Covering Your Rear (Engine Sportscar) With An Extended Warranty?

TTAC commentator stephada writes:

Hello I drive a 2010 C4S, bought new, now with 42k miles and I am considering an Extended Warranty through a company called Protected Life, sold through the Porsche dealership. My service manager said they used to not offer this because they had trouble finding one that could cover things well enough, until they found Protected.

I’d like the Best and Brightest to weigh in on the specific example I’m facing. I’ve read the original B&B thread but it dealt with the issue philosophically and generally. I trust the B&B can help out again in my choices, as they did on the question of ”S or 4S?” [Ed: follow-up here].

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Comes After That Card?

Yesterday, someone received the Yellow Card for what looked like a threat of violence. Here is the recommended code of conduct when a yellow card is issued: Take a deep breath. Take a walk. Maybe, take a few days away from TTAC. But for heaven’s sake, don’t talk back. And don’t continue the argument that got you the yellow card. You know the color of the next card.

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Quote Of The Weekend: Heavy Duty Demand Edition

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 from 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…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Can The Used Market Stay This Crazy For Long?

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?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Where Are You In The Driverless Car Debate?

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?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Can This Product Plan Keep Fiat-Chrysler Going?

According to Automotive News [sub]’s latest breakdown of Chrysler-Fiat’s product plans, a lot has changed since the big Five Year Plan product cadence guide was released in late 2009 [ PDF here]. The Chrysler brand’s C-segment offering appears to have been pushed back a year, its 2014MY B-segment car is AWOL and there’s no sign of a planned MY2014 “Midsized Crossover” or T&C. Planned MY2013 “Major Modifications” for Ram Light Duty, Heavy Duty and Chassis Cab are also nowhere in sight, although the “under consideration” MY2012 minivan-based pickup is back on, likely for MY2014. A MY2012 Challenger refresh is also off, according to these plans. And what’s taking up the slack? Alfa Romeos, and lots of them. Sergio and company didn’t mention Alfas during the seven hours of PowerPoint presentations back in late ’09, but it’s clear that his priority is on bringing Alfa’s 5-door subcompact MiTo, Giulietta compact, Giulia midsizer and Compact CUV to the US. Which means the cupboard will be largely bare over the next year, and thereafter another rush of products will launch across all six mass-market brands. Chrysler’s sales are growing at the moment, but can this plan maintain the momentum? The folks in Auburn Hills certainly hope so…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Should Trucks Be Limited To The Right Lane?

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.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Aston-Martin A Bit Old Hat?

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…

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Did You Ever Imagine Consumer Reports Would Not Recommend A Honda Civic?

My 2012 Honda Civic review concluded that “the design is clunky, the materials are cut-rate, and the driving experience is so dreadfully dull that even a Toyota Prius is a blast in comparison.” Could this car have inspired the owner evangelism that made Honda a major industry player? Highly unlikely. Though most commenters shared my severe disappointment with the car, at least one found the “bashing” to be “amusing.” Perhaps Honda similarly shrugged off my critique. Some of the big car mags have ranked the new Civic fairly high in recent comparos, so by picking and choosing who they pay attention to Honda’s leaders might maintain the illusion that they aren’t hopelessly off course.

Well, if a TTAC review didn’t provide them with a strong enough dose of reality, perhaps this will: as recounted in the September 2011 issue, the new Civic tested so low in Consumer Report’s road test that they won’t recommend it. Among other things, they note that the redesigned car’s interior is cheap, the steering is devoid of feedback, and the ride feels unsettled. They also note that “the Civic’s sporty character is gone.”

A Civic that Consumer Reports cannot recommend? If this doesn’t provide Honda with a clue, I don’t know what will.

[UPDATE: Hit the jump for CR’s press release]

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Hammer Time: The Eagle and the Phoenix
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 f…
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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is A New Dodge Magnum A No-Brainer Or A Flop Waiting To Happen?
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:“…
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Ask The Best & Brightest: Should CNG/Hybrid/Whatever Cars Have Access To Carpool Lanes?

This list, published by the State of California, lists the vehicles which will be eligible for unlimited carpool-lane access from now until January 1, 2015. Sharp-eyed TTAC readers will notice that there is just one readily-available, non-battery-powered, car-form-factor vehicle on the list: the Honda Civic GX.

If you’re interested in cutting your Cali commute time without plugging into a “charging station”, and you like Civics, this is good news. If you’re a Civic GX owner looking to sell, it’s even better news. If you have a new Toyota Prius, this is probably frustrating news.

The rest of us will probably have just one question: What does natural gas have to do with carpooling?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Advice Would You Give "The Car Show"?

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…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Which Cars Need Less A-Pillar?

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?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: How Is GM's 2013 Lineup Shaping Up? 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…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Would You Ask Bob Lutz (To His Face)?

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.

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Choose Your Maybach Adventure: Three Strategies On The Table
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 w…
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Ask The Best And Brightest: Drop Out Of High School, Lose Your License?

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?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Does Chrysler Make The Case For Its Interiors?

I’ll refrain from editorializing at length here because I’m genuinely interested in hearing the B & B’s take on Chrysler’s attempt to overcome what was one of the industry’s worst reputations for interior quality. The question here isn’t “are Chrysler’s interiors better?” because there’s no debate on that point. The question is: given that they’re having to do a 180 for Chrysler’s reputation, are they good enough? Personally, I find some downright appealing, some quite passable and some still lacking… and my major complaint is that I feel like the firm tries too hard to project a veneer of premium-ness on even its cheaper products, which make the interiors feel less than entirely “honest.” But that’s just my take… what’s yours? Video of Chrysler’s interior design boss Klaus Brusse, talking about the changes in Chrysler’s interiors, after the jump

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Are You Buying Fiat's "Old Carco" Kiss-Off?

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.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What In The Foxtrot Is An "Everyday Lamborghini"?

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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Ask The Best And Brightest: Would You Recommend A Ford Explorer?
Despite being on something of a roll product-wise, Ford has just experienced its second run-in with Consumer Reports, which failed to give Ford’s new E…
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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Car Would Your Mother Like?
It’s Mother’s Day, when a young man’s thoughts turn to the long-suffering woman who birthed and brought him up. Unfortunately, my mother is…
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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Fuel Economy A Luxury Item?

Since my return on Friday from the New York Auto Show, my friends and co-workers have been relentlessly asking me, “What was the big story there?” After I tell them the big story — that I saw Mike Stern play in the Village with some friends and then squired two fabulous ladies around New York until 5:30AM — they ask me to shut up about that and tell them about the car story.

Fair enough. The story this year is fuel economy, just like it was thirty years ago. The difference this time? Fuel economy, like every other crappy thing in this world, from Russian vodka to TAG Heuer watches, has gone upscale.

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Ask the Best & the Brightest: How to Measure Bang For The Buck?
Car0-60mph SpeedPriceBFTBFord Mustang V65.6221450.806Subaru Impreza WRX5.2254950.754Chevrolet Camaro V66.0226800.735Ford Mustang GT4.8291450.715Mazda Mazdaspeed 36.4237000.659Hyundai Genesis 3.8 R-Spec Coupe5.9267500.634Hyundai Sonata SE6.5243450.632Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart5.8276950.623Kia Optima SX6.5259950.592Honda Accord Coupe EX-L6.3297300.534Mazda Mazda6 s Grand Touring6.4293200.533Corvette ZR13.41111000.265Bugatti Veyron2.517000000.024

For budget minded leadfoots Forbes came up with a list of the ten quickest cars that cost less than $30,000, based on performance data measured by Edmund’s InsideLine. You can go over to Ray’s place to check out the list in greater detail or Forbes for the original version, but the list got me thinking. Can you derive a metric from performance and price information that measures “bang for the buck”? When cost is not much of an issue, performance is a given. High performance at a lower price point, though, is as worthy of note as high buck supercars. I’ve always been partial to products that provide a large fraction of state of the art performance at a small fraction of state of the art prices. The question that I have when it comes to fast cars is: is there a way to come up with a statistic that realistically models performance per dollar?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Ten Alfa-Romeo Designs Should Define Its Future?

We recently asked our Best And Brightest to help Chevrolet look back through its past and find the designs that should inform the brand’s future design direction, an assignment that touched off a number of fascinating conversations. Now, with news of Alfa’s US launch being delayed at least in part due to problems with the design of its all-important D-segment sedan, we reckon it’s time to help Alfa navigate its current design crossroads. Only this time, it’s even more important. Though once-famous for its crackling V6s and flat-fours, Alfa’s have become increasingly dependent on their non-mechanical attributes: style, flair, and Italian-ness. And unlike Chevrolet, the brand has more recent design heritage to draw on as it approaches a US launch just as automotive designs are becoming increasingly emotive. But whereas Chevrolet lacks design identity, Alfa suffers from too much identity: though the 8C is a gorgeous car and a sublime halo, its design cues are becoming something of a crutch for Alfa’s designers.

And so we ask: if Alfa is looking for a new design direction to help launch it as a global premium/sporty brand, what past designs should it turn to? My personal top choice, the Alfetta GTV6, may not be the most beloved design amongst true Alfisti, but it’s a distinctive design at the crossroads between old- and new-school Italian brio. If Alfa is to succeed, it needs designs that reference both heritage and modernity, and to my eyes, the GTV does just that. But that still leaves nine more choices…

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Question Of The Day: When The Price Of Purchase Is Not The Price Of Ownership…

Good news! Warner Bros. Jazz, still smarting from their loss of Pat Metheny to Nonesuch Records, has written me an enormous advance check for the rights to my newly-completed album. It’s titled The Most Beautiful Feeling: A Bossa Nova Tribute To Philip Michael Thomas, the buzz I’m hearing around the industry means I’m gonna have f*&%-you money before you know it.

I’ve decided to do something for you, my favorite TTAC reader. I’m willing to buy you any manufactured object which can be found on the market. Car, watch, musical instrument, plane, train, you name it. You want a Bugatti Sang Whatever? It’s yours. Got a hankering for a G6? I’ll meet you at the Gulfstream dealer or used Pontiac lot, cash in hand.

But there’s just one little catch…

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  • Geozinger Put in the veggie garden (Western Michigan, we still can get frost this late in the year) finished the remainder of the landscaping updates and hand washed both my beater Pontiac and the Town and Country! Going to the beach today...
  • Rochester I wouldn't obsess over the rate of change, it's happening whether we want it or not.
  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.