Category: Editorial Podcasts

By on January 14, 2008

v525690yulrchfl.jpgI read a disturbing comment over at Jalopnik today. It was underneath a post by former TTAC'er Jonny Lieberman on the stress of covering the North American International Auto Show. RLJ676 accused me of wishing for our domestic automakers' downfall, and then attacked TTAC's posting policy. "Further, he runs the place like a fascist and bans for disagreeing with him under the guise that it was a 'flame.' That's what leads to (nearly) everyone on that site agreeing, coincidentally, with all of his articles, etc. Like I said, there's very little 'truth' to be had." I am well aware of TTAC's rep for dwelling on Detroit's dark side. And I know plenty of people see our no-flaming policy as thinly-veiled editorial censorship. When I contemplate these issues, I sometimes wonder if TTAC is not just a lone voice in the wilderness, but an unimportant one. We are so far out of the mainstream we barely get our feet wet. Is it worth it? What's the point? All I can say is that my high school's motto was "For the honor of truth." Not the popularity of truth, or the rich financial rewards of truth. The honor. OK, it's also fun to be the asshole sometimes. But as long as there is ONE visitor who shares the site's crusade for honesty and integrity in an industry that we love– yes, love– then WTH, we'll keep at it. For now, it's time to rest. Perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub. 

[powerpress]
By on January 14, 2008

v525729vclhzhen.jpgIt's day two of the North American International Auto Show pressstravaganza, and our man Montgomery is up with the angels, beating all those hung-over scribes to the showroom floor for a sneak peak of the new Corvette ZR1. Surprisingly, the vehicle code-named the Blue Devil– named after GM CEO Rick Wagoner's beloved alma mater's Blue Devils basketball team–  is now slate gray. With blue brake calipers. Enjoy Bill's shots as we prepare our assault on the suits who put this kind of stuff, and the less palatable fare, on your plate. Click through to hear our man express suitable podcasted reverence.

Click here for TTAC sneak peak at the Corvette ZR1

[Reported by William C. Montgomery]

[powerpress]
By on January 7, 2008

portfolio_subaru.jpgKelley Blue Book is one of the good guys; the organization that led the way towards pricing transparency for consumers. So it's no surprise that their Western Sales Manager Jay Campbell thinks car dealers' websites would benefit from some user generated content. Writing for Dealer Marketing Magazine, Jay uses the term CGC (Consumer Generated Content) while making his case for e-Glasnost. "Today, consumers turn to auto enthusiast sites, online forums and message boards, question and answer sites, and blogs to post their feelings. Imagine how large and untapped this opportunity is for your dealer Website?" The misplaced question mark tells the tale; the idea that car dealers would open themselves up to potentially negative comments from the great unwashed requires a leap of imagination that Evil Knieval wouldn't have attempted in his [fall into the] heyday. Although Jay's heart is in the right place (gold star from TTAC), I felt compelled to call him and see if he lives anywhere near planet Earth. 

[Apologies for the low audio levels.]

[powerpress]
By on January 4, 2008

hi-res_pack-forward.jpgAfter Altairnano's Eliminator dragster eliminated the world's record quarter mile sprint for an electric vehicle (EV), I called the company to ask them what it's like to own the "shit off a shovel" EV mindspace. During my podcast (below) with Bob Geobel, the company's Sales and Marketing Veep claimed his company's high density lithium-titanate battery is ready for hybrid passenger car prime time. "It's the low heat and low resistance of the battery that allows power to come out of that battery much quicker than standard battery technology. It can be charged quickly without thermal damage or overheating" And that means faster recharge times (four to five minutes using a 250 volt charger), more on-demand power and only a nine degree increase in the battery's temperature. So why haven't carmakers jumped on the zero emissions NanoSafe bandwagon? "While they're all looking at it, they've got it programmed in possibly in three to five years." That "possibly" doesn't include any contracts. If you're thinking why not Tesla, it seems the Silicon Valley start-up had their packaging requirements locked-in, and couldn't change gears. So to speak.  

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By on December 21, 2007

rethinksaturn.jpgI recently visited the Saturn website to check on an Astra factoid. I was surprised to discover that the brand has dropped the "American" part of their "Rethink American" advertising strapline. It's now just "Rethink," with various bits added as and when needed (e.g. Rethink Hybrids). The idea of a generic prefix, followed by a campaign-specific suffix, is not new. Mercedes dropped it's "Engineered like no other car in the world" shtick a long while ago, in favor of a revolving series of "FILL IN THE BLANK like no other car in the world" pronouncements. Nissan has been shifting this and that for some time now, from Expectations to, uh, I can't remember. Which is the problem. While a flexible strapline certainly helps the marketing mavens, like any brand extension, a one-size-doesn't-fit-all marketing solution weakens the impact of the original, highly-focused brand promise. In fact, none of these automakers keep their strapline front and center on their web pages. In any case, Saturn's shift in my expectations got me to re-thinking like no other journalist in the world. What IS a Saturn? I rang up Kyle Johnson, Saturn's Director of Communications, to ask him about the streamlined strapline, cupholders and Saturn's Unique Selling Point.

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By on December 17, 2007

chrisbryant_nike.jpgI know it sounds like I'm being sensationalistic (perish the thought) and making this up (never!), but there's no other way to interpret NIKE's decision to feature "car jumper" Chris Bryant in a national TV ad set to air at 4pm today (Monday) on the Ellen Degeneres show. The ad, which can be seen HERE, shows Bryant, uh, jumping cars. After jumping cars in shoes of his own design, he says "You know what I'm going to say the next time someone asks me why I do what I do? Why don't you?" Now it should be said that the cars are stationary, but one of them is parked in the middle of a street. And what's the deal with glamorizing such a patently dangerous practice? (Anyone remember what a Lotus Esprit did to a car jumper's foot on Ye Olde That's Incredible!?) The Akron Beacon Journal reports that we're late to the Chris Bryant car jumping hoe-down, as today will mark the former busboy's third appearance on the show. Anyway, we've tried to reach NIKE's press office for comment, but they're out to lunch. And now… they're back. Podcast with Dean Stoyer, U.S. Media Relations Director for NIKE below.

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By on November 29, 2007

pic2_large.jpgThe Association of British Drivers (ABD) is calling for the UK government to get their thumbs out and start building some more damn roads already, and bloody well do something to improve the safety of the ones they've already got [paraphrasing]. "Major roads like the A1 still have dangerous crossing points in the central reservation, instead of proper graded junctions. It is outrageous that people continue to be killed in these places because the British Government refuses to invest in decent roads." As I discussed with ABD's affable spokesman Paul Biggs, the government is being pulled in two directions. On one hand, environmental pressure groups are pushing The Powers That Ride in Limos to legislate against car use (or at least tax the Hell out of it). On the other, the pols need new roads to stimulate the economy (so they can collect more taxes). And the winner is… stasis. "The government have listened to frankly silly suggestions from the anti roads lobby that 'roads create traffic' which is considered a 'bad thing', and so improving the roads has become taboo. On the contrary, removing roadspace and obstructing the roads is supposed to make traffic magically disappear, with no ill effects on people's lives." Supposed?

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By on November 28, 2007

bali-beach.jpgThe Detroit News reports that the House and Senate are close to cutting a deal on the bill that will determine what kind of cars automakers will be building for the next 15 years or so. Apparently, everybody's cool with a 35mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard and all the little details, like keeping separate standards for cars and "light trucks." Which is just as well, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the whole thing done and dusted by next Wednesday, when members burn some jet fuel to attend the United Nations Climate Change shindig in Bali. The DTN identifies the final hurdle: ethanol mileage credits. That's the creative caveat that allows manufacturers to claim higher mileage for E85 compatible vehicles– even though a tiny fraction ever fill-up with the stuff. "Automakers contend the credits are necessary to spur increased availability of ethanol that will help reduce the country's reliance on foreign oil," the DTN dutifully reports. No word on whether the Porsche loophole– giving carmakers selling less than 60k vehicles stateside a pass on CAFE regs– remains intact. 

[Interview with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers' Charles Territo below.]

[powerpress]
By on November 21, 2007

schwarzenegger_022.jpgHonda is about to offer the hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity to "customers" on a limited long-term lease basis. For 600 bucks a month, a handful of lucky leaseholders will get to boast that their car is cleaner than Mitt Romney's closet, and fill-up… at home. According to American Honda chief executive Tetsuo Iwamura, the Clarity is a "shining symbol of the progress we've made with fuel cell vehicles and of our belief in the promise of this technology." Belief in a promise. Gotcha. Just in case you didn't quite catch the fact that Mr. Iwamura is standing in a wiggle room, AFP found an expert to throw a little cold water on Ye Olde hydrogen economy. Texan Timothy Wilkins, an attorney for the firm Bracewell & Giuliani (yes, THAT Giuliani), warns that "producing hydrogen like the gasoline scale, to fully integrated in the vehicle fleet and [provide] the infrastructure for fueling stations will take one century." As Napoleon told his generals when they informed him that growing trees along French roads to shade his troops would take 100 years, "Better get on with it then, mate." Luckily, we don't have to wait that long for a test drive report on the Clarity. Once and future TTAC'er Jonny Leiberman reports to us via podcast below.

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By on October 18, 2007

internetmci.jpgThere's something reassuring about talking to employees who work for a really large company. You can almost hear a well-stocked 401k plan in their voice. Now I'm not saying that Ford suffers from the kind of complacency that brought it to the brink in the first (second?) place. But it is certainly true that group think is the enemy of relative quality in all things. So I want to thank Ford for opening a dialogue with TTAC, which is, after all, a mighty hostile environment for an industry used to well-paid cheerleaders and toothless hacks. I invite Ford to continue on this openness arc and allow their employees to post on the Focus review and/or anything else that captures their attention. Of course, we're years away from that kind of non-spun honesty and PR-less transparency. But I'll say this: the first car company that fully embraces the internet in this way will have an enormous advantage over its competitors. And that's down to one simple reason: it will help them build better cars.

[powerpress]
By on October 18, 2007

lsai_0001_0001_0_img0019.jpgEven before I pronounced Ford’s “new” Focus a one-star car, FoMoCo PR had suggested a little tete-a-TTAC with one of their quality guys. Well fair enough. This website is always open to opposing or explanatory viewpoints– especially from the people who make the whips that fill our editorial crosshairs. And so it came to pass that Ford’s Manager of Global Quality Data Systems and I spent a little quality time talking about quality issues. As you might guess from his title, Mike Hardie is a combination data cruncher and messenger, rather than Ass Kicker General. But his dedication to his job is beyond reproach– even if some of the products under his purview aren’t. Part One below, with a special guest appearance by Anne Marie Gattari, Communications Manager for Manufacturing and quality.

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By on October 17, 2007

laptop-view.jpgIt's true: TTAC panders to PR-meisters who use surveys to hook hacks into stories with only a peripheral link to the companies that sponsor them. And more than a few of these polls are about as scientific as astrology. Still, sometimes we can't help but share the bizarre-o info that nine out of ten spin doctors prescribe for their clients who chew gum. In this case, leasetrader.com— the e-Yenta of the leasing biz– claims they surveyed 2000 female customers/potential customers to discover that fold down rear seats are their most fave feature, car-wise. Then it's Bluetooth capability, MP3/iPod connectivity, automatic open/close hatchback and GPS technology. In an interview with TTAC (below), leasetrader.com's Vice President of Marketing Communications insists that women are crying out for somewhere to put their damn handbag (paraphrasing) and can't see the point of a sunroof (so to speak). In case you're wondering what this all means, John Sternal kinda promises he might poll men on the same topic eventually, although he reckons men's magazines auto coverage proves we're performance-minded oafs pistonheads. Ya think?

[powerpress]
By on October 11, 2007

stacey-and-lucy-026.jpgThe Evening Leader (Wrexham, Wales, UK) reports that a road safety-oriented theatrical production called "Wasted" has kids swearing off cars. After watching the multi-media production designed to warn children about the dangers of drug driving at the Ysgol Clywedog school, "One pupil was heard to say 'I'm not getting into anybody's car again', a statement many others echoed." In a telephone interview with TTAC [below], the head of the Walking Forward Theater Company, says the play's message is not anti-car or anti-drugs. "We're trying to get people to use cars in a responsible way," asserts Gavin Payne. "and indeed, if they have to use drugs, [to] use drugs in a responsible way and not mix the two." Payne's Walking Forward theater company claims to have exposed millions of UK theater goers to road safety dramas, including thousands of British soldiers, and welcomes any U.S. or Canadian campaigners interested in setting-up a similar program across the pond. 

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By on October 10, 2007

plug-in-hybrid-car-phev.jpgHow the Hell do you calculate the official Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mileage figures for plug-in or serial hybrids, vehicles that can/will operate in electric-only, charge-sustaining, gas-only and/or blended modes? In a phone interview with TTAC [below], EPA Senior Project Engineer Carl Paulina reveals that the Feds have been working on the problem with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) for the last year-and-a-half. And… they're still working on it. In fact, Paulina reckons it'll be another year, easy, before the SAE committee figures out how to modify SAE standard J1711 to deal with the new technology (the equivalent fuel cell committee met for five years). Meanwhile, I asked Paulina how the EPA measures current [parallel] hybrid MPG stats. The result is a rivet counter's wet dream. Bottom line: your mileage may vary. 

[powerpress]
By on October 8, 2007

ener1.jpgI don't pretend to understand all the ins and outs of Lithium-Ion battery technology. I know the basics: they're smaller than the nickel metal hydride cells (as used by the Prius' Synergy Drive), potentially more efficient, catch fire from time to time and, when they do, they're more difficult to put out than my schnauser in a snowstorm. Battery maker EnerDel (owned by Ener1) is set to unveil the fruits of their Li-Ion labors tomorrow. Company Vice Chairman says they've nailed it; their 60 engineers and technicians have developed a hugely efficient, cool-running Li-Ion battery for automotive applications. In a telephone interview with TTAC [below], Charles Gassenheimer revealed some of the technical specs, discussed the company's safety tests and pointed-out that their patented technology is not [yet] applicable to plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles. And what of Toyota's Li-Ion work with Panasonic? Ironically enough, Gassenheimer says his competitor's efforts were recently dealt a blow by… a fire in their factory. [NB: EnerDel officials will be monitoring comments to answer your questions.]

[powerpress]

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