By on June 9, 2011

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?

By on May 30, 2011

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.
(Read More…)

By on May 23, 2011


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”?

By on May 12, 2011

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 Explorer a coveted “recommended” rating. Why? CR explains its decision in Automotive News [sub] thusly

“The engine is a little noisy, handling is secure but lacks agility, and the driving position is flawed,” the magazine says.

“The optional ‘MyFord Touch’ control interface is over-complicated and distracting,” the magazine says, echoing ongoing complaints about Ford’s family of in-vehicle communications systems.

But there’s more.

“The six-speed automatic is not the smoothest out there and wants to hold on to higher gears too long. It was sometimes slow to downshift and overly aggressive engine braking slowed the Explorer going down hills unless we gave the gas pedal a prod.

“An optional Terrain Management system for the all-wheel-drive system lets you dial in various terrain types such as snow and sand, and it alters throttle, brake and torque split between front and rear wheels accordingly.”

Finally, the latest Explorer is too new to be recommended, the magazine says.

But here’s the kicker: as our “Crossover Report” proves, the Explorer killed the competition last month, outselling every other midsized and large CUV on the market. So, is CR right to rate products like Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Ford Flex, Acura MDX, Volkswagen Touareg, Hyundai Veracruz, Subaru Tribeca, Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9 higher than Explorer? Or is this yet another example of CR’s well-disguised but often-noted bias against American cars? Is CR right about the Explorer, or is the market?

By on May 8, 2011

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 on a road trip today so I won’t be able to see her today, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the cars our mothers lust after. In my case it’s easy: my Mom has been sighing over the Fiat 500 for years now, talking about the feisty little Italian in ways that I’ve rarely heard her use to describe cars before. A year ago she might have sprung for a Nissan Juke, but if I just got a big bonus and wanted to surprise her with a car, only one will do and that’s the Cinquecento. But the perfect present is about knowing what someone wants and then exceeding those expectations: in that spirit, I’d skip the basic Cinquecento and place an order for the just-announced 500 Cabrio. Between her aging Forester and dad’s Mk1 xB, the parents have practicality covered… what Mom wants is something small, efficient and reflective of her independence from the tyranny of child-rearing. So here’s to you, Mom, and here’s hoping someone who can actually afford it springs for that Cinquecento (no pressure, Dad). God knows you deserve it.

What car would you buy your mother today?

By on April 12, 2011
Car 0-60mph Speed Price BFTB
Ford Mustang V6 5.6 22145 0.806
Subaru Impreza WRX 5.2 25495 0.754
Chevrolet Camaro V6 6.0 22680 0.735
Ford Mustang GT 4.8 29145 0.715
Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 6.4 23700 0.659
Hyundai Genesis 3.8 R-Spec Coupe 5.9 26750 0.634
Hyundai Sonata SE 6.5 24345 0.632
Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart 5.8 27695 0.623
Kia Optima SX 6.5 25995 0.592
Honda Accord Coupe EX-L 6.3 29730 0.534
Mazda Mazda6 s Grand Touring 6.4 29320 0.533
Corvette ZR1 3.4 111100 0.265
Bugatti Veyron 2.5 1700000 0.024

 

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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By on April 11, 2011

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…

By on April 5, 2011


In celebration of Chevrolet’s approaching 100th birthday, GM’s global design boss Ed Welburn took a look back at the history of the brand’s design and picked ten models that he found to be the most significant and influential. His list has quite a few of the usual suspects (’55 Bel Air, ’63 Stingray) and a few curveballs (1989 C/K Pickup?) and, in my mind anyway, some significant omissions. Welburn’s list captures the scope of Chevy’s design history well, but I’m not convinced it’s the list that I would use to define Chevy’s design direction as it enters its second century. Hit the jump for his list, and then let us know what ten Chevy designs from the last hundred years you would look to as you guided the brand into its 21st Century future.
(Read More…)

By on April 4, 2011

It may well be wishful thinking on my part, but in the three years that I’ve been covering the world of cars, I do feel like I’ve seen a subtle but perceptible improvement in the general quality of the automotive media. Obviously the progress hasn’t been evenly distributed, but more outlets seem to be tip-toeing towards more in-depth stories, better analysis and more independence from the forces of OEM PR. Why? Possibly because the industry’s many challenges are providing more and better stories about cars, or possibly because the recent downturn made OEMs more open to less obviously-friendly writers, outlets and story pitches. One thing is certain: the growth of online automotive media has certainly played a role, putting more pressure on the established outlets, branching out into media criticism and reconnecting auto writers to the readers they serve.

For a while now, blogs have benefited from a lack of faith in the entrenched world of automotive print journalism. But, as print outlets have started to respond to the online threat and online outlets become increasingly sucked into the “PR Friendly” maelstrom that engulfed the buff books’ credibility, a new phenomenon seems to be on the rise which threatens the blogs from the very point of attack that helped them vault into the ranks of the auto media establishment: the “enthusiast reporter.”
(Read More…)

By on March 21, 2011


Unless you’re checking in on TTAC from your private jet, chances are you have never driven a car worth upwards of a quarter-million dollars. Hell, TTAC’s writers are more likely to be invited to strap into the latest hi-po machinery than most honest paycheck-earners, and it’s a rare day when we get access to the true elite of the global auto game. But as enthusiasts, we all have opinions about even the cars that massively exceed our purchasing power (let alone our ability to use them to their true abilities), so we’re curious about which next-gen supercar leaps out as the most appealing based solely on what you’ve heard about them.
(Read More…)

By on March 16, 2011

There’s an interesting (if troubling) perception out there that there is no longer such thing as “bad cars.” Certainly compared to what was available just ten years ago, the market has improved its offerings, making most new cars consistently better than the vehicles they replaced. But the corollary to this rule, that each new car is always better than the one that it replaced, does not actually hold up to scrutiny, at least according to Consumer Reports.

In fact, in its most recent auto issue, CR gave a number of vehicles worse scores than their predecessors earned, indicating that progress is not a given in the world of cars. And no wonder: automakers aren’t simply trying to wow consumers, but must constantly balance increased performance, content and features with lower costs. The VW Jetta is a poster child for the kind of decontenting that we’re beginning to see creep into the market, as Volkswagen is emphasizing the Jetta’s price in its marketing materials. But are there other, less intentional examples of automotive “value inflation”? What car is/was the biggest “step down” from its predecessor?

By on March 10, 2011

One of the eternal battles of the car world has broken out in New Hampshire, where angry seniors have introduced a bill [HB 549] to remove that state’s requirement of annual driving tests for motorists over the age of 75. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader,

In 2008, 1,088 state residents 75 or older failed the road test. In 2009, the number rose to 1,405, and in 2010, there were 615 failures through October… New Hampshire and Illinois are the only two states that require license-renewal applicants 75 and older to take a vision test and a road test. Nine states require some form of vision test. Maine requires one at first renewal after age 40.

The AARP and angry seniors say the elderly do not actually cause more crashes than young people, and in  recent years, the New Hampshire accident statistics bear them out, as 16-25 year-olds were involved in around 10 percent of crashes there in 2008 and 2009, while the 66-75, 76-85 and 86+ cohorts each accounted for around 2-4%. But then, those statistics are based on years in which over a thousand seniors were denied the right to drive… without the law, it’s hard not to argue that those numbers could be higher. But seniors call testing “age discrimination” and say the tests often fail good drivers who become nervous and allow poor drivers to pass.

Given that your state likely doesn’t have a mandatory senior driving test law, would you support one? Is mandatory vision testing enough? What about mandatory video games? Or, should government stay away from age-based conditions on drivers licenses?

By on March 8, 2011

Back in 2001 VW was the comeback kid . Sales had grown over seven-fold in only eight years from less than 50k in 1993 to over 350k and change. It seemed like the company was offering everything an aspiring Yuppie wanted to buy. At least here in the States. Cute Jettas and Beetles for the successful young female (and a few males). Turbochargers, stickshifts, and GTI’s for those who coveted a sport model. Diesels for the frugal and the long-term owner. Even wagons and convertibles for those who were flipping between becoming a ‘family man’ or a mid-life crisis. VW was hip and profitable… but then the market woke up.

(Read More…)

By on March 7, 2011

Niche vehicles are possibly the toughest task for automotive product planners, offering huge risks and often modest rewards. Many, like the Acura ZDX and Chevy SSR fall flat on their faces, often for very different reasons. A few, like the Lexus RX300 launch entire segments from which future niches will eventually grow. Others, like the Nissan Juke, simply sell in reasonable numbers to the people who like them while turning off most everyone else. But one thing is for certain: in an era when mass-market sedans and crossovers look increasingly alike, a good niche product is one of the few real brand differentiators, a rolling symbol of a brand’s identity and values. And with common platforms and components, certain kinds of niche vehicles are even becoming easier to build. But there’s one very small, very postmodern problem: it’s all been done. When you’ve tried convertible crossovers, four-door-coupe-crossovers, five-door-coupe-wagons, pickup roadsters and minivan coupes, where’s an industry to go next? Time to break out your thick-rimmed designer glasses and explain just what form of nonsense the industry should try now.

By on March 2, 2011

I don’t think the industry learned a lot of lessons from 2008—they will this time around

…said GM CEO Dan Akerson at the Geneva Auto Show [via the WSJ]. But which “lesson of 2008” is Mr Akerson referring to? Overproduction? Incentive and fleet sale dependency? There were so many lessons to be learned in 2008… right Dan?

It would not be a good thing to see $5-a-gallon gas right now.

Oh, he’s talking about getting caught flat-footed by gas price spikes. Fine, let’s ignore the other “lessons of 2008” and hash out the truth behind Akerson’s comment: is the industry ready for $5 gas? Remember, consumer choice tends to exaggerate changes in the price of oil. Or, is it possible that some OEMs are “too ready” for high gas prices? After all, if automakers overcorrect for high gas prices, profits will suffer when the spike subsides. Or is, as BNET’s Matt Debord suggests, Akerson just trying to get the market to price risk into GM’s stock value?

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