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Archive for May, 2010

Mahindra and Mahindra Goes Electric

Indian maker sees opportunity in mass market battery cars.

by on May.27, 2010

Mahindra & Mahindra's first entry into the U.S. is likely to be this pickup, but it isn't saying what models will eventually go electric.

The ambitious Indian vehicle builder Mahindra & Mahindra has entered the race to build a mass market electric vehicle by buying a majority interest in the REVA Electric Vehicle Company of Bangalore, India.

The new partnership, Mahindra REVA, will leverage Mahindra’s vehicle development expertise and open the door for REVA technology to be deployed in Mahnindra-designed vehicles, says the automaker, which has delayed its long-anticipated entry into the U.S. market as it finalizes work on a pair of light truck offerings.

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“The buyout makes the Mahindra group a strong global player in the electric vehicle space,” said Pawan Goenka, President Automotive & Farm Equipment Sectors, Mahindra & Mahindra, who will serve as the chairman of the Mahindra REVA board.  The board will include five nominees from Mahindra & Mahindra, two from the Maini family, the founders of REVA, and one representative from REVA’s  American partner. AEV LLC.

London Congestion Charge under Review

Design regulation exempting hybrids is outdated and unfair.

by on May.27, 2010

If you exempt too many vehicles, congestion increases. Why should any be exempt?

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has proposed changing the congestion charge exemption to include cars with conventional engines that emit low levels of CO2, in many cases lower than the hybrid or alternate fuel vehicles currently benefiting from taxpayer largess.

Under the current rules, the Alternative Fuel Discount gives drivers of alternative fuel and hybrid cars a 100% discount in London’s £8 Congestion Charge. (See London Congestion Policy Excludes Clean Cars?)

Under the Mayor’s new “Greener Vehicle Discount” proposal, any car registered after 1 January 2011 that emit less than 100g/km of CO2 and meet the Euro V standard for air quality will be exempt.

In addition, and as a way of encouraging more electric cars, the same exemption will apply to full battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

Volvo had questioned what place an emissions discount had in a congestion charge at all, not without self interest of course.  Then, Volvo lobbied that when a discount exists, there should fairness so that it did not bias one particular technology over another.

Volvo already offers a sub-100g/km Volvo C30 Sports Coupe. It has also shown a V70 wagon with plug-in hybrid technology that emits less than 50g/km CO2 – this technology will be launched in 2012 – and prototype versions of a full battery-electric C30.


Buyers Most Influenced by Quality, Fuel Economy

Brand loyalty remains strong, but varies significantly with age.

by on May.26, 2010

Time for less loaded, less expensive cars?

If the latest survey from Consumer Reports is accurate, 73% of car buyers said they were “somewhat” or “very likely” to purchase the same make they currently drive the next time they shop for a new car.

However, if they were to change brands, most respondents said that higher quality, better fuel economy, and a lower price are the three biggest factors that would influence their decision. There seems to be a return to pragmatism in people’s minds.

“A buyer’s attachment to a brand, for example, can vary significantly by gender and age,” said Jeff Bartlett, Deputy Editor Online, Consumer Reports Cars. “Possible reasons younger drivers could be influenced more readily include changing lifestyles, less experience with a given brand, greater peer influence, and being more trend-conscious.”

Women are notably more likely to be brand loyal than men, with 54% compared to 43% claiming they are “very likely” to purchase another car of the same make as they currently own. The same applies for older drivers. Among drivers 35 and older, at least 50% plan to stay with the brand they already own. Only 41% of drivers aged 18 to 34 years old felt the same. CR also found that household income does not play a role in car brand loyalty. Affluent consumers and those of modest means were nearly equal in their attachment to a brand.

Why buyers switch

When presented with 13 potential factors to entice owners to change their brand allegiance, the top choices were clearly higher quality and better fuel economy, as shown in the following list.


A Halo Car Coming for Buick?

Showing strong signs of recovery, GM looks for a brand-builder.

by on May.26, 2010

Is there now room for a "halo car" in the expanding Buick line-up?

Sales of the new Buick LaCrosse will set another record for May, senior division officials tell, and the brand is hoping to keep that momentum moving with the upcoming launch of the smaller Regal sedan.

Still more product is in the pipeline, including a high-performance Regal GS, with an even smaller sedan, along with a compact crossover to follow.  But as the Buick brand struggles to not just expand its line-up but freshen its image, there may be a good opportunity to add yet another model to the line-up, one that could become an emblem for the resurgent marque.

“I think there’s an opportunity for a halo car for the brand beyond the Regal RS,” said GM Vice President John Schwegman who, in March, became Buick’s marketing chief.

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Quick to stress that, “We don’t have a timeframe,” Schwegman said a variety of possibilities are being considered, though tradition would suggest a Buick halo vehicle would fall into three likely categories: a performance car, a “highly-styled” vehicle or a convertible.


NHTSA Ups Toyota Death Tally

As many as 89 could be dead from unintended acceleration.

by on May.26, 2010

Toyota's product liability woes continue to grow.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more than 6,200 complaints involving sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus models, including 89 deaths and 57 injuries.

The safety agency, which is under attack by Congressmen and safety advocates for not doing its job, revised the estimates sharply upward from its previous estimate of 52 fatalities reported from 2000 to mid-May of this year.

David Strickland, Administrator of NHTSA recently said that recall investigations will be made faster, and the recall form simplified to shorten the length of time drivers are “exposed to risk” if there is a problem with a vehicle. (See NHTSA Head Calls for Speedier Recalls)

Toyota Motor was fined a record $16.4 million for its failure to act on the problem and for failing to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of a dangerous pedal defect for almost four months.

Toyota said in a statement that it was “making an all-out effort to ensure our vehicles are safe, and we remain committed to investigating reported incidents of unintended acceleration in our vehicles quickly.”

The Japanese automaker is facing hundreds of lawsuits in the U.S.

Driving the 2010 Honda Accord

Interior, drivetrain and dynamics make a formidable family car.

by on May.26, 2010

Accord is challenging the Toyota Camry for the top seller title in the segment.

The Honda versus Toyota question goes back for decades, not as long as the Yankees versus the Red Sox, but with almost the same intensity among fans as the ongoing diamond debate.

The latest version of the Accord, introduced in 2008, is more aggressively styled, has a larger interior and better driving dynamics than the long-time best seller in the class, the Toyota Camry. In short, the Accord, originally introduced in 1976 as a 3-door hatchback with a wheelbase of the current Honda Fit b-car has grown as its buyers aged.

The tradeoff for “more fun to drive” traits in the current car is that Accord is also little harsher and nosier than the “mostly invisible during operation” Camry. Year to date, Honda has already sold more than 100,000 Accords. Camry total sales are close to 97,000, meaning that Honda is threatening Camry’s, eight-year best-selling streak. Both Accord and Camry leases start in the $200/month range right now, and well equipped models are offered at under $300.

The 2010 Accord four-door model EX tested here – $25,380 MSRP – has its origins in a complete redesign for the 2008 model year. At that time, Honda increased Accord’s dimensions to provide for a larger interior (+3.3 cubic feet compared to 2007), attaining an EPA full-size designation at 120 cubic feet of interior and trunk space. The Accord sedan’s overall length of 194.1 inches is 3 inches longer than the 2007 model, width of 72.7 inches is 1.1 inches wider, and the height of 58.1 inches is 0.9 inches taller.

Even though the size is larger in every dimension, the Accord’s torsional rigidity  increased by 20%, Honda claims, as a result of a body structure that uses 48% high-tensile steel by volume, the most of any Accord to date. Unfortunately, weight is up 5%.

In following the American tradition of bigger is better, an optional 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 engine is offered. The V6 produces 268 horsepower – the most ever for any Accord. The V6 also debuted a new generation of fuel-saving variable cylinder management technology and achieved a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) rating – a sop to Accord buyers who think of Honda as a green company with smaller cars and engines.

The cylinder shutoff system operates in 6-cylinder mode for power, and 4- and 3-cylinder modes for efficiency, resulting in EPA fuel economy ratings of 19 city and 29 miles per gallon (Accord sedan V6 with the 5-speed automatic transaxle).

The V6 is not really needed, though. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has more than enough oomph with its 190 horsepower to launch and merge the large car into traffic. Better still, it is rated at 21 city, 31 highway. In mixed suburban driving, I obtained just under the EP combined rating of 25 mpg, and loved every minute of it. The Accord is a slick drive.


Ghosn Defends Nissan’s EV Program

Battery power is “here to stay,” says exec.

by on May.25, 2010

With the 2011 Nissan Leaf only set to begin fleet sales later this year, the maker already claims to have nearly 20,000 retail orders in hand.

Like it not, the electric car is here to stay, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault-Nissan Allliance, said during a whirlwind visit to Detroit.

The Japanese side of the alliance, in particular, is betting heavily on battery power, with its first battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, the Nissan Leaf, due to go on sale late this year.  Other models, including a luxury BEV for the Infiniti brand, are set to follow.

The first-year production of the electric-powered Nissan Leaf is already sold out, Ghosn said, noting the Japanese automaker already has 13,000 orders from customers in the U.S. and another 6,000 orders from buyers in Japan, with more pouring in every day.

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Initially, Nissan plans to offer the 2011 Leaf to fleet buyers, but for 2012 it will go into retail sale, and in the U.S., the orders have come from private citizens not government organizations, stressed Ghosn.


Volkswagen Takes Over Italdesign Giugiaro

Renowned design company is now German controlled.

by on May.25, 2010

Volkswagen has cooperated with IDG and Giugiaro for decades.

The Volkswagen Group will take a 90.1% stake in Italdesign Giugiaro S.p.A. (IDG), Turin, including the brand name rights and patents.

The agreement was announced today at a joint press conference in Turin. Regulatory approvals are pending.

The shares are being acquired by Audi’s Italian subsidiary Lamborghini Holding S.p.A. The remaining shares will stay in the possession of the Giugiaro family.

Volkswagen has cooperated with IDG for decades. Giugiaro, arguably, became famous with his Golf I design. He then went on with concepts for high volume models such as the first Volkswagen Passat, Scirocco and the Audi 80, to name just a few. Volkswagen and IDG are now working on the planned Volkswagen Up! model family vehicle, among others.

“With this shareholding in Italdesign, we are participating in one of the most renowned design and development companies with one of the richest traditions in the automobile industry,” said Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft.

“Italdesign is the flagship for creative Italian automobile design and has been instrumental in shaping the face of the automobile industry worldwide,” said Winterkorn.

"Entering Volkswagen means to open up a promising perspective for the company."

Giorgetto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantovani founded IDG in Turin in 1968. Both founders are among the leaders of Italian automobile design. Italdesign is also known for its development center. Today, the company generates sales of more than €100 million and has a workforce of 800 employees.

“Every drop becomes the sea when it flows oceanward. In the last few days, I ran into this sentence while I was reading Sophie’s World by the Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaardner. We are the drop. Becoming part of the Volkswagen Group means reevaluating ourselves and our strength. Entering Volkswagen means to open up a promising perspective for the company,” Giorgetto Giugiaro said.

Chinese Car Market Showing Signs of Slowing Down

But Beijing government could again intervene.

by on May.25, 2010

The most recent Beijing Auto Show saw plenty of new products debuting, including the Ford Start concept, but is the market starting to slow?

Is the over-heated Chinese car market finally showing signs of cooling down?  And if so, will the Beijing government yet again intervene to keep the momentum building?

Now the world’s largest national automotive market, China’s car sales have been growing at a torrid pace, volume during the first quarter of 2010 rising at an annual rate of 72%.  But while April sales were yet again up 34% compared to year-earlier numbers, they actually fell 12% when compared to March 2009.

“China’s automotive market remains volatile,” suggests a new report from J.D. Power and Associates.

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And even the strong first quarter, it notes, may contain some potentially troubling signs once the numbers are parsed more closely.  Much of the growth, especially in March, appears to simply be the result of dealers rebuilding inventories after 2009.


Lutz is Already Back

What next for former GM (and Chrysler, Ford and BMW) exec?

by on May.25, 2010

He's back! Somehow we never really expected "Maximum" Bob Lutz to leave.

Well that didn’t take long.

While he said he planned to retire to write up more of his memoirs – and log some hours in his Czech-made fighter jet — Bob Lutz has has found a few moments to take on another job.

The former General Motors vice chairman has joined the board of directors of Transonic Combustion Inc., a Bloomfield Hills, Michigan start-up focusing on high-efficiency fuel injection technology.

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“Bob brings to Transonic’s board of directors a lifetime of automotive experience and a passion for personal transportation,” said Brian Ahlborn, president and CEO, Transonic Combustion. “He joins our board at just the right time, as our technology development and customer traction are progressing rapidly.  As our mission is to bring significantly improved efficiency to internal combustion engines, Bob will clearly insist that this is done with the same excellence that has characterized his career.”