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Archive for December, 2010

BYD Bringing Two Battery Cars To Detroit Show

Despite recent setbacks, Chinese maker determined to enter U.S. market.

by on Dec.27, 2010

BYD plans to unveil a new version of the e6 battery car, dubbed the e6Premier, at next month's North American International Auto Show.

Despite recent setbacks, Chinese maker BYD is determined to enter the U.S. market – and it plans to give potential buyers a taste of what’s to come with the two battery-based vehicles it will unveil at the Detroit Auto Show, next month.

BYD will stage two world premieres, including the unveiling of a pure battery-electric crossover, the e6Premier, as well as the S6DM plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle.

This will mark BYD’s fourth appearance at the Detroit Auto Show, the most significant and widely-watched automotive event in North America.  Observers are betting that the Chinese maker will use its 25-minute news conference to lay out plans for finally launching its much-delayed U.S. dealer network.

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The e6, if it meets expectations, could help overcome the so-called “range anxiety” issue that many experts anticipate will limit sales of pure battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs.  While most can only manage 100 miles per charge, even with the latest lithium-ion batteries, BYD claims the e6Premier can manage 186 miles, in city driving and hit a top speed of 87 mph.

Using a variant of lithium technology, known as iron-phosphate, e6 reportedly can recharge in as little as six hours on a household plug or just 40 minutes using a 440-volt fast charger.  The numbers, however, have raised skepticism among some observers.


Ford Will Add Stop/Start Capability To 20% of Its Global Products By 2014

Technology should boost mileage by 10%, maker claims.

by on Dec.27, 2010

Ford wants to offer fuel-saving Stop/Start technology on products like the new Focus - if it can get federal regulators to acknowledge the technology's benefits.

Ford Motor Co. will begin offering so-called Stop/Start systems in a variety of its vehicles, technology the maker claims will be able to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 10%.

Globally, Stop/Start systems will be offered in about 20% of the maker’s product mix by 2014, noted J Mays, global design director, during a presentation at Ford’s Wayne Assembly Plant, on Tuesday.

Longer term, Ford officials added, Stop/Start could become fairly ubiquitous in the company’s line-up.

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But while Mays hinted that Ford hopes to launch the technology in the U.S. market “quite soon,” he cautioned that federal regulators have yet to give Stop/Start their thumbs-up.  With the nation’s fuel economy standard set to reach 35 mpg by 2016 – and possibly push to 62 mpg by 2025 – makers like Ford are reluctant to introduce anything that doesn’t gain them credits with regulators – as well as kudos from consumers.

(Ford plans to produce three battery cars at its newly-updated Wayne Assembly Plant, starting in 2012. Click Here for more.)

“We won’t bring it to market” in the U.S. without some acknowledgement from regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency that Stop/Start boosts mileage, stressed Mays.


Toyota Pays $10 Million In Runaway Lexus Case

Dealership still to settle.

by on Dec.24, 2010

Toyota pays $10 million to settle the first big sudden acceleration lawsuit.

That incident led to the first of the maker’s big recalls for so-called sudden acceleration which, in turn, has led to hundreds of lawsuits and a series of record fines for the humbled Japanese automaker.

The August 2009 accident apparently occurred when the floor mat of a Lexus sedan driven by California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor jammed the accelerator pedal.  The vehicle quickly raced out of control, reaching speeds as high as 120 mph before slamming into an SUV, careening off the road, down an embankment and then repeatedly rolling over before bursting into flames.  Saylor, 45, was killed along with three members of his family.

Shortly afterwards, Toyota announced it would agree to recall millions of vehicles prone to having their floor mats jam under the accelerator pedal.  The following January, the maker also agreed to recall millions more vehicles with potentially sticky accelerator pedals.  But it has since been fined heavily for delaying those and various other safety-related recalls.  (For more, Click Here.)

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The payment with Saylor’s family was originally supposed to be kept secret – as often happens with out-of-court settlements – but was released to the Los Angeles Times by Larry Willis, a lawyer in Orange County, California, who is representing the dealership that loaned the Lexus to the police officer.

The dealership was also sued by the family but has yet to reach a settlement.


Hyundai Hits The 200,000 Mark With Sonata

Sedan also up for North American Car of the Year.

by on Dec.23, 2010

The Hyundai Sonata tops 200,000 sales.

Sales of the Hyundai Sonata have topped 200,000 units, so far this year, making it one of the auto industry’s top success stories of 2010 — and a key factor as the South Korean automaker heads to an all-time sales record.

Hyundai will sell more than 530,000 vehicles in the United States, company officials said, and more than 110,000 in Canada for the first time ever.

“Sonata has delivered some pretty incredible results for us this year,” said John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America president and CEO. “Sonata is the Hyundai brand and it’s appropriate it has led to our best year ever.

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Year-over-year, the launch of the newest version of the Sonata has generated an incremental 90,000-unit increase in sales.  And that’s just in the U.S.

“The Sonata has been an integral part of Hyundai’s transformation in Canada,” says Steve Kelleher, President and CEO of Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.

One of the keys to the Sonata’s strong sales is Hyundai’s decision to go with an all-four-cylinder powertrain line-up.  The midsize sedan’s fuel efficiency ratings now set the pace in the segment, with the base powertrain yielding a first-ever 35-mpg highway rating for a non-hybrid, a remarkable 33-mpg highway rating for the turbocharged 2.0T (which packs 274 horsepower, more than any V6 in the segment), and a best-ever 40-mpg highway rating for the breakthrough Sonata Hybrid featuring industry-first lithium-polymer battery technology, Hyundai executives note

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata - the Hybrid shown here - is one of three finalists up for the coveted North American Car of the Year trophy.

The 2.0T, incidentally, generates a segment-leading 137-hp per liter, besting just about every other vehicle in the industry in power-density, from the Buick Regal Turbo at 110-hp per liter to the Lamborghini Murcielago at 98-hp per liter.

Midsize car buyers, meanwhile, aren’t the only ones apparently impressed by the 2011 Hyundai Sonata.  The sedan is one of the three finalists for the prestigious North American Car of the Year trophy.  It’s up against the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, with the results of voting by the 49 NACTOY jurors set to be announced on January 10, 2011, the opening press day of the North American International Auto Show.

Hyundai previously won, in 2009, for the new Genesis sedan.

First Look: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Beauty is more than skin deep.

by on Dec.23, 2010

Body changes are modest with the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but there are some big changes under the hood.

Beauty should be more than skin deep.  So, while most makers will be pointing to the all-new sheet metal they’ve got on display at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show, expect Mercedes-Benz to be pointing out what’s underneath when it comes time to preview the new 2012 C-Class.  And, curiously, the German maker will have the car on display only during a brief backgrounder for journalists, but not on the show floor at Cobo Center.

In fact, the cosmetic changes to the popular luxury sedan will be relatively modest, especially on the exterior, with a new aluminum hood and updated headlights and running lamps.

Sitting behind the wheel you’ll notice a bit more significant update, with a new leather-wrapped wheel lifted from the CLS and a completely redesigned dashboard, now aimed to spotlight the new high-resolution, multi-color instrument cluster.

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But you may need to read the manual – or actually listen to the salesman’s spiel to discover all the additional features, notably including safety updates like Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Attention Assist – which will flag you when you appear drowsy – and Parktronic.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class gets a significant interior update, including an all-new IP.

Another place Mercedes offers some assistance is at the gas pump.  The maker claims to have improved fuel economy by up to 15% with the introduction of two new direct-injection engines and an updated 7-speed automatic gearbox.

The top-of-the-line powerplant for the C-Class will now be the C350’s 302-horepower V6.  That’s up 34 hp, while torque jumps from 258 to 273 lb-ft.  Using the BlueDirect process, the maker says, it has been able to bump up performance and mileage simultaneously, the C350’s 3.5-liter powertrain driving 0-60 times in the low 6 second range while fuel economy improves 5%.

The big mileage gains come from the new turbocharged 1.8-liter inline-four that will power the C250. Combined mileage is 24 mpg – 15% better than the old C300 — with 0-60 times rated by the maker at 7.1 seconds.

Are You Ready To Pay By The Mile?

Insurers aren’t the only ones who want to track your mileage.

by on Dec.23, 2010

Would you be willing to pay for your insurance and even road taxes on a per-mile basis?

If anything will help sell Americans on the wave of new electric vehicles just coming to market it’s the idea of skipping the gas pumps.  Makers like Nissan – which is just rolling its new Leaf battery car into showrooms – are quick to point out that you’ll pay barely 2 cents a mile for the electricity needed to charge up, compared to a dime or more to propel a comparable gas-powered vehicle.

But one reason you’ll save money is that you’re not paying the nearly 50 cents a gallon in federal and state gasoline excise taxes which, for the average vehicle, can add up to almost $500 a year in taxes.  For cash-strapped governments that’s hard to ignore, and the State of Oregon has already established a committee to find ways to make up that money.

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If your electric vehicle doesn’t pay its taxes at the pump you may eventually have to cough up cash some other way, perhaps, Oregon regulators are considering, by using a per-mile fee that could add another penny or two per mile.

But regulators aren’t the only ones considering that option.  It’s an idea the insurance industry loves, as it gives them a chance to track not just how much you drive but, potentially where and how you drive.


New 6-Series Convertible One Of Three BMW World Premieres In Motown

Maker also rolling out updated 1-Series, 1-er M Coupe – and more.

by on Dec.23, 2010

BMW is set to unveil the new 6-Series Convertible at next month's Detroit Auto Show.

BMW officials better brush up on their speed-reading because the teleprompter will be moving fast during their 25-minute news conference at the Detroit Auto Show, next month.

The Bavarian maker will launch the new year with some significant news – starting with the premiere of the next-generation 6-Series Convertible, as well as the updated 1-Series line-up and the all-new 1-Series M-Coupe, the latest offering from BMW’s celebrated sports division M GmbH. (Click Here for more on the 1-Series M…or Here for the full story on the new BMW 1-Series Coupe and Convertible.)

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As if that won’t be getting things going at a rapid pace, the maker will preview the new X3 with the M Sports package, as well as the 5 Series new xDrive versions.  And, if you haven’t run out of breath, there’ll be the new BMW Individual colours and wheels.

The world premiere of the 6-Series Convertible will be one of the highlights of the 2011 North American International Auto Show. The topless variant precedes the new Coupe that is expected to roll out over the summer – even though you might think it would be the other way around: a Coupe for snowy Detroit and a Convertible for New York in spring.

BMW also will reveal the updated 1-Series.

The Convertible will make its North American debut in the form of the 2012 BMW650i, which features the direct-injected V8 TwinPower Turbo engine that delivers 407 hp with a choice of a six-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic sports transmission.

The pictures of the 1-Series M Coupe, that were released earlier this month, already show the new design for the face lifted 1-Series Coupe and Convertible.

The latest M variant is the first in the compact class and is aimed at young buyers who are interested in the M models, but who thought though could not (yet) afford one. With a base price in Germany of 50,500 euros the 1-Series M Coupe offers 340 hp.

The new X3 gets the M Sport Package.

Visitors to Detroit’s Cobo Hall will be able to also see the new X3 with M Sport package, a variant of the new X3 model with standard xDrive all-wheel-drive that now adds sports suspension calibration, M aerodynamics and M components, such as Performance Control and 18-inch alloy wheels.

It will be a very busy year for BMW.  Consider that:

  • In 2011, the 2 Series gets new versions and new options.
  • The maker launches the 535i XDrive Sedan with 8-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic and auto Start/stop function.
  • BMW Individual, the Bavarians’ customization line, debuts new colors and Merino leather trim and 19-inch V-spoke alloy wheels with absolutely massive new tires.
  • Another first for the 5 Series is the introduction of the optional full-colour HUD (head-up display).

Partially disguised, we get our first drive of the 2012 BMW 1-Series Coupe...which will be shown, without camouflage, in Detroit.

While products like the new X3 are likely to be big draws, the maker is also lifting the covers on some significant technical innovations, one of them the new BMW Connected Drive Services. This network system links the driver to the outside world, offering various possibilities for increased safety and comfort with some significant new infotainment features available at a touch of a button or a twist of the iDrive knob.

The 1 Series Coupe and Convertible models will begin the roll-out of the new technology, with the ability to actually access iPhone apps through the Connected Drive system, making  it possible to show Facebook and Twitter on the display and access it with the iDrive controller.

While many of the features will only be accessible when the car is stopped, drivers will be able to tune into web radio as another alternative source of mobile entertainment.

Record Crowd of 66 Vehicles Named IIHS Top Safety Picks

More than doubles last year’s total.

by on Dec.22, 2010

IIHS crash-tests a Volkswagen Touareg, the only large SUV to get its top safety pick award.

More vehicles than ever before can claim a “top safety pick” award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  The Virginia-based organization gave that honor to 66 of the latest cars, trucks and crossovers, more than doubling the number of top picks it awarded last year.

Among the top-rated models were 40 passenger cars, 25 sport-utility vehicles and one minivan, reports the IIHS, which serves as an automotive testing and lobbying group for the insurance industry.  It regularly crash tests new vehicles in a private counterpart to the tests done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In 2009, the IIHS handed out just 27 top picks, noted the group’s director, Adrian Lund.  Doubling that list, he said, ” gives consumers shopping for a safer new car or SUV – from economy to luxury models – plenty of choices to consider in most dealer showrooms. In fact, every major automaker has at least one winning model this year.”

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To get designated a top safety pick isn’t easy, requiring a vehicle to score well in a variety of tests, including front, side, rollover and rear crashes.  Vehicles must also be equipped with a range of standard safety features, including airbags, traction control and electronic stability control, at a minimum.  They must also meet minimum requirements in roof crush tests.


Cadillac Developing SRX Plug-In Hybrid

System would differ from Chevy Volt technology.

by on Dec.22, 2010

Cadillac is developing a plug-in hybrid version of its new SRX crossover, sources say.

General Motors’ new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid could soon get a little brother, this time wearing a Cadillac badge.  Make that a big brother, as the maker will likely add a battery-based version of Caddy’s SRX crossover.

Several GM sources tell that a battery-based model is under development and could reach market in the next two to three years as part of a plan to expand Cadillac’s line-up while also positioning the brand as a serious player in advanced – green – technology, a sector where it currently lags many of its import and domestic rivals.

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Two years ago, Cadillac gave a hint of what could come when it unveiled the Converj concept vehicle.  The distinctive little prototype was intended to use the same driveline as the Chevy Volt.  But while there was initially a push to bring the car to market, interest waned as GM managers had to turn their attention, last year, to the company’s desperate financial problems.


Belinda Stronach Bails Out Of Magna

Once seemed destined to run family firm.

by on Dec.22, 2010

Seemingly destined to run the family business, Belinda Stronach has decided to leave Magna.

One of the most powerful women in the Canadian auto industry has tendered her resignation leaving observers guessing whatcaused Belinda Stronach to leave Magna International – and where she might show up next.

The daughter of Magna founder Frank Stronach, she will resign from her role as Executive Vice-Chair and member of the Board of Directors, effective December 31, 2010.  Her move follows a settlement between the company and its founder, earlier this year, that saw Frank Stronach relinquish his control over most of the company he founded in a machine shop shortly after emigrating from Austria after the Second World War.

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