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Archive for May, 2011

How to Wreck An AMG Engine in 5 Seconds

Flooding roadways pose a serious challenge for motorists.

by on May.26, 2011

Driving through a flooded road can be a dangerous -- and costly -- mistake.

The storm lasted no more than an hour.  The sky had turned green, the tornado sirens sending folks racing for shelter.  But in the end, the only thing that reached the ground was a torrential downpour that quickly overwhelmed sewers, creating deep ponds of water over many busy streets.

The driver of the new Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG paused for a couple moments wondering whether to turn back, but after watching a half-dozen other cars splash through the deep water that had formed on Dearborn’s Village Road he decided to give it a chance.

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Cautiously, he pulled ahead, his right wheel riding the curb, but a car going the other direction sent a wake splashing towards the German sports car which gave an unhealthy hiccup and came to a sudden stop.

The engine of the $150,000 SL, it turns out, had just hydrolocked.  Short for hydrostatic locking, that occurs when an engine designed to compress an air-fuel mixture suddenly takes a gulp of water which, as any physics student can tell you, cannot compress.


Saving Gas Over the Memorial Day Holiday

It’s easier than you think to stretch out a tank-full.

by on May.26, 2011

A few simple steps and you'll save enough on fuel to pay for a nice family meal.

An estimate 30.9 million families will head out on the highway over the long Memorial Day holiday, the traditional start of the U.S. summer season.

The figure is down about 100,000 for last year, according to a survey by AAA – and that’s no surprise considering the current, near-record price of gas, which the organization pegs at around $3.91 a gallon.  A full 40% of those who might consider a trip of at least 50 miles say that fuel prices are influencing their plans for the long weekend, though nine in 10 who will be going somewhere say they are planning to travel by car.

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If you’re among the many who’ll be heading out on the highway, you can rein in your fuel costs with some surprisingly simple steps that will also help when you’re back home and commuting to work.

Indeed, Chevrolet just completed a test to see just how much it could improve the mileage of its Cruze LT.  The compact sedan is rated by the EPA at 24 City, 36 Highway.  But one fuel economy engineer, Ann Wenzlick, was able to squeeze out an average 37 mpg, while her colleague, Beth Nunning, only managed to get 21 mpg.


A Very Belated Obituary for DeSoto

Another old Detroit plant falls to the wrecking ball.

by on May.26, 2011

The last DeSoto.

The last tangible evidence of one of Detroit’s iconic brands was rapidly disappearing this week as demolition contractors tore down the last of the DeSoto plant, 50 years after Chrysler Corporation discontinued the car line.

Moreover, the Albert-Kahn-designed DeSoto plant on Wyoming Avenue between McGraw Avenue and Ford Road at the western border of Detroit, was the only automobile assembly plant erected in America during the Great Depression.  Chrysler also built a truck plant in the period—but that was it for new auto assembly plants during those tough years.

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Until its demise, the DeSoto plant’s huge billboard stood as a nagging competitive symbol above the Ford Freeway (later I-94) that Ford and especially Mercury executives could not help seeing as they headed back and forth from their nearby Dearborn offices to downtown Detroit or their eastside homes.

DeSoto was conceived by Walter P. Chrysler a couple of years after the 1924 introduction of the Chrysler brand, a modernized Maxwell.  Walter P, a former Buick executive, had observed the success of Alfred P. Sloan’s reborn General Motors with its array of medium-priced cars based on “step-up” features.  So he set out to add to the new Chrysler Corporation a low-priced Plymouth to compete with Ford and Chevrolet and a medium-priced DeSoto, matched against Oldsmobile, Buick and the host of successful independents headed by Hudson, Nash, Studebaker and, well, Dodge.


Shake-Up in GM Design

Nesbitt off to China, Parkinson back to the U.S.

by on May.26, 2011

Designer on the move: Bryan Nesbitt during an earlier assignment working on a sketch.

Bryan Nesbitt is a man on the move.  The well-reviewed designer made an early jump from the Chrysler design studios to the General Motors Technical Center.  He then wound up in Europe as GM’s styling boss, before returning to the Tech Center.  Now, Nesbitt is getting ready to pack his bags once again.

The 42-year-old Phoenix native will this time be heading off to Shanghai, where he’ll take charge of GMIO, the maker’s fast-growing international design operations.

While that might have been seen as a demotion or lateral move in decades past, no one is wondering what this means anymore.  General Motors now sells about two-thirds of its volume outside North America, and China is now a larger market for its products than the United States.

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Meanwhile, it is in the midst of ramping up the new Baojun brand, which targets first-time buyers in second and third-tier Chinese cities that are just beginning to see the automotive boom that has already taken hold in major urban areas like Shanghai and Beijing.  With competition in China continuing to grow more fierce, design is becoming as important as cost in winning over motorists, according to Sino specialists.

Nesbitt will serve a dual role as the chief of GMIO design and as the “brand champion” for both the Baojun and better-established Wuling brands.  Wuling sales now far exceed those of the better-known – at least in the West – Buick and Chevrolet.


Lamborghini Readying “Everyday” Supercar

Is production version of Estoque on the way?

by on May.26, 2011

The 2008 Lamborghini Estoque offers a hint of what the maker might offer as an "everyday" car.

When the new Lamborghini Aventador was introduced, earlier this year, it included a feature that allows a driver to slightly raise the nose to prevent the front wing from scraping on speed bumps or steep driveways.

For the Italian maker, that’s about as big a concession as it has ever made for day-to-day driving – most owners pulling their Gallardos and Murcielagos out of the garage only on weekends or special occasions.

But that’s about to change, according to Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann, who has confirmed an earlier report in that the maker is developing what he has dubbed “an everyday car.”

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“We are going to have a third model,” the German-born, Italian-reared executive announced during a conference sponsored by the Reuters news service.  “It has to be an everyday car.  We want to have a car which is able to be used on a daily basis.”

What Winkelmann has in mind remains to be seen.  In fact, he told at the recent Geneva Motor Show that final plans are still under review and likely won’t be completed for some months to come. But one possible direction was offered up by the automaker in the form of the Lamborghini Estoque concept car that was introduced at the 2008 Paris Motor Show.


Auto Boom Brings Challenges to China

The world’s largest car market discovers the perils of petroleum imports, smog and traffic.

by on May.26, 2011

A days-long traffic jam on the G-110 toll road into Beijing underscored the perils of China becoming a nation on wheels.

The People’s Republic of China faces a huge dilemma when it comes to cars.

On the one hand the swift rise of the Chinese automobile industry has brought jobs, investment and a huge measure of prestige to China over the past decade. Only last month, the Shanghai Auto Show eclipsed the New York Auto Show by attracting senior executives from Daimler AG, Toyota and Volkswagen, among others.  China’s hunger for new vehicles probably won’t peak for another decade, according to most estimates.

China is now the world’s largest automotive market, surpassing the United States and is unlikely to slip back into second place, noted Columbia University economics professor Jeffrey Sachs during a panel discussion at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany.

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However, Gao Honfeng, China’s vice minister of transport, told that same forum that China is acutely aware of the environmental and other hazards posed by the rapid development of its automotive culture.

There’s been a significant price tag for putting the nation on wheels: most notably in the form of paralyzing traffic jams, choking smog and a costly dependence upon foreign sources of energy.


2012 Hyundai Genesis Comes in at $34,200

Korean maker adds all-new 429-hp 5.0 R-Spec at $46,500.

by on May.25, 2011

The big changes with the 2012 Hyundai Genesis can be found under the hood.

Hyundai is ready to let buyers slip into the newly-updated 2012 Genesis sedan, and despite some significant upgrades and changes, it’s carrying a barely 1% price increase, at $34,200 – before delivery charges.

The 2012 model-year brings the first significant update of the Genesis sedan since it was named North American Car of the Year, a few years back.

But the big news is on the powertrain front, the new ’12 Genesis continuing to offer both the 3.8-liter and 4.6-liter engines found in the original car, but also introducing a new 5.0-liter direct-injection V8 shared with the even more luxurious Hyundai Equus sedan.

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Exterior changes for the new model-year are relatively modest, with Hyundai introducing an “enhanced” grille, larger air intakes and modified headlamps that adopt the now-required LED accent lights.  There are new puddle lamps in the mirrors, revised rockers and redesigned taillights, as well as new asymmetrical exhaust tips.

The suspension has been tweaked on all models, with larger rear stability bars added to reduce body roll.  Brakes have been upgraded, a Lane Departure Warning System and Daytime Running Lamps added.  But the big news is that new 5.0-liter V8 – and the addition of an all-new 8-speed gearbox that becomes standard across the Genesis line-up.


Next Corvette to Target Euro-Supercar Fans With Small, High-Revving Turbo V8

“We have to target a very different sort of buyer.”

by on May.25, 2011

Coming at you: GM will adopt a European-style, small-block, turbocharged V8 for the next-gen Corvette.

This exclusive report (c)  It has been updated to reflect additional details.

Anxious to attract the sort of high-performance buyers increasingly drawn to European sports cars from the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini, General Motors is planning some major changes for the next-generation Chevrolet Corvette – starting with a high-revving, small-displacement powertrain, that will substitute for the big V8s traditionally found under the hood of the Chevy 2-seater. has learned that GM has approved the use of a very European-style V8 that will be only slightly larger than 3 liters in displacement.  The engine will be of an overhead-cam, rather than traditional overhead-valve design, using a dry sump oil system that’s particularly well-suited to high-performance road courses rather than straight-line acceleration. The engine is expected to feature a narrow 80.5 mm bore and a long stroke, more like a Ferrari or Lamborghini powertrain than the approach used for traditional Motor City metal.

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A very senior GM executive also confirmed that the new engine will be turbocharged, which will help yield a broad torque curve and maximum performance under a variety of driving conditions.  The engine is expected to deliver in excess of 400 horsepower, which means a specific output in the range of 125 horsepower per liter.  That’s the sort of number that would help the next-gen Vette stack up well against the likes of a Porsche 911 or Lamborghini Gallardo.


Berlin Wants to Be World’s Battery-Car Capital

One way to charge up a once-vital city.

by on May.25, 2011

Smart electric cars by Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. The city wants to be the globe's battery car capital.

For years German carmakers were deeply skeptical of electric cars – and basically they still are — but the German government, backed by the European Union, has announced plans to put one million EV’s on the road in Germany by 2020, which, in terms of vehicle development, isn’t very far away.

Daimler AG chief executive officer Dieter Zetsche recently told the company’s shareholder, he doubts the goal can be met without government subsidies. BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer sounded a more optimistic note, declaring BMW would do what it could to help the government reach the ambitious goal.


Meanwhile, the European Union is steadily increasing the regulatory burden on vehicles that rely on petroleum over the next several years as part of the effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse cases.

Consequently, the city of Berlin is now looking for ways to become the principle EV center of not only Germany but all of Europe. Other cities around the world, notably Shanghai, also are interested in becoming centers for EV experimentation.


General Motors Confirms 2,500 New Jobs Coming at Chevrolet Volt Plant

Detroit assembly line will quadruple plug-in production, add Chevy Malibu and Impala models.

by on May.25, 2011

GM's North American President Mark Reuss at the Poletown plant announcing 2,500 new jobs.

Following up on an earlier announcement that it would invest $2 billion in 17 U.S. plants, General Motors today provided additional details confirming it will add 2,500 jobs at the Detroit plant producing the well-publicized Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.

Known as the “Poletown” plant, the factory will add a second shift later this year and is expected to introduce a third shift later on as it takes on several additional product lines.  Among other things, the factory is beginning to roll out a European version of the Volt, called Opel Ampera, which GM believes will increase demand enough to support the production of 60,000 plug-ins next year – about four times more than it expects to produce in 2011.


In all, GM expects to invest $69 million in the facility, formally called the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant.  The 26-year-old facility will shift from its traditional focus on luxury cars, such as the Cadillac DTS sedan, and is now expected to become one of the higher-volume assembly lines in the maker’s global production network.

“We’re doing (this) because we’re confident of consumer demand,” said Mark Reuss, president of GM’s North American operations, during a ceremony at the facility.