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Archive for December, 2011

Ousted Mercedes Exec Fights Back

Lieb to refute ethics charges.

by on Dec.28, 2011

Former MBUSA bost Ernst Lieb at the 2010 New York International Auto Show.

Ernst Lieb, the U.S. Chief Executive fired last October for allegedly violating Mercedes-Benz ethics policies plans to refute the charges in a German court.

The popular former executive claims, through his attorney, that he did not misuse company funds – and will fight to reverse his dismissal.

“None of the accusations are justified. And we will prove that,” attorney Stefan Naegele told Automotive News.

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The firing, he insisted, was the result of an unfair crackdown by Mercedes’ parent, Daimler AG, which has been struggling to prove that it no longer tolerates the ethical lapses that cost it $185 million in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2010.


Buick Encore Does a Slow Striptease

Maker slowly reveals new crossover ahead of NAIAS debut.

by on Dec.28, 2011

Buick continues to reveal more of the new Encore crossover scheduled for debut next month.

Like the most skilled ecdysiast the Buick Encore is performing a slow and seductive striptease in advance of its January 10 debut at the North American International Auto Show.

The latest pictures – along with a close-up released earlier — confirm what we already know: that the Encore will be the newest and smallest crossover in the Buick line-up, and that it will feature not only the brand’s trademark waterfall grille but the classic Buick portholes, here on the Encore’s hood.

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What else?  Here’s what else we can reveal:

The 2013 Encore is believed to be sized to go up against more mainstream models, such as the newly redesigned Honda CR-V, though the Buick Encore will be targeted at a more luxurious segment of the market, just beneath General Motors’ highline Cadillac brand.


Chrysler Moves Up-Market with 300 Luxury Series

What, no Corinthian Leather?

by on Dec.28, 2011

Chrysler moves up-market with the new 2012 300 Luxury Series.

No, there’s not any “Corinthian Leather,” but with the addition of the new Luxury Series Chrysler nudges the latest version of its big 300 sedan decidedly up-market.

It’s been quite some time the Detroit maker put its last true luxury entry, the old Imperial, out to pasture.  But as part of the shake-up ordered by CEO Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler hopes to expand its line-up to cover all bases.  It began its return into the high-line market with last year’s redesign of the full-size 300 line.

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The previous sedan’s top model was the Chrysler 300C, with the emphasis placed on performance. The new model is giving buyers a choice.  Yes, there’s still a “Hemi Inside,” if you want one on the 300C.  But the 2012 Chrysler 300 Luxury Series shifts towards a more refined – and fuel-efficient — direction.


Hyundai Snatches Design Chief from BMW

Underscores Korean maker’s styling shift.

by on Dec.28, 2011

Long-time BMW designer Chris Chapman will now head Hyundai's California design center.

Hyundai has pulled off a styling coup.  The maker has snatched Christopher Chapman, one of BMW’s more promising designers – to head the Korean maker’s Design Center in Irvine, California.

Chapman replaces Philip Zak, who left Hyundai last spring to rejoin the General Motors’ design staff. In his new position, Chapman will be responsible for new vehicle and concept designs for Hyundai – which has built much of its recent rise on cutting-edge styling with products like the midsize Sonata and compact Elantra.

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“With over 22 years of experience in the industry working on esteemed automotive brands, Chris provides a level of talent that will help further our design portfolio,” said Suk Geun Oh, Head of Design, Senior Executive Vice President Hyundai Design Center.


Spy Shots: 2013 Nissan Altima

Fifth-generation sedan due late in 2012.

by on Dec.28, 2011

The 2013 Nissan Altima undergoing testing on Michigan roads. Credit: Jim Dunne, Car Spy.

We’ve been hearing lots, in recent months, about the problems faced by the “Japanese” as a result of the huge earthquake and tsunami that struck the country’s northeast coast last March.  While it’s true the industry was briefly sidelined, and while Toyota and Honda have struggled until recently due to production shortages, Japan’s number two automaker was quickly back in action and, if anything, the Nissan Altima sedan has been doing better than ever in recent months.

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That’s all the more impressive considering the current model isn’t exactly the newest offering in the hotly competitive midsize segment.  But Nissan has plans to build on the Altima’s current momentum with an all-new version that’s due to market a little less than a year from now carrying a 2013 designation.

Legendary spy photographer Jim Dunne captured this image of the next-gen, 2013 Nissan Altima out and about in the Detroit suburbs wearing minimal camouflage as it was put through some testing.


Delhi Motor Show May Steal Thunder from Detroit

Consumer Electronics Show also will share the spotlight.

by on Dec.27, 2011

Ford will introduce an all-new "global" crossover at the upcoming Delhi Motor Show.

The auto show season has kicked into high gear and one of the industry’s most important events will be opening its doors to the media in less than two weeks.  But the annual Detroit Auto Show will be facing some stiff competition for the headlines this year.

In an ever more global automotive market manufacturers are looking for alternative ways to get their message across – especially in emerging markets like Asia, where some major debuts will be taking place at India’s big Delhi auto show, which opens several days before the Detroit extravaganza.

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And for those more interested in silicon than steel, glass and rubber, there’ll be lots of news coming from Las Vegas, where Daimler AG Chairman Dieter Zetsche will serve as keynote speaker and Ford CEO Alan Mulally will be a high-profile panelist.


First Drive: 2013 Mini Countryman Cooper S John Cooper Works

Mini to turn JCW into new performance sub-brand.

by on Dec.27, 2011

Faster than a speeding skier...the new 2013 Mini Countryman S John Cooper Works.

You’re likely to be halfway down the slopes by the time you can pronounce the full name of Mini’s newest – and fastest – crossover model, the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works.  Take our word for it, as we had our first chance to check out the Countryman JCW during a snow-covered preview in the Tyrolean Alps.

One of the semi-finalists for North American Truck of the Year, the Mini Countryman has generated more than its share of controversy since its 2010 debut.  No surprise: it’s not only the biggest offering ever from Mini and the first to fall into that gray space between car and truck, but it also was the first to offer all-wheel-drive – and four doors.

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But buyers seem to be dismissing the debate and focusing on the Countryman’s blend of functionality and fun-to-drive dynamics– making it the brand’s new best-seller.  So, we wondered as we packed up our ski gear, what would happen when you pack in some more punch?


Marty’s Marketing Minutia: Mission Possible

Does good movie box office translate into good car sales?

by on Dec.27, 2011

Actors Paula Patton and Tom Cruise with their BMW i8 in the new Mission Impossible movie.

Last Friday night, along with thousands of other invitees around the country, I attended a special sneak preview of the new Tom Cruise action movie, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  I was lucky.  Most of the folks who attended the official opening weekend for the fourth in the MI series had to lay out $8, $10, even $12 a ticket – driving the latest entry in the Mission Impossible franchise to a weekend box office tally of $26.6 million.

So, not only did the fast-moving flick win rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and NPR, but it snatched the number-one box office spot – helping reposition Cruise as America’s top-drawing action star.

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As we all know automobile manufacturers have long made the pilgrimage to tinsel town to get product placement of their logoed vehicles in thriller, chase, spy, intrigue, travel and comical movies. Often the cars or trucks are just – in Hollywood parlance – extras or character actors. They don’t play an integral role in plot development. But there are some films in which the cars help move the plot line forward and have an important role.


Auto Industry Likely to End Year with Strong Sales

Preliminary signs suggest year-end buying surge.

by on Dec.23, 2011

Christmas shoppers will put plenty of cars under the tree this year.

The auto industry has been doing much of the heavy lifting, in recent months, helping fuel a late-2011 surge in the economy and it looks like the car market’s recovery from its worst downturn since the Great Depression is continuing into the year-end holidays.

In fact, December is on track to be the strongest month of the year, an unusual development as American consumers typically focus their spending on smaller presents they can pile up under the tree.

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But if preliminary reports hold true for the month as a whole, December could see retail U.S. car sales surge past the 1 million mark for the first time since the 2009 Cash for Clunkers program, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

“The industry has managed through another series of external shocks and is in a healthier position as the year closes,” said John Humphrey, Power’s senior vice president of global automotive operations.


Are You Driving Lady Gaga? Or Maybe the Jack o’ Lantern of Love?

New study finds most Brits name their cars. So do plenty of Americans.

by on Dec.23, 2011

Have you had a Tow-Mater in your garage? Or perhaps a Jack o' Lantern of Love?

My first car was named Smedley, a less than creative concoction for a beat-up old Chevy that carried a New Jersey license plate beginning with “SMD.”  Actually, the ’64 Bel Air had a lot of names we won’t use here, most created on the spot when it wouldn’t start, which was quite often.

Most of my friends have also given names to their cars.  There’s something about personalizing the relationship with something you spend so much time with.  A friend, having loaded up his new chariot with every possible mobile electronic device, settled on the somewhat disturbing “Hal,” and routinely would hit the voice-control button, asking to “Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”  Sadly, the usual response is, “Command not recognized,” though it occasionally results in the system changing the satellite radio channel.

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Americans, it seems, aren’t the only ones in the habit of naming inanimate (okay, semi-animate) machines.  A new survey by the British parking lot operator NCP found that at least half of all English motorists personalize their vehicle with a friendly moniker.