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Archive for June, 2012

Coming Monday: The Wild, Weird and Wacky Street Signs Contest!

You're invited to share road signs that make you laugh, stare or just your their head.

by on Jun.29, 2012

Paying attention while driving has its rewards – like helping to avoid a crash or not getting lost – but now the payoff for paying attention could be prizes including a set of new tires, a digital camera and more in the “Wild, Weird and Wacky Street Signs Contest” presented by TheDetroitBureau.com.

We’ve seen plenty of them in our travels, like one near Los Angeles that warns, “Danger, Algae on the Road,” and another that declares, “This Sign Has Sharp Edges.”  There’s the street sign for Farfrompoopin Rd., in Story, Arkansas, and Traverse City, Michigan’s Psycho Path.

We’re betting you readers have you own favorites – lots of them, in fact – and we’d love to hear what you’ve come across in your own travels.

The “Wild, Weird and Wacky Street Signs Contest,” sponsored by Nissan, Bridgestone and MSNBC.com, officially launches on Monday.  But keep your eyes — and camera — out until then.  You just might spot a winner!

Lexus Facing New Unintended Acceleration Recall

Two RX crossovers targeted for “floor mat entrapment.”

by on Jun.29, 2012

Lexus will recall nearly 150,000 RX models due to an unintended acceleration-related problem.

Having hoped to put its embarrassing unintended acceleration scandal behind it, Lexus is now recalling two more models due to the possibility loose floor mats could cause accelerator pedals to jam, leading the vehicles to surge out of control.

The two models covered by the latest recall are the Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, with a total of nearly 134,000 vehicles involved.  The new service actions are relatively modest when compared to the millions of vehicles covered by earlier sudden acceleration problems, but the latest recall puts Toyota back into the spotlight after having spent the last several years trying to rebuild its reputation for high quality and reliability.

The Last Word!

“It was just beginning to fade from people’s memories,” said analyst Rebecca Lindland, of IHS Automotive.  “This is like scratching an old wound.”

Arguably the worst public relations crisis in Toyota Motor Co. history began in mid-2009 when a California Highway Patrol officer and several family members were killed when a Lexus they had borrowed surged out of control, plunging off a highway and bursting into flames.

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Jaguar Downsizes Engine Line-Up

Adds first U.S. 4-cylinder, and a supercharged V-6 for big XJ.

by on Jun.29, 2012

The 2013 Jaguar XJ will swap its 5.0-liter V-8 for a supercharged V-6.

Bigger is better, or so the traditional logic has gone when it comes to the luxury market – and especially powertrain options.  But facing tough new emissions and mileage mandates – and shifting consumer demand – manufacturers like Jaguar are downsizing both their vehicle lines and their engine offerings.

The British marque has revealed plans to offer its first-ever inline-four in the U.S. market for 2013.  And the coming model-year will also see Jaguar replace the 5.0-liter V-8 in its XJ flagship with a new supercharged 3.0-liter V-6.

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Among other powertrain news for 2013, the British luxury marque will introduce a new 8-speed automatic and will add Stop/Start technology.  The latter feature – already being offered by such high-line brands as Porsche and BMW – automatically shuts off the engine when idling, say, at a stop light. The engine instantly fires back up when the driver’s foot lifts off the brake.

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Overseas Operations Weakening, GM, Ford Heading for Big International Losses

Ford sees $500 million loss abroad, GM $1 billion in Europe.

by on Jun.29, 2012

Ford CEO Alan Mulally -- the maker now anticipates big losses overseas.

An economic meltdown in Europe, a slowdown in China, weakening currency and new trade barriers in South America. The situation is getting bad for the auto industry, and both General  Motors and Ford, in particular.

The smaller of the Detroit makers now anticipates overseas losses to reach $500 million for the second quarter, a heavy anchor on earnings from the recovering North American market.  GM, meanwhile, expects the red ink from its long-troubled European operations to reach around $1 billion.

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Noting its “operations outside of North America are under increasing pressure,” Ford warned in an SEC filing that “Our combined results for the second quarter for Ford South America, Ford Europe, and Ford Asia Pacific Africa could be a loss of about three times as much as the $190 million pretax loss incurred by these operations in the first quarter.”

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Honda Polishes its Environmental Credentials

"Earth Dreams" technology to debut on new Accord.

by on Jun.29, 2012

The production version of the 2013 Honda Accord -- the Coupe Concept shown here -- will introduce the maker's new Earth Dreams technology.

Honda, looking to regain some of the momentum it has lost over the past couple of years, plans to introduce its “Earth Dreams” technology this coming fall on its new 2013 Honda Accord.

Honda officials told TheDetroitBureau.com that the Earth Dreams package on the new Accord will include a new 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder engine with direct injection and a new continuously variable (or CVT) transmission, according to Steve Center, American Honda’s vice president overseeing environmental business development.

Center also said a plug-in electric version of the Accord will debut in early 2013 as part of the maker’s overall strategy of reducing CO2 emissions.

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The first maker to launch a hybrid model in the U.S. – its original Insight model – Honda has since taken a back seat, in terms of its environmental image, to Toyota which produces the Prius, the world’s best-selling gas-electric model.  Recent Honda hybrids, including a new Insight and the CR-Z, have failed to gain the market traction the maker had anticipated.

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Toyota, BMW Expand Their Alliance

New efforts will include fuel cells, electric powertrains and a future sports car.

by on Jun.29, 2012

Toyota and BMW officials during a news conference announcing their original alliance last December.

Toyota and BMW have confirmed they will substantially expand the nascent partnership they first launched late last year – signing a memorandum of understanding that will cover work in four key areas including high-tech fuel cells as well as the foundational “architecture” of a future sports car.

The two makers had first agreed to a limited alliance last December – echoing steps taken by a number of their key competitors, such as Daimler AG and the Renault-Nissan Alliance.  Those three brands have been rapidly expanding their own partnership in a bid to expand global economies of scale and to bring new technologies to market faster than might otherwise be possible working individually.

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“It is one way of securing long-term access to customers and technologies,” said Toyota Motor Co. President Akio Toyoda, during a news conference at BMW headquarters in Munich.

For his part, Bayerische Motoren Werke CEO Norbert Reithofer emphasized that, “For the BMW Group, strategic partnerships are an essential part of our strategy.”

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World’s Most Expensive Motorcycle up for Auction

“Old Bill” could nudge the $500,000 mark.

by on Jun.28, 2012

George Brough riding his Superior "OldBill" motorcycle in 1959 at British track Clipstone.

It’s probably pocket change when compared to the figures some rare Ferraris and Bugattis have been commanding at auction, lately, but the legendary Brough Superior motorcycle known as “Old Bill” very well could become the world’s most expensive bike when it goes up for auction in October.

The rare racing motorcycle, dating back to 1922, has a very good shot at pushing past the previous record sale – also for a Brough bike – and nudge upwards of $500,000, according to auction sponsors.

“If I could bring any motorcycle in the world to auction, it would probably be this one,” says said George Beale, Principal in the motorcycle department at auction house H&H.

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Suggesting that its rarity and history are “unrivaled,” Beale adds that, “there is no telling what it could make on the day. It is an absolute privilege to be handling the sale of such an automotive icon and we very much look forward to being able to show it to the world’s serious collectors.”

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Wildfires Force Delay of Pikes Peak Hill Climb

No new date set as fires spread.

by on Jun.28, 2012

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb will have to wait out Colorado's devastating wildfires. (Photo courtesy Drew Phillips/Autoblog.com)

Dozens of drivers will have to wait before they get to burn rubber racing to the summit of one of the act that continent’s tallest mountains.  Rapidly expanding wildfires have led organizers to indefinitely delay the 90th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

The annual event is a magnet for manufacturers and private teams from around the world, 211 competitors currently scheduled for the 2012 running.  Significantly, the race was supposed to see a growing number of “green” entries this year, including battery-powered racers from Toyota and Mitsubishi.

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But Colorado is being ravaged by wildfires that have been spreading out of control.  One, near Colorado Springs, doubled in size last night and is now covering an estimated 24 square miles after destroying scores of homes overnight.

Officials decided on the postponement after meeting with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, said PPIHC Chairman Tom Osborne, in a statement.  “At the end of our meeting today, it was clear that we would not be able to go as scheduled.”

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Shift to City Living Threatens Auto Industry

Is momentum shifting to mass transit?

by on Jun.28, 2012

More and more young Americans are moving back to cities and skipping the morning commute.

The growth of the U.S. auto industry closely coincided with another dramatic change in the American landscape, the move by tens of millions of Americans from cities to suburbs.

But newly-released U.S. census data show that, for the first time in a century, cities are growing faster than surrounding suburbs.  And that, tied to other demographic and psychographic trends could pose potentially serious challenges to automakers desperately seeking further growth.

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The shift back to urban living is largely being led by the so-called Millennial generation, and research is finding that members of Gen-Y are also far less interested in owning or driving automobiles than those from previous generations who led the tract home migration.

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End of an Era: Mazda Building Last Rotary Engine

Gone (for now)...but not forgotten.

by on Jun.28, 2012

Mazda briefly stretched out the rotary engine's final run with production of the special-edition RX-8 Spirit.

It has been a mainstay of the brand’s powertrain line-up for more than four decades but in the coming days Mazda will produce the last of its one-popular rotary engines as it halts production of the RX-8 sports car.

The rotary, also known as a Wankel, for its inventor, helped make the Hiroshima-based automaker – but also nearly destroyed it, as well, when a series of major design flaws were discovered leading to endemic early engine failures. But while improvements in the design allowed Mazda to maintain the rotary for quite some time the engine just couldn’t keep up with today’s fast-rising fuel economy standards.

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“Production of the RX-8 will end, but the rotary engine will live on as an important part of Mazda’s spirit,” said Mazda President Takashi Yamanouchi, in a prepared statement.

The rotary engine was developed by German engineer Felix Wankel just after World War II, but it took until the 1960s before automakers began taking a serious look at the technology.

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