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Spy Shots: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe V-series still alive!

The last trick for GM's disbanded high-performance team?

by on Feb.26, 2009

2011 Caddy CTS Coupe V-Series: the last trick from GM's high-performance team?

2011 Caddy CTS Coupe V-Series: the last trick from GM's high-performance team?

Last week GM shocked enthusiasts by announcing that the High Performance Vehicle Operations team was being disbanded. The HPVO crew, responsible for the V-series Cadillacs, Chevy Cobalt SS and HHR SS were said to be off working on regular cars now. These photos, shot in the last 24 hours, show the hipo team has one more trick up their sleeve.

The last time we saw a CTS Coupe V-series prototype was August 2008. It’s absence since then combined with GM’s Viability plan submitted to Congress had many thinking the hot rod coupe had been killed off. These new photos show the V-series coupe is alive and well!

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GM Shares Hit 70-Year Low

Obama calls for fundamental restructuring of auto industry.

by on Feb.20, 2009

GM stock hits near-75-year low Friday.

GM stock hits near-75-year low Friday.

With General Motors shares briefly plunging to their lowest level in three-quarters of a century, it should be no surprise that President Barack Obama marked the first meeting of his administration’s new auto task force by declaring there’s a need for a fundamental restructuring of the domestic car business.

A White House statement stressed that the administration understands the urgency of dealing with the problems facing Detroit’s Big Three. The task force, chaired by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council Director Larry Summers, aims to get a clear handle on whether the domestic industry can be saved – particularly General Motors and Chrysler, which, on Tuesday, submitted “viability” plans to support the billions in loans former Pres. George Bush approved, last December, to keep them alive.

The new plans asked for an additional $21.6 billion in aid, while outlawing significant new cuts in production and employment aimed at keeping GM and Chrysler in business. The two makers will have to complete their proposals by March 31st, after which the task force will make its recommendation to Pres. Obama. He could agree to provide additional assistance, or take steps – such as calling in the existing loans – that would force the makers to declare bankruptcy.

The latter possibility is clearly weighing on investors, who briefly drove GM stock down to a near 75-year low of $1.53 a share in early afternoon trading. The last time the company saw that number was on July 26, 1934, in the depths of the Great Depression. By the end of Friday trading, GM shares recovered slightly, to close at an anemic $1.77, still down 23 cents or 11.5%.

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First Drive: 2010 Lexus RX350 and RX450h

Making it tough or tougher for the competition.

by on Feb.20, 2009

The 2010 RX350 - 3rd generation luxury crossover.

The 2010 RX350 - 3rd generation luxury crossover.

It’s a rare occurrence, but every so often, an automaker introduces something unique and exciting, a product that creates a niche of its own in an otherwise crowded market. Ford’s Model T was one, of course, as was that automaker’s Mustang, which followed decades later. Chrysler hit a home run with its minivans.

In 1998, Lexus weighed in with the all-new RX300, which boasted the functionality of a minivan, the go-anywhere cache of an SUV and the comfortable ride and fuel economy of a sedan-like crossover. Adding the quietness, luxury features and reliability that Lexus was already known for, the RX was an instant success, quickly becoming the Japanese marque’s top-selling product line.

The second-generation RX330, which followed in 2005, delivered more of what customers craved, including an optional gasoline-electric powertrain – making it the world’s first luxury hybrid. Together, the two versions nudged RX sales to an all-time record of more than 100,000 in 2007.

Can Lexus three-peat with the third-generation RX350, and its companion hybrid, the RX450h? The new offerings certainly looked good, when we got our first look at last year’s Los Angeles Auto Show. The 2010 crossover is the most sophisticated and attractive version we’ve yet seen, and as we’ve come to expect from Lexus, it was loaded with an array of upscale and high-tech features, from the all-new, leather and wood-clad interior to the Remote Touch controller, a mouse-like device that easily operates systems such as the Navigation computer and audio.

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Can Lexus Gain Ground in a Deep Downturn?

New RX crossover could buck the economic slump or not.

by on Feb.20, 2009

2010 Lexus RX: Up in a down market?

2010 Lexus RX: Up in a down market?

Since it made its debut, in 1998, as a 1999 model, the Lexus RX has set the benchmark all other luxury crossovers have taken aim at. But even the king-of-the-hill isn’t immune in a severe economic downturn.

After setting an all-time sales record, of just over 100,000 in 2007, sales of the last-generation RX took a sharp tumble, last year, netting just 81,000 sales as the dismal 2008 came to a close. Things haven’t looked much better since the start of 2008, but potential buyers might be excused for holding off, at least for the moment, what with the all-new, third-generation RX350 coming to market, this month – and the next-gen Lexus RX450h hybrid following a couple months later.

If the Toyota division’s Vice President Al Smith is on target, RX sales will jump again, with the introduction of the new models, with volumes nudging closer to 85,000 for 2009. “In this market, new product drives sales,” Smith asserts, and the statistics generally back that up. On the other hand, that bump doesn’t seem to last very long in this market, analysts caution.

That’s going to be critical, since Lexus, on the whole, has been stumbling as its single-biggest product line has lost momentum. Depending on any one model line is a major problem for an automaker, and one of the reasons why we’ve seen luxury makers steadily diversify their brand portfolios. It wasn’t all that long ago, for example, that the Mercedes-Benz line-up was, for all practical purposes, the C-, E- and S-Class models, with a few niche products, such as the SL. Today, Mercedes’ offers an alphabet soup of sedans, coupes, sports cars and crossovers, like the ML, GLK, CLS, R and SLK.

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Daimler Loses the Air of Invincibility

Fourth-quarter slump takes dismal toll.

by on Feb.17, 2009

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche

The global recession has punctured the air of invincibility at Daimler AG, as the German automaker reported a 12 percent drop in revenue and a $1.95 billion loss in the fourth quarter.

The troubled fourth-quarter sliced the company’s net profit to $1.8 billion for 2008 from more than $5 billion as the company’s overall revenue dropped by 1 percent, according to the company’s annual financial report. The Mercedes-Benz division, the company’s flagship, lost money in the fourth and the company also reported that its wound up the year with negative cash flow of almost $5 billion, as the economic downturn took a heavy toll on Daimler’s resources.

“During the first half of 2008, we proved how well we perform under normal economic conditions. Many of our business operations were headed for very good results,” said Daimler Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche.

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Zoom-Zoom, Bong-Bong

Don't drive (or advertise) when stoned.

by on Feb.16, 2009

Phelps and his infamous bong

Phelps and his infamous bong

Michael Phelps, the eight gold medal winner at the recent Beijing Olympics, who last month was retained by Mazda (outside the U.S.) as a spokesperson for a reported $1 million was contrite and apologetic in a :52-second video airing in China to apologize for the embarrassing photo of his taking a toke on a bong at a house party in South Carolina.

In his mia culpa, broadcast in English with Chinese subtitle translation running as the zip stream, Phelps noted, “The past few days have been rough, my actions were regrettable but I have received support and encouragement on line for so many Chinese friends. I will learn from these mistakes and train hard to once again make you proud.”

Mazda in Japan issued a statement noting Phelp’s remorse and dedication will allow him to return to competition and set more records.”

On YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2xm8nRpMkE&eurl=http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/13/phelps-draft/?scp=1&sq=mazda&st=cse