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McBlog: Racing, The Great Authenticator

When will we know the Koreans have "arrived"?

by on Apr.13, 2011

The track is where a maker -- as much as a driver -- proves its worth. Photo: Denise McCluggage.

Sam Mitani made a point in his May Road & Track column that resonated through me like a temple gong. I’ll get to that but first you’ll welcome some background. Trust me.

In the first running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911 Ray Haroun strapped a mirror in his race car instead of toting the usual swivel-necked riding-mechanic to keep him informed on conditions to the rear. That rear-view mirror found its way into road cars and was about the only thing we could cite as argument that “racing improves the breed”. This was in those mid-century days when our carmakers turned vehemently anti-racing, pulling official participation from NASCAR and forbidding any performance numbers like horsepower to appear in ads. Only comfy-ness and, ooh, rich textures on seats and smiley smiley children with tightly-coifed mothers.

The manufacturers those days were quaking in their white-walls lest a suddenly safety–obsessed government would start decreeing all sorts of standards. Government standards were hive-producing in carmakers. (But then Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook – even before Nader’s ego swelled to its most egregious proportions – might have caused at least minor allergic reactions to anyone fond of wheeled objects.)

Not that improvement of the breed wasn’t something to be wished at that time, particularly by those few of us who had embraced driving as a sport. We were the ones who plastered numbers cut from sticky shelf paper on the sides on our perky little mounts from England, pulled on our knit-back gloves and on weekends cheerfully sped amidst hay bales stacked meanfully on old airports. In post-war years American cars had grown ever more yacht-like, lumbered about on bedspring suspensions and favored interiors upholstered with mouse fur. “Detroit iron” was our disdainful name for these monsters.

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We favored jolting about in much smaller cars, cars that you donned rather than were swallowed by.  Ah yes, many had asthmatic heaters, or none, and sidecurtains that were downright hospitable to rain. But these cars actually stopped within memory of the first application of the brake pedal. They turned corners within then breathtaking inches of where a quick-response steering wheel – the size of a large pizza — bade the skinny tall tires to go. The home-grown puffed-cheek beasts wallowed in the general direction of a chosen course, the steering wheel having required several full turns to influence that choice. The less connection with a road’s surface the more these cars represented Detroit’s intention. The anti-car carmaker ruled.

When did all this change? I would say when Detroit lightened up on trying to anticipate what Washington might want of them and began noticing customers in important numbers were being enticed off the farm by foreign cars. And vaguely wondered why.


Kia Betting Big on Motor Sports

Maker sees motor sports, basketball, golf as ways to shift its econobox image.

by on Mar.10, 2011

Kia has had some relatively good luck since launching its motor sports effort two years ago.

Kia and motorsports? The idea might have seemed ludicrous just a few years ago considering the Korean carmaker’s econobox image.  But as it prepared to launch of new products, such as the all-new Optima, the maker took a bet that that tearing up the track might be a way to grab the attention of consumers that barely knew Kia even existed.

Launched in 2009, the so-far successful effort seems to be having a significant impact on Kia’s brand perception, company officials claim.

When Kia decided to launch a major racing program, in 2009, it had never been part of any motorsports.

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“This is a company that had never gone racing anywhere in the world,” noted Russell Smith of Kinetic Motorsports, the Atlanta-based racing team Kia sought out to help build a motorsports racing team.

Given the company’s history and lack of experience, he was puzzled and a bit skeptical when he was first approached by Kia’s representatives, Smith added.  But after speaking to Kia officials, he decided the company was serious and also understood the risks since it could wind up competing with companies such as BMW and Honda with decades of experience in motorsports.


Kia White Tiger and Hamstar Concepts Hint At More to Come

by on Nov.02, 2010

Kia brings its Hamstars to SEMA.

This year’s SEMA Show, normally the realm of the performance crowd, is turning into a preview of things to come.  Among the makers using the annual event to unveil an array of concept cars, trucks and crossovers is Kia, whose prototypes, including the White Tiger and Hamstar show cars, offer more than a hint of what the Korean carmaker will soon be bringing to market.

And it’s not only urban cruisers Kia is customizing.  The maker’s Kia Forte Hybrid Concept shows that going green doesn’t have to be boring.

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Separately, Kia announced that following the unexpectedly solid first-year performance of its road racing team – which included six Top Ten finishes – the maker will expand its motor sports efforts in 2011, with the Kia Fort Coup campaigning in the upcoming Grand Am-Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.

Few new cars have generated more buzz, in recent years, than the Kia Soul, especially among the hip-hop generation.  So, it’s no surprise Kia is bringing two concept versions of the urban cruiser to SEMA.