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Five Ford Vehicles Named IIHS Top Safety Picks

On: Mon, Jun 14, 2010 at 2:32PM | By: John Welch

Five Ford Vehicles Named IIHS Top Safety Picks test 1-1

Ford just keeps on keepin' on, spewing good news from every pore. Today it was announced that five Ford models have earned a five-star rating for 2011 from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Ford now has eleven Top Safety Picks for 2011 models, more than any other manufacturer. The 2010 Ford Flex and Fusion, Lincoln MKZ and MKT, and Mercury Milan are the latest Ford models to be scrutinized. Due to extensive use of high-strength steel, all five models passed the IIHS tests with flying colors.

“Leading the industry in both Top Safety Pick ratings and government five-star crash test ratings is very significant because customers increasingly consider IIHS and NHTSA ratings when choosing a new vehicle,” said Sue Cischke, Ford’s Group Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. “These latest test results further demonstrate Ford’s commitment to continuous improvement on the safety front.”

Denso Becomes Number One Light-Duty Auto Supplier Worldwide

On: Mon, Jun 14, 2010 at 11:26AM | By: John Welch

Denso Becomes Number One Light-Duty Auto Supplier Worldwide test 1-1

Most Americans recognize Denso as a spark-plug manufacturer. Spark plugs that are expensive, but throw solid spark for millenia. Bosch, on the other hand, Americans are a little more familiar with. While also manufacturing spark plugs, we have seen their wiper blades and wastegates and electronic compnents for years. Denso Corp. does everything Bosch GmbH does and, if sales numbers count for anything,  they do these things better then Bosch. In 2009, Bosch's global sales to automakers fell 24 percent to $25.62 billion. Denso's fiscal-year sales rose 3 percent to $28.73 billion. Boo-yah, game, set, match.

Not so fast! What about the wacky Japanese April-March fiscal year? Huh? Under this thoroughly convienient fiscal time table, sales figures exclude the depressed first three months of 2009 and include the early 2010 rebound. Bosch contends that if it were operating on the same namby-pamby fiscal year it would have posted sales of $28.80 billion, beating Denso's $28.73 billion.

This situation gets even murkier. Toyota owns 23 percent of Denso, but arch-rival Bosch owns 5 percent! They manufacter similar products, as well. To go with spark-plugs, Denso makes fuel systems, radiators, air conditioners, and electronics. Bosch also produces electronics, brakes, chassis systems, motors, navigation systems, and other parts. Denso has been number two in sales behind Bosch for the last four years.

Denso Corp. isn't confused about its standing in the supplier market. "There are still some very, very strong competitors out there, and they're going to come back," says Terry Helgesen, senior vice president for sales and marketing at Denso International America Inc. "We've been fortunate to have a broad customer base and a broad product portfolio."

Suppliers provided most of the data for the ranking. Some companies' sales were estimated. The numbers do not include non-automotive, aftermarket, or heavy-duty truck sales. Sales are in dollars, translated when necessary from other currencies.

BMW Announces Launch Of New SuperBike

On: Mon, Jun 14, 2010 at 10:08AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

BMW Announces Launch Of  New SuperBike test 1-1

Everyone knows that BMW has been well established in the marketplace on high performance imported cars for decades. The three letter acronym sparks interest and inspires car enthusiasts around the world. When it comes to BMW’s reputation in building high performance bikes there is not quite as much fervor from fans. All of that is seemingly about to change as BMW prepares to launch what the New York Times calls “the most significant motorcycle in 2010, an overachiever on the order of the M3 or M5.”

New York Times quotes Hendrik Von Kuenheim, BMW’s general director of motorcycles as saying “We must speak the language of the segment and follow the usual market standards. We will compete both on technology and price, and build a bike that will set new benchmarks and win an appropriate market share.”

UPDATE: 24 Hueres Du Mans; Race Day!

On: Sat, Jun 12, 2010 at 9:36AM | By: John Welch

Audi R15 Plus test 2

The cars are waiting on the grid, the drivers anxiously pulling on their gloves and HANS device. I've got my pound of coffee, two laptops and a clear schedule. We will be updating the 24 Hours of Le Mans all day, but first a few dramatic happenings before the race has even begun.

The GT2 pole went to Risi Competitzione and Ferrari after qualifying, but it was stripped from the team after post-qualifying tech inspection. The rear wing on the Risi F430 GTE was found to be an inch to short. This infraction cost the American team the pole and possibly the race; they will now start from the very rear of the field. Crushing disappointment for Risi, the Ferrari teams penalty was Corvette Racing's gain. Having qualified second and third, Le Mans now has an all Corvette front-row in GT2. Another interesting note, both GT2 Corvettes qualified in front of several GT1 cars.

The Audi R15's are struggling for pace. Out qualified by all of the Peugeot 908's, the Audis need to hustle at the beginning of the race just to keep it interesting. Both diesel teams are light years faster then gasoline-engined car LMP's, but the Peugoet is one order faster then the Audi. Lack of testing due to economic kafuffles has seriously affected Audi's ability to stay ahead of their competition. The economic climate favors the older and better-sorted 908, rendering the R15 Plus's potential technological advantage moot.

The race is underway, and Allan McNish is ramming his R15 right up the ORECA Peugeot’s arsche. This apparent recklessness is classic McNish, driving the first lap of a 24-hour race as if it were the last lap. Updates throughout the day . . .


Saab To Use BMW Powertrains?

On: Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 4:38PM | By: John Welch

Victor Muller test 2

The Saab 9-2 rumor mill is just getting ramped-up, and, naturally, the parties involved have "no comment". Word is, Victor Muller, chief executive of Spyker, and Chairman of Saab, says talks with larger companies regarding the Saab 9-2 power train are well underway. One of those companies just happens to be BMW, again, according to rumors.

Both Muller and BMW were quick to deny the reports, a BMW spokesman having this to say: "We are in talks with several interested parties who have interest in our technology, but there are no contracts with Saab at the moment." A spokesman at Saab said the carmaker was looking for "possible partners" but also declined to comment on the report. A Mini-powered 9-2 would be interesting, but would it relegate the car to front-wheel drive? Would that ruin the spirit of the 9-2? I mean, the BMW four banger they're referring to isn't even a 2-stroke . . . isn't that heresy enough?

Saab has other concerns as well. "We are concentrating on the 9-5 and the 9-4X," Eric Geers, a company spokesperson, said. "A smaller Saab below the 9-3 is not in our business plan though it would be on our wish list." Another possible BMW/Saab tie-up in the near future: BMW supply the requisite diesel engines the GM-sourced 9-4x will need to be competitive in Europe. Dagens Industri (a European ‘trade’ publication) reported on Friday that there were also plans for BMW to supply a diesel engine for Saab's 9-4X, which will be launched in the European market at the start of 2011.

Victor Muller is serious about saving Saab. He plans to double Saab's annual yearly output, to 85,000 by 2012. The addition of the 9-5 and 9-4x will help, but a large-volume small car would affect Saab's bottom line significantly. More on the 9-2 as details become available . ..

How the Oil Spill Has Impacted Auto Buyers

On: Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 3:34PM | By: Sherry Christiansen

How the Oil Spill Has Impacted Auto Buyers test 1-1

The jury may be out for now as to whether the tragic Gulf of Mexico oil spill will have a lasting effect on consumer’s outlook toward oil consumption. For now, the effects of the catastrophic spill are certainly forcing awareness of the issue of oil dependence on all of us.

So how are consumers responding?  A poll recently completed by MSNBC asked 1,200 visitors to their website what their reaction is to the Gulf oil spill, and 57% of those who responded stated that they are actively working to try to rely on less oil. 43% of those who answered the poll stated that it is not feasible to reduce their personal oil consumption.

According to the MSNBC poll, consumer response varied quite a bit, including statements such as “I will never own another gasoline-burning vehicle. I will walk, take public transportation, and ride a bike. If I need to go a long way and haul my property, I will use a horse and wagon or a fully electric car,” Other comments ran the full gamut, comments such as “How else am I supposed to get to work? I consume what I consume due to necessity…There are simply no alternatives that are economically viable at this time. The Chevy Volt would be a great alternative if it were not so expensive.”

24 Heures Du Mans; The 'Shopper Preview - GT

On: Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 11:38AM | By: John Welch

24 Heures Du Mans; The 'Shopper Preview - GT test 1-1

Zany mix-ups are always good for a laugh. Sometime around 2007, the entire world stopped caring about GT1 cars. Saleen, Maserati, even Aston Martin quit backing factory teams, and the mighty Corvette C6.R's were left to race each other. This whole "no competition" thing bored the hell out of CorvetteRacing, and they did what any self-respecting group of total-badasses would do: went andfound competition. With the American squad changing classes to GT2, that left no teams building or campaigning GT1 cars. It had become too expensive, too fast, too antiquated. GT1 was no longer relatable by 2009, the underbody aero-dynamics and carbon brakes just too costly for privateer teams. What to do, what to do . . .

Along came French driver Stephan Ratel, with is slicky-boy hair and his radical plans for molding GT1 into a relevant, global racing series. We will get further into the FIA GT1 World Championship and it's spectacular website later; all we need to know at the moment is that Ratel's plan would essentially create bigger GT2 cars. The under floor diffusers and carbon brakes would be shelved (just like a GT2 car,) and weight added to each car. Some of these new GT1 machines are specially built based on the rules, the Nissan GT-R's for instance, and some competitors are 'grandfathered' in. Start with a GT1 C6.R, take away all of it's aero-tricks, throw a sandbag or two in the trunk, and voila- new GT1 car. It could be argued that "New GT1 Car" stands for "Porky GT2 Car" and that the two classes being so closely matched should add up to some freaking amazing racing. It could also lead to some horrifying wrecks, as there are 8 cars entered in GT1 and an unprecedented 17 entries in GT2. Jeebus, that’s a lotta GT cars! Traveling at the same speeds! For 24 hours! 

We've got hard numbers inside the post. Qualifying times for all 26 GT entries, and possibly an image or two . . .

Chrysler Will Build New Fuel Efficient 8 Speed Transmission

On: Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 5:37PM | By: Sherry Christiansen

Chrysler Will Build New Fuel Efficient 8 Speed Transmission test 1-1

As many automotive companies prepare for future government regulations regarding minimum fuel consumption by designing more fuel efficient vehicles, the Chrysler Group plans to spend $300 million to install special equipment in order to build a new eight-speed automatic transmission that will improve fuel economy by up to 25%.

The transmission is licensed by a company called ZF Group, located in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Chrysler announced this week that producing the transmissions in-house will help the company retain over 1,200 jobs at Chrysler’s Kokomo Casting Plant located in Indiana. Official production is scheduled to begin in 2013.

In the meantime, while waiting for future production to ramp up in Kokomo, Chrysler will import transmissions directly from the German manufacturer.

The new transmission is projected to improve gas mileage by 25% by the year 2014, according to spokesperson, Paolo Ferrero, Chrysler senior vice president of powertrain. Chrysler has not yet announced for sure which models the new transmissions would be produced for, but it already exists in some BMW models; in fact, the technology for the ZF six-speed transmission initially made its debut in the BMW Gran Turismo and BMW 760Li.

Buying a Used car Online; Don't Get Munsoned

On: Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 4:35PM | By: Clay Ritchings

Roy Munson test 2

If you are in the market for a car or truck, there are sites, like AutoShopper.com, where you can put in your zip code and start looking through local seller offerings. The internet has given us all the ability to become more educated on pricing, quality, and reliability before we ever set foot on any car lot. All this convenience comes with a price: safety!

While the vast majority of online car deals go through without a problem, a number of scams have specifically targeted internet auto buyers. Many of the scam artists work their deception from Eastern-bloc countries or even African countries, such as Nigeria. These criminals pursue their victims with special dedication, operating with the belief that rich Americans deserve to be Munsoned. In this post I will cover a few common sense guidelines to help protect you.

UPDATE: "Chevy" Brand Name Gets the Boot? GM Says It's OKTo Say Chevy

On: Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 4:34PM | By: Sherry Christiansen

UPDATE: <strike>"Chevy" Brand Name Gets the Boot?</strike> GM Says It's OKTo Say Chevy test 1-1

According to the New York Times, GM has ordered that Chevrolet can no longer be referred to as “Chevy” by any of its employees, as part of a new company marketing plan to present more of a consistent branding of the company’s name to its customers.

GM sent out a memo to Detroit this week stating: "We'd ask that whether you're talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward.”  The memo was signed by Jim Campbell, the GM division’s vice president of marketing and vice president of Chevrolet sales and service, Alan Batey.

“When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding. Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer.” The statement disregards the fact that “Coke” is a nickname for Coca Cola, or that many products made by Apple have their own niche labels such as iPhones—many consumers are not even aware that iPhones are made by Apple. GM will be hard pressed to find a patron who doesn’t realize that Chevy vehicles are made by Chevrolet—or GM, for that matter.

24 Heures Du Mans; The 'Shopper Preview

On: Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 4:22PM | By: John Welch

24 Heures Du Mans; The 'Shopper Preview test 1-1

It wasn't all that long ago you could time an Audi victory at Le Mans by the damn sun. Nowadays things have changed, drastically. The 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans will be held this weekend, and an Audi R15 Plus occupies not one of the top four starting positions. Not one! To further rub salt in that gaping wound, all four of the top spots have been filled by Audi's arch nemesis, Peugeot. You read that correctly, the first four positions are all Peugeot 908 HPDi's, with the fastest Audi coming in fifth. FIFTH?! All that '2012' business must be true! The world really is coming to an end!

For American fans, there a number of Le Mans aspects that are especially interesting this year. 2010 is the first year that Patron-Highcroft, a decidedly American team, has been invited to La Sarthe. 2010 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Chevrolet (no more 'Chevy', right?) Corvette's first appearance at Le Mans. In 1960, the No. 3 Cunningham Corvette driven by John Fitch and Bob Grossman won the large displacement GT class and finished eighth overall. Sharing the GT2 class with the yellow and black Corvette Racing cars are ALMS regulars Rahal/BMW, with their M3 GT's, the Flying Lizard Porsche GT3 and, on provisional pole for GT2, the Risi Competitzione Ferrari F430 GT. Not in the 78-year history of Le Mans has our country entered so many strong teams. The BMW's, the Ferrari and the Porsche should all be able to stomp their European counterparts, and the Corvettes will rival their GT1 cousins in overall speed. Utilizing a significantly toned-down set of aerodynamic rules, it will be interesting to see if the modern GT2 machinery can keep up with the older GT1 Corvette C6.R's, as well as the other GT1 machinery.

I'm going to go ahead a swallow my tongue right now, so that it doesn't happen while I am hyperventilating at 6:00 a.m., Saturday morning. While I'm doing that, why don't you peruse the LMP results from the first Le Mans qualifying session, inside this post . . . GT1 and 2 qualifying results to come in a later post . . .