Ferrari’s big year; Audi’s headlights; Chevy’s next SS

One of Florida’s best car-watching locales is 5th Avenue in downtown Naples. It’s a different viewing experience from what you get on the state’s east coast. At Fort Lauderdale beach, for example, you’ll find a parade of accessorized customs, ranging from motorcycles to Corvettes to Lamborghinis.

Naples is tonier. If you want to see luxury vehicles, this is the place. There are plenty of local owners who want you to see their rides. So settle on a bench, watch for a while, and you’re sure to see a Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Ferrari plus a handful of Corvettes.

The annual Naples Ferrari show this month drew more red Ferraris than you’d think existed in the state, never mind the dozens of yellow, silver, and black ones. The show came to mind last week when Ferrari released its 2012 sales results, the best in its 66-year history.

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The company delivered 7,318 vehicles to its worldwide dealerships, a 4.5 percent increase over 2011. Revenues were up 8 percent.

Sales in North America topped the 2,000-car mark (2,058) for the first time, a 14.6 percent increase.

The figures also reflected Italy’s economic difficulties in other parts of the world. Overall, the Italian luxury car market saw a 60 percent drop in sales. Ferrari did a bit better, falling “only” 46 percent with 318 units delivered.

Headlights Are On

Audi has been the leader in adopting LED running lights, mastering the technological challenge of producing white light from LEDs at a time when aftermarket replacement lights didn’t have the technology, thus filling the roads with blue, violet, and yellowhued headlights.

Now Audi is looking to take itastep further by equipping its vehicles with a matrix lighting system that eliminates the high beam switching and instead uses a camera to dim some of the LEDs and keep them from shining into the eyes of oncoming drivers.

Some of the best adaptive (self-dimming) headlights already on the market work quite well. They pass my personal field test by dimming just as I instinctively find myself reaching for the light stalk to change the high beams myself.

Acura’s coming new 2014 flagship RLX sedan will offer a couple of interesting technologies: Precision All-Wheel Steer and Jewel Eye LED headlights.

The headlights represent a new look with a horizontal set of five lights, a design approach that works well and gives the RLX’s signature grille an attractive shallower look.

The precision all-wheel-drive system constantly monitors and calculates the amount of rear steering input (toe angle of tire alignment) to adjust to driving conditions and road camber for stable steering.

Chevrolet’s Coming SS

On another balmy evening on Naples’ 5th Avenue, we were admiring an array of new Cadillacs put on display byalocal dealer.

“This ATS was named [North American] Car of the Year,” an onlooker said to my friend Hank. “And you can get it with a manual transmission.”

“I know,” Hank answered, pointing to me. “He’s planning to review it for the Boston Globe’s Auto Section.”

That led to a long auto discussion. The upshot was this fellow liked the ATS but was waiting until Chevrolet comes out with its 2014 SS, a rear-wheel-drive sedan with a 6-2-liter LS3V-8 that’s projected to deliver 415 horsepower and 415 lb.-ft. of torque.That engine is bigger than the 5.5-liter V-8 that powers the present SS NASCAR racecar.

“From every angle, the Chevrolet SS says power and performance,” said John Cafaro, design director of Chevrolet passenger cars and small crossovers. “The combination of an aggressive rear-wheel-drive stance and bodyside attitude with the right balance of detail and refinement inside and out are the perfect home for Chevrolet’sV-8 performance package.”

Those Rising Gas Prices

Three months ago, when industry analysts were making their predictions for 2013, one of their constants was that gas prices would stay relatively stable.

So what to think of the roughly 50 cents per gallon increase we’ve seen in the past month?

The folks at the automotive data-analyzing company Experian have extrapolated the impact of a $1 per gallon increase over a five-year period—even as prices have been rising at a faster rate.

One result was the obvious, a prediction that the small economy car segment would rise 0.7 percent in sales for every dollar increase in the price of gas. That’s roughly 7,000 vehicle sales per month nationally.

The flip side is that pickup truck sales would drop 0.5 percent or 5,000 vehicles a month.

The Experian study shows that hybrid demand will increase by just 0.2 percent and electric-car demand by 0.1 percent in that scenario. However, our experience is that another dynamic comes into play if that were to happen.We’ve noted that there aren’t any deals to be had on hybrids and electrics when gas prices are up. The time to shop those deals is when gas is less expensive.We almost typed “cheap,” but the idea of gas being“cheap”is for the history books.