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GM ignition switch recall: Everything we know so far

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 14, 2014 12:07 PM

General Motors, as you may have heard, is in a heap of trouble over its latest recall. Things have gotten so bad – and may continue to worsen – that Toyota’s unintended acceleration debacle could look like a speck in the mirror.

GM isn’t in trouble for recalling 1.62 million cars for faulty ignition switches. It’s in trouble for not doing so a decade or more earlier. In its latest filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM said it first discovered the tendency for the ignition key to slip out of the “run” position as early as 2001 – at least two years before some of the affected cars went on sale. GM has reported at least 12 deaths and 31 crashes related to the defect, and some groups like the Ralph Nader-backed Center for Auto Safety are claiming there may be hundreds more.

At issue is the ignition switch plunger, which allows current to flow between the battery and the solenoid connecting the starter motor. Attached to the plunger is a spring which acts to hold the key in place. The springs on the defective switches are shorter and don't have the proper torque to keep the keys snug.


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Hennessey Venom GT is world's fastest street car

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 25, 2014 05:55 PM

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Aerosmith's Steven Tyler knows how to live on the edge, having led one of the most successful rock bands to ever come out of Boston. That's why, in 2012, he was first to buy the $1 million Hennessey Venom GT, a handmade hypercar from Texas with 1,244 horsepower.

Now, Tyler's car claims to be the fastest production car in the world. The speed? 270.49 mph.

On Valentine's Day, the Venom GT stormed down NASA's 3.2-mile runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and came away with that sensational speed. According to Hennessey, the car was still pulling at 270 but there wasn't enough road to continue.

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Top-rated new car dealers in Massachusetts

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 25, 2014 08:00 AM

Car dealerships aren't going anywhere. Tesla Motors has tried opening up shop on its own without a franchise agreement and it's still facing lawsuits. And even if you can start the process of buying a car online, you'll need to complete everything -- paperwork and all the rest -- inside a dealership. It's not fun.

But some are better than others, in the hope that good service will mean repeat buyers. According to DealerRater, a website that ranks car dealerships by user reviews, Massachusetts has 18 top-rated dealerships among their respective brand peers. All dealers here have to score a minimum average of 4.0 during the calendar year based on price, quality of work, customer service, friendliness and the overall experience. Only dealers with at least 25 reviews are counted, and DealerRater claims to weed out bogus reviews from the dealers themselves (though with any website that doesn't require real names and addresses, you can never be 100-percent sure).

Have a look at the list, but don't fret if yours didn't make it. What matters is how you felt when you walked away.

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Chat Thursday with the Honda Guys

Posted by Sanjay Salomon February 11, 2014 04:54 PM

HondaGuys100.jpgThe HONDA GUYS - Gene, Paul, and Rob Giacchino of Honda Cars of Boston - have been a staple of the Boston car dealership landscape for more than 30 years. They'll be taking your questions during a live chat on Thursday, Feb. 13.

 

Presidents' Day special: Live chat with Herb Chambers

Posted by Sanjay Salomon February 10, 2014 04:41 PM

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Herb Chambers, a self-made billionaire who grew up in Dorchester and built an empire of over 50 car dealers, joins Boston.com on Friday, February 14. Ask him about new cars, his impressive car collection, his new dealership in Dedham, and anything else.


 

MIT and Ford are predicting how other people drive

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 28, 2014 09:00 AM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh for Boston.com)

You're on the highway, and your hands aren't on the steering wheel. The adaptive cruise control, bouncing radar signals off the next vehicle ahead, is keeping a perfect pace. The blind spot system keeps you informed, with more cameras and radar, if a car is approaching on either side, and the lane keeping system nudges the wheel back in line. You were too busy adjusting the stereo. And yet, you've been driving safely.

Semi-autonomous control is already possible on many new cars, and amazingly, it does work. It's not yet ready to let you to close your eyes and recline at 70 mph, and should you try, all sorts of bells and lights will illuminate, and then you will most definitely crash. The self-driving car is not here, not until it starts to think and act like a real person.

To get there, automakers like Ford need lots of smart people to write algorithms that can make these calculations for us. And lo and behold, that's what MIT is doing -- yet again.

MIT has been working with Ford since 1998 on everything from voice recognition to how older drivers react with modern technology. Now, one month after Ford debuted its first autonomous research vehicle, MIT (and Stanford, too) will help the company predict what people in other cars are about to do.

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Hire the Wienermobile as your chauffeur

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 28, 2014 08:30 AM

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(Flickr/Selbe B)

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile rests its bun in Portsmouth, N.H., in 2011.


For all the brain power it takes to summon a witty tweet, you could end up inside a 27-foot-long hot dog.

Oscar Mayer is holding a contest on Twitter that could take you and two friends on an epic drive in the most famous truck of all time, the Wienermobile. Write a tweet to @OscarMayer, label it #Tweet2Lease, and the mustard-laced vehicle could show up on your driveway. The contest ends on Feb. 7.

You won't get to drive it -- during a 2004 contest, at least one lucky person did -- but you can relax and order a young chauffeur to drive you anywhere you want for eight hours. Since 1988, Oscar Mayer has run a "Hotdogger" program for 20-something college grads, who tour the country to promote sausage for an entire year. Needless to say, Oscar Mayer hasn't had trouble filling the seats, and one of these 12 expert drivers -- be it the lovely Pigs in a Blan-Kate or the handsome Mike Bologna -- will meat you (darn it, meet you) wherever you choose. The hot dog puns could go on forever, and since you know how quickly this can turn inappropriate, let's move on.

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Tesla adds Supercharger station in Rhode Island

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 9, 2014 09:45 AM

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Tesla Motors opened its 54th fast-charging station in Rhode Island on Wednesday, allowing owners of its electric Model S to cruise long distance with a bit more comfort.

The fast-charging stations, called Superchargers, are owned and operated by Tesla in 22 states. They can charge the Model S sedan to half-full in 20 minutes, or from dead to full in 75 minutes, and cost nothing. While DC fast-charging stations are still scarce as automakers fight over plug standards, Tesla's proprietary 120-kW design is only made for Model S owners. The California automaker, which is fighting to sell cars from factory-owned dealers in Massachusetts, wants to build enough stations so Model S drivers can drive coast to coast, for free and without any emissions.

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Boston as the harmonious, driver-friendly glass city

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 9, 2014 09:00 AM

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Imagine a Boston where you could drive straight to the office and let the car park itself. Think about an MBTA so efficient that buses and trains always arrive on time. Or how about commuting from the Western suburbs, with every driver sipping coffees on complete autopilot?

It's a dream as far away as Copley Square is from Las Vegas. But this week, that's exactly where those three scenarios are playing out, under the bright lights of the Consumer Electronics Show. Boston architecture firm Höweler + Yoon, with funding from Audi, built a table-sized glass model of Boston's downtown from Copley Square to the Seaport. Equipped with motion sensors and cameras, visitors can "move" traffic and other road variables with their hands. They can see the results on three movable screens which overlay live 3D animations over the acrylic glass buildings and streets. It's a visualization of what Audi calls "friction-free" driving, or what our city and its thousands of cars would look like if they communicated with each other. In three-part harmony, no less.

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Car Doc John Paul

Posted by Sanjay Salomon January 7, 2014 04:53 PM

JohnPaul-80-2__1239736084_1429.jpgJohn Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England and the "Car Doctor" columnist for The Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and AAA Horizons. A certified mechanic, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on AM 950.


 

What it's like racing Lamborghinis on weekends

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 4, 2014 01:16 PM

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(All photos: Jamey Price/Lamborghini)

“Let me know when your balls hurt.”

The man in the black Lamborghini polo wants to be sure. He’s clamping my groin to the bottom of a race car, cinching the last belt to a heavy five-point buckle pressing on my gut. Pinned like this, in a fire suit and a full-face helmet, I’m about as helpless as a baby in a car seat.

I cry uncle, and he gives a final tug before hooking a net to the plastic window, sealing me inside. I can’t take a full breath. By my feet on the bare aluminum floor is a fire extinguisher – as if I could bend down – and near my knee is a toggle switch marked “Ignition.” On my left is Kevin Conway, a former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver who, in five short minutes, will centrifuge my internal organs with a Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Super Trofeo.


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Herb Chambers opens first Volvo dealership in Dedham

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 17, 2013 12:49 PM

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(Photo: Herb Chambers of Norwell)

If you blink hard enough, Herb Chambers will have opened up another dealership before your eyes open.

At least that's what it feels like. Chambers, 71, has purchased his first Volvo franchise, formerly known as Dalzell Volvo on Route 1 in Dedham. The new Volvo of Norwood is his 52nd dealership across Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

“We’re extremely excited to add this luxury brand to our family of dealerships,” Chambers said in a press release. “We have aspired to offer our customers the Volvo name for quite some time and are thrilled to bring the very best and most comprehensive quality brands to our clients."

Within 18 months, Chambers will move the dealership to Norwood on the "Automile." The Dalzell Brothers still own a used Volvo dealership in Foxboro.

With his Maybach store shuttered in Somerville -- at best, he sold only a handful of the $300,000 luxury sedans before Daimler pulled the plug -- Chambers had been down one. The addition of Volvo, which has been clashing with its Chinese owners over product strategy and faces disappointing U.S. sales, is a surprise. Volvo is still popular in New England, but Ray Ciccolo, owner of two Volvo Village stores in Norwell and Brighton, reaps most of the Boston-area sales.

We'll have to wait and see how this battle plays out.

Why Boston should host a Grand Prix

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 10, 2013 08:16 AM

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Indy Cars take a turn at the Baltimore Grand Prix on Sept. 1. (All photos: Clifford Atiyeh)

Donning a fire suit and full face helmet does something to your state of mind. Do it at City Hall, where you've just swapped drivers in an actual pit lane, and the effect is astronautical. Government Center isn't the moon, but for four hours, with Cambridge Street walled off so two dozen go-karts could skid and slam into each other, this was alien territory.

That's what I felt like three years ago. Two Saturdays from now, the 5th Boston PAL Grand Prix will close part of Seaport Boulevard so racers can duke it out near the Moakley courthouse, without fearing any reprisal from police. The event, sponsored and led in part by F1 Boston owner RJ Valentine, supports the Boston Police Athletic League, which organizes sports teams and after-school programs for city kids. But really, it's here so Mayor Menino (and whomever succeeds him) can get comfortable with street circuit racing and one day, invite national race teams with full-size cars to blow through our beautiful downtown.

After donning a fire suit at the Baltimore Grand Prix over Labor Day Weekend, I'm convinced Boston needs to host its own race. We've got the Marathon and the Santa Speedo run -- there's no shortage of foot-friendly rallies all year long -- but no race where a Corvette blitzes past the Commons at 100 mph. Granted, the American Le Mans Series and IndyCar are not charitable organizations, but then again, none of Boston's professional sports teams are. Hearing and seeing a field of race cars up close, where you usually walk the dog or booze with friends, brings the city into a brand new light. Just as if you were a visiting alien.

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Andy Warhol BMW coming to Boston

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 4, 2013 09:00 AM

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Before vinyl wraps took the craft away from custom-painted car bodies, there were "art cars." Specifically, BMW's art cars, a series of post-modern, abstract paintings draped on its coupes, sedans and race cars. After BMW racing driver Herve Poulain had Alexander Calder paint his 3.0 CSL in 1975, the automaker began commissioning other artists on a semi-regular basis. One of them was pop art icon Andy Warhol.

His creation, a 1979 M1 that finished second-in-class during that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, regularly appears in museums and shows across the globe. And on Oct. 5, it'll be on display in Boston at the Park Plaza Castle as part of ARTcetera 2013, a local artist gathering that raises money for HIV/AIDS research and prevention.

Warhol, himself openly gay before the AIDS epidemic hit the 1980s, had gained plenty of fame through his posterized images of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's soup cans by the time BMW asked him to paint over its midengine M1 race car. After working up a scale mockup, Warhol took a brush and painted the entire car -- including his trademark signature on the back bumper -- in a reported 23 minutes. Up close, the brush strokes and rough edges wouldn't pass muster in a BMW paint shop, but the effect is well, Warhol.

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Vermont to Vegas: The final stretch

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 25, 2013 02:08 PM

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Friday’s final drive takes us 812 miles from Denver to Las Vegas, with a few snags along the way.

9:00 a.m. We drive south of downtown Denver to pretend we’re back in college. I’m dressed like a frat boy with a fresh O’s cap and mesh shorts. First, we visit the University of Denver (where my 20-year-old brother-in-law Scot attends) and then trek back northeast to the satellite campus of Johnson & Wales University, the hospitality school Mike attended in Providence.

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Vermont to Vegas: Curves in Kansas, Denver's 16th Street Mall

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 25, 2013 12:31 PM

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Thursday's 629-mile drive takes us from Kansas City, Mo. to Denver.

10:00 a.m. Leave downtown Marriott for I-70.

10:30 a.m. Once past the Kansas border, we stop at the official tourism office rest stop. The woman behind the counter admits there is nothing to see until we reach Colorado (“It’s as flat as that floor,” she says, pointing to the linoleum.) Later, we pass Abilene, the hometown of Dwight Eisenhower, who pushed to create the coast-to-coast network of high-speed interstate highways we're driving on today.

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Vermont to Vegas: St. Louis has no Bud draft, Kansas City's Power and Light

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 22, 2013 10:15 AM

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Wednesday’s 508-mile ride took us from Louisville to Kansas City.

11:15 a.m. The Belgian waffles at the Louisville Fairfield Inn and Suites are dynamite. It’s time to leave.

12:40 p.m. Central time zone enters soon after entering Indiana.

Santa-Claus-Indiana.jpg12:27 p.m. Welcome to Illinois. I sleep through all of Indiana, except the town of Santa Claus, where we stop to fill up.

2:30 p.m. Meet me in St. Louis. The Gateway Arch is extremely imposing in the flesh as the sun glints off the stainless steel and creates a monolithic, otherworldly impression. Minutes later, I’m playing Nelly’s “Country Grammar” in my head.

3:00 p.m. We head up the 630 feet in a claustrophobic capsule from the 1960s. The chain drive is ingenious in that you never feel the arc.

4:00 p.m. We search for Budweiser on tap, but all we find is Bud Light. Apparently, even with the Anheuser-Busch brewery, St. Louis only stocks bottles. Not cool. I mail two postcards to good friends back home. I haven’t sent a postcard since elementary school, and I’m glad they still exist.

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Vermont to Vegas: Meter feeding and bourbon flights

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 21, 2013 09:43 AM

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The Fourth Street Live block in Louisville, Ky.

Tuesday's 616-mile leg has us leaving Baltimore through western Maryland, cutting down to Charleston, and stopping overnight in Louisville, Ky.

8:30 a.m. This is when we were supposed to leave my apartment. But I can't wake up for anything on time.

10:36 a.m. This is when we actually roll out, and Bates-- extremely patient as he is -- doesn't show how much he wants to hit me. But everything's packed, and after a fill-up and a 20-ounce Red Bull, Bates starts the drive off right. We've got Utz sour cream potato chips, beef jerky and Reese's peanut butter cups.

Noon Western Maryland is beautiful, and it's amazing how thin the state's borders are when I check the map.

1 p.m. We're in West Virginia. A woman at the rest stop tries to pass out Jesus flyers. Declined.

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Vermont to Vegas: 17 jobs and counting

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 21, 2013 09:01 AM

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Michael Bates fills up his car in Baltimore, before setting out with the author for an epic American adventure.

Michael Bates has worked 16 jobs since he was 16. He's made pizzas, Subway sandwiches, operated rollercoasters, stood on security watch at Gillette Stadium, sold fan merchandise for the Providence Bruins, managed a dental practice in Connecticut, managed a restaurant in Walt Disney World and worked nights at a Florida gasoline station. He's 28 years old.

His 17th job -- an usher at a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas -- starts next week. And because I don't have a real job that makes me punch time clocks, I've joined him on the 2,400-mile drive to Sin City.

Minor problem: By commuting like hell across Connecticut, he's put more than two years worth of mileage onto his leased 2012 Chevrolet Cruze in just 13 months. By the time we reach Vegas, he says he'd rather light the car on fire in the desert than return it to the dealer back home.

We're starting in Bennington, Vt., at a lake house my friends rent each summer. But after we help down some 200 beer cans, it's time to get serious. We set off last weekend for the 138-mile drive to my hometown, Cheshire, Conn., and then another 282 miles across the deadpan New Jersey Turnpike to Baltimore, my new city. Also: I'm newly married, and because my wife had to start school at Johns Hopkins the day after our wedding, this road trip is effectively my honeymoon. He's one of my very best friends. So that's not a complaint.

Follow along this week as we ride across middle America.

Prime Motor Group breaks ground on new Hanover Mercedes dealership

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 19, 2013 11:32 PM

A former Buick-GMC dealership will soon show off the latest Mercedes-Benz models in Hanover as part of the Prime Motor Group.

The new $10 million facility, co-designed by Mercedes-Benz, is part of the automaker's $250 million investment to renovate 300 of its 350 U.S. dealerships. Mercedes-Benz dealers like Prime, which already owns one dealer at its Westwood headquarters, are spending nearly $1.4 billion.

Prime president David Rosenberg bought the old Columbia Buick-GMC dealership on Route 53 in 2012 and plans to open the new Mercedes-Benz dealer at the same site in early 2014 and bring 40 new jobs. Like other dealers run by rival Herb Chambers, the new dealer will have covered valet parking, free loaner vehicles, free Wi-Fi in customer lounges, children's play areas, and other amenities designed to take the edge off a service visit.

The dealership group owns 18 shops throughout the Greater Boston area and has 1,000 employees.

These are the worst new cars in the world

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 30, 2013 07:23 PM

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A few months ago, I was driving an Audi S4 wagon through beautiful South Africa. But those riches didn't last long.

For two days, I strapped myself into seven terrible cars that were too unsafe and shoddy to ever be sold here. I visited dealerships under the guise of a prospective buyer, and wasn't at all prepared for what these low-tier car brands had to offer.

I drove cars without working speedometers, talked with salesmen too lazy to lift a finger and almost downed a beer in the showroom with some very happy sales guys on a Friday afternoon. I had to love and laugh at the country's lackadaisical work ethic, at least compared to the nonstop work work work mentality of the U.S. I could really fit in.

Have a look at my detailed report for Car and Driver magazine -- and you'll soon see that even the worst cars have their good qualities.

Crapcan Central: We Drive Seven of the Worst Cars in the World (Or Are They?)

McLaren plays with its P1 supercar on the Arctic Circle

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 30, 2013 06:48 PM

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Winter's never over in northern Sweden, and that simple fact makes this sparsely populated region a worldwide destination for automotive engineers. For durability testing, tiny towns like Arjeplog offer them year-round, pummeling cold, just the sort of recipe McLaren needs to finish its upcoming P1 supercar, of which just 375 will be made.

We've already seen the car unmasked at the Geneva Auto Show in March, so unless there's some radical design change, we're not sure why McLaren continues to cover it like a zebra. Here, somewhere further north on a frozen lake in the Arctic Circle, McLaren test drivers slid the P1 -- with a hybrid powertrain in excess of 900 horsepower -- on slick powder.

Despite what looks like a fun time, I can tell you I wouldn't trade places with those drivers, at least not in Sweden. A year ago in February, on assignment for Car and Driver, I had my fingers nearly pried off by the 10-degree chill -- and that was in the country's southerly parts. So unless this P1 is hopping the next flight to Dubai, I'll gladly enjoy the video below from Boston.


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Smart move: Cheapest electric car comes to Boston in May

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 30, 2013 05:15 PM

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Mark your digital calendars: The cheapest, tiniest and most roofless electric car on sale is coming to Boston on May 13.

Three years ago, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive came here as limited-production European prototype and was offered to a handful of Boston-area residents and businesses on a pricey four-year lease. When I drove one in 2010, the acceleration and measly 60-mph top speed were a painful chore.

Smart has wised up. The new ForTwo ED promises real-world performance -- and at $25,000 before tax credits, the best price among all new electric cars. When equipped with a soft top, this short two-seater can also claim title as the only electric convertible on the market.

As Massachusetts is one of 14 "CARB" states -- those which follow the stricter emissions laws of the California Air Resources Board, designed to promote electric vehicles -- we'll see this little ForTwo months before the rest of the country, said Terry Wei, Smart's U.S. marketing manager.

"We cannot build them fast enough," she said.

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Racing on Mount Snow with a 900-horsepower pickup

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 18, 2013 04:07 PM

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How Red Bull manages to plaster its primary colors on everything from a Formula One racing team to supersonic human skydiving is an incredible marketing exercise. Especially for a company that crafts an exceptionally disgusting yellow beverage that speeds your heart rate and doesn't break down, even when you've thrown it up the next morning after drinking "Jager bombs" or whatever awful mess college kids are drinking these days.

Red Bull isn't the Coca-Cola company, which is revered and loved around the world for its iconic taste and shapely bottles. But somehow, it too can afford to sponsor everything. Every month, Red Bull is burning its cash on extreme sports and outrageous stunts, and unlike the drink, the results are usually awesome.

On Friday, Red Bull closed a section of Mount Snow in West Dover, Vt., and set loose a 900-horsepower pickup truck both up and down a 30-degree black diamond trail. This is a jacked-up, dirt buggy-style race truck plucked from the TORC series (The Off-Road Championship, a small U.S.-based competition in the mud and sand). All Red Bull needed was to slap on some giant snow tires with half-inch long spikes, set up a few jumps and queue up the cameras.

It's a little terrifying considering driver Ricky Johnson has to tilt the truck in mid-air to avoid the ski lift poles. And unlike movie chase scenes, Johnson was certainly not doing 25 mph and made to appear like 75 mph in post-production. He probably hit 75. Uphill.

The video below says it all. Just don't drink Red Bull.

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Live chat: Car Doctor John Paul

Posted by Julie Balise February 18, 2013 08:00 AM

JohnPaul-80-2__1239736084_1429.jpgJohn Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England and the "Car Doctor" columnist for The Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and AAA Horizons. A certified mechanic, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on AM 950.

About Boston Overdrive

Boston.com reports the latest trends, auto shows and wrings out the newest cars in our city's hellish maze — and across the great roads of New England.
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Contributors

Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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