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Jaguar sends New England early gift of all-wheel-drive

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 22, 2012 12:31 PM

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(Jaguar)

Tracy Morgan and Jane Krawkowski, of NBC's "30 Rock," and figure skater Johnny Weir at Jaguar's "Chill NY" event on Aug. 16.

I'm not one to rush the seasons and push Christmas when it's August, but for New Englanders, this is huge: We can finally buy a Jaguar with all-wheel-drive.

Jaguar, however, couldn't wait for December. Last week, the company placed a giant snow globe on Manhattan's High Line Park to demonstrate its new-found traction (and free ice skating for New Yorkers, all on top of an old elevated railway).

Clever marketing aside, this isn't the first time we've seen an all-wheel-drive Jag. From 2002 to 2008, the X-Type came with standard all-wheel-drive, although the compact sedan was quickly brushed off for its mediocre quality. However, these new all-wheel-drive Jags are undeniably two of the best luxury cars in the business, the midsize XF and full-size XJ.

Until this point, Jaguar's entire U.S. lineup had been rear-wheel-drive. Combine that drivetrain with big V8s and wide, aggressive "all-season" tires, and you got a recipe for constant winter failure. Three years ago, I couldn't get an XF up a driveway with two inches of snow. Then, last year, a steeper, freshly plowed driveway (with maybe a quarter-inch of packed snow) sent the XJ's rear wheels into a tizzy.

Jaguar's best solution for winter driving had been a button with a snowflake icon, which when pressed, did absolutely nothing. If these had been my own cars, I'd have immediately switched the tires to winter treads before the first real snowflake fell.

That might not be necessary on these 2013 XF and XJ models equipped with optional all-wheel-drive. For now, it's only available paired to the new 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, another first for Jaguar in a long time. This supercharged six puts out 340 horsepower, 45 less than the big 5.0-liter V8, and returns better mileage (25 mpg on both the XF and XJ all-wheel-drive models). A new 8-speed automatic and an available automatic start/stop system also help fuel economy -- which, like winter, had never been a strong suit for Jaguar. Pricing hasn't been announced.

We're very excited to try Jag's new all-wheel-drive system -- and maybe, if driveways don't get the best of it -- a Jaguar will make NEMPA's annual list of top winter vehicles.

Triple-motor Mitsubishi EV headed for Pikes Peak

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 7, 2012 06:16 PM

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Mitsubishi will race a prototype electric car with no less than three motors at this Sunday's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the most tire-smoking, altitude-sickening rally stage in the world.

The i-MiEV Evolution, a winged, bare-bones race car with a tube-frame chassis and carbon fiber body, uses three electric motors from the production i-MiEV, a tiny electric hatchback. That means there's a maximum of 198 horsepower and 435 pound-feet of torque, all zapping through a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. In other words, it's going to be quick.

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Ford beats Prius on fuel economy

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 7, 2012 10:33 AM

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When it comes to tallish, van-like hybrids, the Toyota Prius V has been the only choice since its debut last year. Now, there’s a competitor in this exact vein (high stubby body, big hatch) with better fuel economy: the Ford C-MAX Hybrid with 47 mpg city and 47 mpg highway. That beats the Prius V’s 44 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.

While it’s rare for a hybrid to achieve equal city and highway numbers, Honda has done that already with the Civic Hybrid, which gets 44 mpg at both ends. Typically, hybrids score higher in the city since they can coast at slow electric-only speeds. Ford has sold the five-passenger C-MAX in Europe for years, yet it’s coming to the U.S. solely as a hybrid model (this fall) and a plug-in hybrid called the C-MAX Energi (early 2013).

As for base price, the C-MAX Hybrid beats the Prius V by $1,315 (including destination for both cars). We don’t know yet what’s standard on the C-MAX Hybrid versus the Prius V, nor can we say anything for how it drives, except that Ford claims a 62 mph top speed in electric-only mode, more than double what any Prius can reach. As for the regular Prius and smaller Prius c, no oil-burning car on the market – gas, gas-electric, or diesel – has been able to beat them in an EPA test.

George Clooney selling Tesla Roadster to fight Sudanese civil war

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 31, 2012 01:38 PM

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Can a $100,000 electric sports car really save the Sudanese people from another all-out civil war? George Clooney would like to think so.

The actor is auctioning his 2008 Tesla Roadster – the first production all-electric car since the GM EV1 and Honda EV Plus – to benefit his nonprofit Satellite Sentinel Project, which uses satellite imagery to monitor the borders of Sudan. The group apparently can pinpoint atrocities and other aggressions, to which it then notifies other world organizations. Auction house Gooding & Company estimates the car will fetch up to $125,000. Clooney’s car is one of the first 100 cars sold from California-based Tesla Motors. The Roadster is no longer sold in the US and a new one won’t debut until at least 2014, when Lotus (Tesla’s manufacturing partner) redesigns its mid-engine Elise.

The auctions will take place on Aug. 18 and 19 as part of the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, a California gathering of the world’s wealthiest car connoisseurs and their rare motors. Jay Leno is also auctioning off his Fiat 500 “Prima Edizione,” one of the first 500 Fiats made for the US last year. The money will benefit the Fisher House Foundation, which helps the families of wounded American soldiers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Jay Leno was not donating the proceeds to charity. He is, as stated above.

2013 Lexus LS: A little meaner, a lot prettier

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 31, 2012 01:23 PM

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The last Lexus model to receive the company’s new “spindle grill,” the flagship LS sedan takes a meaner face and actual performance upgrades for 2013.

We say “actual” because the LS has never hinted at purveying speed or enjoyment for the driver. It has always been a Japanese Mercedes S-Class, an ultra-quiet, tech-laden cocoon with some of the best customer service in the automotive industry. The refreshed 2013 LS gets quieter, of course, with aerodynamic tweaks and noise-reducing wheels with “resonator holes.” But a new F Sport model packs bolstered seats, paddle shifters, Brembo brakes, limited slip differential, and a lowered air suspension on summer tires. The F Sport, in addition to waking up the sleepy, conservative types who buy a big Lexus, is here to grab more share from the sportier Audi A8s and BMW 7-Series.

Inside, the big 12.3-inch LCD display that debuted in the midsize GS is also here, along with an optional wood package that looks dipped in golden honey (it’s apparently a mix of dark and light woods that takes Japanese craftsman 38 hours to put together).

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Other new features include blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and an auto-braking feature that stops the car under 24 mph should the driver not respond. Everything else – size, weight, engines, the six-figure hybrid model – carries over unchanged.

Pricing has not been announced, although we wouldn’t expect it to crest $70,000. The current LS 460 starts just over $68,000. Don’t worry about fuel economy. Even the hybrid – which we tested (and loved) in 2009 – makes no difference for a car this plush and heavy.

 

Corvette, America's iconic sports car, turns 60

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 29, 2012 03:45 PM

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On Saturday, the Chevrolet Corvette turns exactly 60 years old, and with models packing 638 horsepower, it's plenty far from a cushy retirement in Fort Lauderdale.

The latest Corvettes, now in their sixth generation, use the same basic formula as the first creamy, tail-finned car that came off the assembly line on June 30, 1953: a fiberglass body with two seats and rear-wheel-drive. Since then, more than 1.5 million Corvettes have been built and sold across the world. It is unmistakably one of the world's most iconic cars, a huge symbol of American pride, and able to tackle much more expensive cars for mere fractions of the price.

First shown as a concept at the New York Waldorf-Astoria as part of the traveling "Motorama" shows, the Corvette didn't become the knockout, performance car hit we know today. General Motors only planned to build 150 in the first year, and the original "Blue Flame" engine was just a small, 160-horsepower six-cylinder. Demand later doubled that amount, and by 1954, Chevrolet produced just 3,640 cars (a V8 came in 1955). The famous assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky., wasn't opened until 1981. Since then, every Corvette -- from the emissions-choked models of the early 1980s to the 205-mph ZR1 of today -- has started life there.

Even more incredible is the fact that the Corvette still lives on, despite decades of poor management and financial decisions by GM executives. Here's hoping the Corvette can last another 60.

Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini find a new home in Wayland

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 14, 2012 09:00 AM

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(Herb Chambers Co.)

Herb Chambers poses next to the new Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II at his Wayland showroom.

Not that anybody missed it, but the Boston area hasn't had a Lamborghini dealership in three years, when the brand's Peabody franchise closed during the height of the recession. Now, it's back in Wayland, only this time, it's under the watchful eye of Herb Chambers, a man who sells more cars in a few months from his 50 dealerships than some luxury automakers can in a year.

The new Lambo shop joins the current Bentley and Rolls-Royce dealership on Boston Post Road, now a completely revamped, connected showroom that blends one overpowered, ridiculously priced car with the next. Half-million-dollar British sedan with 12 cylinders? Italian supercar with 700 horsepower? Back to another British convertible with 21-inch wheels? They're all here, and if Chambers' continual success is any measure, they're all going to sell.

“In redesigning our Wayland dealerships, we were driven to create a well-appointed space consistent with the prestigious brands we offer,” says Chambers.

Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, and Bentley -- which has its US office in Copley Square -- are such small companies that they regularly send their CEOs to new dealerships. So, on hand at last week's opening were Rolls-Royce North American president David Archibald, Bentley CEO Christophe Georges, and Michael Lock, COO of Lamborghini America. (In case you were wondering, Ferrari and Maserati are sold by Chambers' rival Ernie Boch, Jr.)

Suburban EV charging stations give range past Route 128

Posted by Joe Allen-Black March 13, 2012 02:55 PM

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(Keith Barry for The Boston Globe). Click photo for larger version.

A Nissan Leaf plugs into one of two public charging stations at the Hanover Mall.

HANOVER—Two new public electric vehicle charging stations that just opened at a shopping mall in Hanover might not be drawing crowds yet, but state officials hope they'll be the first of many spots where electric car owners will plug in across Massachusetts suburbs.

The charging stations at the Hanover Mall on Route 53, which opened to the public last month, are part of an ambitious public-private partnership to provide a statewide charging infrastructure with at least one station every 60 miles. Among other cities and towns slated to get charging stations this year are Chelmsford, Kingston, Newton, Salem, and New Bedford.

"The vehicles are coming, but this is part of the pilot," said Stephen Russell, the program director for alternative transportation and clean cities at the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Altogether, there should be about 150 more stations across the state by the end of the year, distributed across commercial centers, town-owned properties and MBTA and Massport parking lots. Many are in Boston's suburbs, though some are located as far west as Lenox and Greenfield. National Grid is opening an additional 30 stations across the state, including ones at some Chili's and 99 restaurants.

Given its distance from an urban center, a suburb like Hanover might seem like an odd place to put a charging station. But managers at the mall, located about halfway between Boston and Cape Cod, say that the charging station will attract both locals and city-dwelling EV owners who can do some shopping while waiting for their cars to be ready.

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Bentley unveils first-ever SUV in Geneva

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 5, 2012 04:41 PM

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Range Rover, roll over.

At the Geneva Auto Show, Bentley has unveiled a concept of what may be the most lavish production SUV ever built.

The EXP 9 F, especially from its tapered rear, may look like a custom Range Rover Sport with 23-inch chrome rims. But the engine, a 600-horsepower W-12 as seen in the two-door Continental GT Speed, is unlike any Range in a Wellesley strip mall. The center stack is a thin metal enclosure with a glass touchscreen -- there are actual iPads in the back seat with fold-down keyboards -- and the rest of the leather-swathed interior includes room for champagne flutes and a silver picnic set neatly folded in the cargo area.

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Bentley will fit an 8-speed automatic transmission from its Mulsanne, but we don't know if the EXP 9 F is riding on a unique chassis or is simply a taller version of the Continental (a coupe that already weighs more than most SUVs). Bentley says it may also offer a hybrid powertrain or the newly introduced 4.0-liter V-8 to customers, who should likely place enough orders for the British automaker to build it next year.

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But while the soft leathers and deep pools of polished wood look amazing, how much more luxurious can this Bentley SUV be from the Range Rover, the Rolls-Royce of SUVs that’s been making sumptuous trucks longer than anyone?

Last year, Range Rover introduced a limited-edition Autobiography model with similar specs to the Bentley concept: buttery-smooth semi-aniline leather covering every surface, including the roof and cargo walls; exotic woods; custom drink coolers and swiveling tray; two iPads; and a rear cargo floor made of solid teak. The engine? A supercharged V-8 with “just” 510 horsepower. All for $170,000. The Bentley will no doubt cost the same, if not more, and likely won’t be tuned to tackle the insane off-road challenges the Range Rover can.

But competition does improve the breed, and the bloodline of thirsty, exuberant, enormous trucks doesn’t look to die, even in the face of $5 gasoline.

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Stirring a Corvair Concours in Sturbridge

Posted by Bill Griffith February 10, 2012 03:42 PM

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(1960 Chevrolet Corvair, courtesy General Motors). Click photo for larger version.

Once upon a time, all I had to do to see a Corvair was look out the kitchen window. My sister owned two of them in succession in the late 1960s.

Nowadays, you may see one at a local cruise night or car show. But how about 200?

That’s the number organizers expect for the Corvair Society of America’s 42nd annual convention to be held at the Sturbridge Host Hotel from July 25-28.

Forty years ago, reliability wasn’t what it is today. Some of those early Corvairs had a penchant for having fan belts pop off pulleys. Then, as the brand rusted away with age, there was the occasional sight of a Corvair blocking traffic because the engine literally had fallen through its rusted mounts onto the highway.

But the brand was innovative with its rear-engine design, air-cooling, four-wheel independent suspension, unibody construction, balanced braking, flat floor (no driveshaft tunnel or transmission hump), light steering, and a low center of gravity. It also had the neat model names of Monza and Spyder.

Chevrolet produced the Corvair from late 1959 until May 1969, selling more than 1.8 million vehicles, including a van and light truck. The Corvair’s handling became the focus of the book “Unsafe at Any Speed” by consumer crusader Ralph Nader.

Auto-related highlights of the Corvair gathering include a competitive autocross on Wednesday, July 25 followed by a road rally through western Massachusetts on Thursday. On Friday, there’s a judged Concours d’Elegance and technical sessions. But Saturday will be the big day for local car aficionados. That’s the date for a giant Corvair-only car show.

Saab owners rallying Saturday at Charles River Saab

Posted by Bill Griffith January 18, 2012 04:44 PM

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(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Saab owners protested in Detroit outside General Motors headquarters in January two years ago.

Saab owners’ dedication to the marque is legendary.

Even though it appears the brand won’t be resuming production, Saabs will be rolling down our roads for years to come. If you happen to see a bunch of them this Saturday morning, chances are they’ll be headed to Charles River Saab, the country's oldest Saab dealership, for a gathering of loyalists from 9 to 11 a.m.

The word went out via social media channels (not quite a Flash Mob call) and by early Wednesday more than 150 had confirmed they’d be bringing their Saabs at least one from as far away as Washington D.C.

Charles River Saab is offering refreshments, its venue, and a complimentary “on-the-lift” inspection to all attendees.

Bill Griffith can be reached at WGriffith@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.

Auto Notes: Bulletproof Econolines, NACOTY, Millenials driving less

Posted by Bill Griffith January 10, 2012 11:16 AM

Playing it COY

And the envelope please….

The North American Car (and truck) of the Year were named Monday just prior to the opening of the Detroit Auto Show. The Hyundai Accent and Range Rover Evoque were the winners, as selected by the 50 voting members of the Automotive Press Association.

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The group last week cut the field to three finalists in each category. The Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Volkswagen Passat were the Car of the Year choices. The BMW X3, Honda CR-V, and Range Rover Evoque were finalists in the truck category. (We awarded the X3, Evoque, and Focus on our Top Drives for 2012 list).

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Those truck choices show that there weren’t any major contenders in the pickup truck or full-sized SUV categories.

For the record, last year's winners were the Chevrolet Volt and Ford Explorer.

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Will the Dodge Dart be a high-caliber replacement?

Posted by Bill Griffith January 10, 2012 11:11 AM

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(All photos: Chrysler). Click photo for larger version.

Dodge says everything but the name will be new on its upcoming 2013 Dart.

The car, a compact sedan, will be a success if it can approach the run (1960-1976) of its namesake and its sibling, the Plymouth Valiant.

The Dart, introduced Monday at the Detroit Auto Show, is aimed at giving Dodge a solid presence in the compact sedan segment. Based on Fiat’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta, it replaces the entry-level Caliber hatchback and should give Dodge its first viable compact sedan since the Neon.

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GM brake rotors delay rust, dust buildup

Posted by Bill Griffith December 8, 2011 05:10 PM

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(GM)

Brake rotors fresh out of the oven in Flint, Mich.

My 1997 Toyota Camry taught me a lesson about rusty brake rotors.

At the time, we lived on a high hill. Every day when I’d head out, I heard this scraping noise from the front wheels. It’d go away after I used the brakes while heading down. After a few days, I realized the discs had accumulated some surface rust overnight, and the brake pads were scouring off that buildup.

So it was interesting to read that General Motors has developed a corrosion protection process that superheats the rotors to 560 degrees Celsius for a day and bonds nitrogen atoms to the rotor surface, hardening and strengthening the rotor for longer life and less corrosion.

So far, the technology is used on the Buick LaCrosse and Regal plus the Chevrolet Malibu, Impala, and Volt.

“Doubling the life expectancy of the brake rotor from 40,000 to 80,000 miles is something we think our customers will appreciate,” says GM technical expert Jim Webster.

The surface treatment, called Ferritic Nitro-Carburizing (FNC), is equivalent to one-tenth the width of a human hair. It allows for sufficient braking friction and effective braking performance while providing corrosion protection.

With so many drivers opting for larger, thin-spoke wheels that show off brake hardware such as bright-colored calipers, the rotors stay shiny and rust-free for a longer period. That early-morning scraping, hopefully, will be a sound of the past.

MIT predicts red light runners

Posted by Bill Griffith December 6, 2011 05:21 PM

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(Christine Daniloff/MIT News)

For those of us who have no idea what an algorithm is, we’re told it’s a step-by-step procedure for calculations used in data processing and automated reasoning.

These processes run any number of the “smart” systems in today’s automotive world.

Now MIT researchers have devised one that can predict when an oncoming car is likely to run a red light. It’s an achievement with the potential to save many lives.

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New Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape ready for battle

Posted by Bill Griffith December 6, 2011 04:45 PM

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(Mazda) Click photo for larger version.

Big things and big sales battles come in small packages.

There’s a heavyweight competition — or should we call it a lightweight title fight? — looming between Honda and Ford in the compact SUV segment. And a third wannabe contender, the Mazda CX-5, is tossing its nameplate into that ring.

All three unveiled their latest, and probably greatest, redesigns at last month’s Los Angeles Auto Show. The CR-V hits showrooms in mid-December with Escape coming at the start of 2012 and CX-5 in February.

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White, silver are world's favorite car colors

Posted by Bill Griffith November 22, 2011 04:16 PM

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(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, file)

White Ford Explorers roll off the assembly line in Chicago.

Most of the time car folks identify the DuPont name with its sponsorship of Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 NASCAR race car. His traditional “Rainbow Warriors” color scheme — currently a more conventional black and red — gives DuPont a bright presence in the sports world. However, it's hardly representative of the color palette seen on the world’s production cars.

Jeff-Gordon-DuPont-car.jpgWhite, white pearl, and silver are the most popular colors in the world, jumping past black and gray, according to DuPont's annual color popularity report, now in its 59th year. The whites and silver each represent 22 percent of the world’s color selections. That’s followed by black (solid) and black effect (metallic or pearlescent) with 20 percent combined.

Rounding out the top 10 are gray (13 percent); red (7 percent); blue (6 percent); brown/beige (5 percent); green (1 percent); gold (1 percent); and the ever-popular “Other” with 2 percent.

“While white historically has been a popular color for vehicles, we’ve seen a bigger shift in its popularity this year than we (DuPont) expected,” says Nancy Lockhart, DuPont color marketing manager.

“Silver and black were once the top colors of luxury, but white has increased in this area,” she says. “The overall trend for casual luxury has spread to numerous vehicle types. The expectation to have a luxurious feel to the vehicle is globally sought. Classic white and pearlescent white effects now are inspiring luxury design.”

The world results reflect what Americans have been saying for years. In 2010, white and white pearl were the top choice in North America for the fifth straight year. This year, the colors represented 23 percent of market share, a number that jumped to 29 percent among the truck/SUV segment. Among smaller SUVs, the color rose from 16 to 18 percent.

The blacks were second with 18 percent (higher in luxury segments) while silver fell to a 16 percent overall North American share. Gray and red took the fourth and fifth spots.

Nissan celebrates almost-win with 20th anniversary Altima

Posted by Bill Griffith November 22, 2011 03:10 PM

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(Nissan). Click photo for larger version.

Nissan came within 205 units of topping the Toyota Camry in October. That’s the closest Nissan has come to being No. 1 in this country. The crown has been dominated by Camry in recent years, and before that, by the Honda Accord and the Ford Taurus.

With the new 2012 Camry and the end of Toyota’s earthquake-induced shortages, Nissan may have just missed its best shot at outselling the Camry. However, being ahead of the Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and the Ford Fusion is a prestigious accomplishment.

To celebrate, Nissan is offering a 20th anniversary edition package that will include special badging, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, fog lights, spoiler, automatic headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and Bluetooth for $950, a savings of $900.

Nissan seemingly introduced the Altima out of nowhere in 1992, wedging it between the compact Sentra and mid-sized Maxima.

The move worked. Now, as the product line has evolved, the Maxima has grown to a near-luxury full-size vehicle and the Versa has joined a four-car Nissan parade as a spacious subcompact with the Altima becoming force in the midsized market.

2012 Jeep Wrangler, SUVs rank highest for resale value

Posted by Bill Griffith November 18, 2011 11:38 AM

If resale value is No. 1 among your priorities, you might find yourself looking at utility vehicles and mid-sized pickup trucks, at least according to Kelley Blue Book’s 2012 Best Resale Value Awards. Only one passenger car, the Chevrolet Camaro, makes the overall Top Ten list.

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Can a software upgrade save MyFord Touch?

Posted by Bill Griffith November 17, 2011 05:10 PM

Ford is introducing performance upgrades and new features for its MyFord Touch infotainment system, and, beginning early next year, will offer free software upgrades to existing customers. MyFord Touch is the touch-screen system that contains the vehicle’s telephone, navigation, entertainment, and climate controls.

That’s positive news. But can the upgrades truly simplify the system enough for the average user?

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Chevy taps A123 Systems for Spark EV

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh October 12, 2011 12:04 PM

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Watertown-based battery manufacturer A123 Systems will power the Chevrolet Spark EV, an all-electric subcompact car headed to production in 2013.

The undisclosed contract will have A123 producing and assembling nanophosphate lithium-ion packs for General Motors at its Michigan plants in Livonia and Romulus. The deal comes two years after A123 lost the bid to supply batteries for GM's plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt. Those batteries are under contract with Korean-based LG Chem.

GM won't release any details, but expect the Spark -- which is already on sale as a traditional gas-powered model outside the US -- to be priced under the $36,000 all-electric Nissan Leaf with a range of between 60-90 miles.

Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology opens alt-fuel lab

Posted by Bill Griffith October 6, 2011 05:23 PM

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Sophomores Tom Musa, left, of Allston, and Alex Wessling, of Weymouth, work in the school's new alternative fuels lab. (BFIT)

The good news is that today's hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles are proving to be quite reliable. But they'll still require repairs to their unique electro-mechanical systems. And as cities and fleets go green, there's going to be a need for educated, high-tech repair specialists.

Enter Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston's South End, an institution that offers the nation's oldest automotive repair program and now is the first college in the northeast to offer an associate's degree with a specialization in alternative fuel vehicles.

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MBTA testing plug-in hybrid Ram pickups

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 28, 2011 07:00 AM

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The MBTA this morning took delivery of 10 plug-in hybrid pickup trucks as part of a national test with Chrysler.

Chrysler is loaning the prototype Ram 1500 PHEV, an electrified version of its full-size pickup, to the MBTA and eight other municipalities across the country, including San Francisco and Albany. Four additional pickups have been loaned to National Grid. A $48 million grant from the Department of Energy, sourced from the $787 billion stimulus package in 2009, is paying nearly half the tab for the 140 PHEV trucks in the test fleet. Chrysler is footing the other $49.4 million.

As part of the agreement, the MBTA is expected to put on at least 1,500 miles per month on the trucks and will share its fleet data with Chrysler for the next three years.

Chrysler's "two-mode hybrid" system — shelved two years ago in the middle of the recession and a tumultuous breakup from Cerberus Capital Management — lives on in the Ram PHEV. Like the discontinued Durango Hybrid, the Ram includes a two-mode automatic transmission and a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.

According to Abdullah Bazzi, Chrysler's senior manager for advanced hybrids, the Ram PHEV is not driven primarily by its electric motor, nor does it operate in all-electric mode like the Volt. A liquid-cooled 12.9-kWh battery pack sits under the crew cab's rear seats, allowing up to 20 miles of EV driving, similar to the operation in the Prius Plug-in. Chrysler says that the Ram PHEV can be charged in two hours on a 240-volt connection (and can even send up to 6.6 kilowatts of power back to the grid).

Unlike the Volt, the Ram PHEV can operate in four-wheel-drive, and switches back to two-wheel-drive at higher speeds for greater economy. Another serious bonus for guys and gals on the job: a high-voltage power strip in the bed offers four 120-volt, 20-amp outlets and a 240-volt, 30-amp outlet ready to run a clothes dryer.

Chrysler says it has no plans yet to produce a production version. Sales of GM's hybrid Silverado and Sierra full-size pickups have been light at best, and BMW — which co-developed Chrysler's original hybrid powertrain along with GM and Mercedes-Benz — is discontinuing its X6 ActiveHybrid after this year.

But with tightening fuel economy regulations (a fleet-wide 54.5 mpg average by 2025 for each automaker) and CAFE exemptions for hybrid pickups, it's very possible the Ram PHEV will end up at a charging station near you. That is, if anyone besides City Hall and the Globe, as we've been promised again and again and again, installs them in Boston.

Future fuels: Thorium, lasers, and electromagnets

Posted by Bill Griffith September 6, 2011 12:25 PM

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Pies in the sky never seem to land on my plate, but two preposterous-sounding proposals passed my desk last week. Technological entrepreneurs make for interesting proposals.

The first came from General Electric's Txchnologist, a forward-thinking digital magazine that looks at the wide world of science and technology and isn't limited to GE-focused stories. It talks about an electrical generating plant, conceived by Laser Power Systems in Sturbridge, that would be based on laser-heated thorium to create pressurized steam in a closed-loop system to drive a turbine and turn an electrical generator.

Theoretically, it claims, a 250-kilowatt unit (equivalent to about 335 horsepower) would weigh about 500 pounds and be small enough to put under the hood of a car.

LPS claims that eight grams of thorium used to power the unit would have the equivalent of 60,000 gallons of gasoline and "fuel" the car for 5,000 hours or about 300,000 miles of normal driving.

Now my high school physics class was geared for non-science students but I know that 5,000 hours at 60 mph would be 300,000 miles. However, most cars average somewhere just above 30 mph in all-around driving so we'll knock that 300,000 down to somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles.

Pie in the sky? Who knows. But Cadillac did produce a concept car in 2009 that could be thorium-powered.

Our second is a claim by Advantron Technologies in West Bloomfield, Mich., that claims to have a patent-pending electromagnetic engine/generator technology that will "allow us to reach our goal of a 700-1000 mile range before needing complete recharging ... and make the EV (electric vehicle) business model realistic." No word on what type of batteries are involved.

We'll leave it to the folks who actually advanced beyond that physics class to see if either system becomes commercially viable.

Prius envy: Toyota EV race car sets record

Posted by Bill Griffith September 1, 2011 02:08 PM

You can file this under Prius envy: A Toyota prototype has set a one-lap record for electric cars at Germany's famed Nurburgring race track.

A lot of us who once raced slot cars always looked at our cars and thought: Put a bigger version of this little electric motor into a bigger version of this car, and I bet it’ll go really, really fast.

Over the past decade, Toyota has made a fortune selling the world on the Prius as a fuel-efficient machine. Manufacturers who’ve gone the performance route with their hybrids and EVs — Tesla, the discontinued Honda Accord hybrid — haven’t found that kind of success.

The Toyota, looking like a prototype race car and built by Toyota’s Motorsports Division, covered the track in 7:48, more than a minute faster than the prototype Peugeot EX1 earlier this year. The two electric motors on board generate 375 combined horsepower and the car has a top speed of 162 mph. Providing the juice is a newly-developed lithium-ceramic battery pack (and we know has a range of at least 13 miles, the length of one lap on the 'Ring).

You have to doubt that they’ll do an aftermarket kit for the Prius, but one never knows…

2012 Toyota Camry: Vanilla reinvented

Posted by Bill Griffith August 23, 2011 04:08 PM

2012-Toyota-Camry.jpg

(All photos: Toyota). Click photo for larger version.

Toyota turned a corporate corner this week, introducing what it calls the "reinvented" 2012 Camry at a Paramount Studios back lot in Los Angeles.

Toyota has a lot riding on this launch after the double blows of reliability questions and the earthquake/tsunami disaster that shut down Japan's automotive industry.

This introduction was important enough that CEO Akio Toyoda was at Toyota's Georgetown, K.Y., plant for the event. That plant, which has built 6.7 million Camrys over the past 25 years, is building the new version.

The Camry has been this country's best selling car for 13 of the last 14 years and Toyota constantly touts the fact that 90 percent of the Camrys sold in the last 15 years are still on the road. That's a big ownership base, one the company is hoping will keep Camry atop the midsize segment. The recently launched Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima have been well received, Ford's Fusion is a consistent and roomy rival, and new versions of the Chevrolet Malibu, Accord, and Nissan Maxima are scheduled to hit the market next year.

The new Camry is scheduled to hit showrooms on Oct. 3 with a heavy advertising campaign starting Oct. 17 and running through the Super Bowl. Expect to hear a lot about how the hybrid Camry achieves the magic 40 miles per gallon level.

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This is the first self-driving John Deere

Posted by Bill Griffith August 15, 2011 03:50 PM

Driverless-tractor.jpg

(Kinze Manufacturing). Click photo for larger version.

We've heard about the research into developing smart roads and smart cars that will let us get in, program our destination, and then sit back and enjoy the ride. It still sounds a long way away, especially when we can't even maintain our old, not-so-smart roads.

Well, what if you don't need a road?

That's what Jaybridge Robotics in Cambridge did with Kinze Manufacturing, a maker of grain carts in Williamsburg, Iowa. By fitting laser and radar systems similar to those on many luxury cars — along with proprietary software — Jaybridge made a self-driving tractor that can perform many common farming tasks.

Starting in the lab and then moving into the field (neat choice of words there), Jaybridge and Kinze simulated real-world obstacles such as fences, stand pipes, wandering farm animals, and other vehicles.

The result: a self-driving farming system that can, with minimal oversight, plant, fertilize, weed, and harvest row crops.

This may not be the best of news to my 4-year-old grandson, who learned the names of the entire John Deere tractor lineup and can't wait to graduate from driving his battery-powered tractor to the real thing.

Scion iQ may be the smarter car

Posted by Bill Griffith July 29, 2011 09:00 AM

2012-Scion-IQ.jpg

(Toyota). Click photo for larger version.

The first time I saw the Smart car was in a "studio/salesroom" in a tony shopping area of downtown Milan, sometime circa 1998 or 1999.

It was one of those "Wow!" moments when our family group first saw this mashup of Mercedes-Benz engineering and the two-tone color schemes of the then-wildly popular Swatch watches.

Seeing them on Italy's roadways was equally eye-catching. And the idea of being able to park almost anywhere there might be a space was attractive too, especially in Italian cities where parking spaces are almost non-existent and always filled.

When we tried our rudimentary Italian on the sales associate, the message was clear: The Smart wouldn't meet American emissions or safety standards so there was no chance it would be imported to the United States. Eventually, however, Mercedes found a way to accomplish both, and in 2008 the Smart became the smallest car on the American market.

Well, here comes the second-smallest vehicle in our parts — and the world's smallest four-seater — the Scion iQ, joining the Scion lineup alongside the xB, xD, and tC.

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Auto notes: New CR-V, Cruze tries diesel, Valvoline's recycled oil

Posted by Bill Griffith July 28, 2011 11:31 AM

2012_Honda_CR_V_Concept.jpg

2012 Honda CR-V

As Japanese automakers segue from recovery mode to marketing mode, Honda will be pushing its upcoming fourth-generation CR-V, a vehicle that's on track to go on sale by the end of the year. The present model, now in its fifth year, was the top-selling compact SUV by calendar year figures from 2007-2010. The next model will have a more fuel-efficient engine and reduced body weight, all-new exterior styling, and an all-new interior with a lower cargo floor.

Cruze diesel coming in '13

The good news is that Chevrolet will be adding a diesel version of its Cruze in North America. The bad news is that it won't happen until the calendar year 2013. If the fuel economy race were a high jump competition, the bar would be set at 40 miles per gallon these days. In industry-speak, "40 (mpg) is the new 30."

The Cruze Eco, with a six-speed manual transmission, already has cleared that bar with a 42 mph EPA highway rating, the best by a non-hybrid, gas-powered vehicle in America. A lot can happen in two years, a period during which diesel shoppers will buy a lot of Audi A3, VW Golf and Jetta vehicles, all already on the market in the Cruze's competitive compact category.

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Test drive a Nissan Leaf at Suffolk Downs

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 28, 2011 09:00 AM

2011-Nissan-Leaf.jpg

Are you one of the 20,000 people who've pre-ordered a Nissan Leaf without driving one? Perhaps your only EV experience has been on the golf course?

Well, come on down — to Suffolk Downs in East Boston — and find out for yourself if this $36,000 electric hatch is worth the gas you won't burn and the long road trips you can't take. This is an all-electric car with a range of about 100 miles, seating for five, and a hefty compliment of tech-savvy features. We almost got stranded when we tested one in April, but Nissan's come prepared with a slew of 240-volt chargers, so that won't happen.

The Leaf is only on sale as far east as Tennessee, and Massachusetts dealers won't get their first shipments until late fall. This is your only chance to drive one now, aside from going all the way to Tennessee and trucking one on a flatbed a thousand miles north (which at least one person in the Boston area has done).

Here are the details:


Friday, July 29:
9 a.m – 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 30: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 31: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Map and directions: 111 Waldemar Ave., East Boston

Register, so you're not waiting in line: www.drivenissanleaf.com

For 2012 — New England's first model year — Nissan has increased the Leaf's base price by $2,450, to $36,050 with destination. In doing so, they're giving us a winter welcome basket no compact car can match: standard front and rear heated seats, heated steering wheel, heated outside mirrors, a rear HVAC duct, and a battery heater (cold zaps the power from lithium-ion cells). You won't switch on any of them, but in a few months they'll feel fantastic.

Josh Beckett raffling blacked-out Wrangler

Posted by Bill Griffith July 11, 2011 04:55 PM

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(After FX Customs). Click photo for larger version.

One way to stand out from the crowd is to customize your ride.  Some of the best work we’ve seen is by After FX of Watertown.

They’ve redone a 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport to be raffled off to benefit the Josh Beckett Foundation. The work includes a custom JL audio system with an Alpine DVD Navigation head unit, 20-inch KMC wheels with Nitto tires, and multiple exterior upgrades.

We’ve seen After FX offer custom upholstery, one-of-a-kind wheels, and most recently, an iPad fitted as a removable navigation/computer screen in a Mercedes CLK Black Series.

The Wrangler is scheduled to be raffled off on Aug. 29 at the Beckett Bowl at Boston’s Lucky Strike Lanes. Consolation prizes include autographed Beckett jerseys and Green Monster tickets for a September Red Sox game.

Information is available at joshbeckettfoundation.org.  The foundation supports cancer care at Children’s Hospital Boston. Tickets are $100 and only 2,000 will be sold.

WheelsTV rates Ford Fusion as best used car

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 2, 2011 02:25 PM

It's all too easy to sit back, twist the key to yet another spanking-new car, and think everyone and their mother is doing the exact same thing. What? You mean you didn't drop 36 grand on the Explorer we just reviewed? Or $22,000 for a cute little Fiat convertible?

While our writers are pushing new metal all the time, we know these cars are always poor values when compared to lightly-used, one-owner vehicles off leases. But the great thing about this job is that I know exactly what I want to own in three to five years, when some of the hot models drop to more Walmart-level prices.

So WheelsTV in Acton decided to start honoring used cars. And after a non-debate over how incredibly boring the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sedans are, the overall winner was the first-generation Ford Fusion.

The Fusion from 2006 to 2009 isn't too exciting, either, but jurors from the New England Motor Press Association agreed it offered a higher fun factor, especially with the V-6 engine. Reliability is just as good, if not better, than the Japanese competition, and Ford's lower resale values are hard to ignore.

My favorite used car — a BMW 328 coupe from 2007 onward — won the "sporty car" category. When I finally become an adult and own a car, I'll click on the used section of Boston.com and buy one of those (with all-wheel-drive and a stick). Here's the full list:

Green Car: 04-09 Toyota Prius -- Fuel-efficient, safe, sensible

Family Sedan: 06-09 Ford Fusion -- Practical, good value, handsome

SUV: 07-10 Toyota Highlander -- Versatile, capable, spacious

Small Car: 06-09 Honda Civic -- Reliable, attractive, frugal

Sporty Car: 05-09 BMW 3 Series -- Nimble, potent, iconic

Luxury Car: 09-10 Jaguar XF -- Stylish, unique, lavish

Light Truck: 07-10 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 -- Rugged, dependable, powerful

High schoolers win used cars at Village Automotive dealers

Posted by Bill Griffith May 24, 2011 05:27 PM

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(Dan Leahy/Village Automotive Group)

Danvers High School junior Kelsey O'Brien bursts with joy after winning a 2005 Hyundai Elantra.

The scene at Peabody High School's field house was one of anticipation. There was a big prize to be won on this afternoon, but despite the venue, it didn't involve athletics.

On Thursday, twenty students from Danvers and Peabody High got in facing lines. Each had a key in hand, a prize they'd won during the year-long "Keys to Success" program sponsored by local merchants and aimed at fostering student achievement, citizenship, and attendance.

One of those keys would start a 2005 red Hyundai Elantra donated by Village Automotive Group. General manager Tony Bartolotti of Hyundai Village of Danvers was there to make the presentation official.

A week earlier, at Honda Village of Newton Corner, 60 high school students from Brighton High, Jeremiah Burke, Madison Park, and Waltham took part in a similar final chance to win a car, this one a certified pre-owned Toyota Corolla.

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NEMPA, MIT hosting car tech roundtable

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 16, 2011 03:15 PM

In the age of smartphones, streaming media, and the ballooning Internet, automakers aren’t selling ordinary cars anymore — they’re building the next generation of mobile devices.

That’s what industry leaders will discuss at MIT this Friday in a special roundtable panel hosted by the New England Motor Press Association. Executives from Hyundai, Ford, BMW, and Hughes Telematics — as well as MIT’s renowned AgeLab, which studies how older drivers use today’s technology — will be revealing the latest research and company products.

NEMPA-Connectivity-Logo-hi.jpgWhat General Motors started with OnStar in 1997 — first as a satellite-linked concierge service, and today as a powerful anti-theft tool that can remotely disable a stolen vehicle — has spurred a “plug and play” revolution like that of the modern computer. Nearly every car, no matter the price, offers USB ports for iPods and MP3 players and Bluetooth hands-free integration for cell phones.

Now, we’re getting real-time traffic updates, mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, cars that text you for required maintenance, and customizable smartphone and in-car applications that can play Internet radio or stream 3D maps from Google Earth. Some cars offer voice-activated Facebook updates.

But is this electronic overkill that will lead to greater repair costs down the road? Or worse, will these features become greater distractions on the road? Has driver privacy already been compromised? The debate starts at 12:30 at the MIT Faculty Club and includes a fully catered lunch and cocktail reception.

For more event information, visit www.neconnectivity.com.

'Honor and Valor' Camaro joins Chevy military offers

Posted by Bill Griffith May 5, 2011 04:00 PM

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(GM). Click photo for larger version.

Chevrolet is celebrating May — National Military Appreciation Month — by expanding its military discount program to military spouses and retirees, offering an exclusive "Honor" badge to anyone who buys an eligible Chevrolet, and by donating $100 to Cell Phones for Soldiers for each vehicle sold with a military discount.

Chevrolet will also sell 99 "Honor & Valor" 2012 Camaro SS models, which will debut during the Indianapolis 500 military personnel parade on May 28. That car is available to order on the GMmilitarydiscount.com website this month.

Cell Phones for Soldiers was the creation of Brittany and Robbie Bergquist of Norwell, Mass., who wanted to help out after hearing of a soldier who ran up a huge phone bill in calling home from Iraq.

To say the program caught the attention of both private citizens and corporate America is an understatement. So far, they've collected more than 7.5 million cell phones and provided military personnel with 90 million minutes of pre-paid calling cards.

The Chevrolet program isn't a small one, either. In 2010, they provided more than 70,000 discounts on selected Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC models. Discounts typically run from $500 to $4,000 off the MSRP.

Ford's 'Happy Seat' is another European work perk we can't get

Posted by Bill Griffith May 5, 2011 11:32 AM

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(Ford). Click photo for larger version.

Working on an assembly line isn’t exactly a desk job, but Ford of Europe has moved towards making it a more sedentary job with the development of the "Happy Seat," a swivel chair on a suspension arm. The seat lets workers sit and glide into the car while fitting parts instead of kneeling and bending.

They’re in use in Belgium, Germany, and Spain. How far behind can the United States be?

"Employees just push themselves back and forth and the chair swings in and out of the cabin — very simply and not requiring much physical effort," said Martin Chapman, operations plant manager in Cologne, Germany, where Ford produces the Fiesta. "And the back feels fine, allowing employees to remain in employment longer to the benefit of Ford."

Striped convertible tops coming this year

Posted by Bill Griffith May 5, 2011 11:06 AM

2011-Ford-Shelby-GT500.jpg

(Ford)

When someone mentions automotive parts suppliers, visions of factories in the Midwest, Japan, China, and Mexico come to mind. Greater Boston just doesn't seem like an automotive parts mecca, but the folks at Haartz Corporation, headquartered since the 1960s on an 80-acre site in Acton, beg to differ.

Haartz has been the world's largest supplier of convertible top fabric and materials since shortly after its founding in 1922 and now has 90 percent of the world market. Whether it's the thin vinyl curtain on a Jeep Wrangler or the plush, lined acrylic fabric on the Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead, most likely it's a Haartz top.

New linear weaves are coming this year which will make it possible to extend stripes on the hood and trunk across the convertible top. (Speaking to a meeting of the New England Motor Press Association, we think Haartz executives are talking about the upcoming 2013 Dodge Viper convertible. Or possibly the Shelby GT500 and Chevrolet Camaro.)

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Chrysler to repay government loans this quarter

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 28, 2011 12:16 PM

Chrysler will repay all outstanding loans from the US and Canadian governments sometime during the second quarter of this year, the company said this morning.

Of the original $9.6 billion loan package, Chrysler now owes the US Treasury $5.8 billion and the Canadian and Ontario governments $1.7 billion since the Detroit automaker filed for bankruptcy in May 2009. The loans were not due until 2017.

Earlier this month, Fiat raised its ownership stake from 25 to 30 percent. The U.S. Treasury now owns 8.6 percent and the Canadian governments 2.2 percent. The United Auto Workers has the controlling 59.2 percent.

The company said it will seek to refinance its remaining debt this quarter. Fiat has already committed $1.27 billion to buy an additional 16 percent stake, as per the conditions of the government loans. After the loans are paid, both US and Canadian governments will continue to own their respective shares at least until Chrysler files for an initial public offering, the company said.

More details will follow when Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner speak during a press conference later this afternoon.

Chevy 'Centennial' Corvette on sale

Posted by Bill Griffith April 12, 2011 03:50 PM

2012-Corvette-Centennial-hood.jpg

Click photo for larger version.

Chevrolet is adding to its 100th anniversary celebration by introducing a 2012 Centennial Edition Corvette with a basic black color scheme and unique design elements.

The Centennial Edition package will be available on all Corvette models, including the Grand Sport, Z06, and ZR1, starting this summer.

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Average car ownership nearly $9,000 a year, says AAA

Posted by Bill Griffith April 7, 2011 03:15 PM

Back in 1950, AAA published its first "Your Driving Costs" analysis. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles cost 9 cents per mile and gasoline was 27 cents per gallon.

Now, 61 years later, both costs and annual average miles driven have gone up considerably. AAA's 2011 study is based on 15,000 miles of annual driving.

2011 Costs  Per Mile  Per Year
Small sedan  41.5 cents $6,758
Mid-sized sedan 57.3 cents  $8,588
Large sedan   73.2 cents  $10,982
4WD SUV 75.9 cents $11,382
Minivan  63.3 cents $9,489

Averaging the three sedan costs, AAA concludes that the cost of buying and driving a new average sedan rose 3.4 percent or 1.9 cents per mile to 58.5 cents per mile, or $8,776 per year. (Note that the above annual costs are a sum of two figures -- the fuel cost per mile and ownership costs per day. The per-mile cost is the quotient of this sum divided by 15,000 miles.)

That's of interest to all homeowners who live on a budget and any employee reimbursed per mile for business use of their vehicle.

"Despite seeing reduced costs for both maintenance and insurance this year, there is an overall increase in the cost to own and operate a vehicle in the United States this year," says John Nielsen, AAA national director of auto repair, buying and consumer programs. "The 2011 rise is due to relatively large increases in fuel, tires, and depreciation."

He noted that the cost of tires rose 15.7 percent to an average of 0.96 cents per mile.

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'The Donald' takes the wheel of Indy 500 Camaro pace car

Posted by Bill Griffith April 6, 2011 10:59 AM

Donald-Trump-Indy-500-pace-car-Camaro.jpg

(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Donald Trump will be driving the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible pace car to lead the field of 33 drivers to the start of the 100th Indianapolis 500 on May 29.

Most of us will wonder what he'll do about The Hair? Will he wear a helmet? A cap with a strap? Or let those tresses trail in the slipstream?

The Camaro convertible has a 400-horsepower V-8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The car won't have any performance modifications for its ceremonial duty (though the manual version makes 26 more horsepower). The Camaro's color scheme will be similar to that used on the 1969 Camaro pace cars that have been among the most collectible muscle cars in the world for decades.

Clearly, The Donald didn't think this was a job for "The Apprentice," though many would have vied for the honor.

Also driving for one of the parade laps will be Addison Brown of Scottsdale, Ariz., driving a pace car replica she won with a winning $225,000 bid at the Barrett-Jackson auction on Jan. 22. Chevrolet donated that money to the David Foster Foundation, dedicated to supporting families with children in need of live-saving organ transplants.

Subaru dealer bringing Baja back for Justin Timberlake?

Posted by Bill Griffith April 1, 2011 02:34 PM

Subaru-Baja.jpg

It was only a matter of waiting today. Mother Nature got her joke in early with an April Fool's Day snowstorm. Auto industry pranks followed quickly.

The folks at Planet Subaru in Hanover issued a "press alert" saying that the company has bought enough parts to produce 41 new Subaru Bajas. The Baja, a sedan with a pickup-type box in back, had a brief run from 2003 to 2006 (and I own a black one).

According to the company, representatives of entertainer Justin Timberlake were searching for Bajas to appear in a video for a remake of "Bringing Sexy Back."

"I thought it was one of my buddies playing a prank but the request was real," said Dale Lathrop, the dealership's general sales manager, in the mock press release. "At least one of the Bajas had to be new because of the need for close-ups. I asked our parts manager, Steve Crosby, to see what he could scrounge up. Turns out he tracked down enough parts around North American warehouses to build 41 complete units."

The cars would be built at Planet Subaru's Hanover facility, with all being yellow. Hoods, however, would be black. Sales manager Corey Warren explained that's because "we thought we could enhance the cars' collectable factor if they had a two-tone finish. We're having badges made up to say they're the 'Bumblebee Baja.' "

Clicking on a link to order one of the cars gave Baja aficionados the bad news that it was an April Fool's Day joke.

Up close with the 2011 Chrysler 300

Posted by Bill Griffith March 17, 2011 04:29 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith/Boston.com). Click photo for larger version.

Ask someone from Chrysler "What's new?" and the answer is "Everything."

There's new leadership, a new attitude, new vehicles in the showrooms, and plenty more coming down the pipeline. Most importantly, there's new hope for the future.

Instead of being a subsidiary, as the company was with Mercedes and Cerebus, there's been a total shift in corporate culture and a new joy of life with Fiat, including the attitude that "we'll either succeed or fail as an entity."

Chrysler brought three of its redesigned vehicles to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline last week. Included were three versions of the Chrysler 200 (the successor to the Sebring) in a four-door sedan and two convertibles, both soft- and hardtops. Also in attendance were the 2011 Town & Country minivan and revised 2011 300 sedan.

Some things were immediately evident: There's now an emphasis on "product" at the company and "car people" are in charge. There's a clear focus now that Dodge should be the entry/mid-range brand and Chrysler the luxury brand. And there's a family identity. All three of the new Chryslers have the same seven-bladed grille, similarly flared wheel wells, and LED front lighting packages.

A small thing, you say? Not really, when you're trying to rebuild and identify a brand as battered as Chrysler.

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First Porsche 911 Speedster comes to Boston

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 11, 2011 02:11 PM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff). Click photo for larger version.

The 2011 Porsche 911 Speedster poses in front of Herb Chambers Porsche in Allston.

As Commonwealth Avenue bends past Packard's Corner, my eyes should be curving right, not fixed to Herb Chambers Porsche, the three-story glass toy box sweeping past my left window. It's just very hard ignoring the top floor, because there's always something special upstairs.

On Wednesday night, the dealer received a new 911 Speedster, one of only 356 such cars in the world. By new, I mean out-of-the-womb fresh. Plastic has barely come off the paint, a trickle charge umbilical cord sticks out of the hood, and protective inserts in each coil spring mean the Speedster can only walk, not run.

That doesn't stop salesman Mark Webber from reversing it several hundred feet through the service bays and down a ramp so I can get a better photo. He grabs the crested wheel caps from a bag in the bonnet and clicks them in each hub. Now I can tell it's a Porsche.

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Survey: We can't leave the Internet while driving

Posted by Bill Griffith March 4, 2011 11:15 AM

Maybe those smartphones aren’t so smart after all.

A State Farm survey of 912 people — all of whom had a valid driver’s license, owned a smartphone, and drove at least one hour per week — shows that 19 percent “admitted” to using the Internet while driving, including:

  • Finding/reading driving directions
  • Reading e-mail
  • Composing/sending e-mail (texting)
  • Reading/scanning sites such as Facebook and Twitter
  • Looking up specific information

Many said they engage in these activities when stopped in traffic or at red lights as well as when driving alone or on long trips on interstates.

Approximately 40 percent of the US population owns a smartphone.

“We’re interested in learning more about the growing trend of using the Web while driving,” says Cindy Garretson, director of auto technology research at State Farm. “This research takes us one step closer to understanding the driver distractions that affect everyone on our roadways.”

Take our unscientific Boston.com poll below:


Why London can ignore a Rolls-Royce parade

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 7, 2011 02:54 PM

Rolls-Royce-London-road-tour.jpg

(Rolls-Royce)

A road tour of classic Rolls-Royce models slips past Piccadilly Circus in London.

In western London, three things are certain: overcast skies, perfectly-measured pints of beer, and exotic cars parallel-parked like Vauxhall hatches. On any given day in the "W" and "SW" codes — where Princess Diana lived and Hugh Grant sputtered his way through the film "Notting Hill" — it's de rigueur to spot dozens of high-end cars in the most unwieldy traffic.

Open-top Porsche Carrera GTs idle behind double-decker buses, Lamborghini Murcielagos roll in rush hour, 911 Turbos go to the supermarket, and Jamiroquai's Ferrari Enzo sits curbside. The BMW 5-Series is so common it's the standard patrol car for the Metropolitan Police.

Since I left six years ago as a study-abroad student — after stopping all the Mercedes-McLaren SLRs I could at crosswalks — it's even more the supercar paradise. Last year, after the Qatari royal family purchased Harrods — an Egyptian King's tomb masquerading as a department store — Londoners became more jaded than New Yorkers. Where else but London could you buy a Burberry scarf and walk past a booted $2 million Koenigsegg? It takes too much torque to turn heads there.

Rolls-Royce probably figured as much when it hosted a parade Sunday to celebrate, of all things, a hood ornament. The "Spirit of Ecstasy," the winged chrome angel atop every straight-bar Rolls-Royce radiator since 1911, has turned 100. Owners, journalists, and other VIP-types took 100 cars on a road tour through the city, starting a few blocks from Harrods and ending up further west at a conservatory in Syon Park. To mark the occasion forever, all 2011 Phantoms and Ghosts will have a special "Centenary" inscription on the base of the ornament.

Early 20th century Rollers aren't average fare for Piccadilly Circus, but aside from painting them hot pink, the Rolls-Royce PR team couldn't have done more to get noticed. Forget about how Chrysler and Eminem paint Detroit — for automakers, London is one tough city.

Toyota: One year later

Posted by Bill Griffith January 19, 2011 04:55 PM

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(STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

The plug-in Prius on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

That's the title of a Kelley Blue Book special report that looks at Toyota one year after its major recall crisis began last January.

The report shows that Toyota's used-car values held strong throughout the year, including the Camry, RAV4, Highlander, Sienna, and Yaris. However, new-car sales were flat during a period when the industry as a whole rebounded.

According to Kelley, traffic on its website declined for Camry, Corolla, and RAV4, while increasing for Sienna, Prius, Highlander, and Tacoma. The folks at Toyota are upbeat going into 2011 and always-upbeat spokesman Wade Hoyt has offers a positive look at what Toyota calls a "challenging year."

"At first glance, our sales didn't look great, being just about even with 2009 (up 0.3 percent) in a generally up industry. But you need to remember that during the sticky pedal recall, we halted sales of most of our core models for four weeks, so we essentially had an 11-month year, while everyone else was selling for 12 months.

"Taking that into account, we're pretty satisfied with 2010 and looking ahead to 2011 when we will be expanding the Prius family, bringing out a fourth Scion, and new Lexus and Toyota models yet to be announced."

We're speculating that, among those unspecified "other vehicle" launches, will be the redesigned Camry and RAV4, two vehicles that will garner major interest.

Fiat 500 to arrive at 4 Mass. dealers by early February

Posted by Bill Griffith December 17, 2010 11:31 AM

2012-Fiat-500.jpg

(Chrysler)

The 2012 Fiat 500 will be sold only at four Chrysler dealers in Massachusetts.

One of the unique car shows I've attended was in Malcesine, Italy, on the shore of Lake Garda.

A vehicle that really stood out among all the European cars was a red and white 1958 Corvette. However, when I inquired about its history, the owner wanted no part of chatting with an inquisitive American tourist.

The other memory from that day is of the numerous Fiat Cinquecentos on display, survivors from the almost 4 million built between 1957 and 1975.

Fiat models imported to the United States in that era made Fiat an acronym for "Fix It Again, Tony" or "First In All Troubles." Fiat's reputation for too little reliability and too much rust caused a cessation of its US operations by 1985.

Well, they're back. Fiat formally introduced the US version of the current 500 last month at the Los Angeles Auto Show. That was a day after Chrysler released the list of 130 applicants who have been approved for Fiat dealerships, all of whom also are current Chrysler dealers.

In Massachusetts, that list includes four franchises: Fiat of Norwood (Peter Catanese), Fiat of Peabody (Brian Kelly), Fiat of Worcester (Herb Chambers), and Fiat of Cape Cod (Joe Laham).

FULL ENTRY

How two conflicting auto surveys explain the cars we buy

Posted by Bill Griffith December 15, 2010 02:33 PM

"Survey says" was the line used for years by host Richard Dawson on the TV game show "Family Feud."

69 percent of buyers who traded in a domestic vehicle purchased another. For imported vehicles, it was 90 percent.

Now there seems to be no end to what the automotive reports and surveys are saying. We got a chuckle recently when J.D. Power and Associates and Kelley Blue Book, two of the big automotive survey-takers, issued reports with seemingly conflicting results, a situation that shows some of the realities of brand loyalty and resale values when it comes to our buying choices.

Last month, Kelly Blue Book issued the 2011 model-year winners of its annual Best Resale Value Awards, a compilation of both current values and the projected values for new cars five years from now. That survey said that depreciation (projected resale value) typically is a car-buyer's primary expense.

This month, J.D. Power published its 2010 Customer Retention Study, saying that new-vehicle owners are citing "fun-to-drive vehicles" as a top reason to remain loyal to their brand, while shifting away from expected resale value as a primary loyalty reason.

FULL ENTRY

Boring car colors still dominate sales

Posted by Bill Griffith December 7, 2010 12:44 PM

2010-new-england-auto-show.jpg

(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)

Neutral and dark-colored cars line the 2010 New England International Auto Show.

Automotive ads in newspapers used to feature the bottom-line price for a stripped vehicle with the addendum: "Order in your choice of color."

Most buyers rarely choose that bright red or yellow. Instead, their preference remains silver (globally), white (North America), or black (Europe).

That information comes our way courtesy of DuPont's 58th Global Automotive Color Popularity Report, an annual item that piques our curiosity.

Three years ago, silver led all regions of the world in popularity. The world's preference now is for neutral colors — silver, white, black, and gray — which represent 82 percent of all new car and truck sales. Red and blue follow well behind.

Silver took the top spot in North America back in 2000 when it overtook green (remember all those teal Chrysler products?). But white, with a 21 percent popularity share, now is North America's color of choice for the fourth straight year. That number undoubtedly is helped by fleet sales.

Silver is followed by black (18 percent), silver (17 percent), gray, and red.

Global Top 10 car colors

1. Silver 26%
2. Black / black effect 24%
3. White
16%
4. Gray 16%
5. Red 6%
6. Blue 5%
7. Brown/beige 3%
8. Green 2%
9. Yellow/gold 1%
10. Others <1%

Transit Connect taxi now on Boston roads

Posted by Bill Griffith December 3, 2010 11:55 AM

Ford-Transit-Connect-taxi-boston.jpg

(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)

At the New England International Auto Show this week we gave a lift to several Ford executives who were about to hail a taxi. Too bad they couldn't have grabbed the one sitting in the Ford exhibit the floor of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

It was the first Ford Transit Connect taxi to go into service in the United States.

The cab, belonging to Boston Cab Co., was on hand for a press preview. It was delivered through Sentry Ford in Medford.

Back in April, the Hackney Carriage Unit of the Boston Police Department approved the Transit Connect for taxi use, making Boston the first US city to do so. As part of the approval process the Transit Connect had to meet basic size requirements for passenger headroom, legroom, and cargo space.

"It fits the bill," said Mark Cohen, the unit's director. "The size, shape, and configuration of this unique vehicle make it comfortable for both driver and passengers."

In August 2009, a federal judge overturned a city regulation requiring all new cabs in Boston's 1,850-cab fleet to be hybrids, an expensive upgrade fought by the taxi industry.

In the interim, however, there are approximately 500 hybrids in the Boston fleet.

"The good part of all this was the industry realized the hybrids will hold up in taxi service," says Cohen. "Now this [Transit Connect] is the manufacturer's response. It's a good alternative."

The Transit Connect also is available with an engine preparation package for conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied propane gas (LPG).

We noted features such as the repositioned second-row seat to allow for extra legroom, the grab handles and rear HVAC vents with passenger controls, plus the vinyl floors and great cargo space.

With airline surcharges on baggage, many travelers are traveling lighter; however, for those big airport runs with lots of bags, the Transit Connect will be ideal. The driver's amenities include a rearview camera and back-up sensors.

While the Transit Connect won't equal the fuel economy of a hybrid, it should get in the 21-26 mpg range versus the Crown Vic's 15 mpg.

BMW recalls 150,000 cars over faulty fuel pumps

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh October 26, 2010 04:08 PM

BMW said today it would recall about 150,000 vehicles in the US due to faulty fuel pumps that could reduce engine power, or in some cases, shut the car off entirely while driving.

About 130,000 cars that use a high-pressure fuel pump, used in BMW's twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engines, will be recalled to replace the pump or apply a software update, the company said. The affected cars include the 2007-2010 335i, 2008-2010 135i, 535i, and X6 xDrive35i, and the 2009-2010 Z4 sDrive35i.

The voluntary recall was announced shortly after ABC News aired a report on BMW models that were allegedly sluggish during acceleration. BMW said this effect -- known as a "limp home" mode -- was normal if the car detects problems with the fuel pump.

The New York Times quoted a BMW spokesman who said the affected cars are "driveable under less power" but that it was not a safety defect.

In addition, BMW will recall 20,800 six-cylinder X5 models to replace the fuel pump, which uses a lower-pressure unit. If this unit failed, the company said the engine would shut off and cut off power assists to the steering and brakes.

High-pressure fuel pumps are used in a process called direct injection, where fuel is sprayed directly into each cylinder head instead of being mixed with air via the intake valves. Engines with direct injection are able to produce greater power and fuel economy than those with standard fuel injection.

PETA wants Boston to run vegan ads on EV charging stations

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh October 21, 2010 11:23 AM

Don't stop for hamburgers in your new electric car.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals want to zap electric car owners with ads touting vegan lifestyles and green-colored chickens as they plug into the city's first public charging stations next year.

PETA-electric-cars-vegan-ad.jpg

(PETA)

In an e-mail this morning to Jim Hunt, the city's chief of environmental and energy services, PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman said that promoting electric cars "is a commendable effort, but we hope people will take going green a step further by going vegan."

Neither PETA nor the city has responded to e-mails this morning. The city plans to install three stations on Cambridge Street by City Hall Plaza in the first quarter next year, as part of a broader effort to reduce Boston's greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 and support upcoming electric cars cars from Nissan, Chevrolet, and Ford.

PETA did not say what they would pay for the ads.

Update: PETA e-mailed back and said that more cities will be contacted. Or else the chicken gets it.

Toyota VP on recalls, lawsuits: No 'woe is me' feeling, we've moved on

Posted by Bill Griffith October 14, 2010 04:23 PM

Jim-Colon-VP-Toyota-Product-Communications.jpg

(Bill Griffith for Boston.com)

Jim Colon, Toyota vice president of product communications, speaks with journalists at The Boston Globe on Tuesday.

Jim Colon has been a Toyota executive for 30 years.

Nothing in that time had prepared him for the company's recall crisis that began last November and wound up affecting more than 10 million vehicles worldwide. To date, 80 percent of the affected vehicles have been repaired within nine months compared to the industry average of 70 percent for a typical recall.

For Toyota, the public relations hit turned out to be especially tough because the automaker's success has been built on the triangle of quality, durability, and reliability.

There was something iconoclastic about the way the mainstream media jumped on the story and never let go, ignoring a slew of other recall notices by other manufacturers during that same time period.

"To say it's been a challenging year for us is an understatement," said Colon, vice president for Toyota Product Communications. He was in town to meet with the New England Motor Press on Tuesday.

FULL ENTRY

Putin previews the 2012 Hyundai Accent

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 21, 2010 11:00 AM

2012-Hyundai-Accent-Russia-Putin.jpg

(AP Photo/Alexander Demianchuk)

As Hyundai opened its first factory in St. Petersburg today, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin test drove the Korean automaker's new Solaris sedan, a Russian-market version of the upcoming 2012 Accent expected to debut in the US next year.

Putin flashed a thumbs up for the cameras as he previewed the new car, which continues the curved exterior and interior design theme of the larger 2011 Sonata. Hyundai plans to build up to 150,000 Solaris models per year after investing more than $650 million in the plant, according to the Associated Press.

Hyundai has not confirmed pricing or other details about the 2012 Accent, but from spy photographs and the Verna — a Chinese-market version of the Solaris introduced at the Beijing Motor Show in April — it's clear much of the powertrain and style will carry over to the US.

The 1.6-liter four-cylinder has been tuned to produce 121 horsepower, an increase of 11 over the current Accent. A smaller 1.4-liter motor, unlikely to be sold in the US, will be offered in Russia with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. Hyundai estimates a manual 1.6-liter model to return 39 miles per gallon (and about 36 mpg with the automatic).

Russian-specific features include an uprated battery and larger windshield washer fluid tank, in addition to Hyundai's optional wiper de-icer and heated exterior mirrors.

Brady crash a roundabout endorsement for Audi S8

Posted by Bill Griffith September 16, 2010 05:38 PM

Brady-Car-Accident-Audi.jpg

(AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

There was nothing funny about "The Accident" involving Tom Brady. People were hurt, cars were damaged, lives were impacted. Outside of the media, which had a field day with the coverage, no one enjoyed it.

Brady's agents, Don Yee and Steve Dubin, took the silent route on the incident, hoping it would go away quickly.

However, there are some things still to note.

The S8, the performance-oriented version of Audi's A8 flagship sedan, ceased production in 2009. So any jokes about Brady crashing the 2010 to get the 2011 model weren't quite right. It's scheduled to resume production next year as a 2012 model.

The car, which has a sturdy aluminum unibody construction, is powered by a 450-horsepower V-10 engine that Audi took from its Lamborghini subsidiary. It also has a beefed-up suspension, heavier duty brakes, and Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system, something that should get a quarterback to Gillette Stadium in time for practice or games in case of a late-season snowstorm.

That can count. Several Patriots' players were sent home last December after being a few minutes late for practice on a snowy morning.

The S8 weighs in at 4,600 pounds with a big front impact-absorbing zone. It also has a full complement of airbags, though they didn't deploy in this crash, something that even Brady acknowledged was a surprise.

A person familiar with Brady's promotion said that "Audi is guaranteed to see a spike in sales and interest in its cars from this."

Audi did not return calls for comment. Clearly, it's a silent endorsement that Audi couldn't or wouldn't use; however, it's also the kind of publicity the company couldn't buy.

One of the nation's most popular and recognizable athletes emerges to all appearances unscathed from a fairly serious accident and helps his team to a season-opening victory three days later.

If you're in the market for a luxury performance car, clearly Audi will be on your list along with the likes of the Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Maserati Quattroporte.

Herb Chambers to help raffle Iacocca Mustang for Joslin Diabetes

Posted by Bill Griffith September 16, 2010 04:56 PM

Iacocca-Mustang-front.jpg

(All photos: Bill Griffith for Boston.com)

Most anyone reading this realizes Herb Chambers and Lee Iacocca know how to market cars. Not so many know both men's lives have been affected deeply by diabetes.

The disease claimed Iacocca's wife Mary in 1983 and was a major factor in his establishing the Iacocca Family Foundation for diabetes research. Chambers deals daily with Type 1 diabetes, even as he runs his 47 dealerships.

When they have lunch together as they did over the July 4 holiday, something is bound to happen. In this case, it's a benefit for the Joslin Diabetes Center. The men decided to raffle a car as a benefit, but not just any car.

This will be one of the 45 limited edition Mustangs built last year to honor the 45th anniversary of the car's introduction at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

FULL ENTRY

Saab president: Our kind of sale will never happen again

Posted by Bill Griffith September 15, 2010 10:01 AM

Mike Colleran, president and COO of Saab cars North America, was in Boston this week, a place he considers the company's "home market" in the United States.

Saab US President Mike Colleran

(Bill Griffith for Boston.com)

Speaking to members of the New England Motor Press Association at The Boston Globe, Colleran was effusive in thanking the legions of loyal Saab owners whose support and demonstrations helped save the company. He said their support convinced Victor Muller of Spyker to buy Saab from General Motors in a deal that was finalized in February.

"Imagine being able to buy a viable car company for $74 million," said Colleran. "I don't think you'll see that happen again. It came during the perfect storm of an economic downturn, but Spyker got a full-service company, from design to production to dealership network for the same price GM paid for its latest wind tunnel."

Now, 150-plus days into its ownership, Saab has a new product, the 9-5 luxury sedan, in showrooms with the 9-4X crossover coming in spring. In addition, Saab soon will have a 2.0-liter turbo version of the 9-5 that is projected to get 32 miles per gallon or better (highway). Next year, the SportCombi (wagon) version will be available.

"Our company and dealers survived 18 months with no new cars during the worst economy in decades," said Colleran. "Now we've got a string of new cars coming, an ownership that won't be denied, and a long-range plan to bring the company back to profitability while retaining our quirky heritage."

Colleran says the new 9-5 is a large car Saab needs. "It clearly is above the 9-3 [in size], boosts our premium segment ambitions, and represents a massive technological leap ahead. We want our niche back as the quirky offering in the luxury marketplace. Audi had taken it but now they're part of 'The Group.' " That's Colleran's term for the German troika of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

As for Boston being the home market: Charles River Saab sold the first 9-5 available to the public, at 6:01 a.m. the morning the model went on sale.

We will finally get our hands on a new 9-5 for a full road test late this month. Stay tuned. —Ed.

A123 Systems opens auto battery plant in Michigan

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 13, 2010 11:35 AM

A123 Systems on Monday opened its new lithium-ion battery plant in Livonia, Mich., which the company says is the largest of its kind in North America.

The plant is part of the Watertown company’s efforts to expand its production capacity to 760 megawatt hours per year by 2011 and meet the demands of automakers as they introduce all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

“Bringing this factory on line in just over a year is a testament to our technology innovation and strategic plan to ramp up manufacturing,” said David Vieau, president and CEO, in a press release.

Last year, the Department of Energy granted A123 Systems a $249 million grant as part of the national $787 billion stimulus package. The state of Michigan also offered the company $125 million in incentives to build the plant.

Fisker Automotive, a small California automaker, will use batteries from A123 Systems in an $87,900 plug-in hybrid called the Karma, which is expected to debut late this year. In 2009, A123 Systems lost a bid to supply batteries for the upcoming Chevrolet Volt to LG Chem, a Korean manufacturer that has built a plant in Holland, Mich. and will supply both General Motors and Ford. GM has built its own battery assembly plant outside Detroit that will use cells made by LG Chem.

High school principal delivers baby in Honda Odyssey

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 9, 2010 11:12 AM

honda-odyssey-baby-born.jpg

(NECN screenshot)

Reviews of the 2011 Honda Odyssey are flying off Honda's embargoed shelves. This is not that story.

Newton High School principal Mark Nardelli, above, was en route to the hospital with his wife in a Honda Odyssey when he stopped in the breakdown lane on I-95, took out a blanket, and helped birth a 6-pound, 12-ounce baby girl.

Read more on this story from Boston.com's Newton section.

More fire: Kia recalls Soul, Sorento for electrical short

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 2, 2010 11:15 AM

Yesterday, Ferrari recalled its 458 Italia for a risk of engine fires. Now, it's Kia's turn to take the heat.

The wiring of the front door speakers in the 2010 Kia Soul, which house red LEDs that flash in sync to the stereo's music, can short and cause an electrical fire, the Korean company said in a filing to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration dated Tuesday.

The interior door accent lighting on the 2011 Sorento also poses a similar risk and is being recalled. A total of 35,185 vehicles built between Sept. 7, 2009 and July 30, 2010 are affected. Kia says some of the wiring may have been "improperly soldered."

In a separate investigation, NHTSA is looking into steering problems on the 2010 Soul after an owner complained that the shaft had separated from the steering wheel.

Owners can contact Kia at 1-800-333-4542.

KiaSoul-interior-lights.jpg

(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)

The speaker lights on the 2010 Kia Soul can cause an electrical fire.

Ferrari recalls 458 Italia for engine fires

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 1, 2010 03:00 PM

ferrari-458-italia-fire-recall.jpg

(Wreckedexotics.com)

A Ferrari 458 Italia burned to the ground in Switzerland in July, according to Wreckedexotics.com.

Ferrari will recall more than 1,000 units of its 458 Italia after at least four of the mid-engine exotics caught fire in the last three months, the company said.

A glue securing the engine heat shield to the rear fenders can overheat in aggressive driving, which can cause the 562-horsepower V-8 to overheat and catch fire. So far, at least four engine fires have occurred to 458 owners in California, Switzerland, France, and China.

The car has only been on sale for a few months, and was introduced in the US at the end of June. The company said all 458s made after July already have the fix, which involves installing metal rivets to attach the shield, according to an owner on the car blog Jalopnik.

The owners who leaped out of their cars in time to escape the engulfing flames (no injuries have been reported) will get a new one at no charge.

Ferrari of New England, based in Norwood, has not performed any recall work yet, said general manager Dennis Dotolo. The dealer has sold about two or three models, which cost at least $250,000 and require a lengthy delivery time.

It's not the first time an Italian sports car has spontaneously combusted. On Lamborghinis, engine fires on the Murcielago and Gallardo models have been well-documented. The 458's predecessor, the 430, was recalled for a similar engine fire risk in 2009.

A Ferrari spokesman said that these kind of problems are "fairly common" but that this repair "is going to be it."

Toyota recalls 1.3 million Corolla, Matrix models

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 26, 2010 03:18 PM

Another month, another Toyota recall.

Actually, there aren't enough months in the year as there have been Toyota recalls in 2010. According to The New York Times, the total is now 15. Problems with sudden acceleration, floor mats, misshapen gas pedals, locking steering wheels, braking consistency, improper stability control activation ... the full list is here. Nearly every model is on it.

On Thursday, the Japanese automaker announced a voluntary recall of 1.3 million Corolla, Matrix, and Pontiac Vibe models for engines that can fail to start or stall while driving. The recall, which affects the 2005 to 2008 model years, stems from a December investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration after 26 complaints were received about the Corolla's engine shutting down. The Vibe was built alongside the Matrix in a joint manufacturing plant in California, which was shut down at the very end of March.

Toyota says the problem is from a faulty electronic control module — which regulates idle speed and throttle position, among other vitals — that can crack, causing "harsh shifts" or an engine that "could stop while the vehicle is being driven." The modules will be replaced after owners receive letters next month and dealers receive parts, the company said.

The Corolla is the world's best-selling car of all time, and continually ranks alongside the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Honda Civic as one of the top-selling passenger cars sold in the United States.

Update: The total number is now 1.3 million, up from 1.13 million, and includes 161,754 Pontiac Vibe models. When including Canadian vehicles, the total is 1.5 million, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Who's got the oldest Porsche in America?

Posted by Bill Griffith August 23, 2010 02:26 PM

Porsche-contest.jpg

(Porsche)

The good folks at Porsche are celebrating 60 years in the United States by searching for the oldest Porsches in 12 model categories, including the oldest Porsche of them all.

The 12 models include the 356, 911, 912, 914, 924, 928, 944, 968, Boxster, Cayenne, Carrera GT, and Cayman.

A couple of the perks will include exhibition-quality images to be featured at the "Sixty Years of Porsche in America" exhibit opening Oct. 12 at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Plus an exclusive badge from the museum. One vehicle also may be selected for display at the Porsche stand during this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show alongside the company’s newest models.

In addition to the nationwide search, Porsche is conducting an essay contest for owners and enthusiasts to pour out their love for the brand. The contest will be open to entries until Nov. 1, with 20 winning stories selected by a special panel of Porsche judges. Fans will then vote online for their favorites from the list of 20 finalists. The three entries with the most votes will win an all-expense-paid trip the Porsche Sport Driving School in Birmingham, Ala.

2012 Mercedes CLS reworks its sedan subgenre

Posted by Bill Griffith August 23, 2010 01:48 PM

2012-Mercedes-CLS.jpg

(Mercedes-Benz)

Back in 2003, Mercedes introduced the CLS-Class, a four-door "coupe" that spawned an entirely new subgenre of raked sedans (think Volkswagen CC, Aston Martin Rapide, and next year, the Audi A7). For auto designers, it’s a style with pitfalls. The lack of window frames means plenty of opportunity for wind noise and rattles.

But the M-B folks made it work and have sold 170,000 of the vehicles worldwide. Priced in the mid-70s for the standard (CLS550) version and just about $100,000 for the AMG, it’s a statement vehicle.

The 2012 version will feature the giant star in the middle of the grille while maintaining the long hood and roof line that sweeps back and downward.

We’re still fans of seeing LED headlamps (hello, Audi) approaching in the rearview mirror. The new CLS will have full LED headlights that M-B promises will be innovative and striking.

Of course, when we see one in the rearview mirror, we can be sure it will soon be passing us by.

2011 Explorer: Dare call it a crossover?

Posted by Bill Griffith July 26, 2010 10:49 AM

2011-Ford-Explorer-front.jpg

(All photos: Ford)

DEARBORN, Mich.—We won't see the all-new Ford Explorer in showrooms until the end of the year (pricing details and sale date are to-be-announced), but you'll be hearing about it steadily until then.

The first impression is that Ford has tried to be all things to all buyers.

Ford is executing a "new media" advance marketing campaign for the 2011 Explorer, much as it did for the Fiesta, which now is in showrooms. The company unveiled the Explorer on Facebook Monday morning with invitations extended to 30,000 of Explorer "friends" and their "friends." Would they be called Explorer Scouts?

We got a ride in the 2011 Explorer last week. Ford said it was an Explorer, but the two demo vehicles were totally clad in bulky black aprons (think all the X-Ray protective shields at Massachusetts General Hospital). Inside, the instrument panel, door panels, and seats were similarly disguised.

FULL ENTRY

Decades later, a Mopar-edition Challenger

Posted by Bill Griffith July 23, 2010 04:24 PM

2010-Dodge-Challenger-Mopar.jpg

(All photos: Chrysler)

A Mopar special edition seems so obvious that you have to wonder why Chrysler or the departed Plymouth didn’t come up with one of these special editions 30 years ago.

Mopar is the parts and accessories arm of Chrysler, but the Mopar nickname always was associated with the company’s many brands and racing efforts, especially the No. 43 Richard Petty cars that once dominated NASCAR.

So better late than never that the Mopar ’10 Dodge Challenger edition will hit dealerships in August with pricing starting at $38,000 for an automatic transmission and $39,000 for a manual.

FULL ENTRY

Ford's fast-braking stability control debuts on 2011 Explorer

Posted by Bill Griffith June 30, 2010 10:25 AM

2011-Ford-Explorer-Concept.jpg

(Ford)

The 2008 Explorer America concept, above, hints at the car-based 2011 Explorer due this year.

Many times when exiting a highway, you get the feeling that the corners are a bit tight.

That's not surprising, given that many exit ramps were designed 50 or more years ago when the speed limits were more like 50. Now when people regularly exceed the 65-mile-per-hour limit, then brake suddenly for an exit, those ramps get a bit dangerous. Each year, they're the site of 50,000 crashes on United States roads.

The high center of gravity on light trucks and SUVs only compounds the problem, one of the reasons why the government has mandated stability control be standard starting with the 2012 model year.

Ford has taken it a step further by upgrading its AdvanceTrac with RSC (Roll Stability Control) with a feature called "Curve Control."

The system will be introduced with the coming 2011 Ford Explorer and anticipates when a driver is entering a curve too quickly and the vehicle is starting to "push"; that is, not turn as quickly as the steering wheel is asking.

Curve Control senses the situation and can both reduce power and apply braking to each wheel individually to prevent a rollover and cut up to 10 mph of speed in one second.

It's as much of a safety feature as it is a safeguard against negative press. Ford's still reeling over the Firestone recall ten years ago, in which faulty tires (or a faulty car design, whichever you believe) caused the top-heavy Explorer to roll over at high speeds.

Toyota had a scare in April when a 2010 Lexus GX 460 that Consumer Reports drove slid wide during a decreasing-radius turn, prompting the magazine to publish a "Don't Buy" rating and yet another recall for the troubled automaker. The latest stability control on the GX cuts in earlier to avoid such harrowing maneuvers.

The 2011 Explorer — now a unibody design as opposed to a heavier, taller body-on-frame — also will have several other new technologies, including inflatable rear seatbelts, next-generation adaptive cruise control and collision warning with braking support, upgraded pressure-based airbag technology, and — similar to Land Rover — a terrain selector for the four-wheel-drive system.

Mustang goes for broke, laps Bristol 1,457 times on one tank

Posted by Bill Griffith June 24, 2010 10:28 AM

2011-Ford-Mustang-V-6-607.jpg

(Ford)

Sometimes a publicity stunt captures your attention. One that got mine was Ford's attempt to run a 2011 V-6 Mustang for 1,000 laps (533 miles) on a single tank of gas.

Ford has made much about the fact that the Mustang is the first car with more than 300 horsepower to surpass 30 miles per gallon (it's rated at 305 horsepower and 31 mpg highway).

The attempt was serious. Ford had rented Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn., for the day and used a stock vehicle and a quintet of drivers taking the wheel for one-hour stints.

Now it looks as though they'll have to pay for a second day because the team, including NASCAR driver David Ragan, ran for 1,457 laps, 776.5 miles, and averaged 48.5 mpg. They averaged 43.9 mph, a touch under racing speeds.

Ragan was at the wheel when the Mustang passed the 1,000-lap mark at 7:26 p.m. Wednesday evening. However, there was still at least a quarter of a tank of fuel remaining.

Ragan drives the No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion of Roush Fenway Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

Engineer Seong Park was at the wheel when the Mustang finally ran out of fuel at 12:41 a.m., coming to a halt on the backstretch of the old-school NASCAR track.

The group employed fuel efficient techniques like minimizing air conditioning, keeping a steady pace, avoiding sudden stops and starts (they stopped to switch drivers but not to add fuel to the 16-gallon tank) and keeping the rpms low.

More than 51,000 people registered guesses online as to how many laps the Mustang would complete. One of the 22 people who submitted correct guesses will be selected in a drawing to win a new V-6 Mustang.

In April last year, Ford ran its Fusion Hybrid for more than 1,000 miles on a single tank, averaging 81.5 mpg on public roads.

Boston first to approve Transit Connect taxi

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 30, 2010 06:50 PM

Ford-Transit-Connect-Taxi-Boston.jpg

(Ford)

Your next cab ride may get a lot roomier — and look a bit more funky.

Ford’s Transit Connect, a high-top, streamlined cargo van from the automaker’s European division, was approved yesterday for taxi use by the Boston Police Department. Boston is the first city in the country to do so.

The van was first offered in the US in August. Ford sold 4,335 of the vehicles in the first three months of this year, largely to delivery companies and other small business owners looking for more maneuverable, fuel-efficient work vans. The automaker said it will build enough taxi models for “whatever the market demands,” though the popular vans sell almost as soon as they arrive on dealer lots.

While the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV has become popular for taxi use in cities like New York, the number pales in comparison to the ubiquitous Crown Victoria, a decades-old sedan that will be discontinued next year. Chevrolet offers the Impala sedan for police use, but they are rarely seen as taxis, a market General Motors essentially left to Ford when it stopped production of the Caprice sedan in 1996.

Boston has 1,825 licensed taxis in Boston, according to Mark Cohen, director of the Boston Hackney Carriage Unit of the Boston police, and most are ex-patrol cars with extremely high mileage. In January 2009, Boston's police department issued a ban on the purchase of used vehicles for taxi use. Although cab companies are now required to buy new models, a city mandate to replace all taxis with hybrids was overturned last year, after taxi owners cited excessive costs.

But while the number of late-model cabs on Boston's streets remains low, the Transit Connect’s large headroom, rear air-conditioning vents, and four-cylinder engine may prove popular with taxi companies looking to stand out — and save fuel.

“It’s as close as it gets to a purpose-built vehicle,” said Cohen.

Ford estimates the Transit Connect will improve fuel economy by 30 percent over cabs with V-8 engines, like its own Crown Victoria. When equipped to run on compressed natural gas, Ford says the Transit Connect can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent.

An electric version promising a range of 80 miles will debut this summer.

Smart test drives in Boston

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 22, 2010 03:48 PM

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(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

There's not much incentive in plunking down 13 grand for a car the size of a large bean bag. But Smart, the microcar sub-brand of Daimler, has wised up after a year of slow US sales, and is camping in Boston for the rest of the month offering test drives right from the curb.

If you're in the North End or Copley Mall Plaza today, in Allston on Tuesday or the Financial District on Wednesday, you can hop in a new ForTwo coupe or convertible without traveling to the state's only Smart dealerships in Somerville or Lynnfield.

The Smart party, having hit up Kenmore Square and the Back Bay in some very warm weather last weekend, will also be in Cambridge and Salem. They'll be at specific locations (complete list here) each day through March 31 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Conveniently, that's also when the $2,500 rebate expires.

When the first Smart ForTwo microcars landed on American soil, they arrived just in time for $4-per-gallon gas and the ensuing fallout of the traditional SUV. Smart, imported by racing team legend Roger Penske, sold nearly 25,000 of the teensy two-seaters in 2008. As the recession hit auto sales for much of 2009, Smart managed nearly 15,000. This year, Smart is struggling to match half of that.

Smart sales dropped by 68.8 percent year-over-year in February, and in January slid 84.3 percent. From January to February last year, Smart delivered 3,191 cars. During the same time this year, they've only done 720.

More than a million Smart ForTwo models have been sold across the world since 1998. It's been tough to convince Americans, whose cities are far less narrow and dense than those in Europe, to scale their automotive footprints down so drastically. As its name implies, the ForTwo just seats two, and there's hardly any luggage space.

Even the gas mileage isn't as remarkable as it should be for a tiny, 3-cylinder car — the 36 mpg combined EPA rating is only slightly better than the Honda Fit and upcoming Ford Fiesta, both of which seat five and cost about the same when options are considered. If it's about cost, the bare-bones Nissan Versa — also without A/C or radio — is $1,925 less than the cheapest $12,635 Smart, and includes a real trunk and power steering. EPA combined mileage? 29 mpg. It's a similar story with the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Chevrolet Aveo.

In Europe, Smart offers more efficient diesel engines that bring upwards of 50 mpg (although the European fuel tests are not directly comparable). Later this year the company, in a partnership with California-based Tesla Motors, will bring over 250 examples of the all-electric ForTwo, perhaps the smartest powertrain yet for a car this small. But with a host of larger EVs arriving in the next three years from Nissan, Ford, and Fiat, will that be enough to save Smart from collapse here?

We still haven't driven one, so let us know what you think if you stumble upon the Smart street team.

Potholed Boston streets inspire Bose truck seat

Posted by Gerry Miles March 15, 2010 04:42 PM

The term "truckin'" may recall memorable moments from the 1970 Grateful Dead song, CB radios, or perhaps the infamous 1968 Robert Crumb cartoon character who leans back with his foot outstretched and a thumb up in the air.

Bose-Ride-truck-seat-607.jpgTo the folks behind the wheel, it's said to be a job that lives deep in the soul. But for many, the travails of trucking reverberate-literally-in the vertebrae of the driver. He takes bumps in the road wherever he goes and can suffer from what's known as "whole body vibration."

When engineer Jim Parison rode with a driver hauling Bose bounty, he was shocked at the pounding the pavement provided on Atlantic Avenue in Boston.

"We were astounded at the bumps that the standard under-the-seat suspension could not absorb," recalls Bose chief engineer Mike Rosen. "We came away thinking there has to be a better way and we could use our technology to help."

FULL ENTRY

A Mercedes airbag for the undercarriage

Posted by Keith Griffin March 8, 2010 01:33 PM

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(Mercedes-Benz)

Accident prevention has evolved so much in modern automobiles that Mercedes-Benz is now focusing its efforts on diminishing the effects of collisions. The most innovative safety advancement on the horizon may be the braking bag — an airbag for your car that inflates 80 to 100 milliseconds before collision to dilute the physics of impact.

The German manufacturer detailed upcoming advancements in its traveling safety showcase, the ESF 2009 (a Mercedes S400 hybrid), for the automotive media at its U.S. headquarters in Montvale, N.J.

Among the ESF 2009's safety features, not yet available, are: the braking bag; gas-fired metal guardrails in the side doors; an innovative child safety seat that is open in the back; interior airbags to protect occupants in rollovers (i.e. so they don't land on each other); and, a shoulder-strap belt bag for rear-seat passengers.

"The idea behind the braking bag is to decelerate [the car] faster than you can," said Michael Fehring, ESF project manager. The braking bag is installed between the front axle carrier and the underbody paneling, according to Mercedes. When a collision is imminent, the bag, coated with rubber and steel for friction, inflates.

That serves to slow the car down and at the same time lifts it approximately three inches, reducing the diving effect normally associated with emergency braking. The vertical boost makes the car heavier for faster deceleration and helps line it up better with the car it is striking for a better disbursement of energy, according to David Selke, senior Mercedes staff engineer. He said that creates a virtual crumple zone that is six to eight inches longer.

Another advantage of the braking bag, Mercedes officials said, is the vertical movement also makes the vehicle's restraint systems more efficient. The seats move toward the occupants by about an inch, which allows the belt tensioners to grab tighter.

Fehring would not say when the braking bag would come to market.

Keith Griffin is the used car guide at About.com and the founder of the Internet Car and Truck of the Year award.

Leaf's limited use may come cheaper than Volt

Posted by Bill Griffith February 22, 2010 02:09 PM

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(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com)

Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning, stands next to the Leaf’s home charging station, which can recharge the Leaf’s batteries in eight hours.

BROOKLINE—The past and future of the automotive universe met at the Larz Anderson Museum earlier this month, where Mark Perry, director of product planning for Nissan, presented his company's 2011 Leaf, the all-electric vehicle scheduled to go into production this fall.

The Leaf is guaranteed to get you noticed, since the car has no tailpipe and no emissions.

Unlike the Chevy Volt, which has an onboard engine to recharge its battery pack and give the vehicle extended range, the Leaf is all-electric, created in the zero-emissions vision of Carlos Ghosn, Nissan president and CEO. Both the Volt and Leaf are expected in showrooms by the end of the year with the Volt being significantly more expensive while having a "use-it-like-a-regular-car" advantage.

Auto industry analyst Philip Gott of Lexington's IHS Global Insight predicts that electric vehicles — plug-in hybrids and battery powered — will account for almost 20 percent of the global market for light-duty vehicles by 2030.

John Wolkonowicz, a senior auto analyst at IHS, looking specifically at the Leaf, sees problems to be overcome.

"Many people who will want to buy one live in the city. They live in condos and apartments," says Wolkonowicz. "That creates a 'Where to charge it?' dilemma. I don't quite see the demand for them. Carlos [Ghosn] sees it differently. He may be a little ahead of his time and trying to speed up the learning curve."

The Nissan people indeed see it differently.

FULL ENTRY

Black Eyed Peas bust out BMW bike and hybrid in new video

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 17, 2010 05:39 PM

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In addition to their love for Hewlett-Packard computers, the Black Eyed Peas have their electro dance pop eyes set on two new BMWs in their latest music video.

Like their "Boom Boom Pow" single a few months ago, this 10-minute video mix of "Imma Be" and "Rock That Body" also features a fancy touchscreen HP in yet another mash of advertising and entertainment. But it's the cars that really crave camera time in any proper music video, or in this case, a BMW S1000RR motorcycle that Fergie crashes.

Close-ups of the BMW roundel on the bike's flanks early in the video — which later breaks into clips of flying, dancing alien robots and the entire group "shooting" pedestrians with speaker guns — don't arouse suspicion of product placement. That is, until a BMW X6 appears several minutes later, followed with a quick glance at the tachometer showing the ActiveHybrid label (at 7:50).

The X6, itself an exotic-looking alien in the mostly plain huddle of crossovers, is a pretty good vehicle for a future-themed film.

BMW spokesman Tom Salkowsky said the company provided both the X6 and S1000RR — which time warps to 60 in 2.9 seconds — to the Peas' production company but that it wasn't a paid placement. No word if HP had a similar arrangement.

If dancing, four-story tall robots one day proliferate America's cities, we'd prefer the 555-horsepower X6 M to zoom out of harm's way — and from the Peas' vocoders.

Boston Globe auto section revived with local writers

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 12, 2010 05:34 PM

Starting Saturday, Feb. 13, the weekend automotive section in The Boston Globe will return to its New England roots by featuring an exclusive roster of local journalists.

Regular reviews, news, and features — which due to budget constraints had been replaced by wire services — will now be covered by writers from the New England Motor Press Association, of which former Globe auto writers Royal Ford and John White are members.

Boston.com has been providing original automotive reviews and news to satisfy the New England car consumer and enthusiast since the Boston Overdrive blog launched in December 2008.

Boston.com Cars editor Clifford Atiyeh and frequent Boston.com correspondent and Globe veteran editor Bill Griffith will join Glenn Gould, former auto correspondent for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Robb Report, and Gerry Miles, former auto editor of the Portsmouth Herald, on both Saturdays and Sundays in print. John Paul of AAA is also making a comeback on Sundays with his popular "Car Doctor" advice column, which as always will appear at boston.com/cardoctor.

Of course, you'll be able to read everything right here at boston.com/overdrive and boston.com/cars.

Please let us know what you think. Send an e-mail to cars@boston.com, and if you're in New England, do yourself (and us!) a favor and buy a copy.

Challenger goes pink in Chrysler's latest color dodge

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 12, 2010 11:46 AM

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(Chrysler)

Chrysler doesn't have any money to introduce a single new or significantly updated car for the 2010 model year, but they've got a lot of overstock paint to distract customers from noticing.

Witness all the "special editions" at Detroit last month: a two-tone Oreo job for the PT Cruiser, Corvette fender stripes on a yellow Dodge Nitro, and cartoonish decals plastered on the Wrangler. But Chrysler wasn't done refurbishing old models and putting Audi monikers on the five-year-old 300, so for the Chicago Auto Show Dodge forced its muscular Challenger to put on pink.

It's actually "Furious Fuschia," a throwback to the "Panther Pink" paint on the 1970 Challenger. Only 400 SRT8 models and a "limited" number of the midrange R/T Classics will show up like this for mild premiums ($1,495 and $225, respectively). For the Challenger, adding a color even wilder than "Plum Crazy" purple makes sense. The car's still new, and it's a cheap way to squeeze the last few drops out of Chrysler's mostly tired lineup.

Fiat boss and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, however, has promised US dealers the lovable 500 subcompact in December, and if all goes according to plan, an all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2011 Chrysler 300 before that.

Unlike most automakers, Chrysler has made a point of advertising its cars without the boring, soupy gray mishmash colors in vogue today. Hopefully their bright palette will soon dry on newer and far more competitive cars.

Behind the Presidents' Day car sales push

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 11, 2010 04:01 PM

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Luis Dacova checks out new Volkswagens at Quirk Volkswagen on Presidents' Day last year. (David Kamerman/Globe Staff)

The annual hoopla for Presidents' Day car sales is in full swing. But just when did the holiday become synonymous with automotive selling extravaganzas? And why?

The tradition, at least locally, started about a century ago, when entrepreneurial car dealer Alvan T. Fuller held a Washington's Birthday "open house" to promote sales of Cadillacs and Packards at his car emporium on Commonwealth Avenue. Sending out invitations to potential customers, he apparently posted signs reading "Washington's Birthday Holiday. Open. Come on in", according to archived Globe stories.

The tactic worked wonders. By the 1920s, Fuller's once-struggling business "was recognized as the world's most successful auto dealership," according to his biography on the state's official website, mass.gov. Fuller, who later became governor, is also famous for sending Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to the electric chair.

Interestingly, those inaugural holiday sales events were a lot like the ones we see today, as dealers competed with bands, cherry pie, free coffee, balloons and all sorts of gimmicks, according to John White, the Globe's auto writer emeritus. And their popularity apparently waned little over the decades. Fuller's 1958 Globe obituary hailed him as sole creator of an endearing, local tradition.

"Alvan T. Fuller, who parlayed a [Malden] bicycle repair shop into an automobile agency fortune, inaugurated the Washington's birthday display of new autos in an effort to boost sales after erecting 'Fuller's Folly,' his agency on Commonwealth Ave.," reads the May 1 obituary. "His promotion soon was copied by other dealers and today is a highlight of the holiday in Greater Boston."

Whether Fuller's idea was the template for Presidents' Day sales across the country is hard to say. Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, founded in 1917, said he didn't know anything about Fuller.
Taylor also said that the impetus for Presidents' Day car sales has little to do with patriotism or "buying American."

"There are genuine economic reasons why the holiday period has become a strong car selling-season. It's not symbolism, in particular, even though you'll see George Washington's profile in a lot of ads," he said.

Presidents Day weekend is ideal for sales pushes, he said, because it falls at the right time of the year for car dealers to launch their new spring lines. Since many have the day off from work — and there are no parades, parties or football games to attend — customers have extra time to peruse car lots. And by mid-February, most of winter's nastiest weather is usually over, so people are more apt to drive around for deals.

"We think that any holiday weekend is a great weekend to go out and buy a new car. It's the luxury of time for the consumer that's important," Taylor said.

Taylor couldn't say when car sales across the country got pegged to Presidents Day, but he gathered it happened not long after the holiday was fixed to the third Monday of the month in 1971. (Before then, we celebrated Washington's birthday on Feb. 22.) Imports changed the market soon after that, so patriotic themes were probably fairly appealing to dealers of domestic-made cars.

The National Automobile Dealers Association, based in McLean, Virginia, wasn't behind the push, Taylor said. Local dealerships like Fuller's led the way.

Still, red, white and blue balloons, salesmen dressed in colonial garb and whatever other gimmicks dealers use to hype the day probably don't hurt, Taylor said. He just couldn't understand why Massachusetts dealers would plaster Washington's face on their ads.

"As you know, George Washington was a Virginian," he said. "Since it's Presidents Day, I would expect Massachusetts would use the likenesses of both John Adams and John Quincy Adams."

He's got a point.

Peter DeMarco writes the Globe's "Who taught YOU to drive?" column. He can be reached at demarco@globe.com.

Mazda 3, Chevy Equinox win Internet Car of the Year

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 10, 2010 04:20 PM

The Internet has spoken, and apparently it really likes Chevy.

As winners of the first-ever Internet Car and Truck of the Year award, announced today at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show, the Chevrolet Equinox and Camaro took top honors in both journalist and reader categories. A panel of 12 online automotive journalists named the Equinox and Mazda 3 as winners, while online readers -- who casted more than 50,000 votes on internetcarandtruckoftheyear.com -- chose the Equinox and Camaro.

Dan Roth, a Boston-area writer for Autoblog and AOL Autos, said the Equinox was a "clear signal of General Motors' newfound realization that it not only needs great products, it needs the right great products."

"It's just the right size and has great performance," said analyst Lauren Fix of the Mazda 3. "It comes standard with all the available bells and whistles and it’s really edgy looking."

John Neff, editor in chief of Autoblog, was also named during the presentation as Internet Automotive Journalist of the Year.

Close-up: The metal stamping to save Toyota?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 3, 2010 04:40 PM

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(Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)

So what does Toyota's "precision cut steel reinforcement bar" actually look like? Judging from the Globe's Wednesday visit to Ernie Boch's Toyota dealership in Norwood, it appears to bear the size and thickness of a postage stamp.

"Something like this here, easiest fix ever," said mechanic Stephen Oranellas. "It's a very small fix for a big problem."

Toyota, which began shipping the metal stamping to dealerships this week, is riding on this little part to fix the 2.3 million cars recalled for sticky throttle pedals. The piece is supposed to reduce "rare occurrences of excessive friction on contact points" in the pedal assembly. The company has not yet decided on a solution for the earlier floor mat entrapment recall (other than sawing part of the gas pedal down) which now affects 5.75 million cars.

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a committee in the House of Representatives are trying to determine whether Toyota's electronic sensors may also be at fault. Many modern cars use electronic "drive by wire" systems — which negate the mechanical, cable-actuated setup of traditional throttles — to more precisely control the engine's fuel intake and thus increase fuel economy. The same technology can be tuned to provide faster throttle response for performance-oriented cars.

The NHTSA is trying to determine if electromagnetic interference can cause these throttle systems to malfunction. From testing a 2007 Lexus ES 350, the NHTSA said the throttle had "no vulnerabilities" to interference, but that magnetic fields near the throttle body caused engine speed to rise by up to 1,000 rpm, according to The New York Times. The Times said the agency did not have any testing procedures to repeat the claim.

In related news, the NHTSA revealed about 100 complaints, two of them involving crashes that resulted in injuries, regarding brakes on the Prius, which has not been the subject of a recent recall.

Globe staff writers D.C. Denison and Erin Ailworth contributed to this report.

Ferrari falls off truck at Ernie Boch's dealership

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 28, 2010 03:27 PM

As the story of the Toyota recalls changed every few hours yesterday, dealer Ernie Boch was interviewed by nearly every local news station. But in the wake of analysis and predictions, Fox 25 News sent their helicopter to record a chuckle-worthy clip at Boch's Ferrari dealership in Norwood, where one of his F430 Spiders was dangling off a transport truck.

Sudden accleration in a Ferrari isn't hard to muster, but that wasn't the case as the mid-engined exotic, which bases at $217,310, balanced on its rear end.

"We sold the vehicle to a guy in Florida," Boch wrote in an e-mail today. "As they were loading on the truck to deliver it to Florida, it fell off. Their guy didn't secure the emergency brake hard enough....it was totaled!!"

Business continues to slump for Ferrari, which cut production by 20 percent last year and reduced deliveries to dealers, including Boch's.

Demand, however, is still high worldwide. Customers who order a new stallion have to wait nearly two years to get one. So the Florida buyer might be a tad upset.

Toyota recalling 1.1 million more cars

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 27, 2010 09:27 PM


Hours after I appeared with Ernie Boch, Jr. and Harvard's Daniel Snow to discuss the Toyota recalls on WGBH Wednesday night , the Japanese company recalled an additional 1.1 million cars.

The new cars (2008-2010 Highlander, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Venza, 2009-2010 Matrix, and the Toyota-sourced 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe) are part of the 4.26 million cars named under the first floor mat recall, in which the end of the gas pedal can become jammed to an improperly positioned mat. The second recall involves 2.3 million cars for a potential sticking of the the pedal mechanism.

This brings the total to 7.66 million Toyotas, not including cars sold in Europe that may also be recalled, according to the Associated Press.

Boston-area Saab dealers breathe relief after GM sale

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 26, 2010 01:54 PM

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Saab models sit in the showroom at Herb Chambers Saab in Boston. (AP Photo/Eric J. Shelton)

General Motors agreed to sell Saab to Spyker Cars Tuesday for an estimated $74 million in cash, according to terms released by the Dutch supercar manufacturer.

GM had been in talks with several buyers since November, including Swedish exotic automaker Koenigsegg and Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, but talks crumbled as officials continued to state that the brand would be dissolved. Dutch-based Spyker Cars, which sells a few dozen cars a year, had been in discussions with GM since at least December, when Koenigsegg dropped its bid.

"I don't think size has anything to do" with success, said Ryan Emge, the Maine Saab enthusiast who made national headlines after he led a protest at GM's Detroit headquarters earlier this month. "Saab needs a smaller, more flexible management team to survive."

In a media conference call with GM executives this afternoon, vice president John Smith said that Spyker's previous bids were not a "fair value" and that their latest offer had been "reformulated in a way that was more attractive to us."

"We also liked the financial strategy that Victor Muller [president of Spyker] and the Spyker team had put in place," Smith said, declining to reveal further details about the bidding history.

Ray Ciccolo, owner of Charles River Saab in Watertown and a director of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, said he had been "aggressive" in purchasing Saabs from other dealers as the brand hung in limbo.

"I bought 30 Saabs in Florida," he said. "The more they were talking about closing it, the more these Saab people came out to buy cars."

Many dealers, including Ciccolo's, had been flushing out their inventories with lucrative deals of up to $8,000 off new models. Those deals, Ciccolo said, are likely to continue as Saab dealers await word from Spyker and anticipate the production of the new 9-5 sedan.

"We're quite anxious for them to restart production and get this car out to us," he said. Smith said full production would start in April.

Fred Shaw, owner of Shaw Saab in Norwell, wrote in an e-mail newsletter today that "I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank all of you for your support in this cause."

Shaw, in a telephone interview, said that he was "very confident" in Spyker because GM "had to be certain that the business plan was sound." He said he had been selling "as many used Saabs as we could" and that many customers, given the steep discounts, were able to slide into 2009 models instead.

The Spyker deal is concurrent with a $566 million loan from the European Investment Bank. GM will retain a $326 million stake until 2016 and less than 1 percent of voting rights in the new company.

"Throughout the negotiations, GM has always had the hope to find a solution for Saab that would avoid a wind down of the brand,” said Nick Reilly, president of GM's European division, in a press release.

Emge, who runs the website Saabhistory.com, said it was the "real diehards" -- roughly 40 separate convoys of Saab enthusiasts around the world, he said -- who helped sustain support for the troubled brand.

"The combination of all these clubs doing this really got the ball rolling."

Genii, Ecclestone drop Saab bid

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 25, 2010 12:45 PM

Genii Capital, the Luxembourg investment firm that joined Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone in a last-minute bid for Saab earlier this month, said today it was withdrawing its undisclosed offer for the troubled Swedish brand.

"Unfortunately, Genii Capital believes that the timing of the next stage of the shutdown process at Saab is not compatible with its requirements for putting in place a solid business platform for the future and closing the transaction," the firm wrote in a press release.

The decision came at the same time that GM announced interim CEO Ed Whitacre would hold a permanent position. Whitacre, a former AT&T CEO who took over the company after GM's board ousted Fritz Henderson one month earlier, did not elaborate today when asked if Saab's sale would continue.

On Jan. 6, one day before GM's previous deadline, Whitacre said, "It's real easy. Just show up with the money and you can have it." But GM has continued to send mixed messages, claiming that Saab will be dissolved even as Spyker continues to wrestle with the company this week over sale details.

Truck sales picked up by Scott Brown's ho-hum GMC

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 22, 2010 07:00 AM

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(All photos: AP)

Senator-elect Scott Brown's unprecedented victory Tuesday in the Massachusetts special election came, in part, from an unassuming GMC pickup truck. His 2005 Canyon crew cab, which Brown drove to campaign events and promised he'd take to Washington, has also been a surprising win for the state's truck dealers, according to a report in today's Globe.

“We’ve gotten eight to 12 phone calls from people asking, ‘Do you sell trucks like that?’ ’’ said Al Cerrone, owner of an Attleboro GMC dealership that sells new and used trucks. “It prompted inquiries, and when you’ve got inquiries, you’ve always got sales.’’

The Norwood GMC dealer that sold Brown his pickup -- which now has more than 200,000 miles -- is cashing in on the frenzy, and plans to put an identical used Canyon in the showroom adorned with Brown signage.

“If you look at the commercials, you can see our name on the back of his truck,’’ general manager Tom O’Neil said.

Brown's favorite one-liner ("I'm Scott Brown, I'm from Wrentham, and I drive a truck") was perhaps the most simple and direct way he could have established an "average guy" persona. When President Obama suggested that Brown wasn't all he claimed to be and told voters to "look under the hood," Brown fired back, "When he criticized my truck, that’s where I draw the line."

Brown-Canyon-small.jpgRevelers at Brown's election party at Boston's Park Plaza hotel Tuesday night chanted "Gas up the truck!", another campaign phrase that symbolized Brown's assault on the unpopular health care bill. When opponent and attorney general Martha Coakley (who drives a Nissan Xterra) captured the Democratic primary on Dec. 8, she assumed the long-shot Republican and his equally forgettable pickup weren't a threat.

The GMC Canyon, an underpowered, ho-hum truck that hasn't seen a serious upgrade since launching in 2004, certainly wasn't. Only recently has the Canyon offered an engine beyond the wheezy four- and five-cylinder choices, and much of the foreign competition has crept past it (although no entry-level pickup on the market can be called modern).

GMC itself survived a political crisis when General Motors chose it along with Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac as a "core brand" during bankruptcy negotiations. Yet everything GMC makes, from the Sierra pickup to the 8-passenger Suburban, are Chevrolets with different grilles and option packages, the uninspired "badge engineering" that caused the demise of Pontiac, Saturn, and Oldsmobile. Even GMC's marketing slogan "We are professional grade" should be seriously questioned. Does that mean everything else GM makes is unprofessional grade?

While the new Terrain looks much different on the outside than its cousin Chevrolet, GM hasn't paid much attention to refining GMC's image as a premium truck brand. As the Democrats say, it's "just more of the same." But as Brown found out, it may not always be.

Globe staff Megan Woolhouse contributed to this report.

Conan O'Brien's Bugatti mouse

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 21, 2010 12:02 PM

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There have been plenty of special edition Bugatti Veyrons, but nothing quite like the one Conan O'Brien showcased Wednesday night.

In his row with NBC and Jay Leno, the soon-to-be ex-Tonight Show host said he would roll out a week's worth of "crazy expensive" interludes, in which he supposedly makes the network pay for pricey equipment and gear. His first attempt? Pasting mouse ears, whiskers, and a tail onto the $1.5 million French supercar.

"Does it add anything at all to this comedy bit? No it doesn't," O'Brien said, with hints of actual frustration. "Is it crazy expensive to play on the air, not to mention the rights to re-air this clip on the Internet? Hell yes!"

NBC has now taken the clip offline, but you can watch the whole sketch from the counterculture car blog Jalopnik.

Boston airport enlists bomb-sniffing EV

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 12, 2010 04:45 PM

As conventional electric cars made their debut this week at the Detroit Auto Show, the Massachusetts State Police revealed the Black-I LandShark Series D, a fully-loaded bomb-sniffing EV equipped with minesweepers and sniper-detection sonar. The six-wheeled LandShark will join the bomb squad at Logan International Airport, and hopefully it will stay a rare sight among the electric courtesy carts whirring through the terminals.

Landshark-bomb-sniffing-robot.jpg“Most of our robots are used by the military, in war situations,’’ said John Hart, co-founder of Black-I Robotics, in Tuesday's Globe. “We’ll be working with Logan’s bomb squad to continue increasing this robot’s effectiveness against domestic terrorism.’’

The LandShark is made in Tyngsborough, Mass., and is powered by three car batteries and two electric motors. Base models start at $60,000 — about 50 percent more than the unfinished Chevrolet Volt — and top out at $100,000. Some of Black-I's models can even be had with a blinding "dazzler" light, and others are even skilled at mudding.

Acceleration and top speed figures haven't been released, and they're bound to be unimpressive for the price. But can your Tesla Roadster dismantle dynamite?

Bernie Ecclestone part of newest Saab deal

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 7, 2010 04:57 PM

Luxembourg-based investment group Genii Capital said it will partner with Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone in a majority stake of Saab, hours before today's 5 p.m. deadline General Motors imposed to either sell or disband the Swedish brand.

In a press release, the group said Saab "has a tremendous brand value in a number of key automotive markets as well as an innovative image" and stressed the importance of "VOIP and GPS location based services" in future Saab models.

The group cites other unnamed investments in the public health, hospitality, and entertainment industries, in addition to Movit, a German brake manufacturer, and MCE-5, a French company testing the waters of variable engine compression ratios.

According to Business Week, a Genii spokesman said that the firm is modeling its business plan after Koenigsegg, which stated it would make Saab profitable by 2012 by increasing production to 105,000 vehicles a year. GM rejected the Swedish automaker's deal on Nov. 24. No other details on the Genii proposal have been disclosed.

On Dec. 17, Genii Capital bought a majority stake in the Renault F1 racing team, which was rumored to be shut down following the demise of factory teams from BMW, Toyota, and Honda.

Dutch-based Spyker Cars is reportedly still revising its offer.

As Saab owners rally, GM's shutdown threat remains

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 5, 2010 11:20 PM

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(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Seeing Saab tortured to near-death, revived, and then threatened again in the past five weeks has been a fitting cap to one of the worst years the automotive industry has ever seen. General Motors' latest Jan. 7 deadline to either sell or disband Saab even has Volvo fanatics -- watching a pending sale to Chinese automaker Geely -- chilled quiet.

On Tuesday, about 50 Saab owners and their cars marched to GM's Detroit headquarters at the call of Ryan Emge, a certified Saab historian and founder of Saabhistory.com and the New England Saab Association.

"It is critical that we had this event at the right time," Emge said to the Globe. "To drive long distance like this, at a moment's notice, is outstanding."

Emge, a Massachusetts native living in Portland, Maine with his wife and 240,000-mile Saab 9000, has staked his life in the company, working full-time since 2007 for his Saab fan site, perhaps the most detailed account of the brand there is. But unlike most amateur enthusiast websites, Emge's Saabhistory.com makes money, or at least it did until 75 percent of his advertisers -- primarily Saab dealers and parts suppliers -- pulled out for 2010. That alone, he said, was enough to stir the site's readership to a Detroit rally.

Despite "mixed messages" from GM, Emge said "it's important not to be divisive" when dealing with a business conflict that leaves thousands of jobs on the line.

"Their situation is ridiculously dire," he said.

Whether the crowd waving "Save Saab" signs permeated GM's board rooms remains to be seen, but the event's coverage in newspapers and auto enthusiast blogs certainly made up for the small attendance, despite those who traveled from Massachusetts and Virginia.

GM's on-again, off-again drama has fueled the Saab community's passion to rallies, petitions to state senators, and good ol' anti-GM blogs like iwontbuyfromgm.com. A European convoy of Saab enthusiasts plan to amass at the company's Swedish headquarters later this month, but it could come too late. The underlying threat to shutter Saab remains.

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Blocked parking spaces above, derailed trains below

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 23, 2009 04:18 PM

There are reasons why Boston is one of America's greatest walking cities, and it's not because of the Freedom Trail.

Take this week, for instance. You can't park a car without risking severe property damage, and our debt-ridden subway system rewards riders with delays and derailments. And considering there haven't been fires or crashes underground, this is a good week.

Days after the city's first snowstorm of the season, Southie residents pulled their usual nonsense, placing dead plants and kitty litter bags to save shoveled-out parking spaces from their lazy, non-shoveling neighbors. The area is known for its swift retaliation should an unknowing visitor move a purple beach chair, or a sofa, toilet, or playground equipment. Last year, Elvis himself saved a spot.

I decided to one-up the neighborhood's tomfoolery by driving through it in a 2010 Mustang GT convertible with the top down, gloves on, and summer-loving Pirelli P-Zeros. But I wasn't that stupid, with my Michigan manufacturer license plate and soft, slash-ready roof, to wedge into a claimed spot. On I Street alone, I counted about a dozen and a half "space savers" - most of them ordinary trash cans and chairs - in just a few blocks.

An actual rule allows Boston residents to litter curbside spaces with their garbage up to 48 hours after a declared snow emergency. On K Street, I hesitated to back into the one empty spot I found, thinking some jerky pedestrian might have swiped the barbecue grill that was there a moment ago.

"We started collection this morning. We take what's out there and then they come out and put something else there," said Public Works Deputy Commissioner Elmo Baldassari. "It's an ongoing battle."

If you've got family and friends in Boston, be wise and make them visit you instead.

Fighting life's isolation after driving

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 21, 2009 05:59 PM

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(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)

At its core, driving isn't about carving S-turns on an alpine pass or beating a Mustang's rear wheels into clouds of smoke. Nor is it about environmental consciousness. It's about mobility.

Anyone suffering from a physical handicap knows how discomforting and demeaning it can be to rely on other people to get around. Public transportation only connects so many places, livery and taxi services are pricey, and bumming rides deadens the freedom of self-sufficiency. For able-bodied seniors who've stopped driving - either by choice or by force - it's the same terrible feeling. How am I going to get out of the house and move?

Following up on a slew of deadly crashes involving elderly drivers in Massachusetts this year, the Globe ran a story Monday on the correlation of driving and overall health. The not-too-surprising results? Seniors who stop driving are more likely to enter depression or assisted long-term care.

Walking, as simple as it seems, is often more trouble than it's worth for older adults used to getting behind the wheel, says Elinor Ginzler of the AARP.

“After people stop driving, the first thing they do is become a passenger in someone else’s car, and after being a passenger, the next most prevalent way for people to get where they want to go is to walk,’’ Ginzler said. “But the reality is, the walking environment is often a very hostile one.’’

One low-cost solution, the Globe reports, may be a volunteer driving network that offers seniors a number of rides equal in value to the cars they trade in.

“We have done about 280,000 rides nationally,’’ said Katherine Freund, who started the Independent Transportation Network in Maine in 1995, seven years after her 3-year-old son was seriously injured by an elderly driver.

Read more about the plan and what senior drivers have to say in Kay Lazar's story.

Confessions of a plowman

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 9, 2009 02:45 PM

Yesterday, Jalopnik expressed appreciation for Esquire's feature on driving in North Dakota, praising the writer's "short-form poetry" on the subject.

Today, after a slush-caked morning, we've got our own Peter DeMarco, who writes the "Who Taught You to Drive?" column in the regional Globe editions, expressing the great aura of snowplowing. What others may see as icy, tiring, back-and-forth labor, DeMarco takes this welcome service as an adrenaline rush, even at 4 a.m.

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"You can take the ugliest-looking parking lot in the city, sprinkle it with a few inches of powdery snow, and it looks as beautiful as the most pristine forest," he says. "To me, snow is the great equalizer."

Eat that, Esquire.

Tesla coming to Boston auto show, 8 other brands call quits

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh November 20, 2009 04:55 PM

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(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com)

The Tesla Roadster near Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero, Calif. during a road test.

Tesla Motors, which opened a Manhattan showroom in July, will have a stand at this year's New England International Auto Show as the company prepares to open a Boston dealership next year.

The company is bringing at least two Roadster models, both specified in the more powerful and luxurious Sport trim, according to Don MacNeil, sales advisor for New England. Tesla, which in July received $465 million in federal loans to build the 2011 Model S sedan, is eager to expand its customer base beyond the roughly dozen Roadster owners here in New England. Tesla's six-month wait lists have "dropped through the floor," MacNeil said, to as little as 10 weeks.

While Tesla takes the Boston stage, a surprising roster of manufacturers are opting out: Infiniti, Mercedes, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Porsche. That's in addition to Saturn, Pontiac, and Hummer, vestiges the "new" General Motors can't get rid of fast enough.

Saab, however, will be there with the first new 9-5 sedan in more than 10 years. But with struggling auto sales comes budget cuts, and many automakers, including Nissan, aren't even showing up to the Los Angeles auto show that same week.

"They've pulled out because of the enormous costs," said Barbara Pudney, a spokeswoman for Paragon Group, the show's coordinator. "Because of economic stress, there aren't concepts this year."

To fill the void in the huge space of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Pudney said the show will have 150 modified and tuner vehicles from private owners and various car clubs.

The show opens Tuesday, Dec. 2 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 6.

Local Thanksgiving car travel could rise 8.8 percent

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh November 18, 2009 02:53 PM

An estimated 38.4 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, up 1.4 percent from last year when concerns about the financial crisis kept many folks home, AAA Southern New England said.

"Much of the increased travel is projected to come from the New England states, which are expected to show an overall increase of 8.8 percent over 2008," a press release from AAA Southern New England said.

AAA said its projections are based on research conducted by IHS Global Insight, a Lexington-based economic research and consulting firm.

In New England, people tend to live closer together, and shorter distances between family and friends often translate into more holiday travel by car. Throw in local unemployment rates that are generally lower than the national unemployment rate, and conditions are favorable for an increase in New England car travel this Thanksgiving holiday, said Christopher Pike, principal of travel and tourism at IHS Global Insight.

In its press release, AAA added: "Last year, Thanksgiving travel fell 25 percent from 2007 in the wake of the ongoing housing and financial crisis. This year’s expected increase in travel reflects improved consumer confidence from one year ago, better financial market performance, and a growing sense among many consumers that the worst of the global economic crisis is behind us."

First look: 2010 4Runner fixed onto fading SUV genre

Posted by Bill Griffith November 11, 2009 11:30 AM

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(Toyota)

The 2010 4Runner makes its way up the Rubicon Trail, with some bruises.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick can be credited with making the saying "It is what it is," a common part of this region's speech pattern. The term also can be applied to Toyota's fifth generation 4Runner, which will be coming to a showroom near you in the next few weeks.

Rather than pitch the 4Runner as a car for the masses, Toyota's executives said it, er, "is what it is" - that being a capable off-road vehicle aimed at buyers who utilize the vehicle's "go anywhere" capabilities. It's also a niche vehicle: the company expects to sell about 35,000 in the coming model year in the US market and many more worldwide.

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Sneak peek: Rally Fighter before SEMA unveil

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh November 1, 2009 06:10 PM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com)

Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers makes an adjustment on the trunk of the Rally Fighter.

WAREHAM – Jay Rogers isn’t sleeping until his car is ready.

It’s 8 p.m., less than 24 hours before the dune buggy prototype must ship off to Las Vegas for the country’s biggest aftermarket auto show next week, and the front end isn’t mounted yet. Mechanics scurry around the cramped garage space, revving drill bits and metal grinders as yellow sparks fly off the front bumper. The gutted interior won’t be finished, but Rogers, CEO of Local Motors and charged with refinishing the back bumper, keeps a calm, straight face.

“I’m expecting that we have to do our homework,” Rogers says. “I’m humble about the fact that when you’re a new American car company, [you need to] prove to people that you can do it.”

It has taken just 14 months and about $2 million to transform a sketch – chosen from tens of thousands submitted to his website from across the world – into the Rally Fighter, an extreme off-roader built for high-speed dirt and sand racing. Rogers is targeting race teams that compete in endurance competitions like the Baja 1000 in Mexico, and other lunatics in the western states with $50,000 to spend on a lightweight, street-legal race car.

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And the Internet Car of the Year finalists are...

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh October 29, 2009 05:29 PM

The first-ever finalists for the Internet Car and Truck of the Year awards have been selected for the last round of voting. A jury of 12 automotive writers on the web narrowed their car favorites to the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Mazda 3, and Shelby GT500, while choosing the Ford Raptor, Chevrolet Equinox, and Volvo XC60 as truck finalists.

Consumers who voted in the first round on internetcarandtruckoftheyear.com (don't paste that URL in Twitter) preferred the Audi Q7 TDI over the XC60 in the truck category, and liked the Ford Taurus SHO and Chevrolet Camaro SS over the Fusion Hybrid and Mazda 3. Nearly 10,000 votes were tallied.

"Voting by the jury of Internet automotive writers reflects respect for technology, innovation, and, of course, power while the consumers, or Average Joes, want power, power and more power," said Keith Griffin, the award's creator and vice president of the New England Motor Press Association.

Vote for your consumer favorites now through Nov. 13 at 5:00 p.m. and catch the winners, along with those chosen by the journalist jury, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in December.

First look: 2011 Bentley Mulsanne pushes 2,200 watts, 8 speeds

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh October 23, 2009 04:35 PM

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NEW YORK—Normally, one of the best jobs in the world has to be Bentley's US president and COO. That is, unless you are Christophe Georges on a Thursday morning in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and your company's new car petulantly refuses to come off the car carrier.

Such was the case as Georges, who works out of Bentley's Boston office, stood before a gathering of automotive media to make the Northeast introduction of the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne, the latest entry to the ultra-high luxury segment that is populated solely by the likes of Rolls Royce and Maybach.

"The challenge for me is I was supposed to show you a new car," Georges said. "This is only the seventh car made. These things are going to happen."

Miscues aside, the Mulsanne is a fine compilation of craftsmanship. "This car is totally consistent with our values, Bentley's DNA," he said. "This is our interpretation of the best car in the world."

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A bird's eye glance of Benz hybrids

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh October 9, 2009 03:43 PM

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(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)

The view high above the Staples headquarters parking lot in Framingham was fantastic. But why was I hovering over the parking lot in a boom truck bucket in the first place? Well, as the operator started to give me a fast 360 degree twirl I too wondered this.

electric-crane.jpgThis particular Eaton bucket truck was a hybrid vehicle, part of a lineup of alternative fuel vehicles designed for commercial fleets.

Admittedly, I am not a commercial fleet owner nor do I plan to be one. So, from my bird's eye view of the assembled vehicles I chose two familiar looking Mercedes-Benz vehicles to look at.

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Among heavy duty hybrids, Staples goes all-electric

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh October 6, 2009 12:00 AM

Strolling amidst the alternative energy vehicles on display yesterday at the fifth AltWheels Fleet Day exposition in Framingham, Staples Inc. fleet equipment manager Michael C. Payette almost immediately started talking trash.

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“This may very well be the cleanest refuse truck you've seen in your life,” Payette said, stopping next to a green and white Peterbilt dump truck.

As Peterbilt district sales manager Bob Moreau explained, the trash hauler uses a “hydraulic launch assist” system. It stores pressure when the brakes are applied, then uses that force to propel the truck forward. In a truck that starts and stops constantly - up to 1,200 times a day - that conserves a lot of gas.

“You're saving two brake jobs a year,” Moreau said, “and [up to] 25 percent of the fuel.”

Also on display were more than 50 cars and trucks, many powered by electricity, compressed natural gas, or lithium-ion batteries.

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Toyota to media: No floor mat recall yet

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 30, 2009 11:30 AM

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(Toyota)

Toyota issued this illustration showing correct floor mat installation in a press release yesterday.

Hundreds of published reports yesterday claimed Toyota had already issued a recall to address the possibility of accelerator pedals getting jammed under factory floor mats, but the company fired back in an e-mail this morning stating yesterday's notice was nothing more than a safety advisory.

"Despite widespread reporting to the contrary, this is not yet a recall," wrote Toyota northeast PR manager Wade Hoyt. Hoyt said to the Globe this morning that "it wouldn't be a recall until we've worked out a fix that NHTSA approves."

Hoyt said it is likely a recall will be issued, but could not confirm a date or exactly how many cars would be included.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a report yesterday warning that improperly positioned floor mats on certain Toyota models could cause the gas pedal to become stuck in full throttle.

The agency recommended that these owners "immediately" remove the driver's side factory floor mat as an "interim safety measure." All told, the agency has received 102 incident reports from owners "in which the accelerator may have become stuck," according to the Associated Press.

"Until Toyota can implement a remedy, it is asking consumers and associates who drive specific Toyota and Lexus models to take out any removable driver’s floor mat and NOT replace it with any other floor mat," Toyota said yesterday.

About 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus models are affected, including the 2007-2010 Camry, 2005-2010 Avalon, 2004-2009 Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2007-2010 ES 350, and the 2006-2010 IS 250 and IS350.

Toyota engineers are currently working on a fix "besides the retaining hooks" that secure the mats to the floor, Hoyt said. Part of the problem, Hoyt said, is that owners may remove the mats for cleaning and put them back unsecured, or place rubber winter mats, which are much thicker than carpeted mats, on top of the standard ones.

According to the NHTSA, Toyota issued a recall for similar accelerator concerns in September 2007 for rubber "all-weather" floor mats it sold as accessories for 2007 and 2008 Lexus ES 350 and Toyota Camry models.

A fatal crash last month in San Diego in which a 2009 ES 350 was speeding out of control at more than 100 mph may have been due to a stuck accelerator, officials say, but the crash remains under investigation.

Toyota floor mats may cause crash, 3.8m cars affected

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 29, 2009 05:16 PM

Floor mats in approximately 3.8 million Toyota vehicles could cause accelerator pedals to become stuck in full throttle, potentially causing a crash or death, the federal government and Toyota said today.

While not an official recall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended that drivers "immediately" remove the driver's side factory floor mat as an "interim safety measure."

"Until Toyota can implement a remedy, it is asking consumers and associates who drive specific Toyota and Lexus models to take out any removable driver’s floor mat and NOT replace it with any other floor mat," the company said in an e-mail this afternoon. Floor mats could potentially jam under the gas pedal if they are positioned incorrectly, turned over, or loose.

The affected models are the 2007-2010 Camry, 2005-2010 Avalon, 2004-2009 Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2007-2010 ES 350, and the 2006-2010 IS 250 and IS350. Toyota said it plans to conduct an actual recall.

Mazda 2 coming to America

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 17, 2009 03:50 PM

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(Mazda)

Mazda today said it would begin selling its redesigned 2 hatchback in the US and Canada by the end of 2010, the latest of several European and Japanese subcompacts finally taking a stake in the American market.

“You’ve asked us for it for a while now, and we’ve been studying the market to make sure we can make a business case for it across North America,” said Mazda's North American president Jim O’Sullivan to a dealer conference today. “As consumers’ tastes and attitudes toward small vehicles have changed, we now believe strongly there is a place in our lineup for a car below our current least-expensive car, the Mazda 3."

The Mazda 2, based off the Ford Fiesta which is also coming to the US next year as a 2011 model, has been on sale in Europe since 2007 (and has a longer history in Japan, where it's known as the Demio). The latest version, which debuted next to the Fiesta 3- and 5-door models at the 2008 Geneva Auto Show, offers a choice of 1.3 and 1.5 liter four-cylinder engines, plus a 1.4 liter turbodiesel. We'll see the US version at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show in December, and expect the US to get the 1.5 liter, which is good for 102 horsepower.

Small cars have typically bombed with the American public during long waves of cheaper gas prices, but the market is growing fast. Also next year, Chevrolet plans to introduce its Spark subcompact and Chrysler is intent on selling the Fiat 500 (as a Fiat) at its US dealers.

We've already got the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube, and Daimler's (struggling) Smart brand. So will Mercedes bring over its A- and B-Class cars, BMW its 3- and 5-door 1 Series, Volkswagen its Polo? Don't bet against it.

Vote (or die!) for Internet car of the year

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 16, 2009 05:28 PM

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(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Keith Griffin, About.com's used car expert, may not have P. Diddy's grandiose marketing budget behind his push for a car and truck of the year award chosen exclusively by the Internet. But Griffin's get-out-the-vote message for consumers to voice their choices on the year's best models — much like Diddy's national youth tour during the 2004 presidential election — is equally as grassroots, yet completely free of awful rhyming, cheap cologne, and rap group upstarts.

Griffin picked 12 online automotive journalists, including Boston.com's "car doctor" John Paul, as jurors to vote on semi-finalists. Unlike every other automotive media award, the Internet and only the Internet will decide the winners.

Head over to www.internetcarandtruckoftheyear.com and vote for the finalists through Oct. 16. The finalists will be subject to another round of voting on Oct. 19, with the winner decided in November. Awards will be presented in real life, likely at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show.

And in case you don't vote or forget, we've let Diddy know all about it.

Local Motors reveals EV Ethylik, Rally Fighter bound for SEMA

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 15, 2009 02:12 PM

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(All photos: Local Motors)

Wareham-based Local Motors, the start-up Massachusetts automaker behind the Rally Fighter dune racer, has revealed an all-electric hatchback concept that will be begin production in San Francisco within the next two to three years, the company said today.

The four-seat Ethylik, penned by 21-year-old French design student Ugo Spagnolo, is a hyper-aggressive styling exercise on the European hot hatch theme, to which the Ford Focus RS and mid-engined Renault Clio V-6 have become worthy legends.

Specifications are, at this point, speculations. Will there be an electric motor at every wheel to match the car's wild looks, like on the insane Mini QED concept? Or a tamer lithium-ion pack supported by a gas engine, like the Chevrolet Volt?

"We haven't set our hearts on one yet," said lead engineer Mike Pisani, noting that "battery technology could change dramatically" by the time the Ethylik debuts.

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Sprinter runs away from Dodge, Ford builds new turbodiesel

Posted by Bill Griffith September 3, 2009 11:15 AM

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(Daimler)

If you spend much time abroad, chances are you've seen Mercedes trucks in all shapes and sizes.

In the United States, the Mercedes-built Sprinter has been marketed as the Dodge Sprinter. But not for much longer.

Now that Fiat has replaced Mercedes-Benz as a Chrysler owner, the Sprinter is moving back into the Mercedes lineup.

You have to wonder whether Mercedes will put the famed three-star emblem on the US-spec Sprinter – fearing some dilution of the brand’s image? – or keep selling it through its heavy-duty subsidiary Freightliner.

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iRacing debuts racing news site

Posted by Bill Griffith September 3, 2009 10:21 AM

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(iRacing.com)

Bedford-based iRacing.com, the motorsports simulation company, has launched an ambitious online motorsports news website - www.inRacingNews.com - that already has an almost overwhelming amount of information.

Already, it's possible to single out the racing series you wish to follow.

"The site is up and running now and we already are experiencing a good deal of traffic," said John Henry, Red Sox principal owner and co-owner of iRacing.com. "This is a very exciting development. Everyone is welcome to use inRacingNews.com; there's no registration or anything - just visit the site."

With existing partnerships with many manufacturers and sanctioning bodies across all types of racing and 40 percent of its membership outside of North America, the move was a natural one for iRacing.com's growing presence.

At 20, still obeying the 'Lexus Covenant'

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh September 1, 2009 10:12 PM

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(Cars.com)

The Lexus LS400, shown here in 1994, changed little in its first seven years.

Few auto analysts and industry insiders would have predicted the success that Toyota's Lexus brand has achieved. Twenty years ago, the idea of a Japanese premium brand that would aim squarely at the established high-end players — namely, Mercedes — only in the North American market was sort of amusing. Introduced in 1989 as 1990 models, the original LS 400 was an S-Class copycat, the ES 250 a pricier clone of the Camry. That LS, like many Lexus models until the brand was formally established in Japan four years ago, was a rebadged home-market Toyota. But to us, it was brand new, and shocking that it could offer so much luxury for just $35,000, nearly $20,000 less than a base Mercedes 350SE. Lexus sold 16,000 LS and ES sedans from 81 dealerships that year.

Today's LS 460 and ES 350 are still the respective S-Class chaser and gussied-up Camry the cars were 20 years ago. But both of these cars have stolen hundreds of thousands of sales away from Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Cadillac, and Lincoln dealers in far less time. The secret, in addition to an obsession with quality, reliability, and undercutting competitors by thousands of dollars at a time? It's the "Lexus Covenant," a motivational poem straight from the company's general manager Mark Templin.

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US owes Mass. dealers at least $61m in clunker rebates

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 27, 2009 11:12 AM

Today's Globe reported that Massachusetts dealers have filed for $65 million in rebates under the $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program, but less than 5 percent have actually been paid. The government's answer this time? Just wait a month. Promise.

President Obama, acknowledging the problems of the $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program last week, said the government was "victims of our own success."

But for all the 700,000 new cars bought in such a hurry under the program, the federal government has instead been the victimizer to dealers and customers across the country (and in our neighborhood here on Boston.com). Shall we repeat the issues once more?

OK: Excessive and confusing paperwork, understaffed offices processing the paperwork, dealers forced to take on mountains of debt and fearing huge losses because the government takes so long to pay, customers waiting weeks for their cars because of scared dealers, the EPA changing MPG numbers of old cars at random, customers again enraged that their trade-ins no longer qualify, the smog-friendly solution to destroying engines, destroying drivable cars instead of having them enter the used car market, and boosting sales of cars over other industries.

Robert O'Koniewski, executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, said last week that "the fact that it's ending will be a sigh of relief for everyone involved."

Perhaps it's also a lesson to never implement something of this level again without foresight, planning, and a little common sense. But then again, that's not the government's responsibility.

MIT's 1976 Tesla Roadster

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 21, 2009 06:11 PM

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(Essdras M. Suarez/Globe Staff)

From left: Dan Lauber, Paul Karplus, Lennon Rodgers, Mike Nawrot, Kwadwo Nyarko, and Radu Gogoana stand next to their modified electric Porsche they raced in the "One Gallon Challenge."

The Boston GreenFest, a four-day celebration of the latest environmental technologies and engineering, is on now through Saturday at City Hall Plaza. Hand-built cars that raced in Thursday's "One Gallon Challenge," in which competitors attempted to drive 100 miles across the Bay State to Boston on one gallon, will be there, including MIT's snazzy electric Porsche 914.

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Cash for Clunkers ends on Monday

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 20, 2009 04:46 PM

The federal government said Thursday afternoon that it would shut down its Cash for Clunkers rebate program by 8 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 24.

The shutdown affects new deals submitted after the deadline, but the government has insisted that existing deals will be honored.

The news came shortly after an Automotive News report this morning cited a survey conducted by the National Automobile Dealers Association, which estimated that all of the program's money had been committed.

About $1.9 billion of the total $3 billion allocated has been claimed, according to the Department of Transportation, and dealers, according to the Detroit Free Press, have roughly $400 million in deals they haven't submitted.

"This program has been a lifeline to the automobile industry, jump starting a major sector of the economy and putting people back to work," US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a press release. "At the same time, we've been able to take old, polluting cars off the road and help consumers purchase fuel efficient vehicles."

While the program has generated an estimated 700,000 new car sales, the program's complex rules and paperwork &mdash which requires dealers to sell vehicles before getting reimbursed by the government &mdash has triggered a torrent of backlash from car buyers who have been waiting weeks without a new ride.

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Volkswagen orders DSG recall

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 20, 2009 12:15 PM

Volkswagen today said it was issuing a voluntary recall of 13,500 cars equipped with the company's dual-clutch automatic to inspect a possible faulty temperature sensor in the transmission. The affected models are the Jetta sedan and wagon, GTI, and Eos made between September 2008 through this month.

The company said that the sensor failure "could result in illuminated warning lamps in the dashboard, and in rare instances the transmission may shift into neutral."

The recall comes weeks after a July 17 investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into "loss of power" problems associated with the DSG transmission. The affected cars involved 2008 and 2009 Eos, GTI, Jetta, and R32 models.

Can Taurus tilt buyers toward more expensive Fords?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 20, 2009 09:55 AM

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(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com)

A Taurus SHO, foreground, and SEL attract attention by the Government Center T stop.

As the first 2010 Taurus models enter dealerships this month, Ford's traveling street team of executives and marketers are visiting cities across America with brochures and new cars for passersby to sit in, touch, and start up.

Sure, they twittered and facebooked a group of select Boston bloggers into their cars the night before, but Wednesday's event outside the Government Center T stop - a pair of white Taurus sedans and a few vinyl signs - was decidedly low-key.

Perhaps Ford thought GM's torture campaign a few years back, which convinced Boston University students they might win a Chevy Aveo by living in it for five days, was a bad idea. Or that mounting giant Red Bull cans on a Taurus would destroy the car's upscale image, even though those snarky Mini people get away scot-free with those gimmicks. And the Taurus, which starts at $25,000 and can top $40,000 on the 365-horsepower SHO, is a big, grown-up sedan that's far beyond the budgets of most college students.

There's lots to be done before Ford enters the consciousness of a prospective Audi or Lexus buyer, but the Taurus, simply by showing up in public, is moving this idea along.

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Boston taxis won't be all hybrids (for now)

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 14, 2009 02:29 PM

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(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)

Taxis idle by South Station in downtown Boston.

We're not sure whose victory this is — the Boston taxi drivers in beat-up Ford Crown Victorias, the police departments unloading these defunct cruisers on the cab companies, or Ford itself, which only sells Vics to fleets &mdash but one thing is clear: Boston can't mandate an all-hybrid taxi fleet by 2015.

A story this afternoon on Boston.com reported a federal judge's decision that the city had "exceeded its legal authority" by going above the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which says local officials can't set their own fuel economy standards. The city may appeal.

It's an odd ruling given that several states, including Massachusetts, have followed California in requiring manufacturers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016. In January, the EPA granted a waiver to California and its 13 followers, effectively allowing a double standard for fuel economy.

But the big problem in Boston is that the city would bar taxi companies from purchasing used hybrids. Being forced to buy new cars and pay a premium for hybrid technology was a direct threat to many businesses, the Boston Taxi Owners Association had argued.

The ruling isn't stopping Boston Cab Association from moving to an all-hybrid fleet in three years. Currently, two-fifths of its 500 cabs are hybrids, according to its website, a mix of Toyota Camrys, Nissan Altimas, and the new Ford Fusion.

Hunting for Chrysler's unsold hybrid SUVs

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh August 10, 2009 03:45 PM

Dodge-Durango-Hybrid.jpg

(Chrysler)

In December, I was test driving one of the rarest new cars in America, something nearly as difficult to buy as a Tesla Roadster and produced in such limited numbers like the Mercedes SLR McLaren Roadster parked in Brookline yesterday.

I was in a grey Dodge Durango Hybrid.

After years of co-engineering a heavy-duty hybrid powertrain with General Motors, Daimler, and BMW, months after debuting its 2009 Durango and Aspen Hybrids, and a few weeks before my drive, Chrysler said it would shut down its one and only hybrid assembly plant in Newark, Delaware by December's end.

All told, Chrysler only made 800 of the full-size SUV hybrids. What's really strange, however, is that the Chrysler and Dodge websites continue to advertise the hybrids as if they were still in production. Dodge has the hybrid Durango listed next to its three other trim levels, and while Chrysler makes you dig to find the "HEV Limited 4x4" trim, you're still allowed to build and "order" one from a local dealer. Good luck doing that.

A call to Chrysler was met with similar confusion. According to spokeswoman Lisa Barrow, the company still has a few unsold hybrid SUVs throughout the country, and by few, we're talking only six in the entire Northeast. Besides some of the Chrysler corporate sales staff and the unnamed dealers struggling to sell a nearly three-ton SUV (let alone survive), no one's sure where these cars are.

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800-hp Ford Fiesta digs up Pikes Peak

Posted by Bill Griffith August 6, 2009 09:55 AM

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(Ford)

You know the drill. Someone sends you a link to a YouTube video in an email with the words "You've got to see this."

OK. Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/v/K8nptFx1jug

Yes, you've got to see it. "It" is "Peak Performance," a 9-minute, 4-second film of Marcus Grönholm's second-place finish in this year's 12.42-mile race up Pikes Peak - the second-oldest (to the Indianapolis 500) motor event in the United States.

Its makers - Australians Tim Vincent and Scott Richardson - use modern technology in this work that was inspired by Jean-Louis Mowrey's award-winning 1990 Pikes Peak film "Climb Dance."

The makers used helicopter shots, cameras buried in the road surface, fixed cameras and an array of in-car (dash, rollcage) cameras

The new film also is a promotion for Ford's coming introduction of the Fiesta, though the street version will be a bit different from the 800-horsepower rallycross prepped vehicle that Grönholm and navigator Timo Alanne were driving.

Every viewer will take some favorite shots from the film. Mine include the ballet of Grönholm's feet across the pedals from an in-car camera.

Even environmentalists who deplore the once-a-year invasion of sound and speed on the pristine mountain will admire the scenic shots and marriage of technology and nature.

Happy viewing.

Acura sticks new nose on RDX, plus new V-6s in MDX, TSX

Posted by Bill Griffith July 31, 2009 04:57 PM

2010-Acura-RDX.jpg

(Honda)

The 2010 Acura RDX gets the new corporate nose.

The MDX luxury SUV gets a more-refined 3.7-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic. A rear-view camera will offer three different views for added safety and the nav system will tie into live weather radar.

The crossover RDX gets a freshened look, more technology, and a higher-end interior. Much of the rest of the country will be interested in seeing that a two-wheel drive version is going to be available.

The TSX high-end sports sedan will have a 3.5-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic with 280 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque. However, it doesn't have a manual transmission option. For that, you have to settle for the 2.3-liter four-banger.

iRacing.com sponsors Marcos Ambrose, Mustang makes NASCAR

Posted by Bill Griffith July 30, 2009 10:39 AM

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(iRacing.com)

Bedford-based iRacing.com will be showing its colors at this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono International Raceway in Pennsylvania. The company has signed on for a single-race sponsorship of the No. 47 Camry driven by Australia's Marcos Ambrose. Ambrose has four top-10 finishes in the series so far this season.

iRacing.com is a motor sport simulation company that hopes to use this sponsorship to introduce its software in Australia. It's also looking to remind fans that iRacing.com will offer NASCAR-sanctioned virtual racing next year. Already, the company has scanned NASCAR series tracks and vehicles in preparation for the launch.

Mustang-Nascar.jpg

Mustang will be coming to NASCAR's Nationwide series next year as part of a limited rollout of some new cars in the series. The participation will add to Ford's presence in Sprint Cup (Fusion) and the truck series (F-150).

It will be nice to differentiate the look of Nationwide from the top-level Sprint Cup cars. Externally, the cars in the two series have been indistinguishable except to the cognoscenti. Rumors are that a Dodge Challenger may be joining the Nationwide series, too.

Muses: BMW quits F1, Mini sells Brit apparel, Ford serious on plastic wood

Posted by Bill Griffith July 29, 2009 03:22 PM

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Nick Heidfeld drives his BMW Sauber car during a practice session for the Hungarian F1 Grand Prix at the Hungaroring circuit on July 25. (Reuters/Dominic Ebenbichler)

BMW announced Wednesday it is dropping out of Formula One racing at the end of the current season. It also said the upcoming 760Li will be powered by a twin-turbo V-12 producing 544 horsepower and 553 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,500 revolutions per minute. It will be coupled with an eight-speed transmission.

Mini-Wellington-boots.jpg

Automotive marketing often involves accessories. Mini, which has a history with bands such as the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the Rolling Stones, is offering the latest in "Brit Chic" - a line of apparel including duffle coats, branded "Wellies," Lapeer trapper-style winter hat, and rock star belt.

Plastic wood? Many of us always though the highly coated dashboard "wood" on many vehicles wasn't real anyway. But now Ford is working with a German company to develop a plastic "wood" that can be used in injection molding. The goal is to have a product capable of being recycled (remanufactured) five times.

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Cash for Clunkers, in plain English

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 27, 2009 10:14 AM

Whatever your opinion on the government dumping $1 billion on car lots everywhere — also known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, which began officially last Friday — you'll need to decipher the program's complex set of rules to see if you'll actually benefit.

Luckily, Keith Griffin, the used car expert at About.com, has done it so no one else has to go through the pain of reading a government website.

Oh, and that rebate? It might be taxable.

Get more used car advice at usedcars.about.com.

Muses: Citroën to make GT, Brookline's Triumph Day, Infiniti and Chrysler deals

Posted by Bill Griffith July 24, 2009 03:22 PM

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The GT by Citroën, shown at the 2008 Paris Auto Show, is headed to production.

(Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

Ford will be bringing its EcoBoost technology to the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. My hope is that it will prove performance and economy can co-exist in a neat package.

Infiniti is offering special leasing and zero percent financing offers through August 31 on its complete lineup with the exception of the newly released G37 convertible.

OnStar's latest innovationremote ignition block – should help recover stolen cars, provided the vehicle didn't go immediately to a chop shop via tow or under its own power.

The GT by Citroën concept car, designed for the video game Gran Turismo 5, is going to go into (very) limited production. The company is building six of the gull-wing coupes, each with a price tag of $2.1 million.

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Toyota ranks last in J.D. Power study

Posted by Bill Griffith July 24, 2009 03:02 PM

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(Toyota)

When was the last time you spotted a Toyota at the bottom of a quality/reliability study?

It happened this week when J.D. Powers and Associates released the company's inaugural Vehicle Launch Index, which takes into account scores from the Initial Quality Study, APEAL study, and factors such as residual value, dealer profits, incentive spending, and turnover rates. With an estimated 205 new or redesigned vehicles coming to market between 2009 and 2012, there's going to be plenty to rate.

We'll get to the top five, but the bottom five was of interest, too.

Last was the Toyota Matrix and third-from-last the Pontiac Vibe, siblings in a Toyota-GM alliance. By most ratings, they're also better-than-average vehicles, but lost in the GM bankruptcy proceedings.

Fifth from the bottom was the Acura TL. Around the turn of the century, it was one of the best deals, dollar-for-dollar on the market; now it appears a bit lost in the company's pecking order of importance.

The top five, with scores based on a scale of up to 1000: 1. Hyundai Genesis (689); 2. Ford F-150 (673); 3. Volkswagen Tiguan (663); 4. Nissan Maxima (636); 5. Subaru Forester (631).

Buy an F-150, get a free AK-47!

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 21, 2009 04:35 PM

A Missouri car dealer is giving away vouchers for a free AK-47 assault rifle with the purchase of a pickup truck.

But it's not the first time Max Motors, which sells Chrysler, Ford, and GM vehicles, has had a gun promotion. Last year, according to the New York Times, the dealer gave its buyers a choice: a $250 gas card, or $250 toward a gun purchase. Few took the gas.

Listen to owner Mark Muller's story in the video above, or better yet, check out the Flash graphics on his website.

Local Motors takes orders for Rally Fighter

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 16, 2009 11:21 AM

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(Local Motors)

Several months ago, the Globe visited Local Motors in Wareham, a kit builder that challenged an Internet full of aspiring car designers to create a wild, one-off ride for series production. At the time, the Rally Fighter, chosen from more than 21,000 submissions and 1,600 users on Local-Motors.com, was only a scale model (and at full size, a wooden mock-up). Now the company, run by retired Marine John Rogers, Jr., is taking $99 deposits on their $50,000 Baja-style off-roader.

Local Motors — and the buyers themselves — will build a maximum of 3,000 Rally Fighters, each with a custom-designed vinyl wrap (as shown in the P-51 Mustang-like graphic above) and adjustable ride-height suspension. The chassis and various parts connecting with OEM-sourced components are made in-house.

Local Motors hasn't revealed the entirety of those OEM pieces, but the gem is the Rally Fighter's 3.0 liter twin-turbo diesel from the BMW 335d, which bellows 425 foot-pounds of torque at 1,750 r.p.m. Power steering, anti-lock brakes, a double-A arm front suspension and solid rear axle round out the mechanical specs, but there's still no word on transmissions or what the interior will look like and offer for comfort and convenience.

But luxury isn't the Rally Fighter's mission. This is a road-legal car that, with some modifications, should be race-ready for the dunes. More details on the Rally Fighter should emerge as orders arrive and the first owners begin their building experience.

We hope to land a first drive before the year ends, with the car wrapped like one of our green Boston Globe delivery trucks. Impossible? Not with these guys.

Jetta TDI Cup Edition for 2010

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 15, 2009 05:11 PM

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(Volkswagen)

There's already plenty of Jetta special editions (Wolfsburg Edition, Loyal Edition, the old Trek — can anyone think of others?), but the 2010 model year will offer a welcome "track" model based off the TDI Cup racers. It's called, of course, the TDI Cup Edition.

Introduced as a concept at the 2008 Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas, the production TDI Cup Edition features the "Thunderbunny" body kit originally designed for the Rabbit and currently on all TDI Cup racers: a wide-mouth front bumper with a more aggressive rear valence and bigger side skirts.

While the brakes and sway bars are upgraded to GLI status, the rest of the car is unchanged. What really would have made this Jetta special (and justifiably pricier) is the racer's modified diesel engine, tuned for 170 horsepower and Volkswagen's claimed "nearly" 300 foot-pounds of torque. But the regular engine is quite satisfying, save for that clunky DSG.

Toyota plugs solar flowers in Boston

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 9, 2009 01:22 PM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com)

As part of a national marketing effort for its new Prius, Toyota yesterday planted five solar-powered charging stations in front of the Prudential mall. The solar panels are mounted on pedals of giant metal daisies up to 18 feet tall, and the generated electricity runs through a molded plastic green bench with 110-volt outlets and free wireless Internet.

With June's heavy rain and thick clouds continuing into July, Toyota's stunt is a bit ill-timed to advertise the company's optional solar roof panels on its Prius, which are supposed to power the air conditioner when the car is parked on a hot day. MBTA riders can feel the cool at five solar-powered bus shelters, which feature integrated fans, at City Hall Plaza, the Aquarium, Boylston and Clarendon Street, the Mass. Ave Orange Line station, and Huntington Avenue and Ruggles Street.

Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi and cool breeze will burn out July 19, when Bostonians can again remind themselves of increasing MBTA fares and brick-hard bus seats.

Check back for a review of the 2010 Prius and a special hybrid comparison test coming soon right here.

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Muses: Pebble Beach Bentley, rising used car prices, electric Focus

Posted by Bill Griffith July 9, 2009 11:17 AM

Grand-Bentley.jpg
(Bentley Motors)

If I had real money, I’d buy one of the outgoing Bentley Arnages.   But I’d have to hurry because the new one, the "Grand Bentley" is set to debut next month at the Pebble Beach Concours. Usually Pebble Beach is home to the cream of collector cars.  Somehow we think the new Bentley will feel right at home from the get-go.

A decade ago, Camry and Accord ditched their station wagons.  Ever since, they’ve been inching back in that direction with SUVs and crossovers.   Toyota now has its Venza and Honda is coming out with a Crosstour this fall

Used car prices are inching upwards.  Why?  Because there aren’t quite as many out there.   Trade-ins obviously are way down and so are the number of cars coming out of rental companies fleets.

China’s latest strategy to crack the European market
is by making a bid to buy GM’s Opel brand.  Beijing Automobile Industry Corp., which projects to sell a million vehicles this year, reportedly has offered $923 million for a 51 percent stake in Opel.

Mini recently reached the 1.5 million mark after eight years of selling the new Mini.   By comparison the classic Mini sold more than 5 million units between 1959 and 2000.

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London's latest traffic control: GPS speed limiters

Posted by Bill Griffith July 8, 2009 03:15 PM

AutoWeek has a story about a fleet of 12 Toyota Priuses in London fitted with GPS-based speed governors.   The trial is being conducted by Transport for London, the city’s transportation agency, using its own vehicles.  

Outside observers fear Big Brother-like control of speed control and automated tolls/charges.  According to AutoWeek, the trial has been going for a bit more than a month. 


"Most drivers didn't like the idea at first," said Chris Lines, Transport for London road safety chief. "But some start to like it. It saves them getting speeding tickets."   Downsides? "   The main thing they notice is the big queue of vehicles that builds up behind them sometimes," Lines said. 

Read more at Autoweek.com.

Buckle up? Bay State drivers resist

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 8, 2009 10:15 AM

Even after seven people not wearing seat belts died in three crashes over the July 4th weekend here in Massachusetts, the Globe easily managed to quote a handful of Boston-area residents today who tried proving seat belts as ineffective and just plain annoying.

Among the highlights:

“If you are driving in the city, you don’t need a seat belt; I only wear one on the highway."
“You don’t need one in town. If you are going 20 or 30 miles per hour for 2 minutes, it does not matter.’’
“Sometimes they scratch you.’’

About 67 percent of Massachusetts drivers are likely to use seat belts, compared to just over 80 percent nationwide, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A law to allow police officers to stop anyone not wearing a seat belt failed last month to make it to the State House floor.

Currently, state law only allows officers to pull over a vehicle if a child younger than 12 is spotted unbuckled. Read more about this argument in today's Globe.

Free Rolls-Royces for Jackson's funeral

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh July 7, 2009 01:46 PM

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(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Michael Jackson may have died with hundreds of millions in debt, but his funeral procession this morning to the private service and then to the Staples Center in Los Angeles was led by five Rolls-Royce Phantoms and 10 Range Rovers.

All of the cars were black and provided to the Jackson family for free by a local dealer, according to TMZ.com (rumors on that site aside, TMZ was the first source to report Jackson's death).

The hearse carrying Jackson's gold coffin, however, was just a Lincoln Town Car.

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Buick reverts to four cylinders on LaCrosse

Posted by Bill Griffith July 2, 2009 03:23 PM

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Buick, which once had a straight eight-cylinder engine, will offer half of that — a four-cylinder &mdash in the 2010 LaCrosse. It will be the first four-cylinder offered in a Buick since the 1998 Skylark.

The 2.4-liter Ecotec engine will produce 182 horsepower and 172 lb.-feet of torque. Buick expects about 25 percent of buyers to choose the engine over the 3.0 liter or 3.6 liter V-6s. The LaCrosse is a total redesign for 2010 and will take aim at competing with the Acura TL, Infiniti G37, and Lexus ES 350.

Hyundai promises $1.49 gas, 2010 Equus

Posted by Bill Griffith July 1, 2009 04:27 PM

Hyundai's gas-price guarantee, which locks its new car buyers into a year's worth of gas (12,000 miles) at $1.49 a gallon, is the latest in a series of well-timed marketing moves that have solidified the brand's name. (Update: Suzuki today announced it's giving away free gas to SX4 buyers, but only for the summer)

When Hyundai made its second attempt to crack the United States market in the 1990s, it offered a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty to convince buyers that its latest cars would be reliable.

That corporate endeavor continues to drive the company: Hyundai vehicles ranked No. 4 (up from No. 13) in the J.D. Power Annual Ranking of Initial Quality (problems reported in the first 90 days of ownership).

In January, seeking to reassure skittish buyers, Hyundai offered an "Assurance" program, offering to take back vehicles from buyers who lost their jobs.
The program worked. Though sales are off 8 percent, well below the industry average of 37 percent, Hyundai's market share has increased from 2.9 to 4.2 percent.

Now comes the gas price guarantee. When gas was more than $4. a gallon last year, Chrysler offered a $2.99 guarantee, but the program fizzled when gas prices fell. It's doubtful that we'll see $1.49 gas again, giving this latest Hyundai marketing plan the look of another winner.

A question for another day is whether the company's plan to offer a vehicle for all buyers will be successful, instead of staying with its established strength of small and mid-sized vehicles. Hyundai plans to bring a top-of-the-line Equus coming to market in 2010, upstaging the acclaimed Genesis sedan and coupe.

Q&A: Female, 22, and TDI-approved, Theresa Condict is on track

Posted by Bill Griffith June 19, 2009 02:17 PM

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Jetta TDI Cup drivers, like Theresa Condict, left, are required to wash their own cars. (All photos: Volkswagen)

A few weeks back, VW released a news item that F1 Boston, the outdoor karting facility in East Bridgewater, Mass., would be conducting a six-race series this summer with the winners advancing to final selections for next year's Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup series racing.

Why Boston? It's largely because R.J. Valentine, the owner/visionary behind F1 Boston, is regarded highly by the Volkswagen racing program. It's also significant for the Boston area because iRacing.com in Bedford is an official partner of VW Jetta TDI Cup racing. The folks at iRacing have simulators that put drivers in the same Jetta TDI cars and on the tracks that the series will be using.

The story sounded like a great future opportunity for young local racers who wanted to follow their dream of becoming a professional driver. After we ran an item in this space about the coming F1 series, we got an e-mail saying, "Hey. If you're interested, there's already a local driver who has qualified and is racing in this year's VW Jetta TDI Cup."

Making the story even better is that the driver is a woman. If you want to be a minority, try being a woman in racing. It's about 1 percent of the driving population. Generally, racing is a meritocracy. Drive well, and you get recognition. But getting started is the hard part.

For women, it's often a father-daughter proposition. And, for our local driver in the Jetta TDI Cup series – Theresa Condict of Lexington – that's how it started. She began competing in local autocross events with her dad, Michael, in 2004.

Now, after graduation from McGill University in Montreal with a double major in music and physics, she's gone racing in this VW series that's designed to develop professional drivers.

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Howard Hughes' custom Lincoln sold

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 18, 2009 02:24 PM

A custom Lincoln convertible once owned by the eccentric movie mogul, pilot, and aircraft manufacturer Howard Hughes was sold at auction in Tulsa last week for $1 million.

Hughes had his aircraft company convert the 1936 Model K V-12 from a fixed-roof limousine to a two-seat roadster reminiscent of the factory "Boat Tail Speedster." But his car's rear end is covered in riveted, polished sheet metal and tapers off into an aircraft-like cone. Hughes reportedly lightened the Lincoln and modified its engine and exhaust, possibly for use as a high-speed camera car to shoot scenes for his aviation films, according to the car's former co-owner, Bill Smith.

The car was discovered during an estate sale in 2005 — along with the billionaire's credit card — and has since been on display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, which also has Hughes' famous giant sea plane, the "Spruce Goose."

The Hughes Lincoln was the largest sale in the more than 30-year history of the Leake Auction Company.

John McCain tweets love of Fusion Hybrid

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 17, 2009 01:36 PM

Senator John McCain, who made it clear he wasn't tech- or Internet-savvy during the 2008 presidential campaign, posted a message onto his Twitter account the other day expressing his joy over his new Ford Fusion Hybrid.

"Getting my new car today @ 12:15 pm - excited about my Ford Fusion Hybrid!" is currently the latest post from @SenJohnMcCain, who boasts more than 789,000 followers. Mr. @BarackObama has more than 1.4 million.

The Los Angeles Times, in their witty political blog "Top of the Ticket," reported that many top White House staffers &mdash including those charged with fixing the domestic auto industry &mdash prefer foreign makes. McCain formerly drove a Cadillac CTS.

Luxury hybrids: Cutting edge, or ahead of their time?

Posted by Bill Griffith June 17, 2009 09:30 AM

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The Mercedes S400h is a mild hybrid, unlike the full hybrid powertrain in the more expensive Lexus LS 600hL. (Daimler)

When Honda introduced its V-6 Accord Hybrid, both the marketing folks and public were confused. Weren’t hybrids supposed to be the ultimate “Econo Box?” The Accord Hybrid was thriftier than the gasoline model, but it wasn’t a mileage miser. It was a performance car; unfortunately, only a few folks realized and appreciated that, and even fewer bought the concept.

Now we have hybrids expanding across the automotive spectrum. Besides the strictly economy versions, you’ve got SUVs (Highlander and Lexus RX 400h) trucks (Silverado and Sierra 1500) and luxury vehicles (Escalade, Lexus LS 600hL).

What’s next? How about the Mercedes-Benz S400h? If mileage is your goal, it’s predicted to get 23 city/33 highway. The price will be north of $90,000.

Over the years, Mercedes has been a leader in introducing new facets of motor-vehicle technology. Now they’re coming in along with many others. My prediction is that they’ve waiting to make sure their system is seamless.

Oh yes, the lithium-ion battery pack is guaranteed for the life of the car.

A bit less expensive (under $35,000 MSRP) will be the Lexus HS 250h, expected to be (naturally) roomier, wider and longer than its sibling, the Toyota Prius. Lexus expects to sell about 25,000 in the United States in the coming model year.

Look for some interesting sales comparisons among Prius, Honda’s new Insight, and hybrid versions of Camry, Fusion (Milan), and Altima in the coming year.

And add Mazda to the party. The brand is looking to hybrid-ize its model lineup beyond the Tribute compact SUV.

US Nano must survive iPod crash, and sell

Posted by Bill Griffith June 16, 2009 11:19 AM

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(Boston.com Photo Illustration/Tata/Apple)

Marketing assignment 101: Will the Tata Nano, called the world’s “cheapest” car, arrive in the United States before the recession eases? The US version is expected to cost double the $2,500 for the Indian version.

And, along the way, it must answer this series of questions:

1. Will a new generation of buyers/early-adopters eschew established brands to buy the Nano?
2. Can Tata re-engineer the Nano to meet US safety and emissions requirements, plus upgrade performance enough to make it drivable on interstate highways?
3. Will Tata, which already has joint ventures with Fiat, become part of the new Chrysler-Fiat Family?

For now, we’ll just say ta-ta.

How GM lost its way – a simplified view

Posted by Bill Griffith June 15, 2009 12:15 PM

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Former GM boss Alfred P. Sloan Jr. is pictured in a slide presentation. (Gene Ritvo)

One of the classic books on organizing and running a major corporation is My Years with General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan Jr.

Joshua Davidson, who worked as an automotive consultant, speechwriter, engine-re-builder and publisher, has obtained the audiobook rights to Sloan’s book and plans to release it soon.

Davidson met with the New England Motor Press Association last Tuesday and gave his synopsis of how GM grew into a corporate giant … and how it lost its way.

Quotes from Davidson:

“Sloan introduced a logical way of doing business. He made it clear that GM’s primary objective was to make money, not motorcars.

“Ford was selling 1.1 million cars in 1920, and GM was a mess with Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile all competing with each other.

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Will the Fiat 500 replicate Mini's US success?

Posted by Bill Griffith June 8, 2009 08:30 AM

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(Photo Illustration/Boston.com/Fiat/AFP)

The Fiat 500 – the direct descendant of the model that was better known as the Cinquecento, or original "pregnant rollerskate" – will be in the first wave of Fiat products coming to the United States in the Fiat/Chrysler marriage.

The 500 is an updated version of the original (think Mini), and it should arrive on our shores by the end of 2010 – significantly smaller than the Mini.

On trips to Italy, we always looked for original "Cinquecentos" parked on side streets.  And we always found some survivors.  The Cinquecento (Italian for 500) stands for the original’s air-cooled engine 479cc engine.

How it will fare on American roads is a story yet to be written.

Penske nears Saturn purchase

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 5, 2009 12:29 PM

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(Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

General Motors announced this morning that it has reached a "proposed transaction" to sell Saturn to the Penske Automotive Group.

No details have been released other than GM's claim that "more than 350 dealerships and 13,000 jobs" will be saved. CEO Roger Penske is the exclusive US importer of the Smart brand and we hear he also knows a thing or two about racing.

GM has another "proposed transaction" underway to sell Hummer to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. Saab hasn't come to any official agreement yet.

Video: Chrysler dealer closure to hurt Braintree

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 5, 2009 12:03 PM

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To the management in Michigan, South Shore Chrysler in Braintree is one of the 789 underperforming US dealerships the company plans to shudder ties with on Tuesday.

But for this South Shore town, it's the classic, hometown business that has helped build a community since opening in 1967, and until now, kept it.

"We're just a local family - been here a long time and have a local business. We live and work in the same town that we grew up in," said Michael Shea in today's Globe, who owns the dealer with his brother, Greg. The Shea brothers say they hope to sell used cars and expand their garage service.

It's unclear how damaging Chrysler's decision will be for employees, longtime customers, and the surrounding businesses of South Shore Chrysler, but it's a damning fate that will be witnessed across the country.

Read more about the possible impact in Erin Ailworth's story, and how used car demand is driving up prices.

Little Tikes Cozy Coupe is America's best-selling car

Posted by Bill Griffith June 5, 2009 10:40 AM

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(Bill Griffith/Boston.com)

The Little Tikes Cozy Coupe outsold every car in the United States in 2008 with more than 457,000 units delivered. Mrs. G insisted that our grandson get one on his first Christmas – and it had to be new. Used wouldn’t do.

The company has sold more than 10 million Coupes worldwide in the model’s 30-year run.

That’s why, on June 6, the Cozy Coupe will be inducted into Cleveland’s Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.

Some GM dealers fear breaks in franchise contracts

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 2, 2009 10:10 AM

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President Obama, on a television monitor, discussed automaker General Motor’s bankruptcy filing in New York yesterday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

After General Motors filed for a long overdue bankruptcy yesterday, Massachusetts dealers say they are worried about further closures and possible breaks in franchise contracts.

Brian Palmer, who owns Berkshire GMC in Sheffield and has been in business since his father started it in 1977, was doubtful over the company's plan to honor franchise contracts through the end of 2010, when his dealership is scheduled to close.

"I have a strong suspicion that [bankruptcy] may change the game," he said in today's Globe.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson said dealerships would not be closed earlier than expected. About 2,000 jobs will be lost in the Bay State, a number estimated from GM's earlier announcement of closing about 2,300 of its US dealers. The Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association says about 40 of the 98 GM dealers in the state will be closed.

Read more about GM's debts to Boston-based creditors, the Obama plan of majority government ownership, and more analysis from the Globe's front-page story today.

Hybrid rentals see surge amid sales slump

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 31, 2009 10:25 AM

Hybrid sales are down - 39 percent year-over-year through April - along with the rest of the auto market, but that's not stopping major rental car companies from snagging the latest gas-electric models.

A Globe story reports how daily rental companies are adding more hybrids to take advantage of low demand and prop up their car-sharing divisions to tackle Zipcar, the Cambridge-based company that has turned car renting into a "green" lifestyle for city dwellers without wheels. The prospect that Zipcar will hit $1 billion in revenue within the next decade also has Hertz and Enterprise running fast to attract these hybrid-loving drivers.

Read more here.

Avoiding arrest at Spring Brake

Posted by Bill Griffith May 29, 2009 04:22 PM

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(Bill Griffith/Boston.com)

On May 21, the International Motor Press Association, headquartered in New York City, invited the auto industry to bring an assortment of new products to the park to be viewed, photographed and driven.

We ran around taking pictures of vehicles before they all disappeared from the base parking lot, never thinking that finding a spot on the mountain would lead to more scenic action shots.

The local highway patrol had a field day, writing tickets to exuberant drivers, despite numerous warnings to "watch the speed limits." (One journalist caught speeding in a BMW didn't have any registration, and was almost jailed. That didn't happen to us.)

PHOTOS: Hybrids, an all-electric Mini, Ford products with the new EcoBoost V-6 engine, the new muscle cars (Camaro, Challenger, Mustang), a plethora of high-end Mercedes, and diesels from BMW and Volkswagen.

Posture tips from Ford's 'Dr. Derriere'

Posted by Bill Griffith May 28, 2009 10:41 AM

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The front seats in the 2010 Taurus SHO have a slow massage feature to help you avoid fatigue on long trips. (Ford)

Gas prices are lower and people are driving long distances. That brings us to seat comfort and the "Dr. of Derrieres," Ford seating comfort engineer Mike Kolich.

The good doctor, the man behind Ford’s multi-contour seat with Active Motion massage features (which will debut on the 2010 Taurus SHO), offers seven tips for your seating comfort, the most important of which are in making adjustments before starting out.

1. Press your foot firmly against the floorboard behind the brake pedal. Adjust the seat so your knee is slightly bent.

2. If you have an automatic transmission, your left foot should rest comfortably on the "dead pedal."

3. If you have a manual transmission, you should be able to fully depress the clutch without pointing your toes and minimal (if any) hip rotation. Your left leg should have a slight bend when the clutch is fully depressed.

4. The small of your back should be pressed firmly to the seatback.

5. If there is a height adjustment, place the seat at a comfortable height for vision and reach.

6. For most people, it’s best to recline the seatback a bit. This reduces fatigue. But how far back? If you extend your arms over the steering wheel, your wrists should rest atop the wheel with your elbows slightly bent. (Note: This isn’t a recommended driving position. Most safety experts recommend hands at 9 and 3 p.m., or 9:30 and 2:30 p.m.). You should be able to turn the wheel 180 degrees (half a turn) without having a hand fall off the wheel.

7. Finally. Click that seatbelt, making sure it crosses your hips.

8. Oh yes, that contour seat? We can attest: it IS comfortable.

Rinspeed's Photoshop car art collection

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 26, 2009 05:16 PM

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Chiara Gasparetto's "Good Vibes XV" features the Rinspeed eXasis. (Rinspeed)

There are so many filters, layer options, tools, and dialog boxes in Photoshop capable of altering a simple photo, or — in the typical case of self-taught computer wizards — destroying one.

Car-savvy PC geeks have all tried creating car art (who doesn't love putting fake lens flares on headlights, or using the cutout filter for an instant illustration?) Only the very few, like the European graphic artists in Rinspeed's new collection, get it right.

Several dozen examples of the Swiss automaker's wild concepts — including the iChange shown at this year's Geneva Auto Show — are available on canvas, art paper, or Plexiglas at reasonable prices (under $300).

Modern art collectors or auto enthusiasts looking for something other than Corvette posters to adorn bare walls should take notice. Those running stolen copies of the Adobe Creative Suite may try to recreate some of these works at a fraction of the cost. And they'll certainly look like it, too.

Hyundai warranted its success

Posted by Bill Griffith May 25, 2009 09:00 AM

Hyundai ranks third in IntelliChoice’s Best Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Programs for 2009 in the non-luxury category, trailing only Mini and Volkswagen. That’s a 24-place improvement since the program started in 2007.

"Hyundai’s CPO sales were up 58.5 percent in the first four months in an industry down 7.3 percent, evidence that our CPO program is attracting consumers to our brand," said Hyundai’s Tracy Bowes in a press release.
        
The enhanced pre-owned program launched to Hyundai dealers in May 2007 for vehicles up to five model years old with less than 60,000 miles being covered by the balance of the original 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Kart racers can qualify for TDI Cup

Posted by Bill Griffith May 20, 2009 10:31 AM

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Volkswagen will provide aspiring racers with CRG Kali Karts like this. (VW)

For most of us, dreams of becoming a professional race car driver are just that – dreams.
         
Now Volkswagen is offering any North American resident between ages 16 and 26  a (somewhat) affordable opportunity to race locally with the potential to go national - in its Jetta TDI Cup - from a series of six karting qualifying events at Boston’s F1 outdoor facility in East Bridgewater.
          
The events will be held on July 14, July 27, August 3, August 17, Sept. 21 and Oct. 12.  A race entry fee of $995 is required upon entry and includes a day of kart qualifying with Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup driving instructors.
        
Competition will be in identically prepared CRG Kali Karts with Rotax motors. The top 10 finishers at each qualifier can move on to a finals event in February 2010.

FULL ENTRY

Fewer GM performance models remain

Posted by Bill Griffith May 20, 2009 07:00 AM

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A staid-looking grey Impala SS on a stark grey background - is it any wonder this car is going away? (GM)

There are a few pockets of positive automotive news.
       
For example, Chevrolet is increasing production of the new Camaro to meet demand for the revival of the nostalgic marque, with production lines working overtime to fill the early orders.
       
The Camaro SS version will remain among General Motors’ performance vehicles, along with the Cadillac CTS-V and Corvette Z06 and ZR1 models. 
       
However, the news isn’t so good for the Impala SS, which is being dropped, along with the Pontiac G6 GXP and HHR SS.
     
In limbo is the Cobalt SS.  The Sedan version is being dropped while the coupe version will continue for the time being.

Ford's mainstream turbo era begins

Posted by Bill Griffith May 19, 2009 02:29 PM

Smaller surely can be better when it comes to automotive engines.
       
That lesson hit home in the mid-‘90s when I owned a Honda Accord EX with a 4-cylinder engine and all the performance I needed.
        
Ford today reached a corporate milestone as it began production of its 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine.   The direct-injection, twin-turbocharged engines first will be placed in the 2010 Lincoln MKS, MKT, Ford Flex and Ford Taurus SHO.   After that, the F-150 will get a similar V-6 as Ford moves the technology across its product line, including a 4-cylinder version.
        
This version of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 produces 355 horsepower and a responsive 350 ft.-lb. of torque, reported across a broad RPM range, meeting the company’s goal of delivering V-8 performance with V-6 fuel economy.

Ford says the technology will improve fuel economy by up to 20 percent while cutting emissions and improving the "driving experience."
       
The engines are being built at the company’s Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1, which had been shut down since 2007.  Ford projects that, in three years, it will be selling 750,000 Eco-Boost-equipped vehicles in North America and 1.3 million globally.

At 50, here comes the Beatles' Mini

Posted by Bill Griffith May 19, 2009 10:46 AM

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(BMW)

It may not be a yellow submarine, but Mini is celebrating the brand’s 50th birthday by producing a contemporary version of Beatle George Harrison’s psychedelic 1966 Mini Cooper S.

The one-of-a-kind Mini will be presented to Olivia Harrison at Silverstone this weekend.

In 1966, Beatles manager Brian Epstein gave each of the four Beatles a Mini as a gift.  Harrison’s had a place in the Magical Mystery Tour film.

What's trickling into the 2010 E-Class

Posted by Bill Griffith May 19, 2009 10:32 AM

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The 2010 E-Class Coupe is in our opinion, better looking than the CLK. (Daimler)

It was about 10 years ago.   We were in an S-class Mercedes on Memorial Day, visiting family graves in Cambridge’s Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

When we were leaving, I punched the address of our next destination – Melrose – into the navigation system.   Amazingly for that era, the system chose the most direct way out of the labyrinth of the cemetery’s roads before guiding us through equally confusing Cambridge with then-amazing alerts such as "In 500 feet, move into the left lane and prepare to make a left turn."
    
That technology and many others tend to "trickle down" to the less-expensive models in a company’s lineup and become commonplace.

Who knows where it will end, but the coming 2010 Mercedes E-Class vehicles will inherit a lot of technology from the current S-Class.

The E-Class, with starting prices in the mid-50s, certainly qualifies as a well-established luxury sedan (and a coupe) in its own right. Now it will have as either standard or optional such S-Class technologies as night vision (with pedestrian-detection ability), lane-departure warning (with rumble-strip sound effects), drowsy-driver alerts, adaptive cruise control (with automatic emergency braking), intelligent lighting (automatic high beam control), and the latest Pre-Safe systems (pre-tensioning seatbelts and adjusting for maximum airbag protection when it senses a skid and possible rollover situation).

The new E-Class vehicles are scheduled to hit United States showrooms next month.

A Fusion Hybrid for just $15,500?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 15, 2009 04:12 PM

We're all used to American automakers offering huge factory incentives - and losing lots of profit in the process - but an e-mail this week claiming Ford was offering its new 2010 Fusion Hybrid for $11,700 off the current sticker was rather suspicious. (If anyone believed this, I've got some hot stock from Chrysler to sell you).

The e-mail's poor English grammar looks straight off the translated website of any Chinese manufacturer, but according to the Detroit Free Press, the scheme to collect "installments through the bank" is similar to Nigerian banking scams from a few years back. The culprit, Ford says, is likely from Europe. Making this scam truly international was the signature from "Gary Settles, Ford Sales Manager," who according to Autoblog is actually the sales manager of a Kentucky Ford dealership and not from Dearborn headquarters.

"Per our statement on the media site, the e-mail sender does not represent Ford and no such program exists," wrote Ford spokesman Steve Kinkade in an e-mail to the Globe.

The real hybrid price war is between the Insight and Prius, with Toyota last month cutting the base price of its 2010 Prius to $21,000 after Honda stole the limelight with its cheaper Insight.

Click the full entry to view the e-mail.

FULL ENTRY

As 12 Mass. Chrysler dealers close, some want legal fight

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 15, 2009 11:00 AM

Westminster Dodge Dorchester
Jim Bickford, owner of Westminster Dodge in Dorchester, says he is "still bewildered" after learning his dealership would be closed. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)

Chrysler's announcement that it would shutter 789 dealerships came as no shock as the beleaguered automaker filed a bankruptcy notice yesterday, but some of the dozen owners in Massachusetts who received closure letters were indeed surprised - and angry.

"We thought sure as heck that Chrysler would want somebody representing them here," said Charles Bickford, owner of Westminster Dodge in Dorchester, in today's Globe. "I've got 50 employees, and they've been here for years and years."

Bickford, who opened his doors in 1927 and is the only dealer in metro Boston, is one of 32 Chrysler dealers in New England on the company's black list, which according to Chrysler were chosen for selling fewer than 100 cars per year, or more used vehicles than new.

While many of the dealers are moving to other brands, setting up repair and parts divisions - or quitting the auto business entirely - the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association and its national counterpart say they are finding "legal representation" for them. About 20 percent of the state's retail market is from new car dealers, the association said.

As of now, it's not clear if Chrysler will buy back parts or settle possible franchise lawsuits. It's safe to say that many dealers - despite losing hundreds of thousands, if not millions - won't be quieted without some form of buyout. For more details on the local closings, read Erin Ailworth's story.

Ah, the old shopping cart and water cannon test

Posted by Bill Griffith May 14, 2009 09:19 AM

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(All photos: Ford)

Most of us have shuddered at seeing an abandoned shopping cart, pushed by the wind, careen across a parking lot and slam into a parked car. Or cringed when a car squeezes into a space next to us and someone opens a door, whacking our car.

Now Ford is incorporating such real-world "crash tests" to help develop and fine-tune such things as air bag pressure sensors. Test drivers take cars over curbs and through pothole-infested stretches, whack doors with basketballs and bicycle tires, and pepper the undercarriage with metal whips all in the name of R&D.

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Another test uses a compressed air-powered water cannon – a device more commonly used in mining operations or state fair pumpkin-throwing competitions – that’s mounted on the side of the car. When fired, it throws the test car into a skid, testing stability systems.

Sounds like another day in the neighborhood.

Insurer offers license renewal reminders

Posted by Bill Griffith May 12, 2009 11:04 AM

Thanks a lot.   Sometimes we say that sarcastically.  This time we mean it.
       
Plymouth Rock, a Boston-based insurer, is offering to send you a free e-mail reminder 30 days before it’s time to renew your Massachusetts driver’s license. (You can sign up at mylesereminders.prac.com).

This service, which is open to anyone with a Massachusetts driver’s license and valid e-mail address, is worthwhile because the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles no longer sends out renewal notices.

The service is an extension of the company’s MYLES (Make Your Life Easier Services) program.  Plymouth Rock policyholders also can have reminders sent for auto registration and inspections.

At the least, the service helps motorists avoid citations, embarrassment, and inconvenience for having an expired license at a routine traffic stop.  We’ve heard from drivers who’ve checked their license and realized it was expired … and from other folks who’ve found out the hard way during a traffic stop.

The only catch in the program is that you have to provide your license number and give the company access to your Massachusetts RMV records.  If you have a clean record, the company also will likely make a pitch for your business.

Plymouth Rock already has signed up thousands of its customers and hopes to sign up thousands more with this outreach program.

"Ultimately, the MYLES eReminder Service will make the life of every driver a little easier. That is a significant part of Plymouth Rock’s corporate mission," said company president Hal Belodoff.

Less than a penny per mile, Model A was man's 79-year joy

Posted by Bill Griffith May 11, 2009 05:12 PM

model_a_parade-609.jpgA parade of Ford Model A cars in downtown Plymouth during the town's annual Thanksgiving Parade. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Stories about long-term love affairs between drivers and their cars make for good reading and good commercials.

Autoweek and Hemmings Motor News both carried the story of Frank Hartmaier, who bought a car, then owned and drove it for just short of 80 years.

The vehicle, a 1929 Ford Model A, had gone more than 400,000 miles and been refurbished three times.

Hartmaier bought the Model A on May 16, 1929 for $560. He died in January, ending the 79-year relationship with his Model A.

How about a new car for Mother's Day?

Posted by Bill Griffith May 8, 2009 03:18 PM

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So … I’m out on a morning run the other day, wondering what to get my wife for Mother’s Day, when I see a Prius parked in front of the First Parish Church in Newbury along with a notice that it’s being raffled.

Hmmmm.

The church has made news lately by selling its historic (1772) weathervane to the Museum of Fine Arts and by its green initiatives, including creating community gardens in the field behind the church building.

The Prius drawing hasn’t gotten a lot of local notice. Church officials say the raffle, originally scheduled for late April, will be held when the 300 tickets are sold. (The office is open Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Well, there’s one fewer now. Happy Mother’s Day, Mrs. G.

Muses: Penske may buy Saturn, snatch that Solstice, no April sales gains

Posted by Bill Griffith May 7, 2009 04:30 PM

Solstice-609.jpg The Solstice Coupe, premortem, at the New York Auto Show in April. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Ford has scrapped plans to offer a diesel version of its F-150 pickup truck. Blame the LOW cost of gas.

Roger Penske is rumored to be looking at buying Saturn. This man has 149 dealerships (40 brands), a successful track record of corporate and racing success, and apparently the start of another "plan."

April sales figures show no manufacturer with increases, year-to-year, for the first four months of 2009. Closest were Subaru and Hyundai, down 0.8 and 3.7 percent, respectively. Chrysler (-46.2), GM (-45.0) and Ford (-41.5) are still struggling as are Toyota (-38.4), Honda (-31.9), and Mazda (-31.1).

Pontiac’s phase-out means that less than 1,000 Solstice Coupes will be built. Savvy collectors likely will snap them up as special-interest cars, the last in the line for this still-proud marque.

Actor Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy) will be a guest on SPEED this Sunday (May 10) at 9 p.m. with Dave Despain. Dempsey will chat about his love of racing, his experiences in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, and his goal of competing with Team Seattle in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

And, as a regular parting note, this repeat reminder that the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles no longer is sending out driver’s license renewal notices. Check yours and don’t compound a minor traffic stop with a "driving without a license" citation.

New car tax deduction has catch (of course)

Posted by Bill Griffith May 6, 2009 04:50 PM

Manufacturers have been offering cash-back incentives on new car purchases for years. Now you can add an Internal Revenue Service benefit to that package.

The IRS announced that state, local and excise taxes on new car purchases made this year can be deducted on the buyer’s 2009 tax returns next year.

“For those thinking about buying a new car, this deduction may give them a little more drive to make their purchase this year,” said IRS commissioner Doug Shulman.

The deduction applies to state and excise taxes paid on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of a qualified new car, light truck, motor home or motorcycle bought from Feb. 16 to Dec. 31, 2009.

Of course, there’s a catch. The amount of the deduction is phased out for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is between $125,000 to $135,000 for individual filers and $250,000 to $260,000 for joint filers.

Ferrari film stunt ends in Times Square crash

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 4, 2009 02:58 PM

A stunt driver in a black Ferrari F430 lost control during a movie shoot in Times Square early this morning, injuring two people as the car smashed into a pizza restaurant and toppled over a traffic pole.

"One lady was knocked to the ground and a lamppost landed directly on top of a chap," a British tourist who saw the crash told the New York Post. Both injuries were not life-threatening, the Post said.

The stunt sequence was part of the upcoming Nicolas Cage movie, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," in which Cage plays a sorcerer looking for - you guessed it - an apprentice in New York City.

Read more about the crash and watch the entire crash on tape here.

Cutbacks keep the Ferrari frat party going

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 4, 2009 11:41 AM

boch-ferrari-609.jpgErnie Boch, Jr. rests his feet on a 2008 F430 Spider, just $62,000 more than a new one. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Ernie Boch, Jr., the tutu-wearing, rock band-leading Massachusetts car dealer who sells the most Hondas in the country, said he won't sell as many Ferraris this year at his "Boch Luxe" dealership in Norwood.

Instead of the 34 last year, Ferrari will only send about 20 to 25 this year, Boch said. It's part of Ferrari's plan to keep its current two-year waiting lists steady - heaven forbid they drop to a year-and-a-half - by cutting production some 20 percent, according to a report in the Sunday Globe.

"Where we've made it up is with the preowned," said Boch. "We'll sell more of them. Those prices have come down and spurred the market a little."

Buying a used Ferrari is just like a college freshman's fraternity initiation. Behind the paddling, embarrassment, and obvious extortion going on, he's in love with the whole affair - and knows that exclusive labels come at a cost. Go to any Ferrari dealership anywhere in the world and try to find a used prancing horse that hasn't miraculously appreciated. You won't.

I first saw this two summers ago when I visited the Penske Ferrari dealership in Las Vegas, which happens to be conveniently located past the craps tables in the Wynn Casino. Upon paying $10 for gawking privileges, there wasn't a single new car on display, but plenty of 2005 models with a few thousand miles commanding nearly $100,000 above new sticker prices. Clearly, this would be the worst place to stumble in drunk after winning a big hand.

Ferrari says they don't encourage dealers to mark up prices, but their entire strategy is built around it. Case in point with the 2008 F430 Spider Boch is rubbing his feet on above. The sticker says $279,000, but a 2009 model bases at $217,310. Brand newbies have no other choice but pay their dues with these used entries, and for limited-edition runs like the Enzo, there's simply no chance unless you've owned several.

Ferrari is an MBA's dream, and is all the more incredible considering the flood of flashy, fast exotics on the market today. But nothing, it seems, comes near the attention and sheer lust the Ferrari name generates. Guess that $400 a semester in Boston University frat dues would have really, truly gotten me somewhere.

Introducing the Chevrolet SSN and Chrysler IRS

Posted by Bill Griffith April 30, 2009 02:09 PM

chevy-ssn-parody.jpgThe upcoming Camaro Social Security Number, rendered in the logo style of the departed SSR. (Boston.com Photo Illustration/GM)

It’s hard to grasp the complexities of the GM and Chrysler corporate reorganizations, but here’s hoping the government comes up with an exit strategy for selling its predicted 50 percent share of GM and 10 percent share of Chrysler.  More important, let’s hope  there’s something left to sell off.   I’d much rather see a 2015 Chevrolet Corvette or Volt than a US-version of the former Soviet Union’s government-produced Ladas and Volgas.

If the United Auto Workers indeed wind up with 55 percent of Chrysler and 39 percent of GM, the workers will be in a bizarre position.  Instead of trying to cut a better deal with management, they’ll be management, with the tough task of trying to make enough to fund their pension and medical costs.

Here’s hoping a leadership group emerges to get the companies moving forward.  Somehow, it’s hard to imagine this scenario being part of MBA classes in the past.

Ford's two approaches to the throttle

Posted by Bill Griffith April 30, 2009 01:43 PM

Ford-throttle-hybrid-edwardscrash.jpg(Boston.com Photo Illustration/Ford/YouTube)

NASCAR driver Carl Edwards had quite a weekend – going from a high speed wreck to participating in a record-setting "hypermiling" event.

Edwards, who drives for the Roush Fenway team, had victory in sight in last Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.   Coming to the finish, he tried to shut the door on challenger Brad Keselowski and wound up getting bumped and spinning out, then going airborne and hitting the safety fence.  The video clip was shown so widely even non-racing fans have seen by now.

After extricating himself from the wrecked car, Edwards jogged the remaining 100 or so yards to the finish line.

Meanwhile, another Ford team, one that was trying to surpass 1,000 miles on a single tank of gas in a Fusion Hybrid, was driving loops in the Washington D.C. area all weekend.

Edwards was able to join them Sunday night despite "a bit of a headache." He put in some time driving, including being at the wheel when the car passed the 1,000-mile mark.

But the Fusion kept going, finally rolling to a stop at 5:37 a.m. Tuesday after 1,445 miles, averaging 81.5 miles per gallon – far above the 59 m.p.g. needed to reach 1,000 miles.  The Fusion Hybrid’s EPA city rating is 41 m.p.g.

As Pontiac lovers lament, an Ode to My Bonnie

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 28, 2009 02:47 PM

bonneville-front.jpgThe 1993 Bonneville SSE was an advanced sedan in its day. (Colleen Reilly)

Monday was a sad day for Pontiac lovers. For the critics who have already stormed other articles and blogs regarding the brand's watered-down persona - platform sharing with Chevrolet, the Australian GTO, body cladding, the Aztek, among others - consider what Pontiac used to stand for: performance and high value.

As the former driver of a 1993 Bonneville SSE that pushed 230,000 miles, I can attest to Pontiac's mission statement, even though that car was also based on the Oldsmobile Eighty Eight and the Buick LeSabre. Yet while the chassis, front-quarter window glass, and the woefully inefficient 3.8 liter V-6 (only making 170 horsepower) tied the car to the GM family, the Bonneville was a true corporate outsider. Nearly a decade before the high-priced European cars offered such useful features as heads-up displays, power seat bolsters, radio controls on the steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror - and the early form of in-car navigation, the electronic compass - the Bonneville SSE had all of that.

Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, and traction control were all included before many mainstream cars offered them. Everything you could touch was power-operated, the seats moved about two-dozen ways, climate control was automatic, there were air vents for the back seat (with adjustable louvers for the floor and face), and the stereo's subwoofer was the only sound more satisfying than the low, throaty growl from the dual exhaust pipes. FULL ENTRY

GM: Pontiac dead by 2010, Saturn this year

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 27, 2009 10:21 AM

In a press conference with CEO Fritz Henderson this morning, General Motors announced a tidal wave of unexpected cuts in a rush to save the company from bankruptcy and continue federal assistance as the Obama administration's 60-day deadline nears.

Pontiac, which GM said in its February report to Congress it would keep as a "niche" brand, will be "phased out by the end of 2010." The 2011 ultimatum for Saturn - which GM envisioned its dealers would buy as a cooperative - is now set for the end of this year. GM hopes to find buyers for Hummer and Saab - which have been for sale since February - before the end of this year.

GM said it will have 34 nameplates by 2010, two fewer in two years fewer time than originally planned. The company will "focus on four core brands" - Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, and Buick - and will shut down 500 additional dealers four years sooner for a total of 3,605, 42 percent fewer than in 2008.

Go here to read more about the financial details, including a $27 billion bond exchange by June 1.

The fractional Mustang difference

Posted by Bill Griffith April 24, 2009 02:37 PM

Mustang64-609.jpgThe original 1964½ Mustang technically never existed. (Ford)

It was 45 years ago this past week that the first 1964½ Mustangs were born.

Technically, they were 1965 models; however, those built in the first six months were "different." Just ask a collector.

The 1964½ Mustangs used generators. Those built in the 1965 model year had alternators. The V-8 option was different. The 1964½ models used the 260-cubic inch V-8 engine, while the 1965 models employed a 289-cubic inch V-8 engine.

"People like to say there is no such thing as a 1964½ Mustang, and in theory they are correct," said Charles Turner, national head judge for the Mustang Club of America (MCA). "But there is a wide range of little differences between the cars built before and after August of 1964 that make them very unique. The MCA accepts the 1964½ as a model year because we view it as a different car."

Ford hoping for 1,000 miles on a tank

Posted by Bill Griffith April 24, 2009 02:04 PM

Fusion1000miles-609.jpg(Ford)

1,000 miles on a single tank?

A team of drivers is attempting to drive a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid 1,000 miles on a single tank of gas this weekend. Ford engineers have hit 70 miles per gallon in trips by using hyper-mileage driving techniques. The group will need to average 57 miles per gallon to achieve its goal during the 43-hour attempt, changing drivers every two or three hours.

Among its fuel-saving driving techniques:


  • Slowing down and maintaining even throttle pressure

  • Gradually accelerating and smoothly braking

  • Maintaining a safe distance between vehicles and anticipating traffic conditions

  • Coasting up to red lights and stop signs to avoid fuel waste and brake wear

  • Minimize use of heater and air conditioning to reduce the load on the engine

  • Close windows at high speeds to reduce aerodynamic drag

  • Applying a “Pulse and Glide” technique while maintaining the flow of traffic

  • Minimize excessive engine workload by using the vehicle’s kinetic forward motion to climb hills, and use downhill momentum to build speed

  • Avoiding bumps and potholes that can reduce momentum.


For more info, see Ford's press release.

Camry Hybrid pace car: Can it keep up?

Posted by Bill Griffith April 23, 2009 04:34 PM

CamryHybrid-pacecar.jpg

A Toyota Camry Hybrid will be the pace car for six NASCAR events this year, starting with the 50th running of the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

Several thoughts:


  1. So much for throaty exhaust notes being vital to the NASCAR experience.
  2. A pace car needs to meet acceleration standards. At Lowe's that means hitting nearly 100 mph from a standing start in a quarter mile: approximately the distance from the pace car's standby position to the exit of Turn 2.
  3. In collaborating with Coca-Cola, Southern fans can should look for a "golden can" in special 50th anniversary 12-packs for a chance to win what's left of the Camry after its pace-car service.
  4. The times are changing and so is NASCAR. Question: What about the fans?

Give AAA your dead batteries

Posted by Bill Griffith April 23, 2009 03:13 PM

AAA of Southern New England is holding a "Battery Roundup" Saturday, April 25 from 9 a.m. to noon as part of its Earth Day observance.

Instead of charging for the service, AAA will donate $2 per battery collected to environmental and conservation-minded organizations. Last year, AAA collected more than 1,500 batteries.

The club sent an email to AAA members advertising the program, but the collection also is open to the general public. AAA notes that 99 percent of batteries are recyclable and advises those taking advantage of the program to wear gloves and transport the used batteries upright and in a box or leakproof container.

Go to the AAA site to find local drop-off sites in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Chrysler shows A123-powered postal minivan

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 22, 2009 12:18 PM

USPS electric Chrysler Town & Country(Chrysler)

In a bid to convince Washington of the company's continued existence and green credentials, Chrysler today showed a pair of electric Town & Country minivans in blue and white Postal Service regalia.

The minivan's lithium-ion batteries are manufactured by A123 Systems of Watertown, which famously lost the bid to Korea's LG Chem to provide batteries for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Paired with a 200 kW motor (268 horsepower), the T&C is good for 50 miles. Weight and other performance specifications were not provided.

Should Chrysler survive the Obama administration's deadline to become viable by this month's end, the automaker would apply for federal grants to build a fleet of 250 demonstration models for use by government agencies, a Chrysler spokeswoman said.

But the Postal Service has plenty of its own problems meeting alternative fuel requirements for federal fleets. A Washington Post article last November, based on an October 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office, showed that alternative fuel was used less than 1 percent of the time from 2007 to 2008, and that its 37,000 ethanol-capable vans used 1.5 million additional gallons of gasoline last year.

Writing about the government's failure to enforce its own energy policies (such as the requirement that all federal agencies increase their use of alternative fuel by 10 percent each year) is a story we'll get to another time, especially how the General Services Administration is using $300 million of the stimulus money to buy new alternative-fuel cars.

Dog-friendly Element, Mitsubishis at Sam's Club, Japan's old car incentives

Posted by Bill Griffith April 21, 2009 12:22 PM

honda_element_dog_friendly-609.jpg(Honda)

Apologies, we've been busy in California with the Tesla Roadster this past week. Regular updates to continue soon, but for now, more automotive news and muses from Bill Griffith.

Dogs have chased cars for years. Now, at a time when much of the auto industry is going to the dogs, Honda is actively chasing dogs. The company has designed a Dog Friendly version of its Element, a vehicle that was shown at this month's New York Auto Show. Honda says the vehicle will go on sale this fall. The special package likely will contain:


  • A cushioned pet bed in the cargo area on an elevated platform.

  • An extendable loading ramp. (Did you ever try and lift a Shepherd into an SUV?)

  • A 12-volt rear ventilation fan.

  • Second row seat covers in a dog-pattern that matches the pet bed fabric.

  • A spill-resistant bowl and all-season rubber mats with a bone pattern.

  • Special Edition emblems.

The Way We Buy Cars I: As if we don't have enough new and used car dealers around. Now Sam's Club is offering an auto-buying option. Through April 30, Mitsubishi is offering its entire lineup of new vehicles to Sam's Club Members at special pricing, plus a $500 Sam's Club Gift Card. Details at Samsclubauto.com.

The Way We Buy Cars II:
A hedge fund-investor group looking to buy GM's Saturn division gave a hint of its business model. The group initially plans to get vehicles from GM initially, but it expects to sell smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles from other global manufacturers in the future. Thus we would have an independent company telling manufacturers what to make for its dealerships, rather than the manufacturers deciding what goes on dealer lots.

The Way We Buy Cars III: We haven't heard details of the U.S. government's incentives to get older cars off the road, but Japan's model isn't bad. If I lived in Japan and were of a mind to turn in my 1997 Camry for a 2010 Prius, I'd qualify for a $2,500 replacement incentive, $1,000 for buying a vehicle that meets the highest government mileage standards, and another tax saving for a clean emissions vehicle.

FULL ENTRY

Buy a Burberry scarf first, then a Tesla

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 9, 2009 11:10 AM

Tesla Motors says it plans to open its first European dealership this spring smack-dab in Knightsbridge, the label-conscious epicenter of London high society.

Burberry's flagship store marks the corner of Knightsbridge and Brompton Road, but the beacon of the district is Harrods, the six-story, 4.5-acre department store castle that will leave you penniless. You can buy Burberry there, too, but a signature plaid scarf is still around $100 (sorry, more like £68).

Among the busy shoppers and obvious gawkers in Knightsbridge are the supercar owners. It's not uncommon to see an open-top Carrera GT inching behind a double-decker, or a Murcielago parallel-parked on one of the back residential streets. There's plenty of other deliciously rich parts in London - Piccadilly, Mayfair, Marlborough, Notting Hill, South Kensington - though none so teasingly retail as Knightsbridge.

On Wednesday, London's mayor Boris Johnson proposed a £60 million plan to fund 25,000 charging stations and get 100,000 electric vehicles on the road within the next few years. The Roadster, like all EVs, would be exempt from the city's congestion charge, a controversial attempt to curtail emissions and traffic by making drivers pay £8 to enter designated downtown zones. Biofuel-powered cars get a discount, but the authorities are strict: E85-capable Koenigsegg CCXRs are still full price.

Tesla says it's also considering dealerships in Munich and Monaco - where soup runs about $80 a bowl - when it starts European Roadster deliveries in late June. In a press release today, CEO Elon Musk said sales would "eventually be split evenly between the US and Europe."

The California-based automaker says a Chicago dealership will also open in the spring and that management is poring over locations in Manhattan, Miami, and Seattle.

Segway EV in New York, GM slipping to No. 3, Honda keeps Insight price

Posted by Bill Griffith April 7, 2009 05:50 PM

GM Segway PumaA Segway employee behind the "wheel" of the GM-Segway PUMA in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

The latest automotive news and muses from Bill Griffith.

Puma once was a huge rival of adidas in the sporting goods industry. Now, the PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility) is being introduced as a people mover. The two-person collaboration between GM and Segway has resulted in a prototype, said to be capable of 35 miles per hour and a 35-mile range for urban driving.

GM was No. 1. Is it soon to fall to No. 3? R.L. Polk of Germany notes that Volkswagen is poised to supplant General Motors as the world's No. 2 automaker (behind Toyota).

This ad from the Johannesburg edition of AutoTrader has been making the Internet rounds: "06 Suzuki GSXR 1000. This bike is perfect! Only done 7000 kms and has had its 1500 km dealer service. No falls/scratches. I use it as a cruiser/commuter. I'm selling it because it was purchased without proper consent of a loving wife. Apparently 'do whatever the #@%& you want' doesn't mean what I thought. Call me, Steve."

FULL ENTRY

BMW driver races from Maine to Mass. in under an hour

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 3, 2009 04:20 PM

the_chase-609.jpgThis photo is the closest representation yet of the crazed Maine driver. (Lance Staedler/20th Century Fox)

The last BMW driver of recent fame to lead police on a triple-digit speed chase was a young and hormonal Charlie Sheen in the 1994 film "The Chase." Consider that record broken.

Christopher T. Goehringer, 26, of Maine, raced his 1990 BMW south from Kennebunk on Thursday at "well over 100 miles per hour," the Boston Globe and several local papers reported today. In less than one hour, Goehringer tore through three states - 60 miles worth - before smashing into a Massachusetts state police cruiser in Haverhill. No injuries were reported.

Sheen and the red 325i he stole from costar Kristy Swanson were both in their prime back then. What car-loving moviegoer could resist a convict speeding in a European coupe with a pretty blonde, essentially a Hollywood take on the classic Sega video game OutRun?

What model Goehringer was driving remains unknown - or any frightening accounts from witnesses passed at more than double the normal highway speed. While there was no mention of any passengers or in-car romance, one thing is for sure: he ended up a lot cleaner than Charlie.

Students watch Boston cops flout parking laws

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh April 2, 2009 01:09 PM

Boston police illegal parkingA Boston police cruiser was parked yesterday in a space reserved for MBTA buses. (Emily K. Williams/Globe Photo)

A team of Northeastern University journalism students have reported the unthinkable in today's Globe: Boston's finest parking their cruisers and personal cars in handicapped spaces, blocking exit lanes and bus stops, and halting traffic - all right outside police headquarters.

The best official excuse was that many officers need these spaces "because they keep their riot gear in their cars." I always keep a lint roller in mine, you know, just in case there's a sticky situation on Beacon Street.

This all comes three months after Governor Deval Patrick signed a state law raising the fine for parking at MBTA bus stops to $100. In February, the Globe reported how city councilors had been graciously giving up their parking immunity - granted to them under a special ticket dismissal program - ever since Michael Ross was fined by the ethics commission for not paying $1,000 worth of personal fines.

Read more about the Northeastern students report and the lukewarm responses from police officials here.

Ford the wiser, dead American brands, no diesel GTI

Posted by Bill Griffith March 31, 2009 04:30 PM

Wagoner Nardelli and MulallyFrom left, former General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli, and Ford CEO Alan Mulally testify on Capitol Hill last November prior to the automotive industry bailout. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Editor's note: Bill Griffith shares his take on the unprecedented automotive news from the past several days and highlights his favorites.

1. "As GM goes, so goes the country." With the government running the country's largest automaker, that certainly takes on new meaning. I have no problem with President Obama ousting GM CEO Rick Wagoner, someone I consider a good man trying to do an impossible job. Just wondering: Why didn't some Wall Street CEOs get the same treatment?

2. Some sort of bankruptcy/reorganization seems inevitable at GM, given President Obama's statement that the government will back all GM warranties.

3. That all begs the big question: Would you buy a GM vehicle now?

4. Ford's decision to avoid taking government loans – and the attached strings – looks wiser by the day.

5. AMC, Checker, DeSoto, Hudson, Kaiser, LaSalle, Nash, Packard, Rambler, Stanley, Studebaker, Tucker, Willys. I tried to come up with 10 defunct US automakers off the top of my head and wound up with a baker's dozen. Add Oldsmobile (GM) and Plymouth (Chrysler) as recent brands I miss.

6. Will the all-electric Chevy Volt come to pass? As time goes by, you know other carmakers are working on their electric vehicles, so chances for the Volt to be a company-saver are dwindling. Are batteries still the problem? Yes.

FULL ENTRY

Man crashes motorized bar stool

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 31, 2009 03:55 PM

The puns and bad jokes could go on for hours. Instead, read this story from the Associated Press and prepare for hysteria.
http://www.boston.com/news/odd/articles/2009/03/31/ohio_man_charged_with_drunken_driving_on_bar_stool/

GM, Chrysler are fresh meat, yet critics chew at Obama

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 31, 2009 10:46 AM

What a day yesterday.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner steps down (because President Obama told him to), the White House announces a bailout cutoff for GM and Chrysler (within 60 and 30 days, respectively) and a state warranty program should both automakers fail, Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli says a Fiat partnership is advancing (but still dependent on $6 billion more in government aid), and Proton - the Malaysian state automaker that owns Lotus - said days after the Tesla Model S launch that it will retrofit its cars with electric powertrains and sell them in the US under the pre-WWI name "Detroit Electric."

Today Ford said it would cover monthly payments of up to $700 for up to a year on all its cars should customers lose their jobs (except Volvo, which could slip into a ill-fated tangle with the Chinese). GM just followed suit by offering up to $500 per month for nine months. Incredible.

Yesterday turned GM and Chrysler into steaming slabs of fresh, raw meat that columnists and editorial boards could have savaged. But many opinion pieces in the largest metro dailies refrained, and surprisingly, placed more skepticism on the Obama administration.

FULL ENTRY

Tesla Model S marks phase two of ambitious electric plans

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 26, 2009 04:26 PM

Tesla Model S(Tesla Motors)

Tesla took the cover off its curvaceous Model S sedan Thursday, the second phase of the Silicon Valley automaker's lofty plan to sell electric cars for the masses.

If the $109,000 carbon fiber Roadster signified the new company's cocksure stardom against Porsche and the Italians - after all, celebrities and rich enthusiasts are on minimum one-year waiting lists - consider the Model S a detente with Tesla's exotic rivals.

The production version of the electric sedan, absent a $350 million loan from the Department of Energy and a manufacturing plant, will be tamer in performance but no less striking in its respective segment when it arrives in late 2011. Hours after embargoed studio photos of the concept car, above, were posted to a Flickr account, Tesla revealed the specifications at the official California launch: a 300-mile range, 45-minute charging, and zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds.

Seven people can cram into the Model S - five adults and two children in a rear-facing seat under the hatch. The entire center console is one massive 17-inch touchscreen LCD, which wasn't demonstrated at the launch. Tesla's bold 300-mile claim, however, will only be met by its longest-range battery (two others will offer 160 and 230 miles). It's likely the 160-mile battery will be standard, and the others will be very pricey options that will see the car soar past the $57,400 base price.

That puts the Model S in the range of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF, and other premium sedans. But Tesla buyers can now claim a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric and plug-in hybrid cars, which President Obama announced last week in addition to $2.4 billion in federal grants for electric car and battery manufacturers.

Tesla's grand plan to produce an electric car under $30,000 is no secret, but little more than a dream that's at least four years away, if that early. With the promised 100-mile-per-gallon Chevrolet Volt next year and Ford's 2012 roll out of plug-in hybrids, Tesla will have to compete with a slew of moderately priced EVs (and the 2013 Toyota Prius, which surely will have no less than a big fat "80" on its EPA window sticker).

According to CEO Elon Musk, Tesla is on its way to becoming profitable by mid-year after gathering $40 million in additional financing in December. That bodes well for the young automaker, but as old-timers General Motors and Chrysler can attest, a lot can go wrong in a short span of time. Hopefully nothing does until after April, when the Globe takes the Roadster for an exclusive, exhaustive three-day test in California. Check Boston Overdrive in the coming weeks for more details.

FULL ENTRY

Yaris-based hybrid is Toyota's cheap shot at Insight

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 25, 2009 02:35 PM

Hybrid car shoppers should all thank Honda for shoving its $20,000 2010 Insight in Toyota's face, because the world's best-selling hybrid manufacturer has just switched to bargain mode.

Automotive News reported today that Toyota will sell a hybrid "low-priced spinoff" of its subcompact Yaris below the $19,800 base price of the Honda Insight, which made headlines months ago for planning to undercut the $22,000 base price of the Prius (it's now $2,200 lower). The model won't be ready until at least 2011.

Despite a third-generation Prius that boasts a combined 50 mile-per-gallon EPA rating, a more refined interior, and a sportier powertrain that now registers a pulse, Honda has seen record sales for its Insight, which from the side looks almost identical to the Toyota icon. In Japan, Honda has reported more than 21,000 orders, soaring past the company's 5,000 monthly target since the car went on sale in early February, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Insight arrived at US dealers yesterday.

As gas prices dwindled since last summer's high, many would-be hybrid buyers have swayed toward traditional, cheaper fuel-efficient cars instead, as witnessed by last year's 10.3 percent drop in US hybrid sales. The current Prius - which had greedy dealers charging as much as $5,000 over sticker, Edmunds said - now has some genuine competition, including the $27,200 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Junked Dodge Colt turns 'celestial' in hands of Cambridge mechanic

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 24, 2009 05:55 PM

HolyColt-609.jpgMechanic Mahmood Rezaei-Kamalabad behind the wheel of his converted 1989 Dodge Colt.

Inspired by his Muslim faith and the almighty McLaren F1, Cambridge mechanic Mahmood Rezaei-Kamalabad of Aladdin Auto Service performed an odd miracle on a 1989 Dodge Colt: he moved the steering column, seats, and pedals to the middle of the car.

"If you look at the animal, the first things God created for us, we sit on the back of the animal. He did not create some animal you sit on the left or right side of the animal. The weight has to be even," said Rezaei-Kamalabad in Globe columnist Peter DeMarco's story last Sunday. "If the weight is on one side more than another, in a couple of months the animal is going to be crooked in shape. Basically, we are crooked in our mentality, but the people are not aware of it."

The sight of someone buying a Colt or its sister Mitsubishi Mirage - even in these cash-strapped automotive times - is a phenomenon itself. Rezaei-Kamalabad spent $200 on it and an untold amount converting the Colt into what he calls the "Celestial Car." It only has one front seat, one windshield wiper, and two rearview mirrors. The radio controls are split on either side of the driver, and prayer rugs replace the factory floor mats.

"The person goes to the synagogue, church, and mosque and prays, and he starts to [have a] healing sense in the middle. And he comes and sits in the car, and in five seconds all is gone."

Read more about this holy Colt conversion in Peter's column.

Brakes were disconnected, BG Automotive president says

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 24, 2009 10:17 AM

BG-front.jpg(Clifford Atiyeh/Globe Photo)

After my surprise drive of the BG C100 - a Chinese subcompact retrofitted with an electric powertrain that will be sold by a Philadelphia company - I wrote that the "very firm pedal felt as if the brakes were disconnected." Well, turns out they were, according to BG Automotive president Barry Bernsten.

"I called my engineers and they advised on where we can check for problems, and sure enough, I noticed a wire was disconnected that triggers the pump that controls the disc brakes," Bernsten wrote in an e-mail this morning. "I reconnected the wire, and the brakes worked like butter. The brakes worked perfectly and stopped dead when we slammed them on, unlike the slower stop when you test drove."

I asked the company about the issue after a reader posted a comment yesterday claiming the brakes were at fault, and that Bernsten had fixed them. This would make the C100 a lot safer than during my test, when the car had difficulty stopping from 10 miles per hour. Better for Bernsten to scare a writer in a parking lot, I'd say, than a customer who just wrote a $16,000 check.

Read the original review here.

Official Chrysler of Cameroon? Pope stands by convertible 300

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 20, 2009 03:30 PM

pope-chrysler300-609.jpg(REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

What's Pope Benedict XVI doing in Cameroon next to - of all possible cars - a fabricated convertible Chrysler 300?

We're not sure if this Chrysler is the latest in a long line of papal vehicles (probably not, as the Vatican prefers Mercedes-Benz) or is the official state Chrysler of Cameroon, but this photo certainly stood out in the long list of wire photos today.

The pope continues his African tour of Cameroon and Angola through Monday. For serious religion coverage, head over to Globe reporter Michael Paulson's blog.

Obama gets peek at Escape plug-in hybrid

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 19, 2009 03:00 PM

Barack Obama at Edison electric vehicle technical centerSo, how's the mileage on your Cadillac limo, Mr. President? (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama stopped by Southern California Edison's electric vehicle garage in Pomona Thursday to promote his plan to fund $2.4 billion in federal grants for the development of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

"It's always nice to get out of Washington a little bit -- recharge your batteries," Obama said.

Obama, who famously traded his Hemi Chrysler 300C for a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid to appear green-friendly at the start of his presidential bid, is shown above next to a plug-in prototype of his compact SUV. Ford has tested vehicles at the Edison facility — which includes fast chargers, battery labs, fuel cells and a fleet of almost 300 electric cars — since 2007, but won't roll out plug-in hybrids until 2012.

A dedicated electric version of the Transit Connect van will arrive next year as a 2011 model with a claimed 100-mile range. During a presentation in Brookline Wednesday, the company said it would sell "at least four more battery electrified vehicles" by 2012.

According to the White House and a Boston Globe report today, the funds include a maximum $1.5 billion for US battery manufacturers, $500 million for component manufacturers, and $400 million for testing purposes. Plug-in hybrid buyers should also be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, but there's no word if a production limit will reduce that amount, as is current IRS practice for hybrid vehicles.

Exclusive drive: BG C100 brings Chinese electric car to life

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 17, 2009 06:31 PM

BG-rear.jpg(Clifford Atiyeh/Globe Photo)

UPDATE, 3/18: Thanks to an astute blogger at China Car Times, the BG C100's real identity has been revealed as the Chang'an Ben Ben, also known as the Chana Benni. That explains the logo on the steering wheel that I couldn't quite pin down.

Automaker CEOs don't make a habit of pulling up to The Boston Globe in a rental truck, dumping a prototype in the parking lot, and handing the keys to a writer. But that's exactly what happened Monday as BG Automotive president Barry Bernsten and a lime green hatchback made an impromptu visit as I returned with lunch. Usually food has a much higher priority than thoughts of obscure manufacturers and strange-looking concept cars, but this time, my chicken burrito lost.

Bernsten, a Philadelphia steel entrepreneur turned environmentalist, formed "Be Green" Automotive in 2005 to make low-cost electric cars "unlike Tesla or Fisker," the high-performance electric and plug-in hybrid models that sell for more than $80,000. Earlier in the day, Bernsten showed his C100 prototype to Massachusetts officials - including energy resources commissioner Philip Giudice - and is now in other New England states trying to drum up support for loans, including a proposed $150 million from the Department of Energy, according to a report from the Boston Herald.

"It's a very capital-intensive business," he said to the Globe. "If I finance it personally, we could put a hundred cars a month on the road. If we could get some public assistance and loan guarantees or low-interest loans ... then we could put 15,000."

Bernsten says he's on target for a May or June launch, but he hasn't figured out where he's going to build the car, which will sell from $16,000 to $18,000. The goal is to construct six $25 million plants, each with a capacity for 15,000 cars per month and a workforce of 400 to 500 people. The Globe reported last month that BG Automotive was looking to open its first plant in Massachusetts, but the company will likely go to whichever state opens its coffers first.

"We're looking to hire auto workers, while auto workers are going out of business in Ohio, in Michigan, in Illinois," he said. "We're trying to bring auto jobs."

But Bernsten, after investing more than $3 million of his money and churning out three prototypes, hasn't made a fully road-worthy car. His C100, which has a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour, is certified in 47 states as a "neighborhood electric vehicle," or NEV. That puts it in the same class as the high-end golf carts from Global Electric Motorcars, which are restricted to roads with posted speed limits of 25 to 45 miles per hour, depending on the state.

FULL ENTRY

MIT fast-charge batteries promise quicker EVs

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 12, 2009 12:36 PM

MIT-batteries-609.jpg(Globe Graphic)

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have made a fast-charge lithium-ion battery that could potentially be used to recharge an electric car in as little as five minutes, the Boston Globe reported today.

A "crystalized coating" over the electrodes allows the lithium ions to move more readily and lets the battery discharge about 100 times faster than current batteries, according to MIT studies. Such a torrent could cause explosive acceleration similar to nitrous oxide, but with the added benefit of "refilling" just as fast from an electrical outlet. While the technology is at least several years away, performance automakers will likely make an early jump on it (Tesla and Porsche tuner RUF, which introduced an electric 911 in Geneva, spring to mind).

As at least one reader pointed out, the potential for battery failure due to overheating and exploding is a serious concern for fast-charge batteries, as is the reduced overall life cycle. The Tesla Roadster, which uses 6,831 lithium-ion batteries on its speedy Roadster, has a performance mode that utilizes higher discharge rates, and another that maximizes durability and mileage. In the near future, there will be a battery that does both.

Attention, GM webmaster: Is that post "fiction"?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 5, 2009 12:55 PM

Screenshot of gmfactsandfiction.com(Screenshot/gmfactsandfiction.com)

According to gmfactsandfiction.com, the official PR website intended to dispel rumors about General Motors' dire financial situation, it's still a "fact" that bankruptcy is essentially out of the question.


"It’s just not in anyone’s best interest - GM; our customers, employees, suppliers and dealers; or U.S. taxpayers. GM’s restructuring out of court remains the best approach for all constituents."

Tom Wilkinson, the spokesman I interviewed about GM's future model cuts, also has a take on the GM corporate blog:
"Bankruptcy reorganization takes cash - lots of it. For a company like General Motors to operate in Chapter 11, it would need massive debtor-in-possession loans. With credit markets frozen, there is realistically only one source of such loans - the federal government. We estimate loans needed to reorganize GM in Chapter 11 could top $100 billion, far more than the out-of-court fix envisioned in our restructuring plan."

Fact: GM's own annual report for 2008, just released today, says this at the top of page 20:
"Our future is dependent on our ability to execute our Viability Plan successfully or otherwise address these matters. If we fail to do so for any reason, we would not be able to continue as a going concern and could potentially be forced to seek relief through a filing under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code." (emphasis mine)

The word "bankruptcy" is mentioned over 120 times in the report, and phrases like "potentially requiring us to seek relief under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code" appear 10 times in the section "Risk Factors" at the beginning of the report.

However, Northeastern University professor Harlan Platt brought a tingle of good tidings with this quote from the Associated Press this morning:

"I think the government has forced the hands of everybody," Platt said. "In 18 months to 24 months, I anticipate they will be profitable, in the black. A mean and lean competitor that will be world-class."

It's not over yet, but the rumor mill doesn't look like one anymore.

Hidden Vermont roads spur finding frenzy

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 4, 2009 12:37 PM

HiddenVTroads-609.jpgSome of Vermont's old roads, not unlike this dirt path, route through private land. (Marty Basch/Globe File Photo)

There's a cartographer sweepstakes of epic proportions happening in Vermont.

Here's the rules: towns must find and map unmarked roads in their borders - hidden in mountain passes, forests, and on private land - or lose the right to use them. There's no purchase necessary, but all entries must be received by July 1, 2015. Lawsuits may apply.

The Globe reported today on this historical endeavor, which involves poring over maps from the 1700s and scouting obscure areas, much like the state's first explorers and famous "Green Mountain Boys."

Yet it's as much of a nightmare as it is exciting. Upon reading an updated town map of Bethel, farmer Jim Giberti saw a public road running right through his land. He's suing to make the road exempt, and his story is likely one of many that will crop up as Vermont rediscovers its not-too-distant past.

Imagine even more twisty two-lanes, narrow hairpins, and evergreen-covered routes, all of which could be the best driving roads in New England (provided they're paved). That's certainly worth waiting for.

For the full story, go here to read more.

(Almost) official: GM cars that won't last past 2012

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 2, 2009 04:19 PM

What will be left of the General Motors lineup in three years?

We're fast-forwarding to 2012 right now, when a slimmer and smarter GM won't have as many duplicate or low-volume models.

While Chevrolet plans to add three new cars by 2011 - the plug-in hybrid Volt, subcompact Spark, and Orlando compact crossover - the loss of a dozen models will likely span much further than Hummer, Saab, Saturn, and Pontiac. In a telephone interview with the Globe, GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said the company doesn't plan to go under 36 models. However, since GM expects a "going concern" notice on its 2008 annual report - the audit world's death sentence - it's very likely more cars will be dropped.

"There could continue to be some shifting in there, depending on the markets," said Wilkinson. "I think the intention is to hit that 36 number. We're trying the skinnying-down of brands without losing a lot of market share."

In its Feb. 17 report to Congress, GM said it would reduce its nameplates by 25 percent in 2012, and shelve three of its brands altogether. Saab is under a three-month review by its stakeholders and Hummer could be sold by the end of March, Wilkinson said. Saturn dealers are still debating what to do past 2011, when the last cars will roll off assembly lines.

Pontiac is reverting to its performance roots, which means that only the Holden-based G8 sedan and Solstice roadster/coupe will remain. Much of the division's languid, rebadged Chevys (and a Toyota) never screamed "driving excitement."

Scared? Happy? Continue on for the full list. (Also, check out Wired's list of American cars that must die.)

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Bentley Supersports, the Congress-friendly supercar

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 25, 2009 11:11 AM

BentleySupersports.jpg

Bentley has undone the Photoshop shadows on the ethanol-powered Continental shown last month, and - ta-da! - there's the usual and beautiful wheel, interior, and rear fascia upgrades. We predicted 650 horsepower and a 205-mile-per-hour top speed for the marque's fastest production car (it's actually 621 horsepower and 204 miles per hour).

Some 243 pounds have been cut, which means the Continental GT only weighs 5,000 pounds (about the same as a Hummer H3T or Lexus LS600hL). In place of the rear seat is a crossbar for added rigidity, and the interior also gets a mash of bright red leather, black Alcantara trim, and deeply-bolstered bucket seats.

The Supersports is part of Bentley's plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent across its entire lineup by 2012, the magic year when General Motors is profitable and the nation's fuel economy is so improved that daisies grow out of tailpipes. And like every cradle-to-grave estimate on alternative fuel, Bentley's claim that the Supersports cuts C02 emissions by 70 percent over the regular Continental is about as accurate as Timothy Geithner's tax returns.

But if Bentley must cite environmental numbers to keep Congress from outlawing their cars, we'll publish them no matter what. Zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds, however, is nothing but the whole truth.

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More BMW-inspired housing by Harvard

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 23, 2009 11:57 AM

GINA StudioThe "Gina Teleburb" shows enclosed roads that link to groups of homes. (Harvard University)

You may have read the post on the New York Times Wheels blog last month about ex-BMW design chief Chris Bangle's brief tenure at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The 13 architecture students in the "GINA Studio" course - only offered last fall - created housing projects inspired from Bangle's fabric-wrapped GINA concept car, which bends and flexes according to the driver's needs.

Today's Globe highlighted a few more eye-popping drafts from the course, but oddly enough, none of the projects here mention space for a garage. More photos and descriptions follow in the full entry.

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Will GM cuts foil Patrick's car tax plans?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 20, 2009 12:30 PM

Governor Deval Patrick wants to raise the Massachusetts gasoline tax by 19 cents, charge higher registration fees for gas-guzzlers, and even suggested taxing drivers for every mile they drive, the Boston Globe reported this week.

Under Patrick's plan, the state gas tax would nearly double from 23.5 to 42.5 cents, making it one of the highest in the country. Plans to increase tolls along the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Ted Williams and Sumner tunnels could be shelved if a gas tax hike is approved before the end of March. If it fails, the tolls would be raised anyway in July. (Update: The Turnpike Authority says that all toll increases would roll back if the gas tax is approved after both dates).

The so-called "Hummer fee" would target SUVs and trucks - vehicles not covered by the federal gas-guzzler tax. Cars that already carry the tax would effectively be penalized twice. But these fees - which would fund the state's debt-ridden public transportation system and $15 billion Big Dig - may be unneeded if their claim is to promote fuel-efficient vehicles.

After all, General Motors unwittingly cut its carbon footprint this week by planning to eliminate the entire Hummer and Saturn brands and much of the Pontiac lineup (Hummer is for sale, Saturn will die in 2011 but could be bought by its dealers, and a slimmer Pontiac will arrive by 2012, if not sooner).

So in three years - with the likely demise of Saturn, a continuing industry sales decline, and assuming Pontiac and Hummer (if it still exists) sell at least half as many cars as in 2008 - roughly 400,000 cars will be gone from American roads. That's not all of the 12 unnamed models GM will drop by 2012, or the company's black flag on future high-performance variants like the Cadillac CTS-V and Chevrolet Camaro SS. Less vehicles, less pollution, and more fuel-efficient cars. Sounds like a win for the government.

But according to the Globe, Patrick has this scenario covered, too. (Even Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is on it.)

"But Patrick cautioned that even if lawmakers raise the gas tax, the state would probably collect less money in the future as drivers buy more fuel-efficient cars and need less gas. Because of that, he is also considering a replacement that would charge drivers a fee for every mile they drive."

Perhaps we also need a Soviet-style visa system that prohibits people from traveling outside their regions. Or, a government-issued black box chip installed in every vehicle that would be analyzed at every emissions inspection - wait, that's too realistic.

SHOtime! Taurus moniker returns with 365 hp

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 11, 2009 10:25 AM

Ford Taurus SHO(Ford)

After a 10-year absence, the Super High Output nameplate is back - this time, on a much larger car with far more power. Taurus fans - who knew? - have hung a "mission accomplished" banner on the website bringbackthesho.com as the car was unveiled this morning in Chicago. Clearly, there's more than a few people willing to fork over $38,000 for this fully-loaded four-door.

Ford's 3.5 liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 makes a healthy 365 horsepower, 130 more than the last SHO's Yamaha V-8. Besides dual exhaust tips, a subtle rear decklid spoiler and wheels up to 20 inches, there's not much to differentiate the SHO from the standard Taurus, but according to Ford, that's the point of its "authentic sleeper sedan formula."

Unlike the first 1989 SHO, there won't be a manual transmission, but the six-speed paddle-shifter automatic will blip the throttle on downshifts. For a detailed history on all three prior SHOs, head over to bringbackthesho.com or watch this commercial.

Ford Transit: The deliveryman dream van?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 9, 2009 11:36 AM

Ford Transit Connect(Ford)

Admit it. You'd rather make a delivery in the Euro-chic Transit Connect over that paltry Econoline.

Ford has sold more than 600,000 Transit Connects across Europe, where skinny high-top vans work wonders on the continent's narrow city streets. Thanks to the Dodge/Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Americans are somewhat used to this style, but breaking the mold of the US commercial market is like trying to convince R.V. owners to buy minivans. It'll be tough at first, but Ford has finally recognized that its smaller, sleeker, and more fuel-efficient overseas models are an easy way to start making money again. (The Euro-spec Focus and Fiesta subcompact are coming in 2010.)

The Transit, shown in New York last year as a taxi concept, will debut at the Chicago auto show tomorrow and arrive at dealerships this summer. Ford claims 20 miles per gallon in the city, which should be a big improvement over the heavy-duty Econoline, which is exempt from EPA reporting. An electric version with a claimed 100-mile range will go on sale next year.

Two handy options: Tool Link, co-developed with DeWalt and ThingMagic of Cambridge, tracks cargo and tools with radio frequency identification tags, and an on-board computer allows Internet access, printing, and even remote access to an office PC.

Hyundai's Genesis of self-confidence:
The grill badge

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 5, 2009 02:38 PM

The fishtailing, tire-burning yellow coupe that flashed on television during the first round of Superbowl commercials wasn't a Camaro, a Challenger, or anything remotely European. Most football fans were likely surprised at the Hyundai logo that appeared 20 seconds into the ad as the car slid maniacally in full opposite lock.

Unveiled in New York last year and seen as a concept in 2007, the Genesis coupe isn't new to car enthusiasts, nor are tease and suspense to automotive advertising. But during the initial hype of its Genesis sedan - the first Hyundai ever to cross $40,000 - the South Korean marque grasped the elements of surprise and bewilderment better than any automaker. The marketing folks can almost hear you saying, "That's a Hyundai?"

So far, it appears to be working. Total North American sales dropped just 14 percent last year, and the company reported a 14 percent year-over-year increase in January. The powertrain warranty is one of the best in the industry, and now Hyundai is letting buyers exit their leases without penalty.

But in spite of the J.D. Power awards, brand perception remains a big thorn in the company's side. The absence of a grill badge on the Genesis sedan, just like the prior XG300 and current Kia Amanti, makes this painfully obvious: that Hyundai lacks the self-confidence to charge premium prices.

FULL ENTRY

Free parking perk out of favor

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh February 3, 2009 01:04 PM

In Boston, diplomatic immunity is getting a bit passé.

Yesterday's Globe reported how Boston city councilors have "mostly abandoned" their nine-year practice of having unpaid parking tickets dismissed. From 2000 to 2007, councilors were able to fend off 160 tickets they received while on city business, such as attending community meetings.

But the council was scared off in 2007 after Michael Ross paid back $1,000 in tickets he had dismissed over a four-year period. Ross was also fined $2,000 by the State Ethics Commission (read the archived article here). Last year, only about a dozen tickets were dismissed from four councilors.

Unlike treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and health secretary nominee Tom Daschle - who withdrew earlier today - Ross didn't get away with his "mistakes."

Neither do the rest of us.

(For more parking war stories, read our earlier post on the behavior of parking officials and Peter DeMarco's latest column on excruciating tickets.)

Map those rim-warping potholes

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 30, 2009 04:52 PM

Boston.com pothole map

This doesn't guarantee the city will actually patch them, but Boston.com has a handy map of potholes submitted by a few dozen readers. Even if your alignment is fine, chances are you'll hit one of these craters.

For anyone with wheels larger than 17 inches, reading this map should be mandatory.

Move Elvis, and your car's dead

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 29, 2009 03:30 PM

Elvis parking space saver(Courtesy Jon Titone)

Thanks to "The Departed," the 2006 Martin Scorsese film where Jack Nicholson resembles Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger, moviegoers around the world now know the thuggish past of South Boston. Times have changed here, especially with the bourgeois influx of pricey hotels and convention centers on the waterfront. But past these props is the heart of this neighborhood, an alphabet soup of street names with a hearty mix of crumbled pavement and blind spots. If it's authentic Boston you're after, this is the right place.

Move that Elvis statue blocking a space on P Street, however, and you'll likely have slashed tires or scratched paint in less than 24 hours - or in the case of Chris Powers on N Street - a torn side-view mirror. The photo of Elvis was snapped by Jon Titone, a reader who responded to the Globe's "parking space saver of the day" feature (e-mail your photo here).

It's all part of the area's charming, medieval justice system. While the city allows parking space savers for up to 48 hours after a snow emergency, the locals have their own codes. Disobey them, and thou shall be punished with personal property destruction (thanks for the correction, astute readers).

For out-of-towners, see this photo gallery of parking space savers (chairs, cones, you name it), and for those that doubt retaliation, comb through the comments on this Globe article from last Saturday. One reader mentioned he'd rather "live in Gaza than Southie."

Biofuel Bentley set for Geneva

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 28, 2009 09:03 AM

Biofuel-powered Bentley

Automotive public relations staff have it down pat. Release a sexy teaser image, provide almost no details, and then have the media drool for a month before they can set eyes on the real thing.

Thank you, Bentley, for that wonderful promotional e-mail this morning. Indeed, we couldn't resist posting a shot of this ethanol-powered Continental coupe, the "most powerful and fastest production car ever" from Crewe. Rich enthusiasts were presented with the GTC Speed earlier this month, but now they may consider a car that should produce around 650 horsepower and likely top 205 miles per hour.

Rumors of gas-electric or diesel Bentleys - despite the marque's love for huge torque curves - are unfounded. A few supercars run on ethanol, like the upcoming Saleen S5S Raptor, the 1018 horsepower Koenigsegg CCXR, and a concept Ferrari F430. We won't delve into the pros and cons of ethanol, but added horsepower from the fuel's higher octane is always nice (the 20 percent drop in mileage is not).

More facts on this super Continental should arrive before the Geneva Auto Show in March.

XLR fades to black

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 27, 2009 05:09 PM

XLR-609.jpg(Photo Illustration/Boston.com)

Among the 45,000 jobs threatened by the blue chips yesterday are the 40 production workers on the Cadillac XLR assembly line. The range-topping, two-seat roadster - built alongside the Corvette in Bowling Green, Ky. - will be gone come spring.

The Bowling Green Daily News reported General Motors will fire 154 workers at the famous plant, which has produced the fiberglass Corvette since 1953 and is now temporarily closed along with several other plants.

Cadillac sold 1,250 XLR roadsters in the United States last year, a 28.6 percent drop from 2007. Meanwhile, Lexus sales of the SC 430 roadster sank 49.6 percent in 2008, to just 1,986. The icon Cadillac had chased from the very beginning - the Mercedes-Benz SL - sold 5,464 units last year and fell only 10.8 percent.

Based on the sixth-generation Corvette, the XLR, with its chiseled, fiberglass body and 320 horsepower V-8, was a design standout when it debuted in 2004. But the car drew early criticism for its semi-lackluster interior and substandard performance as compared to the SL500 (which at the time, was only about $10,000 more than a base $76,200 XLR).

Still, the XLR sported impressive hardware, such as the world's first electromagnetic shocks, which change stiffness in a claimed millisecond and were later offered on the Corvette Z06 and other Cadillac models (it remains the fastest-reacting active suspension, according to GM). The XLR-V model, supercharged to 443 horsepower, provided much more excitement, but Cadillac had - and has, at least for another month or so - a problem justifying its $100,000 price next to an AMG SL, 911 Cabriolet, or even the Corvette itself.

California to EPA: Cough up that emissions waiver, already

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 26, 2009 12:09 PM

After the California Air Resources Board sent a letter last week pressuring new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to accept the state's aggressive emissions reduction program - denied by the Bush administration three years ago - President Obama today directed the agency to accept it.

California - along with 13 other states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont - want automakers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016. The air board's chairman Mary Nichols called the former EPA administrator's denial "flawed, factually and legally, in fundamental ways."

According to the Los Angeles Times, this translates into a passenger fleet average of 42 miles per gallon by 2020, seven more than the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements passed by Congress in 2007. Other estimates, most notably from Michigan attorney general Mike Cox, peg the number at 49 miles per gallon.

"If California and a handful of other states are allowed to dictate environmental policy for the entire country on a state-by-state basis and not a uniform basis, our nation's economy will become further weakened," said Cox in a Friday press release.

Both domestic and foreign automakers begrudgingly accepted the 2007 regulations but continue to argue against tougher standards, noting that high retooling costs and current product cycles - which typically span three to four years - stand in the way. The future could be especially troubling for low-volume manufacturers like Porsche, which are dependent entirely on high-performance cars.

"What we need is certainty and consistency, not confusion and chaos," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, on NPR this morning. "And I think we're all concerned that this would create chaos not only for consumers, but also for dealers and for manufacturers."

No doubt the strictest in the nation, California's emissions regulations have been a thorn in the industry's side since 1966, when the state required "bolt-on pollution controls" for new model cars. Historically, the tough requirements on carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate emissions forced automakers to sell California-specific models of the same car. Only recently have diesel-powered cars like the Mercedes-Benz BlueTec and Volkswagen TDI models - equipped with expensive emissions controls - been allowed for sale in the state.

But California's persistence for tougher federal air laws has paid off. Most automakers design vehicles to meet emissions in all states, and other California initiatives - such as the ban on MTBE gasoline additives and the march toward ultra-low sulfur diesel - have trickled nationwide.

This showdown isn't going anywhere.

Chrysler's newest Euro fling, Fiat?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 21, 2009 04:40 PM

Fiat-Chrysler photo illustration(Photo Illustration/Boston.com)

Keeping track of Chrysler management is like naming all the countries Angelina Jolie plucks children from. There's far too many, and some, like Cerberus Capital Management LP, you won't remember to spell correctly.

Daimler AG's divorce with Chrysler LLC is almost final as the German automaker prepares to sell its remaining 19.9 percent share to Cerberus. At the Los Angeles Auto Show last November, Chrysler pulled the bright yellow Dodge EV out of nowhere, a feat that turned lukewarm when the all-electric sports car was cited as a Lotus Europa clone (Dodge reportedly is in talks with Lotus to build the car in England within two years).

Fiat, apparently, is Chrysler's latest European salvation. The Italian auto giant - which owns Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, and Abarth - will receive a 35 percent Chrysler stake for access to its "small-car technology" and a dealer network that spans Russia, China, and South America, the Associated Press reports.

It's not the first time Chrysler has tried Italian. Three years after the first Caravan and five before Bob Lutz breathed life into the Viper, the company bought Lamborghini in 1987 and funneled millions of dollars into the Diablo, which would become the darling exotic of the 1990s. Chrysler sold it in 1993 for about $40 million.

Could there be a Chrysler version of the venerable Fiat 500? Or a Hemi-powered variant of the compact four-door Alfa Romeo 159? Perhaps the biggest question is: who in Argentina wants to buy a Chrysler Sebring?

Renaissance of the American sedan

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 16, 2009 06:11 PM

2010 Ford Taurus

The media would have you believe that Detroit is completely lost in the dark, an industry that has ignored the plight of the little, lightweight gas-sippers that are supposedly saving the world across the Atlantic. Writers on the auto beat are fixated on these cars, and so too, they say, is the American public.

The interest is indeed real, and the Big Three's European divisions have made happy profits from the sales of premium compact cars as their home bases struggled. Upcoming hatches like the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Spark will fill a void in the American market, and will no doubt attract younger buyers who want to save space and gas.

But compact cars have never been ideal for families, the industry's core demographic. Unlike Europeans, who like cramming relatives and luggage into Peugeots and Opels, the majority of Americans and their families like room. Those who don't salivate for giant SUVs and crossovers shop for midsize and large sedans, the bread and butter of American motoring that accounts for about 43 percent of all US car sales.

There's no bread or butter in the 2010 Ford Taurus and 2010 Buick LaCrosse. Instead of good intentions mixed with bland execution, there's spice, upscale flavor, and a wholehearted desire in these cars to lead the industry - as Detroit once did - by design. If these two Yankees drive as fantastic as they look, then Detroit is roaring into 2009 with its brights on.

FULL ENTRY

Obama limo unwrapped: Cadillac we can believe in

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 15, 2009 09:47 AM

Obama-limo-609.jpg(US Secret Service)

The United States Secret Service has torn the camouflage off the latest Cadillac DTS presidential limousine in time for President-elect Barack Obama's Inauguration next Tuesday.

Despite the rumors, Escalades and hybrids were out of the question (Tahoes, however, are the SUV of choice for the men in black). Based on GM's heavy-duty truck platform, the DTS is well over three tons and won't return more than 20 miles per gallon, which means Obama must offset his carbon footprint immediately. Hillary Clinton will ensure that - on Day One.

There are no other juicy details to share, but count on Jay-Z and Beyonce to spill some beans after the parties.

Might you fancy FDR's 1939 Lincoln instead? Browse photos and brush up on your automotive history in this gallery of past presidential limousines.

Lexus submits to four-banger hybrid

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 12, 2009 10:53 AM

LexusHS-609.jpg(REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

Lexus has been the only manufacturer to market hybrids as top-tier luxury trims instead of frugal, more expensive economy cars. The V-8-powered GS 450h sedan, RX 450h crossover and flagship $115,000 LS 600hL are not models in restraint, nor are they fuel-efficient. Saying "hybrid" to a Lexus dealer just meant another item checked off on an already lengthy list of features.

But even the affluent are cutting back and downsizing in this dour economy, all the better to introduce the Prius-based HS 250h, the "world's first dedicated luxury hybrid," according to Lexus. A 2.4 liter four-cylinder in a Lexus is also a world first, but those worried about noise, vibration, and harshness should know that Lexus surely did - and that the car probably has enough dampers, insulation, and seals to muffle five screaming babies.

Styling, however, is typical Lexus, a hybrid of attractive lines and copycat curves. With its large blue oval "L" in the middle of a three-bar chrome grill, the front fascia practically screams "Ford Fusion" (a good thing for Ford). Flat, square body panels shape the doors, trunk, and roof into a mold of the last-generation Mazda 6, but they contribute to a slick 0.27 Cd drag coefficient.

EPA estimates and pricing haven't been released, but Lexus says the HS 250h will return 30 percent better mileage than its most efficient model, the combined 24-mile-per-gallon IS 250. Expect the first models to arrive "late summer," right when gas prices should peak. Lexus really does think of everything.

For more photos, see the full entry.

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Bring Jimmy Justice to Boston

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 8, 2009 03:30 PM

Jimmy Justice, the so-called renegade who films New York City parking cops parking illegally, wasn't there for my run-in with the Boston Transportation Department this week.

On Tuesday, one of Boston's gracious parking agents whipped a K-turn right in front of me on Beacon Street, blocking two lanes with a massive Ford Econoline. Enraged, I held my horn down, which compelled her to complete the illegal maneuver even more slowly. The battle between the City of Boston and my nasally Suzuki SX4 lasted five glorious seconds, a cry for all motorists against those infuriating neon orange parking tickets.

When the dust settled, I inched a few feet further toward a busy intersection, held up again by a red light. She drove through it. How about a little visit to Beantown, Jimmy?

If that's not enough, here's some more pleasant parking news from the Globe Metro staff on increased fines at bus stops:


MBTA bus riders will get some help stepping from the door to the curb because of a new law signed by Governor Deval Patrick this week.

The law raises tickets to $100 for parking at bus stops. Under the previous policy, each city sets its own fine. Boston’s is $55.

MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas called the signing of the bill, which was approved by the Legislature last week, “great news.”

“One of the biggest problems we have is people not taking bus stops seriously,” he said. “It’s a safety issue. You don’t want people running out 10 or 15 feet into the roadway or into traffic to try to get on a bus,” he said.

Grabauskas said that when a bus can’t get close to the curb, it also makes it difficult for disabled people to board.

“If you happen to be in a wheelchair, or a parent with a child in a stroller, it can mean it’s nearly impossible and very dangerous to get on board a bus,” he said.

He said the increased fine, which will apply both to the MBTA’s more than 8,000 bus stops and to bus stops for regional transit authorities statewide, was necessary to get people’s attention.

First look: Bentley Continental GTC Speed

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 7, 2009 10:19 AM

GTC%20Speed-snow-609.jpg

Launching a new convertible in the middle of winter is a batty idea for most manufacturers, but Bentley - which recently moved its American headquarters right into Copley Square - looks right at home in the frost with this new Continental GTC Speed.

Outfitted with 600 horsepower (up 48 from the regular GTC), 20-inch wheels, and a 200-mile-per-hour top speed (only 195 with the top down), the GTC Speed shares the upgrades already fitted to the GT Speed coupe and Flying Spur Speed sedan. Bentley expects two-thirds of GTC buyers will opt for the Speed edition next year, which should add at least $25,000 to the "base" model's $194,000.

Last year, members of the New England Motor Press Association slogged the standard Continental GTC through the slush and named it the best "Extreme All-Weather Vehicle" in their annual winter vehicle awards. Without all-wheel drive, the big Bentley wouldn't have stood a chance around here.

The California crowd, of course, could care less about winter performance, but what's a $200,000 convertible if you can't get it out of your garage?

Go to the full entry for more photos of the GTC Speed and its Boxster RS 60 color scheme.

FULL ENTRY

Surprise, there's a $4m Bugatti in the family

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh January 2, 2009 01:05 PM

bugatti57s-609.jpg(Bonhams)

Now may be the time to start picking all the locked cabinets and doors in your grandmother's house.

After discovering this extremely rare 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante hiding in their late relative's barn in 2007, an English family is putting the car up for sale next month, according to the BBC.

This Atalante, an exotic in its heyday and more exclusive than any modern Veyron, is only one of 17 made, unrestored with just over 26,000 miles. Expected initial bids are no less than $4.35 million.

More details and photos of this stunning car can be found on Bugatti's website and on this amateur classic car website.

EPA: 9 years to pay back Prius, hybrid premiums

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 31, 2008 10:03 AM

Hybrid-payback-609.jpg

Here's another story in today's Globe that will raise the neck hair on Prius drivers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, at today's gas prices it would take more than nine years to pay back the average $4,000 premium on a hybrid car, as opposed to only four years when gas prices soared over $4 per gallon.

Reporter Erin Ailworth found, unsurprisingly, that most Prius owners weren't second guessing themselves. Neither are other manufacturers, as Ford and Honda prepare their hybrid assaults early next year.

Last hurrah for SLR: $1m Stirling Moss

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 30, 2008 12:43 PM

Get Adobe Flash player

As exotic as the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is, it never quite attracted the attention and respect befitting a half-million dollar supercar, the limited-edition 722 included.

Add another half-million worth of plastic surgery and now we're talking. Named for the British driver who brought Mercedes-Benz its most storied victories of the 1950s, the SLR Stirling Moss mimics the famous 1955 300 SLR roadster. While the race car was made of magnesium alloy, the Stirling Moss edition is entirely carbon fiber, which should give McLaren designer Gordon Murray some grief from the standard SLR's hefty weight.

With 650 horsepower, Mercedes estimates zero to 62 miles per hour in under 3.5 seconds and a 217-mile-per-hour top speed. Only 75 will be built next year, and all will go to current SLR customers (that means Paris Hilton's on the list).

Conjuring up 1950s racing nostalgia, however, brings back horrific memories for Mercedes. In 1955, a 300 SLR roadster killed about 80 spectators after slamming into a barrier at Le Mans. It was - and likely still is - the deadliest crash in motor racing.

Watch the historic news reel in the full entry here.

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Cheese it, the workers! CEOs try auto getaways

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 29, 2008 12:00 PM

evasivedriving-625.jpg

Perhaps you're one of the bank CEOs who just took a million-dollar bonus as your company received a fat, federal bailout. You slip out of the office into the executive garage, toss the Moët and congratulatory Hallmark cards in the back of the S600, and tell the maid to fix an early lunch. But out of nowhere, angry employees storm the garage and race toward your car. A paper weight nearly misses your windshield, but a Swingline stapler smashes into your side view mirror. Now what?

If you passed the tests at Advanced Driving and Security Inc., an evasive driving school in North Kingston, R.I., you'll be completely calm as you snap a perfect 180-degree J-turn, swerve past seething coworkers and head toward the surface. If you've never even heard of such a maneuver, you're now first-class lunch meat.

But this isn't some far-off dream. Today's Globe story explains how some firms have stepped up driver security following the economic crisis ("In a recession, executives make quick getaways"). At Advanced Driving, students pilot Crown Victorias around simulated road blocks, carjackings and ambushes.

Necessary? Ridiculous? Have your say in our comments section.

Toyota-Subaru sports car 'years away still,' Supra likely never

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 12, 2008 03:16 PM

Toyota-Subaru.jpg
The Supra, left, may never return. Toyota says their next sports car will be more like the Celica, center, and fuel-efficient like the MR2 Spyder, right.

It's hard to remember, but once upon a time Toyota sold sporty cars within its ultra-bland, green-happy lineup. While they weren't any more aggressive than a Honda Civic Si, the last Celica and (mid-engine!) MR2 Spyder models in 2005 were some proof that Toyota employed performance-minded engineers.

For months, there's been talk about a Celica-type sports car that Toyota is developing with Subaru, which will use a "boxer" four-cylinder and rear-wheel drive. At the Boston auto show, Toyota's Northeast public affairs manager Wade Hoyt said the car will be made at the Subaru plant in Lafayette, Ind., but says the car is "a few years away still."

"It'll be a good replacement for the Celica," said Hoyt. "It will not be the next Supra, and with fuel economy regulations coming in and worries about energy, there may never be a next Supra."

That may be disheartening for fans of the 320 horsepower coupe, which bit the dust in 1996 right as other premium Japanese two-doors - including the Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300ZX and Mitsubishi 3000GT - were tanking.

Much closer to completion is the 500 horsepower Lexus LF-A, which Toyota has hot-lapped around Germany's Nürburgring numerous times. When that happens, Toyota can suspend some of the green talk and make its F1 and NASCAR teams relevant in the real-world. Let's have a go while gas prices are below $2.

Boston Overdrive is live

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 5, 2008 03:50 PM

Boston.com Cars is proud to have Boston Overdrive as its new blog, just in time for the city's 2008 auto show.

We know there's a ton of great auto blogs out there - Jalopnik, Auto Blog, Edmunds Inside Line and the New York Times Wheels blog are just a handful. But Boston.com is geared for locals in the Boston and New England areas, and we know about driving here better than anyone.

Together with The Boston Globe, Boston Overdrive will bring you the news, trends and exclusive car reviews that matter most. It's not easy having a car in Beantown - but it doesn't take away the pleasure of driving, especially when you've found that perfect road out of the city.

We'd like to hear your thoughts and suggestions, as well as your car gossip and news tips. Send an e-mail to cars@boston.com, bookmark us and spread the word.

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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