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Tesla Files for IPO

31st January 2010

As was expected, Tesla Motors, Inc. filed its registration statement of its intent to sell stock to the public. It intends to raise as much as $100 million in the offering. No expected date was given for the offering. Stay tuned. If you’ve never read a Form S-1, try it sometime. Because it constitutes a legal document which could form the basis of a shareholder lawsuit someday, companies are brutally honest in the document. This is so they can say in court, “We told you so” if needed to fend off a fraud or other claim down the road. So it can indeed be an interesting read.

Here’s a tidbit from Tesla’s S-1 that anybody who follows the auto industry would find interesting. It is in the “Risk Factors” section of the S-1:

We anticipate that we will experience a decrease in revenues and increase in losses prior to the launch of the Model S.

Prior to the launch of our Model S, we anticipate our automotive sales may decline, potentially significantly as we do not plan to sell our current generation Tesla Roadster after 2011 due to planned tooling changes at a supplier for the Tesla Roadster, and we do not currently plan to begin selling our next generation Tesla Roadster until at least one year after the launch of the Model S, which is not expected to be in production until 2012…As a result, we anticipate that we will generate limited, if any, revenue from selling electric vehicles after 2011 until the launch of our Model S. The launch of our Model S could be delayed for a number of reasons and any such delays may be significant and would extend the period in which we would generate limited, if any, revenues from sales of our electric vehicles. The expected decrease in revenues for the periods prior to the launch of the Model S may be significant and could materially and adversely affect our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition and our ability to fund operating losses could seriously constrain our growth.

So Tesla will be essentially out of business for some period beginning sometime next year for at least a few months, and that assumes the Model S arrives on time. Because the Model S is Tesla’s first vehicle that they are designing from the ground up, it is reasonable to assume that they will have some delays and/or other problems. In fact, it is unreasonable to assume that they will NOT have any delays. The major auto companies, with decades of experience, regularly encounter problems or delays that they can not foresee. In fact, given the nature of the S-1, Tesla has enumerated the potential risks of successfully launching the Model S:

Our production model for the non-powertrain portion of the Model S is unproven, still evolving and is very different from the non-powertrain portion of the production model for the Tesla Roadster.

Our future business depends in large part on our ability to execute on our plans to develop, manufacture, market and sell our planned Model S electric vehicle. To date our revenues have been principally derived from the sales of our Tesla Roadster. The Tesla Roadster has only been produced in low volume quantities and the body is assembled by Lotus Cars Limited in the United Kingdom, with the final assembly by us at our facility in Menlo Park, California for sales destined in the United States. We plan to manufacture the Model S in higher volumes than our present production capabilities in our planned manufacturing facility. As a result, the non-powertrain portion of the production model for the Model S will be substantially different and significantly more complex than the non-powertrain portion of the production model for the Tesla Roadster. In addition, we plan to introduce a number of new manufacturing technologies and techniques, such as a new painting process and aluminum spot welding systems, which have not been widely adopted in the automotive industry. Our Model S production model will require significant investments of cash and management resources and we may experience unexpected delays or difficulties that could postpone our ability to launch or achieve full manufacturing capacity for the Model S, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition.

Our production model for the Model S is based on many key assumptions, which may turn out to be incorrect, including:
• that we will be able to identify and secure an appropriate facility for the manufacturing of our Model S;
• that we will be able to secure the funding necessary to build out and equip the manufacturing facilities in a timely manner, including meeting milestones and other conditions necessary to draw down funds under our loan facility with the DOE;
• that we will able to develop and equip the manufacturing facilities for the Model S without exceeding our projected costs and on our projected timeline;
• that the equipment we select will be able to accurately manufacture the vehicle within specified design tolerances;
• that our computer aided design process can reduce the product development time by accurately predicting the performance of our vehicle for passing relevant safety standards, including standards that can only be met through expensive crash testing;
• that we will be able to obtain the necessary permits and approvals, including those under the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as building and air quality permits, to comply with local zoning, environmental and similar regulations to operate our manufacturing facilities and our business on our projected timeline;
• that we will be able to engage suppliers for the necessary components on terms and conditions acceptable to us and that we will be able to obtain components on a timely basis and in the necessary quantities;
• that we will be able to deliver final component designs to our suppliers in a timely manner;
• that we will be able to attract, recruit, hire and train skilled employees, including employees on the production line, to operate our Model S manufacturing facility;
• that we will be able to maintain high quality controls as we transition to an in-house manufacturing process; and
• that we will not experience any significant delays or disruptions in our supply chain.

If one or more of the foregoing assumptions turns out to be incorrect, our ability to successfully launch the Model S on time and on budget if at all, and our business prospects, operating results and financial condition may be materially and adversely impacted.

We have no experience to date in high volume manufacturing of our electric vehicles. We do not know whether we will be able to develop efficient, automated, low-cost manufacturing capability and processes, and reliable sources of component supply, that will enable us to meet the quality, price, engineering, design and production standards, as well as the production volumes required to successfully mass market the Model S. Even if we are successful in developing our high volume manufacturing capability and processes and reliable sources of component supply, we do not know whether we will be able to do so in a manner that avoids significant delays and cost overruns, including as a result of factors beyond our control such as problems with suppliers and vendors, or in time to meet our vehicle commercialization schedules or to satisfy the requirements of customers. Any failure to develop such manufacturing processes and capabilities within our projected costs and timelines could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition.

Given this, and because Tesla has not made any money yet, could a significant delay in the launch of the Model S spell the end of Tesla? Will Elon Musk be willing to continue to fund the operations from his petty cash account? Of course, Tesla was awarded a $465 million loan to develop the Model S by the US government. If they go out of business, will Musk be asked for the taxpayers’ money back? If so, will he use PayPal?

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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The Sharks Begin Circling

28th January 2010

Toyota’s problems seem to multiply everyday. The latest in the saga of Toyota’s quality issues involves other car companies, namely General Motors and Ford. Yesterday, GM added an extra incentive to its existing ones specifically for Toyota and Lexus owners, giving them an extra $1000 which they can apply in three ways: 1. Those who choose to lease a vehicle may waive three payments for up to a total of $1,000. 2. Qualifying customers who are financing a vehicle purchase can receive 0 percent financing for up to 60 months. 3. Cash buyers can receive $1,000 off their purchase. It is noteworthy that GM did not “announce” this new incentive. They didn’t want to appear like they were gloating over Toyota’s situation. Ford followed suit shortly thereafter, but with a twist. Ford’s program targets people who own Honda, Acura, Toyota, Lexus or Scion vehicles that are 1995 models or newer. The owners of eligible vehicles would get $1,000 for trade-in assistance on either a purchase or lease of a new Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicle. That money is stackable on any other incentives already on a Ford Motor product.

In straw #2, the suppler of the pedals in question, CTS, (sort of) fired back at Toyota. Toyota, you might remember, was quick to drive a bus over CTS by naming them as the supplier of the faulty pedals, prompting some reporters (me) to question where the buck stops at Toyota. Mitchell Walorski, head of CTS Corp. investor relations, said the Elkhart, Ind., supplier is not part of the problem. CTS has “no knowledge of any accident or injury” stemming from the accelerator assemblies it supplies Toyota, he said. Walorski told Automotive News that CTS engineers are assisting Toyota, “but this is their recall.” CTS was not consulted about Toyota’s decision to issue the recall or to halt certain vehicles’ sales, he said.

In straw #3, the National Auto Auction Association announced that all of its member auctions would be required to make an announcement concerning the affected vehicles at their auctions. This is regular procedure for any auctions that have issues, and NAAA said Toyota is no different. The reason is simply full disclosure so everybody knows what they are getting. The impact is that Toyota’s residual (resale) values just took an immediate and substantial hit, which will affect trade-in values and, further down the road, lease payments. A lower residual value makes the lease payment higher, absent additional incentives. So lower residuals will hurt sales (especially leasing) or make them more costly to Toyota.

Straw #4 is an update to #3. The NAAA changed course and advised its member auctions to halt the selling of the affected Toyota models until the issues are resolved. This takes the ramifications in #3 and magnifies them significantly.

Straw #5 concerns rentals. All of the largest rental companies –  Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Dollar and Thrifty – all said they would stop renting vehicles covered in the recall.

In Straw #6, Toyota yesterday said it would recall an additional 1.1 million autos in the United States to fix floor mats that may jam accelerator pedals and cause unintended acceleration. The action is an extension of last fall’s recall, in which Toyota recalled 4.3 million vehicles in its largest-ever U.S. safety action. Today’s amended recall involves 2008-10 Highlanders and 2009-2010 Corollas, Venzas, and Matrixes, Toyota said in a statement. The action also covers 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibes made in a joint venture with General Motors Co. This brings the total units recalled for the 2 separate problems to over 6 million.

Lucky Straw #7 goes overseas. Toyota announced that it will extend the recall to an estimated 2 million units in Europe and about 75,000 in China. Let’s see, that now makes over 8 million units worldwide, about the same as Toyota sells worldwide in a year.

For Crazy Straw #8, Ratings agency Fitch, placing Toyota on watch negative, said the recalls and production suspension damaged Toyota’s reputation for quality and could hamper its recovery. If they ultimately lower Toyota’s credit rating, this will make borrowing to fund operations more costly. If it is only a short-term hit, then it will be unlikely to affect Toyota very much, as Toyota has more cash on hand the the pharaohs did.

I wonder if the camel’s back is getting weary yet?

As you might expect, all these straws are having an effect on Toyota’s stock. It has fallen over 15% since last week, reducing the camel’s market capitalization by $25 billion. That’s not going to make the shareholders very happy.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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On the heels of the latest recall of 2.3 million additional vehicles a few days ago, Toyota announced today that it is suspending sales and production of 8 models whose accelerator pedals are the subject of the latest recall. Toyota does not yet have a fix for the problem, so it is taking this step to prevent any more of the vehicles from getting into customers’ hands (and feet) until the problem is corrected.

“Helping ensure the safety of our customers and restoring confidence in Toyota are very important to our company,” said Group Vice President and Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter. “This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized. We’re making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible.”

Toyota’s accelerator pedal recall and suspension of sales is confined to the following Toyota Division vehicles: 2009-2010 RAV4, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2005-2010 Avalon, certain 2007-2010 Camry, 2010 Highlander, 2007-2010 Tundra and 2008-2010 Sequoia.

No Lexus Division or Scion vehicles or other Toyota division models are affected by these actions.

Obviously, if sales are being halted until a resolution is finalized, Toyota wants to stop production of the affected models. Therefore, the following plants in North America are also going to be shut down the week of February 1 to avoid making more units with the problem. Why not halt production right now? Because production schedules are set far in advance and it is very difficult to stop in the middle of a week. In an emergency, they of course could and would stop production. This isn’t an emergency though. The affected plants are Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Canada (Corolla, Matrix, and RAV4), Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (Sequoia and Highlander), Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky – Line 1 (Camry and Avalon), Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. (Camry), Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (Tundra). Shutting down this many facilities will force the shut down of many supplier plants. Toyota did not indicate whether their workers would go on temporary layoff, but Toyota typically does not lay off workers. It will likely reassign the workers to maintenance work and/or training during that week. Workers at Toyota’s many supplier companies will not likely be so lucky.

I keep saying it, but it bears repeating. Toyota has built its entire reputation on its quality. With all of the quality lapses recently, it is only a matter of time until sales start to reflect the damaged reputation. The question is not “if” but “when” and “how much” the sales will be hurt.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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In what has been an ongoing saga worthy of Charlton Heston epic, GM has finally decided that selling Saab for something is better than spending millions to shut it down. Apparently, the GM Board consulted with its economic advisors, who told them, “Getting money is better than spending it.” According to an insider, the board has formed a blue-ribbon committee to find out if this principle can be applied to other parts of the business.

The Swedish government has reviewed the transaction and the related request for guarantees of a Saab Automobile loan that has been requested from the European Investment Bank, and has apparently approved it.  Assuming quick action, the transaction is expected to close in mid-February, and previously announced wind down activities at Saab will be immediately suspended, pending the close of the transaction.

Saab's Upcoming 9-4x Crossover

Saab's Upcoming 9-4x

As part of the agreement, Spyker intends to form a new company, Saab Spyker Automobiles, which will carry the Saab brand forward.  The sale will be subject to customary closing conditions, including receipt of applicable regulatory, governmental and court approvals.  Other terms and conditions specific to the sale will be disclosed in due time.

As part of the deal, GM will get $74 million cash, $326 million of preferred stock, plus some other consideration that GM refused to identify. GM will also continue to provide powertrains, the upcoming 9-4x finished vehicles and engineering services on an ongoing basis. GM will continue to honor warranties until Saab Spyker sets up organizations in markets around the world. No word yet on whether the present plan to close down some of the Saab dealers will proceed under Saab Spyker.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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This is getting very repetitive. Yesterday, Toyota announced that it is recalling ANOTHER 2.3 million units to fix a sticky accelerator pedal. Trade journal Automotive News reported that the newly identified problem is caused by a mechanism that controls the accelerator pedal’s return to the idle position after being pressed to the floor. This problem is unrelated to a similar acceleration problem related to the pedal getting stuck under the floor mats.

Yesterday, Toyota spokesman John Hanson said the problem is rare and stems from pedals that “prematurely wear” because of a supplier’s faulty pedal design. Today he said condensation can prevent the pedal from fully springing back into position, but he did not identify fixes Toyota is reviewing. He also said the issue involves only part supplier CTS, one of the two parts makers that build the pedal mechanisms for Toyota. Interesting how Toyota is blaming its supplier for the problem. Where exactly does the buck stop?

This recall covers 2005-10 Avalons, 2007-10 Camrys and Tundras, 2008-10 Sequoias, 2009-10 Corollas, 2009-10 RAV4s, 2009-10 Matrixes, and 2010 Highlanders.

Toyota (literally) built its reputation in the US based on its “bulletproof” quality. Customers have been known to buy Toyota products only because of the actual and perceived quality advantage over other manufacturers’ products. They gave up other attributes such as style and features and excitement to get the quality. With Toyota now at the top of the US recall list (therefore losing the “actual” part of the equation), one wonders whether those customers will now have any reason to shop at the Toyota store at all. Past slogans such as “Who could ask for anything more!” and “Oh what a feeling!” and “I love what you do for me..Toyota!” take on new meaning with all of Toyota’s recent quality issues.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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Out to make all the other cars green with envy, Chevrolet introduced a new special version of the hot-selling Camaro this week. Dubbed the Camaro Synergy Special Edition, the new Camaro is a 1LT (V6) with a fancy paint job. Along with the fancy green paint job come racing stripes and a special interior, with Synergy Green instrument panel and door inserts. Synergy Green stitching also accents the Jet Black cloth seats, steering wheel, shift knob and center console.

The Special Edition also includes the Camaro Convenience and Connectivity Package, with Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port for MP3 players, and remote vehicle start for models equipped with an automatic transmission.

“The Synergy Special Edition package is designed for customers who want a unique performance car at an attainable price,” says Camaro marketing manager John Fitzpatrick. “For under $27,000, Camaro Synergy Special Edition offers standout styling, modern technologies like Bluetooth, and 304 horsepower under the hood.”

This class of car has always been about more than muscle (although muscle is a vital part); it’s been about fashion as well. That’s why Camaros, Mustangs, Challengers and others are among the most customized vehicles. Everybody wants one that is different from everybody else’s. Manufacturers have gotten in on the act, catering to those who have no interest in doing the customizing themselves, but still want the unique look. This is just the latest example. Ford tried to institutionalize this with their Vehicle Personalization division, which met with mixed success.

Back to this car, which is a great looking addition to the already hot Camaro lineup. Synergy will be produced in limited quantities from February to May only, so get yours today!

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below. Just click on “Comments.” It’s so easy, even you can do it. But not a caveman.

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Ford has the Magic Touch

19th January 2010

For the 3rd year in a row, Ford took advanatge of the platform given by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las vegas to announce a major new product.  Ford is announcing major enhancements to its in-car electronics.  SYNC was the first major electronic feature, and now Ford is taking it another giant leap further.  Called MyTouch, or MyFord Touch in Ford vehicles and MyLincoln Touch in the Lincolns. What this amounts to is a major redesign of the vehicle interior, and a complete redesign of the way information is presented to the driver and how he/she interacts with the vehicle.

MyFord includes an 8″ display in the center stack area that can be customized in three ways, reflecting that some customers are less techno-savvy than others and would be confused by all of the choices. “Quiet” is the setting that has the least information, which is nested in the 4 corners of the display. The majority of the display is devoted to a driver-selected “wallpaper” image. “Smart Corners” has a set of predetermined buttons with the most popular top-level functions. The “Shortcuts” display is fully customized by the customer.

The interface also includes dual 4″ LCD displays on either side of the speedometer which show various vehicle personalization options. The displays are controlled by a 5-way button located on either side of the steering wheel.

Left Side MyFord display

Left Side MyFord display

The left side display shows driver assist settings (on/off choices for traction control, front or rear park assist, etc.), vehicle settings (autolamp delay in seconds, door lock settings, remote start climate control settings, fuel economy, distance to empty, etc.), English/metric settings, and gauge settings (tachometer, tach/fuel, or tach/fuel/water temp).

The right side display contains infotainment information, including audio settings, climate control, phone communications and navigation menus.

MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch also include an array of touch-sensitive switches for those that might get freaked out by the touch screens. They are not true switches, but touch-sensitive “areas” that confirm that you’ve activated it by a beep or a light. One of these is the “MyTemp” function, which automatically sets the temperature to your pre-programmed favorite temperature. This is a bit of a gimmick, but would be useful if somebody else has borrowed your car and changed it.

You might be wondering if you can use all of this cool electronics with a glove on your hand. I asked the

MyLincoln Touch

MyLincoln Touch

Ford engineer and yes, you can use a glove, just not a real thick one. More on this after I get a chance for a full review.

Along with the personalization, MyFord and My Lincoln also afford portability to all of your settings. Selected user settings can be programmed to individual vehicle keys – this part isn’t new or unique. However, the settings can also be downloaded to a USB drive and exported to another MyFord-equipped vehicle, instantly transferring the driver’s preferences. This also might be a bit of a gimmick, but think if you were to rent a car and can instantly tell the car what temperature you like, and all of the other settings discussed above.

Another advantage of this system is it allows navigation to be an inexpensive upgrade, because the large touchscreen is already in the car. The upgrade is in the form of an SD card with the maps and software on it. Just plug it in and go!

The MyTouch innovation has the potential to really elevate Ford’s reputation – and sales. This is true innovation. Time will tell if the customers agree and appreciate it. I think it is a game-changer, and will likely be copied by other manufacturers as soon as they can.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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How to Adjust Your Mirrors

16th January 2010

I ran across this technique years ago and have been using it ever since.  It truly works, and will make you a safer driver.  One caveat, though. You will no longer see the side of your car out of your side mirrors, so this will likely result in a little adjustment period until you are comfortable with it.

If everybody does this, the term “blind spot” will go the way of 8 Track tapes. Click the link below.

areyourcarmirrorsadjustedcorrectly

After you try it, post a comment to let others know how well you like it.

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Well, here it is, the 2010 NAIAS. Welcome to Detroit! Just to keep you interested, we now have a sane Detroit City Council, a mayor who’s not in jail, AND neither the Red Wings or Pistons is in first place this year! To lighten the mood from all the bad news, the management of NAIAS decided to entertain the crowds with a special performance by GM Chairman and CEO “Big Ed” Whitacre and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne at the Charity Preview Friday night. Many of the rest of the industry CEOs also appear in the show. See if you can find them. This is an unauthorized video of the dress rehearsal.

2010 NAIAS Must-See Cars and Trucks

General Motors

  • Chevy Aveo RS Concept – hints at the next-gen small car from the bowtie crowd.  The concept has the same 1.4L turbo I-4 engine making 138hp that will power the upcoming Chevy Cruze later this year.  It has 19″ wheels and boy-racer styling that shows off the customizing potential of the new Aveo, which debuts in 2011.
  • Chevy Cruze – first showing of the production version in Detroit.  This might be GM’s most significant launch in years, as GM has neglected the small car segment for a long time.  GM figures the Cruze will change its fortunes.  It looks good, but time (and the customers) will tell. It’s already a hit overseas.
  • Buick Regal and Regal GS “Concept” – oddly, the first GM division to have a product that I really want is Buick.  This is a sporty, midsize sedan with a great motor and a manual tranny and all-wheel drive. The standard engine at launch is the 2.4L I-4 (automatic only) already used in other GM products.  Later this year, the turbo 2.0L will be available with auto or manual tranny.  What’s not to like…errr, besides the name Buick?  I’m not one to care too much about badges (Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!), so this will be high on my list for my next car.  Buick wanted this car ASAP, so initially, it will be imported from Germany.  Production shifts to Oshawa, Ontario first quarter, 2011.
  • GMC Granite – this little guy is a 2 feet shorter than the new Terrain – GMC’s smallest entry – at 161″ (4.1m).  It’s a boxy SUV-like thing.  Seems to be aimed at Scion xB/Kia Soul customers.  GM says, “We think of the Granite as the automotive equivalent of an urban loft apartment.  The exterior has an unmistakable industrial look, but the interior is warm and personalized.”  I think this might be stretching the GMC “Truck” brand a bit too far.
  • Cadillac CTS Coupe – first showing in Detroit of the production version of the CTS, which GM showed as a concept last year.  Just as striking in production form, the coupe, along with the sedan and wagon, completes the CTS portfolio.  The only remaining piece would be a convertible.  Are you listening Bryan Nesbitt?
  • Cadillac CTS-V Coupe – the body of the CTS Coupe (above) and the soul of the CTS-V sedan already on the roads.  Same powertrain at the CTS-V sedan, but it’s worth repeating: 556 horsepower/551 lb.-ft. of torque from a supercharged 6.2L V8, it is the most powerful engine offered in Cadillac’s history and propels the CTS-V Coupe from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds.
  • Cadillac XTS Platinum “Concept” – Cadillac calls this a concept, but it really isn’t. This is the replacement for both the STS and DTS sedans in Caddy’s lineup.  It has beautiful lines and proportions, which will give Caddy a credible competitor in the large premium segment for the first time in many years.  It’s big (203″/5170mm) but doesn’t seem so big.  It is powered by a plug-in hybrid system mated to a 3.6L V6 motor.

Ford

  • Focus – goes into production late this year and goes on sale early 2011 in NA and Europe.  Available in 4-door sedan and 5-door hatch models, the new Focus looks great! The styling is excellent, and the front-end has a certain familiarity.  Hmmmmm, what could it be?  It will have a revised 2.0L I4 engine that is 20% more powerful and 10% more efficient than its predecessor.
  • Fiesta – shown before, but this was my first opportunity to sit in one.  This ain’t your father’s econobox.  Push-button start, USB and aux inputs, heated seats, accent-lighted cupholders, 1.6L I-4 engine that will get 40 mpg on the highway.  Cons?  Just two noticed – the back seat is very cramped for an adult.  Kids only for anything longer than a short trip. Also, the trunk has the old-style gooseneck hinges – watch out for your stuff when you close it!
  • 2011 Ford Mustang – not much new visually, but the 2011 Stang sports a pair of new engines. The 5.0 is back! The Mustang GT will have 412 HP and still get 25 MPG on the highway, while the new V6 is over 300 horsepower and 30 MPG on the highway.
  • 2011 Super Duty – introduced last September at the Texas State Fair, the Super Duty features new but familiar styling.  The big news is the new 6.7L Power Stroke Diesel engine.  Ford claims class-leading fuel economy, though because it is in the Super Duty, which isn’t required to post fuel economy figures on the label, we won’t really know, will we?  The truck also has the Ford Work Solutions package and the all-new heavy-duty TorqShift® six-speed automatic transmission.
  • F-150 Platinum – the new F-150 has been shown before, but this Platinum version, which was supposed to be the Mark LT before that vehicle was cancelled, is over $50-large!  Holy crap!
  • 2011 Lincoln MKX – world debut for the freshened luxury crossover.  Gone is the silly “egg crate” grille, replaced by the Lincoln “split-wing” grille.  It’s a welcome change.  Also welcome is the engine upgrade.  A 3.7L V6 replaces the 3.5L, giving you 305 hp/280 lb.-ft. of torque, up from 265/250.  Lincoln claims both figures are best-in-class, along with class-leading 25 MPG highway. The MKX will be the first product with the MyTouch system, which allows you to control and personalize many of the car’s functions from touch screens. The Slandy Report will have a separate report/review on that soon.
  • Volvo C30 electric – like some others, this isn’t anything interesting to look at, but Volvo probably figures they better have some environmentally-friendly entry on the floor or they’ll be left out when Ford sells them to Geely.
  • Active Park Assist Demo – tucked in the corner of Cobo behind the Lincoln display, Ford has a demo of its Active Park Assist system.  They use hybrid Escapes and Mariners so there are no emissions, and the system works awesome.  Do yourself a favor and at least go watch it, even if the line is too long to participate.

Chrysler

  • The most interesting thing about the Chrysler display is that there is almost nothing interesting. That might be a bit harsh. They are showing the Ram brand separate from the Dodge brand for the first time (but there are no new models to look at for either brand). And if “Ram” is the new brand for the trucks, why do they still say “Dodge” on them?
  • Fiat, Maserati and Ferrari are all with Chrysler this year, reflecting the equity stake Fiat took last year. Maybe they should have a sign that says, “Under New Management”. I have to say, the Italian models (both the 4 wheeled and 2 legged varieties) were the best things to look at here. I think this is the first showing of the Fiat 500 in Detroit.  Go check it out.  It’s cute.
  • Jeep says they are introducing 3 new “models” at the show, but it’s really just a few new trim packages.  There is a Liberty Renegade and Wrangler Islander and Mountain editions.  Nice to look at, but when Mike Manley (what a perfect name for the president of Jeep) calls them new models, that’s overstating a bit.
  • Even the 1 Chrysler concept, a small crossover from Chrysler, is unnamed and the nice young lady posing with it had no knowledge of it at all.  When I asked her about the name or some details about it, all she said was, “It’s a concept.”  Wow.  Thanks for that help.  But do go see it; it’s nice looking (and so is she).  Funny side note: a man with a camera tried to get her attention for a picture.  She naturally thought that he wanted her to pose with the vehicle.  After all, that’s why she’s there.  Nope.  He wanted her to move out of the way so he could get a better picture of the vehicle.  Oops.  Only in Detroit.  Wait…breaking news! One of my moles read The Slandy Report and tells me that the Chrysler “concept” isn’t really a concept at all. It’s a rebadged Lancia Delta from Fiat. Chrysler is apparently considering bringing the Delta to North America. They still could have given it a name for the show, and told somebody about it.

Toyota

  • Toyota Sienna – all-new 3rd generation adds a 2.7L 4-cylinder engine and a new SE sporty model. The 2.7L delivers 187hp/186 lb-ft of torque and 10% better fuel economy than the V6. Toyota calls it all-new, but unless a minivan is really all-new, it’s usually hard to tell one from the others. It’s a nice update, but it will be hard for most to tell the difference.  Except the SE, which really does give the Sienna a sporty look, to go along with the lowered and sporty suspension and larger wheels.
  • Toyota 4Runner – Toyota calls the 4Runner all-new as well, but it looks like it’s just a nice update. It’s interesting how Toyota outlasts other competitors.  Ford and GM are abandoning the “real” midsize SUV market, but Toyota stays in.  Same with minivans, above. Base prices range from $27,500 to $39,800.
  • Toyota FT-CH Concept – Toyota is showing this hybrid concept which is a cute little 5-door. The interesting thing is that its profile looks just like a Mazda3 5-door. Take a look and let me know if you agree.
  • Lexus LF-A – Let’s see.  $350,000 – lease only to prevent gouging. 4.8L V10 making 552hp/354 lb-ft of torque. Top speed = 202mph. 0-60 in 3.6 seconds. Lexus calls this a supercar, and it’s hard to argue. It’s hot and will be scorching roads near you soon. Maybe. Only 500 will be made, and only 20 per month, max. Each V10 engine will be hand-built by a single engineer and bear his signature.
  • Lexus GX460 – if there’s a new 4Runner, there must also be a new GX. See above.
  • Lexus LF-CH – see Toyota FT-CH, above. Including the Mazda comment.

Volkswagen

  • VW CC R-Line – this is a visual-only differentiation from the “regular” CC, which is a great-looking car. Others use the “R” designation to indicate speed enhancement. Not VW, apparently. Will John Fogerty sing the jingle?
  • VW New Compact Coupe (NCC) – this concept is really nice design, as most VWs are. It’s powered by a TSI engine, and electric motor and a 7-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). All this yields a 0-60 time of 8.1, top speed of 141 MPH and 45 MPG combined.
  • Audi A8 – all-new version of Audi’s flagship sedan. The exterior is beautiful, and the interior is maybe even more so, as you might expect from Audi. It will launch with a choice of 4.2L V8 engines – 1 gas (372hp/328 lb-ft of torque) and one Diesel (350/590!). Both will have direct injection. A 3.0L V6 Diesel will follow later, yielding 250/406, will get 36 combined MPG. Even later, a detuned V6 Diesel with 204HP will get 39 combined MPG, but drive only the front wheels. All other versions will have Quattro AWD standard. And the only transmission will be an 8-speed auto.
  • Audi e-tron concept electric sports car – I wish all these automakers would stop teasing us and just come out with these electric cars that are going to save the planet already! This one’s great-looking, and bears more than just a passing resemblance to the Audi TT.

Honda

  • 2011 Honda CR-Z – going on sale this summer, the CR-Z is the spiritual successor to the cult favorite CR-X from the 1980s. It’s also the first hybrid with a manual, which is expected to get 31/37 MPG. An optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) will get 36/38. Think of it as a sport coupe version of the Honda Insight.
  • Honda Crosstour – this is a Honda Accord with a big butt. It’s part of an annoying new “trend” in the me-too auto industry, where even the stupidest trend gets copied. Automakers are always looking for “white space”, which means an area in which there are no competitors. Sometimes, white space is “identified” where there really is none. Unfortunately, Honda has chosen to follow this trend twice, see below.
  • Acura ZDX – see Honda Crosstour

BMW

  • BMW 5 Series GT – also seems to be part of the Crosstour/ZDX trend. Has a clever hatch/trunk that opens all the way from a top hinge and part of the way from a lower hinge that only opens a cubbie-like opening.
  • BMW Active E Concept – this is a 1-Series with an electric motor.  Not much interesting to look at, but shows that BMW intends to play to the green crowd.
  • BMW Z4 sDrive35is – world debut of the newest and fastest version of the Z4 roadster. Not much new to look at, but goes 0-60 in 4.8 seconds and still gets 26 combined MPG. Impressive.
  • BMW is also showing a hybrid 7 Series and a hybrid X6.
  • Interesting side note – for the 2nd year in a row, there are no BMWs on the floor with a proper manual tranny.  None!  Once again, I call for a vote on whether they will be allowed to call themselves “the Ultimate Driving Machine” ever again.
  • Mini Beachcomber Concept – a fun-looking package that portends a modern-day dune buggy. The production version will actually have doors and will be called the Mini Countryman.
Hyundai
  • Hyundai Sonata – all-new and any auto manufacturer that isn’t worried isn’t paying attention. The Sonata is really good looking and packed with new features. It has standard direct injection engine and bluetooth. HD Radio and heated rear seats are available. Hyundai also dropped the V6 engine, figuring that the 2.4L I-4 direct injection engine, making 198hp and getting 23/35 MPG would satisfy everybody. They’re probably right.
  • Hyundai Equus – this is Hyundai’s new flagship. What’s that, you thought they just introduced a new flagship called the Genesis? You’re right, but now there’s a new one. This is a limo in Korea. It has a 4.6L V8 engine, a ridiculously roomy rear seat and a ridiculous hood ornament. But it’s really nice.
  • Hyundai Blue Will Concept – plug-in hybrid concept car that will supply the powertrain for the Sonata hybrid due late this year. Uses an advanced lithium polymer battery. The concept says Lithium Ion, but I was told that it’s really the polymer battery that they’re using. The charging port is cool, in that it pops out of the front grill where the Hyundai logo is located.
Mercedes-Benz
  • E-Class Cabriolet – together with the new sedan and coupe makes a beautiful family. It will come in E350 and E550 guises. Standard equipment includes the AIRCAP, which reduces air turbulence, and the AIRSCARF system, which directs warm air to your neck area, to keep your neck warm like a scarf, get it? Coming next, M-B will supply customers with a masseuse to rub your back when you get to your destination.
  • SLS AMG – recession, what recession? 563 ponies, 479 lb-ft, 2 gull-wing doors, 7-speed transmission and 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. No word yet on pricing, but you might need your own personal bailout to buy it. Of course, if you need to go to Washington to ask for the money, you could drive this. It will get you there faster than the corporate jet anyway.
Jaguar Land Rover
  • Jaguar XJ – new to Detroit, this is the new flagship from Jaguar. The front-end styling is like the XF, and the rear resembles the rear of the Lincoln MKS. It will come in 2 lengths, each with 3 versions (XJ, XJ Supercharged and XJ Supersport). All have 5.0L V8 engines. The XJ makes 385hp, the Supercharged makes 470hp and the Supersport (special order only) makes 510hp. Base prices range from $72,500 for the XJ to $115,000 for the XJL Supersport. They are beautiful, inside and out, as a Jaguar should be.
  • Land Rover LR4 – this is a new version of the LR3, which in turn was a revised Discovery. Revised styling makes it look more like the Range Rover. Shares the 5.0L engine with Jaguar. Base prices range from $48,100 to $59,200. Can’t say much, as I didn’t even notice it as I walked by.
Others
  • Mazda2 – the 2 is built on the same platform as the Ford Fiesta, but will be imported from Japan, while the Fiesta is made in Mexico for North American customers. Why? No idea, but it seems a little inefficient. Also, while the 2 comes in a 3-door and 5-door in other markets (and the Fiesta comes in many bodystyles around the world, including a 5-door hatch and 4-door sedan in the US), we will have to be satisfied with only the 5-door here.
  • Lotus Evora – a 2+2 from Lotus! Now I can take my kids go-karting! Using the words civilized and Lotus in the same sentence seems weird, but the Evora comes close to making it real. Like other Lotuses (Loti?), it has unique styling that will not appeal to everybody, but I like it.
  • Tesla Model S – the long-awaited family car from the electric car maker is almost here! I asked a Tesla employee if it is a 4 or 5-seater, and the answer was 7. Huh? Yes, it has a rear-facing seat for 2 like an old-style station wagon. When it comes out, it will have a 300 mile range, 0-60 in 5.6, a top speed of 130 and a projected price of $49,900.
  • Subaru Hybrid Tourer – pretty nice looking for a Subaru, but the car just shows off the technology that Subaru intends to use on a production hybrid to be launched in 2012.
  • BYD e6 – BYD is back again this year, again telling us that they will be coming to the US market with electric and hybrid vehicles – by the end of this year. The e6 is an electric “family-oriented crossover” that has a top speed of 87 and goes 0-60 in “<14 seconds”. Perhaps part of the problem is that it weighs over 5000 lbs! Still, BYD sold 450,000 cars in China last year, up 160% from 2008, and they plan to sell 800,000 this year. Watch out!

  • Electric Avenue – this is a new feature for NAIAS. About 20 vehicles are on display from an eclectic assortment of manufacturers. I kept waiting for Eddy Grant’s performance, but alas, he didn’t show up. Kids, ask your parents what that means. And then we’ll take it higher…
  • MEDC ECOXperience has a ¼-mile track to test drive some of the latest environmentally-friendly vehicles. Careful, though. They make you blow into a breathalyzer before they let you behind the wheel. See comment below in the awards. Scheduled vehicles include: Audi A3 TDI, Audi Q7 TDI, BYD e6, Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid, Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell, Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid, Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, Commuter Cars Tango, CT&T eZone, EV Innovations 2010 LiV WISE, Ford Escape Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, GEM E4, GMC Yukon Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz B-Class Fuel Cell, Mercedes-Benz ML 450 Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid, Mercury Mariner Hybrid, Mercury Milan Hybrid, Mitsubishi iMiEV, Smart Car2go, Think City

The Slandy Awards® 2010

Slandy Best in Show Ford Focus
Honorable Mention: Lincoln MKX, Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, Cadillac XTS, Lexus LFA, VW NCC Concept, Tesla Model S, Jaguar XJ, Hyundai Sonata, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
WATT?/Most Annoying New Trend (A combined award this year, as this crop of crap fits both categories): Honda Accord Crosstour, Acura ZDX, Toyota Venza, BMW X6, BMW 550i GT
Lamest Corporate Display: Chrysler. They could have at least rolled out some concepts that we’ve seen before. Me thinks the cupboard is bare.
Best Overheard Quote: Dr. David Cole, of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), said that the automotive industry multiplier is now 10, up from 7. For you non-economists out there, the multiplier is the number of jobs an automotive job spawns in the economy. I think that the nearly 50% increase is mostly due to the reduction in automotive jobs, not an increase in the number of created jobs elsewhere. Nevertheless, this shows how important the automotive industry is to the overall North American economy and our way of life.
Best Conversation I Would Have Paid to Hear (or Best Candidate for a Caption Contest): GM Vice Chairman Bob “Global Warming is a crock of (poop)” Lutz and Tesla CEO Elon Musk walked the show together (it was staged for an upcoming movie by the same guy who produced “Who Killed the Electric Car?” The new one is called, “Revenge of the Electric Car”)


Best Models: Chrysler, especially its Italian cousins. BTW, the car on the right is the unnamed Chrysler concept crossover.


Best Food: a repeat winner. VW knows how to entertain the press! I had a turkey caesar salad, Asian Salmon, an apple fritter for dessert and enough white wine to almost make me ineligible to drive in the ECOXperience hours later!

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Ford sweeps car & truck honors

11th January 2010

Ford swept the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards announced today at the opening of preview week of the North American International Auto Show. The Ford Fusion Hybrid beat out the Buick Lacrosse and Volkswagen GTI for the car award, while the Ford Transit Connect beat the Chevrolet Equinox and Subaru Outback on the truck side.

The Ford Fusion Hybrid ups the ante on fuel economy in the midsize segment, achieving 41 MPG in the city, according to the EPA.  The entire Fusion line also benefitted from an extensive mid-cycle makeover this year, which also is helping sales.

The Transit Connect is a small delivery van that Ford is importing from Europe, at least for now.  This type of van sells very well overseas, and Ford is betting that North American customers will also see the benefit of a small, fuel-efficient van for businesses like floral delivery and plumbers.

This is only the third time in 17 years that these awards have been swept by a single manufacturer, and is further evidence that Ford’s product makeover is gaining traction.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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