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The Chevy Volt, due out late this year, is being produced in small quantities for testing and evaluation at the company’s Hamtramck Assembly plant in Detroit. Before it was even ready for that step, it was produced at the preproduction facility at GM’s Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. GM gave the National Geographic Channel full access to the preproduction center. NatGeo takes you through the whole process, from creating molds to stamping, welding, painting and final assembly and trim. The videos below make up the whole show. While watching, keep in mind that this is where GM tests its production process. Most of the manual processes you will see do not happen in the “regular” assembly process.

If you’ve never been in a car factory, this show will give you a great idea of the immense complexity of the modern automobile. And as complex as an everyday car is, the Chevy Volt is much more complex. If you have been in a car factory, this will still be very interesting.  Enjoy!

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Toyota’s image took another hit today, as Consumer Reports magazine recommended that customers avoid the Lexus GX460 SUV. The model was redesigned for the 2010 model, and that is the only model affected by the magazine’s recommendation. CR believes the problem is in the calibration of the electronic stability control (ESC) system. CR testing revealed that the vehicle could roll over under certain, common driving situations. Specifically, when driven into a curve too fast and the driver lifts off of the gas pedal (not a panic braking or sudden swerve), the ESC will not intervene until the vehicle is almost sideways, according to CR. Under these circumstances, the vehicle could rollover. CR also pointed out that there are no actual reports of such an occurrence, but the risk is there. The Toyota Pathfinder, which is mechanically similar, was not found to have the same issue, lending credibility to the calibration idea. Click on the video to see the actual test.

Some have blamed the government for some of Toyota’s recent quality issues, saying that because the US government owns GM and Chrysler, they have purposely damaged Toyota’s quality reputation in order to improve GM and Chrysler’s sales. I do not subscribe to this idea, and it should be noted that Consumer’s Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is not part of nor controlled by the US government.

Lexus responded quickly, issuing a stop sale order to its dealers. They plan to evaluate the SUV using CR’s testing methods to see if they agree that there is an issue. Obviously, they will fix whatever they find. Note that the government is not involved at all (yet), and this is not a recall.

Toyota needs to get out of the spotlight, and quickly. I had just thought the other day that it had been a while since any bad news had come out about them. Now this. The longer they stay in the (negative) spotlight, the more damage will be done and the longer it will take them to repair the damage. Americans forget quickly, but we haven’t had the chance to forget. Heck, if we all developed ADHD, we would still have Toyota’s issue top of mind.

Lexus issued the following press releases today:

Early this morning:  “We’re concerned with the results of Consumer Reports testing on the Lexus GX 460 and their suggested buyer recommendation.  Our engineers conduct similar tests and we feel these procedures provide a good indication of how our vehicles will perform in the real-world; however, we will try to duplicate the Consumer Reports’ test to determine if appropriate steps need to be taken.  Please keep in mind that the 2010 GX 460 meets or exceeds all federal government testing requirements.  Customer safety and satisfaction remain our highest priorities.  We take the Consumer Reports’ test results seriously and appreciate Consumer Reports bringing it to our attention.”
12 hours later:  “For more than 20 years, Lexus has made customer safety and satisfaction our highest priorities.  We are taking the situation with the GX 460 very seriously and are determined to identify and correct the issue Consumer Reports identified. At this time we have asked our dealers to temporarily suspend sales of the 2010 GX 460.
Lexus’ extensive vehicle testing provides a good indication of how our vehicles perform and we are confident that the GX meets our high safety standards.  Our engineering teams are vigorously testing the GX using Consumer Reports’ specific parameters to identify how we can make the GX’s performance even better.
For any customer who has purchased a 2010 GX 460 and is concerned about driving their vehicle, we will provide a loaner car until a remedy is available.
As always, Lexus is committed to providing our customers with outstanding products and service.”
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2010 New York Auto Show

2nd April 2010

Here are the major introductions from the 2010 New York Auto Show:

2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class gets a new front end, which makes it look better, but I still think this is an example of M-B thinking it can make anything and we will buy it.

2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sportwagon – 3rd time’s a charm, right? This is the 3rd version of the CTS-V, following the sedan and coupe. I don’t think that they will sell many, especially in the US, but this product is clearly intended for European tastes. Americans don’t like wagons very much, but think of it this way: with 556 HP from the supercharged, 6.2L V8, you won’t have to be in it very long.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon

2011 Chevrolet Cruze – yeah, yeah, we’ve all seen the Cruze before, but Chevrolet wants us to keep thinking about it leading up to its introduction later this year. Rumors have been around for some time that the Cruze will get 40 MPG; now we find out how. The Cruze Eco will use fascia shutters to close off openings in the front fascia to improve aerodynamics, a special axle ratio and lower rolling resistance tires to eek out every possible bit of fuel economy without resorting to a stripped-down model that lacks features that customers want. Chevrolet is also showing the Cruze RS, which gives the Cruze a sportier appearance, but alas, no performance improvement.

2011 Scion iQ – not to be confused with the Aston Martin Cygnet, this is Toyota’s answer to the Smart car. If it has a high iQ, is it even Smarter? Scion boss Jack Hollis said it is Mini-er and Smart-er than the competition. Oh, those crazy Toyota execs.

2011 Scion iQ

2011 Scion iQ

2011 Scion tC – Scion also showed the revised tC coupe with revised styling and a bigger, more powerful engine (2.5L, 180HP/173 torque vs. 2.4L, 161/162)

2011 Scion tC

2011 Scion tC

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon – after adding the 3.5L V6 to the TSX sedan, Acura now treats us to a wagon. But the wagon will not have the V6; it will have to make do with the 2.4L I4, which makes no sense at all. The wagon is likely heavier than the sedan, and they went to all the bother of adding the word “Sport” in the name. But no V6? Adding insult to injury, the wagon will not offer the manual tranny from the sedan either. Some “sport” wagon! What they did keep is the guillotine-like grille, which is cutting-edge styling, but not attractive.

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Turbo – after showing us the base model in Detroit, Hyundai now introduces the bookends of the line. The hybrid will get 37 MPG city, 39 highway, almost equalling the best-in-class Fusion hybrid. It can also travel up to 62 MPH on electric only, which beats the Fusion. The turbo has a direct-injected, 2.0L turbo that delivers 274 HP and 269 lb-ft of torque. Heady numbers from an engine that size. And it does it on regular unleaded.

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid – does to the Z what the hybrid has already done to the Fusion. Same hybrid system, and will get the same 41 City MPG and electric-only top speed of 47. This is the first hybrid for Lincoln, and its first 4 cylinder engine ever.

2011 Nissan Juke – first revealed at the Geneva show, Nissan announced that the Juke will get a 1.6L, direct-injected, turbo engine. I know what the word Juke means, and it seems a nice name for a small crossover like this. However, I don’t think that Nissan really thought this one through completely. It seems obvious what people will call it who aren’t fans. The Nissan Joke? How about the Nissan Puke? Based on its looks, I’ll go (with) Puke.

2011 Nissan Juke

2011 Nissan Juke

2011 Infiniti QX56 – on sale this summer, the new QX56 is more powerful (up 80HP to 400) and will get 10% better fuel economy. The looks of the QX have always seemed awkward to me, and the new one doesn’t break that trend. It looks like it is trying to be an SUV limo.

2011 Infiniti QX56

2011 Infiniti QX56

2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport – Suzuki just launched the nice-looking but poorly named Kizashi (gesundheit!), and now they add some pizzazz to the equation with this sport model. There’s no performance upgrades, other than a slight tweak to the suspension, but the sport certainly looks like it will go fast. It has a revised fron fascia, lower ride height, rocker moldings and special 18″ wheels. Looks good – even better than the base model – though the styling more than just reminds me of a Volkswagen.

2011 Suzuki Kazashi Sport

2011 Suzuki Kizashi Sport

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee – the new Jeep goes into production in early May, but Chrysler has decided NOT to show the production version at any auto show yet. They showed it in concept form at last year’s NY Auto Show. The standard reason to not show new vehicles is that you wouldn’t want to hurt the current model’s sales. But guys…come on…you’re going to start making it 1 month after the NY Show opens! Wouldn’t you like a little…you know…FREE publicity?

2011 Kia Optima – the Optima has been a nice, if not exciting product…up to now. The 2011 model will change all that, with an all-new design. Kia calls the design language “tiger” and there is a certain feline appearance to it. There will be 3 engine choices, including Kia’s first-ever hybrid. 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions will be available. I’ve said in this space before that most every Korean model’s design is derivative from somebody else’s. The Optima continues that tradition, looking like some kind of Lexus from the back. Nevertheless, this is a really nice-looking car that will surely gain Kia some new fans.

2011 Kia Optima

2011 Kia Optima

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