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Relax, your Volt isn’t going to spontaneously combust as your drive to Grandma’s house. The sky isn’t falling. Fox News has its head up its…butt.

Despite the bad press, which was only that and not a real-world issue, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a statement today saying that it closed the investigation into the Volt because they found “…no discernible defect…exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.” See below for the entire statement from NHTSA.

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the following statement today regarding the conclusion of its safety defect investigation into the post-crash fire risk of Chevy Volts (PE11037):

Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its safety defect investigation into the potential risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been involved in a serious crash. Opened on November 25, the agency’s investigation has concluded that no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.

NHTSA remains unaware of any real-world crashes that have resulted in a battery-related fire involving the Chevy Volt or any other electric vehicle. NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers. However, as the reports released in conjunction with the closure of the investigation today indicate, fires following NHTSA crash tests of the vehicle and its battery components—and the innovative nature of this emerging technology—led the agency to take the unusual step of opening a safety defect investigation in the absence of data from real-world incidents.

Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. Generally all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash. However, electric vehicles have specific attributes that should be made clear to consumers, the emergency response community, and tow truck operators and storage facilities. Recognizing these considerations, NHTSA has developed interim guidance—with the assistance of the National Fire Protection Association, the Department of Energy, and others—to increase awareness and identify appropriate safety measures for these groups. The agency expects this guidance will help inform the ongoing work by NFPA, DOE, and vehicle manufacturers to educate the emergency response community, law enforcement officers, and others about electric vehicles.

For additional information on the Volt investigation and others, visit www.SaferCar.gov

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2012 Detroit Auto Show

14th January 2012

5000 international journalists in town? Check. Dozens of world premiers? Check. All of the cars spiffed up and ready for their debuts? Check. Must be time for a cold snap and some snow! Welcome to the 2012 North American International Auto Show, or as we call it here at The Slandy Report, The Detroit Auto Show. Read on for all of the must-see cars and trucks this year!

General Motors
Cadillac ATS
– Caddy finally has a legitimate small car that can rival the best of the world – at least on paper. On sale this summer, the ATS features 3 engine choices (2.5L I-4 with 202HP, 2.0L I-4 Turbo with 270HP and a 3.6L V6 with 320HP), auto and manual (only with the turbo) trannies and RWD or AWD. It is designed to compete with the BMW 3-Series and other small luxury cars (Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class). It’s almost the exact same size as the new 3-Series sedan (see below), so a showdown appears imminent.
Chevrolet Sonic RS– you might think that the Sonic RS means that it’s the hot-rod of the lineup, and that’s probabbly what Chevy wants you to think. Sadly, though, it’s mostly just an appearance package, albeit a nice one. It has an upgraded interior, including sport seats, thicker sport steering wheel and aluminum pedals. It also includes four-wheel discs, stiffer suspension and a retuned exhaust, a unique front fascia with a new grille and fog lamps, a new spoiler and rocker moldings, a chrome exhaust tip, and unique wheels.
Chevrolet Tru 140S and Code 130R Concepts– these are both coupes that Chevrolet design crafted over 12 months of interviews and research with Millennials (age 11 to 30) to find out what they want in (or even if they want) a Chevrolet. They both have a 1.4L Turbo with eAssist (mild hybrid). Tru 140S is a front wheel drive that looks way too much like a Mitsubishi Eclipse, but is not unattractive. The Code 130R is more interesting, with cues from Camaro and Malibu, but incorporates them into a new, unique look. It is rear wheel drive. Both are concepts, meaning they are not slated for production anytime soon. Curious, then, that the General chose to list certain features as “optional” in the press material.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu – a minor update visually, but it makes a nice improvement. The rear takes on a Camaro-like presence. The interior of the top of the line LTZ model is particularly nice.
2013 Chevrolet Spark – despite the small stature and weird colors, this is not a toy car. It really works. It’s even bigger than a Fiat 500. Cute. Electric version is also in the works.
Chevrolet MiRay concept – sleek sports car. It has a mid-engine, 1.4L Turbo motor, plus 2 electric motors. Batman’s Chevrolet.
2013 Buick Encore – very small new crossover with a 1.4L Turbo and a 6-speed auto tranny. Front or all-wheel drive. Expected to get 30MPG on the highway. It’s the Enclave’s little brother.
2013 Cadillac XTS – shown here before, this is now the actual production version. Great lines, and has a presence that will command attention on the road. Powered by a 3.6L V6 and comes in front or all-wheel drive.

Chrysler/Fiat
2013 Dodge Dart– all-new entry based on the award-winning Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Dart combines world-class European architecture with Dodge’s design and attitude. Dodge hasn’t had an entry in the compact car segment for a while, so the Dart is a welcome addition. In addition to great style, the Dart should be a great drive as well. 3 I-4 engine choices (2.0L with 160 HP and 145 lb-ft of torque, 1.4L Turbo with 160/184 and a 2.4L with 184/171), 3 transmissions (6-speed manual, 6-speed auto and 6-speed dual dry clutch), 12 exterior colors, 14 interior trim combos, 6 wheel choices. It will have the 8.4″ touch screen from other Chrysler products and a smart phone app like other products are starting to have. I think Dodge has a winner on its hands – if it can execute the launch flawlessly. Customers are still skeptical of Chrysler, and they won’t need much reason to reject the Dart if there are any problems.
Chrysler 700C Concept – preview of next-gen minivan? Chrysler says no, it’s just a styling exercise. It certainly is interesting to look at. Complex lines. Looks part Mercedes-Benz R-Class from the back. It definitely doesn’t look like any minivan I’ve seen.
Ram is showing a Red Wings edition of its 1500 pickup. Limited appeal, for sure, but Go Wings!
Fiat 500 Abarth – this scorpion-laced version of the little 500 is “small but wicked”. It has a 170HP turbo version of the 500’s basic 1.4L engine. The nice lady showing it off does justice to the other nice lady in the commercial/video for the Abarth. Google it. Trust me.
Maserati Kubang – not the best name in the world, and you might think, “Why does Maserati want to sell an SUV?” The answer might be, “Well, Porsche is selling one, why can’t Maserati?” and that’s good enough for me. The Kubang is actually built on the mechanicals of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but powered by a Ferrari engine. The looks are all Maserati, which is to say, awesome.

Ford
2013 Ford Fusion– the Fusion has consistently been one of Ford’s best selling vehicles since its introduction in 2005, and the 2013 should only enhance its appeal. It looks great and ups the ante in the midsize segment with class-leading powertrains and fuel economy. Ford dropped the V6 option, so all of the engines are of the 4-cylinder variety. This saves weight in the structure, which allows more efficient architecture and allows other components to be smaller and lighter (like the brakes). This follows the example from the Hyundai Sonata. The base engine is a 2.5L (170HP/170 torque), and is joined by 1.6L EcoBoost (179/172/26 city/37 highway) and 2.0 EcoBoost (237/250) engines, a hybrid (185/130/47 city/44 highway) and the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid (>100 MPGe – better than the plug-in Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt). A manual will continue to be available, but only with the 1.6 Turbo. AWD will also continue, but only with the 2.0 Turbo. On sale late fall, and will be sold in other markets around the world as the new Mondeo.
2013 Ford Escape– already shown in LA, the Escape is all-new with a look previewed last year by the Vertrek concept. It’s an attractive, but somewhat busy design, and it looks more like something from Hyundai or Kia than from Ford. It has the same gas engines as the new Fusion, so no V6 here either. It also has Ford’s “hands-free liftgate” feature, which opens the liftgate by waving your foot under the rear bumper. Pretty cool.
2013 Focus ST – 247HP in a small package from the 2.0L EcoBoost. Has a big, bold black grille. Nice.
C-Max – “regular” hybrid or plug-in (“Energi”) hybrid versions. It’s like a tall Focus wagon. The plug-in has a special quick charging system. The battery takes up some of the cargo area in both versions, forcing the load floor to be higher by 8″-9″ in the Energi and ~4″ in the hybrid.
Lincoln MKZ “Concept” – not really a concept. Sources tell me that it is 80-85% production intent, including the glass roof. Nice update. The Lincoln display area is very cool as well, separated from the rest of the show by a big fence/wall. Very striking.

Volkswagen
2013 Jetta Hybrid– this is VW’s first hybrid, making VW among the last to offer this technology. Combined fuel economy is estimated at 45MPG. It has a 1.4L Turbo and a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. On sale late this year.
Audi allroad – returning to the US after an 8 year absence, the allroad is now based on the A4 (previous version was based on the A6). It has a turbo 2.0L making 211HP and 258 lb-ft torque.
Audi Q3 – Audi announced that they will sell the Q3 in the US when production begins for Europe in late 2013 (should be between July and September). It had not been slated for the US. Audi is showing it as a concept called the Q3 Vail, which is designed for winter sports enthusiasts.
E-Bugster concept – this is a 2-seat, electric Beetle with a lower, flattened roof. Very cool.

Nissan
Pathfinder Concept – Nissan is showing a concept of where the Pathfinder is going. It’s an attractive vehicle, but it’s going right to the heart of the SUV market – car-based and fuel-efficient, but only partly off-road capable. The list of truly capable off-road vehicles is shrinking, and the late ones to leave might find themselves losing their current customers, but getting lost in the shuffle for new ones. The back end reminds me of the Mazda CX-9. Not a good scenario for Nissan. On sale this fall.
2013 Infiniti JX – on sale this spring, the JX is a 3-row, 7-passenger crossover. It has great styling, and is a close relative of the Pathfinder.
Infiniti Etherea Concept – a front-drive compact 4-door hybrid hatchback that looks like it could get a speeding ticket without moving.
QX – not new, but I just had to mention that this is one of the most ridiculous vehicles on the planet. Fugly.

Mercedes-Benz
2013 SL – next gen of M-Bs venerable roadster. Despite a smaller V8 engine and larger size, it has more horsepower (429), more torque (516) and accelerates to 60 faster (4.5 seconds). Includes the wave the foot feature like the Escape, but also will close the trunk as well. The SL550 will be available this spring.
2013 E-Class Hybrids – the E300 is a 2.1L Diesel, combined with an electric motor. Total power is 230Hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. The E400 is a 3.5L gas engine with the same electric motor. Total is 333HP/457lb-ft.
Maybach 57 – nothing new to see here, but check it out while you still can. M-B has announced that Maybach is being discontinued after this model year. There just aren’t that many people willing to part with the better part of $400K anymore. It doesn’t help that it’s (just) a bigger, more expensive M-B S-Class, and that a Rolls is way more desirable. Oh well.
smart for-us concept – electric pickup from the most ironically-named automotive brand in history. Once again, answering the question nobody asked.

Toyota
Lexus LF-LC Concept – really hot new concept, it is a hybrid, but Lexus isn’t giving any specs.
FCV-R Concept – very cool looking fuel cell-powered 4-door.
NSA4 Concept – a midsize hybrid, this might preview the next generation Camry. If so, Camry might go from vanilla to chocolate chip cookie dough. Mmmmm, cookie dough…
“New” Camry – yawn.
Prius – so many Prii, so little time, or gas for that matter. The lineup now includes Prius, Prius Plug-In, Prius v and Prius c. The c is the news here, it’s smaller (think c = “compact”), and gets 53 city MPG and 46 highway. That’s no better overall than the “regular” Prius, which gets 51/48. But it’s less than $19,000, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
Scion FR-S – co-developed with Subaru (which will sell its version as the RBZ), this is a hot little sports car. It has a 2.0L, 200HP boxer engine. It’s rear wheel drive and comes with a 6-speed manual, as god intended.

Honda
Honda Accord Coupe Concept – nice freshening of the Accord Coupe, but it doesn’t break any new ground. Powertrains are revised with more horsepower and fuel economy. The big news is the addition of a plug-in hybrid model. Honda says the electric motor can power the car for up to 15 miles of city driving at speeds as high as 62 mph. The battery can be fully recharged in four hours using a 120-volt outlet or in 90 minutes with a 240-volt charger.
2013 Acura ILX – this is a new Civic-based sedan that will eventually replace the TSX in Acura’s lineup. It will have 3 powertrains: 2.0L I-4, 2.4L I-4 and a hybrid (Acura’s first). Nice looking car, but when is Acura going to dump the guillotine grille? They need a new look, and fast. On sale this spring.
2013 Acura RDX – updated and nice looking, the big news here is the bigger engine. While most automakers are downsizing their engines and adding turbo power to make up the power, Acura goes in the opposite direction by dropping the turbo 4 and moving to a 3.5L V6. It nows gets 273HP, up 33 from last year. Also on sale this spring.
Acura NSX Concept – the NSX is back! With sleek new styling and enough technology to make Bill Gates jealous, this new generation NSX could get a speeding ticket standing still. It sports a mid-engine V6 AND electric-driven AWD system. Expected for sale in 3 years. Get in line now.
Acura Display – besides the 3 cars above, the Acura display just looks like the collected rejects from a bad orthodontist nightmare because of all of the buck-toothed grilles, or maybe they belong on The Island of Misfit Toys. Hard to say.

BMW
3-Series – yet another new version of the venerable 3-Series, but don’t expect it to look very different from the current model. When it goes on sale next month, it will be longer and wider with many fuel savings technologies included (lighter curb weight, improved automatic transmission, start-stop and regenerative braking). The 328i and 335i will both have twin turbo engines, with 240 and 300 HP, respectively. Prices start at $35,795. In yet more proof of The Slandy Report’s influence, BMW is now showing an actual manual tranny on the floor, but only 1. They also announced that the new M5 will indeed have a proper manual again. Yeah!
i3 Concept – cool-looking small electric that weighs only 2756 lbs.
i8 Concept – another cool-looking concept. This one has a mid-engine 3-cylinder turbo, PLUS electric motors in the front and back. Total power is 350HP and 406 lb-ft of torque. 0-62 mph in 4.6 seconds.
Mini Roadster – yet another variation of the basic Mini Cooper, Roadster is a 2-seat convertible that will come in the standard 3 versions: Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works. Goes on sale in February.

Hyundai
2013 Veloster Turbo – so what happens with you slap a turbocharger on the pedestrian 1.6L Veloster engine? a. 201HP   b. 195 lb-ft torque or c. All of the above? C!! It also gets a revised, more aggressive front end. On sale this summer.

Others
Volvo Concept You – very cool-looking car. Name sucks.
Tesla Model S – shown before, but this is the production version of the all-electric sedan. Can go up to 300 miles on a charge. Has a rear-facing 3rd row for kids – with 5-point belts. It also has 3 other things of note: Biggest. Touch screen. Ever. (17″!)
Mazda CX-5 – new small crossover that becomes the little brother to the CX-7 and CX-9.First model to show the new design language for Mazda. Interesting that the info from Mazda really emphasizes that it was developed only by Mazda. Maybe they are afraid that people will think it was developed by Ford, which was the case with the Tribute, which the CX-5 replaces in Mazda’s lineup. Powered by a 2.0L motor, it makes 155HP and 150 lb-ft torque. A manual (!) tranny is standard, and in front-drive models, gets 35MPG on the highway. Best in Class figures for all powertrain combos.
Subaru BRZ – see Scion FR-S. It’s basically the same car.

The 2012 Slandy Awards
Slandy Best in Show Production – Dodge Dart. It might not be the most desirable of the nominees, but it gets the nod because of its extreme importance to its company’s future (see below). And it’s damn good too.
Slandy Best in Show Concept – Chevrolet Code 130R Concept
Honorable Mention (in no particular order) – Ford Fusion, Infiniti JX35, Chevrolet MiRay, Buick Encore, Cadillac ATS, Lexus LF-LC, Dodge Dart, BMW i8, Mercedes-Benz SL, Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
WATT – Infiniti QX, Nissan Quest. These have got to be 2 of the fugliest vehicles on the planet. Coincidentally from the same company. Or maybe not coincidentally.
Bet the Farm Award – Dodge Dart. Though this looks like a winner (see above), it might very well kill Chrysler and the alliance with Fiat if the launch isn’t flawless AND if it doesn’t sell very well. With several future models based on this new platform, it would be hard to overstate the importance of this product to Chrysler and Fiat.

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Chevrolet introduced the upcoming Camaro ZL1 at the Chicago Auto Show today. All you really need to know is that it has a 6.2L Supercharged V8 making 550HP and 550 lb-ft of torque. It will only be available with a 6-speed manual transmission. It has a revised suspension and a dual-mode exhaust system, which alters the sound level and character in response to engine rpm. First used on the legendary Corvette, and specifically tuned for Camaro ZL1, the dual-mode exhaust will give the car a signature sound.

The ZL1 name is derived from the all-aluminum racing engine of the same name, which was developed in the late 1960s and installed into a handful of regular-production 1969 Camaros. Only 69 were built with the engine, but they’ve achieved mythical status among enthusiasts, as they represented the pinnacle in Camaro performance – until now.

Camaro ZL1’s design communicates and supports its performance mission. Rather than using decorative elements, ZL1 is visually differentiated from other current Camaro models with elements vital to the car’s elevated capabilities.

“Everything about the ZL1’s design is directly related to its technology and serious performance, especially aerodynamics,” said Ed Welburn, vice president, Global Design. “Our designers’ goal was to execute that function-oriented design with beautifully sculpted forms, creating an imposing, powerful persona. Function becomes the aesthetic. The intent is a car that delivers on the attitude it projects.”

Major elements of the ZL1’s design are a new front fascia and hood with air extractors, designed in tandem to create aerodynamic downforce to aid handling. The car’s hood includes a signature center section constructed of carbon fiber and rendered in satin black finish. New rocker panels, wide tires, 20-inch wheels and exhaust tips portray the car’s handling and power. The ZL1 badge appears on the grille, hood and the brake calipers, all key areas portraying the technology within.

 
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
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Welcome to the 2011 North American International Auto Show, or with apologies to Monty Python, We’re Not Dead Yet! Ford and Chevrolet won the North American Car (Chevy Volt) and Truck (Ford Explorer) of the Year Awards, which really annoyed Hyundai, Nissan and Chrysler (which had the runners-up). The show must go on, and it sure does this year. Not as many truly exciting, hot cars, but lots of good stuff. Read on for the details and what you must see if you go.

Chrysler

  • Chrysler reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, when he said, “I’ll be back.” Last year, the Chrysler stand was sad. It made you feel like they had given up. No longer. Almost the entire lineup has been made over in the last 18 months, since Fiat took over. Still no Jeep waterfall, though. Read on for the highlights.
  • Chrysler 300 has a more refined look, but is a bit cartoonish now. It also has a new interior and better ride and handling. It has clearly gone further upscale. The 300 has the new 3.6L “Pentastar” engine, which is a wonderful new engine. Gets 280+ hp (depending on the vehicle) and pretty decent mileage.
  • Chrysler 200 replaces the Sebring. It is not a completely new vehicle, but it’s way better than the Sebring in every way, including looks. Very nice update. Also gets the Pentastar.
  • Chrysler Town & Country has a nicer interior and a very modest exterior update. Also gets the Pentastar.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the major new products from the Pentastar company this year. It’s way better than its predecessor. There’s also a 70th Anniversary edition to see, which is even nicer. Also gets the Pentastar.
  • Jeep Compass now has the Grand Cherokee’s front end, which is a huge improvement, but the rest of it looks mostly the same. The side, rear and interior still are lacking. It’s better, but not good.
  • Dodge Grand Caravan – see Town & Country
  • Dodge Durango is now a 3-row Grand Cherokee with a Dodge front end. That’s not to say it isn’t good. It is. It just looks too much like its platform-mate to me. Also gets the Pentastar.
  • Dodge Charger gets the same treatment as the 300. At first glance, it looks too much like the old one. However, the details are all new. The scooped out side, the taillamps and the grill all look great. The interior is very good too. Also gets the Pentastar.
  • Dodge Avenger gets much of the same treatment as the 200, but the exterior changed much less. Also gets the Pentastar.
  • Dodge Journey looks very much the same, but gets a nice update to the interior, new suspension improvements and also gets the Pentastar.
  • Ram Laramie Longhorn – I’ll ignore the obvious joke about crossbreeding here, and say that this is the ultimate blinged pickup. It out King Ranch’s the King Ranch. Clearly, the Ram designers didn’t see Blazing Saddles (“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges.”).
  • Fiat 500 – several models in different colors are there in all their cuteness, including a 1970 vintage that is half the size of the new one.

Ford Motor Company

  • Ford Vertrek “Concept” – preview of new Escape and European Kuga. I4 engines only, but because this is a “concept”, there aren’t many details. No word on whether a manual will be available. Looks like the 5-seat C-Max Energi (see below).
  • Ford Focus – in dealer showrooms soon. Ford also unveiled the electric Focus. Ford will only say that its range will be more than the Nissan Leaf’s. Ford is showing a hot-rod ST version. Love the wheels!
  • Ford C-Max – Ford sells 2 versions of this micro-van in Europe: C-Max and Grand C-Max. C-Max is a 5-seater, while Grand C-Max is a 7-seater, or as Ford calls it, “5+2” because the 3rd row is very small. So Ford will sell the Grand C-Max here and just call it C-Max. Also, Ford will sell a hybrid (“C-Max Hybrid”) and a plug-in hybrid (“C-Max Energi”) version of the 5-seater, and still use the C-Max name. Got that? The C-Max is similar to the Mazda5, but before you think it’s too small, consider this: it’s bigger in every dimension (length, width and height) than the original minivan, the 1984 Dodge Caravan.
  • Also new at is the 2011 Ford Explorer, just recently on sale. Prices start at $28,995. This is a major change to the former best-selling SUV. No longer does it ride on a truck platform. Now it shares its mechanicals with the Flex and Taurus. It still has decent off-road credentials though, and it was named North American Truck of the Year. Check out the power-folding 3rd row seats (Flex has the same ones).
  • Flex fuel has come to the Ford F-250, but in this case, it means B20 (not E85). That means it can run on Diesel with up to 20% biodiesel mix. Also, the Ford badge on the front of this thing deserves its own zip code!
  • Speaking of Flex, there is a new version of the giant box called Titanium. This is Ford’s new high-end series. The Ford Flex Titanium on display has a sticker of $50,000. Wow!
  • The only thing exciting at the Lincoln stand is the 1965 Lincoln Continental (there’s also one at the DUB display). Amazing, a Lincoln with an actual name. Who woulda thunk it? Prediction: one day, real names will make a comeback, as a “retro” thing.
  • Ford’s display also has its own demo ride of 2 electric cars. You can get a ride (you can’t drive) in an electric Transit Connect and an electric Focus. In the middle of the track is a dynamometer, where they can accelerate up to about 45 mph without risk of plowing through the GM display.

General Motors

  • 2012 Chevrolet Sonic – replaces the Aveo, which nobody can pronounce. Sonic is a better name, and looks nicer, but will Chevy sell these through the burger chain of the same name? What about the Hedgehog version? Same engines as the Cruze (1.4L I4 Turbo and 1.8L I4) in a smaller, lighter package! It will be available as a sedan and a 5-door hatch. The hatch has the same general shape as the Chevy Orlando shown (LAST YEAR?) and somewhat odd rear door handles. It also has an odd speedo display. Overall, a bit quirky, but that will help it get through the clutter. People will notice it.
  • Camaro Convertible – shown last year (?), but worth another look. Adding the convertible will help the sales momentum (BTW, Camaro outsold Mustang in 2010 for the first time since (WHEN) – and that’s with only a coupe.
  • Volt – not new (it’s been at the show for about 17 years), but this is the first time you can get in and really check it out. So check it out! Really nice interior!
  • Cruze – on actual display is a Cruze with a proper 6-speed manual tranny! I was beginning to think that manuals went out of style along with actual names that are real words. Check out the Cruze LT with the red fabric seats. The dash material matches the seats, so the dash has the fabric. Nice look.
  • Buick Regal – was there last year, but now it’s for sale. A true European sports sedan from Buick (it’s virtually the same as the Opel Insignia, which won the European Car of the Year). One question: when does the damn manual come out already?
  • Buick Verano – out later this year, the Verano looks like a Regal that shrunk in the wash, which is good, because the Regal looks great. Standard powertrain is a 2.4L I4 with a 6-speed auto transmission. A 2.0L Turbo will be available later. No word on whether it will have the all-important 3rd pedal on the floor. The Verano is based on the same architecture as the Chevy Cruze. Buick apparently rejected the name Bruze and Cruick. Verano is Spanish for summer, so I’ll be waiting for the obvious convertible version at next year’s show.
  • GMC is showing the Sierra All-Terrain HD Concept. It’s a true off-road pickup that certainly looks the part. It doesn’t really look like a concept. Looks ready to go. Unfortunately for GMC, Ram already has this on the market. It’s called the PowerWagon.

Volkswagen

  • We are witnessing nothing short of the downfall of this company. They are going down the road to oblivion, and it’s all because of their egomaniac CEO, who wants to conquer the (automotive) world and overtake Toyota as the biggest. Look where that got Toyota. The newest products (Jetta and Passat) are too mainstream, too dumbed-down. They’ve lost the soul of a VW. They may very well increase sales, but at what cost? My only hope is that VW’s “other” brands (Audi, Lamborghini and Porsche) are spared this fate. In the goal to be bigger, VW is losing the cache that has made them loved by their customers. Sounds a little like Toyota’s recent problems. Be careful what you wish for, VW. You just might get it
  • That said, I think the new Jetta and Passat are pretty nice looking, if bland. They look too much like each other, though. If others and I need to look at the badge on the back to tell the difference, they’re too similar.
  • 2012 Passat – the car formerly known as NMS (new midsize sedan) that will be built at VW’s new plant in Tennessee was anointed as Passat. 3 engines – 2.5L I4 (170HP), 3.6L V6 (280HP) and a Diesel that VW claims will have an 800-mile highway range. It looks nice and more directly competes with Camry and Accord
  • CC – still the best-looking car VW makes. Love it.
  • 2012 Audi A6 – beautiful update. Won Eyes on Design award at the show. Will include a hybrid model.
  • 2012 Audi A7 – a new beautiful design in the “4-door coupe” family that began with the Mercedes CLS, but with Audi’s wonderful styling.
  • Porsche returns to the show after X year absence. 918 RSR is a race car version of the 918 spyder shown at last year’s Geneva autoshow. 4.5L V8 makes 565HP at 10,300 rpm (holy crap!). electric motors on the front axle add another 200, but only for 8 seconds at a time. Like an afterburner.

Toyota

  • Prius family – in a surprise to nobody, Toyota has decided to make Prius a family of vehicles, like a sub-brand. All of the product experts are wearing t-shirts that say, “Prius Goes Plural” and there is also a sign that says “Prium” like that’s the plural of Prius. Cute, but they might have a problem from the Jewish lobby, which will argue that Prium sounds too much like Purim. So the new models are a plug-in, a wagon (Prius v) and a smaller model (Prius c), which appears to be based on the FT-CH concept from last year.
  • Sienna has a new design. Looks pretty good, but it is a van. The 2nd row slides fore/aft, and the 3rd row folds into the floor very easily, but all of the instruction and warning stickers will intimidate you at first. It’s much easier than it appears, but not as easy as Honda’s.
  • There’s also a Sienna Swagger Wagon concept, which plays off of the Sienna Swagger wagon commercial. It’s a Sienna limo, and it’s pretty ridiculous.
  • Lexus has the CT200h, its latest hybrid. What’s odd here is the imagery that Lexus is using for this vehicle. “Welcome to the Darker Side of Green” is loudly exclaimed in big bold letters. Smaller letters on the info stand say, “43 MPG Hybrid with and Attitude.” I’m not quite sure how this little hybrid that goes 0-60 in 9.8 seconds got the attitude, but somebody (like maybe the 392 Dodge Challenger) is going to kick its butt if it shows any of this attitude on the playground.
  • The Scion iQ is one of the smallest cars you will ever see. It’s slightly bigger than a smart fortwo at 120” long, but it seats 4. Actually, it’s “3+1” (what’s with all the math in seating these days?). This means (I had to ask) that it will hold 3 adults, plus 1 kid/dog in the rear seat behind the driver, where there is virtually no room. Still, it’s way more practical than the smart, and it’s way more of a “real” car – at least, Aston Martin thinks so. 1.3L (“90+ HP”) engine, 8.5 gallon fuel tank, 2116 lbs.
  • In the corner of Toyota’s display is a very big video board, which they use to play commercials (including the Swagger mentioned above) and other propaganda. One of these pieces touts how the Sienna is made in America and how many jobs it supports. While it is true that it is made in America, the piece comes off as being a bit desperate. Grabbing at straws. My, how the mighty have fallen.

Hyundai/Kia

  • Hyundai and Kia are the only parts of the same company that are not right near each other on the show floor. I don’t have an opinion about it; I just find it interesting.
  • Hyundai Sonata – already successful as a gas-engine car, the hybrid breaks new ground. It uses a lithium polymer battery, the first such use in a production car. It can go up to 74 MPH on electric power. Compare that to the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which can go “only” 47 on electric. It’s incredibly aerodynamic, with a Cd of .25. The Fusion is .33.
  • Hyundai Elantra – new for 2011, this is a great-looking vehicle. Starts under $15K.
  • Hyundai Curb Concept – small SUV concept built off the Tucson. Likely won’t be built, but the styling might find its way into a future model. Looks good.
  • Hyundai Veloster – this 2012 model has some looks from the Nissan 370Z in the back, buck-tooth beaver in the front. It also has a 3-door design, with a rear door only on the passenger side.
  • Hyundai Equus – Hyundai moves even further upscale and bigger. Starts at $58,000. One cool feature that I think is unique is a front camera. Hyundai calls it “Forward-view Cornering Camera” and it gives you a 180° view from the front of the car. Could help pulling out of a parking garage or when parking in a tight spot. It only works at low speeds (under 10mph).
  • Kia Optima – really nice looking car inside and out
  • Kia Sportage – new for 2011 (?). Really good looking.
  • Kia KV7 Concept – after some very interesting designs that actually show originality of thought, Hyundai/Kia are back to their old tricks. Calling this a “modern-day activity vehicle”, Kia has blatantly stolen the design of the Ford Flex here, except for the huge gull-wing door (which would never make it to production anyway).

BMW

  • BMW obviously has been reading The Slandy Report. For 2 years, we have pointed out the irony of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” not having a single manual transmission on their stand. This year, they’ve stepped up and are showing 3 actual manual transmission cars. You’re welcome.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that BMW still has a few vehicles that are just horrible. In increasing order of stupid, they are the X5, 5-Series GT and the X6. The Ultimate Driving Machine has too many vehicles that are overweight, bloated and are simply not vehicles for people who love driving. There. I feel better now.
  • 2012 BMW 650i Convertible – $91,000, 400HP, 450 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 in 4.9!
  • 2012 1-Series M Coupe – the littlest BMW gets an M version and a mild facelift. Good news for the most BMW-like BMW. The “M” is $47K, 335HP and goes 0-60 in 4.7!
  • Mini Countryman – if you haven’t seen this yet, check it out. It’s a very small SUV at 162” total length, about the same as a Kia Soul. Just a bigger Mini Cooper. Same powertrains.
  • Mini Paceman concept – Mini calls it a “sport activity coupe”, but it is a 2-door version of the Countryman.

Honda

  • Civic concept – with minor differences, this looks like a scaled-down Accord Coupe to me. It’s nice looking, but hardly original. Just another in a long line of uninspired designs from Honda.
  • Odyssey – the new look doesn’t appeal to me (see Civic comment). It looks like pieces of different designs cobbled together. It is a great seller, though, so they must be doing something right. One of those things is the magic seat, Honda’s name for its folding 3rd row seat. It is clearly the best, with only 1 very easy step to fold the seat away. Takes about 3 seconds.

Others

  • Subaru Impreza Concept – officially a concept, but this looks close to production-ready. Nice looking.
  • Mazda 5 – updated for 2012. Has interesting character lines (3) flowing on the sides.
  • 2012 Land Rover Evoque – on sale later this year, this new Land Rover will come in 2-door and 4-door versions. It is a radical departure from the styling of any Land Rover you’ve ever seen.
  • Volvo is showing the S60, S60 “R Design” and XC60. All are beautiful new vehicles. They all also have a very confusing array of buttons cluttering their dashboards. The S60 R Design is not the old S60R. It has the same engine as the S60, and no manual. It has revised transmission software, suspension, struts and fascias to make it special, but don’t think you’re going to get more go for your dough. You won’t.
  • Mercedes-Benz showed the SLS AMG E-Cell the car. Forget what the car actually is, it’s the paint job that’s interesting. It’s bright, neon yellow with a matte finish, which M-B accentuates with black lights.

The Slandy Awards® 2011

Slandy Best in Show: Hyundai Sonata Blue Drive

Honorable Mention: Hyundai Elantra, Audi A6, Ram Laramie Longhorn, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Buick Verano, Ford C-Max, Ford Explorer

Lost Their Way Award: a 3-Way Tie goes to BMW, Honda and Mercedes-Benz. BMW and M-B have put a product in every conceivable niche (real or imagined) and in so doing have dilluted their brands and assembled such an array of confusing and overlapping (and in some cases, stupid) vehicles that I dare anybody to even name them, let alone describe their reason for being. Honda just can’t seem to design anything good anymore. Gone are the days of Honda designs exciting anybody.

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GM in the News

18th August 2010

GM has been in the news a lot recently. I’ll try to recap some of the more interesting topics:

GM 2nd Quarter Profit – GM announced that they had earned $1.3 billion in the 2nd quarter and had positive net cash flow of $2.8 billion. This is the General’s 2nd quarter in a row with positive earnings and cash flow. Chairman Ed Whitacre was heard exclaiming, “Yeee-haw!” In related news, the FAA has issued a warning to all commercial aircraft to watch out for pigs over Detroit.

Big Ed Whitacre announces retirement – Chairman and CEO Ed “I don’t live in Detroit, I just work there” Whitacre announced that he is stepping down as CEO on September 1 and as chairman December 31. Though nobody thought Ed was in it for the long term, the news was met with some surprise. The timing was to help facilitate the impending IPO (see below), as investors would want to know who’s running the show before they pony up the cash to buy the stock. Taking both positions at the dates above is Dan Akerson, who has been on the board since bankruptcy. He is an investment banker and an expert in financial matters (editors note: but can he tell the difference between an intake manifold and an emory board???). He is also a telecom veteran, like Whitacre. Roger Daltry sang at the press conference.

GM files for IPO – in a surprise to nobody, GM today filed its first registration papers with the SEC (not the Big 10) to file for its IPO. They expect to actually go public later this year. IPO filings are not particularly interesting, except for 1 major exception – the Risk Factors. This section typically shares some of management’s biggest fears about their business. This is a rare look into the company. They have to be brutally honest, because non-disclosure of significant risks could be the subject of a future lawsuit. GM’s Risk Factors are no exception. Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits. All of these points are followed by a detailed discussion which are too long to be included here:

The UST (or its designee) will continue to own a substantial interest in us following this offering, and its interests may differ from those of our other stockholders. (Gee, ya think?)

New laws, regulations, or policies of governmental organizations regarding increased fuel economy requirements and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, or changes in existing ones, may have a significant effect on how we do business. (Wait, government regulations can affect your business? Who knew?)

The ability of our new executive management team to quickly learn the automotive industry and lead our company will be critical to our ability to succeed. (So you have a bunch of inexperienced bozos running the operation. Great.)

The costs and effect on our reputation of product recalls could materially adversely affect our business. (Wait, is this the Toyota IPO?)

We have determined that our disclosure controls and procedures and our internal control over financial reporting are currently not effective. The lack of effective internal controls could materially adversely affect our financial condition and ability to carry out our business plan. (Really? This isn’t giving me a warm, fuzzy feeling about your company…)

So, to sum up, your biggest shareholder has different “interests” than the rest of the shareholders, that same shareholder is going to make up new rules that will screw you, your management doesn’t know its butt from an exhaust pipe and can’t trust the numbers it’s given and the customers are scared that your products will suck. What’s not to like about that? Where do I sign up for these shares?

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Chevrolet (don’t call us Chevy) announced today a new program that will allow buyers of Corvette Z06 and ZR1 models to build the engine for their car! OK, they get to “help” build it, under heavy supervision. But still, how cool is it to have the opportunity to do this? I can tell you exactly how cool it is – $5800 cool. That’s how much Chevrolet charges for the PBC (“Corvette Engine Build Experience”) option on the Z06 and ZR1. PBC stands for Performance Build Center, which is the name of the facility in Wixom, Michigan that hand-builds the engines in those versions of the Corvette, as well as the Grand Sport’s.

Lest you cynically think that this is a way to avoid warranty coverage, GM says, “Like all engines assembled at the PBC, Engine Build Experience engines are covered by Chevy’s (sorry, I’ll try to use the more grown up word next time) five year / 100,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty.”

The cynic in me is shocked that the General would actually allow any moron with the money to enter their plant, let alone build an engine that will still have a warranty – even under the heavy supervision. GM’s legal staff must be pulling out what is left of their hair over this one. Remember, these are the same legal eagles that killed the Corvette ad that showed a kid dreaming about driving a Corvette, because it was irresponsible to have a kid driving. They also tried to kill a Chevy (really…I’m trying) ad that showed Chevrolet (ha! did it!) cars and trucks driving onto a car carrier already driving at highway speed.

Still, this is way cool, and if I had $5800 (on top of the $75,235 MSRP for a Z06 or $109,130 MSRP for a ZR1), I would sure do it. As Jim Campbell, VP of Chevrolet (twice in a row!) said, “Simply put, no other sports car manufacturer can match the level of personal customer involvement that Corvette offers. The Corvette Engine Build Experience takes this personal involvement to an unprecedented level.”

That’s what I (and Jim) think. How about you? Please leave your comments below.

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Toyota and Tesla jointly announced a new joint venture to develop and build electric vehicles (EVs). As part of the deal, Toyota will invest $50 million in Tesla, and Tesla buys the New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) factory in California. The NUMMI plant was previously a joint venture of Toyota and General Motors. The NUMMI plant, in Freemont, California, began production in 1984 after being a “regular” GM plant from 1962-1982. As a NUMMI plant, it produced vehicles such as the Chevrolet Nova, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Tacoma and Toyota Corolla. Tesla plans to produce the Model S, which Tesla expects to be the world’s first all-electric sedan, at the plant in 2012. They also said other future Tesla vehicles would be produced there.

The announcement was short on details, with the usual fluffery where Toyota said how great Tesla is and vice versa. The full text of the joint announcement is below.

Tesla Motors, Inc. (Tesla) and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) today announced that they intend to cooperate on the development of electric vehicles, parts, and production system and engineering support.
The two companies intend to form a team of specialists to further those efforts. TMC has agreed to purchase $50 million of Tesla’s common stock issued in a private placement to close immediately subsequent to the closing of Tesla’s currently planned initial public offering.
“I sensed the great potential of Tesla’s technology and was impressed by its dedication tomonozukuri (Toyota’s approach to manufacturing),” said TMC President Akio Toyoda. “Through this partnership, by working together with a venture business such as Tesla, Toyota would like to learn from the challenging spirit, quick decision-making, and flexibility that Tesla has. Decades ago, Toyota was also born as a venture business.  By partnering with Tesla, my hope is that all Toyota employees will recall that ‘venture business spirit,’ and take on the challenges of the future.”
“Toyota is a company founded on innovation, quality, and commitment to sustainable mobility. It is an honor and a powerful endorsement of our technology that Toyota would choose to invest in and partner with Tesla,” said Tesla CEO and cofounder Elon Musk. “We look forward to learning and benefiting from Toyota’s legendary engineering, manufacturing, and production expertise.”
TMC has, since its foundation in 1937, operated under the philosophy of “contributing to the society through the manufacture of automobiles,” and made cars that satisfy its many customers around the world. TMC introduced the first-generation Prius hybrid vehicle in 1997, and produced approximately 2.5 million hybrids in the twelve years since. Late last year, TMC started lease of Prius Plug-in Hybrids, which can be charged using an external power source such as a household electric outlet. The company also plans to introduce EVs into the market by 2012.
Tesla’s goal is to produce increasingly affordable electric cars to mainstream buyers – relentlessly driving down the cost of EVs. Palo Alto, CA-based Tesla has delivered more than 1000 Roadsters to customers in North America, Europe and Asia. Tesla designs and manufactures EVs and EV powertrain components. It is currently the only automaker in the U.S. that builds and sells highway-capable EVs in serial production. The Tesla Roadster accelerates faster than most sports cars yet produces no emissions. Tesla service rangers make house calls to service Roadsters.
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Bloomberg is reporting today that Ford plans to kill the Mercury brand – again. At least twice in the last decade, Mercury was on the chopping block, only to be given a stay of execution. The Ford family, specifically Elena Ford, has vetoed efforts by management to kill off the brand in the past.

Mercury was created in 1939 by Edsel Ford as a bridge between the mainstream Ford brand and the luxury Lincoln brand. Mercury products have lately been nothing more than Fords with more features and (slightly) fancier styling. Mercury’s present lineup shows this: Milan (Fusion twin), Mariner (Escape), Mountaineer (Explorer) and Grand Marquis (Crown Victoria). The last time Mercury had a unique vehicle (not shared with a Ford) was in 2002, when Mercury last sold the Cougar and the Villager minivan (though the Villager was engineered by, and shared with, Nissan).

1967 Mercury Cougar

1967 Mercury Cougar

In 1999, Ford planned to kill the Mercury brand by phasing out the lineup and eventually “encouraging” Mazda dealers and Lincoln dealers to dual with the other brand. They saw Mercury sales dwindling and Mazda sales going in the opposite direction. The plan was set, and the future product (“cycle”) plan was modified to reflect Mercury’s demise. Then the company got cold feet. A powerful combination of the Ford family and Lincoln Mercury dealers killed the plan before it really got going. The Ford family opposed it due to sentimental reasons (the tragic story of Edsel and Mercury being his creation was a big part), while the dealers didn’t like the idea of selling Japanese cars.

1982 Mercury Capri RS

1982 Mercury Capri RS

Many at Ford had already mentally written off the Mercury brand, and the reversal left Mercury without a plan for future products. Instead of taking the opportunity to “reboot” the brand into something other than fancy Fords, the company went back to the old ways and hastily threw some money at Fords with different lights and grilles. It was a self-fulfilling, defeatist attitude that went something like this, “Mercury sales suck, so let’s not spend too much money on Mercury products. That way, we won’t have to sell too many to get a return on the money.” Of course, spending very little on badge-engineering ensured the sales would suck, and the geniuses who made the decision patted themselves on the back for not spending the money (“See, I told you the sales would suck – aren’t you glad we didn’t spend the money?”).

Ford missed an opportunity to have its cake and eat it too. Ford had (and still does have) wonderful products in overseas markets around the world that it could have used to give Mercury unique products without the cost of developing a stand-alone product for Mercury. Ford could have assembled a collection of Ford’s European and Asian products, including some vehicles that Mazda sold in Japan, but not in North America. There would have been costs associated with homologation and importation, but nowhere near the costs of engineering a new product from scratch.

1955 Mercury Montclair

1955 Mercury Montclair

Again in 2005, Ford looked at eliminating Mercury. Detailed analyses of sales volume and profit & loss were presented to senior management, but again, the idea was crushed. There were fears of Lincoln Mercury dealer profits and the heavy hand of the Ford family was in the middle somewhere.

Since Alan Mulally showed up, Mercury has seen its lineup shrink to the present 4 vehicles mentioned above. And now Ford is apparently going through the same exercise again. So what’s different this time? Mulally and the cash situation are the major ones. Mulally isn’t so tied to the past and will make the decision that is best for the company, regardless of sentiment. Also, while Ford is doing better than just about anybody in the industry right now (though that isn’t saying much), they still have a tremendous amount of debt to consider, and cash is tight.

1971 Mercury Cyclone GT

1971 Mercury Cyclone GT

What about the dealers? The Lincoln Mercury dealers have made the argument in the past that they wouldn’t have enough volume to survive if Ford pulled the plug on Mercury. Is that still true? Lincoln has, arguably, its best lineup ever right now, but is it enough to keep the dealer body healthy? They have 6 vehicles for sale (MKZ, MKX, MKS, MKT, Navigator and Town Car), but the Town Car goes away completely after the 2011 model year. That leaves 5 mostly alphabet soup names and a giant SUV. For the dealers’ sake, I hope that the pipeline is full of new Lincolns and freshenings of existing models.

Even assuming that Ford can keep the dealers happy and profitable with just Lincoln, does Mercury really need to go the way of Plymouth, Saturn, Pontiac, et al? I have the same argument against pulling the Mercury plug as I did with Pontiac. Why pull it? Mercury could remain as a niche product, with maybe 2-3 vehicles. If Ford really does have a plan for Lincoln, the dealers wouldn’t be reliant on the Mercury volume, so there would be no need to have a full lineup of Mercurys. Engineering/R&D are only approved for programs that can pay back the investment anyway, so that wouldn’t be an issue. There is already a distribution network, so that’s OK too. Assembly plant capacity could be an issue, but if Ford can utilize existing platforms for Mercury (without relying on badge engineering), it should be able to use existing plant capacity as well. The only other consideration is advertising. In the auto industry, most advertising is for vehicles, not brands. There would only need to be advertising for the vehicles that you are offering, and everybody knows what a Mercury is already, so no cost to “launch” the brand.

1963 Mercury Marauder

1963 Mercury Marauder

I know this isn’t a strong argument for why Ford should keep Mercury, but an argument for why they shouldn’t feel the need to kill it. The Mercury brand has survived 70+ years. It would be a shame to allow it to die now for the wrong reasons.

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

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First, Chevrolet took some of the work from Campbell-Ewald, their ad agency for 91 years. Campbell-Ewald was Chevy’s partner for almost their entire existence, and was responsible for memorable ad campaigns such as “See the USA in Your Chevrolet”, “The Heartbeat of America”, “Like a Rock” and “American Revolution”.

Chevy gave the car and crossover work to Publicis late last year. Then, 4 weeks ago, Publicis was given the rest of the Chevy account.

Now, there’s a new sheriff in town, and he likes Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, so they now have the Chevrolet account all to themselves.

Certainly, GM and Chevrolet have the right to change their agency every week if want. But the awarding of multi-million dollar agency contracts shouldn’t be subject to the whim of the executive du jour. It should be based on some criteria that makes business sense. Publicis didn’t have the business long enough to have made any mistakes, and the awarding of the business to Goodby Silverstein and Partners happened too fast after the arrival of Joel Ewanick to have been the result of a true review. In fact, Goodby Silverstein and Partners had the Hyundai business while Ewanick was there. Coincidence? Hardly.

Chevy made the announcement today with the following statement:

All advertising work for the Chevrolet brand in the U.S. has been awarded to Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, moving from Publicis Worldwide and Campbell-Ewald.  This transition will begin immediately.

“Based on my personal experience working with Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, I’m confident they have the creativity and ability to take the iconic Chevrolet brand to the next level – and to do it fast,” said Joel Ewanick, vice president, U.S. Marketing.

“Chevrolet is focused on fuel-efficient cars, crossovers and trucks, as well as innovative advanced-technology products like the Volt.  With the Volt and the all-new Cruze launching later this year, we look forward to working with Goodby, Silverstein and Partners to build on the momentum that Chevrolet already has going in the market,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president, Chevrolet Marketing.

Goodby, Silverstein and Partners will open an office in Detroit to support the Chevrolet account.  The agency worked with GM’s Saturn brand from 2002 until 2007.

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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep released images yesterday of the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which went into production this week atChrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit. This is the 4th generation of the Grand Cherokee, originally introduced in 1992. It is completely reengineered and redesigned for 2011 – with a new sculpted body, athletic profile, panoramic dual-pane sun roof and an interior with premium soft-touch materials. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee features Chrysler’s all-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that boasts an 11 percent improvement in fuel economy and delivers up to 23 mpg and more than 500 miles on one tank of gas. Capability highlights include a choice of three 4×4 systems, new Jeep Quadra-Lift™ Air Suspension and Selec-Terrain™ systems and towing capability of 7,400 lbs. On-road dynamics are improved courtesy of new independent front and rear suspension systems and a new body structure that dramatically increases torsional stiffness.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×2 models start at a sticker price of $30,995 – $495 lower than the outgoing model. Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4 models start at $32,995 – $465 lower than the outgoing model. The Overland model is the top of the line, with a price of $42,995 in 4×4 guise. The Limited model slots in between. The 2011 Grand Cherokee arrives in Jeep showrooms next month.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this product launch to Chrysler. Before Fiat’s present management, Chrysler was run by Daimler, which cost-cut the products into irrelevance, and then Cerberus, which cut the cupboard bare of new product investment. There is very little new product coming in the short-term, so it is very important that the new launches it does have are home runs. Chrysler plans to make improvements to just about every product in the next year, but no major launches outside of the Grand Cherokee and the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger due later this year until Fiat-based new products start coming next year and the year after. The Grand Cherokee looks like a winner, but SUV sales are down overall, which will limit the sales potential. Ford and GM, though, have abandoned the true, off-road (mid-size) SUV market, leaving the market to Jeep, Nissan (Xterra & Pathfinder) and Toyota (4Runner).

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

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