Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What size are them wheels

"What Size are Them Wheels?"
How Pick-up Truck Owners Pick Their Trucks

Gas is over $3.00 per gallon, and probably will stay that way for the foreseeable future, but pick-up drivers see a sliver of the world in front of them. "What size are them wheels?" is the question posed by a patron who saw a preview of the new Chevrolet Silverado.

While switching channels last night I ran into a country music concert sponsored by Chevrolet. Chevrolet's marketing seems to be geared to the LCD, the Lowest Caucasian Denominator.

The Fall that Never Was

Traditionally August is the time that we see previews of the next model-year cars, with the model year beginning in September. That's not how it's shaping up this year. Most of the important 2007 models have already been introduced. Many, if not most, of the carryover models are already shipping as 2007s. The changes in carry-overmodels seem to be fewer than usual. In short, the fall new-car season will begin and end with a wimper. Those few 2007 models that have not already been introduced will straggle in, mostly during the 4th quarter.

Note from the Blogmaster:

It's going to be quiet for about the next week or so while I get caught up on some other stuff. There's not too much going on in the car world right now anyway, GM might announce that they made money in the past two months, but don't be mislead, after reporting a huge charge down like they did in the last period, it's not hard to follow it up with a short term profit, it's all a matter of when you take the charges. If there's anything earth-shattering, I'll put a post together, but otherwise, just enjoy a week of summer.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dodge Caliber vs. Hyundai Azera

Dodge Caliber vs. Hyundai Azera

In a review of the Dodge Caliber R/T, DC enthusiast site,, draws an interesting comparison between the Dodge Caliber and the Hyundai Azera.

Standard, the R/T comes with a host of options, including side curtain front and rear airbags, four wheel antilock disc brakes, power windows, rear defroster, keyless remote, power mirrors, rear window wiper/washer, automatic power locks, cruise, air, CD with wheel-mounted controls, tilt-wheel, fog lamps, and 18" aluminum wheels (no, they really don't have to be that big, but people like the look of big wheels.) That, with all wheel drive, comes to $19,985 including destination - or about the same price as the first Neon SRT-4. Our test car had the $910 leather package with heated front seats and lumbar adjustment, the $400 convenience group with tire pressure monitor (showing each tire separately), compass and thermometer, auto-dimming rear view mirror, and garage door opener; the $400 MusicGate; $750 sunroof; and $700 for the chrome finish on the wheels. The total was $23,145, or about $1,000 less than the Hyundai Azera we tested last week, the one that accelerated like a bat out of, well, you know, and felt like a Lexus, with lots of room for everyone and not much of a gas mileage punishment compared with the Caliber R/T AWD. Admittedly, the Azera didn't look like an SUV, and it didn't have all wheel drive.

The Dodge Caliber is flying off the dealer lots as fast as they come in. DaimlerChrysler is making over 15,000 calibers per month and selling every one it can make. It only goes to show that image is everything. The Caliber is small-ish, but it is not small; and it certainly isn't light. Its fuel economy is good for an SUV, but no better than many full-size cars. Thanks to the lack of discounts due to demand, the Caliber isn't particularly cheap. I drove a mid-range Caliber SXT a few months ago, and I found it to be decent. On the other hand, I much preferred the Mercury Milan that I drove soon afterwards. The Milan cost about the same as the Caliber (and now with incentives would likely be priced lower), but the Milan looked better, rode better, was quicker, more comfortable, better equipped and got better gas mileage. The Milan doesn't look like an SUV, though.

2007 Chrysler Pacifica

Also at is a detailed write-up on the 2007 Chrysler Pacifica. This is the first major refreshening of the Pacifica and comes about 3 1/2 years after the model was originally introduced. The big news is the introduction of a new 6 speed automatic transmission. This transmission should soon make its way through the product line, though it appears that the minivans, the models that need it the most, will be among the last to receive it. The transmission is due to be installed on the completely redesigned 2008 minivans. The 2007 Pacifica also is the first vehicle to receive a new 4.0 liter V-6. At 255 horsepower, the 4.0 liter isn't much more powerful than the 10 year old 3.5 liter design that it replaces. Chrysler says the 4.0 liter has a broader torque curve.

The Pacifica fills a similar niche to the new-for-2007 GM crossover SUVs. The Pacifica, though no light-weight, is 200-300 lbs lighter and may be cheaper when comparably equipped.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Funny Video of the Week: The History of Dance
Flying Cars in History:
The Moller Disco Jet

I've posted regarding the Moller SkyCar several times. No news to report on that front, by the way. I was sent a link to information about a previous Paul Moller flying car project, the Discojet, circa 1974. Fullscale production of the Discojet was to have begun December 1976. That's funny, with 30 years of production, you'd think we'd see more of them.
Holden Statesman & Caprice

The 2007 Model year is shaping up to be underwhelming for the U.S. arm of General Motors (more on that in later posts), but it is a big year for Holden, GM's Australian arm. Holden is introducing a brand new version of its flagship sedan, the Holden Statesman AND a longer wheelbased version called the Holden Caprice. These are large, rear-wheel-drive sedans. The Statesman may end up being the basis for a RWD Chevrolet Impala, and the Caprice may end up being a Chevrolet Caprice. The new Holdens go on sale in September. Here's the link.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

90 Day Review For GM Merger

90 Day Review Period for GM Merger

Rick Wagoner and Carlos Ghosen have agreed on a 90 day confidential review period to examine a potential merger or other combination between the firms. The review period will probably not result in a concrete merger proposal, but could result in a no-go decision. When I imagine reviewing GM's financial condition, I immediately think of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which, paraphrased, states that you can't know the location of an object and its speed at the same time. A snapshot of GM's finances means nothing if you can't tell how the business is changing.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Juan Pablo Montoya to become a good old boy?

JPM is moving to NASCAR, it's official.
Caddyshack in 30 Seconds

Has it really been 26 years since Caddyshack came out? To honor that cinema classic, it is critically important to take 30 seconds out of your busy schedule to see the movie acted out in 30 seconds by bunnies. Here it is.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Conspiracy Theory Rock - The Video

Last year, I posted about that the Robert Smigel video that NBC didn't want you to see. Conspiracy Theory Rock, a parody of ABC's Schoolhouse Rock series. At that time I did not know anyplace that you could find the actual video. Since then, posting of old videos on the web has exploded, and the video is available at right here. If this link is dead when you click it, just search around a bit.

Whatever Happened to Ken Jennings.

Here's his blog. In the blog you can find out about his favorite sheep farming movie of all time. (Back in my days at dear old Purdue, we had a joke: Did you hear that the Animal Science people at Purdue discovered a new use for sheep? Yeah, wool.) The Jennings blog also includes his thoughts on how the ubiquity of Google searches is affecting the viability of trivia matches. He also plugs his book Brainiac, which comes out in September. Most importantly, he's selling his big, giant head.
Rent a BMW 325 for $12.75
Zipcar breaks the rules of the Auto Rental Business

Yep. Do it here. The catch? That's $12.75 per hour. But still, I'd pay $12.75 for an hour in a Bimmer. How about $10.75 for a Mini? Sounds like fun. Zipcar rents cars by the hour in several major cities including Washington D.C. and Boston. You register for a "Zipcard" online, then you pick up a car on the street in the assigned place drive it for a while, then return it. No check in or check out. Zipcar touts this as a way to avoid owning an unnecessary car in an urban area.

You can even rent a Toyota Prius as the carpundit did. He hated it. Even though it's hard to buy a Prius at any price, you can rent it at Zipcar for $8.75 per hour.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

3.5 Reasons Why GM is in Trouble
Toyotas Leading Engine is Best and Cheapest to Make posted an article about how Toyota has used innovative manufacturing techniques to half the manufacturing costs of their advanced 3.5 liter V-6 engine. The cost of this MADE-IN-THE-USA 3.5 liter engine is $1000 per engine according to the article, half of the previous costs. Although the engine is cheap to build, it provides excellent power and fuel economy. In the full-sized Avalon, the engine provides 280 horsepower, yet the car gets 31 mpg highway. The 268 horsepower version in the Rav4 moves the SUV to 0-60 in 6.8 seconds, better than some muscle cars, yet produced tested overall fuel economy of 22 mpg in a Consumer Reports test, only 1 mpg less than the four-cylinder version, and comparable to many mainstream passenger cars.

Toyota then produces this engine in quantity and the engine provides a competitive advantage for the Avalon. Camry and Rav4. I suspect that the engine will find its way into the Highlander, Solara and Sienna soon.

Several years ago GM split its V-6 engines into two lines. Value engines and feature engines. The value engines are descendants of GM's old V-6 engines and are based on a overhead valve or "cam in block" design. The feature engines are dual overhead cam (like the Toyota engine) and are generally modern, but available only on higher priced models. Still, the "feature" GM 3.6-liter V-6 makes less power than the mass-market version of the Toyota 3.5.

GM moved production of much of its value V-6 line to China because of high manufacturing costs in the United States. It is ironic that Toyota is building better engines for less cost in the United States. Trevor Hofmann, the author of the article elaborates on GM's failure to compete in the V-6 technology arena:

Putting this into context, Toyota has not only managed to halve the cost of its most popular six-cylinder engine, but the very fact this same engine is used in so many vehicles will, through economies of scale, increase Toyotas profitability overall. Compare this to rival General Motors, the worlds largest automaker and one that looks as if it will soon be passed by the Japanese giant for overall global sales, which makes so many engines V6 engines that its difficult to keep track of them all. A lesson could be learned, with the General producing a variety of antiquated overhead-valve engines with only 3-valves per cylinder, measuring 3.4-, 3.5-, 3.8- and 3.9-liters in displacement, plus a supercharged 3.8-liter version in its Pontiac Grand Prix. Only Cadillacs 3.6-liter V6 boasts four-valve per cylinder and dual overhead cam technology, an engine also found in Buicks top-line LaCrosse. To complicate things even further, it could be argued that GMs most sophisticated V6 is the 3.5-liter mill found in the top-line Saturn VUE, but the fact that its nothing less than Hondas superb Accord V6 is no doubt embarrassing to the Detroit-based automakers execs.

The question that General Motors should be asking itself is, why make a total of six V6 engines and borrow another from Honda, adding complexity and resultant cost to the automakers bottom line, when the only truly competitive GM V6 to Toyotas 3.5, or for that matter Hondas 3.5-, Nissans 3.5-, Hyundais 3.3- and 3.8-, or Fords all-new 3.5-liter V6, is the 3.6-liter unit only available in the Cadillac CTS, SRX and STS, plus the LaCrosse? Wouldn't it be simpler, more efficient and therefore potentially cheaper to make one extremely good V6 engine, rather than five that dont really measure up to the competition?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

June Sales Mixed
Car Sales up - Trucks Down

The traditional domestic automakers were hampered by a continued decline of the truck market. Car and crossover sales were generally good across brands, but trucks and truck-based SUV trucks were down.

For General Motors, the news was mixed. GM spinmeisters were happy to say that GM had the best month of the year in number of units sold. The press still reported that GM sales were down almost 26% from the same period last year. You remember last year don't you? That's the year GM lost $10 billion.

There were clear winners and losers. Suzuki was the big winner, with sales up 38% thanks to a redesigned Grand Vitara. (Too bad GM just divested itself of Suzuki stock.) Saab was the big loser with sales down 50%. Saab only sold 3,295 cars in the U.S. last month. That's about a fourth of DaimlerChrysler's Dodge Caliber sales alone. GM is keeping Saab. On the other hand, Pontiac sales were up 12% thanks to an expansion of the G6 line. Buick sales were down almost 37% What's up with that? The Lacrosse is just two years old, and the Lucerne is just finishing its first year.

The biggest winner was Toyota which continues to steamroll over the industry with a 16% sales increase. Contrary to the industry pattern. Toyota's truck and car sales were both up, although I have a hunch that truck sales were boosted by the Rav4 crossover, which might as well be a car.

Here's the scorecard from

Monday, July 03, 2006


I only have a few minutes to update today. Let's see how much I can get done in 10 minutes

Gettelfinger to Join DC Board

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger is set to join the supervisory board of DaimlerChrysler. In Germany, trade union officers are often on the board of the companies their unions serve. Perhaps that accounts for the 28 hour/week workweek.

Honda CRX Spy Photos & More from The Hollywood Extra

Vince Burlapp at always seems to have some spy photos & information on upcoming cars that nobody else has -- especially when it comes to Hondas. Click here for the latest. Check out the busy text display in the Dodge Challenger instrument panel concept.

How to do everything Better

In retrospect, it wasn't a good idea to make the space shuttle out of styrofoam.

Robert Farago on GM-Renault-Nissan

You might expect that Robert Farago would have something to say about the proposed GM-Renault-Nissan get together. Yep. Here is his latest General Motors Deathwatch post. He suggests that the timing and nature of the proposal could be a ploy by Kirk Kerkorian to get GM's stock price up. Of course, it only makes a difference if Kerkorian sells, and there's no indication that he's selling.

From a factual standpoint, Farago mentions that GMAC has loosened its underwriting for new car buyers, offering new buyers 0% financing even with 580 credit scores. He doesn't say where he came by this information. It's good news if you have a 580 credit score. It's bad news if you (Cerebus) are buying GM's paper. I guess TPTB at GM believe that, with Dan Quayle in charge, Cerebus will go for anything.

Out of time. Have a happy 4th.