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9:13 AM

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Audi releases action-packed teaser for Super Bowl ad

Rafay Ansar

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After posting relatively sturdy sales despite challenging conditions around the world, Audi feels it’s in position to do a bit of chest-thumping, and that comes through in its 60-second Super Bowl ad.

A teaser released Friday shows a fast-paced blitz through four decades, starring actor Jason Statham of the Transporter series and The Bank Job, and a supercharged Audi A6. It has chase scenes, stunts and at one point, a BMW goes flying through a billboard.

Audi says that it is using the ad as a shot across the bow of its old-guard competitors, and a Mercedes-Benz--which is hit by a Lincoln--and a Cadillac are featured in the commercial in unflattering fashion.

“It has drama, it has action and it tells a really great story,” said Scott Keogh, Audi’s chief marketing officer.

Statham, who personally drives an Audi, said the bit was faster-paced than his long list of action movies--high praise from an actor who starred in a film, Crank, whose underlying plot was adrenaline.

“It’s very different to making a movie,” Statham said. “The reactions have to be so quick. It all has to be compressed and condensed and things happen in a tenth of the time.”

A 30-second spot during the Super Bowl will cost about $3 million. The only car companies expected to advertise are Audi and Hyundai, Crain’s Detroit Business reports. None of the cash-strapped Detroit 3 is running spots this year.

Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America, said the company is aiming to gain market share this year, and it appears the ad is reflective of that mind-set.

“We do feel we go into it with a strong position,” he said during a visit to AutoWeek earlier this month. “I think the momentum is going to be carried over into the new year.”

9:21 AM

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McLaren P11 supercar spied in the snow

Rafay Ansar

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In this rare instance, a divorce seems to be benefiting everyone--including supercar fans.

The Mercedes-McLaren hookup that spawned the SLR is unwinding this year, and for the second time this week, we’ve received shots of what the one of the companies is doing next. In this case, it’s McLaren’s P11.

Spy shooters caught the supercar during a snowy testing session in Sweden as it undergoes cold-weather drills. These shots look similar to what we’ve seen before, though the car is heavily clad in black and white plastic.

The Formula One-inspired car will compete with the Ferrari F430 and new Mercedes supercar, the SLR McLaren-successor SLC, due for 2011. Spy shooters recently caught the SLC.

The two-seat P11 is expected in November 2010. It will rely heavily on carbon-fiber and aluminum materials, which would help keep weight under the 3,100-pound threshold. A soft-top spider could arrive in 2011.

Look for a turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 from AMG that will be reworked and given a McLaren badge. It could check in around 550 hp. The unit could be paired with a F1-style quick-change transmission.

The supercar has evolved since former Fiat and Ferrari designer Frank Stephenson signed on with McLaren.

9:15 AM

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Sprint Car star Lou Blaney dies

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Sprint Car and Modified racing legend Lou Blaney, father of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney, died on Jan. 25. He was 69.

Blaney, of Harford, Ohio, piled up more than 600 wins and more championships than he could count in Sprint Cars and Modifieds during a career that ultimately earned him a Hall of Fame induction in 2000.

His feats at Lernerville Speedway are matched only by the elite drivers in the track's 41-year history. He is second to only Bob Wearing Sr. in career feature wins (118) and track championships (seven). In one incredible stretch from 1972-1975, Blaney captured 49 wins and four consecutive track titles in Sprint Cars. He then moved into the Modified class and reeled off championships in 1980, 1991 and 1996, along with a division-leading 69 feature wins. He also drove a Modified to a career-best second-place finish in 1981 at the New York State Fairgrounds during Super DIRT Week events.

In recent years the Blaney family, including Lou's wife, Kate, has owned and operated Sharon Speedway in Burghill, Ohio, site of several World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series and World of Outlaws Late Model Series events.

9:07 AM

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Redesigned Volkswagen Polo expected to debut at Geneva motor show

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Volkswagen is on a mission to triple its U.S. sales to 800,000 units by the end of the decade. Hitting that goal will depend on expanding VW's U.S. lineup.

We know that VW's new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., will build a sedan that's going to be a bit larger than the Jetta. But VW also is adding on at the bottom of its lineup with the addition of the Polo, a small car positioned below the Golf (known as the Rabbit to us here in the States.)

A new-generation Polo is expected to debut at the Geneva motor show in March, and this illustration gives us a sense of what it will look like.

VW is planning to add the new Polo to production at its plant in Mexico, which makes it easier and more cost effective to sell in the United States. Expect to see the Polo in VW dealers here sometime in 2011.

9:03 AM

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Cadillac XLR canceled after ’09

Rafay Ansar

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The Cadillac XLR is nearing the end, and the 2009 model year will be its last lap.

“We’ve set in motion the kind of build-out of the car,” spokesman David Caldwell confirmed to AutoWeek.

General Motors is taking final orders now, and the last XLRs will be built this spring after a six-year run.

The XLR is built on the Chevrolet Corvette platform but uses Cadillac’s premium Northstar overhead-cam engines instead of the Corvette’s big-grunt pushrod motors.

The XLR traces its lineage to the Evoq concept car, which set the tone for Cadillac’s current edgy styling theme.

No special packages will be offered for the last year, and the car will be come in platinum and V-series trims.

The pending demise of the XLR means Cadillac is without a halo car of sorts. Caldwell pointed to the CTS coupe--which has been delayed till summer 2010--and the CTS-V, which went on sale about two months ago, as collective replacements for enthusiasts.

Those two cars offer more practical use, at least compared with the XLR’s two-seat layout, Caldwell said.

Still, he left open the possibility that a true roadster--likely low volume and high performance--could return to Cadillac. But at the moment, there are no known plans in the works. c

9:01 AM

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Nissan 370Z convertible likely to break cover at New York auto show

Rafay Ansar

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The drop-top version of the Nissan 370Z likely will bow at the New York auto show.

The convertible follows the coupe version, launched at the end of December. The open-air 370Z would arrive for the 2010 model year.

Stay tuned for more details on unique specs for the convertible. The coupe is shorter, wider and more powerful than its predecessor, the 350Z.

The new 370Z bowed at the Los Angeles auto show and gets a 3.7-liter V6 rated at 332 hp. A seven-speed automatic or slick-shifting six-speed manual with a feature called SynchroRev Match are offered.

The new, more sculpted car borrows styling cues from iconic Z cars of yesteryear, including the 1970 240Z.

Stop by CorvetteGuys.com and check out their large inventory of
C5 Exhaust.

9:10 AM

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Cadillac Presidential Limousine

Rafay Ansar

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As Americans celebrate the inauguration of a new president of the United States, another new Cadillac will grace Pennsylvania Avenue to lead the proceedings. President Barack Obama will ride in an all-new Cadillac Presidential Limousine, continuing a long tradition of Cadillac limousines that have served many U.S. presidents.

"Cadillac is honored to again provide a new Presidential Limousine," said Mark McNabb, North America vice president, Cadillac/Premium Channel. "This is a great American tradition that we're delighted to renew with an all-new car featuring the best of Cadillac's dramatic design and technology."

The image of an American president greeting crowds from a Cadillac limousine dates to President Woodrow Wilson and the early days of the automobile, and continues into a historic new era. The latest Cadillac Presidential Limousine is a completely new design, succeeding the DTS Presidential Limousine that debuted in 2004. The new car incorporates many of the dramatic design and technology features of new and highly acclaimed Cadillac vehicles in a purpose-built format tailored to specific and exacting specifications befitting presidential transport.

Inside and out, the Cadillac Presidential Limousine includes many of the brand's signature design elements. Assertive, modern and elegant, the front of the car includes the intricate, dual-textured grille made famous by Cadillac's most popular current models, the CTS sport sedan and Escalade. Vertical design elements, such as the car's front and rear lighting, mirror those used on production models.

For largely functional reasons, such as optimal outward visibility, the car is slightly more upright than its predecessor. However, this new Cadillac Cadillac Presidential Limousine occupies roughly the same overall footprint on the road as the previous model, with a similar size and proportion.

The side and rear profiles of the new Cadillac Presidential Limousine are classic, elegant forms, evocative of Cadillac's STS and DTS luxury sedans. Inside the cabin, the car includes the finest examples of Cadillac's recent renaissance in design, technology and craftsmanship. The cabin blends modern design and technology with old-world craftsmanship. Major aspects of the cabin are cut and sewn by hand, the same process used in popular Cadillac models such as the CTS sport sedan.

Naturally, many purpose-built aspects of the car are specially designed and prepared for presidential use. The rear passenger area includes an extensive executive compartment with ample seating space, outward visibility and useful mobile office features.

The car was designed, developed and tested by specialists who adhered to an extensive set of specifications. It was subjected to an extreme testing regimen to ensure performance that achieves precise functional requirements. In doing so, security provisions were undertaken at all times during development to ensure the car's functional capabilities are preserved and confidential.



An embroidered presidential seal is positioned in the center of the rear seat back panel, as well as on each rear door trim panel. Presidential seals are also affixed to the exterior rear doors. The U.S. flag is placed on the right front fender, and the presidential standard is located on the left front fender when the president travels in the vehicle. High-tech LED spotlights illuminate the flags at night.

History - Cadillac and the U.S. Presidency

Cadillac has built limousines and special vehicles for U.S. presidents, diplomats, ambassadors and foreign dignitaries since the early 20th century, an iconic aspect of the brand that continues today.

Cadillac's central role began during World War I, when many Cadillac engines and cars were transferred to military and government service because of their superior durability and power. One of the first chief executives to use a Cadillac was President Wilson, who rode through the streets of Boston during a World War I victory parade in 1919. A lavish 1928 Cadillac town car was used in the Calvin Coolidge administration.

In 1938, two Cadillac convertibles, dubbed the "Queen Mary" and "Queen Elizabeth," were delivered to the U.S. government. Named after the great ocean liners of the time, the vehicles were 21.5 feet long, weighed 7,660 pounds and were equipped with a full ammunition arsenal, two-way radios and heavy-duty generators. Durable and reliable, the two "Queens" served Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

President Eisenhower, known as a car buff, rode in one of the first Cadillac Eldorado models ever produced during his 1953 inaugural parade. The Eldorado represented a high point in automobile design history, as it had the first wraparound windshield, a feature quickly adopted on other new production models.

In 1956, the Queen Mary II and Queen Elizabeth II convertibles replaced the original series. The vehicles were slightly smaller, but like their predecessors, were fully armored and featured state-of-the art communications. Moreover, the vehicles were fitted with narrow rims inside the tire in case the tires were shot out. The Queen Mary II and Queen Elizabeth II served not only President Eisenhower, but also Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Both vehicles were retired in 1968.

The Ronald W. Reagan administration was delivered a 1983 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine and a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham - Presidential Series was delivered to the William J. Clinton administration in 1993. Unlike previous models that typically were Cadillac cars adapted and modified by independent limousine companies, the 1993 Presidential Brougham was designed, developed and manufactured totally within General Motors and Cadillac. This included an extensive set of security measures to maintain confidentiality, a process that continues today.

Currently, the 1983 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine resides at the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., while the 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham is at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark.

Cadillac has produced two presidential limousines this decade that remain in service. The first was a Deville Presidential model delivered to President George W. Bush in 2001. In 2004, President Bush debuted a new DTS Presidential model. It was the first application of a new design that launched later that year for the production DTS full-size sedan.

9:04 AM

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Aptera 2e Electric Car Production and Pricing Announced

Rafay Ansar

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This electric tadpole is set to shock California commuters later this year.

Don’t adjust your screen or rub your eyes. What you’re seeing is not a wingless plane or a rolling tadpole, but rather the preproduction Aptera 2e, a three-wheeled electric vehicle from Southern California–based Aptera Motors, which was founded in 2004. And, yes, it’s a real car with real production plans. If you live in the Golden State, you may see it “swimming” your road by the end of 2009.

What Is It?

Inspired by a teardrop-shape—which aerodynamicists will tell you is the most slippery shape extant—the body (or should we say fuselage?) is constructed with composite materials and can hold two passengers. The front wheels sprout from the body and are completely covered, as is the single rear wheel that drops from the flattened tail. Twin Cessna-like doors and a flush tailgate are the only apertures through which the cabin can be accessed; we have yet to learn how to get to the electric motor should the need arise.



The preproduction vehicle is equipped with a lithium-based battery of undisclosed capacity and is propelled via front-wheel drive. This 2e is not the first iteration of the design, adding over previous versions aerodynamic side-mounted mirrors and wider door openings. The vehicles seen here are the first of a planned set of Apteras that will undergo internal and external evaluations for fit, finish, performance, and durability in preparation for the beginning of production in October.

How Fast? How Much?


“We’re getting close to finalizing our final prime-time vehicle, but there’s still a lot of work to accomplish to manufacture an ultra-high-efficiency vehicle,” says Aptera president and CEO Paul Wilbur, whose 25 years of product planning and development, marketing and finance experience for Ford, Chrysler, and other manufacturers will certainly come in handy for the small manufacturer. “Just look at the 2e and you understand that it’s an aerodynamic marvel. We now have to make the final refinements in the upcoming months, squeezing out every ounce of positive performance.”



Just how much performance is he talking? According to Aptera, the 2e will go from 0 to 60 mph in under 10 seconds, top out at 90 mph, and achieve the energy-consumption equivalent of more than 200 mpg in the standard EPA driving cycle. Driving range is about 100 miles per charge.

The expected cost is between $25,000 and $45,000, according to Aptera, although we speculate that it will end up closer to the latter, given the abundant use of high-tech materials and the company’s certain desire to quickly recoup development costs. Initial sales will occur solely in California (where else would you launch such an oddity?), but Aptera plans to distribute the 2e to the rest of the United States by late 2010. It claims to have received nearly 4000 deposits for the vehicle.



Hardly a household name—at this point anyway—Aptera is shaping up to be no fly-by-night organization. In addition to CEO Paul Wilbur, the company has also recruited other well-known executives, folks like former Saleen and Chrysler/SRT executive Marques McCammon, who serves as CFO.



We assure you this won’t be the last you hear of the 2e. We’ve already arranged to be one of the first to perform independent testing of this prototype, the results of which you’ll see within a few short weeks.

9:46 AM

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Chrysler and Fiat Alliance: Future Product Speculation

Rafay Ansar

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At about the same time Barack Obama was figuring out where to store his paper clips and Post-it notes in the Oval Office, Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler LLC were busy trying to inaugurate a new partnership that almost no one saw coming.

News that Fiat will take a 35-percent stake in struggling Chrysler (the majority of which is owned by Cerberus Capital Management) could not come at a better time. If any of Detroit’s Big Three would fall, Chrysler would be the first, and this alliance at least gives the Pentastar a glint of hope for survival. A dearth of new product suggested that Chrysler was merely buying time before the creditors came knocking or its government loan money ran dry. Even with the $4 billion it received last month from the U.S. government, Chrysler’s near-term prospects for recovery appeared slim to none.

Some might say they still appear that way. With little in the way of global sales to generate cash flow—unlike, say, GM—Chrysler’s lackluster U.S. lineup looks even more dire. Why, for example, the company ever thought it could replace the Neon compact with a chunky-looking, off-roader wannabe like the Dodge Caliber is beyond us. At best, you could maybe say that the Caliber is better to drive than the old Neon, although that wouldn’t be saying much. But the Caliber’s aggressive mini-SUV looks will always make it a bit player compared to more conventionally styled segment leaders such as the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.

So if Chrysler survives and Fiat’s current crop of cars is good to go in terms of meeting U.S. crash and emissions regulations, what will a Fiat/Chrysler union look like? And, most important, what can we expect in terms of how this might impact each company’s approach to the U.S. market? Using a little educated guesswork, not to mention some old-fashioned crystal-ball gazing, we offer some ideas as to what the future holds for each company’s chances of U.S. sales success. Luckily for Chrysler, Fiat has been on a roll recently when it comes to building highly desirable products.

City Cars


Competitive city cars are one of the things that Chrysler desperately needs if it hopes to survive long—especially if it wants to jump-start global sales. It’s good, then, that Fiat has one of the best in the 500, which follows the lead of other retro-themed small cars like the Volkswagen New Beetle and BMW’s Mini. Stylistic inspiration came from the original 500, produced from 1957 to 1975. The 500 is based on the same vehicle platform as the Fiat Panda city car. Our guess is that the boxy and functional Panda will remain in Europe. It’s simply too small and, in most forms, far too slow for American car buyers.

However, it’s an open secret that Fiat would love to market the hot-selling 500 in the U.S.—not to mention relaunch Alfa Romeo in America by 2011, a task potentially made easier with access to Chrysler’s existing dealer network. If the diminutive 500 comes to the U.S., bet on something like the optional 100-hp, 1.4-liter 16-valve gasoline four-cylinder finding its way under the hood. A 158-hp four-cylinder is offered in the sporty 500 Abarth model. In Europe, a wide range of water-cooled engines are found under the 500’s stubby nose, including a 69-hp, 1.2-liter gasoline engine and a frugal, 75-hp 1.3-liter turbo-diesel.

The 500 could help launch Fiat’s reentry into the U.S. market, and provide a solid base upon which Chrysler could build a similar (and likely lower-priced) city-mobile to take on the likes of the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit. One small snag is that Fiat also shares the 500’s platform with Ford Motor Company, who used it to produce the latest Ford Ka city car. U.S. sales have been rumored for the Ka, although nothing has been finalized. Should the little Ford reach our shores, though, you can bet the Blue Oval would raise a stink in an attempt to keep a Chrysler-fied 500 from reaching market.

Small Cars

A step up in size and stature from the Panda and 500, the Grande Punto hatchback is handsome, well-built, and economical. Basically, it’s everything Fiats weren’t for way too long—one of the reasons Fiat (Fix It Again, Tony!) abandoned the American market a quarter-century ago. A range of frugal but fun gasoline-fired engines (from a fuel-sipping 64-hp, 1.2-liter four-banger to the tire-smoking 178-hp four found in the Abarth SS model) would satisfy enthusiasts and tree-huggers alike.

Don’t discount the wide range of Multijet diesel engines Fiat also has on offer. They’re an invaluable asset for any company that hopes to crack the European market. Fiat has plenty of decent diesel engines ranging from 1.3 to 3.0 liters, and it’s almost certain that, if Chrysler is serious about European sales, Fiat-built diesels will eventually find their way under Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler hoods.

As for the Grande Punto, it’s sized to compete with cars such as the Ford Focus and VW Golf. The three- or five-door Grande Punto could stand a good chance at showing up in Chrysler or Dodge form. Our guess is that this would be delayed until the next freshening of the now nearly five-year-old model. Chrysler would also likely want a sedan body style, since Americans have never really warmed up to hatchbacks.

The Fiat Linea is basically a Fiat Bravo sedan. The Grande Punto and slightly larger Bravo hatchback, along with the Linea sedan, are all built on the Gamma platform, which was co-developed with General Motors during the companies’ ill-fated joint venture, which dissolved in 2005 but ended up providing Fiat with a much-needed $2 billion cash infusion.

As a small family car, the Linea would slot beneath the woeful Chrysler Sebring sedan. Helping the Linea’s case is the fact that it’s one of the most worldly of Fiat’s current offerings, especially in terms of where it’s pieced together. In addition to production sites in Brazil and Turkey, Fiat now builds the Linea at a new factory in Ranjangaon, India. The plant will have the capability of producing upwards of 200,000 vehicles per year, which is more than the Indian market could ever absorb. Remaining cars will be exported to markets in Europe or, thanks to the Fiat/Chrysler tie-up, perhaps to the U.S. However, there’s a problem: the Linea just isn’t large enough to compete in the fiercely contested U.S. mid-size market.

Trucks/Minivans

This is where Chrysler could come to the aid of Fiat—not to mention Fiat’s partner in India, Tata Motors. Chrysler has a wide range of large and heavy-duty pickups and SUVs in its product portfolio, along with decades of expertise in the American minivan market. Even Volkswagen thinks enough of Chrysler’s latest crop of minivans that the German manufacturer rebadges them and sells them as the VW Routan. (There’s been no news as to whether this agreement—or the deal to supply Nissan with Ram-based pickups—is in any jeopardy due to the link with Fiat.)

Based on the same platform as the Grande Punto, the recently introduced Fiat Qubo is a small and funky-looking multipurpose van. This is probably the only Fiat van that stands a chance at coming to the U.S. In terms of Fiat’s larger vans, such as the aging Multipla and Doblo, Fiat would be wise to redesign them using hardware donated from Chrysler’s more modern minivan stable.

Chrysler engineering could eventually also find its way into Tata Motors vehicles. The new Ranjangaon factory is a 50/50 venture between Fiat and Tata. Chrysler already had an agreement to build electric-powered versions of the Tata Ace (a small commercial vehicle) for the American market. Could Chrysler’s larger truck technology appear in, say, the next Tata Grande Sumo or Safari SUV? It’s much less far-fetched than, say, rumors that the $2100 Tata Nano could come to the States anytime soon.

Exotics/Luxury

Ferrari parts appearing in a Chrysler is totally out of the question. That point was made abundantly clear in the press release announcing Fiat/Chrysler cooperation. This doesn’t mean that some clever parts-sharing and cost-cutting couldn’t be done with Fiat’s other sport-luxury brands, Maserati and Alfa Romeo. True, the last liaison between Chrysler and Maserati resulted in the laughably tacky and awful-to-drive Chrysler TC (Touring Coupe) by Maserati. That monstrosity lasted only from 1989 to 1991.

A Chrysler exotic looks highly unlikely, especially considering that the company is trying to sell the Viper brand. But who’s to say that Chrysler LX parts (the platform beneath the 300C and Dodge Charger) couldn’t underpin next-gen Alfa Romeo products? Current Alfas are saddled with a front-wheel-drive layout (except the exotic 8C Competizione) when all their rivals are rear-wheel drive. On the other hand, through Tata (via the Fiat/Tata romance; Tata now owns both Jaguar and Land Rover), Maserati could be using Jaguar underpinnings for its next-generation rear-drive architecture. And could some Jag bits find their way into Chryslers? We can’t rule it out for sure.

Whatever ends up happening, any products stemming directly from a Chrysler/Fiat marriage—the agreement won’t be finalized until April or so—likely won’t come to fruition for at least three years, if not a lot longer. This is going to be mighty interesting.

10:15 AM

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GM's Ed Peper promises Chevrolet will gain market share in 2009

Rafay Ansar

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Here we are, not yet through the first month of the new year, and Ed Peper, vice president at Chevrolet, is already predicting that the Bowtie brand will increase market share in 2009. What evidence does he submit to arrive at this early conclusion? Last year, Chevy managed to post an increase of six-tenths of a point in retail share in 2008, despite the horrible market conditions late in the year, with the Malibu leading the charge by increasing sales by nearly 40% over the previous generation.

The latest Malibu is certainly a good place to start, and Peper believes that the updated Equinox crossover will make similar inroads in the market. Peper also points to wins by the Malibu and Silverado in recent J.D. Power Initial Quality studies as proof that the brand's products are improving and are comparable to their import competition. These wins are a good place to start, and Peper says the brand will continue to heavily market its best products, but we maintain that it's a bit early to be tooting one's horn with only a half of one month's sales in the books.

9:22 AM

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Ford Mustang FR500CJ prototype auctioned for $375,000

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$350,000 may buy the first 2010 Camaro, but a few dollars more will buy the first of an ultra-rare Mustang. The track-only 2008 Ford Mustang FR500CJ prototype crossed the auction block last weekend at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction for $375,000.

Although the Mustang FR500CJ retailed for $70,000 (all 50 units were spoken for in 10 days), this one gets to demand a premium. Unlike the rest of the FR500CJs out there, this car has already been broken in. It was one of two prototypes built to test low-volume car. Drag racers who had wheel time with this vehicle include John and Ashley Force (both of whom signed its hood), Robert Hight, Mike Neff, and Bob Tasca III.

The Mustang FR500CJ is inspired by the 1968 Cobra Jet Mustang. While the original Cobra Jet’s race-inspired engine only made 390 horsepower, the Mustang FR500CJ’s 5.4L V8 from the GT500 makes 428 hp. The car is not road legal, but it is NHRA-legal right out of the box.

Check out AmericanMuscle.com and their large selection of
Mustang Hoods.

9:13 AM

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Tesla Roadster Sport: More Speed, More Money

Rafay Ansar

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Here’s something you could have seen coming from a mile away: Tesla is making a performance version of its much heralded Tesla Roadster. What makes the Sport version so different?

The Roadster Sport has a hand-wound stator that increases winding density helping to eliminate resistance while increasing peak torque (i.e. more power). It also gets better tires. Yokohama Ultra High Performance tires in this case (people are speculating they will be the same Advan A048s fitted to Lotus’ Elise/Exige). The 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds is 0.2-seconds faster than the standard Roadster. The Tesla Roadster Sport also gets Lotus-derived components, including adjustable dampers and anti-roll bars that can be tweaked to suit the driver’s tastes.

Neat, right? Now the real question: How much?

The starting price is $128,500 in the US and €112,000 (excluding VAT) in Europe, or $28,000 more than the base model of Tesla Roadster.

It’s up to you, the buyer, if that is worth it.

Source: AutoBlog

9:14 AM

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Tesla to supply drive system for Electric Smart

Rafay Ansar

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Tesla founder and chairman Elon Musk took the occasion of his company’s first Detroit show appearance to announce that Tesla will provide components for the Smart Electric.

Musk said Daimler gave him permission to reveal Jan. 13 that the German automaker has been working with his firm for the nearly a year and half. Tesla will provide the battery pack and charging systems, initially for 1,000 units. “This will allow us to accelerate the advent of an affordable electric car,” said Musk, who also said his company is seeking to develop other, similar partnerships with major automakers.

He also touted the Tesla Roadster Sport, to be available in June, with a more powerful drive system that will improve 0-60 mph acceleration to 3.7 seconds. Roadsters are being built at a rate of 15 cars a week now, but will increase to 30 cars a week in late spring for an annualized rate of 1,500 cars a year. A planned sedan will be shown in late February, he said, with production two years away.

9:33 AM

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Porsche prices updated Boxster, Cayman

Rafay Ansar

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Porsche has announced pricing for its freshened 2009 Boxster and Cayman models.


Prices for the Boxster start at $47,550 for base models and $57,650 for the more powerful S version. The prices include shipping charges.

For 2009, there are two new direct-injection versions of Porsche's flat six-cylinder engines. A 2.9-liter engine bumps power up 10 hp in the Boxster to 255 connected to a standard six-speed manual (compared with a five-speed in the previous model). A 3.4-liter unit provides a 15 hp increase in the Boxster S for a total of 310 hp.

Fixed-roof Cayman models start at $51,250 for base models and $61,150 for the S variant and also gain their own pair of new engines. The Cayman's 2.9-liter boxer six-cylinder increases power by 20 hp for 265 hp, while the 3.4-liter in the S jumps 25 hp to 320 hp.

Additionally, the Boxster and Cayman are now available with Porsche's dual-clutch transmission and mechanical limited-slip differential. Larger brakes and LED taillights complete the changes for 2009.

9:23 AM

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Detroit 3 pull out of Tokyo Motor Show

Rafay Ansar

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The Detroit 3 automakers have pulled out of this year’s Tokyo auto show to cut costs.

Ford Motor Co. on Wednesday confirmed Japanese media reports that Ford would not be participating this year.

"At this time, participating in the show just isn’t a strategic priority," spokeswoman Jennifer Flake said. "Given everything else we have to balance in that region and in that market, that’s not where we’ve chosen to prioritize our time and our resources."

Flake said she could not give information about the status of Mazda or Volvo in the show.

Exhibiting in the show, which is held every two years, cost General Motors $2 million in 2007. That’s money better spent elsewhere, said Rick Brown, president of GM Asia Pacific.

“We won’t be participating,” Brown told Automotive News. “If you really look at the business conditions that we are in right now, where we really have to make a bang out of every buck we spend, it’s simply a business decision.”

Chrysler made the same decision.

"Chrysler decided, under the current challenges and market situation the company faces, to pull out of TMS in 2009 in order to secure limited resources invested efficiently on activities necessary to sustain our business," Kaori Beppu, spokesperson for Chrysler Japan, said in a written statement.

"We regret that we will be losing a great opportunity to appeal the company's presence at one of the international auto shows, but Chrysler will continue to offer Japanese consumers the very attractive product portfolio as well as the quality services."

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association is debating whether to cancel the event.

Brown said the Tokyo auto show can be a good forum to promote the GM brand. But the money is better channeled into other local marketing efforts, he said.

GM’s decision to stay home is sure to raise eyebrows among the company’s detractors in Japan, Brown said. But any bruising to the company’s image will be short-lived, he said.

“If you’re going to the Tokyo motor show to raise the corporate flag or just do it for corporate presence, I think those days are gone,” Brown said. “It’s not a good business decision.”

The 41st annual Tokyo auto show is scheduled for Oct. 23-Nov. 8. Press days are to be Oct. 21 and 22. The theme is "Fun driving for us, eco driving for earth."

Discussion about canceling the show is driven in part by the decision of some non-Japanese automakers to shun the October venue amid the global financial crisis. But some Japanese exhibitors also are proposing that this year's event be canceled.

The show’s steering committee will decide by early next month whether to postpone the show, said Toshihiro Iwatake, JAMA's executive director.

A number of non-American companies dropped out of this month’s Detroit auto show, including Nissan Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Corp., Porsche AG, Rolls-Royce and Land Rover. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. canceled its corporate presence, but local Mitsubishi dealers put together an exhibit.

9:18 AM

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GT supercar designer leaving Ford

Rafay Ansar

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Designer Camilo Pardo, credited with drawing the Ford GT supercar, is leaving the automaker after a 24-year career with the company.

Pardo, 45, confirmed to AutoWeek that he is leaving Ford, but he declined to give details. He said final details of his departure have yet to be worked out.

Pardo is best known as the designer of the recast Ford GT, a 550-hp street car based heavily on the 1960s racers that dominated Le Mans. He also designed the GT40 concept car, which became the production GT.

Pardo is still an active Ford employee, a Ford spokeswoman said on Thursday. She declined to comment further.

During his Ford career, Pardo worked in Ford's advance design studio and played key roles on the Thunderbird, the Lincoln LS and electric vehicles. He also has worked at Ford studios in Cologne, Germany, and Turin, Italy.

Outside of Ford, Pardo is known as a fine artist, sculptor and clothing and furniture designer. He also has played host to the worldwide design community during the North American International Auto Show with his annual Designer's Night party--an "A-ticket" event during the show.

Pardo joined Ford after graduating from the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit.

9:22 AM

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Obama’s Cadillac One officially unveiled

Rafay Ansar

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Behind the scenes here at CarAdvice, our earlier spy shots of the U.S. President’s new limousine caused a stir worldwide, and now Cadillac has officially unveiled its new Presidential Limousine.



The fully customised Presidential Limousine, dubbed ‘Cadillac One’, will be tasked with chauffeuring U.S. President-elect Barack Obama following his inauguration into office next week.

The armour-plated limousine boasts a series of features designed to keep its VIP occupant safe, secure and comfortable at all times.



In the rear seat, the President can remain productive with useful office features such as a foldaway desktop, laptop computer, wireless internet access and a satellite phone.

While official specifications surrounding its defensive capabilities have obviously not been revealed, examination of available spy shots and previous incarnations of the Cadillac One – together with some artistic license – have gleaned some rather interesting speculation in regards to its security features from around the web.

The driver, who has been specially trained by the CIA to cope in emergency driving conditions, also boasts the only window that opens in the entire vehicle - by just three inches - in order to communicate with the secret service running alongside the vehicle.



The bodywork - which is eight inches thick in some places - is a combination of steel, aluminium, titanium and ceramic which has been designed to shatter and stop any possible projectile aimed at the vehicle.

Underneath, the floor is made up of a five inch thick steel plate as a counter-measure for an explosive device placed underneath, while the armour-plated fuel tank is filled with special foam designed to prevent it from exploding even from a direct hit.

No mere flat tyre could stop this limo either, with puncture resistant, Kevlar-reinforced rubber in each corner - but if they do manage to go flat, the limo can quite happily drive on its steel rims in an emergency situation.

Finally, if it all goes wrong, the limo also includes self-defence items such as tear gas cannons, pump-action shotguns and even an on-board supply of the president’s blood type.



While none of these features can actually be confirmed, they may not be as far-fetched as you might think, especially with an earlier spy shot clearly showing off the eight inch thick armour-plated doors.

Stop by CorvetteGuys.com and check out their large selection of
Z06 Exhaust.

9:18 AM

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FPV Open Day back in 2009

Rafay Ansar



Eager punters will have the chance to get up close and personal with the entire FPV fleet on March 1 at the brands Campbellfield headquarters.

Along with the current FG range of vehicles, past models will also be on display along with other Ford performance models.

Members of the public will also be allowed unprecedented access to the FPV production facility to see how and where the current range is assembled.

In addition to this, Ford Performance Racing will also open the doors to their race workshop with FPR drivers Mark Winterbottom and Steven Richards on hand to answer questions and sign memorabilia.

A variety of family activities will also be available, with all proceeds going toward the Guide Dogs Association of Victoria.

The FPV Open Day will be held on Sunday 1st March, 2009 at 33 Glenbarry Road, Campbellfield and runs from 9am until 3pm.

9:13 AM

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Alfa Romeo MiTo: RIAR special Happy Birthday edition

Rafay Ansar

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Alfa Romeo really likes its fan club. RIAR (Registro Italiano Alfa Romeo) is celebrating its 46th anniversary, and Alfa has created a special edition MiTo to celebrate this. It will be limited to only 46 units, surprise.

This special edition features 15 more hp, which means the 1.4-liter turbo diesel engne now develops 170 hp. The car will also feature the production number and RIAR member’s name engraved on a silver plate on the shift tunnel.

You can have the car in any color as long as its black (two shades: Black Cattivo or Black Etna). To go with the black paint, the little hatchback gets matching headlight and rear-light rims as well as a rear roof spoler. This MiTo gets 17" dark forged rims, identical to those sported by the 8C Competizione. There is even a black (or red) leather interior. If equipted correctly, the only spot of color on the car can be the red brake calipers.

The price is €20,000. This translates to about $26,000 at current rates, but that doesn’t matter much. Not only does Alfa not import the MiTo to the U.S., but this special edition is for RIAR members only.

Stop by CorvetteGuys.com and check out their large selection of
Corvette T Shirts.

9:13 AM

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Maserati Quattroporte GT S to go on sale in the spring

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Maserati's latest speed demon, the Quattroporte Sport GT S will go on sale this spring, the company said at the car's debut on Monday at the Detroit auto show.

The Sport GT S gets a 4.7-liter V8 that pumps out 433 hp--an increase from 425 hp in the Quattroporte S. The gearshift has also been calibrated for an even sportier ride.

The front and rear suspensions receive single-rate dampers, stiffer springs and the ride has been lowered. The exhaust note is tuned to provide a deeper and throatier rumble with pneumatic valves.

The striking sedan gets an eye-catching black concave grille and new headlights with a metallic finish. The shadow-line treatment--so dubbed by Maserati--includes black finishing around the doors, body-colored door handles and black exhaust pipes.

The interior is marked with Alcantara and leather seats.

The Sport GT S honors the 70th anniversary of Maserati's first win in the Indy 500.

The all-new Quattroporte is due for 2012.

9:11 AM

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Supercar Revenge: GTM-R is revealed in Detroit

Rafay Ansar

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File this under the eye-candy department at the Detroit auto show.

An Indiana company named Revenge Designs Inc. unveiled at $145,000 supercar Monday that's fitted with a slew of General Motors parts, including the vaunted LS7 V8 rated at 505 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque.

Based on the Factory Five GTM body and chassis, Revenge Designs adds its own body styling to the Boston company's basic supercar formula to create the GTM-R.

The top speed is expected to reach 180 mph. The estimated weight is 2,550 pounds.

The wheels measure 20 by 9 inches front, and 22 by 11 rear. The suspension has three settings: a ground level that acts as an anti-theft device and makes the car non-driveable; a track setting and a transport mode.

The LS7 engine is paired with a five-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed gearbox. The brakes and steering column are also sourced from GM.

One car has been built--the sleek white one displayed at the Detroit show. Two more are in the process of being built, says Peter Collorafi, Revenge CEO. He had planned to reveal the car in December in Indiana, but delayed when the opportunity in Detroit became available.

9:07 AM

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Buying a New Car Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

Rafay Ansar



People are wary of buying a new car during this shaky economy and who can really blame them? There are many questions out there and very few answers. For instance, will GM, Ford or Chrysler be around in three to five years? How tough is it to secure an auto loan right now? How will buyers be able to cover their car payments if they suddenly lose their job? And are there any advantages to buying a new car now?

Our first bit of advice to you is this—take a deep breath and relax. Getting caught up in all the gloom and doom and letting negative thoughts about purchasing a new vehicle creep into your psyche will only stress you out.

I have many friends who have decided to ignore this recession and focus on maintaining a positive attitude. And most of them are succeeding in their jobs. I mean, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, right? The world doesn’t stop rotating when the economy goes bad, so don’t let it taint your thinking process, especially when you’re doing something as important as buying a new car.

So let’s try to answer these very pertinent questions one by one:

Will the Big 3 survive this downturn?

There’s no doubt that the Big 3 are in trouble. U.S. car sales peaked in 2000 with a record 17.4 million vehicles, and G.M., Ford, and Chrysler had two-thirds of the market. This year’s sales will total less than 15 million cars, the lowest number since 1994, says automotive research firm J.D. Power and Associates.

Since 2000 alone, the three Detroit companies have shed 269,440 employees, nearly a third of their combined total, and they’re still issuing pink slips in bulk. In the past three years, they have racked up more than $67 billion in losses, a number that would be larger if Chrysler were included for all of 2007. (Since Chrysler was bought by private equity powerhouse Cerberus last summer, its financials are no longer public.) The automotive press used to refer to the U.S. carmakers as the Big Three, but once Toyota surpassed Ford and Chrysler domestically, a new name was needed. The Little Three? The Big 2.5? They’re now simply called the Detroit Three.

Will they fold?

Most certainly not. What is more likely to happen is a downsizing followed by a possible merger. But rest assured—they’re not going anywhere. One of the main problems is that they opened too many new dealerships and became fat and happy. Now they have to think about being lean and mean. This is more of a cycle and a correction than anything else. Sure, more of their dealerships will undoubtedly be closing their doors in 2009. But, in the end, a new car buyer can rest assured that the Detroit 3 will be around—in at least one form or another—for a long time to come.

How hard is it to secure a loan right now for a new car?

I won’t lie to you; it’s tougher than ever to get a car loan today. Dealers are being extremely careful about who they’re approving. A credit score in the 700’s used to make a car loan a slam dunk, but not anymore. Many people are being rejected, but there is good news.

Dealers are starting to loosen up a little. It just takes a little more research and care nowadays to secure a new car loan. Once you’ve decided on the amount you need, start looking at different banks and lenders. Don’t start filling out applications until you’ve completed this step. If you’re declined multiple times, it will have a negative effect on your credit rating. Try to use a company that searches for loans for you. Loans are out there, you just have to be proactive in locating them.

If you can’t get a loan by yourself, consider getting help from a relative or family member. There’s no shame in needing a co-signer, especially in a recession.

How will people make their car payments if they lose their job?


With layoffs becoming the norm rather than the exception in peoples’ lives, this is a very pertinent question that is a real concern for many potential new car buyers.

If you’re in a lease situation and you lose your job, you can try to find someone to take over the lease. There are many companies that can assist you in this, including www.swapalease.com. Usually, you’ll have to take some sort of a financial hit in the process, but it’s better than completely defaulting on the lease and seriously damaging your credit.

If you buy a new car and then can’t make your payments, the best advice I can give you is to attempt and re-finance your car loan. Dealers know better than anyone that money can tighten up when pink slips are issued, so they will in many cases try to work with you. Establishing a lower monthly payment could be the relief you’re looking for and re-financing is the best solution.

What are the advantages of buying a new car now?


If you have the money and can keep your job, this is the ideal time to buy a new vehicle, as long as it’s within your financial means. Dealers are clamoring for your business and you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to making a purchase.

My advice here is to haggle, shop price and look for dealers that are offering “value-added” propositions. Search for things like extended warranties, free extras and accessories and deals on service and maintenance. If you get lucky and work hard at finding a good deal, you may be able to save as much as 20-35% off the sticker price.

But, buyer beware—some dealers are using this rocky economy to scam novice buyers. Make sure you get everything in writing and don’t let an aggressive salesperson corral you into a deal that isn’t fair or equitable. Read the small print and don’t get sucked into add-ons that are overpriced and under-performing. When I leased my Infiniti, I made some mistakes that I now regret, like buying wheel and tire insurance that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Car dealers make a lot of money on these extras and will push to get them. Don’t buy into it.

Hopefully you can use this advice to get a new car if you’re in the market for one. When a door closes for one person, it usually opens for someone else. Play the game, do your due diligence and try to anticipate problems down the road and you’ll be able to drive away with a new vehicle that you can afford and hopefully make the payments on for many years to come.

9:28 AM

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Taurus' goal: Revive the allure

Rafay Ansar

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DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is taking the next-generation Taurus sedan upscale.

The re-engineered and restyled 2010 Taurus, revealed today at the North American International Auto Show, is Ford's attempt to recapture relevance for the storied Taurus line. Ford revived the nameplate in early 2007 by renaming the Ford Five Hundred sedan. The previous Taurus was dropped in 2006 after becoming a rental car mainstay.

But the Five Hundred-turned-Taurus failed to jump-start sales. Ford sold 52,667 Taurus sedans in the United States last year, a far cry from the nameplate's days as the best-selling car in America.

Ford executives aren't disclosing specific sales targets for the 2010 Taurus, but they aim to increase volume significantly above today's levels, said Scott Tobin, Ford director of product development.

In late 2006, product planners at Ford sent the 2010 Taurus project back to the drawing board with orders to improve design, quality and craftsmanship. The resulting car, slated to go on sale this summer, is packed with luxury, safety and technology features such as steering-wheel paddle shifters, heated-and-cooled seats and adaptive cruise control with collision warning.

"It's much more of a me car as opposed to a family car," said Moray Callum, Ford's director of car and crossover design.

While the Taurus is based on Lincoln MKS underpinnings, it shares no sheet metal with the Lincoln. The 2010 Taurus is powered by a 3.5-liter, 263-hp V-6. It is expected to get an optional 3.5-liter, 350-hp engine with EcoBoost at launch this summer.

Pricing will start at $25,995, including destination — the same price as 2009 models.

Lofty mission

Callum said he was charged with "putting Taurus back on top."

"This is Ford's new flagship," he said. "It's not a family car, but an aspirational car, built with craftsmanship and good design."

An adaptation on Ford's three-bar grille has been influenced by the trapezoidal face found on Ford of Europe cars. This is a trend of the future as Ford moves to make the same products sold around the world.

Inside, designers have given the car a cockpit feel, with a raised console and dual binnacle gauges like those found on the Mustang.

Work on the new Taurus began about two years ago and benefited from 3D virtual modeling, according to Pete Reyes, the car's chief engineer. "The computer modeling took a year out of the process," Reyes said.

Reyes promises steering and handling to be significantly better than the current model, and he said it will be the quietest car in the Ford fleet.

The Taurus will also be available with electronic features Ford is rolling out, including adaptive cruise control with collision mitigation and a heads-up display, blind-spot warning system, and active park assist. Also, for the first time, the Taurus will sport a branded sound system, this one coming from Sony.

12:53 AM

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Rolls-Royce Phantom Sapphire

Rafay Ansar

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Rolls-Royce is about making exclusive cars, so its no surprise when it comes out with a special edition from its Bespoke Collection. For those that missed out on the Roller’s Phantom Pearl, Phantom Silver, and Phantom Tungsten editions, now comes the Rolls-Royce Phantom Sapphire.

The Phantom Sapphire takes its name from the bodywork’s unique shade of Milori Sapphire which is a unique shade of navy blue. The interior comes in a choice of two color combinations either navy blue with seashell highlights or seashell with navy blue highlights.

Lucky owners who want to celebrate their new exclusive Rolls (or the fact that they are stinkn’ rich) will appreciate cool box hidden under the back seats perfect for a little New Year’s bubbly. To complete the drink-drive package, the car also comes with diamond motif hand engraved crystal tumblers and champagne flutes.

12:51 AM

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BMW gives behind-the-scenes look at Z4 development

Rafay Ansar

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Most fans of the new BMW Z4 will admire the finished product.

But gearheads also get a kick out of the work that goes into creating cars.

So if you want to know more about the 2009 Z4, BMW is happy to oblige with a couple of Web videos.

In one video, Z4 exterior designer Juliane Blasi explains how she wanted the car to be “emotional and sexy” and to speak the language of people, not just be a product.

The other video details the various types of punishment BMW heaped on Z4 prototypes to make it road-ready.

Interested? You can find the videos here: www.bmw-web.tv/en/channel/new

12:30 AM

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Tucker design team member Philip Egan dies

Rafay Ansar



Philip Egan, a designer and author who is credited with designing the driver control area of the 1948 Tucker Sedan, died on Dec. 26 in Fairfax, Calif. He was 88 years old.

Egan was working for the J. Gordon Lippincott design firm after World War II when it was hired to help design the Tucker Sedan. Egan moved to Chicago to work on the Tucker design team. Tucker chief designer Alex Tremulis later hired Egan to work at Tucker Corp. Only 51 Tuckers were built.

Egan chronicled the development of the Tucker in a book, "Design and Destiny, the Making of the Tucker Automobile." He was also hired as a consultant for a 1988 movie about Preston Tucker and his car, "Tucker: The Man and His Dream." The movie was produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

After leaving Tucker, Egan worked as a senior designer for Sears in Chicago, with a focus on household appliances. He later ran his own design practice in Chicago, then joined the Walter Landor and Associates design firm in California.

In addition to his Tucker book, Egan wrote three books for young readers. He had recently finished a history of the 20th century, told in an anecdotal style, which has yet to be published.

Egan is survived by his wife, Virginia Egan, two daughters, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

At Egan's request, no funeral will be held. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Doctors Without Borders.

12:24 AM

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Wes Raynal: Wheeling and dealing

Rafay Ansar

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Let me get this straight: Banks get a $700 billion bailout with free money, and not only does the economy go further into the dumper, but nobody can even tell us where our money went. Not the banks, not our illustrious elected officials (the ones who tripped all over themselves forking over our dough)--nobody.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Three automakers beg and plead for loans, and the moment the money lands in their accounts, they put it to work for their customers, the American public.

I hope Congress learns a valuable lesson here, though I have almost zero faith that Washington does anything, let alone being capable of learning anything.

This contrast of business practices blew my mind. On Tuesday, General Motors' financial arm, GMAC, got $6 billion from the U.S. Treasury, and by Tuesday afternoon--Tuesday afternoon!--it was making credit available to more customers so they could buy cars and trucks and thereby help reignite the sputtering U.S. economy.

As this goes on, Wall Street sits on its hundreds of billions of dollars and does abso-freaking-lutely nothing to ease the housing crisis or get credit flowing in any way, shape or form. Oh, wait. The banks have spent this gilt gift to buy up other banks to show profits to shareholders so they can "justify" end-of-year bonuses.

See differences here?

The economy won't even begin to sniff a turnaround unless banks ease credit and lend money--and do it pronto. A radio report this morning predicted that nationally in 2009, we will be worse off in terms of home sales than in the putrid 2008. Ya gotta love those analysts, don't ya? So automakers can't plan for any kind of 14 million, 15 million, 16 million sales market in '09; they will be fortunate to hit 11 million. We will likely see factories shut down in the first quarter while furious negotiations take place between automakers and the United Auto Workers to get total compensation in line with that of Washington's beloved transplants.

Last time I looked, I didn't notice that it was the UAW causing banks to freeze credit. Riddle me this: How can such a thing as consumer confidence exist if the consumer has no confidence in his ability to borrow?

I predict that Washington will continue to sit and twiddle its thumbs for the coming session. That is what it does best. Oh, there will be plenty of "hearings," no doubt, tons of "debate." But it's too late--the government's fingers are too deep in the Detroit Three's pie. So when the dust settles, the automakers will remain the scapegoats, at least until they agree to build the next great Nancy Pelosi-designed, Sierra Club-approved Hempmobiles.

You know, the cars we all want.

11:27 AM

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Fisker bringing new concept to Detroit show

Rafay Ansar

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The production version of the hybrid-powered Karma was pegged to be the centerpiece of Fisker Automotive at the Detroit auto show. That was, until Tuesday evening.

That's when Fisker announced it was bringing a new concept--the Karma S--to the Detroit show and gave a peek at it in a photo that shows the right side of the concept, including the door and the front wheel. Prominent on the front quarter-panel is the name "Sunset".

Fisker did not give up any other details about the concept. But the photo appears the reveal the lack of a B-pillar behind the driver's seat--which could be a signal that the Sunset is a convertible.

11:21 AM

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Potent Pony: Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Rafay Ansar

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One of the highlights of Ford's display at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit will be the debut of the 2010 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 that has been blessed by 86-year-old Ol' Shel himself. The GT500 is equipped with the same powerplant that was fitted into last year's limited-edition GT500KR, a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 cranking out 540 hp at 6,200 rpm and 510 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm.

The engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission with an improved short-throw shifter. A new twin-disc 250-millimeter clutch made from organic material provides a smoother engagement of all that torque. A new 3:55 limited-slip differential is standard.

While the powertrain is virtually the same as on the KR, the new GT is fitted with some new sheetmetal that puts an even more aggressive-looking Mustang on the road. The exterior is dominated by the large-mouth front grille and an increased power dome in the hood. A functional air extractor in the hood helps to vent hot air and keep things cool.

Speaking of cool, the Shelby cobra logo was moved from the traditional left side of the grille to the right to make way for a snorkel that routes cold air to the V8's intake.

Jamal Hameedi, chief program engineer for the car, said that Shelby blessed the change. "Shelby said, 'Does it make more power?' I told him it did, and he said, 'I like it.' "

The car rides on standard 18-inch wheels and tires, with new 19-inch forged-aluminum wheels optional. At the rear of the car, a large spoiler with a Gurney flap adorns the decklid, and the letters spelling out "Shelby" stretch across the entire width of the rear.

Inside, the exterior racing stripes are picked up in the seats, stitched into the leather. Aluminum surrounds the gauge bezels in an understated treatment.

"We were charged with creating the ultimate GT," Hameedi said. "I think we did that, but I'm a bit biased. This car is the direct result of all the work we did on the KR. But this car has a better ride, better handling and a more refined powertrain. The better chassis balance gives us the better ride and the new tires [Goodyear F1 Supercar] provide better grip."

The GT500 has been fitted with new springs that are 13 percent stiffer in the front and 7 percent stiffer in the rear. Four-piston Brembo calipers clamp everything down.

The electronic controls have been upgraded as well, with a three-mode electronic stability-control system. The system can be switched on, off or to sport mode. The car is electronically limited to 155 mph, and while Ford would not release a 0-to-60-mph time, it is expected to be in the range of the KR at 4.3 seconds.

Hameedi said the GT500 has gained 20 pounds from the old model, thanks in part to more sound deadening to improve the car's NVH. "It's quieter and faster," Hameedi said. "This is a better car in every respect than the car it replaces."

The Shelby GT500 will be available in both coupe and convertible models, with the take expected to be 70 percent coupes to 30 percent ragtops. The car should be in dealer showrooms in June.

Check out AmericanMuscle.com and their large inventory of
Mustang Suspension.

2:27 AM

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New Caterham Model for 2011

Rafay Ansar

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Caterham, which has the rights to build the Lotus 7, has hit on an intriguing way of combining market research and car design.





Taking a cue from Wikipedia, Caterham has set up a website (www.splitwheel.com) that invites visitors to contribute their ideas for the shape and specification of a new Caterham model that will go into production in 2011.






After the entries are culled, the website will begin a voting process to decide on the final design. Participants will be able to monitor the project and perhaps also become involved in its testing and development.

2:18 AM

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2010 Lexus HS250h Hybrid - Auto Shows

Rafay Ansar

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Lexus confirms the debut of a new hybrid sedan at the Detroit auto show.

Toyota is going bonkers with alternative powertrains at the 2009 Detroit show. Beyond dropping the next-gen Toyota Prius and the FT-EV concept, it will also be showing a new Lexus hybrid sedan called the HS250h.



Not a lot is known about the HS right now—the Lexus consumer site simply teases the reveal, showing only an image of a badge—but scans of a Japanese magazine show a car that looks suspiciously like the long-rumored Lexified version of the Prius.




The car is said to house a 2.4-liter four-cylinder as the gas-fired member of its hybrid powertrain, which makes sense to us; there’s no way Lexus buyers would put up with the Prius’s dinky 1.5-liter engine and 10-plus-second 0–60 time.



The Toyota Camry hybrid’s system, which just so happens to use a 2.4-liter four, is good for 187 combined hp; that would be plenty to scoot a smaller Lexus HS250h around with some verve while also achieving fuel economy in the 40-mpg range.



The HS250h will be the fourth hybrid in Lexus’s lineup, joining the GS450h and LS600hL sedans and the redesigned 2010 RX450h crossover. While the other sedans have been touted as so-called “performance hybrids,” using electric motors to deliver the gusto of a larger engine, the HS will likely have efficiency at the top of its to-do list. We’ll know more on January 11, when the car will be revealed. Stay tuned for more details.

9:55 AM

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1964 Fiat Abarth 1000 TC: An Italian love affair

Rafay Ansar

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Alain Raymond always dreamed of owning a Fiat Abarth. He had owned its lowly cousin, a Fiat 600, while he was a student in Lebanon.

“It was a basket case. But anyway, it was my car,” he recalls.

Many years later, Raymond, an auto writer for La Presse, a French-language newspaper in Quebec, realized his Italian dream in Denver: a former racer driven by Umberto Toscano. “You can’t get any more Italian than that,” Raymond says.

While it looked forlorn at first sight, its new owner was not disappointed. “I promised myself that one day, I would get a real one, an Abarth. And that’s what I did. Voilà!” he says.

Just the name, Abarth, gives car enthusiasts the warm fuzzies, at least the older enthusiasts. Carlo Abarth was considered a master at converting an ordinary production car into a raging “bomba.” Although he probably is best known for his Fiat conversions, he also was involved with Ferrari, Lancia and Porsche.

The Fiat Abarth is based on a Fiat 600, like the one Raymond owned years ago, which was considered the “people’s car” in Italy. It was powered by a watercooled, four-cylinder, 600-cc engine that produced 28 hp.

However, Abarth gradually modified the car, which appeared in different iterations: the 750 TC, the 850 TC and the 1000 TC.

The Abarth’s characteristic open rear deck was designed to help with engine cooling, but it also enabled the car to reach higher top speeds. The car’s tendency to lift its inside front wheel in turns was another characteristic.

Since purchasing his Fiat Abarth 1000 TC, No. 328, Raymond has been competing with it in historic events throughout the United States and Canada.

He owned a Mazda Miata, which he autocrossed before buying the Abarth. And he has no regrets about selling one and buying the other, even though the Fiat requires tons of time for maintenance.

“For one hour of racing in the Miata, you have zero hours of maintenance. With the Abarth, for one hour of racing, you’ve got 15 hours of maintenance.”

Unlike the powerband of the original Fiat, Raymond’s Abarth generates about 85 hp. It also has an assortment of goodies to help make

it stop and corner, including disc brakes and adjust-able shocks.

“I normally shift at 7,500 or 8,000,” he says. But in the final installment of the 2008 Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, Raymond confessed that he was shifting at about 6,000 rpm through the makeshift track carved from within Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park--just to be on the safe side.

9:53 AM

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Maserati boss likes the sound--and future--of the company

Rafay Ansar

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Maserati cars evoke a strong emotional reaction from customers, says Marti Eulberg, CEO of Maserati North America, who has some quasi-scientific evidence to support her contention.

With previous management posts at BMW, Volvo and Jaguar, Eulberg, 44, knows U.S. luxury buyers. She has been head of Maserati's North American unit since June.

Maserati cites a study by British insurance company Hiscox on the reaction of men and women to the sound of car engines being revved. The saliva of 20 men and 20 women, ranging in age from 22 to 61, was tested before and after they listened to a Lamborghini, a Maserati, and a Ferrari, as well as the Volkswagen Polo subcompact.

"One hundred percent of the women showed a significant hormonal increase," when listening to the Maserati, Eulberg says.

Science? Maybe not. But you get the point.

And it isn't just the noise a Maserati makes. "The difference in Maserati styling and performance--the package you are able to give that customer--it evokes a reaction," Eulberg says.

At least, that's the goal. Eulberg says that the ability to stand out at the country club, the big-bucks restaurant or the posh hotel is a major reason Maserati is holding its own in a tough environment. Maserati's U.S. sales are up 1.9 percent through the first 11 months of this year.

With just two cars, both over $120,000--the GranTurismo coupe and the Quattroporte sedan--Maserati sales rose from 853 units in 2002 to 2,520 last year.

Eulberg expects a flat 2008, a consequence of the economic meltdown and lack of consumer confidence. Despite the sales, Maserati is expected to make a profit in the United States this year, she says.

The prediction for next year isn't as gloomy as that of a volume or near-luxury maker. Eulberg expects 2009 sales "to be about even."

From Texas to Maserati

Eulberg, who speaks with none of the drawl you'd expect from a Texas native, was previously executive vice president of sales and marketing for Jaguar North America. Before that, she was vice president of sales in Europe for Volvo Car Corp. She spent 10 years at BMW of North America in various sales and operational jobs before going to Ford's Premier Automotive Group in 2001.

Last spring she was wooed by Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Maserati parent Fiat, to replace James Selwa, who left after his three-year contract expired.

Compared with the more staid Ford-owned companies, at Fiat and Maserati meetings in Italy, "there is a lot more passion," Eulberg says. "The things that drive the company are styling and performance."

She also has had to get used to Maserati's small advertising budget. Maserati limits national spreads to publications such as the The Wall Street Journal and GQ magazine.

GQ currently is doing a joint campaign with Maserati. Those viewing the Maserati ad in the December issue of GQ can take a picture with their cell phones and download that engine sound as a ring tone.

Those kinds of interactive campaigns as well as Internet and direct-mail are primarily how Maserati markets its vehicles, Eulberg says. Dealers also partner with local various businesses in event marketing to get buyers in the showroom for a test drive, which Eulberg considers key to selling a Maserati.

"These cars have a racing heritage," she says. "The handling and performance are key."

More models?


How long can Maserati survive with just two cars? Eulberg isn't willing to talk about future product. Maserati has a technical alliance to share technical components and platforms with Fiat sister-brand Alfa Romeo. If Alfa Romeo shares a rear-wheel-drive platform, Maserati could get a smaller sedan and coupe. That isn't likely to happen until 2011, at the soonest.

Seven Maserati dealers are selling 84 units of the limited-edition Alfa 8C Competizione in the United States. They are expected to be among the first Maserati dealers to get Alfa franchises when the brand returns here.

But talk of Maserati dealers selling a new generation of Alfa Romeos in the United States has turned to a whisper as the date for relaunching that brand here keeps getting pushed back. The latest target is 2011.

Eulberg says she's focused on Maserati and refers Alfa Romeo questions to Italy.

Maserati has a comfortable number of dealers now, she says. With the addition of three new points in 2008, it has 58 dealerships in the United States, of which 37 are paired with Ferrari (also a Fiat brand). Only two are stand-alones.

"What we want is sustainability in today's market. We have to be careful on how fast we grow and what we do," Eulberg says. She adds that "the relationship with the dealer market, how we go to market and the one-to-one relationship, is very much a boutique operation."