Archive | January, 2010

Toyota – The Hits Keep Coming

I do not even know where to start. The Toyota situation is getting so far out of hand it is not even funny. This started months ago when a family was killed when driving a loaner Lexus ES350. That situation has since come into the limelight of both the media and the government. Currently, the total recall count is a little over 6 million vehicles. This is due to the “sticky accelerator.”

The decision came down Tuesday that all sales would come to a halt on the vehicles affected. This sales freeze will be in affect until a fix can be implemented. Toyota has said they expect a fix in the next two weeks rather than months. With that said, they failed to mention what that fix might be. I would call this a “we are scrambling as quickly as possible” tactic. Many are convinced Toyota does not have a fix yet. Others are reporting Toyota already has the fix and new parts are starting to ship. It is hard to know what to believe at this point. The freeze affects eight models which makes up about sixty percent of all North American sales for Toyota. The list of affected vehicles is as follows-

• 2009-10 RAV4

• 2009-10 Corolla

• 2009-10 Matrix

• 2005-10 Avalon

• Certain 2007-10 Camry

• 2010 Highlander

• 2007-10 Tundra

• 2008-10 Sequoia

Avis/Budget car rental announced they will be removing nearly 20,000 Toyota’s from its fleet immediately. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, who now also owns Alamo and National Car Rental, will be pulling all Toyota’s and Pontiac Vibe’s included in the recall. While numbers were not provided by Enterprise it is estimated to be about 4% of their fleet.

It is coming out now that Toyota has known there was problem since mid 2008. In June of 2008, Toyota announced “sticky pedals” are a drivability issue not a safety issue. Well we all know how that turned out now that people have died. Toyota has ignored this problem. They continued to sell cars when they knew something was wrong! This is just ridiculous. Even further, Toyota was contacted last Friday by NHSTA after they heard the models were still being sold. It took four days for Toyota to make the announcement of the sales freeze on the affected models. It almost seems as if they had no intentions of stopping sales until it started hitting the public and governmental eyes.

I have spoken with many people who are shocked at this whole situation. In a conversation with a gentleman in the baby boomer generation the words, “Never in my life have I seen an auto manufacturer halt sales of over half their line up. This is history in the making.” He continued to compare this situation to 9/11, the difference is that this is going on inside Toyota. Another friend compared Toyota to big tobacco.

Many see this whole situation as getting out of control. I have heard some say it is snowballing. I personally think this is far from over and it will get much worse. Toyota’s reputation has now been thrown into question in front of the public view and in a terrible way. It will be interesting to see how current Toyota owners react when it is time for them to purchase a new car. This could benefit Ford, Hyundai, and General Motors. Time will tell if that happens. In recap, Toyota knew what was going on before people were killed, they continued to sell vehicles, more people died, did not fully think through the recall, things are going to get worse. I think I’m going to get sick.

AutoBird Podcast Episode 12

Episode 12 starts by discussing the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls. The week in review included people buying old GM stock, and the social media at NAIAS along with the my take on the major reveals at NAIAS.  We move along to a new segment we are introducing talking about the major news of the week.  This week included-

  • Cadillac CTS Wagon gets a price drop
  • Audi suspending A3 production
  • The Mini Cooper Countryman
  • 2011 Mazda5

We then proceeded to introduce another new segment called clip of the week.  This week we featured the clip of Conan O’Brien using the Bugatti Veyron to get back at NBC.  This was truly a hilarious stunt pulled by Conan.

Last but certaintly not least, we discuss our three main topics.  This week those included the 2011 Buick Regal getting priced, the latest in the string of Toyota recalls, and Honda’s hybrids being behind sales projections.

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BREAKING- GM To Manufacture Its Own Electric Motors

GM announced that they will be the first U.S. auto manufacture to build its own electric motors in house.  This will lead to the next generation rear wheel drive 2 mode hybrid system.  That should be hitting the market sometime around 2013.  GM says they realize that we need to lessen our dependence on petroleum and that they have a wide array of alternative energy solutions in mind.  Those solutions include-

  • Mild Hybrids- GM hybrid system
  • Full Hybrids- 2 Mode hybrid system
  • Plug-In Hybrids (PHEV)- Modified 2 mode hybrid system
  • Extended-Range Electric Vehicles (EREV)- Voltec system
  • Battery Electric
  • Fuel Cell

The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) was recently shown on the Cadillac XTS Concept vehicle at NAIAS (Detroit Auto Show).  This system is scheduled to hopefully debut on the production XTS in 2013.

GM says they plan to invest a total of $246 million in electric motors and electric drive facilities.  $2 million will be spent in Pontiac, MI for the electromagnetic computational facilities while $26 million will be spent for the development and validation dynamometer facilities.  Indianapolis will be receiving $10 million for development and validation dynamometer facilities.  Torrence, CA will receive $6 million for characterization and development dynamometer facilities.  Another yet to be disclosed U.S. location will receive money for a high volume electric motor manufacturing facility.

GM says that since 2003 they have “quietly” been testing, designing, and validating their capabilities in house to develop and produce the electric motors themselves.  Using suppliers means relying on someone else.  They like the mantra “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”  Personally I am a huge fan of this saying.  Also mentioned was the fact that they will work with “their best suppliers” to produce the best product possible.

Click read more for the full press release after the break.

Read More…

The Minneapolis Boat Show

Most people do not know it but Minnesota has the highest boat per capita in the United States.  Further then that Minnesota boats have the lowest average hours used on those boats in the United states.  It all stems from us having so much water (i.e. Land of 10,000 Lakes) which leads many people either to have a cabin up north or just enjoy time out on a lake somewhere during the summer months.  The reason we have the lowest average hours on those boats is simple, we have a short summer.  Since we have so many boats/boaters the Minneapolis Boat Show is one of the best places for boat sales men to meet quotas.  Many of the sales people on the floor at the show actually told me that this show is where they sell the most boats out of the entire year.

When I started this blog I said I would write about anything with a spark plug.  The first comment I got back was, well diesel engines do not have spark plugs.  To that I say touché.  I also say boats have engines, some of them massive, and those engines have spark plugs so here goes.

I ran into Cydney at the show!

There were many vendors as well as boats at the show.  The state of our economy was evident a the show most noticeably some prominent OEM manufactures were absent due to bankruptcy filings.  These included Crestliner, Lund, Glastron, and many more.  One of the first things that struck me as I was walking the show floor is the jet skis.  When I was a kid jet skis were quickly becoming popular.  Years ago they were  truly personal water craft.  Sure some said they fit three but that was in a pinch.  Now these things are literally huge!  If you saw a jet ski from 15 years ago next to a brand new one you would be shocked at how much they have grown in mass.  Along with the mass is the engine.  The average jet ski in 1995 would top out around 45-50 mph.  That was fast enough for a recreational small water craft.  Now if you buy a jet ski they can top out at over 80-90 mph!!  I ride jet skis during the summer and know exactly what people do when on them including full throttle 360’s.  I do not know if doing a 360 at 80 mph would be considered safe.  I can throw myself off a jet ski doing a 360 at full throttle as it is, now if I was going twice as fast, I could imagine a trip to the emergency room or worse.  I can see on open water why going fast in a straight line would be useful, but I know what many people do on jet skis and this could get dangerous!

Blown Small Block V8

Like cars many people buy old boats and restore them.  One company in particular that stood out to me was Shipwreck Boat Repair.  They had a 1990 Donzi Classic 18 on display that had been fully restored.  With a small block V8 that had been completely redone including a pro charger supercharger.  This engine had already been hooked up to a dyno and is putting out 575 hp with 11 lbs of boost after all modifications and restoration.  A mere four months and now the boat is gorgeous and looks like new.  With a great white on blue color scheme the boat is terrific looking.  The total bill came to $30,000 for the restore including the engine.  While some of you may think that is a ton of cash on a boat, you do not even want to know what a new Donzi would cost.

1990 Donzi Classic 18

Many thanks to Cydney Wuerffel for taking the video.

The show had more then just boats and jet skis.  Two huge tanks of water were set up with ramps in between them.  This was used for wake board shows.  Top professionals were on hand doing multiple shows for crowds.  Using a machine to tow them through the first tank they would launch off the ramps doing flips, twits, and much more only to land in the second tank.  It was a very cool extra to have at the show.

The Screen in between the Tachometer and Speedometer has the Video Camera Feed

The biggest trend I saw at the show was technology.  Many manufactures seemed to be working hard to incorporate technology into their boats in any way possible.  I saw one ski boat that had a small camera in the wakeboard/ski rope tower at the top.  The camera relayed a feed straight to the center console between the tachometer and the speedometer.  This allows the driver to see what is going on behind the boat.  I can only assume this video can also be recorded and taken off the boat for use on a computer.  Another use of technology was having the same screen in the same spot on other boats but without the camera.  The screen would be used for GPS navigation or radio functions.  As a tech guy I love the idea that these manufactures are trying new ways to incorporate technology into the boating experience.  The camera idea, just pure genius.  What an easy way to video tape yourself or a buddy water skiing or wake boarding.

The last thing I wanted to note was the marketing of the show.  This year the Minneapolis Boat Show struck a personal cord with me.  They embraced social media.  I saw someone retweet them and instantly started following the account.  Upon digging further I saw they had a Facebook fan page.  When I walked into the show the first thing I was greeted with was a sign proclaiming that the Minneapolis Boat Show was on Twitter and has a Facebook fan page.  This to me is great.  Showing that they are trying to embrace new ways to not only market but to engage with the consumer.

The show overall had many people in attendance.  I saw everyone from young couples to families.  At about the price of a movie ticket, the boat show was a great way for people to get out and do something different.

Social Media and NAIAS

It is widely known that General Motors paid for my travel and accommodations for the Detroit Auto Show.  In fact they even asked me in writing to disclose it on anything I write about the show.  This was part of the new full disclosure rules the FTC has imposed on all bloggers beginning at the end of last year.  General Motors was quick to mention that by them paying for my travel and accommodations I was in no way obligated to write about them or anything for that matter.

I was one of over 10 bloggers brought to NAIAS as press by General Motors.  Most manufactures bring certain people but General Motors put a specific emphasis on bringing social media people.  Both General Motors and Ford have been the “poster child” automotive companies in the social media industry.  Sure Honda made a “splash” when they did the striptease of the Crosstour on Facebook.  Most would have called that a colossal failure when the burn it with fire comments started pouring in.  As I mentioned Ford and General Motors in general are really using social media though they are taking vastly different stances with it.  General Motors does have it’s social media team on Twitter but really it is the brands and products that have accounts.

It was very interesting to witness how the “traditional media” reacted to all the social media people being around.  I am fairly certain the game is changing and they are not exactly happy about it.  Traditional media people have yet to figure out how to play nicely with social media types.  The funniest part is many of the traditional media will write their information once back at work yet the article and or pictures will not be published for days/weeks/possibly a month.  Yet they must get that picture before me or anyone else there for social media.  Social media buffs are publishing this stuff live on the spot using our phones and laptops.  We are connected (when we have signal) and are reporting live and on site.

That leads to another issue that has cropped up with the use of social media at an event such as NAIAS.  Live and on sight I was reporting the information as it was literally being spoken.  People on Twitter following me were getting the information as I received it including pictures.  The challenge was that the ten other people sitting around me are tweeting the information out at the same time.  How do I differentiate myself from these other people.  Sure we all took different pictures and different angles, but the information, specifications, general information, is all the same.  Social media types run in similar circles, many people that follow me also follow the people I was with.  Realizing this early on I had to differentiate myself on Twitter while I was there.  I could report what others were sure, but I had to have something else.   I realized how lucky I was to have been afforded this opportunity.  I decided I would try and make it so others that were not there could get whatever they would want.  I tweeted numerous times asking what people wanted to see.  When requests came in I obliged and took the corresponding photos.  Some other blogs actually asked me privately to take photos for them and I did.  Many people asked me to take a look at certain things and report back which of course I did.  Then something else happened.  General Motors set us all up with small round table sessions with some of the executives.  I instantly saw an opportunity and tweeted out who I would be meeting with and when.  I told my followers that if they had any questions for these people to let me know, and I would be happy to ask.  I took video of all the round table sessions and have already up loaded this.  Of course I asked the questions that came in off Twitter.

Fiat Twins

On Monday evening I realized that many pictures I had taken included the models posing with the cars.  I decided to tweet out a bunch of the photos and hash tag them with the keyword #EyeCandy.  This quickly turned into a “series” and people loved it.  The last thing I decided to do was simple.  There were plenty of models posing with cars and at the Fiat stand they had two girls to go along with the two 500’s.  On the second day the two girls in the morning appeared to be twins.  When I over heard someone saying they were I tweeted this.  Soon I heard Jalopnik saying they were not in fact twins.  Seeing that my eye candy series had been such a hit I decided to go and put an end to this debate.  I walked up to the “twins” and simply said there was talk about whether they were in fact twins and asked if they were.  They immediately said they were and I tweeted “BREAKING- The Fiat twins are in fact twins!”  Of course this tweet started a whole new discussion.  I also happened to learn that the twins live in Minneapolis about 15 minutes from where I live.  After having a conversation I left them to continue modeling and went back to the business of walking the show.  All of this gave me personality.  It was something different then just reporting the specifications/information about the cars.  When I got into the Lotus Evora I tweeted about how it felt like a glove when sitting in it.

The Ford area was one of the best consumer booths of the show.  They have everything from interactive computer simulations to transmissions torn apart, just about anything.  The booth itself is utterly huge.  Ford also had some customized Fiesta’s strewn about so people could get an idea about the level of customization these cars will have.

It is clear to me that social media is making an impact both in how manufactures are advertising and how they are handling themselves at autoshows.  It says something to me that the two auto manufactures most involved in social media are Ford and General Motors.  The point of all this is embracing new ways to communicate is something that forward thinking companies are doing and we should all take note.

Phil Colley, Nicole Carriere, Me, Chris Barger (from left to right)

Full Disclosure- My NAIAS travel and accommodations were provided by General Motors

AutoBird Podcast Episode 11

Episode 11 starts by discussing the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls. The week in review included gas pump prices, and the major reveals at Detroit along with the videos from NAIAS.  We move along to talk about NAIAS (the Detroit Auto Show) and the things we saw at the show.  That list includes

  • 2012 Ford Focus
  • 2011 Lincoln MKX
  • Chrysler Delta concept
  • Chevrolet Spark
  • Chevrolet Aveo RS concept
  • Buick Regal GS concept
  • Cadillac XTS concept
  • Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
  • GMC Granite concept
  • Honda CR-Z
  • Volkswagen New Compact Concept.

The last two topics were the North American Car and Truck of the year awards and the upcoming Chrysler Super Bowl ad.

Listen to this episode

Major Reveals from the Detroit Auto Show

Aveo RS Concept

The current Aveo is pretty much less then competitive. Seen as the joke of the line up, no one really wants to like the current Aveo, which it is not hard to fault them. GM is serious about the next generation Aveo, and the Aveo RS concept gives a glimpse of what we will be getting. Of course the show car stuff, neon lights, center exhaust, huge wheels and brembo brakes probably will not make production.  I suppose the center exhaust on the Cadillac CTS Coupe concept made it to production, so who really knows. Hopefully an Aveo RS model will come along with the normal, “plain Jane” model. This is something a “tuner” could enjoy and maybe even have it be fun to drive.

I had the opportunity to look at the concept Aveo RS on stage up close. I was somewhat impressed with the details. The interior did have a “leather covered” dash though we will all be realistic knowing that it definitely will not make production. The seats were very well bolstered, and I am not sure that those particular seats will make production either. The gauge cluster will definitely make production and the center stack is more then likely the real deal. I actually had the opportunity to see the production exterior at the product technology event last August. The front facia on the Aveo RS Concept is very close. The exposed headlight bezels, dual port grill and sharp front clip are all there. The neon lights and other extras are more show than go and probably will not be in the production model. I will note, when we spoke with Ed Welburn it was asked if the RS model would get the show cars neon halo’s around the headlights. It would make sense for them to make it to production on the RS model due to the Camaro RS model having neon halo’s. It was suggested to Ed Welburn that all RS models should have the halos. I personally think this would be a great idea. We will see as the production Aveo should hit the sales floors in late 2010.

Buick Regal GS

The new Regal is not even on sale yet but Buick knows it needs to be a ringer. The LaCrosse started bringing in lower age customers and GM is hoping the new Regal for Buick will continue that trend to an even further extent. The new Regal will be hitting show rooms this spring, and this is certainly a preview of a production Regal GS to come. This is merely a rebadged Opel Insignia OPC, but with a different engine (according to the paperwork). I got some seat time in the Regal GS concept and the Recaro seats were phenomenal. The back seat was not quite as spacious as I thought it might be. I was comfortable in the car, but getting in and out was not an amazing experience. The C-pillar in the rear was quite close to my head, and I would have easily whacked my head upon exiting the rear had I not been paying attention. The rear has just enough head room with a fast roof line that cuts it close. The interior roof is sculpted out so you are not hitting your head. The front was very nice with the aforementioned seats, a flat bottom steering whee, and the six speed manual transmission, which felt like short throws.

GM is saying the GS model of the Regal would come with the optional 2.0 liter engine from the CXS trim variant but with more boost going through the turbo. GM is pegging the numbers at 250 hp and 295 ft-lb. This is all very interesting because the Opel Insignia OPC has a 2.8l turbo charge V6 putting out over 300 hp and 300 ft-lb. The problem with that engine is it is thirsty for gas. I think GM is trying to gauge the publics reaction to maybe a I4 instead of a V6 in the Regal GS variant. I asked if I could open the hood and was instantly told no! The press photos of this car showed a V6 engine cover which was the same engine cover in the Opel Insignia OPC. My guess is this was an Insignia OPC with swapped out badges, so the V6 was still under the hood. While we really do not know what engine will come, one thing is for sure, the Regal GS variant will probably be coming sooner then later. I for one am definitely ready to see if this can be a budget Audi S4 because that would really help stick Buick on the map. Afterall, that is what the Regal GS is supposed to do anyways.

2012 Ford Focus

The embargo was up and the pictures/specifications were, for the most part, out in the public view. That did not stop Ford from throwing one heck of a reveal for the upcoming 2012 Focus. Coming in both hatchback and sedan form, the new Focus gives us style and class, things the current Focus is sorely lacking. Let us not forget the awesome technology that will be available in the new Focus. That latest generation of Microsoft powered SYNC will be onboard and the new MyFord interface will of course be an option. Ford had one sedan and one hatch on display. I was given the opportunity to see the interior of the sedan up close. The quality of materials was terrific, though I was told this was a hand built one off vehicle. They are not even in preproduction, so I was not allowed to sit in it. The hatchback was off limits, so I was not able to touch that either. The wheels on these two at the show were 19 inches, but I would be surprised to see something that large even as an option. Interesting note about the gas cap on the hatch back, it is well integrated with cut lines and it somewhat blends in. That is just one example of how Ford stressed about the small stuff on this car. The new Focus will go into production late this year and hit dealerships in early 2011.

2011 Lincoln MKX

The refreshed 2011 Lincoln MKX made its debut at the Detroit Auto Show and it was truly a great spectacle. Ford had the woman who sings the song in one of the most recent Lincoln commercials on stage signing as the MKX came on stage. Of course the rest of the current Lincoln line up rolled onto stage with the exception of the Town Car. That was not a real shock, but notably absent nonetheless. The updated MKX gains the split wing grill that is quickly becoming Lincoln’s signature mark again. The rear has new tail lights and finally a back up camera is along for the ride. I note the back up camera because on the last generation it was not even an option! The interior materials get a major upgrade as does the design. The technology is all new with this being the first vehicle to get the now standard MyLincoln. This is the same thing as MyFord with the dual 4.1 inch screens on either side of the speedometer and an 8 inch touch screen on the center stack. The luxury crossover market is heating up and this is just another player that is helping to change the game.

Cadillac XTS Concept

Cadillac rolled out a concept they are calling the XTS. This vehicle foreshadows what we will see from GM as a replacement for the aging (not gracefully I might add) Cadillac STS and DTS. Riding on a stretched Buick LaCrosse platform, the XTS would come in both front wheel drive and all wheel drive. The concept is a dual mode plug-in hybrid featuring a direct injection V6 and an electric motor. It is supposedly putting out 350 hp and 295 ft-lb. There is definitely a good chance this powertrain, along with a regular gasoline engine, will make production for this vehicle. Technology is a high point for this car and it is very well connected. The center stack is essentially void of most buttons and mostly touch. The gauges are all virtual and everything is “connected.” The interior was gorgeous, and I am definitely interested to see what details from the concept make it to production. Speaking of production, we should see the XTS in showrooms for 2012/2013.

Honda CR-Z

Honda released the first hybrid in America to have a manual transmission. Many were hoping for a remake of the CRX, and to be frank, many have said they are disappointed. I think the main thing people are not happy about seems to be the lack of rear seats. The car itself does not even post amazing mileage numbers. The power will be provided by a 1.5 liter making 122 horsepower while estimated to get 36/38 mpg. This is all mated to the CVT (continuously variable transmission). The manual transmission seriously kills the gas mileage, taking it down to an estimated 31/37 mpg. The CR-Z will come in two trim levels and will probably have a base price around $18,000 when sales start later this summer.

Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model S was there along with two Roadster Sports. The Roadster Sports start their lives as a Lotus and get gutted by Tesla to receive the battery pack and electric drivetrain. The Model S is the next production vehicle we will see from Tesla. This four door “sedan,” the Model S, has a rear hatch instead of a traditional trunk which allows room for the optional jump seat. This would make it so the sedan can seat seven, though the extra two in the jump seats will be small children only. The interior has almost no buttons or switches. The center stack is one large touch screen with virtual switches to flick and swipe. The door handles are flush with the car and slide out when you touch them. The whole thing is quite impressive. Some call this car vaporware, meaning it will never see production or be on sale. The honest truth is those same people said that the Tesla Roadster was vaporware and that car has been on sale and is already in the hands of many happy owners. Tesla says the Model S should see production in the next few years.

Full Disclosure- My NAIAS travel and accommodations were provided by General Motors

NAIAS- Video of Mark Reuss Round Table Session

Full Disclosure- My NAIAS travel and accommodations were provided by General Motors

NAIAS- Video of Ed Wellburn Round Table Session

Full Disclosure- My NAIAS travel and accommodations were provided by General Motors

NAIAS- Video of Susan Docherty Round Table Session

Full Disclosure- My NAIAS travel and accommodations were provided by General Motors