Archive | March, 2010

AutoBird Podcast – Esp 21: “Luxury Like”

Episode 21 starts by introducing this weeks guest, Justin Loyear joining us from Cheers and Gears.  Justin kicked us off by telling us a little about himself along with Cheers and Gears.  Moving into the garage Justin had a Camaro SS recently which  he discussed and I talk about the Silverado 1500 I was in for the past week.  We then move along to the major news of the week segment.  This week included-

We then proceed to the clip of the week segment.  This week we featured Chryslers new heavy-duty Ram ads.

We continued with our newer section called tweetmeme.  This week we focused on the leaked photos of the upcoming 2012 Ford Explorer.

Next came our main topics.  This week the topics included discussion on the future direction for Cadillac and the possible partnership between Daimler and Renault-Nissan.

Last but certainly not least, we discuss the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls.  The week in review included- my Chevrolet Equinox V6 review and Name That Car: Sebring or 200C?, along with the post on Colin’s blog about Pump Prices.

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Name That Car: Dodge Durango or Magnum?

What you see above is a spy shot taken by GMfan1111, a fearless member of GM Inside News.  He caught the lightly camo covered mule in Detroit.  What you are viewing is the next generation Dodge Durango Magnum.  Rumors have it that the name plate will change from Durango to Magnum for this next generation.  The underpinnings will be shared with the new upcoming 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee.  That means no more body on frame, instead it will be a unibody SUV.  Powertrains will also be shared with the up coming Grand Cherokee including the new Pentastar V6 and Hemi V8.  Below is a sketch based off the patent filings for the next vehicle.  The sketch was done by for Allpar by Stephen Weigel.  Last but not least posted below the sketch is the patent filings themselves filed by Dodge back in April 2009.  So you decide what do you think of the next generation Dodge SUV and what nameplate do you think it will wear?

Source- Allpar and GM Inside News

Innovative Ford Fiesta Movement Campaign Stirs Interest

The Ford Fiesta is finally coming stateside this summer and Ford really wants you to know about. Ford has recently been doing a terrific job utilizing social media and engaging consumers at the auto shows.  When they decided to build buzz around the upcoming Fiesta, they needed a plan of attack.  Being very creative they decided to start a movement.  That is the Fiesta Movement.

In the spring of 2009 Ford chose 100 “Fiesta Agents” to be part of the Fiesta Movement.  Each agent received a European spec Fiesta five-door hatchback for six months. Their lives were connected to the demographic Ford wanted to target for the Fiesta through the internet in video, social sites, forums, and personal sites.  They all were talented and were picked for their enthusiastic participation in new media. The agents performed tasks, which were dubbed missions and the point was to capture the experiences and share them with the public.  The goal was to have people get involved and following these agents as they performed the missions.  Something’s went viral and were quite hilarious.

The first Fiesta Movement ended last year and in December 2009 Ford announced there would be a Fiesta Movement 2.  This was to ensure the buzz kept building around the Fiesta as the summertime launch drew near.  This time teams of two were to submit a plan or an idea of what they could do to help build the buzz.  All submissions were due by the end of January 2010 with 20 teams being picked soon their after.  The new movement dubbed Fiesta Movement 2 began just a little while ago.  These teams were also given Fiestas and this time they are competing during their missions.  People can vote online for which team is doing the best job and the grand prize for the winning team is a U.S. spec Fiesta.  Cash and other prizes are being handed out along the way.

Being in social media professionally I find Ford’s creative marketing inspiring.  The idea of handing out Fiestas and having artistic people market your product is ingenious and downright awesome.  According to Ford, the Fiesta currently has over  9,500 reservations!  I personally applaud Ford for their commitment to innovative marketing.

*UPDATED* Name That Car: Sebring or 200C?

UPDATED- The above sketch was recently added to Allpar and might give a better idea of what the Sebring 200C will look like. – Credit Jack Ratchett

It is no secret that the Chrysler Sebring and its platform mate, the Dodge Avenger, are colossal failures in nearly every sense. They were clumsy in their execution and, as a result, didn’t sell and became the dismal trailings of rental fleets. Sergio Marchionne informed us way back in 2009 (which seems eons ago almost) that the replacements were on the way and they would be much better.  Well, let’s be real! They have nowhere to go but up.  These sketches were done by Jack Ratchett and is supposedly a “dead ringer” for the upcoming 200C, which is set to start production November 18 and replace the Sebring.  Word on the street is that the Avenger refresh will be much less drastic; merely a sleeker front end and a barely touched rear-end.  The interior of both cars is supposed to be a huge improvement.  One person heard that the interior of the upcoming Sebring replacement will be aimed at Lexus but not Toyota, which is particularly interesting because we have heard similar statements about the interior in the upcoming 300C refresh.

The engine line up will consist of the new Pentastar V6 launching soon in the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and a four cylinder.  The Pentastar V6 is capable of 280 hp and 260 ft-lb.  It is unclear if a six speed automatic transmission will be used or a borrowed Fiat six speed dual clutch unit.  The four cylinder will be the volume engine, which will be either a retuned version of the World Engine or, possibly a Fiat sourced engine, though this too is unclear at this point but the former is more likely.

We should get to see the Sebring replacement (200C?) in the fall so we will have to sit tight for the next six months and hopefully some spy shots will leak out.

Source- Allpar

Review- 2010 Chevrolet Equinox V6

As I mentioned in my first review, the new Equinox is class leading, improving heavily over the original version.  When equipped with the four cylinder, the Equinox is a great vehicle.  The mileage is top of the pack in the 5-seat, SUV class and exclusive features are great, but the real question is how does the Equinox perform with a V6 engine?

The interior of the LTZ tester I had was two tone black and cream.  The leather seats were comfortable and looked terrific.  The dash was hard plastic but still looked good:  hard plastic is not out of place for this segment.  The center stack lit up at night in a cool blue but is never overpowering. The center console is able to swallow a fifteen inch laptop whole!  There is no question the interior is well designed.  One of the nice features was the back seat’s flexibility.  The back seat has the ability to slide back and forth like front seats to either create more legroom for  passengers or more cargo room in the rear.

The exterior has a strong character line that runs from the front fender to the rear.  The styling is round and a more conservative appearance than its brother, the GMC Terrain.  The headlights in the upper trim levels have projector low beams with fog lamps that put out a surprising amount of light on the road.  The exterior chrome accents on the bumpers, door handles, mirrors and luggage rail inserts all add to the great exterior looks.  The exaggerated fender flares are not aggressive and yet add to the Equinox’s stance.  The dual exhaust, only available on the V6 model, peeks out from the rear bumper with the dual chrome tips, adding the perfect finish to the rear end.

The Equinox I had was equipped with the optional V6 which costs $1,500 and puts out 264 hp and 222 ft-lb.  Combined with all wheel drive, the V6 model is rated at 17/24 mpg.  I averaged 17 in the city and 20 on the highway but I am sure it would beat the rated mpg on the highway if the cruise control was not set at 77 mph.  Both the four cylinder and the V6 models put the power out through a one choice six speed transmission with manual shift capabilities.  The transmission programming is inconsistent, sometimes pulling away from a stoplight, it would rev to 4000 rpm and then perform a lazy shift while pulling away. But then I observed at the next stoplight, while pulling away in the same manner, a quick shift occurred at 2500 rpm.  This inconsistency improved under hard acceleration and the transmission shifts quickly at redline, so, it was only under light or partial acceleration that the transmission and the shifts were slow and lazy.  Even when using the manual shift, the shifts were again lazy, reacting slowly and taking its time to make the change.

The LTZ model already has most optional equipment included as standard but the model I had was also equipped with 19″ chrome clad aluminum wheels for $900.  They looked good and finished off the exterior chrome accents well.  The total sticker price on the model I had was $32,940 and had everything other then optional rear seat entertainment.

The new Equinox is selling as fast as GM can produce them and is class leading in many respects.  The V6 provides more low end torque which means less revving of the engine to get underway although you do take a hit in the fuel mileage numbers when opting for the V6.  The real story with the Equinox is the four cylinder engine, without a question.  Some of the competition’s V6 options offer slightly better fuel economy numbers than the V6 in the Equinox but that does not change the fact that the overall package is very competitive.  Overall, I would be torn with which engine to choose if I was purchasing an Equinox although I would suggest test driving both. It really comes down to what is important; extra power, especially in the low revs, or overall fuel economy.  One thing is for sure: this new Equinox is quite an upgrade.  Now if only the transmission programming was as great as the rest of the vehicle.

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by General Motors

AutoBird Podcast – Esp 20: “Strike Back”

Episode 20 starts by introducing this weeks guest, the one and only Jeff Glucker joining us from The Hooniverse.  Jeff kicked us off by telling us a little about himself and how The Hooniverse came to be.  I had nothing in the garage this week but Jeff has a Buick Enclave and we discuss that.  We then move along to the major news of the week segment.  This week included-

  • Chrysler Starts Production of New-Age V6
  • Ford Motor Co. is bringing wondrous tales along with trucks to little-used theaters in rural Argentina
  • Corvette Central: Revamped C7, radical mid-engined C8 in GM’s plans
  • GM Temporarily Restarts Saturn, Hummer Production

We then proceed to the clip of the week segment.  This week we featured a Tennessee Man who attempts rock slide ramp, fails

We continued with our newer section called tweetmeme.  This week we focused on Ray Wert vs. Jason Calacanis.

Next came our main topics.  This week the topics included the most recent Toyota Prius issues and the performance specs of the upcoming McLaren MP4-12C.

Last but certainly not least, we discuss the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls.  The week in review included- Cop Car Wars and my 2010 Chevrolet Traverse review, along with the post on Colin’s blog about the Truth In Advertising.

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OnStar – What is Peace of Mind Worth?

OnStar's command center welcomes us

OnStar is a telematics service offered on GM vehicles.  OnStar offers a wide range of services; everything from emergency and security, vehicle diagnostics, hands free calling and turn-by-turn navigation.  I personally think the concept behind what OnStar offers is terrific.  It is a peace of mind thing.  Knowing that when you lock your keys in the car a simple phone call can get the car unlocked.  The biggest peace of mind is the crash response.  If you get into an accident, sensors will alert the OnStar team and they will call your car to check on you.  They will then send emergency services and report your location.  The system can even tell which airbags have deployed and, to a certain extent, the type of crash you were in.  The best part is they can talk to you, I can only imagine how much better it is to have someone trying to calm you down and “be there” with you.

Map Showing Button Presses in 24 Hours

Now lets talk cost.  I will admit the 18.95 per month for the safe and sound package is not the most expensive thing in the world.  In fact, for what it offers it is damn near a value.  Even the directions and connections package for $28.95 per month is not ridiculously over priced.  The thing that really kicks you in the teeth is the hands free calling.  With Bluetooth now available on so many GM models, the hands free calling is just down right silly.  You pay for a “bucket” of minutes and then reload when you have used them all, a pricing concept similar to pre-paid cellular service.

Wall of OnStar Patents

In the end some of OnStars features are definitely of value.  The safe and sound package is something that could save someone’s life.  When you are in an accident your cell phone usually will go flying, not to mention the peace of mind.  I do like that.  The features of direction and connections package can easily be accessed via a smartphone such as an iPhone, Blackberry, external GPS systems (Tom Tom, Garmin, etc) or even the factory GPS systems, which are now pretty good.  With features on board these devices, finding a restaurant, gas station, or any destination is easy and quick.  Not to mention those services are free since they are included with your phone.

In the end it all comes down to what you are willing to pay for.  That safe & sound package is $199 a year when you tally it up.  The directions and connections package is $299 a year.  I personally think hands free talking in the car is a safety issue; so much so that I feel Bluetooth-based hands free systems should be in all vehicles.  With that said, OnStar does offer some features that others cannot match, but like everything, it comes with a price.  The bottom line, I love the features and the concept behind OnStar, just not a huge fan of the price tag.  The fact remains; other devices in your life will and could suffice to a certain degree.  It all comes down to what you need and how much that peace of mind worth to you.

Inside the OnStar Command Center (aka- The Bat Cave)

Full Disclosure- I took the pictures inside the OnStar Command Center during a private tour arranged by Adam Barrera when I was at NAIAS, which General Motors paid for my travel and accommodations.

Review – 2010 Chevrolet Traverse

Let’s be frank: I personally never felt Chevrolet had a great minivan. The Venture was ho-hum at best and the Uplander was a train wreck. In theory you are supposed to keep going until you get it right and I am all for that, but at some point, you need to cut your losses and refocus on something else. General Motors has done that exactly with the Lambda platform based CUVs and left the minivan behind.

The Chevrolet Traverse is the latest (and last to the market) of General Motor’s large CUVs. This is no small vehicle and, in fact, is pretty much the size of a Tahoe. The thing is, while it is almost as big as the Tahoe, it drives and rides completely differently. The ride is much more like a car-based vehicle and the reason for that is the unibody design and construction of the vehicle. The Tahoe is a body on frame design. The Traverse is an older truck style vehicle.

The sister vehicles to the Traverse are the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and the now dead Saturn Outlook. The Traverse launched with an upgraded motor from these other vehicles; a 3.6 liter V6 featuring direct injection technology. This engine puts out 281 hp and 266 ft-lb (288 hp in LTZ trim). The direct injection gave the engine both more power while maintaining acceptable fuel economy. The power is routed through the front wheels with all wheel drive as an option. The six speed automatic transmission does have manual shifting abilities via a rocker switch on the gear selector. The engine is rated at 17/24 in front wheel drive form, which is a decent rating for a vehicle of this size. I managed to average 17.6 mpg in mixed driving, although my city driving has lot of stop and go while going into work and really does kill the gas mileage. In the beginning of the week, when it was straight to work in downtown, I was averaging a mere 15.4 mpg. Once I started driving on the highways a more, my mileage crept up above 17 mpg.

I have driven a lambda based vehicle before but it is has been a while. Upon entering the Traverse, I looked in my rear view mirror and remembered just how big this vehicle is. Site lines are good with decent sized mirrors. Those mirrors each feature a refracted lens for your blind spot. Driving this big CUV was a pleasant experience. The steering was not overly light but more is more car-like than big SUV. The power is more than enough to overpower the front wheels on numerous occasions. Slamming the gas pedal will result in the tires trying to grip the pavement, but the traction control quickly kicks in.

The interior is styled very nicely. With a large amount of space to work with, the designers definitely tried their best to sculpt the materials to prevent the look of vast expanses of plastic and it is job well done for the most part. The dash has nice lines and fits well with the current Chevrolet styling theme. The interior was a very dark place with everything being dark charcoal (pretty close to black) and no sunroof option on this vehicle. The seats are wide and somewhat flat and, without question, these are seats made for Americans. I liked the front seatback design which is unique and looks nice. The second row tumbles forward to allow entrance to the third row which is not a place an adult will want to spend time, although a child will be comfortable and it folds flat at the pull of a handle. Another sign that this vehicle is made for Americans is the cup holders because they are literally everywhere.

The styling of the exterior is very conservative. The sides are very plain and almost slab sided. Upon looking further, you will notice a slight character line towards the bottom of the doors and one near the door handles. These are by no means strong lines, but rather soft. The lines all integrate with each other quite well, flowing from one panel to the next with no break. The front is the sharpest part of the vehicle. The dual port grille and the headlights show similarity to the rest of the new Chevrolet vehicles, while still being distinctly different. The overall exterior will not offend anyone and is by far the most conservative of the three other Lambda vehicles.

The Traverse I had was a 1LT with a sticker price of $31,745. The trailoring package, which included a heavy duty cooling system and trailer hitch, cost $525. The rear view camera system is a $450 option was done the right way, in my opinion. With no navigation optioned on this vehicle, the screen was integrated into the rear view mirror; very easy to use and convenient. The total sticker price after destination and options rang to $33,495, and while this is not cheap, it is competitive for its class.

The entire week I had the Traverse, I felt like I should be heading to the soccer field to pick up the kids. While the vehicle has more then enough power to get up and go, it is by no means sporty and that is not its intentions. The vehicle is a family hauler, designed and engineered to deliver the kids to soccer practice and make trips to Costco.

The competition is stiff in this segment and the Traverse is here for the fight. Naturally, the big blue oval is a competitor in the Ford Flex but actually, the Flex and the Traverse are completely different vehicles. I can not imagine someone that wants a Flex will even give the Traverse a second thought and vice versa.

In commercials, Chevrolet compares the Traverse to the Honda Pilot and, while both sport three rows of seating, the Traverse is the larger vehicle. Without a doubt, the Traverse is a highly competitive entry into a cut-throat segment and the vehicle I had at just over $33k is a decent alternative if you do not want a minivan. Chevrolet buyers finally have a vehicle that is not a minivan but can haul the family while achieving acceptable fuel economy

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by General Motors

AutoBird Podcast – Esp 19: “Commercial Wars”

Episode 19 starts by diving right into the major news of the week segment.  This week included-

We then proceed to the clip of the week segment.  This week we featured a newer 2010 Lexus Hybrid Commercial: ‘Milestones’

We continued with our newer section called tweetmeme.  This week we focused on the recent cases involving the Toyota Prius and unattended acceleration.

This week the topics included cop car wars, new commercial van wars and also the recent heavy duty truck announcements.

Last but certainly not least, we discuss the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls.  The week in review included- my 2010 Minneapolis Auto Show write up, my First Drive of the 2010 Corvette ZR1, along with Colin’s By the Numbers post.

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Next Gen Cop Car Wars – It is on Like Donkey Kong

Cop cars: No one really wants to see them in the rear view mirror, and yet everyone seems to slow down and gawk when someone else is pulled over.  For a long time, the Ford Crown Victoria, known as the Police Interceptor, has been the police vehicle of choice; with a body on frame design and rear wheel drive these cars were street tanks.  Pulling bent frames, replacing panels, rebuilding and replacing rear ends has become commonplace for police departments.  In all reality, we knew the current Crown Victoria would not soldier on forever and reality has finally set in for the Crown Vic.  Currently, the Chevrolet Impala and Dodge Charger are both being sold for police duty but Ford’s Crown Victoria is still the reigning champ when it comes to the number of police vehicles on the road. But, current Dodge Charger police vehicles walk all over the current Crown Victoria in performance.

New Caprice PPV

Last October, Chevrolet showed off the upcoming Caprice PPV (police patrol vehicle).  This vehicle is based off the Zeta platform, the same platform the now dead Pontiac G8 was based off of.  GM is utilizing the long wheel base version of this platform currently being used in the Caprice in the Middle East market.  GM says that this vehicle will only be sold for police use.  They interior has been modified for police duty, including the seats which are designed to accommodate utility belts.  The center stack is designed to allow a computer to be installed along with the high technology needed. A large touch screen is optional and will take up almost the entire center stack. In the rest of the vehicle, the trunk measures 18.5 cubic feet.  For power, the engine will initially be a one choice E85 capable 6.0 liter. V8 pushing out 355 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque channeled through a six speed automatic to the rear wheels.  After about, a year a V6 should join the engine line up.  Of course, all the heavy duty upgrades will be implemented such as brakes, alternator, transmission and other bits, all upgraded for police use.

Interior of the new Caprice PPV

New Ford Police Interceptor

Last week, Ford unveiled the replacement for the Crown Dinosaur, which happens to essentially be a police duty Taurus.  Of course, this will not be called the Taurus, rather it will be known as the new Ford Police Interceptor.  Like the consumer Taurus, the new Police Interceptor will come in either front wheel or all wheel drive with the same base 3.5 liter, V6 pushing 263 hp and 250+ ft-lb of torque, or the optional Ecoboost V6 pushing out 365 hp and 355 ft-lb.  The base V6 routes the power to the two front wheels while the optional Ecoboost will route the power to all four wheels.  Ford has said that a police vehicle needs ‘cop brakes, a cop motor and cop suspension’.  Apparently, the new Taurus either met these requirements or has had the necessary upgrades to meet the demands.  Additionally, the seats are new and, like the Chevrolet PPV, they are designed to let an officer sit comfortably with their utility belts on.  The trunk measures in at 20.1 cubic feet.  Ford is boasting about how the new Police Interceptor can withstand a 75 mile per hour rear impact: an industry first.  Ford also promised that another Police Interceptor model would be unveiled later this year.  That model would be a utility vehicle of some sorts most likely based off the upcoming new Explorer or the Flex, both of which are variations on the Taurus platform.

Interior of the new Police Interceptor

Current Generation Dodge Charger Police Package

A new Dodge Charger should be unveiled sometime later this year as the new 2011 Charger is scheduled to start production in November.  As the current Charger is gaining traction in the police vehicle market, you can be assured the next generation Charger will have a police package available.  The current Charger uses the 5.7 liter Hemi V8 pushing 368 hp and 410 ft-lb through a five speed automatic transmission.  The interior does not have seats specifically designed for the officer like the new offerings.  The next Charger will, undoubtedly, have more specific police officer focused interior amenities.

Carbon Motors E7

There is also an oddball player that is scheduled to enter the market.  Carbon Motors is set to bring a new type of police vehicle to market named the E7.  This is a all new car coming from an all new company.  The vehicle will utilize a 3.0 liter turbo diesel engine putting out 250 hp and 400 ft-lb with all the power being pushed to the rear wheels.  Some are claiming this vehicle might be capable of 30 mpg on the highway.  This car is the definition of high technology for the police, featuring a touch screen computer in the dash, LED police lights and suicide rear doors.  The back seat will be fully washable as it is made of hard plastic instead of vinyl like the competition.  Carbon Motors is claiming over 12,500 orders for the E7 (which is a codename while the car is in development) from 350 law enforcement agencies across the U.S..  The vehicle is scheduled to be produced in Connersville, Indiana.

Interior of the Carbon Motors E7

A quick break down of the specs we know as they currently stand-

Ford Crown Vic

239hp and 287 ft-lbs, RWD, 20.6 cubic ft trunk, rear leg room 38 in, 4127 lbs

Chevrolet PPV

355hp and 385 ft-lbs, RWD, 18.5 cubic ft trunk, rear leg room 43.2 in, 4075 lbs

New Ford Police Interceptor

263hp (365hp) and  249 ft-lbs (350 ft-lbs), FWD (AWD), 20.1 cubic ft trunk, rear leg room 38.1 in, 4015 lbs (4368 lbs)

Current Dodge Charger

368hp and 410 ft-lbs, RWD, 16.2 cubic ft trunk, rear leg room 40.2 in, 3900 lbs

So, what we have here is a new war of the cop cars.  While I do not doubt the Carbon Motors E7 will come to market, I wonder at what cost.  The vehicle is technology laden and that is probably going to be its largest issue.  The Taurus is a heavy car and adding all wheel drive adds complexity to the drivetrain.  Long term, the all wheel drive will add cost to the ownership for police departments along with those twin turbos.

I think that many markets in the snow belt, such as the Northeastern part of the U.S. and Minnesota, Detroit, Illinois and others, will embrace the optional all wheel drive in the Taurus and that the rest of the market share will most likely shift to the Chevrolet PPV.  The next generation Dodge Charger will undoubtedly sell some police units and I am sure the Carbon E7 will sell, but it is too early to tell in what numbers.  According to Ford, the police market gobbles up nearly 60,000-70,000 vehicles per year!  My sources tell me that the PPV, with the V8 costing approximately $17,000-$18,000 to the fleets, you can take about $1,000-$2,000 off that price when the V6 launches.  Time will tell who wins this war but without a question, it will be interesting to watch.  Leave your thoughts in the comments.