Auto News for Sept.18

Audi says it will be the first company to receive a newly established autonomous driving permit issued by California. Audi envisions this technology could be ready for consumer introduction within five years. If you think this is a pipe dream, a TTS successfully completed the 12.42 mile route up Pikes Peak in 27 minutes without a human in the car.

Bentley Speed

Just announced is a performance version of the Bentley Mulsanne called “Speed.” It carries a 6.7 liter twin-turbo V8 that promises a top speed of 190 miles per hour and a 0-60 in just 4.8 seconds. One company official said, “In this car, every journey becomes a drive.” The car gets its official coming out party at the Paris Auto Show in October.

The much talked about cover horse, the 2015 Mustang, is inching closer to dealer showrooms. Look for ad campaigns to show up on your tele next month with the hardtop appearing in showrooms in October as well. The convertible appears at the end of the year. But what is the V8 like to drive? Henry Payne of the Detroit News has had a chance to drive one on a challenging California road. See his report at:

http://archive.detroitnews.com/article/20140917/AUTO03/309170118/0/auto01/Henry-Payne-saddle-transformed-new-Mustang

If you have 707 horsepower under the hood in the new Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat you probably are not too concerned about fuel economy. But Dodge said with the eight speed automatic, the car has been rated at 22 mpg highway by the EPA.

 

Auto News for Sept. 17

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“Hello sir, and welcome to our Rolls-Royce showroom.”

“Thank you. I would like to talk about ordering.”

“We can do that.”

“You don’t understand. I want to order 30 of them!”

One of the world’s richest men, Stephen Hung, has put down an order for 30 Extended Wheelbase Phantoms, the world’s single largest order of Rollers ever. Two will be the most expensive Phantoms ever commissioned, featuring gold plated accents. They will chauffer guests of the ultra-luxury Louis XIII casino -hotel that Hung is building in Macau, scheduled to open in the first half of 2016. Think of the hotel as the direct opposition of Motel 6. In fact, its top suite will set you back $130,000 – a night!

The acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told lawmakers yesterday that GM withheld important information from the agency regarding defective ignition switches. But at a hearing, members of a Senate committee from both parties said NHTSA failed to use its full regulatory powers and was slow to act despite receiving complaints from owners of the affected vehicles.

GM is adding jobs, 750 of them, at a plant in Missouri to assemble the new midsize pickups – the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.

New car auto registrations rose 2.1 % in August across the European Union countries continuing an upward trend that began twelve months ago, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. Volkswagen, a firm that has experienced slumping sales here in the U.S., posted a 26.7% gain to lead the sales list followed by Peugeot/Citroen up 10.9%.

Auto News for Sept. 16

 

A congressional report concludes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had the needed information but didn’t act as quickly as it should have to catch the problem with faulty GM ignition switches. A Senate committee opens a hearing this afternoon on NHTSA oversight and policies. The House committee report cited a lack of agency knowledge and awareness of the safety systems it regulates.

Earlier, the top NHTSA official told the Detroit News that he met with a dozen auto industry executives and urged them to take defect issues more seriously. Deputy Administrator David Friedman said automakers were told there was zero tolerance for failing to find and fix defects and report them to his agency.

NHTSA is looking into latches on 2011-13 Ford Fiestas after receiving reports that doors did not close properly. Some owners said they used rope to secure doors on their cars. Ford said it is cooperating with the agency, according to the Detroit News.

A survey of 1,000 parents revealed that nine out of ten moved a child from a booster seat to a seat belt too soon. Safe Kids Worldwide said seven in ten did not know that a child should be at least 57 inches tall and between 80 and 100 pounds to ride in a car without a booster seat.

GM’s Opel division is cutting back operations at its plant in Russia to a single shift a day and is offering buyout packages to roughly 500 workers – all due to slow sales and weak currency.

 

 

Auto News for Sept. 15

Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally has ruled out a run for president after leaving the door slightly ajar earlier at an event in Indianapolis. The Detroit News reports Mulally would not comment where he might be headed next. Of course, if he suddenly turns up at an obscure suppa’ in a small town in New Hampshire’s White Mountains …

The first natural gas vehicle refueling facility has opened in Philadelphia at a BP station. VNG said it is in the process of installing similar facilities in major markets across the country.

On September 13th, 1899, a man stepped off a streetcar in New York City in an era when automobiles were scarce. He didn’t look carefully and was run over by an almost silent electric taxi and thus, became the first fatality in the U.S. involving an automobile, according to the Census Bureau.

Checker Motor Cars Yellow Car

A car enthusiast and collector is opening a business north of Boston that provides service and restoration for Checker cabs. Steve Contarino maintains there are still about 2,000 of the boxy cabs around – easy to believe since he maintains they were designed to give at least 250,000 miles of service. He calls his Haverhill, Mass., business a “one-stop source for Checker collector’s needs.”

While some cab driver’s behavior in Checkers may have led passengers to believe they were in driverless cars, a new survey predicts autonomous car deliveries will hit more than 42 million in 2035. ABI Research says while “many barriers remain… the path towards robotic vehicles is now firmly established with high reward to those (who are) first-to-market.”

 

Saturday Road Test – Jazzy New Honda Fit

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2015 Honda Fit

A Jazzy Fit

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD. – Honda’s smallest offering is all new from the wheels up, but it was something that dates back almost to the first automobile that made this little gas sipper a blast to drive.

In an era when auto enthusiasts are making a concerted effort to retain manual gearboxes, Honda put a five star six speed stick in this week’s test car.

From the first shift into reverse out of the test car driveway, it felt like a gearbox and clutch that you had driven for, oh say, the last decade or so. Then you start to think about all the changes that made the Fit some much better for 2015.

In its third generation, the Fit got bigger and smaller. It now offers a healthy 4.8 inch increase in rear seat legroom despite the fact that the car is 1.6 inches shorter than last year. Various factors went into this including a slightly longer wheelbase, flatter fuel tank, different rear suspension along with a narrower, single fan radiator that contributes to an engine bay that is over 4 inches shorter allowing for more occupant room.

If you want to play the numbers game, the new model rides on a 99.6 in wheelbase, is 160 inches long, 67 inches wide and 60 inches high. Cargo volume is 16.6 cubic feet with the seats up and 52.7 cubes with the rear seats down and that in total is more than its competitors. Passenger volume is up 4.9 cubic feet.

The 60-40 split “Magic Seat” carries over allowing for a variety of cargo and people carrying chores. Four tie downs are included in upmarket models.

Honda claims the space can accommodate two mountain bikes with their front wheels removed or one heck of a big dog – Your St. Bernard need not stay at home this winter.

The amenities list is longer with heated leather seats available on the top of the line EX-L for the first time. Available options include push button start, one touch operated moonroof, 7-inch touchscreen audio display on EX and EX-L models and a 5 inch LCD screen on the LX. A multi-angle rearview camera is standard with Honda’s excellent LaneWatch blind spot detection camera on the EX models and above.

Fit and finish were excellent and it was clear that interior materials were upgraded. Two six foot tall adults will easily fit in the rear seats with no complaints, but one said head room was a bit shy.

Something called Eco Assist Lighting is included in the instrument panel and is said to measure how economical you are as an operator. But it switched to the not so good blue range every time the accelerator was depressed so make of that what you will.

Another display gives you current estimated fuel economy, time, outside temperature, fuel gauge and transmission gear position on the CVT.

Under the hood is a refined little four good for 130 hp @ 6,600 rpm with 114 lb-ft of torque @ 4,600 rpm. Of course it takes regular unleaded.

With the manual tranny, the test car was rated at 29-37 mpg by the EPA for a combined 32 mpg and that’s where I came in for the week.

It is worth noting that when an early model of the Fit received a Marginal score in the IIHS offset front crash test, Honda modified the front bumper structure and came away with an Acceptable score, a good rating for a subcompact.

A base LX with a six speed manual starts at $15,525 with a $20,800 base price for the EX-L model with navi and a CVT.

The test car was a mid-range EX that Honda expects to be its best seller in the lineup. With zero options, the car carried an MSRP of $18,225 but had enough standard equipment to make it a more than acceptable choice.

On rural roads, the Fit was a fun drive with the manual allowing the operator to extract all 130 horsepower.                                                   While not Miata like, little red’s handling was more than acceptable for a subcompact while the suspension absorbed most of the bumps and bruises on the many county roads that are torn up for late in the season repaving.

Its compact size made it a snap to park anywhere on errand running marathons, yet the total package would be more than acceptable for long trips.

I had to give ten demerits for the designer who thought it would be a good idea to put the audio volume control on a slider on the center stack screen where it was so small it was virtually impossible to hit with your finger while driving. Fortunately there were redundant controls on the steering wheel.

The overall feel is that of a much more expensive set of wheels and with the fun that comes from the six speed stick, the Fit moves to the top of the list in my Gas Sipper category. Factor in Honda’s reputation for long life, the 2015’s slick new styling and low price, and you end up with a tailor made Fit. Although I still like the overseas name for this car – Jazz.

 

 

Auto News for Sept 12

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General Motors has issued a stop delivery order on the 2015 Corvette Sting Ray to deal with air bag and parking brake cable problems on some 2,800 cars. Automotive News reports most of the cars are either still at the plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky or on dealer lots. The cars cannot be sold until repairs are completed, and that means delivery delays for the much in demand Sting Ray.

Toyota is recalling roughly 140,000 Crew-Max and Double Cab versions of the 2014 Tundra pickup to repair an air bag problem. It said a trim piece could stop the air bags from inflating properly.

Kelly Blue Book is out with its list of the ten best lease, financing and cash back deals of the month. The best lease deal is on an Acura ILX, with the best financing or cash back deal on a Toyota Camry.

The 2015 Kia Soul all electric will carry a starting MSRP of $33,700, not including a federal tax rebate of $7,500. The more upscale Plus model will start at $35,700 sans Uncle Sam’s rebate.

The governor of Nevada has signed a series of bills giving Tesla $1.3 billion in tax breaks and other enticements, thus paving the way for the automaker’s $5 billion lithium-ion battery factory near Reno. The governor said was the biggest thing to happen in his state since the Hoover Dam. And all this time I thought it was Elvis!

Auto News for Sept. 11

Lexani Motorcars

Is your Cadillac Escalade not fancy enough? Well there is hope in the form of Concept One, an interior conversion from Lexani Motorcars, a maker of customized luxury coaches. Among the amenities customers can select are two six-way power executive seats in Italian leather with heat and massage, an intercom system, a 40” Samsung LED Smart TV and the much sought after electronic privacy partition. Other options include an electronic security vault, espresso machine, 24K gold plated customer accents, and perimeter armor options. Premium package prices start at $320,000 and the company said that includes jump seats.

An insurance group says pickups have become a favorite target of thieves with 9,441 stolen between New Year’s Day 2010 and New Year’s Eve of 2013. Texas had the highest number of thefts followed by California and Texas, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

A couple of positive notes out of the Motor City where there has been such an overload of negative events. Edmunds.com is opening a new 5,000 square-foot satellite office in the downtown area in a rather unique move back into the city from the ‘burbs. And the city has reached an agreement with one of the chief critics of its bankruptcy recovery plan. Closed door talks are ongoing between other objectors and federal mediators.

According to insuranceQuotes.com Detroit has the most expensive car insurance in the nation due to unlimited personal industry protection and many uninsured motorists – up to 50% percent by some estimates. Detroit area drivers pay 165% more than the national average for coverage according to the survey. New York City motorists pay the second highest rate followed by Los Angeles, while Charlotte has the cheapest rates. Cleveland and Pittsburgh are the second and third least expensive metro areas.

 

 

 

Auto News for Sept. 10

In the end the two auto titans just did not see eye to eye. Luca Cordero di Montezemolo will leave his post as chairman of Ferrari and be replaced by Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. The two leaders could not agree on a future path for the legendary Ferrari brand with Marchionne wanting it to play a bigger role in Fiat’s move toward more luxury automobiles. Marchionne was also not happy with Ferrari’s performance in Formula One racing this year. Montezemolo served as Ferrari’s chairman for more than two decades, and it has been rumored in the Italian press that he might next head up the national airline.

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A BMW convertible for $38,850 sounds like a good deal. That is the base price of the just announced 2-Series drop top that will be sold in the U.S. as the 228i and the M235i.  A Track Handling Package will feature the Adaptive M Suspension, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on 18 inch light alloy wheels, variable sport steering and M Sport brakes. The fabric soft top is said to open in 20 seconds. The 228i will get a twin-scroll turbo four with 240 horsepower, 255 lb-ft of torque and a 0-60 run in 5.7 seconds. BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system will also be offered. One can move up to 320 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque by opting for the M Performance package with a twin scroll inline six. With a 6-speed manual 0-60 is achieved in just 4.8 seconds, its maker claims. Look for it in showrooms in early 2015.

Subaru has raised its 2014 sales forecast from 460,000 to 500,000 vehicles with sales expected to exceed the previous best selling year by more than 17 percent. It cited demand for the revamped Outback crossover and Legacy sedan.

Toyota_Calty_U2_Concept_001 Toyota_Calty_U2_Concept_003

U2 – it is the name of a spy plane, Bono’s group and now a Toyota concept. Called the Urban Utility concept vehicle the squared off trucklet has a roof that can be rolled back, while the tailgate doubles as a loading ramp. Aimed at small business owners the U2 also has interior rail system that can be customized to meet various hauling needs. It is a product of Toyota’s Calty studio in California. Toyota will be testing public reaction.

 

Auto News for Sept. 9

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Jaguar unveiled its new XE sedan in a star studded event in London. It is expected to hit these shores in 2016. Part of the reveal took place on a floating stage in the middle of the Thames River while other models were dangled from helicopters. The XE has lots of lightweight aluminum and is said to be powered by a 3.0-liter V6 cranking out 340 horsepower tied to an 8-speed automatic.

2015 Dodge Viper SRT

Chrysler is lowering the price of the 2015 Viper by $15,000 to $84,995 in an attempt to invigorate sales. The remaining 2014 Vipers on dealer lots will be reduced by the same amount. Production of the redesigned 2015 model will begin in the fourth quarter and under the hood will be an 8.4 liter V10 good for 645 horsepower an increase of five ponies from the 2014. It should accelerate rather nicely.

Nissan says its research shows that 71% of European adults surveyed consider a sense of adventure as an attractive trait in a potential partner.

Anyone care about the “Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium” in Edinburgh, Scotland? Didn’t think so.

The latest Car & Driver spends more than 40 pages driving cars around a track to reach the astounding conclusion that the Porsche 918 Spyder is a heck of a car! It followed that up with a test of a tractor and don’t miss the articles about the Goodyear blimp and a bar that you can pedal. Seems like a waste of good paper to me.

 

Auto News for Sept. 8

If you are reading this column while enjoying a cup of your favorite brew, here’s a headline from this morning’s Portland (Me.) Press Herald. “Caffeine evolved as a bug repellent.”

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The newspaper also reminded us that New England’s fall foliage season is nearing. My favorite car to see the show would be a MX-5 Miata on Vermont’s incredible Route 7 from south to north and on day two, south on Route 100. They are the best routes to see the Green Mountain state’s fall show at its finest.

GM’s Mary Barra announced that in 2017 a Cadillac will offer an advanced driver assist technology called “Super Cruise” that “will make driving safer.” It will offer hands-off lane following, braking and speed control in certain highway driving conditions. The 2017 CTS will offer vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology sending and receiving basic safety information such as location, speed and direction of travel between vehicles that are approaching each other. “Advancing technology so that people can more safely live their lives is a responsibility we embrace,” Barra said. It could alert drivers that a car as much as five vehicles ahead of them has suddenly braked, and that’s good to know!

An Italian newspaper has reported that the head of Ferrari might be leaving to run Alitalia Airlines. But Sergio Marchionne, the head Fiat, Ferrari’s parent company, said Luca Cordero di Montezemolo is not going anywhere. However, he added that Ferrari must improve its record in Formula One racing, something Marchionne called unacceptable. It is fourth in team standings.

Kia says its Forte sedan has earned a top 5-Star Safety Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.