Tag Archives: 2010

Lexus GX 460

Lexus GX 460
After the announced cessation of production of the Lexus GX 460 last week due to media reports Consumer Reports in the United States (U.S.), Toyota Motor Corp. finally (TMC) in Japan announced it would call for improvement (recall) of the product from the market. Consumer Reports in the review did not recommend consumers to buy because the sport utility vehicle (SUV) is easily rolled out in emergency situations.

The manufacturer said it will repair damage to the vehicle stabilization systems software 13,000 units of these SUVs that have circulated. Of that total, 9400 units in the U.S. market while the rest scattered around the globe, among others, Russia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Canada.

“Since we first heard the issue was outstanding, Lexus and dealers we are moving quickly to reduce the existing turmoil. Our network will personally contact the customer to fix their cars,” said Mark Templin, vice president and general manager, Lexus Group, as reported by Bloomberg, Tuesday (20.4.2010).

In addition, the manufacturer also plans manarik 21,000 units of the Land Cruiser Prado models specifically countries with the position of the steering wheel on the left. Some countries it is, Russia, France, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Sudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

Mieko Iwasaki Toyota spokesman said the manufacturer also stop production activities for this model at the Tahara plant, Japan starting today until 28 April.

Meanwhile, Toyota has promised to deploy his engineers to address the findings made by the parties mediaConsumer Reports. Testing will be conducted for the GX 460 and Land Cruiser Prado which uses the same control system stability.

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2010 Mercedes-Benz GL550: Learning to Love Dubs

To be honest I was a little worried about the dubs. Giant 21 inch alloys and low profile tires seemed about the last thing Mercedes-Benz’s comfortable and capable GL-series SUV needed; pointlessly expensive Beverly Hills bling that would surely prove as useful as a chandelier on the Space Shuttle.

I like the GL-series a lot. It was our 2007 Sport Utility of the Year, and deservedly so. It’s the best vehicle Benz builds off the hardware that also supports the ML-class and the R-class, offering just the right mix of roomy functionality (including a third row adults can use, with seats that fold in and out of the floor at the touch of a button), confident road (and off-road) manners, and quiet Mercedes luxury.

The GL550 is the top of a three model GL range for 2010. It boasts a number of minor cosmetic tweaks, including a bolder, deeper grille and LED daylight running lamps up front, and quad exhaust outlets at the back. Under the hood is Benz’s muscular and versatile 5.5-liter V-8, which develops 385hp and 391 lb-ft of torque, a useful 75 percent of which is available from just 1000rpm. And then there are those standard-issue dubs: Gorgeous five spoke AMG alloys, shod with meaty 285/40/R21 Continental Cross Contact all-season run-flat tires.

Dubs might look cool, but they add a lot of unsprung weight, as Ron Kiino pointed out a few months back when he tested Ford’s Edge Sport, which rolls on giant 22-inchers. More unsprung weight makes it harder for suspension engineers to deliver superior ride quality, as spring and damper rates invariably have to be stiffened to keep the heavier wheels under control. Compounding the problem is the fact bigger diameter wheels also demand lower profile tires with stiffer sidewalls.

Sure enough, I noticed a little edge to the GL550’s ride that our long term GL450, fitted with 19-inch wheels and plumper 275/55 tires, never had. Then there was the subtle disconnect between the super-sharp initial response of the low profile Contis and the languid transients you’d expect from a 5313 lb SUV. I was prepared to be annoyed. But in the middle of a 436-mile stint behind the wheel, on a quiet two-lane that alternated from fast open stretches to a yee-hah! roller coaster ride along a twisting, heaving canyon, I learned to love the dubs

The big Benz was more fun down that road than any truck had a right to be. And what made the GL550 impressively quick and composed through the twisties were those massive Contis, which offered a ton of grip, and plenty of mid-corner feel. I flicked the air suspension into sport mode, and made the most of the 385-horse V-8, using the steering wheel mounted paddles to run up and down the seven-speed automatic transmission’s ratios, left foot braking into the turns. I can’t think of another seven passenger vehicle that would have been as good along that stretch of road. Caddy Escalade? Nope. Honda Odyssey? Forget it.

Minivans bore me to death and most full-size SUVs corner like a drunken water buffalo. So if you really have to carry more peeps than you can fit in a luxury sedan, and still want to enjoy the drive, there’s probably no better way to roll than a GL550. On dubs.

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6539068/auto-review/2010-mercedes-benz-gl550-learning-to-love-dubs/index.html

Auto Task Force: We Won’t Tell GM/Chrysler What to Build

TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN – General Motors, Chrysler and the auto industry — not the banking industry — continue to be the whipping boys for members of the far right who paint the Obama administration not as post-supply side Keynesians, but as unmitigated socialists. Ron Bloom, the new chairman of the Treasury department’s Automotive Task Force, tried to address that at the Center for Automotive Research’s annual conference here Wednesday.Granted, he was preaching to the choir. This crowd consisted not of socialist refugees from the old Trabant factory in East Germany, but of North American supplier executives who make up the majority of the CAR Conference’s audience. I’d venture to bet that a majority identify themselves as Republicans.Bloom addressed criticism that GM, Chrysler and the task force subverted longstanding U.S. Chapter 11 rules in giving secured creditors low priority in each filing.”Those who write of the bankruptcy rule being turned on its head haven’t read the two judges’ opinions,” he said. There’s enough case study to show “enough exception that the rule was swallowed long ago.”The quick, 43-day Chrysler bankruptcy and 39-day GM bankruptcy were designed to best maximize each “estate,” and quickly get them back in the business of selling cars and trucks, Bloom said. And any money provided to such creditors is entirely at the discretion of the debtor-in-possession creditor — in this case, the U.S. Government.So why not let GM and Chrysler file Chapter 11s privately? Bloom agrees with GM CEO Fritz Henderson’s argument that in the current financial climate, no other debtor-in-possession creditor large enough to take over the automakers was available. Paying off secured creditors would have been costly, making it impossible for the two automakers to issue stock and repay the Treasury. Bloom says he won’t second-guess Henderson’s assertion that GM can start an initial public offering as early as 2010, and start paying the Treasury about $50 billion back. Bloom believes it possible, but the size of the IPO will depend on GM’s and the market’s condition. Chrysler will need more time. He said repeatedly that the Obama administration does not want to run the auto industry, that neither he nor Barack Obama believes they can run the auto industry better than industry executives. And yet, giving the federal government a stake in each automaker is a better way to shepherd our investment. “GM needed capital. Providing capital as debt would have compounded the situation.”Of course, this is automaker country, and it would be hard to find anyone here who didn’t find Bloom’s reassurances, well, reassuring. Without government intervention, GM and Chrysler would have liquidated, bringing much of the supplier base and probably the Ford Motor Company with them. Unemployment already is 15.4 percent in Michigan, 4.9 points higher than the national level.GM and Chrysler won’t be told what kinds of cars and trucks to build, beyond what the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already mandate for each and every vehicle sold in the United States, Bloom said. Another speaker here, Rod Lache, managing director of Deutsche Bank Securities, said of Bloom’s “government intervention” in the auto industry, “Wall Street is not as concerned about this as you may believe.”Chapter 7 liquidation for GM and Chrysler would have collapsed Ford, Honda, Toyota, Nissan — most every automaker doing business in the U.S., Lache said.”We think that GM may be profitable by 2011. Ford looks like it may do it even later this year.” And yet, even with Wall Street’s support, a small, but vocal contingent in the U.S. see any government intervention as detrimental to the very core being of capitalism. Detrimental to unbridled capitalism, perhaps. The ravages of unbridled capitalism is, after all, what exacerbated GM’s and Chrysler’s problems in the first place.Nevertheless, with most of this crowd reassured by these Keynesian efforts to rebuild the auto industry, and with it a manufacturing-based economy, on Tuesday, so-called tea-baggers loudly protested a congressman’s press conference on extending the Cash for Clunkers bill at a St. Louis dealership. Why? Because it gave government-funded rebates to get consumers back into car dealerships? Because the $1-billion Cash for Clunkers program was more successful at stimulating the economy than George W. Bush’s $600-per-taxpayer rebate last year?Why do the tea-baggers hate the auto industry so much?
Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6565968/government/auto-task-force-we-wont-tell-gm-chrysler-what-to-build/index.html

New Astra to Become a Buick? Managing Brand Isn’t Getting Any Easier

DETROIT – Our European correspondent, Paul Horrell calls the 2010 Opel Astra “one of the best compact hatches the world has to offer.” His story asks; will it come here? The answer is “yes,” in a way. Buick’s 2012 Cruze-based compact (on the Delta platform), designed to anchor the lower end of its New GM lineup, will wear the sheetmetal of the notchback sedan version of the Astra, a source close to matter tells me. I don’t know what it will be called. We haven’t seen the conventional sedan version of the new Astra yet. We can guess it will be very similar to the hatchback, retaining its “sweeping” look, with the sculpted blade in the bodyside and the strong shoulders.The new Astra hatchback’s wheelbase is three inches longer than the old Astra’s, and it’s 174 inches overall, though the version with the trunk may be closer to the Cruze’s 181-inch overall length. The old Opel/Vauxhall Astra hatchback served as the Saturn Astra, a model that sold so poorly here that Saturn didn’t import any for the 2009 model year. While Saturn was designated as GM’s import-fighter, and thus was briefly the portal for Opel designs, that brand now is headed for Penske Automotive. Anyway, GM recognized that the Opel Insignia’s design and the premium level of its interior better fit its intended direction for Buick. GM wants to return both Opel and Buick to their old positions as sub-luxury premium brands. It’s similar, but not the same as Ford Motor Company’s Mercury division, which is about to transform from badge-engineered Fords to European models. Does the new Opel Astra fit? Horrell reports the car “derives much of its upscale feel and design from the Insignia.” I don’t know whether the Buick version will get the Astra’s suspension upgrades over the Chevrolet Cruze, but it should. The Opel’s front suspension has supplementary rebound springs to take the load off the front anti-roll bar, and reduce understeer, and a Watts linkage supplements the torsion beam rear axle for better axle articulation than from a cheaper Panhard rod. “This design allows the bushings that take the lateral loads to be separated from those that take the longitudinal,” Horrell explains. “The former are stiff — for handling finesse — while the latter are soft for ride comfort.”Opels are tuned typically for European roads, which means the new Astra’s suspension may prove too stiff for a traditional Buick ride. We’ll have to wait and see whether GM engineers will even try to get the right compromise from this setup. If GM is serious about revitalizing the core differences between Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models, though, it had better figure out a way to make the Buick compact different from the Chevy Cruze beneath the skin.I’m not quite as confident about GM’s announcement at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan, that Buick will have an also-unnamed 2012 plug-in hybrid model in showrooms in ’11. The compact crossover, which makes its debut next year as an ’11 model with conventional engines, is the current Saturn Vue with some new sheetmetal. GM engineers were hard at work to introduce the plug-in hybrid powertrain for that model when the company gave up on the brand. The gas engines will be the direct-injection 2.4-liter four and 3.0-liter V-6 now proliferating through GM’s small and midsize lineup, and the plug-in hybrid will feature LG Chem lithium ion batteries and the 3.6-liter gas direct-injection V-6.I have no argument against Buick getting a plug-in hybrid. In fact, it probably can better absorb the system’s cost with a higher price than GM could charge for a Chevy or GMC model. The problem is that the rest of GM has moved on, with the 2010 Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain (replacing the Pontiac Torrent) reviewed as being far superior to their predecessors. The Saturn Vue/new Buick is another version of those predecessors. These days, though, GM can’t afford to throw away any well-developed technology. Technologies being developed for eight brands must find their way into the surviving four. And the plug-in Vue was well on its way. Perhaps the Buick crossover should be sold as plug-in only. This Buick will share showrooms with the dynamically superior (though design-challenged) GMC Terrain. And with Buick’s own Enclave. That large crossover re-established the Buick brand as a legitimate premium nameplate. Let’s hope the new smaller crossover and the Astra-based compact don’t damage the progress the Enclave has made.
Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6540547/car-news/new-astra-to-become-a-buick-managing-brand-isnt-getting-any-easier/index.html

Zero Emissions, All Green: Introducing the Nissan Leaf EV

As we profiled on Friday, Nissan Motor Company chose August 2, 2009 to debut its groundbreaking, game changing zero emission electric vehicle at its new corporate headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, and we were here to check it out. Nissan calls it the Leaf (Leading, Environmentally Friendly, Affordable, Family Car), and says it will launch in the U.S. in late 2010 in limited quantities. The Japanese automaker is boasting that the Leaf will be the first affordable (target price is reportedly $25,000-30,000), real-world, mass-market (by 2012) electric vehicle and that it will have a range of some 100 miles. But before we jump into what it all means and what’s going with those funky headlights, here is a brief synopsis on the program.As we have covered in many recent updates, this is Nissan’s most significant endeavor in environmentally friendly motoring. This new electric vehicle (EV) program goes well beyond the company’s recent attempts at improving fuel economy via such measures as the widespread rollout of CVT transmissions and the licensing Toyota’s hybrid technology. In fact, the Leaf does away with our traditional notions of fuel and jumps right into the long promised future of mass marketed electric vehicles.How does it work? The Leaf runs on a large battery pack composed of 192 flat lithium ion (LiOn) battery cells that lay under the floor and between the wheels. This pack delivers enough power to support the 80kW electric motor for up to 100 miles of driving on a full charge. Recharging will be possible on 110V and 220V house current (8 hours/4 hours respectively for a full charge) and via special higher voltage quick charges. Fine, but what’s with the name?According to Nissan, the “LEAF” name (Nissan PR would of course like us to USE ALL CAPS FOR THE NAME) is what you’d expect a name associated with a tree to be — making a green statement. Here’s some good spin about the Leaf name from the press release: “Just as leaves purify the air in nature, so Nissan LEAF purifies mobility by taking emissions out of the driving experience.” Of course, there’s that little matter of where the Leaf will draw its electricity from — we’re guessing from a power plant that produces lots of emissions. But that’s another discussion…You might have noticed nowhere on the vehicle are the words electric vehicle or letters EV. Instead, what’s prominently displayed on the Leaf is a big ‘ol zero emissions badge. Shiro Nakamura, Nissan’s Chief Creative Office and design head explains why:”EV is a means to get zero emissions, so we intentionally avoided EV branding. Zero emissions is about the overall concept, not the hardware.”But let’s talk about the hardware — particularly the styling — since we already are familiar with how it works and drives.At first glance, the Leaf looks new, yet familiar — and distinctly Japanese. It should, as its exterior and interior styling are the result of Nissan’s Japanese design studios. Nakamura cites as influences the Japanese market March Micra and our very own Nissan Murano (the Leaf’s designer also penned the Murano).From our American eyes, we see a bit of Honda Fit in the shape of the front end, but concur that from most other angles, Nissan’s design DNA is readily apparent. The shape of the greenhouse, from the fast angle of the windshield to the kink of the C-pillar does bring to mind the Murano. The belt line and some surfacing appear lifted from the March Micra, while the profile, proportions and overall size recall Versa, except when you get to the notchback bustle in the back, which is reminiscent of Nissan’s corporate cousin, the Renault Megane.Nakamura agrees with this assessment but states that any similarity with the Megane is purely coincidental.”It has no connection with Renault. We are always careful to not look like Renault. Sometimes it is ok, because we are partners…if you point to one detail, ok, maybe. But as long as the total car looks like a Nissan, that is ok.” As you get closer, a number of interesting details emerge, most notably the strange bulge to the headlights at their inside edge. These and other features exist for aerodynamic reasons — a chief concern of Nakamura’s styling team.”Aerodynamics is very, very important for two reasons — air drag and wind noise control. When driving 120 kph (roughly 75 mph), you can only hear the tires and wind, there is no engine noise.  If you have lots of wind noise, it sounds even greater because .”So his team developed the bulging headlamps, conceivably to break up and channel the flow of air before it meets the seam of windshield and creates noise. They also paid particular attention to the shape and orientation of the side mirrors, to reduce wind nose from the side.So were they successful in reducing drag and noise?  Nakamura thinks so. “I can not say Cd (coefficient of drag) but it is very good — without making it the typical one motion aeroform,” he says during an interview prior to the Leaf’s reveal, alluding to the prosaic shape of both the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight that has become synonymous with low drag. “This is our own expression. But at the same time it doesn’t compromise.”Indeed, Nissan did not skimp on the features for the Leaf; there is a lot of high technology built in, from the optional roof mounted solar panel (said to help power accessory fans) and rear back up camera. Look down and you’ll notice the complete absence of a tailpipe. Between those awkward headlights is another signature EV feature. Where the hood meets the front bumper, is a panel surrounding the circular Nissan logo which flips up to reveal the charging ports. Though we don’t know what direction Nissan plans to take with future EVs, you can expect to find this bit of hardware in the Leaf’s siblings (until wireless non contact charging comes to fruition).Inside, it really becomes obvious that this is not your average hatchback.  The center stack is dominated by a large, bright multi information touchscreen, necessary to interact with Nissan’s EV-IT system (which provides EV range and recharging information as well as navigation, climate, and audio control). A futuristic looking semi-spherical transmission controller rests on the center console, and twists to offer (R)everse, (N)eutral, and (D)rive slots, as well as a button for (P)ark.  Honda styling cues resurface in the split instrument panel — a lower housing features another large, bright display, while a secondary hood above shows speed and other information. As far as comfort and roo
miness goes, Nakamura says his team benchmarked the entire C-segment for both interior and exterior dimensions, so the Leaf should be competitive. We did not get a chance to sit in the vehicle, but noted what looked like ample headroom, decent legroom both front and rear, and a huge trunk not often associated with vehicles that run on batteries.Of course, at this point, some of you might be wondering what the fuss is about. And it’s true. For all of the buildup and anticipation, the Leaf is unlikely to turn many heads when it hits the streets in select markets in late 2010.  Even when dressed up in brilliant blue green paint, there is no disguising the rather pedestrian proportions of this compact, traditionally shaped C-segment hatchback. There is some method to this plainness as, Nakamura explains.”We don’t want to go too far out of the segment. We are expecting a big volume . We want to maintain some mainstream feeling.”  Some but not all. “On the interior, we want to give more of a high tech feeling — unique, but not strange.  One that people can appreciate as real car.”This point is of particular importance to Nakamura’s team, as he specifically wanted to avoid the negative connotations associated with electric vehicles.”There is a perception in some markets that EVs are toys or cheap. Like a golf cart or city car. Maybe they can’t drive at high speed…they are not a real car. We did not want to create a car that is toy like or cheap looking. Ours is a real car. It can go 140 kph (87 mph) and can seat 4-5 people.”If you like the way the Leaf looks, take comfort in the fact that this is very close to a production ready vehicle — as much as 95% according to Nakamura. The specific paint scheme you see here will not be offered, though a shade similar and more durable will be along with a standard palette of customer friendly colors. A few of the surfaces and materials may change on the inside, but the Leaf as you see it now should be very close to what zips quietly past you starting in late next year.While other manufacturers have tied their fortunes to hybrid vehicles and clean diesels, Nissan has been relatively quiet on the low emissions front. With their new EV offering, Nissan is prepared to make a very large noise, as it clearly intends to be the leader in zero emissions vehicle leader. Whether the noise Nissan’s zero emissions program makes is a boom or a whimper bust depends entirely on the success of a car it calls the Leaf.INITIAL SPECS FOR THE NISSAN LEAF:Dimensions    Length:            4445 mm / 175.0 in.Width:                1770 mm / 69.7 in.Height    :            1550 mm / 61.0 in.Wheelbase:            2700 mm / 106.3 in.Performance    Driving range    over:        160km/100miles (US LA4 mode)Max speed (km/h):        over 140km/h (over 87 mph)Motor    Type:                AC motorMax power (kW):        80kWMax torque (Nm):        280NmBattery    Type:                laminated lithium-ion batteryTotal capacity (kWh):    24Power output (kW):        over 90Energy density (Wh/kg):    140Power density (kW/kg):    2.5Number of modules:    48Charging times:    quick charger DC 50kW (0 to 80%): less than 30 min; home-use AC200V charger: less than 8 hrsBattery layout:        Under seat & floorOFFICIAL NISSAN PRESS RELEASE:NISSAN UNVEILS “LEAF” – THE WORLD’S FIRST ELECTRIC CAR DESIGNED FOR AFFORDABILITY AND REAL-WORLD REQUIREMENTS Event ushers in a new era for Nissan and a new era for mobility YOKOHAMA, (Aug. 2, 2009) – Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. today unveiled Nissan LEAF, the world’s first affordable, zero-emission car.  Designed specifically for a lithium-ion battery-powered chassis, Nissan LEAF is a medium-size hatchback that comfortably seats five adults and has a range of more than 160km (100 miles) to satisfy real-world consumer requirements. NISSAN LEAFSlated for launch in late 2010 in Japan, the United States, and Europe, Nissan LEAF ushers in a new era of mobility – the zero-emission era.  The car is the embodiment of Nissan’s radical, transformative vision for the future and the culmination of decades of investment and research.  “Nissan LEAF is a tremendous accomplishment – one in which all Nissan employees can take great pride,” said Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn.  “We have been working tirelessly to make this day a reality – the unveiling of a real-world car that has zero – not simply reduced – emissions.  It’s the first step in what is sure to be an exciting journey – for people all over the world, for Nissan and for the industry.”Key characteristics of the LEAF include:1) Zero-emission power train and platform2) Affordable pricing3) Distinctive design4) Real-world range autonomy – 160km (100 miles)5) Connected Mobility: Advanced intelligent transportation (IT) systemThe “LEAF” name is a significant statement about the car itself.  Just as leaves purify the air in nature, so Nissan LEAF purifies mobility by taking emissions out of the driving experience.  Pricing details will be announced closer to start of sales in late 2010; however, the company expects the car to be competitively priced in the range of a well-equipped C-segment vehicle.  Additionally, Nissan LEAF is expected to qualify for an array of significant local, regional and national tax breaks and incentives in markets around the world.  As an added benefit, because the vehicle has less mechanical complexity than a traditional gasoline-powered car, Nissan LEAF is designed to be friendly to the wallet as well as to the environment.ZERO-EMISSION MOBILITYNissan LEAF is powered by laminated compact lithium-ion batteries, which generate power output of over 90kW, while its electric motor delivers 80kW/280Nm.  This ensures a highly responsive, fun-to-drive experience that is in keeping with what consumers have come to expect from traditional, gasoline-powered automobiles.Unlike internal-combustion engine (ICE) equipped vehicles, Nissan LEAF’s power train has no tail pipe, and thus no emission of CO2 or other greenhouse gases.  A combination of Nissan LEAF’s regenerative braking system and innovative lithium-ion battery packs enables the car to deliver a driving range of more than 160km (100 miles) on one full charge*.  (*US LA4 mode)Extensive consumer research demonstrates that this range satisfies the daily driving requirements of more than 70% of the world’s consumers who drive cars.And, Nissan’s approach makes charging easy and convenient.  Nissan LEAF can be charged up to 80% of its full capacity in just under 30 minutes with a quick charger.  Charging at home through a 200V outlet is estimated to take approximately eight hours – ample time to enable an overnight refresh for consumer and car alike.REAL-WORLD CAR The engineers and designers behind Nissan LEAF worked to create a competitively priced real-world car that would enable Nissan to lead mobility into the zero-emission era.  To ensure comfort, spaciousness and cargo capacity, Nissan LEAF employs a completely new chassis and body layout.”Our car had to be the world’s first, medium-size, practical EV that
motorists could afford and would want to use every day. And that’s what we’ve created. The styling will identify not only Nissan LEAF but also the owner as a participant in the new era of zero-emission mobility,” said Masato INOUE, Product Chief Designer.DISTINCTIVE DESIGNEven the smallest details can yield tremendous effect.Nissan LEAF’s frontal styling is characterized by a sharp, upright V-shaped design featuring long, up-slanting light-emitting diode (LED) headlights that employ a blue internal reflective design that announces, “This car is special.”  But the headlights do more than make a statement.  They are also designed to cleverly split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, thus reducing wind noise and drag.  And, the headlights provide yet one more benefit in that they consume just 10 percent of the electricity of conventional lamps, which helps Nissan LEAF to achieve its world-class range autonomy.Through bright trim colors inside, Nissan LEAF creates a pleasing and stylish cabin environment.  An environmentally friendly “blue earth” color theme originates from the Aqua Globe body color of Nissan LEAF’s introductory model.  This theme is carried into the interior through blue dashboard highlights and instrument illumination.CONNECTED MOBILITY IT SYSTEMNissan LEAF employs an exclusive advanced IT system.  Connected to a global data center, the system can provide support, information, and entertainment for drivers 24 hours a day.  The dash-mounted monitor displays Nissan LEAF’s remaining power – or “reachable area” – in addition to showing a selection of nearby charging stations.Another state-of-the-art feature is the ability to use mobile phones to turn on air-conditioning and set charging functions – even when Nissan LEAF is powered down.  An on-board remote-controlled timer can also be pre-programmed to recharge batteries. “The IT system is a critical advantage,” says Tooru ABE, Chief Product Specialist. “We wanted this vehicle to be a partner for the driver and an enhancement for the passengers.  We also wanted this vehicle to help create a zero-emission community, and these IT features will help make that possible.”HOLISTIC APPROACH TO ZERO-EMISSION MOBILITY AND ECO-FRIENDLY INNOVATIONNissan LEAF is a critical first step in establishing the era of zero-emission mobility; however, Nissan recognizes that internal-combustion engine (ICE) technologies will play a vital role in global transportation for decades to come.  Because of this, Nissan is implementing its zero-emission vision through a holistic approach, which provides consumers a comprehensive range of eco-friendly technologies from which to choose.For some consumers, Nissan LEAF will be the perfect match, and the only car they will ever need.  For others, Nissan LEAF will be a logical addition to the family fleet – the optimal choice for the daily commute, for example.While zero-emission is the ultimate goal, the company is committed to ongoing innovation in eco-friendly technologies that increase efficiency and reduce emissions.  As a result, Nissan offers a comprehensive suite of automotive technologies, including CVT, Idle Stop, HEV, Clean Diesel, and ongoing research and investment in FCV technology.WORLDWIDE PARTNERSZero-emission mobility programs under the banner of the Renault-Nissan Alliance include partnerships with countries such as the UK and Portugal, local governments in the Japan and the USA, and other sectors, for a total of nearly 30 partnerships worldwide.In these partnerships major efforts focus on three areas:      1) Development of a comprehensive charging infrastructure through public and private investment,     2) Incentives and subsidies from local, regional, and national governments, and     3) Public education on the individual and societal benefits of zero-emissions mobility.ZERO-EMISSION VEHICLE PRODUCTIONNissan LEAF is the first in the company’s forthcoming line of EVs and is a major milestone in the realization of the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s vision for zero-emission mobility.  The first of Nissan’s EVs will be manufactured at Oppama, Japan, with additional capacity planned for Smyrna, Tennessee, USA.  Meanwhile, lithium-ion batteries are being produced in Zama, Japan, with additional capacity planned for the USA, the UK and Portugal, and other sites for investment are under study around the world.
Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6537775/green/zero-emissions-all-green-introducing-the-nissan-leaf-ev/index.html

July Sales: Cash for Clunkers Spurs FoMoCo; Toyota Regains Second-Place

DETROIT – Ford Motor Company is ebullient about its first year-over-year sales increase since November 2007. Total Ford-Lincoln-Mercury sales, including fleet, rose 2 percent in July 2009 compared with July 2008, and of that, retail sales rose 9 percent. Still, it’s too early to party. The Great Recession isn’t over yet.”Right now, the legs under the economy are not strong enough to sustain a 14-16 million sales rate as we saw at the end of July,” says Ford analyst George Pipas. “A sales increase in July is not the end of the journey.”Aside from the minor increase compared with a very weak July ’08, when gasoline averaged $4.11 per gallon, Ford proved through individual model sales that the Cash for Clunkers program helped move fuel-efficient metal. Probably not coincidentally, the low-priced cars and trucks that consumers who until now were driving clunkers could afford to buy moved the most. Ford Focus sales surpassed Fusion sales, although both models were up compared with last year. Even though a four-cylinder Fusion is within a couple mpg city/highway, the smaller, cheaper Focus easily outsold the Fusion, 21,830 (up 43.6 percent) to 17,610 (up 66 percent).The redesigned-for-2009 Focus became Ford’s darling when gas topped $4 per gallon. Earlier this year, the facelifted 2010 Fusion was Ford’s savior in some of the slowest sales months in decades. Advertising dollars targeting new models helps.If Cash for Clunkers money drew a lot of prospective buyers to Ford lots in the last week, I’ve got to bet that some of those consumers trading in ’90s Explorers chose, say an $18,000-list Focus over a $23,000-list Fusion because it better met their budgets. Many of those clunkers undoubtedly were third or even fourth cars, driven by the high schoolers in the family. Estimates of how much oil the program saves may be a bit of a stretch.No matter. The program is a success for bringing consumers back into the market — either those who have been holding off or those who figured credit had dried up so much, it wasn’t worth it to walk into a showroom. General Motors estimates July sales for all makers totaled an annual rate that would equal about 11.3-million vehicles, marking the first month in 2009 above the 10-million level.And GM has just announced a lease program with U.S. Bank for Chevrolets, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs (its core four in North America) for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan and Ohio through August 31. U.S. Bank leases for the new Cadillac SRX are available nationwide.Meanwhile, Chrysler says that The Wall Street Journal got it wrong Monday morning. Chrysler will continue to offer matching incentives of up to $4500 on certain models whether you bring in a clunker or not. Obviously, if your local dealer is out of, say, 2009 PT Cruisers, you’re not going to get $4500 off a 2010 model. And so, to the numbers:GM: 189,443, off 19.4 percent.Inventory of about 466,000 is the lowest on record, says sales veep Mark LaNeve.With inventories dropping for all automakers, the deals aren’t likely to get any more desperate.Chevy division sales were relatively strong, at 124,948, still down 9.3 percent.Equinox was a rare gainer, up 77.8 percent to 10,834. About 60 percent were ’10 models, and most of those were four-bangers.Buick Enclave remains strong, selling 3,797, off 2.5 percent.Cadillac, at 6,171, off 52.6 percent, was the biggest loser of the core four.Saab was off 71.7 percent to 574 and Hummer was off 57.4 percent to 799.Impala was up 9.6 percent to 14,649 but Malibu was off 7.8 percent to 15,339.Modern wagon wars continues: Toyota sold 9,407 Highlanders, (+39.1 percent), Chevy sold 6,690 Traverses, Honda sold 6,430 Pilots (-15.3 percent), Dodge sold 4,165 Journeys (+21 percent) and Ford sold 3,631 Flexes (+64.7 percent).The new Camaro continues to be in short supply. Chevy sold 7,113, vs. 6,686 Ford Mustangs (-37.6 percent) and 886 Dodge Challengers (-69 percent).GM will build some 2010 G6s for fleet customers, LaNeve said, making it the last Pontiac.The New GM of Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac, sold 160,078 vehicles, a couple thousand more than Ford/Lincoln/Mercury but short of Toyota.Toyota-Scion-Lexus: 174,872, off 11.4 percent.Toyota division accounted for 156,355 (including Scions), off 10.8 percent, making Toyota the U.S.’ best-selling brand.Lexus fell 16.5 percent to 18,517.Prius jumped 29.7 percent to 19,173. Camry sales fell 19.4 percent to a still-strong 33,974.RAV4 may have benefited from the clunkers credit, up 32.5 percent to 15,912.Midsize pickups also are doing well. Tacoma was up 7.6 percent to 12,552.Monthly Scion numbers: 6,754, vs. 11,906 in July ’08.Ford-Lincoln-Mercury: 158,838, up 2 percent.Focus was Ford’s best-selling car, up 43.6 percent to 21,830.Fusion was up 66 percent to 17,610.F-150 remains Ford’s best-selling vehicle, off 19 percent to 36,327.Escape was up 94.2 percent to 20,241.Ranger was up 64.5 percent to 7,695. Looks like another Cash for Clunkers winner.Taurus was off 57.1 percent to 1,760 as Ford ramped down the old model.Mercury Milan was up 59.8 percent to 2,934 while Mariner was up 70.5 percent to 3,682 as the Lincoln side of the showroom suffered a 24.3 percent drop.Inventory of 295,000 vehicles, averaging less than a 50-day supply, is 41 percent thinner than at the end of July ’08.Honda-Acura: 114,690, off 17.3 percent.That’s 106,028 Hondas, off 15.8 percent, and 8,662 Acuras, off 32.5 percent.Civic was up 3.1 percent to 30,037.Accord was off 28.1 percent to 29,774.Fit was off 27.6 percent to 8,876 but CR-V was up 9.9 percent to 19,151.Acura RDX was off 62.5 percent to 519 and TSX was off 35.8 percent to 2,232.Chrysler LLC: 88,900, off 9 percent.Winners were small models, helped by heavy incentives. Chrysler PT Cruiser was up 24 percent to 4,092 sold.Jeep Patriot was up 134 percent to 8,084 and Compass was up 95 percent.Jeep Wrangler, which posted increases for the first five months of the year, was down for the second month in a row, off 25 percent to 4,540.Dodge Caliber was up 63 percent to 7,814.Avenger was up 30 percent to 5,616.Sebring was off 27 percent to 2,781. Chrysler has sold 13,466 for the entire year so far, well below Ford Fusion’s monthly sales.Chrysler Town & Country fell 15 percent to 6,837. Dodge Caravan was up 15 percent to 8,405, however.Ram was off 17 percent to 17,723.Nissan-Infiniti: 71,847, off 24.6 percent.Nissan division was off 24.8 percent to 64,751.Infiniti was off 23.3 percent to 7,096.Nissan Versa was off just 2 percent to 8,530, though Sentra fell 13.5 percent to 9,496.Rogue sales were up 3.8 percent to 6,770.Z was up 11.9 percent to 890. Inexplicably, Infiniti QX56 was up 0.4 percent to 553.Nissan GT-R was off by 19 units to 128.OTHERS …Hyundai says 22 percent of its trade-ins were “clunkers.” Sales rose 12 percent, to 45,553. Accent, Sonata, Elantra and Genesis all posted gains and Santa Fe was down very slightly.Kia sold 29,345 units, up 1,324 units from last July. Subaru was up an impressive 34 percent, to 21,839. Mazda sold 19,032, off 15.1 percent.BMW Group, including Mini, was off 26.7 percent, to 21,253. BMW brand sold 16,381, off 31.5 percent. Mini was off 3.8 percent, to 4,872. Only all-ne
w models gained sales last month; BMW Z4 (up 33.8-percent) and 7 Series (up 14.5 percent), and Mini Cooper convertible (up 45.1 percent).Cash for Clunkers helped Volkswagen, which was up 0.7 percent, to 20,590 while Audi says it outperformed the premium segment, dropping just 5.8 percent, to 6,407. The clunkers program does not help with new cars north of $45,000.Mercedes-Benz USA, sold 17,646, including 16,228 Mercedes (off 21.7 percent) and 1,418 smarts, off 44.6 percent.Jaguar Land Rover fell 25 percent, to 2,607. Jaguar was down 45 percent, to 785 cars and Land Rover was down 11 percent, to 1,822.
Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6564996/car-news/july-sales-cash-for-clunkers-spurs-fomoco-toyota-regains-second-place/index.html

First Drive: 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster

UPDATE: READ MATT’S COMPLETE 2010 NISSAN 370Z ROADSTER DRIVE BY CLICKING HEREDATELINE: AUGUST 3, 2010, 10:01 PM, MY DRIVEWAY  The folks at Nissan dropped off a brilliant red, sparkly new, ready-to-rip 370Z Roadster this afternoon, and asked that we not say anything about our driving impressions until after 10:00 tonight (well, thanks for all the time, guys!). But it’s after 10:00 now, so why wait?We’ll have a full story and lots more photos for you within hours, but I gotta tell you, this thing rocks. In brief, you get 26 more horsepower than last year’s 350Z roadster in a package that weighs about 150 pounds less. What? A new car that’s lighter than the one it replaces? Believe it. The 370Z is also a few inches shorter overall, yet wider. The chassis is structurally stiffer than that of the car it replaces, which always means more precise handling and less squeaks, rattles, and cowl shake. Interior quality is way up, including standard heated and cooled seats, a glass windblocker, and suede door panels for a more upscale look and feel. Style? See for yourself. This writer was never a fan of the previous design. It attempted to mimic the ethos of the original Audi TT Roadster, but never pulled it off. The rump was too round, the top looked like a bubble-shaped afterthought, and the detailing was clunky. This one has curves in mostly all the right places, and the top is longer and sleeker. Speaking of the top, it’s much nicer than the old one, fully lined, and now of rich cloth instead of the previous canvas/vinyl stuff. Don’t make fun of the radio antenna; it has to be this high to meet Nissan’s radio reception requirements (hint: Nissan’s aftermarket accessories group will offer a shorter one for those who wish to sacrifice a little AM reception in the name of style). The tall, squarish rump gives more substance to the rear end design, and adds to a useful trunk area. What fun to drive: faster, quieter, stickier, flatter, stiffer, grippier, nicer riding, and just all around better than before. We’d still vote for a little more exhaust note, and the affectacious fuel/temp/computer gauge is annoying. The engine has plenty of punch, but is grainier sounding than the old 3.5 and 3.0-liter VQ family V-6s. How much is all this improvement? $100. That’s correct: a measly C-Note. The 2009 350Z Roadster (Enthusiast 6MT spec) was $36,870. The 2010 370Z, similarly equipped, bases for $36,970. If you liked the old one, you’ll love this new one. If you were not a fan of the 350Z roadster, give the 370Z a fresh look. It’s that much of an improvement. Stay tuned for more details and full specs. Photography by Kirk Gerbracht and the author
Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6569567/editorial/first-drive-2010-nissan-370z-roadster/index.html

Audi Bucks the Trend, Promises More Product, Not All for U.S.

Hyundai’s U.S. CEO John Krafcik said it best earlier this year: “flat is the new up.” By that measure, Audi AG is riding high. Global sales fell 11 percent in the first half of 2009, versus 18 percent for the whole industry. What’s more, Audi was comparing its number to a record-setting 2008. In North America, sales fell 12 percent in the first half of the year, versus a one-third drop in sales for the industry. More important, Audi is making money. Its global first-half profit was 823 million euro ($1.17 billion), off 36.6 percent. Chief Financial Officer Axel Strotbeck said Friday that the company posted a “clear profit” in both of the first two quarters. “We’re the most profitable premium manufacturer, at the present.”Audi continues its struggle for more premium market share in the U.S., of course. It’s been about 17 years since it nearly left our market. Audi’s still a pretty small player here, only its fourth-largest global market (after Germany, China and Great Britain) whereas we’ve traditionally been the second-largest market for Mercedes-Benz and BMW (though their Chinese sales undoubtedly rival U.S. sales now, too). Nevertheless, Strotbeck said Audi will “not push sales by artificially pushing lease prices down” in the U.S. Instead, it will continue to move upmarket. In terms of features, quality and luxurious interiors, Audi’s reputation is nearly that of BMW and Mercedes. While its A4 and A5 can get very expensive with optional equipment very quickly, the A4 especially strikes many upper-middle-class buyers as an accessible step up from an entry level Lexus, Infiniti or Acura, and perhaps a step-and-a-half up from a loaded Camry or Accord.The other element that’s working for Audi is marketing. While other luxury brands cut marketing and advertising budgets and get out of racing, Audi is a marketing powerhouse that led Super Bowl XLII advertising and spent a truckload of euro to go to Le Mans. It’s setting itself up well for the next decade, when strong marketing will pick the winners in a plethora of good new product. Strotbeck pointed to three new models Audi will introduce in coming months: the A5 Sportback, an all-new A8 coming in calendar 2010 and a new A1 in the third quarter of ’10. Two will not be imported to the U.S. Audi said this about future models/strategy in the North American market:No U.S. production plans for now. This became a big issue for models like the A4 last year when the euro’s value went past the $1.60 mark. Volkswagen is building a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which will build the Passat replacement beginning calendar year ‘1l, but Audi won’t be part of it, for now. No plans to bring the 2011 A1 to North America. Audi hopes to grow A3 sales with a new diesel version coming to the U.S. in December. Problem with the A3 is that it costs nearly as much as a base A4 in the U.S., and despite the Mini’s popularity, we don’t like hatchbacks here. Given the expected technology, the A1 could cost Audi at least as much to build as the A3 or even the A4. Still, if the new A1 is as cool and cutting edge as the original, won’t it be as desirable as a Mini Cooper?While Audi still considers diesels the best green/fuel-efficient technology, it will have a hybrid Q5 on the market in one-and-a-half to two years.All of Audi’s 2010 gas-powered models will have direct injection, and it claims it will be the first to achieve that milestone.
Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6564153/corporate/audi-bucks-the-trend-promises-more-product-not-all-for-us/index.html

Coolest, Classiest Electric? Mercedes SLS AMG eDrive

While at the Nurburgring for a first-ever drive of the coming 2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing, I also had the opportunity to sit down with Volker Mornhinweg as the AMG CEO showed-off some highlights of his next new vehicular baby: an all-electric version of the Gullwing.

The eDrive version, says Mornhinweg, “will use exactly the same white body as the gasoline-powered car. There’s plenty of room in the existing structure to put electric motors at each wheel and batteries on the floor, ahead of the firewall, and just aft of the seats. The only change is up front, where we’ll have to change the front axle to a pushrod suspension to accommodate the motors.”

Mornhinweg is clearly excited about the eDrive project. “This is not a concept car. The SLS eDrive will be on the road perhaps as early as 2013—certainly by 2015 at the latest.” As such, it’ll be a continuation of AMG’s goal to reduce fleet-average C02 emissions by 30 percent by 2012. “The challenge for the future is to deliver superb performance, but also social acceptance,” says Mornhinweg. “The internal-combustion engine is going to be around for a long, long time, but to improve its efficiency we’ll be using more and more direct injection, downsizing displacement while adding turbocharging, incorporating stop/start systems, and more. You’ll see more four-cylinder engines in the future, too.”

The AMG boss sees myriad benefits to the SLS eDrive. “The SLS’s lightweight aluminum body and structure will help to offset the heavy batteries we’ll need for maximum performance.” Zero to 60 mph, Mornhinweg adds, will take around 4 seconds flat, with a top speed of about 125 mph. Because each wheel will be driven by its own motor, electric four-wheel drive is inherently part of the design. “By tailoring the software that guides the motors, we can also do exciting things like torque vectoring and dynamic stability control,” Mornhinweg says.

The three modular high-voltage batteries in the SLS eDrive will be lithium ion—powering the four electric motors through two transmissions (one per axle). Peak output is equivalent to 526 horsepower (392 kW) and nearly 650 pound-feet of torque—the eDrive should be a formidable player in stoplight Grands Prix. Range won’t be outstanding—only about 95 to 110 miles—but the batteries will recharge to 80 percent of capacity in around five to six hours (plug in when you reach work if you have a long commute home). Plugging-in overnight will deliver a full charge. (Regen brakes, of course, will help to freshen the batteries when driving.)

Mornhinweg is confident that no major hurdles exist in bringing the eDrive to market. And he emphasizes that the eDrive will not replace the SLS’s 6.2-liter gasoline V-8; the two versions will coexist. “Our biggest challenge,” he notes, ”will be adding the emotion that’s so crucial to the enjoyment of a sports car. For instance, with electric drive there’s no vroom vroom during downshifts, which is a sound every enthusiast driver enjoys. So we’re experimenting with various ways simulate the experience using the two transmissions and the electric motors. I’m confident, though, that when we’re finished we’ll have what many enthusiasts will find a very desirable car.”

Which is to say, with its speed, those show-stopping gullwing doors, and that zero-emissions powertrain underneath, the SLS AMG eDrive promises to offer driving sex without the guilt.

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6563064/editorial/coolest-classiest-electric-mercedes-sls-amg-edrive/index.html

Healthiest Patient in ICU: Ford Posts $424-million Operating Loss

DEARBORN, MICHIGAN – It’s not party time, yet, at Ford Motor Company’s World Headquarters. Ford’s $2.3-billion in net income for the second quarter of ’09 is the result of “special items,” those bookkeeping procedures that in past years have reversed the fortunes of the Detroit Three, especially General Motors. Probably the most important line item is this: Ford has cut automotive structural costs by $1.8 billion, of which $1.2 billion came from North American savings.

Cost reduction is the New GM’s key goal, of course, and both Ford and GM are quickly slashing costs in order to transform themselves into companies that can make profits even when no more than 10 million cars and trucks are sold each year in the United States. Thursday’s Q2 results for Ford proves the automaker is on-track with what it used to call The Way Forward Plan.

Ford still plans to “get back to profitability and positive cash flow in 2011,” says Alan Mulally, president and CEO. And it won’t happen any earlier, considering the current economic climate and predictions that any recovery will be slow in 2010. Mulally says Ford is heading for profitability thanks to improvements it has made in customer satisfaction, revenue and margins. Some of Ford’s numbers:

Pre-tax loss of $424 million; net income of $2.3 billion in the second quarter, equal to 69-cents per share.
Special items totaled $2.8 billion, and Ford reduced its debt by $3.4 billion.
Issued 345 million new shares of common stock, which raised $1.6 billion. “Completed actions” to cut automotive debt by $10.1 billion.
Pre-tax profit of $646 million compares with a pre-tax loss of $294 million for the second quarter of ’08.

*Market share is up significantly. In the U.S., Ford/Lincoln/Mercury have 16.4-percent market share, up two points. So FoMoCo is on solid ground to remain one of the Big Three in North America. We’ve been heading, for some time, to the European model, in which three automakers lead that market with about 18-percent share each. In the U.S., the new Big Three are GM, Ford and Toyota. And yes, Ford is nipping at the New GM’s heels.

*European market share is up a half-point, to 9.0 percent, highest second-quarter level in 10 years. In South America, share is up one point, to 10.4 percent.

Mulally deserves a lot of credit for, first, changing the business culture in Dearborn, and perhaps foremost, for having the insight or the luck to hock the entire company up to and including the Blue Oval emblem in exchange for some $23 billion in credit, before the credit market collapsed. It seemed like a foolhardy idea at the time, and frankly, Ford isn’t in the clear. It’s the proverbial healthiest patient in intensive care. Any downward blips in the global or U.S. economy, and/or in the North American automotive market could prove fatal.

Mulally figures Ford has gained some consumer equity by not taking taxpayer money, although he stresses that Ford has been on-record in supporting the government’s restructuring of the U.S. auto industry.

Another factor is gasoline prices. When the economy finally improves, that will put pressure on oil supplies, sending gasoline prices higher. And Ford is well poised with Mulally’s One Ford plan to rationalize most car and truck lines for the world. Whether gas is $2.25 or $4.50 a gallon, the Fiesta and an all-new global Focus arrive in U.S. showrooms next year. Ford’s margins are up, especially in Europe, and our midsize car, the Fusion, is selling well here with higher levels of content. Ford dealers here sell Sync-equipped cars three-times more quickly than non-Sync cars, says Lewis Booth, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Still, here’s the problem: the Fiesta can typically sell for $25,000 or more in Europe, at current exchange rates. That gives Ford of Europe good margins on a car with a wealth of features and a nice interior. The margins will be razor thin for the U.S.-market Fiesta, even with it being built in Mexico. And Ford will have to be careful with how it prices the new Fiesta against the next-generation Focus when they both arrive here.

Ford’s success in the car line rides on the Fusion, which for now is different than Europe’s midsize Mondeo. Can Ford take enough cost out of the Fusion’s replacement, when it converges with the Mondeo for the 2013 model year? Even when higher fuel economy standards kick in, the heart of the U.S. car market will remain the four-cylinder midsize sedan. Ford is starting to dig into the Camry/Accord’s sales with its Fusion. Save for the hybrid model though, a $30,000+ Fusion — the price range for the European Mondeo — is very much a stretch.

Mulally says Ford can sell European models at U.S. prices by using its innovation and global scale. He also believes Americans are more willing to pay more for high-quality, high-content small cars. Every new b-segment car is not a Mini, however. I believe that if Ford wants to be the healthiest athlete in the gym when the Great Recession finally ends, it’s going to have to revert to its Model T-era roots and figure out how to keep car prices from rising too quickly. Another car company that posted better than expected second quarter results Thursday, Hyundai, will see to it.

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6561444/earnings/healthiest-patient-in-icu-ford-posts-424-million-operating-loss/index.html