News

Ooops!

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a nationwide ad campaign over the past week or so from the National Highway Traffic Safetly Administration (NHSTA) called “Click it or Ticket“. Aside from having an incredibly annoying name, the campaign is meant to raise awareness of nationwide seat belt laws. The president, however, must not have gotten wind of the catchy campaign, as he’s captured here on video driving while clearly not wearing his seat belt. Oops!

This during the national NHSTA push, and also just six weeks after New Jersey governor Jon Corzine was nearly killed in an automobile accident while not wearing his seat belt. Here’s a link (1:07 wmv) to Governor Corzine’s PSA urging folks to be sure to wear their seat belts.

–Will

Cars.com reports an increase in fuel-efficient vehicle searches

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

If Cars.com is any indicator, Americans are looking more closely at fuel-efficient vehicles.

This really isn’t an incredible surprise, but it seems to the casual observer that the tipping point for Americans to consider fuel efficiency in vehicle choice may have been reached. Does this spell the end to the American love affair with behemoth SUVs pumped out by Detroit’s Big 3 automakers? Only time will tell, but such would appear to be the case.

New Cars With Largest Increase
in Searches for April 2007
Rank Vehicle Percentage
1. Honda Civic Hybrid 15%
2. Volkswagen Jetta 9%
3. Toyota Yaris 9%
4. Jeep Patriot 8%
5. Mercedes C-Class 7%
6. Toyota Prius 7%
7. BMW 335 7%
8. Ford Mustang 7%
9. Toyota Corolla 5%
10. Chevrolet Cobalt 4%

–Will Thompson

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Did Chinese automakers buy automotive secrets from Kia spies?

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Forbes reports via AFX that five current and former employees of Kia Motors have been arrested for allegedly selling automotive technology to China, causing potential losses of billions of dollars to a key industry, prosecutors said.

The prosecutors’ office in Suwon city south of Seoul said the five are accused of stealing key technical secrets regarding car assembly.

On nine occasions since last November, the accused allegedly diverted a total of 57 secrets to an unidentified Chinese auto company through a technology consulting company in South Korea.

The secrets were supposedly technologies for assembly of Kia’s Sorento SUV.

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The incident has been called South Korea’s biggest case of industrial espionage, and could cause damage of ‘a few billion dollars’.

–Will Thompson

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Best of Three Worlds

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

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When I checked my mail box today I was greeted by a new vehicle from Kanter Concepts called the 789. The 789 is named so because it blends key styling cues from the ‘57 Chevy Bel Air and both a ‘58 and ‘59 Chevy Impala. With C6 Corvette underpinnings the 789 is marketed as a unique and retro ride that can perform like a modern super car on the street. Performance isn’t the only thing that is of super car proportions; with a price tag of $135,000 the Kanter 789 ain’t cheap. However if you really want a blend of American nostalgia, with modern performance, and looks that will have overweight men in tank tops and mesh hats drooling then the 789 might be the perfect car for you.

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Here is the press release on the 789:
Named for the three years represented in the overall design, the 789 has the
“hooded eyes” and chrome grille bar of a ‘57 Bel Air, a mid-section and
tri-toned interior that is reminiscent of a ‘58 Impala and the “bird in
flight” rear tailfins of a ‘59. These three vehicles are all instantly
recognizable classics celebrated by people around the world.

No matter how well you restore a ‘57 Chevy or how much you update a ‘59, you
still have a 50 year old car with its outdated technology and safety
features - not to mention reliability problems. The 789 solves that with the
latest in GM engineering. Get in and go anywhere, drive 190 mph if it’s
legal, and get 25 miles per gallon cruising on the highway.

Looks? You will have picture phones galore sending photos around the world
of your one-of-a-kind ride. No two cars will have the identical paint scheme
or colors, and with over 10,000 interior combinations you will never be
parked next to yourself at the country club or cruise-in. Recently we
attended a very fancy cruise in and there were two Ford GT’s near each
other, both grey, white stripe/black interior. Needless to say, all eyes
were on the 789.

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Kanter Concepts is the designer of the 789 and they do it the old fashioned
way. The design team sketches by hand and the clay modelers do it by hand
also, that’s the only way to get sensuous curves and sexy features.
Computers? Sure we use them, each staff member has the most complex computer
known to mankind - the human brain. Want a cookie cutter car? The same
computers that design cars can run a cookie factory.

The price of a turnkey 789 is $135,000, well equipped with all Corvettes
standard equipment including the 400 horsepower aluminum block V8 engine. In
addition, each car includes a custom Borla exhaust system, PST high
performance anti-sway bars and a $2,000 wheel/tire upgrade allowance. Any
upgrade or modification can be done to your car at additional cost, from
turbocharging to ceramic brakes and from a 1000 watt stereo to ostrich
leather interior. Our only limit is your imagination.

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The exterior of your car is what the world sees just like the outside of
your home . But you spend most of your time enjoying your home and car from
the inside. The first Impala model was the 1958, it was top of the line and
only available in two door convertible and coupe. In the years following it
was the name of a model series of sedans, coupes and wagons . Purists
consider the ‘58 as the only true Impala.

Each 789 interior is based on the donor C6 Corvette and is tri- toned as
standard equipment, just like the ‘58 Impala that inspired it. You have the
choice of virtually any available commercial fabric or leather combination
at no extra cost. Ostrich grain, alligator, rattan, brocade, or perforated
leather. Bring us your thoughts or samples and we’ll turn it into reality.

At extra cost anything is available, solid silver dash surrounds, hand
tooled leather seats, panels accessories. Sound system upgrades, door panels
that glow in different colors in sync with the music, racing seats with your
name or crest embroidered on them.

Our design staff will be glad to consult with you and prepare renderings to
build your car or we can work with your own design or that of a designer of
your choice.

Remember, “no two alike” refers to interiors also. For sure you’ll never get
into the wrong car at Burger King or the Neiman Marcus parking lot.

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Cars like the 789 have me a bit conflicted. While I appreciate the effort of building a unique creation and the skill it took to actually put the thing together the end result is still a C6 Corvette with a new body on top. And while the body work is quite stunning, it still doesn’t seem as cool as an original ‘57, ‘58 or ‘59 Chevrolet. While this is an undeniably cool ride I’ll still take the genuine historic car over the faux nostalgia any day.

-Bill Mertz

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Front Engined Porsche Sedan Gets Closer To Production

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

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The name Porsche has become synonymous with rear-engine sports cars thanks in large part to the legendary 911. However, Porsche is no stranger to the front-engine rear-drive layout. Although often thought of as the ugly step-children of the Porsche family cars like the 924, 944 and 928 have shown that Porsche is not only capable of making cars with this layout, but they do it quite effectively from both a performance and styling standpoint. Well it appears as if Porsche will venture down that road once again with a new front-engine rear-drive sedan (a Porsche first) called the Panamera.

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While rumors have been floating around about the Panamera for sometime, new details have been revealed that make the 2010 US release of the Panamera seem like a done deal. A recent article in Autoweek sported computer-generated photos that show in great detail the new shape of the Porsche sedan. Part 911 and part 928 the Panamera isn’t your typical sports sedan, however it isn’t unattractive either. As a matter of fact, at first glance its swoopy body lines trick the eye into thinking it is just another beautiful two door grand touring car. But upon closer inspection four distinct doors pop into view. According to Autoweek Porsche might also bring out a 928-like coupe version of the Panamera that will sport only two doors and help to fill out the fleet.

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Porsche 928
Under the hood of this concept is a 4.8 liter naturally aspirated–and turbocharged in the S package–V8 (another link to the 928) that should provide somewhere between 400 and 520 horsepower. With a top speed approaching 180 mph and 0-60 times in the sub five second range this 16 foot sedan should have plenty of get up and go, even with four adults in the car. While nothing is set in stone, word is that Porsche may also develop a base model utilizing a reworked VW sourced V6 as well as an environmentally conscious hybrid version of the Panamera sedan, with the possibility of the V6 playing an integral role in the hybrid version. Whatever the drive train configurations end up being, odds are the Panamera will share most of its components with the Porsche Cayenne.

While many people blasted Porsche when they built the Cayenne, I can’t say that I blame them for it, and same goes for the Panamera. It is idealistic to think that a car company can strictly build sports cars and make a profit. The fact is that the Cayenne sells well for them and probably foots a lot of the development cost for the cool 911s that Porsche is constantly releasing. I’m also a fan of cars like the 928 and 944 and for that reason I really like the looks of the new Panamera sedan, and hope that Porsche succeeds in bringing it to production. Another competitor in the German sport sedan arena certainly won’t hurt anything, and in fact will
probably help to keep the sedans moving in the right direction.

Check out the Autoweek story here:
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Panamera
-Bill Mertz

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Gold, The New Cure For Hydrocarbon Emissions

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

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Until recently, diesel vehicles have relied on platinum in their diesel oxidation catalysts (DOCs) that are required to meet the stringent emission regulations for the 14 million light-duty and 2 million heavy-duty diesel vehicles produced annually worldwide. Platinum, however is not cheap, and has driven the cost of DOCs up significantly.

In the past couple of years Nanostellar, a company who produces catalyst materials, introduced the use of palladium to partially replace the four-times more expensive platinum. But further research and development on their part has brought to the table a new material that will further increase the affect of the catalyst while reducing its cost; gold. The advantages of gold are simple. At current market value it is about 1/2 the price of platinum. But what’s even better is the NS gold catalyst can reduce noxious emissions by up to 40% more than standard pure-platinum catalysts in use today.

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Pankaj Dhingra, CEO of Nanostellar was pleased with their new discovery, “Not only does NS Gold(TM) break performance barriers imposed by mixed platinum and palladium catalysts, but also its performance can be more easily tuned to the characteristics of a variety of diesel engines”. He added, “we are excited to offer NS Gold(TM) to improve the cost equation for the diesel industry. Gold is not new to catalyst scientists, but this is the first time it has been successfully adapted for use in automotive diesel oxidation catalysts.”

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While not as exciting as a new source of increased horsepower or handling, it is always nice to see new breakthroughs and innovations on the emissions side of the automotive industry. With Hydrocarbon restrictions getting stricter by the year, this new catalyst came at the perfect time. Personally, after learning of all the precious metals in diesel catalyst, I was thinking about quitting my job writing and opening up a new business that combines salvaging trucks with making gold and platinum grills for the hip hop set. Bill’s big rig grills.

-Bill Mertz

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Hot Damn These Things are Slammed

Monday, April 16th, 2007

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Ever since driving my first VW Microbus a few weeks back I’ve been on the air cooled Volkswagen tip. A friend of mine found a cool Belgian website for early VW enthusiasts that is pretty remarkable. While I don’t understand the language, a picture is worth 1000 translated words, and they have some great photos from events and the like of their European bread Vee Dubs.

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What I really appreciate about these Euro VW enthusiasts is their sense of style when it comes to the cars. They aren’t all about chrome and shiny things like so many hot rodders and import rodders here in the US are. Rust and tarnish are perfectly acceptable even encouraged it seems, many vehicles are modified but originality also has its place amongst this crowd, and probably the biggest common theme is there’s no such thing as too low. A huge mass of these air cooled Volkswagen enthusiast gathered in Ninove, Belgium this month and the pictures are quite amazing.

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Click on the pics to see additional galleries.

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-Bill Mertz

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Jeep Wrangler Sets New Altitude Record

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

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The new four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has just wheeled its way into the Guinness Book of World Records by conquering the tallest Volcano in the world, Ojos del Salado in Chile. After reaching the top of the volcano the two Wrangler Unlimiteds became the first four-wheeled vehicles to reach 21,804 feet above sea level, the altitude at the top of Ojos del Salado. The immense volcano is not only tall but it is also littered with difficult obstacles such as glacial ice fields and volcanic sand, combined with the thin air at the top it makes for less than ideal conditions for a motorized vehicle, however the two Jeep team was up for the challenge.

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The expedition was lead by a German based team from Extreme Events. Taking roughly five exhausting days to complete the trip, Mattias Jeschk (team leader) and the rest of his crew guided the Wranglers from base camp up to the top of the second highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. Along the way they faced hurricane-strength winds, sub-zero temperatures (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit), thin air, malicious glaciers, fissured rock cliffs and volcanic sand. The most difficult part of the journey was the last stretch of the climb where both Wranglers had to cross a glacier, slick enough to require cramp-ons for foot travel. At the end was a fissured ice area strewn with razor sharp snow penitents. Both Wranglers were almost completely stock Rubicon models except for the addition of Goodyear MT/R tires, a pair of winches, and special altitude measuring instruments, making the trip all the more impressive.
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Goodyear tires at work

Senior Vice President of Global Marketing for Chrysler, George Murphy had nothing but praise for the trip, “This was exactly the challenge to separate the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited from all other 4×4 vehicles. A climb like this in not just off-road, but extreme conditions, is a testament to the performance of the vehicle’s power train, suspension and overall quality. We are very proud that Wrangler Unlimited was the first vehicle to be able to complete such a rigorous challenge, and believe that it really does set the vehicle apart from its competition”.

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As a Jeep owner I’m proud to see another Jeep make this great achievement, especially one that shares some lineage with my old CJ7. But I have to admit, the hiker/backpacker in me is a little sad to see motorized vehicles climbing mountains instead of people on foot, and the idea that Jeep has now dubs this great volcano “the highest parking lot in the world” says a lot about the direction our society is going in. But I guess those are the conflicts that someone who likes Jeeps and likes to hike has to deal with. By the way; the old record was held by a VW Touareg at 19,950 feet.

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Jeeps reach the previous record altitude

Good job Jeep! I think.

-Bill Mertz

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NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow

Friday, March 30th, 2007

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This past weekend I had the chance to take in my first full NASCAR Nextel Cup race of the season (in between NCAA basketball), and it just so happens it was also the debut of the much anticipated “Car of Tomorrow”. Hearing the name “Car of Tomorrow” I expected to see a futuristic looking race car with updated suspension and lots of technological breakthroughs, but instead what I saw was a car that looked slightly more stock than the old NASCAR and sported a pronounced rear wing and front chin spoiler/air splitter. From what I’ve heard and read the “Car of Tomorrow” is was mostly modified with safety in mind. The car is less aerodynamic but has more down force, meaning lower speeds and more grip. I believe it is also slightly larger with a more central driver’s location providing better protection. During the race one of the commentators (Darrell Waltrip I believe) said that the car would be better named “the Car of Yesterday” as it reminded him of the golden age of NASCAR when the cars were closer to street vehicles.

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The legend, Darrell Waltrip

Ironically the online spoof newspaper The Onion wrote a piece in their latest edition about “the Car of Yesterday”, but I don’t think it is quite what Waltrip had in mind.

Here is an excerpt from the article:
CHARLOTTE, NC—Only days after its long-anticipated, much-criticized Car of Tomorrow debuted to overwhelmingly negative reviews at the Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR responded to the wishes of competitors and fans alike by introducing the stylishly retro, technologically retrograde NEXTEL Cup Car of Yesterday.
Enlarge Image NASCAR Introduces

“This is exactly what everyone from race teams to race fans wanted all along—a real American racecar,” said Robby Gordon, standing in front of the Jim Beam ‘77 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme he will drive for the rest of the season. “To hell with things like spoilers, adjustable suspensions, disc brakes, shoulder belts, all that junk. People want to see us racing the cars they drive every day, and anyone who’s seen the parking lot at a NASCAR race will tell you that’s what the Car of Yesterday gives them.”

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Check out the rest of the article here: The Onion
While The Onion can occasionally be to smart-ass for their own good, this article gave me a good chuckle, and it is nice to see them commenting on motor sports for a change. As for the actual car of tomorrow, the first race made it seem like there will be less carnage on the track with this new race car, which is a bad thing for most NASCAR fans. But safety is always good, and the race was still hotly contested, so hopefully the rest of the season will remain a closely fought contest.

-Bill Mertz

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Should All Traffic Safety Data Be Made Public?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

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Most of us remember the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire travesty that marred both companies’ reputations nearly a decade ago. Explorers equipped with Firestone’s ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT models were reporting an alarming amount of tire failures, usually coming in the form of a blowout. Worse than that the blowouts often caused the Explorers to roll over and seriously injure or kill the occupants. There was some debate as to whether the tires or vehicle was at fault for the resulting rollovers and injuries/deaths, but both companies received massive amounts of negative press over this controversy. Today I read an interesting press release from Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. and Quality Control Systems Corp that brought up some interesting allegations related to this disaster.

Here is the text in full:

Quality Control Systems Corp. today filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal District Court to obtain secret data about deaths and injuries held by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). R.A. Whitfield, the company’s director, said that the public needs access to the Early Warning Reports collected under the Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act to better understand why so many deaths and injuries related to tire failures in the Ford Explorer have continued long after the well-known tire recalls that affected the vehicle.

The TREAD Act was passed in October 2000 in response to Ford Explorer- Firestone tire-related rollover deaths in the U.S. and Ford’s overseas recalls. TREAD amended federal transportation law to require vehicle and equipment manufacturers to report safety recalls or campaigns on vehicles and components in a foreign country if they also sold substantially similar products in the U.S. It also mandated NHTSA to create regulations governing quarterly Early Warning Reports — information on property damage and warranty claims, consumer, dealer and field reports, production numbers and deaths and injuries collected by manufacturers — with the intent of using the data to spot defect trends.

When President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law, he directed NHTSA “to implement the information disclosure requirements of the [TREAD] Act in a manner that assures maximum public availability of information.” But after six years of crafting regulations, and after three years worth of data, the public has consistently been denied access to this important safety information.

Between July 1994 and January 15, 2007, at least 420 persons have been killed in tire-related, Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, and Mazda Navajo crashes, including 396 deaths found in NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and 24 recent deaths found in news accounts. For more than a year, Whitfield has been seeking Ford’s EWR death and injury data on Explorers to better analyze the rise in tire-related Explorer fatalities. While available fatal crash data frequently do not report vehicle component failures, the TREAD Act requires manufacturers to separately report claims about deaths and injuries related to alleged component failures. Whitfield wants to merge the two sets of information together to get a better picture of the problem.

Whitfield and others, most notably Public Citizen, seeking Early Warning Reports have been stymied by NHTSA’s decision to keep nearly all the data secret.

“It is truly outrageous that the Bush administration would move to seal such essential auto safety information from the public,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and former NHTSA administrator. “Public access to this type of data could mean the detection of problems like the deadly Ford Explorer/Firestone tire combination and could save lives.”

Since 2000, safety and consumer advocates and manufacturers have fought over what — if any — of the information collected under the TREAD Act is public. The safety community has pushed for maximum accessibility.

“The government shouldn’t be the sole arbiter of safety — with a small staff and limited budget NHTSA should welcome independent evaluations of the EWR data as part of its mandate to protect the public,” says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, which commissioned Quality Control Systems to examine the increase in Explorer tire-related fatal crashes. “Data are critical to understanding and seeking solutions to safety problems- Explorer tire-related crashes is just one of many issues that would benefit from evaluation of the data NHTSA is keeping secret.”

The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) has insisted that the TREAD Act specifically exempted EWR data from public view under Exemption 3 of the Freedom of Information Act. (Exemption 3 states that information is not public under FOIA if Congress specifically passes a law preventing its release.)

NHTSA has consistently argued that some EWR information should be kept confidential under FOIA’s Exemption 4 — information that may cause competitive harm. In January 2001, when the agency began to establish the EWR regulations, it envisioned making much of the information — including death and injury data — public and received few requests from manufacturers for confidentiality. But as some manufacturers fought tenaciously for secrecy, NHTSA designated more classes of information private under Exemption 4.

In March 2004, Public Citizen sued Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta over the confidentiality of EWR data. The suit claimed that NHTSA had deviated substantially from its initial proposal when it passed a final rule that broadly determined that whole classes of tire data are confidential. The Rubber Manufacturers Association, which represents tire makers, filed counter claims. In March 2006, U.S. District Judge Robert Leon ruled in favor of Public Citizen and directed NHTSA to revisit the rule. Judge Leon ruled a week later that EWR data was not subject to FOIA Exemption 3. The RMA appealed.

As the rule stands today, only death and injury and property damage claims filed with the government through EWR are supposed to be made public. But NHTSA has refused to release any of the data until RMA’s appeal is resolved.

In the meantime, the death toll in Ford Explorer, tire-related crashes rose in 2005, at the rate of about one death per week, and other potential safety problems loom without public knowledge.

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It’s interesting to know that the Explorer/Firestone related accidents are still occurring with some frequency, and I will be curious to see how this debate over public knowledge plays out in our courts.

-Bill Mertz

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ZAP Reveals Sketches For Its Electric Crossover SUV

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

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Usually when I read the words “crossover” or “SUV” in a press release there is a good chance that I won’t be reading to the end. But something has me excited about ZAP’s new electric crossover SUV concept, the ZAP-X. I don’t know if it’s the fact that they partnered up with Lotus on the design or if it’s the fact that the sketches make the ZAP-X look much more like a wagon than an SUV. Either way, the new concept is undeniably cool and extremely forward thinking.

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ZAP’s electric Xebra sedan

ZAP is perhaps best known for making tiny electric “city cars” such as the Zebra that are efficient, easy to park and maneuver and just fast enough to get around the city in. Fairly recently they announced that they were working on a high-performance crossover SUV electric car concept called ZAP-X in conjunction with Lotus Engineering. The small wagon/SUV design will contain in hub electric motors that give the car all wheel drive and can provide up to 644 horsepower with a top speed in the area of 155 mph. The performance advantage of electric motors over internal combustion is that they can develop full torque at 0 rpm, meaning the ZAP-X should also be a rocket off the line. Using a lightweight aluminum chassis and components matched with a highly advanced battery system, engineers hope that the ZAP-X will be able to attain a range of 350 miles with a recharging time of only 10 minutes.

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CEO Steve Schneider is extremely enthusiastic about the project, “we believe that the ZAP-X will become the most advanced, most practical and most appealing flagship electric vehicle to date and will revolutionize the industry providing the driver with the enjoyment of a sports car and the practicality of an SUV.” If the sketches and on paper stats are any indication, I would say Steve has a good point.

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No word as to when this vehicle will be a running prototype but it’s good to know that people are still designing and building cool vehicles that can be fast, efficient and environmentally friendly.

For more info on ZAP check out their website: http://www.zapworld.com

Also check out this interview with Steve Schneider in Popular Science: Interview

-Bill Mertz

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A Practical Flying Car: Can It Be Done?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

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The idea of building a car that can fly is not a new one (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). In fact it has been done many times before. However the out come is usually some bulky inefficient creation that is equally horrible at flying and driving. The flying Pinto, which crashed on its maiden voyage, comes to mind. However, if you could make a flying car that flies well, drives well, doesn’t slurp fuel at an alarming rate and is affordable, then you would have something amazing on your hands.

John Bakker, a Dutch visionary and entrepreneur thinks he has created that perfect flying vehicle. Working in conjunction with groups like the Dutch Aerospace Laboratory, Bakker has spent years developing his flying car concept which he calls the PAL-V (Personal Air Land Vehicle). Realistically the PAL-V is years from coming to market, but Bakker has high hopes that when it does it will revolutionize transportation, providing safe and fast transit through countries with underdeveloped infrastructure and helping with problems like traffic congestion in overly developed countries.

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Utilizing the space between the ground and the 4000 foot floor for commercial air space the PAL-V will be able to fly at low altitude, which according to Bakker is the last unclaimed space. When on the ground the sleek three wheeled vehicle is said to be as comfortable as a luxury car and as nimble as a motorcycle, thanks in part to a unique system which allows the PAL-V to lean over as it turns. With the propeller neatly folded and hidden away it isn’t bulky like flying cars of the past. And with power coming from a highly efficient environmentally certified car engine the PAL-V has the potential to be both economic and green friendly. The motor can uses multiple fuels including standard petrol, bio-diesel and bio-ethanol.

Bakker is currently in the process of building the first working prototype to demonstrate that the technology is safe, affordable, and just feasible. He is looking for additional investors to speed the PAL-V’s march to production. Any takers?

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I really like this concept, except that when I imagine a world full of affordable flying cars I can’t help but think of how many people are terrible drivers and still take to the roads. Imagine the damage that those same people could do in flying cars. What a nightmare. No doubt there will be numerous government regulations and a strict licensing process before you could legally own and fly one of these things, which would help calm some of my fears. But it seems like road rage and stupid driving would be much worse in the skies.

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In America it’s Chitty Chitty Bling Bling, out here it’s Chitty Chitty Bling Bang!

-Bill Mertz

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Barrett Jackson Lawsuit

Monday, March 19th, 2007

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I just read a press release regarding anti-defamation suit from the famous classic car auction company Barrett-Jackson. The lawsuit, which was filed on March 15th in a U.S. District Court, was entered in response to a disgruntled consignor who was unhappy with some facet of the auction process or the result of the auction itself. According the release, “the consignor, apparently unhappy with the $300,000 sale price of his vehicle, placed chains and locks on the vehicle after it crossed the auction block and was sold, while it sat in the area where featured auction cars were displayed”.

The press release which was issued by Barrett-Jackson continues, “he posted multiple notices on the vehicle claiming that the sale was void due to claimed ‘auction irregularities,’ and published other false and defamatory statements about Barrett-Jackson in view of the company’s customers and the thousands of patrons attending the event”. Apparently the consignor was upset enough to launch an online smear campaign against Barrett-Jackson with “numerous defamatory rumors and untrue statements being published to websites and online chat rooms viewed by the company’s core customer base”. The press release refers to one particular “untrue, derogatory and defamatory ‘article’” which was published on more than 20 “automotive-related online ‘blogs’ and discussion boards frequented by thousands of classic car enthusiasts around the world”.

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As an automotive blogger I know first hand that there is a definite lack of quality control when it comes to online gossip. However, I’m hesitant to jump in the Barrett-Jackson corner for two reasons. The first is that I have worked in classic car consignment and it is a shady business full of misdirection, deception and occasionally out right lies. Even if Barrett-Jackson is massive company with a long standing reputation, they are still part of that line of work (just like not trusting politicians).

Secondly, Sports Car Market’s own Keith Martin was recently tossed out of a Barrett-Jackson event for supposedly talking bad about the company for pushing the prices of muscle cars up and recommending rival auctions amongst other things. He may have deserved to get tossed even know he denies the actions, but I know people who know Keith, and while he does have a bit of mouth on him, he is a pretty straight talker and tends to tell it like it is. I trust his word more than the Barrett-Jackson, and think that throwing a journalist and auction specialist out of your auction because he is a being critical is a bit fascist.

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That being said I will keep an open mind and reserve judgment on this particular news item until I hear the out come of the case (years from now no doubt).

Copies of the lawsuit can be obtained by contacting the clerk of the U.S. District Court in Phoenix or at: http://www.azd.uscourts.gov/.
-Bill Mertz

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AB 616: California Smog Bill

Friday, March 16th, 2007

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Recently it came to my attention through my extensive “car guy” connections that there is a bill running through the California legislature that might impact the automotive community. A.B. 616 was introduced in the California Assembly by Assemblyman Dave Jones. Part of the proposed bill would require annual smog check inspections for vehicles 15-years old and older. It would also require that funds generated through the additional inspection fees be deposited into an account which can be used to scrap older cars. Cars built before 1976 would still remain exempt from smog checks, and presumably cars newer than 15 years old would only need them every couple of years as is the law today. The bill has been referred to the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Click for full text of the Assembly Bill as it was introduced:
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I haven’t had time to analyze the wording of this Bill too much; however a politically minded vintage car enthusiast that I know sent an interesting response to one of the email lists I subscribe to. He shall remain nameless to protect his identity but this is what he had to say about AB 616:

Hello.
As a California citizen and auto enthusiast, I am concerned about your
support of AB 616. I think that the current smog laws do not take many environmental
concerns into account and AB 616 is a great example of this. Between 60% and 80% of the pollution an automobile will ever make in its operational lifetime is created in the manufacturing process, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers. It is therefore preferable from an
environmental point of view to keep the old cars on the road rather than manufacturing new ones, as the environmental impact of the older vehicles has already been absorbed by the planet.
If you do a bit of research on the manufacture of the batteries for Toyota hybrids, you will find an area of Canada that looks like the surface of the moon because of the plant that makes the batteries. Moving pollution around so that no one notices is not a good solution to the problem.
Other possible solutions might include: simplifying the process of smog checks to look at tail pipe emissions only, which would take some of the financial burden off of the consumer, reduce the temptation to ‘cheat’, and possibly allow for some innovations that may further reduce pollution; having the state pay for engine rebuilds/swaps and tune ups for cars over a certain age, which would cost about the same as enforcing the current program but would create jobs (and tax revenue from those jobs) and foster a cooperative rather than antagonistic relationship between consumers and the state, and probably be far more effective environmentally; sponsor a bill that creates a really good public transportation system state wide in order to reduce reliance on personal motor vehicles, which would again create jobs
and reduce pollution; propose a law that taxes vehicles based on their fuel consumption in order to encourage fuel efficiency to be a factor on the purchase of new vehicles.

Further, the current laws look as though they were dreamed up by auto manufacturers in order to encourage consumption rather than environmentalism. The entire burden of payment is brought upon the consumers in the form of smog check fees, taxes, fuel additive costs and new vehicle costs. The role of the state is like a thug/enforcer that deems a car undriveable and sends the consumer to the car dealer to get another, assessing taxes the entire way… By supporting new car sales over proper maintenance, we are in effect supporting the destruction of the environment in Mexico and Canada (see NAFTA, just the parts that benefit corporations as that seems to be the only part we are interested in enforcing), the erosion of the American workforce and economy and by extension health care and other social services.

Do something meaningful about the environment. AB 616 is not it. Buying new cars is not it. Enforcing all of NAFTA would be a start. Taking practical steps to work with consumers in order to reduce pollution would be another positive step. More frequent smog checks and crushing more cars makes about as much sense as testing kids in school every year to see if
they meet some imaginary benchmark of performance and then fining the schools if they don’t make the grade…Oh wait, I forgot that we are doing that…

Public service means a lot. I hope that you and your fellow public servants are up to the full implications of that task. We do not need any more band aid solutions to our problems. We as a society need real solutions that look at causality that may not be simple or obvious, and
solve the systemic problems we have instead of the symptoms that are so easy to get on a soap box about. Band aids are for crisis symptoms, real work prevents crisis from occurring.
Thank you for your time.

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While I don’t agree totally agree with what he says, he makes many valid points. One thing that is a bit deceptive is the pollution statistic. I’m sure that the total pollution from a car manufactured now is less than it was 25 years ago, so the 60-80% from production might also be significantly less (as well as tail pipe pollution). However, I do agree that this is a Band Aid fix, and doesn’t deal with the core of the problem. The car hobbyist lobby has proven powerful in defeating this type of bill in the past; it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Bill Mertz

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New Deronda Sports Car Coming to the States

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

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My first thought when seeing the Deronda sports car was that it looked like a mid-engine modern day Lotus Seven. In fact that description really isn’t a bad one. The car is a bare bones lightweight design, with a small but powerful four cylinder engine giving it excellent power to weight, advanced four wheel independent suspension, and looks that are more about function than style.

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This week the Deronda is making its US debut in Sebring, Florida. Coming from across the pond in England the Deronda is being produced and sold in the US by Autosport Development in Trenton, Michigan. The company will only be assembling a limited number of these road legal race cars with a price of around $70,000.

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The make up of the Deronda is quite impressive. A steel tubular space frame is at the center of it all with double side impact bars, a front crash structure and rear crash bars. For safety the car has double longitudinally braced rollover hoops, a foam filled gas tank, an external master cutoff switch, and an onboard fire suppression system. Suspension duties are handled by a double wishbone suspension that sports fully adjustable Ohlin springs and dampers. Power for the car comes from an Audi sourced 1.8 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that delivers 250 brake horsepower and 300 pound feet of torque. The Deronda also comes with massive brakes, light weight wheels, performance tires and a fully adjustable pedal box to help tailor the car the specific needs of different sized customers.

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Weighing at only 1600 pounds the Deronda can scorch the tires and reach 60 mph in less than four seconds. Add to that the nimble handling and quick direction changes that only come with a sub-2000 pound car and you have one amazing package. Like the Lotus Seven the Deronda shines because of its lightweight minimalist approach. Even though it is light-years ahead of the Seven in terms of performance, how it delivers the performance is much the same. I look forward to seeing one of these on the road or track, and hopefully it will be dusting a car with twice the power and weight.

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-Bill Mertz

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Some people use their automobiles only to get from Point A to Point B. You know there's more than that. You get mad when someone makes a remark about your car that's less than flattering. You get riled when a cool car is destroyed in a straight-to-video movie. You realize when a new car doesn't deserve it's name of a great car of the past. When you see someone driving a boring vehicle, you feel sorry for them. You know it's not the destination that counts - it's the journey. Welcome home gearheads. Welcome home, car freaks. Welcome to the site that fuels your automotive obsession - AutomotiveBlogger.net

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