Archive for May, 2008

A four-cylinder solution to the mid-size car crisis

  As the cost of putting a tiger in the tank keeps going up, drivers are opting for a smaller cat under the hood. Small-car sales have been a rare pocket of strength for the slumping auto industry in recent months as Americans sought relief from sky-high gasoline prices. But many buyers are sticking with mid-size or larger vehicles and choosing a smaller engine instead — saving money on the sticker price and at the pump without downsizing their ride. “Some consumers have been moving down to smaller vehicles, but many can’t do that — people with families, people who have to drive the soccer team to practice,” noted Eric Noble, president of Car Lab, an automotive consulting firm in Orange. “So their preferred alternative is to get a vehicle with a smaller engine.” For much of May, as gas prices zoomed toward $4 …

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Size divide makes our roads even more deadly

  A SURGE in the sales of small cars and four-wheel-drives is creating a lethal two-class car system, increasing the risk of injury and death to those travelling in smaller vehicles. Leading crash expert, Monash University Accident Research Centre fellow Stuart Newstead, said small cars were no match for 4WDs in the event of accidents. He warned that record sales this year of both 4WDs — especially sports utility vehicles (SUVs) — and smaller cars had increased the likelihood of more catastrophic road accidents. The growing gap in average car size meant more motorists than ever were driving vehicles that were “incompatible” in crashes — with drivers of smaller cars the obvious losers. Figures to the end of April show SUVs — made up almost exclusively of 4WDs — have increased their share of new vehicle sales to a record 20.4% in one year, a …

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Gas prices forcing shift in vehicle-buying habits – Hybrid models, fuel-stingy cars sales up as SUVs, trucks decline

  There it sits: a 2007 Ford King Ranch F-250 diesel pickup. Its large black frame towers over a row of smaller Chevrolet Equinoxes, but with gas prices setting daily records, most buyers aren’t giving it a second look — much less a first. “I can’t get anyone to even come look at it — at any price,” said Steve Glasser, sales manager for Knapp Chevrolet, about the truck that has been sitting on the lot for three months. If current trends hold, salesmen like Glasser are going to have to get used to their trucks moving a bit slower off the lot. That’s especially true in the suburbs, where through April, cars sold at a faster pace than trucks and sport utility vehicles compared to last year. According to the TexAuto Facts Report published by Sugar Land-based InfoNation, sales of all new vehicles in …

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Miles L. Rubin bets China can help him win the race to get a full-speed electric vehicle on U.S. highways

  Miles L. Rubin leads a group of car dealers and employees to the parking lot alongside Miles Electric Vehicles’ office in Santa Monica, Calif. He admires the curves of a sedan under a snug-fitting sheet before a marketing executive dramatically whisks off the cover. For all the parking lot hoopla, the much anticipated car is rather nondescript. What’s sexy is inside: Under the hood is an electric motor powered by a 700-pound lithium-ion battery. The Miles XS500, as it’s called, is the company’s first electric-powered highway car to arrive from China. It is a midsize car Rubin, company chairman, believes is zippy and affordable enough to shake up the auto biz when 4,000 go on sale in as many as 100 dealerships late next year. The four-door vehicle, which picks up where General Motors and Toyota left off in pulling …

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General Motors management team gets the board’s backing

  General Motors Corp. lead independent director George Fisher said the automaker’s management team has his and the board’s backing after GM fell to the lowest value since 1982, the Wall Street Journal reported. “Certainly, I and the board still support our management team, as we have in the past,” Fisher told the newspaper, endorsing CEO Rick Wagoner. “We think we have the best management team to get us through these difficult times.” GM shares have declined more than 30% this year, falling as low as $16.87 Tuesday, the lowest since August 1982. “These times dictate more actions and Rick and the team are doing that,” Fisher, former Eastman Kodak Co. CEO and GM director since 1996, told the Journal. The Detroit-based automaker will focus on making the right cars and trucks, and “the stock price will follow what we are doing,” he told …

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Infiniti Confirms G37 Convertible – Playing tit for tat with BMW, Infiniti’s G37 coupe flips its lid for 2009

  Nissan’s long-rumored convertible version of the G37 was finally confirmed—albeit quietly—by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn in the automaker’s annual financial report for the 2007 fiscal year (which ended March 31). About three-quarters of the way through its tedious rundown of net profits, revenues, and financial risks, Nissan outlined the products it plans to release between now and March 31 of next year, most of which we knew about and a few of which are already out. But the G37 convertible had yet to be confirmed. “Nissan will launch nine all-new products during fiscal 2008: Teana, Infiniti FX, Maxima, Bakkie successor, Qashqai +2, Cube, and Infiniti G37 convertible,” Ghosn said in his speech. A U.S. Nissan spokesman tells us the G37 convertible—which goes on sale in February 2009—will follow the lead of the G37 coupe’s archrival, the BMW 3-series convertible, in featuring a …

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Energy Policy And The Electric Car

  Politicians on both sides of the aisle make claims for the need of a U.S. energy policy. Yet, all they have given us is a slightly raised fuel economy standard for automobiles and a nebulous list of items, some ridiculous and others unattainable. They include subsidies for ethanol, coal, landfills and nuclear industries. All of which have dire negative aspects and are couched around our supposed “addiction to foreign oil.” Many of the plans enrich them that’s got and harms most, the majority of average Americans. One ingredient, and perhaps the most important, is missing. That is serious production of the electric automobile. For over 50 years the electric vehicle has been used here in America in a multitude of applications, i.e., electric fork lift trucks, airport transfer equipment, warehouse AGVs, and deep coal and mineral mines. In England, EVs were used …

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Gas prices transform tiny Geo into a hit – Used cars 40+ mpg makes it hot property

  For drivers stung by high gas prices, happiness is a Geo Metro.The tiny sedan, discontinued in 2001, has nearly tripled in price on used-car lots in the past few months, pushed upward by customers who yearn for 40-plus mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency. Local car dealers say the demand for the model far outstrips supply, an observation in line with national statistics that show compact cars are the top sellers in an otherwise sluggish market for used vehicles. The heightened demand extends to nearly all small cars, including the Honda Civic and Ford Focus. This past Saturday, Ricart Chevrolet in Columbus rolled out a 1997 Metro and sold it within hours. The vehicle attracted the most interest of any on the dealership’s Web site, said sales manager John Henthorne. “I wish we had a whole lot full of Metros,” he said. But the no-frills cars aren’t …

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Housing crisis undercuts U.S. auto sales

  The auto industry is getting sideswiped by the U.S. housing crisis. Auto lenders and banks, closing their wallets, have prevented hundreds of thousands of American consumers from getting financing for a car. Home equity loans, which had been used in at least one of every nine U.S. auto purchase deals, when lenders were more generous, are no longer a source of easy money for many prospective buyers. And used-car prices have fallen nearly 6 percent as repossessed cars and gas-guzzling trucks and sport utility vehicles flood auction lots. Those forces, on top of the softening economy, are putting enormous pressure on the auto industry in the United States as it faces what may be its worst year in more than a decade. About 15 million vehicles are expected to be sold in 2008, down from 16.2 million last year, as sales reach the lowest levels since …

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Georgia Kia plant will make small, fuel-efficient cars

  An auto plant under construction in West Point will make small sedans instead of SUVs, another sign that worldwide hikes in fuel prices have come home to roost in Georgia and elsewhere, according to reports. In a change from its former plans, Kia Motors Corp. now says it will build fuel-efficient cars at its new plant in Georgia, said an official with Hyundai Motor Group, Kia’s parent corporation. International demand for less-thirsty autos prompted the decision, he said in a story that originated Tuesday from Seoul, South Korea. Kia officials announced late last year that the plant would produce the Sorento, a mid-sized sport utility vehicle that gets about 21 miles per gallon on the highway. But those plans have changed, said Hyundai vice-chairman Kim Dong-jin. “We have plans to have the Georgia plant produce small cars,” Kim was quoted in an article …

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