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Archive for January, 2009

Volvo’s Still for Sale…

But does anyone want to buy it?

by Joseph Szczesny on Jan.30, 2009

Prize for a new owner? Volvo's new XC60

Prize for a new owner? Volvo's new XC60

You may not be hearing much from the rumor mill, now that reports that BMW wants to buy Volvo have been quashed, but the Swedish maker is still on the auction block, according to Alan Mulally, CEO of Volvo’s American parent, Ford Motor Co.

That’s probably no surprise considering Ford’s dire financial problems. Earlier this week, the automer announced it lost $5.9 billion during the fourth quarter and has now run up more than $26 billion in red ink over the last two years alone.

During a conversation with reporters, Mulally declined to discuss the Volvo situation in any detail, but noted, at one point, that the Swedish maker’s management team was concentrating on turning the business around and said that Volvo would follow through with the launch of the new XC60, under the Ford flag, as planned this spring. Mulally also indicated Ford would continue to support Volvo’s effort to upgrade its product line. A freshened version of the S80 will come to market later this year.


Q&A: “Maximum Bob” Lutz

Why battery power matters...even to those who don't believe in global warming.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Jan.30, 2009

Maximum Bob Lutz, getting ready to strafe the competition

Maximum Bob Lutz, getting ready to strafe the competition

To friends and foes alike, he’s “Maximum Bob,” and there’s little doubt that in a half-century career, Robert A. Lutz never shies away from an opportunity to push things to the limits – whether helping develop a new product or racing it. His resume reads like a Who’s Who of Automakers, with names like BMW, Ford, Chrysler and, now, General Motors, where he serves as vice chairman and “car czar,” reporting directly to CEO Rick Wagoner.

The Swiss-born former U.S. Marine fighter pilot would likely see his tenure at the automaker’s downtown Detroit headquarters as the toughest fight of his career. He’s struggled to break through GM’s well-entrenched bureaucracy and get the company to refocus its efforts on making the world’s best cars and trucks. There’ve been some rewards, with newer products, like the Chevrolet Malibu, winning rave reviews. And the Chevy Volt, an “extended-range electric vehicle,” has become a symbol of the industry’s evolution from gas-guzzling SUVs to high-mileage hybrids, plug-ins and pure electric vehicles.

We had the chance to speak with Lutz about a wide range of topics, including the Volt and electric technology. It’s a curious topic for a discussion with the septuagenarian executive because Lutz is an outspoken skeptic when it comes to global warming, but he’s also hot on the subject of battery power.

Q: Any guess, by 2020, what percentage of your vehicles will have a Volt-like powertrain?

Lutz: No, it depends on whether we get a national energy policy, a stable price for fuel, which would permit for planning. Every six months, we’re stupid idiots because (prices change radically and) we should have planned in the other direction. We were stupid when we didn’t plan to build for light trucks. Then we were stupid when we didn’t see fuel hitting $4 a gallon. Now, you can’t give hybrids away, and dealers are saying, “Enough, but we’ll take a few more Tahoe (SUVS).”

Q: You used the Detroit auto show to reveal the battery supplier for your new Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle. What makes one supplier better than another?

Lutz: Oh, it’s suitability of the chemistry, experience in producing that type of battery, energy storage, speed to market, willingness to accept warranty responsibility – and last and probably least, price. We weighed a huge number of variables as we always do.


Spy Shots: McLaren P11

Into the realm of reality.

by Brenda Priddy on Jan.30, 2009

Caught: The McLaren P11

Caught: The McLaren P11

McLaren’s elusive P11 has moved from the realm of rumor into reality with just shot spy-photos of the first prototype photographed during cold weather testing. Tentatively scheduled to be officially introduced later this year, and with production beginning in 2010, the P11 is McLaren’s replacement for the SLR, a Ferrari F430 competitor.

Details on this car, caught earlier today in northern Sweden, are naturally sketchy, but the heavily camouflaged silhouette does resemble the renderings that have leaked over the past few months.

No specific details have been released, but current speculation calls for the lightweight supercar to be powered by a Mercedes-sourced V8 pumping out around 550 hp, possibly hooked up to an F1-style quick-change transmission.

More photos of the McLaren P11 can be viewed at

Brenda Priddy

First Drive: Mini Convertible

Always Open

by Henny Hemmes on Jan.30, 2009

Mini Convertible - dashing through the snow

Mini Convertible - dashing through the snow

You think it’s cold back in the U.S.? Try Kärnten, one of the most beautiful parts of the south of Austria. And at this altitude, this time of year, well, you’d think we might have enough common sense to keep the top closed on the new Mini Convertible. Think again. We just couldn’t imagine being the only ones driving back, at the end of the day and have to admit we didn’t get a good whiff of fresh mountain air.

But, to be honest, there’s something about the new Mini cabriolet that would have made us pull the top down, even if no one else was around; maybe that’s why the marketing gurus have hit the right note with their new slogan, Always Open.

Since the introduction of the new Mini, in 2002, some 164,000 convertibles have been sold and the new models are likely to match that success considering some of the new features the British automaker has added. Like the ability to open the soft top in just 15 seconds – and operate it even while driving at up to 20 mph. Another plus is that with the top neatly folded behind the rear seats, there’s now 4.4 cubic feet of cargo space, 0.17 cf more than before.

(With the top up, the luggage space increases to 6 cubic feet, while with the seats folded the Mini Convertible has 23.3 cf of luggage space. To keep burglars out, the split and foldable back rests of the rear seats can be locked with the car’s key.)


Mini: Plus One

Going up in a down market.

by Henny Hemmes on Jan.29, 2009

Mini Opens up new opportunities in a down market.

Mini Opens up new opportunities in a down market.

“It is hard to forecast sales for 2009, but we want to sell the same number as in 2008…. plus one,” said Dr.Wolfgang Armbrecht, senior vice-president brand management Mini, BMW AG.

During the past year, Mini has done very well, up 4.3 per cent to total sales of 232,000 units worldwide, making Mini the fastest growing premium brand in the market. If that’s not impressive enough, consider 54,000 of those were sold in the US – and in a market where virtually everyone posted double-digit declines, last year, that meant an improvement of no less than 28.6 per cent compared to 2007.

So how do you hold your ground in a market like this? If Mini is right, you go with products like the convertible Mini Cooper and Cooper S, and aim for a target of 233,000, this year. But there’s more coming, like the Mini One, with its 75 hp engine which, unfortunately, you American drivers won’t be getting, at least not any time soon.

In fact, that pint-sized engine – a downsized version of the small Mini 95-hp I-4 – was really developed for the Italian market, where people just getting a licence cannot drive in cars with more than 75 hp. But with growing interest in ultra-mileage powertrains, Mini has decided to make the smaller engine available for other selected markets in Europe, while the possibilities to use it in the Clubman One is under investigation.

The new base model will hit the streets on April 1, just after the worldwide market launch of the open top Cooper and Cooper S, and the Clubman One. So far, the price of the 75 hp Mini has only been announced for the German market. With a price tag of 15,200 euro, Mini hopes to attract a new group of young buyers.

For the 50th anniversary of the Mini brand, which will be celebrated on the Silverstone race track in the United Kingdom, we may expect a special version, possibly of the John Cooper Works.

Stay tuned, tomorrow, for Henny’s report on driving the new Mini Cooper Convertible! It’ll be available, exclusively here on

Spied: Mini Crossman dashing through the snow!

Mini's off-roader?

by Brenda Priddy on Jan.29, 2009

Mini’s new high-riding, all wheel drive Crossman has been spotted undergoing harsh winter testing and we have a great look at the new Cooper, psychedelic camo and all!

Spied: Mini Crossman

Spied: Mini Crossman

The Mini Crossman, previously referred to internally as the “Colorado,” will bring the brand firmly into new territory. What will likely be called the R58 within BMW from here on out, the Crossman is obviously riding higher than current Mini models, and have All Wheel Drive, making it a potential choice for off-roaders.

This new vehicle will also mark the first time a Mini is assembled outside the U.K. Austrian manufacturer Magna Steyr will build the car for Mini, which is rapidly running out of space at their current facilities. The Mini Crossman is scheduled for release in 2010. Segler says there are currently no plans for a fifth Mini model.

More pictures can be viewed at

Photo Credit: Brenda Priddy & Co.

Jobs Banks Cashing Out

Employee protection programs ending.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Jan.29, 2009

UAW Pres. Ron Gettelfinger cashes out of Jobs Bank

UAW Pres. Ron Gettelfinger cashes out of Jobs Bank

One of the most progressive programs ever launched by the auto industry is about to come to an end.

Ford Motor Co. has reached agreement with the United Auto Workers Union to close its jobs bank, bringing to an end a program that was intended to keep blue-collar employees from being seen as just another line item cost, expendable during the down times of the industry’s normal cycles.

Chrysler has already closed its bank, and the 1,600 General Motors employees the program covered will be placed on layoff, starting February 2.

Job security has been an issue for the UAW since it was first formed, during the depth of the recession. But while the union was able to win a variety of progressive benefits – such as employer-paid health insurance – it was only during the boom years of the mid and late 1980s that the idea of protecting jobs finally gained traction.


Automakers Rethink Super Bowl

Audi, Hyundai trying out a new breed of Super Bowl spots

by Marty Bernstein on Jan.29, 2009

Arguably the best professional football game ever was played almost half a century ago in the snow, mud and cold in a wind swept stadium between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts in Yankee Stadium.

Audi's A6 - a smaller, different presence on the Super Bowl

Audi's A6 - a smaller, different presence on the Super Bowl

The super stars of that historic game known as the ‘greatest game ever” – Frank Gif-ford, Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry were paid about ten grand for the season. The season! Television broadcast of the historical game barely extended across the Hudson River or went as far South as the Chesapeake Bay even though it was called a national broadcast.

Seven years later, the Pete Rozelle era had started, Super Bowl I was going to be played between the Packers and the Chiefs in sunny California. The super star players, Bart Starr and Len Dawson, were up to over twenty-something grand a season.

But it was the not so auspicious beginning of manor national television coverage by CBS and NBC networks who were able to pull in adventuresome big bucks advertisers with exclusivity by category contracts. A :60-second spot in Super Bowl 1 sold for $75,000.


Global Meltdown Drives Ford $5.9 billion into Red

Automaker still aiming for 2011 breakeven

by Joseph Szczesny on Jan.29, 2009

Shouldn't that be the Ford "Red Oval" these days?

Shouldn't that be the Ford "Red Oval" these days?

Ford Motor Co. lost $5.9 billion, or $2.46 per share in the fourth quarter of 2007 as the company was swamped by losses in key markets around the world including Europe and Asia and revenue dropped 36 percent.

Ford is the only one of the Detroit Big Three not to have sought federal assistance, last month. Alan Mulally, Ford’s chief executive officer, stressed that despite the automaker’s dismal numbers, it has not intention to ask the federal government for a bailout – with one exception. “The bankruptcy of a major competitor” that disrupted suppliers might require the company to seek a bailout, he said.

Ford, however, does expect to tap funds from a separate fund set up by the Department of Energy to promote the development of high-mileage vehicles, and from the European Union to help pay for development of more efficient products. And the automaker does plan to use the company’s $10 billion line of bank credit, said Mulally, who noted Ford now expects sales around the world to drop by a record 10 percent this year.

“Business conditions have deteriorated around the world more rapidly than expected,” Mulally said.


The $250,000 Viper

Big money at the Barrett-Jackson

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Jan.28, 2009

Hurst/Viper 1 goes for 250 "large" at the Barrett-Jackson

Hurst/Viper 1 goes for 250 "large" at the Barrett-Jackson

Though best known for delivering big bucks for classic cars, the annual Barrett-Jackson Auction, in Scottsdale, Arizona, rang the cash registers big time for this new Dodge Viper.

Actually, to be more accurate, it’s the Serial #1 50th Anniversary Hurst/Viper, which sold for a record-breaking $250,000 – more than any Hurst model or Viper has ever commanded at the BJ.

The first of only 50 to be built, the Hurst/Viper features the new Hurst HARD-DRIVE gold pistol-grip shifter, huge black chrome Hurst wheels, shod with Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires, Corsa exhaust and Moton Club Sport adjustable coil-over suspension with Eibach springs. To mark Hurst’s Golden Anniversary, the modified coupe is finished in a satin-gold paint with gloss black stripes. The interior features custom Hurst logo floor mats and a special Katzkin charcoal leather with Hurst embroidered logos, gold thread detailing and perforated leather inserts.

Half the sale price is being donated to a new Victory Junction camping facility for children for chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses to be built in Kansas City.

Now, if Chrysler could only get this much money for every Viper…