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Friday, February 28, 2014

NINE INFAMOUS AUTOMOBILES WITH AN UNDESERVED BAD REPUTATION


By Bengt Halvorson for The Car Connection

 
In automotive history, there's no shortage of cars that were poorly conceived, built, designed, and/or engineered—and for one or many reasons, fully deserving of their bad rap.

But there are plenty of models (like the Kizashi) that didn't deserve their bad reputations. And as all it can take is one scandal, marketing decision, or misguided ad campaign, these demerits can be easy to earn and tough to shake. Read through to see nine of the vehicles that didn't—or didn't fully—deserve their notoriety.

 
          Isuzu Trooper                

The Isuzu Trooper had quite the reputation heading into the mid 1990s—a strong one, formed around tough off-road ability, a versatile, family-sized interior, and a bulletproof reputation for reliability. It was regarded so well that even Honda partnered with the Isuzu to market a gussied-up version of it as the Acura SLX. Then in 1996 Consumer Reports singled out the Trooper for a claimed tendency to roll over in abrupt emergency maneuvers. Sales dropped notably amidst the controversy—otherwise the boom years for family-sized SUVs its size. In a defamation trial, a jury in 2000 found the magazine to have made several false statements, but that they weren't made maliciously or hadn't damaged Isuzu. History has seen it otherwise, though, as the reputation of the Trooper (and Isuzu) never did fully recover.
 
 
Ford Explorer

A one of our editors put it, “It was the tires, man.” Due to a series of rollover incidents and accidents leading up to 2000, the Explorer was recalled for an issue with underinflated or improperly specified tires—and lots of bad blood between Ford and Firestone, who both pointed fingers at the other. The Explorer, which had already become an American family favorite through the '90s, with sales approaching a half-million a year, was made even better throughout the '00s, but the damage had already been done, and Americans started skipping over the Explorer in favor of more stable crossovers.
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Pontiac Aztek

Yes, the Pontiac Aztek was unforgettably ugly; but did it really deserve as much unilateral condemnation as it's received over time? This early GM attempt at a crossover utility vehicle was spacious and versatile, as well as loaded with good (or at least interesting) ideas—like an extending tailgate pop-up tent, tailgate audio, and portable cooler. And its performance was about what you'd expect for the price and purpose. Walter White's Breaking Bad reputation might have been deserved, but we're not entirely convinced on the Aztek.
 
 
 
            Oldsmobile Aurora                

The Aurora was born as a halo car to refresh the image of the Oldsmobile brand. Then in a head-scratcher of a move that only fellow marketers found clever, it was launched without any Oldsmobile label on the outside. The Aurora is probably the most refined and sophisticated car GM made in the 1990s (and what we think would have made a nice upmarket complement to Saturn), but it was misunderstood and mismarketed, and thus not nearly as well-known as it should have been. Oldsmobile hardly helped things by rolling out a cost-cut Aurora that was utterly anonymous—just before axing the brand completely.
 
 
1969-76 Porsche 914
               
Enthusiasts gave the 1969-76 Porsche 914 a lot of grief when it was new; and it got the cold shoulder from Porschephiles for decades. Conceived jointly by Volkswagen and Porsche, the 914 was sold in other markets as a Volkswagen—and its four-cylinder air-cooled VW power didn't help either—so it was widely accused of not being a 'real' Porsche. But the 914 has found a loyal following of its own, and 911 owners are no longer so dismissive (for many of them, there are now worse offenders wearing the Porsche badge).
 
 

Audi 5000

The Audi 5000 was a well designed German luxury sedan that was riding the coattails of Mercedes-Benz and BMW success, and becoming the new lust object for upper-middle-class American families—until Audi was hit with a flood of lawsuits accusing the vehicle of surging forward when the brake was pressed (a term that became known as 'unintended acceleration). Finally, in 1989, the federal government released a report noting that they could find no issue with the vehicle. Audi sales crumbled away, and the brand almost exited the U.S. market. 
 
 
            Honda Del Sol                

The 1980s-era Honda CRX (and especially the Si) had been a critics' darling and sales hit; and it earned a cult following then and now. But the Civic Del Sol that replaced it in 1992 was panned from day one—for the extra weight Honda needed to add to make the removable top arrangement work, and for its softer, more rounded styling (which, by the way, has aged pretty well). It could never fully escape the “chick car” label then—although today, with fresh eyes, it's a neatly packaged, economical, and respectably performing little roadster. 
 
 

Suzuki Kizashi

For years, Suzuki was cranking out some impressive, high-quality small cars (and SUVs), and then trying to sell them (up until last year, in the U.S.) through a genuinely crappy sales and service network. The message had been further muddled, with Suzuki just a few model years ago also peddling mediocre Daewoo-built models like the Reno and Forenza. But the sporty, well-engineered Kizashi sedan—as well as its other home-grown models like the SX4, Grand Vitara, and even Aerio—didn't deserve that reputation.
 


 
Chevrolet Corvair

It's been placed on several “worst cars of all time” lists, yet it's just not fair to give all Corvairs this label. First-generation 1960-64 models of this rear-engine, rear-wheel drive car were accused of having unstable handling (as highlighted in Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed)—true by many accounts until Chevy started installing a front anti-sway bar. But 1965-69 Corvairs never had this issue; they were considered nicely styled, pleasant-driving, safe-handling vehicles for their time—and hardly deserving of the earlier car's reputation. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

THE END OF THE AUTOMOBILE IS COMING

 

In my never ending quest to find interesting articles for you my blog followers to read, I believe I stumbled upon the Holy Grail of automotive stories.
 This article will have you really questioning the future. Let it be noted, I take this article with a grain of salt, purely a post for entertainment purposes.
Bob Yeager
 
                                                                                      
To hear some tell it, we are witnessing the rebirth of the automobile. 
                                        
Tesla Motors  has brought electric cars mainstream with its Model S sedan, auto sales are steadily on the rise and once-troubled U.S. automakers are soundly back in the black after painful restructurings. 
                                       
But before you fall for the hype about Detroit’s comeback and China’s never-ending appetite for automobiles, it’s worth considering the other side of the argument before you throw any money at auto stocks.
                                        
Because while the most recent numbers show big strength for the industry worldwide, there are increasing signs that automakers may have their best days behind them.

U.S. rebound is over

To be fair, the auto business — particularly in Detroit — has come a long way from the pain of the Great Recession. And that’s certainly something to celebrate.
 
These are indeed noteworthy accomplishments, and part of the reason that Ford stock is up over 850% from its 2009 lows. 
                                        
But looking ahead, things are going to get much harder for investors as year-over-year comparisons get less favorable.
“The market then has to work off a much better economy, an improving economy,” Lentz said. “If we don’t have that, I think the market may flatten out.”  
                                      
His timeline for that flattening in U.S. auto sales without a significant boost from broader economic and spending trends? “Sometime in late 2014.”

Younger Americans don’t desire cars

And bigger picture, let’s not discount the demographic and geographic shifts that threaten to reshape the auto market — among many other areas of Wall Street.
Mounds of data shows that in the wake of the Great Recession, Americans are moving back into cities in droves. One of the megatrands that comes from this re-urbanization is an increased reliance on public transportation and a shunning of cars.

Downton Abbey's Daisy has a better life than you

U.S. fans of the TV series "Downton Abbey" may think they are looking through a window at a lost world of privilege and poverty, and aristocrats and servants. But Marketwatch's Brett Arends points out they should think again. 
     
In fact, last year billionaire real estate mogul Sam Zell said we may be seeing the “end of suburbia” as a result of this shift to cities — and if the suburbs die, so does the need for a preponderance of vehicles to commute in. 
                                       
Younger Americans are clearly already moving away from autos. Consider that the University of Michigan  This is thanks to urbanization, as well as the psychosocial trend that has put the “freedom” offered by mobile devices and technology on equal footing with the “freedom” once offered by getting behind the wheel of mom’s station wagon on the weekend. 
                                        
 Alix Partners recently estimated that for every car that’s part of a vehicle-sharing program, the auto industry misses out on 32 sales . And this trend isn’t going away. 
                                       
Now, nobody expects America to give up on cars tomorrow. But given the short-term pressures of a post-recession rebound running out of gas and these very real long-term threats to vehicle ownership, it could be a very tough road ahead for the U.S. auto market.

China bottlenecks

Here’s where the bulls will pivot to the big potential of our friends in China. 
                                        
But while it’s true that the 20 million vehicles sold in China last year dwarfs the total market in the U.S., it’s important to remember that the potential of this major market is not as limitless as some would say. 
Pollution is a major concern, resulting in vehicle caps in many regions to keep emissions under wraps — something that puts an obvious limit on any growth that automakers may see here.
                                       
Consider that in Shanghai, new license plates are auctioned off for an average of $13,400 per tag each month. The tactic is meant to limit the number of vehicles on clogged Shanghai roadways. Other cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Guiyang also have policies meant to limit vehicle ownership. 
                                       
The plus side is that the bottleneck has created a rush to buy in some places while there’s still room, and has fueled the idea of high-priced cars as the ultimate status symbol.

 However, regulations are already creating a drag; Japanese investment bank Nomura estimates that growth in vehicle sales will slow to a 10% rate in 2014 thanks to government restrictions.
In fact, sales have already started to drop meaningfully. January vehicle sales in China were up just 7% from last year — still growth, yes, but down considerably from the brisk 14% annual rate across 2013. 
                                       
Bulls frequently point to a dramatically low ownership rate in China as a sure thing that sales will skyrocket. According to the World Bank, vehicle ownership was around 6% as of 2010 while the U.S. boasted an ownership rate of nearly 80%.

 And while it’s true there will be growth in China’s ownership rate, the increase isn’t staggering. McKinsey & Company recently estimated that despite continued growth, penetration will remain low — with a prediction of just a 15% ownership rate by 2020.
                                         
And by the way, let’s not forget that a growing market doesn’t mean that all automakers benefit equally.

For instance, China’s homegrown auto businesses including Geely continue to suffer market share declines — so much so that the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers recently lashed out at foreign competitors, claiming domestic brands will be “killed in the cradle” if the government allows U.S. and Japanese car companies free rein in the nation.

Auto stocks are slowing

Maybe Western companies will keep winning. Or more likely, maybe officials in Beijing will move to protect their own.
But either way, it’s important to remember that the need for growth is pressing for all automakers, but the growth itself isn’t big enough to support them all across the next several years as China’s recent growth rates fade and the auto market matures there. 
                                       
And even for companies that grab market share in China, will it be enough to offset troubles in the U.S.? 
                                       
To be clear, none of this is to say that cars are disappearing anytime soon or that the companies that make them are going away.
But before you hang too much hope on automakers based on brisk 2014 sales, remember the headwinds they face in 2015 and beyond.
Or heck, just look at share prices lately. Honda, Toyota, GM and Ford have all dramatically underperformed the market in the last six months. 
                                       
That should be the most obvious side of trouble that lies ahead.


Article written by Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffReevesIP.                                                           
   
            
  
           
   


















 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A SUPER-QUIET CHEVROLET IMPALA WAKES UP THE SLEEPY SEDAN MARKET

 


Courtesy General Motors

2014 Chevrolet Impala
Selling large, non-luxury sedans is an increasingly tough game.
Drivers who want a bit of space have been migrating to crossover SUVs. And those who want to upgrade from a compact or midsized car can now jump in a BMW  or Mercedes  for less than $35,000.
In other words, for a large sedan to succeed, it can’t coast; it has to be a really good vehicle.Chevrolet’s new Impala is just that, according to a wide range of critics. Car & Driver calls it “a once-proud prizefighter … eyeing a big comeback.” Consumer Reports rated it a 95 out of 100, the highest grade it has ever given a sedan.

From June, when the new Impalas hit dealerships en masse, through January, Chevy has sold almost 103,000 of them in the U.S.—40 percent more than its closest competitor, the Dodge Charger. Last month, as the whole auto industry skidded, Impala sales surged by 12 percent.
.
“We’ve been extremely happy with it and really proud,” says Chevy spokesman Chad Lyon.
How did Chevy pull off such a sales coup? By not making a racket. The Impala, hermetically sealed in laminated glass, is the quietest car Chevy has ever made, according to Lyon. In addition to so-called passive measures such as triple door gaskets and cavity baffles, it also has active noise cancellation—microphones in the cabin that measure and muffle engine noise.

It’s also a really safe car, thanks to 10 airbags and a bunch of error-canceling features currently touted by luxury leaders: “crash-imminent braking,” lane-drifting alerts, and cruise-control that adapts to changes in the road ahead.

“It’s not one silver bullet,” Lyon said. “It’s the sum of the parts, everything from fuel economy to the way it handles.”
This isn’t the car for a 30-year-old guy who watches Top Gear. And it’s not the car for a family with a big dog. But for a middle-class couple that just wants a safe, smooth ride while zoning out to NPR or gabbing on the Bluetooth, it makes a lot of sense.

Turns out, there is no shortage of people falling into that category. Impalas used to be bought by Chevy loyalists trading up from a Cruze or a Malibu and by the managers of rental-car fleets.

 The current iteration is winning more retail buyers and market share from other companies, according to Lyon. It’s also attracting more affluent drivers—one reason Chevy has been able to push the average selling price up by by about 17 percent, to $30,000.

“It’s starting to do a lot of things for us, even beyond some of our expectations,” Lyon says. “People actually want to be noticed in these vehicles.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

JUST HOW BIG IS JUNIOR'S DAYTONA 500 WIN ?

 



 
NASCAR.com
                    
Want to know how blissfully, genuinely, truly happy Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the immediate wake of his second Daytona 500 victory Sunday night?

Two days after hoisting his Daytona trophy, he actually concluded a teleconference with NASCAR reporters by telling them how much he enjoyed the call; a sentiment the press doesn't hear very often from athletes.

But it sounded like the same Earnhardt who less than 48 hours earlier greeted those same reporters by walking in the press room door for his winner's interview just after midnight wearing a huge grin and interrupting the quiet work room by shouting out a cheer.
"Bet that doesn't happen too much in here does it," he joked.
 
It was raw emotion and leftover adrenaline and exactly the kind of reaction that lures and captivates us.

Winning the Daytona 500 is a really, really big deal. When the sport's biggest star wins it, well ? you can only imagine.
Before heading out on a national press tour for interviews that included a "Late Show With David Letterman" appearance to celebrate his win and its massive impact on the sport, Earnhardt officially joined Twitter in the early morning hours of Monday.
His un-manned, but years-ago fully-claimed @DaleJr Twitter account had 213,000 followers before he even sent his first Tweet. Now, it's more than doubled that in less than 24 hours.
He still isn't following anyone else, but said that's just because he's "been too busy" to make his selections. There are plenty shamelessly pleading their case now.

As of mid-afternoon on Tuesday, he had only written 10 tweets ? most were accompanied by "selfies" he took with his cell phone camera.

One of those was of him standing in front of the statue of his father, the late seven-time Sprint Cup Series champ Dale Earnhardt, located outside of Daytona International Speedway.

A source of complete unfathomable heartbreak when his father was killed there on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the sport's most famous track is also a continued source of triumph for Earnhardt Jr.

Those there that day can't forget that Sunday afternoon watching with a helpless and gutted feeling as a then 26-year old Earnhardt Jr. hurriedly parked his car, scrambled out its window and jogged down the entire length of pit road frantically searching to find out what had happened to his dad moments earlier.

And yet, in the months and years afterward, Earnhardt Jr. always insisted he held no grudge toward the town or the track for the accident. Overall, it's been a source of more happiness than sadness for him. He's always chosen the fond memories.

And there have been plenty. In addition to the pair of Daytona 500 wins, he has a July Cup win in 2001 and seven finishes of third or better, including three Daytona 500 runner-up showings in the past five years.

His win Sunday in the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, however, is especially significant because it takes the pressure off what must be hugely strong shoulders for the first time in recent memory. Perhaps for the first time since he's raced at NASCAR's Cup level.
His happiness is reflective and indicative of that.

In the short term, this win likely earns him the first berth into the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup field and it lets him go about his final season paired with crew chief Steve Letarte in a more unbridled fashion. It wouldn't surprise if he turns this special moment into a career season. That's often it how it works in sports.
The rest of us could only guess how hard it must have been holding up a legacy -- the high expectations under bright glare -- being Dale Earnhardt's son and namesake.

But Earnhardt has always seen his background as a blessing and admirably handled his circumstances -- the doubters, the believers, the fanatical and the fuddy-duds.

The skeptics would say, sure he won one Daytona 500, when would he get another? Sure he's made three consecutive championship Chase fields, but when would he again.Now. The answer is now.

"I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I am and thankful I am that (team owner) Rick Hendrick didn't give up on me, that they believed in me, were trying to find ways to make the chemistry work regardless of what anybody said, regardless of what the critics were saying when everybody was saying I was finished, whether I was going to do anything ever again," Earnhardt said.

"I've been pretty vindicated, but I'm in a good place now. I got my priorities in better shape. I feel like we're embarking on a season that could be something really special for me."

Earnhardt has always been gracious taking the good with the lumps. But he conceded Tuesday he hopes this effort under the brightest spotlight will help remind people of his dedication to the sport -- not just as the perennial Most Popular Driver, but as someone extremely driven.

"When we weren't running good, I think people underestimated how much I cared about performance," Earnhardt said Tuesday. "When you look at the critics and you look at their comments, aside from people saying I was overrated, they would always say I didn't have killer instinct that I didn't have the stuff that I needed to drive to win a championship. That I didn't want it bad enough.

"I was never bothered by being called overrated, because it's such a broad term. When people really pick at your determination, your drive, your hunger, that bothered me more than anything else did because I grew up around the sport and I love it to death."
That is on full display this week. The grin hasn't left his face and there is an unmistakable spark and vibe.

Even if you aren't part of Junior Nation -- an Earnhardt fandom larger than the population of some small countries -- it's hard to begrudge him this win and what it could do to set this season apart.

"If you look at how happy I was Sunday after winning the race, you'll know how bad I want to win, you'll know how much winning means to me and you'll know from now on that there's no questioning my killer instinct or drive, whatever term you want to use."

THE AMERICAN CLASSICS : THE FORD/SHELBY AC COBRA

What do you think of when you hear the name Carroll Shelby ?

My first thoughts are an automotive pioneer who set out to build a car that could rival the American icon Chevrolet Corvette, with Ford Motor Co.'s blessing  of course.

Upon doing research for this post, I found that the AC Cobra basically three generations.

The MkI, (1962-63), The MkII, (1963-65), and the MkIII  (1965-Present.) As the vehicle evolved, so did the power plants that made these machines come to life. The AC Cobra MkI had a 260 C.I. engine, the MkII had a 289 C.I. engine and the fan favorite MkIII had the fire breathing 427 C.I. engine.

The AC Cobra, sold as the Ford/Shelby AC Cobra in the United States and often known colloquially as the Shelby Cobra in that country, is an American-engined British sports car produced intermittently since 1962.

The first 75 Cobra Mark I (including the prototype) were fitted with the 260 cu in (4.3 L). The remaining 51 Mark I model were fitted with a larger version of the Windsor Ford engine, the 289 cu in (4.7 L) V8. In late 1962 Alan Turner, AC's chief engineer completed a major design change of the car's front end and was able to fit it with rack and pinion steering while still using transverse leaf spring suspension. The new car entered production in early 1963 and was designated Mark II.             

A stroker 289 (325),and the larger 390/427 up to the "cammer" 427 was considered. Shelby was told at the eleventh hour to use the iron 427 cu in (7.0 L). There was little time to fully develop a competition vehicle. The coil spring Cobra production was slow and an insufficient number made to meet FIA's GT homologation. Therefore the S/C (Semi - Competition) was produced by making available to the general production the full race options for the street.

The new car was designed in cooperation with Ford in Detroit. A new chassis was built using 4 in (102 mm) main chassis tubes (up from 3 in (76 mm)) and coil spring suspension all around. The new car also had wide fenders and a larger radiator opening. It was powered by the "side oiler" Ford 427 engine (7.0 L) rated at 425 bhp (317 kW), which provided a top speed of 164 mph (262 km/h) in the standard model and 485 bhp (362 kW) with a top speed of 185 mph (298 km/h) in the competition model. Cobra Mark III production began on 1 January 1965; two prototypes had been sent to the United States in October 1964. Cars were sent to the US as unpainted rolling chassis, and they were finished in Shelby's workshop.

 Although an impressive automobile, the car was a financial failure and did not sell well. In fact to save cost, most AC Cobra 427s were actually fitted with Ford's 428 cubic inches (7.01 L) engine, a long stroke, smaller bore, lower cost engine, intended for road use rather than racing. It seems that a total of 300 Mark III cars were sent to Shelby in the USA during the years 1965 and 1966, including the competition version. 27 small block narrow fender versions, which were referred to as the AC 289, were sold in Europe. Unfortunately, The MK III missed homologation
for the 1965 racing season and was not raced by the Shelby team. However, it was raced successfully by many privateers and went on to win races all the way into the 1970s. The remaining 31 unsold examples were detuned and fitted with wind screens for street use. Called S/C for semi-competition, an original example can currently sell for 1.5 million USD, making it one of the most valuable Cobra variants.

Shelby wanted the AC Cobras to be "Corvette-Beaters" and at nearly 500 lb (227 kg) less than the Chevrolet Corvette, the lightweight roadster accomplished that goal at Riverside International Raceway on 2 February 1963. Driver Dave MacDonald piloted CSX2026 past a field of Corvettes, Jaguars, Porsches, and Maseratis and recorded the Cobra's historic first-ever victory. Later, Shelby offered a drag package, known as the Dragonsnake, which won several NHRA National events with Bruce Larson or Ed Hedrick at the wheel of CSX2093.[6] Only five Dragonsnake Cobras were produced by the factory, with three others (such as CSX2093) prepared by customers using the drag package.

An AC Cobra Coupe was calculated to have done 186 mph (299 km/h) on the M1 motorway in 1964, driven by Jack Sears and Peter Bolton during shakedown tests prior to that year's Le Mans 24h race.[8] A common misconception is, that this incident persuaded the British Government to introduce the 70 mph maximum speed limit on UK Motorways which, up until that year, had no speed restrictions. However, government officials have cited the increasing accident death rate in the early 1960s as the principal motivation, with the exploits of the AC Cars team merely highlighting the point.

The AC Cobra was a financial failure that led Ford and Carroll Shelby to discontinue importing cars from England in 1967. AC Cars kept producing the coil spring AC Roadster with narrow fenders, a small block Ford 289 and called the car the AC 289. It was built and sold in Europe until late 1969. AC also produced the AC 428 until 1973. The AC Frua was built on a stretched Cobra 427 MK III coil spring chassis using a very angular steel body designed and built by Pietro Frua. With the demise of the 428 and succeeding 3000ME, AC shut their doors in 1984 and sold the AC name to a Scottish company.

The company's tooling, and eventually the right to use the name, were licensed by Autokraft, a Cobra parts reseller and replica car manufacturer owned by Brian A. Angliss.






























Monday, February 24, 2014

DALE EARNHARDT JR. OWNS DAYTONA ONCE AND FOR ALL WITH THE FINEST RACE OF HIS LIFE