Monday, March 30, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News Wk of 3-30-15

2015 Scion Tc 9.0 Limited Edition
I love Houston in the Spring.
New York is a close-second, and the first weekend in April is doubly-attractive in the Big Apple with the opening of the New York International Auto Show.  

Scion is staging an impressive display at this year's show, keyed to the evolution of the youth-oriented brand.

Forget that--I'm in my sixth decade of orbiting the sun, and I still get excited sitting behind the wheel of a Scion FRS.

Toyota is debuting the FRS 1.0 and Scion Tc 9.0 at the show, featuring all kinds of goodies from Toyota Racing Development (TRD). A special, limited-edition, two-tone version Tc sports coupe is also being released, designed in conjunction with Jeremy Lookofsky of Cartel Customs.

Among the goodies included:

  • a unique black and magma exterior
  • an aero kit designed by Cartel Customs
  • a center exhaust
  • a Smart Key with Push Button Start featuring the “Cartel Logo”
  • orange front seat belts
This is not your grandfather's Toyota...but he'd want one!

No Acronym Zone: We all know the difference between DST and CST--it's an hour's worth of sleep, as my part of the country switches from Central Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time.
I will refrain from further comment about that, but refer you to my annual diatribe here.
So what in the world is DTM?

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters is the German equivalent of NASCAR, which conjures up all kinds of questions: Do they all make right turns in Europe--you know, on the other side of the road? What's the German language sound like with a Southern drawl? "Guten tag, y'all?" Talk about conflicting culture stereotypes!  In an effort to shatter these and other myths about the sport, the DTM has adopted Queen's immortal rock anthem, "We Are the Champions," as it's own for the 2015 racing season.

Returning drivers for the defending Manufacturer's Cup Champion, Audi, are Mattias Ekström, Mike Rockenfeller, and Timo Scheider. Theirs is the only unchanged line-up in the series, and the trio is primed and loaded for the new season. These guys are as passionate about DTM--and Audi--as their American counterparts are about Ford's and Chevy's.

2015 Audi RS5 DTM
"For me as a race driver, the Audi RS 6 is the perfect combination of performance, comfort and dynamics," raves Scheider. "In everyday driving, it is quite simply the Audi model to have. I've been driving it as a company car for a very long time, and am going to order an RS 6 again," he says.

The 2015 Season gets underway in Hockenheim, in the Upper Rhine Valley, the first weekend in May.

Stateside, Audi continues its exposure  with the release of a new "Transporter" film, sans Jason Stratham, in June.
I can't wait.

There are some things that would seem to be a crime against nature:
Daylight Saving Time comes to mind (as I beat a dead horse), and allowing ungainly vehicles onto a race track. The Oscar Mayer Weinermobile was recently allowed to run a couple of laps around the course at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.

No words.
The tubesteak on wheels was being paced by Mazda Raceway CEO Gill Campbell in her MX-5. The real news, however, became the viral nature of the resulting photographs and videos. 

"In less than 48 hours, a Facebook posting of the event showing the Wienermobile traversing the world famous Corkscrew turns reached more than 850,000 people, and garnered 7,147 likes, 538 comments and 2,433 shares," boasted a release. Now put that thing back in the garage.

I don't understand it, but I'll tell you about it.
There's a new Smartcar coming.

2015 Smart Car for two
The new-and-improved edition is equipped with a turbocharged, 898-cc 3-cylinder engine, producing 89-hp. Hey, don't laugh--this baby goes zero-to-60mph in 4.8-seconds.

A standard crosswind-assist system is also in place for those situations in which a passing 18-wheeler can create a dangerous effect on the 1,808-lb. two-seater.

Mercedes Benz is offering the 2015 version in three trim lines: Passion, Prime, and Proxy. Hopefully it will come with parking instructions.
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Monday, March 23, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News for Wk of 3-23-15

Lexus will introduce the all-new 2016 RX at the 2015 New York International Auto Show on April 1st. No fooling. 
What it will look like is still up for speculation, but it appears the "floating roof" concept is alive and well. The RX was launched 17-years ago, and the 2016 edition will be the fourth-generation in the line.

Cadillac is announcing a new generation of V-6 engines, led by an exclusive Twin Turbo V-6, "that will be one of the industry’s most advanced six-cylinder gasoline engines," according to a company release. The power plant will be featured in the new CT6 luxury performance sedan, also to be revealed at the end of the month at the New York International Auto Show.

What's in store? 
The 3-L Twin Turbo will produce 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, which works out to about 133-hp per liter. Cadillac predicts the engine will realize a 6% improvement in fuel economy.

Did you know? In 1903, the first production Cadillac motor cars were equipped with a single-cylinder engine--rated at 10 hp. 

Aluminum is not the only high-tech story in the 2015 Ford F-150 pickup truck. There's now a considerable amount of recycled material being used to build the new trucks.

Ford Motor Company has been collaborating with Unifi for the past three years to bring environmentally responsible, high-performance REPREVE fiber to many Ford vehicles, including the F-150. 

REPREVE is made from 100% recycled materials, including plastic bottles. Ford estimates it will divert more than five million plastic bottles from landfills this year. The seat covers, for example, are made from recycled plastic water bottles.
Now for the bad news.
Those new aluminum bodies on the F-150 are sure pretty, lighter, and help allow for a heavier payload. But--they also are more expensive to repair, according to a test by the folks at
Glad they tried this; I can't afford to.

Everything's bigger in Texas. The State Word is "superlative."
Now we learn that Texas led the nation in diesel powered vehicle registrations for 2014. The Diesel Technology Forum says 893,553 diesel cars, trucks and SUV's were tagged in Texas. 

Admittedly, our higher station population helps bolster those kinds of numbers, but trends in other states indicate diesels are coming more into vogue, despite lower gasoline fuel prices. Numbers crunchers say clean diesel cars and SUVs showed an increase of 13.5 percent in 2014 over 2013, and hybrid cars and SUVS increased by 15.1 percent.  

Allen Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum, says "While diesel passenger vehicles currently make up a modest 2.88 percent of the entire U.S. vehicle market, consensus forecasts predict that diesel cars, pickups and SUVs will comprise about seven percent of the market by 2020." Schaeffer says that's just over one million diesel-powered cars and trucks on the road.

Nissan's all-electric LEAF now comes with a paint option that makes the car glow in the dark. The new paint theme is part of a marketing pitch by Nissan to underscore the point that many LEAF drivers are now using solar power to recharge their vehicles at home.  

Near Oss, Netherlands, there is a luminous Smart Highway--which uses the glow-in-the-dark concept to eliminate power-sucking streetlights. So Nissan thought it would be cool to film the glow-in-the-dark car driving down that glow-in-the-dark roadway.
Nissan, coincidentally, reports electric vehicle sales in the Netherlands grew 313% last year.
Dutch treat, indeed.

Finally, now that the Houston Rodeo is over, and SXSW is past, what's a body to do for kicks? Perhaps a bit of Mustang and learn, Grasshopper.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News Wk of 3-16-15

You may find this difficult to believe, but General Motors has sold nearly a half-million of its fifth-generation Camaro coupe. Chevrolet is set to deliver its 500,000th Gen-5 Camaro sometime this month. The newest edition of the popular car went on sale in August 2009, and by 2010 had surpassed the Mustang in car sales, selling well over 80-thousand vehicles a year.2015 is the final production year for the Gen-5 Camaro. One can only guess at how Gen-6 may perform!

While the 2015 Ford Mustang is considered by many the "prettiest" body style yet, some are still hankering for the original pony car of yesteryear. Now you can purchase a newly-built 1964-1/2 Ford Mustang with modern-day upgrades.

The first true replica of the Mustang was revealed over the weekend at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance by Revology Cars, a manufacturer based in Winter Park, Florida. 

The new-and-improved 'Stangs feature modernized powertrains and technology, including an improved suspension system, four-wheel disc brakes, LED headlights and tail lights, and a 5.0-L V-8.

The resurrected Mustang isn't cheap--base price is $119,500 FOB Winter Park, FL. It is available in both convertible and fastback body styles. Revology Cars is accepting orders now for delivery in Spring 2016. 

General Motors is taking notes from Ford's recent success with the Aluminum F-150 pickup truck, and is announcing new alchemy for its Cadillac CT-6. GM will use an "advanced mixed-material approach for the lightweight body structure," which will be aluminum intensive. Cadillac says it will use 13 different materials specifically made for each area of the car to enhance performance, economy and cabin quietness.

Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen says, "We used high-strength aluminum and high-strength steels; lightweight chassis components; we integrate aluminum and steel where it makes sense; we eliminate every gram of mass possible." de Nysschen calls the process "the rocket science of automobile construction and manufacturing today.”

Cadillac in January revealed a series of high-technology material joining techniques that create a new methodology for assembling the CT6. These enabled engineers to design a completely new structure for which 21 patents are pending. Thirteen complex high-pressure die cast components make up the lower structure of the CT6 body, along with aluminum sheets and extrusions. Engineers boast the car's cabin will have "bank vault quiet" in its interior.

While we're talking about building cars, Mazda announced in the past week the start of production for its all-new 2016 MX-5 Miata in Japan. If you're frothing at the mouth to get your hands on one of these, Mazda and Microsoft have come up with a virtual solution for you.  

Beginning March 17, Mazda North American Operations (MNAO) is giving Forza Horizon 2 players the exclusive opportunity to drive the all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata on Xbox One, months before the physical car goes on sale to the public. Attendees at the SXSW Gaming Expo in Austin over the weekend were treated to two interactive driving simulators preloaded with the 2016 MX-5 software.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra is betting on three areas of innovation that will help shatter the glass ceiling for women in the automotive industry. Barra predicts more dramatic change in the next decade than the car building business has seen in the past 50 years, thanks to women engineers leading the way in some key technological advances: Electrified vehicles, infotainment and software development, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. She says these are critical to changing the way we drive. 

Mecum Auctions returns to Houston’s NRG Park April 9-11 with 1,000 American muscle cars, Corvettes, classics, hot rods, Resto Mods and more set to cross the auction block. Last year's auction was capped by the historic sale of the 1964 Ford GT40 Prototype for $7 million. This year's event will feature three private collections, including 45 cars offered by Houston’s Charlie Thomas.

Thomas operated more than 40 car dealerships, one of the largest dealership networks in the United States. His most visible activity outside the car business was as the managing partner of the Houston Rockets, which he owned from 1982 through 1993.

Going on the block will be a 1969 Dodge Hemi Daytona (Lot S100) and a 1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird (Lot S105), both featuring the 426-horsepower Hemi V8 engine and four-speed transmission. 

The 1969 Dodge is one of only 20 built combining the dual four-barrel Hemi engine with the Hurst Pistol Grip-shifted heavy-duty four-speed manual transmission, and the 1970 Plymouth is one of only 58 Hemi four-speed versions produced.

Mecum Auctions founder, Dana Mecum, says “Houston and the state of Texas have enormous passion for quality collector cars, and that’s precisely what we’ll have crossing the auction block throughout the three-day event.”

Other featured consignments include a 1932 Duesenberg Model J Phaeton (Lot S92.1) from the Tom Goodlett Estate Collection, a rare factory supercharged F-Code 1957 Ford Thunderbird (Lot S173) from the Charlie Thomas Collection and a 2006 Ford GT Heritage Edition with only 13 miles on the odometer (Lot S115.1).

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Colossus of the SSA

Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" at the
base of the Statue of Liberty, New York City

 Emma Lazarus' famous poem, "The New Colossus," depicts the people coming to America to partake of her blessings in the 19th Century. The poem paints a portrait of the still-young  nation's population being infused with "...your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." 

Why those words sprung from my memory when I entered the local Social Security Administration Office this week, I'll never know--but the masses were there. Not huddled, but people were parked on chairs, on the floor, and standing around the interior perimeter wall of a large room with weak air flow and questionable sanitation. It was my first visit to a Social Security office in decades; I needed a replacement Social Security card for a job application.
I steeled myself.

Inside, there were easily 85 people waiting ahead of me. All with a number, and all but one of which matched a flickering screen at the front of the room with corresponding digits for those "now being served." Just inside the door, a computer demanded to know my business at the office before it would generate a service number for me. I drew "B-49." I could hear a voice on a loudspeaker looking for a number in the hundreds. It was going to be a long wait. I had a deadline.

After spending 90-minutes waiting for my number to be called, it was apparent this was not the day for me. A delivery driver called my cellphone to tell me he was one stop away from my house. It was time to go. Lesson number one: Don't plan on doing anything important in your life on the day you have set aside to pay homage to the Social Security colossus.

The following morning, I arose before dawn and plotted my day. I didn't have any obligations until noon (or so I thought), and so I drove back to the Social Security office, arriving well before its advertised opening time of 9am. There were easily 35-people already standing in line outside the office. They were huddled against the chilly dampness.

Sharply at 7:46:30, the line began to shuffle forward, and we entered the lobby of the office. It was a line to get in line. An armed guard stood in front of the number-generating computer. 


Imagine the late Michael Clarke Duncan from "The Green Mile," with an attitude and a taser on his hip. In a very loud and commanding tone, the guard told us to line up around the edge of the lobby, "in case I have to shoot you, I won't hit the wrong person," he tried to joke. The punchline fell flat.

This guy was supervising the entry of answers into the computer--helpful to some, but a hindrance to others. So this line to get in line moved more slowly than necessary.
"Is there anything efficient about government?" I thought to myself. 

 I was mindful of a speech by former President Ronald Reagan at his inauguration, "...government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Ronnie must've needed a replacement SS card at one time in his storied life.

It was three minutes before nine, and I had drawn a good number,
I thought, B-26.
I never was much good at bingo.
I checked my cell phone.
Colossus, the guard, warned against making phone calls. 

I checked emails, and saw that an appointment I had scheduled for after Noon had been moved earlier to 10am. There were a lot of numbers to call before mine would be announced. Begrudgingly, I walked out of the waiting room, and told Colossus I didn't have time to wait. Lesson Number Two: Never forget Lesson Number One.

I had decided I would return to the SS office in the afternoon and wait it out until the bitter end. They were either going to accept my application for a replacement card or arrest me, because I wasn't leaving without the receipt showing the card was ordered.
A job was at stake--mine.

I punched in the answers to the computer query while Colossus was ogling a younger woman walking past; I drew B-67. My string with Bingo would have been fatal, but the announcer was calling numbers in the low 30's. That's doable. 'To the bitter end,' I thought.

It was shortly before lunchtime--a period I would have expected the place to be packed. It was as sparse as I had seen, and I hoped the wait would be mercifully shorter than my two previous visits. After 38-minutes, numerous emails, Facebook posts, and other social media diversions, my number was called.
I entered the inner sanctum. 

A row of open, standup booths, five to a side, lined the hall.
I went to my assigned window, and presented my pre-completed application (no fool am I) and US Passport. Yes, I are a 'Merican.
The clerk tapped on a keyboard a few times, generated a receipt, and told me my card would be in the mail in a couple of weeks.
I was free to go.

I'm sure there's a formula to express the inverse correlation of time spent in waiting for something which really takes only seconds to accomplish, but that's lost on me. My future expectation will be, when I apply for what ever paltry sum owed me by the Social Security Administration, that process should take a little longer to complete. Perhaps I should also expect my wait in line to be inversely foreshortened? 

Which brings up Lesson Number Three:
Don't bet on it. It's the government.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News Week of 3-2-15

2015 Scion FRS
When the world’s largest auto maker takes action based on demographic trends, you'd best not ignore the signs. Toyota and Scion are returning as official automotive and transportation sponsors of "Hispanicize 2015," the largest annual event for Latino trendsetters in digital and entertainment media.

“Toyota and Scion’s engagement with Latino bloggers, journalists, marketers, filmmakers and entertainment professionals is an extension of our decades-long relationship with the Hispanic market overall,” said Patricia Salas Pineda, group vice president of the Hispanic Business Strategy Group of Toyota North America. The company has been marketing to and engaging with the Latino community for more than 20 years. "Hispanicize offers a unique opportunity to draw from that multi-decade commitment,” Pineda said.

Pineda's job description includes maintaining Toyota’s leadership position among Latinos, and making sure that the Hispanic perspective is fully integrated into growth strategies for all of its Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands. The Miami event is in its sixth year.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
FiatChryslerAmerica US LLC is voluntarily recalling an estimated 467,480 Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs worldwide to install a new relay circuit that improves fuel-pump relay durability.

FCA US engineers have found a problem they identified in a previous investigation which  may extend to more vehicles. That investigation, which led to a recall, traced a pattern of repairs to fuel-pump relays that are susceptible to deformation. That could affect fuel-pump function, preventing your Jeep from starting, or leading to engine stall. Of the two scenarios, the no-start condition is the more common.

The new recall campaign affects an estimated 338,216 vehicles in the U.S.; 18,991 in Canada; 10,829 in Mexico, and 99,444 outside the NAFTA region.  Covered in the recall are 2012 and '13 Durango's, and and non-NAFTA 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee's with 3.0-liter diesel engines. 

Volkswagen is reshaping its supply chain strategies, and could transform the entire automotive industry in the process. The new Volkswagen FAST (Future Automotive Supply Tracks) Program seeks to create a more efficient global supplier network by prioritizing investments, and making the most efficient use of resources.

"New technologies and shorter product cycles pose challenges for our industry," said Dr. Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz, Member of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, responsible for Procurement. 

Sanz says the first step will be to identify the best suppliers in an agreed selection procedure. "Only these companies will receive access to Volkswagen FAST," Sanz said. Those partners will be involved in innovation cycles within the Group at an earlier stage, and "will be expected to contribute their ideas to the pre-series development of vehicles at an earlier stage," he said. The Volkswagen Group invited its key global suppliers to Wolfsburg for the kick-off event.

2015 Ford Edge
Ford Motor Company's $700-Million investment in its Oakville, Ontario plant is starting to pay off, cranking out new 2015 Ford Edge vehicles for global distribution. 

Ford says worldwide demand for utility vehicles has swelled 88% since 2008, and now account for 19% of global sales. Ford says the Edge has been its best-selling five-passenger vehicle for seven of the eight years since its launch. 

The 2015 edition is "all new from wheels to roof," and will be the first Ford vehicle in North America powered by the company’s new twin-scroll 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine. The 2015 model is the first Edge to come standard with EcoBoost power. 

"Chappie..." not a Ford robot.
The Oakville Assembly Plant underwent a massive transformation, including new technology and robotics, new processes, and new training.  More than 250 new robots were added, including new software and vision systems that improve efficiency, precision and quality.  1,000 robots were upgraded. But best of all, the factory has added 1,400 new employees.

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