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Monday, December 10, 2007

Is It A Car? Is It A Plane? No, It's A Bicycle!

Although the first automobiles were called "horseless carriages," and they were, indeed, little more than motorized versions of horse-drawn vehicles, the automobile owes much more to the bicycle than it does to the buggy. It has been explained in a prior chapter that Daimler tested his high-speed engine on a bicycle and developed the world's first motorcycle. Bicyclists, too, generated the first movement for good roads and set the stage for motoring in America.

Automotive advancement in America was hampered by the need of roads. Bicyclists, however, generated a national good roads movement in the early 1890s, which culminated with the establishment of the U.S. Office of Road Inquiry under the Department of Agriculture in 1893. This later evolved into the Bureau of Public Roads.

In fact, the American bicycle industry of the 1890s is really a sponsor of the automobile industry. Many pioneers in automotives were men who were experienced in manufacturing bicycles. Charles and Frank Duryea introduced the first successful American internal- combustion engine in 1893. Charles was a skilled bicycle mechanic. Alexander Winston, a bicycle manufacturer, made the first American high-performance car in 1897, a twelve-horsepower model that tested out at 33.7 miles per hour. Henry Ford, a tinkerer, used many bicycle parts, including a saddle, on his first "quadricyle" in 1896. There were twenty-seven American bicycle manufacturers in 1890, and many of these played significant roles in the development of the automobile. The Pope Manufacturing Company opened a motor-carriage department in 1897 to produce Columbia cars, using the popularity of their Columbia bicycles as a sales incentive. Another manufacturer, Rambler bicycles, was so successful with their Rambler automobiles that they concentrated solely on the cars and stopped producing bicycles altogether.

The first car manufacturers were dependent on the bicycle firms for many of the parts they needed: lightweight tubing, gears, chain drives, ball and roller bearings, wire wheels, pneumatic tires, tools, and sometimes, even the space in which they needed to work. The first car dealers were also recruited and converted from the bicycle dealers. The best place to buy a really fine car at the turn of the century was at the local bicycle shop.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The global auto sales race heats up!

In the global automotive industry things are really heating up as the traditional players fight for a top spot in the race for global dominance. General Motors Corp., which has been number one in terms of global auto sales for over 75 years, is fighting to keep that title in the face of growing competition from Toyota. Last year Toyota was trailing General Motors by only 261,805 units.

Though it looks inevitable that Toyota will claim top spot, increased sales in China (GM is now #1 in China beating former top dog Volkswagen) and surging sales in India have buoyed global sales for the General despite declining sales in North America. General Motors boss Rick Wagoner recently stated "If we can keep growing where the opportunities are to grow, someone's going to have to hustle pretty hard to catch up with us like that." That said, according to the Wall Street Journal being #1 is no longer a top priority for Rick Wagoner and General Motors.

Ford Motor Company, once #2 globally, is in third place with sales at just over 6.2 million units. Strong sales in Europe have offset a seemingly endless sales decline of blue oval vehicles in North America. Once best sellers like the Ford Focus and Ford Explorer now sit on dealer lots as more innovative and fresh competition lure away new buyers. Ford would be wise to devise a more coherent product planning strategy instead of letting great cars waste away without any clear vision.

This is quite evident when you look at the recently discontinued Ford Taurus and Lincoln LS, vehicles that carried substantial brand equity at one point but failed as they became stale and irrelevant amongst their respective competition. If Honda and Toyota can keep the Accord and Camry nameplates going after more than 2 decades, why has Ford had such a difficult time doing the same?

The big news isn't just at the top of the list. Riding high on a global auto sales increase of over 11% in 2005, Hyundai Automotive Group is in high gear. The Korean automotive giant has moved into sixth spot behind DaimlerChrysler. Since 1999, Hyundai has passed established players such as Honda, Fiat, Nissan, and Renault. Hyundai doesn't plan on getting too comfy in sixth spot as they've set their sights on being in the top five by the end of the decade.

They've got their work cut out for them as fifth place DaimlerChrysler is currently selling about 1 million more vehicles annually. But I wouldn't bet against Hyundai. In the last 10 years they've beaten just about everyone's expectations. Volkswagen is holding steady in fourth place with over 5.2 million vehicles sold in 2005. 2006 and 2007 should see modest increase in auto sales with the introduction of the next generation Golf (now known as the Rabbit) in North America and new models such as the Volkswagen Eos.

Although nothing is for certain in the auto industry, one theme holds true. No car company has an inherent right to the top spot. It has to be earned through great cars and trucks. In this list the big winner is the consumer.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Scion tC: "Cheap" Killer

The compact market in the Unites States is heating up. Vehicles like the Mini, the Mazda3, and even the VW Jetta have proven that you don’t need to sacrifice quality and entertainment if you buy an (relatively) affordable and small car. They’re also proving to carmakers that if done right, quality compacts can bring in affluent young buyers that have yet to develop their loyalties and can be easily “brought into the fold,” so to speak. The sooner they drink the Kool-Aid, the better.

It is with this goal that Toyota created the Scion division. Over the last half-decade or so, Toyota has watched as their brand image became more connected with an older generation and often bypassed by younger buyers on their way to Honda and VW dealerships. Afraid of seeing their buyers age and die off, Toyota created the Scion brand under the idea that it was too late to sway the youths into accepting the Toyota logo on their new cars. Ideally, these buyers would eventually “grow into” a Toyota-brand model (and then a Lexus) after getting to trust the Toyota Motor Company’s products under the Scion brand. Of course, Scion would have to bring the right products to attract young buyers or all is for naught. Just ask Honda, as their youth-aimed Element is bringing in loads of 40-somethings.

The first two products, introduced during Scion’s rollout on the West Coast, have proven pretty successful at getting young buyers into the showrooms. Yet, the xA and xB are both essentially small wagons and wagons still have limited appeal in America. As Scion goes on-sale nationwide, another product is being launched to broaden their portfolio. That vehicle is the sleek tC coupe/hatch. The look is much less polarizing than the boxy xB and Euro-compact xA, both of which were designed for the Japanese market. The tC, however, was designed to be a Scion specifically for American tastes. It’s pretty clear this car’s direct target is the Acura RSX, a vehicle still fairly popular with younger buyers.

Inside and out, the tC looks more expensive than its price tag suggests. The smooth body has shades of the Infiniti G35 coupe in it while the front is a slight mix of Skyline GT-R and BMW 7-series. The interior is simply styled with three gauges arranged in a pod style while the instrument panel stands out with its metallic-silver highlights. Overall, it’s pretty clear that this Scion is designed for people who at least want to feel like they paid for a $30,000 luxury car even though they actually spent a little over half that. Not a bad deal at all.

Mechanically, the tC is definitely a Toyota parts-bin vehicle. The platform is from the Euro-market Toyota Avensis (competes with the VW Passat, Ford Mondeo, Nissan Primera, etc), with independent McPherson struts up front and independent double wishbones out back. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard, though 18s and 19s are available from TRD/Racing Hart. The 2.4L 2AZ-FE aluminum-alloy 4-cylinder engine is from the US-market Camry, with 160hp@5700 rpm and 163ft-lbs@4000 rpm. It’s mated to a standard 5-speed manual. Like the RSX, the tC is front wheel drive. Handling targets were said to have been the VW Jetta with sport package.

Besides the larger wheels, TRD will offer enthusiasts a whole set of factory-backed parts to tune the tC. They will offer a lowering kit, struts/shocks kid, performance clutch, short-throw shifter, sport muffler, and a rear anti-sway bar, among other things. But the most drool-worthy piece is a supercharger kit that raises horsepower to around 200.

Other than the TRD toys and stuff like LED lights for the footwells, the tC comes with just about everything standard. That includes the aforementioned seventeen-inch wheels, a panoramic moonroof, XM-ready 160 watt Pioneer 6-disc audio system, driver’s knee airbags, 4-wheel discs with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution, cruise control, keyless entry, air conditioning, and power windows and door locks. A 4-speed auto is a $800 option, and side airbags cost $650.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Video and Specs of R35 Nissan GT-R at Tokyo Motor Show

This is a video that we took of the new R35 Nissan GT-R on the first press day at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Watch the R35 Nissan Skyline GT-R Video brought to you by directly from the Tokyo Motor Show.

Facts on this car:
3.8 Liter Twin Turbo V6 engine
Transaxle setup - transmission is in the rear of the car to aid with weight-balance
Electronic All Wheel Drive
Underbody tunnel for downforce and cooling
7:38 at the famous Nurburgring
0.27 Drag Coefficient (Cd) - lower than the Nissan 350Z (0.29)
20 Inch Rays Engineering Volk wheels and Bridgestone tires
Brembo 6-piston front and rear brakes
7-speed twin clutch automatic paddle shift transmission, eliminating the need for the clutch pedal while making the shifts seamless and significantly faster - near F1 shift speed.
0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds.
Cost: starting at near $75,000.