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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Year Of The Cruiser

The Chrysler PT Cruiser is a typically American "retro"-styled station wagon or hatchback built by Chrysler, launched in 2000 as the entry-level Chrysler. Still a hot seller in its second season, the PT Cruiser got newly optional flame accent decals for the hood and front fenders. Famous for its retro looks, Chrysler's PT Cruiser combines this unmistakably classic look with modern performance, efficiency, and features. PT Cruiser's throwback design helps it stand out from the crowd while its ambitious engine helps you get away from one. During it's conception, PT stood for Personal Transportation, and the four-door Cruiser provided precisely that--plus a lot of enthusiastic responses from other motorists on the road. The PT Cruiser was on Car and Driver's Ten Best list for 2001 and won the North American Car of the Year award that year.

The PT Cruiser was originally meant to be a Plymouth, before Chrysler's merger with Daimler-Benz. The look was refined, and in 1998, another Plymouth concept called the Chrysler Pronto Cruizer directly previewed the styling of the PT Cruiser. The PT Cruiser also bears a resemblance in size and shape to the 1997 Chrysler CCV prototype.

Indeed, Chrysler specifically designed the PT Cruiser to fit the NHTSA criteria for a light truck in order to bring the average fuel efficiency of the company's light truck fleet into compliance with CAFE standards. Inside the PT Cruiser you'll find a spacious and versatile cabin with a retro-themed dash. While the body style remains remarkably consistent from year to year, there are actually multiple models of the PT Cruiser, designated by unique badges in the lower left hand corner of the rear lift-gate. The Chrysler PT Cruiser has good handling, fits in a small parking space, and holds full-sized adults and their luggage in comfort. The automatic transmission in Chrysler's PT Cruiser can only be used with Type 7176 transmission fluid.

For those who were shopping for a low-priced wagon or convertible that offers extra style and can handle a steady stream of passengers and cargo, the 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser was definitely worth a look. The PT Cruiser convertible doesn't offer quite the utility as the wagon, but there is a pass-through from the trunk and the backseat is still plenty roomy for a pair of adults. The convertible version of Chrysler's 2008 PT Cruiser comes standard with a 5-speed manual transmission but can be upgraded to a 4-speed automatic. The PT Cruiser Convertible was later discontinued on December 21, 2007 as part of Chrysler's owner, Cerberus Capital Management' plan to cut costs by discontinuing several Dodge and Chrysler models. Early Cruisers were recalled to add child seat information to the manuals.

Despite a post-redesign drop in sales, the PT Cruiser is the Chrysler brand's third best selling model, with 99,585 sales in 2007 and 138,650 sales in 2006. The 2008 PT Cruiser Convertible is a 2-door, 4-passenger convertible, available in one trim only, the Base. For hauling cargo, the wagon version of the PT Cruiser excels. Turbo-equipped Touring and Limited Cruisers come standard with the automatic, while the GT can take either a manual or automatic. The Chrysler PT Cruiser itself will be dropped after the 2009 model year, meaning that production will most likely stop in 2008.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The 2008 Jeep Renegade Concept

Sometimes a car company just wants to show off.

Bizarre, off the wall designs, over the top features and ridiculous power are some of the best ways to get all eyes on your product at one of the big international auto shows.

At this year’s Detroit Auto Show, it seems that in order to grab the most attention possible manufacturers are going green, and Chrysler is no exception.

The difference between this year and previous year’s offerings in the environmentally-friendly segment is that electric and hybrid cars are finally being styled with a little personality and outfitted with bit on oomph that makes them more than just accessories for the Sierra Club set.

The 2008 Jeep Renegade concept is a perfect example of this new trend. About the size of a Mini Cooper, the Renegade is the smallest off-road vehicle ever produced by Jeep, and is meant to target people who want to enjoy their 4 x 4 action with a clean ecological conscious.

To this end, Chrysler is offering several different engine options, all of them incorporating an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack that is recharged by either a Bluetec diesel or a conventional gas engine when the charge drops below a certain level.

The electric motor makes 268 horsepower with the diesel adding another 110, impressive numbers for such a small vehicle. Jeep claims that 40 miles per charge is possible, and that in combination with the 1.5 liter diesel, the total range is 400 miles – more than enough to get you lost in the woods – and making fuel mileage approximately 110 miles per gallon.

The Jeep Renegade looks more like a dune buggy than a road-going car, with a chopped windshield, carved slots in the doors and no real roof.

It’s curves and aggressive stance suggest a futuristic Mars rover feel, and Jeep claims that the open interior makes it easy to hose out after a deep mud encounter. Of course, one could also argue that if the Renegade had a roof and the doors didn’t have holes in them there would be no need for a hose, but that is beside the point.

Will the Renegade ever be produced? It’s unlikely there is a large enough market for such a specialized vehicle, but given the range of electric vehicles shown by Chrysler at the show, it is almost certain that these technologies will begin to trickle down into more realistic products in the near future.

Why Is It Called An "Automobile"?

First let us consider the name, "automobile." Now, a "car" could have been called anything and, sometimes, it is. Oliver Evans applied for a U.S. patent in Philadelphia in 1792 on a steam land carriage, which he called the "oruktor amphibolos!" We could have been strapped with that name forever, if it weren't for more reasonable individuals working on the same concept.

Martini was a 14th Century Italian painter, who had been trained in engineering. He designed (on paper) a man-propelled carriage, mounted on four wheels. Each wheel was powered by a hand-turned capstan arrangement. Gearing was also provided to transmit the rotation of each capstan to the wheel below. It may have looked good on paper, but the four turners of the capstans couldn't have kept it up for long before they fell over with exhaustion. It is lucky for us that Martini did not name his invention after himself, as many inventors do. If he had, and the word had survived to the present, it might be a little confusing. If we were offered a "Martini," we might not know whether to drive it or drink it! (Representatives of MADD and SADD would probably tell us to park it!) We could be reading headlines like: ORUKTOR ACCIDENT TAKES THREE LIVES or UNITED MARTINI WORKERS ON STRIKE. The really historical (and fortunate) aspect of Martini's design is the name that he gave it: "automobile," from the Greek word, "auto," (self) and the Latin word, "mobils," (moving). "Car," on the other hand, comes from an ancient Celtic word, "carrus," meaning cart or wagon.

George B. Selden, an attorney in Rochester, New York, applied for, and finally received, a patent for a "road machine" in 1879. The Duryea brothers (1895) called their products "motor wagons." In 1896, Henry Ford introduced an experimental car labeled the "Quadricycle." Newspapers used words like autometon, motor-vique, oleo locomotive, autokenetic, buggyaut, motor carriage, autobaine, automotor horse, diamote, motorig, mocole, and, of course, the horseless carriage. In 1895, H. H. Kohlsaat, publisher of the Chicago Times-Herald, offered a $500.00 prize for the best name for the motorized vehicles of the day. The judges picked "motorcycle" as the winner. "Quadricycle" was a favorite, as was "petrocar." The word "automobile" wasn't even in the running! But in 1897, The New York Times prophesied, "...the new mechanical wagon with the awful name -- automobile...has come to stay..."

Many of the words that are associated with automobiles are derived from the French; i.e, garage, chauffeur, limousine, and chassis are just some examples.

Mazda Develops Rear Collision Warning System

Mazda Motor Corp. announced Wednesday that it has developed a safety system that warns drivers who are trying to change lanes of vehicles approaching from behind. The rear collision warning system will be an option starting with the new Atenza to be released at month’s end.

The innovative system from the Japanese automaker kicks in when the vehicle go beyond 60 kilometer per hour. The said system is engineered to detect vehicles in the adjacent lanes which are 50 meters behind.

An LED turns on to alert the driver of vehicles approaching from behind, and if the driver activates the turn signals at that time, the system warns of the possibility of a collision via a sound and flashing LED, divulged Trading Markets.

In the past, other automakers have introduced similar safety systems. Volkswagen AG, Europe’s largest automaker, has also unveiled a safety system that senses an approaching car from behind and alerts the driver when trying to change lanes. The system was introduced in vehicles in the European continent.

The manufacturer of Mazda plug wires, meanwhile, noted that this would be the very first time that such safety system is installed in a vehicle for the Japanese market.

Separately, the Japanese automaker, with the goal of keeping pace with the intensifying auto competition, releases an updated version of the Axela in Japan. The first generation Axela, dubbed as Mazda3 in overseas market, is a sports compact which was introduced for the 2004 model year.

Mazda said the modification made to the exterior design enlivens the vehicle's appearance. The design covers chrome door handles and expanded use of black molding on the rear bumper. Interior quality, meanwhile, was also enhanced with the addition of piano black parts on the power window switch bezels, center panel, and other interior areas of the vehicle. Additionally, chrome parts were chosen for select levers and buttons. This is done to enhance the vehicle’s elegance.

The Japanese automaker said all models in the range, including the four-door Axela, five-door Axela Sport and Mazdaspeed Axela, sport remarkable improvements. They are available at all Mazda, Mazda Anfini and Mazda Autozam dealerships across the nation.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

The ZR1 moniker has long been associated with some of the rarest and highest performing Corvettes ever produced.
The most recent ZR1, which debuted in the early 90’s was no exception, and it maintains a high level of collector interested even today, such a short time after its release.
Recently, General Motors decided to revive the ZR1 nameplate for their most powerful production car ever – the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.
While the base model Corvette is no slouch itself, Chevrolet has been selling a higher performance edition known as the Z06 alongside it for several years.
The Z06 offered a larger motor, more power, better handling and subtle styling cues to set it apart from its stable mate. But with the horsepower wars waging out of control between Dodge and Ford, who recently upped the ante with the re-designed Viper and Mustang GT500 respectively, GM was forced to respond with an even more daring edition of the Corvette.
The new version of the sports car is based around the LS9 V8, which will be more powerful than any engine ever sold by Chevrolet. Generating 620 horsepower and 595 lb feet of torque, this monster tears up the asphalt through a 6 speed manual transmission.
Helping motivate this power bump is a Roots-type supercharged specifically engineered for the LS9 by Eaton. The supercharger allows the engine to benefit from a wide power band, and a charge cool system helps keep the entire system reliable under stress.
Like all Corvettes, the ZR1 has a completely lightweight body structure. The front fenders and hood are made from carbon fiber, and the hood boasts a polycarbonate ‘window’ that allows the engine to be admired even when parked.
Further performance enhancements include carbon-ceramic brakes hidden behind 19 and 20 inch wheels, and a suspension who’s firmness and response can be dialed in via magnetic ride control.
General Motors has put all of their eggs in one basket with the Corvette. By concentrating on their one flagship sports car, in the last 10 years they have managed to raise it up from the status of ‘also-ran’ to that of a world class exotic beater.
With Ferrari-like performance already being offered by the Z06 model of the Corvette, the capabilities of the ZR1 will most likely be out of this world.
There will be some very nervous pasta rockets cruising down Santa Monica this summer when they see those distinctive Corvette headlights cruising up behind them at a stop light.

Toyota International Teacher Program Celebrates 10 Years of Connecting U.S. Classrooms to the World

Honda Motor Co. announced recently the increase in sales of its CR-V sport utility vehicle. Alongside the rise in sales is the surge in demand. And Honda is poised to meet customer demands by building more CR-Vs.

Last year, the CR-V overtook Ford Motor Co.’s Explorer as America’s best-selling sport utility on sales increase of approximately 29 percent.

In 2007, the second largest Japanese automaker sold over 219,000 CR-Vs. Sales for the Explorer, meanwhile, dropped 23 percent to just under 138,000 units. The decline is attributed to the dive in sales of traditional sport utilities which customers in the U.S. have shunned in favor of crossovers.

According to Reuters, the automaker is targeting overall U.S. sales growth of 2.5 percent this year even as industry-wide sales of cars and light trucks in the U.S. market decline for a third consecutive year. "Most probably CR-V should be in line with that," said Tetsuo Iwamura chief of Honda's North American operations.

"There is lots of room for the CR-V to grow," Iwamura said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. He added the Japanese automaker would free up more American production capacity for the said sport utility. This will be done after Honda shifts production of its Civic sedan from its East Liberty, Ohio, plant to an Indiana plant, which is still under construction.

Iwamura suggested that Honda had room to support sales if needed by adding targeted incentives on the CR-V, which he said was gaining ground because of a desire by U.S. consumers to "downsize" their vehicle choices. "Right now we are selling with no incentives. Zero," added Iwamura.

The sales projections of the automaker could put it on track to yield over 10 percent market share in America. If that happens, Honda will be crowned the second import brand after another Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp.

Experts say the weak link of Honda is its Acura luxury brand. Sales of Acura in the U.S. plummeted almost 11 percent in the previous year. Iwamura said Honda expected that revamped version of its TL and TSX sedans would allow Acura to recover back to its 2006 sales level of 201,000 units this year. For 2009, Honda is readying a clean-diesel Acura model and in future years will expand the line-up of the luxury brand to take it into segments where it has not yet competed, he added.

The maker of Honda CR-V custom parts is readying two new hybrids – an affordable sedan and a hybrid sports car

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

R35 Nissan GT-R meet at Chiat Day after L.A. Auto Show

The quiet invitation circulated at the LA Auto Show floor just moments after Nissan unveiled the long awaited R35 Nissan GT-R. The buzz as it floated around was an effort by people at Chiat Day, Nissan's marketing agency, and spread like the latest gossip amongst the people in the know. It was about time, because the unveiling was routine. Carlos Ghosn drove out the new Nissan GT-R and shared information that has been circulating around the internet for months, a typical press debut formality. Everyone focused solely on the car slowly rotating on the turntable. Even without camouflage the new GT-R was as mysterious as ever, but if the buzz was true we would soon get to see it in much more intimate settings thanks to Chiat Day.

At first glance the scene at the parking lot was just another Southern California informal car meet, a stark contrast to the showroom floor. However, it was much more than that. It was a reunion of local GT-R owners anxiously waiting to welcome the newest addition to the GT-R family. Each came with stories of how they grenaded their engines, or exploded their transmissions. Each one had tales of kills or experiences with impromptu paparazzi on Los Angeles freeways. Each was a celebrity in his own right for being able to own a car that has literally been surrounded by legend.

Although an announcement of the new GT-R’s special street appearance had quietly circulated through internet sites and by word of mouth, it was almost too good to be true and some of us deemed it as one of those internet myths. Then, as the wait was becoming almost unbearable, a rolling murmur of distinct exhaust baritone broke the silence. The sight of R35 made us feel like innocent children again – it was absolutely new to us and yet somehow immediately dear and familiar. It may seem extraordinary, but in the eyes of Chiat Day and Nissan, our small group of enthusiasts was to serve as a crucial barometer to predict the future success of GT-R in North America.

Since R32’s debut in late eighties, GT-R sported specific features that defined its overall character. The body had characteristic bulging rear fenders, four round tail lights, and dual beam headlights. Each generation of GT-Rs with their RB26DETT was developed by a team of passionate true enthusiasts who invested an immense amount of character in each model all the way down to distinctive exterior colors, such as Bayside Blue and Midnight Purple, to mention a few. Beneath the skin, it has always been a four-seater twin turbocharged inline six with a manual gearbox and a traditional clutch pedal. Each one had a version of the ATTESA four wheel drive system with more advanced units in the V-SPEC models. Finally, with no adjustable driver controls that could change how the car drove or handled the GT-R was a raw muscle car.

In contrast, the R35 Nissan GT-R idling in front of us for the very first time was a whole new animal. Building on recent advancements in automotive technology, R35 engineers have incorporated just about every high-tech device into their latest contraption. The car’s driving characteristics can now be altered with a push of a button, and with computers to monitor other computers and drive-by-wire technology, this car was thought out akin to a new space program. While in good spirit, the new sophistication of electronic controls poses an awkward challenge for many of us interested in raw performance. The exterior of R35 conforms to other new cars coming out these days. That is, the GT-R designers have finally conceded that all that is needed to form a vehicle’s exterior shape is a simple ruler.

If I sound negative at times, it is because to us car enthusiasts new vehicles are never perfect when they come off the assembly line. Deep down inside we all know how engineers and designers compromise to deliver a vehicle suitable for the masses. They appreciate that each one of us envisions a unique destiny for our vehicles. Some of us seek comfort and prestige, others are customizers who will look at a car and develop styling and performance modifications. Yet few others are already envisioning the dismantling process to convert their ride into an all out racing machine. R35 too will undergo its trials. But more importantly, Nissan’s flagship is finally here. After decades of serving as the benchmark of automotive performance and triumph in Japan and elsewhere, a manufacturer's legacy has finally arrived on US soil. Along with the GT-R comes the heritage and spirit that Nissan continues to share with enthusiasts all over the world. Yet simply knowing GT-R’s past is not enough to predict its future. People will come out of the woodwork and announce their findings and developments. It is they, not the factory developers, who will define the appropriate place for this latest addition to the GT-R family that now spans a whole new world.