November 22, 2008

BREAKING: More Porsche Panamera Pics and Specs

A tip of the hat to is in order this Saturday. Thanks to them, three new pictures of Porsche's Panamera super-sedan have hit the web ahead of its official Monday reveal.

Dutch auto mag
AutoTelegraaf has already broken the press embargo, so we're joining the herd a couple days early.

The Panamera is a large car by any means; 16.3 feet long, 6.3 feet wide and 4.66 feet tall, with a wheelbase of 9.6 feet.
Weight hasn't been disclosed, but somewhere near 3800 pounds for the V8 model seems likely.

With today's leak comes new design revelations. Heat extracting vents in the front fenders are flanked by deep scallops reminscent of the Carrera GT, breaking up an otherwise bulbous form. The jury is still out on the Panamera's bulbous back end; as yet, I'm not a fan. Design quibbles aside, it's hard to argue with a 0.29 coefficient of drag.

Back in September, we covered the basic tech specifications. A 3.6-liter V6 and 4.8-liter V8 engines with be available, with a 500+ hp twin-turbo V-8 reserved for the top of the line Panamera Turbo.

Porsche's dopple-kupplung dual-clutch gearbox will be available on all models. A V-6 hybrid variant with 350 hp is expected by 2011.

All-wheel drive will be standard on the Panamera Turbo, along with an electronically controlled air suspension system. Whether rear or all-wheel drive, all Panameras will include a helical limited-slip diff as well.

A brief programming note: Next week's news coverage will be punctuated with a few gaps as the Thanksgiving holiday nears. But stay tuned for our reviews of Mitsubishi's i MiEV electric city car and VW's new Jetta TDi clean diesel sedan.

November 18, 2008

Embargo be damned! 2010 Mustang pics & specs leaked before LA debut

The cat... or rather... the colt is out of the bag on this one.

We were just a day and a half away from the new Mustang's official debut at the LA Auto Show, but thanks to a bit of file mismanagement on Ford's side, the dam has burst. Since everyone else is doing it, here's the scoop on Ford's new steed.

Technically, the 2010 Mustang is a mid-model refresh of the SW195 platform that debuted in 2005 to immediate acclaim. But with the exception of the roofline, all exterior sheetmetal is new for 2010.

The remade Mustang starts with an aggressively raked grille which features the first new Mustang emblem since the car's introduction in 1964. Both the V-6 and V-8 GT wear front bumpers unique to each model. The headlamps and turn signals are now integrated into one unit, drawing inspiration from the 1970 Mustang Boss series.

On the V-6 models, the fog lamps are located on the lower fascia, while on the GT, the fog lamps are again located in the upper grille – a pattern similar to the original lamps of the 1967-68 Mustang. The new headlamps, lower fascias, fenders and grille are capped by a powerdome hood that adds to the muscular appearance while allowing greater air circulation underneath.

"We understand Mustang's heritage and iconic status it has in the world and as a symbol of Americana," said Peter Horbury, executive director of US design. "We wanted to create a face that is more muscular but unquestionably, unequivocally Mustang and carry that spirit through to the entire car."

Along the new Mustang's flanks, both the front and rear fenders are tautly flared at each wheel arch. Taking inspiration from the 2006 Guigiaro Mustang Concept, the new Stang's rear fenders now swell to a pronounced flare just below the rear quarter window. "It helps give the car aggressive, forward direction, like it's ready to jump," said Doug Gaffka, Mustang chief designer.

Out back, new LED tailights debut along with a revised trunklid and rear bumper. Firing sequentially from the inside cornet, the three red LED lamps mimic the sequential turn signal unique to the Mustangs of the late '60s. The reverse lamps are tucked in vertically between each red lamp, creating a modern version of the classic Ford three-lens taillamp.

Under the hood and on the road, improvements abound

The 2010 Mustang 4.6-liter V-8 benefits from the cold air induction system, taller final drive and re-calibrated ECU which debuted on the 2007 Mustang Bullitt.

Now producing 315 horsepower, the GT's ECU will now advance engine timing and richen fuel trim when premium unleaded is used, rewarding drivers with a deeper well of midrange torque. The 4.0-liter V-6 carries on unchanged, with 210 horsepower.

Suspension-wise, wheel and tire combinations are an inch bigger across the board, ranging from 17 to 19 inches, depending on the model. The shocks have been retuned on all models as well.

"We adjusted the springs, stabilizer bars and shocks to better balance the ride, steering and handling for all models, which results in a more engaging driving experience," adds Mustang Vehicle Engineering manager Tom Barnes. "The 2010 Mustangs feel more controlled for steering and handling, yet retain a good ride balance."

There's new safety gear on hand as well. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is now standard for 2010, complementing Mustang's all-speed traction control and anti-lock braking system (ABS). Dual front and front seat mounted side airbags are standard equipment on every 2010 Mustang.

Inside, a one-piece instrument panel design is new for 2010. Crafted in seamless soft-touch TPO (Thermoplastic Olefin) resin, the new assembly offers fewer places for squeaks to develop, a goal Ford engineers sought out with the new Mustang.

"That's the difference between good enough and exceptional," said Gary Morales, Interior Design manager. "We wouldn't accept anything less than leadership design and world-class craftsmanship."

The 2010 Mustang will offer the latest version of Ford SYNC bluetooth and multimedia integration system, which now includes 911 Assist and Vehicle Health Report. The somewhat frivolous My Color™ system returns for 2010, which allows drivers to customize the car's gauge lighting from a range of 125 colors.

To see more of the 2010 Mustang, visit Ford's mini-site here:

November 17, 2008

GM to Washington: Loan $25B now or lose $150B later

If General Motors fails, nearly three million jobs could be lost in 2009 as part of a cascading collapse of suppliers, shipping companies and ultimately dealers. So argues General Motors in a video released as the embattled automaker campaigns for immediate federal aid in the wake of a cash-flow crisis.

Released on Sunday, GM's four-minute video highlights the fact that American auto industry is one of the largest economic multipliers in the U.S. economy. GM employs more than 1.7 million people, either directly or through parts suppliers, subcontractors and dealers.

The key argument is that if either GM, Ford or Chrysler fails, the industry would be faced with an imminent collapse due to the impact on suppliers and the cascading effects of production lines being halted and workers laid off at every level of production.

All told, as many as three million jobs could be lost if one or more the Big Three automakers fail. GM argues that in such a scenario, with no cars being made or sold, as much as $156 billion in tax revenue would be lost between 2009 and 2011.

And the economic catastrophe wouldn't stop there.

Add in the cost of supporting 775,000 retirees currently drawing a GM pension. And the health care costs of 2 million people who would find themselves uninsured if GM were to fail.

A collapse of the U.S. auto industry would reduce personal incomes by $150.7 billion, the automaker warns. Over three years, the cost could grow to $398 billion in unemployment assistance, as people struggle to find new work.

By every measure, the damage from a collapsing US auto industry will reach far beyond the industry itself.

The nation's auto industry is a major contributor to our gross domestic product -- nearly four percent in total.
According to the Center for Automotive Research, our current recession was fueled by three-tenths of a percent decline in GDP. If GM alone is left to fail, a sudden one percent loss in GDP could easily trigger panic, turning a recession into a depression.


November 14, 2008

NMM at the Movies: The cars of Quantum of Solace

Confession time: In addition to being a car nut, I'm also an ardent fan of Ian Fleming's James Bond 007.

And so tonight, as the first US screenings of
Quantum of Solace get underway, we have a feature on the cars appearing in the latest Bond film.

Daniel Craig returns to his role as the famed British secret agent, taking the wheel of the heart-achingly gorgeous Aston Martin DBS in the process.

Even before Q works his armored wizardry, the Aston is a force to be reckoned with, packing a 6.0-liter V-12 good for 510 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque.

Olga Kurylenko makes her Bond film debut as Camille Montes. As in Die Another Day, Ford has once again signed a deal to get their cars on screen; Kurylenko drives the plebeian but Euro-chic 2009 Ford Ka subcompact.

With a meager 1.2-liter four, the Ka is more adept at being miserly with fuel than outrunning henchmen, but nonetheless, it's appearance is more so a feature of Madison Avenue than of Fleming himself.

As for the aforementioned henchmen, the Alfa Romeo 159 is their car of choice in
Quantum of Solace.

On paper, the 253-horsepower V-6 powered Alfas should be utterly humiliated by the Aston Martin, but toss in a dusty, switchback laden road conspicuous for it's lack of guard rails and the vehicular drama and mayhem nearly writes itself.

Speaking of mayhem, it's worth noting that one of seven Bond-spec Astons drew its dying breath
in a plunge into Lake Garda in the Italian Alps while on the way to shooting a chase scene nearby. While driver Fraser Dunn suffered only minor injuries, the $266,000 Aston was declared a total loss.

For more on Quantum of Solace and James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming:

* Quantum Of Solace - Official Movie Site

* Quantum Of Solace on IMdB
* A brief biography of Ian Fleming

November 13, 2008

LA Auto Show Preview: 2010 Bentley Azure T

Life is often divided into questions of nuance. No matter the subject, clear cut answers are hard to come by. For instance, when is enough enough? When does indulgence become decadence?

Bentley, an automaker well acquainted with indulgence, will release their newest convertible at the LA Auto Show next week. We've got an early preview.

With lines that recall the first post-war Bentleys, the Azure received an enthusiastic reception as a concept car at the 2005 Los Angeles Show. The production version retains much of the concept car's character and is instantly recognizable as a successor to the 1946 Mk.6 drophead coupe.

Significant time and effort has gone into making the Azure T’s folding roof attractive as well as highly functional. Operated hydraulically at the touch of a switch, the Azure T's three-layer canvas roof is elegantly stowed beneath the rear parcel shelf in a matter of 25 seconds. Because the roof is held in a separate well area, there is no impact on the generous trunk space which was designed to hold two sets of golf clubs and hand luggage.

As impressive as its stately dimensions is the Azure T's immense power. 500 horsepower and 738 pound feet of torque are on tap, courtesy of a 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V8 mated to a six-speed ZF automatic transmission. Each engine is assembled by hand at the factory in Crewe; the signature of the build team leader is engraved into a plaque fixed to the intake manifold.

With 90 percent of peak torque available from 1800 rpm to 3800 rpm, the Azure vaults toward the horizon with zeal. 60 miles per hour is accomplished in a mere 5.2 seconds, whilst on the way to a top speed of 179 mph.

Keeping the powerful and weighty Azure T composed are a set of computer-controlled, adaptive electro-hydraulic dampers with automatic ride height control and load compensation. In addition to countering acceleration squat and brake dive, the Azure T's dampers will counteract body roll, delivering impressive control in all driving conditions.

Twenty-inch alloy wheels with 255/40 ZR20 Pirelli P Zero tires further improve handling and road holding. When equipped with the optional brake upgrade, each wheel houses the largest set of brake discs available on any production car in the world.

Measuring 420 by 40 mm in front and 356 by 28 mm in the rear, these massive carbon-composite discs are clamped by eight-piston calipers front and rear. In addition to 16 pounds of weight savings, the carbon discs are designed to last the lifetime of the car while offering nearly fade-free performance.

Building a Bentley is an intensely personal affair. To suit, the British automaker offers 42 exterior paint colors, eight different wood veneers and 25 different leathers to furnish a customer's Azure.

Befitting its role as Bentley's new flagship convertible, the Azure T embodies a range of new standard features. The seats and door panels are covered in diamond quilted leather. The dashboard features an ‘engine-turned’ aluminum finish reminiscent of 1920s racing Bentleys, and the instrument faces are finished in black rather than parchment.

Yet beneath the traditional Bentley cues lies a raft of modern technology.

The Azure T's stereo head unit now reads audio files stores on an SD memory card rather than from a compact disk. As an option, Azure T buyers can specify a premium audio system designed by Naim Audio, a UK-based high end hi-fi manufacturer. The upgraded audio system features 10 speakers, a dual-channel subwoofer and an 1100 watt amplifier, plus eight individual equalizer modes to reproduce a ‘live’ concert-like experience.

Like the Continental T and Arnage T before it, the Azure T carries on the tradition of modern sporting Bentleys, cars known for their sybaritic luxury, sporting character and titanic performance.

Which leads back to one of those precious clear-cut answers.

Enough is never enough.


November 12, 2008

BMW ships, prices first US-market diesels in 20 years

It's been a long while since BMW sold a diesel car in the US market.

Since 1988, when the 524d and 524td sedans left our shores in a cloud of their own soot, the Soviet Union fell apart and Germany reunified. We've had two Bushes and a Clinton in the White House and watched oil prices surge to dizzying heights.

Now, even as crude oil prices continue to fall in the dour economy, BMW has returned with a pair of oil-burners. Starting next year, the German automaker will offer the 335d, a diesel version of the 3-series sedan and the X5 xDrive35d, a diesel variant of the popular X5 SUV.

Both are powered by 3-liter, twin-turbocharged diesel inline-six rated at 265 horsepower and a tarmac-wrinkling 425 pound feet of torque.
A six-speed automatic transmission is the only option for both models. BMW has yet to develop a manual gearbox that can handle the immense torque output, so neither US or European customers will be able to row the gears themselves.

Like the new Mercedes-Benz diesels, the oil-burning BMWs will use a particulate filter and urea injection to eliminate soot and reduce emissions. The urea solution - called AdBlue - is carried in a 5.5 gallon tank on both the 335d and X5 diesel.
BMW expects a tankful of AdBlue to last for about 15,000 miles.

As a part of the automaker's five-year / 40,000 mile complimentary maintenance program, BMW will refill each car's AdBlue tank at no extra cost at 10,000 miles.

At the pump, the 335d is rated at 23 mpg city and 36 mpg on the highway, with a range of about 560 miles. The X5 diesel carries a 22 gallon tank which translates to 585 miles with a 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway EPA rating.

The 335d will sell for $44,725 and the X5 xDrive35d will go for MSRP of $52,025, including destination and handling.

Both will be eligible for a federal tax credit. The IRS will kick back $900 for each 335d, while X5 xDrive35d customers will qualify for the maximum federal tax credit of $1,550.


November 11, 2008

Rare fungus munches cellulose, pees diesel, solves energy crisis?

I know what you're thinking. What the hell is a fungus-flocked petri dish doing being featured a car blog?

Gilocladium roseum
is its name. Dr. Gary Strobel discovered it in the rainforests of Patagonia. What he's found could be the solution to our energy needs for the next century and beyond.

How? Because it removes a very energy-intensive and wasteful step in producing biofuels.

Let's use corn-based ethanol as an example. In order to turn corn into a usable fuel, the cellulose fibers and sugars have to be fermented to unlock the carbon molecules trapped within. Those carbon molecules then have to be synthesized into complex hydrocarbons. In order for this to happen on an industrial scale, both steps require a lot of heat and a lot of pressure.

And the microbes used in fermentation are very picky eaters. They'll happily gorge themselves on simple sugars like those in an ear of corn. But throw a corn stalk into the mix and they just turn up their little noses. At most ethanol distilleries, the stalks are simply tossed out.

So a lot of the plant gets wasted and what is used takes a lot of energy to process.

Gilocladium roseum can solve both of these problems. Strobel discovered that the fungus consumes wood and synthesizes it into the same kinds of hydrocarbons found in diesel fuel. Strobel has dubbed the secretions "myco-diesel."

"A step in the production process could be skipped," Strobel said in a press release.
That said, Strobel admits that industrial production is a long way off.

"This report presents no information on the cost-effectiveness or other details to make
G. roseum an alternative fuel source," Strobel and his team wrote of their discovery. "Its ultimate value may reside in the genes/enzymes that control hydrocarbon production, and our paper is a necessary first step that may lead to development programs to make this a commercial venture."

The next step involves researching the fungus' genome. Work has already begun under the direction of Dr. Strobel's son Scott,
who chairs the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University. Montana State University now holds a patent on G.roseum and the myco-diesel process.

With enough money and time, our future fill-ups might come not from the ground, but from the fungus among us.

Learn more:

Read Dr. Strobel's paper here. [PDF]

A podcast of Dr. Strobel talking about myco-diesel is available

[Photo Credit: Montana State University/ Gary Strobel]

November 10, 2008

Five Axis injects 60's racecar cool into.... a Yaris?

Since Troy Sumitomo founded Five Axis Design in 2002, his Toyota-centric carrozzerria has always been known for unconventional designs executed with great skill. Well, this year's SEMA project car was no exception.

Who else but Troy could look at the plain-jane, commuter car lines of a Yaris hatchback and think of building a 60's-inspired roofless racer?

With the idea of paying homage to the Toyota 7 — one of many legendary Japanese race cars — in mind, Sumitomo set out to build a stripped-down, no-nonsense driver's car.

Off came the roof, then most of the windscreen followed by all of the interior. In it's place, a custom hard tonneau cover, turning the Yaris into a single seater with a fairing that frames the drivers headrest. The US-spec bumpers, headlights and taillights were all removed, to be replaced by their JDM counterparts, taken from the Vitz RS.

Under the hood, Sumitomo and his crew knew that the stock 105-hp 1.5-liter four banger wasn't going to do the job if left unmolested. So on went a TRD-designed Roots supercharger and custom cold air intake. Paired with a prototype exhaust header designed by DC Sports and backed up by a GReddy titanium exhaust, the combo added another 60 horsepower and more importantly, about 70 pound-feet of torque.

Countering the added go with whoa is a set of GReddy disc brakes, using 282 mm rotors clamped by six-piston calipers up front and two-piston calipers out back. The custom built brakes are framed by a set of Sumitomo's own rims. 17-inch diameter and 7.5 inches wide, the FIVE: AD S6 rims are powder-coated in a satin gunmetal color and wrapped in 225/45 R17 Yokohama tires sporting a custom tread carved by the designers at Five Axis.

Ensuring the Yaris Club lives up to its racing credo is a set of Tein Super Street coil-over dampers, with a TRD Yaris strut brace up front. To stiffen the Yaris' chassis and retain the structural strength lost by removing the roof, the interior is framed by a very stout perimeter cage, with a roll hoop integrated into the fairing behind the driver's seat.

As for the interior, there's not much left. A Sparco steering wheel, racing seat, shift knob and pedals replace the stock Yaris equipment. A TRD Vitz RS gauge cluster sits in a custom housing braced by a brushed aluminum frame. And smack dab in the middle of the dashboard is custom designed rear-view mirror that looks like it was plucked off the 7 itself.

The only bit of un-futzed-with Yaris interior I could find was the interior door lever on the driver's side. It's buried under the mass of the car's bright red roll cage; you really have to hunt for it.

Which brings us to the paint.

Some of you won't recognize the Toyota 7 in any context outside of Gran Turismo 4. But despite that, the 7 was a remarkable machine in its day. At a time when big block V-8s ran the table, the 7 took the opposite path, introducing the era of turbocharging, overhead cams and small-displacement, high-output motors that we all take for granted today.

So to see a Yaris wear the 7's searing crimson and white so perfectly is a little confusing, very satisfying and more than a bit frustrating.

Confusing, because a Yaris is best known as a commuter car.

Satisfying for memories it evokes -- a time when Toyota built sports cars for the common man.

Frustrating, because it takes a visionary like Troy Sumitomo to create a new one.

Toyota, are you listening?
[Five Axis]

November 7, 2008

GM posts $4.2 billion Q3 loss; exits Chrysler merger talks

Over the last three months ending Sept 30, General Motors has lost $46 million each day.

Announcing its third quarter earnings today, General Motors posted a $4.2 billion dollar loss, its fifth straight losing quarter and in an amount far greater than analysts had expected.
In response, GM shares fell 13 percent to close today at $4.16m amidst doubts about the company's cash reserves.

“The third quarter was especially challenging for the auto industry. Consumer spending, which represents close to 70 percent of the U.S. economy, fell dramatically, and the abrupt closure of credit markets created a downward spiral in vehicle sales,” said Rick Wagoner, GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in a statement.

Tight credit, rising unemployment, declining income, falling stock markets, and continuing deterioration in the housing market have all contributed to an abrupt halt in consumer spending. Many customers who still intended to buy or lease a car this summer were denied financing, or found the cost of financing prohibitive.

In response to today's earning report, the beleaguered automaker said it would cut white-collar jobs and slash next year's capital spending budget by $2.5 billion in attempt to cope with the troubled economy. Including job cuts made in July, more than 7,000 salaried and contract positions are being eliminated, trimming spending on salaries by $500 million.

This afternoon, Wagoner renewed his pleas for low-interest loans from the U.S. Treasury. “The U.S. government’s actions to help stabilize the credit markets and eventually ease the credit crunch are an essential first step to the economy’s and the auto industry’s recovery, but further strong action is required.”

The biggest problem confronting GM is a lack of cash to pay it's suppliers and operating costs. Most of the company's funds are tied up in factories or tooling; without an injection of capital, analysts predict that GM will run out of cash by the second quarter of 2009.

Finding new lenders will not be easy, either. In response to the $46 million per day cash burn, Standard & Poor's lowered GM's debt rating further into junk status, from B- down to CCC+. "We now believe GM will use much more cash this year than our previous estimate of as much as $16 billion in its global automotive operations," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Robert Schulz in a statement.

The 'will-they, wont-they' romance is over: GM kills Chrysler merger talks
Without mentioning Chrysler verbatim, Wagoner confirmed the end of negotiations with Chrysler to Automotive News.

"We have recently explored the possibility of such an acquisition based on the analysis that it would strengthen
our industry position in the long term," Wagoner said. "we are better off to put 100 percent of our efforts on the liquidity side. We've set aside such (acquisition) actions as a near term priority."

Chrysler issued its own statement separately, saying the company would continue to work on returning to profitability. "As an independent company we will continue to explore multiple strategic alliances or partnerships as we investigate growth opportunities around the world that would aid our return to profitability."

Majority shareholder, Cerberus Capital Management declined to comment.

So what's next for GM?
In short, a fire sale.

The automaker has already killed the next generation of its full-size sport-utes and is ramping up efforts to sell the ailing HUMMER brand.
Today, GM said it would put its ACDelco aftermarket parts business up for sale, a move the company expects will raise another $2-$4 billion.

Wagoner reiterated today that bankruptcy is not an option and that the company "will take whatever actions we can to avoid it."

But Wagoner's pledge will be hard to uphold given the state of the economy.
Ford Motor Co. posted a $3 billion after-tax operating loss for the third quarter today, and said it too would cut costs further to preserve cash.

Both automakers said that U.S. sales will worsen next year.
GM forecast its 2009 U.S. sales at 11.7 million units; if true, next year will be the company's slowest since 1982. In 2010, GM predicts US sales will rise to 12.7 million unit -- over 4 million less than the automaker's 10-year average ending last year.


November 6, 2008

World's largest Lamborghini dealer shuts its doors

Last night — without explanation from either the dealer's owner or parent company Volkswagen — Lamborghini of Orange County, the world's largest Lamborghini dealer, abruptly closed its doors.

Across the nation, dealers have closed on account of slow sales or the inability to extend credit lines. But last year, the Southern California dealer sold ten percent of all Lamborghinis world wide.
Furthermore, most of the Italian automaker's production is custom-ordered and paid for in advance.

All of which makes the sudden closing rather puzzling.

The dealer's website is still up at this hour, but phone calls go unanswered. There are no directions for those who have made appointments for service or have a car on order through the Orange County dealer.

The Orange County Business Journal reported tonight that Lamborghini SpA is attempting to help the dealership reopen.

While the automaker declined to comment on specifics, Pietro Friegerio, chief operating officer for Lamborghini SpA told the Journal that the sudden closure was their first priority.

Vik, Nora, Sossi and Astrid Keuylian own and run Lamborghini Orange County.

Friegerio said the management at Lamborghini Orange County made a few "unfortunate business decisions, independent of the automaker, which have caused the current issues that they are trying to resolve now.”

For now, owners will have to turn to Lamborghini Beverly Hills or Lamborghini San Diego for service or repairs.


November 5, 2008

Nissan intros new budget-leader Versa 1.6; zero percent leases for five models

With automakers everywhere struggling to turn a profit, many are returning to the formula of budget-conscious cars to lure used car buyers into dealer showrooms.

For 2009, Nissan will lay claim to selling
the cheapest new car on sale in America with the Nissan Versa 1.6 hatchback.

Priced at $9,990, the new trim Versa offers a smaller 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine good for 107 horsepower.

Paired with a standard 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4-speed automatic transmission, the Versa 1.6 won't win any races, but it will save money at the pump.

Fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway with the 5-speed manual and 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway with the 4-speed automatic.

For a sub-$10K car, the Versa 1.6 is still well-equipped. Power locks & windows, a decent 4-speaker AM/FM CD stereo and ABS brakes are all standard, as are dual front airbags.

Combined with the new-car warranty that no private-party used car can offer, the Versa 1.6 makes a convincing case for itself as a basic commuter car.

The Versa 1.6 will be in dealer showrooms starting Nov. 18.

Special lease offers on Versa, Sentra, Altima, Rogue and Murano

In other news, Nissan has also announced zero-percent financing for 36 months for five models:

That the Murano crossover and Rogue compact SUV qualify should come as no surprise. Both are relatively thirsty SUVs with combined EPA gas mileage in the mid-20s.

For sedan buyers on a budget, the Versa and Sentra compact sedans and the Altima mid-size sedan all qualify and are worth checking out.
The down payment varies depending on the model and trim, but each lease is built upon a $199 monthly payment for 36 months.

The lease program started yesterday and will continue through the end of November.


November 4, 2008

BMW cancels production version of Concept CS sedan

In a statement today, BMW CEO Norbert Riethofer said the company will not produce a production version of the Concept CS sedan concept first seen at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show.

"Difficult business conditions and the volatile climate on the market mean that it is as good as impossible from today's perspective to make a reliable prediction of the earnings outcome for 2008," CEO Norbert Reithofer said in a statement.

The production version of the Concept CS would have competed in a small and high-priced market. It's primary competitors would have been the Mercedes-Benz CLS, Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quattroporte.

Production would have been limited, and with sales tanking industry wide, the Concept CS failed to make a case for itself.

"At the moment we do not need that kind of brand shaper",
said Reithofer.

The decision was made after a very grim third quarter sales report. The German automaker's return on sales fell below 1.3 percent, forcing the company to focus intently on maintaining a profitable model range.

BMW abandons 2008 profit target

Following today's announcement, the automaker
said it could not guarantee its earlier 2008 profit forecast in light of the troubled auto sales market.

Earnings before interest and taxes fell to 387M euros in the third quarter, well below industry analyst's earlier estimate of 574M euros.

The company said it would make additional production cuts to maintain profitability, reducing output by at least another 40,000 units on top of the 25,000 the company cut earlier this year.

To date, the automaker has made a five percent cut in production compared to 2007.


November 3, 2008

GM, Chrysler lead horrific month as October sales plunge

Falling gas prices and rising inventories weren't enough to offset a tight credit market, leading to another awful month of sales for all automakers.

On average, October sales were down 32 percent from a year ago, with
General Motors hit the hardest. Not only did GM's HUMMER brand lead the industry with sales off by 64 percent, but the rest of the GM portfolio followed closely behind.

Cadillac and Saturn sales fell about 55 percent, GMC trucks were down 52 percent, followed by Pontiac, Buick and Chevrolet, which were all down by at least 40 percent.

The decline is largely due to tighter lending policies adopted by GMAC Auto Finance. With GM's in-house lending unit refusing loans to buyers with credit scores below 700, a large percentage of prospective customers were unable to qualify for a loan.

Possibly the worst month since World War II
"If you adjust for population growth, this is probably the worst industry sales month in the post-WWII era," said Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president for sales and marketing, speaking with
Automotive News. "Until the credit markets open up and consumer confidence improves, the entire U.S. economy, and any industry like autos that relies on financing, will suffer."

To spur sales, GM said today it will start its annual Red Tag Sale early this year. The event - which normally runs from Thanksgiving weekend to January 5, will instead start tomorrow, with some GM vehicles carrying up to $7,250 in cash incentives.

Chrysler sales fell 50 percent, trailed by Jeep and Dodge, down 32 and 27 percent respectively. Ford sales were off 28 percent from a year ago.

So far only two automakers have reported monthly sales increases this year: Toyota in April and GM in January.
This month, Toyota's decline was lead by its Lexus unit, down 35 percent. The Toyota brand retained its position as the nation's best-selling brand, ahead of Ford and Chevrolet.

MINI posts gain, Audi bucks the downward spiral
Among the few to post gains were BMW's MINI brand, up 56 percent. Audi, whose sales were up by less than one percent were weighed by parent company Volkswagen AG, whose sales fell by nearly 8 percent.

"This is the toughest economy we've seen in a long time," Mark Barnes, COO of VW Group of America, said in a statement.


[Photo:; Original by Broken Wing Productions. Post-processing by David Moll.]

October 31, 2008

Treasury says no cash for GM, Chrysler merger talks stalled, Renault hookup rumors persist

The tumultuous storyline of the GM - Chrysler merger reads like a script fit for Hollywood. Both need each other to survive.
Neither can make it alone.

But parties on both sides have a lot to lose.

And with today's news from the Treasury, the White House — and even Renault — the story gets messier by the minute.

Will they? Won't they?
Read on..

Yesterday, it seemed a forgone conclusion that General Motors and Chrysler LLC would merge within the next month, despite the consequences for nearly all Chrysler's models.

Now, the US Treasury and the Bush administration are adamant, saying they will not broker a merger deal or heed GM CEO Rick Wagoner's request for more money. Speaking with Reuters, a Bush administration official said that the "Treasury is not negotiating with the automakers, the administration is working to get the $25 billion Congress already authorized to the industry."

Instead, the Bush administration and the Treasury will speed the distribution of $25 billion in federally-backed, low-interest loans, drawn from an aid package approved by Congress last month.

Automotive News reports that both GMAC and Chrysler Financial - finance agencies owned jointly by GM and Chrysler's owner, Cerberus Capital Management — would qualify to sell their distressed assets to the Treasury under the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

"An unmanageable disaster" for Rust Belt states
While the sale of troubled debt will help GM's overall cashflow, it doesn't help the underlying problem that drove GM to seek Chrysler in the first place: a lack of financing. Without new borrowing or asset sales, GM is in danger of running dangerously low on cash in 2009, analysts have said.

Hoping to draw attention to the dire need for capital, the governors of Michigan, New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Delaware and South Dakota wrote the Bush administration in a plea for further assistance. Facing pressure from a surge of unemployment claims and a decline in state tax revenue, the "economic crisis" facing automakers "threatens to create an unmanageable disaster at the state level," the letter said.

Michigan's congressional delegation — lead by Energy and Commerce Committee chair John
Dingell — has also lobbied the Bush administration to free up funds for the Big Three.

Ford joins the bailout fray, seeking "degree of parity"
And just when this couldn't get more complicated, here comes Ford. Reuters reports that FoMoCo has been angling for their own piece of the financial aid pie. If the government provides a direct injection of capital into either GM or Chrysler, Ford want their fair share as well.

Speaking with reporters, Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas said the company wants to "make sure that whatever happens, there is a degree of parity."

But for now, any aid — or merger negotiations — will be delayed until after Election Day.

So what happens now?
With the GM-Chrysler talks stalled, Renault pops back into the picture. As NMM reported two weeks ago, French automaker Renault has expressed interest in buying Chrysler's Jeep division outright from Cerberus.

Recently, Renault has backed away from the table, playing down rumors of a three-way partnership between Chrysler, Renault and it's Japanese partner Nissan Motor Corporation.

Nonetheless, the lack of progress with General Motors opens the door to new talks between Cerberus and Renault. Sources close to the early discussion said that Cerberus has considered a deal with Renault and Nissan as a favorable alternative to a full buyout of Chrysler by GM.

The sources declined to be named as they were not authorized to discuss the private talks. General Motors and Cerberus both declined to comment.


October 30, 2008

Report: GM-Chrysler merger likely to decimate Chrysler lineup, trigger more layoffs

The fallout from a merger between General Motors and Chrysler LLC will lead to the closure of many as half of Chrysler's factories and the elimination of nearly all Chrysler models, according to a report released by consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP.

The report comes a day after General Motors canceled a $2 billion program to replace its trio of aging full-size SUVs and Chrysler culled its two full-size hybrid SUVs after only three months of production.

Merger and more layoffs seem inevitable
Despite the gloomy forecast, a GM / Chrysler merger seems highly likely at this point. Reuters reports that GM and Chrysler have resolved the major issues in a merger agreement and that the final form of a deal will depend on financing and federal support.

The New York Times reports that the Department of Energy was working to release $5 billion in government-backed low-interest loans to GM so it could complete a deal with Cerberus Capital Management, the majority shareholder of Chrysler LLC. The $5 billion in loans would come directly from a $25 billion pool of funds approved last month by Congress in an effort help Detroit retool as a maker of more fuel-efficient cars.

And while a merger may save the two embattled automakers, it most certainly will not save all their employees.

Speaking with Automotive News, Kimberly Rodriguez, principal of Grant Thornton's automotive practice said that a deal also could result in a loss of 100,000 to 200,000 jobs at the two automakers, their suppliers and other industry shareholders.

According to the report, the majority of job cuts would come as most of Chrysler model lineup is phased out. Chrysler's sedans have failed to outsell their domestic competitors and both the Dodge and Jeep division are heavily invested in SUVs and light trucks.

Massive consolidation of models, factories
Currently, Chrysler operates 14 factories, with two of them scheduled to close at year's end. During the summer, Chrysler has offered its Viper model lineup for sale, along with the Detroit plant where they are made.

In the report, Grant Thornton says that four more factories could close in the aftermath of a merger with GM. Those on the hit list produce the Chrysler Sebring and the Dodge Avenger in Michigan, the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro in Toledo, Ohio, the Dodge Ram in St.Louis, Mo. and Dodge's heavy-duty truck plant in Saltillo, Mexico.

As production of these models wound down, a second wave of layoffs would then hit the third-party suppliers that provide transmissions, windows, dashboard assemblies — all of the primary components unique to each Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep model.

All told, the lost work to these suppliers would put hundreds of companies at risk. Up to 50,000 additional non-Chrysler jobs could be lost if Chrysler were to close the plants Grant Thornton expects.

Timing is critical; contraction is inevitable
If a GM-Chrysler merger is completed, it may take years to phase out all of the models listed in the Grant Thornton report. Some platforms may be eliminated through attrition; left in production until they cease to turn a profit. Some plants could be closed as early as the holiday shutdown and others could take years to close, said Rodriguez.

It is, in your humble author's opinion, a "damned if you do, if you don't" scenario.

Neither GM or Chrysler can survive alone in this market. While Chrysler has more cash on its books, they are in the worst position to capitalize on high gas prices. Worse yet, they lack the resources to improve their CAFE rating without aid. And while GM has a more fuel-efficient lineup, they are burning through their cash on hand at an alarming rate.

If either fails, far more jobs could be lost than those through the merger of these two former titans.

For more punditry on this unholy mess:
NYT: Views on a GM-Chrysler merger