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VehicleVoice Fuel Price Impact Survey – April 2006

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The Fuel Price Impact Survey conducted monthly by AutoPacific‘s VehicleVoice indicates that the median fuel price paid by U.S. motorists increased from a September 2005 peak of $2.90 per gallon to a new peak of $2.94 a gallon in April 2006. This was up from $2.42 in March. April’s spike is the largest month-over-month spike since September 2005.

SUV Loyalty Deteriorates – Small Cars Set to Boom?

In September respondents reacted to the price shock with about 27% of SUV owners saying they would consider buying another type vehicle when they replaced their SUV. As fuel prices moderated in the months following September, loyalty to SUVs rebounded. By March, only 13% would consider shifting away from SUVs. But, given the new April peak, about 25% of SUV owners say they may buy something different next time. Similarly, interest in Small Cars, up 41% in September, and up only 17% in February, was up 40% in April. Clearly, there is a direct relationship between fuel prices and the type of vehicle a person wants to drive.

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Source: AutoPacific – VehicleVoice Fuel Price Impact Study – April 2006


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Fiat 500 Wants You

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Fiat Taps Internet for Customer Input in Finishing the 2008 500
In Europe, Fiat is still alive if struggling, though the company left North America years ago. They are creating a new minicar for the 2008 model year that revives a well-loved old name for the company, the 500, and on May 2, 2006, launched an interactive consumer site promoting the upcoming model, www.fiat500.com. Though the 500 is not coming to the States, we at VehicleVoice and AutoPacific couldn’t resist checking this site out for ourselves, and sharing it with you. The future will only hold more sites along these lines, but for now they are uncommon and exciting.

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The 500 itself is not relevant for the U.S. market. Some U.S. buyers may be willing to go smaller as gas gets more expensive, but not likely this small. Still, Fiat’s approach to launching the car and gathering consumer input is innovative and a model other manufacturers can take inspiration from. We find this heavily and truly interactive, user-friendly launch site very intriguing.
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This new site has the mission of getting people interested and excited about the new car, as well as gathering and testing the product’s direction. People from everywhere can choose their language, redesign the site’s homepage, enter their own 500 stories in the “500-ology” section, participate in a design contest coordinated with Designboom (an independent industrial design web magazine), and configure their own version in the concept car lab. Once you’ve created a new look for the homepage, or your own wacky car in the Concept Car lab, you can save it for others to use, view, and comment on. If you like someone else’s design for the homepage, you can adopt it as your own. If you almost like someone else’s Concept Car, you can order it up and tweak it yet again to make it your own.
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As we write this blog on May 3, initial response is outstanding. The saved Concept Cars and home pages are growing quickly. There were more than 260 Concept Cars in the lab’s gallery. In the 500-ology section, we found nearly forty comments posted, in a variety of languages, most not English. Individual homepage redesigns are slower in being added, but they are there.
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500HP for Ford Shelby GT500

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Ford Announces Official Certification
Though when the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang was introduced at the 2006 Detroit auto show, Ford only promised 475HP from the supercharged V8. Now that final certification testing is complete, the announcement has been made: 500HP and 480 lb-ft of torque for the 2007 GT500, which easily makes it the fastest factory-built Mustang ever. If you’re a Mustang fan, this is the car you want.

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The 500HP comes from a 5.4L DOHC 32v V8 that borrows from the Ford GT supercar engine. The V8 has an iron block and aluminum heads, with a cast iron exhaust manifold and forged steel crankshaft. GT borrowed parts include four-valve cylinder heads, piston rings, and bearings. The power is boosted with a Roots-type supercharger with 9 psi boost. The engine is being built at Ford’s Romeo, Michigan, plant. The full 500HP peaks at 6000 rpm, with the full torque available at 4500 rpm.
“With 500HP and the Shelby name, this car is an instant legend,” noted Hau Thai-Tang, director, Advanced Product Creation & SVT programs. “This is the most powerful, most capable Mustang ever.”
Given that someone already paid $600,000 for the rights to buy the first unit at a charity auction, this car is certainly launching to lofty expectations. (That is $600,000 for the chance to buy the first car, which does not indicate it actually includes the cost of the car.) Pricing will be announced closer to launch. The charity? Carroll Shelby’s Children’s Foundation, of course.
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Tire Safety Week

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Did you know that the week of April 23 was Tire Safety Week? Most folks don’t know that. But tire safety is a very important subject.
Most folks think that tires are just round and black and usually don’t pay much attention to them, but tires are your only contact with the road and your driving safety depends largely on the performance of your tires. You can have the best handlng car in the world, but if you are running on unsafe tires you are courting trouble.
Check the Air Pressure in Your Tires
Auto industry professionals agree with the tire companies. You should check your tires at least once a month. What should you check? First check the air pressure in your tires. This is easy to do. Maybe you’ll get your hands dirty, but the alternative can be grim. If your tires are underinflated, they will tend to run hotter than they should. This could lead to a blow-out. The recommended tire pressure for your vehicle is found on a label on the door jamb. Follow this recommendation, and you should optimize the life of your tires.
Check the Tread Depth
Tires with a lot of mileage on them may be running out of tread depth. When your tread wears down you can more easily lose traction in slippery road conditions. Also, a worn tire will heat up and is prone to failure. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head when you put a penny in the tread, you don’t have enough tread depth. At this point, you should strongly consider replacing your tires.

Tires Can Also Wear Out from Age

Several auto manufacturers have recently recommended that you replace any tire that is over six years of age no matter what its tread depth is. In Japan, some companies recommend a longer period – ten years. In any event, common sense prevails. If the sidewalls of your tires are showing small cracks it’s a good idea to take them to your tire dealer and have them inspected.
Air Pressure in Tires Also Can Impact Fuel Economy
Each month, VehicleVoice surveys members to determine what they have done to improve their fuel economy. With gas prices skyrocketing, we expected to see a high percentage of panel members checking their tire pressure to maximize fuel economy. Wrong. Based on the results from our Fuel Price Impact Survey, not enough of you check air pressure. So, for economy’s sake – and safety’s sake – check your air pressure and tread depth monthly.


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Acura Goes Racing

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Acura ALMS Race Car Enters Stage Left
Acura used its time at the 2006 New York auto show to formally introduce its 2007 RDX, which goes on sale in summer 2006; tease us with a near-production-but-still-concept version of the 2007 MDX (on sale in fall); and to announce it will enter into the American Le Mans Series in 2007. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific contributors were on hand when the racing engine roared to life on the stand.

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Following the overview and reveal of the two SUV products, which had been announced before the show, Acura surprised one and all with a racing car hidden off to the left side of the stage. The decision to go racing with the Acura brand follows Lexus and Audi fielding teams, and comes before the next-generation NSX. Though the NSX has been sold as a Honda outside of North America all of its long years, the Acura brand is going global and the NSX replacement will more likely wear the Acura badge world wide. Acura will use a 3.4L V8 for its LMP2 car and develop the chassis with Lola and Courage. Step two will be to build a LMP1 car and earn an invite to the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France.
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Acura Shows Off 2007 RDX SUV

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2007 RDX Share Center Stage with MD-X Concept at New York
Acura used its time at the 2006 New York auto show to formally introduce its 2007 RDX, which goes on sale in summer 2006 and tease us with a near-production-but-still-concept version of the 2007 MDX (on sale in fall). VehicleVoice and AutoPacific contributors were on hand when the new Acura SUV lineup went on display.

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RDX Brings Acura a Small SUV
This vehicle comes to market wearing the name RDX, similar to the RD-X concept cars of 2005 and of 2002. At the 2006 Detroit auto show a near-production model was shown, followed by the production car at the 2006 New York auto show in April. Sales begin in summer 2006. The first two RD-X concepts explored the needs of what Acura calls active urban professionals, with the 2005 concept more realistic than the first. The 2006 Detroit concept was clearly the closest of all. The philosophy is to combine sports sedan performance with the utility of an SUV, in theory more akin to a smaller Infiniti FX than to a Toyota RAV4, and has the BMW X3 in its sights.


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Ford's New 3.5L V6 Finally Puts Out

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When Ford announced its new 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 engine, many were underwhelmed by its 250-horsepower output. After all, similar displacement modern V6s from Ford’s Japanese competitors have achieved that level of output for years. Gads, even Japanese Minivans were approaching 250-horsepower with the Honda Odyssey at 244-horsepower. The Acura MDX gets 253HP from 3.5L. The Nissan Altima gets 265 from 3.5L.
Those of us at AutoPacific and VehicleVoice were wondering if Ford just didn’t get it. Couldn’t they read competitive specifications?
Ford’s New 3.5L V6 Gets 265-Horsepower
Well, Ford finally has let the “official horsepower” number slip and it’s good news. The 3.5L V6 gets 265-horsepower on regular grade fuel. That means the first vehicles to get it should feel pretty darn nice. Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX and Lincoln MKZ all get the new powerplant. And, Ford says that the 3.5L will be its high volume powerplant of the future.
Hope it feels as good as it sounds.


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Mustang Racer for Rent at Hertz

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Special Editions and Hertz Rentals
Part of Ford’s strategy to keep Mustang fresh involves special editions rather than a specific facelift or minor change. Implementing the strategy included Ford’s introduction at the 2006 New York auto show of a Mustang being built specifically for the Hertz rental fleet, with the help of Carroll Shelby. About 500 examples of the Shelby Mustang GT-H will be built and put in service through Hertz‘s Fun Collection in rental fleets across the nation. Just to make sure they are easily to spot, they are painted black with gold stripes, the colors of Hertz. This is a partner project between Ford, Shelby Automobiles, and the Hertz Corporation. Ford supplies the V8 Mustang to Shelby Automobiles, where the Shelby and Ford Racing Performance Parts are installed, and then Hertz rents the cars. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice contributors were in New York for the show, and here are some pictures and information we found.

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Nissan GT-R On Its Way to Dealerships – Out of Video Games

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Nissan GT-R Comes to the States
Video racing games and word-of-mouth have elevated prior generations of the Nissan Skyline GT-R to iconic status, though the entry has not yet been offered in the States. This finally changes with the new GT-R. Though Nissan looked long and hard at bringing the GT-R to the States through the Infiniti channel, tradition won out. At the 2006 New York auto show, Nissan announced the 2009 Nissan GT-R will arrive in North American Nissan dealers in spring 2008. A concept version was shown at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents were there to see it, and here’s how it looked on Nissan’s home-turf stand.

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GT-R Was Almost an Infiniti
Before the announcement, speculation reported the car as both a Nissan and an Infiniti. The primary benefit for putting the car in the hands of Infiniti dealers was the luxury brand experience and that Infiniti dealers are better-equipped to deal with customers looking for a relatively expensive, high-end sports car. Nissan has the 350Z, which comes with a base price just above $40,000 when the convertible is selected. The production GT-R is likely to play in a price range closer to Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Viper.
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Based on the same platform that spawned the Nissan 350Z, Infiniti G35, and Infiniti FX SUV, the GT-R promises to capable of taking on the likes of the Lexus SC430 and Cadillac XLR. Styling is distinct from the G35/Skyline to help enable dramatically different positioning.
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2007 Lexus LS Raises the Bar for Safety and Luxury

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Standard and Optional Features Should Significantly Reduce Accidents Small and Large
Though not all of the details have been revealed regarding the fourth-generation Lexus LS sedan, at the Detroit auto show Lexus uncovered styling and gave us a peek at some new luxury features. In Geneva, more information on the big car’s safety systems was revealed. Just around the corner, at the New York auto show in April, the LS hybrid will be unveiled. Lexus has also announced that the new LS will be offered in two wheelbase lengths, something new to the Lexus strategy but which entries like the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class long have done (although Mercedes sells only the long wheelbase version of the S-Class in the USA). AutoPacific and Vehicle Voice give you a brief preview of some of the upcoming wow! systems Lexus buyers will soon get to choose from.

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Counterpoint – the Devil’s Advocate
After you read the following summary of the technology coming on the 2007 Lexus LS, ask yourself these questions, “Is this technology necessary? Will this technology significantly enhance the driving experience? How expensive will all these wow! systems be? How reliable will they be? Are Lexus engineers answering questions no one is asking?”
In AutoPacific research there appears to be an undercurrent that some drivers are beginning to push back at technology that tries to do too much. “Why do I need that,” one Mercedes driver may ask. A 7-Series driver brags that they have mastered the audio functions of iDrive after owning the car for five months and is looking forward to now learning how to learn the navigation functions. A Mercedes driver complains that the “car is taking over control” and says he’ll buy something different next time. Then, there is the luxury car owner that asks, “Why is a $25,000 car like the Honda Accord never in the shop, but my $70,000 7-Series always there?” Technology needed? Or technology run amok?


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