Category Archive:

Toyota Juggernaut – Flurry of Intros in ’06

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We have all been following the press accounts of Toyota becoming the top producing vehicle manufacturer in the world in 2006 and we have heard statements by Toyota management that Toyota is going to become more aggressive in the future. Historically, Toyota has taken a relatively humble and mild stance to its growing presence worldwide and in the USA particularly, but in 2003 the gloves came off with Toyota Motor Sales USA taking a higher profile. Their pace of advance will quicken substantially in 2006.
VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific‘s President George Peterson takes a quick look at Toyota’s 2006 plans.
Toyota Has Guns Blazing in 2006
It looks like the 2007 model year is going to be the year when Toyota really comes in with all guns blazing. I guess that we can’t include the all new RAV4, now moving upmarket and sporting a 3.5L V6 engine as part of the onslaught. It was launched in late 2005 as a 2006 model. The new RAV4 is outstanding and is reported to be the fastest vehicle carrying a Toyota badge today.
During 2006, the 2007 models will be introduced starting with the all new Yaris, major change for the Camry, launch of an all new hybrid Toyota Camry, launch of the all new FJ Cruiser, launch of a truly competitive full size pickup, launch of a new Lexus ES330 and new Lexus LS460.
AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo sums it up well in his observations of Toyota, “We’re not only going to tell you what play we’re going to run, we’re going to ram the ball down your throats knowing that there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop us. What can you say about Toyota other than that they continue in their relentless pursuit of world domination, and there appears to be no one capable of standing in their way?”
Lets touch on each of these in order of launch…


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Mobile Electronics Firms Fight to Stay Ahead in ICE

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During the past decade, automobile manufacturers have made great strides improving the quality of in-car entertainment, otherwise known as ICE. Today, you can purchase or lease a car, truck or SUV with in-car audio, video, and game connectivity, even including brand names like Harmon-Kardon and JBL.

At first, you might think this new round factory sound and vision might spell doom for third party companies who offer in-car entertainment systems. At this year’s CES in Las Vegas, the mobile electronics industry was putting on its best face relative to ICE, and manufacturers were touting the advantages of “do it yourself” entertainment.


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Mercedes-Benz Introduces a New Clean Diesel System

Bluetec: Has Mercedes Developed a Global Clean Diesel System?
There were several Bluetec-equipped vehicles on DaimlerChrysler company stands at the 2006 North American International Auto Show this January, including a Jeep Grand Cherokee Bluetec, the E320 Bluetec, and the concept Vision GL320 Bluetec. AutoPacific explains a bit about this system and where U.S. consumers might see it in real applications.
The Bluetec system is the result of Mercedes search for a diesel emission-control system that can be applied worldwide, meeting federal and market conditions that vary from country to country. The overall difficulty with diesel is the amount of aftertreatment required to lower emissions to levels required by various governments, and how expensive these processes can be.


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Navigation Systems Go Portable

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At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the growth of new electronic gadgets for cars and trucks was hard to miss. Flashy cars, pretty girls, and subwoofers the size of a 1955 Buick were in nearly every aisle. One of the most interesting new product segments to emerge is that of add-on portable navigation.

VehicleVoice decided to investigate these hand-held, 12-volt, talking direction boxes and what we found was very interesting. As our panelist membership probably already knows, in-car navigation is becoming a common option for all kinds of vehicles. Often, these manufacturer-installed devices are price-heavy as well. In some cases, a navigation add-on can cost upwards of $2,000. In other cases, “NAV” is only available in larger “packages” of options, further pushing the price upwards – even to the $7,000 price point (Infinity Technology Package). What surprised us the most was that many of the hand-held nav manufacturers claimed that many of their customers are foregoing their built-in nav systems for new ones that are portable.


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Consumer Panic Subsides With Declining Fuel Prices

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Since reaching a peak in September, the price of gasoline in the United States continued to decline through mid-December and drivers are reacting to these moderating fuel prices. The December 2005 Fuel Price Impact Survey conducted by AutoPacific’s (http://www.autopacific.com) VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) confirms that many consumers are paying less for gasoline but are still very aware of the long term effects of gasoline priced above $2 per gallon. The Fuel Price Impact Survey is based on the results of a VehicleVoice Internet survey with 1,122 respondents who completed the survey between December 13 and December 19, 2005.

Actual fuel price continue downward since September peak

In the last month the median price respondents say they paid for fuel has declined by about 11¢ per gallon (to $2.22) following a dramatic 50¢ per gallon decrease in November. The median price they expect to pay one year from now has decreased by another 8¢ per gallon to $2.45.
Shift away from SUVs now moderating
Many drivers reconsider the types of vehicles they are driving when fuel prices spike higher. Drivers of sport utility vehicles represent about 25% of the total car market today. In September, when fuel prices peaked, about 27% of SUV drivers indicated they would consider shifting the type of vehicle they drive to something more fuel efficient. The vehicle segments most likely to benefit from this migration are Mid-Size Cars and Small Cars both up 25%. While the data do not show a direct relationship of drivers moving from SUVs to more fuel efficient cars, there is a clear tendency for drivers to consider moving from less fuel-efficient segments to vehicle types that get better gas mileage.
Drivers considering shift to hybrids, but 6-cylinders remain “sweet spot”
About 18% of drivers having vehicles powered by V8 engines say they will shift to more fuel-efficient engines, down from 25% in September. But 27% of drivers of vehicles with gas-sipping 4-cylinder engines also say they will consider changing. The transition for both is towards 6-cylinder engines and hybrids. Hybrid-powered vehicles will be considered by 12% of the respondents, down slightly from the 15% peak in the October survey. This is a reaction to the continuing positive media attention surrounding hybrid-powered vehicles and the public’s perception that hybrids are an answer to higher fuel prices. There is also somewhat more interest in diesel engines, though significantly less than the level of interest in a gas-electric hybrid.
High fuel price still seen as BAD for America!
The culprits identified by the respondents as contributing to high fuel prices remain Big Oil Companies, OPEC, Natural Disasters and Limited Refining Capacity. When asked whether high fuel prices are good or bad for America, 73% say that high fuel prices are “bad for America”, down from 80% in the September survey. In the land where roads have been paved by unlimited cheap gas, attitudes are that conservation stimulated by higher gasoline prices is not the popular way to go. Higher fuel prices might actually encourage conservation, reduce pollution and provide the Middle East with less money to use against American interests, but respondents don’t see it that way, and vote their pocketbook.


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Bugatti Veyron – 253 MPH and Still a Little Late

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For those of you who do not live in the Los Angeles Times sphere of influence, you may miss the writing of Dan Neil their Pulitizer Prize winning auto journalist. You can catch up on his reviews, Highway 1 editorials and podcasts at the LA Times website (http://www.latimes.com). This article on the upcoming launch of the Bugatti Veyron supercar is just one example of Neil’s writing.
By Dan Neil, Times Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2005
PALERMO, Sicily — At 200 mph, the Bugatti Veyron pounds a beautiful, howling hole in the sweltering haze hanging over the motorway.
This, the fastest production car in the world, is broad and low, an enameled ellipse in a spiffy two-tone paint scheme. By comparison, its now-vanquished supercar rivals, such as the Ferrari Enzo and McLaren F1, are all edges and blades and angles, like F-16 fighter planes or Japanese stunt kites.
The Veyron is not, strictly speaking, the fastest car I’ve ever driven, but the one that’s faster had a jet engine and a parachute. The guardrail to my right is blurred into a dirty stream of quicksilver. Houses fly by before my brain has time to register the word “house.”

Veyron Blog.jpg

About nine seconds ago, I was dawdling at 100 mph. Then I squeezed the throttle. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox clicked twice, the engine took a huge lung-busting toke of atmosphere through its twin roof snorkels — and then things got interesting. Something slammed me from behind and I realize it was the seat. Captain, it appears we have fallen nose-first into a wormhole.
Two-hundred mph. And I’m not even in top gear.
… house….


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NIIHS Announces Safety Winners

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The National Insurance Institute of Highway Safety announced its rankings of the ten safest 2006 model year cars on Sunday December 4, 2005. To make the ratings game easier to understand, NIIHS has developed a gold silver rating scheme. Cars receiving a GOLD rating have “Good” ratings for frontal impact, side impact and head restraints. Cars receiving a SILVER rating have “Good” ratings for frontal impact and side impacts, “Acceptable” for head restraints.
One of the key objectives for this new combined rating scheme is to push manufacturers in a subtle way towards stronger performances in all aspects of the rating game.
The winners are:
GOLD

06FiveHundred Blog.jpg

Large Cars: Ford Five Hundred, Mercury Montego
Mid-Size Cars: Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy
Small Car: Honda Civic 4-door
SILVER
Large Cars: Audi A6
Mid-Size Cars: Audi A3, Audi A4, Chevrolet Malibu with side airbags, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Passat


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VIP Auto Fashion Show Upscales Hot Import Nights

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For all card-carrying college football fans, Saturday December 3, 2005 was a day to be locked in front of the TV watching major rivalries and conference championship games. USC routed UCLA. Texas stomped Colorado. Georgia beat favored LSU. Florida State held on to beat heavily favored Virginia Tech. VT’s Coach Beamer has never beaten Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles in seven tries. He is 0-7 in the series. Wow. But enough about college football.
Inaugural VIP Auto Fashion Show

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That same day the first VIP Auto Fashion show was held in Anaheim. Its hours were from 1PM to 9PM so it was understandable that the show was pretty empty during the first hours while USC-UCLA was going on. Deciding that the rout was well on at the half, the VehicleVoice Video team headed over to Anaheim. When we got there, the score was something like 38 to 6 and by the time we got inside it was 45 to 6. Oh well, hope you weren’t for UCLA (OK, I admit I was for Florida State in the ACC Championship Game).


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Easy Drive: Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

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Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to drive the Ford Explorer, Jeep Commander, Mercury Mountaineer, and Jeep Grand Cherokee, for varying amounts of time. The Explorer and Commander experiences were shorter press preview drives, on routes chosen by the manufacturers to best showcase their vehicles. On the other hand, the Mountaineer and Grand Cherokee were in our office for about a week and I had the chance to drive them both in my normal daily environment for a couple of days.
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Dear Valued Hybrid Customer…

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This editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, November 30, 2005. Written tongue-in-cheek, Jenkins pokes fun at the hype hybrids have achieved to date. Indeed, his commentary reflects some of the perceptions gathered in our September, 2005 VehicleVoice (http://vehiclevoice.com) Hybrid Study.

Dear Valued Hybrid Customer…

Business World/by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
We at the Toyota Motor Corporation are writing to address certain misconceptions that have arisen about your Toyota Prius model, which we are proud to note is driven by many celebriies, including Prince Charles and HBO’s Larry David.
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Our pioneering gasoline-electric hybrid, introduced in 1999, has become an object of adoration to the world’s enlightened car buyers. Our competitors, including American’s Big Three, are rushing out hybrid vehicles of their own. Unconfirmed media reports say that we at Toyota intend to double our hybrid output to 500,000 vehicles next year. Along with other members of the auto industry, we will be lobbying for tax breaks and HOV privileges for hybrid vehicles.


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