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Chevrolet Corvette Wins AutoPacific 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Sports Cars:

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Owners of the new C6 return the Chevrolet Corvette sports car to the top of the Sports Car category in the AutoPacific 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Award with a decisive class-winning performance for 2006. The new Corvette is perhaps the best value in the entire Sports Car arena. The C6 Corvette is a more satisfying car than any previous Corvette – great styling, more finesse, super performance, great handling and a more supple ride. Still immediately identifiable as a Corvette, the C6 is clearly new across the board.


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Suzuki Reinvents the XL7 and Shows New Entry AWD SX4

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XL7 Was the Star, But SX4 Made U.S. Debut in New York
Suzuki‘s show stand at the New York auto show introduced two new entries for their 2007 model year lineup, one at the entry level and one to sit at the top of the range. The SX4 was officially introduced at Geneva in March and its small size means it will be a lower-volume vehicle for Suzuki, so the XL7 had top billing in New York. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific were there in the audience and got to take our first look at the new entries.
Has Suzuki Finally Solved the Equation for Success?
Point, Counterpoint… more Point: With these two new entries it appears that Suzuki may finally hit stride in the United States. Well styled and well priced, the concept for each of these new SUVs seems to be on target. No longer does Suzuki have to apologize for weirdly styled and packaged SUVs. These are mainstream and competitive – at least from a styling and package perspective. In the final analysis, it may be how well they drive.
SX4: AWD for $15,000
The SX4 is based on a European Suzuki product called the Swift, which is a small front-drive car. Suzuki is targeting the $15,000 to $18,000 price ladder for this entry product, though pricing will be finalized closer to launch. The powertrain is a 2.0L DOHC four-cylinder, standard with a five-speed manual or optional with a four-speed automatic. The SX4 slots in below the Grand Vitara and functionally takes the place of the Aerio all-wheel-drive wagon, which is being dropped. We covered the SX4 in a previous VehicleVoice blog entry.

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Suzuki’s First Mid-Size SUV Offers Real Room for Seven
The real news for Suzuki in New York was the XL7, which the company reinvented with help from GM, losing the small, truck-based package and gaining a product that seems just right for the market today. The XL7 takes advantage of Suzuki’s involvement in the joint GM-Suzuki CAMI plant in Ontario, Canada. The previous Grand Vitara was kicked out when GM started building the Theta-based Chevrolet Equinox at the facility. In the form of the XL7, Suzuki adds a variant of the Chevrolet Equinox, though the XL7 takes the package further and offers more seats and more power.
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With a new platform also comes a minor change to the name: The old, truck-based version was spelled XL-7. With the 2007MY, Suzuki dropped the dash and the model is now just XL7.
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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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Let’s Talk Cars: Brand Consideration and the new Lexus GS450h

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Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars”

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This week on Let’s Talk Cars, it’s all about consideration, brand consideration that is. AutoPacific founder and president George Peterson and VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall have another go at polite conversation while tackling a new AutoPacific consumer survey that has American automotive manufacturers slipping, Mercedes tanking, and Toyota doing back flips, albeit in a deprivation tank.
And with 91 octane fuel going for well over $3 a gallon in California, we give you the Lexus GS450h – the newest hybrid from the luxury arm of Toyota. Worth the money? Hear what Jim and George have to say.
Show Rundown
01:52 Brand Consideration Research – VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall and AutoPacific president and founder, George Peterson
16:00 Lexus GS450h – VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall and AutoPacific president and founder, George Peterson


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SUV Jihad Continues as SUV Segment Atomizes

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Back in November 2005, a VehicleVoice Blog commented on the existence of a periodic jihad on sport utility vehicles in the USA and worldwide. The introduction of General Motors’ GMT900 SUVs – the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, plus the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV have set the earth-is-flat crowd wailing again.

Audi Q7 Latest Target of SUV Jihad… This Time From British – Austrian Axis

But June 2006 intro of the Audi Q7 in the USA following its earlier introduction in Europe also will be watched closely. As Audi is about the last major brand to add an SUV to its lineup, it is a fresh target for the anti-SUV crowd. The March 2006 issue of CAR Magazine is a case in point. Georg Kacher, a 6-foot, 13-inch Austrian based in Germany, writes, “Big, heavy, chunky, aggressive, unwieldy – SUVs deplete our resources, tear up the countryside and flatten whatever they hit.

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So why does a company like Audi, renowned for advanced engineering enter this bad karma segment?”
Because the market is allegedly craving a mud-crawler made in Ingolstadt, and because Audi firmly believes it can add a new dimension to the SUV game.”
As with many non-USA automotive journalists and even American buff book scribes, Kacher’s loathing of SUVs is mis-directed.
SUVs respond more to customer pull than manufacturer push. After the demise of station wagons (or estates as the Europeans so lovingly call them) and the image black hole called Minivans, came sport utility vehicles. These jack-of-all-trades vehicles carry people and stuff with aplomb. Well… more aplomb today than at any time in the past when they were admittedly crude trucks with a closed in cargo area. They go anywhere, anytime, with anyone, carrying anything within reason. They come in all flavors from the late and not particularly lamented Ford Excursion to the Suzuki Vitara. Populated between the Excursion and Vitara are SUVs of every ilk. Some are suited for suburban streets only. Some are rock crawlers. Some are designed to tow horse trailers and boats.
The beauty of SUVs is the breadth of choice within the segment. The SUV buyer has the luxury of choosing between more brands and more models than ever before. Like the overall auto industry, the larger SUV segment is atomizing into smaller and smaller niche entries.
Choice is good and Audi is welcomed.


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2007MY Chevy Suburban Continues Value Pricing

Pricing for 2007MY Suburban Follows Tahoe with a Drop in MSRP
According to an announcement from Chevrolet, a comparably equipped 2006 Chevrolet Suburban LS was $2550 more expensive than a 2007MY LS. This may well be true for the new Suburban’s MSRP, but the transaction price for the outgoing SUV was far lower than MSRP, sometimes varying appreciably from month to month. GM’s new approach to pricing is logical, whether customers can be weaned off incentives or not. If your vehicles almost never sell for full price and there is a significant difference between transaction prices and MSRP, the MSRP is clearly set above what customers are willing to pay. Moving MSRP and transaction prices closer together, in the long term, should improve the image of the brand. Some buyers will feel smart for getting the “great deal” incentives can appear to be, but others are turned off by constant loud and dramatic incentives.
While a 2006 Suburban 1500 4WD started at about $42,500, the LTZ package (which included the 6.0L engine) also added almost $11,000 to the price. For 2007, Chevrolet says the 4WD LTZ starts at $48,455. Though the trim package components may have shifted a bit, both LTZs get the bigger engine and there is a price drop between the models.

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The reduced pricing strategy is supposed to help Chevrolet and GM reduce their dependence on rebates, incentives, a deal-of-a-lifetime sale periods, like last fall’s Employee Pricing for everyone and even the $5500 hundred sitting on the hoods of 2006 Suburbans through at least the end of February. Dropping the price by something in the neighborhood of $2500 can earn some goodwill as well as setting themselves up for potentially smaller rebates if they are needed down the road. Whether this really works with customers now conditioned to blow-out sales and large incentives remains to be seen.
Read on for the official Chevrolet 2007 Suburban pricing release.


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Chevrolet Avalanche – New Look and New Engines for Chevy's Jack-of-all-Trades

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Latest Avalanche Matures
At the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, Chevrolet took the wraps off the second-generation Avalanche. The Avalanche introduction was overshadowed by Toyota’s much-anticipated Tundra launch, but as Chevrolet sold about 379,500 units between its spring 2001 launch and December 2005, the truck is certainly important in its own right. The latest Avalanche goes on sale in the second quarter of 2006.
We have not had the opportunity to drive the updated Tahoe, GMC Yukon, or Cadillac Escalade, but initial accounts from our friends in the industry are that the new products are terrific to drive. Expectations are high for an equally enthusiastic response to the Avalanche.

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Avalanche gets the same updates its sibling SUVs (Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, and all three Cadillac Escalade products) see for 2007 model year, which GM promises improve ride and handling, improved fuel economy from more powerful engines, and a more refined interior. The first Avalanche took on a face more like the Silverado pickup truck, but this second-generation aligns itself with the SUVs by taking on a face more similar to the Tahoe.


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Motorweek 2006 Driver's Choice Awards

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Motorweek, the PBS-oriented car show, announced the winners of its 2006 Driver’s Choice Awards at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show. It will be interesting to see how these winners correspond to the owner awards from VehicleVoice and AutoPacific. The surveys for the annual AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award are in the field during the 1st Quarter 2006 and winners will be announced in early May.
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Their winners include:
Best of the Year: Honda Civic
Best Small Car: Honda Civic
Best Family Sedan: Hyundai Sonata
Best Minivan: Honda Odyssey
Best Convertible: Pontiac Solstice
Best Luxury Sedan: Infiniti M-Series
Best Sports Sedan: BMW 3-Series
Best Performance Car: Ford Mustang
Best Small Sport Utility Vehicle: Toyota RAV4 (guess they didn’t measure it… Mid-Size SUV now)
Best Family Sport Utility Vehicle: Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
Best Pickup Truck: Ford F-150
Best Eco-Friendly: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Best Dream Machine: Chevrolet Corvette ZO6, Dodge Viper SRT10 Coupe, Ferrari F430
Special Category: Most Jane Car: BMW 3-Series


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2007 Ford Expedition and Expedition EL

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With Ford and GM easily dominating the full-size SUV segment and both companies offering heavily revised and improved entries for the 2007 model year, it is a good time to be a large-SUV buyer. Beyond the updates to Expedition and the GM lineup (GMC Yukon/Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban), Chrysler joins the fray with the Aspen and change is in the wind for the Toyota Sequoia soon as well. Though the sheer number of people buying full-size SUVs is shrinking in the current climate of fuel-cost concerns and an uncertain economy, there are still customers whose lives demand the level of utility that can only be found in a vehicle this large, and these buyers have lots of new toys to pick from this fall.
Ford has released much of the information on the new Expedition, which reaches showrooms in fall 2006 in two lengths. With the 2007MY, Ford buyers can go from Escape to Edge to Explorer to Expedition to Expedition XL in their search for their own “just right” sized SUV.

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VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific president George Peterson has had considerable experience with the Ford Expedition, having leased four in a row until he decided he was in a rut. Will the new Expedition be enough of a change to get him out of his CAR and back into an SUV? Time will tell.


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Car & Driver – 10Best Cars 2006

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Every year, Car & Driver, one of the high circulation car enthusiast magazines in the United States, publishes the results of its 10Best awards. The 2006 10Best Cars awards were released in the January 2006 issue of Car & Driver and you can find them on the C&D website at (http://www.caranddriver.com/article.asp?section_id=33&article_id=10354)
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Not having looked at the winners prior to writing this blog, VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff conjectured about what types of cars Car & Driver would select.
We knew that, being a buff book, they’d select cars that appealed to the enthusiast, maybe throw one or two mundane winners into the mix, be heavy on import marques and generally favor smaller cars. Lets see how accurate we were?
BEST SPORTS SEDAN – Acura TSX
BEST SPORT COMPACT- Audi A3
BEST LUXURY SPORTS SEDAN – BMW 3-Series
BEST PERFORMANCE CAR – Chevrolet Corvette
BEST FULL SIZE SEDAN – Chrysler 300
BEST MUSCLE CAR – Ford Mustang GT
BEST FAMILY SEDAN – Honda Accord
BEST ROADSTER – Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
BEST SPORTS COUPE – Mazda RX-8
BEST LUXURY SPORTS CAR – Porsche Boxster
So, lets see, seven are import brands, 3 of the imports are from Germany and four are from Japan. Mazda picks up two wins with its sports cars.


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