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Exhaust Note #18: $117,000 Chevrolet, Anyone?

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It seems that VehicleVoice, along with most other publications, are becoming overindulgent with conversations on how skyrocketing fuel costs are destroying our lives. On my way in to the office Friday, I heard oil broke the $140 mark. The situation isn’t getting any better.
But, though I may be alone, I’m tired of talking about high gas prices. Really, really tired of the subject. Eye-wateringly-high gas prices are likely here to stay. We all know this, and new-car buyers are dealing with it. Most either by delaying a new-vehicle purchase or by buying something more fuel efficient, both options that add to the woes of a difficult industry, but the subject has been beat to death.

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Was a $100,000-plus Chevrolet inevitable?

I’m pretty sure we’ll talk about gas prices again, but this week we take a break from that painful subject. This week, Exhaust Note looks at the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, specifically at pricing of the supercar from America’s heartland. We haven’t driven it, but we can talk about pricing. This 638HP beast gets a base price of $103,300. Not including $1700 gas-guzzler tax but including destination charges. Really and truly. A Chevrolet with a base price above $100,000. And I bet you thought the Z06 had a notably significant base price when it launched for 2006MY at $65,800.


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Exhaust Note #17: Driving…You'll always be #1 to me

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There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind anymore: fuel prices have reached a level where people’s driving habits are beginning to change significantly. We at VehicleVoice have conducted our own research that quantifies just how much people’s attitudes towards driving have changed as a result of these high fuel prices. And indeed, my own habits have changed drastically.

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Image courtesy of Getty Images

You see, I’ve always loved driving. More than most other things. Ever since receiving my driver’s license, there has been nothing I’ve loved more than jumping into the driver’s seat and just driving. It didn’t matter where to, or whether I was alone or with others…I simply have always loved piloting a vehicle. Today however, fuel prices and my own personal views on oil issues have conspired to put the brakes on my old favorite past-time. Nowadays, I only drive when I have to. I combine trips and try not to make any unnecessary extraneous ones. Of course, I savor every moment of those necessary trips because those represent my times to simply enjoy being behind the wheel.

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Exhaust Note #16: Electric Cars and Power Outages

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Five Days without Power, and I Wonder…
Some terrific storms blew through the Midwest this week, with more to come today. Many areas have seen more dramatic devetastation, like the house in Wisconsin that literally floated away in a flooding lake, but Michigan’s storms meant power outages across the region. Our local energy provider, DTE Energy, has been unimpressive in their effort to restore power to the 320,000 or so customers who lost service during storms over the weekend. By Friday, there are “only” 30,000 left without power. Unfortunately for us, we’re in that number, with our restoration estimate just bumped to Saturday at midnight. I’m writing and posting this from my office, which never lost power.
It occurs, as I sit in my nice electrically air-conditioned office, typing on my electrically powered laptop, and about to post this story, that if I relied electric car, I wouldn’t have been able to get to work today. Not after five days without a source at home for recharging the car.
Some have hope that electricity is a large part of the answer for vehicle transportation in a world of $4-plus gas and environmental concerns, on top of all the other things we rely on electricity for, with lots of interest in plug-in hybrids as well. While serial hybrids like the Chevy Volt would stand a chance in this situation, because it can use the gasoline engine for motive power and for recharging the electric motor, but what happens if you can’t recharge your Tesla?

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Exhaust Note #15: High Gas Prices Stink, But Don't Forget About the Tech

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A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out my email inbox – something I’d meant to do for years – and happened upon one particular old email I had written to a friend in 2002 while I was vacationing in Germany. I spoke of my rental car, a Mercedes-Benz C180 (yes, that’s a C-Class with a 1.8 liter normally aspirated 4-cylinder and about 130HP), and how the fuel prices over there necessitated these fuel sipping engines in vehicles that we Americans think of as pretty upscale. Specifically, I referred to “Germany’s $4 per gallon gasoline” and its impacts on vehicle choice in that part of the world.

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Exhaust Note #14: Free Fries with Your Big Mac, Turn Left Now

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In-Car Advertising is Next
It’s not really any surprise that in-car ads are coming, but we don’t see them as an improvement in our driving lives. Conventional wisdom says our world is a never-ending rush of information and we live in a constant state of motion. We also don’t really want to pay for information; information is supposed to be nearly free, and our access unfettered. Further, with all this information coming in, we don’t really have time to bother sifting through it all.
Marketers to the rescue!

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Newspapers, radio, TV, and the Internet have all taught us that information is cheap, it only costs the effort to sit through (or filter out) a few ads, and in-car infotainment systems are the next new advertising vehicle.
Under the guise of trying to be really helpful, advertisers are looking to reach you through your in-car navigation system. The software developers are pitching this as a way to offset further software development costs, make systems affordable, and as a workaround for monthly fees. The ability schedule an oil change from your car might be brought to you by Penzoil or Jiffy Lube. Or your hair appointment by Pantene. Or a search for a restaurant brings an ad for McDonald’s.
In-car ads sound annoying at best and a drive distraction at worst, but living with that kind of clutter elsewhere hasn’t slowed use in the slightest. Google and Yahoo list search results with sponsored links above non-sponsored, and it is an accepted part of the game.


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Exhaust Note #13: Are Gas Prices Affecting Your Memorial Day?

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We’re Not Taking a Road Trip, Are You?
Like most of the country, we’re off on Memorial Day. Like many others, most of our vehiclevoice.com contributors will be staying close to home. With the national average at $3.87 on Friday afternoon, AAA tells us that the gas prices are causing about a 1% decline in the number of people traveling by car for the holiday. CNN even made up a new word to describe it: stay-cations. I, for one, hope that silly bit doesn’t take hold in our collective slang.

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Memorial day travels…during less expensive times

AAA says the last time there was a decline in Memorial Day travel plans was in 2002, after 9/11, and this bucks a trend of increased travel. At that point, there was also some concern over fuel prices, the economy, and our future, though most to a less urgent degree than now. Last year, it seemed, people more or less felt they could shave some cost elsewhere on the trip to make up for it. This year, it appears more will opt to stay home. Anecdotally, our own Jim Hossack noted far fewer RVs traveling this year during his annual early May road trip.
The mood of the country seems to be understandably skittish; the economy is struggling, many homeowners are still dealing with the mortgage crunch, gas price increases are scaring people as well as confusing them, and, being an election year, there’s the air of uncertainty regarding the direction of the next administration.
Deloitte & Touche also released stats on expected travel, indicating about 25% of Americans still planned to travel, but that about 12% had canceled plans because of fuel costs. Airline travel looks to be down as well, as increased fares and fees show up for airlines struggling with the same fuel-cost increases.
My thoughts: Fuel cost is impacting plans, clearly, but it seems to be the uncertainty as much as the cost itself. We don’t know when these increasing prices will stabilize, we don’t know who will be running the White House next year, and it seems all the economic news is bad. If the economy itself was sound or fuel costs were stable, people would be more likely to adapt and find a way to go where they wanted. In the midst of uncertainty, though, spending money on vacation seems like something we can put off for now.
What about you? How are you spending Memorial Day?


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Exhaust Note #12: The Optimistic Convertible Falters

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Last week, R.L. Polk & Co. reported that convertible registrations had dropped 8.6% in 2007. In a 16.1 million-unit year, convertible registrations dropped below 300,000 units, or about 2% total light vehicle market share. AutoPacific, VehicleVoice’s parent company, can predict with near certainty that convertible registrations will be lower yet this year – if only because overall industry sales will almost certainly end up well under 15 million units – a decline of at least 1.1 million units over 2007CY.
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Exhaust Note #11 – When Did Small Vehicles Get So…Nice?

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Automotive technology always seems to trickle down from the high end. And why shouldn’t it? Expensive and innovative technologies typically appear in luxury vehicles first, but as they increase in popularity and volume, economies of scale ultimately make them financially viable to mainstream consumers.
Coincidentally, a whole host of formerly pricey accoutrements are making their way into small vehicles at a time when interest in small vehicles is increasing. Yes, fuel prices have a lot to do with increased consumer interest in smaller vehicles, but it’s also a steadily increasing number of young, Generation Y first time buyers coming into the marketplace.

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Just last week, Suzuki announced that navigation will be standard – yes, standard – in the 2009 Suzuki SX4, their little entry level car. And it’s no bare bones nav either – it includes all the latest in navigation technology, such as real time traffic, weather, local events, and integrated Bluetooth for your cell phone, which is also capable of reading your text messages to you. Developed by Garmin and Microsoft, Suzuki’s T.R.I.P. (travel, real-time traffic, information and play) system incorporates infotainment features that many luxury cars don’t even offer yet. You can bet that similar technology will soon be available (if not standard) in competing small vehicles in the near future.

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Exhaust Note #8: American Axle Hasn’t Flinched

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I’ve never owned a major manufacturing corporation worth millions, never employed Union workers and I’ve never played the game of ‘Chicken’; but I’ve heard all are risky endeavors. In the case of American Axle they are dealing with all three variables concurrently. They are said to be ‘sitting on “$344 Million” (AN), employing 3,650 UAW members and American Axle CEO Richard Dauch is currently playing ‘Chicken’ with UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. Are we taking bets? I’m really trying to figure out what I would do in either position and whose side I’m really on.

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What happened?
Since February 26 all 3,650 UAW member walked off the job leaving American Axle production in a lurch. In the last two months this strike has affected progress at as many as 30 GM plants. American Axle produces parts for GM’s full-size pickups and SUVs, the hot new Chevrolet Malibu, and many others. This means almost 50K GM employees have been affected.


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Exhaust Note #5: The Death of the Truly Crummy Car

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So I’ve spent all this week in the city some of us at the office like to call Detwah…that’s Detroit to all you ‘Murrican speakers out there. Looking to save a few bucks for VehicleVoice, I reserved the lowest class of automobile (Economy) knowing that rental companies usually stock only a few of them – usually resulting in a free upgrade.
Well, that didn’t happen this time. I reserved a Chevrolet Aveo, and instead of getting the usual free upgrade to something bigger and nicer, I got…wait for it…a Chevrolet Aveo. Rats!

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