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VehicleVoice #36 – Ford's New CEO, Dip in Fuel Prices, Roadtrips

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Welcome to VehicleVoice – Episode #36

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This week, our VehicleVoice audio podcast has host David Barrett sitting down with AutoPacific’s Vice President and Senior Consultant Jim Hossack for a conversation about the state of the American Auto Industry.

Jim and David chat about dropping fuel prices and the sights seen from the window during a roadtrip through the Rockies, not to mention GM’s new warranty, BMW’s new hydrogen car (is it practical?), and how renting a Mustang convertible in the Yellowstone region is a lot easier than you might think. And that’s just the beginning!

Show Runtime – 15:04

Show Rundown
00:28 GM’s recent changes – Are they turning things around?
03:33 Ford’s New CEO – Will an outsider make a difference?
07:29 Gas Prices – Why are they falling and will Americans start buying big cars again?
09:55 BMW’s New Hydrogen Car – Will it sell?
11:38 Western Mountain Road Trip – What kind of cars can you see on the road in the Rockies?


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Lincoln Resurrects Town Car – For Awhile

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As part of Ford’s semi-annual Way Forward plan, Ford announced that they will not cancel the venerable Lincoln Town Car after all. They made the sensible decision to move the Town Car from its decades-old home of Wixom, Michigan to the Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis Plant in St. Thomas, Ontario.

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You can see what we at VehicleVoice think/thought of Ford’s plans for Lincoln in our Lincoln commits suicide blog of August 24, 2006.
Keeping the Town Car around helps Ford’s revenue picture, keeps the livery business happy and increases the utilization of the St. Thomas plant (where Ford just dropped one of two shifts). Apparently, the transition from Wixom to St. Thomas is not as easy as many believed. There will have to be some substantial changes to the cars to accommodate all three on the same line.


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Is Ford Motor Company Ready for its Wings?

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The resignation of William Ford as Chief Executive of Ford Motor Company may be seen by some as the latest signal that the Detroit auto maker’s troubles are deep and varied. And while it’s easy to speculate from the gallery that supports the word processors of the media, it may be that Bill Ford’s latest move is a huge step forward for the company, its shareholders, and its customers.

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New Ford CEO Alan Mulally

Ford knew he had to step down. By his own admission, he was, “wearing too many hats.” But in the process of vacating his office, he handed the keys to a very interesting successor. Alan Mulally takes on the responsibility of CEO. Each step of this process was orchestrated by Bill Ford, who has been very clear that the status quo was no longer good enough and a global view to the market was required.


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VehicleVoice: Ford Shelby Mustang GT500

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Welcome to VehicleVoice Episode #31

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VehicleVoice brings you an exclusive look at the brand new Shelby GT500! Here’s your chance to see this updated American classic. At 500 horsepower, it’s everything an American muscle car should, plus some.

We were on hand at the Concorso Italiano in Monterey, California for Ford’s formal introduction of the GT500, and even got an exclusive interview with the car’s designer, who happens to be a Steve McQueen fan. Really though, who isn’t? This is where VehicleVoice correspondent David Barrett finds 500 American horses can rival some of the most beautiful Italian cars ever made. Don’t miss this exclusive video!

Show Features
Hau Thai-Tang, Shelby GT500 designer
John Clinard Ford Public Relations


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It's Official: Chevrolet Camaro Returns

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As had been widely anticipated, today at a series of annual management briefings in Traverse City, Michigan, GM head Rick Wagoner announced that the Camaro returns to Chevrolet dealerships in late 2008. He also promised that it will look nearly identical to the concept, which wowed Camaro enthusiasts at its reveal at the 2006 Detroit auto show this past January. Of course the Camaro enthusiasts were strategically planted by Chevrolet at the auto show stand… but that’s alright. It was a hoot!

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Camaro sales will start the first quarter of 2009, with production in late 2008. That should give plenty of time for all you Camaro enthusiasts to start saving and preparing for your next car.
The Camaro will retain its rear-wheel-drive traditional configuration and be offered with V6 and V8 engines, with both manual and automatic transmissions on hand. The “fuel economy” engine will be the V6 – with 275-horsepower no less.
Dodge Challenger – Low Investment Coupe from Chrysler’s RWD Platform
The other pony car concept from this year’s Detroit show, the Dodge Challenger, was confirmed forproduction in June. (Click here for our story.) Dodge will beat Chevy to market by a few months, having promised sales in late 2008.
Market May Be Thinner Than Expected if Mustang Can Keep on the Pressure
Timing of Challenger and Camaro give the latest version of the Mustang four to five years’ head start. Given the freshening of the Mustang at about the same time as the Challenger and Camaro introductions, plus the plethora of Mustang special models over the years, Ford may have done a pretty good job siphoning off prospective buyers for the General Motors and Chrysler pony cars.


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GM's New Trucks

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We Catch the Summer Reveal of All-New Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra
GM’s leader Rick Wagoner took some time from his work on the turnaround project and the ongoing Renault-Nissan tie-up evaluation to introduce new products critical to GM’s future profitability and success. VehicleVoice contributors Jim Hossack and Stephanie Brinley, from AutoPacific‘s Market Research and Industry Analysis offices, were on hand for a first look. Brinley helps with the overview, while long-time full-size truck owner Hossack tells us what’s missing.

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The current full-size Chevrolet Silverado (image here) and GMC Sierra, developed under GM’s GMT800 program and first introduced for 1999MY, launched to strong reviews and well-deserved praise. Sales increased throughout the lifecycle and combined they outsold their rivals. Even in 2005, GM outsold the Ford F-series by about 80,000 units, according to AutoPacific’s Sales Forecast Service.
The GMT900 pickups offer significant improvements to body, chassis, and powertrain. GM developed them with the eye to improving on every level an already successful truck. We saw them in pre-production form, but didn’t get the chance to drive them. Based on our first look, the trucks will arrive boasting a best-in-class standing. The 1500 series gets to showrooms in November 2006. Heavy-duty (2500 and 3500) models arrive during the first quarter of 2007. Unlike the previous generation, which rolled out over two years, all versions of the GMT900 trucks roll out in five months.
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The Good Stuff
On a bright, hot August morning, dozens of Silverado and Sierras drove up in front of us at the GM Milford, Michigan, proving grounds. Showing off their versatility and working natures, the display trucks towed boats and equipment, hauled hay and horse trailers. The message was clear: Choice and capability. Whatever you need these trucks to do, they can do it. Whatever form you need, they have it. Short beds, medium beds, long beds, crew cabs, regular cabs, extended cabs with a cool new 170-degree opening rear door, all are available from the GM trucks. It was a dizzying array, but all these options keep loyal buyers happy and to prove that GM is dedicated to full-size pickups.
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Let's Talk Cars: Ford's New Sales Incentive, and Why the Ford Thunderbird Never Made it Big

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Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars”

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The summer sales slump for American Car manufacturers continues, and Ford is the latest company to come up with a new way to get buyers into showrooms. VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Senior Consultant Jim Hassock, sit down for another of their weekly chats and discuss whether Ford will see any traction with their new extended powertrain waranty.
AutoPacific Founder and President George Peterson tells the tale of his wife’s turquoise blue Ford Thunderbird, oh so beautiful and oh so dumb.
Plus we touch on the efffect fuel prices have on new vehicle purchases, the new continuously variable transmissions, and where the latest trend toward rear wheel drive sedans is going.
Show Rundown
00:53 Ford’s new extended powertrain warranty – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Vice President and Senior Consultant, Jim Hossack
12:15 Continuously Variable Transmissions – VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett and AutoPacific Vice President and Senior Consultant, Jim Hossack
15:20 2002 Ford Thunderbird – Beautiful, but Dumb – AutoPacific President and Founder George Peterson


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Dodge Approves Challenger

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As if There Would Have Been Any Other Answer…
In the biggest non-surprise of the year, Dodge made it official: The Challenger concept will spawn a Challenger production coupe. The Challenger will go on sale in 2008, within two years of the concept’s introduction, as a 2008 model-year vehicle. The announcement was made in conjunction with the Pepsi 400 NASCAR race in Daytona, where the Dodge Charger is a competitor.

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Though the name was used a few times on non-muscle cars, the Challenger that is being revived had a five-year run (1970-1974) and saw sales about 188,600 units, coupe and convertible. Which begs the question: When is the convertible coming?
Chevrolet is expected to also follow its 2006 North American International Auto Show concept Camaro with a production version as well. But Dodge looks to be in position to get Challenger to market before Camaro, which could be huge in the image game. No one wants to be last.
All in all, Challenger has a solid platform to launch from and a nice set of powertrains to choose from, being based on Dodge Charger/Magnum and Chrysler 300, though a 500HP SRT Challenger would be helpful. Response to the concept car has been strong enough to get the green light. In 2008, we’ll find out if the enthusiasm translates to real-world purchases.
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(VehicleVoice and AutoPacific brought you news of the Challenger and Camaro back at auto show time; click here and here to revisit those stories.)


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Ford Focus Wins AutoPacific 2006 Ideal Vehicle Award for Compact Cars:

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The Ford Focus is the Ideal Compact Car among seventeen other contenders. Focus’ victory comes from solid results across the eleven measurement categories. It did not win every category outright but its strength was derived from its overall numbers. The Focus’ Ideal Compact Car win comes from solid results for exterior size, visibility, cargo space, power and acceleration. Again, it was not number one in every category, but clearly there is strength in numbers.


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Mercury Milan* Wins AutoPacific 2006 Ideal Vehicle Award for Mid-Size Cars:

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The all-new Mercury Milan is a clear winner among Mid-Size Car competition. Milan, the Ideal Mid-Size Car, achieves its category leading performance with near ideal ratings for exterior size, interior storage, power and acceleration, right down to the ideal size of the wheels and tires. *The Mercury Milan also topped its category in AutoPacific’s 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards.
The Milan is a suburban cruiser and commuter car. Not a sport sedan, Milan is best suited for tooling around town in quiet comfort. Milan shows good attention to detail especially in package-related areas like ingress/egress, ergonomics and visibility. While Milan’s owners give its powertrain near ideal ratings, I’d love to drive one with the 50 extra horsepower the 2007 Lincoln MKZ (nee Lincoln Zephyr) is going to get from its new 3.5L V6 engine.


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