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Exhaust Notes #29: GM Celebrates 100 Years And…Hey, Where’s the Party?

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Last week, General Motors wrapped up its centennial celebration. If one thinks about GM’s prominence on the world landscape, it’s easy to see just how significant of an event this is. Even if you’ve never owned a GM vehicle yourself, think about the company’s impact on the American and global economies and its products’ impact on popular culture. Can you imagine an America where Chevrolet didn’t exist? What if there had never been songs about GTO’s or Cadillacs? How about a world where the word Camaro was simply French slang for “friend” or a Corvette was just a small gunboat used to escort convoys?

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Imagine a world without GM. It’s harder than it sounds.

Posted in: Exhaust Note, GM

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Road Noise: Because We Said So, That's Why!

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Another day, another mess of press releases clogging the inbox here at Vehicle Voice World Internet Headquarters and Half-Price Seafood Buffet.
Let’s see…Corporate community outreach: I’ll pass. Buy 14 tires, get the 15th free: To the Recycle Bin! Exciting new car air freshener: This isn’t news.
Oooh, here’s one: “GM launches new site to clarify misconceptions about the company.” Sounds like fun; let’s roll.

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This is gonna be like Mythbusters, but without the explosions or the entertainment.

Posted in: GM, Road Noise

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Exhaust Note #26: Don’t Just Cruze Along, GM; You’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

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Last week, GM loudly trumpeted the pending arrival of the Chevrolet Cruze compact car, to be officially unveiled at next month’s Mondial de l’Automobile (that’s Paris Motor Show to us ‘Murricans). First, they unveiled photos of the car and then revealed the real thing at the Lordstown, OH plant where the car will be built for American consumers.

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This is a US-market Chevrolet compact? Yes, and you’ll see it in Paris next month. Sacre bleu!

As earlier spy photos had suggested, the Cruze, which in the US will effectively be the next generation Cobalt, is a very handsome compact sedan. It’s as appealing as the Cobalt is appliance-like. There’s some real design going on here with a sleek profile and great surface tension and great interaction between the exterior’s various design elements. GM also promises a very intriguing efficient powertrain choice in the form of a tiny 1.4L direct injection turbo engine. This engine is rumored to produce at least 140HP (on par with much larger engines) while achieving 45 miles per gallon. It will also be among the first compacts available with a 6-speed automatic.


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2008 Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance

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On August 3, I finally returned to one of my favorite summer events, the annual Meadow Brook Concours d’ Elegance. Held the first weekend of August every year since 1979, this Concours is one of the premier events of its type. Not quite as prestigious as the Pebble Beach Concours happening the weekend of August 16 (yes, the same weekend as Detroit’s Woodward Dream Cruise), Meadow Brook has earned a strong reputation. For me, it’s simply a chance to wander among cars from storied brands of today and yesterday. Delahaye, Packard, Auburn, Duesenburg, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker, Peugeot, Ferrari, Cadillac, Lincoln, Chrysler, Rolls-Royce, the list goes on and on.

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As you enter the Concours d’Elegance, the show starts.

Meadow Brook is home to a mansion of the same name built by the widow of John Dodge, one of the two Dodge brothers that helped establish the automotive industry we know today. The home and its property now belongs to Oakland University. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of celebrating the automobile as an art from, the event’s purpose is to raise funds for upkeep of the 88,000-square-foot mansion and its grounds. Seems a fitting choice of fundraising event.
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Road Noise: The Green Parade

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Green technology at the Woodward Dream Cruise? Hmmm. You could fit a whole Prius under this baby’s hood, I guess.

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Exhaust Note #21: Is the New Camaro the Way Forward or a Wistful Diversion?

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What a disappointing day today turned out to be. I was supposed to represent VehicleVoice at Chevrolet’s unveiling of the long-awaited new Camaro up in North Hollywood this afternoon. Unfortunately, a three-car pileup on the I-5 North brought my northward progress to a halt, effectively making it impossible for me to get to the press conference. Beaten, I turned around and drove back to the office.

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I tried to go to Hollywood to see this…

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But instead all I got was this. Bummer.


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Blue Tuesday

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So, first Volkswagen announces that they’re building their new plant in Tennessee, and then like two hours later, General Motors comes out with another little ray of sunshine: No more health care for salaried retirees, bonuses for nobody, and they’re closing the hell out of a bunch of plants.
You know, times have been tough, but even taking that into account, we’ve had better Tuesdays, you know?

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The manufacturing economy. (Artist’s rendering)


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2008 Hummer H3: Shock and Awe for the 'Burbs

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I recently got a chance to spend a weekend driving the Hummer H3. Needless to say, I was very excited! There is just something about the looks of the vehicle that says, “I can conquer the world”…or at least my suburb. The H3 looks pretty macho with its mil-spec styling cues, despite it being the downsized junior of the Hummer lineup. Overall, the H3 lived up to my expectations initially, but ultimately reality set in regarding its lack of practicality and ease of use for everyday errands and life. It must be noted that I never took the H3 off-road, which is the vehicle’s true strength. Rather, I used it in the context that most Hummer products are used – around town, in the ‘burbs, on freshly paved roads.

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Exhaust Note #9: Kerkorian is Back

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Tracinda Corporation Buying Into Ford Motor Company
Kirk Kerkorian, the incredibly wealthy 90-year-old investor and businessman, has long been well known among auto-industry watchers. He was first involved with Chrysler, back in the days when Lee Iacocca was turning things around. Later, his takeover attempt also sparked the notion of merging the company with another, which ultimately led to the creation of DaimlerChrysler. There are few today, other some who retired well off the deal, who would say that was a merger that was beneficial for either company, equals or not.
After eventually getting out of the Chrysler business, Tracinda bought enough of General Motors to get a seat on the board. Company man Jerry York held that seat and pushed for a GM-Renault-Nissan tie-up. Bound by duty to stockholders to explore the option instead of dismissing it outright, Rick Wagoner and GM staff worked with Renault-Nissan for a few months to prove what we all seemed to know in the first place: A Renault-GM tie-up didn’t make much sense. Kerkorian’s Tracinda sold off its GM stake and went home. The end of that story, right?

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Well, yes and no. Whether by the “third time’s a charm” or “try, try again” schools of thought, Tracinda has been accumulating shares of Ford Motor Company since April 2, 2008, and offered today to buy more. And by more we mean enough to give Tracinda 5.6% of FoMoCo. But what does Tracinda really want? Does the company want take over a Detroit car company, no matter which? It does seem that Kerkorian is obsessed with making a major, direct impact on the automotive industry. His efforts so far have succeeded in shaking things up, often when it can be most disruptive, but not in improving the business overall.


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Exhaust Note #2: GM’s Comeback Trail

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Much has been made of the recent onslaught of really great cars and trucks from General Motors. It’s particularly amazing for me, an automotive analyst in his thirties, to witness. You see, until very recently, GM – for my whole life – has always been the perpetual underachieving giant; in many ways a symbol of everything wrong with Detroit. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s – a time when more and more of my generation’s Baby Boomer parents were abandoning GM clunkers in favor of far higher quality imports. Even throughout my adult years, GM hardly represented the “Mark of Excellence” its corporate slogan claimed. As long as I could remember, GM products (large trucks excepted) were rarely world class; in my mind, price and patriotism were the only real reasons to buy them.
For the last year and a half, however, I’ve been forced to rethink this notion that had been one of the true constants in my life. Beautifully rendered and engineered vehicles that truly needed no excuses began to trickle from GM factories. Truly drool-worthy GM cars began showing up in real dealerships, not just the auto show turntables. It has truly been an amazing experience to witness all this happen before my eyes.

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Posted in: Exhaust Note, GM

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