Category Archive:

The Greenest Detroit Auto Show Ever

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In some ways, the 2008 North American Automobile Show was like most other recent major auto shows. Once again, automakers went out of their way to show us how hard they are trying to protect the environment and reduce our dependent for foreign oil.
General Motors and Toyota lead the rhetoric. Each claims to have a broad spectrum of programs that range from alternate fuels for internal combustion engines to full electric vehicles. I have to weigh in on this issue, because I’m seeing two strategies that are very different and tell you a lot about the companies they come from.
General Motors spent a lot of time talking about Ethanol, and is clearly lobbying for greater distribution outlets for the fuel. Has GM chosen to expend their efforts in a political battle to increase the availability of Ethanol as their primary tool to solve this issue? Ethanol-capable vehicle conversion is inexpensive, but the end result may leave consumers unsatisfied. Surprisingly, Rick Wagoner, GM’s Chairman, advocated Federal regulations mandating ethanol distribution across the country (won’t Iowa be proud?).


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2007 Motorist Choice Awards Announced

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The Motorist Choice Award is in its second year and is a collaboration between AutoPacific and IntelliChoice.com. AutoPacific, widely known for its industry expertise and research, and IntelliChoice, known for its comprehensive cost of ownership information, designed the Motorist Choice Award to help consumers identify the most satisfying cars and trucks that are also the least expensive to own.
Using data from AutoPacific’s national Vehicle Satisfaction research and the IntelliChoice Best Overall Value information, AutoPacific and IntelliChoice have developed a unique tool that can be used by consumers to help them sort through the myriad of choices in today’s automotive marketplace.
Here are the 2007 Winners of the 25 individual segment awards:
SEGMENT – Winner
Aspirational Luxury Car – Lexus IS
Compact Car – Mazda3
Compact Crossover SUV – Chevrolet HHR
Compact Pickup – Toyota Tacoma
Compact Sport Utility/ORV – Toyota Tacoma
Economy Car – Honda Fit
Image Compact Car – Volkswagen GTi
Large Car – Toyota Avalon
Large Heavy Duty Pickup – Chevrolet Silverado HD
Large Light Duty Pickup – Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Large Luxury Car – Cadillac DTS
Large Sport Utility – GMC Yukon XL
Luxury Crossover SUV – Acura MDX
Luxury Mid-Size Car – Nissan Maxima
Luxury Sport Utility – Land Rover Range Rover Sport
Mid-Size Car – Volkswagen Jetta
Mid-Size Crossover SUV – Honda CR-V
Mid-Size Sport Utility – Toyota 4Runner
Minivan – Honda Odyssey
Premium Luxury Car – Lexus LS
Premium Mid-Size Car – Nissan Altima
Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV – Nissan Murano
Premium Sports Car – Lexus SC
Sports Car – Porsche Boxster
Sporty Car – Scion tC
The press release can be found below the fold.
• • • • •


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2008 Buick Enclave – Top Line GM Lambda Crossover SUV

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General Motors has now completed the launch of its Lambda platform Large Crossover SUVs. The Lambda platform includes vehicles from Saturn – the Outlook, GMC – the Acadia (not ARcadia) and Buick – the Enclave). Eventually, a Chevrolet version will be added as well.
These are the landmark vehicles that represent the end of the classic body-on-frame V8 powered SUV. They are that good.
I just returned from a driving event for the recently introduced Buick Enclave in St. Louis, Missouri. When I got into the office there was a Saturn Outlook in the parking lot for the AutoPacific and VehicleVoice staff to evaluate. Great opportunity for a back to back comparison of two Lambda crossovers. This story will concentrate on the Enclave – a future story will showcase the Outlook.

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Buick Enclave – First Drive
First, lets talk about the Buick. This is a vehicle that I have been waiting to drive for two years now. I think I have been to three events where Enclave was a featured subject, but this was the first opportunity I have had to drive it. Why was I looking forward to the Enclave? From my perspective it is a good size, has expressive styling inside and out, and is an example of the latest General Motors platform architecture.
Was it what I was expecting? Yeah, I guess so. First, I had to calibrate myself to the fact that the Enclave is a BUICK and what General Motors was attempting to achieve when they developed the vehicle. They wanted a vehicle with Buick ambiance – expressive, upscale styling inside and out. They wanted a spacious crossover capable of seating seven or eight passengers in three rows of seats. It was to have excellent ergonomics and be very pleasant to drive. It was to be very quiet. Check the boxes and the Lambda design and development team appears to have achieved their objectives.
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2007 Saturn Outlook – Lambda Crossover SUV

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The Saturn Outlook is a large Crossover SUV based on the General Motors’ Lambda platform. The Lambda platform is shared with the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia and also with an upcoming Chevrolet large Crossover.

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Has GM Nailed Crossover SUV Execution?
First, you might be asking “what is a Crossover SUV”? For years, we at VehicleVoice have been avoiding using the “crossover” word because, frankly, our research shows that consumers are not yet using the term widely. In our eyes, an SUV is an SUV is an SUV. Our chief industry oracle, Jim Hall, always referred to Crossovers as “mongrelhalfbreedbastards”. But, with vehicles like the Outlook hitting the market we’ve decided to use the Crossover moniker.
Basically, a Crossover SUV takes the basic SUV theme and civilizes it. SUV drivers have for decades been asking for more maneuverable, more economical, more easy to live with SUVs. Crossover SUVs are the answer and the GM Lambda vehicles are the latest examples of Crossover SUV design and execution. We think GM has pretty well nailed it.
Pricing Makes Outlook a Persuasive Proposition
The Saturn Outlook XR that we evaluated is a mid-priced model listing at about $33,250. When you check the boxes you really want – like all wheel drive and a navigation system the price slips over $41,000. When you check ALL the boxes and add a moonroof and rear seat entertainment system you can touch $45,000. For a Saturn!
While you might think that is a high price, the base, base, base price of the FWD Outlook XE (the lower model) is about $28,000 including destination. This puts it mid-way between the base price of a Ford Explorer and Expedition. Given that Outlook is about the size of a Chevrolet Tahoe – priced about $4,000 more with a V8, the Saturn looks like a good deal.


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GM Performance Parts – General Motors at Willow Springs Raceway

VehicleVoice being invited to Willow Springs International Motorsports Park by GM’s Performance Parts Division is almost like Cold War Soviets being invited to Area 51 by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… but I made sure I brought my camera!

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Willow Springs is a historic track with the first race being held 54 years ago and now recognized by the State of California as an official Point of Historical Interest. The main track is a challenging 2.5-mile long road course with other adjacent facilities like the one rented for our GM event: The Horse Thief Mile.
The Horse Thief Mile is a tight, bare-knuckle course tucked up against the side of a mountain. Most of the track is either burning up the side of the mountain at a steep incline or snapping back on the descent. It offers hairpin turns, a short front straight away and a chance for GM to show us what they’re made of.


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Toyota Global Sales Top GM in 1st Quarter 2007

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Toyota sold more cars and trucks globally during 1st Quarter 2007 than General Motors. For the first time in 79 years General Motors’ global sales have been topped by a major competitor.
GM’s Global Sales Leadership Crown in Jeopardy
During the 1st Quarter Toyota sold 2.35 million vehicles compared with 2.26 million vehicles for General Motors. This shift had been forecast to occur during the 2007 calendar year, but not as early as the 1st Quarter.
Toyota sells Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles in the USA. Major stakes in Daihatsu and Subaru are not included in the global sales totals. General Motors sales includes Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Saturn, HUMMER, Saab, Opel, and Vauxhall.

VehicleVoice Research Indicates Toyota will Continue to Gain on General Motors in USA

In VehicleVoice brand image and consideration research reported on April 16, 2007, positive consideration for Toyota in the USA was 54% compared with 42% for General Motors as a whole. Consideration for Ford Motor Company products was 44% and Honda products was 53% in the same study. While Toyota continues to be a distant second or third to General Motors in the USA, this continuing level of strong positive consideration indicates that Toyota should be able to continue to close the gap year-by-year.
New Products in USA Bolster Toyota’s Position
In 2006 and early 2007 Toyota launched or renewed a slew of vehicles in the USA. The new Yaris small car replaced the under-performing and unfortunately styled Echo. The FJ Cruiser was launched to rave reviews and strong sales. The Camry was all new and earned the Motor Trend 2007 Car of the Year Award. The all new Lexus LS460 has arguably established a new luxury car benchmark in the premium luxury car market in the USA. And we can’t forget the launch of the all-new Toyota Tundra full size pickup. Tundra finally becomes a fully-competitive half-ton pickup for 2007. While still lacking 3/4 and 1 Ton models, the Tundra should give its half ton competition a run for the money.
Can GM Hold off Toyota?
While the annual global sales figures are still months away, Toyota may, indeed, be able to wrest the global sales crown from GM this year. General Motors is moving aggressively to add capacity and sales in China. If this comes on stream quickly enough, GM may be able to parry the threat.
Stay tuned.


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VehicleVoice Panelists' Opinion of Manufacturers

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During the last week of March 2007, 1,254 VehicleVoice panelists responded to an Internet survey concerning their opinion of major automakers in the USA. VehicleVoice asked these questions because the opinion of buyers and their attitudes towards various aspects of a manufacturer’s image are critically important. Managing image and opinion plus understanding what is driving that opinion can influence whether a person will positively consider or reject a brand next time they are in the market.
The key question in the VehicleVoice survey was whether the respondent’s opinion of a manufacturer had changed since this time last year. If their opinion had changed, the panel member was given the chance to explain why their opinion had changed. We received over 5,000 comments concerning these manufacturers. Some were as short one word. Some were as long as a page of 10-point type. Folks really had a lot to say and their comments were fascinating.

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Discussion for each of the brands is below the fold.


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VehicleVoice#62 – The 2007 Toyota Tundra and the Future of Minivans

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Most of you already know that Jim Hossack is AutoPacific’s expert on a lot of things – fuel prices, powertrains, trucks. But did you know that he’s also an expert in minivans? For the past several years, when we’re covering the big auto shows, Jim’s assignments have always been about the new truck models and minivan breakthroughs. But recently, there hasn’t been a lot of news surrounding minivans. Ford and GM have been clear that they think the segment is dying, and their exit strategy is uncomplicated. They’re just getting out. But Jim was in the Chrysler booth to check out the new 2007 Town & Country, aka Dodge Caravan, and he says, “not so fast” Ford and GM. There’s still a healthy segment here.
In this podcast, we’ve got Jim doing double duty at the Toyota booth. The Japanese manufacturer is taking it’s (first, second, third) fourth carefully planned step into the full-sized truck market with the new 2007 Tundra. And according to Jim, Toyota’s latest try is right on the money.
New Vehicle Reviews –
Dodge Caravan
Toyota Tundra

Show Runtime – 6:02


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Ten Worst Cars for 2006 – Truth About Cars

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OK, on this one VehicleVoice is just the messenger. The Truth About Cars website has taken it on itself to identify the ten worst cars and trucks sold in the USA in 2006. Not really sure what their credentials are, but here is their press release… When we feel like commenting, see our notes following the press release writeup.
The Truth About Cars Website Names Its Ten Worst Automobiles for 2006
November 8, 2006 – PROVIDENCE, R.I.: The Truth About Cars website (TTAC) has revealed the ten winners of its first annual “Ten Worst Automobiles Today” awards. According to the site’s readers, the very worst vehicles sold in America today are… GM’s minivans.
For voting purposes, TTAC lumped all four of GM’s virtually identical people movers together: the Chevrolet Uplander, Saturn Relay, Buick Terraza and Pontiac SV6.
In his description of the “winner,” reviewer William C. Montgomery slated GM’s minivans for their “antique engineering, woeful looks, cancerous effect on not one but four GM brands and their abject inability to hold a candle to their foreign-owned competition.” In terms of dreadful driving dynamics, contemptible aesthetics and torturous ergonomics, no other vehicles sold in America can compete with these ridiculously-named ‘Crossover Sport Vans.'”
The automotive website’s readers voted the new Jeep Compass America’s second worst vehicle: a lackluster vehicle that betrays its storied brand’s heritage. According to TTAC’s description, it’s an “ugly, gangly, underpowered, mud-aversive half-breed” that “staggers into the light, turning all who see it– or heaven forbid buy it– into grotesque, bobble-headed morons.” The Compass “stomps all over Jeep’s reputation as America’s purveyor of authentic off-road vehicles.”
The rest of TTAC’s Ten Worst are the Jeep Compass (2), Buick Rendezvous (3), Chrysler Aspen (4), Hummer H2 (5), Chevrolet Monte Carlo (6), Subaru B9 Tribeca (7), Saab 9-7x (8), Lincoln Mark LT (9) and Chevrolet Aveo (10). Capsule reviews are below.
To create the list, The Truth About Cars asked its 40k daily readers to nominate the worst vehicles for sale in the United States during the 2006 calendar year. A selection committee comprised of ten TTAC writers selected 20 finalists from the readers’ nominations. Finalists were chosen for their crimes against aesthetics, engineering, ergonomics, driving dynamics and/or brand authenticity. The final ten “winners” were chosen by readers via an electronic poll.
Site publisher Robert Farago said his team created The Ten Worst awards as an antidote to the annual “love ins” provided by the mainstream automotive media. “The profusion of ‘best of’ automotive awards reflects the fact that the manufacturer-sponsored magazines and websites can’t tell it like it is,” Farago said. “TTAC is the home of take-no-prisoners automotive journalism. Our Ten Worst list says we’re not afraid to tell the truth about cars.”


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Is the Sky the Limit? – The 2007 GM Collection

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General Motors hosted a two-day event in sunny Southern California showcasing quite a few of their 2007 makes and models. The event kicked off with a press conference at Saturn of Temecula with the first day’s events focusing on Saturn’s new lineup, followed by a ride and drive down to San Diego. Choices for the drive included the new Saturn Sky, Aura, and Vue. The second day of the event featured a broader spectrum of GM’s lineup ranging from a turbo charged Saab 9-5 to a Mid-Duty GMC Top-Kick towing a boat touting GM’s Vortec engine. With a handful of GM vehicles poised to attack the autocross course or engage in a ‘truck-pull’, at the end of the day the tough part would be deciding which models were the most note worthy.
I was at the event as VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific analyst.

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An obvious choice at the top of the list was the Saturn Sky, which breaks from the conservative styling cues typically found on every vehicle bearing the Saturn marque. With its more aggressive lines, pronounced fender peaks and menacing front end the Sky definitely makes a bold statement. Many may liken it to a miniature Corvette or GM’s version of Mazda’s MX-5 (Miata), but not many will call it boring.


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