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Friday Night on London's Hans Road

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Harrods Hans Road.jpg

Closing time for Harrods department store in London is at 8PM on a Friday night. Across from its Hans Road entrance is a mediocre but well-positioned Italian restaurant Zia Teresa. VehicleVoice correspondents grabbed a table across from the Harrods’ door that was a great venue for the supercar version of Detroit’s Woodward Dream Cruise. Of course, none of these cars could drive more than about 20mph down the street that was a narrow single lane with cars parked on both sides.
A brief inventory included: 1 Bugatti Veyron, 2 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyders, 2 Lamborghini Gallardos, 2 Lamborghini Countachs, 2 Lamboghini Murcielagos, 1 Mercedes SLR McLaren, 2 Porsche Carrera GTs, 5 Aston Martin V8 Vantages, numerous Bentley Continental GTs, one Bentley Flying Spur in black with orange bodysides, a Morgan, many mundane Porsche 911s and Cayennes, more 2006/7 Mercedes S-Classes than could be counted. Oh yeah, there were a couple of vintage Daimler limousines carrying shoppers to and from Harrod’s.
Why this proliferation of super iron? Apparently, because of the difficulties in Lebanon, many vacationers from the Middle East opted for London this year. Where they congregated in the Edgeware Road area in previous years, this year their loci is Harrod’s. A high percentage of the supercars were left hand drive with Arabic number plates. Probably air-freighted from Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Dubai.
Veyron at Harrods.jpg

Parked at the curb (kerb), Veyron shared space with a bicycles and chauffer-driven Range Rover in the background.
Harrods SLR.jpg

SLR illegally parked at end of Hans Road attracted dozens of admirers most taking mobile phone photos. SLR in the flesh and in traffic was underwhelming.
Harrods Carrera GT.jpg

Getting even more attention than the SLR was this red Carrera GT with Arabic plates (SLR and Veyron also had Arabic plates). Note the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder cruising by in background.
Down the street, around the curve, there were more Lamborghinis parked in a two block area than would be seen in Turin at any one time.


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Mercedes E-Class – Luxury Taxi for the USA?

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I’ve just been wandering around in AutoPacific‘s Research Suite data and decided to take a look at the results for the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Mercedes E-Class owners completed AutoPacific’s Future Vehicle Survey either by mail or through the VehicleVoice website. This allows us to get a good look at them compared with the owners of competitive cars.

Mercedes E-Class SV Blog.jpg

Now, I know that E-Class is a popular car for use as a taxi-cab in Germany. The place is crawling with flesh-colored E-Classes with M-B Tex interiors, diesel engines and low feature loads. Of course, in the USA, the E-Class is positioned as a mid-level European Sport Sedan… or is it? Here is is a $50,000 luxury car… European, yes… Sport Sedan… maybe not.
Is E-Class the Anti-Sport Sedan?
Compared with other cars competing with the E-Class the differences are startling. Different from the Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series, the E-Class is bought by a person who tends to be substantially older, more likely to be married, much less affluent, less educated. They are much less likely to describe themselves as an auto enthusiast or to agree that a vehicle is a means of self-expression. They just aren’t into cars the way that Audi and BMW owners are.
Innovative technology is not particularly important. A navigation system or advanced audio system is not particularly important. Exterior styling? Who cares? Power and acceleration? Leave that to Audi and BMW. Fun to drive? Stodgy is OK.
AutoPacific Profiles Owners of Every Vehicle, But E-Class Profile is Surprising
Wow! I guess unless you track these things in detail all the time (which we do), results like these are very surprising. Mercedes’ product execution and communications strategy has brought a lower common denominator luxury car buyer into the franchise.
Where’s the excitement? Not with the E-Class!


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Mercedes-Benz Introduces a New Clean Diesel System

Bluetec: Has Mercedes Developed a Global Clean Diesel System?
There were several Bluetec-equipped vehicles on DaimlerChrysler company stands at the 2006 North American International Auto Show this January, including a Jeep Grand Cherokee Bluetec, the E320 Bluetec, and the concept Vision GL320 Bluetec. AutoPacific explains a bit about this system and where U.S. consumers might see it in real applications.
The Bluetec system is the result of Mercedes search for a diesel emission-control system that can be applied worldwide, meeting federal and market conditions that vary from country to country. The overall difficulty with diesel is the amount of aftertreatment required to lower emissions to levels required by various governments, and how expensive these processes can be.


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New Mercedes-Benz Flagship – 2007 S-Slass

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Latest S-Class Introduced to North America in Los Angeles
Though Mercedes has been making more news Stateside with its new SUV entries, the R-Class, the M-Class and G-Class, their top sedan is all new for the 2007 model year. While the S65 AMG introduced in Detroit can get lead-footers interested, Mercedes launched the U.S. S-Class with the 382HP 5.5L V8 in the form of the S550. The S65 and a S600 (with a 510HP 5.5L V12) both arrive later in 2006. Within the next couple of years, the S-Class will also likely get a hybrid powertrain option as indicated by a show version at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show alongside the world premier of the S-Class.
The newest S-Class, as its previous iterations have done, raises the stakes in terms of technology and style. Among them are an update to the Pre-Safe anti-crash system as well as Distronic radar-based cruise control that can assist in stop-and-go traffic and works with the brake assist system to help avoid rear-end collisions. Also on the table is an infra-red night vision system.
AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) research shared with VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) indicates that Mercedes-Benz reliability with newly introduced high technology features has been spotty. At the same time, AutoPacific research shows that Mercedes’ image in the USA has deteriorated substantially over the past five years as the images of archrivals BMW and Lexus have continued to soar. The new S-Class has to be bulletproof for Mercedes to begin regaining its reputation as the highest quality, most prestigious automobiles available. View an upcoming VehicleVoice videocast in which Robert Cumberford, renowned styling critic for Automobile Magazine, gives a critique of the new styling of the S-Class.


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Automotive Lease Guide Releases Residual Value Awards

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Automotive Lease Guide is an influential and closely watched barometer of the value of brands and vehicles in the USA. ALG’s data are used by leasing companies to set the values for vehicles two and three years in the future and are critical in determining what lease rates a lessee will pay.
While ALG’s Residual Value Awards are not of the ilk of Motor Trend, Automobile, Car & Driver enthusiast awards, they provide an interesting counterpoint to awards based test track measurements, zero to 60 times and seat of the pants opinions. Here is the text of the ALG release…

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ALG’s annual Residual Value Awards honor those vehicles in each automotive segment predicted to retain the highest percentage of their original price. For the third consecutive year, American Honda Motor Company, Inc. heads the list with the Honda Brand winning the Industry Brand Residual Value Award. Honda also received two individual segment awards: the Odyssey for the Minivan Segment and the Accord for the Midsize Car Segment. This is the fifth consecutive win for the Honda Odyssey and the second win for the Accord.
Acura, a division of American Honda Motor Company, Inc., is the winner of the Near Luxury Car Segment for the TL.
BMW of North America, LLC has once again made a strong showing by winning the Luxury Brand Residual Value Award for the third consecutive year. MINI USA, a division of BMW of North America, has won the Compact Car Segment for the MINI Cooper for the fourth time.
Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. took home the most Residual Value Awards this year by winning six individual segment awards: the Avalon for the Fullsize Car Segment, Tacoma Pick-up for the Compact Truck Segment, Tundra for the Fullsize Truck Segment, RAV4 for the Compact SUV Segment, 4Runner for the Midsize SUV Segment, and the Sequoia for the Fullsize SUV Segment. This is the fifth consecutive win for the Toyota Tacoma, Tundra and Sequoia; and the third consecutive win for the 4Runner.
Mercedes-Benz USA LLC is the winner of this year’s Luxury Car Segment award for the CLS Class.
The Sports Car Segment award this year goes to Porsche Cars North America, Inc. for the 911 Carrera.
And last but not least, the CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) award goes to Land Rover North America, Inc. for the Range Rover Sport.
“In an era of negative pricing and overcapacity, Residual Value excellence is increasingly difficult to achieve,” said Raj Sundaram, President of Automotive Lease Guide. “Both the segment and brand winners clearly demonstrate that quality products combined with effective pricing strategies will rise to the top.” Sundaram added that, “While the top rankings did not change, several brands have shown significant improvement over last year, highlighting the importance manufacturers are placing on residual value as a long-term objective.”
This year’s awards are based on 2006 model year vehicles. For the fourth year, ALG has also included awards for the brand with the highest predicted resale value of all industry and luxury vehicles. The awards are derived after careful study of segment competition, historical vehicle performance and
industry trends. Award winners are featured on http://www.alg.com, The Wall Street Journal, Automotive News, and other automotive publications and websites dedicated to bringing the industry’s best performing models into the
public eye.


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The Rental Car Test – Every Design MUST Pass the Test

I just picked up a Hyundai Santa Fe from Hertz at DTW. My plane from Atlanta to Detroit was delayed by weather enough to have me picking up the Santa Fe in the dark. Well, Santa Fe did an outstanding job passing the rental car test. You know the one. This is where you pick up your car at the rental place, get in and you can find the ignition easily, adjust the steering wheel, mirrors, seats, climate control and radio without thinking hard about it. Oh yeah, and you can do it in the dark.

Santa Fe Int Blog.jpg

Keep it Simple, Stupid… Still Rings True
This is a challenge that many car stylists and designers fail to consider when they are designing their new products. But ease of use is a hugely important thing not only to rental car drivers but to everybody driving a car day-to-day. No-one wants a car that is difficult or confusing to drive and the rental car test helps guarantee ease of use.


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Kiplinger's Best New Cars – December 2005

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Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine (December 2005) selects the Best New Cars in several price classes. Their selections are as follows:
Best New Car under $18,000: 2006 Honda Civic. “With its sleek, aerodynamic look, the new Civic gets more power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. Six airbags are now standard equipment.” [Best in Class: Volkswagen New Beetle]
Best New Car – $18,000 – $23,000: 2006 Hyundai Sonata. “It has classy good looks and is surprisingly refined for around $20,000. It also has the most standard safety equipment in its class.”

Best New Car – $23,000 – $30,000: 2006 Dodge Charger R/T.
“Under the hood it’s a whole lot like the Chrysler 300C. But it has a sportier suspension, a lower sticker price and the DNA of a Daytona winner.” [Best in Class: Mini Cooper S Convertible]
Best New Car – $30,000 – $45,000: 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS. “Buick’s large-sedan replacement for the LeSabre offers V6 and V8 power, heated and cooled seats, and remote start. Front bench seats are an option.” [Best in Class: Acura TL]
Best New Car – $45,000 and Over: 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG. “From the performance division of Mercedes-Benz comes a new class with style and luxury to spare. It smothly powers from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.” [Best in Class: Lexus LS430]
Best New Sports Car: 2006 Mazda (Miata) MX-5. “The best-selling roadster gets a thoughtful redesign. Now there is more zoom as well as more room – enough to fit a supermarket haul in the trunk.” [Best in Class: Chevrolet Corvette]
Best New SUV: 2006 Range Rover Sport. “Think of it as a rugged sport sedan, equally at home on city seats or on the savanna.” [Best in Class: Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland]
Best New Crossover Vehicle: 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. “This hybrid utility vehicle gets 33mpg in the city, but it’s no slouch when accelerating. The electric motors give it more power than the V6 gas model.” [Best in Class: Honda Pilot]


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