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Bugatti Veyron – 253 MPH and Still a Little Late

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For those of you who do not live in the Los Angeles Times sphere of influence, you may miss the writing of Dan Neil their Pulitizer Prize winning auto journalist. You can catch up on his reviews, Highway 1 editorials and podcasts at the LA Times website (http://www.latimes.com). This article on the upcoming launch of the Bugatti Veyron supercar is just one example of Neil’s writing.
By Dan Neil, Times Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2005
PALERMO, Sicily — At 200 mph, the Bugatti Veyron pounds a beautiful, howling hole in the sweltering haze hanging over the motorway.
This, the fastest production car in the world, is broad and low, an enameled ellipse in a spiffy two-tone paint scheme. By comparison, its now-vanquished supercar rivals, such as the Ferrari Enzo and McLaren F1, are all edges and blades and angles, like F-16 fighter planes or Japanese stunt kites.
The Veyron is not, strictly speaking, the fastest car I’ve ever driven, but the one that’s faster had a jet engine and a parachute. The guardrail to my right is blurred into a dirty stream of quicksilver. Houses fly by before my brain has time to register the word “house.”

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About nine seconds ago, I was dawdling at 100 mph. Then I squeezed the throttle. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox clicked twice, the engine took a huge lung-busting toke of atmosphere through its twin roof snorkels — and then things got interesting. Something slammed me from behind and I realize it was the seat. Captain, it appears we have fallen nose-first into a wormhole.
Two-hundred mph. And I’m not even in top gear.
… house….


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Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: Third SUV, Built in America

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The Mercedes introduction of the third prong of its latest attack on the American SUV market is the 7-passenter GL-Class. The GL-Class complements the 5-passenger M-Class and 6-passenger R-Class “Grand Sports Tourer” (whatever that is) as Mercedes-Benz broadens its people-carrier offerings to meet the needs of SUV buyers.
The full technical details of the GL announced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2006, were precluded by the first photos and brief technical specifications shown here:

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Ford Edge – Ford Shows its Edge in January

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Among the 2006 North American International Auto Show introductions will be a new addition to Ford’s sport-utility lineup – the Ford Edge. The Edge uses a car platform, in this case that of the recently introduced Fusion, and adds a more powerful 250-horsepower V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Lincoln also gets a version that becomes the second-generation Aviator. Ahead of the official introduction, Ford has released an illustration that gives us an idea of what the truck will look like.

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Saab 9-5 – New Face for Top Saab

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Saab’s 9-5, last launched all new for 1998 model year, is getting a bit long in the tooth, and an all-new iteration is still some way off. In today’s auto market a five year life cycle is long, let alone a seven year cycle. But the venerable 9-5 still has years to go before it is all new.
[Apparently, Kirk Kerkorian (now owner of 9.9% of GM) is asking serious questions about whether Saab should be part of General Motors or not. Does this mean further deemphasizing Saab, killing Saab, or spinning Saab off? Don’t know at the moment. But, that’s another issue.]
Saab hopes to generate some interest in the meantime with a 2006MY refresh that went on sale in the States in December 2005. Updates include interior and exterior styling changes and refinements to the platform and engine lineup. Our first look at the update was at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show in September.

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Suzuki SX4: A Post-Modern SUV for Suzuki

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Suzuki’s new small Post-Modern SUV (or crossover, or sport wagon) joins its North American lineup after an introduction at the 2006 New York show in April, 2006. Sales are scheduled for late Summer 2006 in the States, and the U.S. and European spec versions will carry similar styling. The SX4 is the result of a joint project between Fiat and Suzuki, with production by Suzuki at their plant in Hungary and using a Suzuki platform. (The Fiat, called Sedici will, of course, not be seen Stateside.) While this product is well-suited for international markets, its appeal in the States is likely to be limited and largely driven by a combination of value-pricing and its relatively fuel-efficient 2.0L DOHC I4 drivetrain. North American buyers will choose between a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

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Hyundai Santa Fe Set for Detroit Debut

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Though already on sale in Korea, an unveiling of the next U.S.-spec Hyundai Santa Fe will be at the 2006 Detroit auto show in January. Production will start at Hyundai’s new Alabama assembly plant in Spring 2006 for a Summer launch. Though details on the North American version have not been entirely laid out by Hyundai, educated guesses can be made. Exterior styling will be similar if not identical to the Korean-market version launched in November 2005.

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Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder – Cold Weather Intro for Warm Weather Ride

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Mitsubishi will unveil the latest Eclipse Spyder at the 2006 Detroit auto show this January. Sales are likely to start in spring 2006, in time for summertime top-down motoring. While unveiling a convertible in the Midwest in January may seem an unlikely venue, Mitsubishi has a history of launching Eclipse production and concept models in Detroit. The all Eclipse coupe was released early in 2005 and has been a moderate success in the American market to date. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) styling research has the styling of the Eclipse rated very strongly.

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2006 Honda Civic Wins Motor Trend Car of the Year Award

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Well, the car of the year awards are now beginning to come in. Motor Trend just announced that the new 2006 Honda Civic won their award from a field of 28 new models for the 2006 model year. The Motor Trend Car of the Year article can be found at this link http://www.motortrend.com/features/112_news051112_car_of_the_year/index.html
The 2006 Motor Trend Car of the Year competition included the following models: Audi A3, BMW 3 Series, Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS, Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Fusion, Honda Civic, Hyundai Accent, Hyundai Azera, Hyundai Sonata, Infiniti M35/M45, Kia Rio, Lexus GS, Lexus IS, Lincoln Zephyr, Mazda 5, Mazda MX-5, Mercedes-Benz CLS, Mercedes-Benz R-Class, Mercury Milan, Mitsubishi Eclipse GT, Pontiac Solstice, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Jetta, and Volkswagen Passat.
Out of this list, our subjective COTY might have been one of the new Hyundai entries – Sonata or Azera. Both are very significant because of what they represent… Hyundai’s rebirth on the American auto scene.
The editorial staff of Motor Trend conducted tests on these 28 new models, “searching for the automobile that best represents exceptional value, superiority in its class, and the most significant development on the new-car scene for 2006.”
Unlike AutoPacific’s (http://www.autopacific.com) annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award winner is selected by editors. AutoPacific’s awards are generated based on responses from owners of new cars and light trucks to a national mail survey.


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GMT900 SUVs Miss Important Feature

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General Motors is getting ready to launch its new GMT900 SUVs. This lineup includes the Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV. The shorter versions will be launched in the 1st Quarter 2006 as 2007 model year vehicles. The long wheelbase Suburban, et. al. will be launched in March or April.
Early reviews of the GMT900 provided in Burbank, California (GM’s California Design Studio) and Warren, Michigan (GM’s Design HQ) prove that the GMT900s are an excellent piece of work. While they do not look too much different from their predecessors, they have wider front and rear track and larger tires and wheels. This gives the GM SUVs a very purposeful stance avoiding the undertired appearance some past GM vehicles have had. At the same time, the more prominent tires and wheels actually make the vehicles look slightly smaller even though they aren’t.

Lack of Fold Flat 3rd Row a Major Omission

To keep these comments focused on what we want to observe, lets change the order a bit.
The most glaring omission in the GMT900 SUVs is the lack of a 3rd row seat that folds flat into the floor like the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator and now the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. The key to the Ford system is the use of an independent rear suspension that allows the rear floor to be dropped several inches providing space for the seat to fold flat. GM’s GMT900 management said they “couldn’t break Ford’s code” and it appeared that they were thinking Ford adopted IRS more for ride and handling than for interior package. WRONG. The key all along was the rear seat package.
The resulting seating package is very similar to the GMT800 SUVs. The seats, when folded, rest on top of the floor obstructing the load area of the vehicle.
GM also claimed their research showed that SUV buyers wanted a power folding 2nd row seat more than they wanted a flat folding, power operated 3rd row seat. According to ex-GM researchers who shall remain anonymous, GM’s research actually showed a strong preference for “a seat like in the Expedition in a body like the Suburban”. The real reason, of course, is investment. The expenditures for the combination of IRS and fold flat 3rd row seat has variously been quoted as $165 million or $300 million. Either number would cause a product planner to pause and clearly these very important features were pipped – not easily.


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Ford Fusion Surprises?

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Fusion Hot Out of the Blocks
Fusion is Ford’s new mid-size sedan and is a very respectable piece of work. It has distinctive styling, a good sized interior and a large trunk. This combination puts Fusion in the hunt to attract buyers of mid-size cars that have been unable to consider a Ford since the demise of the easily forgotten Ford Contour (and who can’t forget its predecessor – the Tempo). For the first time in years, Ford has a competitive mid-size entry worthy of consideration. The first full month of sales for the Ford Fusion was October, 2005. Fusion, right out of the blocks, looks like a surprise winner with slightly over 4,000 units sold.
In a departure from conventional mid-size car marketing, Ford says they are not going after buyers who would consider the high volume Japanese entries like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Instead, they think they can have a pretty healthy business selling to Mustang owners who are moving into a mid-size sedan after their fling with the most popular sporty coupe on the planet.


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