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2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Prototype: A Quick Spin

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I’m at Toyota’s third Sustainable Mobility Seminar at the moment, a deep dive into the issues surrounding sustainable motoring featuring excellent speakers from industry and academia.  I’ll admit, my head is still spinning from all the education I’ve received over the last twenty-four hours, but there’s one part of the event I feel compelled to write about – right now.  All of us in attendance got the media’s very first chance to drive fully working prototypes of Toyota’s upcoming fully electric RAV4 EV.  As AutoPacific’s resident treehugger, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of Toyota’s upcoming electric SUV.


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2011 Audi A8L : The Flagship of Flagships

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Flagship – (ˈflæɡˌʃɪp) – The best or most important one of a group or system. Source: Dictionary.com

Often we hear of automakers make claims about their flagship vehicles.  When you start to break apart these claims you might find that the word flagship is one thrown around rather loosely.  An opportunity to drive the flagship of the Audi brand presented itself and I discovered what truly sets the Audi A8 and A8L apart from the rest of the flagships.


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Nissan LEAF – Finally, a High Volume EV

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Nissan is poised to launch a full electric vehicle, LEAF (Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car), in the United States that it plans to sell in very high volumes. Does the product stand up to its high volume plans?
Styling Just Short of Weird Nissan North America Director of Product Planning, Mark Perry responded to a question concerning the styling of the new Nissan LEAF as “unusual without being weird. Our stylists wanted a distinctive car but not one that was so weird looking it would put off people.” Finally, a company admits that people driving an alternative fuel vehicle want to be noticed. They want for their friends and neighbors to give them credit for being on the cutting edge, being environmentally conscious and taking an innovative risk.
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Huge Pricing Incentives to Stimulate Sales Offsetting the risk is the price of the LEAF. Starting at around $32,500, early buyers qualify for a government tax credit of $7,500. If you lease the LEAF (more on that later), the tax credit goes to the lessor and effectively becomes a cap cost reduction. If you buy the LEAF, you get your tax credit the next time you file your income taxes. If you live in any one of several states, you get a tax rebate. In California, for instance, you get a $5,000 rebate – they’ll send you a check in the mail. If you are lucky enough to live in Fresno, you can get another $4,000. That brings the price of the down to around $16,000 – about the price of an equipped Versa. You end up getting the battery system, navigation system, etc essentially for FREE.


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2011 Ford Explorer Raises XSUV Bar – Explorer Reinvented

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The 2011 Ford Explorer is the latest iteration of the Ford Explorer and arguably one of the most important.  In many ways the Explorer launched the popular use sport utility vehicle market in the USA when it introduced the 4-door Explorer in 1991.  Previously, 4-door SUVs had been either Jeep Cherokees, the occasional Japanese entry and Chevrolet/GMC Suburbans.  With the introduction of the Explorer the growth in the SUV market skyrocketed until almost one in four vehicles sold in the USA was an SUV of one type or another.  In its heyday, Explorer was counted among the top five best selling vehicles in the USA and in its top year sold almost 450,000 units.

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Until the new Explorer, the Explorer had been very much a two box SUV designed to move five (and later seven) people comfortably.  While Explorer was an “SUV” it was a pretty mild one.  It was known for being easy to live with but not for its prowess off-road.  Ford never pretended the Explorer had the off-road chops of a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

EcoBoost 4-Cylinder OPTIONAL Powertrain  The base engine for the Explorer is the 3.5L V6 with 290-horsepower.  This engine is expected to be in 75% of Explorers sold.  The extra cost optional powertrain is the 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine with 237-horsepower.  This is an unusual pricing strategy for any manufacturer – giving LESS FOR MORE.  Of course, Ford will position the EcoBoost 4 as the high technology, high fuel economy alternative that is worth more.  Well, we’ll be watching this one closely because Americans usually don’t buy less for more and many still believe the adage “There is no replacement for displacement.”


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On the Road: 2010 Suzuki SX4 Sportback

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Who Says You Can’t Get Standard Navigation for $18,500? Not Suzuki
We called up the kind folks over at Suzuki this winter and asked if we could check out one of their latest additions, the 2010 SX4 Sportback. Specifically, we wanted to check out the standard integrated Garmin navigation system. Having spent a reasonable amount of time with systems that range from $1500 to $2500, the idea of a cheap but functional system appeals. The expensive systems generally have great graphics, bigger screens, and are nicely integrated into the car’s center stack. But are they worth it?
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Suzuki is also making some noise with what is now the second-oldest vehicle in its range, the five-door SX4, for 2010MY. Launched for the 2007MY, this five-door hatchback was introduced as an AWD model, causing some to initially confuse it with a small SUV. The range was expanded to include a sedan with the 2008MY, and a front-drive version of the hatchback became available for 2009MY. With 2010MY, these cars take a new engine that boosts power to 150HP and also comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission.


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2011 Audi A8 Premium Luxury Reveal

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On Monday November 30, Audi AG revealed the all new Audi A8 flagship sedan to the world media in Miami, Florida. There were 850 journalists in attendance from the USA, Europe, South America, China, Japan, Russia… anywhere you can name.
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Capping Audi’s Centennial Anniversary, the launch of the A8 is very significant to the company. The A8 is being introduced in Europe and China earlier in 2010 with the USA getting A8 in Winter 2010 or Spring 2010.
Study Team Visits USA and China The A8 has a special place in AutoPacific’s heart. In early 2006, AutoPacific hosted an Audi study team working on finalizing the concept of the A8. The team was in the USA for about three weeks. After visiting the USA, they spent a month in China where Audi outsells BMW and Mercedes-Benz by two-to-one. This group of engineers, planners, designers, financial experts and production managers were extremely enthusiastic, very knowledgeable and anxious to do what was right for the car and for Audi.
The results of their work is the all new 2011 Audi A8. Wow, what a car!


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Ford's EcoBoost Establishes a Beachhead

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Ford Motor Company launched a new powertrain technology called EcoBoost earlier in 2010. EcoBoost will eventually be available on 90% of Ford’s lineup in the USA. The first EcoBoost installations are in Ford’s new D3 Platform vehicles – Ford Taurus SHO, Lincoln MKS, Lincoln MKT, and Ford Flex. EcoBoost’s first installation is a 3.5L V6 with gasoline direct injection and twin turbochargers. Power output on the Taurus SHO is 365HP while on the MKS, MKT and Flex is 355. The EcoBoost 3.5L has 350lb-ft of torque. These technology advancements yield substantially better performance while achieving equivalent fuel economy as a vehicle equipped with a non-EcoBoost 3.5L (of course this is only on paper. EcoBoost is so fun to drive you’ll be in it all the time – achieving equal fuel economy is just a dream).
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EcoBoost a $5,000 Proposition Anyway, EcoBoost is not free. A Taurus SHO is almost $40,000 and the price increase for EcoBoost on the MKT, MKS and Flex comes out to about $5,000. That price includes all wheel drive which EcoBoost requires to handle the power and torque on the front wheel drive platform. So, with the power and price increase, how many is Ford selling?
EcoBoost Installations Running Ahead of Forecast According to George Pipas, Ford’s spokesman for sales reporting and arcane numbers, the Taurus SHO now represents about 15% of the Taurus lineup. This is 5%-pts higher than Ford had estimated. Each Taurus SHO generates $10,000 more economic profit than an average Taurus. Installation rate on the Lincoln MKT is 47%. About 30% of Lincoln MKS gets EcoBoost (and 37% gets AWD). The Flex has about an 11% rate lowest of the four.
So, it appears that EcoBoost is well on its way to being a success even in these tough economic times. In each vehicle line, with the possible exception of Flex, the installation rate is healthy for a performance option. It will be interesting to see what the mix is of EcoBoost engines as Ford continues to roll the technology across its vehicle lines.


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2010 BMW 335d: The Polar Opposite of What You Think Diesel Is

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BMW_2009_335d_fillup.JPGWhile hybrids may be getting all of the attention when it comes to efficient motoring, the German automakers have long been preparing to show Americans a real alternative in the form of diesel engines. Because of much higher fuel prices in Europe, diesel has become the norm across the Atlantic due to their much greater fuel economy (up to 30% better than a comparable gasoline engine). In other words, the German automakers are already fully invested in diesel, and they would love to expand this technology into the U.S.
It isn’t an easy job, however. Whereas European emissions rules focus on CO2 emissions – a diesel strength since CO2 emissions are directly linked to fuel economy, American emissions rules tend to prioritize NOx and particulate emissions, which are two areas where diesels typically don’t do so well in. Furthermore, Americans associate diesels with dirty truck stops, smoky 18-wheelers, and pig-slow jalopies from the ’70s and ’80s that were unreliable and belched filth from their sooty tailpipes. On the other hand, Americans equate hybrids with high technology, clean air, and in many cases, a green future.


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Ford Fusion Hybrid: Green and Mean(-ish)!

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Ford unveiled the new Fusion Hybrid at the LA Auto Show. It’s a very nice piece of work that is able to achieve better fuel economy than the Toyota Camry Hybrid. Stephanie Brinley was able to get an exclusive interview with Gil Portalatin, hybrid propulsion integration manager at Ford. Watch below as Gil takes us on a tour of the car and some of its most innovative features.


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2008 LA Auto Show: MINI E

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Underscoring the eco-friendly theme of the LA Auto Show (and arguably many other auto shows over the last few years), MINI unveiled an all-electric version that will be available to 500 lucky individuals and companies. Called MINI e, this plug-in electric car uses advanced lithium ion batteries that will provide good range (for an electric) along with the sort of peppy performance expected from the brand.

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