Category Archive:

LA Auto Show – Honda FCX Concept

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Since the late 1980s, Honda has been evaluating, exploring, and testing fuel cell solutions. The 1999 FCX-V2 and 2001 FCX-V3 prototypes began testing on public roads and in everyday driving conditions. In December 2002, the City of Los Angeles was the first to lease a fuel cell vehicle, in the form of the 2003 FCX, followed by San Francisco and testing in the state of New York. In 2005 the first FCX was leased to a family. Further driving hydrogen expansion in California is the government initiative for installing hydrogen stations around the state’s highway system, known as California’s Hydrogen Highway.

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At the L.A. Auto Show in November, Honda introduced the next step in their fuel cell, hydrogen-powered vehicle development. The FCX Concept is a four-door sedan and previews the car that will be on sale in 2008 (2009MY), albeit with a limited roll out. The FCX takes Honda’s traditional look and rachets it up at notch. Aside from the cutting edge propulsion system, the sedan just looks great.
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VW Axes Traditional Car Ads for New Media

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Volkswagen NA has turned another corner in its quest to turn traditional marketing programs upside down. Following up on its successful FAST campaign, VW has upped the ante with a new multimedia program called “VDUBSROCK.” While it’s too early to know if the program will be a success, there’s no doubt it is establishing the importance of community marketing and new media in the sales process.

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Buy a Guitar, Get a Car… Reminiscent of Buy a Bike, Get a Jetta – Jetta Trek
The VW program promotes an unusual opportunity. Purchase one of four VW models (GTI, New Beetle, Jetta, and Rabbit), and get a new guitar – and not just any guitar, either. The First Act Garage Master guitar includes a built-in pre-amp, so you can plug the axe into your new car and literally play along with music in the car.


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CG Tech Renders Autos Obsolete

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Television commercials are designed to grab our attention – to motivate us to take some action, based on the emotion created. As such, national TV spots are often expensive (as in millions of dollars for a 30 second spot), and in some cases risky, too. Thanks to some new automotive technology, at least one part of the formula is about to change.

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New Hydrogen 7 BMW Introduced

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Even thought the cost of oil is dipping a bit this month, the overall outlook for fuel prices does not alter the issues of oil dependency. German automaker BMW has taken a significant step at reducing its product requirements for fossil fuel.

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The new BMW Hydrogen 7, is the world’s first hydrogen-drive luxury performance automobile for daily use. According to BMW, the new car is equipped with an internal combustion engine capable of running either on hydrogen or on gasoline and based on the BMW 7 Series.


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MyGIG: Chrysler Puts a Hard Drive in the 2007 Sebring

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Chrysler launches an all-new Sebring this fall and among the new options is a hard-drive navigation system. Other all-new cars with similar systems this fall include Mitsubishi Outlander (see image) and Lexus LS460/460L. Using a hard-drive navigation system, versus DVD or the old CD systems, gets faster navigation recalculation and better graphics and interfaces. But these systems bring an even more fun feature: The ability to store and play audio files from the hard drive. It’s like having a permanent iPod in your car; being a relative newcomer to the iPod world, I’m still enamored of almost all things iPod. All three vehicles arrive in dealers in October and November 2006. MyGIG gets a late introduction, but Chrysler expects availability by the end of 2006.
On behalf of VehicleVoice and AutoPacific, I was among the journalists and analysts with the opportunity to participate in a backgrounder and first-drive opportunity for Sebring (more later this month on the driving impressions). MyGIG first goes in Sebring, followed by Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Nitro. Availability will spread to other Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep models as they are updated and this is the future of Chrysler’s navigation/audio systems.

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The beauty of MyGIG is its integration of features offered independently on other models. MyGIG integrates Sirius radio, UConnect Bluetooth capability, the navigation system, the 20GB hard drive, a USB 2.0 port, and an auxiliary jack for MP3 players. Operation is by voice controls or touch screen. It offers real-time traffic information and can re-route a destination based on that information, depending on preferences set by the driver. Chrysler is not first on the scene with these features, but MyGIG integration takes a significant step forward in performance and affordability. It also pulls Chrysler out of the also-rans into the lead in this department, as their prior GPS navigation was weak at best.
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2007 Lexus GS 450h – Seduced By The "Electric Turbocharger"

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We all know that until gas prices go up to somewhere over $4.50/gallon and stay there for a goodly bit of time, the wonder of gasoline/electric hybrid technology won’t deliver enough in fuel savings to pay off the incremental cost of most systems for the average driver. So the reasons for hybrid interest lie somewhere beyond economy. Honda, purveyors of the Civic Hybrid and the amusing but impractical Insight, decided that the concept of a performance hybrid might have some traction. The company teased us with the concept of a performance-based hybrid in the guise of the Accord Hybrid. But for several reasons, not the least of which was the combo of less-than-earth-shaking acceleration with a $30,000+ price tag, the anodyne hot-rod hybrid Honda has failed to perform in the market. In the case of America’s most popular hybrid vehicle, Toyota’s Prius, the obvious reason for its success and buzz is the car’s distinctive styling that makes the petit five-door hatchback stand out for the crowd. It all but screams “I’m making a statement.” And in the case of the Prius that statement is one of saving the environment.
Beyond the Prius and Insight, hybrids are far less distinctive on the road. Pretty much all that differs the majority of hybrids from their conventionally propelled sister vehicles are wheels, badging and, in one or two cases, a specific grille.

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Invisible Lexus GS 450h Tests Consumer Demand for Distinctive Hybrid Styling
So it is with the latest addition to the Toyota/Lexus lineup of Hybrids. Beyond a set of chrome-trimmed 18-inch wheels, a small “h” on the rear and an even smaller Hybrid badge in its lower-body moldings, the 2007 Lexus GS 450h could pass for the V8-powered GS 430.
Jim Hall, AutoPacific Vice President and VehicleVoice contributor had a recent opportunity to drive a GS 450h during one of his frequent trips to the mother ship in California. Impressed, he coined the term “electric turbocharger” to describe the impact of the Hybrid Synergy Drive on the performance of the GS.


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Diesels – Destroying Three Decades of Stereotypes Twelve Hours

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VehicleVoice correspondent and AutoPacific Vice President Jim Hall attended the 12-hours of Sebring in February. Audi won the race with its revolutionary R10 diesel-powered racer. Jim provides an interesting perspective on diesels in the USA and the future.
Diesel cars are nothing new in America. Oil-fueled Mercedes of various numeric monikers have been sold in this country since the mid-fifties. With a reputation (earned) of being near indestructible and overengineered to the nth degree and the reality of superior fuel economy to comparable 1950s and 1960s cars, the slow but parsimonious engine gained a following of bunker oil enthusiasts who were forced to buy Mercedes-Benzes and a little later Peugeots. Still, the loyal didn’t mind the fact their cars were pokey, noisy and smelled emitted sooty, funny smelling exhaust.


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Ford's New 3.5L V6 Finally Puts Out

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When Ford announced its new 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 engine, many were underwhelmed by its 250-horsepower output. After all, similar displacement modern V6s from Ford’s Japanese competitors have achieved that level of output for years. Gads, even Japanese Minivans were approaching 250-horsepower with the Honda Odyssey at 244-horsepower. The Acura MDX gets 253HP from 3.5L. The Nissan Altima gets 265 from 3.5L.
Those of us at AutoPacific and VehicleVoice were wondering if Ford just didn’t get it. Couldn’t they read competitive specifications?
Ford’s New 3.5L V6 Gets 265-Horsepower
Well, Ford finally has let the “official horsepower” number slip and it’s good news. The 3.5L V6 gets 265-horsepower on regular grade fuel. That means the first vehicles to get it should feel pretty darn nice. Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX and Lincoln MKZ all get the new powerplant. And, Ford says that the 3.5L will be its high volume powerplant of the future.
Hope it feels as good as it sounds.


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Let’s Talk Cars: Hangar Queens, Audi Diesel Racing and the New Small Cars

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Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars”

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This week on Let’s Talk Cars, we take on the juicy subject of “hangar queens.” These are the vehicles automotive companies wish they hadn’t decided to sell. AutoPacific founder and president George Peterson and VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall have another of their signature dialogs and take on the entire automotive industry while they’re at it!
But it’s not all negative. Jim Hall thinks Audi has done something extraordinary on the race track that might soon trickle all the way down to a showroom near you.
And we wrap things up with an OpEd piece from George Peterson on the new flood of small (we mean really small) cars hitting the market.
Show Rundown
01:48 Hangar Queens – VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall and AutoPacific president and founder, George Peterson
16:20 Audi Diesels – VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall
20:36 The New Small Cars – George Peterson, AutoPacific president and founder


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Latest Toyota vs. Honda Hybrid Faceoff: Camry vs. Accord In Another Dimension

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Camry Hybrid Launches with $25,900 Price Tag
Toyota has just announced pricing for its latest hybrid, the Camry. Sitting at the heart of the car market, this family sedan has a 187HP four-cylinder hybrid system that offers almost as much power as the launch V6-powered 2002 Camry. For a mere $25,900, one can get a hybrid powertrain and standard equipment including automatic headlights, premium audio, cruise control, Bluetooth, power driver’s seat, sixteen-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an ECO button that further improves fuel economy by controlling the HVAC system in certain situations. It arrives in dealers in May 2006.
This is an issue that VehicleVoice and AutoPacific has been tracking. Will a performance-oriented hybrid be more persuasive than a fuel economy biased hybrid. Honda has adopted the performance strategy with Accord, but not with Civic. Toyota has gone the fuel economy route with its Toyota brand hybrids, but with performance-oriented strategies with its Lexus brand hybrids. Over time, it will be very interesting to see how these differing strategies play out.

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Accord Hybrid Versus Camry Hybrid
Camry launches with a price about $5000 less than Honda‘s Accord hybrid sedan, which uses a V6 and, with 253HP, offers significantly more horsepower. This dramatic difference in horsepower ratings presents an interesting case study. So far, hybrids have been primarily for improving fuel economy, as with the Prius and Civic hybrids, or for getting luxury performance with a smaller hit at the pump, as with the Lexus hybrids. But the Camry and the Accord hybrids go head-to-head in segment and size with slightly different philosophies, giving the market an the opportunity indicate a preference for hybrids with improved overall performance versus for hybrids focused more purely on improved fuel economy.


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