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Volkswagen Golf GTI: The Original Pocket Rocket Returns

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Volkswagen‘s latest Golf has been on sale in Europe since late 2003, and the GTI three-door hatchback since mid-2005, but the wait is finally over for U.S. buyers. In January 2006, after being introduced at the 2006 Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows, the Golf GTI serves as the launch model for the fifth-generation Golf on these shores. The latest GTI arrives as a 2006 model year vehicle, even though the prior generation had a part-year 2006MY run.
Standard Golf models go on sale during the second quarter of 2006, but it is the GTI that Vehicle Voice correspondents and Golf enthusiasts around the country are most interested in. Given our past experiences with the Audi A3 and the Golf IV R32 models, we’re looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a GTI. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know.


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Volkswagen Shows Concept Motorcycle – GX3

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Three-Wheeled, Two-Passenger Toy
Volkswagen AG dispatched a group of German engineers, planners and marketers to the USA to learn about the American car market. The code name for this group of traveling market monitors was “Moonraker”. The Volkswagen GX3 concept is a product of the Moonraker project.
Volkswagen’s Design Center in California worked with the Moonraker team to develop a new concept for fuel-efficient fun mobility specifically geared toward U.S. buyers. The direction was to create a quintessential and pure driving machine. The inspiration was the minimalist design language found in GP motorcycles and F1 race cars. The result is the GX3. Though not the first time that VW has studied a three-wheeled vehicle, this one the company claims may be built if reaction is positive. VW is looking beyond the typical vehicle shapes and segments to come up with new opportunities for increasing U.S. sales.
At its introduction at the Los Angeles Auto Show in January 2006, the GX3 created a mob scene when Wolfgang Bernhard, the new head of the Volkswagen group in Germany, drove the GX3 onto the stand. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand to learn what GX3 has to offer. The first thing to come to mind is a striking similarity to a twenty-plus year old concept called the Trihawk that used a Peugeot front wheel drive system and a single rear wheel “dragged” along for the ride. Trihawk was purchased by Harley-Davidson in the mid-1980s but never saw production after Harley bought the brand and the vehicle. In those days, Harley was in dire straits and had no resources to expand beyond its bread and butter motorcycle lineup.


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Volkswagen Passat Range Expands With New Wagon

Passat Wagon Introduced at 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show
The all new Passat sedan went on sale in in the USA in Fall 2005, with the launch of the wagon in January 2006, about the time that the range also added 4Motion models just in time for Winter in the Snow Belt. The Passat wagon has been available in Europe since late 2005 with the USA launch at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show clearly overshadowed by the reveal of the Volkswagen GX3 concept 3-wheel motorcycle.
The wagon benefits from all of the updates the sedan received for 2006 model year, including all-new sheetmetal bearing the latest design direction of the brand and a switch from longitudinal to transverse engine placement. The Passat continues with a choice of in-line four or V6 powerplants. The previous-generation offered a W8 engine that did not sell well has been dropped with the transverse powertrain Golf-based Passat.
The Passat sedan and wagon are offered in similar trim and engine packages, including the 2.0T Value Edition, the 2.0T, the 3.6L and the 3.6L 4Motion. There are two engines available with the latest North American Passat, an in-line four-cylinder and a V6, with no diesel yet offered. A direct-injection 200HP 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16v I4 replaced the prior generation’s 1.8L four-cylinder. The V6 engine is also a direct-injection unit that replaced the 2.8L of the prior generation. While several VAG products offer this latest VR6 in 3.2L displacement, the Passat (and Touareg) gets a 280HP 3.6L version. Volkswagen only offers its 4Motion system when the V6 is selected, whether sedan or wagon. The sedan and the wagon offer the same powertrain lineup, the same basic trim level setup, and the same optional equipment. Models taking the 200HP I4 are badged 2.0T, with the V6-equipped models badged 3.6L or 3.6L 4Motion. Only a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic is offered; no manual transmission is planned for this family-oriented entry.


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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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Crossover SUVs to Outsell Traditional SUVs in 2006

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Crossover SUVs will outsell Traditional truck-based SUVs beginning in 2006. This forecast comes from George Pipas, Ford’s Manager of Sales Analysis and Reporting in a presentation in Long Beach, CA on December 12, 2005. Refer to the VehicleVoice Blog on December 8 citing a USA Today article on similar observations.

A Few Comments on What a Crossover SUV Is

Pipas’ analysis charts the meteoric rise of Traditional SUVs during the 1990s and the similarly meteoric rise of Crossover SUVs since 1996 when the first crossovers – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 – were introduced. Of course, defining SUV categories is getting murkier and murkier. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have used the “at-a-glance” rule to define SUVs. If you can, at-a-glance, tell that a vehicle is an SUV, then by golly it is an SUV. In this way you are not confused about whether it is car-based or truck-based. (Pipas contends that only about 70% of Crossover SUVs meet this at-a-glance requirement with 30% easily confused as cars, hatchbacks, or wagons.)
Escalade Blog.jpg Traditional SUV 2007 Cadillac Escalade – Category Expected to Decline as a Percentage of Overall SUV Universe
The auto industry thinks differently and often gets caught up in definition problems. They have variously called car-based SUVs “hybrids” (a term since adopted by gasoline-electric ‘hybrid’ powerplants) or “crossovers”. In our research, we have found that folks really have not yet adopted the crossover term and still like to refer to SUVs as SUVs. But enough about splitting hairs about what is a crossover and what is not.


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NIIHS Announces Safety Winners

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The National Insurance Institute of Highway Safety announced its rankings of the ten safest 2006 model year cars on Sunday December 4, 2005. To make the ratings game easier to understand, NIIHS has developed a gold silver rating scheme. Cars receiving a GOLD rating have “Good” ratings for frontal impact, side impact and head restraints. Cars receiving a SILVER rating have “Good” ratings for frontal impact and side impacts, “Acceptable” for head restraints.
One of the key objectives for this new combined rating scheme is to push manufacturers in a subtle way towards stronger performances in all aspects of the rating game.
The winners are:
GOLD

06FiveHundred Blog.jpg

Large Cars: Ford Five Hundred, Mercury Montego
Mid-Size Cars: Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy
Small Car: Honda Civic 4-door
SILVER
Large Cars: Audi A6
Mid-Size Cars: Audi A3, Audi A4, Chevrolet Malibu with side airbags, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Passat


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