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The Tang Hua Lineup: Cars for Renowned Environmentalists

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We’d like to preface this entry by saying that we know that the Chinese are learning fast, and that we acknowledge that they are definitely coming here in the near future and will be a force to be reckoned with. And honestly, we’re really not trying to add to the wariness surrounding Chinese products these days. Still, the Tang Hua lineup of electric cars – and their auto show display – provided us with just a little too much fodder to resist a few jabs.

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Electric Runabouts Have, Um, Eyecatching Style; Demonstrate Unique Naming and Branding Strategies
It wasn’t too clear from the display what these cars are intended for, but we imagine (no, we dearly hope) that they’re probably low-speed runabouts, much like Chrysler’s GEM cars that are only street legal for neighborhood usage. There were three models displayed. The little ovoid one at top is called A Piece of Cloud, while the slightly phallic cab-backward one below it goes by the name of Book of Songs. There was another one, regrettably not pictured, called Detroit Fish that seemed to be a four-place version of A Piece of Cloud, but claimed to be amphibious. Indeed, that one was shod with decorative fins and a flimsy propeller in the back (which we could not verify was functional). Why one would want to take a high voltage electric car into the water is beyond us, but maybe Tang Hua’s onto something we haven’t figured out yet.


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2008 Saab 9-7X Aero: 390HP SUV. Just What Saab Needs

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Slow-Selling 9-7X Range Adds Aero Model for 2008MY
Saab borrows the 390HP 6.0L V8 that Chevrolet used to create the TrailBlazer SS for a 9-7X Aero for 2008MY. With the power, the Aero gets polished aluminum twenty-inch wheels, a specific paint color (Carbon Flash Metallic), and Aero embroidered leather seats inside. The Aero also takes a heavy-duty rear axle with a limited-slip differential and increases braking power with larger rotors, iron twin-piston calipers, and high-performance brake pad lining. These mechanical differences are the same changes applied to the TrailBlazer to create the SS, though the Saab 9-7X already had a lowered suspension compared to the Chevy. (Aside from adding the Aero model, there are only color and wheel changes to the 9-7X range for the 2008MY.)

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The Saab 9-7X is on its way out, and losing what little relevance it had. The product gave Saab a quick and inexpensive SUV, but one so un-Saab-like that it did not help brand image. Joining the club of offering excessive power from an already thirsty product, especially in the midst of media and public concern over fuel economy and “global warming,” seems misguided. Luxury entries from brands with performance history like BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne offer high-output performance-oriented models to help keep brand image up, but adding a 390HP Aero 9-7X does nothing for Saab’s overall brand image. Saab cannot disguise the fact that the 9-7X Aero is an American-mindset product. Even as Saab used jet references in announcing the Aero, describing the Aero’s performance as “jetlike” and the 9-7X Aero as taking off and TV commercials play on the jet theme, they can’t make this round product fit into Saab’s square product hole.
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Still, putting image and brand personality aside, our experience with the Aero’s mechanical twin Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS gives us confidence that the Saab variant will be an entertaining drive. The Aero may bring in a non-traditional Saab buyer, but Saab has nothing with which to keep them, nor are they developing new products in the same vein.
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The New Chrysler II: Lots of Noise, Questions, and Endless Speculation

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The furor surrounding Cerberus’ decision to make Bob Nardelli, formerly of Home Depot and GE, the CEO and chairman of the New Chrysler II, putting Tom LaSorda in the Number 2 position instead of Number 1, is the juiciest gossip train to hit the circuit since Mulally’s appointment at Ford. There has been much more noise than news this week, and here’s our contribution to the fray.

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Employees at Announcement Wanted to be in Air Conditioning or Home by the Pool
Watching both the press conference announcing Bob Nardelli’s appointment as CEO and chairman of the newly formed Chrysler LLC as well as the employee pep rally afterward, and both groups seem wary instead of enthusiastic or supportive. The backlash in the press finds little support for Nardelli. The employees, while impressed with acrobatics and fireworks, generally looked as though they’d have preferred to be in their offices that hot, muggy afternoon. Most left as soon as they sensed the formal program was over. Nardelli says he’s here to bring laser-focus and energy to the turnaround plan already laid out and in progress. His presence in front of employees didn’t bring energy, and returning to finish the last few days of a family vacation the next day didn’t display laser focus.
Nardelli’s been characterized as a drill sergeant with little people skills, and he’s entering a vibrant company full of strong personalities. Being private gives Chrysler LLC the ability to make decisions based on long-term health instead of short-term profit-and-loss statements. But Cerberus expects a quick turnaround and their investors do expect a return. Nardelli may be playing to a different audience, but the pressure will be no less intense.
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What a Relief – Chrysler Imperial Cancelled

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As the auto industry reviews its future under what certainly will be tougher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, cycle plans at each company are being scrutinized. What is happening is that some vehicles are being deferred as studies are carried out to determine if their fuel efficiency can be improved. Those that will definitely damage CAFE are being put on the chopping block if acceptable offsets cannot be found. On July 17, 2007 Chrysler Group announced that the Chrysler Imperial is being scrapped.

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Thank Heavens The Emperor is Dead
This is one of the few benefits that can be expected from the more stringent CAFE standards. The Imperial, first seen during the 2006 Auto Show season has to be one of the most contrived, unattractive concepts shown in years. It goes into the “what were they thinking” category and we wondered if it was just a cruel joke.
Based on the Chrysler rear wheel drive platform the Imperial would have been assembled at Chrysler’s Brampton Assembly Plant along with the Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum and Dodge Charger. Chrysler states that the Brampton change-over for the 300/Magnum/Charger would continue moving forward just without the Imperial.
With Different Styling, Imperial Could Have Been a Reasonable Line Extention
Our complaint with Imperial is that it is ugly. It is an example of Chrysler styling having run amok following the “merger of equals” with Daimler-Benz. These are the same folks, you know, that have given us the ungainly Jeep Commander. The best styling coming out of Chrysler since the “acquisition” have been the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum. Neither the Charger or the Imperial shared the same spark. We hope that with Tom Gale – Chrysler’s former design boss – joining Cerberus as an advisor, that Chrysler can find its design mojo once again.


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Ford Sells Jaguar/Land Rover – When "All The News That's Fit To Print" Ceases To Be News

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I’m sure many of you have seen at least a few of the recent “news” reports that Ford will be selling its Jaguar/Land Rover operations any day now. Potential buyers mentioned (by people who should know MUCH better) have run the gamut from Fiat to Renault to a couple of Asian companies, with a few private equity groups thrown in because the Cerberus-Chrysler deal must be the beginning of a trend. Only a few weeks ago, Automotive News, that renowned and (too) oft-quoted trade weekly, let go with the spectacular revelation that Ford was just about to announce the sale of its Volvo car unit to BMW.
Wherever do they come up with this stuff?
To start with, the sale of Jaguar/Land Rover, or Jaguar alone. Or Land Rover alone or even Volvo would require Ford Motor Company to re-negotiate the conditions of the massive cash loans it took out late last year. Why, you may ask? Put simply, Ford placed its “automotive operations” (as well as a bevy of other assets) up as collateral for the much-need infusion of capital. Admittedly, the company could go to its lenders and revise its loans so the beleaguered automaker could shed one of these units, but said negotiations are rarely quick, difficult to keep quiet and always painful.
But amongst all the chatter about Jag, Land Rover and Volvo’s imminent sale(s), not a word has leaked from the financial community. Strange, isn’t it?
And regarding the acquisition of Volvo by BMW, beyond the obvious issue that Volvo brings no usable asset or technology to the Bavarian automaker, the story is a complete fabrication. It seems the idea got started at Autocar magazine in the UK earlier this year in kind of a “what if” three-liner needed to fill out a column. Within a week or so the story was passing around the European enthusiast publications. The chatter got loud enough for numerous people at BMW (execs and PR types alike) to deny it. This only created a buzz amongst a few key European business and financial rags. The result was the astonishing transformation of filler postulation into NEWS. Not it’s not strange, it is sad. Very, very sad.


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Volvo XC90 – A Year Under the Belt

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Such a Deal! Last July, I leased a Volvo XC90 Volvo Ocean Race Edition (Number 71 of 800). Reacting to a radio ad saying come on down to your local Volvo dealer you can get a Volvo XC90 V8 for $389 a month for 24 months with $3,000 cap cost reduction. How could you pass up a $54,000 SUV for that monthly payment?
Remember, I make my leasing decisions on horsepower per lease dollar so the AWD XC90 with 311-horsepower pencilled out pretty well. In fact, the dealer dropped the monthly payment to $370 without me even asking. But that’s another story.

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Frankly, price was the thing that brought me to the XC90. It had not been high on my list of SUVs to consider, but it has turned out to be great vehicle – not without flaws however.
What makes the XC90 great? Its size is just about optimum. Not too big. Not too small. Compared to the four Ford Expeditions in row I had driven previously, the Volvo is the right size. From the driver’s seat forward and side visibility is excellent. The seats are very comfortable and the color combo was outstanding.
This XC90 is the Volvo Ocean Race Edition in a bright blue with a light tan interior. Very distinctive – not a vehicle you’d lose in a parking lot.
So, what are the nitpicks?
Tire Relationship to Wheel Lips. Have you ever looked closely at an XC90 from the side. It looks like a stork sitting on spindly little wheels and tires with a huge gap between the top of the tire and the wheel lip. Why? Well, Volvo design specs require snow chain clearance. Understandable in Sweden, but I’m willing to forgo that spec for Southern California.


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Ford Owner Very Critical of Ford Response to Problem

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The following letter arrived from Ms. Caryn Griffith of Winfield, Illinois. She has had an ongoing issue with replacement headlamps on her 1999 Mercury Cougar. As you read her comments you can feel her frustration with the way her dealer(s) and Ford Motor Company are handling her problem. She details problems with replacement parts for an older car. Replacement headlamps are in short or no supply for her car. Her insurance company has told her that her car is dangerous to drive without the headlamps being replaced. And she is unhappy with the way Ford has reacted. Read on.
“Anger, frustration, no results…this is what I’ve experienced over the past several months. Over the past 3 ½ months, I’ve been without my car, due to lack of organization and stocking of headlamps by the Ford Motor Company. What aggravates me the most is that the Ford Motor Company doesn’t seem to show any remorse for the inconvenience I’ve endured as a customer. Nor have they had an initiative to take responsibility for their company’s actions. It is also implied that because they are such a large company and seem to have so much influence over the economy and society, it seems that no one is willing to take a stand for the consumer.
This is a shortened version of my very unpleasant story.
On October 2, 2006, my 1999 Mercury Cougar was damaged due to the flooding rains that we had that evening in the west suburbs of Illinois. When I took my car in for repairs to the Westgate Lincoln Mercury Dealer, on October 9, 2006, I wanted to have the headlights looked at because they contained puddles of rainwater inside them. I found out that the entire headlight casings would have to be replaced due to the water damage, so I was glad I placed a claim with my insurance company. Little did I know how long repairing my car would take.
My car sat at the Westgate Lincoln Mercury dealer in Lombard, IL for one month, until that site was closed and merged with Elmhurst Lincoln Mercury. My car was then transported over to that dealership for the remainder of the 4 month span. Why did it take 4 months just to replace headlamps? I’d like to know that answer as well, but Ford claims it’s because of a nation-wide back-order and faulty manufacturing of previous headlamp assemblies. I have found over the past several months that the various levels of the Ford Motor Company do not work together or communicate with each other.
I have also found that I’ve been lied to, pushed around and brushed off; all signs of poor customer service. The following list is a brief overview of what I’ve been through:
Continued below the fold…


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Michelin Advertising – Suicidal Change?

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Over the years, AutoPacific has conducted a considerable amount of research on tires and tire advertising. One of the biggest blunders we have seen in recent years has been the shift by Michelin from its baby in the tire advertising to a refocus on the Michelin Man – Mr. Bibendum.
We can only guess that this change was brought on by new management at Michelin (not invented here – the previous management didn’t know what they were doing philosophy) or present management just growing weary of the same old successful baby in the tire advertising. Remember, advertising is only as strong as the management directing it.
Michelin’s Baby in the Tire Extremely Persuasive
In focus group after focus group one of the first things people remember about tire advertising is Michelin’s baby in the tire campaign. The second is Goodyear’s blimp. Michelin’s baby-oriented theme ran for years – maybe decades and was respected for continuity almost as much as BMW’s Ultimate Driving Machine message. The baby clearly communicated safety and security and hit the heart stings of every woman in the research.

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One advertising critique describes the Michelin baby campaign this way: “The message here, of course, is “if you don’t lay out the extra cash for Michelin tires, you are going to kill your own child.” Too obvious and crude to fool anybody? Nope. “We are so proud of the impact the baby campaign has had over the years,” remarks a Michelin “brand manager.” “It’s rare for an advertising campaign to have this kind of longevity and influence on an industry.””
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So, faced with a long running successful campaign, Michelin shifted to the Michelin Man and killed the baby. Not that we don’t like the Michelin Man, we do, but there probably was room for both.

Advertising Age Review of Michelin Advertising Over the Years

Advertising Age describes the Michelin Man advertising in glowing terms. Introduced in 1898, the Michelin Man was an idea conceived by Edouard Michelin. Advertising Age explains:
“Andre Michelin commissioned the creation of this jolly, rotund figure after his brother, Edouard, observed that a display of stacked tires resembled a human form. The artist’s sketches of a bloated man made of tires was exactly what the brothers had in mind.
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One in particular, picturing the character lifting a beer glass and shouting, “Nunc est bibendum! (Now is the time to drink!)” seemed to embody Michelin’s slogan at the time, “Michelin tires swallow up all obstacles.”
The artist reworked the hulking figure, replacing the beer bottle with a goblet of nails and glass that the character rose in a toast to all road hazards.
Today, the Michelin Man is one of the world’s oldest and most recognized trademarks and it represents Michelin in over 150 countries.”
In researching this brief blurb on Michelin’s advertising, we found Google overflowing with links. A scholarly book has even been written on Michelin advertising. The review of the book is found below the fold.


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Mercedes GL450 Buying Experience – Nightmare at Fletcher Jones

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The following story tracks the actual sales and service experience of long time AutoPacific project manager Mary Beth Martin. Mary Beth’s husband leased her a new Mercedes GL450 from Fletcher Jones Motorcars. The GL450 is the top-of-the-line Mercedes SUV – not cheap by any means. Fletcher Jones is the largest Mercedes-Benz dealership in the USA if not in the world. Located in Newport Beach, California Fletcher Jones is admittedly a bit landlocked for the amount of business they push through the dealership, but that is a feeble excuse for the experience Mary Beth had when acquiring her new ride. Read on, the story will surprise you.

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Nightmare at Fletcher Jones Motorcars
Purchasing or leasing a new vehicle is a wonderful thing or at least it should be! My husband surprised me with a new Mercedes GL 450 as an early Christmas present. He said all I had to do was pick out the color (I had already told him what features I wanted on my next vehicle), sign (documents) and leave (December 5th). He had prearranged the deal with a salesman at Fletcher Jones Motorcars in Newport Beach, California.
I need to give you a little background information: my husband arranged to lease two vehicles in the deal, one for myself and one for his partner’s wife. Both vehicles were to be GL450s equipped the same way (or were supposed to be). We were to sign for the vehicles and Fletcher Jones was to bill my husband’s company. So I was all excited about my first luxury vehicle (my husband already has a S500, but my vehicle was a Ford Expedition schlepmobile) and since purchasing my Expedition had been wonderful I anticipated this to be even better (at least that is what the Mercedes and Fletcher Jones ads implied).
Read on for my story of woe…


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LA Auto Show – Mazda Nagare Concept

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Acura (click here for our story) wasn’t the only manufacturer exploring themes for more than ten years out at the November 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, and not the only manufacturer who may have missed the mark.
Mazda developed the Nagare (pronounced na-ga-reh) concept to describe their future design themes, as an expression of where Mazda styling might be in 2020. Nagare is not only the name of this concept, but the name of Mazda’s future design language. The word, according to Mazda, is Japanese for flow and the “embodiment of motion.” Nagare is the first of several show properties being prepared for this year’s auto show season that will explore this new surface language, each of which will take a different interpretation. Mazda promises some of the concepts we see this year will be closer to production; this Nagare is a design rather than a production expression.

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Form Follows Function? Not Here
Nagare has a sleek, aerodynamic shape, but one that is difficult to reconcile with the concept of an “urban cruiser” for 2020 or any other decade. For one, the extreme aero look didn’t leave much room for people, the most basic reason for having a vehicle. Placing the wheels at the extreme edges of every corner does promise strong and nimble handling and give the concept an aggressive stance. This concept stressed the soul of the sports car over the ability for people to ride in it. Though Mazda didn’t actually show the concept property with doors open, it is designed with two forward-hinged double-length doors that open like butterfly wings. Nice and pretty and a configuration found on lots of concepts, but one that is rarely used in production, and even then typically for low-volume sports cars.


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