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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Did Anybody At Chrysler Ever Think About This?

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By the middle of 2007, Chrysler-Jeep showrooms will be populated by a befuddling number of quite traditional and Post-Modern SUVs (The Scribe refuses to use that vile “crosso___” term). While currently Chrysler-Jeep dealers have only the Wrangler, Liberty, Grand Cherokee and recently added Commander to worry about, their portfolio of SUVs will nearly double over the next eighteen months or so.


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Time for SUV Jihad? Car-Based SUVs Defuse Argument

Time for Periodic SUV Jihad – New Soft-Roaders Just Now Approaching
Every two to three years, the New York Times leads a jihad against SUVs. Keith Bradsher, a New York Times reporter, after all made a career bashing SUVs while on the quest for a Pulitzer he never got. In Bradsher’s book The High and the Mighty, he took SUVs to task. Albeit, he admitted his real target was truck-based SUVs, not the more efficient SUVs based on cars. To the layman, however, that argument was lost and Bradsher became known as the SUV Killer. The reason we call this the “jihad” against SUVs is that the media piles on without really thinking about the issue when a heavyweight like the New York Times takes a strong position.
[As an aside, during the last jihad, Paul Eisenstein editor of The Car Connection (http://www.thecarconnection.com), determined that only a few of the New York Times reporting staff owned or even drove a car and certainly even fewer had any hands-on experience with owning or driving an SUV].
While the New York Times has shown some restraint this year, SUVs have become an easy target as sales for Suburbans, Expeditions and Grand Cherokees soften in the face of soaring gasoline prices. Resorting to huge incentives to move the metal, SUV profitability has been gutted. The American automakers have been slow to respond to Japanese SUVs based on car platforms that are more fuel efficient than traditional truck-based SUVs. Ford has been competing with the Escape/Mariner and Freestyle, GM with the Chevrolet Equinox. But the wave of competitive American crossovers will come in 2006 and 2007. More on that later.

Posted in: Auto XPRT Speaks...

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Toyota to Overtake GM as Top Carmaker

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An article in the Saturday, November 19, 2005 Wall Street Journal projects that Toyota may overtake General Motors as the highest selling carmaker in 2006.
While Toyota (Toyota, Lexus, Scion) may not sell more than GM (Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC, Buick, Cadillac, Hummer, Saturn, Saab) in the United States, it may sell more worldwide. Toyota is concentrating much of its sales expansion in North America where it is pulling sales from General Motors and Ford. GM is bolstering production capacity in China and South America where it sees room for growth where Toyota is not yet strong.
The Wall Street Journal article is one of many recent media reports confirming the results of VehicleVoice research and forecasts by AutoPacific. VehicleVoice research shows a continuing deterioration in General Motors’ (and Ford and Chrysler traditional brands) market share in the United States under the concentrated onslaught of the Japanese Big Three. AutoPacific’s forecast of United States sales shows Toyota, Honda and Nissan increasing market share by adding new assembly capacity and models.


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carbuyersnotebook.com Article and Podcast on Gas Prices

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I met Frank Giovinazzi at a recent press event. Frank has created an excellent site that combines all the latest in automotive online reporting – articles, links, commentary, podcast and video-casts. Frank’s site, while fun and irreverent, often takes a different spin on automotive “truisms”.
Frank interviewed George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, for a podcast concerning the VehicleVoice internet survey of the impact of present fuel prices on American drivers.
Check out his site at http://www.carbuyersnotebook.com/archives/2005/11/car_buyers_note_98.htm


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Are High Gas Prices a Cruel Psychological Plot?

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$1, $2, $3 for a gallon of gasoline. Is this a conspiracy on the part of the oil companies? VehicleVoice internet research shows American drivers pin much of the blame on high profits the major oil companies are getting.
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It is not hard for conspiracy theorists to figure out that ever-increasing gas prices are part of a psychological ploy by the oil companies to get Americans accustomed to higher prices at the pump. Think about it. Just a few years ago, Americans were complaining that gasoline was a dollar a gallon. Then Americans complained and wrung their hands as prices rose to $2. Then they gasped as gasoline rose to $3 per gallon.
At each hurdle, gas prices temporarily fell back below the psychological even dollar threshhold. Is this planned to give Americans a sense of relief as they grow accustomed to $2.50 gasoline instead of $3.00? Is there any doubt that once gas prices have bottomed out again in the $2.00 to $2.50 range that they will again begin inching their way back up to $3.00?

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Are High Fuel Prices Changing The Way Americans Drive?

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AutoPacific’s Vehicle Voice Research – Consumer Reaction to Continuing High Fuel Prices


How are you reacting to the price of fuel? VehicleVoice surveyed panelists to find out.

As the price of gasoline in the United States remains high, the October 2005 Fuel Price Impact Survey conducted by VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) for AutoPacific, Inc confirms that many consumers intend to shift the type of vehicle they drive, though not quite to the extent they indicated only one month ago. The Fuel Price Impact Survey is based on the results of a VehicleVoice Internet survey with 1,145 respondents who completed the survey between October 17 and October 22, 2005.
Actual fuel price down; anticipated fuel price up!
In the last month the median price respondents say they paid for fuel has declined seven cents per gallon, but the median price they expect to pay one year from now has increased by five cents per gallon.
Major, but reduced shift away from SUVs and towards Small Cars.
While over half (63%) of the respondents indicate that they will not change the type of vehicle they drive, there clearly is impact on the Sport Utility Vehicle category. About 22% of SUV owners say they will shift to another type of vehicle next time they buy, down from 27% a month ago. The vehicle class most likely to benefit from this migration is Small Cars (up 33% this month, compared with a 41% increase last month). While the data do not show a direct relationship of drivers moving from SUVs to Small Cars, there is a tendency to move from less fuel-efficient classes to vehicle types that get better gas mileage.
Hybrid preference still huge, seen as silver bullet!
About 25% of drivers who have vehicles powered by V8 engines say they will shift to more fuel-efficient engines, the same as reported last month. Vehicles with hybrid powerplants will be considered by 15% of the respondents, virtually unchanged from the prior survey. This is a reaction to the continuing positive media attention surrounding hybrid-powered vehicles and the public’s perception that hybrids are an answer to the higher price of fuel. There is also somewhat more interest in diesel engines, though significantly less than the level of interest in a gas-electric hybrid.
High fuel price seen as BAD for America!
The culprits identified by the respondents as contributing to high fuel prices are Big Oil Companies, OPEC, Natural Disasters and Limited Refining Capacity. When asked whether high fuel prices are good or bad for America, 80% say that high fuel prices are “bad for America”, unchanged from the prior survey. In the land where roads have been paved by cheap gas, attitudes are that conservation stimulated by higher gasoline prices is not the popular way to go. Higher fuel prices might actually encourage conservation, and thus be good for the planet, but respondents don’t see it that way.


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Are SUVs a Danger to Kids?

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While many people are eager to sit up high in their SUV, the feeling of safety is apparently one that is restricted to the interior of the vehicle. According to a new article published by CNN, more than 2,400 children are run over by SUVs being reversed. The article says drivers cannot see what is close to the vehicle and children in particular, are at risk.

Unfortunately, the CNN article is bringing attention to a situation that is not new. In August 2003, the Detroit News published an article on SUV backup dangers. According to the research offered by author Jeff Plungis, 32.1% of all fatalities by incident in 2002 were from being backed over by the vehicle. This statistic, however, was only the second most common danger zone – with children being left in the vehicle and dying being tops – at 36.7%.

A safety activist group called Kids and Cars (www.kidsandcars.org), is trying to get the word out about safety and children. The organization offers education tips, statistics on incidents, and discusses pending and potential legislation to protect children around all vehicles, not just SUVs. Other articles have recently been published by other newspapers, including the Globe and Sun and the Las Vegas Sun.

Regardless of the statistics, some people feel that owners should be held accountable, rather than the vehicles being noted as dangerous. President Bush has opposed several measures approved by the House, calling them, “too prescriptive.” Others, such as Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen, a non-profit public interest organization, feels the equipment itself should be regulated. Ms. Claybrook was administrator of the NHTSA from 1977 through 1981.

As the trend towards SUV and crossover vehicles continues, the question comes up: Should SUVs be labeled as potentially dangerous vehicles in ordinary driving? Does this excuse drivers themselves from the responsibility of knowing where their children and others who may be in proximity to their vehicles are? And, given the technology available today, will rear-view video cameras be enough to signal whether or not a child or pet is present when a vehicle begins to back up? Time will tell.


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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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2006 Explorer – Healey Likes It!

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If you are used to reading critiques of new vehicles in USAToday, Jim Healey can often become a curmudgeon over nitpicky details. It’s always interesting to see where his perceptions differ from those of AutoPacific’s staff. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we disagree.
Well, we had the chance to drive the new Ford Explorer a couple of months ago and came to generally the same conclusion as Healey (http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/reviews/healey/2005-11-03-explorer_x.htm). The 2006 Explorer is certainly the best Explorer ever. It is quiet and it rides well. The pumped up 4.6L V8 now puts out almost 300-horsepower and gives the Explorer the ooomph it has always needed. Inside the Explorer has become one of the quietest of the traditional body-on-frame SUV on the market. It will give luxury SUVs a run for the money.


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