Jim Hall:

Most Improved Car of the Class of 2008? – The 2008 Cadillac CTS

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Better say this right up front, with the possible exception of the new Chevy Malibu, Cadillac’s second-generation CTS may well be the most improved new car of the 2008 model year. To be sure, it’s the most impressive vehicle to carry the Cadillac badge since the stunning 1967 front-wheel-drive Eldorado.
This car is so impressive it’s tough to recall how Cadillac got into the performance luxury sedan business to begin with. Like so many stories regarding General Motors as of late, this one has a significant overseas component. Almost five years after the astonishingly moronic proclamation of a now (fortunately) retired Cadillac chief engineer that, “Cadillac will be a front-drive car company,” the Catera debuted.
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Little more than an Opel Omega with cosmetic revisions limited to a revised grille and rear decklid garnish with the requisite chassis retune and FMVSS compliance changes, the Catera was an expedient way to provide U.S. Cadillac dealers with a car the division hoped would help retain customers who had been leaving the nameplate for BMW and Lexus entries. Initially offered with a peculiar 56° vee 200HP 3.0L 24-valve DOHC six-cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed automatic, the Catera was the unfortunate recipient of what was barely a mid-pack powerplant. And the sometimes finicky V6 aside, while no 3-Series, the Catera was a decent car clothed in a decidedly innocuous wrapper. But if there’s one thing a Caddy should never be, it’s innocuous. Not surprisingly, the Catera incurred the wrath of many journalists and self-proclaimed “analysts” from the get-go. One such insightful wag decreed the Catera spelled the “end of Cadillac” because it was not offered with a V8 engine. Yeah hum.


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VehicleVoice#71 – Chinese Car Maker Not So Brilliant

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Podcast #70 – We Don't Need No Stinking Crossovers

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Here We Go Again… Ford To Sell Volvo!!!!!

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In some ways, we have been remiss with our coverage of the potential restructuring of Ford Motor Company through the sale of Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Most of the reporting in the popular and business media has been tilting at windmills. Reporters reporting rumors without verifying facts. And the latest twitch that Ford is to soon announce it is selling Volvo may indeed be the same.
Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo comprise Ford’s Premier Automotive Group and their American headquarters are just five exits south of AutoPacific on the 5-Freeway. Of course, Ford has already sold off Aston Martin for just shy of $1 billion. Is there more to follow? We don’t KNOW, but we have some ideas.
Is the Press Generating its Own News?
If you have followed the business news, the British press has piled on Ford selling Jaguar and Land Rover. Jim Hall’s June 27 story puts much of the rumor blame on Keith Crain’s Automotive News having overreacted to a short blurb in British car mag Autocar. Once AutoNews ran the story everyone else jumped on. Similarly, recent reports have Ford selling Volvo a much larger and more profitable proposition than selling off Jaguar and/or Land Rover. Would there be a likelihood that Ford could off-load all of PAG? Another don’t KNOW, but it would be difficult. More on that later.
Loans Collateralized by Jaguar/Land Rover/Volvo Assets At Risk?
The huge loans Ford took last year used its automotive assets as collateral. That included Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Should Ford attempt to unload those assets, then the basics of the loan would have to be renegotiated. And Ford’s automotive assets without Jag/LR/Volvo or any of the three may not meet the coverage requirements. That’s another don’t KNOW, but a guess.
Unbundling Product Sharing Will be a Problem
Over the years, Ford Motor Company has attempted to make its product development activities more efficient by sharing products between Ford/Jaguar/Land Rover/Volvo/Mazda. In fact, Ford’s super successful European Focus/Mazda3/Volvo S40/V50 platform has resulted in excellent vehicles for each brand. Similarly, the Land Rover LR2 (Freelander II)/Volvo XC60 will be shared. Ford based the Jaguar S-Type off the LS Platform which also yielded the Lincoln LS, the Ford Thunderbird and, loosely, the Ford Mustang.
While these relationships may be maintained or even strengthened if Ford sells-off one or more of the PAG brands, it won’t be easy.
And if Ford gets rid of its PAG brands it will miss out on the revenue and profit potential of the critically acclaimed Jaguar XF sport sedan and the Volvo XC60 Crossover SUV.
We Believe ‘Em, Don’t We?
So, as of July 18, 2007, we believe it when Ford says it is looking at all options, but that the Company has not made a decision to sell Jaguar, Land Rover or Volvo. Think about it this way, Chrysler’s merger of equals with Daimler-Benz was not leaked before it happened. Great security. Similarly, Ford’s acquisition of Volvo came out of the blue. Maybe there is just too much smoke now for there to be any fire.


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Podcast #69 – Living on the Edge Ain't So Hard

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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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VehicleVoice#61 – A Tour of the Latest in Concept Vehicles with Jim Hall

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There are few things more fun than walking through a major auto show along side AutoPacific Analyst and former General Motors brainiac, Jim Hall. You have to be patient. He knows everybody and everybody knows him, so the going is often slow. But the one liners you get to overhear as he comes upon the latest in concept cars are worth the wait. So we decided to follow him around the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, but this time,we brought the video camera.
Jim checked out the new Cadillac CTS, due to hit showroom floors this October. If you haven’t seen this performance sedan yet, you’re going to be blown away whether you’re a Cadillac fan or not. Cadillac must have had BMW’s 5 series and the Audi A6 in the crosshairs when they dreamed up this beauty. Even Jim was impressed.
He also reviewed a crop of new concepts –
Lexus IS-F
Lexus LF-A
Volvo XC60
Mercedes S-Class Convertible Ocean Drive
Chevrolet Volt
Jim went to design school, so watching him chat about stamped steel is actually interesting. And you can’t beat descriptions like “swoop du jour” and “Ingmar Bergman on acid.”
Thanks for the stroll, Jim. It was fun.

Show Runtime – 14:44


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2007 Detroit Auto Show: Ford Airstream Takes the Road of the Future

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Ford Motor Company and RV maker Airstream teamed up for the 2007 Ford Airstream concept, introduced at the 2007 North American International Auto Show. Boasting a wildly futuristic design inside and out, the Airstream looked at possibilities for crossovers way down the road. These possibilities included every aspect of the automobile, from exterior styling and access to interior layout and new in-car entertainment dreams, to a next-generation powertrain solution.

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Among the features added purely for the fun of it was a 360-degree screen in the rear passenger area for mood lighting (playing an endless lava lamp or a digital fireplace), for in-car entertainment, or even as a live camera feed of the outside world. (Over the coming days, we’ll publish our interview with Ford designer Freeman Thomas around the digital fireplace in a video podcast. Keep looking! BTW, Airstream was AutoPacific’s Jim Hall’s favorite concept)
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HySeries: Plug-In Fuel Cell
Chevrolet, with their Volt (click here for our story), was not the only manufacturer showing off the possibility of a plug-in fuel cell. The Volt took a sporty shape with a cool exterior that implied speed and nimble handling, but the Airstream played on the idea that the journey is more important than the destination.
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Airstream was designed around a plug-in hydrogen hybrid fuel cell system, HySeries in Ford-speak. HySeries is envisioned to run on electric power at all times with a Ballard-supplied fuel cell half the weight and cost of today’s, as well as being able to operate below freezing. In this concept, the fuel cell powered lithium-ion batteries, which provided motive power. The combination is said to be capable of an ultimate range of 305 miles. The powertrain is involved in real-world testing, moving a new-for-2007MY Ford Edge instead of a fancy concept.
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Pontiac Gets Australian Holden Commodore as G8

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Three years ago, Jim Hall and I were in Adelaide, South Australia. We were actually on AutoPacific business and unfortunately it was in the middle of the American summer, which meant it was the middle of the Australian winter. Chilly. Anyway, that’s beside the point.
Good Iron Down Under – From Both General Motors/Holden and Ford
This brief trip down under confirmed what I knew academically from reading about Australian vehicles. They are really cool! Both Ford and General Motors have very competent rear wheel drive platforms in Australia that would do very well in the USA. A brief visit to the local Holden dealership had us both lusting after a Holden Commodore. And that was the previous generation Commodore. In July 2006, Holden launched the all new VE Commodore. More lust.

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GM tried to import the Holden Monaro as the Pontiac GTO. The car failed because it wasn’t flashy enough and didn’t have the necessary DNA to be a believable GTO. Great car to drive, not ugly, just not head-turning.
GM to Add Holden Commodore to Pontiac Lineup as G8
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Now, we may have chance to get the object of our desires. GM appears to be ready to announce that it will begin importing the Holden Commodore 4-door sedan as the Pontiac G8. This car would replace the front wheel drive Grand Prix and maybe reach upwards to fill the spot vacated by the front wheel drive Pontiac Bonneville. Rear wheel drive and powered by a V8 engine, the Commodore would cap a newly sporting Pontiac lineup. We can’t wait.
Ford to Use Australian Falcon as Basis for RWD V8 Sedans?
Across Detroit in Dearborn a similar strategy is hatching. Apparently, Ford is considering using the rear wheel drive V8-powered Australian Falcon as the basis for the “Mustang-based” Lincoln MKR. If Ford can find the resources, we may also see the Ford Interceptor concept car based on the Falcon platform.
Ah, those Australians!


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VehicleVoice#47 – Audi R8 North American Debut

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While the World Debut of the Audi TT Roadster caused quite a stir in the Audi booth during the press days at the L.A. Auto Show, it was another unveiling just a few feet away that had AutoPacific Senior Analyst and Audi afficionado Jim Hall really excited.
The Audi R8 made its North American debut here, and sports car fans as well as those that appreciate really beautiful automotive design were drooling over this one. When it hits the road in 2007, it will be easy to spot this new coupe by the crowd of admirers following behind. Jim Hall will be one of them, until his own (now on order!) shows up in Detroit.

Show Runtime – 3:46


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