Sunday, April 29, 2018

Opel to Celebrate 50th Birthday of the Opel GT at the Bodensee Klassik Rally in May

Three Opel GTs in mint condition
Photo: Opel Pressroom—Poland.
Remember the Opel GT?—the German-import sports coupe with hot looks and unremarkable power that was brought to the U.S. through a partnership with GM and affectionately known here in the States as the "Baby 'Vette?"

Well, the Opel GT, which was actually manufactured in two generations (1968-1973 and 2000-2010), has its 50th birthday this year.

To celebrate, Opel will send five Opel GTs to join a lineup of 180 classic cars for the Bodensee Klassik (May 3-5). The rally starts and ends on the picturesque shores of Lake Constance in Bregenz, Voralberg, Austria, and features a challenging stretch through the mighty summits of the Tyrolean Alps. 

Alfa Romeo Introduces Stelvio Quadrifoglio to Asia at Auto China

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio holds a performance record for its class, having clocked a time of 7:51.7 at Green Hell. Photo: Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles media site.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles introduced the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio to the Asian market at the Auto China trade show in Beijing last Wednesday. The new high-performance premium SUV will remain on display at Auto China through Friday, May 4. Alfa Romeo's exhibit stand is in Hall E1 at the New China International Exhibition Center of Beijing.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Why are Passenger Cars an Endangered Species? A Demographer You’ve Never Heard Of Just Might, Indirectly, Hold the Key

1967 Cadillac Eldorado
Photo: GM media website.

Unless you’re a hardcore demographics geek like me, you’ve probably never heard of Kenneth W. Gronbach. If you have heard of him, chances are you’re a regular listener to Coast to Coast AM, the popular nationally syndicated talk radio show, on which Gronbach has been interviewed a couple of times by host George Noory.

But regardless of whether you’ve heard of him, Kenneth W. Gronbach, author of Upside: Profiting from the Profound Demographic Shifts Ahead, just might be the most important demographer alive. And his take on millennials, the generation that has overtaken baby boomers as the largest demographic group in the U.S., just might go a long way toward explaining the ongoing decline of the traditional passenger car or sedan—a phenomenon that we at Auto Enthusiasts Newsblaster like to call #DeathOfCar.

If you’re like Kenneth Gronbach, you understand that one of the most dangerous errors of omission that any enterprise can make is to have an incomplete or oversimplified understanding of how demographic factors can profoundly affect economic trends and business outcomes.

In his talk-show appearances, Mr. Gronbach relates that he learned this lesson the hard way. In his days as an advertising-agency owner, he gained a first-hand understanding of the importance of demographics when he lost a large client in the motorcycle industry.

Autonomous Vehicles and Smart Highways: Author Bennecke's Fictional Vision Sorts Out the Worst—And Best—Possible Futures

Especially after a wave of tragic incidents, opinions of self-driving cars and other automated transportation technologies are, to say the least, ambivalent.

This holds true not only at the U.S. level, but also globally. According to survey findings from BCG and the World Economic Forum, as summarized by Statista,  half of survey participants from ten countries say they would not feel safe in a self-driving car. Forty-five percent said, further, that they want to be in control at all times when driving.

The ambivalence at the individual and societal level is affecting creative works as well. And Civil Terror: Gridlock (Jaytech Publishing, March 2018), the first installment in a new series of novels by civil engineer turned fiction author J. Luke Bennecke, is one of the latest examples.

What if traffic jams were not only a nuisance but also an actual source of danger?

With self-driving cars being tested across the world and computer systems at the helm, this possibility is not as far-fetched as it might have once seemed. Bennecke uses his wealth of knowledge on the subject to take a fictional dive head first into the question of what might happen if we, as a society, fail to account for the risks associated with the technological advancements of autonomous vehicles in his new novel.

Kicking off what will eventually be a four-book series, Civil Terror: Gridlock centers on Civil Engineer Jake Bendel. Far from the usual genre hero, Bendel works for the federal government where he has designed and implemented a national self-driving network. For three months fatal accidents and traffic congestion across the U.S. become all but obsolete.

But when a terrorist cell weaponizes Jake’s system, suddenly the technology that was his success story is putting many lives on the line. Bendel and his unlikely partner, a rogue FBI agent named Jose Cavanaugh, must play a deadly game of strategy with a terrorist organization to try and head them off at the pass. When the terrorists’ activities threaten the life of Bendel’s adult daughter, the game becomes even more serpentine, and he must make an impossible decision to save her life or save millions of American lives at risk on freeways everywhere.

Friday, April 27, 2018

As Ford Pulls the Plug on Fusion, Taurus, Another Tire Drops in #DeathOfCar

2018 Ford Fusion
With Ford's decision to pull Fusion and Taurus from North American Dealerships, the Fusion may now be truly riding off into the sunset. Photo: Ford media website.
First, let's put things in perspective.

The Ford Fusion is a car that we have spent a lot of time ragging on lately as an example of what's wrong with passenger car design today—those look-alike body shapes that are supposedly driven by safety requirements and other regulations, and those awful, awful grilles.

So we're not exactly sad to see the Ford Fusion go, at least not its current generation.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Connected Cars? Been There, Done That. But is a Connected Motorcycle In Your Future?

Vehicle Communication Chipset Maker Autotalks Joins Industry Consortium on a Mission to Minimize Motorcycle Accidents

A Yamaha motorcycle
Photo: Rainmaker47 (posted to Wikimedia Commons)
The penetration of safety-related tech into cars, such as lane-departure warning and collision avoidance systems, is increasingly familiar to motorists. Evidence suggests that these systems are producing good results. Research by the Institute for Highway Safety, for example, finds that automotive safety technology has reduced accidents due to lane-change issues by 14 percent and injuries associated with these incidents by 23 percent.

But what about technology to reduce risk to motorcycle drivers, who, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are 26 times more likely to have a fatal accident?

The Connected Motorcycle Consortium (CMC), a collaboration between manufacturers, suppliers, researchers and associations to make motorcycles part of the future of connected mobility, has made the effort to put high tech to work to increase motorcycle safety part of its core mission.

Founding members of CMC include BMW Motorrad, Honda and Yamaha, and other member motorcycle manufacturers include Ducati, Kawasaki, KTM and Suzuki. And now, CMC has the collaboration of Autotalks, a V2X (Vehicle to Everything) communication chipset manufacturer that recently joined the consortium.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Kelley Blue Book Picks Mazda for Performance, Styling Awards

2018 Mazda lineup
Photo: Mazda media website.

Mazda announced Monday that they have added two new awards to their trophy shelf this week, this time winning accolades in the performance and design categories.

Kelley Blue Book selected Mazda for two 2018 Brand Image Awards: “Best Performance Brand” and “Best Car Styling Brand.” This is Mazda’s second year in a row as the winner of “Best Car Styling Brand” award, while the marque is a first-time winner in the “Best Performance Brand category.

Monday, April 23, 2018

I Just Figured Out Why I'm Not Crazy About the Last Two Camaro Generations

Sixth-generation Camaro. Photo: GM media website.
Don't get me wrong. The current generation Chevrolet Camaro is a nice car. It's a fast car and more than meets all of the requirements to carry the mantle of the grand tradition of pony cars that it comes from.

First-generation Camaro: Photo: GM media website.
If someone offered me a new Camaro for free, I would gleefully accept it. And I would keep it and drive it for many happy miles and years, rather than sell it.

 And yet, since the fifth-generation Camaro first came out for the 2010 model year, and continuing into the the current generation that launched in 2016, something has always just bothered me. And now, after taking a really good look at a fifth-generation Camaro yesterday, I think I more clearly understand why.

To frame up my explanation, allow me to indulge in a cliche and quote "Webster's," because there are two terms that explain my impression of the last two Camaro generations. Both of those terms have definitions in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary that vividly illustrate what I am talking about:

  • Caricature—"exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics" [emphasis mine]
  • Postmodern—"of, relating to, or being any of various movements in reaction to modernism that are typically characterized by... ironic self-reference and absurdity..." [emphasis mine]
Yes, as you might have guessed, my take is that the fifth and sixth-generation are postmodern caricatures of the classic first-generation that launched in 1967.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Porsche 911 GT3 RS Goes to Green Hell, Sets Speed Benchmark for Road-Approved Sports Cars

The Porsche 911 GT3 RS, running the demanding "Green Hell"
circuit in Nürburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.
Photo: Porsche media website.
It's known as the most demanding race track in the world, so demanding that it has earned the nickname "Green Hell." That was the setting that Porsche Works race driver Kévin Estre was dealing with when he set a lap time of 6:56.4 minutes in a 520-hp Porsche 911 GT3 RS, according to a Porsche report released April 20.

Porsche stated that the 911 GT3 RS follows the 918 Spyder and the 911 GT2 RS as the third production Porsche sports car with a notarised lap time of less than seven minutes on the "Green Hell" track, officially known as the Nürburgring-Nordschleife circuit in  Nürburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.

Texas Auto Writers Association Honors Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio with Top Performance Awards

Alfa Romeo Giulia. Photo: Fiat Chrysler media website.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced last Thursday that the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) honored two models from Alfa Romeo's Quadrifoglio lineup with top awards in two performance categories.

TAWA crowned the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio as "Performance SUV of Texas" and the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio as "Performance Sedan of Texas" in their annual Texas Auto Roundup, held at Eagles Canyon Raceway.

“The Alfa Romeo brand made a strong showing with the all-new 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio and the 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia during our two days of evaluation,” said Mike Marrs, President of TAWA. “Both vehicles feature impressive style and craftsmanship and the Quadrifoglio editions were a blast to drive, offering excellent performance and handling on the track.”

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Horsepower, Storage Space Losing Ground as Automotive Purchasing Decision Drivers, Survey Says

Muscle-car V8s boasted impressive power for their day. But
thanks to engineering advances, some 4-cylinder engines of
today can rival their power.  Photo: Christopher Ziemnowicz 
(released to the Public Domain).
For the past several years, the automotive media has been packed with commentary about a "horsepower renaissance," with four-cylinder motors of today boasting horsepower figures that could embarrass ginormous V8 engines from the peak of the muscle-car era.

Driven by advances in automotive engineering, horsepower has been touted as a selling point, at least to consumers with "enthusiast tendencies."

But is interest in horsepower now on the wane?

Mazda MX-5 Miata, CX-5 Bring Home the Award Bling in New York Daily News Competition

Photo: Mazda media website.
Mazda Motor Corporation announced this week that two of their models recently earned more industry accolades, winning top segment honors in the 2018 Daily News Autos (DNA) Awards, a competition organized by automotive editors of the New York Daily News.

Daily News editors select winners from nominations in a full range of automotive segments and  classes, selecting models that best represent the “DNA” of a specific segment. The cars, SUVs, trucks and minivans that win DNA Awards not only contain the core requirements and characteristics necessary to credibly serve their expected functions, but they also reflect superior design, engineering, innovation, value and dynamism.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"A 350 is a 350 is a 350"—NOT! And Other Misconceptions About GM V8 Engines Debunked

With the Crate Engine, the Chevy 350 lives today.
Photo: GM media website.
With GM's rightful reputation for badge engineering—slapping the brands of their different divisions on essentially lookalike bodies—it isn't at all unreasonable that many people think that the same idea applied to powertrains in the glory days of the storied GM V8 engines like the Chevrolet 350.

Plus, there is the ubiquitous cliche uttered by many gearheads—or wannabe gearheads—when talking about the hot-rodder projects they dream of: "put a 350 in it."

It's easy to have the misconception that, if you look at a Chevrolet, a Buick, and a Pontiac from the 70s, each with a 350 ci V8, you're looking at the same engine three times.

But there's a problem: it isn't true.

Here's a quick history lesson—if you want more detail, you'll find copious amounts of research fodder on the Interwebs. In a nutshell, over the decades, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Chevrolet, and Buick each had separate and very innovative powertrain engineering and manufacturing operations. And each, at some point, arrived at the magic number of 350 cubic inches of displacement that, for its time, packed a lot of horsepower and torque into a reasonably compact footprint.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Alexa, Warm Up My Car": Kia Adds Amazon Alexa Remote Voice Controls to Several Models

Kia Optima Hybrid. Photo: Kia media website.
If you've been waiting anxiously to be able to control your Kia from an Alexa-powered Amazon device, your moment has arrived.

Kia Motors America announced on Monday that they have added the ability to remotely control a number of functions, such as starting and stopping the engine or heating and cooling car interiors, using simple voice commands.

The new features are enhancements of Kia's UVO Skill system, UVO being an acronym for "Your Voice." UVO Skill also allows owners to lock doors, sound the horn and flash the lights, and start and stop charging a Kia plug-in or electric vehicle.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Honda Wraps Up Dominating Motorsports Victory at Long Beach with Alexander Rossi

Race car driver Alexander Rossi and his Andretti Autosport Honda brought it home for Honda on Sunday, with a decisive victory for Honda at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Rossi, who led 71 of 85 laps, managed to fend off former series champion Will Power after a late-race caution bunched the field.

Starting from the pole, Rossi took the lead at the green flag and remained in command throughout the 85-lap event, surrendering the lead only as the field cycled through various pit stop strategies.  Although a late yellow flag bunched the field and eliminated his seven-second advantage, Rossi held off second-running Will Power over the final 10 laps, and built a 1.24-second lead at the checkers.

This victory was  Rossi's first of 2018 and his third career Indy car triumph. The win  moves him into the championship lead, with 126 points to Josef Newgarden's 104. With this event, Honda also has widened their lead in the IndyCar Manufacturers' Championship, with an unofficial total of 263 points to 193 for rival Chevrolet.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rotary Engine May Make Comeback as Range Extender for Electric Vehicles, Hybrids

Wankel Rotary Engine architecture (left)
compared to LiquidPiston Rotary "X" Engine.
Remember the Wankel Rotary Engine that powered the Mazda RX-7?

Today, the original Mazda RX-7 power plant continues to have a devoted cult following of enthusiasts, even though it never achieved wide commercial success. That said, Mazda did continue producing rotary engine cars until 2012, the last one being the RX-8, and plans to release its next rotary engine next year, according to Fox News.

Meanwhile, LiquidPiston Inc., an  advanced internal combustion engine technology company based in Bloomfield, CT, has other plans for a new engineering approach to the rotary engine. The company envisions its Rotary "X" engine as a better alternative for range extension in electric vehicles and hybrids.

Rossi Takes His Andretti Autosport Honda and "Clears the Field" in Long Beach Qualifying Round

Honda reports that race car driver Alexander Rossi took his Andretti Autosport Honda to the pole yesterday in qualifying for today's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, emerging as the leader in both the opening and final rounds of "knockout" IndyCar Series qualifying.

Rossi logged a time of 1 minute, 06.5528 seconds in the third and last round, 0.3526 seconds quicker than nearest rival Will Power, exceeding the gap that covered the entire remaining Fast Six final qualifiers.

Scott Dixon, the 2015 Long Beach winner, and Graham Rahal also advanced to final round qualifying for Honda. Another four Honda drivers advanced as far as the second qualifying round, including Ryan Hunter-Reay, defending race winner James Hinchcliffe, impressive rookie Robert Wickens and St. Petersburg race winner Sebasties Bourdais.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Looking for a Hot Car that will Hold its Value? Edmunds Gives Dodge Charger the Nod

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles earned kudos recently for building a product that holds its value, when Edmunds designated the winner of the Edmunds Best Retained Value Award in the large car category: the 2018 Dodge Charger. Edmunds selects winners of the Best Retained Value award in each vehicle segment based on the five-year projected residual value.

“Buying a new car is a huge financial decision, and our 2018 Edmunds Best Retained Value Awards are designed to help shoppers discover the vehicles that can help them get the most out of their investment,” said Avi Steinlauf, Edmunds’ CEO. “This year’s winners underscore a commitment to quality and reliability, and are good bets to hold their value over the course of ownership.”

Mazda Scores Innovation Award for SKYACTIVE-X Compression-Ignition Engine

From our perspective, there are two key ways that Mazda is strongly distinguishing itself within the automotive today's automotive industry

The first is car model design aesthetics. In a world where you increasingly need to play "find the badge" to identify the manufacturer of that latest boring crossover or lookalike Sonata- or Fusion-shaped fastback sedan, Mazda takes the intractable reality of the aerodynamic and safety-driven basic shapes that the industry feels obligated to produce today and manages to produce standout designs that are stunning enough to make a car enthusiast drool.

Mazda is also pushing the edges outward on the technology and research-and-development side. To name just a few examples, Mazda has made automotive technology news recently with a partnership with Denso and Toyota for electric vehicle R&D, an effort to obsolete the lead-acid starter battery with a lithium-ion replacement, and their latest public triumph: a Gold Edison Award for the SKYACTIV-X compression-ignition engine. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

March Was a Good Month for Cadillac Sales, GM Reports

If you're Cadillac enthusiast, you just might be pleased to hear that the brand rang up strong sales for March 2018, posting a year-over-year increase of over 25 percent—Cadillac's best March sales during the marque's twenty-second month of consecutive sales growth.

So what Caddy models are driving the growth? In a statement, GM reported that sales were driven by impressive performances of both the Cadillac XT5 and the Escalade, which continues to gain market share with retail sales up 15 percent for the month. The brand’s sedan portfolio also saw robust growth during the first quarter of 2018. Cadillac XTS, CT6, and ATS sales also saw significant gains, the company said.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mad Skills in Auto Racing Sim Games Could Win You a Test in a Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Car

If you're an accomplished player of online racing simulation games who also dreams of triumph on a real-world track, take note. The Mazda Hot Lap Challenge could give you a chance to put your gaming skills to work to win the grand prize: a test in the Mazda MX-5 Global Cup Car.

Two paths can be taken to the grand prize of the test in a Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car. At select Mazda Motorsports events throughout 2018, Mazda’s consumer display will feature a racing simulator that utilizes a Mazda Global MX-5 Cup car at Daytona International Speedway. The race fan who records the fastest lap time throughout 2018 on that simulator will earn an all-expense paid VIP trip to the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona as a guest of Mazda Team Joest.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Volkswagen Releases Full Base, Option Pricing Structure for 2019 Jetta

Volkswagen of America Inc. announced full base and option pricing structure for the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta on Thursday, highlighting a starting price of $18,545, which the manufacturer says is lower than the outgoing model.

According to the announcement, the all-new design is based on the award-winning MQB platform, with bolder design, more interior space, and new technology.

The new Jetta will continue to be powered by Volkswagen’s 1.4-liter turbocharged and direct-injection TSI® engine, making 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The power is taken to the front wheels via a new standard six-speed manual transmission, with an eight-speed automatic transmission optional on the base model and standard on higher trims. Automatic transmission models come standard with a Start/Stop system designed to improve fuel efficiency. This technology stops the engine during idle when the brake pedal is held (such as when waiting at a stop light). When the brake pedal is released, the engine restarts.

2019 Nissan Altima Aims to "Reignite Interest in Midsize Sedans"

As American automakers continue to announce phaseouts of storied passenger car models like the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus, many of us among the ranks of auto enthusiasts can look with hope toward overseas producers to maintain the vitality and interest of the sedan and coupe format.

If the designers behind the 2019 Nissan Altima have anything to say about it, the sixth generation of the company's top-selling sedan – with more than five million sold since introduction – is about to reinvigorate interest in midsize sedans.

Once the dominant body style in most major automotive markets, sedans sales have experienced erosion in favor of consumers' preference for crossovers and compact SUVs. That has left the leading global sedan manufacturers in a unique position of competing not only with each other, but within their own model lineups for sales. 

SEMA Names New Artist for 2018 Show

SEMA 2018, set for Vegas from October 30 through November 20, will showcase the artwork of Alex Carmona, who will become part of a tradition that was established by celebrated automotive artists Max Grundy and Ed Tillrock.

Carmona’s work will be displayed throughout the show and featured in its marketing material, including signage, onsite and online, to help heighten the energy of the SEMA Show experience by striking a chord with showgoers at the exclusive event.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Note to Jaguar: If You Can Produce 25 New D-Types, Why Not A Modern E-Type?

Jaguar's production of a limited run of the legendary D-Type competition race car—an obvious precursor, last built in 1956, to the legendary E-Types built for consumers in the 1960s and early 1970s—begs one question: why not consider building a modernized version of the E-Type for general release on the consumer market? Surely there would be some level of demand for it.

Jaguar Classic restarted production earlier this year of the iconic Jaguar D-type race car in Coventry, 62 years after the last example was built. The first Jaguar D-type to be assembled by Jaguar Classic debuted at the Salon Retromobile show in Paris this year.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Kia Launches All-New 2019 Optima at New York International Auto Show

Kia made great waves among us car guys and car gals earlier this year when they unveiled the stunning Kia Stinger, a high-performance, rear-wheel-drive sedan clearly aimed straightaway at the enthusiast driver.

But let's face it: most people who are drooling over a stinger are probably pretty unlikely to buy one. More practical choices, like the Optima, are much more probable.

So is any of that exciting vibe trickling down the lineup from the Stinger, the presumptive flagship of the marque, to spice up the models your average Joe or Jane might buy?

Meet the All-Electric Genesis Essentia, a GT Coupe Concept Unveiled at New York International Auto Show

 Genesis, the new luxury spinoff marque from Hyundai, revealed their new Essentia Concept at the 2018 New York International Auto Show. The Essentia in all-electric, high-performance gran turismo luxury coupe that the company says is designed around an "Athletic Elegance" paradigm, providing a vision of future Genesis product performance and technology.

"We understand our obligation as a luxury car manufacturer to create objects of desire, sparking passion and inspiration by emphasizing a culture while exceeding expectations in terms of technology and connectivity, bringing our outside world seamlessly to the inside of the vehicle," said Manfred Fitzgerald, a former Lamborghini executive who now heads up the Genesis brand globally. "This is what the Genesis Essentia Concept is all about, and we are thrilled to introduce our interpretation of an all-electric, two-door Gran Turismo here in New York."