Archive for March, 2009

Is NOW the time to buy a new car?

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

As a car buyer, you have to be a little bit giddy to be ready to buy at the present time. Almost every manufacturer’s numbers are abysmal, and credit is too tight. People are losing their homes as value drop, which means no home equity car financing. Everyone is miserable except the guy who has cash-in-hand at the dealership. You walk through a car dealer’s door right now with a brief case of one-hundred dollar bills, and the General Manager himself will become your new best friend.

And that’s part of the reason why now is a great time to buy a new car. But guess what. There are now two more reasons. First government intervention, and secondly, OEM subsidies.

After its initial demise last month, the U.S. Congress is back with a revised bill that some would call the “cash for clunkers” legislation. LeftLane News points out:

The Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save bill, or CARS Act, the revised plan would offer up to $5,000 in rebates to owners willing to trade-in their old rides for a new set of wheels. To qualify, the ‘clunker’ must be at least eight-years old, the new vehicle must have a price tag under $35,000 and have better fuel economy numbers than the vehicle being traded in. According to Sutton, the new bill would cover about 60 percent of the vehicles on the road.

The CARS Act is also forward-thinking, with a $7,500 voucher set to take effect in 2010. That larger credit would be applicable to plug-in hybrid vehicles with a fuel economy rating of 100 mpg or better.

One of the biggest criticisms of the last ‘Cash for Clunkers’ bill was that it favored the purchase of import vehicles. However, the new version of the bill alleviates that concern by offering an additional $1,000 rebate on vehicles assembled in the United States.

What is curious about this bill is the cap at $35,000. Only a couple of European manufacturers even sell a car in the US that would qualify. All employ Americans and all have American investors. So what’s the beef? It makes wonder just how many cars have better numbers than 8 years ago – such a calculation is critical for those that wish to buy the same car model! And who makes a 100mpg car anyway??

The second part of this story deals with an article from Edmund’s Michelle Krebs. Krebs points out that compared with buying a 1-year-old car, some new cars are actually cheaper!

Krebs gives several examples including the Audi A4, and the BMW 1, 3, 5, 6, M5, and M6 series. In the case of the 6-series convertible, a buyer would save $6,175 buying a new example over a one year old example! The Japanese are also examples of carmakers whose cars are more heavily discounted now than a year’s worth of depreciation would otherwise discount them.

Now is definitely a good time to shop!

Weekly Energy Roundup

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009


On March 23, 2009, Martin LaMonica of CNET wrote:

Seeking to boost the U.S. clean-energy industry, President Obama on Monday announced $1.2 billion for science research at national labs and a proposal to extend a business tax credit for investments in research and development.

At an event at the White House, Obama told researchers and green-technology business people that their work was vital to revitalizing the U.S. economy and cutting the country’s dependence on foreign oil. About 120 researchers, lab directors, and CEOs from energy technology companies attended the event.

President Barack Obama at the White House speaking to researchers and clean-technology company CEOs.

“We need some inventiveness. Your country needs you to mount a historical effort to end, once and for all, our dependence on foreign oil,” Obama said. “Your country will support you, and your president will support you.”

Obama said that his administration’s budget proposes a 10-year extension to a tax credit for businesses that make investments in research and development. This tax credit has been in place in the past, but lacked a long-term commitment from the federal government, he said.

For every dollar that the government spends on this tax credit, it delivers two dollars to the economy, Obama said.

Obama also announced the availability of $1.2 billion in basic research at the Department of Energy’s national laboratories. In addition to money to upgrade facilities at national labs, grants are available for research in renewable energy, such as solar power and biofuels, as well as in nuclear energy, underground storage of carbon dioxide, and hydrogen.

It is in the same week that we have learned that a startup called Virent Energy is seeking round C venture capital funding for a plant in Wisconsin, which will be capable of of producing petroleum from sugar at a much more powerful 102 octane, diesel, and jet fuels. The solution for Virent is said to be joint partnerships due to the high cost of creating a 100-million-gallon-per-year plant: US$200 million. Critically, the company is not producing Ethanol, rather they are producing hydrocarbons.

In motor sports news, the Green Earth Technologies company is said to be producing a synthetic, and “green” motor oil for cars. Specifically, they are pushing the product on the International Motor Sports Association by making it the official motor oil. IMSA has pushed recently to be the “green racing series” with requirements that all cars run on one of four fuel systems: cellulosic E85, E10, clean sulfur-free diesel, or gas-electric hybrid. Will Porsche sever its relationship with MobileOne? Probably not, the announcement certainly stands to benefit the otherwise unknown Green Earth Technologies. Candace Lombardi of CNET blog network fills in the details.

A tough year for BMW

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009


We reported earlier in the year that Chris Bangle was leaving the auto industry. Regardless of what you thought of his designs, the “Bangle Butt” and flame surfacing being two, you have to admit his timing could not have been better. BMW has, after all seen some incredible growth in the last few years. Sales have been increasing with records being broken month after month.

2009 will prove a much different one for the company. Indeed, last Wednesday BMW announced that it expected sales to be off by as much as 20%! The result of the credit turmoil in the United States and Europe led the company to report a fourth quarter loss of of US$1.3 billion. Profit was nearly US$250 million on revenues of US$22.56 billion in the fourth quarter of the previous year.

For all of 2008 the automaker posted a net profit of 330 million euros ($465.2 million) compared with 3.1 billion ($4.37 billion) in 2007. Sales fell 5% to 53 billion euros ($74.72 billion).

That is disconcerting news to be sure, but what is the long-term outlook? Has BMW made solid strategic decisions impacting its future? The answer is a little complicated. In the first place, BMW has increased SUV production significantly in the last 5 years going from 1 model, the X5 to 3, adding the X3 and recently the X6. We know they may be developing a X1, too. Adding so many heavy cars to the lineup, once dominated by sports sedans, calls into question the BMW moniker: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”.

Slogans aside, is BMW merely profiting from a fad in the automotive sector. Are SUVs here to stay, especially if gas prices skyrocket again? It would seem that BMW needs to develop some competitive “green” strategies if they hope to continue on the SUV path. On the upside, they haven’t developed a mini-van as seen at Mercedes and now VW (thank god). The other recent development is that BMW’s subsidiary Rolls-Royce is developing a new smaller sedan. That car aims to move the lineup down into Bentley Continental territory. Such a move is long-overdue. BMW’s CEO Norbert Reithofer still argues that long-term, BMW is on track to improve its lineup and sales/profitability figures for 2012. Though the stock markets can change from day to day, long-term strategies are critical to the longevity of a company, so we can feel confident that BMW has a future. They have more liquidity that other European automakers and Bernstein Research argues that they have stable investment potential.

As a final note, BMW will have to figure out how to bring down the cost of their smaller cars. No doubt BMW will always try to position themselves as “high-end”, but the buying public’s support for “over-valued” cars may have waned. People in tough economic times want an affordable car with great performance. Why should BMW provide that? One way to do this will be to bring the 1-series, which is arguably far over-priced for its segment, more downstream. One way to do this is to offer the 1 as a 4-cylinder variant with or without turbocharging. LeftLane news suggests some other alternatives here.

Weekend entertainment: the Barbie Bug

Friday, March 13th, 2009

The sky must be falling. The gallery of photos above is real. Heidi Klum is real – really in that photo, it is NOT photoshopped. I am not even sure that Heidi Klum is such a great substitute for Barbie. She is not even blonde! Cindy McCain would have been a far more discerning choice. It is not clear what will happen with this car, perhaps a world tour? We do know that more than a few woman out there will be driving one, at least the least looks nice, if not a bit girly. But hey, women buy cars too!

From VW:

Volkswagen Helps Barbie® Celebrate Fifty Years with a Customized New Beetle convertible, Fully Equipped with Rhinestones, Sparkling Pink Paint and Motorized Vanity in Trunk

HERNDON, VA—Volkswagen of America, Inc. helped Mattel celebrate Barbie® doll’s 50th Birthday by transforming a New Beetle convertible into the ultimate Barbie® dream car. The life-size pink Malibu Barbie™ New Beetle convertible made its debut at Barbie® doll’s Malibu Dream House® exclusive birthday celebration. Customization artists ABD Racing Werks, Katzkin Leather and Interiors and FoamMolders fully transformed the iconic New Beetle convertible into the perfect Barbie® ride.

“We are extremely proud to partner with Mattel and create a customized New Beetle convertible to celebrate Barbie’s landmark birthday,” said Laura Soave, General Manager of Marketing, Volkswagen of America, Inc. “Like the New Beetle, Barbie has made a remarkable impact on pop culture history, and still remains a cultural icon today.”

From top to bottom and interior to exterior, Barbie® doll’s New Beetle convertible has left no detail unfinished. From the white custom leather interior and convertible top to the hand stitched floor mats and pink quilted leather lined door pockets and arm rests, even the dipstick is painted to resemble her favorite lipstick. The New Beetle convertible is equipped with a motorized vanity in the trunk and plenty of rhinestone accents and vanity mirrors. Over five shades of paint were mixed together to create the perfect pink color for Barbie® doll’s car.

The customized pink New Beetle convertible was prominently on display as the pink carpet was rolled out for the Barbie® celebration at her real-life Malibu Dream House®. Barbie® doll’s house is a 3,500-square-foot home in Malibu, CA, decorated by famed “Happy Chic” interior designer Jonathan Adler. The Barbie® birthday festivities were complete with 1,800 pairs of Barbie® sunglasses, 3,500 pairs of tiny shoes, 3,500 mini handbags and numerous Hollywood celebrity guests.

Last year, Volkswagen celebrated the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the New Beetle convertible. With its distinct shape, the iconic New Beetle convertible is one of the most recognized models in the world.

A new engine to pay dividends

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

It is not every day that a car company reinvents the wheel, or in this case, the engine. Lotus thinks it has though with the implication that one engine can now run a variety of fuels with varying energy densities. There should also be fewer parts to break down as it is a mono-block construction eliminating the use of poppets.

Lotus' new Omnivore Engine

Lotus' new Omnivore Engine

From Lotus:

Lotus Engineering, the world-renowned automotive consultancy division of Lotus Cars Limited, unveils its latest research into engine efficiency at the 79th International Geneva Motor Show. The Omnivore engine concept has the potential to significantly increase fuel efficiency for sustainable alcohol based fuels, which increases the prospect of a greater amount of vehicle miles travelled using renewable fuels. On display will be the single cylinder research engine monoblock that demonstrates the novel architecture designed for high thermal efficiency when fuelled on any alcohol based fuel or gasoline.

The Omnivore concept features an innovative variable compression ratio system and uses a two-stroke operating cycle with direct fuel injection. It is ideally suited to flex-fuel operation with a higher degree of optimisation than is possible with existing four stroke engines.

The engine concept features a monoblock construction that blends the cylinder head and block together eliminating the need for a cylinder head gasket, improving durability and reducing weight. In this case, the application of a monoblock is facilitated by the absence of the requirement for poppet valves. A novel charge trapping valve in the exhaust port allows asymmetric timing of exhaust flow and continuous variation of the exhaust opening point.

The variable compression ratio is achieved by the use of a puck at the top of the combustion chamber. This simple, yet effective system moves up and down affecting the change in geometric compression depending on the load demands on the engine.

Mike Kimberley, Chief Executive Officer of Group Lotus plc said: “We are delighted to unveil this major milestone in the development of an engine configuration for a new breed of more efficient multi-fuel engines. The automotive sector is focusing on its environmental obligations to improve efficiency, minimise reliance on fossil fuels and reduce harmful emissions and Lotus continues to be an industry leader through our work on all aspects of future fuels. Sustainable alcohol based fuels have the potential to reduce the overall CO2 footprint of internal combustion engines towards zero and for this reason, need to be embraced as future fuels for road transport.”

In this collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast and Orbital Corporation Limited Australia, with sponsorship from DEFRA/DECC and DOE NI through the Renewables Materials LINK programme, Lotus Engineering is currently in the final stages of commissioning the Omnivore single-cylinder research engine. It uses the Orbital FlexDI™ fuel injection system which produces fine in-cylinder fuel preparation irrespective of fuel type, and together with air pre- mixing allows efficient two-stroke combustion and low-temperature starting, whilst offering singular opportunity for advanced HCCI control.

The Omnivore programme is another development of Lotus’ research into understanding the complex combustion processes involved in running an engine on mixtures of alcohol based fuels and gasoline, which included the Lotus Exige 270E Tri-fuel, unveiled at the International Geneva Motor Show in 2008. This research is vitally important for a successful transition from today’s fuels to the more efficient sustainable fuels of the future.

Geraint Castleton-White, Head of Powertrain at Lotus Engineering said, “The absence of poppet valves in two-stroke engines makes the incorporation of a variable compression ratio system relatively straightforward. Our research into these systems on four-stroke engines has led us to the conclusion that while thermodynamically it is a desirable technology to incorporate, practically it is very difficult, particularly taking into consideration production feasibility. This two-stroke engine could solve these practical difficulties and simultaneously permits a much larger range of compression ratio adjustment, with the potential to perform at a much higher efficiency when running on renewable fuels.”

Updated Lotus Company Overview page

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Lotus has been rolling out some new models, so we have updated our overview for those. Check out the Lotus Company Overview.

Lotus' new Omnivore Engine

the new Lotus Omnivore engine

The Veyron “Bleu Centenaire”

Saturday, March 7th, 2009
Bugatti Bleu Centenaire

Bugatti Bleu Centenaire

Bugatti Bleu Centenaire Interior

Bugatti Bleu Centenaire Interior

From Bugatti:

Hundred years of Bugatti

In 1909 Ettore Bugatti started his business in the Alsacian town of Molsheim, France. The name of the company: „Ettore Bugatti Automobiles i.Els.“. And although the name has changed into “Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S.”, the site and the philosophy of the brand have been preserved. In 2006 the first model under the „new management“ was launched, precisely 50 years after the last car of the original company left the gates of the Molsheim factory. The Bugatti Veyron has only been on the market for three years, but has already reached the status of being an undisputed part of automotive history, with 250 cars ordered to date, and nearly 200 cars delivered. This means that there are only 50 Veyrons to be sold until the limit of 300 units will be reached.

Building on the marque’s core values of “Art – Forme – Technique”,  Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. has created the Bugatti Veyron Bleu Centenaire, a unique model to celebrate the hundred year old history of the company. This special model takes up the traditional Bugatti two-tone-specification, but portrays it in one rather than two colours: in the most known light shaded Bugatti blue. The Centenaire’s unique combination

of a “sprintblue matte” and “sprintblue gloss” hence offers a new impression of the two-tone-scheme known so far with parts of the engine also covered in this traditional Bugatti Blue.

The roof-trim-stripes and the exterior rearview mirrors are of polished, anodised aluminium. A special wheel design has been added – enhanced by a bright red brake-capillar.

The interior of the Centenaire is fitted in a special «snowbeige» leather with quilting on the seats. The central console is covered in the same leather. New LED lights, Park Distance Control and a rearview camera have become part of the standard equipment for all Bugatti Veyrons from this year onwards. The Bleu Centenaire shares all performance characteristics of other Veyron models performance-, acceleration- and deceleration characteristics which have been highly praised ever since the Bugatti Veyron first appeared on the scene. The car will cost 1,35 Million Euro exclusive taxes and transportation.

Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport

The Bugatti Grand Sport is a unique roadster based on the Veyron Coupé and was launched at last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elégance in California. This new model will go into production at the end of April 2009 and will be limited to a total of 150 units over lifetime. The first chassis numbers are reserved for existing Veyron Coupé customers, honoring their loyalty and offering them the chance to be at top of the waiting list. This measure has been highly appreciated.

Weekend entertainment: Hyperleggera

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Oh the life of a journalist… imagine taking a tour of a factory (in this case BMW) and finding a not so journalist-friendly staff. Specifically, this writer had to resort to crayon drawings when his camera was banned.

Ok, it’s a bit silly but an enjoyable read, it’s weekend entertainment after all!

Visit Hyperleggera: A Trip to BMW Werk Dingolfing

Paranoia und Verschwörung in Bayern



“Agnes, how do you do! I’ve heard you’ll drop in by our Münich head quar ters tomorrow.”

Even as heard through a cell phone’s tinny speaker, the voice of Man fred von Schaden­freude is impos ing. Agnes, head of BMW Hungary’s PR, is respon si ble for han dling the jour­nal ists from Hun gary. She is talk ing on her cell phone a few feet away from the jour nal ists, who—drunk on Rolls–Royce—do not pay any atten tion to her conversation.

“Look, Agnes, you’re a smart woman. Obvi ously, you will want to visit us tomor row as an employee, not as a guest.”

“Of course, Herr Ingenieur.”

“Oh please! Call me Manny.”

“All right…Manny.”

“See? Easy as pie! So go and take that lanky kid’s camera. Alex is a dullard, he does not have the sense to use our BR–2491 Excuse Gen er a tor with style, but you have no need for such prim i tive tools. I see you’re on good terms with the boy. You surely can figure out how to handle this.”

“Herr Ing…I mean, Manny, trust me I can handle him.”

“All right then. Soon there will be an open ing in upper man age ment here at com pany HQ. But I’ll tell you all about that tomor row! Do not let me down.”

The tele phone goes silent. Agnes rejoins the jour nal ists. Stand ing nearby, Alex is fid dling with the button on the BR–2491 Excuse Generator.

A Rolls-Royce: in Crayon

A Rolls-Royce: in Crayon

Greenest car at Geneva

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Ever a fan of Porsche, and especially the Targa, this car could not go unnoticed. A throwback to the old Targa design but with a new body and drivetrain: one supplied by electricity! Less green, however, was a nicely bleu Bugatti.

30 Years of the G-Class

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Editor’s note: That the iconic, if boxy, Mercedes-Benz G-class has lasted thirty years, virtually unchanged from the exterior, is emblematic of the same sort of fanaticism that follows the 40+ year old Porsche 911. Never a fan of the SUV, the G-class holds a special place in the heart of auto enthusiasts. The true versatility of the vehicle has spanned the globe from the battlefield to the board room. Few cars can make the claim that they have “saved lives”, but between thwarting terrorist attacks and delivering food and medicine to refugee camps. Here’s to another 30 years!!!

A full profile courtesy of Mercedes follows:

The current model range

A full range for fans of the “G”

The model family currently has three body variants (short-wheelbase Station Wagon, long-wheelbase Station Wagon, Convertible), which can be combined with either an economical V6 CDI engine developing 165 kW/224 hp and 540 newton metres, or a powerful 5.5-litre V8 petrol engine with 285 kW/388 hp and 530 newton metres. The flagship G 55 AMG available only as a four-door, long-wheelbase Station Wagon is powered by a supercharged V8-engine developing 373 kW/507 hp. (more…)