Friday, February 18, 2005

Who's Cayenne is this? ... Its not a Cayenne baby, its a Chopster

Rinspeed, the Swiss prototype-builder and tuner, will launch its Chopster production car at this years Gevena autoshow, a Frankenstein SUV based on the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Looking like the demon spawn of a Cayenne and a Mitsubishi Evolution, the Chopster sports massive wheel arches, side skirts, a chopped roof line, and a unique two door configuration. Under the bulbous body lies a massive turbocharged 610bhp V8 (almost 200 more hp than the standard Cayenne Turbo), which guarantees this ugly beast will be brutally fast. Inside, the Chopster features a unique center console with a DVD player, PS2 system (what? ... no xbox!), and Blaupunkt stereo. Those individuals with particularly successful pawn shops can choose from a range of customization options that make each Chopster unique. This type of power and exclusivity, however, comes at a price. Ready for this ... the Chopster will cost close to a half a million dollars! Ridiculous.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Astra Sport Hatch makes me mad ...

Ford is not the only American manufacturer withholding some of its most exciting products. While GM has promised that Saturn will be more Opel-like in the future, for now we can only read about the exciting Opel/Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch. Instead of a dynamic small car, with great handling and looks to boot, we get ...drum roll please .. the Ion. They must be kidding. It's crappy, but not just your regular crappy. It's crappy in a plastic sides, no soul, would rather drive a 5 year old Civic kinda way. Is there some sort of small car embargo I don't know about? Has the E.U. passed a resolution banning the export of thrilling small cars? Are we so obsessed with SUV's that cars like the Sport Hatch can't survive? It's as if American motorists are being punished for something. Yes, it's true that when we had the chance, we didn't buy these cars in the past (Exhibit 1 - Merkur); and, yes, many European car companies have had problems here (Exhibit 2 - Fiat, Peugeot, Renault, Alfa Romeo, Sterling); and, yes, similarly styled cars currently for sale in the U.S. have sold poorly (Exhibit 3 - Mazda 3); and, yes, we continue to buy lifeless bloated steel masses that lack any assemblance of motoring spirit by the thousands (Exhibit 4- Monte Carlo). Ok, maybe the punishment does fit the crime. Just ranting. Now go enjoy Ben Whitworth's review and you'll understand why I am so upset.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Large Italian conglomerate looking for fun and synergies

Just three days after holding up G.M. for $2 billion, Fiat SpA announced Wednesday that it will buy the Maserati sportscar brand from Ferrari. Fiat, who already has a majority stake in Ferrari, is looking to develop "technological and commercial synergies" between its premium brand, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati. What does this mean for the eager American motorist yearning for the roar of an Alfa? It's good news. While GM never made any significant inroads with its plan to import Alfas (Alfa/Saab combo sounded great to me), Fiat appears to be bullish about launching a full scale Alfa invasion. Indeed, with the U.S. generating one third of all Maserati sales, Alfa's return is now almost guaranteed. My left foot, for one, can't wait.


The first one was just an aberration. It was late, I was lost in deepest darkest Astoria, (it might as well have been Peloponnese), and I was still feeling the effects of my friends old-school homemade egg nog. Like the Alfa 156 I saw driving down 8th avenue, the 405 coupe in Larchmont, and the A3 coupe parked at the Weehawken ferry, I must have been mistaken, my eyes were playing tricks on me. But yesterday as I enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather, there was another one. This time it was broad daylight, there was light traffic, and there was no mistake about it. It was a London taxi. Looking somewhat uncomfortable in its bright yellow cladding, its Taxi light shining brite , this was no tourist trap, or bank promotion. This was the real deal. A medallion clad, fully-functioning New York city cab - ready and waiting to be hailed down. The Crown Vics must be wincing at the sight of the incredibly practical, passenger friendly LTI (London Taxis International) "TXIIs". Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of a trip in a TXII knows what I am talking about. These are proper cabs, like Checkers used to be. Civility has returned to the streets. My trips to the Astoria will never be the same.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Logan's very long run

Welcome to the 21st Century, a perfect world of total pleasure with just one catch: Everyone drives Renault's economical Logan sedan. Its practical and well engineered and everyone is happy, except, that is, for the petrol heads. These fossil fuel wasting nomads search for fun motoring, as the Logan sales continue to grow. Sound far fetched? Not if Renault's Chairman and Chief Executive Louis Schweitzer gets his way. In an interview with Le Journal des Finances magazine, Schweitzer stated that Renault is expecting to sell 1 million Logan models a year by 2010. Plants on three contents will be producing the world car for the millions of young drivers in the developing world. Thankfully, there are no plans to introduce the budget sedan here. Our future is safe.

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Focus ST: Ford's best is not for us

Its nice to know that I am not the only one lamenting over Ford's decision not to bring the next generation Focus to America. As a big fan of the original Focus, especially the STV, I have enviously read about the next generation Focus and ogled over pictures of the Ford Focus Vignale hardtop convertible. Now, as Autoblog points out, there is even more reason for sorrow. At this year's Geneva autoshow, Ford will introduce an all new 215 hp Focus ST. The pictures say it all. It is a sad state of affairs when the best Fords can't even be brought here. What's wrong with the boys in Dearborn? Mercury is perfectly poised to sell premium compacts and the market appears to be asking for them. I just don't understand the stubbornness.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Fiat 2 (billion) - GM 0

In a disappointing turn of events, GM has agreed to pay Fiat $2 billion dollars to end their partnership and cancel the put option that would have allowed Fiat to force a sale of its financially troubled automotive unit to GM. I have to say that I am a little bummed out. I wanted to see a forced sale, or at least a long litigation battle, being a lawyer and all. But no such luck. GM walks away with nothing but a lighter wallet and a hurt ego. When you examine the track record of American/Italian cooperation (LaForza, TC by Maserati, Allante), you quickly realize that this relationship was doomed from the start. But now that this embarrassing situation is over, motorists can only hope that GM gets revenge the old-fashioned GT 40 way. Go for it GM - build an icon!

BLS, the Cimarron returns, sort of

Is there anything more American than Cadillac? Like Apple Pie, Baseball, and all you can eat buffet dinners, Cadillacs are an essential element of the American experience. But the latest Cadillac, the BLS, wont even be sold here. The Saab-based sedan is part of Cadillac's global ambitions, and America is sadly not part of the plan. Primarily designed for Europe, the BLS looks like a world fighter, wearing all the latest Cadillac styling cues well. At 184.25 inches in overall length, the BLS is almost six inches shorter than the CTS. But this small Cadillac is no Cimarron. Inside, the interior will boast a touch screen navigation system, Bluetooth technology, and a Bose audio system. What's next ... a Cadillac hot hatch?

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Defending the World

Jeremy Hart's article on the Land Rover Defender and its importance in Africa is not only fascinating, but very telling of how most automotive companies approach the American market. Outside of the United States, the Defender is one of the world's great work-horses. Whether it be a fire truck, an ambulance, armored for peace-keeping, or simply on the farm, the Defender is not only transportation, but a necessity in the lives of millions. Here in the U.S., the utilitarian simplicity, dependable off-road ability, and rugged nature of the Defender turned it into a suburban show piece. Before Land Rover was forced to pull the Defender, it marketed the SUV as a quasi-luxury vehicle for those desperate to prove their macho-ness in a caramel macchiato world. While the rest of the world was able to and still is able to choose from a wide variety of wheel bases, engines, and body style, Americans got cup holders. These icons deserved better.

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

First you get the Chery, then you get the ...

At last weeks Chicago autoshow, Malcolm Bricklin took time to further detail his alliance with the Chinese auto manufacturer Chery. The plan is ambitious, in a Spruce Goose kinda way. Sales projections in the 200,000 unit range, starting prices 20% below the competition, and the pitch is to be the budget BMW. But Chery automotive is not the only Chinese automotive company with global ambitions. China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. has been working closely with Rover in an effort to expand both companies porfolio and markets. Once the pride of Britain, Rover has hit hard times since BMW abandond the automaker in the late 1990s. Rover's last entry in the U.S. market was the tarnished Sterling sedan, a reworked Acura Ledgend who's lackluster quality and dynamics made it quite forgettable. Beyond securing the 6,000 jobs at Rover's one and only plant in Longbridge, the union with Shanghai automotive could bring Rovers and MGs to the U.S. if the Chery plans prove successful. Is there a market in the U.S. for the Rover 75 and the V8 powered MG XPower SV? Without a doubt ...