Episode 493 – Smart USA Gets a New Car, Toyota Prefers Plug-Ins, Dodge Charger Updated

October 6th, 2010 at 12:01pm

Runtime 7:44

Smart USA signed a memorandum of understanding with Nissan Americas, which will build it a five-door, five-passenger B-size car. Toyota says that plug-in hybrids are the top alternative vehicle, not hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars. Chrysler released new details about the 2011 Dodge Charger. All that and more, plus John answers your questions in the “You Said It!” segment.

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This is Autoline Daily for October 6, 2010. And now, the news.

The smart brand is getting a much needed boost, at least in the American market. Smart USA signed a memorandum of understanding with Nissan Americas, which will build it a five-door, five-passenger B-size car. So far no name has been announced, but the car gets its own front and rear styling. Daimler, which owns the smart brand, has given its blessing to the plan, but this car will not be sold outside of the American market. The car looks like it’s based on the Nissan Micra, which is built at its assembly plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The price tag for the car should be in the $10,000 range.

GM is actively courting foreign investors, trying to get them interested in buying its stock when it finally goes public. Bloomberg reports that GM has approached sovereign investment firms in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Singapore. Here’s my Autoline insight. It’s pretty obvious what GM’s trying to do. It needs to get the price of that stock up as high as it can, and if it can get a whole bunch of investors bidding on that stock, the price will go up. Some experts say GM stock has to hit $133 a share for the U.S. government to get back all the money it poured into the company.

Earlier this year Volkswagen announced it will add two factories in China to double production within the next four years, and one of the models it could build is its new-midsize sedan, yep the same car that will be built at its new plant in Tennessee that goes on sale next year. But the company sees strong demand for the vehicle outside of the U.S., especially China. That would give VW an enormous economy of scale on that model which would help it cut costs.

Hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars are seen by many as the ultimate zero-emissions vehicle but not according to Toyota. According to Bloomberg, Vice Chairman Kazuo Okamoto says that plug-in hybrids are the top alternative vehicle. Okamoto says pure electrics don’t provide the driving range customers are looking for and a lack of hydrogen fueling stations will prevent fuel cells from catching on in the market. Toyota will soon be coming out with a plug-in version of the Prius.

WHEN YOU WISH UPON 5-STARS (subscription required)
NHTSA and the U.S. DOT have upgraded their five-star crash-rating to take into account side-pole testing and collision-prevention technologies. The program was revamped in 2008 but automakers had until the 2011 model year to face the more rigorous test. So far under the new system only two vehicles earn five-star ratings, the BMW 5 Series and the Hyundai Sonata, something both automakers are very proud of. This is another feather in Hyundai’s cap and illustrates just how far the company has come in the last 10 years.

Chrysler just released some photos of the 2011 Dodge Charger. The car’s design is a face-lift of the current car, with a slightly different grille, but with a faster rake to the windshield, a lower hood, tighter wheel-openings and a flatter underbody. All that makes it slice through the wind more efficiently. Adding some pizzazz to its design, the backend features fender-to-fender tail-lamps that light-up with 164 LEDs. And while Chrysler hasn’t revealed any shots of the interior yet, it did mention that the car will feature its new Uconnect infotainment system – a rival to Ford’s SYNC technology. In the performance department drivers have two engine choices: a 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V-6 and a 5.7-liter HEMI. No output numbers have been announced, but you can expect both engines to be plenty powerful. Look for the 2011 Dodge Charger at dealerships later this year. OK, when do we get to see the redesigned Chrysler 300?

Coming up next, it’s time for You Said It! where I respond to your snarky questions and wicked comments.

And now it’s time for some of your feedback.

Dale Leonard, from Lakewood, Ohio saw my travel video of Torino on yesterday’s show and wrote in to say, “Hey John, it’s interesting how that “mime” in Turin resembled Peter De Lorenzo. Are you sure he didn’t hitch a ride in your suitcase?????”

And dcars had this to say about the video. “I think I also saw David Welch juggling!”

All I can say is, you wicked, wicked people.

M. Campbell obviously pays attention to the graphics we use on the show.  He writes: “Nicely done on the Japan v. China graphic around John’s noggin!”

You know, I thought it looked kind of weird, but obviously it was attention grabbing.

KurdRaw saw our report on the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak and wrote in to ask, “Why is the Challenger going to be a two-speed?”

Kurd, that car is all about drag racing. It’s only meant for the track, not the street, unless that street happens to be Woodward avenue, or any other street-racing venue. And in drag racing you really only need two gears. One to get launched, the other to get you to the finish line.

vipermoon64 writes in to say, “I live in Ohio but I have family in Michigan around Detroit. In Michigan, what TV channel are you guys on and when do you go on?”

vipermoon, our television program, Autoline Detroit, is available on our website, but it also airs on Detroit Public Television on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. But we’re currently in the process of pitching the show to other public TV stations in Michigan. They should all start carrying it next month, and then we’re going to go out and see how many public TV stations we can get to carry it, all across the country.

Don’t forget to join me and the Autoextremist Peter De Lorenzo tomorrow night for Autoline After Hours. We’ll have to see if he shows up in his white mime outfit. And we’ll also be talking to Warren Harris from Tata Technologies, about what Tata is up to these days. That’s tomorrow night live starting at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Autoline After Hours.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog, WardsAuto.com and WWJ Newsradio 950

34 Comments to “Episode 493 – Smart USA Gets a New Car, Toyota Prefers Plug-Ins, Dodge Charger Updated”

  1. EFU Says:

    Does anyone understand how GM awarded stock to the GM executives and valued it at approximately $50. Since there is no public GM stock (the other is GM Liquidation!) how can it be awarded. John is right most experts say the stock must fetch north of $130, so does that mean these execs will get more than 2X what is advertised?

  2. Tony Gray Says:


    I think linking your show with Motorweek on PBS stations nationwide would be a natural.

  3. pedro fernandez Says:

    Is the new Smart going to cost less than the Smartfortwo? because the latter is still selling for MSRP+ around these parts.

  4. Dave Says:

    I cant wait to order/and get my new charger police car..sweet

  5. tj Martin Says:

    Somebody please tell Toyota , along with everyone else in the business that Micro Turbine Hybrid is the way to go with the current technologies/Electrical Grids available .

    (see http://www.lincvolt.com for a running example )

    If I have to get STUCK behind one more pathetic , wheezing Prius going up the most subtle of inclines ( we’re talking Western KS not CO here ) Well……..

    (Just happened again last weekend ! A 2010 Prius speeding along on the flats , in the left lane until the first hill comes up. Then it dies like a stone . Great car for the city ? Maybe . Great car for all around driving ? Not hardly. Pretentious pieces of junk !Thats what it should be called ! The Toyota Pretentious )

  6. pedro fernandez Says:

    TJ I’d be interested to read what Kit has to say about this, I have spoken to Prius owners who tell me the car has plenty get up and go, specially when you got both the gas and electric motor running, it could be that these Prius owners are really anal about getting the most mpg’s which involve going easy on the throttle, the trick is of course to speed up BEFORE you hit the hill so you have momentum on your side.

  7. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit: continuing yesterday’s post about FWD vs RWD, I ave always read that it costs less to manufacture FWD cars, I may be wrong on this, but perhaps the fact that you don’t need the long heavy axle and differential in the rear makes the manufacturing process less expensive for the FWD cars. (look how much more it costs to do AWD)

  8. Salvador G. Says:

    You know, here in Jersey I’ve been seeing more than a few Smart cars lately and one of the things I have notice is that Smart car owners (Some – here in Jersey as far as I know) like to floor it, I’m not kidding; but they do and it’s kind of weird and scary because these cars are so small and light – going 40+mph looks really dangerous(although, it was probably above 35mph only). oh – And I don’t mean on the highway, that would be murder ‘Smart Murder.

  9. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Regarding FWD vs RWD, I don’t really know how manufacturing costs would sort out, but with FWD being more complex, I’d think it would be more expensive to make, other things being equal. Maybe FWD cars can be assembled more easily, since most of the power train and front suspension can be built as a sub-assembly.

  10. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I’ll get my first test of driving my Prius in some hilly country when I go from Indiana to Florida in about three weeks. There are some fairly steep, extended hills on that trip. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t maintain speed all the time. I suspect that, rather than slowing anyone down, the same group will be slowing me down that always do, those in SUV’s who stay in the passing lane, but feel really uncomfortably negotiating even a moderately sharp curve. I’ll report in here after my trip.

    It will also be my first chance to get a good check of gas mileage at highway speed on the interstate. I normally drive with the faster of the flow on the interstate, through states with 65 and 70 mph speed limits on the interstates. I’m guessing I’ll get in the mid-40′s on the trip.

  11. pedro fernandez Says:

    Sal: the reason these dumb owners have to floor it is just so that they can keep up with traffic, otherwise they get rammed from behind. Now if everyone would drive a Smart, “What a wonderful world this would be” Kit do you find your Prius lacking power when going up a hill? like TJ claims

  12. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I have a friend with an ’05 Prius which he has driven from Seattle to Indiana several times, and he has mentioned experiencing “power loss” a couple times when the battery would get low on long, uphill climbs in the Rockies. I’ll be surprised if I experience that on my trip through Tennessee on the way to Florida.

  13. pedro fernandez Says:

    Well the 05 was the previous gen and I believe yours has the more powerful electric and gas motors, correct?

  14. Ken Post Says:

    Why was Huyndia given a second try on the crash tests? Couldn’t everybody improve their results with a chance to retune. And, what would those results really have to do with a car you might buy from the showroom????

  15. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The 2010 Prius has 134 total hp, and the previous one 110 hp. The new one weighs about 160 pounds more.

  16. pedro fernandez Says:

    Kit I can’t seem to find the total torque on the Prius when both the gas and electric motors are engaged, do you know the figure?

  17. Alex Kovnat Says:

    >Hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars
    >are seen by many as the ultimate
    >zero-emissions vehicle but not
    >according to Toyota.

    I agree. Hydrogen is a very difficult substance to handle. Its very leaky and requires storage pressures like 5000 psi to get a decent range. I look forward to seeing how the Chevrolet Volt works out.

  18. Kit Gerhart Says:

    “Kit I can’t seem to find the total torque on the Prius when both the gas and electric motors are engaged, do you know the figure?”

    I don’t know the numbers, but the electric motor has maximum torgue at zero rpm which compensates for the Atkinson cycle gas engine’s low torque at low rpm. If you compare 0-30 and 0-60 times of a Prius compared to other cars, the Prius does a little better than expected 0-30, relative to its 0-60 time, probably because the electric motor has maximum torque at zero rpm.

  19. Kit Gerhart Says:


    I think you are encountering Prius drivers who are going way overboard in trying to maximize mpg. This is really silly. Consider:

    You drive a Prius in mixed driving and try to maximize mpg. You get maybe 60. You lead foot it and get 40. If you drive 12K miles a year, the difference in fuel cost at $3/gal is $300.

    On the other hand, if you drive a Suburban with the same typical cargo of one or two people and no luggage, you might get 20 mpg if you try to drive economically, and 12 if you lead foot it. In this case, the difference if fuel cost is $1200.

    I drive a Prius, and I “just drive it” as I would any other car, and I get 50 mpg in mixed driving. If I piss people off, it is their problem, not mine. I keep up with all normal traffic, use lanes properly, etc. If I didn’t mind being a jerk, I could be getting 60+ mpg instead of 50.

  20. dcars Says:

    I hope no offense was taken, I was just having a little fun, sorry. The Autoline Team does a great job. I truly enjoy your shows. I hope our local PBS station picks up the show.

  21. Salvador G. Says:

    pedro fernandez Says:
    October 6th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Sal: the reason these dumb owners have to floor it is just so that they can keep up with traffic, otherwise they get rammed from behind.

    When did I ever said anything about traffic??
    And what part of -No on the highway don’t you get.
    and in fact Jersey has some of the slowest city traffic short of New York city traffic, And yes I meant on the main cities streets.

  22. Andrew Charles Says:

    All I know is that BMW has said it is using fwd because of cost. Depending on the platform fwd may be cheaper. Perhaps a transaxle is cheaper than a separate transmission and differential (few rwd cars use a rear-mounted transaxle), perhaps it’s simply the cost of engineering a smaller rwd platform v. a larger version of the mini platform.

  23. KEVIN Says:


  24. Truman Lewis Says:

    Maybe the BMW – UKL is just there way of saying “uncle” in the 4 cyl fwd class of car?
    great show as always.

  25. Nick Stevens Says:

    Forget Hydrogen, it’s ridiculous. Haven’t we wasted decades on this non-flying pig already?

    Plug-ins are not necessary for most drivers, NOR are regular hybrids, UNLESS gas is $5 or more.

    Diesels are also quite expensive, when you can get 40 MPG Highway easy from many compacts with gas engines,

    In fact, all you need to save fuel is a decent START-STOP system. It has done wonders for the MPG of a gas Smart and many other Euro vehicles.

  26. pedro fernandez Says:

    Sal: no need to get upset at someone agreeing with you, next time I’ll make sure I don’t make a comment about any of your posts!

  27. Nick Stevens Says:

    “I drive a Prius, and I “just drive it” as I would any other car, and I get 50 mpg in mixed driving. .. If I didn’t mind being a jerk, I could be getting 60+ mpg instead of 50.”

    As I have mentioned before, I did get 62 and 69 MPG with a Prius II driving at about 40-50 mph in a sightseeing tour of Palos Verdes one Evening around June 6, 2009. I was not bothering any other driver nor was I following an 18 wheeler (I bet they are not even allowed on those roads) to reduce air drag. I was driivng totally normally, but relaxed.

  28. HtG Says:

    You guys seen these Spitzel pics of the new X1? Without the kidney grill and roundel, please tell me who makes this abortion.


  29. Nick Stevens Says:

    I see a new X1 crossover every day in my work parking lot and it looks fine. There are also plenty of 1 series 5-door hatches that look fine too. A friend rented an 116 hatch 5 door and complained that its 2,800 lbs were underpowered with the 1.6 lt engine, because he needed to climb a steep uphill ramp to get our of his garage every time.

  30. Nick Stevens Says:

    The all-white X1 I see is a non-M, non-Sport and non-Spritzel or whatever. The one in HtG’s link looks much worse with all the names and the silly graphics

  31. HtG Says:

    All I meant Nick, was that this Bimmer, at least, was looking a lot like other makes. I wouldn’t be able to ID it without markings.

  32. Nick Stevens Says:

    It still looks like a Bimmer to me, but it is more difficult to say if it is an 1, an X1 or even a new X3. Most current BMWs look too much like each other, some of this is on purpose like the new 7 and the new 5.

  33. XA351GT Says:

    I agree the most needed option for cars is stop/start system. Anyone knows that you get 0MPG when sitting installed traffic. I watch these jams on tv and think how many gallons of fuel are being wasted sitting there going no where? At that point your just burning money.

    That new Smart doesn’t look half bad ,but then it does look like a car instead of enclosed golf cart.

  34. Eric Soto Says:

    I think in my opinion that mopar should give thae consumer sevarl transmissions to choose from.