John's Journal: John McElroy's multimedia blog about the automotive industry

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Behind-the-Scenes at the World’s Fastest Half Mile

February 29th, 2008 at 2:35pm

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Recently I got a chance to go behind-the-scenes at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. My NASCAR pit pass gave me access to places and things the average spectator never gets a chance to see. And you’d be surprised what you can run across when you’re in the thick of NASCAR frenzy. I saw stuff that ranged from a giant, V8-powered shopping cart to a guy that’s running for president.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Chrysler Dealers Wary of Shrinkage Plan

February 28th, 2008 at 9:00am

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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Chrysler Shrinking

Chrysler’s dealers are very wary of the company’s plans to reduce the number of dealers it has. Here’s how they want the company to act.

Chrysler’s dealers agree the company needs to cut down the number of dealers it has. They just want it to happen quickly, and that is going to cost the company money.

The dealers warn that if Chrysler just tries to drive some dealers out of business by limiting the number of models they can sell, the transition is going to be long and drawn out. And that would hurt the company, not just the dealers.

Instead, the dealers say they want to be compensated for leaving the business. But they also point out it doesn’t have to be one big lump sum payment. They’d be willing to take a note from Chrysler that promises to pay them off over time.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Dealers Find Internet is Great Whole-Tail Tool

February 27th, 2008 at 6:15pm

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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Dealers are finding they can use the internet to get the maximum price for the cars they’re selling.

Car dealers always have cars on their lots that are hard to sell. For example, having a convertible on your lot in the middle of winter in the Snow Belt can be hard to move. But in the Sun Belt that convertible can be in high demand, even in the middle of winter.

So dealers are using the internet to figure out how they can sell a car in low demand to a dealer in another region of the country where demand is higher. In fact, they’ve come up with a new name for that. They call it whole-tail.

What it means is, for the dealer who is selling the car, it’s retail. But for the dealer who is buying that car, it’s wholesale. And thanks to the internet, whole-tailing is becoming a new business procedure for car dealers that helps them move the metal.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Hella is First With LED Headlamps

February 27th, 2008 at 9:00am

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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Hella, the German supplier company, has just announced a breakthrough in headlight technology.

Hella is coming out with the industry’s first full LED headlamp. It debuts on the 2008 Cadillac Escalade Platinum. And these special headlights use clusters of light-emitting diodes instead of traditional bulbs.

Headlamps SmallOn the Escalade the headlights use five LED clusters for the low beams and another two clusters for the high beams. By separating the LEDs into groups, Hella was able to aim each cluster individually, which distributes the light much more evenly than conventional bulbs.

Another benefit of LEDs is that they’re smaller and lighter than standard headlamps. This gives designers much more freedom to use a wider variety of shapes

LED headlights will probably cost a lot more than today’s halogen bulbs, but they’re also expected to last up to 20 times longer!

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Plusses and Minuses of the Subaru Tribeca

February 26th, 2008 at 6:02pm

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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2008 Tribeca

A test drive of the Subaru Tribeca explains why this car isn’t making much headway in the market.

Subaru just can’t seem to break out of its rut. It sells about 200,000 vehicles a year in the U.S. market, no matter what it tries. And its latest attempt to boost sales, with the all-wheel-drive crossover called the Tribeca, shows why.

It just doesn’t stand out in any way. The styling both inside and out is pretty nondescript. The performance is adequate, it gets about 18 miles per gallon, and the price starts at $30,000. That describes a lot of other crossovers.

The only standout feature, for me, is that they have small lights built into the rocker panels under the doors. So when you use the remote to unlock the car at night, there are nice blue lights illuminating the ground around the car so you don’t step in a puddle. It’s a nice feature but probably not enough to get customers barging into Subaru’s showrooms.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: The Experts Choose the Best Racing Series

February 26th, 2008 at 9:00am

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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There are so many different types of motor racing in this country, if you’re a car company, which ones do you want to be involved with?

Mark Kent, the head of motor racing at General Motors and Dan Davis, the head of racing at Ford in North America say stock car racing in the United States is strong and healthy. Yes, they concede, television ratings and attendance at NASCAR races are down, but they’re still so high you’ve got to participate as a car company.

They say open wheel racing, like the Indianapolis Racing League is hanging on by a thread. And they like sports car racing like the American Le Mans series, but it doesn’t get much coverage or attendance.

They say Formula One is caught up in too much politics. And the GM and Ford execs say drag racing in America is coming on strong, which they like because the fans are really engaged, and they tend to buy Big Three brands.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: The Certified Used Car Market is Booming

February 25th, 2008 at 5:00pm

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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Certified Pre-Owned

What’s the fastest growing segment in the car market? No, it’s not hybrids, or small cars, or crossovers. In fact, it has nothing to do with new cars.

The used car market in America is growing every single year. And when you bore down into the numbers, it turns out that certified used vehicles are the fastest growing segment in the industry.

These are fairly new used cars that automakers certify with intensive inspections. They come with a factory warranty and you can even finance them just like buying a new car.

People seem to love these things, because sales of certified used cars are up 137 percent since 2001. And interestingly, this is a segment that General Motors dominates, handily outselling Toyota, Honda, Ford and Chrysler.

AUTOLINE ON AUTOBLOG: The Bizarre World of the Auto Shows

February 25th, 2008 at 3:15pm

In Partnership With
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When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for the auto show. It was one of the most exciting things we did every year. Dazzling displays, shiny new models, and the hubbub of thousands of show-goers created an electricity in the air.

Today, as a member of the media . . .

This article continues on Autoblog

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Is Mercury the Next to Fold?

February 23rd, 2008 at 3:00pm

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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Mercury Logo?General Motors got rid of Oldsmobile and Chrysler got rid of Plymouth, so will Ford get rid of Mercury?

Last year sales at Mercury fell below 170,000 units. In fact, it’s entirely possible that Lincoln will sell more vehicles this year than Mercury will. And when you ask the top executives at Ford what they’re going to do with the Mercury brand in the future, you don’t get much of an answer. And that tells me that we’re going to slowly see Mercury get phased out.

The good news in all of this is that the Ford and Lincoln brands are going to get more investment in new products. In the long run that will make them stronger and maybe help them gain back some market share.

But as GM and Chrysler learned, when you phase out a brand, those customers don’t automatically move to your other brands, and you end up losing share.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Don’t Polish Those Matte Paint Jobs

February 23rd, 2008 at 9:00am

As heard on
WWJ Newsradio 950

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Automakers are looking at using paint jobs with a dull, matte finish. They look pretty cool, but you better not try to wash them.

One of the standout displays at the Detroit auto show was the Lamborghini Gallardo spider. Unlike most of the shiny new cars at the show, this Lambo had a dull, matte finish. Car critics and designers went ga-ga over it.

But it turns out that the way they got the matte finish was to add talcum powder to the paint. It just kills the shine. Most paint jobsGallardo Small have a 90 percent gloss rate, but this one has just 30 percent gloss, which gives it the matte finish.

As long as you don’t wash it, that is. It doesn’t take much buffing to turn that matte finish into a shiny paint job. And that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of ruining the look of a car by washing and buffing it!