AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: The Used Vehicle Market is Booming

February 22nd, 2008 at 12:00pm

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Used Cars

There is a significant trend taking place in the American market as more buyers shift away from buying new cars and go for used ones instead.

Sales of new cars and trucks in the United States have been flat for more than a decade now. And yet the used car market is booming. Last year we sold 16 million new cars and 46 million used ones. In fact, the used car market is growing by more than a million units a year.

The reason this is possible is that cars last a lot longer today than they used to. And a lot of people don’t like the fact that new cars depreciate in value so quickly. They’d rather buy a car that’s a couple of years old, still in really good shape, and thousands of dollars cheaper than it was new.

Of course, used cars can only come from one place—the new car market. And if there are fewer new cars coming into the market, at some point that’s going to start driving up the prices of used cars.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Are Foreign Drivers Hurting U.S. Racing?

February 22nd, 2008 at 9:00am

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American Le Mans

Have you noticed how many foreign drivers are involved in motor racing in America? And is that hurting the popularity of racing over here?

When they run the Indianapolis 500 in May, check out the starting grid and you won’t see many Americans. Most of the drivers are foreigners. Same with sports car racing in the American Le Mans Series, and even NASCAR now has a number of foreigners.

But Dan Davis the head of Ford’s racing says these foreigners don’t hurt spectator interest. Just the opposite, he points out the Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian race driver has brought a whole new fan base to NASCAR.

And Mark Kent, the head of GM racing says when they race Corvettes at the 24 hours of Le Mans, the foreign drivers they use attract fans from their home counties, which helps sell more Corvettes overseas. In fact, these experts say the reason so many foreigners race here is because the sport is so healthy.

Going Where No Audi Has Gone Before, Or At Least Since 1991

February 21st, 2008 at 2:35pm

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The coupe is back at Audi (never mind the TT, which has had two doors since its introduction in ’98). The new A5 and S5 are coupes in the traditional sense – two doors and a long, low body.

To showcase this stylish new car Audi invited us down to Washington D.C. for a rousing drive of the V8-powered S5. The rural roads of country Virginia really gave us a chance to stretch the S5’s legs and work its chassis through the narrow, winding roads that cut through the area’s farmland.

While we were in the capital we also managed to score an interview with Carter Balkcom, Audi’s A5/S5 product manager.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: How to Mold Interior Plastics

February 21st, 2008 at 9:00am

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If you want to come out with beautiful car interiors you need to know some tricks of the trade, and here’s what the designers do.

Detroit’s automakers have been heavily criticized for having cheap-looking plastic interiors. But the big problem is not with the plastics. Everybody pretty much uses the same plastics. The trick is in how you mold those plastics into dashboards, door trim and consoles.

Designers say if you want to give plastic a rich, quality look you cannot mold panels that are flat and straight. That makes them look hard and uninviting. Instead, they need to be designed with soft curves and contours.

That tricks the eye into making the plastic look softer because it helps give shadow and depth to a panel. And the beauty of it is that it doesn’t cost any more to mold a panel that looks good, compared to one that looks hard and plasticky.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: OEMs Wish NASCAR Was More Relevant

February 20th, 2008 at 4:07pm

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NASCAR is the most popular form of racing in this country, but the car companies wish it would become more relevant to the auto industry.

NASCAR racing attracts 75 million spectators a year, which is why Chevrolet, Toyota, Dodge and Ford are so involved in it. But these days, the car companiNASCARes believe NASCAR is not keeping pace with the real world.

For example, the racecars in NASCAR still use carburetors, while the auto industry dropped them over a quarter of a century ago. And it was only last year that NASCAR went to unleaded fuel, while the rest of us have been using unleaded for over 30 years.

Now the automakers have to meet stringent fuel economy and emission standards. And they wish NASCAR would get with the program and start using the kind of technology the rest of us are already using.

Hella LEDs the Way

February 19th, 2008 at 4:13pm

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German automotive supplier Hella has developed yet another type of headlight. Beyond halogen, xenon and others, Hella has produced a headlamp that works completely off of LEDs, or light-emitting diodes (LEDs are what make the little lights on the front of your computer glow).

Debuting on the 2008 Cadillac Escalade Platinum, Hella’s LED headlights offer customers several key benefits over traditional headlamps. To help explain a little about this new lighting system is Hella’s North American president, Dr. Martin Fischer. Also, David Schiavone, Product Manager for the Cadillac Escalade gives us an in-depth walk around the new Platinum Escalade.

AUTOLINE ON AUTOBLOG: You Too Can Plan Chrysler’s Future

February 18th, 2008 at 11:15am

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Chrysler is embarking on a bold and ambitious plan to dramatically reduce the number of dealers it has. And it wants to free up a bunch of money for new product development. It’s a clever plan that neatly side-steps the franchise laws in this country. It will also result in a much smaller company.

So far Chrysler hasn’t released a whole lot of details about what it plans to do. But it wants to . . .

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AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: How Chrysler can Save $1 Billion

February 16th, 2008 at 3:00pm

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By getting out of segments where it has too many models, Chrysler can probably save over $1 billion that it can invest into new segments.

Chrysler has so much overlap amongst all the products that it offers, that in a lot of segments it’s actually competing against itself. Meanwhile, other parts of the market are booming and Chrysler needs to get in them.

That’s why the company is looking at taking an ax to so many models. It needs to stop investing in segments where it already competes, and start investing that money in other parts of the market. By getting rid of products like the Compass, the Patriot, the Commander, the Avenger, the Pacifica, the Aspen and others, I figure Chrysler can free up well over $1 billion they can invest in segments that are growing a lot faster.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Ford Cable Lock System

February 16th, 2008 at 9:00am

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Ford has partnered with Master Lock to develop an innovative theft deterrent system for its trucks.

Aside from buying an expensive and heavy cap or keeping a hungry tiger in the bed of your truck, there’s not a whole lot you can do to stop people from stealing whatever you’ve got back there, until now.

Master Lock and Ford have created what they call the Cable Lock system. It consists of an eight foot long plastic-coated steel cable mounted to a cord winder.  Attached to the end of the cable is a locking, heavy-duty clasp that looks like a handcuff.

What you do is pull the cable out of the winder and loop it through all of the openings on your tool box, air compressor, bicycle or whatever else needs securing.  Then you clip the ‘handcuff’ to the bed cleats on the truck or back to the cable itself.

It’s a simple system to deter casual thieves. I wonder if it would work on the kids?

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Where Chrysler Needs Market Coverage

February 15th, 2008 at 5:00pm

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Chrysler has too many products in the same places, and not enough in the right places. Here are some of the booming segments it desperately needs to get into.

There are some gaping holes in Chrysler’s lineup. And it’s missing out in some of the hottest segments in the market right now. For example, Chrysler desperately needs a subcompact car. It’s supposed to have something like the Dodge Hornet coming from Chery in China, but that project’s been delayed.

Chrysler also needs something smaller than that, a mini car for the international market. It also needs a competitor in the entry lux segment, something more like the old 300 M, not the 300 C. And it also needs a full-size crossover vehicle.

This is a key reason why Chrysler is going to cut so many current models. It needs to stop the overlap in certain market segments, and start going after customers where it currently doesn’t compete.