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

Archive for the ‘John’s Journal’ Category

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Ford’s Focus is the Little Car that Could

March 29th, 2008 at 3:00pm

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Despite what the critics predicted, the new Focus is turning out to be a big hit for Ford.

Everybody I’ve talked to in the design community absolutely hates the look of the new Ford Focus—including people on the Ford design staff. I’ve also heard all kinds of enthusiasts criticize Ford for not bringing the European version of the Focus over here.

But it’s a good thing that Ford didn’t listen to the critics. Sales of the new Focus are off to a great start. In fact, it’s even outselling the new Chevrolet Malibu despite all the accolades that it’s getting.

I think there are several things going in the Focus’s favor. It’s a well-recognized name, it has fresh styling (even if the critics don’t like it), and the Microsoft Sync system has given it a cool factor that is bringing ‘em into the showrooms.

Ford Focus Front 3/4 Ford Focus Interior Ford Focus Rear 3/4

Click an above image to see more photos of the Ford Focus.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: GM to Add Battery Engineers

March 29th, 2008 at 9:00am

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BatteryEven though GM has been getting rid of thousands of employees there is one area where it’s hiring people and it all has to do with advanced batteries.

Right now there is a major technological race going on world wide in the auto industry. It all has to do with coming out with advanced batteries that could make plug-in hybrids and electric cars a reality.

But on Autoline, GM’s chairman Rick Wagoner, said the United States is woefully behind in battery research. He’s concerned that Japan and China are getting a lock on being the places where these batteries will get made.

So GM is building up its own in-house capabilities to develop these batteries. Toyota already has 300 engineers working on advanced batteries, and while Wagoner wouldn’t go on the record saying GM is going to match Toyota’s effort, he also said he would not rule it out.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Will Suicide Doors Make a Comeback?

March 28th, 2008 at 9:00am

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After a lot of false starts, will suicide doors make a comeback?

For years now automotive designers have tantalized us with concept cars that use suicide doors. But up to now no automaker has had the guts to commit to put them in production.

That’s partly because of the name. In the United States, at least, doors that are hinged at the rear are called suicide doors. The feeling was, in an accident, if the doors popped open, it would be easier for passengers to be ejected from the car. And they used to be pretty popular up until 40 years ago. In fact, JFK’s Lincoln had suicide doors.

But designers haven’t given up on the idea. They want to bring it back and the new Opel Meriva in Europe might be the first to do so. You watch, if Opel really does put them in production you’re going to see a bunch of car companies rush to the market with suicide doors.

Small Front 3/4 Small Side Profile Small Rear 3/4

Click an above image to see more photos of the Opel Meriva.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Are the Rich Exempt from CO2 Regulations?

March 27th, 2008 at 1:00pm

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When it comes to reducing CO2 to save the planet, are the rich going to be exempt from all the regulations?

Automakers face strict regulations to reduce CO2 emissions. But some automakers, like Porsche, say there’s no way they can meet those standards.

In fact, it’s hard to see how any luxury or performance brand will be able to meet them. Can you imagine a Rolls-Royce the size of a Volkswagen Rabbit, or a Ferrari with the performance of a Toyota Prius? Well, that’s what it’s going to take to meet these regulations.

So I’ll make a bold prediction here. When it looks like these CO2 regulations threaten to put those companies out of business, the politicians will say, “They don’t really sell that many cars, so let’s give them an exemption.” Sure, they’ll slap them on the wrists with some fines, but when push comes to shove, the jet set will get their toys.

 

Buying vs. Leasing

March 26th, 2008 at 2:18pm

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Are the doors rusting off your favorite hatchback? Does your trusty old pickup burn more oil than it does gas? If so, you’ve probably thought about treating yourself to a new set of wheels. The only problem is there are so many different vehicles to choose from on today’s new car market, picking the one that’s right for you can be difficult at best. But choosing the right car is only half the battle. The other half is deciding whether to buy or lease. Each option has its plusses and minuses; which one is right for you?

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Ford Returns to Regional Marketing

March 24th, 2008 at 10:00pm

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Jim Farley SmallFord is going back to the old-fashioned way of marketing cars and trucks, and lo and behold, it’s already working.

After 9/11, when car sales came to a screeching halt, General Motors got the market moving again with an across-the-board offer of zero percent interest. It worked so well because it was a simple plan that was offered nationwide on every vehicle.

But now Ford is going back to regional marketing, where incentives are only used in specific parts of the country, at different times of the year depending on the model. Ford says it boosted market share on the Ranger and Edge in California by using this approach.

In fact, Jim Farley, the head of all marketing at Ford says the company has much more detailed sales data than Toyota does, and he plans to use this information very judiciously to get more bang for the buck when they use incentives.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Plastic Windows Look Promising

March 24th, 2008 at 2:00pm

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Windows made out of glass have been in cars for nearly a century. But as automakers look for ways to cut the weight of their cars, they’re taking note that glass is heavy.

Ten years ago some suppliers began touting the advantages of making windows in cars out of plastic, out of polycarbonate to be precise. Here we are a decade later and there are a few examples of plastic windows, but that could change quickly thanks to the upcoming fuel economy regulations.

Automakers know one of the fastest ways to boost fuel economy is to cut weight. And plastic windows are half the weight of glass ones. But plastic windows also let more noise pass through them and they’re more expensive than glass ones.

But it’s going to be tough to meet those new fuel economy standards and automakers will be mighty tempted to use plastic windows, in spite of the drawbacks.

 

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Could Ford Catch GM in Revenue?

March 24th, 2008 at 9:01am

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GM LogoToyota surpassed General Motors to become the number one automaker in the world, could Ford be the next to overtake GM?

Last year revenue at General Motors fell 12 percent to $181 billion dollars. Meanwhile, at Ford, revenue jumped by an impressive $14 billion to a total of $174 billion.

That means, from a revenue standpoint, which is all the money a company takes in during the year, Ford is really closing the gap with GM. Of course, part of the reason that GM is down is that it sold off half of GMAC.Ford Oval

Nonetheless, if we get a repeat this year of what happened last year, Ford could overtake GM in 2008 and become the second largest automaker in the world, as measured by revenue.

 

AUTOLINE ON AUTOBLOG: Do You Change Your Oil Too Often?

March 18th, 2008 at 4:43pm

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I’ll bet most Autoblog readers take pretty good care of their cars. And like me, I’ll bet most of you change your oil about every 3,000 miles or so.

But recently I got to wondering . . .

This article continues on Autoblog

I Pity the Fool

March 15th, 2008 at 12:00pm

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Laurence Tureaud starred on the iconic ‘80s television program The A-Team. Colloquially as Mr. T, he played the roll of B.A. Baracus, a crime-fighting ex-army commando. But even before he made it big in Hollywood, Mr. T worked as a bouncer and celebrity bodyguard where he earned himself a reputation for being tougher than rusty nails.

Possibly drawing inspiration from Mr. T, GM’s Hummer division is launching an all-new truck, the H3T. Other than sharing an obvious consonant in their names, the Hummer H3T and Mr. T have at least one more characteristic in common, toughness. The H3T unites the go-anywhere ruggedness of the H3 SUV with the carry-anything capability of a Chevy pickup

Sure, other manufacturers build similar, half-breed trucks, but even the Ford Explorer Sport Trac lacks the off-road pedigree of this Hummer.