AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Mercedes is First with 50-State Diesel

July 31st, 2008 at 10:33am

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Mercedes is the first automaker to come out with a diesel engine that can meet the strictest emission standards set by the EPA.

Starting in 2010 diesel engines have to be as clean as gas engines. It takes a lot of expensive emission controls to meet that standard but Mercedes is heavily committed to making diesels a success in the American market.

Recently I got to drive three Mercedes SUVs with what they call their BlueTEC diesel. Admittedly I was driving under the most ideal highway conditions possible, but in the big GL-Class SUV I was getting about 26 miles to the gallon.

And as expensive as all that emissions equipment is, Mercedes is only charging $1,000 for the diesel engine over the gas one. So even with sky-high diesel fuel prices, Mercedes is confident it can sell a lot of these diesels.

Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG

July 29th, 2008 at 5:53pm

Runtime: 3:46

For 2009 Mercedes-Benz has completely redesigned its SL family of roadsters. They’ve updated the engine lineup, added gorgeous new interiors and wrapped it all in a chiseled body. Like the original Gullwing of the 1950s the ’09 models make a bold statement, especially in AMG trim. But does the new model follow in the sporty footsteps of the original SL or has Mercedes watered down the iconic car?

Video after the jump …

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AUTOLINE ON AUTOBLOG: The Amazing Shrinking Car Market

July 29th, 2008 at 9:49am

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As car sales continue to spiral downward, some product planners in the industry are beginning to ask the unthinkable: is the American car market going to shrink permanently?

They are starting to consider the possibility that the days of selling 17 million new vehicles every year are over, and that going forward the American auto market is going to be . . .

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AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Aluminum Castings that Mimic Human Bones

July 25th, 2008 at 9:30am

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Does the human body hold the answer to making lighter weight cars?

A couple of companies are working on making aluminum castings that sort of look like human bones on the inside. While bones are solid on the outside, they’re porous on the inside. And it’s that porous-ness, all those holes in there that makes them strong and lightweight.

Munro and Associates, which is located in Troy, Michigan, and Cymat Technologies of Toronto are working on using an aluminum casting technique to slash weight, including automotive components such as suspension pieces.

Interestingly the SAF casting, as it’s called, which stands for stabilized aluminum foam also has thermal and acoustic insulation properties, which means they also have the opportunity to make cars quieter as well as lighter, thanks to the fact these companies looked to the human body for design solutions.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Why 55 MPH Speed Limit is a Bad Idea

July 24th, 2008 at 2:55pm

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55 MPH Speed LimitSome politicians are talking about dropping the national speed limit down to 55 miles an hour. Here’s why that is a bad idea.

Driving slower will definitely improve fuel economy, but there’s nothing stopping anyone from doing that right now. It’s perfectly legal to get in the right lane on the highway and drive 55.

But for people who have to drive for a living, 55 can be a living hell. Semi drivers, delivery trucks, traveling sales people have to cover a lot of ground in their jobs. Make them drive slower and that means their trips take longer, which means they spend more time on the road, which makes their traveling more expensive.

A 55 mile an hour speed limit will not save that much fuel, and will have a negative impact on the nation’s productivity. Forget 55, there are a lot of other more effective ways we can cut down on how much oil we use.

Triple X

July 22nd, 2008 at 6:15pm


Runtime: 5:17

First there was the X5 and then there was the X3. For 2008 BMW is adding a third “X” vehicle to its lineup. The brand-new X6 has been positioned as the sportiest of the company’s crossovers. To backup this claim they’ve given it an exciting power train lineup and a laundry list of virtues. So, does Munich’s latest offering expand the automotive horizon or is it just another crossover? Find out after the jump.

Video after the jump …

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AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Will the Government dole out Free Tune-Ups?

July 21st, 2008 at 1:01pm

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One of the ideas being floated by environmentalists to conserve oil is to get the government to handout free tune-ups.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, is looking at things we can do in this country to immediately reduce how much oil we use. And one of their ideas is called “Give America a Tune-up.”

The idea would be to get Congress to give out vouchers so that motorists could get a free tune-up, including and oil and air filter change, new spark plugs and making sure the tires are properly pumped up.

The NRDC says that by tuning up almost every car and truck on the road we could instantly make them all get better fuel economy. And it calculates this would save motorists $200-300 a year. No word yet what Congress thinks of the idea, but we’ll keep you up to date as things develop.

Here Come the Price Hikes

July 18th, 2008 at 5:34pm

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Over the last decade the price of a new car has not gone up — at least in terms of purchasing power. It takes the average American family about 25 weeks of income to buy a new vehicle today, roughly the same that it did in the mid-1990′s. But that is about to change. The prices of new vehicles are about to skyrocket.

What prevented prices from climbing up to now is competition. Every market in the world has more car companies competing in it than it did a decade ago (with the glaring exceptions of Japan and South Korea). That competition forced automakers to wring costs and inefficiencies out of their operations, and then pass those savings on to their customers.

But with commodity prices soaring for all the raw materials needed to manufacture automobiles, the car companies just can’t cut costs fast enough. Let me give you an example.

To make cars you need steel. To make steel you need iron ore. But over the last decade three suppliers have pretty much cornered the global market for iron ore. The major steelmakers pretty much have to buy from BHP of Australia, Vale of Brazil and Rio Tinto, which is headquartered in London.

Last year those iron ore suppliers decided it would be a nice time to raise the price of iron ore by 30 percent. And then earlier this year they decided it would be even better to raise prices another 70 percent on top of that. As a result, steel prices are soaring. A ton of scrap now sells for more than a coil of finished steel did a year ago.

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AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Chrysler’s Passenger Car Sales Plummet

July 17th, 2008 at 3:00pm

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There’s no secret that Chrysler had a bad sales month in June, and here’s why the numbers are worse than you think.

Chrysler lost more sales and market share last month than any other major automaker. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise in that the company relies on truck sales more than anyone else, as that part of the market is suffering more than any other.

But the scary part of Chrysler’s June sales report is that even its four cylinder, front-wheel-drive cars saw a big drop-off. Sales of the Dodge Avenger and Caliber and Chrysler Sebring were down anywhere from 36 percent to 43 percent. Remember, these are the most fuel efficient cars the company sells.

Yes, inventory is tight on these kinds of cars, but other companies like Ford, Toyota, GM and Honda were able to increase sales of their smaller cars even with tight inventory. This is a dangerous development and one that those who follow Chrysler will want to keep a close eye on.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Automotive Patent Rankings

July 17th, 2008 at 9:00am

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When it comes to getting automotive patents, who do you think is the best in the world?

According to the Patent Board, the company that’s getting the most automotive patents and getting the most out of those patents is Denso, the Japanese supplier company. Then comes Honda, followed by General Motors.

The Patent Board ranks Toyota in fourth place, followed by Ford and then the Robert Bosch Company. After that comes Delphi, Nissan and Magna. And in tenth place is a little American company called Fallbrook technologies that’s come up with a new kind of transmission called the Nuvinci CVT.

Patents are an indicator of how well a company is coming up with new technology, and it’s very interesting to see which companies did not make the list.

Click here to take a look at the automotive patent rankings press release