AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Will Market Drop Set Historic Record?

July 16th, 2008 at 7:45pm

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Car sales are in bad shape, but they’d have to get a lot worse to set a record.

In the last 50 years sales of new vehicles have gone through four major downturns. From 1955 to 1957 sales of new vehicles dropped 18 percent as the country went through a recession. During the oil embargo in the early 1970s sales dropped nearly 24 percent . But it was during the second oil crisis that sales dropped the most. They fell 31 percent from 1978 to 1982.

And the fourth big downturn was during the first Gulf War in 1991 when sales dropped nearly 17 percent . So even though sales are bad right now, the downturn is about the same as in 1991.

To match the second oil crisis, sales would have to drop to about 12 million units. And of course, the all-time worst downturn was during the Great Depression. Between 1929 and 1932 car sales fell a staggering 75 percent.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Traffic Mitigation can Improve MPGs

July 16th, 2008 at 10:51am

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Over in Europe they want to reduce CO2 emissions with more efficient cars, and more efficient roads.

In Europe, automakers are facing a new standard to reduce CO2 emissions to only 120 grams for every kilometer of driving per car. But European regulators also want to improve driving conditions so cars can achieve that.

Stop and go driving absolutely kills the fuel economy of a car. Conversely, if you can maintain a car at a steady speed, without slowing down and speeding up, it operates at its peak efficiency.

So European regulators are not just trying to get cars with better fuel economy, they’re also focusing on what they call traffic mitigation, that is, trying to eliminate bottlenecks and congestion, so that cars burn less fuel and put out fewer grams of CO2.

Blast From the Past: A look back at the EV1

July 14th, 2008 at 3:01pm


Runtime: 9:50

A decade ago GM’s electric car, the EV1, was a flop in the marketplace. But with gas over four dollars a gallon it would probably attract a lot more attention today.

Back when it was launched, the EV1 was revolutionary. It had a host of innovative features like regenerative braking and light-weight construction. But none of that could stop GM from pulling the plug on the program just a few years ago.

Take a look at this GM corporate video from the Autoline archives which highlights many of the EV1′s features and shows how relevant the car is today.

Video after the jump …

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AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Algae to the Rescue?

July 14th, 2008 at 1:04pm

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As strange as it may sound, the solution to our addiction to oil could be solved by pond scum.

One of the most interesting developments coming out of the bio-engineering field is growing algae to make fuel. There are quite a few American companies that are working hard on this and the results look extremely promising.

Unlike growing corn to make ethanol, algae can be harvested daily, uses a fraction of the water, doesn’t need any fertilizer and absorbs CO2. If an acre of corn can produce 300 gallons of ethanol, an acre of algae can produce 5,000 gallons of fuel. Some algae proponents say it can even do a lot more than that, maybe up to 30,000 gallons.

Right now this industry is still in the development phase. But in the next couple of years a number of plants will be going up to grow algae for fuel. And one of the first of these could be going up in Holland, Michigan, with assistance from the state and from MSU.

AUTOLINE ON AUTOBLOG: My Bone to Pick with T. Boone Pickens

July 13th, 2008 at 10:00am

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Billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens rocked the automotive and energy industries this week with a bold plan to drastically reduce America’s dependence on imported oil. His plan, in case you missed it, is to build massive . . .

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AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: GM’s June Surprise in Truck Sales

July 12th, 2008 at 10:00am

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Even though June was a terrible sales month, General Motors did surprisingly well with some of its biggest SUVs.

One of the reasons Toyota did not surpass GM in sales last month is because GM did surprisingly well some of its truck lines. Sales of the Cadillac Escalade, for example, were up last month. Only by a fraction, but they were up.

Even more surprisingly, sales of the Chevy Suburban were up. And the Tahoe. And the Trailblazer. In fact, Trailblazer sales were up a staggering 44 percent. And even though sales of the Chevy Silverado pickup were down, Ford, Dodge, Toyota and Nissan saw sales of their full-size pickups drop by more than twice as much.

Thanks to judicious incentives General Motors and its retailers showed that even in some of the most adverse market conditions, they still have a few tricks up their sleeves on how to move the metal, even when it comes to trucks and big SUVs.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Auto Industry only one facing CO2 Regulations

July 11th, 2008 at 5:51pm

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CO2 Emissions

If global warming truly is the most important issue of our day, how come the auto industry is the only one facing regulations about it?

According the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, there are a lot of man-made sources of CO2. Most people tend to think the auto industry is the major culprit, but it’s not even close.

The IPCC points out the electricity suppliers are the largest emitters of CO2, about 36 percent. Industry is the second largest at 31percent. All forms of transportation account for 21 percent. But if you eliminate aircraft, ships, trains and heavy trucks, then cars and light trucks only account for 11 percent of global CO2 emissions.

And yet, so far, the auto industry is the only one that’s being regulated to reduce CO2. Not only is it unfair, that kind of approach is not going to fix anything.

AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Louisiana Enacts Biofuel Law

July 10th, 2008 at 6:15pm

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Louisiana is getting pretty serious about getting into the biofuel business.

The state of Louisiana just enacted legislation to produce large amounts of ethanol, but with a couple of key differences from everyone else. First off, the ethanol cannot be made from corn. Second, it has to be made in small facilities, not huge refineries. Third, the use of this fuel will be mandated in the state.

Interestingly, Louisiana is investigating the use of hydrous ethanol, that is, ethanol that still has some water in it. Recent investigations show that this type of ethanol will work fine in cars and since it eliminates one step in the manufacturing process, it cuts the cost of ethanol by 20 to 30 cents a gallon.

Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal has mandated that all vehicles the state buys have to be able to use alternative fuels. With gasoline at $4 a gallon, we’re starting to see a lot of states get a lot more interested in biofuels.

The Bull is Back

July 8th, 2008 at 6:37pm

Runtime: 3:43

It took guts to launch such a radical car back in 1986, but Ford rolled the dice. Luckily their bet paid off and the Taurus became an instant hit. People were drawn to its sleek, aerodynamic shape and it flew off dealer lots. In fact, it didn’t look like anything that had ever rolled out of Detroit.

But in 2006 Ford would discontinue the Taurus because of falling sales. Through the ‘90s they hadn’t invested enough money in the car and buyers turned away from the once popular sedan. But the nameplate had at least one champion in Dearborn and the car was revived in 2008.

Video after the jump …

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AUTOMOTIVE INSIGHT: Plug-Ins have lower Fuel Costs

July 6th, 2008 at 7:00am

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Here are some fascinating facts that explain why plug-in hybrids and electric cars offer so much promise.

Most experts say over 40 percent of all vehicles could plug-in without over-stressing the grid. In fact, recharging your plug-in will use about the same amount of electricity as it takes to run your fridge all day.

But the tax we pay on gasoline is what pays for our roads and bridges. So if plug-ins sell in huge numbers, you can bet the government will tax electricity more to make up for the lost revenue.

Even so, plug-ins still come out ahead. At $4.00 a gallon with a car that gets 30 mpg, it costs about 13 cents a mile. A plug-in would use about 2 cents a mile in electrical costs. So, if you commute 40 miles a day you’re paying about five and a half bucks in gasoline, while a plug-in would cost you 40 cents!