Episode 207 – CARS Expanded, Volt Technology For Sale?, New Top Gear Controversy

August 14th, 2009 at 12:48pm

Runtime 7:34

The U.S. Department of Transportation expanded the cash-for-clunkers program yesterday. General Motors may sell the Chevy Volt’s lithium-ion battery pack to rival automakers. A new Top Gear controversy involving the Porsche Shooting Brake. All that and more, plus Jim Hall predicts what cars from today will be considered classics in the future.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. More news on the U.S. CARS program. GM may start selling Chevy Volt technology. And what controversy has Top Gear caused now?

Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.

This is Autoline Daily for Friday, August 14, 2009. And now, the news.

A few more details on the Volkswagen/Porsche deal. The merger ends a four-year battle for control of VW that led Porsche to amass around $14.2 billion in debt as it accumulated 51 percent of Volkswagen’s stock. According to The New York Times, other players in the transaction include the Emirate of Qatar, which could become the third largest shareholder if it exercises options, and the first shareholder in company’s history outside the Porsche and Piëch families to hold voting rights. Also, the German state of Lower Saxony – has veto power over major company decisions. It has roughly a 20-percent stake in VW. The merger aims to increase annual operating profit by $1 billion and boost combined vehicle sales to 6.3 million per year.

Yesterday we reported that the cash for clunkers program might be changed to allow customers to receive a voucher for vehicles that are not on dealer lots. According to the Detroit News, the U.S. Department of Transportation yesterday expanded the program to include this clause. Previously, customers could only buy what was on the lot. Lawmakers pushing the proposal argued that the program caused a reduction in fuel-efficient vehicles and that low production levels made it hard to replenish inventories. Foreign automakers, with larger stock on hand, were opposed to the change and have argued it could cause confusion and lead to fraud.

In Chevy Volt news, Ward’s reports that GM may sell the car’s lithium-ion battery pack to rival automakers (subscription required). The plan sounds like a good revenue source for the recently bankrupt automaker, but company CEO Fritz Henderson says he doesn’t see it as a large source of revenue. But that may be a moot point because sharing batteries may be difficult. The Volt’s 16kW lithium-ion pack is a proprietary design that’s shaped like a “T.”

A bankruptcy judge is allowing those owed money by the old Chrysler to sue Daimler, claiming the German automaker diverted $9 billion from Chrysler two years ago. According to the Detroit Free Press, Chrysler’s unsecured creditors allege Daimler stripped Chrysler of its most valuable assets when it was sold to Cerberus in 2007. The suit must be filed before August 18 and can be done on Chrysler’s behalf but they can’t use money received from the bailout.

You may have seen “SPY” photos and video of the Porsche Shooting Brake, they were all over the internet. But don’t get your hopes up for a new model from the German sports car maker. The New York Times Reports that the vehicle is a hoax! You can blame the recently unemployed staff of Top Gear.com America for all the commotion.

Coming up next, some of my thoughts on “future classics,” we’ll be back right after this.

This weekend marks the annual grand slam for American car enthusiasts with the 49th Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on the Monterrey peninsula this Sunday and the 15th Annual Woodward Dream Cruise that runs through from Detroit to Pontiac along historic Woodward Avenue, in Southeast Michigan tomorrow. Both events draw enthusiasts from all over the country as well as some of the most beautiful, powerful and historically significant cars you’ll ever see.

With all this now-legendary sheet metal on display it makes one wonder which of today’s cars will take center stage, as it were, at Pebble and on Woodward in, say 30 years. Today, let’s talk about Pebble.

Certainly we should expect to see some low-volume sports cars on the green at the 2039 Pebble Beach Concours. BMW’s spectacular Z8 Roadster is pretty much a given. Sold in the U.S. from 2000 to 2006, essentially the Z8 was the drivetrain of an M5 placed in an all-aluminum two-seat roadster that successfully channeled the spirit of the rare 1956 to 1959 BMW 507 into a modern sports car. With a leather trimmed interior that is perfectly integrated with its gorgeous sheetmetal outside, it’s tough to refute the fact that the Z8 is the prettiest car to come from BMW in over three decades.

Another shoe-in for America’s premier concours thirty years hence is the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. A product of a partnership between Mercedes and McLaren Automotive, the SLR is a high-tech 21st century take on a traditional high-performance GT car like a 250 GT Lusso or a classic Aston-Martin. The front engine-rear drive configuration along with the amusing placement of the entire exhaust system – including the catalytic converters – ahead of the drivers compartment gives the SLR its distinctive long dash-to-axle proportion. Produced in limited quantities by formula one constructor McLaren for Mercedes-Benz and carrying an original price well over three times that of a Mercedes SL, the SLR has Pebble Beach written large in its future.

The final two machines that should be at the Monterrey concours in August 2039 are both from Motown car makers. Perhaps the pinnacle of Ford’s post-modern heritage binge of the late-nineties and early 21st century was the supercharged, mid-engined Ford GT. Making good on an unfulfilled promise born of the company’s original racing effort to kick Ferrari’s butt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in the mid-1960s, Ford finally built a volume sports car that brought V8 mid-engine performance to the masses. Well at least the mass that had $139,995 to blow on a car. The mid-ship engine puts the powerplant’s Lysholm supercharger just about at ear-level, no more than ten-inches behind the driver’s head. The 5.4L V8 generated an astounding soundtrack for the occupants whenever the throttle was used with vigor. That 550HP engine could push the Ford GT to an electronically limited top speed of 205 MPH. With 3596 sold in the United States the car’s future exclusivity is assured… along with its place at the concours.

Our final car for the 2039 Pebble Beach Event is perhaps the antithesis of the Ford GT in many ways. When Pontiac first unveiled its Solstice sports car as a concept at the 2004 North American International Auto Show it was displayed as both a roadster and a fastback coupe. Just as The General was winding down Pontiac’s 83 year run, it introduced a coupe version of the Solstice. With 260HP on tap along with nimble handling, the fastback Solstice is a great drive for a mere pittance. By Z8, SLR and Ford GT standards at any rate. Styling, while considered zaftig by some, is distinctive and very sporty. The fixed roof is a far more aesthetically pleasing solution than the roadster’s clumsy buttressed soft top. What with Pontiac joining Oldsmobile, Geo, La Salle, Viking and Marquette in the broom closet of defunct brands, the Solstice coupe gains stature as a high-water mark for the nameplate in its last decade. By its very timing and its place in the market, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP coupe is all but guaranteed a place at Pebble in the future.

Well that’s some of what I think we’ll be seeing at Pebble in 2039. On Monday, John will be back in the anchor chair but I’ll be here – in voice only – bringing you part two of my thoughts on some of today’s cars that I think we’ll be seeing thirty years down the road…this time on Woodward Avenue for the Dream Cruise.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, have a great weekend.

21 Comments to “Episode 207 – CARS Expanded, Volt Technology For Sale?, New Top Gear Controversy”

  1. dcars Says:

    Lawsuits for M&B how deserving! thats good way for the creditors to recover the money lost on Chrysler.
    Just because a foreign company comments doesn’t mean that we have to listen, it’s just words. Not allowing them to comment is wrong, they spend money and build here too.

  2. Don MacConnel Says:

    Loads of defunct brands but I think dumping Pontiac is a real mistake. Look around at the large number of women, for example, that drive Pontiac’s. They like the BMW looking grill and the sporty touches that Pontiac offered.

    Also as an longtime small block builder, I remember in ’55 where Chevy got their half-ball, stamped rocker arm valve train idea. Hint, starts with a “P.”

  3. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Good news for the cash for clunkers.People should have the choice of waiting for the vehicle they want.Who cares if the foreign cars have their lots full.If some people don’t want them it’s their choice.

  4. pedro Fernandez Says:

    The more I read the news item on Toyota and Honda complaining about the proposed voucher for the cars program, the more pissed off I get. They claim it will cause “confusion”. What they really mean is: “Due to bad timing/planning, the Big 3 ran out of the most desirable cars and now folks will go buy a Toyota or Honda instead and we don’t want that to end.” Why can’t people be honest anymore?

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  7. dcars Says:

    Closing Pontiac is a mistake. Having two volume brands was an asset, It will be a challenge for Buick to sell cars like Pontiac is doing now.

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  9. Richard Arnold Says:


    The BMW Z8 was sold from 2000 to 2003 rather than to 2006. Each of the 1st 3 years of production saw the creation of 1500 Z8s. All 555 Z8s that were built in 2003 were sent to tuner company ALPINA for modifications & returned to BMW. They were sold as the 2003 BMW ALPINA Roadster V8, & that was the end of the Z8 production run. Unlike earlier Z8s, the ALPINA version had an automatic transmission (with paddle shift) & a 4.8-liter V8 that matched the needs of the auto tranny (with gobs more torque, for example).

    In the 6 years that this has been my daily driver, my home town has never had a day that was too hot or too cold to drive it with the top down. When I drove a 3 1/2-week, 7000-mile lap of America last year, rain required me to put the top up for a total of about 45 minutes. I love it.

    Take the rest of the day off with pay.


  10. Thor Says:

    “The more I read the news item on Toyota and Honda complaining about the proposed voucher for the cars program, the more pissed off I get.”

    Honda and TOyota may be wrong to complain, but I am not at all pissed off about it. Both companies have invested an arm and a l eg in the US market, and with their ssuperior (in the mid-price range) products, they have improved the Average American’s Car owning experience by a LOT. A whole lot.

    What they are doing is making sure they protect their own interests. However, I agree that it is OK to allow cash for clunkers to apply to cars not already int he inventory.

  11. Thor Says:

    I liked Jim Hall’s presentation, however, as far as his choices for future classics go, these include some extremely low-volume and particularly ugly cars (such as the Mercedes SLR McLaren), which, if not for the low volume, would never have a prayer.

    As for the BMW Z8, it is too retro for my tastes, they could have used the retro cues more subtly, and it is also not a practical car, but a roadster. For families with 5 cars already, a z8 would be a fine gift to their breadwinners. But for families with only 1-2 cars, one of them can’t be a Z8. Even if they could afford it.

  12. Thor Says:

    Cars like the Z8 remind me of Hollywood writers, who have recently ran out of ideas, and often are content to make poor remakes of old masterpieces instead of sitting their fat butts on their chair and coming up with something NEW and CONTEMPORARY for a change.

    But cars like the Z8 could be moneymakers, for their sentimental appeal, their aging owners may fool themselves that they are 20 again and driving the ORIGINAL BMW Roadster, on whose brilliant and original design the retro-ish z8 was based.

  13. Ken Post Says:

    Sure would like to see a picture of the new Malibu. Why will it take until 2012 to get to market??

  14. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Gee I thought the CARS program was meant to help the ailing American auto industry, not to give more money to foreign car makers. My bad.

  15. Thor Says:

    The corrupt congress sure wanted to help those that give it $, and the corrupt DEMS in particular, who are in the pockets of the UAW.

    However, if they blatantly required that the cars purchased are made in the US (which would STILL include the corolla, Civic, Accord and Camry), they would run in a TON of trouble, since the foreign nations would rightly complain of Protectionism, take RETALIATORY action (Both GM and FOrd would hate to be penalized in their l;ucrative European markets, where they sell millions and make BILLIONS in profits each year),

    So instead these cowards did the “18 MPG-22 MPG” thing, which obviously made largely US SUVs and Pickups qualify. Not even large V8 sedans are under 18 MPG!

    BUT the buyers are not FOOLS. They did NOT exchange the trucks they never needed in the first place with another profitable truck. They were afraid both by the recession and by last summer’s $4 gas, so they bought Corollas instead (no. 1 in the top 10 bought).

  16. pedro Fernandez Says:

    Thor: good observation, notice the only other top 10 American car was the Focus and also the Caliber, due to the extra $4500 Chrysler was giving back. But where were the Malibus and Fusions in all this. I guess to weather the financial storm ahead, you need a car that’s going to hold up for at least until you pay it off.

  17. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Niether GM,Ford,or Chrysler are in Japan as I understand it.BTW,the Ford Focus was #2.My wife has one and it is a blast to drive,and gives us well over the 35mpg as advertised.Ford did a real nice job on the 09′s.I am trying to talk my wife into getting anther Focus when the eco-boost engine is available.I’m making progress too,lol.

  18. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    @ thor and G A Do you guys hold out any hope that the upcoming Focus ,Fiesta and Chevy Cruze and Spark will be competitive against the Japanese models? GM may be putting all their efforts into the Volt but that car won’t do much for them.

  19. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @Pedro,the quality that Ford is putting into their cars is really something to be proud of.The problem is “percieved quality” which the big 3 has in the past had more then it’s share of problems with.Those would be problems of their own making I might add.I can’t speak for GM,but the 09 Fords are awesome.The problem is getting people into the showrooms to see for themselves.Ford is already very competitive with the Japanese car makers,it’s just getting people to realize that.

    Ford also enjoys a leg up on both GM and Chrysler in as much they didn’t go BK.How that translates to sales I don’t know.We have had zero problems with the wifes 09 Focus as I’ve mentioned.We got the top of the line SEL with everything but the sunroof option,(niether of us like them)and we’ve had it for a year now.The fit and finish is above average IMHO.

    I wish I could say the same for my 08 Wrangler JK.It is not the best workmanship,and even the interior plastic is very cheap,and looks it.The quality just isn’t there for the money they charge.Would I buy another?I would really have to think that one through.

  20. Thor Says:

    “G.A.Branigan Says:
    August 16th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Niether GM,Ford,or Chrysler are in Japan as I understand it.BTW,the Ford Focus was #2.My wife has one and it is a blast to drive,and gives us well over the 35mpg as advertised.Ford did a real nice job on the 09’s.”

    Hate to spoil it for you, but I got bad news re the US version of the FOcus. I am really mad at Ford for NOT selling the NEW focus in the US for two years now, while they sell it in Europe, where it has got rave reviews, far better than the old FOcus, which was NOT an acceptable car, and not even close to the quality and reliability and overall experience of driving a Corolla or a Civic.

    Instead, in the US Ford only did a FACELIFT for the Focus, which is now more than 10 yrs old tech.

    To reply to Pedro, I had high hopes for both the Cruze and the Fiesta, but I will wait to read the reviews in both COns Reports and the Auto mags. One first review I saw about the Fiesta in Car and Driver had it get a meager 28 MPG vs the EPA 38 MPG. But C&D tests its models hard.

  21. Thor Says:

    PS GA: GM tried repeatedly in japan, both with Caddilacs and Saturns, and as you would expect, it failed miserably. Over in Europe, however, they have a far older tradition of building millions of cars there as FOrd and Opel respectively, and making billions of profits a year until recently, when GM had to sell OPEL. But Ford will continue in Europe and has a good reputation there, and can sell its cars for much more $ than it sells them here (although they are also better than their US Equivalents)_