American brands see big gains in 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study

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American brands deserve better perception in their home market

For the first time in a decade, American automakers have topped J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study as the most dependable car in the U.S. market.  The Cadillac DTS sedan won top honors, surpassing the Japanese cars that have claimed the title of most reliable car for years.  Even more surprising is the fact that seven of the top ten cars in the study came from either General Motors or Ford Motor Co.

The VDS is conducted on cars that are three years old, ensuring significant miles have been logged in each car.  This year, over 52,000 auto owners were asked to identify almost 200 problem areas in their vehicle.  These areas don’t simply include breaks or mechanical problems; annoyances are also recorded by owners.

The 2010 VDS had an industry standard of 155 problems per 100 cars.  This number is the lowest ever reported in any year of the study.  The Cadillac DTS beat every other car in the field with only 76 problems per 100 vehicles.  Porsche stole top honors as the most dependable auto brand, logging only 110 problems per 100 vehicles.  This is a significant improvement over 2009’s study, where they were 11th.  Ford’s luxury brand, Lincoln, came in second place.  It was followed by Buick, Lexus, Mercury, Toyota, and Honda, in that order.

Donald Frey, co-creator of the Ford Mustang, passes away

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The Mustang loses one of its fathers

Donald Frey, a former senior production planning manager at Ford Motor Co., passed away on March 5th, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois from a stroke at the age of 87.

Frey worked with Hal Sperlich and Lee Iacocca at Ford to develop the Mustang, the iconic pony-car that helped usher in the age of the muscle car.  Frey was in charge of the team in charge of developing an affordable, sporty car during the 1960’s.  Because of Ford’s flop with the Edsel, Frey had trouble getting a standard budget for the project.  With some savvy improvising, he used the platform and instrument panel from the already-established Ford Falcon to create the Mustang.  Using these, he managed to create the program in only 18 months.

When the Ford Mustang debuted in April of 1964, sales expectations were modest.  Managers only expected about 90,000 units in the first year.  Much to everyone’s surprise, the car sold over 400,000 units in its first year alone, helping to make it one of the most popular cars from the 60’s.

Frey later succeeded Iacocca as the head of Ford Division in Ford Motorsports and helped maintain the company’s participation in both NASCAR and Le Mans.  While still at Ford, he also helped develop the first Bronco.

In 1968, Frey left Ford and became the head of General Cable Co.  He later became chairman and CEO at Bell & Howell, where he aided in engineering the first CD-ROM.  He also served a primary role in getting the film industry to release films on tape, thus ushering in the home-entertainment era.

Chrysler set to reopen 50 dealerships

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Chrysler set to recover from bankruptcy

Chrysler recently announced that it will offer 50 closed dealerships reinstatement, reversing an earlier decision to not reinstate any dealerships.  Approximately 400 dealerships applied for franchise reinstatement through arbitration, and Chrysler has decided to send letters of intent to 12.5% of them.  As recently as mid-March, the company had showed signs of not reinstating any dealership seeking arbitration.

According to Chrysler, the dealerships selected to be reinstated were chosen because they “are in locations that offer customer service benefits and will have limited adverse impact on the dealers within our current network.”  Each of the dealerships will house all four brands currently owned by Chrysler.

Coinciding with the reinstatements, Chrysler also revealed that 36 other closed dealerships have been offered contracts and sales agreements in addition to the 50 offered reinstatement.  An undisclosed amount of dealerships that have also shut there doors are currently in settlement talks with the company as well.

With a total of 86 dealerships either reinstated or on the track to be reinstated, about 11 percent of the 789 Chrysler dealerships closed in June of last year could be reopening their doors very soon.  This number could easily rise if more of the unnumbered dealerships have settled deals with the company.

Chrysler solves Jeep Wrangler Shortage

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No more shortages of the hard-top Wrangler

Chrysler recently announced that it has solved their problem of Jeep Wrangler hard-top shortages.  By staging two production increases in early and late April, Michael Manley, CEO of Jeep, says that they’ll be able to meet the growing demands for the vehicle.

Ever since Chrysler’s bankruptcy almost a year ago, many Jeep dealers have been experiencing shortages of the popular Wrangler hard-top.  Last month, dealers were told that constraints from suppliers would force shortages of the model for several months.  Meridian Automotive Systems, Inc., the original supplier, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August of last year, causing production to severely decrease.  Since then, Continental Structural Plastics, Inc. has taken over production.

During the shortage, Chrysler urged dealers to sell the soft-top version of the Wrangler to customers.  This was difficult, as the hard-top version typically accounts for 70% of all Wrangler sales.  Recently, demand for the hard-top has peaked at 85% of Wrangler sales.  While Jeep sales declined 3% from 2008 to 2009, the decline did not break out the sales percentages of hard- and soft-top Wranglers.

In addition to the production increases, Chrysler said that Jeep will offer a greater choice of options for hard-top Wranglers.  Of these options, colored hard-tops matching the body paint of the car is the most notable.

Chrysler to build electric Fiat 500, plug-in Ram

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The new Fiat 500 from Chrysler

Chrysler recently announced plans to build an electric version of the Fiat 500 in the United States.  The minicar is slated to go on sale in the US in 2012.  A prototype of the vehicle, called the Fiat 500EV, was on display at the latest Detroit Auto Show.  The concept version utilized an electric motor along with a lithium-ion battery pack and electric vehicle-control unit to power it.

Chrysler’s senior vice-president of engineering Scott Kunselman said that a light, small platform like the Fiat 500’s is perfect for electric vehicle technology.  Powering a car purely on an electric motor is easier to do in smaller, lighter vehicles.

Chrysler is set to release a gas-powered Fiat 500 in the United States later this year under the Fiat moniker.

In the same announcement, Chrysler revealed that it will also be producing a fleet of hybrid plug-in Dodge Ram pickup trucks.  The automaker will receive up to $48 million in order to produce a fleet of 140 vehicles.  The plug-in Ram will be powered by a 5.7-liter V-8 engine mated with a two-mode hybrid transmission and a lithium-ion battery pack.  On a single charge the truck should be able to travel up to 20 miles on electric power alone.

2011 Ford Mustang priced lower than the Camero

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2011 Ford Mustang

Ford Motor Co. recently unveiled its plan to sell the 2011 V-6 Mustang for less than its closest competitor, the Chevy Camero.  Set to arrive in dealerships in April, the Mustang will sell for about $1,000 less than the V-6 Camero.  Including shipping, the total cost of the car will be $22,995.

The lower price of the V-6 Mustang is significant, as Ford has also increased several key features of the car.  While earlier iterations of the V-6 Mustang had less than 300 horse power, the 2011 version boasts a 3.7-liter engine that puts out a 305 hp and 280 pounds-feet of torque.  Even more impressive is the fact that the V-6 Mustang still manages 31 mpg in fuel economy, despite the increase in power.  The engine is an all aluminum model and is mated with a brand new six-speed transmission.  The previous model came with a standard five-speed transmission.

The V-6 Camaro features a 3.6-liter engine that puts out 304 hp and manages 29 mpg.  While these numbers are not staggeringly below the 2011 Mustang’s, the automobile industry is all about numbers, and higher power for lower cost is always a powerful selling point.

Also being released at Ford dealers in April is the 2011 5.0-liter V-8 Mustang.  It produces a staggering 412 hp and 390 pounds-feet of torque while still managing an impressive 26 mpg.  It starts at just under $31,000, making it one of the most affordable high-powered cars on the market.

BMW now powers Carbon police cars

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Carbon police vehicle

BMW recently signed a deal to give turbocharged diesel engines to Carbon Motor Corp. for their latest police automobile. Signed on March 22nd, 2010, the deal will provide over 240,000 engines to the law enforcement automobile manufacturer. In the deal, the engines will have automatic transmissions, a cooling system, and the ability to have exhaust gas recirculation.

The engines are BMW’s 3.0 liter inline six turbodiesel. Used in the X5, the engine produces 245 horsepower and 425 pounds-feet of torque, giving the police car a great balance of power and speed.  In the X5, the engine provides a 0-60 of 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph.

The car Carbon will put BMW’s engine in is the E7, which will be available only to police agencies.  The E7 will be built from an aluminum superframe capable of taking a rear-end collision at 75 mph. Built to last at least 250,000 miles, the E7 will reach a top speed of over 150 mph and will boast a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds.  The car will also achieve a fuel economy of 28 to 30 mpg, which is why the engines are diesel.  Set to launch in 2012, 12,500 cars have already been reserved by agencies around the world.

BMW announces front wheel drive

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Front-wheel drive coming soon

BMW will soon bring an end to its legacy of rear-and four-wheel drive automobiles. At the Geneva Motor Show, chairman Norbert Reithofer announced that the German carmaker will introduce a front-wheel drive entry-level car as part of a wide production plan. The new model has yet to be named, but will be priced and positioned below the company’s entry-level 1-Series.

The new BMW model is the product of a part sharing and cost saving plan with the MINI brand.  The front-wheel drive car will share the same drivetrain as the next-generation MINI Cooper.  The latest iteration of the MINI Cooper isn’t due out for another 4 years, but there are hints that BMW could roll out this latest model as early as 2013 in an effort to snatch the title as the number 1 premium small-car brand.

Part of BMW’s motivation for the front-wheel drive car is to compete with the Audi 1 and Smart forfour (produced by Mercedes Benz). Both cars are the latest entries into the premium small-car market by BMW’s biggest rivals. The car is also speculated to become part of the production platform for the 1-Series, though Reithofer has said that any plans for crossover are undecided at the moment.

McLaren enters latest stages of MP4-12C development

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McLaren MP4-12C

McLaren has announced that it is close to finishing its latest vehicle, the MP4-12C.  The new supercar has entered the final phases of testing, which is being done around the world.  Working under a Formula-1 styled process, each car is being accompanied by a crew of 20-25 technicians and 12 engineers to ensure development moves along as quickly as possible.

The MP4-12C is being tested by two McLaren prototypes: the XP8 and the XP10.  Both are said to be in the “beta phase” of development.  They feature new versions of the M838T twin-turbo engine, new gear ratios in the transmission, new suspension geometry, a better performing cooling package, and an upgraded electronic architecture.  All of these features have been much improved upon from the prototypes McLaren had last year.

McLaren plans to have the vehicle on the road by 2011.  The MP4-12C will boast a 3.8 liter V-8 engine that will put out 600 horsepower.  The engine will be mated to a seven-speed, dual-clutch gear box, and will be put into a car that is projected to weigh less than 3,000 lbs.  A two-seater, mid-engine supercar, the MP4-12C is being developed to compete with Lamborghini’s Gallardo and Ferrari’s F430 and 458 Italia.

Tesla now offering lease options

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Tesla Roadster

Tesla, producer of the electric sports car, has announced that lease options will be available on the 2010 Roadster and Roadster Sport.  The new option is intended to allow those customers who are interested in the one of a kind vehicle but are afraid to commit to owning one a chance to test it out before making a decision.

In the official press release, Tesla stated that payments can start as low as $1,658 a month on a 3 year, 30,000 mile lease.  This monthly rate is reached only after a down payment of $12,453.  Many consumers might understandably be turned off by these figures, but they must consider two things before deeming them too high: one, the lease is for an exotic and rare sports car that costs well over $100,000; and two, Tesla’s are electric vehicles, so the amount of money saved on gas is considerable.

At the end of the lease, Tesla offers lessees the option to purchase the vehicle, or part ways with it after paying a disposition fee.  The company also offers lessees their Tesla Ranger service.  The service, provided to all Tesla owners, provides a mobile tech center that will travel to you for the cost of $1 per mile from the nearest service center.

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