Photo: Ed Morales
The promotional tie-up between the Fiat brand in America and entertainer Jennifer Lopez was supposed to be the foundation for the launch of the Fiat 500 on this side of the Atlantic. Instead its become a gaffe filled comedy of errors. The first step in the automaker’s use of the singer/dancer as a celebrity endorser, said to be the brainchild of Chrysler head Olivier François, was to star the 500 in the music video for Lopez’ recent release Papi. That might not have been a bad idea had François not also decided on using a 30 second trailer from the video as the first national US commercial for the car. The result made no sense and was panned by Pete DeLorenzo as the worst car commercial of the past decade, forcing François to insist that it really wasn’t a commercial, just a music video trailer. This was followed up by an actual commercial featuring J-Lo, known for her self-professed “Jenny on the block” persona, apparently driving in her old NYC neighborhood. I say apparently because first it was revealed that much of the principal photography with Ms. Lopez was not shot on location in New York. Then it came to light that those scenes that were actually shot in New York used a body double for Lopez. It turns out that really wasn’t Jenny driving a Fiat 500 on the block. Now it turns out that the Fiat 500 used in shooting the New York scenes broke down in the middle of the scene, needing repairs to complete the shoot.
After reports of a North Carolina house fire that burned a Chevy Volt and a fire that broke out in a crash tested Volt at a NHTSA facility, the safety of hybrids and EVS has become an issue. MGS Tech is a business that provides training to firefighters, EMTs and other first responders on how to safely manage accidents involving hybrid and other new technology vehicles. The founders of MSG Tech, Matt Stroud and Paul Bindon, are both master car mechanics with extensive training on and experience with hybrid cars. In a post on FireEngineering.com they reviewed the safety of hybrid and electric cars and compared them to conventional combustion powered vehicles.
When Jaguar of North America informed me that I’d be getting a 2012 XJ Portfolio for review, my first reaction was to engage in some mental bench racing. How would the new XJ compare to the smaller but more powerful XF Supercharged that I tested just about a year ago, and how would it compare to my dearly departed Series III XJ, considered by many Jaguar enthusiasts to be the finest of the traditional XJs. On both counts the 2012 XJ comes out favorably in the comparison.
The XJ Portfolio is the fully equipped normally aspirated version of the XJ. Other than a small handful of options like back seat entertainment and the two available supercharged engines, the test model had just about every luxury, convenience and safety feature that Jaguar offers. With transportation charges, as tested it comes in at just a tick over $82K.
For those who like to be able to admire their automotive possessions even when they aren’t driving, the Porsche Design Group is working with a Miami developer on a high rise condominium development where you will park your car right at your front door. You’ll pull in at the ground floor and an automated system will place your car in a glass elevator. As you ride up the 57 story tower, you’ll have a spectacular view of the Miami skyline and oceanfront. Once you reach your floor, still behind the wheel, another automated system removes your car and places it at your front door. Developer Gil Dezer is himself a big Porsche fan and he’s not unfamiliar with storing his car in his apartment. His 1950s vintage 550 Spyder is mounted on the wall of his current 8,000 sq ft condo.
Note: A previous version of this post was published here on PJMedia.
Victor Wouk with his hybrid car, EPA lab, Ann Arbor, Michigan circa 1973
It’s the kind of story Hollywood normally loves: An independent genius’ invention ends up being suppressed by powerful interests. In Tucker: A Man and His Dream, political agents of the Big 3 automakers maneuver to put Preston Tucker out of business; intermittent windshield wiper inventor Robert Kearns is ripped off by the Ford Motor Company in Flash of Genius; The documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? accused General Motors of suppressing the development of electric vehicles by crushing them.
The truth is that GM and other Detroit automakers have been doing research on EVs for decades and that perhaps a better question would be “Who Killed (or at least delayed) The Hybrid Electric Car?” In the early 1970s, 25 years before Toyota started selling the Prius hybrid car in Japan, Dr. Victor Wouk, an independent American inventor, with encouragement from GM, developed a practical hybrid car that cut down on pollution and saved gasoline, but a conspiracy killed it.
Today’s Hollywood would never make that movie. Too many elements of Wouk’s story run counter to the preferred Hollywood narrative of evil businessmen or faceless corporations despoiling the environment. In this case, car companies aren’t the villains. To the contrary, corporations encouraged and helped Wouk in his research. The villain in this story was a government bureaucrat, working, ironically, at the Environmental Protection Agency, as part of a program designed to improve air quality.
Continue reading the complete post here.
After a crash tested Chevy Volt burned in a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration storage facility three weeks following the crash test, that agency is now working with automakers to possibly come up with rules to protect people that handle electric vehicles after a wreck.
The Detroit Free Press has reported that NHTSA is looking into issuing new safety rules for handling EVs with lithium-ion batteries after collisions. The electrolyte used in today’s Li-Ion batteries are is flammable. During the test, crashing the Volt sideways into a telephone pole at 20 mph, a piece of metal perforated the battery pack possibly causing a leak of those flammable materials. Then the car sat on the storage lot for three weeks without the battery being discharged and it’s possible that a spark ignited the electrolyte. Internally, GM protocols call for discharging the battery in the event of a serious collision. Every Volt has GM’s On-Star service and in the event of a collision serious enough to activate the airbags, Chevy is notified and dispatches a team to investigate the wrecked Volt and discharge the battery.
The Volt response team is one reason why information about discharging was not shared with NHTSA. GM’s procedures were in place for real world cars, not cars at testing facilities. Apparently, nobody at GM thought to tell NHTSA and nobody at NHTSA thought to ask GM about special procedures for their extended range EV.
Obviously, a very high profile vehicle like the Chevy Volt is going to be under the microscope. So it’s understandable that people would be interested in the recent fires that involve the new extended range electric vehicle. A handful of fires in early production Tata Nanos in India were publicized around the world, because of interest in the cheapest car in the world. However, that attention doesn’t mean that the Nano or Volt are necessarily fire hazards. A number of people have reacted to the news of the Volt related fires by saying that the Volt is dangerous or that EVs in general are not safe. Some sites that have linked to Cars In Depth posts about those fires have grossly misrepresented the situation, blaming the Volt when investigations have barely been started. Before you say that the Chevy Volt is a fire hazard, let’s look at how hazardous conventional internal combustion powered automobiles actually are.
As Duke Energy, GM, Siemens, USDOT and local fire officials continue to investigate a North Carolina house fire that started in a garage housing a Chevy Volt and Siemens charging station, word comes from Bloomberg that NHTSA, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, is looking into the safety of lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars after a crash tested Chevy Volt ignited and burned while sitting in a NHTSA storage lot.
Fire officials continue to pore over the site of a house fire in suburban Mooresville, NC to determine if the blaze, which started in the garage, was caused by an electric vehicle charging station, the electric car that it was charging, or some other source of ignition. Duke Energy, the utility which installed the Siemens built charger, tried to reassure customers about the safety of that unit, as fire officials made it clear that the fire might have had nothing to do with the EV, a Chevy Volt, or the charging station.
Since the early days of the industry, car companies have used a variety of animals as mascots and hood ornaments as well as in their logos and promotional materials. Long before Ford called a sporty car “Mustang”, Sir Lyons renamed his company Jaguar. Lyons used a cat, perhaps an idea taken from Edsel Ford, who put a dog, a leaping greyhound, on his Lincolns. Delage used greyhounds as well, but some of their hood ornaments were elephants. More famously, Ettore Bugatti fitted each of his Royales with an elephant hood ornament sculpted by his brother Rembrandt. I recently saw these and many other animal ornaments and mascots at the Classic Car Club of America’s museum on the grounds of the Gilmore Car Museum. Animals don’t just show up in the car world as classy hood ornaments, though. Auto dealers, part stores and car washes are known for renting giant inflatable gorillas, lizards, and even fish, to attract attention to their businesses. So it shouldn’t be that surprising to find an American flag painted life size elephant in front of a Honda dealer in suburban Detroit. Still one wonders just what an elephant has to do with selling Hondas.
Though the investigation is still in its earliest stages, ABC News reports that the weekend house fire in North Carolina involving a Siemens EV charging station and a Chevy Volt has led to Duke Energy telling an additional 100 customers in Indiana to stop using the charger until the investigation is completed. Earlier, Duke Energy had issued the warning to about two dozen customers in the Carolinas. The 125 chargers had been installed by the utility company. Though Duke Energy insists that “there is no reason to believe” that the fire started with the charger, because the conflagration started near the charger they were issuing the warning due to “an abundance of caution”.
After a house fire in Mooresville, NC which started in the home’s garage was traced the the area near a charging station for an electric vehicle, WSOC-TV reported that Duke Energy, which installed the Siemens built charging station, has warned customers to not use similar units while the investigation into the fire proceeds. When fire investigators went through the burned out garage, they found a Chevy Volt plugged into the 240 volt station, the second garage fire reportedly involving a Volt. Since it was not the only electrical appliance plugged in that area of the garage, the charging station may not be at fault. The Iredell County Fire Marshal’s office said, “The charging station was in the known area of origin, but the cause of the fire has not been officially determined.”
Local car dealers have the best commercials. Rhett & Link, a couple of comedians, musicians and filmmakers, agree. They currently produce a reality tv show with them traveling around the country, visiting small towns and then developing and producing funny commercials for local businesses using local talent.
Today, most people know about the Fabulous Hudson Hornet race car because of the animated kids’ movie Cars. Doc, the character voiced by the late Paul Newman in his final role, raced as the Fabulous Hudson Hornet in his younger days. The movie may be a cartoon, but there really was a Fabulous Hudson Hornet, actually more than one, that dominated NASCAR in its early days. The first was racer Marshall Teague’s car. He chose the Hornet because its “step down” design meant a lower center of gravity. Working with Hudson engineer Vince Piggins and master tuner Smokey Yunick on Hudson’s “Twin H Power” inline six, Teague drove the Hornet to great success, which also helped sales of the car, perhaps the first example of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”.
Today, municipalities and families buy elaborate jungle gyms and playscapes with professed standards of safety. When I was a child, people had a slightly broader notion of appropriate playground equipment. Something I recently saw at a car show drove that point home.
Times have indeed changed. To protect the children of my city from the dangers lurking in our public parks, city officials tore down playscapes that had been in use for two decades with nary a problem. I guess that their theory was that no playscapes were better than theoretically dangerous ones. It took almost two years for the city to replace them. For all that time children were deprived of a place to play in the only public parks in that part of the city. Two years is a long time in the life of a child. The only problem is that nothing had changed with the playscapes. They hadn’t become unsafe because something had broken or changed. What changed was that ASTM, a non-profit organization that sets standards for all sorts of things (they were originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), issued a new standard for playground safety and the old playscapes did not meet the new standard. Not surprisingly, the company that made the original playscapes said that they could not be retrofitted to meet the new guidelines but they did offer to show the city officials their new line of ASTM compliant playscapes.
Apparently, the situation was so urgent that the city decided to tear down the “unsafe” structures before it had funds to replace them.
The Occupy Wall Street kids complaining about large student loans think they’re emulating 1960s era protests but one thing that students did in the 1960s, occupy the dean’s office or the school president’s office or the administration building, the OWS kids won’t do. Much of that money has gone into the pockets of a bloated college bureaucracy, filled with Assistant Deans of this and Associate Provosts of that. University administrative employment as grown at twice the rate of faculty. Of course one of the effects of those 1960s era protests was that the radicals literally ended up taking over the campuses. The OWS protesters and university faculty and administrators see each other as kindred political spirits, so we’re not likely to see student protests move to the campuses, though we have seen some professors show up to express their support for OWS and similar “occupations” around the country. All of those administrators and faculty members who have been riding the student loan gravy train have a good reason to point the protesters at Wall Street and away from their own selves. As for the financial side of the loans, the OWS crowd should be protesting in Washington, because student loans are a racket that benefit mostly the government and SallieMae, not Wall Street. SallieMae issues most student loans, with the Federal Government guaranteeing them. When a borrower defaults on the student loan, the Feds pay SallieMae the loan amount plus interest to make SallieMae whole. The gov’t then turns over the debt to a collection agency, General Revenue Corp., which is, in fact, owned by SallieMae. GRC tacks on a 25% collection fee, which the Feds pay, and a 28% commission, which the borrower pays. Those fees have meant $400 million in revenue for SallieMae. GRC has the power to garnishee paychecks, tax refunds and Social Security checks so the Feds eventually get their money back plus interest. Since the Feds and Fannie Mae profit from it, there is no incentive to keep tuition costs down. Actually, because the Feds and Fannie Mae both profit from the 8.8%/yr interest and all those fees and commissions, it’s in their interest for the student to default. Just like your bank doesn’t want you to pay off your credit card, when a government agency is a creditor, it’s in their interest to have you in arrears. Banks don’t have nearly the garnishee and seizure powers that the government does.
Chevrolet has been criticized for repeatedly resorting to nostalgia and patriotism to sell its cars to Americans. Even its current “Chevy Runs Deep” tagline carries with it an implicit reference to the company’s long history and role in American culture. It’s not a new phenomenon. In the 1970s, as the domestic auto industry tried to compete with the first wave of Japanese cars sold in America, jingle composer Ed Labunski and Campbell-Ewald ad writer Jim Hartzell wrote “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet”, which provided the soundtrack to what Car and Driver called one of the two best car commercials of all time. It was a landmark advertisement that is considered to have changed not just advertising but also branding in general. Chevy even reprised the concept this past summer with a spot called “Love Affair”, that reflected changes in baseball, America and the Chevy lineup.
It seems to me that while a lot of the criticism of Chevrolet and GM advertising is valid, when you’re a company that’s 100 years old you can’t run away from your history. After all, in the minds of consumers that history, good or bad, is a part of Chevy’s brand. So Chevy can’t exactly avoid its history as America’s car brand, a position it held for much of the 20th century. As the Chevrolet centennial approaches even critics of Chevy’s nostalgically themed advertising have to allow the company a little space to celebrate its anniversary.
William C. “Billy” Durant and Louis Chevrolet founded the Chevrolet Motor Co. on November 3, 1911. With Chevy’s actual centennial only two weeks away, the other night Chevrolet introduced the commercial that will be the company’s public face running through it’s 100th birthday celebration. In the spirit of Labunski and Hartzell, Chevy launched the ad during the first night of the 2011 World Series.
The commercial is called “Then and Now” and the ad, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, part of the Omnicom Group, is very clever film making. It’s one of those cases of synergy, where the visual concept of the ad meshes beautifully with the messages.
Aston Martin has a long history of providing factory service to owners of their cars. If you’re a particularly good customer, as the Sultan of Brunei was in his car buying days, the works at Newport Pagnell will even dispatch a factory mechanic and his tools to wherever your Aston might be disabled. Once they discovered that one of the Sultan’s cars had simply run out of gas. Considering the Sultan’s wealth is based on petrodollars, that’s about the definition of ironic. Less well healed (but still wealthy) Aston owners send their car back to the factory, or “works” as they are called in the UK. What is now called the Aston Martin Works Service traces its origins to 1924 and today owners of up to 2,500 Aston Martin cars return their cars to the factory every year for service, repair or restoration.
Aston Martin has also long had a bespoke program, where customers can order their new cars to be built with custom interior materials and custom paint. As part of a significant expansion of Aston Martin Works Service, the exclusive British automaker will now offer their “Works Tailored” program, which will provide the same bespoke service to owners of used Aston Martin and Lagonda cars.
From creating unique colours, materials and finishes through to integrating the latest additional technology, Works Tailored provides customers and their Aston Martins of any age with a route to take an idea through to a crafted and thoroughly engineered reality.
Essentially, A-M is setting up a factory shop that will compete with custom and tuning shops. Hopefully, they’ll come out more aesthetically pleasing than some custom cars.
In an age that gives new meaning to conspicuous consumption it should come as no surprise that someone is selling (and others apparently buying) car wax that costs over $200 a ounce. Swissvax, a company that got its start in the 1930s making waxes for antique furniture, and still run by the Anwander family, sells a complete line of car care products that complement their main line of Brazilian Carnauba based car waxes. It must be good stuff since many of the makers of very pricey motor cars use Swissvax products to give their products a nice shine before they leave the factory. The Swissvax Car Care Kit has a Rolls-Royce OEM part number. At the pinnacle of their product line is a product they (appropriately for these prices) call Crystal Rock.
Note: This was written by Marty Densch, originally published at Cars In Depth. Marty’s touching account of how his sports car helped his wife through her illness and helped him through his grief deserved a wider audience.
It was some five years ago that I was wandering around the car corral at a summertime car show in Jefferson, Wis., and laid eyes on a red 1992 Miata. I dwelled there for a time admiring it and thinking about the possibilities. It was exceptionally clean and fairly low mileage but the owner wasn’t very flexible on his price and, besides, I had never given any thought to buying a Miata before.
I left the show that day without the Miata but somehow I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Here’s a simple truth. Virtually everything that I write online about cars gets ripped off. Whether I publish it here, at Cars In Depth, over at The Truth About Cars, or Left Lane News, I can go to sleep at night safe in the knowledge that I’m getting ripped off by other websites, usually single topic content aggregators. When the site operators are nice, they just excerpt the first paragraph and link back to the originating site. While that’s still a copyright violation (it’s not “fair use” because the excerpt isn’t used for the purpose of commentary or criticism), at least the original publisher gets some traffic out of the situation. Other site operators just go ahead and steal the entire post.
Take just about any post on TTAC, select and copy a complete sentence, drop that phrase in Google and you’ll probably find a plethora of purloining publishers. This site copied Steve Lang’s post about repossessing cars verbatim. Another site, Edwards420.com, does nothing but publish content from TTAC, probably from their RSS feed.
It’s so commonplace that my fellow writers, editors and I have a ho hum attitude about it because there really isn’t much that we can do. In a recursive irony, even this very post will get copied. The bots that the content thieves use don’t quite understand irony.
Unfortunately, the only reason this can go on is because of Google and their AdSense and AdChoice programs. Were it not for Google paying those sites for the ads that Google AdSense runs on those sites, they wouldn’t have a reason to exist and rip us off. AdSense specifically is based on site content, and those sites’ content is stolen. Google doesn’t care.
The cable tv show Hoarders: Buried Alive has brought that pathology out into the open. People who hoard are not “pack rats” or “disorganized” or can tolerate “clutter”. Hoarding is a form of obsessive compulsive behavior, an anxiety disorder. It fits hand in glove with other forms of OCD, particularly compulsive shopping. Compulsive shoppers seek to avoid the anxiety of missing out on a bargain and compulsive hoarders avoid the anxiety of possibly discarding something of value. It’s not that hoarders don’t recognize value and true bargains, it’s that they can’t see garbage as garbage and they waste money on false economies.
Anyone who has spent any time around collectors and hobbyists of any sort know that at least a few collectors live in that grey area between collecting and hoarding. Ask the clerks at your nearby Jo-Ann Fabric store how many of their regular customers buy way more fabric and patterns than they could ever sew. Also, within the group of actual hoarders, there are those whose OCD displays differently, so they might live in a house filled to the ceilings with neat and orderly stacks of old newspapers, and others, more familiar from the cable shows, live in true filth. As a matter of fact, the fact that so many hoarders homes are so disordered and filthy means that those who are not familiar with the facets of OCD and mostly associate the acronym with compulsively neat people don’t recognize hoarding as a form of the disorder. It’s hard to see the Schlumpf brothers, with their elegant museum devoted to their huge collection of Bugattis, and Barney Pollard, with old cars literally stacked on top of one another in his warehouses, as suffering from the same malady, though they probably had much in common.
Automotive hoarders like the Schlumpfs, Pollard and Lee Hartung, whose collection is currently being auctioned off, and the phenomenon of hoarding old cars (or new ones in the case of the Sultan of Brunei and his brother) are familiar to car enthusiasts. Since the divide between collecting and hoarding is not always clear, one can at least argue that Pollard, Hartung and the like were as much preservationists as they were hoarders. With some automotive hoarders, though, it’s clear that there’s a pathology involved. I’m referring to those people who don’t hoard cars, they hoard in cars.
Photo credit: Andrew Hetherington, Bloomberg Businessweek
In an extensive interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, General Motors CEO Dan Akerson trumpeted the fact that he’s not an automobile enthusiast. “I’m not a car guy,” he told David Welch, “Nor should the CEO be worried about rear axle ratios on the next transmission.” Akerson may have an engineering degree but his resume shows a long career in the telecommunications industry, which unlike the auto industry sells service, not actual goods. It seems to me that while a CEO of a company needn’t necessarily know the nitty gritty engineering details of their products, like rear axle ratios, they should be conversant in the technological state of the art of their own industry. In an industry as competitive as the automobile industry, if you can’t see what’s on the horizon, by the time you see what’s coming it’s likely to be passing you by. One of the areas of automotive technology that is most competitive these days is, in fact, transmissions.
Have you ever noticed how many police there are at car cruise events? I first noticed this at the Detroit area’s Woodward Dream Cruise a few years ago. Now, with a crowd of a million people along with 40,000 special interest cars, some being driven by folks eager to burn rubber, I can understand the need for some law enforcement officers to police a crowd that large but it seems to me that the police presence at the Dream Cruise has always been a bit over the top. Crowds of a half million or more are not uncommon in the Detroit area, with that many or more people annually watching the big Freedom Festival fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July in the US and Dominion Day across the river in Canada. Similarly large crowds show up for the Thanksgiving Day parade, and when the Gold Cup hydroplane races take place on the Detroit River. As many as two million people have celebrated Red Wings’ Stanley Cup and Pistons’ NBA championships. You never see as many cops at those events as you do during the Dream Cruise. It’s almost as though police use car events to get paid overtime while they cruise at taxpayers’ expense.