Friday, March 30, 2007

Ford Foose F-150 - a Lightning by any other name...

Ford's SVT group had a long run of very impressive machines - from the Mustang Cobra through the Contour and Focus SVT models.

Of particular fame was the high-performance F-150 dubbed the Lightning.

However, Ford has fallen on hard times and one of the first things to get dialed back was the SVT programs. Now, the only product left is the Mustang GT500, which is more a vehicle to carry the Shelby name than SVT.

Anther casualty was the hi-po F-150...until now.

Ford has entered into a partnership with Chip Foose and the first product of this relationship is the F-150 Foose Edition. Packing a 450hp supercharged 5.4l V-8 (similar to the 500hp version in the GT500 Mustang) - this is the most powerful half-ton F-series ever.

Other changes include customer grill-work, lowered suspension, and 22" wheels w/ Z-rated rubber.

Expect this to be a sign (along with the relationship with Shelby) of how Ford plans to market SVT-type vehicles in the future. Give customers the extra enticement of a famous name label on the special edition products to give them more cache then SVT was able to provide alone.

Holy Crap! - Shelby to unveil 540hp Mustang at New York

Back in the day, Carol Shelby was responsible for some pretty hot Mustangs. Now, he's lending his name again to even more hot Mustangs such as the Shelby GT-H (a special GT for Hertz), Shelby GT, and the GT500 coupe and convertible.

If you thought the Shelby GT500 with its 500hp was an impressive ride - check this out.

The GT500KR (KR = King of the Road and hearkens back to the classic GT500KR of 40 years ago) is a limited production (only 1000 will be built), coupe only, with an even higher performance version of the 5.4l supercharged V-8 from the standard GT500. In this iteration, we get 540hp and 510lb*ft of torque.

Other special touches include:

Recalibrated suspension, underhood cross brace, carbon composite hood with scoops paterned after the original GT500KR, 20" Shelby designed wheels for the concept (18" of the same design for the production KR), front brake cooling ducts, and 40th anniversary badging all over.

Expect MSRP's over 50k with actual transaction prices quite a bit higher.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Chrysler and Sirius to offer back-seat TV system

Chrysler and SIRIUS announced today the exclusive availability of SIRIUS Backseat TV™ programming in 2008 Chrysler Group vehicles starting with the 2008 Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan minivans.

The initial offering will be 3 channels of live, family TV programming from Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network delivered directly to the vehicle.

The system will later be made available in the 2008 Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Dodge Magnum, Jeep Commander and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The system will carry an MSRP of $470, which includes the first year of service, when packaged with Chrysler Group’s Rear Seat Entertainment System and SIRIUS Satellite Radio. After the first year, SIRIUS Backseat TV is available for $7 per month when packaged with SIRIUS Satellite Radio ($12.95 per month).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pictures of the Infiniti EX concept

Infiniti is readying a new crossover to compete against the likes of the BMW X3.

This 'concept' that they call the EX is looking quite ready for production and is expected to hit showrooms by the end of the year.

Oddly, the EX is practically the same size as Infinti's current FX crossover, but with better packaging. It will be interesting to see if this V-6 crossover means the FX is not long for this world or that it will be redesigned soon to make room for the new EX.

Expect more details next week after the official unveiling.

Chevy to show 3 microcar concepts in New York

Update: April 4, 2007 - Chevy has unveiled all three microcars and opened voting at vote4chevrolet.com. Check out the new post with pictures!

Today, Chevy announced that they will have a trio of microcar concepts to show off at the New York Auto Show.

They have teased us with a rendering of the Trax concept, designed, along with the other two (the Groove and Beat) at GM's design center in Incheon, South Korea. The Trax packs a 1.0 litre gas engine and is aimed (as most micros are) at urban drivers.

GM will be allowing show goers to vote on their favorite at vote4chevrolet.com starting on April 4th.

It looks like GM may be taking the threat of the DaimlerChrysler Smart ForTwo seriously and is preparing their own competing product - and using the web site to gauge which concept is closest to the mark.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hummer news - H3 gets a V-8 and H2 gets an upgraded interior

It looks like a couple more of the GM announcements for New York have broken cover...

First is a mid-cycle refresh of the Hummer H2, with a freshened front end (not that anyone outside a Hummer fanatic could tell), a version of the 6.2l V-8 from the Cadillac Escalade (increasing the tow rating to 8000 lbs), and a brand new interior with new seats, new dash and gauges, and improved appointments all around.

Then there is the baby Hummer, the H3. Always criticized for being a bit of a laggard on-road, even if it had serious off-road cred. The inline-5, shared with the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon just didn't have what it took to be competitive.

That's nothing that 3 more cylinders wouldn't take care of...and that's what we get. The H3 Alpha brings GM's 5.3l V-8 with 295hp and 317 lb*ft of torque to bear to not only move the H3 down the road with more authority, but also to increase the tow rating by 33% to a solid 6000 lbs.

Expect the freshened H2 and the H3 Alpha to go on sale later this year.

Gee, Buick...that's just Super

As I've mentioned before, Buick will be unveiling it's 'performance' series of cars at the New York Auto Show in April.

The badge being applied to these is 'Super'. This will show up first on the LaCrosse and Lucerne and mark the first V-8 in the LaCrosse and a performance suspension, etc. on the Lucerne.

As you can see here, they will also sport bigger, Enclave-like grill work that, in at least the LaCrosse's case - will be standard across the line.

It will be interesting to see if these actually help Buick sales while we wait for true re-designed models in the vein of the Enclave's style.

Chevy's Lambda to get Nomad badge

It's unusual, in the GM pecking order, for Chevy to have to wait for anything. However, when it comes to the Lambda chassis (Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave) - Chevy gets to be last.

Word out of Edmund's Inside Line sub-site is that Chevy will correct this in the 2009 model year with their own version of the Lambda crossover. Along with the new crossover (that will effectively replace the defunct Uplander minivan, much as the other Lambda's replace Saturn's Relay and Buick's minivan-esque Rendezvous), they are expected to recycle another classic name from Chevy's past - Nomad.

Nomad, in case you aren't familiar, was used decades ago on Chevy's station wagons, and more recently on a Kappa-based, rear-drive sport wagon concept. So, at least they'd be consistent in putting the name on a utilitarian vehicle.

Unknown is if the new Chevy Nomad will be stylistically similar to the Saturn/GMC version or if GM will do the right thing and differentiate the styling as Buick as done with the Enclave.

Obviously, I'm hoping for the latter.

Check out the Edmund's story at:

IL: Chevy Mulls Reviving "Nomad" Name for New Crossover Vehicle

New Subaru WRX breaks cover - courtesy Motor Trend

Well, there's been lots of turmoil over at Subaru with regard to styling (witness the corporate face they played with on the Tribeca and then quickly walked away from when customers balked). Now we can see yet another direction with the new WRX hatchback.

Personally - I think the front end is hideous. The rest is simply okay.

Now, performance specs might change my mind a bit...but Subaru really needs someone who can draw pretty cars on the payroll.

Check out the rest of this pic as well as more pictures from Motor Trend's spread (in their new May issue) at:

NASIOC: New 2008 WRX from Motor Trend

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hyundai Genesis - real pics

Finally, Hyundai has put out some actual photos of the Genesis concept. I still think it bears more than a passing resemblance to some other products already on the market (the Toyota Avalon comes to mind first).

This 'concept' previews a new rear-drive, V-6 and V-8 powered Hyundai that we should be seeing in production very soon.

Expect the V-8 model to start under 30k and pack over 300hp.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I guess that explains the naming...new baby crossover CX-5 coming from Mazda

I wondered when Mazda brought out the CX-7 based loosely on Mazda3 components, why they went with such a high number.

Then, they brought out a Mazda6 based CX-9 (cousin to the Ford Edge) and I wondered the same thing all over again.

Now, Auto Express is showing a rendering based on the recent Hakaze concept that shows what a sub-CX-7 crossover with Mazda's new design language could look like.

Expect this to be more in line, size-wise, with the Mazda3 (the CX-7 is a bit bigger), seating for 4, comfortably, powered by a non-turbo 4-cylinder. It would be available in front or all-wheel drive with either a manual or automatic tranny. Instead of 4 conventional doors, expect a very RX-8 like treatment with suicide rear-doors offering exceptional access to the back seat.

While AE expects the CX-5 to hit the ground as a 2010 vehicle, we've been hearing from Mazda that the concepts they have shown this year would culminate with a production-ish vehicle at the end. Given that, I'd expect to see a CX-5 early in the next auto show season (which starts in September 2007). Then again, the Hakaze could have been the 'production-ish' one also.

Of course, why these crossovers aren't named CX-3, CX-6, CX-9 in keeping with Mazda tradition is beyond me.

AutoExpress.com: Baby Mazda to face Freelander

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It's still on its way...Caliber SRT-4

According to a chat with the SRT guys held at the CaliberForums.com site, we should be seeing SRT-4's on the streets come fall of this year (of course, assuming that Chrysler's new masters are okay with such hooligan-ism).

Remember, the Caliber SRT-4 is a turbo 2.4l powered front-driver packing at least 300hp. Seeing how Mazda needed computer trickery to get the Mazdaspeed3's 260hp to flow well - it will be interesting to see how Dodge manages the trick of putting down an additional 15% over the Mazda.

It should be interesting, if not all that refined an experience.

Kappa + Zeta = Alpha? Pontiac G6 to go rear-drive

Gotta love those crazy engineers at GM.

For some time now, we've been hearing that GM planned to take the Pontiac line in a rear-drive-only direction.

The Solstice, while an example of this, certainly was no proof. Then the Grand Prix replacement went to the Zeta chassis as the G8 it started to look like there might be something to all this talk.

However, it has always bothered me that the G6 could not easily make the transition. It is based on GM's Epsilon global front-drive platform. Even though the 2nd generation Epsilon2 is supposed to have all-wheel drive as an option...all-wheel drive just isn't the same as rear-wheel drive. Especially to enthusiasts. How did GM plan to take a mid-sized sedan to this new rear-drive Pontiac ethic?

Now, word comes that GM is far into development of a new platform...part Kappa, part Zeta...and going by the name 'Alpha'.

This chassis will serve as the basis for both the next generation G6 as well as it's Euro-cousin in the Cadillac lineup, the BLS.

Now that this puzzle piece has fallen into place, we can only hope that we will soon hear rumblings of a Kappa based small sedan/coupe to replace the current Cobalt-clone G5...perhaps with the G4 name.

Ah, a fun time to be a GM fan no matter how you slice it.

Winding Road: GM's Next RWD Platform: Alpha

New Taurus SHO in the works - with turbo power?

The good folks over at Jalopnik have been hearing rumblings lately of a resurrection of the high-performance Taurus.

It appears that a couple mules are testing, one with the Yamaha developed V-8 that traces it roots back to the 2nd generation SHO's 3.4 - but is much more stout in the Volvo cars that use it now (XC90, S80, etc.).

More exciting, if less of a nod to the original SHOs would be a mule running around with a twin-turbo 3.5l 'Twin-Force' V-6 - packing well over 400hp!

Let's just hope they are smart enough to make a manual transmission at least optional on this beast - if it actually makes production.

Concept image courtesy of BringBackTheSHO.com

GM plans 7 debuts at New York show

While news is trickling in of what will come from various automakers at the New York show in April, we do know a bit about GM's plans.

Expect 6 new production vehicles as well as 1 concept to make their world debuts at the NYAS.

Already known of the 6 production cars are the Lucerne and LaCrosse 'Super' packages. LaCrosse is also expected to get a freshening, so it might count as one of the 6 as well.

Also due could be a mid-cycle refresh of the Cadillac STS (we've seen the interior over at CaddyEdge.com already) as well as the expected HHR SS.

The concept is a complete unknown at this point - but this should make for a great cap to the auto show season for the resurgent GM.

Ford to debut production version of the Fairlane at NY show

It appears that Ford is ready to unveil the production people-mover, based in part on its Fairlane concept from 2005 (concept shown here).

Now, we had been warned that Fairlane would likely not be the name, and the latest reports bear that out. Expect this 3-row, 7-seater, non-minivan to carry the 'Flex' name when it debuts the first week of April at the New York Auto Show.

Interestingly, the Flex is expected to have what Ford is calling 'French Doors' rather than rear sliders (too minivan-y, I suppose) or even conventional opening rear doors. I'm sure a lot will be made of this design and name (since 'suicide doors' is something the marketers shy away from).

The only question I'll have is how they will significantly differentiate this from the Taurus X (old Freestyle) that is also a 3-row, 7-seat people mover at about the same price point.

Lincoln will also get a version of the Flex, but that won't debut until later in the year.

Read about it at:

The Car Connection: Ford Flex Replacing Minivan in NY

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Toyota Tundra not all its cracked up to be?

Toyota is working hard to push their new Tundra as the best thing for truck-buyers since the invention of the leaf-spring...but they are running into some snags.

First is the realization that the Tundra is the only full-sized pickup to _not_ get a 5-star front crash rating from the US government. (ouch).

Now, courtesy of Jalopnik - we have the contents of a letter from GM to their dealers that pokes some holes in the recent Tundra ad where the truck pulls a trailer up a steep incline of a see-saw device and then comes to a screeching halt at the end (once it all tips over and becomes a steep down-hill...

This is an interesting read and shows how you have to read that fine print...

Thought you might want to know this. Pass it along to your sales staff. It might help them to sell more vehicles. BTW.....attended the Minneapolis Auto Show kick off breakfast on March 8. Two of our Sandy trainers did a nice job explaining the Tundra ads. I would guess all of you have seen the stupid ad where the Tundra pulls a trailer up a steep grade (a 'see-saw'), and then barrels down hill and locks the brakes up just before the end of the ramp. Seen it? Yeah you have.

Couple things to keep in mind. The V.O. at the beginning of the spot says...."It's tough pushing 10,000 lbs up a steep grade". Myth: Toyota would like the audience to believe the trailer is 10,000 lbs. Fact: It's a 5,000 lb truck pulling a 5,000 lb trailer. A little slight of hand? You bet.

Then, on the way down the grade, the camera zooms in on the brakes as the vehicles comes to a screeching halt just prior to the end of ramp. Next time you see the ad....look for the 'mice type'. It indicates the trailer is equipped with electric brakes. Fact....the electric brakes stop the trailer -- not the truck. A little slight of hand? You bet.

And why does Toyota have bigger brake pads? They need them....their truck is heavier. Stopping distance between our truck and theirs is virtually identical. And why does Toyota have a 6 speed transmission? To improve their fuel economy....which is still 2 mpg less than ours.

And don't forget....their big V8 has one axle ratio -- a 4.3. Suck fuel much? Our trucks offer several axle options to optimize towing and fuel economy. Bottom line: OUR TRUCK IS BETTER! Spread the word.......we can all make a difference.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Media leakage - Infiniti G37 revealed

Embargoes falling all over this year. This time we get an early peek at the Infiniti G37 coupe in all it's 330hp glory.

A little swoopier but not as pretty as the G35 coupe it replaces, unfortunately.

This should make a strong competitor to the BMW 3-series coupe.

Expect plenty of detail in the next day or so as all the currently embargoed info gets released early.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cheap Green - Saturn Aura Green Line is cheapest hybrid

Sure, in a world of full-hybrids (cars that can operate fully on electric power or both on electric and gas power) - the Green Lines from Saturn aren't all that impressive.

However, when you realize that the majority of hybrid economy gains actually come from turning the darn engine off when you are sitting still and that this is the trick the Green Lines perform nicely - then maybe they aren't so bad after all.

Now, add this to your calculator...the Aura Green Line is now the cheapest hybrid at $22,695 (including destination) and qualifies for a $1300 federal tax credit...and fuel economy of 28 city/35 highway.

Sounds like a pretty compelling argument for a 'mild-hybrid' to me.

Maybe that _is_ Smart?

As the time for the 2nd generation Smart ForTwo to go on sale in the US come near, we are getting more and more details.

Like today, we find out that the base ForTwo is aiming at a starting price of 'under $12000'...granted, this is sans stereo and very likely also without A/C. The upper coupe will go for around $14k with AM/FM/CD and, I assume, air.

This is a very compelling price for this unique urban runabout (especially here around Boulder, CO where there are already imported 1st gen ForTwo's running around - even after the conversion brought the sticker to $28000...yep, no typo...Folks here are spending over 2x the expected price of the 2nd gen car for the privileged of owning one now).

If you'd like to make your interest official, head over to SmartUSA.com and plop down your $99 deposit to let them know you want one.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Team attempting high-altitude record in new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicons

A team of 15 folks are currently attempting to break their own record of highest altitude driven to by taking a pair of Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicons (this is the 4-door Wrangler in its most off-road worthy trim) to the top of Ojos del Salado (the tallest volcano in the world) in the Andes mountains of Chile.

The current record is 20,860 ft above sea level - set by German Matthias Jeschke who is a driver for the current team as well. The current record was also set on Ojos del Salado.

The only modifications to the two Jeeps will be a Warn winch and Goodyear MT/R tires.

The goal, other than to prove the new Wrangler is the most off-road capable vehicle in stock trim, is to reach an unbreakable record altitude of 21325 ft.

Catch the latest updates at the North American XJ Association forum at:

NAXJA: Only in a JEEP: new height world record in a JEEP Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon

Geez...Pontiac replacing the Vibe

Just when you thought GM's product planners had a good idea for Pontiac...

It appears that the Vibe will return for a second generation. Expect sportier handling, more refined interior, etc. in this twin to the Toyota Matrix (rumored to be called Blade in its second generation).

What happened to the RWD plan for Pontiac? Like the G5 coupe (twin to the Cobalt coupe from Chevrolet), it appears the GM is simply unable to tell their dealers 'no.'

Expect the Vibe replacement to continue Pontiac's move to a G'x' naming scheme.

See a larger version of this spy shot over at:

The Car Connection: Spies catch the next Pontiac Vibe

Future Saturn - Opel shows Corsa OPC

Opel, GM's Euro-brand that serves as a partner for our Saturn, has just shown off the top model of their entry-level car, the Corsa OPC.

This fall we will get the 3 and 5-door versions of the Astra hatchback, the Corsa's big brother. GM has also made it clear that, when the Corsa is redesigned in a few years, that a Saturn version would be on the way.

I'd be all for bringing this little pocket-rocket over as-is. 190hp, 0-60 in 6.8 seconds, 38+ mpg in the UK combined test (imperial gallons, remember - US numbers would be closer to 32mpg).

This would make a great competitor against such B-class cars as the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris which top out under 110hp (though they do get better mileage - but a base Corsa could compete handily with that).

Check out the pictures of the Vauxhall (UK brand that sells Opel cars) Corsa VXR at:

CAR: Vauxhall Corsa VXR

New roadster from BMW

Lots of controversy about this one. Is this a new model from BMW (Z6?) or is it merely a new version of the Z4?

The question arises because this is obviously bigger than the current Z4 (which itself was bigger than its predecessor the Z3). BMW is also expected to be working on a smaller roadster based on the 1-series car.

There is also an expected roadster meant to compete against the SL from Mercedes.

Given that BMW is expected to stick with even numbered models for the roadsters...I'd expect the 1-series based model to be dubbed Z2, this car to be the new Z4 (bigger only to make room for the Z2) and then the SL competitor to be the Z6 (and, as yet, unseen).

Additional confusion has arisen from the fact that this car has been seen with a retractable hard-top, but this would make sense for a mid-range luxury convertible (expect the Z2 to have a fabric roof).

Read all about it at:

WorldCarFans.com: Spy Photos: BMW Z4 with Roof Down

Jaguar XF spotted

The good folks over at Drive.co.au have spotted the new Jaguar XF (replacement for the retro-themed S-Type) undergoing testing.

This is yet another move on Jaguar to become a styling leader as they were in their heyday decades ago.

Styling is very similar to the C-XF concept from earlier this year (as expected) with a higher roof-line.

This should be quite a looker and a good sign for Jaguar's future styling and success.


Read all about it at:

Drive.co.au: Jaguar's saviour caught out in the cold

Mitsubishi Evo X spied

We're getting close to an official unveiling of the next Mitsubishi Evo, but until then, we have to make due with spy shots.

Over at LeftLane News, they have a few new spy shots of a disguised Evo undergoing testing.

Expect a turbo version of the 2.0l 'world engine' developed with Chrysler and Hyundai pumping out 300-ish horspower and routing all that juice through all 4-wheels through a manual transmission or an available paddle-shifted automatic.

On-sale date should be 1Q08.

Read all about it at:

LeftLaneNews.com: Spied: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cadillac BLS Wagon

You may have heard by now, but Cadillac has officially announced its first-ever station wagon...

Of course, you won't be able to get it in the US as it is a variant of the BLS sedan, itself based on GM's Epsilon chassis shared with the Saab 9-3 (in fact, the BLS is built alongside the 9-3) as well as the Chevy Malibu, Pontiac G6, Saturn Aura, and Opel Vectra.

BLS sales have been pretty slow since its debut, so this addition should help to boost sales a bit.

Read more about it at:

the CaddyEdge.com

New Lexus LX to debut in New York

...and the Japanese luxury vehicle announcements just keep a-comin'

Today, Toyota announced that they will be showing the new LX sport utility at the New York Auto Show in April.

Replacing the LX470, the LX570 appears to be equipped with a version of the new 5.7l V-8 that Toyota recently debuted in the new Tundra pickup.

Horsepower numbers should be well into the 300's with ample torque. Unfortunately, if the current LX is any indicator, the new LX will be one heavy beast - so it needs that kind of power.

More details and pictures once the debut happens next month.

Infiniti EX concept

Infiniti is arguably the first company to produce a sport-coupe-esque SUV with their FX line. Now we get word of another announcement due at the NY Auto Show in April...the EX concept.

Expected to be a smaller SUV than the FX, the EX is expected to strongly preview a baby-brother to the FX that will go on sale before the end of 2007.

Infiniti names new G Coupe

Okay, the new G35 sedan is a screamer with it's 3.5l V-6 pumping out 300-ish horsepower.

However, there's a new head honcho for the G-line in the form of the replacement for the G35 coupe. Infiniti announced today that it would be going by the name of G37 and, assuming that this isn't just a name change to differentiate and that the 37 means a 3.7l V-6...

We are looking at a significant power boost - figure in the 320 range, at least.

This could also bode well for a new engine or upper model for the 350Z (370Z anyone?).

Of course, this could also turn out to be a turbo model (no support for that, just conjecturing) of the 3.5...which would suggest an even more significant performance boost.

Stay tuned for details.

Hyundai Genesis - did we really need a rear-drive Camry?


For all the work Hyundai and Kia have done to make their cars competitive with the best in the industry - there is one place where they still are years behind...styling.

They understand fit and finish, build quality, perceived quality, and a myriad of things that customers want.

They just don't yet 'get' what styling should be about for any manufacturer.

Witness just about any car they've done to date (the current Sonata is a mild exception)...they either ape a competitor's product or look like some alien contraption.

Another lesson about styling they have yet to learn - find a corporate look and stick with it. Buyers need to be able to say 'that is a Hyundai' or 'that is a Kia' without having to look for the badge.

The latest example of this lack of understanding of auto styling are these renderings of the Hyundai Genesis concept that will debut in April at the New York Auto Show. The front has elements of the current Toyota Camry/Avalon. The rear seems Infiniti/Lincoln MKZ-esque.

The Japanese went through this phase as well, so it is reasonable to expect that the Koreans will get there eventually. It just makes me sad to see yet another missed opportunity.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mini makes it official - new model to be dubbed 'Clubman'

Sorry to all of you (us) that were still holding onto the hope that Mini would name their new, longer model the 'Traveler' - it appears that trademark concerns have made that name impossible to get.

So, 'sometime' before the end of the year, Mini will bring out the Mini Clubman with dutch rear doors, a suicide door on the passenger side (to make accessing the new, bigger rear seat easier).

Executives promise to maintain the classic Mini go-kart driving feel...we'll see.

Ford planning built-in tool-box/trunk for next F-series


The good folks over at LLN have posted some neat spy photos of an F-series mule undergoing testing.

As you'll be able to see, they have enclosed the forward-most portion of the bed and given bed-side 'doors' to get at this toolbox/trunk area.

This would be a much more integrated solution than the diamond-plate boxes that many truck buyers purchase to keep their tools/etc secure. The side doors would also make this area more convenient than the top opening design of the aftermarket boxes.

It looks like the race to include differentiating features in the full-size truck market is fully underway.

Check it out at:

Leftlane News: Spied 2008 Ford F-150 with 6 doors, "Tough Box"

Why the G8 will succeed where GTO failed

Pontiac is going rear-drive with their new top sedan with the Holden/Zeta based G8.

Basically, this is a Holden Commodore with a Pontiac grill and bumper. You might think..."didn't GM fail miserably by taking the Holden Monaro and putting a Pontiac grill and bumpers on it and calling it a GTO?".

Here's where I think they went wrong with the GTO and how it is all going to succeed insanely well with the G8...

What was really wrong with the GTO?

Really? Not that much. The GTO had insane power, the best interior in the US GM lineup at the time, great handling, room for 4 adults, and fuel economy that cracked the upper 20's with the 6-speed manual.

Where GM missed the boat is in underestimating how much people expected a GTO to look a specific way. The GTO was based on an almost 10-year old design that had styling more in common with the old Cavalier coupe than the in-your-face designs of the past GTOs. A GTO was expected to be aggressive, unapologetic, and a man's car in every sense of the word. The 2004-06 GTO was smooth, sophisticated, and elegant in design...it's no wonder that the manly-men that wanted a 'real' GTO stayed away in droves.

That said, I've driven the GTO (2005, 6.0l 400hp V8, 6-speed manual) and can attest that this was one of the performance standouts of recent memory...but if you can't get the customers in the seats to find out...then you won't move the metal.

What's right with the G8?

The G8 skirts just about every negative above while maintaining the positives that made the GTO a great driver's car.

G8 is a new nameplate, so there's no preconceived notion from consumers as to what this car is supposed to be. Grand Prix buyers, especially the middle-aged, female NASCAR demographic might not be too happy with losing their front-drive sedans - but they should be easily replaced by an enthusiast buyer who wants rear drive but can't give up the back seat. The V-8 should draw 300c buyers from Chrysler, especially the ones that lament the lack of a manual in the Chrysler. Pontiac doesn't seem to think so, but I believe a manual with the 3.6l V-6 would be a hot seller as well, maybe if gas prices spike some more.

Also, the sophistication that didn't play well for the GTO works wonderfully well in a sports sedan. On top of this, the G8 is on the brand new Zeta chassis, so an even better ride/handling compromise should be in the cards.

So, G8 should show exactly how much better this cross-pacific platform sharing works with a couple extra doors. Now, if the new GTO that is rumored to be coming in a year or so skirts the negatives of the 04-06 GTO...Pontiac's resurgence should be well on its way.

Mega post - what's been going on in the auto world?

Okay, Kevin...this one's for you...

What's been going on in auto-dom?

From a corporate stand-point, we've had Chrysler rumored to be for sale and companies as varied as Hyundai, GM, and supplier Magna all in the running to pick up the pieces. Strangely, it looks like only Dodge and Chrysler might be up for sale with Mercedes keeping the Jeep brand for itself (and making a purchase by GM of the rest even less likely).

Ford is still hurting badly. They are bleeding money at a rate that few companies could sustain and are in desperate need to get something other than the F-series and Mustang to market that customers and dealers will be passionate about.

To that end, new man in town Alan Mulally at Ford is quickly trying to turn things around by challenging the processes at Ford that got them in this mess in the first place. He, at least partly, is responsible for deciding to bring back names with equity and rebadge the Ford Five Hundred, Freestyle, and Montego to Taurus, Taurus X (which seems to be a mistake to me), and Sable. Given how little the average public knows about cars, this should help at least in the name recognition department.

Ford has also announced that the new Mazda2 (that debuted at Geneva) will get reworked to become a new small-car for Ford to pitch at the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Nissan Versa's of the world...but don't expect it until 2009.

Lincoln is still a mess (the new front-end is hideous and the brand has been allowed to become a shell of its former self due to Ford's unwillingness to spend the serious money to compete in the lux market).

Mercury is still not sufficently different than Ford - a problem they could fix by announcing a plan to bring Euro-Ford product over and badge them as Mercury (a la Opel and Saturn over at GM).

GM is still going gangbusters with their turn-around.

Pontiac has announced the replacement to the Grand Prix in the new G8. Available in 3.6l V-6 and 6.0l V-8 forms and based on new Zeta chassis developed by Holden - Pontiac is on its way to a transformation into a true enthusiasts brand...it will be interesting to see if the G6 replacement is a RWD car or if they use an AWD version of the Epsilon 2 platform to skirt having a front-driver in the line. It will also be interesting to see if Kappa (Solstice) spawns a small RWD coupe/sedan to replace the Cobalt-clone G5.

Saturn is close to completing their self-reinvention with the ION replacement that will come late this summer in the form of the, imported from Germany, Astra 3 and 5-door hatches. These are the 2nd most popular cars in Europe (after VW's Golf) and are available in sedan and wagon forms as well if the hatch body-style doesn't catch on. Also, an Astra Red Line would be easy to do as there is already a turbo, sports model of the Astra sold in Europe.

Saturn also has a new people mover in the Outlook crossover that will likely replace the Relay in the Saturn line.

Chevy has as much as confirmed a super-car version of the Corvette that should debut at next year's Detroit show. Expected to pack over 600hp and possibly carry the Corvette SS name - this $100k version of the Corvette should set the supercar establishment on its ear.

Speaking of the SS sub-brand, Chevy has all but announced that SS will now only apply to true sports machines...not just sporty versions of everything they make. The Equinox Sport was announced recently with a 3.6l V-6 but without the SS badge that had SS fans fuming. I'd expect SS to only appear on Corvette, Camaro, and a new Zeta-based Impala that is expected in a year or so. Trucks, SUVs and front-drive cars will likely make due with the 'Sport' badge.

Cadillac is still on a roll...the Chicago show brought the 2008 CTS with familiar, yet more elegant styling, a direct-injection 300+ hp version of the 3.6 V6 (the previous 3.6 becomes the base engine with the 2.8 V6 becoming an export-market only powertrain). Transmissions are now all 6-speed and rumors abound of a wagon and coupe version to come in a year or so. New interiors are all over the place, starting with the SRX, now coming in the new CTS and also in a mid-cycle refresh of the STS. Cadillac is even more of a legitimate player in the upper lux segment.

GMC has the new Acadia crossover and an upcoming Yukon hybrid. Buick has a V-8 version of the Lacrosse coming as well as the stunning Enclave crossover. Hummer has more powerful engines for the H3...but not much else exciting for these three brands.

Until next time...