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TopsandSeats.com :: Automotive News

Automotive News

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Red Menace That You Can Drive Yourself

OSTENSIBLY, there's not a whole lot to love about a car that creaks like an out-of-warranty pirate ship and spews more smoke than a Winston Churchill-Fidel Castro summit could have produced. Yet, somehow, the Trabant I drove here recently has a primitive charm - along with an aroma of burning oil and smoldering brakes.

There are several ways to tour Germany's capital city: by foot, tour bus, taxi, bicycle or the U-Bahn subway system. But, for those who want to steep themselves in cold war history, a Trabant transports you to the 1960s.

While Saabs were "born from jets" and Jaguars were "born to perform," Trabants were born out of desperation. From 1957 to 1991, as West Germany made BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes, East Germany took the road less traveled.

Because the economy was so bereft, the communist government decided to convert a plant that made motorcycles and tractors into a car factory. Thus was born the Trabant, a symbol for the failings of state-supervised industry. The body was made of plastic and the car plodded along with a 26-horsepower 500-cubic-centimeter 2-stroke 2-cylinder engine.

By East German standards of the time, the price, about $3,000, was not cheap. And although the car cost about a year's salary, it still was not easy to obtain - after placing the order, an owner could wait 15 years for delivery.

Demand for the Trabant (and for the Wartburg, another woeful East German car) ended once the Berlin Wall came down and East and West were reunified. Easterners were then free to buy Western vehicles, and Trabant sales collapsed.

Today, there are collector rallies and Trabi clubs in Europe and North America, but I did not see any Trabants in the German cities I visited this fall. Which is what makes my driving one through Berlin so special.

The good news is that the Trabant is twice as powerful as a Sears Craftsman two-stage snow blower; the bad news is that it’s twice as loud. It is also not easy to shift.

In fact, not much is easy on a Trabant. The wheel wells could hide pregnant bulldogs. Two knobs the size of Captain Kangaroo's buttons control the heat and the windshield wipers, which are slower than a stretching class on a senior citizens' cruise. The tachometer is a series of green and yellow lights with no numbers. The needle on the speedometer (which optimistically goes to 75 m.p.h.) bounces as if it's auditioning for the Richter scale.

The column-mounted manual shift is a puzzle. It is moved down for first and up for second, then a return to neutral to push in the lever and then down again for third and up for fourth. For reverse, it's a return-to-neutral-and-push-all-the-way-in-and-down maneuver.
There is no fuel gauge.

The interior of my car had tan and rose-colored vinyl and cloth, and the exterior paint was what Trabant called Frog Green; an appropriate name would have been Gulag Green.

An Audi A8 it isn't. Which was why the driver of the one behind me was impatient as I accelerated away when the traffic light near the Reichstag turned green and I found myself in third, not first. Not that I was going to burn much rubber when the shift points on this P601 S model were 15 m.p.h. for second and 28 m.p.h. for third. (I never made it to fourth.) The car accelerates from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in about 20 seconds, proving, perhaps, that the "S" in the model name stands not for socialist, but for sluggish.

Thanks to their Duroplast bodies (a weight- and money-saving composite of plastic and cotton-waste fiberglass), a Trabant weighs only 1,355 pounds. Trabants can hold four people and some luggage in a body about the size of a Fiat 124 sedan of the late 1960s.

But people notice this car when it explores Berlin, thanks to a company called Trabi Safari. It has several dozen Trabants and offers guided tours from its location at what sounds like a microfilm drop in a John le Carré novel — the BalloonGarten at the corner of Zimmerstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse.

In the passenger seat was a colleague, Logan Pingree, who appeared slightly amused riding in a vehicle that probably wouldn’t get a call back from the producers of the movie "Cars." Behind us were two more colleagues, Jessica York and Brian Emerson, in a Trabant. Ahead of us was Simone Matern and Julie Robert of Trabi Safari. Ms. Robert was driving and Ms. Matern was narrating a tour of Berlin via a walkie-talkie - companion units of which were in holders on the dashboards of our vehicles.

An unintended safety feature of a Trabant: you would never even think about using a cellphone while driving. All of your brain's bandwidth is occupied by shifting to keep the car in the flow of traffic, the concentration to maintain the engine revs high enough that you don’t stall and the concern about whether the brakes will actually work if a truck suddenly blocks your path.

On the tour, as the car passed some iconic structures of the once-divided city - the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and Gendarmenmarkt Square - I began to understand how this slow, cheaply made, quirky vehicle became so popular. It represented a glimmer of freedom in a rigidly controlling society. While that era has long passed, some of these diminutive cars still motor on, powered by nostalgia, and, no doubt, a loophole in Germany's recently enacted smoking ban.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

High-Performance Diesels, an Oxymoron No More

Introduced on Wednesday: 2009 BMW 335d sedan
Is it real? Oh, yes, even if an diesel is still considered by a certain slice of American car buyers as having all the sporting panache of driving a forklift.

What they said: "Thanks to BMW's BluePerformance diesel technology, the 335d sedan offers an unparalleled blend of performance and efficiency," BMW's press materials said. Along with the similarly powered X5 xDrive35d, "no other diesels in the U.S. will perform like this pair of BMW Advanced Diesel models."

What they didn't say: This award-winning engine is almost too frisky for its own good. It makes so much torque, BMW couldn't find a manual transmission strong enough for it. So a 6-speed automatic is the only gearbox available.

What makes it tick? A 3-liter in-line 6, with two turbochargers (and urea injection, making the 335d emissions-legal in all 50 states). The turbos are sequential, a small unit kicking in immediately and a larger one coming on-line as the r.p.m. builds. The output is "only" 265 horsepower, but the torque rating is a wrenching 425 pound-feet. This translates to 6-second-flat zero-to-60 times and a 135 mile an hour top speed - and 36-m.p.g. highway fuel economy.

How much, how soon? Oy! Though BMW diesels add as little as $1,500 to the price of its models in Europe (where they constitute two-thirds of BMW's sales), the company has decided to try and balance its books with a premium of nearly $4,000 stateside. When the first models start appearing in showrooms in late December, they'll have a starting price of at least $44,725.

How's it look? Like any other 3 Series sedan, which by the way, start at approximately $11,000 less.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Arriving as the Party Winds Down

Introduced on Wednesday: 2009 Audi Q5
Is it real? Yes, despite being at least four years behind competitors like the BMW X3, the Q5 is finally coming to America. Unfortunately now that it is almost here, what is missing is a compelling reason to spend over 40-large for one.

What they said: "The Q5 combines the dynamism of a sports sedan with highly variable interior and versatile options for leisure-time and family use. Strong and efficient engines, quattro permanent all-wheel drive and agile running gear have been brought together to create a superior technology package for both on- and off-road driving," the press materials explained.

What they didn't say: Well, they did say "strong and efficient engines" (plural), but that's what Europeans get; the United States will only see an engine (singular). Audi said it can't make a business case for bringing American customers the engines that could give this A4-based crossover up to 40-mile-a-gallon fuel economy.

What makes it tick? A 3.2-liter 6-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection, 270 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque gives the Q5 zero-to-60 acceleration of 6.7 seconds - but fuel economy of just 17 in town and 24 on the highway. More economical alternatives, including a turbocharged gas engine and a pair of turbodiesels, are still somewhere over the rainbow.

How much, how soon? About $39,000 to start, but options like the $3,000 Audi Drive Select handling package can drive the window sticker to dizzying heights. Latest best guess from Audi is an on-sale date of next April (subject to change, as it already has - multiple times).

How’s it look? Formal wear for the crossover crowd. Compared with its appearance-challenged peers like the X3, Infiniti EX35, Land Rover LR2 or Acura RDX, the Q5 looks freshly laundered, pressed and starched to a fine crease.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

2008 Los Angeles Auto Show: 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible

What is it? 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible

What's special about it? It's all right to consider the 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible the company's first real drop top. Sure, there was that M30 thing back in the early days, but it was just a regular old coupe that got shipped to ASC for a lobotomy.

This G37 convertible is the real deal. It has unique bodywork, an upgraded interior and a three-piece retractable hardtop. Add to that Infiniti's new 3.7-liter V6 and this G37 drop top should have no trouble erasing the bad taste left behind by the M30.

With the top in place, the G37 convertible looks almost identical to the coupe. It's somewhat of an illusion, however, as the convertible's body panels are unique from the A-pillars back. The result is a car that's actually 1.1 inches wider overall.

The rear track is also 1.4 inches wider, as the rear suspension was modified slightly to make room for the folded hardtop. Overall, the G37 convertible is roughly 442 pounds heavier than the comparable coupe. Cargo capacity with the top up is actually better than the coupe at 10.3 cubic feet (versus the coupe's 7.2 cubic feet). With the top down, the space nearly disappears as the capacity drops to a little less than 2 cubic feet of space.

There will be two models available — base and Sport 6MT. Both get the same 325-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 as the coupe. The base model gets a seven-speed automatic transmission as standard, while the Sport model comes with a close-ratio six-speed manual. No fuel-efficiency figures are available yet, but expect them to be slightly lower than the coupe's numbers of 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

Every G37 convertible gets an extra dose of aluminum trim on the dash, doors and center console. Both the dual-zone climate control system and the optional Bose audio system have the ability to compensate for top-down driving. On the less technical side, there's also a rear-seat windscreen to reduce cabin turbulence.

Sales of the 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible are expected to start in the spring of 2009. Pricing will be announced closer to launch, but expect to see the base model come in just under $40,000.

Inside Line says: Still good-looking, even with the new folding top, the 2009 Infiniti G37 makes the Lexus IS convertible look like a bad aftermarket project. - Ed Hellwig, Lead Senior Editor

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Auto suppliers concerned about Washington talks

MID-MICHIGAN (WJRT) -- (11/19/08)--Mid-Michigan's auto suppliers watching Washington. Hundreds of local companies do business with Detroit's Big Three.

For some, General Motors Corp. is their biggest customer. Not surprisingly, suppliers strongly support what they call a loan -- not a bailout -- to the Big Three.

After all, their livelihood is at stake. The Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor estimates that auto suppliers employ almost 120,000 Michigan workers.

Nationwide, that number tops 500,000. It's nearly double the total workforce of GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC combined.

These are the companies that manufacture parts, plastic molds and even boxes for the automakers. Around the country, the credit crisis has hit them hard.

Analysts say their sales have dropped, too. Plus, no banks seem to want to lend anymore -- especially to companies so dependent on the troubled auto industry.

Steve Landaal runs a packaging supplier in Burton. He says his company is doing all right for now, but GM makes up 53 percent of his business.

"I think that everyone's very concerned about what we're watching in Washington this week," he said.

"I think it affects the lives of not only everyone here in the Midwest, but everybody around the country and the world.

"If the auto industry were to fail and go under, I feel like the ripple effect would be more like a tsunami."

"Their dealers are in every Main Street in America and their suppliers exist in most of our states," said Sen. Carl Levin.

As the politicians argue on Capitol Hill, Lapeer's Mold Masters CEO Mitch Monczka is left to wonder: What if his biggest customer, GM, went under?

"Strategically, we have some things we could do short term. Long term, we'd be devastated," he said.

Mold Masters produces automotive interior components, such as glove boxes for GM trucks. He employs about 300 workers.

"It surprises me people who are supposedly the leaders of the country are so obtuse about a serious issue like this," Monczka said.

In Flint, GM Security Packaging employs 200 workers.

"I'd hate to think what would happen if GM went under. I'd like to think that would never happen," said Security Packaging's Andy Goggins.

But as the Big Three fight for their survival, these three companies are fighting for theirs. And Landaal is waiting to see what happens to his biggest customer.

"We are playing out those scenarios right now as far as cash flow and availability with our lenders to ensure to survive that, but quite frankly, I don't know that we could," he said.

Some analysts warn a loan to the Big Three would still leave problems for the auto suppliers. After all, credit is still tight.

Comment on this story below and we may read what you have to say on the air.


2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible - Official Photos and Info - Auto Shows

We've been whining for years about Infinitis unwillingness to give us a convertible version of its saucy G coupe, especially because Nissan builds an open-top version of the coupe’s platform-mate, the Z. Now we can finally shut up, because the L.A. auto show is hosting the debut of the G37 convertible.

From the A-pillar back, the G37 convertible features unique body panels, including a slick three-piece retractable hardtop that sandwiches under a flush tonneau cover. Inside, besides the extra sunshine, occupants will enjoy new convertible-exclusive "silk-finish" aluminum trim, as well as optional multi-adjustable sport seats and a Bose Open Air audio system with 13 speakers-including a couple in each headrest. Rear passengers, however, may not appreciate the compromised legroom and headroom… then again, they never had much of either in the first place.

As with the coupe, a Sport package is available, standard on cars with a manual transmission and optional with the automatic. It includes 19-inch rolling stock, enhanced brakes, and sport-tuned steering. Magnesium shift paddles are also included on automatic cars.

From the A-pillar forward, everything from the G37 coupe stays put, including the stellar high-output 3.7-liter V-6 that, in this application, produces 327 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, mated to either a six-speed manual or a new rev-matching seven-speed automatic. Grip levels are expected to stay high thanks to reinforcements added throughout the structure, as well as a wider rear track than the coupe. That said, with weight ballooning to over two tons-roughly 450 pounds more than the G37 coupe-it'll have a hard time keeping up with the frisky hardtop when the going gets twisty.

More important, it'll have a hard time keeping up with its main rival, the BMW 335i cabriolet, which undercuts its mass by roughly 150 pounds whilst offering a much more habitable rear seat, with two more inches of headroom and almost five inches of extra legroom. That said, nobody buys these cars with plans for a permanent rear-seat population, and the G37 is certain to undercut the pricey Bimmer's sticker by a good chunk, though pricing has yet to be released.

We see a sunny comparo-we'll probably also toss in Lexus's similarly fresh IS350 convertible-sometime after the car goes on sale next spring. Let the fun shine.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Clout Has Plunged for Automakers and Union, Too

DETROIT - When the leaders of the three Detroit auto companies and the United Automobile employees union travel to Washington to make their case for a federal bailout, they will be flying into stiff headwinds of civic opinion.

Thus far, much of the observations in Washington, in the pages of major newspapers and on the Web, have been against as long as financial support for the companies, which they will say they desperately need in hearing beginning on Tuesday.

The waves of criticism have been so burly that Susan Tompor, a columnist for The Detroit Free Press, was enthused to write on Sunda's front page: "I never knew Detroit was a dirty word."

It is a remarkable shift for an industry that has long wielded substantial clout in Washington.

But that support has dwindled for many reason, leaving backers of a bailout, including the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, having a tough time creation their case that Detroit should be saved.

So how did the famous 1953 citation from the former General Motors president Charles E. Wilson - that what was good for our country was good for G.M., and vice versa - become a dated idea to so many people?

Analysts and longtime observer of the industry say a number of strategic missteps have hurt Detroit's standing.

The carmakers, for example, fought hard in recent years against two Congressional pains to raise fuel economy standards, at a time when Americans were struggling with more expensive petrol and had become more environmentally mindful.

They won the 2005 fight, when 67 senators, counting Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry, sided with Detroit's quarrel that it did not have the technology to meet a modest increase.

But Detroit lost last year's effort to block an augment to 40 miles per gallon by 2020. Some senators criticize the industry's failure to sell cars like the Toyota Prius, which was built only as a hybrid - a vehicle that G.M.'s vice chairman, Robert A. Lutz, dismissed early on as a public relatives move.

Some Congressional hold has also dwindled because the automakers closed plants in other states, like Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Delaware, and consolidate their operation closer to home.

Meanwhile, foreign auto company have built plants across the South, picking up lawmakers like Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, who now are more allied with the foreign car company.

Michael Useem, professor of organization at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said the lack of management from within the Detroit companies had hurt their effort as well. He pointed to Lee A. Iacocca, former chief of Chrysler, whose public profile soared after his company was given central loan guarantees in 1979, turning him into a 1980s equal of the popular businessman Warren E. Buffett.

While many Americans might know Rick Wagoner's name, "they couldn't tell you anything about him, except for that he's been there a while and his company has gone from bad to worse," Professor Useem said of the General Motors chief managerial. And one of the U.A.W.'s most prized accomplishments - charming income security for its laid-off members - is not helping the union as it argues for cash to help protect its workers at a time when employees across other industry are facing layoffs.

The U.A.W. program, called the Jobs Bank at G.M., provide nearly full pay for laid off workers while they waited for new jobs. A new version of it is less kind, but has left an impression in the public imagination of a place where workers sit around getting paid for doing zero.

"In good times, the public can tolerate the Jobs Bank," said Gary N. Chaison, professor of engineering relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "But in bad times, the public has very little endurance for that."

The Bush administration has steadfastly opposite giving automakers a chunk of the $700 billion banking bailout. While President-elect Barack Obama has said the auto industry should get help, "I think that it can't be a blank check," he said Sunday on "60 Minutes."

Michigan's Congressional delegation, led by Democrats Senator Carl Levin and spokesperson John D. Dingell, the industry's longtime champion, has been left to plead hardest for federal help. G.M. and Ford are among the heaviest spenders on lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.org, a Web site that track political donations.

So far this year, G.M. has spent $10 million on lobbying, out of $95 million in the past 10 years, insertion it at No. 16 on the site's "top spenders" list. Ford, which ranks No. 19 on the list, has spent $5.7 million this year, out of $80.6 million the last decade.

In arguing for a bailout, Detroit's automakers and the union have establish themselves without much help from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group that was an significant player in last year’s fuel economy debate.

The group, whose 11 members include Toyota, BMW and Volkswagen, blocked efforts to impose even higher fuel economy principles. Its members support letting carmakers tap $25 billion accepted by Congress last year to retool aging auto plants, but the alliance has not lobbied for any extra money, a spokesman said on Monday.

That has left the Detroit executive and the union to go it alone.

Mr. Wagoner and Ron Gettelfinger, head of the U.A.W., appear on local TV in Detroit this week, but no Detroit legislative body landed spots on the Sunday morning talk shows out of Washington. Senator Levin was their main spokesman on NBC's "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation" on CBS.

Meanwhile, Senator Shelby of Alabama, whose home state has Toyota, Honda, Mercedes and Hyundai plants, has kept up his force. Appearing on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, he called Detroit "a dinosaur, in a brains."

"There's not a bank in this state that would lend a dollar to this company," he added.

There have not been many reassuring words in newspapers, either. "Just Say No to Detroit," said a headline over an editorial in Saturday's Wall Street Journal by David Yermack, a commerce professor at the Stern School at New York College.

It all feels extreme to some in Detroit. "I didn't know that some really, really hate us," said Ms. Tompor of The Free Press.


Chevrolet Camaro Convertible delayed

When Chrysler determined to cease strategy for a Dodge Challenger convertible, few people in the industry were astonished. The coupe was never urbanized with a drop-top variant in mind and it would've taken far too much cash to shore up the chassis with the roof uncomplicated. Not to mention Chrysler’s monetary woes.

Now, reports are pending in that General Motors is delaying the start of the Chevrolet Camaro Convertible for the same cause, putting off the foreword for another year as the General attempts to keep its head above these monetarily troubled waters. Spending on such extravagances is hard to justify for both GM and customers, and if the American central bailout goes through, it's safe to assume that legislators would have hard time considering tax dollars being used to expand such a niche vehicle.

Source :http://www.carandsuv.co.nz/news/8618/chevrolet-camaro-convertible-delayed

First pics - BMW 6 Series

It may come as a revelation to some, but these are the initial spy shots of the new BMW 6 Series convertible.

Snapped by our spy before they saw the coupe, the new drop top six will come with a customary canvas roof rather than the retractable hard tops that are so accepted these days.

This could be for both technical and design reasons since manufacturers find it difficult to stow a large metal roof with no cutting into the luggage space by too much.

Based on these images, it appears the overall shape of the 6 Series won't be too dissimilar from the outgoing model, although every panel will be cautious.

The new coupe and convertible will likely be prepared with the same engine range as the present model.


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strong> is the exclusive place where you can shop your car's replacement soft tops, auto interior seat covers, and other related car accessories. With nearly 30 years of experience we have become the premier online source when searching for automotive tops and interior products. Our success and longevity is directly the result of satisfying the needs of our customers through a wide range of products with unbeatable quality, attentive service and highly competitive prices.

Copyright © 2007-2008 TopsandSeats.com