29th September 2011

GM Debuts First Automotive Front Center Air Bag

General Motors is introducing the automotive industry’s first front center air bag, designed to protect the driver and front passenger in far-side impact crashes. The new front center air bag will make its production debut on the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Chevrolet Traverse crossovers starting from the 2013 model year. It will be standard on Acadia and Traverse with power seats and all Enclaves.

“While no restraint technology can address all body regions or all potential injuries, the front center air bag is designed to work with the other air bags and safety belts in the vehicles to collectively deliver an even more comprehensive occupant restraint system,” said Gay Kent, GM executive director of Vehicle Safety and Crashworthiness.

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29th September 2011

MotherProof Pits 2012 Toyota Prius V Against its Prius

The Toyota Prius could be a good match for a small family trying to save money on gas, but the larger Prius V is a better fit for families, according to MotherProof.com contributor BreAnn Ahara.

Ahara owns a 2008 Toyota Prius. On her family’s semi-annual trip between Los Angeles and Phoenix, their midsized hatchback typically has a hard time fitting their family of four and their cargo to make the trip work.

With 80% more space than most small SUVs on the market and 60% more cargo space than what’s available in the regular Prius, the Prius V had none of those issues. Even better, fuel economy was barely compromised, according to Ahara.

Continue reading MotherProof.com’s three-part series to see how the Prius V fared during Ahara’s week with the vehicle, which included an 800-mile round-trip trek through the Southwest.

Toyota Prius vs. Prius V: Is the Prius V Worth the Higher Cost?
Toyota Prius vs. Prius V: Prius V’s Lower MPGs OK With Family
Toyota Prius vs. Prius V: Larger Cargo Area Makes for Road-Trip Bliss

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29th September 2011

Housekeeping: TTAC And Curbside Classic Joint Meet-Up In Portland

Remember the good old days, when TTAC and Curbside Classics could all be found in one place? Well, for one night only we’re back together, and inviting you to hang out with the Editors-in-Chief of both sites. We’re hosting a joint meet-up at Portland, OR’s Migration Brewing Company next Thursday (10/6), starting at 5:30 pm [Map here]. So come by after work, grab a pint or three, and we’ll talk about everything from the latest industry developments to the most obscure historical anecdotes in automobile-dom. Buy one beer, get two Niedermeyers free… what more could you ask for?

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29th September 2011

Yamaha YZ450F

An award-winning bike that offers no compromises; that’s what the Yamaha YZ450F offers – and a whole lot more.

Fresh off of improvements across the board, the new YZ450F will come with a host of beefy upgrades, including new design elements, improved powertrain, and overall better handling.

These changes fit right in with the lofty standards set by the models predecessor, the 2010 YZ450F, which won a plethora of awards including Dirt Rider Magazine’s “Bike of the Year”, Cycle World’s “Best Motocrosser”, and Motorcycle Magazine’s “Best Dirtbike of 2010.”

Yet despite all of its accolades, Yamaha still saw fit to give the YZ450F improvements, further proving that a great bike should not be satisfied with itself. Whenever there’s a time that awards come, they should not be looked as validation for greatness, but motivation to maintain their status as the best.

For their part, Yamaha has the right frame of mind with the YZ450F. It’s a good enough bike to merit some distinctions, but at the end of the day, ’good enough’ should never be associated with status quo.

Find out more about the Yamaha YZ450F after the jump.

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28th September 2011

Breaking: Spyker sold to U.S. private equity firm


According to a report by the Financial Times, Spyker Cars has been offloaded to a Connecticut-based private equity firm after a deal to sell the supercar manufacturer to another set of investors failed a few months back.

North Street Capital, LP is the supposed new owner of Spyker, which Saab had been attempting to sell earlier this year. Negotiations were originally being hashed out between Saab and a partnership between a British and Russian consortium and Vladimir Antonov, which just recently announced plans to build a modern interpretation of the Jensen Interceptor.

As of today (9/28/2011), the terms of the deal haven’t been released by either Saab or North Street Capital. Clearly though, considering how cash-strapped the company is, Saab is in desperate need of a funding infusion. We’ll update this post with more details as they become available.

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28th September 2011

Could You Run an Automaker? Zetsche, Benz Brace for Change

If running a major automaker is a stressful business, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche certainly doesn’t show it. He’s nearing the end of a string of interviews in a temporary office complex tucked away on one side of the giant Mercedes-Benz stand at the 2011 Frankfurt  auto show. It’s been a hot and sticky day, the air conditioning in the old Festhalle fighting a losing battle against the heat of the lights and the crush of the bodies on the show floor. Dieter’s white shirt’s a little rumpled, but he’s the same ebullient man I met almost 20 years ago at the launch of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Maybe that’s because business is pretty good for Mercedes-Benz these days. There’s solid sales growth in emerging markets like China, and even though BMW and Audi have now firmly muscled in on the premium vehicle market segment the three-pointed star effectively created and owned for decades, the explosion in global wealth over the same period means there seems to be more than enough customers to go around. The ill-starred Chrysler adventure is a fast-fading memory, and there’s a renewed focus on making sure Mercedes vehicles delivers the quality and technology that made the brand famous in the first place — R&D spending will be 20 billion euros in 2011-12, up five billion on 2009-10.

But Dieter Zetsche takes nothing for granted. “We’re seeing some clouds on the horizon,” he says. The European sovereign debt crisis, sparked by the shaky economies in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, and weakness in the French banking system, is threatening the stability of the euro as an increasing number of Germans complain about having to pay for the bailouts. And the U.S. economy is still very sluggish, with unemployment stubbornly high, and the housing market still a smoldering wreck.

It’s unusual for a car company CEO to take aim at politicians  –  you never know when you might need their help  –  so the fact Zetsche takes a mild potshot at Washington early in our conversation perhaps betrays deeper frustrations. “The long discussion about the debt ceiling was not helpful,” he says of the partisan bickering that brought the U.S. economy to a virtual standstill. “There is a need for clear leadership from politicians. Hopefully we will see some of that soon.”

Yeah, right… The problem with politicians is they only think in terms of the next election. Dieter Zetsche, by contrast, is overseeing decisions today that will materially affect his company 20 years from now. It’s 125 years since Karl Benz invented the automobile, and for the first time in more than a century, Daimler is putting a timeline on the internal combustion engine. And the implications of that are profound.

“We see another one or two decades of dominance for the internal combustion engine,” says Zetsche bluntly. Think about that: What were you driving 10 or 20 years ago? More importantly, though, 10 or 20 years barely two model cycles away from the stuff Daimler engineers are working on right now. The problem is that as a business, alternatives to the internal combustion engine are a bust: “Nobody will make money in the next five years with alternative powertrains,” Zetsche says.

China, now the world’s largest auto market, is widely regarded as critically important to the development of alternative powertrains. The Chinese realize they cannot afford  –  economically or militarily  –  all the oil they need if their country continues its explosive growth, and have begun to put in place strategies to encourage automakers to develop hybrids and electric vehicles. China wants to cut energy consumption by 50 percent and make electricity the main substitute for gasoline by 2020.

“It is no surprise China has made the ‘new energy car’ one of the seven priorities of its development plan,” Zetsche acknowledges. “But we’re hearing the [market] transformation might be slower than anticipated. We still believe China has the capability to execute its plans quicker than anyone, but the technical constraints of electric vehicles apply in China as well.” In other words, even the Chinese are having trouble figuring out how to make electric vehicles work.

So put yourself in Dieter Zetsche’s shoes: You’re running one of the world’s most successful automakers; one with a reputation for developing industry-leading technologies and highly profitable products. You know the lifeblood of your company’s products  –  oil  –  is only going to get scarcer and more expensive over the next 20 years. And you also know that even though as of right now there doesn’t seem to be any commercially viable alternative, you have to invest in finding one.

The move to large-scale production of electric, hybrid, and fuel cell powertrains “is a question of timing, not direction”, Zetsche says. But get the timing wrong, and Daimler may not be around to celebrate its 150th anniversary. So when would you roll the dice?

 

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