Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hummer Sale Scrapped

The sale of General Motors' Hummer brand to a Chinese manufacturer has been scrapped. GM said it will continue to field offers for the company, but buyers would have to act soon.

"In the early phases of the wind-down, we'll entertain offers and determine their viability, but that will have to happen in pretty short order," GM spokesman Nick Richards told the Associated Press.

GM said Wednesday that its bid to sell Hummer to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines Co. fell through. The Chinese manufacturer said it failed to get clearance from regulators in Beijing within the proposed timeframe for the sale.

GM will continue to honor warranties for current Hummer owners.

"We are disappointed that the deal with Tengzhong could not be completed," said John Smith, GM vice president of corporate planning and alliances. "GM will now work closely with Hummer employees, dealers and suppliers to wind down the business in an orderly and responsible manner."

GM did not disclose a timeframe for winding down the brand, which employs 3,000 people in the U.S. Hummer will be the second division after Saturn that GM failed to sell as planned. Its one successful sale was Swedish car brand Saab, which is going to Dutch carmaker Spyker Cars NV in a $74 million deal.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hyundai's New Sonata is Smokin' Hot

The Beat recently got a peek at the redesigned Hyundai Sonata.

The verdict?

Hyundai scores a huge win -- again.

This car looks like it could easily cost $10,000 more than it actually does (around the low $20,000s).

Check it out.

Nissan Armada is a Gentle Giant

The 2010 Nissan Armada might be a behemoth, but it's a gentle giant.
This large SUV, which has been on the market a few years now, remains a fine choice for those who need lots of room to haul family members or those who tow boats or trailers.
But the rugged, powerful vehicle also rides smoothly and is neatly appointed on the inside.
The Armada comes in three trim levels: SE, Titanium and Platinum.
There are options aplenty available, such as XM Satellite Radio and XM NavTraffic, touch-screen LCD monitor and Intelligent Key entry.
And that screen isn't just for entertainment; the backup camera, which is very helpful in a vehicle this large, gives a rearview display there.
But if you also want entertainment, the DVD Entertainment System can accommodate video games and videos that you upload, as well as DVDs.
If it's music you fancy, check out the Music Box hard drive that can play MP3 files. And your tunes will sound nice coming from the dozen speakers in the audio system.
To be sure, the Armada, which has a 5.6-liter V-8 engine that makes 317 horsepower, is no fuel sipper.It gets 12 mpg city and 18 highway, according to EPA estimates.
But such is the price of driving such a large vehicle.
The reward is that its spaciousness makes it pleasant for as many as 600 people to ride in comfort.
Ok, that's a pretty big exaggeration, but the three rows of seating easily hold eight people.
There is a whopping 97 cubic feet of storage space, so trips to Wal-Mart that yield 10 bags of stuff won't be a problem.
Safety features abound as well. There is an advanced air bag system with front air bags with seatbelt sensors and antilock brakes, among other things.
In challenging handling situations, Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control adds stability.
The Armada comes standard with 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, but 20-inchers are optional.
The Armada has an unmistakably tough-guy appearance. This is not one of those SUVs that's trying to look like a sedan or station wagon.
But it's an attractive look, both inside and out.
And for those who still need a giant hauling machine, this one fits the build nicely.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Car Accident Injures Auction Attendees

A car being shown at a north Georgia auto auction plowed into the crowd and sent a dozen people to the hospital, including at least six with serious injuries.
Georgia State Patrol spokesman Gordy Wright says the accelerator apparently stuck as the car was being driven into the auction hall for dealers to bid on it Tuesday night. Six people were airlifted to hospitals with serious injuries, while eight more were driven to local hospitals. Thirteen were treated and released at the Blue Ridge Auto Auction, in Ellijay.
Wright didn't have any more detailed information on injuries, but no deaths were immediately reported.
The Gilmer County Sheriff's office says the car involved was a Volvo. The state patrol is investigating, but Wright said it was too early to speculate on whether charges could be filed.

-- Associated Press

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Beat's 5 Most Romantic Cars

In honor of Valentine's Day, the Beat, feeling a bit amorous, picks its five most romantic cars. What makes a car romantic? Who knows, really. But give this list a glance anyway.

No. 5 Ford Fusion Hybrid

There's something very sexy about a car that looks great and is green.

No. 4 Audi Q7

Gaze at the stars through the panorama roof. And it's got a nice roomy back seat -- I'm just saying.

No. 3 Cadillac CTS

So much class and sophistication. And performs greatly, too.

No. 2 Mazda MX-5

How can you not think romance when it's just you and one other person at your side so closely. Just make sure it's the right person.

No. 1 Nissan Altima Coupe

Attractive, stylish and a strong performer. Makes hearts skip a beat.

2010 Subaru Tribeca Gives a Lot for the Money

If you're in the market for a mid-size SUV, and you want one that has a nice design and great reliability, Subaru has an attractive selection for you.

The Subaru Tribeca has a strong engine, nicely equipped interior and responsive ride.

The Tribeca has been on the market for a few years, and has achieved mixed results. Some people did not like the styling of the original version's front-end, which has since been changed.

Also, it is competing in a crowded field of mid-size SUVs and crossovers.

New for this year is the standard seven-passenger configuration.

The Tribeca doesn't come cheaply. It has a base price of about $30,000, and at higher trim levels can head north of $37,000.

But keep in mind that in addition to the seven-passenger seating, another key standard feature is all-wheel drive.

Fuel economy is just so-so; the Tribeca gets 16 mpg city, 21 highway, according to EPA estimates.

The Tribeca has a powerful six-cylinder engine that is capable of strong acceleration. It also handles quite nicely and has a solid ride quality.

Engine noise levels might be a bit higher than you would expect, but it's not terribly intrusive.

Braking is pretty solid.

On the inside, you'll find plenty of cargo space and a neat, but not fancy, design. All of the controls were placed very ergonomically and the quality of the materials is excellent.

The seats are adequately supportive, and head and leg room are good, even in the second row.

As for safety, the Tribeca does exceptionally well in government crash test and is designated a top safety pick in insurance industry testing.

The Tribeca comes with Subaru's three-year/36,000 mile warranty.

You can choose from three trim levels: the base Premium, the mid-level Limited and the top-of-the-line Touring.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Challenger Gettin' Furious

Two of the wildest and rarest 2010 Dodge Challenger models will soon be available to Dodge fans and collectors to commemorate 40 years of Dodge Challenger performance; the 2010 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic and Challenger SRT8® Furious Fuchsia editions. With its Furious Fuchsia Pearl Coat exterior paint and all-new Pearl White leather performance seats, these limited-edition Dodge Challenger models deliver the best of modern American muscle-car characteristics—unmistakable design, world-class handling, powerful HEMI® V-8 engines and technology—now in one of the most significant hues. “Commemorating four decades of Challenger performance, the new R/T Classic and SRT8 Furious Fuchsia editions modernize one of the most memorable hues from 1970 to create a modern muscle-car that exudes more performance, passion and even more nostalgia,” said Ralph Gilles, President and Chief Executive Officer, Dodge Car Brand and Senior Vice President—Product Design, Chrysler Group LLC. “As an ode to our Dodge fans, these highly collectible models feature all-new Pearl White leather performance seats with Furious Fuchsia accents to deliver a customized, yet contemporary look to the heritage-inspired interior. Sum it all up, and Dodge is delivering a muscle-car tribute that no other manufacturer can even match.”

With Forte SX, Kia Keeps Cranking Out Value

Kia continues to turn out cars that offer good quality at a great value.

The latest case in point is the Forte sedan.

Our tester, a Forte SX, comes nicely equipped with comfort and convenience features such as air conditioning, satellite radio, Bluetooth and iPod interface, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and cruise control.

The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 configuration and allow access to the trunk’s cargo floor.

Like so many other Kia products these days, the Forte is a good-looking car, inside and out. It’s solidly built, with terrific fit and finish.
The test car had leather upholstery, a $1,000 option that includes heated seats, along with a sunroof for $600.

Despite the car’s modest size, the interior seems quite roomy and makes efficient use of available space.

The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel allows smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view. A dead pedal keeps the driver comfortable during longer trips.
Visibility to the sides and rear of the car is good, with minimal blind spots. I found the six-way manual driver’s seat easy to adjust, with adequate lower lumbar support.
The 2.4-liter engine adds 17 horsepower over the 2.0 liter block in the Forte LX and EX. The car loses about two miles-per-gallon in fuel economy compared to the other grades, but the extra power comes in handy merging onto the freeway, and passing other vehicles at speed.
The five-speed automatic transmission is smoother than the four-speed transmission on the LX and EX. In addition to producing less shift shock, it also has a bigger overdrive gear, to maximize fuel economy. Kia says that since the SX weighs about 100 pounds more than the LX or EX, the overdrive gear makes a significant difference.
Sport tuning on the SX suspension gives it a slightly firmer feel than the other two grades. The standard independent front and torsion beam rear setup provides a compliant ride. Stabilizer bars on both axles help to keep the chassis flat in the corners.
A speed-sensitive steering system provides more assist at low speeds, yet maintains positive on-center response on the highway.

Kia says the turning radius of just under 34 feet makes it easy to maneuver into tight parallel parking spots or do the occasional U-turn.
Four-wheel disc brakes on all grades make the Forte a safer car to drive in wet weather, and an easier one to maintain.

The Forte interior is attractive and functional. Adults of most sizes should feel comfortable in the front seats. Despite a small floor tunnel, three passengers can sit in back. The floor tunnel takes some legroom away from the middle passenger.
The driver and front passenger have access to map pockets and bottle holders in the doors, as well as cupholders in the center console. Two twelve-volt power points at the base of the center stack recharge portable electronic devices. A USB port makes it possible to plug in an iPod or flash drive.
Dual overhead reading lamps up front and a dome lamp in the back of the car illuminate the interior at night. A fold-down armrest in the center seatback has two cupholders for second-row passengers.
The Forte’s trunk is deep as well as long, making it easy to load up with cargo. Levers to either side of the trunk-lid release the rear seats to fold them flat.

Kia’s 10 year/100,000 mile factory warranty includes round-the-clock roadside assistance for the first five years or 60,000 miles.

So how much do you pay for all of this?

This very thoroughly equipped tester came in with a low sticker price of $19,490.

That's a value you can't beat.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Suzuki Kizashi: A Good Car, But About That Name...

Suzuki has introduced a new mid-sized sedan.

That's good news. This brand continues to struggle for recognition, and new products, especially if they are good, can help garner recognition.

More good news. The new sedan is good. It drives nicely and is styled somewhat attractively and priced very affordably.

But there's bad news. The sedan is called the Kizashi. 

The Kizashi.

Suzuki Kizashi. Just rolls off your tongue, doesn't it?

Kizashi, I'm told, is the name of the Japanese engineer who designed the car.

In no way would I denigrate anyone's name. A person's name should always be respected (although I don't mind if you make fun of my name -- Douthit -- because people often have a hard time pronouncing it).

But what I am saying is that if you are trying to sell cars in the U.S. auto market, you label the cars with a name that will be much easier for large numbers of consumers here to pronounce and remember.

If I designed a car to sell in Japan, no way would I call it a Douthit. Heck, if I was trying to sell cars in the U.S., I wouldn't call it a Douthit.

But enough on the Kizashi's name. Suzuki will have to deal with that.

If you glance at its numbers, the Kizashi looks decent, with its 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine that makes 185 HP and 170 pounds feet of torque.

That powerplant can generate a 0-60 MPH time of just 7.5 seconds.

Gas mileage is pretty good, too: 23 mpg city, 31 highway with the continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive or 20/29 in manual FWD mode.

On the inside, the new Kizashi is well featured for its starting price of under $20,000, offering iPod connectivity, soft-touch plastics everywhere, steering wheel audio buttons, dual-zone climate control and comfortable seats. Move up through the trims and you'll add a thumping 425 watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with Bluetooth music streaming and hands-free calling. 

Handling is pretty nimble with the Kizashi. It takes twisty roads with a nice spirit of fun, yet still won't have you losing you lunch.

Power in the early gears is a little tepid, but at higher speeds is more than adequate.

Falling in between a compact sedan and the current mid-size market, the car is actually more likely to appeal to people who want to upgrade from a subcompact, but don't want some of the larger mid-size sedans.

It's hard not to notice that the Kizashi, which went through three iterations of concept cars before the reveal, is seemingly incongruous with the company's recent expression of outdoor, X-game lifestyle vehicles built on their marine, motorcycle and ATV sales. The new Equator can haul Suzuki bikes, the SX4 can take you rock climbing and the the Grand Vitara can haul your boat. The Kizashi doesn't do any of those things.

Like the SX4, the Kizashi is part of a rapidly improving family of vehicles few American consumers are aware of, so the failure or success of it is going to be more heavily dependent on marketing than the vehicles themselves. If Suzuki can make people aware that this car exists, and teach them how to pronounce its name, they should be able to sell a fair number of them. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sales Slip for Honda

Honda said sales of its cars and trucks in the U.S. declined 5% in January as sales of its cars increased 2.7% but sales of its crossovers, SUVs and pickups declined 15%.

“We’re off to a steady start for 2010 and we're optimistic that we can build momentum,” John Mendel, Honda’s executive vice president of sales, said in a statement.

Sales of all Honda brand vehicles declined 4.4% while sales of its Acura brand declined 9.2%. During the month, sales for both Honda’s Civic and Accord increased in January but sales of the Honda CR-Vcrossover dropped 26.4%.

Kia to Show New Sportage

Kia will unveil its new Sportage medium SUV at the Geneva auto show on March 2. The third-generation Sportage reveals a significant shift in design from the current model, moving away from the rugged off-roader look of the first Sportage, launched in 1993, to sleeker crossover proportions.  Read more:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ford, GM See Opportunity in Toyota Woes

Ford and General Motors have launched incentive campaigns aimed at attracting Toyota customers.
"A lot of these customers were our customers ... and they're looking for help, and we want to provide help," said GM's Steve Hill, general manager of retail sales support.
Toyota has been rocked by a widespread problem of faulty brake pedals in many of its vehicles.
GM's incentives include lease pull-aheads, zero-percent financing and $1,000 down payments to get into GM vehicles for Lexus and Toyota owners.
Ford is adding $1,000 on trade-ins of Toyota, Lexus, Scion, Acura and Honda models.
Jake Fisher, a Consumer Reports senior automotive engineer, said this is a rare chance to lure Toyota drivers.
"It's very difficult to pry someone away from Toyota," Fisher told the Detroit Free Press.

Mazda CX-9 is All Mazda, and That's a Good Thing

The 2010 Mazda CX-9 is all Mazda, which is a good thing, given the automaker's reputation for making quality, fuel-efficient vehicles that all seem to perform like sports cars.
It's also all you need if you want a stylish, enjoyable-to-drive family hauler.
The seven-passenger crossover is a formidable competitor against so many other extended crossovers on the market.
Both inside and out, it has luxurious undertones.
But it can also resemble a luxury vehicle in one other area -- the sticker price.
At its highest trim levels, the CX-9 gets a little costly.
The base model, know as the Sport, starts at just under $30,000, which is fairly reasonable and not too far off from most of its competitors. 
Move up to the mid-level Touring model, and you are starting at around $32,000.
At the top of the line is the Grand Touring, which starts at a shade under $34,000.
If you add all-wheel drive (available on all trim levels) to the Grand Touring, as well as all the luxury amenities, you drive the sticker price above $40,000. 
The engine is the same on all models: a 3.7-liter V-6 that makes a colossal 273 horsepower and 270 pounds-feet of torque.
That power plant is linked to a nifty six-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy numbers are rather modest.
Our tester, which was front-wheel drive, is listed at 16 mpg city, 22 higway. In a week of mostly highway driving, we got about 21 mpg.
The all-wheel-drive model is listed at 15 and 21.
But when you keep in mind that this is a relatively large vehicle, you can live with those numbers.
If you opt for all-wheel drive, Mazda says its Active Torque Split system will provide excellent on-road traction in less than ideal road conditions. But it's not really intended for any significant off-road conditions, which is fine because most buyers of this sort of vehicle aren't going off road.
Mazda says the CX-9's wheelbase is 113.2 inches, certainly long enough to make for a spacious interior.
The two-three-two seating configuration is comfortable for the most part, with the middle bench having a 60/40 split, and it is able to move fore and aft as needed.
The rear seat splits 50/50 and allows for a fair amount of cargo storage. But if you don't fold those seats down, you still get 17.2 feet of cubic space in the rear, which was enough for the luggage of five people who took a road trip in the tester.
Plus, the third row is easy to access; you just tug the middle seatback a bit.
More reasons to like the CX-9 are found in its safety features.
It gets a five star (best) rating in front- and side-impact crash testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Electronic stability control with traction control, front-seat mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain airbags and antilock disc brakes are some of the key safety features. But another one that we came to love was the blind-spot monitoring system, which uses a blinking light on either rear-view mirror to indicate when a vehicle is coming up beside you in an adjacent lane.
As for amenities, the CX-9 can give you Bluetooth phone capability, satellite radio, moon roof and rear-seat entertainment system.
The CX-9 shares some underpinnings with Mazda's popular Mazda6 sedan, and also shares some design cues with that model.
On the inside, you're sure to love the fit and finish of the CX-9, with its neatly arranged dashboard, comfortable seats and pleasant colors.
Yes, the CX-9 is all Mazda, and aren't we lucky for that.

Toyota Announces Brake Pedal Remedy

Toyota said Monday it has developed a fix for gas pedals in millions of recalled vehicles and is already shipping the new parts to dealers.

The fix involves reinforcing the pedal assembly in a way that eliminates the excess friction that has caused the pedals to stick, the company said in a press release. Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles in the United States for this problem.

Toyota said replacement parts are already being shipped and that dealers will work extended hours to fix the recalled vehicles.

"We know what's causing the sticking accelerator pedals, and we know what we have to do to fix it," said Jim Lentz, Toyota's president and chief operating officer, in a statement.

Toyota will begin contacting customers as early as this week to let them know when to bring in their vehicles for the fix. The automaker said it will cover all costs related to the fix, which will take about 30 minutes.

It's not clear how long it will take to fix all 2.3 million cars, Lentz told Much will depend on how quickly customers bring their cars into dealer for repairs.

Dealers will be open extended hours, he said.

"Dealers that are open five days will be open seven days," he said. "Dealers that aren't open extended hours will be open extended hours."

The fix involves installing a precision-cut steel reinforcement bar into the accelerator pedal assembly, which will reduce surface tension and prevent the friction that has caused the pedals to stick, Toyota said.

The company said it has confirmed the effectiveness of the newly reinforced pedals through "rigorous testing" on pedal assemblies that had previously shown a tendency to stick.

Toyota announced plans last week to suspend sales of the models, including its best-selling Camry, subject to the recall. It also took the unusual step of halting production of those models.

The recall has taken a severe toll on Toyota's once-stellar reputation, which Lentz acknowledged in a video statement posted on Toyota's Web site.

"I know that we've let you down," Lentz said "[Toyota] will work hard to fix your vehicle properly and regain your trust."

The recall affects Toyota's 2009-2010 RAV4, Corolla and Matrix; 2005-2010 Avalon; certain 2007-2010 Camrys; 2010 Highlander; 2007-2010 Tundra and the 2008-2010 Sequoia. The Camry Hybrid is not included in the recall.

The Japanese automaker also recalled cars in Europe. That recall involves eight different models, several of which are not sold in the United States. The precise number of vehicles involved in that recall is still being determined, but it could be as many as 1.8 million.

The gas pedal recall is separate from an earlier one, begun in November to fix a problem in which the gas pedal can become caught on the edge of the removable floormat.

The floormat recall was recently expanded so that it now covers a total of 5.3 million vehicles.

In cases where vehicles are subject to both recalls, Toyota (TM) said it intends to remedy both at the same time.

Toyota has been under scrutiny for suspected unintended acceleration for approximately 10 years. A total of 19 deaths have been connected to unintended acceleration in Toyotas over the decade, according to some analysts, a figure the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration called "plausible," based on its own research.

All major automakers experience some complaints of unintended acceleration. It is unclear how the rate of complaints and crashes in Toyota vehicle compares to that of other major automakers.

Lentz said he is confident that resolving this issue and the floormat entrapment problem will solve the problem for Toyota. The automaker has also said it is making "brake override" -- a system that cuts engine power to the wheels as soon as the brake pedal is pressed -- standard equipment on all of its cars.

The "brake override" software will also be added to the internal computers on some cars as they are brought in for recall repairs, a Toyota spokesman said.