Geely Agrees To Buy Volvo For $1.8B

March 29, 2010

Chinese auto manufacturer Geely announced it has reached an agreement to buy Volvo from Ford for $1.8B. Ford has been shopping Volvo around with no takers for so many years now, you’d think they had only been marketing it in the Cars and Trucks For Sale section of Craigslist.

While one might argue that the price paid was way too high for the financially-troubled Swedish brand, but it is certainly a win-win. Ford finally rids itself one of the last of the Jaques Nasser-era money-losing albatrosses, while Geely becomes the first Chinese company to pick up a real internationally-recognized auto brand — and one with a good dealership network capable of selling and providing warranty service for Geely brand cars in the near future. The fact that Volvo is synonymous with safety is also a huge value to Geely — a company based in a country known for constructing buildings without rebar and making food with dangerous chemicals.

The nearly two-billion dollar question, however, is are we looking at another DaimlerChrysler merger where instead of Chrysler quality improving, Mercedes quality (as well as reputation and financial earnings) sunk like an anchor? If the perception of Volvo’s safety or quality (neither of which are as good as actual insurance loss and JD Power reliability surveys indicate) diminishes at all, the value of the merger for Geely goes from moderate to something akin to a Disney Channel teen superstar’s abstinence pledge: nil.

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This Just In: The 2016 Corvette Will Be Mid-Engine…Just Like The 1977, 1984, 1997, 2005…

March 18, 2010

I picked up my copy of Autoweek from the mailbox today and noticed that the most frequently wrong prediction has once again reared its ugly head. Right there in bold type on the cover: “Deep Secrets — Mid-Engine C8 Chevy Corvette”.

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but the mid-engine Corvette rumor has been around longer (and with less traction) than Ringo Starr’s solo career. I must have at least ten magazines with similar claims, dating back to a 1970’s copy of Road & Track. The common thread is that all of these claims have proven false — unless you consider the Fiero a Corvette in disguise.

Like in the past, the claim comes from an unidentified GM executive who says that this generation will be the last for the traditional front-engine V8 configuration. As in stories of old, the rationale is the need to reinvent the brand to go head-to-head in the supercar ranks with more performance and more efficiency. This time the rumor is a high output twin-turbo six-cylinder and a modern monocoque tub. After all, how is Corvette going to compete when the Feds are forcing 35 mpg CAFE standards and the Lamborghini Gallardo and Ferrari Italia are already out there with mid-engine placement…

or the Porsche Boxster, Acura NSX, Porsche 911 Turbo, Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari 246 GT, Lambo Miura? Exactly…it has never had any problems competing. It didn’t need the mid-mounted engine, or the Wankel rotary engine pipe dream from the early 1970s or turbocharged-enhanced small displacement units claimed around the corner throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

At the end of the day, GM always comes back to the same rationale for the traditional layout. Front engine placement still allows 50/50 weight balance, but also maintains large amounts of room for six-foot humans and their luggage. (The C5 Corvette Convertible has 13 cubic feet of luggage capacity, for god’s sake!) It also is cheaper to build, allows for more parts sharing with the likes of the Camaro. Then there’s the ease of service of the current design…and that when matched to the six-speed manual the V8 already can deliver 32-plus MPG.

Given GM’s bent towards not offending the purists, there is no way in hell they are going to risk putting off the traditional Corvette buyers — you know, the ones who have been buying front-engine, V8-powered cars with great performance and surprising occupant and luggage room at an annual rate of nearly more than all the mid-engine sports cars available here combined? It never makes sense to build a more expensive car that in the end is not as profitable, or popular, for that matter.

So don’t hold your breath — for if you believe the 2016 C8 Corvette will be mid engine, you probably also believe that nobody will be using gas propulsion by then, because hydrogen and all-electric will be the standards. The magazines have claimed those for fifty years.


Stirling Moss Falls Down An Elevator Shaft, Then Sends Fans & Friends An Email From His Hospital Bed

March 9, 2010

Stirling Moss is the mold from which all other sports heros should be made. A racing legend from F1, rallying and sports cars, he has spent the better part of the last half-century doing it for fun on the vintage circuit. All along, he’s been a warm, approachable, interesting person, all while still driving cars in anger like he did in the glory days.

A couple days ago he fell down the lift shaft at his home. As another example of his understanding of what it means to be a hero, he wasted no time in writing an email to friends and fans, which was just published by Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market.

Greetings!

DEAR ALL OF YOU,

THE LAST FEW DAYS HAVE BEEN QUITE FANTASTIC AND I’D LIKE TO THANK EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU FOR YOUR KIND THOUGHTS, MESSAGES AND OTHER PARAPHERNALIA.

ON SATURDAY EVENING, I WAS AT HOME WITH SUSIE, ELLIOT AND HELEN AND ABOUT TO LEAVE FOR A CURRY, FOR WHICH WE WERE RUNNING LATE. I ASKED HELEN TO JOIN ME IN THE LIFT TO GO DOWNSTAIRS, BECAUSE SUSIE AND ELLIOT WERE SMART ENOUGH NOT TO RIDE IN MY LIFT. I OPENED THE DOOR AND STEPPED INTO THE LIFT, WITH HELEN READY TO FOLLOW ME, WHICH SHE NEVER DID. THAT IS BECAUSE THE LIFT HAD STOPPED ON THE FLOOR ABOVE AND INCORRECTLY ALLOWED THE DOOR BENEATH IT TO OPEN.

STILL CHATTING TO HELEN, I STEPPED INTO THE OPEN DOORWAY–AND FELL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE LIFT SHAFT.

THE AMBULANCE WAS CALLED AND ARRIVED AT RACING SPEED, WHEREUPON THEY PUT ME ONTO A SERIES OF ABOUT 10 STRETCHERS! HAVING FINALLY SETTLED ON WHAT MUST HAVE SEEMED A GOOD ONE, I WAS TAKEN, ALONG WITH MY FAMILY TO THE ROYAL LONDON HOSPITAL IN WHITECHAPEL, WHERE THEY USED ANOTHER BATCH OF SIMILAR STRETCHERS!

THEY DID A GOOD JOB OF HELPING ME, BUT WERE UNABLE TO DO THE REQUISITE SURGERY. SO, ON THE SUNDAY, I WAS MOVED TO THE PRINCESS GRACE, WHERE A FANTASTICALLY EFFICIENT, KIND AND AMUSING STAFF DID ALL THE JOBS.

I AM NOW IN A LOVELY ROOM, NUMBER 222, AND WITH THE HELP OF ELLIOT AND THE PORTER, AM FINALLY ON THE EMAIL. THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT I WILL BE ABLE TO ACTUALLY SEND THIS TO YOU, BUT I WILL TRY!

NOW FOR THE FUTURE… WHICH I CAN SEE WITH SUSIE, HELEN AND ELLIOT AROUND ME, IS GOING TO BE A BLOODY STRUGGLE!

AS SOME OF YOU MAY KNOW, SUSIE AND I ARE BOOKED ON A SEABOURN CRUISE FOR OUR 30TH ANNIVERSARY, NEXT MONTH. I HAVE TO CROSS THE HURDLE OF GETTING THE DOCORS, AND FAMLY HANGERS-ON, TO ALLOW ME TO THIN MY BLOOD, IN ORDER TO AVOID ANY ISSUES INVOLVING DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS.

IT WILL BE SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS FROM SUNDAY BEFORE I WILL ABLE TO PUT ANY LOAD ON MY FEET. THEREFORE I’M FACING MY SIXTH OR SEVENTH REDUCTION TO A WHEELCHAIR (SUSIE SAYS SHE’S STOPPED COUNTING) WHICH I MUST ADMIT, IS RATHER BORING. THE GOOD NEWS IS; THAT I DIDN’T SELL THE WHEELCHAIR AFTER THE LAST SHUNT!

THE WHOLE THING IS A REAL PAIN IN THE ARSE, IF I HAD LOOKED WHERE I WAS GOING, I WOULDN’T BE HERE AT ALL, SO IT’S MY OWN DAMN FAULT.

I HAVE BEEN ABSOLUTELY OVERWHELMED BY YOUR COLLECTIVE CONCERN AND KINDNESS.

I CAN TELL YOU THAT CURRENTLY I’M LYING IN HOSPITAL, TAKING DEEP BREATHS, LIFTING ONE ARM WITH THE OTHER, RAISING MY LEGS (WITH PLASTERS ON THE END) AND DOING ALL I CAN DO TO KEEP MYSELF AS MOBILE AS POSSIBLE, BUT, HAVING SAID THAT, I’M NOT YET WINNING THE BATTLE.

I’M NOT SURE WHEN I’LL BE ABLE TO GO HOME BUT THE LIFT HAS TO WORK, OTHERWISE I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO GET UPSTAIRS IN MY WHEELCHAIR, MAYBE I’LL GO AND STAY WITH HELEN AND ELLIOT FOR A WHILE…

THIS REALLY HAS OPENED MY EYES TO HOW KIND ALL MY FRIENDS ARE, OVER AN OLD EX-RACING DRIVER, FLOGGING A FADING IMAGE!

I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU SOON,

MANY THANKS FOR ALL OF YOUR THOUGHTS,

CIAO

Stirling, we can’t wait to see you back out at the races! It’s because of legends like you that we still believe in heros.


Stop Saying It’s Driver Error — It’s A Symptom Of Toyota’s Electrical Design Flaw

March 4, 2010

People keep asking me if I have taken my 2006 Toyota Avalon into the dealership to have the recalls performed to prevent catastrophic throttle sticking. When I tell them that I haven’t and don’t plan to until a new recall comes out they are shocked, although they shouldn’t be.

Here’s the reason: My gut reaction was that the recalls were not salient to the core throttle issue. This was reinforced with Toyota USA President James Lentz’s testimony to the Congressional hearing last week. Here’s a snippet of the interaction:

Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California): Do you believe that the recall on the carpet changes and the recall on the sticky pedal will solve the problem of sudden unintended acceleration?

Mr. LENTZ: Not totally.

It would be easy to throw me in with the majority of auto journalists who have already come out with their typical knee-jerk reaction that all catastrophic vehicle problems are the result of driver error. I’m in the minority…possibly due to my life as a technical products manager prior to becoming a writer. I’m under the impression that when a collision rate for a specific make or model is significantly higher than average for the type of vehicle, driver error is a symptom, not a cause. In other words — if the argument is that people are indeed hitting the throttle instead of the brake (as was the blame in Audi 5000s) leading to fatal accidents at a larger rate compared to a nearly identical competitor, as a product marketing professional, I still call that, at minimum, a design flaw in respect to pedal size/placement/offset.

In the case of Toyota, it’s much more serious than the physical size, location and layout of the pedals. Most auto journalists did not pay close attention to Professor David Gilbert’s testimony. Professor Gilbert was able to prove that Toyota’s accelerators could become stuck at wide-open-throttle yet not send an error code. Quite simply, unlike every other major automaker utilizing a drive-by-wire system, Toyota keeps the throttle and failsafe on the same voltage plane and the error code is triggered only if the resistance is too high or too low (much like GM ignition security systems in the 1980s and 1990s).

Toyota claims that what Professor Gilbert did to short the system (ie — using a resistor between the wires) shouldn’t happen in the real world. Gilbert has since gone on television programs to show how a simple chafing of wires -could- cause the issue in a predictable and repeatable fashion. Toyota finally invited Professor Gilbert to prove his theory at Toyota’s USA HQ, but this was after completely disregarding the possibility of it being true via PR statements. Unfortunately, given the fact that seems to be the lone major design difference between Toyotas and similar non-surging cars, discounting Gilbert prematurely might be a colossal mistake on Toyota’s part.

At the end of the day, we know this issue more serious than driver error. One need only read the testimony of Rhonda Smith, whose Lexus surged to over 100mph and wouldn’t shift to neutral. After the throttle mysteriously released, her faded brakes were finally able to stop the car, at which time she turned off the engine. When her husband arrived he placed the car into neutral so the tow truck could pull it, at which time the vehicle attempted to start itself like it was straight out of Steven King’s Christine. Think Mr. and Mrs. Smith were lying? The tow truck driver signed an avadavat, because he witnessed the whole damn thing.

Driver error, my ass!