AutoblogGreen for 05.30.07

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We invite you once again to AutoblogGreen, where you've got your new ABG podcast (with info on how to make a 200 mpg car), the latest on Toyota's FT-HS and more on high gas prices and cars that run on air. Enjoy your visit.

 

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Ford denies discussing sale of Volvo

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Earlier this month we brought you a rumor that BMW was in talks with Ford to buy Volvo. Then just this week the rumor popped up again, in a Swedish newspaper. Now Ford comes out to officially quash the story, saying, "Ford Motor Company is not in discussions with BMW or any other company regarding an interest in the Volvo Car Corporation."

That should take care of it, right? Well, not with everyone. Reuters quotes several industry analysts saying such a sell wouldn't surprise them. Ford could make a load of much-needed money by getting rid of Volvo, and one analyst said he would expect Ford to look at all serious offers.

A Merrill Lynch analyst told Reuters Ford might get as much as $8 billion for Volvo, if, of course, it were for sale.

We've already stated our thoughts on BMW buying Volvo, but with the sale of Chrysler to a private equity group, could Volvo be the next Cerberus target? A Chrysler/Volvo team could be the halo marque the automaker needs, and Chrysler could also benefit from Volvo's safety first image.

Such a matchup might also mean a Magnum-based Volvo wagon. Interesting.

Thanks for the tip, SobeSVT!

[Source: Reuters via Yahoo]

 

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Nanjing turns the lights back on at MG's Longbridge, UK plant

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It appears that despite the incredulous whining and snarky commentary about Britain's MG being purchased by Nanjing and renamed Modern Gentleman, the Jiangsu, China based automaker has the best interests of MG in mind. They've been exceptionally careful stewards so far, quickly ramping up production in a huge, modern facility in China so that MGs could once again roll off the assembly line for the 60th anniversary of the brand. The familial MG homestead in Longbridge, UK has been reinvigorated as the UK and European headquarters for NAC MG. Cars will once again be manufactured in Longbridge, and the location will also play a role in R&D, engineering, workforce recruiting and of course, sales. Not only has the move garnered goodwill for the Chinese parent company, it shows that they're committed to MG and have a long term plan in mind.

Press release after the jump.

[Source: NAC]

PRESS RELEASE:
NAC MG in the UK

May 29 th, Longbridge:

In a historic ceremony today, the media and VIP contingents from both the UK and China will witness the return of MG production to the Longbridge factory, the long-time home of this historic marque. Guest of honour will be Mr Liang Buo Hua, Governor of the Jiangsu Province in China where NAC MG is based and Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham City Council.

Earlier today, Solicitor General Mike O'Brien, MP visited Longbridge, and personally handed over a letter of support from Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, on behalf of the British Government. Mr O'Brien met senior officials from NAC in the UK and China, as well as Mr Liang Buo Hua.

Since acquiring the assets of MGR Group in 2005, NAC has been devoted to developing the MG brand and MG products, initially in China and Britain.

In only one year NAC completed the construction of a huge, modern production facility in Nanjing and had its first MG cars rolling off the assembly line on 27 th March 2007 - which was also the date of the 60 th anniversary of the company. NAC is also proud to have won the award for the 'most attractive car' at the Shanghai Motor Show held in April 2007.

In the UK, NAC has been hard at work at the Longbridge plant; the production lines have been modified to allow the recommencement of manufacturing; a highly experienced management, engineering and production team is now in place, ready to re-launch MG into the marketplace later this year, initially with the famous TF sports car.

Longbridge is an essential part of the MG project. NAC fully understands that they need to keep the originality and Britishness of the brand and the UK is the only place where NAC can absorb the essence of British culture and transfer it into MG products.

The role of Longbridge will be as follows:
  • R&D centre for MG
  • Engineering & testing of MG models
  • HR recruiting for China and Longbridge
  • A purchasing and logistics centre for China and Longbridge
  • Manufacturing base for the UK and European markets
  • Sales & marketing base for the UK and Europe
Today's event is the next crucial stage in NAC MG's ambitious development strategy. "We realised from the outset of this project that retaining a manufacturing link with the UK is of fundamental importance," says Yu Jian Wei, CEO of NAC. "Longbridge will play a leading role in our European operation and the plant is now in a position to commence TF production for the UK market. This is a very exciting time for MG and it's an important boost to the economy of the Midlands manufacturing region."

Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council said: "Longbridge is part of the fabric of Birmingham's heritage and we are delighted that MG's will roll off the production line once again. "We have worked in close collaboration with NAC to bring about today's announcement. Two years ago, many people thought this day would never come. But as we celebrate a new era for Longbridge, I am delighted that NAC MG will breathe new life into this famous marque.

"This clearly shows Birmingham making the most of international investment, and I am proud of the part the City Council has played to bring it about."

 

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Ariel Atom getting $6,000 price bump

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It will soon cost you a lot more to distort your face like putty and suck the plugs right out of your scalp while going deaf. What? Er, make that WHAT!? Right. Well, Brammo Motorsports has a hit on their hands with the Ariel Atom, and they've been forced to add more people to keep the skeletal rocket's production humming along. The $6,000 price increase spares us Dads, by appearing June 18th. That still leaves time for your loved ones to get you a 300 horsepower suggestion of a car. Six grand is a steep price bump - for that price you can build a very nice LoCost. There's also competition sneaking up on the Atom, like the KTM X-Bow and other cars that share the same bare-minimum-with-brawny-motor ethos.

Even bumped by six large, the price is still a bargain considering what the car can do. You'll run with some serious company - and there lies another hidden cost of all these cars - where to drive them? Over the road motoring may hold its own visceral charms, giving you a glimpse of how Frogger feels, but really, the only place to use these things is a track, and track time costs money. Maybe they'll knock some dough off the bottom line if you go without the floormats or radio ... err... perhaps you could charge all your buddies $10 bucks for three laps around the company parking lot at lunch?

[Source: Winding Road]

 

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500 HP Noble M15 on its way

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You want images of the Noble M15? We've got 23 for you right here.

When it was originally introduced last year, the Noble M15 sported a highly evolved three-liter, twin-turbo'd V6 that made 455 HP at 6,800 RPM and an equal amount of torque at 4,800 RPM. Mounted amidships and sending power to the rear wheels, the M15 could accelerate to 60 in 3.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 175 MPH. That was good, but Noble's propellerheads are making it better.

According to an article in Autoweek.nl, the next iteration of the M15 will get a 45 HP bump in output to bring power up to the mystical 500 HP level. Whether or not it's going to steal the £100k entry fee from buyers looking into an M6 or 911 is doubtful, but with only between 50 and 60 vehicles set to be built each year, exclusivity will run hand-in-hand with kidney-punishing performance.

[Source: Autoweek.nl via MotorAuthority]

Gallery: Noble M15

 

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Spy Shots: JaguarDrive transmission for XF/XK

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Although punching buttons to change gears is something that's been around for decades, these newest spy pics from KGP confirm that the new Jaguar XF and XK are likely to receive a setup reminiscent of the console found on the C-XF concept that debuted in Detroit.

The flat panel design, partially concealed by the test driver's hand, reveals a large red ignition button placed atop letters displaying the traditional "PRND." The image doesn't reveal how gear selection will be made, but if it's anything like the design shown on the concept (above), it's going to be way cooler than the Powerflite trannies of yesteryear.

[Source: Straightline]

 

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Jayco Platinum: It's no Edsel Ranger, but it'll do

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Click image to enlarge

Jayco's Australian division has released a new motorhome called the Platinum. With it's ultra-Euro-looking Fiat Ducato cab, the Platinum cuts quite a profile. (Seriously, the Ducato's front end looks like something out of a sci-fi flick.) According to the manufacturer, it'll get an impressive 19.5 MPG out of its 154-horsepower/295 lb-ft 3.0L turbodiesel. Priced at $114,900 AUD (around $94K USD), it's packed with all the latest creature comforts and amenities, including external speakers that allow for maximum chillout mode under the machine's rollaway awning when you're camped somewhere in the Australian wild.

Still, for all its apparent advantages, it lacks that certain je ne sais quoi possessed by the backyard-special Edsel...

Press release after the jump. Wanna see Jayco's American offerings? Click here.

[Source: Jayco Australia]

PRESS RELEASE:
The New Platinum is the Complete Package!
With its strong commitment to innovation and quality ? and following the success of its niche 2006 Euro edition Conquest motorhome ? Jayco has produced another winner for the Australasian market!

Not just another standard motorhome, the Platinum is the complete package and sets a new industry benchmark for all round quality, comfort and style.

Built on a Fiat Ducato, the Platinum has a 3 litre Turbo Diesel 115Kw and 400 Nm engine. Easy to handle, the vehicle has the power to traverse demanding terrains. Its excellent fuel economy ? approximately 12 litres per 100 kilometres ? also makes it the ideal touring vehicle.

As you would expect, the Platinum has a range of features including power and adjustable steering, ABS brakes, driver and passenger air bags, electric windows and mirrors, trip computer, cruise control, laminated windscreen, and keyless central locking.

The Platinum?s exterior finish shouts class! The vehicle?s metallic silver Fiat cab, cab surrounds and ABS side skirts give it a unique automotive finish and ?designer? alloy wheels add to its stylish exterior. The Platinum is also available in white, and is produced in two body style designs: the High Roof (which enables additional sleeping) and the Low Roof (which provides more storage space and offers less wind resistance).

The vehicle's spacious interior has a classic and comfortable feel with Euro-style wood panelling and leather upholstery in both the front and rear seating areas (enhanced by perforated inserts and colour coordinated with other soft furnishings). And, there?s always room for that extra "happy hour" guest as the front passenger?s seat swivels into the vehicle?s lounge area.

The Platinum comes with an extensive range of quality appliances including a large 150 litre fridge a Smev full 4 burner oven with separate griller, a reverse cycle air conditioner, CD, MP3, DVD Player, and the all new Sphere Flat Screen TV.

The Platinum is designed to allow you to fully exploit the indoor/outdoor lifestyle of touring, and comes with a Carefree electric awning (at the touch of a button, the awning canopy simply winds up). Whether it?s Mozart or muzak ? external speakers will allow you to kick back, enjoy your favourite music, and watch the sun set on another hard day on the road!

The new Platinum motorhome is not only a ?step-up? in comfort, it also has a range of built-in vehicle safety and security features including:

* A reversing screen with two cameras to assist the driver?s rear vision.
* Double glazed windows, with separate flyscreens and UV protected blinds.
* A Roamsafe security door which provides full security while allowing maximum ventilation.
* Child restraint anchorage points fitted to additional seats (a standard Jayco motorhome feature not matched by our competitors).

The Platinum then, is your ultimate dream motorhome! Retailing at the very competitive price of $114,900, it comes with a 3 Year 200,000 km warranty and Roadside Assistance.

 

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Seriously, gas isn't THAT expensive

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You've heard this point before, but despite the price of gas being at record levels, adjusted for inflation, it's still not the most expensive we've ever paid for dead-dino juice in the U.S. The Auto Prophet, one of the original auto-related bloggers that's still keepin' it real, found this informative chart (see larger version here) from InflationData.com that illustrates this fact in a straightforward way. The black line is the actual average price of gasoline in the U.S. since 1918, while the red line represents the price of gas since 1918 adjusted for inflation.

The most we've paid for gas was when we first started buying a lot of it back in 1918 when the chart begins. That year Americans paid an average of around a quarter per gallon, or just under $3.50/gallon in 2007 dollars. Last week's record average price of $3.28/gallon still falls below those early levels.

The chart is particularly interesting because it shows a general downward trend in the cost of gas when it's adjusted for inflation. There are spikes in the red line from the oil embargo in the '70s and the recent increases since the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina hit, but if you watch the red line we should expect the price to go back down. Unfortunately, the actual price of gas will probably continue to rise as it has since 1918, as well. Just as long as it doesn't catch up to the inflation curve, the sting won't hurt so much.

[Source: The Auto Prophet]

 

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Spy Shots: 2009 Cadillac CTS-V

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click above image to view more angles of the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V

Chris Doane risked considerable dampness to bring us back these spy shots of the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V. The development mule is lightly camoflouged, but on the frent end we can clearly see mesh replacing the new Cadillac grille that's currently making the rounds of the luxury brand. Down low there's a deep chin spoiler, but we suspect your eyes are gravitating to that massive bulge on the hood. It hides a supercharger that's integrated into the intake manifold of the CTS-V's new small-block "LSA" motor. Sources say at least 500 horsepower is a given for the car, though most expect that number to reach at least 515 to 525 hp so that the Caddy can remain ahead of a BMW M5 in a streetlight fight.

In the shot above, you can see just how wide those rear tires have to be to handle all that twist. Likewise, from the side, it's evident that enormous Brembo discs and a plethora of pistons will be required to slow down the new CTS-V. Word has it that General Motors also completely reengineered the rear end to eliminate the axle hop for which the current model is infamous.

Known internally as "GMX322 V S/C", the 2009 CTS-V will likely begin production in September of 2008 and reach a maximum of 7,000 units per year. While the standard CTS is poised to shake up the luxury car segment as the first American attempt to build an honest-to-goodness world-class car, the CTS-V, its performance brethren, is shaping up as a supercar in sedan clothing.

Click to here to view high-res versions of all our 2009 Cadillac CTS-V spy shots.

[Photos: Chris Doane for Brenda Priddy & Company]

 

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In the Autoblog Garage: 2007 Ford Expedition EL

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click above image to view more pics of the 2007 Ford Expedition EL

Ford's new Expedition EL has to follow in some huge footsteps - or, perhaps more appropriately, tire tracks. The stretched-wheelbase SUV not only has to do battle with GM's Suburban and Yukon XL duo (long the sales leaders in the extended-wheelbase segment), but it also has to live up to the reputation of the Excursion. That monstrous predecessor never sold in large numbers, but it built a loyal following that remains to this day (if you doubt this, just try to find a bargain on a low-mileage example with the Powerstroke diesel).

Since Ford's previous attempt at building a cargo conveyance and people mover on the Super Duty platform didn't appeal to the average mass-market buyer, this go-around utilizes the far more civilized Expedition platform - and its independent front and rear suspension - as a starting point. Will this move create a kinder, gentler mastodon of metal? We put one through the paces for a week to learn more.



Click any image to view our 2007 Ford Expedition EL gallery of pics


The new Expedition's sheetmetal brings with it an edgier appearance that makes a strong first impression. We dig the brawny new look, especially on the longer-wheelbase model, and our tester's two-tone paint complimented it well. The twenty-inch wheels at each corner are well-proportioned to the EL's huge exterior dimensions, as is the Ford signature three-bar chrome grille (note the ample size of the Blue Oval badge, which gives Chevy's oversized Bowtie a run for its money in the Detroit quest to build the biggest logo). Overall, we think the Expedition is as good-looking as any of the full-size SUVs, and it should age well.



Underneath that sharp new shape is an all-new platform that Ford calls the T1. It's got a lot of current-generation F-150 in its bloodline. Where the Expedition differs most strongly from its pickup truck siblings - and the rest of the competition - is in how it locates its rear wheels. The solid rear axle was dropped in favor of a multilink independent setup at each rear corner for 2003, and that continues forward to the latest iteration. Surprisingly enough, the most significant impact isn't the ride - it's good, but not a significant step above the competition - but a feature it allows that we'll discuss a bit later in this review.

To move all this mass around, the Expedition relies on a three-valve version of the trusty 5.4L SOHC V8, with Ford's new six-speed automatic gear changer channeling that power to the ground via the ControlTrac 4WD system. Options for operation in 2WD, Automatic, and both high-range and low-range modes in 4WD are selected via a dial on the dashboard, and the operation is instantaneous and free of noise. The first two modes will be the only ones that matter to most users, but should the urge strike one to take a jaunt off-road, it's nice to know that the running gear is properly sorted-out for such an adventure (even if the wheel/tire package isn't). The minimum ground clearance of 8.7 inches is workable, although the long wheelbase means that high-centering remains a constant concern.



Step up on the nonessential running boards and climb into the interior and one finds that the Expedition has a bit of a personality disorder. The seats are covered in soft, high-quality perforated leather (ours had an attractive two-tone scheme, and were equipped with both heating and cooling), and the carpet felt like expensive stuff. But then there's the instrument panel, which was apparently an attempt to demonstrate the full array of colors and textures available to Ford Motor Company. Few surfaces share the same color, sheen, or grain, and the result is the sort of parts-bin appearance that we hoped that Detroit had abandoned last decade. This is disappointing, because some of these parts are rather nice, and the bits were all assembled together well. All the interior needs is bit of consistency in implementation.



The integrated navigation and entertainment system worked great, although we'd prefer that it wouldn't lock out certain attention-intensive nav functions (such as address entry) when the vehicle was moving, as it also precludes the passenger from utilizing the unit's full functionality. The system proved easy and intuitive to use, and just as important, the sound quality was excellent for a non-boutique factory system. The steering wheel provides comprehensive control over both the radio and HVAC systems, and our only complaint is that the size of the buttons makes gloved use somewhat difficult.



Moving further towards the rear of the cabin, the Expedition quickly distinguishes itself from potential competitors. With the flat load floor afforded by the low-slung rear suspension (there isn't even the typical transmission/driveshaft "hump" down the center) and a generous amount of usable headroom, this vehicle has the sort of open feel normally experienced only in vans. When it's time to load up cargo instead of people, both rows fold to produce a flat load floor. Simply stated, it's the best seating system available in a body-on-frame SUV.



When it was finally time to hit the road, we twisted the key and were greeted with an exhaust note that sounded as if it were transplanted straight from the Mustang GT. Sure, it's a bit attenuated, but there's no mistaking that Ford mod-motor sound. Better yet, that same attitude comes through strongly at WOT, and the acceleration is strong if not breathtaking. Things are well-behaved during normal cruising, though, and the engine has a refined sound and feel. The transmission behaves itself through all of this, and uses its well-spaced ratios to pop off shifts with a good compromise between quickness and smoothness. On occasion, it did seem like the vehicle was attempting to pull off second-gear starts, and that usually resulted in the necessary application of additional throttle and a corresponding downshift. This seems to subvert the goal of saving fuel, and so we'd suggest that future models eschew this technique. Considering the curb weight of three tons and our mix of driving, we weren't disappointed when we achieved 16.0 MPG over the course of the test.



The driving dynamics are quite good when unloaded, and the Expedition EL in fact makes for a wonderful highway cruiser when carrying people or light cargo. The steering wheel provided good feedback while offering appropriate isolation from pavement irregularities, the stiff structure works with the well-damped suspension to provide a controlled ride, and the disc brakes at all four corners resulted in a firm pedal and linear stopping characteristics. The visibility is about what one would expect when sitting somewhere in the middle of a nineteen-foot long vehicle, so plan on learning how to use the mirrors. Loading it up to the limits of the GVWR with some patio blocks took the bloom off the rose, though; the auto-leveling rear suspension didn't compensate well for the additional poundage, and the big SUV generally acted like it was quite unhappy performing any hard labor.

Our springtime test meant that Mother Nature threw everything in her arsenal at us, but as the temp dropped from 60F down past the freezing point in a period of a few hours, the resultant freezing rain and snow were no match for the automatic 4WD mode and standard AdvanceTrac stability system. We failed to fully evaluate the Rollover Stability Control; we're thankful for that, and you'll just have to take Ford's word that it works.



Ultimately, where does the Expedition EL stack up against the current competition? It really comes down to intended usage. Our experience says that the GM duo is happier hauling heavy loads (and the Excursion remains in a class of its own), but when it comes to moving people, there is absolutely no contest - the Expedition is the clear winner. The issues noted above become minor quibbles when compared to the ease in which passengers of all sizes can take a seat, and we think this feature will allow the Expedition to charm those buyers that need to move around suburban armies.

 

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Top 10 cities in which NOT to speed

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Few moments in life are less welcomed than when a sprightly sprint in your automobile is cut short by flashing red lights in your rear-view mirror. In that moment, you know that you're out well over $100, you'll have to take time off work for court, and your insurance is likely to go up by 10-percent or more.

The Speed Trap Exchange was created to alert drivers of speed traps, and to tip off locations where traffic patrols are heaviest. The folks over at Speed Trap compiled a list of the ten worst places in the US in which not to speed based on the input of over 10,000 site users. Lucky for me, my hometown of the Detroit Suburbs took the number one spot. Hit the jump to view all top 10 sites, and let us know if you know of an area where speed traps run ramped.

[Source: Forbes]

Top 10 US sites with speed traps (from speedtrap.org)
1. Detroit, Mich. suburbs
2. Colorado Springs, Colo.
3. Houston, Texas
4. Orlando, Fla.
5. Nashville, Tenn.
6. Ann Arbor, Mich.
7. Albuquerque, N.M.
8. Washington, D.C.
9. Denver, Colo.
10. Virginia Beach, Va.

 

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