California highway shut down due to road rage. Seriously.

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Construction SignsCalifornia's Highway 138 was such a dangerous stretch of road that local authorities had taken to calling it "Blood Alley." To improve safety conditions and make the highway better overall for everyone traversing it, the government approved a $44 million road-widening project. Now, as you all know, these types of things are huge undertakings and driver inconvenience is one of the side effects.

Most people grit their teeth and suffer through the delays without making a big deal. Sure, they'll complain about them over their morning coffees at the office, but we all do that when road work interferes with our schedules. The state allowed the road to remain open during rush hour, but with restrictions. Escort vehicles led traffic through the work zone at a slow pace, one direction at a time. Naturally, that wasn't good enough for some commuters, and they took it out on the workers.

[Source: AP via Breitbart]

Continue reading California highway shut down due to road rage. Seriously.

 

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Ford Oz to pick up Focus production in 2011

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The consumer shift away from large gas guzzling vehicles has forced auto manufacturers in Australia, the land of large RWD saloons, to rethink and realign their production plans. Ford's Aussie subsidiary is boasting that it'll be the first automaker Down Under to respond to the movement towards smaller vehicles by starting production of its own small car locally.

In 2011, production of the next-gen Ford Focus hatchback will kick off at Ford's Campbellfield plant in the Australian state of Victoria, where it'll join production of the new Falcon sedan and Territory SUV. The move will create 300 new jobs at the plant but doesn't come soon enough to save 600 workers at Ford's Geelong engine plant who last week found out the plant is closing in 2010.

Ford will build up to 40,000 units per year of the new small hatch, with 15,000 cars earmarked for export to New Zealand and South Africa, with even more countries expected to be announced closer to the beginning of production. Export deals are vital to make a good business case for Australian built cars. Both Toyota and GM Holden also export cars built on the island continent.

[Source: Ford]

Continue reading Ford Oz to pick up Focus production in 2011

 

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New Mexico Honda dealer scratches bungled sweepstakes

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We've all gotten those scratch-off direct-mailings from car dealers that, when the silver is removed, reveals that you've won an amazing prize. Excitement ensues, until you run next door to tell your neighbor only to discover he, too, had "won." The small print usually brings you back to reality with words like "off the price of a new car" or "as long as your name begins with X and you can prove birth on another planet."

But in a recent direct mail piece from Roswell Honda in New Mexico, everyone was a winner, alien genetics or not. The scratch-off sweepstakes on the gaudily-colored mailing gave every recipient $1,000 cash. A mistake? You betcha.

The ad agency behind the promotion, Force Media Group, is taking responsibility for the printing error, and is trying to make good by offering a second chance drawing to all 30,000 recipients. The grand prize is now $5,000 with 20 second place offers of $1,000. All recipients of the ad piece will get a $5 gift card and a letter from the ad agency. Force Media is also buying a full-page ad in a local newspaper to apologize and explain.

Force Media's press release is after the jump for the curious.

With Roswell Honda in need of some good PR, New Mexico might just be the place to look for good deals on new Hondas.

[Source: AdAge]

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Time Waster of the Day: Maserati GranTurismo configurator

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This is how this writer would take his GranTurismo... how would you like yours?

Oh, how these fancy online car configurators are fun. And time-sapping. The Veyron's, as you may recall, is stylish and serene, but even with the new options coming out there's still not a lot to chose from, two-tone paint schemes notwithstanding. Maseratis, meanwhile, are decidedly nowhere near as exclusive as Bugattis. The MC12 might have come close, but that supercar was offered in one color scheme and with little to no options whatsoever. The Trident marque's more "mainstream" models, meanwhile, offer buyers a seemingly endless array of color choices.

The configurator for the new GranTurismo recently went online. Head over to GranTurismo.Maserati.com and you can fantasize you're a customer spec'ing out your own GT, choosing from a seemingly endless spectrum of colors for every detail big and small, both outside and in, including the paint, brake calipers and wheel finish on the exterior, and just about every swath of leather and trim inside. Then check out your selection from every angle. All that's missing is a changeable backdrop of the marina, golf course and five-star hotel to see how it'd look in its element.

[Source: Maserati]

 

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Drivers get wet at Nurburgring F1

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Last weekend's rain soaked European Grand Prix at Germany's Nurburgring saw many of the drivers aquaplaning out of control early on in the event. Rain started in just the second lap of the race and it had to be restarted by the fourth lap due to dangerous conditions. By the time the race restarted the rain had stopped and the track dried up quickly.

Fernando Alonso managed to take the top spot on a day where it seemed that anyone could win, but even he suffered a hitch during the closing laps as he tried to overtake Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who was in first place. Massa's front wheel grazed the side of Alonso's McLaren and this led to a heated argument between the two post-race.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton was one of the drivers who slid off the track in the beginning, but he was given a lifeline when his car was lifted by crane back onto the track. A poor decision to switch to dry tires too early after the rain had stopped saw him spin out again. This left him out of contention of a podium finish, and at the end the rookie came at in 9th place.

The major disappointment was pole sitter Kimi Raikkonen being forced to retire because of mechanical problems with his Ferrari. This allowed the competent Mark Webber to cruise into the third spot to gain his first podium finish at Red Bull racing. Another disappointment were the BMW boys, with sixth placed Nick Heidfeld hitting the side of team-mate Robert Kubica and then doing the same again with Ralf Schumacher.

 

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VIDEO: Boys will be Boys...especially in a McLaren

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As far as rivalries go in Formula One, the competition between two drivers in the same team is far more intense than that between rival squads. Few have articulated that point quite as vividly as Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, the two star drivers at McLaren-Mercedes. One's a returning back-to-back world champion, and the other a wet-behind-the-ears rookie if there ever was one. But yesterday's race notwithstanding, the rookie's been acing the champion in classic style. As anyone who's been following this post-Schumacher season can tell you, it's been pretty intense.

Leave it to the Germans to lighten things up a bit. (Yeah, the Germans.) Mercedes, who, don't forget, through its Ilmor subsidiary, supplies the engines for Lewis' and Fernando's cars, put together this commercial. The video after the jump reminds us of two things: (a) a scene from that *ahem* "classic film" Days of Thunder, and (b) just how childish men can get... especially when it comes to fast cars.

[Source: Motor Authority]

Continue reading VIDEO: Boys will be Boys...especially in a McLaren

 

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Forbes takes on the 0-60

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0-60 time is the gold standard in automotive performance. It's the first thing an enthusiast looks at when presented with a car's stats, and typically trumps all others. Top speed is all but completely irrelevant in most cases, while the quarter mile is only valued in drag-racing circles. Attempts have been made to substitute something more all-encompassing, like the 0-100-0 acceleration/braking test, but it hasn't replaced the old 0-60. Lap times around a given course might be more useful for comparison, but unless every manufacturer tested on the same track, that falls to pieces. At the end of the day, 0-60 is where it's at, but as Forbes points out, it's not the most reliable or useful performance indicator.

In most cases, it takes ideal conditions - including a professional driver - to hit sixty in the time specified. As a result, some manufacturers quote conservative figures so as not to disappoint customers who can't manage the quoted time. Further confusing the situation, some automakers prefer to quote acceleration time in kilometers, but while the 0-100 km/h (62mph) standard might be very close to the mark, in acceleration times every millisecond counts.

It may be the gold standard, but even gold has its imperfections.

[Source: Forbes Autos]

 

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AutoblogGreen for 07.24.07

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Drive 'em when you get the chance, right? That was AutoblogGreen's attitude when we approached the 2008 Smart ForTwo during one of the stops in a nationwide tour to bring news of this diminutive city car to Americans. Read about our test drive.

Also, wouldn't you like to drive this all-electric car?

 

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And thus it begins: All domestics now in historic talks with UAW

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Industry insiders and analysts have been talking about the 2007 UAW contract talks since before the ink dried on the current contract. The fact is, the talks have been eagerly anticipated because the Detroit three are falling apart, with the three companies losing over $15 billion last year alone. The wait is now over as the bargaining has officially begun after GM and Ford followed Chrysler to the opening ceremonies. The car companies make no bones about wanting concessions on the healthcare front, more flexible work rules, and lower wages. The union, on the other hand, say they're not going into the talks in a "concessionary mode". Yep, the contract jockeying has begun.

[Source: Automotive News (subscription req'd)]

Continue reading And thus it begins: All domestics now in historic talks with UAW

 

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All-new Infiniti FX to debut in Geneva '08

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Our friends over at the GT Channel are in the midst of Infiniti's G37 press event, and between shrimp cocktails and the malaise of pandering PR-types, Mark Igo, the general manager and veep of Nissan's luxury arm made the announcement that a new FX is due to be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show next year.

It's a foregone conclusion that the new 3.7-liter VQ-series V6 will be making its way under the hood of many new Infiniti models, including the new G37, M37 and now, the FX37. But aside from powertrain speculation, Igo remained mum on any styling revisions that the long-in-the-tooth FX will undergo. We'll be on the floor in Geneva in March, so for now, the waiting game begins.

[Source: GT Channel]

 

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BMW confirms permanence of M3 CSL model

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Cars and NFL. Both offensive lineman and vehicles have been changing in parallel for a long time, getting bigger, stronger, and heavier. Even though the next-generation M3 grew larger and more powerful, the folks from Bavaria managed to cut weight by 7-percent versus the previous generation model. In an Inside Line interview with Gerhard Richter, vice president, BMW M Gmbh, yet another iteration of the still lighter CSL is a dead-lock guarantee. It seems BMW has figured out that people will pay more for increased agility that doesn't necessarily include monster horsepower. Now that we know the M3 CSL will always have a place in the Bimmer lineup, the only question left is when, what kind of diet we're talking about, and how much it's going to cost. We'd be happy with a run of the mill M3 until those answers become available.

[Source: Inside Line]

Gallery: 2008 BMW M3

 

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Honda Civic MUGEN Si on sale this fall

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Click image for photo gallery

Ahhh, Autumn. We love it so. The leaves change, football is in full swing, the air gets brisk, and Honda comes clean with a MUGEN for us Yanks. That's right, kids: Americans will finally be able to buy a Mugen-prepared Honda Civic this fall. Following up on the Honda Civic MUGEN Si show car that was displayed at SEMA last year, Honda has announced that the production version will go on sale in October. The Civic MUGEN Si is powered by the same 197-horsepower four-cylinder as the standard-issue Si, but the MUGEN is the beneficiary of a track-tuned suspension, lighter wheels, and a new sport exhaust. It also gets the requisite aero kit with an updated grille, skirting and new spoilers fore and aft. Inside, look for a new shift knob and a plaque. Only 1,000 Civic MUGEN Si sedans will be built for the 2008 model year (sorry, no coupes), and all will be finished in the Fiji Blue Pearl you see here. Full pricing details weren't announced, but Honda did say that the car will go for less than $30,000. Until enthusiasts here in the States are offered a Type R, this is gonna be the Civic to have. Sure, it's no Civic MUGEN RR, but it's a start.

[Source: Honda]

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Start-stop MINI due in September, diesel version to match CO2 emissions of Prius

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According to suppliers quoted by Automotive News, soon after the MINI press conference concludes in Frankfurt, buyers will be able to get their iconic runabout complete with regenerative braking and start-stop features.

Both gasoline- and diesel-powered models will be equipped with the new technology, supplied by Bosch, and the oilburning offerings will emit 104 g/km of C02, a 12-percent decrease from the standard model. As a comparison, the 1.5-liter gasoline-electric hybrid Prius produces the same amount of C02, something that should be noted by both consumers and legislators alike. Sales are set to begin this September.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]

 

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Two mean: MTM TT Bimoto hits 244mph, looks good doing it

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We've been privy to some interesting tuner creations over the years, but once you've enjoyed some seat time in a 1,000 HP Supra, tackled the bends in a turbo'd Elise and gotten The Fear piloting a Viper, everything else seems to pale in comparison. However, the be-all-end-all mod that leaves our mind reeling is when enterprising engineers decide to make a formerly FWD vehicle all-wheel-drive by throwing an engine in the boot. The folks over at MTM have done just that, and the TT Bimoto has just set a new official speed record of 393 km/h (244.2 MPH) at the Papenburg test track in Germany.

The second run, performed "under windy conditions, partial rain and temperatures of around 20 degrees centigrade" was made by the Seat Supercopa 2006 champ, Florian Gruber, and were precursors to the tuner's attempt at cracking the 400 km/h mark later this year in Nardo, Italy.

All the technical details of the TT Bimoto can be found here, but the nitty-gritty is simple: two 1.8-liter inline fours, mated to two DSG gearboxes send 740 HP down to all four wheels. Aside from the top speed run, which employed longer gear ratios, standard acceleration tests show that the Bimoto will reach 60 in under 3.5 seconds, an on to 200 km/h in approximately 9.9 seconds.

The price of insanity: 600,000 euro. For that kind of coin, we're looking forward to the Bimoto eclipsing the Veyron's top speed when it attacks the track in Italy later this year.

[Source: MTM]

 

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Clarkson and crew attempt to cross English Channel. Emphasis on attempt

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The blokes at Top Gear are in the process of planning their summer return, and last week viewers abroad got a rare glimpse into how the sausage is made.

You might recall Clarkson, Hammond and May taking on the challenge of creating their own aquatic vehicles a few seasons back (if not, the video is posted after the jump), and the results were somewhat predictable, with Clarkson capsizing, Hamster taking on more water than the laws of physics would allow, and Captain Slow rolling into the docks triumphant in his Triumph Herald.

Well, the three motoring presenters decided to pull their aqua-whips out of retirement to cross the English Channel, and again, two of the three vehicles met their demise at the bottom of the sea. According to various reports, May's Herald and Hammond's VW van went under within the first few minutes, while Jezza was able to stay afloat long enough to stroke his ever-expanding ego.

The Daily Mail article has several photos of the event, and a few choice quotes from understandably peeved Coast Guard officers.

On a related side note, Hammond reportedly ditched his 911 Carrera in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire at 3 AM yesterday, after he was stuck in traffic caused by a flood for 12 hours. Our man wasn't going to miss his daughter's birthday party, so he decided to run the 16 miles back to his home, equipped with a waterproof jacket, some running shoes and an iPod. "There was no way I was going to miss it - I'm away from home enough as it is," said Hammond, after recounting his two-and-a-half hour-long jog. Kudos to Hamster for knowing what really matters.

[Sources: Autotrader.co.uk, Daily Mail]

Continue reading Clarkson and crew attempt to cross English Channel. Emphasis on attempt

 

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VIDEO: Gullwings aplenty - 2007 Bricklin Owner's meet and a chat with Malcom Bricklin

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Bricklin owners have got it good. What other group of enthusiasts can have the founder and chief designer of their cars come and hang out with them for a weekend? Bricklin owners can, and did. From July 18th through the 22nd, the central Massachusetts city of Leominster played host to a flock of these mid-seventies gullwing GTs, and they were joined by Herb Grasse, who designed the wedgy sports car, as well as Malcolm Bricklin himself. Thirty-some cars eventually rumbled around the region and even drew some curious Deloreans out of the woodwork.

Bricklin owners are an exceptionally enthusiastic and knowedgeable group. Given the relative rarity of these sportsters, you'd assume that owners would have to be better with a wrench than your average Corvette owner. While we certainly found the owners we spoke with to have 93-octane blood, the cars themselves are based on stout, reliable and common components. Power units are AMC or Ford V8s, so big power is possible, and there were certainly several SV-1s sporting breathed-on drivetrains.

Check the jump for more and an interview with Malcolm Bricklin

Continue reading VIDEO: Gullwings aplenty - 2007 Bricklin Owner's meet and a chat with Malcom Bricklin

 

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Tread-depth test should defer to quarter, not penny

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We've always found that our tires get squirrely in the wet before they fail the old penny test for tread depth. The Tire Rack, supplier of black round things and other accessories, are suggesting that the price of your safety has appreciated by 24 cents. For years, the penny test has been a quick way to turn a common item of pocket detritus into a tread-depth gauge. Hold Abe upside down, and if the tread clears the top of his noggin, you've got at least 2/32nds of an inch of tread. When tread gets down that low, however, things start to get hairy. 2/32nds is the minimum depth that warranties on the tires will be honored, but that doesn't make it wise to cruise around on rubber that tired. We were once treated to a nasty little bit of unexpected oversteer when taking an off-camber turn downhill during a rainstorm with tires that barely passed the penny test.

The Tire Rack is encouraging drivers to use a quarter instead of a penny. Using George's melon as a guide in the same way as the penny, the minimum tread is 4/32nds, double the penny test. It could be argued that there's a lot of miles to be had during that 2/32nds delta, but your life, and that of your passengers, is far more valuable than a few miles on a set of tires. In Tire Rack tests, the "quartered" tires had significantly better grip and shorter stopping distances in the wet. The hope is that awareness will increase and lives will be saved. There's no need to wear your tires so low - it's not like they're slicks - and it's one of the cheapest measures you can take to ensure the safety of you and your cargo.

[Source: Tire Rack]

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Autoblog Project Garage: Say 'Hello' to Project MR2

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Click the pic above for a high-res image.

Our newest addition to the Autoblog Project Garage was christened in oil when the engine unceremoniously grenaded itself on our daily slog to work. Riding shotgun in the tow truck, we knew it was a blessing in disguise - Project MR2 was officially underway.

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Official detail shots of Kia Mesa leaked

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Click image for photo gallery

Kia Mesa sketchThe first teaser/detail shots of the production Kia Mesa SUV are out, and it looks like the body-on-frame truck's outward appearance is going to be close to the KCD-II Mesa concept that made its debut back in 2005 at the Detroit Auto Show. (Is it us, or does that grille look very New Tribeca/Chrysler Town & Country-ish?) Rumored to be showing up sometime in the fall in Korea and early '08 in the US, we should expect to see a 260-horsepower 3.8L V6 underhood. Spy shots that appeared earlier in the year hint at an attractive interior, and there has been speculation that a V8 will be in the mix at some point, too. We have to assume that it'll be shown at either Los Angeles or Detroit if the US release timing really is set for early '08. The biggest question might be whether or not Kia will find an audience for a big SUV in the current climate. That said, with V6 power, a snappy cabin, and assuming it's got three rows of seating, it could be positioned against the GM Lambda crossovers, which are sizable machines, themselves.

[Source: Hyundai Exchange (registration req'd) via Left Lane News]

 

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First time for everything: Maserati makes profit in Q2

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For the first time since it was purchased by the Fiat Group back in 1990, Maserati has recorded a profit. In the second quarter of this year, the Italian exotic automaker earned a €1 million trading profit, though that doesn't count special one-off items that could increase or decrease that amount. Just for reference, in Q2 2006, the brand lost €7 million.

We're actually surprised that Maserati made money without the help of the upcoming GranTurismo touring coupe, which will most certainly help the company end up for the year as a whole after we predict it starts selling like hot cakes by the end of this month. Instead, it seems the Maserati Quattroporte Automatic had the biggest impact on the brand's bottom line, helping to improve sales nearly 40% so far this year.

With the Quattroporte Automatic appealing to a wider audience, the sexy GranTurismo on deck and a cabriolet version that's certainly in the works, Maserati's future is looking much brighter than its 17-year track record of losses would suggest.

[Source: Automotive News - sub. req'd]

 

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