2008 Ford Focus:



2008 Ford Focus: Named one of the “Top Ten Coolest New Cars Under $18,000” by the editors of Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com


* Nearly 40 percent of the Ford Focus units sold during the past five months included SYNC. SYNC-equipped vehicles sell nearly twice as fast as those without.
* Ford is increasing Focus production for 2008 by nearly 30 percent to 245,000 units to meet customer demand

“There is a combination of things that make the new Ford Focus sedan and coupe cool,” said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com. “The styling is cool. Focus is a good-looking car. The handling is cool. It handles more like a European car than many small cars we see here in the U.S. And, of course, we think the Ford SYNC™ technology is very cool.”

Sam De La Garza, Focus Brand Manager, says he was excited – but not surprised – to learn that Focus is among the “Top Ten Coolest New Cars Under $18,000.”

“We are honored to be recognized by Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com again this year and are thrilled that more people are discovering all the great things about the Focus,” he said. “People who drive a Focus, especially those who haven’t driven a Ford before, are impressed by its high quality, standard safety features and the smart technology available in the car.”

Nerad says more than 40 vehicles were considered for this year’s list based on pricing under $18,000 by Kelley Blue Book’s New Car Blue Book Values (what consumers are actually paying for the vehicle). The Focus came in at $14,942. The kbb.com editors used the same criteria that consumers draw on when buying a car – safety, fuel economy, interior size, comfort, technology and the fun-to-drive factor – to determine which vehicles rated a spot among the exclusive “Top Ten.”

“We use our combined knowledge of the industry, these individual vehicles and our own definitions of cool to whittle the list down to 10,” said Nerad. “Cool is one of those things that’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.”

The newly redesigned Focus has been a hot seller since it first launched last October. Retail sales were up 35 percent in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the same period last year, and due to such strong consumer demand for the vehicle, Ford is increasing Focus production for 2008 by nearly 30 percent to 245,000 units

“I think we all underestimated just how well the car would do,” said George Pipas, Ford’s U.S. Sales Analysis Manager. “It’s far outpacing the growth in a growing small car market.”

According to Pipas, 30 percent of Focus sales so far are to customers between the ages of 16 and 35.

“These young car buyers are crucial to our future growth,” he said. “The small car market is where 50 percent of first-time buyers under the age of 30 go for their first car, so if you miss them – if they go to another franchise – the chances are those brands are going to keep those customers.”

In addition to delivering an impressive 35 miles per gallon, the all-new Focus is attracting younger buyers with a new look – both inside and out. The exterior design includes a new chrome two-bar grille, fog lamps, headlamps, tail lamps, hood, rear deck lid, fenders and doors, chrome fender appliqués and 16-inch wheel offerings.

The modern new interior includes ambient lighting that allows drivers to personalize the interior lighting of the car with seven colors to choose from, and SYNC, the hands-free voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment technology that integrates Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and digital music players.

According to Nerad, SYNC is a big draw for the younger set. “The kind of connectivity offered with SYNC is very important to the generation that grew up on the computer, with Apple iPods and other music devices,” he said.

The 2008 Focus also offers an impressive list of safety features, such as standard six air bags – including dual-stage driver and passenger front air bags, seat-deployed side air bags for driver and front passenger and roll-fold technology side curtain rollover airbags – ABS with traction control and a tire pressure monitoring system.

“We look at both passive and active safety features when we’re compiling our list of the ‘Top Ten Coolest New Cars Under $18,000,’ ” said Nerad. “From both sides of the safety coin, the Focus is a strong performer.”


About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles in 200 markets across six continents. With about 245,000 employees and about 100 plants worldwide, the company’s core and affiliated automotive brands include Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo and Mazda. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford’s products

2008 Ford Focus:



2008 Ford Focus: Named one of the “Top Ten Coolest New Cars Under $18,000” by the editors of Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com


* Nearly 40 percent of the Ford Focus units sold during the past five months included SYNC. SYNC-equipped vehicles sell nearly twice as fast as those without.
* Ford is increasing Focus production for 2008 by nearly 30 percent to 245,000 units to meet customer demand

“There is a combination of things that make the new Ford Focus sedan and coupe cool,” said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com. “The styling is cool. Focus is a good-looking car. The handling is cool. It handles more like a European car than many small cars we see here in the U.S. And, of course, we think the Ford SYNC™ technology is very cool.”

Sam De La Garza, Focus Brand Manager, says he was excited – but not surprised – to learn that Focus is among the “Top Ten Coolest New Cars Under $18,000.”

“We are honored to be recognized by Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com again this year and are thrilled that more people are discovering all the great things about the Focus,” he said. “People who drive a Focus, especially those who haven’t driven a Ford before, are impressed by its high quality, standard safety features and the smart technology available in the car.”

Nerad says more than 40 vehicles were considered for this year’s list based on pricing under $18,000 by Kelley Blue Book’s New Car Blue Book Values (what consumers are actually paying for the vehicle). The Focus came in at $14,942. The kbb.com editors used the same criteria that consumers draw on when buying a car – safety, fuel economy, interior size, comfort, technology and the fun-to-drive factor – to determine which vehicles rated a spot among the exclusive “Top Ten.”

“We use our combined knowledge of the industry, these individual vehicles and our own definitions of cool to whittle the list down to 10,” said Nerad. “Cool is one of those things that’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.”

The newly redesigned Focus has been a hot seller since it first launched last October. Retail sales were up 35 percent in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the same period last year, and due to such strong consumer demand for the vehicle, Ford is increasing Focus production for 2008 by nearly 30 percent to 245,000 units

“I think we all underestimated just how well the car would do,” said George Pipas, Ford’s U.S. Sales Analysis Manager. “It’s far outpacing the growth in a growing small car market.”

According to Pipas, 30 percent of Focus sales so far are to customers between the ages of 16 and 35.

“These young car buyers are crucial to our future growth,” he said. “The small car market is where 50 percent of first-time buyers under the age of 30 go for their first car, so if you miss them – if they go to another franchise – the chances are those brands are going to keep those customers.”

In addition to delivering an impressive 35 miles per gallon, the all-new Focus is attracting younger buyers with a new look – both inside and out. The exterior design includes a new chrome two-bar grille, fog lamps, headlamps, tail lamps, hood, rear deck lid, fenders and doors, chrome fender appliqués and 16-inch wheel offerings.

The modern new interior includes ambient lighting that allows drivers to personalize the interior lighting of the car with seven colors to choose from, and SYNC, the hands-free voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment technology that integrates Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and digital music players.

According to Nerad, SYNC is a big draw for the younger set. “The kind of connectivity offered with SYNC is very important to the generation that grew up on the computer, with Apple iPods and other music devices,” he said.

The 2008 Focus also offers an impressive list of safety features, such as standard six air bags – including dual-stage driver and passenger front air bags, seat-deployed side air bags for driver and front passenger and roll-fold technology side curtain rollover airbags – ABS with traction control and a tire pressure monitoring system.

“We look at both passive and active safety features when we’re compiling our list of the ‘Top Ten Coolest New Cars Under $18,000,’ ” said Nerad. “From both sides of the safety coin, the Focus is a strong performer.”


About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles in 200 markets across six continents. With about 245,000 employees and about 100 plants worldwide, the company’s core and affiliated automotive brands include Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo and Mazda. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford’s products

Car Trends: Small SUVs and Well-Equipped Compacts




Ford received a small bit of good news recently — sales of its Focus compact car (pictured above) were up 24 percent for the month of March 2008. Honda saw sales of its Fit subcompact increase as well, by more than 73 percent. Sales of the Nissan Altima and Honda Civic also were up, by 14 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Those were among the few bright spots in auto sales over the past few months. Sales of trucks and SUVs tanked, as car buyers continued to migrate away from larger vehicles to smaller, more fuel-efficient sedans and coupes. It’s easy to understand why, which gas prices soaring into the stratosphere. And it naturally leaves some automakers (such as Honda and Toyota) in better positions than others.

This shift in car-buying patterns has automakers scrambling to rejigger their fleets, and some are doing that more successfully than others. Ford, for instance, actually posted a profit for the first quarter of 2008 (due in part to the fact that the company has trimmed its work force substantially and has plans to shut down some shifts at truck plants). And all automakers are eyeing smaller, more efficient cars.

Ford, for instance, has plans to expand its fleet of small cars in 2009 with the addition of the new Fiesta, which Ford calls its first “global” small car. Recently unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show, the Fiesta will be powered by a range of fuel-efficient engines and bring “big car features to the small car segment,” according to Ford.

That’s a trend we’ll be seeing more of in the years to come, as automakers add luxury-oriented features like innovative sound systems to their smaller cars in an effort to attract new buyers. For instance, Ford has added its new Sync feature to some Focus trims, and upcoming trims of the Chevy Cobalt are expected to come equipped with audio systems that include USB ports, so drivers can plug portable thumb drives into their car stereos, adding a new functionality that will make it easier for drivers to take their favorite songs with them wherever they go.

Don’t expect automakers to completely abandon SUVs, however, but you can expect SUVs to become smaller and more efficient. Audi, for instance, just unveiled its new Q5 SUV at the Beijing Auto Show (although to us it looks more like a crossover vehicle or a hunky wagon than an SUV). Powered by a range of fuel-efficient engines and featuring permanent all-wheel-drive, the Q5 will measure about 15 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 5.4 feet high, giving it a smaller overall footprint than many other SUVs. Audi calls it “an SUV of all-new proportions,” and notes that it will be “sportier than any of its competitors.” Whether it will prove a hit with buyers seeking smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Mazda2 Heads List of World’s Top Cars




Following the announcement of the World Green Car at the New York Auto Show last month, World Car of the Year awards were handed out in a number of other categories, including World Design of the Year, World Performance Car, and the overall Car of the Year.

Top honors went to the Mazda2 (above), which was selected as the 2008 Car of the Year by a panel of 47 automotive journalists, out of an initial field of 39 entries. Completely redesigned for 2008, the Mazda2 made its debut at the Geneva Auto Show, and initially will be sold in the United Kingdom and Europe, as well as in Japan, where it’s known as the Mazda Demio. According to reports, the Mazda2 will be available in the U.S. in 2009 with some minor tweaking, although it will be rebadged as the Ford Fiesta.

The Mazda2 supermini car, similar in size to such cars as the Toyota Yaris, features a sporty, aerodynamic exterior design, a three-spoke steering wheel, white instrument gauges, and an all-new center console. It’s powered by 1.3-liter and 1.5-liter gas engines, as well as a turbocharged diesel, although U.S. powerplants have yet to be determined. The lightweight five-door hatchback has been designed to handle nimbly in traffic, thanks to electric power-assisted power steering and a short-throw gear shift. And despite its compact size, the Mazda provides plenty of storage spaces inside for all types of gear. Two trims are currently available — the TS2 and the Sport.

The top three finalists for the Car of the Year also included the Ford Mondeo and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, while the Cadillac CTS, the Volvo C30, and the Audi R8 were among the other contenders.

While the 2008 Audi R8 (above) didn’t take top honors, it was singled out by the awards committee as the World Design of the Year, as well as the World Performance Car of the Year. Not bad for a consolation prize.

Archive for the 'Hybrid Cars' Category


A Look Down the Road: 2009 and Beyond


A sluggish auto sales market hasn’t stopped automakers from moving ahead with new and innovative offerings. So what can we expect to see for 2009 and beyond? A quick tour around automakers’ websites whets our appetite, and gives us plenty to look forward to as we motor on toward the second decade of the 21st century.

Lexus, for instance, has been showing off its LF (for L-finesse) line of concept cars, including the LF-X crossover vehicle (above), which features a fluid, unadorned exterior and an “athletic” chassis built for performance, according to Lexus. A 300-horsepower, 4.3-liter V8 engine powers the LF-X, while the interior evokes a luxury feel, with three rows of seating and “driver-oriented” instrumentation. Lexus sees the LF series a new design trend for the automaker, though no word yet on if or when the vehicles will be available in showrooms.

Chrysler still sees a future in full-size SUVs, though its 2009 Aspen HEMI Hybrid, coming this fall, demonstrates that the automaker has made a commitment to more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Aspen HEMI Hybrid will feature a two-mode hybrid system. In the first mode, for lower speeds, the SUV can operate with the electric motor only, the gas engine only, or a combination of the two, which helps conserve fuel. The second mode kicks in at higher speeds, when the SUV runs on the 5.7-liter gas V8 engine with assistance from the electric motor, which improves passing and acceleration and again helps to conserve fuel. Chrysler notes that the powerplant can improve fuel economy by up to 40 percent.


Dodge will offer the same two-mode hybrid system in its 2009 Durango HEMI Hybrid (above), also scheduled for sale this fall, and Chevrolet plans to use a similar system for its 2009 Silverado Hybrid.

Meanwhile, Honda announced this week that it plans to offer a dedicated hybrid car similar to Toyota’s Prius. Honda currently sells its popular Civic in a hybrid version, but the newly announced car, a five-door, five-passenger compact, will be available only as a hybrid, which Honda hopes will raise the car’s profile and give the automaker a chance to catch up to Toyota in the hybrid marketplace.

Honda also has high hopes for its Fit subcompact (above), which receives an updated design for 2009. Available later this year, the all-new 2009 Fit will feature a new 1.5-liter, four-cylinder i-VTEC engine, an MP3/iPod-compatible audio system, dual-stage front airbags, side curtain airbags, and an available five-speed automatic with paddle shifters, so drivers can manually run through the gears. It’s a glowing example that automakers are trying to think outside the box when planning the vehicles we’ll be seeing in showrooms later this year and well into the next one.





Reduce Your Car’s Carbon Footprint


These days, most drivers are aware of the fuel efficiency of their cars. They have a general sense of the miles per gallon they get, and they know how that mileage impacts their wallets, especially when they pull up to the gas pump. But are you aware of your car’s carbon footprint, and how its carbon footprint can contribute to air pollution in your area and the environment as a whole?

According to the EPA, a carbon footprint is a measure of “a vehicle’s impact on climate change in tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually.” In simpler language, it’s a measure of a car’s emissions. Automotive emissions have been a concern for decades, especially in regions like Southern California, where car emissions have contributed to extensive amounts of air pollution in cities like Los Angeles. Other cities with air-quality problems include Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Sacramento, and Cleveland. In addition, carbon dioxide can affect the ozone in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

So how can you determine your car’s carbon footprint? The EPA makes it simple by rating every car according to the tons of carbon it emits annually. Generally, a car’s carbon footprint relates directly to its fuel efficiency, with the burning of one gallon of gasoline contributing to 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That means fuel-efficient cars like the Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic Hybrid (above), the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and the Ford Escape Hybrid have low carbon footprints. According to the EPA, the Prius emits 4 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the Honda Civic Hybrid emits 4.4 tons, the Camry Hybrid emits 5.4 tons, and the Ford Escape Hybrid emits 6.6 tons annually.

Similarly, compact and sub-compacts like the Toyota Yaris (5.7 tons), the MINI Cooper (5.7 tons), the Toyota Corolla (5.9 tons), and the Ford Focus (6.6 tons) also have relatively low carbon footprints. On the high end, the Lincoln Town Car emits 10.2 tons per year, the Audi S6 emits 11.4 tons, the Ford Explorer 4WD emits 12.2 tons, the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG emits 13.1 tons, and the Bentley Arnage RL emits 16.6 tons annually.

Obviously, the best way to reduce your car’s carbon footprint is to choose a more efficient car when you’re purchasing a new vehicle. However, no matter which car you drive, you can take certain measures to reduce your car’s carbon footprint. For instance, you can keep the tires properly inflated, change your air filter regularly, avoid sudden acceleration, keep the air conditioning turned off as much as possible, and keep the car at 55 miles per hour on the highway. Of course, you could also car pool to work, ride a bike, or take public transportation whenever possible.

Finally, in a recent meeting with top automotive executives in an attempt to reduce car emissions, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger identified a number of strategies that go “beyond the tailpipe,” according to the San Diego Times-Union. These strategies include synchronizing traffic signals so cars idle less, equipping more cars with GPS systems to they can avoid congested areas, and removing older, less efficient cars from the roads. All good ideas — and all valid goals as drivers, automakers, and governments work together to reduce carbon emissions.



2009 Cadillac Escalade Goes Green



GM calls it “responsibility without sacrifice,” and perhaps that’s the best way to describe the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, which recently made an appearance at the Dallas Auto Show. The quest for fuel efficiency has reached all the way to the top of automakers’ lineups, and even vehicles with long-standing reputations as gas guzzlers are cleaning up their acts, as the new Escalade Hybrid demonstrates. GM goes so far to call the Escalade Hybrid the world’s first large luxury hybrid SUV.

Like many hybrid vehicles, the Escalade Hybrid uses a two-mode hybrid system, which switches between an electric motor and a 332-horsepower, 6.0-liter V8 gas engine as the vehicle’s speed and power requirements vary. When the Escalade stops at a traffic light or slows in traffic, the gas engine shuts down and the SUV runs on the electric motor to conserve fuel. As the Escalade accelerates, it transitions to both the electric motor and gas engine, and under heavy acceleration or when full power is required, the SUV will run solely on the gas engine. This configuration results in a 45 percent improvement in fuel economy in the city, according to GM, although official mileage estimates from the EPA aren’t available yet.

Regenerative braking, which captures energy whenever the brakes are applied, keeps the on-board battery charged. The Escalade also comes equipped with Active Fuel Management, the first for a Cadillac. The system will shut down four of the engine’s eight cylinders, even at highway speeds, if they’re not required, improving fuel economy even more.

A full-color touch-screen Navigation Radio displays information about the hybrid system, and also displays the standard rear-view camera as well as controls for the Bose 5.1 surround-sound audio system and tri-zone automatic climate control. Nuance leather-covered seats and a power-assisted rear liftgate, which operates at the touch of a button, will be among the Escalade Hybrid’s other standard features.

The exterior design will retain the Escalade’s distinctive grille and chrome accents. Both two-wheel and four-wheel-drive trims will be available when the Escalade Hybrid goes on sale this summer.


New Electric Cars Power Up


With gas prices inching higher every week, and predictions of four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline in the not-too-distant future, it’s not surprising that drivers are starting to look for alternatives. Hybrids have been receiving lots of press lately, but electric cars have been making news as well.

Last month, Subaru displayed its R1e electric car (above) at the New York Auto Show, and announced that two R1e vehicles will join the New York Power Authority fleet as part of a U.S. testing program. About 40 of the electric vehicles are currently in use in Japan, and Subaru plans to test an additional 100 cars in Japan in 2009. No word yet if or when the cars will be available in U.S. showrooms.

The two-seat R1e employs the latest electric-motor technology, including a fast-charge lithium ion battery that can take quick or partial charges without a decrease in battery life. In fact, it can be charged to 80 percent capacity in just 15 minutes, or fully charged overnight. The R1e, which Subaru envisions as an urban car, has a range of up to 50 miles on a single charge and a top speed of 65 miles per hour.

The R1e joins a growing list of electric cars that are in various stages of development. California-based ZAP, for instance, recently announced that it expect to start selling its three-wheel Alias electric car sometime in 2009, and has started taking reservations on its website. (The company is charging a $5,000 reservation fee for the $32,500 car.) The automaker notes that the two-seater will have a range of 100 miles on a single charge, a top speed of around 100 miles per hour, and reasonably quick acceleration, jumping out from 0 to 60 in 7.7 seconds. It’s one of a number of electric cars, including the Xebra sedan and truck, the automaker hopes to eventually offer to car buyers.

Tesla recently started production of its electric-powered two-passenger Roadster, which will run for 220 miles on a charge, and accelerate from 0 to 60 in just 3.9 seconds. The entire 2008 production run has sold out, and the company is currently taking reservations for the 2009 model year. The automaker also plans to add a five-passenger sport sedan in 2010.

Finally, across the pond, U.K.-based Lightning Car Company has started taking reservations for its super-sleek, electric-powered GTS Roadster, which has a top speed of more than 130 miles per hour. A high-efficiency Hi-Pa electric drive, developed in Great Britain, powers the GTS. The powerplant also include NanoSafe batteries, which can be charged in about 10 minutes and deliver more power per unit than conventional lithium batteries, according to the automaker.

Features include an antilock braking system, traction control, regenerative braking, a satellite navigation system, and leather interior trim. You can reserve yours by visiting the automaker’s website and plunking down 15,000 pounds (just under $30,000 dollars). And may we suggest Electric Lightning Blue for the exterior color. It seems appropriate.

Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.


Safest, Greenest, Meanest Cars for 2008


What do the 2009 Nissan Murano, the 2008 Honda Civic GX, and the 2008 diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg have in common? They’ve all been singled out for recognition in various automotive categories — some good, some not so good.

First, the good news. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit research institute based in Arlington, Va., has named the 2009 Nissan Murano (above) the Top Safety Pick for 2008. The Murano performed best in front, side, and rear crash tests out of a field of nine mid-sized, four-door SUVs tested. Redesigned for 2009, the Murano now includes electronic stability control as a standard feature, which helped it claim top honors in the competition. It also excelled in protecting passengers from whiplash injury in rear-end crashes, and in protecting the head, chest, and abdomen in side crashes.

The Mazda CX-7 and CX-9 SUVs, as well as the Mitsubishi Endeavor, earned good ratings in the crash tests, while the Jeep Liberty, Jeep Wrangler, and Kia Sorrento came in at the bottom end of the scale.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, an independent, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C., has assigned environmental scores to all 2008 cars and passenger trucks, and has named the natural gas-powered 2008 Honda Civic GX as the “greenest” car of the year. The innovative Civic GX, which has won this award for five consecutive years, has a 113-horsepower i-VTEC engine that runs on compressed natural gas (which can be refueled at home) and is a near-zero-emissions vehicle.

The Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Smart Fortwo Convertible, and Toyota Yaris joined the Civic GX in the top five greenest vehicles for 2008.

At the opposite scale, the diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg was named the “meanest” vehicle for 2008, meaning that it’s the most environment-unfriendly vehicle. Diesel-powered cars from Mercedes-Benz, as well as a number of the world’s top exotic supercars, such as the Bugatti Veyron and the Bentley Azure, also received poor environmental marks.

Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.

More Hybrids on the Way for 2009



Thanks to new fuel-efficiency standards enacted by Congress at the end of last year and scheduled to take affect during the next decade or so, automakers have started to drastically rethink their future fleets. General Motors, for instance, has cancelled its plans for a new double-overhead-cam V8 engine that was originally intended to replace the Northstar, which currently powers some of the automaker’s Cadillacs. Other automakers have taken similar steps, turning to turbocharged V6 engines in place of V8s for some future models.

At the same time, many automakers, including GM, have been fast-forwarding their hybrid engine programs. Hybrids made a big splash at the Detroit Auto Show, which just completed its run, and more will debut at the Chicago Auto Show, which kicks off later this week (public show dates for the Chicago show are Feb. 8-17). GM in particular will unveil two new hybrid trucks — the 2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid and the GMC Denali XT, a car/truck combo (think the old El Camino) based on the Australian Holden Ute, the stylish utility vehicle from Down Under.

The 2009 GMC Sierra Hybrid (above) follows in the tire tracks of its hybrid stablemates, the Chevy Tahoe and Silverado and the GMC Yukon Hybrids. Like those trucks, the Sierra Hybrid comes equipped with GM’s two-mode hybrid system (introduced in the 2008 Yukon), which includes an electric motor and a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery (located beneath the rear seat). The electric motor alone can power the Sierra up to 30 miles per hour, even when the truck is towing a trailer. Beyond 30 miles per hour, the truck’s 6.0-liter Vortec V8 engine takes over. Together, the hybrid combo results in a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency in the city and 25 percent improvement overall, when compared to non-hybrid models, according to GM.

The Sierra Hybrid also comes with a number of components designed to improve aerodynamics, reduce drag, and ensure quiet performance, including a chin spoiler, tonneau cover, low-resistance tires, new exhaust system, electrically driven air conditioning compressor, and electrically driven power steering. The Sierra Hybrid will be manufactured in Canada and available in both two- and four-wheel-drive trims when it goes on sale later this year.

The GMC Denali XT will be an all-new beast when it hits North American shores, and there’s no doubt that it’s a good-looking one at that. It certainly fills a hole in the market, but fits right in during this age of crossover vehicles and retro PT Cruisers. GM has owned Australian automaker Holden since the early 1930s, and has started to draw more and more on Holden’s sporty designs (the Pontiac G8, which debuts this year, is actually a rebadged Holden Commodore).

The rear-wheel-drive Denali XT features unibody architecture and comes with the two-mode hybrid engine, which includes a 4.9-liter V8 gas engine that can run on E85 fuel (a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline). The result is a sleek sport utility truck (or SUT, as GM calls it) that offers a 50 percent increase in fuel economy when compared to a standard gas-powered small truck. The Denali XT will also come with a height-adjustable suspension and a Midgate behind the rear seats that can be lowered to increase cargo capacity. The Denali XT is still in the concept vehicle stage, but we can only hope we see it on North American roads sooner rather than later.





Feeling Good About Looking Good



Getting on the good side of the cosmic universe and earning environmental karma points for the future might have fueled the naming of the Fisker Karma, a new eco-friendly, electric hybrid sports sedan designed by Danish-born, American-based Henrik Fisker. This is the design guy behind some of the stylish Aston Martins and the BMW Z8, and the company itself made its name by restyling Mercedes and BMWs. This impressive legacy has clearly influenced the design of the sexy, curvy, low-slung Karma.

Karma points come from the plug-in hybrid engine. Dubbed Q-DRIVE because of the involvement of Quantum Technologies, the Fisker Karma powertrain claims to go further on one charge than the upcoming Chevy Volt. The lithium ion battery lasts for 50 miles before the four-cylinder gas engine kicks in. This engine regenerates the battery and increases driving distance to 620 miles. If it actually meets its goals of production-ready vehicles by 2009, Fisker will be the first on the scene with a workable lithium ion hybrid, assuring the public it has worked out the overheating problems that have plagued this technology in the past.

With the flip of a switch on the steering wheel, the driver can choose between the two different power sources. The economic Stealth Drive uses only the electric motor, while the Sports Mode combines the engine and motor for that extra power and endurance. Thanks to the use of lightweight aluminum for body materials, top speeds in Sports Mode will peak at 125 mph, and Fisker is touting a 0-60 time around 5.8 seconds. It ain’t no Porsche Carrera, but never has helping the environment felt so fabulous.

To enhance handling and lower the center of gravity, the battery packs will be centered between the two axles. An optional solar roof panel extends the eco-friendly character — it helps regenerate the battery as well as maintain a comfortable interior temperature when the car is parked. And this electric sports car has received the ultimate green seal of approval. One of the first people to express his desire for one? Al Gore.

But don’t let that deter you from buying one. Even with all this green street cred, the Karma is far from nerdy. It has not neglected one of the most important reasons people buy a sports car — killer looks. Based on the response at its unveiling at the , the Karma seems to deliver with its sexy curvilinear profile, high front fender arches hiding 22-inch wheels, wide stance, low ride height, extended hood, and short rear overhang. James Bond would not be embarrased to steal one from a casino.

Here’s the catch. They say karma isn’t bought, it’s earned; but in the case of this Karma, you’ll need $80,000. But with that kind of cash, you’re also guaranteed a certain degree of uniqueness. Fisker plans on producing only 15,000 of the Karmas a year. And if you’re lucky to be one of the first 99, you’ll get one autographed by Henrik himself.





Hybrids Multiply at Detroit Auto Show


Call it a sign of the times. Automakers are tripping over each other to unveil new fuel-efficient vehicles this year. For proof, just take a look at the North American International Auto Show, currently underway in Detroit. The scene is green in Detroit this year, with a wide range of fuel-efficient vehicles being shown (avert your eyes from the 620-horsepower Corvette ZR1!). In particular, three innovative new hybrid concept vehicles have taken center stage. Keep in mind these three cars aren’t slated for production yet. But they’re an indication of what’s possible from today’s automakers, and represent a step forward in innovative thinking (though there’s still a long way to go).

Design-wise, the Saturn Flextreme (above) takes top honors, thanks to its ultra-aerodynamic, egg-shaped exterior featuring gull-wing doors, which Saturn calls FlexDoors. (Very nice, as Borat would say.) Under the hood, the Flextreme combines an electric motor with a turbo-diesel engine — hence, the hybrid designation. Drivers can plug the Flextreme into regular household current to charge its onboard battery, and run the car for 34 miles on a single charge. Then the diesel engine, running on ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, kicks in to recharge the battery and in that configuration the Flextreme can run another 400 miles or so on a single tank of fuel.

Some are calling the Toyota FT-HS Hybrid Sports Concept the next Supra, though Toyota is mum on the issue. But we can certainly say the FT-HS takes the concept of a Toyota hybrid to a whole new level and gives lovers of the Prius something to save up for.

The front-engine, rear-wheel-drive FT-HS comes equipped with a tweaked version of the 3.5-liter V6 Hybrid Synergy Drive found in the Lexus GS 450h. It operates in typical hybrid fashion, with the electric motor powering the vehicle at startup and low speeds, and the V6 powerplant taking over under strong acceleration and or when more power is required. In the FT-HS, the V6 hybrid engine produces 400 horsepower (up from 292 horsepower for the GS 450h). All that power drives a vehicle designed to be light on its feet, thanks to such materials as carbon fiber and titanium, which were used for many of the car’s components.

The third hybrid of note comes from an unlikely source — Land Rover — which just shows how ubiquitous hybrids have become (can Ferrari and Lamborghini hybrids be far behind?). Called the LRX Cross Coupe, the hybrid concept vehicle features a lightweight body like the FT-HS as well as a powerplant that combines an electric motor and a fuel efficient 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine that together eke out a very respectable 50 miles per gallon. That’s a pretty stunning mpg figure for an SUV, especially one that looks and (we would expect) performs like a Land Rover. We realize that, for the time being, these three hybrids are only concepts, but with vehicles like these on the drawing boards (and given the high cost of gasoline today), the future can’t arrive fast enough.


The Big 3


There’s a new Big Three coming out of Detroit in the future, but these guys are centered all within Chrysler. At the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, Chrysler debuted three new electric car concepts with appeal for a variety of consumer segments. The Dodge ZEO is geared towards performance enthusiasts, the off-road Jeep Renegade, and the stylish sedan-like Chrysler ecoVoyager. All three have a different type of electric powertrain featuring zero emissions and regenerative braking, with the ZEO fully electric and the other two fuel-assisted. Mind you, these are only concepts, and a lot is riding on the lithium ion battery technology that is still in its infant stages of development, but it does show a commitment to broaden the electric car audience, aimed at those wanting to remain eco-friendly without sacrificing comfort, looks, and performance.

The (pictured above), which stands for Zero Emissions Operation, is fully electric, powered by a 64 kwh lithium ion battery and 200 kw electric motor with 268-hp. The rear-wheel drive sports wagon hits top speeds of 130 mph, with a 0-60 time under six seconds. The battery maintains its charge for 250 miles. A raised rear beltine, windshield that slopes nearly the full length of the roof, and bulky 23-inch wheels give the ZEO a distinctive sporty look. Unlike other sport cars, the ZEO concept features four doors that open scissor-style, with seating for four passengers. Its nearest rival in terms of performance is the two-seater , but this electric sports car has hit some snags with its transmission and keeps pushing back its release date.


For outdoor enthusiasts who also appreciate the environment, the Jeep Renegade maintains Jeep’s reputation for superior 4WD off-road performance, but both its powertrain and materials are easy on the Earth. Its dual electric motors (one for each axle) power the car for 40 miles, but in combination with the BLUETEC 1.5-liter diesel engine, Chrysler claims the Renegade can go 400 miles on one charge, with top speeds of 110 mph. Its four-wheel drive capability, oversized wheel flares, and roofless dune buggy looks perpetuate the carefree spirit of Jeep. The foam seats and doors are soy-based, and the molded composite exterior avoids the use of harmful paint solvents, making the Renegade concept a total eco-friendly package.


Perhaps it’s a bit of a lofty statement, but Chrysler is branding its ecoVoyager concept as an “elegant American design” aimed at those looking to experience the luxury of their own “private jet.” Embodying luxurious refinement, comfort, and style for family trips, the ecoVoyager features a combination of a plug-in 200 kw electric motor and hydrogen fuel cell technology. The electric motor alone achieves 268-hp and goes for 40 miles on one charge, but the fuel cell extends that to 300 miles. Together, they propel the ecoVoyager from 0-60 in eight seconds and reach 115 mph. The powertrain setup resides under the floor to increase interior space, which is also helped by the one-box cab-forward design. A panoramic dual-pane sunroof and directional Direct Sound system improve the overall travel experience for all passengers.

Chrysler’s ENV1 team, set up to focus efforts on development of electric technology, is hard at work trying to design a lithium battery pack that can both achieve the lofty goals set by these concepts and remain affordable. The high cost of current battery technology has left the electric car languishing on the development back burner for many carmakers, who have chosen to focus instead on alternative fuel sources. If Chrysler can make it work, these may be some of the few auto show concepts that actually see the light of day.

Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.




Sneak Peeks and Rollouts for a New Year


New year, new cars. What could be better for an auto aficianado? When the North American International Auto Show, more commonly known as the Detroit Auto Show, officially kicks off next Saturday (Jan. 19), we’ll be inundated with more new cars and concepts that we can absorb. But why wait? Some automakers are getting a jump on the Detroit show by previewing their cars early, and some are even jumping the gun by showing their cars at other shows.

That’s what GM has done by debuting its Cadillac Provoq (provoke?) hydrogen-powered concept car at the Consumer Electronics Show, currently underway in Las Vegas. Typically, CES flys its geek flag by showing off the latest games and gadgets, but obviously GM saw an opportunity to make a different kind of splash and went for it. In fact, the Provoq is the first car ever to receive its unveiling at CES.

So what’s all the fuss about? Like most concept cars, the Provoq (pictured above) sports a futuristic exterior, with a streamlined roofline, a contemporary Cadillac grille, and a sculpted rear end. But of course it’s what’s inside that counts here. The Provoq features GM’s fifth-generation hydrogen fuel-cell system, which includes two 10,000-psi tanks, which feed the fuel cells under the hood that produce electricity, which is then stored in lithium-ion batteries. The Provoq can run for 20 miles on a single battery charge and an additional 280 miles with the energy provided by the fuel cells. That’s a big leap over the capabilities of GM’s current hydrogen-powered fleet.

But the Provoq is just the beginning of a wide range of vehicles set for introduction next week. Hyundai has already given us a sneak peek of its new $60,000, rear-wheel-drive 2009 Genesis luxury sedan (above), which the South Korean automaker plans to pitch alongside similar cars from Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, and Mercedes. It will come equipped with a 368-horsepower V8 engine, navigation system with eight-inch display, Bluetooth wireless communications system, high-def radio, woodgrain interior accents, heated and cooled seats, smart cruise control, and push-button start, among other features. The automaker calls it the most advanced Hyundai ever. No word yet on when it will be available. You can check out more details


Although it’s not quite as high-end, Subaru has given us a sneak peek of its 2009 Forester on its totally cool (although it helps if you read Japanese to fully appreciate the site). The Forester, which went on sale in Japan in December and will make its U.S debut in Detroit, will ride on a new platform that’s about three inches longer, with a new exterior and interior (though the jury’s still out on the new design, especially the front end — we’ll have to get back to you on that). Two new engines will supposedly be available, including a turbocharged 2.5-liter powerplant. The Forester will also feature a sturdier body structure, an upgraded suspension, side curtain airbags, and a traction control system.

Other automakers have teased new vehicles, including Toyota, which has unveiled its new 2009 Corolla. But the real big news is the 2009 Chevy Corvette ZR1, details of which were leaked by GM a few days after Christmas. The ‘09 ‘Vette will come equipped with a new 6.2-liter supercharged LS9 V8 engine that produces a whopping 620 horsepower and pushes the speedster to a top speed of around 200 miles per hour. (As Letterman used to say, hold on to your wigs and keys.) The ‘Vette will also feature a new exterior design, a new transmission, a heads-up display, a revamped braking system, and a whole lot more. Rollout is expected this summer. The line forms to the left.