First Drives:  2011 S60, Mazda2, Juke, Optima, and Grand Cherokee
Oct20

First Drives: 2011 S60, Mazda2, Juke, Optima, and Grand Cherokee

By George Straton

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a day at a media event outside Chicago where I was able to play the automotive version of musical chairs. Over six grueling hours, I and a few dozen other media members were able to get some seat time in 30 or so newer automotive models. The following is the result of the time spent with several new-for-model year 2011 offerings which we think will have some sort of impact in the marketplace.

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Review: 2010 Volkswagen CC Sport
Oct01

Review: 2010 Volkswagen CC Sport

By George Straton

Lately auto manufacturers have become veritable Baskin Robbins outlets when it comes to product variety. Consider this past decade’s trend towards increased utility, which came at the expense of personal sporty cars. In 2004, Mercedes-Benz served up a new flavor, the “four door luxury coupe,” in the form of the CLS.  Trying to capitalize in this niche, luxury stalwarts including Audi and BMW have followed suit. Volkswagen, partly in its quest to increase global sales, offers up a variation of the flavor – the affordable four-door premium coupe – which it calls the Comfort Coupe or “CC.” Here at Autosavant, we recently spent a week in a 2010 entry-level CC Sport to see how well Volkswagen addresses the four-dour coupe issue.

Costing just $600 more than the functional-yet-conservative Passat from which it is derived, the CC is about high style. The nose is more aggressive than anything else Volkswagen manufactures, except for the not-for-North-America Scirocco sports coupe.  The beltline is quite high where it joins the sloping roof line. Frameless door windows allow more glass to brighten the cabin. While not as low-slung as the Mercedes CLS, observers claimed the CC looked longer than other cars in the segment, including the Passat. (The Passat is actually longer by a hair.)

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EV Owners Can “Juice Up” For Free in Chicago
Sep14

EV Owners Can “Juice Up” For Free in Chicago

By George Straton

Autosavant recently attended the first of what national parking facility operator InterPark claims is the dawn of a new era in vehicle parking facilities. That era is the development of a charging infrastructure for the plug in electric vehicle.

Hints coming from Nissan are that the Chicago market, where the event was held, isn’t likely to receive its first allocation of the Leaf, the first plug-in electric vehicle to be “mass” produced for the U.S. market, until the end of 2012.

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Review: 2010 Nissan 370Z 6MT Sport
Aug31

Review: 2010 Nissan 370Z 6MT Sport

By George Straton

The ancestor to this 2010 Nissan 370Z, the company’s1969 Fairlady 240Z (then branded in the U.S. as a Datsun), launched more than four decades ago, still holds a soft spot in the hearts of Nissan devotees. These enthusiasts wanted a sixth-generation Z car which was closer in spirit and form to the original 240Z, rather than what they got from the previous 350Z.  Many Z car fans claimed the 350Z car was all about go and not enough about show, lacking the true refinement and style that permits entry into the non-exotic two-seat sports car pantheon. Autosavant recently had the opportunity to spend a week with the 2010 370Z to evaluate whether the current-generation 370Z finally answers the devotees’ prayers.

When the L-shaped headlamps and tail-lamps first appeared on the new Maxima sedan in late 2008, many wondered what Nissan was thinking. With the 370Z, those tapered-back eyes provide a visual effect of elongating the hood.  The tapered rear blinkers along with an integrated rear spoiler make the rump seem far less squat and rotund than it should. Even “Godzilla,” the Nissan GT-R, donates an exterior styling cue in the form of the sculpted valley which runs the length of the center of the roof. Combined with a “shark’s grimace” air intake as well as a more cohesive integrated rear spoiler, the net styling effect is definitely more 240Z than its predecessor was.

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NUMMI – Innovations Made and Lessons Not Learned
May26

NUMMI – Innovations Made and Lessons Not Learned

By George Straton

Indeed May 21, 2010 was a historic day for the future of the electric vehicle (EV) in North America when it was announced that Tesla Motors would use a portion of the briefly shuttered Toyota Fremont California Final Assembly Plant and receive $50 million in capital from Toyota. That makes Toyota a co-investor with the not-insubstantial Daimler in the niche sports EV company.  Rumors of Tesla’s demise stemming from the divorce of the Elon Musk from his wife obviously aren’t scaring away real investors with real money.

The Fremont assembly plant was most recently and famously known by the name of New United Motor Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI), a joint venture launched by GM and Toyota in 1982. Once GM axed its Pontiac Division in 2009, and the Corolla-based Pontiac Vibe ceased production, the joint venture ended. By 1980 GM was responsible for building 50% of all cars sold in North America. Roger Smith, mocked by Director Michael Moore in the film “Roger and Me” was the General’s controversial CEO. Yet Smith had foresight. He realized that new government safety and emissions regulations, rising domestic labor costs and advances being made by the Japanese in automation and quality control could spell the end of the General’s domination of new vehicle market share.

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