News for Week of Dec. 5
The fallout from GM’s ongoing meltdown continues, with the cancellation of at least two SUV upgrades. According to Automotive News, an extensive redo of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and the GMC Envoy for mid-2007 has been stopped. Instead, the automaker will change the exterior and interior, and is likely to delay the vehicle’s introduction until early in 2008. In a nod to the decline of the big, truck-based SUV, General Motors also has plans to introduce four crossover vehicles, including the 2009 Cadillac BRX and 2009 Saab 9-4X.
The reality is that, according to the Wall St. Journal, Ford is planning to close plants in St. Louis, Atlanta and Minnesota, as well as in Canada and Mexico. Ford is also reportedly planning a major restructuring early next year. Ford folks say they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the plants open, but a loss of $284 million in the third quarter, plus the disappointing sales results of its redesigned 2006 Ford Explorer, make “whatever” quite a challenge.
It’s not all bad for Ford, however. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it has recently improved its safety scores. In fact, the Ford Five Hundred (with optional side airbags) won the Institute’s first new designation, getting a Gold award for large car. The new designation is designed to factor in the Institute’s three main types of testing: Frontal offset, side impact and head restraints. The idea, of course, is to make the rating of vehicles easier to understand. Plus, it’s fun to watch automakers chase a new safety metric. Like catching a wild chicken, it takes time and alotta squawking, but sooner or later they catch on. The ratings are based on vehicle segment and a Gold or Silver rating, Gold being best. Other vehicles to earn the new ranking include a Silver for the large Audi A6, a Gold for the mid-sized Saab 9-3 and Subaru Legacy, and Silver for the Audi A3 and A4, Chevrolet Malibu, and VW Jetta and Passat. For small cars, the Gold went to the Honda Civic sedan.
Perhaps the best way to stay safe on the road, however, is with sensible driving practices and by building vehicles with pro-active safety technology, the type of stuff that can help you avoid an accident. To that end, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended in 2004 that the federal government require data recorders on all new vehicles – but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has taken no action. That may change soon, as the data recovered would be extremely valuable in terms of safety benefits. There are, of course, privacy issues, which would derail such a plan. You’ll likely find that the roof caved in first, anyway, something advocacy groups have been yelling about for years. NHTSA’s proposed regulation – which many groups feel is inadequate – requires that a vehicle withstand the direct pressure of 2.5 times its weight, a standard which 70 percent of the current vehicles already meet. The proposal would also require more head room – and would cost automakers about 90 million dollars a year.
That’s a bit more than the going price of a 420-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, which is, by the way, priced to move quickly at a base price of $39,995. On sale in January, the SRT-8 will outrun a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, costs considerably less and, to many, looks better.
If hot rod SUVs are not your cup of tea, just wait a year or so and get in line for the new Infiniti Skyline GT-R. Straight from this year’s Tokyo Auto Show, the Skyline will be here in 2008 or ‘09 and may feature an engine that makes up to 400 horsepower. According to Automotive News, the car will retail for about $65,000, and come with a long list of luxury items. And, finally, straight from Willy Wonka’s new automotive plant in Troy, Michigan: Nissan car paint will actually repair its own scratches. According to the Associated Press, if you live in Japan and bought the available Scratch Guard Coat, your paint will repair small scratches in about a week. No word on when the clear paint will be made available in the United States, but secret Nissan sources said that the decision was between “now,” and “right now.”
Photos courtesy of the auto manufacturers