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It’s that time of year, when the Toronto Maple Leafs have been eliminated once again from the playoffs; where we rapidly transition from 100cm of snow on the ground to sunny days and temperatures in the low teens within a week; and we shift from snow covered roads to construction clogged detours.

Sounds like it’s time for the New York Auto Show. Continue reading

A Long Drive Alone Saved My Life – Road & Track

A Long Drive Alone Saved My Life – Highway K – Road & Track.

John Krewson wrote an excellent column on the solitude of driving in the April edition of Road & Track magazine.  Time was, we were tethered to the outside world by an AM radio; that was about as connected as we could get.  Sure, I like to be able to dictate (hands-free, of course and always) to Siri to create a reminder to, “Take in my son’s jacket to the dry cleaner at 10am tomorrow to be mended”.  She/He/It obediently records this to my calendar, syncs it across all of my devices, and will remind me at the appointed hour to get to the dry cleaner.

As Apple debuts ‘CarPlay’ (no ‘i’ in car, I suppose), Mr. Krewson writes about the therapeutic value of driving alone, and how the occupation of your mind with “constant, low-level thinking” while driving allows the rest of your brain to process other random thoughts. Continue reading

Category Busters

As a new year begins, and the automotive press works through its “best of” lists to close out 2013, I can’t help but wonder about the year that wasn’t.  We don’t have an affordable electric vehicle that will travel more than 200km on a single charge.  We don’t have a charging system that will top up that battery in the same time as it takes to fill up an internal combustion engine powered vehicle. Continue reading

The city that never sleeps

I love New York.  Go to New York to get lost in the crowd, or be found by 10,000,000 other souls.

Like Frank Sinatra, I like to wake up in the city that never sleeps, especially to go for a run around 7:30 in the morning. Sundays are particularly quiet on the roads, which I share mainly with taxis, black cars and police cars.  Dog walkers wrangle their charges around the various poles and obstacles.  Shop keepers scrub the sidewalks outside of their establishments. The city gradually awakens to a new day. Continue reading

Los Angeles 2013 Day 2

A calm settled over the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 21.  Much of the media had exited the building, and the vehicles and booth staff were far more accessible.  A few more vehicles from the hundreds on display:

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2015 Audi A3 Sedan

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2015 Audi A3 Convertible

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The oft-rumoured, but yet to be produced e-Tron, this time in A3 form.

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The revised 2014 Hyundai Elantra

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e-Golf EV

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2015 Chevrolet Colorado, due Fall 2014

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2015 Cadillac Escalade, debuting spring 2014

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2015 Porsche Macan, due Spring 2015

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2014 Kia Soul, arriving imminently.

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Fiat 500 1957 edition

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Nissan GT-R Nismo edition

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Nissan Sentra Nismo concept

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Infiniti Q30 crossover, due 2015

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And, just because, the Bentley Flying Spur

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Bentley Mulsanne

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Bentley Flying Spur

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Bentley Flying Spur

The press conferences were entertaining.  Audi is a brand on the move.  Their sales are increasing every month, for the past 35 consecutive months.  They’re targeting sales of 200,000 units by 2018, and the A3 will help them get there.  They can leverage technology and cost savings from the Volkswagen group, as does Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini and the other marques under the Wolfsburg umbrella. Audi took a shot at Infiniti for re-booting their brand.  BMW took a shot at the early reviews of the Mercedes-Benz CLA for its quality not being at a premium level.  Porsche acknowledged the hue and cry by existing owners over the introduction of the Cayenne and the Panamera, as not being true “Porsches”.  It’s a reality that the 911 will never sell in the volumes that Porsche needs to be viable, and the Cayenne is its most successful model.  That position will be supplanted by the Macan.

Despite demonstrating fuel cell vehicles by many manufacturers over the years, Hyundai is introducing a hydrogen-powered Tucson in the spring of 2014.  It’s already on sale in the UK.  It holds all the promise of an electric vehicle, but refilling the powerplant will only take about 10 minutes and the only emission is water.  One can argue that it takes more energy to produce hydrogen than you’ll get out at the drive wheels, but we’ll leave the arguments about the energy equation of hydrogen for another day.

All-in-all, the show demonstrated optimism, and delivered an upbeat message.  The manufacturers think that the future is bright, and if car sales are any indication, so does the consumer.  I think the battle in the days ahead will not be so much the vehicles themselves, but the entire ownership experience; from the first contact with the dealership to how the customer interacts with the car.  The manufacturers that can convince their dealerships that the entire purchase life cycle must be carefully managed will be the ones that survive.

 

Los Angeles 2013 Day 1

A number of world debuts by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and others were highlights of the first day of the Los Angeles Auto Show. Among them:

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Cadillac Elmiraj concept

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Lincoln MKC small crossover SUV

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Subaru WRX

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BMW 4 Series Cabriolet

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BMW i8 EV

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Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Final Edition

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Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo concept

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Mercedes-Benz GLA small crossover SUV

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Volkswagen Cross Blue Coupe

There are more to come.  The Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Type Coupe, BMW X4 Crossover and Infiniti Q30 Crossover are on my list for photos today.

Note the emphasis on the small crossover, especially in the luxury segment.  Mercedes-Benz (GLA), BMW (X4), Lincoln (MKC), Infiniti (Q30) all have new vehicles coming.  With a new push for fuel efficient, low emission vehicles, and buyers who want to move down from their current behemoths without giving up any luxury features, the marketplace has spoken and the manufacturers are listening.  Audi has a Q3 coming, and Lexus teased a LF-NX compact crossover this past fall at the Frankfurt auto show.

I had a great conversation with a BMW designer.  We discussed the use of run-flat tires on much of the BMW line-up.  He said that they are now working with the third generation of run-flat tires, and that they are much improved and not worthy of their current reputation for a harsh ride.  He admitted that the ride is firm, and that the tires are not as compliant as regular tires.

However, he pointed out one fact that I hadn’t considered.  The safety factor.

If a run-flat tire loses air pressure on the highway, the vehicle can still be controlled and driven, albeit at a lower speed. I’m not talking about a catastrophic failure, where the tire has hit something and is badly damaged.  If you hit a sharp object and the tire is punctured, the tire will still function.  Not so with a normal tire.  He has put run-flat tires on his wife’s car.

Martin went on to tell me about the wind blocker used in the 4 Series Cabriolet.  This version of the Cabriolet has a fold-down rear seat, allowing for a much-needed pass-through from the very tiny trunk.  But, fold the rear seat forward, and you’ll find the wind blocker, neatly stowed.  It’s not in your garage or basement gathering dust. It’s kept in the car, where it’s needed.  It needs to be moved when you want to use the pass-through, but that’s a minor inconvenience.  The wind blocker is light, can be used at 200 km/h without being knocked down, and is easily installed by one person.

Martin also reiterated BMW’s commitment to quality. If the new 4 Series is any indication, this is holding true.  The last generation of 3 Series sedans and coupes seemed to suffer from hard plastics, and interiors that didn’t fit with the price paid.  BMW seems to be getting back on track.