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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Dec 31, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Toyota tackles the last remaining sanctuary of American cars ROY NAKANO BACK SEAT DRIVING TOYOTA DOES NASCAR January 29, 2006 Manufacturer Plans to Field Camrys in 2007 Season Not content with having the largest-selling car in the country, being the envy of all the JD Power surveys, reeking hybrid havoc on the domestic brands, and being on the verge of becoming the largest car manufacturer in the world, Toyota has decided to take on the last remaining sanctuary of American cars. More than another other form of automotive competition, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) symbolizes Americana. It's right up there with Mom and apple pie. That's precisely why Toyota announced the manufacturer's plans to expand its NASCAR program by competing with cars in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series starting in 2007, fielding the Toyota Camry model. The expansion will follow three years of Toyota competing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and will result in all three of NASCAR's national series having four manufacturers competing, as Toyota will join Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford.

"NASCAR welcomes Toyota to the greatest auto racing in the world," says NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, who made the announcement on Monday at NASCAR'S Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. "Toyota's entry into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series is good for drivers, teams and the fans. This move provides for even more intense competition on the track between drivers and manufacturers, which will provide more excitement and fan interest. Toyota's entry also provides more options for drivers and teams, which will increase the competition between manufacturers." "It's a great pleasure to announce Toyota's entry into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series with the Toyota Camry," said Dave Illingworth, senior vice president and chief planning and administrative officer for Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. "Next year - 2007 - will be a special year for Toyota in more ways than one. Toyota will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in the United States, and we will be joining the NASCAR NEXTEL CUP Series, America's premier racing series," says Illingworth. "We look forward to February of 2007 when the green flag waves to start the Daytona 500 and the starting lineup features the Toyota Camry." Since 1986, Toyota has built more than 12 million vehicles in the United States. More than 6.5 million Camrys have been sold in the United States and it has been the best-selling car in America for eight of the past nine years. Camrys are built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, KY. Notwithstanding Autobytel's recent survey (see below), it appears the country has come a long way in accepting Asian-origin car makers into the automotive community. Next year, we will see if it extends into the community of NASCAR car racing. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

Geely CK: China's first import into the USA? (Mark Dapoz photo) ROY NAKANO: BSD SINOPHOBIA January 27, 2006 55 Percent of Car Shoppers Say They'd Consider Boycotting Chinese Cars At the recent North American International Auto Show, China's Geely Automotive Group generated a lot of buzz when they promised that its super low-priced Chinese-built vehicles will hit the U.S. market as early as summer 2008. But according to a survey of car shoppers by Autobytel, Geely - which means "lucky" in Chinese - may need to be just that, as will other Chinese automakers hoping to win over skeptical American car buyers in the years ahead. Seventy-three percent of the shoppers polled by Autobytel described their preconception of what a Chinese car might be like as "negative - low quality, not very stylish or safe," while only 27 percent replied "positive - inexpensive, interesting and cutting-edge." And 55 percent said they'd consider boycotting Chinese vehicles to protect American workers, while only 31 percent said they wouldn't consider boycotting (in the interest of free trade). The remaining 14 percent replied "not sure - everyone already buys Chinese products; why should vehicles be singled out?" When asked what would most likely prevent them from buying a Chinese car, 69 percent said, "I don't want to support a country with a poor human rights record that's also contributing to U.S. job losses," while 19 percent claimed quality concerns would be their biggest hurdle to buying. This aversion to buying Chinese cars, however, may be stronger in theory than in practice. For example, when asked if they would "seriously consider" buying a Chinese sedan, designed in Korea with a Toyota-designed engine, offered at less than $10,000 - which describes an actual planned Geely production vehicle - 42 percent replied "yes, why not?" 31 percent, however, responded, "no, I simply don't think I would ever buy a Chinese car or truck." Trust appears to trump price as the factor that would most influence shoppers to buy Chinese - with 40 percent saying they'd be most swayed by "good quality, safety and performance ratings" and 28 percent replying that "a great warranty" would most influence them to buy. Only 23 percent said the most influential factor would be "a substantially lower price," and only 9 percent said style would be their primary draw. At the end of the day, Chinese manufacturers can take heart in this bit of collective American market wisdom: 71 percent of the consumers surveyed predicted that China will succeed in the U.S. car market - either quickly (30 percent) or in the long-term (41 percent). Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD HELL FREEZES OVER January 25, 2006 Man Trapped in Toilet When Lock Freezes The town of Lichtenau, Bavaria has been experiencing some cold weather lately. A 58-year-old motorist slipping into a German highway rest stop public toilet found out just how cold things were getting. According to Associated Press. the man found himself trapped in the toilet stall after the lock froze while he was inside. Unable to pry the door open, the man finally was able to explain his predicament when someone occupied the stall next to him called the police on a cell phone. After about an hour in the chilly toilet cell, police were able to get the door open and free the man, whom they described about "thoroughly frozen through, but in good general health." Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.


Mark Fields

Ford Motor Company's long-awaited revitalization plan for North America - dubbed by Ford as "Way Forward" - was announced yesterday. It contained surprisingly little news. For months the media have speculated the plan would close a dozen plants and reduce headcount by 30,000, and those predictions proved accurate. The official word is five assembly plants - three identified and two to be named later - and nine component plants will be shuttered. In addition, 25,000 to 30,000 blue collar workers and 4,000 salaried employees will be let go over the next six years. The cutbacks will reduce Ford's production capacity by 1.2 million vehicles, which is a bit more than the amount its sales have declined over the last five years. The media called it right, though they didn't know exactly which facilities would be closed. So what was the news from the big announcement? Reducing headcount by 30,000 employees is no big deal. That's about how many employees Ford has lost over the last five years through attrition. The average UAW worker is 48 years old with 20 years of experience, which means a lot of blue collar workers are retiring. That's not to say people and communities won't suffer from the changes announced yesterday. There will be horrible suffering for employees forcibly let go and communities that are home to closed plants. But what was the news beyond facility closings? The big news was no news. The announcement was made by Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford and Ford Executive Vice President for the Americas Mark Fields, who did most of the speaking. The words sounded hackneyed. We've heard them before, from Fields and others. Fields touched on many of the right topics, so superficially the world heard a few good sound bites. But substance was MIA. "You'll see the spark of a new culture" said Fields. Okay. I wanted to hear examples of how the culture has or might change. For example, Fields said accountability has not been Ford's strong suit and now will be a major force at the company. If that's true, we should have seen a repeat of Carlos Ghosn's revitalization announcement in 1999: Ghosn, just months on the job as Nissan's CEO, said he and the executive team would resign if they didn't hit their performance targets and timetable. It seems Fields doesn't want to be that accountable. And he didn't set specific targets, unlike Ghosn's famed "Nissan 180" plan (1 million incremental sales, 8% return on sales, zero debt). Fields didn't mention a restructuring, which often is key to a corporate turnaround. He didn't talk about staff changes. He didn't discuss changes in processes except in the broadest of terms. He didn't announce rewards for performance. He didn't say anything about sharing platforms, product development, engineering, manufacturing or other resources with Europe or other Ford regions, and that's something many pundits say the company sorely needs to reduce expenses. He didn't articulate a vision other than to say Ford will introduce products with a "bold, American design." Except for Lincoln, whose designs apparently will continue to be staid. That's right. Fields drew a contrast with Cadillac's innovative designs, which he said appeal to people "Who need to showcase their success." He said, "Lincoln customers don't need to shout about success." Did he really say that? Yep. He did. Fields looks and sounds like a talented, confident leader and manager. But Ford needs more than appearance. Perhaps more than anything else, Ford needs innovation, which a new advertising campaign says is fundamental to the company. But innovation was lacking in yesterday's announcement. If you see evidence at Ford of innovation, change and different ways of doing business, please let me know. I missed it in yesterday's grand proclamation from Dearborn. - BT Justice Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

Dodge Challenger, sans naked lady (Mark Dapoz photo) CHUCK DAPOZ: BSD MIDDLE-OF-THE-NIGHT UNVEILING AT DETROIT AUTO SHOW January 19, 2006 This could give new meaning to auto show display. Monday at 2:30 a.m., a naked blonde was found posing atop the Dodge Challenger at the North American International Auto Show, according to the January 18th Detroit News. More than a dozen onlookers, presumably auto show workers, were taking cell phone pictures as the somewhat inebriated woman posed with the concept car. Security guards brought an end to the impromptu photo shoot. Some enthusiasts had been calling the Challenger one of the sexiest vehicles displayed at the NAIAS, and this antic may validate that sentiment. This isn't the exposure Dodge expected at the show, but we suspect its PR people aren't complaining. According to Jason Vines, vice president of communications for the Chrysler Group, "We want people to love these cars but not in that way." Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

Bugatti Veyron 16.4 at the LA Auto Show OLOV LINDBERG: BSD MILLION DOLLAR BABY January 15, 2006 The world has been introduced to the rebirth of a legend. For half a century, the Bugatti mark has been out of production. But in 1998, the German Volkswagen Group bought the Bugatti trademark and decided to continue the legend. They developed a new car, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, and build a new factory in Molsheim, just outside Strasbourg in France. This car will probably be famous for many reasons, some of which the developers probably didn't have in mind. The economic outcome: It reportedly took Volkswagen some $1,500,000,000 to develop the new Bugatti. Its efforts did yield a car that outperforms virtually anything on the planet. How much will this effort cost you? How about $1,300,000 a piece. Sounds a bit pricey? Well, maybe not. During the Veyron's lifetime, VW intends to make no more than about 300 cars. If that is correct, the total gross income will be $390,000,000. If you assume zero cost for the parts to build the car (which obviously isn't the case) the loss is an astonishing $1,110,000,000 - or $3,700,000 a car. The price of the car is obviously too low. Or perhaps the cost of development has been too high? If the VW executives were aiming to make a vehicle with the largest loss per vehicle in history, they may have succeeded.

Design There is fashion in everything, including cars. However, the VW executives made a point of missing everything that is in vogue in car design. The net result is that the Veyron is not exactly pretty for such an exotic car. If the executives that had this in mind, they succeeded. At least no one can accuse the Veyron of being derivative. But Beauty is Only Skin Deep Inside the steel exterior is an impressive machine. The eight-liter, 16 cylinder, quad turbocharged engine produces 1,001 hp, with torque reaching 922 pound-feet across the band from 2,200 to 5,500 rpm. Power deliver goes to all four wheels.

Top speed? Try 253 mph. Zero-to-62 mph? 2.5 seconds. By all accounts, this is a very, very impressive machine. Right now, the Veyron lays claim to being the strongest and quickest production car in the world. The gas mileage is another story - about 9.5 miles per gallon in the city and 12.2 on the highway. However, as the saying goes, if you can afford this car, the gas mileage is not one of the things you worry about. Cash Flow In all likelihood, the Veyron would have never been developed if Volkswagen did not have so much cash on hand during the car's inception. Unfortunately, the mother company does not have the luxury of an overabundance of money today. If the executives were forced to make the decision today, it's doubtful VW would give the go-ahead to develop the Veyron. That's all water under the bridge, because the Veyron 16.4 is now a reality. The VW people say that they've already sold the first year's production - i.e. 50 cars. Who are the buyers? Approximately 40 percent are Americans - mostly from California. At the very least, the buyers are getting a truly unique car.

Editor's Note: LA Car Road Warrior Olov Lindberg was born and raised in Sweden. He currently resides in South Pasadena, CA. To view LA Car's report of the LA Auto Show, click here. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD FREE GAS January 12, 2006 Ordinarily, I don't post promos by a car company, but this one's too good to pass up. From now until January 31, 2006, Suzuki is offering a free Shell gas card worth $25. The catch? You'll have to go down to your neighborhood Suzuki dealer to test drive the new Grand Vitara. IMHO, it's one the most painless ways to get free gas. For more information, go to Special Deals. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD LA AUTO SHOW: LATE GOERS GET AN EVEN BETTER SHOW January 10, 2006 The Greater Los Angeles Auto Show goes on through the 15th of January. If you haven't gone yet, don't fret. All the cars are still there. In fact, there are even more new cars than at the beginning of the show when it opened to the press. You can thank Detroit for that. For years, the LA Auto Show has been overshadowed by the North American International Auto Show (i.e., the Detroit show) - both occur in early January. Since the Detroit show attracts more journalists from all over the world, automakers are compelled to save their new car introductions for the Motor City. On the other hand, the Los Angeles show still represents a very big market, so it's not uncommon to see cars that were just introduced in Detroit all of a sudden appear half way through the LA show. Such was the case with the New Beetle, the new Corvette, and the new Mustang. Right now, for instance, you can see the new Ford Edge and Shelby GT500 convertible at the LA show - both received official introductions at the Detroit show just a few days ago. This all makes for an even better reason to go now. To view LA Car's report of the LA Auto Show, click here. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.


Mark Fields

This year's LA Auto Show has made me more pessimistic than ever about the Detroit automakers. It wasn't the cars, trucks and product news. It was a speech by Mark Fields, Ford's Executive Vice President responsible for North and South America. On the surface, his presentation sounded upbeat and refreshing. He said Detroit's automakers must "change or die." He called the term "Big Three" irrelevant because the auto battle is being fought by the Big Six global companies. I was lapping it up. But the more Fields talked, the more I was struck that the speech was a Miller Lite: Great Taste, Less Filling ... and maybe not filling at all. Where was the substance, the facts? What said Detroit truly has changed? Fields couldn't reveal Ford's "Way Forward" business plan - which supposedly will shutter several plants and reduce headcount by tens of thousands - because it's not due to be unwrapped publicly until January 23. So he talked philosophically about where Ford is headed. And from that perspective, Field's remarks were old school. First, he said Ford wants to be "America's car company" and the rallying cry within Ford is "Red, White & Bold" which will be reflected in a new generation of bold product designs. He claimed Ford was not wrapping itself in the American flag, but he used America and American more than 50 times. He contrasted American from non-American products with comments such as, "The qualities that draw customers to Toyota vehicles are Japanese qualities." That contradicted his statements that Ford was adopting a worldview. It seems the perspective from Detroit is still parochial, not global. It's important for companies to promote their strengths, especially traits that make a company unique. But if the best you've got is "We're American" well, that sounds a lot like the 1980s, when Detroit focused on itself, autoworker took sledgehammers to imported cars and the Big Three tried to isolate themselves from global competition. The second element of Fields' speech that smacked of old school was saying Ford has re-found its way and will give consumers what they want. He said, "The consumer will be in the driver's seat more than ever before." This is not a fresh idea. It's a phrase uttered countless times every year, in the auto industry and in most industries. Fields cited Apple Computer as a model for Ford to follow: a downtrodden company that turned itself around by listening to consumers and developing bold products. I'm sorry, Mr. Fields. Ford is no Apple. And the iPod has been successful because it was NOT developed by listening to consumers. The iPod came from Steve Jobs' ideas and passion. That's what Detroit needs. Ideas and passion. Let's hope we see both when Ford's turnaround is announced in a couple weeks. They sure weren't in the empty words at the Auto Show. - BT Justice Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

Jetta GLI ROY NAKANO: BSD CAR AND DRIVER'S 10 BEST, PLUS ONE January 3, 2006 I like Car and Driver magazine's 10Best issue, which traditionally is reserved for the January edition of the publication. The 10 best reader stories, 10 best winners and losers, and other such topics make for amusing reading. On the other hand, the section of the issue devoted to the 10 best new cars is probably not the issue's best material. In the past, they've handicapped it with some perplexing rules, like "no more than two cars from any one manufacturer can qualify for the list." The February issue of Car and Driver just came out, and it's got me scratching my head about the 10Best new car list again. The cover article is a five-car comparison test of the best all-around sport sedans under $30,000. Among the cars are two of the magazine's 10 best from the previous issue: The Honda Accord EX V6 and the Acura TSX - both of which got walloped by the lowly Volkswagen Jetta GLI in this comparison test. The Accord and TSX did manage to place second and third, respectively (the Mazdaspeed 6 and Pontiac G6 GTP rounded out the bottom of the list). The magazine's explanation for the GLI's first place finish?: "The Jetta surprised us..." It turns out that the magazine's prior experience with the GLI was a pre-production sample, and the production sample is evidently a much better car. Car and Driver may need to revise its list to the 10 Best, plus one. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

Gets better gas mileage than a Prius (Austin Works photo) ROY NAKANO: BSD BOY IN PEDAL CAR IN NIGHT RIDE TO BERLIN January 1, 2006 Berlin police report that a 10-year-old boy found pedaling his toy car alongside a road in central Germany in the middle of the night said he was on his way to his grandmother's in Berlin, according to Reuters. "The boy had been pedaling for about an hour but still had more than 400 km (250 miles) to go to reach Berlin," reports Reuters. "He had no coat on when spotted by a motorist in the middle of a snow storm." The motorist called police, who said the boy was unhurt, if cold. The police report that they warmed him up and took him home, where no one had noticed his midnight escape, said Reuters. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.


Ford Mustang Stamp

That was LA Car's subtitle when it started back in 1997. Since then, it became Reporting From Car Culture Ground Zero, then From The Heart of Car Culture, to today's The Cars and Culture of Southern California. At all times, however, we aimed to chronicle the Southland's spirit - much like a journal. Now, the diary goes semi-daily. LA Car has always been a great source to come back to from month-to-month, to see what articles and reviews have been added to our rather staggering database. With Back Seat Driving, a.k.a. BSD (note the similarity to two well-worn abbreviations, BS and BFD), we give you a reason to come back more often (all opinions, by the way, are those of the respective author). So, go ahead and bookmark We'll be sure to always provide a link to the latest blog entry. In the meantime, welcome to the journal and journey into the cars and culture of Southern California. - Roy Nakano

For past Blog entries, click the following: December 2005 November 2005 October 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 June 2005 May 2005 April 2005 March 2005 February 2005 January 2005 December 2004 November 2004 October 2004 September 2004 August 2004 July 2004 June 2004 May 2004 April 2004

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