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Published on Thu, Sep 1, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

VW's Touareg was part of a VW-Porsche venture. LA CAR BLOG BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER September 29, 2005 The experts are scratching their head over Porsche's announcement to that it plans to amass a 20 percent stake in Volkswagen - a deal that will make the prestigious sports car maker Volkswagen's biggest shareholder. Porsche says its investment is aimed at protecting a partner from a hostile takeover. Porsche has VW build much of Porsche's Cayenne SUV. The two recently announced a venture to produce hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles. The deal may be less about economics than about bloodlines and loyalty. The two companies share a common lineage in Ferdinand Porsche, the Austrian automotive engineer who designed the Beetle and whose son later started the sports car company. As the New York Times' Mark Landler points out, "Porsche's grandson, Ferdinand Piech, is a former Volkswagen chief executive and is still the chairman of its supervisory board. His family is the controlling shareholder of Porsche, from which it derives part of its multibillion-dollar fortune. Piech, analysts said, is moving to reassert the family's influence at Volkswagen, the company his grandfather helped found." The move was immediately met with a 10 percent plunge in Porsche stock, with analysts warning that the marriage would tarnish Porsche's image. After Porsche explained it would not have to raise additional capital to fund its increased stake, its shares reported went back up 8.5 percent. If there's a winner in all of this, it's Volkswagen, AG. Stockholders seem to agree, as VW shares have significantly risen since the announcement. - RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

BENTLEY'S STUNNING NEW CONTINENTAL GT CREWE September 26, 2005 Early this morning, Bentley Motors announced the introduction of the Continental GTC. The new luxury 2+2 convertible completes the Bentley Continental model range following the introduction of the highly successful Continental GT in 2003 and four-door Continental Flying Spur earlier this year. The new Continental GTC goes on sale in late 2006. With a top speed in excess of 190 mph (304 km/h), an all-wheel drive system, 12-cylinder engine, advanced air suspension and ultra-stiff body structure, the Continental GTC displays the poise and dynamics of the Continental GT. In common with its stable mates is its interior.

While sharing the familiar face of the Continental family, the design personality of the new Continental GTC is explained by Bentley's design director, Dirk van Braeckel: "With the Continental GTC we set out to achieve a style that is both contemporary and elegant but with the sporting stance of a true performance car. We also wanted to ensure that the Continental GTC looks just as beautiful with the roof up as it does when it's down. "In keeping with the Bentley tradition, the new Continental GTC has a soft fabric roof and heated glass rear screen. When stowed below its hide-covered tonneau, efficient packaging ensures excellent space for both rear passengers and their luggage."

The Continental GTC becomes the second convertible to grace the current Bentley range. It follows the recently announced return of the evocative Azure name for Bentley's Arnage-derived flagship four-seater convertible which goes on sale in Spring 2006. Further details, including full technical specification, market availability and pricing will be released nearer to the Continental GTC's on-sale date. Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Kia Amati tops JD Power survey for premium midsize cars KIA JOINS LEXUS, ET AL AT THE TOP OF JD POWERS SURVEY September 22, 2005 WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. - New-vehicle buyers are increasingly attracted to models that offer high levels of comfort and convenience, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2005 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) StudySM released today. The study, now in its 10th year, measures owners' delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles. Overall industry APEAL has increased annually for the past nine years, in part due to the continual introduction of a large number of all-new and redesigned models, which tend to garner higher APEAL scores. The 2005 study includes more than 50 all-new or redesigned models in 2005 - up from 43 in 2004. While styling and exterior design continue to be most important to new-vehicle buyers, features dealing with the vehicle's interior, such as seats and comfort/convenience, have increased in importance over the past five years. "As more and more new designs hit the market, manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to make their new models stand out," said Chance Parker, executive director of product and research analysis at J.D. Power and Associates. "While vehicle styling is still vital in setting a model apart from the pack, consumers are increasingly attracted to vehicles that offer innovative storage options and other features that make the driving experience more comfortable and convenient." The study finds that models receiving exceptionally high APEAL ratings from buyers generally stay on dealers' lots for less time before being sold. For example, the all-new Honda Ridgeline, which ranks highest in APEAL in the compact pickup segment, stay on dealers' lots an average of 24 days, compared to the segment average of 77 days. This is also true of older models. The Nissan Murano, top-ranked among midsize SUVs, stays an average of 47 days on lots, compared to the segment average of 72 days. "Vehicles with high APEAL scores are less likely to require major incentive programs to attract buyers and to move them from dealer lots, which typically yield higher profits for the manufacturer and dealer," said Parker. Four Lexus models top segment rankings, while Chevrolet, Kia, Honda and Nissan each receive two segment awards. This marks the first time Kia models have ranked highest in a segment in the study. Among all-new or redesigned models included in the study for 2005, the Pontiac G6, Toyota Avalon, Lexus GS 300/GS 430, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette, Honda Ridgeline, Kia Sportage, Lexus RX 400h and Honda Odyssey each rank highest in their respective segments. Also topping segment rankings are the MINI Cooper, Kia Amanti, Lexus IS 300/IS 300 SportCross, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus LS 430, Cadillac Escalade EXT, GMC Sierra HD, Nissan Murano, Nissan Armada, Land Rover Range Rover and Chevrolet Express. The 2005 APEAL Study is based on responses from more than 115,000 new-vehicle owners who were surveyed during the first 90 days of ownership. Eight categories of vehicle performance and design are measured to assess buyer satisfaction, including: engine/transmission; ride, handling and braking; comfort/convenience; seats; cockpit/instrument panel; heating, ventilation and cooling; sound system; and styling/exterior. For the full results of the survey, go to APEAL Ratings.

Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Mercury's new Monterey earns good ratings. MANY MINIVANS FARE POORLY IN IIHS REAR COLLISION TESTS September 20, 2005 ARLINGTON, VA - Seat/head restraint combinations in the Ford Freestar and its twin Mercury Monterey earn good overall ratings. Those in some Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country models are rated acceptable, based on recent evaluations by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (see Report). However, the seat/head restraints in most current minivan models are marginal or poor, indicating they wouldn't provide adequate protection from whiplash injuries for many people in rear-end collisions.

The ratings are for seat/head restraint designs available in 14 current minivan models. Starting points for the ratings are measurements of head restraint geometry - the height of a restraint and its horizontal distance behind the back of the head of an average-size man. Seats with good or acceptable restraint geometry then are tested dynamically using a dummy that measures forces on the neck. This test simulates a collision in which a stationary vehicle is struck in the rear at 20 mph. Seats without good or acceptable geometry are rated poor overall because they cannot be positioned to protect many people.

Among the seat/head restraints that were tested dynamically, those in the Honda Odyssey are rated marginal overall. All seats in the Chevrolet Uplander (also sold as Buick Terazza, Pontiac Montana SV6, and Saturn Relay) and some in the Grand Caravan/Town & Country and Toyota Sienna are rated poor. These ratings are in addition to the good overall rating for the seats in the Freestar/Monterey and the acceptable rating for the seats in some Grand Caravan/Town & Country models. All of these seat/head restraint combinations earn overall ratings based on both geometry and dynamic test results.

Another minivan, the Kia Sedona, has been redesigned for the 2006 model year but isn't yet available. Results for the Sedona will be released early next year.

"Automakers are improving the geometry of their head restraints, compared with the last time we evaluated them," says Institute chief operating officer Adrian Lund. "Still, in this group of minivans the Fords are the only models with good dynamic performance for all of their seat designs. Many of the seat/head restraints we evaluated didn't even get to the testing stage because of marginal or poor geometry. These cannot begin to protect most people in rear-end crashes."

Some seats automatically earn poor ratings: The Institute doesn't test seats with head restraints that are rated marginal or poor for geometry because such seats cannot be positioned to protect many taller people. The seats that weren't tested in this group include all of those in the Chevrolet Astro, GMC Safari, Mazda MPV, and Nissan Quest plus some seats in the Grand Caravan and Toyota Sienna.

"It's disappointing that so many minivan seats are rated poor for rear impact protection," Lund says. "Drivers of minivans spend a lot of time on urban and suburban roads where rear-end collisions are common in stop-and-go traffic. Moms often are behind the wheel, and women are more vulnerable to whiplash injuries so they especially need good seats and head restraints."

Neck injuries are the most common kind reported in automobile crashes and are most likely to occur in rear impacts. Whiplash is the most serious injury reported in about 2 million insurance claims each year, which cost at least $8.5 billion. Such injuries aren't life-threatening, but they can be painful and debilitating.

Rear-end crashes are common events in urban and suburban traffic. For example, in one urban Virginia county 63 percent of daytime crashes on urban interstate highways in 2003 were rear impacts.

When a vehicle is struck in the rear and driven forward, the vehicle seats accelerate occupants' torsos forward. Unsupported, their heads will lag behind the forward movement of their torsos. This differential motion causes the neck to bend back and stretch. The higher the torso acceleration the more sudden the motion, the higher the forces on the neck, and the more likely a neck injury is to occur.

"The key to reducing neck injury risk is to keep the head and torso moving together," Lund explains. "To ensure this happens, a seat and head restraint have to work in concert to support the head, accelerating it with the torso as the vehicle is driven forward in a rear impact. This means the geometry of a head restraint has to be adequate, and so do the stiffness characteristics of the vehicle seat and head restraint."

A head restraint should extend at least as high as the top of the ears of the tallest expected occupant. A restraint also should be positioned close to the back of an occupant's head so it can contact the head and support it early in a rear-end crash.

"But good head restraint geometry by itself isn't sufficient," Lund says. "A seat has to be designed so it doesn't move backward and away from the head during a rear impact. A seat also needs to 'give' so an occupant will sink into it, moving the head closer to the restraint."

Sled test simulates rear-end collision: Overall seat/head restraint ratings are based on a two-step evaluation. In the first step restraint geometry is rated using measurements of height and distance from the back of the head of a test dummy that represents an average-size man. Seats with good or acceptable geometric ratings are subjected to a dynamic test conducted on a crash simulation sled that replicates the forces in a stationary vehicle that's rear-ended by another vehicle of the same weight going 20 mph.

A dummy specially designed to assess rear-end crash protection (BioRID) is used to show how a human would respond and measure the forces on the neck during simulated crashes. The sled is a movable platform that runs on fixed rails and can be programmed to re-create the accelerations that occur inside vehicles during real-world crashes.

"The sled test simulates the kind of crash that frequently occurs when one vehicle rear ends another in commuter traffic," Lund says. "People think of head restraints as head rests, but they're not. They're important safety devices. You're more likely to need the protection of a good head restraint in a collision than you are to need other safety devices because rear-end crashes are so common."

The Institute's dynamic ratings of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor are derived from two seat design parameters (peak acceleration of the dummy's torso and time from impact initiation to head restraint contact with the dummy's head) plus neck tension and shear forces recorded on BioRID during the test. The sooner a restraint contacts the dummy's head and the lower the acceleration of the torso and the forces on the dummy's neck, the better the dynamic rating. A seat/head restraint's dynamic rating is combined with its geometric rating to produce an overall rating

Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Should SUVs be put out to pasture? 8 IN 10 SAY WE SHOULD DITCH SUVS TO CUT OIL USE September 18, 2005 Eight in 10 people say it's important for Americans now driving sport utility vehicles to switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles to reduce the nation's dependence on oil, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The Pew report, entitled "Economic Pessimism Grows, Gas Prices Pinch," polled 1,523 adults, and was taken September 8-11, 2005. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The Pew poll reveals some clear preferences: · Almost seven in 10 want the government to establish price controls on gasoline and want more spending on subway, rail and bus systems. · Just over seven in 10 want to give tax cuts to companies to develop wind, solar and hydrogen energy. · Just over eight in 10 want higher fuel efficiency required for cars, trucks and SUVs. Almost six in 10 now say exploring for new sources of energy is more important than protecting the environment. People were evenly split on that question in 2002. Half now support drilling for oil and gas in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - up from 42 percent who felt that way in March. Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

VW Dasher (a.k.a. Passat B1) next to a Passat B5 WAS THE DASHER THAT GOOD? September 16, 2005 In "God Loves the 1974 VW Dasher: Why my mom's old yellow econobox still beats the crap out of any new car on the road," SF Gate columnist Mark Morford makes the argument that advances in fuel efficiency are way behind other automotive advances. The case-in-point: His mother's VW Dasher. "This Dasher, it got at least 30 miles per gallon. Maybe more. Maybe more like 40," remembers Morford. "And now, here we are. It is 30 years later. It is the age of the Internet and the iPod and Botox and laser hair removal and anti-allergy vacuum cleaners. ...And you might think, Oh my God, how we have progressed! How we have learned and grown and evolved. ...Are we not simply startling creatures, sophisticated and superhuman? Are we not way cool and plugged in? Are we not gods? Not quite." As it turns out, Mr. Morford just purchased his first new car in a decade. "It is the deliciously hot little Audi A3 hatchback, just in from Europe, and its engine is simply a wonder and the car is fast and tight and agile and sexy and clean, and the fit and finish are German-fetish beautiful, and I love it like saliva loves chocolate." But one of the best aspects of the car, he thought, as he compared dozens of similar cars in this class, was the top-notch miles-per-gallon rating: 25 city, 31 highway.

"Here is the pathetic thing," laments Morford. "In 2005, this is considered very good mileage. This is considered efficient and admirable, even though it's not, even though it's far, far from it, even though you look at those numbers and you think, Oh holy hell, we have, in many ways, progressed not at all. We have progressed exactly zero." Morford's point is well-taken. During the past couple of decades, we've actually regressed in fuel efficiency - much of due to America's love affair with the SUV. Perhaps, however, he could have used a better example than his mother's Dasher. Either he was too young at the time, or he's looking at history though rose-colored glasses. That Dasher was one of the most unreliable cars to reach the shores in the 1970s. It was so bad that it swore off thousands of loyal car owners away from VW - owners who were previously spoiled by the reliability of the old Beetle. Today, the Dasher goes by the name Passat. Thankfully, the new one is a whole lot more reliable. And in 45 states, you can still pick up a 2005 TDI model that will get you 40 mpg in a pinch. - Roy Nakano Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.


Chapman Award honoree Doug Stokes

In the world of motorsports, long-time LA Car friend Doug Stokes is known for his role as the award-winning Director of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Last year, he received the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations. For eight years, Doug played a key role in making Irwindale Speedway, a one-half mile paved oval near Los Angeles that opened in 1999, into one of the country's best-known short tracks. Today marks Doug's last official day at the Speedway. Tomorrow, Doug joins the staff of Autobooks-Aerobooks bookstore in Burbank, California. "Doug will become that almost legendary establishment's general manager as well as a partner (vice president) in the privately-held company which owns and operates the 54 year-old California motoring landmark," says Irwindale Speedway VP/General Manager Bob DeFazio. "It's been a great eight years at the Speedway," says Stokes. Prior to Irwindale, Stokes worked as a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway. "I guess that I've been involved in a bit of history too, working for both of Southern California's newest 1/2-mile tracks, but I still really miss Riverside and Ascot. Jerry Titus signed my SCCA road racing license off at Riverside and I actually raced a go-cart at Agoura." Doug will actually be back at Irwindale to help out on the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown and the Thanksgiving Night Grand Prix. "How could I miss those two classics?" Adds Doug, "I want to publicly thank everyone who has worked with me on staff and especially two of the people who put me in such a great job in the first place, Jim Williams and Bob DeFazio. Their vision and hard work have truly given motorsports one of its finest facilities. I also want to take time here to sincerely thank all of my colleagues in the media," he added. Without you, your words, your pictures, and your voices, we never would have had the kind run that we've enjoyed so far at the Speedway." "We feel very lucky to be able to welcome Doug into this operation," says Autobooks store owner Chet Knox. "Doug's been an Autobooks regular since the mid-'sixties, always a fan, and always a keen supporter of this establishment. Now he's coming aboard as a regular part of its management team, and we couldn't be more pleased." "Please, when you're in the LA area, stop by Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank and say hello," says Doug. "After over 10 year of working at a racetrack (Perris and Irwindale) I'm going to miss the daily excitement of that business. However, I'm sure that becoming a shopkeeper will have plenty of adventure." Stokes' first official day on the job at Autobooks will be Tuesday, September 20. - Roy Nakano Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

RUSSIAN ROULETTE IN THE CARPOOL LANE September 8, 2005 It's week two since the Prius received its Access OK HOV lane stickers, and I've come to realize just how many non-hybrid cars are using the carpool lane - sans carpool and sans sticker. A lot. They don't necessarily stay in the carpool lane. Many dart in-and-out the way some drivers use the right-hand exit lane on a freeway to pass up slow-moving cars - and then dart back in at the last moment. In California, it's a minimum $271 fine. But that's only if you get caught. Even if you do get caught, do the math from their perspective: $271, versus the thousands one has to spend to buy a qualifying hybrid car. Suddenly, it doesn't sound so costly. Evidently, it's a form of Russian roulette that some commuters are willing to play. - Roy Nakano Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

THE MARKET IS DELIVERING WHAT CAFE NEVER DID September 4, 2005 The government mandated CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards were suppose to deliver more fuel efficient vehicles. It didn't deliver. That's because lobbyists on behalf of car manufacturers managed to 'pursuade' enough Congressional lawmakers to keep CAFE largely innocuous. Instead of better fuel economy, the vehicles sold today have worse fuel economy than those sold 10 years ago. Much of the reason has to do with the popularity of SUVs (sport utility vehicles). With gas prices crossing the $3.00 per gallon threshold, the market for large SUVs has taken a sudden dive. "Consumers are showing signs of cooling on super-sized vehicles just as Detroit's automakers are preparing to roll out more of them," reports Christine Tierney of The Detroit News. "Record-high gas prices are taking a visible toll on certain vehicle segments, such as large sport utility vehicles, while bolstering demand for sedans." Last month, U.S. auto sales rose 3.8 percent over August 2004 levels - much of it attributed to the aggressive "you pay what our employees pay" sales campaign delivered by the Big Three automakers. But a sales breakdown reveals an acceleration of trends favoring more fuel-efficient vehicles, according to Tierney. Consumers are clearly concerned about their pocketbooks, and gas had already reached $3 a gallon in parts of the country even before Hurricane Katrina. The upshot of all this is that higher gas prices are delivering what CAFE only promised: The sale of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Case-in-point: Supply almost caught up with demand for the fuel-efficient Toyota Prius. With the sudden rise in gas prices last month, however, demand for the hybrid car once again took a sharp swing upward. If the drop in the sales of large SUVs turns out to be more than a blip on the screen, you can bet that U.S. automakers will be rushing to build the kinds of vehicles that meet the standards they once fought against in the CAFE battles. - Roy Nakano Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

The newest S-Class is tight, but not tight-fitting. COURT RULE IN FAVOR OF FAT MAN OVER PHAT CAR September 1, 2005 The German newspaper Bild reports that a German court has ruled that DaimlerChrysler must release a man from a car lease deal after a dispute over whether he was too heavy to drive the luxury vehicle, according to a Reuters newswire. Mercedes refused to release the insurance salesman from a lease agreement on his S-320 CDI model, arguing that the multiple car breakdowns caused by his weight were insufficient grounds to break the deal. According to Bild, however, the Stuttgart court ruled in favor of the salesman, named only as Frank S., apparently on the grounds that the car should have been able to take his weight. Frank S. was told that at 352 pounds, he weighed twice as much as the average driver, says Bild. "They told me that I was too fat for the car because the seat was broken," he told Bild, in a story next to a picture of the east German squeezing behind the steering wheel of the model Bild said was worth 65,000 euros. "I could hardly fit behind the steering wheel ... Then I had to take the car back to the shop for repairs 13 times for 21 different malfunctions in the first 20,000 km." The 37-year-old said he got fed up and wanted to return the car but Mercedes refused to release him from his lease contract. A court in Stuttgart ruled that DaimlerChrysler had to let him out of the agreement. The salesman, who switched to a Volkswagen, will sue to get back the leasing payments he made, Bild said. Your LA Car Blog 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 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 the LA Car Blog, we give you a reason to come back more often, since we will post new blog entries virtually every day or so (well, there will be occasional vacation breaks).

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 LA Car Blog entries, click the following: 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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