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Published on Wed, Nov 29, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Camaro concept at the LA Auto Show

BACK SEAT DRIVING LA AUTO SHOW: LET THE PONY WARS BEGIN November 29, 2006 I understand that the new concept Chevy Camaro did not appear at the January 2006 LA Auto Show until after Press Days. This precluded my seeing the actual vehicle until November 2006. Coming away from that encounter I offer the following impression: What a piece of copy-cat wanna-be couldn't-come-up-with-nothing-better car. The concept Camaro looks every bit the next generation Cadillac XLR made to look like the vintage Camaro via roof line (rear window) drop and side vents - and nothing else. Angularity and low lines do not make for a decent vintage/modern look.

Challenger concept (Mark Dapoz) While fully acknowledging my Ford leanings (Editor's note: Harold owns an award-winning 1951 Chevy pickup truck, by the way), I give a nod to the concept Challenger. Modern Challenger designers have incorporated the chrome bumpers front and rear while maintaining the distinctive roof line and overall vintage Challenger shape. The current Mustang also keeps true to vintage form with tailights, hood line, and other attributes while still keeping a modern feel about the car. The new car is reportedly vastly superior to the old in terms of handling, performance, and driveablity. I have not driven the new Mustang. I have not driven a new Camaro or Challenger. That said, I could see myself purchasing a Mustang or Challenger. But the new Camaro is way too late, looks too much like an ugly available sister, and cannot possibly make enough horsepower to cover the distance lost between the time the Camaro nameplate went away and now. - Harold Osmer

Ford Mustang Giugiaro concept car I confess to being a fan of all three designs. The Camaro concept car is more animated than the true-to-the-original Challenger concept car (some may say cartoonish), but the design has grown on me. Not to take anything away from the new Ford Mustang Giugiaro concept car (which debuts at the Los Angeles Auto Show), but I am struck by how similar it looks to the Camaro concept car from certain angles. Since the Giugiaro project reportedly started in 2005, it's doubtful that the new Camaro served as an inspiration for the new Mustang concept car. But, hey, maybe some of the designers from both camps hung out together back in the Art Center College of Design days. - Roy Nakano For LA Car's coverage of the LA Auto Show, click here. Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $7 for seniors (65+) on weekends only. Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Ed

ROY NAKANO: BSD LA AUTO SHOW CELEBRATES CENTENNIAL WITH A RECORD 35 WORLD AND NORTH AMERICAN DEBUTS November 27, 2006 Earlier Dates Provide a New Beginning Since its inception in 1907, the Los Angeles Auto Show has grown from 99 cars inside a skating rink into a major international event showcasing 1,000 of the newest vehicles from manufacturers. A record 35 vehicles will make their World or North American debut, the most ever in the 100-year history of the show. And of that number, 21 are World debuts, with seven being concept cars. When the show opens Dec. 1-10 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, it will be the first major show of the North American season. The show is being held one month earlier than in previous years to avoid perennially conflicting with the Detroit auto show. This enables automakers to stage more debuts and to increase their participation, thereby elevating the importance of the LA show within the automobile industry, particularly to journalists, and provide consumers with a better overall experience. "This will be the best LA Auto Show ever" states Andy Fuzesi, general manager of the L.A. Auto Show. "This is a new beginning with our new dates and increased commitment from manufacturers and everyone is anticipating even better things in the future." Design has been a growing emphasis at the LA Auto Show and with 15 manufacturer design studios, the L.A. region is a world design center. This year a record seven concept vehicles will make their World debut at the show. Four of them - Acura, Honda, Hyundai and Mazda - were designed by their LA-based advanced design studios. In addition to these four, exciting concepts from Ford, Volkswagen and a second one from Honda, are all expected to be forward-thinking expressions of new design directions for their brands. The show presents a broad variety of production makes and models from 47 manufacturers. Visitors can view everything from subcompacts to full-size cars, pickups to crossovers and sports cars to minivans. There's something to suit every need, dream and budget. Two- and four-door passenger cars come in such a diversity of designs, features and technological advances, that narrowing the choice to just one is difficult. The Lexus 460L is so advanced that it parallel parks itself while the Chrysler Sebring has a multimedia hard drive capable of storing music, movies and photos. Volvo tosses tradition aside and comes to Los Angeles with its nimble new C30 three-door hatchback. Sporty, edgy and powerful are the mantra of many automakers. And this being LA, there is no shortage of sports cars making their debut, like the new Audi R8 premium performance coupe and the stylish and sophisticated V8 Vantage roadster from Aston Martin. For the truly exotic, there are the powerful Ferrari 599, lightweight Lotus Exige S and a new model from Lamborghini. Individuals searching for vehicles with more space will discover the range of SUVs, pickups and crossovers to their liking. BMW unveils its redesigned luxurious X5, Buick enters the luxury crossover category with the all-new Enclave and Ford introduces its completely redesigned Escape. From across the pond, Land Rover rolls out its rugged LR2 SUV that strikes a balance between luxury and off-road capability. Hybrids continue to grow in popularity and the technology is increasingly being adapted into full-size vehicles to help lower emissions while increasing fuel efficiency. For example, General Motors will introduce the GMC Yukon Hybrid and Ford weighs in with a hybrid version of its Escape. Alternative fuels such as hydrogen and ethanol are also gaining momentum. BMW is one such company at the fore of hydrogen technology and will debut its Hydrogen 7 at the show. The LA Auto Show is an excellent opportunity for consumers to see the newest automotive accessories and customizing trends. Everything from custom wheels, tires and performance products to the latest mobile audio and entertainment systems can be found in Kentia Hall. For LA Car's coverage of the LA Auto Show, click here. Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $7 for seniors (65+) on weekends only. Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Ed

ROY NAKANO: BSD SURVEY SAYS 3 OF 4 AMERICANS WANT DETROIT AND WASHINGTON TO IMPOSE 40 MPG FUEL-EFFICIENCY STANDARD November 24, 2006 According to a new Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) poll commissioned by the Civil Society Institute (CSI), a bipartisan 78 percent of Americans want Washington to impose a 40 mile per gallon fuel-efficiency standard for American vehicles. What the survey doesn't tell you is that Americans aren't going to lose any sleep over this. Consumers seeking high gas mileage will gravitate toward the products that already meet their mileage expectations. Just as consumers who shop at Walmart do so because of the bottom line, consumers aren't going to wait around for any legislation before they seek out the cars that meet their desires and needs. I was once an advocate of tougher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. That was before witnessing what the escalation in gas prices did to the sales of large SUVs and other gas guzzlers. As gas prices rose, consumers turned in great numbers to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Thus, the marketplace did what advocates of tougher CAFE standards have been trying to do for years. In short, I may be part of the 22 percent of Americans that don't necessarily believe a 40 mpg standard has to be imposed. Notwithstanding my opinion, here are the other findings of the ORC survey: * Nine out of 10 Americans expect gas prices to go up "in the near future" with nearly half (46 percent) "definitely" expecting a resumption of higher fuel prices. * 70 percent of Americans are not turning their back on fuel-efficiency concerns and say that they are factoring "expected future gasoline price increases into consideration in thinking about buying a new vehicle." * Temporarily lower gasoline prices are not sending large numbers of Americans rushing back to gas-guzzling SUV and trucks. In fact, nearly half (45 percent) of Americans are now more likely to buy a "hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle" than they were six months ago, compared to 30 percent who are unchanged in their plans and fewer than one in four (24 percent) who are less likely to make such a vehicle purchase. Civil Society Institute President and Founder Pam Solo said: "These findings should be a real wake-up call to any auto executive in Detroit who is hoping against hope that Americans will fall back in love with gas-hog vehicles. What Americans are saying to American carmakers is that they are ready for change. We know the technology exists for higher fuel efficiency that will save money, reduce this nation's dependence on foreign oil and diminish the pollution linked to global warming. What Detroit needs to realize is that low gas prices have not - and will not - lead to the demise of the now very strong and continuing demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. If American carmakers make that wrong-headed gamble for a second time, it may just be the last losing bet they can afford to make." Opinion Research Corporation Vice President Wayne Russum said: "It's official: Reducing America's dependence on foreign oil through tougher fuel efficiency standards is a bona fide national security issue that cuts right across political party lines. Respondents were asked: 'Given America's dependence on foreign oil, do you agree or disagree that greater fuel efficiency for cars, SUVs and trucks is in our national security interests?' Four out of five respondents agreed, including half who did so strongly. Interestingly, the national security issued resonated even more with Republicans (82 percent) than it did with Independents (77 percent) and Democrats (79 percent)." The ORC results are based on telephone interviews conducted among a sample of 1,016 adults (509 men and 507 women) age 18 and over, living in private households, in the continental United States. Interviewing by ORC was completed during the period of November 9-12, 2006. Completed interviews of the 1,016 adults were weighted by four variables: age, sex, geographic region, and race, to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total adult population. The margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the sample of 1,016 adults. Smaller sub-groups will have larger error margins. For full survey findings, go to on the Web. A streaming audio replay of the CSI news event is available on the Web at Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD EX-DAIMLERCHRYSLER MANAGER CHARGED November 23, 2006 STUTTGART, Germany - Prosecutors said Thursday they had charged a former DaimlerChrysler AG manager with breach of trust and falsifying documents for allegedly cheating the carmaker out of 40 million euros ($52 million), according to the Associated Press. The 41-year-old, who has been in investigative custody for a year, is accused of filing fake invoices between 2000 and 2005 for computer services that were never delivered, state prosecutors in Stuttgart informed AP. Three other people are accused as accessories for submitting the false invoices on the instructions of the former manager, who worked at the German-U.S. car maker's finance department. Prosecutor Bettina Fetter informed AP that investigators had seized 20 million euros ($26 million) from the manager. According to AP, it is unclear when the manager, whose name was not released, will go on trial. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD IIHS PICKS THE SAFEST VEHICLES FOR 2007 November 22, 2006 2007 TOP SAFETY PICK award winners: award criteria are tougher; SUVs eligible for first time ARLINGTON, VA - The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announces 13 vehicles that earn TOP SAFETY PICK awards for 2007. Winners include four cars, seven SUVs, and two minivans. This award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on ratings in Institute tests. Winners also have to be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC). Vehicles eligible to win are current small, midsize, and large car models plus minivans and small and midsize SUVs. Pickups aren't included in this round of awards because the Institute hasn't begun to evaluate their side crashworthiness. "Our crash tests cover the most common kinds of real-world collisions," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "Designating TOP SAFETY PICK winners based on the tests makes it easier for consumers to identify vehicles that afford the best overall protection without sifting through multiple sets of comparative test results." Tougher criteria to win: The Institute rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests plus evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts. The first requirement for a vehicle to become a TOP SAFETY PICK is to earn good ratings in all three Institute tests. A new requirement for 2007 is that the winning vehicles must offer ESC. This addition is based on Institute research indicating that ESC significantly reduces crash risk, especially the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes, by helping drivers maintain control of their vehicles during emergency maneuvers. "The idea of tightening the criteria for the award is to encourage more vehicle safety improvements," Lund says. "Last year a car could win with an acceptable rating in the rear test instead of the highest rating of good, and ESC wasn't considered. Now it's tougher to win, and some of the 2006 winners don't meet the criteria for this year's award because the manufacturers haven't improved the head restraints from acceptable to good or don't offer ESC." In particular, the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego, large family cars, are good crash test performers but don't have ESC, even optional. The midsize Chevrolet Malibu doesn't have ESC either, and its seat/head restraints aren't rated good. These cars won in 2006 but not 2007. No small cars won this year's award. The four-door Honda Civic won last year, but most 2007 Civics don't have ESC. Those that do don't have seat/head restraints rated good for rear crash protection. Each year the Institute offers to test early the vehicles that manufacturers think will be candidates to win TOP SAFETY PICK. All current car and minivan models plus small and midsize SUVs are eligible. Three of the 13 winning vehicles for 2007 are from Honda, including an Acura SUV. Three winners are Subarus. Vehicle size and type are factored in: TOP SAFETY PICK is awarded by vehicle size because size and weight are closely related, and both influence how well occupants will be protected in serious crashes. Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better protection in crashes than smaller, lighter ones. "The awards recognize the cream of the crop for safety in the vehicle size classes, but they don't mean a smaller vehicle that's an award winner affords better protection than a larger vehicle that didn't win TOP SAFETY PICK," Lund points out. Automakers heed ratings and make changes to win: Crash tests have driven major improvements in the designs of all kinds and sizes of passenger vehicles. The Institute began frontal crash tests for consumer information in 1995. Side tests were added in 2003, and the following year a dynamic test to evaluate rear crash protection was introduced. Most vehicles now earn good ratings in the Institute's frontal test, but significant differences still are apparent in the performances of vehicles in side and rear crashes. Some manufacturers improved their vehicles specifically to earn TOP SAFETY PICK awards. Audi redesigned the seat/head restraints in the A4 and A6 to improve performance in the Institute's rear test. Subaru accelerated plans to offer ESC on some versions of the Forester and Legacy. "But ESC isn't on every version of these two Subarus. Initially it's only on the sporty or pricier models. It's disappointing that Subaru didn't add ESC across the board," Lund says. The company plans to expand ESC availability later. Other vehicles are in the process of being changed to earn TOP SAFETY PICK status. For example, Ford will add ESC to 2008 Freestyles, so when this SUV is introduced next year it will qualify. Automakers also have been adding standard side airbags with head protection, even though government regulations don't require them. All 2007 TOP SAFETY PICK winners have standard side airbags. Seventeen other vehicles would have won 2007 awards if they had good seat/head restraint designs. Toyota could have claimed nine TOP SAFETY PICK awards, including three Lexus winners. Honda could have picked up four additional awards, including one for an Acura. "Protection in rear crashes is an area where many vehicles lag behind in safety," Lund notes. "As manufacturers continue to improve seat/head restraints, we expect to see more winners." SUVs qualify for 2007: SUVs weren't eligible to win in 2006 because the Institute hadn't evaluated the side crashworthiness of many of them. Now more SUVs have been rated, and 2007 winners reflect the safety improvements manufacturers have been making to these vehicles. "In the past SUVs, especially the smaller ones, weren't good safety choices compared with cars," Lund explains. "Many SUVs didn't earn good ratings in our crash tests, and on the road they were more likely than cars to get in serious single-vehicle crashes, including rollovers, because of their higher centers of gravity. Newer SUVs perform better in crash tests and, when equipped with ESC, are much less likely to roll over. All but one of the seven SUVs that win our 2007 TOP SAFETY PICK have ESC as standard equipment." Recent Institute research found that ESC reduces the risk of serious crashes involving both SUVs and cars. The largest effect is in single-vehicle crashes, which were reduced 40 percent with the addition of ESC. Fatal single-vehicle crashes went down 56 percent, and fatal rollovers of cars and SUVs were reduced by about 80 percent. To view the complete report, click here Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

Tesla Roadster.

ROY NAKANO: BSD YOKOHAMA EXHIBIT TO FEATURE ELECTRIC TESLA ROADSTER AT LA AUTO SHOW November 21, 2006 Yokohama will feature the all-electric Tesla Roadster sports car in its booth at the L.A. Auto Show, December 1-10 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Yokohama has partnered with Tesla Motors by providing ultra-high-performance ADVAN Neova® AD07" LTS tires as standard equipment on the Tesla Roadster, which can go 0-60 in about 4 seconds and reach speeds over 130 mph. It will be part of Yokohama's significant presence at the annual auto show, which is visited by more than a million consumers. Yokohama, the "Official Tire of the L.A. Auto Show," will have a display spanning nearly 100 feet near the entrance of West Hall and is the title sponsor of the media center, which has been renamed the "Yokohama Media Center." "Partnering with Tesla on the electric Roadster is in line with Yokohama's corporate mandate, which is to reduce its environmental impact in every way possible," said Jim MacMaster, Yokohama executive vice president, Business Division. "It's a way of thinking, an environmental conscience." "Using Yokohama's ADVAN tires on the Tesla Roadster was an easy decision," said Martin Eberhard, CEO and co-founder of Tesla Motors. "ADVANs are the only tires on the market that combine high-performance capability with low rolling resistance, making them perfect for our electric sports car." The Neova AD07 LTS is made from Yokohama's patented MS compound. The tire's composition and unique tread design offer high grip and stability in hot, cold and wet conditions. For more information on Yokohama's product line, visit For more information about Tesla Motors, visit Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD CURE FOR THE COST OF HEALTH CARE: AN ON-SITE CLINIC November 19, 2006 Much has been made about the costs of health care and its impact on the domestic automobile industry. Evidently, Toyota Motor Corporation has been grappling with the issue as well. With its anticipated new truck plant in San Antonio, Texas, Toyota plans on having its own in-house medical staff for the employees. "Our health care costs have doubled over the past five years," to more than $11,000 a year per U.S. plant worker, said Ford Brewer, assistant general manager for health and wellness at Toyota's North American manufacturing headquarters. "In designing its newest plant, in San Antonio, Toyota is trying to tackle the problem by building a clinic at the factory to provide a wider array of treatments and services than a typical factory medical office," said Christine Tierney of The Detroit News. "The workers at the San Antonio pickup plant can have their eyes checked and their teeth repaired at the $9 million clinic, which also offers pediatric services, laboratory tests and physical therapy." "This is a major step beyond what we've done before," Brewer said. The clinic is seen as consistent with Toyota's principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement. "Typically we reduce costs by improving quality," Brewer said. "That's the same thing we're doing here." "By offering better primary care and preventive medicine, Toyota expects to rein in its health-care expenses," reports Tierney. "Companies that have adopted this approach tend to spend more for primary care and drugs, but that increase is more than offset by a drop in costly hospitalization and specialty care expenses," Toyota said. The San Antonio clinic is the first of its kind at Toyota, said plant manager Hidehiko "T.J." Tajima. "It's for employees, their families and for suppliers. If it's successful, we'll spread the concept to other plants." Toyota will employ 2,000 workers at the truck plant by spring, while suppliers on the site will employ 2,100. "Toyota will gauge the success of the clinic by monitoring employees' health-care indicators, such as smoking-cessation rates and blood-pressure levels, and by tracking expenses," says Tierney. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO; BSD TOYOTA BEGINS TUNDRA PRODUCTION IN SAN ANTONIO November 17, 2006 New facility, 21 on-site suppliers invest nearly $1.6 billion, will employ more than 4,000 Toyota today celebrated the opening of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (TMMTX), the company's new $1.28 billion plant in San Antonio. Toyota officials, including Toyota Motor Corporation honorary chairman Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda and president Katsuaki Watanabe, joined Texas Governor Rick Perry and other local officials to witness production of the first two all-new Tundra pickup trucks. To commemorate the event, Toyota announced a $600,000 donation to the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) to establish the Toyota Family Literacy Program in three schools in San Antonio's Southwest Independent School District. Toyota's San Antonio plant was announced in February 2003, and construction began later that year. When the plant reaches full operations next spring, it will have the capacity to produce 200,000 Tundra full-size pickup trucks and employ 2,000 team members. The plant's investment was originally estimated at $800 million, but grew to approximately $1.28 billion because of a capacity expansion for 50,000 more trucks; rising material costs, especially for steel; and additional infrastructure needed for the on-site suppliers. Additionally, the 2,000-acre site houses 21 suppliers who produce parts and components and ship them directly into the plant. The on-site suppliers include seven minority-owned joint ventures, will employ 2,100 at full production, and have cumulatively invested approximately $300 million. "The full-size pickup truck market is, by far, the single-largest opportunity for Toyota's future growth plans in the U.S.," said Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. "Thanks to this highly-efficient plant, the in-house suppliers and all the team members, we plan to take full advantage of that opportunity. The new Tundra will arrive in showrooms in February. Our production and sales goals are ambitious, yet realistic, and reflect our confidence in the product." "When Toyota announced it would build a plant in Texas, it was the shot in the arm we needed to transform our economy and begin creating jobs in Texas again," said Texas Governor Rick Perry. "Today employment is at an all-time high, we have a record state surplus and the Texas economy is leading the nation. Toyota is an important part of the Texas economic revival because their investment means thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in wages for Texas families." Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO; BSD CONSERVATION GROUPS MOVE IN ON OFF-ROADERS IN DEATH VALLEY November 16, 2006 The National Parks Conservation Association, Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups filed papers yesterday in federal court in Washington, D.C., to intervene in a case that allegedly threatens to allow extreme off-road vehicle use in a rare, fragile desert stream in Surprise Canyon inside Death Valley National Park. Extreme off-road vehicle use would damage the canyon's unique character, including waterfalls, towering cottonwoods and lush willows that provide habitat for desert bighorn sheep, endangered birds, and rare species found nowhere else on earth except Surprise Canyon and nearby areas. "Death Valley is a national park - not a playground for off-road vehicles," said Howard Gross, program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "The public shouldn't be forced to see Surprise Canyon's tremendous natural values destroyed by a handful of off-road vehicle users, especially when there are so many off-roading opportunities available elsewhere in the Mojave desert." The conservation groups are intervening in a suit filed by off-road vehicle users last month to open Surprise Canyon to off-road vehicle use. The suit claims that the sheer canyon walls and the creek-bed are a "constructed highway" to which the off-roaders have a right-of-way under a repealed, Civil War era law known as R.S. 2477. Over the last 30 years, some Western states, counties and off-road vehicle groups have alleged that hiking trails, wash bottoms, streambeds, and little-used two-tracks meet the standard for a "constructed highway" under the law. "In many cases, off-road interests have viewed R.S. 2477 as a way to undermine effective protection of wildlife habitat, wilderness, and other values of public lands," said Mary Wells of California Wilderness Coalition. Congress and federal land managers have recognized Surprise Canyon's values for decades. In the 1980's the Bureau of Land Management designated the lower portion of the canyon as an "Area of Critical Environmental Concern." In 1994, Congress added the upper portion of the canyon to Death Valley National Park, and designated the area surrounding the canyon as wilderness. In a compromise, Congress left a narrow strip of land through the canyon out of wilderness in order to permit vehicle access to century-old mining claims at the top of the canyon although a major flood had washed out the old dirt road in 1984. No mining has taken place in Surprise Canyon since then. "Surprise Canyon is on a path to natural restoration. It was torn up and damaged. Now, it's thriving with plants and wildlife," said Tom Budlong of the Sierra Club. "When you visit the canyon you feel like you are again in national park and wilderness, not at an extreme off-roading site. We need to keep it that way." Other conservation groups joining in the motion are the Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, California Wilderness Coalition and The Wilderness Society. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO; BSD GET READY FOR THE BIGGEST LA AUTO SHOW EVER November 13, 2006 Growing Number of World Debuts Staged for Los Angeles Auto Show In a shift of emphasis, automakers are planning to conduct more world debuts than ever before at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show. Earlier dates now make the LA Auto Show the first major North American auto show of the season. A record-breaking 21 world debuts and 12-plus North American introductions are set to occur during the LA Auto Show press days. Bolstered by manufacturers' support of the new dates, the LA Auto Show will be the platform for world debuts from automakers looking to gain an early edge for their newest production and concept vehicles. Yet even before press days begin, several automakers are infusing Los Angeles' entertainment spirit by hosting off-site media events. According to Ed Welburn, General Motors' vice president of global design, all things indicate that 2006 is the year the LA show really catches stride. "California has long been a leader in cutting-edge design, advanced technology and environmental awareness - three areas that are literally redefining the automobile around the world, and three areas where GM is intensely focused right now" Welburn said. "As a trend-setting show in arguably the most influential market in the world, the Los Angeles Auto Show is a major platform for positioning our company with global automotive leaders and media." Punctuating GM's presence will be four world debuts, including an all-new hybrid SUV. Additionally, GM Chairman Rick Wagoner will deliver the opening press day keynote address on the challenges and opportunities facing GM and other automakers. The public days for the LA Auto Show are December 1-10, 2006. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD REPORTS SAY GM TO UNVEIL NEW ELECTRIC CAR November 10, 2006 Vehicle Uses an Onboard Engine to Produce Power to Extend Battery Range General Motors Corporation has taken a lot heat for killing off its EV1 electric car, as documented in Chris Paine's movie, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" GM is about to make amends for that, if reports from the Detroit News and the Los Angeles Times hold true. GM will be unveiling its latest electric car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2007, according to the Detroit News. "But the new electric won't be an emissions-free vehicle, unlike the initial GM electric, the EV1," reports John O'Dell of the Los Angeles Times. "The new car would use an onboard internal-combustion engine as a generator to produce electricity to extend the range of the vehicle's rechargeable batteries." GM won't talk openly about its new electric vehicle, according to O'Dell. It was evidently first hinted at in an interview Vice Chairman Robert Lutz granted industry trade publication Automotive News this week. "But a knowledgeable person within the giant automaker's technology division confirmed that GM had developed a prototype that would run initially on power provided by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, switching to electricity provided by the onboard gasoline- or diesel-fueled generator when the battery charge was depleted, reports O'Dell. Filmmaker Paine told the Times that he was in regular contact with GM engineers who support work on electric vehicles and had been told that the automaker planned to unveil the new model in early January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Rick Wagoner, GM's chairman and chief executive, is delivering the Motor Press Guild keynote speech during the press preview for the Los Angeles Auto Show. According to the Detroit News' David Shepardson, Wagoner will disclose that the linchpin to the company's turnaround is its emphasis on advanced technologies. Expect to hear more about the electric car effort during Wagoner's keynote address. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD VOLKSWAGEN CEO TO STEP DOWN November 8, 2006 Volkswagen AG announced that Bernd Pischetsrieder will step down as chief executive of Europe's biggest automaker and will likely be replaced by the head of the company's Audi unit. Volkswagen said the leaders of its board of directors recommended that Audi CEO Martin Winterkorn take over as Volkswagen CEO on January 1, 2007. According to a statement issued by Volkswagen, the full board will decide on the move at a meeting on November 17, 2006. Pischetsrieder leaves behind a drastic restructuring program, which was to include massive job cuts and longer working hours for the Wolfsburg-based company. "Volkswagen's earnings have begun to improve, boosting its share price," reports the Associated Press. "However, Pischetsrieder has been dogged by speculation that powerful labor unions and politicians are critical of his strategy." Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD ERIKKSON-FERRARI CASE COMES TO AN END November 7, 2006 Today on behalf of their client, attorneys for Stefan Eriksson pled out of two counts of embezzlement, both car charges, and the gun charge that their client faced. Two theft counts were dismissed. Stefan's lead attorney, Jim Parkman offered the following remarks: "Essentially, it was what Stefan wanted to do. Stefan came to an agreement, and everyone - all parties involved: Stefan, the defense, the DA took a look at the case & that's where we were at. Stefan had concerns over all; about both the cost and energy of continuing the case. Stefan believes that he can be successful in the future. He wanted to move on, and ultimately be out of jail in a year. There was also additional time added to the whole process; sitting there in his cell, waiting for a new trial to take place." According to Jill Leovy of the Los Angeles Times, "Eriksson himself stands to be deported after he gets out of prison, though his lawyer Alec Rose said he has planned to leave voluntarily anyway." Eriksson's defense team consisted of high-profile attorneys Jim Parkman, William White and Martin Adams of The Cochran Firm, the law firm founded by the late Johnnie Cochran. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD SUV CASE WILL KEEP HAUNTING AUTOMAKERS November 6, 2006 Automakers' pleas went unanswered as the California Supreme Court refused to review or de-publish a ruling that leaves Ford Motor Company on the hook for will probably expose the auto industry to greater liability for defective vehicles." Theodore Boutrous Jr. of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm that represents Ford in the case, told The Recorder that the court's decision "leaves California product liability law in a state of havoc." Boutrous asserts that the underlying ruling "is bad for both businesses and consumers and violates due process." "The automobile industry has had its eyes on the case since June 2004, when San Diego jurors awarded Benetta Buell-Wilson more than $368 million in damages after she was paralyzed when her Ford Explorer rolled over on Interstate 8," says McKee. Of that amount, $246 million was for punitive damages. Jurors evidently felt Ford had acted reprehensibly and had taken no steps to correct design flaws that made the vehicle prone to rollovers. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright subsequently reduced the overall award to $150 million. Then four months ago, the 4th District Court of Appeal cut it even further, to $82.6 million, reports McKee. "In his petition for review, Boutrous argued that the trial court judge had erred in computing punitive damages. Even more worrisome to automakers, he added, the judge had prevented Ford from introducing critical evidence on industry safety standards," says McKee. "In particular, he wrote, Judge Enright refused to let Ford present evidence that would have shown the Explorer was one of the safest sport utility vehicles on the road." According to The Recorder, Ford's petition was supported in amicus curiae briefs filed by Nissan Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler Corp., American Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Mercedes-Benz USA, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Product Liability Advisory Council, the California Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America. Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co., S146150. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD PRODUCTION FAIRLANE SAID TO BE VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL TO CONCEPT November 4, 2006 The production version of the upcoming Ford Fairlane will look nearly identical to the concept shown at the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, according to J Mays, Ford Motor Co. chief creative officer and group vice president-design, who spoke with Ward's Automotive. "It looks almost exactly the same" Mays tells Ward's. "There are people within the company that can't see the difference - and that's not a criticism of people in the company, it's a comment on how closely it resembles the concept." The cross/utility vehicle, codenamed D471, will be built at Ford's Oakville, Ontario, Canada, plant alongside a Lincoln derivative codenamed D472. The two CUVs will debut in 2008, according to Wards. The Fairlane replaces the Freestar, which will end its production run at Oakville next year and leave Ford without a minivan in its lineup. The Mercury Monterey minivan was discontinued in August. "The Fairlane captures the whole aura of East Coast, old money romanticism, and that's what resonated with people" Mays told Ward's. "Journalists, customers and analysts realized how hard it is to view a seven-seat vehicle with emotion, but it's just part of a growing range of emotional vehicles we have going forward." Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.


A mistrial was declared in the fraud and grand theft trial of Stefan Eriksson, the Swedish business man who allegedly crashed a Ferrari Enzo on Pacific Coast Highway along the Malibu coast this past February. Jim Parkman; lead defense attorney, stated that he felt "the jury did a good job in this case, [the defense] is pleased with the outcome of the trial." According to the Associated Press, jurors told Judge Patricia Schnegg they were deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Eriksson. The defendant was charged with two counts each of grand theft and fraudulent concealment with intent to defraud. Prosecutors were alleging that Eriksson stopped making payments on two luxury sports cars he had borrowed millions of dollars to lease and then tried to hide them. The defense acknowledged during the trial that Eriksson quit making payments on the cars late last year, reports AP. "But Parkman said he did so only after his company went broke, not because he intended to steal the cars." Los Angeles County District Attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said the office would retry Eriksson. Eriksson had previously pleaded no contest to a drunk driving charge in connection with the February 21st crash, which destroyed a rare Ferrari Enzo valued at $1.5 million. Prior to the Ferrari crash, Eriksson was best known as an executive with now-defunct Gizmondo, a European video game company. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

ROY NAKANO: BSD STUDY SAYS OVERWEIGHT AMERICANS ADD NEARLY 1 BILLION MORE GALLONS OF GAS CONSUMPTION A YEAR November 1, 2006 Here's a novel gas-saving tip: Lose some weight. That's the implication of a new study that says Americans are burning nearly one billion more gallons of gasoline each year than they did in 1960 because of their expanding waistlines, reports Lindsay Tanner of the Associated Press. "Simply put, more weight in the car means lower gas mileage," says Tanner. "Using recent gas prices of $2.20 a gallon, that translates to about $2.2 billion more spent on gas each year." "The bottom line is that our hunger for food and our hunger for oil are not independent. There is a relationship between the two," University of Illinois researcher and study co-author Sheldon Jacobson reports. "If a person reduces the weight in their car, either by removing excess baggage, carrying around less weight in their trunk, or yes, even losing weight, they will indeed see a drop in their fuel consumption." Jacobson, an industrial engineer, conducted the research with Laura McLay, a doctoral student in his Champaign-Urbana lab who now works at Virginia Commonwealth University. "They estimated that more than 39 million gallons of fuel are used each year for every additional pound of passenger weight, reports Tanner. The same effect has evidently been reported for airplanes. According to Tanner, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that heavy fliers have contributed to higher fuel costs for airlines. "The obesity rate among U.S. adults doubled from 1987 to 2003, from about 15 percent to more than 30 percent. Also, the average weight for American men was 191 pounds in 2002 and 164 pounds for women, about 25 pounds heavier than in 1960, government figures show. The study's conclusions are based on those weight figures and Americans' 2003 driving habits, involving roughly 223 million cars and light trucks nationwide." The study's findings will appear in the October-December issue of The Engineering Economist, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Society of Engineering Education and the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



That was LA Car's subtitle when it started back in 1997. Since then, La Car became LA Car. Its subtitle 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 one's own journal or diary. Now, the diary section goes daily. LA Car has always been a great source to come back to from week-to-week, 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) and Live Wires - Hot & Tender News From the Car Culture (co-located with Back Seat Driving, and updated at least daily), 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 Live Wires and the latest Back Seat Driving 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: October 2006 September 2006 August 2006 July 2006 June 2006 May 2006 April 2006 March 2006 February 2006 January 2006 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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