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Automotive News - September 2014

MINI Car Clubs

Most iconic cars have legions of fans who often form fan clubs. The Ford Mustang, which is only now making it's way outside of the North American market has clubs all around the globe. Each of these vehicles has it's own culture, and the MINI and it's network of car clubs is no exception. MINI fans in Canada often join a local MINI car club. There is a Toronto MINI Club, a 610-member MINI Club of Quebec, and many more such clubs around the country. This summer, members of the Toronto MINI Club drove in a convoy to the MINI Invasion, a celebration of all things MINI in Niagara-on-the-Lake. On the grounds were 162 MINIs, no two alike. Described as "Miniacs" this group of fun loving drivers. One such fan who attended the Niagara event said: "I challenge anyone to get into this car and not end up saying, Okay, the MINI is the most fun car you’ll ever drive." He added: "I’m not a car guy – I’m a MINI guy."One of the highlights of MINI ownership is the delight enjoyed by making one's MINI distinct. Owners often modify, customize and accessorize their vehicles to show off to other MINI aficionados.

A Warning From JD Power

The reputation of JD Power is well established. The quality of it's customer satisfaction surveys regarding automobiles can not be doubted by anyone. Now, the firm has launched a warning to manufacturers: They should ensure that some of their existing systems can be properly operated, before more are added. Advancements in technology have led manufacturers to add innovative and desirable features to today's vehicles. One of these is speech recognition. This particular system seems to present a huge challenge for manufacturers, and it has become a cause of great dissatisfaction among car purchasers, a sentiment expressed in the recent JD Power report on initial product quality.

All New 2017 Volkswagen Golf

The 2017 Volkswagen Golf will be all new, the eighth generation of the popular car in 40 years of production, according to a report in a German magazine. Most car cycles last about 7 years, before a new generation is launched. The current model of the Volkswagen Golf was launched in 2012, so a complete overhaul after only 5 years is unusual. The Volkswagen Golf is Europe's best-selling car. The German magazine, Auto motor und sport had a few details about the all new 2017 Volkswagen Golf, but Volkswagen isn't commenting yet. The magazine says that the new generation will look much different from the current one. It will be lower and wider, with a variety of new design features such as restyled front and rear lights.

Ford Ranger XLT 2.2 TDCi

Choosing to focus on their full size trucks in North America, Ford discontinued the Ford Ranger a while back. Well, they did for our market, but the truck is still produced and sold overseas. In fact, the Ranger is sold in 180 different markets, and across five continents. The Ford Ranger was popular here, but with only a narrow gap in the pricing between it and much larger trucks, it was a tough sell. After all, why settle for a small truck, when you can have a big one for only a little bit more? Ford pulled the Ranger from here, leaving the small truck market for Japanese automakers to fight over. In Europe, the Ford Ranger competes with the Mazda BT-50, which was once it's sibling over here. It also rivals the Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara and the Volkswagen Amarok, which is strikingly similar in qualities. The Ranger and the Amarok are more like passenger vehicles, while the Japanese trucks feel like commercial vehicles.

New NHTSA VIN Tool To Search For Recalls

The amount of automotive recalls in the last year has been staggering. While General Motors is having serious issues with their vehicles and recalling nearly every GM vehicle for one thing or another, the problems are not related to them exclusively. Other automakers are seeing the light, and issuing a record number of light vehicle recalls at a rate faster than we can keep up with. During the first six months of 2014, 37.5 vehicles were recalled in the U.S. alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has acknowledged this problem, by offering a new tool that allows vehicle owners to search by Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and find out if their particular vehicle has problems that need addressing. By entering a vehicle's identification number into the system, they can immediately identify open or unrepaired safety recalls and whether or not the automaker has a fix available.

The New Chrysler 200 Wins IIHS Award

The completely redesigned, 2015 Chrysler 200 has successfully navigated the small overlap crash test of the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety. In fact, the 200 was granted the "Good" rating, the best that can be granted by the institute. This is a step up from the "acceptable" rating won by the previous generation. With the highest rating of the five IIHS elevated choices, plus a new collision warning alert system, the 2015 Chrysler 200 has now earned the Best Safety Pick + designation. In the small overlap test, the car's cabin has been well preserved, and the extent of injuries recorded by the crash test dummy shows that, in reality, the driver would not suffer any significant injuries in a similar accident. The dummy's head was well cushioned by the airbag, and remained in place during the accident.

Old Cars In Cuba

I've never been to Cuba, but for all of you who have been there, you've certainly noticed that the amount of 50 year old cars there is phenomenal. There is a reason for this. In 2004, there were 60,000 of these cars on Cuba's roads. You may recall that in 1962, the United States placed an embargo on Cuba, cutting off all commercial relationships between the two countries. One consequence of this embargo was that new American cars could no longer be sold in Cuba. There was also no way to ship replacement parts to repair vehicles already on the road. The only way to fix cars, was to use the ingenuity of Cubans, and to adapt the mechanical operations in Cuba with the technology that Russia could offer. If a car could not be repaired, it was parked, with the intentions of fixing it later. During this period, the Soviets have had a great influence on Cuba. The Lada, Moskvich and Volga were the only vehicles imported by the communist regime, primarily for use by the state.

Renovo Coupe - A New Electric Supercar

There is a $529,000 pure electric supercar set to launch in the United States next year. Silicon Valley startup Renovo Motors Inc, which has only been in business for four years, has spent that time working in secrecy to develop an EV supercar. For that price, we're not going to find a sewing machine engine under the hood. This all-electric supercar will race from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 3.4 seconds. It's got 500 horsepower, and an impressive 1,000 lb-ft of torque. It reaches a top speed of 120 mph. Did we mention that it's electric? The Renovo's high-voltage battery pack runs at 740 volts. To put things into perspective, the battery pack found in the Tesla Model S runs at 375 volts. The Renovo Coupe is built on the Shelby CSX9000 chassis and it's looks bring to mind the 1965 Shelby Daytona Coupe.

The Toyota RAV4 Trekking Across The Country

Every automaker has one or two models that perform better than all others, allowing them to survive, month after month. At Toyota, those vehicles are the Corolla and the RAV4. The profits made on these models are more modest than they are on say, a Lexus, but based on volume, the gains are definitely interesting. In July, 2014, sales of the Corolla and the RAV4 increased by 17.8 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively. Toyota Canada also had a record month for sales of it's trucks, and the RAV4 is no stranger to this phenomena. Toyota Canada is giving the Toyota RAV4 to the creator of a non-profit project, Great Canadian Journey, so that he can discover interesting Canadian destinations, as well as artists, culinary specialties of some lesser known locations, and more. The tour, which will last for two months, will also highlight the qualities of the Toyota RAV4 on long road trips.

Vehicles That Will Disappear Soon

Few vehicles have the staying power of the Ford Mustang, which celebrated 50 years last April. Most vehicles have a limited run of a few years, with a few exceptions making it through several generations. Here are a few favourites that didn't make the cut, and will disappear soon. The Honda Insight was never able to emerge from the shadow cast by the Toyota Prius. One of the first hybrids in North America, it just couldn't compete on price, versatility or efficiency, and Honda has given up on it. Honda's luxury brand Acura has eliminated it's two leading sedans, the TL and the TLX, and replaced them with the TLX. The brand has been making sedans less of a priority lately, and focusing on SUVs, where profits are higher. Also disappearing from Honda's line-up are the Ridgeline, Fit EV and the FCX Clarity. The Ridgeline was always a bit of an oddball in the pickup truck world, with a unique look, though people liked that the cabin was much like an SUV. There are rumours that Honda has a successor to the Ridgeline in the works.

Mercedes-Benz at the heart of Mario Kart 8

Three icons of the automotive industry from Mercedes-Benz will make appearances in the famous game from the new Wii U, Mario Kart. The eighth version of this video game will incorporate the legendary Silver Arrow of the 30's, the 300 SL roadster of the 50's, and the new Mercedes GLA. This collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and Nintendo means for that the first time in the Mario Kart series of video games, real-world cars will be available to race. Beginning August 27, twenty two years after the launch of the first game in this franchise, all fans of Mario Kart 8 can download the three cars from the game, absolutely free. This will also be the launch date of the "Mercedes Cup," an international online tournament where Mario Kart 8 players will showcase their skills against each other.

Cadillac Escalade Platinum

Nobody has ever said that the Cadillac Escalade wasn't fancy enough, but that hasn't stopped GM from announcing a new Platinum edition of the luxury SUV. If the Escalade is said to be wearing a suit, then the Platinum edition is like wearing a tailor-made tuxedo with tails and shiny shoes. Coming late this year, the Cadillac Escalade Platinum edition will sit at the top of the trim line range. According to GM's press release, it will receive "elegant, hand-crafted luxury additions to both the exterior and interior while the entire Escalade range gets new technical features."Inside, seats will be wrapped in Nappa semi-aniline leather, and hand stitched & hand wrapped leather will cover upper door panels, the dashboard and the centre console. There is also sueded microfibre headliner trim, exotic wood accenting, and buyers can choose from two different interior themes.

Acura TLX Sedan Boosting Image

Acura is looking for an image makeover, and the brand is counting on it's new TLX sedan to lead the way. The new TLX sedan is pulling double duty and replacing both the TSX and the TL in the brand's line-up. The company is loosening the purse strings on the new car's budget, with a broad marketing campaign across TV, sports, and online media included a Facebook campaign expected to reach every single Facebook user. Acura is hoping that such wide exposure will help revive the brand's stale image. Acura's brand manager Mike Accavitti said: "It’s not like we have a bad reputation that we need to overcome," he said. "It’s just we have a nondescript reputation."Acura has never spent so much as they have planned for the TLX's ad campaign, not even on last year's launch of the redesigned MDX, the company's top selling car. "TLX is a brand-new nameplate," said Accavitti. "We have to tell consumers what a TLX is, and we have to spend more."

375000 dollars Lexus LFA Returning

Not wanting to be left out of the supercar game, Lexus may be bringing back a successor to the $375,000 LFA. The original Lexus LFA was around for two years, ending it's production run in 2012 after building 500 units of the $375,000, 552-hp car with a V-10 engine. It's existence influenced work on premium models introduced since the launch of the LFA, and boosted the Lexus brand's reputation. The LFA was an opportunity for Toyota to compete with Porsche and Ferrari. Toyota has been pushing the Lexus brand hard in recent years, taking it's traditional reputation for quality, and adding performance and styling to the premium division. Recently redesigned models have helped the company to narrow the gap between Lexus and German premium automakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

New Chevy Volt Will Debut At Detroit Auto Show

GM has announced that the next generation Chevy Volt will debut at the Detroit auto show in January. The company's global chief marketing officer, Tim Mahoney, made the announcement at a seminar this week in Traverse City, Michigan. When pressed for details about the plug-in Chevy Volt, Mahoney said: "You'll see improvements all the way across, from technology to design." He added that the new Volt is “a pure expression of what Find New Roads represents.""Find New Roads" is Chevy's tag line. What we have heard about the redesigned Volt is that it will get an extra rear seat, bumping capacity to 5 occupants. The 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine is being replaced by a smaller, 1.0-litre, three-cylinder. We are expecting that the new version will have a new platform and an increased range.

A Better Heads-Up Display

As technology improves, and people get more serious about distracted driving, there is always room for a better way to utilize our gadgets in the car. Let's face it, while our car will broadcast calls, directions, music and sometimes texts from our phone, we still need to look over at the device or nav screen and use our fingers to answer, adjust or select. Siri is still not very smart, and her lack of accuracy can make us want to throw our phone out the window sometimes. Ideally, cars will be equipped with a heads-up display, so that the information from our phones will be displayed directly in front of the driver, rather than on the centre console, or worse, on our phone's screen. Some companies are experimenting with this technology, but it will be a while before it trickles down to cars that most mere mortals can afford. If only there was a solution, without having to buy a brand new high-end car.

Cars That Can Detect Drunk Drivers

For the last few years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been advocating for technological solutions to prevent drunk driving. The federal safety regulators are working closely with suppliers to develop seamless technology to be integrated into vehicles that would detect alcohol via breath and touch, and possibly even disable a vehicle, reducing or eliminating alcohol-related vehicle crashes. At a recent conference in Michigan, the NHTSA's associate administrator for vehicle safety research Nat Beuse said: "Lots of companies are out there trying to make the situation better." The agency is working on several technologies to reduce traffic fatalities, including alcohol detection technology. Safety products supplier Takata Corp. received a $2.2 million contract from the agency to develop a device to measure the sobriety of a motorist. Another supplier, Autoliv, is developing the sobriety systems. The technologies could be ready for implementation by 2018, once development and testing is complete. It is not yet determined whether the systems would disable a vehicle or issue an alert.

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