Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Driven: 2012 VW Beetle Turbo

It's finally here. The long awaited replacement for the Volkswagen New Beetle is finally hitting dealer lots. And we had the chance to drive one. Our test car was a candy white Launch Edition Turbo. Having driven and owned many of the outgoing New Beetles since 1998, the new 2012 edition is a welcome addition to the VW family. Many of the New Beetle's downfalls have been addressed including size, handling and power.

First thing you notice is the size difference. At first glance, it doesn't appear to be much larger, but the more you look at it, the more apparent it becomes that this isn't the small Beetle of old. You are also drawn to the elongated hood that more closely resembles the original Beetle. One styling cue I am still trying to adjust to, is the squared off front bumper that is part of VW's new design DNA. It just doesn't scream Beetle when you look at it. But who am I to argue? Moving to the side we find one of the best styling cues adapted to the Beetle yet, pillarless doors. They really suit the Beetle's design. The roof, much lower and elongated also carreis a few styling cues from the Beetle of the 1970s. An interesting styling touch is the partial roof panel attached tot the rear hatch. This adds the extra rear seat headroom. Out side, it also carries the roof mounted antenna, carried over from the previous New Beetle. The tail end of the car we find some great styling features. A true dual exhaust system with polished tips. Large, while not round tail lamps do have a few design cues from the past as well. Another nice touch is the addition of the VW emblem/trunk release seen on some other VWs, but never adapted to the previous car. This is a much welcome addition.

Our test car was also equipped with the optional 19 inch wheels wrapped in Continental ContiPro Contacts and the Turbos featured red brake calipers. 4 wheel disc brakes with ABS on all 4 corners. Unlike the previous New Beetle, the 2012 features a new fully independent 4 link rear suspension and a MacPhearson Strut front suspension. A Sport suspension package will be available as an option. The turbo is equipped with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder that has 200 horse power. Our test car came equipped with the optional 6 speed DSG automatic.

Moving to the interior, you are greeted by deep bolstered sport seats that come standard on the Turbo. The fit and finish of the interior is top notch compared to the VWs of old. I was surprised to find hard surfaces for th top of the dash, but the quality of the materials used are excellent. The new dash layout is excellent, a really nice feature is the body colored door, dash and steering wheel accents that really give the interior some splash. Storage is one thing there is no lack of in the Beetle. My particular favorite storage spot is the "KaferFach" glovebox. It captures the style of the original Beetles dash perfectly. The driving position is suited perfectly as one would expect from a car as sporty as the Beetle. And the flat bottomed steering wheel is an interesting touch. The rear seating area is greatly improved also, additional head and leg room is a big plus, as is the new 50/50 split rear seat vs. the New Beetles solid rear seat back. The trunk area is almost doubled in size. The lower edge of the trunk opening is almost flush with the trunk floor making loading and unloading easier. The rear cargo shelf attaches with string to the rear hatch to lift automatically just as in the Golf/GTIs. Under the trunk floor hides a full size 16 inch spare tire and a full tool kit. Of the entire interior, the only creature comfort missing that I would have liked to see was the addition of a center armrest. Outside of that there were very few.

The driving characteristics are very Volkswagen. Its fun to drive and packs plenty of power and handles like a go cart. We put it through its paces on some twisty roads and were very impressed with the cars characteristics. It stays planted on the road with only a tad of over steer. Performance was brisk in both full automatic and in manual shift modes. There is minor road noise with the windows up thanks to the larger wheels and low profile 235/40R19 Continentals. Cruising around, we managed 23 miles per gallon. While VW rates the 2.0T at 22 City, 30 Highway. In summary, I was very pleased with the new 2012 VW Beetle.

A special thank you goes out to Billco Volkswagen for letting us use of their car for this review.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Book Review: Car Guys vs. Bean Counters

Bob Lutz, love him or hate him is one of my heroes. I see a lot of similarities between him and myself. Not only with the business prowess and the want to succeed, but also the fact that were are true dyed in the wool car guys. Having read Lutz's previous business book, Guts. I anxiously awaited the arrival of Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The battle for the soul of American Business. At around 230 pages, I couldn't put this book. Every time I would pick it it up, I would get lost in the world of the auto industry I so truly love. There's a brief history lesson about GM's rise to to be the largest auto maker on the planet and the height of their style setting trends of the Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell era at  GM Design to loosing their ways in the Roger Smith era. But it's not all doom and gloom. There are plenty facts about what GM was doing right. And there's some interesting tidbits about other auto makers like Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, and VW. And lastly why the GM bankruptcy was an unfortunate truth that had to happen. bob Lutz is no stranger to the auto industry. His career has spanned nearly 5 decades and he has worked for all of the Detroit Big Three. I won't give away too much, but if you are passionate about cars and you are looking  for a great book to read. I highly recommend picking up Car Guys vs. Bean Counters.

What's the Best Chevrolet of all time?

As part of Chevy's centennial this year, the fine folks over at GM created an online contest to pick the best car out of Chevrolet's 100 year line up. Cars like the 53 and 63 Corvettes, 57 Bel Air, 69 Camaro, 70 Chevelle SS, the 1912 Classic Six, 09 ZR1, and even the 2011 Volt and a handful of others were all up for voting over the last few weeks with the winners heading to next round. By the time it was all said and done, the Chevy fans, chose the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro is the Best Chevrolet of all time. The Camaro won with an astounding 25,000+ votes. 2nd place was the 1970 Chevelle SS with only 18,000 votes.

Source: Chevrolet, General Motors

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The last Ford Crown Victoria heads on the last patrol

The Ford Crown Victoria can undoubtedly be classified as one of Ford Motor Company's best selling vehicle lines. Even it was fleet sales. Millions are in use throughout the world as police cars and taxi cabs. The Panther platform in which the Crown Vic was built on was first introduced 32 years ago and served all of Fords major divisions. The Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car and the ill fated Mercury Marauder all shared the same chassis architecture.

What might be the most sad though about a true American workhorse fading in to glory is that the final Crown Victoria won't be preserved by Ford or by any collector that we're aware of in the U.S. Nope, the last Crown Vic is headed to Saudi Arabia. Hopefully who ever ends up with the final Crown Vic will realize just how special this car is to automotive history and won't run it til the wheels fall off.

Only time will tell what future lies for a rear wheel drive, V8 powered sedan for Ford holds. This is the first time since 1932 that there has not been one in Ford's line up. Many police departments and taxi companies have been hoarding Crown Victorias in an effort to keep their fleets going especially as many older models were killed off during the failed Cash for Clunkers program. And many aren't enthused with the new Taurus police interceptor.

Long live the Crown Victoria! Thanks for 32 great years!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Little known history of the Chevrolet Bowtie.

Some automotive brands are pretty clear about how their corporate logos have come about. Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Porsche and Ferrari all come to mind. One that's not well known, but also shrouded with a bit of mystery is the bowtie logo of GM's Chevrolet division.

Several stories have emerged as to how the now famous logo originated. One from Billy Durant's daughter who says that it originated from her father's imagination one night at dinner. Another from Durant's widow saying that her husband found a similar logo while reading a newspaper while on vacation in 1912. Others say it is a stylized version of the Swiss flag cross as Louis Chevrolet was born in Sweeden.

The official origin from General Motors is that Billy Durant saw the logo as part of the pattern on some wallpaper in a Paris hotel that he would tear down and return to Detroit with in 1908. The earliest known use of the the bowtie logo dates to 1913. So who's to say which one is the true meaning behind the bowtie? Durant passed away in 1947, so the answer has certainly gone to the grave at this point. But there is no denying that it ended up being the right choice as now, 100 years later the Chevrolet brand is still in business making cars.

Press Release:

DETROIT, Sept. 2, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Globally recognized today, the Chevrolet bowtie logo was introduced by company co-founder William C. Durant in late 1913. But how it came to be synonymous with the brand is open to wide interpretation.

Durant's version of how the logo came into existence is well known. The long-accepted story, confirmed by Durant himself, was that it was inspired by the wallpaper design in a Parisian hotel.

According to The Chevrolet Story of 1961, an official company publication issued in celebration of Chevrolet's 50th anniversary:

"It originated in Durant's imagination when, as a world traveler in 1908, he saw the pattern marching off into infinity as a design on wallpaper in a French hotel. He tore off a piece of the wallpaper and kept it to show friends, with the thought that it would make a good nameplate for a car."

However, conflicting accounts have emerged, each of which is plausible enough to deepen the mystery and suggest it may never be solved. Two of the alternate origins come from within the Durant family itself.

In 1929, Durant's daughter, Margery, published a book entitled, My Father. In it, she told how Durant sometimes doodled nameplate designs on pieces of paper at the dinner table. "I think it was between the soup and the fried chicken one night that he sketched out the design that is used on the Chevrolet car to this day," she wrote.

More than half a century later, another Bowtie origin was recounted in a 1986 issue of Chevrolet Pro Management Magazine based on a 13-year-old interview with Durant's widow, Catherine. She recalled how she and her husband were on holiday in Hot Springs, Va., in 1912. While reading a newspaper in their hotel room, Durant spotted a design and exclaimed, "I think this would be a very good emblem for the Chevrolet." Unfortunately, at the time, Mrs. Durant didn't clarify what the motif was or how it was used.

That nugget of information inspired Ken Kaufmann, historian and editor of The Chevrolet Review, to search out its validity. In a Nov. 12, 1911 edition of The Constitution newspaper, published in Atlanta, an advertisement appeared from by the Southern Compressed Coal Company for "Coalettes," a refined fuel product for fires. The Coalettes logo, as published in the ad, had a slanted bowtie form, very similar to the shape that would soon become the Chevrolet icon. Did Durant and his wife see the same ad – or one similar – the following year a few states to the north? The date of the paper was just nine days after the incorporation of the Chevrolet Motor Co.

One other explanation attributes the design to a stylized version of the cross of the Swiss flag. Louis Chevrolet was born in Switzerland at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Canton of Neuchatel, to French parents, on Christmas Day 1878.

Whichever origin is true, within a few years, the bowtie would emerge as the definitive Chevrolet logo. An October 2, 1913 edition of The Washington Post seems, so far, to be the earliest known example of the symbol being used to advertise the brand. "Look for this nameplate" the ad proclaims above the emblem. Customers the world over have been doing so ever since.

Many variations in coloring and detail of the Chevrolet bowtie have come and gone over the decades since its introduction in late 1913, but the essential shape has never changed. In 2004, Chevrolet began to phase in the gold bowtie that today serves as the brand identity for all of its cars and trucks marketed globally. The move reinforced the strength of what was already one of the most-recognized automotive emblems in the world. More than 4.25 million Chevrolets were sold in more than 120 countries and regions during 2010.

About Chevrolet -- Founded in Detroit in 1911, Chevrolet celebrates its centennial as a global automotive brand with annual sales of about 4.25 million vehicles in more than 120 countries. Chevrolet provides consumers with fuel-efficient, safe and reliable vehicles that deliver high quality, expressive design, spirited performance and value. The Chevrolet portfolio includes iconic performance cars such as Corvette and Camaro; dependable, long-lasting pickups and SUVs such as Silverado and Suburban; and award-winning passenger cars and crossovers such as Spark, Cruze, Malibu, Equinox and Traverse. Chevrolet also offers "gas-friendly to gas-free" solutions including Cruze Eco and Volt. Cruze Eco offers 42 mpg highway while Volt offers 35 miles of electric, gasoline-free driving and an additional 344 miles of extended range. Most new Chevrolet models offer OnStar safety, security and convenience technologies including OnStar Hands-Free Calling, Automatic Crash Response and Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. More information regarding Chevrolet models can be found at

Source: GM

Friday, September 9, 2011

Where is Henry's punch bowl?

It's no secret that Henry Ford was one of the greatest minds to have lived in the 20th century. Aside from building some pretty fine automobiles, Henry Ford also dabbled with racing. In 1901 Ford, participated in a race put on by the Detroit Driving Club. He built a car specifically for the race, all in hopes of securing backers for his next automotive venture, which was of course, Ford Motor Company. Also participating was Alexander Winton, a fellow car builder from Cleveland, Ohio who was also considered the best driver in the country at the time. Winton's entry in the race was secured by letting him pick the trophy for the race which was a cut glass punch bowl set. And it was picked because Winton had a spot in front of a window in his home where it would look perfect and "really tie the room together". What Winton didn't count on was Henry Ford's determination. The race officials changed the format from a 25 lap endurance race (that was a lot in 1901) to a 10 lap sprint. While Winton's car was vastly more powerful than Henry Ford's "Sweepstakes" racer. The size and light weight of Ford's car gave the advantage. Catching and passing Winton's car by the eighth lap. Winning the race, Henry Ford did was any driver would do, by taking the punch bowl home. After Henry Ford's wife Clara's death in 1950, many of the Ford's possessions were auctioned off. This included the punch bowl, which sadly, no one knew the meaning of.

Now, Edsel Ford II want's it back. Ford Motor Company and the Ford family now fully understand the special meaning of the punch bowl and want it back, badly. The punch bowl is wanted for a new addition to The Henry Ford museum called Racing in America. All in an effort to teach and raise awareness of the science and technology of motor racing. And the punch bowl is an extremely significant part of that history.  Edsel Ford is hoping that thanks to the Internet that the punch bowl can be found. It is known that it was purchased by a private collector in the 1950 auction. So hopes are that it's out there somewhere. Look at the picture carefully. Perhaps it is sitting on your grandmother's dining room table. You could be the hero of the Ford family!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the garage: 2012 Scion xB

Many of you may remember how impressed we were with the 2009 Scion xB as one of our first test cars. So much so that another has been added to the fleet. We recently picked up our new tester and have enjoyed it just as much as our last Scion. Our new xB is painted in a very understated Army Rock metallic, and like our previous 2009 is void of options. That being said, you do get A/C, a 160 watt Pioneer stereo with CD player,  iPod and MP3 jacks, standard disc brakes w/ ABS, traction and stability control, power windows and locks, and just about everything else you'd expect to find standard.

Our car again has the 2.4 liter DOHC 16 valve 4 cylinder that offers relatively good performance at 158 horse power. This time, we opted for the 5 speed manual transmission. Toyota rates the fuel economy at 22 City/28 Highway. So far we have averaged 23.3 MPG, though it's not like we're exactly light on the gas.
 Inside the xB is very roomy. the seats sit at chair height and are fairly comfortable. Since our 2009 xB, I have noticed that one major change Scion made was the addition of a traditional center arm rest for the front seat passengers.  The radio, heater and A/C controls, and the gear shift are all right at your finger tips. With the  5 speed manual, this makes for a very comfortable driving position. Otherwise, the car really has changed very little. But that's not really a bad thing. The only recommendation that still carries over from the 2009 xB is to have the addition of an arm rest for the 60/40 rear split seat. This would make for longer trips more comfortable for those riding in the rear seat. Look for more updates soon!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Another Pittsburgh dealer closes its doors

After 41 years serving the North Hills. Demors Linclon ceased operations as of Tuesday. Demors began business as a Lincoln Mercury dealer in 1970. However due to the loss of the Mercury brand and struggles that still exist in the auto industry caused Demors to be one of many long time dealers in the area to close their doors. McKnight Road is no stranger to automotive dealerships. Currently North Hills Toyota, Baierl Kia, and Mick's Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep all make residence on McKnight. McCrackin Ford also made its home on McKnight before closing in 2007. Their building still sits empty on one of the busiest sections of McKnight, sitting across the street from Ross Park Mall. That area seems to be struggling  for new business and a makeover as many storefronts in the Ross Towne Center is also void of many stores after Circuit City, Damon's and Roomful Express have all vacated within recent years.

But back to Demors. What does this now mean for Lincoln and Mercury vehicle owners in the North Hills? Of course any Ford dealer can service the cars with no problems. So that gives owners the option of servicing at Shults Ford in Wexford. Unfortunately, this leaves the sales gap open at a very crucial time for Ford Motor Company as it works with the Lincoln brand in redeveloping its image. Just as General Motors is doing so with Cadillac. Will we see another Lincoln dealer open in the North Hills? I certainly hope so. With the brand image that Ford is moving forward with, with Lincoln being a stand alone brand. I can see an entirely new dealership built to reflect the Lincoln image. But it would have to be north of Ross Township to better compete with other dealers. Both Cadillac and Lincoln are working to take on a more youthful buyer segment and thus the DeVille and Town Car nameplates respectively have been dropped by each brand. Hopes are to bring entirely new flagship vehicles to each brand, but both are difficult vehicles to replace. Just as dealerships are. We are sad to see Demors close, but it unfortunately is one of the necessary evils that we have to face in the auto industry.