Monday, September 18, 2006

Chevy rolls out hydrogen fuel cell car

I love the Proton Exchange Membrane. Sounds like a good name for a rock band.

From Car and Driver

2008 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell - Car News
General Motors’ fuel-cell effort is more than vapor.
BY AARON ROBINSON, September 2006

General Motors wants the world to know that its efforts to build hydrogen-powered cars are more than just vapor. In 2007, the company plans to put a fleet of 100 fuel-cell sports-utilities on the road, some of which will be given to families for everyday use.

It is also continuing work on a surf-board-like vehicle platform called AUTOn-omy that packages the fuel-cell powerplant and its associated batteries and high-pressure hydrogen tanks below the floor.

GM plans to build 100 fuel-cell test vehicles in third-quarter of 2007 based on its Chevrolet Equinox mid-size sport-utility. The cars will be assigned to three test markets: New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles for three-month loans to families, business, and policy-makers. Except for special silver-green paint, some graphics, and a few interior trim changes, the Equinox Fuel Cell looks essentially stock.

However, inside is GM’s fourth-generation fuel-cell stack, a single 97-horsepower motor with 236 pound-feet of torque driving the front wheels, a pack of nickel-metal-hydride batteries, and three storage tanks holding up to nine pounds of hydrogen (good for 200 miles on an EPA mileage test) stored at 10,000 psi.

The fuel cell, built at GM’s research facility in Honeoye Falls, New York, is about the size of one of its inline-six truck engines turned sideways. Combined with the other equipment, and extra body reinforcements that allow the vehicle to pass government crash tests add about 500 pounds to the standard Equinox’s 3860-pound curb weight.

GM fuel-cell director Byron McCormick promises that the hydrogen-inhaling Equinox will behave much like a regular car. It will start up in sub-freezing temperatures (until now a technical hurdle for the water-generating powerplant) and get to 60 mph in about 12 seconds. However, the fuel cell’s life expectancy is just 50,000 miles owing to corrosion issues inside the stack.

The hydrogen fuel cells that GM, Honda, and other automakers are racing to build are not like those that NASA has been launching into space for over 40 years. The auto-motive fuel cell is an electro-chemical processor taking in gaseous hydrogen and pro-ducing water vapor that comes out the tail-pipe.

It uses a concept called “proton exchange membrane” in which hydrogen, a molecule of one proton and two electron (hence the H2 moniker) is forced through a membrane in the fuel cell that strips away its electrons, which become electrical current for the car’s drive motor. As the electrons reunite with the proton downstream, they join up with oxygen in the atmosphere to make H2O, or water, the fuel cell’s only exhaust emission.

Though hydrogen is the most plentiful element on Earth, making it usually involves chemically chipping it out of fossil-fuel hydrocarbons such as natural gas or coal. Currently, the world energy industry produces 15 million tons of hydrogen per year—mostly from hydrocarbons—and used mainly in oil refining, says Phil Baxley of Shell Hydrogen, GM’s fuel partner on the project.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Check out that groovy "digital" sound system

Drive today's Chevy, Live Today's Chevy. They don't write them like that anymore, do they. Check out the light up dash of the 1984 Camaro Berlinetta.

The New Ford Fairlane Concept Vehicle -- Oh wait, what's Alice doing here?

Found this on You Tube. I love old commercials.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Kia Rondo -- A Mini-Minivan?

Kia is apparently importing their Carens (a name my wife might like) to the US as the Kia Rondo (which sounds like a character in a Western movie to me). The car is like a smaller minivan, much like the Mazda5, a vehicle I happen to like.

I wonder why these cars haven't caught on. Granted, we like our cars huge here, but a mini mini that gets decent gas mileage could provide the appropriate combination of people and cargo hauling without needing a high profile SUV.

The Rondo is expected to show up in early 2007.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

2007 Hyundai Entourage -- Review by Ann Job

Hyundai's Entourage is pricey, but has thoughtful touches
For The Associated Press
Minivans aren't the hot-selling family vehicles that they were in the 1980s. But Hyundai officials still chose to add a first minivan to showrooms this year.

The seven-passenger, 2007 Hyundai Entourage is nicely done, with pleasant styling inside and out, six standard air bags and top government safety rating, plentiful amenities, an easy-to-live-with interior and a strong, 250-horspeower V-6 engine.

But with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $24,495, the new Entourage also ranks as the second highest-priced vehicle at Hyundai, after the luxury-oriented Azera sedan.

Indeed, the Entourage is $600 more than the 2006 Kia Sedona on which it is based. Hyundai and Kia are owned by the same South Korean-based car company, and the Sedona minivan was revamped for the 2006 model year.

The Entourage also starts at a higher price than the $23,995 base price for a 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan. Dodge's Caravan/Grand Caravan are No. 1 in minivan sales in the United States.

To be sure, the Entourage includes a generous amount of standard features, which is a characteristic of Hyundai vehicles.

For example, even the base Entourage comes with a five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic, which allows a driver to manually shift gears sans a clutch pedal for a sportier experience. This feature is in the Sedona, too, but it isn't found on many other minivans, including the Grand Caravan and Honda Odyssey.

Every Entourage, which is dimensionally about the size of an Odyssey, also comes standard with traction control and keyless entry system.

But traction control isn't offered on the base Grand Caravan, and keyless entry is optional.

The Entourage also is the best-warranted minivan on the market. It comes with Hyundai's industry-leading powertrain coverage for a full 10 years/100,000 miles, whichever comes first, along with a bumper-to-bumper warranty good for five years/60,000 miles.

Best of all, Hyundai officials appear to have cherry-picked the best minivan features pioneered in earlier years by competitors.

For instance, third-row seats in the Entourage flip and fold into a cavity in the floor with ease, leaving a flat, spacious cargo floor at the back of the vehicle. This feature was first used in Honda's Odyssey years ago.

The Entourage comes with a standard "conversation mirror" -- a convex mirror above the rear-view mirror that helps the driver see what rear passengers are doing without having to turn around. This was first introduced in Ford's Windstar minivan years ago.

Other thoughtful touches pioneered by others: All Entourages have two separate seats for the second row, avoiding the more plebian-looking second-row bench seat.

And windows on the two second-row sliding doors open up to 75 percent of the way to allow pets and children to get fresh air.

The savvy mix of features is joined by a single, strong powertrain.

Developing 250 horses and 253 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm, the 3.8-liter V-6 moves the rather heavy Entourage in responsive fashion. Indeed, the Entourage didn't hesitate in passing other vehicles, even on hilly roads at highway speeds.

The engine sounds good, sort of sporty, at startup as well as during acceleration.

Shifts from the transmission in the test Entourage were so smooth, I didn't notice them.

The government fuel economy rating -- 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway -- is in the top third of the minivan class.

But the test model, a top-of-the-line Limited that was priced at an eye-popping $33,670, only got 17.8 mpg in majority highway driving.

The ride in the test Entourage kept most bumps away from passengers. Riders didn't feel the bumps, but at times, they heard them coming from underneath the vehicle.

There also were some bobbing and diving body motions of the Entourage in curves and stopping maneuvers.

The interior was quite quiet, save for some minor wind noise that developed at highway speeds.

The leather-trimmed seats in the uplevel Entourage Limited were comfortable. But the leather itself didn't have the soft feel of upscale leather and could have been mistaken for vinyl.

On and off, the tester developed a squeak in one of the rear seats after the van had been on rough road surfaces.

And window buttons for the second-row doors were a big reach for passengers, because the buttons were on the metal pillar by the driver seatback.

But I appreciated that the Entourage floor is flat, everyone has a height-adjustable, lockable head restraint, and there are two glove boxes in front of the front-seat passenger.

I also had easy entry into any of the seats of the Entourage and a good view out and a bit above the cars. I never did see the end of the hood, though, so I had to estimate it as I parked.

Maximum cargo volume is a commendable 141.5 cubic feet, and it can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Impressively, the Entourage joins the Sedona as having the federal government's top safety rating in crash testing: five out of five stars for front- and rear-seat passenger protection in frontal and side crashes.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Suzuki SX4 -- Potentially Great Bargain

One of the cars I was curious about while visiting Sam Swope Suzuki was the Suzuki SX4. This small hatchback offers lots of standard features and is the lowest price vehicle to offer AWD, throwing in three modes .

Autobytel offers the best preview of the car, noting it's roominess and its advantages over other cars in the class, like the Dodge Caliber and Honda Fit.

There's a lot to love in the car on paper. It's got three mode all wheel drive, allowing you to adjust for conditions. The interior is nicely done. There are side curtain airbags, ABS brakes, and a 7 year, 100,000 mile warranty.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

IntelliChoice's Most Significant Cars of 2007

Below is their press release with their choices and my comments in bold.

September 06, 2006 10:18 AM US Eastern Timezone Selects Top Ten Most Significant New Cars for 2007; 2007 Model Year ''Make or Break'' for Many OEMs
CAMPBELL, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sept. 6, 2006--PRIMEDIA's, the leading source for automotive ownership cost and value analysis, today announced its top selections for the most significant cars to watch for the 2007 model year.

"This new car model year is seeing some extremely important vehicles that will be vital to the success of several manufacturers. 2007 also represents what we anticipate to be outstanding values for consumers in the marketplace" said James Bell, publisher of "The competitive landscape is changing quickly and high quality is becoming ubiquitous. This is a buyers' market and today's car shoppers have the best selection ever offered."'s top 10 picks for 2007 are:

1. Acura MDX - "At last, a daring design from Acura. Too long in the shadow of Honda, Acura has pledged to challenge buyers with strong visual appeal and driving dynamics a la BMW. The MDX is seen by many as an opening salvo in this battle." My brother owns an older model. It's very nice, but I agree with the fact that Acuras seem to have an identity crisis. They seem more like Honda's Mercury than they do their Lincoln. Given how much my brother seems to like his model, I wonder if he'll be picking up this one anytime soon.

2. Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra - "GM's recent financial and workforce problems are well documented and these trucks will save the day...or speed the decline. Being launched during a period of uncertain fuel prices, the improved Silverado and Sierra are new from the tires up. The real test comes from the hard-core work truck buyer, as buyers driven by fashion or prestige are becoming harder to find. A brand new big truck from GM is always big news, but given the current circumstances, the news couldn't be bigger." Trucks will always sell, but with gas prices high, and trucks being vehicles that people seem likely to keep until they fall apart, I don't see anyone rushing out to get these new gas guzzlers. Of course, I'm not a truck guy, so I probably don't understand.

3. Ford Edge / Lincoln MKX - "The first true Crossover SUV efforts from Ford, and not a minute too soon. The company really needs another big win (after the success of the Fusion and Mustang) to support their rapid reorganization plans and cover some of their recent missteps (see Explorer and Five Hundred)." Was the Five Hundred a misstep? I sure see a lot of them. These SUVs look sharp in pictures. I will definitely take a look at them when they hit the showroom. The styling is nice, but that inward curved rear takes some utility out of it.

4. Jeep Compass / Patriot - "Two vehicles that challenge the essence of the Jeep brand as strongly as the famous Rubicon Trail. The Compass and Patriot are built off the same platform as the new and successful Dodge Caliber, so indications are very good. But are there enough customers for two Jeeps that turn the term 'Trail Rated' into an optional feature?" The Caliber is getting less than stellar reviews, and the Compass seems to have many of the same issues (namely, it's cheap feeling and it ain't a Jeep). The Patriot looks like a potential winner, however. Success will depend on whether it draws in people who wanted the Jeep look but not the utility.

5. Nissan Sentra - "Nissan was forced 'back to the drawing table' for their new Sentra, and now the clock is ticking. New competition has made the current Sentra look and feel much older than its six years on the market, so the expectations are huge for this all-new model. And the market is prime as small cars have been making a big comeback since fuel prices began their ascent." I don't know about this one. It looks like a smaller Altima/Maxima, and inside looks well thought out, but bland. It'll be hard to compete against the Civics and Corollas of the world, and Nissan's own Versa (nicer than the Yaris or Fit IMO) may prove more appealing to those looking for a small car.

6. Nissan Altima - "When introduced in 1993, the Altima was 'close but not quite' when compared to Camry and Accord standards. A redesign in 1998 didn't help, but in 2002, Nissan hit the bullseye. Enough power, refinement, and size to make a big dent in the midsize market and here comes Generation 4. The Altima cannot afford to lose ground, as the new Camry is off to a huge start, the Chevrolet Impala is much improved, the Ford Fusion continues to impress, and Honda is preparing an all-new Accord. Add to the mix an Altima Hybrid later in 2007 and things get VERY interesting." I own a 2000 Altima, and I don't see anything that the Altima does that Accord or Camry don't do better and the Sonata doesn't do cheaper. Nissan needs to do an exterior refresh to make their sheet metal look less cheap on the outside. And Nissan seems reluctant to fully commit to a Hybrid, which, done right, could do very well.

7. Mitsubishi Outlander - "It is an overstatement to say that this vehicle could be a 'life-saver,' but there are many at Mitsubishi's California HQ that have all of their fingers and toes crossed for its success. The Outlander has grown and now occupies a unique place in the small SUV market. The spec sheet reads big with 220 hp, seats 7 in a pinch, and 30GB music hard drive all wrapped up in a fresh and clean design. Will the 4WD Outlander help Mitsubishi find smoother roads in 2007?" I am really looking forward to this one. If Mitsubishi can bring it in at a price less than or equal to Honda and Toyota, they could have a winner on their hands. The car has some cool technology and is sharp looking.

8. Saturn Aura - "The latest Saturn ads say 'Like Always, Like Never Before'" And this car will be the first true test. Saturn won the hearts of many drivers when it arrived in 1991 with refreshing designs and a friendly dealer network. And then GM slowly burned away the good will by allowing the product line to stagnate. Starting with the hot Sky roadster, future Saturns will follow in the steps of the European Opel line-up and that is a very good thing. The Aura arrives with bold and rewarding styling and engineering and could be the first Saturn since the original 1991 SL to hurt the imports." For some reason, Saturn has never excited me. The cars have always looked and felt cheap. The Aura looks nice on paper, but will it be enough to get people back in the showroom?

9. Toyota Tundra - "At last a true full-size competitor to the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram. To be introduced with a huge marketing spend and tie-ins with country music and NASCAR in an impressive attack on the American Heartland. But as gas prices continue to be a concern, will there be enough rough and tumble truck owners to meet Toyota's sales expectations?" I have to admit that if I were in the market for a truck, I'd bypass the Big 3 and get a Ridgeline or Tundra. The target audience may gravitate toward American makes, but if Toyota and Honda keep putting out great trucks, look for this to start taking more market share. 10. Volkswagen Eos - "You heard it here first - 'soft-top' or fabric convertibles are soon to be seen as 'old school' as more vehicles like the Eos hit the market. An important first step in VW's product-focused strategy to regain their 90's magic, the Eos is a sporty 4-seat convertible with a folding metal top and integrated glass sunroof. Could become a catalyst for change at VW." VW needs to focus on quality. Their cars were sharp looking and well made a few years ago, and then they imploded. I see trouble for VW on the horizon unless they can bring their prices down and quality up. provides automotive shoppers with the latest information from numerous automotive resources to evaluate what it costs to buy, own, and operate each new model-year trim line over a five year basis. Critical to the buying process, updates vehicle data several times a month in order to capture the many expiring rebates and ongoing programs offered by manufacturers--giving consumers the most up-to-date analysis.


Part of PRIMEDIA's Enthusiast Media, IntelliChoice is the market leader in automotive ownership cost and value analysis. Founded in 1986, IntelliChoice is committed to empowering consumers to make better purchase decisions by providing independent and essential automotive information and tools. Through the IntelliChoice web site (, consumers get the help they need to research, compare, configure and price vehicles. The site also connects buyers to the buying alternatives of their choice, including vehicle manufacturers and online buying services.

How can Ford recover? Is Alan Mulally the right guy?

Bill Ford stepped down this week as CEO of Ford and was replaced by former Boeing executive VP Alan Mulally. Among the interesting tidbits to come out this week is that Alan drives a Lexus. An outsider to the industry could be good or bad. It could be good in that he'll bring a fresh perspective in how to attack what ails Ford.

So how would I fix Ford????????

1) Figure out what brands you want to continue to own/support Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda, Volvo, Land Rover, Jag U Ar, Aston Martin. My suggestion is to sell the high end stuff (Land Rover, Jaguar, and Aston Martin). These will always be niche brands and might be fun for a sound company, but not for one that can't do much of anything right.). I would look strongly at the overlap at Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury. If you're going to do a high end brand, it truly has to distinguish itself from your entry level brand. GM's done well by Cadillac by making those models stand out both visually and with the technology in them. Mercury's another issue. Does the world really need two of each car with a slightly different finish on the second? Couldn't Ford just offer multiple trim levels? Does Volvo still exist? For a car that seemed to be everywhere for years, it seems to have lost its appeal around the Louisville area, at least. VW seems to be going after the "safety car" trophy in its ads, so how Volvo distinguishes itself will be important. I'm sure it still has loyal fans, but it seems adrift in a sea of other brands. I think if Ford is to succeed, it has to figure out how to make Mazda a major player. Their cars are appealing and fresh looking, and fun to drive. They stand out among the models that Ford's lineup offers.

2) Trim your model lines This seems easiest to do by cutting the Mercury line and Lincoln models that are too close to Ford Models.

3) Freshen your designs and cycle them more quickly How many years was the Taurus popular? Why is it that I only ever saw two versions of it on the road? What about the Escape and Focus. Have they changed much at all since they were created years ago? When you buy a car and like it, you're likely to buy it again. If it takes six or seven years for that car to be freshened, you're probably not going to buy a new one until it is refreshed or redesigned.

4) Quality IS job 1 Ford's cars are better, but they are still not Japanese better. The Focus was a well reviewed car that was almost killed by having more recalls than a Florida election. If the Japanese can figure out how to make them better, and Hyundai/Kia can turn around their disaster in the space of a few short years, Ford should be able to do the same. I'm guessing Ford has the following barriers to quality: cheaper materials (you gotta cut costs somewhere), corporate culture (either their workers don't care as much about the product or the powers that be at the plant don't enable them to fix problems or make suggestions, or both), failure to learn from the past.

5) Improvement must be continuous Did anyone at GM or Ford remember the 70s, when they were caught with their pants down and a fleet full of gas guzzlers? Honda and Toyota did. Despite low gas prices, they focused on raising their numbers. Why? Because it was a way to make their cars better. GM and Ford focused on their cash cows in SUVs, probably because it was easier to do in the short term. And what about technology? Items that are standard in Japanese cars (even stuff as simple as a remote fuel door) are options or not available in comparable domestic cars. Why?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dr. Z can't cure his own ills.

According to an article at, Dr. Z has bitten the dust for Chrysler, at least for awhile. Am I the only one who actually liked these ads? Certainly they were less obnoxious than Lee Iacoca's push during Chrysler's recovery.

Dr. Z will still exist at his website, Ask Dr. Z.

Car Browsing -- 1st Stop -- Sam Swope Suzuki

I stopped at Sam Swope Suzuki today to take a look at their offerings. Secretly, I'm hoping that if my experiment DOESN'T work, maybe when I can afford a car, I'll buy a secret bargain.

The salesperson who greeted me was friendly, and the showroom appeared dead. I looked at several vehicles, the Verona, the Aerio, and what I really wanted to see, the Grand Vitara.

The Grand Vitara was nicer looking than I expected, certainly nicer looking inside than my wife's increasingly dated looking CR-V, with nice aluminum looking accents, nicely put together controls, a simple looking stereo, and some nice solid feeling knobs. The seats were roomy and nicely done in black cloth.

The rear is not a liftgate, which I would prefer. Looking in the back though, it appears that without folding down the seats, you don't have as much cargo room in this SUV as my wife's CR-V.

Because I was just doing a fact finding mission, I didn't test drive the car, but for the money, it appears like a nicely finished small SUV for a decent price.

Definitely on my list when I start getting serious about test drives. I'm also going to take a look at the Suzuki SX4, a new cheap AWD vehicle coming down the pike.

Scion XB -- Where MY journey begins..........

I like the Scion xB and have since I first saw one, and I've always wanted one. I like their unique styling, great gas mileage, interior space, and cheap price. My wife, however, questions my masculinity at wanting this tiny "milk truck".

And so, the car I'm trading up for a new car is a Matchbox Scion xB, in milk white.

As for my love of the Scion, I still find them cool looking, but as I read about the problems people have had, I wonder if my next car shouldn't be something that costs a bit more. I also worry about hauling my daughter in something so small.

Still likes the 2004 model, and its owners seem to be a very loyal bunch. The new model apparently is going to be a larger version, which might be fun, or might just look like a 70s van, depending on how they do it.

If you'd like to trade something of value for my Matchbox Scion xB, please contact me at

Setting off on my journey with a Jeep Compass

We'll start with my wife. She has wanted a loaded CR-V since she got her first CR-V, a base 2WD model from 2003. Unfortunately, this is not a car that Hot Wheels or Matchbox seems to want to immortalize in die cast. So I had to settle on a small SUV equivalent..... the Jeep Compass. The Matchbox version is painted to make it look like a serious off roader. As any Jeep purist knows, the only time you're going to spend off road with this is if you get run off the road by a real jeep.

Still, the Compass sounds intriguing. A crossover vehicle, essentially a car with SUV like styling and utility, it's essentially the same as the Dodge Caliber, which is a replacement for the Neon. has indicated the car itself is a dissappointment, calling the interior "a study in hard plastic", noting it's bad fit and finish, and pointing out it's slow and smaller than its competitors.

But, this one looks REALLY nice. And with a quick push of the hand, it goes from 0 to 60 (scale speed) in about .5 seconds. Plus it gets great mileage.

So if you're interested in trading something of value for this vehicle, e-mail me at:

You can read Edmunds review of the Jeep Compass here.

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