21 July 2007

!Ouy Evas Ot Ereh Si Tlov Yvehc Eht



Look at it. Moving so majestically. And slowly. And in reverse. I can feel the quivering coming from the Middle East right now. Vive la future without oil!

...

Note to self- this was released by GM Blogs. Meaning it's probably powered by a Cobalt sourced Ecotec with a couple of Energizer battery covers to make people think big progress is being made.

20 July 2007

Driving in Manhattan Won't Be Free Much Longer

In 2003, London instituted a £8, or about $16, "congestion charge" on any cars that entered central London. The aim was to clear some of the traffic and clutter from the center of the city, encourage public transportation use, and reduce air pollution. To many, including London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, the plan was so successful that the city expanded the size of the zone in February to roughly double its size and encompass a larger portion of the city. Although at the time of the initial implementation, 40% of Londoners supported the surcharges, 60% of them did in 2006.

Mr. Livingstone touts many successes of the charges:
  • In 2002, the average vehicle traveling through the city moved at an average of 8.7 miles per hour; in 2003 it jumped to 10.5 miles per hour
  • There are 16.4% fewer vehicles entering the city since 2002
  • There is 16.4% less carbon dioxide emissions in the city than in 2002
  • Traffic accidents with injuries fell from 2,296 in 2002 to 1,629 in 2005
The tolls work like this: When you drive through the marked toll zone between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. (or 6:30 p.m., depending on the zone), hundreds of cameras photograph your car's license plate. A computer matches your license plate number against a database of license plates that have paid the toll. Drivers have until midnight on the day they entered the toll zone to make payment (which can be done online, via text message, over the phone, or in convenience stores), or they face fines, which are sometimes very hefty. Residents who live within the toll zones receive a 90% discount. The system costs the city about $184 million per year to run, but generates $430 million in revenue (that's a 57% profit margin).

They are not without opposition, even in London. Small business owners are concerned that the charges dissuade potential customers from shopping at their stores if they are within the toll zone. Privacy advocates hate the idea of the government tracking every car's movements through the city.

Now, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would like to implement a similar plan in Manhattan, below 86th street. Under Mr. Bloomberg's proposal, any car entering the area between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. would be charged $8. Forget for a moment that the city is asking the federal government for between $200 million and $500 million for this initiative. Also forget for a moment that 55% of New Yorkers already use public transportation to commute to work. And finally, forget the fact that recording vehiclular movements Big Brother style goes counter to the loss of privacy that most Americans will tolerate. Those are all major issues with this initiative, to be sure. But what about the fact that Manhattan is an island? I mean, until amphibious cars are mainstreateam, the only way to get a car into Manhattan is via bridge, tunnel, or ferry, and nearly every way into Manhattan requires payment of a toll. So wouldn't it be exponentially simpler to just add $8 onto tolls for vehicles entering Manhattan? The toll collection infrastructure - whether in the form of ferry tickets, E-ZPass, or human toll collectors - is already there.

The other thing that fundamentally bothers me about this idea as a car enthusiast is that, as if increasing traffic, increasing gas prices, and increasingly inconsiderate fellow drivers aren't already conspiring to remove most of the fun from the driving experience, New York is basically trying to eliminate automobiles, at least to the largest extent they are able. That just doesn't sit right with me.

I've only personally driven in Manhattan twice that I can recall; otherwise, every other time I have visited, I've either ridden the train or the ferry, so this concept doesn't directly affect me. However, the idea is catching on in other cities, and it's only a matter of time before a city near me - or you - tries to implement "congestion charges." Say goodbye to automotive freedom and hello to bureaucracy.

19 July 2007

2008 Cadillac CTS Pricing Released


Yesterday afternoon, a member at Cadillacforums.com posted official 2008 CTS pricing. The base price for a 2008 CTS with the non-DI engine and manual transmission is $32,245, and the model with the 304-horsepower direct injection V6 comes with a standard automatic transmission and costs $34,545, or $2,300 more. The base car's price represents a $1,575 (5.1%) increase over the 2007 2.8 liter's $30,670 price. However, comparing the 255-horsepower 3.6 liter prices, it's actually a $1,285 price reduction.

Don't get your hopes up, however. If you're a buyer, the news only gets worse from here. Options seem to be extremely expensive. I haven't analyzed the details of what is included in each package, but it's readily apparent that if you want to get ALL the good stuff, you should be prepared to spend a lot of money. A DI model with the premium luxury collection, 18" wheels, UltraView sunroof, etc. will top out at almost $50,000.

According to Cheers and Gears, the package contents are:

Luxury Collection (PDP) - $2600
Luxury Level One Package (Y40)
Seating Package (Y44)

Premium Luxury Collection (PDQ) - $8165
Luxury Level One Package (Y40)
Luxury Level Two Package (Y41)
Seating Package (Y44)
Audio system with navigation (UAV)
UltraView sunroof (C3U)
Wood Trim Package (B19)
Wood Trim Package (B20)
Universal Home Remote (UG1)

Performance Collection (PDR) - $3300
18" All-Season Tire Performance Package (Y42)
Seating Package (Y44)

Luxury Level One (Y40) - $1000
Theft-deterrent alarm system
AM/FM stereo with 6-disc in-dash CD changer and MP3 playback with Radio Data System (RDS) and Bose 8-speaker system
Rainsense wipers
Accent lighting
17" x 8" machined-faced wheels

Luxury Level Two (Y41) - $2025
Heated/ventilated front seats
Split-folding rear seat
Power rake wheel and telescopic steering column
Universal Home Remote
EZ Key passive entry system
Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist

While the base prices are similar, or even better, the availability of additional options will push the price of a CTS with all the option boxes checked to more than $10,000 over the price of a loaded 2007 model. Apparently GM really does take the idea of moving the CTS into BMW 5-series territory seriously, because top of the line CTSs will be within spitting distance of 535i sedans (which start at $49,400 without leather interiors).

I'm curious to see how the market reacts to this pricing. On one hand, the base price is attractive and the car is a clear improvement over the outgoing model. On the other hand, pricing a new model too high at launch can kill its chance for later success; just ask the Chrysler Pacifica.

Click the image below for a graphic with the full pricing details.

18 July 2007

Ford sales up 122 percent...


...in Russia.

For all the tears shed, hands wrung, and red ink spilled about Ford's problems in the US market for the past year or two (namely a $12.6 billion-with-a-B loss in 2006 and falling sales and market share), there is at least one part of the world where Ford can literally do almost no wrong: Russia.

Take almost everything that is wrong with Ford in its home market - a truck-heavy lineup, a marginally competitive small car, and unrealistic MSRPs (hence the perpetual $7,000 rebate on Lincoln Town Cars), and Ford does not have any of those issues in Russia. In fact, year to date Ford sales are up in Russia by 122% through June 30, while the overall market was up 70% in 2006.

In Europe, expensive gasoline and a more pragmatic approach to transportation means that few if any non-industrial buyers purchase pickup trucks or full-size SUVs. Although the US market is trending away from these vehicles, they are still very much a part of Ford's US lineup (as well as GM's and Chrysler's). However, as US buyers' tastes shift away from large vehicles, Ford's product plans have not yet caught up to consumer tastes. In Europe, and Russia in particular, the product mix pretty much already matches what buyers want, and are likely to want in coming years. Throw a growing economy flush with oil revenue (wages up 28% in April 2007 versus April 2006) into the mix, and the result is stratospheric sales gains.

Instead of talking about what Ford does wrong in the US, let's look at what they did right in Russia. Part of Ford's success is probably luck, and part can be attributed to good management.

Ford laid the foundation for its success in Russia by becoming the first foreign-owned automotive company to build a production line in Russia, in St. Petersburg, so the company enjoyed a first mover advantage. St. Petersburg has become a "Russian Detroit," as Nissan and Toyota later announced plans to build vehicles there, and other facets of a nascent automotive industry sprang up in the area. Ford currently has capacity to produce 72,000 Focus compacts at its St. Petersburg facility, but just announced plans on July 10 to spend $100 million to expand the plant to produce an additional 28,000 Focuses (100,000 total) plus 25,000 Mondeo midsize cars.

As far as having the proper product mix for the local market, Ford's lineup in Russia is anchored by the Focus. Yes, the Russians get the "good" Focus (on the well-regarded C1 platform, which also underpins the Mazda3, Volvo S40, and others). The Focus starts at just $12,000 and is well within reach of the Russian middle class, particularly with readily available financing. The Focus is so popular in Russia that at its launch, customers had to endure six month waiting lists to buy one. There are still waiting lists, but they're now at three or four months. It's the best selling import brand vehicle in Russia, beating out strong competitors such as Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

If Ford only Ford was able to emulate its success in Russia in the US, we might be having very different conversations about Ford's future today. Unfortunately, though the Russian Ford sales are way up, they also represent only a small portion of Ford's global sales (115,985 units out of 6.6 million) so aren't really helping the bottom line at this point. However, analysts believe that in the next few years, Russia could become the largest car market in Europe, and Ford appears to be sitting in a great position to capitalize on that.

The New Porsche Panamera Reminds Me Of Arnold Schwarzenegger For Some Odd Reason





Resemblance to a previous generation Lexus GS? Check.
Horrifically ricey rear wing? Check.
Weird growth on the ass end? Triple check.

If anyone other than Porsche was looking to release this vehicle, it would get savaged. But since it's Porsche, the German fetishists are having a field day about how great this looks. Give me a break.

Rolls-Royce Breathes A Sigh Of Relief- Chrysler Imperial Shelved


Apparently not happy with pillaging most Bentley styling cues with their Chrysler 300C sedan, a few years ago Chrysler decided to wade into deeper, more staid and upright waters- pillaging styling cues from Rolls-Royce. Perhaps emboldened by their then German taskmasters, who wanted to steal Bentley/Audi/VW thunder, they came out with the monstrosity pictured above, the Imperial.

What was the Imperial? A further stretched version of the 300C, with suicide rear doors, and a look that suggested it was straining to release a bowel movement. Probably not a good look for a vehicle destined to cost upwards of $50k US I think.

Seems like the current crop of Chrysler execs took a dose of Metamucil and came to the same conclusion, accord to the Toronto Star-

Chrysler confirmed yesterday that it has decided not to proceed with production of the bulky luxury car at the Brampton assembly plant.

Ed Saenz, manager of corporate communications for DaimlerChrysler Canada, attributed the demise of the project to escalating gasoline prices and more government regulations on fuel economy, which would cut into the vehicle’s popularity.
Read 'escalating gasoline prices' as 'we focus grouped this thing and people turned to stone', and 'government regulations on fuel economy' as 'we would need 2 Hemi engines to move this behemoth around', and you'd probably get a better idea of what Mr. Saenz was trying to say.

Even When GM Does Something Right, They Still Do It Wrong


Since everyone, their mom, and their 2nd cousin has apparently seen Transformers in the first two weeks of its release, I pose this question- which of the Transformers made the biggest splash in visual appeal and, to paraphrase C&D- 'gotta have it' factor?

No, not Optimus Prime, with his crappy flames.
No, not the supremely idiotic looking Megatron.
No, not the bird-like Starscream.

The correct answer is Bumblebee.

This was to be a crowning moment for GM- they had this movie all to themselves. One of the bad guys was a freaking Ford Mustang for God's sake! For one of the most pivotal characters in the movie, GM decided to throw their best at the wall, hoping it would stick- Bumblebee would be a Camaro.

At first, an old Camaro. But after spotting a new Camaro on the street, well, he would morph into a new Camaro.

There is something important in that last sentence. 'On the street'- in the movie, the new Camaro is spotted on the street. Silly me, I took that to mean that the new Camaro was actually, you know, OUT already. As did probably every 14-45 year old male in the audience of the movie who wasn't attached at the hip to an online news source. Unfortunately for them, the new Camaro ISN'T available yet. On the street. Or in a dealership. Or anywhere for that matter really. Well, maybe an autoshow. But you're definitely not allowed to sit in it.

And another idiotic decision on the part of GM comes to light. They blew their load in the biggest movie of the summer on a vehicle that isn't available until 2009. All that goodwill and publicity... for nada. Maybe another Transformers movie comes out in 2009 or 2010- but do they want to bank on that? And really, first impressions play a huge role- the Camaro might just well be old news by 2009.

So what other car should have been in its place? My vote goes to the Solstice- coincidentally used for Jazz in the movie. Or even the Corvette, if they wanted to play the 'old car turning into a new car' trick.

But the Camaro? A 2009 model?

Nope.

VW Continues Their Death March


According to VWVortex, the Fahrvergn├╝gen people are getting all bright eyed and bushy tailed with a set of new models due to come out next year.

What's coming out?

  • Jetta TDI Wagon
  • Tiguan CUV
  • VW Minivan
  • Passat Coupe
  • Next gen Touareg
See a problem here?

In Canada and the US, VW has made a committed effort towards becoming Audi-lite. And it's just not working. At all. Their core brands, the Jetta and the Rabbit, are mired in sales slumps versus their respective segment leaders (Civic, et al), almost totally because they are priced WAY too high. The Passat has the same issues when compared against the midsize segment competition which it matches up with. The problem is that the buying public just ain't buying the idea of VW as the premium brand. It's just not happening.

It's interesting to note that in Canada, sales have been brisk for VW. But for what models? The CITY Golf and the CITY Jetta. What are those you ask? Last generation versions of the respective nameplates. Sold for 15k, bare bones, weak engines, and nothing much in terms of frosting. Why did VW have to resort to this? Because they were getting their lunch eaten in the small car market by the more reasonably priced competition, and had no other choice.

So the solution going forward would have seemed to be simple- go back to the bread and butter of the brand. VW was never about 'premium'. It was about solid German engineering at cheap prices. Pretty simple really. A Polo derivative should have come over to North America to fill in the gap in the product line created by escalating Jetta and Rabbit prices (did you know that a Jetta can approach 40k CDN?), along with a number of offshoots (think coupe, convertible, hatchback, etc.) all available with diesel engines if wanted.

Instead we get more bloat for the Passat lineup, at what will probably be a price premium, a CUV that will no doubt be more expensive and offer less value than the Americans, the Japanese and the Koreans, a rebadged Chrysler minivan, and an SUV that probably would have been better off as an Audi/Porsche only model. The only bright light is the Jetta TDI Wagon offshoot- but will that be enough to stop the floundering?

Odds are... no.

OK, but if they go any higher, THEN we'll cut back...


A Reuters/Zogby poll released today concluded that 40% of Americans would curb their driving habits if gas reached $3.50 per gallon. Somehow, I do not believe this. It's not that I am disputing the poll or its methodology; I dispute that Americans know what they are talking about with gas prices and how they will behave.

Gas prices in late May were already at an average of $3.23 per gallon nationwide. Assuming 22.5 miles per gallon combined economy and 15,000 miles driven per year, the annual cost difference between $3.23 and $3.50 per gallon is $180.09. That means a monthly difference of $15 or a weekly difference of $3.46.

Believe me, I complain about high gas prices as much as the next guy. We own two V6-powered vehicles (though one is a 5000-pound midsize body on frame SUV) and our "fleet average" is pretty close to 20 or 21 miles per gallon (the car a little above that, and it's driven more; the SUV a little below that, and it's driven less). I just don't find it terribly credible for people to say that they will cut back on their driving if gas goes up another 27 cents per gallon from its late-May highs. Instead, I think that the steady climb of gas prices, particularly since early 2005, has almost conditioned the American public to accept them. I actually caught myself calling $2.74 per gallon "cheap" last weekend (and it was, relative to the prevailing $2.90 per gallon everywhere else near me). Meanwhile, US petroleum consumption - in spite of high prices - is actually increasing year over year. The fact is, most people have already cut out extraneous travel from their driving and are combining trips and using

I won't talk much about advocating a gas tax at this time, but ironically, the one period when US petroleum consumption slowed or even declined in the past few years was immediately following Hurricane Katrina, when gas prices suddenly jumped $0.50 or more per gallon. It was a shock to consumers, rather than the Chinese water torture of steadily increasing prices has been for the past two years. Something sudden - like a tax - would likely have the same result.

The overall poll results about how gas prices would affect consumer behavior are:
  • 40% would curb their driving habits at $3.50 per gallon
  • 19% would curb their driving habits at $4.00 per gallon
  • 9% would curb their driving habits at $4.50 per gallon
  • 7% would curb their driving habits at $5.00 per gallon
  • 19% could not curb their driving habits regardless of price
The total above is 94%. Therefore, the implication is that in spite of gas prices being near all-time records in inflation-adjusted dollars, only 6% of drivers have curbed their driving habits.

A spokesperson for AAA, Geoff Sundstrom, probably said it best when he said, "It's so hard to read what consumer behavior is going to be at higher price pionts - be that $3.50 per gallon or $4.00 per gallon - because we're all in uncharted territory."

However, given past history of the way Americans have complained, but basically shrugged off high gas prices, I expect more of the same as prices continue to rise in the coming years.

17 July 2007

Child Seat Heads-Up and Plea


In the past month, I've had three conversations with parents or grandparents of young children (or, in one case, future parents of a young child) who spoke of putting their child in an infant carrier in the front seat of their vehicle. After having these conversations, I was almost dumbfounded, because I had no clue that there were still parents in 2007 that didn't put their children in the back seat as all of the safety experts advised. I figured that if I couldn't properly convince those people to use the back seat only for children, maybe I could save some other lives instead of their childrens'/grandchildrens'.

The belief that it's "OK" or "not a big deal" to have a very young child in the front seat of a car is, in my opinion, foolish. The reason cars and trucks have frontal airbags is because most collisions are frontal; simple physics then tells us that the further away from the impact a passenger is, the less likely it is that they would be injured or killed. Just think about that one - the back seat in almost any car is probably four or five feet farther from the firewall than the front seat. According to safekids.org, crash statistics bear this common sense out; one study showed that children are 37% more likely to be killed if seated in the front seat rather than the rear seat. As a father, I am fully in favor of giving my child a 37% better chance of surviving a crash, as should any responsible parent.

Here's another chilling statistic, from the NHTSA: "Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for the age group 3 to 14 years old (based on 2003 figures, which are the latest mortality data currently available from the National Center for Health Statistics)." The same report also states, "Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants (less than 1 year old) and by 54 percent for toddlers (1-4 years old) in passenger cars." So doesn't it stand to reason that it's important to properly restrain your young child?

Although I have personally buckled up since childhood, and have never driven a car without wearing one, I consider myself far from extreme in my child safety views. In fact, I believe that laws such as Pennsylvania's that require a child of up to seven years old to be in a booster seat to be a little over-the-top, considering there is no weight exemption. If you have a Baby Huey-sized seven year old who weighs 110 pounds, it's ridiculous to have him in a booster seat. I do support mandatory seatbelt laws, particularly for children 17 and under, however.

Here are some excuses I've heard for putting children in the front seat that carry ZERO weight with me, as well as my response to these statements.

"When I was raising my kids 30 years ago, we didn't even have cars seats, and they turned out fine!"
Yes, but there are plenty of kids from our generation who didn't turn out fine, because they were killed or maimed in traffic accidents. The overall fatality rate has basically been cut by more than half since 1975, from 3.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, to 1.47 in 2005 (link to recent data). So obviously we're doing something better with regard to occupant protection today. Is it possible we know more now than we did then?

"It's much easier to take care of an infant in the front seat, rather than unsafely reaching to the back seat while driving."
While it is unsafe to reach to the back seat to take care of a baby, having a mirror on the seat so that you can see the baby without turning your head makes this situation safer (as long as the mirror is secured properly). I don't think holding a baby bottle while driving is any safer than reaching to the back seat (we prefer to have a single child seat on the right side of the car so the reach is easier). It's also prudent to just pull over for a minute to take care of the baby.

"If it's going to be your time to be killed in a car accident, there's nothing you can do to change that. You can't improve your odds."
Yes, you CAN improve your odds. If you KNEW for sure that you were going to be in a traffic accident tomorrow, and there was nothing you could do to stop it, would you wear a seatbelt at least for tomorrow? Of course you would. That's called improving your odds. If you wouldn't, (and I say this with all due respect), you're an imbecile. I believe very strongly in God, but I don't plan on tempting fate by leaving myself or anyone in my family unprotected in the car. I will also buy every airbag possible in any new vehicle I purchase.

"If you only have a two seat car, it's legal to have the baby in the front passenger seat in Pennsylvania."
Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe. I've already mentioned one area where Pennsylvania went overboard with the child restraint laws (no weight limit on the boosters); they have also ignored serious potential safety issues allowing small children in the front seat and allowing children to be unrestrained in a vehicle that has all of the other seating positions are occupied by restrained passengers. So the Baby Huey seven year old needs a booster seat, unless his parents own a five-passenger car and he's the sixth passenger, in which case he can sit on his brother's lap. If someone owns only a two-seat car or pickup, and there is no other way to transport a child, it's still a bad idea, but at least be certain that the passenger airbag is deactivated for all small children, and it's absolutely essential to do so with rear-facing seats.

I apologize for the preachy article, but please, think carefully about the way you are protecting your children in the car. It's your job as a parent to make smart decisions for them.

Additional resources:
Child Seat FAQ: http://www.usa.safekids.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=6551&folder_id=170

Child car seat safety at Edmunds:
http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/safety/articles/45195/article.html

16 July 2007

Diesel Invasion


In the next few years, we'll see more diesels offered in the US than probably at any time in history. Why? Higher corporate fuel economy standards are likely in coming years, and even the US petroleum industry said in a draft report today that world oil supplies from conventional sources are unlikely to keep up with demand over the next 25 years. The problem is a combination of rapidly increasing petroleum consumption in the developing world and slowing or declining oil production worldwide.

Diesels are one piece of the solution to the problem of reducing petroleum consumption. Others include gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), electric vehicles, and alternate fuels such as ethanol or hydrogen. All things being equal, a diesel generally gets about 30% better fuel economy than a gasoline engine. Modern diesels are almost always paired with a turbocharger, which serves to make diesels have none of the sluggishness that their ancestors did. In fact, diesel engines usually have very robust low-end torque characteristics, which make them ideal for stop-and-go urban driving, although this comes at the expense of higher-RPM power.

One key advantage of diesel engines, other than the fuel economy and torque benefits previously described, is that the infrastructure is already in place in large part because auto manufacturers have been selling diesel-powered pickup trucks for years, not to mention all of the heavy- and medium-duty diesel trucks on the road. Unlike alternate fuels such as hydrogen and E85, which can be found in almost no and very few gas stations, respectively, diesel is available at 42% of the 169,000 service stations nationwide; E85 is available at less than 1% of them.

GM famously/infamously scared an entire generation of consumers away from diesel engines in the 1980s by underdeveloped, unreliable, noisy diesel engines that were converted from gasoline engines. While Europeans have had an auto fleet consisting of many diesels for the past several years, Americans have shied away from them, thanks in large part to the GM diesel issues of the 1980s and to the fact that gasoline was relatively inexpensive.

This is all changing, however. In the past few years, we have seen some interesting developments on the diesel front; Jeep offered a diesel Liberty and now is offering a sophisticated 3.0 liter diesel Grand Cherokee with an engine sourced from Mercedes-Benz. The real fun, however, comes in 2010.

Word on the street is that the reason Honda dropped the Accord Hybrid model after the 2007 model year (besides slow sales) is that a diesel model is on its way. I've heard a 52 mile per gallon figure cited for this car; if this is true, I'll be very impressed. That's more than double the mileage I get from my 2004 Accord V6, and I'm actually more or less satisfied with its mileage. A diesel will probably make it into the Honda Ridgeline pickup and Odyssey minivan as an optional engine choice, plus the Acura MDX crossover and likely some other models.

Honda is an engineering company first and foremost, and they are the only auto manufacturer so far that has not had to resort to urea injection to convert nitrous oxide into harmless nitrogen and water (this is a solution that Mercedes, BMW, VW, Audi, and GM, among others, have undertaken). The problem with urea injection is that there is as tank of it under the hood, and when the supply is exhausted, the exhaust is no longer treated; not a very elegant solution. Instead, Honda has devised a special catalytic converter for its diesel that requires no chemical additives (so is maintenance-free) and the catalysts convert some of the the NOx to ammonia in its first layer, and then a now-ammonia-rich second layer converts the remaining exhaust to harmless nitrogen and water. It reminds me very much of Honda's ability to meet 1975 Clean Air Act standards using its new CVCC engine rather without a catalytic converter.

GM is also embracing diesels in a big way in the coming years. GM Vice Chairman of Global Product Development, Bob Lutz, recently on a video posted on the corporate FastLane blog that in the coming years, GM would introduce a V6 diesel engine for crossovers, passenger cars, and light duty trucks and an all-aluminum 4.5 liter V8 diesel engine for light duty sport utilities, etc. Word is that the Euro-centric Saturn lineup will be among the first passenger car applications of GM's US diesel engines, and the V8 diesel will likely make it into half ton trucks and full-size SUVs (GM has said that anywhere a small block V8 fits, the new diesel will fit). In the same video, Mr. Lutz sought to downplay expectations of the diesel engine as a panacea for US fuel economy concerns, because he said the price premium to build an emissions-compliant diesel is about $4,500 on top of a comparable gas engine, and that as gas engines become more sophisticated (thanks to direct injection and homogeneous stratified charge) and diesels are choked by emission controls, he expected the 30% economy improvement to be reduced to near zero. Basically, he seems to implicitly support Ford's approach of applying diesel-like technology to gasoline engines, while going kicking and screaming into diesels only because they think that the market will demand them.

Apparently at the same time Bob Lutz was recording the above-mentioned video (the first segment was posted June 29), GM was in negotiations to buy a stake in its partner for the upcoming Cadillac CTS's diesel engine in Europe, VM Motori of Italy. Yesterday (July 16), GM announced that it had bought 50% of VM Motori. The press release contained none of the skepticism that Bob Lutz showed in the video clip. The move to buy a large stake in VM Motori sounds like a prudent move if GM wishes to ensure a steady supply of powerful, efficient diesel engines in the next few years.

Other potential future diesel applications include new diesels for the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan full size pickup trucks, and a diesel version of the next-generation Nissan Maxima sedan.

It's good to see some alternatives in the pipeline for consumers who wish to improve their fuel economy. It's a good time to love oil burners.