Archive for March, 2010

Ford agrees to sell Volvo to Chinese automaker

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Officials with Ford have reached an agreement to sell the company’s Volvo brand to China’s Geely Holding Company in an effort to streamline their business and become profitable again.

The sale marks the second time in as many months that an American automaker had agreed to hand over one of its divisions to a foreign power at a reduced price due to financial difficulties. Last month, General Motors sold its Saab brand to the Dutch supercar maker Spyker after nearly shutting down the division just weeks before the deal was signed.

As part of the agreement, Geely will pay Ford approximately $1.8 billion by the end of the third quarter, and the Detroit-based automaker will continue to build powertrains, stamping and other parts for Volvo after the sale is completed, according to Auto Week.

As for Volvo, which has become a hallmark for quality engineering and vehicle safety, Geely plans on “liberating” the Swedish brand by aggressively developing and marketing vehicles on a worldwide level.

“China, the largest car market in the world, will become Volvo’s second home market,” Geely chairman Li Shufu said in a statement. “Volvo will be uniquely positioned as a world-leading premium brand, tapping into the opportunities in the fast-growing China market.”

Shufu added that his company plans to invest at least $900 million of new capital into Volvo in the near future, and will open a new production facility in China to increase development in the East. However, Geely will not move Volvo’s main development offices nor its Swedish headquarters, and plans to keep the two companies completely separate, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, the sale will allow Ford the financial flexibility to develop and manufacture new lines and to concentrate on the domestic market, where they have always had the most success.

Unfortunately, the agreement might spell the end for Ford Company veteran Steven Odell, who is expected to step down as the chief executive officer at Volvo soon after the sale is completed. However, many believe that Odell, who has been a major player within Ford’s organization for years, will stay on with the company after being relieved of his duties, Business Week reports.

“Odell’s been with Ford so long and is loyal to it; that’s where his heart is,” said Thomas Ivonen, a board member with Volvo. “I feel certain he will remain with Ford.”

New York Auto Show to open this Friday

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Following two days of press conferences on Wednesday and Thursday, the annual New York International Auto Show will open this Friday and will showcase some of the most innovative vehicle designs of the coming year.

Early media reports indicate that the theme of this year’s auto show will be fuel efficiency and sustainability. In fact, the majority of the hyped cars to be shown off this weekend are hybrid or green vehicles.

Ironically, the Obama administration plans to announce the finalized fuel economy mandates for 2012-16 model cars on the eve of the event. Although hybrids still only account for less than 3 percent of the market share in North America in 2010, automakers are gambling that the current administration’s standards will make fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly vehicles the wave of the future, according to The Globe and Mail.

Car manufacturers who plan on unveiling new hybrid versions of some of their premium models include Ford, Porsche, Nissan and Hyundai.
The event will be held at New York’s Javits Center and will run through Sunday, April 11.

2005 Toyota Tacoma proves up to the long haul

Monday, March 29th, 2010

If there’s one thing that most drivers require from their trucks its dependability. As the workhorse of the automotive industry, trucks have to be rugged and tough to catch a driver’s eye, and according to MotorTrend Magazine’s Long-Term Verdict trucks don’t come much more reliable than the 2005 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner V-6.

The 2005 Tacoma was indeed a step up from earlier models, standing taller and wider than its predecessors and featuring a slightly re-sculpted exterior. Among the more common models including extended and crew cabs, one of the most popular styles was the sporty PreRunner – a sleek redesign that offered the look and suspension of a four-wheel drive vehicle to the compact truck driver.

Drivers fortunate enough to get a hold of the V-6 PreRunner are gifted with a 4.0-liter engine that pushes 245 hp at 283 lb-ft of torque, giving this truck the chops to hang in the same league as its larger counterparts like the Dodge Dakota.

The Tacoma’s interiors also grew substantially larger than earlier models creating a spacious driving experience, and with the added storage space and a 440-watt electrical outlet, the Tacoma’s bed is one of the most versatile in its class.

New Jersey economy on the mend

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Even as a multitude of snowstorms hammered the east coast in February, the state of New Jersey had its most economically successful month in more than two years.

Over the last six months, experts have said that the recession has ended and the economy is back on track. However, significant improvements in the job market had not been felt by the majority of residents.

Fortunately, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported on Wednesday that the state added 3,700 jobs in February, all of which came in the private sector, APP.com reports. The unemployment rate is now at a five-month low of 9.8 percent.

“I’m starting to get interviews, maybe once every two weeks, whereas before it wasn’t that much,” said Justine Nardone, 54, of Ocean Grove, who is currently unemployed.

The state of New Jersey saw the jobless rate increase for 23 consecutive months from December of 2007 to the end of last year, more than doubling the unemployment rate in that time. However, as the state and the nation have put together a string of economically vibrant months, consumers and job seekers are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s certainly a positive sign,” said James Hughes, an economist and dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, quoted by the news source. “I think we’re going to see an erratic pattern going forward, which happens at the end of recessions.”

Overall employment in the state grew to 3,853,400 in February, with the largest gains seen in the financial activities industry, the professional and business services field as well as the health and education sectors, according to Business Week.

Meanwhile, Michael Drewniak, press secretary for Governor Chris Christie, reiterated on Wednesday the administration’s pledge to reform the business climate in the state of New Jersey and make job creation the number one priority.

While calling the Department of Labor report “reassuring,” Drewniak also noted that the governor and his staff have plenty of work still to do.

“The governor and his entire administration are committed to restoring fiscal stability, growing our economy and reforming our business climate to secure New Jersey’s place as a place for strong, ongoing business growth and job creation,” he said in a statement.

Dwight Gooden arrested after crashing car in New Jersey

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Former New York Met ace Dwight Gooden was arrested in New Jersey on Tuesday after being involved in a two-car accident in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

Gooden, who won the 1985 Cy Young Award at the age of 20, was placed into police custody after crashing his vehicle, with his five-year old son sitting in the passenger seat, while being under the influence of drugs.

The former Met and Yankee great faces a slew of charges, including endangering the welfare of a child, driving under the influence of drugs, leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident and reckless driving, CNN reports.

Gooden, 45, has a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention an extensive criminal record. The three-time World Series champion most recently pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless driving in 2002 and driving with a suspended license a year later. He also did a stint in prison in 2006 for drug charges.

In November of last year, Gooden discussed his substance abuse problem with the New York Daily News and wrote a book describing his 20-plus year addiction.

“I’m not out to prove everybody wrong,” he told the news source. “I’m taking it day by day. I’m clean and sober and just trying to make good choices for me and my family.”

New Jersey teen drivers forced to identify themselves beginning May 1

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Teenage drivers in New Jersey will soon be easily recognizable. Following through on legislation approved last year by former Governor Jon Corzine, the Motor Vehicle Commission recently introduced red decals that most motorists under the age of 21 will be forced to display on their license plates.

The new law requiring decals, which will begin to be enforced on May 1, will alert police of anyone who is driving on a learner’s permit or a probationary license, according to KYW1060.com.

Pam Fischer, director of New Jersey’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety, says the law will help police enforce “things like a curfew, making sure they’re not having too many passengers in the car, they’re complying with the ban on hand-held and hands-free cell phones and so forth.”

After drivers have completed the 12-month provisional-license period, they will no longer be required to display the decal.

Meanwhile, local teenagers are speaking out against the regulation, stating that it unfairly targets a specific age group.

“It’s already scary being a new driver, but to know that you have a scarlet letter on your car can make you even more nervous,” said Christina Lombardo, the chapter vice president of Students Against Destructive Decisions at Old Bridge High School, quoted by Philly.com.

The decals cost $4 and will go on sale April 12 at Motor Vehicle Commission offices statewide.

Remembering the Ford Mustang

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Donald Frey, the former senior product manager at Ford and the co-creator of the transcendent Mustang coupe, passed away on March 5 at the age of 87.

Frey was hired by Ford in the early 1960s to lead a low-cost campaign to develop a powerful sports car following the historically colossal flop known as the Edsel, Auto Week reports. To cut costs, Frey, Lee Iacocca and the rest of the executives at Ford decided to borrow the platform and instrument panel from the Falcon, and just 18 months later the Mustang was born.

The very first Ford Mustang coupe was unveiled on April 17, 1964, at the New York World’s Fair. Although Ford expected to sell just more than 80,000 Mustangs in its debut year, over 400,000 were purchased in the first 8 months of production.

More than 45 years later, the Ford Mustang is still a hot commodity. In 2007, the Mustang GT shook up the automotive world with an aggressive exterior redesign and a shockingly powerful new engine. The ’07 Mustang GT is equipped with a 300 horsepower, five-speed V8 engine that can move from 0 to 60 in just 5.5 seconds.

Sandra Bullock’s husband involved in highway dust-up with the paparazzi

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Just a few days after being forced to publicly admit his near year-long affair with a notorious former stripper, bad boy celebrity Jesse James was recently caught on tape fleeing the paparazzi in his black Dodge pickup in a wild chase taken right out of a movie script.

James, who is the host of the television program Monster Garage and the owner of West Coast Choppers, was busted last week for cheating on his wife of many years, actress Sandra Bullock.

Soon after the news of the affair hit the Hollywood press, local paparazzi have been camped out around Bullock’s mansion, where James currently resides by himself.

On Saturday, in an effort to evade the swarming paparazzi while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, James reportedly increased his speed to more than 90 miles per hour, Entertainment and Showbiz News reports.

“At one point, he went off road into the dirt and made this huge dust bowl,” an eyewitness told E News. “It was crazy.”

James then allegedly took a hard right down a dirt path, throwing his custom-built spare tire from the back of his pickup before peeling into his garage, according to the Examiner.

New Jersey Nets guard walks away unharmed after one-car accident

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Late last month, New Jersey Nets star Keyon Dooling received an assist from the Closter Police Department after crashing his Infiniti sports utility vehicle during one of February’s most violent snowstorms.

The Nets backup point guard was on his way to practice on February 25 when he hit an ice patch, slid over the curb and blew one of his tires before colliding with a stop sign, according to NJ.com. Ironically, the Nets had cancelled practice just minutes before Dooling’s accident due to the inclement snowstorm, but he had left early to try to beat the weather and was not home to receive the call.

“I have to get here at least two hours before practice to get my body going,” laughed the veteran, who has been bit by the injury bug during each of his four stops with NBA teams.

Luckily for Dooling, who walked away unharmed after the accident, the Nets sent an intern driving a GMC SUV “with some good old American muscle” to pick up the club’s second leading assist man.

Dooling indicated to reporters after the accident that he planned to ditch his SUV for a Ford pickup, which is better equipped to handle the winter conditions in New Jersey.

How to know if your car is properly aligned

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Although the majority of American car owners have their wheel alignment checked by an auto care professional during routine mileage checkups, there are a few tips that can help you know whether or not it is time to have your vehicle inspected.

Wheel alignment consists of adjusting the angle of the wheels so that they are completely perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other, Family Car Parts reports. While a recently purchased used car will be perfectly aligned, normal wear and stress can cause the front wheels to slowly become crooked, whether or not your vehicle is equipped with an adjustable or non-adjustable rear suspension.

The easiest way to assess whether your car is misaligned is to visually inspect the tire itself. If there is uneven or especially rapid tire wear, take your vehicle into the shop immediately. While tire wear is the simplest way to diagnose poor alignment, it is often the last symptom to appear. If you let the problem go unattended for too long, you may find yourself being forced to purchase four new tires.

When your vehicle is not aligned properly, you may also feel that it does not naturally drive in a straight line, or is pulling or drifting to one side of the road on its own.

A final, more comprehensive examination of your wheel alignment can be conducted using just a coin. Take a quarter and place it in the tread at the inside, outside and middle of the tire, the news source recommends.

If you find that the tread is deeper on one side of the tire than the other, it’s time to take your car to the shop. Also, if it is deeper on the edges, your tire is overinflated. If the treads are deeper in the center, you should inflate your tire as soon as possible.

Proper wheel alignment is important for a variety of reasons. Improper alignment can lead to premature tire wear, decreased gas mileage, poor handling and can even cause accidents, Hunter Engineering reports.

Industry experts recommend that you have your vehicle’s tires checked every 10,000 miles or once every year.

2007 Pontiac Solstice: Style, affordability and performance

Friday, March 19th, 2010

The unseasonably warm weather this month might have some car enthusiasts clamoring for weekend drives through the country in their favorite sports car. Consumers who are in the market for a weekend cruiser may want to take a look at the 2007 Pontiac Solstice, one of the most stylish and nimble two-seat convertibles on the road today.

Equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine capable of creating 177 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque, the ’07 Solstice is certainly not a beast, but with its small stature and front-mounted engine, it has plenty of pep to make any drive enjoyable.

For those interested in a bit more power, the high-performance GXP model comes with a turbo-charged V4 that generates 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, which can move from 0-60 miles per hour in six seconds flat, according to Edmunds. All models can be purchased with five-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic.

While the 2007 Solstice is not as well equipped as its closest competitor, the Mazda Miata, it more moderately priced and is available with a host of optional features.

Report: Economy improving, unemployment numbers falling

Friday, March 19th, 2010

The economy took another step in the right direction on Thursday, with the U.S. Labor Department reporting that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell by 5,000, to a seasonally adjusted 457,000 in the week ending March 13, according to Market Watch. The news coming out of Washington marks the third consecutive week that unemployment claims have dropped.

Additionally, the report said that labor market and consumer pricing indicate that the U.S. economy is experiencing moderate growth, and that inflation has been successfully contained. In fact, core inflation has only risen 1.3 percent – the lowest figure since 2004, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, after months of anticipation, President Obama signed into law a $17.6 billion dollar jobs bill earlier this week, giving hope to those who have yet to find employment after last year’s recession.

“A consensus is forming that, partly because of the necessary – and often unpopular – measures we took over the past year, our economy is growing again and we may soon be adding jobs instead of losing them,” said Obama.

“The jobs bill I’m signing today is intended to help accelerate this process,” he added.

American automakers score well in new reliability survery

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

On the heels of a few troubling months, the U.S. automotive industry received some terrific news this week. On Thursday, J.D. Power and Associates unveiled their 2010 Vehicle Dependability Survey, which found that Ford, Buick and Cadillac all decreased the number of problems with their vehicles.

The annual survey, which rates 3-year old cars based on how many problems they average per 100 vehicles, found that 25 of 36 vehicle brands manufactured in 2007 showed improved long-term durability compared to the previous year, the Daily Finance reports.

Among the top 10 most reliable 2007 brands are Ford, Mercury, Honda, Toyota and Lincoln. In fact, all three Ford divisions finished in the top eight in the survey.

“These results, along with other consumer-driven indicators, show that we are making solid progress on our promise to deliver high initial quality, long-term durability and overall customer satisfaction,” said Bennie Fowler, group vice president for global quality at Ford.

Toyota also had an extremely strong showing, with the Prius and Corolla finishing first and second in the compact car segment. The Sequoia and the Tundra also earned high marks in the multi-activity and large pickup categories.

Local Montana musician rescued after harrowing ordeal

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

On Sunday, a 67-year-old country musician was rescued after spending four days trapped in his 1996 Cadillac STS.

Louis Rogers, who has played guitar alongside a number of country music legends, including Merle Haggard and George Jones, was writing a goodbye letter and preparing himself for death when a couple stumbled across the his immobilized vehicle on a back road in Montana, according to the Associated Press.

Four days previous, Rogers was on his way to Calder, Idaho, when he decided to take a shortcut across the Bitterroot Mountains. After driving for about nine miles on the remote mountain road, the Lakeside, Montana, resident got his Cadillac stuck in a snow bank and was unable to remove it.

With no cell phone service, and being in admitted poor health, Rogers was forced to wait and see if he would ever be found. At one point, a low flying airplane passed right by the 67-year-old’s vehicle, but the repeated flashing of his headlights was unable to attract the pilot’s attention.

After several frustrating days and intolerably cold nights, Rogers had given up.

“I thought before I lose my bearings or start hallucinating, I’m going to write my last letter and tell my last goodbyes to my friends and relations,” said Rogers, soon after being rescued. “I told them to have faith in the Lord and don’t go cracking up because we are going to see each other again.”

Unfortunately for the country musician, more than 200 friends and relatives spent the weekend searching for him in a totally different location, as they were unaware of his decision to take a shortcut.

Luckily for Rogers, after several days with no food and only melted snow to drink, he was found by Scott and Penny Kalis, a local couple out for a drive in their four-wheel drive vehicle.

“She said, ‘Well, what are you doing way up here?'” Rogers said. “I said, ‘Dying, and if you don’t believe it, here’s the proof, and I showed her the letter.'”

Surprisingly, Rogers did not need to be hospitalized after the ordeal, and was up and running after just a few days of rest.

Top used cars for female drivers

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

A few years ago, the automobile experts from About.com put together a list of the top 10 cars for female drivers. While admittedly taking into account several stereotypes along with their market research, the site found that the majority of women heavily consider cargo space, safety, reasonable prices and low operating costs when they are shopping around for a new or used car.

After taking into consideration all the factors involved, the website found that the 2006 Ford Focus and the 2007 Honda Civic best met the female-specific criteria that their researchers assembled.

The 2006 Ford Focus, which is available as a sedan, hatchback or wagon, is fun to drive, moderately priced and has a rather unique style compared to the rest of the compact car segment.

Equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine capable of 136 horsepower or an optional 2.3-liter V4 good for 151 hp, the ’06 Focus has plenty of pep, but also superior handling for either highway or city driving, Edmunds.com reports. Its fuel economy is above average for its class, with both engines offering EPA mileage ratings in the high-20s for city driving and the mid-30s for highway driving.

“The 2006 Ford Focus is a wonderful small car that’s fun to drive, fuel efficient, and offered in such a wide variety of configurations,” concludes the news source. “It would be hard not to find one that suits your needs.”

Meanwhile, female car buyers who are looking for a strictly sensible and rational sedan may want to take a look at the 2007 Honda Civic.

While it doesn’t come with all the optional bells and whistles that complement the Focus, the ’07 Civic is exceptionally safe, comfortable and fuel-efficient.

Each model year Civic comes standard with front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. They are also equipped with antilock brakes and optional stability control.

The 2007 Civic sedan earned a five-star rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Institute for its ability to protect all occupants from frontal impacts. Honda’s hallmark compact sedan also boasts one of the lowest costs of ownership ratings in any car segment.

“The 2007 Honda Civic continues to set the bar for the small car segment,” says Edmunds.” Strong on comfort, safety and customization, this is one car that every shopper needs to consider.”

2007 Saturn Outlook: Size, versatility and safety

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Officials with General Motors have recently announced that the automaker is currently manufacturing its last line of Saturn and Hummer vehicles.

After not producing any cars since October, GM will assemble 1,037 Saturn models over the next few weeks to utilize existing material, General Motors spokeswoman Kim Carpenter said on Tuesday, according to Auto Week.

When participating dealerships begin to close their doors in the next few months, the market for used Saturn models may start to pick up. One of the most impressive and popular Saturn lines produced over the last decade is the 2007 Saturn Outlook.

The ’07 Outlook is an oversized crossover wagon that is capable of seating eight passengers, making it one of the more popular family vehicles in its class. It is available with two second-row seating options – a 60/40 split bench seat that accommodates three passengers or two individual captain’s chairs, according to Edmunds.com. Outlook models equipped with the split bench seat can be folded down, creating a class-leading 117 cubic feet of cargo room.

Meanwhile, Saturn’s bellwether SUV is stacked with standard safety features, including OnStar, rollover-sensing stability control, antilock disc brakes, front seat side impact airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags capable of protecting all three rows.

Under the hood, the 2007 Outlook is powered by a 3.6-liter six-cylinder gas engine, which creates 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. The V6 is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that comes with either front- or all-wheel drive.

The ’07 Outlook “handles with more confidence than you’d expect from a vehicle weighing more than 4,700 pounds,” says the news source. Its ride is “smooth at almost every rev range and delivers enough power to handle most performance demands with ease.”

Saturn’s base model wagon comes with a variety of standard features, including full power accessories, cruise control and an MP3 player. The luxury model Outlook is available with a navigation system, xenon headlights, a premium audio system, leather upholstery and a rear-seat DVD player.

The 2007 Saturn Outlook is not the most powerful or luxurious SUV ever produced, but it is one of the more versatile, complete and moderately priced crossovers on the road today.

With the economy improving, GM to begin paying back government bailout loan

Monday, March 15th, 2010

As the nation continues to slowly recover from the economic recession, it seems that the auto industry is beginning to show signs of life. Late last week, General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre announced that the automaker should be in a position to repay roughly $8 billion in debt to the U.S. government by June 2010.

Furthermore, Whitacre indicated that the government would be able to sell all of its equity in GM for a profit, according to Automotive News. Currently, U.S. taxpayers own 61 percent of General Motors stock.

“For the first time in over a decade, General Motors has a healthy, clean balance sheet,” said Whitacre. “We are not being crushed under mountains of debt. We have a cost structure that works.”

Meanwhile, GM’s new CEO has completely reorganized the company’s sales and marketing teams, a decision that he believes has contributed to the U.S. car manufacturer’s 20 percent market share.

With the economy improving and unemployment rates stabilizing, new and used car sales are expected to significantly trump last year’s numbers.

2006 Buick Rendezvous: A well-rounded family vehicle

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Prospective car buyers interested in purchasing a used family vehicle may want to take a look at the 2006 Buick Rendezvous, which has the look and feel of a sport utility vehicle and the interior space and safety features of minivan.

For 2006, Buick equipped its crossover SUV with a more powerful engine and numerous additional standard features. The base model comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine capable of producing 201 horsepower and 216 pound-feet of torque. An upgraded 3.6-liter V6 is also available.

The ’06 Rendezvous comes standard with OnStar, an innovative alarm system, rear parking assist and sound-reducing QuietTuning technology, according to Edmunds.com.

Possibly the most acclaimed aspect of Buick’s hallmark SUV is the expansive cabin space and extensive cargo capacity. It delivers 109 cubic feet of cargo volume, while maintaining the elegant upscale look that Buick is known for.

Sharing a basic platform with Buick’s Terraza minivan, the Rendezvous seats up to seven passengers and has split-bench seats that can fold away.

While the 2006 Rendezvous is an excellent family car, it is, however, not a capable off-road SUV. Buick’s fuel-efficient crossover was bred for the highway.