Searching for the new classics

Words like "innovative" and "groundbreaking" get thrown around a lot by marketers and auto reviewers alike, but there's another word that's reserved only for the upper echelon of the automotive world. Classic.

Not every used car is worthy of the distinction. A true classic is a vehicle that stands the test of time, that becomes iconic and unforgettable. Predicting a classic is nigh-impossible – car companies have been trying their best for years to introduce models that will stick in the public's memory for years to come.

Still, it's fun to try. Every year, the folks at Hagerty Auto Insurance, which specializes in collector cars, release their "hot list" of 10 cars that could eventually go on to have increased value in the collector market. Drivers who can successfully predict which cars will eventually become collector's items won't only be getting a great car, but they'll also likely be making themselves quite a bit of dough if the car shoots up in value in the next few decades.

"We have fun each year looking at which new vehicles embody the characteristics of collector cars, to help predict which ones might have classic appeal in 15 to 20 years," CEO McKeel Hagerty said in a statement. "The Hot List is our prediction for which cars manufactured this year will hold their value and consumer appeal long enough to one day be regarded as collectible."

Since the list is annual, all the cars mentioned are from the 2011 model year. The list was submitted to Wired, which chimed in with some thoughts and comments of their own on the vehicles chosen.

The Chevrolet Camaro is already thought of many to be a classic car, but most people are referring to the older versions from the 1970s. According to the list, Chevy has finally made a Camaro worthy of the "classic" title. The SS Convertible is a Camaro for the modern age, with a V8 engine producing 428 horsepower – a figure that will blow the doors off of the old Camaros.

In that same vein is the Ford Mustang Boss 302R. The Mustang has a long history, but the Boss 302R has quickly established itself as one of the rarest versions of the car available, with Ford producing just 50. The car is a track-ready racing vehicle, but those who are looking for a regular highway car can't go wrong with the regular Mustang Boss, which is available in less-limited quantities.

The tuning community has elevated a few cars to classic status, as some vehicles are simply more cooperative with modifications and additions. This year, BMW released its own factory version of the 335i that took a number of cues from popular tuner modifications made on previous versions of the 3-Series. The V6 engine is turbocharged for 320 horsepower, a tweaked suspension improves handling and the company even modified the body to make it appear slightly different from the rest of the fleet. No adjustments necessary – the 335i could be well on its way to classic status.

Finally, there's always a car that flies under the radar before becoming popular in its later years. The Infiniti IPL G37 Coupe could be that car. The model is the first produced by the "IPL" high-performance division of Infiniti, which already gives it a claim to history. If IPL goes on to produce some top cars, people will be able to look back at the G37 and point to where it all began. 

GM hires more electrical engineers

General Motors' Chevrolet Volt has already been a success for the company, with the innovative electric vehicle snagging several "Car of the Year" awards for the company. In order to follow up on that success, GM has announced that it will hire nearly 1,000 electric vehicle engineers for its plant in Michigan.

The new hires will represent a 50 percent increase in the number of engineers with a specialty in electric technology for the company. Early pre-order numbers for the Volt have been high, and the company has increased production totals to 45,000 vehicles for 2012. The new hires could also possibly indicate more electric cars on the way for the company.

"GM is going to lead the industry in the adoption of various vehicle-electrification technologies," CEO Dan Akerson said in a statement. "We want to give our customers energy choices other than petroleum and to make the automobile part of the solution when it comes to the environment."

Early adopters who want to get in on the electric trend may want to wait for the first used Chevrolet Volts to begin hitting the market, as they'll most likely be able to save substantially off of the possibly inflated introductory price for the vehicle. 

Two free pairs of jeans with every Focus

Ford has announced that it will be providing two free pairs of jeans with every 2012 Ford Focus that is sold. They just won't quite be usable.

The automaker has announced that it will be using a mixture of recycled clothing, mainly denim, in constructing the floor mats and carpet backing in the new version of the Focus. The company says that using the material will help the company reduce material usage and lessen its impact on the environment.

"Ford is continually looking for greener alternatives," said Carrie Majeske, product sustainability manager. "One of our key goals is to use more recycled or renewable materials without compromising performance or durability. Recycled content is a way to divert waste from landfills and reduce the impact of mining virgin material."

The material will include mixes of other cotton-based clothing, in addition to denim. Ford says that the amount of denim used will be equivalent to about two pairs of blue jeans.

The Focus is quickly shaping up to be an eco-friendly option. The company previously announced that it's aiming to achieve more than 40 miles per gallon in the new vehicle.

When a new model is introduced, the previous version usually sees a drop in price. Those who shop for a used Ford Focus once the new one arrives may be able to find a great bargain.

New technology may reduce fuel consumption

One of the big appeals of electric vehicles is the complete elimination of harmful emissions. Yet new technology may mean that emissions will be hanging around for awhile.

IndustryWeek reports that General Motors and Purdue are working on new technology that would allow vehicles to convert emissions into electricity, allowing for increased fuel economy. The device uses a special metal that absorbs heat from the emissions on one side while remaining cool on the other. The massive difference in temperature creates an electric current that can then be used by the engine.

The new material is called skutterudite, and is made up of common metals like nickel and cobalt along with rarer elements like lanthanum, caesium and neodymium.

Researches say that as it stands now, the technology could reduce fuel consumption by five percent. With enough advances in technology, that figure could possibly rise to 10 percent.

Cars aren't the only application for the new technology. The innovation could potentially be used in any application in which heat is wasted, such as home heating and manufacturing facilities.

The research was made possible thanks to a $1.4 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. 

Audi may offer retail race car

Nearly all manufacturers have race-ready versions of their vehicles for use on tracks all around the world. More often than not, these are unique vehicles that aren't available for purchase by the general public.

According to recent reports, Audi may be looking to change that trend. The company recently unveiled the TT GT4, a concept car that will reportedly be available to racing teams in the near future. Automobile Magazine, however, reports that "all the info we've seen points to a green light for production," with a rumored release date of 2012 and price tag of $160,000. There's no word on if the concept will be available in North America, but it would immediately become the highest-performing Audi available.

The GT4 is loosely based off of Audi's TT RS, which was recently greenlighted for the U.S. after fans of Audi's Facebook page requested it. However, the vehicle will be heavily modified for serious racing under track conditions, with a full cage, plastic windows and a carbon-fiber body. It will produce approximately 340 horsepower.

If released, the GT4 will be a highly-specialized vehicle for racers who want a track-ready model direct from the factory. For those who want performance without the high price tag, a used Audi might be a more affordable option.

Kelley Blue Book reveals cars with the best resale value

When buying a new or used vehicle, owners must factor the model's resale value into consideration. Most drivers don't aim to run their car into the ground until it can't function anymore, instead opting to trade in their vehicle when it's time for a new purchase.

That's why resale value is so important. According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), a pricing guide for used cars, a $25,000 car with great resale value will actually save a driver money over a $20,000 model with poor resale value, given a 3-year ownership period.

KBB recently named its 2011 Best Resale Value Awards, a yearly distinction given to the models and brands that are expected to hold their value for the longest amount of time. The company named the top 10 vehicles as well as some winners within their segment.

Despite the appearance of perennial best-sellers like Toyota and Honda on KBB's list, the consumer guide went in a different direction in naming the brand of the year. With a massive improvement over years past, Subaru took home the title as the brand with the best resale value. The guide noted that buyers are beginning to take notice of the company's recent efforts to improve its vehicles.

The luxury brand of the year was BMW, with both the BMW X5 and X6 luxury crossovers singled out on the top 10 list as being especially valuable. BMW vehicles tend to have the latest technology and timeless styling, and always command a high price tag simply due to the prestige associated with the name.

Yet BMW was unable to take home the title for luxury car with the best resale value. That went to the Audi A5, which KBB described as having "perfect form." The A5 was the only entry for Audi, although Volkswagen, which owns the German luxury brand, was honored as the best alternative energy car for its Golf TDI Hybrid.

Overcoming its safety-related issues from earlier this year, Toyota was able to post two vehicles in the top 10 in addition to two more from the Lexus nameplate. The FJ Cruiser off-road SUV and Tacoma pickup were honored for the main brand, while the RX and GX SUVs were named for Lexus. The Toyota Sienna, while not named one of the top 10 vehicles, was named the best minivan.

Ford didn't have a vehicle on the overall list, but was able to come out on top in two segments. The best-selling F-Series pickup truck was singled out in the full-size pickup class, while the Mustang was picked as the high-performance car with the best resale value.

Finally, it wouldn't be a discussion of resale value without a mention of Honda. The Japanese automaker just had one car on the best overall list in the form of the new CR-V, but the Accord and Fit won the mid-size and subcompact segments, respectively.

Infiniti M35h to get warning system

The new Infiniti M35h hybrid will receive a new warning system that will alert pedestrians to its approach, as some safety officials have expressed concern over their virtually silent electric motors.

Although not mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Nissan has elected to put a noisemaking system on the new M35h in order to keep pedestrians safe in city settings. The automaker originally developed the Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP) system for use in the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

The VSP system will work between 0 and 20 miles per hour and automatically detect when a pedestrian enters the car's path, emitting a distinctive noise. The sound cuts out once the driver brakes to under 15 miles per hour.

The Detroit Free Press notes that the new feature is as much a marketing opportunity for Infiniti and Nissan as it is a safeguard against pedestrian accidents. The new model was recently unveiled at the LA Auto Show, and the automaker is already advertising the quiet engine on both the M35h and Leaf as a selling point for the vehicles.

Drivers who are interested in purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle might want to wait until they hit the used car market, where they'll likely be relatively more affordable than when bought new.

Judge allows Toyota lawsuits to move forward

A federal judge has ruled that lawsuits filed against Toyota for the manufacturer's unintended acceleration issues can move forward based on the fact that the drivers' vehicles may have lost value due to the flaws.

Toyota's once-sterling reputation has taken a plunge after it was forced to recall more than 10 million vehicles in the past year for a variety of safety issues, the most visible of which was a sudden acceleration defect that affected numerous used Toyotas. Multiple families of car accident victims and other drivers seeking compensation have filed numerous lawsuits against the automaker, which were combined into one case heard by U.S. District Judge James Selna in California.

The Associated Press reports that lawyers for Toyota asked the judge to throw out many of the suits for a variety of reasons. Some drivers were not actually involved in accidents and simply claimed that their vehicle lost value thanks to the issue. Others cited the vehicles' electronic control feature, which Toyota says cannot be conclusively linked to the defect.

Yet Selna has ruled that the suits may continue, which could have far-reaching consequences for the automaker. Lawyer Cari Dawson told the news source that Selna's decision could "open the floodgates" to further litigation against Toyota, since theoretically every person who owns a Toyota could file a suit.

Hyundai’s new Elantra impresses at LA Auto Show

Hyundai has been on a tear as of late, enjoying increased sales on the back of its new flagship Sonata, which has become a top-seller for the company. If the recent L.A. Auto Show is any indication, it doesn't look like Hyundai's hot streak will be stopping anytime soon.

The South Korean automaker unveiled a revamped version of its Elantra compact at the auto show, a compact car meant to compliment the Sonata and compete with cars like the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus. The initial reception for the new car has been enthusiastic, with respected sources like Consumer Reports, Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine all giving early positive reviews.

One of the things that nearly all are mentioning is the car's size for its price. Though priced as a compact car at around $15,000, Hyundai says that the car actually qualifies a midsize vehicle with the EPA due to its roominess. Yet it still enjoys the benefits of small cars, with Hyundai claiming 40 miles per gallon the highway for the car.

Drivers interested in the brand may want to shop for a used Hyundai, as they'll likely be a bit more affordable once the new models roll in.

Nissan Leaf: 99 MPG, 73 miles per charge

The EPA ratings for the highly-anticipated Nissan Leaf have been released, with the government rating the car at 99 miles per gallon overall and 73 miles per charge.

The high ratings in both city (106 mpg) and highway (92 mpg) are big wins for Nissan, who will obviously tout the car's fuel economy when marketing it. The EPA has actually come up with a formula to convert electricity to gas ratings in determining the Leaf's efficiency, as the purely-electric vehicle has no gas tank. What the rating essentially means is that the car uses fuel at the same rate that a gas-powered vehicle rated that highly would.

Yet it's not all celebration for Nissan, as the 73 miles per charge average may be a bit disappointing, considering Nissan originally claimed that the Leaf would be able to travel 100 miles on a charge.

Nissan's North American product planning director Mark Perry defended the claim in an interview with ABC News, saying that the company has been straightforward about the numerous variables that go into mileage.

"As we've said all along, your range varies on driving conditions, temperature, terrain and we've talked about, very openly, this idea of a range of ranges," he said.

Drivers interested in an electric vehicle may wish to wait until they begin to hit the used car market, where they might be found for a discount.