What’s News: New ‘Vette unveiled, but radical new look

Chevy released the new design of Corvette for public display but it’s the biggest shift we’ve ever seen in Corvette design.

As hinted at earlier this year, Chevy’s moved to a mid-engine design allowing the hood to go lower. This will give better handling but also completely changes the traditional profile of what Americans think of as an iconic American sports car.

Will Americans embrace a radical new look if it brings better performance? Perhaps, but sadly the look isn’t really new. It’s common for high end European sports cars and this may not be a great year to make that specific switch to the US buyers. Time will tell.

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What’s News: Tesla price cut on standard models

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(Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has dropped the standard-range variants of its Model X and Model S from its product lineup and adjusted prices across its range, in a sales push that comes days after the U.S. electric vehicle maker reported record deliveries.

To simplify its offerings, the automaker on Tuesday limited variants of its Model X sport-utility vehicle and Model S sedan to “Long Range” and the more expensive “Performance”. It also trimmed the price of its now entry-level Long Range variants.

The discontinuation of the standard-range variants, however, means a rise in starting prices – to $84,990 for the Model X and $79,990 for the Model S, excluding potential buying incentives.

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The American Story of Car Business (Part 1): Dodge

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When you look at the auto industry as it exists right now, it’s easy to get confused when talking about cars because there are so many brands, makes, and models. It’s like joining a movie halfway through. Many of the household names we associate with automobiles have a fascinating origin story and a fairly logical evolution. Knowing a little trivia about these names can help you wow you’re your friends and co-workers on trivia night, but more importantly it can really clear up your own understanding of cars.

As part of our effort to entertain and inform the on-line generation about the integral part the auto industry has played in the development of modern America, The Kicker Blog is pleased to spin off a series looking into the story behind names like Oldsmobile, Dodge, Nash, GM, Chrysler, Ford, Mercury, Saturn, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Benz, Audi, Opel, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, etc.

If there’s a theme to the auto industry it’s that successful car companies swallow up less dominant car companies. This accounts for several of our mystery names, but it doesn’t explain why those names continue to this day. Sometimes the reason lies in the fact that an innovative designer or quality auto maker might not be the most successful business person. Like the auto industry as a whole, often the backseat role a particular brand plays now belies the crucial role it played in American history.

We kick off our series with a deep dive into Dodge.

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Dodge

Compared to other names, some folks consider Dodge an “also-ran” in the story of the American motor industry, but that’s not the real story. Unlike many of the names we’ll cover, Dodge is still a major player who has remained a fairly constant brand.

Dodge began in 1900 with the Dodge Brothers, Horace and John. While many automakers started as wagon or bike makers, instead the Dodge brothers began as a parts supplier for Detroit’s growing number of car manufacturers. That was until they made their own car–the Model 30.

It could be a coincidence that the Model 30 bore a strong resemblance to the Model T, but it wasn’t. The Model T Ford dominated this part of car history and unlike modern times, in those days you didn’t improvement your existing design each year just to beat your competitors to it. In short, Ford wasn’t eager to fix what wasn’t broken. So the opportunity was there for the Doge brothers to beat Ford at his own game.

Although both cars used chromium steel, the Model T has a wooden framing underneath and the Model 30 didn’t, improving the suspension immensely. The Model 30 also had 35 horsepower, compared to the Model T’s 20.

This was truly the hay day for Dodge as they were in second place to Ford between 1916 and up to the early 1920’s. 150 Dodge vehicles were used in the Mexico border war in 1916.

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Unfortunately the Dodge brothers would not live to see how their brand would develop, they both died in 1920, John from pneumonia, Horace from liver damage.Because there was no relative the company went to an investment bank.

One theme you’ll notice in the car industry is that auto-manufacturing is a unique animal and it’s easy to lose your shirt trying to do it. Although the bank branched out the business to also make trucks it seems that the bank wasn’t taking enough risks. Ultimately the Dodge moved from the second biggest car company to the seventh biggest company; they needed an investor who was wise in the ways of the auto market.

The investor finally arrived in 1939, when Chrysler came to the helm. What Chrysler wasn’t interested in was competing with itself, so they began to look into more profitable areas like sedans and tanker trucks. All in all, Chrysler allowed Dodge to flourish.

The billboards and magazine adverts touted a new golden age for Dodge. The 53 Dodge was marketed as steadier, more level, and softer. It seemed no one cared about the price, or nothing could be done about the price. So it was better to concentrate on making the ride smoother. Chrysler poured money into marketed the all-American Dodge, suggesting thronging crowds visit it’s showrooms. Nowadays you won’t find an exclusively Dodge “showroom” but given the amount of money spent on advertising they must have been popular back then.

Dodge still make vehicles today and seem to be still proud of their Michigan roots. Having said that, Italian Car maker now owns Chrysler and with it, Dodge, having acquired it in 2014, but that’s Chrysler’s story for another day.

What is it with America and Pickups?

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OP-ED by A. R. Bunch & P. Wimsett

When you talk about the all-American car you might picture the Cadillac, but really it’s the pickup.

pinup-girl-1967007_1920The American romance with a pickup began, no doubt, with our roots in farming. Actually a lot of the world has farms, but in America they’re spread out. The distance between farms and the condition of the roads are a factor when you have a lot of privately owned farms spread about the less populated areas. You need a vehicle that can transport a variety of goods for long distances but can also traverse rural roads. They are the successor to the horse and wagon really.

The original roads in America were long but incredibly muddy and full of potholes, so early features desirable in a truck were 4×4 and V8 power. The 8 valve engine allowed for power, and fast acceleration and it became the most commercially successful engine for decades.

classic-pickup-4215684_1920Could manufacturers have gone to V10? Sure but the added weight didn’t boost the power enough justify the added cost to build. The V12 did become a thing, but usually in sports cars, because the only reason for a vehicle to have 12 valves was for the smoother operation. If you needed more power than a V8 gas engine, then buy a V8 diesel.

As technology improved the power you could get per valve and gas prices climbed, we got the V6 truck and eventually the “four banger,” but that’s a topic for later in the post.

Why are Pickups more Popular than Ever?

Whereas the old pickup trucks which simply about basic transport, the modern type look more to luxury, one example being the GMC Canyon which Caranddriver.com believe the manufacturers have a model which “spruces up the interior and imbues the exterior with some bling.”

Clearly the buyer is not just the rural yokel, anymore.

In 2018, sales of “large pickups rose by 2.1%, according to Carsalesbase.com. A “large pickups” has a carrying capacity of one half-ton or more. The basic size categories of large pickup are half-ton, three-quarter-ton, and one-ton.

Examples of the large pickup include the Chevrolet Silverado and the RAM 1500. The biggest seller remains the Ford F-series.

pickup-2699155_1920A new player in the market is the Nissan Titan. Although launched about fifteen years ago sales have yet to reach the heights of the Chevrolet, much less Ford. It may be that people associate the name Nissan with vans more than pickups. The Titan is not without its good points, apparently, comfortable seats and a new “infotainment unit” as they call the audio/video system.

My sources are confused as to whether the Frontier is a large pickup (Carmax.com) or a small pickup (Forbes.com); let’s call it mid-sized.  The sales seem to be stalling and the automatic transmission of the Frontier and the choice of three different color schemes might not be enough to save it. While it is floundering in the US market, it should be noted that it wasn’t especially targeted to garner US sales.

Nissan may have felt it the psychology of a US truck-buyer was probably not going to buy a non-US truck, no matter how affordable they make it.

Speaking of Mid-sized and Small Pickups

The fact that smaller pickups exist makes it even more confusing as to why Americans are still snapping up large trucks. While the fuel economy of pickups has radically improved there are still more practical options for urban drivers.

Why are so many city dwellers giving themselves heartburn trying to find a parking spot? Why are they making King Cab pickups so a family can use them, when a minivan is a clearly better fit?

pickup-truck-3566293_1920The answer may be that a pickups true competition is the sports car. This is counter intuitive, but a pickup is primarily a second vehicle (that’s brain twister I know). Someone in the nuclear family must drive a primary vehicle, which will either be a family transporter or a small fuel efficient car. That leaves the second person to choose between a small ports car or a truck. As nice as it is to save gas on a sporty little vehicle most people would rather have a nice truck then the third favourite sports car (which is the one they can afford).

Since the truck comes in handy for fetching furniture or moving your home, etc. it becomes the more practical choice.

PS: What about an SUV though? Well, the SUV is really todays version of the 90s minivan, which is in turn the remake of a70’s & 80’s station wagon, which only exists because car-makers shrank the sedan.

LOL, now that we’ve offended just about everyone, let’s end this post. Ya’ll have a good night, ya’hear?

How Tricky Are Car Seats?

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(Special Note: you can get a free Slurpee today at most 7/11 stores!!!)

When it comes to safety features there are three standards or different ways to think about it:

  • The basic steps to avoid danger.
  • What the law requires or bans.
  • The best practices.

In the end, most of us use a mishmash of all three depending on the specific situation and based highly on our perception of what’s dangerous.

When it comes to car seats, most of us would agree that a best practice standard is in order, but what’s available for sale, state by state, is based instead on local law. Most of us don’t take the time to vet our state laws, instead assuming that if you can buy it in a reputable store it’s probably, “safe.” However, you’d be surprised by how many states have laws that fall far short of a best-practice standard, while others actually wastefully exceed it.

South Dakota is an example of falling short of best practice by not even having a booster seat law at all. But not to pick on them too much, Missouri, Connecticut, and New York don’t have laws requiring “proper use.” This means that if an adult puts a child in a seat not designed for their weight or height the adult can’t be held responsible.

But to be fair, sometimes draconian laws can be counterproductive. The absolute best practice can be expensive, and impractical to a point that officers are handing out tickets to loving parents who find it too burdensome to fully comply. It’s actually impossible to make a car safe at all times for all occupants and therefor some laws are impractical.

A good example of this is a Kentucky law that passed in 2015, that’s so poorly written it makes it technically illegal for a child over 40 inches tall to use a five-point harness. The issue, as you’ll notice when you read on, is that 40 inches is an average height for a four-year-old who should be transitioning into a booster, but most boosters start when a child is 43 inches tall. This creates a potential year gap when your child can’t legally use either device. As a stop gap, Kentucky has circulated a pamphlet explaining that they won’t be enforcing the broken parts of the law.

Best Practices:

The following advice stems from the best practice recommended by experts at the NHTSA and at The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP). It starts even before the baby is born. A pregnant woman should have her lap top belt under her baby bump. Some ingenious folks have invented a devise called a tummy shield which may prevent a woman from injuring herself using the seatbelt. (https://youtu.be/p0oUoQo-JTU)

Between birth and about age four a child must be in a rear-facing carrier which attaches to the seat belt. This is based upon the age at which a child’s neck bones will be strong enough to handle a crash the way an adult’s neck can. Now this is where we need to get practical. A child of average height for age four doesn’t fit backwards in most vehicles. A law requiring this would ban parents from buying almost every vehicle currently made. So a common sense compromise is made in most states requiring backward facing car seats from birth to age two.

Clearly the only answer to the rear facing issue is to leave your child rear facing as long as you can after age two.

The front facing seat begins with a harness which attaches at 5 points. The harness is best until they reach 50 lbs. However, in the most recent recommendations (Aug. 2018) AAP gives a lot of credence to the car seat manufacturers, since they are required to test the performance of their seats. We’ve found a bit of variety from one manufacturer to another. For example, if your child is born early, it can be difficult to find a car seat that rates itself for under 5 pounds.

When a child outgrows a 5-point restraint seat, a booster seat is recommended. Children should remain in a booster until 4’ 9” and 8 to 12 years of age.

5steptest-280x460Is it ridiculous to put your 12 year old in a booster? Well, yes! Here’s the actual reasoning behind it. If the seat belt restraint doesn’t land on a passenger’s body where it was designed to it can cause damage. It’s important that it doesn’t land across a child’s neck for obvious reasons. Isn’t there a better option than a booster seat? Sure, but it depends on your definition of the word, ‘better.’ A company called RideSafer makes a vest that a child wears, not unlike a life jacket, which positions the seat-belt correctly. There are other belt-positioning devises—none of which are really well known, and therefore largely ignored by agencies which write safety laws and recommendations.

The image to the left shows a “test” you can perform to graduate your child from a booster devise.

Installation

Of course it’s all out the window (bad pun intended) if you don’t correctly install a car seat. Many towns have classes on correctly installing a car seat, often put on by the fire department. These happened when NHSA published data about the number of injuries that occurred when a seat wasn’t installed properly.

Here’s a video by the Virginia MDV showing how to install a front facing child car seat.

Flying with Children

For those traveling in rented cars, items such as boosters and carriers can also be rented, which saves you the trouble of carrying them through airports. If you do need to fly with a car seat they now make car seat bags that make it much safer and easier to carry them. They’re easier because they have shoulder straps and safer because corralling all those straps and hooks inside a bag keep them from snagging on other passengers or worse, the escalator.

Although there is nothing wrong in buying a used car seat, most of the industry seems to be against it, maybe for obvious reasons!

The reality is that plastic degrades and after as little as six months many child seats are no longer considered by the manufacturer to be in the condition that safety tested. Most manufacturers consider the seats safe for up to two years, but that doesn’t stop them from lobbying state governments to outlaw buying/selling used car seats on the grounds that they might be expired. If you get a used car seat from say, your cousin, Craig, just be sure to check the expiration date which should be stamped somewhere in the plastic.

Buying a Car Seat

The biggest key to choosing a seat is actually if fits in your car. Another is if it’s easy to transfer from car to car, because you’re going to be doing that more often than you think. Some car seats even come with indicators which tell you if they are fitted incorrectly. Others come with additional padding to provide further peace of mind while a baby is newly born, which is removed as a child grows. Graco makes a 4 in 1 car seat which transitions from rear facing to front facing to booster. This one is a car seat that snaps onto a stroller so you don’t have to wake your baby up to transition out of a car. If you have ever had to sit in a running car because you don’t want to wake your baby up this could be a handy feature BUT by far the most important feature in seat is that it fits in your car.

Additional parts of the infant car seat include the canopy which is designed to protect the baby further as well as allowing them to sleep. How do you navigate the world of car seats? In the end, you do what you do with ever other aspect of raising a child—you ask people you trust. If you don’t know any other parents read reviews on line. Google at leisure and shop with ease, skip google in haste and regret at leisure or something like that.

I hope that you find the right car seat for you and that you don’t find it too much of a problem to install. As you can see it’s a complex subject.

 

What’s News: Ford knew about transmission issues

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Ford Motor Co. knowingly launched two low-priced, fuel-efficient cars with defective transmissions and continued selling the troubled Focus and Fiesta despite thousands of complaints and an avalanche of repairs, a Free Press investigation found.

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The cars, many of which randomly lose power on freeways and have unexpectedly bolted into intersections, were put on sale in 2010-11 as the nation emerged from the Great Recession. At least 1.5 million remain on the road and continue to torment their owners — and Ford.

The Future of Cars – Steel Or Silicon? (Part 1)

Steel or Silicon

Donald Trump seems to think the future of car production in this country is all about controlling the price of steel and aluminium, but it might come down to silicon instead. This first article will cover what’s happening in the US. Part 2 will go into the changes in Asia and elsewhere.

How long has computer technology been linked to cars? Amazingly, an automated navigation device was first placed in a car in the 1930s, but it mainly consisted of a map on a roll. As you journeyed along the road, you could adjust the dial and travel along the map. Presumably if you traveled the other way along the road, you could adjust the dial the other way. (The real problem was if you went on a road that wasn’t important enough to have one of these maps.)

The first SatNav as we would understand it happened in 1985 with the Etak Navigator. Like most tech at the time the drive was stored on a cassette tape. It still didn’t give you directions; it showed you what the road should be like according to the records. The city of LA could only be stored in four cassettes. The first SatNav with a voice to guide you was created by Mazda in 1990.

Surprisingly, a radios wasn’t even stock in most cars during the 1960 but it didn’t take long to go from radio to 8-track, to cassette. The first Compact Disc device installed in a car was the CD-X in 1984. We can’t find a record of which manufacturer first to install a mobile download system, but it was sometime around the beginnings of 2010.

look-out-of-the-window-2121134_1920We are so used to opening our windows electronically that we rarely think of it as technology at all. The power window seems to go back all the way to 1947 to the Cadillac Fleetwood. However the system was not (still is not) fool-proof. Power windows have produced injuries and even fatalities when obstacles got caught up in the window.

The early concern was that a power window wouldn’t go down if a car became submerged, thereby preventing occupants from being able to equalize pressure and open the door. But think about trying to crank down a manual window while your car sinks slowly into the murky darkness and water pours in on you…truth be told you are best off to keep a device nearby that can smash your window out.

The US government is trying to make these windows safer with items like a lockout switch but safety campaigners warn that injuries can still occur. See the Wikipedia article on Power Windows. As regards automatic sunroofs, well there are so many different types that they deserve an article on their own.

Of course self-driving (AVs) might seem an obvious thing to talk about next, but at this time they’re only for display purposes. The Aptiv for instance although operating in Las Vegas has a real human behind the wheel and the same thing with the Chevy Bolt.

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Power assisted steering comes from 1951 from a Chrysler model, this however used hydraulics. The first electrical power steering was created for the Porsche 911 in 1963. The great advantage for electrics over hydraulics in the lack of wires making it much more efficient and less likely to overheat.

So “The Donald’s” efforts to promote jobs in the legacy American Auto Industry with heavy metal will have some impact on frame-and-body but there’s already a lot more going on inside the automotive brain, which could be a better source of jobs.

 

Best of the Web: History Channel’s Car Week

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Today we bring on you a best of the web that’s really more Best of Cable.

History Channel is running some interesting programming for gear heads and car buffs like us all week (7/7/19 – 7/13/19). It’s Car Week.

7 AM Monday Modern Marvels is covering the road to car week which should give us the road map for the week.

Of course many of the regular shows will do special episodes like American Pickers doing an episode call Car-rama at 1 PM.

There are some other specials getting a lot of press, like the Epic Guide to Military Vehicles, hosted by Chuck Norris.

At the Kicker Blog we look forward to DVRing all of it so when a long day of covering everything else in the vehicle universe is done, we can kick back with a cold beverage and binge on MORE CARS!

PS Just because we love vehicles doesn’t mean we never walk anywhere. Its summer folks and our health tip for you is to park your car at the far end of the parking lot. You get a little more walking it which is good to ease the stress of bad drivers and it’s good for your heart because you get less door dings. Just say’n.