Lexus - luxury car, pearl from Toyota Motors

June 18th, 2009

Lexus, it’s the name of luxury in Japan. The Lexus brand is a division of Toyota Motor Corporation, first introduced to the United States market in 1989, where it has been the number one selling brand of luxury vehicles ever since. The Lexus brand is currently being offered in 68 countries around the world.

The original Lexus LS was born from a Toyota sedan project that began in 1983. This was the first vehicle to showcase the new label and the first car was offered for sale in 1989. Since that day, Lexus has successfully strived to develop a reputation for vehicle reliability and unparalleled customer service, earning the J.D. Power and Associates award for vehicle reliability fourteen times in the nineteen years of its existence, most recently in 2008. Consumer Reports has also given Lexus its most coveted ranking in the top five most reliable brands through 2008.

Lexus design has generally focused on key aspects of luxury car standards focusing specifically on aerodynamics and interior ergonomics. Each vehicle is designed with 500 specific criteria known in the industry as “Lexus Musts”. Technological gadgetry includes touch screen navigation, smart key entry and ignition, and premium audio systems.

Nothing was spared on mechanical design either. All models of Lexus include sandwich steel plating to reduce road noise inside the cabin and models now include acoustic glass to further dampen outside noise and enhance the new surround sound audio systems. In 2006, Lexus was the first mainstream production car to introduce an 8-speed automatic transmission with the LS 460. Modern, continuous varying transmissions, advanced braking systems, and electric motors have all been used in the new line of Lexus hybrids.

Not only does the Tahara plant in Japan turn out some of the most sophisticated and luxurious cars on the market today, it is a wonder in itself. It is a cutting edge, highly technologically advance manufacturing powerhouse that has earned J.D. Power and Associates highly prestigious award for worldwide plant quality, citing that it had the fewest defects of any car manufacturing plant in the world. This award has been bestowed on the Tahara plant four years running and in 2006 Lexus added a second plant, the Miyata plant, to this list.

Lexus is not only known for its impressive stable of cars, but for its exceptional customer service experience. The waiting rooms for various service departments include a complete suite of amenities including on-site cafes, designer boutiques and even putting greens. Large picture windows line the service department, giving Lexus owners the opportunity to watch the service being performed on their vehicles, and giving them a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes. Each customer is treated like a guest in the home of each employee of Lexus.

Lexus first entered the world of motorsports in 1999, receiving its first victory in the sixth race of the Motorola Cup North American Street Stock Championship and there has been no stopping them since. Lexus has a presence in every race venue both domestic and abroad, raking in win after win.

The new F Mark Series was announced in December 2006, which is slated to rival Mercedes-Benz AMG and BMW’s M series, to bring the Lexus brand to the next level and combine comfort with sports car precision.

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The Audi Quattro System

May 4th, 2009

When you stop to think about it, the Audi symbol really is a stroke of genius (for that matter, most Audi undertakings are fairly inspired, but we’ll get to that later). The symbol is elegant, simple, and highly unique; four interlocking rings aligned horizontally. I’d been around it for a long time, since I was a teenager, without really thinking too much about it. It’s just a logo, a graphic, worthy of only a momentary glance. But after a while, and a lot of driving, the genius of the symbol came into clear focus. Since its inception in 1980, the quattro system has been setting the standard for all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive, of course, is the Audi system whereby all four wheels get equal power directly from the engine. All four wheels, working together, linked as it were, into one cohesive unit. I nearly fell over when the symbol of the hood ornament and the reality under the hood finally merged into one.
Since 1980, Audi has produced over 2 million cars with this remarkable straight-line driveshaft technology. A car that can transmit power through all four of its wheels has a much greater ability to corner than a car with only front- or rear-wheel drive power. It can resist the lateral forces imposed by quick maneuvering, as well as being able to keep much better traction on slippery or snowy roads. The Audi engineers who developed the quattro in the late 70’s understood these principles intrinsically.

The main breakthrough was a hollow drive shaft, which allowed power to flow from the engine into both the front and rear differentials without the need of two center differentials. This allowed for a vastly lighter system, which didn’t need nearly as much ground clearances as the 4WD systems of Audi’s competitors. The idea of running a central shaft down the existing, hollow shaft was so simple and so revolutionary that it is still in use on modern Quattro systems, despite being over a quarter of a century old. The only real change over the years has been the addition, in 1987, of a so-called “Torsen” system. Short for “torque sensing,” it allowed the car to sense which axle (front or rear) needed more torque in extreme traction situations, and to then seamlessly diverted up to 75% of the engines power to that axle.

I’ve driven two Audis with Quattro in my life, and both have been exhilirating machines. Driving a sports car on winding, narrow counry roads is something that everyone should do at least once in their life. If it’s an Audi, yuo can rest assured that you will be able to push it well beyond the limits of most 2WD vehicles. In the 5 years I’ve spent behind the wheel of a Quattroe, I’ve only been able to get unstuck from the road on two occasions. Once was in a blinding New England snow storm, and the other was on rain-soaked leaves on the top of a slick hillside. In both instances, the loss of control was very temporary. If you’ve heard the expression “it drives like it’s on rails” then you owe it to yourself to try a Quattro, because nowhere else can you feel like you’ve landed on the rails, as well.

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A Focus on Ford

May 3rd, 2009

2007 Ford FocusI drive a 2007 Ford Focus two-door. It has a manual transmission, cloth seats, hand crank windows and a key that has absoultely no buttons on it. I bought the car in Massachusetts in December, and shortly thereafter I drove out to meet some family in Arizona. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of the high desert that I realized there was no air-conditioning. Simply put, my car is the most minimal combination of engine, tires and transmission that I have been able to find. No bells, no whistles, no pricey mark-ups or added junk that you don’t really need and don’t want to worry about breaking.

Despite not having any of the so-called “modern amenities”, my car has been nothing but fun to drive. It’s got a very solid feeling suspension. It is built low to the curb, and it corners like a dream. The transmission is very forgiving and easy to shift, while the shift lever itself fits solidly in the hand. In the few instances where I’ve really needed the brakes, they came through admirably. It gets phenomenal mileage, anywhere from 25mpg in the city to nearly 40mpg on the highway driving across the country. This is partly due to the stick shift transmission, but aerodynamics and the well designed 4-cylinder engine also get a lot of the credit.
Speaking of the engine, it’s only a 2-liter affair, but I’ve never felt underpowered. In fact, I routinely blow past much more expensive cars with much bigger numbers on their rear ends on the highway and at stop lights. The powerplant is very well matched to the relatively light body of the car itself. It accelerates with a lot of pep and it cruises quietly and evenly.
Best of all, because the car had no automatic gew-gaws and I bought it slightly used, there was a considerable savings from the Blue Book price. Despite paying so little, I was still able to benefit from the very generous Ford warranty. They offer coverage for 36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 100,000 miles on the drivetrain, anywhere in North America. This was a great bonus to me, since I was going to be travelling a lot between the US and Canada. The 100,000 mile warranty also included roadside assistance and repair. Knowing that I could call for help from anywhere and at anytime added greatly to my peace of mind when taking my Ford on long trips.
If you are in the market for a dependable, easy-to-drive people mover, I highly recommend looking into a pre-owned Ford Focus. These cars are well put together and fun to drive. Ford wouldn’t put such a phenomenal warranty on a piece of junk, either; these cars were made to put in the miles, day in and day out. Just look around you the next time you are out in your neighborhood. There are tons of these cars on the road, and if my own experience is any indication, there will continue to be a lot of Focuses out there.

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Bangle, Ex-BMW design boss, open his own design studio

March 26th, 2009

Christopher Edward Bangle (born October 14, 1956) is an American automobile designer. Bangle is known best for his work as Chief of Design for BMW Group, where he was responsible for the BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce motor cars.

He was born in Ravenna, Ohio, and raised in Wausau, Wisconsin. After considering becoming a Methodist minister, Bangle attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California to pursue his automobile designer career.

Bangle started his career at Opel. The first work that he designed is the interior of the Junior concept car. He later moved to Fiat and worked as a chief designer of the Fiat Coupe.

He became the first American chief of design of BMW in 1992, where he designed the Z9 Gran Turismo concept car. His styling themes have generated intense controversy among automotive designers, and have often had a polarizing effect.

Bangle left BMW on Feb. 2 “to pursue his own design-related endeavors beyond the auto industry.”

At a press event here today, Bangle would not comment on his future plans. But Klaus Draeger, BMW’s development head, said: “He’s going to make his own dream come true. He’s going to open his own design studio.”

Bangle said he could not yet talk about his plans but said he would stay in Germany for a little while.

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AutoNation GM,Chrysler profit climbs on tax adjustment

January 30th, 2009

After capping off one of the toughest years in the auto industry’s history, AutoNation Inc. said Thursday that it’s bracing for more of the same in 2009 unless the credit markets loosen up and jump start sales of new cars and trucks.

In the meantime, the nation’s largest automotive retailer said it continues to slash its orders for new vehicles, cut its costs and adjust its inventories in an attempt to ride out the downturn.

The earnings pleased investors and AutoNation shares advanced 43 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $9.67.

Revenue slid 34 percent to $2.74 billion from $4.14 billion, as new vehicle sales tumbled 41 percent to $1.43 billion and used vehicle sales dropped 33 percent to $640.9 million.

Analysts, on average, expected $3.06 billion in revenue.

Last month, Jackson said AutoNation (NYSE: AN) was reducing orders for early 2009 by up to 60 percent.

The Fort Lauderdale-based auto retailer said net income from continuing operations for the 2008 fourth quarter was $70.1 million, or 38 cents a share, up from $50.6 million, or 28 cents a shares.

The company’s earnings rose to $67.1 million, or 38 cents a share, from $51.7 million, or 28 cents a share, a year ago. The company had a net benefit from certain items of $48 million or 28 cents per share, including a net positive tax adjustment of 18 cents per share and a gain on the repurchase of the company’s senior notes of 14 cents per share.

Eight of the top 25 new auto dealerships ranked in the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s “2009 Book of Lists” are AutoNation owned. They are Autoway Toyota in Pinellas Park, Autoway Nissan of Brandon Inc., Lexus of Tampa Bay in Tampa, Autoway Honda in Clearwater, Lexus of Clearwater, Autoway Ford — Bradenton, Autoway Ford — St. Petersburg and Autoway Nissan — Clearwater.

“I have never gone through anything like it,” he said. “Broken consumer confidence, dramatically restricted credit, … industry’s retail sales collapse by 50 percent and we are still solidly in the black.”

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Hands on with D-Box and Simcraft racing simulators

January 23rd, 2009

A common theme at CES is consolidating charging solutions. iGo has created the ultimate power solution with its all in-one-chargers. All you need is one main hub, then a small adapter for each of your electronics and you’re ready to charge in your home, in the air and, of course, on the road. This would be a solution for power problems you can tackle today, versus the PowerMat’s uncertain future release date.

They’re more than glorified game consoles with force-feedback steering wheels strapped to a lounge chair. Costing as much as $44,000 apiece, they’re racing simulators, and we got to play with a couple of them at CES.

Simcraft says its $44K model is meant for training real race car drivers, like Indycar driver Sarah Fisher, who stopped by CES on Wednesday to show off the company’s Apex SC830. The U.S. military is also using the high-dollar simulator to train its soldiers to drive in the tricky sands of Iraq. D-Box’s top-of-the-line GP Pro 200 is a much more affordable high-end racing simulator. It’ll only set you back $14,000.

Both are PC-based and both offer much more realism than your Laz-E-Boy being moved around by your little brother. The SC830 is definitely more hardcore, with the seat and displays mounted on a tubular-steel frame. The GP Pro 200 sits lower, is more compact and looks less complicated than the Simcraft. But how do they drive? Click through to the jump to read our impressions and for more photos.

Powermat was one of the most exciting accessories at CES. Imagine never having the need to plug in your mobile devices. Powermat technology has made traditional charging methods obsolete. All you need to do is plug the charging station into an outlet, and then place your mobile device (including iPods, clocks, cellphones) on the mat and your device will charge. Powermat’s technologies have also been developed into work desks, kitchen counters, and even walls. Powermat has an in-vehicle solution in development right now. Just place your phone in your car’s center console and you’ll instantly be charging, no wires needed. I definitely look forward to this being a standard in future cars.

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