The Automotive Amanojaku

This is where you'll find news, random car-related thoughts and personal views from a rabid car nut. "Amanojaku" is Japanese slang that means "person who is deliberately contradictory". I've always found myself drawn to the less appreciated car makes - the "underdogs" if you will. Suzuki, Pontiac, GM Daewoo and Holden, are among my favorite brands to watch and comment on. Let me hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

GM Daewoo Lacetti trim and option differences with the Suzuki Forenza

Over at I posted several screen grabs of the different options and trim that are available on the GM Daewoo Lacetti.

I had been scouring the 'net for a bugflector for my upcoming wagon purchase, but to no avail. Perhaps I can find someone with contacts in Korea who can import one for me...

Follow the LINK to see more photos of the options.

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My Dream Kei Van

A poster at GMInsidenews pointed out that I must have had a hand in this aftermarket creation. Well, I couldn't agree more - I sure would buy one if I still lived in Japan. Thanks to Winding Road for the find!

Its a Suzuki Every Wagon that’s been customized by Japanese stylists DAMD to look like a shrunken Cadillac Escalade. The name is even kind of catchy: “DAMD Concept B Type 1 Every DA64W.”

The modifications to the exterior of this Japanese-market box are actually pretty minimal, with the most obvious being the insertion of a Caddy-style eggcrate grille between a pair of headlamps that look remarkably Slade-esque (though they’re in fact standard Suzuki pieces). Other external changes include suitably chromed nine-spoke wheels and some additional running-board style side garnishes, and an abbreviated rear bumper cap.

Inside, some upscale-looking perforated hides have been fitted to the seats, as well as some door trim.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Suzuki Sales & Production Ramp Up; GM's 1-year Stake Buyback Deadline to be Deferred

Suzuki to raise 2007 sales 8% on overseas demand - company may keep GM's 17% stake longer
25 Jan

Suzuki Motor Corp., Japan's fourth-largest automaker, plans to raise sales 8% this year as overseas demand for its compact cars rises, will increase production capacity in Hungary.
The company plans to sell 2.35 million vehicles in 2007, compared with 2.17 million last year, Suzuki said in a release today. Domestic vehicle sales including minicars will fall 3% to 675,000, while overseas sales will rise 13% to 1.68 million. Chairman Osamu Suzuki will spend ¥1 trillion ($8.3 billion) for the five years ending March 2010 to expand global production, as models including the SX4 and Swift compact cars attract more buyers.
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo today, Osamu Suzuki said he's not worried about Daihatsu replacing Suzuki as the biggest minicar maker as long as his company's total production is growing. The chairman, who turns 77 next week, also said he plans to keep his position „as long as I'm alive.”

Industry-wide sales of minicars, powered by engines no larger than 0.66 liters, rose 5.2% in Japan to a record 2.02 million vehicles in 2006, according to the Japan Mini Vehicles Association. Sales may drop 3.1% to 1.96 million this year, the group said. Suzuki, which released two new minicar designs in 2006, had a 30.2% share of Japan's mini-vehicle market last year. Daihatsu, a unit of Toyota Motor Corp., plans to raise minicar sales at home 3.3% to 620,000 units, the company said in December, introduced three new models, and had a 29.7% market share.

Suzuki plans to open a new plant next year to build only compact cars, in Sagara City, near its head office. The company has been trimming its minicar production in Japan since September.
General Motors Corp., the world's largest carmaker, in March 2006 reduced its stake in Suzuki to 3% from 20%, by selling a 17% stake to Suzuki Motor for 230 billion yen. Suzuki said at that time it would hold the 17% stake for a year to give GM the option of buying it back. Osamu Suzuki said today his company may keep the stake longer. „We agreed to keep a good long-term strategic partnership,” he said, referring to a November meeting with GM CEO Rick Wagoner. „So we don't need to stick with the deadline.” GM and Suzuki have partnerships including joint production in Canada and co-development of fuel-cell cars and gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.


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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

2007 Suzuki Forenza Wagon Still Looking Good, Despite some Decontenting

So I took a trip down to my local Suzuki dealer today after reading glowing reviews of the new SX4. I was fully prepared to like it.

Side by side on the dealer lot were two cobalt blue vehicles - the Forenza Wagon and a new SX4.

Unfortunately the "small station wagon" as it is called on its sticker, was just a bit TOO small. While it appeared to have ample headroom and stands a bit taller than the Forenza, the paper specs I'd read on the Forenza being larger inside were proven noticeably correct. The cargo area without the rear seats folded in the SX4 is almost non-existent. "Station wagon", indeed.

The Forenza looked huge by comparison. And the stick-shift SX4 actually gets worse highway fuel economy (not that I was looking for a stick, but still) than the Forenza Wagon automatic. The SX4 auto is supposed to get better fuel economy --- funny, I'm used to seeing that the other way around.

After a little research at regarding the Forenza Wagon, I found to my dismay that the 2006 model had more valuable features standard on some trim levels, such as ABS and standard alloy wheels than 2007 models. It seems all Forenzas come with rather obvious plastic wheel covers now that are only attractive from a distance. ABS cannot even be had as an option on higher trim packages - only on the base model now for some strange reason. At least that's according to the website, I'll check with the dealer when I order mine. On the plus side, the 2007 model has MP3 CD compatibility and a tire pressure monitor, and no doubt is a more solid vehicle after years of production now. And I did intend to order the optional SWT gunmetal wheels anyway.

Yes, I'm swinging back to my 3-year long Forenza fetish. I just love the styling, the price, and the wagon versatility that much. And if for any reason I need to sell my Bonneville, the Forenza wagon could step in and do that duty. The SX4, while a great little car, simply isn't up to the task for a family man like me. It looked like a baby seat would eat up a full half of the rear seat. And the side curtain airbags that looked so great on paper almost seem like a must have in such a small vehicle.

But given that TrueDelta shows the new Forenza as being worth 900 dollars less than the 2006 model due to lost expensive features, I'll be looking for another 500 dollars on the hood of incentives. Even if that means waiting until early Summer when incentives usually rachet up.

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Cobalt SS Teams Start the Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Season Friday 1/26 @ Daytona

Note: The "Grand Am Cup", a series that was often confused for the similarly named Grand American Rolex Series (its big brother, so to speak), is as of the 2007 racing season with its own major sponsor, and now called the "Grand Am KONI Challenge".

Racing Weekend Ahead: KONI Challenge
by Steve Smith, Kristyn Sobier
Florida Racing News
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

DAYTONA, Fla. -- Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series teams will start their 12-race series at Daytona International Raceway on Friday. The Cobalt SS Supercharged teams are headed by last year’s front-running Georgian Bay Motorsports team, which logged four wins and finished third in season ending ST points. Also campaigning Cobalt SS racers are Team Cobalt California’s two cars and GS Motorsport with their single car entry.



Rich Rewards: Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Offers Record $100,000 Race Purses for 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. – The 2007 Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series will offer the richest purses in series history with today’s announcement at the 2006 Grand-Am Cup Series Awards Celebration that each of the 12 races will pay out $100,000 per event, including up to $10,000 for a victory in the Grand Sport (GS) class.

The GS winning team will earn a minimum of $5,000 for a race victory, but could double its winnings to $10,000 if the team uses KONI shocks. Second place in GS will pay $3,750 for teams not using KONI shocks or $7,500 for teams using KONI, with $2,500 going to the third-place finisher in GS without KONI or $5,000 for teams using KONI.

The Street Tuner (ST) class has a similar structure, with $3,750 going to the class winner if the team does not use KONI and $7,500 for a winning team with KONI, followed by $2,500 or $5,000 for the second-place finisher and $1,750 or $3,500 for third in ST. Both classes will pay out to the top-20 positions, with double the purse for any top-20 finisher using KONI shocks.

“Clearly, our competitors are already seeing the benefits of KONI’s new sponsorship of the KONI Challenge Series,” said Grand American Road Racing Association President Roger Edmondson. “Teams will have until the 2009 season to convert their race cars to KONI shocks, but the opportunity to double their earnings by using KONI should be tantalizing to a considerable number of our competitors. Certainly, KONI’s involvement in the series has been significant in allowing us to offer the largest purses we’ve ever had.”

Prior to the 2007 season, the Grand-Am Cup Series purses were based on a percentage of fees from entries that started each race. As a result, this number fluctuated throughout the season depending on the number of cars that took the green flag in each individual race. At no time in series history, however, did the race purse total anywhere near $100,000, which is guaranteed for 2007.

A primer from IGN Cars:

The GS Class (as well as the ST class) is a production car-based racing series. According to the GrandAm literature, this class was created to show the reliability and durability of production cars in a racing environment. The cars competing in this class are more or less stock. While major modifications are allowed when it comes to safety, the engine and the rest of the car remains as it did when it was still on the showroom floor. In other words, this is real stock car racing.

So all these body panels you see are factory sheetmetal. No carbon fiber or non-OEM fiberglass or aero pieces are used here. While safety rules dictate that the driver and passenger door glass must be removed, all other greenhouse pieces are OEM glass. No Lexan allowed!

Modifications can be done to the suspension, provided the parts bolt up to the standard mounting points. Brakes can be replaced, but the discs can't be more than 5% bigger than the stock units, and no special ducting is allowed. The engines can be blueprinted and balanced, and some stand-alone engine management systems can be used, but crazy overbores and headwork isn't permitted. Still, this "minor" tuning can still get 350-400 reliable horsepower out of these engines.

Even the gas tanks must be stock, unless safety rules dictate that another unit must be used. All the fuel lines can be upgraded, of course, but this means that the cars have wildly different fuel capacities. The Porsche 966s used have 16.5 gallon tanks while cars such as the Ford Mustang are permitted to have 20 gallon tanks. Teams must really plan ahead when it comes to fuel consumption here!

Due to sponsorship reasons or something, all GS Cup cars must run approved Hoosier tires. However, as Hoosiers are known for their stickiness (and grip), we're sure that this is one mod that everyone is happy with.

For the GS Cup, all cars are required to have at least two drivers. Of course, this means that at least one driver change has to occur during the race.

Of course, the cars used in the ST class have smaller-displacement 4 and 6-cylinder engines. Forced induction cars are allowed to keep their blowers, but they cannot be modified to make more power (no cranking up the boost...). Cars in this class make between 170 and 240 horsepower and have a top speed of about 135 miles per hour.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Word of Mouth Buzz & Good Reviews for New Suzuki SX4

SUZUKI SX4 REVIEW ROUND UP: "A Hell of a Deal; the potential to be a WRX-killer"

Quote: The SX4’s on-demand AWD system is a particularly pukka party trick, reminiscent of Subarus of yore. For daily duty, the SX4 is a front-driver. Flip a switch near the handbrake and i-AWD kicks in. In this mode, 95% of the SX4’s torque is routed to the front wheels. Should either of the fronts lose purchase, up to 50% of the power is sent to the back wheels. If you get stuck in sand (posing for the requisite PR lifestyle surfer dude pictures), you can switch to full-time four wheel-drive and lock up the transfer case for an even split.

And if you have to split in a hurry, the SX4 is a corner carver par excellence. The base model’s blessed with fat 205 tires (the same size as a BMW 328i’s hoops) and a smartly-tuned chassis; the Sport version gains stability control (unique to this class). Surprisingly, body roll and grip are never an issue. Even better, the SX4’s rack and pinion steering is a revelation; the tiniest tiller inputs deliver an instant change of direction. Running in i-AWD I tackled my favorite corners as fast as I could in my (gulp) Subaru WRX.

And the hits keep happening. With a 2.0-liter DOHC I4 harnessing 143 scrappy little fillies, this little Suzy has some guts. To gain access to the mill’s 136 pound-feet of torque, your hand never leaves the stick shift knob but A) you’re only fighting against 2800lbs. and B) it’s fun. Short gearing ensures that the engine is constantly on the boil, while the user friendly clutch makes downshifting a breeze. OK, you can’t call a zero to sixty in 8.3 seconds car fast, but it ain’t slow neither.

For roughly the same money as a Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit or Nissan Versa, the Suzuki SX4 provides a larger, more powerful wagon — “crossover” with AWD, distinctive styling and hoonery. If Suzuki creates more driver friendly vehicles like the SX4, they’ll finally be building a brand worth remembering.


Quote: "For a company known more for its sport bikes than its cars, having a solid “normal” car is a big deal. The SX4 shows that Suzuki is a real car company that builds real cars. Excuse us for a minute… we still can’t get over just what an improvement this car is over past models.
For just $15K fully-loaded, the Suzuki SX4 is a hell of a deal. We came in fully expecting to be disappointed in this car but came away from it with a healthy amount of respect for it. We’d fully recommend this car to anyone looking at a Fit, Yaris or even a Civic. If the aftermarket picks up on this thing, the SX4 will have the potential to be a WRX-killer. You can’t say that about the Fit. "


Quote:"What makes the SX4 so different than others is that it makes four-wheel drive standard across the line. Its not a Mickey Mouse gimmick, either, as the system is actually advanced enough to be considered sophisticated. Called i-AWD (I for Intelligent, of course), it uses an electronically controlled system that allows the SX4 to get out of some pretty sticky situations.
When four-wheel drive and Suzuki are tossed together in the same sentence, its exceedingly easy to think directly of the little off roaders that Suzuki is famous for. With good ground clearance and ladder frame construction, SUVs like the Samurai, Sidekick and Grand Vitara, which were great off-road, come to mind, but their tippy nature made them pretty hopeless on pavement. Thus, with great excitement, I can report that the SX4, with its four-wheel drive system has excellent on-road dynamics - and thats not just in the realm of the Suzuki nameplate.

Sharing many of the key components from the European-market Swift, such as the floorpan, the suspension and steering systems has really benefited the SX4. On the road it felt solid, and strangely planted for something so small, with steering thats surprisingly sharp and quick witted, but most importantly, the rest of the car can cope with it. You can attack corners with some pretty aggressive angles, and although body roll is more pronounced than in a regular hatchback, it never feels anything less than stable. Not once, even at the limits of its grip during a simulated emergency lane change or slalom did the SX4 feel as if it would topple over, which allows you to drive it like a little sports hatchback, though it lacks the zest and fervor of the old, Swift GTI because of its weight.

And while Id normally criticize weight as the mortal enemy to any sort of automotive engineering, the additional heft actually helps the SX4 to feel more stable on the road. The suspension, which consists of McPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam in rear tightropes the line on firmness; its comfortable, yet it doesnt roll excessively, or wallow. And, given the brevity of the SX4s wheelbase, the extra weight smoothens out the ride over rough surfaces, which would otherwise send an equivalently sized car into a fit of vibrations and jitters. By comparison, the SX4 is remarkably composed and settled, even over less than smooth surfaces such as unfinished gravel roads, grass and snow, surfaces that Suzuki expects its owners to be treading on."


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Conspiracy Theory of the Day: Wagons hurt SUV & Crossover Sales...So Kill the Wagon!

Is there a conspiracy to eliminate the affordable Station Wagon from the U.S. market, or is it just a market trend? Soon the Ford Focus Wagon is set to disappear, as well as the Malibu Maxx. The traditional Station Wagon is an endangered species. Aside from the Dodge Magnum and the wagons in some Luxury brands, the wagon is on the decline, and the inexpensive sedan-based 4-cylinder station wagon is nearly extinct.

Looking at the lack of standard sedan-based wagons like the Suzuki Forenza in the U.S. market I've come to a wacky conclusion. It's not that they're so horribly unpopular. It's about automotive executives who've decided not to invest in building and selling (or advertising) attractive wagons because for each wagon sold they lose a more profitable SUV or Crossover sale.

Wagons generally sell for only $1000 more than the sedans they are based on, while a crossover or "cute-ute" can cost several thousand more. But despite the jacked up stance, is a 2WD Mitsubishi Outlander, for instance, really all that more off-road capable than a wagon version of a similarly sized Mitsubishi car? I think not.

And what of the comparitive cost of developing all-new sheetmetal and a new interior for a crossover as opposed to designing a wagon rear end and grafting it onto a sedan? Surely the R&D costs for the Cute Ute far exceed the cost of making a wagon version of your existing sedan.

So the conclusion I am drawn to is that Wagons in the end must not be as profitable an addition to an automaker's line up as a crossover car-based SUV, XUV, CUV or whatever.

Instead, automakers will make more money by herding us into vehicles with similar utility, that cost more since they look rugged and sit up an inch or two higher than a traditional wagon. If fuel economy and ride quality suffer a bit? Don't feel bad, because now you're driving a "tough" Crossover SUV!

The Dodge Magnum breaks the mold because it is a macho-looking RWD Hemi-powered monster of a wagon (in its highest trim level). But the lowly inexpensive wagon is left in the dustbin of history as Crossover SUV's take over.

One ray of hope - again from DaimlerChrysler: The Jeep Patriot and Compass. While neither is a true "wagon" in the traditional sense of the word, the Patriot at least is a 4-cylinder powered vehicle with wagon like utility, and in 2WD is very fuel efficient and not so expensive.

And the Chevrolet HHR, while classified as a Truck, is really a kind of Cobalt Wagon in disguise.

But my question remains: Is offering inexpensive wagon variants of existing sedans something that automotive executives - the gray hairs at the top - frown upon since for every wagon sold, you've lost a potential SUV sale? I think it certainly is a factor, if not the wide conspiracy I've made it to be.

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Restyle the Holden VE Commodore? What is Pontiac (GM) Thinking?

Photo: Will Pontiac's Ugly Styling Beast Rear its Head Again?

News has leaked that Pontiac's upcoming "G8" RWD sedan will not keep the Commodore VE front end, but will instead have the styling of a Solstice from the A-pillar forward.

The Holden VE Commodore has a very techy/sharp look. The Solstice is more of a rounded homage to a 1950's Porsche.

Personally I hate the idea. GM Execs are no doubt worried about people who said that they didn't do enough in Detroit to change the former imported GTO from the Monaro. What they just don't seem to get is that the Monaro's bubbly 1990's styling was one of the reasons many people hated the look, NOT the fact that it was little changed from the Monaro itself.

For GM's sake, it had better blend well, and "Solstice Inspired" should not be an excuse for 1990's bubble styling. Personally I would have preferred the Commodore as-is, with a twin port grille. I hope GM can pull it off, but their restyling efforts of the past have been mixed at best (no Aztek comments, please), and the G6 GXP show car with the huge elongated nostrils that GM went ahead with despite lots of negative feedback (at least from sites like GMInsideNews when the concept sketches were shown) does not give me much hope.

I would buy a Commodore with a Pontiac grille. I would not buy a Frankenstein-styled G8 that looks like a hybrid of a current Grand Prix and a Solstice up front. Something tells me to expect the latter. See the photo of the G6 GXP above for an idea of what I'm talking about. Blech.

Hence, GM pushes me ever farther away from Pontiac and its products, and into the arms of "import" styling that I seem to like so much.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Ming's Place: Suzuki SX4 Review

Suzuki SX4 Review

Good review of the SX4 over at the Evo Auto Blog:

"For just $15K fully-loaded, the Suzuki SX4 is a hell of a deal. We came in fully expecting to be disappointed in this car but came away from it with a healthy amount of respect for it. We’d fully recommend this car to anyone looking at a Fit, Yaris or even a Civic. If the aftermarket picks up on this thing, the SX4 will have the potential to be a WRX-killer. You can’t say that about the Fit."

Full review at link above.

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Suzuki SX4 Sedan

Suzuki's SX4 is currently available in the U.S. market only as a 4 door hatchback with "SUV" styling. However the Chinese spec "Saloon" (sedan) shown above was at the Chinese Auto Show, and a video and other photos can be seen here:
The U.S. spec "crossover" can be seen here:

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GMI Goes to China: Ming's Trip and Observations

Wrote this last fall - see the original post with photos here:

GMI Goes to China: Ming's Trip and Observations

Recently I had the opportunity to travel to China for a few weeks. Although I was much too busy to take a trip to the local Buick, Chevrolet or Cadillac dealers there, I knew it would be a good chance to get more up close photos of cars like the Buick GL8 or Wuling vans that we usually only see in stock photos. With the intention of buying a new Chinese camera as soon as possible, I looked forward to the opportunity to catch a few shots for GMInsidenews and maybe find a magazine or two to rip scans from.

I arrived in Guangzhou, a large city along the Pearl River (also the name of a decent local beer), not far to the north of Hong Kong. Despite my screen name, I'm not Chinese. This wasn't a "back to roots" trip or something, but a trip for personal reasons. That said, I have lived in Asia in the past for a substantial part of my life (specifically Japan), but China did take me by surprise.

The stereotypical images of Mao Zedong portraits posted on buildings is far from the reality in Guangzhou. I didn't see a single one. No sign of Communism, control or censorship aside from the blacked out CNN report critical of Mao (blackout right after the narrator said "Critics say Mao Zedong was responsible for killing millions...") during the last day of my stay. Oh, and the occasional group of 6-10 marching troops not far from my hotel, who I never saw anywhere else in the city. Capitalism is in full swing in Guangzhou, which is constantly replacing old architecture with new Western-style buildings. Parts of the city look just like areas of Tokyo I'm familiar with, like Shibuya or Akihabara. Clean and fresh, with colorful advertisements covering the sides of buildings and Chinese pop music blaring from speakers or large screen videos.

There is plenty of old culture that survives, however, reminding you that you're in China. Restaurants with snakes, turtles and other creatures I couldn't identify in aquariums might have up to six young women standing outside, calling customers in, wearing colorful traditional Chinese dresses. Or small tea shops with stunningly beautiful teahouse waitresses in traditional clothing, serving umpteen varieties of flavorful tea in a very Chinese way (as opposed to the Japanese way I'm used to seeing). One sip and you'll never want to drink Lipton or Celestial Seasonings again.

Take a wrong turn and you'll find yourself in a narrow street with dilapidated buildings that look like they've been standing for at least 100 years, with crumbling traditional Chinese brickwork and old women cutting the heads off live chickens in the street.

The city of Guangzhou is a vibrant, bustling place, full of the hopes and dreams of small-time entrepreneurs and capitalists unleashed. But the air is terrible. A cloud of pollution hangs over the city like a morning mist that never leaves. Breathing it in the open for extended periods made me feel like I had food poisoning until I learned that it was the air, not the food or water that was making me sick. And that brings me (finally, some of you will say) to the transportation itself.

Motorcycles are on the way out in Guangzhou, soon to be banned from the city limits due to the emissions their 20-30 year old engines belch out. Bicycles, contrary to the stereotype, are not the main means of transport. Cars and Vans rule the streets of Guangzhou, and if they don't at the moment, they will as soon as the motorcycle ban is in place. Public transportation is similar to in parts of Japan, with a smooth-running, modern subway system, and buses.

And when I mention vans specifically, I don't say it lightly. Those of you who know me well on this site will know that I love small vans like the Nissan Elgrand or Vauxhall Vivaro. I just love vans in general, and if I could I'd have a 4-cylinder van for daily use, and a big GM van for the weekends. If I ever end up working / living in China, you can bet I'll be getting me a small boxy van. Its an illogical obsession of mine, I'll admit.

The vans in China are work-type vans, but I'd say they are a full third of what I saw on the road at any given time, not counting the Volkswagen taxis. The most common type of van is very similar to the Wuling van pictured below. SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile is a joint-venture between General Motors and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation. OK, let me restate that. The van below in a stripper form is what I saw most commonly. I got a kick out of a fully pimped-out Wuling van, though (above). I want one!

The other side of Guanzhou is the cars, so many of which are luxury cars. An alarming number. Outside my rather pricey (for Chinese standards) hotel were BMWs, Mercedes, Lexuses, Nissans and a few Chinese Buick LaCrosse sedans. Many had window curtains and deeply tinted windows. A man in Guangzhou who speaks English told me: "20 years ago, to get 3 beautiful women, you needed to have a motorcycle. Today, you need a BMW."

Buick has a strong presence in China, as anyone who follows the global auto trends knows. I saw it up close and personal. I must say that overall, the Buick cars in China have a richer appeal than the ones in the U.S. that look more like they belong in a rental fleet. Even the lowly GM Daewoo built Buicks have an air of luxury around them in the details. Where the Suzuki Forenza or Chevrolet Optra might look a bit mid-pack mainstream, the Buick Excelle appears to use the right combination of chrome, more detailed body panels, and attractive paint to achieve an overall impression of "money". The Excelle wagon revived my interest in wagons, and I again lament that I can't buy an inexpensive, Euro-styled, 4-cylinder wagon like this one from a traditional GM brand that lets me use my GM card earnings.

One of my favorite Chinese Buicks, was the GL8 Minivan. The Terraza should have been designed to look like this. Not like an Uplander with a gaping mouth of black plastic slats and an ugly, protruding shnoz. It doesn't try to look like an SUV, and I wonder if it wouldn't have been cheaper (and more effective) if GM North America had just restyled the front end of the old Venture/Montana to look more like this Chinese model. I looked inside one and it had the new CSV interior, and a fancy nav system that looked better than what I recall seeing here in the U.S.

But the car that just says what is right with Buick of China and what is wrong with Detroit's version is the LaCrosse. What a stunning design. I regret that I was unable to take a photo of the car, and I don't have a full front shot, so I'll use a stock photo for the front, and those I scanned from a Chinese magazine for the rest.

Chevrolet and Cadillac cars were harder to spot, but I did see some very attractive dealerships for both brands on the outskirts of the city. Unfortunately I was not able to stop in and take photos. The Aveo is heavily advertised in China, and I saw a few new Gentra-style Aveos in the streets. The Aveo TV ads were fun and just as fresh and "young" as the Toyota Yaris ads here in the States. Several of the ads I saw for the different GM brands struck me as better than the "lets rehash another song from the 1960's" ads for the U.S. brands.

All in all, China opened my eyes to the possibility of Buick as a potentially desireable brand in the U.S. But the product portfolio will need to change drastically to make that happen. No more W-bodies. No more 3800 chugger. No more Chevies with swapped out grilles like the Terraza. The Enclave is a good start, and actually resembles the Chinese LaCrosse in its styling cues.

China's car market and the potential for imported cars from China also made me hopeful that someday my dream for a small 4-cylinder van that isn't shaped like a spaceship or a wedge - but a fully utilitarian box with a good sized cargo area - might be realized someday. A GM-Wuling for my garage? Well, I can always dream...

See the photos here:

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The Definintive GM Performance Car List Part II: 1973-1985

This is a copy of a list compiled a few months back. See the original list with photos here:

The Definintive GM Performance Car List Part II: 1973-1985
Composed by Ming - with help from 87aero, MCGARRETT, EGG, T-Type, & More!

1973-1985 The Forgotten Years of GM Performance

With the 1973 Oil Crisis, Disco Vans, dramatic downsizing of cars and horsepower, and the generally accepted "End of the Muscle Car Era", the casual (or younger) GM fan might ask if there was anything worth noting from GM's performance stables during this time aside from the obvious pop-icons like "The Bandit" Trans Am. We decided to tackle this question, and hope you enjoy this flashback as much as we did!

This is the second in a series of lists that cover performance cars of note from GM within a certain timeframe. Initially the list grew out of a concern of mine that Japanese and European cars seemed to dominate video games such as Gran Turismo with an array of choices in several car classes for cars produced in the last two to three decades. GM's offerings in such games were (and still are) often limited to muscle cars from the 1960's and mostly Camaros and Corvettes since, with a smattering of concept cars that never made it to production. Most conspicuous is the dead gap of virtually no other performance-trim cars from GM from the 1970's until 2000. This has only recently begun to change in respect to newer cars like the Cobalt, GTO and some Cadillacs getting in to games, but the 1970-2000 GM cars (aside from 'Vettes and Camaros) remain mostly lost to the past.

This list is also an attempt to expand the conciousness of what was "GM Performance", and I'd like to include your suggestions, including GM's close-to-stock racing efforts, and "tuner house" developed models during these model years.

It's also a challenge to the gaming industry, Hollywood, and GM's own Marketing & PR people to not forget these cars to the mists of time. Even the not-so-famous and not-so-powerful models. After all, if such "beasts" as the 1972 Honda Life Step Van, or 1985 Honda TODAY can make it into the mega-selling game Gran Turismo 4, surely the capable and sporty (if not rip-snorting) Chevrolet Spirit of America Vega Coupe, or the Buick Nighthawk deserve to pop up as obscure vehicle choices in some game somewhere, someday? When presented with 10 or more in-game cars from Toyota from the 1980's and virtually nothing from GM, what will young minds conclude? My guess? That GM had nothing to offer back then, and has always been a one-trick 1960's muscle car pony, thus the hype about the return of the Camaro. Last but not least, one must not forget that Japan Domestic Market cars like the Nissan Skyline and the 1980's Corolla Trueno Sprinter AE86 only became household names for GenY largely because of exposure from video games and anime.

Well, I think this list and the FIRST LIST prove that GM has had far more than Camarovette going for it from the early 70's to 2000. And I hope you'll agree!

Note:While "definitive" it is by no means "complete". Please feel free to suggest more, but keep in mind I am not trying to "fill out" the list with every possible variation and model year of a particular car. It's more of a short and sweet list of the hot stuff from GM. The original idea of this list was to not have much redundancy among model years (little change between years) and between brands (rebadges), and no concept cars or trucks (to be covered in other lists). If you have something very different from what's listed here, though, by all means let us know! There are a few brands below that could use some more models to flesh them out. I'll update it over time with your suggestions as they fit. See the original discussion that built this list HERE.

Enough talk, on to the Cars!


1973 Monte Carlo 454
1973 Scuncio Chevrolet Vega +
1973 Yenko Stinger Vega
1973 Chevelle SS
1974 Vega Coupe w/ Spirit of America Package
1974 Nova Hatchback Coupe w/ Spirit of America Package
1974 454 Baldwin Motion Super Vega +
1974 Impala 454 V8 w/ Spirit of America Package
1974 Cosworth Vega +
1974 Chevelle Laguna S3
1974 Camaro Z/28 w/ D88 stripes
1975 Corvette Convertible
1976 Cosworth Vega 5 speed +
1976 Allan Moffat Monza IMSA GT-Class *
1976 Camaro LT Rally Sport
1976 Chevette Rally 1.6
1977 Nova Rally Coupe LM1 350
1977 Camaro Z/28
1977 Vega GT
1977 Monza Mirage
1978 El Camino SS LM1 350/4-speed
1979 Monte Carlo V8
1979 Monza Spyder
1979 Malibu M80 +
1980 Monte Carlo Turbo
1980 Camaro Z/28
1980 Monte Carlo Sport Coupe w/Turbo
1981 X11
1982 Z/28 Indy 500 Pace Car
1981 Citation 660 Turbo +
1983 Malibu 9C1
1983 Monte Carlo SS
1984 Camaro Z/28 L69 H.O.
1985 Cavalier Z24 Hatchback
1985 Corvette TPI 350
1985 Camaro IROC-Z28
1985 X11 2.8 MPFI
1985 Monte Carlo SS Turbo


1973 Century GS
1977 Nighthawk
1978 Regal Sport Coupe
1979 LeSabre Sport Coupe
1979 Century Turbo Coupe
1979 Riviera S-Type
1982 Grand National w/Turbo option
1983 T-Type
1984 Grand National T-Type
1984 Regal T-Type
1985 Riviera T-Type


1973 Cutlass 4-4-2
1979 Cutlass Hurst/Olds 350 W-30 +
1980 Ken Snyder Racing Starfire GT Solo II "G" Stock *
1980 Cutlass Calais 4-4-2 W-30
1983 Cutlass Calais Hurst/Olds 15th Anniversary +


1973 Trans Am SD
1973 Grand Am 455
1973 GTO
1974 Firebird Formula SD
1974 Ventura GTO
1975 Grandville 455
1977 Trans Am W72
1977 Cam Am W72 400
1977 Special Edition Trans Am L78 400
1979 Phoenix LJ Coupe
1980 Trans Am Turbo
1980 Grand Am Coupe
1981 Trans Am H.O. 5.0 litre
1981 Trans Am "Bandit" 462 V8
1983 Trans Am Daytona 500 Pace Car 5-SPD
1983 6000 STE
1984 Fiero
1984 Trans Am 15th Anniversary Edition
1984 Sunbird GT Turbo
1985 Fiero 2.8L V6 GT Notchback
1985 Trans Am TPI LB9 V8


1985 Eldorado Touring Coupe


1973 HQ Monaro GTS 308ci/350ci Coupe
1974 HJ Monaro GTS 308ci Sedan
1973 LJ Torana GTR-XU1 "Bathurst Edition"
1973 HQ GTS Monaro 350 Chevy V8 Coupe
1974 LH Torana SLR-5000 'L34' 308ci
1975 LJ Torana GTR-XU1 202ci
1976 HZ GTS Sedan 308ci
1976 HX Monaro GTS 4-door
1977 HX Monaro Limited Edition Coupe
1977 LX Torana SS 'A9X' 308ci
1979 Peter Brock A9X Torana (Bathurst Winner) *
1980 HDT VC Commodore SL/E 308ci + +
1982 HDT VH Commodore Group 3 308ci +
1983 Gemini TG S/LX
1984 VK Commodore 5.0L
1985 VK Commodore HDT Brock SS group A +


1973 GT
1973 Bitter CD +
1974 Gianni Mussato GT Gruppe 4 *
1977 Manta Irmscher 2800
1982 Manta GT/E
1984 Manta I 240
1984 Manta GSI Exklusiv
1985 Manta i300
1985 Bitter SC Coupe +


1973 HP Firenza
1974 Gerry Marshall DTV Firenza *
1975 Heikki Haaksiala Magnum Rally Coupé *
1976 Magnum Sportshatch
1978 Risto Virtanen Chevette Rally 2300 HS *
1980 Chevette HSR

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

New Car Soon...

I intend to purchase a 2007 Suzuki Forenza Wagon next month by order. Paint will be white, with some added "Suzuki Works Techno" trim and gunmetal gray SWT wheels. I've used to price compare to other cars, and have wanted one of these for years now. I'm holding on to my 2000 Bonneville SSEi, and will use this wagon as an inexpensive commuter car for the most part.

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GM's Hybrids, Hydrogen and Plug-ins are Great But...

Opel's DCVCP 1.8L Engine

The GM Hybrids, Hydrogen and Plug-ins are Great But...

What GM Really Needs is A Highly Fuel-Efficient 4-Cylinder Engine For the North American Market

Commentary by Ming'


On Autoline Detroit this morning while discussing the new GM Volt concept, one of the panel members pointed out a glaring flaw in the potentially revolutionary 100+ mile per gallon "plug-in hybrid" car. To paraphrase: "The Detroit Automakers have a tendency to respond to social concerns and trends with non-functioning (or prohibitively expensive) concept cars that wow the public, but then go back to pushing muscle cars (and SUVs)."

Sadly, if you're someone in the market for a GM car, and not willing to pay the price for a hybrid, you'd probably come to the same conclusion. Affordable hydrogen technology always seems pushed out to "10 years away", and the Volt depends on battery technology that may or may not be here in an affordable package within that time-frame.

Let me praise GM first for their Saturn Green Line efforts of bringing hybrid technology to the market for a good price. And the "mild hybrid" products like the upcoming Malibu Hybrid and the "Two-Mode" truck/SUV hybrids from GM will surely please a segment of the buying public. But what GM in the U.S. really lacks is far more simple than that, and when a buyer goes out to Yahoo! Autos, Edmunds, or to compare what are normally considered "fuel efficient" vehicles, GM more often than not will lose out. The current Toyota Corolla gets 32/41 MPG. The Cobalt base model? Only 25/34 mpg. That's a significant difference, one that even Domestic loyalists might find hard to dismiss.

Yes, GM has relatively fuel-efficient vehicles in the large car and truck segments. Their SUVs are among the most fuel efficient at the large end of the scale, and the Impala is deceptively fuel efficient given its large displacement and respectably powerful 3.5L OHV V6. Competitors of GM (especially the "2nd tier" automakers) often lag here, but the problem is that people who buy these sorts of larger vehicles aren't usually looking at fuel economy as their first priority.

And in the end, hybrids, even so-called mild hybrids either price themselves out of the "affordable" market, or appeal to those who love the technology and will want something more robust and techy than "mild" will deliver. Either that or they'll want something that looks like a hybrid so they can wear their environmentalism or tech-savvy on their sleeves, not a car that looks like a regular Malibu. The unassuming Accord hybrid's lackluster sales seem to prove this. When you get down to it, the buying public in search of "fuel efficient" cars is going to look to the small cars in an automaker's lineup, and look at the MPG numbers on the sticker first. Horsepower is a great bonus, as is interior space. But the sticker price and fuel economy have to come first. If, like in the case of the Hyundais, KIAs, or Suzuki Forenza, the sticker price is low enough and a long list of standard features are packed-in to that low price, fuel efficiency can be pushed down to second on the list of priorities.

But if the "equipped" sticker price is mid-pack and not remarkably low for its class (think Cobalt/G5), then fuel economy will raise in importance. If you can't save on the sticker, OR on the fuel economy, then all you have left is styling or other gimmicks to lure in the customer (think HHR). As of now, GM does not have a 4-cylinder in the U.S. market that delivers superb fuel economy for a compact or subcompact car. The Ecotec 2.0L engine lags behind the competition in most regards, and while the 2.4LVVT engine is a great performance 4-banger, predictably, it does not deliver eye-popping MPG numbers. The Chevrolet Aveo, often touted by GM for being a fuel efficient car, is not particularly fuel efficient in its class. Running with an updated version of an old pre-Ecotec GM Family engine, the Aveo delivers unimpressive MPG (27/37 MPG) compared to cars like the 34/40 MPG Toyota Yaris - a car that does not cost much more than the Aveo that does not have to deal with the stigma in some markets (California, for instance) of being either a Korean car or a Chevy.

The thing that concerns me the most about this situation is that while we hear a lot from GM about the aforementioned concept cars, future plans, and SUV and other mild-hybrids, there is precious little news about GM or talk from the bold "Americans still want SUVs" Mr. Bob Lutz concerning introducing a class-leading fuel efficient 4-cylinder engine much needed in the base Cobalt and even the Aveo if GMDAT can make that happen.

On a more personal note, while car shopping for myself, I noted that the HHR, while a well-styled car if you like retro, and something close to the wagon I want, has very similar fuel economy, even with the base 2.2L engine, to the 3.5L OHV V6 powered Malibu Maxx! So what can GM do to change this reality of having less fuel efficient small cars than its top competitors?

If you're wondering if this is a pointless rant session of mine, I hate to disappoint you, because I'm going to suggest something that GM may or may not already have in the works behind the scenes. If GM has made plans to broadly introduce this engine in all of its small cars, I am unaware of it at this time. But what I think needs to happen is for GM USA (and GM Daewoo) to get another injection of Opel technology. Diesels might be a great solution for saving fuel if they weren't so expensive to build to U.S. regulatory specifications. So let me push aside that idea for something that still falls under the category of "affordable".

In March of 2005 GM Opel introduced a new variant of the 1.8L Family 1 Engine often referred to as the "DCVCP" (Double Continuous Variable Cam Phasing) Ecotec. While the fuel economy only improved 4% from its predecessor, the power jumped 14%, and the engine was rather fuel efficient to begin with. It would seem to be the perfect replacement for the 2.2L Ecotec that while introduced only a few years ago, already seems almost obsolete in the face of relentless competition. What I'd like to see is this new Opel engine replace the 2.2L Ecotec across the board wherever the 2.2L has been used. While I can't say what kind of fuel economy it would have when put into U.S. applications, I'm relatively certain that it could do better than the current Ecotec base model. If not, and if the MPG gains would be only minimal, then there are other options out there in the GM world.

GM do Brazil offers the C18XE 1.8 L SOHC FlexPower engine that can also run on Ethanol. Perhaps GM could even take the supercharger off of its 2.0L Ecotec and engage in some tweaking for a positive effect.

Regardless of how GM accomplishes it, GM North America needs small engines that deliver impressive fuel economy in its compact and subcompact cars far more than it needs more PR spin, Vaporware, or promises of a bold future with Hydrogen and Plug-In Hybrids. And while they're at it, GM should do what it can to bring GM Daewoo - its chief small-car player - closer into the GM global fold, and offer them access to improved and recent engines designed by Opel. GMDAT should not have to rely on old-technology - and neither should Holden continue building the old Holden Family engines (used in the GMDAT build Chevrolet Optra, Holden Viva and Suzuki Forenza) that are far past their prime. GM needs a global effort to continuously deliver the best small engine technology that it can to its many arms around the world and not let any of them slip into irrelevance or antiquity.

Until GM makes a bold move to do this, buyers in the U.S. will continue to see the General's small cars as lagging in technology and fuel efficiency. Do it, Detroit, work with Opel and GMDAT and change that perception. Introducing better 4-cylinder engines is not a huge step forward technologically like introducing Hydrogen-powered cars or fancy battery powered cars, but it doesn't depend on other factors to get off of the ground. Its something that CAN be done, and done right now, and I can only hope that you are already working on getting those new engines here as quickly as possible.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Lutz's Saturn: Looks great & is Good for Opel, too!

Why "recreate" Saturn, the Import Fighter in Detroit, when Opel's got the styling goods already?
Editorial by Ming

The new Saturn Aura and Sky were recently unveiled, and I really like the look of them. It seems so far that the general consensus is that this is a big step up for Saturn, and I fully agree. There is also talk that compares the reinvigoration of the brand with GM's infusion of styling at Cadillac. But is the Renaissance at Saturn just for Saturn's benefit? It seems to me that using Opel design on Saturns may be another way of cutting costs for the struggling German arm of GM, Adam Opel AG. Instead of splitting GM cash on some styling-disaster of a new Saturn model and only using the Opel platform, it makes monetary and common sense to just use a common basic design with Opel, change only a few styling cues here and there, and in effect "bring Opel product" to the US, as many people have clamored for over the years. Maybe even give Saturn product like the Sky before or at around the same time as the Opel version is introduced in Europe.

The Benefit to Opel, of course, is that GM can now make a global product "for Saturn", and deliver something to Opel or Vauxhall that Opel alone might not have been able to justify the cost of, like the development of a roadster like the Vauxhall Lightning concept, perhaps embodied in the Sky.

The Aura and Sky are not complete styling copies of existing Opel product - they may require more work than the kind of badging done on Vauxhalls and Holden versions of Opel product - but the intent in the direction of the styling (the headlights and grille on the Aura, for instance) seems clear. Saturn is moving towards Opel design and away from its own unique hit-and-miss styling.

It seems to me to be a good thing for Saturn, making the product much more attractive with design like this:

Opel Astra:

As opposed to this weird styling that ends up pleasing very few people:

Saturn's design, while sometimes attractive, always struck me as something that some designer who is unfamiliar with European design was asked to do. "Now here, we'd like you to try to make something that LOOKS like an Import."

Then they turn loose some design school graduate who shoots for "different" and gets some kind of American-Import hybrid design mixed in with a heavy dose of The Jetsons.

Hard-core, long-time Saturn fans might disagree. They might see this new styling trend as a way in which Saturn is losing its individuality.

But look at the interior of the Pontiac GTO. We don't get the Holden Monaro or Commodore in the US, so you can't say its a "rebadged" interior - so uniqueness in that sense is not a factor. And I'm relatively sure that very few Pontiac fans would complain that the interior of the Pontiac GTO isn't "Pontiac enough". In fact, it was called the "best GM interior ever" by several media sources.

Same goes for Saturn and Opel. GM has had great styling over in Europe, even if the business management, labor costs, and market missteps have hurt the Opel brand. It makes sense to utilize this often drooled-over styling rather than trying to "re-create" the Import Fighter by using Detroit designers for Saturn who often didn't get what Import/European design was all about.

The styling is of course one thing - what will be important to watch will be the powertrain choices for these upcoming Saturns. Will we see the same kind of modern tech like transmissions with more than 4 speeds and turbocharged engines offered from Opel's goodie basket? Or will we get a collection of "value" parts from other GM North America brands? I'm afraid that the devil will be in the details for the success of Saturn. To be taken seriously as an import fighter, they will need to combine styling with excellent engines and transmissions. I for one am looking forward to seeing what is to come.

Bravo, Mr. Lutz! This Saturn is one that may not be so "different", but in this case that's a good thing.

Hey "New Breed of Speed" - Now GM's Got All You Need



Hey "New Breed of Speed" - Now GM's Got All You Need
Editorial by Ming

I recently spoke to a younger friend of mine who is partial to imports, and doesn't understand my interest in GM cars. "GM doesn't have anything that appeals to my generation," he said, echoing the insistence from the media, Hollywood, and the magazine racks that there's a new wave of automotive enthusiasts that is rising up in stark contrast to the Car Craft / Hot Rod muscle car types of yore. The prognosticators of Automotive culture refer to them as the "New Breed of Speed". More often than not, they tie this new interest in performance cars to Japanese brands, and turn up their noses at GM's (and other Domestic Automakers') efforts to get in on the game as marginal at best. Contrary to what we're told, I think these "tuners" are simply another variation of the Car & Driver / Auto Week types of yesteryear who instead of British roadsters and club racing surround themselves in the mystique of illegal drag racing , Video Games, scantily clad "Import Models", and an Asian-American sub-culture with heavy ties to all things Japanese .

Perhaps in part due to of all of the media-hype, and the non stop stream of TV shows like Street Fury it seems undeniable that there is a changed perception of what a performance car should be in the US market. This new perception demands cars that are affordable, look a certain way (techy and modern), perform without regard to which wheels are driving the car, and give them bragging rights in their own segments from compact to sedan to coupe. Some also demand less cylinders and less displacement with more technology involved producing more power. If you have eight or even ten cylinders, then you'd better blow everyone's doors off to get any kind of respect. It's not good enough to have an engine that "gets the job done" - the engine has to have that cool factor that comes from either stomping the competition across the board or overachieving in its own segment.

In some ways, this perspective makes sense in today's market. With so many competing brands, and so many Import brands with a more Japan or Euro-centric design approach, it's only logical that cars would be evaluated on how new and fresh they look, and how much performance they can deliver for the buck, regardless of how they do it.

I have to admit that for the past few years, there weren't many high profile cars in GM's lineup that I could point to and tell my friend, who seems to me to belong to this "new breed" that there was a car for him at a GM dealership.

But things have changed, and this summer GM is putting a big exclamation mark on their transformation from a 1990's mass producer of mostly vanilla cars (with a few exceptions) into a company that has performance variants of nearly every type of car -- not limited to RWD V8 coupes.

Even the most determined "Import Fan" will have a hard time ignoring the comprehensive line-up of cars coming out from GM this Summer - as many of the collective of GM brands offer a few models to each segment of the "tuner" market that have been missing from the General's garage up until now.

Essentially, GM's new lineup declares with grit: The "New Breed of Speed" need not only be Japanese. Or European. Or from some other company headquartered abroad. As of this Summer, GM is a Player in full force.

The Rundown:

1. The hot 4-bangers:

Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged - The first performance Cobalt out of the gate, with gobs of power on tap from the supercharged engine. Great looks inside, and exterior looks that scream for modification from the "tuner" types, this one delivers -- but is slightly off the mark of its target audience by not offering a turbo (the word itself inspires warm fuzzy feelings in "new breed" types) instead.

Chevrolet Cobalt SS - Coming this summer, GM introduces a Variable Valve Timing enhanced 2.4L engine that has all the characteristics of the popular Toyohonda engines, but with solid torque to best them. If I'm not mistaken, this version of performance Cobalt may actually be more popular with the "tuners" due to its techy engine and lower price.
Saturn ION - For those who don't think the Cobalt is "different" enough, or who like the quad door option and no-haggle pricing, the ION has a less polished-looking interior, but the same sporty character.
Saab 9-2x Aero - Great looks, and superb performance from a small wagon. Did you think I was going to go on about its roots? I see no need to - GM's Saab is offering it, and in my opinion it looks a whole lot classier than its GM Alliance partner sibling. Better yet, it looks like a Saab, and has a turbocharged 4-banger to boot. This car has real potential to succeed, and even the critics seem to agree, as Auto Week says: "The 9-2X is a better WRX".

Pontiac Solstice - The Solstice impresses on all fronts, and it is affordable. What more needs to be said? The roundish looks may appeal more to the Car & Driver crowd than the Import Tuner types, but when a car looks this good, it can bridge styling boundaries.

2. 6-cylinder Performers
Pontiac G6 GTP Coupe - It's sleek, its got new underpinnings, it offers a 6-speed manual transmission, and it has a new engine with Variable-Valve-Timing and 240hp with gobs of torque at low revs to back it up. The Imports have had similar cars for years (minus the torque in many cases), and GM's entry into this niche of the performance market stands ready to shine with a unique character of its own. ...More...

Cadillac CTS - It's hardly the definition of "sport compact" but it is all of the things that have made the Import guys drool over Infinitis and Lexii in the past. RWD, modern and techy V6, and cutting-edge looks. Years after its introduction, it still looks fresh and new. And it manages cross-over appeal as well, with fans among "tuners" as well as the "bling" crowd. Cadillacs ooze sex appeal, and now they can perform, too, thanks to the pioneering work of the CTS.
Malibu SS / MAXX SS - Despite the glaring omission of a stick shift at introduction, this pair of cars offer the same 3900 engine as the aforementioned G6 GTP, with suspension tuning and other performance tweaks to take them from bland to grand. With a new, more attractive grille, modern character lines, and the right choice of paint, these cars look every bit the part. At the very least, they give owners of the more pedestrian Malibus something to strive for if they decide to go "tuning", and more than an ounce of halo effect emanates from the SS versions.

3. V8 Torque Monsters

Pontiac GTO - GM made a calculated move when it decided to inject the GTO piloted by Rhys Millen into one of the "new breed's" most popular venues: Drifting. And the result was success. The GTO is a respected competitor in this still little known but growing sport. Its exterior looks may be "bland", but that never stopped the tuners from playing with the boring exteriors of Civics. And its looks are helped into this century by an unfortunately pricey Sport Appearance Package. This coupe is helping bring credibility back to the brand that was at one time associated with rental-grade Grand Ams, aged Sunfires, and Azteks.
Cadillac CTS-V - Take all of the good aspects of the regular CTS, and drop in a powerhouse V8. Tweak the looks to be even more aggressive and sporty, and there you have it. While most of Gen Y can't afford one, they can respect the CTS-V. Even Car & Driver has to Agree

Chevrolet Corvette - Not the typical young tuner's choice of car, perhaps, but its halo effect on all of GM's performance credibility can't be denied.

4. Other Options

To name just two...

Chevrolet Monte Carlo / SS - In the 2006 model year, a coupe that was hardly an object of affection for "tuner" types is brought up to date and up to speed with the 3900 V6 and a V8 engine option. With a freshened interior and exterior, the Monte Carlo may get the nudge it needs to be recognized as a performer, not just a cruiser favorite of NASCAR fans.
Chevy Colorado Xtreme Package - With a new, modern engine, modern looks, and the S-10 Xtreme mini-truck crowd to back it up, the Colorado Xtreme has the potential to rule the niche of "Sport Trucks" that often bleed over into tuner-type car shows.

GMI Virtual Tuner #2: Saturday Night Drifter: 2004 Pontiac GTO

GMI Virtual Tuner #2: Saturday Night Drifter: 2004 Pontiac GTO
By Ming

GMI Virtual Tuner List:
1. 2004 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx / Malibu V6: LINK to GMI Tuner #1
2. 2004 Pontiac GTO
3. 2005 Cobalt SS
4. 2006 Pontiac G6 GT Coupe
5. 2005 Monte Carlo
6. 2005 Saab 9-2x - or your choice here?

INTRO: I decided that if I saw yet another magazine article on a modified Scion or Civic with a paint job heralding it as the "New Breed of Speed" I might just hurl. So I decided something needed to be done by making some "Fantasy" modifications to new-ish GM cars. In the first, I took a fellow Staff Member's Malibu Maxx as my inspiration, came up with a theme, and went with it. The result is a list of what COULD be done to his car with a budget of about $3500.00, and several hours of bolt-on modifications that don't require an extensive amount of expertise or a degree from an a automotive engineering school to accomplish.

In this go-around, I thought it would be interesting to take advantage of all of the GTO aftermarket support out there and come up with an amateur "Drift" GTO. Of course it would have to be a regular weekday driver as well, so modifications on the scale of Rhys Millen's drift car are out of the question. And the $3500 budget still stands.

One key elements of building a Drift car is chassis stiffness, so a large chunk of the money has gone in to that. However, since this GTO will be a daily driver, we'll not go so far as adding a roll cage. The other selections I made were based on various tips found on drifting websites, and though I'm sure there will be some parts that will be disputed for their worth in a drift car, I think its a pretty solid package for an attempt at amateur drifting events.

It's all done in fun, though, and to see what $3500.00 worth of modifications can buy you.

Below are listed the modifications I came up with, and you are free to suggest changes or tell us what you think the ultimate GTO drift car on a budget would be built from. Also, it would be interesting to get your take on another variation of a GTO performer - say a straight line drag car or a road racing track car.

Project Saturday Night Drift GTO


2004 Pontiac GTO
Engine: 5.7-liter V8
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual With Overdrive
Horsepower @ RPM 350@5200
Torque @ RPM 365@4000


Engine / Exhaust / Drivetrain:

LS1 SPEED High Flow Air Induction ($169.95)

2004 GTO Magnaflow exhaust ($659.99) * Welding required

2004 GTO Stage 1 SPEC Clutch Kit ($289.99)

Braking / Suspension / Tires:

Hawk GTO HPS Brake Pads - Front ($84.99)

Eibach Pro-Kit Sport Lowering Spring Set ($239.99)

SportsRyder Stage-1 Performance Strut and Shock Upgrade ($499.99)

Chassis Rigidity / Swaybars:

Hotchkis GTO Performance Swaybar set ($359.99)

BMR Subframe Rigidity Connectors ($329.95) * Welding required

BMR Strut Tower Brace - ($179.95)


RK Sport GTO Hood: ($579.99)

Hood and Exterior vinyl graphics at local shop ($100.00)


GTO DRIFT Cap ($18.00)

Total: $3412.78 + S/H - approx. $3500.00

(Image from

The Other GM Brands: Wholly Owned GM Subsidiary Holden of Australia

The Other GM Brands #2:Wholly Owned GM Subsidiary Holden of Australia
The Other Holdens - A Primer
By Ming

We have the Pontiac GTO and Vauxhall Monaro to thank for increased awareness globally of the GM player Down Under, Holden. Since then, the web has been flooded with news of Monaro this and GTO that, with a little Commodore and UTE news thrown in for good measure. Even the most casual Amercian GM fan has probably heard of one or two of Holden's offerings by now. The more knowledgeable GM fan might be able to name a few more such as the Statesman, which made the news recently (Read More Here) as a car to be sold in Korea under the Daewoo brand. Most famous are the Commodore-based Holdens and news about their "Zeta" replacements is eagerly awaited in Oz. But what about the rest? Is it just a mish-mash of Opel, Isuzu and GMDAT design cars not worth mentioning? And what about the Commodore-based cars and "Utes" that aren't as well known?

I'll freely and eagerly admit I'm no expert on Holden, and therefore decided to do some digging. I found the Holden offers a much wider array of cars in Australia than I'd expected. So this go around I decided to focus attention on introducting to GM fans who don't live in Australia or New Zealand some of the lesser known vehicles in Holden's lineup.

But being a Yank, I call on our friends in Australia to reply to this brief article with their own familiar Holden model facts, figures and photos that we might not quite get from this side of the globe.

On to the introductions:

Small Cars

The Cruze:

I still remember the hopeful press releases from GM several years back about how the Chevrolet Cruze, a car "jointly developed by GM Japan and Suzuki" was going to be the car to help them take a significant chunk of market share in Japan and reestablish the Chevy/GM Japan nameplate as more than an obscure reseller of Astro vans (Photo of Cruze Unveiling). Since then it seems the GMDAT Optra Sedan & Wagon have replaced it in Chevrolet Japan's lineup (See Here ) alongside the Trailblazer. Suzuki has fully taken on the the Cruze as its own, and that makes some sense, seeing how the Cruze is based on a four wheel drive version of the Suzuki Ignis.

The car always struck me as something that would have been a fuel efficient alternative for GM to sell in America, or perhaps a more modern "crossover" replacement for both the aged Tracker & Metro. Well someone in Australia thought the design was right for their country. Since the Cruze has four-wheel-drive, it seems perfect for the image we Americans have of cars going into the Outback kicking up a plume of dust visible from miles away.

The reviews I've read of the car seem favorable, and the conclusion seems to be "Inexpensive and fun".

Larger Photo - Front View

The Viva:

The "Viva" nameplate is being brought back to life in Australia, although not many young Australians will remember the original. A small, ultimately forgettable Vauxhall sold in the 1960's by Holden went by the same name. Hopefully, for Holden's sake, the Daewoo Lacetti 5-door, known in the U.S. as the Suzuki Reno and Canada as the Chevrolet Optra5 will be more memorable and successful, but I can already hear the anti-Daewoo factions (the same ones who told us - erroneously if you go by market share in its segment now - that the Aveo would be a mistake for Chevy) groaning at that comment.

At this moment the Viva is not showing up on Holden's website, but that may soon change.

According to This Article -
"Barina and Viva will include design and engineering influences from Holden, particularly in areas such as chassis and engine performance to ensure driving characteristics reflect expectations of Holden buyers."

If Suzuki's track record with the Reno is anything to go by, the Viva should be a winner in the value category and will appeal to bargain-minded shoppers with a long list of standard equipment at a low price.

The Barina:

The Barina, when it replaces the previous generation Barina soon, will be a rebadge of the Daewoo Kalos, known better as the Chevrolet Aveo here in the States. Aside from being "tuned for Australian driving conditions", this car is likely to be much the same as the one seeing so much success in the market here. The last gen Barina was based on the Opel Corsa, which reports say was not as profitable a small car as the Kalos-based Barina will be. Despite the doubters, I expect Holden to sell a lot of these, and even more when the redesigned Aveo comes along in just a year or two. Clearly the Barina in the photo below is a Korea/Euro fascia current-gen Kalos, and not the new Aveo that was just unveiled recently in Frankfurt.

The Astra

Large photo:

I was surprised to see no less than seven variants of the New Opel-derived Astra on sale under the Holden badge. Unlike GM North America where sedans still rule even with the new Cobalt, out of the 7 variants there isn't a single traditional 4-door sedan. 5-door hatch, 3-door hatch, and Wagons are the forms the Holden Astra, not unlike the Opel offerings. The profile of the 5-door reminds me a bit of the Mazda3, and from all angles the Astra looks modern and up to date.

More Small Cars based on Opel Designs Include:

The Tigra - Read More:
Astra Convertible - Based on the previous generation Opel Astra
The Zafira - A minivan that at least on Holden's website appears to be the last generation Opel Zafira.

Larger Cars:

If you want something with a Trunk and a V6 or V8 - as opposed to a 4-cylinder hatchback, it is likely you will opt for a large Holden based off of the Commodore platform. Holden is a master of platform variation, and has several flavors of Commodore sold under different nameplates. Here are a few of the less well-known Commodore-based cars.

The Berlina

An optional LS1 V8 (VZ Berlina V8) in a RWD family sedan dressed for business. Sound good? This car is perhaps what our Buick LeSabre might have been if it was motivated by the rear wheels and packing an optional V8. Perhaps Bonneville GXP would be a better example. In any case it shares a lot with the Commodore, as according to This Article "Visual separation from the VY Commodore is limited to a subtle nose and tail job, a sharper bonnet style and a new range of 16 inch alloy wheels. The Berlina also brings fog lights, full colour coding, chrome highlights and unique wheels (which are very plain looking)." Plain looking? OK, so back to the Buick idea. The Berlina appears to be a Commodore in a business suit. The Berlina is also available in Wagon form, unlike the Calais, another Commodore variant.

The Caprice

Huge, long, powerful with an over-the-top luxury interior. At almost a third more expensive than the Statesman, the Caprice reminds me of what the Chevrolet Caprice might have turned into if there was no Buick brand or Cadillac DTS in the US and famous rappers were involved in the design. It doesn't have 22-inch wheels, but it is armed with front and rear proximity sensors, two built-in-headrest DVD monitors, Navigation, a big V-8 engine, and giant plush leather seats in a cavernous interior. The best, most fitting description I could find of it was "Holden's most expensive toy." Popular with buyers in the Middle East where it is also exported, the Caprice is the ultimate long-wheelbase luxo-barge from Holden.

Large Photo of the Exterior:

To be honest, there is an almost dizzying array of Commodore variants on sale by Holden, many with designations like VY,VT, VZ and VX (and VU Utes!) that must mean something to our friends in Australia, but through my skimming have been difficult to nail down. I want to say that they are trim levels like "LS" "LT" and "SS". But there is a VY SS Commodore that just tosses that idea of mine out the window. And that's not even bringing up the HSV performance variants of these Holdens. Perhaps a Holden fan can grace us with a breakdown of the meaning behind these many labels.

Other Commodore variants include:

The Calais Read more:

The Adventra - An off-road capable AWD Commodore Wagon - Read More:


Have a Digital Camera? The Great GMI Performance Car Photo Shoot -Show Off Your Camera Skills!

"Such a nice, well balanced and fair review that it makes me wonder if we can interbreed some of the Australian auto journalists with the American 'auto journalists' to get a more decent species until we can breed out the Asian & German humping American journalists' bias." - GMI Member 91z4me

Last edited by Ming : 08-26-2005 at 02:22 PM.

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08-26-2005, 12:24 AM #2
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Re: The Other Holdens - A Primer


Other Vehicles

Here are a few that don't really fit the previous categories:

The Ute

Some GM fans are aware of the Aussie take on the El Camino. Holden never really stopped doing cars - or should I say trucks - like this. There are almost as many variants of the Ute as there are of the Commodore from what I can tell, as well as some limited production types like this Storm Ute, with a 6-speed manual transmission, Limited Slip Differential, and a 3.6L DOHC V6. Sounds like an El Camino Xtreme to me...! And of course there is the SS Ute that some would sell their souls to see hit US shores with a Chevy badge and a classic nameplate.

The Rodeo

Isuzu's D-Max pickup (jointly developed architecture with our Canyon/Colorado) takes the name we relate to the Isuzu Rodeo SUV. The Rodeo SUV also was on sale by the same name in Australia under Holden (as was the Trooper as the "Jackaroo"), but no longer. So the D-Max carries the name forward. It comes with 3 engine options, a 2.4L SOHC engine, a 3.5L V6, and a 3.0L Turbodiesel. If you check the photo link below, you will see that it is also available in more commercial applications.


The Crewman

Holden's answer to pickups is often car-based. Much of the Holden lineup consists of variants of the Ute, which is in turn based on the Commodore. If the Ute is like an El Camino, then the Crewman is like a crew cab version of it. And in "SS" form, it looks like something I'd like us to have over here. The handling of a V8 car, and the utility of a pickup, with sedan seating.
Large Photo:

The One-Tonner

A heavy-duty Ute with a flat bed or commercial type steel/alloy bed:

In Conclusion

Holden has a lot of attractive vehicle choices - to put it simply. A few years back I remember drooling at the styling alone. Now, with more stylish and modern models coming out of GM USA than we had back in 2000 or so, I don't have to feel as deprived. But Holden still has all of those nice RWD sedans, wagons and car-based pickups (Utes) that we don't and so my jealousy of Holden continues. An affordable V6 or V8 RWD Wagon with a 6-speed manual transmission, now wouldn't that be nice as a Pontiac?

There is more - much more - to the Holden lineup that I have not covered here (and arguably they are the best ones). But hopefully I have given anyone who was curious a taste of what they have to offer...aside from the well known Monaro and Commodore. If you want to do more research on your own, see Holden's website here:

As for me, I'm hoping some Aussies will come by and set this Yank straight and clear up any mistakes or oversights in this article, as I'm certain there are many.

Previous Commentary on GM's Other Brands: Alliance Partners Subaru and Suzuki

Can Pontiac claim "Total Performance" without its own Sport Compact?


Can Pontiac claim "Total Performance" without its own Sport Compact?
By Ming

Pontiac Sunfire production has ceased, with nothing to replace it. That it is fading from dealership lots is not such a bad thing. "Old is old," and there's no getting around that. It might even be said the "economy car" philosophy behind the Sunfire and Cavalier (good, cheap transportation) - as opposed to the "premium compact" image of many imports - might have helped to spark the whole dichotomy and harsh split between Domestic and Import Sport Compact Tuners in the American car market that more often than not leaves GM FWD cars out in the cold at popular car shows like "Hot Import Nights".

But again, all things aside, the Sunfire is dead, and no replacement is forthcoming.

"There is nothing planned in the foreseeable future, in the next 18 to 24 months (for a replacement.) It will be some time after that if we were to figure out something that would make sense for us." -- Jim Bunnell, GM Pontiac/GMC marketing - Sourced From: Automotive News, January 24, 2005

First, let me say that I was very pleased to hear: "We are not interested in badge engineering." -- from Bunnell regarding not bringing over a Pontiac version of the Chevy Cobalt sold in Canada, the Pontiac Pursuit.

Of course, I wish Jim would have had that same thought before they rebadged the Equinox as the Torrent and the Uplander as the Montana SV6, but that's another discussion.

Don't get me wrong - I like the looks of the Pursuit. But unless Pontiac had planned to put a turbocharged engine or something UNIQUE like that into it, it would have only made Pontiac that much less relevant as a separate and distinct brand in the US market (and further set it as a disposable brand, and onto the road to Oldsmobile's Fate). And when you can go to the high volume Chevy dealers and get the same thing with a volume discount (on top of GM rebates, etc.) - you have to ask "why?"

Pontiac has enough Chevy rebadges as it stands. If Pontiac must get rebadged product, at least mix it up a bit and don't make so many of them Chevies. A Pontiac Sport Compact would need to be something that stands out as unusual and worthy of the "performance" tag.

The Vibe Factor

Yes, the Pontiac Vibe could be considered a "Sport Compact", especially in GT form. But I must say that the Vibe is not what I consider the best choice for a Pontiac entry level volume sales car representing the brand to the Youth Market. Most buyers of the Pontiac Vibe are most probably internet-saavy and aren't fooled into thinking they are driving a GM designed vehicle with GM parts. Respect for one Automaker's brand / product cannot be solidly built upon the engineering work of its competitor. Is the Vibe a convenient product for Pontiac dealers to sell that might bring Import Enthusiasts or people who wouldn't otherwise consider Pontiac into GM showrooms? Sure. But are they there to purchase a GM product? Not if they've read just about every Pontiac Vibe article in existence out there, which makes it clear that the Vibe is a Toyota for the most part, with a little GM cosmetic design here and there. If they think highly of their their Vibes, that they know to be Toyotas, and see them as "reliable", will they be more likely to buy a Pontiac or Toyota product? GM can only hope it is the former.

Potential Replacements for the Sunfire...the "G4"?

So what's the cure? What can Pontiac do to get itself on the buying list of young Americans looking for a compact car with street cred?

Here are a few ideas:

1. A mildly restyled Opel Astra design - built alongside the Cobalt

With the Opel utilized 2.0-liter turbo - offered right from the first year, tell me this looker wouldn't be a hit. The problem with this option is, as a more premium compact car, it might end up competing directly with the Vibe. I wouldn't mind seeing the Vibe go somewhere else (like back to Japan), but GM Beancounters would have a fit, and changing the status quo and ditching the Anachronism that is NUMMI would also be difficult, I'm sure, and might not serve GM's bottom line very well.

The headlights also now have a "Saturn" look to them, and the changes required might be extensive. And since there is no hatchback version of the Cobalt currently in similar form to the Astra coupe, GM would have a lot of engineering to do to get the Opel sheetmetal design to work in its Cobalt factory.

so, enter...

2. A Suzuki Forenza / Daewoo Lacetti with a tuned/improved engine and suspension.

What? Another GM Daewoo product!? Well, consider that Chevy has the cheaper, lower-end Aveo, and that it is the best-selling car in its class before you dismiss this idea. (Yeah, I remember all you Aveo naysayers out there ) The engine is lackluster in its current form, to be sure, and would need a horsepower bump before it would qualify as a "Total Performance" Pontiac, but my guess is that GM Daewoo has been watching its competition at Hyundai (which has upped the ante with VVT on its Lacetti-level car) and plans some engine upgrades of its own.

I like this idea a lot, because it would meet a low "entry level" price point, is technically "GM product", has already been modified for the US market by Suzuki, isn't very well known or recognized, and elevates Pontiac's entry offering above Chevy's, but just enough so it slots nicely under the Vibe. Not to mention it has crisp, pleasing modern lines, and judging by the different global front fascias it wears internationally, a twin-port grille would not be hard to do.

But can the engine be improved enough to make it a contender? Well, a modified version of the Lacetti (A Chevrolet) IS competing in Road Racing in Europe, so it is not inconceivable.

A similar idea would be the 5-door Canadian Chevrolet Optra, sold as the Suzuki Reno in the U.S. (also based on the Lacetti), which would also require a horsepower bump out of the same engine. I think the front fascia would do better with less 90's looking headlights, however.

If not, consider...

3.Market a stripper, manual transmission Pontiac G6 4-cylinder model as a Sport Compact of sorts

The main concern of course being, the weight. With a sedan Curb Weight of around 3300 pounds, this would be a hard thing to get around. But I haven't seen the weight specs on the 4-cylinder coupe yet - we could be pleasantly surprised.

A "Sport Tuner Package" or something could be offered on the G6 2.4L VVT 4-cylinder. It could eliminate insulation, put in lightweight racing seats, and otherwise get rid of weighty things that serious sport compact folks get rid of to make their rides more competitive.

4.A restyled Suzuki Aerio.

As a GM Alliance partner partially owned by GM, Suzuki is more "GM" than Toyota ever will be, and isn't a direct competitor. Like Alliance Partner Subaru making Saabs, and with the Tracker gone, Suzuki could use this to further strengthen direct ties once more with GM (not just indirectly through GM Daewoo). The Aerio is a great little car, but suffers from lack of volume sales and recognition in the US market. The bigger sales volume could help Suzuki justify the Aerio remaining in their lineup despite sluggish sales.

The 2.3L 155 horsepower engine in the Aerio is a feisty little 4-cylinder, and worthy of Pontiac's image. And the base price of the Aerio is only $13,499 - making it a good entry vehicle for the brand.

But if that plan flops...

5. Take the Pursuit after all, but differentiate the powertrain.

Let's face it - this is the most likely scenario, given GM's recent decisions to give Pontiac other Chevrolet rebadges. But need it be a complete rebadge?

Remember the Sunbird Turbo of the 1980s? It was different enough from the Cavalier of the time to give the Pontiac version a reason to exist - not just a "lazy" reskin like the Sunfire.

6. A whole new product or something entirely unexpected - like an affordable 2+2 coupe based on Kappa. Unlikely from GM, since at least publicly they are saying that they have no plans for a Sunfire replacement. Not unless you are willing to wait until 2010 to get it, or GM has some secret plans like a Torana or a more affordable Solstice-based hardtop coupe that they've not made us aware of. RWD, 4 seats, maybe even a hatch like the Chevrolet Kappa Nomad concept? Sounds good to me!

Sport Compacts are a Vital Part of "Performance" Today

Regardless of what Pontiac decides to go with of the above choices, they absolutely must consider that Pontiac's sales success with the Youth Market (as I see it) hinges upon the existence of a GM or GM Alliance Partner engineered product proving itself on the track and on the street as an affordable, light weight, and yes, even "aspirational" vehicle in the 15,000 dollar price range.

Bottom line - Pontiac has a void where the Sunfire was, and needs to think about filling that void with something appropriate, something affordable, moderately utilitarian (4 doors or a hatch), and something that says "Pontiac" and "GM" all over it.

Pushrod Power: How should GM market its 3.5LVVT and 3.9LVVT Engines?

Should GM market its 3.5LVVT and 3.9LVVT as "Pushrod" Engines?
Commentary by Ming

One might argue that GM has been hiding the OHV "Pushrod" nature of its new 3.5L and 3.9L Variable Valve Timing-enhanced engines in most of the ads and brochures out in the public eye. Where "DOHC" is often loudly trumpeted, GM's OHV engines are rarely advertised as such, but rather just with the displacement, the horsepower, or the impressive fuel economy (31 mpg for the 3.5L in the Impala). Here's a concept, why not play up their uniqueness in the market by linking the image of the 3900 to the GM V8 Smallblock?

Personally I like the 3.5LVVT (especially in the Impala with a no-cost E-85 option) capable of 31 miles per gallon, and available in models like the base Impala where Toyota might use a weaker 4-cylinder. But since GM does not market its Pushrods like Mazda markets its Rotary engines - as an alternative that is just as good in its own way - they have to overcome the negative image of GM's OHV V6's as being "outdated", even though they have undergone some serious revamping recently. Of course, GM didn't help that cause by calling the 3500 (non-VVT) in the 2004 Malibu a "Value" engine - essentially labeling it as "cheap", and if something is "cheap", then you are getting ripped off somewhere, right?

My hope is that if they intend to stick with the new 3.5L and 3.9L engines for years to come that they do a better job of marketing them, without trying to hide their OHV nature. OHV has its benefits, lots of low end torque, good fuel economy, etc. --- flaunt them!

When introduced, the 3.9LV6 was honored by Popular Mechanics for its introduction of variable valve timing, a first for overhead valve engines. At least the tech-heads there, if not at the car magazines where Honda sets the rules, got it right:

“General Motors keeps finding ways to advance overhead valve engines and the 3.9-liter V-6 used in the Impala reaches new levels,” said James Meigs, editor-in-chief, POPULAR MECHANICS. “For their continued success and innovation, we’re proud to recognize GM with a 2006 Breakthrough Award.” LINK

Also, the negative image doesn't affect the Corvette pushrod V8 -- so a little pride in engineering and some marketing could help the redesigned OHV V6 engines too.

Of course I'd love to see 2.8L and 3.6L Cadillac CTS DOHC V6 engines in more vehicles, but apparently GM can't crank them out for the right price to put them in lower cost sedans like the G6, Impala and Malibu (at least not without some kind of "Ultra" trim label and high price tag). If it isn't going to happen some time soon, then the Pushrod V6's could use a little investment and advertising.

And the non-VVT 3500 and imported 3400 should be phased out and replaced with the 3.5LVVT as soon as possible, or the 3.5LVVT will be forever linked to them in the public's mind as just another variation of "GM's Venerable 60-degree Overhead Valve V6" -- an engine family that is not about "moving forward" but about hitting the lowest price point. It doesn't help that the 3.5LVVT engine has the same displacement as the OHV 3500 (non VVT) in the CSV's, Malibu, G6 and Rendezvous.

Rotary-Pushrod-Diesel-DOHC-Hybrid, this market is broad and deserves choices. Why not market it as another choice, and not something GM tries to cover up while it plans how to move away from them? Or is GM just afraid of launching its new Euro-flavor Saturn Aura with "a Pushrod and a 4-speed", if it comes to that?

Now of course you can find some great examples of DOHC V6's in the Import competition that get impressive horsepower AND torque and are in affordable cars -- Nissan comes to mind -- and GM could indeed improve on its 3900's fuel economy and power. But one must look at the whole spectrum of the competition and what they offer for the money, not just a few of the best DOHC V6's tuned to the maximum and picked from a handful of shining examples in an Infiniti or an Avalon.

And look at how far GM has come since the 3800 - which supercharged in my 2000 Bonneville SSEi got the same HP as the (unrelated - don't get confused by the naming) 3900 gets now. And the 3.5LVVT gets more HP than the naturally aspirated version of the 3800 in the "all new" Lucerne and LaCrosse. So progress has, and can be made with these engines.

The question is, will GM back these engines with its marketing muscle, or present them as "Value" engines, and which is the correct path for GM to take in the long run? Pushrod pride and further enhancements, or kowtowing to the image set by the Japanese DOHC V6's as the pinnacle of design while abandoning decades of OHV design experience?

The Hype-rid Challenge: Value vs. Vogue

Written Originally: 10-22-2005

The Hype-rid Challenge: Value vs. Vogue
4-cylinder Low-Emission Wagons pitted against a Media Darling Hybrid
Commentary by Ming

When talk around the water cooler turns to gasoline prices, the inevitable word that pops up is "Hybrid". From automotive news to Hollywood actors, Hybrids are given free PR by the bucketloads, especially when it comes to contrasting their fuel economy and environmentally friendly image against large, gas guzzling SUVs. But are Hybrids the only way to save money in an environment of high gas prices? What about the less talked about choice of a fuel efficient, low emission engine equipped, value packed 4-cylinder wagon?

Is the purchase of a Prius type Hybrid something buyers think will lead to a pat on the back from their socially and environmentally conscious friends at parties and the workplace, or purely for the intent of saving gasoline money, or both? Since seeing people I know purchase hybrid cars at or above sticker price, sometimes right there negating several years worth of gasoline savings, my practical and contrarian side demanded that I check the situation out. Is the Prius the PT Cruiser of the day, not because of styling but because of image? Are people willing to pay over sticker price even though that means killing most of the monetary benefit of buying a hybrid in the first place? Is the "environmental choice" for the moment truly the Hybrid car, or something more mundane? Is the Toyota Prius the trendy Apple iPod of cars, and are there less expensive, less appreciated choices out there that achieve many of the same goals for less money?

Supporting the idea that the Prius is mostly about image, as some claim was the case with SUV's and their boom in the 1990's, is This Article: "Toyota study finds that owners want others to know they're driving fuel-efficient cars".

It comes down to this: is a hybrid at this point really worth the money, or are people paying too much for those Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries and gee-whiz gadgetry so the Joneses next door can smile and nod in approval?

To settle the debate, at least for the moment, I decided to put the much touted "savings" of the Prius to the test by comparing it to the PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle) Ford Focus ZXW (wagon) and the value-packed KIA Spectra5.

The car choices were an effort to prove that I am not going to simply be biased towards a GM car to a foregone conclusion, and so I decided to eliminate GM cars from my comparison. That and to be brutally honest, GM doesn't have a good car for comparison that is based on its own engineering. The best comparison vehicle would have been the Pontiac Vibe, which is essentially a Toyota in Pontiac clothing. Nothing wrong with that for you Vibe fans, but it is a sad commentary when GM in the U.S. can't offer a family sized wagon-like vehicle that gets highway gas mileage at least in the mid 30's and is powered by a GM engine. The Chevrolet HHR would have been a good choice, except that its mileage while good is not the benchmark for fuel efficiency, and the Aveo surely fits the value equation but is a tad small for this comparo. An Astra Wagon with a 1.9 CDTI diesel engine would have been great, but we don't have that option in the U.S.

On to the comparo. I decided to break it into several categories and score a 1-2-3 point system for each place in a given category. In the event of a "tie", potentially all cars could score 3 points.

The Cars:

Toyota Prius
60 / 51 mpg

Ford Focus ZXW - PZEV
26 mpg / 35 mpg

KIA Spectra5
24 mpg / 34 mpg

All cars were chosen with similar trim levels, airbag options, and automatic transmissions using True Market Value "What others are paying" price, with a Zip code based in Texas. All are 2006 models, except the Prius, for which only 2005 model information was available at the time this was written. All were given white as the paint option. A few options may have been added (such as ABS or Cruise Control) or deleted to even the types of options out between cars.

The Categories:

1. Value: - The Prius suffers from a $2,200 dollar premium over the MSRP according to, and that seems about right from what I've heard others have paid for their Prius'. And that's not counting the waiting lists. The options packages seem strangely configured and include some items that would be standard in any car selling for a base price near $20,000. The Focus wagon SES model appears to have a good value from its base price, but when typical options like the automatic transmission and antilock brakes are added, the price creeps up closer to $20,000. It's disappointing that the SES "up level" wagon would not offer these options standard in its selling price. This is somewhat mitigated by the 600 dollars lower than sticker the Focus sells for, before another 1000 dollars of factory incentives are subtracted from the sales price. The end result is The KIA Spectra, as might have been expected, offered the best bang for the buck, options-wise, and only required the addition of Antilock brakes. The cost of these is easily ignored since the Spectra5 also sells for several hundred dollars less than its sticker price. There were no factory incentives for the 2006 Spectra5 as of this writing. The Spectra gets the nod for best "value" by pulling off a long list of standard equipment for a low price, even without factory incentives. The Focus is second best, and the Prius takes last place due to inflated sales prices. Spectra - 3 Points, Focus - 2 Points, Prius - 1 Point

2. Environmental Impact: - According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a variant of the PZEV engine setup available in the Focus Wagon in select states has the same high (good) score of 9.5 for Air Pollution as the Prius. It also offers the PZEV version for all of the US that scores an "8", while the Spectra's regular engine offers a "7" choice across the U.S. but also offers a "9.5" engine choice in California and a few other states. The Prius' "Greenhouse Gas" score is a higher "10" due to better advertised fuel economy (less gas usage), and the Focus Wagon and Spectra get a "7", which is still high when compared to, for instance, a Chevrolet Equinox that scores only a "4". All of them are high, but the higher win points go to the Prius for its AT-PZEV and the Focus for offering the PZEV engine nationwide. Prius - 3 , Focus - 2, Spectra - 1

3. Passenger and Cargo Space:* -
Front Head Room: 39.1 in. Front Hip Room: 51 in.
Front Shoulder Room: 55.3 in. Rear Head Room: 37.1 in.
Rear Shoulder Room: 53 in. Rear Hip Room: 51.6 in.
Front Leg Room: 41.9 in. Rear Leg Room: 38.6 in.
Luggage Capacity: 16.1 cu. ft. Maximum Cargo Capacity: 16 cu. ft.
Maximum Seating: 5

Front Head Room: 40 in. Front Hip Room: 52.4 in.
Front Shoulder Room: 55.1 in. Rear Head Room: 38.8 in.
Rear Shoulder Room: 53.9 in. Rear Hip Room: 53.9 in.
Front Leg Room: 42.8 in. Rear Leg Room: 35.4 in.
Luggage Capacity: 18.3 cu. ft. Maximum Cargo Capacity: 12 cu. ft.
Maximum Seating: 5

Focus ZXW:
Front Head Room: 39.1 in. Front Hip Room: 49.4 in.
Front Shoulder Room: 53.5 in. Rear Head Room: 39.8 in.
Rear Shoulder Room: 53.6 in. Rear Hip Room: 50.7 in.
Front Leg Room: 40.7 in. Rear Leg Room: 37.6 in.
Luggage Capacity: 35.6 cu. ft. Maximum Cargo Capacity: 74 cu. ft.
Maximum Seating: 5

The Prius is often touted as having the feel of a "mid size" car (Edmunds calls it a compact), but the specs show little significant interior space difference with the Spectra5 and Focus Wagon here. At least it cannot be said that the Prius hatchback affords the same utility as the Focus ZXW, which has substantial potential cargo space "Luggage Capacity" with the rear seats folded and even when the rear seats are up the ZXW offers small SUV cargo space. In fact, the only score where the "mid-size" Prius clearly leads is the rear legroom. The rear hip room, on the other hand is lead by the Spectra, and the rear head room is where the Focus shines. The win here goes to the Focus ZXW for providing so much cargo space and still keeping pace with the other two in most of the other scores. The Spectra beats the Prius in most measurements, so it takes second place with the Prius and its ample rear legroom in a close 3rd. Focus - 3 , Spectra -2 , Prius -1

4. Fuel Economy: - No shocker here. The Prius clearly takes the win, with the Focus in a distant second and the Spectra close behind. Most Prius owners report lower fuel economy than the EPA numbers, but even at 44 to 48 mpg it is substantially superior to its 4-cylinder only competitors here. It is also noteworthy that the Focus ZXW has the largest gas tank capacity at 14 gallons. Prius - 3, Focus -2, Spectra -1

5. Styling: - This is purely subjective, and you can choose to ignore it because it won't figure in to the final score. If badges were removed or rearranged, with no brand bias present, I think the KIA Spectra5 has the best looks on outside, but the interior is a bit chintzy, namely in the bulbous center stack. I have not been a fan of Toyota's huge headlights of late, but the interior of the Prius is very well done and stylish, and the gee-whiz factor of the LCD display in the dash that keeps track of your fuel usage is worth an easy second place. The Focus Wagon, despite its recent exterior and interior redo, has a very plain and typical look to it that won't turn heads. But the redesigned front fascia's new headlights look a lot more "mature" than the old pie-wedge shaped ones did, and I like the look better, along with the "mesh" grille edged in chrome. Same with the less funky lettering in the badging. Winner? You decide.

6. Driving Dynamics: - From a mix of personal driving experience, reviews from around the web, and a touch of subjective bias, I'd have to give the win here to the Spectra5. While the engine is buzzy at high revs, the Spectra, like many KIAs and Hyundais I've driven before has the kind of agile (or light-weight) character that makes you want to weave in and out of traffic. Its no sports car, and there are better examples of nimble handlers in the compact car segment, but for the sake of this comparison it gets the nod. The Focus comes second. Likely due to its wagon configuration or perhaps something else, the ZXW did not seem as responsive as other Focii I have driven in the past. It still was far more "fun" to drive than the Prius, however, which seemed detached from the road and the driver. The Prius has a driving character that only a hybrid fan could love and appreciate, but I found it to be bland and uninteresting at best. Watching the LCD for reactions to your driving style was interesting, but I could have been on the sofa at home playing Gran Turismo with a Logitech wheel for the same effect. Spectra - 3, Focus - 2, Prius -1

Point Totals:

Focus ZXW: 11
Spectra5: 10
Prius: 9

Winner: 2006 Ford Focus ZXW PZEV

The results were much closer than I had anticipated, and I honestly had my doubts as to how they would come out. They are so close, in fact, that if you prefer the styling of one car over the other, then your choice could make any one of the three cars the winner, or at least tied for first place.

Despite the strong emotional support that drives Prius buyers to wait months for their purchase, I think it is clear that when it comes to bang for your buck, the Focus ZXW and Spectra5 give the Hybrid Prius a run for the money. And the money that you save by buying a Spectra being as much as $10,000 dollars (not to mention the superior warranty) makes it appear a much more intelligent choice than a pricey hybrid with batteries that will eventually need replacement.

Some might ask where "resale value" is in the comparo, something that might give the Toyota the edge. Since we have no way of knowing if the Full-Hybrid hype will last the full length of a KIA warranty (10 years), or how long an owner might choose to keep the car, I left this out. If you are the kind of person who would pay over sticker for a Prius and then sell it 3 years later - before you recoup your savings on gas - then you are unlikely to be interested in a value comparison with a KIA and a Ford in the first place, and good luck on your Prius purchase, Leonardo DiCaprio would be proud.

Likewise the warranty could have given the Spectra the edge, but again, we can't be sure how long the buyer in question here will hold on to the car.

There are also other considerations such as fit & finish, quality scores, and a host of other concerns you might have with any of the 3 choices. I decided to keep those out and give my aching hands a rest.

But if you want the combination of low price, great cargo room, a PZEV engine and decent if not hybrid-like fuel economy, then the Ford Focus ZXW merits a serious look for the bargain shopper and puts a question mark on the "obvious" value of a Hybrid purchase.

In a few years, when Hybrid technology is integrated into more cars, and the cost of opting for it becomes cheaper, this argument may no longer be valid. But for now, I think, the Prius doesn't quite live up to the hype.

* Interior space information from

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