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Posts Tagged ‘Saturn’

Porsche Goes Lithium, Saturn Leaves Orbit

October 8th, 2009 Comments off

Buried in the pages of the November issue of Road & Track is a short description of the 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS.  (For those unaware, the 911 is Porsche’s bread-and-butter sports car.  The GT3 version is the ultra-high-performance, race-bred version of the 911.  The RS is the insane, barely-street-legal, over-the-top version of the GT3.  It’s the one I want.)  It’s got all the goodies you’d expect, but one option really sticks out in my mind: a lithium-ion battery to replace to the conventional lead-acid battery, resulting in a 22-pound weight reduction.  Now, this isn’t a hybrid or electric vehicle of any sort.  The battery is used, as it is in any conventional car, to turn the starter and to power the accessories when the car’s not running.  And while racers have used down-sized lead-acid batteries (barely capable of starting the car) for weight savings for quite some time, this is the first time I’m aware of that a manufacturer has offered a Li-ion starter battery.

There are folks that criticize Li-ion batteries as being too unsafe and too expensive to be a real solution to automotive energy storage.  There are even those that suggest lead-acid batteries are more than capable of storing the energy we need in hybrid and electric vehicles, not to mention the starting-duties of internal combustion engine cars.  (I’d agree with respect to starter batteries, but certainly not the other points.)  But now Li-ion has made it’s way into what most would agree would be lead-acid’s territory for the foreseeable future!  Sure, it’s probably an expensive box to check on your GT3 RS order form, and it really is a niche application.  But it may also be a glimpse into the future of automotive batteries.  (Though I do find it ironic that Porsche is offering this option to save 22 pounds – less than 1% of the weight of the vehicle – while they’ve refused to offer weight-saving and arguably more practical options on their GT3 to the North American market in the past, such as carbon-fiber fixed-back racing seats.)

2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

In other news, it was announced over a week ago (and how did I miss it?!) that the deal whereby Penske would acquire the Saturn brand and sell vehicles under a contract-manufacturing agreement with various automotive OEMs won’t happen happen after all, and the Saturn brand will disappear.  I find this disappointing, simply because it was a new business model in the automotive world, and I was interested to see how it would work out.  Unfortunately, I guess I now have my answer:  not well.

Questions

September 9th, 2009 Comments off

A friend of mine recently asked me a few car-related questions via email.  I thought I’d answer them here.

Why can’t I get a Jetta turbo diesel sport wagon?  There are waiting lists for this car all over the country.  Seems crazy. Well, that’s easy.  It’s because the demand has exceeded supply.  Ah, but you knew that.  …It’s ironic: wagons haven’t been very popular in the U.S. in recent years, and neither have diesels (which I spoke about here).  But VW can’t seem to build enough Jetta TDI Sportwagens to satisfy the American market right now.  I chalk it up to the fact that folks are finally realizing the benefits of smaller vehicles, as well as modern diesel engines.  In concluding that a wagon is a perfect replacement for their SUV, they’re finding there’s really only one vehicle that fits the bill – the VW sportwagen really doesn’t have any competition out there right now.  I’m still not sure what it will take, though, for them to increase production (are they already at capacity?) or shift more of the allotment to the U.S.  (As a curious sidenote, I think I read somewhere that the vast majority of VW Jetta Sportwagens that are ordered are of the TDI variety.  I may be making that up.)

So which brands of car are we loosing due to the GM collapse?  Which cars will we never see again and good riddance and which one’s would it have been nice to keep around. We’re losing Pontiac – they’re vanishing completely.  And good riddance to them.  We’re losing Hummer – that brand is being sold to Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery.  It’s not clear to me if we’ll continue to see the brand in the U.S., but my guess is that we won’t.  And that won’t be a loss, either.  Saturn also gets the axe, although to a lesser degree – it is being sold to Penske Automotive Group.  GM will continue to supply Penske with the Aura, Vue, and Outlook for a couple of years, and other models will eventually be outsourced from other auto manufacturers.  (Unfortunately, the Saturn Sky didn’t make the cut.  This 2-seat, rear-wheel-drive roadster, sharing the Kappa platform with the Pontiac Solstice, is a completely irrational, impractical automobile – but it’s beautiful, sporty, and is a big loss in my mind.  The Outlook is a good vehicle, but might be a little too diluted, being virtually the same as the GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, and Chevy Traverse.)  The Penske deal is an interesting one to me, since it’s different than anything else I’ve seen in the auto industry.  Another interesting deal is the sale of Saab to Swedish supercar-maker Koenigsegg along with Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings.  My guess is Saab will remain, but its focus will shift to the Asian market, and they may vanish from the U.S. altogether.  Unfortunately, Saab never really caught on in the U.S. – and that’s our loss.  Finally, GM may be selling off its Opel unit, though it’s not clear at this point.  Doesn’t really affect us over here, though…

And lastly why do Americans hate the hatchback?? I don’t know.  Call it an extension of the anti-wagon sentiment.  Although, hatchbacks have been successful here in the past.  The original hot-hatches, the Honda CVCC and VW GTi, were hugely popular.  And the Ford Focus hatchback sold well here, I believe.  I’m excited for the 2011 Ford Fiesta (in hatchback form) to make its arrival.  What do you think?

2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback

2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback