Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The 2017 Motor Trend Awards

Each year for me in the new car world there are two very exciting events. First is the North American International Auto Show and a very close second is the announcement of Motor Trend Magazine's annual Car of the Year award. Last night in Los Angeles, Motor Trend pulled out all the stops by hosting a full awards show complete with Derek Bell as MC.

Rather than bore you with a lot of technical jargon. We'll just jump right in to the meat of the event with the winners of SUV, Truck, Car and Person of the year.

In the SUV category the main contenders were the broad in spectrum of what makes an SUV. The podium finishers shared one thing in common; they were all from Europe. They were, the Audi Q7, the Jaguar F-pace and lastly and also the winner the Mercedes Benz GLC.

For the Truck category, it was again a very broad spectrum of vehicles. The nominees consisted of the all new Honda Ridgeline, while Ford rounded out the category with both the F-150 and the Super Duty line of trucks. MT's Johnny Lieberman said that "This is the truckiest truck that ever trucked" and we have to agree with him on their decision of the Ford Super Duty as 2017 Truck of the Year.

Obviously the largest category was for the Car of the Year. The three finalists were three entirely new and all very exciting cars. The Chrysler Pacifica, the stunningly beautiful Volvo S90 and the as MT's Edward Loh put it "Unconventionally good look and intelligently designed" Chevrolet Bolt EV. 

 And lastly, how can we leave out Person of the Year. MT selected Tesla's Elon Musk. Musk is certainly the most talked about person in both the auto industry and business in general with his wide spectrum of business ventures that are literally changing the way we live our lives.

Congrats to all the winners!

#MTAWARDS17 #Chevrolet #Ford #MercedesBenz #ElonMusk #Tesla

Driven: 2017 Volkswagen Passat R-Line. The big VW drivers car?

A car that has recently captivated me in my quest for a replacement of my 2011 Saab 9-3 Turbo4 X led me to the Volkswagen Passat. In particular the R-Line trim level. Looking at the Passat model line as a whole, I was amazed at their value for the buck factor. German engineering built right here in the good ol' USA. I took the opportunity recently to drive an R-Line passat as part of the Dare to Compare campaign at Day Apollo Volkswagen in nearby Moon Township, Pennsylvania. Having spent the majority of my d
riving life behind the wheel of Volkswagen products, I had some expectations in mind. I expected the car to be good looking, which the R-Line checks off. I also expected it to be a good value for my money. Again the Passat checks that box. And lastly I expected it to be fun to drive. Which again, I was pleasantly surprised with.

The example I drove at Day-Apollo Volkswagen was Reef Blue Metallic which suited the muscular lines of the Passat well. The R-Line package is exactly that, a trim package. The front and rear bumpers are given a flared treatment with lots of gloss black accents along with flared rocker trim. This is paired with light gunmetal 19 inch aluminum wheels with performance all season Continental Conti Pro Contact tires. Standard on the R-Line is a media touch screen radio, heated seats, leatherette upholstery and dual zone climate control. A big feature addition is finally the addition of a USB interface which allows for use of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This is a welcome addition that many in the VW/Audi camp have been begging the company for rather than their use of expensive proprietary adaptors. New standard features for 2017 come in the form of Front Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Back Up camera and sensors.

The R-Line trim package was a new addition the Passat line up starting with the 2016 model year. Like other R-Line offerings in the VW line up, its all about the performance looks but does not pack the performance punch to back it up, which in a way is disappointing. I found the same thing with the Beetle R-Line and GSR offerings in 2014. However with the standard features and the larger wheels with better tires, it does make for an enjoyable driving experience.

I found the steering to be light and responsive with an excellent ride quality thanks to the longer wheelbase of the Passat vs. the comparable Jetta. Handling does make the car feel smaller than it is despite the cars large size. Brake feel was solid for a car of its size. I found the seats comfortable with plenty of support. The R-Line comes standard with a 6 way power drivers seat with power lumbar support. Driving position and visibility are excellent and all driver controls are easily within reach. While no different than the base steering wheel. The leather wrapped square bottom sport wheel feels more at home in the R-Line and is huge fun with the standard paddle shifter.

The Passat R-Line comes only with the 1.8 liter 4 cylinder turbo engine which produces 170hp with 184 lb ft of torque and comes mated to a 6 speed automatic transmission. Again there is the option of the both the kick over on the gear selector or the paddle shifters on the steering wheel if you want the sporty fun of a GTI or GLI. Sadly, VW does not offer the Passat R-line with an optional manual transmission like in the 2014-15 Passat Sport.  Despite the 170 hp and 3263 curb weight. The Passat R-Line still manages a 7.7 second 0-60 time and will run the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds. That being said, the car is actually fun to drive. For me it's a GTI that is a lot more comfortable for long trips and everyday driving, but you don't want to look like you're 18 with your first car when you pull in to the parking lot at work. Being a 4 door with more than enough space to seat 5 comfortably is also a big plus. Another big plus is the cavernous trunk. You just about lay flat in the trunk without having to fold either side of the split rear seat back down.

Overall, I am very pleased with the Passat. The R-Line gives the car the sporty look and feel of the GTI and GLI models, though it lacks any actual performance boosts. Though APR can take care of that for a couple hundred bucks. I have three complaints about the car that could be rectified and realistically should be by VW. First is the ride height. With the addition of the 19 inch wheels on the R-Line, gives the car a giant wheel gap and an almost off road appearance. It's not excessively bad, but the regular Passat seems to have this filled in better with the standard 16 inch wheels. The seconds would be given the R-Line treatment, a push button starter would have been more appropriate on this trim level than the traditional switchblade key that VW has been using since 1998. The SE trim level Passat has this feature and it really flows so well with the overall feel of the car and is a feature you see on many base level cars and many premium sedans in the category. And lastly, and this is my biggest gripe is the lack of availability of a sunroof. Why again this is not part of the R-Line package is beyond me. It's not even optional. It's just flat out not available. The same goes for a full leather interior.

I get that VW is trying to meet a price point with the car, but with the R-Line I see it as a premium trim that fits somewhere in between the Passat SE and SE V6. But please VW, If you're going to badge it an R-Line, at least back it up with some better features.

Despite the few gripes I have about option availability, after 1,200 miles of driving I am very pleased with the 2017 Passat R-line and highly recommend it.

#VWlove #VW #Volkswagen

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

It's a freelance life for me. Or how to get burned in the car business without really trying.

I don't generally post too much about myself. I try to keep it car related, and this falls in to that category. But this has been simmering in my conscious for the last six months and I have to get it out.  I have worked in the car business for about 20 years now for a variety of dealers representing all of the big three and many import and exotic brands like Porsche, Volkswagen, BMW, Mazda and Audi. Yet following my heart to work for dealers representing brands I am passionate about wasn't always the best choice for me in the long run. The first one was a Ford dealer that closed in 2006 when Ford was starting to tighten their belts prior to the industry collapse. That then led to me working at a dealership only to be downsized out of the store when everything went to hell. That then led to a stint in selling life insurance followed by some time at a dealer group that was sold and brought in their own staff, essentially kicking me back out.

I've had interviews with other dealers in the past. And a lot of them I find don't really know what to do with someone who has a long term work history in the business who has held every job there is that also has an MBA. That is unless maybe to get some free consultation of their business while dangling the prospect of full time employment carrot at the end of a line. What am I on about? Here's the story.

In November of 2015 I approached one of the largest dealer groups in Pittsburgh with my resume. I got an email the following day from this dealer's Vice President of Operations wanting to meet with me as soon as possible. My initial phone call and reply email were not responded to as quickly, but was responded to. In that time he managed to forget who I was or that he had seen my resume and we had to start all over from scratch (strike 1). After sending my resume back I got a call that he wanted to meet but was short on a scheduled time as his wife was having a baby and was due to go in to labor at any time. So we played it by ear on getting together and when we finally did it was a few days in to December. Well, more like 11 days in we were set up to meet. Finally December 14th his wife is in pre labor but he will be at one of the dealerships near me so we set aside some time.

I showed up early as I always do. No one in the dealership knows if he is there. So I end up waiting for about 40-45 minutes while they track him down. After meeting him, I knew he had walked past me at least 4 times. We talked about my back ground and where I was looking to be in my career and what the dealership was looking to do. The job we ended up falling on as a good fit was to take over the Internet departments for two Lexus dealerships they own. We had talked for two hours and really hit it off. He and I both had a similar background and weren't far off in age. He asked me to put together a plan of what I would do essentially starting these departments from scratch and we would get together again and discuss. No problem, I have already had success and lots of manufacturer training on Internet departments as that is where I have specialized the last few years of my career. We agreed that I would put together a plan over the next week and we would meet after that.

With no info from him on what either of their stores did in terms of handling their online sales and marketing efforts, I took it upon myself to mystery shop them and about 8 other Lexus dealers in the neighboring cities and states so that I could get a base line of who does what well. This was paired with my proven success track of how I have run similar departments and what I would have each one doing on a day to day basis as well as my findings from mystery shopping and where these dealerships fell. It was an extensive report that involved hours of my time to compile. I sent my report and asked when we could meet again. Radio silence. I knew that we were now approaching the holidays and that it wouldn't likely happen until after Christmas that we would meet again. So I kept on top of it as this was the best prospect that I had going for me at the time. At this point now, my emails and phone calls which in the past had been responded to if not immediately would be returned quickly. New Years comes and goes, so January 1st I decide to try texting him. I get a response finally that he received my report and needed til the end of the week. As he put it, his wife should have delivered the baby by then (? strike 2). Two more weeks go by, emails and phone calls still go unanswered. Finally a response comes talking about being a salesman came on January 15th, which wasn't what we discussed at all. I laid it on the line at this point about what we had discussed and what the position was supposed to be for. Again, no response. Texts and emails and phone calls January 22, 23, 25th all again go with no response.

Finally I get a reply email on the 26th.

" Albert,

My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. The snow storm along with other pressing duties that come with the territory had me behind last week into yesterday. 
That said, I appreciate your feedback and tenacity. However, I'm choosing to go in a different direction. 
Best of luck to you. "
Really? That's the best that I can get? A snow storm can actually stop someone from just giving a short reply to an email? 
In my initial homework of this dealergroup, I had asked some colleagues in the business and several said to me that if I want to get somewhere with this dealership, I need to talk to John Doe (I'm purposely leaving his name out). So in doing that, and the fact that HE was the person who initially responded to me, I knew that it was fate that brought the two of us to meet. And being the trusting person that I am, believing that people will do the right thing. I got burned big time. One of my contacts that I had asked about this dealergroup was the one that ended up getting the job that I was after. I don't hold any grudges against him, he didn't know I was getting sand bagged by the other guy. 

So what did I learn from this? I learned that while there are still some good people that work in car dealerships, there are still lots of scumbags looking to take advantage of people. Be it customers, employees or prospects. I wasted close to 40 hours of my time analyzing an operation and did essentially what would have cost the dealer to do for $3,000 to $5,000 for free. Live and learn.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Tesla gets greenlight for showroom in Pittsburgh's North Hills

There's no denying that Tesla is one of; if not the hottest car brands in the United States. They have built a unique model of direct to customer sales cutting out traditional car dealerships and car dealers from the equation. In several markets Tesla has skirted by this by having pop up stores. These are typically located in shopping malls with one car on display and a handful outside for demonstrations.

In the Pittsburgh market, Tesla was represented with a pop up store in Ross Park Mall in Ross Township. While the nearest brick and mortar store was in Cleveland Ohio. Tesla is now on its way to opening its first brick and mortar dealership in the Pittsburgh area. Marshall Township Planning Commission approved a plan Tuesday by Tesla to renovate the former Ethan Allen furniture showroom along Route 19 in Wexford / Warrendale. The building which has been vacant for about a year now since Ethan Allen relocated to the new McCandless Crossing a few miles south.

Tesla's plan is to renovate the existing 18,400 square foot building and to double the parking area. No mention if the plans include a service area or if that will continue through Cleveland.

The Wexford area has been a very fertile location for luxury brand dealerships. Baierl Automotive recently completed a new state of the art stand along Cadillac show room, along with Shults Lincoln's new facility representing the American luxury brands while Bobby Rahal representing Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover/Ranger Rover brands. And bringing up the rear of the list is Rohrich Automotive with their Lexus showroom. The latter is also planning to open a Bentley/Maserati showroom in the next two years across the street from Tesla.

There is no immediate time frame for Tesla showroom opening.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

VW to drop Das Auto slogan in image rebuild.

Just like Fahrvergnugen and Drivers Wanted, the days of Volkswagen's "Das Auto" campaign slogan has reached its end. It is one of the first casualties of the Dieselgate scandal that rocked Volkswagen in the last half of 2015.

A VW spokesperson from Germany has said that "Das Auto" will no longer accompany the brand's logo and will be phased out across the world.

Simply meaning The Car, Das Auto showed up in 2007 under then VW boss Martin Winterkorn's plan to make Volkswagen Group the number one auto manufacturer in the world. It summed up the company at that time. Ambitious, focused on alternative powertrain development like diesel and hybrid-electric vehicles. Das Auto now seems "pretentious" in the shadow of an uncertain future for one of the worlds best know auto makers.

So what does the future hold?  A surge of management changes and PR hires have been on going at VW and it is said that at a recent group management meeting that the group's core focus is to now shift to all efforts of fixing Volkswagen.

Is Buick bringing a Regal wagon to the U.S.?

Rumors have been flying for a while now that Buick might be bringing wagon variant to the market. According to AutoGuide magazine, a trademark filing on December 16th by General Motors the names "Regal Tourx" and "Tourx" were secured. Now what does this mean? Perhaps nothing, but perhaps it could mean that GM is looking at the prospect of bringing the Opel Insignia Sports Tourer to the U.S. market from Europe.

The Insignia is the European vehicle which the Buick Regal is based off of. And naturally a wagon version is sold across the pond. The Regal is also one of Buick's top nameplates in the U.S. so this would be a natural progression to expand the lineup.

Now if we could have one in GS trim...

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cars that made us tick: 1993 Chevrolet Corvette 40th Anniversary Edition.

A while back I started what I knew would be the first of my articles on the cars that have shaped me as an automobile enthusiast over the years. For part two, we are taking a look at a car that still to this day resides in my memory as one of the most pivotal unicorns in my life. The year was 1993. I was eleven years old at the time and just going in to middle school. The car that many like myself were lusting after was the Chevrolet Corvette. My dad had recently had and sold his 1987 Corvette coupe when we first heard about the 40th Anniversary Edition Corvette for the 1993 model year on our recent trip to the Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This set my dad off on a search to find one for himself. I still remember the day. It was a Saturday not too far from Christmas when he found a 40th AE coupe at a dealer about an hour away from Pittsburgh.

There sitting on the showroom floor of Kenny Ross Chevrolet in Irwin, PA sat what would become his ruby red 40th AE coupe with a red bow on the hood. It was your pretty standard Corvette coupe. Equipped with preferred equipment group #1, the 40th AE appearance package, a bronze roof panel, Delco/Bose stereo and low tire pressure warning system. For a grand total of $39,304. My how times have changed in Corvette pricing. I do remember us driving the car home that following Monday and it spending much of the winter in the garage. When spring came the car saw lots of use for tours and just general fun drives and to go to a few car events. Being the 40th anniversary of the Corvette we collected as much memorabilia as we could find showcasing the the anniversary edition cars.

I don't remember why, but one day the paint on the corner of the rear bumper failed and started to flake off. Leading to the bumper being repaired by GM. This was the only fault with the car we ever had. My dad's best friend Lou even went and purchased a black Corvette coupe to go on drives with us. Even his car still sticks in my memory as it was the first Corvette I had ever seen with a cloth interior. Then tragedy hit the family. In the early spring of 1994 my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was a whirlwind time that I don't remember a whole lot of. As the time for his operation came closer and he was getting everything in order for a worst case scenario. My father sold his Mercedes 300E sedan and the Corvette. Keeping just my mom's Mercedes and the 1972 Volkswagen that he shared with me. Wanting me to have "My" Beetle as a lasting memory (I will write of this car soon).

Again on a Saturday I remember riding in the Corvette one last time as we drove to Leopardi Auto Sales in Pittsburgh, a specialty used car dealer who agreed to purchase the Corvette. That was the last time I saw the car. I think maybe once we drove by and saw the car sitting on their showroom floor, but outside of that other 40th Anniversary Corvettes have come and gone. Occasionally seeing one or two at a show or on the street. The car always ingrained in my memory in sparkling Ruby Red. My dad survived the operation and the tumor was successfully removed. And other Corvettes have come and gone through the garage, but the 1993 40th Anniversary still lives in our memories as the one that got away that we still wish we had.

Why this car? What makes the 40th Anniversary Edition so special? Well obviously 1993 marked the 40th anniversary of Corvette production. To mark the occasion, Chevrolet produced 6,749 40th Anniversary Editions. An appearance package that cost $1,455. over the cost of a standard Corvette and was available on all trim levels. Coupe, convertible and ZR1. Each car was painted in Ruby Red Metallic with matching ruby red leather interiors, with convertibles receiving matching ruby red tops. The cars were then equipped with power passenger seats, sport bucket seat trim, special seat embroidery, Ruby Red inserts for the wheel center caps and chrome emblems. Each car could then be equipped with the line up of Corvette options. While many Corvettes today are called 40th Anniversary Editions by owners, only Ruby Red cars are the true special editions. This is, in part due to an error by GM's supplier where all Corvette seat upholstery had the special 40th Anniversary logo.  Otherwise, the cars were still powered by the 5.7 liter V8 (sans ZR1) and equipped to with either automatic or 6 speed manual transmissions.

Here's where you can help. I have been searching for my dad's 40th for several years now. We had retained the original window sticker for the car which now hangs in my office and has led me from time to time to search for it. I came close about 5 years ago when I googled the vin # and turned up an eBay auction that had been over for about two weeks. I made several attempts to contact the seller with no response. At the time the car was in Indiana and showed just over 30,000 miles. I know the car was sold to Michigan through my follow up searches. Last registrations show somewhere around Kalamazoo. I would love to surprise my dad by buying him back his pride and joy. I could got get just any 40th AE, but it's not the same. I am desperately trying to find 1993 Chevrolet Corvette vin # 1G1YY23P5P5119264. Please help me bring this car home. Below is the most recent picture I have of the car from the eBay auction. Please, if you can help track down the current owner of the car I would be extremely grateful.

Friday, June 12, 2015

For 50 years Ford has been watching and waiting. Now it's on. Ford GT. LeMans. 2016

It has been 49 years since Ford Motor Company shocked the world by going toe to toe with Ferrari at their own game at the 24 Hours of LeMans. It was an astounding 1-2-3 finish Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon, Ken Miles/Denis Hulme and Ronnie Bucknum/Dick Hutcherson all involved in what has been the closest LeMans victory to date, even shrouded in some mystery as the 2nd place car driven by Ken Miles was actually in 1st place. But that's a different story.

Today though. Ford made a very special announcement. Next year for the 2016 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans. They will be back with the all new 2016 Ford GT. Naturally with the 2015 24 Hours taking place this weekend, Ford made the announcement in LeMans France. The world was exposed to the street version of the 2016 Ford GT at the North American International Auto Show in January, and since then rumors have been swirling that Ford would make another run at LeMans for 2016 and they did not disappoint.

“When the GT40 competed at Le Mans in the 1960s, Henry Ford II sought to prove Ford could beat  endurance racing’s most legendary manufacturers,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman, Ford Motor Company. “We are still extremely proud of having won this iconic race four times in a row, and that same spirit that drove the innovation behind the first Ford GT still drives us today.”

Ford announced that it will compete in the full 2016 schedule for FIA World Endurance Championship and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, and making its competition debut in January 2016 at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Florida. The two Ford factory teams will be operated by  Chip  Ganassi  Racing  with  Felix  Sabates  (CGRFS).  Both  series teams intend to compete with a four car effort at Le Mans in 2016.

The Ford GT race car will feature a number of innovations which Ford believes will not only make it competitive in LM GTE Pro, but ultimately positioned to provide benefits to every Ford vehicle in the Ford lineup moving forward. This includes state of the art aerodynamics to deliver outstanding levels of downforce for improved stability with minimal drag, advanced lightweight composites featuring carbon fiber for an exceptionally rigid but light chassis, and the power and efficiency of Ford EcoBoost technology.

Like the street version of the Ford GT,  the racecar will also be powered by the 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6 engine which hat it's debut in the TUDOR Championship in 2014. The engine was developed by Ford with input and development from CGRFS and Roush Yates Since then, Ford, along with  CGRFS, has captured significant overall wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Rolex 24 At Daytona. Besides great success in sports cars, Ganassi race teams achieved major victories in the Brickyard 400, Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500.

As an added bonus. Watch Ford's unveiling video below. 


Source and Photos: Ford Motor Comapny

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cars that made us tick. Early car memories with the 1980 MGB Limited Edition

Trying something new since I don't spend much time on the site anymore. All my posts seem to be on the Facebook page. Recently, two close friends of mine both purchased some classic British sports cars. Dan in the form of two Austin Healey "Bugeye" Sprites and Tory with a vintage race themed early MG Midget. Essentially, they're all the same cars underneath. And of course they're giving me the peer pressure that it's time to add a British roadster to my fleet of mostly German cars. But it got me thinking. I've had a Jaguar XK8 in the last few years, and there's been a few Jags in my family. But one car that came to mind that I grew up around was the MG-B roadster. Some of my earliest car memories are with the "B". My dad had a couple of them when I was a small child, and there are two that stick out. A brown on tan 1976-77 and a black 1980 Limited Edition which is the one that sticks out the most in my memory.

I can remember as a child riding in the passenger seat with my dad and also sitting on my mom's lap when we would go out in the MG for weekend drives with the convertible top down. Yes, we did have 3 people in it with me not in a car seat. It was the 1980s after all. But here we are in 2015 with the images of the black roadster with silver stripes seared into my memory. I remember playing in the car while it sat in our garage. Helping dad wash it in the driveway and watching him wax it to get ready for a show.
I even still have the dash plaques from some Hartwood Acres British Car Day events we attended, and the showroom brochure for the car. But what is the back ground on the car itself?

The MG-B Limited Edition was offered in North America in 1979 and 1980. It was a marketing endeavor between British-Leyland and the U.S. MG  distributorship in Leonia, NJ to boost slipping sales in the North American Market. The production period of the North American version “LE” was 1979-1980. But why black cars?  Apaprently there was an agreement between “Leonia” and all North American dealers that the “LE kit” would be only installed on black cars and to buy a black car of that time period, it had to be a Limited Edition only. In total there were 6,668 produced in the two years of production. And while not officially stated, the Limited Edition became sort of a Final Edition car as MG-Bs went out of production in the 1980 model year.

The B LE came equipped with the following features as standard equipment.
  • Front air dam
  • L.E. Five spoke alloy wheels, manufactured by GKN, with MG hub center appliqu├ęs
  • Silver lower body stripes
  • Luggage rack
  • Leather covered, padded, three spoke steering wheel with a special center hub. This uses the same MG applique as the wheels
  • A Limited Edition dash plaque installed on the glove box
I guess it's the emotional part of me that loves this particular MG. The rubber safety bumper MGs are not particularly popular today versus their steel bumper counterparts. But on the LE with the all black paint, it seemed to work.

There are still many 1979-1980 Limited Editions floating around and I'd be willing to bet that my dad's is out there somewhere. MG-B's are still affordable and fun classics today. Nice driver cars be found for under $10,000 and a pristine examples are around $12,000. In recent years, I have seen a handful of LE's at car shows and it seems they were available with both brown/tan and black interiors. I seem to remember my dad's having black.

Maybe I'll have to start looking for one for myself to create some new memories

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Honda to recall 5 million cars over airbag concerns

Breaking News! Honda is recalling an additional 4.89 million cars equipped with airbags made by Japan based Takata over possibly faulty airbags.

The recall covers 14 different models produced between 2002 to 2008. Some models include the popular Civic and CR-V. Since 2008, Honda has recalled mover than 11.4 million vehicles due to airbag problems from Takata.

The recall comes one day after Toyota USA and Nissan announced that they were also recalling 6.56 million of their cars for airbag problems.