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TFLcar going from Prague to Pebble in a Tatra [w/videos]

08/05/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Time Warp, Sedans/Saloons, Euro, Videos, Luxury, Read This

Tatra 603

Today, the Tatra brand is best known for its heavy-duty trucks that carry goods all over Europe, but their legacy as a carmaker is a bit less celebrated, especially in the US. That's a shame, because the Czech company's legacy includes some of the oddest passenger vehicles to ever hit the roads. Case in point: the Tatra 603. With four lights in its round grille, the sedan has a face only a mother could love, but things get truly odd in the rear where you find an air-cooled, V8 engine.

Coincidentally, the Tatra is getting a special class dedicated to it at this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Auto journalist Roman Mica and the rest of the team from The Fast Lane Car decided on a wickedly cool project to coincide with the event. They bought a 1968 Tatra 603 in Liberec, Czech Republic, with the goal of driving it across a continent and a half, all the way to Pebble Beach. The undertaking has a personal touch too because Mica was actually born in the former Czechoslovakia and fled the country as a child in 1968 after the communists invaded.

The site is documenting the whole endeavor, which it calls Prague to Pebble or Bust, on video and is posting them online. If you're a fan of quirky old cars or what it takes to live with them, you really need to check this series out. You can check out the project page here to see all of the videos so far. Scroll down to watch the episodes where the team picks up the car in Europe, its arrival in the US and a brief mechanical look.

Continue reading TFLcar going from Prague to Pebble in a Tatra [w/videos]

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Jalopnik scribe finds out the hard way why you should never speed in Virginia

08/05/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, Read This

A Fairfax, Virginia, motorcycle Officer

Being an automotive journalist can be a dangerous gig. No, we're not talking about the risk of carpal tunnel from typing for eight to ten hours a day, five to six days a week or the long periods of sitting. Instead, we're referring to what may be more obvious: the cars. For all of our talk and bravado when it comes to the high-performance vehicles we drive, testing a powerful vehicle on public roads requires a high degree of responsibility and judgment. Every journalist has found themselves lacking in these two key qualities at some point in their road-testing career (and those that claim they haven't are full of it). For the vast majority of us, it's a matter of when, not if, we'll run into trouble with the police.

That's just what happened to Jalopnik writer Patrick George. He was on a media program involving the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 when he got nipped by the fuzz. But because he was driving in Virginia at the time, his offense - 93 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone - came with a lot more than a big fine, lots of points and a thorough dressing down from an officer. It came with jail time.

The situation, as Patrick rightly says, is one many of us have experienced. That's what makes his entire first-hand account of the events leading up to his speeding violation, as well as his three-day stint in the slammer, so disturbing. It just hits too close to home, whether you're road-testing a new Camaro like Patrick was or if you're simply headed home in your own vehicle. It's an excellent, sobering read and a highlight of the state of Virginia's borderline draconian driving laws as they relate to speeding.

Head over and take a look.

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R&T chases down a burglar in the million-mile Miata

08/05/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Time Warp, Convertibles, Economy, Sports/GTs, Mazda, Read This

Road and Track Million-Mile Miata

Is the answer always Mazda Miata? We discussed this in passing on the Autoblog Podcast earlier this week, and most assuredly the answer is "no." For example, the little MX-5 would be a terrible people carrier, and it'd be useless off road. You can't really tow anything of substance with it, either. Still, if push came to shove, it's satisfying to know that the diminutive roadster could eke out a career as a chase vehicle for the police.

That fact was proven when Road & Track editor Chris Cantle did something that he himself recognizes as "stupid." Upon returning home, Cantle discovered a "twenty-something" actively burgling his home. The resulting story is easily one of the more entertaining episodes to come out of the 1990 MX-5's service to the team at R&T and, we're guessing, will be one of the highlights of the Million-Mile Miata challenge.

Be sure to head over to Road & Track for a full retelling of the chase from Cantle, as well as a follow-up on the saga.

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In Japan, wearing the wrong shoes can end a driver's license test

08/03/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, Japan, Read This

Pedestians cross a street in downtown To

It's so easy to make fun of the Department of Motor Vehicles in the United States. Whenever folks return from renewing a license or getting new plates, everybody has a joke making fun of the long lines, prolonged waits or bored employees. But it looks like we in the US have it easy compared to the Japanese. Journalist Jacob M. Schlesinger recently chronicled the bureaucratic hell involved for an American to get a driver's license there on The Wall Street Journal Japan Realtime blog.

The country's government basically tries to put as many obstacles as possible between prospective drivers and a permit. If you can withstand it all, you just might be patient enough to be behind the wheel. Schlesinger claims that he had to make seven trips around Tokyo over the course of two months and pay about $600 to get ready for the driving test. These trials included getting his US license translated and a half-day of testing.

Even getting through all of that, there's still the actual in-car test to pass. The police administer it, and an officer has final say before you even get in the car. According to the writer, a policeman kicked one woman out immediately because her shoes were considered inappropriate for driving.

As if it wasn't tough enough, the writer claims that he had the easy path because he already had an American license. Read the full story at Japan Realtime to find out if Schlesinger finally got his permit.

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Weekly Recap: New bosses try to jump-start Cadillac and Lincoln

07/26/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sports/GTs, Hirings/Firings, Aston Martin, Cadillac, Dodge, Ford, GM, Infiniti, Lincoln, Nissan, Luxury, Read This

Cadillac and Lincoln

Both of America's domestic luxury brands seem to be stuck in neutral.

It's ironic that Cadillac and Lincoln got new bosses within days of each other this month. It's also a commentary on the fact both of America's domestic luxury brands seem to be stuck in neutral.

Cadillac has received barrels of good ink in recent years, thanks to its sporty, fun-to-drive cars with gaudy horsepower figures and eye-catching designs. The problem is sales have been uneven, and this year they've fallen 1.9 percent to 82,117 vehicles.

Enter Johan de Nysschen. You know him from such roles as the head of Audi in the United States and more recently, as the global boss of Infiniti. Both brands have somewhat underdog status compared with segment leaders Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus, and de Nysschen was lauded for his work at his previous stops, overseeing sales and product successes.

Cadillac went out and got a "name" with a proven track record. The 54-year-old South African brings strong leadership and industry credibility to a brand that needs both. He'll be tested right away, as 554,328 Cadillac CTS and SRX models were recalled in June in the United States for ignition switch problems. More recalls involving Cadillacs and other General Motors vehicles for a welding problem was also announced in July.

He's taking over for Bob Ferguson, who had been dividing his time between Cadillac and handling GM recall response on Capital Hill. Ferguson moved to a full-time role as GM's top public policy and government relations executive in July.

Meanwhile, Ford tapped a relatively obscure engineer, Kumar Galhotra, to lead Lincoln. He's replacing an industry star, Jim Farley, who's giving up the reins at Lincoln to focus on his other job - overseeing Ford's global marketing efforts.

Galhotra doesn't have as much name recognition as Farley or de Nysschen, but that means nothing. Lincoln needs momentum, and the only way Galhotra will ultimately be measured is through increasing sales and strengthening the product portfolio.

Continue reading Weekly Recap: New bosses try to jump-start Cadillac and Lincoln

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US energy boom thwarted by... bad oil field roads?

07/19/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Etc., Plants/Manufacturing, Read This

Fracking Water Recycling

With all the money they generate, you'd be forgiven if you thought the roads to America's oil wells and shale fields would be paved in platinum and lined in gold. The reality is, though, that these roads are so devastated that they're starting to actively hurt the oil industry.

A large portion of the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the semis that bring things in and out of the fields. As Bloomberg points out in an excellent piece, the popularity of fracking has required huge imports of water, sand, chemicals and steel structuring to the fields, consequently increasing the weight and frequency of trucks on roads that were originally designed for cattle ranchers.

"If you drive a cattle truck one or two times a year, you're not affecting that road very much, but the first day you drive a 175,000-pound substructure of a drilling rig up that road you begin to destroy it," DeWitt County judge Daryl Fowler told Bloomberg.

There are other issues, though, that are making life difficult for the men and women in America's oil industry. Roads are crumbling due to torrential rains and spring thaws in addition to the weight of trucks. The result is a situation that's not only hurting profits, it's increasing accidents.

Solutions, meanwhile, are in short supply. Tax dollars are short, with Texas estimating it'd need to spend $1 billion just to maintain roads in its energy producing regions. That's equal to the total road maintenance costs for the rest of the state - to which we ask, wouldn't it make sense for the oil companies, whose trucks are responsible for much of the wear and tear on these roads, to chip in for their upkeep?

Head over to Bloomberg for a comprehensive piece on the problems facing these surprisingly important roads, and what it will take to fix them.

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Hyundai's zombie obsession is just good business

07/07/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Marketing/Advertising, Crossovers/CUVs, Hyundai, TV/Movies, Read This

Hyundai Tucson

In case you somehow missed it, Hyundai has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with The Walking Dead, the critically acclaimed zombie apocalypse show that entertains the masses while they're waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones. Fans of the show will recognize Rick, Michonne, Carol, Maggie and Glenn's mint green Hyundai Tucson, a staple vehicle for the crew of survivors, but the relationship between manufacturer and show goes far beyond that. There's a whole line of Zombie Survival Machines, as well as a special-edition production model (shown above). Heck, even Hyundai's post-LA Auto Show party featured actors staggering about as startlingly realistic walkers (TWD's name for zombies).

So what is it about the dead that quickens the pulse of Hyundai's marketing department? Ward's Auto has a great interview with Steve Shannon, the brand's US vice president of marketing. In it, Shannon describes the sudden nature of the tie-in between the show and the automaker, while describing how the company's corporate overlords in South Korea saw the results of the deal. It's an interesting insight into automotive product placement, as well as Hyundai's marketing philosophy and plans for the future (spoiler alert: the Tucson, which has had a role in the show for several seasons, was seemingly abandoned at the end of season four).

Head over to Ward's and have a look.

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Is free parking a right, America?

07/02/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, Read This

Crawford After Bush

One of the many, many headaches inherent in any large metropolis is parking. Simply put, there isn't enough of it and if there is, it's a nine-mile walk from your actual destination. Ignoring the lack of spots and convenience, though, there's a greater issue that makes big-city parking a big pain - it's expensive.

That has a number of citizens' groups up in arms, arguing that the city exploits the parking situation to replenish the coffers. For some, such as a group in Los Angeles called the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative, that issue means pushing for a reduction in costs and fines. For other groups, it means a whole-sale elimination of parking fees and fines.

The Week has an excellent write-up of a surprisingly interesting topic, analyzing whether parking is a civil right (it isn't) and why we simply don't have free parking. It's worth a read, so head over and take a look.

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Why the $10B class-action lawsuit against GM is bunk

06/21/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, Recalls/TSBs, GM, Read This

General Motors-Recall-Timeline

Oh, lawyers. Don't ever change. That Washington State firm that filed a "potentially precedent-setting" lawsuit against General Motors has just had a few of its primary arguments shot full of holes in a new story from TheDetroitBureau.com.

As you'll recall, the $10-billion suit was filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro out of Seattle, and alleges that "GM's egregious and widely publicized conduct and the never-ending and piecemeal nature of GM's recalls has so tarnished the affected vehicles that no reasonable consumer would have paid the price they did when the GM brand meant safety and success."

That'd be a fine argument, were it backed up with, you know, data or facts. Instead, as TDB pointed out, the residual values of GM vehicles have scarcely been impacted by the recalls. It spoke to Kelley Blue Book, the Black Book and ALG for information on sales and residual values, and found that, if anything, GM vehicles continue to do well. In fact, according to the Black Book, a six-year-old Chevrolet Cobalt, one of the most recalled vehicles in the ignition switch fiasco, actually saw its residual values increase in the past few months. Some analysts were less political. Scott Painter, the founder and CEO of TrueCar, for example, called the suit "opportunistic and despicable."

There's much more that's worth reading over at TheDetroitBureau.com. We'd strongly recommend you head over and take a look.

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2015 Nissan Murano could have been a lot more boring to look at

06/20/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Crossovers/CUVs, Nissan, Design/Style, Read This

2015 Nissan Murano

When it debuted at the 2014 New York Auto Show, the third-generation Nissan Murano wowed us more than just about any other car on hand (that's sort of why we handed it an Editors' Choice for the NYIAS). It's sharp, aggressive design was a dramatic departure from the smoother styling of the second-gen CUV, although it wasn't too polarizing. Most importantly, though, it was a vehicle with actual design presence - you want to see it from every angle, all of which draw your eye with something new.

Of course, settling on the design for a new vehicle is far from a straightforward process. While a design might take shape on a designer's drafting table, there are a huge number of steps it needs to get through before making it to an auto show stage or to your local dealer. According to Nissan engineer Chris Reed, those steps very nearly curtailed the Murano's design before the first die was even cast.

Reed has a full account of this sharp design's trials and tribulations in a must-read story from Ward's.

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