July 18, 2012
BMW. There are smart brand extensions and mindless model proliferation, and it's often a fine line between the two. It looks like BMW is about to find out where that line gets crossed apparently, as the company has announced that the MINI lineup will expand to as many as ten models in the coming years including a wagon, yet another coupe and even a van. What's next, the MINI "Mook" edition?
Opel. The clock is ticking on Opel. GM has put Opel board member Thomas Sedran - a restructuring consultant with a background at AlixPartners - in as Opel's interim CEO until a permanent choice is made, but it may be too late for the German-born Sedran and Opel. This European market slide is brutal and unforgiving, and signs are grave that GM may just have to admit that Opel isn't going to work out.
Cadillac. Watch for the ATS launch campaign during the opening ceremony of the 2012 summer Olympic games. The campaign is shot in Morocco, Monaco and Patagonia, as well as other destinations. As we said when we previewed the commercials a few weeks ago, it's excellent stuff.
Lexus is getting serious about this whole image thing. Rumors abound that Toyota has given the green light to bringing the dramatic Lexus LF-LC 2+2 Hybrid Sport Coupe concept to production. Designed by the company’s Calty design studio in Newport Beach, Calif., the LF-LC coupe was named as the best concept car in the annual Eyes On Design Awards at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January. Even though the LF-LC coupe was labeled "a pure design exercise" by Toyota and Lexus minions in Detroit, the ultra-positive buzz generated by the smokin' hot Lexus did not go unnoticed in Japan, apparently. The old Toyota would have filed that praise away and continued on their journey of building bland-tastic appliances. The new Toyota, led by family scion Akio Toyoda, is much more aggressive and prone to just go for it, which in this case would be a superb move. We hope they do it and we applaud the cojones behind the decision. We just hope they don't screw it up making it "production ready."
The ICA, in partnership with BMW, the Mayor of London and the London 2012 Festival, will take over a landmark car park in Shoreditch for two weeks from July 21 to August 4 for a unique exhibition of the BMW Art Car Collection, which will be on display for the first time in the UK. The collection, initiated over 35 years ago, features BMW cars transformed by some of the world’s leading artists including: Alexander Calder, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Ernst Fuchs, Robert Rauschenberg, M.J. Nelson, Ken Done, Matazo Kayama, César Manrique, Jeff Koons, A.R. Penck, Esther Mahlangu, Sandro Chia, Jenny Holzer and David Hockney. Admission is free.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Tom Pease, our AE West Coast correspondent, has been itching to spend a real world week in the Chevrolet Volt for a while, and thanks to GM PR, he finally got his wish. Check out his interesting take on GM's technical wonder below. - PMD
Letter from L.A.
What I Did On My Summer Staycation: A week in the Chevrolet Volt.
By Tom Pease
Beverly Hills. I admit that I liked the idea of the Volt (Chevy's parallel hybrid that does 40 miles on an electric charge before the gas engine kicks in to charge the battery), but frankly had questions about how viable it is for the average apartment dweller who might not have a place to charge it at home. So how would a week in a Volt turn out? If you'll pardon the puns, charged up or gassy?
As it turns out, charged up - at least for me. Beverly Hills recently installed a number of charging stations in the city, and there are stations at malls such as Santa Monica Place, the Grove and at the Helms Bakery Stores in Culver City. As a matter of fact my original idea of seeing how the economy is without charging kind of went the way of the buffalo, since I can find that info on the Internet (37mpg using premium only), and I have practically all-you-can-eat charging in my backyard. Your mileage of course will vary.
Due to parking restrictions in the glamorous "Industrial Triangle" area of BH I live in I couldn't leave the thing parked on the street (I used up the free days for this year reviewing the IQ) without buying an expensive pass. Luckily the local library lot not only is free from 5pm to 8am, but has chargers and is a short walk. So I left it there overnight and drove it during the day. I would not want to do that for more than a week.
You can do the rapid charger, which takes about 3-1/2 hours or 10 hours for the 110-volt charger in the trunk that plugs into a 3-prong outlet on the same wall-mounted station. I would assume that EV etiquette would state that if you leave your Volt long-term at a charger you'd take the 110 volt one as a courtesy to a Leaf driver who won't get home without an hour or so of rapid juice. That's what I did anyway.
The Summit White tester I drove was delivered with 17 miles of charge on it just before lunchtime last Tuesday. I had previously downloaded three iPhone apps telling me where to charge up: Recargo, which has users sharing station information, ChargePoint and Blink, which are proprietary to their networks. Coincidentally, ChargePoint is the one that is all over Beverly Hills and the one whose RFID card came with the car. I signed up for a Blink card (free) in case I needed it, and I used it at Whole Foods in Santa Monica and in Santa Barbara, both were free to charge and park.
As an aside, most of the charging I did was free. Beverly Hills, Malibu Country Mart and Santa Monica Place have two-hour free parking and free charging. Santa Barbara has 75 minutes in their State Street lots and 90 at a lot three blocks from the beach.
I (or rather GM) paid 50 cents an hour in Ventura to give me some extra juice from my return trip from Santa Barbara while I had coffee (4 hours free parking; I took 45 minutes) and a usurious $2.49 per hour at the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach, which was actually a fraction since I just went in to use the facilities, grab a water and fill out a comment card that I thought they suck for charging that much. In fairness, the actual parking was free.
Nearby Hermosa Beach has several places to charge for up to two hours for free and is so cute you want to burp it. I can vouch for the taco burrito at Los Muchachos on Pier at Palm. Suck it, Galleria.
I have briefly driven the Volt several times before, but this is the first time I've had serious time in one. It doesn't drive so very differently from a regular car. GM really caught the right balance between "Gee Whiz" and "God Why?". For instance, the two screens on the dash have a dash of, well, dash in the animations upon entering, start up and shut-down. But the gear selector is like a proper gearbox: it's not controlled by a puck or a rotary knob or interpretive dance. The on/off for the engine start is in the perfect place, and lit. The center stack is not intuitive though. The layout of the buttons is confusing at first and the pearl white on grey lettering can wash out in direct sunlight.
Performance? Well, it goes. It will do 0-60 in 8.3 seconds, I assume if you treat it like you're running moonshine. It punched it a few times to merge into fast moving traffic and it scooted, but lost a fair bit of charge. Since you're trying to keep the green eco-ball in the middle zone on the display screen after a while I just gave over to it and coped, not worrying that the 3-series behind me wanted me dead for taking soooo long to get to cruising speed in front of him on Sunset. Sorry, Buddy, I ain't wasting precious electrons on you.
Besides, this is one of those cars that likes to cruise. I put the the XM on the "Chill" channel, opened the windows and went with it, enjoying the tunes with no engine noise.
The brakes are kind of odd. I never really got the hang of them in the week I had it, at least from an eco-standpoint. Invariably I'd start pushing and then have to watch the green ball drop into a disapproving yellow. I can't tell if it just wants me to coast to a stop or I'm just a typical LA driver who brakes too late. The electronic steering is nicely weighted and fairly precise. I presume it's the heavy batteries that contribute to the planted feel to it - you can take it over Coldwater at a decent clip, gaining amps as you go downhill. But it's not something I particularly want to take on Decker Canyon Road, at least for fun.
When the engine does turn on it's a bit disconcerting: since it's not connected to the wheels the revs don't do up and down according to speed. It's just something to note, hardly an issue.
The interior had the two-tone beige and charcoal and was very pleasant and even airy, or as airy as a car with A and B pillars thicker than my thighs can be. I've sat in the backseat of a friend's and was surprised at the room back there. There was plenty of headroom for me and I'm over 6"2", and knee and hip room was fine.
The trunk isn't huge, but taking a friend on an errand to Auto Zone so she could buy car covers and to show her the Volt I was surprised to find that the two huge boxes that wouldn't fit the shopping cart fit back there without putting the seats down or obscuring the rear vision. Said friend loved the looks of the thing (I agree that it's easily the handsomest sedan Chevy has at the moment and one of the better looking small cars period), liked the room and the style of the interior, but didn't care for the fact that there's no grab handle over the passenger side door, as there are in the back (which I believe is because of the side-curtain airbags). Overall she was very to happy to see an "American car really shine."
Another friend wrote me after I was posting mileage figures that she's going to go test one out since the lease on her BMW is coming up and she's sick of paying $60 bucks a week in gas.
A couple of quibbles: the driver's window has express up and down, while front passenger has express down only. The reverse view camera is nice but starts shrieking like slasher movie music way before I'm anywhere near to the car behind me. Also, on this king of electro cars could the street side mirrors tilt down when backing so I could get an idea how far I am from the curb?
I can understand manually engaging the electronic parking brake, but why do I have to manually disengage it? The 76 Country Squire I drove in the 80's would do that. The Volt automatically locks the doors when I put in drive, why can't it release the play-station parking brake?
But the biggest quibble had to be the Nav system. Why does it list every gas station from here to New Hebrides, but no charging stations? I don't think that the CHP is going to let me off with a warning for "I wasn't texting officer, I was looking for a charge station on Recargo." But this is definitely 1.0 and I suppose will change when either Cadillac's CUE filters down and they load outside charging apps into the home screen or they finally just let Apple do the whole thing for them. As it is, I pulled over and launched the apps on my iPhone, manually entering them in as destinations.
Of course the big news for '13 in California is that the Volt gets one of those coveted special stickers that allow drivers into the carpool lane. (It could be argued that it's counter-intuitive to do so, since stop and go driving recharges the batteries and go and go driving just drains them. Fast.) But it's a perk that will get quite a few converts to the Volt.
So the question is, would I? Sure. Lease prices aren't bad at all and if my workplace added in EV parking (as a surprising number of employers are doing) I could charge at work. Most of us are at work for 8 hours a day. Should you? Keep checking charger availability.
Bottom line: I had a ball with this car. I was thrilled to be using no gas, smugly looking at Prius drivers and thinking "Piker." It's not the most tossable of rides, but we Americans routinely buy cars that have wild performance that we will never use. We buy sports cars that will do 150 when testing that would land you in the pokey. We buy SUVs that could tow a small country because we feel like it and nobody blinks an eye. So why not spend a little extra to have the ability to avoid the pump as much as possible? I would consider finding out how much it would cost to put a 110 outlet in my garage space since the meters are on the other side of the wall before I'd lease an M3. (I know, cheap and smug, how does he stay single?)
Miles put on in week: 600.2
Gas used in week: 3.1 gallons
Average Mileage for week: 191.7
Worst Average Mileage: 88MPG (round-trip to Santa Barbara, 214 Miles, 60 on electric) To date mileage reported at that time was 133MPG
MSRP: $45,170 with the options I observed
Tax Credits/Rebates: $7500 Fed, $1500 State
Diamond Lane stickers: Priceless...