Henry Payne Blog

Toyota Camry’s extreme makeover

Posted by hpayne on October 23, 2014

2015 Toyota Camry is available with the choice of a

The 2015 Toyota Camry gets a dash of sex appeal to keep up with the hotties in its mid-size sedan class.

Upon testing the new, 2015 Toyota Camry XSE (S for "sport"), I was not overcome with the urge to crash a wedding, steal the bride, and outrun the groomsmen in their classic, sky-blue convertible. Mrs. Payne would have greeted me at the front door with a rolling pin. But the latest Toyota ad campaign suggests that Camry-buying, single men might find such ideas irresistible. Acting on impulse? Feeding primal urges? This is the message of a Toyota Camry ad? If you're shocked, you haven't visited the mid-size sedan aisle in a while. This once quiet, predictable quarter of the auto department store was as sexy as the washing machine display at Sears. The appliances were functional. Efficient. Boxy. King Camry ruled. Japanese quality was the coin of the realm. Everyone dressed the same. Public displays of emotion were frowned upon. Muzak played over the sound system. Then that rebel, the Hyundai Sonata, showed some leg and the whole place turned into a Studio 54 disco party. The 2010 Sonata's racy body turned heads. The Ford Fusion followed with a pouty grille and come-hither headlights so convincing you thought Aston Martin had made a grocery hauler. Then came Chrysler 200 with its lusty lights and feminine lines. Want to mambo with your midsize? The athletic Mazda 6 not only turned heads on the showroom floor, it could cut some serious rug, too. After years of jelly-bean shaped look-alikes, these cars made hearts beat faster. They stirred . . . emotions. The Camry appliance watched warily. Sure, its reputation for quality continued to draw customers, but it could see eyes wandering. Ooooh, that Fusion is pretty. Loooove those Hyundai lines. And their JD Power quality ratings were improving all the time. If quality was becoming a universal ingredient, then how would Camry stand out? Toyota's 2012 redesign created more concern. Dealers reportedly murmured that the new car was too bland. It reinforced Camry's reputation as a vanilla brand. Hadn't Jeremy Clarkson of "Top Gear" written a column titled, "Can't sleep? Look at a Camry?" "(It is) by far the dullest shaped body I have ever seen in my whole life," wrote the renowned auto personality. "All I need to do now is think about the shape and I come over all drowsy." Ouch. Even Chevy's own cure for insomnia, the Malibu, was reading the reviews. Faced with its own dealer revolt, GM had completely remade the 'Bu in 2014 to address its somnolescent qualities. Wasn't the Camry just a better-engineered Malibu? And didn't Malibu just win JD Power's Initial Quality Survey for best mid-sized sedan? So just three years after the reborn '12 Camry, we have the reborn '15 Camry: More style, more handling, more ... emotion. It largely works. The Camry is no Fusion, but it is distinctive. Clarkson will have to find another cure for insomnia. Toyota spent a reported $200 million in upgrading the sheet metal, chassis, and interior of the car. That's a lotta dimes for a cost-conscious manufacturer that prides itself on getting it right the first time. Behold the new car's slimmer, less slab-like torso thanks to a lower beltline. But most striking is the plastic surgery around front. The Camry's new kisser borrows heavily from Toyota's Lexus lux brand, which has itself undergone an expensive face-lift. The Lexus is the best example of Akio Toyoda's directive (when the CEO speaks, people listen) that Toyota products stir passion. Beginning with Akio himself, no doubt. A certified car guy. Ooooh, that Fusion is pretty! The Camry's hour-glass grille design reminds you of just how radical the Lexus looks. Indeed, some Lexus buyers may admire the Camry's more measured interpretation. The new face comes in two guises — L and the racier S. My preference is for the L style. Its thin, horizontal accents complete an elegant sculpture. The black, honeycomb S-maw echoes the Lexus F-Sport's spindle grille. In the rearview mirrors it looks like the cow-catcher of an approaching locomotive. But it doesn't intimidate like the Lexus. It's cheap, plastic construction smacks of a pretender. An oversized Corolla S. Were I that single dude, I would steal the bride in the LE hybrid. Not only will the beauty warm to its less beastly face, but the sedan's excellent, electric-assisted acceleration and chassis balance (thanks to 150 pounds of battery in the trunk balancing the four-banger up front) will put distance on your pursuers. On a hard flog through northern Florida, your intrepid writer found the hybrid well-balanced — rotating into corners with a tire-squalling vigor not normally associated with tree-hugging transport. And I had a ready alibi if pulled over: "There must be some mistake, officer. This is a hybrid." Not that you can't appreciate the electric powertrain. My test mule boasted an impressive 572-mile range — meaning you could outrun the groomsmen before looking for a hotel for the night. Back the Camry down to 40 mph and it'll run on battery alone for long stretches — stretching that range even further. As you get to know your passenger in the Camry's roomy, hushed cabin, she'll marvel at the stylish, chrome-lined console. The standard, 4.3" touch screen is outstanding, complemented by bigger, piano black touch keys. The screen's usability will distract her while you fiddle with the Camry's less driver-friendly details which smack, like the plastic grille on the S models, of cheapness. The holdover, notchy, shifter is clunky. And beware the (optional) adaptive cruise control, which will cease working below 20 mph, giving you a nasty surprise as you approach a stopped car ahead. Full adaptive next time, please. Indeed, next time will come quickly in this ruthless segment. One gets the sense that Toyota is especially concerned about Hyundai's Sonata, which has also picked up makeup tips from its luxury superior, the Genesis. What's more, the Hyundai's handsome appliance starts at $21,960 – nearly $2k under the $23,795 Camry. Hyundai quality? Four JD Power stars, just like its revered Japanese competitor. And the Korean model weighs in with a hybrid and two superb 4-cylinder turbo engines which provide V-6 power while opening more room for Sonata's segment-leading cargo space. The Camry, meanwhile, stubbornly sticks to a V6 that make up just 6 percent of sales — even less than the 10 percent hybrid. Interior room matters. After the wedding-crashing theatrics, the talk will surely turn to kiddies. Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. 2015 Toyota Camry Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan Price: $23,795 base ($32,987 Camry Hybrid LE as tested) Power plant: 2.5-liter DOHC 4-cylinder; 3.5-liter DOHC V-6; Hybrid engine: 2.5-Liter DOHC 4-cylinder with Nickel-Metal Hydride AC-motor assist Power: 178 horsepower, 170 pound-feet of torque (4-cyl.); 268 horsepower, 248 pound-feet of torque (V-6); 200 horsepower (hybrid) Transmission: Six-speed automatic or continuously-variable transmission (Hybrid only) Performance: 0-60 mph: 6.6 seconds (V-6 — manufacturer) Weight: 3,240 pounds (3,485 hybrid as tested) Fuel economy: EPA 25 city/35 highway/28 combined (2.5L 4-cyl); 25 city/35 highway/28 combined (2.7L 4-cyl); 21 city/31 highway/25 combined (V-6); 43 city/39 highway/41 combined (Hybrid) Highs: Runs like a Swiss watch; Hushed cabin Lows: Plasticy S-trim fascia; Only partial adaptive cruise control Overall: ★★★  

Cartoon: White House Treat

Posted by hpayne on October 23, 2014

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Cartoon: Necessities NFL

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2014

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Cartoon: CDC Quarantine

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2014

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Corvette vs. Porsche track showdown

Posted by hpayne on October 18, 2014

The Detroit vs. Stuttgart sports car faceoff has been

Who has the edge in this historic rivalry? I took them on Autobahn race track to find out.

Red Sox vs. Yankees. Coke vs. Pepsi. Corvette vs. Porsche. The Detroit vs. Stuttgart sports car faceoff ranks as one of our great rivalries. Growing up the son of a Porsche owner in West Virginia, I knew which side I was on. Now as a proud Detroiter and a Porsche owner, I'm on the fence. I admire both. As a pup, I watched the local Corvette and Porsche clubs face off in weekend autocrosses. USA vs. Germany. Domestic vs. import. Horsepower vs. handling. It has always been so. If a Ford vs. Ferrari racing rivalry briefly blossomed in the 1960s, the Vette-Porsche rivalry has endured. Each generation gets better. The competition today has never been more intense. The 2014 Porsche Cayman is the best handling Porsche under $100k. Ever. The 2014 Corvette is the best handling 'Vette. Ever. Which reigns supreme? I took them on the track to settle it. I tell pals who consider buying these thoroughbreds to track them. They are that good. You simply cannot explore their enormous potential at 80 mph – or 90, or 120 - on I-75. Their sophisticated chassis and multilink suspensions can achieve a neck-knotting 1-plus G on track. Autobahn race track, for example. Located south of Chicago, it is fast, technical, and a favorite testing ground for amateur racers like myself. It also hosts a fleet of exotic sports cars courtesy of local dealers. Like fighters on a runway, they are lined up on the tarmac each weekend for pilots who want to explore the envelope: Maserati GranTurismo, BMW M4, Audi R8, Camaro ZL1. . . I took out the 2014, 3.4-liter, mid-engine Porsche Cayman S and the 2014, 6.2-liter, front-engine Corvette C7 Stingray convertible for a fling. The Cayman's coupe construction increases chassis rigidity by 40 percent over its sister Boxster convertible. By contrast, the Stingray's aluminum chassis does not depend on its B-pillar for stiffness, according to Chevy engineers – meaning the drop top gives away little to its coupe mate other than a roof. Both Yank and Kraut are fabulous. Both represent their national stereotypes. Taught and sleek, Porsche's best handling sports car (take a backseat, 911) is tidy as a German manor. Trained on the demanding twists and turns of the legendary Nurburgring, the Cayman is wonderfully predictable. It's the most drivable sports car on the road today. Like a Hollywood celebrity, the C7 is gorgeous, loud, and loaded with personality. More stable than its C6 predecessor, the nearly 3,400-pound beast still moves around on Autobahn's signature switchbacks. In turns 9 and 10, steering input is required as the chassis whiplashes from side to side. While the Porsche skips through with minimal fuss, the Vette is all knees and elbows, clawing its way across the asphalt to finally . . . pounce on to the back straight. Unleash the Kraken. Where the 325-horsepower, 273-pound feet of torque Porsche gives a determined bark, the 455-horse, 460-pound feet Corvette roars like a lion. Freed from the thicket of twisties – Cayman territory – the lion hits the open savanna with authority. The Vette gulps asphalt, its front maw gaping as if to devour the Cayman up ahead. As it reaches its prey . . . . . . another thicket of turns. The Cayman slips away again through the Turn 11-12 chicane. And so it goes lap after lap. The Porsche darts. The Stingray surges. Yin and yang. It's why this rivalry rivets us. Two athletes getting the job done in different ways. My track sessions were crowded with cars, so I didn't bother with lap times. But around another great American course — the high speed, 4.1-mileVirginia International Raceway — Car & Driver clocked the C7 nearly 9 seconds faster. All hail horsepower. And affordability. The C7 may be comparatively ragged, but Porsche's handling refinement comes at a price: $83,000 compared to the Vette's $75 grand. And Motown's finest doesn't sacrifice refinement inside. It's gorgeous, leather dash and bolstered seats are the match of German royalty. Porsche has exploited its performance brand to expand into SUVs (Cayenne and Macan) and sports sedans (the Panamera). With their sports car DNA, these sleds have become the best-selling Porsches ever, raking in profits undreamed of in the sports car-only days. Were it not part of the GM empire, one wonders if Corvette, too, might have multiplied as utes and sedans. Howja' like a Corvette CUV-7 next to your C7? Alas, Corvette soldiers on as a single car. Rumor has it, however, that the 2017 C8 will be mid-engine. A ruthless V-8 located, Cayman-like, behind the driver's ear. Be afraid Porsche. Be very afraid. Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. 2014 Corvette Stingray Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car Price: $53,995 base (about $75,000 convertible as tested) Power plant: 6.2-liter V-8 Power: 455 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Eight-speed automatic Performance: 0-60: 3.9 seconds (Car & Driver) Weight: 3,362 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/28 mpg highway/ 20 mpg combined 2014 Porsche Cayman S Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car Price: $63,800 base (about $83,000 as tested) Power plant: 3.4L horizontally opposed 6-cyl Power: 325 horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Seven-speed automatic Performance: 0-60: 4.2 seconds (Motor Trend) Weight: 3,152 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway/ 24 mpg combined

Cartoon: Ebola IRS Obama

Posted by hpayne on October 17, 2014

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The 21st-century Roadmaster: Chevy Traverse

Posted by hpayne on October 15, 2014

We compare the 2014 Chevrolet Traverse with its arguable

Shed a tear for the Roadmaster. The Chevy Traverse advances the wagon concept by maintaining everything we loved about 20th-century wagons while stuffing it with 21st-century technology.

If Rip Van Winkle awoke today from an afternoon nap in 1995, the first thing he would do is get a shave. The second thing he would do is get gas for his big family station wagon. At that point, ol' Rip might wonder what planet he was on. Has there been any greater physical change in our world in the last 20 years than the disappearance of the station wagon from our landscape? (Okay, that and folks aren't holding brick-sized cellphones to their heads anymore.) It's how you know you're watching a movie from last century. Today, sport utes dominate the family driveway. Auto historians will tell you that 1970s mpg mandates killed the wagon. But I'm convinced it was Clark Griswold. Griswold, as played by Chevy Chase in the 1983 classic "National Lampoon's "Vacation," drove his long-suffering family cross country in a Wagon Queen Family Truckster — a pea green, wood-paneled, fun-eating caricature of the American wagon. The resulting fiasco was the cultural death-knell for the once-popular family vehicle. By the mid-nineties, wagons were as hip as eight-track tape players. Minivans were the new family transport, and they in turn were being replaced by large SUVs. The rear-wheel-drive Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon was the last hurrah. Manufactured from 1991-96, the final Roadmasters (along with sister ships the Chevy Caprice and Cadillac Fleetwood) rolled off the Arlington, Texas assembly line that was being retooled for front-wheel drive utes. Fast forward 20 years and what should Rip buy? Say hello to the 2014 Chevy Traverse. The Roadmaster has been reincarnated as an SUV. But unlike Clark Griswold, Rip won't need to be conned by car salesman Eugene Levy to get into the Chevy. Thanks to vehicles like the gorgeous, sleek Traverse, we hardly miss the wagon. From its wrap-around, Impala-style grille to its high-tech console to its signature Pentagon-rear window, the Traverse can haul eight passengers like the Roadmaster while turning heads, entertaining the kiddies, and still flexing some good ol' American muscle. Still, Rip and I wipe a tear from our cheeks. There are some nostalgia pieces that wagon diehards will miss. So let's get to know our family haulers. Why compare a Buick and Chevy, you ask? Why not apples to apples? Why not the 1995 Chevy Caprice wagon and the Chevy Traverse? Fair question. Convenience, for one. My pal (and Rip Van Winkle stand-in), The Detroit News personal finance guru Brian O'Connor, owns a '95 Roadmaster wagon. It has 194,000 miles. He's ready for a new ride. But there are practical, market considerations as well. The all-wheel drive Traverse stickers at $47,355 which is about the same price — adjusted for inflation — as a Roadmaster would sell for today. The Traverse's Buick Enclave twin, by contrast, would lighten the wallet another $8,000. And, since the Roadmaster was the Brontosaurus of the Wagon Era, perhaps it would make sense to compare it to the equivalent SUV-saurus, the Chevy Suburban. But the Suburban — 130-inch wheelbase vs. the Buick's 116 — is in another class of big. Manhattanites are buying Suburbans as luxury apartments. Apples to apples? The Traverse's 119-inch wheelbase is more Roadmaster like. If the Chevy is the 21st-century station wagon, its seating position is decidedly 19th-century. Federal mpg laws inspired truck-based sport utes, but Americans' preference to ride horse-like — high in the saddle — accelerated their popularity. The lower Roadmaster feels like you're sitting on a Shetland pony. On its knees. I'm no physicist, but the laws of nature dictate that the Traverse should feel less stable compared to the wagon's lower-center of gravity. But utes have evolved with better chassis engineering. Built on GM's sedan-like, unibody Lambda platform, the Traverse is a long way from the truck-based SUVs of 20 years ago. Add GM's Stabilitrak electronic stability control system and the Traverse is remarkably stable for a 2 ½-ton vehicle. The 4,700-pound Roadmaster, by contrast, is as nimble as an ocean liner. Navigating high-speed turns requires considerable concentration. It pitches like it's in choppy seas. The Buick could use a tug boat. This ICBM may not turn, but it's a rocket in a straight line. Stomp on the gas and the small-block, 5.7-liter, 260-horse V-8 in the beast's belly — yes, the same small black as in a 1990-vintage 'Vette — roars with authority. So this is why they called it "master." Glorious. But the V-6 Traverse matches it. The six-holer pumps out 28 more horses (288 total) — while trailing the surly V-8's 335 pound-feet of torque with "only" 270 pound-feet. Naturally, that kind of power works up an appetite and the V-6 only gains 1 mpg (19 vs. 18) on the old nail — but if you want fuel economy, buy a Spark. The Traverse and Roadmaster take strikingly different approaches to wood. The Buick wears a full coat of the stuff. Lucky it's vintage vinyl or the Roadmaster would have been plagued by woodpeckers. The Chevy is more modest, saving its wood grain paneling for the dash which is beautifully appointed. Indeed, the Traverse advances the wagon concept by maintaining everything we loved about 20th-century wagons while stuffing it with 21st-century technology. The Traverse's center console is a candy box of goodies from a 6.5-inch MyLink, color infotainment touchscreen to controls for collision alert, blind-spot assist, hands-free calling, heated steering wheel, dual-climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and a direct line to the Oval Office (just kidding about that last one). The Roadmaster? It has a radio. Mimicking the wagon, you can flatten the second and third seats in the Traverse if you need to move a grandfather clock — or just need a place to sleep for the night. The Traverse also offers the option of a second-row, digital entertainment center and "smart-sliding" captain's chairs that bow like Queen Elizabeth's subjects when you want to get into the third row. A moment of silence for the rear-facing, third-row bench, please. I spent much of my childhood facing backwards in third-row wagon seats. Our own private space capsule. This led to innovations like the Roadmaster's rear door which was built to open like a door, lay flat like a pickup tailgate, and re-enter the earth's atmosphere at 17,000 mph (OK, made that up, too). The modern Traverse's rear hatch is automatic (more digital wizardry), but it only knows how to go up. Score one for Roadmaster. Wipe away that tear, Rip, and get a new Traverse. Then join us again in another 20 years. By then steering wheels should have disappeared in favor of self-diving Google cars. 2014 Chevrolet Traverse Vehicle type: Front-engine, front and all-wheel-drive, seven-or-eight-passenger sport utility vehicle Price: $31,670 base ($47,355) Power plant: 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 Power: 288 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: Towing capacity: 5,200 pounds Weight: 4,956 pounds (test vehicle) Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 mpg combined Report card Highs: Attractive styling; cavernous cargo space Lows: 5,000 pound porker; Big blind spots Overall: ★★★★

Cartoon: Tesla AWD Traffic

Posted by hpayne on October 14, 2014

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Cartoon: Kim Jong Appears

Posted by hpayne on October 13, 2014

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Cartoon: Democrats Obama Virus

Posted by hpayne on October 12, 2014

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Q&Auto: Marketing guru Scott, built Ford tough

Posted by hpayne on October 11, 2014

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Unlike a stereotypical truck guy, Scott is a lean drink of water. Fittingly, his lean F150 breaks the truck stereotype, too.

7,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating, that's a lotta room for equipment (or more 6-foot truck guys) in back. "Aluminum has given us a great opportunity to improve the truck: More capability, more durability, better performance, better efficiency, better handling dynamics, and at an affordable price," says the 36-year Ford veteran, rattling off bullet points like a 6-speed tranny rifles gears. The F-150 has been the best–selling truck every year that Scott has been at Ford and he thinks the aluminum revolution is a good reason it'll be on top for 36 more. "Eighty percent of our customers know aluminum works," he says of the lightweight metal that has girded battle ships and race cars alike. "My job is to convince the other 20 percent." I rode with Scott on a F-150 test drive outside San Antonio, Texas where we talked tin, toughness, and the 1000 miles of Baja. Q: What did you drive to the Dream Cruise? Scott: A new F-150. Q: As a pickup truck guy would you rather be at the Cruise or another event? Scott: I'd probably like it more at the Baja 1000 (Ed. note: the brutal, 1000-mile, off-road race on Mexico's Baja Peninsula). It's really about toughness and durability. Q: How long have you been with Ford? Scott: Thirty-six years. The last 13 years as truck marketing manager. The first 20 years of my career I was in sales in different locations around the country. In 1997 I was Explorer brand manager. Then I had all the SUVs for three years. Then in 2002 I took the truck marketing job. Q: Is the F-150 a game changer? Scott: Absolutely. It's the new standard for full-sized pickups. Q: Aluminum's benefits are well known. Why not an aluminum truck until now? Scott: A combination of factors. We had to be prepared to manufacture a vehicle with aluminum. To master different joining techniques with aluminum. The materials supply was an issue. So a whole host of issues combined to say that now was the right time. Having it all coincide with the needs of the buyer in terms of being a better performing, more capable, more efficient truck. Q: Ford has done aluminum before with Jaguar. It produced an aluminum-bodied Ford Taurus prototype in the early '90s. So why not do aluminum first in a sports car like Mustang? Why bet big on your franchise vehicle, the F-150? Scott: Light-weighting makes the most sense in a truck. Because you can take weight out of the truck and reinvest that weight reduction in more capability like towing and hauling that a customer values so highly. Q: Does this make it easier for Ford to transition to aluminum in other vehicles? Scott: Certainly we will have learned a lot about making that conversion. So the next vehicle will be easier, yes. Q: There is huge brand loyalty in this segment. How do you convince a RAM or Chevy buyer that this is a game changer? Scott: Our success at launch is going to be determined by maintaining the high loyalty we have with our current customers. We'll be successful if we can maintain . . . that owner base which is the largest in the market. As for conquests, that is a bonus. Q: This truck is loaded. How did you keep price down with aluminum and all that tech? Scott: You have to have mentality that price is governed by the market environment — and where your competition is. Affordability has to be in the forefront. That means we have to be efficient as we build it.  

Cartoon: Ebola or Warming

Posted by hpayne on October 9, 2014

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Aluminum F-150 is battle tough

Posted by hpayne on October 9, 2014

The all-new 2015 Ford F-150 on the streets of San Antonio

The F-150's huge three-bar grille growls. Its "c-clamp" headlights intimidate. This truck is a fit, aluminum heavyweight fighter. The console compartment could hide a Mini Cooper.

These Fords don't do things half way. Consider the 1942 B-24 bomber and 2015 F-150 pickup. These two aluminum-skinned, alphanumeric-badged industrial behemoths signal that Ford Motor Co.'s ambition hasn't shrunk in 70 years. Both use lightweight construction to increase range. Both push the limits of mass manufacturing. Both elevated Detroit's industrial genius. The B-24 defined the chairmanship of Henry Ford's only son, Edsel Ford. The F-150 will define the legacy of his grandson, William Clay Ford Jr. In 1941 Edsel met the federal government's challenge and committed Ford's Willow Run factory to making the B-24 Liberator as a weapon to win America's war with Germany. In 2014 Bill Ford has risen to the challenge of federal mpg standards to convert Ford's Dearborn and Kansas City F-150 assembly plants to aluminum construction to win the war against ... um, global warming. OK, so Washington's wars these days are a might quixotic. Ford's brilliant engineers have translated the challenge to win the conflict that really matters: Defeating RAM, GM and Toyota in the truck wars. Only compared to the B-24 does the F-150's task seem small. The Liberator program, after all, sought to make a one million-part bomber an hour from scratch in 18 months. It is one of the supreme industrial achievements of mankind. But the F-150's ambition shares B-24's challenges in key respects. It carries huge risks. It requires enormous industrial retooling to produce 70 trucks an hour — 600,000 a year. It must prove itself in a highly competitive theater. In 1942 Charles Lindbergh test-flew the first B-24s over Willow Run. The plane was uncomfortable and handled like a pig, causing his arms to ache from exertion. It was "more complicated than the keyboard of a pipe organ," he wrote in his diary. The F-150, you'll be pleased to know, drives like a limousine. But for its Brobdingnagian dimensions, the sophisticated F-150 cockpit could be confused with a similarly-priced, $40K luxury sedan. The seats are plush, the ride hushed, the instruments sculpted. My favorite F-150 is a $46,600 XLT. Its huge three-bar grille growls. Its "c-clamp" headlights intimidate. This is an aluminum truck all right. Military-grade aluminum. Opt for the steering column shifter, and the full center console is a bin of storage trays for phones, drinks, briefcases, small farm animals. The storage compartment at my elbow could hide a Mini Cooper. Sitting atop a completely re-engineered chassis, suspension, and body, the big truck glides down the road despite its leaf-sprung, solid-rear axle chassis. Credit staggered rear shocks, eight chassis-stiffening cross-members, and twin frame-rails firmed with 78 percent high-strength steel (up from 28 percent in the outgoing model). That light-weighting theme runs throughout the truck, making it more nimble, more capable, and more fuel efficient. This light-alloyed heavyweight weighs in a fit 700 pounds less than its predecessor — even as its cabin is stuffed with more technology than an Apple store. The pickup market is the most demanding segment in autodom as customers need a daily driver and a workplace tool. These vehicles are rolling Swiss Army knives — they'll take the kid to school while carrying a load of mulch while recharging your band saw. Consider the Ford's side mirror. Approach it in darkness and an LED drops a pool of light for ground visibility. Another bulb turns the mirror into a rotating spotlight, illuminating the landscape. Embedded sensors alert you to traffic in your blind spot. And mirror cameras help form a 360-degree view around the truck's perimeter. Give this tool a first place blue ribbon at the science fair. The Big Four truck warriors are representative of their corporate brands. Toyota's Tundra is perennially atop J.D. Powers' quality ratings. Chrysler's RAM has carved a loyal following with its innovative eight-speed gearboxes and coil-sprung suspension. Ford and GM are the titans. The volume sellers. The F-150, for example, comes in everything from a $26,616 two-wheel drive base cab to a $52,155, leather-skinned, luxury, 4x4 Super Crew Cab that can scale the Empire State Building while giving you a back massage. Pickup loyalties are legend. You thought wartime Europe was Balkanized? Truck wars have long bloodlines. Traditionally, the best truck — Ford, RAM, GM, Toyota — is the latest model. But with the aluminum F-150, you sense a watershed moment. With GM struggling through bankruptcy, Ford launched its moonshot. Investing billions, the F-150 translated its history with aluminum-skinned Jaguars to benefit trucks: Better power-to-weight ratio, handling, and fuel economy. Aluminum is just half the story as Ford has also developed a formidable artillery of new turbocharged engines. Where four huge engines carried the B-24 aloft, four engine options power the F-150. In keeping with its light infantry theme, the pickup's mix has changed from the previous generation's two V-6, two V-8 lineup. Only one V-8 remains (the 5.0-liter with more horses and torque — 385 and 387 — than before). With the success of the base six-banger and Ecoboost V-6, Ford has ditched the 6.2-liter V-8 to add a third V-6 to its lineup. The rookie is Ecoboost Junior — a precocious 2.7-liter twin turbo that packs a 325 horsepower, 375-pound feet wallop. While the V-8 gives the F-150 best payload-in-class and the 3.5-liter turbo boasts best tow capacity, Ford expects Junior to take the truck to the summit of a different metric: Fuel economy. When EPA numbers come in next month, the 2.7 is expected to challenge RAM's 3.0-liter diesel for top fuel sipper. My media mates were recording 21-22 mpg on our San Antonio-area test drives — in the ballpark of RAM's 23 mpg benchmark. Not me. I was gulping gas over a, muddy, gulch-filled off-road course. Short of pulling Gs in a sports car on (name of race track here), there's nothing more fun. South Texas ranch country and I punished the new sled through gulch, grade and goop. This is no tin-skinned B-24, but a rock-solid, 6000-series-military-alloy aluminum brute. With four wheels churning and twin turbos spooling, the 4,806-pound rhino never protested. Hopping out of the truck after the test, I slammed the doors and tailgate with abandon. Not a tinkle. The B-24 answered the critics over time. The F-150 will have to do the same. Will the 1,500-repair shop infrastructure be able to mend aluminum as efficiently as steel? Will insurance rates increase? Will turbos prove as durable as diesels? These are formidable challenges. But thanks to Ford's risk-taking culture, we are watching history in the making. Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. 2015 Ford F-150 Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear and four-wheel-drive, six-passenger pickup truck Price: $26,615 base ($46,615 2.7-liter Ecoboost, 4x4, Super Crew as tested) Power plant: 3.5-liter V-6; 2.7-liter turbo "Ecoboost" V-6; 5.0-liter V-8; 3.5-liter turbo "Ecoboost" V-6 Power: 283 horsepower, 255 pound-feet of torque (3.5L V-6); 325 horsepower, 375 pound-feet of torque (2.7L Ecoboost V-6); 385 horsepower, 387 pound-feet of torque (V-8); 365 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque (3.5L Ecoboost) Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: Towing capacity (4x4): 7,500 pounds (3.5L V-6; 8,400 (2.7L Ecoboost); 11,100 (V-8); 12,000 (3.5L Ecoboost) Weight: 4,806 pounds (test vehicle) Fuel economy: NA Report card Highs: Bold styling; all-around athlete Lows: Uncertain costs of insurance, repairs Overall: ****

Cartoon: Obamacare Jobs

Posted by hpayne on October 9, 2014

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Cartoon: Michelle School Food

Posted by hpayne on October 7, 2014

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Cartoon: Ebola Security

Posted by hpayne on October 7, 2014

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Chevy Malibu, JD Power, and how GM beat the Recall Rap

Posted by hpayne on October 4, 2014

Chevrolet Malibu is a sedan designed for those seeking the complete vehicle package: smart engineering and design, along with all the amenities that make driving fun. For 2015, the latest wireless technologies help make Malibu a better-connected car for those on the go. The hapless, stalling, ignition-plagued Chevy Cobalt has been the bane of General Motors' existence in its 2014 Year of the Recall. But it's not the General's most recalled vehicle. That title goes to the Chevy Malibu. That's right, the same Chevy Malibu that J.D. Power's Initial Quality Survey honors as America's most reliable midsize sedan. Surprised? You're not alone. The most recalled-most reliable Malibu is evidence of why GM's recall woes haven't been a drag on sales. Despite relentless media headlines about GM lemons, sales of Chevy cars are up over three percent this year. And while the Malibu hasn't been burning down the house, it did just record its best September sales in five years. Its little brothers, Cruze and Sonic? Both are flying off the shelves. This is all the more remarkable given that the compact pair are the replacement for the unloved Cobalt. Shouldn't Americans be avoiding Spawn of Cobalt? Shouldn't they be exiling Chevy, King of Recalls, to the sales dungeon? The truth is recalls aren't the same as reliability. And the new Malibu isn't the Chevy of old. Indeed, the good ol' days of quality cars are today. Vehicles have never been so trustworthy. "In 2013, overall vehicle dependability averaged 126 (problems per 100 vehicles) – a five percent improvement from the 2012 average of 132 – and the lowest problem count since the inception of the study in 1989," reads J.D. Powers' 2013 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. Um, okay. But what about an industry on pace for a record 40 million recalls this year? Some 26 million by GM alone? The 850,000 Fords recalled last week? The 690,000 Toyotas recalled this week? "Our dependability studies measure problems that consumers actually experience in their own cars," says David Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global automotive research. "Recalls are more about potential problems. That is to say, 99.6 percent of recall issues will never be experienced by consumers." GM spokesman Alan Adler says that 3 out of 4 his company's recalls have been so-called "noncompliance" repairs where no safety defect is at issue. A May recall on 2004-2012 Malibu tail lights, for example. "Not to minimize any recall," says Adler, "but it hardly belongs in the rogue's gallery of problems." J.D. Powers' Sargent has his own example: His personal vehicle was recalled this year . . . for a sun visor replacement. "Manufacturers are just more sensitive right now," he says of the post-Cobalt, post-Toyota-instant-acceleration climate. "There's a bias right now towards recalling what wouldn't have been recalled before." David Sullivan, an Auto Pacific analyst, concurs. He sees little relation between recalls and dependability. "Consumers aren't looking at recalls when they shop for a vehicle," he says. "They are looking forward, not backwards. They are looking at Consumer Reports and whether cars have poor reliability or crash ratings." Which is why Malibu's high J.D Power grade is so important. It is the equivalent of a four-star movie review. You know it won't be a wasted trip to the theater. What's more, recalls get customers back into the dealership. "Imagine the owner of, say, a recalled 2004 Malibu," says GM's Adler. "Maybe they haven't been in a dealership for a while and they come in to see a new Malibu or Cruze. They're going to say 'WOW!' That's a new Chevy?" "Wow" wasn't my first reaction to the 2015 Malibu I drove recently. But it's a solid performer. And it would wow anyone who arrived here in a time machine from a decade ago. To this time traveler the interior might as well be the Star Trek Enterprise. This affordable, $30K chariot is whisper quiet inside and features a dizzying array of tech from rear-cross traffic alert to standard stop-start engine technology that will get you 29 miles per gallon. It's crisp, intuitive keys and dials surround a touch screen that will connect you to phone, Sirius, and even read you your text messages. Outside of the Chrysler 200, it's the best center console in the business. Wow. Speaking of outside, the Malibu could use a stylist. Where Chevy has dressed its high-end Impala and low-end Spark like runway models, the middle of its lineup is, well, middling. Adler says the recalls are a silver lining — a chance for the General to reconnect with buyers. "If you take care of the recall customers and minimize the inconvenience," he concludes, "then you make a better Chevy customer than you had to begin with." What the heck, one more Malibu recall and I guarantee sales will really soar: Just replace its mug with that sexy Impala grille. Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. 2015 Chevrolet Malibu Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sports coupe Price: $23,290 base ($30,280 as tested) Power plant: 2.5-liter, direct injection 4-cylinder Power: 196 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph: 8.4 seconds (Motor Trend) Weight: 3,532 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg combined Report card Highs: Quiet cabin; Driver-friendly console Lows: Small back seat; A face only a mother could love Overall: ★★★

CARtoon: Mustang

Posted by hpayne on October 3, 2014

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First impression: Aluminum Ford F-150 is a winner

Posted by hpayne on October 3, 2014

2015-F150San Antonio, Texas — THOOOOOONK! The 2015 Ford F-150's bumper hits the bank full on as it barrels over a hill in the wilds of south Texas. The big truck shrugs it off. Not a flinch. Not a tingle. Nail the throttle and the 325-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 engine's twin turbos launch the 4,806-pound beast out of the gulch and onto the next hill. Hill after muddy gulch after rocky creek bed goes by like this without a groan from the chassis. For those who thought an all-aluminum body would compromise Ford's "Built Ford Tough" reputation, think again. This F-150, whose predecessors have been America's top-selling vehicle for 37 years, is tougher than ever. In perhaps the boldest move in the auto industry today, Ford — which allowed automotive journalists behind the wheel for a first test drive in San Antonio this week — has bet its franchise vehicle on aluminum. The result is a new truck that not only vaults Ford back to the top in the truck arms race, but it also likely changes the segment forever. The F-150 — available later this year with a starting price of $26,615 — greets you with a huge, new, upright, three-bar grille and matching headlights. This is not a shy vehicle. And neither is Ford shy about its aluminum transformation. Begin with the obvious. Aluminum won't rust, making for better longevity in Michigan winters, where the salt piles up almost as high as the snow. In making the big truck 700 pounds lighter and with a significantly lower center of gravity, Ford's engineers tout a truck that is more nimble, sips less fuel, yet maintains its best-in-class towing capabilities with a remade high-strength steel chassis and two stump-pullingturbo mills. The new F-150 still rides shy of the coil-springed RAM truck, but it's no longer a leaf-spring buckboard. Take it off-road, however, and the lighter, stronger chassis really comes into its own. The big pickup has benefited from Ford's past ownership of Jaguar. The aluminum Jag taught the F-150 light-weighting and riveted manufacturing. The F-150 is no English sports car, but the same principles apply. But the aluminum diet is only half the story. With the new 2.7-liter Ecoboost, Ford promises RAM diesel-like fuel economy (EPA figures don't arrive until November, but the turbo is likely close to the diesel's 23 mpg) without the diesel's $4,000 premium. The 2.7-liter engine is $495 more than the F-150's base V-6. Like Ford's turbo-riific ST small sedans, the F-150's turbo engine has fast become the preference over bigger, thirstier V8s. Inside a well-equipped $46,600 4x4, Ecoboost Ford XLT gains size and amenities on par with its Chevy and RAM peers. These aren't your grandfather's pickups. You can enjoy the refinement of a sedan inside — while the F-150 assaults the local terrain outside.

Cartoon: Jeter retired

Posted by hpayne on October 2, 2014

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