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Monday, August 22, 2011

Ferrari fetches record $16m

Ferrari fetches record $16m
Katya Kazakina New York

This 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa prototype has fetched $US16.4 million, making it the most expensive car ever sold at auction. Photo: Bloomberg

A RED 1957 Ferrari has become the most expensive car sold at auction after fetching $US16.4 million ($A15.7 million).

The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa prototype, which competed in the Le Mans 24-hour race, was on the block with hundreds of other collectible cars during a series of auctions coinciding with the annual Monterey Car Week gathering in California.

Despite recent sharemarket turmoil, buyers competed aggressively for trophy autos, establishing records for cars and auction houses.

''The ultra-rich remain ultra-rich,'' said Marcel Massini, a Swiss-based Ferrari historian, who attended several auctions last week. ''The very, very best sells easily and incredibly high.''

''The stock market being volatile almost helped us,'' said Max Girardo, managing director of RM Auctions in Europe. It makes classic cars even more desirable, he said, because they are seen as safe tangible assets.

RM Auctions set a record for a Mercedes-Benz with the $US9.7 million sale of a silver 1937 540K Spezial Roadster. The same model fetched $US8.25 million four years ago, according to Mr Girardo.

One of the star lots at the auction house Bonhams, a 1925 Rolls-Royce New Phantom, custom-designed for the Bengal tiger hunting expeditions of India's Maharajah of Kotah, failed to sell. It was expected to bring $US750,000 to $US1 million.

Also unsold was a 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Drophead Coupe owned by Sammy Davis jnr, which was expected to bring between $US475,000 and $US550,000.

At another auction held by Gooding and Co, a 1931 Duesenberg, which was expected to fetch up to $US7 million, sold for $US10.34 million, topping the $US4.5 million auction record for a ''Duesy''.

The car was commissioned by Captain George Whittell jnr, who had a pet lion and a 162-square-kilometre Lake Tahoe estate. He liquidated his entire stock portfolio for $US50 million just two weeks before the 1929 crash.

At RM Auctions, Steve McQueen's slate-gray 1970 Porsche 911s, which featured in the movie Le Mans, sold for $US1.4 million, setting a record for the model at auction.

This 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa prototype has fetched $US16.4 million, making it the most expensive car ever sold at auction.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ford Focus Electric: Delayed or ‘On Schedule?

Ford Focus Electric: Delayed or ‘On Schedule?

Will Ford Motor Co.’s electric powered Focus compact car get to market on time? Ford says yes but some expectant buyers say the company has actually pushed back and scaled down the car’s launch.
The discussion began on the My Focus Electricforum in which a prospective customer complained that the car wouldn’t be available in his his area until next spring. The writer was from the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, which is among the 19 initial markets Ford listed earlier for the Focus Electric. Ford has long said it would begin delivering the cars by the end of this year.
So, why the apparent delay?
A Ford spokesman says the launch is still on schedule and that while cars will begin trickling to customers in December, the real ramp-up of deliveries won’ t occur until 2012.
“It was never our plan to have 100,000 cars on the market in December,” he says, adding that rolling out a new car “isn’t like introducing a new iPad.”
But in some ways the new car is like the latest consumer-electronic device. Demand for electric cars these days is high relative to supply, so any perceived lengthening of the wait is magnified. Ford also may not have been clear enough about the planned scope of the initial launch. The car maker now says that with early production of the car, it will focus on filling orders in the New York area and California, which are the biggest markets.
The plan seems to downgrade the other launch markets. Here’s the original list: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh Durham, Richmond, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Google's First Self-Driving Car Crash Was Caused By a Human

Google's First Self-Driving Car Crash Was Caused By a Human
If a self-driving car hits another car, who takes the blame? Police in Mountain View, Calif. might have asked that question last week when one of Google'sautomated vehicles got into a fender bender.

Japolnik received photos from a source that witnessed the crash, which took place near Google's headquarters in Mountain View. Both cars involved in the accident were Prisues, but Google's self-driving car is identifiable by the equipment on its roof. Google hasn't released an accident report, but a source later told NBC Bay Area that there were actually five cars involved. Google's Prius struck another Prius, which then hit a Honda Accord which hit another Accord, which rounded out the pile-up by hitting a third Prius.

Ironically enough, the self-driving car wasn't actually driving itself when the accident happened.

"Safety is our top priority," a Google spokesperson told the Business Insider. "One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car."

Google gave more details to NBC. "I would also like to point out that the cars have traveled 160,000 miles autonomously without incident," Google said. "[The accident] was earlier this week in Mountain View."

The company first announced that it was developing self-driving cars last October. At the time it said it had already clocked more than 140,000 miles around the Bay Area in these cars.

In June, Nevada passed a law requiring the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to create regulations for the ownership and operation of self-driving cars. But Japolnik points out that there are no such laws in California. Officials say testing the vehicles is okay, as long as there is a human in the front seat to take over if something goes haywire.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Under cloak of secrecy, new cars will get tested at Mid-Ohio track

Under cloak of secrecy, new cars will get tested at Mid-Ohio track

The next race on the IndyCar docket is Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at the Mid- Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. But the future of IndyCar racing begins Monday at Mid- Ohio, under double-secret lockdown to everyone including race teams, media and sponsors.
This will be the first of six tests for the new Dallara Chassis by several different race teams using one of the three engines: Honda, Chevrolet or Lotus.
Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon and the Bryan Herta race team will do the Mid-Ohio test as the future of IndyCar racing officially hits the track.
“Our goals are pretty simple . . . we want to see the reliability of the car,” Herta said this week from his office in California. “We want to improve the performance of the car and we want to give all our partners time for development, so when a l l t h e teams get their cars, it’s a trackproven, readyto- run vehicle.
“It will be interesting for IndyCar, too, because i t ’ s a l l theoretical right now, but they’re going to have to make sure that the rules they have already set up are appropriate for the car.
“This car is going to be faster, lighter and safer. It’s a lot different than what we have on the track right now.”
Mid-Ohio will be the first shakedown of the new machine, which could still have some modifications to style and performance pending what the series of tests on road courses and ovals reveal.
But this transition is more than just on the track. It effectively clears every garage of its buildup of parts and apparatus from most of the last decade that allowed teams to compete on a level plane, all using the same equipment. While the Dallara chassis will be the same for all, three engines and a variety of aerodynamic packages coming next year will make for a whole new playing field for all.
For race teams such as Dreyer & Reinboldt, co-owned by Lakewood’s Robbie Buhl, this marks a step into both the competitive and financial unknown.
“The big challenge for us, we have this new car, that costs X amount, well, we don’t have any parts on the shelf for it,” Buhl began. “So we have to spend to build up some inventory, times two. And that’s to start. Right now, we don’t know what the life of a part is going to be, unlike now where we have years of data. So it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
At the same time, the unknown is part of what has so many looking forward to 2012. Going into Sunday’s Honda Indy 200, the series championship is pretty much decided, and the top five in the standings are pretty much locked in. The suspense in the series is what’s happening behind closed doors.
“It is an absolutely exciting time right now with this new car,” Buhl said. “We’re pretty vested to make sure we’re part of this next era.” In a recent release, Will Phillips, IndyCar’s vice president for technology, said everything is on target for a solid Mid-Ohio test session.
“I continue to be extremely impressed with what I see. If it can deliver what it looks like it can, it will be fantastic and exciting,” he said. Phillips said the session will be a shakedown of the chassis that has been mated to a Honda 2.2-liter V-6. Five other two-day sessions on both road courses and ovals are scheduled before the engine manufacturers— Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus — end the on-track testing in early October.
“It’s really a systems check of everything, but we’ll slowly get the car up to speed and take it from there,” Phillips said. “If on day one there are no issues, then day two, you start pushing a bit harder. . . . We need to make sure the parts from all aspects of the car are achieving their goals so we’ve got aero targets and straight-line speed targets that we’re looking to see.”
After the testing, teams can expect to get their hands on the new Dallaras, and from there, getting the car race-ready for each individual driver will begin.
“We’re excited the car is going to get out and turn some lap time,” Tom Wurtz, team manager for Kalkhoven- Vasser, said recently. “Once all the teams know and declare what engine manufacturers they will use, then it will all start to unfold. You’re going to throw away the old playbook and start fresh again. You have to look at the whole program: parts, testing, suspension and so on.
It will be a new day on the race track
“We’re starting over, and I don’t think that’s something any of these teams have done for quite a while. Us, Newman-Haas, we’ve got a little fresher experience with converting [to a new car, after the ChampCar merger in 2008]. But some of the other teams haven’t done anything like this in seven or eight years.”
Dreyer & Reinboldt comes under that heading, and Buhl is keenly aware of the challenges ahead.
“We’d really like to be a two-car team,” Buhl said. “We’ll have to see if that is viable starting out. The past two years, for example, we have had enough inventory built up since 2003, 2004 with cars and parts that we could put four cars into the field at Indianapolis [and two for the series]. Until we know the exact availability for everything, I’m not sure if an effort like that will be possible at Indy next year.
“We’ll have 27 cars at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Next year it might be 20 and [a 33-car field] at Indy is going to be a tough deal. That’s just one unknown when you go into a transition year.”
And that is just one of the issues to be resolved. The other is who gets what in terms of powerplants. “It’s going to be interesting here the next 30 days, as [teams] make their commitments to engine manufacturers,” Buhl said. “The deadline for that is the end of August. Manufacturers are picking teams, not the other way around. It’s up to them, we don’t control that. That’s an interesting dynamic, too.
“I get the sense from Honda and Chevy, they want to be around 10 cars each, which l guess leaves another six to 10 for Lotus. Now is that eight [for Honda and Chevy] or is that 12? Which could be the difference between fields under 20 or well over 20. We’ll see.”
“The playing field is pretty level right now,” Buhl said. “At a super speedway, Ganassi and Penske probably got it figured out a bit over many of us. But at Toronto, the field is covered by 1.2 seconds. It wasn’t that long ago, at a race like Toronto, 1.2 seconds probably covered the first 10 or 12. We’re talking 26 cars now.
“These things are rock solid. Everybody is pretty much finishing races; you don’t have gearbox problems, brake problems, engine problems, all of which often come when there is a transition.”
“But it is definitely time for a change. Time for new cars.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

6 ways to make sure your car gets stolen

6 ways to make sure your car gets stolen

A car is stolen somewhere in the United States every 40 seconds, according to the FBI, but yours doesn't have to be among the hundreds of thousands that go missing each year.

Most vehicles are taken because the owners are careless or much too trusting. If you want to avoid losing your set of wheels, start "thinking like a bad guy," advises crime-prevention consultant Art Adkins.

Thinking like a thief means looking for crimes of opportunity, explains Adkins, a police lieutenant in Gainesville, Fla. Before you walk away from your parked car, ask yourself:
Is your car an attractive theft target where it's parked?
How easy have you made it for someone to break in?
Have you bothered to use an anti-theft device?

Law enforcement agencies and car insurance companies try to educate consumers about the best ways to keep their vehicles safe.

"The crime triangle works on three things," says Adkins. "One point is the suspect, one is the victim and one is opportunity. Opportunity is what we have to eliminate."

No one method is foolproof, but the more layers of security you create, the greater the chance that a car thief simply will move on to an easier target, says Michelle Staton, executive director of the Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority. If you prefer to live dangerously, here are six things guaranteed to put your car at high risk of being stolen.

1. Leave your car doors unlocked

This may sound like a no-brainer, but many auto thefts happen when people forget to lock their doors. A locked door is the first line of defense.

"About 50 percent of cars stolen are left unlocked and sometimes have the keys in the ignition," says Staton.

Most car thieves won't bother breaking into a locked car when there are so many unlocked autos to choose from, says Frank Scafidi, spokesperson for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

2. Park your car in dark, deserted areas

When it comes to choosing a safe place to park, trust your instincts, Adkins says. Most of us know that dark, isolated spots are more likely to attract car thieves. However, when you're late for a movie and all the best parking places are taken, it's easy to ignore the voice within. Adkins urges you to go with your gut reaction.

"If you think it is in a bad location, more than likely it is," he says.

3. Don't use anti-theft devices

The more barriers you create to theft, the safer your car will be. Although they are low-tech, old-fashioned and relatively cheap, steering wheel locks remain an effective deterrent.

"For a passive thief, a Club can make them go on to the next vehicle," explains Carole Walker, executive director of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association in Colorado.

Some people prefer audible alarms that draw attention to vehicles that are being tampered with. Smart keys with computer chips come standard in some new cars. Another good anti-theft device is an ignition kill switch that prevents thieves from starting your motor.

It may sound like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, but auto-tracking devices are available that can help law enforcement officials find stolen cars using satellite and cell tower technology. Also, anti-theft systems often bring discounts that lower your auto insurance quotes .

4. Drop your guard when you get home

Many people take precautions against car theft while traveling, but become complacent when they return to the familiarity of their own neighborhoods. That's a big mistake, says Sgt. John Delaney, a spokesperson for the Springfield, Mass., Police Department.

"A lot of people have the misconception that if it is parked in their driveway it is safe," he says. "They leave the doors open, windows down, keys in the car. It is an open invitation for someone to jump in the car and get going."

Always lock your car and use anti-theft devices, even when parked at home. If you have a garage, use it and keep it locked.

5. Assume that your old beater is safe from theft

No matter how old and beat up your car is, you can never completely rule out the possibility of theft.

"Many times [old cars] are easier to break into," says Walker says. "Many times these models are stolen for parts, because they are easy to sell on the stolen parts market."

Staton says parts from a dismantled car may sell for much more than the car could command if sold intact.

In some cases, criminals don't care about the value of the car they're stealing. They simply need temporary transportation.

6. Leave your motor running

When the weather is hot, you may be tempted to leave your vehicle running to keep the air conditioning powered while you dash into a bank or convenience store.

In such cases, you may end up paying a big price for trying to keep cool. It only takes seconds for an observant thief to jump inside your unattended car. In cold weather, thieves also target cars that have been left running in driveways to warm up.

Your valuables are a neon sign

After you've taken steps to avoid auto theft, make sure you've done nothing to encourage someone to burglarize your vehicle. Adkins says many people foolishly leave money, GPS devices and packages from high-end retail stores visible in their cars. For a thief, that's an invitation that's hard to resist.

"Those are like neon signs," warns Adkins. "When you walk into a store, you are looking for a sale. That is how the bad guys shop. They are looking for visual cues."

Take the time to put valuables out of sight in your car's trunk, he advises. If you have a minivan or SUV that lacks a secure trunk, cover valuable items with a blanket.

Insuring against auto theft
When you shop for car insurance rates , remember that you need to buy comprehensive auto insurance in order to be covered in case your vehicle is stolen, vandalized, burned or damaged by weather. Check out the most stolen cars in 2010 .

Your home insurance covers the loss if your possessions are stolen from your car.storyid=88916#ixzz1U5GotFly

But in both cases the claim payment will be reduced by the amount of your deductible.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

American Customers Still Paying For Bells and Whistles

American Customers Still Paying For Bells and Whistles: Transaction Prices Rise in July
By Justin Stoltzfus

Along with all of the other information that’s coming from major auto analyst firm TrueCar, one of the major revelations for the beginning of August is that, although many more families are doing without bigger and more expensive vehicles, the transaction prices for many modern cars and other rides are actually going up, indicating that more than a few buyers are still looking for vehicles jam-packed with new and exciting features. Specifically, a TrueCar report from the beginning of this month shows transaction prices rising year-over-year for auto makers Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Hyundai. Models for GM, Nissan and Toyota showed a slight decline in transaction prices overall.

This revelation would seem to show that in a time when personal budgets are leaner, consumers are still willing to spend on all the bells and whistles that the range of auto makers are offering in today’s twenty-first century market. In many vehicles, new proprietary tech options are major sellers, whether it’s the SYNC system from Ford or company navigation and audiovisual dashboard items from other makers. Bluetooth and similar technologies also raise the final price for a car sale. On the safety side, some of the newest and most expensive features include things like electronic stability control, blind spot monitoring, collision sensing, rollover sensors, and parallel parking assistance. Some of these items will actually bring accident risks down, but it’s always necessary for buyers to think about how these extras will affect their bottom line.

Another issue that TrueCar deals with is the changing rates of incentive spending that have an effect on buyers. As of the beginning of this month, it seems that incentive spending for all auto makers is slightly up from June, but down in year-over-year comparisons. According to TrueCar’s charts, the biggest current incentive spenders are Nissan with an 8.9% increase, and Honda with a 7.6% increase. This kind of information is useful to buyers who are about to visit a lot, and who are looking for the best combination of rebates and incentives and financing deals to make their purchases less costly over time. For those who are trying to buy more features with less income, it’s even more necessary to take advantage of local deals and special offers from manufacturers in order to control what you pay for your next car.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Aston Martin Defending Independence as Technology Ages

Aston Martin Defending Independence as Technology Ages

Aston Martin, the British luxury car brand, wants to defend its independence by squeezing profits out of aging technology.

The British manufacturer, whose best seller is the $113,400 Vantage coupe, plans to develop additional models off an eight- year-old platform. The approach reflects the limits on Aston Martin, which can't tap development resources of a big parent like Volkswagen AG's Lamborghini and Fiat SpA's Ferrari.

"The models are starting to have a slight whiff of Sunday dinner being used in sandwiches later in the week," said Andrew Jackson, an analyst at research firm Datamonitor in London. "It leaves the impression of a company stretching itself as far as it can. In the industry that they operate in, with their competitors, they really need to be cutting edge."

Aston Martin, sold by Ford Motor Co. to a group of private investors including Kuwait's Investment Dar Co. in 2007, is outgunned in the luxury-car segment. Daimler AG, the parent of Mercedes-Benz, plans to spend about 5 billion euros ($7.1 billion) this year on research and development. That's more than eight times the Gaydon, England-based company's revenue of 509 million pounds ($830 million) for the 12 months ended March 31.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, which owns the Rolls-Royce marque, is building a factory to make lightweight carbon fibers for a line of electric-powered vehicles, as it adapts to demand for cleaner cars. It's also developing front-wheel drive BMW models and expanding the Mini brand with a coupe and roadster.

Rapid Change

"The next 10 years will see more change in the auto industry than the past 100," as the industry adopts new technologies, Ian Robertson, the Munich-based automaker's sales chief, said at an event in Frankfurt last week.

Independence can be risky for small carmakers. Saab, the Swedish brand sold by General Motors Co. in February 2010, was forced to halt production in April because of a cash shortage. The company is seeking to raise fresh financing and agree on payment and delivery terms with suppliers in a bid to restart manufacturing later this month.

Large carmakers can help niche manufacturers stay competitive by spreading development costs across brands and models. Fiat owns Maserati and Alfa Romeo as well as Ferrari. VW is merging with Porsche SE to add the maker of the 911 to its upscale brands. The Lamborghini Gallardo shares the same platform with the R8 from VW's Audi unit, while the Bentley Continental Flying Spur and GT models are based on the same underpinnings as the VW Phaeton.

'Same Design'

Aston Martin's lack of resources has led to a portfolio of similar models. Of its 15 current vehicles, all but the four- door Rapide and Cygnet city car are two-door coupes or roadsters. Aside from the 1 million-pound One-77 supercar and the Cygnet, which is derived from Toyota Motor Corp.'s iQ, all cars are based on the same aluminum platform that was first introduced in 2003 with the DB9.

"It's still that same old basic design," Ian McCallum, who designed the DB9 and is now design director at Tata Motors Ltd.'s Jaguar Land Rover unit, said in a July 27 interview. "Some will argue that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But you do get to a time when you have to move on."

Still, Aston Martin has made a virtue of necessity by using its so-called vertical-horizontal platform as the basis for more and more high-end models, including the 330,000-pound Zagato, which will start deliveries next year.

Higher Prices

"All the projects that we are doing have to make a profit," Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Bez, 66, told journalists at the company's Gaydon headquarters. "We can't afford a project that is just a marketing tool."

The strategy has pushed up the average price of Aston Martin cars 49 percent to 104,000 pounds last year from 70,000 pounds in 2007, the company said at the July 6 briefing.

By recycling technology and using engines from Ford, Aston Martin can keep costs and development times down. That's secured Aston Martin a profit margin of about 20 percent, nearly double Mercedes's 10.7 percent return on sales in the second quarter.

"We don't make the mistake of applying manufacturing techniques that are perfectly sensible for 500,000-a-year models to small-volume cars," Chief Financial Officer Hanno Kirner said. Aston Martin sold 4,299 cars in the year through March 31.

That focus has given Aston Martin breathing room after Investment Dar, which owns half of the British manufacturer, missed a $100 million Islamic bond payment in May 2009. The closely held company in June raised 304 million pounds through the sale of high-yield bonds.

With the new financing, the company has sufficient resources to finance its development, which includes expansion in China. An initial public offering will be explored when the company sees the "right window," Bez said.

--Editors: Chris Reiter, Sara Marley

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ad-wrapped rental cars launch in Atlanta

Ad-wrapped rental cars launch in Atlanta

by Carla Caldwell

Motorists who don’t mind driving a rolling advertisement can get a discount when renting from Atlanta Budget Rent a Car. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based rental car company has launched advertisement-wrapped cars in Atlanta, hoping to cash in on leisure travelers willing to promote a product in exchange for discounts, reports the Washington Post.

Budget is working with Sheets Brand Energy Strips on the project brokered by Wrap Media Group, the newspaper reported. Budget chose to launch the campaign in Atlanta, because the market is one of the company’s larger hubs.

The discount offered depends on where the car will travel. Rental car customers are asked their destination before the amount is tallied. One woman told the newspaper her family rented an ad-wrapped SUV for a four-day trip to Florida for close to $88, when it typically would have cost closer to $300.