Tirekicking Today:

Headline News from the Automotive World

by James M. Flammang

March 4, 2006

"Oscar" contenders to drive hybrids to Academy Award ceremony: Some 25 Academy Award nominees and presenters are expected to drive up to the Kodak Theater in Hollywood in environmentally-friendly vehicles. George Clooney, Felicity Huffman, Frances McDormand, Joaquin Phoenix, David Straithairn, and Jennifer Aniston are among the stars who have indicated an intention to arrive in a hybrid-powered Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry or Lexus GS 450h, or another high-mileage/low-emissions vehicle. The 78th Annual Academy Awards program takes place on Sunday, March 5.

Volkswagen launches GTI coupe and Passat wagon: Both the newly redesigned GTI sport coupe and a wagon version of the midsize Passat wenton sale in February. June brings the redesigned Golf, in two- and four-doorform. Asked about the possibility of a revived high-performance R32 (or R36), a spokesperson advised that no decision has been made.

A four-door version of the GTI debuts this fall, along with Volkswagen'sretractable-hardtop Eos. Volvo introduced its retractable-hardtop C70 coupelate this winter.

Personal bankruptcies soar in 2005: More than 2 million individualsfiled for bankruptcy during 2005, an increase of 31.6 percent over theprevious year, according to Lundquist Consulting. As reported by AutoRemarketing magazine, it's the highest annual figure ever recorded. Oneout of every 53 households sought bankruptcy protection. Federal bankruptcylaw changed as of October 17, 2005, and the number of new filings fellsharply under the new rules, which makes bankruptcy less attainable.

In a survey of consumers who visited credit-consulting firms, the NationalAssociation of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys found that 97 percent ofpotential bankrupts would be unable to repay any debts. Nearly four-fifthswound up in financial difficulty due to unforeseen circumstances, such ascatastrophic medical expenses or loss of a job. Few appear to be the"deadbeats" that proponents of changes in bankruptcy law alleged wereabusing the previous system.

Is a small-car blitz lurking? Despite concern about fuel prices andeven availability as the Middle East crisis worsen, big trucks and SUVscontinued to capture attention at the recent Chicago Auto Show. Small carswere largely ignored, but several automakers have brand-new subcompactsnearly ready for sale. Toyota has replaced its slow-selling Echo with a new Yaris, available in April as either a sedan or a hatchback. Honda isintroducing the Fit, which slots below its long-lived Civic. Nissan also is expected to introduce a new subcompact later in 2006.

Domestic automakers continue to ignore the minicar end of the spectrum, astheir smallest models are a step up in size. Dodge's new Caliber, forinstance, is taller than the Neon it replaces. Subcompacts first took holdin the late 1950s and 1960s, as a variety of import models reached U.S.shores. Their popularity peaked after the fuel crises of 1973-74 and 1979.

Used-car prices escalated in 2005: According to the 2006 Used CarMarket Report issued by Manheim, wholesale prices for used cars rose by 4.6percent during 2006. Sales of off-lease vehicles fell by a million,compared to 2003, due to fewer lease originations in recent years. Manheimis a major used-vehicle auction chain.

Vehicles are lasting longer: R.L. Polk & Company has announced thatvehicle scrappage rates fell during 2005, to the lowest figure since 1949.As repoted by Auto Remarketing magazine, the average car was nineyears old in 2005, and the average light truck was 6.6 years old. More thanone-third of light vehicles were 11 years old or older.

Dodge revives another old model name: Hornet is the name of theconcept car that Dodge is revealing at the Geneva (Switzerland) Motor Showin late February. More than half a century ago, Hudson used the Hornet namefor its most potent and luxurious model. Soon afterward, Hudson wasabsorbed, along with Nash, into the newly-formed American Motors Corp. (AMC). Chrysler Corp. (now known as DaimlerChrysler) acquired AMC in 1987.

New York Auto Show will open to public on April 14: Friday, April 14is the opening day for the New York Auto Show. Located again at the JavitsCenter, along the Hudson River in Manhattan, the New York show is laterthan usual, because Easter falls at a relatively late date. The show runsthrough April 23. Information is available at www.autoshowny.com.

© All contents copyright 2006 by Tirekicking Today
Text and photos by James M. Flammang
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