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 went on sale in February. June brings the redesigned Golf, in two- and four-door form. 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's retractable-hardtop Eos. Volvo introduced its retractable-hardtop C70 coupe late this winter.

Personal bankruptcies soar in 2005: More than 2 million individuals filed for bankruptcy during 2005, an increase of 31.6 percent over the previous year, according to Lundquist Consulting. As reported by Auto Remarketing magazine, it's the highest annual figure ever recorded. One out of every 53 households sought bankruptcy protection. Federal bankruptcy law changed as of October 17, 2005, and the number of new filings fell sharply under the new rules, which makes bankruptcy less attainable.

In a survey of consumers who visited credit-consulting firms, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys found that 97 percent of potential bankrupts would be unable to repay any debts. Nearly four-fifths wound up in financial difficulty due to unforeseen circumstances, such as catastrophic medical expenses or loss of a job. Few appear to be the "deadbeats" that proponents of changes in bankruptcy law alleged were abusing the previous system.

Is a small-car blitz lurking? Despite concern about fuel prices and even availability as the Middle East crisis worsen, big trucks and SUVs continued to capture attention at the recent Chicago Auto Show. Small cars were largely ignored, but several automakers have brand-new subcompacts nearly 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 is introducing 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, as their smallest models are a step up in size. Dodge's new Caliber, for instance, is taller than the Neon it replaces. Subcompacts first took hold in 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 Car Market Report issued by Manheim, wholesale prices for used cars rose by 4.6 percent during 2006. Sales of off-lease vehicles fell by a million, compared to 2003, due to fewer lease originations in recent years. Manheim is a major used-vehicle auction chain.

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

Dodge revives another old model name: Hornet is the name of the concept car that Dodge is revealing at the Geneva (Switzerland) Motor Show in late February. More than half a century ago, Hudson used the Hornet name for its most potent and luxurious model. Soon afterward, Hudson was absorbed, 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 14 is the opening day for the New York Auto Show. Located again at the Javits Center, along the Hudson River in Manhattan, the New York show is later than usual, because Easter falls at a relatively late date. The show runs through 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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