Thursday, June 16, 2011

Old Concept Cars That Still Look Great Today

A life of a concept car has only two distinct possibilities, it could spawn a production version that resembles it or it can go the company museum and never make it to the dealership. Here is a pair of concept cars from the past that generated a lot of buzz back in their day for their excellent styling. While a lot of concept cars look tremendous when they debut these two famous concept cars still look great enough to make a 2013 model year production version for the streets.

Ford GT90

Unveiled at the 1995 North American International Auto Show the GT90 was the 1990s update on the classic Le Mans winning Ford GT40 of the late 1960s. Backing up its extreme supercar styling was a 720 horsepower twin-turbo V12. While the GT90 never made it into production its "Edge" styling with sharp triangular shapes influenced Ford design in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the last pre-retro Mustang and first generation Focus are good examples. It wasn't until 2005 and the Ford GT that a true Ford supercar was born. While the closest anyone got to driving the GT90 was Need For Speed II, its design still looks great today and with few modern touches and updates would make an excellent halo car for Ford even today.

Click on the photo to see the GT90 from all angles.

Volkswagen Microbus

Once again the North American International Auto Show was the place for the Microbus concept debut in 2001. Featuring styling twenty times more adventurous and exciting than any minivan before it was immediately a crowd favorite. Unlike Ford with the GT90, Volkswagen was actually considering making the retro inspired Microbus into a production version. Unfortunately Volkswagen scrapped the project in 2005 and instead started selling a rebadged Dodge Caravan as the Routan in the states. Fortunately it looks like Volkswagen might be regretting its decision as it showed a 7/10th version of an updated Microbus concept called the Bulli in Geneva this year. While the Bulli might make it to production as a Kia Soul size competitor it wouldn't be nearly as cool as a real full size Microbus. With the Routan experiencing only mild sales maybe the Microbus has a chance as a second generation Routan. One can only hope. Click the image below to see more.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Audi Wins 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans

In one of the closest and most competitive 24 Hours of Le Mans in recent history Audi won the 79th edition of the famous twice around the clock French endurance classic by only a mere 13.854 seconds after 355 laps of hard racing. The number 2 Audi R18 TDI driven by Andre Loterrer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer finished only seconds ahead of the number 9 Peugeot 908. Rounding out the podium was the number 8 Peugeot 908 that finished two laps behind. While the race ended with an Audi victory things looked bleak for Audi after two of its three brand new R18s were destroyed in horrific-looking accidents. Fortunately neither Allan McNish nor Mike Rockenfeller were seriously injured in their accidents. Contrary to the past few years when the Audi R15 and R10 were slower than their Peugeot competition the R18 proved to be just a bit quicker than the new 908. In the P2 category the Nissan Zytek of Greaves Motorsports took class honors with 326 laps completed. Corvette Racing number 73 ZR1 won the GTE Pro category ahead of the AF Corse Ferrari 458 and the BMW M3 GT while the number 50 Labre Competition ZR1 took top honors in GTE AM category.

Looking back at the race this one will be remembered for its incredible fight between Audi and Peugeot and the two heavy R18 impacts. With less than an hour of the race completed Audi had lost its most experienced team with 13 combined Le Mans victories. Things would get worse for the team as the defending champions would be out of the race early in the night. The Audi team must be commended for staying together after the hard impacts and persevering against the three Peugeots that were almost willing to trade one of their cars for the remaining Audi. In the end the little extra pace that Audi had over the pace along with the ability to run their drivers and tires for longer at a time allowed Audi to win even with a few extra stops for fuel .

In P2 the Greaves Motorsport team won by a comfortable margin in their Zytek Nissa that appeared to be the powerplant of choice in P2.Of note was the second place finish of the "Playstation Driver" Lucas Ordonez driving for the Singatech team, time to hit the couch and start racing. As always the competition in GT category was exciting if perhaps not as close as before. The #74 Corvette benefited from the first safety car period to get a significant lead on the class only to crash out later. It was the #73 Corvette that was eventually able to hunt down and pass the Af Corse 458 Italia that was suffering mechanical issues. Coming third in class was the #56 BMW M3 GT, BMW must be somewhat dissapointed by not being able to match their qualifying pace. Of note was the lack of a 911 on the podium in perhaps the last Le Mans for the 997. The Labre Competition team took first and second in GT AM. However, the biggest story in the class was the Robertson Racing Ford GT-Doran team of husband and wife Dave and Andrea Robertson (and pro driver David Murry )that won the race on their wedding anniversary. While this is a great story, not everyone feels that amateur drivers belong at such a fiercely competitive race such as Le Mans. Make your own decision on this one.

Le Mans 2011 was one of the best of all time thanks to Audi and Peugeot pushing each other to the limit and then some. Take a look at the final results here and relive the race through our hourly updates here.

The victorious number 2 Audi team of Andre Loterrer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

2011 24 Hours of Le Mans

First Hourly Update
The Audis were slightly quicker on the track than the Peugeots and were able to save some time while refueling from the looks of it as they were running 1-2-3 about 15 seconds ahead of the nearest Peugeot after the first stop. Nearly at the one hour mark the #3 Audi of McNish was involved in a serious accident bringing out the safety car. Retiring early was the #009 Aston. Corvette is first and second leading the GT category after a timely pre safety car pit stop.

Second Update
After over an hour of safety car period to fix the safety barrier we are back to green racing with the number 2 Audi leading four Peugeots and the number 1 Audi in fifth after a nose change. The Oreca Nissan leads P2 while the #74 Corvette leads GT after separating from other GTs because of the multiple safety cars.

Third Update
With four hours and 57 laps complete the number 2 Audi leads the three factory Peugeots. P2 and GTE Pro leaders remain unchanged while the #60 Aston Martin leads in GTE Am.

With five hours gone by, the action on the track has calmed somewhat as the number 7 Peugeot is leading the number 2 Audi by 15 seconds but the two cars are running on different pit strategies.

A quarter of the way through the race the competitors are doing a good job getting through the traffic and battling the dirty race track. Current leaders in the classes are Audi, Oreca, BMW and the Labre Corvette.

Seven Hour Update
The number 2 Audi has been able to increase its lead over the chasing Peugeot to make a pit stop and still come out ahead. Corvette is first and second in GT Pro. The track is getting darker now.

Eight Hour Update
Nearly eight hours into the race the #1 Audi had contact with a GT Ferrari and crashed heavily into a barrier at extremely high speed, Mike Rockenfeller got out of the car on his own.

Nine Hour Update
We should be going to green racing soon after nearly an hour and a half delay, Rocky is said to be ok but is undergoing checks. Just heard a McNish interview and he is also ok after his earlier accident as well.

Ten hour update
After nearly 2.5 hours of safety car period we are back to actual racing with the #2 Audi at the front of the field as the sole Audi remaining. Mike Rockenfeller has called his parents and appears to have escaped his accident with minimal injuries. The emotions for the Audi team and its drivers are hard to imagine.

After the restart Audi leads by over two minutes while Oreca is first in P2 and Corvette leads the AF Corse Ferrari in GT Pro.

One Hour Left to Halfway
Almost halfway done with the race and the #2 Audi continues to lead by around two minutes. The #41 Zytek Nisan has captured the P2 lead while the Corvette team continues to lead the Ferrari in Gt Pro.

12 Hours to Go
Audi continues to lead over Peugeot by almost two minutes while the Zytek Nissan and Corvette lead their classes receptively.

Almost Sunrise
Night time racing continues at Le Mans with all of the teams fighting fatigue and waiting for the sun to rise once again. Audi continues to lead (but it looks like the number #2 is taking things slightly slower now) as the leaders remain the same from the last update.

As the sun has risen over Le Mans, the Peugeot has caught up to Audi and is only 2 seconds behind the leading Audi.

8 Hours Left
With eight hours left to go Peugeot is first and second but the third place Audi is only 35 seconds back after its pit stop. Greaves Motorsport has a two lap lead in P2 while Corvette continues to lead Ferrari in Gt Pro.

With a little over 7 hours left in the race the GT leading Corvette lost control and hit a Porsche and then both hit the wall. Safety car is out once again after another big impact and debris on track. Before the safety cars numerous cars were posting their quickest times of the race thanks to better track conditions.

7 Hours Left
The number 2 Audi is less than a second behind the #9 Peugeot and we have a battle on the track after almost 18 hours of racing, brilliant.

6 Hours Left
Audi has passed for the overall lead and now has a lead of about 15 seconds over the Peugeots.

5 Hours Left
The number 2 Audi leads by about 30 seconds over the 9 Peugeot, the number 7 Peugeot has front end damage and is being fixed in the pits. Looks like it's a two horse race for the overall win. Zytek Nissan leads by two laps in P2 while the Af Corse has a lap lead over the #73 Corvette. The Labre competition Corvette leads in GT AM.

4 Hours Left
Audi leads by almost a minute but the Peugeot of Anthony Davidson is trying to slow it down and not get lapped again. The Treluyer piloted Audi is on its fifth sting. Greaves Motorsports continues to lead in P2 by four laps now. Top two GT Pro cars are now on the same lap making things more interesting in GT. There are reports of small showers on some parts of the race track with a chance for rain in the near future. Just another element to make the race even more challenging for the drivers.

3 Hours to Go
Andre Lotterer leads in his number 2 Audi by over a minute as he continues to be blocked by the other Peugeots as he laps them. Corvette has taken over the lead in GTE Pro. It appears the rain never picked up and has not forced any team to use anything but slicks yet.

2 Hours To Go
The rain has picked up now with some teams running intermediates. The Audi has a minute lead at the front while Corvette has caught up and passed the Ferrari for GT lead. The #16 Pescarolo running fifth has crashed and is out of the race. Tire choice will be become interesting very soon, very much like in the Audi documentary, "Truth in 24"

1.5 Hours Left
With and hour and thirty minutes left Audi continues to lead by over a minute but is continually blocked by every lapped Peugeot it approaches. The race track is drying out and lap times are now falling.

55 Minutes Left
The race leading Audi has pitted for fuel but will need a splash and go to finish up the race. It looks like the #9 Peugeot will need a pit stop as well. We are in for an extremely close finish to the 2011 edition of 24 Hours of Le Mans.

25 Minutes Left
Audi has a 10 second lead after both contenders are fueled and ready to go. It might be starting to rain harder now.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Audi Sweeps Front Row in Le Mans Qualifying

For a race in which pole position means practically nothing Thursday's qualifying sessions brought a great show for the fans. The #2 Audi R18 piloted by Benoît Tréluyer set the quickest time of 3 minutes and 25.738 seconds around the 8.469 mile long Circuit de la Sarthe. The #1 Audi of Romain Dumas was only 0.061 of a second behind to secure an all Audi front row. The quickest Peugeot was the #9 which was just 0.272 of a second behind pole position. In fact in one of the closest qualifying rounds in recent years the top six competitors were all separated by under six tenth of a second. This year the brand new Audi R18 and the equally brand new Peugeot 908 are running as close together as the two rivals ever have setting up an extremely competitive race tomorrow. With the ACO mandated slow refilling for the diesel cars fuel economy will likely play an important role along with running a clean race with no driver errors or mechanical problems.

First in the P2 category was the #26 Signatech Nissan with a time of 3 minutes and 41.458 seconds while the #55 BMW Motorsport M3 GT took the top spot in the GT Pro category with a time of 3:57.592. The #61 AF Corse F430 was the quickest in the GTE AM category with a time of 4:01.282.

The 79th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans starts at 3 PM local time or 9 AM Easter/6 AM Pacific. Stay tuned here for an hourly blog updates. Catch the race on Speed and on the Speed online stream here. Listen to the entire race with Radio Le Mans and stay up to date with live timing and scoring. Follow the race for the lead even closer with special access directly from Audi
and Peugeot.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May 2011 Sales Recap

May 2011 delivered a mixed bag for the auto industry with some brands continuing their exceptional sales pace while others experienced heavy loses. Overall combined sales by all automakers fell nearly four percent compared to last year because of limited supply, higher gas prices and lower discounts. May was the first time this year the auto industry could not improve upon last year's sales. Japanese manufacturers carried the burden with the most significant supply limitation and thus experienced the largest drops in May with Toyota seeing a 32% drop and Lexus falling nearly 45%. Honda and Acura also saw sales drops of over 20% while Subaru and Infiniti posted double digit declines as well. Continued higher gas prices saw domestic manufacturers post modest gains for the month, powered by exceptional Jeep sales the Chrysler group did outsell Toyota to regain the number three sales rank in the country. Continuing their surging sales Hyundai and Kia combined to outsell Honda and Nissan thanks to improvements of 20.7 and 53.4% over the past year. Doing well also were luxury automakers with Bentley, Porsche, Jaguar, BMW and Audi experiencing significant sales improvements. Take a look at the chart below to see how all of the brands did in May.

A couple of days ago a Nissan Leaf commercial mocking the Chevy Volt debuted on You Tube, while the commercial probably had little effect on Leaf sales just yet (set to run on TV starting June 10) the Leaf did fine on its own posting its best sales yet of 1,142. While the Leaf is still selling relatively low numbers overall (lower than the Porsche Cayenne) it nearly doubled its April sales while Chevy sold only 481 Volts, slightly fewer than in April. All in all Chevy has sold 2,184 Volts in 2011 to Nissan's 2,167 Leafs.