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In Gear

In Gear offers a fresh look at the world of cars – its technology, economics, and future – through the eyes of Monitor staffers and other automobile writers from around the world. 

A Nissan Leaf charges at an electric vehicle charging station in Portland, Ore. The Nissan Leaf battery-electric car logged 2,003 deliveries in November, precisely one car more than the October car sales of 2,002. (Rick Bowmer/AP/File)

November car sales: Plug-in electric cars hold steady

By John VoelckerGuest blogger / 12.03.13

As the year winds toward a close, U.S. car sales are at their highest levels in years. And modern plug-in electric cars will set a new sales record too.

With one month left, November deliveries of cars with plugs look like they'll hold steady with last month's.

The Chevrolet Volt sold 1,920 units last month, against 2,022 in October, bringing its sales for the year to date to 20,702.

Sales of the Volt through the first 11 months of the year are now essentially equal with those from last year, despite a $5,000 price cut on the 2014 Volt in August.  ( Continue… )

An Audi A4 logo is pictured at the production line of the German car manufacturer's plant in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt. The Audi Q1, due out in 2016, will be produced at the Ingolstadt plant. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters/File)

Audi Q1 compact crossover coming in 2016

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 12.03.13

The last few years have seen dozens of new crossovers join the market, and latest into the fray is the Audi Q1, set to appear in 2016.

The appeal of crossover vehicles is clear--they offer the looks and some of the ability of SUVs, but their car-based origins means better on-road handling, better performance and usually, better fuel economy.

Audi already sells a whole range of crossovers and SUVs, from the A6-based Allroad through the Q5, to the huge Q7. In Europe and some other markets, Audi also sells the A3-based Q3--not unsurprisingly, sitting below the Q5 in the automaker's range.

The Q1 would find a further niche below these models. Size-wise, it'll compete with vehicles like the MINI Countryman and Nissan Juke. Pricing too is expected to rival the Countryman, according to Autocar( Continue… )

Matthew Miller of Omaha shops for a car in Omaha, Neb. Nearly all the major automakers that sell vehicles in the US posted big car sales gains year-over-year in November (Nati Harnik/AP/File)

November car sales bring good tidings for auto industry

By Marty PadgettGuest blogger / 12.03.13

Americans spent more money on new cars last month than in any November in history, driving new-car sales to more post-recession highs.

Nearly all the major automakers that sell vehicles in the U.S. posted big sales gains year-over-year in November, with just a brand or two striking a sour note.

GM says its sales rose 14 percent, while Ford was up 7 percent and Chrysler, up 16 percent; Nissan sales grew 10.7 percent, while Toyota posted a 5.9-percent gain.

Among other brands, Jaguar Land Rover sales rose 37 percent, and Audi was up 13 percent--while Volkswagen watched sales drop 16.3 percent.  ( Continue… )

A sign alerts travelers to expect holiday traffic at George Bush Intercontinental Airport last year in Houston. Thanksgiving travel will be busy as usual, but projections for both road and air travel are down slightly from last year. (David J. Phillip/AP/File)

Thanksgiving 2013: fewer travelers on the roads

By Richard ReadGuest blogger / 11.26.13

If you live in the U.S. and plan to travel this holiday week, you're not alone. According to AAA, over 43 million Americans -- 43.4 million, to be exact -- are expecting to do the same.

That sounds like lots of traffic headaches in the making -- and in fairness, it probably is. But it's worth noting that AAA's 2013 travel projections are down slightly from last year, when 44 million Americans packed their bags.

The biggest drop will be seen in airline travel. AAA expects that 3.14 million Americans will fly the friendly skies this week -- a dip of 3.7 percent from the 3.26 million who flew last year.

Auto travel will be off, too. According to AAA projections, 38.9 million motorists will hit the road this holiday, 1.6 percent fewer than last year.

However, while fewer people may be traveling this week, those who do will be going farther. In 2012, Thanksgiving travelers journeyed an average of 588 miles round-trip. In 2013, that number is expected to jump to 601.

The nice news for motorists isn't just that they'll have more elbow room on the highway:gas prices will be lower, too. The current cost for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline is $3.28, but AAA notes that in many parts of the country, the price has slipped below $3.00.Thanksgiving gas prices haven't been that low since the fall of 2010.

The news isn't quite as good for those hoping to rent a car for the drive: rental rates are up six percent over Thanksgiving of 2013.  

AAA attributes the decline in travel -- both on the roads and in the skies -- to the sluggish U.S. economic recovery, which has made consumers nervous about shelling out for getaways. Then again, it might also have something to do with Americans' tendency to drive less nowadays

Americans: are you heading out this holiday week? If not, what's keeping you close to home? The cost? Work? Aunt Paula's unpalatable cranberry compote? If you've changed your traditional plans, we'd love to know why -- tell us all about it in the comments below.

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk walks past the Tesla Model S after a news conference at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. last year. In response to Tesla press release stating the Model S sedan had achieved a 5.4 out of 5 safety rating, the NHTSA has tightened up its safety rules. (Paul Sakuma/AP/File)

Telsa 'record' makes NHTSA ratings stricter

By Richard Read / 11.23.13

Over the summer, Tesla tried to create a new safety ratings system for its Model S sedan. In case you missed it, the automaker issued a press release that said:

NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, however safety levels better than 5 stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.

Now in fairness, the Model S did perform very well -- in fact, it broke some of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's equipment during the testing process.

But NHTSA wasn't down with Tesla's creative math -- not by a long shot. In fact, it did everything but send CEO Elon Musk a cease-and-desist letter taped to a horse's head. In a statement, the agency said that it has plenty of guidelines for advertisers who want to tout their safety scores, and for Tesla to create a completely fictitious "5.4" rating was a direct violation of those rules. ( Continue… )

George Blankenship, Tesla Motors Vice President, Worldwide Sales & Ownership Experience speaks at media previews for the North American International Auto Show in January. Blankenship reportedly left Tesla Motors earlier this week. (Paul Sancya/AP Photo/File )

Bad day for Tesla: Sales VP Blankenship out, NHTSA threat

By John VoelckerGuest blogger / 11.22.13

There must be days where Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk feels his multiple burdens more acutely than others.

Today may be one, because yesterday was not a good day for Tesla.

First, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a new set of publicity rules for its crash-testing results that contained an explicit threat to Tesla.

You may remember that the Model S performed very well on those tests--so well, in fact, that it broke some of the NHTSA's testing equipment during the process.

Then you may recall that the NHTSA rebuked Tesla for a Tesla press release that said, NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, however safety levels better than 5 stars arecaptured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.  ( Continue… )

Off-roaders ride Polaris-brand ATVs in Glamis, Calif. Polarishas begin selling airless tires for one of its ATV models. (PRNewsFoto/Polaris/File)

Airless tires can survive bullets, railroad spikes

By Stephne EdelsteinGuest blogger / 11.19.13

Polaris has finally put airless tires on sale. The Polaris Sportsman WV850 H.O. ATV is the first vehicle to offer them and, considering that it's inspired by the MV850 military ATV, that seems appropriate. They pretty much make it the ultimate post-apocalyptic four-wheeler.

According to Polaris, the TerrainArmor tires, can take a direct hit from a .50-caliber round and still drive 350 miles; they can also last 1,000 miles after running over a railroad spike. How do they do it?

The tires' inner structure is a mesh design that supports the weight of the vehicle, while still being flexible enough to soak up bumps. There's still a rubber outer tread so, like conventional tires, different tread patterns can be developed for different applications.

In addition to not never needing a trip to the gas station's air pump, the TerrainArmor tires are reportedly less wasteful, because only the outer tread section needs to be replaced. They also offer a more comfortable ride and reduce noise, according to Polaris. The airless tire was actually developed by Resilient Technologies, a Wisconsin startup Polaris acquired last year, presumably for this tire tech.

The Polaris Sportsman WV850 H.O. goes on sale next month with a starting price of $14,999, but only in "very limited quantities." Other features include a steel exoskeleton chassis, and a 1,500-pound towing capacity.

Drivers looking to put airless tires on their cars might have to wait a little longer, though. Michelin introduced the concept of the airless tire with the "Tweel" in 2005, and both Bridgestone and Hankook have subsequently unveiled their own version of the concept. However, none of these automotive airless tires have been put on sale yet.

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The 2014 Mini Cooper includes several new safety features, including a heads-up display, backup camera, collision and pedestrian warning systems, a parking assistant, and a speed limit information system. (Courtesy of MINI Cooper)

2014 Mini Cooper: bulkier, safer, and a new platform

By Viknesh VijayenthiranGuest blogger / 11.19.13

The third generation of the modern MINI Cooper has finally been revealed, with the launch coinciding with the 107th anniversary of the birth of Sir Alec Issigonis, the designer of the original Mini. The car has been completely redesigned and debuts a new platform dubbed “UKL” which will eventually underpin a handful of new models from MINI as well as some from parent company BMW.

The new MINI Cooper goes on sale in March 2014 but only this three-door ‘Hardtop’ variant will be new for the 2014 model year. Replacements for the current Cooper Convertible, Cooper Clubman and Countryman are all planned but will be released in upcoming model years. (ALSO SEE: Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo Concept Revealed)

The latest evolution of the iconic design signals the more mature character of the new model, reflected by the car’s bulkier size, new safety features and improved quality. A new generation of engines is also offered, along with some upmarket features such as the MINI Connected infotainment system, new LED headlamps and head-up display.

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Overall length is 151.1 inches while the width is 68 inches and the height is 55.7 inches. This makes it 4.5 inches longer, 1.7 inches wider and 0.3 inches higher than its predecessor. The wheelbase has been extended by 1.1 inches to 98.2 inches, while the track width has been enlarged at the front by 1.7 inches and at the rear by 1.3 inches to a total of 59.1 inches in each case. This has allowed designers to increase space; storage is now 8.7 cubic feet, 3 cubic feet more than before. There are also numerous cubby spots and a 60:40 split function for the rear seat. ( Continue… )

Oil rig pumpjacks, also known as thirsty birds, operate near Long Beach, California. The U.S. now produces more oil than it imports. (David McNew/Reuters/File)

U.S. now produces more oil than it imports: Good or bad?

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 11.18.13

It's official: The U.S. now produces more oil than it imports from foreign countries.

It isn't the first time that's ever happened, but it's the first time in two decades--and according to the White House, it's going hand-in-hand with lower CO2 emissions and growing GDP.

For those advocating greater energy independence, it's undoubtedly a good sign.

For too long, the U.S. has been at the behest of countries with dubious political processes. Importing oil from some regions--particularly those in the Middle East--has led to shortages, fluctuating prices and even war. Reducing those imports can only be a good thing.  ( Continue… )

The 2014 Chrysler 300S has been updated with even more 'blacked out' design elements and a new Ambassador Blue sport interior. (Chrysler Group LLC/PRNewsFoto)

2014 Chrysler 300S gets updates ... and new beat

By Viknesh VijayenthiranGuest blogger / 11.17.13

Chrysler’s range-topping 300S has received some updates for the 2014 model year, and will be shown for the first time in updated form at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show. Key among the updates are several black elements around the body, a blue theme for the interior and an exclusive Beats by Dr. Dre audio system.

Starting with the body, the 2014 Chrysler 300S features body-colored door handles and fascia inserts, a glossy black finish for the belt molding and light surrounds, and a new black chrome grille. Chrysler says it also plans to offer buyers the option of a glossy black finish for the roof, just in case the regular 2014 300S isn’t ‘blacked out’ enough for your tastes. Rounding out the list of exterior changes are a custom set of 20-inch wheels (19-inch on all-wheel-drive models) and an available Dark Ceramic Gray paint finish.

Inside, buyers will be able to opt for a new Ambassador Blue color for the trim. This special blue is used on the Nappa leather-lined seats and on the armrests. French seamed stitching in contrasting silver is used throughout. Piano black is used for much of the dash and gauge cluster, while matte carbon hydrographic accents and die-cast steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are also included.

For the tech heads, there’s Chrysler’s Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen interface and an exclusive Beats by Dr. Dre audio system consisting of 10 speakers and a 12-channel amplifier. Beats by Dr. Dre founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy lovine worked with Chrysler to develop the system specifically for the 300 line of cars. ( Continue… )

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