Auto Outlook: It's not your father's Chevy

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer  |  Oct. 7, 2012 at 5:30 AM
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In another blow to shade tree mechanics everywhere who spent Saturdays adjusting carburetors to set engine idle speed, another automotive relic is headed for the junk yard: the bench seat.

A generation or two ago, front bench seats that accommodated three adults -- although no one liked "riding the hump" in the middle -- were the norm in American family cars. Bucket seats were for those sporty models like the Mustang or Camaro.

Fast forward 40 years and the Chevrolet Impala is the last U.S. passenger car still offering a front bench seat, and The Detroit News says that option will disappear when the redesigned 2014 Impala premiers next year.

Chrysler last offered buyers front bench seats in 2004 base-model Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid sedans, and the last front bench seat disappeared at Ford in 2011 when the rear-wheel drive, V-8 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car went the way of the dodo.

GM said only about 10 percent of Impala buyers paid $195 extra for a bench seat last year.

"A lot of people prefer bucket seats because they're sporty, even in models that aren't sports cars," GM director of design Clay Dean told the News. "Our customers also appreciate having the center console as a convenient place to store their phone and other personal items."

There's an "app" for that

The city of New York has an app for smartphone users who need a taxi for a disabled passenger.

Officials hope the app, called WOW Taxi, will help make up for the fact that fewer than 2 percent of the city's current fleet of taxicabs are wheelchair-accessible, The New York Times reports. The app, which is for both Apple and Android phones, also allows users to use a website, a text-message or a voice call to summon a taxi, but only 230 cabs are available for dispatching and rides must originate in Manhattan.

Advocates for the disabled filed a class-action lawsuit against the Taxi and Limousine Commission last year charging New York's taxi system failed to provide enough handicapped-accessible vehicles in violation of federal law.

Chrysler still cruisin' as U.S. sales leader

Chrysler was the leader in U.S. auto sales for September, as strong passenger car sales sparked a 12 percent gain.

General Motors' sales rose by a much smaller margin, 1.5 percent, and Ford sales were flat, slipping 0.1 percent during the month.

It was Chrysler's best September in five years. Chrysler's Fiat saw a 51 percent sales jump in September as buyers gobbled up small passenger cars.

Sales of the new 2013 Dodge Dart were up 72 percent from August -- to 5,235 cars -- and GM's Chevy compact Cruze saw a 42.5 percent increase in sales compared to September 2011 with 25,787 sold.

"Last month marked our 30th consecutive month of year-to-year sales increases and our strongest September in five years. Going forward with our current product line up, record low interest rates and a stable U.S. economy, we remain optimistic about the health of the U.S. new vehicle sales industry and our position in it," Reid Bigland, Dodge brand president and chief executive officer and Chrysler Group U.S. sales head, said in a statement.

Sales of the Ford Focus were up 91 percent as sales of the Fusion sedan slipped 37 percent, with consumers awaiting the arrival of all-new 2013 Fusion models in showrooms.

Toyota sales were up 41.5 percent from September a year ago with 171,910 vehicles sold, and Volkswagen Group of America sold 36,339 units, up 34.4 percent, for its best September in 40 years.

Deja vu: Nissan goes back to the future

Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn hopes to boost the Japanese automaker's global market share from 6 percent to 8 percent by selling cars in developing countries for 10 percent of what they cost in Western industrial nations.

What he's talking about is a $3,000 car.

Nissan announced earlier this year it was reviving the Datsun brand, which was known for sporty cars like the 240Z and frugal runabouts like the Datsun B510 that were prized by baby boomers until the nameplate was retired in the 1980s.

Details of the ambitious project are emerging.

The Wall Street Journal says Ghosen envisions six new Datsun vehicles starting with rollouts in 2014. With a sticker price of $3,000 to $5,000 a car, no-frills Datsuns would be thousands of dollars cheaper than Nissan's current least expensive compact, the Tsuru, sold in Mexico for about $8,000.

My first new car was a stick-shift Datsun 1200. It had an AM-FM radio, bucket seats and seat belts but no airbags, anti-lock brakes or traction or stability control. Mileage was great; safety, not so much.

Safety equipment on the new-breed Datsuns will probably be more typical of the 40-year-old versions than the current high-tech Nissans sold in the United States, Europe and Asia.

The Journal said some company insiders are wary of the Datsun project, warning it could fall as flat as the all-electric Nissan Leaf has so far.

The Leaf is not inexpensive and sales have been disappointing. Nissan recently bought back two Leafs from Arizona drivers under the state's "Lemon Law" after they said hot desert temperatures had dramatically shortened the car's battery life.

"I had to get rid of it," Scott Yarosh, who turned in a leased Leaf, told KPOH-TV, Phoenix. "When I turned my car in, I was only able to get 42 miles on a single charge."

For his part, Ghosen has promised to deliver a Datsun that will be "modern and fresh" and hopefully capable of capturing the imagination and pocketbooks of first-time, entry-level car buyers in emerging markets, which are expected to account for 60 percent of all vehicle sales by 2017.

"It's a big mistake to think you can introduce a cheap car in emerging markets and be successful," Yukitoshi Funo, Toyota's executive vice president in charge of developing markets, told the Journal. "People want a car they and their families can be proud of."

Nissan has no plans to sell bare-bones Datsuns in developed markets -- as it did in the 1960s and '70s.

"If you go to the U.S., it's not going to end up being $3,000," Ghosen said.

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