Volvo S40: Small Isn’t Less
2005 Volvo S40
Spy Shots: 2005 Ford Focus by Hans Lehmann/Hidden Image (9/8/2003)
Europe gets a refresher course in space.
Mazda3 Proof of New Strategy?
Ford of Europe Promising Better Results
Deep and unexpected losses at Ford’s European subsidiary have been an unwelcome setback to the troubled number two automaker, raising questions about the strategy behind Europe’s aggressive cost-cutting and product development. With the market in turmoil, tactics have to change, but the strategy will remain in place, according to David Thursfield, who serves multiple roles as Ford’s worldwide purchasing chief and European czar. Thursfield told TheCarConnection that Ford has largely tapped out the savings it can achieve by cutting fixed costs – and has no plans for further production cuts. But he believes there are savings still to be found through such things as platform sharing. The new C1 platform, used by products like the Volvo S40, Mazda3, and Ford C-Max provides a good example, helping cut development costs alone by “at least” ten percent, according to Thursfield. The blunt-talking executive insisted things should start turning around in the third quarter of 2003, and show “a substantial improvement in our performance in the fourth quarter.” While he declined to discuss specific targets, Thursfield suggested he “would be disappointed” if Ford of Europe wasn’t back in the black during the final three months of this year.
Ford's Leach Out In Europe by Jim Burt (8/18/2003)
Staggering losses lead to an unplanned departure.
Rearward March at Ford?
DaimlerChrysler’s new mid-size models will eventually be offered in both rear- and all-wheel-drive configurations. General Motors is coming to Frankfurt with a similar new platform of its own. Can Ford be far behind? Maybe yes, maybe no. “We have to develop a global rear-drive architecture and we’re seriously looking at that,” said Thursfield, hinting such a product line would eventually become available in the U.S., as well as Europe and other parts of the world. But a well-placed source later suggested that comment wasn’t quite what it might seem, and that it’s less than certain Ford would bring rear-drive back to the States in any significant numbers. That seems to underscore an ongoing debate inside the company. There are more than a few in high levels who believe there might even be room for a modern version of the long-running, rear-drive platform now used for the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car. But such studies have routinely been given the thumbs-down. One thing definitely is certain, stressed Thursfield: there’s no place for a Crown Vic outside the U.S. “I don’t think you can have a (global) body-on-frame platform.”
Aston Martin DB9: Lightweight, With a Big Punch
2004 Aston Martin DB9
After nearly 90 years in business, and a long alliance with parent company Ford, Aston Martin will use the Frankfurt Auto Show to introduce the all-new DB9 coupe, a car that makes a complete and clean break with the storied past of this great old marque. Aston Martin’s German managing director, ex-Porsche engineer Dr. Ulrich Bez, says that the DB9 is the key to the copmpany’s future expansion, “a sports car with GT levels of comfort and cruising ability, a car you can drive from London to the south of France.”
The DB9 coupe, which will be built at Aston Martin’s brand new plant in Gaydon, Warwickshire, England, uses a combination of composite fenders and decklid, an all-aluminum body and hood and an aluminum frame that is a combination of castings, stampings, extrusions and weldments put together with huge fasteners, adhesives and ultrasonic welding. Aston Martin is the first car company in the world to use the ultrasonic welding process, which yields no heat, and uses only five percent of the energy needed by conventional electric welders. It is by far the stiffest, strongest and lightest Aston Martin sports car ever built, coming in at a mere 1710 kilograms or 3762 pounds. While the DB9 is 25 percent lighter than the outgoing DB7 coupe, it is twice as stiff and strong.
The new DB9, which takes the place of the DB7, due to go out of production at the end of 2003, will be Aston Martin’s volume car, and will enable the company to stretch its total annual volume north of 5000 units, about as many F-150s as Ford makes on one shift.
The DB9 will be powered by an evolutionary version of the Aston Martin double-overhead-cam 48-valve V-12 engine, which itself started out as two Ford 3.0-liter V-6 engines welded together. In the DB9, it will be rated at 450 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 420 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. While this figure pales in comparison to some of the engines available from the DB9’s prime competitor, the Mercedes-Benz CL coupe, the DB9 is about a thousand pounds lighter than the Mercedes. Aston Martin says the six-speed manual will do 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and the automatic will do the same run in 5.1 seconds.
In either case, the transmissions of the DB9 are mounted at the rear of the car, driven by a carbon fiber driveshaft mounted inside a hugely strong and stiff aluminum torque tube that acts as the structural backbone of the car. The ZF six-speed automatic is completely drive-by-wire and thus has no conventional shifter, operated by PRND buttons in the dashboard, with shifter paddles on the steering wheel. Mounting the transmissions at the differential yields the perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution for race-car handling prowess.
To get the DB9 stopped, AM uses new 14-inch Brembo four-piston disc brakes front and 13-inch rear brakes, with ABS, electronic brake forcer distribution, brake assist, dynamic stability control, and traction control.
Designed by Danish master designer Henrik Fisker, the DB9 has a minimum of panels and joints in the exterior, and no separate front bumper. It is designed to reflect all of the time-honored DB design cues dating back to the DB2 of the 1950s, and it is a stunner. The interior features Bridge of Weir leather in 20 colors and three different woods, walnut, mahogany, and the particularly adventurous bamboo.
The handbuilt DB9 will come to the United States in a few months’ time at a price in the range of $150,000-$170,000, depending on currency fluctuations. — Jim McCraw