Lighter Car News: A123 goes under; Acura cancels ZDX; Usain Bolt makes gold GT-R
Our semiregular roundup of the latest automotive news and musings from around the Web.
After last week’s spate of massive recalls, counterfeit airbags, and a hybrid Ferrari, we lost some smaller news in the electrical cord tangles under our desks. Tidying up for this week’s “Lighter Car News,” we’ve found plenty to talk about. Acura has canceled the ZDX, Usain Bolt has blessed the Nissan GT-R with his God-given talent, and just today, EV battery maker A123 Systems declared bankruptcy.
Battery maker A123 Systems, supplier to Fisker, going out of business
A123 Systems, which received a $249 million loan from the Energy Department to promote "green" technology, declared bankruptcy Tuesday morning. The Massachusetts company, which supplies battery packs to Fisker, BMW and Chevrolet, said it would sell all of its automotive-related assets to Wisconsin supplier Johnson Controls.
The battery maker, which tried to broker a $465 million deal with a Chinese parts company, had been struggling over the past two years. Its lithium-ion battery packs supplied for the Fisker Karma were recalled twice, once for coolant leaks in December 2011 and again in March for defective cells, all of which reportedly cost the company more than $66 million. The company, which produced its batteries in Michigan, had been selling its batteries at a “gross loss,” according to The Boston Globe. However, in June, A123 announced it had reached a breakthrough on reducing the cost and weight of traditional EV batteries.
A123 did not say how the buyout by Johnson Controls would affect its customers, but we’d bet that LG Chem – which won the Chevrolet Volt battery contract over A123 – is reeling in new orders.
Acura cancels ZDX crossover after 2013
You’ve got to give Acura a big hand for the ZDX. When no one else dared compete with the 2008 BMW X6, within one year Acura went all in with an even wilder shape. In the process, it offered torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive and dashboard buttons with hidden, illuminated labels, and undercut the BMW by more than $10,000. Acura didn’t care one ounce that its wedged, chopped body had all the sideways visibility of a Brinks trunk or that it was nigh impossible to step onto the tiny sills when getting friends in the back seat.
The ZDX, by all accounts, should have outsold the X6. But with just 300 horsepower, it lacked the speed to match its outrageous looks, and Acura customers – more conservative and less obnoxious than BMW owners – flocked to the more traditional MDX and RDX crossovers.
Acura sold 642 ZDX models through September. BMW sold 612 X6 models in September alone, and is on track to sell 6,000 by year’s end. (Sales increased every model year through 2010, and dipped slightly to a still-impressive 6,192 in 2011). Both cars are silly niches that have no place in any segment, yet BMW – with its frightening levels of speed and deft handling – is winning at it. This author remembers drifting a 555-horsepower X6 M in the pouring rain around Pocono Raceway, and then ripping 130-plus mph with the wipers at full speed. There was no trouble. Just parking the ZDX, even with a backup camera, was hell.
For 2013, Acura will add much-needed front and rear parking sensors, a redesigned grille (see photo) and additional safety features such as collision and lane departure warning. The base price will increase by $4,800 to $51,815, at which point it will become fully-loaded with no extra trims available. Now who else wants to challenge BMW?
Usain Bolt throws his gold onto the GT-R
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human being, who ran away with three gold medals at the London Olympics, is auctioning a gold Nissan GT-R on eBay later this year. At 26 years old, Bolt has become both obnoxious track star (those silly push-ups right after his winning finish) and successful businessman (a logo of his stretched body silhouette, a la Michael Jordan, is on headphones, shoes and other products). His boastful persona makes him a natural admirer of fast cars, to the point where Ferrari actually compared his body – rather awkwardly – to a 458 Italia.
Now, it’s Nissan’s turn. Bolt recently commissioned a gold-painted GT-R with gold-plated interior parts and a signed nameplate, which Nissan expects to turn into a limited run of cars by next year. Proceeds from the car’s eBay auction will benefit the Usain Bolt Foundation, which funds projects and other initiatives in Jamaica. For now, the Bolt GT-R’s upgrades are merely cosmetic, so it won’t be any faster than a normal GT-R, which isn’t even sold in Jamaica. Hearing that – and all the aftermarket 900-horsepower GT-Rs running around – we’re not sure the world’s greatest track star would be satisfied.
Keep wasting more money on "green." It's an excellent idea that is definitely paying off... paying off politicians, that is.
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