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LA Show Observations, Infiniti M35, BMW Diesel and More in February 2006 Letter From Europe

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Letter from Europe
Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

I love auto shows, consequently LA was fun as always. Apart from the less than friendly security staff a good time was had by all.

There were some amusing moments as well I would like to share with you. Captains of industry are bright people who know what they are talking about freely and without any help. Right? Wrong. First of all the speeches are written by their PR people. Secondly while they appear to be talking freely, the whole thing is not just scripted rather carefully but they are reading it off the two auto cues which are placed strategically behind the audience. Even the pauses and the normally disastrously boring jokes are all up on the screen. Pathetic if you ask me.

Then there are those who dress the way they think people in California dress! Trying to be folksy one big cheese turn up in jeans and a red, open shirt and looked pretty silly.

He then proceeded to get on a three wheeler which was a complete joke. And he talked about it going into production.

On the Moon, maybe.

Another overseas boss informed us that he had a good ski holiday (who cares?) and that he only arrived two hours earlier from Germany. So? Maybe instead of zapping down the slopes he should have caught an earlier plane. After all this he explained that every single thing on his new product was due to his genius.

Maybe someone ought to tell him that there is such as thing as humility. You can see the entire video's of Press Events at both the LA and Detroit Auto Show CLICK HERE

Had he been on the BMW stand he would have seen how things should be done. It really is amazing that while most car companies are in trouble BMW are just marching ahead and that is before they start selling diesel-powered cars in the United States.

That, for me was the good news coming out of LA and from Detroit, diesel can now be so clean that it can even meet California’s very high pollution regulation. God bless whoever raised the bar so high incidentally, wish the rest of the World had similar pollution standards as well.

The other of course is the hybrid story. With so much of the World’s oil in the hands of bad guys anything that can reduce our reliance upon them has to be a good thing. It may sound like heresy from someone who-in the past -spent a fair amount of time driving exotica at 10 miles per gallon- hybrid really is becoming a necessity, just like the return of coal instead of gas for most new power stations. One course I mustn’t forget the new “in” word- ethanol. The sooner the better!

On the car front, I had a chance to drive Audi’s A6 and can fully understand how it became International Car of the Year. An exceptional automobile.

I wish I could say the same about Ford’s Fusion. In spite of all the hype it is all right rather than spectacular.

On the plus side it looks very nice, the finish is excellent, there is plenty of room for people and golf clubs. Instead of the top end model I would probably buy the cheapest one with the five speed manual gearbox and get well over 30 miles per gallon. For under 20 thousand dollars it is a great buy. On the minus side the venerable Duratec engine is getting rather old in the tooth, it sounds rough and it has passed its sell by date. I understand that there is a new engine in the pipeline, not a minute too soon.

The amusing thing is that while all the talk is about hybrid, the money is at the high end. High as in hundreds of horsepower. Huge V8 and V10 engines are where the money is, just ask Ford about the Mustang. And the plant is on overtime, which just shows that if you make a great product people will buy it. Ditto the awesome Corvette 06.

A car which does not look particularly exciting is Infiniti’s M35.

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Frumpy was a colleague’s description and I cannot disagree. Once you are inside however it is a sheer delight!

I’ve just been testing the latest 90 thousand dollar S class Mercedes and in some respects the M35 at half the price makes it look positively silly.

I am talking about the M35's truly sensational instrument panel. Unlike every other car I’ve

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ever driven it is far and a way the most intelligent. The 7 inch display is easy to read and the information is so easily and readily obtainable – even by someone who does not know a hard drive from a floppy disk- that is should be compulsory, especially in expensive German cars! As for the sound system...I picked up the car at San Francisco Airport and some kind soul before me already had the radio on 91.1, the local jazz station. I simply could not believe the clarity, the sheer excellence of the 14 BOSE speakers. Most definitely the nearest thing to being in a jazz clubs but without the smoke! The same with classical music.
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Those guys (Bose) are in a class of their own. So much so that I’ve purchased one of their radios. My wife hasn’t watched TV since.

The 3.5 liter engine is

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well known from various Nissans. Well-proven, pushing out 280 horses, revving to 6200rpm, no it isn’t a rocket but perfectly sufficient for 99% of their customers. I did give the manual shift more a try by seemed superfluous so I went back to auto, which was just fine.

The roads in Marin County have been pretty treacherous for weeks now but the M35 handled whatever what ever was thrown at it.

The lane departure warning can be annoying at times but it does serve a very useful purpose, especially if drivers become engrossed in the music, as I did.

With all the bells and whistles Infiniti are asking just over 48 thousand dollars for the M35. ‘Normally I would suggest going for the basic model but with that BOSE system you just have to have the whole package. It really is that good.

There is an updated model on the way and at times likes this manufacturers offer discounts to the dealers to clear the decks for the new ones reach the showroom. At around 43 thousand I think this Infiniti is one heck of a deal.

That’s it fore now, I’ll talk with you next month.