• The Continental: Coolant Drama, Opel’s Regal Insignia, and Akerson’s High-Voltage Wish

17th June 2013

The Continental: Coolant Drama, Opel’s Regal Insignia, and Akerson’s High-Voltage Wish

posted in Buick, Chevrolet |

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

Mercedes-Benz Unimog fire truck

Mercedes-Benz, VW, and BMW are working to put out a metaphorical—and potentially literal—coolant-related fire.

The fight over air conditioning coolant is escalating in Europe. In tests conducted by Mercedes-Benz, the new coolant R1234yf—designed to replace R134a that was deemed dangerous to the environment—not only ignited and created strong fire pockets under the hood, but also generated potentially lethal hydrogen fluoride. As a result, Mercedes-Benz has recalled all cars already delivered with the new coolant. Moreover, the VW Group will not use R1234yf, and neither will BMW. Toyota has switched its strategy and continues to use R134a in Europe, directly contradicting E.U. regulation. 

Thus, a power battle between carmakers, suppliers, and governments has broken into war. DuPont, a supplier of the new coolant, has vented its displeasure on the situation through sharply worded comments; the E.U. has ratcheted up its pressure on carmakers and threatened to sue the German government to force the use of R1234yf. The German government is taking a wait-and-see approach; meanwhile, a consensus has emerged among German carmakers to ditch R1234yf altogether and develop new (and costly), supposedly earth-saving CO2 air conditioning units. But this will take a few years. In the meantime, they wish to continue with the apparently safer R134a.

Opel Insignia Sports Tourer

American–German GM Relations

Mirroring the changes Buick made to the 2014 Regal, Opel has face-lifted the Regal’s European cousin, the Insignia. The Insignia is an important cornerstone in the brand’s strategy for recovery, and five years after its launch, it’s finally getting an update. It receives a significant cosmetic revamp and an upgraded range of engines. Outside, there are new headlights and wider taillights connected by a chrome strip; inside, the cluttered center stack has been radically simplified. An Audi-like touch pad has been added to control the infotainment system, but it won’t be offered on the Regal. Addressing customer requests for more ride compliance, Opel tweaked the Insignia’s suspension to deliver more comfort. We suspect that Opel engineers took a good look at Buick’s North American market settings for inspiration.

Besides an ocean, customer choices are also what separate Opel from Buick. The Insignia offers no less than five diesel engines with between 118 and 192 horsepower, as well as three gasoline engines ranging in output from 138 to 247 horsepower. There’s even a natural-gas-powered engine with 138 horsepower. All engines are four-cylinder and breathe through turbochargers. Down the road, Opel is adding an entry-level engine with 108 horsepower, as well as a 320-hp, turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 for the top-of-the-line Insignia OPC. In the next year or so, Opel also will replace the Insignia’s six-speed automatic with an eight-speed unit. In addition to the bevy of powertrain options, the Insignia is available in three body styles: hatchback, notchback sedan, and station wagon. The high-powered, manual-transmission station wagon is the obvious enthusiast’s choice.

The Insignia’s European market standing is strengthened by the fact that the slightly smaller Astra sedan—sister model to the Buick Verano—is positioned far below it. There is very little overlap in terms of engines and trim between the two, in sharp contrast to the relationship between the Verano and Regal in the U.S. The Verano is so well-equipped that the step up to the Regal doesn’t net customers much additional comfort, luxury, or performance.

AwesomeHUD app screen

HUD Strategies and a Nice App

Do you like head-up displays (HUDs)? I do. If you refuse to set your cruise control 9 mph above the legal limit and instead prefer to adjust your speed the old-fashioned way, there is nothing more useful a speed readout projected onto the windshield. Constantly in sight, forward progress can be adjusted appropriately as soon as you or your radar detector identifies a speed trap ahead. HUDs were launched by GM and Nissan in the late 1980s and subsequently seemingly disappeared, only to resurface in the late ‘90s in Corvettes and in the early 2000s on some BMWs.

With updated graphics and added functions, many of which include the display of show navigation arrows and audio system information, HUDs continue to make a comeback. But they are far from becoming an industry standard. On the current Audi A6 and A7, they are an afterthought and a massive eyesore. Mercedes-Benz has decided against HUDs altogether, meaning there is not a Benz equipped with the technology—pardon our pun—in sight.

If you wish to try out the HUD experience, you might consider downloading the free AwesomeHUD app for your iPhone. Placing the handset on the dashboard so that the screen reflects onto the windshield, the app offers nearly the function of a factory-installed HUD. Since the optics lack depth, the projected information appears to hover right in front of the windshield, which detracts from the experience and is less eye-friendly. Moreover, unless you figure out how set your iPhone at permanent maximum brightness, it is not as bright as I’d wish it to be. It is still fun, and certainly less expensive than buying a new BMW.

Dan Akerson Chevrolet Volt

Akerson’s Wish Comes True

Speaking at the London School of Economics on April 11, GM CEO Dan Akerson stumped listeners—and, presumably, his own marketing experts—by saying that the Chevrolet Volt would sell in great quantities if its price were adjusted. “If you drop it $5000, man, people start flocking to it,” he offered. It seems that his minions listened. The price of “probably the best thing since night baseball,” as Akerson describes the Volt, has been dropped by $4000 for 2013 models and $5000 for remaining 2012 cars. Let the stampede begin.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 17th, 2013 at 5:53 pm and is filed under Buick, Chevrolet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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