Friday, November 30, 2012

Chinese Couple Found Guilty Of Stealing Crap From GM

A Detroit court found a former GM engineer and her husband guilty of conspiring to steal hybrid car trade secrets. Their lawyers unsuccessfully argued that there were no secrets to steal. Ed Niedermeyer had said that for years.

Shanshan Du and her husband Yu Qin face lengthy prison sentences. Sentencing will occur in February 2013.

In 2010, the couple was indicted on charges including conspiracy for allegedly stealing GM hybrid technology between 2003 and 2005. According to the indictment, Du copied thousands of pages of GM trade secrets onto a portable computer hard drive five days after accepting a buyout offer.

When we covered this story in 2010, our now Editor Emeritus Ed Niedermeyer wrote:

"The real story here is just how stupid Du and Qin were for targeting The General's hybrid technology between 2003 and 2005.

To this day GM still has yet to develop a commercially successful hybrid drivetrain, and at the time of the alleged theft, only the highly unsuccessful BAS "mild hybrid" system (production start in 2006), the PHT truck mild hybrid system (production in 2005), and expensive, complicated "two-mode" hybrid system (production in 2008) were on track for eventual production. What Chery, Du or Qin saw in that technology is utterly baffling… and their attempt at industrial espionage may well have been the greatest compliment ever paid to GM's long-abortive attempt to catch up with Toyota and Honda in the area of hybrid technology."

As proof, Niedermeyer entered the video which we play again above. At the four minute mark, a former top executive at GM testifies that back then, there was nothing worth stealing.

The couple's lawyers used the same line of reasoning, but could not convince the Detroit jury. When the matter goes to appeal, possibly the attorneys can call Lutz as a witness. Or Niedermeyer.

from The Truth About Cars

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Canada Governments: No Sale Of GM Stock

Timing the market is a tricky matter. There are people who urge the Canadian government to dump its shares in GM at a considerable loss. And there are others who rather wait for the stock to go higher. Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is in the second camp.

Canada has no immediate plans to sell its shares in General Motors Co, Flaherty told Reuters. Separately, Aly Vitunski, a spokeswoman for Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, said Ontario will sell its GM shares "when the time and circumstances are appropriate and in a judicious manner to ensure that Ontarians receive the best possible return on their investment".

Translation: No sale.

There is more involved than simple buy low, sell high: Simple politics.

  • Selling the stock would raise cash for governments scrounging for money to cover deficits.
  • The Canadian Auto Workers union wants the governments to hold on to their stakes. The CAW wants to use them as leverage vis-a-vis GM.
  • Then, there is the man behind the curtain: Finance Minister Flaherty said he has had "continuing discussions" on the subject of the GM stake with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.


from The Truth About Cars

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: Now This is Alarming—My Ongoing Cold War Against Anti-Theft Systems—Part Two

Being an avid proponent of resolution—whenever reasonably possible and prudent—I had to pause to make sense of what certainly appeared to be the aftermarket equivalent of Anti-Theft Engineering Overkill, which had been residing for some time under the front seat of my newly purchased 1991 Eagle Talon Tsi AWD (Some of the circumstances surrounding said purchase are explained at the end of Part One.)

Not that the installation looked a mess, or anything like that. It was really rather well organized, in truth. At least a half dozen standard circuit relays, a control unit, and all of the accompanying wiring neatly gathered into a substantial loom and routed under the carpet to points North, East and West. Due to, if nothing else—especially my aforementioned disdain for automotive anti-theft systems of all stripes—the apparent age of all of the components I was viewing, there was no worthy consideration of actually diagnosing and repairing the arrangement. And considering the fact that this Diamond Star creation was equipped with an annoyingly comprehensive original equipment anti-theft system—rightfully worthy of suspicion in its own right, as it turned out—there was already too much of a "good thing" happening within the confines of the sheet metal for the "greater good".

Fairly overwhelmed with the Eternal Why, cranial circuits, synapses and gear drives were all engaged in the quest for answers as to the need for such a system. What possessed someone to go through the pains to actually bring this all to fruition? Answers were not far away.

The original paperwork, much of it still with the vehicle, and just one (yes, only ONE) owner removed, pretty much told a satisfying enough story to qualify for True Resolution.

Apparently, the original owner performed vehicle break-ins over in Germany(!), while working for some branch of the U.S. military there. I was thinking probably the Air Force, as military aviation is truly the "poster-child" for engineering redundancy. This vehicle is equipped with a factory anti-theft alarm system? Fine, but we better install another one, just in case the first one fails.

This guy must have truly loved his Talon, and didn't want it to fall into enemy hands!

But now, some twenty-odd years and half the globe away from those days, circumstances had changed. I just needed the thing to RUN RELIABLY enough to make it worth future—and considerably less complex—efforts at theft-proofing!

Since having achieved resolution, Step One toward this goal was well underway.

As it turned out, the add-on system was tapped into all of the electrical circuits that the factory system controlled: door locks, horn, headlamps, starter solenoid, and ignition/fuel delivery system. And don't forget the POWER WINDOWS, for heaven's sake! I felt like some surgeon carefully removing an elaborate fibrous growth, systematically restoring original anatomical function.

The operation turned out to be a success, and for about a month or so, I was able to regularly drive the Eagle, systematically sussing things out, and correcting other issues. I started using it as transport for friends, as I felt that it had achieved a level of dependability worthy of subjecting outside parties to. It was kind of a familiar "acid test" of sorts, also: put the vehicle in a situation where any failures would be compounded by the addition of a third party into the mix.

Sure enough, it worked. New and exiting problems arose—Ghost in the Machine kind of intermittent phenomena. Door locks locking and unlocking at random. (Never got locked out, fortunately. I knew better than to tempt fate to that degree!) Power windows not always obeying all commands. Alarm activating at what were often inappropriate moments of entry and exit. Then the final straw: the engine intermittently shutting off while the vehicle was in motion!

Taking the process in logical sequence, I eventually isolated the problem to a malfunctioning control unit. Since the frequency of the dead-stick episodes had abated—not the intermittent no-start issue, though—I was still using it for solo commutes to points of interest in Los Angeles, sometimes into the wee hours, without too much worry. If I did experience a spin-no-fire episode, a few additional attempts would yield ignition, and I'd be on my way. I figured if the worst happened, I could get some tow assistance, and do some D.O.A. diagnostics back at my shop.

I finally got that opportunity on the return trip from a Hollywood music club one Saturday night (really, Sunday morning). This time, it shut off while motoring South on La Brea near Melrose. Somewhat extensive attempts at a restart proved fruitless, It was time to call "The Triple", for a flatbed.

On a "Party Night", with the hour approaching 2 AM?? Yeah, RIGHT!!

Without boring you with the details, we did eventually make it happen.

Had the wounded Eagle off-loaded at the shop, and was motoring away in the backup at around DAWN!

After procuring a wire-for-wire schematic (which became extinct after about the 1995 model year)—an absolute necessity for solving the problem in as unobtrusive fashion as possible—I found the solution lied in merely disconnecting the control unit (once I FOUND it!). The only other modification I needed to do to restore normal function to all else (except key-triggered power door lock operation), was to install a bypass wire at the control unit multi pin harness, in order to restore horn function! Since the vehicle was now worth stealing, I decided to use the unnecessary (in my opinion, which I will share in the next entry) clutch start safety switch circuit for installation of an anti-theft kill switch of my own design, to handle those duties.

Much All-Wheel-Drive Motoring Fun ensued for the next decade, with nary a breakdown! It made the weeding-out process completely worthwhile, for sure! Maybe one day I'll commit that to print, too.

As an ASE Certified L1 Master Tech, Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.

from The Truth About Cars

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Poor Man’s MQB: Opel’s Next Gen Insignia Will Be An Astragnia

Opel is bleeding money and has to save at all costs. Opel hoped to share development of the next generation Insignia  with PSA, but that was called off before it was even announced. According to German media reports, Opel engineers quickly developed a more cost effective solution:  A head transplant.

According to the reports, the main ingredient of the new Insignia will be the old Insignia. On its unchanged rear body, say the reports, Opel will graft the front part of the new Astra, and  presto, a new Insignia. Asked  for a comment, Opel said it wants to be "more modular and more flexible" in the future.

The news prompted the German press to new creativity: Kfz-Betrieb, a German magazine covering the sales and service end of the auto industry, coined a new name ("Astragnia") for the car, and dispatched designers to the Photoshop front to re-create the beast. It did not take long.

The paper also reports that production of  Opel's Mokka SUVlet could soon migrate from South Korea  to Europe, most likely Opel Eisenach. The Mokka is a rare hot seller at Opel, customers have to wait six months to get theirs.  What's more, moving production from Korea to Europe is seen as a concession to appease the German unions.

from The Truth About Cars

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2013 Lincoln MKZ Tested: Ford Luxury at Lincoln Prices

2013 Lincoln MKZ AWD

Among the many sayings attributed to Abraham Lincoln is this one: "If I should call a pig's tail a leg, how many legs would it have? Only four, because my calling the tail a leg would not make it so." Though, in truth, Honest Abe merely appropriated this bit of folk wisdom for his own speechifying purposes, it's still relevant in considering this newest sedan from his eponymous brand. READ MORE ››

from Car and Driver Blog

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Batman-Themed Dark Knight Rises Nissan Juke NISMO Announced, Fits More Supermodels than a Lambo

Nissan Dark Knight Rises Juke NISMO

Before we discuss the particulars of this special, one-off Nissan Dark Knight Rises Juke NISMO, let us be clear: It isn't the next Batmobile, and the epic Tumbler tank thing remains Batman's ride of choice. Instead, the Dark Knight Rises (DKR) Juke commemorates the third installment of director Christopher Nolan's Batman movie trilogy, and as such gets a host of batty upgrades.

Starting with the 197-hp Juke NISMO, Nissan Design Europe gave the Bat-ified crossover a matte-black finish and gloss-black 18-inch wheels with sinister-looking red-painted accents. There are aluminum bat badges on the grille and tailgate, as well as lights under each side mirror that project bat symbols onto the ground. Think that's ridiculous? Ford offers Mustang buyers a similar gimmick, but only the Nissan's might signal the Caped Crusader into action. And the 'Stang lacks such a feature inside the car; the DKR Juke gets a bat symbol projector that splashes Batman's macro-scale alert sign onto the ceiling.

Nissan says the Dark Knight Rises Juke NISMO will make the driver "feel just like Bruce Wayne." Our guess? You could probably get closer to the experience if you buy a Halloween costume and ask your significant other to dress up like Catwoman. If you're not casually dating Anne Hathaway—or if that Car and Driver hypothetical question hits a bit too close to home—you also could go source a Tumbler (or perhaps more easily, a Lamborghini) and play Mr. Wayne to your heart's content. But that's not to take away from the DKR Juke's zany level of cool, just that it's unlikely to instill a sense of superhero-tude in its driver.

Nissan U.K. is giving the unique Juke away in a sweepstakes most of you probably aren't eligible to win. The contest is being conducted in England, and the Dark Knight Rises Juke is based on the NISMO model we won't be getting here for a while. But for our British readers, Nissan's DKR Juke NISMO giveaway runs until next February 28, so if you can't swing a Lambo, Tumbler, or just want a cape-appropriate ride, head here to enter.

Nissan Dark Knight Rises Juke NISMO

from Car and Driver Blog

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2013 Nissan Altima Spot: The Horn Drives You Nuts, But It Grabs You Doesn’t It? [The Ad Section]

2013 Nissan Altima Spot: The Horn Drives You Nuts, But It Grabs You Doesn't It? [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad's rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

By now you've seen it a million times: The spot for the 2013 Nissan Altima with the dorky-looking guy who just doesn't know when to quit. He gets a new job and almost loses it before the congratulatory handshake is over. While prepping for a date, he almost squirts a shot of cologne down the front of his trousers. (You've never done that? Come on, we're all friends here.) After almost risking all his chips on a single bet, he almost sticks his tongue down his date's throat when she offers a tender good-night kiss. But luckily for Mr. Clueless, he's always saved by the bell.

Well, actually, it's a horn. A horn that's triggered by the Easy-Fill alert feature of his Altima's tire-pressure monitoring system. It's also the horn that makes watching this commercial incredibly annoying. Audio technology works in strange ways. Even with my top-of-the-line Bose surround system, I usually know which sounds are coming from the TV set. When a car explodes, I don't jump off the couch and take cover. When a bad guy gets shot, I don't for a microsecond think a gun went off somewhere in the house. But when a cell phone rings on Homeland or a text alert goes off in an AT&T commercial, I hit the pause button and grab my iPhone—even if I've seen the commercial a hundred times before. The same trump l'ear applies to car horns. The Altima spot isn't the only offender, but it's definitely the worst. And apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so. A whole bunch of people with nothing better to do have taken to the internet to complain that the commercial makes their dog (cat, baby, parrot, etc.) crazy, causes them to think their neighbor's car is being stolen, or just plain pisses them off.

So does that make this a terrible commercial? No. In fact it's a pretty good commercial, and here's why: Tire-pressure monitoring systems are hardly new. Porsche started putting them on the 959 supercar in the '80s. By the mid-2000s, they were common in the U.S., and by '08 they were mandatory for every car or light truck sold in America.

2013 Nissan Altima Spot: 3rd GearTrue, the 2013 Altima's goes above and beyond by actually letting you know when you've reached the recommended tire pressure, and that's nice, but it's nothing a good tire gauge can't tell you. So the Altima creative team had to figure out a way to make essentially old news seem exciting, or at least noteworthy. In the absence of something truly important (or cool) to talk about, they decided to manufacture some interest. Hence the goofy dude and the over-the-top vignettes, which, I must admit, are kind of amusing. Well, the casino scene misses the mark (why does everyone give him the evil eye when he starts to bet the ranch?), but don't tell me the nether-cologne or aborted French kiss scenes don't make you chuckle. Or groan. Or otherwise take notice. And if any non-car buddies or buddettes ever ask you if any cars automatically tell you when you've properly inflated your tires—odds are you've been asked dumber or more obscure car questions that that before)—chances are you'll say, "Yeah. Nissan Altima." And this commercial is the reason why.

So yes, the horn's annoying. But the commercial catches your attention and makes its point. And isn't that what good advertising is supposed to do?

from Car and Driver Blog

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Fisker Karma Production Halted by Battery Supplier’s Bankruptcy

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

According to Tony Posawatz, chief executive officer of Fisker Automotive, production of the Karma plug-in hybrid has been put on hold for about a month due to the bankruptcy of battery supplier of A123 Systems and the resultant low inventory of battery packs. Widely reported by BloombergReuters, and others as having enough batteries on hand for owner replacements, the California-based auto manufacturer confirmed to Car and Driver today that they have enough spare battery assemblies in reserve to "get us into the first quarter of 2013."

The Michigan facility where the former A123 assembled the lithium-ion batteries for Fisker is set for a December 6 auction, at which point the manufacture hopes to gain a clearer picture of its supply plans. Heavy hitters Johnson Controls and China-based Wanziang Group are expected to be among the bidders, as well as Japan's NEC and Siemens AG of Germany. Fisker told us today that it had no interest in submitting a bid, and their main concern is that "the best group for the job gets control of the company, and that they maintain the pricing and quality we expect of them." As A123 was a recipient of federal funding earmarked for creating an advanced vehicle-manufacturing base in the U.S., the company cannot be sold without the consent of the U.S. government.

Further complicating matters, the batteries manufactured by A123 for Fisker were subject to a recall earlier this year, just one of many PR hits the company has taken in trying to get the Karma off the ground.

Fisker Karma range-extender, battery pack, and electric motor

from Car and Driver Blog

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2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Limited Edition Launched [2012 L.A. Auto Show]

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Limited Edition

It's been 30 years since Mitsubishi arrived on our shores with its first batch of compact and fuel-efficient cars. The brand has had its high and low points since, but the U.S. branch seems to be operating at its nadir right now. So it might be fitting that the Outlander Sport Limited Edition, which Mitsubishi is now launching to celebrate its heritage, features a "distinctly ominous look" according to the press release.

The Outlander Sport compact crossover is distinguished by its aggressive "jetfighter grille" and this new model adds dark bumper sections, wheel arches, and side mirrors, and also gets special aluminum wheels. The interior is decorated in dark hues, and gray and black two-tone leather seats are optional. The only non-cosmetic modification pertains to the engine, which Mitsubishi claims offers higher performance and quicker acceleration thanks to a new balance shaft. No further details were provided.

We hope that the "foreboding treatment" (Mitsubishi's words) of this limited-edition Outlander Sport is no harbinger of the brand's future. We'd at least like to see another Evo—we named it the best-handling car under $40K last year—although that's in doubt even if Mitsu stays here another 30 years.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Limited Edition

2012 L.A. Auto Show full coverage

from Car and Driver Blog

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Kia's UVO Texts When Teens Go Astray

Don't want your kid driving to a certain part of town — say that sketchy neighborhood out west or the house of a friend that you're not so keen on? In the near-future, your Kia could send you a text message if they go there.

More 2012 L.A. Auto Show Coverage

It works through the automaker's new UVO with eServices, which expands on Kia's voice-activated UVO ("Your Voice") system with a smartphone application that enables parental controls, among other things. Besides the usual services — 9-1-1 assist and send-to-car Google Maps navigation in nav-equipped cars — UVO offers what Kia Forte product strategy manager Dan Tiet called "geo-fencing," or the ability to draw zones on a map and receive alerts when your car goes there.

Kia announced UVO with eServices at this week's Los Angeles Auto Show. It debuts on the 2014 Sorento and Forte, and Kia officials at the automaker's press conference confirmed it would roll out to most other Kia models in the next year. There's no subscription fee for the service, which works through an iPhone app. "It's a piggyback system," Tiet said. "It tethers to your smartphone."

Kia expects to expand the app to Android smartphones next spring. Other eServices features include a parked-car locator and, similar to Ford's Sync and GM's OnStar, vehicle diagnostics. Parents also can set a speed limiter when their teens get behind the wheel, Tiet said. That's similar to Ford's MyKey system, which gives parents the ability to set limits on vehicle speed, stereo volume and more.

from KickingTires

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Honda Civic (Hybrid)

Sometimes promises are kept in the car design biz: the 2013 Civic sounds like a big step up from this 2012 model. Which was a big step down from the '70s concept car sheik of the 8th generation Civic. Aside from Wayne Cherry's professional nightmare, how often does a manufacturer make such significant changes after one year of production?  This model insulted more than one autojourno and countless fanbois, apparently Honda doesn't mess around when reputation and $$$ are on the line.  But just how bad was it in 2012? What in the hell is that?

The 8th generation Civic's bumpers had a flat and clean, 1970s People Mover vibe to it. Radical yes, but not offensive. The 9th Gen's redesign added lumps and bumps to the bumper, with the aesthetic pleasure of a pear-shaped silhouette. Adding insult to injury, all the folds and unique planes on the bumper's face. This nose doesn't work on a body this tall and, um, People Mover like.


The pear shape isn't obvious from this angle.  Aside from the blocky-cheapness of the grille (even in fancy Hybrid trim), the Civic looks okay from here.  A perfectly flat nose (without the high point for the license plate) woulda been nicer, however.


This is a good time to mention that I gladly put my fingers in strange holes for TTAC's readership. And, that solid casting behind the logo looks even cheaper in real life.  Shouldn't Hybrids have a flat, solid badge for better aerodynamics?


This blue strip of Hybrid Snobbery is kinda cool.  First green was marketed for unique Hybrid markings, now blue. Which any luck, we will see more brown hues taking over in the Eco-Friendly color challenge.  After all, isn't the earth mostly made of brown stuff?  There's just a lot of green and blue on top of the chocolatey goodness!


While I'm all for unique trimmings on unique models, this blue lightbulb umbrella is a bit much.  Anodized(?) blue on a cheap metal stamping doesn't look better, it accentuates something that's better left in chrome camouflage. The only thing worse would be my brown remark from above, translated here.


If there was no fender flare, no pear shape to the bumper, this would be a decent enough looking machine. Then again, the 8th Gen Civic already had that covered. Much like the awful Chevy Uplander (CUV-wannabe) to the mediocre Chevy Venture (Minivan) that came before it, sometimes change is a very bad, very half-assed thing indeed.


On the plus side, the plane of the bumper that flows into the headlight is pretty cool from here.  And the bumper to fender seam is logical. There's a bit of the 1970s wedgy perfection here.  Just not enough of it.


The 9th Gen Hybrid wheels are as contrived and overwrought as the front end.  The 8th Gen's totally futuristic wheels were so much better.


Contrary to most cab-forward designs, the Civic's plastic trim on the cowl is quite minimal and clean.  It's nice to see more painted hood and less black plastic in this manner.


Too bad about this slab of plastic.  The Daylight Opening (DLO) of the 9th Gen is so, so much worse than the 8th Gen.  What used to be a cool '70s people mover with those sleek bits of glass in front of the door turned into plastic triangles of DLO FAIL.  It's very sad to see Honda go to Pontiac Aztek levels of cheapness in their quest to…well, I have no idea what they were thinking.

That's right, they were thinking about the $$$.  And since the 2013 model still has the plastic triangles of DLO FAIL, we see that it's still all about the money. Ain't a damn thing funny!


DLO FAIL from another angle, complete with round-ish mirrors that fight the very wedgy greenhouse.  Remember when Honda spent the money to put covered headlights on the 3rd Generation Accord?  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Hyundai and Kia: the ball is in your court.


And yet, just like my review back in 2007, I still hear Jazz-Rock Fusion when I see a Civic.  The 70′s never died, it just went mainstream pop. The watered down wheel design, big hunka DLO FAIL, unnecessary muscular crease by the door handles and generic taillights don't totally negate the wedge greenhouse. Probably.


Ack: bargain basement Hofmeister Kinkery!!! Try saying that three times fast!

Another reason to love the 8th Gen Civic.  While this isn't DLO FAIL like the front, this cheap bit of (tacked on, not-flush fitting) trim at the end of the DLO means Honda took a page from GM's beancounting playbook.  A very sad move indeed, son.

Since I am not one of those autojournos that gets all-expense paid trips to the LA Auto Show (sorry about that), I don't know if the 2013 Civic improved here.  From what I see on the web, I have my doubts. Too bad about that.


Is this one piece plastic casting of parcel shelf and high-mount stop light (CHMSL) a clean and modern design, or a cheap bit from the dark days of GM and Chrysler interiors? I like carpet better, personally.


Most (all?) Civics in the history of Honda Awesomeness sported taillights that were either full width or something close to it. This cheapness is too Toyota like, and shameful.  Luckily the 2013 model goes back to a lamp arrangement befitting the brand and the Civic lineage. Now if only I knew for sure that bumper shelf below the taillights also met the chopping block for '13.

At least you can't see the DLO FAIL from this angle.



The strong shoulder line in this panel extends logically into the rear door.  It looks good enough, but the flat and wedgy profile of the 8th Gen was far more appealing from this angle. Mostly because it didn't over promise on style, in an overwrought Toyota way. Hondas used to be so lithe and clean!


Thank goodness that mustache above the license plate isn't chrome, as Honda would be just a fender ventiport away from copying every design cliché in the book! And that "shelf" at each corner really needs to go from this angle.  The pear-shaped Civic must never been seen again!


While there is an interesting dynamic of busy angles at the border of the Civic's body, it is lumpy and frumpy.  This design will not age well.


Dare I say that, compared to what you see here, the 8th Gen Civic was downright gorgeous from this angle? While all the planes and wedges all lead to complimentary vanishing points somewhere out there in interstellar space (hopefully), there are simply far too many of them.


More blue tinting and pointless chrome bits. The lights would look better if they were flush to the body. It would also eliminate many lumps you've seen in the last two pictures.


And the spoiler adds a coupla more unique planes into the mix.  Just waaaay too busy.


Too many clichés, too much abandonment of what made the Civic a quality product with progressive and/or upscale design. The best thing you can say about the 2012 Civic is that the 2013 model should be in the showrooms very shortly.

Thanks for reading, you have a lovely weekend!


from The Truth About Cars

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