Tesla drops the cheapest Model S

Tesla is dropping the cheapest version of the Model S sedan from its line-up. It also happens to be the only rear-wheel drive version of that car now on the market.

Tesla’s Model S 75 costs about $70,000, making it the least expensive Model S currently sold. It has a 348 horsepower electric motor and an EPA-estimated driving range of 249 miles.

Now Tesla’s least expensive Model S will be the 75D, which only comes with all-wheel-drive and starts at $75,000. The S 75D has the same size battery pack as the discontinued model but slightly longer range. The D stands for “Dual Motor,” since there are separate electric motors for front and back wheels.

For shoppers looking to pay much less — and who don’t care about having all-wheel-drive — Tesla’s smaller, less luxurious Model 3 sedan recently went into production. Starting prices for that car, currently only available with rear-wheel-drive, are about half that of the Model S. An all-wheel-drive Model 3 will be available next Spring.

All-wheel-drive Teslas get better traction on wet or snowy roads. They also have slightly more range because they use power more efficiently.

All-wheel-drive is a popular option on all sorts of luxury vehicles, according to the automotive Web site, KBB.com.

Far out: VW plans an electric hippie bus

Volkswagen will revisit its Microbus history, but with a twist.

The German automaker plans to begin production of a new, all-electric version of the its famous van.

The extremely groovy vehicle, called the ID Buzz, won’t arrive in dealerships until 2022, VW said.

The van will be part of Volkswagen’s planned ID line of electric vehicles. The first, a compact car simply called the ID, was unveiled as a concept car at the Paris Motor Show last September. The ID Buzz concept van was unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show in January.

The name Buzz plays off the word “Bus,” VW said. ID stands for any number of things including “Idea,” “Identity” or “Intelligent Design.”

The electric compact car will go on sale before the van does, VW said.

The ID Buzz concept van is an all-wheel-drive vehicle with electric motors in front and back. Together, the motors can produce 369 horsepower. That’s a vast improvement over the famously underpowered and slow original VW Microbus, a vehicle that became an icon of the “flower power” movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The bus ID Buzz concept has a driving range of 270 miles, according to VW

The concept van is also designed for autonomous driving, with a rectangular steering wheel that retracts into the dashboard when not in use. With the steering retracted, the driver’s seat can be rotated around so the driver can talk with passengers while the van drives itself.

A short test drive in the concept van demonstrated limitations to the rectangular steering wheel. It isn’t really practical, making for awkward turns in real-world driving. (There’s a reason steering wheels are generally round.) The actual production van will feature “highly automated driving,” according to VW, if not fully automated driving,

VW’s big push on electric vehicles follows the automaker’s recent diesel emissions scandal. Volkswagen was found to have installed software that reduced harmful emissions from many of the automaker’s diesel-powered vehicles only during testing. As part of a plan to make up for that, VW has agreed to promote electric cars.

Many other automakers, however, are also making big plans for electric vehicles. And several countries, including Great Britain, France, Norway and China, have announced plans to begin phasing out gasoline- and diesel-powered cars.

Cadillac unveils new plug-in hybrid sedan

— Cadillac will sell a plug-in hybrid version of its new CT6 full-sized luxury sedan, General Motors said at the Shanghai Motor Show.

The car will be able to drive on electricity alone for a distance compatible with “most daily commutes,” GM said in a statement. At higher speeds and over longer distances, it will use power from both from the car’s batteries and a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine.

The plug-in CT6 will have powerful acceleration, even in all-electric mode, GM said. The car uses two electric motors and a four-cylinder engine, which could produce 335 horsepower altogether.

Drivers will be able to choose different modes to maximize either performance or better fuel economy.

Cadillac already offers a plug-in hybrid car, the ELR, which is based on the same engineering as the Chevrolet Volt. That car, which is largely hand-built, has not been a big seller — dealers sold just 92 of them in March. GM recently cut its sticker price by $9,000, so the ELR now costs about $65,000 before government tax incentives.

GM has not yet announced a price, driving range or fuel economy estimates for the plug-in CT6.

The gasoline-powered Cadillac CT6 was unveiled at the New York Auto Show earlier this month. GM touted the car’s light weight, considering its large size. It’s weight is almost the same as the smaller CTS sedan. GM promised a fun driving experience in both gas and plug-in versions of the car.

The CT6 will be available with an extensive array of features, including a security system that will take pictures around the outside of the car the instant the alarm system is activated. It will also be available with four-wheel steering to assist in tight turns.


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Cadillac’s plug-in car to cost $76,000

— When the Cadillac ELR goes on sale early next year, prices for the two-door plug-in car will start at $75,995. Factoring in a $7,500 federal tax credit for plug in vehicles, the ELR will effectively cost about $68,500.

At that price, the ELR would cost somewhat more than the fully electric Tesla Model S. A Tesla with a 265 mile driving range costs $72,400, after the tax credit, while one with a 208 mile range costs just $62,400.

The ELR, which is essentially a luxury version of the Chevrolet Volt, can drive for 35 miles or so under purely electric power. At that point a four-cylinder gasoline engine turns on, generating electricity for more driving. Unlike the Volt, the ELR is a high-performance two-door car , GM has said. The ELR costs more than twice as much as the Volt, which starts about $34,000

To justify the ELR’s high cost, Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell pointed to the ELR’s greater flexibility. Unlike a fully electric car, the ELR can be driven extremely long distances while stopping only to refuel with gas, which is much faster than charging a car.

A Tesla model S would, in most cases, need to stop at one of the company’s Supercharger stations for a recharge which, although free, takes about an hour. Tesla is also rolling out battery swapping stations, where drivers can replace a spent battery with a full one in about 90 seconds. The cost of a battery swap will be similar to the cost of filling up with gasoline.

Cadillac buyers will also benefit from Cadillac’s extensive dealership network and its long experience in providing service to customers, Caldwell said. The ELR was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show last January. GM has said it will produce only about 10,000 ELRs per year. GM sold over 23,000 Chevrolet Volts in the U.S. alone last year.

Average U.S. car is 11.4 years old, a record high

— If the cars you see on the road these days seem a little run down to you, you might be on to something.

The average age of vehicles on America’s roads has reached an all-time high of 11.4 years, according to the market research firm Polk. And that average age is sure to keep climbing, the firm said.

The decline in new vehicle sales during the recession pushed the average vehicle age higher, as people kept their old cars running longer, according to Polk. The number of vehicles over a dozen years old is growing especially rapidly, the firm said.

This trend of cars growing older has been building for a long time. In 2002, the average vehicle was 9.6 years old. In 1995, it was 8.4 years.

America’s aging car fleet is good news for companies that sell auto parts and provide repair services, Polk said.

“[I]ndependent and chain repair shops should be paying close attention to their business plans and making concerted efforts to retain business among the do-it-for-me (DIFM) audience, while retailers have a unique and growing opportunity with potential consumers wrenching on their own vehicles,” Polk said.

Even as auto sales bounce back, Polk expects the number of vehicles 12 years and older to keep expanding, growing by more than 20% by 2018.


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