Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Advanta's credit shutdown endangers cardholders

As many as 1 million credit cardholders could be forced to search to find a new issuer, and debt holders could be faced with APRs as high as 35 percent, when small business card issuer Advanta Corp officially shuts down its credit card accounts for future transaction activities on June 10.

Advanta announced the shutdown May 11, attributing the move to the lack of immediate funds available in its receivables account to compensate investors. Advanta funds receivables through a trust that is supported by investors who buy up shares in exchange for paid interest. However, as Advanta -- along with most of the credit market -- has seen rising delinquencies, there has been less money to pay bondholders. Putting credit cards on hold will attempt to limit losses and prevent significant erosion of its capital as Advanta struggles to fund its customers' purchases and repay investors.

Advanta's uncollectible debt reached 20 percent on March 31, according to its filings on May 11. The company attributed its losses to suffering profits as the unemployment rate soars and customers are unable to repay debt.

The suspension of Advanta's credit card accounts is the latest hit Advanta has taken in a two-year market decline. The company's stock -- which was traded at almost $30 per share in July 2007 -- plummeted to 32 cents this year over credit market fears, and has since only climbed to $1.55. Advanta customers were angered when their rates were hiked up as high as 30 percent last fall, and on April 30 the issuer announced it incurred a $76 million first-quarter loss due to investments receivables and severance payments.

Advanta Chief Financial Officer Philip Browne said that while cardholders accounts will be shut down for transaction purposes, they will still maintain accounts with the company and be obligated to pay off balances. "We'll be shutting down accounts for future transaction activities, but many of the customers will maintain balances and pay us off over time," Browne said in an interview with Bloomberg."We'll have to service and collect on that, and that will be the first order of business for the company."

2010 Honda Insight Local Launch To Be Delayed Due To High Overseas Demand


Thanks to booming demand in the US, Japanese and European markets, Australian motorists will have to wait until the second half of 2010 before they can get their hands on Honda’s new Insight hybrid.

Demand for the cars has been unprecedented, with the Insight recently becoming the first hybrid to rise to the top of Japan’s sales charts. Back when TMR first experienced the Insight at its local preview, it was originally tipped to arrive here in late 2009.

The news from Honda means we’ll likely have to wait a full year longer for the Insight than initially expected.


At this stage, Australia’s allocation of Insights is unknown. We spoke with Honda’s PR man Mark Higgins, and he said that the Insight’s situation will probably mirror that of the Civic Hybrid, of which Honda Australia simply can’t get enough to meet demand due to overwhelming orders abroad.

We’ve no doubt it will be popular when it eventually lands here, but the delay gives Toyota’s new Prius a substantial lead on the Honda.

The Prius is expected to debut here in July and although it will most definitely be priced above the Insight, the fact that it’ll be first out of the blocks should give it a definite leg-up.

2009 Honda Insight

Local pricing has yet to be announced, but overseas the Insight retails for less than the Civic Hybrid, with which it shares much of its basic mechanical componentry.

Aston Martin One-77: More Images To Light Your Day


With just one example of the Aston Martin One-77 headed to Australia (for now, at least) most of us will be unlikely to see the limited edition British beast in the wilderness.

We’re pleased to report then that yet more photos have surfaced online, taken during the car’s unveilling at the Concorso d’Eleganza in Italy.


Powered by a 7.0 litre version of the company’s 6.0 litre V12 donk, the Aston Martin One-77 develops an other-worldly 522kW and 705Nm of torque.

Top speed hasn’t been officially revealed, but Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez has suggested speeds greater than 320km/h ought to be achievable.


Shelby Daytona Coupe Le Mans Edition By Exotic Auto Restoration


The idea of owning a genuine piece of racing history in the form of an historic racer remains, for most people, little more than a dream. Thankfully, American firm Exotic Auto Restoration is helping to keep the dream alive with the Shelby Daytona Coupe Le Mans Edition.

Based on Carroll Shelby’s original 1964 design, the modern Daytona Coupe mixes the alluring lines of the original with modern touches inside and out.

To pay tribute to the car’s race heritage, a limited run of six track-ready cars will also be produced, commemorating the six original Le Mans racers.


The road version of the car features bulging Group 5 flares sitting over 18-inch wheels. Inside, the Daytona Coupe features a billet aluminium dash housing aircraft style toggle switches, along with a 200mph speedometer and 10,000rpm tachometer.

Also included are reclining Alcantara-trimmed seats embroidered with the “Le Mans Edition” logo and a suede trimmed Momo steering wheel. Functional billet aluminium louvers also adorn the top and sides of the bonnet.

Motivation is provided by a range of V8 engines based on Ford’s 351ci (5.8 litre) Windsor block. Drive is channeled to the rear wheels via Tremec’s T56 six-speed manual transmission.


The six special-edition track cars will add a six-point roll cage, lightweight wheels, 14-inch front and 13-inch rear six-piston brakes, carbon fibre front splitter and rear diffuser, programmable ignition and brake bias control.

Air conditioning and carpet get shown the door and racing buckets with six-point harnesses and a quick release steering wheel are added inside.


Power is provided by a dry-sumped 427ci (7.0 litre) engine producing 417kW (560hp) and 718Nm (530 lb-ft) of torque driven though a Tremec TKO-600 transmission.

Australian enthusiasts might also be aware that CTC performance in Warragul, Victoria, also produce a damn fine Daytona Coupe replica. You might want to also check out CTC’s offerings at

2009 Kia Soul Awarded To Online World Cup Tournament Winner


Along with prize money to the tune of US$20,000 and an invitation to the FIFA World Player Gala 2010, Frenchman Bruce Grannec has scored a 2009 Kia Soul for his winning efforts in the FIFA Interactive World Cup Final in Barcelona, Spain.

Beating out 530,000 online opponents from 52 countries around the world, Grannec made his way to Barcelona for the series finals, where 20,0000 people watched him take the trophy.

Kia has sponsored the series’ offline tournaments in South Africa and Italy since 2008, using the events as an opportunity to spread the word on the funky Soul hatch.


“Our new Kia Soul truly speaks to the hearts and minds of a young-at-heart audience,” said Hyoung-Keun Lee, Senior Executive Vice President and COO of the International Business Division, Kia Motors Corporation.

“Participating in this on-and-offline tournament in conjunction with FIFA was a great opportunity to showcase the Soul and its customizable options for tech-savvy, individually-minded drivers. They can truly appreciate what this car, and our brand, has to offer.”

General Motors To Import Chinese-Built Cars?


In a move that could see dramatic effects on employment in the US auto industry, General Motors will be the first automaker to import Chinese-built cars into the United States, according to Automotive News.

Citing a leaked document revealed to lawmakers overseeing the restructuring of the auto giant, the respected US industry broadsheet reports that GM is planning to market Chinese-built cars to American buyers as early as 2011.


GM expects to sell about 17,335 of the China-made vehicles in its first year of US sales, before tripling that number to 51,546 in 2014, according to the leaked planning document.

The gains would come, the document says, with GM’s total US sales surging 50 percent in the next five years.

General Motors is the top-selling foreign automaker in China, and Buick is the number one brand overall in China’s growing market. It is in part for this reason that the nameplate was saved during a recent round of cuts that included the elimination of Pontiac.


An example of the growing influence of the Chinese market on the American manufacturer is the interior of the 2010 Buick LaCrosse sedan, which was designed at a GM studio in Shanghai.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson said yesterday, “We are in dialogue with the UAW (Union of Auto Workers), and my view of a dialogue is that it is a good idea to have an open book on all the different subjects.”

“We have a philosophy of building where we sell, and not only do we think that is the right thing to do, but the most profitable thing to do historically.”

The UAW has been critical of plans to move production overseas and stated in a May 5 letter to the US Senate, “GM should not be taking taxpayers’ money simply to finance the outsourcing of jobs to other countries.”


The leaked GM document also reveals plans to significantly increase sales of cars the company builds in Mexico and South Korea, while reducing the number made in Canada.

F1: Ferrari Announces Intentions To Quit


It’s official. Ferrari has announced it will not participate in the 2010 Formula One World Championship unless the FIA conducts a severe makeover of the new budget cap regulations.

The Italian manufacturer had previously indicated its commitment to F1 was in doubt, with company president Luca di Montezemolo issuing a threatening letter to FIA President Max Mosley outlining his concerns.

Di Montezemolo’s remarks however prompted FIA President Max Mosley to fight back, with the Briton issuing the inflammatory claim that F1 “could survive without Ferrari”.

But while previous developments were simply dismissed as political posturing, the prospect of a Ferrari-free F1 championship is now much closer to reality.

Ferrari’s Board of Directors met last night to confirm it will indeed pull the pin on its F1 operations if the cap and “arbitrary” technical regulations aren’t changed.

“The Board of Directors (have) examined developments related to recent decisions taken by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile during an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council on 29 April 2009,” the company said in a statement.

“The Board considers that if this is the regulatory framework for Formula 1 in the future, then the reasons underlying Ferrari’s uninterrupted participation in the World Championship over the last 60 years - the only constructor to have taken part ever since its inception in 1950 - would come to a close.”


Ferrari’s main concern surrounds the performance and technological freedoms to be afforded to budget-capped teams, claiming it will lead to the formation of a two-tiered championship.

The automaker has also raised opposition to the FIA’s decision-making processes, questioning its mode of control, while accusing the governing body of breaching pre-existing agreements

“The Board also expressed its disappointment about the methods adopted by the FIA in taking decisions of such a serious nature and its refusal to effectively reach an understanding with constructors and teams,” the statement continued.

“The rules of governance that have contributed to the development of Formula 1 over the last 25 years have been disregarded, as have the binding contractual obligations between Ferrari and the FIA itself regarding the stability of the regulations.

“The same rules for all teams, stability of regulations, the continuity of the FOTA’s endeavours to methodically and progressively reduce costs, and governance of Formula 1 are the priorities for the future.

“If these indispensable principles are not respected and if the regulations adopted for 2010 will not change, then Ferrari does not intend to enter its cars in the next Formula 1 World Championship.”

Ferrari’s announcement will send shockwaves around the motoring world, and is likely to have many far-reaching commercial and sporting ramifications.

As Bernie Ecclestone said so eloquently, “Formula One is Ferrari and Ferrari is Formula One.”.

2010 Opel Astra Revealed, New Platform, New Engines


We’ve had leaked images and a couple of official photos so far, but this is easily the best look we’ve had at Opel’s 2010 Astra. And as these images show, the new model lands with very appealing lines.

Set for debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, the 2010 Astra follows design cues set by the Insignia and is based on GM’s new Delta platform - which also forms the basis of the Chevy Volt and Holden Cruze.

More importantly, with a new platform comes two new four cylinder turbocharged engines to join the existing line-up of petrol and diesel units.


Petrol engines will include a 1.4 litre naturally-aspirated mill and a 1.4 litre turbo delivering either 89kW (120hp) or 104kW (140hp) depending on tune. Torque comes in at 175Nm (127lb-ft) or 200Nm (145lb-ft) respectively.

At the top of the petrol range sits a 1.6 litre turbo engine producing 134kW (180hp) which replaces the existing 1.8 litre and delivers an eight percent fuel saving.

Diesel will be well represented with 1.3 litre, 1.7 litre and 2.0 litre turbocharged engines on offer. Power figures have not yet been disclosed and Opel also notes that it plans to introduce an ecoFLEX engine to the lineup during 2010.


At this stage the interior is still under wraps. There’s a handful of spy shots floating around the web and from these we can tell you that the Astra shares much of its interior design with the Insignia, and that’s not a bad thing.

The Astra will kick off in Europe with the five-door model followed shortly by the more sporty three-door fast-back GTC Coupe. The station wagon will make an appearance in late 2010 with a four-door sedan and cabriolet the last to arrive.

Pricing information has not been released but we’re expecting more information closer to the Frankfurt Show.

Gran Turismo 5 To Get Visible Car Damage, Weather Effects, Night Racing


Perhaps the most frustrating element of most racing games but absent from the legendary Gran Turismo racing simulator for the Sony PlayStation, visible car damage is now expected to feature in the massively-delayed Gran Turismo 5.

Sure, there’s a perfectly good reason for it: without permission from manufacturers to show their cars getting visibly roughed up, it can’t happen. And while developer Polyphony Digital has apparently had permission from a majority of manufacturers, it only takes one precious company to decline for it to be an overall no-go.


However, GT series creator Kazanori Yamauchi has revealed in a recent interview that car damage is finally coming to the series.

Yamauchi also promised that other features long absent from Gran Turismo, such as visible weather effects and night racing, will also appear in GT5.

The latest iteration of the famed racing simulator series has suffered more than a few delays along the way, with Gran Turismo 5 Prologue being released as something of a tide-me-over until the ‘full’ game’s unveilling. But while Yamauchi wouldn’t give a firm shipping date, rumours around the gaming circles suggest the game itself (sans Prologue) is expected to land some time around 2011-2012.

MotoGP: Bayliss Takes Up Testing Role With Ducati

Photo by Ty Dany.

Australian Troy Bayliss will make a surprise return to motorbike racing after reportedly accepting a role with Ducati to test the team’s MotoGP bike.

Bayliss retired late last year after securing his third World Superbike Championship, returning to Australia with the intention of launching a career in V8 Supercars.

While he was linked with an endurance drive at Triple Eight Racing, Bayliss has answered an SOS call from his previous employers in a bid to improve Ducati’s fortunes in MotoGP this season.


Although 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner and satellite rider Mika Kallio have performed impressively this season, Ducati’s remaining riders have struggled to adapt to the company’s new GP9 machine.

Bayliss will join regular tester Vittoriano Guareschi at Mugello to help develop the bike, examining Ducati’s new electrical system ahead of the Le Mans round this weekend.

Ducati boss Livio Suppo said the team has also made a number of changes at management to increase the company’s competitiveness across the board.

“After the race at Jerez, which was fantastic for Casey but very difficult for Nicky, we had a few meetings to analyse our technical and organisational structure, with the goal of improving the all-round performances of our riders,” he told Autosport.

“The GP9 is still a very young machine and for the first time in MotoGP we have five bikes on the grid. For these two reasons we have decided that we need to concentrate more on co-ordinating all the data that we gather at each race in order to provide more direction for development.”

Opel/Vauxhall Astra

These are the first images of the new Opel/Vauxhall Astra, which will debut as a five-door hatchback at the Frankfurt Motor Show this September. Created at GM's European design studio, the sixth generation Astra's cab-forward silhouette, steeply-raked windscreen and sloping rear roofline are design elements found in the Insignia. At 4400mm, the new car is 110mm longer than the model it replaces and has a 71mm longer wheelbase. It also has wider tracks front and rear.

"We're continuing with the same premium design cues as the Insignia, inside and out of the car," said Mark Adams, Vice President of GM Europe Design. "However, the main design themes, like the wing-shaped light signatures and the blade, needed an individual execution to avoid 'cloning' the model ranges. This is why, for instance, you see twin wings in the rear lights and a reversed blade on its flanks."

Opel has not released images of the new Astra's interior, but the automaker promises similar strides in quality to those found in the Insignia combined with improvements in packaging, seat design and in-cabin storage. The Insignia's unique wraparound IP is also said to be reinterpreted in the Astra.

Geely IG concept

The neat little IG (‘intelligent Geely') city car is just 3m long, and like the similarly-proportioned Toyota iQ, it has a 3+1-seater interior. However, rather than a layout with a foldaway rear seat, it positions the driver centrally ahead of the pair of passengers, all three on lightweight, space-efficient skeletal seat structures.

Looking neat and modern in its orange paint with black bonnet, black roof pillars and extended side indicator strips which wrap up from the corners of the headlights to the side windowline, the wheel-at-each-corner IG is chunky and purposeful - and as a battery-driven EV with range supplemented by its roof-mounted solar panel, it is indeed an intelligent choice for urban life.

Geely will market the IG under its new Gleagle brand, and is said to be planning exports to the West, though it's expected to get more conventional seats for production.