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How to tell if they're faking

Published April 16, 2008


So they've been faking it all along?

If you believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, or Transport Canada fuel consumption estimates, stop reading now — I have some potentially upsetting news.

You know those so-called “spy shots” of prototypes? The ones that pop up on auto news sites slathered in camouflage like they’re trying to avoid some kind of jungle warfare ambush?

Well, you might not know it, but most are about as real as Pamela Anderson’s chest.

It’s a little-known industry white lie that the majority of those so-called “scoops” are rigidly staged. In reality, spy shots can be part of an automaker’s tightly scripted media plan designed to ramp up interest in an upcoming product.

Most are either shot by the automakers, or generated by mysterious phone calls to the spy shooters with tips that a “certain car” may be passing by at a “certain time,” nudge-nudge, wink-wink…

But now, the spy shot metaphorical cat is officially out of the bag.

General Motor’s European Opel brand released a “how to camouflage” series of photos on the auto spy photo site,

The example is the 2009 Open Insignia, a mid-size front-drive family sedan we’ll eventually get as the next Saturn Aura.

Ironically, the very next day, AutoWeek released photos of the final production Insignia, naked of any tape, well ahead of its public unveiling at the London Motor Show in July.

Or did Opel leak these shots as well?

If a Jeep falls…

Ever wake up on a Sunday, gaze upon your new best friend across the sheets, and ask yourself, “What was I thinking?”

That’s pretty much how parent Chrysler feels about its disastrous Commander.

After a 43 per cent sales drop this past year, production of the large seven-seater SUV, (the worst-selling of Chrysler's six Jeep models) will end in mid-2009, said unnamed sources in a recent news article.

Only introduced in 2005, that’s well short of the usual seven- to eight-year lifespan of most vehicles.

Although the Commander was a lot more practical and drove better than a similarly priced Hummer H3, the lack of a diesel engine (its fuel economy ranged from 10.9 to 16.5 L/100 km with its V6 and V8 gas mills) and third-row legroom unsuitable for anyone over the age of 3, garnered some critics to label the biggest Jeep ever as “the answer to a question no one has asked.”

The pint-sized future of fun

It’s back to the future time for driving enthusiasts.

Just like the 1980s, when 150 hp Chevy Camaro Z28s defined the original Malaise Era for performance cars, rising fuel prices are once again remodeling what we’ll consider performance cars.

So instead of 480 hp super cars over-laden with gadgetry , try smaller and lighter on for size.

That’s where Toyota and Subaru are heading, with recent confirmation of an all-new small sports coupe. (Toyota has an ownership stake in Subaru's parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries.)

In an official statement from Toyota CEO Katsuaki "Ken" Watanabe: "The compact rear-wheel drive sports car is envisioned to offer a new 'fun to drive' experience based on an all-new vehicle platform."

Expected by 2010, Subaru's boxer four-cylinder engines will be used in both models.

Logic would suggest that a Lexus version (smaller than the current IS) is also in the works, possibly using Toyo-, er, Lexus engines to take on BMW’s 1-Series.

Although the Subaru version would be virgin ground for the automaker, (the last Subie coupe was the mid-sized, high-performance sports-touring SVX GT sold from 1991 to 1997), Toyota’s version is clearly cashing in on the continuing cult status of the 1984 to 1987 Corolla SR5 and GT-S coupes.

Known by its internal codename, AE86, it lives on via Japanese manga artists, as well as all instalments of Gran Turismo, Tokyo Highway Battle, and Tokyo Xtreme Racer computer and video games, and can be found the boy racer flick, Fast and Furious: 3 Tokyo Drift.