Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Low-cost foreign airlines expand in U.S., but DFW left out so far

For residents in Los Angeles, New York, South Florida and other major metropolitan areas, catching a flight to Europe has likely never been cheaper, thanks in part to the rise of a new breed of low-cost international airlines headlined by Norwegian Air Shuttle.

This group, which also includes Icelandair and WOW air, has brought the unbundled model used domestically by airlines like Spirit and Frontier to the trans-Atlantic market, offering one-way fares as low as $180 targeted toward leisure travelers.

The trio of airlines has grown rapidly over the last five years and now combine to connect more than a dozen U.S. cities to London, Scandinavia and beyond. Although they represent a sliver of the total trans-Atlantic traffic, they exert a disproportionate downward pull on fares and have eyes on continued expansion in the coming years.
But so far, North Texas travelers have been left out of the low-fare frenzy, due to a combination of geography, competition and market dynamics. And there’s no sign any of these airlines will be touching down at local airports any time soon.

“We won’t see the benefit of this as much because really Dallas is perfect for business long-haul travel but not great for leisure long-haul. The coasts are better for [that],” said Rick Seaney, CEO and co-founder of Dallas-based booking site FareCompare.

The idea of low-cost trans-Atlantic air service traces back decades to the likes of Laker Airways and People Express Airlines. But those carriers never amounted to more than a few planes serving limited routes before being driven out of the market in the 1980s by larger airlines, said aviation analyst Robert Mann.

There was also Icelandic Airlines, a precursor to today's Icelandair, which became known in the 1960s as the "Hippie Express" for shuttling American college students to Europe on the cheap.

Norwegian Air, which launched U.S. service in 2013, has made use of the new generation of highly-efficient planes and engines, like the Boeing 787, to make long-haul flights more economical.

Icelandair and WOW air, which is also based out of Iceland, have used geography to connect U.S. travelers to Europe with one-stop service through the island’s Keflavik International Airport. Like the rest of the airline industry, all three have benefited from low fuel prices over the last several years.

Initially, the airlines largely focused on coastal U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami. But they’re slowly adding more inland destinations such as Minneapolis, Denver and Pittsburgh.

Their route maps tend to favor cities with large volumes of originating passengers, including leisure markets like Orlando and Las Vegas, as well as regions with secondary airports like Oakland, Calif., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that don’t have a dominant trans-Atlantic carrier.

Norwegian in particular is poised for even more growth after the Department of Transportation this month approved the company’s Irish subsidiary Norwegian Air International to begin operating flights to the U.S.

The decision, which took three years of deliberation, was fiercely contested by major U.S. airlines and their unions, who warned that the arrangement would undermine wages and safety standards -- claims Norwegian Air denied.

The approval opens the door for Norwegian to connect U.S. passengers to even more destinations in Europe. The carrier plans to add 20 more 787s to its long-haul fleet over the next two years and is establishing crew bases in Fort Lauderdale and New York.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Like all iterations of the new Chevrolet Camaro, the ZL1 suffers from mediocre forward visibility. The mail-slot view is akin to that of a WWII pillbox, save that you grasp a suede steering wheel rather than the leather grips to a .50cal Browning. It's fitting, because the fire mission is roughly the same in both cases: kill anything that moves.

Equipped with a wet-sump version of the Corvette Z06's 650 hp supercharged 6.2L V8, Chevrolet's heavy caliber Camaro is anything but subtle. Its arrival is heralded by the shredding of air by a trio of enormous air intakes, its departure by V8 thunder reminiscent of late-sixties Can-Am racing. It is styled like a visual uppercut. It does ridiculous burnouts. It comes with stripes. The seatbelts are red.

But do not mistake this loudly bellowing beast for the overpowered dim-bulb of its predecessor. The Alpha-platform ZL1 isn't just lighter than its fifth-generation ancestor, it's far smarter, more approachable, and considerably quicker around a road course. If there's still a whiff of mullet going on here, it's now more Corvette-infused: think Jordan Taylor on the podium at Le Mans.

"The fifth generation Camaro came with a lot of baggage, for want of a better word," said Lead Development Engineer Aaron Link.

Sharing its Zeta platform with the Australian Holden Commodore, the previous Camaro had dynamic foibles baked right in. Call it down-understeer, an unwillingness to dance that required 305 series tires at all four corners of the track-focused Z/28, best of breed for the fifth-gen car.

Where the Z/28 only had a single job, the ZL1 is required to be jack of all trades. Excellence is expected at the dragstrip, the track, and on the street. Surely, some compromises will need to be made.

Lining up first at the burnout box, the ZL1 delights with an easily accessed line-lock feature that holds the front wheels locked for fifteen seconds. Once smoke starts creeping out from under the hood, simply press the select and cruise control buttons on the left and right of the steering wheel, and lock will release, letting the ZL1 glide forward from the cloud of tire smoke like the Phantom of the Grand Ol' Opry.

Launch control is similarly as easy to use: select either custom or automatic mode, apply braking with the left foot, then mat the throttle. When the Christmas tree lights up, the ZL1 chitters and squeaks down the unprepped surface, hammering suddenly into full power as the rear wheels hook up partway down the track. Launch control's custom mode allows the driver to vary revs in increments of 100rpm, and wheelspin in half-percentages.

The LT4's 650 hp at 6400rpm and 650 lb-ft at 3000rpm don't peg headlines in a world of 707hp supercharged Mopar muscle, but the ZL1 should hold its own. On street tires, Chevrolet claims this car will run a 11.4 second quarter-mile, with a trap speed of 127 mph. Engineers confirmed that Chevrolet had strapped on a set of 18 inch drag radials, and seen elapsed times drop by a further four-tenths of a second. On paper, Dodge's Hellcats are faster. Door-to-door, tenths-to-tenths it's anyone's game.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

American Airlines wins $15 million in antitrust case against Sabre

American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O) on Tuesday won about $15.3 million in an antitrust lawsuit that accused airline booking service Sabre Corp (SABR.O) of harming competition and charging grossly inflated booking fees.

The Manhattan federal jury awarded nearly $5.1 million, a fraction of the up to $73 million American Airlines was seeking at trial. But the sum automatically will be tripled under federal antitrust law.

American Airlines was suing under the name of US Airways, the carrier it merged with in 2013. US Airways had filed the lawsuit in 2011.

American Airlines welcomed the verdict, saying it hoped the jury's finding that Sabre had violated federal antritrust law in a 2011 contract with US Airways could result in changes in how the airline's services are sold.

The jury rejected a separate claim that Sabre conspired with its competitors to not compete with each other.

Sabre said in a statement that it continued to believe it had operated "fairly and lawfully." The company said it would seek to have the verdict set aside and, if unsuccessful, pursue an appeal.

Following the verdict, Sabre shares closed at $25.15, down 35 cents, or 1.4 percent, on Nasdaq.

The case concerned fees that Sabre and other travel reservation systems collect from airlines to display flights for booking.

At trial, Chuck Diamond, a lawyer for American Airlines, contended that Sabre used its power in the industry to "bully" airlines into paying unfair fees and signing unfair contracts that suppress competition and maintain its position.

The lawsuit claimed that provisions of a 2011 contract between US Airways and Sabre, including those governing what fares the airline makes available to a computerized network by Sabre used by travel agents, harmed competition.

The airline also contended that Sabre conspired with its competitors to not compete with each other for airline content like flight and fare information at the expense of consumers and innovation.

Sabre denied conspiring with competitors, and said its contract with US Airways benefited competition. Chris Lind, a lawyer for Sabre, told jurors US Airways was far from powerless as it could leave the network, causing agents to stop using it.

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Samsung Will Be Apple's Top Supplier For iPhones Again In 2017

Samsung was Apple’s main supplier for the iPhones from the very beginning, making the A-series processors and supplying both NAND flash and DRAM memory chips. But Samsung started to supply less components to Apple since 2011, coincidentally when Apple sued Samsung for patent infringement. The South Korean company now only supplied DRAM chips for the iPhone 7, according to a teardown by iFixit.

But that trial is finally wrapping up, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor with the South Korean company last week, just when Samsung is set to be iPhone’s main supplier once again next year.

Some of the most expensive components of an iPhone are the display panel and memory chips (both NAND flash and DRAM combined). In the iPhone 7 (32GB), these components together are worth over a quarter of the total bill of materials ($219.80), according to data from IHS Markit. Reports say Samsung will provide OLED display panels for at least one of the next iPhones, as well as NAND flash memory chips again. Adding DRAM chips into the mix will make Samsung the main supplier out of hundreds of companies.

Apple will finally adopt OLED panels next year to have an iPhone with a curved screen (most likely for the 10th anniversary version), and Samsung will be the sole supplier, Bloomberg reported last month. Not that Apple had much of a choice. The Korean tech giant dominates the market.

“Currently in flexible OLED market, Samsung is the only company to mass produce and to stand in No. 1 position in both OLED smartphone and OLED panel markets,” according to Jeff Kim and Kevin Kim, analysts at Hyundai Securities.

Now Samsung needs a big buyer—like Apple—to make full use of its new semiconductor facility. In 2014, Samsung poured 15.6 trillion won ($14.7 billion) into a new chip plant in South Korea, the largest investment for a single plant by the tech giant.

The new plant will start operations next year, and ETNews has reported Samsung will once again supply NAND flash memory chips to Apple.

But again, the California-based company couldn’t really avoid Samsung. The iPhone maker sources from multiple suppliers and it’s difficult not to use the largest supplier of NAND flash memory chips.

Apple also won’t be able to circumvent using Samsung’s DRAM memory chips, as it commands about 60% of the mobile DRAM market.

Samsung is a vertically integrated electronics company and its advantage comes from the synergy of handsets and components. It has huge facilities that make more components than its own smartphones for economies of scale, and needs big component buyers like Apple.

Apple depends on multiple sources, but it also needs a reliable supplier who can make high quality components at large quantities like Samsung.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

2017 Bentley Bentayga: A First Class Road Trip To New York City

It’s a shame that the New Jersey Turnpike won’t allow 180 mile-per-hour cruising speeds. If it did, I’d have the aluminum accelerator pedal of the Bentley buried into its deep pile carpet. The sport-ute’s twin-turbocharged W12 would be whirling near redline as the Woodrow Wilson, Joyce Kilmer, and Grover Cleveland service areas pass by in a blur. And my wife and two teenage children, accompanying me on the trip, would be blissfully napping in their massaging seats as we rocketed north towards New York City.

The nation’s sixth-busiest toll road technically has a speed limit of 65 miles-per-hour. It drastically slows our pace, but whether our road trip from Washington D.C. to the Big Apple takes two hours or five hours is trivial to my family as the four of us are blissfully cocooned inside the world’s fastest, most luxurious, and most exclusive sport utility vehicle on the planet — the all-new 2017 Bentley Bentayga.

Bentley has been handcrafting luxury motorcars for nearly a century, yet despite its extensive experience (and wins) with both road and race cars, it has never dabbled outside the coupe and sedan arena. Yet all that changed when the celebrated British automaker introduced the world to the Bentayga, its first full-size luxury crossover.

Confident that the all-new premium sport utility vehicle performs exceptionally well with two well-heeled passengers enjoying an evening at the opera, or with a pair of Middle East royals bounding over sand dunes, I chose to see how the crossover would do in the real world — a holiday road trip for a family of four, with full luggage, between two prominent East Coast cities.

Face-to-face, the Bentley has stage presence. It’s about the same size as the Land Rover Range Rover (its primary competitor) and Audi Q7, of which it shares common architecture (Bentley says that 80 percent of its parts are unique). Its look is distinctive, chic and unmistakable — sharply creased hydro-formed aluminum body panels, a traditional bright grille, and oversize jewel-like LED headlamps allow it to seamlessly fit in with the rest of the Bentley family.

My family travels efficiently, but not necessarily light. Cumulatively, the four of us were accompanied by five 22-inch roller suitcases and four carry-on bags (plus, the expected purses and backpacks). Bentley offers the Bentayga in four- or five-passengers variants (a seven-passenger version is in the works), with an interior capacity that about equals the standard-wheelbase competition.

The interior is best described as sumptuous ? assuming the passenger compartment of a mechanized vehicle may be defined as such. Every square inch of the cabin, except for the acoustic laminated glass and a few this-is-going-to-get-abused panels in the trunk, is swathed with the softest hides, polished wood, or brightly finished metal. The aromatic leather is everywhere — including the full headliner, pillars, and door sills (on each side of the Bentley kick plates).

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Justice Department approves Alaska Airlines' acquisition of Virgin America

The Justice Department on Tuesday cleared the parent company of Alaska Airlines to buy Virgin America, but imposed some route-sharing conditions.

The $2.6-billion purchase of Burlingame, Calif.-based Virgin America by Alaska Air Group, which will create the nation’s fifth largest domestic carrier, is the latest of a series of airline combinations that have put more than 80% of all domestic flights under control of four major carriers, American, United, Delta and Southwest.

With the acquisition, Alaska Air Group will account for 6% of the nation’s domestic flights, moving it ahead of JetBlue Airways Corp., which lost the bidding war for Virgin. Alaska officials have yet to say whether they will operate the two airlines separately or combine them under the Alaska Airlines name.

Before clearing the purchase of Virgin America, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division required Alaska to slim down its code-sharing agreement with American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier. Code-sharing agreements allow airlines to sell tickets to its customers on flights operated by rival airlines.

Alaska Airlines and American Airlines have code-sharing agreements to sell tickets on about 250 routes. But Virgin America has competed strongly with American Airlines, particularly on transcontinental flights.

To ensure that American Airlines continues to face competition, Alaska Airlines agreed to end its code-sharing agreement with American on those flights that complete with Virgin America, including routes out of Los Angeles International Airport.

“Today’s settlement ensures that Alaska has the incentive to take the fight to American and use Virgin’s assets to grow its network in ways that benefit competition and consumers,” Acting Assistant Atty. Gen. Renata Hesse said..

The settlement must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“With this combination now cleared for takeoff, we’re thrilled to bring these two companies together and start delivering our low fares and great service to an even larger group of customers,” said Brad Tilden, chairman and chief executive of Alaska Air Group.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

2017 Lamborghini Huracan Preview

On paper, it might be Lamborghini's entry-level model, but don't think of the Huraca?n as anything short of a genuine sports car. In many ways, we prefer it to its far more outlandish Aventador, and not just because it delivers way more than half the thrills at 50 percent of the price.

The Huraca?n replace the Gallardo in the Sant'Agata, Italy, automaker's lineup, and it's the best genuine performance car to wear the prancing bull today. Its balance belies its Teutonic roots, and its unmistakable V-10 snarls with with a level of passion seen in few other cars—ever.

We've scored it a 6.6 out of 10, accounting for the fact that it's an expensive supercar with all the compromises that prevent it from scoring a 10.

Don't look for big change for 2017 after the Hurac?n LP 610-4 added a Spyder roofless companion and cylinder deactivation for its V-10 engine last year. Soon, Lamborghini will release a Huraca?n Superleggera, a stripped-out model that promises to go especially fast. It's already been spied on the road, and we expect a debut sometime in calendar year 2017.

Though the Hurac?n lists for half of the price of an Aventador, it gives up little in terms of eye-catching style and ferocious performance to its big brother. Sleek, smooth, and aerospace-inspired exterior lines pair with angular, aggressive vents and scoops to yield a look that’s futuristic and yet channels the legendary Countach’s wedge shape. No shortage of scoops, ducts,and  intakes—all the usual Lambo styling cues—are here, but they're all living in harmony. The huge cuts and corners tuck perfectly into its dart-like body. It's a fresh take on Italian supercardom, and it's going to look fresh for years to come.

More than that, Lamborghini allows buyers to custom tailor their vehicles; if you want one with a yellow exterior and a green interior, they'll oblige.

A jet-inspired cockpit greets driver and passenger, but it favors the driver. Guarded switches and toggles are laid out in a way that's at first intimidating but is ultimately logical; it's the perfect fusion of Italian style and German precision. The instrument panel is a single LCD screen, which displays everything from navigation maps to engine data like revs and temperature, which only bolsters the jet-like look. The dash is otherwise a simple affair, adorned with the Lamborghini logo.

It's a little daunting, as it should be, although much of the controls are easy to sort through if you've recently driven an Audi. After all, both brands fall under the Volkswagen Group's umbrella, even though Lamborghini essentially operates on its own.

Mounted just behind the two occupants is the heart of the Hurac?n, a 5.2-liter V-10 engine, rated at 601 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. Though it shares its core design with the engine that was shoehorned into the Gallardo, the vast majority of components have been redesigned to improve both power and to coax it to rev more freely, making the Hurac?n’s engine very responsive. It'll rocket from zero to 60 mph in about 3.2 seconds and on to a top speed beyond 202 mph, should you find a suitable place to test that.

Power is rushed to all four wheels via an electronically-controlled center differential, a notable upgrade over the viscous center coupling of the Gallardo. The new differential allows power to be preemptively distributed around the car, with up to 50 percent of power flowing through the front wheels, though the static distribution is a 30/70 front-rear split, giving the Hurac?n traditional rear-drive dynamics

Underneath, magnetically controlled dampers, which stiffen and soften very quickly—much quicker than air dampers could—transcend the Hurac?n from track day star to highway cruiser. A trio of on-board accelerometers and gyroscopes transmit information about the vehicle's state and conditions of roll, yaw, and traction, to better predict behavior. The net result is sharper responses over any terrain, from the "corkscrew" at Laguna Seca to the country road behind your house.

Steering is electric, and while feel isn’t as clearly communicated as you’ll find on some other high-end supercars, it’s accurate, and the available dynamic steering ratio provides quick, sporty input. On track, the Hurac?n is mostly balanced, exhibiting some power-on understeer, but largely doing precisely what the driver requests.

Toggle between conservative Strada mode, playfully reserved Sport, and downright track-ready Corsa and you'll still stay within a safety net that even seasoned race car drivers have deemed acceptable.

Mild-mannered it's never, but Strada mode is where there's a relative calm in the Hurac?n's power delivery. In Strada, the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission mutes shift shock and the magnetic dampers take the edge off mismatched road surfaces. But flip the toggle on the steering wheel to Sport mode—or Corsa, the track setting—and that calm dissolves into a frenzied search for the outer extremes of grip and acceleration. Corsa mode dials back the stability and traction control and still, it's poised and composed and controllable. It's shockingly easy to drive the Hurac?n quickly, something we cannot say about the more abrupt Aventador.

What surprises Hurac?n drivers and passengers alike is how well it actually works as a daily driver. Sure, most buyers will have a few other cars in their fleet, but it's nice to know that the Hurac?n offers ample room for two occupants over 6 feet tall. Well-bolstered and supportive front seats covered in fine hides envelope drivers of all sizes, and even visibility is excellent, so long as you're looking forward or out to the sides. Since there's a louvered engine compartment cover sitting just behind your head, don't expect to see much behind you. At least there's a backup camera.

The Hurac?n is low and wide—excluding the mirrors, the car is 75.8 inches wide—so it's not exactly maneuverable in tight confines. Cargo space is minimal in the Hurac?n, with a front trunk area holding little more than a single roll-on bag.

Despite some small inconveniences, the Lamborghini Hurac?n LP 610-4 is easily the best Lamborghini we’ve driven to date, suitable for both days at the track and weekends on the open road. If you’re in the market for a design-driven supercar, the Hurac?n should be the first stop on your list. Consider us jealous.

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