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THE HIGHWAY LIST / An Off-Center Look at Southern California and the Car

October 01, 1998|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's (Just Like) the Real Thing! Or: Gee, aren't we glad cows don't fly! Engineers at Nissan have patented a formula for phony bird poop. And it's not for practical jokes. The substance was developed to make paint testing more precise. Seems Nissan wanted something that would contain all the same corrosive agents found in nature but with--dare we say it?--more regularity so that they could drop it at will on paint samples and get consistent results. The aim, so to speak, is to use it to help develop paints that aren't done in by real droppings.

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So Why Is Everyone Still Wearing Suits? Lincoln Mercury President Mark Hutchins, discussing the Ford division's move to Southern California, commented recently that he is already seeing "the positive influence that changing our location is having on our business." Hutchins declined to offer any specifics but commented on the "New Edge" design of the '99 Mercury Cougar (developed before the move to Irvine) and then said that "we've got James Dean painted all over our building."

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Fog Lights, Sure! Fogies, No! Volvo is changing its image--not only are the cars losing the shoe-box design the Swedish car maker held so dear for so long, but executives are now making jokes about the company's reputation for stodginess. Chief designer Peter Horbury recently told an audience that Volvo is aiming for a younger buyer and will no longer be offering bifocal windshields.

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It Better Come With a Navigation System: Touting its new Tahoe Limited--a sport-utility styled to look "like it just rolled out of the hottest SoCal motor boutique"--Chevrolet publicists suggest in a recent news release that to get an accurate look at coming automotive trends, one must "check out our nation's West Coast." Then, boasting that the ground-hugging, monochromatic Tahoe Limited was actually designed and built near Detroit, the release goes on to say that California and Michigan are "metaphysically . . . practically neighbors." Guess that's why General Motors decided a few years ago that it was OK to shut down its Southern California design studio.

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