Friday, October 31, 2008

Panel Faults F.D.A. on Stance That Chemical in Plastic Is Safe


A scientific panel has issued a blistering report against the Food and Drug Administration, saying it ignored important evidence in reassuring consumers about the safety of the controversial chemical bisphenol-A.

The panel, in a report issued this week, did not draw any conclusions about the safety of the chemical, known as BPA. But it criticized the drug agency as ignoring crucial studies and using what it said were flawed methods in reaching its conclusions.

The agency’s evaluation of BPA “creates a false sense of security” and “overlooks a wide range of potentially serious findings,” the report said.

In a statement, the agency said that the report “raised important questions” and that more study was needed, but it did not back away from its claim that the chemical was safe. It will review the report on Friday.

BPA is widely used to make hard, clear plastic water bottles and baby bottles, and it is found in the lining of nearly every soft drink and canned food product. The chemical appears to have estrogen-like effects, and in animal studies it appears to accelerate puberty and pose a cancer risk.

While most worries about BPA focus on children, some reports suggest BPA may interfere with chemotherapy, and in adults the chemical has been tied to higher risk for heart disease and diabetes. The drug agency has said the levels of BPA to which children and adults are exposed do not pose a meaningful risk.

This fall, the agency asked an independent panel of scientific advisers to review its conclusions on BPA. The seven-member panel includes environmental health, toxicology and statistics experts from three major universities, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These are among the concerns raised by the panel:

¶The F.D.A. assessment does not have an adequate number of infant-formula samples and relies too heavily on averages, rather than accounting for variability in the samples.

¶The agency excluded several important animal studies that raised questions about the safety of BPA.

¶New research on BPA in adult humans and animals was published after the F.D.A.’s draft report and should be included.

¶The margins of safety for BPA exposure used by the agency are “inadequate.”

In its statement, the agency said consumers should know that “based on all available evidence, the present consensus among regulatory agencies in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan is that current levels of exposure to BPA through food packaging do not pose an immediate health risk to the general population, including infants and babies.”

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What Went Into the Updated Pepsi Logo

By Natalie Zmuda

NEW YORK ( -- How long does it take to remake an icon? Try five months.

That's the amount of time Pepsi took to revamp its famous logo, after top executives Indra Nooyi and Massimo d'Amore called for a "quantum leap" forward in transforming the soft-drink category and defining Pepsi as a cultural leader, said Frank Cooper, Pepsi's VP-portfolio brands.

"We felt like, as we move out of this traditional mass marketing and mass distribution era into today's culture, there's an opportunity to bring humanity back, both in terms of the design but also in the way we engage consumers," he said. "By making the logo more dynamic and more alive ... [it is] absolutely a huge step in the right direction."

And a costly one. Pepsi would not discuss what it's paying for the revamp, but experts estimate the cost for a top firm to work five months at north of $1 million. But that's just the beginning. The real cost, said an expert, is in removing the old logo everywhere it appears and putting new material up. For Coke or Pepsi, when you add up all the trucks, vending machines, stadium signage, point-of-sale materials and more around the world, it could easily tally several hundred million dollars, the expert said.

The new logo is a white band in the middle of Pepsi's circle that loosely forms a series of smiles: A smile will characterize brand Pepsi, while a grin is used for Diet Pepsi and a laugh is used for Pepsi Max. The new logo is Pepsi's 11th in its 110-year history. Five logos have been introduced in the past 21 years, with the last update in 2002.

Less than subtle
Omnicom's Arnell Group was tapped to work on the redesigns, which also include Mountain Dew -- soon to be known as Mtn Dew -- and Sierra Mist. The agency already had experience working with Pepsi, having spearheaded more than 35 packaging designs for the company.

Consumers won't see a new campaign for a while. Mr. Cooper said the launch isn't expected until 2009. But "when we turn the lights on, hate it or love it, you will absolutely know that Pepsi is out in the marketplace," he said.

So far, branding experts are in both camps. "It's tilting the whole brand presentation from a classic expression of uniqueness and quality into something that is much more humorous, almost flippant," said Tony Spaeth, an identity consultant. "It worries me that it is less durable, less permanent and classic. It comes across as more of a campaign idea than an enduring brand expression."

"This seems to be a really good solution. It feels like the same Pepsi we know and love, but it's more adventurous, more youthful, with a bit more personality to it," said Chris Campbell, executive creative director at Interbrand. "In theory, what they're doing sounds like a really clever solution to link together a family of brands."

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The End of Manual Labor?

By Lawrence Ulrich of MSN autos
2008 BMW M3 Convertible (© BMW North America)

Manually shifted transmissions are an endangered species. In 1980, more than 35 percent of cars sold had a stick; in 2007 the number had dropped to 7.7 percent.

Is the manual transmission — the tormentor of generations of driver’s ed students — going the way of the buggy whip, the eight-track, the Hummer? That sounds like heresy to driving purists like me, who have always assumed that automatics are for wimps, for people who couldn’t tell a clutch pedal from a daisy petal.

Yet here I am, flying at 140 mph down the banked straightaway at Pocono Speedway in the new BMW M3. This 400-horsepower beauty of a sports sedan happens to be equipped with BMW’s latest high-tech, no-clutch-pedal 7-speed automated-manual transmission — basically a manual gearbox that can shift by itself.

A right-hand turn approaches, and it’s time to stand on the brakes. But instead of mashing the clutch, yanking the stick and blipping the gas with the same foot that’s squeezing the brake — the old “heel and toe” downshift maneuver — I simply flick a little metal paddle attached to the steering column. Both hands stay put on the steering wheel, making it easier to stay on path.

With no clutch pedal to push, my left foot sits there, as unoccupied as a teenager on summer vacation. The BMW even blips its own throttle automatically, danke schoen, making sure the dolt behind the wheel doesn’t screw it up. I arrive back in the pits, and the guilty thought flashes like a checkered flag: What’s the point of a stick, if I can have a self-shifting transmission this good?

Let’s be clear: I’ve been a stick-shift disciple for nearly 30 years. In fact, I’ve never owned an automatic transmission car in my life. But these new gearboxes are just so versatile, so easy — swift, precise, convenient – that I’m considering a date with the dark side. As with similar systems, BMW’s M DCT with Drivelogic offers the best of both worlds: Sit back, relax, drive it like any conventional automatic. But when the curvy road beckons you can shift manually, even selecting settings that boost the intensity of gear changes until you’re in Speed Racer territory.

Manually shifted transmissions are certainly an endangered species. Back in 1980, more than 35 percent of all cars were sold with a stick. Because they cost less and boosted fuel mileage, manuals were more popular when gas prices went up or the economy went down, according to Mike Omotoso, powertrain analyst for J.D. Power and Associates.

Then the SUV appeared, which often came automatic-only. By 2005 only 6 percent of all buyers bothered with a stick. Skyrocketing fuel prices and more choices in small cars brought a mild uptick to 7.7 percent last year, but the trend is clear.

Porsche is one carmaker that has kept the faith. The sports car-centric brand sells a higher percentage of sticks than any other, from 60 to 65 percent on all its sports cars. Yet even Porsche officials say that automated gearboxes are a key to maintaining the brand’s appeal among new generations. “So many young people never learn how to drive a stick, unless a parent makes a point of teaching them,” said spokesman Tony Fouladpour.

As such, the German automaker expects its new PDK dual-clutch automatic to be the company's most popular automatic ever. "That's the progression even pure sports cars have taken," says Porsche spokesman Dave Engelman. As a result, Porsche anticipates that 70 to 80 percent of 911 owners will opt for the auto box, especially in the early going.

These systems are dramatically defying the old arguments for a manual transmission. For instance, it's widely believed that manuals are more fuel-efficient than automatics. Sorry, that's no longer true. The latest Porsche is one of several cars that's more economical with the automatic: 19/27 mpg in city/highway driving, compared to 18/25 mpg with the stick.

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (© General Motors) Click picture to enlarge

Chevrolet does not offer a manual transmission on its new Corvette ZR1. However, folks at Chevy say there will always be demand for manual-transmission 'Vettes, so buyers will have the option on certain models.

Another myth is that manuals accelerate faster. Wrong again. The Porsche and other models are faster with computer-controlled trannies. These automatics shift so quickly that no human being, not even the world's best drivers in Formula 1, can match their abilities.

Lapping the 911 Carrera and Carrera S at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, I get my own high-speed introduction to the system's no-excuses performance. And as I segue from the track to a relaxed run to Park City, I realize the 911, which has always been one of the world's most versatile sports cars, is even more of a dual-threat machine. Porsche spokesman Bernd Harling took pains to distinguish the new breed of automatics from the "geriatric support systems" of old.

"They're faster, they make you a better driver, yet fuel consumption goes down," he said. The latter is no small matter, with automakers warily eyeing a federal mandate that will require cars and trucks to average 35 mpg by 2020.

It's the same story with the venerable Chevy Corvette. As its automatic transmissions become better and faster, more customers take the plunge. Two of every three Corvette coupe buyers choose the six-speed paddle-shifted automatic. For the convertible, 75 percent choose the clutch-free version.

Harlan Charles, Corvette product manager, notes that the ultra-high-performance Z06 and ZR1 models don’t offer an automatic at all. And the ‘Vette purist still demands a stick. “For the Corvette, there will always be sufficient demand, so the manual is here to stay,” Charles said.

One remaining hang-up is cost. Audi’s S Tronic (formerly called DGS), the pioneering dual-clutch system that’s now shared with VW models, adds more than $2,000 to the price. Porsche’s PDK will add an eye-popping $4,080. Yet some serious performance cars, including the Nissan GT-R and the $1.3 million Bugatti Veyron, are automated trannies or nothing. Among Ferraris and Lamborghinis I’ve driven lately, finding a stick shift is like finding an honest banker on Wall Street.

Honestly, I still find joy in self-shifting. One of my biggest kicks recently was testing the Koenigsegg CCX — an insanely rare, 806-horsepower, $1.1 million Swedish supercar. I jumped in and discovered a classic aluminum manual shifter, just waiting to grab my hand and go out to play.

Perhaps the only argument left for manuals that holds any water: A stick is simply more fun. It makes you feel like the pilot, in control instead of along for the ride. I’ll agree with the purists that a stick is more “involving.”

"It's not all about lap times," said Timo Resch, Porsche's North American product planner. "At least for now, some customers still want to use their left foot and shift."

Yet when technology and traditionalism fight, we know what usually wins. I’m sure twisting a crank to start your car felt pretty involving. I remember what panic stops in the rain felt like before the advent of anti-lock brakes. Those are feelings I can do without. And the older I get, the less patience I have for driving a manual in heavy rush-hour traffic — the constant shifting, the two-step polka on the pedals.

Sure, learning to drive a stick was a rite of passage, handed down for generations. Mastering a manual said not only that you knew your way around a car, but that you were becoming a man. But 20 years from now, young drivers may wonder what the fuss was about. Like kids who’ve never heard of the Beatles, they’ll give us a pitying look when we start going on about the days when “real” cars had three foot-pedals and something called a “shift knob.”

A Michigan native raised and forged in Detroit and a former auto critic at the Detroit Free Press, Lawrence Ulrich now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His reviews and features appear regularly in The New York Times, Robb Report, Popular Science and Travel + Leisure Golf.

For commentary on the latest auto industry trends or in-depth analysis of developments affecting consumers, turn to MSN Autos’ Industry Insider for the real story behind the facts and figures. Written by respected veterans in the field, Industry Insider delivers expertise and insight that helps make sense of the automotive world.

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2009 Nissan 370Z Breaks Cover

By Matt Hardigree

We've given you our guess of what the 2009 Nissan 370Z will look like and, according to the first official photos below, we were fairly close. The vehicle is clearly more shapely with a more aggressive nose than the current Nissan 350Z. You'll also notice a little wedge on the C-pillar. Is that a Hoffmeister Kink? More details at the LA Auto Show, in the meantime you can enjoy the official photos and press release below.

The Nissan 370z

Nissan offers the first look at the upcoming 2009 370Z Coupe, which makes its world debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show on 19 November. The all-new 2009 Nissan 370Z, the first full redesign of the iconic Nissan Z since its reintroduction as a 2003 model, solidifies the strengths of its predecessor with an unmatched balance of performance, style and value. The all-new Z will go on sale at Nissan dealers in early 2009.

[Source: Nissan]

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