Posts By: Justin Berkowitz

By on December 23, 2008

Hyundai just released some pricing info and specs on the surprisingly decent looking Elantra “Touring,” which is essentially just a 5-door hatch version of the professionally mediocre Elantra sedan. What really sticks is the EPA fuel economy, rated at 23 city and either 30 or 31 highway with the manual or automatic, respectively. We’re still talking about a four-cylinder “compact” car here, and despite the weight of size and safety equipment, I am surprised. Hyundai’s own Sonata — with another 40 horses vs. the Elantra — has virtually the same EPA ratings. Sure, we like to trot out the Corvette as an example of a high mileage powerful car, but there are at least a dozen other examples of cars with way more power (and metal) than the Elantra touring and better fuel economy. My 2004 Honda Accord V6, which was a rather portly cruiser, returned 31 mpg on the highway. And yet, the Elantra isn’t unique. Saturn’s Astra, with a 1.8 liter engine, only musters 24/32. The Mazda3 is in the same league. Some of the more efficient cars in this segment can deliver 35 miles per gallon highway – cars like the Corolla, Focus, Civic, and Cobalt XFE. But solely from a fuel economy standpoint, I have a hard time justifying even these better ones, when their bigger counterparts like the Camry, Fusion, Accord, and Malibu offer reasonably close numbers, especially on the highway. It leaves me wondering why, when the Fusion gets 32 mpg highway from its four cylinder, we don’t have a Ford compact car with a gasoline engine that gets 38 mpg highway. But them’s the breaks.

By on December 19, 2008

According to the Financial Times, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his government are sitting on an independent report about the future of cleaner, more fuel efficient cars. The 129-page document has been finished for months (since late September) and yet, from what the FT says, it will not be released to the public in the forseeable future. Apparently people who have seen the report say that it looks negatively on all-electric cars, instead preferring a motoring future based on a mix of gasoline, diesel, biofuel, and parallel and series hybrid cars, all with enhancements in tires, aerodynamics, and so on. In other words, the report said the variety pack we’ve got now seems to be the right approach. Unfortunately, Sarkozy is chummy with two billionaire businessmen who are both pursuing electric car businesses (Serge Dassault and Vincent Bolloré). To make matters worse, the French government still owns a 15% stake in Renault, which has poured a small fortune into the development of electric cars — including a large pilot testing program in Israel previously expected to launch in 2011. This stinks of corruption. And before we say “Well, it’s the French. They surrender and keep mistresses,” keep in mind that you should be no less bothered.

By on December 19, 2008

Ever since Cerberus took ownership of Chrysler, it has been lights out at what was once America’s third-largest automaker. With Daimler holding on to a 20% stake in the firm, some small news was public. And Chrysler did report its [dismal] sales each month. But that’s about it. The public relations folks were rolled into human resources. Cerberus played its cards close to its chest. And this was what we all expected from the beginning; it was at least in theory one of the major high-points of Cerberus taking over as Chrysler’s owner. They didn’t have to keep an open book, report financial data, and be subject to the short-term goals of shareholders. But it has also meant we have no idea what is going on inside this big company with tens of thousands of employees. Now that you and I are non-voting shareholders, we should have a better idea.

By on December 18, 2008

Engineer A: How’s testing on the Merak going?
Engineer B: The brakes catch fire all the time.
Engineer A: Put in a warning light.
Engineer A: Make it big.

By on December 17, 2008

The car bloggers went sub-ballistic (what would that be, scientists?) today because Honda announced that it was killing the NSX project. Well, I say good riddance to a stupid idea. I’m in that camp of people that thinks the original NSX is the very rare car that came out perfectly. And while many people have admonished me for clinging to outdated conceptions of what a particular car or company “should” be (like the 1-Series not being a suitable sucessor to the 2002, or the Subaru Forester betraying its goofwagon roots), I can’t understand the business case for a front-engined V10 Acura NSX. Trickle down tech? Maybe – though certainly not the V10 engine, unless it was going to be tacking two extra cylinders onto Honda’s already dubious planned V8. Front engine supercar? Plenty of those out there. Expensive? Again, plenty of those out there. Lexus reportedly cancelled its LF-A program because it was clear that they weren’t going to take down Godzilla (the Nissan GT-R). So why would Acura plan differently? I think people would welcome a modern version of the original NSX concept, though – a mid-engined car with the best handling in the world, a great gearbox, and a relatively simple V6 or V8 engine. Or, as Lieberman says in the podcast – Honda’s version of a Ferrari F430. Sold.

By on December 15, 2008

Last night’s TopGear (which will air in the U.S. by 2015 or on your computer now) featured Jeremy “The Gentle Giant” Clarkson driving the Tesla Roadster. His observations?

The good: Same time around the track as a Porsche GT3. No gas. Very fast in straight lines. Looks good. Very fast in straight lines. Cheap to fill up compared to a gas/diesel car.

The bad: Handling only so-so, because of the low-resistance tires and the 1000 lbs added by 6831 batteries in the middle of the car. Ample road noise. Green-ambiguity of electric cars & power production.

The ugly: After caning it, Clarkson got 55 miles of range. In a 13 amp UK socket, he estimated a 16 hour recharge time. Tesla had to bring two cars. One overheated while driving (on the track), the other’s brakes “broke” while it was recharging.

Clarkson calls the car a stunning “technical achievement” but finishes by saying it is “completely irrelevant” as he previews a later segment on Honda’s fuel cell car, the Clarity FCX.

By on December 15, 2008

A British eBayer, selling a rather unusual car for the UK, describes one of the many flaws of his Ford Thunderbird 3.8:



By on December 11, 2008

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about the Pontiac G8, one of my favorite cars, and how the prices for lightly used examples are getting rather low. Back in November, a V6 model with around 10,000 miles was $20,000. Cars with the big V8 were landing around $24,000. Now they’re even cheaper. The V8 models have hit the $20,000 mark on several have been offered below it. A Cuyahoga Falls, OH Pontiac dealer offered a 12,000 mile car for $19,994 (didn’t sell). That same dealer was, however, able to move a 361 hp G8 GT with 11,000 miles for $18,994. AutoTrader, too, is jam packed with 8-cylinder Pontiac G8s for just under $20,000 and some even have under 10,000 miles on the clock. If you are willing to get the V6 version with some 260 horsepower (though with the V8s so cheap, I’m not sure it makes sense even now), a Houston reseller was offering a 10,500 mile G8 V6 for a hair under $16,000. If the G8 is your cup of tea (and I realize that for many folks it’s not), these are stonking good deals. The question is where they will bottom out. Assuming the warranties stay intact (whether GM stays around or the government does an FDIC-style arrangement), I would think about $16,000-$17,000 is the absolute lowest a low-mileage 8-cylinder G8 could cost. That would be 50% of the original MSRP, but it remains to be seen.

By on December 9, 2008

I neither know nor care if these images were accidentally or intentionally leaked. That’s just how the internet works. In any case, these are official shots of the next generation E-Class sedan. I’m a big fan of the C-Class and its design, but the S-Class is not exactly stunning in my eyes. This E not surprisingly falls somewhere in the middle. I think the taillights look pretty Lexus.

Update: Looks like the originator of the pics (besides Mercedes, of course) was

By on December 8, 2008

Jalopnik’s Editor and I have had some major differences of opinion. Ray Wert recently opined that a Chrysler-GM merger made good business sense. I disagreed. When Jalopnik sold “Save GM” t-shirts and claimed it was ironic, I begged (metaphorically) to differ. Today, Wert posted an editorial entitled “The Case for GM CEO Rick Wagoner.” Again, I disagree. The rant is deeply misguided, the logic and conclusions just plain wrong. And in a twist of [yet more] unintended irony, the editorial stinks of the sloth and corner-cutting that’s brought GM to its knees.

By on December 6, 2008

This one is dumber than a box of hair. While my countless hours spent trolling have come up with some really crappy, world class pieces of junk, this is crazy on a new level. The Hyundai Excel was one of the worst cars sold in America in the last 30 years. It’s so bad, in fact, that we used to say it Excelled only at breaking down. So when I saw this one on eBay with 195,000 miles, I was positively shocked. I never thought an Excel could survive for so long. But then the part that really floored me: the seller – a Chevy dealership – is asking $2799 for it. I think the Kelly Blue Book value of $1500 is about $1250 too high, so this dealership is riding off into the sunset of delusional country.

By on December 6, 2008

General Motors and Chrysler have both retained “hot shot” law firms to advise them on bankruptcy matters. Want to know what their legal bills will look like?

GM has retained a firm named Weil, Gotshal & Manges, a huge organization that specializes in pretty much everything big business, including bankruptcy law. They represented Enron, WorldCom, and Lehman Brothers in all of their bankruptcy proceedings. The Lehman proceeding was just this past October, so the rates are current. As far as I know, Weil’s rates are standard for the market – expect Chrysler’s firm Jones Day to be very similar. For the Lehman matter, Weil billed at:

$650-$950/hour for partners and counsel
$355-$595/hour for associates (keep in mind that $355 gets you a fresh out of law school kid)
$155-$295/hour for paralegals

Bloomberg estimated that Weil’s total bill for the Lehman Bankruptcy could be as high as $906 million. While Lehman was worth a lot more than GM, there was also much less work to do. I’d guess that a GM bankruptcy could cost $1 billion just in legal fees. And that’s not counting the collateral damage – suppliers, contractors, dealers.

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