The Truth About Cars » Ask the Best and Brightest The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Ask the Best and Brightest Ask The Best And Brightest: How Do You Handle Recall And Service Bulletins? Mon, 21 Apr 2014 15:53:54 +0000 cobalt report 19

Since arriving at TTAC, I have been continually challenged and impressed by the B&B. The knowledge, wisdom, and rather civil discourse that arrives in response to the so-called journalism I produce is awe inspiring, often. Thank you, B&B. I’ve also been tasked with handling the GM recall story, given my technical background and my familiarity with GM’s processes at the dealer level – but today, I want to turn the floor over to you.

A recent New York Times article, raised the notion of GM’s seemingly nonchalant responses to quality issues with their vehicles. It’s been my goal in covering this matter to be as objective possible and present as many primary sources as possible. Getting carried away with a story like this is easy, and in my opinion, the NYT does just that. There’s little to no context for the reader, and most people are unfamiliar with recall processes for any OEM, let alone GM.

The Times analysis of service bulletins was limited to General Motors. 


The article is centered around the letter from the NHTSA’s Frank Borris discussing GM’s responses to various safety recalls over recent years, a letter that apparently that came at GM executive Michael Robinson like a bolt out of the blue. Excluding the Cobalt ignition debacle, was GM truly surprised, rolling with the status quo until caught? Or are they particularly unique in their behavior?

Can we sit and point fingers at GM solely, or is this a common occurrence in daily operations at other manufacturers? My dealer experience ends with GM. Where does your experience begin? Work at a dealership with another automaker? Maybe you work in a similar engineering field, and have fought the wrath of bean counters? How do the other OEMs (Toyota, Ford, Honda…) mitigate product problems in practice, especially in the face of safety vs. costs? And how do they respond to field reports about product flaws?

Anonymous stories and tips can be emailed to Editors at ttac dot com

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Ask the Best and Brightest: What Will Chevy’s Two “Surprises” for 2013 Be? Thu, 11 Oct 2012 16:05:30 +0000  

Click here to view the embedded video.

Chevrolet is betting that the number 13 will be lucky one. The GM brand announced on Wednesday that they will be introducing 13 redesigned or completely new vehicles for the North American market in 2013. While a number of those are expected, like the new Impala and the latest iteration of the Silverado fullsize body-on-frame pickup, according to GM spokesman Michael Albano the automaker is “thrilled” that two of the thirteen cars and trucks will be “complete surprises”. Joining the Impala and Silverado, among the non-surprises there’s going be a new Traverse CUV, a diesel Cruze and an electric Spark (sorry, I didn’t name the car).

“13 is a big year for Chevrolet. You know some of them. There’s a lot of chatter about others and a couple will be complete surprises, which we’re thrilled about.”

The 7th generation Corvette is generally assumed to be going to have a 2013 reveal, most likely at the NAIAS in just a few months. The Chevrolet SS, the civilian version of Chevy’s latest 9C1 offering and the brand Chevy will be promoting in NASCAR’s marquee Sprint Cup series, has also been announced for 2014 and we’ll probably see the production version introduced sometime next year as well. There’s been plenty of chatter about both and neither is anywhere near a complete surprise so my question to the B&B is, what two “surprise” vehicles will Chevrolet introduce to the US market in 2013? My effort at a WAG is that one of them will be a coupe that reprises a name from Chevy’s heritage, perhaps a Chevelle or maybe a Monte Carlo, and the other will be a Cruze wagon, currently only available in Euro spec, that they’ll call the Nomad.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Ask The Best And Brightest: When Are Two Pedals Better Than Three? Fri, 06 Apr 2012 13:00:17 +0000

A scheduling conflict led me to be booked into a 2013 Mazda CX-5 SkyACTIV. With Jack and Brendan having already driven the car, I’ll spare you all yet another review discussing Mazda’s latest crossover. But a week in the CX-5 raised an interesting question; when are automatics better than a stick shift, even if it’s a vehicle that (arguably) has some appeal as a driver’s car?

The Mazda3 SkyACTIV, as well as the CX-5, both use Mazda’s newest SkyACTIV powertrain. As my review of the Mazda3 revealed, the SkyACTIV powertrain is better suited to the 6-speed automatic, even though the manual is a great gearbox. Driving the CX-5 confirmed this. The CX-5 seems to want to upshift to the highest gear ASAP, but when commuting, I don’t find it so bothersome. The transmission kicks down when needed, shifts are beautifully smooth, and the manual model enables nearly unfettered use of all six forward gears.

The SkyACTIV isn’t the only instance of a two-pedal gearbox being the one to get. The E60 M5 was famously set up to work best with the SMG gearbox. U.S. gearheads complained until BMW relented and offered a six-speed manual. It turned out that the stick shift was a poor choice for the car, no matter how much enthusiast cred it added. Most of the time, I’ll take a stick shift, even though I engage in a lot of stop-and-go driving. But my memory doesn’t extend far enough to remember the muscle car era, when an automatic was often preferred. Best and brightest, fill in the gaps in my knowledge. When is an automatic the gearbox of choice? Or am I just plain wrong?

InteriorTac 2013 Mazda CX-5. Photo courtesy Adam Wood. CX-5_3 CX-5_4 CX-5_5 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail InteriorTac CX-5_1 CX-5_2 CX-5_3 CX-5_4 CX-5_5 CX-5_6 CX-5_7 CX-5_8 CX-5_LOGO CX-5_SKYACTIV Interior1 Interior2 Mazda CX-5 Automatic. Photo courtesy Adam Wood. Interior4 Interior5 Interior6 Interior7 Interior8 Interior9 Interior10 InteriorNav ]]> 123
Ask the Best and Brightest: What Do You Do If You Cannot Avoid an Accident? Tue, 27 Mar 2012 20:40:17 +0000 I’m pretty good at taking tests. The problem is, with some tests that you take, success is not attained by giving the logically correct answer but rather by regurgitating the answer the test giver wants. I forget that sometimes. When the Michigan Secretary of State’s office told me that I needed to take a written test to continue to have the privilege of driving, on one question I forgot the proper test taking strategy was to determine what some bureaucrat in Lansing wanted me to think. Instead I just read the question, parsed its logic, and gave the same answer that I’ve given my now-adult children concerning the same driving situation. Wait. That’s a fib. I didn’t just read the question, parse etc. The question and possible answers intrigued me enough that I jotted them down on an envelope I had with me. They were unclear enough that I wanted to run them by the other TTAC writers and the Best and Brightest to get your opinions. Here’s the question:

Q. If you cannot stop before hitting another vehicle it’s usually best to:

A. Gradually slow down and hit the other vehicle.

B. Try to steer around the vehicle and avoid braking hard.

C. Release the accelerator and apply the brakes as hard as you can.

According to the bureaucrats in Lansing, the correct answer is B, try to steer around the vehicle and avoid braking hard. However, the question is about an unavoidable collision, you can’t really steer around a vehicle that you are indeed going to hit, can you? Now if I think about it, I can understand why trying to steer around a collision might mitigate that collision by avoiding head-on impact but that really doesn’t answer the actual question that was asked. I’ve been taught that, yes, under almost all circumstances you do want to maintain control and never, ever, lock up the brakes (well, with modern ABS that’s hard to do, so let’s say “stand on the brakes”), except for when you’re certain that you are going to hit another car or some other large object. When you absolutely can’t avoid a collision, I’ve been taught that you should do what you can to scrub off as much speed as possible before impact and that the best way to do that is to apply the brakes as hard as you can. That would make C the correct answer. Yes, you may lose control as the brakes lock up and the tires start to skid, but that’s the maximum coefficient of friction that you can create at that moment. It may not be a very controlled stop, but skidding to a stop can slow you down in a hurry. If you ice skate, think hockey stops. Locking them up is what you can do that will retard your speed quickest, it’s also just about the only thing you can do, or that’s what I’ve been taught. So what do you say the appropriate response is in the event of an unavoidable collision, try to continue to steer around the collision and avoid hard braking, or stand on the brakes and reduce impact speed as much as possible?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS


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Ask The Best And Brightest: Your Shifting Paradigm? Wed, 21 Mar 2012 14:02:16 +0000

Ladies and gentlemen… As Katt Williams once said, “this country is in turmoil.”

If you haven’t read Brendan McAleer’s CX-5 review yet, go read it! I will wait right here while you do.

Pretty good, huh? I have to admit that when I read it, I was coasting along, just kind of enjoying B-Mac’s trenchant turns of phrase, and then…

Occasionally, however, a bit of a firm prod on the accelerator is required to provoke a downshift. And the manual-shift mode is BMW-backwards

Did he say backwards? I immediately sat down, opened up my ultra-modern text editor known as “emacs”, and composed the following measured response:


Unfortuantely for me, however, when I was typing I accidentally banged my head into the keyboard hard enough to force me to pause and consider the situation for a moment. Yes, the “push forward to downshift” configuration is correct for any kind of fast driving, particularly fast back-road driving in a street car where loose inertia-reel seatbelts can occasionally make it difficult to stand your whip on its nose at corner entry and pull back on a shifter. Every sequential-shift race car in the world uses push-to-downshift. Even motorcycles are push-to-downshift, and that works correctly as well because acceleration and deceleration change the way your weight rests on your feet while riding.

Let’s take a moment, however, to consider the times when drivers in “normal” situations will call for a downshift from their automatic (or double-clutch) transmissions. Typically it isn’t during deceleration; it’s during a situation where the driver wants to accelerate more. Let’s say you’re on a two-lane road and you are getting ready to pass a slower vehicle. You know you’re going to need the lower gear, so you select it ahead of time. In that situation, the “pull-to-downshift” motion makes the most sense. Veteran auto-transmission drivers who are used to pulling a shift lever back to engage one of the manually-selectable lower gears in an older vehicle are also comfortable with this motion. The oft-cited “man in the street” expects to pull back to downshift.

Some day, in the far-flung future, merely touching a car will enable it to read your DNA and know your established preference for such things. In the meantime, we need to settle this issue once and for all. Push, or pull, to downshift? What say you, B&B? No wimping-out and talking about paddle shifters, either!

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Ask The Best And Brightest: G-Body Project Car Hell Tue, 20 Mar 2012 11:30:29 +0000

An impromptu dinner meeting with a friend last night led talk of a possible G-Body project car (and two very bored girlfriends). Joey, who has long wanted a G-Body Monte Carlo, asked what it would take to make a cool street car out of an old G-Body car, like a late 1980′s Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS.” It can’t be that hard,” I said. “Can’t you just drop in a crate motor from GM Performance Parts?”

Joey and I traded text messages discussing various aspects of the project, but when Joey sent me a picture of a 572 c.i. big block, I knew it was time to ask someone who knew their stuff. Murilee, back from vacation and TTAC’s patron saint of bowtie projects, was happy to oblige.

I asked Murilee what he thought would be an appropriate course of action for a fast, mean-looking, mean-sounding G-Body, and whether there were any manual transmission applications available. I also wanted to know if this was a dumb idea and whether it was better to just go ahead and buy a Grand National. Mr. Martin chimed in below

“If it’s going to be a cruiser that sounds mean and has respectable power, it should be no problem on a non-insane budget– it’s when you need to get into the 13s or below at the drag strip that you have to start worrying about breaking differentials, etc. The G-body is a good choice, provided it’s possible to get it through the smog check in his state with modifications. The cheapest way to go would be to buy some old guy’s rust-free original car, with decent interior, etc., and then do a cam/intake/headers upgrade on a decent used 350. A manual transmission isn’t out of the question, but G-bodies either didn’t get them or they’re extremely rare, which means stuff like pedals and clutch linkage will likely have to be fabricated. Since that’s a problem that’s I’m sure has been solved many times, any halfway decent hot-rod shop should be able to do the job for a not-particularly-eye-watering price. Otherwise, the 200R4 or 700R4 that came with the car should be fine.

The ZZ4 crate motor from GM Performance is very nice, though it costs something like 5 grand. It makes 350 horses, which will make a G-body stupid fast (but will require a beefier differential, serious cooling system, and so on).

The LS engines are great, but they don’t bolt right in to a G the way the old-time small-blocks do. Buick GNs are getting really pricey these days, but there’s so much aftermarket turbo stuff for the Buick V6 that he could make something even more powerful for cheaper.”

I hadn’t considered a ZZ4 crate motor, instead assuming that an LS3, E-ROD or even the LS6 from the 2004 Z06 would be a nice addition. Those engines are all capable of making big power while passing emissions tests, though apparently they require more work than a small block.

At this point, I’ll turn it over to the B&B for ideas regarding engines, transmissions, accessories and the like. Out of respect for Joey, I haven’t discussed the budget – largely because he hasn’t told me what he wants to spend. I’m going to assume that, given his means, it won’t be a budget build, nor will it be an extravagant magazine quality show car.

And as a treat for those of you who made it this far, here’s the reason we went to the warehouse in the first place, a 1977 Pontiac Can-Am. I have no idea what’s been done to it, but judging by the anodized aluminum hardware, the engine bay that looks cleaner than an operating room and the glovebox mounted TV, it’s far from stock.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Should Bentley Redesign The EXP 9 F SUV? Mon, 12 Mar 2012 15:22:58 +0000

A report from Britain’s “WHATCAR?” magazine suggests Bentley will go back to the drawing board before their EXP 9 F SUV hits the market in 2015. I, for one, am not so sure this is a good idea.

Before we start the discussion, it would make sense to establish a couple of things; any discussion of “betraying brand values” is null and void. Bentley “lost the plot” some time ago, depending on who you ask (I say it happened when they made watches with Breitling. Jack thinks the Continental GT was their death knell). The locus of affluence has shifted East, and Chinese, Russian and Emirati consumers want this car. Therefore, it will be made. There is no sense in trying to negotiate with reality.

Personally, I think the design is perfect given the vehicle’s intentions; to be an obnoxious, gaudy display of wealth in countries where inequality is rampant. It looks like a Range Rover with the front of a Mulsanne grafted on to it. Such a design has an obvious precedent – the Bentley Dominator, famously built for the Sultan of Brunei, really was a Range Rover with Bentley styling – and therefore a spiritual predecessor to the EXP 9 F.

According to Whatcar?

the redesigned EXP 9 F will have ‘more traditional SUV proportions and less retro surfacing’. The large round headlights and foglights will remain, but the headlights will be slightly smaller and set farther inward.

I’m not sure how the EXP 9 F can look any more like an SUV, unless the reduced “retro surfacing” means it looks more *ahem* Continental than Mulsanne. Alternate proposals are welcome. Unfortunately, “lighting it on fire” is not a valid option.


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Ask The Best & Brightest: Your Album Cover Car? Mon, 23 Jan 2012 17:38:35 +0000

I was thumbing through the latest issue of Living Blues magazine, looking for authentically bluesy phrases, both musical and lyrical, to repeat as if they were my own invention, when I saw this cover.

Putting crapwagons on the cover is a bit of a hipster-esque affectation nowadays, but I get the sense that Mr. Bailey has that ’93-96 Regal on the cover just because, you know, that’s his car. It’s always been hard to make a living playing music and nowadays it’s tougher than ever. Nor is the blues customer particularly interested in seeing some sort of Scott-Storch-esque lineup of recently-purchased, already-in-stock “exotic” cars.

I’ve been working on cover ideas for my personal blues/rock album, to be released when I get around to it. My best idea so far has been unfairly criticized as derivative (warning: image contains explicit language and Jeff Beck-related sarcasm). Perhaps I need to find a Regal and stand in front of the thing. What about you? What car would be on the front cover of your album?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Will Minivans Bounce Back? Sun, 22 Jan 2012 20:18:46 +0000

If there’s one thing that enthusiasts and the general public can agree on, it’s that minivans are deeply uncool. The terms “swagger wagon” or “man van” may seem like oxymorons, but the minivan marking has seen slow growth this past year.

The Chrysler 700C was an interesting indication of where the segment is heading, although it would be a shocker if the Pentastar brand actually released a vehicle looking that radical. One Automotive News pundit seems to think that there’s a future in the minivan segment. We’ll leave it up to you.

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Hammer Time: What Should Have Been Fri, 13 Jan 2012 14:26:06 +0000


I remember looking at the then brand new Ford Five Hundred and thinking to myself, “This would make one heck of a Volvo.”

Like the Volvos of yore this Ford offered a squarish conservative appearance. A high seating position which Volvo’s ‘safety oriented’ customers would have appreciated. Toss in a cavernous interior that had all the potential for a near-luxury family car, or even a wagon, and this car looked more ‘Volvo’ than ‘Ford’ to me with each passing day.

Something had to be done…

Hmmm… why not subtract ‘twenty’ from the Five Hundred name. Call it a 480, and put in a nice classic Volvo styled fascia on the front end. Throw in an interior inspired by the best of Swedish design and, Voila! Ford would have offered a Volvo that would have hit the square peg of the brand’s main customers… and maybe even a few others who were considering an upscale Camry or a Lexus ES.

Sadly Ford never made a Volvo version of the Five Hundred, or the Flex for that matter. Instead they mis-balanced the diverging priorities of competing simultaneously with BMW (S40′s, C30′s, S60′s) and conservative middle-aged Americans who valued luxury transport over driving dynamics (Xc90, XC60, C70).  The brand became a disaster.

I am starting to see the same ingredients mixed into other brands these days. Take for instance Scion.

Yes this brand will get a nice pop and halo in the form of the upcoming FR-S. Then again, halo sports cars that are shared with other brands tend to be short-lived. Just ask Pontiac and Saturn about the Solstice and the Sky.

So what would be the perfect car to put into Scion’s kinship?

Two years ago I would have strongly argued for making the CT200h a Scion. It didn’t have the luxury trappings of a Lexus. However it offered tons of sporting character and attracted the type of youthful and educated audience that Scion sorely needed at that point.

You know. The type of people that quickly walked away from Scion after they started marketing bloated SUV-like compacts that should have been marketed as… Toyotas… or Volvos. Who knows.

Wait a second. YOU know!

A lot of potentially great cars over the years have been marketed to the wrong brands for the wrong reasons.  So I ask the B&B, “What cars were given the wrong brand, and where should they have gone?”.

Like most marketing classes in modern day MBA-land there are no right answers. Just SWAG’s and opinions. Feel free to demote a Cadillac to a Chevy if you must. So long as you can defend it, let’s hear it.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Who Is The New Saab? Wed, 21 Dec 2011 01:22:04 +0000

To be clear, we aren’t talking about the next brand to linger on long past its kill-by date, pitting the brand loyalty of its fans against common sense for an agonizing eternity. No, now that Saab is dead and its warranty coverage has been suspended [per Automotive News [sub]], Saabophiles need an alternative. TTAC commenter Pig_Iron writes:

Now that SAAB is gone, who is the new SAAB? By that I mean, who makes the best winter handling front driver in coupe, sedan and wagon avail with man trans?

Your pal,


My answer: Buick’s Regal. It’s a rebadged Opel, available in several states of turbo tune, it’s got a distinctively European feel inside (firm seats, dark cockpit), and a fine-handling front-drive chassis. What more could you want from a Saab? On the other hand, what Saabista is going to buy from GM now that The General has cruelly slain mercifully euthanized their beloved brand [PDF on the definitive causes of death here]? So, if GM is out… possibly some kind of Volvo? An Audi? What say you, Best And Brightest?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Expiring Model Will You Miss The Most And The Least? Sun, 27 Nov 2011 16:48:12 +0000

With the 2011 model-year ending, it’s time to eulogize the cars that have reached the end of the road and are being discontinued with the 2012 model-year. Some of them are well past their sell-by date (Hello, Lucerne, DTS!) whereas some are being euthanized in their prime due to regulatory issues (Goodbye, Elise and RX-8!). Some are slow-selling luxo-confections with nowhere to go (X6 ActiveHybrid), some are long-running workhorses which have simply run out of time (Ranger, Crown Vic),  whereas others are simply mediocrities that the market has run out of patience with (Eclipse, Tribute). The New York Times‘ Sam Smith provides our list of expiring models, so hit the jump and tell us who you’ll miss and who you won’t. After all, unlike a real funeral, we don’t mind if you speak ill of the recently deceased…

  • MAZDA RX-8
  • VOLVO S40
  • VOLVO V50
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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Nissan About To “Pull A Hyundai”? Tue, 01 Nov 2011 21:31:40 +0000

On the way to TTAC’s Southern Tour, I filled some of the gaps in my automotive history by reading Car Wars by Robert Sobel. Written in the same year that Nissan opened its first US plant, a sprawling complex in Smyrna, Car Wars documents the early years of the Detroit-Import wars, starting with the Beetle and ending with the rise of the transplant factories. The book is full of lessons, but its most rattling reminders was that Nissan was the major Japanese automaker during the early days of the Japanese industry. Nearly thirty years after Car Wars was written, Nissan often gets lost in Honda and Toyota’s shadow when it comes to perceptions of the Japanese OEMs. And lately Nissan has fallen off more than a few radar screens for the simple fact that its key products are aging: Sentra, Maxima and Altima were introduced for the 2007 model-year, while Rogue is just a year younger. Together these four models account for over half of Nissan’s monthly volume… and yet despite this aged core lineup, Nissan’s sales (as a brand) are up over 17 percent year-to-date, maintaining the brand’s consistent growth.

And, after touring the Smyrna facility last week, Nissan’s VP for Communications David Reuter told us that this fact was what made him so optimistic about Nissan’s future. If sales are doing this well with product this old, he wondered aloud, what might happen if.. say, models representing 75% of Nissan’s sales volume were replaced in a two-year span? He admitted that one of the brand’s biggest issues was breaking through the Honda-Toyota monopoly on media perceptions of Japanese automakers, and he suggested that a new product blitz was the only way to really accomplish that. I was reminded of the current darling of the mass-market brands, Hyundai, which grew sales steadily with aging and stolid but value-laden products, before replacing its entire lineup with eye-catching new models. Could a fresh batch of new designs do the same for Nissan?

Of course, a lot of that depends on product execution. Hyundai would not have garnered the attention it has if it had replaced its entire lineup with new but dowdy or uninspired models. And on that front the picture is still mixed: critics have been cruel to Nissan’s newest car, the Versa, but consumers have been snapping them up in the first two months of sales. Meanwhile, the brand’s recent niche products (Juke, Murano CC) have received mixed and polarized responses. And Nissan’s got a raft of new technology to play with for its new cars, including a next-gen CVT and its first-ever in-house front-drive hybrid system (look for Bertel to bring you more on that from Japan shortly). And though the brand likely won’t be jumping on the turbocharging bandwagon wholesale, it seems likely that our prayers have been answered and that the Juke’s delightful 1.6 turbo engine will make its way into an SE-R-type vehicle to celebrate the revamped lineup. This couldn’t hurt Nissan’s flagging reputation for sporting mass-market vehicles.

One thing is certain: Nissan may not get a lot of press these days, but the brand has been thriving given where it is in its key product cycles. If the new high-volume models (which Reuter says we’ll learn more about at the Detroit Auto Show) bring some pizzaz back to the brand, it could well be poised to exploit Honda’s recent product weaknesses and Toyota’s battered image. With the right execution, we could find ourselves returning to a time when Toyota and Nissan are once again the Japanese standard-bearers. On the other hand, Detroit isn’t sleeping on the competition the way it once was. And Hyundai will certainly have a few things to say about any company looking to steal its momentum.

So while we wait to learn more about Nissan’s upcoming product blitz, we’re curious to hear your take on the brand’s fortunes. What explains Nissan’s resilience in the face of old product? Do you expect the new products to vault the brand into the “hot” category, or do the downsides of recent products like Versa and Murano CC leave you a bit suspicious? Will Nissan surpass Honda as a leading Japanese brand, or is the Honda-Toyota duopoly cemented in the minds of consumers? What do you hope to see from the next-generation of Nissans? So many questions…

[Disclosure: Nissan bought me lunch when I toured their facilities in Smyrna and Franklin, and I am about to be bought dinner by the company in Seattle, where I will be hearing more about this subject from Director of Product Planning Mark Perry. If you have any questions for Mark, you have a few hours to post them in the comments below]

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What’s The Scariest Vehicle You’ve Ever Driven? Mon, 31 Oct 2011 22:39:53 +0000

Well, it’s Halloween…. the time of year when a young man’s thoughts turn towards death. Bertel gave us a double-shot of the macabre earlier today, but it was an unplanned spin-and-a-half (no, not on public roads) that most recently and viscerally reminded me just how deadly this whole driving a car business can be. And that particular bit of man-machine miscommunication didn’t even happen in the most scary car I’ve ever driven (thank goodness).

My scariest in-car experience actually happened earlier in the Summer, when I found myself on the freeway in a Chinese-spec Shuanghuan Noble… on which at least one wheel was seriously out of round. The second I hit about 72 MPH, the thing took on a life of its own, oscillating wildly back and forth and trying to throw itself into one adjacent lane after the other. Realizing I had only ever seen this vehicle crash-tested at less than half the speed at which I was then traveling, contemplating its top-heavy dimensions and not even knowing if this dealer-plated example had a functioning airbag, I grappled with the wheel and eased down the speed. Eventually it stopped pogo-ing, all though it took my heart another 20 minutes or so to follow suit. Even compared to my select irresponsible experiences with insanely overpowered-powered vehicles, it was by far the most terrifying, mortality-facing, PTSD-inspiring experience I’ve ever had in a car… probably because I only half-expected to be literally taking my life into my hands on that drive.

But, what about you? What car scares you the most? What was the scariest experience you’ve had behind the wheel? Was it a product of you trying to scare yourself with a machine whose limits exceeded your own, or did it just …happen?

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Ask The Best & Brightest: What’s The Korean Discount Nowadays? Mon, 24 Oct 2011 18:11:11 +0000

We’ve reviewed a lot of Korean designs here lately. The Soul. The Rio. The Veloster. The Sorrento. The Genesis. The Optima Hybrid. The Cayenne S. Actually, rumors that Porsche made a straight-up trade of engineering (the original Hyundai Santa Fe’s 2.7L V-6) for styling (the original Cayenne is clearly pretty much the same as said original Santa Fe) are completely unfounded. Some of these cars may not be quite up to the standard of their competition, but others are either the critic’s choice of the segment or the actual freaking segment sales volume leader.

Price has been a big part — for a long time, maybe the only part — of Korean-brand appeal in the United States since the very first Excel arrived with “$4995!” plastered on the windshield. In 2011, however, the Hyundai, Kia, and Daewoo vehicles aren’t always the cheapest choice. Which leads us to the question:

What should the “Korean discount” be? What form should it take? Should the Korean entries in a segment be cheaper? Better-equipped? Both? Compared to the competitors from Honda, Toyota and (maybe) Nissan, how much money do you need to save to look at a Hyundai, Kia, or Daewoo (meaning Chevy)? Or have we finally reached a point in time where the answer to the “discount question” is nothing at all?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Does Anyone Actually Get 40 MPG On The Highway? Sat, 22 Oct 2011 19:46:35 +0000

What’s the most powerful number in automotive marketing? No, not zero, as in “zero down, zero percent interest”… the answer we’re looking for is 40, as in “40 MPG hwy.” With the compact segment heating up, 40 MPG on the highway is very nearly a price of entry… if your base model doesn’t achieve the magic number, you’d better have a special edition that does. But even as “40 MPG” becomes more and more important as an industry benchmark, it inevitably raises a perennial question: do EPA numbers mean anything in the real world? Hyping the highest possible number rather than a “combined” figure is a classic marketing move, but one that risks exposing the EPA highway number as a meaningless metric. And if nobody actually gets the rated efficiency, it’s only a matter of time before the market begins to demand more accurate reporting.

Reporting from the launch of the latest 40 MPG contender, the Mazda3, the DetN’s John McCormick notes

At the Mazda3 launch in Los Angeles, the company conducted informal but revealing real-world mileage observations on its own cars and five leading rivals.

As driven by the media over a mixed bag of city, highway and even mountain driving conditions, the following overall mpg results were obtained: Civic, 34.5; Mazda3, 33.7; Focus, 32.1; Corolla, 30.7; Elantra, 29.9; and Cruze, 29.8. While hardly scientific, these numbers do underscore the fact the 40 mpg figure is an illusion.

Is the only way to get 40 MPG highway in a diesel or hybrid? Or have any of you, TTAC’s Best and Brightest, recorded 40 MPG in one of the new generation of gas-powered compacts or subcompacts? How gingerly do you have to drive to match EPA highway numbers? Are some cars closer than others? Is it time to pressure marketers to switch to a combined MPG number, or will that be just as misrepresentative?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Should Chevy Get A Subcompact CUV? Thu, 20 Oct 2011 23:21:08 +0000

According to Automotive News [sub]‘s Product Editor Rick Kranz, GM execs “are debating” whether Chevrolet needs a subcompact crossover. Which is interesting, considering Buick’s next new vehicle after the Verano will likely be a subcompact crossover. But with GMC’s “Granite” moving to the Delta platform, and Buick doing a better job of differentiating itself (more on that soon, in an upcoming Verano review), that might work. Besides, the South American Chevrolet Agile (above) is based on the ancient 4200 platform which, as a “regional architecture,” is doomed to replacement with a Global Gamma-based vehicle. If you’re going to develop a global product, why not offer a version for the US market?

But then, you know it’s not that easy. There are plenty of reasons to not introduce a subcompact Chevy CUV. But for me this is the most important one: if it’s not going to be considerably more efficient than the Equinox (possibly with E-Assist), Granite or a possible Cruze Wagon, GM shouldn’t bother. Sonic isn’t the most efficient (or light) subcompact to begin with, and a CUV body will force compromises. And in an era of 40 MPG (hwy) compact sedans, it’s hard to see a subcompact CUV selling without competitive efficiency. But that’s just the beginning…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is It Time For A Movie About The Auto Industry? Thu, 06 Oct 2011 23:19:57 +0000

Over at CNN Money, Alex Taylor III makes an astute observation about Bill Vlasic’s new book “Once Upon A Car,”

When Hollywood has tried capturing the auto industry on film, it aimed at realistic drama but wound up with suds… What filmmakers have lacked is believable characters and realistic dialogue. Until now, that is, thanks to a new book, Once upon a Car, by veteran Detroit newspaperman Bill Vlasic. Vlasic knows the industry in and out and enjoys near-universal access to its key figures. He recounts a tale filled with shrewd insights into their characters and conflicts told through verbatim accounts of their conversations. It’s the first nonfiction auto book that reads like a screenplay.

This, in a nutshell, is what I found so appealing about Vlasic’s book: it avoids the temptation to turn Detroit’s drama into a morality play, allowing the story to unfold in a personal, organic fashion. In my review of the book, to be published shortly by The Wall Street Journal, I argue that Vlasic’s approach holds a valuable lesson for automotive journalists of all stripes. Taylor, on the other hand, thinks Vlasic’s story is the perfect basis for a movie, and even goes so far as to make some casting suggestions (Al Pacino as Sergio Marchionne, Tom Hanks as Bill Ford, Tom Cruise as Alan Mulally, Sean Connery as Bob Lutz, Tom Wilkinson as Rick Wagoner). We already know there’s an auto industry video game simulation in the works, so I wonder, does the drama of the past few years make the auto industry a worthy subject for a great movie? At least worthier than, say, “The Prince Of Motor City“? If so, would you rather see a historically accurate film based directly on sources like Vlasic’s book, a fictionalized account with real-life characters, or a fictionalized film-à-clef interpretation? Also, wouldn’t Kyle McLaughlin make the better Rick Wagoner? Discuss…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Is Obama’s “130 MPG” Battery? Mon, 03 Oct 2011 17:20:27 +0000

When the blogging gets tough, the tough bloggers get outsourcing, and since we’re swamped with fresh news and sales numbers, I’m going to throw this little mystery over to you, TTAC’s Best and Brightest. It’s no secret that the Obama Administration is bullish on  plug-in cars, as it seeks to put a million of the fuel-efficient vehicles on the road by 2015. And though several studies have shown that the White House’s goal is wildly overambitious and needs more money or a major spike in gas prices, and though even the DOE’s assessment shows that the goal is unrealistic, EV optimism springs eternal. So, whence cometh this profound, unshakeable belief that the EV is going to go from production-constrained curiosity to significant market player in just a few years?

A clue to that can be found in a Wall Street Journal [sub] profile of oil man Harold Hamm, the discoverer of a reputed 24b barrels of oil in the Montana/Dakota Bakken fields.

When it was Mr. Hamm’s turn to talk briefly with President Obama, “I told him of the revolution in the oil and gas industry and how we have the capacity to produce enough oil to enable America to replace OPEC. I wanted to make sure he knew about this.”

The president’s reaction? “He turned to me and said, ‘Oil and gas will be important for the next few years. But we need to go on to green and alternative energy. [Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.’” Mr. Hamm holds his head in his hands and says, “Even if you believed that, why would you want to stop oil and gas development? It was pretty disappointing.”

What makes this so strange is that the President expressed his optimism in an MPG format. It’s one thing to say EV battery prices will drop by 70% between 2010 and 2015 (even when the CEO of LG Chem says his firm is targeting 50% improvement), or even to say that US battery manufacturing will go from 2% of the global total in 2010 to 40% in 2015… these, like the “one million plug-ins on the road” pledge are straightforward targets. But 130 MPG based on some mysterious battery? There are so many moving parts in that goal, it’s not even funny. As the image above proves, you can order a car from Mitsubishi that is EPA-rated at 126 MPG in the city and 99 MPg on the highway… but it’s small, has only 62 miles of EPA-rated range, and starts near $30,000. Size, price, are all more important to consumers than an MPG rating for a vehicle that doesn’t even take gas, and these three factors all have the potential to decrease overall efficiency.

Presumably, President Obama was using a number from a briefing that used an average size, weight, range and price and projected the required battery size and power for a typical car, and found that by 2015 a 130 MPG-equivalent, average-sized EV would sell for not much more than an equivalent ICE or hybrid. But given that nearly every estimate about EVs ever given out by the administration looks wildly overoptimistic, it’s tough to take that estimate at face value. So I’m wondering, do we know how Obama came up with this number? Is he referring to price drops on traditional lithium-ion cells, or a new chemistry that is expected to be on the road by 2015? FInally, is the president referring to a battery produced by the “domestic industry” or one of the dominant foreign firms and their transplant factories? This private “130 MPG” revelation seems to underpin so much of the president’s optimism about EVs, I think it’s worth taking a much closer look at.

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Ask The Best and Brightest: Can You Identify This Book? Thu, 29 Sep 2011 12:23:06 +0000

TTAC reader Bonso writes:

Hi Jack

As you have over eighty books on Porsches you may be able to help me. I read a travel book published in the mid 1960s about a tour of Bryce Canyon, Zion national Park, Painted Desert, Grand Canyon etc made in a Porsche 911. The car and scenery were both the “stars” of the book, the passion for the car and scenery were complimentary. I would like to re-read the book but do not remember either the title or author! Can you help me? Or perhaps one of your readers knows of the book. Thanks.

Well, I’m stumped…

…but surely, among the over one million TTAC readers out there, someone must know what it is. Can we help this fellow? To raise the stakes in the most minimal fashion possible, I will give the first person to provide the right answer a USB key stamped with the logo of some random auto manufacturer.

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Ask The Best & Brightest: Why Not Buy the $250/Month Mazda? Tue, 27 Sep 2011 16:18:49 +0000

I have a confession to make: I am experiencing a struggle in my life. Normally, when middle-aged male church musicians say that, they mean they are secretly thinking about visiting a San Francisco bath house and rocking out with certain appendages fully visible. In my case, however, the desire to squeeze myself into something young, tight, and not quite masculine is entirely automotive. I’m talking about the Mazda2, of course.

The Mazda2 holds a title that’s important to me personally, even if it doesn’t exactly cause examples of the model to depart dealership lots with a Saturn V’s worth of force: it’s the lightest, simplest four-passenger small car money can buy. The MINI, Fiesta, and Sonic all outweigh it by a Roseanne Barr or more. Even the new Accent and FIAT 500 can’t quite match it. Hilariously, even the Miata outweighs the 2.

To help shove the littlest Mazda off the floorplans, Mazda is currently offering 0% financing. For five years. That’s right: if you can pay your own sales tax up front, it’s possible to have a new 2 for $233.38 a month. Is it worth doing?

We’ll start with some personal numbers. In the past year, I drove about 56,000 miles that I can document. 41,000 miles of that was in my 2009 Town Car. About 7,000 of it was in my Porsches. The rest was done in rentals. I understand that this kind of mileage is almost impossible to believe, but my daily commute and lunch trips alone account for 103 miles a day.

It occurred to me that I might possibly be able to justify part, or all, of a Mazda2 purchase based on fuel savings alone. Let’s say that I will drive 41,000 miles in the Townie again this year. I’m averaging 22.5 mpg over a variety of driving conditions. That is 1,822 gallons. If fuel averages $3.75, that’s $6,832.50, or $569.35 a month.

I should be able to average 35mpg in the Mazda2 during my commute. I came up with this number by carefully studying a number of well-documented metrics, multiplying by fuel specific weight and volume on seasonally-adjusted conditions, performing differential analysis on certain aspects of combustion-chamber swirl, and then pretty much figuring I could match the EPA highway rating. Replacing the Townie with the Mazda2 entirely would lower my fuel usage by 650 gallons per year. That’s a $2,439 savings, or $203 a month.

Those numbers look encouraging, don’t they? In the real world, however, the Town Car can do things the 2 can’t. It can carry five human beings without causing a fistfight or an incident of frottage, or both. It carries more in the trunk than the 2 does with the seats down, assuming you measure in full-sized Gibson Firebird guitar cases, which don’t fit in a 2 at all. It is invisible to law enforcement officials and it’s easy to drive downtown because I can park it by touch, as they say. (Said method is particularly amusing when, as occasionally happens, the cars ahead of and behind me are both late-model S-Class Benzos.) Most importantly, in bad weather it provides a nice solid ring of steel around my irreplaceable child. So the Town Car can go nowhere.

Nor would I expect the 2 to have the durability of a Panther. If I get fewer than 300,000 miles out of my Signature Limited it will be my own fault. Hell, at 64,000 miles it is still on the original brake pads. We all know that the Town Car will still be pimping when the Mazda2 has been recycled to China.

So the 2 can’t be my only daily driver, but it could be an additional one. I could split the mileage, which would still save me about $100 a month in fuel. Insurance for the 2 should be in the $40/month range, so I would have to come up with an extra $190 a month to have it.

Some of you will have already departed the article to comment about how one should always pay cash for cars, and the millionaire next door, and Dave Ramsey’s Financial Bondage, and so on. I’m not listening. If I had $14,000 just sitting around, I would buy two solid Les Paul reissues and a MESA/Boogie amp to sit with the fourteen LPs and two Boogies I already own. It’s bad enough that I don’t owe any money on my Porkers. I should probably take out some kind of equity loan on them and buy GM stock with it. Anyway. Although the zero-percent money represents a hidden incentive from Mazda, it ain’t like I could take the two grand in cash as an alternative or anything like that. Zero percent or nothing; that’s the deal.

Benefits of adding a Mazda2 to the “fleet”:

  • looks cute
  • amusing way to get around town
  • reduced wear and tear on the TC
  • if V. McB departs in a hurry for some reason, could use Mazda2 on first dates with women so I don’t look like an AARP member or Kevin Kline in “The Big Chill”, which are my current options
  • if I forget to sell it, could be first car for child


  • the aforementioned $190 a month, which is a nontrivial amount of money in this economy
  • represents seventh car in two-car garage/driveway combo
  • does not tow race car, which will annoy me during race season
  • somebody from some forum somewhere will see me driving it and post a thread entitled “Baruth is poor now LOLZ”. Actually, move this bullet point up to the list above.
  • will spend the next ten years explaining to people that it doesn’t have SKYACTIV, isn’t a hybrid, and can’t be plugged into a wall

Incentives expire September 30. My Mazda2 of choice is a five-speed “Touring” model in Projectile Bile Green. B&B — what say you?

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Ask The Best and Brightest: Would You Pay $22,000 For This Toyota Wagon? Fri, 16 Sep 2011 11:08:23 +0000

Toyota doesn’t sell the Camry in most European markets; it’s wayyy too big and powerful to find favor with our Continental betters. Instead, they offer the Avensis, which was rumored to debut a complete redesign at Frankfurt but instead only showed a minor facelift. It would be overly simplistic to call the Avensis a “Scion tC sedan or wagon” but that does more or less capture the approximate size and nature of the vehicle. The Avensis platform is normally sold with a choice of two-liter, four-cylinder diesel, turbodiesel, and gasoline engines. The 2.5, 180-horsepower four-cylinder from the tC would fit, however.

The Avensis sedan wouldn’t find too many customers Stateside; very few people want to pay Camry money and get less car in return. This little wagon, on the other hand…

What’s the difference between this Avensis wagon, sold with a Scion tC nose, and the Acura TSX Sportwagon? Oh, gosh, I don’t know. Let’s call it twenty horsepower and eight thousand dollars. No, it’s not much of a niche, but it is one where Toyota could find a little bit of volume, perhaps capture the occasional hipster and/or Outback Sport buyer, and earn a touch of enthusiast cred. Most interestingly, it would exist in a more or less uncontested market segment. Who else makes a small wagon? Don’t say Mazda; this vehicle neatly splits the difference between Mazda3 and Mazda5.

There would be no reason for it to cost more than a similarly-equipped Scion tC coupe. The question becomes: Would you buy it? Do you know anybody who would?

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Ask the Best & Brightest: How Much Hell Do You Want Unleashed, Anyway? Wed, 07 Sep 2011 11:08:40 +0000

It’s been a bit of a meta-critical and navel-gazing week or so here at TTAC. We’ve been reviewed and discussed by other media sources, we’ve reviewed and discussed a few media sources ourselves, and we’ve even had a delightful piece by Brendan McAleer which sort of reviews our own reviews of someone else’s review of us.

It’s safe to say that we will probably be taking a break from this sort of thing for a while so that we can bring you some more of the authentic TTAC content you’ve come to know and love. Clinical, yet strangely erotic, descriptions of trunk space. Callous disregard for human decency in the last of the Ford full-sizers. Chinese business news. That sort of thing.

Fortunately or unfortunately, however, we will continue to encounter “content” from our colleagues in the business which is mendaciously conceived, shamelessly produced, and incompetently edited. Which leads me to my question:

There are few things I personally enjoy more than absolutely flame-broiling some buffalo-esque, brown-baggy-pants-wearing, buffet-browsing media-beast. I was born for it, and I don’t care if everybody I meet at every press launch from now until the end of time hates my guts as a result. There’s a long list of potential candidates for horse-whipping in my old-fashioned Franklin Planner and I’m willing to metaphorically re-enact various torture scenes from “Hostel” with each one of them. Payoffs will be exposed. Press-release-rewriting will be discussed in devastating detail. Shuffle-steerers will be flogged.

At your signal, I will unleash hell…

…which means I need to hear that signal from you. Do you want a meta-critical piece once a week? Once a month? Never ever again? Do you want me to find out who’s taking free cars behind the scenes? Do you want to know about the guy who claims to be driving at the limit in his articles but in reality saves his most devastating work for the breakfast bar?

Perhaps you’d like to see some stunts. I could buy an old Ford Tempo automatic, mount a GoPro on the bumper, and insert myself into the next supercar press event driving loop to cause chaos. I could pretend to be a writer for an in-flight magazine and see how many outrageous bribes I can have shipped to a Vegas hotel room. I could smoke out a monster Town Car donut in the middle of the street, right in front of a major manufacturer’s dinner event, while journalists literally cower in fear behind the party shuttles. Wait. I already did that. Okay. I’ll think of some other stuff.

You, the reader, are in charge. If you want me to leave Dutch Mandel alone, we’ll do it. If you want everything he writes from today until eternity subjected to the most blistering criticism possible, we can do that, too.

Just give the word. Or, failing that, give your opinion!

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What’s Your Favorite “Center Stack”? Tue, 06 Sep 2011 19:35:43 +0000 According to Automotive News [sub], the automotive supplier industry is going coo-coo for center stacks. Calling it “the hottest chunk of vehicle real estate” for suppliers, AN reports that the center console has “become a California gold rush of opportunity.” Having glanced at the headline, I figured the topic would make for an interesting question: what’s your favorite center stack? If nothing else, I figured it would be an opportunity to sing the praises of my M Coupe’s stripped-down, old-school console (I realize there’s nothing more dull than a car writer praising his own vehicle, but bear with me… there’s a point coming).

In contrast to some of the button-laden plastic wastelands out there, the z3M keeps it simple: window controls (located on the console for easy LHD-RHD conversions), a 12V outlet, seat-heater controls, an A/C button, A recirc button and a stability control off button (the largest of the bunch). Then you get three old-fashioned, chrome-ringed analog displays (a clock, a volt-meter and an oil-temperature gauge), three simple HVAC control knobs and a simple stereo head-unit. A minimum of controls in a simple, stripped down environment. And though none of the buttons fall especially readily to hand, there are so few they quickly become second nature to operate. In short, it keeps you focused on driving rather than fiddling with distractions.

I bring up the M Coupe as an example, because it represents the opposite of what AN [sub] says is driving suppliers to the center stack. Nobody’s making money off of better knobs or switches, the “center stack gold rush” is all about adding electronic systems, displays, gadgets and gizmos into the mix. In short, my ideal center stack is wildly out-of-touch with where the industry is headed. This is not an uncommon position for an auto writer to find himself in, and it’s why I’m thankful for you, the Best and Brightest. Feel free to share your ideal center stack, or if you’re more of a glass-half-full person, your least-favorite. But do try to come up with some recent examples which show the industry how to move forward technologically without overwhelming the driver with confusion and distraction. As the MyFordTouch episode proves, this is one area that the industry could use more insight into…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is The Supercar’s Cool Wearing Off? Sun, 04 Sep 2011 19:42:27 +0000

The arrest of 13 young supercar drivers near Vancouver, British Columbia is not necessarily the sort of piece I’d jump all over right away, but it did inspire quite a number of emails from readers tipping us to the story. I’m always intrigued by stories that inspire a lot of tips, but after reading the Vancouver Sun follow-up, I was even more disappointed with the story. To wit:

The drivers face charges of driving without due consideration for others, which comes with a $196 ticket and six driver penalty points, which will trigger a $300 penalty point premium.

Gaumont said there is a lot of disappointment that the drivers face only $196 fines, but there is not enough evidence to charge them with the more serious offence of dangerous driving.

“We don’t have police officers who observed the offence, and we don’t have lasers and radars that have the speeds,” Gaumont said. “We have to really depend on third-party individuals who had called in.”

If I’ve got this right, we’re supposed to be outraged by young people in fast cars, and society’s inability to stop them from wreaking their  ”speeds upwards of 200 km/h” terror. For me, though, the overriding reaction to this story is “how uncool doess this make the supercars look?”

Once upon a time, cars like this would create stories just like this one… in the hands of Steve McQueens and James Deans. People who bought cars like the Jaguar XK-SS and Porsche 550 because they had an appreciation for what they could do. Now supercars are so, and pardon the rock ‘n roll metaphor, commercialized that every kid in Vancouver whose parents have a couple hundred million to rub together gets a Gallardo for their sweet sixteen. There can be no greater indication that the image of the supercar has become utterly divorced from the reality of what actually makes it a supercar, than the story of a dozen 21 year-olds, half of whom still have to have “novice” decals on their quarter-million-dollar rides, driving in a group on the freeway. If stories like this one keep popping up, it seems to me that it’s only a matter of time before supercars lose their cool.

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