The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:18:16 +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 QOTD: In Defense Of The Toyota Camry Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:00:23 +0000


We treat the physical results of capitalism as though they were an inevitability. In 1955, no captain of industry, prince, or potentate could buy a car as good as a Toyota Camry, to say nothing of a 2014 Mustang, the quintessential American Everyman’s car. But who notices the marvel that is a Toyota Camry? 

-Kevin Williamson, The National Review

TTAC is not like most car blogs – and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Last week, the introduction of the newly refreshed Toyota Camry was the most popular article on the site. I couldn’t be happier.

Before we delve in to the Camry, it’s worth discussing one of Williamson’s major points – which will undoubtedly be too politically charged for some – that the average consumer has never had it better in terms of the kinds of goods they can afford, even with a relatively modest salary. These goods, in turn, increase their quality of life, and are not just frivolous expenditures.

The enthusiast press loves to discuss how the new Mustang is the equal of the 370Z or the M3, but for most Americans, the delta between a Camry and a Lexus ES350 – or some European luxury cars – has never been narrower.  The Camry is definitely not the car I’d buy if I was looking for a mid-size sedan (it would be a Honda Accord or a Mazda6 with a manual, if you care). But I can appreciate it in the same way as Kevin Williamson, in that building and selling such an outstanding car for $25,000 is a Herculian task.

WARNING: Tangential missive below

Even if the National Review might strike you as too far from your political leanings, I feel privileged to be able to write for a site that is open to these sorts of discussions, even when politics – and the Camry itself – are “hot button” issues. The internet offers a lot of places to discuss the typical car guy things: statistical urination contests (also known as bench racing), race-to-the-bottom displays of status signalling (whereby contestants aim to profess their undying love for increasingly obscure variants of automobiles) and corporate strategy as dictated by the holder of an Associates Degree with 7 years experiences as a consumer electronics Sales Consultant (inevitably, lots of rear-drive sports cars, body-on-frame SUVs etc).

As far as I know, this is the only place where we can discuss things like incentives, inventory,fuel economy and safety regulations and other topics that would put most Forza-addicted controller-clutchers to sleep, even though they literally dictate the way automobiles are engineered, designed, marketed and sold.

In most corners of the enthusiast world, the Camry is symbolic for what “car enthusiasts” despise; a basic appliance, uninteresting to look at or drive, using relatively simple, proven technology, available with only two pedals, often being sold in some shade of taupe. Only at TTAC could this car attract a following precisely because of those attributes. Then again, it’s really not that bad to drive.


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New Or Used? : The Most Reliable Car In The USA Is A …. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:42:56 +0000  


Hi Steve,

What would be the most reliable car I can purchase for about $7000-8000? And what would be the upper limit on mileage that I would even consider?

Steve writes:

I grew up in the food import business. So to me, the answer to this question is a lot like asking my Dad, “What is the best cake I can get for $70?”

He would probably tell you that it depends on your ingredients, your cooking methods, your recipe, and what parts of the ingredients matter to you the most.

The ingredients when it comes to a used car is… the prior owner.

Like a pitcher in baseball who has an overwhelming influence over the outcome of the game, the prior owner’s maintenance habits and driving style has the greatest impact on the longevity of the vehicle when you’re shopping at this lower price range.

The cooking methods are… your own driving style and maintenance regimen. The way you cook those ingredients once you get them determines a lot of that long-term reliability.

My father’s Lincolns were rarely driven hard, and he took fantastic care of his cars. My mom was a rolling hurricane who routinely beat her cars to an inch of their metallic being. Some cars can easily handle the obscenity that is a person shifting from reverse to drive while in motion (Crown Vics come to mind), while other cars would likely be recycled into Chinese washing machines within five years (Chevy Aveo).

You need to be honest about the type of driver you are, the type of driving you do, and the types of wear you have commonly seen in your past vehicles. A diesel is often better for mountainous highways than an older hybrid, and a Lincoln Town Car will likely be a better fit for potholed streets than a Mitsubishi Lancer.

The recipe is usually… the manufacturer.  The ways you get to enjoy it depends on the way they built it.

Cars have their own unique manufacturing tolerances and varying quality levels built into their 180,000+ parts. Honda makes wonderful manual transmissions. Toyota is a world-class manufacturer of hybrids. GM and Ford make highly reliable full-sized trucks and SUVs, and BMW along with Porsche have offered sports cars that were truly the best in the business. The manufacturer that offers the best match for your automotive tastes will impact your reliability because, you will likely be willing to invest in the best parts if that car offers what you consider to be the optimal driving experience.

Does it sound like I’m evading your questions? Well, let me toss around the ingredients that matter to you the most then and give you a solid answer.

If cars to you are like water… no taste is the best taste… and you drive about 50 to 60 miles per hour on flat, boring, mundane roads, then find yourself a 2007 Toyota Corolla. Get a low mileage version with a 5-speed that was driven by a prior owner who knew how to handle a stick. 07′ was the last year of that particular generation and historically, vehicles that are later in their model runs tend to have fewer issues.

If cars are a matter of sport and passion, I have an incredibly weak spot in my heart for second generation Miatas. A low mileage version owned by a Miata enthusiast is a helluva deal. Here in the southern US, an 03 or 04 with around 60k miles would sell for around $7000. I also like the Honda S2000 and the BMW Z4. Those will have higher miles than the Miata, and the Z4 in particular may not match the Miata for reliability alone. But those two models may offer certain ingredients that are more appealing to you.

Finally, if you’re looking for that same automotive luxury and richness as a five layer coconut cake filled with Godiva chocolate flakes, and coconut that was flown directly from the Polynesian Island of Tofoa, the sad news is there are no reliable $7000 Rolls-Royces or Bentleys. However a 2001 Infiniti Q45 is a frequently overlooked luxury model that I would keep a keen eye on if I had $7000 to spend on a ‘rich’ car. One with less than 100k miles, if you can find it, would be a fantastic deal.

Oh well, gotta go and exercise. My morning cake came from an article I wrote a couple of days ago and I now have to remove all the calories that are stuck in my big fat head.


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Recalls Hammer GM Brand, Q1 2014 Profits Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:00:25 +0000 2007 Saturn Ion Red Line

Autoblog reports the first several thousand kits meant for repairing a handful of General Motors vehicles affected by the February 2014 ignition switch recall have been shipped off to dealers. In addition, 1.4 million recall letters have been mailed out to affected consumers of 2003 – 2007 vehicles; 2008 – 2011 affected owners will receive their letters in the coming weeks. The letters inform consumers to schedule the repair with their dealer, which GM claims will take 90 minutes to complete. Until the repair occurs, the automaker instructs all consumers to have nothing more than the key itself prior to insertion, and to be sure their transmissions and switches are set in place before removing the key.

In other recall news, Bloomberg says plaintiffs aiming to take down the liability protections established in GM’s 2009 bankruptcy exit — on the basis of bankruptcy fraud by omitting information about the out-of-spec ignition switch at the center of the ongoing recall crisis — may find the fight difficult at best. Bankruptcy lawyers told Bloomberg that they could request pre-trial evidence from GM to prove their case, but differ on statue of limitations being a factor in moving forward with the lawsuits. In the meantime, the automaker has asked Judge Robert Gerber — who ruled in the 2009 case — to reinforce the liability shield before more lawsuits can move forward. A conference with Gerber and GM is set for May 2 in Manhattan.

As for how GM is faring under the recall crisis since it began, Detroit Free Press says the automaker’s brand had taken more damage than Chevrolet in the first weeks of the recall, according to YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz consumer survey. The automaker’s score, determined on a scale of -100 to 100 based on a compilation of negative and positive scores from consumers surveyed, fell from 9 in the first two months of 2014 to -33 before climbing up to -26; a score of zero means a 50/50 balance of negative and positive scores. Chevrolet, however, was at 19 before the recall took the division to -2 last week. The Bow Tie is holding at zero currently.

Though brand perception of GM and Chevrolet may be on the rebound, GM’s bottom line has yet to follow. Bloomberg reports Q1 2014 earnings may include a loss when CEO Mary Barra makes her earnings call Thursday. Compared to last year’s Q1 net profit of $1.18 billion, the automaker forecasts a loss of $1.3 billion from recalls affecting 7 million vehicles, as well as $400 million pretax charge due to Venezuela’s currency struggles, restructuring costs in Asia and South America, and losses from Europe. GM was projected to hit a record $10 billion in net profit for 2014, but analysts have now pegged profits for FY 2014 at $5.54 billion, far below the peak of $9.19 billion set in 2011.

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Do 7,500 Lb. Faux Vintage Electric “Cars” for Central Park Make Sense? Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:31:44 +0000 img_4933

An animal rights group, NYClass (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets), used the New York Auto Show to introduce the brass-era style electric vehicle that they and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio want to replace the 68 horse drawn carriages that 300 carriage drivers use to carry tourists and others around Central Park. I’m not going to wade into the animal rights debate about the horses, and I actually think that the mayor’s idea to use vintage looking electric cars makes some sense. The Luddites who decry modern technology have no idea just how filthy cities were when we relied on animal, not machine, power (and how much arable land was used farming to feed all those draft animals). However much sense it makes to use EVs as tourist vehicles, the vehicle that is being promoted – the Creative Workshop’s ‘eCarriage’ –  just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If you were going to make an electric vehicle to carry people around the park, and you were concerned with it’s environmental footprint, would you start out with something as big and as heavy as a Ford F-450 Super Duty truck?

Everybody that knows anything about electric cars knows that weight is the enemy. Every gram of weight in the car’s structure decreases range and is one gram less that can be devoted to batteries. That’s why the Tesla Model S is made of aluminum (and now a thin titanium plate to protect the battery pack – Tesla undoubtedly chose Ti because of its strength to weight ratio). It’s also why much of BMW’s effort in making the i3 and i8 electrics is devoted to mass producing lightweight carbon fiber parts.

Full gallery here.

1912 Baker Electric Extension Coupe. Full gallery here.

The eCarriage seats eight, weighs 7,500 lbs, and has a 63 kW (84 hp) electric traction motor driving the rear wheels, powered by an unspecified lithium ion pack, and has a top speed of 30 mph, though it will be restricted to 5 mph in and near the park. Cities like Santa Fe and Chicago have also expressed interest in the vehicle. Jason Welig, who runs Creative Workshop, says that depending on the production quantities,the company would “shoot for $150,000 to $175,000″ as a per vehicle cost. The prototype, funded by NYClass, cost $450,000 to build.

1922 Milburn Electric Light Brougham. Full gallery here.

1922 Milburn Electric Light Brougham. Full gallery here.

Like I said, I’m not opposed to the idea, and the eCarriage appears to be beautifully made, but when I read about the vehicle they plan on using, I had to question why they decided to use something so big and heavy. I realize it’s more of a bus than a car, but I suspect that there are 8 passenger SUVs that are more energy efficient, from cradle to grave, than the eCarriage. The eCarriage, also, is not entirely free of using fossil fuels. To keep the passengers warm in winter the eCarriage has heaters, fired with propane. Finally, the car enthusiast in me finds the faux brass era styling offputting. Much more to my liking would be if they made replicas of actual vintage electric cars, only with modern running gear.


1914 Detroit Electric Model 46 Cape Top Roadster. Full gallery here.

Electric cars from companies like Columbus, Detroit Electric and Milburn were marketed as “Town Cars” and they look just fine in the city. If I was in charge of the project, I wouldn’t use a Ford F-450 as a donor vehicle, I’d start out with something like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt. Both are cheaper than a F-450. Then I’d have someone like Creative Workshop make replicas of a couple of Detroit Electric models and mount the replica period bodies on the modern EV chassis.

1914 Detroit Electric Model 46 Cape Top Roadster. Full gallery here.

1914 Detroit Electric Model 46 Cape Top Roadster. There are only three surviving Detroit Electric roadsters. This is the same car as pictured in off-white above. After it sold at auction in 2012, the new owner had it resprayed. Full gallery here.

In particular, I think the Detroit Electric Roadster looks rather jaunty in general and certainly compared to the rather immense eCarriage (which sort of gives off a Beverly Hillbillies truck vibe to me, YMMV). While none of the Detroit Electric body styles can carry seven passengers, neither can the horse drawn carriages currently in service. I think a small fleet of them would look more charming in Manhattan (and in other cities that have horse drawn and other tourist livery services) than a bunch of the big eCarriages.

Vintage EV enthusiast Jack Beatty's 1916 Detroit Electric. Full gallery here.

Vintage EV enthusiast Jack Beatty’s 1916 Detroit Electric. Full gallery here.

I was going to ask our readers, if you were going to take a ride around Central Park in a vintage looking electric car, which would be more appealing to you, a Detroit Electric roadster or town car, or the eCarriage, but it’s a moot point. It turns out that despite NYClass’ efforts to promote the electric truck, New Yorkers seem to prefer the horses.

1931 Detroit Electric Model 97 Opera Coupe. Full gallery here.

1931 Detroit Electric Model 97 Opera Coupe. Full gallery here.

In response to the introduction of the eCarriage at the NYAS the New York Times officially editorialized, Keep the Carriage Horses, and the New York Daily News launched a “Save Our Horses” campaign. The Christian Science Monitor reports that a Quinnipiac poll earlier this year showed that 60% of New York voters opposed Mayor De Blasio’s plans.

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 get a parallax view 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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EPA Sets Lower 2013 Cellulosic Ethanol Use Requirement Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:30:22 +0000 Ethanol plant

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency put in place 2013 requirements for cellulosic ethanol for automotive use in the United States at 810,000 gallons, an amount far short of the 1 billion gallons Congress desired seven years earlier when the Renewable Fuel Standard Act came into force.

The Detroit News reports production of the fuel has fallen short of expectations, prompting the agency to set required production for 2013 to what was actually produced “due to the reduced estimate of anticipated cellulosic biofuel production in 2013 that was announced shortly after EPA signed its final rule by one of two companies expected to produce cellulosic biofuel in 2013.”

The reduction comes on the heels of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in favor of the American Petroleum Institute, stating the EPA had overstepped its authority by mandating refiners buy more fuel — 17 million gallons for this year alone — than what was produced. API official Bob Greco applauded the decision, calling upon the agency to base future mandates on reality instead of prognostication:

EPA should base its cellulosic mandates on actual production rather than projections that — year after year — have fallen far short of reality. For four years running, biofuel producers have promised high cellulosic ethanol production that hasn’t happened. EPA must also reconsider its unrealistic proposal to mandate 17 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels for 2014.

Despite lower production numbers and delays in bringing ethanol refineries online, the Obama administration is pushing ahead with the RFS, which requires 21 billion gallons of biofuel — including 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol — to be in use annually as a way to wean the nation’s dependency on foreign oil resources.

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Dodd-Frank Act Used In NY State Subprime Lender Lawsuit Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:15:27 +0000 President Obama Signs Finance Reform Bill Into Law

The Dodd-Frank Act, created in the wake of the Great Recession as means to curb the practices by financial corporations that led to the Great Recession in the first place, is now being used to go after an automotive lending company in New York for stealing from its customers.

The New York Times reports New York Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Long Island-based subprime auto lender Condor Capital Corporation for siphoning millions of dollars from its borrowers by way of shutting out borrowers once a loan had been repaid, preventing them from discovering if any excess funds were still in the account upon full repayment.

Further, Condor’s method of storing personal account information left a lot to be desired, including unencrypted backup tapes sent to the home of the company’s vice president and “stack of hundreds of hard-copy customer loan files lying around the commons areas” of the company’s offices.

Upon the judge’s decision, a temporary restraining order was issued against Condor, freezing all accounts and operations with the potential for Lawsky to recover the millions lost for his state’s customers, or, should he move the lawsuit to federal court, do the same for all of Condor’s customers in the 30 states where the lender does business.

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Junkyard Find: 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:00:45 +0000 12 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBy my calculations, we will stop seeing Chrysler A bodies in wrecking yards by about the year 2109; so far in this series we’ve seen this ’61 Valiant, this ’63 Dart, this ’64 Valiant wagon, this ’67 Valiant, this ’66 Dart, this ’68 Valiant Signet, this ’73 Valiant, this ’75 Duster, and this ’75 Dart, and today I’m adding a first-year Valiant wagon that sat abandoned for about 40 years before being sent to a California self-serve yard.
18 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow do I know it sat for that long? From the yellowed but otherwise intact stack of 1970 newspapers I found in the back. Here’s the first paragraph of the Herb Caen column from the February 25, 1970 San Francisco Chronicle. Those damn Traditional Hippies (Caen invented the term “hippie”), donating blood for the SFPD! My very first job was delivering the Chronicle on my Schwinn, about 8 years after this issue came out, so it was cool to find this paper.
05 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Slant-6 engine was fairly modern in 1960. I can’t tell a 170 from a 225 by glancing at it, but the 170 was more common in the early Valiants. Someday I will buy an NOS Slant-6 scale model.
01 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe interior is pretty well cooked from those decades in the California sun.
11 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe early Valiant wagon had some interesting body lines.
27 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAll right, back to the 2/25/70 newspaper! Here’s an ad for the 70 Plymouth Duster, complete with cartoon woman in psychedelic bell-bottoms.
22 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAn unusual time to announce the somewhat delayed second-gen Camaro. Stewart Chevrolet is still around, though not in San Francisco.
33 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinConservative columnist Joseph Alsop had some concerns about Nixon’s plan to abolish the draft, citing Philip II of Macedonia.
32 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNews stories out of the Middle East haven’t changed much in 44 years, although big-nosed caricatures of Arabs in American editorial cartoons have been toned down a bit since then. Also, busing nowadays isn’t quite the issue it was in 1970.
21 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou don’t see help-wanted ads separated by gender these days.
28 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRemember Gordo and his cat, Poosy Gato? Only if you’re old.
24 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow about a sharp ’65 Chrysler for $595?
09 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYes, old newspapers in junked cars are quite interesting, as we saw with this 1982 Denver Post I found in the trunk of a 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air. Just think of all the big news stories that happened while this Valiant sat, forgotten, in a back yard or driveway since the early 1970s. Soon it will return to the steel from which it came.

01 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 30 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 32 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 33 - 1960 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 9
BAIC, Siemens Team Up For Green Joint Venture In Beijing Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:00:32 +0000 Siemens Audi A4 DTM

Though Siemens won’t be putting their name upon the body of BAIC C70G for a DTM entry anytime soon, the Chinese automaker and German industrial giant will come together for an green vehicle-related joint venture in Beijing.

Automotive News Europe reports the joint venture — Beijing Siemens Automotive E-Drive System Company — will mass produce motors and inverters for hybrid and electric vehicles beginning in 2015, with small-batch and prototype production coming online sometime this year.

Once underway in full, the joint venture will push 100,000 inverters out the door annually, with BAIC being the first recipients of the Sino-German technology. There, the inverters will find a home in the automaker’s S, C and L series vehicles, and projected power output for each model will range from 45 to 200 kW (60 to 268 horsepower).

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New York 2014: Outtakes Part 2 – Expand Your Horizons Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 photo (22)

3-Series. 3-Series GT. 3-Series Touring. 4-Series. 4-Series Gran Coupe. X3. X4. Not too long ago, it was simple to decipher BMW’s model lineup and nomenclature. One sausage, many lengths. These days, you need the Rosetta Stone for niche variants to figure out what’s what. But I did have a brief moment of clarity on the floor of the New York Auto Show.


It turns out, the 4GC is really just a 5-door hatchback/liftback, like the old Plymouth Horizon (or Sundance, as shown above) or the Skoda Octavia. It’s a very practical bodystyle, but hatchback is a dirty word to American car buyers, so it needs to be dressed up in what Paul Fussel would call “BAD” language.






photo (21)

I still don’t understand how the 3-Series GT, 4-Series Gran Coupe and X4 aren’t entirely redundant, to say nothing of the 3-Series Touring aka station wagon. Even with the insatiable quest for volume, they are all basically the same thing, just riding a little higher and gaining a little height, right?

Then again, the 3-GT (above – ignore the F-Type) is just…the same thing. But dressed up as…a pseudo-crossover hatchback thing…? So, tell me again BMW fans, what’s the difference between a 328i xDrive Gran Turismo and a 428i Gran Coupe xDrive? Oh hell, I give up.



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New York 2014: Outtakes Part 1 – The Masses Are Asses Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:01:59 +0000 photo (20)

One of the cars I was least impressed with was the Mercedes-Benz GLA. Even when giving the show floor example the benefit of the doubt for being pre-production or early build, this car just screams “poor execution”.

Like the CLA, the interior has a veneer of “premium” – until you get up close and see that the wood “veneer” is really just molded plastic with a tortoise-shell looking finish. The switches are all horribly cheap and the screen jutting out of the dash is reminiscent of a cheap Taiwan-made Android tablet.

Most glaring was the rear hatch area. The amount of seam sealer placed on the top near the hatch struts is gratuitous, even for an early build car – especially for one sitting on the floor of a major auto show. You wouldn’t expect that on a $15k Hyundai Accent, let alone a Mercedes-Benz.

But it doesn’t matter. Mercedes will sell every single one of these cars (or lease them for $0 down, $299 a month at 36 months), just on the back of their stellar brand. Nobody will care about this, the crummy interior or the lack of cargo and passenger space. They won’t even notice it – just the three-pointed star on the hood. As my late grandfather used to say “The Masses Are Asses”.


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Ur-Turn: Need A Lyft? Wed, 23 Apr 2014 15:31:35 +0000 Majda

TTAC reader Majda shares his tale of becoming a driver for ridesharing app Lyft.

Few car enthusiasts get paid to drive soused, singing young women around town. I do. The price was zip-tying a pink moustache onto the grille of my Mazda3.

I like to think of myself as the median reader of TTAC. I drive an enthusiast-approved Mazda3, did a DE course at Summit Point Raceway, and handle my own maintenance within reason. I own a Mityvac and am disappointed with its oil seals. I believe, against all evidence, that my girlfriend will appreciate it if I replace the stock e-brake handle.

There is one thing, though, that differentiates me from the median member of the Best and the Brightest: I have seen the awful face of twenty-year-old femininity, and I am afraid. I have driven down a four-lane highway with four college girls as my passengers, trying to keep control of the car while three tossed my hat around the backseat and the first one swiveled her head back and forth, whacking my shoulders with her perfumed, layered hair, touching my face with her hands whenever she felt inspired to do so, which was often.

I did this, as stipulated, with a pink moustache attached to the clownfish grille of my last-gen 3, because I drive for Lyft.

Lyft, like Uber and Sidecar, is a ridesharing app. Riders hail a driver using a smartphone. The driver – your humble scribe, now your humble chauffeur – drives to the pickup spot to collect you, the passenger. I then ferry you from home to bar, or bar to home, or bar to bar, as you like. When you get out, you don’t pay me directly; instead, you pay through the phone. Lyft takes a small cut.

For passengers, the experience is sociable, convenient, cheap, and pleasantly modern. As with many technological improvements, you get a better product at a lower cost. However, there are a few disadvantages which you, the riding public, should know about:

 1. Competence

Driving a cab is harder than you think, and one of the most gratifying elements of driving one is watching the professionals do it. Tail a real cabbie, at a safe distance, and you’ll see what I mean. They know the light patterns, they know how to hypermile, they know every inch of town, and they know the police patterns better that you do.

It follows from these admissions that the professional cabbie will, ceteris paribus, be better at his job than the man who practices law by day and deploys the pink moustache at night.

 2. Stratification

Hailing a cab is one of the few democratic practices left in America. You stand on a corner, wave your hand, and may the best citizen win. Lyft differs from the taxi norm in several key ways: first, you must have a smartphone to hail a ride, which eliminates the elderly and the very poor; second, you must have a credit card, which eliminates the unbanked; third, you must be connected with the sort of social networks which introduce you to smartphone apps, which eliminates half of America. If you doubt the power of those networks, consider this: in roughly four hundred pickups for Lyft, I have been sent into a poor part of town just twice.

 3. Social Cocooning

When I ride in a cab, I sit in the back. There is rarely a physical partition between me and the driver, but there is always a social partition. In my town, the driver is often Ethiopian or from the subcontinent. He – and it is always a he – generally provides fine service, and I tip out of respect.

It is a socially uncomfortable interaction, because I don’t have much in common with him other than our common humanity. For better or for worse, this makes hailing a cab somewhat discomfiting.

Lyft eliminates that problem. Passengers are expected to sit in the front seat, and Lyft prescribes a fist-bump to start the ride, just to put the passenger at ease. About 40% of drivers are female. I’m not a naturally jovial guy, but my passengers often thank me for chatting them up. Lyft touts this element in its advertising: I am “your friend with a car.”

It’s a wonderful gig. I enjoy driving around my particular city in the evenings, circulating through its neighborhoods and watching the sun go down. It’s a gig, not a career, though, because this innovation has planted the seeds of its own obsolescence. Thanks to Lyft and Uber, affluent urbanites are getting addicted to ride-by-app. Once the app can hail a self-driving car, there will be no need of a driver, taxi or otherwise. Young couples won’t hold hands quietly in the back seat. The brunch crowd will pregame before pancakes, en route. The girls will sing, on the way to the club, unobserved by cabbie anthropologists, and the pink moustaches will dissolve into a sea of white, efficient little pods.


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Saturation Dive: The GM 8L90 transmission Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:09:20 +0000 cq5dam.web.1280.1280

On the surface, there are many similarities between the ZF 8HP transmission family and the GM 8L90. Namely both use 4 gear sets, 5 shifting elements (3 clutches and two brakes), off axis pumps, and have roughly the same gear ratio spread at about 7:1 overall spread. The saturation dive is not about dealing with things that are on the surface. To be entirely honest as the details started to emerge on the GM 8L family of transmissions I suspected that it would end up being a ZF licensed design, the ZF 8HP after all is a very good design in my opinion. But the abstract of the paper that we managed to snag before SAE took it down revealed one very important detail – all 3 of the clutches were located in front of the planetary gear sets very much unlike the ZF design.

The amount of information available publicly on the 8L90 is very sparse and is right now limited to the the SAE papers the engineers responsible for the transmission wrote and the patent granted to GM. The folks at SAE want money for the paper, but the patent #8105196 is available as a matter of public record from the USPTO. The structure of this particular saturation dive is therefore going to be a bit different from the past ones. Please refer to the earlier saturation dives for a rehash of the basics of gears.  The drawing from the patent filing is shown below


GM 8L90 patent drawing

GM 8L90 patent drawing

The stick diagram

Since the patent diagram is not the easiest thing in the world to read, the stick diagram for the transmission is shown below. The output shaft of the torque converter is the input shaft for this gear arrangement.

Stick diagram for the GM 8L90

Stick diagram for the GM 8L90


As we see from the stick diagram, there are 4 simple planetary gear sets. The shift elements function as follows

  • Brake A when activated grounds the sun gears of gear sets 2 and 3
  • Brake B activation grounds the ring gear of gear set 3
  • Clutch C activation ties the input shaft to the sun gear of gear set 4
  • Clutch D activation ties the ring gear of gear set 1 to the sun gear of gear set 4
  • Clutch E activation ties the ring gear of gear set 2 and the syn gear of gear set 1 to the sun gear of gear set

Additionally, the following rigid links exist

  • The input shaft is rigidly connected the planetary carrier of gear set 2
  • The sun gear of gear set 1 and the ring gear of gear set 2 are connected together
  • The sun gears of gear sets 2 and 3 are connected together
  • The planetary carriers of gear sets 1 and 4 are tied together – which in turn is the output shaft of the transmission
  • The planetary carrier of gear set 3 is tied to the ring gear of gear set 4

Clearly while there are similarities, the planetary gear arrangements for the ZF 8HP and the GM 8L90 are actually quite distinct in layout. The stick diagram for the ZF 8HP is shown below.

Stick diagram for the ZF 8HP

Stick diagram for the ZF 8HP

 The similarities between the 2 layouts are enumerated as follows

  1. Rigid links between 2 sun gears, but between gear sets 2 and 3 for the GM design vs. gear sets 1 and 2 for the ZF design
  2. Rigid link between planetary carrier of a gear set and the ring gear of gear set 4, but between gear sets 3 and 4 for the GM design vs. gear sets 1 and 4 for the ZF design
  3. Rigid link between the input shaft and the planetary carrier of gear set 2

The major difference is that the ZF 8HP uses two rigid links between the sun gears and ring gears of adjacent gear sets, the 8L90 uses one such link and has a separate rigid link between the planetary carriers of gear sets 1 and 4. Therefore the GM 8L90 is a unique layout that is different from the ZF 8HP but there are similarities that are quite obvious as well.

First gear

The first gear is achieved by engaging both brakes A and B and clutch C. Engagement of brakes A and B locks the sun gear and the ring gear of gear set 3 to ground, which means that the planetary carrier of gear set 3 is tied to ground as well. Since this planetary carrier is rigidly tied to the ring gear of gear set 4, this means that the ring gear of gear set 4 is stationary. The engagement of clutch C ties the input shaft to the sun gear of gear set 4. This sets up an underdrive gear with a ratio of

(1) 1st   = S4+R4


= 4.5517 

We know that the gear ratio is around 4.55, and also that given the torque capacity requirements GM is more than likely using 4 pinions for higher torque rating similar to the ZF design, therefore (S4+R4) has to be divisible by 4. Also (R4-S4) has to be an even number. A candidate tooth count is S4=29 and R4=103, which leads to a feasible arrangement with 4 37 tooth planetary pinions and a first gear ratio of 4.5517, which is quite close to the known ratio. Since S4+R4 = 132 is divisible both by 4 and 3, for the lighter duty versions of the 8L family it is possible for GM to reduce the number of planetary pinions to 3 for applications that don’t quite require the 1000 Nm the 8L90 is capable of.

For the first gear operation, the GM 8L90 and ZF 8HP are therefore kinematic equivalents, but there is one very significant difference, the GM design places the brakes right next to the output gear set. The reason it matters is because at full torque (1000 Nm) and a 4.55 gear ratio, the 2 brakes are reacting a total of 3550 Nm of torque. The reaction torque in the ZF design has to pass through the outermost tube to the front of the transmission, i.e. approximately a 1.5 kg shaft assuming that the wall thickness is 3 mm, the length is approximately 350 mm and the inner diameter is around 180 mm. Now 1.5 kg does not sound like a lot, the problem is it is at a very large diameter, and rotational inertia is proportional to the square of the diameter. The rotating inertia of the ZF shaft is approximately 0.01 kg-m^2 while the GM design is around a tenth of that because it is at a much smaller diameter.

The input shaft in case of the GM design ends up being the outermost shaft, but the input shaft only carries engine torque while the outermost shaft in case of the ZF design has to carry 3.7 times the engine torque. Also, it appears that the length of the outer shaft in case of the GM design will be shorter than the ZF design.

The lower inertia of the GM design will shave a few precious milliseconds off the shift time, and in a world where the burgerkingring times are important, over a course of a lap the precious milliseconds can add up to a second. As the B&B we all know just how important the burgerkingring times are to market share. On a more serious note, this reduced inertia will also show up as a very small fraction of a mile per gallon for the EPA fuel economy.

Second gear

To shift up to second gear, both brakes A and B stay locked, clutch C is disengaged and E is engaged. Doing so connects the sun gear of gear set 4 to the ring gear of gear set 2. The sun gear of gear set 1 is grounded and the planetary carrier of gear set 2 is connected to the input. Therefore this sets up an overdrive cascaded with an underdrive. The ratio is

(2) 2nd   = (S4+R4)R2


 =  2.9586 

Knowing the gear ratio, and methods similar to the 1st gear estimation, a feasible and perhaps reasonable estimates for tooth counts is S2=42, R2=78 with an 18 tooth planetary pinion. Since S2+R2 = 120, it is possible to put in 3 or 4 pinions. Once again, the second gear operation is kinematically equivalent to the ZF 8HP. The earlier observations about overall transmission inertia being lower for the GM 8L90 still stand.

Third gear

The shift up to third gear is accomplished by releasing brake A, and engaging clutch E. Therefore shift elements B, C, and E are engaged. By doing so, the ring gear and the planetary carrier of gear set 2 turn at the same speed as the input, and therefore the sun gear of gear set 2 also turns at the input speed. Since this sun gear is linked to the sun gear of gear set 3, and the ring gear of gear set 3 is grounded by brake B, the carrier of gear set 3 is under driven with respect to the input. Therefore gear set 4 acts as a mixer module, with the sun gear rotating at the input speed, the ring gear turning slower than the input, forcing the carrier to turn at a speed that is slower than the input. The ratio is

(3) 3rd   = (S3+R3)(S4+R4)


 =  2.0745  

Knowing the gear ratio, and methods similar to the 1st gear estimation, a feasible and perhaps reasonable estimates for tooth counts is S3=39, R3=77 with an 19 tooth planetary pinion. Since S3+R4 = 116, it is possible to put in  4 pinions. The operation of third gear is somewhat similar to the third gear of the ZF 8HP, this design uses gear sets 2, 3, and 4 while the ZF design uses gear sets 1, 2, and 4. Gear set 4 acts as a mixer module in both cases.

Fourth gear

The 4th gear up shift is achieved by releasing clutch C and engaging clutch D, i.e. shift elements B, D, and E are engaged. Engaging B and D at the same time means that the ring gear and sun gear of gear set 1 spin together with the sun gear of gear set 4. Since the planetary carriers of gear set 1 and 4 are linked together, all 3 members of gear sets 1 and 4 spin together at the output speed along with the ring gear of gear set 2 and the planetary carrier of gear set 3. Since the ring gear of gear set 3 is grounded, this causes the sun gears of gear sets 2 and 3 to be overdriven with respect to the output by a factor of approximately 3. This causes gear set 2 to act as a mixer module, with the planetary carrier as the input and sets up an underdrive gear. The ratio is

(4) 4th   =1 + S2R3


 =  1.6910 

The fourth gear power flow is significantly different from the ZF 8HP fourth gear power flow.

Fifth gear

Fifth gear is achieved by releasing clutch E and engaging clutch C, i.e. shift elements B, C, and D are engaged. The fifth gear power flow is quite challenging to understand, but I am going to give it the old college try. Since C and D are engaged, the following members turn at the input speed

  1. The ring gear of gear set 1
  2. The planetary carrier of gear set 2
  3. The sun gear of gear set 4

The planetary carriers for gear sets 1 and 4 are rigidly linked together and turn at the output speed. Ring gear of gear set 3 is grounded because brake B is engaged. This sets up the following kinematic states

  • The sun gears of gear sets 2 and 3 are rotating at 2.16 times the input speed
  • Since the ring gear of gear set 3 is grounded, the planetary carrier of gear set 3 is therefore spinning at 0.73 times the input speed
  • Since the ring gear of gear set 4 is connected to the planetary carrier of gear set 3, gear set 4 becomes a mixer module with the sun gear spinning at input speed, the ring gear spinning at 0.73 times the input speed, and the planetary carrier being the output.

The 5th gear ratio is therefore

(5) 5th   = S1S3(R2+S2)(R4+S4) + S3R2(R4R1-S4S1) + R3S2S1(S4+R4)

S1S3(R2+S2)(R4+S4) + S3R2(R4R1x-S4S1) + R3S2S1S4

 =  1.2682 

Knowing the gear ratios, it is possible to back calculate a feasible gear parameters for gear set 1. After a little bit of work, S1 = 39, and R1 = 77 with 19 teeth planetary pinions. Therefore gear sets 1 and 3 appear to be identical in terms of number of gear teeth.

The kinematic state of gear set 4 is very much the same as the kinematic state for gear set 4 of the ZF 8HP, but the way the kinematic state is achieved is different. All 4 gear sets are used to achieve this ratio, albeit in a different manner than the ZF design.

Sixth gear

Sixth  gear is achieved by releasing brake B and engaging clutch E, i.e. the 3 rotating clutches C, D, and E are all engaged but both brakes A and B are open. This means all members of all 4 gear sets turn at the same speed as the input. The ratio is therefore quite simply

(6) 6th   =  1.0000 

Seventh gear

Up shift to seventh gear is accomplished by releasing clutch E and engaging brake A. The engagement of brake A grounds the sun gear of gear set 2, while the engagement of clutches C and D connects the ring gear of gear set 1 to the input shaft. The ring gear of gear set 2 spins approximately 1.5 times faster than the input because the sun gear is grounded, the planetary carrier is the input, and the ring gear is the output. Therefore gear set 1 acts like a mixer module, with the sun gear rotating at approximately 1.5 times the input speed (due to the rigid connection to the ring gear of gear set 1), the ring gear turning at the input speed, and the planetary carrier being the output. The ratio is therefore decided by the ratios of gears sets 1 and 2 alone

(7) 7th   = R2(S1+R1)


 =  0.8467 

Eight gear

Eight gear is achieved by disengaging clutch C and engaging clutch E, i.e. shift elements A, D, and E are engaged. Engaging clutches E and D at the same time causes all 3 members of gear set 1 to rotate at the same speed, and since the planetary carrier of gear set 1 is also the output shaft, this means that the ratio is decided strictly by the gear teeth count of gear set 2. The sun gear of gear set 2 is grounded, the planetary carrier is the input and the ring gear is the output. The ratio is therefore

(8) 8th   = R2


 =  0.6500 

Reverse gear

Reverse gear is achieved by locking both brakes A and B, and engaging clutch D. The sun gear of gears set 2 and the ring gear of gear set 4 are therefore grounded, the sun gear of gear set 1 spins at approximately 1.5 times the input speed (just as it does in 7th and 8th gears). The kinematic constraints imposed by the rigid link between the planetary carriers of gear sets 1 and 4, along with the actuation of clutch D which locks the ring gear of gear set 1 with the sun gear of gear set 4 causes the sun gear of gear set 4 to spin backwards at approximately 1.17 times the input speed, which means that the transmission output spins backwards but 3.908 times slower than the output

(Rev) Reverse  = R2(S1S4-R1R4)


 =  -3.9080 

What have we learned

Based on the available information, this article makes educated guesses at likely gear parameters for the GM 8L90. The likely gear parameters are

  1. Gear set 1: Sun gear S1 = 39, Ring gear R1 = 77
  2. Gear set 2: Sun gear S2 = 42, Ring gear R2 = 78
  3. Gear set 3: Sun gear S3 = 39, Ring gear R3 = 77
  4. Gear set 4: Sun gear S4 = 29, Ring gear R4 = 103

The gear ratio spacing is very good, the transmission feel of the GM 8L90 should be very competitive to the acclaimed ZF 8HP family of transmissions.

There are some obvious similarities between the gear arrangement of the GM 8L90 and the ZF 8HP but there are significant differences as well. These similarities and differences have been explained in this article. The one advantage of locating the clutches close to the hydraulic pump and the valve body is better shifting times since less fluid has to be moved in and out of the clutch pistons to apply and release the clutches. Also, this design is likely very competitive in terms of mass for a given torque capacity, and is better than the ZF 8HP design in terms of rotational inertia.

There are other advances made in this transmission design as well, especially with regards to the hydraulic pump design. This particular transmission features a “cylinder deactivation” of sorts for the pump, when line pressure demands are low (highway cruising) half of the pump can be shut down to achieve higher efficiency while still retaining the pump displacement required to deliver enough flow rate for fast shifts.


This is a very good design, hats off to the engineers at GM. The filing date on the patent is May 1, 2009 therefore props to the management at GM for letting this program move forward through the darkest days of their bankruptcy. This will be considered a seminal design in the history of automatic transmissions.

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GM Divides Engineering Division, Faces More Recall Woes Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:00:00 +0000 gm-headquarters-logo-opt

Automotive News reports General Motors has split its engineering division in two, with executives Ken Kezler and Kenneth Morris becoming vice presidents of global vehicle components and subsystems and global product integrity, respectively. The split also means vice president of (what was) global vehicle engineering, John Calabrese will retire, though the retirement is alleged to not be linked with the ongoing recall crisis. The immediate changes are the result of the ongoing review of the ignition switch issue affecting the company since early this year, with the aim of flagging potential safety problems within a product sooner than when the division was united. GM product chief Mark Reuss proclaimed the new divisions “would have expedited a whole bunch of things” had they been in place earlier.

The new divisions may have been established too late, however, as Bloomberg reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is readying a new investigation into the automaker, this time involving the brake systems in the 2014 Chevrolet Impala. The probe comes from a report by an owner who experienced several incidences linked to the car’s driver-assist technologies, including one where the collision-avoidance system brought the car to a halt despite no traffic ahead of the vehicle, leading to a rear-end collision instead. The investigation is expected to affect around 60,580 Impalas, and GM is cooperating with the agency in the probe.

In addition, both GM and the NHTSA may find themselves under the gun once more. According to CNN Money, the recall issued in late March affecting 1.3 million Saturn Ions between 2004 and 2007 regarding power-steering issues is the second recall to have taken over a decade to resolve. The agency first received word of the Ion’s problems in 2004, with an investigation opened in 2011 after 4,800 complaints and 30,000 warranty claims were filed, while the automaker didn’t include the Ions in a 2010 power-steering recall despite the Saturn sharing the same part as those affected.

Reuters reports Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is interested in bringing in former GM CEOs before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee over the main recall, especially Dan Akerson, who passed the torch to current CEO Mary Barra in late December of 2013, approximately a month before the recall began. Whether this happens will be up to Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is in charge of scheduling hearings and selecting who will testify before the committee.

Finally, GM itself filed a motion before the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this week, asking the court to reinforce the liability protections established when the automaker left bankruptcy, forcing those whose lawsuits came prior to July 2009 to take their fight to “Old GM.” On the other side, the plaintiffs seeking to collect damages from “New GM” over “Old GM’s” negligence filed a proposed class action lawsuit that would prevent GM from using the protections. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber issued an order for a procedural conference May 2 to determine course of action moving forward, proclaiming “no substantive matters will be decided” during the conference.

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Ford C-Max Sales Decline Post-Fuel Economy Revision Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:30:05 +0000 Ford_C-Max

Sales of the Ford C-Max have down as of late, with lowered fuel economy figures cited as the reason.

Autoblog reports sales of the hybrid from January through march 2014 were 42.5 percent from the previous year as 5,566 — 2,295 of which were sold in March alone — have left the lot.

After a number of lawsuits alleged the C-Max couldn’t meet the initial fuel economy numbers in the real world, Ford lowered the numbers to 40 mpg city, 45 mpg highway and 43 mpg combined, down from the 47 mpg throughout the range originally proclaimed.

Ford Americas chief Joe Hinrichs is aware of the decline in sales, and says his company needs to “reinvest in the product because [the C-Max] is a great car,” while Ford itself believed sales would remain strong despite the controversy surrounding the fuel economy figures.

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Acura TLX Launch Delayed Until Later This Summer Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:15:23 +0000 2015-Acura-TLX-22

Acura fans hoping to ditch their TL or TSX for an all-new 2015 TLX in time for the start of the summertime driving season will have to make do until sometime later this summer, as the automaker has delayed the launch of its newest sedan.

Autoblog reports the reasoning behind delaying both press and customer launches of the TLX — which made its production-ready debut at the 2014 New York Auto Show last week — is due to its various technology needing more work, as explained by an email sent to all Acura dealers:

The TLX has more advanced and customer-relevant technology than on any other Acura model in our history, and we must assure that all systems are ready for mass production. Further, it is critical that we have a stable and sustainable supply of vehicles and components to support the strong customer response that we expect for this all-new Acura sedan.

To achieve these goals, we have determined that it is necessary to modify the production schedule for the 2015 TLX, which will move the on-sale date to late summer.

Spokesperson Chuck Schifsky added the automaker doesn’t view the delays as “major,” but has opted not to bring the TLX to the showroom for sale “until it’s perfect.”

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Subaru: No WRX Hatch For U.S. Market Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:39 +0000 Subaru Impreza WRX STi Hatchback

For those who want a Subaru WRX or WRX STi, but prefer the utility of the previous hatchback over the current sedan offerings, they should start breathing again, as Subaru will not be bringing such a beast to the United States after all.

Motor Trend reports that last month, WRX project manager Masuo Takatsu informed that Subaru “received strong interest from the US” for a hatchback variant, citing the 50 percent uptake by the U.S. market for the previous hatch. The statement came as a surprise to Subaru of America, who weren’t expecting anything more than the sedans:

We do not know about, nor do we have, any plans for a WRX hatch. Takatsu San is the product general manager of the WRX, but this is not something he has discussed with us.

One exchange between Subaru of America and Subaru of Japan later gave the final word: No WRX hatch will be forthcoming to the U.S. market, citing cost issues against producing both sedan and hatchback models.

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Town And Country Update: Road Trip Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:13 +0000 bugs

I last wrote about my 2013 Town and Country S at the end of November when it was just three months old and had only 1500 miles on the clock. At that point the big van had yet to be used for anything more than ‘round the town mommy duties and a single jaunt up to Toronto in search of a Japanese supermarket, but I reported then that the van was performing flawlessly. Today, eight months later, and thanks in part to a whirlwind road trip that added slightly more than 2000 miles in just four full days of driving, the T&C’s odometer shows 6400 miles and I have greater insight into the vehicle’s true nature. Naturally, it’s time for an update.

I am a veteran road-tripper. I began as a child, riding in the back seat of one my father’s many Oldsmobiles and I can tell you from brutal experience what it is like to be locked in a car with your brothers and sisters for days on end. Fortunately, my Kodachrome-colored memories of the ‘70s have little in common with the way families travel today and the Town & Country S is a true product of a better, brighter era. Chrysler offers a great deal of technology on all their vans, sometimes standard and sometimes at an additional cost, and one of the particular advantages of the S model is that, among other things, it already comes equipped with a Blue Ray DVD player and two overhead flat screen monitors. To be honest, had the video system not been included as a part of the package that netted me a swankier interior and better looking wheels, it is not something I would have paid extra to purchase at the time, but now that I have it I can’t imagine living without it.


DVD players in cars rival sliced bread for the title of the greatest thing ever invented. Unlike my childhood road trips where, other than fighting with my siblings, the sole form of entertainment consisted entirely of a game where you tried to make the alphabet out of the letters on other cars’ license plates, my kids were treated to a non-stop, four day long Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks animation film festival. Because I don’t mind listening to movies while I drive, I usually play the DVD audio tracks over the stereo system, but for those times I would rather listen to something else Chrysler was thoughtful enough to include two pairs of nice, wireless headphones that work with the DVD system, something that makes it possible for the kids watch movies in the back while the adults enjoy the radio up front. That to me is a real have your cake and eat it too kind of feature and all I can say is “Hooray for technology!”

While my precious, human cargo rode in comfort and silence, I was able to focus on the overall driving experience and my impressions are mostly positive. On the open road the T&C was strong and smooth and although there were no mountain passes upon which to test the vehicle’s climbing prowess between Buffalo and Kansas City, which we visited last week in preparation for our impending move, I found there was always plenty of power on tap whenever I put my foot down. Fuel mileage too was more than satisfactory thanks to the “Eco” mode and, at the end of our trip, the computer showed I averaged an impressive 28 miles per gallon despite the fact that I paid zero attention to maximizing our mileage.

This is the first time I have used the eco button and although I had read nothing about how the system works, I noticed right away that it affected how the van shifted. This was most noticeable on hills when the vehicle’s speed was being maintained by the the cruise control. Without fail, as we began to ascend any grade longer than a few hundred feet, our speed would fall off by three or four miles per hour and the engine would bog until the RPMs went so low as to force a downshift. Then, when the transmission finally kicked down into a lower gear, the engine would roar to life and send the vehicle charging furiously back up to speed before up-shifting yet again and starting the whole process over. This led to an odd sort of leap frogging effect where I would pass cars on the flat only to end up slowing down in front of them whenever we reached any kind of a hill. Then, when the other cars pulled out to pass, the van would downshift and we would end up tearing away again before they could get around us. Frankly, I found this effect annoying and I could tell by the way that other cars crawled right up my backside every time it happened that the drivers around me did too. Eventually, I solved the problem by using the gas pedal to force the engine to kick down sooner and that worked well enough but, truth be told, I would rather have set the speed and then not had to worry about it at all. It would be nice if Chrysler could adjust this with some sort of software update.

With power, economy and the kids all taken care of, the only other thing I can really report on is how the big van felt from the driver’s seat. The last time I drove west of the Mississippi I was in my 300M and the Town & Country compares more than favorably to Chrysler’s other high end offerings. The seats were comfortable and offered more than enough adjustability to ease the aches and pains that cropped up from time to time and I enjoyed spending time in them. Still essentially brand new, there were no annoying squeaks or rattles I can report and I also found that wind noise was non-existent at any virtually speed. I will say that different pavements introduced different vibrations and different tire noises into the cabin but never at a level that caused any real distraction so, overall, from a comfort standpoint, the T&C is great.


Suspension wise the S model’s sport tuned suspension walks that fine line between firm and jarring in a way the sport tuned suspension on my 300M Special never could. The big van holds the road and inspires confidence without sacrificing comfort. Where the 300M had a tendency to follow tar snakes, ruts and other imperfections in the pavement, the T&C never leaves you fighting for control although, thanks to its higher profile, it is more affected by gusts.

At the end of our second day, with almost 8 full hours of driving behind us and a bare ten miles from our goal, the skies turned dangerously black and it began to rain absolute buckets. The roads turned into rivers and I quickly switched to local radio in order to hear any emergency weather bulletins. The news was not good and there, near the point of exhaustion, on strange roads and with limited visibility, I began to worry just a little for the safety of my family. But the big Chrysler simply shrugged off everything that nature could throw at it and, as the navigation unerringly guided us towards our destination, my fears quickly abated. The vehicle worked so well that there was nothing to take my attention away from the road and, I realized, there was simply nothing to worry about.

In the end, smooth, worry-free operation is what you want from a family vehicle and today, almost eight months after purchasing the Town and Country, I still find the van’s poise and confidence on the road to be utterly remarkable. It is joy to drive and this latest road trip has only strengthened my belief that I have chosen the right vehicle for my family. I simply could not want anything else at this point and, as I tend to keep my vehicles for many years, I am convinced that the T&C will carry us wherever we want, near or far, in style, comfort and safety for a long time to come.


Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Junkyard Find: 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:02 +0000 01 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBuick sold some special-edition Centuries as part of their sponsorship deal with the 1984 US Olympic athletes, and we saw one of these cars in this series last year. The later Olympic Edition Buicks are harder to find; there are still some ’88s around, but this is the first ’96 I can recall seeing anywhere. Let us admire its athletic grace.
11 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinA perfectly competent front-drive Detroit sedan, but it didn’t sell to many buyers born after 1920.

The advertising for this generation of Regal talked big about “European styling” and “Camry beating.”

The subsequent generation of Olympic Regals got a bit of star power in its ads.
04 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe textured-velour Olympic-logo headrests didn’t change much between 1984 and 1996.
10 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe good old Buick V6, which soldiered on (in the Lucerne) until the 2009 model year. By 1996, this engine was much smoother than its ancestors.

01 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1996 Buick Regal Olympic Edition Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 51
Piston Slap: The Straw that broke the Hybrid’s Back? Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000

Marc writes:

Hi, I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere.

I have 2006 Lexus RX400H with 106,000 miles. The vehicle is bulletproof never having a repair, it even has it’s original brakes. I traded in a 2000 RX 300 for it. The 300 also never had a repair.

My question pertains to the hybrid batteries. Multiple Toyota and Lexus dealers have stated to me, that they have seen few hybrids if any needing replacement batteries yet some Prius’ have been on the road for over 10 years but there doesn’t seem to be much said about the expected life of the battery packs. My battery warranty just expired. Is it time to trade it in to avoid the eventual high battery replacement cost or am I worrying about a problem that could be many years down the road.

Sajeev asks:

Hi there. Where do you live and how many electronic items on the cat do you regularly run? (A/C, stereo, heated seat, etc.)

Marc replies:

I live in Southern California. The AC is almost always on, music always on, NAV always on.

Sajeev concludes:

The series has indeed covered hybrid battery fail, Toyotas in particular.  Your location’s warm climate shall be easy on hybrid batteries, not taxing them with a ton of power robbing heater load. Or, to a lesser extent, the A/C load of hotter parts of the country.  But your battery will fail, and there are companies willing to help.

If you want the help.

Considering the lack of needed repairs (original brakes? Impressive!) on this RX, selling it while the going is good is quite logical. If you want a new vehicle! If not, find a hybrid battery vendor, get a brake job, fluid changes, etc. that will eventually be needed.

All this work could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, yet none of it scares me like a TDI+DSG Volkswagen product that’s out of warranty.  This stuff just needs to happen.  I’d wager it’s worth it, if you like the RX and wouldn’t want to pay for a new vehicle. Which is always gonna be your call, son.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Beijing 2014: Honda Concept B Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:37:08 +0000 honda-concept-b


This China-only concept, which previews a new small car that Honda will build just for that market, is the kind of product that Honda enthusiasts have been clamoring for.

The Concept B looks like Honda’s take on the Hyundai Veloster. No powertrain details were announced, but perhaps Honda will be kind enough to forgo the hybrid system that they saddled the CR-Z with – and bring it to North America as well.

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QOTD: The Economics Of Ownership Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:27:30 +0000  


$150 a week.

For some folks, this is a mere pittance. A lunch for four at a fancy restaurant that can be easily charged off to Uncle Sam and his seventeen trillion dollar debit card.

For others, it’s the beginning of a barnacle that will likely outlast their ability to pay it.

They will flex their muscles and run while they can. Then once they trip, due to a lost job or a family emergency, they will pick up an even heavier barnacle, with four wheels on it, and keep running.

It’s a vicious cycle of poverty. Where the poor always stay poor. After witnessing this cycle of automotive indebtitude for years on end,  I’ve come to blame one solitary thing.


Our society encourages dependency under the guise of capitalism. Young teenagers and adults are not taught to maintain anything… other than a bank account.

We, as a society, do not promote the idea of saving money by learning how to maintain things. We do it by offering the “rah-rah” cheerleading of self-help psychology. The anointing of so-called money gurus and experts who bring out the extremes of human behavior so that we feel better about ourselves.

The marketplace is about saving money by spending it. The more expensive the good, and the higher the debt, the more economic growth we have as a civilization.

When it comes to cars, appliances and homes, we are sent from schools of higher learning to a treadmill of perpetual ignorance. We are taught to buy it; not fix it. Maintenance and upkeep is meant for the professionals. Your payments create jobs and keep these hamster wheels of human work spinning in motion. Thereby creating a stronger economy.

It’s a fraud of the nastiest of orders. The mass of humanity spends their days performing relatively mindless work to pay off debts and hoping for a small dose of personal freedom once it’s all over. To keep this cycle going, we inflate everything we can at every level.

All debts are inflated these days by third parties that essentially do nothing. Housing values are pushed up by government policies and funny money paid to banks. The two entities most responsible for the economic collapse are now given all the tools to rebuild the cycle of debt.

As for the savers? They get their savings accounts obliterated from a 3% to 5% interest level, to 0%… plus billions more in fees.

The common citizen earns it, but they don’t get to keep it. Cars are now kept under shrouds of plastic and sealed steel so that ‘lifetime fluids’ and the basic steps of maintaining a car are kept well out of reach.

The CVT will save you a couple of miles per gallon. But once it breaks, your cost is likely to outweigh the entire car because you can’t rebuild it. As for those lifetime fluids, once the warranty runs out, it’s your problem.

One of the by-products of spending over 15 years at the wholesale auctions, and developing a long-term reliability study that focuses beyond the scope of Consumer Reports and other first owner focused publications, is that I get to see firsthand what hasn’t worked in the automotive marketplace.

I get to see the Volvo XC90 with the bad transmission. The Saturn VUE with a transmission driven by a cheap belt that is now broken and financially unsalvageable. The Dodge Intrepid with the 2.7 liter engine, that not even the Salvation Army can get to run right for 10 years.

What I don’t get to see is the educated kid who isn’t taught how to maintain their vehicle. I don’t get to see the title pawns that charge their customers 25% a month interest because their customers are working 40, but keeping nothing. Even with my business which is about 50% self-financing, I don’t get the customers who are under the knife of the seven year note.

One lost job, and their equity position returns to zero. What’s worse is that they get to pay even more the next go round.

Everyone has an opinion about how to reduce consumer debt and dependency. Some believe in the free market. Others would legislate their way into a conscripted paradise. As for me, I like excavators, open containers, and easy access when it comes to cars.

As for housing, health care, education and work life, I think the answer is a bit more complicated. So let’s stick to cars for now. What would you recommend to help change the economics of ownership?

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Beijing 2014: China Gets Its Own Chevrolet Cruze Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:19:10 +0000 2015-chevrolet-cruze-china-04


While our Chevrolet Cruze gets a re-style to look more like the Malibu, China’s Cruze now looks like a 2015 Subaru WRX in the back, with a Dodge Dart-like front end.


Unlike our Cruze, this one get’s GM’s next-generation of turbocharged Ecotec powertrains, and there’s even a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox to go along with the usual manual and automatic transmissions. Perhaps this is a preview of what to expect in 2016, when the Cruze gets a redesign?

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Beijing 2014: Hyundai ix25 Previews B-Segment Crossover Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:00:56 +0000 hyundai-ix25-concept-1


It’s only a matter of time before Hyundai officially enters the small crossover space with something below the Tucson. The ix25 concept is a good indication of what we should expect. Powered by a 2.0L GDI engine, the ix25 is a much better example of Hyundai’s new design language – it looks a bit dull on the new Sonata, but it really works on a two-box shape.

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Beijing 2014: Audi TT Offroad Concept Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:43:57 +0000 Audi-TT-offroad-concept

Perhaps due to a trademark conflict with Alfa Romeo, the compact SUV concept that Audi has shown at the 2014 Beijing auto show will likely be marketed as part of the TT line and not get the Q4 badge.

The TT Offroad Concept is expected to come to production in 2016 and may be called the TTQ. Alfa Romeo has previously used Q4, appending it to 4WD versions of the 156 wagon. Alfa also has used Q2 on FWD models of the 156. That may be why the Audi Q1 subcompact crossover didn’t get named Q2 as expected.

Whatever it’s called, the production version of the TT Offroad Concept will be based on MQB modular architecture that is proliferating across the VW Group. It will be about the same size as the compact Q3, but it will have a more sporting character and will be competing against vehicles like the Porsche Macan and BMW X4. Though the concept has an eTron hybrid drivetrain with 408 total horsepower, you can expect the production TTQ to be introduced with more conventional gasoline or diesel powerplants.

So far, Audi has shown coupe and shooting brake versions of the 3rd gen TT and a roadster is expected at the Paris show in October. Putting all of those into production along with a crossover/SUV platform-mate would give Audi something in the TT subbrand similar to what BMW is doing with MINI.

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Beijing 2014: Daimler and BYD Introduce Denza EV With 300KM Range Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:41:32 +0000 DENZA_at_Auto_China_2012_11 (1)

The first fruits of Daimler and BYD’s Shenzhen BYD Daimler New Technology Co. joint venture is on display at the Beijing auto show this week. The partnership intends to blend BYD’s latest battery technology with more than a century of manufacturing experience at the maker of Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Schedule to launch on the Chinese market in September of this year, the Denza is a five passenger car with a 115 hp (86 kW) electric motor that has a top speed of 93 mph and a range of up to 186 miles (300 km). Produced at a factory in Shenzhen, the Denza was jointly designed in China, reflecting the Chinese government’s policy requiring foreign automakers to establish joint technical centers in China and to share technology with their Chinese partners.


Recharging times are stated as 7 hours with conventional mains voltage and less than an hour with high speed chargers. The lithium ion phosphate battery pack is rated at 47.5 kWh and apparently in response to some Teslas catching fire, Denza publicity stresses how the battery pack is located underneath the body for safety and that it will automatically disconnect and quickly discharge safely in the event of an accident. Since the average driver in China travels 50 to 80 kilometers a day, with a 300 km range, most customers will only have to recharge a couple of times a week.

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One feature that I look forward to see if it makes it to production is the fact that the show car has suicide doors in the back and no B-pillar.

The Denza will have a starting price of RMB 369,000, about $60K at current rates, though there are subsidies from the Chinese national and local governments that reduce that price by about 1/3. In addition to those subsidies, the Denza will benefit by being exempted from many of the policies that Chinese cities have implemented to reduce congestion and pollution. Owners will be able to get a license plate in Beijing without participating in the mandatory lottery, and Shanghai and Shenzhen wave registration fees for Denza owners’ plates.

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