The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +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 2015 Ford F-150 Order Guide Released Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:50:10 +0000 450x275x2015-ford-f-150-platinum-450x275.jpg.pagespeed.ic.seH6vp303A

Courtesy of Jalopnik comes the Ford F-150 order guide for the all-aluminum 2015 model.


It looks like Ford has simplified a lot of the trim levels and packages, with the STX and FX4 disappearing (though you can still order nearly identical configurations).

I’ll defer to the pickup experts among the B&B for a thorough analysis. From my skimming, it appears that there is an SSV package for police and other heavy duty use, and only on XL models with the 3.5L Ecoboost or 5.0L V8. The V8 is also the standard engine on the King Ranch and Platinum trim levels.

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Dispatches Do Brasil: Young Americans Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:41:18 +0000 Fiat-500L-Vans-01-560x373

FCA has been trying to broaden the appeal of its Fiat line in the US. Success may be a ways off, into the future, or at least won’t materialize until the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X are launch. But that won’t stop the Italians from trying. In a bid to show off its minivan as a viable alternative for active young folks, Fiat will introduce its 500L Vans edition at the upcoming US Open – of surfing (yes, surfing, not the famous tennis tournament).

Co-sponsored by Vans (a shoe company), this concept relies heavily on visual cues to draw the attention of the cool dudes and gals that gather at such venues.

This 500L distinguishes itself by the four DRLs grafted on to the front bumper that look like the heavy duty lights seen on “adventure” vehicles, a blue and white two-tone paint job, a plaid roof, tennis sole looking pedals, special upholstery for the seats (that will remind some of a palm tree, others of a different plant), blacked out wheels, roof rack for surf boards and other items and some decals on the dashboard featuring myriad brands.

I love the paintjob and seat covers. I think the plaid roof is silly, but apparently plaid is “in” right now. I’m not old by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps I’m out of touch.

Motivation is provided by Fiat’s 1.4 turbo good for 160 horses. It also features a 6-speed manual. And that, to me, is the most puzzling feature? How are American kids going to drive a stick?

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Question Of The Day: Who Will Win The Luxury Compact Crossover Sales Race? Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:28:43 +0000 Audi_Q3_2.0_TDI_quattro_S_tronic_Karibubraun1

With pricing for the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA announced, the fight for the luxury compact crossover sales crown is officially on. It’s going to be the most important battle of the year for the luxury car market.

Crossovers are, without a doubt, the hottest sales segment right now, and one of the most profitable segments for OEMs. Take some normal car underpinnings, add a bit of cladding, a higher ride height and a two-box body and all of a sudden, you can charge a hefty premium over what you’d normally have to sell a sedan for. And what better way to lower your CAFE rating than to sell a ton of “light trucks” that get the kind of fuel economy that you’d normally find in a compact or mid-size car? These little trucklets/wagonlets are going to float the ability of the German brands to keep making AMG, M and RS cars by keeping things kosher with the Feds. Remember that when you bemoan the lack of wagons on sale today.

Audi’s Q3 starts at $33,325, versus $29,900 for an A3, though the Q3, unlike the A3, does come standard with AWD .  The Q3 is front-drive, but it does have a 2.0T engine, unlike the A3′s 1.8T mill. A Mercedes-Benz GLA starts at $32,225 for a front-drive model versus $29,900 for a front-drive CLA. The one wildcard is the BMW X1, which is both rear-wheel drive and $30,900, making it the cheapest BMW in the entire model range.

I’m going to put my money on the Q3 taking the crown, just because Audi is very much the brand of the moment. This segment is a fickle, fashion-driven one, and products live and die by how cool they are. The Audi A3 quickly toppled the Mercedes-Benz CLA from the small sedan sales charts, and this won’t be any different.

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Hacking traffic lights for fun and profit! Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:00:07 +0000 Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.00.15 AM

In a few weeks, at WOOT (the USENIX Workshop on Offensive Technologies — an academic conference where security researchers demonstrate broken stuff), a team from the University of Michigan will be presenting a lovely paper, Green Lights Forever: Analyzing the Security of Traffic Infrastructure. It’s a short and fun read. In summary, it’s common for traffic light controllers to speak to each other over a 5.8GHz wireless channel (much like WiFi, but a dedicated frequency) with no cryptography, default usernames and passwords, and well-known and exploitable bugs. Oh boy. And what can we do with that?

We want our traffic lights to coordinate with one another. This streamlines the flow of traffic. If an attacker can mess with that coordination in an arbitrary fashion, then they can for example ensure they always have green lights. They can ensure others don’t. The opportunities for mayhem may seemingly allow your imagination to wander to the low point of Bruce Willis’s career: Live Free or Die Hard, wherein cyber-baddies redirected traffic in a vain attempt to squish our action hero. In reality, probably not. One of the curious things about the computer design for traffic light controllers is that there are really two computers stacked one atop the other. The “MMU” computer has a bunch of basic rules it has to enforce (e.g., minimum duration of yellow lights) and if the fancy controller tries to create panic at the disco, the MMU says “umm, no” and goes into flashing red, requiring somebody to manually come out and reset it. Which is to say, an attacker who wants to do more than a little tweaking here and there is likely to just dump all the lights into blinking-red mode and just piss everybody off.

So… I’m sure you’ve got questions. Let me see if I can anticipate them and act like I know what I’m talking about:

How hard is it to pull this off? Surprisingly easy. About the only thing that’s non-trivial is getting hold of the proper radio hardware, and that’s a pretty low bar.

How hard is it to fix this? Harder than you’d think. These radios do support WPA2 (the same crypto standard used to protect WiFi networks), and cities could deploy it. They’d inevitably end up using the same key material everywhere, but that’s certainly better than doing everything in the clear. More importantly, these signal lights were never really engineered to be easy to apply software updates, unlike your smartphone or something that happily updates itself in the background. This means that latent bugs can be more easily found and exploited, simply by rummaging around in the list of bugs fixed in newer versions of the system.

Come on, nobody’s going to really do this. Sure, you go ahead and believe that, but wouldn’t you like to know that somebody can’t just arbitrarily screw with traffic? I can think of all sorts of nefarious reasons why an attacker might be financially incentivized to create carefully chosen local traffic jams.

This kind of information is too dangerous to be out in public! Whoa there. Just because it’s new to you doesn’t mean it’s new to the nefarious sorts. Sometimes, a little bit of public pressure is a very good thing to push vendors to fix their products and push customers to adopt the fixes. (There’s also an analogy here to the argument that gun control only limits the good guys’ guns. That particular argument is generally stronger when we’re talking about cyber weapons versus the traditional kinetic variety.)

Gosh, what would happen if future traffic light controllers didn’t have the MMU contraption? Arguably the MMU saved their bacon. Otherwise, the U. Michigan team would have been able to do much nastier things. Also, if we ever get autonomous intersections (great work from UT Austin, by the way), where self-driving robo-cars are negotiating their paths well in advance, getting rid of traditional stop lights altogether, then the security vulnerabilities would be a much, much more serious concern. Just watch the video below and cringe a bit.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Review: 2015 Chevrolet Malibu Eco LS Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:45:31 +0000 IMG_8080_sharp

Exterior photography by Rachel Gibbs

What did the American people get for the fifty billion dollars they spent and the eleven billion they lost on the General Motors bailout? Well, they got stability, they got the retention of perhaps a million jobs, they avoided what might have been a last straw in what a posterity unblinded by the contemporaneous media’s Obama-as-messiah drumbeat will recognize as the greatest depression since the Great one, and they got the C7 Corvette.

All good things, if you ask me.

But they also got garbage like this.


I thought the original Malibu was pretty okay. Its replacement, I felt, was worse, but I held out the possibility that a round of 2014-model-year changes might improve the situation somewhat. It has to be said that General Motors did a good job of getting its tame mouthpieces to spread the word about the “new” Eco drivetrain being just as efficient as the old-for-2013 edition despite the fact that it loses eAssist in favor of a simple stop-start system. For that reason I thought that perhaps the 2014 Malibu wouldn’t be a disaster.

Well, here’s the good news up front, for what it’s worth: I couldn’t get the 2013 Malibu LTZ four-cylinder to exceed 27mpg average. The 2015 Malibu Eco LS that I drove from Columbus to Evansville, IN and back did this:


over this distance:


That’s approximately what I saw in a 2014 Accord EX-L CVT. It’s not a surprise that General Motors, a company which has focused on the raw numbers when measuring competitiveness to a sometimes embarrassing extent, (cf.: the ads for the Pontiac 6000 where they compared it with the BMW 533i) has managed to come within striking distance of Honda’s four-cylinder fuel economy. It’s also not a surprise that the experience of operating the Malibu powertrain is, subjectively speaking, monstrously unpleasant in contrast to the Accord setup.


On the move, the Malibu is spectacularly gutless, digging deep into the transmission with a herk and a jerk for the mildest grades. The Accord four is a rocketship compared to this. I’m not going to say it’s dangerously slow because it isn’t. However, we’ve come to take a certain amount of, shall we say, adjustability via the throttle in a modern car. As in: “If this merge is dicey I can jam the throttle and just get in front of this truck.” In the Malibu, you won’t have that adjustability. You’d better plan ahead. Not like you would in a 240D, but like you would in a three-liter Taurus from 1995. If your current car is an old four-cylinder Malibu, you’re unlikely to have any complaints. If it’s a four-cylinder Camry of recent vintage, you’re going to be unpleasantly surprised.

Everyone else will be unpleasantly surprised by the unbelievably cack-handed stop-start. Whatever nonsense you thought about stop-start when you first heard about in reference to the Insight or Prius or AMG E63 wagon or whatever — it isn’t reliable, it takes a bit of time to start, it’s noisy, it sounds like you’re wearing the car out — is actually true in the case of the Malibu Eco.

Most of the time, coming to a halt in the ‘Bu will cause the engine to fall dead and the tach needle to fall to “auto stop”. So far so good and other than a discernible drop in the efficacy of the A/C there’s not much about which you could complain. Release the brakes and the engine immediately spins up and delivers power, and off you go.

No, wait.

That’s how it works in other cars.

In the Malibu it goes WHIRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEAAARRRRRRRRGH and the engine reluctantly coughs into life like a freakin’ 1982 Citation Iron Duke and the car briefly shudders with the violence of it and THEN the car moves forward. It’s easily the least confidence-inspiring powertrain I’ve experienced in a post-Millennium automobile. In what should be perfect weather for this sort of system — eighty degrees and sunny — I had genuine concerns that the Malibu just wouldn’t come back to life at a given stop. Performing left turns across traffic and whatnot were made frightening, so I developed the “Malibu Pokey”:

You put your right foot in
You take your right foot out
It makes the stop-start start up
and run the engine
That’s what it’s all about!

As satisfying as the Malibu Pokey was while driving around downtown Louisville, I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t do it very often because it wouldn’t let the Chevrolet post its best possible fuel economy. Left turns became exciting again.

The removal of the eAssist from the Malibu Eco was supposed to give us the trunk back, but if that’s the case I’d hate to see what it was like before. This has to be the smallest trunk in a mid-sized car by some amount; it’s significantly less useful than the cargo area in my Accord Coupe and the Altima I drove immediately after this Malibu shamed it in that regard. A normal-sized guitar hard case fits very awkwardly in this Malibu, to the point that I gave up and started putting everything in the back seat. I was willing to accept the old Malibu’s restricted storage room because I dug the minimalist aesthetic of the whole car, but this thing is to its predecessor like a ’77 Colonnade Monte Carlo is to a ’68 Chevelle, styling-wise. GM Design pulled out all the Malaise stops on this indifferently flame-surfaced disaster and the result is an odd combination of a Silverado, a Camaro, and a Pinewood Derby car. It literally couldn’t have any more front end on it, likely because GM wanted it to share “design DNA” with the trucks, and therefore it tapers to the back like one of those nightmare lantern-jaw fish of the unfathomable deep.

Things don’t improve once you get inside, particularly at night, where the trademark “GM Aqua LCD” color is extended to some, ahem, mood lighting. The General’s managed to do something unprecedented in human history: they’ve managed to make a color feel cheap. After well over two decades of indifferently-backlit aqua-esque instrument panels in cars that committed sins from subterranean resale value all the way to attempted-murder-via-ignition-switch-was-the-case-that-they-gave-me, the use of this color should require a “trigger warning” on the door jamb.

The seats are uncomfortable, the steering’s dead, the brakes are touchy, and everything you touch in this LS variant has the mark of cost-cutting Cain all over it.

In other words, this heavily-revised Malibu is significantly less pleasant to operate than an old Cruze. I cannot imagine than anybody would test-drive this and Ye Olde Daewoo Laecetti back-to-back and pick this. I cannot imagine that anybody would test-drive this and an Altima, Camry, or Accord back-to-back and pick this. I have no idea why anybody would buy this car. As tested, it’s $23,165. For that money you can get any number of decent cars, including a Cruze 2LT. If you can wait a few months, you can get the revised Cruze, even. Or you could take advantage of whatever incentives can be had now and you can buy a Cruze LTZ. There is no way in which a Cruze LTZ is not preferable to this Malibu.

That’s disappointing as hell because the Cruze is a Daewoo, excuse me, GM Korea, and the Malibu is a product of the home team and it’s a half-decade newer. We should be able to do better. We can do better. Go try out a C7 Corvette. It’s brilliant in ways I can’t describe without sounding like Dan Neil desperately firing the third spasm of the day into his battered thesaurus. Go check out a Cadillac ATS. The interior’s cramped and sucky but they’ve completely cracked the handling code. Take a look at a current Tahoe; it’s the finest, fastest, most spacious station wagon in history.

It isn’t that GM can’t make good product. It’s that sometimes they don’t try. So in the case of the Malibu, you shouldn’t bother.

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Toyota FCV To Get “Mirai” Moniker, Hefty Rebates In Japan Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:40:31 +0000 450x298xDSC_0020-450x298.jpg.pagespeed.ic.LCovKm6IEQ

Toyota’s upcoming fuel-cell vehicle will reportedly get the name “Mirai” when it launches in 2015, along with a hefty rebate program in its home market of Japan.

Bloomberg reports that the Mirai name has been trademarked in the United States, but the actual name won’t be revealed until closer to its 2015 on sale date. The word Mirai is said to mean “future” in Japanese.

Just-Auto is reporting that Japan’s government could offer rebates as high as 2 million yen (about $20,000 at current exchange rates), bringing the Toyota FCV’s pricetag down from 7 million yen ($70,000) to about 50,000 yen ($50,000). The government is also piloting an infrastructure project to bring 100 hydrogen fuel stations to the country by March 31, 2015, in an effort to help spur demand.

Plans are afoot to use the first hydrogen cars as taxis and other service vehicles, as a means of creating broader acceptance and reducing petroleum usage.

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2015 Cadillac ATS-L Is “Coming With Length” Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:18:42 +0000 cadillac-releases-first-official-photos-of-the-china-only-ats-l-photo-gallery_6

Our most recent review of the Cadillac ATS determined that Cadillac had finally made a sports sedan worthy of besting the F30 BMW 3-Series. But the ATS was also docked points for providing E36 3-Series-esque rear passenger space. Cadillac’s Chinese division appears to have remedied the problem, with a rather unfortunate English marketing slogan.

For the Cadillac ATS-L’s launch, Cadillac has decided to go with the rather unfortunate slogan “I’m Coming With Length”. We’ll leave it at that.

The ATS-L really is packing more size. With an additional 3 inches of wheelbase, .79 inches of width and a .25 inch lower ride height, the ATS-L is the car that we should have gotten all along. From the photos, it doesn’t look like the car’s proportions were compromised either. Powertrains are the same as well, but only the 2.0T and 3.6L engines are available.

We now return to your regularly scheduled, less juvenile programming.


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General Motors Bumps Up Next Pickups, Will Feature Aluminum Panels, Downsized Engines Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:53:51 +0000 550x366x2014-Chevrolet-Silverado-1500-Exterior-550x366.jpg.pagespeed.ic.zW-iZYvyX3

General Motors is advancing the launch of their next-generation pickups by 9 months, with the next-generation trucks due by 2018.

Reuters is reporting that the fairly new generation of full-size trucks will undergo a thorough redesign by 2018, with new full-size SUVs arriving in 2019.

While a new 8-speed automatic will arrive in GM’s full size trucks and SUVs for 2015, the next generation is expected to be even more radical. TTAC has previously reported that the next generation trucks will use substantial amounts of aluminum in the body panels, and a new manufacturing process is expected to reduce both cost and complexity.

The new trucks will also reportedly use a 10-speed automatic transmission (jointly developed with Ford) as well as smaller engines that feature fuel injection, turbocharging and stop-start systems. The end result is a major paradigm shift for the truck market. Consumers may still care about payload and tow ratings, but auto makers are pulling out all the stops to make sure that their trucks meet stringent CAFE rules, which kick in around 2017.

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Spare Me the Details: Cleaning Your Wheels, Rims, Shoes, Dubs… Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:31:56 +0000 IMG_2392
Whatever you call them, everyone can agree that wheels need to be clean in order to look good. Whether they are the 14″ wheels that came with your new Mitsubishi Mirage, of the monster 22s that come on a Escalade, keeping your wheels clean can make or break your vehicle’s appearance.

Am I the only one who judges people that drive nice cars with really dirty wheels? I don’t mean to. Inside I know the cleanliness of your wheels doesn’t really say anything about you as a person… but I can’t help it. I think to myself, “So you can afford your lease on that M5, but somehow you don’t have 3 minutes every few weeks to wipe off the wheels? Does that mean you also don’t have time to check the tire pressure, change the oil, water your plants, feed your dog…? What’s wrong with you man! Feed your dog and give that car to someone who would appreciate it.” Never does it dawn on me that perhaps not everyone values clean wheels as much as I do. Call me shallow if you want, but when my car’s wheels are real clean it makes me happy. I swear I enjoy driving my car more when the wheels are clean, even though I obviously can’t seen them from the driver’s seat.
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Nothing beats the shine of some finely polished automotive wheels. Like a new engagement ring being shown off, nice car wheels seem to accentuate every angle of light hitting the surrounding metal. Sitting still or moving on the highway, you can’t but notice them.
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There are a variety of materials that wheels can come in. As with all my detailing articles, this is for the average car owner using tools that most people have at home. Since most cars come with clear coated alloy wheels today, that is what I’ll look at. If you are confident you know the material of your wheels, there are specific tools and chemicals that can be purchased for it. Just be careful, some chemicals can damage wheels when used on the wrong material. Roughcast aluminum and chrome can withstand stronger cleaners than coated, painted, or anodized wheels. The cleaner will say what it is suited for on the label. For example, Mother’s All Purpose Wheel Mist can be used on any type of wheel, but their Chrome/Wire Wheel Cleaner is not safe for coated wheels, so read carefully. If you are not sure what kind of wheels you have, use a cleaner that is safe for all wheels. I use a water based wheel cleaner from Meguiars that is safe for all wheels and also loosens dirt on tires. In general always use the least aggressive cleaners first, and preferably no chemicals at all.
So how do you know if you need to clean them? Let’s just say that when your wheels are turning the color of your tires, its time to take action. I understand we are all busy but the thing is, cleaning your wheels doesn’t have to take long at all. Once you have them clean, it is easy to wipe them off every couple weeks with a dry towel. Brake dust is from the devil, this I’m sure of. Not only does it look bad, but it is corrosive as well. This means that not only am I silently judging you when I see your dirty wheels, but you are also potentially damaging the finish on your rims. If left for too long, it can eat into the coating (if there is one) and pit the metal.
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We will start by assuming you are looking at a pretty dirty set of wheels that haven’t been cleaned a while, like this set from a Boxster. In this case, I’d say just go to the nearest automatic car wash and make sure to pay extra for the wheel cleaner. Just kidding that’s a terrible idea, I just wanted to just see who was paying attention. Automatic car washes don’t do crap for your wheels. There I said it. Plus they have been known to use acid based cleaners and abrasive brushes. I recommend a first step of using an all purpose water based wheel cleaning product. Most of the major brands offer a product like this. I like to use a cleaner that works on the tires, too. Whenever you are cleaning wheels, I think you should also clean the tires and wheel wells at the same time so begin by spraying just a little water on the wheel, tire, and up into the wheel well.
It is very important that you have a specific wheel cleaning sponge. The sponge can be used to clean wheels, tires, and wheel wells only. It is not worth the risk to have brake dust stuck in a sponge scratch your paint. If you don’t want to read any further I’d understand, but at least promise me you’ll get a sponge you designate as your “wheel” sponge. Thanks, it means a lot to me.
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After wetting the wheel go ahead and spray the wheel, tire, and wheel well liberally with your mild cleaning product. It is important to never let the wheel cleaner dry on the wheel. Follow the instructions on the bottle, but it’s usually less than 1 minute of soaking time needed, which means you should always work on one wheel at a time.
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Then scrub the wheel with your sponge. Dipping your sponge in a bucket of car wash doesn’t hurt. Make sure to get all the difference angles of the spokes. In my opinion it is not necessary to reach inside the face of the rim and clean on all wheels designs. If the spokes are far enough apart that you can easily see behind them, then it makes a big difference to clean that area though. On this Boxster example, I got my whole arm in there to clean the entire thing.
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If your wheels haven’t been cleaned recently, this step may not get all the dirt/dust in the corners, but that’s ok. Leave it for now.
After scrubbing the wheel, I run the sponge over the tire, then also wipe down the wheel well. This is important because you shouldn’t be cleaning any of those things with the same sponge you use on that paint later. Now spray off the wheel using the strongest setting you have on your nozzle. After each wheel, spray off the sponge to remove all the junk you just got off your wheels, especially if there was some dirt and mud in the wheel wells. Repeat for each wheel, but you’re not finished yet.
Once the wheel is dry it is time to get serious. That is when I recommend using a product called Nevr-Dull. Basically it cleans and polishes metal automotive surfaces while removing brake dust, rust, and corrosion. But that doesn’t really do it justice. Lots of products make similar claims, but let me tell you that this product actually does what it says it will do. Of all the wheel polishes out there, this is the only one I have seen consistent results with. This stuff has been around since Roosevelt was in office, so it is a time tested product you can trust.
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The product is cotton wadding soaked in solvents that can be used on any metal surface. Rip off a wad about the size of a cherry tomato and begin rubbing it all over the wheels. Really scrub spots where there is pitting from brake dust. With enough elbow grease, most brake dust and corrosion will come clean.
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With no harmful abrasives, it’s safe too. Cover the entire face of the wheel and all the little crevices. Even parts that were already clean will be need to be wiped with the cotton. Once you do this process to each wheel, make sure you hit the exhaust pipe if you have a finished tip that can be shined. Then you wait. Depending on the weather it usually takes about 30 minutes for the product to dry to a haze.
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Grab a towel and begin wiping off the haze. You may want to wear some sunglasses for this part because your wheels are going to be crazy shiny! Don’t worry about using too much Never-Dull. The can says the shelf life is about 2 years, meaning it’s really difficult to ever use up the whole can before it begins to dry out (though I have some that is older than that and still works great).
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Once your wheels are clean, it is MUCH easier to maintain them. If you have 3 minutes to wipe them down with a dry towel once a week you’d be amazed at how great they will continue to look. It doesn’t always have to be this long cleaning process. Keeping wheels relatively clean on a more regular basis is much easier than trying to restore them once the brake dust has set in and the road salts and acids have taken their toll.
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Nevr-Dull even adds a layer of protection for the future and can safety be used on chrome and other wheel finishes. I’ve heard of people using it clean to everything from drum cymbals to chrome valve covers.

There are lots of wheel brushes on the market, but I’ve yet to find one that I like. The ones I have tried all have metal components to them that can easily scratch wheels when you scrub hard. Other than a towel and elbow grease, the only other tool I will consider using is a soft tooth brush to get around lug nuts. I’ve heard of all kinds of crazy things used to clean wheels like aluminum foil soaked in Coke, vinegar, and lemon juice. The only real out of the box product I’ve seen work was actually oven cleaner, though I wouldn’t really recommend it (it was used as a last ditch effort to save some 25+ year old wheels that had no clear coat and years of oxidation). I’ve tried the Mother’s Polish Power Ball and similar products, and they work great, but I’ve never seen them do anything I couldn’t do myself with elbow grease. Let us know what tools you have used that work well for you. Of course there is the other option of installing brake dust shields, but I’ve never seen any that look good. Next time we’ll take a look at tire dressing.

Additional Tips:
-To do a thorough job you really need to take the wheels off the car to get to the back, but obviously that can be quite a hassle. Twice a year when I’m switching from summer to winter wheels/tires I clean them when they are off the car. This is also a good time to apply a good coat of wax.
-Despite what you have heard, don’t use steel wool on your wheels.
-You can clay bar a wheel as well, but never use the same piece of clay on a wheel as the paint.


How often I do it:
My car – Every 2 months
My wife’s car – Every 4 months
Another before and after to encourage you to try this on your wheels:


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Millennials Start With Sharing, End With Individual Ownership Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:00:36 +0000 hipster lyft millennials

Though companies such as Lyft, Car2Go and Uber aim to help the young and the carless get around town without the need for owning a car — Uber wanting to go as far as to replace car ownership, period — the millennials eventually decide to go all in on individual car ownership.

Automotive News reports the transition from using ridesharing and car sharing services to ownership comes when cohorts of the generational group begin families, sometimes moving out of the urban core to do so. The delays in starting a family and purchasing a car are linked to student loan debt and a recovering, highly competitive job market, pushing the age of first-time buyers to the mid-20s at the youngest.

Meanwhile, those who live in cities like Austin, Boston, New York and Seattle are helping to make sharing services a success, with a projected 3.8 million users coming on-board by 2020. In turn, a total of 50 percent either sell a car or postpone buying a car, substituting ownership for sharing, leading to 1.9 million vehicles sold-off or not bought by 2020.

Though sharing may mean fewer vehicles leave the showroom, overall sales are climbing. Over 16 million units are forecast to head out onto the highway by the end of 2014 according to many an analyst. In the long-term, sharing services may also help send their consumer base to the showroom, with those shoppers looking a vehicle based on what they drove as a member of the service.

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Equifax: Auto Lending At Record Highs, Delinquencies At Record Lows Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:00:08 +0000 new couple old tricks auto lending

Six years after the dark days of the Great Recession, automotive lending is back on the rise, while delinquencies on those loans remain grounded.

Ward’s Auto reports the total balance of the loans after the first half of 2014, according to a report by credit reporting agency Equifax, is a record $902.2 billion. Equifax economist Dennis Carlson adds that auto lending accounts for more than half of all new non-mortgage lending during the first four months of the year, with delinquencies making up less than 1 percent of the total balance:

Lenders are responding to record low delinquencies by offering great rates and terms, while consumers are responding to the improving economic conditions by making the decision to purchase newer vehicles.

For those first months of 2014, the total balance of new auto loans is $163.5 billion, with 8.1 million loans out and about. Further, 2.6 million of those loans went to subprime consumers, while the total balance of the loans is $46.2 billion, making up 28.2 percent of the overall new loan balance.

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BMW Unveils $6,500 Suitcase-Size EV Charger Tue, 29 Jul 2014 11:00:58 +0000 BMW_i_DC_Fast_Charger_wall_mount[1]

Owners of BMWs i Series vehicles may soon have more places to charge their vehicles, all thanks to the automaker’s new, less-expensive, suitcase-sized charger.

Automotive News reports the 100-pound, 24-kilowatt chargers, made by Bosch Automotive Service Solutions, will be available to companies who partner with BMW for the low price of $6,500, and can recharge other EVs from other automakers like General Motors, Volkswagen and Ford.

According to BMW of North America EV infrastructure manager Robert Healey, BMW hopes that by making its new charger available at a discount, the companies who sign on would help the automaker establish a nationwide network similar to Tesla’s exclusive Supercharger network:

Our focus is on getting as many DC fast chargers out there as possible, but the cost has been a hindrance. We want to remove every perceived barrier for our potential customers. We want to ensure that customers see these chargers.

The first of the new chargers will go online at BMW dealerships in August, with more to come as third-party companies begin to partner with BMW.

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Panasonic, Tesla Enter Into Production Equipment Agreement Tue, 29 Jul 2014 10:00:51 +0000 Tesla Model S Test Drive At The Panasonic Center Tokyo

It’s almost official: Panasonic and Tesla will enter into a basic agreement where the former will supply the latter with battery-production machines for the automaker’s up-and-coming Gigafactory.

Reuters reports the deal — which will be officially announced by the end of this month — comes with a price tag of ¥20 billion – ¥30 billion ($196.4 million – $294.7 million USD) paid to Tesla by Panasonic.

The battery maker, which wants to be the sole entity under the roof of the as-yet-to-be-located factory, will invest $1 billion overall into the ambitious project, estimated to cost $5 billion in total investment.

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Buick Envision Photos Leaked Mon, 28 Jul 2014 21:27:46 +0000 buick-envision-china-3-660x296

The first photos of the Buick Envision have leaked, with prices said to be ranging from $26,000-$32,000 USD.

Car News China is reporting that the Envison will be unveiled at the Chengdu Auto Show, with sales starting in Q4 of this year. The Envision is also said to be based on the Delta compact car platform, rather than the Theta CUV platform that underpins the Chevrolet Terrain and GMC Equinox.

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Ford Announces 2015 F-150 Pricing Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:02:33 +0000 2015-ford-f-150-platinum

The 2015 Ford F-150 will get a price bump, but the upgrade fee for an Ecoboost engine won’t be the most substantial part of the hike.

For 2015, the 3.5L Ecoboost will carry a premium of $1,995, or $100 less than the 2014 model. The all-new 2.7L Ecoboost will carry a premium of just $495.

The breakdown for trim levels looks like this (prices include a $1,195 destination charge:

•XL: $26,615, an increase f $395. The XL, a basic work truck, will come standard as a regular cab with rear-wheel drive and 6.5-foot bed.

•XLT: $31,890, up $395. The base price is quoted for the same RWD/regular cab/6.5 foot bed configuration.

•Lariat:$39,880, or an increase of $895. Its basic spec is an extended cab RWD truck with a 6.5 foot bed.

•King Ranch: $49,460, an increase of $3,515.

•Platinum: $52,155, up $3,055.

Prices will change depending on the bed length, whether 4WD is selected, various option packages and other factors. Ford is also touting higher standard levels of content, and the fact that the XL through Lariat versions, which see only modest price increases, make up 85 percent of their F-150 sales. The King Ranch and Platinum trucks will get steep increases, since they are the profit-rich trim levels, and keeping prices low is likely less critical.

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Mitsubishi Vans Are A Delica-te Matter In Canada Mon, 28 Jul 2014 16:17:53 +0000 450x225xstarwagon-450x225.jpg.pagespeed.ic.7BO4gvuY8-

For the first and possibly last time ever, the Mitsubishi Delica was a front page story in a national newspaper, with The Globe and Mail reporting on the “backlash” resulting from these “quirky” cars.

The Globe, which is widely regarded as Canada’s paper of record, chose to put the venerable van on page A1, ahead of stories about Syria, ISIS, Boko Haram, Libya and the lack of new manual station wagons.

According to the paper, the Mitsubishi Delica is raising ire, to the point where

“…various provinces and organizations across the country mobilizing to prevent even more of the vehicles from washing up on Canada’s shores…Concerned by the rising number of right-wheel-drive imports, ICBC analyzed crashes involving vehicles like the Delica. In 2009, the agency published its alarming findings: Right-wheel drive vehicles were 40 per cent more likely to be in a crash, and 56 per cent more likely to cause one, than left-wheel-drive vehicles. The driver’s position is believed to make everyday manoeuvres – such as pulling away from a curb or making a left-hand turn – much more dangerous.”

Granted, there are legitimate safety concerns regarding right-hand drive vehicles. For one, the positioning of the headlights must be modified. If they aren’t, then they tend to be angled right into oncoming traffic, which presents an obvious safety hazard.

But there’s also the unspoken fact that many right-hand drive vehicles are performance models like the Nissan Skyline GT-R and Toyota Celica GT-Four. They tend to be purchased by young, testosterone-addled males who are likely to drive them at dangerous speeds on public roads. This is likely to contribute to the alarming crash rates, and a reason why Quebec and Prince Edward Island moved to ban right-hand drive cars earlier in the decade.

There is also pressure from dealer groups and other parties who stand to lose out economically. Although BC’s government-regulated insurer has asked for changes in the rules, they don’t appear to be coming any time soon

Mark Francis, an ICBC manager of provincial vehicle registration who is on a national working group on the issue, says they asked Transport Canada to increase the number of years before a vehicle can be imported from 15 to 25. That number – which would be in line with the United States – would effectively kill the importation of modern Delicas by making it no longer economic for Japanese exporters to warehouse them.

“We’re taking their junk, as we view it,” Mr. Francis says. He adds, however, that the lack of any high-profile crashes involving these vehicles means there’s little incentive to act. “We’re not expecting them to do anything in the near future.”

Surely, the government has a whole host of priorities that are far higher than restricting what a niche group of enthusiasts can import into the country, right?

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Reader Review: 2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen Mon, 28 Jul 2014 15:51:04 +0000 IMG_2501_mod

Reader Phil Brown shares his experiences with his Jetta Wagon

Volkswagen still has the temerity to sell a compact station wagon in an American market scarfing up CUVs, and bless them for it. I should have been in the heart of the CUV market when looking for a new vehicle in 2010, but I ended up in a MkVI Jetta Sportwagen. It isn’t brown and it doesn’t burn diesel, but after four years and 51K miles of ownership I can understand some of the fervor of wagon fans here on TTAC. There is just something so fundamentally sound and good about the way this car drives, the way it goes down the road, and the surprising utility it offers. With the recent ascension of the Volkswagen Golf to the MQB platform and the 1.8TSI engine on North American shores, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my longer-term ownership experience of the outgoing platform.

The VW replaced a second-hand 1996 “champagne” beige Camry (how appropriate, for what better title could you give a 1996 Camry than the Champagne of Beiges?) which I had owned for 8 responsible years. Despite being the crème de la crème of 1990s sedans and exhibiting a build quality rarely seen in a Toyota showroom since, it was completely lifeless from behind the wheel and falling badly behind on safety features. Kids were coming. ABS, side airbags, and LATCH anchors were suddenly a priority, and I wanted at least a whiff of driver involvement. Time in a Focus ZX5 and the joker-faced Mazda 3 had opened my eyes to affordable driving enjoyment, and I wanted some of that in a package that could haul a couple of kids and their accompanying detritus.


Turns out that was a lot to ask from a $21K budget when a hatchback/wagon body style was mandatory. Lightly used CUVs were ruled out after realizing they were as dull as the Camry despite acing the functional criteria. It’s hard to swallow 4 years of payments on a used vehicle when you don’t actually like it. Every other hatchback or wagon had a fatal flaw, whether too small in the cargo area (xB & Soul), too small in the backseat (Mazda3), or too cheap and nasty to warrant the asking price (Matrix). The Jetta Sportwagen was about the only offering left, and poking around one at an auto show left a really good impression. Subsequent test drives only improved on that.

I never thought I’d walk into a VW dealership after seeing the pages of Consumer Reports splattered like a crime scene with black dots from the infamous Mk IV days, but once those Mk Vs landed in 2005 the dots turned to white and red. So I put aside brand bias and worked with a very professional and low-pressure sales manager to order a base S model with the 5 cylinder engine and 5 speed manual from the factory. Five weeks later, the Mexican-assembled wagon arrived wrapped in bug-splattered plastic.

Most will openly wonder why on God’s Green Earth one would special order a gas Sportwagen instead of picking a TDI already on the lot. The answer is $4500, the price difference between the cheapest TDI with its obligatory bundled options and an already well-equipped base 2.5S. Being trendy and undersupplied, TDI Sportwagen inventories were low in my area that year and the dealers weren’t about to budge a nickel on them. I wasn’t seeing $4500 worth of value there, but time will tell if the higher depreciation and fuel costs wash out the initial price savings.

Regardless of engine choice, this car treats both the driver and passengers well. It provides some feedback and involvement without beating up or cramping passengers, and provides class-atypical levels comfort and refinement without completely anesthetizing the driving experience. The suspension and structure absorb broken pavement, potholes, and jarring ripples with poise and composure that no Civic or Elantra can manage, yet the handling is still responsive. The steering provides respectable feel and precision at speed, with no center dead zone and none of the tiring dartiness some quick ratio systems provide. The driving position is excellent and seat comfort is superb. It is hushed, stable and confident on the highway and just eats up miles for hours on end without fatiguing you. I’m six feet tall and can still find a good driving position with twin rear-facing toddler seats behind me, although anyone taller will have trouble. An SUV’s worth of cargo capacity resides behind the backseat so I can haul both kids and gear. Without the family aboard, I can turn off the traction control and dump-n-ride the clutch to shriek the tires across half an intersection if I’m feeling like an abusive imbecile. That is a smile you cannot get from a CR-V.


The interior of this generation of Golf/Jetta received unanimous praise in the media, and it is well-deserved because the materials quality is closer to an entry-level luxury car than a $20K compact. Happy little details are hidden everywhere, from the glovebox lined in faux felt to the brilliant tilt-and-telescope center armrest to the standard heated seats to the real metal door pulls that release the latch with such a satisfying feel and sound. The speedometer is absolute genius, marked in 10 mph increments until 80 and in 20 mph increments beyond, so you can have your stupid obligatory 160 mph speedometer and not sacrifice legibility in the 0-80 mph range. The interior shows no wear on the touch points, so whatever shoddy craftsmanship plagued the MkIV interiors is not present here.

The interior and solid structure can perhaps be cheerfully compared to Audi, but several things remind you this car was built to a low price. The HVAC fan roars like a tornado and the air conditioning is a bit tepid. There is no modern infotainment technology to speak of. No trip computer. No Bluetooth. No USB integration. You get AUX and a CD slot with a stereo head unit that is laughably basic even if the sound that it routes through the eight speakers isn’t bad. My biggest complaint involves the brakes, which are mushy and require a surprisingly good stomp to extract all of the mediocre performance despite being four-wheel disc. The unparalleled bitching about the 2011 Jetta’s rear drums was amusing considering it stops in a shorter distance than my car.


The engine won’t fool an Audi owner either, but for $20K why should it? VW’s 2.5 liter 5 cylinder is controversial, I believe it deserves a final defense. The 5 cylinder was never going to engender anything but irritation from journalists narrowly focused on acceleration stats or how vigorously the needle swings to redline. Well, ignore their regurgitated groupthink because this is an affordable workhorse that is more relaxed and well-suited to everyday driving than most C-segment engines it competed with. The oft-quoted torque peak occurs above 4000 rpm, but 90% of that is available at 2000 rpm, so it pulls better at those engine speeds than a GLI with its sleeping turbo. Going for a hole in traffic doesn’t usually require a downshift. You can move out nicely in 3rd gear at 30mph and that gives you an advantage against a lot of other average cars that need to wake up and downshift before they can provide much thrust. In Everyday Car and Driver Land, this is more important than a 0-60 sprint.

If those sprints still interest you, the tires will chirp going into second but the engine doesn’t really rev eagerly and feels pretty much done by 5000 rpm. Expect an automatic Sonata to keep pace with you. Expect the GLI to flatten you. You’re just not going to win many stoplight races. Rest in peace anyway, noble 5-cylinder. You were a decent effort considering VW has approximately zero interest in normally aspirated engines.

I find the notorious fuel economy of this engine to be…adequate, but getting less so each year, as the industry extracts more power from the same amount of fuel. I get 28-34 mpg on the highway depending on whatever. It’s a 3200 pound car with 170hp so I wasn’t expecting 40 mpg, but cars of this weight and power should be getting 10-15% better. A section of the brain fixates on that, even if it doesn’t really dent the pocketbook.

I suppose we need to discuss reliability. No VW review is complete without stories of hellacious repair records, preferably of experiences 10, 20, or 30 years ago extrapolated far beyond the proper scope of inference to every VW model and powertrain produced today. Look, either you believe data collected by Consumer Reports and TrueDelta or you don’t. Those sources show the MkV Golf/Jetta far outperforming the MkIV and achieving parity or better with the rest of the industry, particularly for 5-cylinder cars. This is my personal experience: in 51K miles I’ve had one repair stop, a faulty ignition coil at 15K miles that didn’t leave me stranded or make me late to anything. The rear seat ski pass-through likes to jam as well and I have had that addressed 3 times during oil changes. Apparently it is a model-wide design flaw, but it’s not as if the window is dropping into the door. Otherwise, the car has been flawless. I don’t expect an easy 200K, but if I can run it for 10 years and 150K miles without headache you won’t ever see me criticizing this model’s reliability on the comment boards. Bulletproof reliability beyond 200K is something for the second owner to worry about, as the Camry taught me that 15 years of perfect operation is a critical asset only if you want to keep the car for 15 years.

I’ll probably pay for that reliability gap when I try to sell this thing in a world where used Civics fetch such high prices, and I’m fairly certain the manual transmission will be a resale hurdle as well. That’s OK. The modest gain in resale at the tail end of the depreciation curve is not worth driving a car I do not enjoy for a full decade. Volkswagen converted a skeptic here, and should this wagon not implode on me in the next 100K miles and render me an embittered hater of all budget German metal, I may just move into a GTI.

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2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Spied Mon, 28 Jul 2014 15:45:07 +0000 2015-Dodge-Charger-SRT-Hellcat-Spy-Photo-3

Just after we got word of an SAE-certified Charger Hellcat, prototypes have been spied testing on Detroit roads.

The 707-horsepower Charger will become the world’s most powerful sedan if put into production. Even though its arch-rival, the Chevrolet SS, will get a manual transmission starting in the 2015 model year, I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of an automatic only Charger Hellcat. The 8-speed automatic is not only a great gearbox, but I love the idea of perfect, launch control starts at every occassion. It’s better than the alternative: wrapping the thing around a telephone pole.

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Lexus GX Sales Double, Profits Pile Up Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:53:43 +0000 12-700x525

The Lexus GX seems to truck along in the American marketplace with little fanfare. Aside from a brief rollover scare, the GX’s most notable achievement appears to be as the ride of choice for family members of Lexus dealer principals and Central Asian warlords. But Ward’s Auto reports that a bit of magic by Lexus product planners has helped double sales in just over a year.

According to Ward’s

Adding a lower-priced base grade for the GX’s ’14 refresh, by substituting fake leather for real leather and deleting some content, was key to this year’s sales jump, putting the SUV’s starting price on par with 3-row midsize CUVs.

Keep in mind that this is an SUV that starts at a hair under $50,000 – and only 20 percent of buyers are even opting for the base model. Most customers go for the $53,795 GX Premium, which ostensibly offers real leather and other stuff that one would expect on a pricey SUV.

Brian Smith, VP of Marketing for Lexus, told Ward’s that

“I think there’s a need for towing capability, without having to go all the way to a (fullsize) LX…So we’re doing everything we can to continue to keep Toyota focused on the need for GX.”

Sure, there is a need for towing capacity with these vehicles, but there’s another, unspoken reason why Lexus keeps the GX around: profit. The GX is based on the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, a body-on-frame SUV related to the Toyota 4Runner, and sold in world markets as a family vehicle.

Taking an inexpensive vehicle that has had most of its costs amortized already (and is relatively simple to design, engineer and manufacture) and marketing it as a luxury item is a tried-and-true recipe for enormous gross margins that other players like GM, Ford and Nissan have all been exploiting for years now. It even works on unibody designs too (think Honda Pilot/Acura MDX or even Toyota Camry/Lexus RX). The body-on-frame design used by the GX just happens to be very simple technology that doesn’t cost a whole lot. When it’s sold as a silk purse, it becomes a very, very lucrative sow’s ear.

No wonder Smith speaks of his desire to “keep Toyota focused on the need for GX”. The SUV might as well be a printing press for the Lexus division, not just in America, but also in markets like China and Russia, where Lexus can charge whatever they please. And doubling sales of a product like this sure doesn’t hurt either.

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Ford Territory Gets A Final Send Off Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:03:43 +0000 2015-Ford-Territory

Just like its sedan sibling, the Ford Territory is getting one last refresh for its final year of sales in the Antipodes.

The Aussie-only SUV gets the same mild refresh as its Falcon platform-mate. No V8 was ever available, but Ford Australia’s mega-powerful turbo I6s (putting down nearly 330 horsepower in top trim) will hopefully remain an option.

Sadly, CAFE, market demand and a host of other factors likely kept us from enjoying the Territory in North America. As cool as it is, the business case for a rear-drive SUV packing sports car power levels was probably not there in 2004, and likely isn’t there today – unless you’re SRT, and have all the components sitting around, and you need to spread development costs around a bunch of model lines.

Beyond that, the Territory is even cooler because it was a unique, locally-designed and built solution to local tastes. In an era of One Ford, economies of scale and global product lines, that is something we’re likely never going to see again.

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Mitsubishi Motors: And Then There Were… Mon, 28 Jul 2014 13:51:42 +0000




In April, when they released their FY2013 annual results, MMC (Mitsubishi Motors Corp) reported record profits; see Reuters and Automotive News for stories.

Don’t get too excited.

Mitsubishi Motors’ North American operations are struggling; MMC sells far less than any other Asian car company in North America. The next smallest, Mazda, sold almost three and a half times as many vehicles in April 2014. Only six firms sold fewer cars, and of those only Volvo is not a niche luxury marque. (The other five, in decline order of sales, are Jaguar/Land-Rover, Porsche, Tesla, Maserati and Ferrari.)

There are positive signs, with April sales up 46.6% over 2013 and year to date sales up 29%. Only Maserati had a larger increase, but they sold 753 vehicles last year, so that shift represents only a few additional cars. On the other hand, among manufacturers building cars for mainstream customers, Mitsubishi sells the least, so its percentage increase likewise represents only a modest absolute change. Nevertheless Mitsubishi has been improving its North American operation, with net sales up 53% from 2012 to 2013.

Such sales however mean that MMC’s Illinois plant – begun in 1988 as Diamond-Star during the era when Chrysler was a major shareholder – continues to operate in the red. Whether or not Mitsubishi will be able to mount a comeback from the brink of essentially complete failure in North America will depend heavily on the continued expansion of their share and the overall vehicle market. Summer sales are expected to be substantial enough to grow the car market in 2014 over 2013, but that increase won’t be enough to float MMC. Mitsubishi will likely see its sales cannibalized by the other automakers and go the way Suzuki, Isuzu and Daihatsu, Japanese firms that have completely withdrawn from North America. Ultimately it may prove a Saab story.

But their problems aren’t just the US. They’ve pulled out of production in Europe, selling their Nedcar facility. They’ve just restructured debt with their four main creditors – and largest shareholders – who took an average 25% haircut on their preferred shares, to the tune of ¥95 billion (US$950 million). [This is made clear only in their Japanese-language filings.] Perhaps MMC’s shareholders want a tax writeoff and figure their last bailout won’t be recouped. But it also provides MMC with a clean ownership structure that would make a sale easier. Whether anyone would want to buy them is less clear: the company has a stormy history that includes 2 failed sales and an unenviable strategic position. They aren’t unique in this; many other small firms have failed or changed hands in the past half dozen years. But my guess is they’re more likely to provide a Saab story than any of the other Japanese bit players.

Mitsubishi Motors’ origins saddled it with an inefficient structure. During World War II Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) made munitions ranging from warships to the Zero fighter. After 1945 the US Occupation split up the firm into 3 pieces, each of which made different sorts of motor vehicles – three-wheeled cars, scooters, commercial trucks – as they struggled to find things to sell in the grim 1940s and early 1950s. After the Occupation ended MHI’s former pieces merged. The end result was the Mizushima plant in western Japan producing minicars (“kei” cars), Okazaki in central Japan making passenger cars, and Maruko in Tokyo (eastern Japan) making trucks, all within the larger MHI with its industrial machinery, shipbuilding and heavy equipment operations.

Then along came Chrysler, wanting to source small cars in Japan to provide dealers with something to compete against the VW Beetle, which in 1968 sold 600,000 units in the US. (Ford and GM did the same thing, eventually ending up with controlling stakes in Toyo Kogyo – renamed Mazda to echo its brand – and Isuzu.) In 1970 MHI bundled together the three automotive pieces into MMC and set it up as an independent company, with Chrysler to take a 35% stakeholding (which under Japanese corporate law would give them veto rights and hence de facto control). But Chrysler entered one of its periodic crises and couldn’t raise the cash, leaving it with a 15% stake in an unwieldy company. MHI and its bankers remained as the dominant shareholders. While MMC and Chrysler set up Diamond-Star, a joint venture assembly plant in Illinois that opened in 1988, by 1991 Chrysler had sold its share in MMC and various joint ventures.

[An aside: Chrysler purchased its stake in direct contravention to Japanese industrial policy of preventing foreign ownership in the industry – when push came to shove the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI, now MEXT) lacked the clout to make such policies stick, cf. IBM's operations in Japan.]

Then in 2000 DaimlerChrysler bought into MMC, eventually holding 37.5% of the company. But MMC performed poorly, not helped by Daimler’s management, and by 2004 that stake was sold off, with Daimler keeping MMC’s truck division, Fuso, the one piece that made strategic sense for its Asian production base and array of drivetrains.

In the background is a rollercoaster history of a piece with Chrysler. The initial spinoff from MHI coincided with the success of the Galant passenger car in Japan, alongside a good position in the growing “kei” market and in the heavy truck and bus market – which by the way meant that the 3 original production bases remained fiefdoms. MMC then entered the US market, as did the partners in the other Detroit Three alliances. Unlike Isuzu and Mazda, both of which ceased production in the US, MMC has yet to shutter its plant in Illinois, despite low capacity utilization and poor North American sales. Inside Japan sales did well during Japan’s bubble, with MMC introducing new brands, including the luxury Diamante. Again, given the bubble context, that didn’t go well. Next MMC rode the sport utility boom with the Pajero, its Jeep-like product. It was the first firm to do so in Japan, and until rivals entered it earned a lot of money.

Meanwhile it expanded overseas, with assembly plants not just in the US but also NedCar in Europe (from 1991), Chrysler’s old operation in Australia (from 1980), a tie-up with Proton in Malaysia, an engine and later transmission plant and CKD operation in the Philippines, and stand-alone operations with a proper assembly plant in Thailand. Finally, on an ad hoc basis MMC also exported plant and equipment to various firms, including Hyundai and Proton.

Most fared poorly. Its domestic bubble-era brands are gone, as are NedCar (closed in 2012) and Australian (2008) operations. Domestically it turned out a bit over 500,000 vehicles in 2013, but 60% of those were exported. With the yen weak (today at ¥101 per US$) exports are now profitable. Exports are also the focus of their US operations, which currently turn out 70,000 SUVs a year. But exports are an expedient, not a strategy, only grasping at a short-term profit source. Meanwhile, 60% of domestic sales are of minicars. That’s good news, because sales of that segment are rising (up 10% over the last year) but it’s also bad news, because low-priced cars cannot possibly generate the profits needed to keep the company going.

International operations look better, centered in Thailand with joint ventures in China and Russia. In terms of production they are the same order of magnitude as MMC’s domestic operations. But because most of domestic production is exported, the international-to-domestic sales mix is closer to 90:10 than 50:50. What has tided the company over domestically were one-off OEM deals with Nissan, Honda and others. But again, that’s a temporary expedient; there’s no history in the auto industry over the past century, in the US or elsewhere, of sustained interfirm trading. Much more solid are its pickups in Thailand and SUVs in other developing markets such as Russia and China.

Jan-May 2014 change
Domestic Production 273,429 +41%
Domestic Sales 62,954 +14%
Regular Cars 21,376 -19%
Kei Cars 29,708 +104%
Commercial Vehicles 11,870 -16%
Exports 147,190 +12%
Overseas Production 257,781 -5%
Total Production 531,210 +14%
Domestic Sales/Total Production 12%

In Japan, Europe and North American its dealership networks remain weak. For example, in Japan it was late to expand into urban areas, and so had poor locations and poor franchisees. In order to finance its urban presence MMC resorted to supplying cash in turn for equity stakes in dealers. It then dispatched managers from the manufacturing side, who have not proved adept at selling cars – Tesla be warned! In North America and Europe it is hampered by years of poor sales and an uncertain product strategy. (TTAC product reviews of the Mirage and Outlander are less than stellar, while noting the lack of a clear lineup.) Only repeated infusions of equity from the Mitsubishi family of companies kept it afloat, and 25% of those have now been written off.

Thus MMC is a firm with a strong presence in Southeast Asia; it’s basically a Thai firm with lots of engineering facilities and a few underutilized factories in Japan. It has modest operations in China, though as typical of late entrants its factories are scattered from Manchuria to Guangzhou. Then there’s a production base in Japan. Its product lineup is good for the developing world, but in 3 of the 4 largest markets – North America, Europe and Japan – its product mix is weak. The company is thus claiming it will ride emerging market dynamism to success. Elsewhere – in developed markets – its proclaimed focus is electric vehicles, to me a dim idea. But where will it be able to generate profits sufficient to sustain its engineering operations and factories in Japan? Exports only work while the yen remains weak. And without a steady stream of new products, all facing the expensive engineering challenges of increasing demands for fuel efficiency, low emissions, safety and connectivity, it can’t survive.

So selling the firm strikes me as their last straw. There’s a problem: for whom would a purchase make sense? Its current alliances with Nissan-Renault make that a possible option, as they can potentially use MMC’s plants (though not its dealers) in the US and Japan). Perhaps a Chinese company can be tempted, as with PSA and Volvo. But as I see it, FiatChrysler is the one global player with a footprint in North America and Europe that lacks a strong presence in China and developing Asia, the regions where MMC is least weak. If so, this would be the third attempt involving some iteration of Chrysler. But remember, three strikes and they’re out. And that will be MMC’s fate, if it can’t sell itself before the yen again strengthens.

To reiterate: I believe they’re more likely to be a Saab story.


N.B. This draws upon a post by my student, Anton Reed W&L’14 in May 2014 for Economics 244. The Prof edited it and appended the global story.

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Jaguar Land Rover Recruiting Former British Military Personnel For Apprenticeships Mon, 28 Jul 2014 13:00:51 +0000 2015-Jaguar-XFR-S-Sportbrake-01

With as many as 6,500 about to be made redundant in British military, and employers facing a skill shortage that hasn’t been seen since 1997, Jaguar Land Rover is leading the way to help former personnel gain the skills needed to compete in the civilian workplace.

Automotive News reports the Anglo-Indian automaker, along with Ford and Bentley, has developed an apprenticeship program aimed at so-called early leavers — those who served in the military for less than three years — meant to prepare them “for work in the automotive industry and to help them develop the skills that they need to apply to the recruitment process” within the company or inside the industry as a whole, according to Jaguar community officer Kate Birkenhead.

Programs such as this are becoming popular in every industry, thanks to an expanded budget of £765 million ($1.3 billion USD) for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills under Prime Minister David Cameron. In turn, 510,000 apprenticeships began between 2012 and 2013, though more will be needed to satisfy industrial and economic growth by 2020, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Aside from JLR, Ford and Bentley are establishing their own programs to help ready those seeking a career in the automotive industry, especially when 2 million vehicles might roll off the line in 2017, breaking the previous record set in 1972. Ford is building a training center in Daventry, where the Ford Masters Apprenticeship will be hosted, while Bentley aims to open a technical college with the help of Manchester Metropolitan University and Siemens AG by 2016.

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Piston Slap: A Rather Thirsty Escort? Mon, 28 Jul 2014 12:01:32 +0000 20140618_104104

TTAC Commentator Weltron writes:

Hi Sajeev!

The car I am writing about today is my winter beater, which is a 1999 Ford Escort SE sedan which says it has a tick over 155,000 miles. (Pictured above) The problem I’m having with it is it it getting dreadful gas mileage. My average tank is about 19 miles to the gallon (in comparison that is what my twin turbo straight six Volvo gets around town). Over the winter I replaced both of the o2 sensors and got a marginal improvement (about .4 mpg).

And here’s the kicker: the dumb thing runs perfectly. No error codes or anything. Idles smooth and everything (well as far as Escort refinement goes). When I go on the highway (which is fairly often) I can see upward of 21… If I’m lucky.

Help please! I’m debating on whether to sell it or not due to this gas mileage problem for something bigger (thinking an Oldsmobile Eighty Eight/LSS or if I’m feeling lucky … an Aurora if I do end up replacing the Escort.) Thank you in advance for your help.

P.S. Here’s a list of what has been replaced/cleaned since the fall.

Mass air flow sensor cleaned
New air filter
New spark plugs/ plug wires
New o2 sensors (both upstream and downstream)
New muffler
New tires

Sajeev answers:

It’s funny how well-maintained vehicles occasionally have an obvious problem that’s impossible to diagnose.  But going to the beautiful, enjoyable yet expensive and complicated Northstar powered Oldsmobile is the wrong move!

You’ve done the basics, kudos to you.  That makes our job easier. Considering your Volvo drives in the same manner (presumably) there’s certainly a minor problem outside of driver error. And I wouldn’t be so adamant if it didn’t happen to me:

Try changing the fuel filter first, then get new/reconditioned fuel injectors.

That’s it.  I know you’ve slooooowly been losing power and efficiency.  Perhaps you notice a mysterious fuel smell?  The injectors are no longer turning on/shutting off correctly. And when you get ‘em installed, ZOMG SON, note the instant acceleration improvement and the later MPG lift.

So go ahead and keep it, even if the cylinder head might be a problem in the future.

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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Kia In Talks With Mexican Officials Over $1.5B Nuevo Leon Plant Mon, 28 Jul 2014 12:00:33 +0000 TTAC-2014_Kia-Soul-SX-Luxury-rear

With the need to increase supply to meet U.S. demand, Kia is in talks with Mexican officials about building a new factory in the country.

Reuters reports the $1.5 billion facility would pump out 300,000 units annually, and would be located in Monterrey. The output would consist of two small vehicles to start, augmenting the output at Kia’s sole plant in the Southeastern United States.

Nuevo Leon secretary of economic development Rolando Zubrian, along with other state and federal officials, began talks last week with the automaker, and hopes a deal would be made sometime during the first two weeks of August. The plant may also pave the path toward a resumption of bilateral free trade negotiations between South Korea and Mexico.

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Fired Ford Engineer Under FBI Spotlight On Espionage Claims Mon, 28 Jul 2014 11:00:04 +0000 ford-headquarters

A former Ford engineer is currently under the gun amid espionage claims levied by the automaker with the help of the FBI.

Autoblog reports the Blue Oval called upon the agency in the former’s investigation of Sharon Leach after security found and seized eight recording devices used in her meetings with her now-former colleagues. In turn, FBI agents arrived at Leach’s home with warrants to seize more such devices — along with computers, jump drives and financial records — fearing whatever may be on them would be destroyed if the agency issued the former engineer a subpoena.

Though Leach has yet to state anything publicly, her attorney, Marshall Tauber, says she used the devices in note-taking:

I think you’re dealing with a person who was seeing how sharp the new kids are and maybe feeling a need to keep up with them. And maybe she realized that she’s not as attentive as she once was and needs a little assistance. Maybe her memory was failing her on the technology end but she didn’t want to admit it.

The case is now in the purview of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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